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Swine Flu Pandemic Imminent; President Obama's First 100 Days
Aired April 29, 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 day so many Americans have been waiting for, President Obama's 100th day in office. From fixing the economy to keeping Americans safe, we're assessing how he's doing, what he's done, and what grades you give him -- all of that, plus, the best political team on television.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Swine flu is rapidly spreading from human to human in a growing number of states and around the world. Now breaking news of a very disturbing development.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. MARGARET CHAN, DIRECTOR GENERAL, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: This is an opportunity for global solidarity as we look for responses and solutions that benefit all countries, all of humanity. After all, it really is all of humanity that is under threat during a pandemic.
As I have said, we do not have all the answers right now. But we will get them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All of humanity is under threat, very ominous words from the head of the World Health Organization. And they have just raised the swine flu alert level to phase five. That means this outbreak has now moved one step closer to becoming a full-fledged pandemic.
It's a strong signal that a pandemic, according to the World Health Organization, is now considered imminent -- the WHO urging all countries right now to immediately activate their plans to prepare for a pandemic.
More than 100 U.S. schools are already closed due to confirmed or probable swine flu cases, as a precautionary measure. And a U.S. Marine in California has now tested positive for swine flu, along with three military family members in San Diego.
Our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, is joining us now. She's watching all this unfold.
What's the latest, Jeanne? JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the U.S. officials quarterbacking the government response said the WHO announcement is not changing their planning.
MESERVE (voice-over): U.S. officials say they were already preparing for the worst-case scenario, a full-fledged pandemic.
JANET NAPOLITANO, U.S. HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: We have been preparing all along as if this is going to be stage six. Our efforts have been to stay ahead of whatever number the WHO assigned.
MESERVE: In the U.S., the virus now known as 2009 H1N1 continues to spread. Just since Sunday, the number of cases confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control has ballooned from 20 to 40 to 64 to 91, with the first death confirmed today.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These numbers are almost out of date by the time I say them.
MESERVE: Antiviral medications from the Strategic National Stockpile are being dispersed to the states. Right now, there's enough to treat one-quarter of the U.S. population, but officials are evaluating whether more is needed.
The government is also gearing up for possible production of a vaccine, isolating this strain of flu, and designing clinical trials to determine the dose, safety and effectiveness.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If everything went great, production could lead to availability as early as September. But, of course, with influenza, vaccine production, even seasonal flu, everything doesn't always go great.
MESERVE: Officials are keeping in mind the mistakes of 1976, when Americans were urged to get vaccinated against another strain of swine flu. Five hundred people had severe reactions. Twenty-five died.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a big difference between having it ready and distributing it. We're just talking about the process now of gearing up to get the doses ready.
MESERVE: Secretary Napolitano was hammered with questions today about why the U.S. has not closed the border with Mexico. Her response, science shows it would not help. The WHO announcement that a world pandemic may be imminent would seem to reinforce that -- Wolf.
BLITZER: So, they're suggesting, Jeanne, correct me if I'm wrong, that it really wouldn't make much of a difference if shut down all land, sea or air traffic from Mexico into the United States. Is that what they're saying? MESERVE: That's right, because the virus is already here. And it's spreading here. So, if you look at the computer modeling that has been done, it really wouldn't seem to make much of a difference if they closed those ports of entry or if they did not.
BLITZER: Jeanne Meserve watching this story for us -- stand by, Jeanne.
Let's continue the breaking news right now.
In Egypt, a dramatic response to the swine flu outbreak, and that's infuriating farmers there, the government ordering that all pigs in the country be slaughtered. That's 300,000 animals. Today, pig farmers blocked streets and stoned vehicles carrying workers sent to kill the pigs.
Health officials call the move completely unnecessary and say eating pork will not give you swine flu. The U.S. pork industry is also deeply concerned about this misconception. And it's now fighting back itself.
CNN's Brian Todd reports.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): America's top agriculture official says he still eats pork, and you should also.
TOM VILSACK, U.S. AGRICULTURE SECRETARY: It is perfectly safe to have a pork chop tonight, and we want to make sure we say that to our consumers here at home and also to our trading partners all across the world.
TODD: Is pork getting a bad rap? America's top producer, Smithfield, says there's no evidence linking the current flu outbreak to any of its pig herds in the U.S. or Mexico, that after locals in the Mexican village where the earliest known patient of this flu lives blamed the local pig farm owned by Smithfield.
Producers say, not only is there no confirmed link, this shouldn't even be called swine flu. But one watchdog, the Pew Environmental Group, says eating pork is not the problem. It's the conditions in which the pigs are kept at major farms, often crowded 10,000 to 15,000 to a barn.
BOB MARTIN, PEW ENVIRONMENTAL GROUP: The animals are standing over their own waste. Their waste drops through a slotted floor in their cage and is swept out, flushed out by water in an open lagoon.
