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THE SITUATION ROOM

Sarah Palin for President?; Protests in Wisconsin

Aired February 17, 2011 - 18:00   ET

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


CANDY CROWLEY, GUEST HOST: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, dramatic turns in a revolt by public workers in Wisconsin. Lawmakers sympathetic to their cause go AWOL as a massive protest engulfs the state capitol.

Also, a day of rage in Libya and new reports of deaths. What's different about this uprising and its target, long time dictator, Muammar Gaddafi?

Plus, Sarah Palin speaking out about a possible presidential run and taking a swipe at first lady Michelle Obama.

Breaking news, political headlines and Jeanne Moos are straight ahead. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Candy Crowley. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

This is Wisconsin, but it could be the future in any number of U.S. states facing daunting budget shortfalls. Huge crowds descended on the state capital in Madison again today, protesting a bill that would impact public worker benefits and strip them of most of their collective bargaining rights.

A vote was scheduled in the state Senate today, but was postponed as 16 lawmakers sympathetic to the protesters failed to show up for work. CNN has just confirmed that some of them fled the state and are meeting in Illinois.

President Obama has weighed in on the controversy, saying the bill is -- quote -- "like an assault on unions." And Republican Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin is comparing the protests to those in Egypt.

Thousands of teachers are among those taking part in the protests. At least 15 schools in Wisconsin canceled class for a second day today.

Joining me now on the phone, Mary Bell, Wisconsin Education Association Council, which essentially, Mrs. Bell, is the teachers union, correct, teachers and others that work in schools?

MARY BELL, PRESIDENT, WISCONSIN EDUCATION ASSOCIATION COUNCIL: We have education support professionals and people who work in higher education, yes.

CROWLEY: OK. Thanks. I guess the first question here is that the that the governor is asking teachers, in fact, all government workers in the state, to contribute more to their pension plans, to contribute more to their health care coverage. Should there be any sacrifice, do you think, on the part of teachers?

BELL: Well, that really is the crux of this issue, but it isn't that we disagree that people in the public sector need to pay their fair share of pensions and health care benefits. Now, we bargained those in the past. And the payments that we make have been part of those bargains.

But we understand that the state is in a fiscal crunch and that there are shortfalls that need to be met. What we disagree with the governor about is that he hasn't asked people about their willingness to take on those sacrifices. And under the guise of a fiscal policy, he's stripping people of those very collective bargaining rights that we believe can help them make better decisions about contributions and how we meet the fiscal needs of the state.

CROWLEY: But, with all do respect, those collective bargaining rights that you currently have, have kept those contributions very low and in fact have then obviously contributed to the deficit. So how is the governor to judge the willingness of teachers and of other school employees, other state employees to say, yes, I will put twice as much into my health care coverage? How would we know?

BELL: I would, in fact, disagree with the facts on that, because before Governor Walker made this proposal, our state employees were making large concessions on pension, health care, and on salary benefits, and those proposals were not enough. He has decided not to talk to them about that.

In terms of school district bargains, we do those at the table every single time we have a contract discussion. And in fact we have made changes in district after district about health care and have been charged in large measure under our previous bargaining system with the kind of contributions that are made.

They get charged against our settlement packages. And, so, salary dollars have been given up in order to meet those particular demands.

CROWLEY: I'm assuming what the governor, judging from his words that I have read, is trying to make it easier for some of those local districts to do what they have to do to keep the schools viable and to protect public jobs.

What they're arguing is, if we do not get these concessions, we will have to lay off public workers. Do you buy into that argument?

BELL: I believe that the way to reach the fiscal targets that he needs to is to actually say to people these are the targets that we need to get to. How do we get to them? And then we let those go back to the bargaining table. At the state level, they have already agreed to that. What he wants to do in addition is strip the collective bargaining rights, which isn't a fiscal item at all.

CROWLEY: Have you agreed at the bargaining table in some of these places to the increases in contributions that he's talking about at that level?

BELL: He's mandating them at the state level before a conversation can take place.

CROWLEY: So, it isn't as though you have agreed to, OK, we will pay for half of our pension costs, we will take a -- we will double the amount?

BELL: We haven't been asked.

