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THE SITUATION ROOM
Newt Gingrich New GOP Front-Runner?; Interview With Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz; Man Who Reported Abuse Placed on Leave; Deadline Looming for Debt Super Committee; Rick Perry Makes Like of Debate Gaffe; Romney: "This Galls Me"; Mexican No. 2 Leader Killed in Crash; All MF Global Workers Fired; Passengers Relieved to Land After Fire; Veterans Behind Bars
Aired November 11, 2011 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: an exploding child sex abuse scandal at Penn State University. What happens now to the charity founded by the man at the center of it, the former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky?
Also, a huge shakeup in the battle for the Republican nomination, Newt Gingrich now all of a sudden a front-runner. He's surging in the polls.
Plus, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, she is here this hour. We will talk taxes, entitlements, the GOP race, and about her close friend who survived an assassination attempt, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
But, first, an apparent shakeup in the Republican race for the White House. After a turbulent week that saw Herman Cain facing new allegations of sexual harassment and Rick Perry stumbling badly in a GOP debate, Newt Gingrich suddenly leaping towards the top of a pack in a stunning comeback for a campaign many observers wrote off months ago.
CNN's Jim Acosta is watching the race for us, as he always does.
So, where do things stand, Jim, right now?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, while some candidates are stepping in it, Newt Gingrich is stepping it up. In the race for the GOP nomination, what's old is Newt.
ACOSTA (voice-over): He's back.
NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is a wide-open race.
ACOSTA: Considered campaign roadkill just over the summer, Newt Gingrich is peaking at just the right time. Gingrich is now a near front-runner, leaping ahead of Herman Cain in a new McClatchy/Marist poll and falling within the margin of error for the lead in another poll from CBS.
The former House speaker may be scoffing at his numbers.
GINGRICH: Well, all this effort to create a two-man race, remember that, when it was Perry and Romney.
ACOSTA: But he has already got a new razor-sharp line of attack for Mitt Romney.
GINGRICH: You're not running to be super-governor. You're running to be president. And president involves a range of capabilities that are very, very different and more complicated than being governor.
ACOSTA: Gingrich's campaign lost its luster back in May, when news leaked out he had a line of credit at Tiffany's jewelry chain in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. But he hung on and serving up red- meat-filled debate performances complete with attacks on the media.
GINGRICH: I have yet to hear a single reporter ask a single Occupy Wall Street person a single rational question about the economy that would lead them to say, for example, "Who is going to pay for the park you are occupying if there are no businesses making a profit?"
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
ACOSTA: He's also benefited from the clouds hanging over Herman Cain, who got off track again this week when he joked that he might pick up the support of Anita Hill, who once accused Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment.
HERMAN CAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Is she going to endorse me?
ACOSTA: Cain admitted he goofed.
CAIN: I want to get back on message. That's not on message. I'm back on message.
ACOSTA: Speaking of gaffes:
GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The third one, I can't. I'm sorry.
ACOSTA: Rick Perry's debate oops may help Gingrich as well, if the Texas governor fails to laugh it off.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN")
PERRY: And two is the headache and three, uh, um, oops.
DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": That's all right.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Asked about the latest contender to make a run at becoming the un-Romney in the GOP race, the former Massachusetts governor seemed to say, bring it on.
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And if other people do well, that's great. That's the nature of a campaign. There's this funny thing about democracy, which is you have competition.
ACOSTA: And the more of the debates the better for Newt Gingrich. There's another one in South Carolina tomorrow night and then it's off to Iowa where the former speaker has a jampacked campaign schedule laid out that has the feel of a candidate on the rise -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I saw Newt Gingrich before that last CNN debate in Vegas. A few hours before, he wasn't preparing. He was just relaxing a little bit, getting ready. He doesn't need to.
ACOSTA: That's right. That's right. I had a chance to catch up with his campaign spokesman at the CNBC debate the other night, and there's a sense that they are just having fun right now. They almost don't really understand or realize that they are really in the thick of this right now.
They have a chance to do quite well in the early primary states, but they are taking the right approach. They are it enjoying it. They're not taking it too seriously, which is pretty much what the voters want right now.
BLITZER: Yes, he's been in politics for 50 years. He's been preparing for 50 years for this moment.
ACOSTA: He has.
BLITZER: All right, we will see what happens. Thanks very much, Jim.
ACOSTA: You bet.
