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Republican Party in Peril?; Mexico's New Drug Policy Stirs Controversy

Aired May 2, 2006 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening again, everyone, in Los Angeles.
Tonight, new poll numbers. If you thought the president's were bad, the news is even worse for Republicans trying to hold on to Congress in November.


ANNOUNCER: Polling peril -- are voters angry enough to send a message in November?

Phony baloney, but a real threat -- inside the booming business that lets illegal immigrants and criminals and terrorists buy fake I.D.s.

And the ultimate operation. It gave her a new face and a new chance at life. That was then. How's she's doing now?


ANNOUNCER: Across the country and around the world, this is ANDERSON COOPER 360.

Live from Los Angeles, here's Anderson Cooper.

COOPER: Hey, thanks for joining us on this Tuesday evening.

The president says he doesn't follow the polls, and he's not running for anything in November, but members of his party are. They live and die by the numbers. And, tonight, a new batch of polling shows more than just low job approval for the president. It also reveals that Americans are souring on the Republican Party, on gas prices, and the war, and whether the country's on the right track.

All of this could change between now and November, no doubt about it. Polls, after all, are not elections. On some issues, however, they're as bad as the experts have ever seen.

All the angles tonight, starting with CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Hurricane Katrina was a natural disaster. Gas prices are an unnatural disaster, which is why the issue of gas prices has a much sharper political edge. President Bush's job approval is down to 33 percent in the latest CBS News poll. His approval rating on Iraq, 30 percent, immigration. Bush's worst issue? Gas prices. Seventeen percent.

Is it fair to blame the government for high gas prices?

SEN. JON KYL (R), ARIZONA: What we need to do here, instead of pointing fingers and demagoguing the issue, is to understand economics and appreciate where the real problem is.

SCHNEIDER: Which is where, we asked the CEO of ExxonMobil.

REX TILLERSON, CHAIRMAN & CEO, EXXONMOBIL: It's all about supply/demand fundamentals. And the only thing that can be done is, people need to try to use the energy efficiently.

SCHNEIDER: That gets you an A in economics and an F in politics, because Americans do not see the sudden rise in gas prices as caused by natural forces, like the weather.

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: Isn't it curious, as you drive around your hometown, that all the prices on all the pumps seem to go up at the same time and come down at the same time?

SCHNEIDER: The public's instinctive reaction is that somebody's up to no good.

SEN. JEFF BINGAMAN (D), NEW MEXICO: Consumers are confused and angry as to why these prices are occurring now. Their anger is stoked by reports of the high salaries and retirement packages being handed out to executives.

SCHNEIDER: Republicans may pay the price. According to Gallup, Republican voters are less enthusiastic than Democrats about voting this year. Republicans seem demoralized.

Only 38 percent of voters say most members of Congress deserve to be reelected, the lowest figure in 12 years. Fifty-nine percent say their own representative deserves to be reelected. That, too, is the lowest figure in 12 years.

What happened 12 years ago? In 1994, angry voters overthrew the majority party in Congress. Uh-oh.


COOPER: Uh-oh, indeed.

Bill Schneider joins us now from Washington along with CNN's John Roberts and John King, part of the best political team in the business.

Good to see you all.

John King, let me start with you.

If the president's numbers remain below 40 percent come the fall, how do Republicans overcome it and keep control of the House?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, right now, Republicans are resigned to the fact that they do not believe the president will cross 40 percent. Most believe he will stay about where he is, in the mid, maybe the upper 30s by November.

How do they hope to then keep the House and the Senate? They hope, number one, gas prices are lower, voters feel a little better about the economy, and troops are starting to come home from Iraq by then.

But they also realize they might have to use tactical advantages they have over the Democrats, because the strategic argument, if you will, will be in the Democrats' favor. Now, what are those advantages? By October, we won't be having a national discussion. We will be having an argument about six or seven Senate races, 15 to 25 House races that will determine who controls Congress.

Once they know where those battlegrounds are, Republicans have done a better job in the last two elections finding and turning out their voters. They hope to be able to replicate that again this year, and they also have the secret weapon in politics, which is money. They're going to set aside, groups affiliated with the Republican Party, at least $1 million for every battleground House race, pump it in there, running negative ads against the Democrat opponent to try to help their candidates.

COOPER: John Roberts, what are you hearing from Republicans about the president's low ratings and the negative impact it could have on the midterm elections?

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, some of the Republicans I have talked to in the last couple of days say they can no longer take comfort in the notion that the election is a long way away. They see the president's numbers continuing to go down.

And while the math doesn't yet work in the favor of the Democrats, they believe that, if these numbers continue to stay low and perhaps even go down further, that it could really start a Democratic tide, a tide toward the Democrats, come November.

