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THE SITUATION ROOM

Secret Afghan War Strategy?; IBM Sending Jobs to India; White House Praised by Bill Gates

Aired March 26, 2009 - 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, secret details emerging right now about the president's new war strategy in Afghanistan. And we're going to tell you what we're learning about the battle plan.

Plus, Republicans want to make new demands of Michelle Obama. Is it an outright political attack on a Democratic first lady?

And video just released of an NFL player's traffic stop nightmare. You're going to see for yourself what happened when he was delayed by a police officer while his mother-in-law died.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in CNN's command center for breaking news, politics and extraordinary reports from around the world.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

President Obama set to give the order for one of his top military priorities, beefing up U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan. He's been briefing lawmakers about the strategy he'll officially unveil tomorrow. Defense sources revealing the plan includes several thousand troops devoted to training and advising the Afghan armed forces.

Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

Barbara, what can you tell us about the president's new plan?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the announcement is set for tomorrow, but every source I am speaking to in the administration is warning there may not be an awful lot new in it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry, who once walked unarmed on the streets of Afghanistan as the top U.S. military commander, now likely to be confirmed as the new ambassador there, the top diplomat in a war zone where the U.S. is not winning.

LT. GEN. KARL EIKENBERRY, AMB. TO AFGHANISTAN NOMINEE: It is going to require additional commitment of U.S. and, importantly, NATO forces into eastern and southern Afghanistan.

STARR: He signs on as President Obama's war strategy is emerging as a plan of lowered expectations.

ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: It's a difficult problem, and trying to come up with new approaches and new initiatives.

STARR: There is little talk of outright victory. The plan includes well-known proposals, more reconstruction, training tens of thousands of additional Afghan security forces, and more aid to Pakistan. But the centerpiece still is eliminating insurgent safe havens.

Retired Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt points out the biggest problem has been not enough boots on the ground in the south.

(on camera): Why is security problematic here?

BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT, U.S. ARM (RET.): Well, it's problematic because that's where the Taliban have chosen to fight, it's where the Taliban have chosen to try to extend their influence. While there are problems up in the north and in the west -- and, of course, we continue to have the fighting in the east -- the latest effort seems to be try to try to gain a toehold in the south over the past year or so. They see weakness down there.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And Barbara, you're getting some new information about a U.S. intelligence problem unfolding in Afghanistan?

STARR: Absolutely, Wolf. There's another part to this strategy. That is the military intelligence.

Today, the director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, spoke out and said there is a need to, in his words, ramp up the intelligence in Afghanistan, that they need much more fine-grain specific intelligence to go after these insurgents on the ground. And there is also going to be an effort to try to share more intelligence with Pakistan across the border, and a hope that Pakistan doesn't share that intelligence with the insurgents -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And the president will announce all this new strategy tomorrow.

All right. We'll stand by for that.

Barbara, thank you.

A new setback today to the president's efforts to reboot the economy. It may leave him feeling a bit disappointed by the CEO of IBM. The tech giant reportedly is cutting 5,000 jobs in the United States and outsourcing them overseas.

Our Mary Snow has been looking into this story -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we reached out to IBM several times today, but they've yet to respond to our request for comment on reports of layoffs that are not only being met with worry, but with anger.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SNOW (voice-over): Word came out in a "Wall Street Journal" report that IBM is cutting 5,000 jobs and that many of those jobs are going to India. But a group that's been fighting IBM's outsourcing for years is blasting the company, saying this time, IBM workers are being dealt a double blow.

LEE CONRAD, ALLIANCE@IBM: We're outraged that job cuts are happening in the U.S., and the work is being ship offshore. This, at the same time that IBM has their hands out for stimulus money to us, is totally unacceptable.

SNOW: IBM is hoping to benefit from stimulus money. Its CEO, Sam Palmisano, met with President Obama in late January, along with the heads of other technology companies to support the president's economic stimulus plan.

SAMUEL PALMISANO, CEO, IBM: Because in the research we've done working with the transition team, we know that $30 billion could create a million jobs in the next 12 months.

SNOW: Also in January, in a "Wall Street Journal" editorial, IBM's chief made the case to invest in innovation as a way to help boost the economy. He calls for transforming power grids, creating electronic health card records, and spending on broadband. IBM is hoping to gain a slice of the pie from government stimulus money spent on these projects, but the author of a book on outsourcing says strings need to be attached.

