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Senate Passes Health Care Reform Bill; Mortgage Executives' Fat Checks; Father and Son Reunited in Brazil

Aired December 24, 2009 - 16:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: President Obama and lawmakers hightail it out of Washington after the Senate's long- awaited approval of health care reform. This hour, we will look ahead to a new year of negotiations before reform can become a reality.

Plus, another shocking example of bailed-out executives getting big paychecks. This time, it is mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Now, how can this happen while the firms are under government control?

On this Christmas Eve, quirky gifts you may actually never buy, but they are sure fun to take a look at.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux, and you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

President Obama and members of Congress may want to make the most of their holiday vacations that they are finally able to start right now. But if they think it was tough getting to this morning's pivotal health care reform vote in the Senate, just wait. There are plenty of differences between the House and the Senate bills for lawmakers to argue about next year. And some are afraid that those differences may be irreconcilable.

Here's our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin.


JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, after three weeks of debate, more than 800 floor speeches, and countless hours of negotiation, the Senate Democrats finally passed their health reform bill, but they are not to the finish line yet.

(voice-over): Senators arrived bright and early. But, for some, this vote did not come soon enough. On the floor of the Senate, Republicans staked their ground.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: Opposition to this monstrosity. And I want to assure you, Mr. President, this fight isn't over.

YELLIN: But this was the Democrats' day.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: Progress and opportunity are what this historic bill represents. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Kirk, aye.

YELLIN: Some cast their vote in the name of a lost champion for health care reform.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is for my friend Edward Kennedy. Aye.

YELLIN: As Vice President Biden presided, all 60 Democrats voted yes.


YELLIN: But it was almost a close call.


YELLIN: The chamber broke up in laughter when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, no doubt exhausted after weeks of negotiations, accidentally voted no.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Reid of Nevada, aye.


YELLIN: He was allowed to fix the vote. Reid later joked it was his attempt at bipartisanship. Then, a few Democrats went to the cameras...

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D), CONNECTICUT: This was an enormous victory for the American public.

YELLIN: ... while the rest of the Senate hightailed it out of town for the holiday.

CNN caught up with some at the airport. And Republicans were full of worry and criticism of the bill.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: It's bitterly partisan, unfortunate, an unsavory study in Chicago-style sausage-making.

SEN. JON KYL (R-AZ), MINORITY WHIP: Those who voted for it are going to get an earful from their constituents when they get home.

YELLIN (on camera): Next, Democrats are going to begin the tricky task of merging the very different House and Senate versions of this bill. And House Democrats are making it clear that they do not plan to cave in and simply swallow the Senate's version of this bill whole.

In fact, one top House Democrat tells us they expect that merging these two bills will be filled with surprises, some of them unpleasant -- Suzanne.


MALVEAUX: Thank you, Jessica. Well, it has been more than a century since senators cast a vote on Christmas Eve. Now, the last time was on December 24, 1895. And, back then, senators had to deal with a military affairs bill about employing former Confederate officers.

Now, what if two companies performed poorly during the year, needed government bailouts, and are on government -- under government control? Should top company executives get fat paychecks? Well, that's what many people are asking about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Fannie Mae's number-one and number-two executives got nearly $8 million in compensation. And Freddie Mac's top executives are also raking in big paydays in the millions. Meanwhile, the number of homes in foreclosure tops one million for the first quarter ever.

I want to bring in our CNN chief business correspondent, Ali Velshi, to explain, how do these companies justify this?

ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: You might want to go to another reporter for that, because it is really quite inconceivable.

The -- first of all, unlike the banks that the government has bailed out, we don't have is the same relationship with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. They are actually under the control of the U.S. government through something called conservatorship. But, as a result of that, they don't fall under the same guidelines that Ken Feinberg, the pay czar, has been putting out for the banks.

But they have also seemed to have ignored it, even though they have a closer relationship to the government and the taxpayer. They are saying that these companies are very, very important because so many of this country's mortgages go through these two agencies.

Think about it as the operating system on a computer. They are the operating system for mortgages in this country. So, they say that they need the best talent. They have got to retain these top people in order to -- to carry on and recover.

I have got to tell you, Suzanne, there has been no justification for those types of salaries on the rest of Wall Street that's been assisted by the U.S. government, so it is a little fascinating that an agency that's directly connected to the U.S. government at this point can justify salaries like that.

Now, it is not just salaries. The salaries are not nearly as high as the numbers that you are looking at on your screen. That's a combination of salaries, bonuses, and restricted stock, some of which cannot be sold for some time. So, I don't want to get too carried away with that side of things.

