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John King, USA

New York's Main Airports Reopen; Interview With Michael Nutter

Aired December 27, 2010 - 19:00   ET


JESSICA YELLIN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Jessica Yellin. We are following a developing story this hour by planes, trains and automobiles. Thousands of travelers stranded by the Christmas weekend snowstorm are finally moving again, but slowly.

The biggest news within the past few hours, the New York region's three main airports, Laguardia, JFK and Newark, reopened. CNN's Alison Kosik rejoins us from Laguardia. Alison, so it looks like the worst is behind us? Yes?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kind of, but if you ask the people that are sitting behind me, they are still in the worst of it. They continue to be stranded, even though the snow has stopped falling. What's happening here at Laguardia is one of the runways has finally opened. It opened at 4:00, but really not a lot of action expected to come out of this runway at this point.

We are expecting to see about seven planes arrive after about 7:30, but not much -- not much really going out, at least that is what we are hearing. In fact, we are hearing less than a dozen planes are even sitting on the field. You're not going to really see any planes going out today.

So, sure, going to see more of the same behind me, people trying to eat, trying to stay awake, trying to make it through yet another night here at Laguardia, until hopefully, they can get to their destination tomorrow. We are hearing some great stories from some of these people. One of the most memorable, a guy coming from Heathrow Airport, you remember, Jessica, in Europe after their big snow storm.

This guy wound up getting snowed in at Heathrow for two days, finally got to JFK here in New York. He is trying to get to Florida, but got snowed in again. Stayed the night at JFK and is now in for his fourth night here at Laguardia. He is looking on the bright side.

This guy told us, look, on the bright side, I get to have a cot tonight and not the floor. It is kind of like the running theme we are seeing. Everybody staying really positive even though some people are staying two, three, four nights stranded. It could be days until they reach their destination. Jessica --

YELLIN: That's an impressively good altitude, but it does sound like a very long night ahead for people there. Thanks, Alison Kosik again from New York. Around the country, getting around by car is always a challenge. Also in New York City, with almost two feet of snow on the roads, forget about it. CNN's Mary Snow has been watching them dig out. She joins us from midtown near Columbus Circle and Central Park. Mary, a challenging commute today, I'm guessing, to say the least?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, Jessica this is supposed to be the city that never sleeps, but think again because this city was like a ghost town for much of the day with 20 inches of snow here in New York City and with winds gusting nearly 40 miles an hour.

In some places of the city, there were drift drifts several feet high. Getting around was a nightmare and very dangerous, especially in areas around the city. As you can imagine, commuter trains were not running, some are still not running.

There are buses throughout the city that have been stuck in the snow there is recovery. The city is slowly getting on its feet. Like everything else, there is a silver lining, some tourists here who say that they are making the best of it. They were stranded, fortunately not at the airport, but going shopping.

The shows are going on Broadway and of course, a lot of happy kids in central park behind me, although they were already off from school so they couldn't call it a snow day.

YELLIN: Well, at least it's a winter wonderland for the tourists, a little pretty for them. I hope you get some hot cocoa and stay warm, Mary.

SNOW: Thank you.

YELLIN: Well, this snowstorm also snarled rail service. Amtrak canceled its Sunday trains between Boston and New York. They're running again now, but many trains are sold out. Our Jeanne Meserve is at Washington, D.C.'s Union Station. Hey, Jeanne, I'm guessing there are still plenty of stranded travelers there?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there are some still here. You could see the frustration on the faces of some of the travelers here at Union Station and in the crowds that you also saw up at Penn Station in New York, as you mentioned.

Amtrak yesterday, because of the snow, had to cancel service between New York and Boston, Boston and Portland, Maine, and also south of Washington, down to Richmond and New Port News. Now today, slowly, that service has been coming back, but there still are cancellation and delays. The delays would last a few minutes.

They also can last for hours. Amtrak says it is trying to accommodate passengers, consolidating people under the trains that are running but that means that some people may not have a seat. It is also having some trains make additional stops in an effort to try and meet the needs of the people who are traveling today, but it isn't a pretty picture. We asked Amtrak when things are going to get back to normal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We don't have a firm time line yet. We do have crews working around-the-clock though, so that way we can get service restored to normal operations as soon as possible.

MESERVE: I just checked the boards here in Union Station, about half the trains are running on time. The other half, delayed or canceled. The advice from Amtrak is to check the web or make a call before you head to the station or then again, you might wait to travel another day. Jessica, back to you.

YELLIN: That might sound like some good advice there, Jeanne. Thanks so much.

