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THE SITUATION ROOM
Senator Bayh Announces Retirement
Aired February 15, 2010 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR, THE SITUATION ROOM: Happening now: a U.S. senator says he can't take the anger and the cynicism anymore. Democrat Evan Bayh explains his bombshell decision to call it quits. This hour, what Bayh's retirement says about the Democrats hold on power and a very volatile midterm election year.
And even Republican Senator John McCain admits he is feeling very threatened. Right now he has a new primary challenger who says the 2008 presidential nominee isn't conservative enough. I'll ask former congressman turned radio talk show host JD Hayworth why he thinks he can beat John McCain.
And safety fears surrounding the vice president's motorcade. A minor collision over at the Olympics comes after a fatal crash. We're looking into the accidents and what they mean. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
You needed more proof that this is a holy cow kind of election year, you got it. Today a very popular Democratic senator says he's not running for reelection this fall even though he thinks he would win. And the Republican congressman who couldn't win reelection decides to take on a powerful senator in his own party. What's going on here? Just ahead I'll ask Republican Senate candidate JD Hayworth to explain his challenge to none other than John McCain.
But first Senator Evan Bayh's retirement shocker and what it means for his increasingly anxious party. Our senior political analyst Gloria Borger is here along with our national political correspondent Jessica Yellin. First to you, Jessica. This came as quite a shocker.
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It did, Wolf. It was a bomb shell announcement for the Democratic Party already reeling from a set of retirements. And Senator Evan Bayh did not hold his fire when he said he's leaving because he's had it with the partisan bickering in Washington.
YELLIN (voice-over): A two-term senator, son of a political dynasty, now Evan Bayh says he's exiting the U.S. Senate because he can't take the gridlock.
SEN. EVAN BAYH (D) INDIANA: For some time I've had a growing conviction that Congress is not operating as it should. There is much too much partisanship and not enough progress. YELLIN: With $13 million in the bank and a recent poll indicating healthy double digit leads over his top two Republican challengers, Bayh was well-positioned to win reelection. But the senator is in a phrase fed-up.
BAYH: I have not detected a level of anger and cynicism about the Federal government in my lifetime as high as it is today.
YELLIN: Here asking President Obama about spending.
BAYH: Why should the Democratic Party be trusted?
YELLIN: In late January, he told the "Wall Street Journal" Democrats had overreached rather than looking for consensus and observed to ABC news that he sees the furthest left elements of the Democratic Party attempting to impose their will on the rest of the country. Those close to Bayh say he's considered this move for a year, even sharing his ruminations with President Obama. But his latest frustration, one, the Senate hasn't passed a bill to deal with its top priorities, jobs and two, he was outraged that seven senators voted against a measure they originally sponsored which would've reined in Federal spending. Bayh says it was all about politics.
BAYH: I love helping our citizens make the most of their lives, but I do not love Congress.
YELLIN: But Bayh's political future may still be bright. He was once Indiana governor and the seat is open in 2012. Listen closely, does it sound like he's running for something?
BAYH: I'm an executive at heart. I value my independence. I'm not motivated by strident partisanship or ideology. These traits may be useful in many walks of life, but unfortunately they are not highly valued in Congress.
BLITZER: All right. Jessica, so what are the Democrats trying to do to hold on to this seat in Indiana?
YELLIN: Well, they're in a bit of a bind actually Wolf because the timing was really bad for whoever runs in Senator Bayh's place. The deadline to file paperwork is this week and if we're honest about it, it's just not enough time to get a new candidate in place. So that means national Democrats believe the state party will have to decide who the nominee will be. So that means no Democratic primary. And the downside is that does not give a lot of time for this candidate, the Democrat to get exposure. The up side, Wolf, if there is one, the Democrat whoever runs in his place doesn't have to face an ugly primary battle which might happen on the Republican side. Still not ideal for a party.
BLITZER: I guess there's going to be criticism of Evan Bayh. Why did he wait until this moment? Has he answered that question as far as you know?
YELLIN: He said it took him a long time to come up with this decision and he finally had to make a personal choice for himself.
BLITZER: What does it say about, Gloria, what does it say about this whole situation, a moderate Democrat reelected several times, a former governor, decides to call it quits.
GLORIA BORGER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think that there is a disconnect generally between the Congress and where the American public is. Moderate Democrats and moderate Republicans are becoming endangered species. And the public, by the way, the growing number of independent voters now is such that they outnumber Democrats and Republicans. While the public wants to see bipartisanship, the public is more independent, but Congress grows more and more partisan. I think it's a real wake-up call to the Democratic Party. I think this is going to be a huge problem for them, Wolf. They may not even keep control of the Senate. This seat could very easily turn Republican.
