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THE SITUATION ROOM

Captain's Wife Issue's Statement; Congressman's Plane Attacked; Interview With Congressman Donald Payne; The ASU Honorary Diploma Controversy; Modern Day Boston Tea Parties

Aired April 13, 2009 - 15:59   ET

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


(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

ALISON MCCOLL, PHILLIPS SPOKESWOMAN: "Good afternoon and thank you all for coming."

"I have agreed to meet with you today to thank everyone not only in my local community, but also the nation for their overwhelming concern for my husband's safety. The constant outpouring of support, prayers, and yellow ribbons have provided me and my family with the strength to be strong for Richard."

"These past five days were extremely difficult. We did not know what Richard was enduring while being held hostage on the lifeboat, and that was really the hardest part, the wondering."

"My family and closest friends held on to our faith knowing that Richard would come home. At times we smiled when we thought of how Richard would tell the story with his trademark sense of humor. My family is extremely proud of Richard for what he has done."

"When I" -- when Andrea -- "spoke with Richard today, he wanted me to tell you that "I'm just a small part of this" -- excuse me. He wanted me to tell you, "I'm just a small part in this. The real heroes in this story are the U.S. military. They're the most dedicated, professional and capable group around. We should all reach out and thank them."

Andrea wants you all to remember that they're just one family that's been impacted. There are many more families going through what the Phillips have endured presently, and those families are in the prayers of the Phillips family.

Andrea says, "I wholeheartedly want to thank everyone who was involved in rescuing Richard and assuring him safe passage home to his children and me."

She would like to send a special thank you to President Obama and all the government officials on the local, state and national level for their personal phone calls to her family.

She says, "You have no idea, but with Richard safe, you all just gave me the best Easter ever."

That concludes Andrea's statement. We will not be taking any questions today. The family asked me to reiterate that they appreciate your continued demonstrations of respect for their privacy.

They said, "Finally, to conclude, we're all looking forward to Richard's return, when the family will get a chance to tell their story together."

Thank you very much.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

MCCOLL: That's all. Thanks very much.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. That was Alison McColl, a spokeswoman for the Maersk Shipping Lines, reading a statement on behalf of Andrea Phillips, the wife of the captain, Richard Phillips, who was freed yesterday.

You saw her sitting there with her daughter at her side, and the statement expressing gratitude. She's obviously still very emotionally wound up, understandably so, as a result of what has happened. Her husband, the captain of the Maersk Alabama, being taken hostage by those pirates. A happy ending though yesterday, as far as he's concerned, and certainly a happy ending for everyone watching what was going on.

Alison McColl reading that statement. That was a statement that Andrea Phillips wanted to express conveying her gratitude to everyone for their prayers and their efforts, and a special thanks, she says, to President Obama as well.

Let's go to Dan Lothian, our White House correspondent.

Because the president of the United States, he had been quiet behind the scenes over these past several days, Dan. But today he decided he was going to speak publicly about what had happened.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

You know, the president had been relatively quiet while the captain was being held. Today, though, he really talked about all those folks who really worked very hard to gain his release, and he vowed to crack down on this kind of piracy in the region.

The only other comment that we heard from the president, if you will, before today was yesterday, when the release actually happened. The president himself put out a statement, sort of saying some of the same comments that you heard a while ago -- that he had reached out to the family, and that he was happy that there was this ending, and that he was vowing to get tough on piracy. So the president now really talking tough about a problem that really has been ongoing in that region for quite some time.

BLITZER: And Dan, I want to play for our viewers what Andrea Phillips, the wife of the pilot -- of the captain of this ship, what she said earlier in the day. I'll play this little clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDREA PHILLIPS, RICHARD PHILLIPS' WIFE: I'm sorry this is not going to come out very loud and that you can understand me, but I just want to thank you for allowing us to come out here in front of you like this and make our statement as a family together.

I just want to let you know I spoke to Richard earlier today, and he was kind of funny. When I told him that I was preparing a press statement, that I've got laryngitis, because he knows it would be probably very hard for me to be up here and talk to you. So, with that, I thank you.

I'm going to let Alison read my statement.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. So there you heard Andrea Phillips, the wife of Richard Phillips, the captain of the Maersk Alabama who was freed yesterday in that daring operation. Andrea Phillips clearly emotional, which is totally, as I say, totally understandable.

I'm going to back to the White House and Dan Lothian in just a moment, because we want to hear precisely what the president of the United States said today. He issued a very strong warning to those pirates who are still at large -- don't mess, in effect, with the United States of America.

Meanwhile, there's more drama unfolding in Somalia right now. Today, someone actually fired shots at a plane carrying a U.S. congressman. Congressman Donald Payne, Democrat of New Jersey, he's safe. His plane landed just a little bit while ago in Nairobi, Kenya.

