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Dispute Over Briefings on Alleged Torture; Pakistan Pressured to Face Global Threat; Interview With Congressman Eric Cantor

Aired April 23, 2009 - 15:59   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, Pakistan wakes up to a terror threat within its own borders that could endanger the rest of the world. Troops now rushing to an area where Taliban fighters appear to be firming their grip.

Also, why President Obama is worried about your credit card bill. He's confronting lenders about soaring costs and shady practices that are putting the squeeze on cardholders.

And very candid glimpses of the president's first 100 days in office. "TIME" magazine went behind the scenes, and now it's sharing some extraordinary photos with us.

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.

Up first this hour, a feeding frenzy of blame and anger surrounding allegations of torture. The Obama administration is under growing pressure from some Democrats to prosecute certain Bush-era officials who gave the legal justification for those harsh interrogation tactics. President Obama is leaving that decision up to his attorney general, Eric Holder.

Holder right now on the hot seat on Capitol Hill. And just a short time ago, he promised to keep partisan politics out of all of this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I will not permit the criminalization of policy differences. However, it is my responsibility as the attorney general to enforce the law. It is my duty to enforce the law.

If I see evidence of wrongdoing, I will pursue it to the full extent of the law, and I will do that in an appropriate way. As I think I have shown throughout my career, I'm prepared to make tough decisions that are in fact fair decisions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Whatever Eric Holder decides, members of Congress already are pointing fingers at one another. At issue, what did the House speaker and other top lawmakers know about the Bush administration's interrogation of terror suspects, and when did they know it?

Let's go to our Senior Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash. She's up on Capitol Hill.

These are really sensitive questions, Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN SR. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They are really sensitive questions. And basically what's going on, Wolf, is that Democrats have been calling more and more for investigations, and even potential criminal prosecutions of anybody who was responsible for these interrogations.

Republicans are saying, wait a minute, key members of Congress, leaders of the intelligence committees, they say that they were briefed on these methods. Well, one of the people who were on those committees is actually now the House speaker, and so this issue dominated her press conference.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (AUDIO GAP) denies being briefed by the CIA that it was using harsh interrogation techniques.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: We were not -- I repeat, not -- told that waterboarding or any of these other enhanced interrogation methods were used.

BASH: Pelosi was the lead Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee in 2002, when Bush officials authorized controversial interrogation methods like waterborder against terror suspect Abu Zubaydah and others. A newly declassified timeline of events released by the Senate Intelligence Committee says after those interrogation techniques were used on Abu Zubaydah, "CIA records indicate that the CIA briefed the chairman and vice chairman of the committee on the interrogation."

PELOSI: They did not tell us that. They may have briefed us on something, but they did not brief us to that effect. They can say whatever they want.

BASH: Now, Pelosi does admit being told controversial interrogation techniques could be used in the future. She would not say whether she raised objections then, and insisted to reporters that's not the point.

PELOSI: They come in to inform you of what they are doing. But my point was, are they doing this? No, they're not doing it. And then to leave there to see what recourse we had, which was none.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Now, the lead Republican on the House Intelligence Committee now, Pete Hoekstra, told us in an interview -- he said that if Pelosi had any questions, he believes she should have raised them. He said that she is the ranking Democrat, could have said, "I want to see the legal documentation, I want to know before you apply this technique and why."

Well, again, Wolf, Nancy Pelosi said today that she thought before they used these techniques that the CIA would come back to Congress. She insists at least as far as she knows, they didn't -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Dana.

We're going to have a lot more on this story coming up.

But another huge story we're following right now, Pakistan, the nuclear-armed nation. Pakistani paramilitary troops now are within shooting distance of Taliban militants, and they're waging a power grab dangerously close to the Pakistani capital. But the deployment hasn't squelched global fears about whether Pakistan can rein in the Islamist extremists.

Adding to those fears, reports that Taliban filghters are on the move in other areas. They're flexing their muscle against this nuclear-armed nation, a key U.S. ally in the war on terror.

Here in this country, the secretary of state and the Pentagon chief, they are both trying to keep the heat on the Pakistani government, urging it to take the Taliban threat much more seriously. They say the security of America -- indeed, the entire world -- is on the line right now.

Let's go to our Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr. She's following this story.

We heard a lot more from both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the defense secretary, Robert Gates, today, Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf.

