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The Situation Room

Cruise Ship Disaster As Seen from Space; State Department: We Did All We Could Do; Rivals Take A Page from McCain; Newt Gingrich Interview; President Takes Romney To Task; Ron Paul Shakes Up House Floor; Popular Web Sites Protest Bill

Aired January 18, 2012 - 17:00   ET



Happening now, bitter weather conditions dimming hope any survivors will be found five days after that deadly cruise ship crash.

Plus, Newt Gingrich is trading fierce barbs with rivals in what could be his last stand in the Republican battle for the White House.

Just how ugly is it going to get over the next three days?

Stand by for my interview with Newt Gingrich coming up in 25 minutes.

And Internet giants unite in an escalating stand-off with Hollywood -- why your next visit to Wikipedia or Google may have a big surprise in store.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

Breaking news, political headlines and Jeanne Moos all straight ahead.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Charleston, South Carolina.


You're looking at an amazing new satellite image showing that horrific cruise ship disaster from the vantage point of space.

Look at this.

Bitter weather conditions are dimming hopes the approximately two dozen people still missing will be found alive. But some families adamantly refuse to give up.

Our senior international correspondent, Dan Rivers, is standing by.

He's on the scene, has the very latest -- Dan.

DAN RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a bizarre sight for us here. The sister ship of the Costa Concordia, the Costa Serena, just sailed right past the wreck with 3,000 people on board, well lit up, an extraordinary sight and a reminder that that was the course that the Costa Concordia should have taken, about a mile out to sea. Instead, she came recklessly close to the shore. And that's why she's lying on her side forlornly behind me. And this is now the fifth day that the search and rescue operation has been scouring the 2,000 cabins hoping to find signs of life.


RIVERS (voice-over): Once again, the unstable nature of this wreck has halted the search and rescue operation. Around first light Wednesday, the ship shifted 30 centimeters -- about a foot -- forcing divers to pull out. Before they did, they took this video as they navigated through the flooded ship, strewn full of floating obstacles -- dark, claustrophobic and extremely dangerous.

As a precaution, more floating booms are being laid to protect the coast. The Costa Concordia contains 2,000 tons of heavy fuel and some 300 tons of diesel. Salvage experts won't pump that out until the search for the missing is complete. They may have to wait until the end of the week.

For Kevin Robello, it's excruciating. His brother Russell was a waiter on board and was last seen helping passengers escape.

(on camera): Are you beginning to come to terms with the possibility, though, he may not have made it?

KEVIN ROBELLO, BROTHER OF MISSING MAN: It's 20 percent off. It's only five days. And everything is possible. Miracles do happen. And -- and let's keep hope. That's the only thing I can -- I can at the moment, because I am not here to lose hope. I have come all the way over here. It's because I have hopes in him and I know something definitely positive will come out of this.

RIVERS (voice-over): After we spoke, he was taken for an update on the search. But so far, there's no news on the fate of his brother.

(on camera): For relatives of those who are still missing, the agonizing wait for news shows no sign of ending. Some have been meeting here, at the search and rescue center, with Giglio's mayor.

But with each passing day, the chances of finding anyone else alive are getting slimmer and slimmer.

MAYOR SERGIO ORTELLI, GIGLIO, ITALY: We are out four days from the crash, from the disaster. They hope to be alive -- to find the people alive. And the more the time goes on, maybe there is no possibility to find people alive.

RIVERS (voice-over): Posters asking for information on those still missing are springing up, poignant reminders of the tragedies still being played out. The rescue teams working here are exhausted -- four hours on, four hours off round the clock, hoping for a miracle and praying that the calm weather continues to leave this precariously balanced ship where it is.

(on camera): While the weather is forecast to deteriorate later this week, Wolf, and they've got four vessels here, four more on standby to try and pump out that 2,000 tons of heavy fuel oil, it could take them two to three weeks to get it all out. And, of course, they still haven't finished searching the ship for those missing people -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dan Rivers doing an excellent job for us on the scene.

Dan, thanks very much.

The State Department in Washington is pushing back against new allegations it didn't do enough to help American passengers in the wake of the crash.

Our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty, is joining us now with details on this part of the story.

What's going on here -- Jill?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, in the first hours of this tragedy, many of the Americans who were aboard were asking themselves the same question -- can I count on the U.S. Embassy to help me?


DOUGHERTY (voice-over): When the Italian cruise ship capsized, there were 120 Americans aboard and the State Department says it immediately set up a 24/7 operation to help them, including using Twitter and Facebook to help the search for Gerald and Barbara Hale (ph), still missing. One American tells CNN's "STARTING POINT" she got little help from the embassy after losing her passports and documents.


