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North Korea's "Provocative Threats"; Iran Nukes: No Preconditions; Part Professor, Part Salesman

Aired April 14, 2009 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: The crew members of that hijacked American ship break their silence and speak out about their harrowing ordeal at the hands of Somali pirates. What promises to be an emotional reunion with their captain -- that's coming up.

And if you've been watching THE SITUATION ROOM, we just met the new White House dog. We're going to have the video that just came in from the White House.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


A sharp increase in tensions with North Korea -- the country is now kicking out international nuclear inspectors, threatening to restart its disabled reactor and vowing to walk away from the negotiating table -- rhetoric the White House is calling -- and I'm quoting now -- "provocative threats." All of it an angry reaction to a unanimous decision by the United Nations Security Council condemning North Korea's recent missile launch.

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

He's working this story for us, all right, Dan, strong words and actions from North Korea.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. You know, this administration clearly unhappy with the latest development. You're hearing very tough talk coming from the White House, trying to send a clear message to North Korea abandon its nuclear weapons. Reaction today coming from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs.


HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We are viewing this as an unnecessary response to the legitimate statement put out of concern by the Security Council. And, obviously, we hope that there will be an opportunity to discuss this not only with our -- our partners and allies, but also eventually with the North Koreans.



ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We call on North Korea to cease its provocative threats and to respect the will of the international community and to honor its international commitments and obligations.


LOTHIAN: So the administration really hoping that talk will help here, that dialogue will help to reduce some of the tensions -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, Dan, North Korea has been involved in these negotiations -- what they call these six party talks.

So what happened?

LOTHIAN: That's right. Well, all of that came to a halt, really, during the final days of the Bush administration, because North Korea wasn't really providing full disclosure about their nuclear weapons program.

BLITZER: And now they're saying, as you say, they're going to kick out the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors from North Korea and resume their fuel enrichment full speed ahead.

All right, a dramatic development.

At the same time, there's now word the Obama administration may be fine tuning its approach toward Iran's nuclear program and weighing some sweeping changes.

Let's to go to Brian Todd.

He's been taking a closer look at this story with enormous potential ramifications.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It certainly has those, Wolf. A bold new proposal is on the table -- one that's a significant break from the hard-line stand on negotiations taken by the Bush administration.


TODD (voice-over): Senior U.S. officials and European diplomats tell CNN of a new approach to Iran being strongly considered -- the idea of dropping America's insistence that Iran stop its nuclear activity during early stages of possible negotiations over its nuclear program. This would reverse a longtime stand by the Bush administration, which insisted that Iran halt its nuclear enrichment program before talks could begin.

One analyst believes the Obama team's new approach is a practical one.

KARIM SADJADPOUR, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT FOR INTERNATIONAL PEACE: I would argue this is a concession to reality. It's been clear for a long time that Iran has been willing to endure sanctions and economic isolation, but they haven't been willing to suspend enrichment. TODD: Some uranium enrichment could possibly continue during early rounds of talks. But senior U.S. officials tell us any move to allow Iran to continue nuclear activity during negotiations also would have to include strict oversight, including robust U.N. inspections of its nuclear programs.

But U.N. inspectors have been denied access to parts of some nuclear facilities in Iran. And the regime has already defied previous U.N. resolutions calling for it to stop its nuclear activity.

A Pentagon analyst from the Bush administration says the Obama team is being naive.

MICHAEL RUBIN, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: The United States is losing leverage. The Obama administration seems to have decided that the best strategy forward with Iran is just to shower them with hugs and kisses -- perhaps to sit down and talk. But there's no coercion to back that diplomacy.


TODD: Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment disagrees with that, saying the U.S. could impose tougher sanctions if Iran doesn't come clean. Both those analysts agree on one other potential danger here -- the risk that by not making it tougher for Iran to come to the bargaining table, the Obama administration is legitimizing the defiant stand previously taken by Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and giving him more credibility inside his country just ahead of elections in June -- Wolf, the Obama team not keen on Mr. Ahmadinejad getting re-elected. This could help him get re-elected.

BLITZER: Yes, presumably -- at least that's a fear that a lot of officials have.

I know you've been talking with officials from the IAEA -- the international watchdog agency -- from Iran and Israelis, as well.

What are they saying?

TODD: Well, the Iranians say essentially that the Bush team's approach wasn't realistic and was the reason that they had resisted suspension of their activity. An IAEA official surprisingly said that agency is in favor of dropping these preconditions. Anything, he says, to get Iran back to the table.

