Return to Transcripts main page

The Situation Room

Uprising in Al Qaeda Battleground; If Radicals Take Power in Egypt; Egypt in 'State of Revolt'; Interview with Representative Anthony Weiner; Missing Nerve Agent Found; War Against Drug-Resistant Bacteria; State of the Budget Battle; 'Strategy Session'; Snow Delay Horror Story II

Aired January 27, 2011 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Thanks very much, Brooke.

Happening now, the unrest rippling across the Arab world spreads to a key battleground against Al Qaeda this hour.

The growing threat to U.S. allies and the dangerous alternatives if they fall.

Also, President Obama has just announced another big round of changes in his staff. We're going to tell you who's filling one of the most high profile jobs in the Obama administration.

And a CNN investigation of misconduct inside one of the pillars of law enforcement. Secret reports reveal FBI employees have been disciplined for everything from blackmail to sex on the job. But wait -- wait until you hear their punishment.

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

It's a dangerous new location for an uprising of anger and chaos. Thousands of people demonstrated today in Yemen against the country's long time president. The anti-government unrest in the region now spreading to the home of an active branch of Al Qaeda terrorists. There were no reports of violence, but this is only adding to the fears that critical U.S. allies in the Middle East may fall -- may fall quickly, inspired by the recent uprising in Tunisia.

We've seen unprecedented protests in Egypt this week. And now opposition leaders are calling for huge demonstrations after Friday prayers, despite a massive government crackdown. One leading opposition figure, Mohammed ElBaradei, has now returned to Cairo. He says he'll join the protests against the president, Hosni Mubarak, tomorrow.

This is a dangerous situation unfolding.

President Obama weighed in today on the unrest in Egypt during a question and answer session on YouTube.

Let's go to the White House.

Our correspondent, Dan Lothian, the latest.

Lots of nerves being rattled right now -- Dan.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And the president talking about this on YouTube, as you pointed out. Just another effort by this administration to tap into social media to not only deal with some of the issues here domestically, but also, foreign policy issues.

And the president, when he sat down for that interview, leading into a question on Egypt, saw some video of the unrest around the world. Take a look at it there on the wall, in Tunisia, in Thailand and also in Egypt.

And then, the president got this question: "Dear President, regarding the current situation in the Middle East and Egypt over the past two days, what do you think of the Egypt government blocking social networks to prevent people from expressing their opinions?"

The president said that Hosni Mubarak has been very helpful on a whole host of issues. But he had some strong words not only for Mr. Mubarak, but also for the protesters.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My main hope right now is just that violence is not the answer in solving these problems in Egypt. So the government has to be careful about not resorting to violence. And the people on the streets have to be careful about not resorting to violence. And I think that it is very important that people have mechanisms in order to express legitimate grievances.


LOTHIAN: Now, Wolf, there has been this perception on the ground in Egypt that the U.S. has been backing the protesters, but not the government of Egypt. White House spokesman, Robert Gibbs, today at the briefing tried to knock that down, saying that the U.S. is not taking sides here and going on to say that the United States feels very highly of President Mubarak, that they think the government there is stable, but time and time again, when President Obama has sat down and met face-to-face with him, he has made it very clear that Mr. Mubarak and his government need to make important reforms.

BLITZER: Dan, there's no doubt right now that -- we're going to have a lot more on Egypt coming up.

But I want to quickly get the official word. I understand the White House has just made the official announcement about the new press secretary?

LOTHIAN: That's right, Jay Carney, who has been the communications director for Vice President Biden, also a long time journalist, a "Time Magazine" reporter and the Washington bureau chief for "Time" magazine. He's well thought up -- thought of within this administration, also well liked by reporters. He has officially been named as the White House spokesman, succeeding Robert Gibbs, who will be leaving in mid-February.

I should point out, there are also additional changes that have been rolled out.

Stephanie Cutter, who was also a top candidate for this job, has been named as assistant to the president. And deputy senior adviser, Nancy-Ann DeParle, assistant to the president and deputy chief of staff for policy. Again, this is just part of those continuing changes happening here in this administration, as President Obama pushes into the two final years of his administration.

BLITZER: All right. Jay Carney. We wish him good luck in his new job as the White House press secretary, a former correspondent for our sister publication, "Time" magazine. A familiar face to a lot of us.

But let's get back to the anti-government uprising in Egypt that's going on right now and why it could be so dangerous if the Mubarak government actually falls.

CNN's Brian Todd has been looking into this, who might fill the void if he does -- Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as you know, Hosni Mubarak has been entrenched for so long, that succession in this case is a wide open equation. Some of those who could fill the void have been ruthless and very violent in the past.


