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Cheney: I Told You So; No Welcome Mat for Colonel Gadhafi; The Case of the Brazen Bank Robber; Swine Flu Could Kill Up To 90,000; Health Care Reform Fight

Aired August 25, 2009 - 17:00   ET

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


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Suzanne Malveaux.

And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Well, Dick Cheney says he told you so, claiming there is now proof that the harsh handling of terrorist suspects paid off in the fight against al Qaeda.

Now, he is referring to the secret CIA files made public by the Obama administration.

Our CNN's Brian Todd has been digging into this -- and, Brian, what are we learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, Dick Cheney has been pressing for months for the CIA to release documents that he said would prove that tough interrogations paid off with good intelligence. He's gotten the documents now and he is now as firm in his support for those techniques as he's ever been.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's pretty clear the president...

TODD: (voice-over): The former vice president claims vindication over how terrorist suspects were treated in U.S. custody. A statement from Dick Cheney says: "The documents released Monday clearly demonstrate that the individuals subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques provided the bulk of intelligence we gained about al Qaeda. This intelligence saved lives and prevented terrorist attacks."

But Cheney never says the techniques themselves, like waterboarding, ever led directly to those suspects giving up key information. A Cheney aide was not able to comment further on the statement.

The CIA documents released Monday, including two sets Cheney had pressed the agency to disclose, do indicate that alleged 911 mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, didn't give much information before enhanced techniques were used on him. And a source familiar with the interrogation program tells CNN: "Had it not been for the conditioning technique, he would not have been as forthcoming. Prior to the use of those conditioning techniques, he tried to dodge everything or lie." Cheney had previously alluded to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM MAY 21, 2009)

DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Interrogations were used on hardened terrorists after other efforts had failed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: The documents say Mohammed did eventually give up valuable information. He shed light on plots and possible targets leading to the disruption of several plots against the United States. But there's never a link saying waterboarding or any other enhanced technique led directly to a certain piece of intelligence. Cheney says the intelligence from enhanced techniques saved lives. But when we asked CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen whether American lives were saved...

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: The kinds of information that was being given up by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed after being coercively interrogated were about the various plots they'd had on the drawing board to attack the United States a second time. But these -- most of these plots were not serious.

TODD: For one of the waterboarded suspects, Abu Zubaydah, the CIA inspector general's report says: "It is not possible to say definitively that the waterboard is the reason for Abu Zubaydah's increased production."

One former CIA agent who was present for at least one waterboarding of Zubaydah told us more than a year ago it produced results.

JOHN KIRIAKOU, FORMER CIA AGENT: They did. With Abu Zubaydah, they worked very well. And we were -- we were able to corroborate the information that he provided after the waterboarding and it turned out to be accurate.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

TODD: But the documents indicate Abu Zubaydah also gave up substantial information before being waterboarded and another FBI interrogator of Zubaydah told "The New York Times" the rough stuff was unnecessary, saying: "There was no actionable intelligence gained from using enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah that wasn't or couldn't have been gained from regular tactics" -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thank you, Brian.

And CNN's source has weighed in on that, is that correct?

TODD: The source that we spoke with who's familiar with the interrogation program said in at least Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's case, time was of the essence. There was fear of a pending attack. The source said they felt they had to get the information from him quickly and that's why they used enhanced teroga -- enhanced interrogation.

But Peter Bergen says we now know, in hindsight, there were no firm plans in place at the time.

MALVEAUX: Thank you, Brian.

Well, with the release of the CIA files, the Justice Department asked a federal prosecutor to examine whether certain CIA interrogations were illegal.

But when we last asked Americans whether Congress should investigate personnel who used those procedures, the answer was a resounding no -- nearly two-thirds opposed.

So with Dick Cheney's claim of vindication and the Justice Department investigation, the whole interrogation issue is back in the political arena.

Well, let's bring in our CNN senior political analyst, Gloria Borger.

This is a hot potato I imagine that President Obama does not want to deal with.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, right now, absolutely. You know, and this could become an even bigger political problem for the president, because, as you point out, a majority of the American public essentially agreed with the president during the campaign when the president said it's time to turn the page. They didn't want Congress to investigate these CIA agents and we can extrapolate that they probably don't want a prosecutor to start prosecuting them.

But now that the attorney general has appointed a prosecutor, he can do whatever he wants. He may call for criminal prosecutions. Then the president has even a larger problem because there's going be a national debate in the country over the Bush administration's policies on interrogation.

