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Public Health Care Shot Down; War Within Obama Administration Over Afghanistan?

Aired September 29, 2009 - 18:00   ET

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


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

Happening now: President Obama inches closer to making what could be his most important national security decision this year. This hour, the powerful voices try to influence his strategy in Afghanistan. Are they strengthening his hand or making him look weak?

Plus, the one-two punch that may have killed a government-run health care option. Can the president's reform plan survive without it?

And Sarah Palin going rogue -- the former vice presidential nominee borrows a page from her campaign critics.

I'm Wolf Blitzer, along with the best political team on television. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

President Obama may be stepping into a clash of the titans when he walk into a meeting with his national security team tomorrow -- on the agenda, the future of the war in Afghanistan. It's one of the toughest decisions yet in the Obama presidency. This hour, the best political team on television gives us a window in what could be a war within the administration.

But, first up, our White House correspondent Dan Lothian with some important background.

Dan, lots going on, on this front right now.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It definitely is, Wolf.

And the president says that Afghanistan is the most important NATO mission right now, and that's why he wants to get it right. You see the president sit down with his other top generals and also other principals.

According to a senior aide, the president is happy to get the back and forth, but he really wants to take his time and he says that his decision will not be based on politics.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN (voice-over): Figuring out the way forward in Afghanistan is about more than troop numbers and strategy. At stake are the lives of real people like Jaahid Noori's family, who live in fear of the Taliban and al Qaeda extremists.

JAAHID NOORI, BUSINESS OWNER: My mother, when she went last year, she went to go visit -- she was going to a local grocery store, and the Taliban drove by and they shot, like, five people right in front of her. And it was pretty bad.

LOTHIAN: Other family members who live in Kabul full time say while some areas have stabilized, the Taliban is back. That sets the scene for a flurry of meetings at the White House this week.

Sitting down with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, President Obama insisted Afghanistan is not an American mission and vowed that NATO would be consulted every step of the way.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We both agree that it is absolutely critical that we are successful in dismantling, disrupting, destroying the al Qaeda network, and that we are effectively working with the Afghan government to provide the security necessary for that country.

LOTHIAN: But the president has not yet said whether the answer lies in sending in more troops, as the General McChrystal report makes a case for, or pulling back and focusing instead on targeted strikes by Special Forces or predators, a plan advocated by Vice President Biden.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think obviously the president wants to ensure that we have a well-defined mission, that we all understand that we can't be there forever.

LOTHIAN: But Secretary-General Rasmussen suggested winning in Afghanistan may take a long time.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN, NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL: And we will stay in Afghanistan as long as it takes to finish our job.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN: Noori says he and other people that he knows think that sending in more troops will only be a temporary fix. So, this is definitely a situation that president really wants to weigh very carefully.

Now, as for that meeting tomorrow, it will be taking place here at the White House in the White House Situation Room. The vice president, we're told, will be there along with the secretary of defense and secretary of state. We're also told General Petraeus, rather, and McChrystal are expected to take part in this meeting. Unclear at this point whether or not they will be here in person or via video -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, as I said, could be the most important national security decision of his administration, at least to date. Thanks, Dan.

Let's get other a potentially fatal blow to a key element of the president's plan for health care reform. The Senate Finance Committee voted twice today to reject a government-run health care option. Liberals failed to inject the so-called public option into sweeping reform legislation taking shape in that important committee.

House Democrats fear they won't be able to pass a health care overhaul without it.

Let's bring in our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.

Dana, so what happens now?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Democratic leadership sources that I'm talking to, Wolf, they say that what you saw today, that is a Democratic priority, a public option, defeated with help of conservative Democrats, that it's really a prelude to what they believe will happen on the Senate floor.

But if you listen to Democratic supporters who are so passionate about this, it sounded like they were incredibly positive. They were trying to put a very positive spin on the outcome of today. So, I caught up with one of the Democrats, Chuck Schumer, whose amendment was killed with the help of fellow Democrats, and I asked, how can you say with a straight face that this is a good day for a public option.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: We're feeling really good about what happened and even though who are opposed on the Democratic side seem to want to reach an agreement.

BASH: You can see the point that right now you don't have the votes to pass a public option...

(CROSSTALK)

SCHUMER: No, I don't see that. I see the points that if you looked at the number, we don't have 60, but neither are there 60 against it. Or neither is there any single one against it. There are lots of people undecided and they're watching the debate and seeing what's happening. You were in the room. You had to be deaf, dumb and blind...

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: I was, but I was also talking to Democratic sources who said that despite the optimism, which many people applaud, it's not the reality.

