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THE SITUATION ROOM

Santorum Releases Tax Returns; Contraception Battle; Post- Senate, Big Bucks for Santorum; U.N. Officially Condemns Syria; Contraceptive Controversy; The Words Not To Use Online; Homeland Security Watching You Online

Aired February 16, 2012 - 16:00   ET

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


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: A battle between church and state over contraception is political, and we have brand- new polls just out showing the public is not necessarily on President Obama's side.

Also, we're digging deeper into Rick Santorum's tax returns. Some of what we're seeing could provide ammunition for Mitt Romney as they face off in the battle for Michigan.

Plus, why some of your tweets and Facebook posts may be attracting the attention of Homeland Security.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Candy Crowley, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Right now, the United Nations General Assembly is preparing to vote on a resolution on the continuing slaughter of Syrians by their own government. The resolution strongly condemns the killings and demands that the Assad regime call off its forces and cease all violence. The vote is expected soon. We will bring it to you live when it happens.

We also have two CNN journalists inside Syria right now documenting some of the awful violence there and you will see that as well, ahead.

But first to the battle for Michigan, which holds its primary in just 12 days. It is home turf for Mitt Romney who grew up there and whose father was governor. But the latest polls show Rick Santorum tied, if not ahead of Romney in Michigan. That means we're likely in for a bitter fight.

CNN senior correspondent Joe Johns is in Detroit for us.

Joe, what is the feel there? What are you seeing?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: It's interesting.

Mitt Romney rolled in here today. He was met by a very warm and receptive crowd. He is really playing up, Candy, the notion that he is a native son of Michigan, which is fascinating in some ways, because, as you know, Mitt Romney's father certainly was governor of this state. Mitt Romney grew up here. He sort of got his whole -- the start of his life, if you will. On the other hand, it was more than 40 years ago when Mitt Romney was here in Michigan, and so, you know, when you look at this thing and the totality of it, quite frankly, Candy, today was a situation where both campaigns rolled into the metropolitan Detroit area. It was all about momentum today.

Santorum trying to keep his momentum and Mitt Romney trying to get it back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS (voice-over): The battle for the industrial heartland squaring off in Michigan. Mitt Romney not mentioning opponents by name, but it was pretty clear who he was talking about.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Working as a lobbyist and working as an elected official is great, but in my view it's more important to also have private sector experience.

JOHNS: Apparently a reference to Rick Santorum, who according to the latest "Detroit News" poll is slightly ahead in the race for this state, despite the fact that he, like Romney, was opposed to the auto industry bailout that some say saved the state from economic disaster.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The government should not be involved in bailouts, period.

JOHNS: For the record, a poll shows opposition to the bailouts doesn't hurt Republican candidates with Republican voters in Michigan, though the Democrats pointed out that General Motors just reported its biggest profit ever.

So if the GOP isn't focused on the bailout, what is the nomination race in Michigan all about anyway? Santorum supporters says his strong showing in the polls is partly about his appeal to blue-collar voters and social conservatives, though Romney supporters say the state's comeback from the recession is issue one.

GOV. RICK SNYDER (R), MICHIGAN: It's just old-fashioned campaigning and talking about jobs.

JOHNS: Michigan's Governor Rick Snyder just endorsed Romney, though endorsements haven't done much for the candidate this campaign. Romney has gotten a slew of them, and is still struggling to lock up the nomination, even here in the state where he grew up, though if Snyder had chosen to withhold his endorsement, it would have been embarrassing to Romney.

SNYDER: We have the right man here to help lead our country, but there's a special bonus. He was born and raised a Michigander. He understands our state. He's one of us. And that's another area of particular pride.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: Polls suggest the race for delegate-rich Ohio is shaping up very much like the race for Michigan.

Romney is expected to go to Ohio tomorrow, Santorum expected to stay here -- Candy.

CROWLEY: That's a problem these days, so many states and not enough money or enough time.

Thanks so much, Joe Johns. We appreciate it.

We want to get more with our CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger.

Michigan just would not be the place I would say here's where the Santorum surge is going to come.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I know. It's so interesting because when you talk to people in the Santorum campaign and you say why is your candidate surging here, they say people see him as a fighter, they like him more than Mitt Romney, and they understand his roots, not Mitt Romney's roots, but his roots.

His father was a coal miner. He's representing steelworkers. Also don't forget he has a plan to zero out the tax rate for manufacturing. But there's something else here that's really important. And that is the really conservative vote in this state and the evangelical vote in this state.

