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THE SITUATION ROOM

Iran Test-Fires Advanced Missile; Interview With Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders

Aired December 16, 2009 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And happening now: Iran thumbs its nose at the world again. It has launched an advanced missile that could hit U.S. allies, possibly U.S. military bases in the Middle East.

It is like cash for clunkers, but in Japan. Get this. Japanese car buyers are not allowed the buy American, and now there is outrage after the U.S. clunkers program helped the sale of many Japanese-made cars.

And action taken in your interest, will it help or hurt your wallet? The Fed acts to drive down unemployment and pump up the economy, just part of the reason that the Fed chief earned a coveted American honor.

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's Sejil-2 blasting off.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: A show of military might from Iran is prompting serious concerns right now around the world. Today, Tehran tested its most advanced surface-to-surface missile, a weapon that has the capability to hit Israel and parts of Europe. The move comes as tensions over Iran's nuclear program escalate.

CNN's Brian Todd is over at the magic wall with details -- Brian.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the news today out of the Iran that the Iranians have test-fired a medium-range ballistic missile called the Sejil-2, a U.S. official says this does not represent a major advancement in Iran's missile technology, but it is concerning nonetheless.

And here to talk about that with is us Joe Cirincione. He is with the plow shares fund. This is a group that works toward nonproliferation and conflict resolution all over the world. He is joining us here as a weapons expert to talk about this.

First, let's talk about the range. We know that the Iranians so far have missile capability to can go roughly 400 miles from where they are located. They have missile capability that they have tested that can go about 800 miles from Iran.

This latest one, we think, can go about 1,200 miles, 2,000 kilometers, from Iran.

And, Joe, what does that mean as far as the range of this weapon and the concern for the U.S. and its allies?

JOSEPH CIRINCIONE, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Well, Brian, it means two things. First, it brings a whole new range of targets potentially within range of an Iranian ballistic missile strike.

And it also means that the Iranians could pull back the missile force to various parts of their country and still be able to hit key targets, for example, the U.S. NATO base in Turkey, where we store tactical nuclear weapons.

TODD: OK. I also want to talk to you about the -- the fuel that this weapon uses. We know, bring in some video of the test-firing here, that it runs on solid fuel, not liquid fuel. What does that mean?

CIRINCIONE: It means two things.

First of all, it means it's a mobile device. So, they don't have to spend hours or days bringing the missile out to a launchpad and pumping the fuel into it. They can put it on a truck, hide it in caves, bring it out. And here's the second thing. It means it will be ready to launch within minutes, not hours or days, a much more formidable military capability.

TODD: All right, Joe Cirincione, thanks very much for joining us.

That's it, Wolf, new missile test for Iran that has the U.S. and its allies once again very concerned.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: It's a huge nightmare for President Obama right now, a huge challenge what is going on with Iran.

He has got another big issue, a huge challenge right here in the United States, and that involves health care reform. It is in a critical stage right now. In the next day or two, they have got to make some major decisions.

Let's go to our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.

When I say the next day or two, that clock is ticking if they want to pass this in the Senate before Christmas, Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The clock is ticking very fast, Wolf. And what everybody here has been waiting is for the Congressional Budget Office to give Senate Democrats their analysis of the compromise idea they came up with about a week ago.

This has been about a weeklong waiting game. But guess what? Two Democrat senators told me that Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, actually already has many of the facts and figures back from the CBO and it is all being kept a secret. Why? Because he is currently trying to work on a compromise package that he can actually find 60 senators to vote for.

And that is especially important for the pretty much remaining holdout on the right of the caucus. And that is Ben Nelson.

BLITZER: Ben Nelson, what is he saying? Because he is the Democratic senator from Nebraska who tried to get stronger anti- abortion language in the Senate version. Didn't happen.

BASH: That is right. I spoke to Ben Nelson just a short while ago. He actually said that he has seen some compromise language that he called better than was in the bill on abortion. This is something that is being crafted by another anti-abortion Democrat, Bob Casey, who is kind of acting as a go-between between Senator Nelson and the Democratic leadership.

Senator Nelson said that he is going to send that back to some of the interests, the anti-abortion interests in his state, and he says that it is better, but it is not a done deal yet. He has been talking for days and days with Senator Reid about coming to a common ground on abortion, and specifically making the restrictions on abortion in the Senate bill tougher than they are now.

