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Rare New Year's Eve Tornadoes; Governor Christie Defends Disney Trip; President Is Close to Where He Started; Stopping Terror in Times Square; Headlines & Resolutions

Aired December 31, 2010 - 17:00   ET



It's midnight in Istanbul, Turkey and in Beirut, Lebanon.

You are watching live pictures of New Year's celebrations in those cities. Just take a look. Obviously, a lot of excitement. You see the countdown clock there that is happening in Istanbul. There is a little bit of a satellite delay, so they're -- they're counting down, as we're counting down with them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Five, four, three, two, one.

Happy New Year!

Have yourself a happy 2011.

MALVEAUX: And you see all of the people celebrating, the fireworks going off. This is taking place and you've got live pictures happening there out of Beirut, as well.


MALVEAUX: And I think we're going to see some pictures -- there you go, Times Square, getting ready for the preparations. The big celebration, obviously, seven hours away. And people are just jam packed. They are going to be there celebrating all night and all morning, we can imagine, there, the lights and a lot of security. We're going to be talking a bit about some of the security, as well.

But you can see that they've got the cameras. People are already cheering. This is going to be a -- a really exciting time here.

Within the past few hours or so, we saw people ring in the new year in Moscow. Dubai, United Emirates. Obviously, Happy New Year to all of you, wherever you are right now.

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

Breaking news here in the United States on this New Year's Eve, a deadly line of storms, including tornadoes, racing through parts of the South and into the Midwest.

Our severe weather expert, Chad Myers, is here with the latest. Chad, what are we watching?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Suzanne, it started overnight last night and it started even in the dark in parts of Arkansas. And in the dark, tornadoes are hard -- are, obviously, harder to see. Sometimes the delay getting some of the warnings out, although this was not the case. But you don't hear the sirens. You're not awake. You need a NOAA weather radio for storms in the dark.

And there may be more tonight, as it moves through Illinois into Indiana and then finally into places like Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama.

It will continue. This is significant weather. We've had had now six fatalities, three in Arkansas, three in Missouri. We saw a line around noon roll right through St. Louis. There's an awful lot of damage around St. Louis. We even have our Jennifer Delgado out there. She will be out there reporting from us -- from the -- from the scene. We're seeing an awful lot of damage all over the place. But the biggest threat right now will be moving farther down to the south than where it was earlier. In fact, farther down -- there's St. Louis. The weather moved off into Illinois.

There's snow on the north side of this. That's the problem. There's cold and there's warm clashing. And the biggest clash is right down here -- Mississippi, Louisiana. It will be into Alabama, Tennessee and even into Kentucky later on tonight -- maybe not weather exactly like this, but the potential is there. Tornado watches are still posted. Even a couple of warnings are still issued at this hour.

If you hear the sirens go off and if you know a storm is coming near you, stay away from the windows. Get inside. Go to the lowest level, if you can. And if it's not a basement, the first floor is fine. Stay away from the glass -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: All right. Thank you, Chad.

Now to the backlash from the holiday blizzards. New Jersey Governor Crist Christie is defending his administration's handling of the storm and the fact that both he and his lieutenant governor were out of the state when it hit. The Republican faced reporters today after returning from family vacation at Disney World and he said the trip was part of his most important job, as a father. And he accused his political opponents and the media of stirring up needless controversy.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: This is not like in the 1800s, when, you know, no one will be able on get me. Believe me, my cell phone was ringing where I was much more than I would have preferred it to under normal circumstances when I'm away on a family vacation. But, you know, I was not going to look at my children and say, no, we're not going. We had a plan in place. As you can see, standing behind me and in the back of the room, we have able leadership of the executive branch of this government to be able to deal with this problem. And they dealt with it.

I was, as I said earlier, talking to them on a regular basis to be able to know what was going on and to provide whatever input and recommendations that I needed to make.

Lastly, I have complete faith and confidence in Senator Sweeney. We talked about this when I told him this is what the situation was. I explained to him why both of us were going to be out state at the same time. It was not something, candidly, that the lieutenant governor really wanted to talk about publicly. It's an intensely personal thing have a parent that ill and to have this type of trip.

And so we didn't talk about this, initially, because we didn't think it was really anybody's business other than the people at the senior levels of government who needed to know and Kim and her family.

But as the partisanship rose, as the fact that it's like kind of a slow news week and everybody loves to report on the weather, you know, roads and you need something to talk about -- and I get that. I understand it. You know, we ultimately made the decision to give a fuller explanation for why.

But the idea that, you know, all this carping and craziness about how could I leave the state stranded, I mean, you know, I was on the phone not only, you know, with my staff, but with members of the press, you know, who had questions, to let them know about what was going on.

So this is -- this is just partisanship and kind of the nature of the time of the year.


MALVEAUX: Christie also explained that his lieutenant governor had made plans months before to take her severely ill father on a cruise. The president of the state senate, a Democrat, stepped in as acting governor on Sunday to declare a snow emergency.

Well, let's talk about the political backlash from the blizzard with two of our political contributors, Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen and Republican strategist, Ed Rollins.

