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THE SITUATION ROOM

Egyptians Protesting in Fear; 'Strategy Session'; Protests in Egypt Continue; Economic Situation in Egypt Deteriorates; Virginia Senator Jim Webb Announces He Will Not Seek Reelection in 2012

Aired February 9, 2011 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Brooke, thanks very much.

Happening now, a promise to fight to the death, if that's what it takes to bring change to Egypt. This hour, we're taking you inside the revolution and bringing you a new interview with that freed Google executive who has become a national hero of this uprising in Egypt.

Plus, Egypt's vice president's importance seems to be growing by the day, but so many protesters don't seem to trust him any more than they trust President Mubarak, We're going to examine his role, and why the U.S. is watching him with a wary eye right now.

And what if terrorists attack the United States with a makeshift nuclear bomb? We're going to share survival tips and an ominous new warning today about the al Qaeda threat to the United States right now.

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

The longing for more freedom unleashed in Egypt, spilling over in Cairo and beyond. Massive crowds showing up once again today in Tahrir Square and spreading into a nearby compound housing government buildings. Many of those protesters have been inspired by the words and the strength of the Google executive who was held by Egyptian authorities for a week and a half.

Wael Ghonim tells CNN that he's ready to die - ready to die to bring change to Egypt. He spoke with CNN's Ivan Watson about the revolution and the Internet's role in it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WAEL GHONIM, PROTESTER/GOOGLE EXECUTIVE: If you want to free a society, just give them Internet access, because people are going to - you know, the young crowds are going to - are going to all go out and see and - and hear the unbiased media, see the truth about, you know, other nations and their own nation, and they're going to be able to communicate and collaborate together.

IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Was this an Internet revolution?

GHONIM: It is definitely. Definitely, this is the Internet revolution. I - I'll call it Revolution 2.0. I just posted on Twitter yesterday, this is no longer the time to negotiate, unfortunately. We - we went on the street on the 25th, and we wanted to negotiate. We wanted to talk to our government. We were, you know, knocking the door.

They decided to negotiate with us at night, with rubber bullets, with police - police sticks, with - with, you know, water hoses, with tear gas tanks, and with arresting about 500 people of us. Thanks, you know? We got the message.

Now, when we escalated this and it became really big, they started listening to us.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: We're going to have more of this exclusive interview with Wael Ghonim ahead. Stand by for that.

But let's take you beyond the center of the revolt right now to the streets of the Egyptian capital where protesters have been on the move once again today. CNN's Ivan Watson has been talking with some of them.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WATSON: The Egyptian revolutionaries are shifting their tactics. We are no longer in Tahrir Square, we're in a new part of Cairo for the sit-in. We're in front of the Egyptian parliament.

Come take a look over here.

Last night, crowds gathered here and performed a sit-in. They slept on the sidewalk, right outside the gates of the parliament, and they even put a sign up right on the gates here, and it says, "To the attorney general: we want an investigation into the wealth of Hosni Mubarak and his family."

Take a listen to what one young man had to say to us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are going to move, not to stay in the Tahrir Square all the time. They want to ignore us there, and life continue around us. So we said no for this. We're going to continue and move anywhere to stop this regime.

WATSON: These revolutionaries say their protest movement is expanding. What were you saying, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am saying that all the Egyptians outside in the street, no Muslim Brothers. We are the Egyptians who are looking for the freedom. All what have been published to the media about Muslim Brothers is not true.

WATSON: And we hear this call repeatedly. These people say they will move into other government buildings until the Egyptian government accepts their demands.

Ivan Watson, CNN, Cairo.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Young Egyptians have been a driving force behind this revolution, and this helps explain why. A 2010 Gallup Poll found only 29 percent of the young people in Egypt believe their country's leadership makes the most of their potential. That's a 10-point decrease from the previous year.

The polls suggest Egyptian young people were among the most dissatisfied compared to 15- to 29-year-olds in other Middle Eastern countries that were surveyed.

The Obama White House, meanwhile, is urging Egypt's government to do much, much more to satisfy the demands of protesters, and that includes lifting the state of emergency, expanding negotiations with opposition groups, and making major constitutional reforms. Administration officials are defending the president's handling of the Egypt crisis now, and in the lead up to the revolt.

