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White House Accused of Stonewalling Party Crasher Investigation; President Obama Holds Jobs Summit; Interview With Council of Economic Advisers Chairwoman Christina Romer; Ben Bernanke Defends Federal Reserve, Seeks Second Term

Aired December 3, 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: The White House is accused of stonewalling, as Congress investigates the party crasher security breach -- this hour, the threat of subpoenas and warnings that the president could have faced a night of horror.

The Obama jobs summit under way right now. Did the White House snub business groups that have been critical of its policies? I will ask the head of the president's Council of Economic Advisers. She's standing by.

And a senator's daughter is carjacked right here in the nation's capital. Now Senator Bob Corker is grateful that she's safe and that her car has a device that he nearly, nearly canceled.

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.

Members of Congress are calling the White House party crashers every name in the book today, including pathological, egomaniacal and serial con artists. But some anger also is being -- being directed at the White House itself and its effort to protect a social secretary from testifying.

Up first, our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry.

Ed, explain what's going on.

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Republicans want answers about Desiree Rogers. She's very close to the first family. She's the White House social secretary. And they say, if she won't talk, it's time to hit her with a subpoena.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

QUESTION: Director Sullivan, any comments before you testify?

QUESTION: What are you going to tell the committee today, sir?

HENRY (voice-over): The pressure on Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan is intense. And he told Congress, his agency will take the heat for the gate-crashing fiasco.

MARK SULLIVAN, DIRECTOR, U.S. SECRET SERVICE: This is our fault, and our fault alone. There's no other people to blame here. You know, look at me and blame me.

HENRY: Lawmakers praised his candor, but bluntly declared, White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers should be facing tough questions, too.

REP. CHARLES DENT (R), PENNSYLVANIA: We always expect the Secret Service to take a bullet for the president. We don't expect the Secret Service to take a bullet for the president's staff.

HENRY: Specifically, Republicans want to know why Rogers broke with past practice by not having one of her aides standing at the front gate to check names for the state dinner. But, like the Salahis, who did not show up for the hearing, Rogers declined the committee's invitation to talk, on constitutional grounds.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Based on separation of powers, staff here don't go to testify in front of Congress. She won't -- she will not be testifying in front of Congress.

HENRY: Republicans laughed off the notion the president might use executive privilege to protect an old pal from Chicago.

REP. PETER KING (R-NY), HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: This is not a separation of powers issue. This is not an issue where there are people at the White House advising the president on health care or cap and trade or Afghanistan. We're talking about an administrative decision to have people or not have people standing with the Secret Service and to change a policy of at least 20 years standing.

HENRY: But the Obama White House is getting cover from an unlikely source.

C. Boyden Gray, former White House counsel in the first Bush administration, told CNN Rogers clearly should be shielded.

C. BOYDEN GRAY, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: It's a pretty slippery slope to say, well, this person's a little bit more important than that person, this issue's a little bit more important than that issue. I think the safety of the president is a pretty important issue.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY: So, the White House may be on strong legal ground. The question is whether they're on shaky political ground, especially after the president spoke so much about transparency in the campaign -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, everything was going to be open, on C-SPAN, all that kind of stuff.

HENRY: That's right.

BLITZER: Gloria Borger is here, our senior political analyst.

You have been doing some reporting, checking with your sources.

How -- how upset was the president by all of this?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, as you can imagine, Wolf, this is not a good storyline for the White House, as Ed points out.

And I was told that the president has been very concerned and upset about this incident, that he called in Desiree Rogers and spoke with her and took her to task about this, not so much that he was concerned, I was told, that he wasn't protected, but that it was a -- a diversion from the serious business of inviting the prime minister of India here to the United States, the importance of that, and also a diversion from his serious domestic agenda, not the least of which is his announcement this week about sending more troops to Afghanistan.

BLITZER: Because, if you let the Secret Service really be the fall guy in this -- in this case, that's a slippery slope also.

HENRY: And that's the question. And, you know, on Monday, when I first started asking Robert Gibbs about that -- that whole question, he basically said, look, the social secretary's office didn't need to be at the front gate.

This was really the Secret Service's problem. They -- they let these folks in, which is true. It was their mistake. But, as it was pointed out at that briefing and other places, previous administrations have had someone from the social secretary's office at the gate to check the list.

And, in fact, later this week, Robert Gibbs and the White House changed tack and said, you know what, from now on, we're going to bring the policy back to the old days, and there will be somebody from Desiree Rogers at the gate. Doesn't that confirm that there was some sort of mistake?

