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President Obama Close to Naming Supreme Court Pick?; Earthquake Rocks Mexico City

Aired May 22, 2009 - 18:00   ET


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm John Roberts. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And this just in to CNN: new clues about when President Obama will announce one of his most important decisions yet, his first nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry, is here.

Ed, you have got new information about timing.

What are you learning this afternoon?


CNN has learned that a top aide to the Senate Judiciary chairman, Patrick Leahy, told fellow Democrats this afternoon to expect that President Obama's Supreme Court pick could come as early as next Tuesday, if not Tuesday, he said, at least later next week, very significant because the Judiciary panel, of course, will handle the nomination for President Obama's eventual pick to replace retiring Justice David Souter.

Three senior administration officials here confirm to CNN that the latest thinking is that the pick may come next week. In fact, the president's new point person for handling this nomination, Stephanie Cutter, was spotted in the West Wing of the White House this afternoon, meeting with other aides here, perhaps another signal they're getting closer to this.

But I want to stress that three top officials here tell me the president has not made up his mind about the selection. They're getting ready to announce it, because it is down to a short list of people. And then it is going to be pivotal this weekend. He's going Camp David for Memorial Day weekend, a good spot to think about it, make a final choice, also a good spot to keep the media away. We have no access to Camp David.

So, if he wants a final one-on-one meeting with someone, it is a good place to do it -- John.

ROBERTS: I don't know how he's going to spend the weekend without you, Ed, but I guess he's going to try to get by.



ROBERTS: We talk about this short list. Is it six? Is it three? Who is on the short list and why is the timing so critical here in terms of an announcement?

HENRY: Well, on the first point, we know and have confirmed that the president a few days ago met with Diane Wood, a federal judge out of Chicago. Also, they had a brief encounter, a brief meeting with Jennifer Granholm, the Michigan governor. Those were two expected to be on the short list, but we're told there are several others on that short list as well.

Timing is critical. There's some pressure on the president to get this done, the announcement at least, before he leaves on June 3 for a trip that takes him to Egypt, Germany and France. He has got to get this process going, because the Senate takes the whole month of August off for recess. He wants his pick confirmed before the first Monday in October. He's got to get going.

ROBERTS: And what about this, this thinking too, Ed, of rather than picking someone from the judiciary, go with somebody who has got political and executive experience?

HENRY: Well, that's why we're being told by some sources close to the process, my colleague William Mears, our Supreme Court producer, hearing that there are some serious contenders who are not judges, for example, the homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano, as a politician, but also I mentioned Jennifer Granholm in particular.

I'm hearing from another source close to the process that Granholm is getting a very close look as Michigan governor, former state attorney general, but not somebody who is a judge. So, they are taking a very close look at people who are politicians, not just judges -- John.

ROBERTS: All right, we're waiting anxiously for the announcement. Ed Henry at the White House -- Ed, thanks so much.

Right now, the clock is ticking for General Motors. It has a little over a week left to restructure its debt or file for bankruptcy. The troubled automaker already has gotten a hefty bailout from the federal government of more than $15 billion.

In a new interview with C-SPAN today, President Obama was asked about the government's stake in GM.


STEVE SCULLY, POLITICAL EDITOR, C-SPAN: When you see GM, though, as government motors, your reaction?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, you know, look, we're trying to help an auto industry that is going through a combination of bad decision-making over many years, and an unprecedented crisis, or at least a crisis we haven't seen since the 1930s.

And the economy is going to bounce back. And we want to get out of the business of helping auto companies as quickly as we can. I have got more than enough to do without that, in the same way that I want to get out of the business of helping banks.


ROBERTS: Another massive problem facing the president, health care reform.


SCULLY: Mr. President, let's move to health care, because some of the same people who were at odds with President Clinton, tried to block his initiatives 15 years, are at the table today. What's changed?

OBAMA: Well, a lot's changed.

What hasn't changed is the ever-escalating cost of health care. And, so, people have seen, since '93, when we failed to reform health care, that costs have continued to skyrocket.

I think, probably, the biggest change politically is that businesses now recognize that, if we don't get a handle on this stuff, that they are going to continue to be operating at a competitive disadvantage with other countries.

And, so, they anxiously seek serious reform. The fact that we have got hospitals and doctors who also recognize that the system is unsustainable on its current path, fiscal conservatives who recognize that the single biggest component of driving down our deficits and long-term debt is getting control of Medicare and Medicaid costs, and that health care reform is critical to bend the curve, all of those things, I think, have converged.


ROBERTS: And joining us now is our political roundtable.

We have got Gloria Borger, Roland Martin, and Reihan Salam with us this afternoon.

