Return to Transcripts main page

The Situation Room

Obama Picking Clinton Figures; Terrorist's Hateful Obama Slam; Big Names Turn Out for Georgia Race

Aired November 19, 2008 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, something old becomes something new. Barack Obama's list of cabinet secretaries apparently gets another surprise. But why are new assignments being filled with so many familiar names? Stand by.
Terrorists racked with anti-U.S. hatred are watching this historic transfer of power. Osama bin Laden's top deputy seemingly puts out a message, and it's ridiculing Barack Obama and hatefully calling him a racial slur. Why this and why now you?

And should you fear even worse economic conditions? The big three automakers say if they don't get the billions of dollars in taxpayer dollars that they want, you could see a national economic catastrophe.

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

If Barack Obama keeps us his current rate, he could have his entire cabinet picked in just a few weeks. Right now it seems you can scratch one more off your list of spots that need a name. The president-elect apparently making another surprise move to help him run the government. But how different will Barack Obama's cabinet be from the previous Democratic administration?

Let's go straight to CNN's Jessica Yellin. She's watching all of this. She's got a front row seat in Chicago, where the transition team is working around the clock. What's the latest, Jessica?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, former U.S. senator and majority leader Tom Daschle was a force in the Congress for more than 30 years, working first as a legislative aide and then as an officeholder himself. He went on to become a vital force in Barack Obama's campaign, bringing him inside advice and important endorsements, and now he's going to take a seat, it seems, on Barack Obama's cabinet.


YELLIN (voice-over): President-elect Obama's latest choice for his cabinet? Former Senate Democratic majority leader Tom Daschle, who will also serve as health care czar. It's another indication the president-elect will not let devastating economic times slow his push for health care reform.

One of the cabinet posts still not spoken for, secretary of state. Will Senator Clinton take that chair? WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Whatever they want. This is a deal between the president-elect and Hillary. And you should talk to them. But I'll do whatever they want.

YELLIN: CNN has learn that former President Bill Clinton is cooperating with the Obama vetting process. He's agreed to release the names of major donors to his foundation and would allow the Obama administration to review sources of future income. He'd also agree to remove himself from day-to-day responsibility for his foundation.

CLINTON: We're both committed, completely committed to his success. So that's for them to work out. Whatever they do, I'll support.

YELLIN: The Clintons are also offering help in less direct ways. As Obama's team takes shape, there are plenty of familiar faces -- chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, tradition head John Podesta, likely attorney general Eric Holder, likely budget director Peter Orszag, all alums of the Clinton administration.

Back on the campaign trail, Barack Obama sounded like this --

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT-ELECT: I am not in this race to run against Senator Clinton. She is a able, intelligent, hard- working Senator, and she has won a terrific campaign. But I am running to change how business is done in Washington.

YELLIN: But in a Washington awash in crises, inside experience may matter more than outside change.


YELLIN: And Wolf, the Obama team has announced a few new additions to White House staff, not the cabinet, but the actual West Wing staff. That includes David Axelrod. That's the adviser you've seen by Obama's side for so long now. He will be a senior advisor inside the White House. Also a number of other positions there, occupied in part by people who also used to work in the Clinton administration.

But one other note, Wolf. I was just in touch with somebody who was in contact with folks in the transition office, and they tell me that today Barack Obama surprised VP candidate or VP-elect Joe Biden. It's his birthday tomorrow, and Obama brought him cupcakes with candles, gave him a bunch of sports paraphernalia for the birthday. So they're having some lighter moments, as well.

BLITZER: Happy birthday, Mr. Vice President-elect. I guess they can sing that song.

All right. Thanks, Jessica.

Also that announcements that Greg Craig will be the White House counsel. That's fully expected. We're watching what's happened, the breaking news up on Wall Street right now. For the first time in more than five years, the Dow Jones industrials dipping below that 8,000 mark, a drop right now of about 427 points. They're still counting and tallying the latest sales, the latest buying and selling up on Wall Street, but this is a real significant loss. And we're watching it very, very closely, and we're going to have more on this part of the story coming up.

But for the first time in more than five years, the Dow Jones industrials now below 8,000. We'll see what the final number is in the next few moments.

It appears the world is hearing the anti-U.S. hatred that awaits the incoming president. Terrorists bent on destroying America and killing Americans have apparently just released another message, and it's slamming Barack Obama, even referring to him with a racial slur.

Let's get the details from our justice correspondent, Kelli Arena. Kelli, what's going on on this front?

