Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
Bill Clinton Visits Haiti; Health Care Reform's Fate Decided in Massachusetts?
Aired January 18, 2010 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: That's estimated. No one knows for sure.
Also, Bill Clinton arrives in Haiti today, bringing along aid and his daughter, Chelsea. We have details of his roll as the special United States envoy.
Plus, a Senate race too close to call, and the outcome could determine the fate of health care reform for the entire United States. We will have a lot more on this story coming up as well.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
It's been six days now since Haiti's devastating earthquake and the scope of the disaster is expanding to a staggering new size. The Associated Press is reporting that the European Union now puts the death toll at around 200,000 people, with 70,000 bodies already recovered.
Among the latest developments, a worsening bottleneck of food, water and medical supplies at the main airport and the heavily damaged seaport. Survivors are increasingly desperate. One doctor calls it a second disaster unfolding.
The United Nations secretary-general, Ban Ki-Moon, is asking for an additional 3,500 U.N. forces on top of 9,100 there before the quake. But many of them died in the earthquake. And the U.S. ambassador to Haiti says that so far at least 75 people have been pulled alive from collapsed buildings and the race to find more survivors continues.
But with each passing hour, the odds get worse and worse on what's going on.
The U.S. ambassador to Haiti is joining us right now on the phone.
I believe you're on the phone.
Kenneth Merten, are you there? Can you hear me?
KENNETH MERTEN, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO HAITI: I'm here. I can hear you fine, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Thank you very much.
Let's talk, first of all, about the search-and-rescue operations that are under way. Are you satisfied that everything is being done that can be done?
MERTEN: I think so. Given the limits we have, all have, all the international partners here in our infrastructure, our ability to stage here, yes, I think the teams are doing amazing work out here.
BLITZER: What else do you need, Mr. Ambassador?
MERTEN: In a perfect world, we would have an airport that's three times the size and other things. We're getting a good flow of aid. We have -- our biggest handicap is infrastructure limitations here, which have existed here for decades and longer. And that's something we are really confronting, infrastructure, which was already not great to begin with, which is now severely degraded or nonexistent in certain parts of town.
BLITZER: How frustrated are you about these reports of looting and violence erupting throughout the capital?
MERTEN: Well, I mean, any report of looting and violence is frustrating. I think to put it in a little bit of context, from the information I'm getting and from my own observations around town today driving around, I would say the vast majority of aid distribution is going along very peacefully.
The people I observed today driving around Port-au-Prince were well-behaved and calm and I thought given the situation that they're dealing with right now dealing with this remarkably well. That's not to say that there aren't pockets of people who are troublemakers. I think you see this in every disaster of this type everywhere in the world this happens.
BLITZER: The whole medical situation seems to be very frustrating. There have been complaints that others have established field hospitals, but the U.S. hasn't been able to do so on the ground yet. You have heard those reports, I'm sure. What's the problem here?
MERTEN: Yes, I don't know that there is a problem. We have been treating a lot of people here. We have been treating people, in fact, here at the embassy. There are a number of field hospitals around. We have also been helping, providing security at the general hospital, which is in the center part of town today, where President Clinton visited earlier on, which is where there is a huge number of people.
So, we are also dealing -- providing service to several other major clinics here in town. So, I think we are certainly doing our part in that regard. But, obviously, the medical needs here are huge. And it's frustrating for everybody.
BLITZER: You might have heard my report with Soledad O'Brien on adoptions. Is the U.S. Embassy ready to lift some of the paperwork to facilitate getting some of these orphans out of Haiti as quickly as possible so they can come to the United States and live with loving parents?
MERTEN: I understand that. We are doing everything we can to move this forward as quickly as possible.
What we don't want to have happen is have somehow there be a mistake and have the wrong children move out of Haiti into the United States and have the adoptive parents find out all the sudden this is not the child that I have developed a relationship with.
We also want to make sure that the children that we take out of here are, indeed, eligible children for adoption, and not somehow, you know, find out later once they have gone to the States that, you know, some person comes along and says, oh, my gosh, my child has been kidnapped.
So, we need to move as quickly as possible. I think we are. But we also need to put the proper safeguards in place to avoid human tragedy. I don't think we want to multiply that problems that already exist here by adding potentially other ones.
BLITZER: Mr. Ambassador, if you have a few moments, I'm going to ask you to stand by, because there is an important part of this story that we are covering.
Among those still message, six Americans from Florida's Lynn University in Boca Raton, four students and two professors. They're believed trapped inside the rubble of the Hotel Montana in Port-au- Prince.
One of them is Britney Gengel. Her parents have been pleading for more rescue resources to be deployed to the hotel.
