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The Situation Room

Ex-Green Czar Made Opponents See Red; Eye-Popping Hospital Charges

Aired February 26, 2010 - 18:00   ET



Happening now: a killing carried out like clockwork -- 26 suspects wanted in the assassination of a top Hamas militant. But the trail may have already gone cold. Dubai is blaming Israel. I will speak with Israel's ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren.

Looking at your hospital bill is enough to give you a relapse, $280 for an I.V. bag, $800 for a biopsy needle. CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta looks at why some hospitals simply charge so much.

And just days after a killer whale fatally attacked a killer, Orlando's SeaWorld is ready to resume interactive shows. What does that mean? You're going to hear the explanation.

I am Wolf Blitzer. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

It was carried out with cold-blooded precision, reconnaissance, surveillance, and then an assassination, all very carefully choreographed. Authorities in Dubai have identified 26 suspects the killing of a top Hamas commander.

There were disguises, forged passports, and stolen identities, much of it captured on closed-circuit television. The footprints lead all over the world and then disappear.

CNN international security correspondent Paula Newton shows us why the clues are so tough to piece together.


PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Here at MI6 in London, Britain's global spying headquarters, they know how tough it will be to crack this case. There are a handful of assassinations that have never been solved in this country.

Now, privately, officials in two countries that have had their passports used in this operation, have told CNN they are getting nowhere in this investigation, and that's despite what they call a meticulous Dubai investigation and all that CCTV footage. The problem, the mug shots you see here could depict the assassins already in disguise, or maybe some on the hit squad have already changed their appearance.

Now, let's take a look at the operation itself. It spans the globe, really. Dubai officials say it was all staged in Austria. Operatives funneling all their information through a central command there, false identities and passports came from Ireland, Britain, France, Germany and even Australia. Now, interesting here, Dubai authorities say there must have been at least one reconnaissance mission, and maybe more.

Now let's go through that CCTV footage with Bob Ayers, a former CIA officer.

BOB AYERS, FORMER CIA OFFICER: Freeze it. What I'm trying to see is hefty up top, bald, bigger bald. Let's see what he looks like when he comes out now.

NEWTON: OK. Goes in -- comes out with a disguise.

AYERS: Freeze. We're going to compare.

The surveillance is watching for this bald guy, and suddenly, he's gone, and there's now a dark hairy guy with glasses in front of them and they're still is looking around for the bald guy. So, it's just another way of a little extra added security to throw off any surveillance.

At this point in time, this is really interesting because the woman is looking right into the CCTV camera. Again --

NEWTON: She's spotted. She knows it's there.

AYERS: She knows it's there. She's looking up. She's letting it take a look at her. She's not afraid of having her picture taken. She's looking right at it.

NEWTON: So, this suggestion that they were sloppy having their identities exposed on CCTV?

AYERS: It's a suggestion that's not founded in reality. Somebody doesn't know what they're talking about to make that kind of a suggestion.

Now, the man on the right is going to go to verify the room number that the target is in. This man is staying behind to perform surveillance to make sure nobody comes in and interrupts the other guy while he's checking out the room number.

NEWTON: And there's nothing about this from your training that appears strange to you.


NEWTON: Textbook? AYERS: That's a good operation. Good operation.

They had advanced notice of their target's movements. They prepared people to travel and assassinate the target. They coordinated multiple flights for multiple people all around Europe, arriving at the same time.

They got in place. They killed their target. They all went back and disappeared into the mist. That's a pretty professional operation.

NEWTON: Even though so much of it was caught on CCTV.

We're here now with the Serious Organized Crime Agency, they're the ones in charge of investigating this here in Britain.

There are clues from the credit cards used issued by a bank in the United States and information on the escape routes to Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Rome, Bangkok, Doha, with many of the suspects tracked to the same city, Zurich. From there, though, the trail goes cold.

Officials in several countries confirm a few things to CNN. For starters, they say this investigation would be a lot easier if they had some of the original travel documents used and they say they expect their citizens to get a lot more scrutiny when traveling to the Middle East. Finally, they tell us, Israel is still not cooperating with the investigation.

Paula Newton, CNN, London.



BLITZER: Joining us now is Israel's ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren.

Mr. Ambassador, thanks for coming in.


BLITZER: This individual, this Hamas leader who was assassinated in Dubai, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, tell us about this man.

OREN: I know nothing about it, Wolf, and I cannot comment about it.

