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THE SITUATION ROOM

Romney's Faith; Interview With Texas Congressman Ron Paul; After the War, Challenges at Home; Will Romney's Mormonism Affect Campaign?; Government Shutdown Looming; U.S. Workers Facing Financial Threat

Aired December 14, 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: A campaign shakeup puts the focus back on Mitt Romney's Mormon faith. Is it hurting his support among critical voters?

Also, victory in the Iowa caucuses possibly within reach for Ron Paul. He joins us live this hour.

And the man in charge of America's nuclear safety is accused of bullying -- why critics are calling his leadership dysfunctional and embarrassing.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

It's the center of the political universe for the Republican White House hopefuls. Most of the candidates have Iowa on their schedule today, with their eyes on the all-important caucuses less than three weeks away.

That includes Newt Gingrich, whose Iowa campaign director resigned amid reports he called Mitt Romney's Mormon faith a cult. But do voters share that view? And could that be part of the reason why Mitt Romney isn't getting even more support?

CNN's Joe Johns is joining us now with more. He's been taking a closer look at Romney's faith.

I guess the question, is his Mormon faith holding him back among some of those voters out there?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: It's a very good question, Wolf. What about Mitt Romney's faith? It's one of those questions a lot of people dismiss as soon as it's asked, partly because people of both parties say they want to believe that a presidential election ought to be about issues, that a -- the religion is beside the point, but polls show it was an issue four years ago and, believe it or not, it's still an issue today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS (voice-over): When you ask a lot of evangelicals and social conservatives about Mitt Romney's faith, this is a kind of answer you will get on the record. STEVE SCHEFFLER, IOWA FAITH AND FREEDOM COALITION: I don't think that his faith is a consequence to most caucus goers. What they're concerned about is his stance on issues and his commitment to those things, both social and economic issues.

JOHNS: But the departure of a top Newt Gingrich aide in Iowa because he referred to Mormonism as a cult in focus group says a lot about sensitive the issue of religion is in a state where evangelical voters could have a big voice in the caucuses.

So how big a deal is it?

CARROLL DOHERTY, PEW RESEARCH CENTER: Romney's Mormon faith has implications for his run in the primary season, but not for a general race against Barack Obama. Certainly, white evangelicals take a dim view of Romney generally. They support Newt Gingrich by a wide margin and most white evangelical Republicans do not see the Mormon faith as a Christian faith.

JOHNS: Last month, when Pew asked white evangelical Protestants to pick one word that best describes the Mormon religion, 11 percent actually used the word cult, and a majority of evangelical Republican voters, 53 percent, said they don't believe Mormonism is part of the Christian religion.

Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention says this doesn't or shouldn't disqualify Romney as a candidate. He just doesn't think it's a Christian religion either.

RICHARD LAND, PRESIDENT, SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION ETHICS AND RELIGIOUS LIBERTY COMMISSION: As an evangelical Christian, I would describe Mormonism as another religion. I would describe it perhaps as the fourth Abrahamic religion, with Joseph Smith playing the role of Mohammed and the Book of Mormon playing the role of the Koran. Orthodox Christianity, it's not, but it's another -- it's a new religion. It's an American religion.

JOHNS: Theologically, for the record, the Mormon Church is formally known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. What the controversy boils down is that church founder Joseph Smith, who lived in the U.S. in the 1800s, established doctrines different from the Catholic and Protestant churches.

But, politically, what does this mean for Romney? People may have thought this question of faith was asked and answered the last time he ran for president four years ago. Apparently, it wasn't. The Pew study shows opinions about Mormonism are now almost identical to views the public held about Romney the last time around.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: Bottom line, Republicans who say Mormonism is not a Christian religion are less likely to support Romney for the Republican nomination, yet 79 percent of white evangelical Republicans, according to the Pew poll, would strongly back Romney in a general election run against the president. The issue, though, is he's got to get past the primaries, Wolf.

BLITZER: What about the other primary states?

JOHNS: Yes, South Carolina, for example, is a state where four years ago, a majority of the people voting in the Republican primary were white evangelicals. So that could be an issue there as well.

And I'm also told by Pew it could be an issue in Florida, too, potential problems going forward for Mitt Romney. On the other hand, it's very clear from him that he says there are some people he's just not going to get the votes from, and if religion matters to them that much, that could happen, but he thinks that's not what a majority of American voters are going to do, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Joe, thanks very much. It's the kind of thing that a lot of people don't speak about publicly. They don't even mention it, but, privately, it apparently has an impact, the religion of Mitt Romney.

