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THE SITUATION ROOM

Axelrod May Exit White House Sooner; North Korea's Nuclear Deceit; Start or Stop on Arms Reduction; Small Plane Violates DC Airspace; Report: Feds, Industry 'Unprepared' for Spill; Alleged Arms Dealer's Wife Threatens to Sue

Aired November 22, 2010 - 17:00   ET

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


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Happening now, the controversy over airport pat-downs is reaching new heights as the busy holiday travel week is just beginning. Now it's an embarrassment for many fliers and for the White House, that insists that security measures are still evolving. Well, I'm going to talk to Transportation Security Administration, John Pistole.

Also, tough questions about North Korea's nuclear deceit now that a U.S. scientist has seen the technology up close.

Is the Obama administration surprised by the scope of this program or the potential for a nuclear attack?

And I'll ask Governor Bobby Jindal about his new lines of attack against President Obama. Stand by for the Louisiana Republican on homeland security, presidential politics and why he says that Washington -- his words -- has turned into Godzilla.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux.

And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Just in, we have new information about the revolving door at the Obama White House -- the possible timing of a major player's exit.

I want to go straight to our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry -- Ed, we know that some things have been coming on down the line.

What do we know right now?

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, we're confirming with a senior administration official and a top Democratic strategist that David Plouffe, the president's former campaign manager from 2008, is going to be coming in here to be a senior adviser as early as the beginning of January. David Plouffe, in fact, was seen here at the West Wing today. I asked him about the future. He told me, "I'm just visiting."

But I'm being told by other officials that, in fact, he's going to be sticking around for some time to come. Secondly, we're also learning that David Axelrod is likely to leave sooner than expected. He has recently suggested he'd stick around for about six more months. I'm now being told by these two sources that David Axelrod is likely to leave right after the president's State of the Union, which is late January/early February.

Now, what does all this mean for the president?

It means David Axelrod will still be around, but in Chicago, getting ready to -- to begin the reelection campaign for 2012. I'm told he may want to leave a little bit sooner to get some time off before jumping right into 2012.

Secondly, so what it means is that, look, David Axelrod would be the first to tell you that he is not the most organized fellow -- a very senior adviser, a very good strategist, but organization is not his thing. David Plouffe is an organizational guy. In 2008, you know better than anyone, he had a plan. He stuck to it relentlessly.

Now, what this White House is looking for is someone who can come in, build a plan for dealing with this new Congress, but also getting ready for 2012. That's something David Plouffe might be uniquely suited for -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: He's certainly very close to the president -- Ed, what do we know about some other moves that might be happening down the line?

HENRY: Well, very interesting, because there had been a lot of pressure on the president after what he called a shellacking in the mid-term election to bring in some new blood. I'm hearing there's going to be a lot more moods, but it's likely just to be a lot of faces we already know moving into new positions. So we'll see how that all shakes out.

Number one, Carol Browner, the current energy czar. She's likely to move into a deputy chief of staff role.

Phil Schiliro, who is the president's current lobbyist for Congress, pushing through his agenda up there on the Hill. He's likely to become either a deputy chief of staff or a senior adviser, I'm told by Democratic officials.

Likely to be replaced by Rob Nabors. He's been a top budget official. He's worked in the chief of staff's office, now likely to become the Congressional lobbyist.

So all kinds of people moving around. But again, it will be interesting to see how some of the president's fellow Democrats, who wanted to maybe see some fresh blood, some new faces, will take all this change that's coming likely at the end of December or early January -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: We'll see if that means any change for policy initiatives.

Thank you so much, Ed.

I appreciate it.

US officials are responding today to a brazen taunt by North Korea of its nuclear capabilities. Now, the secretive regime suddenly now is opening up and showing off its uranium-based nuclear facility for the first time. An American scientist is getting an eye full of a program that is more advanced than even he expected.

I want to go to our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty -- Jill, obviously, President Bush used to talk about it all the time, the potential threat from Korea and how secretive they are.

Why are we seeing, now, this opening up and this new information about a nuclear facility?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: You know, that's really the question, is why are they going public?

You know, the State Department spokesman is calling this a publicity stunt by North Korea. Officials say Pyongyang has been shopping for components to enrich uranium for about 20 years.

Have they succeeded?

That's what the Obama administration says it's now evaluating.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DOUGHERTY: Just a year-and-a-half ago, satellite photos showed what looked like a decrepit building on the site of North Korea's Yongbyon nuclear reactor. Here it is now, renovated, covered with a blue roof.

