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Leno's Prime-Time Exit; Top Senate Democrat Under Fire For Racial Remarks

Aired January 11, 2010 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Right now, President Obama is leading the Democrats' defense of their Senate leader, Harry Reid. Republican critics say Reid should step down over remarks revealed in a new book suggesting the president had political success because he's light-skinned and doesn't have a -- quote -- "Negro dialect."

Here's what Mr. Obama told CNN contributor Roland Martin just a short while ago.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Harry Reid is a friend of mine. He has been 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 and Latinos around the country.

This is a good man who has 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's 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. And 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 of years ago than they are about how are we going to move the country forward. And that's where we need to direct our attention.


BLITZER: All right. Our CNN contributor Roland Martin is here, along with our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.

Roland, you did that one-on-one interview for TV One as part of a special that you're doing on Martin Luther King Jr.


BLITZER: The president, he seemed pretty determined to try to get this controversy behind him as quickly as possible.

MARTIN: Well, because, as he said, he knows how these stories go on and on and on, take a life of its own. And they really tried to frankly quiet this immediately on Saturday with a statement, as far as I'm concerned, the book is closed.

BLITZER: That's what he said in the paper statement.

MARTIN: Right. That's what he said. But once we knew -- once urban radio got it, once conservative talk radio got it on Monday, it was going to be all over the place.

And so I think even though this interview was not for the purpose of this discussion, but other issues, certainly, it was an opportunity to actually speak to this issue, because it did tie into the whole notion of post-racial America and this whole issue and our constant conversation about race.

BLITZER: Harry Reid is getting a lot support from Democrats, Congressional Black Caucus, not only from the president, from a lot of others. But how is this whole uproar playing in the African-American community? Because you got your finger there, the pulse.

MARTIN: Look, I have a segment every day on "The Tom Joyner Morning Show" heard by eight million people. And I will tell you, when we discussed it this morning, people said he was right. It was amazing listening to it.

BLITZER: Harry Reid was right?

MARTIN: Harry was right, because they said, look, people use these kinds of markers, if you will, to determine who they are actually going to vote for. Some people frankly felt the comment attributed to former President Bill Clinton about a few years ago that he would be getting us coffee that felt that was more egregious than what Senator Harry Reid had to say. And so he's not getting a lot of criticism even from African-Americans who are not in politics, who are not leading organizations.

BLITZER: Thanks for coming over from the White House directly with your interview.

Appreciate it.

MARTIN: Appreciate it.

BLITZER: Roland Martin, stand by.

Here's another way the president is showing his support for Harry Reid. A senior administration official tells CNN Mr. Obama will campaign for Senator Reid in his home state of Nevada next month. We are told the appearance had been in the works before the uproar over Reid's remark about the role of race in the president's election victory.

Let's talk a little bit more about the fallout of all of this for Senator Reid and the Republican clamor for him to resign.

Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is here.

Dana, the Democrats are rallying, as I said, behind the senator.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They are. Look, as you know and we have talked about many times here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Harry Reid often gets himself into trouble with verbal blunders. But he's the Senate Democratic leader because he's a backroom wheeler and dealer and has a good deep reservoir of support from fellow Democratic senators.

Still, some advisers tell me they still aren't completely sure he's weathered this particular controversy. So, he came out today to attempt more damage control.


BASH (voice-over): At home in Nevada, Harry Reid's clean-energy event turned into an attempt to clean up a political mess of his making.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: I have apologized to the president, I have apologized to everyone that -- within the sound of my voice that I could have used a better choice of words.

BASH: Those words reported in the new book "Game Change" saying then Senator Obama could get elected president because he's a "light- skinned African-American with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one."

Reid tried to put his own explosive quotes in context, recounting his early private support for Obama.

REID: I can still remember the meeting that took place in my office with Senator Barack Obama, telling him that, "I think you can be elected president."

BASH: Reid's brief appearance was his first in public, but day three of an intense Reid strategy to save his job as majority leader, starting with a quick apology to the president Saturday, followed by a public Obama statement accepting, saying, "The book is closed."

Eric Holder, the African-American attorney general, now says he forgives Reid, too, telling CNN, "I don't think that there is a prejudiced bone in his body."

In fact, when news broke late Friday night, Reid started calling a slew of African-American leaders. So far, they're backing him, saying his support for civil rights issues outweighs a poor choice of words. ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON (D), WASHINGTON, D.C. DELEGATE: We judge the source, and the source here is somebody who has been on our side for his entire political career. Why should we throw him overboard?