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it appears that al Qaeda is watching the transfer of power. This is the first public comment from the leadership about Barack Obama's victory. And Wolf, it is ugly.


ARENA (voice-over): It's a direct shot at the president-elect, and intelligence experts say al Qaeda's attempt to undermine Barack Obama's popularity, especially among Muslims.

AYMAN AL-ZAWAHIRI, AL QAEDA (through translator): You represent the direct opposite of honorable black Americans like Malik El- Shabazz, or Malcolm X.

ARENA: Ayman al-Zawahiri, who is al Qaeda's number two, continued the personal attack referring to Obama as a "house Negro," Malcolm X's term for blacks who were subservient to whites, and berating the president-elect for being Christian.

AL-ZAWAHIRI (through translator): You were born to a Muslim father, but you chose to stand in the ranks of the enemies of the Muslims.

Intelligence experts are reviewing the tape but have no reason to believe it's not legitimate. The audio plays over still pictures of Zawahiri, Malcolm X praying, and Obama with Jewish leaders.

DANIEL BENJAMIN, FMR. COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL: I think it's clearly both an effort to be relevant and an attack on Obama because al Qaeda needs to reassert its story and really thwart the danger posed to it by an American president who wants to establish a new relationship with more than one billion Muslims.

ARENA: Barack Obama didn't take the bait and would not comment, but he has said al Qaeda remains a top target. OBAMA: I think it is a top priority for us to stamp out al Qaeda once and for all.

ARENA: Part of his plan is to send more U.S. troops into Afghanistan, a plan Zawahiri claims is destined for failure.

Al Qaeda has released messages before around a U.S. election. This one hit the Internet as the U.S. has increased the number of missile strikes along the Afghan/Pakistan border targeting terrorists.


ARENA: Interestingly Wolf, if this tape is any indication, al Qaeda is just as worried about losing another war, and that's the war for hearts and minds in the Muslim world.

BLITZER: Kelli Arena working the story.

The last time, by the way, we heard directly from Osama bin Laden, that was May 18th. An audio message supposedly from bin Laden was posted on radical Islamist Web sites. That was the fourth audiotape supposedly from bin Laden this year alone.

The last time we actually have seen Osama bin Laden in a videotape, apparently that was on September 7th of last year. That was ahead of the sixth anniversary of 9/11. Bin Laden criticized the U.S. war in Iraq, as well as President Bush and Vice President Cheney.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Our new president will be confronting arguably the toughest set of problems the country's been faced with in a very long time, including the aforementioned al Qaeda. Our economy's in crisis, the Treasury's broke, Americans are losing their jobs in record numbers and we're fighting two wars. It's heady stuff, but at the end of the day, one of the biggest decisions Barack and Michelle Obama are going to have to make is where to send those two delightful little girls to school.

It's a decision parents wrestle with all the time -- public or private? Public schools tend to be more closely resembling of the real world. Private schools provide a more insulated and in some cases intellectually challenging environment.

But Sasha and Malia are not just any two kids who are moving with mom and dad from Chicago to Washington and are faced with trying to find a new school. When they head off to their first day of class, the world will be watching. The Secret Service will go with them.

They, by the way, Secret Service, have dubbed these two kids "Rosebud" and "Radiance." That's kind of cute.

Michelle Obama says she wants to be the nation's first mom. Where to send these twos girls to school will be one of the big decisions she'll be making. And no matter what the Obamas decide, of course the nation will be watching and clucking like a bunch of hens no matter what the decision ultimately is.

Here's the question: Should the Obama children attend public or private school?

You can give us your thoughts at Post a comment there on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: They've got to do what's best for the girls, obviously, Jack. And the Secret Service is deeply worried about security. So that's going to be a huge, huge factor, no doubt about that.

CAFFERTY: Absolutely.

BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thanks very much.

Bill Clinton out on the campaign trail this hour, even though it's only two weeks after Election Day. We're about to hear from him. The former president of the United States on stage in Georgia as he tries to sway votes in a key Senate race.

Plus, the results are finally in for another key race, and it's something that hasn't happened in almost 30 years, bringing the Democrats oh so close to that magic number they want, the control of the agenda in the Senate.

And the CEOs of Detroit's auto car companies, they're asking for a lot of cash from the U.S. taxpayers. So why did they fly to Washington on rather expensive corporate jets, all of them? The congressional committee is asking some tough questions.


BLITZER: Get ready. Within the next few moments, former President Bill Clinton is going to be hitting the stage in Atlanta. He's doing his part to help a Democrat in the middle of a dramatic runoff race for Georgia's Senate seat.

