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Steele Takes GOP Hits; House Votes to Censure Rep. Charlie Rangel

Aired December 2, 2010 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Brooke, thanks very much.

Happening now, a vote that the House Republican leader is calling -- and I'm quoting him now -- "chicken crap." This hour, the public fight over Bush era tax cuts and the behind-the-scenes scramble to cut a deal.

And Congressman Charlie Rangel gets his punishment for ethics violations. We're standing by for a House vote on whether to slap the New York Democrat with one of its strongest forms of public humiliation.

And Piers Morgan makes his CNN debut with us. I'll turn the tables on the veteran interview, asking him questions about the headlines and how he plans to bring what he calls a little danger to this network.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


A high stakes game of political chicken going on right now over tax cuts. Just a short while ago, the House voted to extend Bush era breaks for families that earn up to $250,000 a year and to let cuts for the wealthiest Americans expire. Most Democrats backed the bill, most Republicans, who want to extend cuts for the wealthy, opposed it. The House Republican leader, expected to be the speaker in the new Congress, says that the vote was just for show.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I'm trying to catch my vote so I don't refer to this -- this maneuver going on today as -- as chicken crap, all right?

But this is nonsense.


BLITZER: All right. We're seeing maneuvers by both parties to try to influence behind-the-scenes efforts underway right now to try to cut some sort of compromise deal on the Bush tax cuts.

Let's go to the White House.

Kate Bolduan is standing by.

Based on everything you're hearing, Kate, where do these negotiations stand?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, all day, Wolf, the White House has remained tight-lipped. But we did just get a statement from White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.

I want to read you what he says, in part. In part, it says: "The talks" -- meaning these negotiations -- "are ongoing and productive, but any reports that we are near a deal in the tax cut -- tax cut negotiations -- are inaccurate and premature."

We do know that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has been personally keeping the president up to date on the tax cut -- on the negotiations on Capitol Hill. And they did have a meeting scheduled for this afternoon.

But alongside this center stage battle, Wolf, of these -- over the Bush era tax cuts, the Obama administration is also pushing for a bundle, if you will, of extensions on some tax credits and business incentives, as well as well as unemployment insurance.

And let me break this down for you, because this is what we're hearing, according to senior administration officials. Beyond extending unemployment insurance benefits for one year, according to senior administration officials, they're now pushing for an extension of some of the tax breaks that were part of the stimulus package that are set to expire at the end of the year. And that includes the Making Work Pay tax -- tax credit, one of the higher education tax credits, as well as the Earned Income Tax Credit.

And in terms of the business incentives that they're pushing to extend that are set to expire at the end of the year, they include the HIRE Act, as well as bonus depreciation.

All told, senior administration officials estimate this bundle that I just laid out for you could cost an estimated $150 billion. And that would be for one year.

But here's, really, the argument that we're getting. Administration officials say that if Republicans are saying that we should extend the Bush tax breaks for everyone because, with the economy the way it is, now is not the time to raise taxes on anyone, well, the administration officials say, well, now, then, is also not the time to let these tax credits and business incentives and unemployment insurance benefits to expire, as well -- Wolf.

BLITZER: In the -- is the White House acknowledging that some of these are concessions to Republicans right now, trying to get them on board?

BOLDUAN: Well, Wolf, the White House will tell you no. They'll say that's really not the case. They say these measures that we've just laid out put together, they say, come out to benefit the economy at a great -- eight times greater than if you would extend the upper income tax credit. They -- but at the same -- the very same time, Wolf, many are reading this as maybe a way of highlighting some smaller victories or concessions that they might be getting if they're -- they're trying to get if they're not going to be winning the bigger battle over the compromise over Bush tax cuts.

Of course, again, nothing is a done deal at this point -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Not yet. The White House saying they're not close to a deal yet. We'll see what happens.

All right, thanks very much.

An emotional appeal from the veteran congressman, Charlie Rangel, to his colleagues just a little while ago. He's asking them for fairness, as he calls it, as they decide his punishment for ethics violations. We're standing by for a formal vote on the House floor on one of the most severe forms of punishment for the New York Democrat.

Let's go to our Congressional correspondent, Brianna Keilar.

She's working this story for us.

What's the latest -- Brianna?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this could be the first time since 1983 that we have seen a member of the House censured. We are waiting, expecting votes here in just a matter of minutes on the fate of this veteran lawmaker, Charles Rangel. And if the House decides to follow the recommendations of the Ethics Committee and censure him, what you would see is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi standing before the entire House, Rangel standing in front of her and she would read a verbal rebuke, essentially public humiliation.

