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Extending Jobless Benefits; Health Care Plan Nears Vote; Bodies Found in Cleveland; Bonuses for Ohio Veterans; Obama at Tribal Nations Conference; CNN's New Web Site; American Sales Pitch in Cuba

Aired November 5, 2009 - 09:00   ET

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


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, guys. Thanks so much.

That's right. Here is what we're working on today for the "CNN NEWSROOM."

How could so many women go in and not come out again? Investigators seek answers at a sex offender's home where 11 bodies turned up.

Too sick to work, but she can't afford to take off. A bill in Congress would mandate some sick leaf for millions of workers.

And take the CNN Challenge. We've got a new game you can play online.

Good morning, everybody, I'm Heidi Collins and you are in the "CNN NEWSROOM."

That's right. We do have a lot going on this morning. In fact, your health and your wealth is what we're talking about this morning. CNN's Christine Romans is on the money beat today. She is going to be talking about jobless claims; how they're on the rise but also the jobless benefits could actually be expanding. We'll get to her in a moment.

Also, our Brianna Keilar is covering the road to health care reform. A long road it has been, but there is one proposal that is nearing a final vote. We'll get to her as well.

Then, also, the president is planning a health care pitch on Capitol Hill tomorrow. Today, though, he talks with Native American leaders about their concerns.

We begin this hour focused on your money. Lots of headlines on the financial front this hour. Just a few minutes ago, we learned new jobless claims dropped more than expected last month. 512,000 Americans filed their first claims for unemployment benefits last month. Now that's the lowest figure in 10 months.

Meanwhile, the Senate voted yesterday to extend jobless benefits by as much as 20 weeks. The Senate also voted to extend the $8,000 home buyer tax credit.

And lawmakers want to speed up next year's limit on credit card companies. Some companies have been rushing to jack up fees and interest rates before the limits go into effect.

Let's talk a little bit more on the topic, or a couple of these topics, in fact. Christine Romans is prepared to do all of that, joining us from New York this morning.

So, Christine, tell us about the Senate extending a lifeline for the unemployed. This has been an issue that's been out there for a while now.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: You're right. And Heidi, all of those things that you mentioned are incredibly important to your money and all of them could affect you very, very near-term here. This extension of the unemployment benefits, it would be the third.

The Senate has passed it. It goes to the House. It's expected to be voted on and passed very, very quickly here. Because, remember, your Congress member and your senator, they are being inundated in their offices with questions from people saying, wait, how am I going to survive when this check runs out? Seven thousand checks running out every week.

It would be a 14-week extension nationwide, 20 weeks of unemployment. More unemployment benefits for the states with 8.5 percent unemployment or more. And this would be paid by a two-year extension of an existing -- existing tax on employers. So this would be paid for by a tax on employers.

It would not come out of your pocket and my pocket. But it would be the third extension here, Heidi. And it's critically important. Like I said, so many people are losing their unemployment benefits right now. Some 200,000 have lost their jobless benefits just as the Senate has been negotiating this.

There will be a mechanism in here for people, who if you already have lost your unemployment benefits, they have run out, you'd be able to reapply for an extension. So there will be more details about this, but I would expect this is going to be done pretty quickly and the president will sign it eventually.

COLLINS: Yes. Probably. What about home buyers? They're set to get some help, too, right?

ROMANS: That's right. And so also the Senate is extending and expanding that tax credit for home buyers, for first-time home buyers, that $8,000 tax credit. That's also in this measure that the Senate has passed.

You must close on a home by June 30th, 2010. So many of you who are racing to try to finish a home purchase by December 1st, this Senate measure would mean you will have more time.

It also expands it so that there's a tax credit for people who might live in a house right now, Heidi, but want to buy another house. They want to trade up, they want to trade down, they want to downsize. It would be a $6,500 tax credit for those people. You have to own a home at least five years to do that. So this is not for flippers and quick-time traders.

COLLINS: Yes.

ROMANS: Also, it would raise the income cap to $225,000 a couple. So people who make a little bit -- couple who make a little bit more money, more -- higher up in the upper middle class bracket would be able to qualify for this, Heidi.

COLLINS: All right. Very good. We'll continue to get more details, I am sure, on all of this. Christine Romans, thanks for sharing it. Appreciate it.

House Democrats moving towards a final vote on a health care plan as soon as Saturday. The Associated Press reports the legislation will get a boost today from a powerful lobby, the AARP. But House Republicans are saying not so fast, as they offer their own health care proposal.

Our congressional correspondent Brianna Keilar is joining us with more on this.

Brianna, good morning. Where do things stand right now in the House?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the heat is starting to be turned up today, Heidi, ahead of what's looking like a Saturday vote, a rare weekend vote in the House of Representatives.