You know, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton got every one's attention when she talked about the Taliban being within hours of Islamabad. Now Congress is weighing in with its concerns.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): Taliban forces continue to hold their grip just 60 miles from the capital, even as Pakistan sent forces to fight them off. Congress is making its frustration clear. The U.S. has spent billions of dollars to support Pakistan, which still appears unwilling to confront the militant's increasing power.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says Pakistan is recognizing it needs to deal with the problem, but the inability to cope may be a result of years of U.S. neglect after the Soviets left the region 20 years ago. But the secretary, who says Pakistan is abdicating to the Taliban, is frustrated.

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: ... because we're wondering why they don't just get out there and deal with these people.

STARR: Defense Secretary Robert Gates made his own push for a Pakistani crackdown.

ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: My hope is that there will be an increasing recognition on the part of the Pakistani government that the Taliban and Pakistan are in fact an existential threat to the Democratic government of that country. I think that some of the leaders certainly understand that, but it is important that they not only recognize it, but take the appropriate actions to deal with it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: Now, Wolf, when Secretary Clinton testified on Capitol Hill earlier today, several members of the House committee expressed their serious concern and frustration with the inability or the unwillingness of the Pakistani government to crack down on the militants. They are growing more concerned, Wolf, every day -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara, thank you.

Barbara's all over the story.

President Obama, by the way, has some brand new plans to showcase an important milestone -- his 100th day in office. He'll be holding a primetime news conference over at the White House next Wednesday evening.

CNN, of course, will carry it live, and it will be part of our groundbreaking special report, an interactive national report card on the Obama presidency. I'll be here, along with Anderson Cooper, John King, Soledad O'Brien, and the best political team on television.

And you can take part in live voting online at CNN.com. That all starts next Wednesday, only here on CNN.

Let's go back to Jack Cafferty though right now for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Good afternoon, Wolf.

Dick Cheney's at it again. This time, the former vice president is criticizing President Barack Obama on the economy.

Cheney, in an interview with the "F-word" network, said the president's expansion of the federal government into the financial sector is likely to have "devastating long-term effects." Cheney says he's very concerned about where the Obama administration is taking the country economically. Cheney adds that there doesn't seem to be any kind of limit on spending.

This is coming from a member of an administration that more than doubled the national debt in eight short years, and then as a parting shot, gave $700 billion to their buddies on Wall Street with virtually no questions asked.

Cheney said beyond growing deficits, he questions if the White House is redefining the relationship between government and the private sector. These comments are just the latest in a string of criticism aimed at the sitting president.

Cheney has previously questioned Obama's national security policy, saying the president's increasing the risk of another terror attack. He's also been very vocal in the debate over those Bush-era interrogation memos. Obama aides say the former vice president's out of line in his role as an elder statesman, but Cheney disputes that, saying he hasn't been personal in his attacks and he thinks that the issues are too important not to speak out.

Note to the former vice president: You and your friends had eight years to run this country. A lot of people think you botched it up pretty good. Now it's somebody else's turn.

Here's the question. Does anybody care what Dick Cheney thinks anymore?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and you can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

President Obama is pressuring credit card companies to help consumers who are swamped right now by rising interest rates, high fees and big debt. But could he actually be putting a crimp in your ability to get credit?

Also ahead, she pleaded with the president to help her find a job and a home. So did the commander in chief come through? We have new information on how the woman is doing.

And later, it's the showcase of the U.S. Capitol, but should the U.S. be spending millions more to fix up the National Mall? Where should that money be coming from? Congress had one idea. The Obama administration now saying something else.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Right now, President Obama's in the last part of an early but important test. What grades he earns will depend largely on you. In just six days, the president will mark his 100th day in office. He'll hold a prime time news conference, but leading up to that, CNN is looking at where the president earns high marks and where he's gone off the mark. Democrats are already issuing grades for Republicans.

CNN's Brian Todd is joining us now live. He's got more on this part of the story -- Brian

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Democrats are once again blasting the Republicans as the "party of no," but as we close in on President Obama's first 100 days in office, we found the Democrats have also added some new branding.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC: Precisely zero Republicans voted for the stimulus plan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In time, will Republicans have something other than saying no to Obama's agenda?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're the party of Dr. No.

TODD (voice-over): That's the new Web video from the Democratic National Committee. Its "100 Days of No" message is a slight alteration from its current "Party of No Ideas" attacks on the GOP.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Obama's economic recovery plan...

