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THE SITUATION ROOM

New Plea for NATO troops in Misrata, WikiLeaks suspect to be moved, Too many wounded to treat in Misrata; Dangerous U.S. Credit Risk; Reviving Immigration Debate; Big Day at McDonald's

Aired April 19, 2011 - 17:00   ET

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


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's head to Jessica Yellin in THE SITUATION ROOM today. Jess?

JESSICA YELLIN, GUEST HOST: Hey, Brooke.

Happening now, NATO steps up air strikes on Moammar Gadhafi's forces and their ability to launch attacks, but will ground troops be needed to save Libyans that are hungry, desperate, and dying?

Also this hour, President Obama trying to sell to the public his plan on reducing the deficit but he fails to mention the elephant in the room, a potential threat to America's credit that could be catastrophic.

And he was watching this movie when he should have been watching out for airplanes to land safety. The problem of air traffic controllers goofing off or nodding off seems to get worse by the day.

Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm Jessica Yellin. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Right now Libyan rebels are formally pleading for Weston Troops to intervene in Misrata to protect them from being slaughtered by Moammar Gadhafi's forces. NATO is intensifying its assault from the air targeting Gadhafi's military command and control. A U.S. war plane fired at a Libyan air defense site south of Tripoli overnight.

And we begin with now with our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

Barbara, with the misery mounting in Libya, it sounds like air power alone may not be enough.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jessica, today at NATO Headquarters that very admission from the top levels of the alliance, it just may not all be working.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

STARR (voice-over): In the besieged city of Misrata the numbers of wounded, hungry and desperate are rising. Even as NATO steps up the air strikes against pro Gadhafi forces.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gadhafi's forces have shelled and rocketed Misrata indiscriminately causing death and injury and widespread damage to homes.

STARR: With no sign that Gadhafi will pull back, keeping Misrata out of government hands is a top priority. The cities port is a life line for humanitarian assistance into Libya. The European Union may now send ground troops to protect aid shipment. British Foreign Secretary, William Hague says they will send military advisers to help opposition forces. The Pentagon still says no U.S. ground troops. At NATO, there are growing concerns about whether Misrata can be saved.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is a limit to what can be achieved with air power to stop fighting in a city.

STARR: For now, NATO insists that the air strikes are destroying much of Gadhafi's ability to launch attacks and showed combat video to make the case.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Over the last few days, our aircraft destroyed many ammunition bunkers, tanks, defense radars, rocket launches, and other military equipment.

STARR: On Monday, nearly 30 targets were destroyed around Misrata. NATO sources tell CNN after days of aerial surveillance they identified and rapidly struck sites that Gadhafi was using to coordinate attacks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As you can see on the video that we take out the commander control facilities and the antenna is still there.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: So here's the bottom line. One month into the Libya operation, is it working? Is it succeeding? Well at NATO today they said there is no indication that Moammar Gadhafi plans to give up. Jessica.

YELLIN: It's incredibly troubling Barbara. I understand that on another topic you have information about Army Private First-Class, Bradley Manning. As we all know he is being held on suspicion of leaking classified materials in the WikiLeaks case. What can you tell us about him?

STARR: Well Jessica, that news is breaking right now here at the Pentagon. Military officials saying that there has been a decision to move Private First-Class Bradley Manning from a Marine Corps Detention Facility in Quantico, Virginia, not far from here in Washington to the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. That is run by the U.S. Army and it's the only long-term confinement facility in the Department of Defense in the U.S. Military.

The decision has been made to move Manning. So far the Pentagon has said that it has nothing to do with allegations that he's being mistreated by the Marines at Quantico. We are expecting a briefing on this within the hour and more information about why they are moving this very controversial military detainee -- Jessica.

YELLIN: Barbara, we'll look forward to having more information when you get it.

I am curious if you know, will he be kept in different conditions there, specifically will he no longer be kept in solitary confinement which has been the source of a lot of criticism?

STARR: Well that is a source of criticism you're absolutely right. I don't think we know the answer but what we are told is that Fort Leavenworth is designed for long-term confinement. I have walked through that facility. It's a grim place, make no mistake. People are very much confined there. Those who are convicted and are serving their sentences are there for a very long time so it's a maximum facility and perhaps still to be determined exactly the conditions he will face when he is transferred there. Jessica.

