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Interview With Arizona Senator John McCain; Possible Links to Muslim Extremists in Fort Hood Shootings?

Aired November 9, 2009 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: the best political team on television on these stories, breaking news we're following on the alleged Fort Hood gunman's trail of clues. Did authorities miss possible links to Muslim extremists because they were being politically correct? We have new information coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM this hour.

And I will speak with Senator John McCain and ask him what he's learned about the Fort Hood investigation. The Republican joins us this hour to talk about the dangers for U.S. troops right now.

And the high-powered meeting that President Obama doesn't want you to see a lot of. Is there anything in his talks with the Israeli prime minister that he's trying to hide?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: And the breaking news this hour, we're learning more about the investigation into the alleged Fort Hood gunman and whether he had direct or indirect ties to Islamic extremists. Hospital officials say Major Nidal Malik Hasan now is able to talk after being shot and wounded during the rampage last week. Authorities certainly will have lots of questions for him.

Let's bring in our Brian Todd. He's been investigating, coming up with new information.

What are you picking up, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we have information from a former U.S. counterterrorism official who is familiar with the Hasan investigation. We're told that Nidal Hasan's name came up during a terror investigation unrelated to Hasan.

The official says intelligence agencies intercepted communications from Hasan. It is not clear who Hasan was communicating with. The communications included comments on things such as suicide bombings. But they appeared to be in the context of an academic discussion.

This information was shared in the interagency process. And U.S. officials agreed in the context of Hasan's job as a psychiatrist treating victims from the wars, that the discussion did not seem to require further investigation. Again, to reiterate the point, that because of his work in dealing with veterans from wars, this could have been a very routine discussion and unrelated to any particular terrorist event.

In the meantime, U.S. officials are looking into links that Hasan had with a second mosque in the Washington, D.C., area.


TODD (voice-over): Connections with a former imam here at the Dar al Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Virginia. At the moment, it's unclear whether Hasan ever made contact with that former imam, Anwar al-Awlaki.

But al-Awlaki's background and their common connection to this Virginia mosque raise the question, is it conspiracy or coincidence? Al-Awlaki was the subject of several federal investigations dating back to the late 1990s, but was never charged.

Al-Awlaki is mentioned in the 9/11 Commission report as having developed a close relationship with two 9/11 hijackers while al-Awlaki was at the Virginia mosque in 2001 and earlier in San Diego. The 9/11 Commission says it's not clear if al-Awlaki knew the two were terrorists, but security experts describe him as a radical Islamic fundamentalist.

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: This is a guy well-known in terrorist circles and very supportive of terrorists in the past.

TODD: A blog believed to be written by al-Awlaki, who is now thought to be in Yemen, praises Nidal Hasan as a hero, a man of conscience who could not bear living the contradiction of being a Muslim and serving in an army that is fighting against his own people.

Al-Awlaki's former mosque denounces those remarks. And in an interview with CNN's Special Investigations Unit, the current imam denied any position connections between al-Awlaki, the hijackers, and Nidal Hasan.

SHEIKH SHAKER ELSAYED, IMAM, DAR AL HIJRAH ISLAMIC CENTER: To say that he was here when they were here, as if they converged on a place, which is not the case. We know better now.

TODD: But there is an indication that Hasan had some connection with the Virginia mosque when al-Awlaki was there. A May 2001 obituary for Hasan's mother in the "Roanoke Times" newspaper said her funeral would be held at that mosque. It's not clear who presided over the funeral. Al-Awlaki left the United States in 2002.

The current imam knew Nidal Hasan and says he is shocked about the Fort Hood shootings.

ELSAYED: The quiet, very peaceful person coming in and out of the mosque, I couldn't believe he could have done this.


TODD: Again, to reiterate what you might have missed at the top of our piece, federal investigators looking at whether Nidal Hasan had any possible connection with a former imam of that mosque, the former imam named Anwar al-Awlaki, who's now believed to be in Yemen.

Now, at a conference today, the imam, the current imam, who you just heard from there, Sheikh Elsayed, said that while accepting the fact that Nidal Hasan practiced the faith, that they offer no justification for the actions at Fort Hood.

BLITZER: After this Imam al-Awlaki went to Yemen -- and we believe he's in Yemen right now -- is there hard evidence that he's been involved in what we might call radical activity?

