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Awaiting Father-Son Reunion

Aired December 23, 2009 - 18:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: Senate Democrats on the brink of passing health care reform, they are celebrating and counting down to the big vote hours away. This hour, is President Obama satisfied?

Plus, a new airline accident amidst in the midst of a very busy holiday travel season, but we will explain how this plane overshot the runway, sent dozens of people to the hospital.

And a father's wait is almost over. We are standing by for late details on how he will be reunited with his son in Brazil.

Welcome to our views in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm Suzanne Malveaux and you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Well, tonight, Democrats are comparing themselves to George Washington, overcoming harsh odds. They're talking about being on the right or the wrong side of history and saying that what the Senate has done on health care reform will also earn a page in history.


SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: It's been a long hard road for all of us. And now we have cleared every 60-vote hurdle along the way. We stand a few short steps on the most significant finish line we have had in Congress for many decades.


MALVEAUX: The Democrats' health care bill has cleared a third and final procedural hurdle, the vote 60-39, strictly along partisan lines.

I want to go straight to CNN's national correspondent Jessica Yellin.

Jessica, you been following this. What does this latest move mean?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, it means that come 7:00 tomorrow morning, the Senate's health care bill is expected to pass this body, after all these months of negotiation and discussions.

There were seven votes today, six before the one we have been discussing, all related to mostly Republican attempts to stop this thing in the tracks. They did not succeed. And so the Democrats move forward.

The only big change is that instead of voting at 8:00 tomorrow morning, they're going to vote at 7:00 tomorrow morning, which led one senator to let out of a loud groan on the floor when they heard that. These folks are really tired -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: We can see that.

And with a bill likely to pass tomorrow, what is the next step?

YELLIN: Right.

So, what is going to happen is, folks will get out of town. Then their staffs will come back well before the members do to start to meld the House version with the Senate version of health care reform, very different bills.

Now, I spoke to one person who is deeply involved in all these negotiations who says about 70 percent of the bills can easily be merged at the staff level. What remains is that 30 percent on top. That is going to be left to Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, the senior heads of their important committees, and even the White House to hammer out those details.

The big question is, can they get members of the House of Representatives, Democrats there, to largely accept the version that has been negotiated by the Senate? The House members say no, so a lot of this will be an uphill fight over abortion language, how to pay for a lot of this, subsidies. The finish line is far from near -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: A lot of work to be done.

OK. Jessica, thank you so much for following this.

Republicans are forced to accept that their efforts have just about failed. Will this shove Republicans to the sidelines? I spoke with Senator Orrin Hatch about that.


SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: I don't think we're on the sidelines in any way, shape or form.

But I will tell you that there has to be a desire by the Democrats to work with us. You know, they have 60 votes. And they can do whatever they want. And there's an arrogance of power here that I have been talking about, that literally they think they can do whatever they want, regardless of what's right or what's wrong.

And, look, I have made the point, if on a bill this important, involving one-sixth of the American economy, if you don't get 75 to 80 votes, like we did on the CHIP bill, like we did on the Hatch-Waxman bill, like we did on some -- like we did on Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare and others, then you know the bill is a lousy bill.

If it's just a straight partisan bill that is this important, then you know it's a lousy bill. And I can tell you, this is one lousy bill. They can be very proud of what they have done, except that what they have done could wreck our country. And I think we have got to all stand up and start letting them hear from us.


MALVEAUX: President Obama is giving a new interview on health care reform and whether all the haggling will produce a bill that he can actually sign. stand by for that.

Now: new reason for many passengers to feel anxious during this busy holiday flying season. I want you to take a look at what happened to an American Airlines jet as it landed in Jamaica. There were dozens of people who were sent to hospitals.

Our Brian Todd explains how this plane overshot the end of the runway.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, a close call at Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston, Jamaica, today, when the American Airlines 737 overshot the runway there, more than 90 people taken to the hospital. None of those injuries considered serious.

We're joined now by Mark Weiss, a former American Airlines pilot who has experienced landing 727s at Norman Manley Airport, not the 737 that landed there today, but 727s. And this is good experience to talk about the conditions at this airport.

We are going to first talk, Mark, about the runway here. We are going to show a little bit of closeup here and expand it. We know that the conditions there were very poor upon landing. It was pouring down rain. What can you tell us about this runway in those conditions?

