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Fate of Obama's Would-be Senate Replacement?; Obama Pushes Economic Stimulus Plan
Aired January 05, 2009 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there, everybody.
We have got breaking news in Washington tonight: a Congress in chaos just hours before the new session begins.
Bullet point number tonight: Roland Burris, the man who would replace Barack Obama in the Senate, about to go face-to-face with the leaders of his own party who have threatened to keep him from ever taking that seat.
We have just learned the Senate's Democratic and Republican leaders have wrapped up a meeting. Will it do anything to stop a collision course on Capitol Hill?
Bullet point number two tonight: Illinois is not the only state waiting to see who, if anyone, will take a Senate seat come tomorrow. This evening, former comedian Al Franken is claiming victory in Minnesota after the state's canvassing board certified his 225-seat advantage over -- or vote advantage over incumbent Senator Norm Coleman, 225 votes out of nearly three million cast on Election Day. Coleman, though, is now taking his fight to court.
Bullet point number three tonight: president-elect Obama already going to work in Washington. Never mind what he said about only one president at a time. He spent the day on Capitol Hill pushing for quick support for his economic recovery plan, including a $300 billion tax cut for working Americans and their employers. He also faces the fallout over Bill Richardson's withdrawn nomination for commerce secretary.
And tonight a top Senate Democrat is blasting Obama's choice to run the CIA. We're going to have all the latest details for you coming up.
And bullet point number four tonight, heavy fighting reported in Gaza City. After 10 days of intense air and ground attacks by Israel, Hamas vows to continue launching rockets right back at Israel for many months. Anderson Cooper and Christiane Amanpour are watching the front lines for us tonight and will be joining us a little bit later.
First, though, "Cutting Through The Bull."
Tonight, a great example of your tax dollars at worth, because we all want our secretary of interior to have monogrammed towels in his office bathroom, don't we? That's right. This little gem comes from today's "Washington Post." The papers reports that outgoing Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne spent about $235,000 of your money to renovate his office bathroom at the Department of the Interior. He installed a new shower. He bought a refrigerator and a freezer hidden behind what the paper describes as lavish wood paneling, and apparently got monogrammed towels.
Sadly, it also appears this wasn't just one person's bad judgment. The General Services Administration, which, in theory, is supposed to oversee and keep track of hour your tax dollars are spent by these agencies, well, the GSA signed off on this renovation.
When we reached out to the folks there to find out why, they tell us that the reason they had to spend so much is these were -- quote -- "historic renovations" to the Department of Interior building that involved some major reconstruction to ensure safety and make sure the work was done historically accurately.
OK, but that doesn't exactly explain the new refrigerator, the new shower, the freezer, and certainly not those monogrammed towels.
If you have any thoughts, we would love it if you would share them with us. Go to CNN.com/Campbell and click on the link to send us your questions and your comments, and we will share some with you a little bit later in the show.
Now to our top story, the battle over Roland Burris. Late tonight, the Senate's Democratic and Republican leaders just finished talking about how to deal with this problem with Burris, even as he's headed for Washington. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid vowed that he would not be sworn in tomorrow, when the Senate begins its new session.
And a wild scene at the airport as he left Chicago -- Burris stood up for himself, rejecting the notion that his appointment by a governor facing impeachment is anything but legitimate. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROLAND BURRIS, FORMER ILLINOIS ATTORNEY GENERAL: Why don't you all understand that what has been done here is legal? Those -- I mean, that's legal. I am the junior senator from Illinois.
And I wish my colleagues in the press would recognize that all the drama -- and, you know, it makes -- I guess it keeps you all in a job.
I mean, I don't have to separate myself from -- from Rod Blagojevich. He carried out his duties, and he filled the vacancy as according to law. Isn't that correct? Isn't that what the statute says, that this governor shall appoint a person to fill the vacancy?
It didn't say anything about being tainted or being associated with or being, you know -- I mean, this is all politics and theater. But I am the junior senator, according to every law book in the nation. I have never in my life, in all of my years of being elected to office, thought anything about race. I have been elected four times in the state of Illinois.
And the great people of Illinois have seen the qualifications and the commitment that Roland Burris has, and race has never been a concern of mine.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: As the former Illinois attorney general gets ready for his own political trial by fire, Jeffrey Toobin is here to tell us what is in store for Burris and the Democrats with all of this.
So, the news tonight, you have got Republican and Democratic leaders sitting down trying to figure out how to deal with this. What sort of options are they talking about?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Well, it's really a struggle, because politically they do have the right at least to put off at a minimum letting him become a senator, because the Senate under Article 1 of the Constitution has the right to evaluate the qualifications of their members.
Does that mean they can keep Burris out? We don't know for sure. But, in the 1970s, they rejected a senator from New Hampshire who had won by four votes. They said, you know what? That's too close. We're going to demand another election. So, there is some precedent for rejecting people who don't have...
BROWN: But what might their argument be against him? Who is to say he's not qualified?
TOOBIN: Well, the argument could be that an indicted governor faced with selling -- the charges of selling this seat is simply not a credible person to appoint a senator. So, we're not going to accept his appointment, period.
I don't think it's a crazy argument, by the way.