Let's go to the White House. Our correspondent Dan Lothian is standing by.

Dan, lots of questions about whether or not the administration should have been more clued in about the - the temperature, what's going on in the Middle East.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. That's right, Wolf. In fact, there's some finger-pointing, especially up on Capitol Hill where some - some lawmakers are wondering whether or not the administration got from the intelligence community timely analysis. Did they get anything, any information that something was lacking?

But the White House says that they believe nothing could have predicted exactly what happened.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN (voice-over): President Obama relies on his intelligence community to sniff out trouble long before it erupts into chaos. Egypt's brewing discontent, some argue, was a wake-up call

REP. JANE HARMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: I think we have underestimated the importance of social media, and I think we have not used enough public sources in our intelligence products.

This is an old problem, not a new problem, and our intelligence products are hugely better since the passage of the Intelligence Reform Act in 2004. Nonetheless, we missed this.

LOTHIAN: But the White House insists predicting the trigger and the scope of unrest was impossible to do, even if the CIA sounded an alarm late last year.

STEPHANIE O'SULLIVAN, NOMINEE, PRINCIPAL DEPARTMENT DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: We have warned of instability. We didn't know what the triggering mechanism would be for that.

LOTHIAN: But experts say the volume of information to analyze in this era of social media is a monumental task.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In looking for a needle in a haystack, you have to remember, this is not your grandfather's haystack.

LOTHIAN: White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the intelligence community did its job.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president expects that in any case that he will be provided with relevant, timely and accurate intelligence assessments, and that's exactly what's been done throughout this crisis.

LOTHIAN: An administration official told CNN, quote, "After Tunisia, we were well aware that the protests would likely spread across the region." As for when the president was first informed of that threat, the official added, quote, "The short answer is before it ever happened."

As the Obama administration applies pressure in Egypt's transition process, questions are being asked about what, if anything, could have been done to prevent the unrest, with 20/20 hindsight.

MATT BENNETT, V.P. FOR PUBLIC AFFAIRS, THIRD WAY: Not 100 percent clear, but the answer is probably no. They couldn't have ordered Mubarak to do anything different. They don't really have any true leverage other than kind of persuasion that comes from being a strong ally and a - and an aid provider.

So, in the end, even if they'd known this was coming, it's not clear they would have done anything differently.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Given what was sort of happening in the region -

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN: Intelligence experts say that Egypt does present an opportunity because when something like this happens, you're able to look back and make adjustments for the future.

In the meantime, the intelligence community continues to play a vital role on the ground, to get a sense of what's going on, the people at play, also the forces at play, and that will help policymakers work through the problems - Wolf.

BLITZER: Dan, I get a sense that administration officials are still frustrated. They see the pictures on television, they read about it in all the dispatches and newspapers and in magazines, but are they getting the kind of firsthand information on - from on the ground, from inside the revolution, shall we say, that they really need?

LOTHIAN: Well, the White House does believe that it is getting the information that it needs. But, yes, indeed, there is frustration here because despite days and even weeks of calling for restraint, there is still violence taking place.

You hear it - hear from the podium here calls for officials there not to strike out at journalists and other activists as well. So there is still that level of frustration. And - and perhaps not being able to get that full picture of exactly what's going on.

BLITZER: Dan Lothian at the White House for us. Thanks very, very much.

Some of the faces in the crowd of protesters in Egypt are more famous than others. I'll speak with one of those individuals, the Egyptian actor and activist Khalid Abdalla, best known for his role in the film "The Kite Runner." Does he see a new role for himself in Egypt's future?

We'll talk to him live. That's coming up.

And we'll take you outside of Egypt's big cities and listen to the cries for change there.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We'll get back to Cairo in a moment.

The protesters seem right now to be gaining the initiative, some momentum against Mubarak. We'll check in with what's going on.

But let's check in with Jack Cafferty right now. He's got "The Cafferty File." Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Except for some judges, a lot of Republicans and some Democrats, President Obama's health care reform law is very popular. Consider this. A top Republican says the House is likely to vote next week to block funding for the president's signature law.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor says it's expected to be part of an amendment during House debate on cutting at least $32 billion from the federal government's budget. Although it's very unlikely that such a measure would make it through the Democratic-controlled Senate, it could still set the stage for another partisan showdown over health care.

