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THE SITUATION ROOM

Big Three Bailout Loan; Obama Team Talks to Automakers; Interview With Bill Gates

Aired December 4, 2008 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, automakers give Congress a bad case of sticker shock, but three big -- the big three executives from the automakers are back here in Washington asking for an even bigger bailout loan. This hour, the desperation and the skepticism.
Plus, even billionaires like Bill Gates are taking a hit in these hard economic times. He talks about how much he's lost and how much he's given away in a rare interview right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, part two of our interview with the Microsoft founder.

And the good, the bad and the consequences. Bad new evidence that the Americans see the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan very, very differently.

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

Right now, many Americans have bailout fatigue, and so do members of Congress. But that's not stopping auto industry executives from making a second urgent plea for financial help today. They're now asking for up to $34 billion in loans, up from $25 billion only two weeks ago. And many lawmakers can't help but wonder, if they agree to save the big three now, will the price tag go up even more?

Let's go to Capitol Hill. Our Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash has been covering these daylong hearings.

Pretty dramatic stuff. Very important stuff, indeed, Dana. They've just wrapped up amid lots of skepticism.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Certainly lots of skepticism, Wolf. It actually was quite somber and quite long, five and a half hours of this hearing today. And there were a lot of different ideas bandied around about just how to throw a lifeline to these automakers as the CEOs came up to ask one more time to the lawmakers for that money.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): With choreography for the cameras, the big three CEOs returned to Capitol Hill in fuel-efficient cars instead of pricey private jets. Lesson learned when it comes to public relations, determined to convince wary lawmakers they learned bigger lessons about restructuring their struggling companies.

RICK WAGONER, GENERAL MOTORS CEO: We're here today because we made mistakes which we're learning from.

ALAN MULALLY, FORD CEO: It used to be that our approach to our customers was, if you build it they will come. Now we are aggressively matching production to meet the true customer demand.

ROBERT NARDELLI, CHRYSLER CEO: We've identified approximately $4 billion of potential cost savings and improvements.

BASH: The CEOs came armed with new business plans that Congress demanded, promises to consolidate and modernize, concessions from autoworkers unions to help cut costs, but skepticism that taxpayer money would be well spent in Detroit is still deep.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: I don't trust the car companies' leadership. I worry that if they're left on their own, they'll be back a short time later asking for more.

BASH: Executives expanded their rescue requests to $34 billion. One panelist warned an auto turnaround could eventually cost $75 billion to $125 billion.

Republican Richard Shelby, who opposes any bailout, pounced on that.

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R), ALABAMA: If they got to $34 billion, how long will it be before they're back here, in your judgment?

MARK ZANDI, MOODYSECONOMY.COM: I think it will be...

SHELBY: Six months?

ZANDI: No, it will be fall, late '09.

SHELBY: But they'll certainly be back, won't they?

ZANDI: I think that's a high probability.

BASH: The committee's top Democrat told CEOs he still had many unanswered questions about their plans, but also warned that inaction is not a solution.

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D), BANKING CHAIRMAN: My concern with such an approach is that it plays Russian roulette with the entire economy of the United States.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Now, all three of the CEOs agreed to a federal oversight board to manage any restructuring that they would have to go through if they got these federal loans, but that is still the big question, Wolf, whether or not federal loans will go through. Because there is still a deep divide over where the money should come from and still opposition in some quarters about helping Detroit at all. Still, the chairman of the Banking Committee, Chris Dodd, he left the hearing, and he said he is determined to stay here in Washington and try -- Wolf. BLITZER: Dana, stand by. We're going to be getting back to you. Dramatic stuff on the Hill.

All the major car companies, carmakers, are hurting, but the decline in auto sales is not a new phenomenon. Take a look at this.

Back in 1985, GM was selling more than six million new cars a year. It's basically been a downhill slide ever since.

By the year 2000, Ford was in decline. That's also when Chrysler hit the skids.

And the big three import companies? Take a look at this. U.S. sales for Toyota, Honda, Nissan, have held up very well, at least until recently.