So where did this all begin?

How did Rangel get in trouble?

Well, for a number of reasons, but among them, failing to pay taxes on rental income from a property that he owns in the Dominican Republic, despite the fact that at the time, he was chairman of the all important tax writing committee in the House of Representatives. Also, that he was soliciting donations for a college center bearing his name, using, one, official Congressional resources, and also from companies that had business before his committee.

We just heard from him moments ago on the House floor, imploring members of the House to go for a reprimand rather than this very serious punishment of a censure.

Here's what he said.


REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: I have made serious mistakes. I do believe the rules are made to be enforced. I do believe that we in the Congress have a higher responsibility than most people. I believe that senior members should act in a way, as a model for new and less experienced members. I do believe that there should be enforcement of these laws. There should be sanctions.

But if you're breaking new ground, I ask for fairness.


KEILAR: Now, after Rangel spoke, he got a little help from his friends. A number of supporters, all of them Democrats except for one, Steve King, a Republican from New York, saying that they thought he should receive a punishment, that the censure was too much and the House should, instead, reprimand Rangel.

But here's the thing. It was a bipartisan Ethics Committee 9-1 that recommended censure for the House of Representatives, that they should move forward with this.

And what we're going to see, Wolf, is a lot of Democrats who would have a very tough vote trying to downgrade this punishment here. As you can imagine, this would be a political ad just waiting to happen.

BLITZER: And as far as that Republican is concerned, you're referring to Peter King of New York...

KEILAR: Oh, pardon me.

BLITZER: -- not Steve King of Iowa.

KEILAR: Yes. Peter King. That's right.

BLITZER: Peter King of New York.

KEILAR: Of New York.

BLITZER: All right. I just want to make sure that I...


BLITZER: -- we got that right.

All right, Brianna.

Thanks very much.

We'll stand by for the formal vote. You'll see it here. We'll see if, in fact, if it passes, Nancy Pelosi will have to read this formal censure in the well of the House of Representatives. We'll bring that to you once it happens, assuming it does. Stand by for that.

On the other side of Capitol Hill today, in the Senate, the Republican, John McCain, pushed back hard against the military brass and the call to repeal "don't ask/don't tell." Senator McCain was skeptical about a new -- a new survey on lifting the ban on gays serving openly in the U.S. military. He said not enough troops responded.

Pentagon officials defended the report very strongly. And they also defended their claim that the U.S. armed forces would adjust to the change.


ADM. MICHAEL MULLEN, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: Should repeal occur, some soldiers and Marines may want separate shower facilities. Some may ask for different birthing. Some may even quit the service. We'll deal with that. But I believe -- and history tells us -- that most of them will put aside personal proclivities for something larger than themselves and for each other.



SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I'm not saying that this law should never change. I am simply saying that it may be premature to make such a change at this time and in this manner without further consideration of this report and further study of the issue by Congress. For, of all the people we serve, one of our highest responsibilities is to the men and women of our armed services, especially those risking their lives in combat.


BLITZER: Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger.

Based on everything you're hearing, what's the state of play on legislation that would be required to formally repeal "don't ask/don't tell?"

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's very much in flux. And if you were betting, you'd have to say it's probably not likely. As you know, Wolf, this has already passed the House. It's now up before the Senate. That's why we've had these hearings today.

But you also know that this tax cut issue is very much in play in the lame duck session. And Republicans are completely united in saying first things first. They want some kind of deal on the tax issue and the spending issues. And if those things get done, then perhaps they will consider other pieces of legislation.

Now, I just got off the phone with a top aide to the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, who said, look, we have no deal. Senator Reid could well decide, at some point, that he brings this up in the Senate. But, of course, Wolf, there is no guarantee that the Democrats would have the votes to even pass "don't ask/don't tell" at that point. And, in fact, it's more likely than not that they wouldn't.

So I think you'd have to say, for the lame duck session, it doesn't look good for "don't ask, don't tell".

BLITZER: They would need some of those moderate Republicans in the Senate.

BORGER: They would. And -- and, by the way, the fact that the -- the military is now on board, the very clear message from the military today was, look, we don't want this overturned in the courts. We'd rather that you do it legislatively, because then we can proceed in an orderly manner to make this legitimate to the folks who serve and do it in the right way, taking our time.

