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THE SITUATION ROOM

American Captain Rescued; Interview With U.S. Ambassador to United Nations Susan Rice

Aired April 13, 2009 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

He's a symbol of a U.S. victory over the pirates, who are now threatening to kill Americans, but Captain Richard Phillips also is a beloved husband and father.

Just a short while ago, his wife shared how proud she is of her husband's strength, courage and enduring sense of humor. And then a spokeswoman delivered a message from Captain Phillips himself a day after his dramatic rescue off Somalia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALISON MCCOLL, PHILLIPS SPOKESWOMAN: 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."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Obama's vowing today to confront pirates and to hold them accountable for their crimes.

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

Dan, we heard from the president. And he minced no words in sending a message out there to the pirates.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And, you know, the president up to this point had not really said a whole lot about this. He had remained relatively quiet because according to a senior administration official, he didn't want his words or his image to interfere with the rescue. Well, now he wants to get tough on piracy in that region.

(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 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, it was a president who gave the order to the military to take the decisive action, but some political observers believe that it will be much more difficult to attack the piracy problem in that region, because these are individuals who don't have a whole lot of option, and they see piracy as a way to make a pretty good living -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dan Lothian's at the White House. Stand by.

Andrea Phillips, the wife of the captain, Richard Phillips, she was emotional, understandably so, as she spoke out earlier today.

(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 have 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: Mrs. Phillips and her two kids. We're so happy for that family.

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

Let's go straight to our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence. He's looking at this part of the story -- Chris.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, the secretary of defense himself said today that he expects to spend a good deal of time in this administration trying to solve the problem of piracy.

(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)

LAWRENCE: Now, some are concerned that, if the companies get guns, the pirates with all that ransom money to draw from will just buy bigger guns and it will escalate an arms race on the high seas -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, but it seems those pirates, you know, they -- young teenagers, a lot of them, and if there are armed guards along these cargo vessels, they could at least resist and fight back.

LAWRENCE: That's true.

It does give them that option, Wolf, but, again, a lot of people are saying, well, you look at the fact that some countries don't allow merchant ships to be armed, out of a worry of terrorism, and if these ships are passing through different countries, it may lead to some complicated situations in terms of where they can have arms and where they can't.

BLITZER: We are going to have a lot more on this story coming up, including the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice. Chris, thanks very much.

Meanwhile, an historic change toward U.S. policy involving Cuba today. The Obama administration is now allowing Cuban Americans to make unlimited trips to their homeland and send unrestricted amounts of money to relatives over there. Some key restrictions against Cuba's communist regime still are in place, but the president is opening the door to a new era of openness toward the island nation, after 50 years of sanctions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: 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: We are going to Havana later this hour to get reaction to see how the gestures taken by the White House today are playing in Cuba. Stand by for that.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: This is unofficial, but it just might be, might be the most closely followed campaign promise made by President Obama.

We're talking about the puppy he promised his two young daughters. And the media, well, they're all worked into a frenzy now that the long-awaited news is officially out. "The Washington Post" reported in a front-page story yesterday, I might add, that the Obama girls are getting a six-month-old Portuguese water dog, a gift from Senator Ted Kennedy.

The Obama girls named it Bo. That is a play on Bo Diddley's name. Michelle Obama's father's nickname was Diddley is what the conventional wisdom says. So, the kids came up with Bo, Bo Diddley. The puppy is due to arrive at the White House tomorrow, although the first family and Bo have already met.

"The Post" insisted it was supposed to have an exclusive on the story, but the word leaked out ahead of time. We're talking about a dog here. Several Web sites got all fired up about the news, one publishing a photo on Saturday claiming it was the new first puppy. The White House quickly said that photo was a fake, not the new first puppy. We're talking about a dog here.

But it seems like the American people and by extension the media cannot get enough of the Obamas, especially their personal lives. Where are the girls going to go to school? What design is the first lady wearing? Has the president quit smoking?