When we look at the president and his policies and all of the criticisms about them coming from the right, Charles Krauthammer in an op-ed today in "The Washington Post" suggested that President Obama is Obama in Bush's clothing. He says when it comes to the war in terror, are president -- Obama's changes just cosmetic, or are they something different.

He wrote -- quote -- "If hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue, then the flip-flops on previously denounced anti-terror measures are the homage that Barack Obama pays to George Bush. Within 125 days, Obama has adopted with only minor modifications huge swathes of the entire allegedly lawless Bush program."

So, Gloria Borger, is this president more like President Bush than some people would like to believe?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think I have to disagree with my friend Charles Krauthammer.

I think this is a president who decided to close Guantanamo, who declared that water-boarding is torture, and who has said, I don't like military commissions as they were under George W. Bush. I will keep them, but I will reform them and I will change them.

So I don't see a lot of duplication there.

ROBERTS: Roland, what about you?

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think he does have a point in that Obama is not rushing out and completely overturning or taking a lot of the language that he used in the campaign and making that policy, because that would be the biggest mistake.

Look, he's smart enough to understand that, had he done any of that, the right would be going after him on every single point. They must be very methodical as they approach this whole issue, because Democrats have always been weak on national security. The last thing you want to do is give them a great carrot to frankly beat you over the head with. Smart move to take it slow, not implement all your policies right now.

ROBERTS: Reihan, let's do a (INAUDIBLE) here a little bit. You heard Ed Henry just a couple moments ago that saying we have picked up an e-mail that suggests that President Obama may announce his Supreme Court pick by the end of next week. How do you expect that the confirmation fight is going to go?

REIHAN SALAM, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: I think it is going to be very different from previous confirmation fights, because it is not going to focus on social issues like abortion.

I think that Republicans realize that Obama's nominee is going to be strongly pro-choice. What they are going to play up are exactly those national security issues. Look at cases like Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld or (INAUDIBLE)

These are cases where Republicans think they can get traction with the public, because the public actually still trusts the Republicans to some degree on those national security issues. So, if they can focus on that, I think they can actually make a pretty good showing to the American public.

BORGER: You know, John, I just got off the phone with a senior White House adviser, just to add to what Ed Henry was saying, who said to me, look, this is a president who is not going to do a lightning rod pick. He's still not decided who his choice is going to be.

But, in fact, it really is up to the Republicans to decide how they're going to approach this. Are they going to say, OK, this is the president's choice, as long as this person is qualified, this person deserves to be on the Supreme Court, or are they going to pick some fight over either cultural issues or over national security issues, as you say?

It looks like if it is not a lightning rod pick, this president has a pretty good shot of getting this choice confirmed, right?


ROBERTS: Roland, Roland, the president seems to be talking to Republicans about his Supreme Court pick. Do you think he's just paying them lip service, or is he actually listening?

MARTIN: No. First of all, I think it is a smart move. Again, this is not going to be, frankly, a court-defining pick. His pick is changing the -- is, frankly, replacing David Souter. If this was a pick replacing Anthony Kennedy or replacing Clarence Thomas or Scalia, whole different ball game.

But they recognize that, again, you're likely replacing a liberal with a liberal. And, so, the conservatives are looking to score points trying to paint the president as even more liberal than they frankly have been saying he has been thus far.

So, I don't see a major fight. Plus, Democrats control the Senate. They control the committee. They control the White House. This is not like Bush when he had to dance around the issue or even George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, when you had a contentious other side frankly controlling the process.

ROBERTS: Yesterday, of course, we saw that -- that dramatic display of point/counterpoint, where the president gave a speech on national security, followed immediately by -- by the former vice president.

Some Republicans are coming out, though, and criticizing the former vice president. John McCain, in an interview with "The Atlantic" magazine, said -- quote -- "When you have a majority of Americans, 70-something percent, saying we should not torture, then I'm not sure it helps for the vice president to go out and continue to espouse that position."


ROBERTS: Is McCain, Gloria, out there by himself on this, or is that an opinion widely shared in the Republican Party?

BORGER: Well, you know, it is kind of interesting because when McCain ran for president, McCain agreed with Barack Obama on that particular issue. So, now Dick Cheney feels that he's got to go out there and defend the Bush administration, because nobody was out there doing it for him.

So, I don't think they're -- I don't think these guys are very close on this issue. Look, this is about Dick Cheney and his legacy. It is not about John McCain, and it is not about the future of the Republican Party.


ROBERTS: You know, that's exactly...


MARTIN: It's also not about torture. It is not about torture.

