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THE SITUATION ROOM

President Obama Signs Health Care Reform Bill; Private Contractors Spying on the Taliban?

Aired March 23, 2010 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Now, Wolf, tomorrow in Newark, the two suspects are scheduled to be arraigned. A public defense lawyer for Hampton declined comment. And prosecutors say they're not aware of any lawyer representing Evans. There was a third defendant. Authorities say he died two years ago -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Mary Snow, thank you.

And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: from rhetoric to reality. After a brutal battle in Congress, President Obama signs the health care reform bill into law. It's the broadest social legislation in decades. Republicans may try to overturn it, but right now Democrats are riding very high. You will see the signing ceremony. That's coming up in a moment.

Get health insurance, or else. That's one key provision of the new law. If you try to do without coverage, you may face penalties.

And private eyes keeping an eye on the Taliban. The U.S. military may benefit from intelligence gained by private contractors. Is there anything wrong with that?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

With a stroke of the pen, President Obama has turned months of fierce legislative combat into law. It remains to be seen whether health care reform works as planned. On paper, it's a huge undertaking by the federal government that will ultimately affect almost everyone. Republicans are vowing to roll back the legislation. Some state attorneys general have already filed suit against it, but for now Democrats are celebrating a big victory.

Here's what it looked like today, over at the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, after almost a century of trying, today, after over a year of debate, today, after all the votes have been tallied, health insurance reform becomes law in the United States of America.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: In a few moments, when I sign this bill, all of the overheated rhetoric over reform will finally confront the reality of reform.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: That our generation is able to succeed in passing this reform is a testament to the persistence and the character of the American people who championed this cause, who mobilized, who organized, who believed that people who love this country can change it.

It's also a testament to the historic leadership and uncommon courage of the men and women of the United States Congress who've taken their lumps during this difficult debate.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Yes, we did.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: We're still standing, Mr. President.

OBAMA: You know, there are...

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: There are few tougher jobs in politics or government than leading one of our legislative chambers. In each chamber, there are men and women who come from different places and face different pressures, who reach different conclusions about the same things, and feel deeply concerned about different things.

And by necessity leaders have to speak to those different concerns. It isn't always tidy. It is almost never easy. But perhaps the greatest and most difficult challenge is to cobble together out of these differences the sense of common interest and common purpose that's required to advance the dreams of all people, especially in a country as large and diverse as ours.

And we are blessed by leaders in each chamber who not only do their jobs very well, but who never lost sight of that larger mission. They didn't play for the short term. They didn't play to the polls or to politics.

One of the best speakers the House of Representatives have ever had, Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

AUDIENCE: Nancy! Nancy! Nancy!

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: One of the best majority leaders the Senate has ever had, Mr. Harry Reid.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: Our presence here today is remarkable and improbable. With all the punditry, all of the lobbying, all the game playing that passes for governing in Washington, it's been easy at times to doubt our ability to do such a big thing, such a complicated thing, to wonder if there are limits to what we as a people can still achieve.

It's easy to succumb to the sense of cynicism about what's possible in this country.

But today we are affirming that essential truth, a truth every generation is called to rediscover for itself: that we are not a nation that scales back its aspirations, we are not a nation that falls prey to doubt or mistrust.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: We don't fall prey to fear. We are not a nation that does what's easy. That's not who we are. That's not how we got here.

We are a nation that faces its challenges and accepts its responsibilities. We are a nation that does what is hard, what is necessary, what is right.

Here in this country, we shape our own destiny. That is what we do. That is who we are. That is what makes us the United States of America.

And we have now just enshrined, as soon as I sign this bill, the core principle that everybody should have some basic security when it comes to their health care.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: And it is an extraordinary achievement that's happened because of all of you and all the advocates all across the country. So thank you.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: Thank you. God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The president also paid tribute to the late Senator Ted Kennedy, who worked for decades on health care reform legislation. Family members have been visiting his grave at Arlington National Cemetery since Sunday, when the bill passed.

And "The Washington Post" reports that this note was left yesterday by Kennedy's youngest son, Congressman Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island. It reads, and simply put, "Dad, the unfinished business is done."

Let's bring in John King. He's the host of "JOHN KING USA." That comes up at the top of the hour.

So, where do we go from here, John? It looks like the reconciliation bill that Senator Kyl told me in the last hour probably will pass. The Democrats have the votes.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: And that is striking, that some Republicans have said let's try to drag this on. They have a lot of parliamentary maneuvers at their disposal. That he would say probably a few days ahead of the vote...