The Israelis are not commenting on this. You can surmise they're not that happy with this approach -- or at least are waiting to see what happens.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens. There's a lot of reports that the new prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu...

TODD: Right.

BLITZER: ...will be coming to Washington in the coming days to meet with the president of the United States. I'm sure this is right at the top of the agenda.

TODD: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Brian.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty.

He's got The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: "By no means are we out of the woods" -- that's President Obama's warning to Americans when it comes to our economy.

In his speech today, the president again talked of glimmers of hope, but balanced that by saying there's no doubt that times are still tough. The president says a full recovery depends on a new foundation for the economy. He blamed politics as usual and, of course, the media for making the situation worse.

Nonetheless, even as President Obama warned that tough economic times and choices lie ahead, it looks like he has a solid majority of the country behind him. In fact, Americans place more trust in the president than anyone else when it comes to fixing the economy.

A new Gallup poll shows 71 percent of those surveyed have confidence in the president to do or recommend the right thing for the economy. Compare that to 49 percent who feel that way about the Federal Reserve chairman, Ben Bernanke, and 47 percent who have the same feelings about Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. These are two people who are specifically charged with fixing the economy and yet the president rates much higher than either of them.

Mr. Obama also just kills the Republicans on this issue. A new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows more than twice as many Americans say the president has a clear plan for solving our economic problems than Republicans in Congress. The margin, 58 to 24 percent. In fact, not even Republicans are confident in Republicans. Only 36 percent of them think the party's leadership has a clear plan when it comes to the economy.

So here's the question -- -- how much confidence do you have in President Obama to fix the economy?

Go to and you can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Do you like dogs, Jack?

CAFFERTY: I -- yes. I have a dog, actually, at home. Nothing as exotic as a Portuguese Water Dog. She's just a mutt. But she's my very dear friend.

BLITZER: You love her very much, as -- as I'm sure you do.

CAFFERTY: It's mutual. She loves me, too.

BLITZER: I don't doubt that at all.

We're going to be showing our viewers the new pictures of Bo, the first family's new dog. That's coming up this hour. We've also got a veterinarian to help us better understand what the first family is going to be going through in the coming weeks and months.

Jack, stand by. You'll be interested.


CAFFERTY: Yes. I'm right here.



BLITZER: They say there's a -- as he's been saying, a short new resident over at the White House. We're going to be going over to the White House and taking a look at that new resident.

Also, they say they owe him their lives -- the crew of that American ship hijacked by pirates are about to see their captain for the first time since his stunning rescue. We have new details coming into THE SITUATION ROOM of the ordeal.

Also, the Republican Party chairman slamming President Obama, calling him arrogant. Paul Begala and Ari Fleischer -- they're here to weigh in on the fallout.

Plus, the first lady, Michelle Obama, thanking the people who protect her every single day. Her message to them in her own words -- raw and unfiltered.

All that coming up.


BLITZER: It may not be the most important arrival over at the White House, but certainly you shouldn't tell that to the first daughters, Sasha and Malia Obama. The dog their parents promised them months ago has now finally arrived.

Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry.

The South Lawn of the White House was the scene. A lot of cameras, a lot of reporters and photographers -- the first family and a dog.


I think I've covered a lot of big stories. But nothing quite prepares you for the enormity of the first dog's arrival.

There was, I think, more press out there scrambling for position than you see at some serious events around here. We did learn a little bit of information. Someone asked Mrs. Obama whether or not Bo Obama is neutered. She said yes. Someone asked the president if he will walk the dog. And the president of the United States said even though he's the leader of the free world, yes, he will. He said: "We all have to take turns." Someone else asked the president whether Bo Obama will be allowed into the Oval Office. He said, yes, he has some limits in terms of where the new dog will sleep. The president saying: "Not in my bed." And, finally, the president also noted that Portuguese Water Dogs have an affinity for tomatoes. So there's some concern around here that maybe Mrs. Obama's new vegetable garden could be in a little danger -- Wolf.

BLITZER: They're going to have to watch that dog closely.

All right, Ed, stand by.

We'll get back to you on some other subjects. That's coming up.

But I want to talk a little bit more about the first family's new dog.

We're joined by the veterinarian, Dr. Dandi Dahlgaard.


Dandi is walking in with Maggie.

Now, this -- this is a Portuguese...


BLITZER: ...a Portuguese Water Dog, as well.


BLITZER: Is this a good dog for the first family to have, because you -- you deal with dogs, Dandi, all the time.

DAHLGAARD: You know, as long as the first family is ready to own a dog and to be good dog owners and good pack leaders, any breed is going to be good for them. The focus really should be on training the dog...