BLITZER: And Jessica, what does that say about the Democrats' ability to get things done this year?
YELLIN: Not good, Wolf. Obviously when a member of their own party is quitting because he can't get something done and he's in the majority, that's a very, very bad sign for the Democrats. In addition, it's an election year. You know how things get gridlocked even worse in an election year. And let's face it. When he's criticizing the Senate's ability to get a jobs bill passed, he's really criticizing his own leadership, a lot of frustration.
BORGER: And I spoke to somebody in the leadership today on the Democratic side, the staffer who said that this will make it harder for them to depend on Senator Bayh's vote on health care reform. He could go off on his own a little bit more now and that worries them tremendously.
BLITZER: He does want to have a political future. He's got $13 million in the bank that he had collected for his reelection and now he could disperse it to other PACs, to other candidates and have some influence if he wants to spend it that way.
YELLIN: That's right.
BLITZER: There are restrictions, though, on what he can do with that $13 million.
YELLIN: But it gives him a lot of power.
BLITZER: It certainly does. Let's continue to watch the story guys thanks very much.
As of today, Democrats have five open seats to defend in the U.S. Senate, in Indiana, Connecticut, North Dakota, Illinois and Delaware. Republicans have six open Senate seats to defend in Missouri, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Ohio, Florida and Kansas.
Now we take you inside the largest military offensive in the history of the Afghanistan war. We're told U.S. and NATO forces are quote making progress against the Taliban in the insurgent stronghold of Marjah. Our CNN's Atia Abawi is embedded with the U.S. Marines there. She reports allied forces still have a long way to go just a few days into this operation. It's seen as an important first test of the president's troop surge in Afghanistan. Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent Ed Henry who is working the story for us. Ed, you're learning about a new effort by the administration to reach out to allies critically needed at this moment.
ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf, it has not been announced by the White House yet. But I'm picking up from sources outside the administration that next week the president may meet here at the White House with the NATO secretary general (INAUDIBLE). What's significant about that is that test you're talking about that's going on with this surge in Afghanistan right now is not just about pushing back the Taliban. It's the U.S. and its allies trying to make sure they build up the Afghan army so they can turn things over. If you look at the big picture, the president has now built the U.S. footprint and the U.S. in Afghanistan to about 100,000 U.S. troops on the ground. The only way he's going to get a large number back home any time soon is to build up the Afghan army. He needs help from his allies so this meeting next week as it goes forward could be pivotal.
BLITZER: It'll be very important because the Canadians are involved with the U.S. military offensive. The British troops are involved, but so many of the other NATO allies, they're MIA right now and that's a real sore spot.
HENRY: It definitely is. If you look at what's going on behind the scenes, last week Defense Secretary Robert Gates went over to Europe, tried to bring along some of these allies in terms of helping with the effort in Afghanistan. He got mixed results. And Italy, for example, the Italians said they'd step up and increase their forces in Afghanistan by about 1,000. But then Secretary Gates went to France and they said they'd send 80 more trainers to train the Afghan army, only 80. That was kind of an embarrassment to the U.S. and I spoke to a senior White House official today who was very candid about saying, look, we believe that we're getting help from some of these allies, but we know we've got to get a lot more and that the bar was set very high by this president coming in and saying he's going to be a lot different from former President Bush about bringing these allies along. They know they're not quite where they wanted to be and they still have a lot more work to do, Wolf.
BLITZER: Ed Henry is working this story for us and we're going to speak to Atia Abawi. She's embedded with the Marines on the military offensive right now. That's coming up in our next hour, much more on this story.
John McCain isn't the only big name Republican facing a primary challenge this year. Why are lesser known candidates feeling emboldened to take on political power houses? Our own David Gergen is reading the tea leaves. Stand by for that.
And a stern new warning for the U.S. that Iran is moving toward a military dictatorship. What prompted those chilling words from the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton?
