Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

More Changes in U.S.-Cuba Relations?; American Captain Returns Home

Aired April 17, 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: And the architect of John McCain's failed presidential bid thinks he has a winning idea for Republicans. He wants them to stop fighting same-sex marriage, among other things.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

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

Right now, President Obama's at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago. And expectations are running high for a thaw in U.S. relations with Cuba. President Raul Castro says he's ready to talk with the Obama administration and put everything on the table.

We're expecting the president of the United States to be commenting shortly. There he was just moments ago being introduced over at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago.

Our White House correspondent Dan Lothian, is traveling with the president.

Just received some excerpts, I take it, from what we're about to hear from the president; is that right, Dan?

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

In fact, we have the entire speech here. And the president talks about energy and, of course, the economic crisis. But what everyone wants to hear from the president is what he will say about Cuba.

And towards the end of the speech is where he talks about that country, saying -- quote -- "The United States seeks a new beginning with Cuba. I know there is a longer journey that must be traveled in overcoming decades of mistrust. But there are critical steps we can take toward a new day. I have already changed a Cuba policy that has failed to advance liberty or opportunity for the Cuban people. We will now allow Cuban-Americans to visit the island whenever they choose and to provide resources to their families, the same way that so many people in my country send money back to their families in your country to help them pay for their everyday needs."

He goes on to say: "Over the past two years I have indicated, and I repeat today, that I am prepared to have my administration engage with the Cuban government on a wide range of issues, from human rights, free speech, and democratic reform, to drugs, migration and economic issues." And then on this subject, he ends by saying, "Let me be clear. I am not interested for the sake of talking, but I do believe that we can move U.S./Cuban relations in a new direction."

And, again, Wolf, we are talking about how the administration did not think and did not want Cuba to really dominate the summit, but it does appear that that is exactly what will be happening, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs saying that this whole diplomacy between the United States and Cuba is not a one-way street, but a busy two-way thoroughfare -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Dan Lothian, thanks very much.

And once the president starts speaking in Trinidad and Tobago, we will go there live.

Let's get some more now on Cuba's offer to talk to the United States, what the Obama administration is saying and doing, including behind the scenes.

We asked Brianna Keilar, our congressional correspondent, to take a closer look.

Things are happening rather quickly.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is diplomacy on fast-forward, a whole new tempo here, Wolf, and this, of course, happening just a few days since President Obama gave Cuban- Americans the co-ahead to travel to Cuba, also to send money to their relatives there, and said that he will allow American cell phone companies to do business in Cuba.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR (voice-over): President Obama says the next move is Havana's.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Having taken the first step, I think it's very much in our interest to see whether Cuba is also ready to change.

KEILAR: A quick response from Cuban President Raul Castro.

RAUL CASTRO, CUBAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We are ready when they want to discuss everything -- human rights, freedom of the press, political prisoners. Everything, everything, everything they want to discuss.

KEILAR: Castro said this before, but on the heels of the greatest shift in U.S. policy towards Cuba in 50 years, the words have new importance.

Even before face-to-face talks, Cuba could send the U.S. a welcome signal by freeing political prisoners, making it easier for Cubans to travel to the U.S., allowing Cubans the freedom to assemble, or opening the Cuban telecommunications market -- Internet, television, cell phone service, to U.S. companies.

Experts say Raul Castro realizes this may be the last chance to preserve the legacy of the revolution.

JULIA SWEIG, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: He's 77 years old. His brother is 82. The clock is ticking, and he's keenly aware of the internal demand and high expectations of its own population, expectations which he can help meet by reducing the tension between -- with the United States.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR: While the Obama administration waits on the Castro government, Latin American leaders like Mexican President Calderon, whom the president met with yesterday, say the burden here is really on the U.S., because 50 years of the trade embargo failed to change things in Cuba -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Lots of pressure from the Latin American allies, including Mexico, to try to ease those restrictions and end the embargo, the sanctions.

Thanks very much.

We will see -- we're waiting to hear from the president. Once he starts speaking, in Trinidad, we're going to go there.

Let's get to a former hostage's homecoming, though, right now.

When Richard Phillips landed home in Vermont just a little while ago, we could see he had some visible scars from his five days held by pirates. But the sea captain showed no signs of bitterness.

And in brief remarks, surrounded by his family, Phillips repeatedly thanked the U.S. troops who rescued him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CAPTAIN RICHARD PHILLIPS, FORMER HOSTAGE: I just want to thank you for your prayers and support of my family while I was gone. I really appreciate that. I wasn't here to do it. And a lot of people who I will mention really did that.

I'm just a bit part in this story. I'm a small part. I'm a seaman doing the best he can, like all the other seamen out there.

