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THE SITUATION ROOM
Should Reid Resign?; Home-Grown Jihadists
Aired January 11, 2010 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CAFFERTY: "Mr. Reid made an unfortunate mistake. He's apologized. His apology has been accepted by the president. Having been in public service for 40 years, I know how hard it is to always say the right thing. Then when you blow it, you hope people can put it in context and forgive you.
If you want to read more on this, check my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Will do, Jack.
And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, he wouldn't confess to Congress, but one of the biggest stars of baseball's modern era now admits he used steroids. Why former slugger Mark McGwire is finally coming clean.
Eight years after the Guantanamo detention center opened, there are now new images of detainees looking peaceful and pious.
Does this put new pressure on the White House?
And Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid says he's apologized enough for racial remarks he made during the presidential campaign.
If the president's not offended, why are some Republicans so outraged?
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Eight years after the detention center opened at Guantanamo Bay, new images are emerging of terror suspects looking peaceful and pious.
Does that represent a new headache for the Obama administration?
Brian Todd is here.
He's been looking into this -- Brian, what are we seeing and hearing?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, new images, Wolf. Some we had gotten a couple of years ago, some that we're seeing for the first time.
Today, as Wolf mentioned, the eighth anniversary of the day those first detainees arrived at Guantanamo. Some images from today are hitting home the political difficulty the White House is facing in trying to close the facility.
TODD: (voice-over): He looks serene and thoughtful as he kneels in prayer -- this photograph, previously obtained by CNN, is of alleged 9/11 mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, at the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay -- a sharp contrast from the image of his capture in Pakistan a few years earlier.
This is one of several photographs just printed by the "Miami Herald" of current and former detainees at Guantanamo. "The Herald" got the photos from families of the detainees. They were taken by the International Community of the Red Cross.
Some of these men are smiling, but it's not clear why.
Al Qaeda analyst Jarret Brachman, who helped CNN obtain some of the photographs from an Arabic Web site, says this is another example of the complexity of the war on terror.
JARRET BRACHMAN, AUTHOR, "GLOBAL JIHADISM": I think the hard part here is that they all kind of look like pious Muslims, some of whom were picked up for, you know, being in the wrong place at the wrong time; others planned 9/11. And so trying to figure out who is really bad, you know, among them and who -- who's not, it is very complicated. And that's precisely Al Qaeda's goal.
TODD: Another photo posted by "The Herald" which CNN had obtained from the Arabic Web site is of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's nephew, Amar al-Baluchi (ph), holding up the Koran.
"The Herald" released these images to coincide with the eighth anniversary of the detention center's opening.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Detainees down!
TODD: That, along with this protest at the White House by a group representing current detainees, illustrates the political dilemma for the White House as it tries to close Guantanamo.
An attorney for one detainee, whose transfer back to Yemen was halted by the Obama administration, says the White House should have been working harder to reintegrate these men back in their home countries if it was concerned about security.
PARDISS KEBRIAEI, ATTORNEY FOR YEMENI DETAINEE: The energy should go toward providing support services, providing compensation, providing a framework that would allow people who are being returned to reintegrate successfully. Certainly, that's needed. These men have been through eight years of trauma.
TODD: (on camera): And that takes time to set up, right?
KEBRIAEI: That -- the administration has had a year to look at these cases.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
TODD: An administration official told us today the president is as committed now as he's ever been to closing Guantanamo. But White House officials also say they have to continue their review of each case to determine the security risks and how these detainees will be dealt with once they're transferred, Wolf.
That went into, of course, that decision to halt, for now, those transfers of -- of the detainees to Yemen.
BLITZER: And the Obama administration is still taking some new heat over its plans to transfer some of those determines from GITMO to a maximum security prison in Illinois.
TODD: They're taking heat from the left on that and from the right. An administration official told us today that they are committed to working toward security at that Tompson Correctional Facility in Illinois. Specifically, they want to make it more secure than that supermax facility in Colorado, where, they add, no inmate has ever escaped.
BLITZER: Brian Todd on the story for us, as he always is.
Thank you, Brian.
There are 198 detainees remaining at Guantanamo Bay, at the detention center there in Cuba. More than 90 of them are from Yemen. Twenty -- 21 Yemenese have been released from Guantanamo, 14 of them during the Bush administration, seven during the Obama administration. In all, the Bush administration transferred 532 GITMO detainees. Forty-two have been moved out by the Obama administration over the past year.
They committed some of the most heinous crimes imaginable and served out their sentences, but some are being held against their will. They're sex offenders and, in some cases, pedophiles. And now the U.S. Supreme Court is about to consider their plight.