BLITZER: I don't think...

DAHLGAARD: ...getting her...

BLITZER: I don't think Maggie is very happy right now, is she?

DAHLGAARD: She's fine.

Maggie, sit. It's OK. Hey. Hey. Good girl.

BLITZER: That's why you're a veterinarian.

DAHLGAARD: Portuguese Water Dogs do tend to be nervous... BLITZER: Yes. I can see.

DAHLGAARD: ...and can be insecure.

BLITZER: In the spotlight. It's not easy being in THE SITUATION ROOM.

DAHLGAARD: It's OK. She's attached to her dad, who's standing over there. And so...

BLITZER: Yes, she sees her dad over there.

DAHLGAARD: You're fine.

BLITZER: Come on in. Come on in and give your dog a little hug.

DAHLGAARD: Here, Maggie. Sit.

BLITZER: Give her a little love right now.

There he is.

All right.


BLITZER: That little doggies loves -- loves her dad.


BLITZER: Yes. I don't -- I don't blame her.

DAHLGAARD: Cesar Milan, who is my dog psychology hero...


DAHLGAARD: ...I really think has some very important points -- exercise, discipline and then affection. These dogs are a working breed. That means they need have to have a job. They've got to not only get to go out and exercise and chase the ball, but they need to have a job. So they have to sit and wait for their food. They need to go on 45 minutes to an hour long walk where they are moving forward and focused on the handler, whoever is walking them, whether it's the first lady, the president or their two daughters. All of them should be in charge of the dog.

BLITZER: And so it's a -- it's a family, as you know from your experience as a veterinarian.

DAHLGAARD: Absolutely.

BLITZER: How many years have you been a veterinarian?


BLITZER: Fourteen years? DAHLGAARD: Fourteen.

BLITZER: So you've had -- have you dealt with families and new dogs and specifically the Portuguese Water Dog?

DAHLGAARD: I have had a couple of clients have Portuguese Water Dogs. They're not one of the more common breeds, though. Now I'm sure they will be. But again, raising -- I'm in the process of raising a puppy myself. And it's a full-time job. It's a lot of work. So they have to be prepared for a lot of work.

BLITZER: And a lot of love you've got to show that...

DAHLGAARD: A lot of love. But after the exercise, after the discipline. This dog is going to need to know its boundaries. And the first family is really going to have to enforce those in order for it to be a good dog.

They're getting a dog that's six months old right now, so it's already got some behavioral patterns ingrained. And that may make it a little bit harder for them to turn it into a dog that they want.

BLITZER: What -- what advice do you have for the two little girls?

DAHLGAARD: I think that they need to learn -- they need to be shown how to be in charge of that dog. They need to be the pack leaders to that dog, because this puppy is going to see them as other litter mates and may play with them more roughly than it should. And so it does need to recognize those two girls as being in charge.

So they've got to be able to walk the dog and keep it beside them, not ahead of them. They need to feed it and enforce the rules as much as their parents do.

BLITZER: And they've got that big area on the South Lawn of the White House...

DAHLGAARD: Thank goodness.

BLITZER: That walking track, a running track around there.

DAHLGAARD: Thank goodness. This dog is going to need it.

BLITZER: It's going to get a lot of exercise.

DAHLGAARD: It's going to need to get a lot of exercise. I hope it does.

BLITZER: Because exercise is really -- in addition to good food...

DAHLGAARD: It's key. It's key. Exercise and discipline are absolutely the number one keys.

BLITZER: Dandi, thanks very much for coming in. DAHLGAARD: My pleasure.

BLITZER: Dandi Dahlgaard, a veterinarian here in Washington. Good advice for the first family.

DAHLGAARD: Thanks so much.

BLITZER: And we want to thank Maggie, as well, a sweet -- there she is right there. Maggie loves her dad over there. She's a good dog. She got a little nervous in THE SITUATION ROOM. Don't blame her. We get a little nervous ourselves.

Trapped in the dark for 12 hours -- hiding from pirates and not knowing if they would be found or survive. The crew of that hijacked American ship speaking publicly now about their ordeal.

Plus, they took millions, even billions in government bailout dollars.

So why are some of those banks sending your rates and fees through the roof?

We're exploring the outrage.


BLITZER: Let's go back to T.J. Holmes.

He's monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- T.J., what's going on?

