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North Korea Escalates Nuclear Moves; Challenging Specter

Aired May 27, 2009 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

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

BLITZER: Up first this hour: North Korea steps up its activity at its nuclear complex and ratchets up fears around the world.

We broke the story just a little while ago here in THE SITUATION ROOM, two sources telling our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr about the new moves, one official saying North Korea appears to be preparing to restart generators at the Yongbyon nuclear complex, all this playing out as the Obama administration is warning the communist regime that it will face consequences for its saber-rattling.

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

They're watching this nervously over there, Dan, aren't they?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They really are watching it nervously, Wolf. And, in fact, they have been delivering some tough talk here at the administration, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemning North Korea for what she called provocative and belligerent threats.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN (voice-over): The Obama administration is so concerned about North Korea's missile launches and nuclear tests that senior administration officials are holding regular meetings on the crisis.

That's behind the scenes. Publicly, the White House says it's not frustrated by the saber-rattling, but by the broken promises.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The North Koreans don't seem to want to live up to the -- the obligations that they have previously made to the international community.

LOTHIAN: North Korea is also threatening military action against U.S. and South Korean warships. White House officials are pleased that the global community, including China, has been so vocal in its condemnation of the North Koreans.

There's also mounting pressure for the Security Council to turn up the heat on the North, from tightening sanctions to cutting off financing for its nuclear program. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: There are consequences to such actions. In the United Nations, as we speak, discussions are going on to add to the consequences that North Korea will face.

LOTHIAN: Experts warn that this problem requires a global solution, unwise for the U.S. to tackle alone.

NICHOLAS SZECHENYI, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: It's not only the United States that's affected by this issue. It's all the other countries in the region and the world, because, if this continues, North Korea could easily support terrorists and -- and rogue states around the world. And that's to no one's benefit.

LOTHIAN: It's unclear what North Korea is really trying to do or what they will do next.

QUESTION: Is there a sense that North Korea will back down before this escalates any further?

GIBBS: Well, you know, I think we are, again, strongly hopeful that they will understand that this is not doing them any good.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN: I asked Robert Gibbs if anything much tougher, like military action, was being considered? He said, if it was, he wasn't about to discuss it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dan Lothian at the White House, thank you.

All right, this political development just coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM right now. The Senate's newest Democrat, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, will apparently be challenged within his own new party, the Democratic Party, in his reelection bid next year.

Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is here. She's got some details.

What's going on, Candy?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Joe Sestak, who, as you know, was elected in '06, unseated a Republican in Pennsylvania, a former admiral, often used by the Democrats on defense issues on matters of national security, is writing his supporters at this point in a fund-raising bid, but saying that he does intend to challenge Arlen Specter in the primary, he does intend, Joe Sestak, to run for the U.S. Senate.

The latest polls we have seen after Arlen Specter became a Democrat show Sestak way down. But part of that, Wolf, of course, is name recognition. And Arlen Specter has been elected statewide a number of times, Sestak fairly new to the scene, although he's made a big splash in Congress. So, we shall see. But his -- his sister, by the way, is also stating publicly, look, he intends to run. He's going to sit down with his family for the final decision.

But, again, he's writing his supporters saying, I intend to get in.

BLITZER: It's a fascinating development, because both the president and the vice president earlier said they're going to support...

CROWLEY: Right.

BLITZER: ... Arlen Specter in his bid for reelection. So, we're going to see what happens. And we're going to be speaking with Congressman Sestak here in THE SITUATION ROOM later this hour.

Candy, thanks very much.

Congressman Sestak, as I said, will be here in THE SITUATION ROOM to talk about his political plans. That's coming up.

The largest, the largest industrial bankruptcy in the United States ever seems all but certain right now. That's because General Motors' bondholders rebelled against the carmaker's plan to swap bond debt for company stock, and GM now running up against its government- ordered deadline to restructure or file for Chapter 11 protection.

Let's go out to Detroit. Our chief business correspondent, Ali Velshi, is standing by to watch what's going on.