TODD: You'll find a similar theme in a new TV commercial coming out this weekend by a top union and an advocacy group that are aligned with the Democrats.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There have always been those who said no to progress. But in times of crisis, Americans have never taken no for an answer.

TODD: Republicans are fighting back, saying they aren't just the "Party of No," and they say the economic prescription favored by the president and congressional Democrats will only make matters worse.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), MINORITY LEADER: If you look at the first 100 days, you can sum it up pretty simply -- spending, taxing, borrowing and ducking the hard choices. The Democrat policies, you know, like raising taxes on everyone in the middle of a recession is going to hurt our economy and hurt jobs in America.

TODD: So what do Americans think? Nearly six in 10 questioned in a recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll said that President Obama has a clear plan to solve the country's economic problems. That's more than double the 24 percent who thought Republicans had the right prescription.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Our poll also suggests that Americans think the president is doing a better job reaching out to Republicans than Republicans are doing in reaching out to the White House and to Democrats in Congress -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much.

The president and the vice president met today with congressional leaders of both parties. One person in that meeting was the Republican congressman Eric Cantor. He's the House minority whip, the number two Republican in the House of Representatives.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

REP. ERIC CANTOR (R), MINORITY WHIP: Wolf, good to be with you.

BLITZER: How did that meeting go?

CANTOR: Well, you know, look, I think it was a positive step to say that, look, we're at the end of the first 100 days of this administration. The bipartisan, bicameral leadership went to the White House, and we had a very frank discussion. We really did, Wolf. And we talked about sort of what to expect in the next five weeks in here Washington, and perhaps some of the progress that we can make together.

BLITZER: Is there going to be any cooperation on some of these fundamental economic-related issues? Because, as you know, not one member of the House on the Republican side voted with the president on the economic stimulus package.

CANTOR: Well, in fact, we had that very discussion, and the president and I talked about what happened and what broke down on the stimulus. And he knows as well as many that we do have a plan for getting jobs created again in this country. We did present a plan that we felt would create twice as many jobs at half the cost, but I think we agreed that perhaps because things broke down there, that maybe we should look for new ways of doing things.

BLITZER: Are there any new ways, do you think? Is there any opening where we can see Republicans in the House and Senate work together with the Democrats and the White House?

CANTOR: Well, you know, I really do see that, Wolf. There are two things.

BLITZER: Where? Give me an example.

CANTOR: Well, for example, the president started the week with a meeting of his cabinet, and he suggested to the cabinet secretaries that they find $100 million in savings so that we could perhaps see Washington begin to behave like most families and businesses are doing in tough times, which is to tighten the belt. So I asked the president to work with us.

We have plenty of ideas of how to cut waste in Washington and accomplish some meaningful spending, meaningful spending curtailment. And that's really what we've got to do. We've got to save some taxpayer dollars.

Beyond that, we had a lot of discussion at this meeting on health care. Obviously, this is the marquee on what the president has set out as his primary domestic agenda item. And, you know, it is such a big issue. It is not a Republican issue or a Democratic issue. This is an issue that affects all people.

BLITZER: Well, is there a middle ground on health care reform where you, Eric Cantor, you believe you could find that middle ground with the White House? CANTOR: Well, I do, Wolf, because I think that if we all step back a minute and think about the single working mom who is in a suburb in one of the American cities across this country, and if we think about what she has to worry about when she puts her kids to bed, and what she's thinking about at night, I bet we'd all come to the realization she's worried about losing her job because it's happening all around her. She's also worried if she loses her job she's going to lose her health care.

And we've got to address that issue. We've got to look at the issue of health care through the eyes of the working families in this country, and provide some solutions that will ensure that people in this country will be able to maintain their health care that they do have, and also maintain the ability to choose for themselves, to make sure that their kids can see their pediatricians that they want to see.

These are the kinds of things I think that all of us can agree on. And if we approach it from that level, I do think that we can produce some results.

BLITZER: In this most recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, by an almost 2-1 margin, 62 percent to 36 percent, they believe that the president is doing more than the GOP to try to reach some sort of cooperation with the other party.

Why does the American public think that the White House and the Democrats are more assertive in wanting to cooperate with you than the Republicans are?

