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The Politics of Swine Flu; Terrorist Attacks Rock Afghanistan, Pakistan

Aired October 28, 2009 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm going to see this film.

Kareen Wynter, thanks very much for that.

Happening now: the best political team on television on these stories, a brazen attack by the Taliban in Afghanistan. U.N. workers are dead, and President Obama is under more pressure to send in reinforcements. This hour, Senator John McCain demands, it's time to act, a direct quote from him.

Plus, President Obama promised to change the ways of Washington, but there's new evidence he's giving some big perks to donors, just like his predecessors did. Is the Lincoln Bedroom flap all over again? What's going on?

And Republicans called on the carpet for voting against funding for swine flu vaccine, and Democrats accused of being too slow to respond to the outbreak. Are both parties playing politics right now with the pandemic?

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

Smoke rising and bullets flying -- it was a two-hour siege in the Afghan capital of Kabul today. Taliban stormed a guesthouse used by United Nations workers. Eight people were killed, including five U.N. workers, one of them an American. Three attackers also are dead. President Hamid Karzai is calling it an inhumane act. It comes only 10 days before the presidential runoff elections in Afghanistan and as President Obama considers whether to send in thousands of additional troops.

His former presidential rival, Republican Senator John McCain, is adding to the pressure.

Our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian, is standing by with more on what's going on.

What is going on, Dan?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, the president has always made it clear that it's more important to get the Afghanistan war policy right, not fast. But there's mounting criticism that too much time is being spent reviewing options over and over again and that now is the time for action.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) LOTHIAN (voice-over): October has been the deadliest month for U.S. troops in Afghanistan since the war there began, violence that adds to the pressure on President Obama to make his strategy decision soon.

In an interview with CBS' "The Early Show," Senator John McCain said, it's time to act.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: We watch this situation continue to deteriorate while this long, protracted process of decision-making goes on. We're not operating in a vacuum.

LOTHIAN: Senator McCain, who says he supported the president's initial counterinsurgency strategy and General Stanley McChrystal's assessment to send in more resources to Afghanistan, says U.S. allies are nervous and military commanders are becoming frustrated.

In a commentary written for, Senator McCain ads: "Americans are already serving in harm's way in Afghanistan. And the sooner we can provide the reinforcements and resources they need, the safer and more successful they will be."

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, who still says a decision on Afghanistan could come in a matter of weeks, was quick to dismiss Senator McCain's criticism.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I certainly wouldn't agree with Senator McCain on that. I don't think the American people agree with Senator McCain on that. I think it's important to hear and get -- to get this right.

LOTHIAN: To -- quote -- "get it right" President Obama has met more than a half-dozen times with his war council in the White House Situation Room. Gibbs stopped short of saying that the growing casualty figures would influence the president's decision, but admitted it's a burden.

GIBBS: The hardest task that he has on any given day is signing the condolence letter of a loved one who's lost a son or a daughter or a husband, a wife in Iraq or Afghanistan or serving our country overseas.


LOTHIAN: President Obama has another high-level meeting set for Friday. That's when he sits down with his Joint Chiefs as part of the ongoing assessment in Afghanistan in Pakistan. White House aides say they don't know if this will be the final meeting, but they point out that the president is nearing the end of his decision process -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So it could be within the next week or two or before he leaves on that trip to Asia in mid-November, almost for sure, right?


LOTHIAN: Well, it could be before. It could be after. All they're saying right now, they continue with that line in a number of weeks -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And he said earlier in the week he was going to make sure he wouldn't rush into something that could affect the life and death of so many U.S. troops.

LOTHIAN: That's right.

BLITZER: This very much for that, Dan Lothian.

Let's get some more now on that attack in the Afghan capital today. This is the worst in a series of attacks designed to destabilize Afghanistan before the presidential runoff election on November 7.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, was in Kabul when the shooting broke out earlier in the morning. He has the latest now from the Afghan capital.


CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this wasn't just a single suicide car bomber. This was a coordinated guerrilla style attack in the heart of Afghanistan's capital city. And it was clearly designed to disrupt that upcoming election.

(voice-over): Militants, Afghan security forces and at least five United Nations workers are all dead after militants stormed a guesthouse where United Nations workers were staying. It was an early-morning raid.

The Afghan security forces say they came in armed with machine guns and a suicide vest. The fight lasted well over an hour, the Afghan police returning fire, trying to secure that compound.