They say that what they have got to do is, they have got to get the president some better karma. They have got to get some bad news out of the way. They have got to stop this run of bad luck that they have had for the last year. They tell me they don't know whether to throw salt over their shoulder or burn some incense, or what, but, Anderson, they say they have just got to do something.

And part of the solution, they believe, is the president getting out there, seen more in public, talking to people. And he really has to articulate better what's going on in Iraq. And they say that, right now, the calendar is the president's enemy, not his friend, that he still has some time to turn things around, but that time is growing very short.

COOPER: Bill, you're a student of history, as well as of poll numbers. How hard will it be for the president to turn numbers around? Is it even possible?

SCHNEIDER: Well, I won't say it's impossible. Events have a way of overtaking those numbers very, very quickly.

But I can't foresee positive events happening in the next six months that are likely to be powerful enough to turn those numbers around. What's going to happen in Iraq to make it suddenly look like a rosier picture? The economy, people already acknowledge -- and this is amazing -- 57 percent say the economy is doing well, and yet the president is not doing well.

When you meet a Republican here in Washington today, they all say the same thing. All politics is local. It's their mantra. All politics is local. That's their hope. If all politics is local, then the national trends won't really impinge on local races and maybe they can survive.

Well, my answer is, yes, all politics is local, except when it isn't. And, sometimes, like 1994, it isn't.

COOPER: John King, latest "USA Today"/Gallup poll, Democrats seem much more enthusiastic about voting than Republicans, 50 to 38 percent. How does the Democratic Party sustain that energy?

KING: Well, one of the big questions, Anderson, is, there is a debate in the Democratic Party over how to sustain that intensity level, the intensity advantage they have right now.

Some Democrats think it's just enough to keep kicking the president, whether the issue be Iraq, whether the issue be gas prices, whether the issue be in Congress, what they call the Republican culture of corruption. Some Democrats think that's enough.

But many Democrats aren't so sure. Rahm Emanuel, who runs the House Congressional Campaign Committee for the Democrats, will be coming out with a book soon. They call it the plan. Senator Kennedy just released a book called the plan. Some Democrats think they need to have a more positive agenda. That -- that continues to be, though, a debate within the party. Many Republicans say their one advantage is that, in the last few years, Democrats have perfected the circular firing squad.


John King, John Roberts, Bill Schneider, thanks very much.

In Philadelphia today, Vice President Cheney did something he hasn't done often in recent weeks. He appeared in public. Cheney, of course, is notorious for shunning the spotlight, but some are wondering if his disappearing act is part of a strategy to try to distance the president from his right-hand man.

We will have more of that right now from John King.


KING (voice-over): In Philadelphia Monday, greeting Henry Kissinger and reminiscing.

RICHARD B. CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He and I go back a long ways, to the Ford administration, when he was secretary of state and I was White House chief of staff, the old days, when I had real power.


KING: Anyone who thinks the vice president doesn't have real power isn't paying attention. New Budget Director Rob Portman and new Press Secretary Tony Snow are both longtime Cheney favorites. Yet, there also are West Wing rumblings.

Some Bush aides and advisers say an always independent Cheney operation is more detached now, something they trace back to friction over how he handled his hunting accident back in February.

"He and the president are fine," one senior official put it. "There's just a lot of disconnect and disengagement at the staff level." A White House adviser close to Mr. Cheney described his current staff as -- quote -- "second team," but also said he has lowered his profile because he feels it serves the president.

It's not as if the vice president has disappeared. He's off to Europe for a six-day diplomatic mission. Military bases are a Cheney favorite -- and this Texas event, one of 23 midterm election fund- raisers just this year.

There is some grumbling, but adviser Mary Matalin chalks it up to jitters following the White House staff shakeup.

MARY MATALIN, VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY ADVISER: The relationship that matters most would be the one between the president and the vice president. And whatever other staff issues, mattress mice gagging that is going on, needs to reflect more about what that real relationship is.

KING: But many see a lower Washington profile and a political calculation. For all the president's struggles, many see Mr. Cheney as a more flawed spokesman on the major issues of the day, Iraq and gas prices.

STANLEY GREENBERG, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: As bad as, you know, the president's standing is, the vice president's standing is even lower, and significantly, you know, lower.

KING: Opening day was one pitch to soften his image -- this playful speech, another.

CHENEY: The lighting could be better.



CHENEY: I can still see the whites of your eyes. (LAUGHTER)

KING: The shooting accident was gold for late-night comedians.

Long retired, though, are punchlines about a vice president really in charge. And, along with the jokes, voter perceptions about this relationship have changed significantly.