BLITZER: We're standing by, we're going to be speaking live with the Republican challenger to John McCain in Arizona for the Republican senatorial nomination, JD Hayworth. We'll speak to him in just a few moments, But let's set the stage with our senior political analyst David Gergen. He was the Republican presidential nominee, popular for many years in Arizona. All of a sudden he faces a challenge from the right. David, what's going on?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I cannot remember a time when the nominee of a party has been challenged just a couple years later from his own party to his flank the way John McCain is being challenged. Now it's likely Wolf that he will win. He's the favorite going in. He's got that lot of support instantly (ph) from Sarah Palin. But what seeing in Arizona is what we're seeing elsewhere in the country and that is these winds of frustration and anger that are coming from a populous grassroots movement that we associate with the tea party folks, but goes beyond that. And they are favoring, you know, insurgent candidates. And they're doing well in Florida. As you know, Marco Rubio (ph), who is a former House speaker is doing surprisingly well ahead now the Florida governor, Charlie Crist for the Senate seat in Florida.
In Kentucky, Rand Paul (ph), the son of Ron Paul is now enjoying a lead for the Republican primary, fueled by a lot of support from the tea party folks. And you now see John McCain been taken on. We saw this in Massachusetts where Scott Brown won the seat. So there's a lot of change. What I find also interesting, Wolf, where's Sarah Palin? What role she's playing. She's actually supporting McCain against Hayworth and that is thought (INAUDIBLE) at all for McCain, the tea party. But in Kentucky she's supporting the more conservative libertarian candidate Rand Paul. And in Texas she's supporting the -- in the governor's race there, she's supporting Rick Perry against Kay Bailey Hutchinson, another establishment figure. And Perry's doing well. Where Palin has made her endorsements, she's actually been putting her money on candidates who are doing pretty well.
BLITZER: It doesn't seem to make any difference if you're a Democratic candidate or a Republican candidate, an incumbent. If you're an incumbent right now, there's a lot of people who want to go out there and bring you down.
GERGEN: That's absolutely right, Wolf. And it's especially true in McCain's case. He's seen as a maverick. He's not pure enough for some conservatives. He's departed from party orthodoxy on immigration for example. He's not seen as quite tough enough on don't ask, don't tell. To my surprise I think he's had a very responsible actually sort of wait and see position on that. He's not rushed into get rid of don't ask, don't tell. And he's been strong about spending. But he is as a maverick facing this.
Same thing with Evan Bayh you were just talking about with Gloria and Jessica. He's Evan Bayh who is a moderate who is now getting sort of disgusted with the process. He was actually facing a challenge from a Republican. I think Evan Bayh would've won. But even so, the people who are more toward the middle and the mavericks are the ones feeling a lot more heat. It's running against all incumbents, but the ones who are mavericks and moderates are the ones who I think are really in a bull's eye right now.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, David Gergen for that. David Gergen, stand by. We're going to get back to you.
How's this for political irony? Today is presidents day and on this day, the last Republican who ran for president but lost receives a fresh threat to his job. We're talking about Senator John McCain. Today former Arizona congressman and now radio talk show host JF Hayworth announced he wants to force McCain into retirement. Hayworth announced he's running for the U.S. Senate saying McCain just isn't conservative enough for Arizona. The former congressman is joining us now from Sun Lakes. Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.
JD HAYWORTH (R) ARIZONA SENATE CANDIDATE: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: A lot of folks immediately when they heard you were challenging John McCain, they said, you know what, JD Hayworth couldn't get himself reelected a few years ago against a Democrat. What makes him think he can beat a legend like John McCain for the Republican -- I'm sure you've been asked that question many times.
HAYWORTH: Well, it's interesting, Wolf. If we played that kind of game, we could say why on earth is John McCain running again because he suffered a massive defeat nationally. The fact is that elections come. They're decisions at fixed points in time. Certainly my name was on the ballot in 2006 and I did finish second in the fifth congressional district. But we all learned in civics classes and I think is evidenced by the news that Senator Bayh is going to step down in Indiana, quite often midterm elections are a referendum on the performance of the chief executive. And certainly Barack Obama has failed to perform up to expectations of great change. There's been change, all right, the wrong kind of change. And when I get to Washington as a United States senator, I will be a consistent conservative voice as opposed to my old friend John McCain. This isn't personal. It's a matter of policy and that's why we go to the political process. But John is a moderate who proclaims that he's a maverick.
BLITZER: On what issues are you most concerned about John McCain?
HAYWORTH: Well, there are a litany of issues, Wolf. First of all, it's worth noting that a Rasmussen poll showed that over 60 percent of Arizona Republicans do not believe that John McCain shares their basic values.
BLITZER: Give me a specific issue. Let's go through a specific issue which you disagree with him on.
