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Health Care Final Push: White House Puts Full-Court Press on House Holdouts; Northeast Under Water; Toyota Doubts Runaway Car Claim; New Rules for Wall Street; Eye in the Sky over Border

Aired March 16, 2010 - 06:00   ET


KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you. Thanks so much for being with us. It's Tuesday, March 16th. I'm Kiran Chetry.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you. I'm John Roberts. And thanks very much for being with us. Here are this morning's top stories.

The last round up for health care. President Obama makes a final pitch to the American people as House leaders scramble to get wavering Democrats in line in order to pass a health care reform bill by the end of this week. We're live in Washington with all the latest developments for you just ahead.

CHETRY: Toyota is fighting to repair its badly damaged reputation. This morning the company is challenging the man who said his Prius careened on a highway at more than 90 miles per hour. Toyota says it found, quote, "significant consistencies in the driver's story." So was the man not being truthful?

ROBERTS: The eye way over the border. Texas Governor Rick Perry is asking for a predator drone to stop smugglers after a weekend of drug-fueled murders and bloodshed just steps away from his state. They are already flying over Arizona. Watch us our Ed Lavandera tries to hide from one.

CHETRY: We begin with the campaign for the hearts and minds of Democrats still on defense about health care reform. It's crunch time right now for the Obama White House. The president is courting public opinion and House holdouts, 37 of them to be exact. At the moment, House Democratic leaders do not have the votes to pass health care but say they are confident that they will have the votes by the week's end. Health care opponents, meantime, are stepping up efforts to quote, "kill the bill." Tea party groups plan to, quote, "storm the steps of the capitol today in protest. President Obama, though, says he's still cautiously optimistic.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now as we get closer to the vote, there's a lot of hand wringing going on. We hear a lot of people in Washington talking about politics, talking about what this means in November, talking about the poll numbers for Democrats and Republicans. We need courage. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: The president is busy lobbying Democrats who could decide the fate of health care reform, but he might have missed one along the way and it could cost him. Our Jim Acosta is live in Washington for us with that part of the story. Good morning, Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. That's right. One or two may have been missed. One thing President Obama can count on is that he cannot always rely on Democrats in Congress to have his back. And now that it's an election year, there's a good chance there could be even more defections on this health care reform all this week.


REP. GERALD CONNOLLY (D), VIRGINIA: I think at the end of the day health care is probably going to pass, narrowly but pass.

ACOSTA: And will you be there pushing it over the edge?

CONNOLLY: We have to see it. I don't know yet. I really haven't made up my mind.

ACOSTA: Really?

CONNOLLY: Yes. Really.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Really? Freshman Congressman Gerry Connelly who voted yes on health care reform last fall is now saying quite publicly he could be a no this time around, which makes this tidbit from Connelly all the more shocking.

ACOSTA (on camera): Have you gotten a call from the president?

CONNELLY: I have not.

ACOSTA: That surprised you?


ACOSTA (voice-over): Connelly is torn between a president he wants to support and a health care bill he doesn't really like. But Connelly says he doesn't want to miss what he considers a once in a generation chance to fix health care.

(on camera): I get the sense what you're saying is that if I go down because I voted for health care reform, so be it?

CONNELLY: Yes. You know, when you begin in public life, if you don't say to yourself there are some things I'm willing to lose the seat over, then you frankly have already sold your soul.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Connelly is facing a rematch in the fall with Republican Keith Fimian. Fimian would love to run against the guy who voted for health care before he voted against it. (on camera): So on your mind he has no choice but to vote yes.

KEITH FIMIAN (R), VIRGINIA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Well, I think so. I mean, if one of the reasons for him voting yes in the first place and how does that change now that the American people don't want it.

ACOSTA (voice-over): All this week both sides of the debate are turning up the heat on wavering Democrats. And a health care rally with President Obama, Congressman Dennis Kucinich who says he's a no was feeling the pressure.


OBAMA: Did you hear that, Dennis? Say that again.


CONNELLY: I think we might have passed health care reform frankly if we had more pressure coming from the White House last year not less.

ACOSTA: Congressman Connelly wonders if he'll ever get that same kind of White House nudge, whether it be from the president or one of his more persuasive advisers.

(on camera): How about Rahm? Rahm Emanuel?

CONNELLY: No, I've never heard from him.

ACOSTA: Really?


ACOSTA: Nothing in the shower -- I'm just kidding.

CONNELLY: Maybe I should spend more time in the House gym. I don't know.


ACOSTA: Good when you can laugh about it, right? Now that is a reference to Emanuel's alleged recent run-in with former Congressman Eric Massa. Now counting the votes on health care this week will be a tricky task. Some fence sitting Democrats are refusing to take a public stance on the issue until the second the vote is called, John. This is going to be down to the wire and nobody knows how all of these members are going to vote at this point. Maybe Nancy Pelosi and that's about it.