TODD: (voice-over): On the streets, in their Twitter and Facebook messages, the young catalysts of the uprising in Egypt leave no doubt about their objective -- to drive out an 82-year-old president who's ruled them with an iron hand for as long as many of them have been alive.

But that presents a problem. Hosni Mubarak has been in power so long, he'd leave a gaping void, which could be exploited by several militant groups that he's been crushing for decades.

BRIAN FISHMAN, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: If there's a period of real instability in Egypt, will that create an opportunity for some of these old groups to sort of reinvigorate themselves?

I think, at this point, there's no sign of that, but I'm sure that we -- that's something we do need to be aware of.

TODD: Brian Fishman and other experts point to groups that have been banned by Mubarak's government, like the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood lived by the gun long ago but in recent years, has become much more moderate, moved away from violence and toward providing social services through Islamic charities.

Still, there are other Egyptian opposition figures who favor a more brutal approach. MARC GINSBERG, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO MOROCCO: Ayman Al- Zawahiri, the number two in Al Qaeda, was an Egyptian. He still has an enormous following in Egypt among very radical Islamic extremists.

TODD: Al-Zawahiri has been gunning for Mubarak for decades and experts say he may make a public statement during these protests. But he's on the run and his old group, Egyptian Islamic Jihad, has been absorbed into Al Qaeda.

Another faction, called The Islamic Group, has massacred tourists and once came close to assassinating Mubarak. But experts say many of its members are now hiding out with Al Qaeda in Pakistan. And its spiritual leader, Omar Abdel-Rahman, known as the blind sheikh, is serving a life sentence in the U.S. for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

These groups are down, experts say, but not necessarily out.

(on camera): You foresee, though, a scenario where militants could rise up and actually take some power or influence.

What's that scenario?

FISHMAN: I -- I think the danger scenario here, where -- where jihadi groups and militant groups might be able to increase their influence in Egypt, is if the government crushes this -- these protests violently in a way that doesn't create any reform.


TODD: Then, says Brian Fishman, Al Qaeda and other militant groups might jump in and tell Egyptians that peaceful protests don't work and that violence is the only way to bring the change you want. That's why the absolutely crucial players in this whole scene right now are the Egyptian Army and security forces. They're the ones who can decide whether this will be settled violently or peacefully. They're the ones, experts say, who are unlikely to let these militant groups rise to power -- Wolf.

BLITZER: They've been loyal to President Mubarak, obviously, forever.

TODD: They have.

BLITZER: But could they turn against the government?

TODD: Absolutely. Experts say that the army is really the power behind the thrown in Egypt, has been for generations. If they decide right now that Mubarak is not sustainable as a leader, they don't have absolute loyalty to him, like the army does in Iran with the ayatollahs. They could get him out.

It's crucial -- we have to watch what the army does in the coming hours. And Friday prayers, that's going to be key, and in the coming days.

BLITZER: It's almost Friday in the Middle East already.

TODD: Right.

BLITZER: All right. We'll watch this very closely. This is going to be a critical day in the Middle East tomorrow, especially in Egypt.

Brian, thank you.

Jack Cafferty is always concerned about the soaring deficit.

He's here.

He has The Cafferty File -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: For those people who think the Tea Party is just a passing fad, it might be time to reconsider.

For starters, it seems like the Tea Partiers may be among the only people in Washington who are serious about reining in government spending. While the Democrats and Republicans talk and talk and then they talk some more about cutting spending and reducing our skyrocketing deficits and $14 trillion national debt, some members of the Tea Party have come forward with solutions.

Newly elected Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky is proposing cutting $500 billion from federal spending in a single year. Now to be sure, he's got some drastic ideas here. He wants to cut $42 billion from the food stamp program, $16 billion from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Also on Paul's cutting block, the Departments of Energy and Housing and Urban Development, most of the Department of Education, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Arts; massive cuts also for homeland security, the federal court system and the FDA. And that's just some of it.

Paul says he wants to start a dialogue in Congress about how to save this economy. It's clear that Paul and his fellow Tea Partiers are going to put some serious pressure on the Republican leadership.

In fact, it's already started. Look no further than Michelle Bachmann's response to the president's State of the Union address this week. It is unheard of to have two responses. But the Republican leadership was afraid to say no.

Here's the question -- is the Tea Party the answer to finally getting government spending under control?

Go to and post a comment on my blog.

BLITZER: All right, Jack.

Thanks very much.

Jack Cafferty with The Cafferty File.

The threat to Egypt's government is a huge concern for Israel and its supporters here in the United States. I'm ask Democratic congressman, Anthony Weiner, of New York, about the danger of an anti- government revolution in the Middle East.

Also, CNN's Deborah Feyerick will take us inside the fight to stop a deadly menace -- a bacteria that drugs simply can't kill.