The bottom line is, they are not operating within the spirit of the restrictions that a lot of people have been feeling are now appropriate, given Wall Street's unwillingness to accept responsibility for its role in the credit crisis and the financial crisis, and given Wall Street's unwillingness to regulate itself when it comes to pay, particularly when they get government money -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And, Ali, considering that President Obama took the CEOs of these big banks of the woodshed when he had them over at the White House a couple weeks ago -- I covered that -- is there anything that the government can do to change the behavior of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae?

VELSHI: I would think so, Suzanne.

Once again, I remind everybody that Freddie and Fannie are under the conservatorship of the U.S. government. It is a closer relationship than the fact that the government gave money to banks on Wall Street.

So, I would suggest that they may have made a move here that's going to irritate the White House a great deal and you're going to hear about this a little more from the White House hopefully in the next couple of weeks.

MALVEAUX: All right, Ali Velshi, thank you so much.


MALVEAUX: A five-year custody battle is over. Nine-year-old Sean Goldman was reunited with his American father, David Goldman, in Rio de Janeiro today.

On the way inside the U.S. Consulate in Brazil, the boy clutched his stepfather, who has raised him since his mother died last year. The stepfather continued the bitter custody fight, but he gave up this week after a ruling Tuesday by Brazil's chief justice in David Goldman's favor.

Now, father and son are flying home to New Jersey right now on a chartered jet. David Goldman issued a statement read by New Jersey Congressman Chris Smith, who assisted him in his custody fight.


REP. CHRIS SMITH (R), NEW JERSEY: "Please accept my most sincere and humblest gratitude for getting the truth to the Brazilian and American citizens alike and for your help to make our reunion possible."

David writes: "I am grateful for the so many truly amazing and wonderful people that have put forth an extraordinary and tremendous effort to reunite our family with our beautiful Sean."


MALVEAUX: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also released a statement saying: "I want to thank everyone who helped bring this long process to a successful conclusion. I offer my warmest wishes for father and son and as they celebrate their first holiday season together in five years.

Well, a new strike against al Qaeda militants may have killed a radical Muslim cleric linked to the alleged gunman in the Fort Hood massacre.

Also ahead, a new crackdown on U.S. troops accused of reckless and even criminal behavior.

And the homeless at high risk for getting swine flu. It could be dangerous for everyone.


MALVEAUX: We are following reports out of Yemen of a major military strike against suspected al Qaeda operatives. Yemen media report, about 30 militants have been killed, possibly including a radical Muslim cleric who claimed to have communicated with U.S. Army Major Nidal Hasan. He's the one, you may recall, accused of the shooting rampage at Fort Hood.

I want to bring in our CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom, who is working the story for us at the CNN Center in Atlanta.

Mohammed, what is the significance of these latest airstrikes?

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, we have heard for months now that Yemen has been going after the Houthi rebels. Those are the Shiite rebels that are clashing with the government in the north on Yemen's border with Saudi Arabia.

But, since last week, Yemen has basically made it known that they are going after al Qaeda in a big way. They have a resurgent al Qaeda, a big problem in Yemen right now, through the country. Last week, there were strikes that killed over 54 al Qaeda operatives, according to the Yemen government.

Today, early today, they say that airstrikes killed over 30 militants. Included among them, they say, the Yemen government, is Anwar al- Awlaki, the radical Muslim cleric who, as you said earlier, has ties, apparently, to Major Nidal Hasan -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And do we know if Yemen is going after al Qaeda on its own, or is it getting assistance from Saudi Arabia or even the United States?

JAMJOOM: There has been so much speculation that Saudi Arabia is helping in the aerial bombardment, not only of al Qaeda, but also the Houthi rebels, assisting the Yemen government in that endeavor.

There has also been a lot of speculation a lot of reporting that the U.S. is helping. Now, the Yemen government has maintained for weeks now that they are doing this all on their own, although, in the past couple of days, you have seen Yemen government officials who have told us and told Yemen state press that they are getting intel and information and that kind of assistance from the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, but nothing else -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And how difficult is this situation there? Does it look like it is getting better? Is it getting worse? What's the situation on the ground? JAMJOOM: It is extremely tough.

You know, we spoke this week to Chris Boucek, who is a Carnegie Endowment fellow. He's a -- he's a Yemen expert. He told us that this is practically a failing state. I mean, Yemen has so many problems right now. You have the separatist movement in the south. They -- they want to break away. You have got the Houthi rebels in the north. They have been clashing with the government for five years. But it has really gotten bad since last August.

And you have a resurgent al Qaeda. And the reason al Qaeda is so worrisome is because, not only is it Yemen al Qaeda. Saudi al Qaeda and Yemen al Qaeda merged at the beginning of last year. They are now located in Yemen. And they have promised -- and, at some points, they have actually done this. They have carried out attacks in Saudi Arabia against the royal family of Saudi Arabia, and planned those attacks from Yemen.