At least one auto industry official is rejecting suggestions that the American people oppose helping carmakers stay afloat. He told the Senate Banking Committee that public opinion polls, including CNN's latest survey, don't tell the whole story.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEITH WANDELL, PRESIDENT, JOHNSON CONTROLS: It is extremely important that we have a sound, healthy and sustainable U.S.-owned automotive industry that is competitive globally. And I do not believe that Americans, in spite of the CNN poll that came out this morning that said 60 percent of the Americans are not in favor of some sort of financial aid, I do not believe that Americans want to yield an industry that impacts the millions of jobs and invests billions of dollars in technology that will help secure our energy independence through new, innovative and environment-friendly transportation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And as you just heard, our new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll that was unveiled yesterday right here in THE SITUATION ROOM found 61 percent of the American public against a government bailout of the auto industry.

President-elect Barack Obama has been putting up caution signs whenever he's been asked about a possible auto industry bailout. His administration in waiting has been working hard though on this issue behind the scenes. The stakes, of course, are enormous.

Let's go to our Senior Political Correspondent Candy Crowley. She's covering the transition to power in Chicago.

I know that he didn't speak publicly on this today, Candy, but what's the thinking behind the scenes?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the thinking is that we are looking at sort of parallel universes here. There is, what goes on before Barack Obama officially becomes president and what goes on afterwards.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY (voice-over): President-elect Barack Obama and his advisers are said to be studying options for helping the auto industry beyond what Congress does or doesn't do before he takes office. Only one option is off the table.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT-ELECT: We can't allow the auto industry simply to vanish.

CROWLEY: Industry sources confirm even before the election and continuing after, Obama's staff has been in touch with auto executives. One source suggested the nature of these conversations were "... informational ... about (our operation) how and where we spend... our forward-looking goals."

The talks are tacit recognition that the incoming administration believes whatever Congress does is likely to be a stopgap to keep one or more of the big three from going under. Obama's public talk and the private work of his team are aimed at more comprehensive assistance tied to viability.

OBAMA: I've made it a high priority for my transition team to work on additional policy options to help the auto industry adjust, weather the financial crisis, and succeed in producing fuel-efficient cars here in the United States. I've asked my team to explore what we can do under current law and whether additional legislation will be needed for this purpose.

CROWLEY: Industry sources say there has been no talk of specific long-term legislation. In terms of the immediate future, Obama has been supportive of loan guarantees to the big three, but he's been careful not to put public fingerprints on how much they should get or where the money should come from.

OBAMA: I want to wait and see specifically what's said during those hearings.

CROWLEY: Still, Capitol Hill sources say the Obama team at many levels has discussed the bailout, including talks between the president-elect and the congressional leadership.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: So one of those Capitol Hill sources said that you can "rest assured" the Democratic leadership is not going to do something opposed by the president-elect -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Candy, thank you.

Candy's watching the story in Chicago.

More than ever, Americans say the U.S. is in recession right now. A reality finally confirmed in recent days by the U.S. experts.

Our brand new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows 42 percent of the public believes the recession is serious, 34 percent say it's moderate, 12 percent believe it's a mild recession. Nearly four in 10 of those polled are very pessimistic, saying a depression similar to the one in the 1930s is likely within the next year, but nearly two-thirds of the public in this poll disagree.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, a top executive at Chrysler thinks a depression could happen quickly. Vice Chairman Jim Press is warning that the failure of just one of the big three car companies could drive the economy right into a depression.

The CEOs, as you've been hearing as you watch the show here, of Chrysler, Ford and GM back on Capitol Hill today, hands out. They want $34 billion now. It was $25 billion a couple of weeks ago. They were shot down then. We'll see what happens this time.

Ford's CEO Alan Mulally quoted an estimate from Goldman Sachs during his testimony today, saying the failures of these three companies could cost the U.S. economy up to $1 trillion. Sure, the companies need cash and, sure, they directly provide jobs to 355,000 workers, and an additional 4.5 million jobs in related industries. But there are real questions about whether we would be throwing good money after bad here.

Detroit has failed to keep up with the changing industry for years, despite the handwriting that was clearly placed on the wall by Toyota and Honda, among others. American cars come with legacy costs unrivaled anywhere in the industry. Sales figures released this week terrible. GM down 41 percent; Ford down 31 percent. So Congress is left grappling with whether the cure is worse than the disease.

Here's the question: Will the loss of any one of the big three auto companies lead to a depression?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog. It's the only game in town, isn't it?