How is GM, Ali, going to get out of bankruptcy, assuming, as we all do, they're going to file for bankruptcy in the next few days?

ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, we will learn a lot in the next few days, Wolf, when we find out, as expected, that General Motors will be forced into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection by the government.

They had a deadline of Monday, this coming Monday, to negotiate with the unions, with their bondholders. They got some negotiations out of their unions. They closed some dealerships, cut some costs, but the bondholders refused to cut a deal with them that would exchange the loans that they have given to GM for equity, for shareholding.

So, now GM looks like it's out of road and it's going to have to declare bankruptcy. Now, what happens under bankruptcy, under bankruptcy protection, is you have some time and space to renegotiate things that you couldn't negotiate otherwise.

So, people who have loans or contracts, autoworkers, all sorts of people will be subject to renegotiation of their contracts. That will create a smaller company. One of the other things you have to do in bankruptcy is sell off parts of the company or otherwise raise financing. Now, Wolf, it is virtually impossible, in this economic climate, for a company to raise financing, particularly one that is in the trouble, the financial trouble, that General Motors is in, so you can expect that you will see sales of profitable parts of the company in order to raise some money.

What will probably emerge out of bankruptcy is a smaller, leaner company. You're not likely to see the General Motors that was the leader in cars for 77 years, once the biggest company in the world, certainly the biggest automaker in the world -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ali Velshi is going to watch it for us in Detroit. Ali, thanks very much.

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: A majority of Americans continue to oppose gay marriage by a margin of almost 3-2.

A new "USA Today"/Gallup poll shows 57 percent of those surveyed are against legalizing same-sex marriages, while 40 percent are in favor. Although support for gay marriage has increased a lot since the 1990s, it seems now to have stalled in the last few years, peaking at 46 percent in 2007.

Not surprisingly, this poll shows Democrats and younger Americans are more likely to support gay marriage than are independents, Republicans or those older than 30. But what's interesting is that, although a majority of Americans remain opposed to gay marriage, most Americans are willing to support gay rights in a lot of other areas.

For example, the same poll found 69 percent are in favor of gays and lesbians serving openly in the military -- 67 percent say gay domestic partners should have access to health insurance and other employee benefits, and 73 percent say they should have inheritance rights -- 67 percent favor expanded hate crime laws to cover crimes committed against gays.

Meanwhile, California won't be joining the list for where gay marriage is legal anytime soon. That state's Supreme Court upheld a voter-approved ban on same-sex marriages. Gay marriages are now legal in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, and Iowa, and will be legal in Vermont come September. The District of Columbia has voted to recognize gay marriages performed elsewhere, but it does not give marriage licenses to gay couples.

Here's the question, then: What will it take for Americans to embrace the idea of gay marriage?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty, thank you.

The nomination of a Latina to the U.S. Supreme Court has Republican senators treading carefully. Some conservative icons are already slamming Sonia Sotomayor as a -- quote -- "racist." And Democrats are lining up political veterans to help shepherd the Supreme Court nominee through the mine fields of the confirmation battle.

Plus, President Obama will head to Saudi Arabia next week. With oil prices likely to soar once again at some point, can he succeed where his predecessor failed?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: All right, this just coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM.

Only a few moments ago, the top members of the Senate Judiciary Committee released the questionnaire they have asked the Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor, to complete. It's mostly pretty standard stuff, but it does signal the confirmation process is now moving into higher gear.

Sotomayor called the ranking members of the committee today, as well as the full Senate's top Democrat and Republican.

Let's go to our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.

Dana, Republicans, I take it, pretty much holding their fire right now, at least the Republicans in the United States Senate.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They are. And you talk to Republicans here, and they fully admit that is intentionally their political strategy to do that right now.

But I also talked to one Republican aide involved in this today, Wolf, and he said point-blank just because Senate Republicans aren't coming out of the gate with their hair on fire, it doesn't mean they're going to roll over.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): Behind these doors, the formal opposition has begun. Some one dozen Republican Senate lawyers are now combing through Sonia Sotomayor's dense legal record, starting with 3,625 published opinions from her 17 years as a federal judge.