BLITZER: Yes, because what would be so bad -- and I never understand why people think it's so bad to admit, you know, you made a mistake. The White House, effectively, by announcing the new policy yesterday, admits someone made a mistake.

What's so bad about saying, you know what, we screwed up, we should have had a representative of the office of the social secretary there with the Secret Service checking off the names, and we will never -- and it will never happen again.

BORGER: Right. Right. And I think they have effectively admitted that.

But I also think there are some unanswered questions here. We don't know what degree of involvement Desiree Rogers' staff had in this. Was Michele Jones of the Pentagon who was trying to get the Salahis in corresponding with -- with somebody at the White House? And you need to get the answer to the question about why weren't there more people working this dinner, particularly at the last gate, where -- or right before people come in to the White House, where they're announced, why isn't there somebody there with a list saying, wait a minute, these people aren't on the list?

BLITZER: Right.

HENRY: They will be there next time.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

BORGER: It's sort of basic, yes.

BLITZER: And they're getting ready for thousands of visitors, getting ready for the holiday parties over at the White House.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: So, get ready.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: I assume they will be beefing up....

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: ... they will be beefing up that social secretary's office, because they need some people standing at the gates.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Get out our license, yes.

BLITZER: All right.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Thanks very much, guys.

HENRY: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Right now, President Obama's trying to counter concerns that he's not doing enough to create jobs in America. He's wrapping up a summit with business leaders, economists and other officials over at the White House.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian.

Dan, lots of questions about whether this event is all talk, all public relations, and no action. What's the answer?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And the president says that he's very much aware of the skepticism. He knows that you won't be able to solve the unemployment challenges in just a few hours. But he believes that progress can be made. And today is seen as one step.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) (APPLAUSE)

LOTHIAN (voice-over): A White House jobs brainstorming session, with one big question on the table.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: How do we get businesses to start hiring again? How do we get ourselves to the point where more people are working and more people are spending?

LOTHIAN: President Obama and his Cabinet breaking down the unemployment crisis with big executives, small-business owners and other leaders, looking for creative ways to stimulate hiring, in addition to increased spending on roads and highways, weatherization projects or tax credits for small businesses.

But some Republicans say this is nothing more than a PR effort with no substance, and that the administration is partly to blame for high unemployment.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: The biggest problem that we heard from our economists with regard to why employers aren't hiring, it is all the job-killing policies that are being offered by this administration and this Congress, and creating an awful lot of uncertainty for American employers.

LOTHIAN: President Obama and his administration have made big promises.

OBAMA: We want to create or save three million jobs, save or create 3.5 million jobs, the creation of millions of new jobs.

LOTHIAN: While the overall economy seems to have stabilized, Americans continue to lose their jobs. One out of 10 is out of work, like Jean Senat, who was laid off from his job in the financial industry seven months ago.

JEAN SENAT, JOB SEEKER: It's been frustrating. I knew it was going to be hard, but I never thought it would be that hard.

LOTHIAN: He's applied for hundreds of jobs, without success. Adding to his family's stress, a baby's on the way.

SENAT: My wife, sometimes, she cries. And I'm hopeless, and I can't help her.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN: He says he knows that the president does have a lot on his plate. Obviously, there's health care. There's Afghanistan. But he hopes that beyond the forum today, that the administration will focus more on creating jobs.

And this is the kind of feedback that the president might hear as he hits the road tomorrow, headed to Allentown, Pennsylvania. It's the start of what the White House is saying will be several trips across the country over the next few months to listen to Americans, to hear some of their concerns during these challenging economic times -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we got some good questions for Christina Romer, the chair of the president's Council of Economic Advisers. She's standing by live to join us.

Dan, thanks very much.

But joining us right now is Jack Cafferty, who has "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Congress isn't satisfied with the answers they're not getting when it comes to these White House party crashers. The chairman of the House Homeland Security committee says the country's lucky that breach the other night didn't end in a night of horror.

Congressman Bennie Thompson says they still need to talk to the Salahis, who attended the dinner without invitation, and to White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers. All three of them failed to appear at today's congressional hearing. Thompson says he's directing the panel to prepare subpoenas for the Salahis.

Republicans are accusing the White House of stonewalling in not letting Rogers testify. They want her subpoenaed, too. But that won't do any good. If the White House wants to keep her from testifying, they can and will.

