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Alarm Spreads Over Child's Death; Deporting Dangerous Immigrants; Bill Clinton's New Job; $12,000 Off Your New Car

Aired May 19, 2009 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, the immigration controversy lands in America's jails -- a new program identifying criminal immigrants has led to thousands of deportations. But people on both sides of the issue right now are unhappy with it.

Also, you heard Jack's question, is now the time to buy a Chrysler?

This may help you answer -- our Brian Todd goes car shopping and finds some very, very deep discounts -- in some cases, more than $10,000 off.

And an American man on trial in Myanmar, the former Burma, along with the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi. We have new details of the bizarre incident that brought them together and how the military regime is trying to exploit it.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


There's growing alarm among parents right now. Health officials in New York are investigating what could become the city's second confirmed death due to the so-called swine flu virus -- this time, a toddler in Queens.

Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow.

She's following up on the story -- Mary, do they yet know for sure that this toddler died of the virus?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They don't, Wolf. And the Department of Health says it usually takes a day or two to have definitive results. And while those results are still inconclusive, that did not stop the worry among parents. And city hospitals here in Queens are reporting a spike in the number of people showing up to emergency rooms, both adults and children.


SNOW (voice-over): At the same hospital where a 16-month-old baby died after being brought in with flu-like symptoms, the pediatric emergency room has been inundated and parents like Noureen Fatime are gripped with fear.

NOUREEN FATIME, PARENT: I'm here just to examine my kids, because they are having the fever and I am just worried about them, that because of the swine flu.

SNOW: The hospital says it's seen mostly mild flu cases. But that hasn't quelled anxiousness. With more than 17 schools closed already and an assistant principal whose death was linked to swine flu, some parents say they want more schools to be closed.

Mayor Bloomberg continues to be questioned about it.

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), NEW YORK: When I asked Tom Frieden, if you want to stop the spread of flu, he would say close the schools for a month, keep kids from going to the playground or from working with -- or from eating with their siblings and sleeping with their siblings. And even then, there's no evidence that it would stop it.

SNOW: As another school shut down, the city is also monitoring inmates at the Riker's Island Correctional Facility, where four inmates tested positive for swine flu. Prisoners are being checked for the flu before being sent to court.

The heightened concern comes weeks after an initial outbreak at a Queens school, where flu cases have since subsided.


SNOW: And, Wolf, we talked to a couple of influenza experts who say that it's really unclear why there seemed to be a lull. Some said it may have been that some of these case were mild and that people didn't report it.

But one thing we should stress. Health officials say that so far, the majority of these cases do seem to be mild. And experts are saying that these cases are no worse than seasonal flu.

But certainly a lot of concerned parents. And hospitals are saying some of these people who are showing up are not sick at all, they're just very worried. Some have flu-like symptoms -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary Snow in Queens for us.

Thank you.

The number of confirmed cases of the H1N1 flu around the world has now broken a benchmark. The World Health Organization says more than 10,000 people have been sickened so far. It says the so-called swine flu has caused 79 deaths. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the U.S. leads the world with almost 5,500 confirmed cases. In the U.S. Wisconsin is the state with the most cases right now, at 766. So far, six people in the United States are known to have died from H1N1, three of them in Texas.

The World Health Organization says it would not be possible to produce enough H1N1 vaccine for everyone on the planet. So what happens to poorer countries if a global outbreak is declared?

The WHO says it's making plans and some drug companies are stepping up.


DR. MARGARET CHAN, WHO DIRECTOR-GENERAL: In the name of global solidarity, I have reached out to drug companies and vaccine companies and start discussion with them. I would like to thank them for their cooperation. We will look at different mechanisms to ensure that the poor countries are not left behind.


BLITZER: Just to correct the graphic that was shown on the screen -- 766 cases of swine flu in Wisconsin, not, obviously, 766 deaths. Six deaths in the United States.

Two companies have so far made tentative offers, but WHO Director-General Margaret Chen says no agreements have been signed. The WHO also says draw makers -- drug makers, that is -- won't be able to start producing swine flu vaccine until mid-July at the earliest.

U.S. immigration officials are broadening a program they hope will help them weed out more criminals who have made their way into the United States under the radar.

Let's go to our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve.

She's watching this story for us -- all right, Jeanne, what's going on here?

JEANNE MESERVE, HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the intended target of the program is illegal immigrants who commit serious crimes. Some critics fear it will be too broad, while others say it isn't broad enough.


MESERVE (voice-over): At the Fairfax County, Virginia Jail, the fingerprints of almost every prisoner are run through a federal immigration database.