JOAN FLESER, PASSENGER: I called the embassy and told them the situation. And they said, well, come on down and get a new passport. I said, well, you know, we're here at the hotel. We have no transportation. We have no money. They said, well, grab a cab. Well, we had no money.

DOUGHERTY: But the State Department says it did everything it could, making sure the cruise line was assisting shipwrecked passengers with food, hotel rooms and transportation.

VICTORIA NULAND, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: We made a deal with the cruise line that they would transport all of the Americans, after accounting for them with us, to a hotel in Rome and to the embassy for those who needed documents.

DOUGHERTY: The embassy officials say they processed more than 100 emergency American passports, provided information, advice and phones to contact family members back in the US. It gave some passengers a little money for a passport photos. Joan Fleser says she got some of that money.

Last March, when Japan was hit with a massive earthquake and nuclear disaster, the State Department helped fly Americans out of the country.

In February last year, it hired a ferry to evacuate Americans from Libya.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Protecting the welfare of American citizens is a fundamental responsibility of our government and one that we take very seriously.


DOUGHERTY: So what does the State Department do and not do for Americans who are in trouble or in danger abroad?

Well, there are actually limits. For example, in some cases, they will buy you a ticket to get out of the that place and back to the United States, but you have to promise to reimburse the government.

And if you want details, you can check out their Web site. They have a lot of information under travel tips/emergencies -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jill Dougherty with the latest on that front.

Good story, Jill.

Thanks very much.

Mitt Romney has been fending off fast and furious attacks from his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination. But they now have new ammunition in the fight against the frontrunner.

CNN's Jim Acosta is joining us now from Rock Hill here in South Carolina.

He's got this part of the story -- Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Mitt Romney not only has to fend off his rivals, there is an old book on Romney that has just resurfaced -- and not in a good way.


ACOSTA (voice-over): The Mitt Romney bus appears to see something fast approaching in its rearview mirror.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ladies and gentlemen, Mitt and Ann Romney.

ACOSTA: So Romney is taking more of a detour from his standard attacks on the president to slam Newt Gingrich's claim that he created jobs in Congress.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Congressmen taking responsibility or taking credit for helping create jobs is like Al Gore taking credit for the Internet.

ACOSTA: Even though, that's not how Romney put it at Monday's debate.


ROMNEY: I appreciate the -- the Speaker's work in -- working in the Reagan years and in the Clinton years. We did see good growth in this country. I want to see that come back again.




ACOSTA: In a sign Romney now worries Gingrich could pull off an upset here, his campaign surrogates are going after the former speaker in Web videos.


MOLINARI: I served with Newt Gingrich in Congress.


ACOSTA: And on a conference call with reporters.

MOLINARI: The longer he stays in this primary, the focus is always Newt. And when the focus is Newt, the Republican Party loses.

ACOSTA: It's all in response to Gingrich, who's stepping up his attacks, sending out this mailer that slams Romney's past record in favor of abortion rights. And he's still having fun with Romney's admission that he pays roughly 15 percent of his income in taxes. Gingrich, who says he pays 31 percent, now wants all Americans to have what he calls the Romney flat tax.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't object to him paying 15 percent. I just want you to have the right to pay the same level, OK?

ACOSTA: But Gingrich and the GOP field have picked up another weapon in their arsenal in the form of this opposition research book on Romney, complied by John McCain's 2008 campaign. Obtained by the blog BuzzFeed and confirmed by CNN, the 200 page book goes into graphic detail, listing Romney's wife Ann's contribution to Planned Parenthood in 1994 from the Romney family checking account. The book also hits Romney's record of, quote, "outsourcing American jobs" at his investment firm, Bain Capital, and lists eight pages of Romney flip-flops. The book even says the McCain campaign had video of Romney saying the Harlem Globetrotters have trouble making touchdowns.



GINGRICH: And I'm Newt Gingrich.


ACOSTA: The question is whether any of it will turn Romney voters over to Gingrich, who is still under fire for sitting down on that sofa with Nancy Pelosi.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The only person I ever sat on a couch with is my wife.


SANTORUM: And that matters. Judgment matters.


ACOSTA: For Romney, the timing of the leak of that opposition research book could not be worse. One Republican campaign official tells CNN there are roughly 20 copies of that book, quote, "scattered to the winds." So it was only a matter of time before it got out.

As for the Romney campaign, we asked for a response to this opposition research book -- Wolf, we got no response.

