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Women's Backlash Stops Funding Cuts; Unemployment Rate Drops; Interview With Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval

Aired February 3, 2012 - 18:00   ET


JESSICA YELLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks for joining us. I'm Jessica Yellin. John King is off.

Tonight: the high-stakes fight that brought political passions to a boiling point this week. We will tell you who blinked in the battle between two of the country's most recognizable players in women's health issues.

Also, Mitt Romney isn't letting up as the race to the Nevada caucuses goes down to the wire.

Plus, a battle among superheroes who did not live up to their reputations.

We begin with a major retreat on what's turning into a surprise issue on this year's presidential campaign, the politics of women's health. Today, in the wake of a ferocious backlash, one of the nation's biggest players in the fight against breast cancer announced it will not cut off money to Planned Parenthood.

CNN's Lisa Sylvester has more on today's about-face.


LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Susan G. Komen board of directors and CEO began with saying sorry. "We want to apologize to the American public for recent decisions that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving lives. We have been distressed at the presumption that the changes made to our funding criteria were done for political reasons or to specifically penalize Planned Parenthood. They were not.

The Komen Foundation, best known for its pink ribbons and 5-K walks, was under fire for changes to its grant policies that cut $600,000 in funding for Planned Parenthood. Komen originally said it was because Planned Parenthood was under investigation by a congressional committee over whether it was using public dollars to fund abortions.

Komen later changed the justification, arguing the cuts were because Planned Parenthood doesn't have its own mammogram equipment. On Facebook and Twitter, Komen, whose founder has ties to the Republican Party, was roundly criticized.

But Komen's board met Friday and decided to reverse course. Planned Parenthood's president, Cecile Richards, praised Komen's decision.

CECILE RICHARDS, PRESIDENT, PLANNED PARENTHOOD: This kind of political bullying is -- I think folks are just saying enough. I do think this is a watershed moment where women and men again standing up and just saying we're not going to stand by while some groups politicize health care.

SYLVESTER: The pressure on Komen had been mounting. More than two dozen Democratic senators sent a letter to its CEO, Nancy Brinker, among them Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey.

SEN. FRANK LAUTENBERG (D), NEW JERSEY: I want my granddaughters to grow up in a world where breast cancer is nothing more than a bad memory. But we're not going to achieve it if we allow the dream to be disturbed by others playing politics with women's health.

SYLVESTER: Even within Komen, there was strong condemnation and even a few resignations over pulling the funding.

Radiologist Kathy Plesser, who serves on one of Komen's medical advisory boards, was on the verge of quitting over the issue.

KATHY PLESSER, KOMEN ADVISORY BOARD MEMBER: I'm thrilled. And I know that I'm not speaking for other members of the board, but I believe strongly that those of us in the New York chapter are relieved and we believe that it was courageous of the national board to change a decision that they had said they would not reconsider.

SYLVESTER: But not everyone is pleased with the decision. On Komen's Facebook page, while there's lots of people expressing support, others are dismayed, saying "You caved."


SYLVESTER: Now, Planned Parenthood clearly though is coming out on top in this fight. It had about $600,000 in funding from Komen on the line. But its president, Cecile Richards, says they raised about $3 million from 10,000 donors this week who were pitching in -- Jess.

YELLIN: Lisa, what are anti-reproductive rights groups saying now about the decision?

SYLVESTER: Yes, as you can imagine, Jessica, they're not really pleased about this.

Americans United For Life, they issued a statement, calling it unfortunate. They said that Komen essentially caved in to -- and these are their words -- a media-savvy campaign. Others are saying, look, Komen is an independent organization. It's a free organization. It can decide how it wants its grant moment spent and that it did not have to give in here, Jessica. So they're quite upset on the other side of the aisle on this.

YELLIN: I suspect we have not heard the last of this issue. Thanks so much, Lisa. And now to presidential politics on this night before the Nevada caucuses. Mitt Romney and two of his three opponents are going all out. Romney has the wind at his back. The latest poll shows him 20 points ahead of Newt Gingrich. And Romney's counting on heavy support from the state's Mormon population.

Romney spent today trying to close the deal and focusing in on President Obama.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's been a tough time. And I know the president didn't cause this downturn, this recession. But he didn't make it better, either. He made it worse.


YELLIN: CNN national political correspondent Jim Acosta is in Las Vegas.

So, Jim, 24 hours to go to the conclusion of the Nevada caucuses. Sounds like Romney isn't taking anything for granted.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Even though the polls show he's way out in front of Newt Gingrich in this state, he is not taking anything for granted.

