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Americans Arrested in Pakistan; President Obama Prepares to Accept Nobel Peace Prize

Aired December 9, 2009 - 18:00   ET


MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: But Senator Barbara Boxer, who cited inaction during the years of the Bush administration, voiced frustration about the agency's plans to go forward.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: I need a lot more specificity from you. I don't get -- I am not confident that we are now ready to go.


SNOW: After that exchange, we did follow up with the EPA. A spokesman for the agency says the EPA has provided Senator Boxer's staff with specific on its enforcement policy, and the agency says it will prioritize systems with health-based violations -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Mary, thank you.

And, to our viewers, you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, breaking news, word from Pakistan of young Americans arrested in a suspected terrorist plot. A Muslim group here in Washington, D.C., now revealing what it knows about the investigation, and what it describes as a disturbing farewell video left before they headed off.

Plus, President Obama leaves the White House soon to go accept his Nobel Peace Prize. Will he acknowledge growing concerns that he does not really deserve the honor?

And we are tracking Tiger Woods' commercials and whether they are vanishing, simply vanishing from the airwaves. Our TV ad analyst is standing by with a telling account of the fallout from the scandal.

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Let's get to the breaking news right now, the arrests in Pakistan creating new fears that young Muslims in the United States are embracing terrorism. U.S. authorities are investigating the disappearance of five Muslim students in the Virginia area and whether they are now in fact in custody in Pakistan.

Our homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve is here with some new information just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. Jeanne, what do we know?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, U.S. officials still will not confirm that the five young men arrested in Pakistan are the five Muslim men who mysteriously vanished from Northern Virginia late last month. But a Pakistani police official tells CNN he is confident they are one and the same.

The deputy superintendent of police in Sargodha, Pakistan, where the arrests took place, says a preliminary investigation suggests that the men tired to link up with two militant organizations, but were unsuccessful.

The five who disappeared from Northern Virginia include one Howard University and student, and one of the young men left a video. An official with the Council on American-Islamic Relations said he was disturbed when he watched it.


NIHAD AWAD, SPOKESPERSON, COUNCIL ON AMERICAN-ISLAMIC RELATIONS: I recall the video is about 11 minutes, and it is like a farewell. And they did not specify what they will be doing, but just hearing and seeing videos similar on the Internet, it just made me uncomfortable.


MESERVE: CAIR says the young men told their parents late last month that they were going to a conference, but the parents grew suspicious and their concerns were eventually taken to the FBI. An FBI official says, and this is new information, that none of these young men had ever been on law enforcement's radar before their disappearance -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Was there any indication earlier that they had been radicalized?

MESERVE: Wolf, that very specific question was asked at a CAIR press conference this afternoon. And this was the response.


IMAM JOHARI ABDUL-MALIK, COUNCIL ON AMERICAN-ISLAMIC RELATIONS: Although these young people were active in the (INAUDIBLE) from all of our interviews, there has been no sign that they were in any way outwardly radicalized, that as far as any of the youth leaders or the (INAUDIBLE) leadership has been concerned, that there haven't been any reports that there was anything outwardly suspicious in their behavior.


MESERVE: There has of course been growing concern about domestic radicalization because of a proliferation of recent cases, for instance, the case of Najibullah Zazi, who allegedly received bomb- making training in Pakistan and then came back to the United States officials say to conduct terrorist attacks. But the FBI saying very little about today's case as it tries to establish if the men arrested are indeed the missing Americans, and if so what they were doing in Pakistan -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, we will stand by with you. Jeanne, get more information and we will share it with our viewers of course.

Other important news, some powerful new opposition to a key provision in the Senate's new health care reform compromise. The American Medical Association and the American Hospital Association now say they are against allowing people 55 years and older to buy into Medicare.

They say it would shift Americans from the private sector into a government program that is chronically underfunded. It's just one example of the big hurdles ahead less than 24 hours after senators struck what they describe as a compromise deal.

Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash broke the story for us last night.

Dana, so the fallout today has been significant.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That is right. And at this point, Wolf, from the White House here to the Senate, Democratic leaders are holding their breath. They are hoping that what one senator just described as a broad framework really sticks, and that this is the breakthrough on health care that they have been looking for, but right now, it is too soon to tell if it is that certain.


BASH (voice-over): Anxious to move forward on his top priority, the president praised a tentative agreement to drop a public option from the Senate health care bill.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I support this effort, especially since it's aimed at increasing choice and competition and lowering costs.

BASH: That's the goal of the deal hammered out in secret by 10 Democrats, five liberals and five moderates. Whether it will hold remains to be seen. One negotiator is already openly reluctant.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But I am not happy with the possibility that there would not be a public option.