SHERIFF STAN BARRY, FAIRFAX COUNTY, VIRGINIA: The program is to identify people in this country that have committed crimes and they're here illegally so that we can get them deported.

MESERVE: The Immigration and Customs Enforcement program, called "Secure Communities," started last October and is expanding to 49 sites this week. The goal is to link in every law enforcement agency in the country by 2012.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're accelerating it because it works. MESERVE: Of the more than 288,000 individuals who have had their fingerprints checked since the program's launch, more than 3,000 have been identified as serious criminals. Some of them are among the 4,000 who have been removed from the country under the program.

ALAN BERSIN, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY: This is about making enforcement a top priority. But this is fair, equitable.

MESERVE: Fairness is exactly what some civil rights groups are worried about. They fear a well-intended program will be improperly implemented.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a very wide net. But instead of picking up criminals, we're picking up moms and dads and dishwashers.

MESERVE: On the other side of the spectrum, supporters of stricter immigration enforcement say the program is only a first step.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're sending out the message to illegal aliens that it's OK to come here as long as you don't commit a crime or get caught. In effect, that is a massive, wholesale, de facto amnesty.


MESERVE: The Fairfax County sheriff says the program has been a success at identifying more illegal aliens with criminal records. But it isn't cheap. ICE estimates it will cost $3 billion a year to identify and process all the criminal aliens in the nation's prisons and jails -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That's a lot of money. $3 billion.

All right. Thanks very much, Jeanne, for that.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now.

He's got The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: While Washington looks at trying to sell the nation's health care crisis, a lot of Americans aren't waiting around. They are willing to take matters into their own hands by seeking medical treatment elsewhere.

A new Gallup poll shows 29 percent of those surveyed would consider traveling outside the U.S. for treatment in a foreign country. Twenty-four percent would travel for cancer treatment or diagnosis, 15 percent for a hip or knee replacement, 14 percent for heart bypass surgery and 10 percent for plastic surgery.

When people are asked if they would consider treatment abroad, assuming the quality was the same and the costs much cheaper, all those numbers jump by an average of about 12 points.

Medical travel used to be considered a luxury for the rich. But with health care costs at homes skyrocketing and an estimated 48 million Americans uninsured, that may no longer be the case. In fact, this same Gallup poll shows people without insurance are more likely than those with coverage to think about going abroad for medical treatment.

When it comes to regions of the country, those in the West are most willing to travel; people in the Midwest and South least likely to want to go abroad.

Meanwhile, if there are improvements in insurance reimbursements, hospital quality and cheaper costs abroad, more Americans could start traveling elsewhere for health care.

That's the question -- would you be willing to travel to another country in order to get medical care?

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

BLITZER: You hear so many stories about these desperate people willing to do almost anything for the appropriate medical care -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: You also hear stories of raging successes where they go for sophisticated treatments, the prices are much cheaper than they are here in the States and everything turns out fine. So we'll see what kinds of experiences our viewers have on this.

BLITZER: Yes. I'm anxious to hear.

All right, Jack.

Thank you.

The GOP chairman says Republicans are ready -- are ready to take on President Obama.


MICHAEL STEELE, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CHAIRMAN: The candidate who campaigned as a moderate in his views, now, as president, is governing farther left than we could ever imagine.


BLITZER: And that's just the beginning of what Michael Steele has to say as he lays out his new plan for Republicans.

And a new job for former President Bill Clinton -- United Nations special envoy to Haiti. We have details of what he'll be doing.

And home movies like you've never seen them before -- what the shuttle astronauts taped on their mission to repair the Hubble telescope.


BLITZER: As we reported yesterday, the former president of the United States, Bill Clinton, has been named a United Nations special envoy to Haiti. Today it was made official.

Let's go to our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin.

She's watching the story for us -- all right, what does that mean, Jessica, a special envoy from the United Nations to Haiti?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, for his $1 salary, the former president will use contacts that he's developed through his work after the presidency to try and build Haiti's social and economic development and essentially attract investment.

Now, as you know, Haiti is one of the Western Hemisphere's worst economies. And his office says that as special envoy, the former president is going to try to bring together the private sector -- donors, the government -- to try and help rebuild this country, which was absolutely devastated last year.

Remember, there were four storms there that left 800 people dead and caused about $1 billion in damage in this already impoverished nation.

The president is going to travel there -- the former president -- several times in the next year. In a statement today, Mr. Clinton himself says he believes Haiti is now better positioned to make progress than at any time since he first visited there in 1978 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Did his wife, the secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, have any reaction?

