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THE SITUATION ROOM

Climate Change Deal?; Autism Breakthrough?

Aired December 18, 2009 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And happening now: President Obama says there is success, but what exactly does that mean? He has announced what he calls a meaningful climate change deal with China and other nations in Copenhagen. Stand by. We are going there live.

One in every 110 children with autism here in the United States, with that disturbing estimate from the U.S. government, what can parents and relatives of loved ones do to help autistic children?

And you are in the president's Situation Room. The super-secret room where he can talk in total secret and handle any crisis, want to go inside? You will right here, exclusively.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in our SITUATION ROOM.

Hours before President Obama went to Copenhagen, there was deep fear there would not be a climate change deal. Hours after he arrived, there is one. A short while ago, the president announced what he called a meaningful and unprecedented agreement.

But what exactly does that mean?

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

I guess the devil is in the details, Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

And the key, now that the president is on his way home, is how he is going to sell this, not just to the American people, but people who care about the climate all around the world wondering whether or not this is a good deal.

And I can tell you, some environmental groups are already saying that it is hollow. What the president did was in the waning hours of this two-week climate change summit here in Copenhagen was hammer out an agreement with the leaders of China, Brazil, other key nations who have been negotiating, basically agreeing to limit the planet's warming to no more than two degrees Celsius over the next decade.

But the key is, there -- it is nonbinding. There are no specific legal binding statutes here that would force these leaders to come up with specifics in the years ahead to make sure that they follow through on that. Now, the president did acknowledge at a news conference just a few moments ago that there is a long way to go, even as he hailed this as a major breakthrough.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now, this progress did not come easily, and we know that this progress alone is not enough.

Going forward, we are going to have to build on the momentum that we have established here in Copenhagen to ensure that international action to significantly reduce emissions is sustained and sufficient over time. We have come a long way, but we have much further to go.

To continue moving forward, we must draw on the effort that allowed us to succeed here today, engagement among nations that represent a baseline of mutual interests and mutual respect. Climate change threatens us all. Therefore, we must bridge all divides and build new partnerships to meet this great challenge of our time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: Now, let me quickly give you a flavor of what some of the key environmental groups are saying about the devil in those details, as you mentioned, Wolf.

I just ran into Fred Krupp of the Environmental Defense Fund, who is here on the ground in Copenhagen. He said he thinks this is a largely good deal and that it's going to light a fire under some of the other leaders around the world to actually get moving on the environment.

But we also just got a press release from the World Wildlife Fund, where they basically say that this is basically a snapshot of what the leaders had already promised before the summit and that it is not a breakthrough, adding -- quote -- "After years of negotiations, we now have a declaration of will that does not bind anyone and therefore fails to guarantee a safer future for next generations."

So, you can see already some charging this is going to be a hollow agreement and really has not accomplished very much -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, I got an e-mail from one environmental group calling it a sham, mincing no words.

Ed Henry is on the scene for us in Copenhagen.

Let's talk a little bit more about what the president of the United States is calling a climate change breakthrough.

Joining us now, CNN's Tom Foreman and our senior political analyst, David Gergen.

Tom, this is a deal the president says will eventually be good, although it is certainly not exactly what he wanted. TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And, you know, Wolf, in many ways, exactly what has happened is exactly what has always been the problem. This is really complex, David. And you broke down the map here into different colors for a reason. Explain the groundwork for all of this.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure -- 193 nations came to Copenhagen. But they basically fell into two camps, the developed nations, the industrialized nations essentially to the north, and the developing nations, the poorer nations, essentially to the south.

Now, Tom, for a long time, the leadership of the developed nations on the environmental issue has right here been in Western Europe and in Japan. The United States was a pariah nation, didn't really take this very seriously.

FOREMAN: So, over in this area right here?

(CROSSTALK)

GERGEN: Right, right there in that area and over in Japan.

And the United States a couple of years ago at a big environmental conference was actually booed, because we didn't take it all that seriously. But here comes President Obama, says it is my signature issue in this area. And I am going be the leader.

And what he found in Copenhagen is, it is very hard to lead with 193 nations. There were some real differences because the real difference grew up between the United States and China. Let's take a look.

FOREMAN: Sure. What did the U.S. want here? What were they talking about?

GERGEN: Here we go. The U.S., essentially, the United States came into -- thank you -- the United States -- I'm no Tom Foreman or John King on this.