The North says it's a new uranium enrichment facility for peaceful energy production.

But Western officials say it could be a step toward new, more powerful nuclear weapons.

(on camera): So this doesn't just kind of magically appear, shocking the world.

People have been watching that?

DAVID ALBRIGHT, PRESIDENT, INSTITUTE FOR SCIENCE AND INTERNATIONAL SECURITY: People would see the roof. Yes, certainly. Yes, you would -- it would show up in -- in satellite imagery and you would wonder what's going on there. But there's nothing that telegraphs centrifuge.

DOUGHERTY (voice-over): Now we know what the satellites couldn't see. Days ago, North Korean officials gave a tour Stanford University nuclear expert, Siegfried Hecker. Hecker told "The New York Times" he stunned by its sophistication, with hundreds of centrifuges making low enriched uranium. Nuclear expert David Albright says intelligence agencies were tracking North Korea's uranium program, but didn't know where it was hidden.

(on camera): Where were you looking?

ALBRIGHT: Anywhere in North Korea. Underground...

DOUGHERTY: Looking right there?

ALBRIGHT: That's right.

DOUGHERTY (voice-over): So why would the North publicly admit it?

ALBRIGHT: I mean, I think one is to send a signal that they have more than you think. Their nuclear deterrent is stronger than you may think. They wanted the world to know they have a centrifuge program. They've been saying it.

DOUGHERTY (voice-over): The Obama administration immediately dispatched a diplomatic team to consult with allies on next steps. But it's trying to downplay the blowback from the news.

P.J. CROWLEY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN:

We will not be drawn into rewarding North Korea for bad behavior. They frequently anticipate doing something outrageous or provocative and forcing us to jump through hoops as a result and we're not going to buy into this cycle.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

DOUGHERTY: And the State Department spokesman says Professor Hecker got what he called "a brief glimpse at a capability for enriching uranium." And they're evaluating just what that capability is.

But at this point, he says the U.S. is not changing its policy toward the North or discussing anymore economic sanctions -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: OK.

Thank you so much, Jill.

Well, President Obama may face a nuclear battle with Republicans over passage of a new arms reduction treaty with Russia.

Also, I'll press Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal, for his take on Sarah Palin's publicity machine and whether she represents the party.

And the struggle to find the right balance between airline security and passenger privacy. I'll ask TSA administrator John Pistole about the uproar over pat-downs and full body screening.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Well, the holiday hassles at the airport are on Jack Cafferty's mind.

He is here with the Cafferty File -- hey, Jack, nice to see you for the holiday week here.

JACK CAFFERTY, THE CAFFERTY FILE: Good to -- good to have a turkey with you, Suzanne, or two.

Two...

MALVEAUX: Where's the turkey?

CAFFERTY: Two million people a day are expected to travel through the nation's airports tomorrow and Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

I'm so glad I'm not one of them.

Airline travel this holiday season is shaping up to be a nightmare thanks to the government's new airport security measures, including full body scans and invasive pat-downs. There's a growing backlash to all of this coming from about everywhere -- pilots, flight attendants' groups, civil rights and privacy advocates. Even secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who hasn't gone through airport security in decades, said she wouldn't want to submit to an enhanced pat-down if she could avoid it.

There are also outrageous stories from passengers around the country that show just how embarrassing and invasive all of this can become. A flight attendant and breast cancer survivor says she was asked to remove her prosthetic breast during a pat-down. A bladder cancer survivor wound up soaked in his own urine during a pat-down. And the latest example comes by way of a viral video of a shirtless boy getting a patdown from a TSA agent.

A partially disrobed child forced to submit to groping by a strange adult is just disgraceful. The TSA insists it's trying to strike a balance between security and privacy concerns.

Really?

One industry -- but we won't do profiling, right, which is how other places, like Israel, manage to keep their airlines safe.

One industry expert tells the A.P. the agency is working under an unachievable mandate, since the risks constantly change when terrorists use new tactics. This means the TSA is always in crisis mode, adding new policies to respond to the latest terror plot.

And on some level, Americans do get that. They understand. A recent CBS poll shows four of five Americans support the use of full body scans.

Here's the question -- how much are you looking forward to airplane travel the holiday season in light of the full body scans and invasive pat-downs?

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

Have you been through any of that stuff, Suzanne...

MALVEAUX: I haven't...

CAFFERTY: You travel all the time.