CNN's Rusty Dornin is at that rally. Rusty, let's talk a little bit about it. What's the latest? What's going on?

RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, thousands have lined up in anticipation of hearing from former President Bill Clinton, of course, who is stumping for the Democrat, Jim Martin, in this very fierce Senate race that's turning out to be the battle of the headliners.


DORNIN (voice-over): A fierce fight for the U.S. Senate seat in Georgia has Republican Saxby Chambliss and Democrat Jim Martin campaigning with the stars to tip voters in their favor for the runoff December 2nd. Today, former President Bill Clinton will deliver for the Democrat and Al Gore will be here this weekend.

SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R), GEORGIA: Please help me give a Georgia welcome to the honorable John McCain. DORNIN: Republican Saxby Chambliss scored Senator John McCain last week in his first post-election political speech.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: You'll see that Saxby Chambliss is doing what we Republicans should have done for eight years.

DORNIN: And Mike Huckabee came to hawk his fair tax plan and Chambliss for Senate.

NARRATOR: Barack Obama's new taxes would be a disaster. Yet, Jim Martin supports them.

DORNIN: Chambliss is using Obama's economic policies to attack his opponent, but Jim Martin is banking on Obama's popularity to stir up voters.

NARRATOR: Jim Martin will help Barack Obama cut taxes for the middle class and get our economy moving again.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Welcome to Atlanta!

DORNIN: Martin's campaign has invited Obama to appear. So far, no word.

CLINTON: Your next senator, Wyche Fowler.

DORNIN: When President-elect Bill Clinton stumped here in '92 for the Senate candidate in a runoff campaign, the candidate lost. And some say it was embarrassing to the new president. Political analysts say that might be the reason it might be too risky for Obama to come to Georgia.

Because it's a runoff, CNN's Bill Schneider says it will be tough for the Democrats to win the seat.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Turnout is likely to drop sharply. And if only the hard-core Georgia voters come out on December 2nd, that would be good for the Republicans.


DORNIN: Now, of course, if the Republicans can win this seat, that would stop the Democrats from having a filibuster-proof majority. And of course, both sides are fighting hard for that edge -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A big crowd there where you are, Rusty, or small crowd?

DORNIN: No, it's a big crowd because it's wrapping around the street. They really haven't let the folks in the audience fill in here. They should at any moment. Apparently it is beginning.

And of course, we are ways waiting the former president to arrive at any moment. So I think they're holding off the crowd until the last minute.

BLITZER: All right. It looks like people are starting to run behind you. That means they're letting them in, they want to get a good position right there. So get ready. You're going to have a lot of folks near you any second, Rusty. We'll stand by to hear from Bill Clinton, the former president.

And just a short time ago here in Washington is, Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska officially conceded his race to Democratic rival Mark Begich, the mayor of Anchorage. Senator Stevens told our producers up on Capitol Hill that he plans to "enjoy life right no."

Let's go to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's looking at this. The Stevens defeat, it changes the balance of power a little bit more in the U.S. Senate.

SCHNEIDER: That's right. It brings the Democrats agonizingly close to the magic number they need to control the Cincinnati agenda.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Has hell frozen over? No, but there's a partisan thaw in Alaska. Alaska has just elected a Democrat to Congress, first one in nearly 30 years.

MARK BEGICH (D-AK), SENATOR-ELECT: There will always be an independent voice for Alaska.

SCHNEIDER: Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich has defeated Ted Stevens, the longest serving Senate Republican in history. The astonishing thing isn't that Begich won, it's that Stevens almost got reelected, even though he was convicted last month on seven counts of corruption. Stevens is an icon in Alaska, as Begich himself acknowledged.

BEGICH: He's done a lot for our state, and I've shared Alaska's respect for him. But the past year has been a difficult one for Alaska. And with the verdict, we can put this behind us.

SCHNEIDER: Republicans were ready to throw Stevens out of their party.

GOV. MARK SANFORD (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Ted Stevens out in Alaska became the personification of much of what had gone wrong with the party.

SCHNEIDER: Stevens' defeat saves the Republicans the embarrassment of having to expel him. On the other hand, if Stevens had won, and then resigned or been expelled, there would have been a special election and Republicans might have saved his seat. Who knows? Governor Sarah Palin might have run.

Democrats now have 58 seats in the new Senate, two shy of the 60 they need to cut off Republican filibusters. Two seats remain undecided: Minnesota and Georgia. Democrats need every Senate vote they can get, which is one reason why they have decided not to drive Senator Joe Lieberman out of the caucus, despite his disloyalty to the Democratic ticket.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: I think this was done in a spirit of reconciliation.