BLITZER: You don't know anything about this individual? He was a pretty prominent Hamas leader.


OREN: ... individual. He was a person who was personally responsible for the deaths of two Israeli killings, and was involved in gun smuggling from Iran into Gaza. But, beyond that, know nothing. BLITZER: Because about 20 years ago, he allegedly was involved in kidnapping two Israeli soldiers and then killing them, right?

OREN: Oh, not allegedly. But he took great pride in the fact that he killed these two Israeli young men.

BLITZER: So, the argument is that Israel would have an incentive, a motive, to go after him.

OREN: Again, I don't know anything about the incident, Wolf, and I cannot comment about it.

BLITZER: And so -- because it's, obviously, a sensitive matter, but the whole world believes Israel was responsible.

OREN: Again, I can't comment on it.

But I would like to comment on something that occurred just the day before this. And that is a summit meeting in Damascus between the Hamas leader, which is Khaled Meshaal, together with the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, and the head of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, and the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

And that was really I think the headline that was missed here. And the headline that was missed, Ahmadinejad came out and called for Israel's annihilation. He called for a Middle East without Israel in it.

And, basically, you had the leaders of these terrorist organizations, plus two Middle Eastern states, members of the U.N., who are calling for the annihilation, the genocidal massacre of an entire people. I think that was a pretty large article that was missed.


BLITZER: See the full interview with Ambassador Michael Oren on our Saturday show. It airs right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, 6:00 p.m. Eastern. We have a lot more on what is going on here, also other subjects we discussed with the ambassador. You will want to see it tomorrow, 6:00 p.m. Eastern.

Meanwhile, an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.0 has struck off Japan's southern coast, shaking Okinawa and nearby islands. Japan's meteorological agency briefly posted a tsunami warning, lifting it within two hours. About 20,000 U.S. military personnel, as you probably know, stationed on Okinawa. There have been no reports of casualties or major damage, but our folks in Japan are watching this very, very closely.

Jack Cafferty is coming up next with "The Cafferty File."

Also, Washington announces funding for the first new nuclear reactors in decades, but it still does not know what to do with the waste from existing reactors. Our look at broken government continues. And he was one of the most controversial figures in the Obama administration, until he stepped down in a storm of controversy. Now the former so-called green jobs czar, Van Jones, is speaking out in an exclusive interview with CNN's Suzanne Malveaux. You will see it. That's coming up.

And SeaWorld makes a surprising announcement, even as federal investigators ask some tough questions about the death of a trainer killed by a killer whale.


BLITZER: Let's get right to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: It's been more than two years since I addressed the subject of our broken government in a special broadcast on CNN. And in that time, sad to report, things seem to have gone from bad to worse.

Tonight, at 7:00 Eastern time, you're cordially invited to join me for an hour guaranteed to depress you. Not only is the government broken. The questions about whether it can be fixed at all are growing larger every day.

Just this week, we've talked about 75 percent of you think federal government officials are dishonest, 86 percent of you think our government is broken, $25 million of stimulus money spent for airport scanners are sitting somewhere in storage, while some of the nation's busiest airports go without them.

The Congress, they might as well just go home. The House has passed 290 bills. The Senate has acted on none of them. By 2019, it's estimated the national debt will rise to $23 trillion dollars. That's more than one-third of the gross domestic product of the entire world. And at 5 percent interest, it will cost the U.S. taxpayer more than $1 trillion a year, without paying a single dime on the debt itself, just interest.

There are tens of trillions of dollars of unfunded liabilities for Medicare. The Social Security trust fund consists of nothing but IOUs, which we taxpayers are also paying interest on. Some trust, huh?

It's a long list, but if you have an hour to spare, I hope you'll join me, because if there's any chance at all to stop this country from circling the drain, it will ultimately be the average American citizen who makes it happen, not the government.

The show airs immediately following this broadcast at 7:00.

Here's the question then: What do you consider the single most serious problem facing the United States today?

You can go to my blog at and post a comment. BLITZER: Looking forward to the show, Jack. Thanks very much.

And, as you know, all this week, CNN has been looking at broken government. The Obama administration has given the green light now for $8 billion in loan guarantees to build two new nuclear plants in the United States. These would be the first new nuclear plants in the country in three decades.

But what about the nuclear waste they will produce? It's a question that this country has not resolved and it's yet another sign of broken government.

Our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is here. She's been looking at this story.