Take a look at this poll today in which Republicans were asked which candidate shares my position. This is a state poll. Santorum, 37 percent, Romney 23, Gingrich 13, Paul 12. So you see that Santorum really they believe shares their positions.

One Republican strategist I talked to today who has done a lot of work in the state of Michigan reminded me -- and you and I may remember this -- that in 1988, Pat Robertson had his strongest showing in the state of Michigan.

CROWLEY: People don't tend to think of the Republican part of Michigan being so conservative, because it genuinely is a Democratic state presidentially, but there are very conservative spots there.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: And fiercely independent conservatives. If the rest of the world is thinking maybe it's Mitt Romney, maybe they're thinking Rick Santorum.

CROWLEY: Maybe not so fast.

So then that gets us to, suppose Romney loses Michigan. It's kind of -- it looks bad, but in reality, does it -- you know, is it that bad?

BORGER: It is really interesting. It will look very bad. He has all but predicted that he will win the state.

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: He said that that is not going to happen, that Santorum is going to win.

BORGER: Right. It will look bad for him, particularly, as Joe points out, it's his adopted home state, father was the governor, et cetera, et cetera.

But in this poll today, there is a little bit of a silver lining for him on the question of electability, which is of course so important to those primary voters.

Take a look at this. These primary voters, potential primary voters were asked which Republican candidate can beat Barack Obama, and again, you see this huge margin, Romney 42, Santorum 18. So voters think electability is important. The overall poll says that Santorum might win Michigan, but they think Romney is the most electable, so go figure that one out. It's a little hard for me to parse, right?

CROWLEY: You get into the voting booth and what's the most important thing to you? What is most important, right?

BORGER: Right, and these people are saying they want someone who is electable, but they like where Rick Santorum is on the issues, and we have seen this tension in the Republican primaries as we have gone through this whole race.

CROWLEY: Just quickly, the auto bailout. We know Romney was against it, but so was Santorum.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Santorum was against it. I think it's an issue that quite frankly has been overstated in this race. This is a Republican primary after all, and so I think other issues will probably be a lot more important to Republican voters.

In this poll, 50 percent of the voters said it won't make a difference.

CROWLEY: Senior political analyst Gloria Borger, thanks, Gloria.

BORGER: Sure.

CROWLEY: A White House effort at compromise on a birth control controversy has so far failed to end the debate, at issue, a health reform mandate requiring employer insurance plans to cover contraceptives.

And new poll numbers just in show half the public is not on the president's side. The CNN/ORC survey just out this hour shows 44 percent approve of the president's policy on health insurance and contraceptive services, but 50 percent disapprove. And that's even though vast majorities of Americans are OK with birth control.

Asked if using it is wrong, 81 percent said no, including 77 percent of Catholics.

And now the standoff between church and state is caught up in partisan politics, where else, up on Capitol Hill.

CNN White House correspondent Brianna Keilar joins us with more.

Brianna, what's the latest on this in -- well, actually you're at the White House. Sorry.

How is the White House looking at this and what's going on?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the White House feels like they have been able to make their case, Candy, and President Obama has been largely been able to win over what you might call middle of the road Catholic leaders with this change to this contraceptive coverage policy.

But now this is becoming a big partisan debate on Capitol Hill. You have Republicans saying that the Obama administration is infringing on religious freedom, and Democrats saying that Republicans are assaulting women's access to health care.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR (voice-over): Welcome to the culture wars 2.0, where the battle lines are religious freedom and contraception.

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: Today's hearing is a solemn one. It involves freedom of conscience.

KEILAR: Darrell Issa, Republican chairman of a powerful House investigative committee, held a hearing on the Obama administration's policy requiring employers to provide insurance coverage for contraception, like the birth control pill, the morning-after pill, and intrauterine devices.

The administration recently provided what it called an accommodation for religiously affiliated employers like Catholic churches and hospitals, so workers can receive contraceptive coverage directly from an insurer, rather than their employer.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR: Now, obviously we're having some technical difficulty with our piece right there, Candy, but what I can tell you is there was this hearing on the Hill today.

Republicans had a number of religious leaders from various religions who said that they still disagree with this policy, even with the accommodation. And you saw Democrats, specifically a lot of Democratic women, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, asking the question, where are the women?

They were wondering why a person that they wanted on that first panel that was all men was not allowed on. It would have been a Georgetown University student speaking in favor of the policy. So, overall, the Obama administration has, as I mentioned, assuaged some of those middle of the road Catholic leaders who I think some of their opposition really caught the Obama administration off-guard.