TODD: From there, says Bob Martin, the waste can get into the ground water or the air, carried by dust and flies. That's how farmworkers or locals could pick up any illness pigs might be carrying. The group representing pork producers responds.
DR. JENNIFER GREINER, NATIONAL PORK PRODUCERS COUNCIL: Our lagoons are not discharging into the environment. They are engineered, designed, they are made certain that there's many, many precautions to getting -- so that there is no manure going into our environment.
TODD: Still, the Pew Environment Group says crowding is a major problem. The group says the major producers are raising the same number of pigs as they did many decades ago, but on 97 percent fewer farms. The Pork Producers Council says the indoor facilities are not overcrowded, that they have to put the pigs inside to protect them from the predators and the weather that they're surrounded by -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Brian, thank you -- Brian Todd reporting.
Let's go right to the White House right now and hear how the president of the United States is responding to these current cases.
Joining us is David Axelrod, a senior adviser to the president.
David, thanks very much for coming in.
DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: Good to be here, Wolf.
BLITZER: I assume the president has been informed that the World Health Organization has now raised this threat level from a four to a five, meaning a pandemic is now considered imminent. And they have raised the threat level because of the human-to-human contact of this virus in Mexico and the United States.
How will this impact on what the federal government is now doing?
AXELROD: Well, the federal government has been hard at work since we first learned of these possibilities. And, so, that work's going to go on uninterrupted.
The -- the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Homeland Security, the CDC, the -- the Centers for Disease Control, have all been in touch with state and local agencies. We're moving supplies around as necessary. And -- and we feel that we're doing everything that we can and should to prepare for whatever comes.
BLITZER: The president earlier today said that, if there's a case or suspected case in a school, it might be a good idea to simply shut that school down. And a lot of schools are already being shut down. Maybe 50,000 students already have been affected.
How worried are you that schools around the country in a lot of states are simply going to have to close for a few days to deal with this?
AXELROD: Well, obviously, that is a possibility. The president raised it.
That's a much better outcome than -- than mass infectation. So, it is the responsible thing to do. It's the appropriate thing to do. And, you know, so, we don't quarrel with those decisions. We encourage those decisions.
And it's one of the things that you have to do to deal with a situation like this.
BLITZER: Give me some perspective on how the president views this, because he has so many issues on his agenda right now, the swine flu, potential pandemic out there. How much time does he really devote to this, as opposed to some of the economic issues, the national security issues, that full plate that he's dealing with?
AXELROD: Well, Wolf, as you know, in this job, there -- you know, you have to be able to handle a lot of things at once. And the president has been well-informed throughout.
This is something, as you may know, that has been an interest of his for some time. When he was in the Senate, he read quite a bit about the possibility of pandemics. Then, it was related to the avian flu. And, so, he moved legislation through Congress to prepare Tamiflu and some of the other materials necessary to deal with those kinds of threats.
So, he was -- he was well-versed in this -- in this prospect when -- when it first arose. And he's been following it very closely, talking to -- talking to his agency heads on a regular basis. He just was briefed on it again less than an hour ago.
BLITZER: So, we can expect to be hearing more from the president personally over the next few days?
AXELROD: Well, and even this evening, yes.
BLITZER: Oh, really, at the news conference?
BLITZER: Is he going to open up with a statement about this?
AXELROD: Well, I think that you can expect that he will address it during the course of this news conference.
BLITZER: I'm sure that he will be asked about it.
Let me ask -- because this is day 100 of this administration, and we are going to have special coverage throughout the night here on CNN on what's going on.
I'm going to read to you what Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, said in "USA Today," and I will get your reaction.
"The essential truth of President Obama's first 100 days is this: The rock he wants to build the American economy on is the great mass of government. The foundation of his house is the leaden, immovable force of big bureaucracy. The supports are big unions and big politicians. And the payment is being stolen from our children and grandchildren. In just 100 days, President Obama has been devastatingly effective in swiftly moving forward the most radical, government-expanding agenda in American history."
All right. Go ahead and tell Newt Gingrich how you really feel.
AXELROD: Well, you know, I'm glad that he didn't engage in hyperbole. I think that would have been wrong.
But the reality is that Newt Gingrich and some in the Republican Party would like us to simply ratify the policies of the last eight years. They believe they had the right economic doctrine, cutting taxes for the very wealthy, doubling the national debt, neglecting some of our fundamental needs in health care, in energy, in education.
I think the American people rendered a verdict on that last November. We're not going to go back. And -- and, so, you know, we're trying to build a new economy with a stronger foundation that's built on -- that's built to last, and not to crumble, as the economy has in the last -- over the last couple of years.
And, so, I'm not surprised that -- that he's -- that he's disappointed. We feel like we're taking sound steps to restore the economy and build a better future. And that will be the test.
BLITZER: All right.
AXELROD: And we can have the discussion as time goes on.
BLITZER: In the next 100 days, what's the most important priority for the president, as far as his legislative agenda is concerned?