BLITZER: Dana will be watching all of us. As I say, these days right now are critical indeed for the fate of health care reform in the U.S. Senate.

Breathing room for the U.S. Treasury, though, meanwhile. Today, the House of Representatives voted to increase the amount of debt the Treasury is allowed to carry by $290 billion. That would cover borrowing needs through mid-February. Democratic leaders supported a much larger debt increase to avoid holding another vote before next year's midterm elections. The measure goes to the Senate, where it is expected to pass.

Jack Cafferty has got "The Cafferty File." He is joining us now live -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Congress, also, Wolf, turning its attention to one of the more pressing issues of our time. That would be lowering the volume of TV commercials. That is correct.

Apparently, we no longer need to be concerned with the small stuff, you know, the worst recession since the Great Depression, health care reform, skyrocketing deficits, the wars, 10 percent unemployment, a crisis in the education. The commercials on television are too loud and something must be done. The House has passed a measure by a voice vote called the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act, or CALM, which says that ads can be no louder than the TV shows during which they appear. An identical measure is making it way through the Senate.

Supporters call loud ads annoying and frustrating and say that they came up with the bill after finding out it was a common complaint with the Federal Communications Commission. The measure would require the FCC to set new rules within a year and start enforcing them a year later. Meanwhile, the experts say viewers might not even be able to tell the difference if this thing becomes law.

When asked why Congress has to get involved in this, Republican Congressman Cliff Stearns of Florida said: "You can say, well, that's fine. Just turn it off. But it's constantly an irritant when you have to do that. And we have all those football bowl games coming up" -- unquote.

I now want to sharpen a pencil and jam it in my ear, because I can't take this anymore.

Here's the question: On a list of the great issues of our time, where does controlling the volume of TV commercials rank?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. We have already got like, I don't know, a couple of thousand letters on this. Actually, some people are all head up about it, as they used to say out West.

BLITZER: What do you mean? Because they think the commercials are too loud?

CAFFERTY: Yes.

BLITZER: Yes. Well, that is what makes our country great.

CAFFERTY: They are living much too well if that is the biggest thing they have got to worry about.

BLITZER: Yes. All right, Jack, stand by.

Japan is now offering -- get this -- cash for clunkers, but American automakers are being excluded from their program, even though U.S. taxpayers subsidized sales of Japanese cars in this country. So what is going on?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: As President Obama prepares for a major climate summit, things appear to be breaking down both inside and outside.

In streets outside climate talks in Copenhagen, police beat protesters with batons and used pepper spray to control the mobs. Those demonstrators are demanding concrete steps to battle climate change.

But inside the talks, competing demands are sparking serious disputes that are threatening to deadlock this entire meeting. Among the tensions, discord between China and the U.S., between rich and developing nations, with lingering questions over emissions targets for industrial nations, and how to help poor countries battle global warming.

Let's go to out White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux.

Suzanne, the president is getting ready to leave tomorrow. He will be in Copenhagen Friday. What is he walking into?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, actually, Wolf, I have been on the phone through the day making calls to officials on the ground in Copenhagen. They say this is really a crunch time, that this is deal or no deal, and that there are signs, they say, both openly and behind closed doors, they don't believe necessarily that China wants a deal at this moment, the largest polluter in the world.

Why do they say that? There was actually a text that was introduced, perhaps some sort of global climate agreement that could have been introduced, and they rejected it outright without even seeing this text. That was China, India, and Sudan and Brazil, all of them rejecting this.

Simply, Chinese officials saying that, look, they don't feel that they should be singled out or subjected to this, what the United States is calling transparency here, taking a look at their emissions, proving that they are actually doing what they say when they say they are cutting back on carbon emissions.

But I pressed Robert Gibbs on this earlier today, saying, look, what are you going to do with China? What kind of carrots or sticks are you going to offer? And he says, look, we're just going to keep pressing this point that it's common sense, that transparency is really what is going to make a global commitment, a treaty stick. It's going to make it verifiable, that it's really important.

He said he also believes that the Chinese have already made some progress. Initially, you may recall, Wolf, they were not even expected to offer any kind of target cut-down and limit their own emissions. They have done that. It was not expected that they were going to attend this climate summit. They are actually going to attend.

And so there are some signs of progress so far, Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, we are going to be covering this summit, and I know the president has been busy, even making calls from the White House today to some world leaders. So, this story is certainly not going away.