Payne frequently visits Africa. He's the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa. He hasn't been to Somalia though in many years. Not many westerners have been to Somalia in a long time. But today, in Mogadishu, he met with the Somali prime minister and the president, and he defended the rescue of the American captain.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DONALD PAYNE (D), NEW JERSEY: Illegal activity money dealt with. If you don't deal with criminal behavior, then it will continue.

If there were no piracy, U.S. forces would not have had to intervene. And so I think that any country, any company have a right to protect itself, and to protect its employees and its citizens. And so the action of the United States was not inappropriate. Piracy was inappropriate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. There's Donald Payne, the congressman from New Jersey who got out of Mogadishu, Somalia, just a little while ago and managed to fly all the way to Nairobi. In fact, I think Congressman Payne is joining us on the phone right now.

Congressman, it's Wolf Blitzer. Can you hear me?

PAYNE: Yes, I can, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Well, thank you so much, and thank God you're OK.

I believe this is the first time you have had a chance to tell your story to the outside world since it unfolded a few hours ago. Pick up the story. Tell us what happened.

PAYNE: Well, we went into Mogadishu this morning and had a series of meetings with the president and the prime minister and cabinet members. I met with civil society people and women's groups, trying to get an assessment for this new government, coalition government that's been in authority for a little less than two months.

The president, Sheikh Sharif, was cordial in a meeting that we had with him. And the other ministers talked about their goals for Somalia. As you know, there's been almost isolation for 18 years for this country. And to be very truthful, it was a glimmer of hope that I saw.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Congressman, let me just interrupt for a moment, and let's try to get a sense of your mission there. Was it authorized by the Obama administration, the State Department, the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, the president of the United States? Did they know you were going to Mogadishu?

PAYNE: Yes, they knew I was going, but I was not going representing the administration. As a member of Congress, we have legislative and oversight responsibilities, and I was, as chairman of the subcommittee on Africa, I was traveling there in that role.

BLITZER: All right. So what happened when your plane was getting ready to leave Mogadishu? Because we understand it came under fire.

PAYNE: Well, as a matter of fact, we were informed, believe it or not, when we arrived in Nairobi that there was some shelling that would be there at the airport, or near the airport. We took off and were not aware of the shelling, which is not uncommon if something of that nature happens, unless you're in communication with someone in regard to it. So we were informed when we arrived in Nairobi that there was a report of some mortar shelling at the airport about the time of our takeoff.

BLITZER: So just to be precise, when you were on that plane flying from Mogadishu to Nairobi, the pilot, no one on board, told you that a mortar or a shell or a rocket or anything had actually hit your plane. Is that right? PAYNE: That's correct.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by for a second.

Dana Bash, our congressional correspondent, Congressman, she's here with me as well. I know she has a question she wants to ask you -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Congressman, my question is, you know, obviously, there are lots of lawmakers traveling the world right now because it's congressional recess, but this is not a typical congressional delegation. You're there alone. And am I correct in knowing that you actually went commercially and you really didn't have U.S. government security and, in fact, you were warned explicitly by the State Department not to go because this was not a safe trip?

PAYNE: Yes, we were informed by the State Department that they had not authorized any of their personnel to visit Mogadishu, and we were aware of the threat. We had -- there was the African Union that was there in full force, and there was certainly adequate security which of course was secured before we went into Mogadishu.

BASH: So you went with this -- you were secured by the African Union, you were not secured by anyone in the U.S. government? Is that correct?

PAYNE: That's correct.

BLITZER: Congressman, is it your sense now that, based on what you have seen in Somalia, in Mogadishu, that the U.S. government should change its policy in any significant way?

PAYNE: I certainly do. I think that the new government which has been in effect for about two months has a plan that they believe they can bring together the majority of the political groups in Somalia. They admit that there are some factors that will not cooperate, and they're well aware of that. But they have plans that they would like to get support from the United Nations and support from the U.S. and support from other countries in the EU.

I believe that a stable Somalia is really a key to a stable Africa. And I believe that it's almost in the same category of Afghanistan, which has had virtually no government, but the tremendous amount of resources that is put into Afghanistan pales the negligible, other than perhaps food assistance and support for the EU peacekeepers that go into Somalia.

I think that if we support this new government, that we would see a decline in piracy. I think that it would be a dollar certainly well spent, because their feeling, President Sharif feels, that you can stop piracy on the ground. Once they get out into the water, it gets very difficult.

BLITZER: Congressman Donald Payne, Democrat of New Jersey, the chairman of the Africa Subcommittee of the House Foreign Relations Committee.

Congressman, good luck. Be careful over there. We know you're safe in Nairobi now. And we'll see back here in Washington. Appreciate it very much.

