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President Obama Reveals Housing Rescue Plan; New Pick For Health and Human Services?

Aired February 18, 2009 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight's big story: Another multibillion-dollar plan from President Obama, this one to stop the housing crisis, it's causing outrage and controversy among some. We will have the latest details.

But we begin tonight with breaking news on health care, news that tens of millions of Americans are waiting for. They are without health insurance or simply watching their medical bills skyrocket. President Obama promised a person to do something about it, Tom Daschle. Of course, he got tangled up in tax and limousine trouble.

Tonight, we're learning who is now the leading candidate to replace him, as the White House is still struggling to fill some vital jobs.

Late details from Ed Henry at the White House -- Ed.


CNN has learned that Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius has now emerged as the leading contender to replace Tom Daschle as the pick for health secretary, that coming from two top officials here at the White House.

I should say that White House spokesman Bill Burton is cautioning, however, that president has not yet made a final decision and that there are other candidates in the mix.

But what is significant about this is that Governor Sebelius is someone who carries a lot of credibility in both parties. She was previously the insurance commissioner in Kansas, and as well, as governor, has tried to tackle the issue of health reform. This could be a signal that the president's health reform plan could be back on track.

Of course, it was sidelined a bit when Tom Daschle had to step aside. And what is interesting is, the president has repeatedly said that dealing with the skyrocketing cost of he health care in America is a top economic issue. He wants to deal with it soon.

But, first, today, he dealt with what many economists believe is the root of this whole crisis, housing.


HENRY (voice-over): Nine million homeowners, that's how many people President Obama says he will help with his plan to stem the tide of foreclosures.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This plan will not save every home. But it will give millions of families resigned to financial ruin a chance to rebuild. It will prevent the worst consequences of this crisis from wreaking even greater havoc on the economy. And, by bringing down the foreclosure rate, it will help to shore up housing prices for everybody.

HENRY: He spoke in Mesa, Arizona, a state where 117,000 homes were foreclosed last year and many more people, like Esther Lee, are worried about the prospect of foreclosure. The value of her home has dipped below the cost of her mortgage.

ESTHER LEE, ARIZONA HOMEOWNER: Even if I wanted to sell my house at this point, I'm upside down so much, that -- that it wouldn't be possible. There are a lot of repercussions to going in foreclosure. And I don't want to end up with bad credit and have to work my way back up.

HENRY: Here's how the president's plan could help people like Esther starting March 4. First, if the equity in your home has evaporated, the plan helps homeowners refinance to a lower interest rate. Second, the plan gives lender incentives to reduce mortgage payments. Third, it reallocates $200 billion to boost Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. That's meant to get more credit flowing to people whom the president said played by the rules.


B. OBAMA: It will not help speculators who took risky bets on a rising market and bought homes not to live in but to sell. And it will not reward folks who bought homes they knew from the beginning they would never be able to afford.

HENRY: But can taxpayers afford the prescription? In two days, between the stimulus and housing plans, Mr. Obama has committed $862 billion of your money -- $862 billion. That amounts to giving every single American a one-time payment of $208,000, raising concerns even in hard-hit Mesa.

LIZ MONTGOMERY, ARIZONA RESIDENT: I have my doubts. It's a whole lot of money being thrown at a really big mess. And taxpayers end up paying for it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm really concerned about the long-term impact of being this much far in debt. It's a really scary thing, if you look at the big picture.

HENRY: Top White House officials acknowledge they're concerned about exploding debt. But they worry more about the cost of doing nothing.


COOPER: Ed, first, let's talk about the Sebelius possible nomination. Do we know how many other people are still in contention, I mean, if she is the leading candidate? And what is the timeline on -- on getting this done?

HENRY: We know of several other names from Democratic officials. Former Senator Bill Bradley, the former presidential candidate, he has emerged as a potential contender.

Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, he is somebody who has been very passionate about health care reform. A lot of his views are in line with the president on that, as well as Governor Bredesen of Tennessee, another Democrat who has tried to tackle health reform.

Those are the other potential candidates. The timeline is not likely to be this week, more likely to be as soon as next week, various Democrats saying, with the president going to Canada tomorrow for his first foreign trip, he's -- he's not going to move on a personnel matter.

But he clearly wants to get moving on both this and the commerce secretary. First of all, he has got to get the Cabinet finished. But, second of all, he realizes, with 46 million uninsured Americans right now, health care is something he talked a lot about on the campaign trail. And he wants to get his team in place -- Anderson.

COOPER: Let's talk about the housing help. Do we know how many other big, huge outlays of money the president is planning, I mean, for other things?

HENRY: Well, certainly, we know that, at some point, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has talked about dealing as well with the banking crisis, with the credit crunch, and getting that going.

He was criticized, you will remember, about a week ago for not offering a lot of details. One reason that a lot of people on Wall Street believed that he pulled back on those details is that the administration is concerned about putting the price tag out there for dealing with the banking crisis.

We have heard estimates from a $1 trillion to $1.5 trillion to just get all those bad assets off the books of so many banks. So, the price tag, it just keeps going and going up. I mean, right now, the annual budget deficit is around $1.2 trillion. That was before the stimulus plan passed of almost $800 billion.