Well, now that things are finally moving again, everybody starting to move, everybody has two big questions, is another storm out there and if so, when will it hit? CNN meteorologist and severe weather expert Chad Myers, as always, has the answers. So, Chad, what's the story?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, there's another storm, but it's for Minneapolis so not for the northeast. But literally, this is going to take a week to put all these people that lost their places on planes, trains and maybe even rental cars back in service because Delta canceled 1,000 or a little bit more than that flights today and Continental 900.

Now you just figure 200 people on a plane, some planes are big, some planes are smaller, whatever, 200. That means 20,000 people that wanted to fly delta today didn't get on planes. Now, tomorrow, those planes are still pretty sold out.

Maybe there are five empty seats, ten empty seats, all the passengers that didn't make it today are, like, flying standby, trying to get on those 10 seats. So 20,000 divided by 10, that is an awful lot of planes that still have to try to get filled up. JFK is open, 24 planes in the air.

At this time of day there should be well over 100 and sometimes during the day, over 150. We never saw that. This is the maximum number of planes we have seen all day today so far. Planes will still be coming in and coming out, but Laguardia didn't have any planes on the ground at all and they still don't right now, because all the planes scatter aid way from the snow.

So the people that are silting there at Laguardia saying where's my plane? Most probably down in Memphis because they didn't want to fly it to Laguardia and pile it up with 20 inches of snow. That is where your plane is right now, might not get on it, at least until tomorrow.

Winds 20 miles per hour, 32, Washington, D.C., and also in New York City. Boston is still gusting to around 40. Bangor, Maine, there still gusting almost 50 miles an hour. For a while today, as the storm was spinning off the coast of New England, it was equal to what the winds would be for a Category 2 hurricane. I would love to see some of the I-Reports of maybe waves crashing. Remember went waves were crashing on the shore in Maine and we saw the old President Bush -- his place in Ken Bunk Port getting smashed by the waves, I don't want to see that picture, but I want to see maybe pictures from you on, if you can. Do it safely. Jessica --

YELLIN: All right. Chad, let's hope the planes are become to functioning by New Year's Eve. Plenty of travel for that.

MYERS: Right.

YELLIN: There's a little time. Thanks, Chad Meyers.

Well, Philadelphia avoided a big mess on the roads by postponing last night's NFL game between the Eagles and the Minnesota Vikings. It will be played on Tuesday, but it turns out putting off a nationally televised football game, even for a blizzard is, yes, of course, a big controversial deal.

Mayor Michael Nutter has been taking enough heat to melt all that snow in Philly. He joins us now by the phone. Mayor, first, on a serious note, how is your city looking after this storm?

MICHAEL NUTTER, (D) PHILADELPHIA MAYOR (via telephone): Philly is in great shape right now. Our troops have been dealing with this storm and basically, we won. The city's been up and running all day.

Government was opened. Court's opened. Everything functioning well, except our mass transit system functioning and also making sure that our dialysis patients were able to get service today so they were out.

The public employees out overnight, citizens doing their thing today, shoveling their sidewalks and digging out their cars so today was a dig out day and the city is doing well.

YELLIN: Are you expecting it to be back to normal by tomorrow?

NUTTER: It was pretty much back to normal today. You know, we know how to fight snowstorms. It is one of the businesses that we are in and we actually do it very, very well. But certainly, we still have a little more work to do took care about 90 percent of our streets today, working overnight and into tomorrow and things are actually operating fine.

YELLIN: That's impressive. Maybe you should come to D.C. and show us how you do it so well.

NUTTER: I'm sure you could take care of your business.

YELLIN: Your governor Ed Rendell objected to postponing last night's Viking-Eagles game. I'm sure you know it was said that "we have going being a nation of whiners." Ouch. What's your reaction?

NUTTER: The governor's a great fan, great commentator and a great governor and certainly entitled to his opinion. I think the fact that when the NFL and the Eagles looked at what was really going on, which was three to six inches of snow going on during the height of the game on -- would be out on the field, 35 to 40-mile-an-hour gusting winds.

It's a quite dangerous situation for fans and players and certainly for fans who have to then go home at 11:30, 12:00 at night after that game and dig themselves to out. So it was the right decision.

Jessica, it is a game. Whether you play it on Sunday night or Tuesday night, ultimately, what difference does it make? Go Eagles. We are going to beat the Vikings anyway and it was the right call by the NFL and the Eagles on behalf of the fans and the players.

YELLIN: All right. Better safe than sorry, point well taken.

NUTTER: Absolutely.

YELLIN: Thanks very much, Mayor Michael Nutter.

NUTTER: Thanks, Jessica.

YELLIN: Take care.

We have a lot of politics to cover tonight, including the revival of the debate over so-called government death panels. Stand by for a fact check about what's really going on.

Also tonight, the governor of -- the governor of President Obama's home state sounds to off about "birthers," those people who believe the president was not really born in the U.S.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just a matter of principle with me. I know his mom and dad.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was here when he was born. Anybody who wants to ask the question honestly could have had their answer already.



