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The Situation Room

Brazil Rules in Favor of American Dad; Balloon Boy's Parents Face Sentencing

Aired December 23, 2009 - 16:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: A father-and-son reunion is set to finally happen in Brazil. A long custody battle is over. But how will the boy do when he is brought back to the United States?

Plus, a new airline accident during the busy holiday travel season. Dozens are hospital (sic) after a jet overshoots the runway.

And the parents of the so-called balloon boy face their punishment. Ahead, a full report on their sentencing and what happens next.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Well, the Brazilian relatives of 9-year-old Sean Goldman now face a deadline to hand him over to his dad. David Goldman is in Rio right now waiting to bring his son home to New Jersey after a long and painful international custody battle.

Our CNN's Ines Ferre is following this story for us.

Ines, what is the very latest?


Well, for David Goldman, the thought of flying back to the States with his son is becoming more and more of a reality. A regional court in Rio says the boy must be handed over to his biological father by 9:00 a.m. tomorrow local time.


FERRE (voice-over): David Goldman is closer than ever to the moment he has been waiting for. At this Rio hotel, he has been meeting with attorneys to plan the handover of his 9-year-old son, Sean. Goldman has made more than 10 trips to Rio during a five-year international custody battle.

The boy's mother passed away last year giving birth to another child. Now Sean's Brazilian family has waved the white flag, saying no more appeals. Brazil's chief justice ruled the boy must be returned to his biological father.

The Goldmans are overjoyed, but the other side of the family heartbroken. Sean's maternal grandmother wanted the boy's testimony to be heard in court. Silvana Bianchi told CNN: "Sean is very sad because it has never been his desire to go back to the States. He got especially disappointed about not having the right to speak in his own country about what he wanted for himself."

But the court agreed with the Goldmans that Sean was too young to have a say in the matter. Now it seems very likely he will leave for the U.S. on Thursday, where his paternal grandparents await his arrival.

BARRY GOLDMAN, GRANDFATHER OF SEAN GOLDMAN: I'm going to hug him and kiss him and tell him how much I love him and how much I have missed, and go on from there. I just can't wait.


FERRE: Now, the Brazilian family lawyers saying that they would like to make the transition as smooth as possible. Sean's maternal grandmother wants in Brazil to meet with Goldman to tell him what Sean likes to do and eat and other details about his upbringing over the past few years -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And, Ines, why didn't the Brazilian family file another complaint and go a step further? Why are they giving up in their fight now?

FERRE: Well, I mean, as soon as this ruling came out, everyone was poring over the legal documents. And Goldman's team said, you know, we're confident that this could really be the end, because the opinion was just so comprehensive, that they really felt that there was very, very little wiggle room for any more appeals.

MALVEAUX: All right. Ines Ferre, thank you so much for joining us.

Now a new reason for many passengers to feel anxious during the busy holiday flying season. I want you to take a look at what happened to an American Airlines jet as it landed in Jamaica. There were dozens of people who were sent to the hospital.

Our Brian Todd explains how the plane overshot the end of the runway.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, a close call at Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston, Jamaica, today, when the American Airlines 737 overshot the runway there, more than 90 people taken to the hospital. None of those injuries considered serious.

We're joined now by Mark Weiss, a former American Airlines pilot who has experienced landing 727s at Norman Manley Airport, not the 737 that landed there today, but 727s. And this is good experience to talk about the conditions at this airport.

We are going to first talk, Mark, about the runway here. We are going to show a little bit of close-up here and expand it. We know that the conditions there were very poor upon landing. It was pouring down rain. What can you tell us about this runway in those conditions?

MARK WEISS, THE SPECTRUM GROUP: Well, it's been a number of years since I have flown in there. And unless anything has changed, this is not a grooved runway, or at least it wasn't at the time.

And with heavy rain, there's been instances of water puddling up, which would be a caution for the pilots when they're landing that you might get hydroplaning on the runway, in other words, where the wheels would spin up, but not having any effective braking, very similar to what you might get on black ice here up in Washington.

TODD: What about the topography around that airport? We know that there are mountains near there, not necessarily high mountains, but mountains that might affect wind conditions.

WEISS: Well, certainly, we know from reports that the flight had been turbulent all the way. And with the winds coming in off the mountains going on to the runway, we don't know if, in fact, what you have had is a headwind coming to a tailwind or an increasing tailwind which might have pushed the aircraft further down the runway.

TODD: The winds coming from these mountains here.

WEISS: Rolling off and perhaps pushing it further down, absolutely.

TODD: What information might the pilots have had as they approached this airport?

WEISS: Well, certainly, what they would have had or would have wanted would be the latest runway conditions and any braking action reports and visibility that might have come from the tower itself.

TODD: OK. We're going to take look at the fuselage, pictures here of the fuselage. The plane clearly suffered a lot of damage on the ground when it hit. It broke into what looks like at least three pieces. Not sure if these are clean breaks or not. But what can we tell from the pictures of the fuselage?