HOLMES: Well, first here, Wolf, hundreds of protesters crowded outside the presidential residence in former Soviet Republic of Georgia today. They're calling for the president to step down. This is the sixth day of protests that have jammed streets and blocked traffic. Demonstrators angry over the president's handling of last summer's war with Russia. The president, Mikheil Saakashvili, he refuses to leave office and has offered, hi, Wolf, to hold talks.

Well, explosives found in a sacred place -- police in the West Bank say they uncovered a bomb factory inside a mosque. Police say they found two bombs inside and have arrested eight people. Investigators won't say who's behind these explosives, but claim the lab is part of an attempt to overthrow the Palestinian president.

Let's turn to Spain now. We should know this week if tactics used at Guantanamo Bay could land members of the Bush administration in court. Spanish prosecutors are trying to decide if a complaint from a human rights group should go forward. The group claims former attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, and five other officials allowed torture at Guantanamo in violation of international law. Several Spaniards were held at Guantanamo.

Also, the former Cuban leader, Fidel Castro, says America forgot one big thing -- the economic embargo. Castro praised President Obama for lifting some restrictions on travel to Cuba yesterday, but says the policies that remain cause, "painful suffering." Even so, Castro says Cuba will never beg the U.S. to lift the embargo, which was enacted three years after Castro took office. And that was back, Wolf, in 1959.

BLITZER: A long time ago.

All right, T.J., thanks very much.

Pirates off Somalia are not letting up. Today, they seized two more ships, including this one -- the Greek-owned Irene EM. Also, we're also learning more about the kidnapping of the American sea captain, Richard Phillips. The skipper of the USS Bainbridge says the pirates holding Phillips repeatedly threatened to kill him. U.S. Navy sharpshooters rescued Phillips Sunday.

Now, as CNN's David McKenzie shows us, Captain Phillips' crew is talking about this terrifying ordeal.


DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Their relief has arrived -- a replacement crew in for the now famous sailors of the Maersk Alabama. The seamen who came under attack by Somali pirates whisked to a resort hotel on the coast -- now decompressing from what was a harrowing experience.

JOHN, MAERSK ALABAMA CREW MEMBER: Laying there 12 hours in total darkness, hate and fear.

Do you understand that?

Can you imagine that?

I didn't know if they was going to find us or not find us.

MCKENZIE: They say Captain Richard Phillips gave himself to pirates to save the crew and the ship. The captain is safe, steaming on the USS Bainbridge toward Mombasa, for what will be an emotional reunion with the crew.

JOHN: I just want to see him one more time and tell him I owe him my life. And that's it. I just want you to understand that there's a lot of emotions involved in this.

MCKENZIE: Despite their setback, pirates are still attacking ships off Somalia -- at last count, four hijackings having occurred in the past day. The recent Navy action may not have deterred them. These waters remain as dangerous as ever.

David McKenzie, CNN, Mombasa, Kenya.


BLITZER: A couple trying to elope executed by the Taliban -- police in Afghanistan say that's just part of the tragic story. What they say the woman was trying to do -- that's coming up. Also, President Obama's strategy for an economic turnaround -- his five part plan and the points he needed to make today. We're breaking down the president's economic speech.


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

Happening now, millions of American kids are waiting for the other shoe to drop. At risk of losing their schools, even their country -- what a new poll reveals about their families and a growing situation here in the United States.

The ousted Illinois governor, Rod Blagojevich, pleaded not guilty today to charges he tried to auction off President Obama's former Senate seat. Blagojevich was impeached earlier in the year. He appeared in federal court and he says he's ready to clear his name.

And a drop on Wall Street -- the Dow lost almost 138 points today. Analysts blame poor retail sales, but say the pullback is healthy after a five week surge.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


The White House called it a major address. It was certainly a long address on the economy today. The president of the United States speaking about what's going on, what's he's trying to achieve.

Let's go to our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.

You watched.

You listened -- Candy, a lot of people did.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And that was really one of the main reasons that they promoted this as a major speech. You know, the president was recently in Europe. And this week he heads for Mexico and Trinidad and Tobago.

Today, was his time to check back in with the American people about the issue that tops their agenda.


CROWLEY (voice-over): He has sunk hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars into programs to boost the economy. He may need more, so the president has to show the first investment is working.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And taken together, these actions are starting to generate signs of economic progress.

CROWLEY: But economic signals are mixed. Americans still aren't spending and presidents can't afford to lose touch with Main Street reality.

OBAMA: 2009 will continue to be a difficult year for America's economy and obviously most difficult for those who've lost their jobs. The severity of this recession will cause more job loss, more foreclosures and more pain before it ends.