So, there's a lot of regional angst about this and about what is going to be done -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: All right, Mohammed, thank you so much for keeping a close eye on that.

JAMJOOM: Thank you.

MALVEAUX: We appreciate it. Thank you.

Well, some U.S. troops have recently been caught committing serious offenses. Now top military brass are saying, enough is enough.

CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is looking into that -- Barbara.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, misconduct in the military isn't new, of course, but there's a new effort to get it all under control.

(voice-over): Behind the pomp and ceremony, trouble in the ranks and a renewed crackdown on troops behaving badly.

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Rick West has just sent a message to his sailors, calling the misconduct unacceptable, and saying it must stop immediately.

What's been happening? West said, during the past year, senior enlisted sailors have been involved in drunk driving, sexual assault, domestic violence, and fraternization with junior troops. On average, nearly every month, a senior enlisted sailor has been relieved of duty for misconduct.

Dan Lamothe writes for the Military Times Newspapers, a privately owned company that's been covering the issue. DAN LAMOTHE, "MARINE CORPS TIMES": Obviously, a bad reflection on the service. You don't want senior enlisted leaders, who are supposed to lead, you know, hundreds of troops, to have this sort of -- to be leading it with -- in a way where you question the leadership.

STARR: And, in the Marine Corps, even deeper concerns. The top enlisted Marine, Sergeant Major Carlton Kent, sending this strong signal to Marines this month, saying -- quote -- "Zero tolerance on sexual assault is the message."

The Marines have been good reason for renewed concerns. The number of victims in the corps reporting sexual assault has jumped 40 percent since 2007. The corps says, the good news is, more victims are willing to report problems.

LAMOTHE: If reports have increased, they want to get ahead of that now. They want to address that now. They don't want to see it go up again in 2010.

STARR: New training in sexual assault awareness is expected to begin next year, training that will begin right at boot camp.

(on camera): And it is not just the enlisted troops. In the last month, both the Navy and Marine Corps have relieved top officers of duty for having inappropriate relationships -- Suzanne.


MALVEAUX: Thank you, Barbara.

Well, he was the most decorated American soldier of the Vietnam War and among the most decorated in U.S. history, an amazing man. Retired Army Colonel Robert Howard died yesterday in Waco, Texas, after battling pancreatic cancer. He enlisted in the Army in 1956, at just age 17, and served 36 years, racking up an impressive array of honors along the way.

Howard, a Green Beret, was nominated three times for the Medal of Honor., and received it for rescuing a severely wounded soldier, crawling unarmed through enemy fire, even though Howard himself had been wounded by a grenade. He was injured a total of 14 times during 54 months of combat duty in Vietnam, and received eight Purple Hearts, as well as a Silver Star.

Colonel Robert Howard was 70 years old.

Well, a Christmas blizzard could be in store for some parts of the country. We are tracking a major winter storm, as well as tornadoes.

And born in a manger, but was Jesus really rich? Details of one pastor's controversial theology.


MALVEAUX: Alina Cho is monitoring the other top stories that are coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Hey, Alina. What are you working on?


More deadly violence in Iraq today -- bombs targeting Shiite pilgrims are responsible for killing at least 27 people and wounding dozens more. The attack comes as Shiites get ready to celebrate one of their most significant religious holidays. A spokesman for the Shiites blamed al Qaeda for the attacks. Hundreds of thousands are expected to travel to the holy city of Karbala for Sunday's observance.

Could the pilots have avoided that accident that cracked open an American Airlines jet as it landed in Jamaica Tuesday? That's one of the big questions now. Jamaican and U.S. authorities are now investigating that crash. And the NTSB is looking into whether the pilot could have aborted the landing in bad weather? Nearly 100 people were sent to hospitals, but, miraculously, no one was killed.

Sports broadcasting legend George Michael has died of complications from leukemia. In 1984, the Washington, D.C., personality started the first nationally syndicated highlight show, "The George Michael Sports Machines." George Michael was 70 years old.

And on this Christmas Eve, an interesting theory is floating around about Jesus. Was he rich? An Arizona pastor says Roman soldiers gambled for Jesus' undergarments at his crucifixion, which some say is proof that Jesus had wealth and used it to help people. Other theologians argue the notion of a rich Jesus is nothing but revisionist history and goes against the core Christian teaching of God's identification with the poor.

Interesting theory. Not sure if it is true, but, you know, it's something to talk about on Christmas Eve.

MALVEAUX: Sure. Absolutely.

Thank you so much, Alina.

CHO: You bet.

MALVEAUX: Well, it's going to be a white Christmas and then some for millions of folks, with a major storm that's threatening blizzard conditions in some parts of the country.