This was clearly designed to disrupt the upcoming election. The Taliban have now claimed responsibility for the attack, fulfilling a promise made just a few days ago, when they called for a boycott of the election and threatened violence against anyone who would participate in it.

(on camera): The U.N. is not only funding part of the election, but it also has hundreds of employees that are working to organize it. Even though its commitment as a whole has not wavered, practically, on the ground, things have changed, because now the U.N. is completely reviewing its entire security plan across the country for its personnel.

And it also has to find safe places now to house those personnel. There's simply just not enough room at the U.N. compound for everyone that works for the organization, all in all, adding up to disruption before this runoff election -- Wolf.


BLITZER: All right, Chris -- Chris Lawrence in Kabul for us. Next door to Afghanistan, yet more terror. This was the scene in Northwestern Pakistan when that car bomb ripped through a crowded market. At least 100 people were killed, mostly women and children. It happened soon after the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, landed in Pakistan.

Our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty, is traveling with Secretary Clinton -- Jill.


JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Secretary Clinton is here in Pakistan with a message: Convince Pakistanis their relationship with the United States goes a lot deeper than simply fighting terrorism, but today it was a real challenge to make that case.

(voice-over): Hours after the secretary of state arrives in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, a massive car bomb explodes in a crowded market frequented by women in the northwest city of Peshawar, a two-hour drive away, the city near Pakistan's tribal areas where al Qaeda and other extremist groups are believed to be hiding.

Condemning what she calls vicious attacks, Hillary Clinton says those who carry them out are cowards.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: They are not courageous. They are cowardly. If the people behind these attacks were so sure of their beliefs, let them join the political process. Let them come forth to the people of Pakistan and this democracy and make their case that they don't want girls to go to school, that they want women to be kept back.


DOUGHERTY: An angry Pakistani foreign minister challenges extremists who he claims are on the run, defeated in major military operations carried out this spring in the Swat Valley, and, he promises, facing defeat in current operations in South Waziristan.

QURESHI: We will not buckle. We will -- we will fight you. We will fight you because we want stability and peace in Pakistan.

DOUGHERTY: But, on this trip, Secretary Clinton says she wants to turn the page on a U.S.-Pakistan relationship focused so far on fighting extremism, offering U.S. help on another threat to the well- being of Pakistanis, lack of electricity -- Clinton's mission, to clear up what she calls misperceptions that cooperating with the U.S. can jeopardize Pakistanis' own security.

CLINTON: We are going to reach out and make clear, as best as I can, what our intentions are and what our commitments are.

DOUGHERTY (on camera): And reach out, she is, Secretary Clinton here in Pakistan launching a media blitz, trying to pull back on track this relationship, which she says has a lot of scar tissue -- Wolf.


BLITZER: Jill Dougherty, traveling with the secretary in Pakistan, thank you.

New moves by President Obama today on national security -- he appointed two former U.S. senators as co-chairmen of his Intelligence Advisory Board. They are the maverick Republican Senator -- former Senator, I should say, Chuck Hagel and former Democratic Senator David Boren.

The board provides independent advice to the president about the effectiveness of the intelligence community. The president also signed a $680 billion defense bill. It kills some costly weapons projects and expands America's war efforts. It also includes a major civil rights change. It expands the law against federal hate crimes to include attacks on people based on their sexual orientation.

You saw the live event a few moments ago over at the White House.

An Oval Office birthday tour, bowling in the White House bowling alley, and golfing with the president, a newspaper report says those are among the perks President Obama handed out to top donors and fund- raisers. This report could potentially be problematic for the White House. We're investigating.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: There's been a shooting out in Detroit, I think.

Fredricka Whitfield is monitoring what's going on.

Potentially a significant development. Fred, what do we know?

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, indeed., this taking place in the Detroit area, actually near Dearborn, Michigan.

And, apparently, the leader of a group of African-American converts to Islam was fatally shot by authorities. He was among 11 people who have been charged with a variation of crimes, from mail fraud to illegal possession and sales of firearms.

Well, apparently, eight of these 11 had actually been arrested, four of which actually surrendered. But the leader of this group, Luqman Ameen Abdullah, apparently did not want to go -- be taken in at all, not without a fight. So he allegedly pulled out a weapon and actually started firing.

