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THE SITUATION ROOM

President Obama Speaks Out on Intelligence Failures; Interview With Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele

Aired January 5, 2010 - 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: The president says he won't accept excuses for intelligence failures that almost cost 300 lives. Mr. Obama reports information about the failed airline attack -- this hour, growing questions about if and when heads will roll.

The U.S. Embassy in Yemen is now open amid fresh warnings that the country is becoming a playground for al Qaeda. We are going to have a report from the terror front lines. We're going to Yemen.

And I will ask the Republican Party chairman if the Obama administration is keeping the United States safe. Michael Steele is standing by live to respond to the president and concerns about his own party's prospects in November.

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

You rarely see President Obama as stern or as frustrated as we saw him just a little while ago. He made it clear that the United States had the intelligence needed to keep a suspected terrorist off that Christmas Day flight to Detroit, but no one connected the dots.

After meeting with his national security team, the president also flatly stated that intelligence officials knew of a threat to targets inside the United States. Listen to the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It now turns out that our intelligence community knew of other red flags that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula sought to strike not only American targets in Yemen, but the United States itself. And we had information that this group was working with an individual who was known -- who we now know was in fact the individual involved in the Christmas attack.

The bottom line is this: The U.S. government had sufficient information to have uncovered this plot and potentially disrupt the Christmas Day attack, but our intelligence community failed to connect those dots, which would have placed the suspect on the no-fly list.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: A very frustrated President Obama.

Let's go to the White House. Our correspondent Dan Lothian is standing by. All right, Dan, what does it all mean?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I think, when you listen to the president's remarks, what really jumped out is that new information, how these bits and pieces of information which we were led to believe did not provide the smoking gun were really much bigger than initially thought, the president pointing out here that there was this information that they now know was this suspect, not only planning an attack against U.S. interests in Yemen, but planning an attack here on U.S. soil.

I was told by two officials who were inside the meeting today that the president was very firm, that he really expressed a sense of urgency, and another official, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, said that the president said -- quote -- "This was a screw-up that could have been disastrous. We dodged a bullet, but just barely. It was averted by brave individuals, not because the system worked. And that is not acceptable. While there will be a tendency for finger- pointing, I will not tolerate it."

So, some very strong language from the president today, but one thing that we did not hear, any specifics as to what will change going forward, the president pointing out that those will come in the next few days, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, he says within the next week, he's going to have some specific recommendations, steps on what to do.

So, what was the purpose of the statement today?

LOTHIAN: Well, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs says that the president really wanted to get to the bottom of what the problem was, to hear the results, the reports of the reviews that he had asked these agency heads to do, and that in fact did happen. Everyone around the table did point where their shortcomings were within their agencies.

That was the purpose of it, but also the president wanted to show to the nation that he did not tolerate what happened, that he is upset about these problems that occurred, the faults within the intelligence community that occurred. He wanted to really come out and show sort of this strong force to the country, and also point out that this is something that will have to change, and these changes as I said will come in the next few days, Wolf.

BLITZER: Anyone going to get fired?

LOTHIAN: Well, that is the question that everyone is asking, and the administration saying at this point not yet.

And, in fact, Robert Gibbs saying that the president still has confidence in the heads of Homeland Security, intelligence, other intelligence officials, including the CIA. But, you know, Wolf, that is a question everyone keeps asking. In fact, my colleague Suzanne Malveaux when the president finished his remarks asked him if anyone was going to get fired. He did not answer the question.

So, we will have to wait and see what happens over the coming days, Wolf.

BLITZER: We did hear from Denis McDonough, the chief of staff of the National Security Council, saying nobody offered to resign during the course of this meeting earlier in the day.

All right, Dan, thank you.

The president outlined moves his administration has taken to improve airline security since Christmas and he promised further steps in the immediate days ahead. He noted that the State Department now is requiring updated visa information for suspected terrorists or those with possible terrorist connections.

Passengers on U.S.-bound flights have been subjected to enhanced screening. More explosive detection teams are in the field, along with more air marshals on flights. And terror watch lists have been updated and expanded, as they should be. Also today, the administration said it won't transfer any terror suspects from Guantanamo Bay to Yemen, at least for now.

But the president still plans to follow through on his pledge to close the Gitmo in fact , although, clearly, he's not going to meet the January 22 deadline he imposed a year ago.

Brian Todd has been looking into all of this for us.

Brian, it is something he wanted to do, but he simply can't.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He cannot close it right now.

And, Wolf, for days, there has been speculation that they might take the step that the president announced tonight, a significant announcement by the president tonight on that situation regarding detainees of Yemeni origin who are being held at Guantanamo Bay. They currently make up nearly half of the prisoner population at Guantanamo.

