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Ice Storm Hits Millions, Knocks Out Power; George W. Bush to Visit South Africa with President Obama; South Africa Prepares for Historic Event; Interview with Bill Clinton

Aired December 6, 2013 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: And a big jump in jobs -- does President Obama deserve credit for improving the U.S. economy after a surprisingly strong employment report?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A 10 day mourning period is underway for one of the most influential leaders of our time. We're learning more about the final tributes to Nelson Mandela. Stand by for that and for my special conversation with the former president, Bill Clinton. He reveals a time when he and the South African president didn't see eye to eye.

But first, the breaking news we're following.

But first, a brutal winter storm turns deadly. At least four people have been killed on icy roads in the Southern US.

We're seeing a dangerous mix of snow, sleet, freezing rain and bone- chilling cold. And it's creating hazardous conditions from Texas to Tennessee and beyond. And now, a one-two punch of weather misery is on the way, affecting both coasts from now through Monday.

We have team coverage, beginning with our meteorologist, Jennifer Gray at the CNN Weather Center -- Jennifer, what's going on?

JENNIFER GRAY, ATS METEOROLOGIST:

Well, Wolf, we are getting that one-two punch. We have this one system that's continuing to push to the east and then we have another system right on its heels.

The good news is we are seeing that freezing rain, sleet moving out of places like Little Rock, Memphis, Dallas. It is pushing up to the north and east. But if you can see that little line of freezing rain and sleet, that is continuing to get narrower. So that means we are seeing improving conditions, as far as that goes, across the Ohio Valley. We're still seeing a lot of snow, though, and, also, rain to its south.

This is going to push into the Northeast during the overnight tonight, losing a little bit of its punch. But it still will carry very cold temperatures. New York getting rain, as well as Boston, in the next couple of hours.

We still have those watches and warnings all across portions of the country, moving into the East.

And this is just the first wave. We have very cold temperatures across the north. Twelve degrees below zero in Great Falls, three below in Bismarck. And as this system moves out for tonight, we'll have a little bit of a break on Saturday. But then the next system already on its heels. And this is going to cause possibly freezing rain and snow for places like DC. And because of that, we already have an advisory in place for Sunday.

Washington could pick up anywhere from one to two inches of snow, as well as some freezing rain in the coming days -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll try to get ready for that. Jennifer, thanks very much.

Let's go to Tennessee, where a weather state of emergency is now in effect. The City of Memphis ready for the worst.

CNN's Ted Rowlands is on the scene for us.

How is it going over there -- ted?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's pretty miserable here. The sleet/ice/rain has been falling for the last few hours here in Memphis. Most people staying in, staying off the roads. Arkansas very bad all day long, worse than here in Tennessee, for the most part. We drove there during the day. And I can tell you, it was pretty hairy on the roadways. People taking it very slow. We saw a lot of people spun out on the side of the road.

There, too, we saw a lot of ice on power lines and on trees. One individual was killed in Arkansas when a tree saddled with ice fell into his home.

The bottom line here, Wolf, people are being told to stay in and stay off the roads. It is messy and expected to be messy throughout this evening.

BLITZER: It's going to be a tough situation over there.

Ted, thanks.

It's been colder in Texas today than parts of Alaska. The Dallas Marathon has now been canceled, along with a holiday parade.

Let's go to Dallas.

Ed Lavandera is on the scene for us there and he's ready to update us.

How's it doing -- how is going over there -- Ed?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Wolf. At least the good news is that freezing rain and sleet has stopped and let up. But, you know, less than -- a little more than 24 hours ago, this was a glorious scene here at this park in downtown Dallas, where there were 80 -- it was 80 degrees.

But that has changed dramatically, as a blanket of ice has really covered the entire region, causing all sorts of problems. Roadways are a mess. I understand Interstate 35, the bridge between Texas and Oklahoma has been shut down, causing a two-and-a-half mile backup on the Texas side. So that is something we're monitoring closely, as well.

But schools and businesses throughout the region have been canceled for the day. And as you mentioned, the marathon, which was supposed to have been run on Sunday has been canceled for the first time in its history. And the big holiday parade which was supposed to take place Saturday, tomorrow, that has also been canceled for the first time in its history.