BLITZER: You and I remember, back in 1993...


BLITZER: -- the first year of Bill Clinton's administration, he came up with this compromise...

BORGER: He did.

BLITZER: -- over "don't ask/don't tell."

I want you to listen to what he said then and what he's saying now.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The policy I am announcing today is, in my judgment, the right thing to do and the best way to do it. It is right because it provides greater protection to those who happen to be homosexual and want to serve their country honorably in uniform, obeying all of the military's rules against sexual misconduct. It is the best way to proceed because it provides a sensible balance between the rights of the individual and the needs of our military.



CLINTON: But the reason I accepted it was because I thought it was better than an absolute ban and because I was promised that it would be better than it was. But the world has changed now. There's a huge shift in opinion. And I think we're going to prevail in this.


BLITZER: He's not the only one who's changed his views. Colin Powell, who was then chairman of the Joint Chiefs...


BLITZER: -- his views have changed, as well.

What about public opinion? BORGER: You know, nobody reads public opinion better than Bill Clinton. And he's absolutely right. If you take a look at the polls back in 1994 when Bill Clinton announced "don't ask/don't tell," on favoring -- allowing openly gay people to serve in the military, 53 percent, still a majority. But the opposition was pretty strong, at 41 percent.

But look at how public opinion has changed right now. Now, 72 percent favor, Wolf, and only 23 percent oppose. So you have public opinion shifting. You have the military on board. And you have the Democratic president on board, the Democrats on board.

So you can see that this is essentially shifting. Even John McCain, who remains opposed now, said today in the hearing, as we just showed, that he's not unalterably opposed at some point in the future.

BLITZER: We'll see what the chairmen of the respective services say tomorrow.

BORGER: That's right.

BLITZER: They'll be testifying, the Marine Corps commandant and the -- and the chiefs of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force.

Thanks very much.

BORGER: Absolutely.

BLITZER: A new blueprint for cutting the federal deficit would take a big ax to the U.S. military's budget. We're taking a closer look at what might have to go and whether it could get in the way of fighting wars.

And the manhunt for the founder of WikiLeaks -- is he closer to being arrested right now?


BLITZER: They're voting on an amendment right now. An amendment that would reduce the punishment for Charlie Rangel, the Democratic congressman from New York for ethics violations. This would, give him a reprimand as opposed to the more serious censure. So, this amendment is being voted on. We're watching closely to see if it passes. If it passes, he would be reprimanded as opposed to being censured, much more serious punishment.

The most serious will be expulsion, but that's not on the table. We'll stay all over this. We'll bring you the latest on what the punishment for Charlie Rangel eventually will be.

Other news were following. $4 trillion over the next 10 years, that's what's on the line tomorrow when President Obama's Bipartisan Debt Commission votes on its controversial deficit slashing plan. One key recommendation for the chopping block, spending, but could it come at the cost of keeping U.S. military personnel, keeping all of us safe? Our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, is here. He's got some details because they are recommending some significant cuts in the Pentagon's budget.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, I mean, you're talking about over half a trillion dollars in the base defense budget, another couple hundred billion to fight the war. So, yes, the debt commission is basically saying defense cannot be a secret cow (ph) anymore.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): Tick, tick, tick, tick. That's the sound of the Pentagon spending, more than $20,000 every second. The defense department is asking for well over $700 billion this year. It's enough to buy gas for every adult in America all year or ten laptop computers for every baby kid and teenager in the country. Hard to imagine, huh?

ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I asked the military services to find the $100 billion in overhead savings over the next 5 years.

LAWRENCE: Sounds good, Mr. Secretary, but there will be fight over whether it's too much or too little.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's a beginning but barely.

REP. BUCK MCKEON, (R) HOUSE ARMED SERVICES CMTE.: It seems to me that that's probably excessive. $20 billion a year, I don't know that we're wasting that much money.

LAWRENCE: The thing is, the secretary wants to save that $100 billion from wasteful programs to spend it in other areas.

GATES: I want to reemphasize that this agenda is not about cutting the department's budget.

LAWRENCE: It's like you spending less on eating out so you can put more towards the mortgage. But the debt commission is asking for cuts, period. But where? The pentagon owns real estate in nearly 50 countries. It's got more than 500 bases overseas, not counting Iraq and Afghanistan. A think-tank estimated costs hundreds and billions of dollars to keep them running.

MCKEON: What's the alternative? Has anybody figured the cost giving up what we do for the freedom of the world?