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R), ALABAMA: There are some troubling things that are going to going to have to be inquired into for us to do our job.

BASH: Still, the lead Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee does not think they will try to block her nomination.

SESSIONS: I don't sense a filibuster in the works.

BASH: That's not stopping conservative activists from trying to stir up public opinion against Sotomayor, releasing this new Web video with her instantly familiar quote about making policy from the bench.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD) NARRATOR: What is she saying?

JUDGE SONIA SOTOMAYOR, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: Court of appeals is where policy is made. And I know -- and I know this is on tape, and I should never say that.

NARRATOR: Equal justice under law or under attack? America deserves better.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: One prominent conservative moved beyond attacking Sotomayor as a judicial activist and flat-out called her a racist.

Newt Gingrich said on Twitter: "White man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw. Latina woman racist should also withdraw."

That's a reference to Sotomayor's now widely distributed 2002 Berkeley La Raza law review article, suggesting her Latina roots impact her judicial decisions. "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

No senators and few other conservative activists have gone as far as Gingrich, but many are trying to make the same point more subtly.

GARY MARX, THE JUDICIAL CONFIRMATION NETWORK: What I see from her comments about a female nominee and a -- and a woman of Hispanic descent being better positioned to make statements and considerations on cases is concerning. It's outside of qualifications that anyone controls.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Now, despite that line of attack, some Republicans here in the Senate say they are wary of the optics of Sotomayor's hearings. One Republican aide said that they are cognizant inside the Republican Caucus that they're going to have -- quote -- "seven white guys" on the GOP side questioning a Latina judge -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very sensitive stuff, obviously. Thank you, Dana.

So, how to shepherd a nominee through the confirmation process? There's advice from at least one who has been there.

Our national correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is joining us with more on this part of the story.

The White House gearing up to move her through this process.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, and the White House will have a team that is led by several veterans of past confirmation battles prepping Sotomayor, with an assistant from a powerful senator and the vice president.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SOTOMAYOR: Thank you again, sir.

(APPLAUSE)

YELLIN (voice-over): Already, Judge Sonia Sotomayor has started talking by phone with key Senate leaders.

GIBBS: We expect that, as the Senate comes back next week, she will begin visits up on Capitol Hill.

YELLIN: Ed Gillespie helped guide Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito through this mine field. His advice? Say as little as possible.

ED GILLESPIE, FORMER REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: They're more about listening to the senators than giving the senators answers. And you -- it takes a little bit to hold them back from wanting to -- to engage directly there.

YELLIN: He says it's important to remember, everything the judge says will get out and will be used in the big show, the hearing before the 19-member Judiciary Committee.

GILLESPIE: These one-on-one meetings are very helpful, in that they are early warning systems, and they give you a sense of what is likely to come up in the hearings and what questions are going to be asked.

YELLIN: Eventually, Sotomayor will begin mock testimony sessions with a team of White House advisers. Senator Charles Schumer has been tapped to help guide her as well.

GILLESPIE: The Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings are the place where the public is going to form their opinion. And that matters. That feeds into how the senators form their opinions.

YELLIN: And veterans insist nothing should be overlooked.

Tom Korologos, who helped prep Robert Bork, gave this advice in a recent op-ed: "Ask her when she looked at the Constitution. Better yet, make her read it again. Ask her to go through the Federalist Papers."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN: And, Wolf, the same man, Tom Korologos, gives nominees some more amusing advice.

Some of the tips before their confirmation hearings, pause before you answer a senator's question. That will make them think they have asked you a tough question. If they ask a hostile one, and you need to hit back, lean forward into the microphone as you do it. That makes you look unintimidated. And, of course, the old 80/20 rule. He says, if the senators are doing 80 percent of the talking, you're doing great -- Wolf. BLITZER: And we have no doubt the senators will be doing a lot of the talking, 80 percent, 70 percent, no doubt. They have very, very long questions for these nominees.