I want to go to CNN's Jim Acosta in Iowa City, Iowa, right now. He's covering Newt Gingrich's campaign.

Something just happened that could be of interest. What's going on over there?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

As you know, this is a big day for Newt Gingrich. He's coming to Iowa as he is leading in many of the polls in this state and he was scheduled to have an event just a few moments ago here on the campus of the University of Iowa, where he was going to talk to some students and faculty members about his plans for a big brain science project if he's elected president.

And as he was getting started, some Occupy Wall Street protesters here on campus started to interrupt Newt Gingrich's speech.

If we can, let's just play a little bit of that just to give you a sense as to what just happened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... attitude towards poverty and poor people.

(SHOUTING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: And so this went on for several minutes. After a while, security from the university had to come in and remove those protesters. There was one gentleman in the crowd who was clearly a Gingrich supporter who walked up to one of the demonstrators in the audience and actually snatched a piece of paper from that protester. And so, it got a little tense at one moment during this disruption, but then the former speaker was able to get on with his speech and give his comments to that crowd. And coming up in an hour from now, Wolf, we're going to talk about the other problems that Newt Gingrich is having today. They're mainly coming from Mitt Romney. He has opened up a major offensive against the former speaker to try to blunt his momentum here in this state.

He gave an interview to "The New York Times" in which he called the former speaker zany. A pro-Romney PAC is out with a video right now, a Web video, a Web ad, that is highly critical of the former speaker. And there's a lot more than that to tell you about coming up at 5:00. We will tell you about all of that and more, Wolf.

BLITZER: He's got a news conference scheduled as well, isn't that right?

ACOSTA: That's right. He's scheduled to give a media availability is unfortunately the jargon that they use out here on the campaign trail. What that means is that they don't answer all the questions that we have, just a few, and they then move on.

But he's scheduled to do that here in this room in about an hour from now. And he will obviously be asked about this all-out assault from the Romney campaign on him at this point. Obviously, with so little time left before the voting in Iowa, Newt Gingrich, this is a big moment for him, because just a day ago, a couple of days ago, in New Hampshire, he put out this plea to all the GOP candidates to say, look, let's make this a positive campaign, let's stay away from the negative attacks, anything that might work to the advantage of President Obama and his reelection campaign.

Mitt Romney has basically put all of that aside and said, no, I'm coming after you, Newt Gingrich. I want to take you down to prevent you from having any momentum going into these other states out of Iowa -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we will stand by for live coverage of that so- called media availability when Newt Gingrich answers reporters' questions. We will check back with you, Jim. Thanks very much.

And then there's Ron Paul. He hasn't yet had a turn as a Republican front-runner, but he's a top-tier candidate, certainly in Iowa, with a powerful and passionate operation, and a victory there is not out of the question at all.

Ron Paul is in New Hampshire right now. He will join me live later this hour. We have got lots of questions for him before he heads to Iowa later tonight.

But, first, let's bring in CNN's Lisa Sylvester. She's got more of what I'm calling the Ron Paul phenomenon as it's going on right now.

Tell us a little bit about this amazing support that he has. LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Ron Paul supporters have literally spent years building up support in Iowa. And he has found his perfect target audience in that state for his message, reducing the size of government and lowering taxes.

And now, with the caucuses just around the corner, Paul is running neck and neck with Romney.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So many people vote for a flashing smile and charisma, rather than substance.

SYLVESTER (voice-over): At the Ron Paul headquarters in Des Moines, volunteers work the phones. It's a hub of activity, in contrast to the Iowa campaign offices of Mitt Romney, which was still closed at mid-morning.

Paul is leaps and bounds ahead of Romney and Newt Gingrich in the ground game in Iowa, and it's now paying dividends.

REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: One thing that is characteristic about our campaign is, when people join our campaign, they rarely leave. They're real solid, determined supporters. They understand what the message is about, and they agree with that. So I think it's a very good sign. And I think, in political terms, it means that we're probably peaking at the right time.

SYLVESTER: The latest polling from the American Research Group shows Romney and Paul tied at 17 percent in Iowa and Gingrich at 22 percent.

Paul supporters are not likely to sway in the political breeze. They eagerly eat up his message, smaller government, fiscal discipline, and strict interpretation of the Constitution. Paul's support comes from a variety of passionate groups, the youth, Tea Party members and homeschoolers, a group very politically active in Iowa.

Conservative radio host Steve Deace says Paul has a very good chance of pulling of an upset in the state.

STEVE DEACE, IOWA RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Organizationally, he's very well-organized, has really a devoted following. He also has several people around the state, people that I know that have done a very good job, for lack of a better word, evangelizing the Ron Paul philosophy of governance.