MALVEAUX: I travel. I have not been under some of that more intimate screening. I'm really glad, Jack, that I'm not traveling this week.

CAFFERTY: Oh, (INAUDIBLE) all that.

MALVEAUX: I get to avoid all that.

But, you know, we're going to ask the -- the head of TSA here in THE SITUATION ROOM about sort of these things that have been happening and see what kind of explanation they've got so...

CAFFERTY: Well, wish him happy turkey from me.

MALVEAUX: OK.

All right, Jack.

President Obama is keeping a low profile today after returning from the NATO summit that was in Portugal. And now that he's back, of course, he has a lot of work to do -- that's cut out for him, trying to get Congress to approve a new nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia.

We want to bring in our senior political analyst, David Gergen.

David, thanks so much for joining us.

He just got back from the NATO summit, heard from President Obama and other NATO allies, even Russian President Medvedev, who really pushed this for and said, you know what, the START Treaty, both sides reducing their nuclear arsenal is good idea -- not only a good idea, critical to security in Europe, as well.

The president, as you know, faces a lot of resistance from Republicans.

How does he get over that?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: I'm not sure he can. It's -- I mean it's a distressing sign of things to come, perhaps, and that is that there's going to be a -- there are going to be a lot of fights in which the merits may be on one side or the other, but they're -- but we have two sides who are so opposed to each other they can't work things out.

In this particular case, my own bias is that I think President Obama is right on the merits. He actually has very good policies with regard to trying to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons. And this is a -- and this is a solid treaty. Three former Republican secretaries of State have endorsed this, as have many others, including the military.

But the -- the president hasn't been able to convince Republicans he's done enough to protect the national security interests in terms of modernizing the -- the weapons that -- that would remain.

I think the Republicans are on the wrong side of the issue. But I must tell you, there are people who know a lot more about arms control who I do who support President Obama on this...

MALVEAUX: Right.

GERGEN: -- who think the administration made a blunder by waiting too long, that they should have gotten this done much earlier in the year.

MALVEAUX: Well, David, one of the things that I heard the president say over the weekend, he really struck a conciliatory tone. He was asked specifically about Senator John Kyl blocking this, the Republican who's leading that effort. And he you know what, he said, Senator Kyl has never really said he's against it, he just doesn't believe it will fit in the lame duck session and that he believes, in his words, he said, our -- my Republican friends will come around and see the wisdom of this.

Do you think that that's the right approach for the president to take?

GERGEN: I think it is for now. And I will guarantee you it will harden up. I think they're hoping that Senator Kyl may -- may give them some wiggle room on this and they can still get a favorable vote.

I think that's unlikely to happen and I bet the rhetoric then gets a lot tougher and meaner and some parts, the Democratic Party. It looks to me like this is going to get put over next year when the president will have a very hard time with it. I think going to NATO as even though this NATO allies gave him support on this.

I think having a Russian president, having Mr. Medvedev speak out for this does not help the Republicans. They're not going to take instructions from Russia on how to vote on a security treaty with Russia.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Real quickly here, David. One of the things he walked way from the NATO summit was an agreement with NATO allies, 2014 being a goal for the U.S. as well as NATO allies no longer to do combat missions but training missions with the Afghan forces instead. There were a number of people who expressed some doubt about that, including the Russian president and the head of the U.N. Is that realistic to think that 2014, by the end of 2014, they can make that kind of transition?

GERGEN: Well, goodness gracious. You know, what the president really done is he moved the deadline back. We're starting to remove troops. We thought we see the beginning of the end in the middle of this next summer. He's really saying this 2014 before we're going to see the final troops. I think he's giving himself a lot more room. And it's been pretty deft (INAUDIBLE).

This trip overall, I have to tell you, was a much better trip for the president than was his one to Asia. This trip, they seemed to have things (ph) in. You know, they organized it well. They orchestrated it well. They got a good agreement on missile defense. You know, so, this was a good trip for the president. I don't think it changes the dynamics back at home on star treatment.

MALVEAUX: OK. David, we're going to have to leave it at that. Thank you so much for joining us in the SITUATION ROOM.

GERGEN: Thank you.

MALVEAUX: Well, military jets scrambled and were part of the White House evacuated. Someone violated the skies over Washington. Now, was the nation's capitol in danger? We will find out.