CNN's Kate Bolduan has more -- Kate.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the justices will hear supporters say the goal of civil commitment is to keep the worst of the worst off the streets. But critics say it's undue punishment.
BOLDUAN: (voice-over): January 1973, 13-year-old Martin Andrews abducted off a Virginia street.
MARTIN ANDREWS, SUPPORTS CIVIL COMMITMENT: He looked at me and he said, I've got bad news for you, you've just been kidnapped. BOLDUAN: He was sexually assaulted by a pedophile on parole for two similar attacks, then left for dead.
ANDREWS: And I was buried out in the middle of nowhere, you know, with a chain around my ankle. I was going nowhere. I was going to die there.
BOLDUAN: Almost 30 years later, when Andrews found out his attacker was getting out of prison, he made it his mission to stop him.
ANDREWS: It was incredibly frightening to me, because I lived -- and continue to live every day -- what he did to me. I don't want another child to have to go through that.
BOLDUAN: Andrews got Virginia lawmakers to enforce what's called a civil commitment law. It lets the government keep sexual offenders who've served their prison time locked in treatment centers indefinitely.
(on camera): So, essentially, you think there are some who are too dangerous to be out?
ANDREWS: To be released. You're exactly right. They are too dangerous to walk our streets.
BOLDUAN: (voice-over): Supporters say it's the only foolproof way to keep sexual offenders from striking again.
But critics say there's little treatment works to justify taking away their freedom.
This man is a convicted sexual offender. Seen here with his attorney, he asked not to be identified by name. Days before getting out of prison, a judge ordered him into civil commitment.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is double jeopardy. You're not able to leave on your own free will. You're locked up 24/7. It's no different than -- than being in jail or in prison.
BOLDUAN: One of the few ever released from civil commitment, he says he now lives a quiet life, albeit under constant surveillance.
(on camera): Some people, when they see this story, they'll say, it -- it doesn't matter, a sexual offender is too dangerous and should be locked up forever.
Are -- are they wrong?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Many of them are wrong. That is a misconception, that all sex offenders are going to repeat and all sex offenders should be locked away for the rest of our -- their lives.
BOLDUAN: Twelve years ago, the Supreme Court said state civil commitment laws are Constitutional if the goal is treatment, not punishment. Now the court will decide if this can apply to federal prisoners, raising questions of whether civil commitments should be allowed at all.
(voice-over): About 20 states allow civil commitment for sexual offenders. An estimated 4,000 are being held. The reality -- there's a human cost on both sides.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I had served my time for what I did and I didn't feel like that I should be incarcerated again.
ANDREWS: It's not the best tool. I mean it's -- it is -- it is the only tool that we have that is 100 percent effective.
BOLDUAN: But opponents argue it's a dangerous slippery slope to allow the government to hold people indefinitely -- in a case that's both sensitive and emotionally charged -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Kate Bolduan at the U.S. Supreme Court for us.
An important case, indeed.
The Cafferty File is coming up right after the break.
Also, baseball legend Mark McGwire comes clean -- his stunning confession about steroids.
And happening now, President Obama is sitting down one-on-one with CNN political analyst, Roland Martin. We're standing by for excerpts, including his comments on Senator Harry Reid.
And controversy swirling around Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and his remarks about Barack Obama. Firestorm over race -- we'll talk about it with James Carville, Soledad O'Brien and Georgetown University professor, Michael Eric Dyson.
BLITZER: Let's get right to Jack Cafferty for The Cafferty File -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: Wolf, they see everything -- and I mean everything. That's apparently all right, though, with people since that failed Christmas bombing plot where that Muslim extremist tried to blow up an airplane bound for Detroit.
A majority of Americans say they're willing to submit to screening at airports using full body scanners -- machines that can look underneath your clothing. A new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation shows 79 percent of those polled say U.S. airports ought to use this technology. Seventy-two percent say they would not be concerned about airport security using a full body scanner on them. Eighty-two percent say they would prefer the full body scanner to a pat down by a security guard. Also, the survey shows only 18 percent of those polled think the full body scanners pose any sort of health risk.
But there's some debate about the safety of this technology meant to detect bombs or weapons underneath people's clothing. These scanning machines deliver small doses of radiation, equal to about 1 percent of the radiation in a dental x-ray. To millions of travelers, radiation experts say, it's such a small amount, the risk to individuals is next to nothing. But some expect the technology will result in a few additional cancer deaths because radiation is cumulative in the human body.