YELLIN: Yes.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for that, Jessica Yellin.

Veteran Senator Arlen Specter may have jumped from the Republican to the Democratic Party, but that doesn't mean his seat is off-limits. His likely Democratic primary challenger, Congressman Joe Sestak, he will be here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A week after her return home from an Iranian jail, a freed American journalist meets with the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, to thank the American government and the American people.

And the state of Maryland finds a way to cut carbon emissions by replacing some lawn mowers with goats.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: The stock market put its rally on hold. The Dow Jones industrial average fell almost 175 points, erasing most of the gains from the day before. Investors' concerns about rising interest rates helped push down the market today.

Meantime, a new survey of leading economists predicts the recession will end by late summer or early fall.

Let's check out their forecast for the specific sectors of the economy. On the unemployment front, economists predict the jobless rate will finally peak this year and then begin to decline. They believe economic growth will stop sliding and start rebounding in the second half of this year.

As for home prices, economists are split on exactly when they will hit rock bottom, but most agree they will rebound in 2010. That would be in next year sometime.

Pakistan says its enemies are trying every way possible to destabilize the country. This time, bombers reduce a police building to rubble.

Plus, 100 days of stimulus spending -- new red flags about job losses when the money runs out.

And Sonia Sotomayor would be the sixth Catholic on the United States Supreme Court. Justice Antonin Scalia said, there's no such thing as a Catholic judge or a Catholic way to make a hamburger. Is he right? The best political team on television is standing by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: Old foes are coming together to fight California's ban on same-sex marriage, two lawyers challenging Proposition H -- 8, that is -- were on the opposite sides of the 2000 presidential election recount case.

A U.S. Army base is temporarily shutting down after a rash of suicides among its soldiers. Fort Campbell in Kentucky is closing for three days to hold suicide-prevention training.

And new pictures of a bizarre incident in China -- a man contemplating suicide on a bridge was pushed off by an onlooker. He suffered some injuries. The man who pushed him was reportedly outraged with people who basically threaten suicide -- all of this, plus the best political team on television.

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

President Obama's in Los Angeles right now to raise funds for fellow Democrats. Earlier, he drummed up campaign cash in Las Vegas. And, while in Nevada, he marked another milestone of the presidency, 100 days since the enactment of the economic stimulus plan.

Let's get a reality check on that plan. How's it doing? We asked our Elaine Quijano to take a closer look.

What did you find out, Elaine?

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the $787 billion stimulus plan was supposed to save and create jobs. But officials in one community say, it won't be enough.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

QUIJANO (voice-over): After touring a massive 140-acre array of solar panels at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, President Obama touted 100 days of the economic recovery program and its investment in energy and jobs.

OBAMA: In these last few months, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has saved or created nearly 150,000 jobs. They're the jobs of teachers and police officers and nurses who have not been laid off as a consequence of this recovery act.

QUIJANO: But some police officers in Columbus, Ohio, whose jobs the president said were saved by the stimulus could be laid off after all. The police chief says, when the stimulus money runs out this year, he won't have the funds to keep those officers, unless voters approve an income tax increase this summer.

WALTER DISTELZWEIG, COLUMBUS, OHIO, POLICE CHIEF: You know the old acronym, more -- we do more with less? We're going to do less with less.

QUIJANO: The job losses would be especially biting, considering the president went to Columbus to highlight the graduation of 25 police recruits.

OBAMA: For those who still doubt the wisdom of our recovery plan, I ask them to come to Ohio and meet the 25 men and women who will soon be protecting the streets of Columbus because we passed this plan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

QUIJANO: Now, as for all those shovel-ready highway projects the administration touted to help sell the plan, the most recent report by the Government Accountability Office said most states had yet to spend significant amounts of transportation funding -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We're watching the story for you.

Thanks very much, Elaine, for that.