Suzanne, thanks.

Some will relish what the Federal Reserve did today. Others will rail against it. It announces that it will keep its interest rate near zero percent and signals it will likely keep it that way for the near future.

For people looking to borrow money, you will probably get a low rate, but low rates hurt some people who are trying to save money as well.

The Fed hopes to help what it says is a slowly growing economy. Could the Fed's acts be part of the reason its chief earned a coveted American honor on this day?

Our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is joining us for more -- Jessica.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.

"TIME" magazine is calling Ben Bernanke person of the year. You can see the photo there. Some in the Senate call him the definition of a moral hazard. Now, clearly, Ben Bernanke, head of the Federal Reserve, inspires passionate responses. Critics say this is one reason why.

If you want to open up a savings account these days, the average interest rate you will get is 2.5 percent, pretty measly. But go and get any new credit card and, on average, you are going to be charged an interest rate of 11.68 percent, big difference there. Seems unfair.

Well, Bernanke's opponents insist that he is in part to blame, because the Federal Reserve they say has helped make financial institutions so big, that there is not enough competition to drive down some of the interest rates on the cards, drive up the savings account interest rates.

Now, critics are part of a group of very strange bedfellows that include conservative Republicans Jim Bunning of Kentucky, South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint, Louisiana's David Vitter, and then Democrat Jeff Merkley of Oregon, and even socialist Bernie Sanders Vermont.

All these folks think that Ben Bernanke should not get another term as Federal Reserve chairman. And Bernie Sanders is blocking his confirmation, accusing Bernanke of being a shill for Wall Street.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Ben Bernanke is their guy. And they want their guy to stay in office. And they are pulling out all the stops to make sure that that happens. And defeating Wall Street is not an easy proposition.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: OK. Well, there are supporters. He has many. And Bernanke's supporters say the guy helped pull the U.S. from the abyss. They point out that the Fed has given more than $2 trillion worth of low-cost loans to financial institutions, which kept them afloat, that he cut interest rates early and quickly, which helped average folks like you and me. He jump-started credit with special loans programs.

And Bernanke himself says, look, all of these actions helped avert a global collapse of the world banking system. It is a big fight. Expect more heat as the Senate considers his confirmation in the days to come. The first vote in the Senate Banking Committee happens on Bernanke tomorrow -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jessica, we're going to be speaking live with the independent senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders. That's coming up just in a couple minutes.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: In the fight over health care reform, listen closely. What you're about to see and hear is either a Republican attempt to show you exactly what is going on in the Senate or what Democrats are calling a Republican stunt.

It started around noon earlier today, when independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont took to the floor over his health care amendment. After that, Republican Senator Tom Coburn froze the health care debate by demanding Sanders' amendment be read aloud.

Senate then clerks began reading the 767-page amendment for a few hours. Fast-forward. Senator Sanders pulls his amendment, untying the Senate.

Let's talk about what happened on that and more with Senator Bernie Sanders.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

SANDERS: Good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: You want to tell us what happened here? Because it was unusual in the history of the Senate, starting to read a 760-odd-page amendment of yours.

SANDERS: Well, it is not so unusual in terms of what is going on with Republican obstructionism right now.

Very clearly, all this was is an effort to make sure that they shut down the government essentially perhaps for two days. And despite all of the major problems we have on health care in terms of massive unemployment, global warming, and national debt, what they want to do is, hey, let's stop the government from functioning, so that we can blame President Obama and the Democrats for not accomplishing anything.

It is very transparent. It's pretty pathetic. And I was a little bit annoyed.

BLITZER: Now, you withdraw it. It was an amendment. It basically called for a single-payer system, which you knew was not going to get off of the ground anyhow.

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: Right. Certainly, I knew it was not going to win, but I was very excited and millions of people were excited that finally for first time in American history, a Medicare-for-all single-payer system was going to be introduced on the floor of the Senate, which in my view is the only way that we will ever provide comprehensive universal cost-effective health care for all of our people.

And I was disappointed, very disappointed, as many people were that we couldn't get a vote on that.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: How disappointed in the version that is before the Senate right now, without a public option, without reducing the Medicare age to 55? The former Governor of your state Howard Dean says it is not worth supporting any longer. Are you with Howard Dean or with Harry Reid?

SANDERS: Well, I am doing my best at this moment to make this bill as strong as it possibly can be, so it becomes a bill, Wolf, that I can vote for in good conscious.