The first people I want to thank are the SEALs. They're the superheroes. They're the titans. They're impossible men doing an impossible job. And they did the impossible with me. And I just want to let you know they are -- they are out there. They are everyday people we will not recognize and I will not divulge, but they did an excellent job, and they saved me.

They're at the point of the sword every day doing an impossible job, which we cannot comprehend. Second, the military, the Navy, the Marines, the Air Force, I have never been around a better group of young, more dedicated, professional, capable people in my life. I have been on the Boxer and the Bainbridge, all you Bainbridge boys out there, and I really appreciate the time there.

I cannot speak enough about the people, the men, the women on those ships, and the dedicated service that they give to us every day.

Also, the Boxer, I was on. And, again, you have two captains on there, on the Boxer and the Bainbridge, who are two most coolest cucumbers I have ever met, and are doing an admirable job. And they are just proud to be leading the group of people, men and women, that they have out there. I just want to thank them.

If you see the military, you can thank them from me. If you're in the airport, having -- a restaurant, they're down the street, thank them. They're doing an impossible job. I would not be here without them.

Third, I would like to thank Maersk and in -- particularly Mr. Moller for doing everything he has done for me since day one, since this started, early in the morning of the 8th.

I can't stress enough how much they have done for me, for my family, for my kids, Dan, Mariah, my mother. And I am just impressed to be able to work for a company like that, who has done so much for me, and Mr. Moller, especially, for going all out and doing everything for me that -- that he's done.

I would like to thank my community, my fellow Vermonters, for showing support. I guess it was

(APPLAUSE)

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

R. PHILLIPS: I guess it was an unbelievable outpouring. I appreciate that. I really do. It's really showing -- you really show your stuff.

For all the support from my fellow Americans, I can't believe this. I'm not a hero. It just -- it just floors me about the -- everything I have read, and shown the support that you have done.

Also, I want to thank my crew. We did it. I told you it wasn't going to be if; it's going to be when. And we did what -- what we trained to do. We're just seamen. We do the best with what we got. And my -- my crew did an excellent job. And I'm so proud of them that they're all home and they are with their loved ones.

I want to thank my other company, LMS (ph), for everything they have done for me and the opportunities they have given for -- given to me. And, last, all my family, Andrea, Mariah, Danny, my mother, Virginia, for the support. They have been there. It's all worth it for them.

And, again, thank you.

I'm not the hero. The military is the hero.

(APPLAUSE)

R. PHILLIPS: Thank them.

Thank you.

ANDREA PHILLIPS, WIFE OF CAPTAIN RICHARD PHILLIPS: Thank you.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

R. PHILLIPS: Excuse me?

QUESTION: ... on that boat?

(CROSSTALK)

R. PHILLIPS: Indescribable. Indescribable.

Once again, I'm not a hero. The military is. Thank them whenever you see them.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

R. PHILLIPS: The military did it. Thank you.

God bless America.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: God bless Captain Phillips as well.

Let's go to Deborah Feyerick. She's in Burlington, Vermont. She's been covering Captain Phillips' homecoming.

Quite an emotional setting over there. He insists he's not a hero, but all our viewers know he really is, because he helped save the lives of his crew members by volunteering to go with those pirates on that little lifeboat. And, fortunately, he was rescued.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

It was really a very moving moment when his daughter just ran up the steps of the plane. She couldn't even wait another second. She had to rush to see her dad. Now, also on board that plane, Wolf, two FBI agents. And even though a Maersk spokesperson says that there wasn't an official debriefing, it was a very long flight. And, unofficially, they did talk about some of the events, what happened in the Gulf of Aden, how he was on board that lifeboat for five days with those four pirates.

And, again, he's going to have to tell his story in court because they are bringing the youngest pirate. Somebody who turned himself over to the Navy, they are going to try that pirate in the U.S. -- so, again, a lot of different elements here.

Tonight, we know that the captain is heading to his home. And, Wolf, it's gotten a little windy out here. We do know that the captain is heading to his home. A family friend has made some chicken pot pie. He's going to have some homemade brownies and some beer, and, as his wife says, just be a family again -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We're very happy for the entire family.

All right, Deb, thanks very much.

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: She's been out of the national spotlight ever since John McCain lost last November, but Sarah Palin was back in a big way last night. The Alaska governor spoke to a sold-out crowd of 3,000 at a Right to Life fund-raising dinner in Indiana.

Organizers even set up a paid closed-circuit broadcast at an auditorium, and officials had to close down streets nearby. People taking pictures, seeking autographs simply mobbed Sarah Palin.

At the dinner, she criticized President Obama's position on abortion and embryonic stem cell research. Palin, surprisingly, told the crowd that, when she learned she was pregnant with a Down syndrome baby -- quote -- "just for a fleeting moment"-- quote -- she considered getting an abortion.

