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THE SITUATION ROOM
President Obama Nearing Decision on Afghanistan?; Iran Flexes Military Muscle
Aired November 23, 2009 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: President Obama is holding two major meetings, one with his Cabinet, another with his war council. And we are told that the president could make his decision on Afghanistan as early as tonight.
Now alleged 9/11 terrorists could get a megaphone and shout some hateful anti-American views. Just wait until you hear the intentions of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the four other 9/11 defendants at their New York civilian trial.
And could your walls be destroying your home, making you sick, and you don't even know it? In of the biggest consumer product investigations ever, there are alarming findings about Chinese drywall.
Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux in CNN's command center for breaking news, politics and extraordinary reports from around the world. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Even amid a holiday week, urgent matters of life and death, the economy. They're here at home. They're grave matters of life and death that are in Afghanistan and all of this, of course, requires the president's attention. It's all on his plate today, as the president is holding two major meetings. There's one with his Cabinet, and in just a few hours, the president is recreating this scene in his Situation Room with his war council.
It could be the last meeting before announcing his decision for troops for Afghanistan.
I want to bring in our senior White House correspondent, Dan Lothian.
And, obviously, Dan, it is down to the wire now. And we know the president is going to make an announcement after Thanksgiving. Clearly, they are looking at some of the details about this very important decision what.
Do you know, Dan?
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They really are.
And, as you pointed out, you know, this could very well be the last meeting. It is the ninth meeting that the president has held with his war council. And, again, we're told that this meeting will last about an hour-and-a-half tonight. Now, the president really has been debating whether or not to send in, you know, tens of thousands of troops into Afghanistan, as General McChrystal has suggested. That is still on the table, we're told. And a decision though has yet not been made, but could be made or announced some time after Thanksgiving.
No, one of the crucial things will be if there is any substantial increase in the number of troops, it will cost billions of dollars, and the question is, how will you pay for it? Now two leading Democrats are saying that, in order to pay for this, there should be some kind of a war surtax.
I asked Robert Gibbs whether that had been part of the discussion to this point in these high-level meetings. Here's what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LOTHIAN: how to pay...
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well...
LOTHIAN: ... if you increase...
GIBBS: How to pay for the war, yes.
LOTHIAN: And has taxes...
LOTHIAN: ... come up, taxing Americans?
GIBBS: They -- they haven't gotten deeply into -- into the discussions on that. The president did mention in one of the meetings, specifically with -- with the Joint Chiefs, that we had to take into account how much all of this was going to cost over a 5- and 10-year period, and that...
LOTHIAN: ... you know, should we tax Americans...
GIBBS: ... specific proposal that's -- that has been talked about a meeting that I have been to.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LOTHIAN: And again today, the White House was asked about criticism that this long drawn-out process shows that the president can't make up his mind, that he's indecisive, spokesman Robert Gibbs, though, saying that this has not been wasted time, there are a lot of critical issues that have to be addressed, and the president wants to get this decision right -- Suzanne. MALVEAUX: And, Dan, we know that one of the things that Robert Gibbs was obviously talking about was what Congressman Obey had suggested, that idea of taxing Americans for this war. He says it costs perhaps as much as $90 billion for the first year or so. That's obviously a very difficult political decision for the president to make.
Is -- is there any sense that he's getting closer to the decision about the troops, that he actually is trying to weigh in how many troops to send in these next couple of months?
Well, we are told that he's getting very close to that decision, essentially has formulated what the decision will be, and now trying to get some of the details. He does have some concerns about when to send in those troops, how many to send in, and then also when to pull them out and what is the strategy to get them out of Afghanistan.
Now, Robert Gibbs was asked specifically to comment on that surtax, whether or not -- you know, to react to what these leading Democrats have been saying. And he said he didn't want to comment on it because he said a decision has yet not been made.
MALVEAUX: OK. Thank you very much, Dan. We will be waiting for that decision very eagerly. Thanks again, Dan.
Well, happening right now, new developments in a very closely watched terror investigation that's out of Minnesota. It involves Somali-Americans and their claims of a terror ring that are attempting to lure and sign up fighters for a group that is linked to al Qaeda.
I want to go straight to our CNN homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, who has more details about what this ring is about.
Jeanne, what do we know?
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, a press conference just getting under way now, so we expect to learn now.
But we do know eight Somali-Americans from Minnesota are being charged, indicted on federal terror-related charges for attempting to recruit young men to fight in Somalia. About 20 young men have disappeared from the Somali community in Minneapolis in the past two years to fight for Al-Shabab, a Somali group with ties to al Qaeda.
One of the young men became a suicide bomber. Two others are believed to have been killed in fighting. The FBI has been engaged in an intense investigation to determine how they are being recruited and by whom. And it had recently announced several arrests and now today's indictments.