And at this point, Democrats are really still working to get those votes that they need. They need 218. They're not expecting to get any support from Republicans, so they're looking to their own ranks. But there is an issue at this point that is still sort of hanging up their efforts to get their votes.

That's the issue of abortion and making sure that none of the federal dollars that would go to these tax credits, to these subsidies to poor and middle class Americans to pay for their health insurance, it's really a question of making sure that that money wouldn't go to pay for abortion.

There are some abortion opponent Democrats who -- this is a major concern for.

COLLINS: Yes.

KEILAR: And even two days shy of that vote, this is still an issue that's trying to be resolved. Meantime, Republicans late yesterday, Heidi, announced their alternative bill for overhauling health care reform. The issue with this and the reason why Democrats are hitting it is because it only would insure about three million more Americans than are currently insured.

COLLINS: Yes. KEILAR: And also, that issue of pre-existing conditions, of telling health insurance companies that you can't deny coverage on the basis of a pre-existing condition, it doesn't have a reform like that in it in the Republican alternative.

COLLINS: OK. Well, what exactly is going to be happening today?

KEILAR: This is going to be a taste of that August heat, I think, on a chilly day in November. What we are expecting is possibly thousands of activists, so-called tea party activists coming here to Capitol Hill today.

I understand that some of these protesters are already milling about near the capitol. And they were coming today as sort of a -- just really to send a message to Democrats that they're not happy with what they see as ultimately a big government takeover of health care.

And Republicans, certainly, have put an effort out there, trying to harness all of this energy that's going to be going on today. They've got a noon event that they have scheduled to really capture this audience. Even some Republicans who are encouraging these activists to go into the halls of Congress and tell their members of Congress or any members of Congress how they feel and what they want to see and really what they don't want to see two days ahead of this vote.

COLLINS: Yes, absolutely. All right. Well, we'll be watching that. I know they're going to visit other cities across the country as well. Brianna Keilar, thank you.

Meanwhile, later this hour, President Obama will address the big issues impacting Native Americans. Leaders from the 564 federally recognized tribes will take part in the interactive discussion. Also attending, six Cabinet secretaries and several other top administration officials.

Today's agenda will focus on sticky issues like treaty obligations, sovereignty, economic development, housing, health, and education. It is the first meeting of its kind since President Clinton hosted a similar event 15 years ago.

Just minutes from now, President Obama going to deliver opening remarks at the Tribal Nations Conference. That is scheduled for 9:30 Eastern, 6:30 Pacific. We will carry it for you live.

Questioning police. People in one Cleveland neighborhood want answers. Why didn't authorities find a home with 11 bodies sooner?

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: And Heidi, in our part of the world, it's been a very quiet time for hurricanes. Hurricane season ends in late November, but things are starting to get heated up once again.

Coming up in just a few moments, we'll give you the very latest details on Hurricane Ida, where it's going, how long it may last, who it may affect. That's moments away. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: Former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik is expected to plead guilty next hour. The plea deal could put Kerik in prison for about 2 1/2 years. His corruption trial was supposed to start next Monday.

He also faced trials on tax charges and for lying to the White House when he was being considered for Homeland Security secretary. Today's plea would resolve all three trials.

Investigators are working this morning to identify more of the bodies found in the Cleveland home of a registered sex offender. This is a picture of Tonia Carmichael. She is the only one of the 11 victims identified so far. Carmichael had been missing for a year.

Many residents of the neighborhood are now wondering why police didn't discover the scene sooner.

CNN's Susan Candiotti has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The shock waves are hitting even veteran judges.

JUDGE RONALD ADRINE, CLEVELAND MUNICIPAL COURT: In 28 years of being on this bench, this is without question the most serious set of allegations that I've ever faced.

CANDIOTTI: But how in the world could suspect Anthony Sowell or anyone allegedly murder so many victims, hiding at least 11 bodies in the middle of a busy neighborhood?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody knew it, because anybody seen him around here walking, scrapping, picking up cans, just chilling like a normal person.

CANDIOTTI: But could a normal person invite women in, only to have them vanish without anyone noticing? All but one of the women dug out from a backyard and found inside the house are nameless. And until there's a DNA match, no one yet knows who they are or where they came from.

The one identified victim is 52 years old from a town outside Cleveland, reported missing by her family a year ago. Sowell is an ex-Marine, a registered sex offender who spent 15 years in jail, and then landed in his family's home, living alone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For him to have went to these extremes is just -- is just messed up, because, you know, people don't deserve to have to die like that.

CANDIOTTI: It's not that neighbors didn't smell something awful. A city councilman says even he got a call about it in 2007. ZACH REED, CLEVELAND CITY COUNCILMAN: We received a phone call from a resident that said, "Councilman, there's a foul odor that's coming from across the street and it smells like a dead person." Not dead meat, not dead animal, dead person.