BLITZER: It looks like that gap between Romney and Newt Gingrich here in South Carolina, Jim, is narrowing in the -- in our new poll.

ACOSTA: Correct.

BLITZER: It was a 19 point gap, now 10. Other indications it's even getting closer. This could be, potentially, a huge surprise on Saturday.

ACOSTA: That's right, Wolf. That is precisely why the Romney campaign is stepping up its attacks on Newt Gingrich. We heard Mitt Romney talking about the former speaker earlier today. He did, just a few moments ago, here at a speech here at Winthrop University, Wolf. Mitt Romney talking about how Gingrich has been going after his time at Bain Capital. Mitt Romney told the crowd here, he is proud of his time in the private sector -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta in South Carolina for us.

Thank you.

The White House hopeful, Newt Gingrich, sat down with me today for a far-reaching interview.


GINGRICH: Certainly, she's one of the people I'd call on for advice. I would ask her to consider taking a major role in the next administration if I am president.


BLITZER: You're going to hear who he's referring to in that little clip. My interview with Newt Gingrich is coming up in a few minutes.

Also, our own Fareed Zakaria, he just got an interview himself with President Obama. He's going to be joining us. I'll debrief him. That's coming up next.


BLITZER: We're here in Charleston, South Carolina, getting ready to cover tomorrow night's Republican presidential debate and Saturday's primary. Things are heating up. It's a lovely city, Charleston, as you can see from this video. Jack Cafferty is joining us right now. He's got the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: A beautiful city, one of my favorites in the south.

Americans aren't getting any fatter, but they're not getting any thinner, either. New government reports show nearly 36 percent of U.S. adults, 17 percent of our children and teens are obese. When you add in overweight Americans, 2/3 of adults and about 1/3 of children are either overweight or obese. It's terrible.

Although, these rates are up dramatically from a decade ago, they have at least leveled off in the last few years, however, certain racial and ethnic groups are still seeing increases in obesity rates. For example, 59 percent of Black women, 45 percent of Mexican-American women are obese. Also, for children and teens, obesity rates are higher among Hispanics and Blacks.

Health experts say that while overall obesity rates have stopped climbing, the best way to lower rates is to stop people from getting fat in the first place. Obesity is a national epidemic. It contributes to a range of illnesses from joint damage to certain cancers to heart disease, and of course, diabetes. Speaking of diabetes, we learned this week that cooking icon, Paula Deen, has type 2 diabetes.

Deen is a well-known television personality who's overweight herself and whose southern recipes are full of fatty ingredients. And isn't it interesting that after being diagnosed with the diabetes three years ago, Deen chose to tell the public about it only after making a deal with a Danish pharmaceutical company that makes an injectable diabetes medication. Fancy that.

Here's the question, why can't the United States make any better progress in the fight against obesity? Go to and post a comment on my blog or go to our post on the SITUATION ROOM's Faceboog page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Jack, thank you.

President Obama has faced some withering criticism from the Republican presidential candidates who hope to defeat him in the fall, but now, he's fighting back. Our own Fareed Zakaria had a chance to sit down with President Obama over at the White House earlier today. Fareed is joining us right now.

Fareed, I got the gist of what the president told you. On foreign policy, he seems pretty confident he can handle himself in a debate against Mitt Romney or any of the other candidates.

FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST, CNN'S FAREED ZAKARIA GPS: I think that's right, Wolf. He said to me, look, he implied they have to bash me right now, because they're appealing to their base, but let's have a serious conversation come the general election, and I'm very comfortable, he said, putting my record of the last three years up against any criticism they have.

I think he feels he's kept the country safe. He's decimated al Qaeda. He's gotten out of Iraq. He's refocused the mission in Afghanistan, and he's made this move to Asia to where America's future lies, and so far, public opinion polls suggest that the public generally gives him positive marks for foreign policy.

BLITZER: Did he seem at all bitter or angry at Republicans for stalling some of these recommendations in terms of improving the economy or jobs creation?

ZAKARIA: He was very relaxed, very calm, very confident. He did, when we talked about the issue of deficit reduction. He got quite passionate, and he said it's really important to understand that I use the Simpson-Bowles framework, people say that I walked out away from it which is really not true. It provided a framework and I used that framework, made some adjustment here, and offer it to the Republicans three times.

The problem with get moving forward, he said, was the Republicans wouldn't make any move on their side, which is on the issue of taxes and revenues. He appointed out that he offered the much many few attacks increases and revenue from taxation than Simpson-Bowles. And still, they wouldn't go for it. So, he said to me at one point, you know, the problem that I was not yakking it up with John Boehner.