BLITZER: A candlelight vigil is planned tonight at Penn State University in support of the victims of a child sex abuse scandal.
It revolves around Jerry Sandusky, the football team's former defensive coordinator who is accused of sexually assaulting children. And it led to the departure of four top university figures, including the nationally revered coach Joe Paterno and the university president, Graham Spanier.
His temporary replacement calls the scandal a tragedy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RODNEY ERICKSON, INTERIM PRESIDENT, PENN STATE: I accept this new leadership role under circumstances that I never could have imagined. It has been truly difficult to comprehend the terrible nature of the allegations that were revealed in the attorney general's presentment last week.
My heart aches for the victims and their families and my mind searches for answers, like millions of others across the nation. This is a tragedy for many lives. And it will take all of us some time to come to grips with the full magnitude of all the damage that has been done.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: It's not just Penn State reeling from the scandal.
CNN's national correspondent, Jason Carroll, looks at the children's charity founded the by accused coach Jerry Sandusky where he met many of the alleged victims.
JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After learning details of the allegations against Jerry Sandusky, listening to him describe the mission of his Second Mile charity is chilling.
JERRY SANDUSKY, FORMER ASSISTANT COACH, PENN STATE: We thought if we could help a handful of kids we would do that. And then the staff and people have looked at the resources we had and the needs that existed and grown and reached out and touched so many kids.
CARROLL: But that is exactly what prosecutors say was the problem.
FRANK NOONAN, PENNSYLVANIA STATE POLICE COMMISSIONER: What happened here was grooming where these predators identify a child. Become mentors; they're usually children that have had -- they're are having a little difficulty. They're at risk children. Through the Second Mile program he was able to identify these children then give them gifts, establish a trust, initiate physical contact, which eventually leads to sexual contact.
CARROLL (on camera): For children who are impoverished, abused, or neglected the Second Mile provides opportunities that otherwise might be hard to come by, things like summer camps, leadership training, and counseling. Each year the organization claims to serve some 100,000 children across the state of Pennsylvania. And for many years Sandusky was its public face and primary fund-raiser.
(voice-over): Troy Craig met Sandusky through the Second Mile when he was a young boy.
TROY CRAIG, PARTICIPATED IN THE SECOND MILE: I got to go to a lot of Penn State football events. I remember standing on the sidelines for certain football games and other games sitting with his family on the 50 yard line.
CARROLL (on camera): With Sandusky's family. Sandusky's family. CRAIG: Yes.
CARROLL (voice-over): Despite those good times, Craig says he knew even at 11 years old something wasn't quite right.
CRAIG: You knew if you were getting in the car with him and you were going somewhere that he was going to have his hand on your thigh.
CARROLL: This video created by the organization shows the kind of close contact Sandusky had with children in the program. Sandusky started Second Mile in 1977 and last year it raised $2. 66 million.
SANDUSKY: We reach out to young people trying to motivate them, to mentor them, to provide their needs for some sort of life of success, life of excellence.
CARROLL: Second Mile, first learned of suspicious behavior by Sandusky in 2002 from Penn State athletic director Tim Curley who reported Sandusky had been seen in a locker room shower with a young boy. But the group didn't act on that information because Curley said an internal review had found no wrongdoing.
It wasn't until six years later, in 2008, after Sandusky, himself, reported that an adolescent boy had made allegations against him, that the group decided to ban him from all of its programs involving children. Sandusky denied those allegations then and has denied all of the allegations in the just released grand jury report.
In a statement Second Mile says, "We have done everything in our power to cooperate with law enforcement officials and will continue to do so. Our highest priority always has been and will continue to be the safety and well-being of the children participating in our programs. We encourage program participants to report any allegations of abuse and/or inappropriate sexual activity wherever it has occurred."
CARROLL (on camera): Now that you see that the allegations that are out there standing against Sandusky, do you feel in some ways that you were fortunate that more did not happen?
CRAIG: Absolutely I'm fortunate. And I can only speculate as to why.
CARROLL (voice-over): Jason Carroll, CNN, State College, Pennsylvania.
BLITZER: And the interim president of Penn State, Rodney Erickson, is answering reporters' questions right now at a news conference. Let's listen in.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
ERICKSON: It's indefinite at this point.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right here.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) How was Mike McQueary told about this?
ERICKSON: He was told this afternoon by the acting athletic director.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bill?