SCHUMER: Well, let's watch it play out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: On that note, Senator Schumer insists that he is working on several compromise ideas with skeptics, Democratic skeptics of this public option. He won't say what they are, but, Wolf, one thing is for sure. What we saw up here, the spotlight on the Democratic divide over this issue, this very important issue to so many Democrats, will only get brighter as this debate rages on for the fall.

BLITZER: Yes, but a significant setback to the public option today?

BASH: No question about it.

BLITZER: All right, Dana, thanks very much.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now. He has "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Get your flu shot or you're fired. That's the ultimatum for health care workers in New York State. So far, New York is the only state that's requiring workers to get vaccinated against both the seasonal flu and the H1N1 virus.

All health care workers in New York, including doctors and nurses, have until November 30 to get their shots, or they risk losing their jobs. New York health officials insist the vaccines will protect the workers and their patients from getting the flu.

But some people don't like the idea of forced vaccinations. And they held a rally in Albany today to protest the measure. Opponents say it violates their personal freedom. They also point to the possibility of getting sick from the vaccine, highlighting deaths associated with the government's last swine flu vaccine in 1976.

They also say it's unnecessary, that they won't catch the flu because they wash their hands so often. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that flue activity is increasing already in the U.S., more than half of all states reporting widespread flu activity.

Both the H1N1 and seasonal flus are expected to cause hospital stays and deaths. Regular flu alone kills about 36,000 Americans a year. And the number of deaths from swine flu potentially could be much higher than that.

So, here's the question. Should health care workers about forced to get flu shots under the threat of losing their jobs? Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. Post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

It could make or break plans for health care reform. You just heard how senators shot down the public option today. That is what President Obama said about that option -- this is what he said about three weeks ago. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I will not back down on the basic principle that, if Americans can't find affordable coverage, we will provide you with a choice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So will the president stick by those words and insist on a public option plan in any health care bill? The best political team on television is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A one-two punch to the idea of a government-run health care option could signal its death. As we reported, the Senate Finance Committee today voted down two versions of the so-called public option. Moderate Democrats and Republicans carried both votes. They disputed liberals' claim that a government option is crucial to reform.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCHUMER: And, so, we need a public option to create competition and to bring costs down. It is my belief nothing will do it better.

SEN. MAX BAUCUS (D-MT), FINANCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: My job is to put together a bill that will become law. In the Senate, that means my job is to put together a bill that gets 60 votes. Now, I can count. And no one has been able to show me how we can count up to 60 votes with a public option in the bill.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, let's get to our panel.

Joining us, our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, our CNN contributor the Republican strategist Alex Castellanos, our senior political analyst David Gergen, and former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich, now a professor of public policy over at the University of California at Berkeley.

Professor Reich, is the public option for all practical purposes dead?

ROBERT REICH, FORMER U.S. LABOR SECRETARY: I don't think it's dead, Wolf.

It certainly did suffer a major setback today, but the pressure and the interest and the enthusiasm for a public option continue. In the House, remember, the three bills that were reported out all contain a public option.

In the Senate, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee, their bill does contain a public option. So, the only bill that does not contain a public option is the bill that's presumably going to be reported out by the Senate Finance Committee.

BLITZER: But, David Gergen, you can do the math. Can they get 60 votes in the Senate supporting a public option? DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, I think it's now clear that a robust public option, the type supported and proposed by Senator Rockefeller today, is dead. They simply do not have the votes.

Five Democrats in the Senate Finance Committee voted against that. That means if a public option as robust as the one Rockefeller proposed comes to the floor of the Senate, it's going to be at least five Democratic votes short of 60, and it will be filibustered to death. So, that's gone.

I think the real question now is whether they can come up some sort of watered-down proposal that will get them partway there and they may get enough Democrats to get it passed. But I think that is going to be tough going.

BLITZER: Here's what the president said on September 9, only a few weeks ago, Alex. Listen to this. He said: "I will not back down on the basic principle that, if Americans can't find affordable coverage, we will provide you with a choice."

That seemed to be a major pitch for the public option.

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Look, the president and the Democratic Party, Wolf, for a long time have been very clear. They would like government-run health care. They can't get it now, so they will take what they call a public option, a step toward that.

In the short term, the public option is dead. They don't have the votes in the Senate. It's like when you die your hair and your fingernails keep growing for a few days. Well, the public option...

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Thank you for that metaphor.

(CROSSTALK)

CASTELLANOS: It will still keep growing for a few days, but it's dead. It's not going to happen. Yet, what they're going to get through, they have enough votes to get something through. David is right. And that's going to put us a step closer to that in the long run.