WEISS: Well, certainly, by the terrain that it traversed, what you are going to see is that it certainly helped to dissipate the speed of the aircraft, and that was critical.

Also, what you will see is that the emergency exits are open, so that it looks at this point that the crew members, the flight attendants did what they're supposed to be doing by evacuating the passengers in a safe manner...


TODD: Got them out very quickly, therefore, no critical injuries in this accident.

WEISS: Absolutely.

TODD: Suzanne, these questions all going to be looked at in the days ahead, as investigators kind of comb through this wreckage, look at what happened, at those conditions in Jamaica today -- Suzanne.


MALVEAUX: OK. Thank you very much, Brian.

Well, on Capitol Hill right now, Senate Democrats are getting ready to celebrate. They're in the midst of new procedural votes on health care reform, another hurdle they expect to clear.

This hour, they will hold a news conference to pat themselves on the back before the big Senate vote tomorrow morning. That's when the bill is expected to be approved, that Senate version ahead. Again, we will have a report on the work that lies ahead. And we will talk to a leading Republican critic, Senator Orrin Hatch.

The health care debate has been heated, even downright nasty at times. But have Democrats been helped or hurt by all of this? Well, we have got some brand-new poll numbers on how Americans view Congress.

Plus, a new winter storm is pushing through the nation's midsection. It is being called life-threatening. We are going to have the forecast and how it may affect your holiday travel plans.

And it is the only thing that he wanted for Christmas, getting out of the hospital burn unit. We are going to hear from the mom of a teenager who was set on fire, allegedly by kids he knew.


MALVEAUX: President Obama is being urged to drop a longstanding policy regarding troops who commit suicide. Since the Clinton administration, the White House has not sent condolence letters to the families of service members who kill themselves.

Dozens of lawmakers wrote a letter to the president asking him to send a signal that the armed forces will not discriminate against people with mental illness. Now, the White House says it's reviewing this policy and a decision could come soon.

We are now less than a year away from congressional elections, and Democrats and Republicans are looking for any and every political advantage that they can get. We have brand-new poll numbers on how you view Congress.

I want to bring in our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger. She's here to make sense of a lot of this.

We have been following this bruising battle over health care. And I guess you know at it, it's months and months in the making here. Has it hurt the Democrats or has it helped them to push so hard? GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it hasn't hurt them as much as a lot of people would think. In fact, we asked the question of people, whose policies will move the country in the right direction and the wrong direction?

What we found is that still a majority, 51 percent, believe the Democratic leaders in Congress will move the country in the right direction. And only 42 percent believe that Republicans will move the country in the right direction.

If midterm elections were right now, Suzanne, Democrats would be thrilled with these numbers. They need all the help they can get on health care, and they're really, really worried about what's going to happen in 2010.

MALVEAUX: And let's talk about the midterm elections, because, obviously, the independents are going to play a critical role.

BORGER: Oh, yes.

MALVEAUX: What do we see in terms of that shaping up in the health care debate?

BORGER: Well, you know, independent voters are notoriously cranky.


BORGER: OK? They don't like either party. And that really -- that's really the truth right now.

We asked independent voters, because we knew they would love answering this question, which policies will move the country in the wrong direction? And they said, Democratic leaders in Congress, 57 percent, Republican leaders in Congress, 53 percent. So, they're unhappy with everyone. They dislike both parties.

MALVEAUX: And -- and let's go to Joe Lieberman. Obviously, he was a -- played a critical role in the health care debate, independent from Connecticut.


MALVEAUX: A lot of liberal Democrats quite, quite angry with him at this moment. How does he fare, because key provisions were dropped from the health care reform bill because of him?

BORGER: You know, like most politicians, the more you see of them, the less you like them. And I think that now that Joe Lieberman has gotten more and more out there in the public view, people tend to like him less and less.

Let's look at our poll, which is we see the favorable of Joe Lieberman now 31 percent, early December, 40 percent. Unfavorables are up. And, you know, still, a lot of people -- you see 34 percent are unsure just who he is and what he stands for. Now, I have to point out that this is not a poll in Connecticut. Poll in Connecticut is really the only poll that matters.

MALVEAUX: Absolutely.

BORGER: The big question we have out there is, what's going to happen in 2012? When Joe Lieberman did an interview with Dana Bash, he was sort of cagey about whether he might run as a Republican.

MALVEAUX: Interesting.

BORGER: So, that's something I think we ought to keep an eye on, because maybe he would have a better shot at winning reelection in another party.

MALVEAUX: OK. Interesting. All right. Thank you very much, Gloria.

Well, he is the 15-year-old boy who survived a horrific attack. What happened today, a doctor calls miraculous. We have the latest on the boy who was doused with alcohol, set on fire, and will, obviously, have to deal with it for the rest of his life.