SCHNEIDER: Or party interest.


SCHNEIDER: Wonderful news for political junkies. The election isn't over. They've just begun the recount of the Senate ballots in Minnesota, and there's that runoff for the Georgia Senate seat on December 2nd, where Bill Clinton is campaigning today -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Those are the two big question marks remaining, Minnesota and Georgia. We'll watch with you, Bill. Thanks very much.

Hijackings out there on the high seas. Pirates are stepping up their attacks off the coast of Africa. Another assault today, but this one did not end as the pirates planned. We have the story coming up.

Plus, nuclear terrorism, that's a growing threat. You're going to find out what some nuclear weapons experts say Barack Obama needs to do about it once he becomes president.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: How low can it go? The Dow Jones industrials today, for the first time in more than five years, dropping below 8,000.

Let's go to Allan Chernoff. He's got the developing story. Allan, there is a lot of concern out there about what's going on.

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SR. CORRESPONDENT: Growing concern, Wolf. Just when you think the market has gotten close to bottom, it plunges yet again.

A huge loss of confidence today, especially near the closing bell. The market just tumbled, and tumbled very rapidly, particularly the financial stocks.

Citicorp, which had been the biggest bank by capitalization in the nation, down by 23 percent today, trading at just $6 and change. An absolute huge plunge over there.

General Electric, down by 10 percent. Even a company not sensitive to the economy, Johnson & Johnson, that stock down by 5 percent.

All day long there was a steady drumbeat of negative news. You had the big three hearings on Capitol Hill, the automakers. That set a very negative tone. The Federal Reserve put out minutes of its latest meeting, also lowering its expectations for the economy. You have the Consumer Price Index going down, an indication that prices are going down and consumers will not be spending very heavily this holiday season. The bottom line be? Investors are recognizing that corporate earnings are going to be coming way down, much lower likely than Wall Street is anticipating. And as a result, you're seeing stock prices falling very rapidly.

Wolf, this is very worrisome. Back to you.

BLITZER: Very worrisome, 427 points down today, and the markets, the Dow Jones industrials, closing at 7,997.

All right, Allan. Thanks very much.



BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, Mike Huckabee is mincing no words. The former Republican presidential candidate is talking about his former Republican rivals, his future political career, and some tense moments out there on the campaign trail. He's standing by live. We'll talk to Mike Huckabee right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

On the line. President-elect Barack Obama works the phones calling world leaders. We're going to tell you what he's saying and why. Zain Verjee is standing by.

And an amazing medical breakthrough. Doctors transplant an organ created from a patient's own stem cells. You're going to see how. Our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta, he's standing by live, as well.

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

A new day, but the same desperate plea from auto industry executives. If it doesn't receive some $25 billion of taxpayer help, the industry, they insist will crash and possibly take down millions of American jobs. Industry executives took some tough questions from House lawmakers today.

Let's go to Capitol Hill. Our congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is working the story for us. Dana, these executives, they're in desperate need, they say, and they want quick action. How likely is it they're going to get it?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, all you had to do was listen to the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, on the Senate floor this morning. And he made abundantly clear he does not think it is likely to happen, certainly by week's end, at the end of this lame duck session, but that did not stop the auto executives and their allies here on Capitol Hill from trying.


BASH (voice-over): Auto executives came back to Capitol Hill to make their case one more time for a $25 billion rescue. And lawmakers' deep skepticism gave way to sparring.

REP. PAUL E. KANJORSKI (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Can't you just tell me in absolute terms how much money do you need to survive, General Motors, from today until March 30?

RICK WAGONER, CHAIRMAN & CEO, GENERAL MOTORS: I -- Congressman, it's going to depend on what happens with suppliers and markets.

KANJORSKI: I understand that. Give me your worst-case scenario.

WAGONER: In the worst-case scenario, the amount of money would be significant. I mean, we have -- we have supplier --


KANJORSKI: What is significant, Mr. Wagoner?


WAGONER: -- $4 billion or $5 billion every month.

BASH: GM's CEO could not fully answer that question, but he insisted $25 billion will keep them afloat.

WAGONER: Eighty percent of consumers said they would not buy a car from a company in bankruptcy.

BASH: But their urgent cry for help was undercut by news of corporate excess. ABC News reported, the Big Three CEOs flew to Washington to ask for taxpayer money on costly company jets.

ACKERMAN: It's almost like seeing a guy show up at the soup kitchen in high hat and tuxedo.