CANTOR: Well, Wolf, I may lay some of the blame back on that -- on your colleagues in mainstream media. It's just not as appetizing, I guess, to cover the plans that we have and the attempts that we've made and we'll continue to make to reach out not only to the president and the White House, but to Speaker Pelosi, who, frankly, has been unwilling to bring a consensus-building group together to try and see a way to bring the agenda back from the extreme to the mainstream. But we're going to continue trying.

BLITZER: Give the president a grade for these first 100 days on domestic, economic issues, stabilizing the economy, trying to get people back to work, making sure the banks, the loans are secure. What grade would you give him so far?

CANTOR: Well, listen, I think the grade is directly related to the results. And they results, frankly, are not that great.

You see us at a monthly clip hemorrhaging 650,000 jobs. If you do the math, that works out to about 15 jobs a minute. That's 15 people losing their job every minute in this country. That means 15 families who now no longer know how they may make their mortgage payment or put food on the table.

BLITZER: But you remember last year, when President Bush was in office, what, almost five million jobs, going back to January of last year until now, have been lost. So the jobs haven't just been lost since President Obama took office.

CANTOR: Well, no question about it. But I do think the American people want to look forward.

And we've got to be able to work together. I mean, I think there are a few things that we've got to do. And priority one is turning the economy around.

So we've got to get the banking situation straight because capital markets are not functioning. Families and small businesses are unable to access credit. We've got to stave off the unemployment and make sure that we begin growing jobs again, and we've got to get the housing crisis turned around because, Wolf, we all know that the collapse in housing prices is at the core off what has gone wrong in our capital markets.

BLITZER: All right, Congressman. I hear maybe a C or a D. What grade am I hearing?

CANTOR: You know, Wolf, again, I think it's for the American people to grade all of us. And I think that they're looking at how we have worked to change the way Washington functions.

This president was elected on change and to bring about a new way of doing business. I don't think that that has translated to work on the ground here on Capitol Hill. We're going to continue to try and reach out to Speaker Pelosi in every way we possibly can so that we can forge solutions for the American people.

BLITZER: I'm putting down you for an incomplete for the president.

Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.

CANTOR: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Is it the airport equivalent of the so-called Bridge to Nowhere? An airport with little passenger traffic, not much plane traffic, but it's getting a lot of your taxpayer money, mostly thanks to one U.S. congressman, the congressman that some taxpayer watchdog groups call the king of pork.

What's going on?

And new developments recording the father of that "Slumdog Millionaire" child star. Police decide if he'll face charges for allegedly trying to sell his daughter.

(NEWSBREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now, harsh interrogation techniques. There's new information on how U.S. officials tried to use a military training program to interrogate detainees.

Paintings by Adolf Hitler go under the hammer and shatter expectations. We're going to tell you what they sold for.

And behind the scenes with President Obama. Remarkable photos capture his first days in the White House and on the job.

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

Right now, President Obama is nearing his 100th day in office. But, more importantly to many credit card holders, it's almost the end of the month. That can mean another painful round of bills to pay, bills that can be packed with surprise fees or rate hikes.

Today, the president confronted the heads of credit card companies about those high costs and abuses.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian. He's got the story that affects literally tens of millions of Americans every month -- Dan.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

You know, about 80 percent of U.S. households use this plastic. Not all, of course, are responsible. But, here at the White House today, the president told top executives from the likes of Visa and American Express that much more needs to be done to protect consumers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... more effective.

LOTHIAN (voice-over): President Obama wasn't cutting up credit cards, but he was going after companies that are maxing out their profits on the backs of consumers.

B. OBAMA: We want to preserve the credit card market. But we also want to do -- do so in a way that eliminates some of the abuses and some of the problems that a lot of people are familiar with.

LOTHIAN: Like starting off with a low rate, and watching it double, or unexpected fees.

To help consumers, the president wants all credit card forms to use plain language, no more fine print, give card-holders the information they need to comparison-shop, and he wants more accountability, oversight, and enforcement.

Mr. Obama's push for reforms comes a day after a congressional committee voted to clamp down on credit card rates and fees, something the industry strongly opposes, the American Bankers Association saying it "will have a negative effect on lenders' ability to offer reasonably priced credit to consumers and may make matters worse for the broader economy." And some of the executives sitting around the president's table have pushed back, too, saying that any further action from the White House and Congress is unnecessary.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: They believe what the Fed is doing is probably enough.

LOTHIAN: The president admits, there has to be a balance.