HAYWORTH: OK, happy to, the bailout. The bailout vote for the banks late during the Bush administration. When John McCain suspended his campaign and we thought we would see some sort a stand against that ill-advised bailout. In the final analysis, John McCain complained about it, said it was probably the wrong thing to do but he voted the $700 billion to the banks and also $150 billion in earmarks, the very kind of spending he rails against and falsely accuses me of engaging in. Now, that's a situation where John is saying one thing and doing another.
BLITZER: But let me -- hold on a second before we move on to immigration. A lot of the economists at that time during the tail end of the Bush administration, including Ben Bernanke who was named by Bush the Federal Reserve chairman, Henry Paulson, the Treasury secretary. They said if they didn't do this bailout, the abyss would've happened. I would have gone over the abyss and it wouldn't have been a recession, it would have been a depression.
HAYWORTH: Well, you know, a lot of people did offer that chicken little scenario. And equally other economists and people in the real banking world, for example, a communication that I received from the president of BB&T, a southeastern bank concern asking the 435 members of the House and the 100 members of the Senate not to vote in favor of the bailout because the money would not end up being used by banks to be loaned to consumers and you would have banks under the thumb of greater government control. And, indeed, though I don't like to use Hank Paulson as a source, in an excerpt of his book that appeared in last Saturday's "Wall Street Journal," he made it very clear that while McCain in the end supported it, when John suspended his campaign to go back to Washington, and voters thought, wow. John McCain is going to make a stand for us. John, instead of being the tell it like it is straight talk express guy we tend to believe in, he meekly read a couple of talking points and went along with the whole deal. I believe it was the wrong deal for America, not only the bailout for the banks, but the $150 billion in earmarks. John called the vote wrong. He said spending was an obscenity, but he voted for it.
BLITZER: So that's a bigger issue in you mind than his support for comprehensive immigration reform?
HAYWORTH: You asked me and there's a litany of issues. There's more than amnesty. Although, goodness knows Americans will take that -- take a hit in the pocketbook there, as well. According to the Heritage Foundation, the long-term effects of retirement benefits alone for illegals who were granted citizenship would be $2.6 trillion. That's trillion with a T. And then, of course, you have a variety of other issues, taxes, for example. When I was in Congress on the Ways and Means Committee, I fought for the tax cuts in 2001 and 2003. My friend John McCain went to the well of the U.S. Senate calling those quote tax cuts for the wealthy, sounding a lot more like John Kerry than the John McCain I'd been accustomed to.
BLITZER: Here's what he said when he got word that you were thinking of running against him for the Republican nomination. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN McCAIN (R) ARIZONA: I know for nearly a year on his radio show, Mr. Hayworth used to attack me in the most disrespectful fashion. So I would imagine over time that we might see a repetition of that.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: How ugly is this Republican primary going to get?
HAYWORTH: Well, I have made it very clear. And the radio is one thing and we all engage in satire and humor. I didn't intend to savage John in any way making some points. But I've been nothing but respectful on the trickle (ph) and I will remain respectful in stark contrast to what Mr. McCain and his operatives told politico that they were going to run quote, a scorched earth campaign against JD Hayworth. Now what people tell me in Arizona is, my goodness, why is John McCain personally attacking you in radio ads all the time for? Why didn't he have that type of aggressive campaign, for example, against Barack Obama? It seems to show with apologies to Lerner and Lowe that McCain saves his disdain for conservatives in the main. We'll have a spirited discussion.
BLITZER: You know that Sarah Palin who was his running mate says she's going to support John McCain and try to get him that nomination instead of you. How do you feel about that?
HAYWORTH: Well, I think we all understand the impulse of gratitude in politics and obviously Senator McCain, one of the decisions I applaud him for was putting Sarah Palin on the ticket. I think it gave great excitement to the Republican base and I can understand why she's coming here. But what's interesting, Wolf, in the social media, aas I understand it, there's a new page on Facebook, Sarah Palin fans for JD but in the final analysis, it's not Sarah Palin from Alaska, It's Sarah Boyd in Scottsdale and others like her. Arizonans will decide who will be the next senator from this great state.
BLITZER: I'll ask you a question that the former Vice President Dick Cheney was asked yesterday. Do you think she's qualified to be president of the United States?
HAYWORTH: I think she is an exciting candidate who brings a new type of interest in politics. I think she ran Alaska extremely well. I think that she has broken through in terms of social media quite effectively. In fact, I'd be happy. We always welcome visitors to Arizona, Wolf and we welcome you back sometime soon. But I would be very happy to extend her stay if she wants to do an event for John, that's great. We'd be happy to have her do an event for us, as well.
