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What's Different This Time?; Hundreds More Schools Close; Torture Caught on Tape; Chrysler in Bankruptcy; Vaccine's Horrible Side Effects
Aired April 30, 2009 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're following all the latest developments as the H1N1 flu virus, what we've been calling swine flu, teeters on the brink of pandemic. The World Health Organization now reports 257 confirmed cases worldwide. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention says that 109 of them are here in the United States. And an Obama administration official is now among the suspected cases. He's an Energy Department worker who was in Mexico ahead of the president, where he's believed to have contracted the virus and spread to his wife, son and nephew in suburban Maryland.
And the World Health Organization is no longer using the name swine flu to help stop the misconception that there's any danger posed by pigs or pork products.
Meanwhile, we're getting some important new perspective on this flu virus.
CNN's Mary Snow talked to an expert on flu pandemics.
Let's go to Mary Snow right now -- Mary, what was the -- what was the latest?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, some welcome news for a change. Dr. Peter Palese is an expert in influenza viruses, particularly of the 1918 pandemic. He says there are some key differences in what he has seen so far with this strain of the flu and other deadly pandemics.
DR. PETER PALESE, MICROBIOLOGIST: I have probably 4,000 or 5,000 (INAUDIBLE).
SNOW (voice-over): Microbiology professor and influenza expert Dr. Peter Palese expects to soon add the swine flu virus to his testing samples at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine. One of his biggest studies, however, was a reconstruction of the virus of the 1918 pandemic that killed about 675,000 people in the U.S. While he sees similarities between this virus and 1918, there is welcome news.
PALESE: The differences are more important than the similarities.
SNOW: A key difference, he says, is that people now have some level of protection. PALESE: There are some what we call antibodies because all of us have been infected with similar viruses so that we have some level of protection against this swine virus, this Mexican virus.
SNOW: Another big difference -- he says a specific gene is missing in the swine virus, but was present in the 1918 virus. Both viruses, though, hit in the spring. In 1918, a more aggressive wave followed the next fall.
PALESE: What will be very important, however, is to watch what the virus does in the Southern Hemisphere, which now is going into the winter season.
SNOW: He says if the virus replicates and comes back in the fall, it could be worrisome. For now, though, he's not too worried.
PALESE: Right now, I'm not so concerned about this virus because, yes, people unfortunately died. But it is in sort of the same relative strength as other influenza viruses, which are bad enough. I think we are underestimating the regular normal influenza -- seasonal influenza.
SNOW: And according to the CDC, roughly 36,000 people in the U.S. each year die from the flu. More than 200,000 people are hospitalized.
Now Dr. Palese and other experts say the path of a flu is always unpredictable. The big question and the unknown is whether it will mutate and strengthen as it goes along. But so far, he says that he does not believe it is going to be all that deadly.
BLITZER: Let's keep our fingers crossed.
All right, Mary.
Thanks very much.
Flu fears are prompting hundreds more schools to close across the United States -- even entire school districts.
CNN's Kate Bolduan is working that part of the story for us -- Kate.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, another day, another round of schools closed because of this flu -- a trend raising questions among parents and public health experts alike.
BOLDUAN (voice-over): First, one by one, schools nationwide starting shutting their doors. Now, more than 100 at a time, in Fort Worth, Texas.
MELODY JOHNSON, FORT WORTH SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT: At a minimum, through May 8th, we will be shut down as an entire school system.
BOLDUAN: According to the Department of Education, more than 300 K through 12 schools are now closed because of this virus. More than 170,000 students affected -- a relatively small but quickly growing number. The advice coming from the very top.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our public health officials have recommended that schools with confirmed or suspected cases of this flu strongly consider temporarily closing.
BOLDUAN: But some parents are questioning the aggressive moves and the fallout -- learning disrupted and then the burden on working parents.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the bigger key is if we're just all reactionary and shutting down versus actually, you know, trying to proactively treat this and address it, that's -- that's, I guess, the bigger concern on my part.
BOLDUAN: Public health experts say that right now, temporarily closing schools may be the best option, but one that cannot be taken lightly.
JEFF LEVI, TRUST FOR AMERICA'S HEALTH: You have to think about all of the cascading effects of a school closure, including if you think schools should be closed in communities, then should day care centers be closed, as well?