SYLVESTER: Paul has an authentic, folksy style that plays well not just in Iowa, but also with this breakfast crowd at a New Hampshire deli. He also has though what some conservatives see as political baggage, particularly on foreign policy.

Paul wants to end all foreign aid, including to key U.S. ally Israel, and he wants the U.S. to have a much smaller role on the world stage. That might make it tough for Paul to sell his message beyond the Iowa caucuses.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER: Ron Paul's strategy includes wooing independents in Iowa. They can take part in the voting in the caucuses. And if there is enough momentum coming out of Iowa, well, that could reshuffle the whole GOP field.

BLITZER: Certainly could. We're going to be speaking with him live later this hour. That's coming up in a few minutes. Thanks, Lisa. Thanks very much.

President Obama welcomes home soldiers from Iraq, but, for some, new and personal battles are just beginning.

Plus, a congressional hearing exposes disarray at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and disturbing allegations against the chairman.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: For each of the commissioners, do you believe that employees, professional staff of the NRC, have experienced intimidation, hostile or offensive conduct on behalf of the chairman -- by the chairman?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is joining us right now with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: He probably wouldn't appreciate the comparison, but Mitt Romney just might turn out to be Hillary Clinton of 2012.

Politico talked to veterans of the Clinton campaign who point out some eerie similarities between the two.

They say -- quote -- "Romney has followed the Clinton playbook so closely, you'd think she had won her party's nomination" -- unquote. Another former Clinton adviser talks of suffering post-traumatic stress disorder when an Iowa poll showed Romney in third place.

Both Clinton in 2008 and now Romney in 2012 were supposed to be their party's nominee. Both well-funded, establishment blessed candidates. Clinton lost in that bruising, drawn out battle to Barack Obama, while Romney faces a more than serious threat from Newt Gingrich that could last a while.

There are some other similarities. Where Clinton took a stand on her vote to authorize the Iraq war, Romney refuses to apologize for the health care mandate, which some Republicans see as a fatal flaw. Both Clinton and Romney initially ran cautious campaigns, trying to stay above the fray. When that didn't work, they went negative.

And both suffered a major debate gaffe. For Clinton, it was the muddled answer she gave about driver's licenses for illegal immigrants. For Romney, the now infamous $10,000 bet comment.

But there are also differences. While Romney has faced a series of opponents, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain and now Gingrich, the Clinton team battled what they saw as a Kennedy-esque, once in a generation politician in Barack Obama. Another difference that could work in Romney's favor, Clinton's rival, Barack Obama, had an extensive organization in the later voting states. Romney doesn't have to worry about that.

And lastly, is there is a chance that Romney could win this thing if Newt Gingrich somehow implodes, something Clinton's people never expected Obama to do and he didn't.

Any way, here's the question: Is Mitt Romney the Hillary Clinton of 2012?

Go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile, post a comment on my blog. Or go to our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page.

BLITZER: All right. Jack, thank you.

Meanwhile, President Obama and the first lady at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, today, marking the end of the Iraq war for the United States and welcoming home U.S. troops.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHELLE OBAMA, U.S. FIRST LADY: I can't tell you -- I have to tell you that when I look out at this crowd, I am simply overwhelmed. I am overwhelmed and proud because I know the level of strength and commitment that you all display every single day. When ever this country calls, you all are the ones who answer. No matter the circumstance. No matter the danger. No matter the sacrifice.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm sure you realize why I don't like realize following Michelle Obama. She's pretty good. And it is true.

I am a little biased, but let me just say it. Michelle, you are a remarkable first lady. You are a great advocate for military families. And you're cute. I'm just saying.

Gentlemen, that's your goal. To marry up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: For some U.S. troops, the end of the war marks the beginning of a difficult new phase in their lives.

CNN's David Mattingly is joining us now from Ft. Bragg with more.

What are you seeing and what are you hearing there, David?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, troops came here today with questions on their mind and they walked away feeling that the president gave them some strong answers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OBAMA: Welcome home. Welcome home.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Soldiers out of Iraq and home for the holidays. That alone is worth celebrating.

But troops at Ft. Bragg are looking for more -- assurances from the president their sacrifices will not be overlooked.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a lot of stuff behind these things that we will never understand. We do know the government's going to do its cutbacks.

MATTINGLY: After eight years in Iraq and budget cuts at home, soldiers worry about holes opening in safety nets, pensions, medical support and treatment for PTSD.

(on camera): How much pain are you in right now?