YELLIN: Surprising -- not so surprising -- yes, she did. In a White House briefing today, she praised the appointment, as well as the U.N. secretary general for his efforts to try and help the Haitian people.

Here's Secretary Clinton.


HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We think that Ban Ki-moon has chosen a high profile icon to raise the visibility of the needs of the people of Haiti.


YELLIN: Interestingly, she did not actually use her husband's name, but we know who she's talking about.

BLITZER: Obviously. She had a nice little smile there.

So why is Bill Clinton actually taking this on?

I know he has a long history with Haiti, because I covered him in the White House and I went to Haiti with him.

But why has he decided to do this right now?

YELLIN: It's been a personal passion of his for years. As you point out, back in 1994, his administration was very involved. He helped restore to power the president at that time, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who had been deposed.

After leaving the presidency, then Clinton even continued to help the country through his global initiative. The former president has been there even this year and he's very excited, his office says, about his upcoming efforts to try and help the Haitian people get on firm ground -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. It's a good cause and we wish him only the best in this endeavor.

All right, Jessica.

Thanks very much.

The public is speaking out about President Obama's controversial reversal, deciding to keep secrets of never seen photos of detainee abuse.

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

He's joining us right now.

Is there public pressure on the president right now to release these photos showing, the alleged abuse?



SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Last month, President Obama defend his decision to release memos detailing the harsh interrogation methods used on Iraqi prisoners during the Bush administration.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I acted primarily because of the exceptional circumstances that surrounded these memos, particularly the fact that so much of the information was public -- had been publicly acknowledged. The covert nature of the information had been compromised.

SCHNEIDER: Last week, President Obama defended his decision not to release photos showing the abuse of Iraqi prisoners.

OBAMA: The individuals who were involved have been identified and appropriate actions have been taken. It's, therefore, my belief that the publication of these photos would not add any additional benefit to our understanding of what was carried out in the past by a small number of individuals. In fact, the most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would to be further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger. SCHNEIDER: The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought a lawsuit to force release of the photos, is critical of the president's decision.

ANTHONY ROMERO, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ACLU: He campaigned on a promise of transparency. And transparency is a necessary component to make sure that our government is fully responsive and operational.

SCHNEIDER: But does the American public want to see those photos?

The answer is clear -- no. Nearly three quarters of the public say the government should not release photos of U.S. military personnel abusing Iraqi prisoners. More than 60 percent of Democrats agree, as do nearly 90 percent of Republicans. There is no big partisan division on this issue.


SCHNEIDER: Now, what about an independent commission to investigate Bush administration officials who authorized the use of harsh interrogation measures?

Fifty-five percent of Americans oppose that, too. But that issue is partisan. Nearly two-thirds of Democrats favor an investigation -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider, thanks very much for the latest numbers.

The parents of a young cancer patient ordered by a judge to get him some chemotherapy against their wishes. Now there are dramatic new developments and the boy and his mother are missing.

Chrysler dealers taking millions in losses, offering dramatic discounts as they prepare to close their doors. And we're test driving cars that are $10,000, $12,000 -- get this -- even $17,000 off.


BLITZER: T.J. Holmes is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- T.J. what's going on?

HOLMES: Yes, an update on that story you just mentioned, Wolf. We recently told you about this here in THE SITUATION ROOM. A judge in Minnesota has now issued an arrest warrant for the mother of a 13- year-old boy. That boy -- the parents and not let him have his chemotherapy. Colleen Hauser is the mother's name. She was supposed to appear in court with her son Daniel today, but only her husband showed up. He tells the judge that she had disappeared with their son. Now, Daniel has Hodgkin's lymphoma and doctors say he needs immediate medical attention.

So to the Senate now, trying to make it tougher for credit card companies to boost fees and interest rates. The senators voted 90-5 today to approve a bill that bans rate hikes unless the cardholder is more than 60 days late on payments. It also requires that the previous rate be restored after six months of regular payment. The new guidelines would take effect early next year. But the bill now moves on to the House.

Well, a handwritten poem by Bob Dylan got to go up for auction. "Little Buddy" is the title and it was written when the legendary singer was 16 years old, still going by the name of Bob Zimmerman. It tells of a little dog who met a tragic end and was written for a camp newspaper in Wisconsin. Now, this thing goes on the block -- on the auction block, June 23rd, at Christy's. It's expected to fetch between $10,000 and $15,000.

