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Americans Charged in Haiti; Toyota's Problems Continue

Aired February 4, 2010 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And Brian Todd will take us into a lab to check out Toyota's acceleration problems.

Also, 10 members of a U.S. missionary group are charged in Haiti with child kidnapping for trying to take young quake victims out of the country. We will get reaction from the home base of their church in Idaho. We will go there live.

And how far should authorities go in hunting down American terror suspects, U.S. citizens? Do they draw the line at assassination?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Fresh concerns for Toyota, and especially for those who drive its vehicles. Federal authorities here in the United States have now opened a formal investigation into braking problems in Toyota's popular Prius even as the carmaker steps up efforts to fix its gas pedal problem in a range of models.

Our Brian Todd has been digging into the sudden acceleration range problems. CNN's Jessica Yellin actually owns a Prius. She is looking closely at the braking symptoms, the braking problems that we are now talking about.

Jessica, tell our viewers here in the United States and around the world what is going on.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I noticed this problem almost immediately when I bought the car last year. It was a sensitivity I felt when I was driving in certain parts of the road with my brakes. I have been trying to deal with Toyota resolving this since last year. It has been very frustrating.


YELLIN: I love my Prius, except for this braking problem. Here is what happens. Sometimes when you are driving slowly over an uneven surface or a slippery road and you hit a grate or a pothole, you step on the brake, and they don't respond for a moment. It is as if the brakes are not getting traction with the ground and you just slip, which obviously can be really scary.

The brakes respond just fine when you are moving at a high speed or if somebody were to jump in front of the car, I am sure it would stop. It just is a problem at slow speeds over those really bumpy surfaces.

I have been calling and e-mailing with Toyota about this problem since last October, with no resolution. So, I decided to try again today.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Due to the high call volume we are experiencing at this time, we are unable to take your call.

YELLIN: It was not easy, but I eventually got a real person on the line.

When I first reported this with you guys, I was told that you had not heard any complaints of this before. And now I am reading in the newspaper that there are a lot of complaints about this.

Nobody contacted me even to say, hey, we realize this is a problem. It's being looked into.

So, they say that Toyota doesn't know that there is any kind of braking problem. There is no solution because they don't know -- there wouldn't be a solution because they are not acknowledging a problem and they are cooperating with the government's investigation.

And I was told that there are not other people with this problem and now I read in the newspaper that there are a ton of other people having this problem. It's being investigated. And I got no notification from Toyota that that is the case, and I would just like to know, was my case referred to the government?

And I brought it in, and I have a -- they didn't have a loaner vehicle for me to use. They didn't have any way to help me get transportation. So, I brought my car back to the dealership yet again, left it there. I came back and picked it up. When I picked it up, I was told that they could not replicate the problem, like we said, even though they did not try to replicate the right problem.

So, why -- if the government is investigating, why would you not have shared the fact with them that I am one of the people with claims to have a problem? I mean, you guys are not sharing that info? I will tell NHTSA myself now.

But, anyway, the bottom line is, you are just claiming the burden is back on me. I have to bring my car back in. I have to leave it there. I have to get a rental on my own and leave it with you guys until you guys decide that, yes, you are experiencing what I am complaining about?


YELLIN: OK. As you can see, it was very frustrating.

I did after that phone call talk to a senior official with Toyota, who later on apologized for that call, said, no, in fact, they do know that a lot of people are experiencing this problem. They are working on a fix. They have actually found a way to change this braking issue in new cars coming off the factory line, but they are still working on a plan for the cars that are already on the road. They say it will come soon, and they say that they are now referring all complaints like mine to the Department of Transportation.

So, everything I heard in that call was not exactly right. Interesting though that when I called as a CNN reporter, I got very different information than I did when I called as just a regular Toyota car owner.

BLITZER: Why am I not surprised about that?


YELLIN: It is unfortunate, frustrating.

BLITZER: It's pretty unfortunate.

NHTSA, I just want to tell our viewers, is the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, which is in charge of regulating and making sure that these cars are safe.

YELLIN: And you can go online and register your own complaint with them directly if you are having this problem.

BLITZER: All right. I remember when you got that Prius, you were so excited. You still love that car. I know you still love the car.

YELLIN: I was so excited. I love it. I just want the brakes fixed.

BLITZER: The brakes are very important in a car.

Let's bring in Brian Todd, because he is looking at another problem. It involves the brakes as well, not with the Prius, but for some other Toyota models.

TODD: Well, it involves the acceleration and the deceleration of Toyota models, specifically the unintended acceleration problems that Toyota has been having.