And buckle up. The up-and-down roller coaster that is the housing market, it is taking yet another turn.


MALVEAUX: A mother says it's all her son wanted for Christmas. A doctor says it is nothing short of a miracle. A 15-year-old boy is out of the hospital after an attack which doctors say could have kept him in there for several more months. He is the boy who was doused with alcohol, set on fire. He suffers burns over virtually every part of his body.

Catherine Callaway, she is at the CNN Center in Atlanta with the very latest.

This is really a miraculous story. Can you tell us about it?

CATHERINE CALLAWAY, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. And it's a good one for the holidays, because Michael Brewer's mother, Valerie, said that her son has already received the only Christmas present that he wanted, and that was to be released from the hospital.


CALLAWAY (voice-over): Michael Brewer's mother, Valerie, said her son has already received the only Christmas present he wanted, to be released from the hospital. Tuesday night was Brewer's first night at home since the October 21 incident which left him with second- and third-degree burns over two-thirds of his body. She says she's proud of her son's ability to fight for survival.

VALERIE BREWER, MOTHER OF MICHAEL BREWER: I'm just ecstatic. He's just so -- so incredible, his strength, his determination, his -- his will to survive. You're going to make me cry. He is just incredible.

CALLAWAY: Michael's therapy will continue. And he is still in excruciating pain. Physicians say he will likely spend the rest of his life recovering from his burns.

It was his hard work, they say, that led to his release from the hospital months before they expected.

DR. LOUIS PIZANO, JACKSON MEMORIAL BURN CENTER: The same thing happened to him as we would inspect. And he had a number of infections. He took a turn for the worse. And at one point we were not even sure whether or not he was going to survive these injuries. Once he recovered from it and he started to -- to turn around, he progressed very, very quickly. And the real reason for that is because of Michael's stamina, his endurance and his basically desire to improve.

CALLAWAY: Brewer was doused with alcohol and set on fire. Three of his classmates have been charged with the attack, which police say evolved from a dispute over $40 and a bicycle. The family is now in an undisclosed location, where they say they will remain, because they do not feel safe going back to their neighborhood.

The suspect's families all live within five blocks. And Michael mother's says he fears for his life.

BREWER: He still wakes up with nightmares at night. It's just like when you come home from war. The veterans, they -- they deal with post-traumatic stress syndrome. And that's what Michael deals with. He wakes up having night terrors every night. And I'm sure that he will have to deal with this for the rest of his life.

CALLAWAY: Three of the teens accused in the attack, Denver Jarvis and Matthew Bent, both 15, and Jesus Mendez, 16, have been charged as adults with one count of attempted murder. If convicted, they could each receive 30 years in prison. All three have pleaded not guilty.


CALLAWAY: And Valerie Brewer says that family and Facebook friends have actually kept her positive through this ordeal. Michael does need an enormous amount of painkillers just to do some very everyday things, like shower. But his mother says he's very happy to be back home in a homey environment and he's looking forward to spending Christmas with his family -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: He's an amazing, courageous boy.

Thank you so much, Catherine.

Alina Cho is monitoring the other top stories that are coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Hey, Alina. What are you working on?

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Suzanne. Good to see you.

More evidence of a roller-coaster recovery in the U.S. housing market. New home sales in November dropped a dramatic 11.3 percent, the lowest level since April. Now, economists say those new numbers suggest that buyers may wait until spring to take the plunge, taking advantage of newly extended and expanded federal tax incentives.

Well, a teenager's goal to become the youngest person to sail solo around the world is one step closer to reality today. A decision by a Dutch court allows the 14-year-old girl to stay in the custody of her father, one of her biggest supporters. Earlier this year, courts blocked the teen's plans, saying she was too inexperienced to sail alone.

Well, residents of Venice are no strangers to high water, of course, but take a look at that. Ridiculous. Flooding there is causing major problems for both residents and tourists. Elevated boardwalks had to be set up today, after wind, rain, and high tides raised water levels by more than four feet. Authorities say around 60 percent of the streets are now underwater and more flooding is expected in the coming days.

And take a look at this. You might need shades for that story there. A Polish couple went all out this season, using 50,000 lights in their holiday display. The new year, Father Christmas and other decorations outshine even the moon. The light show is a huge attraction. No surprise there. It should be. It took a lot of hard work, two months, Suzanne, to get it all done.

Sounds like something we should tackle next year with all our free time.

MALVEAUX: Oh, I have got a neighbor who is like that. I have got a neighbor who is like that.

CHO: Oh, yes?



You go right down the street and see that.

CHO: Doesn't happen in New York City too often.


MALVEAUX: Everybody has got a neighbor like that. All right, thank you, Alina.