BLITZER: Gloria, the only way I can see this public option surviving is if the president of the United States gets all those Democrats and just does an LBJ and says you're either with me or against me and for me this is absolutely essential.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITCAL ANALYST: I think he's not going to do that, largely because he wants moderate Democrats to get reelected, particularly in the House, and he knows that this would put a lot of them in jeopardy.

I think, in the end, the president is going to have to compromise on that. And I think in the speech he gave to the joint session of Congress, he said he would be willing to compromise on that.

BLITZER: Because, Candy, all the body language and statements, if you will, coming from the White House in recent weeks suggested, you know what, we want the public option, but we could live with it.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I won't back down doesn't mean I won't sign something without it. You just sign it and say, boy, I still continue to believe we should have that public option. Let's move on now.

Listen, nothing is ever dead on Capitol Hill. It just doesn't happen. However, it does happen for a session or for a year. I think, if you look at this, they will have something that they will say is a public option or it comes close to it. Or they will find some sort of language.

BORGER: It's a down payment on a public option.

CROWLEY: Yes, a down payment. They have a way to take the language and make it kind of work so it doesn't look like they gave up on it. But the public option in the way it was initially conceived isn't going to...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Because, Robert Reich, you know the House of Representatives well. And a lot of liberals in the House say, without that public option, at a minimum, they're not going to vote for anything.

So, the question is can the president get something without a public option through the House?

REICH: Well, I agree with other members of the panel. There's something that's going to be in the bill called a public option.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: You're talking about co-ops.

REICH: It may be co-ops. It may be a trigger mechanism, even though Olympia Snowe has talked about, maybe if certain objectives are not met, somewhere down the line, a public option will be triggered and automatically put into effect.

It may be something else, Wolf, but I think what you're seeing right now is certainly a setback for the public option, but it's not -- I don't think this is a near-death experience, given the degree of Democratic support. Now, go back to the mathematics for a second. Yes, you need 60 votes, and, yes, five Democrats voted against it.

But what Harry Reid is probably going to do is ask 60 Democrats for votes a procedural motion to bring the bill to the floor of the Senate. That doesn't mean everybody has got to agree with everything that is in the bill. He's ultimately only going to need 51 votes. And something that looks and smells and sounds a lot like a public option is probably going to be in that bill.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: David Gergen, you have advised four American presidents. If you had the president's ear right now, what would you tell him, assuming he wants that public option?

GERGEN: I would tell him to continue to supporting it verbally. Be prepared for a bill that doesn't have it. I would try to salvage other things.

Look, I disagree with Bob Reich on one point. I do not think a senator like Kent Conrad, who would put his neck in a noose if he voted to wave the bill through only to vote against it on the floor -- that is something that Republicans will -- yes, they will beat him over the head with that as being complicit with getting a public option and driving their hospitals out of business.

So, I just don't think after his statement today he can possibly do that. What I think would pass...

(CROSSTALK)

REICH: Excuse me, David.

GERGEN: Yes, go ahead

REICH: Just a point of order. Kent Conrad did support, in fact was one of the major proponents, of a public option called insurance kind of cooperatives. And he continues to push that.

GERGEN: Yes, that's right. Yes, I agree with that, Bob, but I don't think they're going to get anything now which is going to challenge the long-term viability of the insurance companies. They may get something which offers an alternative. But I don't think they will get a trigger and I don't think they will get a robust public option of the kind Rockefeller was supporting, which was originally envisioned, as Candy said, as what they would do.

BLITZER: All right.

GERGEN: I think those are gone.

BLITZER: I want everybody to stand by, because we're just getting started. Here's a question. Who has the president's ear? The commander in chief is listening to a variety of voices as he considers strategy for Afghanistan. Is he getting too much advice?

And those three American hikers detained in Iran may soon be getting a visitor who will check in their condition.

And she's going rogue again. The former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin telling how she does things her own way.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: And now you can get all the latest CNN news and video right to your iPhone. That's right. There's an app that's just been released.

Let's go to our Internet correspondent, Abbi Tatton.

Abbi, tell us all about this.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, this is breaking news video that you now can carry around with you through this iPhone app that we just launched today. It's available at the App Store for $1.99. You can watch CNN.com live on it.

If there's a live news event, if there's breaking news, you're going to be able to get it all here. Listen to recorded pieces, popular pieces on CNN.com as well. In addition to that, it's got all the headlines that you can choose from, world news, U.S. news, politics.

You can also personalize this. It's got a GPS function in the iPhone. It knows where you are, so it's going to be localized news according to where you are in the United States, whether, traffic, affiliate stories there as well.