So, you know, a treacherous weekend here. And really, people are kind of bracing for a long weekend, because as temperatures will not get above freezing for some time, that will make it very difficult for the ice, if not impossible, for the ice to melt away and make the roadways a lot safer.

I spent a lot of time on the roads today. It was slushy. But with those freezing temperatures getting worse tonight, that could ice up, as well, and cause more problems for drivers later on today and into tomorrow -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And everybody has got to be really, really careful in the coming days.

Ed, thanks very much.

Up next, the former president, Bill Clinton, shares one of the most unforgettable things Nelson Mandela ever said to him. Stand by for my interview with the former president.

Plus, we're learning about some of President Obama's special guests who will travel with him to South Africa to honor Nelson Mandela. We're going to tell you who that is and more in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: CNN has learned the former president, George W. Bush, and the former first lady, Laura Bush, will accompany President Obama on Air Force One to attend Nelson Mandela's memorial services next week. Bill Clinton tells me he and his family also will be attending. George H.W. Bush will not be making the trip due to his age and the long, long distance.

Our correspondents in South Africa are also learning more about the upcoming historic events.

CNN's Robyn Curnow is joining us now from Johannesburg. CNN's Errol Barnett is joining us from Mandela's home in the town of Soweto.

Let's go to Robyn first -- it's early morning there now. Crowds have been out -- Robyn. They're been out nonstop celebrating the life of Nelson Mandela.

What's going on?

How long do we expect this to last?

ROBYN CURNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's almost 24 hours since this nation heard that Nelson Mandela had passed away. We are standing right outside the house where he died late Thursday. People have been coming to this suburban street since then. You can hear them now singing behind me, Wolf. And they've been chanting, praying, lamenting, celebrating in song throughout the day. And they have been singing some very poignant songs. One particular over and over again, "Mandela, Mandela, ungowetu (ph), you are ours."

And I said to somebody, what do you mean?

And they said, no, it's a song we always used to sing, where we claim Mandela.

And there is a sense of this nation still claiming him. He's gone, but there's a deep, deep sense that he belongs to everyone around us.

So this, Wolf, will continue for the next 10 days until he's buried. But I think deep in their hearts, this kind of praise, this kind of longing for that man, will never go away.

BLITZER: It certainly won't.

What can you tell us, Robyn, about the country's plans in the coming days, to memorialize Nelson Mandela?

CURNOW: Well, it's a 10 day schedule, essentially, starting from today. The main funeral and burial is next Sunday, in 10 days' time. Now, there might be some confusion because there are actually two main events.

There is a memorial service here in Johannesburg at a big soccer stadium, at a big football stadium where the World Cup football was held. So it's a big modern piece of architecture, an open celebration.

Now, we think that's where President Obama and President Bush will be going. I know that from a security point of view, and, also, just from a logistical point of view, a lot of the heads of state might try to go to that event, which will be held here in Johannesburg. It's easier to get in and out of.

The main stage funeral will be held in this very rural remote area of Qunu, Mandela's ancestral village. And I mean I've been there and it's difficult for us, as a reporting team, often, to go there when there's nothing going on. It's barely accessible by one road.

So I think the fact that thousands of dignitaries, including dozens of heads of state, are going to be flying into this very secluded area to celebrate his life, literally under a large tent in the hills of rural South Africa, I mean from a logistical and security point of view, potentially a nightmare, but also, what a fitting tribute to a man who started off as a young barefoot herds boy and went on to lead a nation. And, of course, it's that sense of full circle. He wanted to be buried in those hills around Qunu. So his family said, well, then, this is where we're going to have the funeral.

So very unusual. We're going to see one of the largest state funerals of our time in one of the most rural areas of South Africa.

BLITZER: It's going to be an amazing event over these next several days.

Robyn, thanks very much.

Let's go to Soweto right now.

Our own Errol Barnett is on the scene for us.

Tell us about the mood on the ground there -- Errol.

ERROL BARNETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, if Mandela's Houghton home represents where the president and icon lived, Soweto represents where Nelson Mandela, the average man, lived.