I want to start off with both of you here -- I mean, Ed, do you -- do you buy the governor's explanation?

Do you think it's a -- a good one?


And I'm not a -- obviously, I'm a -- I'm a big Christie fan. He's a role model for a lot of Republican governors who are coming in.

In time of crisis -- and this is no this storm has been a crisis, whether it's New York City or in -- in New Jersey, you've got to be at the helm. And I -- and I've seen many, many governors and mayors, in the past, destroy their careers by not being there. This had -- this affected everybody in the state. And -- and I'm sorry for his family, but that's the life of a governor. He should have been on an airplane. He should have been back here. And to come back and be whiney about it or to dismiss it as not very important, it isn't partisanship, it's executive leadership.

MALVEAUX: Hilary, what do you think of the explanation, you know, as a -- as a parent, he says he didn't want to look his kids in the eye and -- and face the disappointment and the promise that he made about the trip to -- to, you know, Disney World --


MALVEAUX: -- and all of that stuff. I mean, obviously --

ROSEN: -- as a parent, I actually know that Disney World is open 365 days a year. So, you know, you could actually delay it a few days.

But I -- this is my problem with what Governor Christie did today. He didn't just come back and lash out at his critics. He also came back and announced that he was going to apply to the federal government for a grant to help him clean up the snow in New Jersey. So at the same time this governor is making his political career based on spending cuts and -- and yelling about Democrats spending too much in Washington, all of a sudden he wants a bunch of the money. I find that outrageous --

MALVEAUX: Well, he --

ROSEN: -- that he's such a hypocrite.

MALVEAUX: The governor said that he was very busy during his trip. He was -- he was on the phone.

I mean was there -- did that convince either one of you that he at least was engaged --

ROLLINS: No. You --

MALVEAUX: -- in some way?

ROLLINS: -- until you're out there in the streets, just as Mayor Bloomberg, who, for four days up here, sort of ducked and dodged it and thought everything was going great, until you get in the streets and see what ordinary citizens are going through, you don't know what the crisis.

I agree with Hilary totally on the fact, if this -- if you're going to basically need help to clean up snow, you shouldn't be a Northeast governor or a Midwest governor. That has to be part of the planning process. You have to have resources funded for that. You can't be going to the federal government and asking for -- and particularly this governor, who I -- we think, as -- as I said, could be a role model for future governors -- you've got to do -- take care of your own mess. MALVEAUX: Is this --


MALVEAUX: Is this fatal damage?

ROSEN: It's kind of interesting --

MALVEAUX: Is this fatal damage to him?

He's clearly one of the favorites in the Republican Party.

ROSEN: Well, that -- that was the point I was just going to raise, which is, you know, part of his -- his fame and popularity in the Republican Party is his supposed candor and willingness to speak his mind. And I think what we saw today was a little bit of thin skin around his own feelings. And we'll see whether --


ROSEN: -- that keeps coming out over the next (INAUDIBLE) --

MALVEAUX: We're going to get back to you guys a little bit later in the hour for some more discussion.

Thank you so much.

We're going to stand by for the latest on the deadly mid-air collision.

Plus, a battle is brewing over an end of the year appointment by President Obama. And it could affect the Middle East peace process.

And a former Russian spy turned sex symbol opens up about integrity and her passions.


MALVEAUX: President Obama is ending this year pretty close to where he started, at least when it comes to his job approval rating. Now back in early January, 51 percent of Americans said they approved of the way the president was doing his job. Well, this month, his approval rating pretty much stands at 48 percent in our most recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll.

Now, of course, there were some ups and some downs in between. And no one knows it better than my colleague, Ed Henry at the White House, who just -- you got back from Hawaii. And I have to say, I mean, you know --


MALVEAUX: -- a couple of days early, you know.

HENRY: Yes. MALVEAUX: That's -- that's --

HENRY: Well, I've got to anchor --

MALVEAUX: -- pretty good.

HENRY: -- "JKUSA" tonight.


HENRY: Otherwise, I wouldn't have come back early. So it was --

MALVEAUX: I'm not --

HENRY: -- company sanctioned. It's not --

MALVEAUX: You know, I'm really not feeling that badly for you, Ed.

HENRY: You're not feeling it.

MALVEAUX: I'm not feeling your pain.

HENRY: But when you talk about ups or downs, I mean the weather there was about 70, 75 degrees. Now it's -- down here in DC, it's pretty cold, so, you know --

MALVEAUX: Ed, you're roughing it.


MALVEAUX: Let's take a look at these numbers here, the -- the way he's handling his job.


MALVEAUX: Approval, 51 percent approve; 48 percent disapprove. This is pretty much the same as the previous poll.


MALVEAUX: What do we make of this?

HENRY: I think the good news for this president, as you know better than anyone, is the fact that, you know, as you say, after what's been a pretty brutal year, the fact of the matter is that his approval rating is pretty much where it was at the beginning of the year, despite taking all of those hits.

But I think the bad news for the president, obviously, is the fact that, look, he has all these things to tout. You know, he finally passed health care reform this year. He finally got this big tax cut deal with the Republicans at the end of the lame duck.