And the federal government has said it is looking into whether so-called electromagnetic interference could be causing the electronic throttle control systems, Wolf, to malfunction. Those are the systems that control the car's acceleration.

And it could go beyond, therefore, just the sticking pedals in the Toyota. So, we wanted to find out what electromagnetic interference is, how it works. So we went to the University of Maryland and talked to a prominent professor there who has written books on the subject. Here is what we found.


TODD: We are at the University of Maryland's Engineering Department to look at the whole question of whether electromagnetic interference is causing some of the throttles in Toyotas and possibly other vehicles to kind of open up unintentionally.

That is something that federal investigators are looking at as a possibility. You hear this ringing behind me? We are showing you what electromagnetic interference is. Say this television is a car. The car's function is rolling along normally. Here is a cell phone ringing. When it gets close to that, you can see how the audio of the television signal changes. You can hear the interference.

That is essentially -- it's interfering with the car's function.

To talk more about this, we are joined by Dr. Michael Pecht. He is a professor of electronics reliability here at the University of Maryland, also the author of a book called "Sudden Acceleration." It is all about the phenomenon of unintended and sudden acceleration in vehicles. It's a book that is more than 10 years old, but it is considered very definitive on this subject.

So, Dr. Pecht, how did this all work as far as just -- this is a car functioning normally. A simple cell phone signal that is close to it triggers kind of a different reaction.


So, what happens is that the cell phone is getting a signal and at the same time when it receives a signal, it sends out a signal. That signal is going through the air. It hits the wires in the television set in this case. And, again, the television set could represent a computer or the engine control computer in a car. It hits those wires it sends a signal through those wires and that signal causes some kind of malfunction.

In this case, the malfunction is an audio malfunction, so to speak, but it is possible it could cause some other malfunction depending on the design of the car.

TODD: And of course part of the problem is the cars these days, the way they're laid out, their throttles and their is not is controlled not by cables anymore, not by simple mechanics, but by computers and sensors, right?

PECHT: Exactly. The car companies are trying to put more functions, more features into a small place, make them completely controlled by a computer. In today's cars, there's more than 20 microprocessors.

TODD: Wow, that is a lot. OK.

We're going to show you that one more time. Dr. Michael Lazarian (ph), a research scientist, is going to show us again. Here is the car. The sound is kind of operating normally on the TV and the TV is the car. We're going to get a phone call. Again, even before it starts ringing, it's interfering with the sound of the television, meaning the function of the automobile in this case.

Now we're going to show you kind of under the hood of a Camry some of the components in a Camry that can be susceptible to this. Now you are looking under the hood of an idling 2005 Toyota Camry. We have to make very clear this is not among the models of Camrys that are being recalled and being looked at for the sudden acceleration problems, but it has a somewhat similar layout. Those Camrys came along a couple of years after this one did.

But this can serve as a basic illustrator for some of the components underneath the hood of a Toyota or really almost any modern vehicle these days that could be susceptible to electromagnetic interference.

Dr. Pecht, what are we talking here? Is it mostly the wires, right?

PECHT: Yes, there's the wires. Of course, there's going to be a control unit to control the engine, but all these wires hook up to the control unit. The control unit has wires that go back to the engine to control the speed.

TODD: And that control unit is inside the passenger compartment?

PECHT: Yes, typically.

TODD: Right. And so look at these wires. Like, there are coils under here. These coils are magnets, right?

PECHT: Exactly.

TODD: And can attract those signals.

PECHT: And those magnets can send out a magnetic signal. And those magnetic signals can affect the various wires and cause a current, cause an electrical signal in those wires. And hopefully they would not cause a problem, but under some conditions, like power lines or something like that, the strength could be high enough that it could cause a signal.

TODD: And you think power lines could really be kind of one of the culprits here, maybe even more than cell phones or BlackBerrys?

PECHT: It's possible. It depends on the strength oft power line or the strength of the cell phone.

TODD: Now, what we noticed -- again, this is not just unique to the Toyota or the Camry. Many, many cars, makes and models, are laid out like this.

The wires are unshielded. And we had another expert tell us that may be an issue here. The fact that the wires are not shielded could make them more susceptible to the interference. If they were shielded, could that cut down on it?

PECHT: Absolutely.

So, it is a very big concern, especially in safety-critical devices, that wires are shielded so they won't be susceptible to electromagnetic interference.


TODD: Now, we have to reiterate here that electromagnetic interference is one possibility that the federal government is looking at as a possible cause for why these throttles no Toyotas open up.