BASH: But Republicans are pounding Reid, demanding he step down as majority leader, calling it a double standard, since Republican Leader Trent Lott was forced out in 2002 after making racially insensitive remarks.

But the reality is Lott was pushed out by fellow Republicans trying to quell the damage. And it would have to be Democrats who oust Reid. And so far, Democratic sources tell CNN Reid still appears to have Democrats' support as Senate leader.


BASH: Now, even if Reid hangs on as Democratic leader, he was already in big trouble in his reelection for the Senate this year. He's behind in the polls in Nevada with low personal approval ratings and that's why Democratic strategists, including Reid advisers, privately say that they worry that Nevada voters, even if they don't see him as a racist, using antiquated words like Negro reinforces a perception that people back home already have about Reid and that perception, Wolf, is that he's out of touch, and that he is insensitive and that he is again prone to those embarrassing verbal missteps.

BLITZER: He has got a lot of problems now. And let's how he does with health care, trying to get that thing approved in the next few weeks as well.


BLITZER: Never too dull for those guys up on the Hill. Appreciate it.

MARTIN: Thanks.

BLITZER: Straight ahead, Jack Cafferty has a question for you.

Also, he was born in America, but wants a holy war against America. He's the young radical Muslim cleric mentioned in the Christmas bomb attempt and the Fort Hood shooting. You might not believe what his father says about him in a CNN exclusive.


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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Sarah Palin has a problem with the truth. That's the explosive charge coming from John McCain's top campaign strategist.

Steve Schmidt told "60 Minutes" on CBS that Palin was dishonest as the Republican vice presidential nominee, saying that there were things that she said that were not accurate, which opened the door to criticism that she was untruthful, his word.

Schmidt suggests such comments by Palin have done long-term damage to her public image. Really? For example, he talks about Palin's reaction to an ethics report from Alaska which she claimed completely exonerated her. Schmidt said it clearly did not and that Palin's comments were the equivalent of saying down is up and up is down.

Schmidt also says, when John McCain tapped her to be his running mate, Palin announced -- quote -- "It's God's plan." There's more. The authors of a new book called "Game Change" described how McCain's aides realized there were serious problems with Sarah Palin very quickly. Even after staffers gave Palin crash course sessions on different topics following the GOP convention, she was still extremely uninformed.

They claimed that she didn't understand why there was a North and South Korea and regularly said that Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11. Schmidt told Palin's tutors in foreign affairs -- quote -- "You guys have a lot of work to do. She doesn't know anything" -- unquote.

This from a woman who still may want to run for president in 2012 and who has just signed on as a paid contributor over at there at the F-word network. Palin's people dispute the versions of events in this new book. They say the governor has given accurate depictions of what happened in her own recent book.

Here's the question. Do you believe Sarah Palin is dishonest? Go to and post a comment on my blog.

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty, thank you. Thank you very much.

He was born right here in the United States in New Mexico, but he's now a radical Muslim cleric linked to dangerous extremists and he preaches holy war against the United States. In an exclusive interview with CNN, Anwar al-Awlaki's father makes some claiming, insisting his son is misunderstood.

CNN international security correspondent Paula Newton is joining us now from the Yemeni capital of Sanaa.

All right, Paula, why is Anwar al-Awlaki's father speaking out? He's denying his son is a member of al Qaeda.

PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, the thing that he really wants everyone to know is that his son is being compared to Osama bin Laden. He says that's just patently not true; his son is not even a member of the terrorist organization.

Wolf, this is a man who you can tell is incredibly stressed right now. He says he doesn't agree with all the things that his son has preached over the years, but he says that doesn't mean that you can tie him to terrorist acts.

He met with us for more than two hours, Wolf, basically because he wanted to try and set the record straight from the part of the Awlaki family.

Now, let me give you some of the quotes here, Wolf. He says, "I am now afraid of what they will do to my son." He says: "He's not Osama bin Laden. They want to make something out of him that he is not."

What's so interesting about this, Wolf, is that this is the polar opposite to what an American security official confirmed to me again. And that's that they have intelligence to prove that Awlaki is a top member of al Qaeda here in Yemen and that he did meet with Abdulmutallab, the suspected Detroit airline bomber.

And, also, Wolf, it's going to be difficult for some people to hear this, because I think they won't be able to square this with what they have heard about al-Awlaki, his father saying: "He has been wrongly accused. It's unbelievable. He lived his life in America. He's an all-American boy. My son would love to go back to America. He used to have a good life in America. Now he's hiding in the mountains. He doesn't even have safe water to drink."