AXELROD: Well, obviously, we want to continue to complete the budget process. We want to reform contracting procedures, particularly as -- at the Pentagon, but throughout the government. We need to save money, so that we can invest in the things that are truly important to our future.
We want to do something about the credit card gouging that's been going on, because people are suffering all over the country with uncertain rules and capricious decisions by -- by credit card companies.
BLITZER: I'm not hearing -- I'm not hearing, David, health care.
AXELROD: No, no.
And -- well, I got to finish my litany. We have got a lot to do, Wolf. We want to move...
BLITZER: But is health care the most important issue on your agenda right... AXELROD: There's no question that health care reform is going to be an important part of what we do over the balance of the year. It's an essential pillar in our economic future, as is energy. We believe energy offers not just an opportunity to deal with issues of pollution and climate change, but offers a great economic opportunity...
BLITZER: All right, one final...
AXELROD: ... for millions of new jobs.
BLITZER: One final question -- when we meet in August, at day 200 of this administration, will health care reform have been enacted?
AXELROD: I think we will have taken big steps forward toward health care reform. I think a consensus is building. I think we will get something done.
BLITZER: David Axelrod is the top political adviser, one of the senior advisers, to the president.
Thanks very much, David, for coming in.
AXELROD: OK. Good to be with you.
BLITZER: All right. Good luck to you over at the White House.
We're counting down to the national report card is President Obama's first 100 days. Our special coverage begins less than an hour from now, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, right at the top of the hour. We will assess how the president is doing on the economy, the wars, and other issues you care about. I will be here, along with our CNN anchors and political analysts, our reporters. All that begins right at the top of the hour.
Stand by for the president's news conference an hour later.
Casting your vote for the president after the election, it's happened -- it's happening tonight. Viewers will rate the president on this, his 100th day in office. We're going to tally the results. CNN's John King is over at the magic wall to show us how this unprecedented interactive event will take place.
And angry words on Capitol Hill, as Democrats and Republicans clash over the budget. Goodwill becomes ill will after just 100 days. What's gotten everyone so tense?
And the swine flu outbreak intensifies. We're following the breaking news. Health officials raise the pandemic alert to a much more serious level. We will talk to our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta. He's standing by in Mexico City.
BLITZER: Let's go right to Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, thanks.
One hundred days into office, the history that Barack Obama made in becoming this country's first African-American president has not been lost. It's something that Mr. Obama rarely talked about on the campaign trail, or since he's taken office, for that matter, but it's a subtle part of the overall larger message of change.
And it may have already improved race relations in our country. A "New York Times"/CBS News poll shows 66 percent of those surveyed say race relations are generally good in the United States, and that's up from 53 percent who felt that way last July -- 22 percent say they're generally bad, but that number is down from 37 percent.
When it comes to black Americans, the percentage who say race relations are good has doubled since the summer. When asked a question about his historic presidency at his last news conference, Mr. Obama said that at the inauguration there was -- quote -- "justifiable pride on the part of the country that we had taken a step to move us beyond some of the searing legacies of racial discrimination" -- unquote.
And then he quickly added, but that lasted about one day. These poll numbers, though, suggest otherwise. One white woman polled in Indiana, a Democrat, says, since the election, she has noticed people of different races being kinder to each other.
A Republican white woman in Kansas City, Missouri, says Mr. Obama's openness and acceptance have helped others to act the same way. And a black Democratic woman in Ohio says, with Obama as president, whites and blacks seem to be working toward the same goals.
So, here's the question. How has President Obama affected race relations 100 days into his term of office?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog.
That, ultimately, may be his biggest legacy.
BLITZER: Yes, people are really rethinking a lot of their own prejudices and their biases...
CAFFERTY: Yes, and rightfully so.
BLITZER: ... which is good.
All right, thanks very much, Jack.
We will get the viewers' thoughts shortly.
Tonight, you're going to have a chance to do what the pundits have been doing all day long here on CNN. You are going to be able to rate President Obama's performance on this, his 100th day in office.
It's an action-packed first three months.
I want to bring in John King. He's over at the magic wall for us.
John, this is going to be an extraordinary opportunity for folks around the country to actually weigh in.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is, Wolf.
And, before we get to the voting, I also want to tell them, as we go through the night, we can talk about every day of the first 100 days. If you pick a day, and you tap on the wall, and you bring it over, you can say, on day 20th, we have information here there was news made by the transportation secretary. This was debate about the stimulus package. South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford on day 20 said that he didn't want to take the stimulus money in the thing.
Every day of the administration, we can go through. And let me show you, just as an example -- and we will move the wall over a little bit -- on day 25, you had the stimulus bill being debated in Congress. The Dow fell 82 points. Representative John Boehner, he's the House Republican leader. And he came to the floor of the House holding the stimulus bill in his hand, and he threw it down with disgust, Wolf, one of the moments we can revisit in our coverage.