BLITZER: So is the answer yes, do you think she's qualified?
HAYWORTH: Sure, I think she's qualified. She's already run for vice president. But that's beside the point. The question we have right now, Wolf, is who is going to be the next senator for Arizona? And that's why I think if people go to jdforsenate.com they will see that my issues reflect a consistent, conservative philosophy. That's what Arizonans want. That's why (INAUDIBLE) I believe I'll be nominated in August and will win the general election and be the next senator from Arizona.
BLITZER: That gets me to my final question on a general election assuming -- and this is still a huge assumption right now, you beat John McCain for the Republican nomination. Thirty percent of the population of your state of Arizona is Latino, Hispanic in origin. And many of them totally disagree with you on the whole issue of immigration. How do you win a general election if you beat McCain in a primary given the fact that 30 percent of the people in your state are Hispanic?
HAYWORTH: Wolf, let me caution you against what I call the myth of the monolith. The assumption that the majority of people who happen to have Hispanic last names somehow instantly embrace the notion of open borders and illegal immigration. Nothing could be further from the truth --
BLITZER: A majority does, don't you think?
HAYWORTH: Well, let's take a look. In 2004 with prop 200 on the ballot, 47 percent of Latinos voted in favor of that. That's a greater number than what the 43 percent who supported President Bush when he carried the state in 2004. Again, what I'm saying is that it is not this overwhelming landslide that Latinos want to see open borders. I reach out to American voters of every ethnicity, race, color or creed who say we're Americans first and we want common sense, conservative solutions. And I think in this special year of 2010, where people say they want change all right, but they want conservative common sense change, I think it bodes very well for me not only in the primary, but eventually in the general election.
BLITZER: We're going to continue to watch this story. It's going to be a fascinating campaign, congressman, thanks very much for joining us.
HAYWORTH: Wolf, thank you very much for the time.
BLITZER: JD Hayworth. We go way back and now he's going to be running against John McCain. We'll watch what happens. We invited by the way Senator McCain to join us today. We look forward to having him on the program soon, lots of questions to ask him as well.
And busted, we've learned that terrorists with al Qaeda has been caught possibly carrying what's being described as a gold mine of information about other terrorists.
And people who see the vice president's motorcade pass by might want to be careful. Count them, there have now been not one or two accidents involving the president's motorcade, but four.
And two former Olympic gold medal winners were hurt in the most recent.
BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Lisa, what's going on?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there Wolf. Vice President Joe Biden is heading to the Middle East early next month. The White House announced the trip today and it looks like the VP's calendar is going to be packed. He's scheduled to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Palestinian authority President Mahmoud Abbas as well as the president of Egypt and the king of Jordan. The administration has been encouraging Israelis and Palestinians to resume peace talks.
And Irish bishops, kissing the hand of the pope at the Vatican today. One called it a first step towards repentance in the wake of a damning report on widespread child abuse within Ireland's Catholic church between 1975 and 2004. But sex abuse victims are calling on the Vatican to hold its own investigation and punish those responsible.
And a group of African-American farmers left their fields for the picket line today. They rallied outside the Department of Agriculture here in Washington. They're demanding payment for long-standing claims of racial bias in Federal farm programs. President Barack Obama has proposed including more than $1 billion to cover the compensation claims in this year's farm bill. But Congress has yet to approve it.
And the lawyer whose work led to President Bill Clinton's impeachment, well, he's landed a new job. Kenneth Starr is going to become the next president of Baylor University in Waco, Texas. He's been the dean at Pepperdine University's law school since 2004 and you may remember that it was Starr who investigated President Clinton during the Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky scandals. Clinton was impeached but not convicted and I know Wolf that you covered all of that.
BLITZER: Certain did, every step of the way. Ken Starr headed to Texas from California.
And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton essentially says be worried. She says the U.S. believes Iran and I'm quoting now is moving toward a military dictatorship. Wait until you hear what Secretary Clinton says the U.S. and its allies should do next.
And the debate over trying terror suspects in civilian courts versus military tribunals. The Vice President Joe Biden cites the overwhelming success of one over the other. But we're checking the vice president's facts. Stand by.
And it's happened not once or twice, but now four times, a crash involving Vice President Joe Biden's motorcade. Two former gold medal winners were hurt in the most recent crash. Now some are wondering why is Vice President Biden's motorcade involved in so many crashes? What is going on? I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Iran's Revolutionary Guard is very powerful, but is it seizing control of the country? Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is warning that the answer may be yes. She's raising a red flag today that Iran is heading toward what she calls a military dictatorship. Our foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty is standing by. Tell us what's going on. What's behind these recent words from the secretary?