It is a broader issue. Dick Cheney is trying to make the case that this president is not prepared to defend America. So, Republicans are saying, yes, we don't like it that he's the guy, but it could help us down the road.

And, Reihan, do you -- do you agree with Gloria? And David Brooks talked about this, too, that Bush administration policies were actually changing, you know, 2005 and on. So, in some ways, Dick Cheney is going back and saying -- maybe fighting those same battles or setting the stage for, God forbid, if something should happen, he can say, I told you so; we were right.

SALAM: I do think the "I told you so" factor is a very, very big deal.


SALAM: Dick Cheney doesn't have any political ambitions. And so he knows that he can go out there and take this unpopular move that might actually resonate in the future.

But I will also say that I think that Krauthammer is right. I think that Obama is actually ratifying a lot of what we saw during Bush's second term that Cheney objected to. Cheney represents that first term, whereas the second term was a much kind of kinder, gentler approach that Obama is following through with.

ROBERTS: All right.

Folks, thanks very much for joining us. Have a good weekend.

MARTIN: Likewise, John.


ROBERTS: And remember to keep the troops in mind.

Jack Cafferty joins with now us "The Cafferty File." He's here again.

Hey, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: John, as we get ready to head into a long holiday weekend, the unofficial start of summer, it's probably worth thinking about this -- 28 million Americans, that's roughly one- fourth of the work force, don't get any paid vacation, nada. Enter Florida Congressman Alan Grayson, who has introduced something called the Paid Vacation Act. It is a bill that would require companies with more than 100 employees to give a week of paid vacation to both full-time and part-time workers who have been with the company for at least a year.

Once the law has been in effect for three years, they have to give two weeks time off. And companies with more than 50 employees would have to give one week of paid vacation. The Democrat Grayson says his bill would double the number of paid vacations in the U.S. It is also meant to increase worker productivity by having fewer sick days and to boost tourism. Hey, he's from Florida.

Grayson points to other countries where paid vacation is a matter of right. It turns out the U.S. ranks dead last among 21 industrial countries when it comes to mandatory vacation time. That's because we don't have any. France requires companies to give 30 days of paid leave.

No surprise the travel industry is pulling hard for this bill. They think it is terrific. But small-business advocates say mandatory vacation time would be a disaster for smaller companies, making it unaffordable for them to do business.

Some Republicans are against the idea, as well, saying a one- size-fits-all federal mandate is the wrong medicine in troubled economic times.

You guys figure it out.

Here's the question. Should paid vacation time be mandatory?

Go to and post a comment on my blog.

ROBERTS: Jack, thanks so much for that.


ROBERTS: Look forward to the responses.

First rocked by killer flu, now rattled by an earthquake -- Mexico City suffers a powerful shock. We will go there.

President Bush's anti-terror point man after 9/11 says Dick Cheney is wrong when he says the U.S. is less safe.

And Blue Angels fly in open, blue sky -- a warm welcome for President Obama as he speaks to those at the U.S. Naval Academy. And wait until you hear what he promised them.


ROBERTS: A 5.7-magnitude earthquake rocked Mexico City this afternoon. Thousands of panicked people fled into the streets. The city is still scarred by the memory of a 1985 quake that killed some 10,000 people. And, of course, they also have been dealing with the swine flu there. But it now appears that the Mexican capital is not reliving the nightmare of 1985 today.

Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, is following the story for us.

She's got the very latest. What have you got for us, Abbi?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: John, these are pictures here, images from the moments just after this quake, about 2:30 p.m. local time, as captured by our iReport Melvin Francis Keeney (ph), who was in a high-rise building in Mexico City and recorded some of his neighbors taking to the streets, frightened about what he described as quite a strong shake.

He said that he's been in earthquakes before there, the last one April 27, but this one this afternoon, he says, much stronger.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of people here were startled. The building definitely shaked a lot more, but I think I'm getting a little used to the earthquakes. And that's it. Half the building evacuated. The other half, we're still in our building.


TATTON: That's a report from Mexico City. A few miles away in the city of Puebla, and a little bit closer to the epicenter, about 35 miles away from the epicenter, we saw reports coming in on Twitter, as well.

This report from Ludwin Cuevas Rocas (ph), this was right at the time of the quake. He was writing to his friends that he was feeling the shaking, but tells us now that everything is going back to normal, no casualties reported where he is in Puebla. He says even the phones are back to normal at this point -- John.

ROBERTS: All right, that's Abbi Tatton for us in THE SITUATION ROOM in Washington.

Abbi, thanks very much.

Let's go now to Mexico City for the latest.

Ariel Crespo is the bureau manager there for CNN en Espanol.

