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Assault in Afghanistan; Mourning in Haiti; Coast Guard Fleet; Where is the Bipartisanship?

Aired February 12, 2010 - 19:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Happening now, a massive assault on the Taliban is under way, unlike anything that we've seen in Afghanistan in years. We'll have a live report from the war zone.

Plus, Haitians who lost so much find reason to celebrate exactly one month after the devastating earthquake. And get ready for a Congress without Kennedys. For the first time in decades, we'll look at the impact on America's most famous political dynasty now that Ted Kennedy's son Patrick is calling it quits.

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

And we are standing by for a live news event. You see the pictures there -- that is out of the University of Alabama-Huntsville campus where authorities say that there were at least three people who were killed, a shooting reporting there. The shooter also reportedly in custody. That coming from officials from the university. As soon as we get more information, a live press conference, we will bring that to you very shortly.

Well, the long buildup is over, and the biggest offensive of the Afghanistan war, it is now under way. We are told that thousands of U.S., Afghan and NATO forces have surrounded the Taliban stronghold of Marjah. Now our CNN's Fred Pleitgen, he is in Afghanistan with the very latest. Where are we in this operation? What is taking place on the ground?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well what we're hearing from the U.S. military, Suzanne, is that by now that assault should have started. Now we have to say we are in the middle of the night here in Afghanistan, so they are using the cover of darkness to begin the assault on that last Taliban stronghold in Helmand Province. This of course a very, very important town for them to take.

The Taliban have been in this town for a very long time, have controlled this town for a very long time, and this is one place where the Marines have long been telling us they believe it's going to be very difficult to win that place back. What we're going to be seeing tonight is we're going to be seeing assaults from the air, we're going to be seeing the Marines, also British forces and Afghan forces involved in that operation, trying to get a foothold in Marjah as fast as possible and then come in, in force to take control of that city. Of course one thing, Suzanne that we've been saying all along is that the U.S. military has been advertising this offensive for a very long time, and that of course has given the Taliban time to prepare for this -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Fred, what do we suspect -- you might not know this, but what do we suspect the reaction is from the Taliban now that they know this is happening? Do we know if they are taking cover here, have they abandoned the mission, are they fully engaged?

PLEITGEN: Well, one thing that we do know is that the Taliban has been using the past couple of weeks when this offensive was being advertised to plant IUDs on a large scale around the town of Marjah, in the fields around the town of Marjah. Really you have to take a look at the geography of that place. It is a lot of irrigated fields, a lot of very muddy fields where it's very hard to move for the Marines, and then what you have in Marjah itself is a very large urban area, and certainly what we've been hearing from people fleeing the town is that the Taliban, in the past months and weeks, have been planting a lot of improvised, explosive devices, which, of course, are very dangerous for U.S. forces on the ground.

We'll have to wait and see whether the Taliban will actually pick a fight with Marines. That's something that they haven't done in the past. They've been very elusive and subverting to hit and run tactics more than anything else -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: All right, Fred Pleitgen, please be safe. Appreciate your report.

I want to zero in on the Taliban stronghold of Marjah. It's in Helmand Province. That is about 380,000 miles southwest of Kabul. Now some 80,000 people live in this farming community. The major crop, poppies, it's used for the very lucrative opium trade that helps actually fund the Taliban and Marjah is the last major town under Taliban control with up to 1,000 militants holed up there.

I want to bring in our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley. She is the anchor of CNN "STATE OF THE UNION" and clearly, Candy, we're looking at this and this is a risk for the Obama administration. He rolled out these 30,000 additional troops, this new type of strategy. What's at play here? What is the risk for the -- politically for the administration?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Politically -- set aside the real risk here, which is these young men and women, but politically, you're right, there is a huge risk for the president here, and actually, in the State of the Union this year, he set it up the risk this way.


BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And in Afghanistan, we're increasing our troops and training Afghan security forces so they can begin to take the lead in July of 2011 and our troops can begin to come home. (APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: We will reward good governance, work to reduce corruption and support the rights of all Afghans, men and women alike.


CROWLEY: The bottom line here is this is now Barack Obama's war. We all know that it began under President George Bush, but it is President Obama who increased the troops, President Obama who set a deadline for the beginning of withdrawal of those troops. So there is so much at stake in this initial move, and that is what are they trying to do?

They're trying to oust the Taliban where they can to try to stabilize the country, which is the only way U.S. troops can begin to pull out. So politically speaking, he does own this war at this point, because he has sent in all of the troops -- or not all of the troops, but the majority of the troops that are now there were sent by President Obama, and he set himself a deadline, and that's tough.

