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Will U.S. Ratify START?; Tax Vote on the Agenda; Afghan War Takes Global Stage

Aired November 18, 2010 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now, President Obama calling it Congress' highest national security priority -- imploring the passage of the nuclear arms treaty that he says is needed to protect the United States.

Is he fighting, though, a losing battle?

A once bankrupt General Motors comes roaring back to Wall Street just 17 months after taxpayers were forced to bail out the crippled car giant.

Can the White House take the credit?

And her self-declared miraculous victory deals a potential blow Sarah Palin and the Tea Party machine.

Just ahead, I'll speak with the Alaska senator, Lisa Murkowski, about her dramatic write-in candidacy and much more.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


But we begin on Capitol Hill right now, where there's dramatic new movement on those Bush era tax cuts.

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

She's getting some details on what they're planning, the Democratic leadership, right now.

What are they doing -- Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Democratic leaders in both the House and the Senate have decided to schedule votes after Thanksgiving to extend those Bush era tax cuts for those making $250,000 or less.

Now, these decisions came hours after Democratic leaders met at the White House with President Obama, where we are told this was talked about extensively. And until now, it's important note, it was unresolved how or whether Democrats would move forward on this thorny issue of tax cuts. And it is clear now that Democrats at least want to try to start to put up a measure that they -- most of them, at least, believe is the right way to go, to deal just with the middle class tax cuts, something that they were reluctant to do -- didn't do before the election.

Now in the House, the House majority leader, Steny Hoyer, told our Deirdre Walsh, that this is something that they're going to go forward with, because, he said, at least that will be available for members to have a vote on.

In the Senate, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, came out of a very long meeting with senators about this issue and said that not only are the Democrats going to have their vote on middle class tax cuts, but they are going to allow Republicans, also, to have what they have been demanding, which is an extension of all Bush era tax cuts for middle -- so-called middle income levels and higher permanently. So we're going to see a lot of -- a lot of developments after Thanksgiving. Very interesting that Democrats have decided to do this.

Just one other note that I think is -- it's also interesting. You heard the president talk from the campaign trail on about what he wants, which is to extend the middle class tax cuts permanently, both in the House and the Senate. The Democratic leaders are saying that they don't know if what they're going to put forward will be permanently extending the middle class tax cuts or maybe just doing it temporarily, because their caucuses are still split on that.

BLITZER: What about this compromise that's been so widely reported, that they extend the tax cuts for everyone for two years and then punt down the road and then, two years from now, they come up with some other plan?

BASH: You know, Wolf, it is entirely possible that, ultimately, that might be something that we may see talked about, because although Democrats are going to push these measures in the House and the Senate, it's not clear whether or not they have the votes to do it, even though they still maintain big majorities, the Democrats.

So that is something that we're going have to look for. It's possible that these votes could come up in the House and the Senate, may -- or at least in the Senate, in particular, may not pass. And then they are going to have to sort of get to the point where, OK, it's time to compromise. That might be a compromise. But again, people, even now, are still not ruling out the possibility that even with these votes, ultimately, they might have to deal with this in January, because they won't be able to -- to come to some -- come together, either by votes or by compromise.

BLITZER: Well, they -- all the tax rates go back to the Clinton era level if they don't do anything by the end of this year. And then we'll see what the new Congress would do.

All right, Dana.

Thanks very much.

Meanwhile, the man who's set to be the next House speaker has a different take on how the tax cuts should be handled.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I believe that we ought to extend all of the current tax rates for all Americans.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think this Congress will do (INAUDIBLE)?

BOEHNER: You'd better talk to -- to those in charge.


BLITZER: In the next hour, the current House majority leader, the Democrat, Steny Hoyer, will be my guest right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll discuss all these issues. Surrounded by his vice president and secretary of State and several distinguished former secretaries of State, President Obama issued an urgent warning to Congress that the United States simply cannot afford to gamble on the need to effectively monitor Russia's nuclear stockpile. And he didn't shy away from using his Republican predecessors to help make his point.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is a -- a national security imperative that the United States ratify the new START Treaty this year. There is no higher national security priority for the lame duck session of Congress. The stakes for American national security are clear and they are high.