BLITZER: It's a huge, huge story. And as I say, the stakes are enormous. Thanks, Jack, very much.

Even the richest people in the world are not immune to recession, including the Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Have you suffered financially as a result of this economic crisis right now?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So how much is Bill Gates willing to reveal about his personal finances? You're going to find out. Part two of my rare one-on-one interview with the Microsoft founder, that's coming up.

Plus, an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington for the Obama inaugural and a view only big money can buy. A businessman is picking up the tab. Wait until you hear who he's inviting.

And an unhappy car owner has a tough question for the CEO of Chrysler. We've been going through your iReports, that interview. Your questions and a lot more coming up, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're going to be speaking with two of the three big automakers momentarily, here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Stand by for that.

Virtually every American is taking a financial hit amid this very bruising economy. But how are some of the world's richest people doing?

I sat down here in Washington, at George Washington University, with the billionaire Bill Gates. You saw part one of the interview yesterday. Part two is coming up right now. He talked about giving away money and a lot more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: I recently interviewed my old boss, Ted Turner, who told me his wealth has really gone down over these past few years for a variety of reasons, not just the economic crisis right now. He's still worth a lot of money, more than a billion dollars. But I wonder, have you suffered financially as a result of this economic crisis right now?

BILL GATES, FOUNDER OF MICROSOFT: My net worth is not as high, but no, I have not.

BLITZER: I'm not saying you personally have suffered, but your net worth has gone down a considerable amount, a modest amount?

GATES: A modest amount. You know, I own stocks in companies like Berkshire Hathaway, which is incredible. There's a lot of great companies out there. Valuations are down.

But, you know, that's the -- you know, people earned a lot in the market in the last two years. So, you know, compared to what? And my wealth is all dedicated to go to the foundation. And that's giving the money back to society to help with the education system and to help with the poorest countries.

BLITZER: And you're giving away billions and billions of dollars through the foundation.

GATES: That's right. So far I've put over $30 billion in. And over my lifetime, the rest of the money goes to the foundation.

BLITZER: Do you have any idea how much more there is there to give?

GATES: Well, there's many tens of billions additional money that will flow to the foundation. And, you know, the foundation's been able to increase what it's doing.

We're spending a higher percentage. Warren Buffett was unbelievably generous in terms of making large annual gifts. And so we've been able to take these health programs and education programs and be more ambitious.

BLITZER: So I guess the point I'm trying to make is, you're not going to have to cut back on your charitable work, on your foundation work, as a result of this economic downturn?

GATES: Because we think these issues are so important now, we're actually increasing next year.

BLITZER: Really?

GATES: And it's a higher percentage of our asset base. But you know, these are programs that pay off incredibly well.

Things like this malaria vaccine is going to be fundamental. The advances in AIDS treatment are going to be fundamental. So the sooner we get these things, there's a lot of avoided misery and cost that comes from staying the course, whether it's education or health.

BLITZER: We invited our viewers to send us video questions, iReports for you. And let me do a couple of them.

This one from a woman named Hillary Ohm of Colville, Washington. She said she recently lost her job because Microsoft stopped contracting with her company because they didn't have a worldwide workforce, something like that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILARY OHM, IREPORTER: What do you think about the outsourcing of U.S. jobs? And do you think that this trend will continue in the future for Microsoft and its vendors?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GATES: Well, Microsoft employs a higher percentage of people in the U.S. by a large amount than the portion of our sales that are in the U.S. We're a global company, and you've got to have salespeople and great engineers from around the world contributing to those products.

But we're a company whose labor base is overwhelmingly here in the United States. And so issues like the quality of education are very important. You know, that's why I believe in that issue. Actually, the company gives a lot to those issues.

And so, you know, actually, Microsoft, so far, has been able to be increase employment. And so as a contributor to additional economic activity. Part of that is because we do have worldwide sales, worldwide presence. That means we're not exposed just to the one economy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And the final part of my rare interview with Bill Gates, that's coming up later in THE SITUATION ROOM. He has some words of praise for President Bush. We'll tell you why he's praising the incumbent president. That's coming up, the final part of the interview, later, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Two wars, two schools of thought regarding Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of you think one war is going well, the other not so good. But you may be surprised which war most Americans support.