He doesn't want to do that. It's a distraction. He wants to talk about health care reform right now and he doesn't want to get into a big fight with the CIA, which has a lot of work to do right now.

MALVEAUX: Now what about former Vice President Dick Cheney?

He was very adamant that he says that this is vindication here, that these harsh interrogation techniques were necessary -- very confident in what he's saying.

Is there something else that is going on here?

BORGER: Well, a little bit of politics, I would say.

First of all, he believes what he says. You know, he would like to draw a straight line between these techniques and success. Even the CIA report, as Brian Todd points out, does not do that. But, of course the vice president is in the process of writing his memoirs. Suzanne, we know how intimately he was involved in fighting the war on terror. And I also think he's making a political point for the Republican Party right now that will become a campaign theme, because he said in his statement today that Obama's decision -- or Eric Holder's decision to appoint a special prosecutor...

MALVEAUX: Right.

BORGER: ..."serves as a reminder of why so many Americans have doubts about this administration's ability to be responsible for our nation's security."

In other words, as he said to John King originally, we're not safer.

MALVEAUX: It's a -- that's an old argument once again against Democrats.

BORGER: And it's going to come up over and over again.

MALVEAUX: OK. Thank you very much, Gloria.

BORGER: Sure.

MALVEAUX: Well, close to 40 people were killed and dozens were wounded when a truck bomb blew up today in Southern Afghanistan's city of Kandahar. Officials say the blast occurred in front of a Japanese run construction company. But reports from the scene say many buildings were destroyed and there are fears that the death toll could climb. One account says several vehicles were detonated.

Kandahar is the spiritual home of the Taliban.

Jack Cafferty is in New York with The Cafferty File -- Jack, what are you following?

CAFFERTY: You know, summertime is supposed to be quiet, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: It just hasn't been that way.

CAFFERTY: (INAUDIBLE). What a -- what a summer this is.

President Obama is on vacation, but he and his staff are rolling up their sleeves now, getting ready to fight a backlash, this time over the skyrocketing national debt. The latest estimates add $2 trillion to projections made as recently as February. And if the new ones are accurate, the total national debt will be $20 trillion in 10 years. In other words, by 2019, the national debt is expected to double and will represent 82 percent of the gross domestic product of this country. It's unimaginable, it's unsustainable and it's unacceptable.

These are levels that we haven't seen since World War II. Tax increases -- big ones -- are likely on the way, sooner rather than later. Add in the fact the president is in the midst of another battle -- the one over health care reform. That's expected to add another trillion dollars to the deficit over 10 years. So far, nobody has told us exactly how health care reform is going to be paid for. And support for the whole idea has, in fact, been losing steam in the last few weeks.

Lawmakers from both parties are starting to concede now that any health care bill that doesn't reduce projected federal spending on medical care and begin to bring the national debt under control is unlikely to pass.

Some economists insist the two issues should not be linked at all. They say health care reform is needed now in order to reduce costs in the long run, which would eventually lower the debt.

Pick your poison -- whatever the eventual outcome of all this, September in Washington D.C. Is going be a lot of fun to watch.

Here's the question -- how will the surging national debt affect efforts to pass health care reform?

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

We can sell tickets to this, I think, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Everybody is paying attention, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

MALVEAUX: Thank you.

Well, no welcome back for Colonel Gadhafi after his embrace of a freed terrorist. The Libyan leader may want to pitch his tent near families of terror victims in New Jersey.

And health officials say swine flu could kill -- kill up to 90,000 Americans.

But is it any more dangerous than regular flu?

CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta has advice for you.

Plus, Russia's battle with the bottle -- a national crisis.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I first tried alcohol when I was just three years old. There were constantly people over at our house singing songs and being happy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: First, he embraced a freed terrorist, now Libya's leader may want to set up camp near relatives of American terror victims in New Jersey. That is sparking a fresh wave of outrage. CNN's foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty, has the story.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, from nuclear weapons to where to pitch a tent, no one ever said relations with Libya were simple.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DOUGHERTY: (voice-over): The Obama administration is still fuming at Libya over how it welcomed home the Lockerbie bomber. Now, President Barack Obama will be face-to-face with Libyan leader, Moammar Gadhafi, at next month's U.N. General Assembly in New York for talks on nuclear non-proliferation. The Libyan leader gave up his nukes back in 2003. The U.S. and Western leaders tout that as a success that countries like Iran could imitate.