Let me also say -- and I think the -- the group around the table will confirm -- that this new START Treaty is completely in line with a tradition of bipartisan cooperation on this issue. This is not a Democratic concept. This is not a Republican concept. This is a concept of American national security that has been promoted by Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and now my administration.


BLITZER: Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry.

He's over at the White House.

Is the president likely to prevail during this lame duck session and get the Senate to ratify the START Treaty?

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's totally unclear. And that's why the president's international credibility is really on the line right now. He sealed this deal with the Russian president back in the spring. You know, Russia has been very helpful in moving U.S. supplies to Afghanistan for the war.

Will they suddenly become uncooperative? That's a big issue.

Second, his political credibility. He mentioned Reagan, Bush, others who were able to get 80, 90 votes on treaties like this. He can't even get 67 right now. His credibility is on the line.

And Republicans like Jon Kyl have been holding out their support by saying, in part, that they want to see the U.S. nuclear stockpile modernized. So the president coughed up over $4 billion. That's still not enough, apparently.

And so you wonder if there's something else at work here.

Are the Republicans testing this president right now, not just on START, but more broadly?

Today, you'll remember, was the day the president was supposed to have that Slurpee Summit here at the White House. And Mitch McConnell, one of the Republican leaders who was one those folks who said he was really busy, he couldn't make it over today, what did he turn out to do?

One of the things he did was give a speech to the Federalist Society, the conservative group.

So you've got a lot of Democrats today wondering was it so important to give a speech like that, but he didn't have time to meet with the president?

Are they testing this commander-in-chief right now -- Wolf?

BLITZER: I know there's a lot of suspicion of that right now, Ed.

Let me turn the corner to the second time we saw the president today. And he came out just after 4:00 p.m. Eastern to talk about General Motors, this new stock option -- this stock program that went out today. And he said this.

Let me play this clip.


OBAMA: Last year, we told G.M.'s management and workers that if they made the tough decisions necessary to make themselves more competitive in the 21st century, decisions requiring real leadership, fresh thinking, and, also, some shared sacrifice, then we would stand by them. And because they did, the American auto industry -- an industry that's been the proud symbol of America's manufacturing might for a century, an industry that helped to build our middle class, is, once again, on the rise.


BLITZER: He's going to try to keep this momentum going right now. What's next?

HENRY: Well, this is a perfect metaphor, really, for how the first two years have gone. If you think back, the auto bailout started with President Bush. He was still in office and gave them loans -- money -- without any guarantee, any strings attached.

Then this president took office. They were still in -- in desperate shape. He made the tough decision to bail them out. And -- and a lot of Republicans are saying, look, now you're on the road to socialism. This helped them shape public opinion in saying he was spending too much money, giving the government too much power.

And instead, where are we, two years now?

GM is going to pay the taxpayers back and then some. The president probably saved, according to private estimates, about 1.4 million jobs. And auto sales, by the way, are on the rise.

So it's largely been a success. But he's gotten very little credit.

What's next is you're going to see the president, when you talk to his top aides, get a lot more aggressive, do a lot more of this public speaking, to say, look, here's the tough decision I made, here's how it's wound -- how it wound up.

We'll see whether or not it works. So far, a lot of his public campaigns haven't actually panned out -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Ed.

Ed Henry at the White House.

Let's get the war in Afghanistan right now, which is about to take center stage at this weekend's NATO summit. Only hours from now, President Obama is scheduled to leave for Lisbon, Portugal to participate in the meeting.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence is there ahead of the president's arrival -- Chris, what are your sources saying about the timetable for the start of a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, one of the things we're hearing is that they hope to get out of this by the end of it, they want to have President Karzai -- they hope to have him sign some sort of agreement that lays out some rather specific benchmarks to get us to 2014, which is the ideal date that U.S. forces would like to end combat operations in Afghanistan.

We're also told that as certain areas are identified for transition, they may flood those specific provinces with a vast increase in manpower, money, resources, to try to get it over that tipping point, to be able to turn it over to the Afghans.

But I think the overriding message that's going come out of this conference is that if you're sitting at home and you think that the U.S. effort in Afghanistan is winding down and 2014 looks like a -- an end date, everything that we've been hearing is that the U.S. presence will continue well beyond that, that even if the troops are no longer, say, designated as combat troops, they may be in a situation like they are in Iraq right now, where there's still tens of thousands of troops, but they're designated as trainers. We're also being told that even when that happens, there will again be an extensive U.S. involvement here in Afghanistan well beyond 2014.