ROBERTS: Good that you can find a little levity in all of this. Jim Acosta for us this morning.

ACOSTA: We're trying.

ROBERTS: Thanks so much. ACOSTA: You got it.

CHETRY: Well, at 6:30 Eastern, we're going to be joined by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey. His group Freedom Works is calling on tea party protesters across the country to rally against health care reform today by storming the steps of the capitol. But we're going to ask him if he's so against this bill, what's his solution?

ROBERTS: Another story developing this morning. Extreme weather, rising water for the Midwest all the way into the northeast. In Fargo, North Dakota, it's about one thing this morning, and that is holding back the rising Red River. They are unloading sandbags by the truckload. The National Weather Service says the river is expected to crest on Saturday at about 20 feet above flood stage. Last year, the river didn't go down for a record 61 days. So they have seen this movie before and they certainly do not like it. Floodwaters damaged 100 homes last year and forced thousands of people out.

CHETRY: Well, back East now, hundreds of thousands of people are still waiting for their power to come back on. The governors of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island have declared states of emergency. Torrential rains and high winds toppling trees, flooding roads and forcing hundreds of people to evacuate their homes, some by boat, others by front end loaders.

At least nine people killed since the nor'easter that struck Saturday. Utility crews from as far as Georgia are helping clear hundreds of trees and power lines that they ripped down. All you hear in the suburbs are the sounds of chainsaws, generators, wood shippers and street pumps and the water pumps trying to get the streets cleared out. Outside of Boston, one woman nearly drowned in her car as she tried to make it out.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Saw water coming in. She had power to get the window down. She had to climb out the window, grabbed her keys and cell phone, climbed out the window, called 911 and had to swim, literally swim up the street here.


CHETRY: Six minutes past the hour right now. We get a check of this morning's weather headlines. Rob Marciano in the extreme weather center.

Rob, you know, it's like it happens so fast. I don't know if you heard but this happened to us on Saturday. We actually had to get taken out of our house on a front end loader because the streets just filled up that fast.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I saw those notes coming from you and your husband and it just boggles my mind. I know you guys had your own personal adventure and I'm sure that the story has echoed throughout the northeast. Talked to my folks yesterday. You know, until they put it in perspective and you think about how these storms, you react to them as a child, you don't really -- it doesn't really hit home just seeing the picture.

Unbelievable storm this was, no doubt about it with those hurricane-force gusts and the tremendous, tremendous damage that it just did across parts of the northeast. And the other thing, and this probably wasn't as well forecast as the storm itself is the fact that it hasn't moved out all that quickly. Yesterday was no picnic either.

All right. We're going to see a little bit more in the way of improving weather today. Here's a look at the radar. Not nearly as much rain or wind today across the northeast. There it is, that low that's moving out.

And the other big story that we're covering, you mentioned this, Fargo and the Red River. Here's where all of the flood warnings are posted.

I want to point this out that the temperatures will be rising here over the next couple of days. Not a whole lot of rain in the forecast but rising temperatures for sure. The rain in the forecast for today is going to be across parts of Texas and the Pacific Northwest, finally drying out and calming down across the northeast.

Hope you guys get back into your home soon, Kiran, and things get back to normal for you. I know it may take a while.

CHETRY: I know. Absolutely. All right, Rob. Thanks so much.

ROBERTS: We have time to dry it all out. Your place doing all right?

CHETRY: Yes, it is. But we're going to venture back today and see what the situation is like.

ROBERTS: Ever have that dream of having your basement full of water and it's like a swimming pool. You've lived that one.

CHETRY: Exactly.


Other stories new this morning. Defense Department officials say the Pentagon is investigating whether a $24 million contract was inappropriately used to run a covert spy network in Pakistan and Afghanistan. And there are new questions this morning about millions of missing taxpayer dollars that may have been used to fund it. Our Barbara Starr is working her sources for us this morning. She'll have the live update from the Pentagon coming up in the next hour of AMERICAN MORNING.

CHETRY: Sources say that the White House's top envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell is delaying his trip to the region. U.S. officials are now demanding that Israel stop construction on settlement housing in a disputed area of east Jerusalem. Protesters broke out near those settlements and in Jerusalem's old city early this morning. Mass Palestinian protesters clashing with Israeli riot police. Hamas militants calling for, quote, "a day of rage." We have a live report and an update coming from our Jill Dougherty in just a moment.

ROBERTS: A pre-sex abuse scandal erupting in Germany is now engulfing the Vatican as its very highest levels. The Munich archdiocese has suspended a priest who has been convicted once before of sexually abusing children, and it is now coming to light that the priest's transfer to Munich was approved by Pope Benedict XVI when he was a German cardinal in the 1980s. The Vatican claims the pope was not aware of the details of the case when he approved that transfer.