RON HIRA, AUTHOR, "OUTSOURCING AMERICA": So this is really a question of policy. IBM is doing what's in its best interest, and in this case it's not in the best interest of America. And that's why you need policymakers to step up and do something to ensure that this money gets spent to create American jobs.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: And author Ron Hira says this isn't just about IBM. He says he wouldn't be surprised to see federal dollars going overseas since several tech companies seeking stimulus money have sizable offshore operations -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Mary. Thanks very much.

Mary Snow reporting.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, I've got a couple of quotes here. I want to read them, and you listen and see if you can guess who said them. OK?

The first one is in connection with last November's election. "And there was that media slam this go-round, and unless things change, the GOP had really better can stand together, because we got that on the battlefield. Also, I call it like I see it and like I lived it on the campaign trail, not complaining, but dealing with reality."

Or how about this one? "Some in the media actually participated in not so much the who, what, where, when, why objective reporting on candidates and positions, those five Ws that I learned when I had a journalism degree so many years ago in college, when the world of journalism was quite different than it is today."

Give up? Vintage Sarah Palin. It's a speech to a GOP dinner last week in Alaska.

The governor talked about why the Republican lost in November and seemed mostly to blame the press. At least, I think that's what she said.

The former Republican vice presidential nominee says she's not whining about it, but rather calling it like she sees it.

Here's another quote. "Sometimes it gets me in a lot of trouble when I speak candidly and I speak from the heart, and I do such a thing, but I'm going to."

This is painful.

Palin mocked the Obama administration's elimination of the words "enemy combatant" while praising President Bush's efforts to fight the war on terror, even though the political and media elite ridiculed and mocked him.

As for the future of her party, which she, no doubt, would like to be a big part of, Palin rejected the idea that the Republican Party become more moderate. Instead, saying the GOP needs to communicate its ideas better.

Now there's an idea.

Here's the question: Is Sarah Palin still relevant to the national dialogue?

Go to cnn.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog.

Whoever said truth is stranger than fiction must have met this woman.

BLITZER: She's coming to Washington to address a big Republican event, as you know, in the next few weeks. We're going to invite her to join us. Hopefully she'll say yes.

CAFFERTY: Well, let's hope so. Maybe you can understand her.

BLITZER: Thank you, Jack.

Jack Cafferty with "The Cafferty File."

A powerful new endorsement today of the president's economic team. It comes from a billionaire businessman who single-handedly made an impact on the U.S. economy. And the first African-American attorney general of the United States is speaking out about civil rights just weeks after suggesting Americans were cowards when it comes to race.

And later, the president explains why many of the participants in his online town meeting today may have been smoking something.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The world's richest man wants you to know what he thinks about President Obama. Bill Gates speaking exclusively to CNN and revealing his thoughts on how the White House is handling the economy.

Let's go straight to our White House Correspondent Dan Lothian.

We don't hear from Bill Gates every day, especially on these sensitive issues. How did it go today?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Wolf.

Well, you know, when billionaires speak, people tend to listen. And he pointed out that the economic crisis is a novel situation and that new tools, new techniques need to be employed in order to fix the economy. And according to Mr. Gates, he believes the Obama team is on the right track.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN (voice-over): It's a strong endorsement of President Obama's economic team from the richest man in the world, Bill Gates.

BILL GATES, MICROSOFT FOUNDER: President Obama has built a great team. It's a very smart team. They know fixing the economy is their top priority. It looks like some of these remedies are getting the loans coming back in.

LOTHIAN: His remarks to CNN's Spanish language network come amid criticism of the president's treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner. Some on Capitol Hill have even called for his resignation.

Gates didn't weigh in on that, but he did suggest that the economic team's efforts will take time to produce results.

GATES: It will be a while, though, before they get the consumer confidence back so that people are spending. And they're trying to make that as short as possible. We can't say when it will happen, but I feel very good about the people who are doing this work and how they're tuning, and they've got exactly the right goal in mind.

LOTHIAN: It seems the president stays in close contact with Gates. He dropped his name during the online town hall meeting. BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I was just talking to Bill Gates yesterday, and he was talking about the use of technology, where you can use videos to look at really successful teachers and how they interact with their students.

LOTHIAN: Another billionaire, the second richest man in the world, has long supported the Obama administration, but earlier this month, Warren Buffett appeared to criticize the way the government has been handling the economic crisis.

WARREN BUFFETT, BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY: We've had muddled messages, and the American public does not know it.

LOTHIAN: But Buffett remains a strong supporter of the president and an informal adviser as the administration works to fix the economy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN: When it comes to the AIG bonus scandal, Mr. Gates believes that contracts should be honored, but he did say that it was a mistake that that whole issue was not dealt with a lot sooner, and that they did not anticipate that these contracts would come -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we see the markets today, Dan, going up, once again, closing at 7,924. Getting closer to 8,000. It wasn't that long ago it was down at 6,500, so at least the markets, temporarily, perhaps, maybe not -- encouraged.