So, you start adding this up and looking at the possibility of Governor Sebelius being picked as secretary, and pushing a massive reform of health care, that is going to cost tens of billions, maybe hundreds of billion dollars, as well. This price tag is going up and up, but this White House keeps saying, look, we have got to tackle these problems, got to spend the money -- Anderson.

COOPER: Spending the money, and borrowed money, it is. Ed, thanks.

One side note: President Obama's the hotel last night that he stayed in, it is facing foreclosure. And it's in a state, Arizona, where, just this weekend, Senator John McCain slammed the president for not tackling the housing problem sooner. Over on the House side, Republican leaders said the same. So, out comes the plan today. And, tonight, they are raising objections. So are some homeowners.

We want to bring you all sides on 360.

Candy Crowley has the "Raw Politics."


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We found Jim Mulvey, a New Jersey homeowner, at one of the three jobs he works to support his family and pay his mortgage on time. And he's unhappy with the president's plan.

JIM MULVEY, RESIDENT OF GILLETTE, NEW JERSEY: And it is very frustrating to see, when you know that you're doing things the right way, that other people that be certainly capable of doing things the right way themselves are not doing it.

CROWLEY: And check out the A.C. 360 Web site, where an explanation of who gets help drew white-hot comments from those who won't.

"So, once again, those living far beyond their means are going to be rewarded with my tax dollars."

"This plan stinks. I work hard, take care of my family and pay my bills, including my mortgage, and I get nothing from this bailout, except a lower home value for all my trouble."

"I am so sick of paying for bad choices of others."

In a letter to the president, Republican Leaders John Boehner and Eric Cantor said they look forward to working with him, then ask six questions designed as much to make a point as get answers, including: What does the plan do for the 90 percent of mortgage holders not in default? And will federal aid go to banks who gave out mortgages they shouldn't have?

The president clearly understands the political and practical dynamic here. His rollout of the mortgage rescue plan included a section on who he will not save.

B. OBAMA: It will not help dishonest lenders who acted irresponsibility, distorting the facts...


B. OBAMA: ... and dismissing the fine print at the expense of buyers who didn't know better. And it will not reward folks who bought homes they knew from the beginning they would never be able to afford.

CROWLEY: Since the details of eligibility will not be released for two weeks, it remains unclear how the program will weed out the irresponsible and dishonest, those who played the system and lost. But the president hopes people will see this package as assistance for individuals that will help everyone.

B. OBAMA: It will prevent the worst consequences of this crisis from wreaking even greater havoc on the economy.

CROWLEY: There are times when Jim Mulvey does worry about what is ahead, whether the havoc will pull him under. But, even if, he believes he can pull himself out.

MULVEY: You know, I'm not alone working a couple of jobs. A lot of people are doing so. I would much prefer -- if I'm able, I would much prefer that than to -- to getting a handout.

CROWLEY: The Census Bureau says 75 million Americans own homes. This plan will help up to nine million.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Washington.


COOPER: Well, one more thing: Jim -- Jim Mulvey, who we just met in Candy's piece, does hope the plan will help people who really need it, but he feared it's also going to go to those who could have saved themselves.

Let us know what you think about the plan and the price tag. You can join the live chat happening now. I just logged on at Also, check out Erica Hill's live Webcast during the commercial break.

Just ahead tonight: two controversies over race, the nation's first African-American attorney general calling America "a nation of cowards" when it comes to the subject of race. Does that sound right to you? We will discuss that ahead.

And we will show you a cartoon in a major American newspaper that seems to compares President Obama to a chimpanzee. Is it racism, or is the outraged political correctness striking again? We will show it to you, so can you decide for yourself.

And the original octomom. Ten years after she had eight years, how is she coping? And her advice for Nadya Suleman -- ahead tonight on 360.



B. OBAMA: We will make it possible for an estimated four million to five million currently ineligible homeowners who received their mortgages through Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac to refinance their mortgages at a lower rate.


(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: President Obama today.

A lot of moving parts to this plan -- here is a quick rundown.

As the president mentioned, five million people with Fannie or Freddie mortgages would be eligible for refinancing at lower rates. Another four million, the most at-risk homeowners, would benefit from the $75 billion set aside to address the foreclosure problem. Some of that money goes as a reward for banks to lowering interest rates.

Additionally, homeowners get $1,000 a year for paying their mortgages on time. Plus, money goes to loan providers willing to delay foreclosure. And, finally, the president promises to work with Congress to try to modify laws to permit judges to lower mortgages.

We're talking about your money, your future.

Joining us now is real estate guru Barbara Corcoran, and David Walker, a former comptroller general of the United States.

David, you were not a fan of the $800 billion stimulus plan. This housing plan, is it money well spent?

DAVID WALKER, FORMER UNITED STATES COMPTROLLER GENERAL: Well, we need to do something for housing. And, clearly this is geared towards people who have the ability to make the payments, may not have had the ability to refinance under prior rules, now will have that opportunity. And, so, hopefully it will make a difference.