In the exchange of gunfire with law enforcement, he was taken down. He was killed in that firefight. And so that is the latest of this leader of this group. He was apparently an imam, a prayer leader of this Islamic group there in this Dearborn, Detroit, area of Michigan -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, we will stay on top of this story. I know Susan Candiotti is working it as well. Thanks very much, Fred, for that.

Let's get back to some politics right now. The White House is responding to a newspaper report that could pose potentially some serious political problems for the Obama administration, "The Washington Times" reporting that President Obama doled out the kinds of perks most people would love to get to top donors and fund-raisers.

Let's discuss with our panel. Joining us, our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, Clarence Page with "The Chicago Tribune," former Bush speechwriter David Frum with the, and our CNN political contributor the Democratic strategist James Carville.

Let me read to you what "The Washington Times" reports. "High- dollar fund-raisers have been promised access to senior White House officials in exchange to donate $30,400 personally or to bundle $300,000 in contributions ahead of the 2010 midterm election, according to internal Democratic National Committee documents obtained by 'The Washington Times.'"

The DNC issued a statement saying: "The DNC routinely identifies appropriate opportunities for party supporters to meet their leaders in the administration and the Democratic congressional majority. This is true for donors, grassroots activists, and others who are engaged and active on behalf our party in different ways and who welcome the chance to meet their leadership."

James Carville, it sounds all too familiar. I know these kinds of things have been going on for many administrations, many years, but I was under the impression it was going to different this time.

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh, really? Well, that's your problem.


CAVUTO: Every time they say it's going to be different, it's never different. It's never going to be different. Thus it was, thus it is, thus it shall be.

And that's just sort of -- that's the way it is. I can't tell you how many retreats I have been on where the donors get together. And that goes on all the time. It's part of life in Washington. It would be unfair to our viewers to tell them any differently.

As long as we're going to have campaigns that are funded by people that have interests or private donors, there's going to be -- they're going to be afforded access. I'm not shocked at all. I would be shocked if it was anything other than this.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I totally agree with James. It's the way you do business. What are you going to say to people, if you give money, we're going to punish you? No, they don't do that.

But the Obama administration has a problem here, because it has been so self-righteous if you will on these kind of points, no lobbyists allowed in the administration. You know, we're going to separate money and politics, and we're not going to take PAC money and all the rest.

So, I think by setting themselves up so high, this becomes more of a problem for them than it would be for someone else.

BLITZER: The White House responded by saying, you know what, they are going to make public all the names of individuals who come into the White House, which is a marked difference than earlier administrations.

Let me ask David to respond to that part.

DAVID FRUM, FORMER SPEECHWRITER FOR FORMER PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, look, administrations do do this, but it's a sign, I think, an early sign of the intensity gap in 2010 that we have been talking about a lot here.

In 2008, Barack Obama did not have to give gift bags to his supporters. They believed him in, they wanted him, they wanted to support him. They didn't ask for anything in return.

Suddenly, it...

BORGER: Oh, sure they did.

FRUM: Not as much.

BORGER: Oh, come on.

FRUM: Suddenly, in 2010, you have to give them a gift bag. And that's a sign of the dwindling of Democratic enthusiasm.

When you have a real campaign, when you have, the way the Democrats were in 2008, the way the Republicans were in 1980, the big donors ask for a lot less.

BLITZER: What do you think?

CLARENCE PAGE, COLUMNIST, "THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE": Well, I don't mind if they go visit the White House. Is he giving away the public option? Is he giving away bank bailouts? I mean, no serious issues here.


PAGE: Where's the evidence, David? I mean...


FRUM: There was a big bank bailout.

PAGE: I'm sorry?

FRUM: They did give away a big bank bailout.

PAGE: In exchange for campaign donations? That's what I care about more than a tour of the White House.

Everybody talks about this kind of thing, insiders going over and sleeping in the Lincoln Bedroom or something.


PAGE: But I have not seen an election turn on this.

The problem for Obama is with the independent voters out there, who may want to get cool in their intensity, as you mentioned, because Obama is not the pristine angel they may have imagined. But is there a quid pro quo? That's the key question here. And I don't see the evidence of it.


BORGER: James, you remember this better than any of us, the coffees at the White House with President Clinton. And the whole question was whether the president was selling access.


BORGER: Do you think that's a problem here?

CAVUTO: Right.