Nevertheless, it's not like the media don't have enough other things to focus on, you know, like the economy and the wars and pirates and stuff. There are other stories out there.

The question is this: Should the press have better things to cover than the story of the Obamas' new dog? Go to CNN.com/Caffertyfile and you can post a comment on my blog about Bo.

BLITZER: You know the old saying that we all learned when we were studying journalism, Jack, many, many years ago. What is news? News is what is the people need to know and also what they want to know.

(CROSSTALK)

CAFFERTY: Yes. And what was the other one? Is news when -- when a dog bites a man, it's not news, but, if a man bites a dog, that's news.

BLITZER: That's correct, too.

CAFFERTY: Which has nothing to do with Bo, but it's just some other stupid old saw that I remember from when I was younger.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: And what goes up must come down.

CAFFERTY: Yes, that, too. All right, move on.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Fine.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: The pilot of a plane dies midair and a passenger jumps into the pilot seat. We are standing by for new audio that is just coming in of the incident. We will tell you exactly what happened.

Lots of talk, but slow action. After North Korea launched its missile, President Obama warned that North Korea would likely regret it. So, what punishment is in store? The United States ambassador to the United Nations, Ambassador Susan Rice, she is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Stand by.

American taxpayers are paying for the economic stimulus plan, but is your money being spent wisely? Two days before tax day, you are going to find out what President Obama says.

And if GM does file for bankruptcy, will some potential car buyers be scared away? We're checking in over at a dealership and its hopes for survival.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Back to the favorite subject for so many of us, especially this time of year, two days before all of us are supposed to file our income taxes.

Let's go to CNN's national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin. She's taking a closer look at the president's plans, what he has in mind.

What's going on, Jessica?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, $787 billion of Americans' tax money is already being used to fund President Obama's stimulus program. It got so much attention a while ago.

Well, today, his team is insisting that the money is being spent so efficiently, the administration might actually have extra money to fund other projects.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN (voice-over): When it comes to your tax dollars, it seems almost too good to be true.

OBAMA: This government effort is coming in ahead of schedule and under budget.

YELLIN: The secretary of transportation can't hide his pride.

RAY LAHOOD, U.S. SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION: Over the last six weeks, the Department of Transportation has moved more swiftly than people thought possible.

YELLIN: He says his department has made nearly $48 billion available for roads and infrastructure, and that bids are 15 percent to 20 percent cheaper than the administration expected, making the most of your tax dollars.

OBAMA: Competition for these projects is so fierce and contractors are doing such a good job cutting costs that projects are consistently coming in under budget. YELLIN: Why all the bragging? The stimulus only works if the money gets out the door fast, and low-cost projects leave more money for other jobs.

So far, the administration says about a third of all stimulus spending has been spent or promised. But one government watchdog says it's really too early to claim victory.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It seems pretty clear they are trying to oversell how successful the recovery is, trying to reassure the public and the taxpayers. And the problem with that is, is that we haven't even -- the money hasn't gone out the door.

YELLIN: And the man President Obama assigned to ferret out fraud in the stimulus says it won't all go smoothly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some level of fraud or waste is regrettably inevitable.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN: Now, Wolf, the -- the Transportation Department says that, as of today, it's funded 2,000 road projects since the stimulus passed.

But the truth is, it's really impossible to fact-check that claim because the projects are not all online and in many cases, the administration has OKed funding for programs that really have yet to begin. But we will continue to follow where all this tax money is going -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I know you will, Jessica. Thanks very much -- Jessica Yellin reporting.

And, by the way, stay with CNN this week to get the real deal on your taxes. We're digging deeper to give you the facts about what you're paying and where the money is going.

Tomorrow, President Obama is set to give what the White House is billing as a major address on the economy. What do you want to hear from the president of the United States? And do you think that things are improving when it comes to the economy? Submit your video questions to I-Report.com/situationroom. We will try to get some on the air tomorrow.