BLITZER: Having said that, though, Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, he recently made some waves when he suggested he wants to see a dramatically reduced U.S. military operation in Afghanistan.

LAWRENCE: You know, we're being told that -- that he spoke with -- with General Petraeus before they left Afghanistan, sort of buried the hatchet, so to speak. And some of the U.S. officials we've spoken to say they are eager to sort of move on from that and push forward.

But some of the European officials say, you know, this has happened before, where President Karzai makes -- makes what they consider sort of an outlandish statement and then sort of backtracks off of it later. They say several of them plan to make the point to him personally while they are here in Lisbon that he cannot make these public statements, that he -- that while they're in this transition period, he has to support the transition, not undermine it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Chris Lawrence in Lisbon, Portugal for us.

We'll check back with you.

Thank you.

New polling shows that most Americans believe preserving programs like Medicare and Social Security and Medicaid much more important than reducing the deficit.

So will Republicans who campaigned on debt reduction follow through on their promises?

I'll ask a leading fiscal conservative, Republican Congressman Mike Pence. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Also, scathing criticism for the Obama administration over the verdict of the 1998 embassy bombing case. We're going to tell you what it might mean for future terror trials.

And anti-UN protests in Haiti -- why do some people there blame peacekeepers for a deadly cholera epidemic?


BLITZER: The outgoing House speaker is on Jack's mind today.

He's here with The Cafferty File -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, THE CAFFERTY FILE: She's a big part of the reason the Democrats got crushed in the mid-term elections. Nancy Pelosi was seen as arrogant in her determination to help shove health care reform down the country's throat. Remember this -- vote for it so you can find out what's in it -- a bill that was put together largely out of public view?

She controlled a huge majority in the House of Representatives that did virtually nothing about creating jobs as the country labored under the weight of a horrible recession and almost 10 percent unemployment.

Now, in the wake of the mid-term shellacking, Miss. Pelosi, who was targeted by Republicans in races all across the country as the face of the enemy, is insisting on remaining as minority leader in the House. Some members of her own party -- quite a few, actually -- wanted her to step aside. But Miss. Pelosi seldom has time for consideration for much of anything except Miss. Pelosi.

With some behind the scenes arm twisting, she's managed to get herself elected as minority leader in the House.

Republicans must be downright giddy. Maybe they'll throw a party for her, like the one she threw for herself to celebrate all of her accomplishments. If Pelosi accomplishes as much for her party in the next two years as she did during the last two, the Republicans may have all the seats in the House and the Senate come January 2013.

Here's the question. Will Nancy Pelosi remaining as House Minority Leader help or hurt the Democrats in 2012? Go to

BLITZER: Jack, thank you. It's day two of the Republican governor's conference in San Diego and many there are already setting their sites on the 2012 election. The former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has just finished firing up the crowd. He's predicting that repealing health care reform will be a key campaign issue.


NEWT GINGRICH, (R) FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: Every Republican presidential candidate is going run based on repeal. The Republicans are going to gain 12 to 14 Senate seats, 40 House seats, and no later than April of 2013, it's going to be repealed.


BLITZER: Our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is covering the governor's association meeting for us. Jessica, you've been speaking to some of the heavy hitters out there. What are you hearing? What's their message?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you know, I talked to two of the new faces in the party, South Carolina's new governor, Nikki Haley and Indian-American woman and New Mexico, Susana Martinez, the first Latina governor in the nation, and both of them said, you know, the new diversity in the Republican Party is an important component, but it's not about that. They say what the voters are looking for in their view, what will give the Republican Party the White House in 2012, in their view, is a new authentic kind of politician.

Authentic is a key word for them and who reaches across the aisle to Democrats, Republicans and independents. Let's listen.


NIKKI HALEY, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA GOV-ELECT: I don't think it's so much about white male or white female or anything in between. It is very much about real people running, those that haven't come from political hierarchy, those that aren't from wealthy means, those that had it wished to do this all their life.

SUSANA MARTINEZ, (R) NEW MEXICO: We went to areas where Republicans never go. We went to areas that were 80 percent, 90 percent registered Democrats, because we wanted them, not necessarily to change parties, but start to consider the candidates and what they stood for and cross over and vote for Republican candidates.