And this is what the president said about the plans that his administration had previously to transfer them to Yemeni custody.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: We've agreed that we will not be transferring additional detainees back to Yemen at this time.

But make no mistake. We will close Guantanamo prison, which has damaged our national security interests and become a tremendous recruiting tool for al Qaeda.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: According to one attorney who represents several Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo, the administration had recently transferred seven detainees to Yemen, one in September, and six last month.

But there has been considerable pressure to halt the process or at least pause it, based on the unstable situation in Yemen and its fight against al Qaeda, based on the track record of the Yemeni government in keeping track of transferred detainees, and the possible connection between the recent plot to bomb a U.S. airliner and the group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which had in its senior ranks at least one former Guantanamo detainee.

We have tried to contact attorneys who represent Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo for comment tonight on the president's latest announcement. We have not been able to reach them. Wolf, I know one of the men, one of the attorneys, he is in Guantanamo right now. I couldn't get him on the phone just a moment ago.

BLITZER: Well, we spoke to one of those attorneys yesterday.

TODD: It is the same person, David Remes. He's now in Guantanamo.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Because he was still hopeful that they would continue to release some of his clients, those Yemeni detainees, allow them to go back to Yemen. But the president was very firm, this is not happening.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But they are going to continue to review all of those detainees at Guantanamo, about 200 of them, on a case-by-case basis?

TODD: There are about 200 total at Guantanamo. The Yemenis make up nearly half of them, still a very significant population. Yes, an administration official told me last week they review each detainee's case case-by-case on the security situation. They also don't transfer any detainees unless they get certain assurances on security and the fact that the Yemeni government is keeping track of them.

They must have made this move with everything kind of reaching critical mass now. And they may not be getting quite the assurances from the Yemeni government that they feel they need about whether these men are going to be kept track of once they are sent back.

BLITZER: They may be going to Illinois to a prison there.

TODD: They could be.

BLITZER: But they're not going to back to Yemen, at least any time soon.

All right, thanks very much, Brian, for that.

We have gotten some new information also on the treatment of the suspect in the botched airliner bombing. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is now being held at a low-security correctional facility in Milan, Michigan. The director there says he is being treated and monitored for injuries received in the airliner incident.

While the official won't give specifics of the injury, it is believed Abdulmutallab suffered burns from his alleged attempt to ignite an explosive. The prison director says the suspect has been there since two days after the incident and is receiving three meals a day.

Jack Cafferty is straight ahead.

Also, within these streets is a hotbed of terrorism, what it's actually like in Yemen right now? A "New York Times" reporter is there. He's speaking with us about the reopening of the U.S. Embassy in Yemen.

And the Republican Party chairman and his 12-step program. Michael Steele is here to explain his new book. It's entitled "Right Now: A 12-Step Program For Defeating the Obama Agenda."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's go right to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Well, if you're lucky enough to have a job, a record number of you aren't satisfied with it.

A new survey shows only 45 percent of workers are happy with what they do for a living, the lowest level ever recorded in more than 22 years.

Part of the reason, of course, is the worst recession since the Great Depression. But it's not just the recession. Worker dissatisfaction has actually been increasing for more than two decades now.

Here's a little bit of what this survey found. Only about half of workers find their jobs interesting, also a new low in this poll's history. Incomes haven't kept up with inflation. Most wages actually grew in the '80s and '90s, but they have been shrinking ever since 2000. And the soaring cost of health insurance means workers take home less money at the end of the day. Other key findings in this poll done by the Conference Board -- that's the same bunch that does consumer confidence reports every month -- workers under 25 years old the most dissatisfied with their job -- 43 percent of workers say they feel secure in their jobs -- 56 percent say they like their co-workers -- 56 percent say they're satisfied with their commute, and 51 percent say they're satisfied with their boss.

Economists say, if this trend in job satisfaction isn't reversed, it could wind up hurting innovation, along with America's competitiveness and productivity. And with unemployment at levels we haven't seen in decades, it's difficult to imagine being able to address this issue of job satisfaction any time soon. At this point, we're just trying to find some jobs.

Here's the question, then. How satisfied are you with your job?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. You can post a comment on my blog, and your boss will be none the wiser.

Wolf, are you satisfied with your job?

BLITZER: I love my job. What about you?

CAFFERTY: Absolutely. No place I would rather be than right here with the Wolf man.

BLITZER: In THE SITUATION ROOM.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: I feel the same way, Jack. Thank you.

A major security scare that closed the United States Embassy has eased, at least a little bit, for Americans and other foreigners in Yemen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And joining us now from Sanaa in Yemen is Steve Erlanger of "The New York Times."