Health questions aside, more focus has been on the privacy issues. The ACLU says full body scans amount to a virtual strip search.
The Obama administration is planning to put hundreds more machines in U.S. airports and is urging other countries around the world to do the same thing.
So here's the question -- are machines that can look under your clothes the answer to airport security?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jack Cafferty, thank you.
All right. Roland Martin is here, our CNN political analyst.
He just came over from the White House -- not very far away. You had an opportunity to sit down with the president of the United States one-on-one. We're going to have tape of some of that interview. That's coming up. But give us the headlines. Give us a little bit of what the president told you.
ROLAND S. MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, we -- we were talking about a variety of issues dealing with African- Americans for an MLK special on TV One cable network airing next Monday.
We talked about Senator Harry Reid and that particular issue. And he was clearly prepared for the question. He said that, clearly, he use inartful language, but he also called him a very good man who has been on the right side of history in terms of his legislation.
He said the issue that we also must look at in terms of as how this whole thing plays out -- and that is, that people on television, you know, Republicans and Democrats going back and forth and you don't have any true conversation about the issues that he was talking about, about issues of race in this country.
BLITZER: Because, as you know, he himself has been criticized -- the president -- for not wanting to talk about race as much as some would like him to discuss it.
MARTIN: Yes. And, actually -- and -- and we talked a bit about that. And we talked -- he said, look, when he laid out his race speech, he said the advantage that he had there was, it wasn't a "got you" moment. He had 45 moments to lay out this whole issue of -- of how we talk about race. He said if we only discuss race in this country in the real quick tit for tat, no one learns from that. But if it does lead -- if this Senator Harry Reid situation leads to a true dialogue, it's actually beneficial for us. But he also -- we also talking about the post-racial notion -- this whole notion that we're a post-racial America. And he said, look, I have never said nor believed that my -- my election simply will just end racism in this country, that we have, indeed, had progress in America, but there's a long way for us to go and everyone must be -- everyone must be working toward that goal in terms of looking at people and providing opportunities regardless of color.
BLITZER: Did the president say to you what he thought was inartful -- I think that's the word you used -- about Harry Reid's comments?
MARTIN: Well, he didn't get into the notion of what he considered to be inartful, just, you know, exactly just what he said, you know, off the top.
But, clearly, it was an opportunity for him -- to call Harry Reid a friend, to lay out their friendship. They've known each other for some time and in terms of the -- his character. And, of course, Reid talked about that. And, in fact, I had lunch today and I ran into Hilary Shelton of the NAACP. He runs their Washington chapter. And he said, look, he has always been a friend to us, had an A on our report card versus others who have had Fs in the past. And he said and so the kind of language that he used -- not strong, not the right language, he said. But again, he has been there day one when it comes to the issues that we actually care about. And the president also spoke to that issue.
BLITZER: You -- you've known the president for some years now, going back to his days in Chicago.
BLITZER: And you were living in Chicago. Give me an impression, what this -- what Barack Obama is like today as opposed to a year or two or three ago?
How has he changed?
MARTIN: Well, know, I -- I also talked to Valerie Jarrett, his senior adviser, about that. And she talked about that his temperament is still the same. And that is, how he approaches issues, how he looks at issues, in terms of being very analytical.
I spent some time this weekend at the -- at the U.S. Army All- American Bowl. I met secretary of the Army, McHugh. He was saying the exact same thing in terms of how he makes decisions. And so is that change -- you know, in that regard. Obviously, some -- you know, far more issues than he's ever had to confront. But, again, the temperament seems to be the same that he's always had. He's always been sort of an even-keeled person, even when he's also been ticked off at something. You never got the sense that -- he wasn't a yeller. He wasn't a shouter. Always was firm in his voice, but still very even-keeled in terms of how he approached issues.
BLITZER: Very cool. MARTIN: Yes, very cool, but -- but you can always tell with someone who is that even-tempered when they're really angry, because they get even cooler. So you can kind of say, OK, I think he's really upset now.
But no, all pretty much the same.
BLITZER: All right. We're going to get that tape. We're going to bring it to our viewers. We're going to bring you back, Roland, so don't go away.
BLITZER: A high tech missile defense system is one step closer to reality. We'll have some new video just coming in of a critical test of the so-called iron dome.
Plus, a real life Mrs. Robinson -- there's a scandal over her affair with a teenager. Now her husband is stepping down.
BLITZER: Betty Nguyen is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Betty, what's going on?
NGUYEN: Hey there, Wolf.