Coming up, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, Ambassador Susan Rice, she is standing by live. We're going to be talking to her about our top story, what to do about piracy off the coast of Somalia. We will also get the latest on North Korea.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SHANE MURPHY, MAERSK ALABAMA CHIEF MATE: We would like to implore President Obama to use all of his resources and increase the commitment to ending this Somali pirate scourge.

Right now, there are ships still being taken, right now, as we're standing here. And, at sea, it's a global community. It doesn't come down to nations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: First officer of that boat hijacked last week urging President Obama to do something about these pirate threats. Shane Murphy calls it a crisis and says the United States should be at the forefront of ending it.

Let's bring in Ambassador Susan Rice. She's the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Ambassador, thanks very much for coming in.

SUSAN RICE, UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO UNITED NATIONS: Good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, what do you say? Is the U.S. government now going to take specific steps to end this piracy off the coast of Africa?

RICE: Well, the U.S., Wolf, has been in the lead for many months in trying to tackle the challenge of piracy off the coast of Somalia. And it really has three essential elements.

First is prevention, trying to shrink the space in which the pirates can effectively operate. We have something called Combined Joint Task Force 151. And other members of the global community have committed naval resources to this area.

And, so, we have a broad global effort to try to take back as much of that water as we can from the pirates. But that's a major challenge, and it's one that we're all going to be investing more in.

The second is interdiction, when the pirates actually get on a ship, to bring it back safely and rescue the crew members. And we saw a brilliant example of that by our own Navy over the weekend.

And then the third element is holding these pirates accountable and bringing them to justice. And we will have the opportunity to do that for the remaining pirate that took our ship. But that's something that we're working on all over the world in various justice systems.

BLITZER: All right.

RICE: But, Wolf, as you know, the real challenges is on land in Somalia.

BLITZER: Well, I wanted to raise that point, because Russ Feingold, the senator from Wisconsin, the chairman of the Africa Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he says this.

He says: "For years, Somalia's growing instability was neglected by the Bush administration and the international community. The new administration must not make the same mistake."

Do you agree with him?

RICE: Well, I certainly agree that the real challenge is trying to help build some functioning state capacity in Somalia, which, for many, many years now has been a totally failed state.

That means strengthening the very fragile transitional federal government which is based in Mogadishu that is trying to fight against Somalia's extremists. It's a broad-based government that's brand-new, that deserves and is receiving American support.

BLITZER: Because we spoke -- excuse me for interrupting -- with Congressman Donald Payne, who was just in Mogadishu.

RICE: Yes.

BLITZER: He just got out literally within the past few hours. He spoke to us here in THE SITUATION ROOM from Nairobi, Kenya.

And he says, you, the Obama administration, should be engaged in a dialogue with this new regime in Mogadishu.

RICE: We are, Wolf.

This is a government that we think holds some promise, fragile as it is. And we need this government to succeed, both to stabilize Mogadishu and -- and bring in the other elements of the country, places like Puntland and Somaliland, which have developed rather autonomously on their own.

But we also need this government to succeed because there are large parts of Somalia, particularly in the south, where extremists have quite free rein and are engaged in terrorist training activities that are of grave concern.

BLITZER: Let me switch gears to North Korea right now.

Before the North Korean missile launch, the president of the United States was very firm, saying, there will be serious, grave consequences if they go forward.

They went forward. Now, finally, days later, there's a statement emerging from the U.N. Security Council. You didn't get the resolution you wanted. The Russians and the Chinese are still refusing to go along with increased tough sanctions against North Korea.

What's going on?

RICE: Well, Wolf, actually, after a week's worth of very tough negotiations, what we emerged with is a very strong, unanimous binding statement that condemns the launch by North Korea.

BLITZER: But it was a statement by the president. It wasn't a resolution, which would have had a lot more teeth.