This is Leader Boehner here giving a speech against the stimulus bill, saying, no one had read the bill. We will play you some of the sound of this later. He throws it down on the floor in disgust. We can look at that moment. We can go to any other moment, if you pick a day and come to the administration.
He's another one here, if I can get this to move over a little bit. On day 36, the Dow jumped 236 points. It went way up, after going down. The president had his meeting with the Japanese prime minister at the White House.
This -- what was the big event this day? It was this, when the president gave that joint address to the joint session of Congress, when he -- remember, Wolf, there had been all the criticism the president was talking down the economy, being pessimistic. This was one of the days where he suddenly got more hopeful. And he said, things might be tough, but we will recover.
So, this is one of the key moments of the first 100 days as well. But we can do through every day. And we will do that throughout our special coverage tonight.
BLITZER: And, John, starting at the top of the hour, viewers are going to have a chance to actually vote on a whole bunch of questions we have prepared. Give us a little preview. How are they going to be able to do this?
KING: We are going to ask the questions. And, every hour, we will have a different set of questions. You and Anderson and others will talk about them on the air. And we will ask people on CNN.com and people, our friends at Facebook, to take a look and help us out.
And this is what it will look like when it comes in. Here's a question: Grade the performance of the government. This is a mock question. We're actually asking the questions. We don't want to show any results as they come in. But here's what we will be able to do.
Number one, we will have a map of the United States like this. And it will fill in. If it's an A-plus answer, it will be in bright yellow. And then you see the colors get a little lighter, moving to orange as the grade goes down.
And another thing we will be able to do is, we will be able to have a national grade. But you might say, OK, well, if the grade is A on this question nationally, what do the people of Nevada think about it? And we will be able to put it in. This tells you about who won the states.
We have mock information in right now as we load the results. But we will be able to go state by state. How did the people of Oregon think? Is the answer in Iowa different from the answer down here in Alabama?
And we will have all the questions loaded down here, Wolf. And we will be able to use the map to show people how the national grade is, go on a state-by-state basis. And then you will by able to look at the map and see if the president is getting higher grades in one region of the country than another region of the country.
We will dip in, maybe look at the election results, and say, why is that people in this state don't think so highly of the president? Well, maybe they didn't vote for him in November.
So, it's an interactive. We're asking people at home to help us out on CNNPolitics.com and Facebook. And we will crunch all the numbers right up here, report the results. And you will be working our analysts to get their grades as well.
And voting will begin in about 37 minutes, right at the top of the hour. This is going to be a fascinating night for all of our viewers, have the chance to watch us on CNN always, and also weigh in on their laptop, their desktop, at CNN.com.
Lawmakers are wrapping up work on a budget blueprint aimed at helping the president push forward his agenda. They have adopted a compromise $3.4 trillion outline.
Let's go straight to our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.
They have just wrapped up work, I take it, a few moments ago; is that right, Dana?
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right.
And what we have is Congress passing the final version of the president's budget blueprint, Wolf, once again without a single Republican vote either in the House or the Senate. It's really a partisan divide that has become a surprising trademark of Mr. Obama's young presidency. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
BASH (voice-over): This is how lawmakers are marking President Obama's 100 days in office.
REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD), MAJORITY LEADER: A model of forceful, coordinated action.
SEN. JON KYL (R-AZ), MINORITY WHIP: The most expensive 100 days for the American people.
BASH: Deep partisanship, the hallmark of the past 100 days in Congress. Republicans are trumpeting their votes against President Obama's stimulus plan and his budget, calling his priorities:
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: Nothing short of the most audacious move to a big socialist government in Washington, D.C.
BASH: Democrats are lashing out at Republicans for opposing the president.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: How much longer can this party stand for no, no, no?
BASH: But we wanted to know whether the partisan tone of the first 100 days taught Democrats who have run Congress any lessons for the next 100 days. Will they do things differently?
REID: No, my approach has been open and obvious. I'm going to continue the same thing.
BASH: Unapologetic Democratic leaders were strikingly candid. They have a wide enough majority to pass most of President Obama's agenda without much GOP support, and that's fine with them.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We have a difference of opinion here. And bless their hearts. They vote what they believe, as we do.
BASH: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi didn't stop there. She even offered some unsolicited advice to GOP voters.
PELOSI: Take back your party, the party of protecting the environment, the party of individual rights, the party of fairness. This is not the Grand Old Party.
BASH: Now, privately, some Democrats I spoke to said they weren't thrilled that their press conference that was supposed to tout Democratic accomplishments morphed into a strategy session about the Republican Party.
But, Wolf, others I talked to said it was just fine with them to mark President Obama's 100th day in office by highlighting what one Democratic aide called the GOP in disarray -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Dana Bash up on the Hill, thank you. She's not going away. She's going to be with us throughout the night as well.
And we're following the breaking news right now, the World Health Organization declaring, a swine flu pandemic is now considered imminent. Our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, is on the front lines in Mexico. We're going to talk to him shortly.