GORDON BROWN, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: We want to work with countries, even countries like Libya, who have renounced nuclear weapons now and want to join the international community.

DOUGHERTY: But even where Gadhafi will stay while in New York is a diplomatic thicket. Speculation abounds he'll set up his air conditioned tent in Englewood, New Jersey, on the lawn of a Libyan- owned property now a beehive of activity close to where families of the victims of the Lockerbie bombing live.

New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg says no way. He wants Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to stop it: "I ask that travel restrictions be placed on any visa issued to Colonel Gadhafi," he writes to her, "limiting him to travel only in the United Nations headquarters district."

But its not that simple, the State Department says.

IAN KELLY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: We are generally obligated to facilitate travel to foreign nationals to and from U.N. headquarters in New York.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

DOUGHERTY: Officials in this building say they're using intense diplomacy, trying to avoid having this turn into a showdown -- discussions within the U.S. government and directly with the Libyans over where is the most appropriate place for Colonel Gadhafi to stay -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thank you, Jill.

Well, the FBI is asking you to help them find a brazen bank robber. He is so bold that he doesn't even bother to wear a mask.

Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, is looking into it -- Abbi, what have we found so far?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Suzanne, this is one man, four states and at least 10 different bank robberies. Take a look at the pictures here. At this point, he's been caught not even trying to cover his face on so many bank surveillance cameras, the FBI saying somebody has got to know who this guy is.

They've been looking for him and they're saying he certainly had a busy summer. He's suspected as male -- a white male in his mid-30s suspected in all these bank robberies across the South. He's -- the FBI thinks that beginning in May, he was in Louisville, Kentucky. He headed down to the Charleston area of South Carolina. There he is brandishing a gun at tellers there in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. Next in North Carolina -- Fayetteville was one of the times he was caught on camera. And then last Tuesday, his busiest day yet, caught on camera twice in the same day at two different banks an hour apart in Tennessee.

MALVEAUX: So surely someone must be able to recognize and find him.

Has he -- has he hurt anyone?

What has he done?

TATTON: He has not hurt anyone at this point. The FBI says, though, he is considered armed and dangerous. And he hasn't been afraid to threaten bank tellers and brandish his gun. They have got billboards -- electronic billboards now across the Southern states appealing for information.

Someone is going to look at these pictures...

MALVEAUX: Absolutely.

TATTON: (INAUDIBLE).

MALVEAUX: Someone will be watching and then turn him in.

OK. Thank you, Abbi.

Well, a White House panel paints a grim scenario on swine flu -- how many people could get the H1N1 virus that affects the fall and the winter and what you need to know and do now.

Singer Chris Brown in court right now. It's his sentencing for assaulting former girlfriend, Rihanna.

Plus, Papa John's hands out free pizza, but only to a select few. Find out what a classic Camaro has to do with this give-away.

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Betty Nguyen is monitoring the stories that are coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- and, Betty, what are you working on?

NGUYEN: Hi there, Suzanne.

Well, singer Chris Brown is in a California courtroom at this moment to hear his sentence. We want to bring you those live pictures. The sentence is for assaulting former girlfriend, Rhianna. There are those pictures right now. And just moments ago, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Patricia Schnegg sentenced Brown to five years probation, about 1,400 hours of what is being called "labor-oriented community service." Now, sentencing was set for Thursday, but it was moved up at the request of Brown's lawyer. Brown is asking to serve his sentence in Virginia.

Take a look at this -- same plane, different lost pilot. Yes. A Cessna that flew into Washington's restricted air space this afternoon is the same plane that violated D.C.'s air space four years ago -- you remember that -- causing a major security scare at the White House and the Capitol. Well, today, the plane was near Reagan National Airport when it was intercepted by Coast Guard helicopters. The Cessna is owned by a Pennsylvania air club and a member tells CNN that a student pilot and an instructor ought to have known better.

They may get a talking to after that.

And a New York City official wants a tribute to Michael Jackson at a Brooklyn subway station. Now, the pop star made the music video for "Bad," which you see right there, at the Hoyt-Schermerhorn station. And Councilwoman Letitia James says she wants to place a plaque there or have Jackson added to the station's name. Now, a subway official says the honor unlikely. For one, plaques at stations are prohibited.