We also want to thank our sister network, CNN en Espanol, for that exclusive interview with Bill Gates.

Thanks very much, Dan Lothian, over at the White House.

Meanwhile, there's an interesting question being raised regarding Republicans. When they stand against the president's proposals, are they saying no just to spite the president, or do they really have better plans?

Let's go to our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash. She's up on Capitol Hill.

All right, Dana. What's going on?

DANA BASH, CNN SR. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what's going on, I think, and the answer to that question is, for the most part, Republicans aren't saying no despite -- to spite the president. It's because on most issues, they philosophically disagree with his prescriptions. But the reality is, at least in the House, Democrats have a 77-seat majority, so they don't have to, and they don't, reach out and compromise with Republicans.

Still, Wolf, Republicans are getting a rap as the party of no and they're trying to shake it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BASH (voice-over): From the president's stimulus plan...

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: This is a joke, and we ought to treat it as such. Vote no.

BASH: ... to the spending bill...

BOEHNER: We should vote no.

BASH: ... Republicans know they're getting a reputation for saying...

BOEHNER: Put me in the "no" column.

BASH: President Obama has been working hard to make the party of no label stick...

OBAMA: "Just say no" is the right advice to give your teenagers about drugs. It is not an acceptable response.

BASH: ... taunting GOP critics of his budget in prime time.

OBAMA: We haven't seen an alternative budget out of them.

BASH: So, today, House Republicans released one...

BOEHNER: Here it is, Mr. President.

BASH: ... a glossy blue pamphlet, but it was light on specifics and had few answers to basic budget questions like, what's the Republican goal on the deficit?

BOEHNER: To do better.

BASH: He promised more details next week. But the rush to respond now is part of a new effort by Republicans to not just oppose Democratic plans, but publicize their own.

(on camera): What's the danger of being labeled and perceived as the party of "no"?

REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), HOUSE MINORITY WHIP: Well, you know, if you're just the party of "no," I don't know how anyone could say that you are ready to lead again.

BASH (voice-over): The number two House Republican, Eric Cantor, leads an economic team in charge of devising GOP alternatives.

REP. JUDY BIGGERT (R), ILLINOIS: The bad actors that really, we have to address.

BASH: He invited CNN in as they completed a GOP housing plan. And at a press conference announcing the proposal...

CANTOR: We're here today to say yes, we do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes to better solutions. Yes to alternatives.

BASH: They were candid about their goal -- go from...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The party of no...

BASH: ... to...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Now, Republicans will tell you that saying no is, actually, for the most part, what their supporters want them to do. But they also say they realize that to come out of the political wilderness, which is where they are right now, they've got to be for some things and not just against them.

But they also say that one of the big challenges is actually breaking through and getting attention for what they're saying and doing because, obviously, this is a Democratic-dominated town and a Democratic -- Democrats are getting most of the attention.

BLITZER: It used to be a Republican-dominated town, now a Democratic-dominated town. That's what happens in these kind of political times.

BASH: It sure does.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Dana, for that.

A countess is demanding, get this, $99 million from her estranged husband. The details of their divorce battle are shocking in their own right, even more shocking in these tough economic times.

And Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger shuts down a tent city. Is he helping the homeless or is he making matters worse?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: By the way, small coins, but not exactly what a Swedish countess wants from the man she is divorcing. In their very messy battle, the countess says she cannot live on anything less than $53,000 a week.

Our National Correspondent Susan Candiotti is joining us now with more.

And this divorce battle is causing a lot of stir out there, Susan.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It sure is.

BLITZER: Tell our viewers what's going on.

CANDIOTTI: A lot of headlines.

Celebrity divorces can be expensive. Remember Heather Mills- McCartney? She reportedly wound up with about $48 million from Beatles' Sir Paul McCartney, worth about $1.5 billion. But in these troubled times, it's especially hard to wrap your arms around other high-end splits, including one battle in Connecticut where a countess is demanding a reported $99 million settlement.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CANDIOTTI (voice-over): But unlike ABBA's "Money," things are far from sunny for multimillionaire George David and soon-to-be ex- wife, Swedish countess Marie Douglas-David. He's 66, she's 36, and their front-page tabloid divorce seems so other worldly these days.

His reported estimated worth? About $329 million. "The Hartford Courant" says the ex-United Technology CEO spends about $200,000 a week, nearly half of that to keep up his yacht, and more than $7,000 a week each on travel and entertainment.