In Pakistan today, a van filled with explosives killed at least 27 people, wounded 250 others, and leveled a police station. The attack occurred in Lahore, Pakistan's second largest city.

CNN's Reza Sayah is in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad.

He has details -- Reza.

REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, with this deadly attack in Lahore, Pakistan's militants once again showing not even the most sensitive government buildings are out of their reach.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SAYAH (voice-over): A massive suicide blast rocks Lahore and delivers a blow to the heart of Pakistan's security apparatus. The attack -- well-coordinated. The weapon, according to police, a passenger van packed with 100 kilograms of explosives. The militants inside armed with guns and grenades aiming to penetrate a compound housing Lahore's police and emergency response headquarters and the offices of the ISI, one of Pakistan's intelligence agencies.

Police tell CNN the van got by the initial barrier before the blast -- an explosion so powerful, it brought down the two story emergency response headquarters and damaged several buildings nearby.

Rescue crews and bystanders pulled bodies from piles of crushed concrete. Bloody victims were loaded into ambulances and taken to nearby hospitals.

The daytime attack in Pakistan's second largest city comes as the Pakistani military continues its month long offensive against the Taliban in the Swat Valley. Pakistan's interior minister, Rehman Malik, says no one has claimed responsibility for the blast in Lahore. But according to Malik, Baitullah Mahsud, a leader of the Pakistani Taliban, recently issued a general threat, saying if the military offensive continues in Swat, militants will target major cities.

Lahore has been the scene of some of Pakistan's most brazen attacks by militants.

In March, at least seven gunmen stormed a police academy, killing seven cadets.

Earlier that month more than 10 gunmen ambushed the Sri Lankan cricket team.

And now the third attack in three months has once again put Lahore in the forefront of Pakistan's fight against militancy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SAYAH: In the meantime the military offensive against the Taliban in the Swat Valley continued on Wednesday. Military officials now saying they killed nearly 1,200 militants in the past month.

A spokesperson for Lahore police telling CNN he suspects the attack in Lahore is, indeed, payback for the operation in Swat. "Swat is reaching Lahore," he said -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Reza Sayah in Islamabad watching this story.

Thank you.

Next week, President Obama turns his attention to the Middle East. Among his stops -- one of the stops will be Saudi Arabia, just added to the schedule. It has had a long and complicated relationship with the United States.

Our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty, is following the story for us -- Jill.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, when President George W. Bush left office, relations with Saudi Arabia were sliding.

Can President Barack Obama find the keys to the kingdom?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DOUGHERTY (voice-over): President George W. Bush strolled hand in hand with Saudi King Abdullah. But when he asked the king to increase oil production in order to lower gas prices for Americans, that friendly gesture didn't work.

President Barack Obama appeared to bow to the king. The White House denied it. Yet Saudi Arabia's oil minister now is predicting oil prices could soon more than double, to $150 a barrel.

But when President Obama meets with King Abdullah in Riyadh, June 3rd, Obama's priority will be Mideast peace. And King Abdullah has a plan -- the Arab Peace Initiative. Israel gives up occupied Arab land and all Arab states normalize relations.

Bush ignored it. Obama praises it.

One Saudi watcher says the king likes Obama's approach so far, but wants to see action.

DAVID OTTAWAY, WOODROW WILSON INTERNATIONAL CENTER: They have already said that their peace plan is not on the table forever. They've begun hinting at a hardening of their line unless some progress is made.

DOUGHERTY: On another Obama priority, stopping Iran's nuclear program, President Obama has an ally in the Saudi King who's pushing for a stronger economic pressure on Iran.

And Saudi Arabia's crackdown on terrorism is improving relations with Washington. Although the majority of 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, the kingdom since then has killed hundreds of homegrown terrorists, put others on trial and put thousands through re-education camps.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DOUGHERTY: And there could be another payoff from improved relations. Saudi expert David Ottaway says if there's progress on Mideast peace, Saudi Arabia might be more willing to work with the U.S. on oil pricing -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jill Dougherty, thanks very much.