His father says, why is he hiding in the mountains? Well, it's because the Yemeni forces are after him. They have been basically threatening him with missiles. There have already been two missile strikes already in southern Yemen, where he lives. He says he's being protected by the family tribe.

Unfortunately, Wolf, it will be very difficult for Yemeni officials to really try and take him out of that area at the time, his father saying, look, he still has hope that he can try and have his son surrender without that bloodshed, but he says he needs to time to work on that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: As you know, Paula, the al-Awlaki, called the suspect in the Fort Hood shooting massacre a hero, U.S. Army Major Nidal Hasan. What did the father have to say about his son calling this suspect a hero?

NEWTON: Well, Wolf, I put this question directly to him and he said, look, I don't agree with my son. I don't agree with what he said.

But he says, look, even if his views are controversial, that doesn't mean he incited anyone to violence. He claims that what his son said in the United States would be protected under the Constitution and that it is his right to express his opinions.

Of course, Wolf, his father understands that his son has now become a highly controversial figure and he's obviously quite anguished that his teachings and whatever he's preached has led to this.

But I have to say, Wolf, time and again, when you go back to American security contacts, they will tell you, we have the intelligence, the independent intelligence, to say to this father, look, he's part of al Qaeda.

BLITZER: All right, Paula Newton is on the scene for us in Yemen working the story. Thank you.

CNN and the Opinion Research Corporation have some new poll numbers out today. They are the first since the plot to blow up that airplane on Christmas. A majority of Americans, 57 percent, approve of the way President Obama is responding to the plot. Only 39 percent disapprove.

But when it comes to the question of whether or not the suspect should be tried in a military or civilian court, 42 percent say civilian. But look at this -- 57 percent want a military trial, not the civilian criminal court that's currently handling this case.

American taxpayers bailed out the financial industry. Is it now time for you to get your money back? How the White House might go about it, that's coming up.



We BLITZER: are learning about a move by President Obama to get payback from the financial industry for the bailout by taxpayers.

Let's go straight to our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian.

What's coming in, Dan?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Obama administration may impose a fee on financial institutions to help pay back some of the billions of dollars that was put up for these institutions to essentially survive by the taxpayers. This comes as big banks have been paying back a lot of that bailout money to free themselves from some of the restrictions, such as the compensation for their executives.

Now, a senior administration official says that the government made great progress in getting a lot of this taxpayer money paid back, that the Obama administration, the president himself remains committed to making sure that all of the money that the taxpayers put up, that they will receive in full and that a levy on financial institutions is just one option, although they did not provide any details.

Now, this comes as there is mounting public pressure as people losing their jobs and their homes, they are watching as these big banks are making record profits in paying out the bonuses, so that this would be seen, this option would be seen as one more way for the government to get back some of the money to pay back taxpayers, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thanks for that, Dan Lothian, over at the White House.

Record-breaking slugger Mark McGwire now admits he used steroids. Why did he wait until now to confess? The veteran sportscaster Charley Steiner is standing by. He will tell us what he knows about McGwire's revelation and the fallout for Major League Baseball.


BLITZER: Happening now, legendary baseball slugger Mark McGwire comes clean, admitting he was using steroids when he broke the home run record a decade ago.

Also, the same-sex marriage lawsuit that could make it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, it's now under way. Details of day one's emotional testimony.

Plus, the late-night shakeup that has Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien playing musical chairs.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. He wouldn't come clean when he went before Congress, but in a stunning announcement today, the former Major League Baseball home run king, Mark McGwire, is now publicly admitting that he did use ban steroids at key points in his career.

Joining us now, the veteran sportscaster, the play-by-play announcer for the Los Angeles Dodgers and a good friend, Charley Steiner.

Charley, thanks for coming in.


BLITZER: Here's what he says. He says: "I used steroids during my playing career and I apologize. I remember trying steroids very briefly in the 1989-1990 off-season. And then after I was injured in 1993, I used steroids again. I used them on occasion throughout the '90s, including during the 1998 season."

That was a critical season for him. That's when he broke the home run record. What should be done with this guy?

STEINER: Well, he's back in baseball now as the hitting instructor for the Saint Louis Cardinals. And I guess this is merely his first step toward that public rehabilitation.

BLITZER: Is baseball doing enough to clean up its act? Because this has had an enormous impact on Major League Baseball.

STEINER: Well, they have taken steps. And, clearly, that 1998 season, which was a magical mystery tour for many of us, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, baseball coming back from the strike, it was a very big year.