REP. BRAD SHERMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: I'm going to ask the three executives here to raise their hand if they flew here commercial. Let the record show no hands went up.

Second, I'm going ask you to raise your hand if you're planning to sell your jet in place now and fly back commercial. Let the record show no hands went up.

BASH: Spokesmen for the auto executives insist, using private jets is standard practice, for security reasons.

Meanwhile, with time running out, auto bailout supporters scrambled behind the scenes for compromise on the major divide, where the money should come from.

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D-MI), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: We should not leave without trying to find common ground between those two pots of money, both of which exist. And we're working it, hard.

BASH: But, back at the hearing, evidence of Detroit's huge challenge. REP. MICHAEL CAPUANO (D), MASSACHUSETTS: But, damn it, I don't want to help again, and get it stuffed back in our ear at home that you took the money and you blew it.


BASH: Now, several influential Democratic senators told us today that their efforts to get agreement on an auto bailout is actually complicated by bright lines being drawn by their fellow Democrats over on the House side.

And, Wolf, you might ask, what about the most influential Democrat of all right now? And that, of course, is, Barack Obama. Well, his closest ally here on Capitol Hill, Senator Dick Durbin, he told CNN today that he is not engaging, he's not making phone calls, no arm-twisting, nothing.

BLITZER: Interesting.

BASH: Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very, Dana. Dana is going to work the story for us. We will see what happens.

Appointing a nuclear weapons czar -- a new report says president- elect Obama needs to do just that to help counter extremely real danger, the danger of nuclear terrorism.

Let's go to CNN's Dan Lothian. He's following the story for us. Dan, our viewers know there are some very frightening scenarios out there.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN BOSTON BUREAU CHIEF: That's right. And this report points out that the threat is very real because of the lack of security around some of these nuclear facilities in some countries, just a night watchman and a padlock.


LOTHIAN (voice-over): The Cold War is long over, but many are still worried what is still lying around in places like Russia that could end up in the hands of terrorists.

MATTHEW BUNN, SENIOR RESEARCH ASSOCIATE IN THE PROJECT ON MANAGING THE ATOM, BELFER CENTER FOR SCIENCE AND INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS: What's really needed to prevent nuclear terrorism is a comprehensive strategy that focuses first on locking down the nuclear weapons and the materials you need to make them in countries all over the world.

LOTHIAN: Harvard associate professor Matthew Bunn says Barack Obama needs a nuclear czar in the White House to help prevent a nuclear terrorist attack.

BUNN: Keeping it on the front-burner every day. That needs to be a full-time person. LOTHIAN: A sense of urgency in Bunn's report, highlighting gaps that could result in a terrorist gaining access to a nuclear bomb.

Consider Russia, where, the report says, a colonel was arrested this year for soliciting bribes to overlook nuclear security violations, or South Africa, where, last year, there was an armed break-in an at a site containing highly enriched uranium.

Pakistan also remains a major concern. The fear of loose nukes is high.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I had a conversation in Texas with Sam Nunn and Jim Baker and asked them, which is going to be more dangerous for the next president, Iran or Iraq? They both said, Pakistan.

LOTHIAN: Obama co-sponsored a bill to keep weapons out of the hands of terrorists. On the campaign trail, he promised to do more, if elected.

OBAMA: It is time to secure all loose nuclear materials.

LOTHIAN: Peter Brookes of the Heritage Foundation says the report sounds promising, but has to be viewed with caution.

PETER BROOKES, SENIOR FELLOW, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: Appointing one person to be the adviser on this on, on probably the National Security Council, is not a silver bullet for preventing this from happening.


LOTHIAN: Bunn says current programs are too broad, that a senior adviser, he says, would offer more focus. Overall, he says, security at nuclear sites around the world, especially Russia, has improved over the last 15 years, but this problem, as we have been talking about, Wolf, remains a major threat.

BLITZER: Dan Lothian, thank you.

That Harvard report that Dan just cited also lays out some specifics for a proposed nuclear czar. It recommends, among other things, that a senior figure who can command respect from the Cabinet departments be appointed and that the position be part of the National Security Council, with a small staff of its own.

Ultimately, the report says, the nuclear czar's job would be to wake up every single morning and ask this question: What can we do today to prevent a nuclear terrorist attack?

Pirates off the coast of Africa, they are stepping up their attacks, and now they're facing a dramatic counterattack. We have the story straight ahead.

And Hillary Clinton mulling over a possible future in the Obama administration -- does she want to become secretary of state? Our experts weigh in.