The countess calls her husband controlling.

MARYELLEN FILLO, "HARTFORD COURANT": There was nothing in her name. He owned everything, including her engagement ring.

CANDIOTTI: David paints her as a ranter.

FILLO: A woman who was prone to tirades that would go on for hours.

CANDIOTTI: In court papers, the countess says she needs at least $53,000 a week to make ends meet, only a fourth of what her husband spends. Her list includes $4,500 a week in clothing; $1,000 for hair and skin care; $8,000 for travel.

Travel? Maybe she needs to check on properties, including her $25 million Park Avenue apartment, and homes in the Hamptons and Stockholm.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I can only live on, like, $60,000 a week. I feel her pain.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Suburbia, from where we're from.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that there is some people in the country that are a little out of touch with what's going on with the economy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CANDIOTTI: Now, their divorce proceedings are now in recess. Each side will have until springtime to think things over. The couple goes back before a Connecticut judge in July. The question is, will they reach an out-of-court settlement before then?

Wolf, who knows? BLITZER: I thought they had some sort of postnuptial agreement? Didn't they?

CANDIOTTI: They do. And it reportedly guarantees her about $43 million. He says he's willing to stick to it. She isn't, and says he coerced her into signing that post-nup, which he denies -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Susan Candiotti, keep us informed what the eventual settlement is. Thank you.

He's the first African-American attorney general of the United States, and he's accusing the nation of being cowardly when talking about matters of race.

Stand by. You're going to find out what Eric Holder is now saying about civil rights.

And an American family's terrifying story of being ambushed and nearly killed while traveling in Mexico.

And a U.S. congresswoman off and on the campaign trail with then- candidate Barack Obama, she's been keeping a secret. Now she's ready to speak and tell us what's going on.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now, fears of disaster never seen before. People in North Dakota are praying to the heavens while moving earth, hoping entire areas won't be drowned in floods within hours.

President Obama versus Magnum P.I. Tom Selleck, he's known for speaking his mind. What does he really think about the new U.S. president? He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM to tell us.

And President Obama seems to be everywhere -- on your TV, in your newspapers, even on the Internet. But did you miss him slamming cable news coverage of him?

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

A new opportunity today for the nation's first African-American attorney general to speak about civil rights and race in America. It was just weeks ago that Eric Holder suggested that United States, in many ways, is a nation of cowards when it comes to talking openly about race.

CNN's Don Lemon is here. He's covering this story for us.

All right. What's the latest in this chapter?

DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Opportunity presented itself here, because there's a family member involved in this, Wolf. And, you know, Eric Holder took a lot of heat after he called Americans cowards when it comes to dealing with race. Well, today, however, he chose his words more carefully, Wolf, delivering an even more powerful message with the full weight of the president, government, his family and history helping him do it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON (voice-over): Nineteen sixty-four, Alabama Governor George Wallace refusing Vivian Malone Jones and another black student into the all-white University of Alabama. President John Kennedy called in the National Guard.

JOHN. F. KENNEDY, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I ask the support of all of our citizens.

LEMON: Forty-six years later, America celebrates Mrs. Jones with a portrait unveiling at Morehouse College in Atlanta.

The first African-American attorney general, Eric Holder, is Malone Jones' brother-in-law.

ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I was 12 years old in that really momentous year of 1963, and watching on a black and white television in Queens, New York, that confrontation. And it's pretty amazing to me to think that I'm now married to her sister.

LEMON: The new AG is ready to make sweeping changes at the Department of Justice. For a start, no more nominating of conservative judges.

HOLDER: I think we will come up with judges who are in the judicial mainstream. They will be extremely well-qualified men and women, but also men and women who will share the beliefs of President Obama.

LEMON: It has been a rocky few months for Holder, his confirmation delayed by issues during her tenure as deputy attorney general for President Clinton, and then just a few weeks later, this:

HOLDER: In things racial we have always been -- and we, I believe, continue to be -- in too many ways essentially a nation of cowards.

LEMON: That comment caused a stir.

But, today, Holder follows up by promising to overhaul the Civil Rights Division, in recognition of those who fought for justice, like his sister-in-law, Vivian Malone Jones.

HOLDER: What's happened to the division over the past few years, as I have also said, has to be reversed. And I think we will have, in not too short a period of time, a Civil Rights Division that is consistent with its long and glorious history.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: Well, Holder says he is looking at pretty substantial increases in the amount of money that will go to civil rights enforcement, broadening the division's scope, allowing for more cases to be investigated, more employees to be hired.

And this was an even stronger message than the "coward" speech, Wolf, but delivered this time with a velvet glove.