Politico reports, even though Palin hasn't been doing a lot of fund-raising, that hasn't stopped many from using her name or image to raise big bucks, often without her approval. Groups on both side of the abortion issue, environmental groups, political action committees from both parties have gotten in on the Palin act. Politico describes her as an almost unparalleled fund-raising force.

Meanwhile, Palin's big appearance in Indiana came at the end of a rough week for her back in Alaska. Her controversial selection for state attorney general was rejected by the Republican-controlled legislature after damaging confirmation hearings. Turns out that Wayne Ross had previously defended a Ku Klux Klan statute, characterized gays as degenerates, and, in 1991, reportedly said -- quote -- "If a guy can't rape his wife, who's he going to rape?" -- unquote. Ross denies saying that.

Nice pick, Governor. The legislature also made clear that it will not accept Sarah Palin's effort to turn down more than $400 million in federal stimulus money.

Here's the question: What is it about Sarah Palin that makes people reach for their wallets? Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: She's a phenomenon. You got to admit, whether you love her or hate her, she's a phenomenon.

CAFFERTY: No question. Yes, she really is.

BLITZER: I know. All right, Jack, thank you.

They're shocking, but might -- repeat, might -- their release put the U.S. at greater risk? It's the debate over the outgoing -- outing of interrogation tactics that some call torture. Fran Townsend was the homeland security adviser for President Bush. She's now a CNN homeland security contributor. She's here. We're going to discuss.

And the Environmental Protection Agency sets the stage for possible regulation of global warming. Is it an end run around Congress?

And get this. A prominent Republican -- he even ran John McCain's presidential campaign -- now says Republicans should embrace same-sex marriage. What's going on?

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Just a reminder: The Summit of the Americas has now started in Trinidad and Tobago. The president of the United States, Barack Obama, is there.

There -- some of the earlier speakers, they are speaking right now, and we are going to go there once the president of the United States starts speaking. He's got specific remarks you just heard from Dan Lothian, our White House correspondent, responding to Raul Castro and a potential thaw in U.S./Cuban relations. Stand by. You will see it and hear it here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Meanwhile, classified memos just released are revealing harsh interrogation tactics sanctioned by the Bush administration. Now the Obama administration has made a decision to make the documents public. That decision is drawing criticism.

Let's talk about that, and more, with the former Bush homeland security adviser and now CNN national security contributor Fran Townsend.

Fran, thanks very much for coming in.

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Good to be here.

BLITZER: What do you think about this decision to make public all these documents? The president said so much of the information was already in the public domain. He's not going to go ahead and authorize any prosecution of CIA officers who engaged in the enhanced interrogation techniques.

What's wrong with letting everyone know what was approved by the Bush administration?

TOWNSEND: Well, Wolf, there's a difference between what gets leaked, classified information that's leaked, and the government actually coming out and releasing documents and actually saying in detail what was going on.

And it's a problem for a couple of reasons. The president was perfectly within his rights to make the decision not to use those techniques anymore, perfectly right to say -- come out and be clear that they're not going to prosecute those who implemented those authorities.

The problem is the release of the memos. Why? Because the CIA makes their reputation and provides value by doing two things. They steal secrets and they keep secrets. And what this suggests to our allies around the world is, the CIA can't promise them that they can keep secrets anymore.

When we have an election and governments change, secrets may be declassified. What that says to our allies around the world is, we can't promise them we will keep their secrets either. And you run the risk that they will stop giving you vital counterterrorism information.

The second problem is, the people who relied on the memos, while they know now they're not going to be prosecuted, there may be -- Senator Pat Leahy and others up on Capitol Hill who have said they want to have these commissions and they want to have...

BLITZER: They want to call them to testify, so that lessons can be learned from what they regard as a clear mistake on the part of the Bush administration, so that these mistakes don't happen again. And if you don't let the Congress get involved, the American public get involved, there's a potential to repeat some of these mistakes.

TOWNSEND: I understand that.

But, Wolf, let's be real clear about the facts. There were briefings up on Capitol Hill in 2002. There were far more extensive ones in 2006. The Intelligence Committees in the House and Senate have access in a classified, in an appropriately classified environment to this information. People knew...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But knowing what you know right now -- and you were obviously right in the middle of all of this -- was it worth it? Was it worth the enhanced interrogation techniques, the water-boarding, which so many people regard as torture? Was it worth it, given what you know?

TOWNSEND: Well, you know, first, I should tell you, I was not involved in either the policy or the legal debates. These debates took place before I was there. Policies were in place.

I was aware that they -- the policies were in place, but the details of them were very closely held. I never saw the memos myself. I will tell you, though, when you go back and look, one of the people who was captured was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the September 11 plot.

That -- the way he was captured was a trail that went back to these interrogation techniques of Abu Zubaydah.