BASH: Instead of a government-run insurance option, which moderates oppose, a government agency, the Office of Personnel Management, would oversee not-for-profit private insurance plans.

Democrat sources tell CNN, if that plan doesn't work, it would trigger a public option, but that could scare away Joe Lieberman, whose vote Democrats likely need. He issued the statement, underscoring his -- quote -- "opposition to a government-run insurance option, including any option with a trigger."

To appeal to liberals eager to expand government-run insurance, Democratic negotiators included a huge change in Medicare, allowing uninsured Americans ages 55 to 64 to buy into the program. One estimate says four million people could be eligible. Data on how much it would cost to buy into Medicare under this plan is not yet available, but a recent Congressional Budget Office study on 62- to 64-year-olds put premiums at a whopping $7,600 a year, $634 a month.

Yet, under the Democrats' plans now, many 55- to 64-year-olds would ultimately be eligible for government subsidies to pay for coverage. Still, moderate Democrats are wary of adding more strain to already stretched Medicare.

SEN. KENT CONRAD (D), NORTH DAKOTA: The national concern is, what is the effect on Medicare and Medicare solvency, since Medicare is already headed toward insolvency?


BASH: Now, Democratic leaders were clearly eager to show momentum, and that is why they announced this tentative agreement last night.

But listening to both liberals and moderates, they all say that this is not a done deal. They are waiting, Wolf, for the Congressional Budget Office to say what it determines the cost of this deal to be, and also things like what affordability would be for health care under this potential plan. And we are not going to hear from the CBO, according to Democratic sources, for probably about five days.

BLITZER: Every day critical right now if the president hopes to get it before Christmas. Thanks very much, Dana, for that.

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, as the Tiger Woods scandal continues to grow sort of like one of those Chia Pets on steroids, here's the latest line score.

Reports put the number of alleged mistresses now at 11 and counting. Documents from the night of the crash show investigators suspected Woods may have been driving under the influence.

According to Nielsen, television ads featuring Woods have disappeared from prime-time broadcast TV, as well as many cable channels.

Tiger Woods makes about $110 million a year from endorsements and tournaments. And in part, he was selling an image. That image has sustained more damage in the last two weeks than his Cadillac Escalade. One index that measures how celebrities influence shoppers shows Woods' ranking has dropped from sixth to 24th place.

This makes Tiger Woods the latest in a long line of public figures -- almost always men -- who work hard to build successful lives and careers, only to turn around at some point and throw it all in a garbage can.

The web site PoliticsDaily has a piece called "The Last Tiger Woods Question." It asks, why did he think he wouldn't get caught? We all know the drill, Bill Clinton, Eliot Spitzer, Rudy Giuliani, John Edwards, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, people who are so controlled and accomplished in other areas of their lives, and yet they risk it all.

Experts say a lot of times, these men simply don't think, that lust makes people irrational, or they think they're smarter or somehow different, or the woman in question is special, or they know other men who got away with it, and think they can, too.


Here's the question: Why do some successful people simply choose to throw it all away?

Go to and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You are going to get a lot comments, Jack. Get ready.

CAFFERTY: I think so.

BLITZER: No doubt about that. All right, Jack, thank you.

It is your money. Surely you want to know if it is being spent wisely. We are talking about the taxpayer-funded financial bailout. The bailout watchdog reveals how well it worked or didn't work. Wait until you hear this evaluation.


BLITZER: Health emergencies, rampant rumors fueling the scandal over Tiger Woods, but there's no way to assess the toll on his personal life, but there are ways to assess the impact of Tiger Woods' brand.

Major advertisers like EA Sports, Nike, Gatorade, Gillette, others, they have sold products with his help. Between November of last year and October of this year, advertisers spent $48.5 million in TV and print ads with Tiger Woods.

But how many ads are you seeing lately?

Let's bring in CNN analyst Evan Tracey. They haven't formally dumped Tiger Woods as a pitchman, if you will, but we are not seeing a lot of ads since the scandal broke, are we, Evan?


If anyone does sees ads right now on television with Tiger Woods in them, they are running by mistake. Their advertisers have pulled these ads altogether. And if there is a silver lining, it is that this was not really a big period of time for a lot of Tiger Woods advertising. Most of the ads that feature Tiger Woods run in the spring and summer months, when he is selling things like sports drinks and golf equipment and apparel.

So, the timing obviously very bad for the family, very bad situation altogether. But, for the marketers, it could have been a lot worse.