CROWLEY: So, your objection is that he didn't come to the schools and say, will you do that, but wouldn't that then just put it back into collective bargaining?

BELL: Well, I believe that collective bargaining is where it gets solved.

CROWLEY: And so you think that the governor is trying to do what here? You think this is not a fiscal matter at all?

BELL: No. And in fact the state legislative fiscal bureau has said that of the items in the budget fix, only a very small number of them are fiscal. The major items in this budget fix bill are to strip the collective bargaining rights of public employees in our state.

CROWLEY: Let's say that the bargaining rights stay in. Let's say they take that part out, if this were doable.

BELL: Sure.

CROWLEY: Would you then agree, do you think your members would agree statewide, fine, we will double what we're now paying into health care insurance, we will pay half of our pension costs? Is that acceptable to you?

BELL: I believe that my members are ready to step up to the plate and address what needs to be addressed to get to the budget shortfalls, the targets that need to be there.

We care about our districts. We care about our class sizes. We care about the programs that we give to kids in district after district around this state. But if you're not part of the conversation, it's imposed from a state level before you have those conversations. That's what my members object to. That's what they believe is not democratic.

CROWLEY: The facts of this matter at this moment are that the Republicans have the numbers in both -- in the statehouse, on both sides, to pass this. How is this going to end? BELL: Well, we will find out. People that are elected to office may belong to one party or another, but once they're elected, they're supposed to govern for the benefit of the state.

And I think if the public in Wisconsin were to be asked how do you feel about what the governor has done, do you think that this is fair or has he gone too far, I believe they would answer he's gone too far. We want them to make the fiscal sacrifices, but we believe as a state in the power of collective bargaining.

CROWLEY: Sure, but what specifically happens to teachers if all of this should pass? Because, as you know, the criticism is that you're protecting a union here, that it has nothing to do with the fiscal emergency in your state, which you say that you are all sympathetic to, that this is about wanting to keep union rights.

BELL: Absolutely it's about wanting to keep union rights. If this passes, my members would be looking at anywhere from a 9 percent to a 12 percent pay cut immediately.

CROWLEY: Right. And what would the net effect -- that's what I'm trying to get at. What's the net effect of that?

BELL: Well, it varies with the member, because they go from people who are at the beginning of the schedule to the end of a career in teaching. But it means in that in our communities across the state, there are going to be economic shortfalls that will have a real impact on small businesses, on communities, and definitely on the schools and the children because we rely on those local economies.

CROWLEY: Mary Bell, head of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it.

BELL: Thank you.

CROWLEY: We want to get the latest from the Wisconsin state capitol.

Mick Trevey of CNN affiliate WTMJ is in Madison for us.

Mick, we know the Democrats either left the state, or they certainly didn't show up for work. What have the Republicans been doing?

MICK TREVEY, WTMJ REPORTER: Well, they're really outraged by all of this, first and foremost.

They really spent the whole day in the Senate chamber. They were doing what they call here a call of the house. That's when all members have to report to the Senate chamber. Because of that, the Republicans really just waited in the Senate chamber all day for any word on whether one or two Democrats would make it back.

Remember, we're only one Democrat short of having the quorum needed to take this vote. So, if any one of these Democrats who has gone away into hiding comes back, this vote will happen. You know, there was a lot of security here today. As you can see, Candy, the protests here on the state capitol stairs have really re-intensified. And as many people as are out here right now, there are as many people inside the state capitol building. It's really gridlock in there. There was a lot of pushing.

At one point, it appeared that there was even a sit-in that was taking place. So there was really heavy security in there to try and protect these lawmakers who are waiting to see if any Democrats would come forward -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Mick, what has been -- it seems to me we haven't heard from the governor himself. What has been the governor's response so far?

TREVEY: Actually, in about -- about the last 15 minutes, he did come out and make a public statement. This is very new, very fresh.

He reemphasized why he wants this bill, why he says it's important to try and cut these costs and pleading with these Democratic state legislators to come back, come and do your job, as he put it, trying to make the case that they should come back and try to take these votes -- Candy.

CROWLEY: So neither side has budged is what you're telling me?

TREVEY: Yes, that's right. Both sides say they will not budge.