MALVEAUX: And he's claimed this war really kind of reluctantly, but it is his war now. How does he win over the American people to support this? Because a lot of people, as we know, on the left they don't want any part of this.

CROWLEY: And it's not just on the left. The majority of Americans now in our polling are opposed to this war in Afghanistan. Nothing succeeds like success. If this can be a success, if there can be some movement on the ground that shows that we are in fact are making inroads into the house of Taliban forces. But also there has to be some diplomatic success here because so much depends on Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan. He's got to stabilize that country and get a government in place.

MALVEAUX: And tell us about the diplomatic efforts. Obviously you have a very important guest this Sunday that you'll be talking to regarding that.

CROWLEY: General Jim Jones, retired General Jim Jones, who is as you know is head of the president's National Security Council, just back from Pakistan. We think he's going to have a lot of interesting things to say about this ongoing effort in Afghanistan and a lot of other places that we want him to talk him about.

MALVEAUX: OK, Candy, thank you so much, really appreciate it. I want to remind our viewers to please watch Candy Crowley's interview with National Security Adviser General Jim Jones. Join Candy every Sunday morning at 9:00 a.m. for CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION".

A day of mourning in Haiti, a month since the quake. Haitians come together to mourn the victims. Our Anderson Cooper is there.

Also budget cuts by the Obama administration force the U.S. Coast Guard to make some tough choices. We'll hear what they are. Plus, uncertainty about the future of the jobs bill after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's sudden switch. What happened to bipartisanship?



MALVEAUX: A day of mourning in Haiti as the country marks one month since the devastating magnitude-seven earthquake that killed at least 212,000 people. Our CNN's Anderson Cooper, he's in Port-au- Prince. Anderson, give us a sense of what it's like there now today.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well today was truly an extraordinary day. The entire downtown area around the destroyed presidential palace was filled with a sea of people. There is no actual estimate of how many people, but, I mean, there were thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of people. It was so packed you really could not even move through the crowd as we tried for several hours.

People just wanted to come and express their faith in God and pray for those that they've lost and pray for those that are still living and still struggling. A lot of the people -- you know the service went on for some eight hours today. A lot of the people had nowhere else to go. They had no homes to return to. Nearly half a million people in this city still living in these makeshift tents encampments, so you know for the people here it has been one month, but the tragedy is an ongoing one. The disaster continues each day. As someone in the crowd said to me today, each day there are new struggles and new tragedies and new horrors that they have to face, and yet today was a day where we saw a huge amount of dignity and a huge amount of faith expressed in a very public way -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And Anderson, we're looking at these pictures. It's hard to imagine -- it looks like an extraordinary sense of optimism and hope that's coming from the people there in the crowd. Where does that come from?

COOPER: Well, you know, faith -- this is a country of very strong faith, and it has been unshaken by this earthquake. I mean every day we see people on the streets praying, parades of people singing religious songs and today was really the largest example of that. But it's emblematic of what we've seen every single day. You know people feel very much happy to be alive and they are celebrating. Today was -- it was a mourning for the dead, but it was also a celebration of life and of a thanksgiving for their lives.

MALVEAUX: Anderson, can you tell us about the rain? I understand that as the rain comes, it's going to become even more difficult for the people in Haiti because of some of the possibilities of disease.

COOPER: Yes, it's going to be a mess, even if it's not a widespread disease outbreak. It is -- you know these tent cities are incredibly makeshift. They are -- you know people -- if they have a tent, they're lucky. Sometimes they're made out of corrugated tin structures. A lot of times it's just a bed sheet or two spread out to give people shade and some privacy.

But as you can imagine, with torrential you know rains as we've seen in the rainy season here, the fields are going to turn into mud, a lot of these tents are going to fall. It is really a very dire situation and it's going to get much worse for all these people living in very close quarters. Already you know sanitation is a problem. Diarrhea spreads very rapidly, other stomach illnesses, so you know there's a lot of concern about what the next few weeks are going to like here as the rains intensify.

MALVEAUX: And Anderson, obviously you and Sanjay are there in Haiti still. Are we seeing the same kind of outpouring, outreach to the people who need it -- need it the most or have people left Haiti?

COOPER: Well there are certainly people leaving and there is not as much interest in this around the world. I mean we all know this. This is always what happens. You know there are still a lot of volunteers on the ground, but, you know that inevitably those numbers are going to dwindle as the emergency phase of this, the acute medical emergency phase of this leaves.

We're going to probably see fewer doctors even though the needs are going to continue for a long time to come because a lot of the people who had amputations or treatments are going to need follow-on care. So the needs are almost still as great in terms of personnel needed on the ground here, but clearly we're already seeing a drop-off in interest, at least in the story from people around the world.