You'll be interesting in knowing, Congressman, later in THE SITUATION ROOM, we're going to be speaking about this and a lot more with the United States ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice. She's going to be joining us, and we'll get her reaction on whether or not a significant shift in U.S. policy towards Somalia and the entire issue of piracy is in the works right now.

Thanks very much.

Dana, don't go away because we're going to be coming back to you.

I want to go to Dan Lothian over at the White House once again.

Dan, we heard strong words from the president of the United States, a warning to pirates out there. In effect, don't mess with the United States.

LOTHIAN: That's right. And you know, it was the president who gave the authority to take decisive action if the captain was in any imminent danger. Well, now the president is vowing to do much more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN (voice-over): It may not be his biggest foreign policy problem, but fighting piracy is now getting President Obama's full attention.

BARACK H. OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to have to continue to work with our partners to prevent future attacks. We have to continue to be prepared to confront them when they arise. And we have to ensure that those who commit acts of piracy are held accountable for their crimes.

LOTHIAN: Tough talk from a president who took a low profile while the kidnapping saga of Captain Richard Phillips was under way. Mr. Obama was first informed of the Somali pirate hijacking of an American crew shortly after returning from his trip to Europe last Wednesday morning. He received daily national security briefings on the matter until Sunday, when he was informed that Captain Phillips was rescued.

A short time later, he called the captain's family.

OBAMA: I had a chance to talk to his wife yesterday. And as she put it, she couldn't imagine a better Easter than seeing his safe return.

LOTHIAN: Since taking office, the president has mostly focused his attention on the domestic and global economic crisis. While the U.S. has been flexing its muscles on some foreign policy issues like fighting terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan, some political observers say this was an important military test for the president.

PROF. ALLAN LICHTMAN, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: You know, sometimes small episodes internationally can mean a lot symbolically for a president. Think of Ronald Reagan's invasion of Grenada, a tiny nation. In 1983, it was a huge public relations triumph for him even though it didn't mean all that much on the world stage.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN: Now Wolf, you heard the congressman talking about how important it is to really deal with this situation on the ground, but I think everyone agrees that this will be very difficult to go after this piracy problem, because these are individuals who have very few options and see piracy as a way to make a good living -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dan, thanks very much.

Dan Lothian is over at the White House.

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Last week in "The Cafferty File," we told you about a new law in Afghanistan that legalizes rape. This week's outrage story comes courtesy of another one of our allies in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, where a judge has refused for a second time to annul a marriage between an 8-year-old girl and a 47-year-old man.

The same judge rejected a petition last December from the girl's mother, who was trying to get a divorce for her 8-year-old daughter. A relative of the girl tells CNN the Saudi judge says he's standing by his earlier verdict and that the girl who's 8 can petition the court for a divorce once she reaches puberty.

You following this thing?

The mother's lawyer says it was the 8-year-old girl's father who arranged the marriage in order to settle his debts with the man. The judge required the girl's husband to sign a pledge that he won't have sex with her until she reaches puberty.

Right.

Child marriage is a controversial topic in the Saudi kingdom. Human rights groups calling on the government to pass laws that would protect young girls. But the country's top cleric, a religious man, says it's OK for girls as young as 10 to get married.

This stuff is beyond sick. But there isn't much the U.S. can do or say now, is there? We're completely dependent on Saudi Arabia's oil.

Saudi Arabia, the country that gave us most of the 9/11 hijackers and a place where it's OK for grown men to marry children. It's all pretty disgusting. Here's the question. What does it mean when a Saudi judge refuses to annul a marriage between an 8-year-old girl and a 47-year- old man?

Go to cnn.com/caffertyfile. You can post a comment on my blog.

BLITZER: It's hard to believe, Jack. It's a shocking, shocking story.

CAFFERTY: It's nauseating.

BLITZER: Yes. All right, Jack. Thanks very much.

Imagine you're a sniper gunning for pirates on the high seas. How difficult was it to save a captain held hostage and not kill him in the process? I'll ask a sharp shooting expert.

Another nightmare. A passenger lands a plane after the pilot dies. Stand by for the terrifying real-life story.

And she jumped into a deadly situation in the claws of polar bears. The remarkable rescue on tape.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Just a short while ago, the Obama administration announced an historic and important change in U.S. policy toward Cuba. The United States now is allowing Cuban-Americans to make unlimited trips to their homeland and to send unrestricted amounts of money to relatives there. Some key restrictions against Cuba's communist regime still are in effect, but the president clearly opening the door, as he promised during the campaign, to a new era of openness toward the island nation after 50 years of sanctions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: ... since taking office. All who embrace core Democratic values long for a Cuba that respects the basic human, political and economic rights of all of its citizens. President Obama believes the measure he has taken today will help make that goal a reality.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The press secretary, Robert Gibbs, announced the policy shift toward Cuba. Another foreign policy adviser read the exact same statement in Spanish as well.

