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THE SITUATION ROOM

Could Liberals Derail Health Care Reform?; NFL Player Dies; Brazil Halts Boy's Return to Father; President Obama & African- Americans?; Interview With David Axelrod; Health Reform's Political Price

Aired December 17, 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: Terrorists should be very afraid. The U.S. kills more enemy suspects with pilotless planes in Pakistan. But should the U.S. also beware? Insurgents have found a way to compromise one drone tactic using software, software costing less than $30.

Message to President Obama: Liberals like Howard Dean are mad as ever. Might their anger over a stripped-down health care bill kill the bill? Senior White House adviser David Axelrod is standing by live.

And the president also has problems with some prominent African- Americans like Danny Glover, the actor. You are going to hear their arguments. And our Roland Martin and Donna Brazile, they will dissect them.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in CNN's command center for breaking news, politics, and extraordinary reports from around the world. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

All that coming up, but first a heartbreaking last-minute hitch in an American father's five-year quest to try to regain custody of his little son, who has been living in Brazil.

Let's go to the phone right now. Joining us from Rio de Janeiro in Brazil is CNN producer Adam Reiss.

Adam, tell us what happened just a little while ago.

ADAM REISS, CNN PRODUCER: Wolf, you could almost feel the air leave the room here at the hotel where David Goldman is staying. Goldman might have thought this time would be different and this would be the last time he would have to come to Rio de Janeiro.

But we have received word within the last hour from his Brazilian- based attorney that the supreme court here has ruled in favor of the Brazilian family holding Sean Goldman, ruling that he must stay here.

Now, consular officials and Goldman's attorneys are holed up in their rooms in their hotel here. And they are not commenting until they have read through all the documents and the ruling. But I can tell you the U.S. consular officials I saw here couldn't leave the hotel fast enough. They are clearly dejected. So, yet it is another letdown for David Goldman and his quest to get his son back to New Jersey, Wolf. And we thought that the Brazilian family had run out of options but apparently they have pulled another rabbit out of their hat, and they are holding a presser with their attorney at this hour.

We are also told that the court will be in recess. So, as the attorneys go over the ruling, it is at least February before we may hear anything new from the courts here in Rio.

BLITZER: So, I take it David Goldman will be flying back to New Jersey as he awaits for the next step. And you are saying it is going to be at least until February when that happens.

REISS: That's what we are being told. Goldman typically does not want to stay here for an extended period of time. He hasn't been here in a long time. He thought that this time would be the time where he could come, get Sean, bring him home to New Jersey. But it was not to be, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, tell David Goldman and Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey, who I know is traveling with him, that we would love to speak with him here in THE SITUATION ROOM. If they are done with their lawyers, we would love to get their reaction, another heartbreaking setback for this father who has been trying for five years to reunite with his little son, Sean, who is 9 years old right now.

We will stay on top of this story for our viewers.

Other news we are following, including along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan right now, the U.S. pursuing enemy fighters so hardened, they won't stop fighting. One tactic for this dangerous area, using pilotless planes.

Today, at least 15 people were killed in drone attacks in Pakistan's border region. A local official says the first strike killed two suspected militants. Intelligence officials say a second strike killed 13 people.

Meanwhile, we have learned that video used by these drones to track insurgents has actually been hacked by the insurgents.

CNN's Elaine Quijano is over at the Pentagon working this story for us.

Elaine, this is very disturbing information.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Disturbing, indeed, Wolf.

U.S. officials have confirmed that there was a security breach of live video feeds from Predator drones flying in the skies over Iraq. And all it took was inexpensive technology that anyone can download off the Internet.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

QUIJANO (voice-over): The software in question costs as little $25.95. Made by a Russian company, the SkyGrabber program allows users to take advantage of unprotected communications links.

And, as "The Wall Street Journal" first reported, and a U.S. official confirmed to CNN, insurgents used the program to intercept live feeds from U.S. military Predator drones monitoring targets in Iraq.

ALAN PALLER, RESEARCH DIRECTOR, SANS INSTITUTE: What was surprising was that the military computers, the military drones, weren't using hardened technology.

QUIJANO: A senior defense official did not deny the breach, but insists the problem is an old issue for the military, one that has been addressed and fixed.