And this is not -- it is going make your stomach churn just watching it. I don't know if I can do it. Despite the name, though, thrill seekers are lining up to brave The Death Ride in Brussels, Belgium. Organizers rigged the 330 foot tall monument with a zip line and are charging people $35 for the thrill of sliding down. The temporary attraction is open until the end of the month.

That is pretty doggone steep.

And Papa John -- well, he has finally found his beloved Camaro. Yes, John Schnatter sold his 1971 muscle car for just $3,000 back in 1983. He used the money not only to help save his father's tavern, but also to start what has become a global pizza chain. Schnatter spent years searching for this car, even creating a Web site offering a $250,000 reward. Well, the original owners eventually helped him track it down. And, of course, to celebrate, Papa John's is offering free pizza to other Camaro owners.

Now, we've just got to get a Camaro, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Because we love pizza.

NGUYEN: Right.

MALVEAUX: All right. Thank you, Betty.

NGUYEN: Sure.

MALVEAUX: It's a great story.

Well, a grim scenario -- President Obama's flu advisers say that H1N1 could possibly kill up to 90,000 people and infect up to half of the nation's population. They say that it's time now to learn the signs of swine flu and be prepared for an outbreak near you.

Joining us now, chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta -- and, Sanjay, tell us, how is H1N1 different than the regular flu?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, it appears to be very contagious. And I think that's something that people who have been studying this for some time were trying to figure out. It appears to be contagious -- so much so that they predict that half the country -- half the United States might get invect -- infected over the next several months.

Now, there might be some people who get infected and don't have any symptoms, but they that about two million people will need hospital attention of some sort, as well. So that gives you some idea just in terms of the seriousness.

Now, in terms of deaths, which is the question, I guess, everyone asks, they think anywhere between 30,000 and 90,000 people will likely die of H1N1. To put that in perspective, as we often have, about 36,000 people or so die of the regular seasonal flu every year. So, in some ways, the numbers aren't that far out of line with regular -- regular seasonal flu.

What does seem to be different, to your question, Suzanne, is who is affected. When you think about seasonal flu, you think about the elderly being the most affected. What they're finding is that young people are much more likely to -- to be infected by this -- about 20 times more likely to be infected than older people. Also, pregnant women seem to be very much at risk, as well.

So it could be very large numbers of people infected overall. And a lot of us have never seen this sort of -- this sort of virus before, so we have no built in protection. You know, the seasonal virus we see from time to time -- it changes a little bit -- so we can sort of fend it off. With this, it's brand new and that's part of the problem.

MALVEAUX: So, Sanjay, what if somebody has cough, they're sneezing and they've got these flu-like symptoms?

How can they tell the difference between if they have the regular flu and swine flu?

GUPTA: Well, it can be very difficult. I mean if you look at some of the symptoms, overall, of swine flu, they're going to look similar to just describing the regular flu overall -- you know, the fever, you cough, runny nose, body aches, headaches -- all these things are things that you've heard before. The only way to really know for sure is to -- is to actually get tested. And there is a test to figure out whether or not they have the H1N1.

Now, you know, as you know, Suzanne, I was down in Mexico back in May and we got an idea sort of, of just how big a problem it was down in Mexico. And we saw a couple of things. For example, the fever tended to be higher than normal and it tended to come on very quickly.

So as we see more cases, there may be some symptoms that become more consistent with H1N1 and a little bit different than seasonal flu. But right now, the only way to really know is -- is to get tested.

MALVEAUX: OK. Good advice.

Thank you so much, Sanjay.

Well, school is in session in the nation's capital -- can Washington serve as a model of education reform for the rest of the country?

I'll ask D.C. mayor, Adrian Fenty.

Plus, would more Republicans embrace the president's health care effort if he embraced some Republican ideas for reform?

Paul Begala and Mary Matalin are standing by.

And the Kremlin declares war on alcoholism -- we'll take you to Moscow, where the battle against the bottle will likely not be won easily.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, the nation's banks accused of failing to live up to the terms of their bailout and giving homeowners the runaround.

What happened to the Obama administration's making home affordable program?

A CNN special report that you're not going to want to miss.

Michael Jackson's last night -- a closer look at the cocktail of powerful sleep drugs the pop star was given the night he died. And stocks resume their rally. The Dow added 30 points after positive housing and consumer confidence reports. Investors also welcoming news that President Obama is nominating Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke for a second term.