TODD: Well, Fran Townsend, who was in the Justice Department and a former homeland security adviser to President Bush, said that when al-Awlaki went to Yemen, he continued to act as a preacher, that he stayed involved with radicals, and tried to get people to listen to his jihadist philosophy. So, at least he was involved in some propaganda activities.

BLITZER: We will continue to watch this story. It's very significant. Thanks, Brian, very much.

And stay with CNN for live coverage of the memorial for the victims of the Fort Hood rampage, including remarks by President Obama. Our coverage begins tomorrow at 1:30 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN. I will be anchoring our coverage from here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And if you're away, you can watch -- you can't see it on TV, you can certainly see it on, that memorial service at Fort Hood tomorrow. More on this story coming up later this hour.

But we're also watching another important story involving a very important visitor to the United States. He's getting ready to make an appearance over at the White House to discuss some critical issues. But there's a bit of a catch. You won't see pictures courtesy of the news media. The president will be sitting down with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, later tonight, on the agenda, Middle East peace talks.

But this important session is happening at a rather odd hour for such a meeting and under unusual circumstances.

Our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry, is joining us with more.

Ed, exactly what's going on?

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, next month, the president will be in Oslo accepting the Nobel Peace Prize. But so far his efforts at Mideast peace have hit a brick wall, and that may explain why he's not trying to bring a lot of attention to tonight's meeting. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY (voice-over): Even before he was officially sworn in, President Obama raised expectations about quick progress on Mideast peace.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT-ELECT: Starting at the beginning of our administration, we are going to engage effectively and consistently in trying to resolve the conflicts that exist in the Middle East.


HENRY: But it has stalled so badly that a visit to Washington this week by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu posed a huge dilemma. Schedule a high-profile presidential meeting, and it may only highlight the failure of the peace process, but refuse to meet and it becomes a snub.

AARON DAVID MILLER, PUBLIC POLICY SCHOLAR, WOODROW WILSON INTERNATIONAL CENTER FOR SCHOLARS: They have got themselves into a box. This meeting is not substantive. No one is expecting much out of it. But they can't use it in an effort to dis the Israelis. Otherwise, they will find themselves -- and it's hard to imagine -- in a worse situation than the one they have already created.

HENRY: In the end, the president will meet with Netanyahu, but at 7: 00 p. m. , with no cameras allowed in, though White House aides insist they're not downgrading the process.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think it's pretty safe to assume that the president thinks no less of the importance of the Middle East peace process simply by subtracting one television camera.

HENRY: But talks are stalled over the controversial issue of Israeli settlements. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has expressed frustration that the Obama administration has eased pressure on Israel after initially demanding a total freeze of settlements.

Before his meeting at the White House, Netanyahu delivered a conciliatory speech saying his government has restrained settlements and is ready for substantive peace talks.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: I cannot be more emphatic on this point, but to get to a peace agreement we have to start negotiating the peace agreement. And it's high time that we stop negotiating about the negotiations. Let's get on with it. Let's move.


HENRY: But it's hard to get moving when the top Palestinian negotiator, President Abbas, is suggesting he will not run for reelection in January. That's yet another wild card that's making it difficult for the president's once rosy sort of predictions and hopes from actually turning out to be true -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, it's a tough, tough, tough challenge.

Thanks very much, Ed Henry, at the White House.

Meanwhile, a big day on Wall Street. The Dow soared almost 204 points to almost 10227, higher than it's been for more than a year. The S&P and Nasdaq indices also ended up. Analysts say it's due to investor confidence after so-called Group of 20 said over the weekend that economic stimulus efforts would remain in place.

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: I have a question before we get to the question.


CAFFERTY: Remember back during the campaign when Barack Obama was promising all sorts of transparency in government if he got elected?

BLITZER: Yes, I remember he said that C-SPAN would cover all the negotiations on health care up on the Hill.

CAFFERTY: Yes. Yes. So, now we have got the House voting on health care reform late on a Saturday night, close to midnight. We didn't post the bill for the 72 hours online that Pelosi said we should -- and now we have got a meeting with Netanyahu on the Middle East where we're not going to even allow a TV camera in the room.

Is this the kind of transparency and openness we were promised?


CAFFERTY: No. That was my question.

Now, here's the other question. Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who has been there and done that when it comes to Afghanistan, says instead of sending more troops, President Obama should prepare to withdraw.