RICE: Well, actually, Wolf, a resolution in this instance wouldn't have had the teeth that we sought.

We had long said we would have preferred a resolution. But what we got is a statement with teeth that is binding on all members of the council, and that entails strong additional sanctions by strengthening the existing sanctions regime. We will add companies, entities and goods that will be sanctioned.

BLITZER: Did you get the Chinese to promise sanctions? Because they're the key to this problem with North Korea.

(CROSSTALK)

RICE: That's exactly right, Wolf. And they went along with these sanctions.

And they have committed, along with the Russians and others, to join us in making these sanctions effective by the end of the month.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: What was their argument, why they didn't want a formal resolution?

RICE: Let me just finish the thought.

This is major progress, because, a week ago, a number of countries on the Security Council were arguing about whether we should even express concern.

The debate here, Wolf, was about tactics, not about goals. China and Russia and we and Japan and South Korea and others share a strong desire to achieve the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, verifiably.

The issue we were working on is how much pressure would be productive -- we all agreed there needed to be consequences and some measure of pressure -- and how much would be counterproductive and drive North Korea further away from any binding commitments.

We think we struck a very good balance, a strong unanimous statement with consequences that condemn the violation, demands that there be no further launches, and makes it clear that North Korea can't get away with launching a satellite and claiming that they are doing it in a peaceful fashion...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: If they do it again, what do you do? What happens?

RICE: Well, first of all, this action today demonstrates that there are consequences for their violations.

The United States, China, Russia, Japan, South Korea and others are eager to try to resume the progress that had been achieved in the six-party process and achieve an end to proliferation in the nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

There are a number of steps we can take, Wolf. The Security Council and the multilateral track is just one. We have bilateral measures we can take and other countries can, too.

BLITZER: All right.

RICE: The aim, though, is to get to a Korean Peninsula without nuclear weapons.

BLITZER: Good luck, Ambassador. Thanks very much for coming in.

RICE: Good to be with you.

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 a sea captain held by those pirates? The best political team on television is standing by.

And a U.S. congressman literally under fire experiencing the dangers in Somalia firsthand, we spoke with him.

And it sounds like a movie plot, but it's a real-life horror. The pilot of a plane dies midair and a passenger jumps into the pilot seat. Wait until you see and hear what happened.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now: Congressman Donald Payne is safe after a plane he was on was shot at after taking off from Somalia. It landed without incident in Nairobi, Kenya. Payne had met with the Somali president and the prime minister in Mogadishu earlier in the day. We spoke with him. We will tell you what he had to say.

Plus, longtime music producer Phil Spector could face a life in prison after his conviction today of second-degree murder. Spector was charged with fatally shooting the actress Lana Clarkson six years ago.

And a harrowing scene aboard a twin-engine turbo plane over Florida -- the passenger had to land the plane when the pilot died at the controls. We have just coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM new audio from the cockpit. You are going to want to hear this -- all of this, plus the best political team on television.

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

We're learning more about President Obama's role in the hostage crisis that had an American ship captain held by Somali pirates. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OBAMA: I want to take a moment to say how pleased I am about the rescue of Captain Phillips and his safe return to the USS Boxer this weekend.

(APPLAUSE)

B. OBAMA: His safety has been our principal concern. And I know this came as a welcome relief to his family and -- and his crew. 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 -- his safe return.

And I'm very proud of the efforts of the U.S. military and many other departments and agencies that worked tirelessly to resolve this situation. I share our nation's admiration for Captain Phillips' courage and leadership and selfless concern for his crew.

And I want to be very clear that we are resolved to halt the rise of piracy in that region. And to achieve that goal, 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's talk about this and more with our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger; our CNN political contributor, Steve Hayes, of "The Weekly Standard;" and Roland Martin, our political analyst, as well.

What do you think?