(LAUGHTER)

GERGEN: The United States came in as the second biggest polluter, second only to China. The United States under President Obama is pledging to reduce based on a 1990 basis to reduce its pollution by 4 percent, not very much by world standards, but the first time the United States has committed.

And Hillary Clinton came in and said we are going to sign up to give a fair amount of money. But in exchange with that, we want to hold China and these other developing nations much more accountable.

FOREMAN: And this was the big sticking point here, accountability. And I want to raise that, because when we look at China, quickly tick through the issues with China. GERGEN: Sure. China came in, is growing rapidly. It has overtaken the United States, number-one emitter, but it is not promising a full reduction. It's just promising to slow its growth. And very importantly, it has been rejecting these demands for accountability.

FOREMAN: So, it wanted nothing to do with accountability over here.

GERGEN: Right.

FOREMAN: Now, David, what I want to do is...

GERGEN: Legally binding, whether it is legally binding, and also whether there is a verification.

FOREMAN: Let's very quickly take this off and bring up the question of the other nations here, if we can.

GERGEN: Sure.

FOREMAN: If we bring up the developing nations here and you look at that, tell me a little bit more about them and how they play into this equation.

GERGEN: Right.

Well, the United States now, as a leader, along with Europe and Japan, has said that there is a second nation -- in addition to saying, we want accountability, the developing nations said we want a lot of your money in order to do this.

So, the United States pledged billions of dollars, but they said we also want carbon reductions to go with it. Along come the developing nations, led by China, along with India, South Africa and Brazil. They blame the rich nations like the United States for a lot of these problems. They say, this is really hard for us.

And the poor nations are demanding hundreds of billions of dollars, and the United States' Senate is going to gag on hundreds of billions of dollars.

FOREMAN: Environmental and economic ties there, from everything that David talked about here, Wolf, that is the cornerstone of why this has been so hard to get and why I'm sure we're going to hear a lot of debates about what they did get -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, the debate I think is only just beginning.

Guys, thanks very much.

Jack Cafferty and "The Cafferty File" are coming up next.

Also, remember freshman Senator Al Franken of Minnesota yesterday shutting off Senator Joe Lieberman, sparking an angry rebuke from another senator? Well, today, it has been generating a lot of buzz. Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

Wolf, the holidays are here. It's a time traditionally we spend with our families and friends and loved ones. Intimate gatherings in our homes give us all a chance to reconnect. And maybe the need for that is greater now than it's ever been.

Here are a few statistics that might be something for us all to think about. There are 270 million cell phone subscribers, and we sent more than 110 billion text messages last December, one month. And that was double the number that was sent the December before that. The average teenager sends more than 2,000 text messages every month.

At the same time the average length of a cell phone call actually declined last year. The problem is, this is all stuff that we mostly do alone. We spend five hours a day watching television. We spend another two hours on the computer.

Walk down the street in any city in this country and notice how many of us never see what is going on around us. Our faces are buried in personal communication devices, at the expense of seeing somebody smile when they pass you on the sidewalk, or noticing somebody who might be in need, or missing something like the changing of a traffic light that can actually put you in danger.

It doesn't seem like a big deal right now, but my guess is, in 20 or 30 years, we won't recognize ourselves because of the effect all of this has had. That we will be different is certain. Whether we'll be better off, though, is very much an open question.

And that is the question this evening: At what cost is technology replacing personal contact?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It is a great question, especially this time of the year, Jack. Thank you very much.

Some are not amused at the tense wrangling over health care reform in the U.S. Senate.

CNN's national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin, has been looking at the fallout over Senator Al Franken's denying Senator Joe Lieberman a little extra time on the Senate floor.

Let's go to Jessica.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.

Well, Democrats have been so frustrated with Senator Joe Lieberman for gumming up the works on health care reform that many of the party faithful seemed delighted when the more liberal Senator Al Franken appeared to take him on. But it turns out, it was not what it seemed.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: I thank the chair.

YELLIN (voice-over): It is not the sort of thing you usually see on the floor of the Senate.

LIEBERMAN: That the purpose of the board is not just to...

YELLIN: Senator Joe Lieberman was waxing poetic about health care reform when he ran out of time and asked for more. Cue the freshman from Minnesota.

SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: I'm sorry. The senator has spoken for 10 minutes.

LIEBERMAN: I wonder if I could ask for unanimous consent for just an additional moment.

