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The Situation Room
"I Believe I Can Beat President Obama;" "Slurpee Summit" Rescheduled; New House Leaders Chosen
Aired November 17, 2010 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Brooke, thanks very much.
Happening now, the Slurpee Summit turns to slush -- what was supposed to be the ultimate symbol of bipartisanship between a bruised President Obama and the newly crowned GOP leadership gets postponed.
Is it a sign of political gridlock to come?
She seems to be getting serious. In a new interview, Sarah Palin reveals she's in talks with her family about launching a 2012 presidential bid. And she's even discussing the team she'd bring in to help her do it.
And New York City has its eye on alleged criminals. We're going to show you how police use iris scanners to help identify suspects. But critics say it crosses the line.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
All that coming up.
But let's get to Sarah Palin first and a surprising new remark that she believes she can, in fact, beat President Obama if she challenges him in 2012.
Here's a clip just released of an interview that she did with ABC's Barbara Walters.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm looking at the lay of the land now and -- and trying to figure that out, if it's a good thing for the country, for the discourse, for my family, if it's a good thing.
BARBARA WALTERS, HOST: If you ran for president, could you beat Barack Obama?
PALIN: I believe so.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: All right, let's discuss with our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger.
She seems to be giving more and more indications that she's seriously thinking of running for the Republican presidential nomination.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, she is. She's enlarging her staff. She's dipping her toe into policy issues. You know, we -- we get a lot of Tweets and Facebook posts from Sarah Palin. And now, we're starting to see her talk more about policy, about things like the Fed, for example. And she's taking on the Republican establishment. She did pretty well in these -- in these mid-term elections. So it's very clear that she's giving more and more signals that she could get into this race.
BLITZER: And there's no doubt that she has a huge following on the conservative side.
BLITZER: In our most recent hypothetical between Obama and Palin, registered voters' choice for president -- this was at the end of October -- 52 percent said they'd vote for Obama; 44 cept -- 44 percent for Palin. But that's obviously very, very early.
BORGER: Right. And don't forget, Wolf, that's overall. That's not Republican primary voters. Where she is popular is with Republican primary voters. But in our latest poll, we asked Republicans about who they'd like to see in 2012. She was not the number one choice, though. First came Huckabee, then came Mitt Romney and then came Sarah Palin.
But if you look at those early primaries and caucuses, like the Iowa caucuses, she could do quite well because there's a big Evangelical vote, for example. She could place second or first in New Hampshire. She could do well in South Carolina, in Nevada. So there are Republicans who are beginning to say, you know what, we've always underestimated her. We'd better take her seriously because she might run and there are lots of more establishment Republicans, Wolf, who are not very happy about it.
BLITZER: And she's going to be the cover story in "The New York Times" Sunday magazine.
BORGER: Yes, she is.
BLITZER: There's a lot more coming up. We have a lot more on this story, as well.
Gloria, thank you.
Tomorrow was supposed to be the day the country got its first glimpse of the new bipartisanship in Washington just weeks after voters issued a stern warning to President Obama to change the way that things are being done. Nicknamed the so-called Slurpee Summit, Democratic and Republican Congressional leaders were expected to meet with the president at the White House to try to find some ways to work together. But now, that meeting has been rescheduled. And it's leaving many wondering if there's anything that the two sides can actually agree on.
Let's go to our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian.
He's working the story over at the White House.
What are you finding out -- Dan?
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, one political analyst says that this is a setback for both Republicans and Democrats because Americans out there are feeling a sense of urgency in their own lives. But they're not seeing that same urgency here in Washington. Nonetheless, both sides are insisting that this is nothing more than a scheduling issue and is not a bipartisan stumble.
LOTHIAN (voice-over): The Slurpee Summit was meant to soothe President Obama's election day shellacking.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Slurpee Summit. That's good.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You betcha.
OBAMA: I like that.
LOTHIAN: The White House announced the date -- November 18th.
OBAMA: This is going to be a meeting in which I want us to talk substantively about how we can move the American people's agenda forward. It's not just going to be a photo-op. Hopefully, it may spill over into dinner.
LOTHIAN: But two days before the big meeting, it was postponed until the 30th. GOP leaders blamed scheduling conflicts and privately suggested they'd never settled on the earlier date announced by the White House. But delaying what amounts to an olive branch from the president seems at odds with all the post-election talk about bipartisanship.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), MAJORITY LEADER: The president and I had a very pleasant conversation.
OBAMA: I am very eager to sit down with members of both parties and figure out how we can move forward together.