We have talked to a few of these Democratic legislators today, especially on cell phone in their undisclosed location. And they have said that they will not come back until there can be some negotiation, some wiggle room, some change on this bill.

The Republicans have just laughed off that suggestion. They have said that they have got the votes ready to pass this bill just as soon as one Democrat comes back to physically be present in the room. Even if they vote against it, this will go forward. The Republicans have said there are no changes that they're willing to be considered.

CROWLEY: I have covered enough sort of similar situations, although not at this level, that I know that there are people who get upset when schools are closed. Do you think it is sustainable for these protesters to keep schools closed across Wisconsin without losing public support, if indeed they have it?

TREVEY: Yes, I think that's a really tough question.

I think there are a lot of areas where the schools were closed today, where people are, general public members are supporting the governor, they are supporting these cuts, where they're very angry that the teachers called in sick to come and attend protests like thee.

We talked to some of the teachers who are here today chanting and making noise and protesting, and they made it very clear to me that they didn't feel they had any other choice. One woman did tell me that she took a personal day. In other words, this was an unpaid day she took to come here.

But the vast majority of the teachers that were here were here on their paid sick leave. Will the public continue to tolerate that? We just don't know. We do know some school districts, particularly the Milwaukee Public Schools, the largest school district in the state of Wisconsin, did put out a warning to its teachers saying they will not tolerate any absences to come here and protest, in fact saying that they will discipline teachers who come for that purpose -- Candy.

CROWLEY: From our affiliate WTMJ in Madison, Mick Trevey, thank you so much for keeping us up to speed. Appreciate it.

But it's not just Wisconsin. Budget shortfalls in education are proving to be a volatile mix in states across the U.S.

CNN's Deborah Feyerick has more on that from New York.

Deborah, what are you finding out?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what's so interesting about this is that faced with hard budget choices, everything right now is on the table.

And that includes often untouchable teacher unions, the tone really changing across the country, a number of elected officials questioning why, for example, ineffective teachers are being allowed to stick around, especially when money is so tight. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FEYERICK (voice-over): Teachers in Wisconsin called in sick, closing schools and marching on the capitol, angered by the governor's threat to end collective bargaining and gut the union.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have to kill this bill. If this bill passes, it is the end of collective bargaining for all public employees. And then really it will be the end of collective bargaining for all employees.

FEYERICK: New Jersey's governor also striking out, targeting the teachers union pushback on education reform.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I'm attacking the leadership of the union, because they're greedy and they're selfish and self-interested.

FEYERICK: Even New York City's mayor, who has made education a top priority, he too was playing hardball, telling the state to cough up hundreds of millions of dollars or else.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: The budget assumes that we will lose about 6,000 teachers through layoffs and attrition. We need the state to step up and do our part.

FEYERICK: Crushing budget shortfalls nationwide have created a unique opportunity, a handful of governors mixing education reform with budget cuts, arguing there's no money to maintain the status quo.

What education watchers call a perfect storm of three things, budget shortfalls, schools in dire need of reform, and Republican governors.

STEPHEN SAWCHUK, "EDUCATION WEEK": It's hard to tell whether some of these actions are specifically related towards improving education or whether they're just trying to kind of tackle or take on the public sector unions, the teacher unions.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Kill the bill! Kill the bill!

FEYERICK: In Wisconsin, that means having teachers pony up more pension and health care costs. In places like Florida, Michigan, Idaho, and New York City, it means taking aim at teacher tenure to keep better teachers, not those who have been there longest.

BLOOMBERG: We cannot wait any longer to take on the tough issues once and for all.

FEYERICK: Teachers saying they and their students will be the ones who unfairly bear the brunt.

MICHAEL MULGREW, PRESIDENT, UNITED FEDERATION OF TEACHERS: This is something we hear continually. Every day when I'm in schools, the teachers constantly tell me, we feel completely disrespected.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FEYERICK: Now, ideally, teacher tenure, for example, which is really under attack, makes it harder for teachers to be dismissed arbitrarily for things like race, gender, age, nepotism. It's really too early to tell right now, Candy, whether there's a silver lining in any of all this. But really this is something that we're seeing nationwide because there's simply no money. So, governors, mayors, they have to change things so that they can make their budgets -- Candy.