It's advice Mr. Obama may want to consider as he weighs sending up to 40,000 additional troops into that eight-year-old war. You see, the Soviets occupied Afghanistan in 1979 -- 10 years later, they picked up their toys and went home, after intense opposition from Afghan fighters, which was backed at the time by the United States and Pakistan -- 13,000 U.S. soldiers -- I'm sorry -- Soviet soldiers, more than a million Afghans died during that 10-year period.

At the time, Gorbachev withdrew his forces, he called the occupation of Afghanistan a -- quote -- "bleeding wound" -- unquote. Gorbachev now says the Soviets talked about actually sending more troops back then, but decided against it. Instead, he says, they chose to work on domestic development in Afghanistan and promoting reconciliation between the various factions in the country, which has worked out exceedingly well, as you may have noticed.

Gorbachev acknowledges terrorism can't be ignored, but the overall emphasis should be on dialogue and ultimately a withdrawal of troops. Meanwhile, President Obama has been holding meetings for over a month now with top military and foreign policy advisers about what to do next in Afghanistan. Maybe someday he will make up his mind.

Last month was the deadliest for U.S. troops in the eight years that we have been involved in that war.

Here's the question. Should President Obama heed former Soviet President Gorbachev's advice on Afghanistan and prepare to withdraw U.S. troops? Go to and let us know what you think -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

He was an American senator at the time, the time when the wall came tumbling down. Senator John McCain, he remembers vividly what happened 20 years ago, when the Berlin Wall fell. What lessons should the Obama administration remember as it presses ahead with its foreign policy?

Senator John McCain, there you see him on Capitol Hill. He's standing by to join us live.


BLITZER: Twenty years ago today, East German police stood aside as a river of people streamed into West Berlin. The wall was only a memory. Soviet communism fell for many reasons, military, economic, but at least for one key U.S. senator, human rights played a deep and essential role.

And Senator John McCain believes it must remain an essential part of our foreign policy today.

Senator McCain is joining us from Capitol Hill.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: What's the major lesson that the Obama administration, President Obama, to be more precise, needs to learn from what happened 20 years ago today in Berlin?

MCCAIN: I think the emphasis on human rights is vital.

Ronald Reagan was much criticized when he said, "Take down this wall, Mr. Gorbachev," and he called the Soviet Union an evil empire. But he also dealt with them on issues that needed to be dealt with.

So, I was deeply disappointed at the time of the demonstrations in Tehran that the president, especially, but also the administration, did not speak up for human rights. Now they are saying on the streets in the demonstrations most recently, "Obama, Obama, are you with us or are you with them?"

We need to make it very clear that we're with them.

BLITZER: What about when the Dalai Lama came to Washington and wasn't received personally by the president because he's going to China, actually, in a few days? Was that a mistake?

MCCAIN: I can't say it was a mistake. I have to give the president the benefit of the doubt.

Obviously, I hate to get into these -- this phrase, "if I were president," but I would have met with the Dalai Lama. I would not have -- if I had been secretary of state -- I don't think that the secretary of state should have said before she went on her first visit to China, that -- she said -- quote -- "We're not going to talk about human rights."

We should always talk about human rights. We also have to put them in a context where they may not be the most important issue, but they're always important. And they should never be removed from our lexicon.

BLITZER: Have you seen any -- any change in Iran? I know you criticized the administration for not being more vociferous in supporting the opposition in the immediate aftermath of the election. But all the reaching out to Iran, trying to establish some sort of dialogue, has that achieved anything so far?

MCCAIN: Nothing that I have seen so far.

And, look, I'm not saying that the president should have done that. The president was elected, and that was an option he made. But there's got to be, at some point, if there's not any positive reaction from the Iranian government, that we then have to move on to other measures to try to prevent them from becoming a nuclear power, particularly since it's very clear that they are continuing to support terrorist organizations, whether they be in southern Lebanon or whether they happen to be in Iraq or even Afghanistan.

So, I think we need to -- to draw a line at some point. But, again, when Neda bled to death in a street in Tehran and it was seen around the world, that was the beginning of the end of this regime. I don't know when it's going to happen.

And I was surprised when the Berlin Wall came down. And I will probably be surprised when the regime in Tehran topples. But we should be on their side and on the right side of history.

BLITZER: Neda was that young woman who -- such a powerful image that all of us remember only a few weeks ago.

I know you're getting ready to fly down to Texas for the memorial service at Fort Hood tomorrow. You're the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. I assume you have been briefed on what exactly we know about Major Hasan.

Do we believe -- do you believe that he was actually in contact with al Qaeda elements leading up to this?