Well, you know, on March 10, 2004, President Bush had 270 overnight guests. And many of these were pioneers or bundlers or rangers or whatever they called them. And that's what it is.


CARVILLE: Look, I wish they would -- campaigns would be publicly finance. I think the intersection of money and politics in this country is corrosive, to say the least.

It is actually much worse in the congressional than it is in the executive branch of government.

BORGER: Right.

CARVILLE: But we just can't pretend that this doesn't happen.

And, by the way, look, a lot of people that raise money for the president are friends of his from Chicago, who he has longstanding relationships with, that raised money for him for all of his races. That's very typical in politics.

So, I think that our viewers just need to know and understand -- we have a very sophisticated viewers -- this stuff is going on. And unless we change the way we fund campaigns, it's going to continue to go on.

BLITZER: I guess we should all be shocked, shocked that fat cat -- big-time political fat cats are getting special access.


PAGE: Well, the first Mayor Daley said you don't reward your enemies and punish your friends. It's just rational that people who are big donors are going to get a visit from the president...


BLITZER: All right, let's talk about Senator John McCain right now. He's written an article on our new and improved And I recommend that our viewers read it, because it's a thoughtful piece from Senator McCain, as usual.

Among other things, he writes this. He says: "As long as Afghanistan is insecure, it is unreasonable to assume that governance will improve. That is why protecting the population must be job one right now. And, in the immediate term, much of that work must be done by U.S. and NATO troops."

Gloria, he's really putting the pressure on the president to make a decision, to do it quickly, and to accept the recommendation of the commander on the ground in Afghanistan, and deploy another, what, 40,000 troops there?

BORGER: Sure. Right.

And, Wolf, today, "The New York Times" is saying that that's exactly the way that the president is tending, that he wants to protect the most populist areas in Afghanistan, and perhaps in the rural areas leave that to drones, et cetera, because they're not jihadists. It's all local politics in the rural areas.

So, I think you may see less of a difference between John McCain and President Obama in the end of this. However, some people like Dick Cheney, he has accused the president of dithering, and that's sort of silly. The president has a process he's going through.


BLITZER: James, if he accepts General McChrystal's recommendations, he's going to have a lot of Republicans backing him, but the irony will be a lot of Democrats will be deeply disappointed.


They will. And, you know, I hate to say this, but I read what Senator McCain wrote. And I agreed with every word of it. And I read what Tom Friedman, who says we shouldn't do any more, and I agree with every word that Tom Friedman said.

So, everything everybody says about Afghanistan, I say, well, gee, that sounds like it's a good point. And I have great sympathy for the president and his advisers, because this is a might near impossible thing. As best I can figure, we're just going to have to wait and see what he does.

Hopefully, it will work. I'm pretty skeptical about anything working there, but, hey, I have been wrong before.

BLITZER: David Frum.

FRUM: I think the real war that just broke out is the one that broke out between the Army and the CIA on the front page of "The New York Times" this morning.

The Army dropped an unbelievable bomb on the CIA, saying that the brother of the president, Wali Karzai -- the president is Hamid Karzai -- who has been a notorious figure in Afghanistan, was on the payroll. And they conspicuously put Army fingerprints all over this, with quotes from senior military officials, and a couple of really jaw- dropping quotes from the head of Army intelligence in Afghanistan.

This is a war between the counterinsurgency approach, which the Army is advocating, of population first, and the CIA's approach, which is, we just want to kill bad guys, and that means we have to deal with other guys who are slightly less bad to find out where the very bad guys are.


FRUM: And that is the real struggle that's going on right now.

BLITZER: All right, guys.

CARVILLE: Fund-raising and bureaucratic fund-raising going on in Washington.


BLITZER: Shocked, shocked, we are all shocked to hear that.


BLITZER: All right, guys, don't go way. We have much more to discuss.

Just a year ago, she was the Republican nominee for vice president, and that makes the results of our brand-new poll on Sarah Palin perhaps all the more shocking. Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is here with the new numbers and what they might mean for Sarah Palin.


BLITZER: We will get back to the best political team on television in a moment.

(NEWS BREAK) BLITZER: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is preparing to make a major announcement, as Democrats push even harder for health care reform. But we're hearing that the speaker won't be getting exactly what she wants.

Let's go to our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash. She's working the story.

