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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With Peter Orszag; Googling the H1N1 Vaccine; Catholic Church's Threats; Murder Charges Filed in Fort Hood Massacre; President Obama Seeks Economic Advice; Interview With Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag
Aired November 12, 2009 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: charges he killed 13 people in cold blood. Thirteen counts of premeditated murder are officially set against the suspect in the Fort Hood massacre. And President Obama announces a major step to determine exactly what happened.
Also, the president essentially puts out a help-wanted ad. He seeks bright minds over a stubborn problem. Might you help him create some jobs.
And the air comes out of the balloon regarding the parents of the balloon boy trouble. The only thing up in the air is a looming guilty plea and punishment.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in CNN's command center for breaking news, politics and extraordinary reports from around the world. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Thirteen people slaughtered in cold blood, 13 counts of premeditated murder, that's what the only suspect in the Fort Hood massacre now faces. The U.S. Army says Major Nidal Malik Hasan has been charged in the military's legal system. More charges could come. If convicted, he could be put to death.
Meanwhile, we're uncovering questions about the suspect's mental stability.
Let's bring in our own Brian Todd. He's been investigating what's going on.
Brian, what's the latest?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, a former colleague of Nidal Hasan's during his medical training tells CNN Hasan's contemporaries had widespread concerns about his competence as a psychiatrist.
Former colleagues, who did not want to be identified because of the ongoing investigation, say they thought Hasan's presentations were not academically rigorous, and no one -- excuse me -- one of them said -- quote -- "No one in class would have ever referred a patient to him" -- end quote.
Earlier this week, Hasan's superior at Fort Hood was asked about reports of problems. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COLONEL KIMBERLY KESLING, DEPUTY COMMANDER OF CLINICAL SERVICES, DARNALL ARMY MEDICAL CENTER: His evaluation reports said that he had had some difficulties in his residency fitting into his residency. And, so, we worked very hard to integrate him into our practice and integrate him into our organization. And he -- he adapted very well and was doing a really good job for us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: But former colleagues tell CNN of substandard performance by Hasan during previous training. One of them says his PowerPoint presentations were -- quote -- "inappropriate and unscientific."
Hasan's former colleagues tell us of Hasan talking about the persecution of Muslims and justifying suicide bombings in those talks, instead of the required discussions on health.
Two colleagues remember Hasan saying his allegiance was to the Koran over the U.S. Constitution. One colleague says he confronted Hasan about the presentations and says Hasan dodged his questions and talked about Islam.
He says people complained to Hasan's superiors about his slide shows and that the superiors seemed attentive to their concerns. Now, NPR reports that Hasan's superiors had a series of meetings in 2008 and 2009 discussing whether Hasan was psychotic. One of Hasan's former colleagues tells me he saw no signs of mental instability in him, but believes Hasan did try to provoke people with his religious views.
We are chasing comment today from Hasan's attorney to some of this material. We have not reached him yet -- Wolf.
BLITZER: You have done a lot of reporting this week -- and our viewers appreciate it -- of his conversations, or e-mails, if you will, with a cleric, a suspected cleric overseas sympathetic to al Qaeda, supposedly.
What did his -- his colleagues say about all of that?
TODD: I ran that by one of his former colleagues, and, specifically, the -- that item that investigators found that those communications were consistent with Hasan's research at -- at his medical institutions, and, therefore, they didn't really pursue them.
I asked his former colleague about that. The colleague said he finds that completely ridiculous and not consistent with his work as a researcher, and he says that was very disturbing.
Here's a quote from the colleague: "To call anything he was doing research was a joke." This colleague does not find a connection there.
BLITZER: Brian Todd, stand by, because I know you're continuing your investigation. I want to bring in our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin. He's joining us now.
The fact that he's now been formally charged, Jeffrey, with 13 counts of premeditated murder, tell us precisely what this means, because it seems -- the formal charges seem to have come forward rather quickly.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: They are fast charges.
And what's significant here is that prosecutors had a choice. They could have brought this case in federal district court, in the civilian court, or they could have done a court-martial. They have chosen a court-martial.
And what that suggests -- doesn't prove, but it suggests that the authorities here do not believe there was a conspiracy, because it is a lot easier to bring a conspiracy case in a civilian court than in a court-martial. So, it -- it really suggests that the prosecutors here -- here believe that Hasan acted alone.
BLITZER: He will face the death penalty, is that right, capital punishment, in the U.S. military for this?
TOOBIN: Absolutely, under the written law. But the fact is, there has not been an execution because of a court-martial since 1961.
So, it will be complicated to try to resurrect that machinery. But, frankly, if there's ever a case that is likely to lead to the death penalty, this -- this one certainly seems like it.