But the feds are very clear to say they have no hard evidence to suggest that it does. And we did talk to Toyota officials throughout the week who are saying they believe that the sudden acceleration problems are due to the sticking gas pedals and then previously to the floor mat issue. They do not believe that an electrical problem is causing these acceleration problems, but this is one possibility and we just wanted you to show you how it works.


BLITZER: But people are investigating that, if there's electronics -- electrical problem. In addition to the floor mats, in addition to the pedal, there may be something else. We don't know. Toyota does not believe it to be the case, but everyone is looking into it right now.


TODD: They don't believe it. You could be driving under a power line. The signal could go into some kind of sensor in the computer in your car engine and it could trigger something.

BLITZER: And just to be precise, the problems that you are talking about with those other Toyota models are very different than the Prius that, Jessica, you were talking about?

YELLIN: Right.

TODD: That's right.

BLITZER: All right. So, Toyota has got a lot of problems right now. They have their hands full.

YELLIN: It's not a pretty time for them.

BLITZER: Guys, stand by.

There's other problems as well. And it sounds like potentially a recall. Ford Motor Company says it plans to fix some of its own hybrid vehicles in what Ford calls a customer satisfaction program. Software will be updated on some 2010 Ford Fusion hybrids and Mercury Milan hybrids.

Drivers have reported a different brake feel when the vehicles transition between the two different braking systems used by these hybrids. To some drivers, it feels like the brakes are failing. But Ford says drivers are never actually without brakes.

All right, so, everybody is going to check that out as well. Jack Cafferty will be joining with "The Cafferty File." That's coming up.

We are also waiting for the president of the United States. He's getting ready to speak over at some -- to some Democratic fund-raisers here in Washington. There you see the chairman of the DNC getting ready to introduce the president. We will see what the president has to say. He is taking questions as well. Stand by. Our coverage continues right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

The one in Boston a couple of hundred years ago was a dandy. Now there's another tea party brewing. You excuse the pun.

Hundreds of mostly conservative independent activists descending on Nashville, Tennessee, for the first-ever National Tea Party Convention.

The movement began in small towns and large cities across the country, with people protesting against President Obama's economic and health care policies. And it's grown from dozens to hundreds of loosely-linked grassroots groups. Tea partiers have varying political views, although they generally agree on fiscal conservatism and the idea that the federal government has become too powerful. Hard to argue with that.

Although the tea party movement has no national organization and it has no leader, it has quickly grown in size and it's beginning to smell a little bit like a political party.

Organizers say this weekend's convention is sold out, about 600 attendees paying $550 to attend. Some of the sessions planned include "Technology in the Tea Party Movement," "Defeating Liberalism via the Primary Process" and "Why Christians Must Engage."

Sarah Palin is the keynote speaker. She is reportedly being paid $100,000 for her appearance, but she insists that she will not -- quote -- "benefit financially from the event" -- unquote. Palin says anything she makes from her appearance will go -- quote -- "right back to the cause" -- unquote -- whatever that means.

Other high-profile speakers and activist groups, though, have dropped out of this thing. Critics say that the average tea party- goer can't afford the tab for a lobster and steak dinner in a fancy hotel. They say it sounds more like a regular Republican fund-raiser than a tea party.

Here's the question: How seriously do you take the tea party movement in this country? Go to Post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack, thank you. You know what? Let's check in at this first national Tea Party movement convention.

Mary Snow is in Nashville watching what is going on. What are we seeing now, Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, people are just starting to register here. As you can see, they are coming into this ballroom and checking in over there, getting their papers for and schedules for what is going to be happening over the next two days.

There is also these booths here of T-shirts that are selling. These are going for $20. And one of the ones here: "You think health care is expensive now? Just wait until it is free." Health care reform obviously a big topic that people here are talking about. And in terms of the 600 people Jack mentioned that are coming to this convention, they are coming from all over the country.

A lot of them we spoke to say they really -- something struck a nerve in them this past year and they are dead set against more government spending. They say they are united in that. We talked to a couple of people on their way here, including some from California and Idaho. Here is what they have the say.


NANCY HENDERSON, TEA PARTY MEMBER: To take the unity that we have and to solidify it more, to be a voice that is being heard.

SNOW: Do you see yourself becoming more politically active back in Sacramento?

HENDERSON: I hope so, yes. I have never been involved in it before. I just went and voted along party lines and never really taken an interest. But I see the Republican Party failing miserably. I see the Democratic Party failing miserably. And the people are standing up. And I think that's what we're seeing. They're saying, hey, we don't want either one of you.