We'll have extensive coverage next week of the president's trip to the Middle East.

Arlen Specter, now a Democrat, now facing a challenger from inside his own new party. We're talking to the man getting ready to take on the veteran Senator in a Democratic Senatorial primary contest. Congressman Joe Sestak is standing by to join us live.

Plus, a U.S. warship on a "Moost Unusual" final mission at the bottom of the sea.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Rush Limbaugh weighing in once again, calling the Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor, a reverse racist. He also says President Obama is a racist.

Let's talk about this and more with our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger; our chief national correspondent and the host of the "STATE OF THE UNION," John King; and our CNN political analyst, Roland Martin -- Gloria, here's what Rush Limbaugh said about the Supreme Court nominee.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM RUSHLIMBAUGH.COM)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: So, here you have a racist. You might -- you might want to soften that and you might want to say a reverse racist. And the libs, of course, say that minorities cannot be racist because they don't have the power to implement their racism. Well, those days are gone because ra -- reverse racists certainly do have the power to implement their power. Obama is the greatest living example of a reverse racist and now he's appointed one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Now, he's going way, way further than any of the Republicans in the United States Senate, especially those on the Judiciary Committee. And earlier, Orrin Hatch, who's been on that committee for 33 years, told me he totally disagrees with what Rush Limbaugh is saying.

What is going on here, Gloria, behind-the-scenes?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that's not the kind of language that I think Senate Republicans would -- would really want to use at all. Look, you have the outside groups here who really want to have a huge fight over -- over this Supreme Court nomination. They want to raise money off of this. They want to gather the base around this.

And then you have folks in the Senate who have a very different goal. They want to examine her judicial record. And there are going to be Republicans, obviously, who vote against her. But they want to have a very different kind of debate in the Senate. And I think that's what you heard from Orrin Hatch.

BLITZER: The House -- former House speaker, John, Newt Gingrich, he sent out a Twitter today saying: "Imagine a judicial nominee said my experience as a white man makes me better than a Latina woman. New racism is no better than old racism. White man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw. Latina woman racist should also withdraw."

Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, how much power -- how much influence do they still have among Republicans?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They have significant influence over a small slice of the Republican Party, the 20 percent or so that is the most fervent Republican base.

But, Wolf, the White House couldn't be happier about this. They do acknowledge that Judge Sotomayor has said some things that she is going to have to explain, that she is going to have to try to put into full context. And she has said some things that, you know, will put her in the uncomfortable spotlight at the confirmation hearing.

But they say that Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich are so unpopular in the country, especially with Independent voters, the people in the middle who will make up the key to this, that they do not believe that they will influence the debate at all. And they believe coming out of the box like this, it puts a lot of pressure on senators like Orrin Hatch and other Republicans to stand up and condemn this rhetoric.

BLITZER: Roland, this whole notion, though, this concept of reverse racism, does Rush Limbaugh or a Newt Gingrich have a point?

ROLAND S. MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, first of all, OK, somebody get these two idiots a dictionary. There's no such thing as reverse racism. You're either a racist or you're not a racist. So let's just start right there.

Second, of all, I mean, Rush, is it the OxyContin speaking again?

I mean come on.

Who cares what he has to say, OK?

And we're talking about somebody who has his own long history when it comes to racial rhetoric. So, frankly, we don't care what Rush has to say. He is absolutely irrelevant. The people who listen to him, they can be happy all day with all the nonsense that comes out of his mouth. But, really, nobody cares (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: But, you know, you can't forget, Roland, he's got the number one talk radio show out there in the United States...

MARTIN: Great.

BLITZER: ...and has had it for years.

MARTIN: Great.

And guess what?

It didn't help his party when they lost in November. And it's not going to help them now. The last thing they need to be listening to is this idiot go on and on. All we're simply doing is giving him more attention for his radio show.

Now, as Gloria said, what matters is what is going to happen with those Republicans in the United States Senate. She's right. John is right. She is going to have to explain the comment.