FRANKEN: In my capacity as senator from Minnesota, I object.

LIEBERMAN: Really? OK. I don't take it personally.

YELLIN: What? Al Franken shut down a fellow senator? It was enough to spark a rebuke.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I have been around here 20-some years, the first time I have ever seen a member denied an extra minute or two. I don't know what's happening here in this body, but I think it's wrong.

YELLIN: The apparent tussle even made the pages of TMZ, a gossip Web site, and inspired the Republican Party back in Minnesota to accuse Franken of -- quote -- "petty and petulant behavior," which they called "an embarrassment to our state."

Oh, they are also peeved about this exchange. Earlier, Franken accused Republican Senator John Thune of omitting facts in his own health care remarks.

FRANKEN: Did you actually happen to mention any of the benefits that do kick in right away? And he said, no, which I think is -- you know, again, we are entitled to our own opinions. We are not entitled to our own facts.

YELLIN: It is all generating plenty of buzz, but the truth? Franken, as presiding officer, was doing what the leadership had asked, that he limit everyone's time and keep debate moving in the hopes of getting a health care bill done by Christmas.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN: And, Wolf, in fact, Franken was not even the first senator that day to deny a fellow senator extra time. The exact same thing happened when a different senator was presiding over the floor earlier in day.

As for Lieberman and Franken, the two were later seen laughing and joking about the incident. It is all in a day's work at the U.S. Senate -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Supposed to be a very polite, gentlemanly type of place, not necessarily, though, all the time.

Thanks, Jessica.

Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, and our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. They are both part of the best political team on television.

Just quickly a thought on what we just saw.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think, in a way, it is much ado about nothing. But because tempers are so tense in the Senate, we pay a lot of attention to it because things are coming down to the wire, Wolf.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I can also tell you that there is politics to this process to, the leader saying keep them to 10 minutes, not just to move along the bill.

But, OK, if the Republicans are going to read, you know, every single word from this amendment, if they're going to do this, then guess what? We will play by the rules, too. You've got 10 minutes.

BORGER: This is why the public loves the Congress so much.

CROWLEY: Exactly, but just that it was just sort of to move it along is not quite right. They wanted to be in their face.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: At least they're not fighting like in Taiwan on the parliament -- the parliamentary floor.

BORGER: Now, that we would like. That, we might enjoy.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: The president announces what he calls a breakthrough in Copenhagen on the climate change summit. He is coming back here, though, quickly, not just because of the snow that is coming into Washington, but also because he is trying to help to wrap up this health care bill so the Senate can vote before Christmas Eve.

Was this a good week or a bad week for President Obama?

CROWLEY: It was one of those weeks where I tell you, ask me 52 weeks from now.

The fact of the matter is to call this a meaningful agreement out of Copenhagen, to call this a breakthrough agreement, well, we will see. We have got no idea whether this is historic until history plays out. This is better than nothing, which it really looked like he was going to get 48 hours ago.

He doesn't have health care yet, but if he gets it next week or if he gets it in January, it will be fine.

BORGER: You know, then we will have to wait that year and see whether health care reform is actually working as intended or whether there are unintended consequences, whether he sticks to his agenda and starts doing, you know, immigration reform, et cetera, et cetera.

You know, he is an all-in kind of president, Wolf. He has made a big gamble here, which is that, even given the economy, he was going to stick to this large agenda. That might work for him in 2012, but might not work for the Democrats so well in 2010.

BLITZER: At least he is coming home from Copenhagen on this trip better off than he did on his last recent trip to Copenhagen, Candy, if you remember that.

CROWLEY: Absolutely. No, he did not bring home the Olympics, but he has a piece of paper. The question is -- and, as you know, my e-mail box is now full of environmental groups going, I'm sorry, there is nothing here.

Nonetheless, he could have really had nothing, which would not even be a meaningful agreement. Nonbinding are the key words here. If you think any of those 119 countries will act against their own national interests to try to keep up with a nonbinding agreement, then we haven't watched history too much.

BLITZER: We will continue to watch. Guys, thank you very much.

A massive storm already starting to slam the East Coast. Take a look at these live pictures coming out of Charlottesville, Virginia,.

And holiday travel is already under way. Something has got to give. We are going to take you to a key airport.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: Many of you may want to use Twitter to tweet about the weather. A monster storm will pack a monster punch that has already started. There's snowing already under way in the Carolinas and Virginia. Take a look at the live picture coming out of Charlottesville, Virginia.

Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, they all bracing for lots of snow, and here in Washington, D.C., possibly -- get this -- two feet of snow. This likely could not have come at a worse time, this being the last weekend before travel, before Christmas. Lots of shopping supposed to take place this weekend may not necessarily be taking place.

Let's go to Brian Todd. He is over at Reagan National Airport just outside Washington here.

Brian, are folks there getting nervous about what is going on as the snow approaches?

All right. Unfortunately -- Brian, hold on a second, because we are going to try to clear up that signal. It is sort of coming in and out. I think it has come back in.

Let's start again. Give us the latest on what is going on, Brian, out at Reagan National.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, that snow has barely started to fall, and already it has had a major effect on the air traffic, the most dramatic effect, United Airlines tells us it has already preemptively canceled 140 flights between about midnight tonight and about 3:30 p.m. Saturday afternoon just to engage in some preemptive measures before this storm hits.

That means that all the flights here at Ronald Reagan National Airport, all of United's flights Baltimore-Washington Airport, and all but a handful of flights at Dulles International Airport canceled between midnight and about 3:30 p.m. Saturday.

Here is some crucial advice from an official at the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority for passengers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROB YINGLING, WASHINGTON AIRPORTS AUTHORITY: The most important thing for passengers is be proactive. Contact your airline. Check your status of your flight before you leave for the airport. This is not some place you want to be marooned if there are not any flights operating.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: Now, officials at Delta, Continental and American Airlines tells us they are also starting to thin out some flights. They don't have exact numbers, but, again, flights are starting to be canceled from about midnight tonight until Saturday afternoon, probably at the earliest, Wolf, as the storm moves through this area.

They are going to plow the tarmac at this airport, try to get the snow off. The airport itself will remain open, but they are going to try to get as many flights out as they can, but they may not be able to get many out at all.

BLITZER: If you are going to fly, make sure you check to make sure that flight is actually taking off. Good advice. Brian, it is going to be a mess at these airports here on the East Coast.

A critical U.S. terror ally set to see fallout and chaos. It involves top Pakistani government officials and major changes in that country.

And you are in. You are in the president's Situation Room. It is his super-secret room where he can handle any crisis around the world. You are going to be getting an exclusive inside tour of the White House Situation Room.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the president's chair. He controls the video options, including the microphones.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now: threats to Pakistan's fragile political stability. What is really going on in a country that is critical to the U.S.-led war on terror? We will have the latest from Islamabad. Stand by.

Troubling new estimates on the number of kids with autism. What is really causing the dramatic rise in cases? We are going to talk to our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen.

And an exclusive look at the president's Situation Room, not ours, his. We are going to taking you where very few have gone before.

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

Some of the most powerful figures in Pakistan are no longer so sure of their status, as that country's supreme court sets major changes in motion.

CNN's Arwa Damon has the latest for us from Islamabad -- Arwa.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that court ruling on Wednesday has literally opened up a Pandora's box here in Pakistan.

(voice-over): On Thursday, the Pakistani minister of defense was prevented from leaving the country on an official trip to China, told his name was on an exit control list. On Friday, he was informed that was a mistake, although he is still the focus of a judicial inquiry on corruption charges that he denies.

Meanwhile, the minister of interior had his lawyer appear in court, trying to pay bail, after seeing media reports that he was to face corruption charges, only to be told his file was still being reviewed.

The fallout and chaos is only beginning. There is little evidence of it in the streets, but there are major changes happening before our eyes in Pakistan. For the first time in this young nation's turbulent history, judicial independence is born.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am delighted, absolutely, because, ever since Pakistan was created, the few have lorded it over the many, and I hope now that the many will lord it over the few.

DAMON: On Wednesday, the supreme court ruled that an amnesty order that protected thousands of politicians and bureaucrats accused of anything from murder to abuse of power is illegal.

(on camera): The unprecedented decision that took place here is viewed by many Pakistanis as being long-awaited accountability. No longer are the country's elite protected, while the poor continue to suffer. And it has thrown the nation into political uproar.

(voice-over): The National Reconciliation Ordinance, the NRO, was put into effect by former President Musharraf, widely believed to be part of a deal brokered with the late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Among those it protected were Ms. Bhutto and her husband, Asif Zardari, now Pakistan's president, both of whom faced charges of corruption.