Her parents, Len and Cherylann Gengel, are joining us now from Deerfield Beach, Florida. We're also joined by CNN's Tom Foreman.
This is your moment, Mr. and Mrs. Gengel, to speak to the United States ambassador in Haiti and make your case. What would you like the U.S. government to do?
LEN GENGEL, DAUGHTER FEARED TRAPPED IN HOTEL: I want 1,000 troops up to the Hotel Montana right now.
Our reports back to us is that there are six different teams working up there from different countries, and we don't have -- we have very few Americans working up at the hotel. We have lots and lots. There are four of our daughters that are in that rubble, two professors. I got a call from a woman today from Texas whose son is in that rubble. Time is of the essence. I beg you. I beg you.
BLITZER: All right. Hold on. Hold on one second, Mr. Gengel.
Because, Mr. Ambassador, you and I spoke Saturday night, and you're very familiar with the Hotel Montana. And go ahead and speak directly to these parents who are in anguish now. Oh, my gosh. I can't imagine what you're going through. I will go and talk to our teams as soon as we get off the phone here and see if we can get more people up there. You know, I completely understand. And I can hardly imagine what you're going through right now. And I hope, at the end of this, we have good results for you.
BLITZER: Do you know, Mr. Ambassador, whether or not there are search-and-rescue teams still working through the night? Because this is day six. These are critical hours right now. If these American kids are going to be saved, this is the time that we have to do it.
MERTEN: Absolutely. Our -- these teams have been working day and night. And they have been doing amazing work.
And, so, you know, the last thing I want to do is cast aspersions on their efforts, but I will, as I said, as soon as we hang up here, go down and talk to them and see if they have people they can send over there.
BLITZER: Ms. Gengel, you wanted to say something to the ambassador?
CHERYLANN GENGEL, DAUGHTER FEARED TRAPPED IN HOTEL: Mr. Ambassador -- I did. I just wanted to ask a question. I was listening to him earlier. And he said he was driving around Port-au- Prince. And I was wondering, has he driven up to the Hotel Montana? Has he gone up and seen the devastation up there firsthand?
MERTEN: I have. In fact, I live very, very close to the Hotel Montana, unfortunately. So, I am keenly aware of what that situation looks like.
BLITZER: It was only yesterday, Mr. Ambassador, we know that somebody was pulled out still alive. So, there still is hope. We all have to acknowledge that, right?
MERTEN: I think that's correct.
I'm not a specialist in this kind of work, but I certainly like to think there is still hope, absolutely.
BLITZER: All right, I'm going to let the ambassador go to work.
L. GENGEL: Mr. Ambassador...
BLITZER: You want to say something else, Mr. Gengel, to the ambassador?
L. GENGEL: I do. I do.
I heard from Senator John Kerry today at 1:00, and he was trying to get ahold of someone at the State Department. And he got back to me and said that he was waiting for an update from them.
But I'm asking you, Mr. Ambassador. There were 2,100 troops supposedly sent to Haiti today. We need to get our children out of the Hotel Montana.
You, Mr. Ambassador, have that power as well. Please direct those troops to get up there. Don't leave our children left behind. I am begging you, father to father. I am begging you to please get our daughters and those professors and that other lady's son from Texas and get them out of the Hotel Montana, please.
MERTEN: Believe me, no one would be -- except for you, no one would be happier to make that happen. And I can -- as I said, I will do the best I can to get any rescuers that we still have here that are not currently working. I will go and talk to them as soon as we hang up and see if we can get them up there.
BLITZER: That is a promise that I believe the ambassador is sincere in making. I'm going to let him go, get to work.
I know you have got a lot to do, Mr. Ambassador. Thank you very much.
And I know the Gengel are anxious to thank you as well. See what you can do to help the search-and-rescue operation unfold at the Hotel Montana. There are Americans inside, a lot of other folks inside as well.
The Gengels, don't leave, because Tom Foreman is here as well. I want to give some perspective to this story, because he's going to show us a little bit more about what we know about the Hotel Montana, what it was like when your daughter arrived with these other students from Lynn University in Florida and what it's like right now.
Tom, show our viewers what we know.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sure, Wolf.
We have been hearing about the Hotel Montana really since this whole tragedy began down there. I will zoom into Port-au-Prince, give you a sense of where it is. We have marked the major roads here that the ambassador down there told us some time -- the ambassador to the U.S. from Haiti told us some time ago were important.
And this one leads right out to the hotel down here. And as we zoom in a little bit closer, we will give you a sense of this place, a very popular place down there for many people to stay. If we bring up some images, you get a sense of what it looked like before, certainly a very nice hotel. And you can see why people were attracted to it. And it boasted a lot of amenities that anyone would like in any place you might go to.