One worry is that these men, after being trained abroad, could reenter the United States and use their terror techniques in an attack here. But officials have hastened to add that they have no indications such a plot is under way. We expect to have more detail within minutes -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: OK. Thank you very much, Jeanne Meserve.
Well, Jack Cafferty is here in "The Cafferty File."
Jack, so, Wolf took a little time off here. Do you get any time off?
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: I will be gone after tomorrow for the remainder of this week. I have a lot of turkeys to cook.
CAFFERTY: The Catholic Church wants Democratic Congressman Patrick Kennedy to stop getting communion due to his support of abortion rights. The bishop of Providence, Rhode Island, says he told Kennedy in February of 2007 that it would be inappropriate to keep receiving the Catholic sacrament of communion.
The request is suddenly in the spotlight, as the church gets more involved in the health care debate, particularly on the issue of abortion. Are they supposed to do that? Kennedy, the nephew of this country's only Catholic president, John Kennedy, revealed the bishop's request of 2007 to a newspaper over this past weekend.
Last month, Kennedy had criticized the bishops for threatening to oppose the overall health care reform bill if it did not include abortion restrictions. The church called Kennedy's position unacceptable and scandalous. Are they supposed to do that?
Congressman Kennedy is not the first Catholic politician who wants it both ways. In 1984, Democratic vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro came under attack from the church for not backing its position on abortion. Kennedy's father, the late Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy, and the former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, both Catholics, were also forced to defend their support of abortion rights.
At 30 percent, Catholics are the largest single religious group in the U.S. Congress. Look for the church to keep up the lobbying pressure on these lawmakers. When it comes to the health care bill, that can include not only abortion, but issues like immigrant rights and stem cell research.
Are they supposed to do that?
Here's the question. Should the Catholic Church deny communion to public figures who support abortion? Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. Post a comment on my blog.
You're invited for Thanksgiving dinner, Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: Oh, good. Good, Jack.
CAFFERTY: But I understand you have to work.
CAFFERTY: Damn. That's a shame.
MALVEAUX: They haven't told me that yet. You probably know more than I do at this point.
MALVEAUX: So, we will -- we will see.
We will have a chance, too, by the way, to talk to Congressman Kennedy's bishop in the next hour or so to see if -- if this is a regular practice that they do.
CAFFERTY: Well, maybe you ought to ask him why they are meddling in national politics, since they enjoy a tax-exempt status as a religious organization? Just -- just a thought.
MALVEAUX: Good suggestion. Well, we will have lots of questions for him. Thanks, Jack.
Well, should the world worry about what Iran is doing amid concerns about its nuclear program? Iran flexes military muscle, displaying missile and air defenses. But what message is it sending?
Could the confessed mastermind of 9/11 get a megaphone to shout hateful anti-American views? Well, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other 9/11 defendants, they want to air their grievances at the civilian trial.
And a gray highway splattered with black coal. A train goes off the tracks and causes a huge headache.
MALVEAUX: Well, as if a sour economy and a bitter war weren't enough for the president to deal with already, he is also trying to overhaul the nation's health care system, as you know.
And Democrats, well, they may have scored a big victory over the weekend, winning the vote to debate health care reform in the Senate. But finding agreement over one option, of course, could give the party some headaches, obviously a lot to deal with here.
I want to bring in our CNN congressional correspondent in, Brianna Keilar, who has the very latest, because they are talking about going back to their home districts here, finding a lot of opposition about this, and a lot of questions, still, about what ultimately this bill is going to look like -- Brianna. BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And, yes, Suzanne, there's some dissension in the ranks as well, Democratic leaders heralding this weekend's narrow party-line vote to bring their health care bill to the Senate floor, but the cracks in their fragile majority over a government-run insurance plan are on full display.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: The road ahead is a long stretch, but we can see the finish line.
KEILAR (voice-over): But listening to Majority Leader Harry Reid's own Democrats, the controversial government-run insurance plan currently in the bill might not survive the race.
SEN. BEN NELSON (D), NEBRASKA: I wouldn't support any kind of government-run insurance operation. It would undermine the private insurance that 200 million Americans currently have.
KEILAR: Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson's concerns are shared by Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, and Connecticut independent Joe Lieberman. He voted with Democrats Saturday to begin debating health care, but says he will vote against a health care overhaul if it includes a public option.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "MEET THE PRESS")
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: We have a health care system that has real troubles, but we have an economic system that is in real crisis. And I don't want to fix the problems in our health care system in a way that creates more of an economic crisis.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: Without Lieberman, Democrats would have to look across the aisle to hit the all-important 60-vote mark, their logical and possibly their only ally, Maine's Olympia Snowe. She worked with Democrats on a compromise in the Senate Finance Committee earlier this year. Snowe supports a public option with a trigger, a government-run insurance plan that kicks in only if private insurers fail to provide accessible and affordable coverage.
MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Olympia Snowe would very likely come on if the trigger was reinstituted or made part of the bill. And so we could be returning to the trigger. And then, of course, we will see Olympia Snowe, a Republican from Maine really come back on to the scene and become a big player in this debate.
KEILAR: In addition to satisfying moderate Democrats, Democratic leaders also have the challenge of keeping their more liberal senators happy.
For instance, Vermont independent Bernie Sanders and Ohio's Sherrod Brown are drawing their own line in the sand, saying they want a public option. And even Roland Burris, Suzanne, the senator appointed to fill President Obama's vacated Senate seat, says he will vote only for a public option. He is by no means a political heavyweight, but his vote, Suzanne, matters as much as any other.
MALVEAUX: Certainly. Well, thank you, Brianna.
I also want to talk more about what's ahead in the push towards health care reform.
I want to bring in our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, who is joining me.
Obviously, what we have seen in the Republicans, almost like a hands-off approach here to this.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Certainly.
MALVEAUX: What is their strategy now, just let the Democrats fight over it themselves?
BORGER: No fingerprints? Right.
BORGER: You know, they're -- they are making a bet here that this health care bill is growing increasingly unpopular with the American public. And so they are continuing to oppose it almost unanimously. We will see what happens in the end.
They are taking a bet that this is a big-government plan at a time when the public is very skeptical of what big government can actually do for you. They are telling you it's going to raise your taxes, it's bound to cut your Medicare, and that doesn't even include what it's going to do to the federal deficit.
But there is a downside for Republicans in all of this, Suzanne. And that is that the American public could just start seeing them as obstructionist. And there are parts of this bill that are quite popular with the American public, including insurance reforms, health insurance reforms. And, so, if there's a sense that they are standing in the way, they could pay the price.
MALVEAUX: Now, the holidays are coming up. Do we expect to see the kinds of big rallies and the kind of -- some of the -- the theatrics, the circus atmosphere that we saw the last go-round over the summer, when you were talking about controversial policy, tea baggers and all that -- other things?
MALVEAUX: Do you think we will see something equivalent to that?
BORGER: It's my experience that, over the holidays, people like to eat and shop more than -- more than they like to do anything else.
BORGER: But that's why, Suzanne, you really see that -- that the Democrats want to get a bill out of the Senate, at least, before the Christmas holidays. That may mean they are here until New Year's or -- or -- but they don't want to leave a big gap for any kind of a recess, where the opposition, of course, could get stoked.
But it's going to be a long slog between getting it out of the Senate and getting a compromise version of this bill...
BORGER: ... out of any conference committee between the House and the Senate.
MALVEAUX: And I -- and I know you and I were both up Saturday evening, 8:30 watching, this whole thing, the nerds that we are. But we -- we...
BORGER: We should get a life, right?
MALVEAUX: Absolutely. We were glued to the TV and that vote there.
What does this mean for the Democrats? Like, where is the wiggle room here? We hear about the abortion language. We have heard about the public option. Is there a chance for some compromise between those two holidays?
BORGER: I -- I think there is a chance for some compromise. Certainly, the Democrats don't have wiggle room. They have got to get these 60 votes. They have to keep all their Democrats in line, unless they can get one or two moderate Republicans on board.
And I think we all have to look at that public -- public option. And there are some compromises on the drawing boards. For example, Senator Tom Carper of Delaware has a potential compromise for -- to make this kind of plan available in states where affordable insurance might not be available to average families. So, that's looming on the horizon. We will have to see.
MALVEAUX: OK. We will be watching in the days ahead.
MALVEAUX: Thank you, Gloria.
MALVEAUX: Well, first, a nuclear throw-down, now war games -- Iran flexes its military muscle for all the world to see.
And all she wanted to do is feed the hungry. Celebrity Southern chef Paula Deen gets whacked by a ham, and lives to laugh about it.
MALVEAUX: Alina Cho is watching all the stories that are coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
Alina, great to see you. What are you working on?
ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Suzanne.
Some incredible pictures of a train derailment in Houston, Texas, to tell you about. About a dozen freight cars went off the track. Some of them were carrying coal. No injuries to report, but traffic on Highway 90 was diverted due to debris.
Well, the handshake and the hug were warm. And why not? For Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, this meeting with Brazil's president was a symbol of his legitimacy following those widespread protests after Iran's disputed presidential election. For Brazil's president, that meeting was a clear indication of his country's increasing international clout.
After Iranian diplomats nixed a U.N. agreement meant to slow down their nuclear program, the Iranian military is now making it clear that a military option won't be easy either. For a second day, missiles, fighter jets, and an air defense system went into action. The defense umbrella was centered on these nuclear facilities. And, in related news, oil prices rose sharply today.
And, just in time for Thanksgiving, your favorite story of the day, Suzanne. Celebrity chef Paula Deen was helping to deliver food for the hungry when she was, yes, whacked in the face by a flying ham, which, by her own...