BLITZER: Yes, he's got a huge agenda ahead of him. We wish him good luck.

LEMON: Yes.

BLITZER: Don, thanks very much.

We have an update on a story you heard here in THE SITUATION ROOM. It involves hundreds of homeless people forced to live in squalor, now forced to move.

Let's go out to San Francisco. CNN's Dan Simon is working the story for us -- Dan.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Hi, Wolf.

Here's a situation where unflattering media attention seems to have prompted politicians to act. But, regardless of the how or the why, Tent City in Sacramento will be closing down, and those residents should have a better place to live.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SIMON (voice-over): From afar, it may appear as a bunch of people on a camping trip. But this collection of tents in Sacramento is a community for the homeless. Tent City, it is called, and it became a global embarrassment for the city when Oprah, CNN and others showed the encampment located a few miles away from the state capitol.

KEVIN JOHNSON (D), MAYOR OF SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA: We have, as a city, swept this under the rug and ignored it. It was a dirty little secret that we did not want to talk about.

SIMON: Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and Governor Schwarzenegger announced that Tent City will shut down, unveiling a plan to move the homeless people to the city's fairgrounds, a much more sanitary environment.

(on camera): Are there no homeless shelters where people can go?

SISTER LIBBY FERNANDEZ, HOMELESS ADVOCATE: They're full. They're all full. We have about 2,000 beds here in Sacramento County, and they're all full.

SIMON: Homeless advocate Sister Libby Fernandez told us, as many as 300 people were living here when we walked around in early March. Most are chronically homeless, but she told us as many as 15 a week were moving in, some of whom homeless for the first time, like Jim Gibson, an unemployed construction worker.

JIM GIBSON, RESIDENT OF TENT CITY: We don't want to be out here. All we ask for is basically to be given a chance at -- given a job or some kind of work situation, and just let us take it from there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's so scary because you look at the economy and see that we're already out here. You know, we can't go a whole lot farther down.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SIMON: The Sacramento City Council this week allocated about a million dollars to help the city's homeless. We should tell you that that fairgrounds is only a temporary shelter, going to be open through July. And then the city will have to figure out where to put the homeless people then, probably to area shelters, which will be getting money from the city to increase their capacity -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: A growing problem out there. All right, thanks very much, Dan.

Tent cities, by the way, have popped up all across the country over the past year. Experts say it's almost impossible to know exactly how many people are living in these makeshift homes, in these shelters, or on the streets.

But one major advocacy group estimates -- get this -- 3.5 million people are likely to be homeless at some point in any given year. More than a million of them are children. Those figures may even be higher right now, given the state of the economy.

She waged a secret battle against cancer, even as she played an active role in the Obama campaign. Now Congressman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is sharing her story and telling us why she kept her illness under wraps.

And, in our "Strategy Session," a new push by Republicans that could force first lady Michelle Obama's hand. Is it about political openness or is it an attack?

And new information and new video about that traffic stop that kept a pro football player from seeing his mother-in-law on her deathbed.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: President Barack Obama frequently relied on her as he campaigned for president, but as she kept a hectic campaign schedule, very few people knew she was battling something very disturbing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And joining us now, Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, representing the state of Florida.

Congresswoman, thanks very much for coming in.

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D), FLORIDA: Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right.

Now, turn around and take a look at some of these pictures we're showing our viewers. There you were, campaigning with the president of the United States. He eventually won. You were out campaigning earlier for that woman. That would be Hillary Clinton.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: You were very, very busy last year, not only representing your district, but also working to get Democrats elected.

But there was a great secret you were not sharing with your constituents and with all of us.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Yes.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the beginning of December of 2007, and, between December 2007 and December 2008, went through seven fairly major surgeries to address the breast cancer, and, since I was subsequently diagnosed as carrying the breast cancer gene, had my ovaries removed as well.

BLITZER: So, you went through an enormous -- I remember seeing you at the Democratic Convention last summer in Denver. And we spent some time together. I had no idea what you were going through at that time. And I assume very few people did.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: I actually had just had my reconstructive surgery at the -- right before the convention. So, it was -- it was a tumultuous time for me. I had a lot of balls in the air last year.

But, you know, honestly, between the primary, you know, and my involvement in Senator Clinton's campaign, Secretary Clinton's campaign, and then the -- the Obama campaign, it -- it really gave me an opportunity to concentrate on everything else but what I was going through personally. It was a tremendous help.

BLITZER: All right, now, let -- how were you first diagnosed? How did you know in December of 2007 that you might have breast cancer?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: I -- I found -- I found a lump myself.