And later, her husband has been dubbed the merchant of death. Now, she is speaking out about his arrest. The wife of the man accused of dealing arms to terrorists says she's going to sue.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Military jets on alert over Washington. Our Kate Bolduan is monitoring some of the other top stories that are coming into the Situation Room right now. Kate, what are you working on?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Another busy day in Washington, Suzanne. The U.S. military says two F-16 fighter jets scrambled and took to the skies over Washington, D.C. today when a small plane violated airspace restrictions. A portion of White House grounds was briefly evacuated because of it. The plane, the Cessna 182, was intercepted and escorted to an airport in Manassas, Virginia where it landed this afternoon. The secret service said it would be interviewing the pilot.

Also, new confirmation that the federal government and the oil industry were not prepared for the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The president's oil spill commission released preliminary findings today. One draft report calls the five-month effort to seal the well impressive but necessary only because of the failure to anticipate a blowout in the first place. Another draft urges more funding and creative incentives to close a gap in oil spill cleanup technology that still exists.

Also, Pakistan is denying a U.S. request to allow American drones to patrol more of the country. Pakistani military officials tell CNN they're in no position to cope with possible public outcry over the idea. A senior NATO official told CNN the U.S. made the request three weeks ago. Another official says the two countries have agreed to enhanced intelligence sharing allowing U.S. agents on the ground in Pakistan. And the wife of an accused arm's dealer extradited to the U.S. says she plans to sue the government of Thailand. Olive Bout said Thai officials buckled under U.S. political pressure when they turned her husband, Viktor Bout, over to U.S. custody. Bout, dubbed by prosecutors the merchant of death, faces charges of conspiracy to sell weapons to a Colombian narco-terrorist group. He pleaded not guilty in New York federal court last week -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thank you, Kate.

The plot to place bombs inside cargo planes came with a price, but it's not nearly as expensive as you might think. We're going to look a terror on the cheek (ph).

And Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal, says the Obama administration should be more worried about passenger rights. I'll ask him about the uproar over airport pat downs as well as his gripe about a monster he calls fed-zilla.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We still haven't gotten those plans, but let's be clear, the oil that is leaking offshore --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Right now, holiday fliers are bracing for possible pat downs at the airport and other security measures that many people find intrusive. Now, the Obama administration is defending its policy while also acknowledging that the airline security process is still evolving.

Joining us now Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal, a leading Republican who's been critical of President Obama on the issue as well as others. Governor, thank you so much for joining us in the SITUATION ROOM.

GOV. BOBBY JINDAL, (R) LOUISIANA: thank you for having me.

MALVEAUX: I want to start off. Obviously, this morning, the TSA administration, John Pistole, said that no immediate changes over the holidays would be happening when it comes to the advanced screening. He said this in a statement. We are constantly evaluating and adapting our security measures, and as we have said from the beginning, we're seeking to strike the right balance between privacy and security. Do you think that they have struck the right balance? Do they need to do more?

JINDAL: Absolutely. Now, they absolutely need to do more. Two concerns, I think, the American people have. I'll start off by saying, obviously, we all understand that we need to take the threat in terrorism safely after all the events and -- not only just past year but in recent years. But two concerns I think the American people have. Number one, you don't see them using common sense. We all see the pictures of the 8-year-old boy, the 6-year-old girl being groped, being handled on their way maybe to their grandparents' home for Thanksgiving traveling over the holidays. We know these aren't the real threats. We want them to use common sense.

MALVEAUX: What was the common sense in your mind? Would it be the kind of profiling that we're seeing from the Israeli government, for instance?

JINDAL: You know, we need to use the information we have from our intelligence sources, from common sense. Not using that information to target our scrutiny to those most likely to cause us harm. It's just dumb. We shouldn't let political correctness prevent us from doing that. I think the second concern that Americans have is that there seems to be this obsessive concern with the rights of the terrorists. You know, they seem more worried about treating terrorists like citizens and citizens like suspects. For example --

MALVEAUX: Why do you say, though, that it's political correctness? The head of the TSA and President Obama himself said at the NATO summit that this is about America's safety. This is about people flying and not have to worry that there's a bomb on the plane.

JINDAL: Well, I say it's about political correctness because they don't seem willing to target their procedures in an obvious common sense call way to the people most likely that causes damage. I say it's political correctness because, you know, in the beginning, they said let's not call this terrorist attacks, call them man made events. I say it's political correctness because, you know, they read the rights, the Miranda rights to the underwear bomber.

I say it's political correctness because they seem so focused -- you know, the president's own record, when he talks about the war on terrorism. He's talked about, for example, about trying to -- he goes abroad and apologizes for America. He talks about making ourselves less offensive to those that are angry. He talks about understanding their social and justice grievances. Here's the reality. This is a clash of the people that don't like our way of life, don't like our freedoms, don't like our rights.