Unfortunately, it's much more -- it's a more difficult view in the rear-view mirror now than it was in the windshield when we were covering it all, because we were all, quite frankly, naive. We didn't know how to cover that story. We couldn't find somebody who was actually injecting this stuff into his system. So, it was innuendo.

And, so, for us, we were unindicted co-conspirators, all of us who were involved in the story, those were committing the steroid -- quote, unquote -- "crime" and those of us who were trying to uncover it.

BLITZER: Because, '08, that's when he broke Roger Maris' home run record.

Are you saying, Charley, because you called a lot of those games back in '98, did you know or did you suspect he and Sammy Sosa were using steroids?

STEINER: We didn't know. We suspected. We had no proof. And that was very difficult for those of us who were covering the story.

Suddenly, these guys were just ballooning up with these unbelievable muscles. Watching these guys these hit-long distance home runs, and especially Mark McGwire, at batting practice was a show unto itself.

We didn't know for sure. We assumed. As you know, Wolf, you can't go on with assumptions. And, so, we covered the story as best as we could. Here were these guys breaking the home run record. And they were very large. And, after that, all we could do was draw conclusions, but not -- and not be able to share them necessarily with our audience.

BLITZER: Why do you think he's coming clean now?

STEINER: Well, because he's become a hitting instructor for the Cardinals. He wants back into baseball.

To me -- and Mark McGwire is a good, decent human being. He's very shy, which is kind of contradictory in a public setting where he had played and now where he will be the hitting instructor for the Cardinals. To me, this is the first step back in his rehabilitation, public rehabilitation.


BLITZER: Charley is the voice of the Dodgers. He's getting ready for spring training pretty soon.

Charley, thanks very much.

STEINER: As always, thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: In San Francisco, a federal trial over same-sex marriage is now under way. And just hours before it began, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that video of the proceedings cannot be posted -- video of the proceedings, I should say, cannot be posted on YouTube, at least until the high court justices have more time to consider it.

CNN's Dan Lothian (sic) is joining us now with more on the day one testimony.

What happened, Dan?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, cameras or not, this trial has now begun. We should note that it began with some very pointed questions from the judge directed at both attorneys in this case, the attorneys playing a very prominent role here. They are high-profile, especially on the plaintiff's side.


SIMON (voice-over): He's a staunch conservative who backs same- sex marriage, yet, Ted Olson says there is nothing inconsistent about that.

THEODORE OLSON, FORMER U.S. SOLICITOR GENERAL: This gives us an opportunity. They call it a teaching moment these days.

SIMON: Ted Olson's teaching moment will take place on the 17th floor of the federal courthouse in San Francisco. It's where the former solicitor general began arguing that Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage, violates the U.S. Constitution.

OLSON: Well, the first thing to think about is that the right to marry is a fundamental right in the United States. It's a right that's protected by the Constitution. The Supreme Court has held over and over again that it may be one of our most fundamental rights, to unite with the person that you love to form a partnership.

SIMON: But a majority of California voters reached a different conclusion, narrowly approving the ban in November of 2008. Though the California Supreme Court upheld the vote, it said those who had already gotten married -- 18,000 couples -- could remain so in the eyes of the state -- little consolation to these backers of gay rights, who gathered in front of the courthouse.

ELLEN PONTAC, MARRIED LONGTIME PARTNER: To be able to say, "This is my wife," to introduce Shelly as my wife makes all the difference in the world. Everyone knows what it means. It's just a completely different feeling.

SIMON: Defending Prop 8 is a group called Protect Marriage, the group that sponsored the initiative.

ANDREW PUGNO, PROTECT MARRIAGE: Seven million Californians voted to preserve or restore what marriage has meant since the beginning of time. And if they're not permitted to do something as basic as that, then there's something really wrong with our system.

SIMON: The fiery case has attracted even more attention because of Ted Olson's co-counsel, his one time adversary, David Boies.

Does the case "Bush v. Gore" ring a bell?

Olson represented Bush, Boies represented Gore.

Hollywood filmmaker Rob Reiner helped bring the two together and came to the first day hearing.

ROB REINER, ACTOR/DIRECTOR: We have a group of people living in this country that are living as second class citizens. And it's just not what the founding fathers envisioned. We talk about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for everyone.

PUGNO: Everybody understands that this is the first stop and that -- that regardless of the trial outcome here in San Francisco, this will move on to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and, ultimately, to the U.S. Supreme Court.


SIMON: Well, one thing we need to disclose here, Ted Olson is now in private practice in Washington, but he is doing work on a legal matter for CNN's parent company, Turner Broadcasting. OK.