And if there's a certain topic that really interests you, you can follow that story on the iPhone app. And then all stories related to that are going to be populated in your iPhone app there. So released today, it's already the most popular paid app on their iPhone store. So it looks like a lot of people want this -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much. It's a good, good deal indeed.

Let's go to Chad Myers. He's following this earthquake that occurred near American Samoa and tsunami warnings that were released.

Chad, what is the latest?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: What is the latest, Wolf, now is that all the watches and all the warnings across the entire Western part of the Pacific now have been canceled.

There were waves. There were tsunamis and we know of at least 14 -- 14 fatalities in the American Samoa area, with the earthquake, right here in a major subduction zone, that ring of fire that is still part of obviously the western part of the Pacific. There's Pago Pago.

And then back out here on the western side of main American Samoa, the main big island, this is where like a catcher's mitt the wave from the tsunami ran right up the shore and into the village here, a number of villages, in fact, four villages in the western part of the country completely inundated with water, some people saying that some of the waves were 15 feet high.

As they almost get -- they get exponentially higher as they hit this low ground and kind of that slope as it goes up into the villages there. The area we're talking about, Samoa, American Samoa, 3,000 miles from Hawaii. And because I think there's just not much in the way of any more waves, that's why all the watches and the warnings have been expired.

BLITZER: That's good news. At least they have been expired.

All right, Chad, thank you.

Some powerful voices are echoing in President Obama's head, the conflicting arguments about what to do in Afghanistan, build up or pull back. The best political team on television on television standing by live to weigh in.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Will he or won't he and when will he decide? Those are among the questions many of you are asking involving President Obama. Right now he's weighing one of the most solemn responsibilities any commander in chief can make.

Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is here, along with Gloria Borger, our senior political analyst, our CNN contributor Republican strategist Alex Castellanos. David Gergen and Robert Reich, they're joining us as well.

Candy, this is a tough decision for the president and it's hard to tell which way he's going to come down. Does he deploy another 30,000 or 40,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan, in effect doubling down?

CROWLEY: Or does he deploy half of them or a third of them and have a slightly different strategy?

What is interesting is, this is going to take him a while. Despite what we have gotten, which is ever urgent, the situation is dire, we need to do something, despite that, the president's clearly taking his time, for a couple of reasons.

First or all, it's his style. We're told that the meetings are very interesting, very intense, as he listens to a variety of views. And he does have, don't send more troops, do send more troops and sort of everything in between.

And it's also because this is -- you know, this is life and death. This is the most important foreign policy decision he may make during his first term. I think there may be some politics involved here as well, because, look, what's changed since March? The support for the Afghanistan war in the public has gone into the 30s, lowest its ever been.

And we all know that you cannot conduct a war in the U.S. if you don't have popular support. We have seen that.

BLITZER: All right. I want everyone to listen to this exchange that our colleague Tony Harris had with Atia Abawi, who is covering this war in Afghanistan. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM CNN "NEWSROOM")

TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: What more than would the coalition forces have to do to win more Afghan support?

ATIA ABAWI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the big thing that the coalition forces would have to do to win Afghan support is to prove that they're here for the long run. Even though they've been here for eight years, the last few years, as I said, they've seen a deterioration. What they want is a real commitment. They want to see these promises actually kept.

President Barack Obama made a promise to them in March that a new strategy would come -- a change would come, infrastructure would come, civilian efforts would come. But right now, just a few months later, they're seeing the possibility that the coalition troops may pull out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, here's the promise that the president of the United States made back in March.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: So I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan and to prevent their return to either country in the future. That's the goal that must be achieved. That is a cause that could not be more justice. And to the terrorists who oppose us, my message is the same -- we will defeat you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Robert Reich, where should he come down on this critical decision?

ROBERT REICH, FORMER CLINTON LABOR SECRETARY: Well, first of all, you cannot overstate the amount of concern among Democrats with regard to getting bogged down in Afghanistan, as we got bogged down in Iraq and really going back to -- I've heard over and over again the analogy of Vietnam. I mean here you have a civil war or a potential civil war. You have a very unpopular, if not corrupt, leader; an election filled with allegations of fraud that were not completely -- actually quite credible. And you have the real enemy, which is Al Qaeda, moving as rapidly and as easily as possible into Pakistan. It's not even clear what our objectives are there.

So Democrats are saying why do this?

We should not get in any deeper. There's no return. Escalation means more escalation. It's the Republicans in Congress who are actually providing the president with the support he needs to, if he wishes, to go further.

BLITZER: Is this an LBJ-Vietnam analogy, David?