In the last couple of days, he's been almost all over the state making appeals to voters. He's also going after Newt Gingrich. He's got some mailers out once again referring to the former speaker as erratic. But he's also doing some damage control out here, Jessica.

In the last 24 hours, he's done some interviews with some local TV stations here in Las Vegas, admitting that he misspoke when he said on CNN on Wednesday that he's not very concerned about the very poor. So some moves being made on both fronts, Jessica.

YELLIN: That comment he made about the very poor sure got a lot of buzz.

Former Speaker Gingrich was asked about it by Wolf Blitzer a few hours ago. Listen to him briefly.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm sure he didn't mean the exact comment about not caring about the poor. I think his underlying rationale, which is they have a safety net, we don't have to worry about them, is wrong. Leaving Americans trapped in a safety net is not pursuing happiness. It's not their creator-endowed right.


YELLIN: Something tells me we're going to be hearing a lot about this issue for some time to come, Jim, huh? What do you think? ACOSTA: I think that's right. Yes. Just because Governor Romney said he misspoke doesn't mean that Newt Gingrich is going to cut him any slack.

There are a couple of problems for Mitt Romney on two fronts here. And one is obviously it feeds into this narrative that the Democratic Party is all too eager to talk about, that he's kind of a gaffe machine, and that he keeps reinforcing this image that he's out of touch with people, talking about how he likes to be able to fire people, how corporations are people and how he doesn't seem to be that concerned about the very poor.

That is something that Republicans are also talking about. But listen to what Rick Santorum had to say earlier today. And Newt Gingrich also talked about this as well. They say there's sort of a fundamental philosophical problem with Mitt Romney's comments as well, in that you don't want the very poor to just rely on a safety net to keep from falling through the cracks.

Conservative principles, they say, dictate that you have to get rid of that safety net and make sure people can pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Rick Santorum said earlier today he doesn't want to be a part of a Republican Party that believes in just a safety net for the very poor.

So Mitt Romney has a problem on a couple of fronts. And it's not just his rivals talking about this. Rush Limbaugh was on the radio earlier this week saying that all of these comments that Mitt Romney seems to be making on economic issues sort of makes him out to be this prototypical rich Republican, which may not do well in the fall campaign, Jessica.

YELLIN: Right. They say they don't want him talking about class at all.

Thanks so much, Jim. Enjoy that weather.

ACOSTA: That's right.

YELLIN: And President Obama has some good news to point to today himself. The unemployment rate dropped to 8.3 percent in January. That is the lowest level it's been at since February of 2009.

In a speech outlining a new program for hiring veterans, the president kept the heat on Congress to continue his economic program by passing an extension of the payroll tax cuts that expire at the end of this month.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now is not the time for self-inflicted wounds to our economy. Now is the time for action.

So I want to send a clear message to Congress: Do not slow down the recovery that we're on. Don't muck it up. Keep it moving in the right direction.



YELLIN: In a little while, we will take a closer look at those unemployment numbers and what they mean for the president and his chances of keeping his job.

Well, both Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich have rallies later tonight in Nevada. Rick Santorum, he bailed out. He spent today campaigning in Missouri, which holds a primary next Tuesday, but first things first.

Here to give us the big picture from Nevada is Jon Ralston, a columnist for "The Las Vegas Sun" newspaper.

And, Jon, you have become a superstar. I see you all over the place now. So thanks for being with us.

JON RALSTON, "THE LAS VEGAS SUN": Great to be with you, Jessica.


YELLIN: I'm putting you on the spot. Your predictions for tomorrow's results. How will the candidates place, one through four?

RALSTON: Wow. You are putting me on the spot.

I do think that Mitt Romney is going to win. I think that all the polls show Newt Gingrich finishing second. If there's going to be a surprise tomorrow, Jessica, it will be Ron Paul making a stronger showing than the polls show.

And I would not be surprised to see him finish in second place ahead of Gingrich. It's going to depend -- and here's the cop-out -- on turnout. If the turnout is very low -- there's only two real organizations in this state. That's Romney's, which is far better funded and far better organized than anyone else. And then there's Ron Paul.

And so I think the Paul people are going to do better than they're showing up in the polls. Whether he can sneak into second place, or, as they're saying, pull off the upset, I'm not so sure.

YELLIN: Well, let's talk about turnout for a minute.

How energized in your view is the Republican base there? And do you think it will be a bigger turnout than it was four years ago?