MALVEAUX: So, what should you do to guarantee those freedoms? I mean, passengers have to be screened.

JINDAL: Well, two things. One, we need to go (INAUDIBLE) networks, killing them (ph). We don't need to be trying to understand him on the airports. Let's target our procedures to those that we have a greater concern about, say, -- and you even heard folks from the administration like Secretary Clinton yesterday saying that, yes, maybe we do need to change how we apply these procedures that are not that widely applied. Let's target our searches for those that most likely to cause us damage, that are most likely to pose a threat to the United States.

MALVEAUX: Let's talk a little bit about the economy. Obviously, you deal with this in your book, "Leadership In Crisis." You talk about the need for a supermajority in Congress to raise taxes. And you say specifically that we didn't get into this economic mess by not taxing the American people enough. We got into it by letting Washington become, in your words, fed-zilla, a wealth-eating monster of unimaginable proportions.

How do you take on what you call fed-zilla? Have you raise the money? And how do you make sure that there are people here? The economy is turning around. You have to have the revenues.

JINDAL: Well, as a whole chapter in the book, "Leadership In Crisis" about how you fix Congress. Many of the reforms we have to live with are the state level. A balanced budget amendment in the constitution. A supermajority vote before they raise taxes. Look at spending right now. Historically, we have spent about 18 percent of our GDP on the federal government is now close to 24 percent.

MALVEAUX: What should the president cut?

JINDAL: Well we should -- we can start by going back to for nondefense discretionary spending. Go back to 2008 pre-stimulus levels. You're talking about over $100 billion in savings.

MALVEAUX: Give us an example.

JINDAL: It's across the board. They have inflated spending across the board.

MALVEAUX: So what would you cut?

JINDAL: Look at the House Republican plan, again, nondefense discretionary. Secondly, you've got to be serious about entitlement reform. So for example, I have a whole chapter in leadership in crisis about Medicare reform. We give up the bipartisan recommendation in the '90s, conservatives have to be unafraid we gave to look at entitlements. Let's do it in a responsible way. I've got an entire chapter about how in a proposal we handed to President Clinton and that he didn't choose to implement you could make Medicare affordable, reform to be more modern or more efficient to our seniors. It starts with how members of Congress get healthcare today. Very good repeal Obama care. You want to talk about cutting a trillion dollars of spending. Hundreds of billions of dollars in tax increases and Medicare cuts.

MALVEAUX: We know that you're opposed to many of the economic policies of the president's. Obviously there are some things that you agree with. Name one.

JINDAL: I think that when he went to India and made a strong relationship with the world's largest democracy, a free market economy. That was a positive sign. I agree with his refusing to bend down to the liberals that asked him to put an artificial -- to withdraw artificially before we're done in Afghanistan. Third, when you look at some of the reforms Arne Duncan tried in education, I liked where they started. I'd like to see strong follow through. I like where they're headed on charter schools, on accountability in the classrooms, to teacher evaluation, many of the good things we're doing in Louisiana. MALVEAUX: Who's the best spokesperson for the Republican Party? Obviously Sarah Palin is under a lot of publicity for her.

JINDAL: There's such a focus on who's going to be the RNC chairman, the spokesperson. We don't need one. We need multiple ones. What's more important is the message, not the messenger.

MALVEAUX: Is she a good representative for the party?

JINDAL: Absolutely but one of many but for my party, four years ago, we lost power because we defended spending and corruption we shouldn't have tolerated. We need to earn our way back into being the majority party. We need to show the American people we're going to govern differently. Stepping away from earmarks was a symbolic but important first step.

MALVEAUX: Governor, thank you so much. "Leadership in Crisis" it's called. Congratulations on your book.

JINDAL: Thank you for having me.

MALVEAUX: The economy on the brink and elections on hold as global financial minds join forces to fashion a bailout in Ireland. Demonstrators lose their patience and air their anger.

Also, bells are ringing in the holiday season. This year donations to the Salvation Army can be more than just a drop in the bucket.

Later, it was an assignment that got him an A and it was a published piece that got him kicked off of campus. Why school officials won't let an Iraq war vet come back without a psych evaluation. You're going to want to see that story.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Kate Bolduan is monitoring other top stories that are coming in THE SITUATION ROOM right now including some nagging questions about the safety of rental cars. Tell us about that.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is interesting Suzanne. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating whether or not rental car companies are following up on recall repairs and renting cars that haven't been fixed yet. The review was prompted by the deaths of two women who rented a car from Enterprise. The car caught fire and crashed into a truck. It had been recalled for a fire risk but not been repaired.