BILL MCINTURFF, PARTNER AND CO-FOUNDER, PUBLIC OPINION STRATEGIES: The other thing that has totally evaporated is -- is the notion that somehow we have a co-presidency, or that Cheney's really the guy, or that Cheney sets policy, or that, you know, Cheney is the behind-the-scene player. That has totally evaporated.


KING: Now, friends say the shooting experience did leave rattled a man always called unflappable. And they say, if he seems more quiet that day, it is a byproduct, Anderson, of that shocking experience and the fact that this vice president is unique. He's not running for president in the next election -- Anderson.

COOPER: John King, thanks.

While -- while Vice President Cheney has avoided the cameras lately, chances are he's not keeping a low profile behind closed doors. Here's the raw data.

Mr. Cheney has said at times he has met with the president up to seven times a day. By comparison, in the three months Harry Truman was FDR's vice president, he met with Roosevelt alone only twice.

Well, the trouble for Cheney and the president could turn into big trouble for their party in November. At least that's what the Democrats are hoping for. They say they have a plan. So do the Republicans. For both parties, saying they have a plan, of course, is easier than actually proving it.

Joining us from Boston is former presidential adviser David Gergen.

David, good to see you.


COOPER: You worked with the vice president, with Dick Cheney, in the past. What are your thoughts on his recent quietness?

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Well, I think it's a natural response to what happened with the shooting, and also now with the gas prices being where they were, and because he was CEO of Halliburton and he was the author of the energy plan that didn't really fix this problem -- it was a long-term kind of plan -- but it was seen as too closely allied with the oil companies when it was proposed.

And given the state of the war in Iraq, it's not surprising he would take a low profile. I think all those things fit together.

COOPER: With these new poll numbers out, you know, there's so much focus in the media, but -- but also in politics, on sort of short-term issues. And I'm curious to -- to talk to you a little bit about sort of long-term planning.

I mean, you have the Republicans recently proposing a $100 rebate, which has now been -- they have stepped back from, because it was largely derided, even by people who would receive that rebate. Is there any long-term planning anymore? Is it possible in politics today?

GERGEN: I think it's possible. It's harder. It's tougher to sustain. It's tougher to put a plan out there that will get support.

I mean, look what happened to the Clintons when they tried to come up with a long-term plan for health care. The -- you know, the special interests rose up against them and derided that plan. They ridiculed it in a variety of ways, poked holes in it, and it -- it started out with very high approval ratings and then went down.

And that happened to Jimmy Carter when he proposed an energy plan, way back in the '70s. He was one -- he was one of the first presidents who really proposed a comprehensive energy plan, and it got shut down by special interests. So, it's hard. That does not mean, however, it shouldn't be done. It should be done.

The best leaders are the ones, historically, who have looked ahead, you know, looked over the horizon, were -- were real strategists, grand strategists, and thought about the long-term interests of the country. You know, Lincoln did that. He understood that, you know, what it would mean if the Kansas/Nebraska Act was passed on slavery, extending slavery to the territories in ways he objected to.

That's why he got back into politics in the early 1850s. Look at Franklin Roosevelt as World War II approached. Isolationist country. He basically worked very hard to coax America out of its isolationism in time for the war, so that we were better prepared and could arm and become the arsenal of democracy for other nations.

At the end of -- toward the end of the World War, Roosevelt was, just as Lincoln did toward the end of the Civil War, was planning hard for what's a -- what a post-war structure should look like. So, Roosevelt put a lot of time in to thinking how, instead of having a League of Nations, he could come up with something that was bicameral, like the -- the U.N., and that -- that would have a Security Council, plus the -- the Assembly, which worked pretty well for a while.

It's now in some disrepute, of course. But, in the early post- war days, it worked very well. So, the best presidents do think ahead. They persevere, despite special interests. They don't just sort of, you know, play for tomorrow's headline, and they certainly don't come up with the $100 returns on taxes, which was sort of laughed out of court. COOPER: But it seems like, though, we're in an age where -- where politics kind of rules everything. I mean, whether -- even those who may be trying to plan long term on -- on, you know, global warming or on -- on energy independence succumb to sort of petty politics, it seems like.

And I don't get how anything can ever really be -- be done for some of the major issues which we are all facing.

GERGEN: Well, it is true that, you know, with the coming of what's called -- now called the permanent campaign, and that is, as soon as people get elected, they start running for the office for the next time out. And, so, you're constantly in a state of watching the polls.

I mean, even now, in -- in early May, to be talking about who's going to win or lose in November in an off-year election is extraordinarily unusual. And that -- those pressures are there. But, you know, Anderson, you know, we said in the -- toward the end of the '70s that nobody could govern anymore, anymore. Nobody could run the country. You know, the presidency was in a shambles, we thought, and all the rest of it.