B. OBAMA: Those who are issuing credit are able to make a reasonable profit, but they are doing so in a way that is responsible, and consumers and not finding themselves in a bad situation that they didn't anticipate.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN: And, of course, going again on that balance that the president was talking about, he says that credit card -- credit card companies need to be able to make a reasonable profit. So, he's not saying that he want to take away the profit-making tool from these credit card companies, but he says they can make a reasonable profit, and consumers, of course, don't get taken -- taken for every dime -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dan Lothian is at the White House.

Thank you.

America's addiction to plastic shows no sign of letting up. Look at this. U.S. census officials report there were 159 million credit card holders in 2000. That number grew to 173 million in 2006. And it's projected to reach 181 million in 2010. On average, Americans have about five credit cards. And the average American family carries a credit card debt of about $8,000 to $10,000.

Speaking of your money, lots of it is being spent on what at least one expert calls deadbeat airports. One in particular is named after a lawmaker that taxpayer watchdogs call -- and I'm quoting now -- "the king of pork."

CNN's Jim Acosta has more -- Jim.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, John Murtha Airport may not see many passengers, but it's seen plenty of arrivals of tax dollars from Washington.

(voice-over): The airport in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, offers just three commercial flights. In between the arrivals and departures, there aren't many faces around.

SCOTT VOELKER, MANAGER, JOHN MURTHA JOHNSTOWN-CAMBRIA COUNTY AIRPORT: When you have the flights come in, that's when the people are here.

ACOSTA (on camera): Right.

VOELKER: Other than that, it's -- it's empty.

ACOSTA (voice-over): But this face is everywhere. Congressman John Murtha, the airport's namesake, is hard to miss. Considered one of the kings of pork on Capitol Hill, the Pennsylvania Democrat has piloted almost $200 million from Washington to Murtha airport.

STEVE ELLIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF PROGRAMS, TAXPAYERS FOR COMMON SENSE: He's dumped in nearly $200 million into this project that has virtually no passengers. I mean, it's practically a museum piece.

ACOSTA: And, earlier this year, the airport found a new revenue stream, receiving $800,000 from the stimulus to repave this backup runway.

(on camera): This makes sense to you?

VOELKER: It make a lot of sense.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Even though the airport manager says that runway is perfectly safe.

(on camera): If it's not a safety issue, why does it have to be done?

(LAUGHTER)

ACOSTA: I don't know. I mean, you -- you tell me.

VOELKER: It's recommended, after a certain period of time, that asphalt and concrete and those kind of things be replaced.

ACOSTA: Murtha Airport is not the only remote airport getting stimulus money. Even U.S. territories are tapping in, like Guam and American Samoa. Taxpayer watchdogs wonder if it's some of that is air pork.

ELLIS: The problem is, is that you're not getting the -- the multiple bang for your stimulus buck that you're really looking for. When you state, you know, deadbeat airports that are getting some of this cash so they can do their second runway, it really feeds cynicism around the country about the -- the stimulus and about the projects.

ACOSTA: A Federal Aviation Administration spokesperson issued a statement, saying Murtha and all the small airports met the requirements for the use of stimulus money.

But Murtha Airport's manager, Scott Voelker, has seen taxpayer money wasted before. Take this $8 million air traffic radar system installed at Murtha in 2004. It's not even staffed.

VOELKER: So, it's been sitting over there. And that radar has been spinning for all these years.

ACOSTA (on camera): Those lights have been flashing over there...

VOELKER: Exactly.

ACOSTA: ... for five years...

VOELKER: For -- for no...

ACOSTA: ... or so, with nobody running it?

VOELKER: Exactly, no purpose. It's just sitting there.

ACOSTA (on camera): Airport upgrades account for $1 billion in the stimulus. As for Murtha, he issued a statement saying, Murtha Airport is vital infrastructure, designed to attract additional business to the Johnstown area -- Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Jim Acosta, good report. Thanks very much.

We have some brand-new approval ratings for President Obama, as he nears his 100th day in office. We are going to have the numbers and we're going to you why Mr. Obama may want to look back at Ronald Reagan's presidency.

Also ahead, the Obama administration puts its foot down, deciding to spend millions to spruce up the National Mall, despite objections from Congress.

And the first lady, Michelle Obama, explains how she would react if something horrible happened to the country.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: Oh, wow. Look at you guys.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The countdown continues.