YELLIN: Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, has been making news for doing new things lately, but now he is doing something old- fashioned, writing an ink and paper book for money. He tells London's "Sunday Times," quote, "I don't want to write this book but I have to" citing his legal fees and desire to keep Wikileaks afloat.

Assange tells the paper he will make about $1.3 million off the deal. As "Time" magazine note, some people consider Assange the Robin Hood of hacking for starting Wikileaks in 2006. Now, in essays attributed to him and publish on the web, Assange explains his belief that some governments and corporations conspire to on press people and he believes exposing government secrets leads to greater freedom because it breaks up those conspiracies.

Others, of course, disagree vigorously. Joining us now discuss all this, from New York, CNN national security contributor, Fran Townsend, who was President Bush's Homeland Security adviser and joining us via Skype from Rio De Janeiro, Glenn Greenwald, a former constitutional law and civil rights litigator and contributing writer for

Thanks to both of you for being here and Glenn, I'd like to start with you. I know you have spoken to Julian Assange several times. I would like to get your reaction to his book deal today. Any qualm about the fact that he is essentially profiting from classified information and do you see any irony in the fact he is making money off of a corporate publisher?

GLENN GREENWALD, FORMER CONSTITUTIONAL LAW LITIGATOR: Well, I would contest the premise of your question. He is not profiting at all off classified information. The legal fees that he is facing already amount to $200,000. It is certain that his legal fees continue to sky rocket. He is clearly the leading target of governments around the world.

The Pentagon in 2008 wrote a classified report about how he should be destroyed and how Wikileaks should be destroyed. So there is no question that even with his $1.3 million book contract, at the end of the day, his legal fees are going to be vastly more than that. What this is a way for him to survive the legal onslaught that governments are launching.

But I would add that every leading American politician, virtually, has got extremely rich off their political careers by writing books, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, George Bush, and Sarah Palin. He is not profiting, he is just surviving by writing a book that will let him defend himself from these legal proceedings.

YELLIN: Well, certainly he doesn't want to follow in the model of the very people he derides and wants to bring down. There is a contradiction there I want to ask you, you have defended Assange in your columns, can you explain for people what is his ultimate goal, beyond embarrassing and disrupting the U.S. government, what good do his supporters really hope will come from everything he is doing?

GREENWALD: Well, I don't think embarrassing the U.S. government is his goal. I think what he does is he looks at what has happened to the United States over the course of the last decade and what he sees is that extreme amounts of secrecy are being used by the United States government to hide the vast majority of what it is that it does from the American citizenry.

This is not only a grave threat to democratic values. It's crucial that citizens be aware of what their government is doing, not having them hide behind walls of secrecy, but what we have seen is that it's secrecy that allows the government to engage in all kinds of criminality and corruption.

Its secrecy that led the Bush administration mislead the American people into believing we had to go to war in Iraq to get rid of weapons that Saddam Hussein didn't have establish a world-wide torture regimes.

The founders all recognize when people in power are able to operate in the dark, what they do is they abuse their power and they act deceitfully and corruptively what Julian Assange believes and millions of people around the world believe in is that it is necessary to shine the light on what the world's most powerful factions are doing to prevent this level of abuse of power and corruption.

YELLIN: I want to bring this to Fran in a minute, but let me press you on that again, Glenn, so we understand. Julian Assange once wrote a blog post saying, quote, "the more secretive or unjust an organization is the more leaks induce fear and paranoia." So in other words, he should it would seem expect exactly the reaction he's seen. He should expect the government to come after him, right?


YELLIN: And he should also be prepared to go to jail for what he's done, as other revolutionaries have. No?

GREENWALD: Well, see, you're a journalist, so you should understand better than anybody that publishing classified information about what governments do is not actually a crime. Every day, media outlets like "The New York Times" and the "Washington Post" and CNN publish government secrets. They publish top secrets, in fact.

"The New York Times" exposed the Bush administration's top secret eavesdropping program, the CIA program, Wikileaks has never exposed top secret this is all secret, marked secret, a lower level designation and in the United States, again, journalists should know this better than anybody and should hope that's true --

YELLIN: Well there is a --

GREENWALD: It's not a crime to publish classified information.

YELLIN: Right, we would draw distinction between publishing information that comes to you by -- and then publishing information that's stolen by somebody ostensibly stolen.

GREENWALD: No, you're absolutely wrong because the "New York Times" used its sources all the time and take classified information that they are not authorized to disseminate and gives it to the "New York Times" which then publishes it.

Good investigative journalists, maybe CNN doesn't do this, but good investigative journalists work their sources all the time to convince them to give them classified information to inform the citizens of the United States about what the government is doing. That's what journalists do.