GERGEN: I don't think it's an LBJ analogy, in a fundamental sense, and that is, he's not going to put 300,000, 400,000, 500,000 troops in there. But I do think he can get sucked into a war -- I think Bob Reich correctly describes the -- the fears of a lot of Democrats.

What I'm watching for, Wolf, is the advice he gets from Bob Gates, his secretary of Defense. I think he has the swing vote, in effect, inside this divided administration. If he says, Mr. President, this strategy is not going to work, to put a lot more troops in, we really ought to go to a counter-terrorist kind of strategy and sort of hit people with drones and not put very many more troops in, I think the president will come out that way and Bob Gates would give him cover, just as Bob Gates step -- speaking up on the change in policy on defense missiles in -- in Eastern Europe, that helped the president get through that.

Bob Gates also has helped him get through the delay in closing down Guantanamo. I think he could help him through it.

But if Bob Gates comes out for putting more troops in and given the president's high regard for Bob Gates, which is very high, I bet the president goes that way. I think it would be very, very hard to cross the -- the man for whom he has enormous respect right now, his secretary...

BLITZER: Alex...

CASTELLANOS: If there is a...

GERGEN: ...his secretary of Defense.

CASTELLANOS: There is a Jimmy Carter analogy here and a George Herbert Walker Bush analogy here. Those men faced divided parties and it's one reason that they lost reelection.

Why is -- Barack Obama is finding himself very much in the same situation now in health care and in Afghanistan.

During the campaign, it was very easy for him to be everything to everyone in his party. A president doesn't have that luxury. A president has to make decisions. This president seems to be delaying decisions, ceding them to Congress and he's letting that (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: Because, Gloria...

CASTELLANOS: -- grow.

BLITZER: ...listen to what our old friend, Richard Cohen, the columnist, wrote in "The Washington Post" in a column entitled, "Time To Act Like A President": "Sooner or later, it is going to occur to Barack Obama that he is the president of the United States. As of yet, though, he does not act in that way, appearing promiscuously on television and granting interviews like the presidential candidate he no longer is. The election has been held, but the campaign goes on and on. The candidate has yet to become commander-in-chief."

Those are strong words.

BORGER: Those are -- those are very strong words. But I think what you see going on behind closed doors -- what we don't see going on behind closed doors, in terms of Afghanistan, is a very thoughtful process. As Candy said earlier, this is a president who's not going to be railroaded into doing anything. My sources tell me he doesn't want to see mission creep happen. He's keeping to the same mission, but he's deciding right now. And I think it's -- it's perfectly legitimate to say do we need to change strategy here, given the fact that Al Qaeda is in Af -- in Pakistan; given the fact that Karzai is not the man we may have thought he was; given that election over there?

Why not talk about changing strategy if you need to do so?

It's perfectly legitimate.

BLITZER: Because, Candy, it's never easy for a president of the United States, the commander-in-chief, to tell a general who's in charge of a war, I'm not going to send more troops, when the general says if you don't, we're going to lose and those who are already there, 68,000 U.S. troops, their lives will be in danger.

CROWLEY: Well...

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: -- but it's also the general that you -- you put in place.

You said, OK, this is the guy I want and he comes back with a recommendation and you go, no, I don't think so. So, yes, on the military front, as well as on just the personnel front.

I think the other thing that's a problem here for them are the civilians that are over there doing the kind of, if you will, nation building. So you have a secretary of State who is trying to make sure that they remain protected. And if you have a president who says no, now we're going to have to go after Al Qaeda and you still have chaos in Afghanistan, you're going to have to pull out some of those civilians.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Hold on.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Hold on, guys. One at a time.

Now let Alex go first.

CASTELLANOS: But he -- it doesn't look good that the president has time to go campaign for the Olympics in Chicago, but hasn't had time to meet with some of the key military leaders that he put in place in Afghanistan.

BLITZER: He's meeting with them tomorrow.

CASTELLANOS: Now?

Months?

(LAUGHTER)

CASTELLANOS: Once after a couple of months?

Is that -- that's the deliberative process?

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: All right. Let me get Robert Reich weigh in and then we'll take a break.

REICH: Yes, I don't -- I don't think it's fair to the president to say that he is -- he is stalling or he's not paying attention. I mean I have been around a table with this president and he is one of the most deliberative and one of the greatest listeners, probably, we've ever had as a president.

No, I think it is very important -- I -- on his mind is the importance of being able to say to the public, to the American public, why we are committing more troops, what the national interest is in committing more troops in Afghanistan right now. And I think he's having very legitimate trouble coming up with that statement of national interest.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Hold your thoughts. Don't go away. We have more to discuss.