CHO: ... account -- quote -- "about knocked me cuckoo." Ice helped with the swelling. Deen says she was fine after going head-on with a hog.
CHO: And, Suzanne, I think I speak for all Americans when I say we're so glad that Paula Deen is OK, so she can continue to teach people like you and me how to cook. I know that you're good at toasting. I'm very good at boiling.
MALVEAUX: My ham would explode in the microwave. That's all I do, microwave. So...
CHO: But you're good at it.
MALVEAUX: Thanks, Alina. All right. Good to see you.
Well, first the trial of five accused 9/11 terrorists was moved to civilian court. Well, now the defendants, they are making potential legal moves that's going to turn the trial into a platform to raise their voices against the United States.
And, as President Obama prepares to meet again with the advisers on the war in Afghanistan, former Vice President Dick Cheney is saying that delaying a decision could cost the U.S. dearly.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I will not rest until businesses are investing again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now: The walls in your house could be destroying the value of your home, but also making you and your family sick. Sean Callebs has more on this dangerous drywall.
Well, a Catholic politician faces off against the Catholic Church. I will talk to the man who has challenged Patrick Kennedy over the issue of abortion, Bishop Thomas Tobin.
And the hajj pilgrimage is one of the main pillars of Islam. An American convert tells CNN what it means to be in Mecca on these holy days.
Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
There is a startling new twist today in the case of the man believed to be the architect of the 9/11 attacks and his co- defendants.
Our own CNN's Brian Todd, he is following these legal maneuvers for these five suspected terrorists.
Obviously, they have got a plan in place. What are they expected to do, Brian?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Strong indications now, Suzanne, that they may plead not guilty, a dramatic potential change in legal strategy for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) TODD (voice-over): Not long ago, he wanted to plead guilty and be executed as a martyr. Now alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others who will be charged in connection with the attacks plan to plead not guilty when they are charged in a civilian court. That's according to Scott Fenstermaker, a lawyer for one of the men, Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali.
Fenstermaker explains why.
SCOTT FENSTERMAKER, ATTORNEY FOR ALI ABD AL-AZIZ ALI: Well, I believe the legal term would be a justification defense. What they believe to be American's aggressive foreign policy needs to be defended against. And I believe that they believe that it is -- the September 11 attacks were in response to that.
TODD: Fenstermaker believes his client and the others will still acknowledge their alleged roles in the 9/11 attacks, and:
FENSTERMAKER: He said that, "My" -- "Here's my goal." And he wrote down the word "death" on a piece of paper.
TODD: Fenstermaker makes clear he's only speaking for his client, not all five who will be charged, and he likely won't be Abd al-Aziz Ali's defense attorney at trial. He's now representing him in a case challenge his detention at Guantanamo Bay.
But Fenstermaker says his client has told him of his intended plea, and he believes all five have agreed on one approach. Some, including relatives of 9/11 victims, worry that a civilian trial would provide the defendants with a platform, although no TV cameras would be allowed.
One relative presented her concern to Attorney General Eric Holder.
ALICE HOAGLAND, MOTHER OF SEPTEMBER 11 VICTIM: I am afraid that the theatrics are going to take over at this point, and I very much regret that.
ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Judges can handle that. We have got experience in -- in doing these things.
TODD: I asked former Justice Department former prosecutor Patrick Rowan another key question.
(on camera): What are the chances Khalid Sheikh Mohammed or any of these other defendants could be found not guilty?
PATRICK ROWAN, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY PROSECUTOR: Well, any time you have a jury of 12 people that are brought in off the street, there's some risk that you will have one or more persons who's not particularly reasonable in the way that they look at evidence.
But I think, in general, the government has a very strong chance of -- of securing a conviction against all five of these defendants.
TODD: Rowan says it's tougher to handicap possible sentencing. He says the government will likely seek the death penalty if they are convicted, and the defendants may want that.
But he says it's always tough to get a jury to agree to a death sentence, and attorneys for the accused men may ask the court not to give them their wish for martyrdom -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: OK. So, what if they're -- they are not convicted, there's a mistrial in this case, is there a possibility that this guy, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and these others are released into the United States?
TODD: You know, technically, under most trials, that is a possibility. But Attorney General Holder has said, in this case, essentially, that's not going to happen.
He said, under U.S. law, anyone who is deemed too dangerous could not be released into the United States. So, if there is a mistrial, essentially, they would be held under the same laws that they are being held now at Guantanamo Bay. The attorney general has said they will not be released under any circumstances.
MALVEAUX: OK. Brian, thank you so much.
And I want to talk about this a little bit more with this so- called justification defense with our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.
Jeff, obviously, this is a legal strategy here. I want you to take a listen to what Attorney General Eric Holder said when he was asked about looking at the possibility of prosecuting these individuals in court in New York.
Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I certainly think that under the regime that we are contemplating, the potential for detaining people under the laws of war, that ability -- we would retain that ability.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Yes. So in a Sheikh Mohammed case, we're never going to let him go if something happened wrong in the federal court?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: So, there's no possibility, we understand, Jeff, of him actually being released in the United States, but how do you prevent this trial from becoming a circus if you've got these guys now using this as a platform to make all kinds of potentially outrageous statements? JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I don't think it's difficult to keep this trial from being a circus. Obviously, the key issue here is one we don't know, is who is going to be the judge?
A judge would have to restrict the defendants to using and speaking relevant evidence as to guilt or innocence. Their views of geopolitics, their views of the history of the United States, their views of Israel are not related.
MALVEAUX: Can he just cut them off if they start spouting anti- American sentiment?
TOOBIN: Absolutely. Now, it is a also true, particularly in death penalty cases, that judges tend to give defendants a lot of leeway to explain their conduct. But, you know, people I think, you know, have somewhat of a misimpression of how this trial is going to work.
First of all, their testimony is likely to be one day, about a year and a half from now, in a closed courtroom where there will be reporters taking notes, but no video recording, no audio recording. So the idea that this is somehow going to be the second coming of O.J. Simpson and Lance Ito is not true. I mean, this trial will not be publicized in any way like some of the high-profile trials of the past.
MALVEAUX: But what if the scenario is that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is acquitted, that he's found not guilty? We have heard Attorney General Eric Holder and other officials say, well, he could always be held as an enemy combatant.
How does that make this a real trial at all? Is it not a show trial if ultimately the guy is going to be in custody?
TOOBIN: Well, we have laws that say if you are a -- you don't have immigration status in the United States, as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed does not, you can be held. There is no special law for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. If he is acquitted, he is not going to be released, period.
By the way, I think the chances of him being acquitted are approximately .001 percent. Now, the death penalty is a different question. That's much more of a wild card, but in terms of guilt or innocence, based on the evidence that I know, I don't think it's a realistic possibility for him to be acquitted.
MALVEAUX: And we've seen many, many cases that have been tried in New York. Obviously, the docket is very full.
Can our court system, can they really handle something like this, something so high profile, so emotional and so important?
TOOBIN: Well, you know, it is going to be difficult. I have a piece in the current issue of "The New Yorker" about how difficult it is going to be for the judge. But, you know, there is going to be a lot of deference given to this judge, whoever he or she may be, when he or she is assigned. This judge is going to probably have no other cases to deal with. It will be brought to trial.
It will not be fast. I would be shocked, for example, if this case goes before a jury in 2010. I think 2011 is much more realistic, but it will get done.
We know how to do criminal trials in this country. It will be complicated. It will be cumbersome. It will be slow. But it will get done.
BLITZER: All right. Well, we know you'll be there every step of the way.
TOOBIN: Looking forward to it.
BLITZER: All right. Thanks, Jeff.
Well, first he said that President Obama was dithering on Afghanistan. Now Dick Cheney, well, he's using another "D" word. Wait until you hear what Cheney's criticism is of the president now.
Also, look around your home. Could your walls be eating at your pipes, destroying your electronics, even making you sick? There are alarming findings about Chinese drywall.
And the doctor is in. Dr. Oz takes a break from his show to visit THE SITUATION ROOM. With so many people flying this holiday week, I'm going to ask him if travelers should worry about planes and swine flu.
MALVEAUX: Tonight, Barack Obama will huddle for a ninth time with his national security team to discuss what to do next in Afghanistan, up to and including sending more troops. Well, has President Obama done enough? And whatever he decides, are the American people going to be standing behind him?
Well, joining me to discuss all of that, our "Strategy Session," Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons of The Raven Group and Republican strategist Kevin Madden, former spokesman for Mitt Romney's 2008 presidential campaign.
Thanks for joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Great to be with you.
JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Thanks for having us.
MALVEAUX: Obviously, we've seen a lot of work go into this. This is the ninth meeting. He's going to come out of this meeting supposedly with some sort of decision after Thanksgiving. Some things have happened since the last meeting. Secretary Clinton met with Hamid Karzai, says she's reassured that he's a real partner here. The president has reached out to some of his NATO allies to get some commitments on troops.
Has this president done enough to satisfy the American people, gotten all the information he needs to make a decision, Jamal?
SIMMONS: Well, you know, I think the first question is going to be, have his advisers done enough to satisfy this president? Clearly, Barack Obama wanted to get more information. He wanted to find out not just what's going to happen day one or two day, month four. He wanted to lay this whole thing out.
So, now the question is, once he's satisfied, I think he can go out and sell the American public on whatever the options are that he's going to pursue. But he's got to really feel it in his gut, and I think that's what the military leaders, NATO allies and the American public want to hear from him.
MALVEAUX: Has he done enough, Kevin?