Also, President Obama weighing in, urging schools with confirmed or even suspected swine flu cases to simply close.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now: Chrysler will survive. A source tells CNN the American automaker will not shut down, but could file for bankruptcy. Chrysler has until tomorrow to present its rescue plan to the government. The Associated Press reports the Italian automaker Fiat will sign partnership papers by tomorrow to keep Chrysler afloat.
Pakistan's army could soon get U.S. money to battle insurgents. Top Pentagon officials want Pakistan's army to receive part of a $400 million proposed fund.
And the first lady is living up to her promise to actively volunteer. Today, on the president's 100th day in office, Michelle Obama bagged lunches for needy children at a Washington-area food bank.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"All of humanity is under threat" -- those words from the head of the World Health Organization today. The agency has raised the swine flu alert level to Phase 5. Experts believe this outbreak has moved one step closer to becoming a full-fledged pandemic. The WHO urging that all countries should immediately activate their plans to prepare for such a pandemic.
Let's go straight to CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
He's joining us from Mexico City right now -- Sanjay, our viewers want some perspective.
We don't want to overly alarm people in the United States and around the world, but when the World Health Organization says a pandemic is now considered to be imminent, what exactly does that mean?
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, to become a Level 5 on this particular pandemic scale, we're talking about evidence that this -- this virus that we've been talking about some for time now, H1N1, can spread human to human. And we've known that it could do that it in Mexico. There's now proof that it can do it in the United States, as well. If two countries can do it within one region -- one World Health Organization region -- that makes it Level 5. That's what it means specifically.
For practical purposes, this is more of a call to action, Wolf -- a call to action to increase organization, increase communication, a call to action to businesses and the pharmaceutical industry to perhaps produce more of these anti-virals that we've been talking so much about, to perhaps produce a vaccine. It's a call to action for a lot of communities to increase their surveillance, get more early detection and treatment and to try and control the infection.
One thing in terms of context, Wolf, I think is very important -- I listened very carefully to this -- is that when you're talking about this pandemic the way that Dr. Chan was describing it, it was more about the scope of these infections -- how far-reaching could they become, how many countries could be affected. But it was talking less about the severity.
And I bring that up because you know, Wolf, I'm here in Mexico City and you're in the United States. In the United States, for the most part, these have been mild illnesses. We've heard about this 23- month-old who died today in Texas. But for the most part, these have been mild illnesses.
In Mexico, it's been a little bit of a different story -- over 150 deaths. It is hard to predict the severity of this. And this is just talking about scope.
BLITZER: Sanjay, I want you to stand by.
We're going to be coming back to you.
But I want to bring in our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, right now; our political contributor, Steve Hayes, of "The Weekly Standard;" and Roland Martin, our CNN political analyst, to assess how the federal government -- excuse me, the president -- is doing on this issue right now.
He spoke out about his decision to recommend that schools where at least there's one suspected case simply shut down.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's also the recommendation of our public health officials that schools with confirmed or suspected cases of H1N1 should strongly consider temporarily closing so that we can be as safe as possible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Is -- is that being overly alarmist right now?
Because about 50,000 school kids have already been told don't go to school tomorrow. GLORIA BORGER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No. I think it's being cautious. It's being careful. It's trying to walk that fine line between not panicking the American public but also say to people, look, you have to have your emergency plans in place. If your child's school is going to be closed, the president then also went on to say, you have to think down the line and make sure you have child care, because dropping your child at a day care center is not going to help solve the problem.
BLITZER: And, Steve, the White House has just released an excerpt of what the president will say later tonight at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, at the beginning, of his opening statement at his White House news conference. He says: "This is obviously a very serious situation and every American should know that their entire government is taking the utmost precautions and preparations."
That's what he will say later tonight.
STEPHEN HAYES, SENIOR WRITER "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Look, actually, I think he's striking the right balance here between inciting sort of panic and getting people overly excited about it and actually doing the kinds of things that you want the government to be doing in a time of a potential crisis. He has said don't panic. We're not going to panic. The government is not panicking and you shouldn't either.
But at the same time, I think you absolutely have to take these kinds of precautions to prevent something from getting even worse.
ROLAND S. MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Which is also how you empower local officials. I mean, look -- I mean, in Chicago, you have a city health commissioner, you have a CEO of the school system. And so, therefore, they're the ones who are really making the call on the ground, not the president.
And so I think what he also is saying is that, look, in terms of being able to be cautious -- because, look, if they said oh, no, everything's fine. It's all good, if anything happened, we know the critics would be coming out.
And so, frankly, you want to over prepare. You want to be as cautious as possible as opposed to say, ah, it's really no big deal.
BORGER: And you want to try and affect public behavior to a certain degree -- telling people to be on the lookout, don't go to work if you're sick, wash your hands -- all the kinds of things that people have to be doing to stop the spread of this.
BLITZER: Listen to this, because earlier today, the president also spoke out about the -- the auto industry -- the U.S. auto manufacturers, all of whom, the three big ones, are in deep trouble right now.