But now this is becoming a very loud battle on Capitol Hill. And you sort of see both sides really playing to their base. Republicans see this as an opportunity to really target the president's signature health care reform law. And you see Democrats making this very much an issue of women's health. This is a debate that will continue, Candy.

CROWLEY: It will indeed, as debates tend to do in an election year.

Thank you so much, Brianna Keilar, at the White House.

He made less than most of his rivals, and gave less to charity. We are digging deeper into Rick Santorum's newly released tax returns.

Also, the tweets attracting attention from the Homeland Security Department, Facebook posts, too. Are your posts being watched?

Plus, Stephen Colbert suddenly and mysteriously halts production of his show. We're looking at clues as to why.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Look who I found -- Jack Cafferty here with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: There's an intro.

President Obama appears to be enjoying a bit of a perfect storm consisting of small pieces of pretty good news. It's reflected in his poll numbers with a 50 percent approval rating for the first time in more than eight months. The new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows independents who could decide the election now have a net- positive view of the president. The president's job approval is up, despite six in 10 Americans saying things are going poorly in the United States.

The same poll shows President Obama leading all the Republican candidates in hypothetical matchups, and it finds the Republicans' advantage in voter enthusiasm has been erased.

Part of the political equation that appears to be working in Mr. Obama's favor is the toll that the stubbornness of the Republicans in the House of Representatives has taken on the public's patience. By saying no to virtually everything, nothing got done. It's taken a while for them to figure it out, but they finally appear to have. This week Republicans suddenly agreed to extending the payroll tax cut without asking for correspondent spending cuts.

Of course, it's fiscally irresponsible, just more deficit spending. But when it's election time, politicians have even fewer principles than they do the rest of the year. And maybe somebody told the Republicans that if they don't at least look like they want to be part of the solution, a lot of them might be looking for work come November.

Also working in the president's fair, glimmers of economic hope -- jobless claims fall to 348,000, the lowest since 2008, and the 8.3 percent unemployment rate is the lowest in three years.

So, here's the question: Why are President Obama's poll numbers rising despite high pessimism over the country's state of affairs?

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

CROWLEY: Thanks, Jack. See you in a bit.

Life after Congress has been pretty profitable for Rick Santorum. The Republican presidential candidate has released his tax returns, showing a considerable jump in income since leaving the Senate.

Our CNN senior congressional Dana Bash is combing through Santorum's returns for us.

Dana, what are you finding out? I think it's chief congressional correspondent. I couldn't get that in right.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Candy.

Look, you remember, back in 2006, the senator made $165,200. It's not bad -- not a bad chunk of change.

CROWLEY: Six figures.

BASH: Yes, six figures.

But not that much compared to how much he's made since he's left the Senate. As with many departing senators, Santorum's defeat opened the door to financial opportunity.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): On the stump, Rick Santorum sells himself as a candidate from coal mining country, champion of the working class.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not an oil man from Texas. I'm the grandson of a coal miner.

BASH: But these days, Santorum is hardly working class. Four years of newly released tax returns show, since his 2006 defeat from the Senate, he raked in a total of $3.6 million. He made nearly $670,000 in 2007, his first year in the private sector, and nearly doubled that by 2009, earning $1.1 million.

Still, Santorum made far less than Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. In 2010, Romney's income was $21.7 million, Gingrich $3.1 million, Santorum $930,000.

Most of Santorum's income came from work for energy and health care interests, as well as media contracts -- thanks to relationships build during his decade and a half in Congress.

Romney's campaign says he cashed in as a Washington insider. He describes it this way.

SANTORUM: It's a real great opportunity to give a whole bunch of different life experiences in the private sector, and I think that's made me a better candidate coming forward here for president.

BASH: Bigger paychecks allowed Santorum to move his seven children into this big house he bought in suburban Washington. But he tries to use the purchase to connect with millions affected by the housing crisis.

SANTORUM: That house has lost 40 percent of its value. So, I had to do a lot of paying down of debt to keep my mortgages payments down and to get my head from -- in a sense suffered what a lot of people did.

BASH: With Santorum's fatter paychecks, heftier tax bills. In 2007, he paid $167,000 in federal taxes, $310,000 in 2009. His effective tax rate is between 25 percent and 28 percent. That's nearly twice the 14.5 percent Romney paid on his income from investments.

SANTORUM: I do my own taxes. Heck, Romney paid half the tax rate that I did. So, obviously, he doesn't do his own taxes. Maybe I should hire an accountant in the future.