COOPER: Barbara, critics say, though, it is -- we heard from one in Candy's piece saying it's basically rewarding people who -- who bought houses that shouldn't.

BARBARA CORCORAN, FOUNDER, THE CORCORAN GROUP: Yes. And it does reward people who bought houses and had hard times. It doesn't mean they shouldn't have.

Remember, back when people were buying houses, the typical person out there was being told, if they didn't buy now, they would just pay more for it tomorrow. The typical person at there was having money thrown at them. So, it's easy to look back and say, what were they thinking? But, at that time, we had a whole different attitude toward houses. We thought it was the golden rail. And people bought.

So, I say, who cares whose fault it is? Let's just move on and see if we can cure the problem.

COOPER: Well, David, is -- is the plan fair? I mean, is it -- are responsible homeowners being penalized by -- by playing for the rules -- by the rules?

WALKER: We still don't have all the details.

But, on the portion that allows for you to be able to refinance at a lower rate, that is not penalizing anybody. It's giving people an opportunity to be able to stay in their home. Now, there is a provision here that talks about people being able to go to bankruptcy court, if the law is amended, and the judges being able to have the authority to write down the mortgage.

Those are people that are significantly underwater that could be helped. And that's something that may or may not happen.

COOPER: Well, Barbara, it also allows four million homeowners in dire straits to modify their loans. Do we know who is eligible for this at this point?

CORCORAN: Well, this is exactly what I think is the problem with the -- the bill.

I read through it. And I, frankly, thought I should go to Harvard or something, and get a degree to really understand it. And that's the number-one problem with the bill. It's so darn complicated, I don't know who the heck is really going to understand. Who do you call when you want a refinancing?

But, to your question -- what was your question?


COOPER: Basically -- yes.



COOPER: Well, basically, I mean, do we know -- do we know who is eligible and who is not at this point?


Thank you.

We don't know who is eligible, because it was totally left in the air. We're supposed to know on March 4. We are going to know who is eligible. And, more than that, we're going to know, hopefully, on March 4, how you get your hands on the money.

But, trust me, it's not going to be easy. Anybody who has gotten an FHA financing in the last five years realizes it's a package four feet deep, so complicated. So, it's not going to be easy. And that is my largest concern. It has got to be made simple.

COOPER: David, one person on our blog whose -- whose -- whose comment was -- was posted by Candy Crowley, you know, said, well, look, just, again, people who are failing on their mortgages are being rewarded for -- for getting in over their heads.

President Obama argues that the plan is going to help people who are current on their mortgages and are paying and doing all the right things, because, if they're living next to a house that's been foreclosed on, then their property values go -- go down. So, by helping the person who has been foreclosed on, this is going to help everyone else's property values.

WALKER: Well, the portion...

COOPER: Do you buy that?

WALKER: Well, the portion that deals with the -- allowing people the ability to refinance at a lower rate that still has some equity if their -- in their homes, are no more than 5 percent underwater, that's -- that's going to help, I think, in the aggregate.

And those are people that didn't take out, you know, irresponsibly large mortgages, and presumably have the ability to stay in their home and the willingness to stay in their home. It's the other provisions that people may be concerned about.

CORCORAN: Anderson?

COOPER: Should -- yes, go ahead.

CORCORAN: Yes, I just want to say something.

You know, get any homebuyer out there going down any street anywhere in America, you see a foreclosure sign on a house, let me tell you, your offer that you had in your mind only two minutes before goes down by 10 percent. President Obama's entirely right. Nothing is worse for a neighborhood, even for the good guy paying on time, than to have foreclosures in their neighborhood. It's terrible for real estate values.

COOPER: Should bankruptcy judges, David, be able to modify existing mortgages?

WALKER: Well, I think that's going to be very controversial.

The question is, if they're given that authority, on what basis are they going to modify? Are they going to modify to the current fair market value, the net realizable value on foreclosure? What are they going to do?

I -- I could debate either side of it, quite frankly. And I think it's going to be a hotly debated issue, because I think Congress is going to have to authorize it.

COOPER: All right. We're going to have to leave there.

David Walker, Barbara Corcoran, good to have you on. Appreciate your expertise.

CORCORAN: Pleasure.

COOPER: Thank you.

Coming up next: the nation's top law enforcer, the headline? He calls America a nation of cowards. We will tell you why -- the full story in his own words and a full debate. And, later, gripping 911 tapes as a chimp goes on attack -- new questions tonight about keeping wild animals as pets and whether any chimp anywhere should ever be in someone's home.

And, later, what was behind a massive brawl on a basketball court, all of it caught on tape? We will show what you happened and why -- when 360 continues.



MICHELLE OBAMA, WIFE OF SENATOR BARACK OBAMA: So many milestones in black history have touched this very house.

Just to name a few, did you know that African-American slaves helped to build this house? You knew that? Did you know that, right upstairs, in a bedroom called the Lincoln Bedroom, President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation that marked an important step forward in ending slavery? Did you know that happened right here?