The White House cites separation of powers, saying there's a history of White House staff not testifying before Congress. Remember all the tries they made at getting the Bush people to come over there and talk?

Senior aide Valerie Jarrett insists there's no need for Rogers to testify, because -- quote -- "We think we have really answered the questions fully" -- unquote.

Really? As for the crashers, who are beyond annoying at this point, their publicist -- they have a publicist now -- says they have already provided the committee with information and there's nothing else they can do to help the inquiry. They claim they broke no laws. They're chalking up the whole thing to -- quote -- "honest misunderstandings and mistakes made by all parties."

Meanwhile, the head of the Secret Service, who did show up at the hearing today, the only one with the stones enough to appear, acknowledged that mistakes were made, but insisted that the president was never at risk.

He suggested normal procedures weren't followed. After its own review, the White House says, at all future events now, official ones, they will make sure staff are stationed alongside Secret Service agents to screen the guests. But that's not really the point.

The point is this. Does the White House owe an explanation about how two people managed to crash a state dinner? Here's a hint: Yes. Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. Post a comment on my blog -- Wolf. BLITZER: I -- I will say that's a good hint.

I will also say, Jack, these Secret Service guys, these are really stand-up guys.

CAFFERTY: They're terrific.

BLITZER: They're terrific. I spent, you know, many years covering the White House. I worked closely with the Secret Service. And -- and they do an outstanding job for the president.

CAFFERTY: My guess is they had their eye on you pretty good, right? I mean, they were...

BLITZER: They watched me all the time.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Yes.

CAFFERTY: You know, the other question that hasn't been addressed. What was this woman at the Pentagon doing involved in all of this? Why was she e-mailing with the Salahis, saying, maybe I can get you into a state dinner?

I never did quite figure that out.

BLITZER: I think they were supposedly friends from Virginia, from the polo matches or something like that.

CAFFERTY: Oh, yes, OK.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: They knew each other from some...

(CROSSTALK)

CAFFERTY: That handles it. Thank you.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Yes. All right. We will work -- we will work on that part of the story for you, Jack. Thank you.

The president's war council facing some friendly fire on Capitol Hill over the new strategy in Afghanistan -- why the troop surge could turn out to be even bigger than we thought. Stand by.

And for a U.S. senator, the shock of having his daughter carjacked gives way to relief and a new appreciation of some new technology.

And our Drew Griffin on the trail of former Governor Mike Huckabee, asking -- asking him some tough questions about cutting a convict's sentence short. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Now that President Obama has announced his plans for Afghanistan, members of his war council are continuing the effort to sell it. Some lawmakers aren't necessarily buying. Today on Capitol Hill, another grilling of the secretary of state, the defense secretary, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

But you may be surprised who was doing a lot of that grilling.

Let's go straight to our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash. Dana's got the answer for us.

Dana, what is it?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, yesterday, the president's team got the toughest questions from Republicans, Wolf, who are not happy about the date that the president is setting to start withdrawing from Afghanistan.

But, today, they got an earful of angst and even anger at times from the president's fellow Democrats about sending more troops to Afghanistan.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): Day two on Capitol Hill pushing the president's new Afghanistan policy, and members of his war council faced a barrage of friendly fire.

SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD (D), WISCONSIN: I do not support the decision to prolong and expand a risky and unsustainable strategy in the region.

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: I am unconvinced on the need for the additional troops.

BASH: Democrats, usually the president's allies, unhappy about his decision to send 30,000 additional troops, and the defense secretary revealed he has the authority to deploy 3,000 more.

CARDIN: So, we are really looking at potentially 33,000 additional troops?

ROBERT GATES, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Potentially.

BASH: Then there was the issue of starting to withdraw in July 2011. The president's team admits, that's not locked in. That frustrates Democrats like Bob Menendez.

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: Can any of you tell this committee that, in fact, after July of 2011, we won't have tens of thousands of troops for years after that date?

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, Senator, I can tell you what the intention is. And the intention is... MENENDEZ: But you -- I don't want -- Madam Secretary, I don't want to hear what the intention is. I want to know, can you tell the committee that there won't be tens of thousands of troops after July of 2011 for years after that?

BASH: That's the president's plan, Clinton repeated, but no promises.

Not all Democrats are incensed.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I believe that the president appropriately narrowed the mission in Afghanistan.

BASH: The committee's chairman, an Obama confidant on Afghanistan, asked the president's team to calm a central concern of his Democratic colleagues, that the U.S. is sending more troops than the threat requires.