Finally here, we'll turn to Pensacola, Florida. And the owner of that cat there -- the cat's name is Bitsy -- is going to know soon if the cat measures up to being the world's smallest cat.

Feisty little thing, no?

Bitsy was the runt of the litter of her normal-sized mother. The owner had to wait until she was a year old to submit her stats to the "Guinness Book of World Records." The final figures -- she weighs 1.5 pounds, is six-and-a-half inches tall, 18 3/4 inches long -- so, Wolf, they have a Guinness record for just about anything you want to come up.

BLITZER: An itsy bitsy little cat.


BLITZER: Very little.

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

HOLMES: All right, Wolf.

BLITZER: Chrysler dealers are simply slashing prices as they prepare to shut down some of the dealerships.

Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd.

He's at one of those dealerships in Leesburg, Virginia, not far away from Washington, D.C. -- I take it, Brian, some incredible bargains out there.


I'm about to start sounding like a high pressure salesman, so I apologize in advance. But these price cuts are very drastic.

This high end Jeep Wrangler, a larger model, almost $7,000 off the original price -- $1,000 below invoice. This smaller Jeep Wrangler, more than $4,000 off the original price. And check this out, a high end Jeep Commander SUV almost -- actually more than $12,000 off of its original list price. All because of an unprecedented situation with so many Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep dealers. They have never faced this kind of situation before, with their parent company in bankruptcy.


TODD (voice-over): Angling out of the lot to test drive a Jeep Wrangler. As we tool around Leesburg, Virginia, dealer Hamid Saghafi points out the popular features.

HAMID SAGHAFI, JEEP DEALER: It's very fun during the summertime.

TODD: Folks in this town won't be able to test drive these model much longer. Saghafi and his brother Kevin, who own the only Jeep dealership around here, were abruptly told by Chrysler last week, the Jeep division of their business, which also includes Subarus and Kias, has to shut down by June 9th -- one of nearly 800 dealerships the automaker is moth balling in bankruptcy.

The Saghafis have to sell dozens of vehicles in three weeks and are slashing prices more than they and many other dealers would have ever thought possible, like on the high end Jeep Commander SUV.

RAY O'BRYHIM, CHRYSLER-DODGE DEALER: We've taken deep discounts from $42,385 MSRP to $29,900. That's about a discount of $12,000 from its MSRP, about $10,000 from invoice.

TODD (on camera): Right. Below what you paid for it.

(voice-over): Down the street, Paul Hanka Chrysler Dodge (ph) is shutting down completely and Ray O'Bryhim and his partners are making even more drastic cuts. Take the Dodge Nitro SUV, please.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This particular vehicle here is almost $30,000 -- $29,170. And we've marked this thing down to a sale price of $17,510. You know, if you do the math on that one, it's 40 percent off.

TODD: These two dealerships have been successful, but now have no choice but to take huge losses on the Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep brand.

(on camera): Can you put a dollar value?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Millions. It's literally millions.


TODD: That's because unlike a normal situation when a dealership has to shut down, Chrysler cannot buy back the cars or parts because Chrysler is in bankruptcy. It doesn't have the money to do that. And so the dealers have to absorb all the losses. The dealers that have to shut down have to absorb all the losses.

Now, a Chrysler spokeswoman told us today they are sorry for what the dealers on the shut down list have to go through. But Chrysler does say it is trying to at least help these dealers place their, you know, excess inventory cars with other dealerships, trying to mediate sales between the dealers that are shut down and the dealers that will remain open -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, if these two dealerships had success in the past, is Chrysler giving them a specific reason why they're being shut down?

TODD: Well, the two dealerships told us that Chrysler did not give them a specific reason. But a Chrysler spokeswoman told us, look, this is kind of all just playing out. They got their notices on Thursday. We're going to give them some specific details about their situations. And, also, the -- Chrysler is saying that they are going to work with these dealers to try to, you know, place their staff and their -- their inventories in the right places so that they don't have to shut down completely, they can at least function right after this.

BLITZER: Brian Todd is in Leesburg, Virginia, watching this story.

Thank you, Brian.

The Obama administration commits to more financial aid in Pakistan, as the refugee crisis there worsens.

But is there where it stops?

Just how much military help in the battle against the Taliban is the U.S. providing, as well?

The chairman of the Republican Party takes a stand -- Michael Steele vows to go nose to nose with the Democratic administration.

And astronauts just put their pants on one leg at a time just like everyone else, right?

You try doing it, though, when you're weightless. We're going to show you the home movies from space.


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

Happening now, President Obama lays out his plan for stricter fuel economy standards in automobiles. And Mr. Obama's plan would require 35 miles per gallon in passenger cars and light trucks by the year 2016.