Israel's defense minister says it will be a few years before the country's new rocket defense system is fully deployed, but once it is in place, Ehud Barak says it will drastically reduce rocket attacks on Israel. The Israeli military today released three video clips of anti-missile tests of the system dubbed Iron Dome. You're looking at it right there. It did not say, though, when the system would become operational. But one news report says a first battery would be deployed this May.
Well, rocked by scandal -- Northern Ireland's Protestant leader has stepped down temporarily. First Minister Peter Robinson was pressured into taking a six week leave after it was revealed that his wife had an affair with a 19-year-old man. She was 58 at the time. She also helped raise tens of thousands of dollars for her lover's business. Robinson says he has done nothing wrong and told his wife to repay the loans that she secured for her boyfriend.
And a bold promise today from General Motors Chairman and CEO Ed Whitacre. He promised that, quote, "It won't be too long before taxpayers make a profit on the $50 billion the Treasury Department sunk into G.M. over the past 13 months. G.M. has already said it would repay a $6.5 billion loan from the Treasury by June of this year.
And the Colorado man who admitted to orchestrating last year's so-called balloon boy hoax has begun his 90 day jail sentence. Richard Heene was dropped off by his wife at Larimer County Jail this morning. Mrs. Heene faces a 20 day jail term for filing a false report. Richard Heene pleaded guilty after the October incident that captivated a national TV audience. Prosecutors estimate the Heenes also owe $48,000 in restitution -- Wolf.
BLITZER: That's a lot of money for them. They don't have a whole lot, apparently.
All right. Thanks very much for that, Betty.
Lone wolf jihadists -- should we be more concerned about solo terrorists than a spectacular al Qaeda plot?
We'll have more on that coming up.
We'll be right back.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, President Obama talking about the racial firestorm ignited by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's comments. We're going to have excerpts from the president's one-on-one interview he just granted to CNN's political analyst, Roland Martin. Stand by for that.
Also, a landmark case over same-sex marriage now underway, possibly heading, eventually, to the United States Supreme Court. We have details of the first testimony.
Plus, newly released documents detailing a racial strategy considered by Richard Nixon's reelection campaign -- details of the plan to try to divide the Democrats.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Some Republicans are calling for the resignation of Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid, but the White House says President Obama was not offended by racial remarks made by Reid during the last presidential campaign. Reid's comments were reported in a brand new book entitled "Game Change," which says that back in 2008, Reid, quote -- quoting him now -- "was wowed by Obama's oratorical gifts" and believed that the country was ready to embrace a black presidential candidate, especially one such as Obama, "a light-skinned" African- American "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one, as he said privately."
Reid says he's very proud of his early backing for then Senator Obama and says numerous African-American officials have called him to offer support since the controversy arose.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REID: I've apologized to the president. I've apologized to everyone that -- within the sound of my voice that I could have use a better choice of words. So I'm -- I'm not going to dwell on this anymore. It's in the book. I've made all the statements that I'm going to.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He wants to leave it at that.
Let's discuss all of this with our CNN special correspondent, Soledad O'Brien; author and Georgetown University professor, Michael Eric Dyson; along with CNN political contributor, the Democratic strategist, James Carville. Professor Dyson, I'll ask you first, is the White House -- is the president of the United States handling Reid's comments the correct way?
PROF. MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: Well, obviously, he's in a very difficult situation. On the one hand, of course, he has to be gracious to the man who is help him in the Senate get health care passed and a lot of other legislation.
Secondly, Harry Reid's record suggests that he's been quite supportive of the interests of African-American people and beyond. So, yes, in that sense.
But no in this sense. I think that Mr. Obama might have used this opportunity of the apology to suggest that there is some troubling consequence to talk about Negro dialect and there's something about light skin versus dark skin that needs to be dealt with.
So I think that he could use this moment as a teachable moment, to educate the nation about some deep underlying tensions, both within African-American communities and beyond, that suggests that being articulate means that you don't speak a certain kind of, "Black way."
We don't know what that means. But Al Sharpton is quite articulate. Jessie Jackson is articulate. Barbara Lee is articulate.
So when you talk about blackness, it always signifies intelligence, it signifies your ideology and it signifies what subjects you bring up, as well.
Al Sharpton is seen as black, Jessie Jackson is seen as black because they speak about affirmative action and police brutality. These are subjects that Mr. Obama has not been known for.
So it's not simply intonation, it's also ideology.
BLITZER: Well, we're going to hear directly from the president. He just spoke with -- with Roland Martin and we're going to get some excerpts from that interview. So stand by for that -- Soledad, what do you think of the way the president is handling this uproar?