MARK WEISS, THE SPECTRUM GROUP: Well, it's been a number of years since I have flown in there. And unless anything has changed, this is not a grooved runway, or at least it wasn't at the time.

And with heavy rain, there's been instances of water puddling up, which would be a caution for the pilots when they're landing that you might get hydroplaning on the runway, in other words, where the wheels would spin up, but not having any effective braking, very similar to what you might get on black ice here up in Washington.

TODD: What about the topography around that airport? We know that there are mountains near there, not necessarily high mountains, but mountains that might affect wind conditions.

WEISS: Well, certainly, we know from reports that the flight had been turbulent all the way. And with the winds coming in off the mountains going on to the runway, we don't know if, in fact, what you have had is a headwind coming to a tailwind or an increasing tailwind which might have pushed the aircraft further down the runway.

TODD: The winds coming from these mountains here.

WEISS: Rolling off and perhaps pushing it further down, absolutely.

TODD: What information might the pilots have had as they approached this airport?

WEISS: Well, certainly, what they would have had or would have wanted would be the latest runway conditions and any braking action reports and visibility that might have come from the tower itself.

TODD: OK. We're going to take look at the fuselage, pictures here of the fuselage. The plane clearly suffered a lot of damage on the ground when it hit. It broke into what looks like at least three pieces. Not sure if these are clean breaks or not. But what can we tell from the pictures of the fuselage?

WEISS: Well, certainly, by the terrain that it traversed, what you are going to see is that it certainly helped to dissipate the speed of the aircraft, and that was critical.

Also, what you will see is that the emergency exits are open, so that it looks at this point that the crew members, the flight attendants did what they're supposed to be doing by evacuating the passengers in a safe manner...


TODD: Got them out very quickly, therefore, no critical injuries in this accident.

WEISS: Absolutely.

TODD: Suzanne, these questions all going to be looked at in the days ahead, as investigators kind of comb through this wreckage, look at what happened, at those conditions in Jamaica today -- Suzanne.


MALVEAUX: Thank you, Brian.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad insists that his country is united, despite reports of a new political strife this week.

Now, witnesses report that tens of thousands of people chanted anti-government slogans Monday at the funeral of a leading cleric, who was also an outspoken government critic. Now, now today, reports of clashes at a pro-government rally.

Our CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom is following all of it from the CNN Center in Atlanta.

Mohammed, tell us what the latest is on the streets there.

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, today, there was one rally that happened in the city of Qom.

This was a pro-government rally. And this was really held because there had been a funeral in Qom a few days earlier for Grand Ayatollah Montazeri. He was one of the key spiritual leaders in Iran, one of the key leaders of the revolution.

He was also one of the key -- I apologize -- he was also one of the key people who was criticizing the government after the election in the post-election turmoil. And so the government thought that that funeral had been hijacked by opposition who had been chanting slogans such as death to the dictator.

Now, also today, you had reports on social media sites and also reformist Web sites in the city of Isfahan, reports that there were clashes between members of the opposition and members of the Basij police in -- militia in Iran.

And what happened there is, although this video was not independently verified, it was loaded up to social media Web sites. And it seems to show many people clashing, being taken away and arrested by the Basij in the city of Isfahan.

So, that is the latest on what happened in Iran today as far as rallies -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And, Jamjoom, I had a chance to talk with the former Secretary of Defense William Cohen, who said some of the things we are seeing on the streets could obviously change the dynamic between the people and the government there.

What is the latest from the Iranian government on what is happening?

JAMJOOM: Well, today, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave an interview in which he did not address specifically the rallies that happened today, but he did have something to say regarding what the mood is in Iran and what has happened post-election. This is what he had to say.


MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRANIAN PRESIDENT (through translator) (through translator): The rest of politicians, they think something is happening in Iran, and Iran has become weakened. That is a mistake. They are making a mistake.

They do not know Iran. The people of Iran are united. And they would certainly defend their rights and interests. They would protect their independence. There are different views that exist in my country. There are differences of opinion. There are rivals, competitors. And they are serious.

But the majority of the nation is united, and they are determined to protect their independence.

(END VIDEO CLIP) JAMJOOM: And, Suzanne, again, while President Ahmadinejad did not specifically address any of the rallies that happened today, he seemed to be indicating what is going on in the country. He was saying that they were united.