RALSTON: Well, four years ago, they only got 44,000 out. And they threw together that caucus at the last moment to try to move forward as the Democrats had done.

If you remember, the Democrats had this huge turnout, 116,000, the Republicans only had 44,000. And, of course, all the Democrats are saying now , I wonder if the Republicans can match our total. I don't think they will.

They have been consistently lowering expectations though, Jessica. First, they said 70,000. Now they're saying 50,000 to 55,000. That's a very small percentage of registered voters in this state. So I think turnout's going to be pretty low.

YELLIN: OK. Well, compare -- but not so much compared to previous years.

Let me ask you about the Mormon vote. Only about 7 percent of the population in Nevada, but 25 percent of GOP caucus-goers are Mormon. How big of a role do you think that will play?

RALSTON: Well, that 25 percent figure comes from exit polls taken in 2008.

And you have the numbers correct. Most people in the Romney camp think that that's going to be around 20 percent, maybe high teens. But that's a pretty good percentage to start with, right, when you only need 35 or 40 percent. That's what Romney I think is probably shooting for. It's significant in the sense that Mormons traditionally, while they have the low population base, vote disproportionately to their population base.

And Romney's going to get a huge percentage of that vote. It's just a fact. Even Newt Gingrich acknowledged that, saying he might not do as well here because of the Mormon influence. So the other campaigns get how uphill it is because of that bloc of voters Romney has going in.

YELLIN: Although Romney is poised to do well, one of our correspondents just talked about him as a gaffe machine, as some people are saying. You spoke to him yesterday and got him to clarify his comments earlier this week on CNN, when he said "I don't care about the very poor."

On your show, he tried to clarify it. Do you think he's put that issue to bed? Or do you think it's going to impact voters there?

RALSTON: There's no chance that he's put it to bed.

And the bigger issue is I think for the general election than in tomorrow's caucus. I interviewed Newt Gingrich for my program today, Jessica. And he launched into an attack on that issue, saying essentially he cares about the very poor.

I pointed out to the former speaker that Romney had retracted it, which kind of stopped him in his tracks at that point. But I have to tell you, Jessica, do you think there's any chance that the Democrats are not just going to use that statement, whether he's retracted it or not, to create as part of this mosaic of Mitt Romney as being out of touch with ordinary Americans? They're salivating to use it. You and I both know that.

YELLIN: Right. It's what you call a narrative-building in politics. RALSTON: Yes.

YELLIN: And an ad being made already.

Thanks so much, Jon. Thanks for being on. Look forward to seeing you out in Nevada sometime.

RALSTON: You bet.

YELLIN: In a moment, we will be joined by Nevada's governor. He started out supporting Texas Governor Rick Perry. Now he's getting mentioned for a possible Cabinet post if a Republican wins the White House.

And superheroes are nothing new in Hollywood, but some of them have been acting super bad.


YELLIN: All eyes will be on Nevada tomorrow. It is the first Western state to weigh in on the presidential race.

Nevada's Republican governor, Brian Sandoval, endorsed Rick Perry early on, but he hasn't backed anyone since the Texas governor dropped out.

Governor Sandoval joins us now.

Thank you, Governor, for being with us.

GOV. BRIAN SANDOVAL (R), NEVADA: Oh, it's my pleasure. Thank you, Jessica.

YELLIN: Thanks.

First of all, let's just dispose with the headlines. There have been some headlines that Newt Gingrich canceled a meeting with you amid reports that you weren't going to endorse anyone. One of his advisers told "The Washington Post" -- quote -- You're a Republican presidential candidate coming into a state with a Republican governor. It's common courtesy to meet him."

Sounding annoyed. Are you insulted the speaker didn't meet with you? Or is this much ado about nothing?

SANDOVAL: I think it's the latter. It really did kind of get blown out of proportion.

The speaker and I have talked on a few occasions. I have a lot of respect for him. We were called by a representative of his campaign asking for a meeting. I gladly accepted. After we accepted that, we received notice that he had to cancel and it went from there.

But it wasn't a problem at all. I'm just pleased that he as well as all the other candidates are here in the state and campaigning very aggressively. We're very excited about the caucus tomorrow. We have 4,000 volunteers at 125 locations. We think it's going to go extremely well.

YELLIN: Let's talk about Mitt Romney. What is your relationship with him? At CNN's debate recently in Florida, he said that he would consider you for a Cabinet position.


No, and I was surprised and humbled that he would speak of me in that regard. The governor and I have talked on several occasions. He was a supporter of mine in my run for governor. I think he's a very strong candidate. And I look forward to watching him in the state.