BASH: And what about charity? Santorum gave $81,500 in charity over four years. That's 2.2 percent of his income -- far less than Romney, slightly less than Gingrich.

To be sure, with seven children, Santorum does have big expenses.

SANTORUM: Got two kids in college, and, you know, a child with a disability, and, you know, needing care.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: These tax returns were a long time coming. For more than a month, Santorum promised they were coming soon. Still, Santorum, it needs to point out, that he has now released all his taxes since being defeated from the Senate, four years worth. And that is more than his GOP competitors.

And you remember, Candy, Mitt Romney released only two years worth of income taxes. Newt Gingrich, one year. And Ron Paul hasn't released any at all, and says he doesn't intend to.

CROWLEY: And I bet he won't.

So, listen, we saw Santorum in your piece sort stuff give Romney about the perfectly legal tax rates that Romney paid, getting more income from investments. Is there anything in this that gives any of Santorum's rivals something to chew on?

BASH: Look, this plays -- it does play right into Mitt Romney's story line and the narrative that he's creating about Rick Santorum being a Washington insider. It does give him ammunition. Why? Because the kinds of things that he between, working for a health care interests, working for energy interests, those are jobs he got because of the connections he made when he was a senator.

CROWLEY: And how --

BASH: In the state of Washington, by the way --

CROWLEY: Right.

BASH: -- after he was defeated. He didn't go back to Pennsylvania. He stayed in Washington.

CROWLEY: As many of them do actually. We know that's true of Newt Gingrich as well.

I mean, listen, when you look at it, how much of these tax returns ever come into play? I mean, there's nothing kind of illegal here. We heard first sort of flurry about Mitt Romney. And then it kind of went away.

BASH: Yes, I mean, I think it's -- you can correct me if I'm wrong, because you've also covered so many campaigns, but I think it's because of all the focus on Mitt Romney and his wealth that really fueled everybody releasing them really earlier than -- to be honest -- most candidates usually do. It's usually later in the cycle.

I think with Mitt Romney, there's no question. It was a huge issue because of the fact his wealth is a big part of his persona. With Rick Santorum, maybe not so much.

CROWLEY: Not so much.

Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash -- thanks, Dana.

BASH: Thanks.

CROWLEY: The underwear bomber who tried to blow up an airliner on Christmas Day learned his fate today. How many years will he spend behind bars?

That and a video presented in court today that shows the damage he could have done. You'll see it next.

And the words the federal government tracks on the Internet. Watch what you tweet.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CROWLEY: The United Nations has just passed a resolution on the continuing slaughter of Syrians by their own government. The resolution strongly condemns the killings and demands that the Assad regime call off its forces and cease all violence.

We want to go straight to CNN's senior United Nations correspondent, Richard Roth.

Richard, it can demand -- the U.N. can demand all it wants. Is there any teeth in this, or is this just a feel-good amendment for those nations that want to condemn Syria?

RICHARD ROTH, CNN SENIOR UNITED NATIONS CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think knowing diplomacy as you do, it provides a little more gasoline on the ignition for pressure for the Syrian government. It's not going to make Assad step down, but it just shows, by the large amount of turnout in the vote here, 137 in favor, only 12 no, 17 abstentions, that the world is certainly aware of what's going on. It's not easy, as you might think, to get these countries into the general assembly during a crisis. They usually single out either Israel or a few other countries.

But to come against a member nation, like Syria, the entire Arab League opposed to Damascus at this point, it does call on the Syrians government to listen to the Arab League peace proposal with a transition of power of some sort. But, look, this is going to be, as usual with the U.N., an incremental process.

Sometimes, you get these big, killer resolutions, but it takes time. Are we on the road yet to humanitarian corridors being established with troops to protect them? The French want that. It seems a hard sell for the Russians.

You're going to have to -- it's still going to be I think days or weeks away before this resonates in any way with any action by the Syrian authorities.

CROWLEY: So, Richard, how -- you know, we know that a resolution in the Security Council did not pass because Russia and China both objected. How do they feel about this?

ROTH: The Syrian spoke inside the general assembly. And once again, they denounced Western countries for fomenting the violence, armed groups inside the country. China and Russian again in the "no" column, I believe.

I certainly saw Russia in no, and China right now is speaking and explaining its votes. Both of those nations always worry that one day, the U.N. might come after them for human rights violations. They think any resolution by the Security Council might open the door for potential military intervention in Libya.

U.S. Ambassador Rice and others scoffed at that. This resolution doesn't in any way call for military force to be used. It does call -- it does condemn Syria and says it should adopt this peace plan and let the outside world in to help the people of Syria. Stop attacking your own citizens is what the world message is to the Syrian government tonight, inside the general assembly hall.