Wolf Blitzer is off today.

I'm Suzanne Malveaux.

And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. It is make or break month for health care reform and the fight has been playing out most dramatically at town halls across the country.

Let's go live to a meeting underway right now in Oklahoma City. This one features Republican Senator Tom Coburn.

CNN's Jim Acosta is there -- and, Jim, what's the mood like?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, the mood is pretty friendly right now. Actually, Tom Coburn just answered a question from somebody who said: ""Senator Coburn, I just wanted to say we're very proud that you're our senator." And then there was a standing ovation in the audience.

So Senator Coburn is a conservative Republican. He's in a conservative state and he's getting a friendly welcome with this crowd so far. But what also makes doctor -- Senator Coburn special is that he's a physician. He's a licensed doctor. And so at many of these town hall meetings, he's been getting questions from people that are very much health care related -- very much in the -- in the weeds (ph) of health care, from a physician's standpoint. Yesterday as a matter of fact, he took a question from a woman who is in tears talking about how her husband had just been kicked out of the nursing home because he lacked health care insurance. And today just before this town hall meeting, I asked Senator Coburn whether there are any circumstances under which he might support the president's efforts for health care reform. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: If the president drops the public option, could you support him?

SEN. TOM COBURN (R), OKLAHOMA: It depends on what is in it. The problem with the president is he doesn't know what's in the Democrat's bill. He doesn't intentionally deceive people but the fact is he is making claims that are not backed up by what the legislation says.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Now one thing that Senator Coburn is about to do after this town this evening, he's heading off to Nebraska tomorrow and you might be wondering why is that? He's the senator from Oklahoma. Well Senator Coburn and another physician in the U.S. Senate, Senator John Barrasso from Wyoming who is also a licensed doctor, they both hold weekly TV shows on the web talking about health care issues. They are planning to go to Nebraska tomorrow to hold one of those shows on the road so to speak. Why Nebraska? Well it also happens to be the state where Senator Bill Nelson is on the hot seat facing pressure from constituents there as to whether or not he as a Democrat will support health care reform experts - reform efforts. After that, Suzanne, he goes, Coburn and Barrasso go to Arkansas, another state where another senator is on the hot seat, Senator Blanche Lincoln, another conservative Democrat under pressure as to whether or not she's going to support health care reform. MALVEAUX: All right. We will be keeping a close eye on all of those across the country. Thank you, Jim.

Classes are back in session here in Washington. And with the mix of public, private, and charter schools, the nation's capital is the scene of a major experiment in education reform. Joining me now, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty and we're looking at this. Thanks for joining us. We appreciate it.

MAYOR ADRIAN FENTY (D), WASHINGTON, D.C.: Thanks for having me.

MALVEAUX: We're looking at the D.C. model here and you've got public schools, private schools and these charter schools that are independently run but funded by taxpayers. Take a look at this mix. Who are the students that are performing the best when it comes to your school system? Which group?

FENTY: You know, it is really all three. The schools that work the best are where the schools have independence and autonomy that the principals are allowed to hire and fire who they think is the best people to teach their students. So traditionally, charter schools or private schools have been able to do that. But our school's chancellor who is starting her third year is really trying to get a lot more flexibility in the hiring and firing and then bringing in private companies to help run the schools, things that charter schools and private schools have been doing for generations and she's doing a great job.

MALVEAUX: Who is actually doing the best when it comes to the students and the way they're being education because these schools were once worse in the country. But we are seeing some things change.

FENTY: They really are. We're the fourth major city after Chicago, Boston, New York to have mayoral control, mayor running the school system. Each year that we have been in control, the grades have gone up. We are now at least on par with the charters. What's really true Suzanne is that there are good charter schools, there are good public and private schools. What had happened in the past is people had been afraid to say if a school is not working, let's close it down. We say that for all of our schools. Let's try something new. There's more accountability with the mayor in control. The citizens can see results quicker. We're having results but we got a long way to go. It's been broken for a long time.

MALVEAUX: One thing that is happening in the school system, it seems to be almost shrinking in a way because you've got about a third of parents who say we want our kids in these charter schools. They have advantages because those teachers, they're not unionized and they're working from 7:00 in the morning until 7:00 in the evening. They've got Saturday classes, just a month of summer vacation. How do the public schools compete with something like that?