CHETRY: Eighty-nine-year-old Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens says he'll take the next month or so to decide if this will be his last term on the bench. Stevens turns 90 next month. He is the oldest member of the high court. He told "The New Yorker" that he'll definitely retire in the next three years. His comment suggests that President Obama will likely nominate his replacement.

ROBERTS: We told you about the man who took a 90-mile-an-hour wild ride in a Toyota Prius. He claims that the accelerator was stuck. Well, still to come in the Most News in the Morning, Toyota not calling him a liar exactly, but fighting back about what really happened that day in San Diego. Stay with us.

It's 10 minutes after the hour.


CHETRY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. Thirteen minutes after the hour right now.

Toyota is fighting back this morning actually challenging one man's claim that his Prius suddenly took off at 90 miles per hour down a California freeway.

ROBERTS: The automaker says what's alleged to have happened last week is inconsistent with what they found while investigating the car. Our Ted Rowlands has got the latest for us this morning.


JIM SIKES: My car, I can't slow down.

911: You can't slow it down?


TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When Jim Sikes called 911, he claimed his 2008 Prius was accelerating out of control on a San Diego freeway. But Toyota now says they don't see any evidence to back up his story.

Sikes said while trying to pass another car his accelerator stuck and despite putting all of his weight on the brake, the car would not stop. Engineers from the Toyota and the government said they've looked at the car and there is a built-in mechanism that is in perfect working order that should have stopped Jim Sikes' Prius.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to judge Mr. Sikes. The information we have from our investigation is inconsistent with the account that we've heard from the driver of the car. And any driver of a Prius --

ROWLANDS (on camera): Would you drive his car after looking at it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I drive one every day and I've driven it for 70 miles. And I would drive Mr. Sikes car tomorrow.

ROWLANDS (voice-over): To hammer through the point that they think Sikes' car is safe, Toyota called a press conference in a stadium parking lot complete with cars to show how the override system in the Prius works.

(on camera): Right now, I'm doing in excess of 50 miles an hour and I'm going to slam on the brake and see if this override system actually works.

And it does -- it does come down. I kept my foot on the gas the entire time but it killed, basically killed the motor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For more than two days, engineers side by side between NHTSA and Toyota went through this automobile, disassembling it, reassembling it, putting new brakes on it and spending more than two hours trying to duplicate what was claimed happened without success.

ROWLANDS (on camera): According to Toyota, the data they were able to pull out of Sikes' car revealed that he used the brake in excess of 250 times during his 23-mile ordeal. Basically, they're saying the data they recovered doesn't back up his story.

Sikes, however, is maintaining that his story is absolutely correct. Last week, when we interviewed him, I asked him pointblank if he was lying. Here's what he said.

Someone who's a bit skeptical might say, oh, that guy in California is probably going to try to sue Toyota or is just looking for attention -- what's the reality?

JAMES SIKES, CLAIMS CAR WOULDN'T STOP: No, there's no attention. In fact, I can't believe the number of calls we've gotten and we're just trying not to answer the phone.

You know, I've only talked to a couple of people. I'm not asking for money from anybody. I'm just telling the story. You know, we don't need the fame from this.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ROWLANDS: Jim Sikes does have an attorney. After Toyota's press conference, he released a statement saying that he'll have no further comment until the government's investigation is complete -- John, Kiran.

CHETRY: Ted Rowlands for us this morning.

Very, very interesting. They have virtual black boxes on these cars, so it will be --

ROBERTS: They do, and you saw Ted on the accelerator, hit the brake, the car rolls to a stop. So what might have happened that day? Big question.

CHETRY: Absolutely. (INAUDIBLE) answer for sure.

Well, we're going to take a quick break. When we come back, it's going to be the largest overhaul of Wall Street since the 1930s.

Christine Romans is "Minding Your Business" and we'll tell you what any reform bills could mean for you.


ROBERTS: Nineteen and a half minutes after the hour.

New this morning, you will still be able to get a very small, tiny, almost miniscule, infinitesimally sized bag of pretzels, but don't expect any free food on Continental Airlines anymore. Continental says they can no longer afford to offer the service to its economy customers.

Passengers on most domestic flights as well as some Latin American and Caribbean destinations will notice this by the fall.

CHETRY: So now it's BYOP.


CHETRY: There you go.

ROBERTS: Bring your own pretzel. And, you know, those little packages, it's like some of them have like two pretzels in them. And, like, little pretzels.

CHETRY: Yikes. I know.

Well, the NCAA attorney could cost a lot more than bragging rights in the office pool. There's a survey by an Illinois company -- don't we get this every year? Yes -- that basically companies lose close to $2 billion in the first week of March Madness. That's based on the fact that half of all Americans waste about 20 minutes a day engrossed in basketball instead of their job.