BRENDAN SMYTHE, TEA PARTY MEMBER: We don't know what to expect. Our main purpose is here to be with others that are frankly as upset as we are.

SNOW: Up until now, would you have considered yourselves politically active people?

SMYTHE: No, never.


SNOW: Brendan Smythe, you just heard from, is 33. He's from Boise, Idaho. And he said really the bailouts is what really triggered his involvement. And that is what brought him today. But, people, as he just said, really don't know what to expect over these next coming days -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary Snow is going to be watching what is happening in Nashville at this Tea Party movement convention.

Mary, thanks very much.

Here in Washington, President Obama is now at a Democratic Party fund-raiser not far from the White House. You know what? Let's listen in.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... consumers from the twin plagues of mortgage fraud and predatory lending.

We appointed Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.


OBAMA: We passed a service bill named for Ted Kennedy that is giving young people and not-so-young people new ways to give back to their community.

We have begun working with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country that they love because of who they are.


OBAMA: That is what your support has helped us to do here at home.

Abroad, we have begun a new era of engagement. We are working with our partners to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and seek a world free of them. We're working with other nations to confront climate change.

We banned torture. We are rebuilding our military and reaffirming our alliances. We have begun to leave Iraq to its own people.


OBAMA: We have charted a new way forward in Afghanistan and Pakistan and we have made progress in taking the fight to al Qaeda across the globe.

I want to Cairo on behalf of America to begin a new dialogue with the Muslim world.


OBAMA: And we are living up to a moment that demands American leadership by standing tall alongside the people of Haiti.

So, in ways -- in ways large and small, we have begun to deliver on the change that you believed in. But the reason you and I are here tonight is because there is so much more work to be done. On the day I took office, we confronted a financial system on the brink of collapse, an economy bleeding 700,000 jobs per month, a $1.3 trillion deficit, and two wars that were costly in every sense of the world.

The solutions to these challenges would not be quick or easy. And sometimes they would not be popular. We knew that. But we decided that we were going to govern. We decided that we were going to lead. We didn't have our finger out to the wind. We weren't reading the polls every minute. We decided that we would begin a long and difficult journey to get this country back to where it needs to be.


OBAMA: And because of the bold, swift and coordinated action we took, we can stand here today and say we prevented another depression. We broke the back of the recession.

The economy that was shrinking by 6 percent a year ago is now growing by 6 percent.


OBAMA: So, the worst of the storm has passed.

But all of you know from what you see in your own lives, what you see in your neighborhoods, what you see on the job, is that a lot of devastation remains. Many of you are seeing it in your own communities, shuttered businesses, foreclosed homes, friends, neighbors, family members who still can't find work.

And, on top of all this, you have got the underlying challenges that middle-class families were dealing with for decades. For two years, I traveled this country with you. And everywhere I went, I heard stories of folks who were trying their best to hold it all together while working harder and harder for less money.

We heard families sitting around the kitchen table wondering if a secure retirement was even possible, if a college education was still achievable, if the climb of health care costs would ever stop. We heard people wondering, if the dream that generations of Americans had built and defended was slowly slipping away.

Those are the stories that caused me to run for president of the United States. Those are the stories that led you to support me. Those are the stories that lead us to do every single thing that we can to create an economy that hasn't just recovered, but where hard work is valued and responsibility is rewarded, where businesses are hiring and wages are rising, where our middle class is getting stronger and feeling more secure.

Now, our most urgent task is job creation. That was our number- one priority last year. It is our number one priority this year. So, we will give tax breaks and loans to small business to help them hire new workers and raise wages and invest in new plants and equipment. We will put even more Americans to work constructing clean energy facilities and upgrading our infrastructure for the future. We will create incentives for consumers to make their homes more energy- efficient, creating jobs and saving families money. And it is time that we put an end to tax breaks for companies that are shipping jobs overseas. We need to give those tax breaks to companies that create jobs right here in the United States of America.


OBAMA: But the truth is, these steps alone won't make up for the seven million jobs that we have lost over the last two years. Those steps alone won't make up for the economic security -- insecurity that middle-class families have lost over the past decade.

The only way to do that is to lay a new foundation for long-term economic growth. The only way to do that is to finally confront the problems that Washington has put off for too long and that we have been talking about for decades.

Now, here is the deal, though, folks. This is where change gets hard, when you start going after the real hard things that have been holding us back for so long. This is where we start running headlong into the lobbyists and the special interests. This is where the bitterness and misinformation that has come to characterize so much of our politics starts rearing its ugly head.