BLITZER: Why has it been so long in the U.S. military that there's actually been capital punishment, a death sentence carried out? We know that there have been many times, many cases of soldiers, other military personnel committing murder, for example.
TOOBIN: Well, they -- they just have not chosen to bring those -- those cases. There are some people, actually, on death row now as a result of court-martials.
So, it hasn't -- so, there may be executions in the pipeline, as it were. But the authorities have not -- have not done that. Remember, any sort of murder on an Army base, on a military base within the United States can be brought in a civilian court. So, some of those cases may have gone there.
BLITZER: The prosecutors are saying, the military prosecutors, they -- they could file additional charges.
And some have suggested the fact that one of the victims, Francheska Velez, she was pregnant, could they bring a 14th murder in this case, the pregnancy?
TOOBIN: It does seem possible. You know, you wouldn't think abortion politics plays a role in this case, but, in 2004, the Congress and President Bush amended the criminal laws in federal cases, both court- martials and civilian cases, so that the murder of a pregnant woman can result in a separate charge for killing the fetus.
That -- that has not been tested through the courts all the way yet. So, we don't know if that would stand up in the Supreme Court as a separate murder charge. But it is certainly possible that Hasan could be charged with that murder as well.
BLITZER: Now, there are a lot of eyewitnesses. There's a lot of forensic evidence, the two guns, for example. It seems like a pretty -- pretty strong case that the prosecution has.
The defense attorneys, what -- what -- what arguments do you foresee them -- them making?
TOOBIN: Well, it certainly seems like the only option available to them is some sort of state-of-mind defense. Based on what we know, a defense that says you got the wrong guy just seems like it's never going to fly.
The defense is, potentially, insanity. Now, we talk a lot about insanity defenses, but they rarely succeed. And, certainly, someone with his training, with his background, with his ability to function in the world is going to have a very tough time raising an insanity defense. But defense attorneys work with what they have. And that may be all that's available to them.
BLITZER: And what about copping a plea to avoid the death sentence, maybe pleading guilty, and then serving life without the possibility of parole? I assume that's a possibility.
TOOBIN: Well, that's a possibility, but the prosecutors have to offer that deal. And, given the magnitude of this crime, given the horror of this crime, it's going to be hard for prosecutors, I think, to do anything less than the maximum.
I don't see, at least at this early stage, what Hasan's leverage is to prosecutors to say, "Well, cut me this deal, and I will do X for you."
Well, what's he going to do for them? I -- I don't really see what bargaining power he has, at least at this point.
BLITZER: Unless there's some totally embarrassing information that the -- that the federal -- that the U.S. military wouldn't want to be released in an open courtroom. Sometimes, they do that if it's classified information or whatever.
TOOBIN: Sure. And that's why it's important, you know, to take a deep breath and recognize that this investigation is just getting started. There's a lot to learn here.
And the defense may learn things. The prosecution is certainly going to learn things. And then both sides will make a judgment about what the best way is, what their best option is.
BLITZER: Jeffrey Toobin, thanks very much.
The fact that the suspect is a Muslim-American soldier is causing strong reactions for other Muslim-American troops, as well as other members of the U.S. military.
Our Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence is in Afghanistan speaking with many of them.
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the reaction in the states was almost immediate, but communication isn't quite as fast here in Afghanistan. But, by now, a lot of troops have had time to digest what happened at Fort Hood.
(voice-over): The last time Mohammed Amiri (ph) was in Afghanistan, he was running for his life.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I used to live in Logar and Kabul.
LAWRENCE: That was 2001, when the U.S. launched an attack on the Taliban. The violence turns Amiri and his family into refugees, until they made their way to the U.S.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So help me God.
UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIERS: So help me God.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congratulations, American citizens.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
LAWRENCE: Seven years later, he's engaged, an American soldier, and now a U.S. citizen.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, today, I feel like today was my -- I just got married.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel so happy.
LAWRENCE: But his happiness is colored by the shooting at Fort Hood.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel different a little bit because I'm Muslim.
LAWRENCE: Specialist Amiri says he feels like he's carrying the weight of what someone else did.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel bad, because the Muslim major, he is officer. He did that. And people think that all Muslims are the same. But we have in every religion good people and bad people.
LAWRENCE: Other soldiers here can understand what happened, but not where.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You kind of expect that when you're here in a combat environment. But, being at home, where you feel safe, secure, it's more of a shock. LAWRENCE: Some of the shooting victims were scheduled to come here to Afghanistan. Those already deployed say time back home is when you relax and release some of the combat stress.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's kind of sad knowing that they can't let their guard down when they go back to the states.