And yet none of it really seems to be breaking through yet. It's a problem he's had throughout the first two years of this administration. He's been racking up accomplishments and yet that approval rating is still hovering at basically 50/50 in the country. He's got to turn that around in 2011 if he wants to get reelected.

MALVEAUX: There's a lot of discussion about, you know, the press office, as we know, and whether or not they're putting out the message, whether or not he's touting his -- his accomplishments. And people don't really seem to be paying much attention or getting the kind of credit. There's a -- there's a frustration when you talk to administration officials.

HENRY: Absolutely. And fellow Democrats outside the White House who want to see them step it up. I think we're going to see some changes. I mean as early as next week, they're going to have a replacement for Larry Summers, as the chief economic adviser. In terms of the message folks, there's a lot of talk maybe Robert Gibbs will shift roles and won't be press secretary within a couple of months, maybe he'll take on a broader communications role outside the White House to help start building up the campaign.

And then you've got David Axelrod leaving at some point in late January or early February. And you've got David Plouffe coming in.

And there's a lot of hope among Democrats that David Plouffe is going to come in that White House and assert some discipline and bring some -- back some of that message discipline that you knew, you know, full well was on display in 2008 in the campaign, when Plouffe ran that campaign. Maybe they can get the White House message machine back to where the campaign one was.

MALVEAUX: So that the next poll shows that a lot of people are optimistic about their futures. They're looking forward to a new year. Here are the numbers here.

They say that, "How are you feelings about the state of the world in the new year?"

Hopeful, 63 percent say they are hopeful. Thirty-five percent say they're fearful. And -- and yet the -- there's a little concern about their personal lives.

HENRY: Sure.

MALVEAUX: So when you ask them about their personal lives, some 64 say hopeful. Thirty-three percent say fearful. Now you take a look and there are more people who are hopeful.

So, obviously, people think that things are getting better.

HENRY: Right.

MALVEAUX: They're feeling that things are getting better. But the economy really still is just moving along.

HENRY: Exactly.

MALVEAUX: It's just chugging along. HENRY: Exactly. And that's why I think the first poll you mentioned, where people are feeling more hopeful, say, now, 63 percent, than it was 51 percent in 2009, about the street state of the world. But about their personal situation, people are still saying, 64 percent hopeful now. Sixty-nine percent were hopeful a year ago from now. And so it's dropped, the number of hopeful, about their personal situations.

The bottom line is, people think well, maybe the broader economy is getting better, but I'm still worried I'm going to lose my job. I'm still worried my neighbor is going to lose her job.

And so they're not -- still not feeling this recovery. That's the bottom line.

MALVEAUX: And we're seeing pictures live because of the White House there.

Obviously, one of the things that senior administration officials have been talking about is getting him out of the White House --


MALVEAUX: -- to show that he has some empathy, that he understands what people are talking about.

Do we anticipate that he is going to be on the road?

HENRY: Oh, yes. I mean we heard Valerie Jarrett say that on "Meet the Press" recently. Other officials have been saying in private that, look, they realize that to get him better connected with the American people, they've got to get him out there. And I think there's going to be another precursor to 2012. And, as you know, on our White House blog right now,, we've got some great photos taken by a photojournalist, taken by some of our colleagues, our White House producers --

MALVEAUX: Well, take a --


MALVEAUX: -- let's take a look at some of those -- those pictures.

HENRY: And some of those --

MALVEAUX: Some great pictures --

HENRY: -- images are really awesome that they've taken --

MALVEAUX: -- that they've got up there in the -- on the wall.

HENRY: And --



MALVEAUX: Now, this was a great moment. This was a -- an incredible moment, because we were all involved with this, you and Dan and myself.

HENRY: Right.

MALVEAUX: And the president, I think we could all agree, kind of made a mistake there when he -- he let Bill Clinton take over the podium at the press briefing.

HENRY: I remember him saying, yes, I'm going to leave and let former President Clinton say a few words. And that was his first mistake, you're right, because Bill Clinton has never said a few words. He sort of took over that podium. He was glad to be back.

But there's another photo of you that I really -- I really enjoy. I want everyone to see that.


HENRY: You know, at first look, it looks like the president, but it's not.


HENRY: you can -- that's not President Obama, is it?

MALVEAUX: And you see -- I thought maybe we fooled the folks there. But, you know, that's right. Now, this is in Indonesia. And this is the trip, obviously, that he canceled like two times.

HENRY: Two times.

MALVEAUX: You actually got to go to Indonesia --

HENRY: Finally, the third time.

MALVEAUX: -- when he was there. But we were there ahead of -- ahead of the president. And, yes, that's an impersonator.


MALVEAUX: He gets a lot of attention. People love him over there.

HENRY: He looks a lot like him -- the ears, the face, the -- the fins (ph).

MALVEAUX: He's -- he does a great impersonation. He really does.


MALVEAUX: I think they should --

HENRY: But we know the real thing.

MALVEAUX: -- you know, hire him.

HENRY: And we'll be covering him in 2011.

MALVEAUX: Absolutely.

All right, Ed, thanks so much.