Just behind me, behind the cheering and singing crowds, is where Nelson Mandela lived in the 1940s and '50s during the apartheid era. Soweto was a southwestern township where black South Africans were forced to live, typically in poor and squalid conditions.

And Nelson Mandela, even though he had a law degree and was quite privileged with his family background, chose to live here, side by side, shoulder to shoulder, with other black South Africans who were also struggling through the ills of apartheid.

Now, behind me, you are hearing some of the similar statements you'll hear that Robyn has been hearing outside of Nelson Mandela's Houghton home, songs from the struggle, songs in honor of Nelson Mandela. And, in a way, what people are doing here is thanking Madiba, as he's commonly called, for helping elevate many poor black South Africans into the middle class by ushering in democracy and, of course, becoming the country's first democratically elected president.

On this street today, you'll find restaurants, you'll find bars, you'll find middle class South Africans spending their disposable income in a place where it wouldn't have been possible decades ago. And, indeed, this will also be the location of the first official memorial service for Nelson Mandela on Tuesday, at FNB Stadium, which is also significant because it was the last location Nelson Mandela made an appearance in public, during the closing ceremonies for the World Cup. So, as is true in many other locations in the country, these celebrations will continue. It's just day one of ten days of a country thanking one man for bringing transformative change to millions.

BLITZER: It's after midnight already there and there are still a lot of folks. Are the crowds getting bigger? Are they getting smaller? And what about security, Errol?

BARNETT: These crowds are growing as people come and go. There are crowds going up and down the street, as you can hear behind me, singing. But as far as security, the atmosphere is jovial. I mean, this morning, I was in Zimbabwe on assignment for CNN and I broke the news to people there about the passing of Nelson Mandela and they were visibly saddened. One thing we have to keep in mind is that for South Africans and Africans all over the continent, he represents an elevation of their standard.

Many say that Nelson Mandela brought dignity and pride to the plight of Black Africans at the hands of colonialists. So, his ability to bring people together and to make them feel good and confident and hopeful about themselves is something that really goes beyond South Africa's borders and is seen all over the continent.

I mean, I've been in 21 African countries in the past two years for CNN, and I can tell you whether it's West Africa, North Africa, east or south, there is no any other person more revered and loved than Nelson Mandela. So, people are showing their respect here. It is getting a bit rowdy as we approach midnight on a Friday night, as we pass that now, but South Africans are truly here to say thanks and they'll continue to do so here over the next nine days.

BLITZER: They certainly will. Errol, stand by. Robyn, I know you're still with us. What about security elsewhere, Johannesburg, where all these world leaders you point out, they're coming? This is going to be a massive security headache potentially for South African authorities.

ROBYN CURNOW, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I suppose it depends who you ask. I mean, first and foremost, this entire arrangement, Nelson Mandela's funeral, in fact, all of his health leading up to his death yesterday, has been managed by the military. So, this is essentially a military exercise and we're going to be seeing that specifically at that state funeral next Saturday. We know there's going to be some sort of military seclusion zone. Of course, there's going to be a no-fly zone over the area.

I think there's going to be a lot of questions asked in how all these heads of state are going to be flown in and then out of this small Mthatha Airport, and of course, keeping them safe on the ground. I think all these different security teams are going to have to coordinate with each other and the South Africans. You know, and I think there's going to be a lot of discussion behind the scenes on how this is going to work.

Whether or not Barack Obama, the U.S. president, goes because of course, his security detail is the biggest of them all. But it doesn't matter, even on the day five memorial service in Johannesburg and Soweto which we expect President Obama to go to, and other heads of state, that also potentially could be a logistical problem because under South African tradition, nobody can be invited to a funeral.

Everybody is welcome. So, you're going to be seeing no tickets issued for the standing or seats in the stadium. I mean, anybody can arrive to come and pay their tribute to Mandela at both the memorial and the funeral. So, there is going to be, I think, the biggest challenge is going to be the sheer number of people who are going to be flocking to try and either be close to his casket, to his body, or who just be want to be part of the proceedings.

And of course, they're not going to be just jostling for space with fellow South Africans, but also, with the rest of the world.