YELLIN: OK, we'll look forward to getting more information from you if you have it later this evening. Thank you, Barbara for that report.

Well, we are seeing another big crush of Libyan refugees who are fleeing the shelling in Misrata and in other parts of the country and United Nations officals say that 6,000 Libyans have already arrived in Tunisia in just the past two days.

CNN's Ben Wedeman got a firsthand look at the casualties in Misrata.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): One after another, after another, after another. The wounded arrive in Misrata's port to be carried gingerly on a ship bound for safer ground in Benghazi. Some are fighters and others civilians. All are in a grave condition. Twenty-seven-year-old doctor, Doctor Mabil Masrati is overwhelmed.

DOCTOR MABIL MASRATI, MISRATA: He was bombed at his home. The explosion happened to the upper and lower limbs and we amputated the limbs and another is below the knee. I will show it to you. Amputation in the middle of the knee and above the knee. Upper limbs were also crushed and amputation of the ring and the little finger and the tissue of the whole hand.

WEDEMAN: This case, wounded while cooking, doesn't want his face to appear on television because his mother doesn't know how bad he was hurt. Misrata is surrounded by Gadhafi's forces on three sides and the only root of escape is the sea. Some of the wounded were so badly injured they had to be turned back. Doctors feared they wouldn't survive the journey. The city has been under attack for nearly two months. And increasingly it's the civilian population that is paying the highest price.

United Nation's Security came to a resolution in 1973 which talked about protecting civilians. Do you think that civilians are being protected.

MASRATI: We are not protected, not protected at all. (END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN: Joining us from Misrata via Skype is Libyan opposition activist, Mohammed Ibrahim, thank you for being with us. You've been in Misrata for the last two months. You were at the hospital today. Can you describe for us what you are seeing on the ground?

MOHAMMED IBRAHIM, LIBYAN OPPOSITION ACTIVIST: Yes today, from the beginning of the morning we have a lot of shelling on the city and that's what the name that we call this and I have many, many of them, of the shelling. After that, I went to the hospital and saw more than 12 people dead. They are mixed some of them are civilians and some are fighters and more than 37 were injured. When I was in the hospital, I have two mortar bombs fall at the hospital today. Just near to the hospital. So they are targeting everything, the houses, the hospital, people, everything in the city.

YELLIN: May I ask, have you seen injuries consistent with cluster bombs, which many nations have agreed not to use but not Gadhafi?

IBRAHIM: Yes. We are not -- I am not very expert in this but I saw people injured and all their body. The legs, the head, and the chest. Just from one bomb so this gives us an idea and even we hear these bumps every day. Especially from the last ten days because before that we don't hear those kinds of bombs a lot. But the last ten days, everyday they are using these kind of bombs, which make a lot of damage, especially for the human.

YELLIN: So you're saying you're hearing mortars near the hospital and seeing injuries consistent with cluster bombs. We're also hearing that there are people in the hospitals that you need desperately to evacuate. Is there any way for them to evacuate?

IBRAHIM: You know, now that the hospital is full, full of injured people and now they can -- they don't accept medium injured people. They just make fast relief for them and they have to go home because there is no place in the hospital. Sometimes we wait for some ships to evacuate the hospital so we can -- they can accept more people. You know, because they -- before they targeted the old general hospital in the city and now they move to the other hospital. It's a private hospital, not a big one. Maybe has about 70 beds in the hospital. So it's very small for this kind of war.

YELLIN: Clearly the fighters, the people and the people in the hospital need aid, humanitarian assistance, food. Is any aid getting in right now?

IBRAHIM: There is some aid that comes but there is not enough. Every day they are targeting -- Gadhafi troops targeting the boat. Many aides are afraid to come to the port. Some of them come. But most of them come near to the sea after they hear the shelling and everything. They go back to their place. So now it's a big problem for us, accepting aides from many places, even from Benghazi now. They are trying to get some help and they get to the port but most of the foreign aides, some of them they come and some turn back when they hear the heavy shelling.

YELLIN: Foreign aid turning back, difficult to hear. Mohammed Ibrahim, thank you for joining us from Misrata.

And coming up, air traffic controllers fell asleep on the job and now one of them is caught watching a movie instead of his radar and that's not the most shocking detail.

Plus, President Obama hits the road to tout his deficit reduction plan but the crowd may have left unsatisfied.