And what are you finding out, Jessica?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I have found it is an intractable problem, what to do with the nuclear waste. The topic itself is politically toxic.

Going back to the Carter administration, Washington has been trying to figure out where to put leftover radioactive material that comes from nuclear power plants. In fact, every single president since Jimmy Carter has dealt with the idea of burying it deep inside of Nevada's Yucca Mountain, but, as you might guess, that has been a political hot potato, with folks in Nevada not so keen on the idea.

Every one of these presidents, Democrat and Republican, every one of them, has passed the problem on to the next guy until now, broken government at its most ineffective and dysfunctional with nuclear waste.

And in the meantime, it is not like the spent fuel is gone. Where is it? It is at nuclear power plants across the nation. That used fuel is being stored in vast containers. Containers like these go into big concrete bins, and it's sitting there waiting for a place to move it.

Now, here is the astounding part. While government has been too broken to move forward, science has moved leaps and bounds. In fact, in France, where they get most of their power from nuclear energy, they have what is called used fuel reprocessing. They have one plant that takes nuclear waste, breaks it down into nuclear -- into usable material, leaving much less that needs be stored, and you only need one for the whole country.

Now, nuclear scientists say we can and should be doing the exact same thing here.


DENIA DJOKIC, NUCLEAR ENGINEERING STUDENT: What a country such as France is doing is recycling used uranium plutonium and putting it back into the same reactors, so that they get more energy use out of the initial fuel that they use. We could definitely do that there. And we have the technology for it.


YELLIN: In fact, she says we even have newer technology now that could take us even farther than France. So, why aren't we doing anything about it? Well, some people object to this idea. Two, the Union of Concerned Scientists says reprocess breaks the used fuel into more dangerous components. And if they get into the wrong hands, that would make it easier for terrorists to acquire nuclear weapons materials.

But the bottom line is, the Obama administration does want to move ahead with two new nuclear power plants. They have also said they won't use Yucca Mountain. So, they need a solution.

Now, you're not going to be surprised to know there is a blue- ribbon commission studying how to handle the waste, but, ultimately, this is going to going to be up to Congress to decide, and, Wolf, that is when we will see how broken our system really is.

BLITZER: I am holding my breath to see Congress decide on this one. This is a real hot potato.


YELLIN: It really is.

BLITZER: All right, thanks, Jessica.

It is a time-honored tradition in the United States Senate. A single member has the ability to hold up presidential nominations. Critics say it is a blatant example of broken government.

Our senior correspondent, Dana Bash, spoke exclusively with one senator who is using that power to his advantage.


DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A refueling tanker long overdue for retirement, this senator wants its replacement made in his home state, Alabama, but Richard Shelby says the Air Force competition is a sham.

So, in protest, he did something drastic. He blocked most of President Obama's nominees to an array of federal agencies that have nothing to do with his issue.

(on camera): Near blanket hold, nearly 50 nominees.

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R), ALABAMA: Forty-something, that is right.

BASH: That is pretty extreme. Why did you do that?

SHELBY: Well, I did it to get the attention of the administration. BASH (voice-over): And did he ever? He made headlines and became a symbol of gridlock. But in his first TV interview on the subject, he makes no apologies.

(on camera): What it sounds like you were trying to do, very up- front about it, is put money, put jobs back in state of Alabama.

SHELBY: Well, ultimately, I am a senator from Alabama, but I wanted sure there was fairness, because, if there is fairness, the jobs will go there.

BASH (voice-over): Shelby eventually lifted his hold on all but three nominees for senior Air Force positions. Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell tells CNN, "Without these highly qualified professionals we are not firing on all cylinders."

(on camera): Do you think that the nominee s that you have holds on are qualified?

SHELBY: Oh, I don't have any idea.

BASH: So, they are leverage?

SHELBY: That is part of the life up here.

BASH: It is part of life here in the Senate. It's not in the official rules, but, by tradition, any senator can put a hold on any presidential nominee for any reason. And both parties do it.

(voice-over): Hans von Spakovsky was nominated by President Bush for the Federal Election Commission. A Democratic senator held him up over a voting rights issue.

(on camera): Which senator?


BASH (voice-over): That is right, then Senator Barack Obama.

VON SPAKOVSKY: So, it was not because I didn't have the qualifications. It was because he disagreed with me on a substantive issue.

BASH: Now the president has a different perspective.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well-qualified public servants should not be held hostage to the pet projects or grudges of a few individual senators.