I want you to listen, Steve, very carefully to what the president said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I look at this from the perspective of how can I create a strong, viable, competitive auto industry that is giving workers an opportunity to build a great product.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Did you hear anything unusual in those words?
He's creating a strong, vibrant auto industry?
That is absolutely not the job of the president of the United States. Even if you believe -- as I don't, even if you believe that the government has some role in bailing out these industries, it is certainly not his job to create this kind of a vibrant auto industry. It was an extraordinary comment.
MARTIN: They are doing it, though. I mean when you sit here and force out the CEO of General Motors; when you sit here and tell Chrysler, look, you'd better cut a deal with the UAW to cut costs, as well as with Fiat -- and, obviously, Ford is doing their thing -- in many ways, you are establishing the terms of what's going on here. They are driving them to a whole different way of operating.
BORGER: Well, they're...
HAYES: But that's such a different place than we've been before, where you have the federal government not only running the auto industry...
HAYES: ...but talking about how...
MARTIN: But we know this...
HAYES: ...how he's going to create (INAUDIBLE) for the future.
MARTIN: They were never almost broke like this.
BORGER: But he's trying to resuscitate an almost dead industry, because he doesn't want to lose those jobs because of the impact that it would have on the economy. So these are not normal times.
BLITZER: I think that he...
BORGER: And you have to have...
(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: I think what he was trying to say -- and maybe you guys have a different assessment -- I think he was trying to say what I can do is maybe create the conditions where there can be a viable, robust American auto industry...
BLITZER: ...although he did go out and say how can I create a strong, viable, competitive auto industry, which may have been a little bit too much.
MARTIN: It's not just the big three, though...
BORGER: It may have been.
MARTIN: I mean, because you talk about the big three, you have the suppliers. You have those dealerships. I mean, all of a sudden, when you have this chain reaction, it goes beyond that. And, yes, the federal government, they are, in a sense, forcing these companies to do something they did not want to do.
BORGER: But they're also trying to force the banks to do things that they couldn't do before.
BLITZER: And, you know, Steve, when I spoke with Fritz Henderson the other day, the CEO of General Motors, this new plan that they have would affect -- basically make the largest shareholders -- an overwhelming majority of the shareholders of G.M. -- you know who?
You and me...
BORGER: Yes, us.
BLITZER: ...the American taxpayers.
HAYES: Which is -- which is a scary prospect, I think, to a lot of American taxpayers, given the polling that we've seen on this.
But there's a big difference between doing this to shore up the banks, which, again, a lot of conservatives...
HAYES: ...and Republicans didn't agree with that, either. But there's a big difference between doing that for the health of the financial system at large and saving -- starting to save individual industries to save jobs.
Where do you draw the line, if you're going to do that for the auto industry?
MARTIN: You (INAUDIBLE). You have the possibility of these folks shutting down and going from 8.5 percent unemployment to 12, three million folks losing their jobs, you're talking about a whole different deal. Look, we don't want to even look at that reality so...
BLITZER: All right...
MARTIN: ...you may not like it...
BLITZER: Don't go away...
MARTIN: ...but it's real.
BLITZER: We're going to have voting starting at the top of the hour and all of us are going to be here for that.
BORGER: I can't wait to vote.
MARTIN: Buy American.
BLITZER: Stand by.
BLITZER: We're counting down to the national report card on President Obama's first 100 days. Our special coverage begins right at the top of the hour, 7:00 p.m. Eastern.
The president's use of his bully pulpit to answer his critics -- how is he doing?
Ed Rollins and James Carville -- they're here to grade the president. That's next.
BLITZER: President Obama began his 100th day in office today, acknowledging his critics. It happened at a town hall meeting in Missouri.
Let's talk about that and more with Republican strategist and CNN contributor, Ed Rollins and his Democratic counterpart, James Carville.
Here's the sound bite -- Ed, I'll start with you -- of what the president said today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I know you've been hearing all these arguments about, oh, Obama's just spending crazy. Look at these huge trillion dollar deficits, blah, blah, blah. So, you know, when you -- when you see, you know -- you know, those of you who are watching certain news channels that, you know, of which I'm not very popular and you see folks waving tea bags around...
(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: All right, Ed, what do you think?
You're chuckling a little bit.
ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: He's a little defensive. This guy's had a great start. You know, the bottom line, if he's starting to get rattled a little bit by tea bags, it gets -- you know, you can't have rabbit ears in this business, you know, meaning that if someone whistles at you, you rise up.
He's got to get very thick skin. He's got a very hard agenda to push forward. I think he's off to an extraordinary start. I give him high marks in the foreign policy arena. And I obviously disagree with him on the domestic side. But, you know, he can't -- he can't be sensitive to critics. He's just got to charge ahead.
BLITZER: What do you think, James, about that, the notion that maybe Rahm Emanuel or David Axelrod should be talking about tea bags, the president should speak on a higher level?