The problem was that he couldn't get his caucus to agree, and he was unable to deliver. There was frustration there, but I wouldn't say it was bitterness. He was unhappy that people didn't recognize that, in his view, he had really gone the extra mile on deficit reduction and to the problem had been to the Republicans simply wouldn't budge an inch on the issue of increases in taxation.

BLITZER: We're showing the cover of "Time" magazine, the new issue, "Obama's world," your cover story there and your interview with the president of the United States. What additional point, I just want to raise, Mitt Romney, other Republican candidates, specifically, Mitt Romney saying that if President Obama is re-elected, Iran will have a nuclear weapon.

If he's not reelected, Iran won't have a nuclear weapon. And let me read a quote from your interview that's going to be in "Time" magazine, "I have made myself clear since I began running for the presidency that we will take every step available to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon." "Can we guarantee that Iran takes the smarter path? No, which is why I've repeatedly said we don't take any options off the table in preventing them from getting a nuclear weapon."

Did he say absolutely positively the United States will not allow Iran ever to have a nuclear weapon?

ZAKARIA: He did not. The quote you read was about as definitive as he got, but I thought that was pretty definitive. I think, as president, you want to be careful about making, you know, absolute blanket guarantees about what you're going to do. The sense I got is that they have found ways to very effectively put pressure on Iran.

What they cannot figure out, though, is whether the Iranian regime right now is even in a position to make a strategic decision about whether, you know, -- about making concessions coming back to the negotiating table, finding some win/win formula, because the regime is divided. The supreme leader seems unwilling to make those moves. Nobody else has the authority.

They seem very conscious of that. At one point he said to me, this is a very hard problem, and anyone who says it isn't doesn't know what they're talking about.

BLITZER: Fareed's interview in the new issue of "Time" magazine, our sister publication. Fareed, thanks very, very much.

The Texas congressman, Ron Paul, left the campaign trail briefly today, returning to Washington for a vote on the debt ceiling, but his soaring popularity in the presidential race may not amount too much on Capitol Hill. Let's go to Capitol Hill. Our senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is standing by with more -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, that vote to stop the president from raising the debt ceiling did pass the House, but it's not going to go any further. It was largely symbolic. Ron Paul and everybody else who voted for knew that. But for Paul in particular, it was important for him to come back here and put his money or his vote where his mouth is against a big spending.

But Wolf, it was really his first time here after doing well in Iowa and New Hampshire. And, I talked to many of his colleagues about his dissent (ph) and reviews were mixed.


BASH (voice-over): Briefly back on Capitol Hill, doing his day job, Ron Paul signs copies of the constitution for students.

REP. RON PAUL, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Nobody around here reads it very much.



BASH: And speaks out against raising the debt limit.

PAUL: I believe we're in denial here in the Congress. If we had the vaguest idea of how serious this crisis is financially, not only for us, but for the world, we'd cut spending.

BASH: Where Ron Paul is not is here, a closed-door gathering of House Republicans. The GOP presidential contender never attend these meeting, but Paul's GOP colleagues here have no shortage of opinion about his strong showing, so far. Some good.

REP. MO BROOKS, (R) ALABAMA: I think the public understands that we have too many Monty Halls and Bob Barkers wanting to make a deal or the price is right in Washington, D.C., and they're yearning for leadership. People will take a principle position and stick to it.

BASH: Some, not so good.

REP. TRENT FRANKS, (R) ARIZONA: I don't have any personal dislike for the man, but I will say to you that he's really been essentially totally ineffective in Congress.

BASH: From government spending to military action abroad --

PAUL: Our fully (ph) policy in Iraq invites terrorist attacks against U.S. territory.

BASH: For decades, Paul's nickname inside the GOP leadership, "Dr. No."

JOHN FEEHREY, FORMER HOUSE REPUBLICAN LEADERSHIP AIDE: He voted no on absolutely everything. He was not a real player. We didn't really count on him for anything.

BASH: Some House Republicans admire his purism.

REP. DARRELL ISSA, (R) CALIFORNIA: Dr. No puts up his vote. And if you want to know why, he tells you why.

BASH: But still say his refusal to compromise often goes too far.

ISSA: Ron Paul is less like a Ronald Reagan and more like somebody who is a great professor, but you wouldn't want to have him running your company.

BASH: Sixty-four members of Congress have endorsed Mitt Romney, three endorsed Paul, the only sitting lawmaker in the race. One is his son, Rand. Another is good friend, Walter Jones, fellow anti-war Republican.