COOPER: First lady Michelle Obama talking to nearly 200 sixth- and seventh-graders who visited the White House today to celebrate Black History Month. We're going to have more of the first lady's comments later on in the program. We want you to be able to hear them in her own words.

The Justice Department also hosted a Black History Month celebration today. And Eric Holder, the first African-American attorney general, used the occasion to give his first major speech, which included some very frank talk about race relations, too frank for some.

Here is Eric Holder in his own words.


ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial, we have always been, and we, I believe, continue to be, in two many ways, a nation of cowards.

We work with one another, we lunch together. And when the event is at the workplace, during work hours, such as this, or shortly thereafter, we socialize with one another fairly well, irrespective of race.

And yet, even this interaction operates within certain limitations.

On Saturdays and Sundays, America, in the year 2009, does not, in some ways, differ significantly from the country that existed almost 50 years ago.

This is truly sad.

Our history has demonstrated that the vast majority of Americans are uncomfortable, and would like to not have to deal with, racial matters. And that is why those of us, black or white, elected or self-appointed, who promise relief and easy, quick solutions, no matter how divisive, people like that are too often embraced.


COOPER: In our "Uncovering America" series, it's tough talk. Let's talk about it.

Well, let's see how it played with our panel, senior political analyst David Gergen, also Ron Christie, a former adviser in the Bush White House, and political analyst Roland Martin.

Roland, you heard the comments. What did you think?

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think Eric Holder was spot-on.

And the reality is, we try to avoid these conversations as best as possible. Anderson, I thought about a couple of years ago, when I spoke to some students in Wilmington, Delaware. They talked about living in a multicultural world, and how they all got along in school, and everything was great.

Then I asked them the question, who do you go to lunch with? And they all froze. All of a sudden, they began to realize that, wait a minute, I'm only eating with white students, Hispanic students, and black students. Same thing -- a student at Texas A&M was critical of white students for not embracing her.

But I said, wait a minute, do you ever sit with them? And she thought about it, and she said, well, I don't. I said, well, how can you ask white students to do something you will not do?

And, so, Eric Holder was absolutely on the money with his comments.

COOPER: Ron, what about you?

RON CHRISTIE, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, with all due respect to Roland, I think he's 100 percent wrong.


CHRISTIE: The attorney general of the United States is the chief law enforcement officer of this country.

And race, as you know, is a very divisive issue. And the chief law enforcement officer of this country is supposed to dispense race -- excuse me -- dispense justice in a non-racial way.

I think we have come a long way in this country. I think there's obviously a lot more we can do to try to bring the two sides together, when you look at black and white America. But, again, for the chief law enforcement officer to, on Black History -- a celebration for Black History Month, to bring these issues up, I think it was wrong and it was very insulting to the American people.

COOPER: I want to bring in David.

MARTIN: So, he can't talk about it?

COOPER: I want to bring in David Gergen, though.

And, David, the language, "a nation of cowards," was -- was that appropriate?


Anderson, I have never walked in the shoes of a black man, so I may be wrong in this, but I do disagree with my friend Roland.

It seems to me that, if you put aside the question of whether this gave needless offense to many by calling us a nation of cowards, if you put aside the question of whether he should do this as attorney general speak out this way, I just think it's inaccurate to say that we -- we're not talking about race.

We have had a campaign now for the last two years that -- in which Eric Holder's boss, Barack Obama, opened the way to the best conversation we have had on race in my lifetime. Is it -- is it complete, or have we gotten as far along as we -- as we should? Of course not. Is it too much sort of de facto segregation in lunch counters or on weekends?

He -- Eric Holder is right about that. But I -- but, if you look at, overall, where we come, we have just had a huge, huge debate. And now we have elected a black American. And to -- it seems to me, after that, to call us a nation of cowards is just tone-deaf.

MARTIN: But...

COOPER: Roland?

MARTIN: But, in listening to what he said, and in reading his comments, he was very specific when he talked about self-segregation.

When you look at how we are today when it comes to schools, when you look at our neighborhoods, when you look at even our churches, the reality is, we are in forced environments, Anderson. We talk about racial diversity, the classroom, the workplace.

But, when we begin to make the voluntary decisions, all of a sudden, we migrate back to our -- those kind of patterns. And, so, that's what he was talking about. What he was challenging...


COOPER: But is that cowardice?


CHRISTIE: Roland, Roland, Roland, you have had the opportunity, Roland. I want to get a word in here, Roland.


COOPER: Hey, wait a minute. Wait a minute.


COOPER: Guys, guys, guys, I just -- just -- I just want to make a point. Please do not talk over each other. Please don't yell at each other. It is so annoying for viewers. And I just -- I know a lot of shows do it. I really just -- it drives me nuts.

So, Roland, do you think the language...

MARTIN: Let me finish the point.

COOPER: Finish your point. Was the language appropriate?


MARTIN: No, I think it was certainly provocative. It got folks' attention. But what is asking Americans to say is, personally, go outside of your comfort zone and begin to embrace folks beyond your particular race.

COOPER: Ron, what's wrong with that?

CHRISTIE: Well, I think it's very important to embrace people outside of your race. But, if you look at the line right before where he called us a nation of cowards, Anderson, he said, in order to have an accurate discussion about race in this country, we need to recognize that race is at the soul of this country.