Right now, with the withdrawal of the public option, what that means is that the private insurance companies are not going to have any competition. And they are going to be able, it seems to me, to be able other continue to raise their rates as high as they want, which is what they have been doing for many years. So, what I am right now doing is working with the White House, working with the Democratic leadership to try to make this bill as strong as I can.

And, right now, I have made it clear that, at this point, it is not for sure that I will vote for that bill unless it becomes significantly better.

BLITZER: Would you join with the Republicans in supporting a filibuster?

SANDERS: Well, right now, we are going to try to make this bill as strong as it possibly can...

BLITZER: What if you can't it any better?

SANDERS: Look, look, we have had a situation in this country where decade after decade people have talked about health care reform. This bill has some good things in it. And I don't want to dismiss it. President Obama is trying to do some good things. Democratic leadership is trying to do some good things.

What I am trying to do is make this bill as good as it can be in a number of respects. And I will be back to you as soon as I reach that decision.

BLITZER: So, your vote right now is literally undecided? SANDERS: That is correct.

BLITZER: Let's talk about Ben Bernanke. "TIME" magazine today named him the person of the year. You don't want him to get a second term as chairman of the Federal Reserve. Why?

SANDERS: Well, I thought that was an April Fool's cover for "TIME" magazine. I thought they were kidding.

Here is what you got. This country is in the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression, and everybody knows the reason is based on the greed and recklessness of Wall Street and the collapse of major financial institutions.

Guess what? The major mandate of the Federal Reserve is the safety and soundness of our financial system. Does anybody in the world think that Chairman Bernanke was doing his job when Wall Street was engaged in reckless gambling activities, excessive speculation that led to the collapse? It is beyond my comprehension how anybody would want to reappoint this guy.

Furthermore, Wolf...

BLITZER: Let me interrupt for a second, Senator. It's not anyone. It's the president of the United States, your fellow Democrat. President Obama wants to reappoint him.

SANDERS: I'm an independent, not a Democrat. And I disagree with the president.

After the bailout, there were many things that Bernanke could have done to help the middle class and small businesses. He could have said to the bailed-out banks, you know what, you are not going to charge Americans 25 or 30 percent interest rates on credit cards. You know what, we are not going to allow the largest banks in America, the banks we bailed out because they were too big to fail to become even bigger.

That is pretty crazy. I'm a member of the Budget Committee. When Bernanke came before my committee, I said, Mr. Bernanke, you have lent -- as your correspondent mentioned a moment ago -- trillions of dollars at zero interest to the largest financial institutions in America. Can you please tell me the names and the term of those loans? Who got the money?

And Mr. Bernanke said, no, ain't going to tell you.

Well, if he ain't going to tell me, he is not a guy who should be reappointed head of the Fed.

BLITZER: Bernie Sanders is the independent senator from Vermont, but he does caucus with the Democrats.

SANDERS: That's right.

BLITZER: Thanks so much for coming in. SANDERS: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.

It is like cash for clunkers in Japan, but there's outrage here in the United States. Japanese car buyers are not allowed the buy American, even though, in the American cash for clunkers program, many people bought Japanese car brands. So, what can the U.S. do about this, if anything?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now: Partisan tensions flare and Senate debate on health care reform comes to a grinding halt as clerks are forced to read a 767-page amendment out loud.

Also, massive loan confusion. Ali Velshi is on the CNN Express looking at the daunting hurdles facing people desperately trying to modify their mortgages.

And the liberal backlash on health care reform. The best political team on television is standing by to assess all of this and more.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Japan has its own cash for clunkers program, but while American taxpayers helped support Japanese car sales last summer here in the United States, American automakers are actually barred from the Japanese program.

Let's go to Mary Snow. She is working the they.

Mary, explain what is going on.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Japan's incentive program is similar to what was done in the U.S. Trade in an old car for a more fuel-efficient one and get a tax credit.

What has made U.S. automakers angry is, they are excluded. It's not that U.S. automakers have a significant presence in Japan. They don't. It's very small. It's been that way for decades. But a group representing Ford, General Motors and Chrysler says, this is discrimination, and the group's president says, this fight is about principle.