CROWLEY: Part professor, part salesman, President Obama spoke at Georgetown University, defending as absolutely necessary the enormous amount of money spent so far. No sale in some quarters, particularly the Republican ones.

REP. RON PAUL (R), TEXAS: His statement, that if government didn't do this, it would prolong the Depression, he's absolutely wrong on that.

CROWLEY: Just a bit of what will come as the budget battle gets down to the nitty-gritty. In his bid to preempt the critics, the president offered a full spectrum view of the economy.

What happened.

OBAMA: It was caused by a perfect storm of irresponsibility and poor decision-making that stretched from Wall Street to Washington to Main Street.

CROWLEY: Why he spent so much money...

OBAMA: The worst thing that we can do in a recession, this severe, is to try to cut government spending at the same time as families and businesses around the world are cutting back on their spending.

CROWLEY: And what he wants next.

OBAMA: We have to realize that we cannot go back to the bubble and bust economy that led us to this point.

CROWLEY: President Obama argued that his legislative agenda is an essential part of long-term recovery outlining something he calls the five pillars to grow a new economy. New rules and regulations for Wall Street. More money for education programs. More money to invest in renewable energy and technology. Money for health care reform and cuts in the federal budget to bring down the debt.

OBAMA: If we don't lay this new foundation now, it won't be long before we're right back where we are today.


CROWLEY: It was nothing that he has not said before and looked to hear more of it. Whether in Washington, the heartland, or points beyond, the president needs to both sell his programs and hold on to his most important supporters, the American people. Wolf?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Candy, don't go away. I want to bring in Paul Begala, our Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor, and Ari Fleischer, the former Republican White House press secretary under President Bush.

Ari, what did you think about the president's message today and the way he delivered it?

ARI FLEISCHER, FMR. REPUBLICAN WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I think, as always, nice rhetoric. But he has a real debt problem. The fundamental issue is he's adding $9.3 trillion to the national debt, which is more than his previous 42 presidents, his previous predecessors did in their entire history.

That's the fundamental issue is how far is Barack Obama going on the spending side to deal with what is an economic problem today.

BLITZER: Are you speaking about the next 10 years or the next eight years?


BLITZER: That's what I said. Ten years. $9.3 trillion over 10 years.

BLITZER: Is that a fair criticism, Paul?

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes, right. I was watching on the monitor. I wish Ari were here because he actually did say that with a straight face which is pretty remarkable. Pretty impressive, Ari. I admire that.

FLEISCHER: Do you dispute the number, Paul?

BEGALA: Because, of course, he inherited...

FLEISCHER: Do you dispute my straight face?

BEGALA: Excuse me for talking while you're interrupting, Mr. Fleischer. But he inherited a god awful mess from Mr. Fleischer's boss, our president at the time, George W. Bush.

That's why we're in this mess. President Bush inherited a surplus and ran up the debt. Now it's Mr. Bush's former aides like Mr. Fleischer who are saying somehow this is President Obama's fault.

Look. It's like -- let's say we all lived out in Las Vegas, right? Do we need to conserve water in the desert? Of course we do. But when the house is on fire, it's kind of a bad time to worry about water conservation, and particularly if you are the arsonist.

And that's what's happening here. These guys set the fire then they're worried about Obama wasting water.

BLITZER: All right.


BEGALA: You know, to conserve. BLITZER: Let me let Ari respond. But when President Bush took office, and you were there at the time, the national debt was about $5 trillion. When he left office it was getting close to $11 trillion, more than double the national debt.

FLEISCHER: Well, and to use Paul's very good analogy, the problem now is Barack Obama wants to soak the taxpayers to pay for even more debt. The problem is he's adding so much debt going beyond what the current crisis calls for to create all kinds of new programs.

Take, for example, the cap and trade energy tax increase that he wants to put on the American people. He actually in his speech today called the free market a loop hole. This is command and control where the government is now going to basically figure out how energy should be bought and sold in America's economy and charge the taxpayers for it.

BLITZER: On that point...

FLEISCHER: That's basically energy taxes going beyond the current crisis.

BLITZER: There are some Democrats, moderate Democrats who don't like that so-called cap and trade which is designed to make the country more friendly towards the earth, we should say. Reduce global warming by going for a tax on carbon emissions if you would.


BEGALA: Well, I think what he's just trying to do...

CROWLEY: Yes, and you are getting -- what he's getting now is pushback, not just from Republicans, but from Democrats in those industrial states. Because they look at it and they say, wait a second. This is going to cost our producers a lot of money.

They are going to cut jobs, and what it's going to mean is higher energy prices. So that's their argument.