But again, Rush, I really don't care.

BLITZER: All right. Hold on, guys. I want to change subjects for a moment, because Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak is joining us right now.

He's been in Congress only a short while. But correct me if I'm wrong, Congressman, word is now emerging that you have decided definitively to challenge Arlen Specter for the Democratic Senatorial nomination?

REP. JOE SESTAK (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Wolf, I personally have made a decision that I intend to get in this race with one other item. I haven't sat down and had the time to sit down with my 8-year-old daughter or my wife to make sure that we are all ready to get in.

And I say that, if you don't mind, because when I got in this after getting out of the military 31 years in the first race two years ago, my daughter had a brain tumor. And we needed to make sure we were getting in this to pay back for this great health care we have been given, together, as a unit. And so that's where the final decision will be made, with us as a nuclear family. BLITZER: And assuming they say yes, you're going forward, despite the fact that the president of the United States and the vice president of the United States have both said they support Arlen Specter in his bid for reelection?

SESTAK: Interesting point. As I said weeks ago, Wolf, I was disappointed that the Washington political establishment had decided to anoint someone for Pennsylvanians. And so I said I would wait and listen. And I've spent the last weeks going around Pennsylvania to see if others felt like me.

I heard two things. One is, Joe, we'll make the decision. You should get in. Number two is very similar to what you just said. Arlen's got a lot, after four or five decades, of connections and money, so don't get in. No.

BLITZER: Has anyone...

SESTAK: That actually will be more to get in.

BLITZER: Has anyone from the White House urged you not to get in?

SESTAK: I haven't had a call from anyone, except Senator Menendez, head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee called once or twice. We traded phone calls. But not in the last week. So I haven't ever connected with anyone, nor should they. I'm pretty low on the totem pole. And they're fighting two wars overseas and one here at home.

But this is about us Pennsylvanians. And we need health care, not just in this next year, but through 2016. And that next four to six years, for my Pennsylvanians and for my daughter and for me, are very important to make sure that whoever is carrying the mantle of leadership forward is someone who will be with us consistently in this fight for the right issues.

BLITZER: When you spoke to our John King on "STATE OF THE UNION" a few weeks ago, you weren't sure that Arlen Specter is a Democrat.

Are you convinced he's a Democrat now?

SESTAK: I don't think that a D next to your name makes you a Democrat. But I actually think there's something more important. Arlen has done some good things in the past. This is about the future, though, and not the status quo or the past. It's whether Arlen will fight for the right issues, Democrat or Republican. He derailed -- helped derail health care plans without an alternative in the '90s.

Maybe he's changed, but I'm not sure we can take that chance. And so that's why I'm not sure he's for, more importantly, the right issues, Wolf. And that is -- I haven't -- I haven't heard at all from him, out there in the public, that is. And I honestly believe that when you look someone in the eye to see the cut of their gib (ph), we have to ask the question -- will he be with the right policies that our president presently has put out there to retool our economy in health care and education through 2016?

There's too much doubt in my mind not to have the intent right now to get in this race, pending just a little bit of time with my family to make sure we're all together. Like the military, it's going to be a deployment for a period of time.

BLITZER: All right. Congressman Sestak is a retired U.S. admiral, so he knows something about the U.S. military.

Thanks very much, Congressman...

SESTAK: Thanks...

BLITZER: ...for joining us.

SESTAK: Wolf, thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Let me go right back to John King.

John, you know Pennsylvania about as well as any of the political reporters out there right now. In a Democratic Senatorial primary, at least looking at it right now, between Arlen Specter, who's been in the United States Senate representing Pennsylvania for decades, versus Joe Sestak, a relative newcomer, does not have the name recognition, what happens

KING: An enormous challenge for Congressman Sestak, Wolf, because, as you noted, all of the forces, including the governor of Pennsylvania, are aligned against Congressman Sestak. Most of the labor unions have told the White House that they would go with the White House, although they're looking to Arlen Specter on a few key votes in the Senate first.