MALVEAUX: Anderson, thank you so much. Please be safe.

Well, the Coast Guard is being forced to choose between keeping all of its personnel numbers up and modernizing its fleet. The top commander of the Coast Guard spoke today about budget cuts and some priorities. Our CNN's Kate Bolduan, she is following the story.

Kate, obviously the Coast Guard has had to make some real serious choices in terms of its priorities, and it sounds very difficult.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It does, and he said it himself, some tough choices. In his State of the Coast Guard address, Commandant Thad Allen revealed some startling statistics about the Coast Guard's response to the earthquake in Haiti. While the Coast Guard's relief efforts have been praised, Admiral Allen said it also showed the degraded condition of the Coast Guard's fleet.


ADMIRAL THAD ALLEN, COMMANDANT, U.S. COAST GUARD: Here's what happened behind the scenes. Of the 12 major cutters assigned to Haiti relief operations, 10 or 83 percent suffered severe mission affecting casualties. Two were forced to return to port for emergency repairs and one proceeded to an emergency dry dock. We also had to divert air resources away from evacuation efforts to deliver repair parts.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BOLDUAN: And by comparison, Admiral Allen said the Navy's fleet on average is 14 years old and the Coast Guard's on average is 41 years old. And that's why in his 2011-year budget, which includes a three percent cut in funding, it focuses heavily on modernizing the fleet, even as it requires a reduction in Coast Guard personnel, and that's by more than 770 people, Suzanne, but as President Obama said in his State of the Union Address (INAUDIBLE) different places, everyone is going to have to be making some tough cuts when it comes to budgeting.

MALVEAUX: And including all of the military as well.


MALVEAUX: Thank you, Kate.

Well Bill Clinton, he is out of the hospital and talking about his latest heart procedure. We'll hear the former president in his own words.

Plus details of plans to share top secret intelligence with thousands of air port security workers.


MALVEAUX: Jessica Yellin is monitoring the other top stories that are coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- hey Jessica. What do you have?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Suzanne. As we've been reporting, three people are dead and at least one is wounded after a shooting on the campus at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. The university spokesman Ray Garner (ph) just briefed reporters, and he said one suspect, a woman, is under arrest. Another person has been detained but not arrested, he said. The shooting happened just over two hours ago in Shelby Hall (ph), a science research building on the campus. The university's Web site says the campus is closed for the night.

More controversy now for the security firm formerly known as Blackwater. Two ex-employees claim that the company hired prostitutes and strippers then sent the bill to Uncle Sam. They filed a lawsuit against the security firm, accusing it of fraudulent activity in Iraq, Afghanistan and even in Louisiana during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The company now known by the letters XE, which is pronounced "Zee", denies these claims.

So how well has the U.S. government responded to the disaster in Haiti? House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is heading to the quake zone to find out as part of a congressional delegation. The 12-member bipartisan group was scheduled to leave today. They will meet with Haitian leaders and visit aid distribution sites and medical facilities.

And Suzanne one of the famed Tuskegee airmen was to be laid to rest today at Arlington National Cemetery. A fitting farewell for retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Lee Archer, who fought Nazis in World War II, then fought racism here at home. Archer shot down at least four German planes during the war before he went on to become a venture capitalist. He died last month in New York at the age of 90. He saw quite a lot in his life -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: A true hero. Thank you so much, Jessica.

Well on Capitol Hill a lot of people are asking what was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid thinking. Reid suddenly switched positions on a bipartisan jobs bill yesterday, and now some believe that the fate of the bill is now in turmoil, along with hopes that Republicans and Democrats might be able to work together. Our congressional correspondent Brianna Keilar is here to tell us what happened to the bipartisanship. That was very short lived.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was. You know how it goes, Suzanne. Just when we thought the Senate was taking a few steps forward, they take a few steps back.


KEILAR (voice-over): As the snow melted in Washington, it seemed partisanship might be thawing, too.

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: In many ways the snow has made us more effective because we were able to concentrate on those things that were in front of us and not able -- not distracted by things that just happen during the normal course of the day.

KEILAR: This week, Republican Senator Bob Corker and Democratic Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd announced a plan to work together on a huge overhaul of the financial industry. Just as Democrats and Republicans stood side by side, pressing for sanctions on Iran.

SEN. EVAN BAYH (D), INDIANA: One of the reasons the American people are angry about Washington these days is their perception that we can't agree on anything. But today's announcement stands in stark contrast to that.