BLITZER: He said three days.

KING: That would suggest that the Republicans have decided fight a pretty good fight, but don't try to drag it on too long. And there's a political calculation in that at the moment, that the Republicans have the upper hand with independent voters in the midterm election season.

Independent voters get turned off pretty quickly at all the partisanship and when they end arguing just to argue. If the Democrats have the votes, vote it. The Republicans will challenge it in the courts. You mentioned that as a possibility. And they will challenge it politically in the midterm elections.

BLITZER: There's no doubt the Democratic base has been energized, but the Republican base has been energized as well. You got two energized bases right now.

KING: And so the question is, who can keep that intensity? We are seven months from the election. If it were tomorrow, the Republicans would have the upper hand. Nobody would dispute that, even the Democrats. But can you keep that intensity?

Some liberals still don't like this legislation. That's part of the president's sales pitch: I got the best I could. You need to stay with me, because they would repeal it.

The Republicans are playing straight to their conservative base with the court challenges. The one tension on the right right now, Wolf, is some Republicans say repeal and reform. Some conservatives are saying, stop at repeal. We don't want to get back into the reform business; just repeal it.

That's an interesting dynamic to watch in the next few weeks.

BLITZER: But to repeal, that is unrealistic, when you have a president of the United States who could any legislation requiring, what, a two-thirds override, which they don't have the math in their favor.

KING: Exactly right, even if -- and it is a huge if -- the Republicans could somehow win back both the House and the Senate, there's a Democrat at the White House at least through January 2013 who would have that big pen to say no. It is a political rallying cry. It is not a realistic policy proposal.

BLITZER: Unless their majority in the Senate is 67, they are going to have trouble repealing anything.

KING: You know, I don't take sides in politics, but I would be willing to bet on that one not going to happen.

BLITZER: Yes, not going to happen either. All right, we will be watching "JOHN KING USA" right at the top of the hour.

John, thanks very much.

For nearly 100 years before President Obama, U.S. lawmakers have tried and failed to overhaul health care, going back all the way to former President Theodore Roosevelt. He campaigned for national health insurance back in 1912, but lost the election to Woodrow Wilson. In 1935, FDR's New Deal included Social Security and unemployment insurance, but left out health insurance.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR: As part of the federal Social Security act, it was backed by all parties in Congress and passed by an overwhelming majority. It was signed by President Roosevelt and became law on August 14, 1935.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Truman called for a health care overhaul back in 1945, but the plan stalled in Congress. In 1965, President Truman watched as Lyndon Johnson signed the bill creating Medicare and Medicaid.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR: The former president campaigned for Medicare 20 years ago, but it took two decades for his proposal to become law. The new bill expands the 30-year-old Social Security program to provide hospital care, nursing home care, home nursing service, and outpatient treatment for those over 65. Medicare would become law on July 1, 1966, and, for Mr. Truman, an historic souvenir from the president.

For Mr. Truman, the passage of Medicare is a dream come true.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And, in 1993, Bill Clinton proposed a universal health care coverage plan, but it failed in the face of very strong opposition from Republicans and the business community.

Jack Cafferty's coming up next with "The Cafferty File."

Then, CNN's Brian Todd shows us what happens to people who choose to ignore the new health care reform law and refuse to get insurance.

And how big of a deal is the new law? Vice President Biden uses some surprisingly salty language at the health care reform signing ceremony. You will hear what was caught on tape.

And the private spies keeping an eye on the Taliban and al Qaeda for the Pentagon. Here's a question. Is it legal? Details of the unfolding controversy when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: With some wind at their backs coming off their health care victory, Democrats may use some of their newfound mojo to target financial reform next.

It's hard to believe that, a year-and-a-half after our financial system almost collapsed, we're still operating under the same regulations, or lack thereof. On second thought, it's not hard to believe at all.

Now, the Senate Banking Committee has sent a massive Wall Street regulation bill to the full chamber on a strictly party-line vote. Again, not a single Republican supported this bill, although some top Republicans sound optimistic that the final legislation would get bipartisan support.

The bill would give the government unprecedented power to split up companies that are considered a threat to the economy, the so- called too big to fail. It would also create a council of regulators to watch for risks, along with an independent consumer watchdog.