YELLIN: What position would you want in his Cabinet if he becomes president?

SANDOVAL: You know, respectfully, I was real humbled by his mentioning me, but I love my job. I think I have the best job in the United States of America.

YELLIN: Smart answer.

SANDOVAL: I have only been in office for one year.



SANDOVAL: And we have accomplished a lot.

YELLIN: Let's talk about Nevada for a bit. The unemployment rate in your state is 12.6 percent, higher than the national average, significantly.


YELLIN: Respectfully, sir, are you concerned at all that your stewardship could be a drag on the eventual Republican winner?

SANDOVAL: Well, of course I'm concerned about unemployment.

When I came into the office one year ago, our unemployment rate was 14.9. I think we have done well in terms of getting it down to 12.6. We have a ways to go. We are being very aggressive with regard to economic development in our state and modernizing our economic structure, attracting businesses here.

We just got a report today that we have the third most favorable tax environment in the United States of America. We have strong universities. We have a great quality of life. So I'm going to be providing my full support to the ultimate nominee and look forward to doing that.

YELLIN: Can't President Obama take some credit also going into the general then for the fact that the unemployment rate has fallen in your state, as you point out?

SANDOVAL: Well, he can try to do that.

There's -- part of this is, I have written to the president. One of our great success stories in our state is the mining industry. It's going extremely well. But we have several mines that are in the queue that could create thousands of jobs in our state. Because of the regulatory structure...

YELLIN: So it will be a battle. Right. It will be a battle.

SANDOVAL: It will be a battle.

But he has suffocated our ability to open some mines in Nevada. And I hope that we can continue to have conversations so we can get people to work in that industry.

YELLIN: Another major issue for voters in your state is the housing challenge there.

For 60 consecutive months, Nevada has had the highest home foreclosure rate of any state in the nation. I know you know this. In Las Vegas, two out of every three home mortgages are underwater.

Let's listen to a moment, to what Governor Romney said about the housing crisis in an interview with the "Las Vegas Journal Review" editorial board.


ROMNEY: To encourage housing, one is don't try and stop the foreclosure process. Let it run its course and hit the bottom.


YELLIN: The Democrats and the Obama campaign are going to try to make a lot of that, because it suggests that he doesn't -- they will say he doesn't want to try to help current homeowners.

Will that haunt him if he's the nominee in your state?

SANDOVAL: Well -- and I'm glad he's here in Nevada, so that he can have some conversations with these folks that are struggling.

I mean, we have a lot of struggling families, as I described. We want to get them back to work. Me personally, we're working on a foreclosure mediation program that brings the lenders and the borrowers together. We're going to have a huge event in Las Vegas that does the same thing in terms of bringing those borrowers and those lenders together to get these things worked out.

I'm hopeful that I can sit down with Governor Romney and let him know specifically about what we're doing in our state to help our residents.

YELLIN: And maybe move him a little over to your position?


Finally, Mitt Romney is looking pretty good for tomorrow's caucuses. That's based on the polling. Ron Paul, though, is always full of surprises. From where you sit, what do you think we should all look out for, for tomorrow night?

SANDOVAL: Well -- and I probably -- or you have probably seen the same polling that I have, that Governor Romney is doing extremely well. He's got a great organization in this state. He campaigned very aggressively four years ago here. So he does have a lot of people on the ground.

Congressman Paul has done the same thing. He's got a lot of fervent support in this state. So I think that you're going to see some good results from both of them.

YELLIN: So, Romney, then Paul is what you're telling us?

SANDOVAL: Likely, yes. And I think obviously the speaker is going to be there -- right there as well.


Governor Sandoval, thanks so much for your time. And I look forward to seeing you in person some time soon in Nevada.

SANDOVAL: And likewise. Thank you for having me, Jessica.

YELLIN: Thanks.

So far it's been a pretty mild winter here in Washington, but Denver, well, their luck just ran out. Stand by for the latest on a storm that's paralyzed parts of Colorado and is heading east.

And, later, NASA's unique look at part of a glacier that's reached the ocean and could turn into a monster-sized iceberg.


YELLIN: Welcome back.


YELLIN: There are new fears now of Israel launching a strike on Iran, and it's prompting a warning from the supreme leader of Iran. We will dig deeper on the suddenly intense saber-rattling.

Plus, today's stunning announcement from one of America's top breast cancer awareness organizations -- why the Komen Foundation now says it will resume funding to Planned Parenthood.