LAWRENCE: Specialist Amiri hopes his fellow service members can look at him as he sees them.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: White, black, Mexican, all the same. We are soldiers.
LAWRENCE (on camera): When he finishes his tour here, Amiri says the first thing he's going to do is go to Germany, pick up his fiancee, and take her back home to California, so they can get married -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Chris Lawrence on the scene for us doing excellent reporting in Afghanistan.
Jack Cafferty is off today.
Here's a question. Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country. It certainly rings true right now, as President Obama announces a major initiative. He's seeking some bright ideas from Americans to help create jobs.
And the party's ending, for now. Tea party activists wrap up their latest tour of protests. How strong are they?
BLITZER: You want a job? You might say the president of the United States has put out a want ad. He's looking for anyone with some bright ideas to help the administration create more jobs. Today, he announced a major new effort ahead of a major presidential trip.
Let's bring in our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.
It's jobs, jobs, jobs, certainly prior to number one.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely.
And, you know, unemployment -- new unemployment claims went down this week. That is a good sign. However, the overall picture when it comes to the jobless rate is still pretty bleak. And it's up to the president to let Americans know that he's very aware of that, that is always on his mind, no matter where he goes.
CROWLEY (voice-over): Some numbers: an eight-day trip to Asia, 15.7 million unemployed Americans. Think those two are not related?
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good morning, everybody.
Before departing for Asia this morning, I would like to make a brief statement about the economy.
CROWLEY: Americans like to see their presidents being presidential overseas, but trips when the home front is in economic turmoil require a bit of political finesse prior to departure, especially this departure.
CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He's going to Asia, where not only is Asia our banker -- China our banker, in particular -- but Asia is the place where millions of jobs have relocated over the past couple of decades.
CROWLEY: Five-point-six million Americans unemployed for more than six months, six people looking for every one job opening, the worst odds in more than 70 years, and a trip that looks a little bit like going to the belly of the beast.
PETER MORICI, ECONOMIST, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND: The president is going to China. That's where the solution to the economic riddle lies. The huge trade deficit with China, its huge trade surplus is stealing customers from American businesses. They don't have anyone to sell their products to, so they're laying off workers or they're not hiring.
CROWLEY: The president isn't expected to return home with anything that might make a dent in the jobless rate, but, before leaving, he did announce a jobs summit next month.
OBAMA: We will gather CEOs and small-business owners, economists and financial experts, as well as representatives from labor unions and nonprofit groups, to talk about how we can work together to create jobs and get this economy moving again.
CROWLEY: President Obama is already hip-deep in economic advisers, and many outside progressive and conservative economists think this job summit is less about new ideas and more about support for one already on the table.
MORICI: There's a lot of sentiment on Capitol Hill for another stimulus package. The president hopes to engage private sector economists, receive some kind of endorsement.
CROWLEY: It will all play out in December. But, for now, the president, the most traveled first-year president ever, is off to Asia, having delivered a message to the home front.
OBAMA: We have an obligation to consider every additional responsible step that we can to encourage and accelerate job creation in this country.
CROWLEY: As the first President Bush once famously said, "Message: I care."
CROWLEY: And there is good reason the president needs to get that message across. One of our recent polls showed 52 percent of Americans disapprove of the way he's handling unemployment. That is a marked shift since earlier this year.
And, politically, the president really is moving into crunch time. Increasing numbers of Americans again in that poll say, if the economy is still bad next year, they will blame the president and the Democrats. That's called owning the issue.
CROWLEY: So, a lot at stake here politically and policy-wise.
BLITZER: And, you know, these 15 million people who are unemployed right now, there are millions of others who are underemployed, who have taken lesser jobs, maybe a lot -- money. They're working, but they're not very happy about it, because they remember they might have been making $75,000 a year, and now they're making $30,000 or $40,000 a year.
So, technically, they're working, but they're not happy at the salaries they're getting.
CROWLEY: It's part of a very bleak picture, which also includes that there are economists that say this could very well be a jobless recovery, that some of those jobs may be permanently gone. And that is a -- that is a huge headache.
BLITZER: They're at least happy they're working, though. They have got a job and they're paying the bills.
Candy, thanks very much.
And the government reports a record federal deficit of $176.4 billion for the month of October alone. So, where is all this money coming from? I will put that question to Peter Orszag, the White House budget director. He's going to be joining me live here in THE SITUATION ROOM. That is coming up very shortly.
It's been a long and winding road for the Tea Express. The group is wrapping up its second protest drive across the United States, promoting its message against big-government spending and taxes. Today's final stop? Orlando, Florida.
Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger.