And Bill Clinton, the former president, we're waiting to hear from him in Georgia. Get ready to hear from Bill Clinton -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: You're looking at these live pictures from Clark Atlanta University down in Atlanta. And we're waiting to hear from Bill Clinton, the former president of the United States. He's at a rally there for Jim Martin, the Democratic challenger to Saxby Chambliss. They have got a runoff coming up in December. We will go there live once we hear and see the former president. Stand by for that.

Meanwhile, pirates are on the attack. They're firing shots from their notorious so-called mother ship, but ending up engulfed in flames. It actually happened today off the coast of Eastern Africa. It's the latest in an alarming series of pirate attacks that have been going on.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. This is an amazing, very worrisome story, Barbara. What is the latest?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the tensions definitely ratcheting up off the coast of Africa.


STARR (voice-over): One hundred million dollars in oil destined for the U.S. hijacked by pirates in a stunning raid on this Saudi supertanker more than 400 miles off the coast of Africa. Pirates seem to be operating at will, with the world's navies struggling to stop them.

The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff expressed frustration.

ADMIRAL MICHAEL MULLEN, JOINTS CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: Tactically, they're very good. And, so, once they get to a point where they can board, it becomes very difficult to get them off, because, clearly, now they hold hostages.

STARR: Sixteen thousand ships a year pass through these waters. Already, more than $20 million in ransom paid by ship owners to free their vessels, cargoes and crews. Though dozens of attacks have been thwarted, nearly 20 ships are still being held, with more than 300 crew members aboard.

GEOFF MORRELL, PENTAGON SPOKESPERSON: Trust me, this -- this subject is being dealt with at the highest levels of this government. It is a real concern. And we are constantly evaluating what the best approach is.

STARR: Pirates are now able to grab a ship within minutes. There are barely a dozen warships patrolling the area. With more than one million square miles of water, they cannot watch everywhere.

With no ready military solution, the U.S. is telling shippers to carry armed guards and to be ready to try to outrun pirates if they come under attack.


STARR: Now, Wolf, even earlier today, NATO military leaders in Brussels were discussing the piracy crisis. But shippers are also talking about it. And what they're talking about is avoiding the area entirely, sending their cargo ships all the way around the entire coast of Africa. And that will lead to a rise in prices for the oil, the products that these ships carry, to Europe and the United States -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Pirates in the 21st century, who would have thought? Barbara Starr, thank you.

The International Maritime Bureau, by the way, is mapping all these reported pirate attacks online.

Let's bring in our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton. She's watching this. What are we learning? What are we seeing?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, that, in this area off the Horn of Africa, the reports are coming in so fast over the last few days, that they're saying that it's hard to keep track.

Look at the increase in this area we're talking about over the last year. In 2008, we're at 95 attacks already, already more than double the number in 2007., and the year's not out yet. And if we look at where this has been happening, increasingly, it's in the Gulf of Aden there.

But, also, this is happening further south, says the International Maritime Bureau, and also further away from the coast. That supertanker attack that happened over the weekend was 400 miles off the coast -- off the coast of Kenya into the Indian Ocean.

Now, we just heard Barbara Starr say that these shipping companies are looking at alternative routes at this point. That means going all the way around South Africa, all the way around the cape -- one Norwegian company saying they're already looking at that option. But that extends the trip by up to a couple of weeks and some reports say up to $30,000 per day per extra day.

BLITZER: Wow. All right, Abbi, thanks very much.

Hillary Clinton staying mum right now. But "The New York Times" has a report quoting a source close to her saying she's not sure whether she wants to become the next secretary of state. We are going to be speaking with someone who knows her quite well, our own Paul Begala. He is here with Tony Blankley for our "Strategy Session." They're both standing by live.

And it took two weeks, but the results are finally in for all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The final electoral count in the race for the White House, you will want to see the final numbers -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Hillary Clinton considering a possible future in the Obama administration -- Democratic -- Democratic sources telling us that Barack Obama has offered her the secretary of state slot, but does she really want the job?

Let's discuss that and more in our "Strategy Session." Joining us, our CNN political contributor the Democratic strategist Paul Begala, and Republican strategist Tony Blankley.

There was a story in "The New York Times" today -- you probably saw it -- quoting one of her unnamed advisers, whoever that is, saying this: "If you are secretary of state, you work for the president. If you're a senator, you work for yourself and the people that elected -- elected you" -- the story basically suggesting she's not sure she wants that job. What do you think?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: She's got a great choice. She has a job that she loves. There's a lot of people in the Senate who only see that job as a stepping stone to the president. Clearly, Hillary wanted to be president.