YELLIN: In this half hour of JOHN KING USA a report card on President Obama's jobs record, including how many jobs have been lost since he took office and how many could be created by election day.

Also today's new round of threats and defiance from Iran's supreme leader, who says a war against his country would hurt the U.S.

And to Super Bowl Sunday, there actually are some commercials you won't want to miss.

At first glance, today's new job numbers are just what President Obama and the Democrats have been hoping for. Employers added 243,000 jobs last month. The unemployment rate dipped to 8.3 percent, down from 8.5 percent in December. We asked CNN chief business correspondent Ali Velshi to give us some context and look at where January's figures fit the bigger picture.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Jessica, let me give you some perspective on what we've done in terms of job growth in this country. I want to go back to the beginning of last year, the beginning of 2011.

We actually had a relatively strong start to the year in terms of job growth. It tamped down during the middle of the year. But this is, of course, when the debt crisis was going on. We were starting to talk about a double-dip recession. Companies were getting worried about hiring people, because they didn't know what was coming next.

But after that all settled down, we started to create more and more jobs in the United States. And you can see a steady run upward from October, November, December, January. That's what we want to see. We want to see the trend in the right direction.

And in January we added 243,000 new jobs. That is the net result of the number of jobs created, minus the number of jobs lost. And the overwhelming number of those jobs created were in the private sector.

Now let me give you some sense of why those job creation numbers start to affect this election. Because what you've got is a lot of Republicans who are very, very critical of President Obama's record on job creation.

So take a look at this. And I have to give you this caveat. I am not a fan of associating jobs lost under a president with that president, because there's a lag effect. What a president does has an effect on the next president.

But let's just take the number of jobs lost under President Obama since the day he took office. Four point six million total jobs lost in America under President Obama.

The number of jobs that have been created since then, 3.5 million, which leaves a balance of net job lost -- jobs lost of 1.2 million during the entire time that President Obama has been president.

Now, if you take from now until election day, the number of months in there, and you take and divide that by the number of jobs -- or you divide the number of jobs we need to create by that number of months, you come up with 130,000 jobs a month. So if we were to create 130,000 jobs per month each month until the election or more, then President Obama will have recollected all of those jobs lost since the day he took office. All of the job losses under President Obama will have been recovered.

So that's an interesting political point that Republicans are going to have to tackle over the course of the next few months if our job growth continues the way that it's been going -- Jessica.

YELLIN: Thanks, Ali.

Well, let's tackle that political point right now. Can the U.S. economy create 130,000 new jobs a month between now and November's election?

Let's ask Mark Zandi. He is the chief economist for Moody's Analytics, and he was also an adviser to John McCain's presidential campaign in 2008.

Good to see you, Mark. And let's get right to it. The president was cautious today. He said that these numbers will go down, and they'll go up in the coming months. But in your analysis, do you think before November's election we are likely to see an unemployment rate below 8 percent?

MARK ZANDI, CHIEF ECONOMIST, MOODY'S ANALYTICS: You know, Jessica, I think it's doable, certainly, given the job growth we're getting now. If that continues through the remainder of the year, I think it's entirely possible that yes, we will have an unemployment rate that's below 8 percent come election day.

YELLIN: OK. There are a lot of "ifs" there. We'll get to them. First, though, let's talk about this 8.3 percent unemployment rate. It is now at the lowest level it's been in the last three years. The last time it was anywhere close to this, President Obama was just getting inaugurated. So what do you attribute this low jobs number -- lower jobs number to?

ZANDI: Well, businesses are now engaging. They're very profitable. They've done a very good job of getting their cost structures down. Their balance sheets are strong. They've reduced their debt. They're enjoying these very low interest rates.

Stock prices are up. And so no business people are saying, "Well, you know, I'm earning a lot of money. My stock price is up. If I want to continue on, I'm going to have to go out and expand my business. I'm going to have to invest, and I'm going to have to hire more." And so that's what we're seeing now.

I think businesses are finally engaging. A light switch is going on. They're hiring. And that's to everybody's benefit.

YELLIN: That sounds like a positive trend that is almost inevitably continuing -- continuously more positive. But there have to be some red flags on the horizon. Europe, for example? Are you worried about Europe? ZANDI: Sure. There are a lot of potential hurdles that we need to overcome. You know, I don't think the coast is clear. Europe is obviously a very significant issue. Conditions have improved, settled over the last several weeks, couple months, so that's encouraging.

But their economy is in recession. It's a big economy. There's lot of links between what goes on here and there. And so we need to watch that.