REP. WALTER JONES, (R) NORTH CAROLINA: I like Ron Paul's independence. He knows we've got to fix the problems of the American people. We've got to fix the job situation. We've got to bring this debt down. And, I think, he is exactly what America needs right now. BASH: Jones also dismisses Paul's reputation as a loner, revealing a mock picture he displays in his office of Paul with Congressional friends as the four tops.

JONES: It's a great page of him. He's got, you know, the look of a president.


BASH (on-camera): Now, Jones also warned, regardless of what happens with Ron Paul and his presidential prospects, he said that the Republican Party that he is a part of must show him respect and really not do anything to alienate him, because if they do, Wolf, then they also risk alienating those new voters that Ron Paul is attracting and also the young voters and independents.

Those are all voters the Republican Party very much needs and would want. So, that's why Jones says, regardless of what happens, the GOP ultimately, particularly, the Republican convention needs to really show Ron Paul some respect. Another Republicans I talked to even though they don't support him, they agree -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana Bash on Capitol Hill, thank you.

Newt Gingrich certainly hasn't always had the friendliest relationship with some Republicans in Congress.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Newt Gingrich had a leadership style that can only be described as leadership by chaos.


BLITZER: Some of his former Republican colleagues are settling some scores. My interview with Newt Gingrich coming up next.

Plus, you probably noticed some of the world's most popular websites shut down or blacked out. We're going to explain what's going on.


BLITZER: And joining us now from Warrenville, South Carolina, the former speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, the Republican presidential candidate. Mr. Speaker, our new poll here in South Carolina shows this gap between you and Mitt Romney narrowing. What's going to happen? What do you expect to happen between now and Saturday?

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I think as more and more conservatives decide that I'm the only realistic chance to stop a Massachusetts moderate, that they'll keep coming to me, and I think as Romney's folks thinking about who could actually debate Barack Obama and win, I think he'll keep losing a little bit of ground. So, I think by Saturday, we'll be ahead and depending on how many conservatives come home, we could be ahead by a pretty comfortable margin.

BLITZER: Here's what Mitt Romney said to you today early in the day in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He compared you to Al Gore. Listen to this.


MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Actually, you know, the speaker at the debate was talking about how he created millions of jobs when he was working with the Reagan administration. Well, he'd been in Congress two years when Ronald Reagan came to office. That'd be like saying 435 Congress and we're all responsible for those jobs. Government doesn't create jobs. It's the private sector that creates jobs.


ROMNEY: A congressmen taking responsibility or taking credit for helping create jobs is like Al Gore taking credit for the Internet.


BLITZER: All right. Not exactly a flattering comment. Go ahead and respond to Mitt Romney.

GINGRICH: Look, when I was working with Ronald Reagan in the '70s, developing supply-side economics with Jack Kemp, Art Laffer, Jude Wanniski, Larry Kudlow, Mitt Romney wasn't in favor of any of it. He said later on he was opposed to the Reagan/Bush policies.

When I was campaigning with Reagan in 1980, Mitt Romney wasn't in favor of any of it. A lot of people in the establishment called Reagan's program "voodoo economics."

In the 1980s, when I was helping pass the program in the House, where we had to get one-third of the Democrats to pass it, Mitt Romney wasn't doing anything about this. How would he know?

The fact is, in the 1980s, working with Reagan, 16 millions new jobs were created through lower taxes, less regulation, and American energy. In the 1990s, after two tax increases, one by a Democrat, one by a Republican, the economy had stalled. I became Speaker, brought out the Reagan playbook, and worked with Bill Clinton to cut taxes, cut regulations, develop American energy. There were 11 million new jobs.

When he was governor of Massachusetts, he raised taxes, passed Romneycare. Massachusetts was 47th in job creation, fourth from the bottom. So I'm not sure Governor Romney understands how government can really create jobs or how government can kill jobs.

BLITZER: Susan Molinari, who was in Congress when you were there, she supports Mitt Romney. Together, with Romney, she has got a campaign ad against you. And it starts off like this. I'll play a little clip of it.


SUSAN MOLINARI, FMR. CONGRESSWOMAN: I served with Newt Gingrich in Congress. Newt Gingrich had a leadership style that can only be described as leadership by chaos.


BLITZER: And that's just the beginning of it, "leadership by chaos."

Some of your other colleagues when you were in Congress are going after you. They support Mitt Romney.

How ugly is it going to get between now and Saturday?