And, Ariel, you have been contacting folks in Puebla state.


In the most recent update, first, Mexico City officials confirm no reports of (INAUDIBLE) damages, but Mexico City was not the only focus of attention. Also, it was felt strongly in the state of Puebla, where the epicenter was located, and particularly in Tehuacan. That is approximately 90 miles southeast of Mexico City. People immediately reacted and moved out of the buildings, not only in Mexico City, but in Puebla as well. Some described the floor moved from side to side and witnessed buildings shaking.

Evacuations were fast. Everybody lined up in the street, waiting for the quake to be over. Minutes ago, Puebla officials confirmed to CNN that there were no reports of injuries or collapsed buildings, particularly in Tehuacan, the epicenter. Same thing in Mexico City, where Major Marcello Ibrad (ph) also said no damages were reported and public transportation was not affected.

People did have problems with mobile phone lines. Service was interrupted for quite some time. But, other than that, it seems like everything is going back to normal -- John.

ROBERTS: All right, Ariel Crespo from CNN en Espanol in Mexico City -- Ariel, thanks so much.

The political mine field of don't ask/don't tell.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can't willy-nilly choose which laws we wish to abide by and those we don't. So, until there is a change to the law, we are operating in accordance with that law.


ROBERTS: Are President Obama and the White House on the same page when it comes to gays in the military?

And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is refusing to elaborate on her earlier comments that she made about the CIA. But the controversy isn't going away and Republicans are turning up the pressure.

Plus, they survived that spectacular emergency landing in the Hudson River. Now they're about to finally get their luggage back.



ROBERTS: The survivors of the miracle on the Hudson get their long-lost luggage. It is an emotional flashback to the terror that they endured four months ago.

Also ahead, former Vice President Cheney undercut by a fellow Republican on the state of America's security.

And President Obama takes his hat off to Naval Academy graduates, including one named McCain.


ROBERTS: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. And happening now: Wall Street is in a slump. The market finished out the week with another down day. The Dow Jones dropped almost 15 points today. Analysts say investors went into the holiday weekend with concerns about the economy.

A sweep of President Obama's pen will soon make it harder for credit card companies to raise fees on many of you. The president today signed the credit card reform bill into law.

And the U.S. could see swine flu test vaccines by mid-June. The CDC says it hopes to send candidate viruses to manufacturers next week that could be developed into test vaccines.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm John Roberts. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A new attempt today by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to move beyond her bombshell claim that she and Congress were misled by the CIA. But Republicans aren't letting go, calling Pelosi a liability to the Democratic Party.

Here's our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.


DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, both in her words and in the unusual choreography of today's weekly press conference, Nancy Pelosi went out of her way to change the subject, or at least avoid one subject.

(voice-over): House Speaker Nancy Pelosi came before cameras knowing she would be asked about the controversy that has embroiled her, but was determined to say nothing.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We're going forward in a bipartisan way for jobs, health care, energy for our country. And on the subject that you asked, I have made the statement that I'm going to make. I won't have anything more to say about that. I won't have anything more to say about it.


PELOSI: Another subject?

BASH: A far different approach from last week, when she gave prepared remarks insisting she was never told waterboarding was used, lashed out at the CIA...

PELOSI: I am saying that they are misleading, that the CIA was misleading the Congress.

BASH: ... and delivered a performance even her biggest supporters called poor.

PELOSI: Let me read it again. I'm sorry. I have to find the page. BASH: This time, the speaker brought backups -- surprising reporters by coming to her weekly press conference with three members of her leadership team, who all delivered remarks about Democrats' accomplishments and had a lot to say. They talked...

They talked...

REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD), MAJORITY LEADER: We passed a budget that makes strong investments in energy technology.

BASH: ... And talked...

REP. XAVIER BECERRA (D-CA), VICE CHAIR, DEMOCRATIC CAUCUS: Next up, health care. We intend to move forward.

BASH: ... And talked...

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD), DCCC CHAIRMAN: So we are restoring ourselves to budget honesty.

BASH: ... For nearly 25 minutes before taking any questions at an event meant to be a press conference.

PELOSI: With that, I would be pleased to take any questions.

BASH: And when reporters in the jam-packed room did get to question Pelosi, that lasted just over five minutes.

Pelosi's deputy, Steny Hoyer, clearly thought he was there to give her a hand. He moved in to try to intercept a question about the controversy.

QUESTION: Being misled by the CIA have...

BASH: Reporters did try to ask other questions on the topic...

QUESTION: Madam speaker, have you (INAUDIBLE)?

BASH: no avail.