Our severe weather expert, meteorologist Chad Myers, is tracking all of this for us.

Chad, and we just were digging out of the snow last week. How bad is this going to be?


CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, it is not going to be bad for the East Coast. Now, maybe I-81, you know, the Roanoke area, could get some icing tomorrow. The problem is, that's what the visibility looks like in Oklahoma City right now. Winds are 50 miles per hour. The snow is coming down from Wichita right on down through I-35, right through the turnpike, and down into Oklahoma City, and farther south right into Dallas, at least into Fort Worth at this point. But, Dallas, you are right on the doorstep for what you are going to get, which is going to look like that.

Look, there is a car right there. You can see his brake lights. That's about it. And that's actually I-35 in Oklahoma City. Here's the snow, the back side. Here's the severe weather, the east side. The east side, those big red box -- that box right there, and there will be more boxes, that's a tornado watch box, because some of these storms could be rotating.

Now, all of this bad news for the South is actually literally good news for Minneapolis and places into Wisconsin, because the moisture that could have been a snowstorm up here is actually getting rained out and snowed out down to the south. So, we are pushing more dry air up into the storm system. We are not going to get -- I don't think we are going to get record snowfalls across the Upper Midwest.

Could be here in Oklahoma, but it won't be here, because the moisture is actually, in fact, getting used up. The storm does slide to the northeast. A little bit of a band of rain comes up through Atlanta and then on up in towards D.C. over the next couple of days.

But, for the most part, temperatures should be above 40 when all of that rain happens, so we are not going to worry about an icing event there. The only spot that I see that possibly could have an ice event would be the Shenandoah Valley.

And there you go. That's what I got for you. It's a great shot. If you can really tell, there's like a little bit of a street sign there. It says I-35 Southbound. Planes are flying in and out. I still have about 4,000 planes in the sky. We are looking in over near Orlando for the plane coming out of Brazil today with the father and son.

MALVEAUX: Everybody ha got their eyes on that one.

MYERS: Reports are -- reports are that he will be landing in Orlando here in a little bit. We will tell if you we find them out.

MALVEAUX: OK. Great. Thank you so much, Chad.

MYERS: Right.

MALVEAUX: Well, goodbye, cold weather, aloha, island paradise, that may be what President Obama is saying as he leaves Washington for Hawaii, as he soaks in a big victory for health reform. What's ahead after the president's vacation?

And what do you want for Christmas? Well, how about something called samurai underwear or a breast pillow? Could some of the wackiest gifts ever be under the tree with your name on it?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let the heavens rejoice and earth be glad. And let the sea and all within it thunder praise. Let the land and all it bears rejoice, all the trees of the wood shout for joy shout for joy.


MALVEAUX: Happening now: Pope Benedict XVI celebrating the traditional midnight mass in Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican.

It started at the top of the hour, 10:00 p.m. in Rome, two hours earlier than usual. Vatican officials are trying to ease some of the strain on the 82-year-old pontiff as he enters one of his busiest times of year. Tomorrow, the pope will deliver the traditional speech sending Christmas greetings to the city and the world.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today, a savior has been born to us. He is Christ the lord.



MALVEAUX: Right now, President Obama and his family are heading to Hawaii for the holidays. He waited to start his vacation until after this morning's Senate vote that brought him closer to his goal of overhauling health care.

Here's what he said about the vote before leaving Washington.



In a historic vote that took place this morning, members of the Senate joined their colleagues in the House of Representatives to pass a landmark health-insurance reform package; legislation that brings us toward the end of a nearly century-long struggle to reform America's health care system.

Ever since Teddy Roosevelt first called for reform in 1912, seven presidents -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- have taken up the cause of reform. Time and time again, such efforts have been blocked by special-interest lobbyists who perpetuated a status quo that works better for the insurance industry than it does for the American people.

But with passage of reform bills in both the House and the Senate, we are now finally poised to deliver on the promise of real, meaningful health-insurance reform that will bring additional security and stability to the American people. The reform bill that passed the Senate this morning, like the House bill, includes the toughest measures ever taken to hold the insurance industry accountable. Insurance companies will no longer be able to deny you coverage on the basis of a preexisting condition. They will no long be able to drop your coverage when you get sick.

No longer will you have to pay unlimited amounts out of your own pocket for the treatments you need. And you'll be able to appeal unfair decisions by insurance companies to an independent party.

If this legislation becomes law, workers won't have to worry about losing coverage if they lose or change jobs. Families will save on their premiums. Businesses that would see their costs rise if we do not act will save money now and they will save money in the future.

This bill will strengthen Medicare and extend the life of the program. It will make coverage affordable for over 30 million Americans who do not have it -- 30 million Americans.