BLITZER: But you have been tracking these ads. Let's say in the month or so before the scandal broke as opposed to what happened after the scandal, we saw some ads featuring Tiger Woods, but since then, as you say, he has vanished.

TRACEY: Yes. He had ads up on the air with Gillette. But in the summer months, it is all Tiger all the time on weekends and in sports programming. But they are vanished now, just like Tiger Woods. They want to pull those off of the air and sort of limit the damage.

BLITZER: What can we conclude if anything about his future ability to generate funds from these kinds of advertisements?

TRACEY: Well, I mean, he was at the top rung of the sort of corporate pitchman ladder, which meant he could pick the products and he could pretty much name his price that he was going to put his marketing power behind. Clearly, that is not going to be the case going forward, certainly in the near term and no doubt for a long time.

It is really going to be how soon can he repair his image and probably win again on the golf course?

BLITZER: Evan Tracey, thanks very much for that.

TRACEY: Sure, Wolf.

BLITZER: Bank of America is now paid in full. The Treasury Department says Bank of America has now paid back the entire $45 billion in TARP funds it received from the federal government. President Obama is talking about the controversial bailout program as well.

Our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is here with more on this.

Jessica, what is the president saying?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that Wall Street bailout, today President Obama announced the government is going to let it start to die a slow death.

Today, Congress' bailout watchdog also issued a report taking stock of how well it all worked. So, let's review. First, here is President Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This program has served its original purpose, and the cost has been much lower than we expected.


YELLIN: Now, that is true. Originally, the bailout passed under President Bush was supposed to give $700 billion to the banks. Instead, Treasury spent only $474 billion. The banks, they paid back $73 billion of that. And, as you just said, the Bank of America added another $45 billion today, so, less than expected, but still a lot of change.

For that amount of money, just to give you a sense of what it cost, you could send the entire cities of both Philadelphia and Dallas to private college for four years. That's a lot of change.

OK. So, what did we get for that money? Well, one of the goals was to keep credit flowing to you, to me, to small businesses. The report found, uh-uh, this year, the top 20 banks that received bailout money actually decreased the amount they're giving out in loans by almost 14 percent. Not good.

Another goal, keep banks open and functioning. Well, this year, 129 banks shut their doors. Another 552 banks are on the red alert list, sort of in danger of failing, and the experts expect that even more banks could fail next year than this year. Red alert.

OK. The report also slams the Treasury for lack of transparency about how all that money was used. For example, the Treasury Department said it is impossible to track how each bank used its bailout money, but this report found that one bank actually kept their bailout money in a separate pot and tracked where it moved in the bank, proving it probably could have been done for all the banks across the board.

But here is the kicker, Wolf. Despite all that criticism, despite all the shortcomings, the watchdog says, actually, the bailout worked. The woman who heads up the panel has been a harsh critic of the bailout from the beginning, but still, in the end, she says this.


ELIZABETH WARREN, CHAIRWOMAN, TROUBLED ASSETS RELIEF PROGRAM OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: The bailout was part of a larger strong government response that probably kept this economy from tumbling over the abyss.


YELLIN: So, hate the bailout all you want. They found things would have been worse without it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I am still a little confused, though, Jessica, because the president says he is winding down the TARP program, but the treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, suggesting, you know what, he wants to see it extended for another year.

YELLIN: Yes. OK. Basically, what they are saying is they are winding down the programs that were meant to prop up the big banks, but they're extending a few programs that are just designed to help homeowners, small businesses and community banks.

So, the little stuff is staying to help the little guy. Stuff to help the big guy is going away, Wolf.

BLITZER: Now I'm not confused. Jessica, thanks very much.


BLITZER: New developments and efforts to impeach the South Carolina governor, Mark Sanford, in the wake of his affair, details of a vote right after the break.



BLITZER: The president is dealing with a lot of unfinished business right now as he gets ready to accept the Nobel Peace Prize. Our new poll shows Americans are less convinced than ever that he actually deserves this prestigious honor.


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

Happening now: Critical pieces of President Obama's ambitious first-year agenda are now spilling over into year two, health care, energy, jobs and more. Is he outpacing Congress and will Democrats pay the price in midterm elections? The best political team on television is standing by.

Also, the president is about to head to Norway to collect his Nobel Peace Prize, but no letup in the controversy. A preview of what awaits him, that's coming up.

And it is not the kind of invitation they had in mind. The White House party crashers are now being subpoenaed by Congress.

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

Just a short while from now, the president will leave the White House and fly to Oslo, Norway, to accept his Nobel Peace Prize. There was a good deal of shock when his win was announced in October, and questions persist about whether he deserves an award given to icons of the peace movement, even as he steps up the war in Afghanistan.