President Zardari retains his immunity from prosecution. But analysts say he may not hold onto the presidency much longer.

NASEEM ZEHRA, ANALYST: I think more delegitimization of Zardari has begun in a big way. You know, he holds a very important position. And if becomes even more controversial after this judgment, people generally -- we have no polls done as yet, but I think generally the feeling is that he would serve the party, the country and the position better if he was to step down.

DAMON: Pakistan's fragile political stability is threatened at a time when the West, with its global war on terror, want to see it united. But among Pakistanis, this very concern generates hope that this type of accountability will lead to the very changes the country needs.

(on camera): Many Pakistanis are going to be watching these proceedings very closely, saying that it will serve to define their country and their future -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We're going to watch what's happening in Pakistan very closely.

Arwa Damon reporting for us from Islamabad.

Other news we're following, a report out today shows a dramatic rise in autism, especially among boys. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds there's a 50 cent -- 57 percent increase in new cases between 2002-2006 here in the United States.

Our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, is joining us now -- Elizabeth that's got a lot of people deeply concerned about what's going on -- mothers, fathers, grandparents.

Give us some perspective.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: All right. Well, let's first, Wolf, talk about the numbers, because they really are stunning. Let's look at what's happened over the past four years. Again, a 57 percent increase, so that, according to the most recent numbers, one in 70 boys has a diagnosis of autism and one in 350 girls. I think that even experts would say that this is way higher than what they'd expect.

BLITZER: Elizabeth, you know, so what's going on here by -- by all accounts?

COHEN: Right. It -- it's interesting. Doctors just don't know. I mean, unfortunately, that's the short answer. It could be that doctors are just getting better about diagnosing and screening for autism. But still, you wouldn't expect to see these kinds of numbers based on that.

So doctors think -- they have a couple of theories as to why this is happening.

For example, people are having children older. Older parents could mean that they have -- that more kids have autism. There are more preemies born in this country than ever before. Maybe that's predisposing these children to autism later in life. Also, maybe there are more toxins in the air than there used to be.

But, really, they know. It is a -- an area where doctors are really trying to do a lot of research.

BLITZER: Well, given this news, what should parents do?

COHEN: You know, parents really need to be empowered patients. When you bring your young -- your baby in for a doctor's appointment, you need to talk about autism screenings. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, babies are supposed to -- toddlers are supposed to get screened at 18 months and then again at 24 months for autism. Now, if your doctor doesn't do it, remind them to do it.

Also, if you feel in your heart that something's wrong with your child, they may have autism and your doctor says, oh, don't worry, your child is fine, go get a second opinion. I know several parents where the doctor said the child was fine, but it turned out the child really did have autism and parental instincts were really on target.

BLITZER: It's always good to get a second opinion no matter what, right?

COHEN: That's right.

BLITZER: OK, Elizabeth.

Thanks very much.

COHEN: Thanks.

BLITZER: Health care reform outcasts -- we're talking about Senators Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman. They're under fire for threatening to derail health care reform.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Senators Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman are under fire from members of their own caucuses for threatening to derail health care reform over specific issues.

Let's talk about that with Democrat strategist Mo Elleithee and Republican strategist John Feehery, who does some work for health care clients. We want to be up front about that.

Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman, they both caucus with the Democrats. Ben Nelson is a Democrat. Lieberman used to be a Democrat, an Independent. They're sort of outcasts right now. But they are forces -- right now, they both have to be reckoned with.

MO ELLEITHEE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Sure. Oh, look, and the Senate is designed that way. The Senate is designed in a way that one senator can have a huge impact on the way the Senate does its business. So it's not a surprise when -- when one senator does exert that kind of influence.

Look, these are two guys who caucus with the Democratic Party and, at least, you know, on its face, say that they are for health care reform. They don't disagree on every point, but they are for health care reform. I think at the end of the day, they will vote for the final -- the final bill.

BLITZER: In the Senate.

ELLEITHEE: Yes.

BLITZER: And it could happen before Christmas.

Why is Ben Nelson making -- taking a stand right now on abortion as part of this final piece of legislation?

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, two reasons. First, he's strongly pro-life. And, second, his state is strongly pro-life. And so he wants to do what Stupak did in a House bill, have...

BLITZER: Congressman Stupak.

FEEHERY: ...have a strong -- pretty much keep the Hyde Amendment.