HENRY: Happy New Year, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Happy New Year.

Well, crowds are already gathering for the big ball to drop just hours from now in New York's Times Square. With terror threats looming, we're going to show you what police are doing to secure the city this New Year's Eve.

Plus, we're keeping an eye on those deadly tornadoes tearing through the Midwest. A live update ahead.


MALVEAUX: We're less than seven hours away from the new year here on the East Coast of the U.S. There are huge crowds already in place for celebrations in New York City. Security is tight, as you can imagine, as it's been almost for a decade, since the September 11 attacks and in the wake of more recent bombing attempts in Times Square.

Mary Snow is joining us live from Times Square -- Mary, what's it like down there?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'll tell you, Suzanne, the crowds have been steadily building. And people started pouring into Times Square a couple of hours ago. And, you know, behind-the-scenes, there is a massive security effort underway.

We spoke with the polit -- the police commissioner of New York City, who told us when this is all over, there is always a collective sigh of relief.


SNOW (voice-over): As revelers gear up to ring in 2011 in New York's Times Square, so are police. Thousands of officers in uniform and in plainclothes will be on hand for the ball drop and a tradition that's seen drastic changes.

Tim Tompkins is the head of the Times Square Alliance.

TIM TOMPKINS, PRESIDENT, TIMES SQUARE ALLIANCE: Because the big public safety concern years and years ago was basically out of control drunk people. The businesses used to cover up their windows with plywood because it was so out of control. And it really was, you know, a representation of, a little bit, the disorder that was going on in New York.

SNOW: Now the biggest threat is terrorism. Crowds go through metal detectors and backpacks are banned. Manhole covers are sealed. Police cars and sanitation trucks are used, along with concrete barriers, to block streets in an effort to prevent car bombs. And throughout the crowds, the police department says it will be using portable radiation detectors.

COMMISSIONER RAY KELLY, NEW YORK CITY POLICE: We have response capability, if, in fact, there's a -- a biological attack or a radiological attack, we're able to respond with decontamination equipment. We work with the -- with the fire department to make sure that we're able to do that, as well. So it is a big, complex operation. And, you know, we always breathe a sigh of relief when it's -- when it's over.

SNOW: New York City's police commissioner says that there are also more surveillance cameras in the Times Square area following the attempted car bombing in Times Square in May. There's roughly 400 of them. And what's new this year, they are streaming live into this command center that is monitored by the police and private sector.

Businesses like the Marriott Marquis, in the heart of Times Square, closes down to outsiders when police start closing down streets and they work with police.

KATHLEEN DUFFY, MARRIOTT MARQUIS: We train our staff and do multiple training sessions before New Year's Eve to -- to heighten that sense of just report anything you see that is unusual. And we do that every day.

SNOW: The police department says it keeps a watchful eye on terror-related incidents around the world.

(on camera): Is this year any worse than others in terms of threats or concerns?

KELLY: No. I would just say that the tempo is, as I said, in Europe, you know, gives us some pause for concern. But there's no specific threats directed at New York City.


SNOW: And, Suzanne -- Suzanne, the weather is pretty mild tonight. It's about 45 degrees. So it's very mild compared to what the weather has been like here. And it's estimated as many as one million people may show up here tonight in Times Square.


SNOW: As you might be able to hear behind me, you know, bands are rehearsing. The crowds are all revved up. And they have more than six hours to go.


Well, Mary, be safe and have fun.

Happy New Year.

SNOW: Sure.

MALVEAUX: Our correspondents are comparing notes on the big stories that they'll be following in 2011 and they have some suggestions for Republicans, who are just days away from taking charge in the House.

And the dramatic video that led police to nab an alleged serial killer known as the Crossbow Cannibal.


MALVEAUX: All right, it's that time of year when we all like to reflect on what's happened and look forward to what is ahead.

Well, we have gathered the best and the brightest here at CNN to help us digest all this.

I want to go around the table real quick here.

Lisa Desjardins, CNN Radio's Congressional correspondent and host of CNN's new podcast, called American Sauce. That's pretty hot. Deputy political director, Paul Steinhauser, he is here; CNN Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

Jill Dougherty -- she covers foreign affairs over at the State Department. And Jeanne Meserve, she's our homeland security guru.

OK, guys, I'm going to start this off, kick it off here. This year at the White House, there were two poignant moments notably involving two African-American women who helped President Obama evolve in his leadership. Agriculture employee, Shirley Sherrod, you may recall, who was wrongly portrayed as racist, fired by the administration and then rehired by the White House. She taught this president the need to check out the facts, don't shoot at the hip and take on those tough issues.

Here's what Mrs. Sherrod told me she believes the president needs to do.


SHIRLEY SHERROD, FORMER AGRICULTURE DEPARTMENT EMPLOYEE: I do think, whether it's from him or some other way with his administration, we do have to talk about race. We need to talk about race in this country, so that we can move beyond where we are now, because we are not in a good place.


MALVEAUX: A month later, President Obama encountered Velma Hart at a CNBC town hall meeting. And she said what so many were thinking.

Take a listen.