For better or worse, she did it her way. Now, the former vice presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, is "Going Rogue" -- again. The best political team on television is here.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Sarah Palin isn't known for embracing her critics, but guess what, she's willing to borrow a line from them. We've learned the former Alaska governor's upcoming memoir will be entitled, "Going Rogue: An American Life." You'll remem -- may remember back during the 2008 presidential race, a John McCain adviser griped to CNN that Sarah Palin was "going rogue" after the vice presidential nominee strayed from the campaign playbook.

Our Dana Bash, at the time, reported it; so did others; and the line became so famous, that Tina Fey spoofed it on "Saturday Night Live".

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE," COURTESY SNL/BROADWAY VIDEO)

TINA FEY, COMEDIAN: Hey listen up, everybody, I'm going rogue right now so keep your voices down. Available now, we've got a bunch of these.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Let's bring back our senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash -- Dana, what exactly caused McCain advisers to say she's gone rogue and what does the title say about the book?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, McCain aides were absolutely furious that they felt that she went off message and undermined an already very vulnerable campaign. And, frankly, Wolf, the more the McCain campaign went south as the fall went on, the more open McCain aides were in talking about their frustrations with her.

But, you know, from Palin's perspective, she now wears that "going rogue" item as a badge of honor, because she says it's part of her maverick style -- ironically, something that she adopted from John McCain himself.

But, you know, I talked to a Palin adviser -- somebody very familiar with the book, today, who said, you know, we're not exactly -- we're not right if we think that it's going to be those reasons that she chose this title. It's something else. It's something that is going to be in the book. This adviser would not tell me what it is, but said it would be obvious.

Now, whether or not it's going to be -- going to be obvious, we'll see when we read the book. But, obviously, the advisers and the publisher have done a pretty good job of building buzz for this book. And one other interesting nugget I learned today, Wolf, and that is that they moved up the publishing date because she really raced to get it done. But there's one other reason -- cha-ching. They wanted to get this done before the Christmas rush because that's where they think they'll make the most money.

BLITZER: Yes. People buy a lot of books in advance of Christmas.

BASH: Absolutely.

BLITZER: She's going to make a ton of money. A lot of us knew she was going to make -- make money from the speaking and in the book, a potential TV deal, but none of us suspected she was going to be making maybe not only millions, but tens of millions of dollars.

CASTELLANOS: Well, I don't know if she'll be making Bill Clinton money, but she's -- she's certainly going to do well. She's gone from the Alaskan wilderness to the political wilderness, but she's back. She should not be discounted, Wolf, as a powerful political voice in this country. Going rogue means something else, too. Right now, there's a body of Americans out there who feel that they're just being lectured to by Washington, dismissed -- you know, send us your money, little people; trust us to spend it right. Those people don't feel they have a leader, even within the Republican Party, right now.

So at the Tea Parties, you see Americans beginning to revolt against that kind of elitism. When Sarah Palin sticks her head up out of the foxhole like that, she'll be criticized by the media, but she's going to draw a lot of support and she'll be a powerful force in 2010 and 12.

BLITZER: David Gergen, she still has an enormous following out there among that conservative base.

GERGEN: She sure did -- sure does. And Alex is absolutely right, she gives voice to this populist wave that's going across the country. After this book comes out, she'll be even more sort of out in front of that pack and -- and getting a million-and-a-half copies printed.

BLITZER: The first printing...

GERGEN: I think if you take all of us on this panel...

BLITZER: ...the first printing.

BORGER: Yes, we would.

GERGEN: What's that?

BLITZER: That's a first printing.

GERGEN: That's a first printing.

BLITZER: Yes.

GERGEN: That's -- that's the Teddy Kennedy level.

BLITZER: And if you figure...

GERGEN: You know, Teddy Kennedy's book (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: ...her cut -- her cut could be $3, $4, $5 a book, you do the math, David.

GERGEN: Absolutely. Absolutely. And if they've invested that much for a million-and-a-half copies, that means they need to make that much money back. And she's going to make a ton. I think we've got a pretty darned good idea now why she left the governorship. It was...

(LAUGHTER)

GERGEN: And it's working for her so far.

BLITZER: And some of those paid speeches she's getting, Bob Reich, there's nothing wrong with making money. But she seems to be getting hundreds of thousands, sometimes, for just one or two speeches.

REICH: No, this is not just about making money, though. This is really about 2012. And I think Alex is exactly right. Don't underestimate the appeal of Sarah Palin for the Republican base, for small town Republicans, for Evangelical Christians, for populists and for libertarians of every stripe.