And Barack Obama's transition team wants to hear from you. You're going to find out why. They're doing something that no other administration has done before. We'll explain right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Really a revolutionary use of the Internet right now. The Obama transition team going online to ask for ideas on how to deal with the economic crisis.

Our internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, has been looking into this for us.

What are folks out there suggesting, Abbi?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, here's a comment that's been at the center of the online discussion today. "Make sure that mortgage rates are affordable, put a freeze on foreclosures." That one posted to change.gov Web site, not by a transition staffer, but by a member of the public, one of hundreds of comments out there today.

Other users are actually rating them to say, this one, I think, is the most popular. This one I want to see at the top of the discussion.

This is the second time that change.gov, their online transition team, has invited an online discussion in this way. This one on the economy, as they do it, they're posting these behind-the-scenes videos.

Last week the discussion was centered on health care. And in a video response, former senator Tom Daschle, slated to be health and human services secretary, posted a video promising that the team is listening.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM DASCHLE, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES NOMINEE: I spent a lot of the weekend actually reading the comments. And I have to tell you, I'm extremely moved by a lot of stories that you've shared with us.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TATTON: Over 3,000 of those stories on health care. Right now it's the economic discussion going on. And there are hundreds of those.

You can join the discussion right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A lot of people will. All right, Abbi, thanks very much.

(NEWSBREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, there are startling new developments in the investigation into the Mumbai massacre. Authorities are looking into whether the attackers got help from inside India.

We'll have the latest. We're going to Mumbai.

Will the Supreme Court keep Barack Obama from becoming president? A lawsuit challenging whether he's a U.S. citizen.

And saving Americans' homes. The Bush administration is weighing whether to cut mortgage rates. But will that be enough? We're taking a closer look at that, as well.

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

With wars in Iraq and Afghanistan now years into the fighting, what do you think about what's going on? We have some fresh polling on where Americans stand.

Let's bring in our Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider. He's been looking into this.

With the U.S. fighting two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, does the American public see these wars differently?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, increasingly, they do.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Iraq and Afghanistan, very different wars. Is the U.S. winning the war in Iraq? People are split. That's a definite improvement. Last year, most Americans thought the U.S. was not winning.

John McCain tried to use the gains in Iraq as an issue against Barack Obama.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: He opposed the surge strategy that's worked in Iraq and will work in Afghanistan.

SCHNEIDER: Obama acknowledged gains in Iraq.

OBAMA: Our troops have performed brilliantly in lowering the level of violence.

SCHNEIDER: But he argued the focus on Iraq has worsened the situation in Afghanistan.

OBAMA: The situation in Afghanistan is perilous and urgent. We must act now to reverse a deteriorating situation.

SCHNEIDER: Hillary Clinton, then Obama's competitor, now his choice for secretary of state, agreed that Iraq...

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: ... has taken our attention away from very serious problems elsewhere in the world. In particular in Afghanistan.

SCHNEIDER: Do Americans believe the U.S. is winning in Afghanistan? No. It's going worse than Iraq.

On the other hand, more than 60 percent of Americans continue to oppose the war in Iraq, while most support the war in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is the good war, and it's going badly. Iraq is the bad war, and it's going fairly well.

OBAMA: Part of the reason I think it's so important for to us end the war in Iraq is to be able to get more troops into Afghanistan.

SCHNEIDER: The public agrees. Most Americans support a plan to reduce U.S. combat troops in Iraq and increase U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: In the dispute between India and Pakistan, which has become intensified with the attacks in Mumbai, Americans remain resolutely neutral. Eighty-one percent say the United States should not take either side -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider, with the latest poll numbers, thank you.

Much of Barack Obama's Cabinet has now been picked, with some key spots going to well-known moderates. But will the president-elect turn to more liberal choices for his final picks?

Let's discuss this and more in our "Strategy Session."

Joining us, our CNN political contributor the Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, also the Republican strategist John Feehery.

What do you think, Donna? You know these men and women well, a lot of mainstream, middle-of-the-road moderates, including one Republican, at least, the defense secretary, Robert Gates. Where are the liberals? DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: First of all, I think president-elect Obama is -- is doing the right thing in putting the very best people in the Cabinet. He still has a way to go before he puts together his whole Cabinet. So, we should just hold judgment until the -- the entire Cabinet has been selected.