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) Two-part question. Administrative leave, is that paid or unpaid? And I was wondering if you could give us a sense on what the impact on fund-raising has been. We have been hearing that a number of gifts have been held back.
ERICKSON: With respect to paid or unpaid, at this point the leave is paid. That's subject to further determination.
With respect to the issue of how this may have affected donations to the university, certainly there may be some impact, at least in the short term. But I have to tell you that I have been very, very gratified by Penn State's donors. They have sent us numerous messages that said we will not let the actions of any individuals deter us in what we believe is the mission of Penn State and the contributions of Penn State. And we're with you and we will continue to be.
So we're very grateful that our friends, our alumni, our donors, those who have made significant contributions to the university, are sticking with us.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Over here.
QUESTION: Can you offer some elaboration as to why coach McQueary at this time why you made the decision to put him on administrative leave? What were you thinking?
ERICKSON: It became clear that coach McQueary could not function in this role under these circumstances.
QUESTION: How fast do you think you're going to act on finding a new head football coach, a permanent head football coach?
ERICKSON: Well, we want -- certainly we have a season to play, a remainder of a season to play. Coach Tom Bradley is in charge right now. An we will -- I certainly will be working with the athletic director and supporting coach Bradley in every way that I can.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Over here.
QUESTION: An attorney for some of the victims involved suggested that the victims are fearful, that they fear a backlash (OFF-MIKE) the firing of the coach. Would you address that and what your reaction is to their fear of this backlash?
ERICKSON: Well, I'm not sure about what kind of backlash you're talking about, but certainly we're well aware that many victims of child abuse are not willing to come forward.
But I want to say here very publicly that we would encourage anyone who has been abused in the context of this particular situation to not be afraid. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right here.
QUESTION: Was there any consideration made to firing coach McQueary?
ERICKSON: There are complexities to that issue that I'm not prepared to go into at this particular point.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Adam.
QUESTION: Dr. Erickson, can you speak to the status of Graham Spanier and whether he remains (OFF-MIKE) Penn State (OFF-MIKE)
ERICKSON: Graham Spanier is a tenured member of the faculty at Penn State.
QUESTION: Will he be teaching?
ERICKSON: I don't know. I have not had an opportunity to talk to Dr. Spanier about his future plans. He is a member of the faculty in at least two colleges, College of Health and Human Development and the College of Liberal Arts.
And if Dr. Spanier were to resume a role of teaching and research in the traditional faculty sense, then he would return to his professorial role in one or more of those particular units.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right here.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) FoxSports.com.
When you said that never again should anyone at Penn State feel frightened to do the right thing, are you saying that's what happened here in this case?
ERICKSON: It certainly appears from what we know. We do not know everything that happened, obviously. We have seen the presentment of the grand jury. But, clearly, this is an ongoing investigation. But it does appear that certainly some individuals were afraid to make known what they might have seen.
QUESTION: Has there been any discussion (OFF-MIKE) about canceling the season after tomorrow and the status of a bowl bid (OFF-MIKE)
ERICKSON: There was a lot of discussion about the season over the course of the last week.
We believe that playing the game tomorrow and the two remaining games this season, we will go forward with those games. We believe there will be an opportunity through the game tomorrow to demonstrate many of the aspects of childhood sexual abuse, the tragedy of it, and that it will provide a moment in time where we can really focus and use the game to focus.
There are many student groups. As I suggested, one of these groups that I mentioned with the "Blue Out," but there are many others. As those of you saw in the case of governor's press conference, there are many student groups that will be coming forward to use the game as a vehicle to raise the awareness about these important issues. So we will continue.
It would also, I believe, not be fair to our student athletes who weren't involved in this situation to penalize them, many of whom have worked for their entire life and certainly in many cases the last four years. This is senior day at Penn State. And so, it really is a reflection of both kinds of considerations.
BLITZER: Rodney Erickson is the interim president of Penn State University. We'll continue to monitor the Q&A over at this news conference right now. He also said that there would be increased security at tomorrow's football game, Penn State hosting Nebraska tomorrow.
The news: Mike McQueary, the assistant coach, he's been, he won't be participating in this game. He's been put on leave, administrative leave, with pay as you heard, the Q&A going on.
Let's bring in CNN's Erin Burnett right now. She's been covering this story thoroughly.
Second Mile, this charity that's been involved right at the center of all of this because of Jerry Sandusky, the man accused of sexually abusing these young boys. I know you've been speaking to one of the great NFL legends, Franco Harris, who is on Second Mile's board, Erin. So, give us a little sense of what's going on here.