BLITZER: You also, Jessica, asked Haley Barbour, the governor from Mississippi an interesting question about third-party candidates.

YELLIN: That's right. You know, New York mayor/governor Michael Bloomberg was quoted saying that he has done the research and believes a third-party candidate for president cannot win. So, that's, of course, because there's some talk that perhaps Bloomberg would run as a third-party candidate. I asked Governor Barbour about that.

You know he's a genius political handicap for himself in addition to being a governor. How would it affect your party's chances to win in 2012? He said he hopes Michael Bloomberg does not run as a third- party candidate for this reason.


GOV. HALEY BARBOUR (R) MISSISSIPI: I'm not going to argue with Mayor Bloomberg on this. I think he's exactly right. But I think if a strong third-party candidate got into the presidential race, the big beneficiary is Barack Obama. Now, if you get a third-party to come in and split the vote of conservatives, split the vote of people who don't like Obama's policies, that's the best thing can happen to Obama.

YELLIN: So, a Bloomberg candidacy would be the best thing that would happen to him?

BARBOUR: Well, I hope Mayor Bloomberg won't even consider that.


YELLIN: And, of course, Wolf, I did try to get Governor Barbour to say whether he will seek a 2012 presidential bid himself and he said, you know, he's still thinking about it -- Wolf. BLITZER: All right. Jessica, thanks very much.

Donald Trump, by the way, today said he's seriously thinking of running as a Republican presidential candidate himself. He said it before, but he sort of reiterating it a little bit more.

We're monitoring other important top stories including the FAA now wanting airline pilot certificates to include a photo. We're going to tell you why. Plus, a homeless man finds a backpack jammed with $3,300 in cash. And you might be surprised to learn what he did with it.


BLITZER: Federal regulators are moving right now to make it more difficult for people to pose as airline pilots. Mary Snow is monitoring that and some other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM. What are you learning, Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the FAA is proposing that pilot certificates include a photo of the certificate holder. The certificates already must be made of plastic and include a hologram as well as other security features. I wonder the new rules of the certificates would have to be renewed every eight years.

A suspicious piece of luggage being loaded on a plane bound for Germany from Namibia reportedly did not contain any explosives. A source close to the investigation tells CNN that an electronic clock and wiring suitable for constructing a bomb was found inside the bag. Namibian and German authorities are now investigating.

And finally, here in the U.S., a homeless man in Arizona says that, quote, "a lot of crazy things went through his head when he found a backpack containing with $3,300 in cash." According to CNN affiliate, KNXV, Dave Tally (ph) ended up tracking down the owner and returning the money. Tally (ph) who's a recovering drug addict says he wants people to realize that most homeless people have in his words, honor and integrity -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good for him. Very nice. Thanks very much, Mary.

If Republicans are going to follow through on deficit reduction promises, they'll have to cut some very popular programs. So, what's on the chopping block right now? I'll talk to GOP Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana. He's here in the SITUATION ROOM.

And Democratic Congressman Charlie Rangel of New York gets the word on his possible punishment for ethics violation. We'll update you on today's dramatic events. Stick around. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: The GOP is preparing to take the reigns of power in the House of Representatives following those sweeping midterm election victories. Come January, there will be no shortage of critical issues facing the party.

And joining us now, Republican congressman, Mike Pence, of Indiana. Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.

REP. MIKE PENCE, (R) INDIANA: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Congratulations on your re-election and congratulations on the Republican wins.

PENCE: Thank you. It is a very humbling thing to see what the American people did on November the 2nd, and the Republicans are determined to turn a willing ear to the American people and really focus on creating jobs and putting our fiscal House in order.

BLITZER: You want to cut that deficit. You want to cut the national debt. That's critically important to you, right? And I want to go through some specific cuts where the money is on domestic spending and tell me if you're willing to cut spending for Social Security.

PENCE: Well, let me say, I think everything has to be on the table.

BLITZER: So, you are willing to cut --

PENCE: I think it's absolutely imperative.

BLITZER: What about Medicare?

PENCE: I think it's absolutely imperative whether Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid.

BLITZER: So, you're willing to cut in all three of those areas?