KEILAR: And on the big issue of jobs, Democrat Max Baucus and Republican Chuck Grassley struck a deal on an 80-plus billion-dollar bill to get Americans back to work. Was Congress finally coming together? Maybe not. Just hours later the Senate's top Democrat announced the deal was toast. The Senate would take up a much smaller jobs bill, and he virtually dared Republicans to oppose it.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: I don't know in logic what they could say to oppose this, but in -- we've seen, since Obama was elected, they have opposed everything. They're the party of no.


KEILAR: So what went wrong here? This is what we've spent a day unraveling. Part of the reason is Harry Reid just wasn't convinced that Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the Senate, really wanted to pass a jobs bill and pass it quickly. Republicans say that's not true, that some Republicans were already on board when Harry Reid simply pulled the rug out from under a bipartisan effort that could have succeeded. What you have here is a lot of distrust, especially among the leaders in the parties, and that means uncertainty for the jobs bill.

MALVEAUX: And Brianna you had mentioned in the break, the bipartisanship lasted, what, two hours?

KEILAR: Oh I think you know not too much more than that. You know we saw this -- there seemed to be glimmers of it throughout the morning, and by the early afternoon --

MALVEAUX: It had fizzled.

KEILAR: Issues, yes.

MALVEAUX: All right, thank you so much, Brianna. Hopefully they'll get it together.

Well, the storm is gone but the effects linger in the form of mind-numbing, teeth-gritting, blood-boiling commute, so buckle up. We're going to take you along for the ride.

Plus Congress without a Kennedy -- for the first time in generations it looks like America's preeminent political dynasty will be out of power.



Happening now, former President Bill Clinton is out of the hospital and speaking out about the heart procedure that caught the world by surprise. He describes what it was like in his own words.

Also, a surprise announcement raises the possibility of something many Americans have never seen in their lifetime, a Congress without a single member of the Kennedy family.

Plus, it's first lady Michelle Obama's signature initiative, fighting childhood obesity. We'll hear from her and the experts on the epidemic and how to stop it.

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

Well, it was just 24 hours ago there was real concern about the health of former President Bill Clinton as news broke that he was hospitalized. Well, just a day later, he's back home and talking about the heart procedure he underwent. Our CNN's Mary Snow, she is in New York with the story, and Mary, he looks like he's doing well. What is the former president saying?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Suzanne, he says he was back to work today but from his home in Chappaqua, New York. This of course coming one day after his heart procedure. President Clinton was released from the hospital this morning. He says he feels great, walked a few miles on his treadmill today and he says he worked for three hours in the afternoon on Haiti. He says while he's been feeling tired for a while it was only this week that he felt different. Take a listen.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I didn't really notice it until about four days ago, and then I felt just a little bit of tingling, not pain, no grabbing in my chest, and I thought I ought to check it out and it is a fairly typical thing. As you know, Larry King had the same thing done about a month ago and didn't even say anything to anybody. It's miraculous what they do with a stent. You just go in and go out. And I didn't take any sedatives or anything, so I was alert. I wanted to watch it. I got to watch it all on the monitor.


SNOW: You know, Suzanne, one of the big questions, will he slow down? Short term he says two things he's been told by his doctors over the next week. Now he's not to jog or lift anything over 10 pounds, but he says in terms of slowing down, he says he has to work but he's going to try to take more vacations from now on -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: OK. We'll see if that works out for him. All right, thank you Mary. Glad to see he's in good health.

Well America's most famous political dynasty is practically vanishing before our eyes, at least in the halls of Congress. First there was the death of Senator Ted Kennedy, and now his son Patrick has decided not to run for reelection to the House. Our national political correspondent Jessica Yellin, she's here to tell us what this means for the Kennedy legacy -- Jessica.

YELLIN: Suzanne, since 1946, for all but two years there has been a Kennedy in the U.S. Congress. Now that's going to change.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've been humbled and honored.

YELLIN (voice-over): Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy made the announcement by video.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now having spent two decades in politics, my life has taken a new direction and I will not be a candidate for reelection this year.

YELLIN: He paid tribute to the man he called his most cherished mentor, his father, the late Ted Kennedy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From the countless lives he lifted to the American promise he helped shape, my father taught me that politics at its very core was about serving others. YELLIN: And he alluded to public troubles he's had with substance abuse and mental illness.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm so grateful to the people of Rhode Island. When I made missteps or suffered setbacks, you responded not with contempt, but compassion.

YELLIN: This means since the first time since 1962, there will no longer be a Kennedy in Congress. For a time, Robert and Teddy Kennedy served side by side in the Senate. Bobby's son, Joe, led the next generation, entering the House in 1987. Then Patrick's election in 1994 broadened the family's presence with a father-son duo. Those close to the family say Patrick's decision has nothing to do with political wins hurting Democratic incumbents.