Getting from Point A to Point B could become a challenge if you rely on your GPS. Government officials are now warning that the GPS system is overloaded and could fail in the not too distant future.

And a record low in housing construction is blamed for triggering doubt on Wall Street once again today. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 29 points, to close at 8474.

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

The Republican Party chairman, Michael Steele, says the era of apologizing for Republican mistakes is now over -- over. He's vowing to take on President Obama and the Democrats head-on. Let's go to our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley. Candy, the chairman delivered a very long and detailed speech. And he minced no words.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. It was thematic as well Wolf. As good as the first 100 days were for Democrats, they were that bad for Republicans who have struggled with questions like, who are we and what do we stand for as well as political questions like how do you confront a president as popular as this one. At a meeting of Republican state leaders, Party Chairman Michael Steele says the answer to that is head-on.


MICHAEL STEELE, REPUBLICAN NATL. COMMITTEE CHMN.: We've seen strategists writing memos and doing briefings, urging the Republicans avoid confronting the president. Steer clear of any frontal assaults on his administration. They suggest that, instead, we should go after Nancy Pelosi, who nobody likes, or Harry Reid, who known knows, or this Tim Geithner fellow who nobody believes, or maybe even Barney Frank, who nobody understands.


CROWLEY: Steele, who had a rocky little start to his tenure as party chairman, declared that the end of navel gazing is over, that Republicans have turned the corner, that the honeymoon is over.


STEELE: You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift. You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong. You cannot help the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer. You cannot further the brotherhood of man by encouraging class hatred. You cannot establish security by borrowing money. You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich.


CROWLEY: There were no new policy issues or ideas but that's not what party chairmen do. Steele predicted Republicans will emerge as the party of new ideas but conceded that will take some time. He says, of course, what his job is, of course, is to go out to keep the Republicans rallied and to, of course, answer one other question. How do you win elections? Wolf?

BLITZER: That's the key question. We'll see how he does. Thanks, Candy.

Let's talk about this and more with Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor Donna Brazile and Republican strategist Ed Gillespie, a former white house counselor for President George W. Bush and chairman of the GOP. This was some say a make or break moment for Michael Steele. He got a lot of coverage today on all the cable news networks. What do you think?

ED GILLESPIE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Wolf, I used to coach my children's basketball team and I always said one of the most difficult things to coach is the transition, moving from defense to offense. And I think what chairman Steele was doing was trying to get the party on offense and that's the role of a party chairman. And to get the ball out of the other team's hand and get your side on offense and this feature is designed to do that.

BLITZER: HE succeeded or failed in terms of the speech?

GILLESPIE: I think laying down this predicate that we have to be able to stand on principle, challenge President Obama when we disagree with his policies was very smart and I hope it's effective.

BLITZER: What did you think of that speech, Donna?

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I didn't really give him a wonderful grade. I believe that if he was preaching to the choir, they clearly stood up and applauded. If he's speaking to the congregation, he has a lot of work to do. I think what the party lacks today is ideas. People don't know what they stand for. We know the rhetoric but we see the record and the record and the rhetoric don't add up.

BLITZER: He was saying that there's one school of thought inside the beltway here in Washington. But he's been going outside the beltway and he's been speaking to a lot of Republicans. And they've been telling him, the honeymoon is over and go fight the Democrats.

BRAZILE: He hasn't been speaking to as many Republicans as I've spoken to. I traveled to 27 states already. Let me tell you. They are hungry for leadership. But they are hungry for people to work together, both political parties. I don't know if Michael Steele has the prescription.

BLITZER: Go ahead.

GILLESPIE: I think what Michael described today is absolutely accurate. Out there in the real world, Republicans -- there is energy. There's a lot of intensity. We've got two governors races this year, New Jersey and Virginia where I'm very involved as a volunteer. You can feel it out there. The fact is when Bob McDonald goes out --

BLITZER: He's the Republican nominee in Virginia.

GILLESPIE: He's' the Republican nominee in Virginia. Republicans are teeming to support him and at the same time, he's reaching to these independents and moderates so important in Virginia politics. So I think what we're seeing on the ground and in the grassroots outside the beltway is energy and ideas being developed.

BLITZER: That's where Terry McAuliffe is running for the Democratic nomination. A good friend --

BRAZILE: Brian Moran and Craig D. just to be honest and fair. If you look at the latest poll, the latest Gallup poll showed that the Republicans have lost among every demographic group but frequent churchgoers or weekly churchgoers. They have a long way to come out of the wilderness.