BASH: The question we tried to ask is how much she's pressing the CIA to release classified notes from her 2002 briefing -- notes the speaker insists prove she was never told harsh interrogation tactics were used. That could get to the heart of what she knew when -- questions Republicans are still pounding away on and calling for an investigation -- John.

ROBERTS: Dana Bash reporting for us.

Dana, thanks so much.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney is being called on the carpet by America's first Homeland Security secretary. Tom Ridge sat down for an exclusive interview with CNN's John King. JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, the central theme of the former vice president these days is that decisions made by President Obama -- changes in anti-terror policies have made the American people less safe.

So I asked a man who was right at the table, deeply involved in Bush administration homeland security policies if he agreed.


KING: You had the intelligence. You served in a very sensitive position in those days after 9/11.

Do you believe we are less safe today because of steps taken by President Obama?


KING: You disagree with Dick Cheney?

RIDGE: Yes, I disagree with Dick Cheney. But I also disagree with -- with the approach both men are taking.


KING: Like President Obama, Governor Ridge, for some time, has called for the closing of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. But that doesn't mean Mr. Ridge agrees with everything Mr. Obama says in the security debate.


KING: I want you to listen to one more piece of the president's speech on Thursday. Because he was damning in his characterization of how your administration -- the Bush administration -- went about the business of fighting terrorism after 9/11.

Let's listen.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I also believe that all too often our government made decisions based on fear rather than foresight; that all too often our government trimmed facts and evidence to fit ideological predispositions.


KING: You were at the table with the president, with the vice president, with others involved in this fight just after 9/11.

Did you make decisions based on fear rather than foresight?

Did you trim the facts and the evidence based on ideological predispositions? RIDGE: No. I'm surprised that President Obama, who I really truly believe knows better, would make such a statement. The men and women in charge of America's security -- whether they're military or the intelligence community, the president, the vice president, the attorney general, the FBI director -- did everything they could at the time to prevent another attack on America. And it did -- did it consistent with the Constitution and the rule of law.


KING: Governor Ridge says he is concerned this has become way too much of a political debate and not a policy discussion this and that, in his view, it would be best for both the president and the former vice president to tone it down.

And in a portion of the interview where we talked politics, the former two-term governor also used the term "tone it down" when talking about a certain conservative radio talk show host in the headlines quite a bit these days -- John.

ROBERTS: John, thanks so much.

And you can hear more of Tom Ridge's interview Sunday on "STATE OF THE UNION" with John King. It all begins at 9:00 a.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

Commencement day at the Naval Academy -- President Obama addresses the graduating class. Midshipmen get a handshake and a promise from the commander-in-chief.

Plus, a task that's proving to be politically tougher for the president -- repealing the ban on gays in the military. Pressure is on the White House and the Pentagon to change don't ask/don't tell.


ROBERTS: Heading into the Memorial Day weekend, President Obama today saluted some of America's future military leaders, including one named McCain.

CNN White House correspondent Dan Lothian reports on the president's remarks at the U.S. Naval Academy.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, this was President Obama's third and final address for a graduating class. No controversy surrounding this visit. Instead, the president praised the class of 2009 for their commitment to country and he vowed to make necessary investments to strengthen the military.



LOTHIAN (voice-over): A flyover by the Blue Angels followed by a vow from the commander-in-chief. OBAMA: I will only send you into harm's way when it is absolutely necessary and with the strategy, the well-defined goals, the equipment and the support that you need to get the job done.

LOTHIAN: To the 1,036 graduates of the U.S. Naval Academy, President Obama said America needs you -- from training foreign militaries to defeating insurgents and extremists and, like the Navy SEALs, even freeing kidnapped captains from the hands of pirates.

OBAMA: They remembered their skills. They did their duty. They performed their job. They stood their watch. They took their time and then they took their shot.

LOTHIAN: The president's address came on the same day that he signed into law a bill aimed at cutting wasteful spending in the military -- money, he says, that could benefit the troops.

OBAMA: At a time when we're fighting two wars and facing a serious deficit, this is inexcusable and unconscionable.

LOTHIAN: At the commissioning ceremony, the president also hit on another familiar theme -- polishing America's image abroad.

OBAMA: When America strays from our values, it not only undermines the rule of law, it alienates us from our allies.

LOTHIAN: The commander-in-chief shook hands with each newly commissioned officer...


LOTHIAN: ... Including Senator John McCain's son, Jack -- a proud moment for Mr. Obama's presidential rival and his wife Cindy. The fourth McCain to graduate from the academy plans to become a naval aviator.