So I guess they're saying that that's $20 billion in lost productivity. ROBERTS: Yes. That's something that we --


ROBERTS: -- something that we've been poring over for the last 24 hours is the new Dodd plan for financial reform. We're going to be speaking with the senator coming up in the next hour of AMERICAN MORNING.

Christine Romans is, in the meantime, well, with some news about all of this and what it exactly means for all of us.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm going to be interested to hear what he has to say about whether this is as strong as many of the consumer advocates would want, because I mentioned to you yesterday that --

ROBERTS: Many of them are saying no.

ROMANS: Starting on Sunday night I was getting all these e-mails from consumer advocates saying this is not as tough as it should be. This is a step in the right direction, but, look, if we're going to do this for the first time since the 1930s, let's make sure we do it right.

There's not a stand alone agency for consumer protection, and that's one of the reasons that -- that some of the consumer groups are a little upset about this. But Chris Dodd -- Senator Chris Dodd has been working diligently on this and he says this is the way to make sure that the disaster that we went through doesn't happen again.

The Fed will oversee consumer protection. There will be an agency housed in the Fed. The president will appoint the person who runs that. The Senate will confirm them and they'll be paid for by the Fed.

There will be new rules for too big to fail. Too big to fail -- we talk about this all the time. These are these big companies that you taxpayers had to come in and rescue. There would be ways to unwind them and make the banking industry and make these big companies pay for it themselves so that we don't have to.

An early warning system of nine regulators and advisory panel that's could look out there and see what was starting to happen and make, you know, make changes and -- and take steps so it didn't -- you know, wouldn't take down the whole system.

And shareholders would get a say on executive pay, but this would be a nonbinding vote on executive compensation. So some shareholder activists also have been saying, well, you know, we want a little bit more power here overall.

The FDIC gets more power over smaller banks. The Fed really takes care of these very big banks. But, look, one of criticisms here about having an agency that's in the Fed and not separate is the Fed already had consumer protection powers. CHETRY: (INAUDIBLE).

ROMANS: The Fed had been warned about mortgages that were really, really lousy for years and didn't do anything about it.

So some people are saying maybe the Fed isn't the right place.

CHETRY: But the bottom line is it wouldn't get passed at all if it was outside the Fed area.

ROMANS: That's right.

CHETRY: There's too much opposition (ph).

ROMANS: This is politics. Right. This is -- this is working with Republicans, working with consumer groups, working with what the president wants, the Treasury wants and this is what Chris Dodd has come up with.

ROBERTS: You got a "Romans' Numeral" for us this morning?

ROMANS: I do. It's 40 percent, and this has to do with what Chris Dodd and other people who want financial reform, this is what they're trying to prevent. Forty percent global wealth is what that 40 percent is.

CHETRY: Was destroyed?

ROMANS: Yes. Can you believe that? Forty percent of global wealth was destroyed by what happened, because we didn't have regulators and we had wild Wall Street risk taking. We had derivatives that were -- you couldn't even see what -- we had derivatives on derivatives on derivatives --

CHETRY: Does this bill address that, by the way?

ROMANS: It does address derivatives, but I will tell you something. There's a lot of discussion about what kinds of derivatives will be included and what kinds will be excluded. And the banks, the banks and others have been doing a lot of lobbying to -- to try to shape the derivatives part of that.

So we have not written the final sentence on how we are going to regulate derivatives, although it is addressed in this, and I think that would be a fantastic question for Chris Dodd. How do we make sure these crazy -- these crazy, complicated derivatives can't bring it down again?

CHETRY: Right. You ask him that.

ROBERTS: All right, well, send us an e-mail message.

ROMANS: I will.

ROBERTS: Maybe we'll choose your question.

Thanks, Christine.

Next now for the Most News in the Morning, an explosion of violence in Mexico. Now the governor of Texas calling for predator drones along the border.

We'll show you how the drone program is already being used successfully to keep illegal immigrants from getting in.


ROBERTS: The State Department is warning Americans to stay away from parts of Northern Mexico after nearly 50 people were killed over the weekend in drug related violence, including an American consulate worker and her husband.

The governor of Texas, Rick Perry, has asked federal authorities to deploy predator drones to spot smugglers from above. And when you hear that, the word Afghanistan may immediately come to mind.

But as Ed Lavendera shows us, they are already quietly patrolling the skies over Arizona.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're in Fort Huachuca in Southeast Arizona. We're about to give you an up close and personal look at how unmanned aircrafts are patrolling the southern border.

LAVANEDRA (voice-over): Inside this small trailer, a team of three Custom and Border Protection agents are steering a Predator 2 unmanned aircraft along the Mexico/Arizona border. Jerry Kersey is at the helm and it's already busy.

LAVANDERA (on camera): So Jerry, what's the situation we got here?