CANDIOTTI: But the house is next door to a sausage plant, a smelly sausage plant. Criminal profiler says that killer got lucky.

PAT BROWN, CRIMINAL PROFILER: So they should have gone knocking and they should have gone into that home to see if perhaps something was amiss there.

CANDIOTTI: Police said they only investigated two calls at the house, one two years ago, and the one that led to the discovery of the first bodies. They deny they dropped the ball.

DEP. CHIEF EDWARD TOMBA, CLEVELAND POLICE: We're starting from the point where we got to that house on October 30th and we are working backwards. So we're going to keep -- from the time he was in prison, before that, it's going to be a slow process.

CANDIOTTI (on camera): Police say they still intend to go back inside that house and look for more evidence, as people continue to ask, how could so many women go inside that house and not come out without anyone noticing?

Susan Candiotti, CNN, Cleveland.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: A scathing report finds California parole officers didn't do their jobs and missed several opportunities to find long- time missing Jaycee Dugard. Registered sex offender Phillip Garrido is now charged with kidnapping, raping, and imprisoning Dugard for 18 years.

California's inspector general's report slams the State Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Among other things, it says the department failed to adequately inspect Garrido's property, where it's believed Dugard was held. Failed to supervise parole officers assigned to his case and mistakenly listed Garrido as a low- risk offender.

Trying to sue the state of Connecticut over an animal attack. The family of a woman attacked by a chimpanzee is seeking permission to sue the state for $150 million in damages. They say state officials should have done more to prevent the attack. A state biologist had earlier warned the chimp could seriously hurt someone if he felt threatened.

Charla Nash was mauled by a friend's 200-pound chimp in February. She suffered severe injuries, losing both hands, her nose, lips, and eyelids. In fact, she's still in the hospital. Travis, the chimp, was put down.

Reynolds Wolf, standing by for us this morning, in the hurricane headquarters, which obviously means we have something to talk about.

Good morning to you.

WOLF: Good morning. You know, it's so weird, in the Pacific, it's been such a busy season. The Atlantic, it's been relatively quiet in terms of the tropics.

COLLINS: Yes, nothing.

WOLF: Yes. Now finally we've got something as we enter the tail end, the last of the season, the final month of November, and we've got Ida to deal with. Now earlier this morning this was a tropical storm, it has since upgraded to a category 1 hurricane, a minimal hurricane, and it's still edging its way to the northeast or rather northwest.

As it does so, it's going to start interacting with parts of land, to be more exact, Nicaragua. And as soon as the storm center moves on land, it's going to be away from its primary power source, that warm water of the Caribbean Sea. So away from its power sources. It is expected to weaken a little bit.

Now that fluctuation with power is expected, but take a look at the course that we have for this. The latest path we have for the National Hurricane Centers, and put this into motion, shows that the forecast map brings it right over parts of Nicaragua and then over the far eastern part of Honduras and weakening with winds of 40 miles per hour, then 30.

And then it would have passed us back over the western Caribbean, it's going to be over that warm water, the power source. So it may strengthen again to a tropical storm. Now if it follows along this path, it may pass right between parts of Cuba and the Yucatan Peninsula, maybe move right over Cancun and then into the Gulf of Mexico by early or even mid-next week.

So there's a lot that can happen between now, tomorrow, certainly over the next couple of hours and certainly by next week. So we're going to watch that for you very carefully.

(WEATHER REPORT)

COLLINS: Yes. Actually, don't go anywhere, Reynolds. Look at this. We wanted the pull up this live shot of the Yankees store right there in New York City, because we wanted to see what everybody was doing.

And, obviously, Yankee fans very, very excited. The parade and all of that jazz isn't going to happen until tomorrow. In case you didn't know...

WOLF: Weather is going to be fine. It'll be OK.

(CROSSTALK)

WOLF: They could have whiteout blizzard conditions and they'd still be smiling. They're so happy about winning that big game. My heart goes out to the Philadelphia Phillies, they played very well.

COLLINS: I know.

WOLF: And the Yankees are the Yankees.

COLLINS: Yes. They do. So what'd they win? 7-3 last night, right?

WOLF: I think so.

COLLINS: Four games to two.

WOLF: Yes.

COLLINS: It's the first time -- or the seventh crown, forgive me, since Steinbrenner owned the team, but the first since son, Hal, took over. Did you know that?

WOLF: Did not know that.

COLLINS: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

WOLF: The amazing things you learn here on CNN.

COLLINS: Yes. And the stuff that comes into my ear as I go is also amazing. So once again, we're looking at Yankee shoppers right now, trying to contain their excitement. But it's early. It's going to get pretty crazy come tomorrow.