The government bankers association -- the American Bankers Association, I should say, is quick to come out against this thing -- no surprise there. The House already passed a version of this bill last year.

But with the midterm elections around the corner now, unless the Democrats act quickly and President Obama gives this thing everything he's got, passage of financial regulation reform could be a long shot for this year.

Meanwhile, a new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows 53 percent of Americans favor greater government regulation of financial institutions -- 43 percent are opposed, support for regulation highest among upper-income people, probably because they have the most money to lose. Democrats also much more likely than Republicans to support reform.

Here's the question, then: What are the chances of meaningful reform of the financial system?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. Post a comment on my blog.

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty, thank you.

Get health insurance, or else. That's one provision of the new health care reform law. Those who choose to go without it could face serious penalties.

Brian Todd has been looking into this for us.

Brian, everyone is supposed to get health coverage now, but what happens if they don't?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we have been drilling down all day in to some of the penalties that people could face.

Here's how they would enforce the mandate, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation in the House and Senate. The first year, 2014, an adult without coverage would be assessed a penalty of $90, about $90 to $95, or 1 percent of your household income, whichever is greater.

By 2016, that number would be about $695 per adult, or about 2.5 percent of your income, up to about $2,085 per household. Now, you're only penalized if you go more than three months without insurance. You're exempt if your income is so low that you don't pay income taxes or if you are among those who object on religious grounds, or if you are a member of one of the Native American tribes, Wolf.

So, those are some of the ways that you can avoid penalties on this.

BLITZER: Is there any precedent to all of this, or is this something they're starting from scratch?

TODD: There is precedent, Wolf. In Massachusetts -- we're going to show you this here -- they have had a similar law in place for three years. Now, this is the basic form -- we will show you that right there.

This is the basic form that you have to fill out along with your tax form to prove that you have coverage. Now, go in a little bit closer here, this is where you fill in the name of your private insurance company, your subscriber number. You do the same thing if you have a spouse, same thing there.

You attach that printout from your insurer that verifies that you were covered. Or, if you didn't -- let's see if we can knock this out and go to the next page -- OK -- on the next page, you fill in which months that you didn't have coverage. Right there is where you do that.

Now, if you -- they check to see whether you had a good excuse, whether your income was low or that your religious beliefs prevent you from doing that. If you go more than about three months in Massachusetts, then you get fined.

So, we're going to check -- look at the -- at the form here, in the same form about the religious exemption. There is a place here -- as we say, if you have sincerely held religious beliefs, you fill it in there, and then you are exempt from that.

Now, last year, they fined around 1.5 percent of the taxpaying population, fines of $1,000 per person who was not covered in Massachusetts, Wolf.

BLITZER: And that's in Massachusetts.

TODD: Right.

BLITZER: But this new federal law, once it fully takes effect, 2014, 2016 and beyond, it will up to the IRS to implement it, right?

TODD: That's right. And Republicans say the bill could require as many as 16,000, maybe 16,500 new IRS agents to enforce.

Now, GOP Congressman Kevin Brady of Texas. Here's what he had to say about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. KEVIN BRADY (R), TEXAS: This bill is so complicated, has so many mandates, so many new taxes, that the IRS is going to again be more deeply involved in our lives than ever before, more complicated tax returns, more information we have to provide them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: But a former IRS commissioner told the newspaper "USA Today" he heard worries like that before the earned income, the tax credit became law, but, in the end, the IRS handled those claims pretty smoothly, Wolf.

BLITZER: So, it's sort of like a lot of states require you to have car insurance if you want to drive in those states.

TODD: That's right.

BLITZER: That's a mandate to be able to drive. This would be the federal government mandating you to have health insurance. It's going to be tested in the courts, as we now know. We will see what happens on that front.

TODD: Absolutely.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thanks very much.

TODD: Sure.

BLITZER: Many Americans are still wondering what health care reform means for them. Coming up, President Obama explains in his own words what this new law will do.

Plus, real people talk about the real-world impact. We're taking the pulse of Americans on health care reform.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Looking at a live picture over at the West Wing of the White House. That's the limousine that brought the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, to the West Wing of the White House. The prime minister is inside the Oval Office with President Obama right now. We expect that meeting to break up and the prime minister to walk out fairly soon. We will see if he goes over to the microphones and speaks to reporters, or if he simply gets into the vehicle and drives back to where he's staying.