So, as for the trial itself, legal observers expect it to last two or three weeks, Wolf. And when you think about some of the landmark Supreme Court decisions in American history -- "Brown v. The Board of Education," "Roe v. Wade" -- legal experts say this case, "Perry v. Schwarzenegger," has the chance to be one of those landmark cases. In fact, they believe it will be one of those landmark cases.

And Perry v. Schwarzenegger, we should note that Schwarzenegger not truly a defendant in this case. He's taking a neutral position. Instead, this group called Protect Marriage, they're the ones taking the reigns in this case -- back to you.

BLITZER: Dan Simon is on the scene for us in San Francisco.

Dan, thank you.

We're digging deeper into the two couples behind this lawsuit.

Kristen Perry and Sandra Stier live in Berkeley, California. They've been together about a decade and are raising four sons. They each have two from previous relationships. They were first married in 2004, when San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom authorized same-sex marriages. But their union was annulled when the State Supreme Court ruled those marriages invalid.

The other couple is Paul Katami and Jeffrey Zarrillo. They live in Burbank, California and have been together for more than eight years. They say they're considered -- they've considered a civil union in another state, but feel it falls short of marriage. The comments are less about the content of his character and more about the color of his skin -- we're following the fallout from Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid's comments about then Senator Barack Obama. Reid called our own Donna Brazile after the story broke.

What did he say?

What did he tell Donna?

Donna is standing by. She'll tell us.

Also on politics and race, almost 40 years ago, CNN has learned now that President Nixon's strategist hoped to help him win with a secret plot to get a black Democrat to run. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: At a time when we're talking about race and politics in the 21st century, we're also getting some new insight into President Richard Nixon's famous Southern strategy back in the early 1970s.

Brian Todd has been studying some new documents just released by the National Archives. And this is pretty fascinating stuff.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is, Wolf, one of the many fascinating windows into the Nixon White House that the National Archives opens for us from time to time.

We got 280,000 pages of material today, handwritten notes, copies of documents. And one of them -- this one right here -- a plan by Nixon's campaign strategist to drive a wedge among the Democrats ahead of the 1972 election. This is from October of 1971. The document's title, "Dividing the Democrats." It lays out perceived splits among Democrats, presumably between conservative Southern Democrats and the liberal wing of the party, splits the Republicans thought they could use to help GOP candidates, including Nixon.

Now, among the proposed tactics, here's a quote: "bumper stickers calling for black presidential and especially vice presidential candidates should be spread out in the ghettos of the country. Then," it says, quote, "we should do what is within our power to a black nominated for number two, at least at the Democratic National Convention."

Who authored this memo?

Well, this paper says it's from some entity called "Research." But archivists who have been working with the Nixon material tell us they believe this memo was written by Pat Buchanan. He was then a Nixon aide. He went on to become a three time presidential candidate, was one of the original hosts of CNN's old program, "CROSSFIRE," and is currently a political analyst at MSNBC.

We have left several phone messages for Pat Buchanan and we've not heard back yet -- Wolf.

A fascinating memo, detailing their strategy back in 1971.

BLITZER: And some of these memos, also these documents that have been released, show a tremendous preoccupation that Nixon aides had with Ted Kennedy.

TODD: There are a lot of notes about Ted Kennedy circulating about that period. He was clearly the candidate that they feared most who might have run in 1972. There were notes about him possibly being surveilled, all sorts of notes about what Kennedy's plans were going to be. Clearly, he was the one they feared most to possibly run for the Democratic nomination in 1972.

BLITZER: Lots of raw material there for historians...

TODD: Absolutely...

BLITZER: go through.

TODD: It is fascinating.

BLITZER: They're going to have a field day.

TODD: Right.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

Should Democrats be worried -- a warning that union workers might sit out the next election. The best political team on television ready to weigh in.


BLITZER: Betty Nguyen is monitoring sought other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM now -- Betty, what's going on?

NGUYEN: Hi there, Wolf.

Well, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo wants to look at the bonus books on the nation's biggest banks. Cuomo today pressed the eight largest banks to disclose how much they plan to pay out in employee bonuses for 2009. Now, Cuomo has set a February 8th deadline for the information, but he did not say what he would do if he doesn't get it.

Simon Cowell says this is his last season on Fox's "American Idol." The cranky British judge says he's leaving the wildly popular talent show for a new show that he's created. It's called "The X Factor." It's already a hit in Britain and it will be joining Fox's schedule next year. Cowell says it would be difficult for him to do both shows.