BROWN: So, what happens tomorrow? I mean, it's going to be a circus. He shows up on Capitol Hill ready to take his seat. Harry Reid saying he's not going to be able to, he's not going to allow it to happen. How does this play out?
TOOBIN: Well, I think the legal system and the political system do what it does best, which is delay. They will refer the matter to the Senate Rules Committee. They certainly won't have any scene. They will welcome him. They will meet with him. But they will not swear him in as a senator.
And they will try to kick the can down the road, in the hopes that the impeachment takes place sooner, rather than later, there's A new governor, so that the new governor can make an appointment which will be received more legitimately.
BROWN: OK. So I know you have got an opinion on this matter and how it should play out.
I mean, Blagojevich, whatever you may think of him, he has not been convicted of anything. Innocent until proven guilty, right? So, why doesn't Burris have a point given what he said there at the airport, that, I'm the legitimate choice here, whether you like it or not?
TOOBIN: Innocent until proven guilty only means you don't go to prison unless you have been convicted.
There are a lot of rights you lose when you have been arrested. If I had been arrested for fraud, or murder, or some other crime, I would not be sitting here as a legal analyst, even though I had not been convicted yet.
I can see why the Senate says, look, yes, it's true, he is innocent until proven guilty for the purposes of the criminal law. But for making appointments to the U.S. Senate, we have to have a higher standard than that. We can't have people out on bail, which is what Blagojevich is now, making appointments to the Senate. That's a legitimate argument.
Now, whether it's a winning argument, I don't know. But I don't it's crazy.
BROWN: So, delay is how it plays out? There are a bunch of meetings. Everybody welcomes him warmly, but...
TOOBIN: Everybody welcomes him. But have you ever heard a politician or a lawyer fight delay? Never happens.
BROWN: No. All right, Jeff Toobin.
TOOBIN: And that's my prediction.
BROWN: We will see if you're right.
President-elect Obama had a very busy day in Congress. None of it had to do with Roland Burris. But, coming up, we're going to talk about what he was up to, why he's putting so much on the line so soon. Can he really rescue the economy? Can he really create three million new jobs?
And if you are still working, how soon could you, your company see any real benefits from Obama's proposed tax cut? How much money will you get?
And, then, later, all of the Obama family had a very busy Monday. We have got new details about the first daughters to be, their first day at their new school.
BROWN: Vacation now over for the president-elect. It is time to get down to business. And that's pretty much what Barack Obama did today in Washington, as he began to lay out his agenda, the top priority, his economic stimulus package, far from a slam dunk in Congress.
Ed Henry has been talking to his sources about the political realities in Washington today. We have also got Ali Velshi with us to break down the numbers and walk us through the Obama plan.
But, Ed, let me start with you. We're beginning to see Obama flesh out his economic plan to some extent. He laid out some broad goals today. Let's listen first to what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Part of it is going to be addressing consumers and making sure they have got money in their pockets.
Part of it is to provide incentives for businesses so that they start investing in plants and equipment that ultimately leads to jobs.
Part of it is going to be investing in the kinds of job-creating growth industries of the future.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: So, Ed, talk us through how he's planning to rally support for this.
ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The key is that he had barely checked into the Adams Hotel here, hadn't even maybe ordered room service, and went right to Capitol Hill and went to work.
And More important than reaching out to Democrats, the key is, he reached out to Republican leaders as well today, because they have been raising and making some noise about the price tag of all of this and raising concerns. And so, he addressed them head on by sweetening the pot in part by saying, look, we are going to have a $300 billion tax cut.
Republicans love tax cuts. They accused him of being a tax- raiser in the campaign. This is a little bit of an olive branch to Republicans. And the fact of the matter is what's going on behind the scenes when you talk to Obama advisers, they say they don't want to be a 42-58 vote in favor of this. They want 70, 80 votes in the Senate, bipartisan, big, bold, to show that he's got a big, bipartisan victory early next -- early in his presidency, number one.
And, number two, they want to show that that rhetoric in the campaign about bringing people together was for real -- Campbell.
BROWN: And, Ed, though, there's another issue on the table here. Somebody who was supposed to help Obama sell his plan, was his choice for commerce secretary, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, in an embarrassment to the new administration, or incoming administration, Richardson withdrew his name from consideration yesterday. His office, of course, the subject of an ongoing federal investigation. Richardson did speak with reporters today. Let's listen to some of what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), NEW MEXICO: It was my idea to withdraw. I withdrew, because I felt I didn't want a possible inquiry going on to delay the enormous progress we need to rebuild this economy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: So, Ed, Richardson has been under investigation for months. How did the process get this far along? I mean, how did this slip by the Obama vetters?
HENRY: A good question. What Democrats say privately is that the Obama team knew about this investigation -- it had been in the media months ago, as you say -- but that they had been assured by Richardson and his people that it was going to blow over, that it was no big deal.
But as it went on, and dragged on, they started asking more questions and didn't like the answers they got. And so while Bill Richardson there was saying, look, I decided I wanted to pull out, I'm hearing from Democrats outside the transition it was just the opposite, that the Obama team pushed him.