BLITZER: They certainly will be. Robyn Curnow, thanks to you. Errol Barnett who's in Soweto, thanks for your report as well.

Coming up, Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela and Cuban rum. The former president shares some funny and moving stories about the man he calls a loyal friend.

And the actor, Terrence Howard, played Nelson Mandela on film. He'll join us with his unique take on Mandela's evolution from revolutionary to prisoner to president.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're hearing many world leaders remember Nelson Mandela with great fondness and great respect, but few knew him as well as Bill Clinton.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

And joining us now, the former president of the United States, Bill Clinton. Mr. President, thanks very much for sharing some thoughts on this special day.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm glad to do it, Wolf.

BLITZER: What was it like the first time you met Nelson Mandela?

CLINTON: Well, I was excited. I felt almost like I was 20 years old again. It was at the democratic convention in New York. I was about to be nominated for president and former mayor, David Dinkins, who is a long-time supporter of Mandela's, brought him up to our room where he met with Hillary, Chelsea, and me. And, we hit it off right away.

He was there really because he was an incredibly loyal person to anyone who supported him and the ANC during his long imprisonment, and Democrats had supported sanctions on South Africa so he wanted to be there. He wanted to be at our convention. He later came to the inauguration. And then Hillary and Vice President Gore led a delegation to his inauguration in 1994, and just five months later, he came to the United States on a state visit.

And that's when we really started becoming friends and I had the honor of working with him throughout the entire span of his presidency. And one of the things that sometimes gets lost in the incredible personal impact he made on the world because of the way he handled imprisonment and conducted himself later is that he was a very, very good president. I think he was an extremely effective president of South Africa.

BLITZER: I remember when you and Hillary Clinton and the first lady toured that Robben Island cell where he had spent so many years back in 1998. What was that like?

CLINTON: Well, it was amazing. You know, he talked to me about it and I'll never forget, one of the most enduring conversations I had with him over the many we had in our 20-year friendship was, I said "You know, I know how you came out of prison, but how did you get there? How did you come out a bigger man than you went in? Didn't you feel full of rage when they sent you to prison?"

He said "yes." He said "I was young and strong and I had been a boxer, and he said "lived on my hatred for 11 years." And I remember it very clearly, he said "I was breaking rocks about 11 years into my prison term and I realized they had already taken so much from me. I had been physically and mentally abused. I had been deprived of seeing my children grow up. It ultimately destroyed my marriage."

He said "I realized they could take every single thing away from me except my mind and my heart. Those things, I would have to give them. And I decided not to give them away." And he looked at me and smiled, he said, "neither should you." I'll never forget it as long as I live.

BLITZER: An amazing man, indeed. Rick Stengel, the former managing editor of "Time" magazine, he told me that you -- the two of you seemed to have almost a father/son relationship, that he would give you spiritual counseling, advice. Is that accurate?

CLINTON: In a way. He certainly gave me -- he gave me a lot of help. You know, he -- when Congress gave him the gold medal when they were trying to run me out of office, he called me one day and he said "now," he said, "I'm the president of South Africa. I must accept this award, but I am not a fool and I know what the timing is."

So, he said, "Here's what we're going to do. I'm coming a day early and you're going to organize an event for me in the White House and I will say exactly what I think. And he proceeded to do it. He was that kind of guy. We had a genuine friendship. I mean, he thought it was wrong and he thought it was bad for America, bad for the world, and he came here and said it.

And he managed to be an inclusive figure while never giving up his right to take a stand, including in some of the relatively few disagreements we had.

BLITZER: You did have a few disagreements. I remember when I met with him the day after your tour of Robben Island, he referred to Cuba, for example. He had a very good relationship with Fidel Castro. That would come up in your conversations with him from time to time.

CLINTON: Oh, absolutely. Sometimes, he would be very serious and say "I just don't understand why you don't lift the embargo." And I said, "Well, I think we were about to do it before they shot down those planes illegally and the brothers to the rescue tragedy, and then Congress removed from the president the right to lift the embargo."