Yet another official said, this is sometimes a risk the military is willing to take because encrypting slows down the real-time video feed when multiple people need to watch simultaneously. Still, one expert says this is exactly what happened in Bosnia years ago and should never have happened in Iraq.

P.W. SINGER, AUTHOR, "WIRED FOR WAR": We assumed that our enemies would be dumb. We assumed they wouldn't catch up to our technology. We assumed because they were in a place like Iraq or Afghanistan, they couldn't pull it off. Well, what happens when you assume?

QUIJANO: In fact, a 2005 CIA report notes Saddam Hussein was suspected to be doing the same thing, monitoring U.S. installations after Iraqi hackers located and downloaded the unencrypted satellite feed from military drones.

As for these latest breaches, a U.S. official says no American troops or combat missions were compromised, but P.W. Singer, author of "Wired For War," says the breach should serve as a wakeup call.

SINGER: There are other potential adversaries out there that have much, much bigger budgets, certain large nation states, and the kind of things they are going to do make this look silly.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

QUIJANO: Now, one of the highest-profile uses of Predator drones -- of drones, rather, has been in Pakistan, where they have been used to hit Taliban and al Qaeda targets on that side of the border.

But informed sources tell CNN that those drones are not vulnerable because they do use the latest encryption technology and they are used in a much more limited capacity than the military drones -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Elaine Quijano.

We are going to speak to the Pakistani ambassador later about this and more.

Thanks very much.

Armed drone strikes have dramatically increased under President -- President Obama. According to CNN's terrorism analyst, Peter Bergen, there were 43 drone attacks between January and October. That compares with 34 in all of 2008, when President Bush was in office.

Since 2006, drone-launched missiles have killed between 750 and 1,000 people in Pakistan. Of these, about 20 were leaders of al Qaeda, the Taliban and other groups. That's what we are being told. Overall, about 68 percent of those killed were militants, and about 32 percent were civilians.

Turning now to some very different fights between rich and poor nations, even between industrialized nations over at the climate summit in Copenhagen. President Obama is set to go there later tonight. But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is already there. And she's warning that time is running out for participants to reach a deal over global warming.

Let's go straight to our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry. He's already in Copenhagen working the story for us.

Ed, it looks like it is touch-and-go between deal or no deal.

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It does, Wolf.

And the White House is getting nervous, because the president himself raised the stakes big-time when he decided to swoop into Copenhagen here at the last moment to try and cut a deal. It is kind of like the last time I was here with the president in Copenhagen, when he was trying get that Olympic bid for Chicago and it failed.

Here again, an accord is in jeopardy, this time in a dispute with China. China believes that the U.S. and other rich nations should pay to help developing nations deal with the cost of global warming. So, today, as you mentioned, the president sent Secretary of State Hillary Clinton here. She was basically -- came armed with a deal, said that the U.S. will contribute to a $100 billion global fund to help these poor nations on two conditions, that, number one, there needs to be a broader deal cut tomorrow by the big powers to cut emissions.

And, secondly, China needs to be more transparent (AUDIO GAP) or not they're living up to their commitments. This is a proposal that won wide support from Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other lawmakers who are already here ahead of the president's visit.

I spoke to Congressman Ed Markey about it as well. He thinks a deal will be cut tomorrow.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. EDWARD MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I think this is the moment. I think the world has come together. I think they want the United States and China to be the leaders.

That's what this conference really wants, more than anything else. And if the Chinese will accept more transparency in the way in which their commitments that they are making at this conference are, in fact, monitored, then I think we have the makings of something that will go a long way towards protecting the world against the most catastrophic effects of global warming.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: And when you talk to U.S. officials here in private, they are still confident they can get a deal tomorrow.

But the question is whether or not the deal is going to be so watered down that, just like the health care talks back in Washington, the president will take flak from his left, you know, environmentalists who want a much stronger deal.

There's going to be a question about whether the president is so anxious to get a deal here, that he and other powers will sign almost anything, even if it is really watered down, Wolf.

BLITZER: Even if he gets a watered down deal in Copenhagen, there's no guarantee he's going to get what he wants through Congress.

HENRY: That's right. The president's environmental agenda already stalled in the Senate over a fight about a carbon tax that Republicans say will hurt companies back in the United States.