But she authentically loves being a senator. You know, this state has adopted her, and they love her. They have reelected her. She likes the work. She's very successful, even across the -- the party lines.

And, so, she has a job she loves. Now, to be the secretary of state, you step into Mr. Jefferson's shoes, and -- and get to advance the foreign policy of a president with whom she agrees on almost every single issue. You know, they had their fights, but I always thought the primary was more about style than substance. They seem to agree on -- on most of the big issues.

BLITZER: So, do you think she really wants to be secretary of state? What do you think?

BEGALA: You know, we will know soon enough. First off, I think you have to give ultimate respect to the president-elect. And I -- I certainly don't -- I mean, CNN says that he's offered it. I have no knowledge that he has. And I think that what he has said is, he wants to assemble a team of rivals. And, if you look at some of the names that have bandied about, they're pretty impressive names.

I think, for me and other people who -- who support this president-elect, just step back and give him the time and the space to make the decision himself.

BLITZER: Do you think they can work out all the potential conflicts with the former president and what he does globally?

TONY BLANKLEY, FORMER NEWT GINGRICH SPOKESMAN: Oh, I mean, look, if they want -- if they want her, sure. I mean, he's the former president. It's not like somebody else's spouse. He's a former president. And I think that's not ultimately going to be the issue.

I think it's a fascinating question whether she should take the job or not, assuming she's been offered it, because, if I were her, I would wonder, is Obama going to want to be his own secretary of state, or is he going to want to, to the extent that any president can, leave all leadership responsibilities to the secretary of state?

If it's the latter, I would -- if I were her, I would take that job in a moment. If I thought that he was going to really want to be a -- a Nixon, and really run -- I say that complimentarily, someone who --


BLITZER: But he's already made it clear that, early on, there's an economic crisis in this country right now, and he's going to devote most of his energy to the economic crisis.


BLANKLEY: Maybe. Maybe, but the whole world is enthused about Obama. And he went to Europe to campaign. I mean, he's -- he's looking over the horizon, as understandably he would. He might want to have a very direct hand in his image around the world, which is going to be reflected by his policy.

BLITZER: Let me get back to the Bill Clinton issue. And we have got some pictures we're going to show our viewers as well.

He's getting ready to speak, by the way, in Georgia as a rally for Jim Martin, the Democratic challenger to Senator Saxby Chambliss. Once he starts speaking, we will go there live.

But talk a little bit about that "Wall Street Journal" report today -- you probably saw it -- saying, you know what, the lawyers are fully involved, and he's cooperating, and he's ready to do whatever is necessary, assuming his wife wants to be secretary of state.

BEGALA: Right. And this, I know. He was ready to completely upend his life, so that his wife could be the president. Believe, he's perfectly happy to make whatever adjustments the new president would want in order for his wife to be the secretary of state.

I think it's plain that he's not the sticking point here, that he's not any sort of an obstacle. And I think, you talk to people on all sides and this thing, and they will all tell you that, that he's been wonderfully cooperative.

The two big questions are, does Barack Obama want to offer the job to Hillary? Does Hillary want to say yes? I think we have to just sit back and wait for those two things to -- to transpire.

BLITZER: And we -- you think we will know soon enough? BEGALA: What do I know? But, yes, I think we will know soon enough. I think, once you put it out there, I don't think you can leave it out there for very long.


BLANKLEY: I have to assume that, if he didn't want her -- to have the offer out there, he would have pulled it back by now. It's been a week. You can't leave it out, with all this talk, and -- if he doesn't intend to offer it to her.

BLITZER: Yes, because they're -- the names are coming out, Eric Holder, the next attorney general, Tom Daschle, the next secretary of health and human services.


BLITZER: Maybe Hillary Clinton as the next secretary of state.


BLANKLEY: -- Thanksgiving.

BLITZER: Things are -- things are moving. The train is leaving the station.

Mitt Romney says, let the auto -- the U.S. automakers go bankrupt right now. That's the right thing to do. Politically what, do you think?

BEGALA: Well, first, I do have to say, just as a partisan, he didn't mention that when he was running and winning in the Michigan primary, did he?

BLITZER: That wouldn't have been smart.

BEGALA: In fact, Senator McCain, though, said, those jobs are going and they're not coming back. And my recollection is, Senator -- Governor Romney jumped him for that.

Let's let that set aside. What's interesting is that the Republican Party is going through a great sorting out that I think is actually, analytically, more interesting than the Democrats' risk of being too triumphalist as they win.