And what's going to happen to parents who need to find -- you know, need to stay home and supervise kids?
BOLDUAN: Government officials say the key to making school closures worth the disruption is understanding this isn't a typical day off. Students should not be socializing at the mall or anywhere -- which raises yet another question, is that realistic -- Wolf?
BLITZER: A good question.
Kate, thanks very much.
Let's go back to Jack.
He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: In an effort to counter President Obama's 100th day in office, the Republicans are making a push to rebrand themselves as something besides the party of no, which is a liberal that has kind of stuck to them since Mr. Obama's election.
Some top party members are announcing a series of town hall style meetings about their ideas for shaping the country. The group will operate outside the purview of the Republican National Convention and will contrast their policy ideas with those of the Democrats. That's something that's been missing so far. Members of this National Council for A New America include Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Senator John McCain, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, among others.
This is not exactly a crop of fresh young faces.
The group says it's not a Republican only forum and insists they will seek to include more than just their own ideas. They're calling on all Americans to participate in their policy debate.
The Democratic National Committee, expectedly, is dismissing it all, calling it more beltway P.R. gimmicks.
Meanwhile, it's clear that the Republican Party must do something to stop the bleeding. With only about one in four American voters identifying themselves as Republicans these days and a favorable rating of 39 percent, the Republican Party is in serious trouble. Some have even questioned the relevance of the Republican Party should the Democrats get that 60 vote filibuster-proof in the Senate while also controlling the House and the White House.
Here's the question: What does the Republican Party have to do to improve its image with voters?
You can go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jack.
Up next, a controversial videotape showing a man's torture -- there are questions about ties to a royal family and more. Stand by for this investigative report.
He's part of the new effort to repair the Republican Party's image -- John McCain and the GOP make-over.
And a celebration featuring Dutch royalty takes a deadly turn.
BLITZER: A brutal act of torture caught on tape -- a video has emerged that shows a member of the United Arab Emirates' royal family torturing a man in the desert four years ago.
You should be warned that even the heavily edited portions we're about to show you are very difficult to watch.
As Drew Griffin of our Special Investigations Unit reports, it's raising questions around the world over what happened there and why now the UAE has announced it will investigate.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is more than just disturbing.
GRIFFIN: A man led to believe he's about to be shot -- mental torture that takes a very physical turn.
GRIFFIN: Most of this tape, shot in the desert outside Abu Dhabi in late 2004, is so graphic, CNN cannot show it.
It was given to CNN by this man, Bassam Nabulsi, an American citizen who lives in Houston but for years, lived and worked halfway across the world, in the United Arab Emirates -- a booming kingdom and strong U.S. ally on the Persian Gulf.
The tape came to light because Nabulsi is now suing this man, his former business partner in the UAE, for $80 million.
BASSAM NABULSI, FORMER BUSINESS PARTNER OF SHEIKH ISSA: We were buddies. He swore to look after my family in case something happened to me.
GRIFFIN: That buddy and business partner was Sheikh Issa Bin Zayed Al Nayhan. And while he is not part of the government, his family rules the United Arab Emirates. His half-brother is the crown prince. Sheikh Issa Bin Zayed Al Nayhan is also the torturer on this tape.
NABULSI: Look, that torture was known to his family. The government knew about it from day one. The government knew exactly what happened. They're looking away because he's part of the royal family.
GRIFFIN: The torture continues with the assistance of a private security guard, who holds the victim down. The sheikh stuffs the man's mouth with sand and on several occasions orders the cameraman to get closer. Over the next 45 minutes, the man is subjected to electric shocks from a cattle prod, his genitals burned and he is repeatedly beaten with a nailed board.
GRIFFIN: The torture demands salt to be rubbed into the wounds.
GRIFFIN: Screams of pain as the victim is brought to the brink. And at the end, an SUV is actually driven repeatedly over the barely responsive man -- a grain dealer accused of stealing.
(on camera): How much money are we talking about here?
NABULSI: It's nothing more than maybe $5,000.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): The video was shot by Nabulsi's brother, who also worked for the sheikh. Nabulsi says the sheikh ordered his brother to make it.
After seeing the tape, Nabulsi says he confronted the sheikh, telling him he must not be a god-fearing person. Nabulsi says that is when the sheikh turned on him.