One other thing I would like to say about the earlier question, though, the reason that -- that both these men have so much power right now is because the Democrats have made a -- a choice. They -- they could have made a choice to go with either 50 votes or 75 votes. They decided to go with 60 votes. And that gives the Joe Liebermans and the Ben Nelsons all the power in the world to negotiate the best deal they can.

BLITZER: That's the way the framers of the Constitution wanted it, as you point out.

ELLEITHEE: Right. That's exactly right.

BLITZER: And so they had no choice in this matter.

Harry Reid, he's looking at what's going on. We don't know if there will be a final vote before Christmas Eve. There won't be if he doesn't have 60 votes, because he's not going to want to see this go down in flames.

But what lessons does he need to learn from this?

ELLEITHEE: Well, look, ultimately, at the end of the day, I think Harry Reid is going to get what he is looking for. I think he is going to get a health care bill that -- that meets all of the criteria that we set out at the beginning of this whole process. I think that Democratic members of the Senate are not going to want to walk away from this this year without something passed, that no one wants to walk into an election year with health care still looming out there.

BLITZER: But you don't think there's going to be a public option, do you?

ELLEITHEE: It's not looking like it right now. It's not look like it right now, but we could still see...

BLITZER: But that's what they wanted.

ELLEITHEE: But you'll see us get a lot of what we were looking for in the beginning -- the elimination of pre-existing conditions. You're going to see more access to health care. You're going to see costs lower. That's still real reform. So I think there will be something that comes out of this where Democrats can still declare victory.

FEEHERY: Well, Harry Reid could be charged with legislative malpractice. This is a complete mess. We still don't even know what's in this bill. I was talking to some friends of mine in the Senate. They have no idea what's in this bill. The CBO hasn't scored it yet.

This thing could go to Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, well past Christmas and they still won't have a CBO score. So they -- they are trying to get a deal here. They're trying to pull an inside straight and they don't even have -- know where all the cards are. I think this thing is a complete mess.

BLITZER: Well, they're going to work all weekend, all of next week, until Christmas Eve. And the drama will continue.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: We'll see what they can do.

FEEHERY: Ho, ho, ho.

BLITZER: Guys, thanks very much.

He's been on the lam for five years, leaving behind fraud charges and angry patients. Now, an Indiana doctor has been arrested on a -- in a mountain in Northern Italy outfitted in survival gear.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Fredricka Whitfield is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Fred, what's going on?

WHITFIELD: Hello again, Wolf.

Hello, everyone.

Well, Yemeni officials confirm a top Al Qaeda figure has been killed in an airstrike. CNN has learned that Mohammed Saleh Mohammed Ali Al-Kazemi died in attacks yesterday in the southern part of the country. Officials say the strikes targeted a training camp and were the largest against the terrorist group in Yemen this year.

The latest on the Brazilian boy with 42 sewing needles in his body. Doctors have removed four pins inside the toddler that punctured his heart and a lung. They're calling the operation a success. Police say the toddler's stepfather admitted to inserting what he called "the blessed needles" in a series of bizarre rituals.

An Indiana doctor facing fraud charges has been found in Europe after being on the lam for five years. Mark Weinberger was arrested on a mountain in Northern Italy. Three hundred patients say Weinberg misdiagnosed them or performed incorrect or botched surgeries. The doctor disappeared while traveling with his wife in Greece. She has since filed for a divorce.

And Tiger Woods' sullied image causes Swiss watch maker, Tag Heuer, to cut back on the golfer's U.S. ad campaigns. The company says it is making the changes out of his request for privacy. Woods has taken an indefinite leave from golf after reports of numerous extramarital affairs. The watch maker plans to continue support of the famous golfer's charitable foundations -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Fred.

Thanks very much.

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

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf.

Some accusations of dirty dealing at the White House. The Senate killing a measure to allow imported cheap prescription drugs. Well, now the lawmaker behind that plan is crying foul, saying the FDA and the White House are actually helping big pharmaceutical companies instead of the American people.

What's the real story here?

We'll take a look at that and much more coming up, as you said, Wolf, at the top of the hour.

BLITZER: We'll see you then.

Erica, thank you.

Let's check in with Jessica right now to see what's up on our Political Ticker -- Jessica.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.