BASH (on camera): But take a closer at Obama's first-year success with his nominees before the Senate, and it looks very similar to his predecessors.

(voice-over): In 2009, the Senate confirmed 353 of 569 major Obama nominations, compared with 360 out of 513 during Bush's first year.

Missouri Senator Kit Bond put the longest hold on an Obama nominee for a top post. He says the General Services Administration is dragging its feet on moving 1,000 federal employees out of a dilapidated Kansas City building, so Bond blocked Martha Johnson for GSA administrator.

SEN. CHRISTOPHER BOND (R), MISSOURI: I have one way of getting their attention, and I put a hold on the nomination of Ms. Johnson.

BASH (on camera): But it has nothing to do with Martha Johnson?

BOND: No, Martha Johnson I think will be a fine administrator. I voted for her.

BASH (voice-over): That is right. When Democrats finally forced a vote after an eight-month delay, Bond voted yes.

(on camera): People from the outside looking in saying, why did the senator hold up somebody who he thinks is qualified for a separate issue?

BOND: Because an unresponsive bureaucracy will not respond to the needs of the people we represent unless you have a means of getting their attention.

BASH (voice-over): Nominees in limbo, broken government to some, but to senators in both parties:

BOND: It is not a symbol of broken government. It is how government works.

BASH: Dana Bash, CNN, Capitol Hill.


BLITZER: The United Nations reacts after Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi calls for -- get this -- a jihad against Switzerland. What did the Swiss do that has him so outraged?

Plus, a presidential news conference plunged into darkness. We are going to show you what is going on with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.



BLITZER: He was President Obama's green czar, but Van Jones made opponents see red. He didn't last long at the White House, but he is back in the spotlight now. We have a rare, exclusive interview coming up. Our Suzanne Malveaux spoke with him.

Plus, $1,200 for a surgical stapler, $280 for an I.V. bag? Dr. Sanjay Gupta will show us why your hospital bills are so high.

And even as the feds open up investigations into the fatal killer whale attack on a trainer, SeaWorld now saying it is ready to resume its shows.


BLITZER: He was President Obama's so-called green jobs czar, but he made opponents see red. Van Jones was a lightning rod for criticism. Much of it he brought upon himself. The result? He didn't last long in the administration.

But now he's back in the public eye, about to get a prestigious award from the NAACP.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux has an interview with Van Jones. We're going to go to Suzanne in just a moment.

First, though, some background.

Brian Todd is here to tell us why Van Jones became so controversial.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, controversial because so many things from his past just caught up with him. While he was under fire, Van Jones tried to distance himself from his own remarks at certain points, but he got a lesson on how social and advocacy journalism can move against you.


TODD (voice-over): Months before the blizzards hit, Van Jones was the perfect Washington storm. He resigned last September as President Obama's environmental adviser. Converging on Jones, a White House vetting process that came under scrutiny, blistering attacks from the conservative media, and Jones' own actions before he joined the administration that provoked them, like this exchange captured on YouTube.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How were the Republicans able to push things through when they had less than 60 senators, but somehow we can't?



TODD: If that comment was his only tempest, Jones might still be at the White House, but critical mass builds quickly in Washington.

It was learned that Jones signed a 2004 petition on the Web site demanding an investigation into whether high- level government officials may have deliberately allowed the September 11 attacks to occur.

Jones said that petition never reflected his views. A spokesman for the 9/11 Truth group disputed that. But there was also a quote from Jones in 2005 saying, "By August, I was a communist," when describing his radicalization following police acquittals in the 1992 Rodney King beating case.

FOX host Glenn Beck used some of those instances as his peg to question who President Obama was surrounding himself with in the White House.


GLENN BECK, HOST, "GLENN BECK": You have him earlier are saying that white people are intentionally poisoning communities of color? What the hell is that?


TODD: Jones had actually quoted others on that poisoning comment, but Beck did correctly characterize other things Jones had said.

I asked Howard Kurtz of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES" why Jones' past hadn't been more widely reported.

(on camera): Did the mainstream media just not pay much attention because of the nature of his job? They did just not do their homework? What happened with that?

HOWARD KURTZ, CNN'S RELIABLE SOURCES: I think that the mainstream media were napping clearly because White House officials having some of the explosive things that Van Jones had said, that was a story. But because it was on FOX News, perhaps there was a tendency to discount it as just being some sort of a conservative campaign.