What's on tap for tomorrow, Dana? What are we hearing?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, House Democratic leaders who just got finished with a meeting just down the hall here in the House speaker's office will unveil their long-awaited health care plan tomorrow. And they hope to bring it to the House floor for debate as soon as next week.

Now, this bill will have a public option in it. There was never any question about that in the House. But this will have the more moderate version of it that will basically allow doctors to negotiate their rates that they get paid to the government.

Now, this is a blow to the House speaker, who wanted what has been known to be called a robust option, which would mandate by the government how much doctors would get paid. But she basically could not get the votes. She tried for about a week, along with other fellow liberals, and the votes just weren't there for it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana, Dana, she has another headache potentially, how they're going to finesse the whole issue of abortion in this new legislation.

BASH: A very controversial issue.

And the issue is that there are a healthy number of Democrats -- Democrats -- who are opposed to abortion, and they do not believe that any federal funds should be going towards abortion. And they want to make this health care bill to make that explicit.

Well, one of those Democrats in Bart Stupak of Michigan. I talked to him. And he says that he does have enough Democratic votes to block this bill if it's not resolved.


REP. BART STUPAK (D), MICHIGAN: We feel we have enough votes, 218, to block the rule, to block the bill from coming to the floor. We should not use public funds to pay for abortion. If you want that service, you should pay for it out of your own money and not ask the government to pay for it.


BASH: The House Democrats say they do actually have language in their bill that prohibits federal funding, taxpayers dollars to be used for abortions, but here's one of the main issues, and that is that if somebody now under the mandates that people have to get insurance, if they are getting taxpayers dollars to help pay for that insurance, and if they get an abortion using their insurance, even if it's private, the question is how do you make sure that taxpayer money didn't go for that abortion.

Well, the Democratic leadership, they say that their bill does make sure of that. They say that there are separate accounts, but the Democrats like Bart Stupak, who are staunchly opposed to abortion, they say they're not so sure that would really work.

BLITZER: Are we closer to a vote on the House floor? Dana, when is that House floor vote of the health care reform legislation supposedly going to take place?

BASH: Well, assuming they can overcome this as one example, this abortion issue, and many others, the goal in fact of the House Democratic leadership is to have a vote by November 10th.

It's unclear if that's going to happen, but that is the goal as of now, so that's about a week and a half from now.

BLITZER: Yes, that not long away. All right, we'll continue to watch, Dana's watching all of this on the Hill for us.

It appears Harry Reid isn't passing up an opportunity to highlight his push for a public option. The Senate majority leader in the new e-mail to his political supporters highlights how he's fighting for a government insurance plan.

In a newsletter put together by friends of Harry Reid, calls the Senator's actions on healthcare courageous. There may be some politics here. The public option is strongly supported by groups on the left, including the major labor unions and organizations Reid desperately needs behind him next year as he faces a very tough re- election back in his home state of Nevada.

Americans' health on the line as the swine flu vaccine is slowly released. Are both Democrats and Republicans playing politics with the outbreak?


BLITZER: We're back to the breaking news. We're following federal authorities now saying they shot and killed the leader of an African-American group of converts to Islam in the Detroit, Michigan area. Susan Candiotti is getting additional details for us.

What do we know, Susan?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this happened during the course of when FBI agents were executing search warrants and going in to make some arrests as well. And that's when the gun fire erupted.

This happened in an area of Detroit. They were going in because they had search warrants and arrest warrants for 11 people. One of those people is now dead. The FBI says he refused to put down his gun, gun fire was exchanged, and the alleged ring leader of this group was killed.

Seven people are in custody, 3 more people remain at large, but what's interesting is what these people are charged with, and it's mainly operating in stolen goods, having possession of illegal firearms and according to a lengthy criminal complaint, there were 10 deals that were made with undercover federal agents that involved buying HD TVs, laptop computers, but they were also involved in body armor as well.

Above and beyond that, what's interesting is a group to which they belong, which is called Ummah, a group that is said according to prosecutors to be lead by famous H. Rapp Brown. You remember him from the '60s, and this group is run by him, the ex-Black Panther from federal prison.

Their idea is to carry out acts of violence they said against the United States. Threatening the United States with an offensive jihad. However, the ring has apparently now been broken up that was based in the Detroit area.

Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And this group supposedly wanted to create what, a Sharia or an Islamic law state here in the United States, was that part of their agenda?

CANDIOTTI: That's right. They wanted to set up a separate state according to prosecutors, and they had a lot of meetings about that. There were at least three undercover informants that were involved in this operation.