And sometimes he was just joking about it, but underneath all that, there was Mandela's fierce loyalty to anybody who had stuck by him personally and by the ANC, the African National Congress, his party, during his long 27 years imprisonment, and Castro did. And Mandela never forgot it. One of the -- you know, I used to go there, as you know, every year around his birthday.

I've been to South Africa nine or ten times since I left office. And most of the trips were around his birthday. And once I was there with the American delegation and we wanted to support his foundation and while I was there, they were having a dinner and an auction, and Cyril Ramaphosa was there and several others friends of mine.

I believe it was Cyril. He said, "now, the next item you have to bid on, not the Americans, you personally." So, it was a very expensive old bottle of Cuban rum that Castro had sent him for an auction item in a beautiful box. And I bid on it, won the bid, and then I realized I couldn't bring it home to America because of the embargo, so I had to give it away before I left the country.

But I saw Mandela the next day again and he said "did you really buy the Cuban rum?" He said, "Castro will love that."

(LAUGHTER)

CLINTON: It was very funny. But he was very serious. Castro stuck with him and he stuck with Castro.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Still ahead, much more of my interview with the former president, Bill Clinton. I'll talk to him about some of the dark days of impeachment and I'll ask him how Nelson Mandela's advice helped him get through some of those dark days. The former president, very candid on this score.

Also, before Mandela was widely beloved around the world, he was also branded by some as an actual terrorist. We're going to talk about his politics and how he should be remembered. The actor, Terrence Howard, is standing by to join us. He got into Mandela's head when he played him in the movies.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Nelson Mandela's advice helped him get through some of those dark days. The former president, very candid on this score. Also, before Mandela was widely beloved around the world, he was also branded by some as an actual terrorist. We are going to talk about his politics and how he should be remembered.

The actor Terrence Howard is standing by to join us. He got into Mandela's head when he played him in the movies.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This system is getting stronger by the day. And they've got guns.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Nelson Mandela's widely viewed as an icon and a hero who fought his oppressors, and then forgave them. But some are remembering the early days of his battle against Apartheid when he was branded as a terrorist.

Let's talk about his politics, his legacy, with three guests who have unique perspectives.

Joining us, the actor Terrence Howard. He's on the phone. We'll talk to him in a moment. He played Mandela in a movie about his former wife, Winnie.

Also, Peter Beinart is joining us. He's the senior political writer from "The Daily Beast." His parents were immigrants to the United States from South Africa.

Also with us, CNN political commentator, the Republican strategist, Ana Navarro.

And, Peter, I'll start with you because you wrote a very compelling article. And I'll put a line up on the screen because I want you to explain to our viewers what you meant.

"As with Dr. Martin Luther King, it is this subversive aspect of Mandela's legacy that is most in danger of being erased as he enters America's pantheon of sanitized moral icons, but it is precisely the aspect that Americans most badly need."

All right. So tell us what's being left out of Nelson Mandela's story today.

PETER BEINART, SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER, THE DAILY BEAST: What's being left out is that for most of Mandela's life as an activist against Apartheid, the United States government was supportive of South Africa's Apartheid regime because they were our allies in the Cold War. And we have been taught since the Cold War by politicians that said it again and again that the Cold War was simply a struggle for freedom in which we were on the side of the angels and the Soviet Union was on the side of evil. The Soviet Union was an evil regime but there is another story of the Cold War, a story that Mandela's life shows, that Americans don't like to talk about that much. And those are all of the moments during the Cold War where, in the name of anti-communism, we supported brutally oppressive regimes and -- and stood against freedom fighters like Nelson Mandela.

BLITZER: Ana, you lived in Miami. You have a unique perspective because you remember when Nelson Mandela was freed from Robben Island and he came to Miami. What happened?

ANA NAVARRO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I was 18 years old. I was a senior in high school and it was a big, big deal in Miami that Nelson Mandela was coming. It was 1990 just a few months afterwards. But about a week before he was scheduled to come, he did an interview where he declared his friendship, as Bill Clinton just said, his absolute loyalty to those who stood with him and Fidel Castro, Gadhafi had stood with him, so he declared his friendship with Castro.