As we move in a little bit closer, I will show you some of the details of the hotel. You can see that it is a fairly large property. It covers a large area here and some of the details that you might be interested in, the hotel was actually built in 1947. It's been around a long time, 145 rooms, five floors, and, of course, as we said, popular with many guests to the area.
But I want you to look at this, because this is the fundamental problem here. As we look at this hotel -- and I will bring it back into focus one more time -- as we look at this hotel property, you can see this is the before picture that we had from DigitalGlobe, a satellite picture. And this is the current picture from GeoEye as I dissolve through. And you can see the extent of the devastation.
Some of the stairways and things seem to have held up fairly well. But this five-story hotel with heavy concrete floors all pancaked down onto itself. Wolf, that's what rescuers are trying to dig through.
BLITZER: It's a sad, sad story, indeed.
Let me bring back Leonard and Cherylann Gengel.
I know you have hope. I know you're appealing for help. And our heart certainly goes out to you and the parents and the loved ones of the others who are still over there at the Hotel Montana.
I'm right that there have been survivors who have emerged over the past 24 hours, Mr. Gengel; is that right?
L. GENGEL: Yes, two yesterday, Wolf.
But I would like to ask Tom a question. My wife and I today stood with a very proud -- proudly with a man, a young man who was one of those eight students. And he showed us the slope of the roof of the hotel we're staying in. And he said, see this slope? This is how the roof slid off of the hotel. It did not collapse. It slid sideways.
He said there were pockets in there. Our daughter was in the back right-hand corner on the third floor. The other children were on the second floor and possibly the professors were in the gym.
We heard they investigated the gym yesterday. And what we need is people up there.
And, Tom, you know, I'm asking you, by what you see, are you able to definitively say that roof has collapsed? Because the pictures we have seen, it's not. It's slid off of the hotel.
FOREMAN: Well, you have a very valid point there.
And I know one of the issues, as you have no doubt heard in the past few days, with earthquakes has to do with the weight of roofs and how they come down.
Yes, if you look at the ground photographs of this, not the roof photographs, you're right, it doesn't come down all nice and tidy. It comes down in a great jumble. And there is no question many pockets inside of these collapsed buildings where, if a person were, when the thing collapsed, they could survive. So, you raise a valid point. And, of course, the bigger the building, the more places where there can be such pockets. So, certainly, Mr. Gengel, you raise a very valid point.
BLITZER: Do you have other questions, Mr. and Mrs. Gengel?
L. GENGEL: Wolf, this is why we need to get the American -- we do. This is why we need to get the American troops up there. We need to get manpower.
This is hand work. This isn't big machinery work. This is hand work with concrete cutting saws, snake cameras, getting through the areas to find these pockets to rescue these kids.
These are our children. As parents, we want the same exact from the U.S. government as they did for JFK Jr. when they searched for him. We want our children. They were there on humanitarian efforts. They were there for a journey of hope, for feeding the poor.
And there is nothing more than to give someone their dignity. And I have asked President Obama to call me, to please go get our daughters. And I'm imploring on you right now, Wolf. We have been watching you and you have been talking this. And I thank you so much from the bottom of my heart, because we're running out of time.
And we need the American people to call their senators and tell them to bring their children -- our children home.
BLITZER: Tell us something, Mrs. Gengel, about Britney.
C. GENGEL: You know, we have been asked that a lot today. And I thought about it. And I don't know how a mother really describes her daughter fully. And that's what's really hard. And I leave here and I say, oh, I forgot this, I forgot that.
And, so, she's just this great, smart, talented, funny, full-of- life, great kid everyone wants to be around, someone that a mother is so proud to call her daughter. I just -- she's just this great kid. And when you meet her, you're going to feel the same way. She's just fantastic. She really is.
L. GENGEL: Wolf, these girls have their whole lives ahead of them. We have got to get them. We need your help. We need the president to call and get those troops up to Hotel Montana. You just heard Tom. That roof is on a slope. There are pockets there. They can be saved.
C. GENGEL: Wolf, another one of our concerns right now -- and none of us want to go down this road -- but we're at day six. We're at day six.
And if they have survived the earthquake, which we are all praying that they have, now food and water is the next issue and how much longer can they survive. And so word is starting to get out that activity up there is starting to slow down. They can't slow down. They need to stay there. More people need to go there. They can't start pulling back. They just can't do that. They can't start taking people away just because they're not finding all these people. They need to stay there more.
And I'm begging that they don't stop working there, because -- just because they're not finding people alive right now.
L. GENGEL: We need those troops there, Wolf, tonight.
BLITZER: All right.
L. GENGEL: We need them there now.
BLITZER: I hear both of you.