LOTHIAN: Compromise is what both side are looking for coming out of the much anticipated meeting. Tackling the Bush tax cuts, the new START Treaty and job creation measures.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: I'm looking forward to the meeting and to the opportunity to share with the president, again, the areas where we agree. LOTHIAN: While much is being made of this rain check, Senator McConnell's spokesman, Don Stewart, said: "There is absolutely nothing to it."
And White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters: "This compromise on the date shows bipartisanship has happened. We're flexible."
But former presidential adviser David Gergen said this scheduling conflict doesn't fly with many Americans.
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: But it's very hard for anybody outside Washington to understand why it takes a full month after the election for the leaders of the White House and the Congress to sit down together and map out plans for the future at a time of really urgent needs for America.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
LOTHIAN: Now, Robert Gibbs says that he does not see this as a bad prospect for Republicans and Democrats working together going forward. He said that Republicans simply wanted another date. It was convenient and the White House was willing to wait.
And Gibbs also pointing out that they'll have other meetings with Republicans in the coming months -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And the meeting will now take place after Thanksgiving, on November 30th.
LOTHIAN: Yes, it will.
BLITZER: All right, Dan.
On Capitol Hill, meanwhile, the Democrats in the House will be in the minority in January, but their leadership has not changed. The party has just elected the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, to become the minority leader in the next Congress. But there were some stumbling blocks along the way.
Let's bring in our senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.
She has the details for us.
Always exciting on the Hill, especially today -- Dana.
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That is for sure. You know, House Democrats lost more than 60 seats in this month's elections, but today, the majority of the House Democrats remaining decided not to punish their leaders for it. And despite the fact that there were some misgivings, Nancy Pelosi did become the first speaker in more than half a century, since Sam Rayburn, to lose her gavel but stay on as leader. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
BASH (voice-over): The new House Democratic leadership team -- same as the old.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: They know that I'm the person that can attract the resources, both intellectual and otherwise, to take us to victory because I have done it before.
BASH: Nancy Pelosi won her bid to remain House Democratic leader 150-43. Nearly a quarter of the Democratic Caucus voted for a more conservative alternative, North Carolina Democrat, Heath Shuler.
REP. HEATH SHULER (D), NORTH CAROLINA: But it wasn't about our winning or losing this race, it was about truly making a difference within our caucus to -- to ensure that the moderates are heard within the caucus. And we have to -- to be able to communicate to the American people in order to win back the election in 2012.
BASH: But the vote that may have been more telling about concerns with Pelosi was one offered by these Democrats to delay the election. The measure lost, but 68 House Democrats voted in favor of taking time to understand their devastating losses before reelecting the same leadership.
REP. BILL PASCRELL (D), NEW JERSEY: I consider myself one of Nancy Pelosi's closest friends here in the Congress. I think we missed an opportunity today to send a signal to America that we understand what happened this past election.
BASH: Pelosi does still have plenty of support, even those who survived tough races.
REP. RAUL GRIJALVA (D), ARIZONA: Her tenacity and her intelligence (INAUDIBLE) minorities have (INAUDIBLE) me very, very much. And so for me, it's a question of continuation of what we've been trying to do.
BASH: But this Democrat, who was defeated, says his colleagues are making a big mistake sticking with Pelosi as their leader.
REP. ALLEN BOYD (D), FLORIDA: The truth is that she is the face that defeated us in this last election. And it seems to me that, at some point in time, you have to put your personal agenda and ambitions aside for the good of the country and -- and certainly of -- of the party.
BASH (on camera): Do you feel that your defeat is, in part, because of Nancy Pelosi?
BOYD: Well, absolutely.
BASH: Pelosi insisted she can be an effective leader, even with fractured support and low standing in the polls.
PELOSI: How would your ratings be if $75 million were spent against you?
(END VIDEO TAPE)
BASH: Now, House Republicans also elected their leadership today. Not surprising, Wolf, John Boehner was given the title of Republican leader, soon to be speaker. He won't get that title officially -- or the gavel -- until the new Congress convenes in January. But he did get this nod -- show of support on a special day. It's his 61st birthday -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Happy birthday to the incoming speaker.
Thanks very much, Dana, for that.
Alaska's fierce Senate battle gets even more intense as the votes are tallied. We're going to tell you where the count stands right now and what Senator Lisa Murkowski is about to say about the race.
And Germany uncovers evidence of a possible Al Qaeda plot. You're going to find out what that company is doing to keep its citizens safe. And we have new information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM about Osama bin Laden from a man who knows him.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: The presidential election is certainly on Jack Cafferty's radar right now.