Meanwhile, we're going to have a lot more on this story coming up later, including we're going to go to Havana and see how it's playing there.

The U.S. confrontation with pirates has given President Obama a new opportunity to prove himself against the threat to Americans. We have poll numbers now on how the American public rates Mr. Obama when it comes to national security, numbers that we came up with before this pirate drama actually played out.

Let's go to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.

Bill, do the American people trust that the president is doing everything to keep the country safe?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, yes they do, although Republicans are not convinced.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): It was Hillary Clinton during last year's primaries who first raised questions about Barack Obama's ability to keep the country safe.

NARRATOR: It's 3:00 a.m. and your children are safe and asleep, but there's a phone in the White House and it's ringing. Something's happening in the world.

SCHNEIDER: President Obama has already gotten two middle-of-the- night phone calls. One about North Korean's missile launch, the other during the standoff following the pirate seizure of an American ship.

Last month, former Vice President Dick Cheney expressed his doubts about President Obama's policies to CNN.

RICHARD CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's making some choices that in my mind will, in fact, raise the risk to the American people of another attack.

SCHNEIDER: That brought this response in a CNN interview last week.

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He was dead wrong.

SCHNEIDER: The current vice president explained.

BIDEN: I guarantee you, we are safer today, our interests are more secure today, than they were any time during the eight years.

SCHNEIDER: Do the American people believe President Obama's actions have increased the chance of a terrorist attack? No, by nearly 3-1 in a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll. Republicans agree with Dick Cheney that President Obama's policies have made the country less safe, but they are alone in that view.

The Obama administration argues that the war in Afghanistan will help keep the country safe.

RICHARD HOLBROOKE, U.S. SPECIAL ENVOY TO AFGHANISTAN: That is where the people planning the next attack on the United States or on our European allies are certainly doing it. SCHNEIDER: President Obama has rallied some support for the war in Afghanistan. A narrow majority of Americans now favors it. This time, it's Democrats who are isolated. Majorities of Republicans and Independents favor the war. Most Democrats don't.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Most of the polling was done before the North Korean missile launch and the pirate crisis. Both situations brought President Obama praise for his coolness and his resolve. And most likely, they strengthened the public's view that he will keep the country safe -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider, thank you.

In Detroit right now, General Motors may be on the brink of filing for bankruptcy despite public claims that it may be able to reorganize without taking that drastic action. And that has dealers across the nation wondering how they might be affected by all of this.

Our Brian Todd is over at a dealership outside of Washington, D.C.

All right, Brian. Tell our viewers what's going on.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, a bold plan that is reportedly being considered right now might put General Motors into the kind of restructuring agreement that may never have been seen before in the auto industry. The question is, can dealerships like this one survive it?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): A slow-as-molasses Chevy showroom in Lanham, Maryland. It's almost a given that the $82,000 Corvettes aren't moving despite the attractive features.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A seven-speed manual transmission...

TODD: But the $18,000 Cobalts, traditionally one of the most popular models, aren't selling either. Only two or three a month these days at Darcars Chevrolet.

Tammy Darvish, who owns this dealership and several others, says reports that GM is working out a bankruptcy plan with the government has prospective customers nervous.

TAMMY DARVISH, OWNER, DARCARS CHEVROLET: I think it's like buying a house knowing that the builder, the financier and everybody else is going to be gone tomorrow.

TODD: "The New York Times" reports the Obama administration is directing GM to prepare for a bankruptcy filing by June 1st, possibly a so-called surgical bankruptcy. That would split the company between its so-called good brands, like Chevy and Cadillac, and its unhealthy divisions like Saturn and Hummer. The good GM would enter an exit bankruptcy in a matter of weeks, sold quickly to a new company backed by the government. The bad GM would be left behind in bankruptcy court, possibly for eventually liquidation. Contacted by CNN, a Treasury official wouldn't comment on The Times report, saying speculation on the end result is premature.

Tammy Davis is concerned that a bankruptcy deal might allow GM to go around franchise agreements that dealers have with the states and close dealerships en masse.

DARVISH: These are people who are on our payrolls in our own communities. These aren't people that work for the manufacturers. There's absolutely no tie between the businesses that are running the car dealership and the business that's run in the manufacturer.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Darvish says that's because the individual dealers purchase the cars themselves, they make many of the financing arrangements themselves. They pretty much operate like independent businesses.

She says the dealerships are waiting to see what comes of this possible bankruptcy deal, but she says they might have to fight if GM and the government try to go around the dealerships' franchise agreements with the states and start to try to close the dealerships themselves.