GINGRICH: Well, I think given the track record, if you read what Senator John McCain said in '08, and what Governor Huckabee said, what Fred Thompson said, what Rick Santorum said two days ago, I think the Romney campaign will say anything and do anything. The fact is, that leadership style she talked about led to the first big entitlement reform, welfare. Two out of three people went to work or went to school. It led to four consecutive balanced budgets, $405 billion in debt paid off. The only time in your lifetime we had balanced budgets.

It led to the first tax cuts in 16 years, steepest capital gains tax cuts in history. Unemployment dropped to 4.2 percent.

I would say that's pretty darned good leadership style. Only the second time we actually cut domestic discretionary spending since World War II was while I was Speaker. I think that's a pretty good leadership style.

BLITZER: There's an article in the new issue of "The National Journal" by Reid Wilson entitled "Gingrich's Friends Worry He Has Gone Rogue." And I'll read a sentence from the article.

"None of his friends would agreed to be quoted by name, but they describe a candidate out for vengeance, rather than one working with a coherent strategy aimed at winning a race. 'The sense is he's just lashing out,'" said one long-time ally who was not named in that article.

I assume you've heard this kind of criticism, that this is payback from you to Romney for what his super PAC did to you in Iowa.

GINGRICH: Well, first of all, the Monday night debate, as you know, we talked about big ideas, big solutions, how to reestablish work in America, how to defend Americans by defeating our opponents. And virtually everybody agrees that Monday night, I won the debate decisively. Frank Luntz said it was the only standing ovation in a presidential debate since Ronald Reagan in 1980 in New Hampshire.

Second, the Rasmussen poll that came out earlier today said I'm now virtually tied with Romney, within the margin of error, nationally. Now, that doesn't strike me as lashing out.

I have calmly and methodically drawn a difference between a Reagan conservative and a Massachusetts moderate. I think describing Governor Romney's record accurately as pro-abortion, pro-gun control, pro-tax increase isn't lashing out. It's telling the truth. And isn't that what campaigns are about, is to draw a contrast so people get to make a choice?


BLITZER: My interview with Newt Gingrich will continue in just a moment.

Up next, the role Sarah Palin -- yes, Sarah Palin -- could play in a Newt Gingrich administration. You're going to want to see this right after the break.


BLITZER: Here's part two of my interview with Newt Gingrich.


BLITZER: Rick Santorum is also upset that you suggested yesterday maybe he and Rick Perry should drop out. Let me play for you what Santorum said today about you.


RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The hubris, and I might even go far as to say the arrogance, of Speaker Gingrich to suggest that I don't have the experience to run a national campaign, to win a national campaign, having won four elections in four heavily Democratic districts and states, he ran in one of the heaviest Republican suburban districts of Georgia with diversity being nonexistent in his electoral plans, that that makes him more qualified than me?


BLITZER: Do you really want him to drop out of the race at this point?

GINGRICH: Look, what I said -- first of all, I didn't say anybody should do anything. I said it would be very, very helpful.

As I hope that every Santorum and Perry voter will decide in the end, that the only way to stop a Massachusetts moderate is to vote for Newt Gingrich. I think that's -- if you look at the polling data, that's a fact. And I think in South Carolina, being a Georgia conservative is a big advantage.

I did make the point which is an objective fact. I worked in the '80 campaign with Reagan, I worked in the '84 campaign, I worked in the '88 campaign. I helped design the '94 campaign, the "Contract With America," which got the largest one-party increase in American history, nine million additional votes. We won the House the first time in 40 years.

I helped design a 1996 campaign. We kept the House for the first time since 1928.

Those are facts. I'm sorry if Rick gets mad about them, but those are facts.

To suggest I wasn't part of the "Contract with America" campaign, that I didn't help design the '96 reelection campaign, he knows better. Look, it's got to be a frustrating time.

The fact is, I think that having big solutions, being willing to talk about creating jobs, balancing the budget, defending America, reestablishing American exceptionalism, reforming the judiciary, these are the big ideas that are helping in South Carolina. I'm going to stay focused on these big solutions, and that's what I spend most of my time talking about.

BLITZER: A lot of us noticed last night that Sarah Palin virtually endorsed you. She said if she lived in South Carolina, she would probably vote for you right now, which, in my mind, and I suspect in others, immediately raised the possibility if you were to get the nomination, would she be on your short list as a potential vice presidential running mate?

GINGRICH: Well, look, I don't want to suggest anything. We haven't talked about anything at all.