LAWRENCE: The cost of the new F35 plane are spiraling towards $400 billion, but wherever they're built, these kinds of programs generate jobs.

LAWRENCE (on-camera): Lockheed says the F35 alone could account for more than 20 percent of the entire company's revenue.

WINSLOW WHEELER, FORMER FEDERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICER: Well, that's their problem, not the taxpayers. I'm very sorry for the Lockheed stockholders, but the reason we pay for defense is not to support Lockheed stockholders.

LAWRENCE (voice-over): Secretary Gates is looking at overhead, but the Pentagon's former budget director says --

TINA JONAS, FORMER PENTAGON COMPTROLLER: People are what really the most expensive piece of defense.

LAWRENCE: Tina Jonas says the choice may come down to reduce the number of troops or cut their benefits. Within five years, military health care alone is going to cost $65 billion.

JONAS: It has to be addressed. It's not sustainable in its current form.


LAWRENCE (on-camera): So you saw that running tally there in the corner. Basically, in the couple of minutes, it took to tell that story. The Pentagon basically spent more than $3 million. So, Wolf, just to put this in perspective, let's pretend that each one of these cookies represents $100 billion. That's billion with a B.

This is basically what the Pentagon could expect to spend over the next five years. So, when Secretary Gates talks about cutting $100 billion, here's your savings, Wolf. Here's what you're going to be left spending.

BLITZER: Still a lot of cookies on the table.

LAWRENCE: A whole lot of cookies, Wolf.

BLITZER: Looks delicious. I'll save it for later.

LAWRENCE: You can keep it.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

LAWRENCE: It's an expensive cookie.

BLITZER: Chris Lawrence with the cookies.

One of the debt commission's key members already says he will vote no on the panel's recommendations. We're talking about the incoming House Budget Committee chairman, Paul Ryan. He told the Christian Science Monitor the report not only ignores health care, it actually make it is fatter. Let's talk about that with our senior political analyst, David Gergen.

You know David that unless they get 14 votes, 14 members out of the 18, there's not going to be formal legislation and all indications are they don't have the 14 votes. So, does this mean the work that this commission did for the last year sort of just goes into some sort of filing cabinet?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Not at all, Wolf. This commission has served a very useful purpose, in my judgment. It is out deficits firmly back on the national agenda. The next Congress, not this one, but the next Congress who comes in January has no choice now but to deal with the deficit, to address the deficits. We've also seen this commission. They're going to fall short of getting 14 votes, but they are getting a majority of the commission.

And no one ever thought they would come close to a majority a few months ago when they got started. And finally, you've got now -- there are people on both sides. There are three Republican senators who've now basically supported this plan, and it's sort of entirety, like Tom Coburn, a conservative. When he supports a plan that includes tax increases overall, you're making progress. All of that said, we're at the bottom of a very steep mountain still.

BLITZER: Yes. And I want you to listen to some colorful language from the incoming House speaker of the Republican leader in the House, John Boehner. He was asked about all these recommendations that the debt commission put out. Listen to this.


BOEHNER: If ands and buts were candy and nuts, everyday would be Christmas.


BLITZER: Basically, he was asked if that 14 vote milestone were achieved, would he support it. He's basically saying this is not a very good plan. The Republicans hate the idea of anything that seems to be tax increases, and there are some recommendations in there that would raise taxes.

GERGEN: Well, the recommendations would raise revenues overall. Incidentally, (ph), with close loopholes and tax rates would be reduced, which is why Coburn can support it. But the leadership has, obviously, like john Boehner is not in favor of a lot of this on the Republican side, especially in the House of Republicans, which is going to be all important next year.

But the other disappointment, I must tell you, Wolf, has been the silence of President Obama and his team on the work of his deficit commission. They just sat back on the side lines and let the work go forward. It does seem to me this has been a moment for leadership, for the president to step out, to encourage more votes in that commission, to help it form the foundation for work next year. And this sort of -- let's see what everybody works out and then we'll make our decisions as characterize his presidency so often.

And I think it is sort of given a sense of a weakness when what the country is looking for some strength in going forward and trying to deal with the deficits and other problems like unemployment and taxes. On both sides now, people want to see the president really step up to it, make the views known and fight for what he believes.

BLITZER: David Gergen, thanks very much.

GERGEN: Thank you. BLITZER: David Gergen will be back tomorrow.

The vice president, Joe Biden, has a message for the country's newly elected governors. Call me, he says. Call me. Find out why. That's coming up.