MCCAIN: Wolf, I do not know.

I'm having a briefing. Senator Levin and I are being briefed on Monday on all aspects of this situation. There's all kinds of rumors flying around and reports. I don't think there's any doubt that this individual was not only disturbed, but displayed by his behavior a situation that called for some kind of remedy earlier than it did.

I say that with the benefit of hindsight being 20/20. But I do not have sufficient information to make a judgment on it. I'm sorry.

BLITZER: There are some who have actually made a very serious charge. And I'm going to play a little clip from a JAG officer, a military lawyer, who made this charge, because he knew Major Hasan. Listen to this.


THOMAS KENNIFF, ATTORNEY, ARMY JAG OFFICE: But, look, I think there is a culture of obsessive political correctness, not only within the country itself, but specifically within the military.


BLITZER: Is that true, do you think?

MCCAIN: Again, I don't know. I think that there are allegations that political correctness may have prevented us from taking actions earlier.

But for me to reach that conclusion would be irresponsible right now, Wolf.

BLITZER: On Afghanistan, would you agree with the former vice president that the president is dithering?

MCCAIN: I'm not sure I would use that language.

But I worry that this delay emboldens our adversaries and makes our allies in the region and around the world -- we're sounding an uncertain trumpet right now. And, so, I would like to see the president make that decision, send the signal. And I'm confident that the majority of the American people will support the president, if he makes the case. And I think he can.

BLITZER: I'm going to give you and my alma mater, Senator, a plug right now. I'm going to recommend that folks go and read the transcript of your very thoughtful speech today at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies here in Washington, D.C.

I know you put a lot of work into that speech, and especially important on this, the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, setting the stage for the collapse of the Soviet empire.

Thanks, Senator McCain, for coming in. And we will be covering the memorial service tomorrow in Fort Hood.

MCCAIN: Thank you, Wolf. And thank you for covering that service.

BLITZER: Thank you very much.

House Democrats, they're voting against health care reform. At least 39 of them broke ranks, many of them for the same reason. We're digging deeper as the battle enters a new phase.



BLITZER: There may be a poison pills in the health care bill that was passed by the House of Representatives -- why the legislation could be difficult or even impossible for some senators to swallow.


BLITZER: President Obama and Democrats made it through one major obstacle course to get health care reform approved by the House of Representatives over the weekend, but they may have set some traps for themselves as they try to navigate through the Senate, enormous challenges there.

Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is looking at these challenges and what's -- what's going on.

Dana, this is far from a done deal.


Wolf, we haven't even seen the Democrats' bill in the Senate, and, even so, controversial issues, like the public option and abortion, are already vexing Democrats. And it actually threatens to push this health care issue into next year, despite the president's pleas.


BASH (voice-over): Hours after House Democrats narrowly passed health care, presidential pressure for the next thorny step.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now it falls on the United States Senate to take the baton and bring this effort to the finish line on behalf of the American people.

BASH: And an unabashedly clear White House deadline.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president wants to sign health care before the end of the year.

BASH: That deadline demand is risky, since the earliest Senate Democrats would start debate is the week before Thanksgiving and it could continue through mid-December. House and Senate Democrats would then only have two to three weeks to iron out big differences to pass both chambers again by year's end.

And huge issues still divide Democrats.

First, the public option. It passed the House, but Senate Democrats still don't have 60 votes needed to pass it.

Next, taxes. House Democrats paid for much of their health care overhaul by taxing the wealthiest Americans -- a nonstarter in the Senate, which instead taxes high cost insurance plans.

Then there's the wrenching issue of abortion.

REP. MARCY KAPTUR (D), OHIO: No federal funds authorized under this act may be used to pay for any abortion.

BASH: To secure the votes of anti-abortion Democrats, House Democratic leaders passed a health care bill that prohibits abortion coverage in a government-run plan and in private plans that accept anyone using government subsidies to buy insurance coverage.

In the Senate, anti-abortion Democrat Ben Nelson tells CNN he would vote against health care without those restrictions.

SEN. BEN NELSON (D), NEBRASKA: If there's public money going to for -- fund abortions, I can't -- I can't support it, period, no matter what else is in it.

BASH: But abortion rights Democrats, including many of the 17 Senate women, may object.

PENNY LEE, FORMER SENATE DEMOCRATIC AIDE: Some of them just to rubber stamp it and say, oh, because the House dictated it, we're going to accept it. I think it's going to be tough for some of them to swallow that.