JERRY KERSEY, U.S. CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION: This is a group that we got off a cold hit from a sensor.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): The camera spotted 14 illegal immigrants crossing through rugged mountainous terrain some 40 miles away. They have no idea they're being watched from 19,000 feet in the sky.

KERSEY: Border Patrol agents should be responding.

LAVANDERA: But then a surprise pops up on the screen.

KERSEY: We've got another group. We've got -- how many? Start counting them.

LAVANDERA: There are now 31 illegal immigrants walking north, already 14 miles inside the United States.

This is a huge area, and the Border Patrol lacks the manpower to fully patrol it. It's the reason some want to expand Predator patrols all along the southern border. LAVANDERA (on camera): You think sending more Predator aircraft across the border would -- would help?

KERSEY: Absolutely. Absolutely. It -- it's much more cost effective to do that.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): We'll return to that scene in the mountains in a moment.

Earlier in the day, the Predator focused its camera on me to give you a simultaneous aerial and ground view.

LAVANDERA (on camera): I'm told it's five and a half miles in that direction. I can't see it. But we're going to put it to the test, walk around this -- this park and -- and see what I look like in -- in the eyes of the unmanned aircraft.

KERSEY: The suspects are now running across the field. He's gone under some bushes in a covered area.

So we'll keep our camera focused in that area. If he tries to pop out either side of that, any angle on that, we'll know which way he goes.

LAVANDERA: I'm going to keep moving and see if I can find another place to try to hide.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): I find a place to sit under a tall pine tree.

KERSEY: Now you see him moving around in there, trying to hide. Suspect enters -- entering what appears to be a playground area. He run, but he can't hide.

LAVANDERA (on camera): Makes you feel like you're 10 years old playing hide and go seek.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Of course, these CBP agents are engaged in a real life version and Border Patrol agents have now found the 31 illegal immigrants we told you about earlier.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Once you start seeing our vehicle, guide them in (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. (INAUDIBLE) see you. They're starting to run across the road now.

Stop. Stop! The group is to your right. You're less than 30 yards from them. The group is running. Group is running.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, Jesus Christ. That's what we need. (INAUDIBLE) those clouds there.

LAVANDERA (on camera): Those clouds come at the worst time possible. KERSEY: Exactly. Exactly. So, you know, you got elements out there that you don't control. So -- but, you know, tomorrow is another day, and we'll be right back at it, trying to get more.

LAVANDERA: It's 11:00 and the mission for this aircraft is over tonight. But the scenario some 40 miles away continues to play out. Border Patrol agents are still looking for those 31 illegal immigrants.

We know they've caught three, but everyone here will have to wait to see how it all plays out.


ROBERTS: Ed Lavandera reporting for us this morning from Arizona.

"The Dallas Morning News," by the way, says a fourth predator drone is expected to be deployed to the border and will be stationed in Corpus Christi, Texas. But that's not going to happen until the summer.

CHETRY: All right. Other top stories this morning, the Northeast is still feeling the whiplash from a violent nor'easter over the weekend. Hurricane force winds -- and that's the scene played out in neighborhood after neighborhood. Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island all declared states of emergency.

Hundreds of thousands homes and businesses have been waiting for power for days, and may not have it for at least a few more.

There are parts of New Jersey that are now bracing for what could be the worst flood in over 100 years, the melting snow on top of rivers cresting four feet above flood stage in some point.

ROBERTS: Some Toyota owners worried about the safety of their cars are suing the company for a full refund. The lawsuits were filed in Arizona and Washington. Dozens of suits have already been filed by Toyota owners, claiming that their vehicles have lost value. But these are the first to try to get the entire purchase price of the vehicle back.

CHETRY: President Obama is making his final argument for health care reform. He's addressing one last campaign-style rally, trying to convince undecided Democrats to support an overhaul. And it's all about the votes right now. There are 260 votes needed for passage in the House of Representatives. Right now, Democrat leaders do not have enough but they say they will by the end of the week.

ROBERTS: If everything goes according to their plan, Democrats could have a health care reform bill on the President Obama's desk by the end of this week. But that is a rather big "if."

CHETRY: We've been talking about this morning. There are protests planned on Capitol Hill today and former House Majority Leader Dick Armey is rallying tea party groups around the country to, quote, "storm the steps of Capitol Hill." His group FreedomWorks is also supporting another rally called "Kill the Bill."

And Dick Armey joins us with more now to talk about it.

First of all, might you not even have to do this if they can't get the votes in the House? It's essentially not happening.

DICK ARMEY, CHAIRMAN, FREEDOMWORKS: Well, yes. But we understand the enormous pressure that people as powerful as the speaker, and frankly, they are quite ruthless in the way they manage and manhandle their own members. The president is quite, as I said, is very, very difficult to stand in the Oval Office and say, "No, Mr. President," especially if he's of your own party.