CROWLEY: Is there anything else that the U.N. could do, either in the general assembly or -- certainly not in the Security Council if you're getting no's on just the resolution on condemnation. Is there anything else that the general assembly could do to try to further pressure the Syrian government?

ROTH: Well, they are talking about a sending of an envoy in this resolution I think. That may not really accomplish much. As I mention briefly, the humanitarian corridor. Sometimes the country will vote no on an issue, but it would vote yes in favor of something to help the people, a humanitarian gesture.

So, to help establish either corridors or to reach people who are suffering in this crisis, that may be some compromise. The French and the Russians talked about it in Europe, but Russia has been a staunch supporter of Syria, said no on this resolution, no veto power in the assembly hall.

They always can come up with some mechanisms. But sometimes, as you know, the evens on the ground supersede things. The NATO attacks eventually force Gadhafi out. There's no plan to do something similar. As you know, James Clapper, I believe, national intelligence chief, today saying the only way Assad is going to go is by something that looks like a coup.

CROWLEY: Richard Roth at the U.N. for us -- as always, thank you so much, Richard.

We now want to go to Beirut. That's where we find Nick Paton Walsh, our correspondent there.

Nick, tell me what is -- as much as you know, I know how difficult it is to get into Syria. Tell me as much as you know about what went on, on the ground there today.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this crackdown has continued. In Homs, yes, more people have died. I think one incident that stood out to me was in the north of the country where 19 bodies were found apparently of people who were executed according to activist groups as they tried to flee towards Turkey, but were intercepted by Syrian armed forces.

Once again, Homs under a heavy onslaught, we hear intense artillery recently in the last few hours or so. So clearly all this debate in New York, this consistent talk about what could be done about what is happening should be condemned has had very little impact on the ground in terms of slowing violence.

We've been speaking recently to people who've actually just emerged from a town called Zabadani directly east from here describing -- not particularly well reported crackdown in the past 10 days.

How the army has swept into that town, made multiple arrests pushing out militants into the hills around it. So I think for all the talk happening across the Atlantic, we're not seeing any real sign that the Bashar Al-Assad regime thinks it needs to take anything slowly at all.

CROWLEY: Right, I mean, you know, I don't know if you heard, but Richard Roth was talking to us from the U.N. after that resolution was passed by the general assembly. It strongly condemns Bashar Al-Assad.

It moves on to say you've got to open up some humanitarian places so we can get some aid through. How vulnerable is the Syrian president to this kind of pressure?

Because clearly that's all it is intended to do. There are not teeth there. Is it at all vulnerable when you find that overwhelmingly the number of nations the U.N. voted to this kind of condemnation?

WALSH: There are two things that bear in mind. He didn't really flinch during the last vote. He was diplomatically (inaudible) by Russia and China who vetoed it. That was the one that could have been legally binding.

That could have really put the screws on, but with something like this, yes, it doesn't immediately have a practical impact overnight, but it is deeply symbolic. It might have an impact on those people in his inner circle wondering how the next few months will play out.

There's no obvious sign that the military is wavering or defecting in large numbers, but certainly if there's such a broad global condemnation like this, however fuzzy the diplomacy ahead of it has actually been.

It might make some people begin to reconsider their position, perhaps, particularly when you hear someone like Ban Ki-moon, U.N. secretary-general talk about what he believes to be almost certainly war crimes having been committed by the Syrian military on the ground.

Strong statements indeed for a man in his position. So yes, the pressure is mounting. It doesn't seem to be having a practical impact on the ground at all in terms of what's happening as the crackdown is continuing unabatedly.

But it what it might be doing is perhaps playing upon the psyche perhaps of some people in the inner circle wondering what the year ahead might hold for them.

CROWLEY: Nick, something that happened today here in Washington also caught our attention, from the president's top national security guy who talked about Assad and said in essence that he had daddy issues.

That he's not going to step down, because he wants to be as tough and as strong as his father. I just wanted you to comment on that for a second.

WALSH: The timing is interesting. I mean, the crackdown is pretty much 30 years to the date in which his father launched a similar crackdown in Hama. Yes, there is a certain amount of that certainly and I think it's fair to say there may be a different generation, but so much of their inept power circle is inherited.

So much of his father's legacy clearly surrounds him. I think also somebody in his position, when you hear, as we said earlier, things like war crimes being talked about, crimes against humanity, discussion to whether there should be some future prosecution for what's been happening over the months ahead.