And of course there's the housing market. The foreclosure crisis is ongoing. House prices are falling. And it's hard to get enthusiastic about our economy when house prices are declining. The home is still the most important asset that most middle income households own. The home is used by many small businesses to get -- as collateral to get a loan.

And of course, local governments are struggling. They're having to cut K-12, because property tax revenues are declining.

So there are a lot of red flags. But, you know, on a day like this, I think it's very encouraging, very positive, the direct -- all the trend lines are moving in the right direction.

YELLIN: Then there's the question of Washington's role in all this. Given the gridlock between the White House and in Congress, what can Washington realistically do to help continue the recovery now?

ZANDI: Well, most importantly, most immediately is the extension of the payroll tax holiday and the emergency unemployment insurance programs. As you know, both those programs under current law expire in February, in just a few weeks. So Congress has to act. I think it's very important they do and extend those programs. They're very important.

Even though the economy is much improved, and we're moving in the right direction, you know, I don't think the coast is clear. It doesn't feel like to me that we're off and running. Until we are, I think policymakers need to remain very vigilant, and that means extending those two programs.

And, of course, the other thing is do no harm. Last year, as Ali was mentioning, we struggled because policymakers misstepped, nearly shut the government down. We had a lot of political acrimony over the debt ceiling. We can't go through anything like that this year. We need policymakers to act in a more harmonious way.

YELLIN: Hopefully, folks up on Capitol Hill are listening to you, Mark. Thanks for joining us; appreciate it.

ZANDI: Thank you.

YELLIN: Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody's Analytics.

A blunt warning from Iran against the United States. Listen to Iran's leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's response to news that Israel may be preparing to strike Iran's nuclear program.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): This is how they make their threats against us. Well, this kind of threat is detrimental to the U.S. The war itself will be ten times as detrimental to the U.S.


YELLIN: For more context let's bring in CNN Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence.

Hi, Chris. So how serious does the U.S. take this threat of an attack to be?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Very serious, Jessica. I mean, the director of national intelligence has said Iran is much more willing to sponsor attacks right here on American soil. Former defense secretary Bob Gates told CNN Iran will retaliate, not just against Israel but across the entire region.

So what's that mean? A defense official I spoke with said Iran has been improving its options just for this moment so it could raid oil tankers, mine shipping lanes, use its influence to destabilize Iraq, and even attack American embassies and soft targets all over the world.

YELLIN: That's terrifying. What more do we know about efforts to wipe out Iran's nuclear capabilities before they become active?

LAWRENCE: Well, there's the stuff that no one will ever publicly admit to: the devastating computer virus, Stuxnet, that infected Iran's nuclear program and did, you know, as much damage as any military attack would do. There's the Iranian nuclear scientists who either had very unfortunate accidents or were more likely assassinated.

But in terms of directness, we know the Pentagon is asking Congress for up to $80 million more to improve its largest bunker buster bomb. This is the kind of bomb that could punch through mountains in Iran. But that wouldn't be ready until well after this whole spring timeframe.

And in terms of Israel taking direct action, a source I spoke with said they'd have a hard time destroying all of Iran's nuclear programs because it's so widespread and dispersed, and Iran would still have the know-how to be able to rebuild at some point.

YELLIN: All right. Thanks for the update, Chris.


YELLIN: And still ahead, the political fallout after one of America's leading breast cancer awareness groups reverses its decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood. Presidential candidate Rick Santorum is not holding back. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Killing little children in the womb is not healthcare. And it's very disappointing that Susan G. Komen would continue to do that.



YELLIN: Tonight anti-abortion advocates are criticizing the Susan G. Komen Foundation's decision to restore funding to Planned Parenthood even though the money is meant for breast cancer screenings.

A statement from the Komen Foundation says, quote, "We want to apologize to the American public for recent decisions that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving women's lives. We've been distressed at the presumption that the changes made to our funding criteria were done for political reasons or to specifically penalize Planned Parenthood. They were not."

Joining us to discuss this and more, CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein; Democratic strategist Penny Lee; and Republican strategist John Fiore.

All right. Well, the Komen Foundation says it wasn't politics, but it sure was political quicksand.

So John, I want to start with you. One conservative blogger said the Komen Foundation found itself on "the liberal blacklist," his phrase. Are you offended by their decision?

JOHN FIORE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Listen. First of all, the Susan Komen Foundation does great work. I've ran in their 10-Ks. It's an important organization, the 5-Ks. And I want to say taking the politics out of it, the sad thing is it gets away from their mission. Now, the other lesson here is if you give money to Planned Parenthood, you better understand that you can never take that money away, because it becomes a big political firestorm.