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Okay, Wolf. What she's saying is that the revolutionary guard is actually supplanting the control of the government -- in other words, you look at the control of the government as it exists today. You have the religious leader and then you have Ayatollah Khamenei. They are giving up power. They're giving power to the revolutionary guard. That is a paramilitary organization that controls big swaths of the economy. It controls the nuclear program, and it also controls the repression that we've seen on the streets in Iran during those demonstrations. Now, why is it happening? She has a couple of theories. One could be that there's simply the civilians are actually preoccupied with the chaos and the political problems that are going on, or they could be deliberately seeding power to them. But the bottom line of this, Wolf, is that the revolutionary guard is the group that the west, the United States want to target with these new sanctions.
BLITZER: You know, the deadline was supposed to be at the end of last year that the Obama administration put forward for the Iranians to cooperate and respond to the international community. That deadline has now come and gone. Is there some sort of new initiative out there on the table that the Iranians will have one more chance?
DOUGHERTY: Yeah, that's what they were saying. But Russia, France, and the United States were all saying there's no new deal. There are two offers out to them today. One has been out since October and that is give up 75 percent of -- in other words, most all of your low enriched uranium, ship it out of the country, we'll reprocess it and ship it back. Or, if you need these as they were calling them, the isotopes for treating cancer patients, you can get those too. We can help you to find them on the open market. But there are two deals, the west is saying right now, that are available and are realistic offers but Iran isn't doing anything. So there's no new deal. What's out there is out there.
BLITZER: Jill Dougherty watching this for us. Lots of tough words. We'll see what action happens if any.
About a year ago, Democrats were falling all over themselves to embrace President Obama, now some are insisting on keeping their distance. The president as a political liability, that's coming up on our strategy session.
BLITZER: We've learned that an operative of al Qaeda has been formally busted with a portfolio of terror information. Let's go straight to our homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve. Tell us what we know.
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a U.S. counter terrorism official confirms that an al Qaeda member by the name of Abdullah al Adan was captured carrying information intended to go from al Qaeda central in the Pakistan Afghanistan region to go to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen. This man is described as having a background in explosives and goes by the name of Bahoud which I'm told is Arabic for a kind of explosive powder. The U.S. counter terrorism official says he is not a senior member of al Qaeda but he is definitely more than a foot soldier. Wolf?
BLITZER: What was the information, Jeanne, that he was carrying?
MESERVE: U.S. officials aren't talking about it. But websites we monitor for messages and statements from al Qaeda describe this man as being a field commander. And they claim that when he was picked up in Oman, he was carrying more than 300 names and numbers, important documents, and codes. They urge operatives in Yemen and Afghanistan to change their locations and cell phone numbers. But Wolf, we cannot vouch for the authenticity of the posting.
BLITZER: Some are skeptical, as you know.
MESERVE: Some experts question whether al Qaeda would have one individual carry that much important information because he might be picked up. But if it's true, it would represent a gold mine for the intelligence agencies. It also may indicate, Wolf, a much tighter connection between al Qaeda central and its affiliate in Yemen.
BLITZER: We'll continue to watch it. Jeanne, thank you.
This isn't what most people think of when they think of global warming. How are scientists explaining all of the snow from coast to coast? Standby for that.
BLITZER: Let's get to our strategy session. Joining us our CNN political contributor, Paul Begala. He is a Democratic strategist and Republican strategist John Feehery. Guys thanks very much for coming in. A democratic congressman, you probably have heard of him, Dennis Cardoza of California says this, "The president isn't welcome to campaign with me right now. He is welcome to come to my district and help me do my job, which is providing relief to my constituents." Somebody would've told you, Paul, only a few months ago that a Democratic Congressman is saying I don't want President Obama to come in my district and campaign on my behalf. What would you have said?
PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I would have fallen over. Not only is he saying it, but in "The Los Angeles Time." He's not quietly calling the white house political director and saying, keep your guy out of here. It's a terrible strategy. Mr. Cardoza will do fine. He knows his district. I don't mean to second guess him personally but it is never a smart strategy for either party to run away from its own president. Because you look sect less to your own base who still loves him and you look like a coward to independents. It never works this running away from your president. Democrats are going to rise or fall together. Now, they have to separate from Washington, not Obama. Separate from Washington lobbyists, separate from big corporations that are trying to take over our elections after the Supreme Court ruling. Plenty to separate from in Washington but not the president. They should not try to attack the president.