Tempers flared in the streets of Dublin today, about 100 people stormed office buildings after a demonstration against the government's handling of the economy. Ireland's prime minister says he'll delay a decision on holding national elections there until the 2011 budget is passed and a plan is in place to counter the country's economy crisis. The British government today offered Ireland a direct loan of more than $11 billion. The European Union and National Monetary Fund are hammering out details of an Irish financial bailout. And Salvation Army bell ringers are out in force again this season. You know it's the season when they're out there. If you don't have cash to drop in the familiar red kettle, those bell ringers at least in some states are carrying what they call cashless kettles, wireless credit card readers. Who could have thought it? The nonprofit said it's trying to increase donations by expanding the reach to mobile technology and social media. It's on Facebook and has an on-line donation site. I know a lot of people who don't carry cash anymore. This will help them. Don't you enjoy the whole idea of dropping some money in the bucket?

MALVEAUX: Absolutely. The credit for everything here. Trying to keep up with all of that.

BOLDUAN: Exactly.

MALVEAUX: A bit more. That's a good idea. Thanks, Kate.

Well, in the wake of the history-making midterm elections, political talk is turning into 2012. Sarah Palin, a media darling, but is she a contender to take on President Obama? We're going to size up potential opposition just ahead in our strategy session.

Later, hard-hitting, head-banging pro football. It could be hazardous to players' health. CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta goes inside the culture of concussions.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: The midterm elections are well under our belts so we want to talk, of course, 2012, secretary of state Hillary Clinton said over the weekend, she's out. But the question we really know is she really, Joining me for today's strategy session are two CNN contributors, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and Republican strategist, Mary Matalin. Thank you for joining us here, the holiday week, Thanksgiving week in THE SITUATION ROOM. First of all, let's play a little sound from our friends at Fox over the weekend to take a listen to what Hillary Clinton said.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're done with elective office?

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I am. I am very happy doing what I'm doing and not in any way interested in or pursuing anything in elective office.

MALVEAUX: OK. I don't know how many times I asked her that question before she jumped into the ring. You asked her that question. Mary, you asked her that question. Do you believe her?

MARY MATALIN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I actually do believe her.

MALVEAUX: You do?

MATALIN: She clearly -- I think she clearly is having fun and the -- one of the benefits of being a woman of a certain age which we are, not you Suzanne but is that you can -- you can -- you can make a huge significant critical impact without having to run. She certainly has shown that she can get to the arena. She has the guts to get to the arena. She's always been -- she's always been a workhorse more than a show horse. And she's getting the job done out there. And she'll have continue working I'm sure for many decades to come. But I think the age of being cagey about whether or not you're running has past. There's nothing she can say further running as a cabinet member for a sitting president anyway.

MALVEAUX: Could she say I'm not interested now and perhaps change her mind?

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I agree with Mary. We have to take her at her word that she is not interested in pursuing the presidency at this time. But I want to say like Mary, Secretary Clinton is a phenomenal woman. She's a terrific secretary of state. She's a great diplomat. She's the face of our country overseas along with the president. She's done a great job as secretary of state. And perhaps she's waiting to serve in another capacity like grandmother at some point in the near future. So let's give an opportunity to exhale for a moment and see what other woman is in the pipeline for, you know, the future years.

MALVEAUX: All right, fair enough. With Hillary Clinton out of the ring here, let's take a look at the potential matchups. We've got a poll here showing some really interesting numbers. Challenges that Obama might face for 2012. We asked if the election was held today, who would win? Sarah Palin got 40 percent. Barack Obama beat her, 48 percent. He was ahead by eight points. He also beat Mike Huckabee by two points but he lost to Mitt Romney by one point. What do you make of the numbers, first of all, with Sarah Palin, that he would beat her at this point? Is that surprising to you, Mary?

MATALIN: No. Absolutely not. All of the numbers are meaningless. I was thinking today I can't think of one midterm in my many decades of doing this that was not completely reversed by the presidential election. We famously talk about Reagan and Clinton's reversals. But the opposite is also true. Poppy Bush, President George H.W. Bush was an unprecedented 91 percent two years out from the election and he lost. This is not a time to measure this. I think significant in those polls, whatever their matchup is, Barack Obama does not exceed 50 percent against anybody when the race has not begun. He's got some mending to do.