She's watching all of us this for us. The tea party movement, will it have lasting impact?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it will. It will continue, Wolf. And I think we just saw it recently in the last election in Upstate New York. You saw the Conservative Party candidate challenge the establishment Republican, who withdrew from the race. They handed that race to the Democratic Party in a Republican district.
So, the worry among Republicans is that there's going to be a litmus test now. And I spoke to one Republican strategist today who said the real worry in the Republican Party among members of Congress is not going up against Democrats, but it's running into primary opposition before you get to the general election.
BLITZER: So, someone like Charlie Crist in Florida...
BORGER: That's it.
BLITZER: ... the governor who wants to be senator, he could have some problems.
BORGER: He could have some problems. In fact, it could be kind of a perfect storm against him, because, don't forget, Governor Crist stood with Barack Obama, said he wanted to take stimulus money for the state of Florida.
And now he's got a conservative running against him. And that conservative has been endorsed by some of these groups and some groups who are -- who are pouring money into that race against Charlie Crist. So, I think that that could be a problem.
In some other cases, it's kind of an irritant. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the -- a group of conservatives on the -- let me get this right -- the Charleston County Executive Committee, which is a small group of conservatives, voted to censure him because of his positions on immigration reform and energy.
Now, he just won reelection. He's not real worried about it. But you're going to see that going on all over the country.
BLITZER: He's got five years before he's up for reelection.
BORGER: He's not -- not too worried, right.
BLITZER: All right. Thanks, Gloria. We will have you back shortly.
We all know Patrick Kennedy is a member of one of America's most famous Catholic families. But the congressman is getting grief right now from a high-ranking church leader. Is the church taking a new shot at influencing American politics? Stand by for our "Strategy Session."
And he resigned as New York's governor in a prostitution scandal, so why is Eliot Spitzer speaking at an ethics forum?
BLITZER: Don Lemon is monitoring some other important storying incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Don, what's going on?
DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A lot going on this evening for you, Wolf.
The U.S. State Department is issuing a travel warning for Americans traveling to Germany to stay alert, to practice security, and to keep a low profile. Officials say, over the past few months, al Qaeda videos have threatened terrorist attacks against German interests.
Now, the State Department is encouraging U.S. citizens traveling to or living in Germany to register with the U.S. Embassy.
Starting next summer, banks can no longer automatically enroll you for overdraft protection, can't do it anymore, than change you when they need it -- change when they need to do it. Well, the Federal Reserve is prohibiting the controversial procedure for ATMs. Some banks charge up to 40 bucks, even if the account is just a few dollars overdrawn.
Now, the FDIC says three out of four banks currently automatically sign customers up for that overdraft program.
The recession doesn't seem to be daunting plans for the world's largest fast-food chain. Get this. McDonald's plans to open 1,000 new restaurants next year, mainly in the U.S., Germany, France, Russia, China, and Australia. The chain will also spend almost $2.5 billion to renovate 2,300 McDonald's restaurants.
The New York governor who resigned after a prostitution scandal is scheduled to speak at a Harvard ethics forum this hour. Eliot Spitzer's speech is titled "What Should be the Rationale for Government Participation in the Market?" After leaving the government's mansion, Spitzer worked as a part-time political science professor.
So, there you go.
Wolf, I want to go back to the McDonald's story. Americans always want to eat, so, McDonald's opening 1,000 new restaurants, even in this economy.
BLITZER: Well, in this economy, people are looking for cheaper places to eat.
BLITZER: And McDonald's fills the bill. And you go any place around the world, you can get a Big Mac, which isn't too bad.
LEMON: Yes. And you can get healthy and get salad and fruit. So, you can eat healthy there as well.
BLITZER: Yes. And it's reasonable prices. That's why it's working.
LEMON: Yes. BLITZER: Thanks very much for that, Don.
LEMON: All right, thanks, Wolf.
The U.S. government is drowning in more red ink than ever. Will the soaring deficit prevent President Obama from achieving some of his biggest goals like health care reform? I will ask the budget director, Peter Orszag. He's standing by live at the White House.
And why some people who work on Wall Street may get a swine flu shot before you -- what's going on? We're doing a reality check. Is something unfair?
Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now: new details about the gun battle at Fort Hood. There's new information coming out about how the two civilian police officers took down the alleged shooter.
And President Obama heading off to Asia -- he stops off first in Alaska to rally U.S. troops. We're going to carry the president's remarks live. You will see them here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
And a potential lifesaver for troops in Afghanistan: a new all-terrain armored truck that better protects against explosives. We're going to take you to the company that's making them.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
The federal government is seeing lots of red ink. The deficit in October hit a record $176.4 billion. And experts say they're worried that ongoing deficits could stunt the nation's fragile economic recovery.