Just so we have this down, we tried to reach a GM spokesman today on this whole thing. We did not reach a GM spokesman today, but once has said in recent days that they are looking at the idea of selling the healthy parts of GM to an outside company if this bankruptcy deal goes through, Wolf. But for right now, they are trying to avoid bankruptcy all together.

BLITZER: A delicate moment for GM, and Chrysler, for that matter.

All right. Thanks very much, Brian.

To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, the most sweeping policy change regarding Cuba in decades. President Obama makes it easier for Cuban-Americans to visit and send money to the communist Cuba. Now some wonder if it will weaken the Castro regime, or some suggesting it could be a serious mistake.

More on this story coming up.

And the New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg, wants to end gun show loopholes, but how can he and others convince Americans they don't want to take away their guns?

Mayor Bloomberg is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. And meet the first dog. The first family finally ends the intense question of when they'll get that pet.

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

Let's get back to our top story, the wife of the rescued American captain says she is relieved her husband is now safe. She came out and spoke just a little while ago.

Pirates are threatening to kill Americans after the captain's daring rescue.

Let's go to our Pentagon Correspondent Chris Lawrence. He's got more on what's going on.

Some serious threats coming from those pirates out there, Chris.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Very serious, Wolf. And today, the secretary of defense admitted that this problem is not going away. In fact, Robert Gates said that he expects to spend a fair amount of time in this administration trying to solve it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE (voice-over): This 1993 attack is how most Americans think of U.S. troops in Somalia, but any action taken against today's pirates would be vastly different.

BRIGADIER GENERAL MARK KIMMITT (RET.), FORMER U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND DEPUTY DIRECTOR FOR PLANS AND STRATEGY: The capabilities possessed by the United States military today are dramatically enhanced and improved over what we had in our first foray into Somalia.

LAWRENCE: Today's military has better aerial surveillance and unmanned drones, although even a limited strike risks injuring Somali civilians.

CHAS HENRY, U.S. NAVAL INSTITUTE: Taking these sorts of actions, quick, targeted special operations strikes, would do more to very quickly bring the piracy to an end than would very spotty enforcement at sea.

LAWRENCE: Pentagon officials are preparing a variety of options for dealing with Somali pirates. And a U.N. resolution gives them the authority to conduct operations inside Somalia.

But defense officials say piracy is a crime, not an act of war or terrorism. And, so, the solutions are being planned in conjunction with other U.S. departments' focus on diplomacy and legal matters.

And some defense officials say the private shipping companies have to step up to deter pirates, whether it be evasive maneuvers or stringing barbed-wire along their ships.

VICE ADMIRAL WILLIAM GORTNEY, U.S. NAVY: And, ultimately, an armed security attachment to protect their property, as they do protect their property on the beach.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAUER: And there are obviously some security concerns there. If the shipping companies get a gun, the pirates, with all their ransom money, get bigger guns, and you have got an escalating arms war -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Chris Lawrence, thanks very much. We're going to be checking back with you.

Imagine you're a sniper gunning for pirates out there on the high seas. How difficult was it to save a captain held hostage and not kill him in the process? I will be speaking with a sharpshooting expert.

And it's being called a modern-day Boston Tea Party. In days, protesters will take to the streets against taxes, the economic stimulus plan, and President Obama's budget.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We want to return to our top story. The American captain held hostage by pirates is now safe, his wife certainly relieved. So is the entire country.

Meanwhile, the United States is weighing options to try to prevent this drama from happening again.

Let's bring in Harry Humphries. He's president of the Global Studies Group and a former Navy SEAL.

Harry, thanks very much for coming in.

HARRY HUMPHRIES, PRESIDENT, GLOBAL STUDIES GROUP: Good to be here, Wolf.

BLITZER: Based on what we all know now -- and they have released a lot of the information -- how difficult was it for these snipers -- and we they were three Navy SEALs who do it -- to kill these three pirates all presumably on one shot?

HUMPHRIES: Well, I want to stress we think it was Navy SEALs. We only know that it was special operations forces that were there.

But, in any case, the difficulty is -- is extremely high. There's no question about that. But it's a scenario that the spec-ops forces train for constantly.

Least of which, of course, in terms of the skill sets that they have is -- is their ability to shoot. I mean, I should say the -- the maximum of what they have to work with is their ability to shoot. They're very good shooters.

BLITZER: We have an animation. I'm going to put it up on the screen, show our viewers what we think happened. There you see, the -- the -- the warship and the little lifeboat behind. It was being towed. And it was about 75 feet away. Is that right?

HUMPHRIES: I believe it was 75 to 90 yards away, Wolf, is the report I'm getting.

BLITZER: All right. So -- so, let's say it was 75 yards, or 90 yards. With night-vision goggles or special equipment to see at night, the -- the water bobbing, it could be a little turbulent, it sounds like a pretty risky operation, especially if the pirates have one of their AK-47s pointed at the back of Captain Phillips.