He's here with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It could make for an interesting couple of years on television. Sarah Palin saying that she's seriously considering running for president in 2012.
The dropout former governor of Alaska tells "The New York Times Magazine" she's having discussions with her family about a potential run because, she says, they -- her family -- are the most important consideration.
Palin says if she decides to run, she would need to bring more trustworthy strategists into her inner circle. She once again claims that she was thrown under the bus by the strategists on the McCain campaign and says she needs to be careful about who she lets into that inner circle. Palin takes a shot at what she calls "the lamestream media." Although she mainly appears as a paid contributor on Fox News and communicates with the public using Twitter and Facebook, Palin says that she's not avoiding anything or anybody, adding that she's out there and that she wants to talk about her record.
Palin does acknowledge that one hurdle she'll have to get over is proving that record. Quote,: "That's the most frustrating thing for me, the warped, perverted description of my record and what I've accomplished over the last two decades," unquote.
Well, she's right about that. She's going to have to prove herself. Several recent polls show that more than half of Americans give Sarah Palin an unfavorable rating. A Gallup Poll, Palin's unfavorable number is at 52 percent. That's the highest ever. Another react survey shows 67 percent see her as unqualified to be president.
The question this hour is how can Sarah Palin convince people she's qualified to be president of the United States?
Go to the blog and do whatever.
BLITZER: You'll have a good time over there.
Jack, thank you.
Thanks very much.
Let's get back to the last-minute rescheduling of the so-called White House summit involving the Democratic and Republican leadership. Joining us to talk about that is the senior political analyst David Gergen.
I don't remember a time, David, but maybe you do, you worked for four presidents, where the president of the United States announces a meeting with the Republican and Democratic leadership and then 48 hours before the meeting they have to reschedule it. Do you remember anything like this?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't, Wolf, and it's remarkable. There's just a great sense of disappointment.
I think most Americans felt that after the elections that the leadership, the new leadership would get together with the old leadership and see if they couldn't map out the future in some bipartisan way. And now, almost a month is going to pass between the elections and the first meeting. That just -- that's a real disappointment.
BLITZER: What do you think of the way that the White House is handling this right now? They issued a statement yesterday saying they've got a scheduling issue, so they are going to reschedule for November 30th.
GERGEN: It's hard for us to know all of the facts, isn't it? It's not quite clear whether they were blindsided by this.
But it -- you know, Wolf, this is something that they could have tomorrow morning, they could have their first meeting. It doesn't have to be so -- they just need to get it together in a series of meetings.
Yesterday, when Senator Kyle pulled the plug on the START treaty saying they didn't think it would pass during the lame duck, by this morning Senator Luger was having breakfast with Hilary Clinton, you know a Republican sitting down with a Democratic secretary of state because they knew it was urgent.
And it just seems to me that the country faces a series of urgent problems and to not come together, there's a failure here that, I don't think we understand quite what happened, but there's a failure on both sides, frankly.
BLITZER: Let me pick your brain on this. A rumor of Roger Altman, he served in the Clinton administration in the Treasury Department, he's a Wall Street insider, coming to the White House now and replacing Larry Summers as the chief economic advisor in effect to the president.
What do you think about that?
GERGEN: I actually think it would be an excellent appointment, Wolf. I know there are those on the left who feel, why would we bring in anybody from Wall Street, but I must tell you, there is such a rift between this president, this White House and the business community, starting with the financing industry in New York, that it's really holding back the recovery. There's a real reluctance to invest, as we talked about before, on the part of the business community because they don't know what regulations, what new rules are going to come from Washington and they think that there's a hostility towards them.
Bringing Roger Altman in -- and I happen to have to work with him in the Clinton administration, I've seen him recently and have talked to people in New York just a couple weeks ago at a gathering and there was considerable enthusiasm in New York about him coming there. I know the left will not be pleased, but if you're going to govern, if President Obama is going to govern, if he's going to get the economy moving again, if he's going to get jobs created, he has to build confidence in the business community and Roger Altman is a person who could build bridges to the business community for him while being a loyal Democrat.
BLITZER: Cause a lot of business leaders, big business leaders have said they have no one in the White House right now who has actually had some real business experience.
All right, David. Thank you very much.
He's been dubbed the "Merchant of Death" and now this accused Russian arms dealer is in a court in New York City. You're going to hear how he's responding to charges that could land him in prison for life.
And a bizarre killing in Beverly Hills, a well-known publicist is gunned down in her car. You're going to hear what the police are doing to track down her killer.