JAMES CARVILLE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, CLINTON SUPPORTER: My guess is neither Rahm or David are very happy right now. But everybody doesn't have to repeat the charge. I mean, and every -- every politician I ever knew, they always say that I'm a wife beater.
Well, let me tell you one thing. I've been married for the last 18 years...
CARVILLE: You know, it's a little bit -- I think I know what the clip is going to be on our friends over at Fox tonight for about 16,000 times -- or most of them.
Yes, you know, I understand that. But generally, you know, I think it would be better not to repeat the charge that people made. You're right, he's anointing it. He's enormously popular right now. And things are going very, very well for him. And it would probably have been better had he not repeated the charge.
BLITZER: How is he doing in the bully pulpit area -- his ability to communicate, because you worked for the master, Ronald Reagan?
ROLLINS: Well, he -- he is a very good communicator. He's an extremely articulate guy...
BLITZER: Is he Ronald Reagan like?
ROLLINS: No, he's not like Ronald -- but he's -- Ron Reagan was 20 years older than when -- when he hit the national stage so -- and more practiced in the sense of the -- of the public arena.
But he's good and he's going to get better. You know, I think he's going to have to get away from the teleprompter. They're starting to tag him a little bit with that. And -- and he's a great -- a great ad-libber. And I think, to a certain extent, he just has to get -- he has to be more careful with what he says. There's a lot of rhetoric that comes out and sometimes you've got to backtrack a little while.
BLITZER: All right, James, what do you think?
How is he doing as being a communicator-in-chief?
CARVILLE: I think very well. I mean, and the proof's in the pudding. I mean people really like him. And he -- when he makes mistakes, he doesn't make them twice and he doesn't make them often. He's -- you know, everybody makes some mistakes. He makes fewer than most. And he doesn't repeat them, which is -- which is quite good.
I think he's very good. And I don't think he's doing anything but get better. You know, I think he has -- he grows.
If you watched him as a candidate, he was much better as he got deeper into the campaign than he was when he started. And I think that's true, too. I mean the capacity for growth is something that, thus far, he's shown that he possesses. And that's a -- that's quite a gift.
BLITZER: He's going to have the bully pulpit a little bit more than an hour from now, when he has his prime time news conference from the White House, Ed. He's going to open with a statement.
If you were giving him some advice, what should he say on day 100 of his administration?
ROLLINS: I would say that we -- we're off to a good start. We've accomplished some things we set out to do. We have a long agenda ahead of us. Right now, the country is -- is looking hard at a -- at what could be a potential crisis. Address -- I mean the swine flu. Address things that you think the press are going to ask you. I mean, I always believe in answering the questions before they get asked...
ROLLINS: Preemptively. And I think, certainly, that's what the press conference is going to...
BLITZER: Is that a Ronald Reagan technique?
ROLLINS: ...is going to get -- it was, he did it very well.
BLITZER: Because you used to give him that advice?
ROLLINS: I didn't -- you didn't need to give Ronald Reagan advice. He'd been around the game a long time.
BLITZER: Very diplomatic.
What do you think about that advice, James?
CARVILLE: Well, I think it's good. But I think -- I think the flu is going to very dominant tonight. I think this is a serious thing -- I mean it is potentially. We don't know how virulent the strain is. But I think they're very cognizant of that.
And I don't know if it's going to be very good to sort of brag about 100 days when the country faces -- and I want to stress potential. I mean we've done a superb job at -- we being CNN -- on covering this. And we don't know how bad it's going to be.
But I think they have to be very careful. And I suspect his opening statement will talk about what people can do in light of what can be a very dangerous situation.
BLITZER: I think James makes a good point, Ed, because we don't know...
BLITZER: I mean when was the last time you and I and our viewers in the United States and around the world, we dealt with a pandemic?
ROLLINS: We don't know and -- and it's sort of like every type the Health and Human Services or Homeland Security would raise the level, you'd set a little panic in. Now, in this particular case, it's very serious. And I think, to a certain extent, you have to be careful and cautious. But at the same time, you've got to make sure people know that we're taking this real seriously.
BLITZER: Because he has a responsibility, James, as you know, after a national emergency, to reassure a very frightened worried public.
CARVILLE: You know, we had a very extraordinary thing happen at my class at Tulane last night. George Stephanopoulos was in. And John Barry, who wrote the definitive book on the Great Influenza of 1918. And George asked John, what should the government do in this crisis?
And he thought for a minute and he said tell the truth.
BLITZER: Good advice.
CARVILLE: And I think that's number one here, is tell the truth. And I think they ought to give Sanjay great credit here. I think he's been doing that on our network. And I think we've been doing a -- doing a terrific job up to now.
BLITZER: I agree completely.
All right, guys, don't go away.
We've got the CNN National Report Card coming up.