Gays and lesbians are about to have another option if they want to get married right here in this city. Today, Washington, D.C.'s mayor, Adrian Fenty, signed a same-sex marriage bill. The city council passed it this week. Next, members of Congress have 30 days to review the measure, but the chance of them blocking it is very unlikely.

Same-sex marriage is now legal in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and Iowa. A law legalizing gay marriage in New Hampshire takes effect January 1st.

Give up your day job -- that's essentially the message to one of President Obama's Senate allies, Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd. A former Democratic Party chairman named Ed Marcus is telling a local TV station Senator Dodd should give up his re-election bid "for the good of the party."

Ouch.

Dodd is right now facing an uphill battle after controversy over his involvement in the financial bailouts. Dodd's campaign manager says that Marcus is just a bitter old political rival.

Listen to this one. The liberal group, MoveOn.org, has raised over $1 million to launch what it calls an accountability campaign against Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. They're slamming Lieberman's stance on health care reform. MoveOn has now launched a new Web video featuring him as a sock puppet.

Check this out.

(VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: Frustration with him is building in the Democratic Party.

And what are you Googling?

The search engine sees more than a billion searches a day.

So what were some of the top political topics of the year?

Among them, Henry Lewis Gates.

You remember him?

He was the Harvard professor who got into the incident with a Cambridge, Massachusetts police officer. You'll also remember admitted adulterers, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford and John Edwards, both popular searches.

Also among top Google searches, the word TARP and the company AIG.

I'm impressed people are Googling politics.

BLITZER: Yes. Well, we're all Googling, Jessica. But we're also tweeting -- at least I'm Tweeting on Twitter.

Are you Tweeting on Twitter?

YELLIN: I'm not as much of a Tweeter as I should be. I've got to get there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Are you going to start...

YELLIN: But I follow you.

BLITZER: Twitter -- Twitter.com, wolfblitzercnn. It's a lot of fun Tweeting on Twitter. And Googling is a lot of fun, too.

Who would have thought a year, two years, three years ago, we'd all be Googling and Tweeting?

YELLIN: It's amazing.

YELLIN: A different world.

BLITZER: Thank you, Jessica.

The president's Situation Room -- yes, he has one and it has some technology that even we don't have.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, throughout the White House Situation Room, you have a number of phone tubes or we call them Superman tubes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Wow! We're going to take you on an exclusive tour of the president's command and control center, and his Situation Room. This is a story you will see only see in this SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty for The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is, at what cost is technology replacing personal contact?

We got some great mail on this subject. Laura writes: "So much is lost in communication through technology -- tone of voice, body language, facial expression -- even the signals sent through our skin. It's easier to lie through technology. And sometimes I even feel more disconnected from the person than if I weren't talking to them at all."

Pete writes: "Jack, you and I are the same age. Times they are a changing. Get over it."

Christine from the Oxford University Press -- you think we don't have a dignified audience on this program? -- "When Oxford lexicographers selected "unfriend" as the 2009 Word of the Year, it was because of the indisputable cultural imprint that word has left on the past year. An entire generation is coming of age in a time when even friendship is a function of our technology. It's a pretty sobering observation, don't you think?"

Nancy, an American in Scotland, writes this: "I think the kids are fine. Texting is a fad. Eventually it'll pass. Modern technology means everyone can be informed and educated. I'm not worried about the kids and technology, I'm worried about parents not having enough time with their kids, working all the hours God gives them. It's us old folks that don't have enough conversations. Teach a grandfather next to you how to text."

Diane writes: "I'm sitting with a colleague right now. We're both on our phones instead of interacting with each other. Yes, technology is taking the place of human interface."

Ken writes: "I'll tell you the cost. Last night, I saw a story in the news where a man married an avatar online. Get the point?"

And John in New Jersey says: "It's not costing anything. You sound like you're getting old and cranky, just like the naysayers when the telephone came out. You need some time off. I'll Google spas in Amish country for you."

If you want to read more about this -- it's pretty interesting stuff, like I said -- go to the blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile.

And I'm going to take John's suggestion and take a couple of weeks off, Wolf.

I'll see you next year.

BLITZER: Well, I want -- I wish you and your entire family a Merry, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Only the best for Jack Cafferty and his wonderful family.

CAFFERTY: And, you, Wolf.

It's a -- it's a pleasure and I look forward to another year with you starting sometime in January.

BLITZER: Perfect. Excellent. Sounds great.