FENTY: Well you try all types of different things. Three of our high schools are going to have private companies running them this year. We've closed down about 20 schools to put more resources in the remaining schools. We've cut the administration. You are putting your finger on the button there. Eventually we have got have a much better contract with the Washington teachers union and all school systems have to have this where there's more flexibility. What we're going to offer in exchange is more money, more resources and better benefits to the teachers.

MALVEAUX: Yesterday was a landmark day for you as well. Your third grade twins went off to a public school from a private monastery school to a public school. You said before that that was important for your family. Why?

FENTY: One, I am a public school grad myself as are my brothers. But I think it is also important to emphasize that cities are on the rebound. Things are changing in big cities all over the country. Education is the next greatest thing. It's the next greatest thing for cities to say you know the renaissance is going to continue. So I'm not making a statement but I'm part of what I think is a growing trend of people putting their kids back in public education.

MALVEAUX: Were you disappointed in the president's decision not to send his own daughters to a public school?

FENTY: No. What you want to do as a leader, as a city leader is make every choice available. Make our public schools a reasonable choice. I think the president looked at all types of different schools and made the best decision for him and his family. I would not expect anything else from him or from anyone else. I think I can say without any reservation, our public schools are going be as fantastic as any other option and they are well on their way.

MALVEAUX: You and I talked it was just right after the inauguration. It was really quite amazing. The crime statistics in D.C. plummeted those two days and the days that followed. Give us a sense, how have the Obamas in the white house impacted the city, their neighbor, Washington D.C.?

FENTY: In lots of ways. First of all, they have put a lot of money, resources and sweat equity into the city. They often appear in schools. They have put some specific dollars behind housing programs and education programs. People really just enjoy them popping up at the local restaurant or at a museum. You've even read about the president going to his daughter's soccer games and obviously just regular D.C. residents see them. It has been fantastic. Luckily the crime rate has gone down. We're actually having the lowest level of crime we have had in 35 years so that good feeling that existed around inauguration is continuing and we've got a great police department to capitalize on it.

MALVEAUX: Do you have a close relationship with the Obamas? When is the last time you have spoken with the president?

FENTY: I speak to his cabinet so the last time I spoke with someone was right around that big train crash that they made the entire National Transportation Safety Board available to us. So yes a very good working relationship and it's a great thing for the city but I know that I can see him all over the country on your station and everyone else is seeing the same thing. MALVEAUX: All right. Thank you so much.

FENTY: We will talk about education reform as it moves along.

MALVEAUX: All right. Great. Good luck to you.

Would Republicans back off their criticism of the president's health care ideas if he actually embraced some of their ideas for reform? Paul Begala and Marty Matalin are standing by to discuss that and more.

You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Would more Republicans embrace the president's health care effort if he embraced some Republican ideas for reform? Joining me a pair of CNN political contributors, Democratic strategist Paul Begala and Republican strategist Mary Matalin. Thank you for joining us here.

Let's start off in USA Today in the op ed pages, they said three GOP health ideas Obama would do well to embrace. First, reduce medical lawsuits, second tax employer provided insurance coverage and third encourage multistate health plans. Is there room here for compromise for the president to embrace any one of these three?

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Let me put it this way. He has already and the Democrats have already embraced 183 Republican ideas in the four committees that have looked at health care so far and have reported out bills. They have included 183 Republican amendments. They have gotten zero Republican votes. Maybe the people at USA Today believe if he had accepted 186 amendments that he would get Republican votes. A strategy of appeasement will never work with them. What you have to do is just defeat them, enact your program, help the country and maybe they will decide to get on board later when they see their political strategy is failing. They just have a political strategy and it is obstruction at all costs.

MALVEAUX: Mary, is there anything on this list that would seem reasonable for the Obama administration to embrace and is more substantial than what he's talking about?

MARY MATALIN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes and there hasn't been a vote and the president doesn't know what's in the bill so I don't know what Paul is talking about but the president during his candidacy rejected these Republican market-based reforms. He dismissed them loudly and proudly since the outset of these negotiations and he has charted a course. His problem has never been with Republicans whom he's not only dismissed, he's demonized, but with his own Democrats. It is the conservative and moderate Democrats in both chambers that are stopping this. Those very reforms that the USA Today listed have been in play. Republicans have put them on the table for years and the Democrats have obstructed them for years. We could have had much higher quality, many more people covered at a lower cost today if we would have just four or five or six years ago took into account some of these reforms. It is the Democrats that have always played politics with this issue.