And USC football coach Pete Carroll is leaving to take a recently vacated head coaching job with the NFL's Seattle Seahawks. Carroll was with the New York Jets and New England Patriots before taking on nine seasons at USC. Back in May 2008, his USC assistant coach, Dave Watson, was arrested for driving under the influence of pain medication and causing serious -- a serious car accident. Well, our sister publication, "Sports Illustrated," reports that Carroll knew about Watson's dependence on the pain meds, but kept him on until he fired him eight months later -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Betty, thank you.

Let's get some more now on the uproar over Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid's remarks about President Obama and race.

We'll talk about it with the best political team on television.

Our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger is here; Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor, Donna Brazile; and Republican strategist and CNN political contributor, Alex Castellanos. Alex, we should say, is an unpaid -- unpaid adviser to the RNC.



BLITZER: Donna, you got a call from Harry Reid over the weekend, when the comments he has made in this book came out.

What did he say to you? DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, VICE CHAIR, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Well, Senator Reid was -- was very distraught over the comments that were reported in that book. He wanted to let me know and others that he sincerely apologized for the remarks. He said, essentially, that his remarks had no place in American politics today. And we went on to take about his record. And -- and I accepted his apology. And I spent the -- the bulk of the weekend talking to members of the Black Caucus, who also had spoken with Senator Reid. He talked to a number of civil rights leaders, including the Reverend Al Sharpton and others.

And again, he -- he made a lot of phone calls and he sincerely apologized for his inappropriate remarks.

BLITZER: And so you accepted?

BRAZILE: Look, I accepted Trent Lott -- Trent Lott's apology back in 2002. So, absolutely.

BLITZER: I should point out that you're an unpaid contributor...

BRAZILE: Very unpaid.

BLITZER: ...adviser to the DNC...

BRAZILE: Very unpaid.


BLITZER: the Democratic Party...

BRAZILE: Very unpaid.

BLITZER: As well.

Here's what Trent Lott said then that got him into so much trouble and eventually forced his resignation as the majority leader.


SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-MS), MAJORITY LEADER: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it.


LOTT: And if the rest of the country had have followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either.


BLITZER: All right. Those were segregationist ideas at the time. There's quite a difference between what Trent Lott said then and what Harry Reid is quoted as saying in this book.

CASTELLANOS: Well, there -- there's somewhat of a difference. But I don't think, in all fairness, you can say that Trent Lott was saying if America had been segregationist since 1948, we'd be a better country. He's sitting in front of a 100-year-old man on his birthday saying something nice. And he also chose the wrong words.

I didn't think I would -- I would say that he was expressing some sentiment that America should be a very, very different place. I don't think any of us would say that.

BRAZILE: I would.

CASTELLANOS: But I would agree...

BRAZILE: I would.

CASTELLANOS: I would agree with...


CASTELLANOS: ...with Donna, though, that -- that Senator Reid may have chosen the wrong words to express himself. I think he certainly did. He sounds like he's at a country club in 1954.

But when you look at what he said, he wasn't, I think, trying to say anything -- anything out of bounds. I would not call for his resignation as a Republican...

BLITZER: But the chairman of the Republican Party...

CASTELLANOS: ...right now.

BLITZER: ...Michael Steele, wants him to resign.


BLITZER: And -- go ahead.

BORGER: Wolf, you'll be shocked to learn this, but it's about politics, right?



BORGER: I know we'll all be shocked to learn this.

CASTELLANOS: (INAUDIBLE) Washington? BORGER: And -- and the -- the point is that -- that Republicans want to make hay with this. They see Harry Reid is down double digits in his home state of Nevada. He's a very vulnerable Democrat, at the top of their list right now.

Why not make him a little more vulnerable?

Why not cause a little bit more controversy for him?

Unlike Trent Lott -- Republicans turned on Trent Lott. Remember that. And the president, Bush, did not support Trent Lott.


BORGER: Who was the first person who was out there supporting Harry Reid, was Barack Obama. There has not been one Democrat in the Senate who has said that the guy ought to -- ought to resign. I mean this is diversionary. You can't blame Republicans...

CASTELLANOS: But there is an issue...

BORGER: can't blame Steele for doing it.

CASTELLANOS: There's a real issue in American politics, identity politics. And that is, how do you maintain what's special about your particular background or heritage, if you're a -- a woman, if you're an Hispanic, if you're black, if you're Irish Catholic, how do you maintain what's special and different while integrating yourself into the larger whole?

You know, the more unique you try to become, the more separate you sometimes get. And that's a tough balance to achieve. I think that's all Senator Reid was talking about.