In his lawsuit, Nabulsi claims security officers working for the sheikh ransacked his home, demanding that torture video back. But by this point, Nabulsi had smuggled the tape out of the country. Shortly afterward, Nabulsi was arrested and ultimately convicted on drug charges.
And in jail, Nabulsi says, he, too, was tortured and humiliated by United Arab Emirates police, who demanded he return the tape.
NABULSI: It was a lot of humiliation. And if I can, I'm -- I really don't like to talk about it.
GRIFFIN: The government of the UAE says Mr. Nabulsi was in no way mistreated during his incarceration. The tape has become evidence in Nabulsi's Houston lawsuit -- to bolter Nabulsi's claim that he, too, was tortured.
The sheikh's Houston attorney confirmed that this is, indeed, Sheikh Issa on the tape and said: "The conduct on the tape, of course, is inexcusable." But the attorney goes on to say the sheikh has been "unduly defamed" by the entire incident and that the man tortured in the desert was "investigated by police for theft and bribery in the farming operation."
And in a statement, the lawyer said that: "Nabulsi kept the video from the media while his lawyer was asking for money" -- a claim Nabulsi's attorney denies.
The government of the United Arab Emirates said it investigated the torture incident and found: "...all rules, policies and procedures were followed correctly by the police department. The review also concluded that the incidents depicted in the videotapes were not part of a pattern of behavior."
NABULSI: Nobody will dare say this is wrong. In their own country, they are the supreme law. They are the supreme law.
GRIFFIN: On the torture tape, little is heard from the grain dealer besides screams.
GRIFFIN: Whimpers. Eventually, he confesses to the theft. But then the sheikh accuses him of lying and the torture continues.
Amazingly, this grain dealer survived. As far as the United Arab Emirate government is concerned: "The parties involved in the incident settled the matter privately by agreeing not to bring formal charges against each other."
GRIFFIN: Well, there's now been a change in how the government of the United Arab Emirates is handling this. Four years after this torture tape, the human rights office of Abu Dhabi: "unequivocally condemns the actions on the tape," we were told in a statement, and is vowing to opening new investigation into what the government says: "appear to represent a violation of human rights." Violations that, we remind you, took place four years ago.
Drew Griffin, CNN, Atlanta.
BLITZER: What a report.
Coming up, a disastrous response to the last swine flu outbreak in 1976 -- now we hear from the former CDC director who lost his job over it.
What would he do differently?
And a beauty queen wades deeper into controversy. Miss California now a spokeswoman against gay marriage. We have her new commercial.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Or asked or wanted, but nonetheless...
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BLITZER: Fredricka Whitfield is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Fred, what's going on?
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello again, Wolf.
The Iraq War has officially ended for British troops. In a ceremony today, the U.K. formally handed over control of the Basra region to U.S. commanders. British leaders say they're preparing to withdraw their remaining 4,000 troops. British forces have been America's main battlefield ally. At the height of the war, Britain had 46,000 troops in Iraq.
And newly deployed American forces are now moving into an especially dangerous in Afghanistan's area south of Kabul. Military leaders say firefighters and roadside bombs are coming there and Afghans in the area side with insurgents. But the region is key to restoring security and commerce. Commanders say new deployments over the summer will be an important test of troop surges in reversing violence. And thousands trying to escape Sri Lanka's war zone are filling up refugee camps. Sri Lanka has been locked in a battle with rebels for decades. But authorities estimate that 120,000 people have flooded the camps in the last 10 days. Authorities say another 50,000 people are trapped by the fighting and living in desperate conditions. British and French leaders are calling for a cease-fire.
And a political fight in Kenya is moving into the nation's bedroom. Kenyan women are banding together and refusing to have sex for one week. Activists say they're protesting Kenya's coalition government. They say tense relationships between government leaders are getting in the way of addressing issues important to Kenya's people. Even the prime minister's wife says she supports the no sex campaign to raise awareness -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Fred, thanks very much.
It was something that the nation's number three automaker tried desperately to avoid, but today Chrysler was forced to file for bankruptcy protection.
CNN's Allan Chernoff is in Warren, Michigan.
He's got some more details on what's going on -- Allan?
ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this Chrysler factory here is virtually empty right now, at a time when the second shift would normally be busy. But Chrysler has stopped manufacturing immediately for at least a month. The company is hoping by going into bankruptcy and partnering with Fiat, it will be able to keep this factory and many, many others open for decades.