And, thousands signing up for a Big Mack and a paycheck? We'll take you to an ambitious day at McDonald's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

YELLIN: Jack Cafferty is here with "The Cafferty File."

Hey, Jack, what are you fired up about today?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Hello, Jessica.

In the abstract, it is a noble calling, I suppose, support oppressed people's yearning to breathe free, that's what we do here. Over the years, the United States has made a general practice of coming down on the side of people who are fighting to gain their freedom, but now that there are a dozen-plus uprising in various parts of the Middle East, it's probably worth taking a closer look to see if it's really a good idea.

Syria, for example, has been the scene of unrest since mid-March. "The Washington Post" reports the U.S. State Department has secretly financed several Syrian political opposition groups since 2005; that's six years. "The Post" reporting was based on diplomatic cables that the folks of WikiLeaks got a hold of.

The State Department refused to comment on the authenticity of the cables, but a deputy assistant secretary of state -- there's a title -- says the State Department does not endorse political parties or movements.

Baloney. If you provide aid, any kind -- military, financial, humanitarian -- then you do. In Libya, nobody knows who we are supporting exactly, but by participating in NATO-led airstrikes, we're supporting someone. And as tensions continue to rise in Yemen, Bahrain and elsewhere, we may want to exercise some caution about just who it is we are getting into bed with.

Oh, and the other part of this? We don't have any money. I mean, we really don't have any money. And for people in this country who have been unemployed for a couple of years, can't find a job and are faced with a thought of their own employment benefits running out, telling them we're giving cash to a shadowy, poorly-organized dysfunctional group of malcontents in some far away Middle Eastern country, that ain't going to go down so well. You know what I mean?

Here's the question: Should the U.S. Be funding rebel groups in the Middle East?

Here's the answer. No, you come up with the answer. CNN.com/caffertyfile, post a comment on my blog.

WikiLeaks cable we're underwriting something in Syria since 2005, and of course, the old American taxpayer doesn't' know a thing about it.

YELLIN: It'll be interesting to see how many viewers agree with you, Jack. We'll look forward to those answers, see you in a little bit.

CAFFERTY: OK.

YELLIN: OK.

Now a danger closer to home. We've been hearing about air traffic controllers asleep at the switch, but the latest threat to your safety when you fly may be even more outrageous.

Our homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve is following this story for us.

I cannot believe this one, Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jessica.

Tonight, we have another episode of air traffic controllers misbehaving.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE (voice-over): Watch a movie in a darkened room, but in an air traffic control center?

(VIDEO CLIP FROM SONY PICTURES "CLEANER")

MESERVE: For more than three minutes, audio from the Samuel Jackson thriller "Cleaner" was inadvertently transmitted by an air traffic controller at a regional facility in Oberlin, Ohio. He inadvertently activated his microphone while playing the movie on a DVD player, which was forbidden in the radar room. A military pilot heard it and reported it.

But the plot thickens.

RAY LAHOOD, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: The supervisor was aware and saw the controller watching the movie.

MESERVE (on camera): And didn't stop him?

LAHOOD: And didn't stop it.

MESERVE (voice-over): LaHood calls it ridiculous, outrageous, and intolerable. Right now, the head of the Federal Aviation Administration and the leader of the controllers union are barnstorming around the country to spread the gospel of professionalism to the rank and file, but stories of derelict controllers keep piling up, with incidents in Washington, Knoxville, Reno, Seattle, Lubbock, Miami, and now Ohio, making some air travelers worry about safety.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They are there to do a job and they are there to control the air traffic and keep us all from running into one another. Sounds to me like they are relaxing and having recreation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's just horrifying to me.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: Scheduling rules have been adjusted and staffing beefed up to mitigate fatigue amongst controllers, but this latest incident was about breaking other rules. The controller and supervisor involved will now have a lot of time to watch movies. They have both been suspended -- Jessica.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

YELLIN: We have a breaking report from "The Washington Post" which is reporting that a plane carrying Mrs. Obama had to abort a landing as she was coming in to Andrew Air Force Base because it got too close, her plane got too close to another jet and this, again, was the mistake of an air traffic controller, this according to "The Washington Post."

Jeanne, this just coming in as you're sitting here. I'm sure you don't have more details.

MESERVE: I don't have any detail, I can't confirm the story at this point, but I point out this was likely a military air traffic controller as opposed to a Federal Aviation Administration controller. These other incidents have involved the FAA controllers.