BLITZER: He's trying to inspire them today, Michael Steele. There's been sniping. You know this behind the scenes from some fellow Republicans who say he's basically irrelevant. He has to deal with that.

GILLESPIE: There's always sniping. I was RNC chairman and I loved every minute.

BLITZER: Nobody ever sniped at you.

GILLESPIE: Oh, no. Never. The only thing better than being the party chairman is being the former party chairman. It is a lot of fun. It's a great job. But you do deal with a lot of sniping. That's the nature of political parties.

BLITZER: A lot of jealousy going on.

BRAZILE: Michael is not a strategist. Michael is still acting like an elected official.

BLITZER: Let's talk about another subject, a very sensitive subject, gays in the military because there's a lot of disappointment among several gay groups that the president of the United States doesn't see this necessarily as a priority. And even though he said during the campaign he would want to get rid of that "don't ask, don't tell," he doesn't want to see qualified Arabic linguists kicked out simply because they declare they are homosexual or whatever. He's not really doing anything about this. The pentagon spokesman said this to say on where this whole eliminating don't ask, don't tell stands.


GEOFF MORRELL, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: They are aware of where the president wants to go on this issue, but I don't think that there is any sense of any immediate developments in the offing on efforts to repeal don't ask, don't tell. But I'd really refer you to the white house in terms of whether they want to push that legislation.


BLITZER: When he said they, he was referring to the Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the chairman of the joint chiefs, Admiral Mike Mullen. What do you think? You've heard the criticism. You've heard the grumbling, the disappointment.

BRAZILE: Well first of all, I'm convinced the president continues to support the repeal of this don't ask, don't tell. But I'm also convinced that perhaps he's working with members of congress. There's a bill and an effort in the house to repeal it. And he will have to work with the activists so that we can wheel the movement in order to repeal this. We're the only NATO country, I believe, and Ed may know better, that do not allow openly gay and lesbians to serve in the military. Every one of our allies, Germany, Great Britain, everyone else, allow openly gay service members to serve. I don't know why we're not there yet.

GILLESPIE: When you see a professional like Geoff Morrell at the podium at the Pentagon, punt a mile high like that and nobody is calling for a fair catch, clearly, this is one of those issues. It's a lot easier to campaign about and talk about on the campaign trail than it is when you are the commander in chief and you are deal with the brass and concerns about morale and the impact that you mentioned and cited as an example that you can see in personnel. And I think what you are seeing here is as we've seen now today on Capitol Hill, with closing Guantanamo, the fact is, it's easy to talk about, but the closer you get to it, sometimes it may not actually be the thing to do.

BRAZILE: Well, I think on Guantanamo, once there's an actual plan of what to do with the prisoners, you will see the Democrats put the money back. But 75 percent of the American people support the repeal. Again, our service members are already serving with openly gay and lesbian people in NATO or anywhere else. I don't understand what the issue is.

BLITZER: Do you buy the president's argument I guess right now? He's got so much else going on right now. Let's let this one stay on the back burner for the time being?

BRAZILE: I think the president needs to allow a small working group, maybe some -- led by some of the people on the hill and activists to go ahead and get this ball moving.

BLITZER: Was there ever any serious consideration inside the Bush White House, and you spent years there, to doing away with don't ask, don't tell? Because we did hear from Colin Powell, even from the Vice President Dick Cheney, maybe it's time to rethink that strategy.

GILLESPIE: I was inside for the last 18 months, and I was not aware of any discussion.

BLITZER: No serious discussion at all?

BRAZILE: At a time of war, we should not let people go because they are openly gay or lesbian. It makes no sense.

BLITZER: We'll leave it on that note. Thanks very much.

Taking on the Taliban, Pakistan's military launches an intense new campaign against militants. And now for the first time offers proof it's working. We go inside the offensive.

Also, an American man now on trial with one of the world's most famous political prisoners. His connection to the Nobel laureate Aung Sun Suu Kyi, that and more coming up.


BLITZER: We want to warn you about our next report. It contains images some people will definitely find disturbing. Others will find encouraging. But the first apparent proof that Pakistan's new effort to crack down on the Taliban may actually be taking a toll on the militants. CNN's Ivan Watson takes us inside the offensive.


IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The Pakistani army says these are the bodies of Taliban militants. For the first time, the military has released evidence to back its claims that more than 1,000 Taliban fighters have been killed in more than three weeks of fighting. Most of the pictures are too graphic to show on TV. Included here, photos of what the army says are captured fighters and their weapons. The military won't say where or when these pictures were taken. For weeks, Pakistani war planes, helicopters and artillery have pounded suspected Taliban targets in northwest Pakistan. Now the top brass say they are sending in the infantry for urban warfare.