A new reason to ask this question -- is Sarah Palin anything like Ronald Reagan?


BLITZER: In Egypt right now, the opposition leader and Nobel laureate, Mohammed ElBaradei, says that "the barrier of fear is broken" -- a direct quote. The anti-government uprising there may only get more intense after Friday prayers. And officials here in the United States will be watching all of this very closely.

The stakes are enormous. Indeed, the future of the Middle East and Israel, for that matter, could be dramatically impacted.

Let's talk about this with Congressman Anthony Weiner, a Democrat of New York.

Congressman, I know you're a strong supporter of Israel. How worried are you right now that a partner in the peace process with Israel like Egypt, that the government of President Mubarak could collapse?

REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D), NEW YORK: Well, you know, there's no doubt about it that Mubarak has been indeed a partner with Israel, but there's also no doubt about something else. Conditions in Egypt were getting worse and worse, and it was almost just a matter of time before the popular uprising started. You know, all of these Middle Eastern countries are to some degree or another pyramids on their point kind teetering there and you wonder how they stay afloat.

What's going on in Israel's north is also interesting. You know, many of us have always thought that Hezbollah in many ways controlled that government anyway, but now perhaps this tumult has led many of the Sunni citizens of Lebanon to say, you know what, I'm not crazy about all this intervention coming from across borders from Iran. Maybe -- frankly, maybe our neighbors to the south in Israel aren't so bad after all.

But this is certainly a remarkable moment in the civic life of the world where these little sparks are setting off changes that none of us thought even possible a year ago.

BLITZER: Because the Tunisia, Lebanon, Egypt, now Yemen, it could spill over, who knows, to Jordan, Algeria, Morocco, other countries. Is this good for the U.S. or bad for the U.S.?

WEINER: Well, look, we always make the mistake in the United States of America in Democratic or Republican administrations alike is we tend to embrace the despot that's least troublesome to us. That should not be the way we view things. I think, in this case, Ronald Reagan was right, that we want to have freedom in these countries and that will ultimately work out to the benefit of the United States.

I thought what Secretary Clinton said yesterday about Egypt was very telling. She was pretty tough. She said to the Mubarak government listen to these protests.

Because ultimately, the more Democratic the Middle East is, the less likely it is we're going to have conflagration and conflicts between countries. That's my view. I hope that turns out to be right.

BLITZER: Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, the new senator, a Tea Party favorite, he told me this week that the U.S. should end all foreign aid, including humanitarian assistance to deal with problems in Africa, including foreign aid to Israel as well.

Do you want to respond to him? What do you think? At a time of great deficit, he says the U.S. simply can't afford to start shipping money abroad.

WEINER: Well, first of all, it's a tiny amount of money, it's less than 1 percent of our budget. And the foreign aid that we provide in places to do things like dealing with drought, to do things like improving stability, to get civil governance up and running winds up being a very smart and inexpensive thing for us to do.

Every dollar that we send in State Department aid or humanitarian aid that saves us from having to get involved with very expensive military actions is a good investment. And frankly, helping Israel fight terrorism in the Middle East is much cheaper than us fighting it here on our shores.

BLITZER: Cause when you add up all the foreign aid, it's still billions of dollars, Congressman.

WEINER: That's certainly right, and I'm not saying that it's no money at all. But I'm saying compared to when we have to -- when we wind up having to get involved because diplomacy is broken down and our military has to be dispatched to keep two sides from warring with one another, foreign aid turns out to be a very inexpensive thing.

I'll tell you something else, it's also very important in Latin America. If we can deal with the drug problem there, some of their strife there, it's less likely we have immigration problems here.

BLITZER: Let's talk about Harry Reid, the Democratic majority leader in the Senate. He's really distancing himself from President Obama on the issue of earmarks.

Listen to this.


SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: He should just back off. He's got enough to do without messing in what we do. This is an applause line. It's an effort of the White House to get more power. They've got enough power as it is.


BLITZER: Not every day you hear the Democratic leader in the Senate going after the president on this issue.

What do you say?

WEINER: Listen, I'm not in love with earmarks. If they disappeared tomorrow, I wouldn't mind. But harry Reid has a good point and I like the way he said it.

Look, the bottom line here is if the Congress is empowered with the idea that we're supposed to represent our constituents in deciding how money is distributed.

It's funny, all these Tea Party guys and all these new Republican members of the House majority, they express their fidelity to the Constitution, but they want to cede an important part of congressional authority back to Obama. They seem don't like President Obama except in this case where they want to give him more authority to spend money and Congress less.

You know, look, there's no doubt about it, earmarks are not very popular. There are good earmarks and bad earmarks. The good earmarks are the ones I get for my district.