And it's because once this phrase pay to play came up in this scandal, you tie it back to another scandal, Blagojevich, pay to play, same kind of scandal. And they decided, you put those two scandals together and it runs completely opposite to the whole Obama message of change. So, they had to get rid of Richardson. And that's why they cut him off, Campbell.
BROWN: And, Ed, a little more controversy. A few hours ago, the transition team announced another high-profile appointment, Bill Clinton's former chief of staff Leon Panetta, for director of the CIA. Give us a sense for the kind of reaction it is getting.
HENRY: Well, you ask probably 99 out of 100 people, and they say, look, bipartisan, well-respected, a very strong pick.
But the problem for the Obama team is that one out of the 100 complaining is Senator Dianne Feinstein. And she happens to be the new chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee that will be handling the confirmation.
She put out a blistering statement this afternoon saying she was not in the loop on it, that she found out about it from the media, and saying that she wants an intelligence professional to do this job. He's not an intelligence professional. That's a problem.
But what the Obama camp is bottom-line saying, is, look, he may not be from within the intelligence community, but they need an outsider who is respected to shake up that agency. It's going to be an interesting fight, Campbell.
BROWN: Interesting, too, I think, that she didn't get a heads up, or enough of a heads up I guess from the Obama camp ahead of time. Anyway, we will be talking about this a lot more with the panel.
Ed Henry, thanks very much.
HENRY: Thank you.
BROWN: We want to do a little bit of the math, though, first, on the Obama stimulus plan with Ali Velshi, who is, of course, the author of a new book, I should mention, "Gimme My Money Back: Your Guide to Beating the Financial Crisis."
And, Ali, a lot of the details of this plan still to be fleshed out, but from what we know about the package so far at least, including these new tax cuts, walk us through it. Break it down.
ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, if you're going to get the money back, give me my money back, this is a bit of a surprise actually that there are tax cuts involved in this program.
Let me show you. We're working on a number of about $750 billion. We don't know what the number for the stimulus package is going to be, somewhere between $675 billion and $775 billion -- 40 percent of it is now announced by the Obama administration or the incoming administration to go toward tax cuts.
So Ed Henry was saying that Republicans were trying to portray Obama as a tax-raiser. Well, now he's a tax-cutter. Forty percent of it goes to tax cuts -- 60 percent of it goes to spending to stimulate the economy.
Let's break down the tax cuts part of it. There will be some that go to individuals and some that go to businesses. For the individuals, it will turn out to be a credit that you will see right on your paycheck. In fact, it will just be an increase to your paycheck, $500 a person, $1,000 per family, up to a certain income level. We don't know what that income level is now.
Businesses can write off certain losses for 2008 and 2009. And they can take tax credits if they create new jobs or reverse layoffs of other jobs. So, that's directly related to creating new jobs. That's the 40 percent on tax cuts, Campbell.
Let's take a look at the 60 percent that goes to spending now. That's the stimulus package as we thought it would be. Four major areas that they're going to concentrate on, invest in renewable energy and make existing buildings more energy efficient. Repair infrastructure. That's the roads and bridges, the infrastructure building program that should create new jobs. Computerize health care systems and records. Upgrade education facilities, training facilities and labs. And expand unemployment and COBRA benefits.
So many of course people running out of unemployment benefits or on COBRA, which means they have been unemployed, that COBRA benefits run out after a year. So, that 's the 60 percent that will go toward stimulus and spending -- Campbell.
BROWN: And, Ali, we have heard a lot of economists since say that the stimulus package that was passed last spring was not effective. Talk -- explain how this plan aims to be different in that regard.
VELSHI: All right. Well, on one level, there are all these other parts that I was telling you about. So, one part is the check. Compare that to the Bush stimulus plan, about $130 billion. Those were checks that were sent up. But at the time, energy prices were very high.
So, most people, instead of spending it in a way that would stimulate the economy, either paid for energy bills or paid down their credit. In this case, this is a smaller part of it, the $500 to an individual or the $1,000 to a family. The bigger part of it hopefully is going to be the spending on infrastructure, on labs, on health care. It's stuff that will have a longer-term effect, so that if you decide not to spend your $500 that you got, it's not going to nullify the effect of the stimulus package, but again yet to be seen how they are actually divide all that up -- Campbell.
BROWN: Yes, still a lot to be worked out.
Ali Velshi for us tonight -- as always, Ali, thanks.
We're going to talk a lot more about this coming up. Three of the smartest minds in politics, in just a few minutes, they are going to tell us if the Obama plan is really the bold stroke that could save our economy.
Then, a little bit later, of course, the mysterious death of actor John Travolta's teenage son, we have got new developments to tell you about out of the Bahamas.
Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: The economy is badly damaged. It is very sick. And so, we have to take whatever steps that are required to make sure that it's stabilized.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: When it comes to the economy, Barack Obama is zooming around Washington like he's in charge right now. He spent today meeting with both parties' congressional leaders, pushing for quick action on his package of spending projects and tax cuts.
Here to talk about the politics of all this, three members of the best political team on television, our senior political analyst Gloria Borger, CNN contributor Stephen Hayes, also a senior writer for the conservative-leaning "Weekly Standard," and CNN political analyst Roland Martin.
Welcome, guys. Happy new year to you.
ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Hey, Campbell.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You, too.
STEPHEN HAYES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Hey, Campbell.