Steve, the U.S. Embassy, the British Embassy, I take it they reopened for business today. It is business as usual there?

STEVEN ERLANGER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": It's not quite. The U.S. Embassy opened up pretty much for business as usual.

The British Embassy had its staff working, but was very restricted in terms of public access. And other European embassies were either closed or kept the public out.

BLITZER: So, does this mean that that security threat, that fear of a plot to try blow up the embassy, has that gone away or what?

ERLANGER: Well, it is very hard to tell.

Frankly, what had happened was there was a firefight with some al Qaeda guys north of the airport, about 25 miles north of the capital. And this seems to have disrupted, in the American view, this plot. But the plot was always actually more aimed at the British Embassy, to be honest.

And the British decided to be a bit more cautious, and sort of day-to-day, they will reevaluate, but because the threat was aimed at them, they decided basically to keep their embassy shut to the public today.

BLITZER: Steve, I read your latest dispatch in "The New York Times," and you make the point that the president of Yemen now seems to be more determined to make sure his son gets his job, as opposed to fighting al Qaeda right now. Is that too harsh? ERLANGER: Not too terribly harsh. I mean, basically, the president, who has been ruling Yemen in one form or another for 31 years, is very eager to have his son, who is about 38, named Ahmed, succeed him.

And there are people, other people, in the country who would rather not have that happen, who don't want that kind of traditional Arab semi-democratic monarchy to be established here. And it is something of an obsession with the president.

It's not that it keeps him from fighting al Qaeda, but it means it distracts him and sometimes, people say, blocks him from using necessary resources for the kind of development in the rest of the country that, you know, might absorb some of the angry unemployed youths who make good recruits for al Qaeda.

BLITZER: How -- give us a feeling that you get -- you have now been there for a while -- of the average Yemeni attitude towards the United States? Are they sympathetic with the U.S. and the West or with al Qaeda?

ERLANGER: I would say they are not particularly sympathetic to the United States, particularly in the sense that, you know, it could look as if -- it is unfair, but it can look as if the United States is somehow at war with a lot of Muslim countries, even at war with Islam.

And that was a feeling that grew up under the Bush administration. And there's better feelings with Obama, but it has not gone quite away. Now, there is a lot of sympathy with some of the ideas of al Qaeda, i.e., you know, that the West represents an alien culture and should be expelled from the holy land.

BLITZER: One final question before I let you go, Steve. The $150 million the U.S. is now proposing to give to Yemen, that sort of dwarfs in comparison to the $2 billion it receives from Saudi Arabia, is all this money, when all is said and done, going to make a difference?

ERLANGER: Well, I think it can make a difference if it is spent properly.

I mean, you know, part of the whole problem is, when you ramp up programs and dump money on a place, can the place absorb it? How much of it will get stolen? Will it be used in the right way? Will it get diverted to a different kind of fight, for instance, that the president of Yemen is having against Shia rebels in the north, rather than against Qaeda in the east of Yemen?

That is really the problem. The Saudi money partly buys allegiances. It keeps Saudis' hands going inside Yemen. It supports the conservative Islamic movement, but it also supports the president, because the Saudis have understood since 9/11 that Yemen's security is integral to their own security, that if Yemen is a playground for al Qaeda, it's Saudi Arabia that is also at risk.

BLITZER: Steve Erlanger of "The New York Times," thanks very much. We will check back with you.

ERLANGER: Thanks a lot, Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: He's already awaiting a retrial for an old manslaughter case. Now a former NBA star faces new legal troubles after a car crash in Manhattan.

And the fur is flying after the White House accuses an animal rights group of using the first lady's image without her permission.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: President Obama says he won't tolerate the intelligence failures that were nearly catastrophic. What more can he or should he do to protect Americans? Stand by.

And the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele, he is standing by live to talk to us. We will get his response to the president's update on what went wrong on Christmas Day.

And Google is trying to give Apple a run for its money, introducing new competition for the iPhone.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: This was not a failure to collect intelligence, it was a failure to integrate and understand the intelligence that we already had. The information was there, agencies and analysts who needed it had access to it, and our professionals were trained to look for it and to bring it all together.

I will accept that intelligence by its nature is imperfect, but it is increasingly clear that intelligence was not fully analyzed or fully leveraged. That's not acceptable, and I will not tolerate it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The commander in chief lays down the line, President Obama saying he will not tolerate what he calls intelligence failures that failed to stop the attempt to blow up a plane on Christmas. Is this what Republican critics want to hear from the president?

Joining us now is the chairman of the Republican Party, Michael Steele.

He is the author of a new book entitled "Right Now." We will get to the book shortly.

Mr. Chairman, thanks very much for coming in. MICHAEL STEELE, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Great to be back with you, Wolf. And happy new year.