BLITZER: What did you think of Michele Bachmann's replay to the president's State of the Union address? How would you grade her?

WEINER: Well, I have to tell you something. I think it should be taken seriously. I know in some corners some people criticized CNN for taking her live. Let's face it, when the Republicans come to Washington as they do, riding this wave of Tea Party anger with a campaign that's devoid of real serious ideas of what they want to do next, you've got to treat Michele Bachmann like she's a serious voice of the Republican Party.

Now, some of her ideas are just loopy and I disagree with them and I think she personally has her things, but I do think you've got to take that wing of the Republican Party seriously, because if the Republicans are going to govern, it's going to be their ideas that are going to carry the day. They want to privatize Social Security, want to make Medicare a voucher program. You heard Rand Paul wants to slash funding for the National Institutes of Health where we do research into diseases. So I think she needs to be taken seriously.

BLITZER: One final question, very quickly. It was date night Tuesday night. You sat with Peter King, the Republican congressman from Long Island. You've had some feuds with him in recent months. How did that date work out?

WEINER: I can't wait not to do that again.

BLITZER: What does that mean?

WEINER: No, look, I was glad to do it. You know, Peter King and I have common interests in helping out New York, but we disagree on things and to some degree, sitting at a -- it didn't matter as much where we sat at that State of the Union, I think frankly this got a little bit too much attention. The fact of the matter is he's wrong on most things and I'm right on most things.

BLITZER: We'll have him -- let -- we'll get his reaction to that date as well.

Congressman, thanks for coming in.

WEINER: Thank you.

BLITZER: We've all misplaced our keys before, but a chemical weapon of mass destruction? That's a huge problem.

Also ahead, less than a quarter of a teaspoon of missing material forced a mad scramble at a Utah proving ground.

And a mystery in Arkansas that left people scratching their heads and looking nervously at the sky. Scientists say they have solved it. That's ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now, including the Homeland Security Department. They made it official today.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they did indeed, Wolf. You know, that's right, the days of the orange-tinted terror -- you know, the orange, red -- well, those days are all over. The Department of Homeland Security says it is replacing its color-coded system with detailed advisories about specific threats. The old system was a frequent butt of jokes and never dipped below the yellow or elevated level. The new alerts begin in April and will distinguish between elevated and imminent threats.

Officials in Arkansas think they have solved the mystery of the mass dead bird kill. Laboratory tests conducted on 13 birds show they died by, quote, "blunt force trauma." That would be something like flying into a house or power line. The tests did rule out bacteria, viruses, heavy metals, pesticides and chemicals. Officials say as many as 5,000 birds died in the incident this month.

Another Republican is bowing out of the race for the party's 2012 presidential nomination. Three sources tell CNN that Indiana Congressman Mike Pence will soon announce that he won't run for president next year. Pence will instead focus on a run for governor.

And controversy appears to be good for business for Sarah Palin. The conservative commentator's political action committee is sitting on $1.3 million and has no debt. A financial disclosure report does show that fundraising slowed last year after the midterm election, but her bankroll could serve as a spring board into the 2012 presidential race if, Wolf -- and this is a big if -- if she decides to run.

BLITZER: Yes, a million dollars if she decides to run is not a huge amount, but she could raise a lot of money if -- and that's a huge if, as you say -- if she decides to run. We'll watch, thank you.

We're following up on a very scary lockdown at a military base in the United States because nerve gas was missing.

Plus, the war against so-called superbugs. If antibiotics can't kill them, can anything stop them?

And new charges against the inmate called "The Dating Game" killer.


BLITZER: A Utah military base that tests chemical and biological weapons is open today after a missing vial of nerve agent was discovered overnight. The Dugway Proving Ground went into lockdown for 12 hours yesterday when officials couldn't find less than a fourth of a teaspoon of the nerve agent VX. Authorities say no one was ever in danger. VX is a toxic liquid that affects the body's ability to send messages to the nerves.

There's another kind of biological threat that could be putting you at risk, though, right now. They're known at superbugs and the U.S. military and America's top scientists have declared war and are fighting them right now.

CNN's Deborah Feyerick has been investigating this story for us, she's joining us now live with the latest -- Deb.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know the rise of drug-resistant bacteria is taking on greater urgency. Health officials fearing a lack of new antibiotics could set the scene for common infections to become a major cause of death around the world.


FEYERICK (voice-over): You're looking at bacteria that causes potentially deadly anthrax. Now watch closely as scientists introduce a revolutionary new protein. In a matter of seconds, the cells explode.

PAUL JACKSON, LIVERMORE NATIONAL LABORATORY: We were kind of surprised that it was so potent.