Now Republican Senator Jim Inhofe, long a climate change skeptic, was here today saying, look, why would the U.S. be paying into a fund to help poor nations at a time when the unemployment is at 10 percent in the U.S. and the debt is really high? The president under a lot of pressure -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We will stay in close touch with you, Ed Henry. He's in Copenhagen for us, getting ready for the president's arrival tomorrow.

Jack Cafferty has a question for you. And it involves health care reform and something President Obama staunchly warning against. Stand by for that.

And you remember the case of Laura Ling and Euna Lee, two American journalists, sentenced, later freed by North Korea? When Americans are detained by countries like North Korea, Iran, or Cuba, what happens to the Obama administration's foreign policy plans for those countries?

And a football player who was turning his life around dies after an incident shrouded in mystery. Now there is an outpouring of grief for Chris Henry.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get right to Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, President Obama says the federal government will go bankrupt if Congress doesn't pass health care reform.

In an interview with ABC News, the president warns that, without new health care legislation, people's premiums will go up, employers will add on more costs, and he says it is possible employers will begin dropping coverage altogether because they simply can't afford the increase in cost, somewhere to the tune of 25 percent to 30 percent a year.

Mr. Obama adds, the cost of Medicare and Medicaid are headed in an unsustainable direction and threaten to bankrupt the government if nothing is done. The president says anybody who is worried about rising deficits or future tax increases must support this health care bill, because, otherwise, health care costs will just eat up the budget.

Not everybody's buying what the president is selling, though. Polls suggest that Americans are increasingly skeptical, with support for health care reform falling, while the opposition grows stronger.

One new survey shows that, for the first time, more people say they want Congress to do nothing about health care than those who are in favor of reform. It is unclear if the Senate will be able to pass its bill by the president's deadline of Christmas.

Among other things, moderate Democratic Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska, who is a key holdout, says the question of abortion funding still hasn't been answered to his liking.

So, here's the question this Thursday afternoon. Can the U.S. survive without health care reform? Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and enlighten us with your thoughts -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, we're going to speak to David Axelrod, the president's senior adviser about this, shortly, as well.

Jack, thank very much.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: All right, let's get to the breaking news that we are following.

David Goldman, the father of that 9-year-old boy, Sean Goldman, who has been in Brazil with his late wife's family for the last five years, the Supreme Court in Brazil dealt another setback to David Goldman's efforts to be reunited with his son.

Congressman Chris Smith, Republican of New Jersey, has been traveling with David Goldman. They left New Jersey yesterday. They are in Brazil right now.

And I take it, Congressman, you were with the David Goldman when he got word of this setback?

REP. CHRIS SMITH (R), NEW JERSEY: Wolf, I was. He was disappointed, as was I. But this is not totally unanticipated. Our -- our quest is to get this issue front and center before the Brazilian supreme court. The justice who ruled this way has done this previously. So, you know, this was like an inside deal, the way many of looked at it.

And so now we are appealing to the chief justice and to the full court, one or the other or both, because, on the merits, this is absolutely a slam-dunk. And there are many people on the Brazilian high court who understand the Hague Convention on child abduction. And they apply that, plus their own lower court's findings -- I mean, the three-panel judge finding just a few weeks ago was sweeping.

So, this is a -- we believe, a temporary -- disappointing, but temporary bump in that road.

BLITZER: But it looks like the supreme court in Brazil is not going to be able to address this issue now at least until February. Does that mean that David Goldman once again will leave Brazil disappointed, sad in the coming days, and not be reunited in these interim weeks with his son?

SMITH: One of the reasons why I'm down here and one of the reasons why David is pushing so hard is that, tomorrow, the court is still in session. And there's no reason whatsoever based on the merits that they can't rule one or all on this case tomorrow.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: So, you think there's still a possibility, Congressman, that this thing could end?

(CROSSTALK)

SMITH: There's a real possibility

BLITZER: Are you suggesting, Congressman, there is still a possibility, tomorrow, this -- this whole case could be resolved, and David Goldman...

SMITH: Yes.

BLITZER: ... could be reunited with his son? Are you saying that?

SMITH: I'm saying that. Or, into Monday, you know, they have, like we do, justices of the supreme court can make decisions even when the court is out, and the chief justice has unto himself that capability.

So, there's another person, the chief justice, who can overrule this egregious miscarriage of justice done by Marco Aurelio.