L. GENGEL: Thank you so much.
BLITZER: And I can assure you, I can assure you that we will do whatever we can to try to make sure that the troops get there, that everyone is involved in this search-and-rescue operation.
It's day six. And there could be people, including your daughter Britney, alive in there right now. You heard the ambassador. He said he was going to leave this show, as he did, and make some phone calls to take action right now. Let's hope he does. I am sure he will. He's a very honorable, decent man.
And people are listening in the military, the political leadership. And they will help as best as they can. We will as well.
Good luck, Leonard and Cherylann Gengel.
C. GENGEL: Thank you. Thank you so much.
L. GENGEL: Thank you, Wolf.
C. GENGEL: Thank you.
L. GENGEL: And don't forget -- don't forget about Courtney, Stephanie, and Christine. There are four young ladies there. Please don't forget them.
BLITZER: We won't forget any of them. We won't forget the two professors who are there as well from Lynn University in Florida.
C. GENGEL: Please don't.
L. GENGEL: Thank you.
BLITZER: Lynn University is in Boca Raton, Florida.
C. GENGEL: Great.
BLITZER: A beautiful university. I spoke there a few years ago and I'm very familiar with that school. Appreciate it very much. All right, we're going to do whatever we can to help on this. There's a limit to what we can do, but we will see what the U.S. government and others can do to help the Gengels find their a daughter and these other students who are there.
We will continue our coverage right after this. Anderson Cooper is standing by.
BLITZER: Earlier today, CNN's crews witnessed the looting of a store in Port-au-Prince. Young men, many of them armed, took boxes of candles, then sold them on the street.
The video we're going to be showing you is very graphic. Young people perhaps shouldn't see this video. During the course of this looting, others climbed on the roof of the building. Things got very, very ugly. And they began pelting people with concrete blocks and rocks.
A boy was struck in the head. Anderson Cooper helped to try to drag him away from the crowd.
Once again, a warning: The video may be difficult to watch. It's very graphic. You may want your kids to leave the room if there are kids there. We will show you the video. Here's what happened.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "ANDERSON COOPER 360": It's OK. It's OK. It's OK. It's OK. Here. Come here. Come here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Anderson tells us that boy was led away by other people. We don't know what happened after that.
Karl Penhaul, though, was also there.
I know you didn't see that specific incident, Karl. But tell us what you did see.
KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly, that kind of incident was comparable to other incidents that we did see, and that, that a lot of people were fighting among themselves for whatever came out of that building.
Now, there were men on the rooftops and on the second tier of those buildings tossing boxes out a window. And that generated fights down below, people fighting for the scraps among themselves.
But it could, in fact, have been a lot more chaotic and a lot worse than it actually was, had it not been for the presence of what appeared to be gang members within that crowd, gang members who were keeping control, who were organizing to a certain extent.
You could pick them out. They were the ones who were armed with clubs, with pieces of wood, with iron bars as well. And, in some instances, they formed a human cordon in front of the building to ensure that only gang members went into that building.
As those boxes got tossed down, some of the people who picked up the bounty were then forced to pay almost for permission to join in the looting.
Now, of course, here, gangs are not only criminal organizations, but, in the past, they have also proved to be political organizations as well. And so certainly people in that looting expressed reasons for looting, because they were hungry, they were desperate. But others were also talking now about the need to change the government of Rene Preval, because they don't consider that this government response has been effective enough -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Is it escalating, the violence, based on what you can see, Karl?
PENHAUL: I would say that what we are seeing are still isolated incidents of looting around the city. There were instances yesterday, we understand, and again today at these warehouses in the commercial center not too far from where we are staying.
But it's far from a generalized wave of looting. Could that change? Yes, it could. If food supplies, if water supplies don't get through to the hungry quickly enough, that will increase frustration, it will increase tension.
Also, it must be said -- and somebody was explaining this to me yesterday as they stood in a U.N. food line -- that Haiti is heavily dependent on remittances from relatives who work in the United States.
No, because the money transfer places, typically the Western Unions, are closed for business right now, many of them have been damaged -- you can see that across this city and across other cities that have been hit by this earthquake -- then those remittances of a few dollars here and a few dollars there are not getting through, and so people don't have money to buy what food is commercially available on the street.
And food is commercially available on the street down at the market and even out here now. Not a great choice, but if these Haitians had the money from those remittances, they could buy some of that food. But there is a compound issue here, no money on the one hand and no aid getting through on the other. That fuels desperation. And, on top of that, gangs appear to be involved in orchestrating some of the looting as well -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Karl Penhaul on the scene for us -- Karl, please, please be very careful.