And then along came a real leader named Ronald Reagan, who was problematic, as it seemed, a sort of cowboy from the West. And, yet, within two or three days of him being in the White House, people said, oh, my God. We have got a real leader in the White House again. We have actually got somebody who knows what -- knows what to do.

That's what happened when Franklin Roosevelt came in. The country was terribly depressed. And he came in and, with a single speech, his inaugural address, began turning it around.

So, it's possible to do that.

COOPER: Interesting that one person could have...

GERGEN: I -- I just don't -- you know, if -- you know, a lot depends -- one of the big judgments we're going to make in the upcoming presidential campaign is, are people going to campaign on the future and have real plans, and then get a mandate for change, or are they simply going to campaign by gouging the other guy's eyes out, which we have seen so often in the past?

And to hear tonight that what the Republicans are planning to do, we just heard that report, that they are planning to have -- put $1 million into each congressional campaign district that's tight and spend it all on negative advertising, that's -- and you will see the Democrats doing much the same thing -- that's the kind of rancid politics that I think just turns everybody off, and it does make it hard to plan for the future.

COOPER: Well, we will -- we will be watching.

David Gergen, thanks. Always good to talk to you.


COOPER: OK. Thank you, Anderson. Good to talk to you.

COOPER: For some illegal immigrants, getting a green card comes down to how much money they can pay, and, frankly, they don't have to pay very much. Our hidden cameras show you how easy it is for criminals to forge identities real here in Los Angeles. That's coming up.

And marijuana, cocaine and heroin may soon be illegal south of the border. Believe it or not, the Mexican government says that's a good thing.

We will also have this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is the man that I no longer have. I'm not sure anybody could understand how lonely I often feel.


COOPER: The pain that will not go away. Hearings into the Sago Mine disaster opened today, with the anguish from victims' families.

You're watching 360. Stay with us.


COOPER: Well, it's safe to say, among the hundreds of thousands of people we saw on the streets yesterday, there were plenty of illegal immigrants, some with plenty of documents that would prove otherwise.

See, you need a Social Security number to get a job here, and a photo I.D. And you can get them almost anywhere you want for less than -- less money than you would imagine. Take a look.


COOPER (voice-over): The picture is grainy, but the crime being committed is clear. What you are watching is a document forger at work in a Los Angeles apartment. Using a computer, authorities say he's making a counterfeit Social Security card.

He thinks his client is an illegal immigrant who needs the card to get a job. He's actually a government informant with a hidden video camera. In the last two years, the number of convictions for document and benefit fraud have nearly doubled. But, despite increased interests from law enforcement, it's still incredibly easy for illegal immigrants to obtain phony identification.

We sent Wes Barba (ph), a member of our camera crew, to a street next to Los Angeles' MacArthur Park. Within 15 minutes, he was approached three times and offered fake green cards and Social Security cards. Total price for both, $40. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CURRENT TV)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is Jason's brand-new Social Security card.


COOPER: In this recent documentary on Current TV, host Jason Silva had no trouble purchasing a fake Social Security card in MacArthur Park.

JASON SILVA, CURRENT TV: I went with a guy. I met him around the corner. I gave him 100 bucks, and then he went behind the alley, and then he came out and gave me the card. I was, like, thank you very much.

KEVIN JEFFERY, DEPUTY SPECIAL AGENT, IMMIGRATION AND CUSTOMS ENFORCEMENT: We have an insurance card, Social Security cards, immigration cards, birth certificates, up on the top over here, some Mexican I.D.s., the consular cards, as well as voting registration cards.

COOPER: Computer technology makes it easy for counterfeiters to stay ahead of the law. Kevin Jeffery is a deputy special agent in charge with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

(on camera): One of these is real and one of these is fake.

JEFFERY: Mmm-hmm.

COOPER: Which is real? What is fake?

JEFFERY: You tell me.

COOPER: It's -- it's hard to tell. It's -- I mean, this one has a little hologram. So, I'm guessing I would assume that's real.

JEFFERY: That's correct. That's the real one. Those are counterfeits.

COOPER: But they're all -- they're both identical.

JEFFERY: Right. And if you're getting on a plane or you're looking to hire somebody to work in your car wash, how much time are you going to take to examine that? As long as the picture appears to be the person that presenting it, why would you not accept that as a genuine document? That's what we're up against.

COOPER (voice-over): Kevin Jeffery would like Congress to make it mandatory that companies check employees' Social Security numbers on a computer database to make sure they're not phony. Until that law changes, however, law enforcement can do little to stop the thriving counterfeit trade.

(on camera): If someone comes in looking for a job and they have got a fake green card and a fake Social Security card, an employer could check online right now...

JEFFERY: Certainly.

COOPER: ... to see whether the Social Security number is for real.

JEFFERY: Mmm-hmm. That's true, yes. They could.