ERIN BURNETT, HOST, CNN'S ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT: You know, it's amazing. When you look at this charity, Wolf, as you've been talking about, 250 high schools across Pennsylvania have participated in the Second Mile program. Franco Harris, of course, is the NFL Hall of Famer. He is an honorary member of the board there.
We've been talking to him, he's going to be on with us again tonight, and really find out who knew what, when at Second Mile, especially as you were just reporting, that there have been -- they looked into it there and then decided nothing had gone wrong and waited another six years before taking Jerry Sandusky away from any, quote-unquote, "interaction with children." So, we'll talk to Franco about that. And also, his staunch defense of coach Paterno who was his coach at Penn State.
Another thing that's interesting, Wolf, you know, when we were just listening to that press conference, you talk about the implications of how many people, eight people at least saw Jerry Sandusky molest a child or had heard from someone who had seen that, and none of them actually reported it to law enforcement authorities. I was amazed that in the state of Pennsylvania, not reporting child abuse doesn't even rise to the level of a crime.
So, there are a lot of things that bear close scrutiny as we move forward and try to prevent something like this from ever possibly happening again.
BLITZER: Yes. What a sad, sad story. Erin is going to have a lot more in this. She's going in depth, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT."
Erin, we'll, of course, be watching. Thank you.
BURNETT: See you soon, Wolf.
BLITZER: Time is running out for the congressional super committee to reach a deal on cutting the U.S. debt. Now, President Obama is stepping up the pressure, details of his phone call to the committee co-chair.
Plus, my interview this hour with Democratic National Committee chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. We'll talk about the debt, her friend, the wounded Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, and a whole lot more.
Lots of news happening today right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Certainly not much time left for the congressional supercommittee to come up with a bipartisan plan to cut the U.S. debt. And President Obama is adding to the pressure. He called the co- chairs for an update and he urged them to reach a deal and to do so quickly.
CNN congressional correspondent Kate Bolduan is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. She's got the very latest.
Kate, enormous amount at stake right now. What's the latest?
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Huge. Oh, absolutely huge.
We all know and you'll remember, Wolf, that the super committee made of 12 lawmakers, six Democrats and six Republicans. This is a group that's tasked with finding at least $1.2 trillion in deficit savings. But time is quickly running out. Less than two weeks now before their deadline and they are under huge pressure to somehow strike the deal.
The latest is Democrats and Republicans on the committee, they have been trading offers, we can call them. Just this week, Republicans for first time put tax increases on the table. This in exchange for lowering all individual income tax rate, a major concession according to the traditionally tax averse Republicans. Some Democrats say even this is a significant move and a possible breakthrough, but others like the top Democrat in the Senate, Harry Reid, he called the GOP offer phony.
Bottom line, the issue remains that both sides say that they themselves have made major concessions, Republicans now on tax increases and Democrats on cuts to entitlements. But both sides are also saying that the other still isn't giving enough.
Just listen here to the Republican and Democratic co-chairs of the committee. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
REP. JEB HENSARLING (R-TX), SUPER COMMITTEE CO-CHAIRMAN: What we still haven't seen from the Democrats is a plan that deals with our structural debt crisis that actually solves the problem. And, unfortunately, we've never seen any reforms that would save and secure our health care programs that weren't attached to a trillion dollars worth of tax increase.
SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D-WA), SUPER COMMITTEE CO-CHAIRMAN: As Democrats, we came to the table to begin with and every day have said for us it's extremely important. This -- whatever we end up with at the end of the day is balanced and fair and has revenue, real revenue on the table. And the other side knows that and again, every one of us is trying to bridge that gap.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
BOLDUAN: Time is running out but it is significant to note that the co-chairs on committee, the two you just heard from as well as the other members, Wolf, they say that they are still talking, they're still working, they're still negotiating and that they are hopeful.
We had heard a little less optimism a little earlier on in these negotiations. So, they say that they are still working and working together. But they are absolutely entering crunch time now.
BLITZER: Yes, they only have a few days, November 23rd is do or die. So, when are they going to meet next?
BOLDUAN: Well, all this week, there have not be any formal full committee meetings. It's really been kind of piece by piece small group meetings, individual meetings. But I was assured by Patty Murray, one of the co-chairs, that she was sticking in town all weekend to continue working.