I was doing a routine self-exam in the shower and felt a lump in my right breast, was, you know, panicked, kept feeling it to make sure that I was right, had my husband feel it, and subsequently went to the doctor a few days later and had a biopsy, over which there was some debate on whether I should -- needed that at all, which happens to young women pretty often, and initially was told I was fine after -- right after the biopsy, but, three days later, got the call every woman dreads, and was told that I was not fine and that I had breast cancer.

BLITZER: And so then what did you do?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, we went through the range of treatment options. I was very fortunate. We caught it early, because I found it myself. It was less than -- a tumor that was less than half-a- centimeter.

But because I am a woman of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, and I was 41 when I was diagnosed, which was one of the indicators of possibly being a carrier of the breast cancer gene, I had a blood test. And, a month later, when the results came back, we found that I carried the breast cancer gene.

So, I went from having -- being able to have a more mild form of treatment, just a lumpectomy and radiation, to needing to make a decision to have a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, and, then, ultimately, have my ovaries removed, because when you carry the breast cancer gene, you are much more likely to -- to have a recurrence in breast cancer.

And, so, my doctor's advice was to -- to have pretty significant treatment.

BLITZER: And women of your age who are Jewish, of Ashkenazi descent, like African-American, have a...

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Yes.

BLITZER: ... a greater proportion of getting the -- the worst- case scenario.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Which I didn't even know. I mean, I have been a legislature for 17 years, been -- passed breast cancer legislation in the -- in the Florida legislature, and had no idea that I was in a higher-risk population for carrying that gene.

I knew the gene existed, but I didn't realize that -- that I was possibly more likely to carry it. And when you -- one in 40 Jews carry that -- that breast cancer gene. It doesn't mean you're going get breast cancer. But if you -- it makes it more likely. And if you do have, it makes a recurrence much more likely. It makes ovarian cancer much more likely as well.

BLITZER: And you decided to keep this secret, I take it in part because of -- you have three young kids, right?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Yes. It was a very -- it's a very a personal decision that every woman needs to make on their own on how they're going to handle dealing with -- with the treatment of breast cancer.

My children were 8 and 4 when I was diagnosed. And cancer is a very scary thing. And I just really wanted to be able to get through all of the treatment that I -- and surgeries I was going to have. I was fortunate I was able to avoid radiation and chemotherapy, because I caught my breast cancer so early, which is why self-exam and -- and early detection is important.

I wanted to make sure that I could get all the way through the surgeries and procedures and be able to tell them honestly that mommy was really going to be OK.

BLITZER: And they -- they -- how have they handled all this?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: You know, when I sat them down over the weekend -- I just told them Saturday, and they -- they handled it well. I -- I spoke to them, you know, very casually, didn't make a huge deal out of it. It wasn't like a formal conversation.

I just mentioned -- they knew I had the surgery. I mentioned that, you know, mommy had -- remember when mommy had something removed from her breast that didn't belong there? What that was, was breast cancer. And, you know, my -- my 9-year-old daughter's eyes got as wide as saucers. And she -- the first question she had is, well, you're OK, right?

And then asked me, "Am I going to get cancer?" which so many young children do. And I knew, while I was going through it, that if I had to deal with those questions -- I travel back and forth so much -- the angst that they would have carried, I just wanted to make sure I could relieve it. And once I was all the way through it, I knew that I could.

And I did the same -- my other two children reacted similarly. My son and my -- my youngest daughter just wanted to make sure I was OK once they knew I was OK.

BLITZER: And your husband was a real rock?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: My husband was unbelievable. My husband, you know, took care of the kids. I had my surgeries up in Washington. And he -- he stayed home with the kids.

And we wanted to make sure that, you know, their life would remain normal while I was going through all of this. And my mom and my best friends, you know, came up and took care of me while I was going through the surgery.

And I scheduled the surgery around the congressional recesses and, you know, on days -- days when we didn't have votes, and, you know, would go to the floor. I would have surgery in the morning and stay in my apartment all day, go to the floor, cast a vote, and go back home.

BLITZER: It was an amazing year. And thank God you're OK.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Had a lot of balls in the air.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: And you're doing just fine.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Thank you.

BLITZER: And now you're going to be active in bringing this message out to women and men just to...

(CROSSTALK)

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: ... filing legislation.

BLITZER: ... to make sure they try to detect it early.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Yes, we're filing legislation that I filed today called the EARLY Act, the Education and Awareness Requires Learning Young -- 185 members co-sponsored it. Sorry. It's -- it was really -- the -- the reaction that has been so wonderful.