MAJ. GEN. ATHAR ABBAS, PAKISTANI MILITARY SPOKESMAN: Now the infantry is going into the cities and towns and they will conduct the street battles we have to fight.

CARROLL: Fighting between the soldiers and the militants has flared periodically across northwest Pakistan over the last five years. But this time, Pakistani journalist Zahid Hussain says the army is going in for the kill.

ZAHID HUSSAIN, EDITOR, NEWSLINE MAGAZINE: This time, I think they want really to go after the leadership.

CARROLL: The Pakistani government is trying to consolidate domestic support for the war, calling for unity against the Taliban at a meeting of the country's political parties on Monday. And for the first time, dozens of Muslim clerics in Pakistan have publicly condemned the Taliban, calling its violent tactics of suicide bombing and beheading an un-Islamic.

The offensive is taking a toll on ordinary Pakistanis. These chaotic scenes are from the swat valley, where desperate civilians are fleeing the conflict zone. They rush past bombed out buildings, clutching their belongings, using any means of transport possible. Some may not survive the journey.

The Pakistani government needs all the support it can get to fight this war and cope with this wave of refugees. The fighting is displaced more than a million Pakistanis in just three weeks. The United Nations says this may be the worst refugee crisis since the genocide in Rwanda in 1994.

Ivan Watson, CNN, Islamabad.


BLITZER: Why would one American across a body of water and go to great extents. Both are now in trial in a proceeding many are calling a mockery. CNN's Jason Carroll has been delving into this most unusual mystery.


JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is definitely a strange story. One attorney overseas called the American who did this, quote, a fool. No one really knows what prompted John Yettaw to fly halfway around the world to Myanmar, construct flippers out of cardboard and swim two miles across a lake using a water bottle as a flotation device. He did all of this to reach the home of Myanmar's pre-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Human rights leaders say the military will use the case to extend Suu Kyi's house arrest ahead of next year's planned election. This seriously hurting the push for democracy there.

Here's what we know about her uninvited visitor. Yettaw slipped by the police when he came ashore at the house. Suu Kyi's lawyer tells CNN Yettaw was then asked to leave but he refused saying he was afraid to swim during the day and had a leg cramp. He finally left two days later and was charges with immigration violations. He's from Falcon, Missouri, the father of seven and a Vietnam vet now working on his Ph.D. in clinical psychology. There's an unfinished building on his property apparently meant to be some sort of a medical clinic. Even though he's not a doctor, one of his neighbors says Yettaw isn't very involved in his own community.


MIKE ASSEL, JOHN YETTAW'S NEIGHBOR: I would say around here, he pretty much sort of keeps to himself. He has his own -- I don't know if agenda is the right word but he has his own priorities and he's working towards those.


CARROLL: Well Wolf, his neighbor says Yettaw has been to Myanmar before and had talked of returning but never said why. Yettaw reportedly told people there in Myanmar he was working on some sort of faith-based book on heroism. Perhaps that's one of the reasons why he did what he did. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Jason, thank you. Jason Carroll reporting.

We've seen plenty of footage of the shuttles and the International Space Station. Now we get a look at the video that didn't make the cut, home movies from space.

Imagine your GPS giving you the wrong directions consistently. Officials are worried right now it could happen and happen soon.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Check it with Jack Cafferty but before we do that Jack, I want to play a little of Jay Leno from last night on "The Tonight Show." Listen to this.


JAY LENO, TALK SHOW HOST: There's such a huge difference between being president and vice president when it comes to these commencement addresses. Look at President Obama delivering his commencement address at Notre Dame yesterday. Look at the crowd. Look at this.

PRES. BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES: First of all, congratulations.

LENO: Elden, show the crowd. Show the crowd. Now, look, see how many people are there. Unbelievable, huge. Anyway, Vice President Joe Biden gave his commencement speech. You see the difference.

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT: I'm honored to be here. It was a long trip last time I was here.


BLITZER: Poor Joe Biden, he's getting a little flak there.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That was lame. I mean Leno's a funny guy. He's got a lot of writers. They could have done better. That wasn't that good.

BLITZER: All right. OK.

CAFFERTY: All right. The question this hour is would you be willing to travel to another country in order to get medical care?