BLITZER: We will stay in close touch with you, Congressman. Thanks very much. And tell David Goldman that we would love to get his reaction here. If he would like to speak to us over the course of the next few hours, we would love to speak with him. And I'm sure our viewers would be anxious to hear from him as well. There is high interest, as you know, in this case. SMITH: Absolutely. I will tell him.

BLITZER: Thank...

SMITH: Thank you very much, Wolf.

BLITZER: Hey, thank you, Congressman, very much.

SMITH: Bye.

BLITZER: A bizarre accident ends the life of Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chris Henry -- that story, plus the outpouring of grief online. Stand by.

Plus, prominent African-Americans, at least some, are speaking out against President Obama. Should he be doing more for blacks in the United States?

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Fredricka Whitfield is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Fred, what's going on?

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello to you, Wolf.

Hello, everyone.

We are getting more details now about a series of shootings this afternoon at a Manhattan apartment. Police say four men have been found dead at the home in the Upper West Side. Two of the bodies were found in a bedroom, one in the bathroom, and one in a backyard. A woman was taken to the hospital and no arrests have yet been made.

And freedom today for a Florida man who spent more than three decades in prison for a crime he didn't commit. Fifty-four-year-old James Bain was released today after a DNA test showed that he did not rape a boy in 1974. Bain says that he's not angry and that he kept his faith in God.

According to the Innocence Project, of the 245 people in the U.S. now who have been exonerated by DNA testing, none have spent more time behind bars than Bain.

And Cincinnati Bengals player Chris Henry has died at a hospital in Charlotte, North Carolina. Police say he fell off a pickup truck yesterday during a fight with his fiancee. They say the woman was trying to drive off when Henry jumped into the truck bed. He was just 26 years old -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What a sad story indeed. All right. Fred, thanks very much. Chris Henry, by the way, known for a history of trouble off the field as well. He had been described on the Bengals Web site as being one of the best comeback stories in the NFL.

Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.

Abbi, there's a lot of outpouring for Chris Henry right now.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, that's right.

And you don't have to be a Bengals fan to feel this deeply. Chris Henry was one of the featured players in the HBO documentary "Hard Knocks" earlier this year that followed the Bengals' training camp. And, if you saw it, you knew of Henry's trouble off the field, his multiple arrests and, his from the team. But you also could see the second chance that this team had given him and anyone that saw this documentary could see just how hard this young player was working.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS HENRY, NFL PLAYER: I just changed my whole life around, man. I stopped hanging out with a lot of people I used to, stopped going a lot of places. And I told myself I wasn't going to make bad decisions anymore and I was going to be smart about everything.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TATTON: The man that gave Henry the second chance was owner of the Bengals, Mike Brown. This was Brown today delivering the news at a press conference.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE BROWN, OWNER, CINCINNATI BENGALS: We knew him in a different way than his public persona. It is a terrible tragedy that, just at the time when he was running to daylight, if you will, his life was snuffed out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TATTON: And that's the way that fans and other players are reacting online. Wolf, this was someone that everyone was really rooting for.

BLITZER: Yes. What a sad story, as I said. All right, Abbi, thank you.

Attention, President Obama: Some African-Americans are more vocal in their criticism. Wait until you hear what the actor Danny Glover is saying. Do other blacks agree or disagree? CNN's Roland Martin and Donna Brazile, they are here.

And could this Democratic senator be the next one to cause his own party some serious troubles over health reform? We're talking about Nebraska's Ben Nelson. He lays down a line. I will talk about that and more with White House adviser David Axelrod.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now: a major legal hurdle for five young Americans suspected of plotting terrorist attacks against the United States. They are now behind bars in Pakistan and won't be returning to the United States any time soon.

Two leading scientists, both at the top of their fields, both with opposite opinions on the global warming debate, who is right, who is wrong? Stand by.

And the personal data of thousands of soldiers, military employees, and their families might be at risk after a laptop was stolen -- why the Defense Department is so worried about this one.

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

A lot of noise in recent days in Congress, in business, and in entertainment that President Obama isn't necessarily living up to his promise of change, especially for the African-American community.

Let's go to our "Strategy Session."

Joining us now, our CNN contributor Roland Martin and Democratic strategist and CNN contributor Donna Brazile.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

Roland, I will start with you.