And as you can imagine, Wolf, that was a very difficult thing for Cuban Americans and it ended up there being protests. It then turned into a boycott by the African-American community because they felt Mandela had been snubbed and it opened up economic opportunities at the end after a settlement with the African-American community.

BLITZER: You remember that vividly.

Terrence, you played Nelson Mandela in the film, "Winnie Mandela." I want to play a clip from you. This is an interview that Nelson Mandela gave to CNN back in the year 2000 talking about his so-called terrorist status. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NELSON MANDELA, FORMER SOUTH AFRICAN PRESIDENT: I was called a terrorist yesterday but then I came out of there, many people embraced me, including my enemies, and that is what I normally tell other people who say those who are struggling for liberation in their country are terrorists. I tell them that I was also a terrorist yesterday but today I'm honored by the very people who said I was one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Terrence, you had to play him on the big screen. You really had to get into his head. Talk a little bit about what you learned about Nelson Mandela during that experience.

TERRENCE HOWARD, ACTOR: Well, one of the things that touched me most was his trial. During his trial, he actually gave three hours of testimony where he spoke in detail about -- he said (INAUDIBLE), I now wish to turn to the question of guerrilla warfare and why it was necessary in a foreign country to carry out those things.

And he spoke about thousands of atrocities that had taken place over 60, 70 years to where there was nothing left for the South Africans to do but to defend themselves by whatever means they had, even though that was against his nature.

It broke my heart to see such a gentle man have to turn to what we consider barbaric acts but when you're defending your family, when your family are just being killed without any conscience, and when the United States turns its back, when Reagan turned his back, when everyone turns their back, somebody has to stand up and now we see the purpose of it has come to fruition because we can all live within some of the things that Nelson Mandela was able to accomplish by his sacrifice.

BLITZER: We learned a great deal.

Peter, your parents came from South Africa. They emigrated to the United States. What were the stories they told you as a boy growing up about Nelson Mandela?

BEINART: For -- you know, Mandela was a figure that -- you know, it was illegal to show his face in South Africa, so everyone was always talking about him and yet, no one -- he was locked off from the world.

For my parents, he was -- who had themselves been involved in the anti-Apartheid movement, he was an incredible hero and figure and my life was very shaped by that but I also remember throughout my childhood and my early life, not only in South Africa when we went there but in the United States all the time, people calling him a terrorist and a communist, all the time. Some of the same people who are now celebrating him.

And I think it's really important for us to remember that about Mandela, that what made -- now it's safe to support him, but at one time it was not. And Mandela was challenged, he made people uncomfortable. During the Iraq war, he challenged George W. Bush very aggressively and said that America was responsible for terrible human rights abuses and it's that challenging aspect of Mandela that I think we need to remember as well.

BLITZER: And George W. Bush and Laura Bush will be going to his funeral, his memorial service, this coming week.

Ana, final thought?

NAVARRO: You know, I think the point about Mandela, the extraordinary point is his evolution. Even though he had these friends like Fidel Castro, like Moammar Gadhafi, he was the antithesis of what these folks stood for. He served for only one term because he stood for democracy, for human rights, and he understood that that was part of what he needed to do to reconcile his country.

BLITZER: Ana Navarro, thanks very much. Peter Beinart, thanks to you, and Terrence Howard, thanks as well.

Just ahead, a better-than-expected jobs report shows the unemployment rate at its lowest level in five years. Will President Obama finally get some credit out of this?

And we've got the details of this terrifying landing all captured on camera. Stand by. You're going to see this plane go up and down and up. Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: After four days of losses, all three major U.S. stock indices closed up today on news of a better-than-expected November jobs report. The U.S. added 203,000 jobs in November, that's about 20,000 more than had been expected and the unemployment rate fell to 7 percent from 7.3 percent. That's the lowest level in five years.

Our senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta is joining us now.

Jim, it looks like the job market may, and I repeat may, finally be hitting some sort of stride.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. There's no shortage of new data showing the economy is strengthening but the White House is being careful about taking too much credit for that trend, because too many Americans are not feeling it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): It's more proof the U.S. economy is heating up. According to the latest jobs report, 203,000 people found work in November, and the unemployment rate dropped sharply to 7 percent, the lowest level in five years. Add to that the fact that the economy grew at a rate of 3.6 percent in the third quarter, faster than initially thought, and it's no wonder the White House wants more.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No one who works on these issues in the administration is satisfied.