WESLEY DODD, IRAQ WAR VETERAN: Quite a bit. I mean, on a daily bases, you know, it's aches and pains, stabs and needles.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Iraq vet Wesley Dodd came home in 2008 with a painful knee injury, PTSD and eventually, an addiction to pain medication. Today, he's medically retired and in a methadone program.

(on camera): Do you consider yourselves lucky?

DODD: Absolutely. I'm alive, you know? I came home alive and that's -- I can't say the same. I've got a number of these bands. This is Corporal Ryan Woodward. He was killed on a mission when I was there. Sergeant Brian Tutan (ph), he was in my platoon, he was killed while I was there.

So, there's a lot of people that don't come back. It's not easy, you know?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTINGLY: And addiction wasn't Dodd's only problem. His addiction led him to falsify a prescription. He got caught, arrested and is now on probation. He's worried that more soldiers coming out will have problems like he did and he's worried that safety net may not be there for them as it has been for him.

But, right now, the president answering those questions very clearly today, Wolf, telling the troops here that you stood up for America, and America will stand up for you, whatever your needs are in the future -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's hope so. That would be important. Thanks very much, David. David is at Ft. Bragg for us.

Here's a question: Should the federal government be allowed to order drivers off their cell phones?

We're going to put that question to Republican presidential candidate, Ron Paul. We got a lot of other questions as well. He's standing by to join us live. That's coming up shortly.

Also, Elizabeth Taylor's jewels are sold at auction. Wait until you hear what they went for. That and a lot more news coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right.

Lisa, the United Nations chief issuing a desperate plea, a desperate plea right now to the international community.

SYLVESTER: That's right, Wolf.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says the bloodshed in Syria cannot go on any longer. His appeal comes as he cites reports that more than 5,000 people have died during the civil unrest. Russia and China are being widely criticized for blocking a U.N. response to the situation in Syria. An activist group says 33 more people have died today in Syria.

And contrary to his claim, James Murdoch may indeed have known about widespread hacking that went on at the British tabloid "News of the World." The paper's former lawyer testified today that he is pretty sure he showed the e-mail evidence to Murdoch back in 2008, years before the scandal broke. Yesterday, parliament published correspondence showing that Murdoch was warned about hacking.

And Facebook takes a step toward helping to prevent suicide. A new mechanism allows users to anonymously flag suicidal posts. Facebook then investigates the troubling message and may follow up with an e-mail offering the person a private chat with a crisis representative from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

And she was one of the most sought after actresses of her generation. And Liz Taylor's jewelry seems to carry that same allure. Her collection brought a record breaking $150 million. That includes the diamond that fetched $8.8 million and the 50-karat pearl known as La Pellegrina, it sold for $11.8 million. This was given to her by actor Richard Burton and was once part of the Spanish crown jewel. Christie says that's the highest reported price ever for a pearl at an auction.

It's a gorgeous piece of jewelry. But we're talking $11.8 million. Someone's going to have a nice holiday present there.

BLITZER: You didn't bid on any of that?

SYLVESTER: Not even close.

BLITZER: No, not even close. Lisa, thanks very much.

We're waiting for Newt Gingrich. He's getting record to take reporter reporters' questions in Iowa. We'll have live coverage. That's coming up.

Also, is the U.S. right now on the verge of another government shutdown? We're talking about that and much more when the Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul. He's standing by, live.

And a hostile, dysfunctional workplace -- what's going on at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have offered to my colleagues that we sit down with a third party, someone that we all could agree on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We really need a counselor for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission? We need a counselor for that?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A possible federal government shutdown is looming as Congress bickers about funding. Let's talk about that and a lot more with Republican presidential candidate, Congressman Ron Paul of Texas. He's joining us right now from the first in the nation primary state of New Hampshire.

Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.

Before we get to the presidential campaign, put your congressional hat on for a moment.

Congress can't seem to agree on almost anything nowadays and there could be a government shutdown as early as this weekend, unless the appropriations bills are passed. What's going on? Why is Congress so dysfunctional?

REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, this dysfunction seems to be business as usual. How many times have we gone through this in the last couple of years? It's sort of to be routine.

You know, at the last minute, they go down to the wire and they negotiate up to the bitter end, always trying to get one angle over the other one. I don't think the government's going to shut down. It hasn't happened in a long, long time. So, I don't think it's in the interest of either party to do it. So, they'll probably come up with some compromise at midnight, you know, and settle the argument.

BLITZER: But it does send a horrible message when various agencies of the federal government are told, get ready, so-called nonessential personnel may be out of work as early as Saturday or Sunday.