CROWLEY: To be continued almost everywhere. Thank you so much, Deb Feyerick. Appreciate it.

Echoes of the turmoil in Wisconsin are reverberating here in Washington. We will look at the national implications as Congress and the White House face their own tough choices.

Also, deadly new developments on the uprising in Bahrain. We will get the latest from the country's special envoy to the U.S.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: The shouts of those public worker protesters in Wisconsin are being heard here in Washington. Here's what President Obama's press secretary had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: What he sees happening in Wisconsin, making it harder for employees to collectively bargain, seems more like an assault on unions. And he doesn't see that as a good thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: And House Speaker John Boehner says: "This is not the way you begin an adult conversation in America about solutions to the fiscal challenges that are destroying jobs in our country. Rather than shouting down those in office who speak honestly about the challenges we face, the president and his advisers should lead."

We want to get more with CNN chief national correspondent John King, host of "JOHN KING, USA," which follows THE SITUATION ROOM, and CNN senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash.

So, are we going to see this repeated? There's lots of state budgets in trouble. This is just going to happen over and over again?

JOHN KING, HOST, "JOHN KING, USA": In some ways, it has nothing to do with what's happening in Washington. In some ways, it has everything to do with what's happening in Washington, because at the state level, pensions, retirement funds, health care benefits for public employees, that's the Medicare and Social Security in Washington. It's where the money is.

And when you have $137 million in Wisconsin, look at all the states that are looking at billion-dollar budget gaps or multibillion- dollar budget gaps. And it's not just Republican governors, Candy. Many of the Democratic governors, their tone might be different with the public employee unions, but they're -- Jerry Brown in California, Andrew Cuomo in New York -- this is across the country. And everyone is watching, including the president of the United States, to see who blinks and how this works out.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And the Republican leaders in Washington, big time. You read the statement from the House speaker, John Boehner.

What his aides and other Republican aides on Capitol Hill have been saying is, look, obviously, this is something that the unions don't like, that Democrats don't like in Wisconsin and elsewhere. But it's something that from their perspective just looking at the map across the country, particularly in states like New Jersey, Republican governors have done things like this, and their popularity has gone up, because they believe that this is something that the American people have been asking for, do the tough -- make the tough choices.

CROWLEY: And is there -- you know, we talk a lot about how the Republicans, particular when it came to a government shutdown, that people look at the cuts and go no, no, not these.

Is there any proof out there, and maybe New Jersey is it, that things are different, that the public really does look at what's going on in Wisconsin and says, you know what, they should have to pay the piper, too?

KING: The hard part is, is there proof out there? Governor Christie, as you note, his approval rating has gone up some. Andrew Cuomo approval rating has gone up some since he was elected, a Democrat who said he was going to take these things on.

What we haven't had and what makes the politicians nervous is let's see an election about this. Let's see somebody make these tough choices and then win reelection or go before the voters. And that's what makes it interesting.

BASH: Accept that -- actually, I was talking to a Republican on Capitol Hill today who claimed that there was an election about this, the last election, and that people were very angry about too much spending on health care.

Now, that was kind of amorphous and abstract. It wasn't something that was real in their lives yet so much. But I think the thing that I'm looking at, particularly from my perch on Capitol Hill, is ultimately once they get through with the to-ing and fro-ing on what cuts they're going to do nationally on a federal level, how people react across the country, because there are very real cuts...

CROWLEY: Well, it wouldn't be the first time an election was misinterpreted.

(LAUGHTER)

CROWLEY: So, we only know when we get to the next election.

KING: Or the second or the third.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: Exactly.

Dana Bash, John King, thanks very much.

She is known for her swipes at the president, but this time Sarah Palin is taking verbal aim at first lady Michelle Obama. You will hear the details.

Plus, Washington's longtime nemesis Moammar Gadhafi, can he survive the seeds of revolt now sprouting in Libya?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

CROWLEY: It's not clear if Sarah Palin is on the campaign trail, but she's definitely taking shots at the current occupant of the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: What President Obama is doing and what this administration is supporting is America being on a road to ruin.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: It's hard to say what road Bahrain is on right now, but behind the scenes, diplomats are plotting for the future. We will speak with Bahrain's special envoy to the U.S., who just left the State Department

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: There has been a deadly crackdown in Bahrain against protesters calling for reform in the kingdom, with reports of at least three people killed.