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, I would have to say I -- I disagree with Professor Dyson. It's never going to happen. It's like the third rail. You see what happens when Harry Reid comes out -- and if you analyze closely what he said, he didn't actually say anything all that dramatic. He sort of reiterated conversations that people have been having -- white people and black people have been having separately for a long time.
I think many people were sort of surprised by the word "Negro," like come on, man, no one has used that word for a long time, why are you saying "Negro dialect?" So no one's -- he's not going to do it. There's no up side. The last time he did it, it ended up in the beer summit. It -- it did not go well. And so I -- I don't think. You're going to see the president come out and start suddenly talking about race, talking about colorism.
These are awkward, uncomfortable tricky things for regular folks to talk about in the workplace. You certainly cannot imagine that the president, in the middle of a health care debate, is going to get out there and start discussing it. I don't see it happening.
DYSON: Well, but I -- can I say this, Soledad, but the point is, when there wasn't a health care debate -- now, we know he's been president only for a year. But I'm saying to you that his -- his personal discovery with the issue of race is something that must be put on the table. I supported Barack Obama and was out there before a lot of other people.
But I'm saying to you, it doesn't have to be either/or. I'm saying let's not have a debate, let's not have a discussion about race at a point of crisis.
Why can't we have a discussion about race when there's nothing that has been a conflagration around which we've converged to have a media presence?
O'BRIEN: Because people don't want to talk about it. You and I, Professor Dyson...
DYSON: But that's your job as the president.
O'BRIEN: ...have discussed it...
DYSON: That's your job...
O'BRIEN: I hear you, but you and I have discussed...
O'BRIEN: ...this a hundred times. It's awkward and uncomfortable, ergo, not going to talk about it.
DYSON: It's awkward and uncomfortable to talk about health care. It's awkward and uncomfortable to talk about the economy. It's awkward and uncomfortable to talk about Afghanistan. It's awkward and uncomfortable to speak about Iraq.
I'm saying that's your job as the president, is to help us understand... BLITZER: All right...
DYSON: ...our way through some...
BLITZER: Let me bring...
DYSON: ...very difficult situations.
BLITZER: Let me bring James into this conversation -- go ahead, James.
JAMES CARVILLE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I'm perfectly willing to listen.
BLITZER: I know. I'm -- I'm fascinated...
BLITZER: I'm fascinated, as well. But I'll ask you a pointed question. The chairman of the Republican Party, Michael Steele, says he should resign, Harry Reid. And he says there's a double standard. When the Democrats say something uncomfortable, Democrats sort of -- you know, paper -- paper it over. When Trent Lott, the Senate majority leader said something uncomfortable, they were calling for his resignation.
CARVILLE: Well, a, of course it's idiotic that Senator Reid should resign over this. I mean, you resign over criminal acts. How do you call on Senator Reid to --
BLITZER: Senator Lott didn't commit any criminal activity.
CARVILLE: You know, Wolf, I didn't think he should resign and went on this network and said so. If people ask for forgive any, our obligation, and John Lewis came forward, if he -- I didn't think he should have resigned, but I don't think it's even comparable, and people have pointed this out time and time again to what Senator Reid set and what Senator Lott said. That's comparing apples and oranges. Senator Reid was having a conversation with a journalist that took place about 10 million different times across the country. But I think when people saying something like he said, maybe we could say it was inelegant or wished he could have said it differently, but a number of people point out it's not a conversation that anyone -- during the years ago 2008.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Remember, Wolf, what Trent Lott was doing and what Harry Reid were doing, two different things. Harry Reid was wowed by President Obama. Harry Reid thought it was the greatest thing that leaves a black man who could become president because of these amazing skills. Trent Lott totally different thing. He was supporting segregationist, sorry that he hadn't won, because the way the world was now was a result of that. Very, very, very different.
BLITZER: Michael Eric Dyson, let me read Peter Byner wrote today on the Daily Beast website. "Reid's use of the word Negro was, to be sure, unpleasantly retro. But everything else about his statement is undeniably correct. Political scientists have proved it. Famous African Americans have testified to it. So now Reid must be punished, because he said things about the contours of white racism that you're not supposed to say, except behind closed doors, where everyone knows that they're true." You agree with Peter?