The White House marking President Obama's one first 100 days in office with an online photo album highlighting the president's lighter moments. We're going to preview that for -- preview that for you, as well. And the CNN national report card on these, the first 100 days. Our special coverage begins in about 12 minutes, right here on CNN.
BLITZER: All right. Let's go over to Jack Cafferty right now for The Cafferty File -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: Wolf, the question this hour is, how has President Obama affected race relations 100 days into his term of office?
Anthony in New Jersey writes: "I've spent my whole life wondering what all the fuss was about racial divisions. I see a person as someone who contributes or someone who's parasitic. And these people cover every color of the rainbow. The whole problem is stereotyping -- the weapon of the ignorant. President Obama broke the ball of ignorance and provided an example to other blacks that education is cool. I want to see more black children thirsting for knowledge and fewer black children ridiculing them for acting white."
John in Virginia writes: "Not a bit, except to make it obvious that it's OK for the left to say what a wonderful president and he's a black man, while it's racist for the right to say what an awful president and he's a black man. It only shows race relations haven't budged a bit, mainly because we're still talking about it and there is a double standard."
Michael in Louisiana: "People of all races now feel part of the system, not just along for the ride. That makes people more concerned and more involved." Denny in Tacoma, Washington: "Truthfully, I think it's still too early to tell.
If Obama succeeds, he will help racial relations tremendously. If not, his failure will only enforce irrational thinking of prejudice. His election was truly an uplifting event for the oppressed, but his success is much more important."
Stephanie in Pittsburgh: "For the vast majority of Americans, the Obama presidency has been a breath of fresh air for race relations. For those who have been quiet racists, it's forcing them out from under their rocks now so that the rest of us can confront them head-on with a united effort."
And Pablo in Arlington, Texas writes: "Jack, it seems nothing overt or dramatic has happened in race relations. But if you could look into the hearts of the children here and around the world who identify personally with Barack Obama, I think you'd find the fires of hope and change burning more strongly and more brightly than any of us old people thought would ever happen in our lifetime."
I think that's probably true.
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 -- Wolf. BLITZER: A lot of smart viewers that we have.
CAFFERTY: Good stuff, right?
BLITZER: Yes. Very good stuff.
BLITZER: Jack, thank you.
BLITZER: New pictures of some of the lighter moments of President Obama's first 100 days in office. We're going to show you some highlights. Our special coverage begins in about six minutes. We're going to assess how the president is doing on the economy, the wars and other issues you deeply care about.
This is going to be a special night right here on CNN.
BLITZER: Swine flu -- is it a name that's giving people the wrong idea?
CNN's Jeanne Moos has a Moost Unusual look at a very serious problem.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The illness may be contagious, but its new name is not so catchy.
JANET NAPOLITANO, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: H1N1.
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: That's an H1N1.
MOOS: It's led to an outbreak...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY WABC)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A swine flu outbreak.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOOS: ...of name warfare.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The so-called swine flu.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The H1N1 virus.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Swine flu.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not a swine flu.
FAUCI: Calling swine flu...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This really isn't swine flu, it's H1N1 virus.
MOOS: No wonder folks are suspicious.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They named it swine flu for a reason.
SEN. TOM HARKIN (D), IOWA: I've been told that it doesn't necessarily come from pigs, but it has a swine gene.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.
MOOS: For pigs, it's a slap in the face. The name makes it sound like you could get the illness from eating, say, bacon and sausage. In fact...
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Can you get this from eating pork?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This morning I had pork for breakfast. Last night I had pork.
MOOS: But pork sales are hurting -- guilt by association.
Take Paris Hilton, nabbed by TMZ.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY TMZ)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you worried about this swine flu, Paris?
Have you heard of this swine flu?
Concerned about that?
PARIS HILTON: I don't eat that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOOS: No wonder pork producers are sick of swine flu.
(on camera): But trying to change the name is a little like trying to close the barn door after the horse -- or in this case, the pig -- is already out.
(voice-over): Do they think the media will drop their swine flu maps, their graphics?
The H1N1 update doesn't have quite the same ring.
MOOS: In Israel, one health official suggested swine flu runs counter to sensitivities about eating pork. He suggested substituting Mexican flu. But Mexicans protested. Another suggestion... HARKIN: A North American virus.
MOOS: That got about the far as the joke suggestions on the Web site Reddit -- porkulosis (ph), the other white flu, bacon lung.
Some are having it both ways.
North American virus
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ...cases of H1N1.
OBAMA: The swine flu.
MOOS: And some are going whole hog.
FAUCI: This H1N1 Influenza A swine flu.
DR. ANNE SCHUCHAT, CDC INTERIM DEPUTY DIRECTOR FOR SCIENCE & PUBLIC HEALTH: H1N1 influenza, apparently...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's not sexy.
That doesn't get any...
SCHUCHAT: It really isn't catchy, no.
NAPOLITANO: Actually, once you say H1N1 a few times, it does roll off the tongue.
MOOS: We recommend you spit it out.
Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.