HUMPHRIES: There's no question it was a difficult operation.

This is a standard barricaded hostage rescue operation. As with any spec-ops law enforcement community, this community practices constantly under all scenarios.

BLITZER: What's the most important lesson you have learned from this incident moving forward?

HUMPHRIES: The most important lesson I have learned from this incident is the fact that we have got to upgrade our patrolling efforts in the region.

Our Naval has been reduced by -- to a third from where it used to be. We need more assets at sea. We need many more foreign countries to cooperate with us, in terms of helping us patrol that area.

There's 2,000 miles of shoreline on Somalia. The Navy can't do this by itself. It needs a continuation of the consortium of foreign nations and more people joining in to help us, and, in the long run, to certainly make a maximum effort, a real sincere effort to stabilize the country of Somalia.

BLITZER: Harry Humphries, thanks very much for coming in.

HUMPHRIES: Thank you.

BLITZER: He's a new president facing one of the oldest threats on the high seas. Will the Obama administration get political points for the rescue of the sea captain held by pirates?

Plus, a new twist on the Boston Tea Party, just in time for tax deadline day. What's behind the protests against point's economic policies?

And, later, she threw herself into the clutches of polar bears -- the danger and the rescue all caught on tape.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Two days and counting until the IRS filing deadline, and CNN is bringing you the real deal on your taxes. Some Americans are venting their anger at the Obama administration's economic policies by throwing modern-day Boston Tea Parties.

Our congressional correspondent Brianna Keilar reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(CHEERING)

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a modern-day Boston Tea Party, a scene that's played out in recent weeks from Los Angeles, to Oklahoma City, to Jacksonville, Florida, protests against taxes, the bailout, the $787 billion stimulus, and President Obama's budget.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You are spending money we don't have on social programs we don't need to fix problems that you have caused.

KEILAR: A coalition of conservative groups have recruited protest organizers on line.

And, on Wednesday, tax day, hundreds of U.S. cities will host the small protests, according to various estimates, by organizers.

They're also encouraging Americans to send tea bags to their members of Congress. And the U.S. Postal Service spokeswoman tells CNN, "Employees have noticed some spillage of tea as they sort mail headed for Capitol Hill."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And this note, additional note, from Brianna: Democratic sources on the Hill are saying they're minimizing the reach of the protests, questioning whether this is really a grassroots movement. And they're also emphasizing President Obama's tax cuts for most Americans.

Let's take a closer look at the driving force now behind those Tea Party protests.

We will go to CNN's Howard Kurtz of "RELIABLE SOURCES" -- Howie.

HOWARD KURTZ, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Wolf, the mainstream media haven't really focused on the Tea Parties planned for this week, with the notable exception of FOX News, which practically seems to be a co- sponsor.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ (voice-over): On Wednesday -- that would be April 15 -- there will be tax protests around the country on the theme of the original Boston Tea Party. TaxDayTeaParty.com says it was inspired by that rant against President Obama's mortgage aid plan by CNBC's Rick Santelli.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CNBC)

RICK SANTELLI, CNBC: President Obama, are you listening?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)

NARRATOR: From sea to shining sea, in every city, we, the people, take our nation back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Among those backing what's being billed as a grassroots movement are conservative blogger Michelle Malkin, a FOX contributor. Newt Gingrich, the former-House-speaker-turned-FOX-analyst, will also be attending one of the parties.

FOX News, whose new online slogan is "Just say NO to biased media," began publicizing the protests. And, soon, some hosts were signing on.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "GLENN BECK")

GLENN BECK, HOST, "GLENN BECK": We're getting ready for next week's Tax Day Tea Parties all across the country, people coming together to let the politicians know, OK, enough spending.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "HANNITY")

SEAN HANNITY, HOST: And, of course, April 15, our big show coming out of Atlanta. It's tax day, our Tax Day Tea Party show. Don't forget, we're going to have Joe the plumber.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Now, the hosts at Rupert Murdoch's network all make up their own minds, right?

But soon, the tax protest became a full-fledged FOX fight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "GLENN BECK")

BECK: FOX News with "Your World With Neil Cavuto" is going to be live in Sacramento, California, at 4:00 p.m. Eastern. That's 1:00 p.m. Eastern -- or 4:00 p.m. Eastern, 1:00 p.m. Pacific.

Our show is going to be at the Alamo at a regular time. Then, "Hannity" will be in Atlanta, Georgia, at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, 6:00 p.m. Pacific. And then Greta is live in Washington, D.C., 10:00 p.m. Eastern, 7:00 p.m. Pacific time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: These hosts said little or no nothing about the huge deficits run up by President Bush, but Barack Obama's tax plans have driven them to tea.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: CNN hasn't covered the Tea Party movement, that is, until today on THE SITUATION ROOM, with more to come as the protests draw closer.