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


DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Wolf, even as President Obama prepares to accept his Nobel Peace Prize, he is admitting that some of the challenges he is facing will not be completed during his presidency. Even so, the committee that gave him the honor sees potential and believes that the president is on the right path.

(voice-over): He is already in an exclusive club, but President Obama has joined another one by accepting the Nobel Peace Prize.

OBAMA: I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations.

LOTHIAN: It is an honor that the president has said he didn't expect and didn't deserve, just what his critics wanted to hear, bolstering their claims that he is more sizzle than substance.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think the president, himself, understands he didn't earn this prize.

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: This is a greater embarrassment than losing the Olympics bid was.

LOTHIAN: There is a lot of unfinished business, Afghanistan, the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea, and an elusive Middle East peace.

STEVE CLEMONS, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: The president has not had enough time to demonstrate his ability to manufacture peace and to deliver on various sorts of new get-out-of-the-box moments of, you know, a better world. And that just has not happened yet.

LOTHIAN: But political columnist Steven Clemons says, there is one major accomplishment still in progress.

CLEMONS: I think President Obama has done a great deal to change the optics and to change the expectations of what is possible.

LOTHIAN: A Pew research survey found that America's image abroad, from Europe to Asia, has seen a dramatic improvement since Mr. Obama took office, a so-called new era of engagement.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Through engagement, through renewal of American leadership, we can help lead the world to do many of the things that the president has outlined.

LOTHIAN: The Nobel Prize Committee gave the president an A for a test he has not completed, but they are expecting him to earn high marks.

(on camera): As for the prize money, the president plans to give it all away. Spokesman Robert Gibbs says that they are looking at various charities, but, so far, have not made a decision -- Wolf.


BLITZER: Dan Lothian, thank you. Let's talk a little bit more about President Obama and the Nobel Prize.

Joining us now, our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, our senior political contributor the Democratic start Paul Begala, Amanda Carpenter, a columnist with "The Washington Times," and our CNN senior political analyst, David Gergen.

David, you have been doing some listening to officials here in Washington. What do they think about this?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: I think that -- you know, there's been such a swirl of events that the president wasn't able to focus on this until very recently. But the historic nature of it has really hit home with him. So he cleared a lot of his schedule today. He's been working away at the speech. And I think that he realizes it's not a policy speech, it's a speech, really, for the ages. And this is one you want to have memorable.

And what he's trying to do and I think what the speech is going to be about is to reconcile the idea of a president who is in wartime receiving a prize for peace. And I think the way he's going to reconcile it is with a theme, basically, you know, peace requires sacrifices.

BLITZER: Yes. I think he's going to hit -- disarmament is going to be a major theme.


GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: And he's going to, I was told, talk about the gravity of the moment and the opportunity of the moment and, again, reconcile why a wartime president can accept a Peace Prize.

GERGEN: Right.

BLITZER: You know, that the poll we have -- we asked the question, does President Obama -- has he accomplished enough to deserve the Nobel Peace Prize?

Right now, only 19 percent say he has. Thirty-two percent, back in October, thought he did. I suspect if we asked the president of the United States that question, he'd be with the 19 percent.


He -- you know what, Wolf, he probably feels like I felt when I was 19 and Diane Friday kissed me for the first time. I didn't deserve it, but I wasn't going to turn it down, you know?

Ask people in the poll, should the president turn it down?

Of course they would say no. It's an honor. I think it's -- it's a wonderful opportunity to show the world American values. And, yes, sometimes we have to go the war. But we're also, I think, one of the great forces of peace in world history. And I -- I think this president -- Teddy Roosevelt was quite a warrior. He won the Nobel Peace Prize. I mean I think this is a chance to -- I hate to use a corporate word, but to rebrand America. We are strong and sometimes we do have to go to war but -- and we stand for peace.

BLITZER: He may not deserve it now, but maybe over the next few years, you know, he can...

CARPENTER: He can grow into his shoes?

BLITZER: He can say, you know what, now I deserve it.

CARPENTER: Yes. And I think that's the way he -- he should play out. He didn't seek this out, but he can accept this gift with humbleness and accept it as a challenge and kind of lay out what his agenda -- or not his agenda, but what he'd like to do internationally and use that forum for that purpose. And I -- again, I stress the humbleness so this doesn't turn into another joke for another week.

BORGER: But, you know, he's been studying the speeches -- reading the speeches of Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, trying to kind of get the sense of the -- of the -- of the moment. But -- but again, I was told that he was going to be restrained and humble about it, accepting it on behalf of the American people and the aspirations of all nations.