MALVEAUX: Do you agree, Donna, is he in trouble? Does he need to turn things around?

BRAZILE: The only thing the president should be focusing on right now is restoring this economy so the American people feel comfortable so that the jobs are coming back. The number one job of the president right now is to keep us safe and secure and to help restore the economy. So jobs, jobs, jobs. We have a long time before 2012. And as you know, there's going to be a very exciting race on the Republican side. Let's see which Republicans emerge after that, that fistfight. And President Obama, I'm sure, would be in a good decision to defeat that Republican once we get that economy back on its feet. MALVEAUX: Mary is laughing. Which one of the Republicans do you think, Mary, might have the best shot of going up against Obama. Huckabee, Romney, Palin.

BRAZILE: Too early.

MALVEAUX: It's --

MATALIN: I'm not -- I don't have a dog in this fight. I have a message in the fight. I don't think the field is full yet. I really believe the majority in the house, the enhanced numbers in the Senate, how they respond to what the message was in the jobs, jobs, jobs, it was, slow it down, ratchet it back. We want a government that lives within its means. If they deliver on that, it would be a different feel than if they don't. Donna's right, exciting race ahead.

BRAZILE: The other message, Mary, is they want the politicians to act like grown-ups and to work together, to seek compromise and to find common sense solutions to the many problems that this great nation faces. So let's see if the Republicans are ready to govern with the little power that they have in the House of Representatives and the big voice they now have with so many of the other faces here in Washington, D.C. We miss you this holiday season. But happy thanksgiving to you and your family.

MATALIN: Happy -- We're having a churducken. Happy Thanksgiving. Come on down, we're coming up.

MALVEAUX: If we're invited, we'll be there.

BRAZILE: All right.

MALVEAUX: Happy thanksgiving to all of you.

Jack Cafferty is asking how much are you looking forward to airline traveling this holiday season in light of these new full body scans and invasive pat downs?

Also a U.S. military veteran is barred from a community college after writing a graphic essay about his addiction to war.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Jack joins us again with the Cafferty file. Hey, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, the question this hour is how much are you looking forward to airplane travel this holiday season in light of those new full body scans and invasive pat downs?

Craig in Arizona, "Since 9/11, I've chosen to fly less and less for both business and pleasure. I keep the business relationships close to home and I vacation where a car will take me. This latest intrusion is all the more reason to avoid air travel. All of this could be avoided with common sense profiling. But America doesn't have the stomach for that. And treat all Americans as if they are terrorists."

Harry in Texas writes, "I can't thank the TSA enough for keeping us safe. I travel so much, I want all the security I can get. Once the doors close on the aircraft, we're all along for the ride."

John writes, "We murder each other at the rate of about 30,000 gun deaths a year, we slaughter tens of thousands more on the highways, people die from all sorts of strange screw-ups every year. No outcry over this. What is the big deal about airplane security? Terrorists could easily attack churches, schools, malls, hospitals, theaters, et cetera, but they don't. I think this madness at the airport is a knee-jerk reaction and it ought to be ended."

Lou in South Carolina, "The groping of a youngster is beyond appalling. A pedophile's dream job all in the time of safety. Every pervert in the country is applying for jobs right now, and some of them will get them. If Israel can do this stuff without all this embarrassment and humiliation, why can't we?"

Andrew writes, "4 of 5 Americans support body scans, but would the same number support them if you asked do you support being exposed to radiation for a body scan?"

Carolyn in Illinois, "I may not be flying real soon, but I have flown a lot in the past. The terrorist threat is real and it scares me to death. I'm so glad that the TSA is using aggressive procedures to help ensure our safety. The complainers need to grow up. I'm a breast cancer survivor. I use a breast prosthesis and if the inspector wants to touch my prosthesis to ensure that some terrorist hasn't removed the gel and replaced it with explosive material, then have at it."

And Queen writes from Utah, "I weigh 307 pounds. I'm more worried about getting kicked off the flight than blinding the agents with my hot body."

If you want to read more on this, you'll find it on my blog, CNN.com/Caffertyfile. The word is prosthesis.

MALVEAUX: All right. Thank you, Jack.

I'll ask the transportation security administrator why those stepped-up pat-downs are necessary and whether the president is having second thoughts.