CHERNOFF (voice-over): The deal that was supposed to save jobs has put Chrysler hourly workers out of a job for at least the next month.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was hoping that we'd be able to get through this unscathed, but, obviously, that's not happening.
CHERNOFF: It's the latest hit to autoworkers who, this week, voted to give up bonuses, break time and put the future of their health benefits into Chrysler's stock -- an employee benefits program will own 55 percent of Chrysler.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I am angry. But there's two things I will not do. I will not give up on Chrysler. And I will not turn my back on the UAW.
CHERNOFF: Fiat, the U.S. and Canadian governments will split the remaining ownership of Chrysler. With billions of new financing from the federal government, technology from Fiat and the leverage Chrysler gains under bankruptcy law, the company hopes to emerge stronger and healthier. Chrysler will gain the ability to chop dealerships and cut relations with some suppliers, meaning more pain ahead for companies that depend on Chrysler.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of the suppliers are going to have a time -- a little tough time struggling through that because of just the way business is financed, through receivables. If those buyers can't ship anything, they can't send an invoice.
CHERNOFF: But some Chrysler employees are remaining optimistic.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So we'll just ride the train until it crashes.
CHERNOFF: And, of course, Chrysler is hoping not to crash and to ensure that the U.S. government is putting in another $8 billion in investments and loans -- Wolf.
BLITZER: What a day.
Allan, thanks very much for that.
When the last swine flu outbreak occurred 33 years ago, the government's response received some harsh criticism. The former public health official at the center of that controversy talks about the lessons learned.
Vice President Joe Biden offers some advice about avoiding the current flu outbreak.
But did his comments do more harm than good?
And five people die after an attack against the Dutch royal family.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, fear of the spreading swine flu -- Egypt's government is going ahead with the slaughter of 300,000 pigs. The slaughter started yesterday as a measure to ward off swine flu, even though the World Health Organization says there is no evidence that people contracted -- who contracted the virus are -- by handling pigs or eating pork.
Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates -- they're standing side by side in a battle of a -- involving a growing hot spot -- why the Defense secretary says denial has helped the Taliban flourish.
And Chrysler's bankruptcy filing only made a small dent on Wall Street today. The Dow finished down 17 points. Analysts say April's overall gain show investors are feeling more confident when it comes to the economy.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Lessons from the 1976 flu scare and the vaccine that made people sick. There's a lot going on on that front -- lessons learned.
Let's go to CNN's Abbie Boudreau of our Special Investigations Unit -- Abbie, you had a chance to speak to the former director of the CDC who led that response back in 1976 to a swine flu threat at that time.
What did you hear?
ABBIE BOUDREAU, INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, he ultimately stands behind his decision for mass inoculation. It was interesting to talk to Dr. David Sencer, because he was really the man in charge at the time.
His recommendation to vaccinate millions of Americans was largely his idea. But after hundreds of Americans became sick and many died, he was also the person everyone blamed.
DR. DAVID SENCER, FORMER CDC DIRECTOR: If I were in the position today, back in 1976, I'd do it again.
BOUDREAU (voice-over): Former CDC director, Dr. David Spencer, came up with a swine flu program.
(on camera): Do you feel like you relied more on politics than on science?
SENCER: No. I think we tried to stay out of the politics and the politicians kept getting in our way.
BOUDREAU: Why do you say that?
What do you mean?
SENCER: Well, we think it -- for example, the president was -- was vaccinated on -- on camera. That makes it a political sort of a situation.
BOUDREAU (voice-over): More than 43 million Americans got the vaccination. About 500 people got sick. Around 25 died after getting the shot.
(on camera): Do you ever find yourself thinking about the people that did get sick because of the vaccine?
SENCER: Oh, sure. I mean if you...
BOUDREAU: You do?
SENCER: You know, you -- you have to, as a -- as a practitioner. But we also had to feel that if we didn't do something and swine flu spread, more people would have died. BOUDREAU (voice-over): But only one person died from the flu. And the government was criticized for pushing Americans to get unnecessary vaccinations.
(on camera): What do you have to say to the people who did get sick or have family members who -- who died because of this vaccination?
SENCER: Well, any time actions that you take have an adverse affect, you're sorry.