YELLIN: Fran, let me bring you in here. Obviously, they are trying to draw a line between what Julian Assange is doing and what any other journalist does.

My question to you is let's play what the Vice President Biden said on "Meet The Press" earlier this month and react to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Says this is a high-tech terrorist, others say this is akin to the Pentagon papers. What do you come --

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would argue it is closer to being high-tech terrorist than the Pentagon papers, but look, this guy has done things that have damaged and put in jeopardy the lives and people in other parts of the world. He's made it more difficult for us to conduct our business with our allies and our friends.


YELLIN: Fran, you have the gist of what's saying. Is it fair to call him a terrorist?

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well, look there is no question, let's be clear, your initial question was is he profiting from the commission of a crime and the answer to that is yes. Nobody care who had Julian Assange was until the Wikileaks came out with these tens of thousands of documents, of classified documents. So what he seeks to do now is to profit from that the notion of equating him to public servants and elected officials who publish auto biographies after their government service and profit from that that is purely outrageous.

This is a guy who committed a crime. He did not do what your standard journalist do and by the way, when your other guest refers to "New York Times," even the "New York Times," when they have very sensitive classified information, would come to the government and redact it. David Sanger went on NPR after this and talked about instances where the "New York Times" redacted classified information from their reports because to not do so would have been irresponsible.

YELLIN: Glenn, I want to press you on this again, because you said what he is doing is what any responsible journalist would do journalists will go to jail to protect their sources, for example. There are things journalists will do in the line of their craft. Shouldn't he, again, be prepared to go to jail in defense of his beliefs here?

GREENWALD: People should go to jail if they are charged with a crime and then they are convicted of that crime in a court of law. Fran Townsend can talk all she wants about how he has committed a crime. Many people believe that her boss has committed lots of crimes, but he hasn't been convicted of anything.

YELLIN: Of course, he hasn't been convicted of a crime.

GREENWALD: Neither has Julian Assange. He has not been charged with a crime and he has not been convicted of a crime in connection with these leaks and that's because you can say it all you want, but as a lawyer, I will tell you, and you ask any lawyer if this is true, it is not a crime in the United States to leak classified information if you don't work for the government.

The "New York Times" publishes secrets far more sensitive, a far higher level of secrecy, than anything Julian Assange has ever published and in fact, the Bush administration repeatedly threatened to prosecute the "New York Times" for doing things like exposing the illegal surveillance program.

For exposing the banking program that tracked people's banking information, classified information, publishing classified information is what journalists do and I can't believe that anyone in the field of journalism, such as yourself would say he should go to prison for doing what reporters are supposed to do, which is inform people about what the government is doing.

YELLIN: Fran is there any good that can come of what Julian Assange is doing? Is there transparency motive here that is admirable, in your view?

TOWNSEND: No, there is no -- look, even Julian Assange himself has not made sort of the notion, the argument that what he is doing is some sort of public service. This is somebody who absolutely -- he didn't take any steps to understand the information.

It was so vast, of what was public, whether or not it would be useful or no he made no distinctions about the harm he might be doing to foreign governments, to the U.S. government, to diplomats and soldiers around the world. He just wholesaled through this out there and so he took no steps --

GREENWALD: That's totally false. That's just a lie. He has published less than 1 percent of the 250,000 diplomatic cables that he came into possession of, less than 2,000 of the 250,000.

So, for you to say that he just indiscriminately dumped these documents without assessing what they are and making decisions about what should be withheld and what should be redacted is factually false. Why are you telling that to the viewers?

TOWNSEND: He has threatened to publish much more than he has and there isn't any - the notion we should be grateful he didn't commit a larger crime than he has already committed is ridiculous.

YELLIN: Glenn, let me ask you about --

GREENWALD: The newspapers --

YELLIN: Let me ask you about the rape charges. I'm guessing, do you agree with him that it is a smear campaign and beyond that, do you think they hurt his credibility for his larger cause? GREENWALD: Well, I think it would be totally irresponsible for anybody, me or anybody else to assume either that he is guilty of those charges or that he is innocent of those charges. He -- let me just remind you, he hasn't actually been charged with a crime even in connection with that case.

The Swedish government wants to interrogate him, but has not yet charged him with any crime. So, obviously, when someone is accused of crimes like that, it harms their reputation. Every time there's somebody who reveals information about the government that is embarrassing, they get charged with all kinds of improprieties.

That's why Richard Nixon broke into the psychiatrist's office of Daniel Ellsberg to discredit him, but I think what we need to do is to wait and see how that plays out. If he is guilty, he should be punished in a court of law if he's not, then he shouldn't be. He has not yet even been charged, let alone convicted of those crimes either.

YELLIN: All right, Glenn Greenwald, Fran Townsend, we're going to have to leave it there. Thanks to both of you for joining us.