I -- I read that -- those comments about by the actor Danny Glover on the Web site The Daily Beast.

Among other things, he said this: "I think the Obama administration has followed the same playbook, to a large extent, almost verbatim, as the Bush administration. I don't see anything different. The domestic side, look here: What's so clear is that this country from the outset is projecting the interests of wealth and property. Look at the bailout of Wall Street. Why not the bailout of Main Street?"

Tell me if elements of the African-American community agree with Danny Glover that they are disappointed in this president?

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The answer is absolutely yes.

Look, I host a show on TV One cable network, on "The Tom Joyner Morning Show." And we have heard this. Look, it is a very -- it's a very complex and nuanced issue, because African-Americans are very supportive of this president, don't want you all to hear the comments. You know, we don't want to pull the brother down. We don't want to give more criticism to him because the right is criticizing him.

But look, African-Americans supported this president more than any other constituency. And there is an expectation in politics that when somebody gives you their vote, there's something in return. Now, I heard people say, well, African-Americans shouldn't be asking this question. Well, gays and lesbians have been very critical of this president, saying, look, we supported you, we gave money to you, we want something in return.

African-American have the exact same right to make demands of this president because it's not just about him and the symbolism. It's also him breaking down barriers because candidate Obama talked about the institutional barriers that exist. He now has the power to break those down. Folks are saying, use your power.

BLITZER: How widespread, Donna, is this anger, resentment, disappointment, whatever you want to call it?

BRAZILE: Well, first of all, I would like to characterize it more as frustration. And as the frustration I think you hear across the country from a broad group of Americans.

It's about jobs, Wolf. And when you see, as we witnessed today in Detroit, half the people in Detroit are unemployed. The African- American community in certain parts of the country, they believe it's more like a depression, not a recession.

So there's growing frustration to not just put pressure on President Obama, but also to Democratic-controlled Congress to keep the promises, to keep the pressure on creating jobs. That's why the House yesterday passed a $150 million jobs bill. The Congressional Black Caucus pushed for that in their letter not just to the president, but to the Democratic leaders, to say that we expect to hold you accountable the same way that they held Bill Clinton accountable and tried to hold George W. Bush accountable as well.

BLITZER: Well, what else...

MARTIN: Hey, Wolf...

BLITZER: Roland, go ahead. Explain. But what else do you want? Or do these disappointed African-Americans, what else do they want him to do?

MARTIN: Well, I'll give you an example. When the president talked two weeks ago to Gannett News Service that he thought it would be a mistake to have a targeted economic plan for African-Americans, I would say go back and read the president's speech to the Congressional Black Caucus when he spoke of a targeted plan to deal with the inequities in the system. His own words, a targeted plan to deal with the inequities in education.

And so, when you look at HIV/AIDS in America, you can have a general strategy to target that. But when you have the most impacted group, you have a targeted plan to affect them.

Magic Johnson, two weeks ago on CNN's "LARRY KING LIVE," he said -- and he was at the job summit. He said the general plan does not trickle down to affect Latinos and African-Americans. Magic said there should be a Latino plan and an African-American plan. I think what you're hearing African-Americans say is they want the president to voice these issues, not just say, hey, a rising tide lifts all boats, but to say, wait a minute, I recognize that certain groups are impacted in a different way. And I will say this -- a lot of people are holding their powder, not saying anything, giving a lot of space, because they don't want to be critical. But as Donna said, their frustration is there.

They want to make sure that this president is using his power to break barriers down much like Maynard Jackson did when he was mayor of Atlanta. He recognized the importance of political power and economic power and how one person can make a difference.

BLITZER: Because the president, as you know, Donna, has been reluctant to have an African-American agenda, or a Latino agenda, or anything specific like that. He wants to deal with all Americans because he's the president of all Americans. That's what you hear from White House officials, and I'm sure you have heard it.

BRAZILE: Well, there's no question that this recession is colorblind, because it impacts all Americans no matter where you live. But there are clearly, you know, people in poor communities who are suffering really hard during this deep recession.

And so I think this the frustration is to get the administration, the government, but also the private sector, to do more to not allow our fellow citizens to go to bed hungry or to wake up without a job, or to learn that they cannot get a loan to keep their homes. So I think the administration needs to step up a little more, to respond to some of this, to not allow all of this criticism to go without them challenge some of their critics and say, look, we put all of these things on the table.