And it's not just Republicans who are questioning the scope of the new health care law. There's a group of moderate Senate Democrats who are considering rolling back the individual mandate. That's the requirement that everybody buy health insurance. They haven't decided yet if they'll propose legislation, but if they do, if they team up with Republicans on this issue, it could become a major embarrassment for the president.

A lot of these moderate Democrats are up for re-election next year and represent states that Mr. Obama lost in 2008. The controversial individual mandate has also been shot down by some judges, most recently a federal judge in Florida, ruled that the individual mandate is unconstitutional and that the whole health care law ought to be thrown out.

Well, this could very well set up a Supreme Court challenge over health care in the coming months, not to mention the two dozen other court challenges to the health care law that are pending around the country.

So here's the question. Is President Obama's health care reform law destined for the scrapheap? Go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile to post a comment on my blog.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

For over two weeks, the world certainly has been fixated on the Center Square in Cairo and on the uprising against the Egyptian government of Hosni Mubarak.

But we know less about how the revolution is being felt outside of the major cities. CNN's Arwa Damon took a trip to find out.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We travel an hour outside Cairo, to the farmlands of the Nile Delta to see how life in rural Egypt is being impacted. People in this village are very wary of journalists. We leave our cameraman, Christian (ph), in the car when we initially approach a group of men. After a bit of convincing, they let us film, though suspicion remains.

MOHAMED, FARMER (through translator): Work here is fine. The country is peaceful. There are no problems, Mohamed declares.

DAMON: That's not exactly the case. There were demonstrations, and people were on the streets fending for their livelihood, Ahmshad (ph) off to the side tells us.

As the crowd gathers, we start speaking to Abeer.

ABEER, VILLAGER (through translator): My real opinion, whether Hozni stays or Hozni goes, what's important is that the youth gets jobs, she states.

DAMON: This mother of three works at a doctor's office making less than $30 a month, not even enough to cover the electricity bill.

And typical Egyptian hospitality, she grabs me by the hand and invites us back to her home. Her husband, a day laborer, is out looking for work, which he hasn't been able to find since the demonstrations began.

Ages six to 11, as you can see their childhood is not easy. Skyrocketing prices have made making ends meet nearly impossible for most of the population in these parts of Egypt, where life is more of a monotonous but desperate struggle to survive, though few dare say that out loud.

Abeer invites us inside and away from prying eyes. DAMON (on camera): We'll come in and film the bedroom, where she and her husband and their three daughters all sleep. She wants us to see how they don't have a place to put their clothes which are basically stored in these cardboard boxes.

DAMON (voice-over): In the privacy of her home Abeer breaks down. "The situation is horrible. To be honest, I don't know. I don't know how to cope," she sobs. "You can see for yourself. Everything is horrible. I can hardly feed my children.

I am uneducated, illiterate," she continues. "I don't know if the government should stay or go. All I know is people like us need to be able to live."

She calls her children inside, pointing to them, saying "Look at how dirty they are, their stained clothes. I can't bear them having to live like this. Please, please, we just need help. We just need jobs," she begs, hoping that by risking speaking out to us the world will listen.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOLF BLITZER, HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": And Arwa Damon is joining us now live from Cairo. The other day when we spoke, Arwa, you went outside of Tahrir Square, you put a scarf over your blond hair out of concern you didn't want to stand out. This time I see you're a little bit more at ease traveling outside of Tahrir Square. Has the situation for a journalist like yourself improved?

DAMON: Wolf, it has a little bit and we do sense that when we've been out there we don't need to take such drastic measures and one does have to be very careful, especially when approaching people as a journalist. We're still not filming using our normal regular cameras. We're trying to be as subtle as we possibly can.

But yes, in that aspect there's been improvement. But we still do encounter these very wary populations. In fact the producer with us on this trip had to convince this group of men that our cameraman, Christian, was not an Israeli agent.

BLITZER: When you go out and you speak to these people outside of Cairo, Arwa, if this uprising continues for weeks, if not months, they will be struggling. The money simply is not going to be there. Tourism is going away. What are their biggest long-term concerns?