Days from now -- six, to be precise -- President Obama will be graded on an important early test every recent president has gone through, his 100th day in office. That's coming up next Wednesday.

As we lead up to that, we have a new poll of polls on how the president is doing. Look at this. It shows 64 percent of Americans approve of President Obama's job performance, while 28 percent disapprove.

Our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, is here in THE SITUATION ROOM with us watching all these numbers.

And here's the question, Gloria. How long is the public's patience? GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, Wolf, if you look at the polls, the polls say that a majority of Americans will give the president two years to get the economy cooking again.

But one way to try and figure out really how much time Barack Obama has, as pollster Andrew Kohut suggests, is to take a look back at Ronald Reagan, because the most striking parallels are between these two men.

If you take a look at Ronald Reagan's polls at about the same time in his presidency, he had a 67 percent approval rating. Now, as you just said, Barack Obama has a 64 percent approval rating. So, you have two very popular presidents who presided over bad economies, who were better loved in their own parties than with the opposition.

And, yet, Wolf, in the midterm elections in 1982, Ronald Reagan lost 26 seats.

BLITZER: After two years in office.

BORGER: After two years in office.

BLITZER: So, when -- when -- I -- when Barack Obama looks at Ronald Reagan's record...

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: ... then, what else should he be looking at?

BORGER: The big thing is unemployment. That was the big problem for Ronald Reagan. When he started his presidency, it was around 7 percent. A month before the midterm elections, it was over 10 percent.

That became his Achilles' heel. And, as you know, Wolf, when you and I spoke with Joe Biden, and you asked him is unemployment going to continue to rise, he said yes. And they understand that it may well go above 10 percent for them. And that's exactly what they're worried about.

BLITZER: Yes. He said there's going to be a net loss every single month for the rest of this year, in terms of jobs.

BORGER: You know, as everyone knows, unemployment is a lagging indicator. What they don't want is for it to occur right before the midterm elections. That will be a problem for them.

BLITZER: Gloria, don't go away. You're coming back.

And stay tuned for our coverage of this presidential milestone. The "CNN National Report Card: The First 100 Days," I will be here with Anderson Cooper, John King, Soledad O'Brien, and the best political team on television.

And you can take part in live voting online at CNN.com. Again, that's next Wednesday, beginning at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

If Congress investigates Bush administration interrogation tactics, should former Vice President Dick Cheney testify? That's coming up in our "Strategy Session."

And nearly 100 days of political success and struggles mixed with proud moments as a husband and father -- we have the pictures of President Obama, pictures maybe that -- like you have never seen him before. The "TIME" magazine photographer who had unbelievable access to the first family is here. She will talk about the pictures and a lot more.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get right to our discussion of the interrogation memos.

Joining us now, our CNN political contributor the Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen, and Republican strategist Terry Holt.

Guys, thanks to both of you for coming in.

It's getting crazy out there, the back-and-forth between the liberal left, the conservative right. "The New York Times" has an editorial, saying, if Congress goes ahead and investigates the enhanced interrogation techniques, they want the former vice president, Dick Cheney, to appear there, raise his hand, and testify, says this: "We can't imagine how such an investigation can move ahead without Mr. Cheney's testimony. But, given the former vice president's new devotion to full disclosure, we're sure he will be happy to comply."

Terry, you think he will be?

TERRY HOLT, FORMER WHITE HOUSE AIDE: Well, this typically snarky "New York Times" op-ed piece targets...

BLITZER: No, this wasn't an op-ed.

HOLT: One of their...

BLITZER: This was the editorial.

HOLT: The editorial board...

BLITZER: Yes.

HOLT: ... one of their favorite targets, Dick Cheney.

I first thought, be careful what you wish for. Dick Cheney knows this issue probably better than anybody else. He believes passionately about it. He believes that the country has been kept secure and safe in all of that time because they took these kinds of measures. It could turn into a real circus, if you invited him, maybe a circus that would include Nancy Pelosi, because wasn't she part of the group that was briefed on these interrogation tactics -- tactics back in 2003?

BLITZER: She said today she did not know about the water- boarding. But that's what she said today.

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: She said that she -- that she didn't it, that -- that she knew that the torture process existed, and that they thought they had the authority to do it, but that she was not briefed that it was actually used on specific detainees.

This is -- the reason "The New York Times" is -- is having -- being tongue-in-cheek about Cheney is because he's, you know, repeating this charge that there's plenty of evidence that torture has a -- has been effective in keeping America safe.