LOTHIAN: It's unclear how many of these graduates will soon be headed overseas, but President Obama said he's looking to these young men and women to help wind down the war in Iraq and ramp up the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan -- John.

ROBERTS: Dan Lothian reporting for us from Annapolis.

Dan, thanks so much.

Also regarding the military, it's anyone's guess exactly what the president will do about the ban against gays in the military. But the White House says it's at least being discussed.

Let's go straight to Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

What are we learning this afternoon -- Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, this one is pretty confusing because, of course, it was a promise by President Obama to lift the ban. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, though, recently said, when asked about it, he wanted to, in his words, push that one down the road a little bit.

Now the question -- is the White House at odds with the Pentagon?


STARR (voice-over): Since President Obama took office, more than 200 service members have been discharged from military service under the don't ask/don't tell law that prohibits gays and lesbians from openly serving. Critics have complained the administration is dragging its feet on asking Congress to change the law. So it didn't help things when the Pentagon spokesman says this about Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen.

GEOFF MORRELL, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: There is a lot on their plate right now. And 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.

STARR: Defense Department officials tell CNN the White House wasn't happy with that pronouncement. It wants to show there is action underway.

QUESTION: So there are active conversations (INAUDIBLE)?


STARR: Gay rights advocates are skeptical.

EMILY HECHT, SERVICE MEMBERS LEGAL DEFENSE NETWORK: It's clear that the Pentagon is on a completely different page than the president.

STARR: There are indications the Pentagon is starting to consider the issue. Mullen is beginning to think about the historic change that will come if the ban is lifted, says a top aide. And General James Conway, the Marine Corps commandant, privately wrote a letter to his top generals asking for recommendations.


STARR: Now, you know, the last thing anybody wants here at the Pentagon -- any official -- is to appear to be dragging their feet on something the White House wants to happen. So the spokesman, Geoff Morrell, issued a statement clarifying that the Pentagon is working on it and the White House says there's no dispute -- John.

ROBERTS: Barbara Starr for that -- with that.

Barbara, thanks so much.

New unemployment figures are out, but for the real story, you have to go state by state. We're crunching those numbers for you. Plus, they were out of the Hudson River in minutes. Their luggage not so lucky. And now the passengers from this ill-fated US Airways flight are finally getting their bags back.


ROBERTS: New data out today show the nation's unemployment rate rose to 8.9 percent in the month of April.

CNN's Kate Bolduan is crunching the numbers for us -- and, Kate, what does the jobless picture look like across the country?


Well, we do have new federal stats out -- new federal data that we're crunching and putting it here on the wall for you.

What you can see is it's a bit of seeing some indications of some states showing signs of stabilizing. Other states clearly indicating we're not out of the clear quite yet.

Just take a look here. You see the bright orange states -- they're the states that have the highest unemployment rates -- still hurting here -- Michigan. California over here, probably no surprise, high unemployment rates.

But you also see some states in the dark purple. They have the lowest unemployment rates -- North Dakota, Utah -- just to name a couple.

We can also move in and take a closer look at what this really means. Let's just look at Michigan here.

Michigan, take a look here. Let me move this up. Unemployment 12.9 percent -- clearly, still struggling right along with the hard- hit auto industry. This is up .3 percent from March. Of course, we're taking a look at the April information.

And as we move back out, John, you can see, as I said, these bright orange states -- Michigan, California out West, even here, right here in South Carolina, shows that several states, still unemployment rates exceeding 10 percent for the month of April -- John.

ROBERTS: Nowadays you look at Michigan and you think they've got real problems there.

What are the biggest changes in unemployment, Kate, month to month?

BOLDUAN: This is actually pretty interesting. We were able to show the changes from month to month. We see something pretty interesting here.

Let's just take a look first here at West Virginia. West Virginia unemployment rate, 7.5 percent. That's below the national unemployment rate. But they were the -- they fared the worst -- unemployment rate jumping the highest among the states .7 percent since -- from the month of March.

As we move back out, there's also some good news that we're trying to point out here. Take a look at Missouri. Missouri here, unemployment for the month of April, 8.1 percent. But that's the biggest drop among the states, down .6 percent since the month of March.

As we move back out, you can see again all the states for the month of April and their unemployment. I want to head us into the weekend with some good news, John. For the month of March, unemployment rates rose in 46 states across the country. But in April, that number was down to under 20 states who saw the unemployment rate rise.

So I guess we'll take what we can get sometimes, huh?

ROBERTS: Well, that's a little bit of good news, at least, heading into the holiday weekend.

Kate, thanks very much.

Enjoy the Memorial Day weekend.

BOLDUAN: Of course. You, too.

ROBERTS: Job losses coupled with high gas prices could ruin some people's summer.