DAMON: Well, Wolf, it is money, and that's what it boils down for them, bearing in mind, too, that the country's faltering economy and prices skyrocketing and the lack of jobs is one of the reasons why the demonstrations have managed to swell to the size that they have.

That is country where Abeer's case, who we just heard from in this story, is not unique, and 20 percent of the population estimated to live on under $2 a day. Millions of people rely on those day wages. The longer this economy continues to really stumble along, the greater danger they are going to be in going hungry. We were at a food distribution point where volunteers had banded together trying to get food supplies out to the more remote parts of the country. And one of them made the point that if the government and demonstrators don't somehow come together and find a solution at least for the economy, this, what he's calling democratic revolution, amazing for Egypt's future, could risk being its downfall if it were to turn into a food-based demonstration, Wolf.

BLITZER: Arwa Damon on the scene for us in cairo, thank you.

We're going to have a lot more on Egypt coming up here in "THE SITUATION ROOM," including a man at the center of much of that rage in Cairo's Tahrir Square. Who exactly is the vice president Omar Suleiman, and what is his role in the country going forward?

Plus, just one month after being shot in the head, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is beginning to speak again. We're going to tell you what she said today.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Pictures from Egypt, Tahrir Square. You can see the tent city that's effectively developed over the last couple of weeks. These pictures were taken from a little bit earlier in the day. I just want to point out how massive it is right now and what's going on. The protesters want to regain the momentum against Mubarak and his vice president, Omar Suleman. We're going back there live in just a few moments.

But there's some other important stories we're working on, including a major development in the case of a model found dead at the home of a prominent beer tycoon. Lisa Sylvester is working that and some of the other top stories in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. The medical examiner in St. Louis county has now ruled the death of Adrienne Martin an accident, saying she died of an Oxycontin overdose. She was found dead at the home of August Busch VI in December. Authorities say there was never any evidence of suspicious circumstances.

The White House says the Obama administration plans to propose a gradual phase-out of government-sponsored mortgage backers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The so called white paper is due out Friday and it is expected to include three options of reducing the government's role in the mortgage market. The two companies were rescued by the government in 2008 and are costing taxpayers about $150 billion in federal aid.

And a potential setback for Democrats hoping to maintain control of the Senate -- first-term Virginia Senator Jim Webb has announced he will not seek reelection in 2012. He's the third member of the party's caucus to do so. Webb, who was a surprising winner in the swing state five years ago, says he plans to return to the private sector.

And the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee just back from Afghanistan is predicting that only a small number of U.S. troops will be withdrawn from the region this summer. Republican Howard McKeon's visit included meetings with top U.S. officials.

President Obama has previously said the troop drawdown will begin in July with the goal of having them all out in four years. A CNN opinion corporation research poll shows most American, 58 percent, now shown to oppose the war.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Lisa, for that.

The Egypt revolution now is in its third week. How much longer does a famous protester plan to stick it out? I'll speak live with "The Kite Runner" star, the actor Khalid Abdalla, who is standing by. And we'll have more of CNN's exclusive interview with the freed Google executive from Cairo who now says he's, quote, "ready to die to bring change to Egypt."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In "THE SITUATION ROOM" happening now. He's a prime target of the outrage fueling a massive, massive demonstration in Cairo's Tahrir Square. But could the Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman really play a valuable role in his country and with the United States? We're digging deeper this hour.

Plus, they now know the chants by heart and are following in their parent's footsteps ahead -- the rise of Egypt's youngest protesters.

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

In Egypt right now, lots of anticipation about what may happen in the coming days as protesters hold firmly in the center square of Cairo and spread into new areas of the city at the same time. We could be seeing another huge turnout after prayers on Friday, and some fear we might see a new government crackdown at the same time.

Joining us now via Skype, the Egyptian actor and protester Khalid Abdalla. He's best known for his role in the film "The Kite Runner." Khalid, thanks very much for joining us. Give us your latest sense of what the current situation is right now as we speak.

KHALID ABDALLA, EGYPTIAN ACTOR AND PROTESTOR: The current situation is that those in Tahrir are incredibly secure, and the most interesting stuff is starting to happen outside of the square. And we're seeing -- we're seeing many revolutions happening all across the country. I mean, outside of Cairo, but also in many of the major organizations, whether they are staged or not, and unions.