BLITZER: Because one of the guess they want to check now is to see if any of the water-boarding or any of the other enhanced interrogation techniques actually produced useful information. And that's what Congressmen Leahy, Congressman Conyers, that's what they want to investigate. And we will see that as the investigations continue.

We have got to leave it right there.

TOWNSEND: OK.

BLITZER: Fran, thanks very much for coming in.

A major reversal on climate change policy -- the EPA announcing a decision that critics say opens the door to more government regulations.

And the former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is comparing President Obama to a former one-term president -- why Newt Gingrich says Mr. Obama reminds him of Jimmy Carter.

And Cuba's leader, Raul Castro, says he's ready to talk to the Obama administration. Will President Obama take him up on his offer? We're about to hear the response from the president of the United States right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The president of the United States says the United States under his administration is seeking a new beginning with Cuba.

We're getting ready to hear the words from President Obama. He's at the Summit of the Americas. We will go there live to hear what he says. There are fast-moving developments in a potential thaw in U.S./Cuban relations.

A decision announced by the Environmental Protection Agency today could significantly expand the government's regulation of companies that cause pollution. But there's concern, deep concern, the EPA may be stepping on Congress' turf when it comes to action on global warming.

Let's go to our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin. She's watching the story -- Jessica.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, in one move, the Obama administration is blowing past climate change skeptics and it would seem forcing Congress to act or be made irrelevant on sweeping environmental regulations.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN (voice-over): It's a watershed decision, reversing years of Bush administration policy. The Environmental Protection Agency is declaring greenhouse gases are causing potentially health-threatening air pollution, and these human emissions are helping to cause increased drought, flooding, more intense heat waves, storms, and wildfires.

Environmental advocates are cheering.

DAVID DONIGER, NATIONAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL: Global warming is dangerous to our health and to the environment around us. Most people know that. But the government has never officially recognized it before.

YELLIN: It's the first step to likely new regulations limiting emissions by cars, energy plants, factories, and other businesses, all without any action by Congress.

Now, critics are howling. House Republican Leader John Boehner calls it "a backdoor attempt to enact a national energy tax." The Senate's leading climate change skeptic, James Inhofe, describes it as "a regulatory barrage that will destroy jobs, raise energy prices for consumers, and undermine America's global competitiveness."

In Congress, committee chairmen are working on climate change legislation, but there's heavy opposition. Now the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is worried the administration is using this EPA decision to pressure members to pass the Democrats' bill.

WILLIAM KOVACS, U.S. CHAMBER OF COMMERCE: They're trying to say, if you don't go along with what various committee chairmen are saying, we are going to turn the EPA wild.

YELLIN: The White House insists the EPA is acting now because a Supreme Court decision requires it.

And the head of the EPA tells CNN:

LISA JACKSON, ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY ADMINISTRATOR: Today's announcement is actually about science. And it's the government's recognition of something that many others have been saying for a long time, which is that greenhouse gases, unchecked, endanger public health. They endanger our country's welfare.

(END VIDEOTAPE) YELLIN: And, Wolf, it's important to note that what the EPA decided today are not regulations. Next, they have a 60-day comment process, which still gives Congress two months to act. The White House says they would still rather see Congress make the first move, but clearly they're keeping their options open -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jessica, thanks very much.

Jessica Yellin is in New York.

The man who ran John McCain's presidential campaign is now challenging Republicans to stop fighting against same-sex marriage. Could that help the party turn its fortunes around?

Plus, could California's youngest governor in modern history become its oldest governor decades later? We're talking about Jerry Brown. He tell us why he thinks he's still on the cutting edge.

And a plane slices a home in two in Florida.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now: General Motors' CEO says the company will announce more job cuts and plant closings over the next coming weeks. It hopes to ward off a government-mandated bankruptcy filing. Fritz Henderson says bankruptcy is more probable for GM than it was several weeks ago.

Fort Lauderdale officials say one person was aboard a twin-engine plane that slammed into a home, cutting it in two. They say the crash was not survivable. No one was in the house at the time.

A manhunt is on for a possible serial robber/killer in the Boston area. Police suspect the death of one woman and the gunpoint robberies of two others are linked. They believe he selected his victims through craigslist.

Still ahead, the best political team on television as well.

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

John McCain's wife and daughter are offering a show of support for gay rights. Cindy and Meghan McCain are set to appear this weekend before the Log Cabin Republicans. The gay rights groups -- group is holding a convention here in Washington.

The architect of Senator McCain's 2008 presidential campaign spoke to the group today.

Let's bring in our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, who's working the story for us.

Somewhat surprising remarks, Dana. DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And what he said is, he said, look at recent election results. In fact, we have a map to illustrate what he was talking about -- the election he worked on, 2008.