MALVEAUX: Let's look at some of the facts. Medical malpractice insurance is costing some counties up to $200,000 a year to deal with that. We know it's not the primary reason that health care costs are skyrocketed but it certainly has contributed. What would be wrong with trying to limit the amount of lawsuits?

BEGALA: They did that in my home state of Texas. Here's what's happened. Health insurance premiums for citizens have gone up in Texas faster than the rate of inflation. The percentage of insured in Texas leads the nation. One out of every four Texans is uninsured and guess what? If a doctor messes up and injures you, you have little recourse with the courts. You know 98,000 Americans a year, up to 98,000, die because of medical error. That's not from me. That's from the Institute of Medicine at the National Academies of Science. They look at this 98,000 Americans die every year from medical error. The notion that somehow taking away my right to protect myself when somebody makes a mistake with my health or my spouse or my kids, it hasn't worked in Texas. If it had worked in Texas, then Texas wouldn't lead the nation.

MALVEAUX: Mary, you are shaking your head?

MATALIN: Well, of course, if what Paul is describing was anywhere near tort reform reality, he might be making a case. There is only one reason there is no tort reform. It's because the Democratic Party is a wholly owned subsidiary of the trial lawyers. It isn't that medical malpractice would have go unchallenged or there would be no recompense for those against whom this system did not work. There would be all kinds of boards and there'd be specialized courts and that's not at all what this is. The cost of defensive medicine HHS statistics, not mine, not some right wing conspiracy numbers is between 70 and $126 billion a year. This is one part of it. It is not exclusively a part of it.

MALVEAUX: What does President Obama need to do in order to win over some Republicans?

MATALIN: Seriously, no one honestly, I am -- I know this may sound worse than I mean it to sound but no one really trusts him. The time is not right. We are doing this on top of a stimulus package that stimulated nothing except government jobs. It's on top of all the bail outs. It cost far more than they are willing to score and he doesn't want to consider anything that would -- his non-public options are. Do not embrace the market system in a way that would cut costs. There is no -- because these Republicans have been fighting Democratic obstruction on health care there is not a lot of trust there.

BEGALA: Does it look like Mary is willing to compromise with the president? Of course not. They had the whole shooting match for eight years and they did nothing. The average American family of four what they pay for health care went up from about $7,000 when they took office to about $15,000 a year today. If Mary's side wins that $15,000 a year you are spending now will go up to $36,000 a year in ten years. So, if you want to spend $36,000 a year for less and less health care, let's keep the Republican plan in charge. If you want a chance to have some more options, some more choice, be able to control your own destiny instead of letting corporate bureaucrats do it, I think President Obama has the better of it. Yet he has reached out. What more can he do? Like I said, there have been lots of votes actually Mary. Go look at the committee reports, the Senate Health Committee, health, education, labor and pension, took 160 Republican amendments.

MALVEAUX: Let me get to the bottom line. We have ten seconds to wrap it up, Mary.

MATALIN: What Obama does is either his state takeover or the status quo.

BEGALA: That is not on the level.

MALVEAUX: We will have to leave it there. Mary Matalin and Paul Begala, thank you so much.

Well, Russia's real enemy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Russians, on average drink about 18 liters of pure alcohol every year. Now what that means, we have lined up all these bottles of vodka.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: The sobering truth about what the Russian president calls a national disaster.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Time to check back in with Jack Cafferty. Hey, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Feel healthy, Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: I am. I'm feeling good.

CAFFERTY: Good. Question this hour is how will the surging national debt effect efforts to pass health care reform?

Ryan writes from Idaho, "I am more interested in how a lack of health care reform will affect the surging national debt. When another two decades go by and half the American families declare bankruptcy due to medical bills, imagine what's going to happen to tax revenue? The cost of health care will be the single most crippling expense Americans will have to deal with as the baby boomers become increasingly sickly and begin to die off. Sorry if I sound insensitive. We have a generation hanging around our necks and it will only get worse unless we can address the root of the problem which is health care costs."

Wilhelm writes, "It shouldn't face passing health care. The British went to a single payer system in 1948, when they were technically bankrupt after World War II, and for all its faults, it's been a great thing for their citizens. The cost of government medical problems like Medicare and Medicaid are out of control, mostly because of the sweetheart deals former administrations made with the health and drug insurance industry so unless this is corrected the country will go broke."