PROF. MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: Obviously, look, the fact that lighter skinned black people get more privilege than darker skinned black people in some areas, we've had arguments about that. So even if we acknowledge it to be true, it's not something to celebrate. How do you imagine a darker-skinned African- American feels? In our own community, he got kudos for marrying a darker skinned African-American woman, who was highly intelligence, had a degree from Harvard means she's an amazing woman despite the negative implications? So yes, I agree. The reality is millions speak about this, but my point is let's talk about it in the context of intelligence. We can't either say the guy should resign or we should accept his apology. Let's have a comfort for why it's hurtful to speak about being lighter, therefore closer to the white ideal. That doesn't just affect the president. That affects millions of young children out here who are darker skinned, who have the capacity to make a contribution, but who may not be given the same kind of look or opportunity. Even if you have a black name versus Sally or Robert, you won't likely get a call back. So there are all kinds of hidden prejudices and bigotries, but I don't think Harry Reid should have to pay a price for that.
O'BRIEN: Also, Wolf, Peter is really analyzing American racism. What he's saying is an electorate would be perfectly comfortable with this guy. I don't know that -- it's unclear from the comments he made to the reporters how he personally feels, but he's thrilled with the potential of an African-American president, but he's saying this is what makes the electorate comfortable, so I think he's doing more of an analysis that speaking in a racist way himself.
BLITZER: Soledad O'Brien, Professor Dyson, and James -- a quick thought?
CARVILLE: He was articulating his view of the electorate, he wasn't articulating his personal view, I think Soledad makes a point, and again I reiterate the idea that he should resign is idiotic.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, guys. Good discussion.
President Obama is speaking out about the controversy over Senator Reid's remarks. We're standing by for excerpts of his exclusive interview with CNN's political analyst Roland Martin, who will share those excerpts with you. That's coming up.
Also, first calories, then transfat, now a war on salt, but it's leaving a bad taste in the mouths of some people. Details right after the break.
BLITZER: Our Roland Martin is back. We have an excerpt from his exclusive interview with the president of the United States just a little while ago over -- was he in the oval office?
ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No, it wasn't.
BLITZER: But over at the white house.
MARTIN: Over at the white house.
BLITZER: I'm going to play a clip from the interview, and then you and I will discuss.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRES. BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES: Harry Reid is a friend of mine. He has a stalwart champion of voting rights, civil rights. He's spending a lot of his political capital in the middle of an election to provide health care to every American, and that's going to have a great impact on African-Americans, Latinos around the country.
This is a good man who's always been on the right side of history. For him to have used some inartful language in trying to praise me, and for people to try to make hay out of that makes absolutely no sense.
He apologized, recognizing that he didn't use appropriate language, but there was nothing mean-spirited in what he had to say and he's always been on the right side of the issues. The fact that we spend days on this instead of talking about the unemployment rate or talking about how we deal with critical issues like energy and health care is an indication of why I think people don't understand what's happening in Washington.
I guarantee you the average person, white or black, right now is less concerned about what Harry Reid said in a quote in a book a couple years ago than they are about how are we going to move the country forward. That's where we need to direct our attention.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That was the president of the United States just a little while ago over at the white house. He sounded clearly frustrated by this uproar, didn't he?
MARTIN: What really jumps out, when he talks about how these type of stories all of a sudden take on a life of their own, all of a sudden it's a tit for tat and back and forth, as opposed to context, real discussions about issues of race in this country, I'll talk to other people about this particular issue and I've had heard African- Americans say they're more incensed with what Bill Clinton actually had to say than what Harry Reid had to say, but once it gets into the political cycle, the Senate majority leader makes a comment, it takes on a life of his own.
BLITZER: The chairman of the Republican Party who himself is African American saying Harry Reid should resign. The snowball gets going and going and going. That's clearly upsetting to the president.
Stand by. We'll continue our coverage.
Also, solo terrorists, do lone-wolf jihadists pose a greater threat than an organized assault?
Pope Benedict XVI isn't happy and he's letting world leaders know it.
Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Betty Nguyen is monitoring some other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Betty, what do we have?
BETTY NGUYEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there Wolf. Well, Pope Benedict XVI is not happy. The pontiff today chastised world leaders for their failure to reach an agreement on a new climate change treaty in Copenhagen last month. He says world peace depends on safeguarding god's creation. He's been dubbed the green pope for his vocal concern about protecting the environment. He hopes a pact can be reached over the course of the year.
Former NBA star Jayson Williams has pleaded guilty in connection with the shooting death of his chauffeur almost eight years old. The New Jersey attorney general's office says Williams pleaded guilty to aggravated assault, and under the plea deal he faces a mandatory sentence of 18 months in prison without parole. He could face another five years for his 2004 conviction for trying to cover up the fatal shooting. Sentencing is scheduled for next month.