ACOSTA: But analysts warned this warming trend is leaving too many Americans out in the cold.

RANA FOROOHAR, ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR, TIME: If you're wealthy, you're feeling it but if you're in the middle or on the lower end of the economic spectrum, you really aren't.

ACOSTA: Just look at the numbers. While the economy has recovered millions of lost jobs since the great recession, nearly six in 10 Americans say things are still going badly in the country. That's because in this recovery, there are two Americas. Wall Street is booming, ending the week on a strong note. Even as fast food workers were marching in the streets for higher wages.

RYNETTA BENNETT, FAST FOOD EMPLOYEE: I think that it's bad, I think I deserve more.

ACOSTA: President Obama acknowledged this week fixing that disparity is a top priority.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe this is the defining challenge of our time.

ACOSTA: But Republicans argue the president should look in the mirror. REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: Under President Obama, our country has fallen into what I'll call a new normal. Slow economic growth, high unemployment, stagnant wages.

ACOSTA (on camera): The people on the streets right now are protesting because they want a higher minimum wage.

(CROSSTALK)

ACOSTA: They are saying they're not feeling it.

CARNEY: The fact is the president has long supported policies and continues to support policies and has taken action on policies that go right at this issue. That work is not done.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: And there was one small glimmer of hope for bipartisanship on the economy. President Obama called for an extension of the unemployment benefits by the end of the year and after hearing that House Speaker John Boehner said he will take a look at it. With the way things have been going here in Washington lately, Wolf, that almost qualifies as a holiday miracle.

BLITZER: Yes. That's a good point as well.

Jim Acosta, thanks very much.

Gloria Borger is here. She's our chief political analyst.

Why isn't the White House, Gloria, making more of these positive numbers?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, as Jim is pointing out, look, the White House understands that these things can seesaw and they also understand that the public doesn't really feel this as much as they would like, and look, the president's chief economic advisor today made the point very clearly that there are just as many long-term unemployed as there ever were so while the unemployment rate is its lowest point in five years, you still have the problem of the unemployed.

Also the Gross Domestic Product, great, 3.6 percent, they also understand it's going to dip in the next quarter, Wolf. You know why? Because of the shutdown. And you had 850,000 federal workers that were furloughed. That's going to show up in the next GDP numbers.

And one more thing, Wolf, never underestimate the ability of Washington to mess things up. So if there's not a budget deal and potentially, and I don't think this is going to happen, another government shutdown, you can see these numbers tank all over again. So they have to be really careful.

BLITZER: Extending these long-term unemployment benefits, how does that fit into this huge debate? Because that's part of the debate on Capitol Hill. BORGER: Right. And that, by the way, is another reason the administration isn't crowing because if they say things are great, unemployment is down, at the same time they're asking for an extension of unemployment benefits while they're talking about the long-term unemployed.

And I think politically, Wolf, of course, this is an easy argument for the Democrats to make. As Jim was mentioning, let's take a look at these numbers. When you ask people about whether things are going badly in the country today economically, look, almost 6 in 10 believe things are going badly.

So the public is not really feeling any kind of a recovery. They're not rejoicing at economic numbers they don't feel. So the administration can make the case for extending unemployment benefits and Republicans may have a bit of a difficult time opposing it. The question, how do you pay for it?

BLITZER: Yes. Well, the numbers are good, but they don't want to declare a victory yet.

BORGER: As ever. No.

BLITZER: Because --

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: No. No. No.

BLITZER: Gloria, thanks very much.

Coming up, a terrifying landing captured on video. Why this plane can barely touch down before shooting back into the air.

Plus, is the U.S. playing in the dread group of death? The drawing for the next summer World Cup in Brazil is now out. Certainly it won't be easy.

CNN's Rachel Nichols is standing by to joins us live.

And the former president Bill Clinton tells me more stories of his extremely close relationship with Nelson Mandela. He recalls one piece of advice that Mandela offered him and helped him tremendously.