Plus, it's being called a fire on an international scale. Details of the massive effort underway right now to fight this blaze, a deadly blaze in Israel.


BLITZER: Get the latest on the WikiLeaks founder and one of the world's most wanted fugitives right now. Fredricka Whitfield is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM. What do we know, Fred?

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello to you, Wolf. Hello, everyone.

Well, Britain might be getting closer to arresting WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange. British police have asked Sweden for more information on Assange. Although, Swedish officials say they don't know where he is. It's believed Assange is hiding out in England somewhere. Assange is wanted in Sweden for sex crime allegations that are unrelated to the massive WikiLeaks document dump. He denies the allegations calling them a smear campaign.

And it's being called the biggest forest fire ever in Israel. Dozens of people are reported dead and at least 2,000 others have reportedly been evacuated. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says it's a major disaster and a fire on an international scale. He's asking Spain, Greece, Cyprus, and Russia for help in fighting the blaze, including aerial tankers. The forest fire broke out in Northern Israel near the city of Haifa and has burned thousands of acres. It is not clear how it actually got started.

And big news for soccer fans. Russia and Qatar will host the World Cup tournaments in 2018 and 2022 respectively. It will be the first time either this countries are home to soccer's biggest event. Russia beat out England, and Qatar beat out the United States. Among other bitter (ph), President Obama said it was the wrong decision for the organizing body to pick Qatar over the U.S. Of course, he better say that, right, Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes. A lot of disappointed soccer fans here in the United States and in England. I'm going to be speaking about this later in the next hour with Piers Morgan. He's got some strong views on this and some other subject. He's joining CNN today. It's going to be his first interview on CNN. So, we're actually just (ph) to speak to Piers.

WHITFIELD: We look forward to both.

BLITZER: And welcome him to our CNN family.


BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Fred.

WHITFIELD: We'll look forward to the topic and the person you're interviewing.

BLITZER: Yes. he's got some story views (ph) and a lot of stuff. Thank you.

The governor elect of Florida fresh from a meeting with the president of the United States. I'll ask Republican Rick Scott if he left the White House with any promises from President Obama.

And NASA reveal a new discovery that could change the way we think about life beyond earth.


BLITZER: President Obama and Vice President Biden once again extending the bipartisan olive branch, this time to the newly elected governors across the United States. They came to Washington to have lunch with the president. Both leaders urging constant dialogue in an effort to solve critical issues.


JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Pick up the phone and call me personally. I guarantee you I will have you an answer within 24 hours. And if I don't have the final answer, I'll call you within 24 hours and tell you when you'll get the answer. Because this is -- this is a partnership.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The one thing that I would urge is, don't wait until you're really mad about something before you call us. We'd prefer not to read about it in the press. We'd rather you call us ahead of time and say, you know what? We think this isn't working. We think this is a better way of doing things. And we'll work with you.


BLITZER: Let's speak to one of those governors elect, Florida Republican Rick Scott. Governor-elect, thanks for coming in. Congratulations to you.


BLITZER: Did you like what you heard from the president and vice president?

SCOTT: Well, yes. I mean, they talked about, you know, reaching out and those things. At the same time, our biggest problem is Medicaid. I'd like to get a block grant but there is flexibility and doesn't seem to be like a lot of interest in that. That's a negative. In Florida, we're worried about the deficit. There isn't much progress made on that. So we'll see. It was good -- look, it was great.

BLITZER: Did you have any one on one opportunity to speak with the president and vice president? I know there were a lot of other governors-elect.

SCOTT: There were other governors there. We talked about Medicaid and affordable care act and we talked about EPA and things like that. So, yes --

BLITZER: But did you leave encouraged thinking that you can work with these guys?

SCOTT: Who knows? Like on the Medicaid, which is a big problem, we've got rules we have to go through. We have to go through the legislature, Congress, things like that. But, look, it was positive to get a start and we'll see what happens.

BLITZER: Let's go through controversial issues that you're going to have to deal with as the governor of Florida, which is obviously a very important state. Immigration, and you're quoted in the Miami Herald as saying this "We need to come up with an immigration policy that works for the country. If you're stopped in our state, no different than if you're asked for your I.D., you should be able to be asked if you're legal or not." It sounds very much -- what Arizona did, the law in Arizona, is that what you want to see happen in Florida?