MSNBC's coverage has largely consisted of liberal host Rachel Maddow making fun of the idea.

As for FOX, well, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and the gang are commentators who are paid for their opinions. The question is whether Rupert Murdoch's network wants to be so closely identified with what has become an anti-Obama protest movement -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for that, Howie, for that -- Howard Kurtz reporting.

We're 103 days into the year. And, as of today, Americans, on average, have worked long and hard enough to pay off their federal, state and local taxes for 2009. The so-called Tax Freedom Day falls on April 13 of this year, two days before the filing deadline.

The nonpartisan Tax Foundation says, the last time Tax Freedom Day fell earlier than April 13 was back in 1967. The group says the tax burden is lighter than it's been in recent years because of temporary tax cuts in the stimulus package and reduced tax collections because of the recession.

A university that refuses that refuses to give the president an honorary degree is trying to make amends. In our "Strategy Session": Is Arizona State University doing enough to smooth over the controversy?

And President Obama faces off against pirates. Has he scored a high seas victory, and will it help him right here at home?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Arizona State University tells President Obama it's sorry for one thing, but apparently not for another.

The president will speak at the school's upcoming graduation, but ASU caused controversy over these past several days for ASU not wanting to give the president an honorary degree. The -- the school now says it's sorry for the confusion, and will name and expand its most important scholarship program in the president honor.

But the school is still not giving President Obama an honorary degree. He currently, by the way, holds honorary degrees from seven universities, including Northwestern University, Howard University, and Wesleyan.

Our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, is here, along with Democratic strategist and CNN contributor Hilary Rosen, and Republican strategist Ron Christie, a former adviser to President Bush. Let me start with you, Ron.

ASU, what do you think? They're suggesting still that they can't make a commitment to give him an honorary degree. Earlier, they said some people didn't think he was yet qualified for that distinction.

RON CHRISTIE, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT BUSH: Qualified and accomplished. I'm sorry. If you're elected the 44th president of the United States, I don't more -- how more qualified you could to be to receive an honorary degree.

It was a mistake. Now they're still stepping in it by saying, well, we will just rename a scholarship program. Give him an honorary degree. He's the president of the United States. I think he deserves it.

BLITZER: I -- I -- what do you think?

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I hate to quote the people of ASU in, but I am absolutely certainly that Barack Obama doesn't care whether they give him an honorary degree.

(LAUGHTER)

ROSEN: And no offense, like, the guy has a degree from Harvard. ASU isn't the aspirational place that...

(LAUGHTER)

ROSEN: I mean, this is just silly. They look like idiots doing...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Apparently -- apparently, there's one committee that decides who the commencement speaker is going to be. The president of the university is involved in that.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.

BLITZER: But there is a -- a committee of the faculty that decides who gets the honorary degrees.

BORGER: I -- you know, I think they have one too many committees -- or two too many committees.

I mean, honestly, if they could have handled this any worse, I don't know how. I mean, first rule of holes, stop digging.

ROSEN: Right.

BORGER: They are continuing to dig themselves in...

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: ... deeper and deeper and deeper. And, if I were a student there, I would be pretty upset about this.

BLITZER: Yes, I am sure a lot of people are, not only there, but all over the country.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: And we have invited the president of the university to join us. And, so far, but he has declined. But we're hoping maybe he will change his mind.

And we will see. It's still some time before...

ROSEN: Well, they -- they do keep changing their minds.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Yes. We will see what happens as far as the honorary degree is concerned.

How much political benefit for the president of the United States the successful release of the American captain held hostage by pirates? A big victory, obviously, in the war against piracy, but, politically, what do you think the result is going to be? CHRISTIE: Well, I think it gives him a short-term bounce.

I think there are a lot of people who were looking for the United States to recapture the American captain who had been taken captive.

The thing that I'm a little bit concerned about is the way that Obama handled this. For the first several days, Wolf, he didn't say anything.

BORGER: Right.

CHRISTIE: And I think the American people -- no, Gloria, I think the American people wanted their president to say, we're looking at this situation. We're very concerned about what is going on. We reached out to the family. Our hearts and prayers are with the family.

But, by saying nothing, I think it makes him look almost a little politically opportunistic to wait to see which way the winds are going to blow.

(CROSSTALK)

CHRISTIE: Short-term, again, success, but I think people are going to say, is this the way that we want the president to deal with serious challenges?

ROSEN: They -- first of all, they did speak out through his press secretary.

And now it's clear, as it came out today, that President Obama was on the phone with the Navy captain who was -- of the ship that was trailing the pirates, that he was very involved with the armed forces in this process. And...

BLITZER: And that he personally authorized shoot to kill if necessary...

ROSEN: Yes.

BLITZER: ... if the captain seems to be in danger.