Look at the colors. Red represents red -- represents Republicans, rather. They have lost on the coasts and in the Northeast big time, especially in the last election.

And what he says is that he believes a big reason for that is the Republican coalition is shrinking because it is perceived as intolerant. And he actually said that's especially true when it comes to gay rights.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): A surprising challenge from the man who ran John McCain's presidential campaign -- Republicans should drop their opposition to same-sex marriage.

STEVE SCHMIDT, FORMER MCCAIN ADVISER: It cannot be argued that marriage between people of the same sex is un-American or threatens the rights of others. And our great Republican Party should always be on the side of expanding freedom and equal rights.

BASH: Steve Schmidt told this gathering of gay Republicans that allowing same-sex marriage is in line with the conservative credo to live and let live and keep government out of your life. And he argued raw politics -- the GOP must be more open if it wants to reverse an alarming trend -- a shrinking coalition, especially among younger, more accepting voters.

SCHMIDT: People are turned off, in large measure, by what they see -- by what they see as intolerance coming out of the party.

BASH: Schmidt has personal experience -- a gay sister -- and knows his is a minority view. Even McCain, the candidate he worked for, ran against same-sex marriage.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: One man and one woman -- that's my definition of marriage.

BASH: But the group Schmidt addressed, the Log Cabin Republicans, hopes other party leaders now realize that election losses prove the GOP catered too much to social conservatives.

CHARLES MORAN, LOG CABIN REPUBLICANS: It's great that the Republican Party is going through this soul-searching moment right now because Republicans are thinking outside of the box.

BASH: These days, their grassroots organization is reaching out to sympathetic Republicans in states debating same-sex marriage initiatives. And this week, another Republican group, GOProud, formed to push a broader agenda -- advocating conservative issues like low taxes and small government on behalf of gays. JIMMY LASALVIA, GOPROUD: Well, there's a misconception that if you're gay, you're liberal. You know, just like there's a misconception that if you're conservative, you're a bigot, you know?

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BASH: Now, nearly three in 10 self-identified gays and lesbians voted Republican in the last presidential election. Still, GOP operative Steve Schmidt admitted most Republican leaders won't drop their opposition to same-sex marriage anytime soon. But he also thinks, Wolf, that that will change as people get to know others close to them in committed relationships who are gay, like he has with his own sister.

BLITZER: Yes. It's interesting. Steve Schmidt, he once worked in the Bush White House. He worked for Dick Cheney. He went to work for Arnold Schwarzenegger and more recently for John McCain. So...

BASH: And that was back in California.

BLITZER: Yes.

All right, thanks very much for that.

BASH: Thank you.

BLITZER: Dana Bash reporting.

Let's talk about this and more with our CNN senior political analyst, Gloria Borger; our CNN political contributor, Steve Hayes, of "The Weekly Standard;" and our CNN political analyst, Roland Martin. I don't know if it's going to resonate with the base of the Republican Party, Gloria, but what do you think of his message to Republicans?

GLORIA BORGER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I -- I think his message is that the base of the Republican Party isn't enough. And as Dana pointed out in her piece, he said when people think of you as essentially intolerant, your party shrinks. And right now, only one out of every four voters identifies themselves as Republicans. The party can't get much smaller. He wants to broaden the tent here.

BLITZER: And, you know, he makes the case, also, that the base of the party -- I don't know if Steve can hear me. I don't -- can you hear me, Steve?

STEPHEN HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Yes.

BLITZER: OK. He makes the point, Steve, that the base of the party is listening too much to religion.

Listen to what else he told the group.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCHMIDT: If you put public policy issues to a religious test, you risk becoming a religious party. And in a free country, a political party cannot remain viable in the long-term if it is seen as a sectarian party.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What do you think about that point, Steve?

STEPHEN HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Well, I think there are points in Steve's speech that probably will find a lot of agreement among Republicans and conservatives. I don't think that's one of them, though. I don't think that necessarily people who oppose gay marriage are putting it to a religious test. I mean there are lots of other reasons that people oppose gay marriage.

You know, I, for instance, favor gay adoptions. I favor civil unions. I don't favor gay marriage. So I think you have a lot of Republicans who draw the line short of gay marriage, but could be supportive to other things that would sort of reward gays who are in committed relationships.

BLITZER: And President Obama...

ROLAND S. MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Steve, Steve...

BLITZER: President Obama, Roland, doesn't support gay marriage. He supports civil unions, obviously. But he himself doesn't support gay marriage.

MARTIN: Well, again, it all -- it is all based, also, on the language that you use and how you are perceived and how you come across. And so just like you have -- you have Republicans who may advocate various issues when it comes to education, when it comes to vouchers and or appealing to African-Americans. But it's on other issues in terms of how the language is being used.