Joining us on the phone, Abdul Latif Bin Rashid Al Zayani. He is the Bahrainian special enjoy to the U.S.

Mr. Zayani, thank you for joining us.

You just left the State Department. Tell us what you can about that meeting.

ABDUL LATIF BIN RASHID AL ZAYANI, BAHRAINI SPECIAL ENVOY TO UNITED STATES: Well, thank you. Thanks very much for having me on your show.

The loss of life is really horrible and regrettable. I have explained that the force used was really proportional. We -- we -- we had to use it because it was necessary. The protests started to really disrupt our national economy and scaring the people.

CROWLEY: Well, Mr. Zayani, if I could, were the protesters armed? Were they threatening other people? Were they threatening the police? Because we have seen peaceful protesters. Why would the kingdom send in police to crush these protesters? What was dangerous about it?

AL ZAYANI: Well, it was -- our response was legal. It was according to the law.

They -- the protesters, they did have arms. We even found some -- some pistols after we have dispersed them. They charged, and they have assaulted the -- the police and action had to be taken, and the court (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

CROWLEY: What about tear gas, though? There does not seem to have been any harm done on the other side of this conflict. And yet we're told that three protesters were killed. Is it possible that this was an overreaction? Could it have been dealt with in some other way?

AL ZAYANI: No, actually. In our procedure, we always use force that is proportional. The force was proportional, minimum possible. Tear gas were -- was used to be effective enough to disperse the people.

And to us, according to the law, warning was given to the protesters to -- to disperse. Some of them adhered to the warning, and they left. Some did not. And some, they denied them to -- to leave. So we had to take proper action.

And by the way, you know, we have -- the king is really committed to democracy and reform. And we are -- we -- and the king also believes, really, in holding dialogue with all parts of society.

CROWLEY: So the king will -- so the king will concede to some of the protesters' demands? Which ones?

AL ZAYANI: Well, the dialogue is -- there is a legal framework for dialogue. All issues are looked at. This is a continuous reform in -- in the country, and the king has committed to such significant continuous reform of democracy. It's a long trip. We are -- we are pursuing it. And we will have hurdles along the way. And this is one of them. And we will prevail and then bounce out of it stronger.

CROWLEY: Mr. Zayani, the Bahrainian special enjoy to the U.S. We really appreciate your time. Thank you.

AL ZAYANI: Thank you. It's really my pleasure to be on your show.

CROWLEY: We want to take a quick break, and we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: We are following developments in Libya where demonstrators dubbed this a day of rage aimed at the government of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. CNN's Brian Todd is working that story for us.

Brian, what are you finding out?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Candy, Libya is not quite as closed off as North Korea, but it's not much better. Hard information on this uprising is tough to come by. But from the reports we are getting, it looks like one of the region's toughest, most notorious dictators is feeling the heat.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Is it Libya's turn to topple a dictator? Protests gather steam in several cities. Reporting is restricted. But we're getting amateur video, and messages from witnesses are dribbling out. They tell of a crackdown by security forces loyal to the country's longtime leader, Moammar Gadhafi.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We want some dignity, and to stop imprisoning people.

TODD: Reports of more than a dozen deaths and scores of injuries cannot be independently verified. We went to Human Rights Watch. (on camera) What are your people getting from witnesses in Libya about this crackdown regarding arrests, injuries, and possible deaths?

JOE STORK, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: Yes. We've been in touch with people in Benghazi who told us about security forces beating -- beating demonstrators pretty seriously. Lots of injuries. We've also heard, been in touch with people in Baida (ph), a smaller city to the east of Benghazi, where we understand from very reliable sources that hundreds of people were injured when security forces attacked with tear gas and other weapons.

TODD (voice-over): Officials here at the Libyan embassy in Washington said no one was available to speak to us. But sources in the region, including at least one close to the Libyan government, have given the government's perspective on this uprising.

One source says Gadhafi is acutely aware of the discontent and has been moving to address citizens' grievances. A pro-Gadhafi newspaper says the government will launch major reforms and there are reports of rallies supporting Gadhafi. Like neighboring countries who've tossed out their leaders, Libya has got massive unemployment and an economy in shambles, save for the oil industry.