Mike in Syracuse writes, "Hopefully, it will kill it. The numbers never did work. Implement savings first. Once you have proven we can fund expanded benefits in a debt neutral manner, then and only then expand benefits."

Bill writes, "The surging national debt will magnify the concerns of how health care will be paid for and make health care reform more uncertain than ever."

Joan of Virginia says, "So now we care about debt, two unnecessary, unfunded wars, eight years of corporate welfare and tax cuts for the rich but when it comes to providing health care for all Americans, we suddenly worry about debt?"

Joe writes, "It puts the feet of Pelosi and all liberals to the fire. They will have a choice. Pass their version and pay for it in 2010 and 1012 or fail to pass it and pay for it in 2010, 2012. Talk about being between a rock and a hard place. You have heard of a win- win situation. This is not one of them."

If you didn't see your email here, you can go to my blog CNN.com/CaffertyFile look for yours there among hundreds of others. You do that every evening, don't you, Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: Look through all of the e-mails?

CAFFERTY: Sure, Wolf does.

MALVEAUX: I don't think I can keep up with Wolf, Jack, honestly. Thanks. I'll see you.

Sobering words from Moscow.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 45 liters of Russian vodka for every man, woman, and child in this country. To say that Russia has a drinking problem is a gross understatement.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Russia declares war on the ravages of alcoholism. We'll have a report from Moscow.

Health secretary, Kathleen Sebelius talks to us about the h1n1 threat. When will a vaccine be ready?

You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) MALVEAUX: Alcoholism affects so many people in Russia that its president declared it a national disaster. Senior international correspondent Matthew Chance has the story.

How bad is this problem?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, think of Russia and you will probably think of vodka as well. Alcohol is a major part of Russian life. According to the Russian president, it is a major problem as well. Russia consumes more alcohol than any other country. The Kremlin is now vowing to rescue Russians from the bottle.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHANCE: You could call it the Russian disease. Alcoholism affects so many people here, the country's president has declared it a national disaster. The figures are staggering. The Kremlin says that Russians on average drink about 18 liters of pure alcohol every year each. To give you an idea of what that means, we have lined up all these bottles of vodka. Vodka is only 40% proof and it amounts to 45 liters of Russian vodka for every man, woman, and child in this country. To say that Russian has a drinking problem is a gross understatement.

The effects are pretty gross too. More than 30,000 Russians die every year of alcohol poisoning after drinking illegal moonshine, even perfume or industrial spirits. The Kremlin says drunk drivers are responsible for almost 5,000 road accidents in the first half of this year alone, killing or injuring at least 8,000 people. After that, the alcohol factor in killers like heart disease, serious crime and suicides, it's no wonder Russia's young, health conscious president is declaring war on drink. The critics say his plans, which include tightening alcohol laws, are too vague to have much effect.

PRES. DMITRY MEDVEDEV, RUSSIA (through translator): The most important thing is to give people the desire and possibility of leading a normal, healthy life. We realize this is possible only when people have normal living standards. You cannot defeat drunkenness in a poor country.

CHANCE: In Russia, it is not just about living and drinking is a cultural position. It is a right of passage that starts early and can end in alcoholism. He is a recovering alcoholic with a horrifying but typical story.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I first tried alcohol when I was just three years old. There were constantly people over at our house singing songs and being happy. I would play around the table with my toy truck and pour a little leftover vodka from each glass into the back of this truck. Then, I would run back to my room where no one could see anything and drink it. I remember wanting to be part of the crowd, sitting at the table raising my glass of vodka to toast with everyone. It is something that I strived for my whole life.

CHANCE: Tackling that kind of deep-seated urge will be hard but also crucial if Russia's battle with the bottle is going to be won.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHANCE: Suzanne, it's not going to be easy though. Mikhail Gorbachev once tried to ban alcohol, even restricting it in this country. It proved to be a very unpopular thing to do, indeed.

Back to you Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thank you Matthew.

Happening now, the one man who pulled President Obama off the golf course. Ben Bernanke is headed for another four years with fixing the economy. Why couldn't the announcement wait until after the president's vacation?

Are banks living up to the terms of their bailout? Some homeowners say they are not getting the affordable mortgages they were promised. CNN's Jessica Yellin on alarming problems with an Obama administration program.