And because it is paid for and curbs the waste and inefficiency in our health care system, this bill will help reduce our deficit by as much as $1.3 trillion in the coming decades, making it the largest deficit- reduction plan in over a decade.

As I have said before, these are not small reforms; these are big reforms. If passed, this will be the most important piece of social legislation since the Social Security Act passed in the 1930s and the most important reform of our health care system since Medicare passed in the 1960s.

What makes it so important is not just its cost savings or its deficit reductions. It's the impact reform will have on Americans who no longer have to go without a checkup or prescriptions that they need because they can't afford them, on families who no longer have to worry that a single illness will send them into financial ruin, and on businesses that will no longer face exorbitant insurance rates that hamper their competitiveness. It's the difference reform will make in the lives of the American people.

I want to commend Senator Harry Reid, extraordinary work that he did, Speaker Pelosi, for her extraordinary leadership and dedication. Having passed reform bills in both the House and the Senate, we now have to take up the last and most important step and reach an agreement on a final reform bill that I can sign into law.

And I look forward to working with members of Congress in both chambers over the coming weeks to do exactly that.

With today's vote, we are now incredibly close to making health insurance reform a reality in this country. Our challenge then is to finish the job.

We can't doom another generation of Americans to soaring costs and eroding coverage and exploding deficits. Instead, we need to do what we were sent here to do and improve the lives of the people we serve. For the sake of our citizens, our economy, and our future, let's make 2010 the year we finally reform health care in the United States of America.

Everybody, Merry Christmas. Happy New Year.

QUESTION: Do you have a holiday wish for the troops?

OBAMA: I do, and I will be actually -- I'm on my way right now to call a few of them and wish them Merry Christmas, and to thank them for their extraordinary service as they are posted in Iraq and Afghanistan.


MALVEAUX: Let's bring in our Senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry, on a very rough assignment in Hawaii there.

Ed, I'm familiar with that boondoggle you've got going on there. But in all seriousness...


MALVEAUX: Oh, absolutely.

Tell us what's ahead for the president after his vacation in Hawaii.

HENRY: Well, it's interesting, Suzanne.

You heard the president right there saying, look, this is historic, comparing it to Social Security in the '30s, Medicare passing in the '60s. And this is monumental for this president, especially against all the odds that he faced.

But he also pointed out that this job is not done yet. It still has to go through final passage, work through a House and Senate conference committee.

So What I'm hearing from White House aides is we can expect this president to be very active in January, probably doing some travel around the country like he did in recent months, but also working the phones with lawmakers. He's faced a lot of criticism from the left saying that he didn't get his hands dirty enough in the early part of this process, and that's one reason this public option got sort of thrown under the bus.

He realizes, this president, according to White House aides, that if this bill gets further watered down in a conference committee, he's really going to have trouble on the left. So he's planning to work very hard once his vacation is over to really go directly to the conferees in the House and Senate to make sure they keep this bill as strong as they can -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And in the meantime, Ed, obviously we see the beautiful surf behind you, the sunbathers and all of that. Not too bad, the next 10 days or so, obviously.

What is the president going to be doing and how are the locals here greeting him? This is his home state. This is his home. HENRY: Well, I can tell you, they are very excited here. The president, when you talk to his aides, is planning, in January, in addition to the health care work, to really focus back on jobs.

He realizes unemployment is far too high, still, at 10 percent. But for now, he wants to have a little bit of fun.

And you can see some of these. They're calling them dashboard dolls. This is sort of helping the local economy, frankly.

I have been talking to some of the local ABC stores. You have got the "Hang Loose" sign and a surfboard, the president and his board shorts.

I've got my board shorts as well. I'm all in red today because it's Christmas.

MALVEAUX: Oh, there you go.

HENRY: I mean, you need to be ready. You've got to be festive. You know, it's Christmastime, Suzanne. So I'm going to give you the full thing here on THE SITUATION ROOM. All right.

Merry Christmas, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Oh, there you go. There you go. That's what we were waiting for. That's the money shot.

Thanks, Ed. Have a good time. Get some work done, if you can.

All right. Happy New Year, Merry Christmas.

HENRY: I'll try.

MALVEAUX: Our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, joins us.

What do you think of Ed's outfit there? You know?


MALVEAUX: That's a good gig there.

BORGER: Those shorts are something else, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: You know, we pretend to work when we're in Hawaii. No, actually, we do. A little work gets done there.

BORGER: He looks like he's having a lot of fun. A little too much.

MALVEAUX: A little bit.

I want to talk about, obviously, some of the poll numbers and this big push for reform and health care.

Who comes out on top of this, the winners or the losers. Is there any sense that this might not make it through the House and the Senate and come up with a compromise? Is there any way that this thing might not happen?