How high do you think gas prices might go?

Well, nine out of 10 Americans think over $3 this year. Some even say $4 or $5. That's according to our new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey.

And right now, the national average for a gallon of regular gas, $2.39, according to AAA.

Well, it's the miracle that was seen around the world -- the US Airways flight that landed in the Hudson River after an emergency. The pilot's and crew's heroic acts saved the lives of everyone on board. But as far as saving their belongings, well, that may have felt like standing on a wing and a prayer -- until now.

Our Mary Snowe is at the Hudson River with some very good news for people who have been missing everything from their suits to their skivvies -- hey, Mary.


You know, when Flight 1549 touched down on the Hudson four months ago, it had drifted down here to Lower Manhattan. By that time, it was totally submerged underwater.

So imagine the reaction from passengers when they found out that their personal belongings had been salvaged.


BARRY LEONARD, U.S. AIRWAYS FLIGHT 1549 PASSENGER: This is actually the other part of my boarding pass from January 15. As you can see over here, it's January 15, Flight 1549 and my seat number, which is 1-C.

SNOW (voice-over): It's not something Barry Leonard ever thought he'd see again. When U.S. Air Flight 1549 splashed down into the frigid Hudson River, he jumped into the water and started swimming.

His jeans are one of the few things he was able to save from that day. And he continues to wear them. But other reminders came rushing back recently when a box arrived at his home.

LEONARD: Everything from "The Wall Street Journal" of that day to my W-2 form that I didn't even realize was in...


LEONARD: ... In this package, you know, my -- my briefcase that, you know, I had had for decades. It was all of those things. And, you know, to think about the fact that that was underwater is just amazing to me.

And, you know -- and the fact that how many times does an airline get to send all of these types of products back to a living person?

SNOW: Rarely. US Airways worked with a Texas-based company, which tells CNN it sorted through about 30,000 items from the flight -- cleaning them, sometimes freeze-drying items to preserve them.

MARK ROCCO, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, GLOBAL-BMS: Passengers' emotional tie to their possessions because of a traumatic incident like this, highly emotional. So we -- we just want to make it available.

SNOW: For Mary Ann Bruce (ph), getting back some of her jewelry held strong sentiment. She was amazed to find her electric toothbrush still working.

MARY ANN BRUCE: ... Toothbrush.


SNOW: The book that Dan Vinton (ph) was reading on the plane is now back in his hands.

DAN VINTON: I'm about two or three chapters into the book. In fact, I think my mark is still here.

SNOW: And still there and working for Vicki Barnhardt are the four flash drives that were salvaged. She's now using running shoes that were returned. But says she mostly treasures her boarding pass. VICKI BARNHARDT, US AIRWAYS FLIGHT 1549 PASSENGER: Yes, I thought, well, that's kind of cool. That will be a nice little souvenir to save for the kids and grandkids.


SNOW: And, John, another passenger e-mailed us to say that his briefcase was returned last week. It arrived on his birthday. He was trying to document that day moment by moment. Certainly, getting his personal belongings back certainly brought it all back -- John.

ROBERTS: Yes. I don't know if that fellow's laptop is ever going to work again, but it certainly makes for an interesting keepsake.

Has all this stuff been returned?

SNOW: You know, the company that's returning this said it's been able to return about 85 percent of the stuff. Some of it, they don't know who it belongs to, so they're going to have a secure Web site, catalog it and then the passengers will be able to take a look and see if they can claim it.

ROBERTS: All right. Mary Snow for us along the Hudson River this afternoon.

Mary, thanks so much.

What happens when your bags are lost but found by someone else?

Well, the airlines will typically spend about three months trying to reunite bags with their owners. After that, it becomes unclaimed luggage. According to a company the Unclaimed Baggage Center, a very small amount of luggage is truly lost.

The potential findings for customers are huge. The company says it has come across an almost 41 carat emerald, like the one seen here; a full suit of armor; even a live rattle snake.

Jack Cafferty joins us again with his final edition of The Cafferty File.

I don't know who was calling me, but I told them never to call me at work.

CAFFERTY: Was that your cell phone?

Is one of those live rattle snakes we have around here?

ROBERTS: I thought I had it on stun, but I guess I didn't.

Thanks, Jack.

CAFFERTY: So it was your phone?

ROBERTS: It was. CAFFERTY: The question this hour is should paid vacation time be mandatory?

Richard in Kansas: "No, Jack. Let's just keep sticking it to the little guy and hope he never realizes how bad he's getting screwed. After all, if we gave him vacation, well, where would it end? Next he'd want a wage he could live on, a safe workplace, health care coverage and some home of retiring before he drops dead at his work station."