BASH: In fact, one of the Senate's leading abortion rights advocates, Senator Barbara Boxer, told me she believes what passed the House is "radical and unfair to women." She says that she will meet with a group of female senators tomorrow to try to figure out how to ease those abortion restrictions and make that go through the Senate.

But as you heard, she has a very different point of view from her fellow Democrat from Nebraska. And that just shows this issue of abortion, Wolf, does threaten to derail the health bill in the Senate, just as it almost did in the House.

BLITZER: And the president just spoke out about this abortion issue, as well. That's coming up in a few minutes. We'll share it with our viewers. He's trying to explain where he stands.

Meanwhile, we're digging deeper, especially looking at Democrats who voted against -- against the House bill. It's a gamble, balancing possible backlash from their party against possible backlash from their constituents.

Our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is here in THE SITUATION ROOM -- you're looking, Jessica, at the numbers, because these numbers are critical if there's ever going to be health care reform.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. There are 39 Democrats in the House who voted no on health care. Look at them. These are folks who are in incredibly -- a majority of them are in tough districts and face voters who lean Republican.

So let's break it down. If you look at the numbers, 31 of those 39 who voted no are from districts that actually voted for McCain last time around. That's nearly 80 percent of those Democrats come from McCain districts. And of them, 12 are freshmen who were just elected from districts that previously had a Republican in 2008. Of those 12, nine were also districts that went for McCain.

So the bottom line here is these are all members who are under enormous pressure to be centrists and moderates. They have to walk a fine line to keep their seat in Congress, Wolf, to keep Congress Democratic.

BLITZER: But some of those Democrats from these tough districts did vote yes?

YELLIN: Yes. There are a handful who did. For example, Tom Perriello from Virginia's Fifth District. That's a district that voted for McCain. Perriello won by just 800 votes. Already, the Republicans are targeting him. This is the kind of Democrat who could actually lose his seat, potentially, because he voted yes for this House health care bill.

BLITZER: Yes, these are tough, tough votes for these men and women in the U.S. Congress.


BLITZER: And the votes are going to continue.

Jessica, thanks very much for that.

There's breaking news we're following about the Army psychiatrist suspected in the massacre at Fort Hood and a terror investigation. The best political team on television is standing by.


BLITZER: We're following the breaking news this hour. A former U.S. counterterrorism official familiar with the probe into the accused Fort Hood gunman now telling CNN that Army Major Nidal Hasan's name did, in fact, come up during a terrorism investigation unrelated to Hasan.

Let's bring in the best political team on television, our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger; our Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor, Donna Brazile; Republican strategist, the former counselor to President Bush, Ed Gillespie; and our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.

Did political correctness, Ed Gillespie, effectively allow this guy's career to go forward in the United States military?

ED GILLESPIE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST, FORMER COUNSELOR, PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, Wolf, obviously, the caveat, I don't know enough in terms of the actual details, but I hope that's not the case. And I think that, you know, we have to be careful, obviously, not to stereotype anyone. And we should welcome Muslims into the United States Army and into the military.

But if someone has made the kind of comments that, you know, reportedly were made here, you certainly shouldn't look the other way out of political correctness. I don't know that that is what happened. I know there's an investigation going on. I just hope it's not the case.

BLITZER: These are among the most serious and sensitive issues you can imagine, whether or not someone just went berserk and killed a whole bunch of people or whether this individual had links to Al Qaeda.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: And, all of this is very troubling. And I would hope that the officials, whether it's the FBI or the Army, get to the bottom of it so that we know exactly what went on with this officer.

But there are 10,000 American Muslims who are serving every day in our military. And we owe it to them and we owe it to so many others to have a thorough investigation before we jump to any conclusions.

BLITZER: A lot of us remember President Clinton's address after the Oklahoma City bombings, when he went to the memorial service in Oklahoma City. Tomorrow, the president will go to Fort Hood. And this is a moment that he can help -- he can help discuss this sensitive issue with the American people.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, there -- there are moments when presidents have to become kind of a national pastor. And I think that this is going to be just such a moment for Barack Obama. I don't know whether he's going to talk about this man, who he was and -- and the Muslim community that serves in the armed -- in the armed forces. You know, we don't -- we haven't seen the speech yet.

But I -- I think this is obviously going to be an opportunity, particularly coming before Veterans Day, for him to talk about the service to America that these people at Fort Hood and everywhere give to their country.