BORGER: Well, you know, you never say never when it comes to Congress. I think the odds are in its favor of passage. But there are a lot of stumbling blocks they still have go through.

You know, the Democrats don't agree on a lot of this bill, so they've got to get together, the House, the Senate. As Ed was saying, the president has to get very involved in the negotiations now. They have to decide about the public option, whether it's in or out -- it looks like it's out -- how they're going to pay for this, what kind of taxes they are going to raise. The question of abortion is still very tricky.

And, you know, it's interesting, Suzanne. I think the president and the Democrats, initially, expected to get a huge bump out of this with the American public. Instead, they are heading into terrain where the American public, a majority, says we don't like this bill, we don't think it's going to make our health care any better, and it's going to cost us more money.

So they're worried about it. So it's difficult.

MALVEAUX: So what if this becomes law and then you have the policy that's enacted, and next year a lot of people are waiting around for something to happen? Is there -- I mean, is there a risk that the Democrats, for the midterm elections, might be trying to explain to people, well, eventually this change is going to come, but it's not going to come until four years later? What's the risk that they have this isn't going to happen soon enough?

BORGER: You know, there's a huge risk because this is an historic piece of legislation. First of all, I think you have to give the Democrats their due.

They did today in the Senate what folks have been unable to do for a generation. So they did do that.

But it's very, very difficult for them, because a lot of the benefits of this take effect 2013, 2014. And so, they are going to have to explain to the American people why this is good for them, and the public may not see that. So it's a very, very difficult case to make.

MALVEAUX: They have to be patient, I guess.

BORGER: Well, you know, and we're not known for being patient. So, I do believe that it could hurt the Democrats tremendously in the 2010 midterms. The question is, how does it affect them when President Obama presumably is running for re-election?

MALVEAUX: Do they need to focus on other issues, then, beyond health care reform? What do the Democrats need to focus on? And what are the Republicans, do you think, are going to focus on?

BORGER: Well, I think what we're going to see is, first of all, the president rolling up his shirt sleeves and trying to get this bill through. But he's going to make a big pivot also. He's going to be talking about jobs. He's going to be talking about the economy. Because there is a sense out there that they may have taken their eye off the ball here, that in trying to do so much, not only on health care reform, but on climate change and everything else, by trying to have such a broad agenda, the big elephant in the middle of this table is jobs and economic recovery.

And, so, the White House needs to show the president, to coin a Clinton phrase, feels your pain on the economy, and I think you will see him out there doing a lot more. They don't like to talk about another stimulus package. Let's call it son of stimulus, whatever they can do to get those jobs created.

MALVEAUX: OK. Gloria, thanks for doing a great job this week, as well, and being here for us during this vacation, this holiday.

BORGER: You too. Merry Christmas.

MALVEAUX: Merry Christmas. Happy holidays.

Well, they have nowhere to live and they're at a high risk of catching swine flu. How should health workers battling H1N1 cases care for homeless people on the streets? You're going to see how one group is actually doing it.

Also, who will be on the right and the wrong side of history, Democrats for passing the health reform bill in the House and Senate, or Republicans for opposing it? Our strategists debate.

And what do you do with reindeer, Santa? Well, Kris Kringle ditches his sleigh for water skis. We've got that video.


MALVEAUX: Well, this Christmas Eve, Democrats get a gift that they have long wanted. The Senate passes a massive health reform bill, but it appears to be the gift that keeps on giving to the Republican critics as well.

Here for our "Strategy Session," CNN political contributor, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, and Tom Davis, president and CEO of the Republican Main Street Partnership. He's a former Republican congressman from Virginia.

Thanks for joining us. Happy holidays here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


MALVEAUX: I want to start off by playing some sound here. This is Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, as well as Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, who is responding. Both of them talking about the health care reform bill vote that happened earlier today.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MINORITY LEADER: I guarantee you, the people who voted for this bill are going to get an earful when they finally get home for the first time since Thanksgiving. They know there is widespread opposition to this monstrosity.



SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: I believe that the negativity that Leader McConnell and others have continually displayed on the floor has peaked. And now, when people learn what's actually in the bill, and all the good it does, it is going to become more and more popular.


MALVEAUX: Who's right?

TOM DAVIS, PRESIDENT AND CEO, REPUBLICAN MAIN STREET PARTNERSHIP: Well, I guess they're both right, Schumer for New York, McConnell for Kentucky and the red areas. But the problem the Democrats have is this has been a very transparent process where you are basically buying those with special interests for different states.

The public doesn't look at that well. A lot of the benefits kick in, in the out years at this time. So I don't think they're going to reap the rewards that they think they're going to get, at least over the short term.