GERGEN: Yes. But this is an opportunity, to go back to Wolf's point, about the disarmament. This is an opportunity to advance his -- his -- one of his central goals, and that is a nuclear-free world -- what he set forward in his speech at Prague a few months ago. He does want to have a conference in Washington in the next few months of various nations on this disarmament question, so...

BLITZER: But will he get into specifics?

When you -- when you say disarmament, you think about the U.S. and Russia.

But what about Iran, for example?

GERGEN: I -- I'm told he will probably bring up Iran and -- and it's because they -- this has been -- it's coming very front and center on their agenda at the White House right now. So it will be there. They haven't -- you know, they -- the moment of truth is coming on sanctions versus talking.

BLITZER: The end of this month.

GERGEN: The end of this month.

BEGALA: And if he wants to find inspiration for an American president talking about a nuclear-free world, he needs to look at Ronald Reagan, David Gergen's old boss. Again and again, President Reagan kept coming to the stream, sometimes to the consternation of his national security team. But he persisted in this very American, I think, dream of a world without nuclear weapons. And Barack Obama can pick up, from a very different partisan perspective, that same message.

GERGEN: I agree. And there are -- and there's a bipartisan group now...

BEGALA: Right.

GERGEN: you know, SEC Schultz, Jim Baker and others...

BEGALA: Right.

GERGEN: ...are involved with this. It's an interesting movement.

BEGALA: It's outstanding, yes.



BLITZER: So all of us agree this will be an important speech?

BORGER: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.

BLITZER: It is one that will be memorable, that people will look back and say...

BORGER: They're hoping that...

BLITZER: know what, that was an unbelievable speech?

BORGER: They're hoping it will be memorable. And if anybody can take advantage of a moment, it's Barack Obama. I mean we know that -- that he does know how to give a speech.

BLITZER: Because isn't it, politically, Paul, a little awkward for the president to -- you know, in the middle of all of the stuff...


BLITZER: ...going on right now, including the economy and jobs and Afghanistan, to fly over to Oslo and accept this award.

BEGALA: It is. And if you really look, I -- I think Amanda is right, that this is sort of aspirational rather than about accomplishments.

But, also, politically -- this is a little harsh. He won it for the same reason that Jimmy Carter and Al Gore won it -- he's not George W. Bush. George W. Bush has now been responsible for the last three Americans winning the Nobel Peace Prize. And even as a professional Bush basher, you know...

BORGER: Democrats. BEGALA: ...this is the world, we get it. You didn't like Bush...


BEGALA: But he's gone. We're going to move on and we'll do -- we'll take three Nobels out of it.


BLITZER: Is this a statement that they made against Bush?

CARPENTER: Yes. I mean we've heard all this before. But I do want to offer some options for what I think Obama could do to, you know, trying to set a tone. I would like to see where the prize money is going. He's held his cards back. It's $1.4 million. He could make an announcement -- I'm not saying he would, I haven't heard anything -- in this speech. And that would sort of, you know, play on his sense of duty and service to the country and helping others.

GERGEN: I'm not sure they know for sure that he can take it. He has to receive it.

CARPENTER: Well, they said he is going to give it to a charity.

GERGEN: I know, but he has to be able to legally receive it. And I think that issue...


GERGEN: understanding is not fully resolved yet.

BLITZER: Because if he legally receives it, he's got to pay taxes on it.

GERGEN: Well, I think...


GERGEN: I'm not sure, as president, he can accept it and then give it away. In other words, he may be able to direct it, but it may never come to him. I mean there are...

BLITZER: Can it direct it...


BLITZER: simply pay down the national debt?


GERGEN: Or -- or create jobs, right?

But I mean when you think about the speech, I must say tonight, I -- I wish Bill Safire were here, because I think tomorrow I'd love to hear what he had to say, because he was such a -- had such a good understanding of (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: The "New York Times" columnist.


BLITZER: And all of us enjoyed reading him twice a week, sometimes three times a week.

Guys, thanks very much.

Don't go away because we have more to discuss.

CNN will have live coverage, by the way, as President Obama accepts the Nobel Peace Prize. CNN is there with a special edition of "AMERICAN MORNING." It starts at 6:00 a.m. Eastern tomorrow morning, followed by the actual ceremony at 7:00 a.m. Eastern.

Many of President Obama's priorities for 2009 have been pushed to the next year.

Was his ambitious -- his agenda, I should say, too ambitious or can Congress just keep up with him -- can Congress not keep up with him?

We're going to talk about that and more with the best political team on television, when we come back.