BROWN: So, Gloria, let me start with you. And let's look at what Obama is doing with the stimulus plan by emphasizing I think early on the tax cuts, the big tax cuts, the importance of having those tax cuts in there. Is that enough to bring Republicans on board?
BORGER: Well, you know, Campbell, sure, it's going to help bring Republicans on board. The tax cuts are larger than George Bush's tax cuts were, when you think about it.
But I have been talking to folks who are working on this economic plan. And their real motive, they said to me, is, look, when you're trying to spend $800 billion over two years in an effective way to give the economy a real jolt, you can't just do it on the spending side. You have to also do it on the tax side.
And so they're looking for kind of a balance here. Sure, this will get them votes, but actually they think this is the policy that will work, because they don't think they have much time to inject this stimulus into the economy.
BROWN: Back to the politics, though, Steve. His advisers say, as Ed Henry just reported, they don't want to win this by just one or two votes by picking off a couple of Republican moderates. They want 80 votes in the Senate. Is that realistic at all?
HAYES: Well, that's a -- it's a pretty striking thing to say that.
In Washington, we spend so much time watching politicians lower expectations and say, look, we will be happy if something just passes. We will be happy if we get 60 votes.
For them to sort of declare at the outset that they want 80 votes suggests to me that they might actually be really interesting in some wheeling and dealing with Republicans. Republicans have put out ideas about different kinds of corporate tax cuts, dividend tax cuts, capital gains tax cuts. There are -- it seems to me in these early comments from the Obama team may be an indication of some wiggle room.
BORGER: Well, there are corporate tax cuts and tax cuts for the middle class in this. And so that would appeal to Republicans. Right?
HAYES: Some of it would appeal to Republicans, I think. But Republicans are also -- they're very interested in capital gains taxes. I think that's unlikely. Most people do. They also don't want to see anybody getting a tax cut or a refund who hasn't paid taxes in the first place, which is not an unreasonable demand.
Roland, let me bring you in here. Economist Paul Krugman is one liberal who's not impressed with the idea so far. He writes on his "New York Times" blog -- quote -- "Look, Republicans aren't going to come on board. Make 40 percent of the package tax cuts, they will demand 100 percent. I am really worried that Obama people are sending off signals of weakness right now from the beginning and that they're just going to embolden the opposition."
What do you think of his point there?
MARTIN: Oh, wow, the opposition. They were going to be emboldened from the get-go.
Look, Obama could have came out and said 80 percent tax cuts, and Republicans would have still 100 percent. The bottom line is he has to put forth a sensible plan. You can't sit here and just say, 100 percent tax cuts. We saw what happened with Bush, increasing spending, tax cuts. It didn't work.
And so what he's looking to do is put together a sensible plan. You have to start somewhere. And so why not start at 40 percent? I also believe that what Obama has to do, he has to look at Democrats and say how are we going to confront spending? How are going to we confront our expenses?
MARTIN: It's one thing to talk about $800 billion or $1 trillion. These numbers are so easy these days. But they have to show discipline and say we're going to cut our spending as well, because you have to do that.
BORGER: Right. Right.
And it will be interesting, Campbell, to see if this is constituency-driven by members of Congress or this is really driven by the economists, which is what the president-elect says he's going to do. We will have to see.
BROWN: Let me move on to the other big story of the day. I want to get your take on it. Governor Bill Richardson taking his name out of contention for commerce secretary under this pay-to-play investigation since summer.
Gloria, give me your take on it. How did it get beyond the vetters here?
BORGER: I think that they thought it was going to be a smaller story. They obviously knew about it, as Ed Henry was saying earlier.
I think it was one of the things where they went to him late last week and said, this thing isn't going away. And they both decided and agreed that Bill Richardson needed to go away.
MARTIN: But he gave an out, though. Obama said that, you know, once it all blows over, he may still have a role in this administration.
And, so, clearly that was sort of a lifeline to him to saying, you're not out to pasture totally.
BROWN: And, Steve Hayes, another appointment ruffling some feathers, Leon Panetta as CIA director. He's a known quality in Washington, though not a part of the intelligence community.
Is he the right choice in this post-9/11 era?
HAYES: Well, I think some of us who have been critics of the intelligence community think it's a good thing that he wasn't -- that he's not a part of the intelligence community.
But it's clearly given trouble to people like Dianne Feinstein, who, as Ed mentioned, is the incoming Senate intelligence chairwoman, and to Kit Bond, the vice chair on the Republican side. So, I think he's likely to get a lot of questions about just how much he knows about intelligence issues at this time.
MARTIN: Keep in mind, he was a chief of staff, the two most important jobs in the White House. And so he got to see a lot of intelligence at that particular job. It's not like he's coming to this job as a green guy.
HAYES: No, but that's -- you can -- that's good and bad. Then he has to answer for and own some of the Clinton administration anti- terrorism policies. That's a problem.
BORGER: But he also reports to someone else, right? He's not -- he's not the head of intelligence, right? He's just the CIA director. So, he reports to someone else. He's a good manager.
But the Obama folks made a big mistake, which is no surprises to your committee chairmen on Capitol Hill. Bad idea.
MARTIN: Oh, we like surprises, Gloria. You know we like them.