CASTELLANOS: And it's a reality in politics.

BLITZER: Is there something else that Harry Reid needs to do or is this over with as far as he's concerned right now?

Because he -- he issued a terse statement.

Should he do a full scale news conference, grant some interviews, go in depth?

BRAZILE: You know, Wolf, the problem with having a conversation about race is that it's so superficial. We don't really talk about race. We don't have the words that would allow us to have a real honest dialogue. So I think the apology is sufficient, because if we continue to just talk about race and not really get into the effects of racism -- legal segregation in our country, then all we're doing is trivializing something that has been a very painful part of our past.

(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: And the president of the United States, he -- he's made it clear over the past couple of years, he doesn't like to talk about it that much, either.

BORGER: Exactly. And look what happened to Barack Obama when he did talk about race, with the Skip Gates incident in Cambridge.

BRAZILE: He had to break open a six pack.

BORGER: He had to go have a beer summit, which diverted attention, as this is doing, from the agenda that he needs to get passed. I mean, Harry Reid, right now, needs to get health care passed...


BORGER: order to -- to keep the Senate Democratic, in order to keep the House Democratic. I mean he's got to -- he's got to do his job. And instead we're talking about this. So it's a -- it's a problem for Democrats. That's exactly why Republicans are doing...

BLITZER: Because the other problem that Harry Reid has...

BORGER: ...are doing this.

BLITZER: getting himself re-elected come November. Republicans think they can defeat him.

CASTELLANOS: And I think in a few days, Republicans are going to realize that, you know, we don't actually want Harry Reid to leave the Senate like Chris Dodd did and see a fresh face in that state. So I think. You're going to see Democrat political interests and Republican interests merge here and we'll move beyond this.

BLITZER: All right, you're...

BRAZILE: I'm standing behind Harry Reid. I'm going out to Las Vegas. So I won't be rolling the dice, I'm shooting for Harry Reid.

BLITZER: All right. I know you were working hard all weekend, except you didn't just round -- phone -- phone calls all weekend. You did go to the Wizards...


BLITZER: ...New Orleans Hornets game on Sunday afternoon.

BRAZILE: Thank you for the tickets. And I rooted for the Hornets and we won.


BRAZILE: Go Saints this weekend.

BLITZER: Donna was not working all weekend. She had a little fun Sunday afternoon, as well. BRAZILE: Thank you. A great birthday present -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Jack Cafferty is asking, do you believe Sarah Palin is dishonest?

Jack with your e-mail, right after this.


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

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is, do you believe Sarah Palin is dishonest?

Those are charges raised in this new book that's out, "Game Change," about the campaign last year.

Chad writes from Fresno, California: "I don't think she is dishonest at all. I think she's ignorant and self-absorbed, which means that she's unwilling to become educated in order to prevent her from being ignorant. This is very different and far more dangerous, in my opinion, than being dishonest."

Kay writes: "I think it's clear she's not only dishonest, but dumb. Fortunately for her, those characteristics appeal to the Republican base. Ouch."

Albert in Los Angeles: "The real story is how this all reflects on the dishonesty of John McCain, because he knew it all, but he tried to hide Palin from reporters just for a chance to be president, even if it meant that she who doesn't know anything would be a heartbeat away from the presidency."

Pete writes from Wisconsin: "Is Palin dishonest? Do the Packers wear green and gold? You betcha."

Jack in California writes: "Wow, Jack, you have a Sarah Palin question today. You never have questions referring to Sarah Palin."

Barbara in North Carolina: "If this was God's plan, then he truly does have a sense of humor. I haven't laughed so much at one single politician in all my life. Now if you'll excuse me, I have an appointment with my death panel."

Karen writes: "This woman is an opportunist. She no more believes the flap that froths from her mouth than we do. Indeed, Jack, she'll be right at home at the "F" word network. Good riddance."

Paul in Ontario says: "Yes, she's dishonest, but she can see the truth from her house."

And Tripp in Dallas says: "Jack, sometimes I look at the questions you ask and I think they're a joke. Then I look at your face and I think there's no way that this man has a sense of humor."

If you don't -- if you want to read more on this subject, you can go to my blog at

Now, bar none, the most e-mails we ever get on The Cafferty File is if we do a question about Ms. Palin.

And I am in her -- in her debt for that. I'm forever grateful.

BLITZER: She's got a huge following out there, Jack, you've got to admit.

CAFFERTY: She has a following.

BLITZER: Her book is number one on "The New York Times" best- seller list now for several weeks.