Well, Senator Orrin Hatch is a vocal critic of the Democrats' health care reform bill, but the Republican is getting something out of the legislation as well. I will ask him about that and whether his party is losing a crucial public relations war.

And the military cracks down on reckless and potentially criminal behavior by U.S. troops. Wait until you hear what has been going on.


MALVEAUX: Well, many people dream of a white Christmas, if you could just have it without all the sleet, the slush that comes with it. But, right now, many people's dreams of smooth holiday travel, well, could be a nightmare for gathering storms packing wind, cold, snow, ice.

I want you to check out these live pictures. This is Lincoln, Nebraska, from You know, already, we are seeing traffic complications in parts of the Midwest because of the weather.

I want to bring in our CNN severe weather expert, Chad Myers, who can break all of this down.

Chad, how bad is it going to get?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, it is getting bad right now in Chicago. Eventually, Chicago warms up above 34 and everything melts, but there is an icing event going on right up here, also a severe weather event through parts of Texas.

So, we have the warm side of the storm. It's so large that there is a cold side of the storm where the ice is taking place right now.

Move you a little bit farther to the north from Omaha to about -- that's about Norfolk, picking up some snow, all the way across northern Iowa, a bunch of ice around Cedar Rapids as well. And there you see the pink zone heading into Chicago. We already know of a couple hundred planes that have been canceled out of Chicago, both Midway and O'Hare kind of sharing it a little bit. A lot of Southwest jets not getting in and out of Chicago today because of that icing event right now. Still, though, 5,000 planes in the sky officially.

This could be the busiest travel day of the holiday season, everybody off work trying to get here and there. So, what does it mean really for the rest of the us? What does it mean for Minneapolis, all the way back to Omaha? Everywhere that you see that pink, that is eight inches of snow or more.

It happens because the entire storm system sits and rotates on itself for a couple of days. There's the snow through Duluth and Minneapolis. Minneapolis, one side of the city could get four inches of snow. The northwest side of the city literally could get 14 inches of snow. Just depends how the storm system shapes up.

What is it going to do? Well, it's going to come out of the south, out of the southwest, and then it's going to do a loop on itself. And that loop is the extra amount of time that the snow is going to come down. You would like to just see it go like that, right straight out. That doesn't look like it is likely. That means the snow totals are going to be quite high -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: All right. Chad, we're all going to brace for more snow. Thank you, Chad. Well, Democrats are pushing health care reform through the Senate right now. And there is not much, if anything, Republicans can do to stop it. Ahead, I will ask Senator Orrin Hatch what his party might be doing right or wrong.

Plus, Aerosmith front man Steven Tyler admits to an addiction.

And a reality TV show exposes disturbing attitudes about race in China.



Happening now: The last bit of air comes out of the balloon. The parents of the so-called balloon boy have been punished. Just wait until you hear what the father wanted to say, but could barely get out.

And check your BlackBerry. Is it still working? After a massive BlackBerry outage that is now cleared, many people want to know, including myself, what happened, and could this happen again?

And it's one of the most popular Webcams, but can it see African- American faces? Find out why a black man is calling Hewlett-Packard's computer camera racist.

Wolf Blitzer's off. I'm Suzanne Malveaux. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

I want to bring in the latest from our CNN national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin.

And Jessica, you've got the very latest, minute by minute. What is happening on the floor there? What are we watching?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, I'm watching the Senate floor right now, and this is the last vote of the day before the senators can move forward to have their big vote on the health care bill tomorrow. They need 60 votes on this procedural measure right now in order to say they're going to go ahead and have that big vote tomorrow.

The most momentous thing that's happened this afternoon is you'll remember all the negotiating about when the vote will take place. It was supposed to happen at 8:00 a.m. tomorrow. Guess what? They moved it back one hour, to 7:00 a.m., because they want to let more senators make their flights, especially out West with the winter storm blowing in. And you could hear one senator let out a loud groan when they found out that's going to happen at 7:00 a.m. tomorrow morning, very early for a senator's Christmas Eve first vote before they get out of town.

So the bottom line is, we're waiting for this vote to begin and end. We're looking for 60. We expect it to happen. Very momentous, because it will lead us, again, to that final Senate vote on their version of the health care bill to happen tomorrow -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And Jessica, what is the mood like there amongst senators? Is it tense? Are people angry, or are they resigned at this point? We have seen so many different senators exhausted, just plain exhausted from this process, that's happened over the last two weeks.

YELLIN: That's the word I was going to use, "exhausted." I mean, you'll talk to some people and they'll say, "I don't know -- the Senate version and the House version, let's get it done." I mean, they don't mean it, but there's a great sense of, let's just finally finalize this process.

Today, though, members of the Republican Party here in the Senate have been driving home their point over and over with a series of votes and even a press conference to point out that they think the spending isn't in the bill and that it's costing too much, too much big government. So they're staying on message, but very tired as they do it -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: OK. Thanks, Jessica. Thanks for sticking in with us. I appreciate it.