CAFFERTY: All right. Bye.

BLITZER: Enjoy and relax.

CAFFERTY: Thank you. You, too.

BLITZER: There are two SITUATION ROOMS here in Washington, D.C. You're about to get an exclusive look inside the other one.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wolf Blitzer sits about a mile away, I think, in his SITUATION ROOM, but not the White House Situation Room.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And we're going to go inside for an exclusive tour over at the West Wing Situation Room. You're going to see some of the high tech tools at the president's disposal.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's a look at some of the other Hot Shots coming in.

In Afghanistan, two men keep a U.S. Marine company as he takes a rest from patrol.

In Philadelphia, Boston legends -- Boston Bruins legend, I should say, Bobby Orr, is pulled across the ice by a youth hockey team.

In Germany, a worker helps pack up a Christmas tree.

And in Pakistan, people watch a beautiful sunset on Karachi Beach.

Hot Shots -- pictures worth a thousand words.

It's the other Situation Room here in Washington, D.C. -- the White House Situation Room, where we're about to get a closer look inside the president's command and control center, where major decisions are discussed and made. It's an exclusive that you'll only see in this SITUATION ROOM right now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good evening, Mr. Prime Minister.

It will be one moment for President Obama.

Introducing the prime minister.

We're here in the West Wing of the White House, inside the White House Situation Room. We host about 25 conferences a day here in the Situation Room and some 250 guests are attending the different meetings throughout the day. In a month, that's over 5,000 visitors and attendees to the meetings that we have here. it's a state-of-the-art facility with the ability to conduct video teleconferences with 1,700 or 1,800 entities throughout the world.

This is an interagency meeting on H1N1 pandemic. And so it has inter-agency representatives from the executive branch departments and agencies. They have the technology here and the capabilities to bring in other departments and agencies electronically, as opposed to having folks face-to-face.

The White House Situation Room was created in May of 1961 by the then national security adviser, McGeorge Bundy. They had a voracious appetite for information, particularly President Kennedy. And in response to that need, they felt a desire to create a communications center here within the White House.

In 2007, the White House Situation Room underwent a major renovation, which greatly expanded the square footage and the capability of the White House Situation Room. It went from one principle conference room to three principal conference rooms. This is the large conference room where the president holds the National Security Council meetings. And this is the president's chair. He controls the video options, including the microphones. And the traditional lineup of seats is based on the seniority of the different cabinet members attending the meeting.

Tied to the executive conference room is a small breakout room designed to enable the president to take one or two people in a conference room to have a small one-on-one session with them. And all of the feel that you see here -- the types of wood are designed to replicate the other entity that which the president would participate, places like Air Force One and Camp David, so that whenever the president is, the feel is the same -- having the same texture and sound around him.

One of the cool features of this particular room in the White House Situation Room is the opportunity for privacy for the president if he's making a head of state phone call from the Situation Room itself. What we'll be able to do is fog the windows to give him that level of privacy.

So throughout the White House Situation Room, you have a number of phone tubes -- or we call them Superman tubes -- with the capability to have unclassified telephones, as well as top secret telephone capability. This is the watch floor of the White House Situation Room. And the watch floor's commodity is situational awareness.

We're a fusion center, meaning that we fuse approximately 2,000 pieces of information every day. We produce three daily reports directly for the president. And it's basically a situational awareness update, perhaps since the last time the president had an opportunity to assimilate any additional information.

The room that you see behind me is called the surge room. And that's where we literally surge personnel in a crisis. We keep the phones and the computers always on so that we can provide instant access and start fusing information to provide a summary for the decision makers in the White House, so that they can make the decisions in response to that situation or crisis -- and hence the clever name, Situation Room.

One third of the personnel come from the intelligence community, one third come from the Department of Homeland Security and the remainder come from the U.S. military. We are sent here because we're apolitical. We're not Democrats. We're not Republicans. We're here to support our nation, the president of the United States and the institution of the presidency. And all of the people who work in the White House Situation Room are simply the best and the brightest that this nation can offer and they do the very best job that they can do.

Wolf Blitzer sits about a mile away, I think, in his SITUATION ROOM, but not the White House Situation Room.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. You heard that little plug for us at the end there.

Thanks very much.

We want to point out that video was provided to us by the White House. It's available on the White House Web site, starting, apparently, next week.

Thanks very much for watching.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in our SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, "CNN TONIGHT".