It does have potentially the ability to steal the mindset of those people around him. They don't have a particularly favorable- looking future. Would they choose to leave voluntary, they might be digging in for the long haul.

Certainly at this point in time, this well-equipped Russian- supplied military surrounding Homs and moving into many other cities around the country doesn't really look like it's faltering at all.

CROWLEY: Nick Paton Walsh monitoring things going on in Syria for us. Thank you so much for all your knowledge.

We want to read to our viewers, this is coming from our Ambassador Susan Rice to the U.N. that is the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. who has put out a statement in the wake of this vote, an overwhelming vote by the U.N. General Assembly to condemn what is going on in Syria.

And she said in part, today the U.N. General Assembly sent a clear message to the people of Syria, the world is with you, and overwhelming majority of U.N. member states have backed the plan, put forward by the Arab League to end the suffering of Syrians.

Bashar Al-Assad being the president of Syria has never been more isolated. A rapid transition to democracy in Syria has garnered the resounding support of the international community, change must now come.

Again, this is from Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Clearly using this U.N. General Assembly vote to say, this is serious now. The entire world is against what you're doing. Of course, the U.S. has repeatedly through various officials called for Assad to step down.

He has not, obviously, as yet done that. So the truth is this is another way to try to publicly pressure the president of Syria to step down or to back off from the slaughter of his own people, but it is also interesting in this statement a clear message to the people of Syria.

We've seen so many of these heartfelt and heart wrenching pleas by YouTube and elsewhere some of the reporters have been able to get in. They're saying help us. We need medical supplies. We need some help from the outside world.

So clearly the U.S. would also like the people of Syria who are fighting their government to know that the world is with them according to this just passed resolution in the U.N. General Assembly. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: The Obama administration's foray into contraceptive coverage by health insurance companies has not been well received by Catholic leaders, Republicans on Capitol Hill or the majority of Americans.

A new CNN/Opinion Research poll finds that 50 percent of Americans disapprove of the president's policy on health insurance, and contraceptive services for women. Look at how Americans feel about birth control in general. Only a small fraction of Americans and American Catholics think it's wrong to use birth control.

We want to break down these numbers in today's "Strategy Session. Rich Galen, Republican consultant and Donna Brazile who needs no introduction, but nonetheless, a Democrat, just in case you didn't know that.

I find these polls fascinating because I think that now the issue has nothing with contraception and everything to do with the government and religion.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I agree with you and you know, we've heard from politicians. We've heard from all our religious leaders, but we really should hear from public health experts.

Because this is not only an issue of birth control, this is about preventing things like ovarian cancer, ovarian cyst, endometriosis treat that.

So I think it's time that we hear from public health experts and not politicians on something as fundamental as saving women's lives.

CROWLEY: -- heard from them prior to the president making this decision so --

RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: From a strategy standpoint -- I don't disagree with anything you are saying at all, but from a strategy standpoint, this was handled with the delicacy of a sledgehammer out of the White House.

This is a policy that was adopted last year, they tinkered, tinkered, tinkered, came out with it in January and added some of the things that got everybody -- the original thing was they were going to give some of these groups an extra year to sort out how they wanted to work on it.

And then they said no, everybody has to be covered by the end of January. That's what caused this whole thing to happen. There wasn't any level of sophistication it seems to me.

CROWLEY: On the pure politicians of it, let's look at that. If you got 50 percent of the public saying, I disagree with the president's policy. Does this have staying power? Is this something people will vote on come November or is this just a great issue for the cores of both parties?

BRAZILE: Especially for the people who would like to call this a war on religion. This is a war on women's health. This is a war on the women having the full range of access to reproductive health care.

Look, nobody is arguing about Viagra being covered and certainly health care plans. We're arguing about women having access to these plans.

You know, I've seen other polls that say the majority of Catholic women support this. I've seen polls that say the majority of Americans support this.

CROWLEY: Is there anything in you that just a little uneasy with the federal government saying to a Catholic entity -- not the church, but a Catholic-run hospital or Catholic-run charity, you have to cover --

BRAZILE: There are so many exemption clauses. As you know 28 states now allow for this. The vast majority of Americans have access to preventative coverage with their health care plan, including those who are at Catholic or Jesuit institutions.

They have the exemption. They have one year. Look, this is a fight between, you know, the Catholic Church and the Obama administration, you're not going to win because the Catholic Church will never relent on this issue.

This goes back to Genesis 38-10. I often tell people as a Catholic growing up. My mother used to echo the priests, sex is for procreation, not recreation.