BLITZER: So much to do and so little time. Let's get back to our panel -- Gloria, if you take a look at the unfinished business during this, the first year of the Obama administration...

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: ...going into the second year -- jobs legislation; energy legislation; health care reform -- unlikely it's going to be signed into law this year; regulatory reform.

Was it simply too ambitious?

In other words, can -- can all this happen during a midterm election year?

BORGER: You know, there are folks who say it was too ambitious, that he was trying to do too much. And I kind of believed that at the beginning. But I'm -- I now have a sense that, look, this was their moment, this is their opportunity. And if the Democrats can't get it together to get their agenda passed, then it's their problem and then they'll suffer for it in the 2010 election.

But when you talk to folks at the White House -- I spoke with somebody there today who's doing a lot of this legislative stuff who said, look, what we were supposed to do?

We came in. We had a couple of wars. We had a fiscal crisis. And we had an agenda that's -- that they believe is going to help them reduce the deficit. We had a Democratic Congress. So we're going to try and get it done. And, by the way, the House has passed all of those things. The bottleneck is the Senate.

BLITZER: Is it easier to do this kind of tough stuff in the first year of a new term or a second year?


BEGALA: Right. The first year is when you have to get the majority of your -- of your toughest stuff through. But to his credit, that's why this president started with health care. Obviously, we failed, the Clinton administration. FDR couldn't even get it, LBJ. So he's starting with the very, very hardest thing. It's not that -- that freeing us from independent -- or freeing us from Middle East oil is going to be easy or -- or re-regulating Wall Street effectively and properly will be easy. But I think compared to health care, it will.

And victory breeds victory. This is one of the things -- actually, I mean it's funny (INAUDIBLE) David. When David came on and we were floundering in the Clinton administration, that's one of the things he helped us to understand, that you've got to win. You've got to -- and I think they will pass health care. I think the president will sign it and I think that will give him momentum, even though it's an election year, for things like a jobs bill and -- and regulating Wall Street.

BORGER: And if they don't, it's their fault.

BLITZER: He came to...


BLITZER: The president -- President Clinton brought you in to help out early on, when they were in trouble.

BEGALA: Are you going to go back?

GERGEN: No, thank you. And I don't think they want it either.

I -- Paul makes a good point. And I -- and I think he's right. I think the chances are -- are still better than 50-50 they'll get health care and they will get some of these initiatives.

But George Will made an important point, I thought, in a column this week. And that was that there is a sense of whirl now. So much is going on, it's very hard for the Congress to focus. But it's also very hard for the public to focus.

And there is a quality of the public now beginning to feel this may be, as Will called it, slap dash -- that things are thrown together.

This health care bill, I don't think the way it's being done right now is inspiring confidence. People don't understand -- two- thirds of the people said in a poll with "Vanity Fair" that -- just announced this week, they don't understand what the public option is. So the message war -- and with so much going on, I think it's been very hard for the White House to (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: But they don't have to understand the public option anymore, because the public option, supposedly, is gone.


CARPENTER: The private public option?

I mean, look here, I don't think that Obama really made health care his main priority. It was not the first thing he did. In terms of priorities, he made doubles -- doubling down in the most expansive bailout to the Bush administration. He continued that. And then he threw $787 billion on a jobs -- or on a stimulus program. And neither of these things had any meaningful reform. And so he just spent money and didn't get anything out of it.


CARPENTER: And I think that's where the public mistrust is and what's hanging up the Blue Dog Democrats, because they said, listen, we trusted you in all this, that the unemployment number would go down. It didn't. And that's where the health care problem is.

BLITZER: But the economy did not completely collapse into depression.

CARPENTER: Right. But it's not saving three million jobs like they promised.

GERGEN: Yes. But when you have these bills that are 2,000 pages long...

BEGALA: Right.

GERGEN: ...and you get, you know, one bill after another bill after another bill, you know, it would be -- at the end of the year, the Democrats could put all those bills on top of each other and say look at all the stuff we passed. And the Republicans are going to say, oh, my God.


BORGER: But, you know, it's complicated, right?

I mean should a health care bill be less than 2,000 pages?

I mean (INAUDIBLE)...


BEGALA: But they can't disaggregate those things. The president today...


BEGALA: ...talked about community health clinics -- a big deal.

GERGEN: Right.

BEGALA: It's already accomplished. It was in that stimulus bill. Nobody noticed it except the president and the Congress, but the public didn't. Now, today, he stops, he shines a light on it, says we've got to do more on community health clinics...


BEGALA: ...half a billion dollars, that's a big deal and it's already paid for from -- or it's already spent in the stimulus package.