BLITZER: And this is from a president from day one seeking to reach out to the Arab and Muslim world, as he has. CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I would suspect we won't hear him talk specifically about the gunman at a funeral service or a memorial service. But certainly, you could see him talking about the -- Muslims and the need not to rush to judgment. I mean I can see that kind of in this context.

These are always important speeches for presidents when they come along lines like this. But the one thing we do know about this president is A, he has a -- he is a good speechwriter. He has some great speechwriters with him and he can deliver a speech. So I expect that this will be something that sort of covers the waterfront here, both the sorrow, the fear and the -- the need to stay steady while we figure out what happened.

BLITZER: We're going to bring the entire memorial service to our viewers tomorrow. Our coverage begins at 1:30 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

Let me make the turn to the health care reform bill that passed narrowly -- about as narrow as possible...


BLITZER: the House of Representatives after 11:00 p.m. Eastern time late Saturday night.

I'm going to play a few clips and we'll start with you, Donna.

I'm going to play a few clips first of what the president said so many times over this past year.

Listen to this.


OBAMA: If you like your doctor, or health care provider you can keep them.



OBAMA: If you like your doctor, you keep your doctor.



OBAMA: If you like your health care plan, you keep your health care plan.



OBAMA: If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. (END VIDEO CLIP)


OBAMA: If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan.


BLITZER: Not necessarily. Not so fast, my friend, as one sportscaster I like to quote, often says, because if the House bill that passed with the anti-abortion amendment in it passes, it's going to be a very different plan for millions -- potentially millions of American women who might need an abortion.

BRAZILE: And that is the one guiding principle the president had throughout the debate, was if you like your plan. Well, if you like your plan and you're a woman, then this is not going to be a good option for you, because there's -- essentially, no insurance company that I can think of that will allow women to have a right to use their own private funds to be able to have the full access to reproductive health services.

No woman should be denied the right to have access to these services. And it should not be a bargaining chip in the Senate, to put women's lives on the line just simply to get this passed. This is -- this is a comprehensive bill. There's a lot of good features in this bill. But the last thing we need is to -- to have the abortion debate in the middle of this conversation.

BLITZER: Because he did give an interview today to ABC News, in which he sought to clarify his position, the president. I'll read a little line from it: "I laid out a very simple principle, which is this. This is a health care bill, not an abortion bill and we're not looking to change what is the principle that has been in place for a very long time, which is federal dollars are not used to subsidize abortions."

He seems to be backing away from the language that the House of Representatives approved, which went beyond the so-called Hyde Amendment.

GILLESPIE: Well, I wouldn't -- I wouldn't say that's much of a clarification, in some ways. I think he's obviously left himself a lot of wiggle room, which is understandable given this -- the fluidity here.

But, look, this is what's to be expected. And this will be the first of many controversial debates.

When you -- when insert the federal government into the role of health care and into decisions -- and, frankly, he is wrong to say, I believe that if you like your provider, you're going to be able to keep your provider. I believe we will see, Wolf, over time, tens of millions of Americans be shifted into the public option if this bill becomes law. CROWLEY: And this is only...

BORGER: Or shifting themselves.

CROWLEY: Well, yes.


CROWLEY: And this is only one of the issues they're going to face...


CROWLEY: the fact of the matter is that this is going to be a tougher battle in the Senate than it was in the House, because the margin of victory is so much smaller.

BORGER: Right.

CROWLEY: So the abortion battle and all the other battles -- the funding battle, the public option battle, all of those things are going to be much harder fought and much harder won, because the Senate has totally different roles and certainly there's not -- not the margin that Nancy Pelosi had to pass this.

BORGER: You know, it's every debate you've ever had rolled into one. It's the cultural issues, it's the social issues, it's abortion, it's immigration, it's your first...


BORGER:'s taxes, it's your personal financial situation, it's the national economy, it's personal decisions you make about yourself and your family. I mean it's so huge, it boggles the mind to think that they're going to get this done as quickly as they say they are.

BLITZER: We're out of time, but I'll read another line that the president said in this ABC News interview. He said: "We're not restricting women's insurance choices, because one of the pledges I made in that same speech was to say that if you're happy and satisfied with the insurance that you have, that it's not going to change."

That's what he's saying. So we'll see how all this falls out. This is a very sensitive issue.

BRAZILE: (INAUDIBLE) Women will not like this, at the end of the day.

BLITZER: I know Donna...