ROSEN: It's quite a bit better that he used some judgment into how public to be in order to save this guy's life.

BORGER: And, you know, you did have the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, come out there and talk...

ROSEN: Right.

BORGER: ... about this situation .

And now we learned from the tick tock supplied to us that the president was briefed 17 times on this, that he gave clear orders, that he made sure that agencies were talking to each other, and that he was doing what he had to do.

So, I would -- I would have to disagree with you and say that you don't want a president carrying on a conversation with pirates. You -- you -- you -- that -- that's what other people are for. And...

CHRISTIE: Well, I think here's where I have to disagree with you.

Of course he was briefed 17 times. Of course he gave the shoot- to-kill orders. And of course he was talking with his commanders.

I'm saying he's the president of all Americans. I think the American people wanted their president...

BORGER: We knew.

CHRISTIE: No, we didn't know. We have got the president saying, "I'm more focused on my housing initiative"?

I think that was the exact wrong tone when he was asked three times, and he said: "I'm not here to talk about the piracy situation. I'm here to talk about my housing situation."

(CROSSTALK)

CHRISTIE: I think Americans wanted to hear their president with a little bit more empathy.

(CROSSTALK)

ROSEN: I hate to be partisan here, but this is what keeps happening every time Barack Obama has a success. Instead of just acknowledging that he has a success, Republicans complain about the process. And I don't really understand why...

(CROSSTALK)

CHRISTIE: Well, you didn't hear me -- you didn't hear me argue about the process.

I said Americans wanted to hear them be more empathetic...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Quickly, Ron...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: ... he did come out today. And he issued a very blunt statement, saying, in effect, don't mess with the United States.

CHRISTIE: Strong. It's about time. I agree with him.

I'm not always critical of the president. I think he could have been a little bit more empathetic. But I think what he said today was exactly right, exactly what the American people and pirates and terrorists around the world need to hear.

BORGER: But I do think this tells us something about the way that President Obama operates.

I spoke with a -- a senior adviser today, who said to me -- quote -- "He's not going to put on a flight suit on an aircraft carrier and declare mission accomplished after this."

What he did was, he commended the bravery of those -- those sharpshooters. He commended the bravery of the captain. And he took a -- he took a step back.

BLITZER: What did Teddy Roosevelt say? Something about a big stick and...

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: And walk softly.

(CROSSTALK)

CHRISTIE: ... walk softly and carry a big stick.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: That's right.

BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks very much.

CHRISTIE: Thanks, Wolf. BLITZER: Tomorrow, President Obama is set to give what is being billed as a major speech on the economy. What do you want to hear from the president of the United States? And do you think things are improving when it comes to the economy?

Submit your video questions to ireport.com/situationroom. We're going to try to get some of them on the air tomorrow.

A sense of joy and relief right now, now that the pirate hostage drama off the coast of Africa is over. The family of one freed crew member is offering some startling details of what actually went on during the ordeal.

And a historic change in U.S. policy toward Cuba, is it enough to persuade the Castro regime to change its ways?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's go right back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour is, what does it mean when a Saudi judge refuses to annul a marriage between an 8- year-old girl and a 47-year-old man?

Linda says: "How disgusting."

She's right.

"Women's rights and even their lives are at risk in those totally backward, cave-dwelling countries. Oh, and, by the way, it is all done in the name of religion. I know that the good lord did not intend for this to happen to children. But let's just keep buying that oil and bowing to the Saudis and all the other cave-dwellers."

Dan in Chantilly, Virginia: "This is why we have separation of church and state. When you mix religion and politics, everybody loses. In a perfect world, religion would be a source of morality. In the real world, it's a source of justification for immoral acts."

Ron writes: "It means the U.S. has no say whatsoever in the affairs of another sovereign nation. We may not like situations like this, but it's none of our business. We also don't need to look beyond our borders to find these types of arranged marriages. Have we so soon forgotten about Warren Jeffs and his ranch?"

Samir in Florida writes: "As a Muslim, I am disgusted. Muslims keep trying to improve our image with all that is going on, but it is an uphill battle."

Lou writes: "It means that, for all our bellyaching about what a mess we are as Americans right now, the truth is, we do a lot of things right. Democracy and freedom look pretty good when faced with crazy stories like this one."

Stacy says, "Maybe Obama should bow to the king a couple of more times, and see what we can get."

J.D. in New Hampshire writes: "If this story doesn't make you want to use solar power, wind power, and anything else other than Middle East oil, I don't know what will. It's sick and it's sad. And, if we weren't at their mercy for our energy needs, we might be able to squawk about it and make a difference. But we're as powerless as the little 8-year-old girl."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile. Look for yours there, among hundreds of others.

BLITZER: Got some really smart viewers here.

Jack, thank you.