We'll be looking into it. We'll get back to you when we have more.

YELLIN: OK, we'll talk to you about that shortly.

Again, the report, according to "The Washington Post," a plane carrying Mrs. Obama had to abort a landing due to a mistake, getting too close to another plane. We will have more as soon as it becomes available.

And desperate efforts are underway to contain raging wildfires, they are erupting across the state of Texas and there does not appear to be an end in sight. The latest update ahead.

Plus, a grim new forecast for the country's long-term debt. Could there be catastrophic implications for our economy? We're digging deeper.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

YELLIN: More wildfires erupting across the state of Texas with no end in sight. Our Mary Snow is monitoring that and other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Hey, Mary. What do you have?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Jessica.

Air National Guard C-130s have been brought in to help battle fires, which have already brined more than a million acres in the state. The Forest Service is reporting 10 new fires since yesterday. One blaze has entered residential areas and is threatening more than 600 homes. Authorities say an unprecedented forecast with low humidity, high temperatures and high winds is cause for extreme concern.

Syria's cabinet has approved a draft decree abolishing a so- called state of emergency law which allowed the government to override constitutional statutes. The move comes following reports that at least three protesters were killed, many other wounded in fierce new clashes with security forces. Political tensions have been escalating in Syria since last month.

Now, if you wear glasses, one company is setting out to potentially change the way you see things. Beginning in June, the Virginia company Pixel Optics plans to release electronic eyeglasses which would allow wearers to toggle between two settings, one for close up, the other for distance vision. The lenses can react to triggers like a downward tilt of the head which puts the glasses in reading mode.

And if you can believe this, owning a dog in Iran could soon be considered a criminal act. Lawmakers, they are proposing a bill citing public health hazards posed by the animals and warning that dog ownership is an imitation of western culture. Under the measure, an owner would be fined up to $500 and the dog would be confiscated. No word though on what would happen to the pet. This is the latest from the list of Iran's enemies.

YELLIN: That's awful.

SNOW: It really is.

YELLIN: Mary, thank you.

We have known the Republican's deficit reduction plans for weeks. Now President Obama is touting his plan. How the White House says they compare, next.

Plus, Sarah Palin's latest message, fight like a girl. Who she is aiming that at and why she may have said it.

And "McHiring Day" at Mickey D's, the jobs that are now up for grabs at the fast food giant.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

YELLIN: Let's talk about one of the big economic problems that the president has to deal with right now. If you've ever borrowed money, you know how important it is to have a good credit rating. Well, now one of the agencies that rates the government's credit says there's a one in three chance that our top-tier credit rating could be lowered within the next two years. Bottom line, that's not good.

So what prompted this? Politics. The rating agency, Standard & Poor's, says they are very skeptical that political leaders in Washington will be able to cut a deal on reducing the crippling federal debt before the 2012 election.

What does all this mean for our economy? We got in an expert, Greg Ip, U.S. economics editor for "The Economist."

Thank you for being with us and for breaking this down.

So the S&P has lowered the U.S.'s credit rating outlook?

GREG IP, U.S. ECONOMICS EDITOR, "THE ECONOMIST": Yes.

YELLIN: Wonky stuff. Why should we care?

IP: A credit rating is a little bit like your credit score. It's basically an assessment of how likely you are to pay back the money you've borrowed.

What S&P has said that is that, we still think the United States is one of the best credit risks in the world, but we think there's a tiny, tiny chance that maybe, just maybe, they won't pay the money back because they borrowed so much of it.

YELLIN: So, yesterday, they said that this was a risk. Yesterday, the stock market went down, it came back today. What do you think the cascade effect of this decision of them is?

IP: First of all, rating agencies are kind of notorious for telling the markets things they actually already know. There are not a lot of mysteries about how bad the U.S. debt situation is. So that's one reason why you haven't seen a big market reaction.

The other reason is that sometimes investors have to sell bonds that they own after they've been downgraded. That's not really the case with U.S. Treasury bonds.

There will be an important result, however, if what Standard & Poor's has done affects the debate here in Washington.

YELLIN: Right. I mean, this is all set against the political fight here about how we're going to reduce the debt. The Republicans coming out with one plan, the president coming out with something very different.