But this is a classic Middle East survivor. Long a fixture on the U.S. government's list of terrorist sponsors, Libya is now off it after Gadhafi struck deals to get rid of his weapons for mass destruction, pay reparations to the Lockerbie victims' relatives, and to help America in the war on terror.

But Moammar Gadhafi is still prone to bizarre behavior, like his rambling speech at the U.N.

MOAMMAR GADHAFI, PRESIDENT OF LIBYA (through translator): And then the assassination or the killing of Kennedy in '63 or '62. Why? We want to know who killed him.

TODD (on camera): What's his secret been for staying in power? How has he done this?

DAVID SCHENKER, WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST POLICE: It's a combination of tribal politics, patronage, paying off tribes, keeping them happy, and punishing his enemies by throwing tribal members out of school, out of government jobs, really taking a ruthless approach.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: David Schenker also says that Gadhafi routinely changes his country's laws. He makes entire ministries disappear, and he even doesn't have a functioning legislature. He says this is a nation ruled by one man's whim.

But even with all the momentum for change in the region, experts say it might be a long shot for this particular uprising to bring down Moammar Gadhafi. We understand, Candy, that he might have just appeared in front of some crowds in Tripoli. Not sure if he spoke or not.

CROWLEY: At least a little reminder. He's still in power. If Gadhafi should leave the scene one way or another, doesn't that just leave one of his sons next in line?

TODD: He's got seven sons. And analysts say two of them are seen as possible successors to him. But one analyst told us it might be difficult for them to move into power. If they wait until he leaves, if he dies or something else. If he moves one of them into power while he's still there, that might be workable. But otherwise it would be hard for that family to hold onto power in Libya.

CROWLEY: So far he hasn't proven a guy that looks like he wants to let go of power.

TODD: He'll be 68. Compared to Mubarak. So...

CROWLEY: Thanks so much, Brian Todd.

Egypt is getting some extra help from the U.S. as it struggles to move forward in the wake of its successful revolution. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced an additional $150 million in U.S. aid to Egypt to help with its transition in economic recovery.

Meanwhile, Egypt's state news agency has reported that prosecutors have ordered the arrests of three former ministers in the Mubarak government. They include the ex-interior minister, who controlled Egypt's police and paramilitary security forces.

And Egypt's newly-appointed minister of antiquity says tourist sites will reopen Sunday. He says he hopes that tourists from around the world will soon return to Egypt.

The world's focus may be on the Middle East, but that doesn't mean tensions on the Korean Peninsula have cooled. New satellite images show the North has completed a new missile launch site. The launch pad is provocative, but the situation is still light years from the crisis engulfing the region last December. Wolf Blitzer toured parts of North Korea that month as it lurched closer and closer to war.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Thousands of miles from Pyongyang, the United Nations Security Council is meeting in New York on the Korean crisis. It's late Sunday, December 19.

The Defense Department, so worried that Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, spend Sunday evening in a secure national military command center deep inside the Pentagon, monitoring the explosive situation.

In Pyongyang, 14 hours ahead of the East Coast, it's already Monday morning. As the South Koreans prepare for their military exercise, Bill Richardson prepares to meet with Vice President Kim Yung Dae (ph) at the People's Assembly. We are with him. The meeting is in a huge room. Richardson brings gifts from New Mexico, five films made there. The Dear Leader likes movies. The talks last 90 minutes, and very soon afterwards I'm on live with CNN's Don Lemon.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, what are you seeing and hearing there?

BLITZER (on camera): Richardson briefly suggested that he was encouraged. I don't know what that means. I don't know what the North Koreans are saying. But he seemed to suggest that he got some at least initially positive responses to some of the proposals he's been making to ease this crisis.

(voice-over) Everything we've heard from the North Korean side points toward a quick response if the South Korean drills go ahead.

The North Korean state news agency has promised, quote, "brutal consequences beyond imagination."

It's certainly not a good time to be in Pyongyang, but the show must go on, and our hosts want to show us the subway system.

(on camera) Do people pay for these?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

BLITZER: How do they pay? For a ride.