BLITZER: You remember there were some Republican candidates who didn't want President Bush coming in to campaign with them.
JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I agree with Paul, it's a terrible strategy but also a terrible situation. The fact of the matter is it doesn't work. The strategy didn't work in 1990 with George Bush, didn't work in 1994 with Bill Clinton, didn't work in 2006 with George Bush. It's a bad situation, but the situation is terrible for some of these Democrats. You saw that with Evan Bayh who said I've had enough. And a lot of others are thinking I don't want to face the voters because it's not that enjoyable to them.
BLITZER: Would President Obama going into this guy's Congressional district really hurt him?
BEGALA: It's not in my job description as a pundit but I have to bring a degree of humility to this. Mr. Cardoza knows his district better than I do. But I would say as strategic matter, it is foolish to try to push off against your own president. The surest predictor of how house races are going to go in an off year is how popular a president is. So if Democrats do anything that tears the president down, it's only going to hurt themselves. If Democratic Congressmen and Barack Obama are in a convertible together going through a car wash, it's only the Congressman that's going to get wet.
BLITZER: How surprised are you that some of these Democrats are saying to President Obama, stay away from my district.
FEEHERY: Not that surprising. The biggest surprise would be if they start splitting on votes legislatively. The biggest problem is if they can't vote with the president or the leadership and then they are completely gridlocked and nothing gets done and they have nothing to bring back to the voters, that is for the Democrats. The real biggest problem they face.
BLITZER: Stand by, guys, we have more to discuss.
Also, more important news we're watching including rooting out hard line extremists. That's the challenge in one of the biggest anti- Taliban operations in Afghanistan. We have the latest on how the U.S. and some NATO allies are doing right now.
And more of their strategy session, Dick Cheney comes out swinging this weekend putting Biden on defense. Biden comes out swinging, as well. He's putting the former vice president on defense at the same time. What is going on? Could the former vice president have, perhaps, at least one of them an eye on a presidential run in 2012? Stand by.
BLITZER: And joining us now, our CNN political contributor, Paul Begala, Democratic strategist and Republican strategist John Feehery. Saw a lot of the former vice president, Dick Cheney, over the weekend. Is he emerging for all practical purposes as the real leader of the Republican Party right now?
FEEHERY: He's right now the best counter punch we've got against the Obama administration. And that the Obama administration takes the most seriously because he moves policy. Is he the only voice? Is he going to be a presidential contender? I don't think he's going to be a presidential contender because I don't think --
BLITZER: There are some people as you know, Paul, who are scrolling out the name Dick Cheney as the Republican nominee in 2012. BEGALA: I'll pay his filing fee. He's got the $30 million from Halliburton, which I guess they made when they were trading with the Iranian regime so he's got plenty of money of his own, but Dick Cheney needs to run for president because he is the embodiment of the complete failure, particularly on national security. I'm not a psychiatrist, but I think what drives him is his profound sense of guilt from the incompetence and the weakness he showed before 9/11. He was asked to chair a task force on terrorism, it never met. He helped to threaten a veto of increased funding for counterterrorism measures when he was the vice president. And this is all before 9/11. And so the attack came, Dick Clark, the president's adviser on counterterrorism and said the reason why Dick Cheney was surprised, he wasn't listening before 9/11. This is the guilt he bears, for the weakness and incompetence for his own administration.
FEEHERY: The Clinton administration deserves a bunch of blame for what happened before 2004. Let me tell you something, Dick Cheney is one of the most respected voices on national security. I think he's been that way -- I think that's why the Obama administration always decides that they have to listen to him and then try to counter him because they're worried that he has more credibility than they do ton national security. And the fact of the matter is, Dick Cheney, the secretary of defense, throughout his vice presidential career, he was a voice of national security and somebody right now who has more credibility than the Vice President Biden.
BLITZER: It's fascinating we see and hear a lot from Dick Cheney over the past year, but not from the former president, George W. Bush himself. It's Dick Cheney who is really going on the offensive.
BEGALA: Dick Cheney had almost as much air time this weekend as you did in Texas at the all-star game, Wolf. We saw Mr. Blitzer on the air all the time.
BLITZER: I love that new stadium in Dallas. It's an amazing stadium. That screen. If you haven't seen it, you've got to go.
BEGALA: And all the NBA players sucking up to you. That's great. You're a celebrity with the NBA guys.