And, again, he was trotting out this rhetoric of this is really the West's fault. You have heard President Ahmadinejad say this many times since the elections in June and since all the election turmoil that happened after that -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: All right, Jamjoom, thank you so much.

Well, imagine a Catholic nun trying to influence a member of Congress. Many wonder, is it an unhealthy mix of church and state for Jewish, Muslim and also religious groups to also be lobbyists?

And he is the 15-year-old boy who survived a horrific attack. What happened today, a doctor calls miraculous -- the latest on the boy who was doused with alcohol and set on fire.


MALVEAUX: In this holiday season, check out the states where religion plays the biggest role in people's lives. A Pew poll finds that Southern states are in the top 10 for religious commitment.

Number one, Mississippi, where 82 percent of those surveyed said that religion is very important in their lives. And here in the nation's capital, religion also plays a very big role in the world of lobbyists.

Here is our CNN's Kate Bolduan with that.

Hey, Kate.


SISTER MARGE CLARK, LOBBYIST: So, I think, it's some point we do need to kind of go through question by question and I don't...

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sister Marge Clark has been a nun for 46 years. She's also a registered lobbyist working just blocks from Capitol Hill.

CLARK: I think we are looking through a faith lens. We are always looking at it from the cry of the poor.

BOLDUAN: Her firm, Network, considers itself a catholic social justice advocate lobbying on issues and legislation ranging from immigration to health care, fair pay, even the F-22 fighter jet program.

(on camera) Why is it important for you to take your advocacy out of the church and on to Capitol Hill?

CLARK: Because the church can't change the systems. It's law that has to be changed.

BOLDUAN (voice-over): Sister Marge is far from unique. Political and religious experts say, there has been a surge in religious lobbying in recent years including Sikh, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish and Muslim groups.

ALLEN HERTZKE, POLITICAL PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA: If you belong to a church or synagogue or temple or mosque chances are, your denomination or your faith has a Washington office. It has become that broad.

BOLDUAN: Allen Hertzke is the author of a soon to be released pew study on religious advocacy. He estimates the religious lobby as the most multimillion dollar enterprise with more than 200 officials and un-official groups vying for influence in Washington.

While the scope of religious lobbying may be modest compared to the entire lobbying industry, those who study money and politics add it's very difficult to measure the muscle of faith and skeptics say that is a problem. What they see as undue influence these groups wield even as some maintain tax exempt status.

BARRY LYNN, EXECUTIVE AND DIRECTOR, AMERICANS UNITED FOR SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE: I'm not saying that people don't have the right to make moral arguments to congress, but congress has to make its decisions not based on pressure from any church but on the basis of the constitutional values of all of us.

BOLDUAN: So is the line separating church and state beginning to blur? Sister Marge says not at all.

CLARK: Jesus was a political activist. He was trying to change unjust systems. And I think that's one of the ties for being a lobbyist.


MALVEAUX: Kate Bolduan joins us live now.

And, Kate, any there legal or ethical issues involved with the faith-based lobbying?

BOLDUAN: That's a good question, Suzanne.

Well, religious advocacy experts say, rather than a legal issue, it is more a question of accepted standards. Where should faith-based organizations draw the line?

And take a look here. A Pew study suggests that American public's view, at least, may be shifting. In 1996, 54 percent said houses of worship should express their political views. In 2008, 52 percent said, they should stay out of it -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: All right, Kate, thank you so much.

And, tomorrow night, Christine Romans will be hosting a special hour exploring the intersection of how we worship and how we spend. "In God We Trust: Faith and Money in America." That airs tomorrow night, Christmas Eve, 6:00 Eastern, right here on CNN.

MALVEAUX: Well, a new winter storm socks the Midwest. Up to two feet of snow is expected before Christmas -- more on that.

Plus, a long-awaited reunion -- an American's legal battle to bring his son home from Brazil may almost be over.



MALVEAUX: President Obama says the process has been grueling. He is opening up about the health care reform fight on the eve of the Senate's big vote.

Then, have Democrats been hurt politically by this reform battle? Stand by for new poll numbers that may surprise you.