I mean, it sends an awful message out there that the people in Washington can't get their act together. I'm just saying it, but if you disagree with me, go ahead.

PAUL: No, I think the problem is that the people in Washington that I know don't admit that we have a serious crisis on our handS. A financial crisis and they don't know how bad it is.

Because we're bankrupt and yet, we're getting -- and we're preparing ourselves through the Federal Reserve to bail out all of Europe and there's no money and the debt is the problem, so they're up against a wall and nobody wants to cut anything.

But if they knew how bad it was, they would cut and start living within our means. And that means looking at all the budget, but no, they're going to delay it.

I think it's a football game and they're going to play it and see who's going to get the best edge in the next election to see who can maintain or gain power.

And they haven't changed their ways, but they won't admit the necessary admission of that we are bankrupt and we better do something about it or this condition in our country and throughout the world. Financial system is going to get much worse.

BLITZER: Let me go through a couple of the issues on the agenda right now, increasing taxes unless action is taken. The payroll tax cut will go away. The tax rates for 160 million Americans will go up. Where do you stand on extending the payroll tax cut for another year?

PAUL: I want to extend it because I see it as a tax increase and the system isn't run like it should be. We're supposed to have money in the bank and have a trust fund. That doesn't exist. It's all been spent into the general revenues.

So many of these funds from Social Security have been spent overseas, so I want to pay for it, that's the whole thing, but I don't consider paying for it by punishing one group and taking that money and giving it to the other group.

So I'd pay for, extend the tax credit cut and pay for it by overseas spending. For instance, why are we going to pretend that we're leaving Iraq and we really aren't and we're going to maintain the biggest embassy in the world and have 17,000 personnel there that are contractors making twice as much as our military?

You can save billions of dollars doing that. So, yes, we have to address it. This is a reason nobody wants to give up a nickel on these overseas expenditures and that's the best place to cut in order to save our system and take care of our Social Security beneficiaries and the health care, the people who have become so dependent.

But I have no idea why they won't consider this. Evidently, the lobbyists were spending this money overseas and for the military -- is so powerful that neither Democrats nor Republicans want to talk about cutting overseas spending.

Bring troops home. That would save billions of dollars. So, the money is there, but this idea that you have to raise taxes on the rich in order to pay for the payroll tax cut makes no sense and that's why they're arguing about it.

BLITZER: Just to be precise, 17,000 Americans, about half diplomats -- diplomatic support staff. The other half would be contractors and you're right. They're going to be getting a lot more than U.S. troops. Unemployment benefits, are you ready to extend the full range for another year?

PAUL: Yes. I'd extend the cuts. So they don't have to pay for it. I don't want to reinstate the taxes.

BLITZER: No, unemployment benefits.

PAUL: I'm sorry. I misunderstood that. The unemployment, no, I'm not ready to extend that. I think that, you know, you subsidize long- term unemployment, you get more of it, but we have to change other conditions so people, you know, that's why the budget has to be balanced and tax codes changed.

Regulatory codes changed. Monetary policies changed, so that we can get these jobs, but just further extending it, believe me, there's less incentive. You know, to go back to work and make $8 an hour, if you can get $8.50 while on welfare, it's not likely.

People -- you can't extend it forever because that's where the problems come from. We're bankrupt. To assume that we can and borrow the money or print the money is just digging a much bigger hole for ourselves and that's why we have to admit the truth.

BLITZER: Should the federal government have a rule in recommending when you can use your cell phone while driving?

PAUL: No, no way. I look it in Article 1 Section 8. They don't even say anything about telephones there. So, no, they should be doing that. That is really nitpicking away and if some state decided you shouldn't do it.

They certainly have the authority to do that, but what if I came up with a statistic and I could prove that eating in a car causes more accidents than using your cell phone.

Reckless driving, people could cause accidents. They're liable and responsible and should be punished for this, but this idea that the federal government's going to write a rule about when we're going to use cell phones.

And then force them maybe to buy a certain type of cell phone that's already in your car, that's more government than we need and one of the reasons why we're in such a mess.

BLITZER: We've got a lot of questions for you because I asked our viewers on Twitter, Facebook, if you have a question for Ron Paul. Here's one. Would you consider Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich as your vice president?

PAUL: Probably not. Not unless they change their ways and change their beliefs and convinced me of it.

BLITZER: You're doing amazingly well in Iowa right now. You're not surprised a lot of the so-called pundits are pretty surprised. Can you tell us right now? Do you think you will win the Iowa caucus?

PAUL: I think I have a good chance, but I'm not saying that I'm not on -- I'm not working on a daily basis, you know, I'm assuming I'm going to win this thing. No, I'm not at that point, but I'm assuming we're going to do very, very well and have a much better showing that anybody has given us credit for the past year.