TODD(voice-over): Jones claimed of vicious smear campaign forced him to resign, but conservatives cite the fact that the White House didn't fight hard for Jones to stay as validation of the criticism.


TODD: Now, Jones does get bipartisan credit for resigning early during all the scrutiny and not dragging any of this out. On the vetting of Jones, a White House official told me they did miss some of his past comments -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Brian, thanks very for that background.

For Van Jones, there is life after the White House, where he once had a reputation for tearing apart opponents, he now says he's all about trying to build bridges.

Our White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux traveled to Hollywood to speak to Van Jones. Here is her interview.


VAN JONES, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: I gave a speech at Exeter, and some of the tea party people came to my speech.


JONES: Yes. And, you know, the guy sit on the front row, and he had Glenn Beck's book right there --


JONES: -- on the front row, like, you know, maddogging me and I started talking. I started talking about American jobs and the future and how we can be one country, and the guy's book starts getting lower and lower and lower, and at the end of the speech, he came up and asked me to sign Glenn Beck's book.

MALVEAUX: You are kidding.

JONES: And you know what I wrote on it?

MALVEAUX: What did you -- what did you write?

JONES: We are one country, Van Jones.

MALVEAUX: Your critics point to a number of things. Let's deal with each one of them point by point.

JONES: Sure.

MALVEAUX: First of all, the petition that you signed in 2004, the 9/11 truthers, and which they call for an investigation of Bush administration officials may indeed have deliberately allowed 9/11 to happen perhaps as a pretext for war. You sign this petition and then you said you never believed in that statement, that it didn't reflect your views. Which is it?

JONES: Well, first of all, just let me be clear what my actual beliefs are. I do believe that 9/11 was a conspiracy by Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda and nobody else to hurt America. That's what I believe.

I learned a tough lesson on this one. I never saw that language, and I never signed anything. A group came up to me at a conference six years ago and they said, "We represent 9/11 families." And I said, "You know, OK. You know, what's going on? How can I be helpful?" They said, "We need your help, will you support our cause?" I said, "Sure."

They then, I did not know their agenda, they then went and put my name on the most abhorrent crazy language, alleging stuff that I don't believe, would never have signed on to, and it just sat there on this obscure Web site for years.

MALVEAUX: They also pointed to a YouTube video when you made a speech shortly before you actually accepted your White House post, when you used an expletive to describe Republicans. But you saw the camera rolling -- and did you think, perhaps, this isn't a good idea, maybe I should curbed my language here?

JONES: Yes. Well, first of all, I -- that was -- that was a horrible mistake on my part. I didn't see the camera, but camera or no camera, you know, sometimes we get into this partisan, you know, kinds of things and trying to be funny and whatever, and, you know, we don't stay true to our true selves.

MALVEAUX: David Axelrod, one of the president's advisers, said that he didn't -- he wasn't aware of these things, and that he probably should have done a better job. One of the other top advisers, Valerie Jarrett, said they have been following you for years and you worked in Oakland and they were very eager to get you to the White House.

Is it hard for you to believe when they say they just had no idea, they didn't know about some of these things?

JONES: I was fully candid, I mean, about my past ,about the ideas that I explored. I was a midlevel White House staffer. I reported to a Senate-confirmed nominee -- midlevel White House staffers go through a vetting process that's very -- a process that's very, very rigorous. But I wasn't a cabinet secretary. I was a worker in the White House.

Some people decided to give me this crazy title of green job czar in the media. I remember it, I came right out and said, "I'm not the green job czar, I'm the green czar jobs handyman."

MALVEAUX: There was somebody, Jeffrey Lorr (ph), he was a speech writer for the Reagan administration and he leveled this criticism saying that the Secret Service on the previous administrations, that they saw your background, that they wouldn't allow you a visitors' pass at the White House, much less the job that you had held.

Do you feel that the White House could have done a better job in vetting you and basically preventing this whole thing from happening?

JONES: I'm somebody who is at -- you know, at the top of my field globally, nationally, with regard to the literature. I was imminently qualified for this position.

MALVEAUX: That weekend before you resigned, it was radio silence at the White House. Did you feel -- did you feel betrayed at all?

JONES: Absolutely not. Nobody told me to resign. I gave my resignation. I said, "I don't want to be a distraction."

MALVEAUX: So you think it was a good thing? I mean, you've learned lessons from this?