CAFFERTY: Well, to -- to be number one on "The New York Times" best-seller list, you have to sell about 30,000 copies of a hardcover book a week. There's 300 million people in this country. I don't know if huge is the right word or not.

BLITZER: Yes. She's selling a lot of books, I think.

CAFFERTY: Well, yes, she is.


CAFFERTY: And she has a following, no question.

BLITZER: We'll do this again tomorrow.


BLITZER: And Jack is a very funny guy. Our viewers should know he's got a great sense of humor.

All right. Let's see what's coming up at the top of the hour.

Jessica Yellin is working "CNN TONIGHT."

What do we expect -- Jessica?


Coming up at the top of the hour, with Harry Reid fighting for his political survival, we'll bring together a panel of top cultural and political minds and ask whether what Reid said was really that bad.

Plus, President Obama is speaking out about Reid's comments tonight. We'll have the president's remarks, as well.

Please join us for all of that and more at the top of the hour -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jessica.

See you in a few moments.

If it's "The Tonight Show," shouldn't it come on tonight and not tomorrow morning?

Stand by -- just one of the many problems NBC will need to sort out as it performs musical chairs with Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien.

Jeanne Moos lets the music play.

And Yale and other top universities are home to many foreign students. A lot of them are here to learn, but go back home to earn.

Could that be a problem for the US?


BLITZER: Here's a look at some Hot Shots.

At a zoo in Austria, two elephants use their trunks to touch a Christmas tree.

In Amsterdam, swans cross an icy canal.

In India, festivalgoers stare in awe at dozens of colorful kites.

And in Austin, Texas, check it out -- a man plays pool on his frozen swimming pool.

Hot Shots -- pictures worth a thousand words.

Late night drama is firing up at one of the other networks.

CNN's Jeanne Moos examines a Moost Unusual talent shuffle.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (voice-over): In a little over seven months, we've come full circle.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno.







UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let the ball go and have Trump at night.

MOOS: Sorry, Donald. Here's NBC's latest plan. Jay Leno would move from 10:00 to 11:30 and Conan would move from 11:30 to midnight -- 12:05 to be exact.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So it's a little weird to start "The Tonight Show" at a time when it's no longer tonight.


MOOS: Conan has himself been making plenty of jokes about all the rumors.


CONAN O'BRIEN: Both of our shows will be on at 11:30 running simultaneously in split screens.


O'BRIEN: "The Tonight Show" will be an iPhone app and "The Jay Leno Show" will become an Xbox game.

MOOS: Hey, they're both already a game. TMZ lets you use your mouse to make Conan catch his ever-changing contract.

(on camera): Boom, boom, boom.

(voice-over): Until Leno's big head gets in the way.


O'BRIEN: Jay and I being joining the cast of "Jersey Shore" as a new character called the awkward situation.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My abs are so ripped up, it's -- you can call it a situation.


MOOS: But what is the situation, TMZ asks?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you happy about the switch, Jay?

JAY LENO: Oh, we'll see what -- we'll see what happens.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't seem happy, though. LENO: Welcome to show business.



LENO: NBC is working on a solution, they say, in which all parties will be screwed equally. So I...


MOOS: Hmmm, maybe not so equally.

(on camera): You know how Leno is always do those jaywalking bits?


LENO: What separates your inner ear from your outer ear?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your brain, right?


MOOS: Yes, well, instead of jaywalking, now it's Conan who can walk -- walk into the arms of another network, like Fox. The musical chairs have tongues wagging on YouTube.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Give Jay Leno his 11:35 slot back. Now...


MOOS: Multiple choice -- was he, A, scratching his tongue; B, looking for a mustache hair, or, C, trying to make himself gag because all of this programming movement is making him queasy.


LENO: Hey, Cav?


LENO: What does NBC stand for?


LENO: Never believe your contract. But you know...


MOOS (on camera): That sounds vaguely familiar.


LENO: Welcome to NBC, which stands for never believe your contract. Thank you very much.


MOOS (voice-over): That was back when Leno was finally awarded "The Tonight Show" over Letterman. Ah, what a difference 17 years doesn't make.


LENO: Never believe your contract.


MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN...


LENO: ...never believe your contract.


MOOS: ...New York.


BLITZER: Thank you, Jeanne.

This programming note. Next week, THE SITUATION ROOM starts one hour later. We'll be starting at 5:00 p.m. Eastern instead of 4:00 p.m. Eastern. Don't forget, one hour later starting next week. You can always read more about it on -- I'm Tweeting.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, "CNN TONIGHT".