So, we have a big search today. We have activists, volunteers from all over the country, coming to town for the express purpose of sitting down with their member from their district. The whole notion being that, look, in the final analysis, if these guys want their job back, they have to go home and reconcile their behavior in Washington with the preferences of folks back home. People back home don't want this bill.

ROBERTS: What is it about the bill that you don't like?

ARMEY: Well, first of all, the idea, if you don't find, the audacity of the government mandating to the American people: you must all buy a product that I define for you. And if you notice -- I mean, first of all, understand, this is a big bill down from what their true ambitions are.

And the idea that they would mandate --


ROBERTS: But why is it --

ARMEY: -- the idea that they would resort to price controls, which have never worked.

ROBERTS: But why is it mandate for having health insurance a bad thing? There's a mandate for having car insurance.

ARMEY: Well, first of all, you have to understand, America is a nation that was founded on the concept of personal liberty, that liberty is a gift given to mankind by the Lord God Almighty and it's the duty of governments to protect your liberty.

ROBERTS: Do you have car insurance?

ARMEY: Not to trespass against your liberty.

ROBERTS: Do you have car insurance?

ARMEY: Do I have car insurance? Of course, I have car insurance.

ROBERTS: You have to have car insurance.


ARMEY: But that's not a federal mandate, by the way. It's a state mandate. Take that up with your state.

But still, nevertheless, it's not only that you are mandated, you must buy insurance, which is a big sock, by the way, to the insurance companies. No wonder the insurance companies are in bed with Barack Obama. How would you like it if you were peddling a product and the federal government said, "Everybody has to buy your product"? I mean --

CHETRY: Let me ask you -- let me as you --

ARMEY: -- first of all, an enormous trespass against the liberty of the individual American citizen.

CHETRY: What is it solution-wise that you can live with that you like -- that you think works? I mean, when we do poll after poll, people says they do think the system needs reform.

ARMEY: Absolutely.

First of all, according to the Harvard study, one-fourth -- get this -- one-fourth of all medical procedures that are ordered in America today are medically unnecessary. That's an enormous waste and certainly to drive up costs. Why? Because the federal government will not fix its tort laws so that government physicians are free to practice medicine without the fear of lawyers. This is an absurd waste.

CHETRY: That's something that the Obama administration is considering right now though --

ARMEY: Considering my eye.

CHETRY: -- to add into it.

ARMEY: I can tell you right now, there's no Democrat leader in Washington that is going to consider anything that will offend the trial lawyers. It's a primary source of their campaign funding. They've never done it before. It gives a little lip service to something and he expects us to buy the notion that they really would do something on tort reform.

Secondly, the president continues to complain that there's no competition among insurance companies. The biggest barrier to competition among insurance companies is government's prohibition against my right as a citizen of Texas to buy insurance from a Connecticut company. Now, I can buy cars made any place in the nation, even across seas, but they restrict my ability to buy insurance.

If they want competition between the some 1,100 insurance companies in the country, let me choose from among them.

ROBERTS: You know, Mr. Leader, there is so much rhetoric surrounding this argument. We're hear a lot of it from protesters as well and some of it is downright hyperbole. The one thing that we were hearing about last summer and all of these town halls and some very prominent people were talking about it as well with these so- called death panels -- you were asked about that.

You told "The New York Times" magazine last year regarding death panels, you said, quote, "Are their fears exaggerated? Yes, probably. But are Obama's promises exaggerated? I may think it's silly, but if people want to believe that about the death panels, it's OK with me."

If you're a leader in this debate, is it not incumbent upon you to correct the misinformation and to get the real deal out there, as opposed to saying, "If they want to believe in death panels, that's OK with me"?

ARMEY: Look, this whole adventure on the part of the government is such a big power grab of such a critically important, heartfelt sector of the American economy. Anything they have is killed (ph).

But let's talk about the whole myth or question of the death panel. I, for example, first heard of it when a high ranking senator said, "These things are in the bill and I'm going to go back to Washington and take them out." Now, why would I not expect one of highest-ranking people in the committee of jurisdiction to know what he's talking about?

ROBERTS: And you said, "I may think it's silly."

ARMEY: Well, I think it's silly that they would even have such a thing. There's something in there that's a bother to a lot of people and they need to clean it up.

One of the things that I learned -- I ran the House for eight years, I was responsible for every piece of legislation that got to the full House of Representatives -- getting there in a condition that could naturally attract its own votes. And that meant you cleared up the sloppy working committee. But you don't do what they did.

By the way, Armey's axiom is, if you're going to peddle Obamacare (ph), keep it under wraps. The big mistake that Speaker Pelosi made: she let the bill out of committee before the August recess and people had a chance to read it, it scared the devil out of them. And then they had the confusion -- were there or were there not death panels?