Well, here for our "Strategy Session," Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons and CNN political contributor, Republican strategist Ed Rollins.

Obviously, we're watching the vote and what's happening on the Senate floor there, but I want to turn the corner, if I could, back to Sarah Palin, because she is now making news again on her Facebook page. She is weighing in again with the health care debate and she's, once again, using this expression talking about death panels.

She says here on her Facebook page, "Though Nancy Pelosi and friends have tried to call death panels the lie of the year, this type of rationing, what the CBO (Congressional Budget Office) calls reduced access to care and diminished quality of care is precisely what I meant when I used that metaphor."

Ed, I want to start off with you. Who is listening to Sarah Palin? Is there a group of people right now who are paying attention to how she is weighing in on this debate, especially when she starts talking about death panels that seems to have been categorically dismissed some time ago.

ED ROLLINS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Anybody that sells a million books in a week has somebody out there interested in what they have to say, but I would argue there are far more valid points to make about the health care bill, the extraordinary costs, bigger government coming into people's lives, a whole variety of things, rather than the death panels, as you say, which have been pretty much diminished and dismissed.

MALVEAUX: Jamal, do you think that she is sincerely making a point here, or she's just trying to grab headlines? What do you make of this? JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think Sarah Palin got on the national stage a year or so ago and is really enjoying her time there, and so she's using these Facebook posts and some other things to keep talking about it.

Ed mentions a couple of the things that the Republicans say are wrong with the bill, but what we don't talk about are the 31 million uninsured who are probably going to be covered with this bill, the premiums that will go down for people, for most Americans, especially those who make less than $75,000. And those who make less than $35,000 are really going to see some drops, and those who make more are going to get more benefits than they would have gotten without this bill.

So, I think we have got to stay focused on what's really important about this bill, and we're now approaching the finish line, and so we've got a few more weeks to get this thing done.

MALVEAUX: Ed, is it in the Republicans' advantage to do that, to focus on some of the positive things coming out of this bill?

ROLLINS: Well, I think if they could see positive things, I think they would make some of those cases, but I think at this point in time, the great concern is this $500 billion in cuts to Medicare patients. There's another $400 billion in tax increases.

It's not clearly understood how much this whole thing is going to cost. I think a lot of us want to basically make sure that people who can't and haven't had insurance in the past can get it, but at the same time, is that another big entitlement program that the government and the country can't afford. And it goes to the points that Jamal and his side will make, and my side will make the other points.

MALVEAUX: Real quick, I want to turn...

SIMMONS: Well, the CBO has looked at this and said that it's actually going to save money in the deficit, it's going to save money for most families. So, you need an independent arbiter on the Republican side to come in and tell us something different.

MALVEAUX: I want to turn to Guantanamo Bay.

Obviously, I covered the president the first day, when he signed an executive order essentially saying he wants this closed by the beginning of the new year. Obviously, officials are looking at that, saying it's not likely that that's going to happen, perhaps not even until 2011.

This was from "The New York Times" today -- "... officials now believe they're unlikely to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and transfer its population of terrorism suspects until 2011 at the earliest. A far slower timeline for achieving one of President Obama's signature national security policies than they had previously hinted."

One of the president's top aides, David Axelrod, said this has been a lot more complicated than they initially realized here. But this is a president -- you talk to senior administration officials, and they say setting a deadline works for him because it motivates people, it gives them a goal.

Do you think this is backfired when people turn around and say, you didn't meet that goal?


SIMMONS: I think you're right on both points. Deadlines do focus the mind and do get people to act. They do get people to start moving in a direction and try to move faster. But they also -- if you miss the deadline, nobody is happy about missing a deadline, not the people who promised the deadline nor the people who are expecting it to get done.

But all the people who are talking about closing Gitmo and the problem with moving people to the United States, you know, I find it to be really interesting that some of the members of Congress who won't appropriate the extra $200 million it will take to get this done complain about security. We've got 31 nuclear facilities in the United States, a bunch of ports, malls, various other things, and they're concerned about terrorists hitting a maximum security prison in Illinois? I think we've got to stay focused on the big issue, which are American values, getting this prison closed, and getting and being able to remove Gitmo as a stain on our national culture.

MALVEAUX: I have to leave it there.

Ed Rollins, Jamal Simmons, thank you so much for joining us on THE SITUATION ROOM.

Right after this very quick break, we're going to go to Senator Orrin Hatch and talk about the health care reform bill. Obviously, that vote, another procedural hurdle taking place at this very moment.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

MALVEAUX: We have breaking news now. There you can see a picture of the Capitol. That is where very shortly, all the Democrats are going to be gathering on the steps in celebration.

You can see them there, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid speaking. What has just happened, another procedural hurdle for the health care reform bill that's coming out of the Senate, obviously, tomorrow.