At least one person I think has appeared in court so far today and of course, more details will be coming out in the coming days.

BLITZER: Yes, we're getting a lot of help from our affiliates, WVID (ph) in Detroit. The video we saw coming courtesy of them.

Thanks very much for that, Susan. We'll check back with you.

Another story we're following here in the "Situation Room" if, if Sarah Palin decides to run for president, she'll have a lot of convincing to do. Have to convince a lot of people that she's ready.

We're seeing some potentially worrisome results for her in a fresh new poll. Let's bring in our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. Are the numbers good and bad? Explain to our viewers, Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: They are, Wolf. If you know, when you talk to John McCain about his selection of Sarah Palin as his number two on the Republican ticket, he inevitably talks about the passion that she ignited on the campaign trail. Well, looking at this poll, what we see is that those passions are still there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CROWLEY: In some way, the majority of Americans view Sarah Palin positively. Sixty-four percent consider her a good role model for women, 56 percent say she cares about people, 55 percent call her honest and trustworthy.

SARAH PALIN: And I'll betcha...

CROWLEY: Is she qualified to be president? Uh-oh. Just short of the year since the McCain-Palin ticket was defeated, CNN Opinion Research Corporation poll found only 29 percent of Americans think that John McCain's vice-presidential pick is qualified to be president. A whopping 71 percent say she is not. A number that is both stunning and not.

ANNE KORNBLUT, WASHINGTON POST: I think that was always going to be the steep hill for her was to prove her credential and that is something that if she's going to run, she's going to have to do after the book comes out.

CROWLEY: That's another number Palin will like. Her book, due out next month, is second on Amazon's bestseller list. Palin suffers from disconnect. While many Americans find positive attributes in her, they don't think she has the right stuff to sit in the Oval Office. Fewer than half says she is a strong leader, shares their values, or agrees with them on issues.

Political reporter Anne Kornblut, author of a soon-to-be released book "Notes from the Cracked Ceiling," is surprise Palin's numbers are as high as they are.

KORNBLUT: I think that certainly any candidate who's on the high 40s on any of these attributes, obviously room to grow, would need to grow, but that's not really that far outside the ball park where you'd expect somebody who's that controversial to be.

CROWLEY: Certainly, Palin still has a home in politics in the heart of the GOP. She ranks number two in the Republican-only presidential preference poll. The problem is her disapproval rating, 51 percent, is higher than of her fellow Republicans on that list.

So, though a good majority of Americans find reason for positive feelings about Sarah Palin the person, Palin the politician remains a divisive figure.

A couple of things to remember about that all-Republican presidential preference poll. First, Mike Huckabee has been on top almost since the election was over last year. Second, of all of those on the list, Sarah Palin has the highest negative numbers, the highest negative numbers, the highest disapproval rate, that at 51 percent. Third, Wolf, as you know, it is an awfully long time till the next presidential election. Interesting for today, may not hold even till tomorrow.

BLITZER: A long time, three years till the next election, but guess what, Candy, only two years or so before the Iowa caucuses, right? CROWLEY: Looking forward to that.

BLITZER: I know you are. Let's get ready for that.

Thanks, Candy, very much.

The politics of swine flu. Democrats and Republicans are slamming each other over funding, vaccine shortages and more. We're back with the best political team on television.


BLITZER: The politics of swine flu. Let's talk about that with our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune, and Democratic Congressman Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which is in charge of trying to get Democrats elected to the House of Representative.

Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN, (D), MARYLAND: It's good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: You made a very serious charge here in this DCCC press release. I'll read a line from it.

"The family, schools and businesses fighting against the H1N1 flu pandemic deserve better than House Republicans' reckless, knee-jerk partisanship, and just say no approach to helping prepare for this national emergency."

What's going on here? What are the Republicans doing wrong? I thought everybody wants to deal with swine flu, the H1N1?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, here's what happened. President Obama and the administration are trying to get the swine flu vaccine deployed as fast as the science would allow. The Republicans have said they're mismanaging it. They've made statements trying to make this into a big political issue. We thought it was only fair to point out that in the House, 95 percent of the Republicans voted against the measure, $2 billion measure to fund the swine flu...


VAN HOLLEN: ... vaccine. And so we thought that given the fact that they were being critical about the management of this program, it was worth pointing out to the American people that they had their way, you wouldn't have had the $2 billion for it in the first place.