MALVEAUX: The U.S. Senate is now a little over 12 hours away from one of the most important votes of the Obama presidency. A compromise health care reform bill is expected to be approved tomorrow morning.

A final procedural hurdle was cleared just a short while ago. And there is still more wrangling ahead to resolve differences between the Senate, as well as the House.

And health care is just one of the big priorities for the White House heading into the new year.

Our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian, is live there.

And, Dan, as we know, this White House does not sit on its laurels for too long. They move ahead. They charge ahead.


And health care, getting that bill on to the president's desk to sign in 2010 is still a top priority, but with unemployment at 10 percent, the president is planning a full-court press early next year to try and create more jobs.


LOTHIAN (voice-over): Even as the economy shows signs of stabilizing high unemployment remains a major concern for the Obama administration.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am entirely dissatisfied with where we are right now in terms of jobs, and the fact that families out there on the eve of Christmas are still really worried about being able to pay the bills. LOTHIAN: Top White House aides says the president plans a laser focus on the issue in early January, working with Congress to get a jobs bill and to create a so-called cash for caulkers program, a home weatherization plan aimed at saving energy and creating jobs.

But the president, who recently met with the CEOs of big financial institutions and those from small and community banks, will also keep pressuring them to increase lending to small businesses, the lifeblood needed to spark new hiring.

JAMES MCPHEE, PRESIDENT, KALAMAZOO COUNTY STATE BANK: They know that the community banks of this nation did not create this train wreck. They know that we are commonsense lenders, and that we have traction going in the communities of this nation. And we are working hard, and he is very much in support of that.

LOTHIAN: All of this will be complicated. Republicans think spending your way out of an economic downturn will bankrupt the country. And some liberal Democrats don't think the administration is spending enough. And there are political consequences. The pace of recovery could impact fellow Democrats in Congress worried about losing their jobs in next November's elections.

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN DEPUTY POLITICAL DIRECTOR: The Democrats really need a rebounding economy, a strong growth in jobs, and a good salesmanship job, I guess, on the health care bill if it becomes law to convince to voters to keep them in power.


LOTHIAN: Now, the president will try and sell the jobs and economics message to the nation in his State of the Union address. From the president down to staff members, they have been working on that message, holding meetings, one of those meetings taking place just yesterday, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: All right, Dan, thank you so much.

I want to bring in the best political team on television, our CNN political analyst Gloria Borger, Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor Donna Brazile, Republican strategist Karen Hanretty, and CNN senior political analyst David Gergen.

Hanretty. Thank you.



MALVEAUX: Thanks for joining us.

Obviously, President Obama is looking at this vote very carefully. There has been a lot of work that has gone into this, particularly over the last couple of months. I want to play a bit of sound in an interview that he gave to NPR today kind of explaining where he believes we are in this process. (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

OBAMA: Well, you know, I have to say that if you had told me at the beginning of this year that at the end of a grueling process, in which the opposition I think has been more politically driven and ideologically driven than substantive, that I would still have a bill potentially for me to sign that provides 30 million people coverage, provides enormous protections to families who are getting hammered right now when it comes to the fine print of insurance forms, that is deficit-neutral, that is geared towards reducing costs over the long term, that has huge increases in prevention and wellness, sets up additional community health clinics around the country for people who have trouble accessing medicine, I would say we did really well.


MALVEAUX: So, is the president -- do you think he is satisfied with what ultimately is going to come out of this process, some sort of legislation -- a lot of people have been complaining about it on both sides -- that is going to make its way through and very likely with some sort of reform?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think the -- the Democrats have come up with a very good bill that will hopefully get better as they go to reconciliation, because it has all of the key elements that the president outlined earlier this year that he wanted to see in health care reform -- lower costs, deficit-neutral, quality, expand access -- so I think because all those elements are in the current bill that is going through the Senate without the public option which is about competition and really lowering costs, I think that, you know, the Democrats are really, and David Axelrod said, the five-yard line and the one-yard line, maybe it is the 10 yard line. But we are pretty close.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, here is the problem for the president, though. It's kind of be careful what you wish for, because a majority of the American public right now doesn't like this bill. They believe it is going to add to the deficit. They believe that it is going to raise their taxes. And they believe that they are not necessarily going to get better health care out of it. The problem is that lots of the important provisions that would show some results don't kick in until 2014 and beyond, so this is going to take a big sell by the president, himself, as well as Democrats in Congress, because right now the public is quite skeptical.