BLITZER: Because if you do win Iowa, it shakes up the situation going into New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida. Pretty dramatically you want to give us a name or two of someone you would consider as a possible vice president?

PAUL: Probably not today. I haven't thought it through and there are so many people that I know that would qualify, I would hate to pick one or two names out right now. But time will tell later on maybe.

BLITZER: One final question, Congressman, before I let you go. In the past, I called you an isolationist. I got hammered by your supporters out there. They write to me and they say, Ron Paul is not an isolationist. He's a noninterventionist. All right, tell our viewers right now once and for all, the difference between an isolationist and a noninterventionist.

PAUL: An isolationist is a protectionist that builds walls around the country. They don't like to trade. They don't like to travel around the world and they like to put sanctions on different countries.

So some of the people who call me that or actually much more in favor of sanctions and limited trade, they are the ones who don't want to trade with Cuba and they want to put sanctions on anybody who blinks their eye at them and yet the opposite is what we believe in.

We believe Nixon did the right thing by opening up trade doors with China because that is when we quit killing each other and that we are more at peace because we better be because they have become our banker.

So noninterventionist is quite a bit different is what the founders advised to get along with people, trade with people and to practice diplomacy rather than getting, having this militancy of telling people what to do and how to run the world and building walls around our own country. That is isolationism. It's a far cry from what we believe in.

BLITZER: And just to be precise, you want to bring all U.S. troops home. Not just from Iraq and Afghanistan, but from Germany, Japan, South Korea, every place else around the world, is that right?

PAUL: Yes, because I believe in national defense and our first responsibility, probably one of the major responsibilities of the federal government is a national defense and fighting these wars does not help us.

I mean, getting bogged down in Afghanistan brought the Soviet Union to its knees and is bringing us to our knees, too. We've been there 10 years and it's contributing this huge deficit that we have.

Those wars over there have contributed $4 trillion worth of debt in the last 10 years. So yes, I want to bring them home and I think we'll be stronger for it.

I think we'll have a stronger national defense and we'll have a lot stronger economy. If we're serious about straighten up this mess, we have to deal with foreign policy as well as fiscal policy and tax policy.

BLITZER: Ron Paul is running for the Republican presidential nomination. Congressman, good luck.

PAUL: Thanks a lot.

BLITZER: Mitt Romney turns to Wall Street for some campaign cash and then some Democrats on the attack. Has President Barack Obama raised as much money from Wall Street big shots? We have some answers, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Allegations of bullying by the head of a key federal agency are part of a heated hearing on Capitol Hill today. The commissioners say their boss is so bad, it's getting in the way of their work ensuring America's nuclear safety.

Our Brian Todd has been following this hearing. It's pretty amazing what's going on. It didn't involve the Nuclear Regulatory Agency, it would be amazing.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's laughable if it wasn't so serious, Wolf. This is, of course, about the agency that makes sure that all of America's 104 nuclear power plants are safe and secure, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

There is so much tension among the commission's leaders that Congress had to call a hearing to address it and some congressmen are calling the NRC's leadership dysfunctional, embarrassing, even likening it to the Cain mutiny.

Officials say nuclear safety has not been compromised yet because of this, but they are warning it could happen. At the crux of it, the management style of the NRC's chairman, Gregory Jaczko shown here in the middle of this shot.

He's sitting right next to his fellow commissioners in this video and you would think that he's right in the middle of a middle school spat. The people right under Jaczko, the four commissioners, Democrat and Republican, they accuse him essentially of flat out bullying.

You see them here sitting right next to him and as they sit to him, listen to how the commissioners describe his interaction with the NRC staff.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM OSTENDORFF, NRC COMMISSIONER: It's about bullying and intimidating behavior towards NRC career staff.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The chairman's continued outbursts of abusive rage --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The word one woman used was humiliated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I joined my fellows to seriously express the chairman's leadership.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: The commissioners also said Jaczko routinely withheld information from them including information about damage to the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan following the earthquake in tsunami this year.

A lot of the friction at NRC seemed to come to a head at about that time. Now listen to how Jaczko defended himself to a congressman's questioning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPRESENTATIVE JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: Number one, intimidating and bullied senior career staff, true or false?

GREGORY JACZKO, NRC CHAIRMAN: I have not bullied and intimate, Crista. I'm a very passionate person about safety and I often engage my colleagues in discussions and about safety and that's been my style and practice.