As far as I'm concerned, he's had eight years to press that case, and they never did. They never proved it. They didn't make that case. I don't think this issue should be driven by Dick Cheney.

BLITZER: Because there's a huge debate over that, but...

(CROSSTALK)

ROSEN: It might be useful at some point to have the vice president testify.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Terry.

HOLT: Yes.

ROSEN: But you know what? Really, we ought to get at the facts first, and the spin later. And, you know, we ought to know why it was that there's a -- a soldier that killed herself, committed suicide, rather than engage in torture techniques. So, I trust...

HOLT: I think there's -- there's...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: All right, go ahead, Terry Holt.

ROSEN: I trust the committee...

(CROSSTALK)

HOLT: There's real political risk.

And I think President Obama's initial instinct was, leave this in the past. I have got a 64 percent approval rating. I have got a huge agenda. Let's go forward.

His -- his left flank wouldn't let him. Politics is driving this issue. And politics will take over this issue if it becomes an investigation in Congress.

(CROSSTALK) ROSEN: I think politics may be the only thing that saves Dick Cheney and his friends from this issue, because, if they were really being treated as if this were a court of law, they would be held accountable for what were serious violations.

And -- and, so -- but it may be that the politics makes this impossible...

BLITZER: All right.

ROSEN: ... to investigate too much. But let's wait and see what the Intelligence Committee...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: We -- we invited our viewers to send in their video iReports. And we asked them about transparency in the Obama administration.

Here's one that came in from Jose Colon of Washington, D.C. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSE COLON, CNN IREPORTER: You see this glass of water right here? See how transparent it is? See? I mean, that is exactly the way that he has been working.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: I guess he likes the way the president...

(CROSSTALK)

HOLT: I -- it looked distorted to me.

(LAUGHTER)

HOLT: I looked through that glass, and I couldn't recognize the world.

BLITZER: The transparency.

But is there a new level of transparency now in Washington with the decision by President Obama -- he made the decision -- to release those interrogation memos?

HOLT: Well, like -- like with most things in this administration, it's great symbolism, but I'm not sure necessarily what it means.

Most people out there are hurting economically. And transparency is not a big political issue. And I would also say this. It's a whole lot easier to be transparent when you're unveiling the developments of the previous administration. I would like to see them be equally open-doored when we get down to some investigations of the Obama administration in the future. That seems to me to be where people might see the glass half-full.

BLITZER: And I -- I guess there's a...

(CROSSTALK)

ROSEN: The president is keeping his promise.

BLITZER: I guess the question now is, will the administration, the current administration, go ahead and accept the challenge from the former vice president, Dick Cheney, and release the CIA documents, the memos, that Cheney says shows that these enhanced interrogation techniques saved American lives?

ROSEN: I think that the administration has gone down this path of transparency on this issue and others. We have seen it all across the board from what this White House is doing, from where the stimulus spending is going, to where appropriations are going, to the earmark policy, to everything that they're doing. This president is keeping his promises. The American people see that. That's why he continues to be popular.

BLITZER: All right, 100 days coming up next Wednesday.

Guys, thanks very much.

HOLT: Thanks, Wolf.

One week from today, President Obama will indeed mark that first 100 day in -- days in office. As a candidate, he pledged to make job- creation a top priority. Has he done enough so far?

Submit your video questions to ireport.com/situationroom. We're going to tell -- let you tell us what you think tomorrow. Stand by.

How is the presidential puppy, by the way, adjusting? The first lady calls Bo -- and I'm quoting now -- "crazy." Wait until you hear Michelle Obama explain what happened one night at 10:00 p.m.

And John McCain's daughter has some new words for the Republican Party. You might be surprised when you hear them.

And key Senate findings on interrogation -- how did officials use some military training as a model for harsh detainee questioning? We have the latest.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's certainly a showcase for the U.S. capital, tourists flocking to the National Mall to enjoy the museums, the monuments, the beauty of Washington, D.C. So, is it worthwhile to spend millions of dollars to fix up the Mall right now? That certainly depends on whom you ask.

CNN's Samantha Hayes was down on the Mall today.

And you had a chance to ask.

SAMANTHA HAYES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we did ask.