Let's discuss this and more with Peter Orszag. He's the director of the Office of Management and Budget.
Thanks very much for coming in, Peter.
PETER ORSZAG, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET: Good to be here, Wolf.
BLITZER: Trillion-dollar plus deficits as far as the eye can see? That's going to cause enormous long-term damage to average folks. Explain why you're so concerned about these enormous deficits.
ORSZAG: Well, we first have to explain that right now, the deficit is actually, ironically, helping the economy. The tax relief and additional spending helps to bolster demand when the economy is very weak.
The problem is at some point, whether it's in 2011 or 2012 or 2013, the situation starts to reverse. And at that point, deficits crowd out private investment and become a harm. We need to get ahead of that problem, and that's the line we're trying to walk in the budget that we're putting together for next February.
BLITZER: Because so much U.S. taxpayer dollars already is being spent simply to finance, to pay the interest on those loans we're getting on the T-bills we're selling to China or Saudi Arabia or other countries that are helping to finance this deficit budget.
ORSZAG: That's correct, although we need to remember, we're in an exceptional time right now. Total borrowing has imploded. Private borrowing has collapsed. And, in effect, the Treasury Department is the last borrower left standing. So, for right now, long-term interest rates are very low, but we need to get ahead of the problem because, as private borrowing starts to tick up, that situation's going to change.
BLITZER: How worried are you that some of these foreign creditors of ours are going to lose confidence in the dollar and they're going to, for example, start buying gold as a hedge -- India, for example, has recently done that -- and that the value of the dollar will go down as a result?
ORSZAG: Well, I'm going to leave comments about the dollar to our Treasury secretary. But again, if you look at the interest rate on our long-term government bonds, right now the 10-year bond is -- has a yield, an interest rate of under four percent. It's very low. And that's because we're in such an exceptional period.
That is going to change at some point. And we need to act before that happens.
BLITZER: One way of dealing with these budget deficits is to raise taxes. Is that right?
ORSZAG: Well, a deficit reflects an imbalance between spending and revenue, and so narrowing it requires acting on one, the other or both.
BLITZER: So when does that go into effect? The president said repeatedly during the campaign he wants to increase taxes for those making more than $250,000 a year. When will that go into effect?
ORSZAG: Well, under the budget that we put out this year, that would go into effect at the beginning of 2011. But again, above $250,000. So for a very small share of American taxpayers.
BLITZER: We got a question on Twitter, from someone who asked us this question -- Mac1014, he says, "Ways when in our history has raising taxes produced private sector jobs?"
ORSZAG: Well, I think what we need to remember is that budget deficits can impede economic activity. If you look back during the 1990s, for example, in 1993 there was a very significant effort to reduce the budget deficit, including through some revenue increases. The result was a very robust period of economic growth throughout the 1990s. And as we look past this immediate crisis and look to the future, we need to put the nation back on a sounder fiscal course, again, to build a stable economic foundation.
BLITZER: And when you say revenue -- what was the phrase you used, revenue enhancers? What?
ORSZAG: Revenue increases.
BLITZER: Revenue increases. You mean tax increases, right?
ORSZAG: That would be another way of putting the point, yes, Wolf.
BLITZER: OK. I just want to make a fine point on that.
Here's some numbers from our recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll. "Do you approve of how President Obama is handling unemployment?" He's proposed a jobs summit next month -- or a jobs forum he's calling it.
Forty-seven percent say they now approve of how he's handling it. But in March it was 64 percent.
Jobs, jobs, jobs. Here's the question. You've got this forum coming up next month, in December. What's taking so long? Because the jobs have been a critical issue all these 10 months that he's been in office.
ORSZAG: Well, I think what we're seeing is the jobs market is still unacceptably weak. The unemployment rate is still too high. But what's happened is at least we've gotten some economic growing again.
In fact, if you went back a year, November 2008, and anyone told that real GDP growth in the third quarter this year was going to be 3.5 percent, I think they would have been quite surprised. So we're getting some economic growth, but that needs to now translate into job growth. And we're focused on that process.
BLITZER: How worried are you that the trillion-dollar-plus price tag for health care reform will convince some moderate Democrats, for example, in the Senate not to support it?
ORSZAG: Well, I think what we're seeing, again, in the Senate legislation, you have a deficit-reducing package that not only reduces the deficit over the first decade of its existence...
BLITZER: I'm talking about the House package.
ORSZAG: Well, again, in the House bill it also does reduce the deficit over the first decade. It reduces the deficit thereafter, too, and includes some important reforms to how health care's practiced in the United States. As the debate shifts to the Senate, I think you're going to see, again, attention focused on those cost containment provisions which are solid.