We're trying to make sure that we create an education and awareness campaign for young women, because young women are diagnosed usually much later, when they have breast cancer, and it's a more aggressive form of breast cancer. And populations, at-risk populations, like Ashkenazi Jews and young black women, don't know that they are more at risk to be carriers of that gene.

And doctors often dismiss women when they come in and have a problem. So, we need to educate doctors and young women about the importance of early detection.

BLITZER: And Ashkenazi Jews are Jews from European descent...

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Eastern European descent.

BLITZER: ... as opposed to North African or Middle East.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Yes.

BLITZER: Well, we're really happy you're here.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Thank you. Me, too.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Thanks for telling -- thanks for telling us your story. And we hope you will be visiting us often here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: I hope so, too, if I'm invited. Thank you.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: A Republican congressman's surprising night on the town in Washington, D.C., at a Britney Spears concert.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CANTOR: My daughter would have probably enjoyed it a lot more. And she was really mad I didn't take her.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Eric Cantor tells CNN's Dana Bash what he was doing during the president's prime-time news conference.

Also, in our "Strategy Session," what some Republicans want Michelle Obama, the first lady, to do, and why.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get right to our "Strategy Session."

Joining us, our CNN political contributor Donna Brazile, the Democratic strategist. And Frank Donatelli, he's chairman of GOPAC. He used to work over at the RNC as well.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

FRANK DONATELLI, CHAIRMAN, GOPAC: Thank you.

BLITZER: What do you make of this effort by Congressman Darrell Issa of California, a Republican, for more transparency on the policy issues related to the first lady of the United States? Because some are saying, you know, whoa, why is he doing this now, simply because there's a Democratic first lady?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's been 16 years since we have seen a first lady in the case of Michelle Obama take on such a public and visible role.

But I think his amendment would have overturned a 1993 ruling that, essentially, during the Clinton years, where they said that the first lady did have the right to -- to privacy.

I -- I think that Mr. Issa was trying to get at transparency. But, as some of the Democratic members reminded him, that Michelle Obama is a very visible, a very prominent first lady. And there's nothing that she is doing that is not transparent.

BLITZER: What do you think, Frank?

DONATELLI: Well, I think that we have been a little disappointed thus far with the administration's commitment to transparency. The president talked a lot about it during the campaign, but when it came time to write the stimulus bill, for example, Republicans didn't even get to see it until they had to vote on it.

That being said, I hope we can agree that, generally speaking, family members of the president should be off-limits.

BLITZER: Because the argument, as you know, there is a new set of rules, Congressman Darrell Issa says, that should be used involving Michelle Obama, as opposed to, for example -- for example, Mrs. Bush.

DONATELLI: Right.

Well, what I was going to say is, the one exception to non- involvement of presidential family would be if they play an active policy role. And, of course, we remember, all those years ago, when Mrs. Clinton, when she was the first lady, not only was running the health care policy of the United States, but was doing it in secret.

So, we do have to be concerned about that. But I think, you know, the issue -- the larger issue is transparency.

BLITZER: All right. And there's nothing wrong with transparency, right?

BRAZILE: Well, this is a first lady that we see in her garden clothes and we also see in wonderful dresses. So, I think she's very transparent and effective.

BLITZER: All right. Speaking -- speaking of transparent, let's make the shift to Britney Spears.

Wow. A "Strategy Session," we're talking about Britney Spears. You remember, she -- she's -- she's a singer. A lot of us like Britney Spears. She was performing the other night here in Washington, D.C., over at the Verizon Center.

And you know what? The number-two Republican in the House of Representatives, Eric Cantor of Virginia, he made a decision that night.

First, before we get to his little exchange he had with Dana Bash explaining his decision, let's play a little sound just to remind our viewers about Britney Spears.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(MUSIC)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, that's talent right there, talent on display.

All right, here is -- the decision that he made, Eric Cantor, was to go to the Verizon Center, see the Britney Spears concert, as opposed to watching the president's prime-time news conference.

Here is the explanation he offered Dana.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CANTOR: It was quite a show. You know, I hand it to the performer. I mean, she was -- she was something.

I mean, look, you know, the fact that that makes news in this town, I think, does sort of speak to the -- speak to, you know, the -- the 24/7 news cycle.

I mean come on, you know? We -- we applaud the talent that is here in this country. And a lot of people, you know, sort of enjoy that.

BASH: But, real quick, why did you go to the Britney Spears concert?

CANTOR: I had a political event there. And it was -- it was simply because it was there to try and help the -- help the team. And this is this is why I was there. So...

BASH: But you enjoyed it?

CANTOR: Well, look, I think my daughter would have probably enjoyed it a lot more. And she was really mad I didn't take her.