BRAZILE: I think it's hard to explain to the American people why this was needed and why it was urgently needed when one-sixth of your economy is spent on health care. I think going forward, the Democrats will have to sit down, reconcile their differences, and try not to have all of these open-ended fights in the public.

Watching this legislation being made, I call it more like Buddha (ph) and not your typical pork sausage. But there are clearly good elements in this bill, good ingredients in this bill that will help average Americans, lower their costs, provide more quality care, more access, and regulate the insurance industry. And I think in the end, the American people will buy this approach.

MALVEAUX: Is the president in any danger, however, during this holiday season? Because this is often when have you a lot of protests, the lawmakers go back to their communities, and if he's not on message, if he's not out there selling this thing, that he might lose control of the message? We have seen that before.

DAVIS: He lost that in August. He lost control of the message in August.

MALVEAUX: Right. Does he face a risk there with this 10-day holiday season?

BRAZILE: No, I don't think so. I think most Americans would like to have some peace and quiet during the holidays and turn off C-SPAN and some of these other channels and really get back to work...


BRAZILE: No, no. Of course not. But start gathering with family and friends and loved ones, watch a couple of sports games, and get back to their old routine and not watch all of the sausage-making.

DAVIS: I think they're politicked out for right now. But when they come back in January, there's still a heavy legislative schedule.

They have got to reconcile these two bills. They're very different, in some ways, how you pay for it, for one. The public option, I think, is going to go by the wayside.

The problem for the Democrats isn't just the right. It's their own left in terms of not meeting the expectations a lot of you (ph) have.

MALVEAUX: Clearly, this was a historic moment, and obviously if this does get passed it's going to shape his legacy and his presidency. But the question is whether or not he's getting out too far ahead.

This is something that I want to you take a listen to that he said on PBS.


OBAMA: I don't pat myself on the back at the end of this year. I think I have shown this year that I can make hard decisions even when they are not popular, and that I take a long view on these problems. And I, frankly, think that that's what America needs now.


BRAZILE: You know, when you consider that he's continued some of the Bush policies on terrorism, on the war, in terms of Afghanistan, you know, putting more troops in there, on the bailouts of the auto industry, as well as the bailout of Wall Street, this president, I believe he has made some tough decisions. But at the end of the day, the American people will not, you know, just grade him simply on what he did, but what he's not doing, and that is creating jobs.

They want jobs. And once those jobs return, they'll give him even higher marks.

MALVEAUX: What strikes me is that he actually sounds like former President Bush when he talks about, "I'm making some tough, unpopular decisions." We heard that all the time from President Bush. But he gave himself a B-plus when he had that interview with Oprah Winfrey.

Does he overstate the case? Is it premature?

DAVIS: Well, governing is a tough business. And I think what the Democrats and the president needs to look at is, where are they going to be from a year from now, not where they are today. What his grade is today really is kind of irrelevant.

Where's unemployment going to be from a year from now? Where's Afghanistan going to be a year from now? And I think health care will be more of a footnote. It's something the Democrats had to get through. They have to pass something. It's a box they need to check. But at the end of the day, it's what's happening on the ground.

MALVEAUX: Tom Davis, Donna Brazile, thank you. Happy holidays. Merry Christmas.

BRAZILE: Merry Christmas.

DAVIS: Thank you.

BRAZILE: And by the way, I liked this congressman when he was in office.

So we miss you.

MALVEAUX: Very popular congressman. OK. Thank you.

The number of H1N1 cases may be decreasing, but experts warn that swine flu could bounce back in the new year. The CDC says at least 60 million people in the U.S. have now been vaccinated against swine flu.

The homeless are among those most at risk for the disease but least likely to get the shot. Our CNN's John Zarrella looks at how a group of volunteers is trying to change that.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a segment of society that doesn't get a whole lot of attention -- the homeless. But there's one man here in south Florida who is making an effort, doing what he can to keep them healthy.



ZARRELLA (voice-over): Sean Canone (ph) hits the spots where he knows the homeless spend their nights -- a park in Fort Lauderdale.

CANONE: And is there anybody out here who wants the swine flu vaccine? Please come over to the ambulance over here.

ZARRELLA: At least twice a week, Canone (ph), who runs "The Homeless Voice" newspaper, along with volunteer doctors and nurses...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi Pedro. My name is George. I'm a nurse.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How are you doing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fine. It's going to be one quick shot.

ZARRELLA: ... arm themselves with syringes and vials of H1N1 vaccine. In just one month, since the vaccine became readily available...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ready? ZARRELLA: ... Canone's (ph) team has vaccinated more than 300 homeless, people like Lee Angles (ph), nowhere to live since he lost his mobile home a month ago.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a true blessing. You know? Helped me stay clean and not sick. I hope. You know?