COOPER: But it -- but it's not a law?

JEFFERY: It's not a law. It's not a requirement. It's a voluntary program.

COOPER (voice-over): As for this suspect, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officials tell us he was arrested and found guilty. He now works as a government informant.


COOPER: Well, if you would like to see the full Current TV documentary, you can go to

Now, Mexico's president setting off a firestorm in the war against drugs.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... can't make progress against the drug problem, which is already ravaging Mexico and spilling over into the United States, if you don't stop demand.


COOPER: Do you want your kids to be able to go across the border and get cocaine, heroin, marijuana? Well, they're going to be able to very soon. Mexico is about to do something that critics say will only fuel demand for drugs.

Also tonight, with sparks flying, we will check the facts on the fallout from Mexico's controversial decision.

Plus, moving testimony today from the families who lost so much in the Sago Mine disaster -- what their lives have been like since that terrible day and what they want now -- coming up next on 360.


ERICA HILL, HEADLINE NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Hi, everyone. I'm Erica Hill from Headline News. We will have more of 360 in just a moment.

First, though we want to get you caught up on some of the other stories we're following for you tonight.

Tomorrow, the White House will unveil a new part of its bird flu strategy. The plan is to be used in the case of a pandemic. The so- called implementation plan outlines how the nation should prepare, detect and respond to an outbreak.

In New York City, a massive fire along Brooklyn's waterfront, the biggest one in the city since the World Trade Center attacks. More than 400 firefighters fought the blaze. It spread through a block of empty warehouses. Twelve firefighters suffered minor injuries. There is still no word on how the fire started.

And take a look at this kid, dubbed India's Forrest Gump. And you will see why. With thousands cheering him on, this 4-year-old boy ran 40 miles in just over seven hours in grueling hot and humid weather, grabbing him India's version of "The Guinness Book of World Records." And, in case you're wondering, he says, wasn't so painful. Running is just something that comes naturally to him.

Yes, not naturally, 40 miles for me, Anderson -- back to you.


COOPER: Yes, definitely not for me.

Erica, thanks.

Coming up, how would you like your kids using coke or pot or LSD? It could be as close as a trip to Mexico, as outrage builds over Mexico's new plan. We're "Keeping Them Honest" and laying out the facts, coming up next on 360.

And, at 11:00 Eastern, our special, "24 Hours on the Border."


COOPER: Well, drugs have always been part of the battle at the border, and now a new twist, and what a twist it is. Mexico's president, Vicente Fox, said today he will sign into a law a bill legalizing small amounts of marijuana, cocaine, even heroin. U.S. officials are worried that the new law will be an irresistible invitation to Americans, and, particularly, American kids.

CNN's Chris Lawrence tonight "Keeping Them Honest."


CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Mexico's new law has shocked people on both sides of the border.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are the drug lords running the show?

LAWRENCE: They're outraged in cities like San Diego, just 15 miles from Mexico.

DR. JAMES DUNFORD, MEDICAL DIRECTOR, SAN DIEGO PARAMEDICS: It's hard to imagine that you could essentially allow any of your children, young adults, to walk around with enough lines of cocaine to snort for one to three days.

LAWRENCE: The new law makes it legal to possess 500 milligrams of cocaine. That's enough for three or four lines. Also legal, enough marijuana for about four joints and small amounts of other drugs, like heroin and ecstasy.

JOHN WALTERS, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF NATIONAL DRUG CONTROL POLICY: It's never a good idea to say that's OK or to say that's tolerable, because it leaves people with the impression that, somehow, these harms are not real.

LAWRENCE: U.S. drug czar John Walters admits he didn't have a lot of information about Mexico's plan, which suggests it may have caught American officials by surprise.

Since then, they have been calling their Mexican counterparts, pressing them for details on how this works.

(on camera): Under Mexico's current law, if someone gets caught with a small amount of drugs, it's up to local judges and police to decide whether they should be prosecuted on a case-by-case basis. There were a lot of loopholes, if you could prove you are an addict, and it led to a lot of bribes.

(voice-over): Supporters say that won't happen now, because the law set strict limits on possession. It also empowers local police to make arrests on a level similar to federal agents.

RUBEN AGUILAR, SPOKESMAN FOR MEXICAN PRESIDENT VICENTE FOX (through translator): This law permits the use of better judicial tools, so that the law enforcement can better combat the crimes against the health of children and young adults committed by narcotics traffickers.

LAWRENCE: The government says it's spending money to go after drug dealers, not users.

But we found a group of Mexican health officials already meeting to find ways to fight this law. They don't believe their government's official line.

MARTHA MONEJANO CARDENAS, MEXICAN HEALTH OFFICIAL (translation): This law has not been passed to catch the big fish. The real reason is the jails are already full of criminals, and they can't keep them all in.