CARPENTER: Yes, but he's getting no credit for it because...


CARPENTER: all just went through...


BLITZER: He's getting ready to fly off tonight to Oslo. We'll have, of course, coverage tomorrow morning, 7:00 a.m. Eastern on "AMERICAN MORNING," of the president's big speech accepting the Nobel Peace Prize.

And Deborah Feyerick is monitoring some other top stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Deb, what's going on?

FEYERICK: Well, Wolf, the Transportation Security Administration or TSA punishes five employees, putting them on administrative leave.

The reason?

Well, their involvement in the embarrassing revelation that sensitive information about airport screening was posted on the Internet. Senators pressed Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano today. She says the guidelines, though revealing, were out of date and that passenger security was never at risk. Napolitano says an internal review is underway.

And it is not a friendly invitation, not by a long stretch. It is a subpoena for the couple the White House accuses of crashing the state dinner. A House panel votes subpoena Michaele and Tareq Salahi to testify to Congress on January 20th next year. We may not hear much from them. Their lawyer says they plan to invoke the Fifth Amendment.

Meanwhile, some House Republicans tried to also get a subpoena for White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers. Those efforts failed.

And, finally, only about 2 percent of homeowners enrolled in the government mortgage relief plan have received loan modifications. That's according to an oversight report released a short time ago. The numbers are seen as evidence of continuing woes for Obama administration efforts to stem the foreclosure crisis -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Deb. Thank you.

Let's check in with John Roberts to see what's coming up right at the top of the hour -- John, what are you working on?

JOHN ROBERTS, HOST, "CNN TONIGHT": Wolf, thanks very much.

Coming up at the top of the hour tonight, Congress today looking to settle one of the longest running debates in sports and that is how to decide the best college football team in the country. A House committed -- voted to force -- a House committee, rather, voted to force the NCAA to scrap the current program of polls and computer programs for a winner-take-all playoff system similar to the final four. No more arguing over who the real number one is.

But do lawmakers have better things to do?

We'll talk to one member who says this act of Congress is no interference call.

Join us for all that and more, coming your way at the top of the hour -- Wolf.

BLITZER: John Roberts, just back from some excellent reporting in Belgium and Britain.

Good work, John.

We'll look forward to seeing you at the top of the hour.

Tiger Woods may be about to join a long list of other celebrities whose image has been severely damaged by alleged reckless infidelity. Jack Cafferty is asking you to weigh in on why so many famous men think can get away with it.

Stick around.



BLITZER: Let's go to Jack Cafferty once again for The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: A little philosophy here. The question is, why do some successful people -- rich powerful people -- simply choose to throw it all away?

B. in Chicago: "When a man or woman decides to break a promise, they sacrifice their moral code, their integrity. Breaking your vows to a spouse is a decision, not an irrational act. To paraphrase J.R. Ewing, once you lose your integrity, the rest is easy. Those who cheat on their spouse don't choose to throw it all away, since when they decide to break their promises, they believe they won't be caught. And since their integrity is gone at that point, lying to cover it up is easy."

Jamie in Florida writes: "Throwing it all away implies there's some intense worth to those things -- fame, money, power -- and that the loss of it all is a bad thing. The fact of the matter is that happiness is not always directly linked to those things that we tend to hold in high regard in this society. Large close families with multiple generations working together and spending time together tend to be happier than the average person."

Larry, writes: "Successful people are, after all, just people. They do the same things that other people do. They don't choose to throw everything away, they just behave like the rest of us. And they suffer more when we all find out about it."

David says: "Survivor syndrome -- most don't understand that they don't deserve what they have and guilt drives them to destruction. On the other hand, you have the ones who think they created the universe and it's theirs to do with as they please."

Jay in Kentucky writes: "Tiger was never allowed to live like a normal kid. All he's ever known is golf. He accumulated great wealth at an age when he didn't know how to deal with that. He was destined to have many problems in his life."

And Al in Florida offers this: "Jack, you can't be serious. I'll give you one guess."

If you want to read more on this subject, there's a lot more on my blog,

What do you suppose that last one meant -- Wolf?

BLITZER: I don't know.

But do you think there's any sympathy out there?

Did you get any sympathetic e-mails?

CAFFERTY: Oh, yes. Well, we had people saying, you know, he's got problems, it's a private matter, yada, yada, yada, and we should mind our own business. But, you know, from -- he's -- he's a pretty high profile guy and there are hundreds and millions of dollars involved, television ratings.

I mean if he does -- what if he doesn't play in -- in the major tournaments next year because of this?