JONES: I'm a green guy. So, if you want a healthy plant, you have to have a lot of sunshine and a lot of crap, and they call crap fertilizer. You know, if you put those two things together, you'll get a good strong plant. I have had a lot of sunshine in my life, and I have also had a lot of crap. But you know what? The successes give you that confidence. The setbacks build your character.

MALVEAUX: Tell me how you got involved in the environmental movement. You are obviously a pioneer in this field and you had a friendship with, literally, a tree hugger, if you will, Julia Butterfly Hill who was living in a tree, trying to save it from being chopped down for two years. The two of you used to do lectures together. Was she the one who inspired you?

JONES: Well, you know, first of all, I think everybody has a soft spot for nature somewhere. Not many people wake up in the morning and say, I hate bunnies and trees, you know, like most people are. Most people have a soft spot for nature.

So, I grew up on the edge of a small town. I grew up in the woods. So, I always had that, but it was buried someplace. And actually, it was when I burned out on some of the kind of more angry politics and so I tried to heal myself that I started going to the woods, you know.

And I met Julia Butterfly and I said, "Hold on a second. You got all these kids in urban America, rural America who need job. And we have some important work that needs to be done and what if we connected the two." And it was a revelation to me. We could fight pollution and poverty at the same time.

MALVEAUX: You have no resentment that you lost the White House job?

JONES: I had six great months doing stuff I never got to have a chance to do and it was time for me to go. I got a chance to walk away. And this is America, a land of second chances, the land of getting chances and start over. It's what the whole country is built on, second chances.


BLITZER: And Suzanne is joining us now from Los Angeles. Susan, I take it, he's getting this award you reported earlier on the week. He's getting this major award now from the NAACP. So, I suspect he feels he's going to get a second chance.

MALVEAUX: Well, Wolf, you heard in our interview there, Van Jones really feels like he took a fall, and he's trying to get back up. And really, this award, a NAACP Image Award helps him with a second chance, he told me. And he's going be going on the teach at Princeton University. He's going to be also in a liberal think tank based out of Washington.

This is really a chance for him to celebrate tonight, he said, and to share this award with people that he admired who have also gotten this award. Muhammad Ali, President Bill Clinton, Condoleezza Rice. His family joked that he'll have a chance to meet Beyonce tonight, which is a prize for him he said. But, in all seriousness, he also believes that this really is going to be a fresh start for him -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux, thanks very you for that interview and that report.

It's part of the reason that health care costs are soaring. CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta is getting ready to take us inside of the operating room for an eye-popping look at how much hospitals charge for basic items.





BLITZER: One day after President Obama's health care reform summit, both parties are entrenched as ever. Democrats are moving forward with a plan to pass the bill without Republicans, relying in a simple majority in a process called reconciliation.

The House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is dismissing GOP opposition. Listen to what she told "STATE OF THE UNION" host, Candy Crowley.


CANDY CROWLEY, "STATE OF THE UNION" HOST: When we looked at our polling numbers just from yesterday, we had almost three quarters of Americans who said they need to drop this bill, just stop talking about health care, and move on to something else, or they need to start new. So, don't the Republicans have a point?

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: The point is, is that we have a responsibility here. And the Republicans have had a field day going out there and misrepresenting what's in the bill. But that's what they do.

CROWLEY: So, it's been a message you are saying?

PELOSI: That's what they do.

CROWLEY: And people don't understand the bill?

PELOSI: No, I don't think -- there isn't a bill. When we have a bill, which we will in a matter of days, then that is the bill that we can settle. Our bill, the House and Senate bill, had some major differences which we are hoping now to reconcile, and then when we have a bill, you -- as I say, you can bake the pie, you can sell the pie, but you have to have a pie to sell. And when we do, we will take it out there. I feel very confident about what's in there.


BLITZER: You can see the full interview with the House speaker on "STATE OF THE UNION WITH CANDY CROWLEY." That airs this Sunday, 9:00 a.m. Eastern.

CNN chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, looks at part of the reasons for soaring health care costs -- prices you won't believe inside of the operating room. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA: One of the questions that comes up all of the time is: what about these hospital bills? How exactly do they breakdown? How do you make sense of it? There's no question it leaves a lot of people scratching their heads.

So, I want to give you a little example here by taking inside this operating room. This is the hospital where I work where I'm a neurosurgeon.

And just having an operation performed in a room like this costs about $3,000 an hour, that's for starters. Come on in.