But, from what I can see and what I have heard and the people he has selected, I think he has put together a very strong Cabinet.

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: You know, about two years ago, everyone thought Hillary Clinton was a real liberal. And I actually still think she's a real liberal.

I think you will see a lot more real liberals come into this Cabinet. I think you have got the Department of Labor secretary, who I think will be a liberal, maybe a David Bonior or someone like that. And I do think that he's been very smart, though, in starting with some moderate choices, especially in the secretary -- treasury secretary and in Defense.

I think that was a smart -- he's kind of almost faking left and going right -- right -- faking right and going left. So, I think that that's a smart thing, to start out his choices and get that kind of sense that he's going to try to...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: I assume there will be liberals, not only in Labor, but in Housing, for example, as well. That's traditionally been a Democratic spot for a good traditional liberal.

BRAZILE: Well, Wolf, I don't know how we -- we're defining these.

BLITZER: Everything is relative.

BRAZILE: Absolutely, because, if the policy and the candidate, in this case, the president, is a progressive, then I -- I expect that his -- his implementers will also have a progressive point of view. So, I'm not going to...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Have you changed your mind, John, about Barack Obama? Is he as much of a liberal as you probably thought he was during the campaign, based on the people he's asked to serve him?

FEEHERY: Well, that's a great mystery. We don't know. He hasn't started governing yet.

His early choices are very comforting to some guys like me. But we don't know how he's actually going to govern. Is this all to kind of guard his right flank, if he wants to move to the left, or is he going to stay in the center? I don't actually know how he's going to be. I have been pleased so far with some of his choices.

I hope that he governs from the center, because I think that's the best thing for the country.

BLITZER: There were some strong words in "The Boston Globe" about some of the appointments.

There was a column there entitled "A Bitter brew for Kerry," referring to the senator from Massachusetts, John Kerry.

I will read a line from the article: "Senator John Kerry's fate illustrates the new political order under president-elect Barack Obama. Reward your enemies, not necessarily your friends. If you're Kerry, you have got to be feeling a bit like the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, thrown under the Obama bus, while ex-rivals climb merrily board."

I guess, there, he's referring to -- she is referring to, the writer of this article, to Hillary Clinton gets to be secretary of state. She challenged Barack Obama. John Kerry, who supported Barack Obama, so far, what does he have?

BRAZILE: He is going to be the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He's an asset to the Obama/Biden administration. He's a patriot. And he will have a role in helping to shape...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But he would have liked to have been secretary of state.

BRAZILE: We don't know, Wolf, because I -- I'm not privy to any of the conversations, so I don't know if John Kerry said: "You know, I want to stay in the Senate. I have a lot of seniority, and I want to continue to represent the people of Massachusetts."

BLITZER: Maybe did he say that.

FEEHERY: Well, this is bellyaching from "The Boston Globe," which is probably not surprising.

But, you know, it is question. And I think Bill Richardson is asking that same question: "I endorsed Barack Obama, and all's I got was Commerce. I didn't even get State Department."

But I do think that, for John Kerry, it's a good perch for him to be chairman of a very important committee over the next couple years.

BLITZER: You -- you -- go ahead, Donna.

BRAZILE: No, I think this is much like a game of chess. We're watching the -- the faces on the board, but not the moves that president-elect Obama is making right now.

So, I think people should just watch how he continues to fill his Cabinet, fill his administration. And, I think, at the end of the day, everybody will feel comfortable, even those on the right.

BLITZER: The right feels very comfortable right now, based on what I'm hearing from a lot of mainstream Republicans.

You find any real criticism coming in of the selections so far from -- from your side of the aisle?

FEEHERY: Not so far. I think that Richardson was a good choice. I think that Clinton was probably a pretty good choice. I think Geithner was a great choice. I think Summers was a good choice.

You know, we will see what happens. We will see how he governs, but, right now, so far so good. And I hope that all my comments make the left very, very nervous.

(LAUGHTER)

BRAZILE: I want to add -- I want to add my two cents. I think Eric Holder is a great choice. Of course, I have known Eric for many years. And I think he will be a great attorney general.

Can you imagine, in my lifetime, I get to see an attorney general who will enforce voting rights? That is -- that is a very important...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: I'm sure he's getting ready for some confirmation hearings. He's going to be asked some tough questions about the pardon of Marc Rich in the final days of the Clinton administration. Are you worried at all about that?