BLITZER: Happy new year to you as well.

Were you happy, what you heard from the president today?

STEELE: I was very pleased to hear the president finally address the issue and acknowledge something that many people knew on the 26th of December, that there was a breakdown in connecting the dots, as the administration said.

To have Janet Napolitano go all shortly after all of this became known and say that we have got control, and this is -- all the protocols were met was obviously premature. And, so, it was important for the president to set it very clear where he wants to go.

But this speaks to also a broader concern across the country for both Democrats and Republicans on this issue. And that is, where is the consistency and where is the urgency with respect to matters of national security, particularly the war on terror or dealing with terrorists in the country.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: He seemed pretty frustrated and angry and urgent today, didn't he?

STEELE: Well, yes, but that is fine. But, then, when you look at the policy direction, Wolf, it kind of belies all the anger and frustration. It takes away from it, because, when you talk about -- on the first day in office, we are going to shut down Gitmo, with no strategy or plan to do so, and here we are a year later having the president say the exact same thing a year later, when you look at how all the pieces fit together, or, rather, didn't fit together, on this terrorist plot, and then, of course, when you won't call the very thing that we are fighting what it is, terrorism, war on terror or terrorists, and you instead treat them like a common criminal, wanting to wrap the Constitution around them, it creates a lot of concern on both sides.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Didn't the Bush administration do the same thing in treating Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, as a common criminal or Jose Padilla as a common criminal?

STEELE: Yes. And so past is not necessarily prologue here. I am not saying that it was right then and making it wrong now.

What I am saying is that when you want to avail the Constitution of this country to those who are hell-bent on destroying this nation, there has got to be a lot of thought put behind that, whether you are in a Republican administration or a Democrat administration. These are very dangerous times. And because we have been kept safe for the last eight years or so, that is a good thing, but you cannot let your guard down, and you certainly, when it comes to matters of national concern and interests, national security concern and interests, you have to be consistent. And I think there is that inconsistency right now that bothers a lot of people across the country and around the world.

BLITZER: Let's talk politics for a few moments and also talk about your new book. You said in an interview last night you didn't think the Republicans could retake the House of Representatives this year. Explain why.

STEELE: Well,, and you know, if you go on and listen to the rest of what I said -- and, look, I'm not a pundit here. I don't try to make those types of forecasts.

And, certainly, I know some of my friends in Washington on the Hill were a little bit put out by what I said. What I am saying is -- the question was, will you take back the House? I don't know, Wolf. As I said to Sean, we are still putting those building blocks in places.

We have races now that are just beginning to take shape. We -- announced today, you saw Senator Dorgan decide to step down, to retire. All of a sudden now that race takes on a new dynamic for us, with respect to the Senate. There will be other retirements. We had at Christmastime a Democrat congressman switch parties and become Republican.

BLITZER: Well..

STEELE: So from -- as the national chairman, I look at this and I'm not going to speak definitively of what we will do or won't do. What I can tell you is what we are going to be about the business of doing..

BLITZER: Well..

STEELE: ...and that is putting in place good candidates to run and -- and winning as if we will take the House in the fall.

BLITZER: Because the National Republican Congressional Committee, which is in charge of getting Republicans elected to Congress, they came out with a statement today, Ken Spain, the spokesman..

STEELE: Yes.

BLITZER: "The NRCC's goal has always been to recapture the majority in 2010. Independent political analysts and even liberal columnists have stated that Republicans have a very real shot at taking back the majority in 2010."

STEELE: That's not..

BLITZER: "And make no mistake about it, we are playing to win." That's been interpreted as a slap at you.

STEELE: It's not. It's not. I agree with the statement and it wasn't a slap at me. And, you know, there we go. We're trying to create this division and distraction. They're trying to create, oh, there's tension on the Republican side.

I'm saying, as the national chairman, I'm not going to sit in January and predict, we will take the House. What I agree with the NRC -- the NRCC and others around the country who are looking at these races, that we're going to be in play and we're going to fight very hard to win these seats and we're going to be competitive all the way to the end. No one is, right now, declaratively stating that we will win the House back in -- in -- this November. And if they are saying that, I would like to see the crystal ball they're looking through, because there's still a lot of politics to unfold here, a lot of races to be settled on both sides of the political tracks.

And what I want to be is deliberate..

BLITZER: All right..

STEELE: ...and determined to put the money out there to make every effort to win, in agreement with the NRCC statement today.

BLITZER: Here's a line that jumped out from your new book right now on page 14: "As chairman of the Republican National Committee, let me say it as clearly and succinctly as I can -- we screwed up."

All right, explain to our viewers here in the United States and around the world, how you, the Republicans, screwed up.