You know, you -- if you're -- if you're not sorry, you're not a human being.
BOUDREAU: But sort of in a round about way, were you -- were you saying you're sorry?
SENCER: What else can you do?
BOUDREAU: Wolf, we also asked Dr. Sencer, who's now retired, if he had any advice for the Obama administration and he said stick to the science and not to the politics. He was blamed and fired in 1977 for not being aware of the vaccine's adverse reactions after spending 11 years at the CDC. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much Abbie Boudreau for that report.
Let's go to Centers for Disease Control and prevention right now. Dr. Cynthia Whitney is joining us, medical epidemiologist over at the CDC. Dr. Whitney thanks very much for coming in. Does it look like this crisis is getting worse or it is easing a little?
DR. CYNTHIA WHITNEY, CDC: It's hard to know. We're getting a lot more information on a day by day basis. We're getting more diagnostic tests in the field, so I think the numbers are going to go up.
BLITZER: The numbers in the United States of people who get sick or who die?
WHITNEY: Unfortunately, I think it's going to be both.
BLITZER: Is there any way of, any models out there, how many people we're talking about?
WHITNEY: We are working with some modelers now to try and estimate this, but we don't have answers yet.
BLITZER: What about the precautions that some school districts are taking by simply shutting down schools like in Ft. Worth, Texas, about 80,000 kids have been told don't come to school for a week. Is that prudent? WHITNEY: Well, I don't have information specifically on the Ft. Worth situation. I think we have said that closing a school is a local decision based on the situation there and it has been prudent to close schools around cases, but I think there are a lot of factors that go into that decision, the risk of exposure and all sorts of things that I think makes it very important for the schools to work with their local public health officials on that.
BLITZER: I know the vice president Joe Biden and his office backed away from the comments he made earlier today on the "Today" show, but what advice do you have for people about to get on a plane, let's say New York to Los Angeles, spend five hours in a plane, or get on a subway jam packed with a lot of people. What advice do you have for folks who are deeply concerned based on what the vice president suggested earlier today?
WHITNEY: We're still supporting our decision to recommend that people traveling to Mexico delay any unnecessary travel. I think within the United States, the situation is not one where we would recommend that you delay any travel within the United States. It just doesn't make sense at this point.
BLITZER: Why is that?
WHITNEY: Well I think the cases that we know of are really in a few areas. We don't know of transmission on planes. We think it's safe now to make those trips.
BLITZER: And the CDC still doesn't suggest that the border between the U.S. and Mexico be shut down.
WHITNEY: That's right. We don't. I mean obviously that's a very complicated decision and we already have cases here. We're not sure if it would help.
BLITZER: Right now, what's your biggest concern Dr. Whitney?
WHITNEY: Well our biggest concern is really evaluating what this virus is. It's a new virus. We're trying to learn as much as we can. We have teams in the field aggressively studying that. Our second concern is that people understand what they can do to prevent transmission of this.
BLITZER: Washing their hands basically.
WHITNEY: Absolutely. Don't go to work if you're sick. Don't send your child to school if they're sick. If you do have a cough for any reason, cover your cough with your tissue or sleeve. Those kinds of things and to stay informed.
BLITZER: And realistically how far down the road is a vaccine?
WHITNEY: Well, we're doing everything we can to speed up that process. Evaluating the viruses, growing them in the co called seed lots which are then used to produce a vaccine, but the process is on the order of months and not weeks. BLITZER: Six months, five months?
WHITNEY: Well, I hate to give a specific number because I think it depends on how well the virus grows and a lot of other specific manufacturing processes.
BLITZER: One final question, if the World Health Organization goes to a level six, meaning there is a pandemic, not level five which it made declared yesterday that a pandemic is imminent, if they go up to level six, practically speaking, what will that mean for you at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention?
WHITNEY: I don't think it will change much of what we're doing on a day to day process. We're really responding aggressively to the situation in the United States. We're trying to learn everything we can about the situation around the globe. I don't think we're going to change what we're doing.
BLITZER: Good luck. Dr. Whitney, thank you very much for helping us better appreciate what's going on.
WHITNEY: Thank you very much.
BLITZER: Dr. Cynthia Whitney of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Coming up, the Republican Party right now launching a new campaign to try to re-brand itself with its former presidential candidate among those leading the effort. Is John McCain the right man for the job? James Carville and Tony Blankley, they're standing by live.