WOLF: No doubt.

COLLINS: Congratulations to them. Reynolds, thanks. We'll check with you a little bit later on.

Despite a struggling economy, Ohio voters approve cash bonuses for their state's veterans. We'll find out where the money is coming from.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: Time now for a look at some of the top stories we're following this morning. Venezuelan authorities are blaming paramilitary groups with ties to Colombia for the deaths of two National Guard soldiers. One person is now in custody. State media reports the guards may have been killed as revenge for a recent crackdown on smugglers along the Venezuela/Colombia border.

At least four people are dead in a suspected U.S. drone attack in Pakistan. It happened in North Waziristan, a Taliban stronghold near the Afghan border. A Pakistani official says a local militant leader was the apparent target.

New security measures being put in place for United Nations personnel in Afghanistan. Around 600 U.N. workers will now be moved out of the country. The move is in response to a Taliban attack last week that killed five U.N. workers at a guest house in the capital of Kabul. The U.N. has around 1,100 workers in Afghanistan with most of them living in Kabul.

More veterans in Ohio will soon be getting a little extra thanks from their state in the form of cash bonuses. Ohio voters overwhelmingly passed issue 1 on Tuesday. It gives bonuses of up to $1,000 to those who served in the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, or Iraq wars. Veterans who served in other places during these conflicts get $500.

And joining us to talk a little bit more about exactly how this will work is Bill Hartnett. He's the director of Ohio's Department of Veterans Services.

Bill, thanks for being with us.

BILL HARTNETT, DIRECTOR, OHIO DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS SERVICES: Well, thanks for having me.

COLLINS: First off, as we said, Ohio voters approved this overwhelmingly. Why such an important issue in your state?

HARTNETT: Well, I think, Heidi, that the history of Ohio has been to award these kind of benefits from the First World War, the Second World War, Korea, and Vietnam. And I think the governor and the leaders of both of the Houses in the legislature thought that this would be an opportunity for them to offer the people of the state of Ohio the opportunity to vote once again for a veterans benefit. And...

COLLINS: Yes.

HARTNETT: So the resolution went on the ballot and the people of Ohio said, yes, we want to do that.

COLLINS: How many people are we talking about here that will benefit from this?

HARTNETT: We're thinking about 200,000.

COLLINS: This is a DOD approximation, right?

HARTNETT: That's right.

COLLINS: OK. So 200,000 people and their families in all of this.

HARTNETT: Right.

COLLINS: It's not the first time, I know, that your state has actually offered bonuses to veterans of families that were -- that were killed in wars. When did your state first start doing this? This is way back World War II or Korean War?

HARTNETT: Yes, it was -- it's been through since World War I. And along with the bonus in this one, Heidi, if the warrior has fallen or is POW, the family will receive a $5,000 bonus.

COLLINS: Yes, understood. It's a good sum of money, of course, when you talk about money and people that are lost at war, obviously, there's never a comparison. But I do wonder this. We've been talking a lot about the economy for a very long time and state's budgets in this economy.

Is this something that is going to be difficult for the state of Ohio to come up with? Or are we not talking about state funds here at all?

HARTNETT: Well, we are. We're talking about floating bonds that would be sold over time as the money was needed to pay the benefits. And, of course, the state of Ohio will have to pay off those bonds, but they have a number of years to do that. So this is not going to affect immediately the operating budget of the state of Ohio.

COLLINS: Is there any indication as to how people will use some of this money? And I wonder if -- you're a veteran of the Korean War, if you had gotten any type of bonus.

HARTNETT: Yes, I did. And along with the G.I. bill, it helped me get through my first year of college, as a matter of fact.

COLLINS: Yes. Yes. All right. Well, we will continue to follow this story and the state of Ohio in all of this.

Bill Hartnett, we sure do appreciate your time. He's the Ohio Department of Veterans Affairs director. And thanks again for your service to the U.S. Navy. Appreciate it.

HARTNETT: Thank you very much.

COLLINS: This week's elections, as you know, are over. Well, now Democrats and Republicans look ahead and focus on the west. We'll tell you why.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: Live in the CNN NEWSROOM, Heidi Collins.

COLLINS: Main Street is the focus on Wall Street today. We have new reports on how consumers and the job market are doing.

Susan Lisovicz is in New York now with more details on that as we get ready for the opening bell.

Good morning, Susan.

SUSAN LISOVICZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Heidi. Stocks are set to rise as early retail sales numbers show consumers are starting to shop again. No one is splurging, of course, but wholesaler Costco did post a 5 percent increase in sales and GAP got a boost from its lower price brand, Old Navy.