My guess is, as it is currently proposed, and carbon tax is not going to stand, cap in trade, something else will happen because there has been -- that's been one in particular when there has been -- there has been a lot of pushback and the White House has begun to signal, at least in small ways that they'll talk about it.

BLITZER: And we had a blistering critique today, Paul, of the president and his policies from the new chairman of the Republican Party, Michael Steele. In an RNC letter, he says in a speech in France, Barack Obama called America arrogant. One, I'm sure the French loved it and so did the liberal press.

He goes on to say at the end, he said, President Obama seems to champion the twisted blame America first mentality of the worst of the American left.

All right. That rhetoric is heating up as well, Paul. BEGALA: But that's the job of a party chairman. You know I tend to cut Michael Steele a lot of slack because he's a good guy. But in fact, what the president actually said, not to confuse people with the facts. What he actually said was there were times when America has shown arrogance and been dismissive even derisive.

That's inarguably true. We all remember Donald Rumsfeld insulting the Europeans, calling them old Europe. He then the very next sentence, which I guess Chairman Steele didn't have time to put in his fundraising appeal, criticized the Europeans for an anti- Americanism that he said is at times both casual and insidious.

And he said it's wrong for the Europeans to blame Americans for everything that goes wrong. So I think it was a very balanced speech. But you know, balanced critiques don't raise money for the party. So I give Michael Steele a pass on this.

BLITZER: But you're not giving Ari a pass.


Clearly, Ari...

BEGALA: Ari just helped ruined the country. Michael Steele just trying to save a dying party.

BLITZER: But go ahead, Ari. You can respond to Paul.

FLEISCHER: Well, Paul is exactly right. That's what party chairmen do. I think when you get to the substance of senator or President Obama's tour of Europe, what I worry about is our foreign policy is going to be really an acquiescent one?

Are we going to ask anybody to help us? Why don't we help people's feet to the fire and get them to contribute more troops to Afghanistan where the fight really needs to be taken? Why isn't Europe doing more on the stimulus to protect their economies?

These are the things Barack Obama presented. He got resistance and he backed down right away. That's a troublesome pattern, because if all you want to do is get Europe to like you, that's easy. But if you want to lead the world, that's harder.

BLITZER: We got to leave it there -- on that note, guys. Thanks very much, Candy, Paul and Ari.

Tomorrow, Captain Richard Phillips and the crew of the Maersk Alabama expected to arrive back here in Washington.

Going forward, what do you think the U.S. should do to address the pirate problem? Submit your video questions to

An 8-year-old girl is married off to a 47-year-old man, and a judge refuses to allow a divorce. Twice. There are new developments in a case that's sparking international outrage. And will New York become the next state to allow same-sex marriage? Details of a bold new move by the governor, David Paterson.


BLITZER: A tragic end for a couple trying to elope in Afghanistan. Police say the Taliban executed the two because the woman was trying to run away from an arranged marriage.

CNN's Atia Abawi picks up the story. Atia?

ATIA ABAWI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a young man and a young woman were executed by the Taliban yesterday in the southwestern part of Afghanistan in a province called Nimroz. The couple were (sic) planning on getting married after the girl ran away from home escaping a forced marriage planned by her parents.

The Taliban got a hold of the information, captured the couple and gathered villagers in the area to witness the execution. The couple, they were shot to death. This incident very reminiscent of the brutal Taliban regime that took hold of the country from 1996 to 2001. Making the country a safe haven for extremist groups such as al Qaeda, who then planned the September 11th attacks.

And although Nimroz borders with Pakistan and Iran, it hasn't been getting the same attention as the volatile provinces of both Helmand and Kandahar. But this incident goes to show that the Taliban are gaining ground in many villages throughout Afghanistan, particularly in the southern and eastern regions of the country. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Atia. Shocking story. Thanks very much.

The first lady wants America to know about some people she says don't get enough recognition -- the federal workers. Michelle Obama is thanking for stepping in during times of crisis.

And a big announcement set to come from New York's governor. What he wants to make legal in that state that's illegal in most of the country.

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


BLITZER: Some of those bailed out banks, the bank bailed out with your taxpayer dollars are now raising fees and interest rates for consumers. What's going on?

We asked CNN's Mary Snow to try to find out. What's going on, Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there's a lot of anger. And some consumers are asking why are they paying twice, once with taxpayer money to bail out banks and a second time with a hike in rates and fees? (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): Ryan and Shannah Boone are reminded of the bailout each time they pay their credit card bill. Despite paying on time, they say their interest rate doubled and so did their monthly bill.