Well, film maker Eric Rohmer has died. The influential Trench New Way director's production company says he died in Paris but they did not say how. He was best known for "Clair's Knee" and other films that studied the intricacies of romantic relationships. He was 89. Wolf?
BLITZER: Betty, thanks very much. We'll get back to you shortly.
After banning transfats and pushing for calorie counts on menus, New York is looking to crack down on salt. Mary Snow is working the story for us.
Mary, some classic New York delicacies have a lot of salt or sodium there, don't they?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They certainly do, Wolf. The news message from New York City -- hold the salt. The city's health department launched an initiative stretching far beyond New York, with the aim of reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes linked to high sodium intakes, but not everyone is welcoming it.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SNOW: Pastrami is the main draw, salt is a key ingredient in that specialty, and the city's plans for restaurants and food makers to cut down on salt is leaving bad taste with owner Alan Dell.
ALAN DELL, OWNER KATZ'S DELI: Maybe it's good for the health of people, but I think we should decide how to eat and cook ourselves.
SNOW: That's because New York City's health department says it's encouraging restaurants to voluntary cut salt content in their foods. It set targets aimed at 25% over five years, and the department will monitoring top chain restaurants and packaged foods to see if they meet the new guidelines. The city's health commissioners say Americans already consume twice the daily limit of recommended salt. He stresses these initiatives are all voluntary.
DR. THOMAS FARLEY, NYC HEALTH COMMISSIONER: We will put out the targets. If the food companies agree to meet those targets and follow through, we'll have a great health impact, could be saving tens of thousands of lives from heart disease and stroke.
SNOW: And if they don't?
FARLEY: We don't want to speculate on that at this point. We've come a long way in working with the food companies and setting out those targets.
SNOW: New York is borrowing a page from the United Kingdom.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This pizza full of it.
SNOW: Ads like this ran in the UK where some companies now put traffic light labels on packages indicating food low in salt. Some companies in the U.S. have already taken steps to cut salt on their own. A food industry group says it's working with public health officials, but points out there's no substitute for salt.
ROBERT EARL, GROCERY MANUFACTURERS ASSOCIATION: Our preferred approach is gradually and incrementally, and not to move too fast, where we lose the consumer.
SNOW: Monitoring sodium amounts may prove more challenging than other initiatives. So far roughly two accident health departments have pledged support for this plan. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right. They're working in New York. Thanks for that, Mary.
So how much salt is too much? The average American adult consumes about 34 to 3500 milligrams of sodium a day. Most people only need about 1,500 milligrams.
Home-grown terrorists, how big a threat do they really pose to the United States? I'll talk about that and the role of the internet preventing attacks with terrorism expert Brian Jenkins, that's coming up.
BLITZER: Is the United States more vulnerable now to terror from within or solo terrorists who penetrate the borders than it is from a spectacular mass attack? Joining us now, Brian Jenkins of the Rand Corporation, one of the world's leading authorities on terrorism.
This whole issue of home-grown terrorists, American-born terrorists. We have seen this phenomena. How big of a deal is it?
BRIAN JENKINS, SENIOR ADVISER, RAND CORP.: Well, since 9/11 there's been a total of 109 persons in this country that have been arrested for either plotting to carry out terrorist attacks here connected with the jihadist cause, put aside other issues for a moment. 109 have been arrested for plotting terrorist attacks or providing assistance to foreign terrorist associations or going abroad to join foreign terrorist organizations and help them.
BLITZER: Most have not been successful in what they were hoping to do.
JENKINS: Fortunately they haven't been. They have been amateurs when it comes to terrorist skills. However, last year there were two incidents in which there were fatalities, the shooting at an army recruiting center in Little Rock.
BLITZER: An American citizen who converted to Islam, went to Yemen, came back and started shooting.
JENKINS: He killed one soldier and wounded another and of course Major Hasan who was killed 13 of his fellow soldiers and wounded 31 others. He was in connect with one of the radical imams in Yemen.
BLITZER: This American born cleric, this Yemeni cleric. There was a third case of someone in touch with Yemen and even the cleric, the Detroit bomber the guy who tried to blow up the Northwest flight outside Detroit.
JENKINS: This is one of the changes we see taking place. For a lot of people the journey begins on the internet where they are seeking some kind of reinforcement and resonance for whatever their personal crisis and aggressive impulses are. Often they find it in the radical imams who populate the internet. We have seen a dramatic expansion in the number of jihadist websites and also a significant increase in the number of English-language websites and on these websites, we have Adam Gadahn, young man from California with al Qaeda, their spokesman. Awlaki, born in New Mexico.