A preliminary tally shows most retailers did, in fact, better than expected. This comes as layoffs continue to slow. New jobless claims fell more than expected last week to 512,000. That's the lowest number since January. But let's face it, it's still an awfully big number. Because of that, the Senate voted to extend unemployment benefits by up to 20 weeks. It would be the third emergency extension. The bill also includes a provision to extend the popular first-time home buyer tax credit into next year. Now the measure goes to the House, which has its own version to reconcile.

Some companies are starting to ramp up hiring. Cisco plans to bring in new workers. This comes as the tech giant reported better than expected quarterly profit and said it expects revenue growth this quarter for the first time in a year. Cisco shares from up three percent. The Dow industrials are up three quarters of a percent, the NASDAQ is up one percent. It's all good.

And, finally, Heidi, it's neither gratuitous or boastful when I say that the Yankees...

COLLINS: Oh, here we go.

LISOVICZ: ... win over the Phillies. You've got to hear it -- could bode well.

COLLINS: Yes.

LISOVICZ: Start spreading the news. Could bode well for Wall Street. Standard & Poor's says that when the Bronx Bombers win the World Series, the S&P returns an average of 10 percent the next year. One caveat, the stock market tends to perform even before when a national league team wins.

But a national league team didn't win. An American league team did win. And we are not in seventh heaven, we are in 27th heaven.

COLLINS: Wow.

LISOVICZ: There you go.

COLLINS: Now, is that your music that you brought along with you today? Or is that actually being played at the NYSE?

LISOVICZ: I think it's outside. I think people -- you know, this is the time that doesn't play it right.

(CROSSTALK)

COLLINS: We actually had a live shot just a little while ago of the Yankees store there in New York. I'm understanding that they've sold out of medium -- oh, look, there it is again. They've sold out a medium and large T-shirts, halfway sold out of World Series logo hats. I mean, obviously, people are going crazy.

LISOVICZ: I got my hat. I got it at the ACLS.

(CROSSTALK)

COLLINS: Yes, very good.

LISOVICZ: Yes, I got.

COLLINS: Oh, it looks good.

LISOVICZ: And you know what, you got the Dow 2.0, 10,000 2.0. Are you putting in a request on air for another hat, Heidi?

COLLINS: For my second favorite baseball team. Yes, I'd prefer the Minnesota twins to have taken the whole thing, but that is all history now. So, yes, you know me. Fair weather fan, I always go with the wear.

LISOVICZ: To the victor go the spoils.

COLLINS: All right. Susan, we'll check back later. And keep watching those numbers.

LISOVICZ: We'll see you later.

COLLINS: Thanks so much.

Quickly, we want to go ahead and get you to what is happening. Let's go to this first. The campaign trail, Barack Obama, the candidate promised to address issues impacting Native Americans. We've been telling you that this event was going to happen. He's going to keep that promise this hour. You see the president at the podium right now. He's hosting this interactive discussion with leaders from 564 federally recognized tribes. Let's go ahead and listen in to what he's got to say.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... for the invocation. Good morning to all of you. I am honored to be with you roday at this unique and historic event. The largest and most widely attended gathering of tribal leaders in our history. And I am...

(APPLAUSE)

... I am so grateful to many members of Congress who could join us today, along with several members of my Cabinet, who will be participating in this conference today.

You know, a couple of summers ago, I had the opportunity to visit the Crow Nation in Montana. And while I was there, I was adopted into the nation by a wonderful couple, Hartford and Mary Blackeagle. And I know what they're saying now. Kids grow up so fast.

(LAUGHTER)

Only in America could the adoptive son of Crow Indians grow up to become president of the United States.

(APPLAUSE) It's now been a year since the American people went to the polls and gave me this extraordinary privilege and responsibility. And part of what accounts for the hope people felt on that day, I think, was a sense that we had an opportunity to change the way Washington worked. A chance to make our federal government the servant not of special interests, but of the American people.

There was a sense that we had an opportunity to bring about meaningful hange for those who had for too long been excluded from the American Dream. And few have been more marginalized and ignored by Washington for as long as Native Americans, our first Americans. We know the history that we share. It's a history marked by violence and disease and deprivation, treaties were violated, promises were broken. You were told your lands, your religion, your cultures, your languages were not yours to keep. And that's a history that we've got to acknowledge if we are to move forward.

And we also know our more recent history, one in which too often Washington thought it knew what was best for you. There was too little consultation between governments, and that's the major reason why things are the way they are today.

Some of your reservations face unemployment rates of up to 80 percent. Roughly a quarter of all Native Americans live in poverty. More than 14 percent of all reservation homes don't have electricity, and 12 percent don't have access to a safe water supply. In some reservations, as many as 20 people live together just to get by. Without real communication and consultation, we're stuck year after year with policies that don't work on issues specific to you and on broader issues that affect all of us. And you deserve to have a voice in both.