THOMAS O'NEILL (D), FORMER MASS. LT. GOVERNOR: I think Patrick just felt that it was time that he's got to deal with some personal issues and that he's given a long, long piece of his life to public service.

YELLIN: Kennedy says he discussed this decision with his father before Senator Kennedy's passing.

REP PATRICK KENNEDY (D), RHODE ISLAND: He and I talked about my feeling comfortable doing other things in my life.

YELLIN: Patrick says he'll continue to focus on causes close to his heart.

KENNEDY: Particularly on behalf of those suffering from depression, addiction, autism and post post-traumatic stress disorder.

YELLIN: And politicians don't feel like it will be too long before we see another Kennedy in Washington.

O'NEILL: Who knows, on or two of the next generation might be running. As a matter of fact, I'm sure that they probably will.


YELLIN: All right, so which Kennedys could run, well, (INAUDIBLE) Massachusetts Joe Kennedy has said that he came to regret his decision not to run for Senator Ted Kennedy's Senate seat. Of course, that seat went to Scott Brown. But if there is another Kennedy or Kennedys ready to run, they haven't yet raised their hand -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: All right, we'll see who does. Thank you, Jessica.

Well, doing too little or doing too much. What a new "New York Times"/CBS poll says about American's trust of the government.

Also the TSA lets hundreds of workers in on some major secrets, but officials insist the move will help make the nation's airports safer. We're going to explain. And a huge hype in health insurance premiums. The Obama administration wants some answers from one health insurance company. But, will others follow suit with their own rate hikes?


MALVEAUX: A "New York Times"/CBS poll today shows that Americans believe that the government is doing too much. I want you to take a look at this. Nearly 60 percent of those polled show that private citizens and businesses are better at solving the nation's problems while only 35 percent say the government should do more. I want to bring in our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger.

And Gloria, does the president ignore these numbers at his own peril? What are we finding, here?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh, you bet he does. These are really, really important numbers, Suzanne. Just look at something we dug up that Ronald Reagan, of all people, said in August of 1986 about government and how people trust it, and boy, was he ahead of his time. Take a listen.


RONALD REAGAN, FMR U.S. PRESIDENT: I think you all know that I've always felt the nine most terrifying words in the English language are, "I'm from the government and I'm here to help."


BORGER: You know, Ronald Reagan, Suzanne, really, really understood that people don't trust the government. And that's the problem that Barack Obama has right now, because he's proposing what lots of people think are big government solutions to problems like health care, and they're just not buying it.

MALVEAUX: Have people always felt this way or the feelings and trust of government have changed?

BORGER: Well, you know what, it has really, really eroded over the years. Let's take a look at my wonderful graphic over here. We sort of charted this about whether people trust government to do what's right. And if you go back over 50 years, Suzanne, Eisenhower's time, 73 percent of the people said, you know what? Government is going to do what's right for me. Even after Watergate with Richard Nixon, 36 percent said government is OK. Ronald Reagan, 41 percent.

But look at what happens with Bill Clinton. 17 percent of the people said government is going to do what's right for me. After 9/11, with George Bush. People again saw first responders doing the right thing for them, trust in government went up to 60 percent.

But now look at president Obama. And this really shows you his problems, Suzanne. Trust in government at 19 percent, almost where it was with Bill Clinton when Bill Clinton couldn't pass his health care reform. So, here you have this president with angry voters, with people who don't trust government to do what's right, and he's trying to sell them to government.

MALVEAUX: And Gloria, you know what was interesting about the campaign, so many people he was asking people to trust ask have faith that the government and the fact he could be the president in particular was really going to make a difference in people's lives. Why do we see this kind of change in the way voters and the way people are seeing the role of the government?

BORGER: Well, they're getting angrier now, they're getting disappointed because they understand we've had these huge problems. Lots of people don't like the solutions that this president has proposed, and they're also seeing the democrats fighting the republicans as Brianna was talking about earlier in the show. They feel there was no bipartisanship as this president had promised, and so instead of being with him on things, they're getting more and more cynical and skeptical, and that's making it more difficult for this president to get things done.

MALVEAUX: That's a big challenge for this White House. OK, thank you Gloria and I do like that chart, the graphic. Very impressive. A lot of work into that one.

Well, consumers say they're seeing steep increases in their health insurance premiums, and one insurer raised rates as much as 39 percent for some customers after making almost $3 billion in profit in the last quarter alone. Our Mary Snow, she's been looking into this for us.