FEYERICK: For scientist Paul Jackson, what began as a biodefense project for the Pentagon could be the next promising tool in fighting drug-resistant bacteria or superbugs that can no longer be treated using existing antibiotics.

JACKSON: We're going in, finding the critical pathways and basically messing those pathways up so badly that it kills the cell.

FEYERICK: The technique was created by scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Lab, an hour's drive from San Francisco. Tested on anthrax bacteria, it could also work on infections caused by drug- resistant E. coli or MRSA, a type of staph bacteria resistant to many common antibiotics, often found in hospitals but also community settings like locker rooms, playing fields or schools.

JACKSON: We're using a protein that is part of the cell's own machinery, so it's hard to understand how it could become resistant to something that it needs.

FEYERICK: The idea is simple. Antibiotics fight against bacteria from the outside. The new technique uses the bacteria's own genes to attack from within.

(on camera): The gene cannot defeat itself. You're using the cell's own genes to attack it.

JACKSON: That's exactly right. And the protein is made by the gene.

FEYERICK: Because there's no way to mount a defense against that.

JACKSON: It's hard to understand how it could become resistant to something that it needs.

FEYERICK (voice-over): Watch again as the genetic-based protein is added. The cell wall holding everything together essentially rips apart.

JACKSON: You strip the outside wall off, and the cell can't survive without the wall.

FEYERICK (voice-over): And because multiple variations of the protein can be made at once, resistance is unlikely, says Jackson. Let's say in the event you get anthrax twice.

(on camera): So it gives you the ability in a very simple way to stay one step ahead of that which you're trying to defeat.

JACKSON: That's right. But that's all you're ever going to do with bacteria. I mean, one step ahead is good.


FEYERICK: Now, the technique is still experimental and has yet to be tested in humans. The lab says that both the Centers for Disease Control and Department of Homeland Security are looking at samples. This is envisioned as a topical cream or spray, and it still has to undergo FDA approval to see if it's effective when injected or administered intravenously.

But Wolf, really, Jackson sees this as being used in field hospitals, even at the source of catheters, just to avoid the infections that come along with it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much. Deb Feyerick doing some good reporting, as she always does.

He's already in prison, but now the man dubbed the "Dating Game Killer" faces new charges.

And we'll tell you about a new volcano eruption and whether residents are safe or at risk.

And if you think you've heard some horrible stories about being stuck at the airport, guess what? You're about to hear what could be the whopper of them all.


BLITZER: Let's go back to Lisa. She's monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now, including new charges for the notorious so-called "Dating Game Killer."

Lisa, what's going on?

SYLVESTER: That's right, Wolf.

The Manhattan district attorney has charged Rodney Alcala with two murders allegedly committed in the late '70s. The 67-year-old is already on death row in California for killing four women and a 12- year-old girl. He acquired his nickname because of his winning appearance at bachelor number one on "The Dating Game" back in 1978.

A wave of bombings across Baghdad left 51 people dead and many more wounded today. The worst was a car bomb that detonated near a funeral tent in a Shiite neighborhood, killing 48 people. Three more died in separate incidents across the capital. The blast followed the assassinations of three government employees last night by gunmen using pistols equipped with silencers.

And residents living near a volcano in Japan were given the all clear today to return to their homes. Some people voluntarily evacuated this morning as smoke and ash spewed 10,000 feet into the air. The last eruption was in July, but scientists say the last large-scale event like this one was more than a half-century ago.

And Australians could get soaked because of the recent flooding. The prime minister has proposed a tax to pay for flood damage. The levy would raise nearly $2 billion and would last one year, though to avoid adding insult to injury, people affected by the floods would not have to pay that tax. The tax would pay for about a third of the estimated $5.5 billion needed to repair that damage.

And what a mess all of the flooding caused there in Australia -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. They're still suffering big time.

All right. Thanks very much, Lisa.

The president certainly gave us the picture in his State of the Union Address this week, but now comes the nitty-gritty of trying to reduce federal spending. That brings us to the annual showdown over the federal budget and whether we're going to see a heated fight over raising the debt ceiling.

Our senior political analyst Gloria Borger is here.

You had a chance to speak with Jack Lew. He's the budget director. I remember when he was the budget director during the Clinton administration as well.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You do. Yes, it's kind of back to the future for Jack Lew.

As you know, he was budget director in '98, '99, 2000. Let's take a look at what the budget kind of looked like then, because, whoa, green, not red.

He had something called a surplus. Remember that, Wolf?

BLITZER: There was a surplus.

BORGER: Yes. Remember that, Wolf, $236 billion surplus at the end of Jack Lew's tenure?