MADDEN: Well, I think that the American public is very frustrated with this process. This is a president who has come into office saying he that was going to institute change, but this has been one of those cases where deliberation has looked like hesitation. Now, he has, you know...
MALVEAUX: Is that not change from President Bush though?
MADDEN: It is a change, but I think it's a change in just process. He's only focusing on the process here. And what the American public is looking for is to see a substantive, real decision here by the president and one that he's going to stand up...
MALVEAUX: How do you know it's not substantive? How do you know it's just process?
MADDEN: Well, because I think one of the reasons that they had the process so long, and that the process has been fought out in public, is that they're trying to draw that contrast with the last administration. So they've been focusing much more on driving that from a political standpoint than they have been about making decisions that we need right now.
Ultimately, you have 68,000 troops in Afghanistan right now. They need to know what their mission is every single day. And right now, I think the American public is frustrated that the president hasn't sent a clear message on what the mission is.
MALVEAUX: Jamal, do you agree that it's a processing that's happening here, or do you think that there are substantive conversations that are happening? What is the difference here between the way President Obama's handling this?
SIMMONS: You know, one of the things you learn in policy (ph) school is sometimes process is substance. What you do want to have -- the American public, they voted for Barack Obama. In some ways, it was a reaction to George Bush, who they thought was a little bit more shoot from the hip.
So, they wanted someone who's going to be a little bit more thoughtful and lay out his course and follow it. So that's why it's going to be very important, for whatever solution they come out with out of these meetings, for the administration to follow that path and not get diverted from it, because the American public needs to feel confident that the president is confident in his direction.
MALVEAUX: The former vice president, Dick Cheney, has been very critical of the president's approach here, saying that he has been dithering. He has talked about it today on the radio. I want you to take a real quick listen to what he said.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
RICHARD CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The delay is not cost-free. It's not one of these deals where he can just sit there and delay and delay and delay and think you're going to make a better decision. Every day that goes by raises doubt in the minds of our friends and allies in the region about what you're going to do. It raises doubts in the minds of the troops.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: Do you think the American people, overall, now have doubts about the mission because of the time that the president has taken?
MADDEN: Well, I think, look, Jamal made a good point earlier about how you have to essentially -- you know, you have to deliberate and this is a process. But I think what's happened here is that not making a decision has been a decision in itself, so the vice president's remarks about this being dithering and not sending a clear message to the American public and the troops about what the mission is has been a problem for him.
MALVEAUX: How is that a decision though?
MADDEN: By not making a decision is -- you've essentially put doubt in the minds of many of our allies, as well as offered some sort of emboldening, I think, of many of our enemies.
SIMMONS: I think there's some more credible people than Dick Cheney that we can hear this argument from. I'm pretty sure the American public is tired of the whole Cheney and Bush way of thinking about these wars and they are looking for somebody. That's why they voted for Barack Obama, to get in there and really dig his teeth in, find out what the real answers are, and try to set a course that they can follow.
MALVEAUX: But here's the cost here, because you've got the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, David Obey, who's saying bluntly to the president now, look, we can't afford this. If we're going to send more troops, it's going to be the domestic agenda that's going to suffer. We're talking about the recession, we're talking about health care reform.
I want you to take a quick listen. Here's how he put it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DAVID OBEY (D), WISCONSIN: I think $900 billion over 10 years is going to put a huge dent in anybody's agenda, whether it's the president's, whether it's the Democrats in Congress, whether it's the Republicans. Ain't going to be no money for nothing if we pour it all into Afghanistan.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: So, he says charge a war surtax on the American people.
Should the American people reach into their pocketbooks, into their wallets and pay for this war through a tax?
MADDEN: Well, the American public is paying for this war. I think this is going to be one of those problems now where this president is finding out that there are Republicans on Capitol Hill, there are Democrats, and now there are appropriators. Appropriators are going to continue to be a big problem for the president.
MALVEAUX: How are they paying for it?
MADDEN: The American public is paying for this...
MALVEAUX: Tell us that.
MADDEN: ... whether it's with debt or whether it's with the tax dollars that are being taken from American taxpayers right now. The American public is paying for it. But I think the big problem here is that this becomes a nuts and bolts argument up on Capitol Hill, trying to play a political insider's game with the war, and that creates another problem for the president.
MALVEAUX: And the congressman also, he does say -- he thinks that this should be divided, that wealthier people should pay up to five percent and lower income one percent.
Should the wealthy, should they have more of the responsibility for paying for this war, Jamal?
SIMMONS: Well, I think here's the fundamental question. The fundamental question is, is this the right fight? And if the answer to that question is yes, we are in the right fight in Afghanistan and Pakistan, then whatever it takes for us to win that fight, then the American public needs to be educated about how to win that fight.
MALVEAUX: But should they pay for it differently? Should the wealthy pay more?