Is the president getting a lot of kudos for the way he handled this operation -- Gloria?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think he will. Look, it's always good to have a happy ending, Wolf. And you know as well as I do that administrations, particularly when they're new, like to have winners because it kind of sets the tone for the rest of the administration.

I think Bill Clinton had trouble with Blackhawk down. At the end of his tenure, Jimmy Carter had those hostages. And that was a real problem for him.

So this really works for Barack Obama, particularly against all those folks who said that he didn't have the national security credibility to be president of the United States.

BLITZER: Steve, what did you learn about the president's style in dealing with a crisis during these past few days?

STEPHEN HAYES, SENIOR WRITER "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Well, it was very interesting to see him be relatively hands-off, at least in public, until the -- the situation was resolved and then, you know, come in quickly and say he commends the commander on the ground.

I think it was the right thing for him to do to commend the commander. I think the rules of engagement were such that if the commander at the scene had the opportunity to -- or if Captain Phillips faced imminent death, the commander could then have authorized the kind of action that we saw.

So I think, you know, the president actually has played this one, I think, fairly well.

BLITZER: What did you think, Roland?

ROLAND S. MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, Wolf, I think there's a -- there's a huge difference between being hands-off and being out of the limelight. So that was the difference. You did not see a lot of briefings and all kind of different comments coming from the White House. And so they chose to be behind-the- scenes.

That does play to his temperament in terms of how he wants to be seen. They could have easily, as a young administration, said, hey, first opportunity, we can grab the reins, show folks that we're tough.

No. His style is, no, step back. We have people in place. Allow them to do their jobs. And when it's time for the president to make the call, then he makes the call.

And so how they played the P.R. strategy was smart because they did not raise this even higher than what it was.

BLITZER: I was struck, Gloria, by what he said today, with a very -- and we just played it for our viewers. A very tough warning to pirates out there: "We have to ensure that those who commit acts of piracy are held accountable for their crimes." And, you know, he was pretty blunt.

BORGER: Yes, he was pretty blunt, because, of course, the question out there now is whether other pirates are going to try to retaliate against the United States for taking the action that we took.

But I think what we saw about President Obama is the way that he operates. He did hold 17 briefings. He did make sure that the agencies were talking to each other. You know, we've had that trouble in the United States, where one agency doesn't talk to another agency. The coordination on this was good and he made a decision and stuck with it. That's important for people to know.

HAYES: You know, Wolf, but it was interesting for me to hear Susan Rice, in your interview just a moment ago, say that the United States has really had the lead in this sort of anti-piracy movement with our partners around the world. It was interesting for me to hear her say that because I'm not sure, given the rise in the kind of incidents that we've seen, that they would want to say that they were actually at the lead at this time. BLITZER: Did you think it was smart, Roland, for Congressman Donald Payne of New Jersey to go to Mogadishu -- to go to Somalia at this time, despite the dangers of going to that country?

MARTIN: Look, I think it was, because, look, we have to deal with the reality. We can sit here and talk all day about the pirates and how do we deal with it, but if you don't address what is happening in that country, when it comes to their government, when it comes to the economy, when it comes to the warlords, we're going to continue having this problem.

And so just because you had three pirates who were killed by Navy SEALS and this captain was freed does not somehow get rid of the reality of what is happening there. And so -- you know, and also how it affects the neighboring countries -- what is happening in Kenya, what is happening in Nigeria.

Nigeria is a significant exporter of oil to the U.S. And so when you talk about the piracy situation and the instability in Somalia, it has a regional effect. And we must admit that and deal with that, as well. So you've got to have folks who have information on the ground.

BORGER: You know, I don't ever think it's a good idea, though, for a Congressman to go abroad and freelance. And he was apparently told that this would be quite dangerous. He informed the State Department that he was going to go. But I think the government would have preferred that he had not gone. And if, God forbid, something had happened to him, we -- it would have been a terrible, terrible situation.

(CROSSTALK)

HAYES: You can't have 535 members of Congress conducting their own diplomacy. I mean this is why we elect presidents, to do these kind of things.