I talked to him about it today. He said, "Yes, I was looking at these charts today kind of wistfully, because I saw all that green there, little pieces of green." He said, "Look, I kind of miss it. I kind of long for those conditions." But he said, "The world is a very different place right now."

We had an economic meltdown and, of course, two wars that we've got to pay for. So very different job and a very different time for him.

BLITZER: The budgets in those years, weren't only balanced, but there were these surpluses.

BORGER: Unbelievable.

BLITZER: And I remember in 2000 they said these surpluses will go on as far as the eye can see. It didn't last very long.

BORGER: Well, we didn't have very good vision, did we?

BLITZER: No, apparently not.

Now, a lot of critics are saying the president could have been much bolder --

BORGER: Yes. I actually thought he could have.

BLITZER: -- in his State of the Union Address. Instead of just thematic, he could have gone into some specifics.

BORGER: Yes. I actually was one of those people. I thought and I said the night of the State of the Union that he had this deficit commission. The president could have adopted some of their proposals.

Instead what he did was an extension of his freeze on discretionary spending, which is $400 billion. But I asked people at the White House about that, and they made it very clear to me, Wolf, that they want to see the Republican cards that get put on the table.

I also asked Jack Lew about that today, and he said, you know, the measure of whether a budget is serious is not whether you "go down in a blaze of glory, but actually what you manage to get done." It's very clear he's taking a pragmatic route to try and reducing the deficit. Working with Republicans, he was a part of that tax cut deal they cut during the lame-duck session.

BLITZER: You know, at the end of March or April, by the latest, they're going to have to raise the debt ceiling. Otherwise, the U.S. credit worthiness around the world is over.

BORGER: Exactly. Exactly.

BLITZER: What did Lew say about that?

BORGER: Well, it's clear that there are lots of Republicans -- probably not the Republican leadership, but among all of those new members in the House, particularly the Tea Party members, there are lots of people who are saying, you know what? Maybe it wouldn't be such a bad thing to shut down the government. Maybe we should vote against the debt ceiling unless we get $100 billion in cuts.

When I asked Lew about that, that defaulting on the debt, he said it would be an enormous problem with very, very bad consequences. And he said, moreover, once you let that genie out of the bottle, you can never get it back in. It would be a terrible, terrible thing for the United States' reputation around the world.

He says it just can't happen. It shouldn't.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Gloria.


BLITZER: Egypt's friendship with the United States was no protection against a revolt in the streets. Could another American ally face a similar threat from within? We're taking a closer look at which countries right now in the Middle East are vulnerable.

And it looks like Groundhog Day over at New York's JFK Airport. Temperatures running low, tempers running high, and one traveler has been wondering what's next.


BLITZER: We'll talk about Ronald Reagan and his impact on the current president of the United States in our "Strategy Session."

Joining us, Hilary Rosen, a CNN contributor, the Democratic strategist. John Feehery is a Republican strategist. He's the president of Quinn Gillespie Communications here in Washington.

Sarah Palin is going to be the keynote speaker at the 100th anniversary celebration of President Reagan's birthday at the ranch out in California. That's coming up, what, next month, very soon?

What do you think? Is she positioning herself as the next Ronald Reagan?

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, that's a great invitation. And I'm sure she'll sell a lot of tickets. And of course she'll make a lot of news. But I think there would have been some other better choices.

Yes, I think she is positioning herself to be a presidential candidate. Will she win? I don't know. But if she doesn't get the nomination, perhaps she'll run as a third Party in the Tea Party. Who knows?

BLITZER: As a third -- do you think --

FEEHERY: It's a possibility.

BLITZER: That would be a huge development. That would really split the Republicans. And that, in effect, would guarantee President Obama's re-election, right?

FEEHERY: It could happen, yes.

HILARY ROSEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think she could get the Republican nomination. I don't think she has to run as a third Party candidate.

But, you know, the interesting thing about Sarah Palin and this invitation, I think, is that the old Reagan crowd has never really embraced her very well. I think the foundation is clearly doing this to garner some publicity for the centennial because the keepers of the flame are not Sarah Palin acolytes.

BLITZER: But do you think she sees herself as a future Ronald Reagan?

ROSEN: Well, Ronald Reagan is the politician that every Republican likes to attach themselves to.

FEEHERY: And some Democrats.

ROSEN: And some Democrats. And she's repeatedly, over the last couple of years, quoted President Reagan and tried to engage it.

BLITZER: Every Republican does that.

Well, look at this cover of the new issue of "TIME" magazine. "TIME" magazine is our sister publication.

Look at this. There he is, Ronald Reagan, with his pal, Barack Obama. The only problem with the cover is they made it up. It's sort of Photoshopped. And they acknowledge that on the cover.