LAWRENCE: Across the border, the group has an ally in San Diego.

MAYOR JERRY SANDERS, (R) SAN DIEGO: I've already called the White House to inform the administration of our concern and will personally write to President Fox to encourage him not to enact this bill.

LAWRENCE: Where local officials are taking their concerns to both presidents.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Chris Lawrence joins us now from the border in California. Okay, Chris. So let's be clear about this. It's going to be legal to possess small quantities of these drugs. Is it going to be legal to actually buy them?

LAWRENCE: Well, as I understand the law, as long as you buy the legal amount, police probably would not arrest you. The goal is to go after smugglers and sellers, not the consumer. So they would go after the person who actually sold the drugs. And remember, as soon as you cross back over that border, it's still illegal here.

COOPER: All right. Chris Lawrence, thanks very much.

It's not clear when President Fox will sign the bill into law. Clearly it is making tensions worse between the U.S. and Mexico. Earlier, I talked with CNN's Lou Dobbs about the proposed law and its possible fallout.


COOPER: Lou, were you surprised to hear about these new drug laws in Mexico?

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: I was absolutely surprised when it was proposed in their legislature. More surprised today when it was confirmed that President Vicente Fox fully intends to sign the legislation. Our southern borders, we talk about broken borders obviously a lot on this broadcast, but part of the issue there is just the huge number of drugs that are crossing that southern border, whether it's meth, whether it's cocaine, and to see this law basically saying to the young people of Mexico, in particular, it's okay. Start experimenting with cocaine and heroin, and we'll see how it works out. This is a cultural calamity, I think, for Mexico and a very, very big threat to American youth who certainly need no greater threat.

COOPER: Well, Mexican officials who support this say, look, this -- it actually toughens drug laws. It co-defies what amounts require criminal prosecution. Previously under the current laws, it's up to sort of a judge's discretion of, well, someone's caught with three joints, and the judge can decide whether or not that should be a criminal prosecution. This says, you know, about four joints, a couple lines of cocaine doesn't necessarily require criminal prosecution.

DOBBS: Well, that must be a very big relief to the prosecutors and investigators and law enforcement officers of Mexico that they don't have to concern themselves or burden themselves with such things as drug law enforcement. But the fact is that Nueva Laredo, all parts of northern Mexico in particular, are engaged in an outright drug war amongst the drug lords, and for Mexico to focus its attention on such a thing as the legalization of these drugs in small quantities is just as mindless as what they're doing in terms of border security and illegal immigration.

COOPER: Do you think -- I mean, already we're hearing from officials along the border, U.S. officials, who are mayors of towns who are concerned that there's going to be, you know, already there's a large number of young people under the age of 21 who go to Mexico to drink on weekends because the drinking age there is 18, and frankly, it's rarely enforced. Do you think this results in young people going over the border if they want to smoke a joint or try cocaine or even heroin?

DOBBS: For those who would be interested in youth, as I dimly recall, Anderson, is a time when there's a great interest and curiosity about such things. The fact is, I can't imagine that not being a draw for young Americans. And for the Mexican youth who are already beset with poverty and a culture in real conflict. I just think it's horrible.

COOPER: Does it say something about the Mexican government? Does it say something about where their priorities are or where their sense of what the U.S. will tolerate?

DOBBS: I think without question. But as to what the United States will tolerate, I can't imagine what more they could be testing us on. We've got about 10 percent of their population in this country illegally. They are shipping transshipment and the source of meth, a host of drugs, including cocaine, as I said. To test us with this is just -- well, it seems like an unnecessary test since we've flunked all the rest. I think they can do almost what they want as far as President Bush is concerned and the U.S. government. I hope they don't keep testing us because we keep flunking those tests.

COOPER: Lou Dobbs, thanks.

DOBBS: Good to be with you.


COOPER: Of course you can see "Lou Dobbs Tonight" weeknights at 6:00 p.m. eastern on CNN.

And just ahead for us tonight, impassioned pleas from the families of the men who died at the Sago Mine.


They beat on the roof bolts, and nobody listened. They waited for the blasts from the surface. And those blasts never came.


COOPER: A search for answers in a tragedy that some say could have been avoided.

Also tonight, the first face transplant patient in history. Tonight, she is speaking out on why she has reason to smile. All that ahead on 360.


COOPER: And welcome back. We are live in Los Angeles. We all deserve the truth. Those words today from one of the families of the 12 miners who died in the Sago Mine tragedy. The truth is something frankly we all want to know. Today there was a big step towards getting an answer. Official hearings into the deadly accident began in West Virginia this morning. And with the testimony came the tears. CNN's Joe Johns reports.


JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Family members gathered in a circle of prayer. What followed was raw emotion. A daughter's loss.

AMBER HELMS, DAUGHTER OF TERRY HELMS: This is the man that I no longer have. I'm not sure anybody can understand how lonely I often feel.

JOHNS: Generations of grief.

SHELLY GROVES, DAUGHTER OF JERRY GROVES: For a long time after the disaster, my 7-year-old son, Zachary, would take a picture of his papa to bed with him and keep it by his pillow. And he still takes his grandpa's wristwatch to bed and lays it on his pillow beside him every night.

JOHNS: Demands for answers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We assure you Mr. Politicians that we're not going to let this rest. We know in our hearts this can be corrected. And it needs to be done immediately. It needs to be done now. And it's on you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We know that our men were underground taking turns beating on the roof bolts so someone on the surface would hear them and know their location. But guess what? Nobody was listening. Again, the powers that be failed them.

JOHNS: The hearing was first and foremost for the families of the men who died, men who literally looked down on the hearing from black and white photos as a detailed picture emerged of what happened that cold morning four months ago. Maps and mockups suggest that when the explosion occurred January 2nd, the miners were underground somewhere near here. On the surface is West Virginia woodlands, sparsely populated, rolling hills. Deep beneath the earth, 13 men were struggling to survive. That morning the coal company's superintendent got closer than anyone to the trapped miners including his uncle. Fumes forced him to turn back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I relive this nightmare in my mind many times over every day. Only in my mind, we saved them every time.

JOHNS: So what happened that day? An explosion cut off the air flow and rescue attempts failed. This mockup shows how air flowed through the mine before the blast. But a wall built to seal off gas in an abandoned, inactive part of the mine disintegrated. And now the way the wall known as the seal was built is an important question.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You refer to the seals a bomb. What did you mean by that? I'd be glad to bring your transcript tomorrow.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are like a bomb.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you elaborate on that for me, please?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I mean, that's what they're built, the way they're built. They hold gas, but that don't mean they're going to explode.

JOHNS: Once that seal broke, fumes behind it pushed out all breathable air, and the miners had to rely on emergency breathing devices they carried with them. The lone survivor, Randal McCloy told families in a letter that some devices malfunctioned. But federal officials say they tested the devices and found nothing wrong with them. In fact, some still had air in them. So if there was air in some of these devices and the miner didn't use the air that would suggest perhaps the miner didn't know how to use the device.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're not ready to say that. We're saying that some of the devices still had some air left.

JOHNS: The mining company president said it wasn't a lack of training, but it might have been stress.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In a traumatic, emotional situation, sometimes people over breathe, and that's just what he was describing as something that sometimes makes people think that it's not working.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, Mr. Hatfield, this is the 21st century, and you should not have to worry about whether you're breathing too hard, too slow, too fast, or whatever you're doing. You should have a rescuer that you push a button, and it gives you air if you're trapped in a coal mine.

JOHNS: The cause of the explosion is expected to come into focus on Wednesday. The company has already concluded that lightning created the spark. Though investigators and the families aren't so sure. Joe Johns, CNN, Buckhannon, West Virginia.


COOPER: And they are still waiting for answers.

New Orleans says it will be ready for the next Katrina. The city announced its new evacuation plan today. Some call it ambitious. Others doubt it will work. We'll let you decide.

And later, a remarkable recovery. A progress report on the woman who underwent the world's first partial face transplant. All that and more when 360 continues.


COOPER: Well, those, of course, the images that will stay with us for a long time. Hurricane Katrina slamming into the gulf coast. It is hard to believe at the start of the 2006 hurricane season begins in less than a month on June 1st. New Orleans says it will be ready, at least for the evacuations. Some survivors of the storm are not buying it. More tonight from CNN's Susan Roesgen.


SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Whose idea was it to spray- paint on the roof? When hurricane Katrina hit, Noel Coco, Jr. and his cousin, Leo Leflore, had no where to go but up. Like thousands of other people, they sent out an SOS and waited for a Coast Guard chopper feeling abandoned by the city.

LEO LEFLORE, HURRICANE VICTIM: They already knew it was going to happen, so --

ROESGEN: So they should have done something to get you out?

LEFLORE: The day before the storm even came.

ROESGEN: This year, Mayor Ray Nagin says the city has a new evacuation plan.

RAY NAGIN, MAYOR, NEW ORLEANS: We're going to do the mandatory evacuation. I would be shocked if people don't abide by it.

ROESGEN: The plan calls for the sick and elderly to be evacuated by Amtrak trains. Tourists will be offered charter flights, and the rest of the city, those who don't have their own transportation, will be bused to a shelter outside of town. The convention center, the scene of so much misery last year, will be used only as a staging area for the buses, not as a shelter. While the Superdome, long called the shelter of last resort, will not be used at all.