(LAUGHTER) BROWN: Very quickly, but is that part of it? Is that -- are they reacting to the fact they weren't consulted here; no one was run past them ahead of time?
BORGER: Absolutely. I think, look, Dianne Feinstein has been a real friend to the transition I was told late today. And there's a lot of bad feeling inside the transition that she wasn't informed. And they're going to look back on how this occurred. And she needed to be consulted. She is the incoming chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. She deserved it.
MARTIN: You know what? Either he's a good guy or not. But this whole bruised feeling, she wasn't consulted, come on. He's the president-elect. It's his choice.
BROWN: Oh, Roland, come on. You know how politicians are.
MARTIN: And this is NO BIAS, NO BULL. Let's call them out.
BORGER: George Bush got in a lot of trouble for not talking to his Republicans on Capitol Hill.
BROWN: You're right. Lessons learned.
HAYES: It's true. It soured it early.
BORGER: It did.
BROWN: Guys, we have got to end it there. We're out of time.
But, Gloria, Steve, Roland, many thanks. Good to see you guys. Appreciate it.
BROWN: We do want to move on now. We have got some other breaking news to tell you about, new word tonight of friendly-fire deaths of some Israeli soldiers, all this happening in Gaza, as the humanitarian crisis there also getting worse. You have got both Israel and Hamas ignoring international calls to stop the fighting. We're going to talk to Anderson Cooper, to Christiane Amanpour live in Israel coming up in just a moment.
And then a little bit later, not that many new kids arrive at school in a motorcade, but we're going to show you Sasha and Malia Obama's first day at their new school, and some behind-the-scenes pictures that the Obamas shared with us this morning.
BROWN: Breaking news right now to tell you about from the Middle East.
Fighting rages on in Gaza, no signs of any movement toward a cease-fire, despite some calls internationally. Israel has just confirmed tonight that three of its soldiers were killed in a friendly-fire incident. Two dozen other troops were injured. The incident involved an explosion from a tank shell that hit a building the troops were in.
At least 530 Palestinians, many of them civilians, have died in the last 10 days of fighting.
President Bush today said that he understands Israel's desire to protect itself from rockets launched from Gaza by Hamas militants. He added that the U.S. is also concerned about the humanitarian crisis developing in Gaza. Whatever President-elect Obama is thinking, he is keeping it to himself. Here is his non-answer today to a question about the crisis.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENT-ELECT: I will continue to insist that when it comes to foreign affairs, it is particularly important to adhere to the principle of one president at a time because there are delicate negotiations taking place right now and we can't have two voices coming out of the United States when you have so much at stake.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Now, a lot of people are just catching up on this crisis because the holidays have just ended. So I just want to take a moment to set the stage before we go to our colleagues in the Middle East.
The trouble, of course, started after a six-month cease-fire expired in mid December and Hamas militants began firing rockets from Gaza into Israel. Gaza itself is a little strip of land sandwiched between Israel in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. It's about twice the size of the District of Columbia and home to around 1.5 million Palestinians, three times the population of D.C.
After a week of air strikes, Israeli ground forces moved in over the weekend effectively cutting Gaza in two. Tonight, "AC 360"'s Anderson Cooper is near the Israeli-Gaza border for us while we have international -- chief international correspondent Christian Amanpour for us in Jerusalem tonight monitoring both the political and diplomatic moves to try to end the fighting.
Anderson, let me start with you and give us to your sense of what's happening on the ground? The very latest?
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: From what we understand, the battle has been intensifying. This is the third night of the ground operation under way. We've just received word the IDF has confirmed that three Israeli soldiers have been killed tonight they say by friendly fire. More than 20 Israeli soldiers apparently also injured in this friendly fire incident.
We're trying to get more details on that. If that is, in fact, the case, and the IDF says it is, that would make four total the number of Israeli soldiers killed thus far. One Israeli soldier was killed on Sunday.
What we understand is that the Israeli Defense Forces have basically, as you said, cut Gaza in two. Gaza city itself is all but surrounded. The conflicting reports about whether or not there is fighting inside Gaza city itself, there were eyewitness reports that had said they had seen two -- they have seen Israeli tanks in two Gaza city communities. Israeli Defense Forces at the time though would not confirm those reports at all.
If the fighting does start to move inside Gaza city itself, it will bring this to a whole other level. Obviously, street-to-street fighting is a lot more difficult, will no doubt lead to a lot more fatalities on both sides.
But right now, the fighting is said to be intensifying. We've been seeing large numbers and hearing about large numbers of Palestinians fatalities. More than 530 Palestinians have been killed thus far. Some 2,750 have been wounded.
A Norwegian doctor working at a Palestinian hospital said as many as 100 of those more than 500 Palestinians were women and children. And at this point, with the diplomatic efforts under way, there still is no sign of any kind of cessation to the hostilities -- Campbell.
BROWN: All right. Anderson Cooper for us right, as we mentioned, right near the Gaza-Israel border.