But we do know for a fact that the president of the United States has been reading Lou Cannon's biography of Ronald Reagan, he's studying Ronald Reagan. He's hoping to learn a little bit from the late president.

FEEHERY: And he studied at the beginning of his presidency trying to figure out how to run a presidency like Ronald Reagan. He's trying to do a lot of the same types of things from a technical standpoint. But President Obama is no Ronald Reagan.

I think if anything, he's basing his presidency more on Bill Clinton, especially how he's trying to move aggressively to the center. Ronald Reagan kept his principles. Barack Obama seems to be more like -- trying to be more like Bill Clinton.

BLITZER: I think he's studying both, Bill Clinton, who could feel your pain and reach out t the American people, and Ronald Reagan, who was very effective as a communicator. I think he's studying both of them.

ROSEN: Ronald Reagan did not feel anyone's pain. And I guess I might be in the minority of people who is not a huge fan of his presidency.

I think Barack Obama has already been a better president than Ronald Reagan was. In the first two years he's gotten more done while sticking to his principles. And, by the way, his approval ratings now are higher than President Reagan's were in his second year in office.

BLITZER: But there's no doubt, and I know this for a fact, he's studying Ronald Reagan and he wants to learn from what made him so popular, so effective, how he could reach out and get the American public to go along with him. He's studying Ronald Reagan very closely.

ROSEN: And the key to Ronald Reagan is that he obviously became more popular as he went out of office, but people did believe that he was a man of vision and principle. And somehow he was able to, you know, keep amnesia in the American people in terms of what was actually accomplished.


BLITZER: -- across the board -- establishment, Tea Party, all of them. Right?

FEEHERY: Ronald Reagan was a pro-business Republican. I think President Obama has been an anti-business Democrat.

I think he's trying to become a pro-business Democrat. That's going to be a hard transition. If you want the economy to grow like it grew in the last six years of the Reagan term, you need to be pro- business. So I think --

BLITZER: So what's the most important thing that President Obama should learn from Ronald Reagan?

FEEHERY: Cut corporate tax rates. That's the most important thing you can do. Get the economy going.

BLITZER: He says he's ready to do that.

FEEHERY: And I think he should do that.

BLITZER: He said it in his State of the Union Address.

ROSEN: This is what the most important thing he could do from Ronald Reagan, which is he can talk less to people in Washington and more to people out in the country. And that's what Reagan did better than anybody.

BLITZER: What's the most important thing that the president can learn from Bill Clinton?

ROSEN: How to make sure you can develop some relationships with legislators who are carrying your water without looking dominated by them.

FEEHERY: Cut taxes, because Bill Clinton did that, too, under the Republican president -- Republican Congress.

ROSEN: Not policy-wise. But the policy -- he said at the State of the Union -- he's already declared that he's for all that.

BLITZER: I think he's learning something from Bill Clinton, which is to triangulate, to move to the center --

FEEHERY: Move directly to the center.

BLITZER: -- if you will. That's what he's learning from Bill Clinton.

FEEHERY: Absolutely.

BLITZER: I know you're not happy about that, but I think that's what --


FEEHERY: Leave the liberals behind.

ROSEN: I don't think it's a deliberate policy to move to the center. I think it's, like, we've got to try some new things.

FEEHERY: Leave the liberals behind.

BLITZER: It's helping him a little bit. We'll see how that does. Guys, thank you.

Jack Cafferty is asking, is the Tea Party the answer to finally getting government spending under control? And something else is piling up in the Northeast besides snow. Big expenses putting a burden on already strained city and county budgets.

And the mystery of the piano. Yes, the mystery of the piano that wound up on a sandbar. Guess what? It has now been solved.


BLITZER: It looks beautiful, a winter wonderland. But it's a mess to try to travel in if you have to.

Nineteen inches of snow fell overnight in New York's Central Park. The mayor says a record 36 inches has fallen in the city this month alone.

Much of the Northeast has been socked by the fifth major storm in the region. This winter, 19 inches in Newark; 15 in Philadelphia; 11 in Boston; and almost 3.5 inches right here in Washington, D.C.

New York City officials have been doing a better job digging out from the snow than they did during the horrible Christmas blizzard. But as you would expect, a lot of schools are closed anyway, and more than 1,000 flights have been canceled at the city's three major airports.

We have heard plenty of travelers share their snow delay nightmares, but none quite like this next story.

Let's bring in CNN Senior Correspondent Allan Chernoff. He's over at JFK Airport for us.

Tell us what you've learned, Allan.

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, if I hadn't met this gentleman, I wouldn't have believed his story.

On his way to a family wedding in the Caribbean, Antonio Christopher had to sleep at four different airplanes because of snow delays. And now that he's trying to get back to London, he met up with this storm.