Obviously, a lot of people thinking, are you kidding me? What is this? What's going on?

MARY SNOW, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Suzanne, getting a lot of attention. The insurance, a unit of WellPoint, it's coming under intense scrutiny for this double digit increase in premiums. Now, the company has come out defending its latest move, but the secretary of Health and Human Services still remains skeptical about the explanation.


(voice-over): As a doctor, Mark Weiss knows all about difficult decisions his patients confront, but it's his own health care dilemma that he's now grappling with. Weiss' health insurance provider, Anthem Blue Cross, recently informed him his premium was being raised from $1,682 a month to $2,078.

MARK WEISS, ANTHEM BLUE CROSS CUSTOMER: Which is about, what, $6,000 a year in increased premiums. And, you know, the bottom line is that that's a big hit. That's a big hit no matter what happens in anybody's life.

SNOW: Adding to Weiss' woes, his medical history includes treatment for cancer.

WEISS: They have me cornered, I'm between a rock and a hard place with them. How is it a rock and a hard place? I can't apply for insurance anywhere else.

SNOW: Weiss is one of the estimated 600,000 Californians affected by Anthem Blue Cross rate hike of as high as 39 percent on individual policy holders. And it got the attention of President Obama who cited it to bolster his argument for health care reform.

BARACK OBAMA (D), UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: If we don't act, this is just a preview of coming attractions.

SNOW: Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of Health and Human Services, demanded that the parent company of Anthem Blue Cross, which is WellPoint, explain why it needed such a big rate hike after posting a $2.78 billion profit in the final quarter of 2009.

WellPoint responded in the letter saying the rates "reflected anticipated medical costs" and that they relate "only to the individual insurance market where individuals purchase coverage on their own (not through their employer), which represents approximately 10 percent of our more than eight million members in California."

WellPoint cites the challenging economy saying it's driving more people to opt out of insurance. The company declined the request for an interview. But a lobbyist for the California Association of Health Underwriters says other insurers are facing similar circumstances.

STEVEN LINDSAY, CA ASSGN OF HEALTH UNDERWRITERS: The sick stay and the well leave and so you end up having a smaller pool to pay for more costs.

SNOW: But Jerry Flanagan, of Consumer Watchdog, a group endorsing regulation, says the rate hikes are about making a profit.

JERRY FLANAGAN, CONSUMER WATCHDOG: This is not just Anthem. Insurance companies across the board will absolutely follow anthem's lead.


SNOW: Suzanne, the customers being affected right now are people who are buying their own insurance and can't get insurance through an employer. Now, this hike is expected to come under further scrutiny later this month when the House Energy and Commerce Committee addresses it at a hearing -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thank you very much, Mary.

Well, airport security workers are getting new access to secret information. We're going to tell you how it's supposed to help keep terrorists off airplanes.

And China makes an angry new demand of the Obama administration.


SNOW: Jessica Yellin is monitoring the other top stories that are coming in right now to THE SITUATION ROOM. Jessica, what do you have?

YELLIN: Suzanne, new details now on that campus shooting at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Three people were killed, three were wounded and police have arrested a female suspect, according to the school spokesman. Another person was detained, not arrested, after the shooting, which took place around 5:30 p.m. Eastern Time. No students were hurt. The university's Web site says the campus is closed for the night.

An Olympic athlete died on a training run just hours before the opening ceremony of the Vancouver winter games. The Olympian, from the Republic of Georgia, died on the luge track. He was near the end of the course when he flew off his sled and slammed into an unpadded steel pole. International Olympics say doctors couldn't revive him.

Well, China is urging President Obama to cancel his meeting with the Dalai Lama. The exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader is scheduled to visit the White House next Thursday, but China's state-run news agency reports that a foreign ministry spokesman say the U.S. should pull out of the meeting as part of it commitment to recognizing Tibet as part of China. The Dalai Lama favors genuine autonomy from China.

At least ten churches, Suzanne, set on fire this year in eastern Texas. Now, federal agents want to talk to these three men. ATF officials released these sketches today in the hopes somebody will recognize the faces and speak up. Investigators say there's no theme linking all these fires. Churches from different denominations have been targeted at different times on different days of the week.

Well, he may not be a household name, but chances are you've tossed around his famous invention. Walter Frederick Morrison is the inventor of the Frisbee died at the age of 90. Legend has it that Morrison got the idea back in 1937 while playing with a tin popcorn lid. Yes. But, he didn't actually license the disk until 20 years later. Since then, we're told 200 million Frisbees have been sold, that's according to the company that sells them.

So Suzanne, I guess before 1937, people were throwing around tin popcorn lids. I don't really see that.