There was even a strike in front of the shop called Omar Afendi (ph), which is like a Barney's or something like that. The revolutionary spirit seems to be taking over everyone, although I think possibly the most significant development on an international level is that there is now a strike said to be about 5,000 to 6,000 people at the Suez Canal. And so I think that's a major development.

I mean, it's spreading. It's spreading like wildfire. People have learned their collective voice, that their voice has power, and they want those political freedoms and social justice and political reform. It's very clear.

BLITZER: So are you saying that there's a possibility these protesters, the strikers at the Suez Canal, could should down that waterway?

ABDALLA: Well, as far as I understand, the ships are still being allowed through. But I think the threat is very clear.

Now whether or not they actually close it, I mean, I don't know. I wouldn't want to speculate. I don't have the expertise to be able to say so. But the threat is very clear.

I mean, the country is clearly -- the state apparatus is unraveling. I mean, I think that's very clear to say.

The people are demanding that the state become in their service, not the state tell them what to do, not the state control them, not the police state terrorize them. And I think -- I mean, I think that's the most -- for me, that's the most exciting development even on a human level.

I mean, over the last two or three days, especially since the square itself has become secure, more and more people are coming out, those people who were afraid to come out before have come out to the square, those who maybe had, you know, opinions that they weren't sure about what was going on, seems to be coming out in full force, which is why Friday is a very important day for us. And, of course, there's the other development that we also took, you know, the streets outside parliament, which is where I slept last night.

BLITZER: You slept right near the parliament, but is there any indication that you're going to move towards the presidential palace, where Mubarak presumably is still staying?

ABDALLA: I don't think so. I think that's -- I mean, that's something that's been floated a lot. I don't think people will do it.

I mean, also, the presidential guard has slightly different rules to the army, and they have a kind of -- and I think they are likely to be more vicious if the -- you know, if people do try to break into -- break into the presidential palace. I can't se that happening myself. It's a very long way away from Tahrir.

I think it's more likely to be a case of all of these little -- all of these mini revolutions happening all over the country, the government not being able to control them. And I think that's -- I think that's the more effective policy.

I also think -- you know, I mean, at the moment, Tahrir, is like a heart that's really pulsing very hard. I mean, this sort of breakout into the parliament is like it's found as a new artery, as a new river that it can begin to occupy. And I think possibly over the come weeks we'll see that -- or the coming days. I mean, certainly Friday, capacity -- I mean, capacity seems to be being hit regularly. I mean, today, this afternoon, and early evening, it was full. I mean, it was absolutely full, and that's very heartening.

BLITZER: How long are you personally going to stay on the scene, Khalid?

ABDALLA: I'm going to stay until he goes. It's as simple as that.

BLITZER: What if he doesn't leave until after the scheduled elections in September?

ABDALLA: Well, then we keep going until then. I mean, the fact of the matter is, it strikes me as a policy that's not working in their favor.

The longer we are there, the more their lies, whether it's the lies of the last 30 years and the corruption of the last 30 years, or the lies of the last two weeks, all those lies that are revealed. It doesn't seem to work in their favor.

Omar Suleiman, in my opinion -- I mean, there might have been a possibility that he could have led a transitional government even five days ago. Now, you know -- I mean, now he seems to be sort of taking a presidential role.

Yesterday, we had him saying extraordinarily, that Egypt was not ready for democracy. And this is the person that supposedly wants to lead all these people who have been demonstrating into a new democracy.

He's also started to threaten that the tools of the state are going to be used against protesters. There's all sorts of news about thugs, reports about thugs. It's going back to the same old thing.

People don't have faith in him. And I think the longer they keep him there, the more they lose. So, if that's how long it takes, that's how long it takes. But I don't know how deaf these guys can be.

BLITZER: Khalid Abdallah, the actor and activist.

We'd like to check back with you tomorrow. Good luck to you. Be careful over there. Thanks very much for joining us.

ABDALLA: Thank you. It's a pleasure.

BLITZER: And also standing by in Egypt right now, CNN's Ivan Watson. He's going to take us behind the scenes of his interview with the freed Google executive. Stand by for that.