So guess where he slept last night?


CHERNOFF (voice-over): Another night sleeping at an airport for Antonio Christopher, the fifth time a snowstorm has stranded him during a so-called vacation that began last month.

ANTONIO CHRISTOPHER, TRAVELER: Perhaps you should call me Snowman.

CHERNOFF: Or perhaps the snowed-in man.

(on camera): There's no doubt, you attract the storms. CHRISTOPHER: Well, I mean, it looks like it, because it's obviously following me.

CHERNOFF (voice-over): Christopher departed his London home last month en route to a cousin's wedding in the Caribbean island of St. Kitts. But a snowstorm forced him to spend the night at Heathrow airport. When he finally arrived in New York on the day after Christmas for his connection, a monster storm had enveloped the city. Christopher was stuck at Kennedy Airport for the night.

CHRISTOPHER: That wasn't too good at all. I mean, it was just hard floor. Nothing to -- I mean, they just left us alone, really, to our own wits.

CHERNOFF: The next flight he could book was out of New York's LaGuardia airport, but it didn't leave until the following morning. So for his third night without a bed, he joined hundreds of stranded travelers sleeping on cots at the hotel LaGuardia, which is when we first met him.

CHRISTOPHER: Last night I spent at JFK.

CHERNOFF (on camera): At the airport. And tonight will be?


CHERNOFF (voice-over): The following day, Christopher escaped the snow, arriving in Miami. But as luck would have it, his connecting flight to St. Kitts wasn't until the next day. Heathrow, to JFK, to LaGuardia, to Miami International. Four nights at four airports.

CHRISTOPHER: It is military style. I mean, you have to go commando and just really -- Rambo, you know. It's hard. But it doesn't really bother me as much as it may bother other people.

CHERNOFF: Christopher made it to St. Kitts in time for cousin Barry's (ph) wedding on New Year's Eve. Then he delayed his return, hoping to avoid another storm.

CHRISTOPHER: What are the chances that would happen to me on the way back? There was no way I was even contemplating that it could happen again.

CHERNOFF: But it did. He arrived in New York, only to find the city tucked under a blanket of snow yet again, meaning it was night number five of sleeping at an airport before he could fly back to London.

(on camera): I mean, to most people, this sounds like an unbelievable nightmare.

CHRISTOPHER: Absolutely.


CHRISTOPHER: Yes, it was, actually.

CHERNOFF: Even though you're smiling?



CHERNOFF: Antonio Christopher is at the gate right now for a flight that's supposed to take off for London within the hour.

Now, Wolf, there's no snow forecast for the evening, but with Antonio Christopher trying to fly, you never know what the weather is going to do. It's unbelievable.

BLITZER: It really is. All right. Bon voyage. We wish him the best.

Thank you very much, Allan.

Egypt is bracing right now for a massive new round of anti- government protests. We're going to Cairo. We'll have a live report from a nation right now in a state of revolt.

And our exclusive investigation of misconduct inside the FBI. Which is worse, what employees have been up to or the slap on the wrist they got?


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

CAFFERTY: The question this hour: Is the Tea Party the answer to finally getting government spending under control? Rand Paul has some ideas on how to cut $500 billion in a single year.

K.B. writes, "The idea is what is important. Cuts have to be made, and we need to get our fiscal house in order. The Tea Party is the voice for this now, but it should be a call from all the politicians."

Thomas in New Mexico, "The Tea Party, of which I am a proud member, may not be the only group to put pressure on these big spending politicians, but it sure doesn't hurt. The more, the better. You don't get steam unless you apply pressure."

"How in the world can Democrats push to increase the debt ceiling so they can keep spending? They didn't even deliver a budget back in October of 2010 when it was due."

Susan in Alabama, "No, but it is the long-term answer to getting the lunatic fringe out of the GOP so they can be a respectable political party again someday. In the short term, it will help Democrats in 2012. And in that respect, I'm all for it."

Pat in Virginia says, "Yes, it's about time that someone stood up and said enough is enough. These folks seem to be serious about cutting. Now we'll see if the rest of our Congress is brave enough to take a position."

"At least maybe we can force them to take votes on these things and show whether or not they're for more and more spending. Then we can remind the voters about those votes in two years."

Ray in Tennessee says, "The Tea Partiers aren't the answer to anything in this country. The movement is mostly white and exclusively right, far right. Undoing all the social legislation and New Deal regulations of the '60s and 1930s has long been a dream of this segment of the population, and they see our spending crisis as an opportunity to do so."

And C. in Massachusetts writes, "Some Tea Party ideas are good, radically clear and rational. It's the wacky messengers that are the problem."

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

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.