SIMMONS: I was going to get to that next. Yes, the wealthy should pay and people with moderate income should pay.
As Kevin said, I think that's true. People are paying, whether it's going to be higher taxes or it's going to be debt.
We've got to figure out, what's the right course? But the real question, is Afghanistan and Pakistan the right course, the right fight to protect the American public from being attacked from al Qaeda? A lot of people think that it is, and if the answer to that question is yes, we do what it takes to win.
MALVEAUX: All right.
Jamal, Kevin, thank you so much. Appreciate it.
MADDEN: Nice to be with you. Thank you.
Well, it is the choicest ticket in town, steeped in protocol and planned to the tiniest detail. What goes into a state dinner from invitations to the menu? Well, you're going to hear all about it.
Also ahead, his secret tryst in Argentina went glaringly public over the summer. Now South Carolina's governor is being called to answer ethics charges.
MALVEAUX: On our "Political Ticker," first the affair, then the disgrace. Now the charges.
South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, he is facing 37 ethics charges. The claims here is that he broke state laws regarding his official use of airplanes and campaign money.
Now, that is from South Carolina's State Ethics Commission. Sanford's lawyers insist that the charges pertain to minor technical legal items. Of course, all of this comes after the governor admitted to having an extramarital affair and then lying about it.
And remember, for the latest political news any time, check out CNNPolitics.com.
Jack is now joining us again with "The Cafferty File."
CAFFERTY: How you doing?
One other little note about that weasel in South Carolina. He also allegedly was altering his ethics reports as pertains to the use of state aircraft, et cetera, while the state investigation into his behavior was going on.
MALVEAUX: An important note.
CAFFERTY: Just thought I'd mention it.
MALVEAUX: Thank you, Jack.
CAFFERTY: Question: Should the Catholic Church deny communion to public figures who support abortion?
Ron writes, "The Catholic Church attempts to assert too much influence and politics. It's not the place of the Catholic Church to judge any man for his or her political position on the issues. Only God can do that. I wonder how many of those Catholic priests were denied sacrament after they were accused of molesting altar boys? The abortion policy aside, the Catholic Church needs to clean the skeletons out of its own closet before they start judging others."
Scott in New York writes, "Of course the Church ought to be able to deny them communion. Politicians like Kennedy and Pelosi are more than happy to tout their Catholicism when it suits them, but membership in the Church brings responsibility, as well as benefit, and the church has made its position on the responsibilities with regard to politicians who call themselves Catholics quite clear. If they choose to ignore the membership rules, then they should not get the benefits of membership."
Tyler writes, "When a church or any tax-exempt entity gets involved in influencing a political debate or public policy, they're no longer acting as a church, but as a political lobby. That should be grounds to cancel their tax exempt status. The precedent was set 30 years ago when the Sierra Club lost its tax exempt status for lobbying for better protection of this nation's natural resources."
Keith in California, says, "Why not? This isn't the Church influencing public policy, but the Church influencing its members. These lawmakers are free to leave the Church any time they want, and I'm a little stunned as to why they would wish to be members of an organization whose core values they don't share anyway. I'm not Catholic, never have been, but I fully support the Church's right to teach and practice what they believe."
And John in Canada writes, "Mr. Cafferty: My otherwise very devout Irish Roman Catholic grandmother used to say that bishops were the work of the devil. Lately I have begun to think she had a point."
If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile and check it out -- Ms. Malveaux.
MALVEAUX: I certainly will, Jack.
As you know, we're going to be able to talk to the bishop in this controversy. Obviously, Bishop Thomas Tobin. He's going to be here as our guest in the next hour to tell us his side of the story. It will be very interesting.
Well, bullhorns, first aid kits, crowd control -- Black Friday is coming upon us once more, and the Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration is telling retailers step up their emergency plans to avoid a repeat of last year, and that is when a store employee was trampled to death.
Well, our Internet correspondent, Abbi Tatton, she's following all of this.
Obviously these are some very serious guidelines. People are worried about their safety when they are shopping after Thanksgiving.
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: And also for the workers as well.
If you read through these new guidelines from OSHA, it's almost like preparing these retailers for battle, saying that, "If you're faced with scenes like this, you should be ready to use a public address system or bullhorns to manage the entering crowd; position security to the sides of the entering public, not in their path to avoid trampling deaths; keep first aid kits and defibrillators available." All of these new guidelines from OSHA to protect employees from any Black Friday-related injuries, injuries that could result from overcrowding, crowd crushing, being struck by the crowd, violent acts, fire. Not exactly a fun day at mall.
This comes, of course, a year after what we all were covering last year when it was Black Friday and a Wal-Mart part-time employee was trampled to death by the crowd at a store in Long Island, New York. And now OSHA needing to spell this out to stores, saying, you know, you want the crowds for your sales, but you've just got to be ready for what comes with it.