BLITZER: All right...

HAYES: I think it's just silly to have all of these Congressmen...

MARTIN: But if you're the chair of...

HAYES: ...flooding the region.

MARTIN: But you're the chair a subcommittee, you also have a responsibility when it comes to Congress...

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: ...so the executive branch has their job. Congress has their job.

BLITZER: He's the chairman of the African Subcommittee. We're happy he got out. Apparently his plane, as it was taking off from Mogadishu on the way to Nairobi, was fired at with some mortars or some rockets or whatever. But he's OK. We spoke with him earlier here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Guys, thanks very much.

Roland is going to have a lot more on all of this coming up at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, a little more than an hour from now, "NO BIAS, NO BULL".

Roland, we'll see you then.

New rules could flood Cuba with American visitors -- but is that country ready?

We're about to go to Havana to check in and see what's going on.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: 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.

Let's to go CNN's Brian Todd.

He's at a dealership outside of Washington, D.C. -- all right, Brian, I know you've been speaking to a lot of folks there.

What are they saying about the potential for some sort of bankruptcy by G.M.?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, under a bold plan that is reportedly in the works right now, G.M. might be put into a 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 G.M. 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 G.M. 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 G.M. would enter an exit bankruptcy in a matter of weeks, sold quickly to a new company backed by the government. The bad G.M. 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 Darvish is concerned that a bankruptcy deal might allow G.M. 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, you know, 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 dealerships purchase the cars themselves. They make some of the financing arrangements themselves. They essentially operate as independent businesses.

She says most of the dealers she knows are waiting to see what comes of a possible bankruptcy deal. But she says the dealers may have to fight if G.M. and the federal government go around the franchise agreements that they have with the states and start to eliminate dealerships themselves.

We could not reach a G.M. spokesman today for comment on all of this. But in recent days, one G.M. spokesman said they are looking at the idea of selling healthy assets to a new company if they're forced into restructuring, Wolf.

But they say right now, they're trying to avoid restruc -- avoid bankruptcy altogether.

BLITZER: All right. They have until June 1st to see if they're going to go through what they're calling that surgical bankruptcy.

TODD: Right.

BLITZER: All right. Brian, thanks very much.

It's a nightmare that every airplane passenger imagines -- the pilot dies and a passenger has to land the plane. We have the audio from the cockpit exchange. It actually occurred.

And is Cuba ready for a potential flood of American visitors?

Under President Obama's sweeping new policies announced today, what's going on?

Our Havana bureau is assessing the situation. We're going to go there.

And should the news media have better things to cover than the story of the Obamas' new dog?

That's Jack's question. "The Cafferty File" coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Coming up at the top of the hour, remarkable new details on that operation to free Captain Richard Phillips from Somali pirates. The nation celebrating the bravery and the courage of the Navy SEALS, the crew of the USS Bainbridge, Captain Phillips and everybody oh board his ship, as well.

Also, the Obama administration announcing the most sweeping changes in U.S. policy toward Cuba in decades and immediately facing a storm of protests. Critics accuse the Obama White House of making unilateral concessions to a totalitarian dictatorship.

And Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg says we should allow foreign laws and foreign judges to influence the way our courts interpret our laws. Some say that is a threat to our sovereignty that should concern every American.

Also tonight, your Second Amendment rights under assault -- one state is thinking about even banning certain types of firearms according to the zip code you live in.

Join us for all of that and more at the top of the hour.

THE SITUATION ROOM with Wolf Blitzer continues in one moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get some more now on President Obamas historic overhaul of U.S. policy toward Cuba that was just announced today. It could dramatically increase the number of Americans visiting the island.

Here's the question -- is Cuba ready?

Morgan Neill is CNN's Havana bureau chief -- Morgan.