We will watch it closely and update you on what's going on -- serious tensions in U.S.-Israeli relations, as you know.

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: Intelligence on America's enemies provided by private -- private spies. Should the Pentagon care who is keeping an eye on the Taliban and al Qaeda?

Health care reform goes from rhetoric to reality. President Obama says the payoff will start this year, but we will also hear from a small-business owner who says he's deeply worried.

And a blooper from the vice president, Joe Biden, it involves a bleep, and Jeanne Moos finds it ""Moost Unusual."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Our top story: President Obama signs the health care reform bill into law. Conservatives are already launching counterattacks against this sweeping social legislation.

But, for now, here's what the president says the law will mean for you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: This year, we'll start offering tax credits to about 4 million small-business men and women to help them cover the cost of insurance for their employees.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: That happens this year.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: This year, tens of thousands of uninsured Americans with preexisting conditions, the parents of children who have a preexisting condition will finally be able to purchase the coverage they need. That happens this year.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: This year -- this year, insurance companies will no longer be able to drop people's coverage when they get sick or place...

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: They won't be able to place lifetime limits or restrictive annual limits on the amount of care they can receive.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: This year -- this year, all new insurance plans will be required to offer free preventive care. And this year, young adults will be able to stay on their parents' policies until they are 26 years old. That happens this year.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: This legislation will also lower costs for families and for businesses and for the federal government, reducing our deficit by over $1 trillion in the next two decades. It is paid for. It is fiscally responsible. And it will help lift a decades long drag on our economy. That's part of what all of you together worked on and made happen.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Obama used 22 pens to sign the health care bill into law, then passed them out as souvenirs to key Congressional leaders and administration officials. Now you can see the final result. Here's what his signature looks like. You can see it right here behind me. He moved very slowly, taking pen after pen after pen out to come around and finally get that signature.

Not a single Republican House member voted for the health care overhaul. And some Democrats who went out on a limb for the bill may find that limb sawed off when the midterm elections roll around, unless voters ultimately decide they like the new health care law.

CNN's Ted Rowlands takes the pulse in Nevada.

What's going on -- Ted?

Tell our viewers what you're seeing and hearing.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we went to the 3rd Congressional District in Nevada to talk to people who are actually going to be affected by the health care reform in the near term. And as you mentioned, we also went there because it is one of those spots in the country where a vote on health care could cost a politician her job.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROWLANDS (voice-over): The Las Vegas suburb of Henderson, Nevada is historically a hotly contested Congressional district. Freshman Democrat Dina Titus represents Henderson. She was an eleventh hour yes vote for health care reform.

REP. DINA TITUS (D), NEVADA: I think there are more important things than my re-election. And the health of the people in this country would certainly be one of those. ROWLANDS: At The Cupcakery, 21-year-old Jerry Lynn (ph) and 22- year-old Cameron (ph) are pleased they'll now have the option to get health insurance through their parents' policies until they're 26 -- something Cameron may do because he has no coverage at all.

But what about the business owner, Pamela Jenkins, who does offer insurance to her full-time employees?

(on camera): Potentially, down the line, it could cost you more money.

Your thoughts on that?

PAMELA JENKINS, SMALL BUSINESS OWNER: It could. But it could also give us great tax credits for covering our employees. I already provide health care. So, for me, I don't see it as anything detrimental. I see that I'm already shelling out major, major bucks to these huge insurance carriers. So if we can get a change, I'm for the change.

ROWLANDS: One of the groups that will see an almost immediate effect from the health care reform are the folks that have pre- existing conditions and were denied health care. This is Glenda McCarty. She went without health insurance for eight months. She says she's very happy that there are changes now. The reason you say, is because living without health insurance was a nightmare.

Give us a window into that.

GLENDA MCCARTNEY, DENIED INSURANCE: Well, a win -- living without health insurance was terrifying. I had to drive more carefully, eat more carefully. Everything that I did in my life was with the thought that I had no health insurance and could not get sick. And that was for eight months. And it was just -- I was on edge all the time.

ROWLANDS: You said this bill isn't everything, isn't that great, but you're pleased with it.

MCCARTNEY: I think the bill will take work. And I think it will take work for some years to come. But the fact that all Americans will be covered -- and especially for me, those people without -- that have pre-existing conditions.

ROWLANDS: But not everybody here is for it or happy that the health care reform bill passed. This is Dr. Joe heck. He is a practicing emergency room physician. He is also running for Dina Titus' seat in the 3rd District in Nevada.