Christiane, to you now. French President Nicolas Sarkozy and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair among many others in the region working to broker some sort of cease-fire agreement. Tell us what you're hearing.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there has been an upsurge in the diplomatic activity. But Israel has said that it's not interested in a premature "cease-fire." But what is going on is that the United States and Egypt and the parties and -- are really working hard to try to get a cease-fire that also has a political framework whereby there'd be some sort of international monitoring of the Gaza-Egypt border to make sure that no weapons could be smuggled through in the future. That perhaps there'd be some kind of international presence and that there may be eventually the reintroduction of the Palestinian authority, which is the moderate wing of the Palestinian forces where the president is the pro-Western Mahmoud Abbas, reintroduced PA forces in the Gaza region.
So that is what they're working on at the moment, to have -- whether they can see whether they can have a cease-fire that also has more than just a stop of the fighting but ensures that these fighting doesn't continue.
Of course, the question is, what is Israel's ultimate objective? Is it to completely destroy Hamas or to severely weaken its rocket firing capability? And right now, it's not entirely clear despite the fact that Israel itself is saying it just wants to stop the rocket fire into Israel.
BROWN: All right. Christiane Amanpour for us from Jerusalem. Anderson Cooper earlier as well. Appreciate it, guys.
And we should mention you'll see much more on the Israeli-Gaza fighting later this evening on a special edition of "AC 360." Be sure to watch, 10:00 Eastern time.
And still ahead, new details we've learned of what happened the day that John Travolta's son died in the Bahamas. We'll have that.
Also, Al Franken declared the winner in the endless Minnesota Senate race. But when senators show up for work tomorrow, Franken may not be welcomed, at least not yet. We're going to tell you what comes next and think lawsuits here.
And just how complicated can back to school be? Well, plenty. Stay tuned for Sasha and Malia Obama's first day at school in Washington.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DANIEL MENEGAZ, 11 YEARS OLD: To President-elect Obama. Congratulations on becoming the 44th president-elect and soon the 44th president.
My family are great supporters of you. There are many things I would like you to consider as president, but the war in Iraq is irking me the most. Doesn't it bother you?
My solution is that we put up a white flag retreat and talk with them. In this way we let them decide what they want to do. Kudos again, and I hope you consider this message from a student, 11 years old, at Carpenter Avenue Elementary School. Sincerely, Daniel Menegaz.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: All right. Well, tonight's "Dear Mr. President" letter doesn't pull any punches there. Daniel wrote to the next president from Studio City, California. Well done there, Daniel.
All over the country, kids writing letters to President-Elect Obama. We love it when you share them with us so send us your letter. Check out the iReport link on our Web site, CNN.com/campbell.
Time now for "Welcome to the White House." Our "NO BIAS, NO BULL" look at all things Obama. Tom Foreman has it all for us tonight. And, Tom, a very big day for the Obamas. Sasha and Malia started at their new school. How did it go?
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Campbell, the first day of school is big news in any family. But it's bigger still when you're the incoming first family. Like anyone else, the Obamas took pictures to commemorate the big event. Unlike anybody else, those pictures were then released to the media and splashed all over the world.
Then it really got crazy. The frenzy kicked into high gear when the girls headed off to school accompanied by their mother, Michelle. Their motorcade included a D.C. police car, two black SUVs, a minivan, another SUV and a Secret Service car. And presumably with all of that, they didn't have to wait for any traffic lights since the girls arrived for class about a half an hour early.
BROWN: Well, that's good.
FOREMAN: Yes, that's so good. That's some of the good things.
BROWN: I mean, we should tell people, too, Tom, Sidwell Friends, not just any school. It's one of the top schools in Washington and it's famous for protecting the privacy of its students.
Chelsea Clinton, the Nixon daughters went there. And Vice President elect Joe Biden's grandchildren, right? What else do you know about it?
FOREMAN: Yes. Well, it's really quite a place. The school actually has two campuses, one in suburban Bethesda, Maryland for kindergartens and fourth grade. That's where Sasha Obama is going. And then they have another campus in northwest Washington for grades five through 12. Malia Obama is going there.
And no surprise, a top private school education does not come cheap in Washington, D.C. Sidwell costs about $30,000 a year. But that includes a daily hot lunch. And today it was cheese tortellini so that's kind of a deal.
BROWN: You've really done the reporting for this, haven't you?
FOREMAN: Yes, yes. That's good, I think.
And our basketball playing president-elect, by the way, might be interested to know that there are a total of four basketball games scheduled tomorrow at Sidwell, two varsity and two J.V., you know, if he has time to kill.
BROWN: Yes, right. OK.
Also, before you go, bring us up to speed on inauguration. We're 15 days away now. We're learning a lot more about the festivities tonight. What are you hearing? FOREMAN: Yes, it's getting manic around here. Barack and Michelle Obama will dance their first dance at the first ever neighborhood inaugural ball. Some tickets will be free while others will be sold for what's being called an affordable price. The crowd will be mostly D.C. residents and grassroots supporters from all around the country. And for you couch potatoes out there, this will also be the first time that the inaugural ball is web cast. So some firsts to come along with this president as he comes to the office -- Campbell.
BROWN: Many firsts, many first, indeed. Tom Foreman for us tonight. Tom, thanks.
We're not yet done with President-elect Obama. Still ahead, long lost tapes that show the president-elect with some work experience we never knew about.