STEELE: Well, you know, when you look at the -- the history, you -- of -- you know, the Democrats had control of both houses of Congress for 40 years. We get it in '94 and lose it in 12.

And the question you have to ask yourself is what happened?

What occurred that people in '94 wouldn't trust us, through the Contract on America, with leadership and then take that leadership away from us 12 years later and then, of course, be in the -- you know, the mess that we've seen ourselves in -- in other races across the country?

And the reality of it is, when you step away from principles, when you step away from those values that you outlined very clearly in 1994 and begin to spend money, increase the -- the role and influence of government -- you know, the TARP bill was a real problem for a lot of conservatives on both sides, not just among Republicans, but those who identify as Independents and even some Democrats in -- in the last year.

Those types of principle -- moves away from principle are problematic. And so now we have a chance, I think, with -- with the kind of road map that, as the national chairman, we tried to lay out and -- and saw affected in New Jersey and Virginia this past fall in special elections that we've won throughout the -- the past year, to put a new footprint in place and move the party and the country in a direction away from, you know, this -- this sense of government entitlement and government -- onerous government intrusion into decisions that families and businesses are making every day.

BLITZER: You've got a huge challenge ahead of you.

Michael Steele is the chairman of the Republican Party.

His book is entitled "Right Now: A 12-Step Program for Defeating the Obama Agenda."

Michael Steele, thanks very much for coming in.

STEELE: Thank you, Wolf.

All right, buddy.

BLITZER: Good luck with the book.

STEELE: Thank you.

BLITZER: Rarely have we ever seen President Obama as frustrated as this -- he's highly critical of what he says is the failure to stop that attempt to blow up a plane over Detroit.

Are we about to see a much tougher tone from the president?

And the first lady, Michelle Obama, is seen in a new ad that's against wearing fur. But the White House is angry she's being featured in the ad. We'll explain.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Obama showing some rare signs of anger and frustration over the failures surrounding the thwarted Christmas Day terror attack.

Let's talk about this and more with the best political team on television.

Joining us now, our CNN senior political analyst, Gloria Borger; Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor Paul Begala; our CNN senior political analyst, David Gergen; and Republican strategist Karen Hanretty.

Guys, thanks very much.

David, let me start with you.

How did the president do?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: I thought he did fine. At least he had some emotion. I don't think he had much to say substantively. But I -- I imagine that politically, effort, he -- he pivoted today after a period in which I think he was rather slow off the mark -- and I think the White House would acknowledge that -- on his vacation in responding to this.

I think today he showed that kind of inner steel and fire and anger that -- that I feel he feels -- great frustration.

I'm told in the meeting, he was very calm and did not point fingers, did set -- you know, made a point in the meeting that he did not want a lot of finger-pointing within -- within the group.

BLITZER: A rather very different tone from what we hear -- heard a week ago plus, from his secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. There was no problem, the system worked, that kind of thing. It -- it was very clear, also, that this -- the president believes that something went very wrong in the intelligence structure. He said today that there were red flags raised. It's not that we didn't connect the dots, we didn't do what we were supposed to do. We had all of those red flags.

And, you know, it -- it seemed to me, at some point, the National Counterterrorism Center, which is supposed to collate all the information, did not do its job. And I wouldn't be surprised if sometime down the road, somebody is going to have to take the fall for this.

BLITZER: Although nobody volunteered to submit his or her resignation today.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: No, apparently not. I guess that's -- that's kind of out of fashion in Washington, DC.

It is interesting, though, that this president has been criticized in the past for being too quick to throw people under the bus.

You remember Luis Caldera?

Luis Caldera was a West Point grad and he was a former secretary of the Army. He was the president's...

GERGEN: Luis who?

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Right.

GERGEN: Exactly.

BEGALA: He was the president's White House military officer.

GERGEN: Right.

BEGALA: He approved that photo of Air Force One flying over Manhattan. Now, that didn't threaten anybody. It scared a few yuppies on the Upper West Side. They threw Secretary Caldera under the bus in a hot minute.

Now, this is a lot more complicated, so I -- I think so he should have more time...

BORGER: What about Greg Craig?

BEGALA: Greg Craig, the White House counsel...

BORGER: The White House counsel...

BEGALA: ...who pushed very hard to try to close Guantanamo and hasn't succeeded. He's gone.

David earlier, I think on our air, and I think he was right, said when you give a statement that strong, you need to follow up with some -- maybe not firing, maybe calling someone on the carpet. It doesn't have to be today, though. Let's -- let's ready, aim and then fire (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: Karen, you just heard the chairman of the Republican Party, Michael Steele, say that it's about time. He thought the president came out pretty strong today.