DR. JOE HECK (R), NEVADA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: There are a lot of problems with this bill that ultimately will do nothing to curtail the spiraling cost of health care.

But some things should be done, in your opinion?

HECK: Sure. I think if you talk to any physician, they'd say, look, we need some reform. It's very hard taking care of patients in this current environment.

But those same group of physicians will say this is not the right thing to do. There's not enough in there to make this work, to be able to take care of the people that are going to get this new entitlement.

ROWLANDS: Different opinions from different people with different life experiences, who will all be directly affected by health care reform.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

ROWLANDS: And the bottom line, Wolf, in this part of the country, jobs and housing are both huge issues and they will be part of the campaign. But, clearly, also health care. And Dina Titus' health care vote will come up over the next few months, as she tries to get re-elected in the 3rd in Nevada -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Stay on top of this.

We'll get back to you.

Ted Rowlands reporting from Nevada.

It's the kind of classified intelligence the CIA usually provides. But in some cases, it's private contractors feeding information on the Taliban and Al Qaeda to U.S. military officials. And now there is a growing controversy over the Pentagon's private spies.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Private spies keeping an eye on the Taliban and Al Qaeda -- is there anything wrong with that?

The U.S. military may be benefiting intelligence gained by private contractors. But Defense Secretary Robert Gates has ordered a review of the Pentagon's information operations, as they're called, giving officials 15 days to report back.

Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

She's been digging into this story for us -- Barbara, what's this a -- what's this all about?

BARBARA STARR, PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it all sounds like a spy novel -- a former CIA officer once involved in Iran contra, former military commandos, all collecting intelligence on behalf of a Defense Department official who wanted to know more about the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: (voice-over): On March 10th, the U.S. military in Afghanistan, learned Taliban commanders had just met in Pakistan. A new audio message from the reclusive leader, Mullah Omar, was played. He directed who would lead operations after a key member had been captured.

It sounds like the kind of classified intelligence that might come from the CIA?

Think again. This and other sensitive information on the Taliban and Al Qaeda was, in fact, gathered by private military contractors, who passed it on to U.S. military intelligence for possible use in targeting, according to a source who provided CNN with a series of documents detailing the operations.

The multimillion dollar military program which used, in part, retired CIA officers and former military commandos, is now under Pentagon investigation to determine if they and DOD officials may have violated the law by running an unapproved intelligence operation.

ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: This is something I need to know more about. But we do have reviews and investigations going on to find out what -- what the story is here, find out what the facts are. And if it's necessary, to make some changes, I'll do that.

STARR: The Taliban meeting is just one example provided to CNN of the information gathered under a contract that was supposed to have information collected only using what is known as open source methods. Contractors were to learn more about Afghan tribes, warlords and communities through local media, public meetings and talking to citizens. But the CIA station chief in Kabul complained that the Pentagon contractors were illegally running an unofficial spy ring.

THOMAS FINGAR, FORMER DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I really don't know enough about the details relating to the -- to contractors collecting intelligence on the battlefield. Quite frankly, in principle, I would have concerns about that.

STARR: Former intelligence official Thomas Fingar says there's a difference between open source and spying.

FINGAR: Depending on -- on exactly what contractors or anybody else was doing, it's a -- it's a non-problem. It's gathering of information and the way that journalists or scholars or others do or it is intruding into the realm that should be reserved for government intelligence agencies. So that where that line is, is important.

STARR: At the center, Michael Furlong, a Defense Department official. He oversaw the more than $20 million paid to at least three companies. A former military official directly familiar with the program says Furlong told the contractors to gather information about the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Contractors were told the CIA was failing to gather critical intelligence. Furlong denies wrongdoing.

Documents provided to CNN detail sensitive information that contractors gathered -- a meeting between Afghan president Hamid Karzai's brother and Mullah Baradar, the number two in the Taliban, who was arrested weeks later by the Pakistanis.

Another document details the comings and goings at a Kabul safe house for the Haqqani insurgent network. CNN has confirmed this man, Duane Dewey Clarridge, a retired CIA officer pardoned by President George H.W. Bush for his alleged role in the Iran-Contra scandal, is working on the program. Sources in government and industry confirm Clarridge is using his old network of contacts in Afghanistan and even Pakistan to gather information for one of the contract companies hired by Michael Furlong.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

STARR: So, Wolf, why is all of this potentially a problem?