BLITZER: Fredricka Whitfield is monitoring some other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now including a new terror alert in Germany.
What's going on, Fred?
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Hello, everyone.
Germany is raising its terror threat level citing concrete evidence that al Qaeda is planning an attack there. No details about the potential plot were given. The country's interior minister says that the information is cause for concern, but not hysteria. Last month, the U.S. issued a general travel alert for Americans in Europe after officials uncovered a reported plot targeting European cities.
An accused international arms dealer dubbed the "Merchant of Death" has pleaded not guilty to four terror-related charges. Viktor Bout, a Russian national, appeared in a federal court after being extradited from Thailand. Prosecutors say Bout agreed to sell millions of dollars of weapons to a narco-terrorist group in Colombia.
And Beverly Hills police are looking through computer files and phone logs of a Hollywood publicist hoping to find clues to her killing. Authorities say 64-year-old Ronni Chasen was shot several times just after leaving a star-studded movie premiere. Her purse was reportedly not taken. A number of homes in the area have security cameras and detectives are hoping to review those tapes to see if Chasen was being followed -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Sad story indeed. Apparently no motive, she was beloved by a lot of folks in Hollywood over there. We'll keep our eye on that story. Thanks very much.
WHITFIELD: Yes, very perplexing case.
We're also just getting new information into THE SITUATION ROOM about Osama bin Laden from a man who knows him personally. My interview with the former Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Turki al- Faisal. That's coming up, he's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
And New York City is using eyes to track criminal suspects. You're going to see how it works.
And a big gathering for a number of potential Republican presidential candidates for 2012. We'll take you there.
BLITZER: Osama bin Laden is healthy, moving around and very much in charge of al Qaeda, that's according to a man who knows bin Laden personally and who has inside knowledge of Saudi Arabia's fight against terror.
BLITZER: And joining us now, Prince Turki Al-Faisal. He's the former Saudi ambassador to the United States and the United Kingdom, also the former chief of intelligence in Saudi Arabia.
Prince Turki, thanks very much for coming in.
PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL, FORMER SAUDI INTELLIGENCE DIRECTOR: Thank you. Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Always good to see you.
Walk us through what happened, cause U.S. officials are giving Saudi Arabia a lot of credit for thwarting that parcel bombing attempt in Dubai and the United Kingdom. The information you provided stopped it.
Walk us through what happened.
AL-FAISAL: I'll tell you what I -- what I read in the papers, because I am not in the official loop. But from my previous experience, there is continuous exchange of information between the CIA and the Saudi security agencies, the General Intelligence Directorate and -- the Mabahith and the Ministry of the Interior. And I'm assuming that in -- in the course of their usual exchange of information, that a blip came on the radar of Saudi security agencies --
BLITZER: And supposedly it was an al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula --
AL-FAISAL: That's right.
BLITZER: -- terrorist who you -- who -- who was cooperating with you and provided --
AL-FAISAL: Well --
BLITZER: -- the information.
AL-FAISAL: -- that's what I read in the papers, but I would suspect that it's more than that. It's a whole range of -- of procedures and processes that the Kingdom has developed since I left the intelligence service and to meet with the present challenge of the terrorist threat to the Kingdom.
BLITZER: So how good is the intelligence cooperation right now between the United States, the Obama administration and the Saudi Kingdom?
AL-FAISAL: It's excellent. It's really excellent and has been growing over the years. And because we face the same challenges and the same threats from these people, the -- the cooperation is very close.
BLITZER: How powerful is al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula? We've heard a lot about this American-born cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki.
BLITZER: How -- how significant is this group in Yemen right now?
AL-FAISAL: It seems to be able to do things that -- that they're not able to do in Saudi Arabia. And so from that context, their threat is not only on Yemen itself, but even on us and on you and the rest of the world.
BLITZER: Do they have to -- they have bomb making capabilities, we know that.
AL-FAISAL: They do.
BLITZER: How good are they?
AL-FAISAL: They seem to be quite good. What I heard described as the -- these parcels that they sent on the -- on the airplanes, were so well disguised that in England, for example, it took them some time to discover it.
BLITZER: As we're speaking, Germany has gone on a higher state of alert right now.
BLITZER: Do you have any -- inside information on what's going on?
AL-FAISAL: Alas, I don't. But I'm sure there is cooperation, as well, between Germany and the Kingdom and other countries in the area.
BLITZER: How close is al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to the original al Qaeda led by bin Laden, wherever he is right now?
AL-FAISAL: I believe all of the so-called al Qaedas, whether in Yemen, in Iraq, in North Africa, in Southeast Asia, in Turkey and so on, all have links to the original leadership in al Qaeda.