BLITZER: Here's what Roy Blunt said, a republican in Missouri said, he said -- "If the current administration, referring to the democratic administration cannot manage what is a basic responsibility of the federal government, how can they be expected to micro-manage doctor-patient relationships. Is that what we can expect from government-run health care?" So, all of the sudden, all of the swine flu debate, the vaccine safe, not safe, where are they? Is it back to the politics?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, they have tried to tie this as you saw from Roy Blunt, what they try to do is into the health care debate and what we want to point in response is that they have voted no to just about everything we have proposed, including something as common-sensical as providing $2 billion back in June, when people predicted this was going to be a problem. The president said we need $2 billion, they said no and so for them to come around today and say President Obama, you're not getting this flu vaccine deployed quickly enough, is awfully hypocritical given the position they took in June (ph).

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYSTS: Putting the Republicans aside Congressman, as they tried to do but putting the aside, doesn't the administration have a problem here because it did overpromise the delivery of the vaccines and they're not there?

VAN HOLLEN: I think what happened was that the science wasn't as advanced and far enough along as the administration predicted. But they obviously made the right choice in this sense, that you want to make sure the vaccine you develop is safe, you want to make sure it's been tested. You obviously don't want to send something out in that's unsafe. Yes, it took a little bit more time than they predicted to deploy the swine flu vaccine. But the fact of the matter is they had to go through the testing to get it done. And to be criticized by the Republicans for the deployment of that when they voted, the same Republicans who are complaining now voted against the $2 billion that provided the swine flu vaccine, you got it. That's pretty hypocritical. We wouldn't have any vaccine ...

CLARENCE PAGE, CHICAGO TRIBUNE: They voted against that money because of fiscal reasons, the Democrats are getting farther away from a balanced budget. It wasn't that they don't want us to have the H1N1, right?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, apparently for whatever reasons, they decided they didn't want to spend $2 billion on swine flu vaccine. And now they are coming around months later to complain that that vaccine that they voted not to fund is not being deployed fast enough. And so look, I think it is important to point out, they are using this politically as part of the health care debate. They don't even have their own health care reform plan that they put on the table.


BORGER: But aren't you now? But aren't you now? You are too, right?

VAN HOLLEN: What's that?

BORGER: But you are too, now?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, we think it's fair to respond. When they say that the president is mismanaging a -- the deployment of a vaccine, that if they had had their way, 95 percent of the House voted against. I think it just shows how out of touch the House Republicans are. BLITZER: But in fairness, it looks like - let's say this was the Bush administration, and they had told the American people 100 million doses are going to be available by mid October. Come mid October, 10 million or 15 million vaccines are available. Wouldn't you be saying, well the Bush administration overpromised and they're not qualified? This is politics in Washington as usual.

VAN HOLLEN: Put it this way, if I had voted against funding the vaccine that was delaying the funding, I would not have the gall to go out and criticize them having voted against funding for it. No, I think that's complete hypocrisy, and I wouldn't have had the gall to do that, actually.

BORGER: Congressman, very quickly, obviously this is part of the health care debate, you're a member of the leadership, you're in a meeting with the house speaker today about the public option, what kind of a public option will you propose and what will it cost?

VAN HOLLEN: The public option will be a public option, and again there's going to be some final discussion within the caucus, but the likely result will be a negotiated rate public option, which is a public option that will create competition and choice. We do not have an opt-out provision.

BORGER: It won't be the big robust ...

VAN HOLLEN: It won't be the opt-out provision like they have in the Senate. We want everybody in the public option and it will provide the competition.


BLITZER: It's the more modest public option, it's not the robust. You couldn't get 218 votes for the robust public option?

VAN HOLLEN: All this talk about different flavors of public option, I think is, you know, gotten everybody wound up, and people have lost sight of what our objective was to begin with, which is to have a public option out there, a credible public option.

BORGER: What's the cost? Because your moderate Democrats that you're trying to get re-elected, they care about the price tag on this. Do you know what it is?

BLITZER: The Blue Dogs.

BORGER: Do you know what it is?

VAN HOLLEN: The cost of the bill will meet the president's request that it will be under $900 billion and it will reduce the deficit. The president was very clear he wouldn't not sign the bill unless it reduced the deficit. This bill will meet those requirements.