I'm always interested in how you reassemble the party. Romney is standing up now and saying, no bailout. He seems to be, I think, wanting to take sort of the corporate wing, maybe the more elite wing of the Republican Party. Let's see who asserts himself or herself on the populist wing, taking up for those autoworkers.

BLANKLEY: But, look, the politics of it, we can -- we can sort out. And it's probably -- the better position for the Republicans on a short-term political basis is to be for the bailout.

But we live in increasingly dangerous economic times. And I think these kind of big decisions can't be viewed either through politics, ideology or moralism. It's got to be, what ultimately is best for the country economically? And that's -- whether it's Obama or what it's Mitt Romney making the analysis, we have got to be very ruthlessly rational on these decisions, or we're going to pay huge prices downstream.

BLITZER: All right. Hold you thoughts.

BEGALA: Don't you think politics is a part of that for Romney?

BLITZER: Politics is a part of everything.





BLITZER: Stand by. We're going to continue this conversation in the days to come. Paul and Tony, good discussion.

Is Mike Huckabee earning political enemies right now by blasting some other Republicans? The former Republican presidential candidate has some choice words for Mitt Romney, some other conservatives. Mike Huckabee, he is here in THE SITUATION ROOM to explain what's going on.

And, when Barack Obama calls, presidents and prime ministers certainly answer the phone calls. What kind of impression might Obama be making on other world leaders right now?

And it's being called a milestone in medicine. Doctors achieve something never done before using adult stem cells. What hope does it offer patients with serious diseases? Our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta is standing by live.


BLITZER: All right, here's the news. The presidential election, guess what? It's finally over. John McCain has now won the state of Missouri and its 11 electoral votes, based on a CNN review of the latest unofficial returns from that state's secretary of state. It does not, of course, change the outcome of the race, but it does give us the final electoral vote tally: Obama 365 electoral votes, McCain 173.

One note: Obama becomes the first Democrat in history to win the White House without winning Missouri.

In our "Political Ticker": With so many Republican losses this election year, at least one Republican gets to keep his job. Ohio Congressman John Boehner will remain the House minority leader. House Republicans reelected Boehner today, denying that post to California Congressman Dan Lungren. House Republicans also voted Virginia Congressman Eric Cantor to the number-two leadership post, and Indiana Congressman Mike Pence to the number-three post.

Thanks, but no thanks, that's essentially what vice president- elect's Joe Biden's son says about possibly replacing his dad in the Senate. Beau Biden is Delaware's attorney general. He's also in the National Guard, and his unit right now preparing for a deployment to Iraq.

Let's go back to Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour: Should the Obama children attend public or private schools?

Linda in Bisbee, Arizona, says: "What could possibly be gained by sending them to a public school? They will be easier to protect and will get a better education in a private school. And I just know that the Obamas can figure this out without our help."

Ann in South Carolina: "Public schools have nothing to offer the intelligence of these two girls. I taught in the public schools for 24, and I watched the schools deteriorate as government demanded accountability for the funds they supplied. Today, our public schools have one goal, and one goal only: to place well on the achievement tests. Public education has gone down the tubes."

Gina in Racine, Wisconsin: "After hearing the Obamas speak about their children and family values, and then observing them with their children, I think they will make the best decision, in the interest of those sweet little girls, as to which type of school they will attend. The media and the public should stay out of it."

Jon writes: "I have taught and done administration in public and private schools for years in the Washington, D.C., area. As good as some of the public schools in the District are, no public school here is set up to offer the combination of security for the girls and minimal disruption for the other students as the private schools offer. The independent schools are smaller, they have more secure campuses, and have a long history of educating the children of presidents, senators, and congress men and women. This isn't even really a question."

Kenneth in North Carolina: "A private school, of course. What's the sense of upsetting a public school, just so the Obamas can be perceived as ordinary children? They aren't, and they won't be for the rest of their lives. They're now the children of the president of the United States."

And Rod writes: "The Obama kids should attend whatever school they like. It's a free country. And this is a dumb question."

Sorry, Rod.

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at Look for yours there, among hundreds of others -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you. And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: Barack Obama taps a former congressional leader to become his health secretary. That would be Tom Daschle. And now sources are telling CNN the former senator will be wearing more than one hat. Stand by.

New details emerging right now about the vetting of Hillary Clinton for a possible role as secretary of state. Her husband is now taking action to help her chances.

And open attacks on his fellow Republicans in a controversial new book -- the former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, he's here live. He's standing by to take my questions and questions from our I-Reporters, as well.

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