So, here's a question. Who's in charge if Haiti, if anyone? We're taking a closer look at that. We're getting new information just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. Also, we will be speaking with Haiti's ambassador here in Washington. Lots of tough questions to ask him right after this.
BLITZER: Back to breaking news right now.
The United States is taking the lead in running disaster operations in Haiti, leading to charges by some that the U.S. is now effectively becoming the occupying country.
Our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty, is here. She is working the story for us. Officials, you have been speaking to officials from both countries and others. What are you seeing? What are you hearing?
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I just came back from the Haitian Embassy and the ambassador denies that the U.S. is taking over Haiti. But he also admits that the Haitian government on its own simply isn't able to cope with this disaster.
DOUGHERTY (voice-over): When it comes to Haiti's relief effort, the United States is running the show, now controlling all flights in and out of the Port-au-Prince Airport, dispatching international search-and-rescue teams, coordinating distribution of food, water, medicine -- 1,700 U.S. soldiers and Marines are on the ground, 5,000 more ready offshore, bringing earth-moving equipment and other supplies.
But Haiti's ambassador insists the Haitian government is still in charge.
RAYMOND JOSEPH, HAITIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: I would like to remind people what President Obama said. The U.S. is not occupying Haiti. The United States is helping us at this juncture, where the situation is very difficult.
DOUGHERTY: But after the U.S. military initially refused landing to a French plane carrying a field hospital, a French government minister said the mission should be about helping Haiti, not about occupying Haiti.
Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez also accuses the U.S. of an occupation under the guise of a relief effort.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We are here at the invitation of your government to help you.
DOUGHERTY: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton flew to Haiti Saturday to prop up Haitian President Rene Preval, saying the U.S. is carrying out his requests.
The U.S. and Haiti have signed a joint communication pledging to cooperate. The U.S. provides services until the Haitian government can act.
Right now, says one Haiti expert, there's no option.
DANIEL ERICKSON, INTER-AMERICAN DIALOGUE: The sad fact is no one is running Haiti right now. You really have, I think, an absence of leadership among the Haitian political class.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
DOUGHERTY: Taking over Haiti is a sensitive subject. The Haitian government doesn't want to look weak, even if it is. The U.S. actually did occupy Haiti almost 100 years ago. It intervened again in 1994 and in 2004.
The Obama administration is trying to put forward now a new tone, plus show that it's not pushing around its international partners.
BLITZER: Yes, but some of those partners are complaining they're not getting access to the airport, for example. They're flying humanitarian missions in, but the U.S. is not giving them landing priority.
DOUGHERTY: Yes, but the Haitian ambassador told me today that there is limited capacity. And he was describing private planes that are trying to get in there with doctors and people who want to volunteer. But they simply can't process (INAUDIBLE) planes.
BLITZER: But the U.S. is in charge of the airport.
DOUGHERTY: It is, yes.
BLITZER: And the landing. So the U.S. has air traffic control.
DOUGHERTY: They do.
BLITZER: That's a U.S. responsibility...
BLITZER: ...and not a Haitian...
All right, Jill.
Thanks very much.
We'll speak with the ambassador -- the Haitian ambassador. He's coming here to THE SITUATION ROOM. We've got a lot of questions to ask him.
Also, we're getting some new video just coming in of the earthquake as it occurred at an orphanage.
We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Just outside Port-au-Prince, missionaries were playing with children at the Christian Service International Ministries' H.O.P.E. Orphanage. One of them, Rick Hirsh, was rolling video when the building began to shake.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Outside. Go, go, go.
Outside -- go, go, go!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Hirsh is now back in the United States. He tells us that none of the children we saw in that video was hurt. He says relief donations are being accepted through the Christian Service International Ministries.
The situation in Haiti is growing more dire by the moment -- supplies stalled for lack of infrastructure for distribution. People are looting. You just saw those pictures -- very dramatic pictures. They're trying to take whatever they can, either to steal it or simply to survive. Orphaned children in danger of dying because of basic needs are not being met -- their basic needs are not being met.
Joining us now here in THE SITUATION ROOM is the Haitian ambassador to the United States, Raymond Joseph.
Mr. Ambassador, thanks very much for coming back.
RAYMOND JOSEPH, HAITIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: Well, thank you for having me back here.
BLITZER: What can you do to get some of those orphans out of there as quickly as possible and avoid some of this paperwork -- the bureaucracy that obviously has been so prevalent over these years?
JOSEPH: Well, you know, as I've said before, since I got here in 2004, I have worked diligently to just cut down on the paperwork.
BLITZER: But right now there's a -- there's a crisis.
BLITZER: There are thousands of orphans. They're struggling to survive in these orphanages and that just need to get out. And there are people here in America who want to help them.
JOSEPH: Well, I think today there is good news because I know, for the first time, some 31 left.