I know some of you might feel discouraged, because changing the ways of Washington is hard. It is harder than a lot of you thought it might be. Sometimes, it may make you feel like -- that it is not possible. You might want to give up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We believe in you!

OBAMA: Don't give up.


OBAMA: I don't want you to feel discouraged. I want you to understand that it just means that we have got to push that much harder. It means that we have got to keep up the fight.


OBAMA: The forces of the status quo may not give an inch, but we will not give an inch, because we didn't come this far to put things off. We didn't come here to play it safe. We didn't do all this work to take the easy road to get through the next election.


OBAMA: That is not why you elected me. You came here to solve problems once and for all for the next generation.


OBAMA: That begins by opening this government up to the people. We were the first White House ever to post all our visitors online.


OBAMA: We excluded lobbyists from policy-making jobs or seats on federal boards and commissions. I have called on Congress to make all earmark requests public on one central Web site before they come up for a vote, so that you can see how your money is spent.

And even as we open up government, we also have to change its tone. And I won't give up on that either.


OBAMA: Now, the American people are right to be frustrated by Washington where every single day is Election Day. It is a place so absorbed with how each party is doing that it loses sight of how the American people are doing. And that is why I went and visited with the House Republican Caucus last Friday.


OBAMA: And we had a -- we had a good exchange, a good discussion about the challenges facing the American people, our ideas to solve them. We think it was good for the country. I had fun.


OBAMA: Now...


OBAMA: Now, look, obviously, there are some issues where we don't agree. And that is OK. Vigorous debate is healthy. We will tussle from time to time. That's what democracy is all about.

But there are some issues we do agree on. So, I told my Republican friends I want to work together when we can. And I meant it. I believe if we put a focus on solving problems, instead of scoring political points, we can get a lot done together.


OBAMA: Now, I also made clear that I am going to call them out if what they are offering are political talking points that won't solve problems.


OBAMA: And I had to insist that, you know, we have -- we have to throw out that tired old playbook that says blocking everything is easier than actually delivering for the American people.

Otherwise, we won't move this country forward. And, ultimately, that is why I am here. That's why you are here. That's why you joined this campaign. That is why you have helped this past year. That is why I need your help now, because you know as well as anyone that change never comes without a fight. And we've got to -- we've got some fights to wage.

We're going to keep fighting to spark innovation and ignite a clean energy sector where American workers are making solar panels and wind towers and cutting edge batteries.


OBAMA: Because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy.


OBAMA: We're going to keep fighting to give every American the best education possible. That's why we launched the Race To the Top program, to make sure every school lives up to its potential so every school lives up to their potential.

That's we're strengthening our community colleges. That's why we're making higher education more affordable, because nobody should go broke because they chose to go to college.


OBAMA: That's why we're going to keep fighting for commonsense rules of the road for Wall Street. Look, let me be clear. We need a strong financial sector. I want our banks to thrive in loaning money to businesses who are hiring workers and investing in plants and equipment and making things. Without a stable strong financial sector, businesses can't get the capital they need to grow and create jobs and families can't finance a home loan or education.

And the truth is, is that not every person on Wall Street was engaging in shenanigans.


OBAMA: Not all of them.


OBAMA: I -- and the truth is, is that the -- you know, I want to hear ideas about how we can strengthen the financial sector in a responsible way. But surely, we can all agree that we have to ensure our economy is never again brought to its knees by outdated and inadequate financial rules or by the irresponsibility of the few. So we're going to keep on fighting for that.


OBAMA: I would think this is a bipartisan effort -- I would think, because everybody has been harmed by what's happened. And every voter out there -- Democrat, Republican, independent -- is furious about what happened.

So my -- my hope would be that Washington would respond. And yes, we are going to keep fighting to fix a health system that too often works better for the insurance industry than it does for the American people.


BLITZER: All right. The president is wrapping up his remarks before the democratic fundraising event here in Washington. He'll then be taking some questions. Let's take a quick break and continue our coverage right after this.


BLITZER: All right. We're monitoring the president of the United States. He's speaking at a Democratic fundraiser. He's just wrapping up. He's then going to be taking some questions from some of those fundraisers. We're curious to hear what kind of questions they are and what he says. We'll go there in just a few moments.

Let's bring in our senior political analyst right now. Gloria Borger is here in Washington. David Gergen is up in Boston. -- David, as we await the president, the Q&A session, it's not everyday that they let cameras in when he's taking questions at one of these fundraisers. He's giving them some red meat. He's telling these Democrats what they want to hear, basically that he's right and the Republicans are wrong.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Well, he sure is. And -- and, Wolf, there's no doubt that he -- he is an eloquent speaker. He's marshaled his arguments and he's making them many times.