KERRY: What is it that compels you to say al Qaeda in Pakistan remains a sufficient threat to require 100,000 troops in Afghanistan?

GATES: Whether or not the terrorists are homegrown, when we trace their roots, they almost all end up back in this border area of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Now, that didn't seem to change what we heard today, which was really bipartisan concern that the president is spending too much money and manpower in this one narrow region.

In fact, Republican Richard Lugar, the top Republican on this committee, he complained that the president's strategy does not include al Qaeda's safe havens inside Afghanistan, and also more broadly he said that the global terrorist threat is becoming increasingly diffuse, and this strategy simply doesn't deal with that and address that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Meanwhile, the effort to sell the president's Afghan strategy continues, Dana. Thanks very much.

As the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, sells the war plan to American lawmakers, she will also be promoting it to America's allies. Tomorrow, she will attend the NATO meeting in Brussels, where she will brief NATO foreign ministers.

Meanwhile, NATO's leader is speaking to CNN.

Let's go right to our chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour.

He's relatively new on the job, Christiane. What is he saying?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the NATO secretary-general, told us on CNN that he will, for sure, have 5,000 troops to -- to pledge to -- to the United States effort and NATO effort in Afghanistan, and possibly thousands more, in addition to those 5,000.

He told us that there could be some pledges, some -- some announcement this very week, but more later, and perhaps in the new year, after a special conference in London at the end of January.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN, NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL: I agree with the president, and I share his wish and his hope. And I'm pleased to inform you that, according to our latest figures, at least 20 allies and partners will contribute additional troops to Afghanistan. And I expect more to come in the coming weeks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: Well, he actually went on to tell us, when I pressed him about the numbers, that he expects at least 5,000 here and now, as I just said, and a few thousand more to be announced, as he said, in the next coming weeks -- and this at a time when the war is deeply unpopular in Europe itself, because there have been troops there.

The biggest contingent is from Great Britain. They already have close to 10,000. They have pledged another 5,000, will bring it up close to 10,000. And they have taken the most casualties amongst NATO. Seventy-seven British troops have been killed alone this year -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Germany and France, though, have they made a hard-and- fast commitment -- I believe the answer is no -- to increase their troop levels?

AMANPOUR: Yes, you're correct. The answer is no.

However, again, I was speaking to a French official, who said that, perhaps, after January, when they have this conference in London, they could pledge more trainers. And the jury is still out on Germany. People are hoping to be able to get Germany to pledge more.

At this moment, it looks like they will extend the mandate for those troops already there. There's an issue also with the Netherlands. The Netherlands, Dutch troops are said to be doing a very good job in the Kunduz area. And the Afghans are saying, please stay. At the moment, Dutch troops seem to be about to be pulled out over the next year. But they're hoping that they can get them to stay -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And the other big issue is that some of these countries are willing to send troops into Afghanistan, but not to actually fight, to engage in combat, to merely train, for example.

And that's an issue the United States has been trying to deal with as well.

AMANPOUR: That's correct. There are a lot of NATO rules, a lot of particular country rules which have said that their troops can do only do this or that.

The ones participating in the biggest fight, along with the United States, are the British troops. And, as I say, they have had the -- they have been the heaviest casualties there, British troops. But also they need NATO troops to help in the drug interdiction, for instance, and the very difficult, difficult task of raising the police and Afghan forces.

This is something that's gone a lot slower than people had hoped, a lot of disarray within the non-U.S. NATO troops there. And they hope to be able to get that up and running much faster and much more efficiently.

BLITZER: You're going to have a big interview with Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan.

AMANPOUR: That's right.

BLITZER: We really haven't heard him react to the president's new strategy. I assume you have a lot of good questions ready to go.

AMANPOUR: I certainly do. And we hope we will get a lot of good answers.

It will be his first television interview since the president, President Obama, has made his mission clear now for Afghanistan. And, obviously, there's a lot that they hope to get from President Karzai, because they do need a credible, effective partner over there, not just in terms of bringing governance to more parts of Afghanistan, but to cracking down on corruption.

We will see if there are specific plans to do that, specific ministers and officials that the U.S. is waiting to see whether they will be replaced, and generally broadening the presidential mandate -- mandate around Afghanistan, whether he can be a leader for all of Afghanistan, including the Pashtuns, which are the biggest bloc and where the biggest fighting and the biggest threat from the Taliban exists right now.