And, apparently, the money is coming from $750 million of the stimulus money. That's going to the National Parks system. So, it's up to the Department of the Interior to decide how to use that money. And it turns out a good chunk of it is going to the National Mall right here in Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HAYES (voice-over): On this typical spring day, the National Mall is crowded with tourists. And, according to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, it's an area that needs major renovation, to tune of nearly $56 million.

KEN SALAZAR, U.S. INTERIOR SECRETARY: We're going to fix the walking path and the reflecting pool. The reflecting pool itself is leaking, and the water quality in there is bad. The water has a stench to it.

HAYES: Also on the fixer-upper list, the sea wall at the Jefferson Memorial and the D.C. War Memorial. Salazar says all are worthwhile projects.

But, in January, when improvements to the Mall were debated in Congress as part of the stimulus bill, lawmakers threw out a $200 million provision to re-sod the mall, calling it representative of government waste. The money for these newly announced projects on the National Mall is still coming out of the economic stimulus act, but it's part of $750 million designated for investment in national parks.

SALAZAR: You know, Congress said no to a $200 million blank check. What Congress said is, here are $750 million for the best projects in our National Parks system all around the country. And the criteria is that they're going to create jobs and have sustainability.

HAYES: Still, House Republicans say, the money comes from the same source: taxpayers.

REP. STEVE SCALISE (R), LOUISIANA: The fact we're able to somehow find $55 million lying around, even though Congress said they didn't want them to have to spend that money, I think shows that there's waste too much money being spent and borrowed around here.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HAYES: And Secretary Salazar says that those projects on the Mall should get started this year. And, Wolf, they're scheduled to completed in about two years.

BLITZER: Sam, thanks very much -- Samantha Hayes reporting. On our "Political Ticker" today: the inside story on how Bo the dog is adjusting over at the White House. The first lady, Michelle Obama, opened up today about what she calls that crazy family pet.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

M. OBAMA: He is a crazy dog. He -- you know, he loves to chew on people's feet.

(LAUGHTER)

M. OBAMA: I will tell you a story about Bo last night. It was like 10:00 at night. Everybody was asleep, and we hear all this barking and jumping around.

And the president and I came out and we thought somebody was out there. And it was just Bo.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Just Bo, that cute little dog.

So, how's this for a dog's life? Bo now has his own trading card. It's been added to the pack of Obama trading cards issued by the Topps Company for the presidents' inauguration.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File."

You going to get some of those cards, Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: No, but it sounds like Bo's a happy fellow.

BLITZER: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: He should be.

CAFFERTY: He's enjoying himself.

BLITZER: Yes. Yes.

CAFFERTY: He's living large.

The question this hour: Does anybody care what Dick Cheney thinks anymore? You know, we hardly hard of -- from this guy for the whole eight years he was vice president, always in some undisclosed location and kept a pretty low profile. And now he's out. You can't get away from him.

Tim in Texas writes: "I care a lot about what Dick thinks. Dick speaks his mind. Dick's morals are absolute. OK, so his mind is warped, and his morals are absolutely wrong, but I still care what he thinks. Why? Because whenever Obama is unsure of himself, he only needs to ask, what would the former vice president do? And, then, if he does just the opposite, we will all be just fine. Have a nice day, Jack."

Mark in Oklahoma City: "Whether you want to admit it or not, Bush and Cheney kept me and my family safe from terrorists for seven years. Now the very people who kept us safe are the subject of an Obama- instigated witch-hunt. Why? Because they weren't very nice to some terrorists who were planning to kill us. I still want to hear the former vice president, simply because he, unlike our new president, has no apologies to make to terrorists or dictators who harbor terrorists."

Deb in Reno, Nevada, my hometown: "I couldn't care less what Cheney thinks or says. He's done more than enough to ruin this country, and he should retire to a monastery and leave the rest of us alone."

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: "For someone who has -- was complicit in activities that Nazis were hung for, he should slink away in shame."

Jeannine writes: "Yes, yes. I do care what Dick Cheney thinks and says. That is how he -- we make informed decisions, by listening to all sides of an issue."

Kathleen in New Jersey: "Only the media, because you keep reporting it. He's like the nosy neighbor on 'Bewitched.' From now on, you must call him Mrs. Kravitz or Gladys when reporting whatever paranoid delusion he comes up with."

And Wendy says, "I'm hoping either a grand jury or a special prosecutor will find what Cheney has to say very interesting."

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

BLITZER: Will do, Jack. Thank you.

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