Governor Palin is somebody who I think was a very good reform governor. She was extraordinarily effective negotiating with big oil. She did a good job in the state of Alaska. I think she's a very articulate leader of the Tea Party conservative movement.

I was honored and delighted last night when she said if she were in South Carolina, she would vote for Newt Gingrich. I hope everybody who likes her decides she's right, and I hope they vote for me.

Certainly, she's one of the people I would call on for advice, I would ask her to consider taking a major role in the next administration if I'm president. But nothing has been discussed of any kind, and it wouldn't be appropriate to discuss it at this time.

I'm just delighted that she and Todd -- both have been so supportive of my candidacy, and they recognize that, you know, I am a Tea Party reform conservative. I'm not part of the Washington establishment. And I think that's the signal that her endorsement last night really sends.

BLITZER: Mr. Speaker, good luck. We'll stay in close touch. Thanks very much for joining us.

GINGRICH: Stay in touch. Thanks, Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: And don't forget tomorrow night at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, watch CNN for the southern Republican presidential debate. You'll see it only here. And then join us Saturday night, a special SITUATION ROOM at 6:00 p.m. Eastern, followed by our full coverage of the South Carolina primary. That primary coverage starts at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Media companies on one side, Internet sites on the other side. The war on anti-piracy Internet law is growing ugly.

And the captain of the Costa Concordia sailed into disaster and crashed into a worldwide infamy.


BLITZER: It's beautiful here in Charleston, South Carolina. We're all gearing up for tomorrow night's CNN Republican presidential debate, Saturday's primary. Extensive coverage obviously coming up. But Charleston, South Carolina, historic and beautiful. No doubt about that.

If you went to Google or Wikipedia today, you may have noticed something significantly different. Web sites are trying to make a statement without saying a word.

CNN Silicon Valley Correspondent Dan Simon is joining us now with more on what's going on.

Explain what is going on, because a lot of Internet users are a little confused.

DAN SIMON, CNN SILICON VALLEY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we're talking about a couple of controversial bills in Congress, and they seem to be on life support right now. A couple of key members have backed away from their support. This Web blackout that we've seen all day seems to be working.

I want you to look now at what started the whole debate.

Take a look.


SIMON (voice-over): Thousands of people this very minute are downloading pirated videos from overseas Web sites. Movies still in the theaters like "War Horse" can be watched on a computer screen for free, depriving the film industry of millions of dollars.

With Web sites like operating in Europe, the U.S. has no authority to shut them down. That has prompted Capitol Hill legislation known as SOPA, Stop Online Piracy Act, in the House and PIPA, Protect Intellectual Property Act, in the Senate.

The bills, as now written, would require that Internet providers in the U.S. block the offending sites. Media companies like CNN's parent firm, Time Warner, are among those supporting the bill. CHRIS DODD, CHAIRMAN, MOTION PICTURE ASSN. OF AMERICA: Illegal conduct is not free speech. Illegal conduct is what it is. It's stealing. And that's what's at the heart of this legislative effort.

SIMON: Former senator Chris Dodd heads up the Motion Picture Association and is a huge backer of the legislation.

DODD: This bill is exclusively focused on the foreign criminal elements that are stealing.

SIMON: The bills would give Washington unprecedented authority in regulating content.

DECLAN MCCULLAGH, CNET REPORTER: Think of it as a black list. And this is something we haven't seen before in the history of the Internet, sort of a black list bill. What would happen is that copyright holders in the U.S. Department of Justice would come up with this list and then, with a court order, serve this on Internet search providers.

SIMON: Search engines such as Google also would be banned from displaying the sites. And advertisers, as well as payment processors like PayPal, could do know business with them either. Collectively, Silicon Valley has said no go. Not because they want piracy, but don't feel they should be the Internet police, and are hurling words like "censorship" at the legislation.

David Ulevitch runs a successful Internet security company which gives its customers the tools to block Web sites in their own homes or businesses.

DAVID ULEVITCH, OPENDNS CEO: We've never wanted to be in a position to try to be the editorial directors, and we certainly don't think the government is probably the right people to get in that position either.

SIMON: Some lawmakers are already reversing course. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a co-sponsor of the legislation, is pulling his support. On his Facebook page, he said we've heard "legitimate concerns."


SIMON: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg also weighing in today, calling these poorly-thought-out bills. And Wolf, with the White House also not on board, it looks like we'll be back to the drawing board to figure out this very complex and difficult problem known as piracy.

Back to you.

BLITZER: Yes, it's going to continue. There's no doubt about that.

Dan Simon, thank you.