This is a woman who has bucked the establishment. She continues to buck the establishment. And there's an interesting contrast if I -- you know, when I talk to Republicans inside the Beltway, they say impossible.

(CROSSTALK)

REICH: She hasn't even finished her -- her first term. But outside the Beltway, small town Republicans, they love her.

BORGER: Well, let me ask Alex, do -- would you want Sarah Palin to be your nominee in 2012?

CASTELLANOS: I think...

BORGER: Would that be good for the Republican Party?

(LAUGHTER)

CASTELLANOS: I think she's proved to most Republicans that she was not ready to be the vice...

BORGER: Do you think she'd be ready?

CASTELLANOS: Well, a lot of Republicans thought -- and I think including Senator McCain -- that she could be Harry Truman in a skirt, that she could be that small town voice who -- who becomes the office and grows into it. She hasn't proved it yet to Republicans.

BLITZER: On the other hand, Candy...

(CROSSTALK)

CASTELLANOS: Right now, no, she's not.

BLITZER: I think it would be -- it would be foolish for her critics to underestimate her.

CROWLEY: I -- I think that's absolutely true. But I also think -- have always thought this was about making money when she left. But this is a high hurdle, to come back and say to the American public at large, I'd like for you now to vote for me. OK, the last people who voted for me, I only stayed there about 18 months. But this time, I'm really interested in that office. I think that is a really big hurdle. And I don't think it's something the establishment Republicans are looking for.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Lots to digest and we'll continue digesting...

BORGER: The 2014 presidential elections.

BLITZER: ...in the days to come.

Guys, thanks very much.

Let's check in with Lou to see what's coming up at the top of the hour -- Lou?

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, thank you very much.

The public option publicly rejected today in the Senate. It's the Democrats who ultimately voted it down. But the idea of government-run health care isn't going away so easily and the Senate isn't giving up.

Pressure on the president from all sides to make a decision now about Afghanistan. And NATO says the United States will not have to fight alone.

Also tonight, what do Americans really want?

We'll be joined by pollster Frank Luntz. He says he knows. We'll be talking about his new book.

Join us for all of that and more.

And we'll be examining the Roman Polanski case tonight from all angles.

All of that at the top of the hour. Be with us -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: We'll see you in a few moments, Lou.

Thank you.

Guess who's coming to dinner?

The vice president, Joe Biden, returning in honor to the scene of a bitter defeat. Stand by.

Plus, a near spill for America's newest dancer -- CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a "Moost Unusual" look at some famous falls.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: An 8.3 earthquake near American Samoa. We've got someone joining us right now via Skype.

Manua Chen is joining us.

You're there, Manua, on American Samoa. Tell us about what you're seeing, because we just got some video that you've seen from the other side of the island and it looks pretty bad.

MANUA CHEN, AMERICAN SAMOA RESIDENT: Yes, well, it -- it happened around, what, three hours ago. And it looks like just everything -- the tsunami came up and everything is washed. Everything is muddy. Store windows are broken, I guess from the wave. And everything is -- just seems washed around. BLITZER: What about where you are?

CHEN: Right now, we're on the west side, in the village of Nu'uuli, the typhoon area. Over here, everything's fine. Nothing has happened. But I've heard, also, from some people that are on the west side, a small village in Horoa (ph) and on the Leone side village, there was some damage. Water have -- I guess the wave swept up on -- onto land there. But the worst damage that I've heard is from the downtown area, in the Famatonal Parmal (ph) area. That's where, you know, the -- the wave just went up and, you know, went everywhere.

BLITZER: All right, Manua. We're going to check back with you tomorrow.

Thanks very much.

CHEN: Sure. Thank you

BLITZER: Good luck to all of our friends in American Samoa and in Samoa and those islands out there.

Jack Cafferty is joining us right now with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Should health care workers be forced to get flu shots under threat of losing their jobs?

That's a policy that's being put in place here in New York -- I think the only state in the union so far to do that.

Cheryl writes from South Carolina: "I know a lot of wise nurses who say the shots made them sick or didn't keep them from getting sick. They're in the trenches everyday. Let them make up their own minds on the subject."

Kenneth in Seattle: "Health care workers are in a science-based field and the best science we have says flu shots are safe and mostly prevent people from getting the flu. If these people don't find the science convincing, they should find another line of work rather than infecting their patients and making the flu epidemic even worse."

Ed in Indiana: "No one should be required to take a flu shot. There's no epidemic. It's not polio. At this point, H1N1 is just another red herring by a government agency."

Tom in Michigan: "If they're in the health field and dealing with the public and they're not intelligent enough to get the shots without being told or forced to, then please keep them from treating me and mine."