PENCE: Well, let me say, I believe that if we act in the near future, that we can through responsible reforms in the long-term. We can put our nation on a pathway towards fiscal solvency with regard to entitlements. We're going to have to take some deep cuts in domestic spending.

BLITZER: Social Security, too (ph).

PENCE: We're going to have to look at defense spending and procurement and look for efficiencies there as well. We got great challenges mounting around the country. We've got to meet those. That's the first obligation of the national government.

BLITZER: All right. So, let's go through some of the specifics.

PENCE: But everything's got to be on the table.

BLITZER: All right. And I appreciate what you're saying because our new CNN Opinion Research Corporation poll that came out today, we asked which is more important, reducing the deficit or preventing, for example, cuts in Medicare? Nineteen percent said reducing the deficits, 79 percent said preventing cuts in Medicare. Similar question. Which is more important, reducing deficit or preventing cuts in Medicaid? Sixty-nine percent said don't cut Medicaid. Which is more important, reducing deficits or preventing cuts in Social Security? Seventy-eight percent say don't cut Social Security. So, in these three areas, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, the overwhelming majority of Americans say don't touch it.

PENCE: Well, I don't know if they're saying don't touch it. I think they're saying for people who are on Medicare and Social Security or depending on Medicaid today, let's keep the promises we've made to seniors. Let's keep our promises we've made to people --

BLITZER: What about people who are approaching?

PENCE: Let's keep the promises to people near the age of retirement. You know I've said many times that I believe personally that we ought draw the line at the age of 40 and say anyone over the age of 40 we'll keep you in the same deal that you've been promised in social security and Medicare all of your life. But for Americans under the age of 40, I believe it's absolutely imperative in addition to taking strong steps to put our fiscal house on order on the domestic side it's absolutely imperative --

BLITZER: Give me an example of the reform in Social Security for people under 40. Would you raise the retirement age?

PENCE: I'm an all of the above guy. We need to look at everything that's on the menu for people under the age of 40. It's not about giving younger Americans less of a deal in the new deal, it's about giving them a better deal. It's about saying to younger Americans if you will accept changes in the system, whether it's retirement age or whether it's the structure of the benefits, that we will create new vehicles for you to engage in private savings and begin to create the kind of personal reserves.

BLITZER: You say everything is on the table?

PENCE: What I'm saying is you replace the new deal program for the people under age of 40 with a better deal.

BLITZER: Let's get so some specific issues involving tax right now. The Bush tax cuts all of them expire at the end of this year unless new legislation is passed in this lame duck session. The compromise that's on the table right now apparently according to all the reports extend them all for two years. Are you ready to do that? Would you vote yes for that?

PENCE: Senator Jim DeMint and I just introduced legislation today that would make all the current tax rates permanent.

BLITZER: The Democrats won't accept that. The president won't accept that.

PENCE: I think the American people will.

BLITZER: The president won't accept that. He might accept it for two years. Would you accept it for two years or let them all lapse?

PENCE: How about a vote? I know we've been pretty much a beleaguered --

BLITZER: Lopsided Democratic majority would vote for a permanent extension for millionaires and billionaires?

PENCE: I don't know. I don't get invited to the Democratic caucus.

BLITZER: But you're a smart man.

PENCE: There were at least three dozen Democrats who said they were prepared to extend all the current tax relief. I'm saying if they want to vote on their plan to raise taxes in two years on small business owners and family farmers as opposed to raising taxes in January and we're allowed to bring the DeMint-Pence bill to the floor of the house and the Senate that says how about this, how about keeping all the current tax rates where they are, I have a feeling we'll pass that bill.

BLITZER: You might pass it in the house. We'll see what happens in the Senate. I doubt the president would sign it into law and I don't know if you have the two thirds majority to override a veto but specifically if it comes down to either two year extension for all the tax rates including people making more than $250,000 a year or nothing what would you do?

PENCE: Look, I don't like dealing in hypotheticals. I think you know that. What I want to tell you is that higher taxes won't get anybody hired. It's a bad idea to raise taxes on any American in January. Wolf, come on. Small business owner, family farmer, entrepreneur out there, if this says, okay, you're going to raise my taxes in two years. How do you make long term investments --

BLITZER: You can have another vote in two years and have a bigger majority.