BLITZER: Peter Orszag is the White House budget director.
ORSZAG: Thank you very much.
BLITZER: You're dealing with all of our money. We hope you do well. Thank you.
ORSZAG: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: If you've had any trouble getting the swine flu vaccine, then chances are you don't necessarily work at a big Wall Street bank. Or is it? What's really going on? There are some myths out there about the big banks getting access to the swine flu vaccine.
Our Brian Todd is doing a reality check.
BLITZER: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now says 3,900 Americans have died from swine flu since April. That's almost four times the previous estimate, but it doesn't mean that the virus is more dangerous. Instead, the CDC is now including deaths caused by complications, things like pneumonia and bacterial infections. It's estimated that 22 million Americans have caught the swine flu. Experts say the new estimated death toll sounds much more reasonable.
Do you know where to go to get vaccinated for the H1N1 or the seasonal flu? Google is now teaming up with the CDC to bring you the most up- to-the-minute information about flu shots online.
Abbi Tatton is working that for us.
Abbi, tell us where people who are interested can go.
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, it's the federal government that orders the supplies of the H1N1 vaccine. And then it's the state and local governments that actually dole those vaccinations out.
So, until now, it's been pretty difficult to find a central place to get that information, to find out where to go. Well, that's something that Google has been working on.
They've launched Google.com /flushot this week, if I can show you here. It combines Google Maps with information from the state and local governments on where to find these flu shot clinics.
If you look at the blue syringe there, that's going to show you where an H1N1 flu shot clinic is happening and the times. A red syringe is going to show you where the regular seasonal flu shot can be found.
Now, like the vaccination program itself, this is a work in progress. So far, Google says they have information from just 20 states across the country that they're adding into this map. They're working on getting more.
Another piece of advice when you're using this as well, when you find out where these clinics are happening, check in and find out if they've still got supplies of the vaccine. This is changing so quickly, and you don't want to be in one of these lines just to find out that they've run out -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Abbi, thank you.
While millions of Americans wait to get the swine flu vaccine, many are outraged over reports that several big Wall Street banks are getting doses for some of their employees. The story caused quite an uproar last week, so we asked our Brian Todd to take a closer look and give us a reality check.
Precisely, Brian, what is going on here?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it is true that some of those big Wall Street giants do have doses of the vaccine on hand while some pediatricians offices do not. But in checking into this further, we discovered this is not a case of the bigwigs cutting in line.
TODD (voice-over): Delays in production and anxious waiting periods are frustrating enough.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had to wait. And now they ran out already. So we have to wait for the next shipment, I guess.
TODD: Now another controversy surrounding the swine flu vaccine. Who gets access?
While many Americans deal with long lines and pediatricians' and obstetricians' offices wait along with them, some of Wall Street's biggest firms already have the vaccine on hand. Goldman Sachs has at least 200 doses available it to its employees. CNN's parent company, Time Warner, is scheduled to get doses. Citigroup has at least 1,200 doses available to its employees, the same number as New York's Lenox Hill Hospital, not far away.
But hold your outrage. Officials from the New York City Health Department and the Centers for Disease Control tell CNN the system is set up so that hospitals, doctors' offices and private companies have to contact their local health departments and order the vaccine.
DR. JAY BUTLER, CDC: And then those are forwarded to CDC. And it's an interactive process as we learn more about how much vaccine is available and in what formulation.
TODD: Then, based on the population of that area, the CDC tells the local health department how much vaccine it can order. And local officials decide where it will go.
But before you blame New York's Health Department for Citigroup's 1,200 doses of swine flu vaccine, remember that your doctor's office is responsible for ordering it for you. And according to the New York Health Department, out of more than 2,400 OB-GYN offices in New York City, only 65 of them have ordered the H1N1 vaccine, and 36 percent of pediatricians' offices in the city have not placed orders. It may not be the perfect system for distributing the vaccine, but one public health expert says there is a benefit to the big firms having it.
DR. WILLIAM SCHAFFNER, VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY: If a large organization has an occupational health service, and those people have applied for vaccine, they may be getting the vaccine more quickly than people who work in a mom-and-pop operation.
TODD: And a New York Health Department spokeswoman tells us these firms cannot get the vaccination unless they agree to give it only to employees who fall into those high-risk categories designated by the CDC. Those are pregnant women, people who live with or care for children younger than six months old, people who have chronic health disorders or compromised immune systems, and others like that. Spokesmen for Citigroup and Goldman Sachs assure us they are committed to giving the vaccine only to those at high risk -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Good to know. Thanks for clarifying a lot of misinformation out there. That's what you do, and you do it well, Brian.