NAGIN: Read my lips. This is a plan for getting people out of the city. There is no shelter of last resort.

ROESGEN: Before the start of hurricane season, less than a month away, the city faces another milestone, the election for mayor. And the question was raised, what happens to the plan if Nagin loses?

NAGIN: You can see how complicated this plan is. Somebody new who comes in, they would have to be Einstein to kind of figure this out. But God, we'll leave them everything that we have. And see what happens.

ROESGEN: Nagin's opponent, Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu, said he's concerned that it took the mayor eight months to announce the plan. Others are also skeptical. The plan calls for everyone to be out of the city 36 hours before a hurricane hits. But after spending days on the roof during Katrina, Noel and Leo are not convinced the city will ever come get them.

NOEL COCO, JR., HURRICANE VICTIM: Being put in the situation beforehand, and you know, trying to get help out here the last hurricane season, you know, I'm just hesitant, you know, with the authority figures now. Whatever their plans are, so --

ROESGEN: Susan Roesgen, CNN, New Orleans.


COOPER: So the bottom line, no shelters in New Orleans at all.

Isabelle Dinoire made medical history and major news five months ago. This is what she looked like two months after doctors gave her a new face. Since then she's made even more progress. We'll have an update and some new pictures on how far she's come.

Plus, "24 Hours on the Border," what life is really like on the ground every day for those dying to get across and those trying to stop them. A special edition of "360" coming up.


COOPER: Well, those are new pictures of Li Guoxing the first person in China to receive a partial face transplant. In France, the world's first face transplant recipient, Isabelle Dinoire is well into her recovery. 360 MD Sanjay Gupta has an update.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: She first went public in February. Telling the world in French, I can open my mouth, and I can eat. I can feel my lips and my nose. Now she tells a French newspaper she's even better. The scars have mostly healed and doctors are confident her recovery will continue. As shown in "People" magazine, Isabelle Dinoire once looked like this, but then looked like this after being mauled by her pet Labrador. For six months, she said, she could barely eat or speak and was ashamed to be seen in public without her surgical mask. Doctors decided reconstructive surgery was not enough. She needed a new lower face.

Amazingly, just a week after the operation, she was eating and speaking. Now she says I still have a little problem of mobility. Symmetry, as the doctors call it and a bit of a problem pronouncing certain sounds. Dr. Jean Michele Dubonair (ph) has told CNN that Dinoire is in very good condition and maybe reaching one of the hallmarks of full recovery. Smiling and showing emotion, her body is growing nerve connections with her donor face from a young brain dead woman, and now she's happy to be taking only 10 painkillers a day compared to the 20 she needed before. Yet Dinoire is still adjusting to her new face, saying it is too soon to put mirrors back in her apartment. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, reporting.


COOPER: It is remarkable.

Tonight's shot is of an emergency landing in Houston today. This Continental Express jet returned to the airport after two of its tires were damaged during takeoff. After circling the airport, the crippled plane hit the runway for a perfect landing. None of the 48 people aboard were injured.

We spent a remarkable day yesterday here in Los Angeles in the middle of a sea of people marching for immigration reform and amnesty for illegal immigrants. Coming up tonight, a different view. How illegals get in. Who's trying to stop them? Who's paying to get into this country, sometimes with their lives? A special report, "24 Hours on the Border." That's next on "360."


HILL: Hi, everyone, I'm Erica Hill from "Headline News." We'll have more of "360" in just a moment. But first, some of the business stories we're following for you. Despite near record high oil prices, stocks surged on Wall Street today. Fueled by several strong earnings reports. The Dow rose 73 points to its strongest finish since January of 2000. The NASDAQ climbed 5 while the S&P tacked on eight points.

As for oil prices climbing there, too, above $74 a barrel, also up, prices at the pump. According to AAA, the average cost of a gallon of regular now stands at $2.92, that's up 35 cents in just a month. Amidst fear Iran could cut its oil exports as it faces international pressure to modify its nuclear program.

And some pains and gains for Sirius Satellite radio. Sirius reporting a net loss of more than $458 million in the first quarter and a large chunk of that is linked to the stock-based compensation for its new star, shock jock Howard Stern. But the company's revenue nearly tripled because Sirius gained more subscribers. The company now expects to have more than 6 million subscribers by the end of the year. Anderson, back over to you.

COOPER: Erica, thanks very much.

Straight ahead from Mexico's train of death to the Arizona desert to the least guarded border crossing in the country. A day in the life of illegal immigration. A "360" special report, "24 Hours on the Border."


COOPER: The battle on the border, around the clock and all the angles. A special edition of "360," "24 Hours on the Border."


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