Lucy writes: "Under threat of losing their jobs? That's just too much."

Justin says: "Of course not. People should not be forced to immunize themselves. Most who work in the health care industry are educated enough to weigh the benefits and risks of getting a flu shot and ought to be able to make that decision for themselves with no government intervention required."

And Doug in Dallas: "Does this question fall into the duh category? Of course they should. It's going to be hard enough to stay healthy this year without having to worry about getting sick from the people who are treating you."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile and if it isn't there, it's because the person who posts them has the flu...

BLITZER: I hope...

CAFFERTY: ...Wolf.

BLITZER: I hope he or she gets better quickly.

CAFFERTY: I was -- I was just kidding. You know (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: All right. Never mind.

Good-bye.

See you tomorrow.

On our Political Ticker, Joe Biden heading back to Iowa, where his 2008 bid for the White House died after a poor showing in the state's caucuses. Fast forward a year-and-a-half and now Vice President Joe Biden is going to Des Moines as a special guest of the Iowa Democratic Party at its annual Jefferson Jackson Dinner scheduled for November 21st.

He raised lots of money for the Democrats, gave money to the Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama presidential campaigns. Now he's been convicted in federal court of campaign fraud. Norman Hsu was sentenced to more than 24 years -- 24 years in prison. He faced four counts, one for each year, from 2004 to 2007. He was accused of running a massive scheme regarding the investment companies. A judge said he funded his fraud with "conniving use of the political process."

Take the nation's education chief and add two men known for controversy from the right and left and what do you get?

You get a tour. The Education secretary, Arne Duncan, former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich and civil rights activist Al Sharpton, they are teaming up for a learning and listening tour. They began in Philadelphia and will go across the country to listen to students and talk about President Obama's education plan.

Remember, for the latest political news any time, you can always check out CNNPolitics.com.

There are the falls that we just can't forget -- and that's no bull. Jeanne Moos next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: All right, here's a look at some Hot Shots.

In Afghanistan, disputed ballot boxes are unloaded onto a U.N. truck.

In Michigan, an auto employee hits the pavement and pickets.

In Switzerland, a young fisherman takes advantage of mild temperatures.

And in Italy, Prime Minister Berlusconi celebrates the opening of new homes for earthquake victims.

Hot Shots -- pictures worth a thousand words.

Falling stars -- and we're not talking about the ones in the sky.

CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a "Moost Unusual" look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (voice-over): From the tango to "The Tonight Show" to a bull riding ring -- no bull, it's been a dangerous few days for celebs on the public stage.

(VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: So with no further delay, we bring you the latest on Tom DeLay, the former House majority leader's most recent routine on "Dancing With The Stars." (on camera): Now, admittedly, we had a field day when DeLay danced the ChaCha in that brown spandex outfit.

(VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: But he almost redeemed himself with his tango.

(VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: The judges used words like.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "DANCING WITH THE STARS," COURTESY ABC)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He had great dignity and grace.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I actually really liked it until the end. I mean you've got to -- gut. You've got to use that. You've got to squeeze them together, sir.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: But even squeezing them together probably wouldn't have saved him from almost dropping his partner.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THIS WEEK," COURTESY ABC)

WHOOPI GOLDBERG, CO-HOST: How much did that girl weigh? (END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: But the real culprit may have been DeLay's previously injured foot. The feet of Conan O'Brien are what got him in trouble -- racing with "Desperate Housewives" star Teri Hatcher.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH CONAN O'BRIEN," COURTESY NBC)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE)?

CONAN O'BRIEN, HOST: Oh, yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Oh, no, he wasn't. He had a concussion.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH CONAN O'BRIEN," COURTESY NBC)

O'BRIEN: Let's see a slow motion replay of what happened right there, shall we please?

I believe I won.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: No wonder his memory was foggy when they took him to the hospital.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH CONAN O'BRIEN," COURTESY NBC)

O'BRIEN: One of the neurological questions was how many nickels in $1.35?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS (on camera): That would be 27, Conan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE JAY LENO SHOW," COURTESY NBC)

JAY LENO, HOST: We were this close to being back on at 11:30.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: And this guy was this close to getting stomped by a bull at a riding competition the other day. Legendary linebacker Junior Seau is used to getting run over by football players, but not a 2,000 pound bull.

(VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Seconds letter, Seau was up on his feet, unhurt, tossing his hat. It's dangerous being famous, but at least Tom DeLay could teach Conan O'Brien how to slide safely. (VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN...

(VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Wow!.

Jeanne Moos, thanks very much for that.

We want you to check out our political podcast. To get the best political team to go, go to CNN.com/situationroom.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.