CHAFFETZ: In other words, they're all wrong and you're exactly right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: One congressman called on Gregory Jaczko to step down as NRC chairman. He said he has no intention of doing that, Wolf, amazing. Simply driven by personalities. The commission charged with regulating the American nuclear safety of America is almost dysfunctional.

BLITZER: So what's the solution?

TODD: Well, he says he's offering to bring a third party to mediate some of this. That's almost disbelief from members of Congress. One congressman said, what do you need a counselor now at NRC just to get through your problems?

Another congressman said quote, "I feel like I'm refereeing a fight." This is clearly something that members of Congress and this key congressional committee, they have better things to do with their time than referee an internal fight like this.

BLITZER: Very shocking. All right, Brian. Thank you.

Mitt Romney was filling his campaign coffers today up on Wall Street, which is an equal opportunity piggy bank, certainly for Democrats and Republicans.

CNN's Mary Snow is taking a closer look into this story for us. So what are you finding out there?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the Republican presidential hopeful, Mitt Romney, attended to fundraisers here in New York. While some of his GOP contenders were on the campaign trail.

Democrats took the occasion to take aim at him. The Romney camp is firing back saying the White House is scared of the prospect of facing him in a general election.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): As Republican presidential hopeful, Mitt Romney tapped Wall Street donors for campaign cash, Democrats took to the skies over New York, targeting him.

They paid for an airplane banner to remind everyone of a $10,000 bet Romney made against Rick Perry at the last Republican debate.

As Democrats try to portray Romney as ouch touch, progressives like moveon.org are calling Romney the poster child for Wall Street and the 1 percent.

But senior political analyst, David Gergen, says Democrats targeting Romney solely for raising Wall Street contributions is hypocritical.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Barack Obama raised tons of money out of Wall Street the last time around and he's going to raise some money this time. Wall Street has turned more hostile towards the president since he's been at the White House, but it's natural that Mitt Romney will go there.

SNOW: The Nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics tracks campaign donors and finds Romney raising more money from Wall Street contributors than President Obama's re-election campaign.

(on camera): When it comes to campaign cash from Wall Street donors, Mitt Romney is leading Barack Obama, $3.8 million to $1.7 million and take a look at contributions from Goldman Sachs employees.

This was one of the top contributors to Barack Obama's campaign back in 2008. So far, Mitt Romney with $367,000 from Goldman Sachs workers compared to $50,000 for Barack Obama.

(voice-over): Sheila Krumholz of the Center for Responsive Politics says in the 2008 election, the finance sector was the fourth largest donor to Barack Obama's campaign. And she adds Wall Street donors are no strangers to the Obama campaign this time around.

SHEILA KRUMHOLZ, CENTER FOR RESPONSIVE POLITICS: They are also hosting fundraisers and trying to draw in donors from Wall Street. They have a number of Wall Street representatives on their volunteer bundler list.

SNOW: One of those listed as a bundler fundraiser is Jon Corzine, former head of Goldman Sachs, former Democratic New Jersey governor who's now being questioned about an estimated $1.2 billion that's missing from his former firm, Mf Global Holdings.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: And as for response, an Obama campaign official says Corzine is not currently fund raising for the campaign and if he or any other MF Global employees are charged with wrong doing, the contributions will be returned -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary, thank you. Romney also stepped up his verbal attacks against his main rival right now, Newt Gingrich. Calling the former House speaker, I'm quoting him now, zany. We're going to find out what Romney was talking about, the possible strategy behind it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get to our strategy session. Joining us now the Democratic strategist and CNN contributor, Donna Brazile and the Republican strategist and CNN contributor, Alex Castellanos.

Donna, I know you noticed that the blogger, Andrew Sullivan, he's got a huge following out there. He's actually endorsing Ron Paul, the man we just spoke to.

I see in Paul none of the resentment that burns in Gingrich or the fakeness that defines Romney or the factious strains in Perry's buffoonery.

He has now gone through two primary elections without compromising an inch of his character or his philosophy. This kind of rigidity has its flaws, but in context of the Newt, Romney blur, it is refreshing.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Ron Paul is picking at the right time. He's able to not only generate additional support. His supporters are very passionate. They are devoted.

They are going to not only carry his petitions to get him on the ballot all over the country, but they are prepared to give him resources, money, flat out in New Hampshire to help him with.

BLITZER: If he wins in Iowa, Ron Paul, there is a good chance he will win, got a much better organization there than Newt Gingrich has or Mitt Romney has. How does that shake up the race?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think it sends everyone in New Hampshire, hair on fire, looking for the nominee. In other words, the spotlight won't be on Mitt Romney in Iowa and it won't be Mitt versus Newt. It will be who's the most establishment candidate that we can get. Because Ron Paul really can't get the nomination even though he could win --

BLITZER: Why do you say that? Everybody says that. His supporters out there and he's got a lot of -- when they hear you say that, they say, why do you say that?