BLITZER: Christiane Amanpour, thanks very much.

Christiane's interview, by the way, will air this Sunday on "AMANPOUR," 2:00 p.m. Eastern on CNN. Don't miss it. I think it's going to be an important interview.

Also, by the way, tomorrow on "AMERICAN MORNING," the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, she will be sitting down with our own John Roberts to talk about what's going on at the NATO meeting in Brussels. John is there right now. "AMERICAN MORNING" starts 6:00 a.m. Eastern.

Two big interviews, the secretary of state with John Roberts, and Hamid Karzai with Christiane Amanpour, that's all coming up here on CNN.

It's every parent's nightmare, being separated from your child in a fierce custody battle. One man's battle is getting worldwide attention. He's here to explain if he's any closer right now to getting his son back from Brazil.

And, to create more jobs faster, is it time for a second economic stimulus plan? Some angry Democrats make political threats to President Obama. I will speak with one of the president's top economic advisers. She's standing by live at the White House, Christina Romer.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: Where does Pakistan stand on the president's new Afghan strategy? I will ask in my exclusive interview with the president's national security adviser, retired Marine Corps General James Jones.

Heart-wrenching testimony in a hearing on international child abduction -- I will speak with a father desperate to bring his son home.

And the CNN Special Investigations Unit reveals violent details on Maurice Clemmons, the man who allegedly shot to death four police officers. The former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee explains why he commuted Clemmons' sentence and why he would make the same decision today.

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

We're going to be speaking with the president's top economic adviser, Christina Romer, momentarily, but the president addressing the issue of jobs, jobs, jobs at his economic summit right now.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

OBAMA: The last thing I want is us to essentially use up our seed corn here, to not make investments in -- in education, to not make our investments in clean energy, to essentially say the only way we can handle this is to constrict our dreams and to go small because these other countries out there, they're making these investments in infrastructure, in education, in clean energy.

And we can't lose the race just because we're going through a tough time right now. Now's the time actually to make sure that we're prioritizing properly and pushing even harder on that front.

OK. Yes, sir?

FRED LAMPROPOULOS, FOUNDER AND CEO, MERIT MEDICAL SYSTEMS: Mr. President, Fred Lampropoulos of Merit Medical Systems.

One of the overriding thoughts in our forum was that there's uncertainty. That there's such an aggressive legislative agenda that business people don't really know what they ought to do. In fact, one CEO said that he thought -- he has to kind of wait and may have to restructure his business. This is a large multinational pharma company, and that uncertainty is really what's holding back the jobs. And I hear that a lot in the press. There's so much going on, no one really knows what to do.

How are you going to give us that confidence and make sure that we're certain about both the near-term and long-term growth prospects?

OBAMA: You know, I actually think this is a legitimate concern. This has been a tough year with a lot of uncertainty. Now, at the beginning of this crisis when we were in transition, we could have made a decision and there are legitimate arguments for that decision -- or there are legitimate arguments about the course that could have been taken, which is to say things are so bad -- we've got two wars; we've got a crisis in the financial markets; we just found out we lost 700,000 jobs per month in the first quarter -- that we should not try any big initiatives legislatively, just shouldn't do it until everything has stabilized and settled down.

And I -- you know, I strongly considered that argument. But I think the response is the point that was just made earlier, that, if we keep on putting off tough decisions about health care *** OBAMA: But I think the response is the point that was just made earlier, that if we keep on putting off tough decisions about health care, about energy, about education, we'll never get to the point where there's a lot of appetite for that.

I mean, keep in mind, we just went through 10, 15 years where everything looked pretty good. Except what happened was, is that that growth was built on a house of cards. The fundamentals of the economy were weakening, and they were papered over by massive leverage, credit card debt, a housing market bubble.

Our health care system we keep on putting off, but the fact of the matter is, there is no way that businesses can sustain their current spending levels on health care. They can't do it. And families can't either. And this CEO of a pharmaceutical company I think would know that, because I'm sure that companies and health care providers are sending that message.

So, my belief was that we had to start tackling some of those fundamental problems if we were going to emerge stronger than we were before.

Having said that, my strong hope is, is that we get health care done by the end of this year -- that eliminates some uncertainty because people will have a sense of what's going to be happening in the health care field -- that we get financial regulatory reform done, if not by the end of this year, then early next year, so that banks have certainty. And that, to the extent that the uncertainty is derived from these major legislative initiatives, I think will be solved in the next few months.