I know that you may be skeptical that this time will be any different, you have every right to be, and nobody would have blamed you if you didn't come today. But you did. And I know what an extraordinary leap of faith that is on your part. And that's why I want you to know that I'm absolutely committed to moving forward with you and forging a new and better future together. It's a commitment that's deeper than our unique nation to nation relationship. It's a commitment to getting this relationship right so that you can be full partners in the American economy, and so your children and your grandchildren can have an equal shot at pursuing the American dream. And that begins by fulfilling the promises I made to you during my campaign.

I promised you a voice on my senior staff in the White House so that you'd have a seat at the table when important decisions are being made about your lives, your nations, and your people. And that's why I appointed Kimberly Teehee of the Cherokee Nation as my Native American policy adviser and Jodi Gillette of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to work directly with all of you. That's why...

(APPLAUSE)

COLLINS: All right, just giving you a little bit of the flavor of what is going on right now in Washington. The Department of the Interior, the president is giving the opening and closing remarks as well today, to the White House Tribal Nations Conference. Right now talking and addressing the leaders from 564 federally recognized tribes across the country. Something that he promised he would be doing during the campaign.

This morning, we are unveiling a brand-new Web site. We're calling it CNNChallenge.com. It's where all you news junkies out there can test your knowledge of what's making news.

Our Josh Levs here with the details.

Hey, Josh.

JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Heidi. It's so much fun. We're going to check it out. And it has a really dramatic intro. In fact, let's zoom in on the scene. I'm going to show everyone the dramatic open to the new CNNChallenge.com. Take a look.

(VIDEO CLIP)

LEVS: There you go. Pretty self-explanatory. Basically, CNNChallenge.com is packed with all these questions. And what you do is we have this intro for you, and then you are able to click on a CNN personality, and each of them gives you a reason why you should choose him or her.

For example, let's listen to Larry over here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY KING, CNN HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": I'm Larry King, but you knew that already. Pick me, and let's get this thing started.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEVS: All right. Maybe, Larry. Let's try Wolf.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR, "THE SITUATION ROOM": Happening now, you, picking me, to host your quiz.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEVS: So let's go with Wolf for now. So here's the basic idea. Once you've established this, you go to over to the CNN challenge itself, and whoever you chose is going to guide you through the game. You click begin, it gives you a series of questions and for each of those questions you get some points. And then you can test yourself among people all over the country.

Now I could click "Begin" and go to the questions right there myself, but we have a better system set up for you today. Our Nicole Lapin is in the atrium with some visitors, who are going to help us tackle some of these questions.

Let's bring in, Nicole, and we'll talk to her a little bit.

Hey, there, Nicole. Are you with us?

NICOLE LAPIN, CNN.COM: Sure.

LEVS: OK. Is she just breaking up for me or is she breaking up for everybody?

Oh, she's breaking up for everybody. So here's what I'm going to do instead. You know, I love that we can get live shots from Baghdad, but when we go downstairs, we kind of get lost. So let's do this instead.

I'm going to show you all the question right here, but we are going to go back to our visitors right after the break for the answer. Here's the first question. You all at home can think about this as well. This is what we're posing.

First question, CNNChallenge.com today. "Who did the Southern Christian Leadership Conference elect as its first female president? You have 30 seconds to think about the answer. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: Josh Levs back now to show you a little bit more about our new Web site, CNNChallenge.com.

Hey, Josh.

LEVS: And we just gave everybody 30 seconds to think about the answer, but I've got to cover it up here, because I have the answer open now. But let's try to go to Nicole who should be in the atrium with some of our visitors.

Hey, Nicole Lapin, how you doing?

Not so much?

Oh, man, this is so going to be on YouTube. Sorry, Nicole. We are going to come back to you very soon, as soon as we can make this work. Let's just zoom in to the screen behind me. This is the answer, everybody, of the four options that we gave you.

"Who did the Southern Christian Leadership Conference elect as its first female president?" The answer right there is Bernice King.

And here's what I'll do really quickly. I'll just zoom to the next question, as a tease for next hour. Basically, as the question appears, you see a time countdown. And what happens with the time is, as these seconds disappear, so did the number of points that you get if you answer the question right.

There's a whole bunch of great questions right here, and you can have a lot of fun with it today, CNNChallenge.com.

We're going to tackle that question next hour, and we're going to get that to work. And I'll tell you something, it's been up and running throughout this morning, getting really good traffic. We want to hear from you. You can go ahead and let us know on the blog or Facebook or Twitter, Josh Levs CNN, what you're thinking about all of this. And, hey, if you get a perfect score, save a screen grab and maybe we'll showcase it right here on the air.