You know what that does to television ratings and advertising revenue...


CAFFERTY: ...and on and on. So it's a -- a multi-faceted deal. BLITZER: Yes. It certainly is.

All right, Jack.

Thanks very much.

Jessica Yellin and Political Ticker is right after this.


BLITZER: Let's go back to Jessica for our Political Tickers -- Jessica.

YELLIN: Wolf, a California Congressman says he's had a change of heart about Tiger Woods. And, obviously, he's not the only one these days. Democrat Joe Baca says he's pulling his support for legislation that would give Woods the Congressional Gold Medal. Baca had wanted to honor Woods for breaking racial barriers and inspiring people of all ages. But he apparently does not feel that way now, after what he calls "the recent developments surrounding Woods and his family."

Well, The Boss is not shying away from a fight. Bruce Springsteen says he wants his home state of New Jersey to legalize same-sex marriage. In a posting on his Web site, he writes that it is time those who "support equal treatment for our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters to let their voices be heard." A gay marriage bill in the state faces a big vote tomorrow.

So, who's more ethical, members of Congress or car salesmen?

Americans say car salesmen, but just barely. A new Gallup Poll shows 55 percent of Americans rate members of Congress as having low or very low ethical standards and only 51 percent say that about car salesmen. Members of Congress also rate worse than stockbrokers and HMO managers. Ouch.

All right. Wondering what song you should sing your family this Hanukah?

Well, now you have one new option thanks to U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch. Yes, Senator Orrin Hatch, Mormon of Utah, he's written a Hanukah song. Now, we all know Hatch loves to write songs. Anyone who's covered the Senate knows that. And he got this one idea when he played some Christian spirituals and love songs for a reporter.

The reporter said, how about a Hanukah song?

The senator liked the idea and came up with this.


YELLIN: I want to see if they'll perform that on Capitol Hill, Wolf. It would be something else.

BLITZER: You see and he took out the mezuzah that he wears.

YELLIN: I know.

BLITZER: And he -- you know, he's -- he's a Mormon, but he wears a mezuzah, which is a Jewish...


BLITZER: ...a little...

YELLIN: He's equal opportunity.

BLITZER: What is a mezuzah, Jessica?

Help me.

YELLIN: It's a -- it's a nice song for the holiday, I've got to say that.

BLITZER: All right. Jessica Yellin.

Thanks very much.

I know what it is.

All right, here's another question for you -- is it a sign from above?

Jeanne Moos has a Moost Unusual story that will make you say holy cow.



BLITZER: Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos with a story about a cow with a Moost Unusual marking on its forehead.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (voice-over): We've all heard those stories of people seeing the shape of Jesus in a Cheeto or the Virgin Mary in a grilled cheese. But holy cow, we've never come across the sign of the cross on a newborn calf.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was really quite an eye-opener.

MOOS: Moses was born on a Connecticut farm December 1st. They're trying to find a home for him where he won't be eaten. His fairly religious owner is praying for desperate farmers to get higher milk prices and believes there may be a sign in this divine bovine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that he may be here to open people's eyes and maybe get a message across.

MOOS: But if the idea of a sacred cow is something you question, meet Question Mark. Surely, she's agnostic. We first met Question Mark more than a decade ago at an animal sanctuary in Westtown, New York.

(on camera): So does she have any other punctuation marks on her?

Has she got any periods or exclamation points?

(voice-over): Nope. But Mickey Moo here bore the likeness of Mickey Mouse on his flank and was acquired by Disney. He eventually died of natural causes, bless his soul, right, Moses?


MOOS: And speaking of finding crosses where you don't expect to...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It does have a name. It's called the Christ mystery.

MOOS (on camera): Think of the Christmas tree as a cross between a cross and a tree for only $399.

(voice-over): It's not just a tree, it's a movement, says the Web site selling them. Its Christian creator, Marsha Boggs, got annoyed at references to holiday trees. She prefers...

MARSHA BOGGS: Putting Christ back in Christmas. That's actually our trademark.

MOOS: Joining others at war against the war on Christmas.


MOOS (on camera): The cross is sort of like the trunk.

BOGGS: The cross is the trunk.

MOOS (voice-over): The artificial tree comes in pieces and is adjustable in height. Just add or leave out sections of the cross. All of this symbolism is enough to leave you cross-eyed. Skeptics, hold your tongue.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Holy cow, as I said.

By the way, don't forget I'm on Twitter right now. You can get my Tweets at -- Wolfblitzercnn all one word.

I'll be Tweeting from the Wizards game tomorrow night against the Celtics.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, "CNN TONIGHT".