Here in the United States, Deb Feyerick is teaming up with experts to reveal what we could all do to survive some sort of crude nuclear bomb attack.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: A huge U.S.-bound oil tanker is hijacked by pirates. Lisa Sylvester is here. She's monitoring that, some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Lisa.

SYLVESTER: Wolf, one official says the incident represents a significant shift in the impact of the piracy crisis with major oil lines to the West under severe threat. The attack was one of two in the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean in recent days. The tanker was carrying two million barrels of crude.

And you had to figure this was coming. Two of the 400 ticket holders -- you know, the ones who were denied seats at the Super Bowl -- they are now suing the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys, and their owner Jerry Jones.

And get this -- "The Dallas Morning News" reports they are now asking for $5 million in damages. They apparently weren't satisfied with the cash, future Super Bowl tickets, and merchandise that was offered.

And another round of snow for the Southeast. The storm comes barely a week after record-setting weather systems pummeled the Plains and Midwest. Parts of Oklahoma are seeing up to a foot of snow and wind- chills between 10 and 30 degrees below. Winter storm warnings are now in place across portions of nine states.

And if you are planning on flying US Airways, there are some baggage hikes you're going to want to know about on overweight and oversized luggage. For bags weighing between 50 and 70 pounds, the price is going to jump from $50 to $90. And for bags over 70 pounds, be prepared to pay $175.

BLITZER: For one bag, and you have to pay $175?

SYLVESTER: That is the overweight charge, so this is in addition to what you pay for your flight, for your ticket, and everything else. So it's one more fee -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Got to make money, I guess.

Some potential GOP presidential candidates are slamming President Obama's handling of the crisis in Egypt. We'll talk about that.

And President Obama, he has lunch with some key Republican leaders over at the White House.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The anti-Mubarak protesters in Cairo appear to be gaining some momentum. Let's talk about the impact in our "Strategy Session."

Joining us, our CNN political contributor, the Democratic strategist, Donna Brazile, and the Republican strategist, Tony Blankley. He's executive vice president of Global Public Affairs for Edelman Public Relations.

They used to say, Tony -- and you're familiar with this -- that politics stops at the water's edge. This is a major national security crisis for the United States. Should Republicans, including Republican presidential wannabes, be criticizing the president at a time like this?

TONY BLANKLEY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I personally think that a president should be given a few days to try to get his ducks in order. The history has not been -- other than World War II, after Pearl Harbor, I mean, I think back to '83, when 269 Marines were killed in Lebanon under Reagan. Democrats, not the leadership, but back-bench Democrats were attacking Reagan -- I was in the White House at the time -- within days.

Then Reagan went into Grenada a couple of days later. Tip O'Neill criticized it. Later on he withdrew his criticism because (INAUDIBLE) to his credit. But there isn't much of a tradition. Wilson got hit hard --

BLITZER: So you don't buy that there's a tradition, because your former boss, Newt Gingrich, is really blasting the president right now.

BLANKLEY: No. I think what makes sense and what we're seeing is the formal leadership of the opposition party tends to hold its fire. Backbenchers, other people who are not currently in office, commentators start building their analysis. And then, later on, you'll see the leadership, if justified, criticized, and that's sort of been --

BLITZER: I guess what Tony is saying, Donna, is that when there was criticism of President Bush and Donald Rumsfeld and a whole bunch of other Republicans for the war in Iraq, or in Afghanistan, Democrats were more than happy to criticize the Republicans for those national security decisions.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Because, Wolf, that was a different situation. We were invading another country in the case of Iraq, and we were responding to the terrorist attack on our nation's soil on 9/11. But this is about the Egyptians, the Egyptian citizens rising up for their freedom.

And the administration is responding as this situation unfolds. We're all trying to figure out what's going to happen, what's the future? How do we begin to make this orderly transition? I think those who are taking the cheap political shots just to make some headlines, it's irresponsible.

BLITZER: Who's taking -- who's taking -- name names.

BRAZILE: Oh, come on. Sarah Palin, for example, Rick Santorum. But the mainstream leaders in both political parties I think are speaking with one voice. You hear people saying we want to stay on the side of the Egyptian people.

(CROSSTALK)

BLANKLEY: But look, it's not necessarily -- Les Gelb, former "New York Times" foreign correspondent, former head of the Council on Foreign Relations, he's been all over the air criticizing the president's public statements. He thinks his private activities probably are making sense.