So -- and then the politics of this, obviously, is that it's polarizing the country. You've got the pro-lifers and the pro- choicers. And this shouldn't -- this shouldn't be an issue that gets involved in that.

YELLIN: All right, Ron, let's keep in mind that the money was for breast cancer screenings specifically, not for abortions, but there's an argument about where, you know, the money goes.

Let's listen to the candidates on the campaign trail today.


SANTORUM: It's unfortunate that the public pressure builds to -- to provide money to an organization that goes out and actively is the No. 1 abortion provider in the country. That's not health care.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would eliminate all of the Planned Parenthood funding and transfer it to an adoption service to give young women the choice of life rather than death as part of their future. And I think that, in that sense, the Planned Parenthood does not do the public a good service when it actively encourages abortions.


YELLIN: Now, Planned Parenthood says they separate the funds, et cetera.

My question to you, Ron, is wasn't this supposed to be the election about jobs, jobs, jobs? Are social issues going to be a big factor in 2012?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, whether candidates talk about them or not, social issues are always a big factor. Over the last 20, 30 years, how often you go to church is a better predictor of how you vote than how much money you make. And culture is baked into our politics at this point. The two parties are fundamentally defined by cultural values. They are two different coalitions at this point.

And if you look at the portion of the white electorate that is, by far, the most open to Democrats, it is college-educated white women who are also the most socially liberal part of the white electorate.

So you know, when you hear Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum talking that way, they are, in fact, opening the door for President Obama to shift the conversation with those voters toward cultural issues where he has a much better standing than he does on the economy over the last few years.

YELLIN: Let me ask you about that, Penny. There's a poll, a CNN poll that shows President Obama matched up against Mitt Romney. Among women Obama gets 53 percent support -- among choice for president from women, versus 45 percent for Romney.

Why are women and particularly suburban white single women so important for the Obama campaign this year?

PENNY LEE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It was really a key part of his election in 2008. And they are ones that are kind of in that independent swing vote, that constantly are shifting a little bit. They're in the suburban Philly. They're in other areas such as that, that constantly are kind of that key marker as to where we are. We are kind of a centrist kind of country, sometimes center left, sometimes center right. That is that key demographic that everybody goes after.

So how they move is often dictated on how these elections outcomes are.

BROWNSTEIN: It's worth drawing a line, just real quick. If you look at both gender and education, white women with a college education were the only portion of the white electorate that Obama carried in '08. White women without a college education were pretty solidly Republican, as they have been since 2000.

YELLIN: This is the big bloc we've been talking about.

Let's talk quickly about the Nevada caucuses tomorrow. John, Mitt Romney has been criticized this week for some gaffes he's made. This week it was saying he doesn't care about the very poor, although it was in larger context. He's also made this comment about $10,000 -- the $10,000 bet; corporations are people, too. Do you think this is a bored media making much ado about nothing, or is it the narrative building?

FIORE: It's a dream for Democrats for their 30-second ads. And that's the problem.

You know, the Republican folks out there think to themselves, why does he say these stupid things that are unforced errors? They will go away eventually, but they're going to come back sometime in October, and it's going to be really annoying.

So Romney's got people kind of to counter those ads, he better start thinking about it right now, because see, you know, "I want to fire people," and "I don't like poor people." And that's just not -- that's not a good 30-second ad.

YELLIN: Are they making the ads already, Penny?

LEE: I'm sure that they are. But I'm not going to predict strategy. But I think what the results are going to be, you know, as we see, it looks like he is going to win Nevada. You've got to ask the question, whether or not this is going to be a hollow victory. The more he is out there in the electorate, it seems to be the higher his negatives are.

Coming out of Florida, that key electorate, which are independents, his negatives now are up to 51 percent. So you've got to question whether or not this narrative that is starting that he himself is kind of enforcing with some of these unforced errors that are out there, whether or not that is solidifying now and people are just starting to have an overall negative attitude on Mitt Romney.

YELLIN: Well, you hope so. But we'll have to continue that another time. Thanks to all of you for being here on Friday night. Grateful.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" is coming up at the top of the hour.

And Erin, hi, you're digging into the unemployment numbers. So tell us, what do you think they mean for President Obama?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Pretty interesting, Jessica. There is a pretty incredible coincidence, whatever you want to call it. But this November is going to look, in terms of when we get the employment data and the election, exactly like 1984. Exact days. But will the numbers be similar? Right now, they look like they might be, and that could mean morning in America for Barack Obama. We're going to get to the very bottom of that.