They know the pressure that's on their shoulders, but they are taking on some tough stuff.
BLITZER: All 12 of them should remain here in Washington and get the job done. The American people demand it. No more vacations, don't go back to your home districts and don't start campaigning, don't do anything else, just get the job done. Meet in a room and do it.
BOLDUAN: I think a lot of people would agree with you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much.
BOLDUAN: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: One of the most important figures in Mexico's drug war killed in a helicopter crash. How it happened.
Plus, some of the day's other top stories. That's coming up.
Plus, more turbulence for Herman Cain's presidential campaign. We're talking to a critic about his off-the-cuff remarks about the House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
BLITZER: It's amazing in what's going on in the Republican race for White House. Let's discuss in our strategy session.
Joining us, our CNN political contributor, the Democratic strategist, Donna Brazile, along with Republican strategist. Rich Galen. We should point out, he used to work for one of the front-runners now, Newt Gingrich. All of a sudden --
RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I wish I'd been nicer to him all year.
BLITZER: Let's look at this new CBS News poll. Among Republicans only, right now, Herman Cain is at 18 percent, Romney 15 percent, Gingrich 15 percent, Perry 8 percent, plus or minus sampling here, 5 percent.
It's look like a three-way -- effectively, a three-way race right now, Donna. Gingrich is doing amazing.
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: He's had one of the best debate performances of all of the candidates. He's a steady debater. Clearly, he knows the issues. He hasn't had the deer in a headlight moment.
He's able now to capitalize on the Rick Perry implosion.
BLITZER: Was he serious at the beginning running? Because a lot of people thought he was just doing it. Did he really think he would be one of top tier candidates?
GALEN: Yes. One of the things that -- you know, Newt is a teacher. He's a college professor, PhD. in history. And one of things that he has taught me over the years is that the reason most people fail in what they try to do is because they give up to soon. He's always done that.
I mean, go back to all of the days when he was a back bencher trying to figure how to win the House of Representatives. So, this isn't -- really is in keeping with Newt.
But let me say something about that CBS poll. There's something wrong with it because it's so different from all of the other polls. There's a Marist poll out also today that shows Romney at 23 percent, 25 percent, whatever it is, percent.
BLITZER: But even that poll shows Newt Gingrich doing much better.
GALEN: Doing very well. He, so in the do-si-do of the Republican candidates, it looks like it's Newt's turn. And if you're going to have -- if you're going to jump up to the first tier, this is a really good time to do it.
BLITZER: It helps in fundraising, these national polls. But what's really so much more important is Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida. And he seems to be doing well. He could do well in the Iowa caucuses. He certainly could do well in South Carolina.
BRAZILE: The key to winning those caucuses is to have a great organization on the ground. It's very important you identify your supporters and get them on one cold, windy night in January, and get them to the caucuses. He can pull it together and capitalize on all of the debates and Rick Perry's implosion, then it may become --
BLITZER: Let me put those Maris poll numbers up on the screen and take a closer look. You say the CBS numbers, but let's see the Maris poll number. There you see Romney at 23, Gingrich at 19, Herman Cain 17, Ron Paul 10, and Rick Perry at eight. But Gingrich at 19, he's right up there. It looks like if Herman Cain and Rick Perry, who have had problems, a lot of support hasn't gone necessarily to Mitt Romney. It's gone to Newt Gingrich.
RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Actually, where most of it has gone has been undecided. But Newt is clearly the flavor of the month. And the difference between the other ones is he's been through this before. He's the only one with national experience unlike the others who have statewide or district-wide experience. He's had to deal with these things on a national level.
BLITZER: Rick Perry has had to deal with a lot over the past 48 hours. He went on David Letterman and did the top ten. I'll play a little clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICK PERRY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Actually, there were three reasons I messed up last night. One was the nerves, and two was the headache, and three -- um, um.
PERRY: Hey, listen, you try concentrating with Mitt Romney smiling at you. That is one handsome dude.
PERRY: I had a five-hour energy drink six hours before the debate.
I wanted to help take the heat off my buddy Herman Cain.
DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "THE LAST SHOW": OK. Let's put this stuff in the caboose. And the number one Rick Perry excuse --
PERRY: I just learned Justin Bieber is my father.
LETTERMAN: Oh, my gosh.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Do you think that little self-deprecating humor, will that help him rebound?