You know, the State Department and the White House are virtually pointing fingers at each other between Hillary Clinton's statements regarding giving Mubarak more time and the White House's statement that now means yesterday. So, it's not just cheap shots. There's some serious concerns.

BLITZER: The president had a major lunch today behind closed doors with the top Republican leadership in the House, including the Speaker, John Boehner. Afterwards, Boehner came out and suggested they could work together.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE SPEAKER: We were able to find enough common ground, I think, to show the American people that we're willing to work on their behalf and willing to do it together.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That's pretty encouraging, Donna. Don't you think?

BRAZILE: Well, that's one of those mainstream leaders I'm referring to, not some wannabe who wants to occupy the Oval Office come 2017.

Look, yes, Wolf, there are a lot of issues that Republicans and Democrats could probably agree on, some trade issue, maybe tax reform. We will have very tough disagreements on some of the budget cuts. But I think what the president is trying to do is to reach out. He said back in December there will be more opportunities for the two sides to get to know each other

BLITZER: I remember every time Newt Gingrich, when he was Speaker, went to the White House and met with President Clinton at the time. He would always emerge and say very nice things. You remember those days about Bill Clinton. It reminds me a little bit of that.

BLANKLEY: From the driveway.

BLITZER: Yes. I remember those. I was at those stakeouts.

BLANKLEY: Yes. I mean, look, ultimately, there are going to be agreements made. There's going to be appropriations. The government will eventually, you know, continue.

And so it's true there's going to be common ground, but we all understand that not just between the parties, but within the Republican Party and within the Democrats on the deficit, there were very deep differences of opinion. This is going to be a lot of struggling to get to any kind of an agreement, even within each party.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Yes -- go ahead.

BRAZILE: I just hope the president got an agreement that we will not shot the government down. That didn't end so well for the Republicans years ago.

BLITZER: I'd be shocked if the government shuts down, but we'll see.

BRAZILE: We'll see.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Thanks very much.

Jack Cafferty is coming up next.

And then the children of the revolution in Egypt, stories of the youngest. We're talking about the youngest Egyptian protesters.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Jack is back with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour: Is President Obama's health care reform law destined for the scrap heap?

Lauren in Chicago, "Nothing in Washington ever gets placed on the scrap heap. The so-called health care reform law will continue to live on in some form or another. There's a need for true health care reform, but given the political and economic interests, the likelihood of having a system that actually works for all the citizens is practically nil."

Herman in Oregon says, "With over 50 percent of the American people opposed to this law, and many states calling the mandate unconstitutional, poor CBO, Congressional Budget Office, numbers on the cost, et cetera, this partisan law should be headed for the scrap heap. This should have been a bipartisan law to begin with."

"Why are we trying to fix it with bipartisan support? The way the law was passed was a joke, and an excellent example of what the American people are so tired of in Washington."

Michael in Ohio says, "I don't believe the individual mandate is wrong or that the bill is destined for the scrap heap. I find the question of the individual mandate to buy and have health insurance no different than many state mandates that automobile owners have car insurance."

Robby writes, "Yes, they only took a problem and made it worse. The insurance companies and the drug manufacturers are the only ones who like this law the way it's written. If Congress had the same insurance as everyone else, it would make a huge difference."

"We were better off the way we were. And by the way, I'm someone who doesn't have health insurance. I couldn't afford it then. I can't afford it now." And Jack writes from Washington, "Obamacare is the proverbial camel designed by committee. It looks funny, and it's ungainly, but it holds water better than any beast that has come before it. If there's poetic justice, the Republicans and the Tea Partiers will dry up fighting it."

If you want to read more about the future of health care and other stuff, you'll find it on my blog, CNN.com -- well, you know what the address is.

BLITZER: I love our e-mailers, Jack. They are so creative with their words.

CAFFERTY: They're very good. They're very good.

BLITZER: Excellent.

CAFFERTY: They're much smarter than the guy who reads this stuff.

BLITZER: No, no, no.

CAFFERTY: Oh yes.

BLITZER: You're smart, too, but these guys are creative.

CAFFERTY: No, they're terrific. They really are.