But whether the -- I must tell you, there's also a sense we're -- we're all swimming in an ocean of words. We -- you know, there's been so much rhetoric, I think Americans are sort of getting to the point, Wolf -- or getting close -- of wanting a less talk and more action.

I think people on this -- this jobs front -- we'll likely have a jobs report tomorrow morning that is not overly encouraging. And, as you know, the stock market took a real hit today on -- on word about jobs, as well as what's been the turmoil in Europe.

And I think people would like to see people -- the leaders in Washington sitting down with each other, talking and getting some things passed and done.

BLITZER: Any prospect, Gloria, that that's likely any time soon?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure. I think on certain parts of a -- of jobs legislation,. You're going to see lots of people decided that they want to help small business, they want to give tax credits to small businesses. There's going to be disagreement with Republicans, for example, on whether you do the Wall Street tax, etc.

But I think what we were hearing today is sort of a pep talk to the Democrats, as well. I mean the Democrats understand what's going on and that this president is not as popular as he once was, that they're facing big losses in the upcoming midterm elections. And the president said to them, don't quit, don't get discouraged. At the same -- at the same time, he said I know, we need to change the tone in Washington. We need to be bipartisan.

So I think, in this speech, at least, he's trying to do a lot at once -- talk to the Democratic audience, talk to the Independent audience. And somehow, it's not very distinctive. Now...

BLITZER: All right, stand by, guys, because I want to go back there once the Q&A starts. Some of these Democrats clearly demoralized by what happened in Massachusetts and earlier in Virginia and New Jersey.

Stand by.

Our coverage of the president and the Q&A session with these Democratic fundraisers will continue after this.


BLITZER: All right. Question time right now for the president of the United States, with some Democratic fundraisers. He just wrapped up his opening remarks.

Let's listen in.

OBAMA: He has drawn from the list of questions that were sent from all across the country and I'm going the try to answer them.

So with that, Mitch.

MITCH: All right. Thank you, sir.

Our first question comes, Mr. President, from one of OFA's dedicated community organizers, Dream Gunther (ph), in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It's a question that's on a lot of folks minds within OFA and, I think, across the country.

"How can we pass health care reform and what is the strategy to move it forward?"


OBAMA: It is It's a good question. We are closer to a health care reform system that works for all Americans than we have ever been. Never before have you seen a bill pass through the House and then a bill pass through the Senate and where 90 percent of those bills -- those two bills overlap.

Democrats in the House and the Senate have been in discussions over the last several weeks to finalize a package that represents the best ideas of both the House and the Senate.

Here's what we know will be in it. It provides coverage to at least 30 million Americans who don't have it. Many of those are small business owners or workers for small businesses. It creates an exchange -- a marketplace where people who don't have health insurance or small businesses that want to get a better deal can pool their purchasing power and then negotiate with insurance companies to drive down costs and drive down premiums -- the same way, by the way, that federal workers and members of Congress, by the way, and people who work for big companies are able to get a better deal because they're part of a bigger pool.

It has insurance reforms that benefit everybody, potentially, who has health insurance or currently doesn't have health insurance, so that we put an end to, for example, the practice of not being able to get health insurance because of a pre-existing condition.


OBAMA: We make sure that they can't just drop you when you get sick and you need the insurance the most. And we've got a whole series of measures for cost reductions in the health care system over the long-term, by reducing waste and unnecessary tests that are duplicative and end up wasting money; by ensuring that there's strong prevention funding so that children are getting regular checkups and they can go to see a doctor instead of going to the emergency room.

So -- and, by the way, all of it is paid for and not only is it deficit neutral, but the Congressional Budget Office, which is the bipartisan office that's the scorekeeper for how much things cost in Congress, says it's going to reduce our costs by $1 trillion.

Now, those two bills weren't identical. So it was important for the folks in both the House and the Senate to sit down and figure out what's the final bill that the Democrats believe in and want to move forward.

The next step is one I announced at the State of the Union, which is to call on our Republican friends to present their ideas.

What I would like to do is to have a meeting whereby I'm sitting with the Republicans, sitting with the Democrats, sitting with health care experts. And let's just go through these bills -- their ideas, our ideas. Let's walk through them in a methodical way so that the American people can see and compare what makes the most sense?

And then I think that we've got to go ahead and move forward on a vote. We've got to move forward on a vote.