GALEN: No, but he wasn't going to rebound no matter what. He was like the backup quarterback in the stadium. Everyone thought he was the guy. He got in for three receptions and fumbled and said he's not the guy. Rick Perry's campaign was over before this.
BLITZER: You agree?
BRAZILE: He's raised a substantial amount of money, $15 million, so I'm the last person that will say Rick Perry should drop out of the race.
GALEN: I didn't say he should drop out. I just don't think he's going to get there.
BLITZER: Donna, Rick -- Rich, not Rick.
GALEN: That's OK.
BLITZER: Multiple women accusing Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain of sexual harassment. I'll talk about that and more with the Democratic National Committee chair Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. She's standing by live. Does she believe these allegations.
And Mitt Romney slamming U.S. aid to China. What does Washington really get for its money? We'll have a reality check.
BLITZER: Raising taxes versus cutting entitlements, it's the debate Congress is gridlocked over as the U.S. debt continues to climb to unprecedented levels. Let's talk with that and more with Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. She's the chair of the Democratic National Committee. Congressman, thanks for coming in.
REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ, (D-FL) CHAIR DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Thanks for having me Wolf. It's great to be with you.
BLITZER: You heard a man you admire very much, former president Bill Clinton, saying as he's promoting his new book, you've got to raise some taxes on rich people but you also have to cut spending for entitlements like Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid. Are you ready for part two of that?
SCHULTZ: Well, what I'm ready for is for the Republican leadership to join the Democratic leadership and President Obama to sit down and hammer out a balanced approach to deficit reduction and so that we can ask for more from people who really should be paying their fair share and aren't.
And also, we all will have to deal with painful spending cuts. I've already voted for painful spending cuts I would have preferred not to, but knowing we have to get a handle on our deficit and get the economy turned around, those are the tough choices we have to make.
BLITZER: Let me -- you represent a district in Florida, a lot of seniors there, as all of us know. Are you ready to tell your constituents in exchange for tax increases if the Republicans were to go along with that, let's say they were, would you be willing to cut Social Security benefits, Medicare benefits, Medicaid benefits?
SCHULTZ: I don't think we have to cut benefits. I think that there are enough reforms that we can make if we sit down at the table like Tip O'Neill and Ronald Reagan did, sit around the table and let's hammer out how to address Medicaid and Medicare and Social Security without cutting benefits. We've got to roll up our sleeves and try.
But what disturbs me the most, Wolf, so far Republicans don't seem at all interested in compromise. They seem focused on one job, Barack Obama's, and we're focused on getting this economy turned and getting people back to work bypassing the American jobs act. We'd like cooperation, but so far they only have political priorities focused on the next election.
BLITZER: You did see that letter, more than 100 of your colleagues, at least 60 Democrats, 40 Republicans, say they are ready for precisely that kind of compromise. You must be encouraged by that.
SCHULTZ: I am. I know all of those members, Republicans and Democrats. I was thrilled to see 40 Republicans sign that letter along with 60 Democrats. But where's the leadership? The problem right now is that the Republican leadership is allowing themselves to be controlled by the Tea Party, by extremists in their caucus and in their party who are preventing us from working together.
Look, we can't engage in "my way or the highway" politics. We have to work together. There are will be tough decisions we have to make that are not going to be what we love doing but we know we should be doing. But we've got to work together. It's a two-way street.
BLITZER: Will, the super committee, their deadline November 23rd, will they come up with a deal or no deal?
SCHULTZ: You know, I can't even say I'm cautiously optimistic at this point. There are glimmers of hope and I know that all of the members of the super committee are pa patriotic and want to make sure we do what's best for the country. I hope there's enough to put partisan politics aside and work together to get this done. That's what President Obama wants.
BLITZER: One of the Republican front-runners Herman Cain, he said this the other night about your leader, Nancy Pelosi. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HERMAN CAIN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's already been written. We didn't hear about it in the previous Congress because "Princess Nancy" sent it to committee and it stayed there. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: When you heard that and he sort of apologized. When you heard him refer to her as "Princess Nancy," what did you think?
SCHULTZ: I thought it was a pretty callous, sexist throwaway line that demonstrates one more example of how deficient the entire Republican presidential field is. You have Mitt Romney who flip-flops on any issue based on what popular opinion is at the time, Herman Cain who has serious allegations by four different women and continues to make comments like the one he made at the debate the other night. You have a guy in Rick Perry who didn't have enough conviction to remember his own agenda.