Why did they make this announcement now? Did it have to do with the debate that's taking place at this moment? IP: That's a very interesting question, and a lot of people in the markets have asked the same question. Why is S&P telling us that they are really worried about the debt when, in fact, we've seen the Congress and the president actually make their first substantive move to address it in years?

Well, it's a couple things. First of all, S&P told us that the fiscal commission that Obama appointed had some very good recommendations, and they were disappointed that the president did not embrace them.

YELLIN: So, a Republican said to me, "Oh, this is because the president didn't have enough specifics in his plan and the S&P is slapping him on the hand for that. That's not fair.

IP: Well, that's a little bit like the pot calling the kettle black. There were a lot of magic aspects in the Republican budget as well.

YELLIN: Right.

IP: The truth of the matter is, we do have two competing proposals for getting the deficit down. They are significantly lacking in specifics. More important, they do that through diametrically opposite ways. Notwithstanding the fact that we're talking about the right things now, it's still not clear that we can come to an agreement. I think that's what worries S&P.

YELLIN: Now, my reporting is that both sides really do want to make some kind of a deal this year, even if it's broad, and they are working toward that. But for folks at home who don't follow all this wonk stuff, how important is our debt and our deficit to our long-term economic prospects? I mean, can't we keep going with this kind of debt and deficit, or not?

IP: It's very important. Now, it's a little bit complicated, because in the short term, it was necessary for the government to borrow to cushion the economy as private sector spending collapsed. And so it's not that surprising that our debts went up. And indeed, the same thing happened in almost every other major country like Germany, France, the United Kingdom. The difference is, is that those countries have developed plans to get the debts back down.

If you have a healthy growing economy, but the debt is growing even faster, investors will question your ability to pay the money back. The result will be higher interest rates that affects everybody, not just the government, but any family that wants a mortgage, any company that wants to borrow.

YELLIN: And that's our potential future. If our debt keeps going up and our growth doesn't match it, higher interest rates could be in our future.

IP: Yes. And by the way, we don't need S&P to tell us that.

YELLIN: Right. Obvious, huh?

Thanks, Greg Ip, for being with us. I appreciate it.

IP: Thanks for having me.

YELLIN: Appreciate it.

All right. Well, Republican presidential contenders are lining up. Some, getting more attention than others. Among them, Sarah Palin. So why are her aides complaining about media attention?

Plus, President Obama gets testy with a television reporter. We'll show you why.

And a handgun goes off inside of a kindergarten. Wait until you hear who brought it to school.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

YELLIN: And we continue to follow the breaking news about Mrs. Obama. According to "The Washington Post," a plane carrying the first lady had an aborted landing.

The plane was forced to abort its landing as it was coming into Andrews Air Force base because of an air traffic controller mistake and it got too close to another jet. We will continue to track down more information about this and bring it to you just as soon as we have it.

Again from "The Washington Post," Mrs. Obama, an aborted landing on her way into Andrews Air Force base because of an air traffic control error.

Other top news is coming in to the NEWSROOM, and our Mary Snow is monitoring those stories. She joins us live now.

Mary, tell us what else you have.

SNOW: Well, Jessica, we'll start with a new poll.

For the first time, a majority of Americans, 51 percent, believe that marriages between gay or lesbian couples should be legal. That's according to a new CNN/Opinion Research survey released just today.

Republicans in the House are moving to defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act which defines marriage as being between a man and a woman. The Obama administration says it's unconstitutional.

Three kindergartners at Houston elementary school were wounded when a loaded gun fell out of a student's pocket and discharged on the lunchroom floor. A school district spokesman says none of the injuries are life-threatening. An investigation is currently under way to determine how a 6-year-old who was also wounded in the shooting first obtained the weapon.

Gold prices have topped a record $1,500 an ounce for the first time ever. This spike comes amid a period of market uncertainty which includes yesterday's grim outlook on long-term U.S. debt from Standard & Poor's. The price of gold has tracked steadily higher in recent months.

And you have to check this out. It's certainly not your average prom dress.

Our Wisconsin affiliate reports this teenager will be wearing a gown made completely of Starburst candy wrappers to the big dance. Now, her mom -- get this -- began working on it six years -- yes, six years ago -- after she saw another mother weaving gum wrappers together. The dress also comes with the Starburst shoes, flowers, and a purse. And as for her date, he gets a Starburst vest to match.