I'll give you a couple of quick examples, if you look at the hospital bill, you might see I.V. bag charge, it's an I.V. like this, about $280 just for the I.V. bag. That might strike people as very high.

Stapler -- this is a stapler that's often used in surgery, something like this. It costs about $1,200.

This is a chest tube. If someone has compression of one of their lungs, they might need a chest tube like this that costs about $1,100.

You will find examples like that really all over a room like this. Suture is something which is used in just about every operating room in the world. This type of suture over here costs about $200.

And if you look at even devices like -- this is a needle that's used for biopsies. So, if there is a concern that someone has a tumor, they would use a needle like this. And this is going to cost about $800.

Now, it's important to keep in mind, if you ask the manufacturers of a device like this: why so much money? They'll say, well, it took years to develop something like this, and the research and development costs are significant. Also, the guaranteeing of certain level of effectiveness of this needle, that costs money as well.

But something maybe you didn't know, when you look at the hospital bill. It's not just the cost of the supplies. There's also administrative costs that are built in. There's the cost of covering people who simply don't have insurance or can't pay. That's built into these costs as well.

And finally, keep in mind that what is charged and what is ultimately paid are two very different numbers.

RICHARD CLARK, HEALTHCARE FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT ASSOCIATION: The typical hospital collects about 4 percent of every dollar that they collect -- or about four cents of every dollar they bill. So, it's no coming out in massive profits, but it's coming out as a result of underpayment from the government.

GUPTA: I'll tell you -- you know, that the cost breakdown like I just gave you on lots of these different supplies, a lot of people simply never see. And what we have found is that a lot of people don't care as well. If you are insured, some people may not even open the hospital bill. But there are about 50 million people uninsured out there and they care very much about hospital bills like this.

And what you can do is you can call the hospital and get a detailed breakdown. And while you are on the phone with the hospital, if the costs seem still too high or just hard to understand, you might be able to negotiate some of these prices down.


BLITZER: Thanks, Sanjay.

Hospitals will say they are not making the profits you might expect because of low reimbursements, talking about half of U.S. hospitals are unprofitable.

A fatal shooting this morning in Washington state: special ed teacher gunned down on her way to school. Police are still sorting out how one man's obsession led to her death and his own.

And fear of a similar fate led to panic and evacuation on a campus in Oklahoma. But this one all came down to miscommunication. Stick around -- details coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's go back to Lisa. She's monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM.

What's going on, Lisa?


Well, police in Tacoma, Washington, say a man apparently obsessed with a special ed teacher, shot and killed her this morning as she walked into her elementary school. The suspect was killed in a shootout with a deputy a short time later. The father of the teacher says she had obtained a protective order against the man in September of 2008.

Because of the Tacoma incident, the campus of Oklahoma City Community College was locked down today amid fears of a gunman on the loose. But police say it was all a big misunderstanding. It seems that a part-time employee misread a bulletin about school shooting awareness. Although police eventually figured it out, the school stayed closed for the rest of the day.

And now to a canine cowabunga. Yes, there you go. A surfing school on an island off China is using a dog -- yes, a dog to promote the sport. The owners are hoping for a surfing explosion in the country. And the instructor says that he hopes to show that if Dan- Dan (ph) there can learn to surf, then anyone can -- even if he's not immune from a wipeout.

Where is the dog again? I want to go back to seeing this dog.

BLITZER: The dog is adorable. A cute little dog and good surfer dog, too.

SYLVESTER: Yes, that's not so bad. He stayed on for a while, until -- there he is -- he stayed on for a while, so I guess that wave took him out. But --

BLITZER: Yes, a very good dog.

SYLVESTER: Maybe it's time to take up surfing, huh, Wolf?

BLITZER: Dan-Dan the surfing -- all right. Thanks, Lisa.

We are counting down to Jack Cafferty and our CNN special "Broken Government" report that's coming up at the top of the hour.

But there's still the question of the hour: what do you consider the single most serious problem facing the U.S. today? Jack and your e-mail -- coming up.

And a seasoned orca trainer killed, but SeaWorld gets back to the business of entertainment. Why so soon? And what will happen to the whale that killed her? The park's president fields some tough questions. You'll see that right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Jack's back with the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CAFFERTY FILE: The question this hour is: what do you consider the single most serious problem facing the United States today?