TOWNSEND: Thank you.

YELLIN: Next, the return of the death panel's debate. The White House is trying to drag President Bush into it. Stand by for a fact check on exactly what the law says.


YELLIN: Well, the death panel argument is back tonight, thanks to the "New York Times." The White House is pushing back hard against yesterday's front page story, which said the Obama administration has quietly revived a part of the health care bill that was killed this year.

It had to do with end of life planning for Medicare recipients, something opponents labeled death panels and reaction, White House officials are not mincing words. They put out a statement saying, quote, "the Times story is wrong. This benefit was signed into law under President Bush."

So, what's this really about? I called over to the Department Of Health And Human Services to do a fact check. Here is what I found. In 2003, when Congress passed the Medicare drug benefit, a little- noticed part of the law created a one-time wellness visit for new Medicare beneficiaries.

In the visit, Medicare will pay for the doctor to do things like review your medications, see what tests you need, make a list of all your health care providers and even check your cholesterol. Well in 2008, Congress expanded those welcome to Medicare visits to also cover what's called end of life planning.

It is counseling to help you make decision and issue directives about your health care in case you are eventually injured or too sick to function. For example, if you want to be kept on life support if a stroke leaves you brain dead. OK, this counseling is what the administration is referring to when they say President Bush first approved the benefit.

So, what's different now, well, the health care reform law lets you do these wellness reviews every year instead of only one time, when you join Medicare and they are optional. What is not optional, it seems, are the politics.

Here to talk it all over, Neera Tanden, senior adviser on health reform and the Health and Human Services Department under President Obama, she's now with the Center For American Progress Action Fund and in New York, Republican strategist and CNN political contributor Ed Rollins, who was President Ronald Reagan's political director and is so much more to us. Thanks to both of you for being with us. Let me start with you, why is the term death panels wrong, in your view?

NEERA TANDEN, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS ACTION FUND: This is just counseling on end of life care. There is no one telling to you do anything. There is no one telling a doctor they have to do anything that they have to take any action at all. The whole idea of death panels has been found wrong and wrong again and it is ludicrous to me that we are still debating this to because the "New York Times" got its facts wrong.

YELLIN: Putting the death panels discussion aside, is it not true that this regulation allowing these end of life discussions to happen every year does in some way, replicate what would have been in the health care law?

TANDEN: There was something in the health care law to allow doctors to do this, to do this counseling, but that doesn't matter. What was in the health care law was not a death panel, either. It was something a lot of people wanted and I think it is kind of tragic it was taken out of context. The really important fact here is that George Bush, that the Bush administration, ensured that this regulation was in place. And the Obama administration is simply expanding on something the Bush administration did.

YELLIN: OK. Ed, where do you come down on this? Is end of life planning something that the Republican Party should be behind, and let Medicare pay for, or not?

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Think definitely we should. I think part of the problem in the whole health care debate, it was such a complicated issue. It was a 2,000-page bill, and a lot of it was going to be implemented by regulation. And I think there was a lot of confusion. Any time you have debates or campaigns, you get a lot of confusion.

I see nothing wrong with doings being reimbursed for sitting down with patients my age or older, and older and saying what kind of -- do you want -- I'm on Medicare. What kind of treatment do you want at the end of your life, or if you get ill, you have a stroke, you have a heart attack, what kind of treatment do you want? And I think what I -- at least I understand what is being implemented now is that the doctors will be reimbursed by that. The rhetoric of Palin, and others, when they talked in terms of health panels, deciding what kind of services people would get at the end of their life, was not right. I think the key thing is you as an individual, you and your doctor can make the choices that most affect you. And Republicans, like anybody else, should be for that. And most important, the doctors should be reimbursed for that time and that ability.

YELLIN: Now that there has been a "New York Times" story on, this Ed, do you predict some in the party will make a lot of hay out of this?

ROLLINS: I think what they will try to do is find the facts. I think the key thing here, as I said, in a campaign, a lot of Americans didn't want health care, a lot did. A lot of the rhetoric gets ahead of itself, and I think to a certain extent, this needs to be explained to people. It is not a death panel, it is you one-on-one with your doctor-at least that is my understanding of it-making choices for you, individually, for the rest of your life.

YELLIN: Neera, take a look at this poll, it will show a third of seniors believe the health care reform does include death panels.

TANDEN: Right.

YELLIN: How is the messaging still so wrong this is what people believe?

TANDEN: You had Republican leaders from Sarah Palin to John Boehner make charges that were absolutely false. I want to applaud Ed Rollins for looking at the facts here, and taking a reasonable stance. I wish there were more folks in the Republican Party who did that.