Plus, a royal family watches in horror as a failed attack on the queen leaves five people dead.
BLITZER: Let's get a reality check right now. What the vice president Joe Biden had to say earlier today about avoiding planes and subways. Our senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen is joining us.
All right Elizabeth. What's going on?
ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: What's going on is that the vice president certainly well I should say started a conversation today about how tough is it to get swine flu?
COHEN (voice-over): In the amyls of the swine flu epidemic, it may go down as the shot heard around the world.
JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would tell members of my family, and I have, I wouldn't go anywhere in confined places now. It's not just going to Mexico. It's in a confined aircraft. I would not be suggesting they ride the subway.
COHEN: So was the vice president right? Should we all be avoiding confined spaces, planes, trains and subways? The Centers for Disease Control issued a pretty emphatic no.
DR. RICHARD BESSER, ACTING DIRECTOR, CDC: I think flying is safe. Going on the subway is safe. People should go out and live their lives.
COHEN: The only travel restriction imposed no nonessential traveling to Mexico, where cases are spiraling. In a letter addressed to Vice President Biden, the Air Transport Association's president expressed his extreme disappointment about the suggestion to avoid air travel in response to the H1N1 outbreak, adding that the airline industry is taking appropriate actions to protect fliers including being on the lookout for ill passengers.
BESSER: Today, I'm reporting 109 confirmed cases in the United States.
COHEN: Despite mounting cases, it's important to note H1N1 is not spreading like wildfire. For example, so far everyone in the New York City borough of Queens who's come down with swine flu has been connected in some way to the St. Francis Preparatory School, students, staff and family members. The virus has not spread throughout the Queens community. Still, public fear has been stoked.
KAREN, I-REPORTER: Am I worried about swine flu, yes, I am. I am prepared, I am ready. I've already stocked up on food and I've got my mask.
COHEN: But concentrating on facts and not fear is the bottom line say infectious disease experts and the commander in chief.
OBAMA: This is a cause for deep concern, but not panic.
COHEN: Now, as far as we know Wolf, there have been no documented cases of anyone getting swine flu from being on a plane or on a subway. In fact, the cases we've been told about, these people went to Mexico or close contact or family member who went to Mexico.
BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much Elizabeth Cohen, good reality check.
Let's talk about this and more are democratic strategist and CNN political contributor, James Carville and republican strategist Tony Blankley, a former spokesman for then house speaker Newt Gingrich.
What do you think of the vice president's comments earlier today, James?
JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I love the vice president, but I think he wish those are comments he wished he didn't make and I think they've done a good job of trying to clean it up and public health professionals have given people very sound advice. Sometimes things come out the wrong way and I suspect that's one of these instances. He's a great guy, I respect him, I think he's smart, but sometimes, he says some things he gets ahead of himself.
BLITZER: They later said, the white house, Robert Gibbs, the press secretary, Tony is what he meant to say was that if a family member was sick, he would recommend not going on a plane or subway in a contained area. He didn't exactly say that on the "Today" show.
TONY BLANKLEY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I feel sorry for the vice president, but that's not what he said. In a sense, obviously, the vice president was wrong. On a policy basis, you can't have the whole country hide because a few people might get the flu, but I sort of understand the colonel of wisdom in the vice president. If you think you are particularly susceptible, then obviously the safest thing for an individual to do is to hide in a hole somewhere and not gather around the public. That's the wrong national policy and the vice president was wrong to say it, but I think the white house should have simply said he misspoke and not try to mischaracterize the vice president's statement, but it's a passing little fumble.
BLITZER: I don't understand, James, why they can't say if you or Tony misspoke, just say, I made a mistake, let's move on, but they don't like to say that, do they?
CARVILLE: No they don't. It's just one of these things where it's a guy who's a friend of mine who I like said something, it might have been his intent to say that. I can't tell you what his intent was, but obviously, just didn't come out the right way. As I said yesterday, I think we're doing a very responsible job covering this. You've got to see which way it develops. Wash your hands, a lot. I think that's the best thing to do.
BLITZER: What do you think of this new effort by the former governor of Florida, Jeb Bush, to try to re-brand the republicans right now, come up with a new image to counter this notion that the republicans are the party of no?