BRIAN BOONE, CREDIT CARD CUSTOMER: Right. And I feel as though these financial companies who got us into this situation with all these companies getting this bailout money and everything else, why aren't they the one -- why don't they help? Instead, they are putting more of a burden on us by raising the interest rate.

S. BOONE: Exactly.

SNOW: The congressional oversight panel that oversees the federal bailout is looking into that question. A spokesman says that...


SNOW: Obviously, we're having a few technical difficulties. But, Wolf, the American Banking Association released a statement saying that the competitive market is really dictating fees and rise in interest rates and that it, too, is affected by the downturn in the economy saying it is making -- lending money a lot more costly.

But many consumers are saying that they are feeling both effects and also we were also seeing some raises in the banking fees. And one economic research firm, an independent one, (INAUDIBLE) Services, estimates that $40 billion in fees on overdrafts will be collected by banks and credit unions this year alone. That's up $4 billion from a year ago. Wolf?

BLITZER: Generating a lot of outrage out there, Mary. Thank you.

Another story generating a lot of outrage not only here but around the world. The story of an 8-year-old Saudi girl married off to a 47-year-old man sparking, as I say, international outrage. And now there's word of a proposed law that could prevent something like this from happening again.

CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom is following all the latest developments.

Mohammed, what's going on?

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it seems like a new case of child marriage comes to light every few weeks in Saudi Arabia. Again, calling into question the issue of under age marriage in a country where women, let alone children, have few rights. But no case has been as shocking as this one.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JAMJOOM (voice-over): An 8-year-old girl is denied a divorce from a 47-year-old man. For the second time. In the deeply conservative Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where women must cover and religious police are constantly on patrol, this latest verdict has shocked many. None more so than women's rights activists.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It makes us really sad. Why do we have to go through all this hassle to make something -- to correct something that was wrong from the beginning?

JAMJOOM: Details of the case emerged in December when a judge in the city of Onaiza first refused to annul the marriage. On a technicality. Since the girl's mother is not considered her legal guardian, she didn't have the authority to petition the court.

According to the mother's lawyer, the girl is living with her mother and still doesn't know she's married. What's more, the girl's mother only found out about the marriage by accident saying it was arranged by another family member.

A court of appeals then took up the case, rejected the initial verdict and asked the judge to reconsider his ruling. This week, the original judge reviewed the case once more and refused to grant a divorce again.

Child marriages have recently become a hot button issue in Saudi Arabia. On one side of the debate are the moderates who want a law passed specifying a minimum age for marriage. On the other side are the hard-line conservatives like the country's top cleric, who was quoted in the Saudi press saying that it was OK for girls as young as 10 years old to marry.

Rights groups are outraged. UNICEF has issued a statement of concern in this case and says child marriages should not be allowed under any circumstance.

ANN VENEMAN, UNICEF EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: It is a violation of these children's rights. And it's a violation of what is good for children all the way around. And it should not be tolerated anywhere.

JAMJOOM: Meanwhile, the new Saudi Minister of Justice, considered more liberal than the man he replaced in February, told a Saudi newspaper that he is preparing a new child marriage law and it will be enacted soon.

It's unclear if a new law would help in this case. A close relative tells CNN that the court of appeals will hear the case in the next few weeks. Again.


JAMJOOM: Now I've been speaking with the girl's family. They were shocked and saddened by this most recent verdict and they're hoping the court of appeals will grant the girl a divorce once and for all. Wolf?

BLITZER: Hope so. All right, Mohammed. Thanks very much for that.

Let's go back to Jack Cafferty. He's got the "Cafferty File." You'd reported on this shocking story yesterday, Jack, and these latest developments, the second time, they say, you know what? No divorce.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, that was -- that was included in the stuff I did yesterday. Question this hour is how much confidence do you have in President Obama to fix the economy.

Liz in Los Angeles writes, "I have tremendous confidence. After all, this whole mess is, at least in part, a crisis of confidence, and he positively exudes confidence. Even if you don't like his policies, you've got to respect what he's doing as an excellent job of making us any more skittish that we already are and not trying to pull the wool over our weary eyes."

Jack in West Virginia, "With all this big government, I believe we're heading toward fascism. I don't have much faith in what this president's doing."

Conor in Chicago, "I don't have confidence in anybody fixing this economy." Brad writes, "With the economy starting to perk up, I think Obama's plan is already starting to work. The Republicans, as always, are just clueless."