Jack Cafferty asks all of us, why can't the U.S. make any progress in the fight against obesity? Jack and your answers, that's coming up. And Rick Perry has held his fire out there on the campaign trail. Our own John King interviews the Republican presidential candidate. That's coming up at the top of the hour for our North American viewers.


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

CAFFERTY: The question this hour, Wolf, is: Why can't the United States make any progress in the fight against obesity?

Cliff in New York writes, "Two reasons. Our driven-for-profit health care system is set up to treat disease, not prevent it. And our driven-for-greed Congress is in the pocket of the food services lobby."

Floyd in California, "I lived in Ecuador for three years. Upon arriving, I lost 10 pounds and then about a pound a month without changing my diet and with less exercise. Why? They don't add fat and hormones to their meat, and the altitude down there increases your metabolism."

"In the United States, what the food producers put in our food puts on the pounds. The only way to lose weight here is to starve."

Jerry writes, "No one these days wants to get up off the couch and exercise. Most would rather sit, eat potato chips, and watch such educational shows as 'Jersey Shore' or the never-ending GOP debates. Need I say more?"

Doug writes, "I'm about 30 pounds overweight and it's killing me. Every time it gets serious I drop a few pounds, and then I start feeling better and I slip right back into my old ways. Winter is the hardest time for me. I find that smoking two packs of cigarettes a day and drinking five cups of coffee, plus eating a bacon and fried egg sandwich every morning does help."

"Hershey's chocolate snacks, cheese and potato chips are good to get you until the evening meal, which usually means chicken and potatoes and gravy. That's followed by Foster's Beer and some good, cheap red wine. I hope this helps, Mr. Cafferty."

Kevin in San Diego writes, "Watch Food, Inc. Americans are fattened up on corn just like the chickens, pigs and cows. Simple greed is why."

Paul in Texas says, "It's the other oil addiction, Jack. The one made from lard."

And Ed in Texas, "White Castle Chocolate Shakes. Hello?"

If you want to read more about this, go to my blog,, or through our post on THE SITUATION ROOM'S Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Sounds delicious, Jack. Thanks very much.

It's certainly not an overstatement right now to say the captain of the Costa Concordia is the most despised sailor in the world. His reputation is as tattered as the hull of his ship.

That's coming up.


BLITZER: The Costa Concordia captain is probably the most despised sailor out there right now.

Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He went from being captain of the Concordia to being called "Captain Coward," "Captain's Not Courageous," and worst of all, "Chicken of the Sea."

The tapes are what sealed his fate in the public's mind, berated by a Coast Guard officer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Go back in the opposite direction, get back on the ship, and tell me how many people there are.

CAPT. FRANCESCO SCHETTINO, COSTA CONCORDIA (through translator): But you are aware it is dark and we can't see anything?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And what do you want? To go back home, Schettino? It's dark and you want to go back home?

MOOS: Who'd want to leave home when you've been labeled "The Most Hated Man in Italy"?

A Taiwanese animation showed him abandoning the Concordia, contrasting him with the captain of the Titanic going down with his ship, and metaphorically speculating whether the Concordia's captain will have to walk the plank. Ridiculed by cartoonists portrayed shouting, "This is your captain speaking. Remain calm," as he's rowed away from the sinking ship.

The captain told the Coast Guard he didn't abandon ship.

SCHETTINO: The ship skidded. We were catapulted into the water.

MOOS: London's "Telegraph" says the captain told investigating magistrates that he tripped and fell into a lifeboat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He fell into the life raft. He fell in to the life raft.

MOOS (on camera): And while the captain is getting the "Chicken of the Sea" treatment, the Coast Guard officer who yelled at the captain is being celebrated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look, Schettino, perhaps you have saved yourself from the ship, but I will make you look very bad. I will make you pay for this. Get back on board, (EXPLETIVE DELETED)!

MOOS: That last phrase, "Get back on board," followed by an expletive, has become a Facebook page in Italy printed on T-shirts.

Captain Schettino's lawyer defended him. He's quoted in "The New York Post" as saying, "You try and see if you could get back on a vessel in that condition. You need a helicopter."

Now the captain's reputation may be beyond rescue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): See how the main sails set? They called for the captain aboard, but he took a boat and left them and went home

Why in the world would you abandon the ship?

MOOS: He may go down in history for not going down with the ship.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get on board! That is an order!

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching.

Tomorrow, here on THE SITUATION ROOM, my interview with Rick Santorum and his wife Karen, tomorrow in THE SITUATION ROOM.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The news continues next on CNN.