BLITZER: Very good. All right. Thanks, Jack.

Egypt's vice president, Omar Suleiman, is taking a more prominent role now. We're going to be taking a much closer look at the intrigue surrounding him. Stand by.

And how you could survive if the U.S. were attacked with a makeshift nuclear bomb.

Stand by for that as well.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A grim reality check today on the severity of the terror threat now facing the United States. Testifying on Capitol Hill, the homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano, reminded lawmakers that in some ways, the country may not have come as far as they might think.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JANET NAPOLITANO, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: There's no question that we have made many important strides in securing our country from terrorism since 9/11. But the threat continues to evolve, and in some ways the threat today may be at its most heightened state since the attacks nearly 10 years ago.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: The government also says the most significant risks now facing the U.S. is al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and Anwar al- Awlaki, the American-born Muslim cleric with alleged ties to the terror network.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration is pushing to educate Americans on what to do in the event of a terror attack, in particular a nuclear terror attack.

And as CNN's Deborah Feyerick finds out, there are some things you can do to save yourself -- Deb.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are, Wolf. And the challenge, of course, is making this threat real without terrifying people, especially since the risk of nuclear attack, not by nations, but by rogue terror elements, has gone up.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FEYERICK (voice-over): Imagine if a major city like Los Angeles were to be attacked by terrorists using a radioactive dirty bomb or improvised nuclear device.

(on camera): How realistic of a threat is that?

PARNEY ALBRIGHT, LAWRENCE LIVERMORE NATIONAL LABORATORY: Nuclear weapons are hard to get, but you can't say the probability is zero.

FEYERICK (voice-over): That preoccupies nuclear experts like Parney Albright, head of global security at Lawrence Livermore National Lab. Now a study for the Department of Homeland Security finds outside the hot zone, surviving an atomic blast is possible.

BROOKE BUDDEMEIER, But this is sort of the silver lining of the fallout cloud. Fallout decays rapidly. If you can just avoid those high radiation levels in the first few hours, you can save your life.

FEYERICK: Physicist Brooke Buddemeier analyzed the mushroom cloud, finding hundreds of thousands of lives could be saved not by running from danger, but by getting inside and staying there in the center of a building to escape radioactive fallout.

(on camera): You hear something, the best thing to do is really to just run inside and get to and seek shelter.

BUDDEMEIER: Right. Absolutely. And that's a great all hazards response plan. If there's any kind of toxic material in the environment, it's good to get inside, especially to the core of the buildings that offer the best protection.

FEYERICK (voice-over): The mushroom cloud carries radioactive particles miles into the sky. Finding shelter in those few minutes before the particles fall to earth is crucial.

BUDDEMEIER: Stay there 12 to 24 hours if you don't know any better.

FEYERICK: Cities offer the most shelter, and therefore the best protection.

Experts charting the direction of the plume would then guide response officials to determine evacuation routes. But the best way to survive, says Albright, is preventing a bomb in the first place, improving detection at border crossings by using weapons-grade radiation tools like this one, ad keeping uranium and plutonium away from terrorists altogether.

ALBRIGHT: If a nuclear weapon went off in the United States, it would be an epochal event. It would change the way we live. And so it's a threat that no matter how unlikely, it's something that we have to pay serious attention.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FEYERICK: Now, last summer, emergency officials around the country received information to help prepare them now so they know what to do and how to respond quickly. Sure, the odds are small, but those in charge of disaster preparedness say were it to happen, there is simply no room for error -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Deb, but what size bomb did they use in this role play for a potential nuclear attack?

FEYERICK: Well, good question. The scenario 10-kiliton bomb, that's about several thousand Oklahoma City truck bombs, as far as explosive power. And improvised devices, much less power and much less radioactive material. But if it were to explode, let's say, at a port, not only would there be loss of life, but that port would also be contaminated for decades, affecting billions of dollars in trade.

BLITZER: And let's say, Deb, a device were found. Could it be disarmed?

FEYERICK: This is one of the most interesting things I discovered at Lawrence Livermore. Scientists told us that there actually is a way to disarm a nuclear device. They wouldn't tell us now, but certainly that allowed me to walk away with a much greater deal of comfort -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much for that.

Deb Feyerick.