KAREN HANRETTY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: He did come out strong, although he came out strong against the process. It would be nice to see him come out stronger against terrorism.

You know, the fact of the matter is we hear today that they're not going to send these GITMO detainees back to Yemen. And -- and the reality is, though, there have been 300 Al Qaeda in Yemen long before this guy got on a plane and tried to blow up people over Detroit.

So why was it the -- the policy to send them to Yemen prior to the attempted bombing...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But that was...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: ...the Bush administration sent a lot of them back to Yemen.

HANRETTY: But I thought the Obama administration was going to be smarter, more efficient, protect us in new ways. And all of it -- and because we have this thwarted attack, now the system is going to change.

BORGER: Well...

HANRETTY: I think he has more to answer for than just the process and he needs to get angry about terrorism in general...

BORGER: Well, I think...

HANRETTY: ...and stop acting like...

BORGER: I think that's unfair, though, to a certain degree. He has been angry about terrorism. I mean this is a president who had...

HANRETTY: No, I don't think he has demonstrated anger.

BORGER: Well, lots of folks say that this administration -- Republicans charge that this administration has not said that there's a war on terror. Well, they have said that there is a war on terror.

And I think that the problem is, with the repatriations we saw, one of the people allegedly involved in this Christmas Day bomb plot was repatriated in the -- in the Bush years.

And so this is something they have to do very carefully. They have had mixed signals on it, don't get me wrong. But they do have to wait. But they also want to close Guantanamo.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: So they have to figure out what to do.

HANRETTY: I guess the question is what are their next steps?

So he says we're going to outline the next steps. I'm not sure what the first steps were and I don't think the American public really knows what the first steps of this administration's policy in fighting terror is.

GERGEN: I think they're -- I think they have sort of downgraded the language. They -- they really have moved away from calling this a war on terror. And they clearly not -- are not as focused on this as -- as the Bush administration was.

But in fairness to the Obama administration, they have been going quietly and covertly, really, after Al Qaeda in Yemen, in Somalia. And they have been -- and they've had them on the run in some of these places...

BLITZER: Right.

GERGEN: They've been pushing the Yemen government to work -- to -- to eliminate these people. They've been working with the Saudis. They have had an active effort underway by this president for a long time. He has not made a big deal of it. Frequently in situations like this, the bigger the deal you make of it, the less -- the less effective it is.

BORGER: Right.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: I think it's fair to say -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- that there have been more drone CIA targeted assassination attempts against Al Qaeda suspects in Pakistan in this past year than there were throughout all the years of the Bush administration without a whole lot of publicity.

BEGALA: Well, the Bush strategy was to invade, conquer and occupy huge countries, some of which had to do with 9/11 or Al Qaeda, like Iraq. That has been a failure. It's been a terrible failure. And it's made us weaker versus terrorism. At least that's the case President Obama made when he was running and the case the American people accepted.

Now, he's, I think, doing what David and you were suggesting -- much more covert. He doesn't talk about it a lot -- a lot of drones, a lot more intel.

He mentioned today specific countries -- Yemen, Pakistan. We're -- we're not occupying those countries, but we are, apparently, from reports...

BORGER: Right.

BEGALA: ...attacking them. We're killing Al Qaeda in those countries and -- and we're not sitting there with 100,000 troops...

(CROSSTALK)

HANRETTY: You know, the one...

BEGALA: ...occupying a huge country.

HANRETTY: One political lesson you can learn from the Bush administration, a big mistake that we all agree that they made is, as they went on about the war on terror, rightly or wrongly, as they went about that, they never gained the support of the American people. And I think that even if President Obama is going to fight the war differently -- and that's fine -- he has to go out there to explain to the American people, we do have a strategy, we do have an enemy and he has to be gaining political support. Because at some point, this may escalate into something much larger. And when he gets to that point, the American people need to have confidence this man is the commander- in-chief and the protector-in-chief.

BORGER: And, also, in terms of our security and the issues we had on Christmas Day, he has to be able to say, we are fixing this problem. We haven't just added another last year of bureaucracy...

(CROSSTALK)

HANRETTY: We're not just...

BORGER: ...to it.

HANRETTY: ...putting together a blue ribbon -- ribbon commission.

BORGER: Exactly. We're figuring out how to make sure it doesn't happen again.

BLITZER: He says, the steps will be announced within the next week or so. And we'll watch to see what is in that.

Guys, thanks very much.

First recruited by an ally's intelligence agency, he was shared with the CIA. Now new details are emerging on the double agent -- maybe a triple agent -- who betrayed both and killed eight people inside a U.S. spy base.

And Jack Cafferty is asking this question -- how satisfied are you with your job, if you're lucky enough to have one?