MORGAN NEILL, CNN HAVANA BUREAU CHIEF: Wolf, this latest move from the Obama administration will certainly mean more Cuban-Americans on vacation here in Cuba. But as further measures are debated, a lot of people are wondering what if all Americans were allowed to visit?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) NEILL (voice-over): It's not as if there's no tourism in Cuba. Every day, buses ferry thousands of tourists between Old Havana and the beaches of Varadero, with most coming from Canada and Europe, like Allen Sangsbury (ph).

ALLEN SANGSBURY: There are particular areas, the hotels they've developed in Guardalavaca and the islands, which are very good.

NEILL: Last year, was a record year, with more than 2.3 million tourists visiting. And now, U.S. President Barack Obama is allowing Cuban-Americans to visit whenever they want.

But what if Congress goes further and completely lifts the ban on Americans traveling to Cuba?

(on camera): Here in Old Havana's Colonial Plaza, the flow of tourists is essentially never-ending. But some experts say if Americans are allowed to come here, the number of visitors per year could more than double. Most of the people we talked to say Cuba's not ready for that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, that's unfortunate. (INAUDIBLE) hotel in Guadalaro (INAUDIBLE) was four star. It was horrible.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because Cuba is not ready for much tourism. Look, you still have problems of servicing. Staff are not particularly friendly or smiling.

NEILL (voice-over): But John from Ontario says he's had a great time and he thinks Cuba would have no problem absorbing American tourists.

JOHN: Its -- its number one industry is tourism. So, yes, you know, they'd -- they would adapt. An amazing people, I mean very adaptable.

NEILL: When directly asked if Cuba had prepared for the possibility of a flood of American tourists, Cuba's vice minister of tourism was noncommittal: "We prepare ourselves for international tourism," she said. "And well, if it's coming, we'll see."

At just 90 miles away, the United States is easily the largest and closest potential source of tourists for Cuba. And after nearly 50 years of economic embargo, most Americans have never set foot on these forbidden shores.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NEILL: For now, that won't change. The measures announced today deal only with Cuban-Americans. But there are plenty in Congress who would like to see travel to Cuba opened up for all Americans -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Morgan Neill is our man in Havana.

Thank you, Morgan, very much.

Jack Cafferty is our man in New York. I love saying that.

CAFFERTY: Whatever floats your boat.

The question this hour is: Should the press have better things to cover than the story of the Obamas' new dog, who is named Bo and who rated himself a front page story in "The Washington Post" yesterday.

Christine writes from New York: "The first family's dog stories are charming and sweet. What's the harm? It's positively refreshing to have occupants at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue who truly captivate the American people in a good way. Let us enjoy it. None of these occasional diversions deprive any of us of the horrible affairs of the world. It's not like the press is asleep at the wheel."

Chris in New York writes: "With all the gloom and doom we've been hearing for nearly a year over the economic crisis, we could use some light moments like the news about the Obama's family dog and the event that unfolded off the coast of Somalia yesterday. Remember, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy."

Nora in Texas: "I'm a great supporter of President Obama. I have been for a long time. This particular story made me roll my eyes. We have so many other important things to be discussing in the media, this should not be one of them. It is a light-hearted story, I know, but enough is enough."

Bertha writes: "Jack, there are two precious little girls in the White House that are getting their first puppy. It's a happy story. We need happy stories sometimes, especially now, don't you think?"

I do.

Jackson in Rome, Georgia writes: "Of course they do, but what are the American people going to tune into, a story about gloom and doom in the economy or a story about two little girls getting a new puppy? My money is on the puppy."

Stephen in Virginia writes: "My dog relieved himself on the floor while I was at work. What time should I expect the camera crews?"

Sally writes: "You're one to talk. You're on TV all the time. At least the dog isn't ugly."

And Iris in Michigan writes: "The insanity of prioritizing all this puppy press over legitimate news stories is enough to give one paws."

If you didn't see -- paws.

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

It's enough to give one paws -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good idea.