And I think, if you look to where we have been as a country, for all the difficulty that we have had and the struggles we have had with race, we have come a long way.

I'm just so tired of everyone saying that so many things are bad in this country. This is a great country. We have made great strides, great progress. There is still much to do. But, for goodness' sakes, we have an African-American president and attorney general. Let's say something positive about race relations in this country, instead of always saying something negative.

MARTIN: He did in the speech. He did.

CHRISTIE: No, he didn't. His comments, calling us a nation of cowards, I thought was a very disgraceful comment from the attorney general. This is not a nation of cowards.

MARTIN: Ron, are you only stuck on the word coward?

CHRISTIE: This is not a nation of cowards. COOPER: We're going to have -- we're going to continue this.

CHRISTIE: This is a great nation.

Roland, don't cut me off.

This is not a nation of cowards. This is a country of great patriots. And to say that this is a nation of cowards, I think, denigrates much of the work that many women and many men have done, black and white, many different races and colors, to make sure that we look and we're a race-blind society. Let's stop these comments.

COOPER: I want to continue this discussion. I want to continue this discussion, because it's a good one and a valuable one, when we come back from this -- from this next break.

We're also going to talk about this cartoon that ran in "The New York Post" today. Take a look at this. It has set off a firestorm. It shows a policeman shooting a chimpanzee. And the police officer says, "Now they will have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill."

Is it racist? We will talk about that with David Gergen, Ron Christie, and Roland Martin ahead.

Also ahead, a history lesson from the first lady. How cool is that? Nearly 200 young guests at the White House today to celebrate Black History Month. We will have more of Michelle Obama's comments in her own words.

And new details in the California octuplet story. Nadya Suleman, now with 14 kids, is she about to lose her house? New information on that ahead -- plus, up close with the only other set of octuplets born in the U.S. They are now 10 years old. You will meet them tonight.


COOPER: "Uncovering America" tonight.

Let's bring back that cartoon we showed you just before the break. It ran in "The New York Post" today. And it shows two police officers who have just shot a chimpanzee. And one of the police officers is saying, "They will have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill."

The paper says the cartoon is a parody of Washington politics that plays off the chimpanzee attack in Connecticut. Others see it as a clear racist portrayal of President Obama.

We have been talking about race and the comments made earlier today by Attorney General Eric Holder.

Let's bring back David Gergen, Ron Christie, and Roland Martin.

David, what did you make of that cartoon? Does it make sense to you, what, "The New York Post," their explanation of it is? GERGEN: No.

Are we having a full moon tonight? There seems to be -- there seems to be such an odd series of things to talk about, you know, things that I find so odd.

That cartoon is dripping with racism. You know, and to say anything else is to put a gloss on it. But I think it's just not credible.

I mean, we all know what the symbol of chimpanzees and baboons and that sort of thing have been used in the past, and unfairly, to smear people in the past. That is the history of racism in this country. And, you know, to resort to it now, it just seems to me -- I don't know what they're thinking about. And I don't know what the editors were.

COOPER: Ron, is there any other explanation to it for you?

CHRISTIE: I think there is. And here's where I think I might disagree with my two colleagues on this subject.

As a proud black man, I don't look at a chimpanzee as an African- American. I don't look at it as a reflection of who I am and who African-Americans are in this country.

And frankly, if it's supposed to be a portrayal of President Obama, the president didn't write the stimulus bill. The bill was written by Speaker Pelosi in the House and by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

For goodness sakes, we just had a chimpanzee who went nuts yesterday. The speaker of the House and the majority leader wrote the bill. The president didn't write the bill. The president probably hasn't had time to read the bill from the time sent to him in the White House until he signed it. So I don't think this is an indictment of President Obama. Let's just not try to find everything to be a racially insensitive matter.

Let's realize also, Anderson, for goodness sakes, President Bush and Dick Cheney were caricatured. They had so many evil comments to say about them. And last but not least, when you had Senator Clinton, who is speaking on Martin Luther King's birthday, and she said, "The House is run like a plantation -- you know what I'm talking about," and Al Sharpton was behind her. You didn't hear this hue and cry from all the Democrats.

But now, all of a sudden, this is a racist attack against the president. It's ridiculous.

MARTIN: Ron, can you not see the reality and the history in this now? Are you talking about -- in terms of what was there. There was no chimpanzee with a sign underneath it that said "Congress" or said "Pelosi" or said "House Democrats."

And so to sit here and to say that you can't equate the two, we understand that there's a history and a legacy. And we talk about caricatures of Bush and Reagan. We also understood the criticism of people who were -- we encountered (ph) sexism with Hillary Clinton in the race. There's a history there. There's a legacy there. That's the whole point.

CHRISTIE: Roland -- Roland...

MARTIN: I run three newspapers. If a cartoonist came to me with that cartoon, I would say, "What is this? What is it that you're trying to say? Do you understand what this means?"

CHRISTIE: Roland, to have a conversation and what did it mean when Senator Clinton stood in an African-American church and said that the House of Representatives being run like a plantation, and you know what I'm talking about...