BLITZER: Congressman Chris Van Hollen. Good of you in coming into this Situation Room. VAN HOLLEN: Thanks very much.

BLITZER: Did California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger put a hidden and obscene message inside his letter to state law makers. We'll going to show you. You can decide for yourself. Take a look.


BLITZER: Here's a weird story. California lawmakers are buzzing about a note from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger explaining why he's refusing to sign a bill dealing with financing for the port of San Francisco. The text, the text of this letter says that Schwarzenegger currently finds the measure unnecessary given the other pressing problems facing the state. But some see a more pointed message in the seven-line note. The first line collectively from each line collectively spells out in obscenity starting with the words "F" and followed by the word "you." Spokesman for Schwarzenegger says -- he told it was just a coincidence. If you go to our website, you can see exactly what the letter says. That's a little weird, I must say. Let's go to Lou who is smiling, have you heard about this? How do you read the letter?


LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: I thought you did that artfully, Wolf. It did begin with an "F" and it does end with -- not the letter, but the word "you." I think Schwarzenegger was as you put it -- we're going to actually have a story on that. Casey Wian reporting from tonight from California on the governor's -- well, his liberties that he takes with direct language.

Also tonight, we're going to have another ACORN outrage. Despite all the corruption, allegations and the public scandal. Some Democratic lawmakers don't want to give the left wing group the chance to officially regulate our banks for the government. What kind of madness is this? What's in it for the democrats? We'll find out.

Also, a horrific gang rape in north California, in northern California. A 15-year-old girl brutally attacked for more than two hours on the school grounds. Police say up to as many as 20 people were watching and did nothing to stop it, nor did they report the crime. Should they be prosecuted as well? Where is the outrage?

And the hidden dangers of professional football. Lawmakers grilling the head of the NFL about the long-term effect of head injuries and football. Questions tonight about how safe is it for our kids to be playing football. What is the NFL doing? Testifying before congress today, we'll be talking with three of the leading experts and Hall of Fame linebacker Harry Carson joins us.

Also tonight, our economics panel, debating what is the status of this economy. When are jobs coming back? Is this recovery sustainable? Join us for all of that, all for this news and a lot more at the top of the hour. Wolf, back to you. And more letters to read, I'll bet.

BLITZER: Yes, thank you very much for that, Lou. Jeanne Moos when we come back.



JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lights, camera, action. Aww, who needs lights?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Take good steps to get there.

CRAIG FERGUSON: All right. Oh!

MOOS (voice-over): That's the last Craig Ferguson's audience saw of actress Alicia Silverstone.

FERGUSON: Everybody, quietly -- keep going, keep going what?

MOOS: Going to a commercial, the blackout at the Los Angeles studio continued, but Ferguson supplied his on lighting, ad-libbing.

FERGUSON: It's kind of like one of these movies that make a million, gazillion dollars now.

MOOS: Of course, Ferguson isn't the first talk show host to lose his lights.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now we can say anything you want.

MOOS: But for some reason, Ferguson is electrically jinxed. The light on the guest has repeatedly gone out.

FERGUSON: Go sit in the other chair then. I'll sit in this chair.

MOOS: If it isn't the lights, it's a leak on the set.

FERGUSON: Come and look into this.

MOOS: Or a shattered teleprompter. Ferguson broke his own prompter and then went to the instant replay.

FERGUSON: Oh, look at that, yes!

MOOS: But twice Ferguson has found himself in the dark.

FERGUSON: My first thought, put your hand on her booby.

MOOS: With lines like that, who needs a teleprompter?

(on camera) Now, most of the lighting mishaps you see on TV don't actually leave the talent in total darkness, but they do have an explosive quality.

CONNIE CHUNG: Hollywood madam -- oh, that was the light.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A light bulb blew out. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to talk with Joe Paterno (ph) tonight about --


MOOS: Pants on fire. But news anchors can't compare with the comedian when it comes to the comeback. Ferguson resorted to his Alfred Hitchcock impersonation.

FERGUSON: And now, I would like to bid you good night.

MOOS: Leaving TV critics to speculate on the cause of the blackout. "Entertainment Weekly" wondered if the gods of the Village People seeking revenge for Ferguson's show opener.


It's a wonder that didn't shatter the glass.

FERGUSON: Look at that, yeah!

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Let's go to "Lou Dobbs Tonight." Lou.