I think that the best way for us to deal with long-term uncertainty is to tackle the things that we've been putting off and sweeping under the rug. There's no point in us pretending that these aren't problems and thinking that somehow we can go back to business as usual, because I think if we take that approach, then we might be able to manage for the next three or four, five years. But sooner or later, we are going to get back into the same problems that we've already been in. And I think it's very important to start doing the hard business now.

OK.

BLITZER: All right. So the president made it clear just now that at one point, he did consider delaying action on health care, education, energy because of the overall economic crisis, the recession the country has been facing.

Let's get into some depth on this with the chair of the president's Council of Economic Advisers.

Christina Romer is joining us from the White House right now.

He said he thought about delaying all of that this year. But in the end, he decided not to.

Elaborate a little bit, Christina Romer. How close was he to saying, you know what, there's too many problems right now with jobs and the economy, you can't deal with these other issues?

CHRISTINA ROMER, CHAIRWOMAN, COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS: Oh, I don't think I'll try to analyze degrees of closeness. It was something that was discussed. And I was very struck.

I remember one time in the campaign when the president said, "You know, a good political leader can do more than one thing at a time." And that is absolutely what he and we have chosen to do. And it's been hard on us and hard on the Congress, but I think ultimately will be very good for the country.

BLITZER: As you know, on these economic issues the president is being severely criticized by Republicans. But he's also being now criticized by some Democrats, including members of the Congressional Black Caucus, for not doing enough on this whole issue of jobs, jobs, jobs.

Are you ready to say a second economic stimulus package should go forward right now to deal with unemployment?

ROMER: I think what is true is that we have been doing -- talking about and working about jobs, jobs, jobs from the first day. The Recovery Act was one step in that. All of the work we did on the financial rescue was a step in that. But we've been innovating.

We did the Cash for Clunkers program. Earlier this month we extended unemployment insurance and the new homebuyers' tax credit.

I anticipate that we absolutely will take more steps. As the president said today, he's going to do every responsible thing possible to put people back to work. And so I would expect to see targeted actions, which, as he said, things that would bring the private sector in off the sidelines. So I anticipate more of those.

BLITZER: I want you to listen to John Boehner -- he's the Republican leader in the House of Representatives -- because he's really upset about a potential proposal you have out there to use some of the money for the banks and Wall Street and to reprogram that money to deal with some of these other domestic issues.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), MINORITY LEADER: This idea that we're going to take this money that's being paid back to the government and then turn around and spend it on useless government programs is a very big mistake.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He's referring to the billions that are being repaid from the TARP money from the major banks like Goldman Sachs or maybe Bank of America. And you're going to just take that money -- instead of using it to whittle down the national debt, you're going to start spending it for all sorts of programs.

ROMER: Well, certainly one of the things that your story was pointing to is how we are discovering the good news about TARP is that the money is coming back, that it's spending much less than we anticipated.

You know, I think the important thing is we have a jobs crisis in this country. And that is what the president was talking about today, that despite all of the very effective and essential actions that we've taken, we still have millions of people who are unemployed. And the president has said from the beginning, that's not acceptable.

BLITZER: So is he going to use this money to start trying to create a second stimulus package?

ROMER: You know, what he's always said is he will do what we need to do. And he's also made it clear he's going to do it in a fiscally responsible manner. And that's going to involve thinking about, how do we offset any programs that we have over a longer period of time? It's going to go into our 2011 budget and thinking about a medium-run budget strategy. And, of course, the biggest thing he's doing on the budget deficit is right there on the floor of the Congress right now, which is health care reform, because that is the number one thing to get the budget deficit under control over the long haul.

BLITZER: The unemployment level, as you well know, right now nationally, 10.2 percent. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that it will stay high not only in 2010, next year, but through 2011, even, perhaps nine percent unemployment next year and the year after.

You're in charge of forecasting economics for the president. Do you agree with that assessment?

ROMER: You know, there's a lot of uncertainty about any forecast. You know, what is true is basically any private sector forecast. As you pointed out, the Congressional Budget Office has the unemployment rate being unacceptably high for much too long. That is why we're here today.

That's why the president keeps saying that we -- you know, for all of the other problems that we have, we absolutely have to focus on jobs and putting people back to work. And I'm not going to speculate on the future because I'm determined to change the future.

BLITZER: All right. But you're not willing to challenge that CBO estimate?