MARTIN: And I'm one of the folks who criticized her.

CHRISTIE: Excuse me. I didn't cut you off. For goodness sakes, Barack Obama did not write this bill. The speaker of the House wrote this bill.

MARTIN: First of all, President Obama.

CHRISTIE: The majority leader wrote this bill. And it's just people who are looking to inject racism in an issue where I think it's not there. I'm sorry.

COOPER: David...

CHRISTIE: I also read the comments of the cartoonist who said that was not his intent. Let's give people the benefit of the doubt, as opposed to always finding racial problems in every situation.

GERGEN: But Ron -- but Ron, I hope -- do you agree that a lot of people would look at that and say chimpanzee, baboon, Obama, they're trying to link all those together? Don't you think -- do you not think it's open to that interpretation?

CHRISTIE: David, I think if you look at what happened with the chimpanzee who went berserk in Connecticut yesterday, that's how I looked at it. That's how I interpreted it. It was a very timely news event.

And Roland, you can laugh at me again. This is a great thing.

MARTIN: Because you're delusional, Ron. That's what it is.

CHRISTIE: Excuse me. I would not make any personal attack against you. So please don't do the same for me.

I think we need to get together as a country and not look at racism behind every corner. For goodness sakes, the cartoonist said that that was not their intent. Let's not always assume that there's always something evil lurking behind every corner.

COOPER: Roland, I want to give you the final thought.

MARTIN: I don't -- I don't find racism, Ron, in everything. But I'll tell what you what. When I see it and I know it, I'm going to call it out. And the cartoonist can explain it away all he wants to. Well, look, people see it for what exactly it is. And that was a racist cartoon, pure and simple.

CHRISTIE: Everybody has got an opinion. But again, everybody's got an opinion. Let's not just jump to judgment.


COOPER: Ron Christie, Roland Martin, appreciate your differing perspective, and David Gergen, as well. It's a good discussion. Thank you for being with us tonight.

Coming up, well, we'll take a look at the story that Ron said was referenced in cartoon, the chimpanzee that attacked its owner's friend. We'll have the latest on that, the 911 tapes. And a wildlife expert weighs in on whether or not anyone should have wild animals like this in one's home.

Also tonight, some tips for new octuplets mom Nadya Suleman from the woman who first had eight children in the United States. See how she runs her house.

And Michelle Obama opening up her home and her heart to school kids and talks about the importance of Black History Month. We'll have more from the first lady when 360 continues.


COOPER: The owner of the chimpanzee who attacked a woman speaks out. So does a wildlife expert who says that chimps should never be kept as pets. We'll hear from both of them in moment.

But first, Erica Hill joins us with the "360 News and Business Bulletin" -- Erica.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Anderson, Roland Burris continuing to deny any wrongdoing, even as pressure mounts for him to step down. The embattled Illinois senator saying today he has nothing to hide.

Senator Burris, however, did say he tried to raise money for former governor, Rod Blagojevich, who appointed him. Democratic Congressman Phil Harris from Illinois is now calling for his resignation, along with the "Washington Post," "The Chicago Tribune," and the Senate Ethics Committee is also now investigating.

Today the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan predicted the extra 17,000 U.S. troops headed to the war zone will be there for up to five years. General David McKiernan also warned, even with that troop buildup, it is going to be a tough year in Afghanistan.

A stunning admission from the largest bank in Switzerland. As part of a deal with the Justice Department, UBS today announcing it helped hide U.S. taxpayer dollars from the IRS, keeping the funds in secret accounts. Well, now the bank has agreed to pay nearly $800 million in fines and restitution.

And in Montgomery, Alabama, a huge fight during a high school basketball game. Look at this. Yes, this happened yesterday. Officials believe that a bottle (ph) triggered the brawl. Both the benches, as you can see there, were emptied. Fists broke (ph), players pummeled. This fight was on the court. Then as the court was cleared, it was in the stands. In the end, police detained 10 to 12 people, Anderson.

Great show of sportsmanship there, huh?

COOPER: Unbelievable. Unbelievable. Unbelievable.

All right. Up next, the latest on the chimpanzee attack that left a woman fighting for her life. The owner of the chimp talks about the tragedy, calling the animal her son and says he made a great pet. We'll see what an animal expert thinks about that coming up.

And later, the parents of the first octuplets born in America have some advice for this woman, Nadya Suleman, an up close look.

And Michelle Obama opening up to her -- opening her home and her heart to school kids. We'll have more from the first lady when 360 continues.


COOPER: Tonight, the owner of a pet chimpanzee who brutally mauled a woman is speaking out. You're going to hear her defend the animal in a moment.

But first, the chilling 911 call after Monday's attack. Let's listen.


SANDRA HEROLD, CHIMPS' OWNER: He's trying to attack me. Please, please hurry!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, I need you to calm down a little bit. They're on the way.

HEROLD: They got to shoot him, please! Please, hurry! Hurry!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the monkey moves away from your friend, let me know, OK, so we can try to help your friend.