BLITZER: What should the U.S. counterterrorist folks do about a cleric like Awlaki?
JENKINS: If we can capture him, obviously he's in the category of the enemy. He's work with the enemy.
BLITZER: There are reports he was targeted. JENKINS: That may be the case. I wouldn't necessarily know about that. But the point is that he certainly would be apprehended in this country and he may be apprehended abroad. Thus far though, they are not getting a really good return on this investment. Yes, there have been 109 people arrested, but this is out of a population of more than three million Muslim Americans.
BLITZER: Here's what worries a lot of terrorism experts I have spoken to. On the one hand, the sort of establishment al Qaeda leadership of Bin Laden, Al-Zawahiri. They want spectacular 9/11-type terror attacks, but the guys in Yemen want a death by a thousand pieces as some have called it. They want to look for soft targets whether at the base in Ft. Hood, Texas, whether at the recruiting office in Little Rock or this plane -- that's not a soft target, but still the attempted plane plot outside of Detroit. Here's the question to you -- how vulnerable are soft targets in America whether shopping malls, movie theaters, restaurants, to these kinds of efforts?
JENKINS: They are called soft targets because they are vulnerable. They are public assemblies of people whether public transportation or other areas. Easily accessible, not necessarily any security that people have to go through concentrations of people. So terrorists today are looking for, in many cases, an iconic target if they will get it, but they will settle for a high body count. The idea is to kill a lot of people in any public place. Unfortunately it's not that difficult.
BLITZER: Should U.S. authorities be worried, should they be thinking about how to bolster security for the soft targets?
JENKINS: I don't think it's realistic. We can proliferate inner perimeters throughout the country, surround every shopping mall, theater, hotel lobby with a perimeter. We're going to go broke doing it and it's not the kind of society we necessarily want to live in. Instead, the focus has been on improving our domestic intelligence collection capabilities and there we have had a string of successes. These conspiracies have been uncovered and thwarted by the authorities. Interestingly enough, the only two that got through to kill any people in this country were two lone gunmen. No conspiracy. That's an interior journey inside a man's head. Very difficult to pick up.
BLITZER: Brian Jenkins, as usual, thanks for coming in.
JENKINS: Thank you.
BLITZER: Stunning claims by the father of a radical Muslim cleric born here in the United States. Details of what he says about his son's relationship with al Qaeda. And your e-mails on full body scanners, Jack Cafferty is next right after the break.
BLITZER: Now to Jack Cafferty for the Cafferty File. Jack?
CAFFERTY: The question this hour, are machines that can look under your clothes the answer to airport security?
Sharon says, "Whatever Israel is doing regarding airline security is what the United States should be doing. Doesn't matter if it's racial profiling or strip searches. Just get it done."
Zoe in Kansas, "I don't give a darn about privacy but the whole issue is crazy. Al Qaeda must be having a real good laugh at us scurrying around like chickens with our heads cut off over a threat that didn't even work. The fact is there is no ultimate protection and our whole system is flawed to the core."
Linda writes from Arizona, "Putting aside the obvious invasion of privacy, there is no safe level of radiation. X-ray radiation is cumulative. At some point if you get enough, you will develop cancer. Does anyone really believe these lying clowns when they say it's safe? They completely blew it with the undiebomber and now they want to irradiate and humiliate those unfortunate enough to have to fly. I will never fly again. They can put that in their full body scanners and smoke it."
Mike writes from Minnesota, "I'll go out on a limb here and guess that the people complaining about Obama being a big government Marxist will be the same ones okay with big government strip searching all private citizens in the name of the collective good."
Jason writes from Oklahoma, "I'm so uncomfortable with the privacy violations these machines pose that I will not fly through an airport that uses them. If all airports put them into use, I'll have to learn to like trains and ships."
Andrew from North Carolina writes, "I don't have any body parts that are different from anyone else. If this technology keeps those body parts from blowing up at 30,000 feet over Kansas, I'm for it."
If you want to read more go to my blog at CNN.com/Caffertyfile. Wolf?
BLITZER: We'll do that. Jack, thank you.
Happening now, President Obama insists Senator Harry Reid is on the right side of history when it comes to matters of race. This hour a new interview with the president as some Republicans press for the Senate majority leader to step down.
Plus, should Mark McGwire be banned from the baseball hall of fame now that a he's admitted to steroid use? New insight into steroids in sports and why this confession is coming now.
The stage is set for Jay Leno's exit from prime time. Who will have the last laugh when NBC completes its shake-up on late night TV?