We put the stimulus on the table. We put a real robust plan to get jobs created. So let's all work together.

But I don't think you will hear members of the Black Caucus or even leading black critics or supporters of the president say that he hasn't done enough. He's done a lot, but he needs to do just a little more next year to create jobs for all Americans.

BLITZER: I'm sure you've heard the argument, Roland, from folks in the White House and elsewhere. A lot of white people are suffering right now as well.

MARTIN: Of course, but when you look at the stats, when you look at the fact that unemployed African-Americans with college degrees have a higher unemployment rate than whites with college degrees, all these years it was about getting education that equalizes the field. The facts don't bear that out.

Congresswoman Maxine Waters talked about the Defense Department spending some $600 million a year on advertising, none going to black media. And so wait a minute. You want all media to benefit, but when black newspapers and Web sites are not being a part of this process, that's a problem. I interviewed New York Governor Paterson for my show two weeks ago. It's going to air next week. And he said he sat down with his staff and said -- he looked at the amount of money that was going to black investment companies, and he said, wait a minute, there's an inequity here. He said, fix it.

African-American firms are now getting four and a half more times business as a result. That's the whole point, using your power to recognize an inequity and say fix it. That's the difference.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Donna, very quickly because we're out of time.

BRAZILE: And you have to remove all of the existing barriers that prevent every American from having a head start, as well as healthy start. That's what the president is trying to do, but we need more than just a president at the table. We need the Congress and the private sector as well to address these critical problems.

BLITZER: A good discussion, Donna Brazile and Roland Martin.

Guys, thanks very much.

BRAZILE: Thanks.

BLITZER: How low will it go? A fresh poll suggests the White House is steadily losing support among Americans for the health care plans of the Democrats and the president. I will ask senior White House adviser David Axelrod if the White House has real trouble on its hands.

Stand by for that.

And training Afghan troops to stand up so American troops can stand down. How easy will it be, especially when recruits could easily make more money as insurgent fighters?

And look closely at Sarah Palin's hat. Notice what's missing. We'll explain what's going on. She is explaining as well.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Until now, opposition to health care reform has come largely from the Republicans on the right, but there's right now a groundswell of criticism coming in from the left for the reform bill that's been taking shape on Capitol Hill.

Can the Obama administration salvage what's going on?

Joining us now from the White House is the president's senior adviser, David Axelrod.

David, thanks very much for coming in.

DAVID AXELROD, SR. ADVISER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: Happy to be here, Wolf. How you doing?

BLITZER: From the left, Andy Stern, the president of the Service Employees International Union, says this isn't good enough. Howard Dean says in "The Washington Post," "The bill does more harm than good." Arianna Huffington calls this bill a bailout for the health insurance industry. Bob Reich, the former secretary of labor in Clinton administration says, "The private insurers are winning."

What say you?

AXELROD: Well, if they are winning, then nobody got them the message, because they continue to spend millions of dollars to lobby against this bill. And I understand why.

This reform holds them accountable in way they have never been held accountable before with a set of consumer protections that would work for all Americans, not just those who don't have insurance. And it would create competition, it would create a choice, and it would provide for small businesses and people in the individual insurance market the chance to get insurance at an affordable rate instead of paying the outrageous premiums they have to pay today that force many of them to go without.

BLITZER: Who would the private insurance companies compete against if there's no public option, if there's no reduction in Medicare down to 55 years old for the age, if there is no trigger for a public option, no cooperatives? Who do they compete against other than themselves?

AXELROD: Well, they do compete against themselves, and this will foment competition within these insurance exchanges that are created for people who don't have insurance today. Companies would compete with each other. And in the Senate bill, there would be a provision for a national plan much similar to the one that federal employees have where people can choose from a basket of insurance.

BLITZER: But they would just choose from...

AXELROD: People will have options, and there will be pressures on them created by the rules here to provide insurance in a cost- effective way.

BLITZER: Because that competition issue is, I guess, the biggest concern of these folks on the left. They don't like the fact that the Aetnas and the Blue Cross/Blue Shields and UnitedHealthcare, they're going to be competing with themselves without having to worry about a public option, a government-run health insurance company, for example.