Let's take a listen first.


SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: I'm here with members of this great Democratic Caucus. You see, health insurance reform is about people. It's about a half a million Nevadans, 540,000, to be exact, who today have no health care but will soon have the coverage they have long since needed. It's about Nevada families fortunate enough to already have insurance, but who will soon save as much as $1,600 a year in their premiums.

We stand on the doorstep of history. We recognize that, but much more importantly, we stand so close to making so many individual lives better.

There are so many people who have worked hard on this legislation. We have members of the HELP Committee, the Finance Committee. We have the chairmen of those committees. We have Senate leadership, chairmen of other committees.

This has been a team effort. And it's really unfortunate for me that we're going to have a small number of people speak today, but I think it's important that we understand that Senator Baucus, Senator Dodd, Senator Harkin have been involved in this because of their committee assignments. Just because their committee assignments has taken the forefront does not mean that those people who have not had chairmanships of those committees haven't been heavily involved.

I must say this -- standing next to me is Barbara Mikulski. We came to the Senate together, we got on the Appropriations Committee together. And, for me, Barbara, Senator Mikulski, brought a tear to my eye when she was the 60th vote today.

Congratulations, Barbara.


REID: OK. Baucus, Dodd and Harkin.

SEN. MAX BAUCUS (D), MONTANA: Thank you, Leader.

Today is a victory, a victory for American families, a victory for small business owners, a victory for our economy and for the American economy for generations to come. When we started on this path more than a year ago, we knew it wouldn't be easy, but we have worked tirelessly to deliver more affordable health care; to deliver an insurance market that works for patients, not profits; to deliver billions of dollars in tax credits to help families and small businesses purchase insurance; and to control health care costs and get American families, businesses and the economy back on track.

Today we could all be proud of what this bill accomplishes. We could be proud that every American in every state will benefit from new consumer protections and a more stable, secure health care system.

Passing health care reform has challenged each of us. Together, we discussed, we debated, we struggled to find workable solutions to complex problems, but together we persevered.

Why? Because too many Americans were counting on us. I thank my colleagues for the extraordinary dedication and courage to lead. Leader Reid, especially; Chairman Dodd; Chairman Harkin; and particularly my colleagues on the Finance Committee and HELP Committees; but, most importantly, all Democrats, all 60 of us standing together courageously getting health care passed this year.

Leadership is not doing what's easy. Leadership is taking on what is difficult and what is right.

We all know that the challenges we faced with this legislation pale in comparison to the challenges millions of Americans face because of our broken health care system. Today we can see we confronted those challenges, we've lifted those burdens and we did what is right. And I'm very, very proud to say that Americans won.


SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D), CONNECTICUT: Well, let me -- this is quite a moment, obviously, and for all of us standing here and the 60 of us who comprise the Democratic Caucus. We all can take great pride in this moment, but I'm confident I speak for all of us and, more importantly, for millions of Americans who have to recognize that every group of individuals has to have a leader, and we have been blessed, indeed, to have a leader in the name of Harry Reid, the majority leader.


DODD: And we thank you, Leader, for your patience through all of this.

I want to congratulate Max Baucus, my colleague, with whom I've served for 35 years in Congress; Tom Harkin, with whom I've served as well for those same number of years, having arrived together on the very same day in January of 1975, for their work.

I want to thank Barbara Mikulski and Patty Murray and Jeff Bingaman, along with Tom Harkin, who followed Ted Kennedy's lead and advice, and by forming some breakout groups that allowed us to develop the bill we did in the HELP Committee, and the rest of the members of that committee. Congratulate Max's committee as well, and all the members who worked with him over those many, many months to produce this bill.

And our staffs as well. I can't list -- yesterday, last evening, I did -- the members of my staff, Senator Kennedy's staff.

I also want to thank Mike Enzi's staff. While we didn't end up voting for the bill, they contributed to the bill, and it's important they be remembered in a moment like this as well.

This is a historic moment. The last time the Senate of the United States met on Christmas Eve was 1963, only weeks after President Kennedy's assassination, and they met to debate the Vietnam War. This is the second occasion when the Senate has met for as long a period of time as we have, 24 days. Now, if you go back to 1917, when the Senate met for 29 days, we now rank second in longevity for a period of time for the Senate to consider something as important as this bill that's before us. So, there are moments in our nation's history where we do serve -- where we who do serve in this body are reminded just what an honor it is to stand in this arena.

Tomorrow, the Senate will, once again, meet on Christmas Eve to pass historic legislation that will finally make decent health care a right for every American citizen. The road to this moment has been long and difficult, as we all know. Progress always is.

From the moment many Christmases ago, when George Washington led a small band of troops across the Delaware River in a hailstorm, those who have attempted to make our union more perfect have always faced overwhelming odds. We, too, have been tested over these past weeks and months as we have pushed towards the passage of this legislation, and the final bill reflects the necessity of compromise. But we happy few, in many ways, who have the privilege to cast our votes for health care reform tomorrow morning will never cast -- will never cast a more important vote in our careers.