Your e-mails, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Betty Nguyen is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Betty, , what's going on?

NGUYEN: Hey there, Wolf.

Well, the suicide bomber behind the attack that killed seven CIA operatives in Afghanistan was a Jordanian doctor who had been a CIA informant. A senior Jordanian official tells CNN the doctor had been arrested a year ago for what the source calls suspicious information, but was released for lack of evidence. This attack was the greatest loss of life in the CIA since the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut that killed eight agents.

Well, Google has upped the smartphone ante by introducing the Nexus One Smartphone. Check it out. Compared with Apple's wildly successful iPhone, the Nexus One offers similar features plus voice enabled typing and a camera flash. Google's phone is now available for purchase online only. Currently, T Mobile is the sole service provider. But will come on board this spring.

Well, the so-called octomom is defending the doctor who helped her to conceive 14 children. Yesterday, the California Medical Board accused a fertility specialist of negligence and could revoke his license. But in a video posted on the Web site, RadarOnline.com, Nadya Suleman insists her doctor did nothing wrong.

Last January, Suleman gave birth to a set of octuplets. She already had six other children -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks, Betty, very much.

Let's go to Jessica Yellin right now.

She's standing by to tell us what's coming up at the top of the hour -- Jessica, what are you working on?

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

Well, coming up at the top of the hour, President Obama freely admitting what many people have been saying for days -- the government should have stopped the failed Christmas Day bombing plot. All the intel was right there. Red flags were flying everywhere. Now reform has been promised, security at the airports beefed up and terror watch lists expanded.

But is it enough?

Will the government be prepared the next time around?

Please join us for all of that and more at the top of the hour -- Wolf.

BLITZER: See you in a few moments.

Thanks, Jessica.

A controversial group uses the first lady, Michelle Obama's, picture without her permission. Details of an ad uproar. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: On our Political Ticker, President Obama and Congressional Democrats start trying to iron out differences between the House and Senate health care reform bills. He's been meeting over at the White House. The speaker, Nancy Pelosi, is acknowledging House Democrats likely won't get the government-run insurance option many liberals had wanted. She told reporters there are other ways to make insurance companies accountable and to increase competition.

Republicans weren't invited to the meeting. They're complaining the Democrats should be more public about the final stages of negotiation.

North Dakota's Democratic senator, Byron Dorgan, just announced he won't run for reelection to the U.S. Senate in November. The surprise announcement could give Republicans a chance to pick up a Senate seat in that red state. Dorgan was first elected to the Senate back in 1992 after serving a dozen years in the House. The moderate Democrat says he wants to pursue other interests.

And you may remember we recently showed you this anti-fur ad featuring Michelle Obama and some other high profile women. Now the White House is complaining that the animal rights group, PETA, is using Mrs. Obama's likeness without her permission. PETA says it included the first lady in the -- in the D.C. ad campaign because the White House had confirmed she doesn't wear fur. The group says it knew Mrs. Obama wouldn't be able to endorse the ad, so it didn't ask for her consent.

Remember, for the latest political news any time, you can always check out CNNPolitics.com. You can always check out Twitter.com, as well, and get my Tweets if you want to.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now for The Cafferty File.

CAFFERTY: What did you -- what did you Tweet about today?

BLITZER: I'm Tweeting mostly about Jack Cafferty. No, just kidding.

CAFFERTY: Oh, no you're not.

BLITZER: I'm Tweeting about everything that's happening in the show.

CAFFERTY: Behind the scenes in THE SITUATION ROOM.

BLITZER: Yes. I'm trying to be...

CAFFERTY: Michael Steele is a huge guy.

BLITZER: Oh, I know.

CAFFERTY: Did you ever -- you know, in the interview you did with him, he's here in New York.

BLITZER: Yes.

CAFFERTY: And I walked past him after. He's a big guy.

BLITZER: Well, you're a big guy, too.

CAFFERTY: He could play like for...

BLITZER: You're a big guy.

CAFFERTY: He could play for the Washington Wizards or somebody.

BLITZER: Yes.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is, how satisfied are you with your job?

Job satisfaction at a 22 year low in this country.

Sue writes: "Workers under 25 are most dissatisfied because they just plain don't want to work. They've been coddled beyond belief. The feeling of having to go out and work for a living is just too stressful. This is the future of our country. They're already complaining about 40 hours a week because they have to miss out on all their social activities."

Jim in Honolulu: "I work in a restaurant right on Waikiki Beach and couldn't possibly be happier due to the stunning scenery, perfect weather and personal interactions. I think this shows the vital importance of location to job satisfaction. I'm sure an identical job in Decane (ph) -- Detroit in the winter, for instance, would be a real bummer."