And Dr. Sanjay Gupta teams up with former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner to talk about the danger of getting hit in the head.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: We're coming off another big weekend in pro football. One that featured more violent hits. Our CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta had some candid conversations with former players about the culture of concussions in the game today.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, I think what a lot of these players will tell you is they acknowledge this paradox that people -- they know watch football in part because they want to see the big hits. But they're also what make us cringe. Case in point last night, you may have seen this Suzanne but take a look here. Ellis Hobbs takes a helmet-to-helmet hit, a significant blow. He's on the field for ten minutes after that hit. That was just last night. This happens quite a bit in the NFL. What's unsettling is just how much we know about what's happening to the brain when this happens. And how much more likely someone is to develop a second concussion, for example, if they take a significant blow to the first -- in the first place when you see all sorts of hits like this. What's also unsettling is the fact that we still have this persistent ignorance about exactly what concussion is and how best to treat it. Exactly what I wanted to talk to former NFL quarterback and super bowl MVP Kurt Warner about to really understand what he thinks the culture is right now and what he's learned both personally and professionally about this topic.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shotgun snap, blitz coming. Warner steps up.

GUPTA: It's a chilling moment in football.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And Kurt Warner is hurt.

GUPTA: A player is hit. And does not get up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kurt Warner is on his back.

GUPTA: January 16th, 2010, former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner was that player.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the trainers race out.

GUPTA: He got up and later he returned to the game. Do you feel like you ever stayed in a game or were sort of pushed to stay in a game when you shouldn't have?

KURT WARNER, FORMER NFL QUARTERBACK: Yeah. There's no question that's happened. A lot of guys when they get, you know, those hits or those concussions, they think, okay, I'm just going to play through it here for the short-term and it's going to get better.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was just lifted up.

GUPTA: Playing through it is part of football, says Warner, a big part.

WARNER: Probably 100 percent of the guys that play my sport in the NFL have been there. I think for a long time, it was felt like, well, if you didn't get up dizzy or with no memory, then you really didn't suffer a concussion.

GUPTA: What does a concussion feel like?

WARNER: It's a mental fogginess. You almost seem like you're separated from the situation. You're in it but you're kind of looking at it from the outside looking in.

GUPTA: According to the NFL, there are more than 100 documented concussions every season. After a big hit, doctors on the sidelines test players for signs of concussion, memory problems, confusion, dizziness. But there is no definitive answer to the most important question. Who should continue playing and when should come out of the game?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many of you have by show of hands had a concussion?

GUPTA: Kevin, formerly a Pittsburgh Steelers trainer, studies concussion's impact on the brain in high school players.

KEVIN: This is showing moderate levels of atrophy.

GUPTA: And retired NFL athletes. Is his study, players who have had three or more concussions get MRIs.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm going to say three words.

GUPTA: And memory tests.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Apple, penny, table. Now you say those.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Apple, penny, table.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good. What were those three words I asked you to remember earlier?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't remember. Penny. That's all I remember.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Okay.

GUPTA: Memory problems are not the only thing they're finding. Concussions may be shrinking memory and learning centers in the brain, thwarting its ability to transmit signals. Did you retire because of concussions?

WARNER: No not because of concussions, but there's no question, you know, as I contemplated the big picture and, you know, thought about life after football, do I want to put myself at risk for another concussion? Or for a worse concussion?

GUPTA: Many players, of course, decide to play through it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dropped! Great defense play!

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA: Now, Kurt Warner knows a lot about this topic. He's had at least five documented concussions. What he says, the problem is to two-fold. One, many players want to play. They don't want to be on the bench, so they'll minimize their symptoms. Also, a lot of teams obviously want to win. And so that's where the culture is pushing things. He says explicitly that he was never told to play despite his symptoms, but he worries about that culture overall for other players. We did talk to the NFL specifically about this. They released this statement to us. They said, "If anything, we're going in the other direction where people sit out until they're totally symptom-free. There are so many protocols now. If a guy gets pulled out in a game, he cannot get back until he's cleared by the team doctor."

Also, incidentally, you watch a video of Ellis Hobbs at the beginning there. He was on the field for ten minutes. But he did get into a stretcher, ultimately. The thumbs-up sign, moving all of his extremities. He got x-rays, which were -- did not show any evidence of fracture so he's expected to do well.

Tomorrow, Suzanne, we're talking about high school football, three million players, brains that are still developing, lots of hard hits. Max Conrad (ph), who you see there, he's a player who is going to teach us about something known as second impact syndrome and just how devastating that can be.

Suzanne, that's tomorrow -- back to you for now.