History will judge harshly those who have chosen the simple path of obstruction over the hard work of making change. It always does. But for those of us who have fought long and hard, in the memory of Ted Kennedy, who began this charge so many, many years ago to build this legislation from a blank sheet of paper, made compromises when necessary, and stood firm in the face of long odds, we will always -- we will always remember this day.

Thank you.


SEN. TOM HARKIN (D), IOWA: Well, I'm going to be really short, because there's an important meeting taking place in Senator Durbin's office shortly, and I want to make sure I make that meeting.


HARKIN: Well, we owe enormous thanks to all of the senators who are standing here today, especially my two classmates, Senator Dodd and Senator Baucus, for shepherding this through. But every senator here, every senator on the Democratic side, has some input into this legislation in shaping and forming it, and they can all be proud of the fact that we all bent over backwards on your committee, Max, on the Finance Committee, and on the HELP Committee to conduct fair and open and thoroughly bipartisan proceedings.

We held out our hand, but we were rebuffed. The leadership on the other side said no.

Well, we wouldn't be here today without the great work of every senator here. But to single out one, of course, is the one person who has been here every day since we started, has not been home, has not been with his family. I hope he gets out tomorrow to get home for Christmas Eve. It wouldn't be possible without Senator Reid.

I said this yesterday and I say it again -- to put it in biblical terms, he has exhibited the patience of Job, the wisdom of Solomon, and the endurance of Samson. And he is on the verge of achieving what majority leaders going back over a half a century have failed to accomplish. For this vote today and the final vote tomorrow, make no mistake, Majority Leader Reid has earned his place in the Senate's history.


HARKIN: It's often been said that senators are a constitutional impediment to the smooth functioning of staff.


HARKIN: We all laugh at that, but we know there's a scintilla of truth to that. All of our staffs on all our committees, and our personal staffs, especially the staff on the HELP Committee and the Finance Committee, and the leadership, all your staff, Senator Reid, have just been wonderful, working, literally, almost -- I don't know when they sleep -- almost 24 hours a day for the last 24 straight days. And I'm sure they are looking forward to getting reacquainted with their families after tomorrow.

Now, I'm going to name on the Senate floor all the staff members who contributed to this bill, but here, before this caucus, I just want to single out one particular.

We are all, I think, saddened and cognizant of the fact that the real author of this bill, Ted Kennedy, is not with us. But there is one person who really carried on for him, his staff person for almost over 20 years. The staff director of the HELP Committee for over the last decade carried on.

Our amazing staff director Michael Myers.


HARKIN: Now, people are saying, where's Michael? Believe me, there is only one reason that Michael Myers would not be here. His son is recovering from surgery, and he's with him in the hospital. But he's going to be OK, so everything, I'm told, is just going to be fine. But he is there.

But Michael is a consummate professional. He was Senator Kennedy's right-hand man on the committee, as I said, for more than a decade. No one has been more loyal and dedicated to carrying on Senator Kennedy's vision.

So, to the incomparable Michael Myers, in absentia, we thank you.

There's one other person I want to thank. Now, while she hasn't been here involved in a lot of the intricacies, she's always been on the phone. She's been available to call people, to talk to people. And it was wonderful when we had that 1:00 a.m. vote on Monday morning to look up in the gallery and see Vicki Kennedy.


HARKIN: She's been wonderful.

And we just thank you, Vicki, so much for helping us out through this long endeavor.

Well, this is a great achievement. With all of the talk and all of the debate and all the charts and all this and all that tomfoolery that goes on, on the Senate floor, what it really comes down to -- this.

For far too long, we've had one dividing line in America. One dividing line that no other developed country has.

We've had a dividing line on which on one side, those with wealth and health had good health care. They had the privilege of having good health care. But on the other side, so many didn't.

What this bill does is we finally take that step. As our leader said earlier, we take that step from health care as a privilege to health care as an inalienable right of every single American citizen.

As I said before, this bill is not complete. I've used the analogy of a starter home, and which we can add additions and enhancements as we go into the future. But like every right that we've ever passed for the American people, we revisit it later on to enhance and build on those rights, and we will do that here, surely, that we will enhance and build on this. But we have made that first most important step to make it a right rather than a privilege.

MALVEAUX: The health care reform bill making its way through the Senate, another hurdle that has been cleared by the Senate Democrats.

We have just learned from our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian, that the president is going to come out and make an on-camera statement congratulating the senators on this hurdle on this vote before he leaves for his Hawaii vacation later this evening. So, we will be seeing the president talk about this as well, praising those lawmakers.

First, I want to bring in Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah.

Obviously, you have been standing by very patiently. We appreciate it, Senator.