Not sure how that date is feeling about that -- Jessica.

YELLIN: That is fantastic. I wonder how many candies they had to eat to make that dress.

SNOW: Six years' worth, right?

YELLIN: Pretty impressive. Thank you, Mary.

SNOW: Sure.

YELLIN: New concerns now that Sarah Palin's voice could be getting drowned out by the likes of Donald Trump. Should she or we be worried?

Plus, President Obama gets testy in an interview. You'll see it ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

YELLIN: The political debate over immigration appears to be coming back to life. Or is it?

Joining us to talk more about that and more in today's "Strategy Session," two CNN political contributors, Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen and Republican strategist Mary Matalin.

It's a treat to have both of you guys here in D.C., and together.

Let's talk first immigration, which seems to be only an issue when it's a political year, when they're running for office.

Look at this list. We should have it up over my shoulder. These are some of the high-ranking personalities who came into town just to talk immigration behind closed doors with the president today.

Mary, I'll ask you, why do these people come in and allow themselves to be used as props when we know immigration isn't going anywhere?

MARY MATALIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I doubt that Bratton or Engler or Chertoff -- those are serious people -- they're not going to be used as props. That doesn't mean it's not a prop meeting.

But since the president has announced that he's running again, he signed up every meeting. Every event should be construed, rightly, through the political prism. So now it's time to say if you're for immigration reform, if you're for security reform, then you're anti- immigrant. It's that all straw thing -- straw man to use against Republicans in this season.

But I'll say again, John Engler, who -- it's not just a border issue -- John Engler, as governor in Michigan, had to deal with an immigration problem, and Chertoff is Homeland Security, he had to deal with. So these are serious people. They won't be propped.

And it is a serious problem. And while it does pop itself into the national process in a non-solving way, they're still working on it in the border states, certainly, and other communities are dealing with it. When the feds fail, the states take solutions into their own hands.

YELLIN: It's obviously an important issue to our economy, to people's lives.

Am I being too cynical? Could it get done this year?

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: It probably won't get done. And I could be cynical, too, and say that, literally, the Republicans, every time we get close, decide that this ends up dividing -- it kind of divides the Republican caucus more than it divides Democrats, but I won't go there. What I'll just say is --

YELLIN: Just throw it out and back off.

ROSEN: Right. Just come back here.

MATALIN: That's true, actually.

ROSEN: Really, business leaders are at the White House today, community leaders, mayors, Republicans and Democrats, because we don't have the workforce we need to bring this economy forward. Companies are not finding the workers they need.

And it goes as far back as the last two cycles of Congress. We've never been able to move this ball forward, and I think the president is right to gather everybody together, Chertoff and Engler and other Republicans, who want to be practical here.

MATALIN: You know, it's not just a security issue. That's a really good point, Hilary. This could be a great bipartisan -- the president continues to insist in some venues that he's going to be bipartisan.

There's bipartisan agreement on the need to change the whole immigration system. We tend to talk about it as a border security issue, but we're not bringing in enough of the highly-skilled people we need to do what the president professes to want to do, which is start up our -- get -- jump-start our technology, our engineering, our math and sciences. We don't have enough of those kinds of immigrants in our country.

ROSEN: When Republicans in a Republican primary stop getting attacked by their own base for wanting immigration reform, for wanting to allow some people to come into this country or the rules change, that's when we'll get reform.

YELLIN: Well, maybe it will happen after 2012.

But have another topic that's about 2012 to talk about. Sarah Palin's aide, and loyal aide, Rebecca Mansour, has complained that Palin is now not getting enough press, believe it or not. She is being overshadowed by, no less, a personality than Donald Trump. So it does seem that the more outrageous a candidate is, the more attention they're getting these days.

And I'll ask you first, Hilary, if you were giving advice to Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney, what would you tell them to do to break through and get press?

ROSEN: Remember six months ago when we were all working for the Sarah Palin network no matter what network we were on?

YELLIN: Out there all the time.

ROSEN: It was all about Sarah Palin, right.

You know, I don't know that I could give them any advice other than to -- do not fall for this. I've started to come to the conclusion as a Democrat that this clown show in the Republican Party which all Democrats are sort of gleefully watching maybe is not so good for us, because I think what it's going to end up doing at the end of the day is making the Pawlentys and the Romneys actually seem more serious and reasonable --

YELLIN: It's not good for us as Democrats, not the country.