BLITZER: And you're one of the few leaders who's actually met Osama bin Laden.
AL-FAISAL: I did. I met him when, if you like, he was a good guy. This was --
BLITZER: This was in the '80s?
AL-FAISAL: In the mid-'80s when we were all fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan.
BLITZER: And did you continue having a relationship with him in the '90s?
AL-FAISAL: The last time I saw him was the end of 1989 or the beginning of 1990, when he came to me with a proposal, at that time, that he wanted to bring his army, as he called it, to fight against the communist regime in South Yemen, which later on became united with North Yemen.
BLITZER: Why is it so hard to find this guy?
AL-FAISAL: You tell me. I'm surprised that it is hard, because I know that in the border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the tribes people there are -- when I was working in the intelligence at the time, were very cooperative and will provide information if they feel that that information will get them a reward.
BLITZER: Do you think he's some place on that border of Pakistan probably?
AL-FAISAL: Well, I think he moves from both sides. When he feels threatened in Pakistan, he goes to Afghanistan.
BLITZER: And do you think he's still giving orders and commands?
AL-FAISAL: I do. I do --
BLITZER: How does he do that?
AL-FAISAL: Well, by messenger sometimes. Sometimes they use one of -- digital message.
BLITZER: And this notion that he's a sick man, has got kidney problems --
AL-FAISAL: No, no. No, no, no, no. It -- it's all -- it's all notions. He's -- he's in good health.
BLITZER: So -- and he's still on the loose --
AL-FAISAL: He is still on the loose.
BLITZER: -- and nobody really knows, but do you think they'll find him?
AL-FAISAL: I think they should find him. And I think the United States should call the countries that are of interest, like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia, China and set a plan in motion to capture or -- or eliminate him.
BLITZER: You and I have known each other for many years.
BLITZER: And I know you're a very blunt, candid man.
Do you think the U.S. strategy in the war -- in what's called the war on terror is working?
AL-FAISAL: Well, I think the whole world's strategy is still a work in progress.
BLITZER: That means it's not working yet.
AL-FAISAL: It's not working to the fullest extents in the sense that it has not eliminated the threat of terrorism. BLITZER: Is the Obama administration's strategy in Afghanistan going to be successful?
AL-FAISAL: I hope so --
BLITZER: But do you think it will be?
AL-FAISAL: -- because --
BLITZER: Is it working right now?
AL-FAISAL: Well, the president has announced that he is going to start removing troops next year. And he's hoping to be --
BLITZER: Is that a good idea?
AL-FAISAL: In my view, the less American troops there are in Afghanistan the better.
AL-FAISAL: Because they create and -- and incite resistance from the population.
BLITZER: Aren't you afraid the Taliban and al Qaeda will come back --
AL-FAISAL: Well --
BLITZER: -- and take over?
AL-FAISAL: The Taliban are not popular in Afghanistan. The Afghan people have experienced them for five or six years and they don't want them back. But because of the presence of foreigners -- and it's not just Americans, it's Europeans, it's other countries, as well.
So I think they should go after the terrorists and once they eliminate them and capture them, then they can declare victory and move out of Afghanistan.
BLITZER: How close is Iran to building a nuclear bomb?
AL-FAISAL: That is a question, if I knew the answer of, I would make a lot of money.
BLITZER: Because I know the Saudis are very concerned about it.
AL-FAISAL: Everybody is concerned. And our concerns have been expressed to the Iranians directly. And we've urged them to join us in this call for a zone free of weapons of mass destruction.
BLITZER: It doesn't look like they're going to do that, though.
AL-FAISAL: Well, they have done that in public. But --
BLITZER: You don't believe them?
AL-FAISAL: What I believe is that what they are doing is provoking the worldwide opposition to their program.
BLITZER: How much confidence do you have that the Obama administration knows what it's doing in trying to stop Iran from building a bomb?
AL-FAISAL: I think the -- all administrations and not just the Obama administration have a lot of information on what is happening in Iran. It's how you deal with that information, I think, that sometimes there are ups and downs in it.
I think the attempt that the Obama administration made to reach out to -- to Iran was a good diplomatic ploy.
BLITZER: But it was rejected.
AL-FAISAL: It was rejected, and therefore, you got more sanctions on Iran as a result of that rejection.
BLITZER: So what is the Saudi position? What should the world be doing right now?
AL-FAISAL: The world should have the Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction across the board. And then, when you level the playing field, you can bring us all to play on it.