VELMA HART, TOWN HALL ATTENDEE: Quite frankly, I'm exhausted. I'm exhausted of defending you, defending your administration, defending the mantle of change that I voted for --


HART: -- and deeply disappointed with where we are right now.


MALVEAUX: And despite the president's initial reaction, tossing his head back and laughing, Miss. Hart showed him the need to pay attention to the frustrations of his supporters and to really empathize with those who are suffering. And you can bet that next year, he's continuing to push for jobs, jobs, jobs, get out of the White House more, to show people that he gets it.

So I want to go to the movers and shakers who cover the big stories here in Washington for the headlines and the hopes for next year.

Let's start off with you, Lisa.

The headline, obviously, for Congress, we saw very messy situations.

LISA DESJARDINS, CNN RADIO CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT: Unbelievable year -- that's the headline I picked -- a historic, but also very messy year. When you look at this year, with the Democrats in charge, they had some huge achievements.

We're going to look at this graphic here -- health care reform; Wall Street reform; also, "don't ask/don't tell."

But they also had some huge losses -- climate change, no energy legislation passed.

So they aimed high. Sometimes they hit, sometimes they missed.

MALVEAUX: Any resolutions for those on the Hill?

DESJARDINS: Yes, absolutely.

Let's start with the new speaker of the House, John Boehner, the one everyone will be watching --

MALVEAUX: Big challenges for him.

DESJARDINS: -- for John Boehner, the resolution I have for him at the start, cut spending. Obviously, everyone has to talk about jobs. But for him, more than anyone, his base wants him to cut spending.

He also has to keep his troops intact, Suzanne, because now he has it -- within his caucus, some revolutionaries who want to make revolutionary change. And he has old school, old guard, as well.

One other word of advice I have to say, resolution to Senate Leader Harry Reid, still in charge of the Senate, he needs to move the moderates. He needs to be spending time in Maine with Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins. He needs a win over the people in the middle.

MALVEAUX: Paul Steinhauser, our guy for all politics all the time -- what's the headline here?

PAUL STEINHAUSER, DEPUTY POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I think the biggest headline of the year was those midterm elections, historic -- 63-seat pickup by the Republicans, the biggest by any party in the midterm election or any election since 1948.

Now, how did that happen? The other headline I guess you can say helped it. And that was the Tea Party movement. We got to know them in 2009 when they first formed but it was 2010 when the Tea Party movement had some big victories, starting in January, helping Scott Brown win that historic election in Massachusetts and they were a big factor in the Republicans' win in the midterm elections.

MALVEAUX: Resolutions for anybody specifically?

STEINHAUSER: Yes. Let's start with Michael Steele, the head of the Republican Party, the RNC chairman.

MALVEAUX: That's a good one.

STEINHAUSER: His resolution I guess: keep my job. He's got an election in about three weeks. He's got a big debate on Monday. That's his resolution.

Let's talk about the next presidential election because you're going to see that campaign starting soon. And I guess for the -- we're keeping our eyes on about 10 or 15 people who may want to run for presidential nomination. And for all but one of them, I guess the resolution is to stand out, because most of these guys are pretty close on the issues.

And for the third person, it's that one person who does stand out. That's Sarah Palin. Everybody is talking about Sarah Palin. Will she run for the presidency or not? That's her resolution, I guess, to decide in 2011.

MALVEAUX: That's a big question obviously. We are getting some iReporters who also have some suggestions for the leaders here. This one is coming in as Cameron Harrelson from Baxley, Georgia. I want you to take a look to what he has to say -- Resolution for Republican Congress.


CAMERON HARRELSON, IREPORTER: My New Year's resolution for the new Republican-controlled Congress is this: just stick to your founding morals and beliefs. Stick to the Constitution. Stick to the things that this country was founded upon many years ago, because it's obvious that the people of America have trusted you to do that. So, I hope that you will not let us down.

For CNN iReport, I'm iReporter Cameron Harrelson.


DESJARDINS: That's going to be the test for these guys. It's going to be easy in the first month to do the things they promised, to post the bills online -- all of those things. But as this Congress goes on in the middle of the year, let's say when they start voting on the debt limit, it's going to be very tough for them to keep those promises. It's going to be very tough for them to really come across as genuine and not play politics.

MALVEAUX: Are those expectation too high, do you think, Paul?

STEINHAUSER: They may be very high. And one other thing, our polls indicate that most Americans want a compromise between the Democrats and Republicans. They want things get done. They like what happened in the lame duck.

DESJARDINS: I'm going to sneak in one quick one. Media has also got to step up this year big time. It's be a tough year for us. And we got to really read the bills.

MALVEAUX: All right. We'll be (INAUDIBLE) -- you know how big those bills are.




Barbara at the Pentagon, give us the headlines for 2010.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Beginning of the year, middle of the year, end of the year, it was Afghanistan, of course. The war has been very tragic in some cases this year, record casualties for the United States -- 30,000 more troops on the ground. And a shocker for the war in the middle of the year when General Stanley McChrystal got fired by the president as the top commander, they regrouped. They put Petraeus in there very quickly.

But still, that has really -- along with "don't ask, don't tell" -- have been the two major stories this year.