Here is what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHEN COLLINS, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN AUTOMOTIVE POLICY COUNCIL: What is different about this is that this is so in your face to the U.S. This is so galling to us, because we had a Cash for Clunkers program, our government had a Cash for Clunkers program that people are very familiar with, this summer. It was a $3 billion program of direct cash support from the U.S. government. About half of that went to purchases of Japanese cars.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SNOW: Take a look at the numbers, roughly 677,000 vehicles were sold in the Cash for Clunkers program this summer. Japanese brands made up nearly half that numbers. Now not all those cars were imports, many were made in the U.S., but that has not stemmed any anger, Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary, is Congress threatening to get involved?

SNOW: One lawmakers has already spoken out, Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, home of the Big Three. She says it is outrageous that American car companies are excluded from the Japanese Cash for Clunkers programs. At this point, she has joined automakers in calling on the government to take action, but not really clear what the U.S. can do at this point.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Trade Representatives office told us that members did bring up this issue last week with Japanese officials in Tokyo and that both sides agreed to continue to consult with each other. Now as for what Japan is saying about this, his chief cabinet secretary was quoted in recent days, saying there is no discrimination and that purpose is to fulfill environmental requirements. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right Mary, thank you.

Let's bring in the best political team on television. Joining us are senior political analyst Gloria Borger, the Democratic strategist, CNN political contributor Donna Brazile, Republican strategist Terry Jeffrey, editor-in-chief of the conservative news Web site cnsnews.com. And CNN senior political analyst David Gergen.

David, listen to what the president told Charlie Gibson of ABC News earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Anybody who says that they are concerned about the deficit, concerned about debt, concerned about loading up taxes on future generations, you have to be supportive of this health care bill because if we don't do this, nobody argues with the fact that health care costs are going to consume the entire federal budget.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Just to reiterate what he said, health care costs are going to consume the entire federal budget. Is that true if the status quo remains?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: That would be true. There are those who also believe if you pass this reform, that will continue to be true, and that's the problem.

The president and his people and many Democrats believe that this will succeed in bending the cost curve. It will succeed in lowering costs, but there are many other significant people who don't agree with him, starting with Howard Dean, who just issued a blast against this saying it's not really going to bring down cost.

But also the chief actuary at Medicare, Richard Foster, has said if you pass the Senate bill, it's going to actually increase costs above what they would be. But very importantly, Wolf, the public is increasingly come to believe this can increase cost. The polls in the last few weeks have definitely gotten worse for the White House.

BLITZER: Yes because Donna, let me just show you what this "Washington Post"/ABC News poll shows this, on the question, how is President Obama handling health care? Forty-four percent approve of the way he's handling health care, but 53 percent disapprove of the way he is handling health care. Politicians read those polls, as you well know.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: They do, but I don't think that those polls should guide the policy, because if the policy is right, then the politics will follow. And you know, we can discuss all of politics, but seven presidents have tried and failed to pass health care reform. It is tough, it is difficult, but it is also important that the Democrats get it right, to lower costs, provide quality, ensure quality and competition and access for all Americans.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Here is the problem the Democrats face right now which is on the one hand, they have to prove that they're governing majority, so they need to pass some kind of health care reform because they need to tell the American public, look, we can get something done. This was the president's main priority.

On the other hand, the longer this bill has remained out here, the more the public has decided it doesn't like it. And on the specific deficit question, our own CNN poll shows that eight of 10 people actually believe it is going to add to the deficit. So, they --

BLITZER: But they can't ignore the fact, Terry, that the Congressional Budget Office came out with their estimate that it will reduce the deficit over the next 10 years.

TERRY JEFFREY, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, CNSNEWS.COM: Exactly, Wolf. And I read that, and if you read it carefully, what you find out is this bill, the essential elements don't kick in until 2014.

So next year it's $0 and $4 billion and $4 billion. It starts to escalate in 2014. The entitlements in this bill according to the CBO will cost $194 billion by 2019. Now let me say this, give President Obama his due.

The Peter G. Peterson Foundation run by David Walker, former controller general of the United States earlier this year estimated this country faces a $56.4 trillion in unfunded liabilities. That is the entitlement benefits not covered by taxes that we already have. That is $435,000 for every full-time worker in the United States. President Obama's budget would add $7 trillion in new debt over the next decade according to the CBO before the health care bill.

BLITZER: David?

GERGEN: Wolf, I think the issue here -- look, I think there is a very good chance he's going to get the Senate to pass this in the next few days. It is going to be a big victory. But given the state of public play, the inability of the White House, I think Donna you would agree with this, if they have not done as good a job as they needed to to persuade people that this bill is the right bill, that it is not just about passing a bill, but the right bill for the country.