BLANKLEY: The Republican Party is where the democratic congressional party was in '95. This is a very early step in that usually long process. I don't like the word, re-branding. Branding is a phrase from corporate communications. In the corporate world, it's fine to try to re-brand a tooth paste. In politics, when James was trying to help the Democratic Party, there were things he wouldn't do, I'm sure, because that's not consistent with the Democratic Party. For me, the Republican Party's got to re-find its vision and voice, but there are limits based on its principles. Branding sounds like a too cynical communication. They need to find new ways to talk to the public and that is very early step in that direction.
BLITZER: Most of the new faces are old faces, people who are very familiar.
CARVILLE: Well, you know, they've tried a lot of things. They've tried to Sarah Palin thing. The Rush and Michael Steele, the tea bagging. That hasn't worked out very well. They've got to try something, they just can't sit there and take the pounding they're taking. I agree, it's got to start somewhere. Of this, will probably develop something else.
BLITZER: Give me some advice for the republicans, James. They're probably not going to listen to you. If they asked you for advice, what do they need to do right now because you know, democrats have been in their shoes over the years many times.
CARVILLE: Absolutely, and it's very hard to sort of force your way out of one of these things. We were there in 1995 with the congressional party. We were really there in 2005 after the 2004 election. It was not very good. We were clearly there after the 1980 presidential election. This is not a gray area. The most dominant any political party was the republicans in the 1920s. However, their problems run deep. The demographics are running against them. The younger voters are running against them and they're going to have to adjust to a new political reality. I think somewhere in the republican messages lies some distrust in things big. Not just government power, but corporate power also.
BLITZER: Tony, give your fellow republicans some advice.
BLANKLEY: I've been over many decades on both sides of this. I think the first mistake the party is making, the republicans are doing it, the democrats did it, is you think you just didn't shout loud enough. It's more than that. The problem is you haven't defined your principles in a way the public finds persuasive. It may get done quickly, it may take a while and it's going to be trial and error.
BLITZER: You see any evidence James that the democrats out there, whether in congress or the administration, are getting cocky right now?
CARVILLE: I think the president is a pretty grounded guy and he admitted he's going to have his troubles with the democratic congress, however, if you're a democrat, you look at this sort of map and the demographics, there's some reason to be optimistic. I completely agree with Tony. Every time somebody gets in trouble, the first thing they say is there's a communications problem. I think their problems are deeper and more fundamental than that and I hope they don't listen to guys like Tony.
BLITZER: I know a lot of republicans are looking back between the years of '77 and '80 leasing up to Ronald Reagan's election in 1980. They're looking for some lessons that could be learned from those years. Would that be wise?
BLANKLEY: Yes. I mean I was part of the old Reagan team to his governor days as a volunteer, as a young guy. What Reagan did was he found a few fundamental principals that he believed in and that the conservative movement stood for. Other than that, he allowed a lot of zone for people to disagree on other things. We kept expanding the tent in the '70s. He used to say that people were endorsing him, he wasn't endorsing them. It was the Reagan principle and I think it worked. It could work again.
BLITZER: Tony and James, thanks very much.
A two-pronged approach to two of the world's hot spots. The defense secretary Robert Gates and the secretary of state Hillary Clinton joined forces to confront Iran and Pakistan.
And the beauty queen ratchets up a campaign against same-sex marriage.
Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: The fight to keep marriage between a man and a woman is getting some high-profile help. CNN's Samantha Hayes is joining us now.
Sam, what's going on?
SAMANTHA HAYES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, at the Miss USA pageant, Carrie Prejean spoke her mind and now she's become a spokeswoman for traditional marriage.
HAYES (voice-over): You probably don't know who won the Miss USA pageant, but the runner-up, Carrie Prejean is now a household name because of this --
CARRIE PREJEAN, MISS CALIFORNIA: I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offense to anybody out there.
HAYES: No offense is now the title for a new ad for the National Organization for Marriage which opposes same-sex marriage.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She is immediately attacked.
HAYES: Prejean was there for the presentation of the ad in Washington.
PREJEAN: Marriage is good. There is something special about the unions between husbands and wives.
HAYES: Now she faces criticism from the pageant organizers who say Prejean has solidified her legacy as one that goes beyond the right to voice her beliefs and instead reveals her opportunistic agenda. Maggie Gallagher heads up the National Organization for Marriage.