So it's no wonder that Mitt Romney hasn't been able to run away with this because there's a clearly deficient field and Republicans have been left wanting, because there's no quality candidate that really will be able to go head to head with Barack Obama, because the American people know that Barack Obama is focused on the creating jobs and getting this economy turned around and taken us from bleeding hundreds of thousands of jobs to 20 straight months of private sector job growth. And we have a long way to go but we're beginning to turn things around. We need Republicans to join us and work with us.
BLITZER: Who do you believe, Herman Cain or the four women making accusations?
SCHULTZ: You know, I think it stretches credulity for four different women who have nothing to do with each other to suggest the allegations aren't credible and real. They are very serious allegations, and I think Herman Cain needs to come clean and address them and say far more than he's said already.
BLITZER: Your good friend from Arizona Gabrielle Giffords has a new book, and we're thrilled she's doing interviews. Tell us how you're doing. I know you're in real close touch with her.
SCHULTZ: I just actually saw her. I flew to Houston on Monday and able to have dinner at her home. She looks amazing. Her speech has become to come back. She initiates speech much more. She still is struggling to find words here and there, but she's made a remarkable recovery. She's walking so much better. We have the best time. It was just awesome to be with her. She's got a long way to go, and she's a long way from deciding what she's going to do in terms of her career.
But I'm just so proud of her and it was just -- so I'm really looking forward to the next week or so to all of the good things that are going to be happening for gabby and mark all so well deserved.
BLITZER: We're looking forward to it too. Please pass along our best to her as part of her recovery.
SCHULTZ: I will.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, congresswoman. SCHULTZ: You're welcome.
BLITZER: Mitt Romney doesn't like the U.S. sending aid to China. Is the U.S. sending aid to China? He says the funds if they are going anywhere should be elsewhere. If he were in the Oval Office they wouldn't be going to China. Is that good, bad? What is that money doing overseas? We'll take a closer look at the facts.
BLITZER: U.S. aid to China might be on a chopping block in a Mitt Romney presidency. Where does American money actually go in China?
Our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty has been doing a reality check for us. So Jill, what are you finding out?
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, in this political climate, just say the word China and you get somebody's blood boiling. Mitt Romney is cranking up the heat.
DOUGHERTY (voice-over): Mitt Romney is hopping mad.
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We give $10 million in foreign aid a year to China.
DOUGHERTY: It's not that he doesn't like the Chinese.
ROMNEY: Not that they are bad people but the idea that a nation that as large and robust and economically viable as theirs is getting money from us makes no sense at all. I would stop sending foreign aid to countries that can take care of themselves.
DOUGHERTY: Is Romney, right? The U.S. with a $189.3 billion trade deficit with China is giving foreign aid to Beijing? Yes, but --
DOUGLAS PAAL, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT FOR INTERNATIONAL PEACE: It doesn't go to the government.
DOUGHERTY: China expert, Douglas Paal has served with the State Department, the CIA and the National Security Council.
PAAL: It goes for local organizations to do some of the things that people in America would like our Congress to support.
DOUGHERTY: Things like fighting the spread of infectious diseases, law enforcement, fighting narcotics, environmental cooperation and programs in Tibet where some want independence from Beijing. Would saving $10 million help pay down the U.S. budget deficit now at $15 trillion? Hardly and Romney admits it.
ROMNEY: Just not very much money, but it's the idea --
DOUGHERTY: Two years ago, the State Department says the U.S. gave China more than $27 million. Now state is requesting less than half that as China transitions from aid recipient to aid donor. Mitt Romney thinks that's a great idea.
ROMNEY: It doesn't make a lot of sense for us to borrow money from the Chinese to give to country for humanitarian aid.
DOUGHERTY: But is it?
PAAL: China tends to benefit its own contractors with its assistance. It does deals where they provide infrastructure, construction and exchange for commodities.
And these are nonmarket transactions often not transparent transactions. And this is not the sort of thing -- I hope this is not the sort of thing that Governor Romney had in mind.
DOUGHERTY: Chinese aid often has political strings attached. So allowing the U.S. to stand back and letting China project its power around the world could back fire.
BLITZER: In this environment though, Jill, I assume folks at the State Department sense that even $10 million, which as you correctly point out in the scheme of things is not a lot of money. But even $10 million going to China right now, they are looking for ways to cut a lot of money and that could be gone pretty soon.