GALEN: To your question, Candy, I don't think this moves any votes. What it does do is enhances the excitement about the whole thing.

CROWLEY: Right.

GALEN: So I think and I frankly think that's what may have caused Santorum to win Colorado. This decision came down just days before that -- there are three states, and suddenly people in his base were energized to come out.

So I think from a strategy standpoint, because nobody is changing their mind about this. Everybody pretty much knows where they stand.

CROWLEY: You're right, there's no question. The cultural war is on the right will love this issue because they won't have the economy to talk about unless we're knocking on glass and everything else. The economy is going well for the American people, but this is a cultural war something to talk about along with same-sex marriage.

BRAZILE: Doesn't it give Democrats something to talk about with women. CROWLEY: But not just with women, the majority of Americans support having birth control and other contraceptives.

GALEN: The very famous Bucks County, Montgomery County, those kinds of voters just west of Philadelphia. They're sort of everybody's test case for moderates, independents that's where this might show up.

CROWLEY: Is there time do you think for the administration to clean this up or no need? They just need to step back and let it go?

BRAZILE: As I said, I don't believe you'll find any accommodation with the Catholic Church or any other religious institution because this is not a war on religion.

This is about women's health, making sure that women have the full range of reproductive health. I wish we could have a public conversation about that, not what I call these side issues that every American -- Rich and I agree by age 12, we have a position on gay marriage, a position on abortion and we're not going to change each other at this hour.

CROWLEY: You have 15 seconds here.

GALEN: I think this will pass. This will go over, something overseas, Iran, Egypt, Syria, unemployment, something else will bubble up and this will --

BRAZILE: And there is that Bayer aspirin, though?

CROWLEY: Rich Galen, Donna Brazile, thank you both so much.

It is not just your friends add followers see what you post online. Certain words could be drawing attention of the Department of Homeland Security too. Find out what they are next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: You probably don't know it, but the Homeland Security Department is watching what you say and what you see online. What exactly are they looking for and how do they do it?

Our CNN Aviation and Regulation correspondent, Lizzie O'Leary has the answers here. I tweeted about this a little and was amazed at the reaction to this because it seems even though it's a public place on the internet, is seems invasive somehow.

LIZZIE O'LEARY, CNN AVIATION AND REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: People think they're protected by the flood of information that's out there, but they're not. For example, the department can know that you were on a plane with a crack in the door on January 22nd.

That Wolf is on vacation, helped a woman put her bag in an overhead compartment, and you tweeted about this story at 1:00. All of that can be watched.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) O'LEARY (voice-over): When Gabrielle Giffords was shot, when oil washed up on Louisiana beaches, the government wasn't just getting information from its own sources, but from you on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Flicker, anything that can be seen publicly.

The online privacy group, Epic sued to get the Department of Homeland Security's contract with the company, General Dynamics that does the monitoring. They get $11 million to sift through social media. They are looking terrorists attack, tornado, Homeland Security.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Some of the more -- a little more unusual, strain, animals, human, the virus, those sorts of things are very broad and would likely pull in a lot of information that's not necessarily related to Homeland Security

O'LEARY: It can be as simple as using the free program tweet deck, which let you sort by topic. It's hardly a perfect science. This memo shows contractors for sending out to reports to DHS when they came across the word terrorism.

We don't need to any longer, a supervisor wrote, unless this is connected to the United States. But what if your tweet was a complaint about the TSA or FEMA? Under the contract terms that could be monitored too including both positive and negative reports.

Congress is worried about the leap from information gathering to stifling dissent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Help us understand what you are doing to assure that individual communication is not leading to individuals being identified by the government and what you are doing to assure that we are not creating a chilling effect.

O'LEARY: DHS says it's not the who they're focused, but the what and they say that's all General Dynamics should be looking for.

(on camera): So who does tell the analyst who are collecting information what to do?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Again, they have guidelines on what they're looking for and again, the privacy office does certainly puts in there.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'LEARY: The department says it doesn't collect identifying information for private individuals and if they get some by mistake, it's supposed to be scrubbed out, but we actually found one name on some of these documents that Epic sued for.

A person who customs is trying to look out, trying to look at their immigration status so really the idea here is -- there's something you don't want the government seeing, don't tweet it, don't put it out there. CROWLEY: Which is what we say is something you don't want anyone to see, don't put it out there. Listen, I get a lot of responses going, tornado? It's because Homeland Security -- but it has a broader mandate.