Well, investigators want to know if money was inappropriately diverted to this program. They want to know who in the military or at the Pentagon was controlling what the contractors were doing. And experts say there may be a diplomatic furor once Pakistan realizes there were contractors inside its country collecting intelligence. Of course, the U.S. military isn't supposed to be doing intel operations inside Pakistan -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll discuss this on Thursday. I'm interviewing the Pakistani foreign minister. He'll be here in THE SITUATION ROOM. He's got meetings in Washington.

Good reporting, Barbara, as usual.

Thanks very much.

"JOHN KING USA," brand new show from one of CNN's top journalists, is coming up right at the top of the hour.

Much more of our coverage, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, has now been inside the West Wing of the White House, in the Oval Office with President Obama, for more than an hour. We'll see once he walks out if he goes right into the limousine or he goes to the microphones over there at the driveway and starts speaking to reporters.

Stand by. We'll update you on what's going on during this, a rather tense moment in U.S.-Israeli relations.

Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Lisa, what do you have?

SYLVESTER: Hi, Wolf.

Well, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is pledging long-term U.S. support for Mexico's drug war. Mrs. Clinton is visiting the country, along with other senior members of President Obama's security team, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. The one day visit is focused on breaking the power of the drug cartels in the region and will include meetings with Mexican officials, including President Felipe Calderon. New details are surfacing about the moments leading up to Michael Jackson's death. In a report obtained by the Associated Press, a witness alleges that Jackson's physician, Dr. Conrad Murray, stopped CPR on Jackson in order to collect drug vials. Murray's attorneys tell CNN that account is biased and that prosecutors are behind the leak. Prosecutors are denying that claim. Murray has been charged with involuntary manslaughter in Jackson's death.

The Alabama college professor charged with murdering three faculty members and wounding three others is making her first court appearance, Amy Bishop listened as one investigator recounted a taped interview with police in which she says the incident never happened and that the people who were murdered are actually still alive. The Harvard educated biologist could face the death penalty if convicted.

And attention, baby boomers. Here you go, how about this?

Do you recognize the actors in this new public service announcement?

Take a good look. Ah, it's the cast of the 1960s TV series, "The Patty Duke Show," with a few extra decades on them. They reunited to help the Social Security Administration promote its new online registration service. And Patty Duke reprised her role as identical cousins, the straight-laced Cathy and the much cooler Patty. Well, at least she was very cool in the '60s -- so, Wolf, this must bring you back a little bit.

Can you...

BLITZER: Yes, it does.

SYLVESTER: Can you sing the show's theme show?

BLITZER: No. I watched a lot of TV in the '60s. "The Patty Duke Show" is not among my favorites, I've got to tell you.

SYLVESTER: You know what?

I was just -- I actually was listening to the song on YouTube. It's actually very catchy.

BLITZER: Go ahead.

Let me hear some of it.

SYLVESTER: I -- I -- I can't -- don't ask me to sing it.

BLITZER: All right. Don't ask me to sing it.

SYLVESTER: But it goes meet Cathy, the dadadadadada and I don't remember.

BLITZER: Oh, thank you.

SYLVESTER: You know, I'm... BLITZER: -- Lisa.

SYLVESTER: I'm -- I'm a youngin, so that's a little before my time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you.

We're only minutes away from the top of the hour and CNN's new show, "JOHN KING USA." Stand by for that.

But first, look who let the F word slip out at the White House signing ceremony for health care reform.

Jeanne Moos will take a Moost Unusual look.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's time now to check back with Jack for The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is -- what are chances of meaningful reform of the nation's financial system 18 months after it almost completely collapsed?

Michael writes from Florida: "You slay me. The time for reform came and went. The federal government gave banks billions after their collusion to creation worthless derivatives based on highly creative mortgages. Tim Geithner and the others should have immediately proposed broad, sweeping changes last year, before the bailouts. The financial and banking system is just one area where the lobbyists have total control of Congress."

Larry writes: "Two words, Jack -- ruling class. It doesn't matter if they're Dems or neo-cons, red or blue, green is the color of control. And it's a drug that's very hard to kick."

Richard writes from Shreveport, Louisiana: "If Obama gets behind this like he did in the last days before the health care vote, it will pass."

Mark writes: "About as much as meaningful health care reform, comrade."