MALVEAUX: Frisbee sounds so much better. I wonder how he got the name "Frisbee," though. That's interesting.

YELLIN: Oh, we should look that up.

MALVEAUX: Yeah. OK, I'll Google it -- I'll let you know. Thank you, Jessica.

Well, airport security workers are getting some access to some secret information. How will this make the nation's airports safer? We're going to have that.

Plus, first lady Michelle Obama, she uses her high profile to focus attention on the growing problem of childhood obesity. What she says you should do at your child's next checkup. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Well, less than two months after a man allegedly nearly blew up a flight near Detroit, the TSA is now taking steps to expand American security workers' access to secret intelligence. On CNN's Kate Bolduan, she's following the story.

Is there a connection here to the Christmas attack -- the attempted attack?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, according to the TSA, the concept for this initiative was developed back in July 2008 and the background checks began in 2009, so it's not a result of the Christmas day attempted attack but it's still a very big move in airport security. Ten thousand airport security workers are set to get enhanced intelligence clearance, secret clearance in an attempt by the Transportation Security Administration to improve its ability to detect and stop potential terrorists.

The workers gaining this new access to classified information are not the TSA workers you most often encounter at airports, not the checkpoint screeners that scan your luggage, rather it's their bosses, people that are in more senior positions: managers, supervisors and those behavior detection officers that are in airports.

Now, a spokeswoman for the TSA tells CNN that "Providing clearances and corresponding intelligence information to the front line workforce empowers our employees to better execute their mission at the checkpoint and in other areas of the transportation environment."

TSA says this effort will help the officers spot anything suspicious at the airport and also, Suzanne, help them to connect the potential dots, which was very important, and the Obama administration has said, within the intelligence community at large is something they needed to work on.

MALVEAUX: And how does this help the traveling public? Do some people, do they agree that 10,000 of these TSA workers should have this kind of intelligence?

BOLDUAN: It's a lot more people. We're hearing some on both sides, I would say. I would say two intelligence experts we spoke with say this is a good idea because it gives people within the intelligence community more confidence in sharing sensitive information, and they think it could reduce the chance that information would be leaked because these people will be trained to treat classified information appropriately. But the support isn't universal, as I said.

We talked to two representatives from airline pilot groups. Both say pilots and crews are being overlooked here, that it's much more critical that flight crews and flight attendants get this type of information. They argue, Suzanne, that security personnel at the checkpoint, they see these passengers for mere seconds. Their argument is that the flight crews and pilots are often with them for several hours in some cases. They think that's why it's important they get that information.

MALVEAUX: All right. OK. Thank you so much, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Of course.

MALVEAUX: Well, it's back to work for tens of thousands of federal workers in Washington, today, and while the skies are clear, there are still mounds of slushy snow still clogging many of the streets. It all adds up to a big nightmare commute. And my colleague, CNN White House correspondent, Dan Lothian, he found himself right in the middle of it.


DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I'm driving along on Route 29 heading into D.C. to the White House, and this is pretty much all you'll see, just traffic everywhere, but it's just been crawling the whole way. And the problem is that these are areas where you normally would have three lanes. Here you have virtually three lanes, but as you can see over here, this one lane, this third lane, is partially obstructed by all that snow. I'm more than an hour into my commute, only a few miles away from home. So, the headache that we had a few days ago, still going to be around for a little while.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The outer loop of the beltway in Montgomery County, that has been in a tremendous delay from 95 to Georgia Avenue...

LOTHIAN: She's talking about one of the areas that I'm driving through, right now.

Is this a mess or what? Look over here. The sun that has come out is starting to melt some of the snow here, so in this low-lying area, the street has kind of turned into a little creek.

How about that, I'm getting splashed.

All these cars are still buried. Obviously people park their cars and have not -- have just left them there.

Just about ready to pull into the garage, the parking garage down the street from the White House. From the time I got into my car at home, it took about 2.5 hours. It could have been a lot worse, because as I've been listening to the radio, some people say it took them three hours to get into work.

Now, the other option would have been to come in by train, the subway, which I do use from time to time, but it so happens that the very line that I use, the red line, there was a derailment, and it happened right at the stop that I normally get off of. So, all in all, it was a very slow commute, but it could have been a lot worse.


LOTHIAN: Well, Suzanne, you know, videotaping my commute isn't something that I do every day. In fact, I've never done it. But, this was really a big story. There were a lot of people out there stuck in this heavy traffic. I was one of them. And what amplified this whole situation was that a lot of these federal workers, who normally go to work early in the morning, started later in the day, and I got caught right in the middle of it.