And so now when Steve -- when Steve makes the point about in terms of how religion is used, the reality is when you have a party that is appealing to social conservatives, they're mainly going after pastors, going after deacons. Remember the Patriot Pastors who were pushing President Bush.

And so they are looking at those issues through a faith prism, whether it's abortion, whether it is homosexuality. And so religion is a part of how they define and look at some of these moral issues.

BORGER: And -- but I think his other point, also, is that the Republican Party is a party of values and that the value of marriage and the sanctity of marriage is something that they should promote because they believe in family. And they -- and, so, you know, this, he believes, is in keeping with Republican orthodoxy.

BLITZER: Is -- is his message going to resonate, Steve, with a lot of Republicans or is he going to be seen as, you know, sort of a dissident in the Republican in the Republican -- in the Republican Party?

HAYES: Yes. I don't -- I don't think his message is going to resonate a lot, I think, in part, because he, you know, went for the Hail Mary. He went for the long touchdown by pushing for gay marriage rather than taking what I would consider to be more an incremental step in saying, look, we, as Republicans, you know, we should consider civil unions -- consider some of these other things that might be a step along the way.

BLITZER: All right, guys...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: All right. Make a quick point, Roland.

MARTIN: Yes. Also, Wolf, I think, when you look at who he was speaking to, as well, the Log Cabin Republicans, I think if he wanted to really hit them between the eyes, he would have given that speech at a different kind of conservative gathering to sort of get a sense of how they would have reacted to his speech. This was clearly a very pro-gay marriage organization.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand...

BORGER: That's probably why he did it.

BLITZER: Stand by, guys.

Don't go away.

We're going to continue this conversation.

Let's also talk about the former House speaker, Newt Gingrich. He's taking a swipe at President Obama, calling his policies exactly like those of former President Jimmy Carter. We're going to hear what Newt Gingrich had to say.

And we're also standing by to hear directly from President Obama. He's getting ready to speak over at the Summit of the Americas. He's calling for a new beginning with Cuba.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The president of the United States says he wants to start a new beginning with Cuba. We're getting ready to hear from the president shortly. Stand by for that.

But let's assess what's going on at the Summit of the Americas with the best political team to television. We're continuing our conversation with Gloria Borger, Steve Hayes, and Roland Martin -- Roland, let me start with you this time.

What do you think about this overture toward Cuba and the response, at least today, from Raul Castro, saying he's ready for a dialogue?

MARTIN: Wow! This is what happens when you actually reach out. Now, look, obviously Cuba can sit here and they can say, oh, everything's on the table and then they can always walk away from that and say we don't want to listen to any of it. But the reality is you have to have a dialogue. You have to have a conversation.

We can't sit here, as a nation, and talk about reaching out to China and talk about being able to dialogue with them and then we don't do the exact same thing with Cuba. It makes no sense. This is the right move.

BLITZER: Seventy-one percent, Steve, of the American people, in a recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, said the United States should re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba. I assume they mean full diplomatic relations.

Right now, there's an intersection. There's sort of unofficial diplomatic relations. But the country seems to agree with the president of the United States to try to exploit a potential opening.

HAYES: Yes. And that's been true across the board. I mean we've seen other CNN polls that show that the country is ready for talks or engagement with Iran, with North Korea even, which surprises me a little bit.

But going back to Roland's point, you know, it is not the case that this is what happens when you reach out. I mean, Barack Obama's reached out to Iran now for several weeks -- a couple months. And he's basically gotten the Heisman (ph) from Iran on everything he's proposed. So it's not so simple to say well, really, all we have to do is be nice and kind and reach out and then we're going to get all this love. It doesn't...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Gloria...

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: No, Steve...

BLITZER: Hold on, Gloria...

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: The point is that you make the effort.

BLITZER: Hold on, guys.

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: The point is you make the effort.

BLITZER: Hold on. I want to just point out that Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, is making a similar point in these comments that he made.

Gloria, listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: And I made the argument that not dealing with the Somalian pirates who are weak encourages Kim Jung Il and the Iranians, who are strong, and creates a far more dangerous world. And this is exactly Carterism. I mean this -- this administration's policy is so much like Jimmy Carter that it's eerie, except for the fact, of course, these were the people who were junior people in the Carter administration.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, Gloria, go ahead. You can make your thought.

BORGER: Look, I think -- I think -- first of all, I think Barack Obama did deal with the Somali pirates.

But secondly, I think this may be wishful thinking on Newt Gingrich's part.

Look, if you take a step back, Barack Obama has a very high risk strategy here. He's kind of an all in kind of president. He's decided that the old assumptions that we run Washington by and we run the world by may be ready to change. This is very high risk, whether it's on Cuba, whether it's on Iran, whether it's on Venezuela, who knows.

He has decided to do things differently.

Why not try it that way?

It didn't work for the last eight years very well -- so long as he doesn't do anything that he can't take back.