They made that decision because they chose to, basically, attack this legislation with falsehoods in order to bring down the president's approval ratings and the make the law more and more unpopular. It has been a successful strategy. Now, as we go forward, more and more people will see that there really are no such thing as death panels. The government is not dictating their choices, and I hope the numbers will change.

YELLIN: OK. Let's look at this. Ed, patients with chronic illness in their last two years of life, account for about 32 percent of total Medicare spending.

ROLLINS: Right. Absolutely.

YELLIN: I mean that is astonishing. If you are looking at fiscal responsibility, should we, as a nation, be having a conversation about what medical treatments should be available to people in these last two years?

ROLLINS: It is probably the most difficult question anybody is going to have in the whole health care. I think so much of the health care bill, that obviously is going to try to be modified by Republicans, is about cost reduction. And when you start reducing costs, particularly on the Medicare, you are going to have, course starting January 1st, 10,000 to 12,000 more Americans every day going into that system and have 50 million more at the end of the baby boomer to the 50 million that already there, it is going to cost more. So, the choices that you're going to have to make are going to be significant.

But I think the key thing here is to try to get individuals and families involved at an earlier stage. When with you come in an ambulance, you have had a stroke, you don't know what's going on, no one sits there and says to you, a it is going to cost X-amount of money, they basically say we will do everything we can to save your life and prolong your life. And that's what you want, you think.

Three months later, when you are sitting there and resources of the family are being put aside, the quality of life of the person laying in that bed is not particularly good. And they don't have any say. Those are the kinds of things that need to be discussed out as we move forward in all this. And not just make it about dollars and cents, make it about quality of life and choices.

YELLIN: Neera, can I ask you, simply put, is there anything in the health care legislation passed that allows for a panel that will make life and death decisions about who gets coverage and who doesn't?

TANDEN: Absolutely nothing a falsehood from the beginning to the end and it is a tragedy that people chose to play politics instead of talk about what was really in this bill.

YELLIN: Thanks so much for joining us on this Neera. Ed, we will check in with you on other topics later on.

ROLLINS: Thank you.

YELLIN: OK. Ahead we'll have an update on the travel disasters many of you are facing right now. And the latest on airports slowly digging out from this weekend's snowstorm.


YELLIN: Now let's check in with Joe Johns for some of the news you need to know right now.

Hey, Joe.


YELLIN: When we come back, Hawaii's governor blasts the birthers. Hear it in his own words.


YELLIN: There are new developments in another story that annoys the folks at the White House to no end. This one with simply won't go away. Some people, opponents of the president, who have been dubbed birthers, keep demanding more evidence to prove that President Obama was born in the U.S. Now, Hawaii governor Neil Abercrombie tells CNN he will do, quote, "what is legally possible to lay those questions to rest." The governor talked with CNN Senior Correspondent Ed Henry, who is in Hawaii, clearly roughing it, covering the president's vacation.

We are jealous, Ed. You spoke today with the governor of Hawaii. What's behind his push?

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well it is interesting, Jessica, because he is motivated, in part, by his personal ties to this president, and his family. He knew both of his parents. But also, he just says, look, I want to clear this up once and for all. He knows there is are some lawmakers in states like Texas and Arizona trying to keep Barack Obama off the presidential ballot in their states in 2012, by saying unless he shows a birth certificate, he can't get on the ballot. Neil Abercrombie is saying, look, I basically-he has spoken to a couple of different cabinet officials in his government. He has only been sworn in for about three or four weeks now. And he is looking at all avenues, whether he could release the birth certificate, he can release other documents. And he is telling me he doesn't care if the White House tries to stop it. He just wants to clear it up once and for all. Take a listen.


GOV. NEIL ABERCROMBIE, (D) HAWAII: It is not up to the president. It has nothing to do with the president. This has to do with the people in Hawaii who loved him. People who loved his mom and dad. This has to do with the respect that the office the president is entitled to, and has to do with the respect of every single person's mother and father are-.

HENRY (On camera): So do you envision the possibility that you could release the birth certificate without his permission as governor?

ABERCROMBIE: Obviously, I will do whatever is legally possible. I have the attorney general and the director of the Department of Health looking what we can do. To try to see what we can do in turn, for an open process, that will put those who want to disrespect the president and his parents in the proper light, which is to say they have a political agenda not worthy of any good American.


HENRY: Now, beyond the political agenda that he believes the birthers have, there is also that personal connection I mentioned. Neil Abercrombie, in the early '60s, knew both of Barack Obama's parents, Barack senior as well as Ann Dunham, now both deceased. He told me he believes it is basically a stain on their name, that the birthers are not just attacking the president, and the office of the president, but his parents, because they are suggesting that Barack Obama's parents lied about where he was born. Maybe he was born in another country and then they covered it up and brought him to Hawaii. He says he wants to clear their name as well once and for all. Listen to this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ABERCROMBIE: It is a matter of principle with me. I knew his mom and dad.