But, up next, first we had the very sad story to tell you about. The sad story of Jett Travolta. New details on the day John Travolta's son died. We'll have that information for you when we come back.
BROWN: We have new information to tell you about tonight about the sudden death of John Travolta's only son. 16-year-old Jett Travolta died on Friday during a family vacation in the Bahamas. Tonight, we are told that an existing seizure disorder led to the boy's death. Still questions remain tonight over Jett's medical history.
And Randi Kaye has been following the story for us. And, Randi, bring us up to speed. What's the very latest?
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, understandably, Campbell, the family isn't talking. But we have been getting some new details.
We have learned that the body of Jett Travolta will be cremated at some point tonight. Earlier reports indicated his body was going to be flown to Florida to be buried near the Travolta's home there. But the funeral home has told CNN the body is being cremated tonight.
Now as for the cause of death, an autopsy was done today. And although the results have not been made public and may never be actually because it's up to the family to release those, the director of the funeral home in the Bahamas says the cause of death as determined by the coroner's office is natural causes -- seizure disorder.
Now, Travolta's lawyers have said Jett hit his head in the bathroom after suffering a seizure. Maybe even hitting his head on the bathtub. We're also getting new details about circumstances surrounding Jett's death.
The chief EMT from the emergency scene there who arrived at Travolta's home to find Jet unconscious told "Radar" magazine when he got there, a doctor was performing CPR already on Jett who was not breathing. He also said Kelly Preston and John Travolta, the boy's parents, insisted on riding in the ambulance with their son and that John Travolta was holding his hand and saying, "Come on, Jett." A friend of the Travoltas described meeting with Travoltas at the hospital immediately after Jett was declared dead. And here's what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBIE WILCHCOMBE, TRAVOLTA FAMILY FRIEND: They were in an inner office in the emergency room. He came out sobbing (ph). We embraced. Then we walked together to the morgue where he spoke with authorities, including the police, after which he had to formally identify the body. And his words were, that is my son. And then he asked for some moments, he and his wife, to spend with Jett and they stayed in the morgue for several hours.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KAYE: That gentleman also saying that John Travolta called it the worst day of his life, Campbell.
BROWN: And, you know, Randi, this is the most horrifying thing that can happen to any family.
BROWN: But here you also have a celebrity family and so there is enormous attention and scrutiny on them and what may have happened. And there has been a lot of misinformation flying around as well.
One report we've heard repeatedly, Jett had a history of seizures, we know, but there were reports that because the Travoltas are Scientologists that they did not give him seizure medicine. But this was not true, correct?
KAYE: No, no. And that would be because that's what Scientologists believe. They don't believe in administering medicine like that.
But according to the lawyers and friends of the family, they say absolutely not true. They told the celebrity Web site tmz.com that Jett was given a drug called Depakote for seizures, but after a while, it did become ineffective and there were concerns about the medicine's side effects so they actually stopped giving it to him.
Apparently, it had reduced the seizures to once every three weeks and then they had returned about once a week. But Jett had also been diagnosed with Kawasaki disease at age 2 that causes inflammation of the blood vessels, Campbell, but it's not typically related to seizures. You get that from the carpet fibers and apparently John Travolta was always cleaning around his son's area and he might have picked that up. But, again, it might not be related to the seizures.
BROWN: All right. Randi Kaye for us tonight with all the latest. Randi, thanks. And we should mention, too, there will be much more on the Travolta family tragedy, and on the investigation on "LARRY KING LIVE" coming up at the top of the hour.
Tonight, a look at Barack Obama as you have never seen him before. He might have been just as happy at this long lost tape. It never surfaced, but it has. We're going to hear it coming up.
Also, just when you thought the Bernard Madoff scandal couldn't get any more outrageous, well, it has. Accused of swindling billions, he went back to court today. You're going to hear new allegations against him coming up.
BROWN: When we come back, Al Franken gets the last laugh -- maybe. The one-time comedian claims victory in the Minnesota Senate race. Opponent Norm Coleman though says it isn't over yet. We'll have that in a moment. But first, Gary Tuchman joining us with "The Briefing" -- Gary.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Campbell, hello to you. 2008 is over, but big automakers are still feeling the hangover.
America's six largest carmakers all report December sales plunged at least 30 percent. Chrysler took the biggest low. Sales dropped 53 percent from last December.
Hyundai's latest offer, if you buy a new car and have a life- changing event like losing your job, you can give the car back under certain conditions.
Apple'c CEO, Steve Jobs, is finally telling us why he's lost so much weight. In a written statement, Jobs's doctors had found a hormone imbalance that is easily treatable.
Rumors about his health have been flying for months. Jobs beat cancer four years ago. He says the decision not to appear at this week's Mac world conference only added the false rumors.
Dramatic video tonight from Guatemala where you can see the earth still moving after a deadly landslide killed 33 people. Up to 60 others are missing. The victims had just gotten out of a truck to walk past the section of roadblock by another slide.
As a congressional panel looked at Bernard Madoff's alleged $50 billion investment fraud, Madoff himself appeared in federal court in New York City where prosecutors asked a judge to put him in jail. They claim Madoff violated his bail by sending valuable jewelry to relatives and friends. The judge made no ruling.