MALVEAUX: And that was such a tragic story. I mean, it was so hard to believe that something like that could happen, that people were behaving in that way.
Is Wal-Mart taking any action specifically?
TATTON: Well, it was earlier this year that OSHA actually slapped them with a citation, also a fine, something that the chain is contesting. And that's currently in litigation.
But Wal-Mart has said this year in a statement that they are in consultation with safety experts in the sports and entertainment industries to deal with the crowds. They are also opening some stores 24 hours.
So, they have got things in place. It sounds like online shopping never really sounded so good.
MALVEAUX: OK. Thank you, Abbi. Appreciate it.
Well, the Obama White House is preparing for its first state dinner. We're going to take you inside, an inside look at what it takes to get ready and how this state dinner could be very different.
Also, it's news tens of thousands of homeowners, they have been waiting for -- exactly what is inside the drywall and why is it ruining their homes?
Coming up tomorrow, an occasion so rare.
MALVEAUX: Well, coming up tomorrow, an occasion that is so rare and special, that people lobbied really hard to get a place on the guest list. President and Mrs. Obama will host their first state dinner in honor of the prime minister of India.
The Obamas have been very secretive about the details, but I spoke with former President Bush's social secretary, and she shared some behind-the-scenes insight.
MALVEAUX (voice-over): It's the most treasured and formal honor the president can offer -- the first couple literally roll out the red carpet. The event is timed down to the second. A state dinner is the ultimate prize.
AMY ZANTZINGER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE SOCIAL SECRETARY: Invitations from the White House...
MALVEAUX: Social secretary for President George W. Bush, Amy Zantzinger, coordinated a few of these special dinners, but she says this one will be different.
ZANTZINGER: First, they will bring the newness, the "newness" of the whole day, because this is their first big dinner.
MALVEAUX: The big dinner will not be in the White House, but under a big tent on the south lawn. Several hundred lucky guests will have the invites.
(on camera): How do I get an invite to the dinner? How hard is that?
ZANTZINGER: It is very hard to get an invitation. It is very hard. Some invitations are complete surprises to people when they get them and others are a bit more expected.
MALVEAUX (voice-over): Like foreign dignitaries, cabinet members, Supreme Court justices, lawmakers, artists and entertainers.
ZANTZINGER: The word is out that the state dinners are a tough one to crash.
MALVEAUX (on camera): OK. Just in case I'm planning on it.
ZANTZINGER: Exactly. Exactly.
MALVEAUX (voice-over): Seating is critical, deciding not just who should sit together, but who should be kept apart, especially for politicians.
ZANTZINGER: It's always nice to be aware of who has run against who and how bitter was the race. MALVEAUX: The White House pays close attention to every detail...
ZANTZINGER: The appetizer with the lobster...
MALVEAUX: ... from the silverware...
ZANTZINGER: Some people get overwhelmed by the number of forks and spoons and knives.
MALVEAUX (on camera): It's overwhelming.
(voice-over): ... to the finger bowls.
ZANTZINGER: You can always see people looking around to figure out, what they are supposed to do with this? You just hope people don't drink it.
MALVEAUX (on camera): Don't drink the bath water. OK.
(voice-over): And, of course, there's the menu.
ZANTZINGER: The chef will have done tasting menus prior to the dinner for the president and first lady to taste.
MALVEAUX: The first lady will choose the flowers, the tablecloths and the china to be used that night. She will be presented with the completed centerpieces and place settings to pick from.
(on camera): Do you ever find that people take the china or take silverware as a memento?
ZANTZINGER: It's very sad. Unfortunately, it does happen. And it's really upsetting, because they are part of the White House history.
MALVEAUX (voice-over): Coordinating the wardrobe is so important. Aides talk ahead of time to make sure the dresses don't clash.
ZANTZINGER: The personal aides will sort of communicate, and it's really more so that they don't duplicate. You know, for them both not to be wearing the same color.
MALVEAUX (on camera): What about the heads of state, the president and the heads of state?
ZANTZINGER: They have it easy. They are just in black tie.
MALVEAUX (voice-over): But just in case there's a spill or a split, the usher's office is at the ready.
ZANTZINGER: Mending issues that they have dealt with... MALVEAUX (on camera): Wardrobe malfunctions.
ZANTZINGER: Exactly, wardrobe malfunctions.
MALVEAUX (voice-over): But surprisingly, what makes a successful dinner? It's what you don't plan. During President Reagan's dinner, Princess Diana and John Travolta took to the dance floor.
ZANTZINGER: You had one of the most beautiful women in the world with one of the best dancers in the world come together in this incredible place. And I think the spontaneity of it and the combination of the two of them was perfection, and really livened up a dinner.
MALVEAUX: So that's what we're looking for, honestly, perhaps some spontaneous moments that liven up that dinner for the Obamas. Really the unexpected. So we'll see what happens.