HENRY: Right.

ABERCROMBIE: I was here when he was born. Anybody who wants to ask the question honestly could have had their answer already.


HENRY: Now, I ran some of these quotes past the White House. And I can tell you, White House officials just don't want to comment on it at all. And the reason is they just don't want to bring more attention to the birthers. And I pressed Neil Abercrombie on that. And again, he just said, look, I don't care if there are supporters of the president who thinks this will harm them. He only wants to help the president. But also just clear it up, put the facts out there and put this to bed, once and for all, Jessica.

YELLIN: Right. Well, Neil Abercrombie it should be pointed out, is a Democrat. He says it is not about politics.

HENRY: That's right. Absolutely.

YELLIN: Let me turn to another story, Ed. There are reports a staff shakeup at the White House. What are you hearing about it?

HENRY: Well, it is interesting. I think it is probably not going to be as extensive as some people think. But one of the more interesting things that's developing is the fact that we have known for a long time that Robert Gibbs may want to step down as White House press secretary. There is sort of more and more buzz growing among Democratic advisers to this White House that are saying that Robert Gibbs is now exploring some sort of a job. You know, his name had come up for Democratic National Committee chairman. But it might not that post. It might just be some sort of an adviser at the DNC, where he can hang his hat. But he might fly become and forth to Chicago and really start helping with sort of the outside message for this White House, leading up to 2012.

And what that sets up is an interesting battle between a couple of other top Obama officials for who's going to get the podium he at the White House. One contender is Bill Burton, who is actually traveling with the president, here in Hawaii. He is the deputy to Robert Gibbs, very well respected. Was big in the campaign in 2008, based in Chicago. And then Jay Carney, who is the vice president's communications director, somebody a little bit more of an Obama outsider, was not active in the campaign, because you remember he was a journalist at our sister publication, "TIME" magazine. But also very well respected inside the White House. Those are the two names I'm hearing, who are being looked at very closely by the president right now.

YELLIN: Both have great relationships with the press. Interesting to see what other changes come inside the West Wing.

HENRY: Absolutely.

YELLIN: Thanks so much, Ed, try to enjoy your time here in Hawaii if you can.

HENRY: The temperature actually plummeted. It is not that nice. It is down to like 70 degrees, because it is cloudy behind me. So, I can feel your pain.

YELLIN: Nice. Nice. Really nice, Ed. Good outfit, too. All right, Ed Henry from Hawaii.

So, who is the most admired man in the country? Well, we will tell you that and who is the most admired woman, when we come back.


YELLIN: As we have been reporting, New York City's three major airports resumed operations late this afternoon. The country's travel trouble stretched from coast to coast tonight because this weekend's snowstorm disrupted airport hubs up and down the East Coast, including in Atlanta, where Martin Savidge is reporting.

Things clearing up or still a mess?


Here is the area that has been especially set aside by Delta to deal with the folks on the canceled flights. They have a face behind every counter. The line is moving pretty quickly and good news for those who have had to wait. The bad news is when they get to the counter.

Say hello to Greg Penso.

You have been trying to get up to New York since, what, today right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today. All the flights canceled to LaGuardia, Kennedy, Newark. I tried to go on Delta's, actually I went with the 1-800-number first. And I couldn't get through.

SAVIDGE: This has been the problem. People try to either get in online or get on the phone. They have had no luck. So, tell us when you will get to New York, according to the airlines?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Confirmed, confirmed, Saturday.

SAVIDGE: That's next year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Correct. Next Saturday. And then I am going to try to go stand-by, but the first flight out tomorrow, 66 people on stand-by.

SAVIDGE: Thank you very much. Good luck to you. And 66 people on stand-by and that is just the first flight. It's not happy in Atlanta. Back to you, Jessica.

YELLIN: All right. Martin, we wish them the best of luck. Thank you.

You wouldn't know it from his popularity numbers, President Obama, he is the country's most admired man in 2010. That is according to a "USA Today"/Gallup poll. That is our next story. Joining me now to discuss results and what it may mean for 2010, our Democratic Strategist Maria Cardona, and in New York, CNN Political Contributor and Republican strategist, Ed Rollins.

Ed, first to you, in the new poll, President Obama leads former President Bush by double digits. And he is ahead of Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela, and the pope. Is that at all surprising to you?

ROLLINS: No, the president historically is almost always first in this contest that takes place every year. Often times the first lady is the most admired, as you get to that we will discuss that. I think there is no big players, no other competitor. President Bush obviously is still a little bit, because of his book. President Clinton, who had a pretty good season, but there is not big prominent Republicans-

YELLIN: The pope?