PENCE: We have $2 trillion in sideline assets and corporate profits in this economy because after years of borrowing and bailouts and takeovers and mandates business is pulling back. What we're saying --

BLITZER: I know what you want. I know what a lot of Republicans want. You have to deal with what's realistic.

PENCE: What's realistic is that the American people on November 2nd engaged in a historic rejection of the Obama-Pelosi agenda. We ought to give Democrats and Republicans and this administration a chance to change fundamentally direction. Hope springs eternal. Maybe the president will listen and sign it and then we can get with talking about growth and the kind of reforms that will get the economy moving.

BLITZER: When will you announce whether or not you'll run for president? PENCE: Let me tell you, we talked about this before. And now that I've stepped aside from some leadership duties on Capitol Hill, my wife and my little family are going listen to the encouragement we've received from people back in Indiana to consider higher office and in a couple of months we'll make the best decision we can about where we can make the most difference for what the values that have called to us public service.

BLITZER: We look forward to your decision.

PENCE: Thank you.

BLITZER: Congressman thank you very much.

PENCE: Good to be with you.

BLITZER: A growing number of Haitians are now blaming the United Nations for the deadly cholera epidemic there. We're going to update you on the spread of the violent protests.

And the 19 year old who earned the nickname the barefoot bandit facing charges that includes stealing airplanes.

How do you apply for a scholarship in 140 characters or less? We'll tell you about a new contest where high school seniors can tweet for college tuition.


BLITZER: We're getting word of more fallout from the cholera outbreak in Haiti. Mary Snow is monitoring that and some other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What are you finding out?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Violent anti-U.N. protests are spreading in Haiti. Demonstrations this week in the north have now spread to Port-au-Prince. The protestors blame U.N. peacekeepers for the cholera outbreak that's claimed more than 1100 lives in Haiti.

The pentagon will wait until its own December 1st deadlines to release its report on the impact on a potential repeal of the don't- ask, don't-tell policy. Two senators sent a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates this week asking Congress to be given access to the report sooner. Some lawmakers say they would like more time to consider the pentagon's findings before potential vote on repealing the policy.

In Seattle the 19-year-old man nicknamed the barefoot bandit is pleading not guilty to five federal charges. Culton Harris Moore is accused of a wide ranging crime spree that allegedly involved crashing and stealing small private airplanes sometimes barefooted. He was arrested in the Bahamas back in July.

Fast food chain KFC is offering a $20,000 scholarship contest for twitter users. Applicants must tweet why they deserve the scholarship which means, of course, they can use only had 140 characters or less. High school seniors have until November 26th to enter. Wolf, I guess it's easier than writing an essay.

BLITZER: 140 characters you could do that pretty quickly but you've got to be very clever. Thanks very much.

Is Michael Steele's future as the leader of the GOP in trouble? We'll tell you why some Republican governors meeting right now are reportedly arguing just that. Plus, a civilian court finds a Guantanamo terror suspect guilty on only one count and that's sparking a political controversy.


BLITZER: Let's get right to your strategy session. Joining us now the Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor Donna Brazile and the national radio talk show host Bill Bennett. Thanks very much. Bill, you're in San Diego at the Republican governor's association meeting and I take it there's murmuring from Haley Barbour against Michael Steele continuing as chairman of the RNC. What's going on?

BILL BENNETT, NATIONAL RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: There's some talk about Michael Steele. The real talk of the crowd is about all the presidential candidates that a lot of people think are here. I had a panel today with Jindal and Barbour and Pawlenty and Mitch Daniels and Chris Christy and Bob McDonald and people thought there was six right there. There's talk about replacing Michael Steele. I think a lot of people feel he did a decent job. The party did well in the last elections but it may be time for a change. We have to see what Michael cities. We that have three or four other candidates.

BLITZER: For the chairmanship. I know you're a Democrat, Donna, you're looking at it from the outside, but this is a guy who was chairman of the Republican Party the last two years. The Republicans had enormous successes. Does he deserve to be kicked out?

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: No, I don't think so. I think Michael Steele has done a great job in recruiting people to run as Republican candidates. For the first time in history we have African Americans Republicans serving in Congress. You saw Nikki Haley, Susanna Martinez. Michael Steele has a lot of grassroots support. If the establishment decides to take him on be careful I'm sure he has some grassroots support out there that will back him up.