ZARRELLA: One night, Canone (ph) got a call from a mom with two kids. It was after midnight.

(on camera): And she's just somebody who the only opportunity she had was in the middle of the night?

The middle of the night.

ZARRELLA: What does that say?

CANONE: Hard-working mom and this economy sucks.

ZARRELLA: And cares about her kids.

CANONE: Yes, absolutely.

ZARRELLA (voice-over): Volunteer doctor Chad Frank says the program serves two purposes -- helping a high-risk group and protecting the community.

DR. CHAD FRANK, VOLUNTEER: Some have high blood pressure, some are alcoholics and are more susceptible to the flu, seasonal flu and swine flu. So we are protecting them, and we're also saving the emergency rooms here as well from being overloaded with potential patients, swine flu patients.

ZARRELLA: On this night, the team only finds a handful of homeless on the street. Not all of them can be vaccinated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I appreciate what you're doing for me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we love doing it for you. And that's why we're here.

ZARRELLA: He's had a little too much to drink.

CANONE: We're going to give him our phone number and he can call us tomorrow. His alcohol content is too high.

ZARRELLA: The volunteers say they will be out here on the streets until every homeless person who wants it is vaccinated, or until the CDC says the worst over.


ZARRELLA: The volunteers say that in nearly every instance, the homeless are more than willing to get the vaccinations, and that makes the job of the volunteers much easier and the community less at risk -- Suzanne. (END VIDEOTAPE)


HARRIS: Well, Christmas is just hours away. And you want to get a gift like no other? Well, how about something called samurai underwear? Or a so-called breast pillow? You are about to see some of the wackiest gifts in the world.


MALVEAUX: Here's a look at some special holiday "Hot Shots" coming in from our friends at The Associated Press.

In Minneapolis, this passenger wearing a Santa hat studies the flight monitors to check out the status of her flight.

In Afghanistan, two members of the U.S. military take part in a Christmas Eve 5-k race in Kabul.

In outer space, American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts celebrate the holidays on the International Space Station.

And in Indonesia, one of the many men dressed as Santa Claus hands out a gift while biking down the streets.

"Hot Shots," pictures worth a thousand words.

Well, it is down to the wire. If you haven't been able to find the perfect or perfectly strange Christmas gift, here's a tip -- next year, try shopping in Japan.

Here's CNN's Kyung Lah.


KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Can't find anything for that impossible to buy person this holiday? How about a $60 gift that brings you back to the womb? Well, a little higher.

(on camera): What is this?


LAH: A breast pillow?

KILIAN-NAKAMURA: A breast pillow, yes, for a man or also for women to rest comfortably between the two breasts.

LAH (voice-over): Only in Japan can you find a Samurai umbrella and Samurai underwear, a device that records what you say backwards, or this dog bank. For just $50, it eats even more of your hard-earned cash.

(on camera): So the point of this is to encourage you to save this holiday. KILIAN-NAKAMURA: Right, right, right, right.

LAH (voice-over): Sven Kilian-Nakamura from tracks Japan's wacky inventions and sells his favorites to customers around the world primarily to the U.S. and Europe. From sort of high tech like this home fireworks projector, to toilet tech, one for the girls...

KILIAN-NAKAMURA: Replicates the sound of water flushing.

LAH: ... and this $78 stool for the guys.

KILIAN-NAKAMURA: You can still be a man and don't have to sit down on the toilet so you can still kind of stand, but you can mask your noise again by being very close to the toilet.

LAH: Japan may be a buttoned-up society, but when it comes to the gadgets, it's a free-for-all.

KILIAN-NAKAMURA: People easily in the States or in Europe, they say like oh, that's stupid, that's completely useless and they of kind of like push it down in value. But in Japan you don't this hear these kid of talks, people are very open.

LAH: To all sorts of head-scratching ideas.

(on camera): Oh, so it's like scratching the head.


Right now it looks like a normal pillow, but if I go on this one and I snore, it starts vibrating. It disturbs your sleep, but it lets the next to you person maybe sleep eventually.

LAH: So this is a gift you buy for somebody else.

KILIAN-NAKAMURA: Yes, definitely.

LAH (voice-over): As the world's most annoying clock says...

KILIAN-NAKAMURA: Last thing, why do you do this?


LAH: ... this holiday, from Japan, sometimes it is better to give than receive.

Kyung Lah, CNN, Tokyo.


MALVEAUX: Well, thank you for joining us today. Merry Christmas and happy holidays.

And remember, you can watch THE SITUATION ROOM weekend edition this Saturday at 6:00 p.m. Eastern. We'll be back here next week from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

I'm Suzanne Malveaux, in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, "Future: Fast Forward," a special hosted by CNN's Campbell Brown.