BLITZER: Thirty-one orphans left today?
JOSEPH: Right. And if everything goes well, Governor Rendell of Pennsylvania, who's arriving in Haiti -- or who arrived in Haiti -- will probably be leaving with another 40 or 45.
BLITZER: We've heard estimates that there are, what, 100,000, 200,000 orphans in Haiti.
Is that right?
JOSEPH: I don't know. I don't have the figures. I don't know where they got them from.
BLITZER: From all these orphanages. There are a lot of orphanages in Haiti. You're from there. You know the country.
JOSEPH: I know the country, but I have not done any count of orphanages and I don't know how many orphans there are.
BLITZER: Did you see the pictures coming in today, where Anderson Cooper and Karl Penhaul, they were in the midst of this looting that was going on at a warehouse in Port-au-Prince?
It looks like just a bunch of gangs are going wild.
JOSEPH: Unfortunately, I was working even on Martin Junior King's Day.
BLITZER: Martin Luther King.
JOSEPH: Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Day. I was working and didn't have a chance to look at TV or listen to radio. So now I'm going to get my news from you.
BLITZER: Is the Haitian police force on the scene or have they been so decimated themselves as a result of this earthquake?
JOSEPH: No. They -- they haven't been that decimated. I have been in touch with the chief of police and other police officers. And little by little, they are getting all their people who were out somewhere and they couldn't get through, together.
BLITZER: Because even in the best of times, you only have a 9,000 member police force in Haiti, a country of nine million people.
Is it time to ask for help from the out -- you have a few thousand United Nations' peacekeepers there -- but is it time to ask the U.S. and others for direct military assistance, to get troops on the ground to keep law and order?
JOSEPH: Well, listen, Haiti had 2,500 policemen and policewomen in 2004 when I came here in Washington and of a country of eight-and- a-half, nine million people. And you didn't have any more problem. New York, with a population of about the same, eight-and-a-half million, they have 45,000 police and you still have a lot of problems.
BLITZER: So you need help, that's what you're saying?
JOSEPH: Well, no. No. What I'm trying to say, the Haitian people basically are pretty docile, because a country with 2,500 policemen for a population of eight-and-a-half and you don't have all the killings that you find in other places, compared to the City of New York that has the same population 45,000...
BLITZER: So you're saying the Haitian people are docile?
JOSEPH: They are docile. But the...
BLITZER: But we do see some ugly pictures today.
JOSEPH: OK. OK. Now, since 2004, we have gotten the police force up to 10,000 plus about 7,000 of the United Nations. This is a very critical situation. It's not only Haiti that's like that. Every place where you have had a crisis.
Katrina, do you remember?
JOSEPH: Do you remember Southeast Asia with the tsunami?
BLITZER: We remember all of it.
JOSEPH: Do you remember what they had did?
BLITZER: But right now, there's a huge problem, as you know, in Haiti and stuff has to be done to save lives.
JOSEPH: Yes. Except that I'm trying to say, this is human beings. When they are in dire need they do everything to grab what's possible. But we have to deal with that.
BLITZER: And hope -- hopefully, between the Haitians and its friends, the United States, the French and others, you'll be dealing with it.
Mr. Ambassador, stand by.
We're going to continue our conversation.
There's other news that we're following, as well, down in Port- au-Prince right now.
We're going back there to the scene, right after this.
BLITZER: We're going back to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in just a few minutes. But there's another important story we're following -- a very close Senate race that could change the course of policy in the United States. The success or failure of health care reform, for example, could spin on the outcome of tomorrow's contest to fill the Massachusetts seat left vacant by the death of Senator Ted Kennedy. If the Democrats lose the seat -- and polls show that is very possible -- they would lose the 60 vote super majority they need to keep health care reform on track.
Let's bring in our senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.
She's looking at this story for us.
There must be a Plan B for the Democrats. If they lose this Senate seat, they'll 59 votes. They need 60 to pass health care.
What do they do?
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They're talking about a -- a list of options, but the options, I'm told, really go from bad to worse, Wolf.
The best of that list of bad options, I'm told by Democratic sources, is to try to avoid another Senate vote on health care and get the House to pass what the Senate passed.
The problem is that so far, the House speaker has said she doesn't have the votes for that, because there are a lot of differences between the two bills.
And the issue is that they're not really sure how this is going to cut. If, in fact, a Republican wins in Massachusetts on Wednesday, it could actually force House Democrats -- some of them to say, you know what, I'm going to take what I can get just to claim victory.
But it could cut the other way. Democratic sources are very concerned that vulnerable Democrats will look at what happened in Massachusetts, say the Republican ran against health care, this could happen to me, I'm bolting. And that could sink health care.