BRAZILE: I'm not worried about that, because Eric Holder is a great lawyer. And I am -- I will be there and will support Eric Holder.

BLITZER: Be sitting right behind him.

BRAZILE: No. His wife, Sharon Malone...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Well, you will be sitting right there?

BRAZILE: I will be sitting right behind Sharon.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Donna, thanks very much.

BRAZILE: Yes.

BLITZER: John, thanks to you as well.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: They spent the day on Capitol Hill being grilled by the senators. And now the CEOs of two of the automakers, they are coming over here into THE SITUATION ROOM. They're standing by to join us live -- up first, the chairman of Chrysler, Robert Nardelli. Stand by for that interview.

Plus, a change some Americans will definitely believe in. They're getting a free ride to the inauguration and a makeover, to boot. It's a remarkable story that you will see here.

And tougher security around India right now, and there was a major scare just a short while ago at New Delhi's international airport. It sent police scrambling. We will have the latest from the scene.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Do you want an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington to be part of Barack Obama's inauguration? The answer, probably, yes, do you, at least many of you.

All right, here's what you might get. You would get a hotel room, food and drinks, even be gowns and tuxedos. Well, for some of you, there might be a chance to do all that.

Let's turn to CNN's Samantha Hayes. She's been here.

A very generous businessman has a pretty good proposal.

SAMANTHA HAYES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf.

William Stafford, he is very wealthy. He made his money in a technology company. And he decided to buy what was advertised as the premier hotel inauguration package. We're talking about rooms, food, a ball, the works. And he decided to invite people who never thought they would be able to come.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HAYES (voice-over): It's a million-dollar view an the top of the J.W. Marriott on Pennsylvania Avenue. And, on Inauguration Day, William Stafford decided it should go to those who don't have a penny to spare.

WILLIAM EARL STAFFORD, BENEFACTOR: We hope that the balcony here, the -- the terrace is filled with those who are disadvantaged, those who are distressed.

HAYES: Those who didn't think they would ever be able to see Barack Obama sworn in as president on these steps. Not only will they see it, but Stafford is making sure his guests experience history in style.

STAFFORD: Why not -- when these people come in, why not treat them well? Why not give them an experience that they can tell their children and their grandchildren about?

HAYES: The entire package includes 300 rooms and four suites under renovation just for the event. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stunned, literally stunned. I mean, we hear about great benevolence all over the place. It's another story when this gentleman is in your face saying: "Hey, I'm going to do this. Here's the money."

HAYES: And an even better story if you are one of those selected.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can't imagine it. You're sitting there, and you have been seeing the election, and you see what the balls are going to look like. And everything says, oh, they're sold out. Nobody's going to be able to get in town. And then you get a call saying, you have been selected. We're going to fly to you Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HAYES: So, William Stafford says it was his Christian faith that inspired him to do this. And he's going to be working with organizations like the National Urban League, Wolf, to identify people all over the nation, really, who he thinks should be able to come and experience this.

BLITZER: That's such a good story...

HAYES: Yes.

BLITZER: ... a feel-good story.

And, thank you, Mr. Stafford.

I'm sure he's going to be a very popular guy. But he's doing a good thing.

HAYES: Mm-hmm.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Sam, for that.

If you wind up, by the way, having to pay for your own food and drinks during the inauguration, you will at least have more time to do it. Restaurants, bars and nightclubs here in Washington will be open around the clock from January 17 until the morning after the inauguration. That means you will be able to eat and possibly dance all night and all day. You will have a few extra hours to drink alcohol, as well. Bars will serve until 5:00 a.m. That's a change in Washington.

They were grilled by Congress. Now two auto company CEOs, they are standing by to join us live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're going to have some important questions for the Chrysler CEO, Robert Nardelli, and, later, the GM chief, Richard Wagoner. If their firms gets a bailout what, should it cost them?

Stand by. Those interviews and a lot more are coming up -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: I had a chance yesterday to speak with Bill Gates, the Microsoft founder, over at George Washington University.

I want to play for you right now the final portion of that interview.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: You have suggested that president-elect Obama should double foreign aid once he takes office. Is that right?