That there is a growing danger that this thing could still come apart after the Senate passes it, because the longer it goes out there and people go back to their districts and find this kind of opposition rising in their districts, it becomes a very, very hard vote for them next year when they get a conference report.

BRAZILE: Well -- go ahead.

BORGER: Here is the other part, it is not just the deficit, it's whether people actually believe that it's going to help their families. Our poll shows 75 percent say no, this isn't going to help my family. So the president talking about the deficit issue, talking about message, isn't the issue that people are focusing on right now. They say, OK, it is going to cost us all of this money and it's not going to help us, right?

BRAZILE: But remember, we spent months debating this issue. And most of the debates have focused on some of the false issues of the misleading facts about the health care bill. The fact that it will end discrimination against many Americans with pre-existing condition, and it will provide more choice and competition, so I think if we focus on the facts, the American people will like the details.

BLITZER: I've got to interrupt for a very important developing story we are working on right now. I think we have something up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Take a look at this. What is this? Donna Brazile, don't walk too fast, because those candles will blow out.

BRAZILE: Wow. That is about right.

BLITZER: Donna Brazile with a new birthday with a zero at the end of that birthday. Excellent. Make a wish.

BRAZILE: Thank you. To many more days and nights in THE SITUATION ROOM and on CNN. Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Remember 50 is the new 40, maybe the new 30.

BRAZILE: I think it is the new 30. Thank you, thank you.

BLITZER: Happy birthday, Donna. Many, many happy birthdays to come here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

JEFFREY: Are you going to sing for her, Wolf? BLITZER: I'm going to sing during the commercial break, guys, stand by.

A major new development meanwhile in an international custody battle. A cautious hope that an American boy will soon be reunited with his father. Let's sing happy birthday as we go to break.

(SINGING)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get right back to Jessica. She's monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Jessica, what is going on?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there are new calls for Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to resign. The main opposition party is demanding that he step down following a court ruling today that amnesty protecting him from corruption charges is unconstitutional. That ruling could also raise new questions about his eligibility for him to be president. A spokesman for the Pakistani president says he has no intention of resigning.

Here is a story you have covered extensively, Wolf. A Brazilian court has ruled that American David Goldman's son must be returned to him. The boy's mother took the child to her native Brazil five years ago, divorced, remarried and died. Goldman has been battling his son's Brazilian family for custody ever since. His attorney says the court has ordered the boy to be handed over to his client within 48 hours. Goldman is expected to arrive in Rio de Janeiro tomorrow morning.

The NFL's Cincinnati Bengals have confirmed that wide receiver Chris Henry has been in a car accident in which he suffered very serious injuries. The accident took place in Charlotte, North Carolina. A police statement indicates Henry fell out of the back of a moving pickup truck during a domestic dispute with his fiancee.

And Americans desperately trying to hang on to their homes are facing some daunting hurdles. In some cases, their banks are making demands that are simply incomprehensible. Wolf, I'll toss it over to you, now.

BLITZER: That's a good point you're making, Jessica.

Let's go to CNN's chief business correspondent Ali Velshi on the CNN Election -- CNN Express, I should say, not the Election Express. Ali, where are you? Give us a little sense.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. I'm in beautiful Savannah, Georgia, right now. But we were in Columbia, South Carolina. We were driving through today to Savannah. We stopped at Hampton, South Carolina, just to get a bite to eat. Normally people come up to the CNN Express to tell us about their stories about recovery and what they are doing, but an alarmed woman came up with a FedEx envelope from the things that they're doing. But a very alarmed woman came up to me as we came for lunch. She had a FedEx envelope from the bank, a real reminder that things are still problematic. She had been applying to have her loan modified. She was one of these millions troubled Americans who can't get their loan fixed. Listen to a little bit of our exchange.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: All right. Let's take a look at what you've got. Tell me your situation.

NINA FAVORS, HOMEOWNER: They bring it to me last Friday and I have to try to get the loan modification, and they won't do anything, I don't have nothing. I don't know what to do. All I asked for them to do is to reduce my mortgage, that's all I asked them. I didn't ask them for nothing.