Dan writes: "The wealthy and major corporations' control over our political process is the most serious problem. This is the root cause, everything else is just a symptom. Why else would we give tax breaks for exporting jobs, looked the other way for years while illegal immigrants take over jobs here and cost the middle class their treasures for their education, social programs and health care costs while the corporate CEOs reap the benefits?"

Richard writes: "My suggestion for the single most serious problem facing the U.S. today: unmotivated, lazy, greedy Americans who not only care about money, and a society that allows its population to worship wealth and material possessions."

Hayden writes: "A lack of comprehensive science and political education early on in kids' lives. Without a good foundation for skeptical and rationale thinking provided by science, and an understanding of politics provided by better civics curricula, we can't possibly hope to have a well-educated population or a better future. The U.S. routinely lands worse in science and math education in the developed world and industrialized world. We used to be the best. What happened?" Sherry in Denver writes: "Unemployment. My husband has been out of work for over a year. We had to move out of our beautiful home because we can't afford the payments. I'm getting close to retirement age. My legs are shut, my back is gone. But I have to keep working until when? I'd go the cemetery and just wait but I can't afford the ground's fee."

And Ken in Overland Park writes this: "I think the single, biggest problem facing us, the U.S., is that we're so separated as a people and even father away from our government. Our people are falling into a deep depression and many are feeling helpless, and hopelessness is the only thing they see in front of them. The times have broken many people's spirits. It's this unique spirit that Americans seemed to have had in the past that keeps us going, keeps our compassion for one another alive, keeps us, the U.S., moving forward."

If you want to read more on this, you can go to my blog,

BLITZER: I just want to remind our viewers, in a few moments, Jack, your special coming up at right at the top of the hour. Jack's look at "Broken Government: A Cafferty File Special Report." You won't to miss, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, six minutes from now, only here on CNN.

Straight ahead: what's next for SeaWorld after the death of a trainer killed by a killer whale?


BLITZER: Today's SeaWorld officials announced its popular killer whale shows will resume tomorrow even as it reviews its safety protocols.


JIM ATCHISON, SEAWORLD PARKS & ENTERTAINMENT: As you know, all direct interactions with these animals were suspended immediately after the incident on Wednesday, in all three SeaWorld parks. This includes all the shows and most husbandry interactions in our dining programs. We will resume performances of our killer whale show, believed tomorrow at SeaWorld parks in Orlando, San Diego, and San Antonio but our trainers will not enter the water.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look, 40 years of captivity of a killer whale, and you have four deaths and you have three of the four.

ATCHISON: I need to correct you. We don't have four deaths in our company.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's is my understanding four deaths.

ATCHISON: That's not true.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many deaths have there been? ATCHISON: We have had in our system -- we have had this terrible incident that occurred the other day. And, unfortunately, in 1999, we had somebody who snuck into the park and jumped into this same pool. That's what occurred in our system.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three deaths, but there have been -- but there have been three deaths that have been tied to this whale?

ATCHISON: Realize the whale was at another facility before it joined ours.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What I'm saying is we're talking about --

ATCHISON: If you can get to your question, I'll try to answer it. But what I'm telling you is that we've had two incidents --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The whale is involved in three deaths. I mean, how do you explain the combination of circumstances that all lead back to the same whale and the judgment call to put people back in the water with this whale?

ATCHISON: What I'll say is, the events surrounding the other incidents that Tilikum was part of are quite varied. And actually, there's information available on those and we make that available to you. Brad Andrews who's actually here with me today, we can talk more about that separately.

But I will tell you: those incidents and the nature of them had really nothing to do with this particular event. Those are separate interactions, separate events that occurred altogether and really are not relevant to this particular altercation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's the same whale.

ATCHISON: Yes, exactly. But very, very different circumstances and events.


BLITZER: Let's take a closer look at orcas. They're commonly known as killer whales but they're actually members of the dolphin family. They are the sea's top predators, feeding on everything from small fish to giant blue whales. They're currently listed by the U.S. as an endangered species.

Killer whales are found in all the world's oceans. Their total number is unknown, but it's estimated there are at least 50,000. There are reportedly 40 to 50 in captivity worldwide. SeaWorld alone holds at least 20 of them.

Remember, you can always follow what's going on here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm on Twitter. You can get my tweets at That's WolfBlitzerCNN all one word.

Don't forget tomorrow, 6:00 p.m. Eastern, the Saturday edition of THE SITUATION ROOM. Lots coming up, including the Israeli ambassador to the United States.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Up next, "Broken Government: A Cafferty File Special Report."