And, Heidi, I'll see you next hour with some more great stuff from CNNChallenge.com.

COLLINS: Great. Thank you, Josh.

LEVS: Thank you.

COLLINS: Emergency sick pay for swine flu victims. A move is on to make it law.

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COLLINS: Ice cream, beer, high-tech devices. People from all over the world, including the United States are in Cuba this week making sales pitches at an international trade fair. If the trip is a success, they'll walk away with a contract to have their goods sold in Cuba.

More now from CNN's Rafael Romo is joining me here.

So, Rafael, is it the first time that American companies actually visit Cuba in an effort to sell their products? Or some of them have been there before.

RAFAEL ROMO, SENIOR LATIN AMERICAN AFFAIRS EDITOR: Well, not necessarily the first time, Heidi, but it's definitely the most significant one. In 2000, the U.S. government changed the law, and for the first time, it was allowed to trade food and medicines to Cuba. This time, we have a very significant delegation of American business people who are going to Cuba and trying to come back with contracts for trade with Cuba, specifically companies from Chicago, from California. We're talking about agricultural products and services that are badly needed in Cuba. And right now, that market is not open to U.S. businesses.

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COLLINS: More now from CNN's Rafael Romo who's joining me here. So Rafael, is it the first time that American companies actually visit Cuba in an effort to sell their products? Some of them have been there before.

ROMO: Well, not necessarily the first time, Heidi, but it's definitely the most significant one. In 2000, the U.S. government changed the law and for the first time, it was allowed to trade food and medicines to Cuba.

This time, we have a very significant delegation of American business people who are going to Cuba and trying to come back with contracts for trade with Cuba, specifically companies from Chicago, from California, we're talking about agricultural products and services that are badly need in Cuba and right now that market is not open to U.S. businesses.

COLLINS: Yes.

What do Cuban-Americans in the United States think about all of this?

ROMO: It's always a very emotionally...

COLLINS: Sure.

ROMO: ... charged issue, because many people still feel that any openness to Cuba is a recognition of the regime that has been in power for almost 50 years. So a lot of the population, Cuban-Americans in Miami, specifically don't want that happen...

COLLINS: Yes, you can't ignore the history of course.

ROMO: However, we saw a recent poll that says that about 43 percent of people would support the idea of not only opening trade with Cuba but also lifting the travel ban that has been in place for many decades now. They say that the embargo has not really changed the situation in Cuba. It's time to try something new. Maybe it's time to change our tactics, start trading with Cuba and allow people to go back to the island.

COLLINS: Yes, well, obviously, there are very specific reasons as to why those embargoes were put in place in the beginning or in the first place. Has there been some sort of change that has happened recently between U.S./Cuba relations? Where all this is coming about?

ROMO: Most definitely. During the last administration, you would see in Havana huge billboards portraying President Bush, comparing him to Hitler. Now those billboards have disappeared.

The Castro brothers, Raul and Fidel themselves say that it's a new beginning to America. They're thawing their -- trying to thaw their relationship with America. It's a different ball game.

COLLINS: But what, specifically, policy-wise, has President Obama done that has changed that?

ROMO: President Obama seems more supportive to open trade with Cuba and also has been talking about lifting the travel ban specifically for people from -- who were born originally in Cuba. He says it's time to change it. But then again, you have a very strong politically contingent in Miami that totally opposes this.

COLLINS: Yes, how is the economic situation right now in Cuba for the average Cuban?

ROMO: It's really bad, but the interesting situation and something that most Americans don't know, is that in the black market in Cuba, the currency is the dollar. Officially, it's not supposed to be like that, but if you want to buy a kilo of steak in Cuba, it can only be traded in dollars.

And other things that is very important, too. Cuba trades about $10 billion every year and American businesses I've seen; we just want a piece of the pie, which they want to participate and be able to trade with a nation that is only 90 miles away from Florida, from the Florida Keys.

COLLINS: Yes, yes some of the businesses, anyway, right?

ROMO: Yes.

COLLINS: I'm sure there are some who are very opposed still.

ROMO: Well, when you go to the political arena, it's a different issue.

COLLINS: Yes, yes, it's hard to separate them sometimes. All right, well, Rafael Romo, we certainly do appreciate the update. Thank you.

ROMO: Thank you.

COLLINS: The great gurney race, tearing through the streets of Birmingham, Alabama. Teams looking to finish first, but just as importantly, last.

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COLLINS: The H1N1 flu vaccine is heading for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan -- sorry it's totally my fault.

We wanted to show you the DOW because we're up triple digits; right now up by 127 points or so. The NASDAQ also up by about 30. As always we will continue to watch those numbers for you and try to get a good idea of why we are to the positive. So great.