BLITZER: All right, guys. We'll leave it on that note. And we'll wait to hear from the president himself, because he's in Trinidad and Tobago right now, Port-of-Spain, the capital. And he's getting ready to speak at the Summit of the Americas. We'll have live coverage here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Also, he was one of California's youngest governors -- will he also be one of California's oldest governors?

Jerry Brown -- he's planning to take the state's -- he's trying to take the state's top post again, decades after he last held it.

And why some Hispanics are being urged to boycott the census.

What exactly is going on?

And what is it about Sarah Palin that makes people reach for their wallets?

That's Jack's question.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Obama getting ready to tell the Summit of the Americas the United States seeks a new beginning with Cuba.

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

He's in Port-of-Spain over at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago.

Give us the basic message he's delivering in response to what the Cuban president, Raul Castro, said.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, first of all, it would a wide-ranging speech where he will touch on the economic crisis; also on the environment and energy. But he will be talking about Cuba. And that's something that so many people will be paying close attention to.

The president will say, in part: "The United States seeks a new beginning with Cuba. I know there is a longer journey that must be traveled in overcoming decades of mistrust, but there are critical steps we can take toward a new day."

And the president will end his remarks on the topic of Cuba saying: "Let me be clear, I am not interested in talking for the sake of talking, but I do believe that we can move U.S./Cuban relations in a new direction."

Wolf, we're waiting. The president should be speaking very shortly. We've all -- we already heard from the leaders of Argentina and also, Nicaragua.

Up next, Belize and then President Obama -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We'll have live coverage. Stand by for that.

Dan Lothian is in Port-of-Spain in Trinidad and Tobago.

Next year's census here in the United States ask is fast approaching. But some Latinos are urged not to come out of the shadows to be counted. That could send shock waves through the entire political community in the United States.

We asked CNN's Tom Foreman to take a closer look and explain -- explain, Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the census next year is going to be a powder keg in politics, there's no question. Some Latino leaders say a boycott of the census is the only way to force a political showdown on the issue of illegal immigration.

But others are saying this is a dangerous gamble on their community's place in this country's future.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) FOREMAN (voice-over): Reverend Miguel Rivera is on the attack, telling some members of his church not to fill out their census forms next year.

REV. MIGUEL RIVERA, LATINO CHRISTIAN LEADER: Don't get yourself counted.

FOREMAN: Rivera runs the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders. The group, he says, represents 20,000 Evangelical churches in dozens of states. Thirty-eight percent of the people attending those churches, he says, are undocumented workers living in the U.S. And that's whom he wants to boycott the census. It's the only way, he says, to push Congress where Latino votes are highly valued -- toward prompt immigration reform.

RIVERA: We will be more than happy to let or to ask 12 million undocumented immigrants -- members of our congregations -- to be counted in census 2010 if they have the same opportunity to be legalized during this year.

If not, why count them?

What is the purpose?

FOREMAN: But other Latino leaders say this is not the way to do it.

ARTURO VARGAS, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF LATINO ELECTED OFFICIALS: Well, I think it's a horribly irresponsible thing to do.

FOREMAN: Arturo Vargas is with a major Latino civic group and he's an advisory committee member for the U.S. census.

VARGAS: If a person is not counted in the census, then that means that person's community will be denied their fair share of public funds that are distributed from the federal government to states and communities based on population data. Each one of us is worth between $1,000 to $2,000 to our communities in public funds every year.

FOREMAN: Rivera and his supporters, say, sure, an accurate count could draw more federal dollars to their communities. But it could also draw more immigration raids, as the illegal populations are pinpointed.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

FOREMAN: We did speak to a couple of Latino leaders who say there's talk of similar boycotts by undocumented residents in their communities. But there's no mainstream push for Latinos to boycott the census, aside from the reverend's coalition of churches.

As for the Census Bureau, they remind us that their questionnaire does not ask about a person's immigration status and that it's their obligation to try to count everyone in the country. That's what's in the Constitution -- Wolf. BLITZER: Interesting. It could be a huge political debate, as you say.

FOREMAN: This is not going to be the last thing we hear about the census, that's for sure.

BLITZER: I'm sure it won't be.

Tom, thanks very much.

Let's go back to Jack for The Cafferty File.

That was an interesting point that Tom just made -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Well, it's interesting to me that the illegal aliens -- never mind undocumented immigrants, they're illegal aliens -- don't bother to comply with the rest of the laws of the country, why should they cooperate in the census?

The question this hour is what is it about Sarah Palin that makes people reach for their wallets?

Steven in North Carolina writes: "It's probably why traffic can be bottlenecked for miles from a car accident on the highway or why we cover our eyes when watching a horror movie, but peek through our fingers. We don't know what's going to happen, but we have a feeling it will be worth the pain of seeing it."