GATES: Actually, he, during the campaign, made a commitment to do that, which I think is absolutely fantastic.

And now, in the face of these pressures, you know, I'm hoping that he can get to that commitment as soon as possible. I think there's a lot of great benefits to it. But yes, I believe it's a very smart way for America to show leadership, to help out in a different way than we have in the past.

BLITZER: Explain to our viewers in the United States why you believe, at a time of economic distress in this country, it's important to send money to other needy nations to people around the world.

GATES: Well, when have you people who, if you gave them better seeds, they could avoid starvation, if you get -- gave them better vaccines, they could avoid, you know, a million children here dying of malaria, those needs deserve to be somewhere in -- in our priority list.

And we have seen now there's a type of foreign assistance for vaccines or for AIDS treatment that are incredibly effective. These are all about saving lives. And the good news is that, as you make those breakthroughs, the population growth in the country goes down. And, so, their ability to get on their own standing and not need aid comes along.

And we have seen that in many countries. Now we have got a minority of countries, but still about a third, where they need that -- that helping hand. And, so, it was a priority for this country after World War II to help other countries. All of these countries are suffering from this global economic crisis. And, for them, in terms of feeding their people or getting these vaccines, I do think it -- it should stay high on list of things that count.

BLITZER: You believe that president-elect Obama can live up to that commitment?

GATES: Well, he -- he obviously has the Congress that gets to actually vote the final decision for how the money is spent. But I -- I do think he will get us to that commitment.

I -- I'm, you know, thrilled to be able to see that people are responding to the success stories. Aid from the United States did go up in the last eight years. For example, these AIDS drugs, the initiative there, has been a -- a fantastic success.

And it's with successes like that that you get the voters saying, yes, even in tough times, we should help out countries that are in far worse shape and have these life-threatening issues.

BLITZER: So, you give President Bush some credit for that?

GATES: Absolutely.

He -- he, in the case of PEPFAR, stood up for taking taxpayer money and investing it in saving lives, in a way that's proven to be very effective.

BLITZER: What new technology do you see out there right now that could really change the world, along the lines of what you did with the P.C.?

GATES: Well, if we talk about the needs of the poorest, the miracle technology is -- is vaccination.

In 1960, 20 million children died, last year, only 10 million. Now, that's 10 million too many, but it's half as many. Why is that? Because we had new vaccines. And, in the pipeline today, we have vaccines that would cut that 10 million in more than half. And the benefits to that are -- are quite immense.

So, I, you know, say that, at a very basic level, vaccination is -- deals with a -- a critical need, and it would be at the top of my list.

BLITZER: Anything as a second on your list?

GATES: Well, when you get to developed countries, like the U.S., I think education is the big thing.

And, as we can get great courses online, people testing out their knowledge online, teachers learning from each other online, I think there's a way to take the Internet and use that for areas like health and education in ways that have not been done before. That's one of the -- the great opportunities, both for the private sector.

And the government coming in has an important role, clearly, in education, but also in health care. So, innovation is why we will be far better off 10 years from now than we are today.

BLITZER: And that could really change the world. There's no doubt about that.

We have another I-Report question from Mark Merritt of Aurora, Colorado.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK MERRITT, I-REPORTER: As a young professional, with the economy the way it is, what do you feel is the best method to stay above water and not lose hope? (END VIDEO CLIP)

GATES: Well, I think people are being more careful about using credit cards and getting into debt.

I'm hopeful that people will invest in themselves, that is, get more education, because that's the thing that has the highest payoff, not just economically, but in terms of the contribution you can make and in terms of having a job that's stimulating and enjoyable for your entire life.

And, so, you know, if somebody thinking about going back to school, even though, in the short run, that's -- that's hard for them, I would encourage them to do it.

BLITZER: Bill Gates, thanks for all the work do you, and thanks for joining us.

GATES: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: They went from the governor's mansion to the White House. Now President Bush and the first lady, they are buying a brand-new house. You're going to find out where they're going to live after he leaves office.

Plus, the election may be over, but some of Barack Obama's opponents aren't giving up. You're going to -- also going to find out about a challenge to his own presidency that could make it to the Supreme Court. We will explain what's going on right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's a look at some of the "Hot Shots" coming in from our friends over at the Associated Press, pictures likely to be in your newspapers tomorrow.