BLITZER: Thank you.
His uncle was the first Roman Catholic president of the United States. So, as the health care debate escalates, why is the Catholic Church threatening to excommunicate Congressman Patrick Kennedy?
And Sarah Palin has had a pretty public and nasty feud with Levi Johnston, the father of her grandson. But will he be going to the Palin family's Thanksgiving dinner?
BLITZER: New signs that the Catholic Church is trying to influence the political debate here in this country. Here's an example involving a member of one of America's most famous Catholic families, the Kennedys.
The Roman Catholic bishop of Providence is questioning whether Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy should receive communion. The clash? Stemming from the health care reform bill and proposed limits on coverage for abortion.
Let's discuss with our CNN contributors, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and former education secretary Bill Bennett, a national radio talk show host and the author of a brand new book entitled, "The True Saint Nicholas: Why He Matters to Christmas."
We're going to talk about this book on another occasion, but you've done a good job telling us a lot of stuff we don't know about Santa Claus or Saint Nicholas, as you point out. BILL BENNETT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Thank you.
BLITZER: We'll talk about that on another occasion.
But Donna, let's talk about the Catholic Church right now.
They got really involved, Catholic bishops -- for example, the Conference of Catholic Bishops -- in trying to influence the House debate on health care reform, specifically getting new language that would make it more difficult to have any kind of direct or indirect insurance pay for abortion for women in the United States.
I'll read to you a line from a letter they wrote back on November 9th. "We remain deeply concerned about other aspects of health care reform as the debate now moves to the Senate, especially as it affects the poor and vulnerable and those at the beginning and end of life. We will continue to insist that health care reform legislation must protect conscience rights."
And then it goes on to say, "We support measures to make health care more affordable for low-income people and the uninsured. We remain deeply concerned that immigrants be treated fairly and not lose the health care coverage that they now have."
They're getting pretty assertive, the Catholic bishops, aren't they?
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Wolf, the Catholic Church and the Catholic bishops have long advocated for comprehensive health reform that will make it more accessible and affordable for all Americans, including the poor. And what's ironic about the Catholic Church's position today, and the letter that you cited, is that the letter I have on September 30th basically said that the status quo, the Hyde amendment, which has been in place since 1976, they wanted to see that language in the current bill. That language was in the current bill.
And then the Stupak-Pitts amendment, of course, goes beyond that and will place onerous burdens on women who are trying to purchase health insurance using their own private money. That's why so many Americans are upset about this new language.
BLITZER: Are you hearing us OK, Bill?
BENNETT: I can hear you, but there's so much noise behind me, it's hard to hear. OK.
BLITZER: We'll try to keep them quiet. But go ahead and weigh in.
BENNETT: Well, you know, this is the Catholic Church. It makes its business the business of protection of life, protection of illegal immigrants. It doesn't like capital punishment.
So I disagree with it from time to time, but it's the Catholic Church. It has its own sense of moral authority. And it's here flexing its muscles on what is a central teaching of the Catholic Church, which is it is opposed to abortion. And I think it's entirely appropriate for the Church to do this.
Without churches like the Catholic Church, without people like Martin Luther King, you wouldn't get rid of slavery, you wouldn't have civil rights. This moral perspective, this moral squint (ph) bothers a lot of political people. And boy, you know, it gores oxes on both sides. But that's what the Catholic Church does.
BLITZER: A quick clarification. Maybe you know, because in this letter from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, it says they want immigrants to be treated fairly under the new health care reform.
Are they talking about just legal immigrants in the United States or illegal immigrants here in the United States as well?
BENNETT: I think it's an equivocation. I think it's an ambiguity that's intentional.
As you know, Wolf, in many of the churches they have provided sanctuary for illegal immigrants. Other churches have not. But the position of the American Catholic Church has been at odds with what most Americans believe, including what I believe. But the Church has a perfect right to assert it as it does on something that's fundamental to Catholic teaching, such as pro-life.
BLITZER: Here in Washington -- Donna, you want to make another point?
BRAZILE: Well, they don't make a distinction in the letter I have. I don't have the November 9th letter. You can guarantee I'll get this letter. But again, I think this is an important issue.
This is women who will be able to use the exchange, to use their own private money, not government money -- no private, no government money will be used to advance abortion. But this is women being allowed to use their own private money. And I think that's why so many people believe this is an unfair attack on women's rights to full reproductive health services.
BLITZER: Here in the District of Columbia, Bill, there's now -- Catholic Charities is saying that they might pull the plug, stop funding some of the homeless shelters, if same-sex marriage is approved by D.C.