Joanne in Las Vegas: "Sarah Palin is the only thing left for the right-wing religious extremists to hang onto. What's truly interesting and ironic is that Sarah admits to thinking about an abortion for herself in a few fleeting moments. And that's certainly a choice she would not have if abortion was illegal. Isn't that right, Sarah?"

Janice in Illinois: "I know I would get out my wallet and contribute to a worthy cause. I would pay my fair share for her to go back to Alaska and stay there."

B. in North Carolina: "People pay to see two-headed snakes at carnivals, too. It doesn't mean they want one living in their house."

Amarissa in Miami: "She's honest, Jack. She is one of us, not an elitist, not a fake. Common people can identify with her and we are the majority. Her virtues are not seen in most of our elected officials and that's why she's being put down, because she's a threat to them. She's here to stay, whether you like it or not."

Hope in Kentucky writes: "She might have a lot of right-wing admirers, but the lady has some screws loose. And if people are giving her money, they have some screws loose, as well. If this is the best the Republicans can come up with, say hello to another win by Obama in 2012."

And Mareike in Los Angeles writes: "Why does Sarah Palin make people reach for their wallets? To make sure it's still there." 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.

I'm going to go home and look for some around the house now.

BLITZER: Good for you, Jack.

Have a great weekend.

CAFFERTY: See you Monday.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

BLITZER: See you Monday.

A two-term governor may be planning a return to power decades after leaving the gubernatorial office. California's Jerry Brown talks to our own Bill Schneider about what's next for him.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The Texas governor, Rick Perry, is backing away from remarks he made earlier in the week, suggesting he's open -- open to the possibility of Texas' seceding from the Union.

Perry now says -- and I'm quoting him: "I was kind of thinking that maybe the same person who hadn't been reading the Constitution right were reading that article and they got the wrong impression about what I said. Clearly, I stated that we have a great union and Texas is part of a great -- is part of the Union -- part of a great union. I see no reason for that to change. I think that may not be the exact quote. But that is, in essence, what I said."

That clarification from Rick Perry.

He's been a governor, a mayor and California's attorney general. Now it looks like Jerry Brown may have his eye on that office once again -- the office that brought him to national attention.

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

He's out in Los Angeles watching this story.

Here's the question -- is the former governor wanting to run once again to be the next governor of California?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, he sure sounded like it when I spoke with him this week.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Jerry Brown was first elected governor of California in 1974. He was 36 years old -- the state's youngest governor since the turn of the 20th century.

And now?

JERRY BROWN, CALIFORNIA ATTORNEY GENERAL: With the experience that I've had as attorney general, lawyer to most of the state agencies, mayor for eight years and governor for eight years, I'd like to tackle the challenges that face the state.

SCHNEIDER: In fact, polls suggest Brown is the frontrunner in next year's race for California governor. He's 71 years old.

If he wins, he would be California's oldest governor.

Why would anyone want to be governor of California?

BROWN: Having been there, I have to reflect on that. It is an impossible job -- or nearly impossible, but, quite frankly, I love this kind of work.

SCHNEIDER: In the 1970s, Brown was new, unconventional, cutting edge.

Has he changed?

Well, he got married four years ago.

BROWN: A lot of people think I'm a lot better now that I have a -- I have a wonderful woman in my life.

SCHNEIDER: Can a 71-year-old man still be cutting edge?

His thinking remains unconventional, which he attributes to his Jesuit education.

BROWN: When I left that a long time ago, I've retained a skepticism and an independence and an inquiring mind that doesn't easily fit into the mold of either of the parties.

SCHNEIDER: Brown ran for president three times.

Does he still harbor those ambitions?

BROWN: I'd say those ambitions have -- have dissipated with time. And certainly if I do run for governor, that -- that's enough for one lifetime.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

SCHNEIDER: When Jerry Brown lost the Senate race in 1982, he turned around and started a whole new political career from the bottom -- party chairman, radio talk show host, mayor of Oakland and now attorney general.

Who says there are no second acts in American lives?

This is California, Wolf. BLITZER: Good point.

Bill Schneider is in California.

He's in Los Angeles.

Thanks very much.

Don't forget tomorrow, THE SITUATION ROOM, Saturday 6:00 p.m. Eastern.

We'll talk about an American journalist who's being held in Iran right now on charges of espionage. 6:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow, THE SITUATION ROOM, this Saturday.

Until then, thanks for watching.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT."

KITTY PILGRIM, GUEST HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Good evening, everyone.

President Obama is about to speak to the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago. The issue of Cuba, a country not invited to the summit, will dominate the meeting.

Also, former counterterrorism officials blast the Obama administration. They say the Obama White House has endangered national security by releasing details of the CIA's interrogation methods.