ROSEN: Not good for us as Democrats.

YELLIN: Right. OK.

(CROSSTALK)

ROSEN: I think it's going to help them.

YELLIN: You're take, Mary?

ROSEN: Don't fall for the clown show would be my advice.

YELLIN: I like that term.

MATALIN: Hilary made a very important, strategic point. Nobody in Iowa caucuses cares what any of us think, or any of the press that anybody's getting, or the New Hampshire primaries, or South Carolina, or Nevada, which is sort of a caucus state. And what Romney and Pawlenty and everybody needs to do in this very serious race, where Obama is already at historic negatives, is just keep doing that retail politicking in those early states and --

YELLIN: Ignore us. Work on the local states.

ROSEN: The good news for the president is, as we've seen in recent match-ups over the last two weeks, is the country still likes him best and, head to head --

YELLIN: As a person?

ROSEN: And head to head against any of these Republican candidates, he still wins.

MATALIN: I like you a lot as a person, but I would never vote for you. That's not any kind of dispositive number.

ROSEN: That's the only reason George Bush got re-elected in --

YELLIN: People like another guy?

ROSEN: People liked him --

(CROSSTALK)

YELLIN: OK. Well, this is something that Sarah Palin said out on the stump that I found fascinating at a Tea Party rally over the weekend. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN (R), FMR. ALASKA GOVERNOR: What we need is for you to stand up, GOP, and fight. Maybe I should ask some of the Badger women hockey team, those champions, maybe I should ask them if we should be suggesting to GOP leaders they need to learn how to fight like a girl.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: Well, it's kind of reclaiming this old attack on girls, that girls don't know how to fight. So there's an empowerment message there.

Is this a way to go after the women's vote?

MATALIN: The notion that women vote -- I love that. It was like roller derby.

Women do swing every election. They are always the swing voters. But they care about exactly the same issues, and they are actually closer to the issues.

In every single staple of life, from gas to milk to any kind of food, everything has gone up. It's exacerbating the economic issues, which is the number one issue for women. They are going to vote just like everybody else. But I love that -- as mothers of daughters, we always like that roller derby approach to politics. ROSEN: Right. We didn't have a women's hockey team where I grew up in New Jersey, but I kind of like that Sarah Palin does the girl power thing. On the other hand, I think that part of her problem is, is that she is so combative and so extreme that way, that I think it actually turns a lot of women off.

YELLIN: OK. All right. We're going to have to wrap it there. Thanks to both of you for being in. It's a total treat to be on air with you.

MATALIN: Girl power.

YELLIN: Girl power.

ROSEN: Girl power.

YELLIN: But we like the men, too. OK. Thanks so much, ladies.

ROSEN: Why do we always feel obligated to say that?

YELLIN: Why do we say that? That's true.

MATALIN: They don't say it about us.

YELLIN: OK.

Coming up, a scandal in California involving a controversial picture showing President Obama as a chimpanzee. What the woman behind the picture is saying now.

And solving unemployment one burger at a time. We'll take you to the big day at McDonald's.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

YELLIN: And CNN has confirmed that Michelle Obama, Mrs. Obama, was on a flight Monday that had to be aborted during landing because it got too close to another jet. It was a mistake of an air traffic controller. She was landing at Andrews Air Force Base.

Again, this happened on Monday. Mrs. Obama, an aborted landing because of an air traffic mistake.

We will continue to update you on this news as we have more details.

For now, we go to Jack Cafferty, who joins us again with "The Cafferty File."

Hey, Jack.

CAFFERTY: They need to get Ronald Reagan back to handle this air traffic controllers situation.

Our question this hour: Should the U.S. be funding rebel groups in the Middle East? David writes, "Much as I hate to say it, no. Before we get ourselves involved in yet another military action, we need to address our own problems like the deficit, infrastructure, unemployment, failing school system, broken government, broken borders, et cetera. We have way too many problems to be spending money on more bombs and bullets."

Kim writes, "Why not? It seems like we fund every murderous, corrupt dictator that's out there. If there are any rebel groups that control massive oil fields or contribute to congressional election campaigns, then I'm positive we'll find a way to waste taxpayer dollars on them as fast as humanly possible."

Kathie writes, "We need to stop funneling our money into everybody else's business. We bankrolled Iran, Iraq, et cetera, until at a later date, another president determined they were now our enemies. Time to take care of business at home."