BLITZER: There's one other option the Democrats have -- it's a desperate one -- to go to the 51-majority option that's called reconciliation. It's a different procedure, but they could try to pass some semblance of health care reform through.
BASH: That's right. This is something that Democrats talked about months ago -- I mean it's been so long since they've been talking about health care. And they decided not to do it, because it really pre -- presents a list of problems. It could delay the health care bill. It could -- it really is very, very complicated.
But they are talking about potentially using that to have some changes to the health care bill at -- you know, after the House passes the Senate bill -- if that happens -- or they could just rip it up and use that reconciliation process, push it through with 51 votes and start over again. That, I'm told, is unlikely because, look, the bottom line is that any delay, politically, we already are seeing in Massachusetts and the Democrats are worried about that.
BLITZER: Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger. She's here in THE SITUATION ROOM and David Gergen -- Gloria, I've been speaking to officials at the White House and other Democrats and they're pretty gloomy right now. They think this Democrat is going to lose in Massachusetts.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. And if the Democrat loses in Massachusetts, it's a huge problem for President Obama. You know, the White House is trying to spin this as a local race -- this is about a candidate who was probably a weak candidate, this is about the State of Massachusetts -- the governor is not particularly popular now.
But the truth of the matter is, this is going to be seen as a referendum on Barack Obama. Fifty-one percent of the voters in this state -- of the registered voters -- are Independent voters. Independent voters are the people who are the most upset with this administration. They feel that it's gone way overboard with big government. They don't like health care reform. They're afraid their taxes are going to go up. And you're seeing that reflected in this state.
BLITZER: David, how much of this -- you live in Massachusetts. You've live there now for several years.
How much of this is a vote, let's say, for the president of the United States?
Or is it the political campaigning, or lack thereof, the skills of Martha Coakley, the Democratic candidate?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Wolf, it's partly about the qualities of the candidates. Martha Coakley having run a complacent campaign and on more than one occasion seemed clueless about who on more than one occasion about who Curt Schilling is while she lives in, you know, in Red Sox nation. That does not go down well. So, you know...
BORGER: Even we know who Curt Schilling is.
GERGEN: Exactly. And, but -- and he's been a good candidate. He's been an effective candidate, good -- he's been congenial and he's -- he's convinced a lot of people he's really a moderate conservative.
But more than that, Wolf, I do think it's a referendum on -- on Washington and the way things are going. Scott Brown, the Republican candidate, is running -- is riding a wave -- a huge wave of discontent in Massachusetts that scares other Democrats.
And going back to where Dana started, Wolf, from my perspective, if Brown were to -- to win -- and the indications are it may well be breaking his way -- then I think the Democrats are damned if they do and damned if they don't on health care.
BORGER: I think -- I think they have no choices here -- no good choices here.
BASH: That's true.
BORGER: Because if they ram something through, they look arrogant, some would even say corrupt. If they don't ram something through and they lose health care, they look weak and disorganized.
BASH: And just to quickly button that point, Wolf, there has been talk about trying to push something through very quickly if, in fact, Scott Brown loses. Not only is that problematic just because I don't think that they have the time to a deal and to pass something in the House and Senate, but also, I'm told that some Democrats have made clear to the leadership, if Brown loses, don't count on their vote anymore...
BASH: ...just exactly to David's point, because they are seeing the wave of anti-Washington anxiety. And if they are part of ramming something through, they're just playing into that.
BLITZER: Because, when all is said and done, most of these politicians want to get re-elected.
BLITZER: That's very important for them, unless they want to retire and make money on the private sector.
All right, guys, thanks very much.
We're going back to Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Lots happening right now. There's been violence on the scene.
Our Anderson Cooper was right in the middle of it -- some dramatic developments.
We'll continue to breaking news coverage out of Haiti after this.
BLITZER: Anderson Cooper was caught right in the middle of things when the looting and the violence erupted at a warehouse in Port-au-Prince earlier in the day. It's getting ugly down there.
We're going back to Port-au-Prince in just a few moments for the latest developments. Lots happening in Haiti right now.
But let's turn to Afghanistan for a few moments. Street battles have become a way of life there. The Taliban claimed responsibility for today's series of especially fierce and brazen attacks in Kabul. They were launched at the same time President Hamid Karzai was swearing in new members of his cabinet.
Here's CNN's Dan Rivers.
DAN RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A pitched battle in the center of Kabul. Afghan forces fought for more than three hours with Taliban insurgents who were holed up in several buildings.
(on camera): We've been listening to sustained gunfire coming from down the road. As you can see in the distance, there is a building on fire, which we believe may be a market. And we're being told that there are a number of Taliban fighters who are attacking near the Serena Hotel, right in the heart of Kabul. A lot of gunfire and explosions going on.