In Zimbabwe, children gather water as the country declares a national cholera epidemic.

In India, women do yoga exercises as part of a trauma relief camp.

In New Hampshire, a modular home falls off its trailer while in transit.

And, in Wisconsin, a Canadian goose soars over the open waters of a lake -- some of this hour's "Hot Shots," pictures worth 1,000 words.

On our "Political Ticker" today: The outgoing first couple are new homeowners. A spokeswoman confirms that the president and the first lady have bought a home in Dallas to live in after they leave the White House. They will also continue to spend time at their ranch in Crawford, Texas. The Bushes lived in Dallas before they moved to the governor's -- the Texas governor's mansion in Austin back in 1995.

Just in time for the holidays, the Obama camp is offering goodies to donors. To get an Obama calendar or mug, it will cost you at least $35. Donate $2,500, and you apparently get the same gift. The donations will go to the Democratic National Committee.

The architects of Barack Obama's victory already are starting to cash in. The campaign manager, David Plouffe, reportedly is writing a book, and has hired famed D.C. attorney Robert Barnett to shop it around to publishers. It's tentatively titled "The Audacity to Win."

And Eliot Spitzer has a new job, after a scandal forced him to quit as the New York governor. He's writing for the online magazine "Slate." Spitzer's first column was posted last night. It argued against costly economic government bailouts for big financial institutions. It was headlined: "Too Big Not to Fail."

Remember, for the latest political news anytime, check out CNNPolitics.com. That's where you can download our political screen saver. Go to the ticker. You will get a lot of good political stories there, as well.

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

CAFFERTY: You really want to read an advice column written by Eliot Spitzer, who threw away the governor's job in New York over some hooker in a Washington hotel? Is that the kind of guy you want to get advice from?

BLITZER: I guess the editors of "Slate" -- "Slate" thinks so.

CAFFERTY: Just a philosophical question.

BLITZER: Yes.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour: Will the loss of any one of the Big Three auto companies lead to a depression?

Chris in Georgia writes: "I worked in the steel mills in Pittsburgh back in the early '80s. A regional depression occurred then, unemployment 23 percent when the bottom fell out the steel industry. That's why it's called the Rust Belt. There was no bailout then. Whole towns were devastated. I survived. I have moved on. The economy, the American people are resilient. It changed the face of Pittsburgh for good. We will survive the loss of some of the auto industry and move on, possibly come out better than we were before."

Nancy in Tennessee: "Detroit has waited too long to try to put out the cars that American people want and need. Nothing makes me think their new business models will work now. If the people running these companies knew how to make a profit, they would have done it before getting down to one month before going bankrupt."

Doug in Dallas writes: "It depends. If they go into bankruptcy and restructure, they come out leaner, with a chance to return to profitability. The country has to be prepared for the ripple effect of lost jobs, but they also have to recognize the auto industry has been bloated for years. The only sure thing is, the government can't keep bailing them out. I can't afford it."

Kay in West Virginia says: "Loss of one will almost certainly lead to loss of the other two, as their suppliers are shared. I'm unsure that anything can stop us from falling into a depression now, given the current state of our economy."

Colin in California writes: "It won't result in a depression for Honda or Toyota."

And Craig writes: "I say let them fend for themselves. Even if we bail them out, they will just move everything offshore in a couple of years, citing 'cost savings.'"

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile. Look for yours there, among hundreds of others. Or you can read an advice column written by the disgraced governor -- former governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer. It depends on how much time you have to waste -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A lot of -- a lot of options out there...

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: ... Jack, certainly.

I want you to take a look at this. Don't leave, Jack, because they're -- they're having an annual event at the White House right now. These are live pictures coming in. They're getting ready, the president and the first lady, to light the Christmas tree over at the White House.

It's a -- it's a beautiful event. And a lot of folks love to see it. So, I just wanted to set the scene with some music.

In fact, you know what's a good idea? Let's -- let's listen in for just 30 seconds or so to some of this music.

(CROSSTALK)

(MUSIC)

BLITZER: It's a beautiful tradition over at the White House. And you will see the lighting of the Christmas tree later here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks to the choir over there.

And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: critical new developments in the probe into the Mumbai terror attacks. Investigators now think the killers, who they say were from Pakistan, also had some potentially inside help.