BLITZER: I was thinking about all the Republican governors that year -- Bill, all those governors who are with you in San Diego right now. Two years ago, exactly two years ago the National Governors Association for the Republicans was held in Miami. I went down there to interview the then governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin. Think about this. If she were still governor of Alaska, she quit in the middle of her term, she would probably be with you right now. Do you think as a sitting governor of Alaska she would have a better chance to get the Republican presidential nomination, or was it a wise decision for theory step down? What is better to propel her to become president?

BENNETT: Gosh, I don't know. I think you probably will have to say she's doing pretty well when I see about a third of the time on a lot of networks is devoted to Sarah Palin running for president. She's doing something right. Alaska is a tough state. It's a beautiful place but not centrally located. Simple enough to say. She's thrown herself in the mainstream as a topic of conversation. If that's what she wants in her future you can't say it's a dumb move. This place is crawling with potential presidential candidates as this crowd is pointing out. There's a lot of excitement. Obviously we had a good Tuesday a couple of weeks ago. I was in Miami too two years ago and I remember Hailey Barbour said cheer up. It's going to get better. It got better. I remember meeting Bob McDonnell who was running for governor of Virginia and shaking everybody's hand and he's a star.

BLITZER: Who do you fear the most among those Republican governors, Donna, looking ahead two years?

BRAZILE: You know, Wolf, I don't think we should fear anybody. I think the Republicans will have to sort out their own candidate and perhaps find a star that could take on President Obama who I believe will be a very strong candidate come 2012. I want to say something I agree with Bill about Sarah Palin. I was out in D.C. for three days and I tell you when I look back, everybody is talking Palin, Palin, Palin. If she decides to run, go ahead throw her gloves in the ring. 2012 will be an interesting year with Republicans with some of the old stars coming back to take the stage once again.

BLITZER: Did you see Donna changing subjects, that Huffington Post story about George Soros the billionaire who is quoted in this story as telling donors that Obama might not be the best investment for the Democrats. He's losing, supposedly losing faith president right now. You saw that story, I take it.

BRAZILE: Yes. I saw that one of his representatives said he wasn't talking about Obama personally but he was saying that you know perhaps some of the big donors should invest in some other enterprises. You can invest in the political party, you can invest in the re-election campaign and there are other third party member allies of Mr. Soros that I'm sure he might decide to invest in. He has several billion dollars. My bet is he'll put money where he wants it to be spent in 2012.

BLITZER: Bill Bennett, as you look at -- I asked Donna before about looking at Republicans from the outside, as you look at these Democrats and the whole George Soros comments if in fact they are true but his role in the Democratic Party, what goes through your mind?

BENNETT: Well, I mean he's money bucks. He's a money bags. And, you know he obviously has some influence. For the sake of my party I hope they listen to George Soros, for the sake of the country I hope they don't because I think he's a negative influence. If he's complaining that Barack Obama has not gone far enough left he should look what we just talked about, the elections of Bob McDonald and Chris Christy and Scott Brown. The country thinks, sent a clear stop to Barack Obama. Soros wants to push him to the left. Doesn't make sense. They have to deal with him. He's a big player in that party. That party has gone to the left in my view and it's an administration that's to the left of the country. To be fair I think you have a Congress that's to the right of the country. So we shall see how this plays out.

BLITZER: We certainly shall. Guys, thanks very much Donna and Bill.

Jack Cafferty is asking will Nancy Pelosi remaining as house minority leader help or hurt the Democrats in 2012? Jack and your email, that's coming up.

Plus, GM makes a dramatic come back on Wall Street. Will the auto giant's success translate to jobs?

And did the TSA miss an opportunity when it came to alerting airline passengers about those controversial security pat downs?


BLITZER: Here is a look at some hot shots. In England, Queen Elizabeth wears a set of 3-d glasses to watch a presentation during her visit to a university. Very cool.

In Sydney, Australia, light projects off of a historic town hall to begin Christmas celebrations.

In New Delhi India, Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama receives the Mother Theresa award for social justice. Congratulations.

And in Hong Kong, check it out, two parrots nuzzle on their perch in a market. Hot shots, pictures worth a thousand words.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty with the Cafferty file. Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I had no idea that the queen was so cool.