MALVEAUX: We know that the House Democrats at least want those things to kick in at perhaps 2013, but Karen, what is your feeling about where this is going?

KAREN HANRETTY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Twenty thirteen isn't good enough. It's not just that those provisions wouldn't kick in until 2013 or 2014, it is that the taxes and the fees and the cuts are going to begin immediately. So there is a real political dilemma for the 2010 and 2012 elections which is we're going to feel the pain and Americans really aren't going to get much gain until after major elections, and this is a real political dilemma, and if you had told me at the beginning of the year that President Obama would end 2009 without a health care bill on his desk, I never would have believed it. And he uses words like potentially in that statement today. He is potentially going to get something in January, possibly February.

BORGER: You mean, Republicans didn't think they could be so successful?

HANRETTY: I did not think the Republicans -- but it's not the Republicans have been that successful, it is that Democrats have held it up. It's that Ben Nelson and Mary Landrieu and Blanche Lincoln have held it up far more than the Republicans. They could have done it with Democrats.

MALVEAUX: David, I want you to jump in here if you would and give us a bigger context here obviously with what this president has accomplished or potentially could accomplish in his first year compared to some of his predecessors?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure, Suzanne, as someone who worked for Richard Nixon when he tried to get universal health care and failed and then worked for Bill Clinton some years later and he tried mightily to get health care done and failed, I must say that this is a very important achievement and a milestone for the president.

And historians will look back on this as a signature achievement of the Obama presidency and whether it took 12 months or 14 months or 15 months, the fact is that he and his Democratic colleagues will have done it.

Having said that, I think there are substantial questions about the internals of the bill, the substance of the bill, whether it's actually going to work as advertised. I think it is particularly weak on its promise to bring down the cost of health care, and that we're very likely to face continuing battles on that, and Gloria Borger is absolutely right about the politics of this. And winning the war, the White House did lose the battle over the message and they've got some uphill politics to fight.

MALVEAUX: Well, let's talk about that here, the message here, because it is interesting to see this poll. Despite the wrangling, and really the infighting that has gone here, if you take a look at this, a majority of Americans still believe that Democratic leaders in Congress are taking our country in the right direction. If you look at the numbers, 51 percent say right direction compared to Republican leaders of 42 percent. And it is going up. It is going up here. So, it looks like that the Democrats at least now are coming out on the winning end of this.

BORGER: Well, I think that the Democrats would like the 2010 election to be tomorrow if that poll is accurate. I think what is reflected in that poll is probably that folks have not seen what they would consider to be a constructive coherent alternative from the Republicans on this. I think that, you know, the public is skeptical. They are skeptical about health care, but they're also skeptical about what Republicans have been offering as an alternative here.

BRAZILE: There is a point that we need to all make. A large chunk of the opposition to health care reform is not coming from those who oppose it, it's coming from those who support it but believe that the current bill is not going further enough. So that's one thing that we should acknowledge as we go forward in this debate is to look at the elements of the bill that the vast majority of the Americans care about, but for reasons that some of you have mentioned, people in the Senate did not support it.

HANRETTY: I find the numbers a little dubious. I think that, look, poll numbers have to be taken into a larger context. We are seeing the generic number slip for the Democrats overall. People are not happy with the direction of the country. I don't think that that means that people think that the Republicans would take the country in the right direction. Quite frankly, I don't think that 43 percent of Americans think Republican leaders have the right policies. I think that number seems too high right now. I think it is a very anti- incumbent, and I think 2010 is going to come down to who is the candidate who is going to do the least amount of harm.

MALVEAUX: Let's let David get in real quick here.

GERGEN: It does seem to me that the trend lines are pretty obvious here in the last few months, and that is that they are moving in the Republican direction. The Democrats continue to have an advantage, but the trend lines are moving in the wrong direction for them.

In some ways, I think it is remarkable how well the Republicans are doing given the fact that they haven't, you know that they haven't presented many ideas on any fronts. From their point of view, one of the good things that's happening now is they're finally getting their leadership and the Congress to get on television instead of having Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and others be the face of conservativism, which has made a lot of Republicans uncomfortable.