ROLLINS: This is not a big - this is not a big public pope. He has been around for a long time. He's not John Paul. Don't mean to cast any aspersions on the pope. As my little daughter said to me, you know the way to church, you just don't go there as often as you should. So, I don't want to say anything detrimental about the pope. It is just a different thing. It doesn't have anything to do with politics. I think end of the day the president is where he should be.

YELLIN: Maria, I hate to go to Ed for the men, and you for the women. But anyway.


YELLIN: Hillary Clinton tops the list for women. She is ahead of Sarah Palin and Oprah.

MARIA CARDONA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I have to tell you something, Jessica, this is something that had Secretary Clinton on pins and needles.

YELLIN: Right.

CARDONA: Hoping that finally she would know.


CARDONA: Because you know, North Korea, Iran, creepy Julian Assange aren't enough to keep her up at night. But this, you can now take a good night's rest, Secretary Clinton.

YELLIN: It is interesting. When I am on the campaign trail and I talk to even Republican women, Republican political women often site Hillary Clinton as a role model. Is that a sign that there are very few women role models in politics?

CARDONA: Clearly, that's true. Because we have seen, in politics, that Secretary Clinton actually has been a trailblazer. And clearly her, her primary race indicated that she was very popular among women across the board just because of what she represented, in terms of making the plunge into places where no women have gone before. I think that hasn't changed.

YELLIN: Ed, the poll, if you break it down by party affiliation, both President Obama and Hillary Clinton lead among Democrats, of course, but also Independents. Is that any way surprising or it fits into your theory of the presidency?

ROLLINS: It fits into the overall theory. And I think relative to Mrs. Clinton I think she has really enhanced herself in the last two years. She came out of the campaign, having run probably the best campaign of anybody in 2008. I think to a certain extent she has done an admirable job as secretary of State. A lot of people basically have a little buyer's remorse, and a lot of people think she might have been a good president.

YELLIN: Oprah Winfrey, Maria, is the most admired among Democrats, Independents and Republicans. Does that bode well for her network, I guess, or does it mean she has a career in politics. She is starting a new network in a few weeks.

CARDONA: It clearly bodes incredibly well for the business woman that is Oprah Winfrey. She said in the past that she has no interest in politics. As you and I know, Jessica, never say never. You never know what is going to happen. With that kind of popularity Oprah Winfrey can do whatever she wants and I think she will be successful at it.

YELLIN: Right, she is No. 2 after Hillary Clinton.

Ed we are going to have to talk about the first lady another time. Because that will be an interesting conversation.

ROLLINS: Sure. Take care.

YELLIN: Thanks for joining us.

ROLLINS: Thank you.

YELLIN: Thanks, Maria.

CARDONA: Thank you.

YELLIN: Up next one man's battle against the elements. Pete On The Street, yep, when we return.


YELLIN: It is hard being Pete On The Street when there is so much snow you can't even find the street. Our offbeat reporter Pete Dominick finally shoveled himself out. And he joins us now from New York.

OK, Pete, how did it go today?

PETE DOMINICK, OFFBEAT REPORTER: Well, listen, Jessica, I live just outside the city. But I grew up in Syracuse, New York, Jessica Yellin, were we get more snow than almost any city in America.

And I'll tell you, I'm sick of all the complaints and all the coverage. This is good stuff. Look at video of me, earlier, just enjoying myself as I shoveling out my driveway. It is not hard-

I need a break. I need a break.

All right. I did need a little bit of a break. But I used the proper technique. You got to get down. But enough of the complaining. We are enjoying this.

You have fun in the snow, right, kids? Oh, yeah, see. It's good. Right, guys? Enjoy the winter. Enjoy the snow. It only comes around every so often. I know people are stranded, Jessica. You guys are loving the snow, right?



DOMINICK: All right. So we are having a good time. My kids are having a good time. My message tonight to everybody is make the best of it, right, Jessica, come on.

YELLIN: Let me guess, did you have the kids do the digging out for you?

DOMINICK: These kids I just found on the street. But I may hire them later on. I had my kids do it. My three-year-old is a bit of a slacker. I had to get her out there. I ended up doing a lot of it myself. I was motivated by my 81-year-old neighbor.

All right, kids, get lost. Enjoy your snow.

YELLIN: It looks like, I know, a shopping district in New York. Looks like people are out and about a little bit? Businesses getting a little more action?

DOMINICK: New York City, Jess, you never see it like this. It is absolutely dead. But people are enjoying this. You will see people cross-country skiing, down Broadway. People enjoy this kind of stuff. You really do have to make the best of the situation that you cannot control.

YELLIN: All right. I think you can seep cross-country skiing in New York City during normal times. You never know what will happen there.

DOMINICK: That's true.

YELLIN: Thanks, Pete.

And that is all from us tonight. PARKER SPITZER starts now.