(LAUGHTER)

CANTOR: But she had school that day and the next. And I wasn't going to bring her up here to miss it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. You think that's going to cause him any grief? The political event, there was -- there was some truckers association, they had a box over there. He was invited. So, he went, raising some money for his PAC.

CANTOR: Wolf, any congressman that fund-raises through a Britney Spears concert really wants to get back into the majority, I think.

He -- he said that he then taped the -- the press conference, and then watched it, and then was doing another rival network show the next morning, so he had a chance to do both.

I go to -- get invited to these things all the time, whether it's a concert, or a basketball game, or a hockey game. Politicians are fund-raising all the time.

BLITZER: You know, it's -- you can always TiVo the presidential news conference on television. You can't TiVo Britney.

(LAUGHTER)

BRAZILE: Uh-huh.

And, look, she's a Louisianan, and so I'm not going to comment on her. But, you know, Frank mentioned that we haven't -- the Republicans didn't get a chance to read the stimulus.

That's one reason why. They're too busy focusing on the trivial and not the substance. And maybe we should put away Britney and other celebrities and focus on the substance. And maybe that -- we can solve our bipartisan problem.

CANTOR: We -- I'm with you on that, Donna. But we have to -- we focus on substance a lot. It's good to have a diversion once in a while.

BLITZER: A good friend of mine, his 18-year-old daughter was at the concert with some of her friends. They thoroughly enjoyed it.

BRAZILE: Well, you know, if he has more rhythm now, I'm sure that President Obama will like that.

BLITZER: I think his status went up with a lot of people.

(CROSSTALK)

CANTOR: He's one of our youngest and hippest Republicans.

BLITZER: Obviously. And he has got -- he has got musical tastes.

All right, guys, thanks very much.

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: Thank you.

BLITZER: President Obama suspects some of the participants in his online town meeting today were smoking something. Stand by for that.

Plus, just-released video of an NFL player trying to persuade a police officer to let him see his dying mother-in-law.

And floods of the century -- on the front lines in the battle to keep one city from simply being swallowed up by water.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Ask me who's going it be to be on "LARRY KING" tonight.

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty.

CAFFERTY: I am.

BLITZER: You know, because of the new book.

CAFFERTY: Well, yes, and to solve some of these national burning issues, as well.

BLITZER: Good. Enjoy.

CAFFERTY: The -- the...

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: I will.

The question this hour, is Sarah Palin still relevant to the national dialogue? Bill in Michigan writes: "I never considered her to have much depth, interest, or actual grasp of the important issues at hand, but she does know how to rally up the conservative segment of the Republican Party. And as long as she can rabble-rouse and fund-raise, she will have relevance, which is really kind of sad when you think about it."

Susan in Wisconsin writes:, "To backwater people and certain members of the media she is still relevant, because she is not a threat to their intellect."

Dan in Ohio says: "Why should Governor Palin complain? When a mirror is put up by the media and reveals a shallow, self-absorbed, hypocrite, whose fault is that? She is symptomatic of the problems with the GOP. Deviate from either talking points or platitudes, and they're lost. As Tina Fey remarked in the epic parody on 'Saturday Night Live,' you tell me what a maverick wants, and that's what I want."

H. in Seattle, "Given that she is the subject of at least one of your queries every time she opens her mouth, it must mean she is still relevant to the national dialogue."

Chris in Philadelphia: "Let's rephrase the question: Do you want Caribou Barbie leading the free world? No. She had her moment. It passed. She should get the hint."

Pat writes from Butte, Montana: "Oh, please, Jack, why would you of all people bring up Sarah Palin? It is long past due for the media and everyone else to just stop reporting on her. She tried, and it didn't work. We all know it. She doesn't. And the only way to get the message across is to not shine the spotlight on her."

Francheska weighs in with: "Are 'Valley Girls' still totally relevant? Totally not."

And Diana in Santa Cruz, California, "Flailin' Palin is as relevant as Octomom."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to your -- go to my blog -- you don't have a blog -- I do. Go to my blog, CNN.com/caffertyfile. Look for yours there, among hundreds of others -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We will look for you on "LARRY KING LIVE" tonight, Jack. Thank you.

(CROSSTALK)

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

Happening now: a desperate around-the-clock effort to save a city of 92,000 people from a record-breaking flood -- the residents of Fargo, North Dakota, fighting back against the river threatening to inundate them within hours. We're following the breaking news. Also, a Mexican vacation turns into a horror story. A California family recalls the nightmare they endured at the hands of gunmen and the moment they were certain they were going to die.