BLITZER: Very cool.

CAFFERTY: Can you put that picture up again?

BLITZER: Can we get the 3-D picture of the queen up again? Can we?

CAFFERTY: We have a new director, and he is slow.

BLITZER: There it is. Look how cool she looks.

CAFFERTY: Right? Very hot. I love that. All right. Question this hour, will Nancy Pelosi remaining as house minority leader help or hurt the house Democrat in 2012?

Tom writes, "If the Republicans know how to play their cards they can and will make Pelosi the most hated individual since McCarthy. She ought to be blamed for all the ills from the last two years and will be blamed for the deadlock of the upcoming two. If she had her party's future in mind, she should have gracefully retired after the shellacking." Chris in Georgia writes, "Pelosi is one of the most unpopular people in the country. This selection as minority leader is a bad move. She galvanizes her opponents like no one else in the Democratic Party. She is a figurehead of the last session of Congress that had what, 18% approval rating? A new direction would have been a great idea and far more helpful to the Democratic Party in 2012."

Peter writes from Florida, "Pelosi was doomed in 2006 as soon as she said that impeachment of George W. Bush was quote off of the table. That told Republicans she had neither the courage nor the intellect to be truly effective as a speaker, and it has been downhill since."

Trip in Dallas writes, "Sad to say, Jack, it can only hurt. Her brand is already akin to that of Sarah Palin. She lost 60-plus Congressional seats. She does not provide inspiration to the American people that she can get the job done. Nancy should not let her pride make this call. She should do the American people a favor and go away."

Scott writes, "Give me a break, the reason there were no jobs created is because the Republicans held up every jobs bill to ensure that no jobs were create sod they could claim victory over Pelosi and Obama's failure. I think that she is the right person for this job. Republicans cannot continue to hold up progress since they are now the majority in the house."

Mike in Denver, "In life, parties always seem to end up with one guest who does not know when it's time to leave. For the Democrats, it is Pelosi. And for the Republicans, it is Palin. Maybe they will cancel each other out by 2012."

And Marilyn in Ohio, "Not too much, unless she uses some of John Boehner's bronzer."

If you want more you will find it on my blog at

BLITZER: Thank you Jack. Thanks very much.

And the minority leader is blasting the GOP for forcing the white house to reschedule that so called slurpee summit. My interview with Steny Hoyer is coming up.


BLITZER: For many people these days it is one of the most popular foods to dine on and now as the chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta finds, sushi could actually prolong your life.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: There are some cities around the world who have extraordinarily high life expectancy rates and health officials are trying to figure out what it is about those places that is somehow different.

One place to look is Japan. One thing I can tell you right off of the bat is it has less to do with genetics and more to do with the environment, and specifically the types of food they eat. This is one of the most popular places you will find in cities like Japan. You have octopus over here and squid and fresh fish markets is a place that a lot of people come to buy fish every single day. This is particularly fresh fish as you can tell just looking around, and you can see how fresh it is. But there are some fish that you should pay attention to.

You have crabs over here and big clams and small clams, but there are certain fish for example that are high in omega 3 fatty acids and mackerel over here and it is a great fish, and high in omega 3 fatty acids and salmon is another one. If you look at the blood of the Japanese people versus people in other parts of the world, oftentimes those levels of omega 3 fatty acids are twice as high. So heart disease which is a killer in the United States, you have rates that are half of that here in Japan.

This is a big reason why, specifically. Omega 3 fatty acids are terrific at lowering the blood pressure, and decreasing the clots and clogging in the arteries and lowering the triglyceride levels. Tuna is another great example. Great pieces of tuna and all of it fresh, and people come here every single day. On average people in Japan eat one to two servings of this type of fish per day as compared to the United States where for example they eat one or two servings per week. Quickly as well. Seaweed, and that is another great source of antioxidants which is also often eaten with fish.

If you hate fish, there are other ways to get it, soybeans and tofu and black beans. In trying to figure out how people live longer around the world, it has to with the diet. In Japan, where they do it better than anywhere else, it is fish high in omega 3 fatty acids.

Another thing they taught me is that you should push the plate away before you are full. They have a phrase that says to never stuff yourself, and that is a great phrase you can use no matter where you live in the world.