O'LEARY: Broader mandate, disaster responses, FEMA, they say one of the things they do is interact with first responders. So if you see a lot of reports about a tornado, that helps them then look at where the geographical area that is that's coming from. Maybe if someone is stranded there, actually to send someone to help them.

CROWLEY: And you probably get a pretty good idea of how big the problem is. You can tweet from everywhere -- not everybody. My mother doesn't. Thanks so much. It's good to see you. Welcome. I haven't had a chance to say that.

O'LEARY: Thank you.

CROWLEY: General Motors is reporting its largest profit ever, $7.6 billion. That's just two years after the nation's largest automaker emerged from bankruptcy with the help of a federal bailout.

CNN's Erin Burnett will go in depth tonight on "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" at 7:00 Eastern. She joins us with a preview. Wow, Erin, I think this is going to strike a lot of people as amazing. Tell me the truth behind these numbers?

ERIN BURNETT, HOST, CNN'S "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT": All right, so it's true what you said. You had a very -- the year all end for GM was good, and as you said, two years ago, the company was about to die, and go extinct if not for the bailout.

Now obviously the politics of bailouts are just that very political, but when you look in the number, Candy, I can tell you something that's actually pretty interesting.

You look at, General Motors, this is the best since 1997 was the last year where they were close to this strong. That's pretty amazing we're back to where we were 15 years ago. It just gives a way of saying we have a long, long way to go.

General Motors in Europe is doing terribly, 12 years of losses. In the fourth quarter of last year, things really deteriorated. So that whole-year number was good, but it was because of what happened earlier in the year, not later.

And all in, it was not as strong as analysts expected. So your headline right, but the nitty-gritty for GM is not nearly as positive. And Candy, one crucial thing, when you talk about bailouts, as part of General Motors coming out of bankruptcy and going in trading on the stock market again, U.S. taxpayers, because they bailed it out got a stake.

We own, you, me, everyone watching, 32 percent of General Motors. That stock today right now around $27.20 a share. Candy, the magic number for American taxpayers to be made whole is somewhere around $59 to $60 a share.

That goes to show you General Motors has a long, long, long way to go and probably more restructuring before it is truly whole again.

CROWLEY: Lots more with Erin Burnett tonight on "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT," 7:00 Eastern. Thanks, Erin.

Sentencing for the terrorist nicknamed the underwear bomber. We have just received the dramatic video used in court.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Jack is back again with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Candy, the question is, why are President Obama's poll numbers rising despite high pessimism about the country's state of affairs?

Al in Lawrence, Kansas writes, "There are four reasons -- Mitt, Rick, Newt and Ron." Tom in New York says, "Obama's poll numbers are rising because any good news is better than bad news any day.

As long as things are going positive, Obama cannot lose and the Republicans know it. But they've painted themselves into a just say no corner. So anything they do from here on out has to be positive or they will alienate the voters."

Burt in Los Angeles, "Hi, Jack. The swing voters reacting to the GOP field of mud-slinging cannibal candidates, but rather than saying anything but Romney, as a lot of Republicans are saying, these people are saying anybody but a Republican."

James in Virginia writes, "His numbers are going up because many including myself believe he's really trying to do what's best for the country and congress is the issue, plus but let's not forget the GOP candidates are awful."

Charity writes, "The economy is in important we all agree. What's disturbing is the exclusionary attitudes of the Republican candidates toward the basic freedoms of our society. If you don't believe in pro-choice, gay marriage or birth control pills, then don't take them. It amazes me how an entire party can say shrink government from people's lives and turn around and shove their personal beliefs down everyone's thoughts."

My favorite is this -- Dan writes, "It's simple, Jack, you have one guy who ties his dog to the roof of his car, another guy who thinks contraception is a sin, a third guy wants to end the military, and a guy who wanted two wives, and he wasn't even the Mormon. Anybody who isn't in that group would have rising poll numbers."

If you want to read more about this, we have some pretty clever stuff. Go to the blog, cnn.com/caffertyfile or to our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Thanks, Jack. Love your viewers. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM, happening now, a powerful explosion showing what could have happened if the so-called underwear bomber had been successful.

This hour, dramatic video, and a convicted terrorist sentenced. Plus an exclusive look at a region in open revolt against the Syrian government.

In the midst of the carnage and chaos, new evidence that al Qaeda terrorists are stepping into the void.

And does Whitney Houston deserve an honor usually reserve for statesmen and war heroes? We're following the backlash in New Jersey.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world breaking news, political headlines and Jeannie Moos are straight ahead.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Candy Crowley. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.