Plus, we've looked at the flight routes between Israel and Iran, exactly how a strike could happen. We're going to break that down tonight.

Back to you, Jessica.

YELLIN: All right. Thanks, Erin. We'll be tuning in.

And still ahead, has Newt Gingrich's campaign been editing the Wikipedia biography of his wife? We'll have the details.

Plus, actor John Travolta makes a touching donation to a Georgia museum in honor of his late son.


YELLIN: Welcome back. Here's Kate Bolduan with the latest news you need to know right now.

What do we need to know?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: We've got a lot of news we've got to cover. And you don't want to miss the end of this, Jess, so stay with us. Here's the sum-up (ph) for you, though.

Apparently, Newt Gingrich's campaign has been edit -- doing a little editing of his Wikipedia biography. Actually, of his wife, Callista, removing some sensitive information about the couple. According to the Web site Busby (ph), Gingrich's communication director, Joe DeSantis, erased or changed the couple's marriage details a total of 23 times since early 2008. According to the report, DeSantis is in violation of Wikipedia's on the ban of people with a conflict of interest from making these types of edits.

I didn't really know there were rules, but we know now.

Actor John Travolta, he -- John Travolta is donating one of his planes to the Museum of Aviation in Warner Robins, Georgia. It's a 12-passenger twin engine Gulfstream. Travolta is making the donation in honor of his son, Jet, who died accidentally in 2009.

And finally, chalk up one for the Tebow effect and modesty, apparently. According to "The Huffington Post," Jockey's Web site briefly featured a picture of its new P.R. poster boy, football star Tim Tebow, in the company's underwear but then had to replace it very quickly with a picture of Tebow fully clothed. Jockey says sales -- sales spiked anyway.

YELLIN: I bet.

OK. We're moving on because these are good. Instead of the "Moment You May Have Missed," tonight, we're looking at some moments you don't want to miss, because here's a preview of some of the best commercials you'll see in Sunday's Super Bowl. My favorite part, actually.

OK. Let's start with the one everyone's talking about. You know which one it is. It's the Matthew Broderick one, in a -- the spin-off of "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."


MATTHEW BRODERICK, ACTOR: How could I handle work on a day like today?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You poor thing. You sound awful.

BRODERICK: How could I resist?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look, I don't know what to tell you. He's sick. Actors get sick sometimes.



YELLIN: I feel like he's just turned my childhood into a commercial.

BOLDUAN: Yes, but the only thing at this point is that Ben Stein didn't show up and go, like, "Bueller, Bueller."

YELLIN: Maybe he does. There's another minute.

OK. Next one: John Stamos sells Greek yogurt with a surprise ending. I don't know. I haven't seen it.




YELLIN: I don't even understand.

BOLDUAN: You were shock and awed.

YELLIN: Shock and awed. That's violent.

BOLDUAN: But -- I don't know. I don't know what to make of that one. It obviously has left an impression on the both of us.

YELLIN: I guess it's just to get people talking?

BOLDUAN: The girl wants her Greek yogurt.

YELLIN: I guess so. OK. I'm afraid of what I might say so I'm just going to leave it there.

OK. Car commercials, there are lots of them in every Super Bowl. But I'm not sure we're going to get this one, I'm told. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You decided which vehicle you want to go with today?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): Hey, baby, I want that car. Hey, baby I really want that car

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's my confidence. It's been coming out of me ever since I went on and compared gas mileages side by side.


BOLDUAN: Makes you want to dance although a little scary, right? It's a little weird. This is one of those things that makes you think what's it like to sit in an advertising executive suite as they're, like, making these ads.

YELLIN: That's a fabulous idea. How about another head coming out of the dude's back. Call him confidence and make him sing. But I remember the name of the place now. It's

BOLDUAN: There you go. You'll never forget.

YELLIN: I'm really -- we're suckers.

BOLDUAN: I know.

YELLIN: I really, really, really want to see more of the Ferris Bueller ad.

BOLDUAN: We'll work on that.

YELLIN: It's a minute and a half.

BOLDUAN: I'll watch it.

YELLIN: Well, we have live coverage tonight -- tomorrow night, sorry, of the Nevada caucuses on CNN. So tune in for that. And that -- and that will be, I don't know, 6 p.m. Eastern Time. It begins, and all night tomorrow night.

That's all from us tonight. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.