MALVEAUX: What should the Pentagon be focusing on next year?

STARR: Well, they've already got their marching orders 2011, start finding a way to get some troops out of Afghanistan. And bring them home.

And looking further down the road -- I mean, let's not forget 9/11, this year, 10-year anniversary, it could become a political football. Osama bin Laden has not been found. All of this could rear its head again in the political season. MALVEAUX: And I know the White House as well obviously looking at that 10-year anniversary. I mean, they want to be able to say this is successful. This is -- we are fighting terror. We're keeping those terrorists back. And so, very important for the president.

I want to go to one of our iReporters here. Scott Melvin from Rockport, Missouri. And he writes, "Get our boys out of the Mideast, put about 30,000 of them on the Mexican border so you can fight a battle that you can win, securing our southern border." Makes an interesting point.

STARR: Well, you know, I think one of the things that we're going to see emerge is that politics and military will become the same story to some extent. Barack Obama ran on the mantra he would bring the troops home from Iraq. Now, his opposition, whoever that is, might be running on the slogan he'll bring the troops home from Afghanistan. It's always a tried and true mechanism for attention in a presidential campaign. Obama may be on the receiving end this time.

MALVEAUX: Jeanne, what do you think?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly, you are hearing from Capitol Hill. People like Peter King, who's coming in as chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, talking about we need more immigration enforcement. But I'd be curious on getting your take of where we are going on immigration reform. It's just totally dead in the water.

DESJARDINS: Completely dead in the water. I think we'll see some rallies. We'll see a lot of outside groups trying to make their case. It's completely dead in the water. There's no room for any of the comprehensive issues at this time. It is all money and spending right now.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: They wimped out, the bipartisan commission.

MALVEAUX: All right. Well, the one who's accusing the wimps -- Jill Dougherty here. Foreign affairs, State Department -- give us the headline for this past year.

DOUGHERTY: You know, there are so many, because Hillary Clinton, of course, is in charge of the world when it comes to policy. She has to deal with a lot of stuff.

But I think that -- it boils down to, you know, the Mideast is probably one of the top ones. They staked at the beginning of the Obama administration. Their wager on settlements, stopping the Israeli settlements, that didn't work. It's been through many permutations.

And now, we're kind of back to the same thing. It just hasn't worked. And they are looking for another strategy. So, not a lot of progress on that, although there was a lot of action.

MALVEAUX: And you learned a lot about -- from WikiLeaks as well. DOUGHERTY: Oh, yes. You did. And, you know, that all plays together. But I think that so many people believe that's key to solving so many issues around the world, if could you do that, it's really very difficult.

The second thing I think you'd have to say, put North Korea and Iran together in the sense of nuclear weapons. One is to keep Iran from getting nuclear weapons and the other one would be this highly dangerous situation of North Korea, which has about a dozen nuclear weapons. Keep them from using them and keep peace on the peninsula.

MALVEAUX: Now, you -- do you have anything specifically in terms of resolutions for Hillary Clinton?

DOUGHERTY: Well, I would say Mideast peace, find a strategy. Get tough and try to bring it together because it continues to bedevil them. North Korea, I think it's short term, long term. Short term is making sure the place doesn't blow up. With some type of conflict between the North and South --


MALVEAUX: Is that realistic?

STARR: This is where the Pentagon comes in because they would like the State Department to succeed. The last thing the U.S. military wants is one more thing on their to-do list in 2011 and they would be happy for the State Department to take care of.

MALVEAUX: And, Jeanne, obviously, that relates to homeland security as well.

MESERVE: Yes, certainly. But I would say the big thing for the department and for the Justice Department this year has been the diversification of the terror threat. That's the number one thing.

But it isn't all about al Qaeda anymore. You had al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula that was behind the underwear bomber and the cargo toner plot. You had the Pakistani Taliban behind the Times Square attempted bombing.

And then you had this homegrown terrorism phenomenon which just has exploded. There have been 50 American citizens charged with serious terror charges within the last two years. They expect that number will keep on going.

And innovations in what people are doing. I mean, this cargo toner bomb, nobody would have contemplated that. That wasn't on anybody's radar screen. So, this diversification, innovation, has really changed the nature of what they're looking at. It makes it much tougher to detect these plots and to put them down so far.

And things have gone relatively well in part because of good investigations, in part, because in some cases, the terrorists haven't known well enough what to do.

MALVEAUX: So, what do they put at the top of their to-do list for next year?

MESERVE: Well, I'll tell you, this is going to be heartbreak for Jay Leno and David Letterman, but one of the things I think we're going to see this year is the end of the color coded threat system, the famous five colors. Simplify that, I think.

So, that's one thing perhaps. Not the most serious thing they'll do, but something that the public is well aware of. I think they're going to try and take some of the controversy out of aviation screening. You're going to see them pushing very hard to bring out the next generation of body screening machines that does not show anatomical detail.

MALVEAUX: All right.

MESERVE: They're going to be pushing to come up with technologies that mean you don't have to take your shoes off anymore or get rid of your liquids. But that's all in the pipeline.