All right, Jack.

See you tomorrow.

Thank you.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

BLITZER: It sounds like a movie plot, but it's a real life horror -- the pilot of a plane dies midair and a passenger jumps into the pilot's seat. Wait until you hear the audio from the cockpit. It's just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

And what does the president do when the White House microphone doesn't work?

He calls in the experts -- just one episode in the first family follies. Jeanne Moos is standing by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Some pretty scary moments for folks aboard a small little plane.

Let's go to T.J. Holmes.

He's just getting some developments on what's going on -- T.J., explain what happened.

T.J. HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Well, the plane's flying the plane -- or the pilot is flying the plane. He has some kind of a medical emergency and dies on board. So somebody else has to land this thing, Wolf.

This happened yesterday over Florida. Again, the pilot died. We're not exactly sure what caused it. So one of the passengers had to spring into action.

And listen now as this passenger got step by step instructions on how to land that thing.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you using the auto pilot or are you flying the airplane?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Man, the good Lord's hand is flying this.

Nine Delta Whiskey.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Very good. Thank you.

Nine Delta Whisky, are you a licensed pilot?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Both times a single engine land. Nine Delta Whisky.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Very good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've got some buzzers going off here in gear control or something. I don't know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, sir. In that case, just level off when you're comfortable and I'll get you an answer on that in just a moment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got a light blinking on the pilot's panel that says AP disk. What's that mean, AP disk connect or something?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. We're getting that information right now. They're listening to you.

It sounds good. You're right on the money. You're lined up for the runway. So altitude your discretion. You can proceed visually and just let me know when you have the gear and the flaps down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. Gear going down.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

HOLMES: All right. That passenger actually did have some piloting experience -- about 150 hours, however -- but not for that type of plane. He was in single engines he did his training in. That was a dual engine plane.

The air traffic controllers, Wolf, were calling this an Easter miracle. And the pilot, when he got on the ground, he still said it's not over until it's over.

BLITZER: All right. Glad it's over well.

All right. Thanks, T.J.

HOLMES: Yes.

BLITZER: Take one youngish president and his youngish first lady, throw in two young daughters, a soon-to-be family puppy, add a few technical difficulties -- what do you get?

The first family follies.

Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos with some "Moost Unusual" Obama family antics.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When all of the Obamas make an appearance together, it's time for the latest installment of first family follies.

First off, everyone waited to see if the singer Fergie could hit the high notes of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

FERGIE (SINGING): And the rockets red glare...

MOOS: Not once, but twice.

FERGIE (SINGING): For the land of the free...

MOOS: And maybe that's what killed the microphones when the president went to speak.

(VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: And when all else failed...

(VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: ...try the rabbit ears.

Mrs. Obama killed time clowning around.

(VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: And finally, about a minute into the microphone meltdown...

MALIA: Is it on?

Oh, yes.

B. OBAMA: That's Malia, our technical adviser.

MOOS: Seven-year-old Sasha got into the act too, chiming in when she thought her mom left out an activity.

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: It's about moving their body. Get out. We don't have tennis. It's on the tennis court.

MOOS: But something's missing from this family tableau -- something that had the cloud clamoring.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Where's the dog?

MOOS: At that moment, we don't know where Bo was. But the White House released this photo of him running the halls with President Obama.

Kids were running on the White House lawn -- competing in egg races. The president egged this girl on and even intervened to get her over the finish.

(VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Members of the first family also took turns reading aloud.

(on camera): "Where the Wild Things Are" brought out the wild man in President Obama. He didn't just read, he reenacted.

B. OBAMA: (HOWLING)

So if this was them in the wild rumpus.

MOOS: He lead the group in staring without blinking.

(VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Kind of like the Secret Service guy lurking in the background.

B. OBAMA: Let the wild rumpus start.

MOOS: The wild rumpus of the Obama presidency.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And that's it for all of us.

Thanks very much for watching.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.