And I think they finally moved it into getting John McCain out. Mitch McConnell frankly gave one of the best speeches I've ever seen give on the floor the other night just before the cloture vote. But the trend lines are favoring the Republicans, and the Democrats have a reason to be scared. But the Democrats now, maybe they can shift the argument back as Donna Brazile has been doing here to the substance of what's in this health care bill.

MALVEAUX: All right, we're going to have to leave it here. David, Karen, Donna, Gloria, thank you so much for joining us. Happy holidays.

BRAZILE: See you tomorrow though.

MALVEAUX: We are going to work tomorrow.

BRAZILE: We're like the Senate. We work around the clock here.

MALVEAUX: Absolutely, we will all be back here tomorrow. Plus, the best Christmas present he could ever hope for. A U.S. man learns the long legal saga over his son's custody may finally be over.

And tears in court today from a father whose hoax fooled millions.


MALVEAUX: The Brazilian relatives of 9-year-old Sean Goldman are getting closer to a deadline to hand him over to his dad. David Goldman is in Rio right now waiting to bring his son home to New Jersey after a long and painful custody battle. CNN's Ines Ferre is following this story with us. And what do we know about how close he is to bringing his son home?

INES FERRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know that he is very close to bringing him home. The lawyer for the Brazilian family said today that they would not putting up anymore roadblocks. What they want now is a smooth handover in the interest of the boy's well-being.


FERRE (voice-over): David Goldman is closer than ever to the moment he has been waiting for. At this Rio hotel, he has been meeting with attorneys to plan the handover of his 9-year-old son, Sean. Goldman has made more than 10 trips to Rio during a five-year international custody battle.

The boy's mother passed away last year giving birth to another child. Now Sean's Brazilian family has waved the white flag, saying no more appeals. Brazil's chief justice ruled the boy must be returned to his biological father.

The Goldmans are overjoyed, but the other side of the family heartbroken. Sean's maternal grandmother wanted the boy's testimony to be heard in court. Silvana Bianchi told CNN: "Sean is very sad because it has never been his desire to go back to the States. He got especially disappointed about not having the right to speak in his own country about what he wanted for himself."

But the court agreed with the Goldmans that Sean was too young to have a say in the matter. Now it seems very likely he will leave for the U.S. on Thursday, where his paternal grandparents await his arrival.

BARRY GOLDMAN, GRANDFATHER OF SEAN GOLDMAN: I'm going to hug him and kiss him and tell him how much I love him and how much I have missed, and go on from there. I just can't wait.


FERRE: And just moments ago, Suzanne, we spoke with Congressman Chris Smith, who told CNN that this handover is going to be incredibly emotional and sensitive. It is going to be an emotional and sensitive process for both sides, and that he told us also that he really can't believe the level of pressure that Sean seems to be under. A regional court in Brazil says the handover must happen by 9:00 a.m. tomorrow morning local time in Rio. Suzanne? MALVEAUX: OK, we will all be looking for that moment. Thank you so much, Ines.

Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey is in Brazil with David Goldman as he waits to be reunited with his son. Now we just got some tape of Congressman Smith. He is talking about Goldman's hopes and his fears. I want you to listen to this.


REP. CHRIS SMITH (R), NEW JERSEY: David is very guarded in his emotions, because he has had so many disappointments in the past. But, he does believe that the 9:00 a.m. deadline is relatively firm, and he is very, you know, he is optimistic. He can't wait to see his son and to be together again for the rest of their lives.


MALVEAUX: Congressman Chris Smith speaking to reporters in Brazil.

I want to bring in back Alina Cho where she is monitoring the other top stories that are coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. Alina, what are you working on?

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, he wanted a reality show, and now the Colorado father behind the so-called "balloon boy hoax" will get a dose of it behind bars. A judge today sentenced Richard Heene to 90 days, including 60 days in work release. His wife Mayumi gets 20 days. The two of course admitted they made up that famed October stunt, more like infamous, when they claimed that their 6-year-old son, Falcon, was trapped inside a runaway balloon.

Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler is in rehab to treat an addiction to pain killers. A statement today said the rocker took the medication to cope with performance injuries that he suffered over a decade. After a canceled summer tour, the 61-year-old says he is eager to return to his band.