You have watched this, as we have, as well. And I want is to start off -- we saw a lot of slapping of the backs, congratulations. They're describing themselves as leaders, a historic moment. Even Senator Dodd saying history will judge harshly those who have been obstructionists.

Your reaction, your response to this?

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: Well, nobody's been an obstructionist. All we wanted to do was participate in the process.

Look, you go back in time, the Social Security Act was passed with an immense number of Republicans supporting it. Medicare and Medicaid were passed with a lot of Republicans supporting it. Civil rights were passed, in large measure, because of Republicans.

Here, today, we were against this bill. And why?

Well, first of all, the bill basically is going to bankrupt the country. They've taken $500 billion from Medicare, which is $38 trillion in unfunded liability. They're going to raise taxes $516 billion. They are $87 billion in new taxes.

I mean, you just go on and on what this is going to do to our country.

MALVEAUX: And Senator, many Republicans, as yourself, have been stating and making your case, making those arguments. But how do you counter those pictures? How do you counter those pictures of those Democrats who are now celebrating? They're shaking hands, they're holding a success rally there on the steps of the Capitol, and they look like a party that at least is getting something done.

HATCH: Well, I think they deserve some credit for getting it done, as bad as it is. But it's going to wreck our country, I have to tell you. And people out there know that.

That's why the majority of senior citizens, who are most likely to use health care in this country, are basically against this. The majority of Independents are against it. Almost all Republicans are against it.

And even Democrats are concerned about it because of the high spending. There are also a number of unconstitutional provisions in here, like, for the first time, requiring, actually compelling people in this country to buy insurance.

MALVEAUX: But, Senator Hatch, despite the fact that some of those groups are against it, there are others who support this bill. And the bottom line comes down to the vote that is going to take place between, obviously, when -- the Senate and the House conference and come up with legislation that the president will sign.

What does it matter if you have those groups that are not on board if it looks like this is going to go through?

HATCH: Well, it matters because this is far from going through. So it passes tomorrow. So that's a foregone conclusion.

As you can see, they're celebrating today even though the big vote comes tomorrow. And I suspect they'll win on that vote, again on a party line vote. But that's only the beginning of this process.

I do not believe the House is going to take this bill. If it doesn't take this bill, it could disrupt an awful lot of what they're trying to do. Look, this bill, just look at what they've done. They've bought the votes.

MALVEAUX: Well, you mentioned that before. You say they bought the votes. You said before that they're buying people off, they're bribing them because of what they've gotten.

But you actually had $50 million that was added to the bill, an amendment for abstinence-only education. How is that any different?

HATCH: Well, I didn't do that for me, I did it for our children throughout our society...


MALVEAUX: So you have -- certainly, you have a cause that you believe in. But there's a price tag with that, $50 million.

HATCH: There's a difference between giving your vote for $600 million in Vermont, $500 million in Massachusetts, $300 million in Louisiana, $100 million in Nebraska. By the way, the Nebraska thing is particularly grievous because they have been promised that their Medicaid charges will never be charged to the states, although all the other states have to pay them. So this just doesn't work.

MALVEAUX: Senator, just to be clear, then, what is the difference? Is it a matter of the amount, that you just want more out of this bill in order to sign on to it?

HATCH: Well, of course not. And I think that's what's wrong with Washington. This is what people complain about, Washington doing things that just getting them re-elected, rather than doing things that over the long run are right.

Now, there are things in this bill that Republicans can support. We could have gotten together and built on those things and, I think, done a very good job of bringing people together and making it work.

Republicans believe that, basically, the states themselves have to be taken into consideration. And if they'd be given some of the charge of this, in accordance with their own demographics, we would be able to have more competition, more effective use of money, less cost, a way of accountability that you would not have just by having the almighty federal government control everything and run everything.

Now, look, like I say, this is just the Senate. It still has to go through the House and then has to come back to the Senate.


Let me and you about this -- the Elder Justice Act was put in. That was something that you fought for. This was grants to protect the elderly who are abused in nursing homes.

HATCH: Right. MALVEAUX: What do you tell those people if you successfully block this from being passed, that they're out of luck? I mean, what do you say to them?

HATCH: Well, should I wreck the country so I should get my Elder Justice bill passed? No.

Should I wreck the country so that I could get $100 million for my state or $600 million in Vermont? No.

Should I do what's right? Yes.

And if the bill is good -- and it is good -- we'll get it passed sooner or later. And so why would we do that just because we want one thing or another thing?

We should be thinking of what's best for our country, not what's best for the Democratic Party or the Republican Party. And look, when you look at it, I lived through this whole thing. I'm on the appropriate committees.

The HELP Committee, I listen to Senator Harkin say how they worked with us Republicans. Give me a break. Every vote that was substantive in that committee, after they did the bill solely by themselves with the White House, every vote was voted down on a party line vote.