HEROLD: No, I can't. She's dead. She's dead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why are you saying that she's dead?

HEROLD: She's dead. He ripped her apart. I can't hold on much longer. I can't hold on. I can't. Please have them shoot him. (END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Two days after that vicious rampage, the victim remains in critical condition in a Connecticut hospital with severe wounds to her face. The 15-year-old chimp, who was called Travis, was shot to death by a police officer after it charged at him.

Now on "The Today Show" this morning, Travis's owner, the woman you heard, Sandra Harold, describes her desperate attempts to try to end the attack.


HEROLD: And I saw what was going on, and I hollered at him. And he was just grabbing her. And then I went and got the shovel. And I was trying to, you know, hit him with the shovel to stop it. And it wasn't working. So I went and I got a knife.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you stabbed him.

HEROLD: I had to. He looked at me like, "Mom, what did you do?"


COOPER: Herold treated Travis like her son, saying the 200-pound ape meant everything to her and insists that they make wonderful pets. Other people, experts, say they don't. Let's talk to a wildlife authority.

Joining me now, Animal Planet's Dave Salmoni, host of the -- a number of programs on the network. He's also an expert on large animal predators.

Dave, thanks so much for being with us.

DAVE SALMONI, ANIMAL PLANET: Thanks for having me.

COOPER: You've worked with a lot of dangerous animals. Is this just a freak accident, as the owner of the chimp is suggesting, or should chimpanzees just never be pets?

SALMONI: I think it's both. I think, yes, you know, I'm very sympathetic to this woman. And I understand how heartbreaking the situation is for her. But the fact of the matter is they aren't pets. They're wild animals. They should never be pets. Unless you're a trained professional, you shouldn't be raising one of these things.

COOPER: And a lot of people don't realize just how strong these animals are. I mean, they're little, they're cute. But at 15 years old, their strength, I mean, it's like five times. Their arm strength, I've read, is like five times the arm strength of a human being.

SALMONI: You're absolutely right. I mean, I was told that when I went and did my first chimp show, "Rogue Nature: Chimps." And I'm a big guy. I fight lions and tigers and bears. I've been in bad situations with much bigger predators. And I was wrestling a 60-pound chimpanzee, and when the chimpanzee escalated, even at 60 pounds, it flipped off a tree, kicked me in the groin and grabbed both of my arms. And if it wanted to, could have torn me apart.

And that's at six months, and I'm 220 pounds. So you can imagine what a 200-pound chimp could do to a woman, like Travis and the victim.

COOPER: The owner says she put Xanax in his tea because he was agitated. What do you think could have set him off?

SALMONI: You know, it's a great indication of the mindset of Travis during that day. It's real common for chimpanzees to be having good days and bad days just like people. We look at Travis and say, "You know, what a horrible event. How you could do this, Travis? You were loved to death." This is a chimpanzee being a chimpanzee.

COOPER: At a certain age, they start to fight for dominance in their family, right?

SALMONI: Absolutely. And I mean, for us to use anthropomorphic terms and say, "Well, I loved it, and he loved me." That quite possibly could be true. But it is very natural for a chimpanzee within a troop to at some point have his body say, "Time to be the boss. And if Dad is the boss, then I'll go kill Dad. And if my brother is the boss, I will kill him." It doesn't mean they love them any less. It's just that's natural and that's behavior and that's the wild.

Unfortunately, we're raising this chimpanzee under human morals and ethics and judging him in that way. And it just doesn't work. I mean this -- you know, when you have a wild animal as a pet, this is the only outcome. You know, it's not a matter of if this will happen. It's when.

COOPER: Should -- this woman talked about how she treated this animal, really, like a son. I just want to play that.


HEROLD: It couldn't have been more my son than if I gave birth to him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You save his drawings like you would save a child's drawings?

HEROLD: That's right. And I put them on the refrigerator for him. And then when he wanted them, he'd come and get them.


COOPER: Clearly, it seems, you know, she has anthropomorphized this animal. She treats it like a child. Should there be laws against having chimps as pets? I know there have been some -- there are laws with the federal laws, which -- which have yet to be passed. SALMONI: Yes. And I say this very often in attacks like this. Loving an animal is not enough. To raise a wild animal, just because you love it and treat it well doesn't mean you know what you're doing.

I think there should be laws that have a certain set of criteria that says you know enough. You have the right enclosures. You have the right veterinary, you know, backup to raise this animal safely so that chimp has the best quality of life that it can. And that you and none of your neighbors can be hurt by it.

And I'm shocked that there aren't laws already in place to do that. And I think this is another great reminder to say, guys, we really need to rethink these laws.

COOPER: Yes, there's a federal law about banning primates as pets. State by state, I guess, it differs. And there's a lot of loopholes.

David Salmoni, I appreciate you joining us with your expertise. Thanks, David.

SALMONI: Thanks for having me.

COOPER: Coming up next, the first octuplets born in America, their advice for the new octuplet mom, Nadya Suleman, who according to reports tonight, is facing big money troubles, may lose her home. We'll have the latest.

And Michelle Obama in her own words. More from her speech today. The White House celebrating Black History Month when we continue.