(voice-over): People in the center of Kabul were running for their lives -- women and children terrified and confused, some angry they hadn't seen any IFA (ph) troops.
SHUKRYA BARAKZAI, AFGHAN PARLIAMENT MEMBER: You can see all these Afghan soldiers. There's (INAUDIBLE). Counterinsurgency -- there's insurgents. And there's the place that they should cooperate shoulder to shoulder with us, with the government of Afghanistan.
RIVERS: And it's still going on.
BARAKZAI: It's still going on. You can hear.
RIVERS (voice-over): After three-and-a-half hours, finally the Afghan Army appeared to have control. The fire brigade were able to move in.
(on camera): This is the market building that we believe that some of the Taliban suicide bombers entered. Across the floor here is littered with bullets, shell cartridges. You can see how fierce the firefight was. And just down here is the presidential palace.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
BLITZER: Dan Rivers reporting.
A wild, wild scene in Kabul today. We're staying on top of that story.
When we come back, we're going back to Port-au-Prince. We'll have reports from Sanjay Gupta. He performed surgery for a young girl today in Port-au-Prince. Stand by for that.
Also, Anderson Cooper is standing by.
Soledad O'Brien -- she's with orphans.
Much more of our coverage right after this.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: We'll go back to Port-au-Prince in just a moment or so. We'll have reports from Anderson Cooper, Sanjay Gupta, Soledad O'Brien. We're watching what's going on. Lots going on right now.
But let's check in with Betty Nguyen right now.
She's monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Betty, what's going on?
NGUYEN: Hey there, Wolf.
Well, a California meatpacking firm is recalling more than 800,000 pounds of ground beef that may be contaminated with E. coli bacteria. The Agriculture Department says the beef was shipped mainly around California and includes Huntington, Imperial and El Rancho products. The problem was found by food safety inspectors and there are no reports of illness.
Well, the West Coast is bracing for severe storms. Heavy rain and snow are already falling in California -- the first of a series of storms expected to hit the region this week. Up to 20 inches of rain could fall, bringing a potential for dangerous floods.
And the founder of the Taco Bell food chain has died. Glen W. Bell, Jr. was 86 years old. He launched his first restaurant in 1948 in San Bernardino, California after seeing the success of McDonald's. Now owned by Young Brands, the chain has more than 5, 500 U.S. locations -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Betty Nguyen.
We'll be checking back with you.
Larry King has a special coming up at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, two hours. He's raising money for Haiti right now.
How you can help -- that's coming up in a little bit more than an hour from now.
Our coverage of the breaking news from Haiti will continue after this.
BLITZER: Here's something important you need to know.
Just over an hour from now, a special two hour edition of "LARRY KING LIVE" focusing in on Haiti -- dozens of celebrities and you will get a chance to get involved in the global outreach. Larry's joining us now -- Larry, tell our viewers what this is all about.
LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": Well, Wolf, we were thinking -- the producers got together and thought well, you know, we're covering this so well and staying on top of the Haiti situation, how can we get involved in helping?
So we came up with this two hour special. It's "Haiti: How You Can Help".
We have phone banks, Wolf, in New York and here in Los Angeles. We have Twitter desks. We have Ryan Seacrest sort of managing the Twitter side of things, phone banks with celebrities. I'll be interviewing people. We'll be going to Haiti for reports from there.
And we'll be raising money through UNICEF and the American Red Cross.
It's going to be a jam-packed two hours -- a lot of familiar people. Mick Jagger you'll see. You'll see Ben Stiller, Colin Powell, Danny Glover, Nicole Richie, Ashley Judd, Jennifer Lopez.
It's all coming up for two solid hours. All of its purpose is to raise money for the terrible situation.
BLITZER: And you can assure our viewers, as I know you can, Larry, this money is actually going to go to help people. It's not going to go for some bureaucracy, some administrative stuff.
BLITZER: This money will save lives.
KING: This goes directly to UNICEF and the Red Cross and they know exactly what to do with it. This is not some new organization that you never heard of like, you know, Arms for Haiti. Noth -- nothing like that. There's two banks of phones. You can choose to -- you can go to UNICEF or you can go to the Red Cross and it goes directly to help in Haiti.
So I hope you watch -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I will watch and I will give some money, as well. And I hope all of our viewers do.
Larry, I want to thank you; your producer, Wendy Walker. I know she's been very much involved in this. This is going to be a very important two hours that all of us will be -- who work at CNN will be very proud of.
Thanks for doing it, Larry.
KING: Thank you, Wolf.
See you in an hour.
BLITZER: All right. Thank you.