MALVEAUX: And Dan, you and I, we don't live too far away from each other.

LOTHIAN: That's right.

MALVEAUX: Why didn't you stay at a hotel? I stayed at a hotel downtown.

LOTHIAN: Well, you know, I did, I had stayed in a hotel for a couple nights when the snow was coming down. I had to go home to check on some things, so I had to commute in today and that's the price that I paid.

MALVEAUX: Oh, thanks for the preview. Now I know what I'm going home to, today. Thank you.

LOTHIAN: That's right.

MALVEAUX: Thanks again, Dan. Great piece.

Let's go straight to Campbell Brown for your show. Hey, Campbell, what are you working on?

CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN NEWS ANCHOR: Hey there, Suzanne. At the top of the hour, we have an exclusive interview with Angelina Jolie who is doing work for United Nations in Haiti, right now.

Also, what on earth is going on with the trials of the alleged mastermind of 9/11, the trial? First the administration said it was absolutely going to happen in New York City in federal court, well, now there seems to be a bit of a turnaround. We're going to talk about that.

Also, an environmental disaster you have not heard about. This year's unusually cold winter wiping out hundreds of Florida's rare and beloved manatees. A special investigation on that at the top of the hour, as well -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: OK, thank you, Campbell, looking forward to it.

Well, First Lady Michelle Obama, she is kicking off what is being called her signature initiative. We're going to tell you what it's all about.


MALVEAUX: Here's a look at hot shots coming in from Getty images, pictures likely to be in your newspaper, tomorrow.

In (INAUDIBLE) Nepal, soldiers watch a helicopter fly past during army day celebrations. In Singapore, a boy sit in a temple decorated with 100 Buddha statues.

In Madrid, a man kisses a woman in a boat.

And in Slovakia, a Siberian husky with eyes of two different colors rest during a dog sled race. Hot shots, pictures worth a thousand words.

Well, First Lady Michelle Obama is using her buffed arms and White House garden, kids playground, and even her high-profile status to shine a light on a devastating health crisis, that is childhood obesity. I was at the White House earlier this week when she kicked off her campaign.


(voice-over): The race is on against the nation's epidemic of childhood obesity. And groups like the non-profit Playworks have a ready solution. At D.C.'s Tacoma Elementary School, everyone is encouraged to play, learning that being active is not only fun, but healthy, is key.

JILL VIALET, PLAYWORKS: I think if you look across the country, there is this physical activity crisis that affects kids, it affects grown-ups and it manifests itself in the obesity crisis, but also in a bunch of other social and emotional things.

MALVEAUX: One in three children in the U.S. is either overweight or obese. Dr. Judith Palfrey says the problem is too much food, much of it bad.

DR JUDITH PALFREY, AMERICAN ACADEMY OF PEDIATRICS: It's the excesses, the abundance that we have that's actually making us sick. In the past we used to get sick because we didn't have enough. Now, it's because we have so much and so many choices.

MALVEAUX: First Lady Michelle Obama has made the fight against childhood obesity her signature initiative, highlighting healthy eating choices with a grow-your-own effort in the White House garden, as well as showing fitness can be a good time.

OBAMA: I just want to say how proud I am of the First Lady for her outstanding work.

MALVEAUX: Earlier this week, the president got involved, signing an executive order establishing her campaign. And the first lady brought high-profile doctors, entertainers and athletes to the White House to officially kick it off. New York Yankee outfielder Curtis Ganderson had a few tips for the kids.

CURTIS GANDERSON, NEW YORK YANKEES: You can get a buddy, a sister, a cousin, a brother or sister to go out there with you to go ahead and play. All those different things add. You want to do what your buddies are doing.

MALVEAUX: And former NFL football player Tiki Barber, also.

TIKI BARBER, FMR PRO FOOTBALL PLAYER: I used to eight 4,000 calories a day just so I could keep my weight up because I was so active.

MALVEAUX (on camera): And most kids, though, they don't understand, they don't need 4,000 calories. You said you squatted 700 pounds or bench pressed 150.

BARBER: Yeah, that's in the days when I was getting beat up for a living. And now that I'm a normal human being, I try to eat like such.

MALVEAUX: And what do you think kids understand, because they're not very active.

BARBER: Well, I think they assume healthy living just comes from, you know, being around the right influences, but it's really something you have to be proactive with.


MALVEAUX: And one way to be proactive, the first lady suggests, is getting your child's BMI or body mass index tested by a pediatrician. It's their weight to height measure, and it will give you important initial information about whether your child is healthy size. And then, go from there.

I'm Suzanne Malveaux in THE SITUATION ROOM. Up next, Campbell Brown.