And if you shopped at Macy's on the Saturday before Christmas, check your bank statement. The department store giant mistakenly overcharged some customers who paid by debit card. Macy's blames the "system was at issue (ph)." It says it promises to put the money back in shoppers' accounts. And it makes you wonder, Campbell, how many other stores, how many other times...
TUCHMAN: ... when things like this happened. You got to check your credit card statement, your debit card statement very carefully.
BROWN: Absolutely. All right. Gary Tuchman for us tonight. Gary, thanks.
Our "Political Daily Briefing," the first President Bush is thinking about a third President Bush. Why he thinks America will want another Bush in the White House. Coming up.
BROWN: Tonight, the long-running Minnesota Senate election is finally over -- maybe. The state's canvassing board today certified the official recount showing Democrat Al Franken beating Republican incumbent Norm Coleman by 225 votes. That was the news Franken was waiting for.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA SENATE CANDIDATE: After 62 days of careful and painstaking hand inspection of nearly three million ballots after hours and hours of hard work by election officials and volunteers across this state, I am proud to stand before you as the next senator from Minnesota.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: But wait, Coleman who led in the vote tally before the recount is ready to fight today's outcome in court. He put out a statement saying, "This process isn't at the end; it is now just at the beginning. We will contest the results of the canvassing board. Otherwise, literally millions of Minnesotans will be disenfranchised."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid plans to have Franken sworn in tomorrow as Minnesota's junior Senator. Reid said tonight -- these are his words -- "Coleman will never ever serve in the Senate. He has lost the election."
Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas says his party could filibuster to stop Franken from taking office, which brings us to the "Political Daily Briefing" and CNN contributor Dana Milbank, national political correspondent from "The Washington Post."
And, Dana, I understand you spent much of the day watching Republicans engage in a kind of political yoga. I guess you could call it a search for meaning and serenity as a party. Is that about right?
DANA MILBANK, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, pretty much, Campbell. This is a party in need of some psychic healing after November's wipeout, and the karma I'm afraid got even worse when one of the candidates now vying to be the party's chairman mailed out a CD to RNC members with a recording of the song "Barack the Magic Negro."
Now I went to see his debate between the candidates for party chairman today. They very wisely left out the "Magic Negro" flap in favor of an illuminating discussion about how to appeal to young voters. Let's listen to that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You use twitter. And how many followers do you have?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I use twitter but let me just say that I have 4,000 friends on Facebook. That's probably more than these two guys put together. But I -- but who's counting, you know?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll be at John's (ph) Facebook any day.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MILBANK: Well, Campbell, it seems at least for now that Obama's dominance in cyberspace remains unchallenged.
BROWN: I think you could definitely come to that conclusion there. I also understand another prominent Republican doing a little campaigning for his son to run for higher office. Tell us about it.
MILBANK: Yes. More Bushes. President Bush isn't even out of the White House yet but his father, the former president, already talking about his younger son becoming a senator or better yet, the third President Bush. Take a listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE HERBERT WALKER BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think if Jeb wants to run for the Senate from Florida, he ought to do it. And he'd be an outstanding senator. I'd like to see him run. I'd like to see him be president someday.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Really?
BUSH: Or maybe senator, whatever. Yes, I would. I mean, right now it's probably a bad time. We've had enough Bushes in there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MILBANK: Well, Jeb may think twice when he finds out that his brother won't be getting one of the big retirement perks his father got, lifelong Secret Service protection because of a law that Congress passed in the '90s. George W. and all future presidents only get the protection of the bodyguards for ten years after leaving office.
BROWN: Interesting there.
Finally, Dana, I know a Chicago station uncovered some old tapes featuring a surprise food critic. Tell us about that. MILBANK: Well, you remember during Watergate, we had the famous 18-minute gap on the Nixon tapes. Now with Obama, we have an 89-month gap.
A Chicago TV station WTTW has just discovered a lost episode of its show, "Check, Please!" taped in 2001 but never aired with a guest restaurant critic I think you may recognize.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, FROM WTTW)
BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENT-ELECT: I do have to put in a plug for their peach cobbler, which --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Really?
OBAMA: ... people tend to gobble up pretty good.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: See if I would lay off these corn (ph) cakes and set them on the table, maybe I'd have some room for some --
OBAMA: That's the problem. Those Danny (ph) cakes, you know, they'll get you early and then you won't have time -- you know, room for the peach cobbler.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MILBANK: So, Campbell, I think it's a pretty safe bet that the restaurant that he reviewed is called Dixie kitchen will probably be upping the output of peach cobbler when the show comes out a little later this month.
BROWN: Is it just me or did he not look 12 years old to you?
MILBANK: And even skinnier.
Dana Milbank, thanks very much.
MILBANK: Thanks, Campbell.
BROWN: Still to come, a really zippy "Bull's-Eye" tonight. The good news -- they wouldn't be the (INAUDIBLE). Everyone seeing how fast this guy can go. The bad news -- everyone includes the police. We'll explain.
BROWN: And check out this motorcycle speedometer. It's kilometers per hour. But we did the math, it's about 124 miles per hour. The real insanity posting it on the Web.
Sure, people were impressed but so were the Australian police who busted him. That's it for us.
"LARRY KING LIVE" right now.