We will check in with Susan Lisovicz a little bit later.

Meanwhile, back to this story, fighting the flu, the vaccine heading for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan now. But there is a bit of a glitch. The first shipment contains only about 150,000 doses; actually half of the 300,000 doses that were requested for war zone troops.

A Pentagon spokesman says quote, "We are doing everything within our power to get the vaccines to the troops," but it is still unclear when the other half, 150,000 doses, will actually arrive.

You're sick with H1N1 flu and even sicker over being out of work without pay. At least one U.S. Congressman wants to help with that. He is proposing emergency legislation now to grant swine flu victims five days of paid leave. How is it going to work?

CNN's Lisa Sylvester has details.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If you come down with the flu, you are told to stay home until you get better. That's the advice of doctors, the Centers for Disease Control; even many bosses are saying stay away.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The day of being a hero by coming in sick...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... those days are over. The message now needs to be you're a hero if you're sick and you stay home. So please don't come to work.

SYLVESTER: But according to the National Partnership for Women and Families, 57 million American workers have no paid sick leave. Missing work can mean a deep cut in a monthly paycheck or even possibly a pink slip.

Congressman George Miller has introduced the H1N1 Flu Emergency Sick Leave Bill. The legislation would grant five days of sick leave a year if an employer directs a sick worker to stay home or go home. It would apply to companies with 15 or more employees that do not already provide that amount of sick leave.

Part-time workers would also be eligible on a prorated basis. The emergency law would sunset after two years. But businesses would have to foot the bill. Representative Miller says it's in their interest to keep sick workers out of the workplace and away from customers.

REP. GEORGE MILLER (D), CALIFORNIA: We have thousands -- tens of thousands of workers who are working with the public every day in food service, in cafeterias, in school lunch programs, in airports and hospitality. Those people are generators of additional infections of H1N1 so we got to get them -- get home, get well, and then go back.

SYLVESTER: According to the Centers for Disease Control, a sick worker can infect 10 percent of co-workers.

(on camera): Congressman Miller has scheduled a hearing in two weeks from the bill. The legislation will have an impact on some of the workers in the service industry, restaurant and hotel workers who may not currently have a sick leave policy.

Now, we did receive a comment from the American Hotel and Lodging Association. They said while most of their members know it is better to let sick employees go home to recover, they do see this bill as quote, "Nothing more than an excuse to force more paid leave mandates on employers in an already weak economy."

Lisa Sylvester, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: All right so as always, we would love to know what you think about this. We kind of thought it was a talker (ph) this morning. Do you actually think that Congress should pass some sort of bill that would mandate employers, grant their employees emergency sick leave with direct reference to H1N1?

Go ahead and leave us your comments. You can always go to CNN.com/Heidi and leave your comments there. We of course will share some of them with you a little bit later on right here in the CNN NEWSROOM.

We have a lot going on this morning as always. Our CNN crews are in place to bring you the details. We want to check in with our correspondents now beginning with Christine Romans in New York. Good morning once again, Christine.

ROMANS: Good morning Heidi. Listen up, if you have run out of jobless benefits, important action in Congress could mean another extension is on the way and you aren't a first-time home buyer but you want to get a tax credit, too, that might be coming down the pike. I'm going to be having that for you in about 6 to 7 minute don't go away.

LISOVICZ: I'm Susan Lisovicz in New York where stocks are getting a boost from new numbers showing layoffs are slowing. That's the third upbeat labor report of the week. Heidi, more on that in the next hour.

WOLF: And I'm Reynolds Wolf in the CNN Weather Center where we're keeping a very sharp eye on hurricane Ida which could bring over a foot of rainfall to parts of Central America. Coming up in a few moments we'll give you an idea of what the storm may mean for the rest of us here in the U.S.

COLLINS: Ok, very good. Thanks so much, guys. Also ahead, we'll look at an insurance company so highly praised it only accepts a select group of people. Those ranks though, are about to expand. We'll tell you if you qualify.

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COLLINS: Forget the Kentucky Derby. In Alabama, they have the Gurney Derby. It's an annual homecoming tradition at the University of Alabama Birmingham. Teams race their gurneys down the street with fake passengers on board -- thank goodness. They gave out prizes for fastest team, slowest team and best dressed gurney.

Then there's the roach race in West Palm Beach, Florida. Gross. It's actually called the Great American Bug Race. The event was started 27 years ago by the science club at Palm Beach Atlantic University. Some of the competitors were well prepared for the race.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Run around for a bit, you know, get him warmed up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're training as we speak. It's climbing sides. (END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: That's sick. The winning bug got $100. Much better than the plaque that the winner got in the gurney race though, at least.