SCOTT: First, the federal government need to secure the borders, secondly, they need to come up with an immigration policy that works. But, finally, if you're in our state or any state and you're stopped because you're violating the law and asked for an I.D., just like you and I would be asked, you should be able to be asked if you're legal or not.

BLITZER: So you like the law in Arizona? You'd like to implement that in Florida

SCOTT: You have to make sure there's no racial profiling. It's got to be fair. But sure we need to know who's in our state especially people doing something wrong.

BLITZER: Here's the issue that you could face, and I assume you're aware of the boycott of Arizona, tourism to Arizona, a lot of groups don't want to go to Arizona. They are thinking about pulling the all-star game out of Phoenix. Tourism in Florida and conventions in Orlando, Ft. Lauderdale and Miami, that's a huge business. Do you want to go through that?

SCOTT: Whatever we do, we want to make sure that it's fair but we want people to compare with our laws. Look, the federal government needs to secure our borders. They need to come up with a logical immigration process. But if you're violating the law, you ought to be able to be asked if you're legal or not.

BLITZER: Would you ask for new legislation that would give authorities the opportunity right away to ask for identification of legal status if they are picked up for something?

SCOTT: I don't have to. The legislature is already focused on it.

BLITZER: But would you sign it into law?

SCOTT: Absolutely. I will make sure there's no racial profiling. I want to make sure that it's fair to all Floridians.

BLITZER: Let's talk about health care. Your attorney general in Florida wants to repeal, in effect, the health care law that is now in effect that president Obama and Democrats pushed through. I understand you want to repeal it?

SCOTT: Yes. Make sure we do want to repeal it.

BLITZER: You don't want there to be a mandate requiring individuals that they must have health insurance?


BLITZER: All right. Let's take a look at a hypothetical case here in Florida, in Tampa, let's say. You're 30 years old, you're working, making a living, but you don't want to buy health insurance, you're in a car accident and then all of a sudden you need intensive care, you're in a coma and need intensive care, who pays for that?

SCOTT: We all pay for it.

BLITZER: Is that fair that somebody that can afford to pay for it doesn't pay for it and then we all as taxpayers have to?

SCOTT: What happens when the federal government gets involved and mandates things, you can mandate too much, too expensive, people can't afford it. So we ultimately end up with fewer people on health insurance and you can't afford it. So there are two sides. Do you want anybody to end up in the E.R. that can't pay for it? Absolutely not. But you want to be able to afford health insurance.

BLITZER: Should that 30-year-old be required to give up all his or her assets to pay for that health --

SCOTT: The accident?


SCOTT: If you end up in an accident and you end up in the E.R., you should pay for that experience, absolutely.

BLITZER: In other words, go broke as a result of your decision not to have health insurance?

SCOTT: You should pay for the health care you get.

BLITZER: What if it's intensive and going to require long, long care, long time care and hundreds and thousands if not millions of dollars?

SCOTT: My belief is, if we do the right thing, we can drive down the cost of insurance. We've made it too expensive. As a government gets more involved, they make it too expensive.

BLITZER: One final issue for Florida, offshore oil drilling. As you know, the Obama administration said no offshore oil drilling for seven years off of Florida's coast. You don't like that decision?

SCOTT: First off, I wish they would have called me. They didn't call me or Governor Crist. I believe they should have called us and tell us what their thinking is. We need to become energy independent. We can't do drilling until we do it safely. You don't put in a moratorium. Let's figure out how we can do it safely because we can not afford to mess up our beaches or our economy. But I believe the ingenuity of Americans, we will come up with a way to do that.

BLITZER: You're willing to take a chance despite the pristine beaches along the Florida coast?

SCOTT: Whenever we do it, we will do it safely so we don't mess up our beaches and our economy.

BLITZER: Governor elect, you have tough issues ahead of you. Good luck.

SCOTT: We're going to have a great economy.

BLITZER: What's the unemployment right now?

SCOTT: Almost 12%.

BLITZER: You've got work to do, then. Good luck.

SCOTT: Thanks.

BLITZER: Thanks for coming in.

All right. We are talking did Democratic Congressman Charlie Rangel. An amendment has failed to reprimand and now the formal vote to censure him will go through. We assume that will pass and Nancy Pelosi will formally censure Democratic Charlie Rangel for the ethics violations. We'll continue our coverage of that. Stand by.

Also, the first lady, Michelle Obama, planted the seeds and now she's claiming a victory in Congress. We'll explain what is going on.

And winter hits in a very big way very close to my hometown.