OBAMA: But as I said at the State of the Union, I think -- you know, we -- we should be very deliberate, take our time. We're going to be moving a jobs package forward over the next several weeks. That's the thing that's most urgent right now in the minds of Americans all across the country. And that will allow everybody to get the real facts, both about the health care crisis that we face, why it's so important for deficit reduction, why it's so important for families all across the country. It allows us to see are there, in fact, some better ideas out there. I mean, when I was at the Republican Caucus, somebody told me they had an idea to provide universal coverage and it wouldn't cost anything...


OBAMA: ...which, to my mind -- I thought, that's great. I -- I want to -- I want to see that. Now I did say, I want to make sure that there's some independent health care experts and economists and doctors who would confirm this.

But if they can confirm it, why wouldn't I want to take that?

I -- I -- I wish I had thought of that before.


OBAMA: But -- but here -- here's the key, is to not let the moment slip away. And -- and I -- I have to say...


OBAMA: ...I have to say that part of what makes health care so hard and why we are the only advanced nation on Earth that doesn't have some form of universal health care is because even when the system doesn't work, people still want to kind of cling on to the devil they know, because they're worried about the devil they don't.

It's very easy to scare folks. And if you go out there right now and you ask the average person -- and I -- some of you have done this, talked to your friends and talked to your neighbors. They are certain that they would have to go into a government plan, which isn't true. But that's still a perception that a lot of people have.

They're still pretty sure that they'd have to give up their doctor. They're still pretty sure that if they're happy with their health care plan, that it's bad for them. They're still positive that this is going to add to the deficit.

All right. So there -- there's a lot of information out there that people understandably are concerned about. And that's why I think it's very important for us to have a -- a methodical, open process over the next several weeks.

And then let's go ahead and make a decision. And it may be that, you know, if Congress decides -- if Congress decides we're not going to do it, even after all the facts are laid out, all the options are clear, then the American people can make a judgment as to whether this Congress has done the right thing for them or not. And that's how democracy works. And there will be elections coming up and they'll be able to make a determination and register their concerns one way or the other during election time, all right?


MITCH: Mr. President, the second question to us via e-mail from El Paso, Texas. Rebecca Harris (ph) writes: "What can be done to get money to small businesses? I keep hearing that banks are still not loaning because of lack of confidence. Do smaller banks have the ability to get money, but the stipulation that they loan it out, so that we can get the economy moving again?"

OBAMA: This is a really important question. I -- I -- I've been traveling a lot lately doing town hall meetings and then talking to small business owners as I'm traveling around the country. And everywhere I go, I hear the same thing, which is we feel like the economy is starting to improve and we're starting to get orders again. We want to expand or we need replenish our inventory or, you know, we are interested in maybe hiring another two or three workers because we can't just keep on putting all our current workers on overtime.

So they're on the brink of wanting to expand, move, hire, but what they're saying is we still can't get financing.

Now credit is now available for the biggest companies. And they are actually starting to make investments. Every indicator out there is that -- that the economy across the board, including in manufacturing, is starting to make investments again.

But the big companies may be able to get credit, small companies still can't. And when you talk to the smaller banks, what they'll say is, well, on the one hand, the regulators are looking over our shoulder. They used to say it was fine to make these loans, now they're saying we shouldn't. So that's one concern.

Another concern is some of them still have pretty tough liabilities on their books, because a lot of them went into commercial real estate or, you know, other loans that they're not sure are going to get repaid.

So what we've done is -- is twofold. One is we've said, how can we get some money directly out there through the Small Business Administration?

And we've ramped up lending through the Small Business Administration by 70 percent. And we have eliminated fees and we have increased guarantees. So that you're seeing a huge increase in the volume of small business loans.

The problem is, the SBA can't cover all the need out there. And, you know, there are 30,000 community banks out there that are serving their communities and small businesses. So we've got to get money to them. That's why what we've said is let's get $30 billion that's been repaid as a consequence of the -- the big banks getting well and having to repay their TARP money. Let's take that money and set up a fund whereby we can start lending that money through small banks.

Now, the last thing I would say is, I was asked, is there a way of stipulating that this will go to particular loans?

We don't want the government to be in the business of saying you have to give this loan or deny that loan, because we're not on the ground and we can't review each and every one of those loans. But we are very confident that the most efficient way for us to get money to small businesses is to make sure that the community banks are getting these financing facilities that allow them to give money up. And if they do, we think that's going to be a major job creator right now.