CASTELLANOS: Here's why I say that the Republican Party is a three- legged stool. It has social conservatives. It has defense conservatives, has economic conservatives.

Ron Paul is really a libertarian. He thinks like those economic conservatives, but he's on the wrong side of all those social conservatives and the defense conservatives.

He thinks like a Democrat on defense. So on those things, there are no voters. On economics, now, here's the good news for Ron Paul. One is he's running a very good campaign.

He's busting in voters from his home planet. So that's just kidding, Ron Paul voters, but it's a small turnout in Iowa. It could be. Why, because Republicans aren't really very excited about our candidates to our field. Small turnout, low turnout, his voters are enthused, he could win Iowa.

BLITZER: It could be 100,000 people to show up in the caucuses, not a lot of people.

BRAZILE: Look, I doubt he can win the Republican primary, but he can influence the outcome, especially if this race goes on until June. Now that they have the proportion representation, no winner take all in the front loading process. So Ron Paul can influence the process.

BLITZER: I think it's fair to say, Donna, you're in with the Democrats. They're not even thinking about Ron Paul. They're thinking about Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. Maybe somebody else, but they're not even assuming that Ron Paul will be the nominee, is that right?

BRAZILE: That's correct. I have not seen a wrap sheet on Ron Paul, but I have to tell you something, Wolf. I live on a block with half Democrats, half Republicans. My Republicans on my block are circulating petitions for Ron Paul. CASTELLANOS: He has run a campaign with tremendous integrity. His voters are the most passionate. He is genuine. He doesn't talk the usual political talk. He's actually helped this process tremendously.

BLITZER: What you see with Ron Paul is what you get.

BRAZILE: But on foreign policy, bring the troops home, he's with the majority of Americans so he's not --

BLITZER: He wants to bring all -- not just Afghanistan and Iraq, Germany, South Korea, Japan, he wants them all to come in. He says he's not an isolationist. He's a noninterventionist.

BRAZILE: I like that too.

BLITZER: You want to say anything?

CASTELLANOS: No, I think if he wins Iowa, it's actually great news for Mitt Romney because it takes the heat off of Mitt Romney and makes him look like, go home to Mitt and he can save the party.

BLITZER: Because a lot of Republicans we're assuming that Newt Gingrich was going to win Iowa, maybe not.

CASTELLANOS: He's dropped -- the last ten days.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens. Guys, thanks very much.

Hundreds of millions of drug dollars laundered and sent to a terror group. The connection between Hezbollah and a Mexican drug cartel, new information from the federal government coming in. Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Jack is back with the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour, is Mitt Romney the Hillary Clinton of 2012?

"Politico" wrote a kind of a clever piece drawing some interesting comparisons between those two. Jim in New Jersey writes, I think you're insulting Hillary Clinton. In 2008, Democrats weren't looking for an alternative to Hillary Clinton. They were looking for an alternative to George Bush. Today, Republicans are more worried about finding an alternative to Mitt Romney than a replacement for President Obama."

Doug writes, "Good question. I was among those who thought Hillary Clinton was a lot for the nomination in 2008, but this situation is different. In 2008, the Democratic Party was trying to win and they let the chips fall where they may. In 2012, the Republican establishment is desperate to lose so they're backing the best candidate available, Romney, to accomplish that goal."

Terry in Virginia, "No, that's an insult to Mrs. Clinton. When she was a candidate, her positions didn't change like the wind, however there is an apt comparison between how to media treated Mrs. Clinton and how it treats Mr. Romney."

Mel in Houston writes, "I see no comparison at all except for the fact that Hillary was the early frontrunner until Obama got his voice. She had no record to run against like Romney. She didn't flip and flop around like a tiny cat fish. You knew you could trust her because she was basically espousing the same ideas as Bill Clinton. No one trust a person that speaks out of both sides of their mouth"

S. writes, "Romney equals Clinton equals Gingrich equals Obama equals Bush. Ron Paul equals Thomas Jefferson equals profit. Remember, Dr. Paul called the financial collapse back in 2001."

And Michael on Facebook writes only if Ron Paul is the Barack Obama. Newt, by the way, is the Howard Dean of 2012 and Mitt is more of the Bob Dole of 2012."

If you want to read more about this, go to my blog, cnn.com/caffertyfile or through our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack, thank you.