COOPER: Nadya Suleman, the mother of octuplets, continues to make news tonight. The latest: she may soon be out of her home. According to reports, the house Suleman and her growing family live in is facing foreclosure, the grandmother of the eight babies owing more than $23,000 in mortgage payments.

Suleman, who now has 14 kids, is seeking donations and help. For advice, she should probably ask the surviving seven members of the first octuplets born in the U.S. They recently turned 10. Their parents and the kids themselves want to share their unique experiences with Suleman.

Randi Kaye takes us up close.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): These eight tiny babies don't know it, but more than 1,500 miles away a family prays for them.


Love is good. KAYE: The Chukwu family of Texas prays every day that the octuplets in California grow up healthy and strong. They feel a connection, because these children were the first octuplets born in the U.S., back in 1998.

(on camera) What did you think when you first heard about the octuplets that were born in California?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was like -- I told my kids immediately, I started praying for them.

KAYE (voice-over): The smallest Texas octuplet weighed less than 11 ounces and died a week after she was born. But the remaining seven just celebrated their tenth birthdays.

Nkem Chukwu and her husband Ikye did not do IVF for the octuplets; they used fertility drugs. But six years ago, when Incan she was 31, she suddenly got pregnant again naturally and gave birth to another daughter.

As well-behaved as their kids are -- they even do their own dishes -- Ikye doesn't think he and his wife could handle 14 children at once, like the California mom who had six already.

N. CHUKWU: I just started praying that night. She won't know who to attend to first.

KAYE (on camera): You guys want more brothers and sisters?




KAYE (voice-over): When these octuplets were born, their mom says people donated diapers and baby food. Even their six-bedroom house was a gift.

In California, it seems Nadya Suleman is getting donations and death threats. People are angry she had more children when she already lives on Food Stamps and collects $1,800 a month in government disability for three kids.

N. CHUKWU: It's not for me to judge. I know they need help. They need support.

KAYE: Ikye works two jobs so Nkem can stay home with the kids and do the grocery shopping.

(on camera) What does it take to feed so many kids? Well, this should be a clue. In their kitchen, they actually have two refrigerators and one giant freezer. The kids go through two gallons of milk and three boxes of cereal every day. And that's just for breakfast.

(voice-over) No doubt the California mom will need a bigger car. This is how the Texas octuplets travel.

(on camera) When you all go out, do a lot of people -- what do people say?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are we brothers or sisters? Are you twins? Triplets?

KAYE: Does everybody stare, because they can't believe how many there are?


KAYE: Yes?

(voice-over) One of the biggest challenges of raising so many children: remembering all their names.

(on camera) Ikem, Jioke, Favor (ph) -- don't tell me. Don't tell me. Chidi, Ebuka, Chima.


KAYE: Woo, all right!

(voice-over) These kids hope to meet these kids this summer. Until then...

(on camera) What is your advice to the octuplets in California?


KAYE: Don't fight.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would -- like that they should share.

KAYE (voice-over): Good advice from children who say eight is enough.

Randi Kaye, CNN, League City, Texas.


COOPER: Don't fight. Easier said than done.

Still ahead, Michelle Obama bringing her own style to the White House, opening the doors today to nearly 200 school kids to celebrate Black History Month. We'll have the first lady in her own words, coming up.

And at the top of the hour, saving homeowners by spending billions. President Obama's new housing plan. The details on why some Republicans and some homeowners are questioning it when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: As we said earlier, first lady Michelle Obama today welcomed nearly 200 kids from local schools to the White House to celebrate Black History Month. There was music, a short history lesson, and a chance to shake the first lady's hand or, in a lot of cases, hug her.

Once again, Michelle Obama tonight in her own words.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: Well, hello. Welcome to the White House. How are you guys doing?




OBAMA: That's good. It's good to see you all. I heard you all have been just quiet as mice. Have you been behaving in here. Is it exciting?




OBAMA: It's exciting. Isn't this a beautiful house?




OBAMA: Well, we are so, so very proud and happy to have you here. In the 1960s, did you know that Dr. Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders met here with President Kennedy and Johnson to debate and discuss the end of segregation? Did you know that?




OBAMA: Pretty cool, huh? Yes. Well, you're yawning. Wake up! I'm just kidding.

And, of course, who lives here now? President Obama. And he's making history every single day. Why? Why?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's African-American.

OBAMA: He is. That's correct. Would you like to stand? You want to say that one more time?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's the first African-American president of the United States of America.

OBAMA: Very good. Very good.

All of these folks who are in your world right now are writing a chapter in history of their own. But the truth is, is that the next chapter in history will be written by all of you. Did you realize that? The next chapter in history is written by you. So you have to ask yourselves what will you do in life to help someone else in need?


COOPER: Coming up at the top of the hour, we'll have more on tonight's breaking news. The president closing in on a choice to fix health care. Also, his plan for the mortgage meltdown. We're talking about your money, your future.

And Attorney General Holder, his own comments today on race and whether America, as he said, a nation of cowards. We'll play his remarks so you can judge for yourself, when 360 continues.