Mike in New York writes: "Interesting you mentioned France. The work rules there are pure socialism. Of course, at the rate Obama is having the government buy up U.S. industry, we're well on our way. Next, every worker will have the rights of civil servants and we will then collapse under our own inefficiency."

Molly in Texas: "It should be, especially with larger companies, universities and government entities. The small businesses should be exempt because of the reduced number of employees."

Nancy in North Carolina: "I'm a small business owner struggling to try to get insurance for my people. That's assuming that we can maintain enough business to stay open. Adding a mandatory paid vacation to my already overburdened budget would be the last straw."

Sharon says: "It ought to be mandated that businesses give employees some paid vacation. We're not a Third World country yet and every other Western country realizes the importance of giving people time off. It's good for everyone's mental health, not to mention the so-called family values that the right is always screaming about."

Jonathan in Bridgeport, Connecticut: "If Congress and the president get time off, it's only fair for those who pay their salaries to have the same luxury."

And Kyle writes: "Excellent. A mandatory paid vacation means I can pick up more hours on my second job."

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

There's a call for you -- John.


ROBERTS: And I found out who it was. They won't call again.


ROBERTS: Are you doing anything for the weekend?

CAFFERTY: No. Actually, I'm going to take my youngest daughter to dinner on Sunday night. And other than that, I have no plans.

ROBERTS: Good for you. That's a great thing to do. CAFFERTY: How about you?

ROBERTS: I'm heading to Ireland for a week.

CAFFERTY: Oh, you are?


CAFFERTY: Give my regards to the nice people in the old sod. I've got family over there.

ROBERTS: I certainly will.

CAFFERTY: All right.

ROBERTS: Jack, thanks so much.

CAFFERTY: See you, John.

ROBERTS: Late night takes on the former vice president. Comedians have some fun with dueling speeches on television. The humorous results coming up next.

And you've heard the expression, "stop and smell the roses, right?"

Pictures worth a thousand words -- the Hot Shots of the day coming up next.


ROBERTS: Here's a look at Hot Shots from our friends over at the Associated Press -- pictures likely to be in your newspaper tomorrow.

In Annapolis, graduates toss their hats at the end of the United States Naval Academy commencement.

In Pennsylvania, 5,100 American flags are laid out to represent the service men and women who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In Switzerland, a boy bends down to smell a flower as he participates in a rally.

And in India, artists put the finishing touches to a sand sculpture of the Indian prime minister.

That's this hour's Hot Shots -- pictures worth a thousand words.

On our Political Ticker this evening, new photos likely to hearten friends and admirers of Senator Edward Kennedy. The Massachusetts Democrat went sailing with his wife Vickie off of the coast of their home in Hyannisport. The 77-year-old senator has been trying to stay active after being treated for brain cancer.

The Senate's newest Democrat getting some high level campaign help from the vice president. Joe Biden sent a campaign e-mail yesterday urging Pennsylvania Democrats to support Arlen Specter's reelection bid next year. Biden, a Pennsylvania native, hails Specter as a friend, confidante and partner during their years together in the Senate.

Specter defected from the Republican Party, you'll remember, last month.

And remember, for the latest political news any time, check out

A war of words fought out on television earlier this week ended up fueling a sort of late night duel among the comedians. When former Vice President Dick Cheney went on the defensive about CIA interrogations, comics went on the attack.

Here's Jimmy Kimmel's take.


JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST: In competing speeches today, President Obama said the U.S. went off course with practices like waterboarding. Cheney retaliated by saying he doesn't regret any of the decisions he made. And if he had to do it all over again, he would order President Bush to do exactly the same thing. And then he ate a baby.


ROBERTS: Jay Leno put a different spin on the issue, but his target was still the same.


JAY LENO, HOST: Now is it me or have we seen more of Dick Cheney in the last week than we did in the past eight years?


LENO: The whole time he was in office, he was in hiding. Anyway, the president spoke out against torture, while Cheney speaks of more of a how-to discussion, you know, kind of a -- an instructional video, that kind of thing.


ROBERTS: David Letterman took a more hard-hitting approach to his ribbing.


DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST: The speech went over pretty well. I mean Cheney was interrupted five times by applause and 50 times by people screaming, Stop. I'll tell you everything! What do you want to know? Just stop. Please.


LETTERMAN: Don't go on!



ROBERTS: I'm John Roberts in for Wolf Blitzer here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Enjoy the holiday weekend and remember to honor the troops on this Memorial Day.


Kitty Pilgrim is in for Lou this evening -- Kitty.