BILL RICHARDSON (D), FORMER NEW MEXICO GOVERNOR: Five -- five won for a ride.

BLITZER: How much is that in the U.S.?

RICHARDSON: It's very little. About 101 to a dollar now.

BLITZER: So it's like five cents. So it's a nickel.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But most people use six month passes and they buy for about 100 won.

BLITZER: So that's a dollar.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just a dollar. Very cheap.

BLITZER: After that we're look forward to finally leaving North Korea.

(on camera) I wanted to get out of dodge because I was afraid if we didn't leave then, who knew what would happen the next day, because the tension was really ratcheting up.

(voice-over) But it isn't the threat of war that closes the airport; it's the weather. Thick banks of fog roll in on Monday evening and send us back to the hotel once again.

What would happen next? How would we get out of North Korea?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: This Saturday Wolf Blitzer takes you inside North Korea. Wolf traveled with then-New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson as he led talks with one of the most secretive nations in the world.

Be sure to tune in Saturday, 6 p.m. Eastern for Wolf's full documentary, "Six Days in North Korea."

Republican in fighting over President Obama's birthplace. One GOP lawmaker has some sharp words for the so called birthers.

And in a different country, a clown in congress. Literally.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: The latest on the closure of Gitmo. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Lisa.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Candy.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the chances of closing the detention center at Guantanamo Bay are very, very low. He points to major opposition in Congress. Two days after his inauguration, President Obama signed an executive order to shut Gitmo within a year.

One Republican congressman is telling the birthers to, quote, "accept reality." Jeff Flake of Arizona says it's time for those who question President Obama's citizenship to move on.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: Barack Obama is a citizen of the country. We ought to get off this kick. And there are plenty of differences we have with the president between Republicans and Democrats and -- than to spend time on something like this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SYLVESTER: But his fellow Republican and Tea Party favorite, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, sidestepped that very question today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Can you just state very clearly that President Obama is a Christian, and he is a citizen of the United States?

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: Well, that isn't for me to state. That's for the president to state. And I think that...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you believe it?

BACHMANN: When the president makes his statements, I think they need to stand for their own.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SYLVESTER: A recent poll found that a majority of Republican voters do not believe Mr. Obama was born in the United States.

One Republican lawmaker is calling the Transportation Security Administration a failure and totally out of control. Florida Congressman Joe Mica says the TSA is putting the nation at risk. He points to government reports that show new technology and behavior recognition programs aren't working. Micah also says the TSA is just way too big.

And clowning around in Brazil's congress. A clown -- yes, a clown -- who won a seat in a landslide victory last year accidentally messed up his very first vote. He has promised to back the government's proposal on a new minimum wage, but he voted for the opposition, instead. The clown, by the way, campaigned on the slogan, "Can't get any worse."

CROWLEY: And apparently it could .since he doesn't know what he's voting for. But you know.

SYLVESTER: He makes our guys look pretty good. Doesn't he?

CROWLEY: Exactly. Thanks, Lisa.

Sarah Palin has quite a few lines on her resume: mayor, governor, mom. Will she try to add one more as the 45th president of the United States?

And in these tough times, business owners will do anything to build their brand, but eating dog food for a month? Two women hope dog owners will throw them a bone.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Will she or won't she? That's the question that keeps hovering around potential presidential contender Sarah Palin every time she appears in public. Allan Chernoff was with Palin in Long Island when I'm assuming she didn't answer the question.

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what she certainly does want to do, Candy, is keep the spotlight focused on that question of whether or not she will run. Speaking to a group of business executives here as Sarah Palin certainly threw some zingers at President Obama and hinted at her own presidential ambition.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SARAH PALIN, FORMER GOVERNOR OF ALASKA: Nobody is more qualified, really, to multitasking and doing all the things you need to do as a president than as a woman, than as a mom.

CHERNOFF (voice-over): Know this much about Sarah Palin. She's mastered the art of the presidential campaign tease. As to who, other than herself, she could support, Palin responded by reciting her resume.

PALIN: Somebody who's administered locally, state, interstate with energy issues. So maybe a mayor, a governor, a royal commissioner. Maybe somebody who has already run for something, vice president.