DOUGHERTY: Well, because China is growing. I mean, what they are saying is eventually China isn't going to need it and you've seen it, cut in half in just two years.
BLITZER: Yes, at some point, the U.S. and other countries and Europe will be asking China for aid and we'll see if they step forward to give any aid. Thanks very much, Jill Dougherty reporting from the State Department.
The Republican presidential debates have certainly offered some nonstop drama the past few weeks. I'll moderate another of these debates coming up one week from Tuesday.
This time the candidates will face questions on national security and foreign policy as they try to prove they have what it takes to become America's next commander in chief.
CNN hosts this debate from Constitution Hall in partnership with Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. Tuesday night, November 22nd, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.
Looking forward to that. One of the most important figures in Mexico's drug war killed in a helicopter crash. We'll have that plus some of the day's other top stories. Lots of news happening today right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now including the death of a very ranking official in Mexico. What happened?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that is right, Wolf. Interior Minister Jose Francisco Blakemora was one of nine people killed today in a helicopter crash outside Mexico City. His ministry oversees the political force fighting drug cartels in Mexico.
U.S. President Barack Obama called his Mexican counterpart Felipe Calderon to express his condolences. Blakemora's death is seen as a major blow in the fight against the drug gangs.
And all 1,066 employees of MF Global were laid off today. The firm went bankrupt after revealing more than $6 billion in exposure to the sovereign debt of troubled European countries. Authorities are also investigating a reported $633 million reportedly missing from clients' accounts.
And passengers on a Delta flight to Charlotte from Atlanta were thrilled to be on the ground this after an engine caught fire. The emergency forced the plane to turn around. The airline couldn't confirm a fire, but it did say there was smoke in the cabin. Passengers didn't try to hide their anxiety afterward?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Made a huge crashing noise.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I looked and seen the flame.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All I heard was a bunch of vibrating.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It felt like really bad turbulence.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The pilots came on the intercoms real quickly and said we had an engine failure.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On fire and smoke in the cabin.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody was very scared.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SYLVESTER: Scary stuff there. Well, Delta Airlines says its mechanics are now inspecting the plane to determine what happened. Wow, it's pretty scary to be on a flight like that.
BLITZER: I hope Delta takes care of those passengers too. All right, thanks very much, Lisa.
New details in the kidnapping of a rising Major League baseball star. What witnesses are now telling police? Stand by.
And on this Veterans Day, we take a closer look at what one retired U.S. general is doing to help veterans behind bars.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: On this Veterans Day here in the United States, let's remember the veterans and especially the soldiers returning from war who face a new battle back home.
One that's largely fought in their own minds. Too many end up in prison falling victim to the streets that they once escaped. CNN photo journalist, Tony Umrani, has their story.
RONALD "MACK" MCCLARY, U.S. MARINE CORPS: I was enlisted into the Army, but decided to go into the Marines.
CALVIN AMOS, U.S. NAVY: 1972 to 1976, of hostile (inaudible) 3SS.
RICHARD PRATTIS BEY, U.S. ARMY: I was in the United States Army, specialist, almost went to Vietnam.
EDWARD "BOOMER" BENJAMIN JACKSON, U.S. NAVY: My specialty was planting and removal of underwater explosive devices.
STERLING TOLSON, U.S. ARYM: I did my entire tour in Europe and joined the military and willing to serve my country again.
GARY D. MAYNARD, MD DEPT. OF PUBLIC SAFETY AND CORRECTIONAL SERVICES: I've been locked up 18 years. My family and I discuss that I need some more structure or little bit more discipline in my life. And they felt that the military would be the best thing for me so I enlisted.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They serve this country and put themselves in harm's way. They got out of the service. Some honorably, some dishonourably, but got out of the service and committed the crime against the state of Maryland in this case.
I think people it would be good if people remember even though they committed a crime against the state of Maryland, they did serve this country and did put themselves in harm's way for us.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This group here, they have a shine about themselves and pride about themselves the way they do things and conduct themselves with the staff in a very respectful way. When you give respect you get respect.
MAYNARD: If possible, I would like for us once we're released to keep the same bond. I want for us to get outside here and form some sort of a group and re-establish ourselves in the communities.
BLITZER: Please watch our special "VETERANS IN FOCUS," hosted by Tom Foreman. It airs tomorrow, Saturday, 2:30 pm Eastern, only here on CNN.