BLITZER: All right, guys, we'll talk about this later. It was a great NBA all-star game. A lot of fun you missed it on TV.
CNN is in the trenches right now in Afghanistan with U.S. marines waging a massive assault against the Taliban. We'll have a progress report on the mission straight from the war zone. Stand by.
And Vice President Biden's motorcade involved in yet another accident. This time involving two Olympic gold medalists. We're looking into safety concerns and whether they might have some kind of connection. What is going on?
BLITZER: Right we want to take a closer, harder look at the safety of Vice President Biden's motorcade after it was involved in a fourth accident in the matter of only several months. The latest incident was at the Olympics in Vancouver over the weekend. It left two gold medalists from previous winter games slightly injured. The figure skating great Peggy Fleming and bobsledder Vanetta Flowers were riding in a van when there was a chain reaction collision near the back of the motorcade. Lisa Sylvester is here with more.
The vice president's car, Lisa, was not part of this accident. We do know who was driving the car involved.
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. In fact, the type of motorcade the vice president rides in really depends on where he's going and what the purpose of the trip is, and the number of vehicles will vary with many of these motorcades. But what many people may not realize is it's actually more than just the president or vice president and staff and security as part of this motorcade. There are also a number of dignitaries. For example, you may have the local a mayor, the governor or in this case the U.S. Olympic delegation. They were bringing up the rear of the motorcade and oftentimes it's not secret service drivers but local volunteers like members of the Democratic Party driving the vans. The key point is they are not professional drivers. They are trying to stay in close formation, Wolf, and that's where the possibility of an accident happened. It was a chain reaction.
BLITZER: I have been in those motorcades. They are going fast and a lot of the drivers are young volunteers, if you will, who come in and say, I want to help the vice president. This is the fourth accident in the vice president's motorcade.
SYLVESTER: Yeah, in recent months. It's so surprising. Right now, although there doesn't seem to be a connection between the incidents we want to take you through them. November 11 in Temple Hills, Maryland, two secret service vehicles struck and killed a pedestrian. The vice president was not in the motorcade at the time of the accident. The same month in New York City, the vice president was in the city to appear on ""The Daily Show." A cab driver tried to get through the intersection when he was hit by a police car that stopped traffic. A similar incident, that same week in New Mexico, a sheriff's department was working security and was hit and injured by a woman trying to get around the blocked road. This latest incident, of course, the Vancouver accident. They are looking into the possibility that an oil spill on the road may have played a role. Wolf?
BLITZER: Fortunately the vice president himself was never in serious danger. Thank you very much, Lisa.
We're learning now more about the professor accused of killing three colleagues in Alabama and her alleged links to past crimes. This case keeps getting more and more unusual.
BLITZER: Nightmare snow storms. Every state in the continental United States has had snow in recent days and that has people warning about global warming. The skeptics say what global warming and what's the actual science say about all of this? Let's bring in our severe weather expert Chad Myers in Atlanta. You have heard the skeptics of global warming saying this proves no such thing exists.
CHAD MYERS, AMS METEORLOGIST: One year doesn't make a trend really. If you go to the London Times on the weekend version the Sunday version, there is a large article about a professor John Kristy out of the University of Alabama, Huntsville saying all of these reporting stations are getting polluted because there is heat factories, there's giant plants and air conditioner units by where all the old reporting stations were when they were put there 50 years ago. They were in the middle of the prairie and now they are in the middle of a city. But that's another story. That's for a different day.
We are still seeing snow from New York all the way back to Columbus. It doesn't feel like global warming. What does it feel like? Well, in fact, Wolf, it feels like el nino, the warm water in the pacific coming in, pounding itself, pushing itself up against the western part of the U.S. down in Mexico and into Peru and cold and wet conditions all the way up the east coast. Kind of feels more like an ice age with all the snow going on, Wolf.
BLITZER: I guess you could call it climate change as opposed to global warming might be a more accurate description of what's going on. Is that right?
MYERS: You know what, Wolf; someone was talking in my ear when you were asking me that question.
BLITZER: Climate change versus global warming. Some global warming, people who fear global warming say, you know, instead of calling it global warming, let's call it climate change.
MYERS: There is no question the climate is changing. The climate has been getting warmer for 10,000 years since the end of the last ice age, but it's been getting rapidly warmer the last 200 or 150 years since we have started burning all this coal and energy out there. Yes, the climate is changing. Is it changing as much as some people think? Go to londontimes.com and see what you can find, Wolf.
BLITZER: Chad, thank you.