AXELROD: But there will be standards that they have to abide by, Wolf. And there will be, contrary to what Governor Dean says, limits on what they can skim off for salaries and for bonuses and for shareholders. And if they pass those limits in the House bill -- and I think it will be true in the Senate bill as well -- they will have to pay rebates to the people who are their customers.

So there will be constraints on them that will hold down these prices. And there will be a market for which they will want -- in which they will want to compete.

You know, I don't think the insurance industry is crazy about the restraints that have been put on them in this system. I don't think they are crazy about the consumer protections that are built in this bill. That's why they fought hard against it. But that's why it's so important for us to prevail.

BLITZER: Democratic Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska, he is still on the fence right now. You need him, you need all the Democrats, assuming none of the Republicans vote for this legislation in the Senate.

Listen to what he told Nebraska radio earlier. Listen to this.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

SEN. BEN NELSON (D), NEBRASKA: As it is right now, without further modifications, it isn't sufficient. There's a lot of improvement on the legislation, but the basic question about funding of abortion has not been fully answered yet.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BLITZER: Are the Democrats, including the White House, ready to accept his concerns over abortion funding?

AXELROD: Well, look, he's expressed those concerns and other concerns, others have issues that they've raised. Senator Snowe among them on the Republican side. And we'll work these issues through.

The president has said on the issue of abortion that we shouldn't use this as an abortion bill and that it shouldn't be a vehicle by which moneys, federal moneys, are expended on abortion. And that's the position that the House -- that the Senate has taken. But, you know, we're going to work these issues through, Wolf. And there's so much at stake here.

You know, you can be cavalier and say this bill isn't good enough, but if you're one of the 30 million people who don't have insurance, if you're a small business and you can't buy insurance, if you are someone with a pre-existing condition, if you are someone who gets seriously ill and gets thrown off your insurance today, or goes bankrupt because out-of-pocket expenses aren't capped, you don't have the luxury of saying this bill isn't perfect, we need to do away with it. That would be a terrible loss for the American people.

BLITZER: What happen if there's a couple weeks' delay, for example, the Senate can't pass it before Christmas?

AXELROD: Well, I'm not going to speculate on that. It's still our hope that that will happen.

There have been procedural maneuvers going on there on the part of the Republicans to try and block a vote on this bill. And, in fact, that's one of the issues at stake here. Whether you are for or against the underlying bill, it ought to get an up-or-down vote. We've had a long and, I think, very serious debate about health care now for months and months and months. And we ought to have an up-or-down vote.

And what's happening is that a minority is trying to thwart a vote because they understand that a majority of senators want to give these new protections, this new security to the American people. And they don't want to allow that vote.

BLITZER: David Axelrod, thanks for coming in.

AXELROD: All right. Good to be with you.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: The president says America will go bankrupt without health care reform. Not necessarily everyone agrees, though.

It's Jack Cafferty's "Question of the Hour." Your responses coming up.

And a security breach that could impact thousands of soldiers, military personnel and their families. Why their personal information could right now be at risk. Information you need to know.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

CAFFERTY: President Obama says the United States cannot survive without health care reform. We asked if you agree with that statement.

Lee writes, "Of course it can survive, and it will. These political idiots do their best to pay the scary gloom-and-doom cost scenario, and yet they do nothing to contain the activities of the insurance and health corporations who continually drive up health care costs. Au contraire. They hand them a golden nugget by requiring every citizen in the country to buy insurance."

H. in Tennessee, "Of course the U.S. will survive without health care reform. It may be a world that some would prefer not to see, Dickensian disparities and the health and well-being between the haves and the have-nots, but the U.S. is, to borrow a phrase from the banking fiasco, 'too big to fail,' at least for the moment."

"After all, it took Rome a couple of centuries to totter into decrepitude. Surely we can hold out for a few decades before the Chinese clean our economic clocks."

Cindy writes, "Yes, we can survive without the particular concept of health care reform. Obama is using scare tactics and hyperbole in a desperate act to sell this debacle, and no one's buying. The administration has consistently mishandled everything that lands on its plate, so much so the media apologists are now finding it almost impossible to carry Obama's water to the masses. We voted for smoke and mirrors and now we are unhappy that's what we got."

Seathrun in Watertown, Massachusetts: "Survive? Most probably, for maybe 15 or 20 years. Thrive? I seriously doubt that. As we debate, the U.S. of A. is hurdling toward that special place in history already occupied by the ancient Greeks and Romans, as well as the 18th and 19th century empires of France, Spain and England."