BLITZER: Fredricka Whitfield is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM, what else is going on?

WHITFIELD: Hello again, Wolf. Hello everyone. The House passed a sweeping child nutrition bill. It's meant to promote better eating habits partly by giving the government more say about what sold in school vending machines. The $4.5 billion measure has already been approved by the Senate. It now goes to the president's desk.

And President Barack Obama's stitches from last week's basketball injury have now been removed from his lip. The president was accidentally elbowed in the mouth during a post thanksgiving basketball game.

And I know you will be interested in this one, just around your home town of Buffalo, New York, heavy show shut down interstate 90 and stranded drivers there. A real drag. Some areas got as much as 24 inches of snow and more is expected. Wolf, that's why you're the powerhouse that you are. Die hard.

BLITZER: They know how to deal with snow. All of the years, from kindergarten through high school, we never missed a school day because of snow and trust me, there was a lot of snow. They cleared the sidewalks, the streets.

WHITFIELD: I believe you.

BLITZER: I tip my hat to all of the folks in Buffalo. Thanks very much for that.

WHITFIELD: That's why you go seven days a week. All year long.

BLITZER: Because I'm a Buffalonian through and through.

WHITFIELD: That's right.

BLITZER: Republican strategist Mary Matalin joins former vice president Dick Cheney in dealing potentially a blow to the chairman of their own party. I'll ask her about that in our strategy session. Stand by.


BLITZER: Let's get right to our strategy session. Joining us our CNN political contributors, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and Republican strategist. Mary Matalin. Mary, let me start with you. You're teaming up with Dick Cheney for a fund-raiser for a woman you want to be of the next chair of the Republican National Committee. Here's the question. What is wrong with Michael Steele?

MARY MATALIN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, it's not just my former boss but the former chairman of the Republican National Committee Ed Gillespie, former Congressman Paxin and Susan, and a number of leaders who joined Republicans and saying this is not about Michael Steele. He's a good man and good conservative. But the committee cannot dysfunction in 2012 as they did in 2010. We need functional leaders who can get back the alienated donor who is understand the cutting-edge technology and be able to provide what the state parties did not have --

BLITZER: So you blame Michael Steele for that dysfunction? MATALIN: Well, the committee did not raise the money or give the support to the parties and by every account there were a number of seats that could have been won that were left on the take because of the lack of what the RNC typically provides in the midterms. And we have to go up against this massive Obama machinery in 2012. We just have to have a professional organization.

BLITZER: Let me let Donna weigh in. In all of your years in politics, have you ever seen a party dump a chairman that has helped the parties have the historic gains at midterm elections, earlier elections in Virginia, Massachusetts, Republican wins, win after win after win for the Republicans and that's not good enough, they want to dump Michael Steele. Have you ever seen anything like that, any gratitude like that before?

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STATEGIST: No, I have not. And that's the reason why I think Michael Steele is still the front-runner to keep his job. Regardless of all of the other people Mary mentioned, I know a lot of them very well, including Ann Wagner and others that are going to compete against Michael but he still has a lot of grass root support across the country. You need, I believe, about 168 votes on the Republican National Committee. It's a little smaller than a DNC. Michael has secured more than 60 of the votes. He's working the grass roots while the Washington insiders are just working up another story that should not be in the headlines, now that the Republicans have won control of the House of Representatives.

MATALIN: We've been doing this for 30 years, and people like Marie who doesn't need this job, doesn't want to be on TV, if we're going to compete with the Obama machine in 2012, we have to get out of this $15 million unpredicted debt, get the voters back and get the cutting edge technology and provide to the state parties what they need for us to win and beat donna in 2012.

BLITZER: All right guys hold on because the final vote on Charlie Rangel is taking place right now. The vote to censure him. It looks like it's going to pass. It's already overwhelming. 324 members have voted to censure. Once that is done, the speaker will have to formally censure Charlie Rangel. We'll have live coverage. Stand by, ladies. We'll discuss this and more when we come back.


BLITZER: You are looking at a live picture of the House floor where they have voted overwhelmingly to censure Charlie Rangel. They are reading the roll call right now. Let's listen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The resolution is adopted without objection and the motion to reconsider is laid on the table.

BLITZER: All right. Nancy Pelosi is now going to formally censure Charlie Rangel. Let's listen.