Richard in Pennsylvania, "Sure, let's fund the insurgents in Libya, Bahrain, Syria, and everybody else that wants our money. Let's also give them high-tech weaponry. Along this line of logic, let's befriend al Qaeda and the drug lords."

"Enough is enough. Nobody gets anything until the USA is solvent. You can't buy good will. You'd think we would have learned that by now."

Dennis in Florida, "The U.S. government has no idea who the leaders of the rebels or who are the rebel leaders really representing in Libya and elsewhere."

Bill writes, "No. When education is being cut, when state budgets are being cut, when bridges and highways are crumbling, when even the electrical transmission systems are rotting and rusting, money going oversees ought to be slashed if not stopped."

And Larry says, "It would be much easier to just let them fight it out internally, and whoever stands will still control the oil. It's time to fold up our tents, come home, and figure out a way to prevent $5 gas by summer. It's all about the oil."

If you want to read more on this, you can go to my blog, CNN.com/caffertyfile.

YELLIN: All right. Thank you, Jack.

We continue now to follow the breaking news, a report that first lady Michelle Obama's plane had an aborted landing because of an air traffic controller's mistake.

And thousands of people turn out for a one-day hiring blitz at McDonald's.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

YELLIN: If you want to get an idea of how bad the job market is, listen to this. Working at McDonald's isn't usually considered a highly-coveted gig, but thousands of people waited in lines across the country today hoping to snag a position with the fast-food restaurant. Fifty thousand McJobs are being filled in just one day.

CNN's Mary Snow joins us live from New York.

Where I understand, Mary, there are crowds of people filling out these applications.

SNOW: There were, Jessica, in certain restaurants across the country.

Some were teenagers looking for part-time work. Others are the long-term unemployed. They were all competing for jobs ranging from entry level to managers at McDonald's across the country. It averages out to about four hires per restaurant.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): At this McDonald's in Cleveland, the line snaked around the restaurant with people turning out for McDonald's one-day hiring blitz. A steady stream of job seekers filled this McDonald's in Newark, New Jersey, to fill out applications, hoping for one of 50,000 jobs.

Forty-four-year-old Lela Williams, a nurse's medical assistant who says she's been out of work for six months, isn't being picky.

LELA WILLIAMS, UNEMPLOYED: Anything. I'm willing to take anything right about now, because I haven't worked in a while. And I really need -- I'm in financial -- I really need the help.

SNOW: The scene was similar across the country at McDonald's like this one in Atlanta, to this one in New York City. McDonald's says most entry level jobs start at a bit more than $8 an hour. And many job seekers say they wanted to seize on the chance like this 55- year-old Gary Phaneuf, who says he's been out of work for two years.

GARY PHANEUF, UNEMPLOYED: It's a rough economy out there these days. So this is a big chance in a way, because it doesn't happen --

SNOW: Danitra Barnett, a vice president of human resources, says hiring 50,000 people in a month is not unusual, but squeezing that many into a day is a first. And McDonald's was using the day to push the message that it provides careers with benefits, and to distance itself from McJobs and the image of hiring unskilled, low-paid workers.

DANITRA BARNETT, V.P. HUMAN RESOURCES, MCDONALD'S USA: Part of the message is to debunk the myth of what a McJob is all about, but this is not about the company itself. This, for us, is about our 2,600 franchisees and 14,000 restaurants.

SNOW: McDonald's hiring blitz comes on the heels of a Home Depot recruiting drive for 60,000 workers and plans by its competitor, Lowe's, to hire 10,000. And the head of one job placement company sees it as a positive sign, with companies also sending a message.

JOHN CHALLENGER, CHALLENGER GRAY AND CHRISTMAS: They're also perhaps saying, some of these companies, we took so much flak for some of the negatives when we were laying off people, because we had no choice but to try to survive, maybe we ought to get some credit for the hiring we're doing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Jessica, we're getting word of one incident outside a McDonald's in Cleveland, Ohio, where police were called. Affiliate WKYC reports two women were fighting in the parking lot. One apparently got into a car and hit a McDonald's manager and owner and several other people. WKYC quotes police saying they were taken to a hospital, at least two people were, and it's unclear what their condition is -- Jessica.

YELLIN: That's not good. OK. Thank you, Mary, for that report.