MALVEAUX: All right. Thank you, everybody, for all of your insight. Have a wonderful New Year. And if we had more time, we do personal resolutions. But that's OK.

MESERVE: We don't want to go there.


MALVEAUX: I'll lose five or 10 pounds, I know. OK. All right. Thanks, guys. Appreciate it.

We are following breaking news: Deadly tornadoes and storms socking the South and Midwest. Stand by to see more of the enormous damage.

And a year-end appointment by President Obama sets the stage for a foreign policy brawl in the New Year.

And the homeland security secretary in the war zone.


MALVEAUX: Right now, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is on the frontlines in the war on terror. She arrived in Afghanistan today to spend New Year's Eve with U.S. troops. Napolitano reviewed security operations at a key point along the Afghan border with Pakistan. The visit is part of a weeklong trip that includes stops in Qatar, Israel and Belgium.

Now, a new look ahead to the Obama administration's foreign policy in the New Year, the fight as well as the frustrations.

Our foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty is here. Obviously, there's a battle now that is brewing and it has do with U.S./Syrian relations and an Obama appointment. Tell us what you've learned. DOUGHERTY: Kind of unexpected actually, you know? I mean, the question is why did President Obama wait until the recess to appoint a new ambassador to Syria? Now, the U.S. still has a hostile relationship with that country. But it also thinks that Syria could be helpful on Mideast peace.

So, just as the year was ending, the president has made his move and the sparks are flying.


DOUGHERTY (voice-over): Syria? Just listen to the Republican leading the charge in the new Congress.

REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN (R), FLORIDA: Syria has done nothing to merit this engagement policy. These thugs, these dictators see that they can continue their reckless ways and the United States will not mind at all.

DOUGHERTY: The Obama administration says that the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, whom the administration accuses of providing support to terrorism organizations, Hamas and Hezbollah, holds the key to war or peace in the Mideast.

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We know he is hearing from Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas. It is crucial that he also hear directly from us so that the potential consequences of his actions are clear. That's why we are sending an ambassador back to Syria.

DOUGHERTY: The U.S. hasn't had an ambassador in Syria since 2005 when the prime minister of neighboring Lebanon, Rafi Hariri, was assassinated in a car bombing linked to Hezbollah.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How we tried to press Syria.

DOUGHERTY: Republicans blocked President Obama's nominee, career diplomat Robert S. Ford. But using his recess appointment powers, Mr. Obama is sending forward to Damascus for a year.

AARON DAVID MILLER, WOODROW WILSON INTERNATIONAL CENTER: The question is whether this is a fight worth having so early in the year with Republican-controlled House and at a time when the president wants to pick and choose his fights very carefully.

DOUGHERTY: Mideast expert Aaron David Miller argues sending an ambassador or not won't make much difference.

MILLER: Because if there was any serious talking to do on any of the issues, Hariri, Iran, Hezbollah, the peace process, the talking is going to be done by the secretary of state or by the president -- and most likely not with the Syrian foreign minister or anyone, frankly, that the ambassador would see.


DOUGHERTY: (INAUDIBLE) others think Obama's engagement policy is wrong, but it's a central part of the foreign policy like Iran and North Korea. It was a big issue two years ago during the election campaign and it could be back with a vengeance -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Obviously. A lot of people are going to be looking at that appointment very closely.

Thank you, Jill.

DOUGHERTY: Well, some long-serving governors around the country are ending their terms this office. Well, the question we're asking is: what should their next political move be? We're going to talk about that.

Plus, new questions over whether airport security screening procedures would be more effective without the TSA. Those details ahead.


MALVEAUX: Starting tomorrow and the weeks ahead, many long- serving governors will be leaving office. In our strategy session, CNN political contributors: Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen and Republican strategist Ed Rollins. They are back, part two.

Good to see you guys.

ROLLINS: Thank you.

MALVEAUX: A lot of governors, Republicans, Democrats, they are leaving for various reasons. And we're really curious as to what should be their next step. Let's start off with California's outgoing governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger -- Ed.

ROLLINS: There's a phrase he used to use in the movies, "Terminator," "I'll be back." I don't think he will be back. I think he got so diminished as a governor that I don't think there's any opportunity for him either to be in a future administration and I don't certainly -- couldn't get elected anything in California at this point in time.

MALVEAUX: So, beyond politics, he'll be back in what way? What do we think? Hilary?

ROSEN: He -- well, he's going back to the movies. He's going to do a job that he can actually succeed in. I can -- I think it's hard to find a least successful governor in the country. He -- his wife would have been a great governor. But he's just done a terrible job from start to finish. It's too bad.

ROLLINS: Instead of being bipartisan, he ended up being bipolar and, you know, couldn't figure out whether he was Democrat or Republican. Maybe he should alienate both sides.


ROSEN: I have to say, I like this role today as career counselor. So, let's just keep it going. This is great.


ROSEN: I want to do this for everybody.

MALVEAUX: All right. OK. Let's go with Ed Rendell. Pennsylvania. This is the guy who's going out, calling everybody a wuss. What's up with that? What does Ed Rendell do next?