One thing that -- that the Iranians claim to have against this program against them is they say that they are being singled out. Countries like Pakistan, like India, like Israel, like North Korea already have nuclear weapons and yet they're not being treated in the same way.
BLITZER: Should the military option be taken off the table?
AL-FAISAL: I think if the military option were in the context of a United Nations resolution establishing a zone free of weapons of mass destruction and countries that don't join that zone can be threatened with the nuclear option, that would be the best way to go about it.
BLITZER: Mr. Ambassador, Prince Turki, thanks very much for coming in.
AL-FAISAL: It's always good to see you, Wolf. Thank you.
BLITZER: A fight is brewing right now over a new Russian nuclear arms control treaty with the United States. The Obama administration is calling on a lame duck Congress to ratify and one top Republican is balking.
And does the Alaska Senate race hold a pointed message for Sarah Palin? The story just ahead in today's strategy session.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: President Obama is in a race against time to persuade the U.S. Senate to approve a nuclear arms treaty that some believe could have serious consequences for the United States if it's put off. Now he's relying on his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to try to make that happen. Let's bring our foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty with more on this story with enormous ramifications.
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes it really does Wolf. You know the midterm elections did not just take away the Democrats' majority in Congress. They are also threatening one of the president's top foreign policy objectives.
HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Nice to be back in familiar surroundings.
DOUGHERTY: The former senator, now secretary of state, sent by the Obama administration in a full-court press to get the S.T.A.R.T. arms control treaty ratified before the lame-duck session ends.
CLINTON: For anyone to think that we can postpone it or we can avoid it is, I'm afraid, vastly under estimating the continuing threat that is posed to our country.
DOUGHERTY: A top Republican in a break with much of his party warns that this is very serious.
SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R), INDIANA: Any one of those warheads could obliterate the city of Minneapolis and there are thousands still there.
DOUGHERTY: Here at the Senate the S.T.A.R.T. treaty has become the perfect storm for policy and politics. On track for passage just a couple of months ago and then blown off course by the mid-term elections. Key Senate Republican Jon Kyl is hanging tough. Kyl says he wants more money to keep the nuclear stockpile well maintained. I caught up with him as he barrels through a capital hallway with Senator Kerry.
What's going to happen?
SEN. JON KYL: We're talking.
SEN. JOHN KERRY: In good faith.
DOUGHERTY: The administration met Kyl's demand for an additional $4 billion but now he wants the treaty postponed until next year. That's when the Democratic majority in the Senate shrinks, meaning it will take even more Republican support to pass. From the Kremlin all eyes are on the tug of war on Capitol Hill. Russia's deputy foreign minister telling CNN "we are very hopeful that domestic U.S. policy considerations won't prevail." The white house believes it can work through all the questions in time. Spokesman Robert Gibbs predicting they will win passage this year.
ADM. MIKE MULLEN, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: I'm extremely concerned.
DOUGHERTY: But the military's top officer doesn't sound so sure.
MULLEN: The military leadership across the board in the United States military supports moving forward with this treaty and I hope that we can do that as rapidly as possible.
DOUGHERTY: And it looks like President Obama has the American people, Democrats and Republicans on his side on this one. A new CNN Opinion Research Cooperation poll shows nearly three-quarters of Americans think the Senate should vote for the treaty and only a quarter say no, Wolf?
BLITZER: Pretty lopsided number right there, all right. We'll see what happens next. Thanks very much Jill.
Senator Lisa Murkowski gains a commanding lead in Alaska's heated Senate race. She's about to make a major announcement in Alaska about her battle against the tea party favorite, the Republican candidate, Joe Miller.
And Sarah Palin says in a new interview she believes she can beat President Obama in 2012 but will she run? A look at the field in today's strategy session.
BLITZER: Let's get right to our strategy session. Joining us the Democratic strategist, our CNN political contributor Paul Begala and Republican strategist Kevin Madden of JDA Front Line. Guys, thanks very much. Lisa Murkowski looks like she's won, Paul, in Alaska. It looks like she's getting ready to declare a victory. AP has already projected that she has beaten the Republican nominee, the tea party favorite Joe Miller. Is this a slap at Sarah Palin who strongly campaigned for Joe Miller and has a history of bad blood with Lisa Murkowski?
PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Not much, to tell you the truth. First off, congratulations to Lisa Murkowski. What she has done no one has done in 56 years and the last person to do it was Strom Thurmond who was one of the great legends of South Carolina political history. So it's an enormous victory.
BLITZER: A write in candidate.