Is that appropriate?
BENNETT: It's appropriate for a private organization like the Catholic Church to follow its moral teachings. Absolutely, they can do that.
I know Harry Jackson, who's the pastor of one of the biggest churches in D.C., who has been opposed to this and led a movement. Marion Barry has joined in as well.
This is, again, Catholic teaching. People may not like it, but the Catholic Church is based on its concepts of natural and moral law, which, by the way, tend to be shared by most Americans. The state of Maine just voted against gay marriage. That's 31 states in a row where, when you've had an issue, they've come out this way.
Again, this may make some people uncomfortable. There may be disagreements. But the Catholic Church doesn't do focus groups. It doesn't take polls. It follows its teaching and its doctrine.
BRAZILE: Well, let me just say that this is a democracy, not a theocracy, here in the District of Columbia. And while we don't have full voting rights, the City Council of the District of Columbia represents the people of this wonderful, great capital city. And they will vote on this measure. And I do believe that they will support marriage equality.
Now, I think Chairman Vincent Grey is working very closely with the Catholic Church. Catholic Charities -- and Bill knows this -- they provide a lot of services to the people of this wonderful city. And I would hope that we could find a way to ensure that those services are still available to many of our citizens in this city who deserve and need the support that the Catholic Church provides. But this is a very important issue, marriage equality, for the people in the district and for people across the country.
And Bill, I want to let you know that in Salt Lake City just recently, the City Council passed an ordinance that banned discrimination for gays and lesbians. The city of Kalamazoo, Michigan, and, of course, in Seattle. So we -- there's a lot of developments going on, on expanding protections for gays and lesbian Americans in this country, and let's hope that we don't enforce any more discrimination against these Americans.
BLITZER: Very quickly, Bill, because we're out of time.
BENNETT: And Donna's absolutely right. The citizens will decide this. The Church won't decide it, but the Church has a right to weigh in.
While it is weighing in with what some may regard as hard doctrine, nobody does more than the Catholic Church to provide for sufferers of AIDS, AIDS babies and others. Let's remember that side of the Catholic Church as well.
BRAZILE: I agree.
BLITZER: Well said.
All right, guys. Thanks very much.
BENNETT: Thank you.
BLITZER: Bill Bennett and Donna Brazile.
BRAZILE: Thank you. BLITZER: Sarah Palin tells all in a major interview. She's revealing details about herself, her life, and many of the big stories about her.
BLITZER: On our "Political Ticker," Sarah Palin is talking to Oprah ahead of the release of her memoir, "Going Rogue." The former governor of Alaska sat down with Oprah Winfrey for an upcoming episode. Oprah says there's nothing we didn't talk about, including personal questions about the father of Palin's grandson, Levi Johnston.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OPRAH WINFREY, TALK SHOW HOST: So, one final question about Levi. Will he be invited to Thanksgiving dinner?
SARAH PALIN (R), FMR. ALASKA GOVERNOR: You know, that's a great question. And it's lovely to think that he would ever even consider such a thing, because, of course, he is a part of the family, and you want to bring him into the fold and kind of under your wing.
And he needs that, too, Oprah. I think he needs to know that he is loved and he has the most beautiful child. And this can all work out for good. It really can.
We don't have to keep going down this road of controversy and drama all the time. We're not really into the drama. We don't really like that. We're more productive. We have other things to concentrate on and...
WINFREY: Does that mean yes, he is coming, or no, he's not?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Oprah also asked the former Republican vice presidential nominee for the inside scoop on the campaign, along with those famous CBS interviews.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WINFREY: Let's talk about the interview with Katie Couric.
PALIN: Must we? OK.
WINFREY: You talk about it in the book, so I assume everything in the book is fair game.
PALIN: Yes. It is.
WINFREY: You do say that it wasn't your best interview. Did you think that was a seminal defining moment for you, that interview? PALIN: I did not, and neither did the campaign. In fact, that is why segment two and three and four and maybe five were scheduled. The campaign said, right on, good, you're showing your independence. This is what America needs to see, and it was a good interview.
And, of course, I'm thinking, if you thought that was a good interview, I don't know what a bad interview was, because I knew it wasn't a good interview.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Palin writes on her Facebook page that Oprah Winfrey was, in her words, "... very hospitable and gracious."
I can testify that that is what Oprah is.
Remember, for the latest political news any time, you can always check out CNNPolitics.com. You can also get some inside information, what we're doing in THE SITUATION ROOM. Go to Twitter, Twitter.com/WolfBlitzerCNN. WolfBlitzerCNN, all one word. And you'll get my tweets.
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