CHERNOFF: The audience of business executives, Republicans and Democrats, ate it up. From her presidential tease to her taunt of first lady Michelle Obama while complaining of high food prices.

PALIN: No wonder Michelle Obama is telling everybody, "You better breast feed your babies. Because..." I'm looking at it going, "Yes, you better because the price of milk is so high right now."

CHERNOFF: The attacks on President Barack Obama were rapid fire. On the budget that Palin calls Obama's spending plan.

PALIN: What this administration is supporting is America being on a road to ruin.

CHERNOFF: On health care reform that Palin continues to call Obama care and ration care, going so far as to express concern that her son with Down syndrome might be denied medical treatment.

PALIN: My baby with Down syndrome, who maybe -- maybe somebody may judge him as not having that level of productivity that somebody else may have, so maybe if rationed care is a part of this, well, maybe he wouldn't receive that, the care.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHERNOFF: Subtle, Sarah Palin is not. She takes delight in jabbing at President Obama. Perfect mindset for the campaign trail -- Candy.

CROWLEY: She does indeed. Allan, let me ask you. I understand she also spoke a little bit about the so-called birther movement that people, basically conservative folks, mostly in the Republican Party, that don't believe the president was born in the U.S.

CHERNOFF: That's right. She said, that's just annoying; it's a distraction. She threw that out. She said, "Look, we really need to focus on what's important," and she said what's important is the economy.

CROWLEY: Allan Chernoff, thanks so much. We appreciate it.

We all love our pets, but would you want to share your dog's diet? Jeanne Moos is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Two women in Brooklyn are trading in the fine china for the dog bowl. Jeanne Moos takes a "Most Unusual" look at the project.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just a couple of girls sitting around, polishing off a pint of ice cream. Wait a minute. That's not ice cream. It's dog food.

ALISON WIENER, CO-OWNER, EVERMORE PET FOOD INC.: We're not messing around.

MOOS: Starting in March, these two Brooklyn entrepreneurs plan to subsist on dog food for a month.

WIENER: This is chicken. This happens to be my favorite for snacking.

MOOS: It's their dog food, called Evermore.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Evermore, because ingredients matter more than ever.

WIENER: Because ingredients matter more than ever.

MOOS: They use only human-grade ingredients, like chicken with yams and carrots and blueberries. Hannah's dog, Connor, licks his bowl clean, but would I?

(on camera) Feed me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Feed you?

MOOS: Maybe a little smaller.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK.

MOOS: I mean, I can swallow it.

(voice-over) And homage to the documentary in which Morgan Spurlock ate only McDonald's...

MORGAN SPURLOCK, FILMMAKER: Super size me.

MOOS: ... the eat-only-dog-food-for-a-month project is called Evermore me. The women have no marketing budget, so they're trying this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're putting our mouths where our money is.

MOOS: They're going to stream a live Web cast of their daily meal.

(on camera) You wouldn't eat a can of Alpo?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, no. And that's why, in part, we exist.

MOOS: You guys are like dog foodies.

WIENER: Kind of, yes. MOOS (voice-over): It reminds us of the guy on YouTube who did a man versus dog eating competition. The dog won with spaghetti. The dog won with roast beef. The dog won with canned dog food, but the man won with carrots.

In a completely unrelated stunt, a dog trainer named Nikki Moustaki is already eating dog food every day indefinitely. She's doing it to draw attention to a bill called Nitro's Law. Nitro is a dog who died of starvation at a boarding kennel. Nitro's Law would make animal abuse penalties harder in Ohio.

NIKKI MOUSTAKI, ACTIVIST: I'm naked for Nitro's Law.

MOOS: She's gotten naked eating Lucky Dog cuisine. Her dog food recipes rage from nacho chips and cheese microwaved to her crazy canine quesadilla. She's even suggesting a dog feed eat off.

MOUSTAKI: Conan O'Brien, are you going to eat dog food with me?

MOOS: Hey, he's already shared a dog biscuit with Glenn Close. But if you try dog food, Conan, we suggest adding salt.

WIENER: Salt is great for bringing out all the flavors.

MOOS: It may not leave you howling for more. At least your dog won't complain about your breath.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: That does it for me. I'm Candy Crowley in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"JOHN KING USA" starts right now.