BEGALA: As a write in candidate, sorry, as a write in candidate. It's enormous historic victory for Lisa Murkowski and I'm very impressed that she was able to pull it off but I don't think Sarah Palin cares that much who the senator from Alaska is. If she cared about Alaska she wouldn't have resigned after half of one term. I mean Alaska for her is now just a pretty backdrop for her reality TV show. I don't think she is very concerned about Alaska anymore.
BLITZER: I think she is concerned but let me hear what Kevin has to think. Go ahead Kevin.
KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I think that Paul is right. We ought not to overanalyze this race really as a proxy battle between Lisa Murkowski or Sarah Palin. We had a nationalized environment during this last campaign but in Alaska it very much was a local contest between three candidates, two of the Republican candidates where many voters up there had lingering doubts about one of them and actually came home to vote for Lisa Murkowski. It's a very strong brand up there, the Murkowski name. It's been on the ballot for probably the last 30 years. So it makes sense that when they had that, came down to that choice between Joe Miller and Lisa Murkowski, having those lingering doubts about the way that Joe Miller closed the campaign, they went with Lisa Murkowski and you know she deserves the credit. To run a write-in campaign and win, Paul is right. I mean it was such an enormous challenge and she overcame it.
BLITZER: And she faced a stiff challenge not only from Sarah Palin but from the whole tea party movement which was very much Paul behind Joe Miller.
BEGALA: Absolutely. But I think first off Kevin's right. You've got to give the complete credit to Senator Murkowski but Mr. Miller also shot himself in the foot pretty effectively, went out of his way I think to sort of attack Ted Stevens legacy of Republicanism in Alaska which is pro pork, pro spending. And Senator Murkowski defended that. I was interested that today she said I'm still for earmarks. She's not going to follow the tea party drum nor should she. She got elected with some Republicans but independents and probably some Democrats even though Scott McAdams, the mayor did a good job for my party, I think a lot of Democrats defected from him to protect Lisa Murkowski because they do believe in the kind of pork frankly that Senator Murkowski and before her Ted Stevens brought.
BLITZER: If Sarah Palin or any of these other Republicans, including the man you used to work for Mitt Romney, Kevin, decide to run, they have to decide fairly quickly if they are going to get their act together.
MADDEN: I think that's right. But I think the pressure is probably less on Sarah Palin. Folks like Mike Huckabee, folks like Newt Gingrich, folks like my old boss Mitt Romney, those candidates that already have 100 percent name I.D. or have a very national profile, most of them have network of operatives in some of the states. Most of them have -- don't feel the pressure to really get out there and create awareness at the same time that they are looking to stimulate demand for those candidacies. A lot of folks new to the national scene that haven't run before, the folks that are in that one percent to seven percent range right now in national polls, they are going to have to work very quickly and go to places like Iowa and New Hampshire and scoop some of those key political operatives that they are going to need if they build the networks to compete.
BLITZER: When do you think Mitt Romney will announce?
MADDEN: Wolf, I would say that you're very smart to ask that question and I'd be very dumb to answer it. But I think that Governor Romney believes this is the time right now to reflect on 2010. Probably talk it over with his family and really go through the course of considerations that are required when you get into such a great endeavor like a national campaign.
BLITZER: What do you think? When do they realistically have to make formal announcements and some of these other candidates of a few presidential campaigns?
BEGALA: I was, but this is -- this is a paradox. In the main obviously it's good for the Republicans that President Obama has weakened politically but here's where it's bad. Everyone wants to run and they are going to have to announce very early. When Bill Clinton ran for president, Wolf you remember this, he didn't even announce until October of 1991, October of the year before the election. So here we are in November, two years before the election.
MADDEN: That concept is so foreign nowadays, that you can wait that long.
BEGALA: He just announced a couple of months before, really a couple of weeks before the New Hampshire primaries and he wound up doing pretty well but that was because George W. Bush or George Bush Senior, rather, was incredibly popular. The establishment of Democrats didn't want to run. Lloyd Benson, Al Gore, they all took a pass because people didn't want to take on Bush Senior because he was so popular at the time. This paradox works the other way now. The Republicans are going to have a longer primary system because they think the president has weakened.
BLITZER: There's a lot of speculation that the Bush cuts, that the compromise in the works will allow all of the tax cuts to remain in effect for two years. Timothy Geithner gave an interview to the Wall Street Journal which ran today suggesting that this is not rocket science. They all know what they've got to do and there's a widespread expectation that that will happen. Do you believe it will?