And lunch for workers at New York's Ground Zero is up in the air, literally. A new Subway sandwich shop, look at that, is being lifted by crane as 105 floors of the Freedom Tower are built. Here is the good part or the bad part depending on how you look at it. As the tower rises, so will the shop. The large yellow shipping container draped with the American flag has a built-in clientele, of course. Should be a hot spot for a while, Suzanne, considering the tower won't be finished for at least two years. How would you like to be the guy making the sandwiches inside of that rising container?

MALVEAUX: It would be a little scary. All right, thank you.

Erica Hill is here with a preview of "CNN TONIGHT." Hey, Erica.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Suzanne. Coming up at the top of the hour, unemployment is at 10 percent, and 80 percent of Americans we learned say that the economy is in the tank. But there is one industry that is booming.

'Tis the season for bright ideas it turns out, and tonight we'll take a look at the real power of those new LED Christmas lights. You may be surprised. Please join us for that and a whole lot more coming up at the top of the hour, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: All right, thanks, Erica. Well it is a Christmas miracle for one family. Their teenage son not only survived being set on fire, now he gets to go home for the holidays, but he is still facing a horribly painful recovery.

Plus, a health crisis for the wife of a former presidential candidate. New details of her condition.


MALVEAUX: A mother says it is all her son wanted for Christmas. A doctor said that it is nothing short of a miracle. A 15-year-old boy is out of the hospital after an attack which doctors say should have kept him in there for several more months. Now, this is the boy who was doused with alcohol, set on fire, and suffers burns over virtually every part of his body. Catherine Callaway is in the CNN Center in Atlanta with the very latest. It really is a miraculous story that he is able to be there with his family.

CATHERINE CALLAWAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, wishes and miracles all granted in this story. Michael Brewer's mother Valerie said her son has already received the only Christmas present that he did want, and that was to be released from the hospital.


CALLAWAY (voice-over): Tuesday night was Brewer's first night at home since the October 12th incident which left him with second- and third-degree burns over two-thirds of his body. She says she's proud of her son's ability to fight for survival.

VALERIE BREWER, MOTHER OF MICHAEL BREWER: I'm just ecstatic. He's just so -- so incredible, his strength, his determination, his -- his will to survive. You're going to make me cry. He is just incredible.

CALLAWAY: Michael's therapy will continue. And he is still in excruciating pain. Physicians say he will likely spend the rest of his life recovering from his burns.

It was his hard work, they say, that led to his release from the hospital months before they expected.

DR. LOUIS PIZANO, JACKSON MEMORIAL BURN CENTER: The same thing happened to him as we would inspect. And he had a number of infections. He took a turn for the worse. And at one point we were not even sure whether or not he was going to survive these injuries. Once he recovered from it and he started to -- to turn around, he progressed very, very quickly. And the real reason for that is because of Michael's stamina, his endurance and his basically desire to improve. CALLAWAY: Brewer was doused with alcohol and set on fire. Three of his classmates have been charged with the attack, which police say evolved from a dispute over $40 and a bicycle. The family is now in an undisclosed location, where they say they will remain, because they do not feel safe going back to their neighborhood.

The suspect's families all live within five blocks. And Michael mother's says he fears for his life.

BREWER: He still wakes up with nightmares at night. It's just like when you come home from war. The veterans, they -- they deal with post-traumatic stress syndrome. And that's what Michael deals with. He wakes up having night terrors every night. And I'm sure that he will have to deal with this for the rest of his life.

CALLAWAY: Three of the teens accused in the attack, Denver Jarvis and Matthew Bent, both 15, and Jesus Mendez, 16, have been charged as adults with one count of attempted murder. If convicted, they could each receive 30 years in prison. All three have pleaded not guilty.


CALLAWAY: And Valerie Brewer says that family and all of her new Facebook friends have actually helped her stay positive through this ordeal. And Michael still needs an enormous amount of pain killers just to do everyday simply things like take a shower. But she says that her son is happy to be back in a homey environment. He is looking forward to spending this Christmas with his family, but he does have a very long road of recovery ahead of him, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: A real resilient young man. Thank you so much, Catherine.

Former President Jimmy Carter's open letter to the Jewish people. What he has to say about some of his quote "words and deeds."