Dave in South Carolina: "Only one piece of major legislation per administration, Jack. If you fix everything, then you spend the rest of your time repairing your own work. That's not good politics."

Charlie in New Mexico writes: "Given the amount of influence held by Wall Street over Congress, the Fed and other regulatory agencies, I have serious doubts any truly meaningful financial reforms will ever see the light of day."

Jason in New York says: "After seeing what the Democrats just accomplished, I'm now pretty much convinced we can do anything. And I have renewed hope once again. I'm willing to bet Obama attacks this as feverishly as he attacked health insurance reform." And Geoff in Virginia says: "Sarah Palin will join Mensa before financial reform is enacted."

If you want to read more on this, you can find it on my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile.

BLITZER: We'll look for it, Jack.

Thank you.

See you back here tomorrow.

The Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, sits down with John King at the top of the hour on "JOHN KING USA." Stand by for that.

And up next, it's the last thing you'd expect to hear at a White House signing ceremony. CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a Moost Unusual look at the vice president's latest verbal gaffe.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Thank you. Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Take a look at some Hot Shots coming in from our friends at the Associated Press -- pictures likely to be in your newspapers tomorrow.

Here in Washington, cherry blossoms begin to bloom near the Tidal Basin. The National Park Service predicts peak bloom to occur between April 1 and 4.

In Uzbekistan, a dancer in traditional costume performs during a celebration of the spring new year.

In Switzerland, a snowboarder catches air during the men's free ride extreme event.

And in Belgrade, the zoo in Serbia, a newborn zebra takes its first steps.

Hot Shots -- pictures worth a thousand words.

He's notorious for his verbal slipups, but Vice President Biden may have outdone himself today over at the White House signing ceremony for health care reform.

CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a Moost Unusual look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Amid the big hugs and the big smiles, the thrill of health care victory had everyone fired up.

Joe Biden was fired up all right -- lavishing praise on the president.

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've gotten to know you well enough.

Do you want me to stop, because I'm embarrassing you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: T minus 10.

MOOS: Actually, he's about to embarrass him by dropping a bomb.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three, two, one.

BIDEN: This is a big (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE).

MOOS: Pardon me?

BIDEN: This is a big (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE).

MOOS: From Joe Biden's lips to the media's ears.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY FOX NEWS)

BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: He has always had difficulty putting a sock in it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Another excuse for us to trot out the V.P.'s previous bloopers. The time he urged the guy in the wheelchair...

BIDEN: Stand up, Chuck. Let them see you.

MOOS: The other day, when he referred to the Irish prime minister's mother...

BIDEN: God rest her soul and although she's -- wait, your mom's still -- your mom's still alive. It is your dad passed. God bless her soul.

MOOS: Bless his soul for providing us with fodder.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "INSIDE THE BUBBLE")

BIDEN: Every 10 minutes, there's a shift in sort of what the strategy is again I...

BIDEN: Who gives a (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE)?

MOOS: This isn't the first time a mic has picked up the V.P. dropping the F bomb.

BIDEN: Give me a (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE).

MOOS: But, hey, the previous, V.P. Dick Cheney, used it in anger, telling Senator Patrick Leahy to you know what himself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have any regrets?

DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, I said it.

MOOS: If the White House regretted Vice President Biden's remark about health care...

BIDEN: This is a big (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE).

MOOS: -- they weren't letting on. Press Secretary Gibbs Tweeted: "And, yes, Mr. V.P. You're right."

(on camera): The vice president's faux pas was such a big frigging dealing that within two hours of his utterance, it was already emblazoned on t-shirts.

(voice-over): The guy really known for salty language is Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who wouldn't tell on the president when he talked to "60 Minutes."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "60 MINUTES," COURTESY CBS NEWS)

RAHM EMANUEL, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: But I do not curse in the Oval Office.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does he curse?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: On a day of triumph, once again, the curse of Biden strikes, in the form of an actual curse.

BIDEN: This is a big (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE) deal.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos.

BIDEN: This is a big (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE) deal.

MOOS: CNN...

OBAMA: Thank you, Joe.

MOOS: -- New York.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BLITZER: Leave it to Jeanne Moos. And remember, you can all -- always follow what's going on behind-the-scenes here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm on Twitter. You can get my Tweets at Twitter.com/wolfblitzercnn.

Thanks very much for joining us.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. "JOHN KING USA" starts right now.