Lisa in New York writes, "I would travel abroad for medical care even if it weren't as good as what was theoretically available here. Being able to afford some care is better than not being able to afford any at all."

J.S. in North Carolina, "I lived in the U.K. and I would go there any day for medical are. It was far better than what we have here. My husband had surgery for an aortic aneurism. He spent 10 days in the hospital, had the finest specialists, care, fabulous follow up care. The cost: zero and he paid nothing into the system being an American citizen."

Marcos in Sao Paolo, Brazil, "I work near a hospital whose staff is required to speak English fluently. So many Americans and Europeans come here for the reasons you cited, Mr. Cafferty. And this is not a season fever either. It's been happening for the last three or four years and it's growing every year."

Travis writes, "I would and already have traveled outside of the country for medical treatment. It originally started when I was in Japan for a vacation and found out how much better their health care system was than ours. And you know what it cost me? Absolutely nothing." L. writes, "My retired parents recently traveled to Mexico for dental work and they plan to return. Replacing a dental bridge at a dentist in the U.S. would cost them more than $5,000 but my mother received the same treatment in Mexico for about $1,000. The doctor is U.S. educated, understandably his business is rolling rapidly."

And Ken writes, "Not only would I be willing to do it, I have done it. I have saved many thousands of dollars in dental costs by traveling to Asia and Africa. And I actually managed to have a fun vacation in the process. Vacationing abroad is my current healthcare coverage and it will remain so."

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

BLITZER: Will do, Jack. Thanks very much.


BLITZER: A growing scandal topples a top British official, the speaker of the House of Commons forced to resign in the face of public outrage, something that hasn't happened in more than 300 years.

Look at the size of those pants, behind the scenes on the space shuttle. We have the astronauts' home movie.


BLITZER: For decades, astronauts aboard the shuttle and the space station have sent us amazing video of life up there. Now we get the stuff we don't normally see. Let's go to CNN's John Zarrella. He's been looking at some of these home movies.

What are you seeing, John?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you know, the space shuttle dropped off the Hubble telescope. It's on its way on its own now. Now we've got a real treat for our viewers. This is really must-see TV, home movies from space.


ZARRELLA: Look at the size of those pants. Spacewalking astronaut Mike Massimino needed a little help from his friends getting into his space suit, home movies from 350 miles high. The lighter side of a grueling mission, a little chitchat about travel expenses.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, you are getting per diem, yeah? Like $2 a day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: $2 miscellaneous expenses.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're playing poker tomorrow for it.

ZARRELLA: You might actually watch these movies more than one. Megan McArthur, all focused, carefully steering the robotic arm. Outside, Andrew Feustel. Don't drop that piano. Later they debate who will touch Hubble last.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Megan, you're going to get to touch it with the arm tomorrow.

ZARRELLA: Massimino spent most of the time behind the camera shooting everyone else. Pilot Greg Johnson staying in shape, Navy guys figures, no time for fun.

GREG JOHNSON, PILOT: I'm making some time at 17,500 miles an hour.

ZARRELLA: Commander Scott Altman on the flight deck.

COMMANDER SCOTT ALTMAN: You got all these buttons, controls.

ZARRELLA: Clearly Massimino is the crew funny man. This space flight may launch his career as a comic.

MIKE MASSIMINO, MISSION SPECIALIST: I think I might have set a record for prayers said during a space walk. It was unbelievable. And it was Sunday, which was appropriate. I got dispensation from Father Dominic that I didn't have to go to church.

ZARRELLA: With the telescope fixed, the crew has one more thing to take care of.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In orbit, we've got to land, come down.

ZARRELLA: That would be Friday, weather permitting, at the Kennedy Space Center.


ZARRELLA: We've got to find Father Dominic, Wolf, but on a kind of sad note. In 2020, a robotic spacecraft will go grab up the Hubble telescope when it's finished with its lifetime and bring it down, burn it up in the atmosphere, and over the Pacific Ocean, what's left will fall into the Pacific. Kind of sad. It really kind of belongs in the Smithsonian, don't you think?

BLITZER: I do. U.S. air and space museum would be a great place for it.

ZARRELLA: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Not going to happen. Thanks very much.

ZARRELLA: My pleasure.

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

Happening now, President Obama sets a strict new standard designed to save fuel and the environment. Stand by to find out what it could mean for your car and for your wallet. Also brand new this hour, if you depend on a GPS device to get around, beware. The system could collapse and could collapse soon. We're watching this story for you.

And credit cards are loaded weapons. A surprising add-on to a bill to protect consumers leaves gun control advocates fuming.

We want to welcome or viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.