VELSHI: This is a very confusing letter. I mean, this doesn't tell you what the -- it doesn't make sense. It doesn't seem to have any specific reference to your situation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: Wolf, it is common as a business reporter that people come to you with their documents and ask you to explain them, and very often, we can.

This woman received a letter from the bank that was a generic letter, turning down her modification as you could ever imagine. There was nothing on there other than her name and her account number that identified her and it was a standard stock letter with any number of possibilities, about nine different reasons why she might have been turned down, nothing specific to her. She can't get a straight answer from the bank.

It is a common story, Wolf, but I am reminded of it because we are on recovery road and we are talking about recovery and people's creativity. I'm just reminded that a whole lot of people through no fault of their own just can't get straight answer from the bank. I gave her some advice as to who to call and how to sort it through, and I've asked her to keep in touch with me to let her know if she succeeds and whether or not we can at least help her get some clarity on her situation. But she is just one of millions of people like that, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, and you can't speak to millions of them with their specific problems but you're speaking to a lot of them right now. Ali, on the road for us in Savannah, Georgia. Thanks.

The volume of TV commercials, just how important is that issue? Jack Cafferty and your e-mail coming up.

And it's Sarah Palin versus Arnold Schwarzenegger in a battle over climate change.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack for "The Cafferty File." Jack?

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is on a list of the great issues of our time, where does controlling the volume of TV commercials rank?

John says "The blaring volume of TV commercials is one of the most offensive and intrusive aspects of American living room culture. It takes a law to fix this national shame? That is the real testimony to the callous disregard by American advertisers who insist on bludgeoning potential customers into submission with volume way beyond usual programming levels."

I think you are taking it pretty seriously, John.

Rob writes, "Certainly, this isn't one of the more pressing issues of the day, but neither was legislation addressing telemarketing calls. Those were merely a nuisance, but I know my quality of life improved once the laws were enacted restricting them. I get far fewer now. Some time you deal with the widespread annoyance because you can and because the little things add up."

Kate writes, "Jack, since they cannot seem to get a decent health care bill through, this Democrat would like to watch television in peace at the very least. Let's find out if the Republicans throw a fit claiming that the Obama's Congress is trying to regulate a business's right to blow my eardrums out."

Caryn in California says, "Though I do agree it's really annoying when a commercial comes on just blaring out at you, it does not even belong on the list. So disappointed in everything happening or not happening in Washington right now, I don't even have the words."

Bob in St. Louis, "Finally the Congress is showing they can accomplish a task without spending huge amounts of time and money to do something that Americans can agree upon. Maybe there is hope."

Jerry in Maryland writes, "It ranks very high, Jack. Commercials always wake me up when I fall asleep watching the evening news, and I hate that."

Jacquie in Chicago writes, "How will we know when it's time to go to the fridge?"

And Eric in Washington says, "Compared to everything else going on, this is a mute issue. Sorry, I just couldn't help myself."

If you want to read more on this, we've got lots and lots of mail on this subject. Go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile which is where you find my blog. Mr. Blitzer, I will see you tomorrow.

BLITZER: We definitely will. It's an excellent blog, I should say, indeed.

Let's check in with John Roberts to see what's coming up right at the top of the hour. John, what are you working on?

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, Wolf, thanks very much. Coming up at the top of the hour, we are following the dramatic results out of Brazil today. The 9-year-old boy at the center of a high-profile custody battle could finally be headed home. A Brazilian court handed a victory to the boy's New Jersey father after five long years. The case even threatened U.S./Brazil ties after Hillary Clinton got involved, but the ordeal may not be over. The boy's extended family in Brazil says they will continue the fight. Please join us for all that and more coming your way at the top of the hour.

And if I could add a personal note, Wolf, I thought Shakira was flirting with you earlier.

BLITZER: Yes, a lot of people did, but that's just wishful thinking I should say. All right.

ROBERTS: Whoa!

BLITZER: What does Lynn think about all of that, Wolf?

BLITZER: We will discuss later. Thank you.

All right. Getting hot under the collar over climate change. A fight erupting between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sarah Palin. We're going to tell you what that is all about.

Also, Tiger Woods today getting a huge honor. Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Tiger's billion dollar brand may be suffering here in the United States, but not in Dubai. The Emirates Dubai holding company say plans for a Tiger Woods golf course and community are moving forward despite Woods' admission of infidelity and Dubai's credit meltdown.