J. writes: "I worked in the private sector for 30 years. Things got done. Ninety-eight percent of the time they got done correctly. When my company went broke, I was forced to take a big cut in pay and a job with the Internal Revenue Service. Now I know why I avoided working for the government for 30 years." Rod in Western Virginia writes: "As long as I'm working every day and getting a regular paycheck, I'm satisfied. Not too many people can honestly say, I love my job. Artistic people and musicians are among the few that would do what they do for nothing, mainly because they'd rather create and perform than anything else. And then with talent and hard work and a few breaks, the money follows, but it's rare."

Bob in Baltimore writes: "I have a job. I'm satisfied."

And we got this: "I love my job. I'm thankful I'm employed. I work for a great company. I've had some awful jobs in the past. For the first time in over a decade, I'm truly happy. I really enjoy working with my coworkers and my boss. Everybody is kind, respectful and helpful. I couldn't ask for a better place to be."

Signed Wolf and Jack.

If you want to read more...

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: If you want to read more about this, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile.

BLITZER: I agree. We are -- we're blessed.

CAFFERTY: We are blessed. And I -- I did that tongue in cheek. But you're absolutely right.

BLITZER: Yes.

CAFFERTY: This is not a bad gig.

BLITZER: It's not a bad gig at all.

CAFFERTY: No.

BLITZER: All right, Jack.

Thanks very much.

We'll be back at...

CAFFERTY: I'll see you tomorrow.

BLITZER: ...at the job tomorrow.

CAFFERTY: All right.

BLITZER: Appreciate it.

Are your jeans a little bit tight now after the holidays?

That could be the least of your problems if you belong to one social networking Web site. CNN's Jeanne Moos will take a Moost Unusual look.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Beauty may be only skin deep, but that skin better not stretch an inch if you belong to one social networking Web site.

CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a Moost Unusual look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (voice-over): Imagine you're a beautiful person on the dating Web site called BeautifulPeople and all that holiday food was just too beautiful to resist and you gained a few pounds.

GREG HODGE, CO-FOUNDER, BEAUTIFULPEOPLE: We've had over 5,000 of our newly chubby members who have been removed from the site.

MOOS: Five thousand members dumped like a second helping. In the words of the founder of BeautifulPeople, "letting fatties roam the site is a direct threat to our business model."

MIA AMBER DAVIS, "PLUS MODEL" MAGAZINE: It's a very ugly thing that they're doing. It's hideous.

MOOS: You can only become a member of BeautifulPeople if existing members of the opposite sex vote you on.

(MUSIC)

MOOS: You probably think this Web site is about you.

(MUSIC)

MOOS: Maybe both eyes. That's how we began a piece we did five years ago about the site.

(on camera): What we need is a Guinea BeautifulPeople. Not him, me.

(voice-over): But despite our best efforts...

DAVIS: Excellent.

MOOS: ...the photo I submitted was rejected. I didn't stack up. At least I'm not alone. Four out of five applicants are rejected by BeautifulPeople. Let them eat cake. Wait. Better not eat any cake now that they say they're shedding BeautifulPeople who packed on a few pounds.

Members supposedly complained when they'd meet the actual person.

DAVIS: And they hadn't looked as they had represented themselves in their initial pictures.

MOOS (on camera): That's a shocker, huh?

DAVIS: Well, yes.

Is it elitist?

Yes, it is, because our members want it to be.

DAVIS: This isn't (INAUDIBLE).

MOOS (voice-over): Mia Amber Davis is a plus sized model who sees no pluses in this.

(on camera): As you look at the BeautifulPeople, is there anything you would like to say to the BeautifulPeople?

DAVIS: They all deserve each other. Get a life.

MOOS (voice-over): She and we wondered if It could be just a publicity stunt. Co-founder Greg Hodge says no. When he looks in the mirror, he sees this -- a 7.84.

(on camera): How do you look at yourself in the mirror every morning when this is the kind of superficial thing you do?

HODGE: Yes. Is it politically correct?

No, it's not. It's certainly very honest. People want to be with people they're attracted to.

MOOS: Those kicked off the site can reapply to be voted back on. But you'd think even a Guinea BeautifulPeople wouldn't be a glutton for punishment.

(MUSIC)

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BLITZER: Leave it to Jeanne.

Let's take a look at some Hot Shots.

In the Czech Republic, the Procession of the Kings takes place in front of the Prague Castle.

In Russia, the president, Dmitry Medvedev, joins others on a ski lift.

In Paris the president, Nicolas Sarkozy, cuts the Twelfth Night cake.

And in London -- check it out -- a zookeeper checks out a giant tortoise.

Hot Shots -- pictures worth a thousand words.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, "CNN TONIGHT."