NANCY PELOSI, HOUSE SPEAKER: Will the gentleman from New York, Mr. Rangel, kindly appear in the well? By its adoption of house resolution 1737 the House has resolved that representative Charles Rangel of New York be censured. That representative Charles B. Rangel forthwith present himself in the well of the House for the pronouncement of censure, that represent Charles B. Rangel be censured with the public reading of this resolution by the speaker, and that representative Rangel pay restitution to the appropriate taxing authorities of the U.S. treasure for any unpaid estimated taxes outlined in exhibit 066 on income received from his property in Dominican Republic and provide proof of payment to the committee.

BLITZER: All right. So there you have it. Right there the speaker of the House formally censuring Charlie Rangel for ethics violation, and a dramatic moment, indeed, and I'm sure very, very painful for Nancy Pelosi for herself. Here is Charlie Rangel responding.

REP. CHARLIE RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: Members, my predecessors suffered because they didn't allow him to be a member before they decided that he is should be expelled, but notwithstanding that, we do know that we are a political body, and even though it is painful to accept this vote, I am fully aware that this vote reflects perhaps the thinking not just of the members, but the political tide of the constituency of this body. Having said that, and having my opportunity, I do what I wanted to do initially which is to make sure that this body, and this country would know that at no time has it ever entered my mind to enrich myself or to do violence to the honesty that is expected of all of us in this house. I think that has been proven, and that has been what I have been asking for, that's why I have admitted to mistakes, and was prepared to do what I have done. I understand that this is a new criteria and a breakthrough in order to teach somebody a higher lesson than those that in the past have done far more harm to the reputation of this body than I, but I would just want all of you to know that in my heart, I truly feel good. It is not all of the commitments that are made to god in 1950. A lot of it has to do with the fact that I know in my heart that I'm not going to be judged by this Congress, but I'm going to be judged by my life, my activities, my contributions to society, and I just apologize for the awkward position that some of you that are in, but at the end of the day, as I started off saying, compared to where I've been, I haven't had a bad day since. Thank you.


BLITZER: So there you have it, a dramatic moment indeed, Charlie Rangel the Democratic Congressman from New York, censured and an earlier vote to reprimand him which would have been a lesser punishment that failed overwhelming support for the formal censure and you saw Nancy Pelosi, the speaker, obviously very painful for her to do it to her old friend to read the censure resolution. Brianna Keilar is our Congressional correspondent, it is over now, I take it, Brianna. Is that right?

KEILAR: Yes, this is over and he has been censured. That was the process. It was very short, Speaker Pelosi, and Wolf, couldn't you hear it in her voice how difficult it was for her to stand there and go through the process of publicly humiliating Charles Rangel her friend, because that is what the process of a censure really is. But just to remind people how this came to be. The ethics violations that he got in trouble for dealt with a number of issues, but among them not paying taxes for the rental income that he earned from his villa in the Dominican Republic and also soliciting donations for a college center bearing his name, from companies that had business before his committee, the tax writing committee in the House and for using official Congressional resources to do that.

So in the end, he had made the argument for some time, I'm not corrupt, and have I been sloppy, yes, but the intent was not poor, and so a censure is too extreme. In the end though, the House of Representatives in a vote to see if they could maybe take it down a notch to reprimand him, no they said no, it did not get a majority vote, and in the end, he was censured. This followed the recommendations of the ethics committee and that is a bipartisan committee voting 9-1, to be censured by the House of Representatives. He is 80 years old and 20 terms in Congress and this is the twilight of the career, and this is one of the last chapters and I think that even for people who voted to censure Charles Rangel, it is something that is sad for them to see someone who has had a career as he has, and this is really going to be one of the last parts of his career, Wolf.

BLITZER: Very sad for a lot of folks to see it, especially Donna Brazile, our CNN political contributor. Donna I could see it was not easy for you to watch that statement from Nancy Pelosi.

BRAZILE: No. No. I know Charlie Rangel, and I had an opportunity back in the 1990s when I worked on Capitol Hill to work for Mr. Rangel and clearly I know his history as a public servant and Korean veteran and one of the great leaders of all time in the Congress of the United States and fighting for the least of these, he has been a champion on so many issues, so it breaks my heart to see the censure of Charlie Rangel and of course, the first female speaker having to read that. But Wolf, let me say this about Charlie Rangel, he may be 80 years old, but he is one man who will summon the courage, summon the spirit to continue to fight for people and to fight for his constituents in Harlem so to Mr. Rangel and to all his family, it's been a long, long period of time for Mr. Rangel. But this too shall pass. May God be with him.