BORGER: Will they vote for it?

BLITZER: I know Donna will do that.

BORGER: Will they -- you know, will women vote for it? BRAZILE: Well, I think the women senators should let their voices be heard tomorrow.

BLITZER: Guys, we'll talk later. Stand by.

He says he wouldn't know marijuana if he saw it. Congressman Barney Frank is offering a rather unusual reason why.


BLITZER: Time to check our Political Ticker.

Let's go back to Jessica Yellin -- Jessica.

YELLIN: Wolf, this just in. Connecticut Governor Jodi Rell announced she will not run for re-election next year. The Republican is calling it quits after a tough budget battle with Democrats. Rell says there's no single reason she's leaving, but the economic mess is part of it. Rell got that job in 2004 when John Roland resigned in a corruption probe. And her exit gives Democrats their best opportunity in years to seize the Connecticut governor's office. It also means fewer and fewer women in governor's offices around the country.

Another former female governor, Sarah Palin -- she is at it again. Just when you thought the controversy over death panels was dead, oh, no, she's trying to bring it back to life. We checked out the former Alaska governor's Facebook page this weekend and she claimed that the health care reform bill just passed by the House includes panels that would decide whether people live or die. This time, she calls them "bureaucratic panels," the concept is the same.

So, for the record, the nonpartisan group says, no, no death panels in this bill.

All right, moving on, an influential conservative group is taking sides in the Florida Republican Senate primary. And this one, it's going to be a barn burner. What a race. The Club for Growth -- it is officially backing former state house speaker Marco Rubio over incumbent Republican governor, Charlie Crist.

Now, if you watch THE SITUATION ROOM, maybe you could see this one coming because the Club for Growth, it recently launched ads against Crist prevent his support for the stimulus package. And that all happened after Crist tried to distance himself from the stimulus in an interview you did right here in THE SITUATION ROOM -- Wolf.

And if you think...

BLITZER: Yes, and we're going to Marco Rubio coming into THE SITUATION ROOM to respond directly. We're going to invite him -- Jessica, have you got anymore items coming up?

YELLIN: Oh, yes. On more. And this is our favorite from our favorite quotation category.

Here we go. Congressman Barney Frank says he would not be able to recognize a marijuana plant because "he's not a great outdoorsman."

You ask, why would a Congressman bring that up?

Well, it turns out the Massachusetts Democrat was on hand when his partner was arrested for pot possession back in 2007. The "Boston Globe" reports Frank was on the front porch of James Ready's home in Maine when police found marijuana plants in the backyard. Now, Frank says he did not see the plants and he wouldn't know what they were anyway.

Who knew that only outdoorsy types know a marijuana plant when they see it?

So, Wolf, would you know a marijuana plant if you saw one?

BLITZER: I'm not sure -- I -- I -- I'm not sure I would know. If I could smell it, I think I'd know what it smelled like. But I'm not sure...

YELLIN: How would you know what it smells like?

BLITZER: Let's check in with Lou Dobbs.

He's got a lot more on this story coming up, I'm sure, at the top of the hour.

You can smell marijuana, Lou. But you probably wouldn't recognize a plant.

Am I right or wrong?

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Well, you're dead wrong. I would recognize it rather readily.

BLITZER: Oh, good.

DOBBS: And I think that we've got to give Barney Frank great credit for -- I love the fact that he said that he's not an outdoorsman. I mean that's funny as it can be.

Wolf, thanks a lot.

And, by the way, you and Jessica, I think, got out of that just in time to save both your careers.

Coming up at the top of the hour here on CNN, questions tonight about the suspected Fort Hood shooter's possible terrorism ties -- revelations that the government has suspicions about Major Nidal Malik Hasan before that shooting rampage.

Were obvious signs ignored by the Army?

Is the possible terrorist connection being downplayed by the politically correct liberal media?

And health care on hold -- President Obama is celebrating a big win in the House, but now facing a much more difficult battle in the Senate -- some say an impossible battle. Lawmakers from both sides now say a health care bill that includes a public option has no chance of passage.

Also, the real costs of health care -- Democrats claim their trillion dollar plan -- at least that's what they say -- will save the government money.

What's the real deal?

Join us for all of that and more at the top of the hour -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: See you in a few minutes, Lou.

Thank you.

Let's go right to Jack for The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is, should President Obama heed former Soviet President Gorbachev's advice on Afghanistan and prepare to withdraw U.S. troops?