BLITZER: All right. So the president of the United States. You get a little flavor of the Q&A, some of the substance he's talking about. On health care reform, he basically acknowledged if Congress, when the dust settles over the next few weeks, decides there isn't going to be health -- health care reform legislation, so be it. The voters will decide in November what they think about that, pro or con.

We'll continue to monitor this Q&A session -- the president meeting with Democratic fundraisers here in Washington. We'll continue our coverage.

We're also watching some other breaking news coming out of Haiti. Those 10 American missionaries have now been formally charged with child kidnapping and trafficking. We're going to tell you what's happening. We're going live to Port-au-Prince. Much more news coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack for The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is how seriously do you take the Tea Party movement?

Aileen writes from Tampa, Florida: "My husband and I take the Tea Party movements very seriously. We think they represent one of the few ways a group of concerned citizens can voice their opinions and be heard. We don't meet just to be difficult or because we don't like the current administration. We don't like what the current administration is doing. And we don't like the direction we think the country is going in."

Jeff writes from Houston: "Very seriously. The Bush regime taught me that anything based in right-wing extremism can get a foothold in this country and that America still despises anything resembling an intellectual debate. Yes, Jack, a mass of gorillas with clubs and ballots do get my attention, especially the ones who have developed language skills like, "you betcha."

Dan in Antilly, Virginia: "I keep hearing the majority of Tea Partiers are Independents who are tired of government spending. But the facts aren't adding up. They suddenly appeared after Obama was elected. They seem to be devoted to destroying the evils of liberalism. They throw around words like socialist and use Holocaust metaphors without much care for the implications. They're heavily supported by Fox News and they often use highly divisive speakers like Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann. I'm thinking the whole thing is some kind of rebranding of the Republican Party and a few truly independent people are being swept along for the ride."

John in New Jersey writes: "Take them seriously. They're for real. They could be a problem for both parties, and especially the Democrats. Democrats, when you downplay this group of Americans, you're making a very, very big mistake."

Carla in Alabama says: "Are you kidding me? These people need their meds, at least until the mother ship comes back for them."

And Gary in Michigan writes: "Just what the country needs at this time -- another one-sided, ideologically deluded group of self- serving extremists. Isn't having the Republicans and the Democrats enough?"

If you want to read more on this, you'll find it at my blog at -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

We have a Moost Unusual follow-up to a Moost Unusual story. Earlier this week, we showed you the banker busted on live TV looking at a racy picture on his computer at work. Now his plight has people around the world rallying to his defense.

Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They're calling it the Save Dave Campaign.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe you should Save Dave.

MOOS: Save Dave's job.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think Dave should be fired.

Dave Kiely is the guy who got nabbed on an Australian news broadcast...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Which is where they were at their low...


MOOS: ...during a live interview at MacQuarie's Bank. He was in the background opening photos of a nearly naked famous model, Miranda Kerr.

(on camera): Now, the pictures he's looking at are from...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is nude pictures of women. I mean were we born with clothes on?

MOOS (voice-over): Take it off. Stripper music was played.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The problem was he did it during a live interview here on 7 about...


MOOS: local anchors chortled over the story. But now the Save Dave Campaign has come to his rescue, started by a financial news Web site in London.

VIC DANIELS, PUBLISHER, "HERE IS THE CITY NEWS": And I think the world is going politically correct mad.

MOOS: There's all kinds of speculation that Dave was set up -- that this could have been a practical joke with the photos e-mailed to him so he would unwittingly open them during the live broadcast.

DANIELS: The theory goes that as he -- as he opened the third attachment and -- and he scrolled down, there was a message at the end of the e-mail that said, "Turn around now."

MOOS: That's everybody's favorite part, when he turns around.


MOOS: Now he's got support groups on Facebook. "Who hasn't done that?," asked one fan. "Post a photo of yourself checking our Miranda Kerr to show your support."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Save Dave, definitely.

MOOS: "The Australian" reports Dave is waiting to hear his fate, as the bank forensically examines his e-mails.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Next time, Dave, be a little more careful. And company, don't fire him right off the spot.

MOOS (on camera): You're saying out -- he's out?


MOOS: Out the door.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Out the door. Ten-four, out the door.

MOOS: But what would Miranda think about some guy possibly getting sacked just for looking at her?

(voice-over): The Victoria's Secret model told the Melbourne "Herald Sun," "I am told there is a petition to save his job and, of course, I would sign it."

And while she's signing things, might as well autograph one of her photos and send it to Dave -- but not to his work e-mail.


MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You should tell him to take those pictures home and leave them home.

MOOS: ...New York.