Meanwhile, members of the "Associated Press" have voted Tiger Woods athlete of the decade. He beat Lance Armstrong by 23 of the 142 ballots cast, many of them after Woods' family troubles were revealed. Some of Woods' celebrity friends say the golf legend has changed his cell phone number and isn't taking their calls. Listen to what NBA analyst Charles Barkley told HLN's Robin Meade in an upcoming special.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPIKE LEE, FILM DIRECTOR: He's insulated. And no one -- if Charles Barkley and Michael Jordan can't get...

ROBIN MEADE, HLN HOST: Right. That's insulation. Because you have his number. You have his number, right?

CHARLES BARKLEY, NBA ANALYST: Oh, he changed his number.

LEE: He changed it. If Charles and Michael can't get to him, then these other people are making bad moves. BARKLEY: I think when you have these fires in your life, as I call them, you need to talk to somebody else who is famous who have been through things like in your life. I don't think you can talk about it to your family and friends because your family and friends, they are not famous.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Charles Barkley, you saw Spike Lee there as well. You can see the entire interview and other big celebrity news of the year in that one-hour special. It's entitled "With All Due Respect." It airs this Sunday night 10 p.m. Eastern on HLN.

Let's go to Jessica Yellin for our Political Ticker. Jessica?

YELLIN: Wolf, from Tiger Woods to South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, in the news there is Governor Sanford will not be impeached. Today, the state House judiciary committee voted to rebuke him instead, blasting him for takes a secret trip to Argentina to meet his mistress and for misusing state airplanes. Lawmakers say Sanford's reprehensive actions brought ridicule, disgrace and shame to South Carolina. But, they said, those action does not rise to the level of constitutional impeachment. The full House and the state Senate are expected to vote on the rebuke resolution next year.

Well, he first met New Hampshire Republicans when he campaigned there for John McCain. Now Tim Pawlenty is back in New Hampshire as a potential presidential candidate himself. The Minnesota governor is the featured speaker at a GOP fundraiser tonight, and a source says he will plug his record of balancing state budgets without raising taxes and he will attack the Senate Democratic health care bill. Pawlenty has announced that he will not seek a third term in Minnesota, fueling speculation about a presidential bid. We'll hear much more about him in the months to come.

And this duo is seeing red about going green. A heated exchange over global warming between California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Alaska's ex-governor Sarah Palin. After Palin criticized the president's positions on climate change, Schwarzenegger openly questioned whether she is really interested in the subject, or if she's just playing politics. Palin fired back on her Facebook page accusing Schwarzenegger of pushing for the same sorts of policies that have quote "helped drive his state into record deficits." That's a fight that will keep on brewing.

Back to you, he Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, and we'll watch every second of it.

YELLIN: May I call you he Wolf?

BLITZER: You may, thank you. When we come back, Jeanne Moos.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Ever wonder what happens after you leave your car with a valet? CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a most unusual look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When you park, this is how you want the attendant to drive your car. But this is how it was done at a St. Louis garage at a Hyatt hotel no less. It was like valet choreography, valet cinematography.

Under the name valet underground, it was posted on YouTube, got rubber? And then later removed. But it's hard to remove this from your mind. Ooh, it's enough to give you the dreaded valet phobia.

Like in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," the attendant took the car and took it for a joyride. Pretty soon it was airborne. We so saw no airborne cars at the Hyatt garage and the valet parking company in charge there at the time has since been replaced, though apparently not on account of this.

It turns out there are similar valet stunts on YouTube. This one is entitled don't tip a dollar at Yankee Stadium.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Unbelievable.

YELLIN: Actually, Tom Cortezie (ph) believes it. Back in his college days, he used to valet park in Washington, D.C.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The guys I worked with were either drunk or high.

MOOS: And those guys sometimes took the cars for joyrides out on the highway.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One of our guys actually hit a person, smacked right into a pedestrian.

MOOS: Tom's advice?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ever since I valet parked, I tell all my friends and family, just don't do it.

MOOS: But if you do, check the mileage before and after. And tip. Does $5 ensure there was a joy ride?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's right.

MOOS: That is five bucks per attendant on duty.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's extortion.

MOOS: Or maybe distortion. Tom remembers one valet --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who had eaten mushrooms, psychedelic mushrooms before driving a car. Now that I can't even begin to imagine what the hell that is like.

MOOS: We can only imagine when mushrooms and donuts don't mix. Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Up next, "CNN TONIGHT."