More of my interview with Bill Clinton. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Now to some other stories in the SITUATION ROOM. Take a look at this. This is a wild piece of video of a plane attempting to land in Britain. It was so windy the plane was pushed back into the air after briefly touching down. It had to land at another airport and came back once the winds died down.

The United Kingdom has been hit by some of the most powerful storms in 60 years. Look at that plane going up now. Fortunately everyone is OK.

And the draw is now out for next summer's Soccer World Cup in Brazil. As expected, the U.S. will play some very tough teams. The U.S. is in Group D, which includes Germany, Portugal, and Ghana. Germany and Portugal are both ranked in the top five worldwide right now.

It'll be the third straight World Cup the U.S. will play Ghana, which knocked the Americans out of the tournament back in 2010.

So is the U.S. in this World Cup's so-called group of death?

Joining us now Rachel Nichols, she's the host of CNN's "UNGUARDED." It airs tonight 10:30 p.m. Eastern.

I was at that USA-Ghana game in Rustenberg, South Africa back in 2010. We were up, we were doing well in the first half, not so well in the second half. Do we have a chance in this Group D, Rachel?

RACHEL NICHOLS, HOST, CNN'S "UNGUARDED": Well, I don't think you need to be a soccer expert to know that the group of death is not good. They call every -- every year in the World Cup, there is some group that is dubbed the group of death. It's the hardest group. And it is the group the U.S. has landed in after the draw today.

As you point out several of those teams are top favorites possibly win the World Cup. And Ghana has actually, while not quite at that level has eliminated the U.S. the last two times, so it is definitely a difficult group. It's also a group that's going to play in very spread-out matches. They're going to log 9,000 miles by the time they get through the opening round, so a challenge physically as well.

But there are some soccer aficionados around the country saying, hey, you've got to look at this as a good thing. Sometimes you need a strong challenge to shake U.S. soccer up to the next level. That's what happened in the past. The Americans haven't played so well when they've been favored.

They have played better when they're the gritty underdogs, which is certainly what they will be here, and they are a physically fit team. So if it is a little bit more of a challenging series of matches, that could work to their advantage.

Still this will be an uphill battle. We'll have to see how it goes.

BLITZER: Kobe Bryant, you've got a big interview with him that will air tonight. Give us a couple of the headlines. What's going on with Kobe?

NICHOLS: Well, Kobe has been out for eight months. He had that Achilles injury that knocked him out during the playoffs last April. But he has said that he is going to return, finally come back to the NBA this weekend on Sunday.

But first, of course, you know, Wolf, he had to stop and talk to CNN for "UNGUARDED" tonight. So we're going to have him on the show. He talked to me about what it was like having that injury. That he had some very dark moments. He said that he really did seriously consider retiring, the idea of working his way all the way back after 17 years in the league. It was daunting for him, but that he pushed through it.

He talked to me a little bit about his new contract. He got an extension that has become somewhat controversial, $48 million for two additional years, will make him the highest paid player in the NBA when he is 37, 38 years old.

There's a lot of people who are critical of that, saying, not a great deal for the Lakers, and how much cap room is he going to take up?

Kobe very strong on that as well. He was talking about the idea of hey, the owners created the salary cap. He said it's not putting players in a fair position to have to say, OK, I'll take less money in a situation that the owners created. So he was pretty vocal criticizing the system there, too.

A lot of interesting stuff from Kobe. And you'll see it tonight.

BLITZER: We certainly will. Rachel, thanks very much.

And to our viewers, you can watch the interview with Kobe Bryant, a whole lot more tonight on "UNGUARDED" with Rachel Nichols right here on CNN 10:30 p.m. Eastern.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN.

BLITZER: Happening now, Bill Clinton remembers Nelson Mandela and the advice he gave that helped the former president get through one of the lowest points of his presidency.

Fateful mission. An American man travels to Libya to teach, only to be gunned down in the streets of Benghazi. We have new video and new information about whether it was a revenge killing.

White House reversal. Officials come clean about President Obama and his illegal immigrant uncle after denying they ever met. Now a different story is emerging.

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