Floyd writes: "So, Jack, what should we do, concede Pakistan's nuclear weapons to the Taliban and bin Laden? There's no doubt if these hostile terrorists ever gain possession of any of these weapons of mass destruction, World War III is just a missile fired at India away. Think of it this way. Terrorists are willing to blow themselves to pieces for their ideology. I don't think they would hesitate to blow up an American city to achieve their objectives."

Amy in Indianapolis says: "The Afghans know we can punish them for hosting terrorist camps and welcoming terrorists. We need a better strategy for controlling the terrorist threat than just sending more canon fodder. A cold war with the Afghans might work as well as our cold war against Russia and it couldn't be any worse than the hot war we're currently involved in."

Kevin writes: "When has the Soviet Union ever had our best interests at heart? How will withdrawal defeat the Taliban and Al Qaeda terrorists? How will rebuilding a successful nation without military force be there to maintain the peace? How will you live with yourself when the Taliban wreak havoc after you pull out and bring Afghanistan back to the dark ages? Oh, I forgot, you're a liberal. Easier to pull out and let someone else die at the hands of the Taliban."

Tom writes: "Absolutely. We need to withdraw. If we intend to do away with the terrorists, target only them. We have no right to change the world just to fit our model. Protect our friends if asked, but stay out of other countries' internal affairs."

And Peggy writes from Spokane, Washington: "Gorbachev listened to us and tore down that wall. Maybe it should be our turn to listen to him and get out. I'm just saying, Jack, he knows what he's talking about." If you didn't see your e-mail here, go to my blog at

I will see you tomorrow, Mr. Blitzer.

BLITZER: I can't wait, Jack. We'll do it again, as we do every day.

CAFFERTY: You got it.

BLITZER: You and me.

Thanks, Jack, very much.

It's the pony tail grab seen around the world -- a soccer player hair pulls an opponent to the ground. It's earned her the dubious title, dirtiest player in women's soccer and scrutiny by CNN's Jeanne Moos.


BLITZER: Time now for a special edition of Hot Shots -- pictures coming in from the celebrations marking the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Dignitaries walk out to take in the events at the Brandenburg Gate.

Spectators watch as giant painted Styrofoam dominoes topple along the route of the former wall.

A couple from Barcelona photographed themselves in front of the gate.

And fireworks brighten the sky over thousands of spectators.

Today's Hot Shots.

A University of New Mexico soccer player is catching a lot of heat for pushing the boundaries of sportsmanship in a Moost Unusual way.

Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was the hair pull that had jaws dropping and tongues wagging.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's incredible.

Did had she not think anybody would notice?

That's outrageous.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Watch what -- oh, oh, oh, oh. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh my gosh. How rude.

MOOS: The reviews of Elizabeth Lambert's conduct were brutal: "the dirtiest player in women's soccer," "the most violent female soccer player in history," "Cheap-shot Lambert."

YouTubers put the University of New Mexico student's moves to music.


MOOS: Lambert got lambasted by TV hosts.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is sick. It's vile.


MOOS: By kids on YouTube.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That Lambert chick, she's really crazy.


MOOS: By a hooded guy called Mr. Doody Head (ph).


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She's like an angry man. And the weirdest thing is, she's an attractive lady.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wow! I thought my ex was bad. But that's terrible.

MOOS: In her defense, her Brigham Young University opponent did elbow her in the chest before Lambert whacked her back. And another opponent grabbed onto her shorts before Lambert grabbed her braid.

(on camera): The hair pull has become the new head-butt.

(voice-over): Remember, Zinedine Zidane, the French captain who head-butted an Italian player at the World Cup? The head-butters team lost and so did Elizabeth Lambert -- by one goal. The girl Lambert jabbed in the back got back at her by pointing at the scoreboard.

Some were more forgiving.


MOOS: And though a "Ban Elizabeth Lambert from College Soccer" page sprouted up on Facebook, a "Free Elizabeth Lambert" Facebook page also popped up: "My kind of chicha. She's tough."

So are these high school girls. Rhode Island soccer players got into a little brawl Sunday night. Later, the fans got into it.

Elizabeth Lambert apologized and was suspended indefinitely. Her player profile says she's studying occupational therapy, which could come in handy treating the opponent she decks.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Brutish, but also kind of hottish.


MOOS: Hot under the collar.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Damn, like that.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's a really mean girl.

MOOS: ...New York.


BLITZER: A tough sport.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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