CHETRY: I want to ask you one other question.

ARMEY: We don't know. But we do know the source of our information that caused us to be concerned was a senator himself talking about the fact that they were in there and in his estimation, they needed to be taken out.

CHETRY: I want to ask you one other question about what you said, something that you said at a tea party rally. "Nearly every important office in D.C. is occupied by someone with an aggressive dislike for our heritage, our freedom, our history and our Constitution." Do you really believe that?

ARMEY: Absolutely. I don't have a doubt that.

I lived with liberals all my life. Liberals simply do not appreciate and respect America. They don't understand the genius and the wonder of the American constitution. You know, my own view is, they think they know better. Well, you had the most important event in the cause of liberty in the history of the world when you wrote the American Constitution. And if you understand the American -- the English language, you have any respect for the fact --

CHETRY: You think they have an aggressive dislike for our freedom just because they disagree with you?

ARMEY: No. When -- look, when they trespass against our freedom by issuing mandates and what products we must buy.

I'll give you an example. Today, just by virtue of a policy memorandum written in the Department of Health and Human Services -- no law, no regulation -- a policy memorandum written among themselves. Today, if you are a Christian scientist and you do not sign up for Medicare, you lose your Social Security.

Nobody put that into law. Where did it come from? It came from their pure audacity and their need to be in charge.

So, you take a person, who, by religious conviction, has never attended a physician in his entire life and will never do so, and you say you must sign up for this federal government program or you lose your life-savings which you were forced to put into a bad program in the first place. Now, are you telling me that that's respect for our freedom? That is an audacity of control. And we have these folks in our family, we call them control freaks and we avoid them.

ROBERTS: Dick Armey, it's good to talk to you this morning. Thanks so much for joining us.

ARMEY: Thank you very much.

ROBERTS: All right. Thirty-nine minutes after the hour.


CHETRY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. Forty- two minutes past the hour right now.

The special envoy to the Mideast, George Mitchell, is delaying his trip to the region right now after tensions grow in the Middle East. U.S. officials right now are demanding that Israel stop construction on housing in a disputed area of east Jerusalem.

ROBERTS: Protest broke out near those settlements. And in Jerusalem's old city early this morning, tires were set to barricade in the street and mass Palestinian protesters threw rocks while Israeli police in full riot gear fired back with tear gas and stun grenades. Hamas militants are calling for a, quote, "day of rage" as a result of all of this.

For the very latest, let's bring in our Jill Dougherty. She's live in our Washington bureau.

And, Jill, what are we learning this morning?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, John and Kiran, you know, this really is escalating. It's a blow-up not only as you see, from that video, a blow-up in the relationship between the United States and Israel.

In fact, the ambassador from Israel to the United States, Michael Oren, told his fellow diplomats that the relationship between Israel and the United States is in crisis.

And we also got some details of that conversation at the end of last week between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. She told him that the announcement, when they said, as Vice President Biden was right there in Israel when they said that those settlements were going to be built, that this calls into question the relationship. And she also said that working against the peace process is working against U.S. interest. There could be consequences to that.

And finally, these peace talks, you know, just a few -- about a week ago, they were talking about having indirect talks, and now, even that is in jeopardy.

ROBERTS: Jill Dougherty for us this morning -- Jill, thanks so much.

Flooding is still a major problem in the Northeast. And out west, we're going to check in with Rob Marciano this morning. He'll also have our travel forecast for us right after the break.

CHETRY: Also, coming up in 10 minutes -- John Edwards, his mistress, and Barney? Jeanne Moos and Rielle Hunter's photo spread in "GQ."


CHETRY: Shot at New York City right now, 44 degrees, a little bit later going up to a high of 60 and going to be sunny as well, finally.

Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. Forty-seven minutes past the hour. It means it's time for your AM House Call. Men who suffer from erectile dysfunction face a higher risk dying from heart disease. German researchers studied more than 1500 men from 13 countries, and they found that those who experienced ED at the start of the study were twice as likely to have a heart attack as those who didn't within five years. Doctors say the study suggested any man getting treated for ED should also get a cardiovascular checkup.

ROBERTS: Wow. Let's get a check of this morning's weather headlines. Rob Marciano in the weather center for us this morning in Atlanta. Good morning, Rob.

MARCIANO: Good morning, guys. Jimmy Cliff's song, one of my favorites and I propel (ph) for you, guys, today. Still, this red L, I mean, it's a little further out than I'm depicting here, but it really has been stubborn and not really leaving all that quickly. Still, you see the rotation, some showers just offshore.

There may be a spitter or some drizzle or sprinkle on the eastern parts of New England, but that should be about it for today, and certainly, the winds are dying down, but the damage done as far as how much rain you all got with flooding rains and some flood warnings out for New Jersey, parts of New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Eastern Massachusetts, and eastern parts of New Hampshire and Maine. This video out of Cranston, Rhode Island where the river there at Pawtuxet came up and over its Bangz.