MAGGIE GALLAGHER, NATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR MARRIAGE: It was their judge, the judge they chose, who asked the question. It was this judge who probably videotaped himself cursing her out and saying he would love to rip her tee aria off and they're saying it's Carrie's behavior is part of the problem here?
HAYES: The campaign warns of significant implications for religious liberty when same-sex marriage was legalized, but she wasn't paid anything.
GALLAGHER: I think most Americans would say about Carrie that she is really an extraordinary young woman who has the courage of her convictions.
HAYES: The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation said Prejean is a distraction to the debate.
RASHAD ROBINSON, GLAAD: This is not about Miss California and the entire campaign and the ad included is really about making people the sky is falling. You know, at the end of the day this is about making people afraid.
HAYES: The National Organization for Marriage says that Prejean volunteered and is not part of their organization in any official capacity -- Wolf?
BLITZER: All right, Sam, thank you.
Let's go back to Jack for "The Cafferty File."
CAFFERTY: The question this hour is -- what does the Republican Party have to do improve its image with voters?
Jerry in Meade, Oklahoma, says: "On social and moral issues, they need to stop sounding like they are the pope, making pronouncements from the Vatican. Their pretended outrage is rather boring, especially to the younger generation and anyone else that doesn't belong to the right wing of the party."
Bob in Georgia writes: "Republican Party ultimately is going to have to find representatives, pundits and spokespeople who are more inclusive of all Americans. They seem to only criticize anyone who is not white, old, Christian and so-called conservative, which leaves only about 100 people, pure enough to be republicans."
Patrick writes: "Republicans can get back by winning the idea debate. For every democratic plan that comes out republicans should come out with an alternative. If the democrats steal some ideas, so what? Running a British-style shadow government can force a debate on the ideas and alternatives."
Bea writes: "Just wait long enough for Obama to fall flat on his face. It won't be too long."
Ted writes: "I'm tired of hearing about the republicans and their problems. They haven't created all our problems, but they certainly have contributed to most of them. Now they don't want the president to solving those problems. Stories about them are getting as old and tired as they are.
Mike in Denver: "Normally when groups have an image as poor as the Republican Party, I would say they have nowhere to go but up. They are attempting to make progress, but up seems to be an elusive direction for them so far."
And Ned writes: "Stop whining. Enough said."
If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog, CNN.com/Caffertyfile. And look for yours there, among hundreds of others.
We put that story at 4:00 that we asked about whether the swine flu story was overblown, put it on CNN.com, the website, over 100,000 hits in 90 minutes.
CAFFERTY: A lot of opinions on that subject.
BLITZER: All right. Jack, stand by.
Details of a failed attack targeting the Dutch queen and her family. They survived, five others did not.
BLITZER: Let's go straight to CNN's Fionnuala Sweeney with details of an attack against the Dutch royal family -- Fionnuala?
FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, what was meant to be a day of national celebration turned into a nightmare which won't easily be forgotten.
SWEENEY (voice-over): It was like a scene from a horror movie. A black car plows into a queen's day parade in the small Dutch town of Apeldoorn. Crowds watched shocked as the car careens into a statue, barely missing an open-topped bus carrying the Dutch royal family. Innocent bystanders are flung through the air. A journalist who was on the scene describes the devastation.
GREG COUCH, INTL. CORRESPONDENT: And all of a sudden out of nowhere comes a severely damage speeding black Suzuki, crashes into a monument, runs people over. People were in shock. There was chaos. A bit of screaming. People didn't know what was going on, of course.
SWEENEY: Dutch authorities charged the severely injured driver with trying to attack the royal family. Queen's day, the celebration of Queen Beatrix's birthday, is a national holiday in the Netherlands and crowds take to the streets throughout the country amid festive parties, but this incident has marred many of the celebrations. The queen said she is left shocked and speechless. Similar horror was etched on the faces of her family members who watched.
SWEENEY: The queen's birthday celebration is designed to bring people out onto the streets for dances, picnics and parties were canceled, as flags across the country were lowered to half-staff. Wolf?
BLITZER: Well, thank you.
And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, mixed messages about the flu risk aboard planes in the subways and in the schools. Did the vice president, Joe Biden, overstate the danger? The white house trying to set the record straight right now.
The president says Chrysler is getting a new lease on life.