Jim writes, "We'll survive, but we will survive like a third world country, and the health care executives will all be able to buy another yacht."

And James writes, "Survive? I think we're about to find out."

If you want to read more on this subject, go to my blog, CNN.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Will do, Jack. Thank you.

We have now heard from the White House, from our own viewers on the state of health care reform. Let's talk about it with Gloria Borger, our senior political analyst.

Gloria, are the Democrats, strange as it might seem, setting themselves up for a political failure if this legislation is enacted?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, on the one hand, Wolf, they have to prove that they are the governing majority. So they really have to pass some kind of health care reform.

On the other hand, the more that this bill has remained out there, the more the public has decided really doesn't like it. It thinks it's going to add to the deficit, raise your taxes, not going to make your health care any better.

And another problem for the White House, quite frankly, is that lots of the benefits kick in around 2012, but the costs kick in a lot earlier. So, they will be held accountable, for better or for worse.

BLITZER: Yes. Some of the benefits don't even kick until later, after 2012.

BORGER: Exactly.

BLITZER: The Republicans, are they getting a big bump right now, a boost as a result of all of this?

BORGER: It's kind of interesting. As you look at the numbers in the short term, I think they will, particularly for the midterm elections. But there was an interesting poll done this week by "The Washington Post" and ABC, and let's take a look at it.

When the voters were asked, "Who do you trust to do a better job on health care?" you will see that Obama is still trusted more than the Republicans. He's still seven points ahead. He himself has dropped eight points since July.

So, you know, you can look at this either way, Wolf, right? That the...

BLITZER: Because if you take a look at this poll...

BORGER: ... Republicans are not getting a lot of credit.

BLITZER: ... in July, he had a 20-point advantage. Who do you trust more, Obama versus the Republicans? Fifty-four percent to 34 percent. Now, as you point out, seven points, 46 to 39 percent.

BORGER: Right. And I think that what's happening is that the voters are saying OK, Republicans, you are trying to stop what may be a bad bill, but what are you proposing for us? Why should we trust you any more than we trust the president and the Democrats? They don't have an answer to that right now.

BLITZER: I guess the argument is there will be plenty of time for the political fallout. The White House, the Democrats, they just want a deal, and even if it's not a perfect deal, they think it will be a good deal.

BORGER: Absolutely.

BLITZER: And they will take that.

BORGER: And they want it soon.

BLITZER: Yes, the definitely do. Thanks very much.

BORGER: Sure.

BLITZER: It's only a sun visor, but is Sarah Palin speaking volumes? And she's not even saying a word. Why her chase of headgear is now raising some eyebrows.

Plus, legal troubles for five young Americans suspected of plotting terrorist attacks. They are behind bars in Pakistan, won't be coming back to the U.S. anytime soon, apparently.

And two scientists, both at the top of their field, with very different opinions about global warming. Who is right? Who is wrong?

Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's a look at some "Hot Shots" coming in from our friends over at The Associated Press, pictures likely to be in your newspapers tomorrow.

In Romania, a child looks at the grave of a fighter who helped spark a revolution 20 years ago.

In Madrid, a taxi driver holds a Spanish flag to protest a European order that they say would hurt their financial well-being.

In Slovenia, American Tim Burke competes in the World Cup biathlon competition.

And in France, Santa Claus poses with a killer whale.

Wow. "Hot Shots," pictures worth a thousand words.

On our "Political Ticker," you can't get much hotter rhetoric than saying your ideological opponent has "gone to hell." That's what Texas Republican Governor Rick Perry says about Al Gore.

Perry is a former Democrat who actually worked for Gore's 1988 presidential campaign. According to "The Dallas Morning News" yesterday, when talking about Gore's global warming stance, Perry said -- and I'm quoting now -- "I think he's gone to hell." The crowd laughed in response.

No response yet from Al Gore.

And look what Sarah Palin's hat says, or at least used to say. Palin was seen on a beach in Hawaii as she was wearing a visor that said "John McCain," but look closely. McCain's name is blacked out.

While that raised some eyebrows, Palin tells "The Politico," she was just trying to be incognito in Hawaii. Palin says she supports McCain 100 percent.