MALVEAUX: On our political ticker, former President Jimmy Carter says he is sorry if any of his words and deeds have upset members of the Jewish community. Carter wrote in an open letter to the Jewish people this week saying he hopes that the New Year will bring peace between Israel and its neighbors. The former president has been criticized by some Jews for a book that he wrote comparing Israel's treatments of Arabs in the West Bank in Gaza to the racial oppression that once existed in South Africa.

A feud over debates in the Massachusetts Senate race. Republican Scott Brown is urging Democrat Martha Coakley to agree to more face- offs as they vie for the seat held by decades by the late Senator Ted Kennedy. Coakley has agreed to take part in some debates, but only those that include third party candidate Joseph Kennedy, who is no relation to Ted Kennedy. Now Brown suggests that Coakley is using this as an excuse. CNN has invited the candidates to participate in a live debate on January 10th, nine days before the special election. Senator John Kerry's wife confirms that she is battling breast cancer. Teresa Heinz Kerry says that the cancer was first discovered when she had her annual mammogram last September. Now the "Associated Press" reports that the 71-year-old heiress to the Heinz ketchup fortune will undergo five days of radiation next month. Heinz Kerry tells the "A.P" that she disagrees with the federal panel's recent recommendation that women in their 40s don't need to have routine mammograms.

A hall of fame for scary Santas. Jeanne Moos finds it most unusual.


MALVEAUX: Here's a look at today's hot shots. In Canada, the 2010 Winter Olympic torch is passed along on the edge of Lake Erie. In Pakistan, a man and his three children pile on and go for a bike ride. In Washington, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley and Democratic Senator Kent Conrad share a laugh on Capitol Hill. And in China, a sea lion gets in the holiday spirit as a trainer dresses it up as Santa. Hot Shots, pictures worth 1,000 words.

So not exactly the jolly old guy from the night before Christmas. Jeanne Moos finds some Santas most unusual.



JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When the first dog Bo was barking at him.

M. OBAMA: He hasn't seen Santa before.

MOOS: When bank robbers are dressing up like him.

RICHLYN JONES, WITNESS: He took his little red sack and pulled out a gun and told everybody to be still.

MOOS: It makes you wonder, yes, but how do you know if he's been bad or good? Naughty or nice? Or maybe just sketchy, the kind to end up on the new Sketchy Santas Web site.

WILL ZWEIGART, CREATOR, SKETCHYSANTAS.COM: On the site, we really like to celebrate a lot of the more retro Santa photos because those are really the funniest. And part of the reason why is I think the standard for who can be a Santa was lower back them.

MOOS: Would Santas like this make it into a modern mall in this age of background checks.


MOOS: How would she have reacted to a one-eyed Santa or a masked Santa?

ZWEIGART: Pretty scary, right?

MOOS: And why, someone wondered, is Santa wearing a woman's watch?

ZWEIGART: Everyone can relate to that first time being pushed onto a scary stranger's lap in the mall.

MOOS: Will Zweigart started Sketchy Santas and encourages photo submissions.

ZWEIGART: By far, the most popular picture on the site is actually a grown man sitting on Santa's lap wearing a Speedo and a saxophone.

MOOS: Santa is not the sketchy one in this picture. Movies like "Bad Santa" in which he smokes, drinks and carouses don't help Saint Nick's image. And forget visions of sugar plums when your Santa comes from the crypt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Naughty or nice?

MOOS: The guy who robbed a Nashville bank Tuesday was definitely naughty. But even this Santa gone bad managed to stay in character.

JONES: And he explained that he was robbing the bank because Santa had to pay his elves.

MOOS: And it's not just Santa. Police in Florida arrests Merry Christmas this month. Merry allegedly got belligerent and the arresting officer had to put her in a bent arm take down. And what is your take on this sketchy Santa? Posted one wit, so that is how elves are made. No wonder Bo was barking.

M. OBAMA: Quiet, quiet. His eyes, how they twinkle. His dimples how merry.

MOOS: Did she say merry or scary?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't drink and drive. You might spill it.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


MALVEAUX: Well, tomorrow is Christmas Eve. We're going to be working here in THE SITUATION ROOM, so join us at 4 p.m. Eastern for the latest on the landmark health care legislation vote in the U.S. Senate. I'm Suzanne Malveaux in THE SITUATION ROOM. Up next, "CNN TONIGHT."