ROMER: You know, as I said, there's a lot of uncertainty. And I will tell you that some private forecasters are like the CBO and some are more optimistic. And I think right now, I think we just have to say there's a lot of uncertainty.

BLITZER: Christina Romer, thanks very much for joining us.

ROMER: Thank you.

BLITZER: He was president. Now prime minister. Will Vladimir Putin run for president again?

And honor versus anger. A front yard flagpole pits one man's rights against one community's wants.

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BLITZER: Ben Bernanke, he's the powerful chairman of the Federal Reserve. His job touches the lives of every American. He wants to keep his job. The president of the United States wants him to keep his job as well.

By most accounts, he will. But as we saw today, things could get a little bit edgy.

Let's go to our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin.

How did that confirmation hearing go?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I'll tell you, Wolf.

Ben Bernanke has run the Federal Reserve for only four years. But after today's pummeling, it must have felt more like 40. Senators who did not always ask the tough questions in the lead-up to the financial crisis became grand inquisitors during Ben Bernanke's confirmation hearing today.

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YELLIN (voice-over): It was (INAUDIBLE) Ben Bernanke day as senators from both parties accused the Federal Reserve chair of missing the financial tumors that spread into a national cancer. SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R-AL), BANKING COMMITTEE: In the face of rising home prices and risky mortgage underwriting, the Fed failed to act.

SEN. CHRIS DODD (D-CT.), BANKING COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I admire what you've done over the last two years, but it shouldn't have gotten to that.

SEN. JIM BUNNING (R-KY), BANKING COMMITTEE: You are the definition of a moral hazard. You put the printing presses into overdrive to fund the government spending and hand out cheap money to your masters on Wall Street.

YELLIN: Now one senator is trying to block Bernanke's confirmation to a second term at the Fed.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Not since the Great Depression has the financial system been as unsafe, unsound and unstable as it has been during Mr. Bernanke's tenure.

YELLIN: Some members charged the Fed with failing to rein in the nation's banks and protect consumers before the economic collapse. Now Congress is considering stripping the agency of several of its key powers, an effort Bernanke is fighting.

So he was on a charm offensive, admitting mistakes...

BEN BERNANKE, FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRMAN: Did we do everything we could? Absolutely not.

YELLIN: ... defending the Fed's response to the crisis...

BERNANKE: The Federal Reserve cut interest rates early and aggressively. We also created targeted lending programs that helped restart the flow of credit.

YELLIN: ... and vowing to do better in the future.

But the Senate isn't Bernanke's only foe. The House of Representatives is poised to OK an audit of the way the Federal Reserve handles our money supply, an effort spearheaded by Congressman Ron Paul.

REP. RON PAUL (R), TEXAS: Why should they do it in secrecy? Why should they be allowed to create a trillion dollars, spend it, help special interests, get involved with other countries, have agreements with foreign governments and foreign central banks?

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YELLIN: Now, Ron Paul has had success with his bill so far to audit the Fed. But Bernanke insists, look, the Fed is not secretive. He says almost all its activities are available for congressional review except for decisions about money supply. He insists that part has to be protected from political influence. And Wolf, it does look like despite this vicious debate over what the Fed's role should be, that Bernanke, as you say, will be confirmed in the end. It could just be ugly between here and there.

BLITZER: And he has President Obama's support.

YELLIN: He sure does.

BLITZER: And that's pretty important.

Thanks very much, Jessica.

The Taliban is making some major threats about the president's new exit strategy in Afghanistan. Will local forces be able to stand up to extremists once U.S. troops leave?

And a new endorsement of sorts of a car tracking device by a United States senator. He's sharing the drama of his daughter's carjacking.

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BLITZER: Insurgents are sending an ominous message to President Obama today, promising that his new strategy in Afghanistan will be a fiasco and that his exit strategy is merely ploy.

There's a lot of concern about whether Afghan forces will be able to fill the void when U.S. forces start to withdraw. Supposed to start withdrawing in July, 2011.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, is here, recently spent some quality time in Afghanistan, shall we say.

What's going on right now?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, I heard some very interesting comments today during the testimony on the Hill. U.S. military officials are now saying that there are some provinces in Afghanistan that could be turned over to the Afghans not in 2011, but today.

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LAWRENCE (voice-over): The Taliban control or influence huge areas of Afghanistan's south and east. Those are the areas in darker red on this map. But U.S. military officials now say some of the northwest areas in lighter shades have good security and no al Qaeda, and could be turned over today.

ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: The transition to Afghan security responsibility will start, presumably, in the least contested areas, some of which, perhaps, could happen now.

LAWRENCE: But Defense Secretary Robert Gates says they will wait until at least July, 2011. But when American troops start turning over some areas to Afghan forces, they'll hand over to whom, exactly? GATES: It may not be the Afghan National Army or the Afghan national police that we -- to whom we turn for providing local security.

LAWRENCE: U.S. military leaders now say their most essential partners could be local groups, not national security forces. They're turning to these community security groups. Think of it like an armed neighborhood watch in places like Wardak province.

GATES: Tribal elders are telling me that the roads that have been closed by the Taliban for years have been reopened by these local groups, but they are within the framework of the provincial governor and the district leadership so that they're not operating independently working for a warlord.

LAWRENCE: But that could be the biggest challenge, to keep these groups from simply becoming militias loyal to certain warlords. There are nearly 100,000 Afghan National Army soldiers, but U.S. military officials say right now only about 10 percent can stand on their own.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE: Yes. And if and when those secure provinces are turned over to Afghan forces, it won't have much effect on American or British troops. Take a look back at the map again.

You can see, again, those dark red areas are where the Taliban are, the lighter areas where they are not. Now let's go ahead and overlay where the NATO countries are working. Take a look at that.

You can see where the U.S., the Brits, the Canadians are. They're in the most violent areas. It is the Swedes, Norway, Lithuania, Germany. Those are the first nations that could benefit if and when this transition comes -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. But even recently there's been some problems in the north, too, which is ominous long term.

Chris, thanks very much for that report.

The fight between Congress and the White House over those State Dinner crashers. Jack Cafferty wants to know what you think.

Stand by.

And CNN talks with former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee about how much he knew before he commuted the sentence of Maurice Clemmons. He's the man accused of killing four police officers in Washington State.

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BLITZER: Jack's back with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Wolf, the question this hour is: Does the White House owe an explanation about how those two people managed to crash a State Dinner?

Mambisa in St. Petersburg, Florida, "I think the Secret Service owes the president an explanation of why these two pathetic people made it past what's supposed to be impenetrable security. My guess is some low-level government flunky saw the cameras following these wannabes and figured they were somebodies and let them pass. God forbid they brought in ricin or anthrax to that dinner."

Deb in Illinois writes, "Why is this still a story? Until charges are filed -- and they should be -- no one should be commenting publicly. This looks to be a Secret Service blunder. Let them deal with it. Let the publicity-mad couple spend a couple years in jail. They knew what they were doing."

Jane in Wisconsin says, "The White House definitely owes an explanation. Other presidents have claimed executive privilege when high-level staffers have be called to testify before Congress. Ms. Rogers is not what I would consider a high-level staff member whose job requires confidential policy discussions with the president. This appears to be more giving cover to one of the many Chicago cronies in this administration."

Eric in Florida writes, "No, I don't think the White House is required to offer an explanation about the two party crashers. It's an internal problem. I think it needs to be handled internally. They seem to have realized they made a mistake in letting them in, and I believe there'll be better security in the future."

Don in Delaware says, "Yes, they're obviously protecting someone or some office and hiding behind a vague admission of mistakes. They cut corners, changed procedure by not having White House personnel at the checkpoints and they got bit. This is no different than that Air Force One fly-over of New York City debacle. Somebody needs to fall on their sword, take their lumps, or maybe even lose their job."

And Beverly in Mystic, Iowa, "Of course not. Why would you even ask this? How does that incident or Tiger Woods or Balloon Boy affect the lives of average Americans? The answer is, not at all."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, check the blog, CNN.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We will, Jack. Thank you.

Even a United States senator's family isn't immune to crime here in the nation's capital. The story of a carjacking and a somewhat surprising ending, that's coming up.

And more of my exclusive interview with the president's national security adviser, General Jim Jones.

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BLITZER: U.S. Senator Bob Corker says his daughter is just fine but really sore after her car was hijacked right here in Washington, D.C. It happened last night near the Verizon Center, just nine blocks from the U.S. Capitol.

Twenty-two-year-old Julia Corker stopped the car to help someone she thought needed directions. She opened the door -- he opened the door, I should say, grabbed her, threw her to the ground and drove away.

Senator Corker says his daughter remembered the car was equipped with the OnStar system, and the device helped lead police straight to the suspects.