MADDEN: I think yes. I mean I think there's enormous pressure right now on the Democrats to find a way to extend all the Bush tax cuts. Ultimately I think that this debate filters back to voters as either being for or against a tax hike in a slow economy and sluggish economy. So it works in Republican's favor and I think the pressure is on the Democrats in the white house.
BLITZER: Quickly, Paul?
BEGALA: They ought to have the talks instead of talking about the talks. I want my treasury secretary to talk about jobs, not about process of cutting deals on Capitol Hill. My goodness, Mr. Secretary, how about creating jobs rather than talking to "The Wall Street Journal" about cutting back room deals.
BLITZER: Paul, thanks very much. Kevin Madden, you'll let us know when Mitt Romney decides to make that announcement.
BLITZER: We hope you will. Thanks very much.
Jack Cafferty is asking how can Sarah Palin convince people she's qualified to be president? Jack and your e-mail, that is next.
New allegations that people in China may have spied on internet communications right here in the United States. We have a report that has just been released.
And can urban living have a negative impact on the brain? Our Dr. Sanjay Gupta has some answers.
BLITZER: Jack is back with the Cafferty file. Jack?
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Question this hour is how can Sarah Palin convince people that she is qualified to be president? New York Times magazine this Sunday she told that paper that she seriously is considering a run.
Andy in Vancouver, "The ship has sailed on that, Jack. She quit her job as governor which would have been the only qualifier and she is all over reality TV which will doom the chances of being taken seriously and she's ticked off the establishment of the Republican Party, so she has made a lot of enemies. This on top of the fact that her favorability rating in Alaska is far lower than in the rest of the country, and these are people who know her the best."
Mike in St. Paul, Minnesota, "She can freely admit that she is not qualified which shows that she knows what the job entails."
Dan in New York, "Jack in a country where so many people think that President Obama is a Muslim, that there is no such thing as global warming and that the universe was created in 6, 24-hour days, convincing people that Sarah Palin is qualified to be president should be a breeze."
Larry in Ohio, "Of course, you can, Obama did."
Rick writes, "Start talking about real issues and what she can do to make the country better for the people in it."
Rich writes, "It is very sad that the best America has to offer for president is the likes of Sarah Palin. She ran out on her own state because of the pressure. Either that or she saw that reality shows, Fox News, and giving political pep rallies paid more. Palin is in the game for Palin and not for you or for me."
Steve writes, "I'm Canadian and I have begun to watch the most hilarious reality show ever. Palin will dance with the stars and use a little TLC and tweet her way into the nomination, she will outfox you all, you betcha."
And Paul said, "Answering this is like answering the question, if knees bent the other way, what would chairs look like? I am just baffled." If you want to read more on this, you will find it on my blog.
BLITZER: Will do, Jack. Thank you. See you in a few moments.
Looking into the eyes of criminal suspects. The police are doing that with electronic scanners, but the practice is not without controversy and you will find out why.
Plus, the uproar over pat downs, and we will have a live report on what the TSA is saying about air safety and your privacy rights.
BLITZER: Half the world's population lives in cities right now and that number is expected to skyrocket in the coming decades. Neurologists are paying close attention to the trend. Why? Because all that urban living can have a negative effect on your brain. Our chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta reports from Kobe, Japan.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Life in the concrete jungle and if you live in the city, you are used to something like this, but the problem is with so many different distractions that it is hard to focus on one particular thing. It is called controlled perception toggling back and forth between so many things which can leave you feeling mentally exhausted.
There is no question that living in a city has a lot of advantages and shops are open all hours of the days and you can buy things and there are lots of cultural attractions, but what we are finding more and more is that all of that comes with a price, and there is an impact on the brain as well. In fact, here in Japan, it is a big topic of discussion, and they are talking about the fact that mental illness is one of the biggest health problems here, and they attribute to the high complex environment.
Suicide in Japan, no secret, is among the highest in the world. The thing is that more people live in cities than ever before, and living in cities longer than ever, so all of this is expected to get worse. Here is why, all of that stimulation, well, kit cause spikes to the hormone cortisol, and it is difficult for the brain to hold things in memory, and it can dull your thinking and may speed up cognitive decline just from living in a city. Think of it as your brain more rapidly aging.
But here is the part I like in all of this, getting away from the stress associated with the chaos of the big city can be as simple as finding a place like this. There fact, recent studies have shown that glimpses of green areas can make a huge difference in your overall cognitive function, make you less distract and less stress and more relaxed. In fact, near Kobe, Japan, this place is where people come here for a few moments a day, and there are shrines and places for green space, and that is the key, to find green spaces within your city and use them as much as possible.