This is the second time this has happened in five years but not this bad, this go around. They had to do a number of water rescues, getting the red raft out there and getting people out of their homes. That scene probably echoed in many spots.

All right. Let's talk about the next area of flooding that's going to be something to worry about, and these folks certainly have seen this in the last 5 years, and that part, they saw it last year. In Fargo, the Red River under a flood warning. Other rivers and tributaries also in flood warning across parts of Midwest. This map is Google earth and what you're looking at is the snow that has melted in red over the past 24 hours. So, it is melting quite rapidly and still a tremendous amount of snow pack here and that is obviously the issue when you talk about the flooding.

And remember the Red River flows north. So, it flows into colder waters into waters that have some ice and you got ice jams and that just exacerbates the flooding situation. All right. Texas terrain today. I shouldn't see a much in the way of flooding with this. As a matter of fact, I think this wind down a little bit, and the storm, itself, will begin to weaken as it heads into the Gulf of Mexico. That certainly is good news. Storm coming into the Pacific Northwest. Temperatures today will be in the upper 50s in New York. Not too bad. Fifty-four degrees certainly and more pleasant in D.C. It'll be 61 degrees in Atlanta, but these temperatures, for the most part, at least down South, are still a little bit below average -- John and Kiran.

CHETRY: You mentioned you like Jimmy Cliff and that song. He is being inducted into the rock and roll hall of fame. It happened last night. So, there you go.

MARCIANO: All right. All right. Let's all go to Cleveland.

CHETRY: All right. Let's do it.

MARCIANO: See you, guys.

CHETRY: Thanks, Rob. Fifty minutes past the hour.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John Edwards' mistress, Rielle Hunter, you know her, has given an interview to GQ Magazine. According to the interview, she says that she and John Edwards have a lot in common. She was attracted to him, and he was also attracted to him so --

ROBERTS: Rielle Hunter is revealing quite a bit about her affair with John Edwards in a new article in GQ Magazine.

CHETRY: Yes and that brings us to the Moost News in the Morning with Jeanne. She has Rielle's surprising reaction to the photos spread in GQ and also what's in store for her relationship with John Edwards.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): She used to be his mistress and campaign videographer.

UNKNOWN MALE: Very graceful camera girl.

MOOS: Now the camera girl is in front of the camera for "GQ."

UNKNOWN MALE: Sit like this but drop this leg like --

MOOS: Rielle Hunter showed some leg. She showed some midrib while holding her 2-year-old daughter fathered by John Edwards. When the photos appeared --

UNKNOWN MALE: That's beautiful.

MOOS: She told Barbara Walters she cried for two hours.

BARBARA WALTERS, CO-HOST/EXEC. PRODUCER: She said she found them repulsive. When I asked if that was the case, then why did you pose the way you did? She said that she trusted Mark Seliger whom she said is a brilliant photographer and she quote, "I went with the flow."

MOOS: That's pretty much how the affair with Edwards started, according to Rielle, when they bumped into one another on the street. I just uttered to him, you're so hot then he said, thank you, and he almost jumped into my arms. Later in his hotel room, she said I had never experienced anything like what was flowing between us, but what was flowing through commentators wasn't sympathy.

WHOOPI GOLDBERG, ENTERTAINER: She's with us now like, I don't know, foot decay.

MOOS: Speaking of decay, Rielle Hunter said, "John Edwards' relationship with his wife had been dysfunctional and toxic and awful for many, many years. The home was wrecked already. I was not the home wrecker."

Rielle Hunter told GQ she gave Edwards a phone that looked like his work phone so he could call her on it, but Elizabeth Edwards confirmed suspicions when she picked up her husband's phone and hit redial, and I answered the phone and said, hey baby and click.

UNKNOWN MALE: Yes, that was a good one.

MOOS: Their first night together, Edwards told her falling in love with you could really mess up my plans for becoming president. She told "GQ", we love each other very much and that hasn't changed, and I believe that will be till death do us part. At least the new photos were an improvement over the previous tabloid ones.

MOOS (on-camera): Rielle Hunter has company. In one of the GQ photos, a lot of company in bed with her. It's not exactly a menage a twa where you count (ph), Barney and friends.

UNKNOWN MALE: The Dora and Kermit --

UNKNOWN FEMALE: If you're going to involve Kermit, Barney, and Dora, put your pants on, okay?

MOOS (voice-over): Keep Barney out of this.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


CHETRY: There you go.

ROBERTS: Yes. We've heard a lot about this. Makes me wonder how much is too much.

CHETRY: Yes. Exactly. Fifty-seven minutes past the hour. We're going to take a quick break. When we come back, your top story.