ROSEN: He has a lot to say about everybody. My prediction for Ed Rendell is, you know, he's going to like end up as a TV commentator because he loves being on TV. He loves to hear himself talk. He happened to have been a great governor, very effective manager.

This is -- this guy's political career is not over. But in the meantime, he'll go and make a lot of money and I predict he'll end up on TV somewhere.

MALVEAUX: Ed, do you think he should -- he has a place in the Obama administration?

ROLLINS: He could. You know, he's sort of could be the old statesman. He's well-liked by Democrats and Republicans. He's great success at whatever he's done, when he was the Democrat national chairman or as governor. You know, he sort of escaped unscathed and by attacking the NFL the other day for canceling the football game, he probably enhanced himself among most Philadelphia fans.

MALVEAUX: All right. Bill Richardson, New Mexico -- just back from North Korea. Obviously, he's got a lot on his plate. He didn't pardon Billy the Kid, but he did come back from North Korea, what do we make of what he's got next?

ROLLINS: He's got both foreign policy credentials and energy credentials; a successful governor. The fact he's Hispanic and one of the highest ranking Hispanics, there's always openings for him whether it's do what he just did, to be a negotiator, my sense. Other than Hillary Clinton administration, which isn't for the foreseeable future, there's plenty of roles for him.


ROSEN: You know, he's not going to be obviously in the Obama administration. He tried that once and it didn't work. Bill Richardson is a great guy. He's enormously talent. One of his central problems, though, as any good career counselor will tell him, figure out what you really want to do and do it. He is all over the map on his likes and dislikes.


ROSEN: And until he figures it out, and he's going to -- he's going to have to stay in New Mexico for a while longer.

MALVEAUX: Real quick, Jennifer Granholm in Michigan. She's like Schwarzenegger. She wasn't born here. She's foreign-born. She cannot run for president.

But, boy, people want her to. They keep talking about it. Real quick.

ROSEN: You know, she's a really effective politician. She's a good candidate for a cabinet position or senior position in a second Obama term.

MALVEAUX: All right. Ed, real quick.

ROLLINS: In the future. In the future.

MALVEAUX: OK. All right. Thank you. Happy New Year to both of you.

ROSEN: Thank you, Suzanne.

ROLLINS: Thank you. Same to you.

MALVEAUX: A revealing new conversation with the former Russian spy-turned-cover girl, Anna Chapman.

And the new attempt to get rid of federal airport screeners. What it could mean for your security.

And a live picture now from Copenhagen, 10 minutes from midnight. Already, you can see the festivities are well underway.


MALVEAUX: A fatal midair collision. Our Brianna Keilar is monitoring that and some of the other top stories that are coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Brianna, what do you have?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, the FAA confirms that two people were killed when a Cessna 172 and a medevac chopper collided near the Shenandoah Valley Airport in Virginia today. Officials say the deaths occurred on the plane and the chopper managed to land safely, no one on board the chopper was hurt.

Alaska Tea Party favorite Joe Miller may not be ready to give up on his battle for the U.S. Senate just yet. Miller was challenging the historic write-in victory of Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski in the November election. But yesterday, the state certified her win. Miller's campaign Web site says he'll address how he plans to move forward later today.

Ands we are getting our first look at some very dramatic video of a shootout in Maine. This is between federal agents and a motorcycle club member they were trying to arrest. The suspect was killed in this June shooting. And this tape was released just days after the state attorney general said that authorities were justified in the shooting. Charges will not be filed because they acted in self- defense. On his last day in office, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson says that he will not pardon legendary outlaw Billy the Kid for killing a sheriff over a century ago. Richardson was considering whether one of his predecessors promised the pardon some 130 years ago. He tells ABC he believes the promise was made, but didn't want to second-guess why it was never carried out, Suzanne. All these years later.

MALVEAUX: That was a big deal this morning. OK. Thank you, Brianna.

As we count down to the New Year, find out if those deadly tornadoes may be heading your way. We are following the breaking news on severe weather.

And he calls himself the "Crossbow Cannibal," and now, he's been caught on tape.


MALVEAUX: Video that led British police to a serial killer is now public. Tom Barton reports from England.


TOM BARTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Moments after killing the third known victim, Steven Griffiths demonstrates the contempt and bravado of an experienced killer. The self-proclaimed "Crossbow Cannibal" showing off his murder weapon. Just a few hours later, the footage from "The Daily Mirror" shows him casually carrying bin bags out of his flats.

(on camera): CCTV cameras in and around the building where Steven Griffiths lived even captured the moments that he murdered Suzanne Blamires. Had not admitted the guilt, those pictures which are too graphic for us to show would have left a jury in no doubt of his guilt.

Last week, Griffiths admitted killing Shelley Armitage and Suzanne Blamires and Susan Rushworth.

It was the discovery of the CCTV footage which led to Griffiths being caught. A caretaker reviewing the pictures saw him attacking Suzanne. A massive police operation was launched. Griffiths was arrested and confessed. He was described by the judge as a wicked and monstrous killer. These pictures show just why he chose those words.

Tom Barton, ITV News, Bradford.