Sentell writes, "Anybody with a brain can see that we're in better shape now since the Obama team began doing what's necessary to fix the economy."

Pete in New York writes, "As a productive member of the economy, part of that minority which actually pays income taxes, I have no confidence in the Democratic plans. Obama's out of control spending over the coming years will prevent private industry from generating jobs. And now we hear that as of next year the Social Security receipts going to deficit, and the shortfall will have to be made up out of general revenue. The outlook is not good."

And Sly writes from Alpena, Michigan, "Ask me the same question three years from now and I'll give you my answer."

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

BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thank you.

A new arrival over at the White House. The first daughters get the dog the president promised them during the campaign, but the vice president is living through a dog nightmare of his own. We have some details.

Plus, the first lady's message of thanks to the people who protect her family. Michelle Obama in her own words.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Bo Obama, the first family's new Portuguese waterdog, enjoying his first day over at the White House today. Here you see some of the new video of Bo on the south lawn of the White House, along with the rest of the first family.

The puppy was a campaign promise, as many of you recall, that the president made to his daughters, but the vice president's experience with his new pet has become something of a nightmare for him and the breeder.

CNN's Alina Cho explains.


ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Almost 40 years in the business and Linda Brown couldn't believe her luck when Vice President Joe Biden came to her Wolf Den Kennel in rural Pennsylvania. The VP ultimately went home with one of her German Sheppard pups.

LINDA BROWN, DOG BREEDER: In my mind, it was the most wonderful day of my life.

CHO: Or so she thought. Days after the VP's visit and the photo-op of a lifetime, Brown says the state's dog warden was at her door accusing her, she says, of dirty housekeeping, bad recordkeeping and mistreating her dog.

The state says inspections typically take place twice a year.

(On camera): You know the state claims that this is just part of routine inspection.

BROWN: Never. Never. I've been doing this for years. I've never had inspections like this.

CHO (voice-over): Brown says she's even received death threats. Who's behind this? She believes animal rights groups. PETA says Brown's claims are suspect.

BRUCE FRIEDRICH, PETA SPOKESMAN: I find it extraordinarily difficult to imagine that anybody is actually threatening anybody over this.

CHO: Days after it was announced the vice president was using a breeder, PETA re-released this disturbing ad in Biden's home state.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here's the dog you just killed.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you doing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, when you buy a dog from a breeder, you kill a dog in the shelter. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't want to kill a dog.


CHO: Vice President Biden's office tells CNN the VP has a stellar animal-rights record and was one of only seven senators who, in 2008, received a 100 percent rating from the Humane Society. The statement goes on to say he is an advocate for rescuing animals as shown by his rescue of the Biden's current cat Daisy from a local shelter.

After going to court, Brown was cleared of all citations, but she says not before spending $4,000 in legal fees.

(On camera): And if you had this to do all over again...

BROWN: Never. I would never sell to a high-profile person ever, ever again.

CHO: The big question now is will the Obamas take heat for not getting their dog from a shelter. Well, some are calling the first pup a quasi rescue dog because the Obamas saved him from owners who were a poor fit.

Animal rights groups say there's no such thing as a quasi rescue dog, while breeders say this is America, let people choose for themselves whether they want to get their dog from a breeder or the pound.

Alina Cho, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: A big thank you from the first lady. The people who protect her family. But Michelle Obama also drew attention today to some federal workers she says performed jobs that don't get a lot of recognition -- the Department of Homeland Security.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: Today, I want to personally thank the men and women of the United States Secret Service. See, a lot of people don't even know that they operate under DHS, but it is those men and women who are responsible for the safety and security of the president, the vice president, me and our families.

Every day, I see how hard they work. Every day, I see how much time they spend away from their own families to keep mine safe, and it has been an honor to get to know each and every one of them throughout the course of the campaign and our day-to-day interactions.

They represent the utmost of excellence and we are so honored to have them serving alongside of us. But I'm here not just to thank them, but to thank all of you. That's one of the things I've been doing over these first few months is thanking you all for your service to this country and to ensure that you, as true public servants, don't get lost behind the numbers and the magnitude of the mission that you have to execute every day.

Because it's the employees of this department who help families sift through the debris in search of a beloved doll or a teddy bear. It is the employees of this department who put their lives on the line to protect our borders. It is the employees of this department who educate our newest citizens.

It's all of you who risk your lives to help rescue someone at sea and who missed Easter or Passover or birthdays or anniversaries with their own families to spend time watching over mine.


BLITZER: The first lady says this year alone the Homeland Security Department will hand out three billion in grants for projects to protect the country.

And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.