The African-American vote in the City of Philadelphia is the biggest constituency in a statewide Democratic primary. Arlen Specter has pretty good relations there. The governor was a former mayor there. I would watch Michael Nutter, the mayor of Philadelphia, to see if he would break with the Obama machine on this one.

But otherwise, it is Congressman Sestak up against a huge opposition. But it will be a fascinating race to see if grassroots Democrats say that even the president can't tell us what to do.

BLITZER: Yes, especially...

MARTIN: Wolf, two words...

BLITZER: ...especially if the president and the vice president go to Pennsylvania...

KING: Right.

BLITZER: ...to campaign for Arlen Specter.

BORGER: I mean...

BLITZER: It's going to be tough for Sestak.

MARTIN: Wolf, two words -- Hillary Clinton.

BORGER: Well...

MARTIN: Senator Barack Obama -- people said you should not run, you cannot beat her. Maybe Sestak should remind the president what he ran up against when he chose to run for the -- for the Democratic nomination.

BLITZER: All right, we've got to leave it...

BORGER: Money, money, money, though.

BLITZER: It's going to be tough to raise that kind of money.

BORGER: He's going to raise him a lot of money.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Thanks very much.

Let's check in with Lou to see what's coming up right at the top of the hour -- Lou.

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, thank you very much.

Coming up, we'll have complete coverage of the escalating crisis with North Korea. The United States now says North Korea will face consequences for its nuclear defiance and military threats. We'll tell you what, if anything, those consequences will be.

Also, Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor faces charges she's a racist. The White House says her critics should be exceedingly careful, as they put it. We'll have more in our face-off debate tonight.

And General Motors on the verge of bankruptcy. G.M. planning to transfer production and American jobs overseas so it can ship cars back to the United States.

Will that work?

Should it work?

And among my guests tonight, Edmund Andrews. He's the author of "Busted

Life Inside the Great Mortgage Meltdown."

Join us for all of that and a great deal more, all the day's news at the top of the hour -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Lou.

See you in a few moments.

A proud military career ends with a spectacular journey for this former troop carrier finding new life at the bottom of the sea.

Plus, an American journalist imprisoned in Iran -- she now gets a warm welcome home from the secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: She was convicted of spying, imprisoned for 100 days, then suddenly last week she was freed. And now, a week after her return home from an Iranian jail, the American journalist, Roxana Saberi, met today with the secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: There were so many people who were working on her behalf, praying for her, speaking out all over the world.

ROXANA SABERI, FREELANCE JOURNALIST: I want to take this opportunity to again thank the American people; President Obama; you, secretary of State Clinton, and your department; as well as many others around the world for the support they gave me during the past few months and for the work they did to push for my release.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We're really happy she is back home.

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

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: What will it take for Americans to embrace the idea of gay marriage?

Allen says: "It will take another generation. Members of the religious right of today won't embrace tolerance or equality for gays, but their children will. It's the same process we went through getting equality for women and African-Americans. The headliners never change their minds, but they do die and their children grow up in a more tolerant world."

Joy writes: "Personally, I don't care if the rest of America embraces same-sex marriage. It's the right thing to do. And in 20 years, Americans will look back and wonder what all the fuss was about."

Bill has a different point of view: "I'll tell you what, Jack, you stop murdering innocent babies, maybe I'll compromise on gay marriage. Until then, I'm protecting the morality that upholds our nation to a higher level. We shouldn't have to sacrifice American values to accommodate a rogue lifestyle. And to suggest that being gay is anything other than a lifestyle choice is plain false."

Emerson in Massachusetts: "States shouldn't recognize any marriages. Leave that to the religious organizations. Instead, benefits should depend on partnerships, which should have no limitations."

Sharon writes: "I strongly believe in marriage between a man and a woman, so I'm the wrong person for this question."

Barbara in North Carolina says: "This is simple, Jack. Don't call it marriage. That's what messes with the religious folks' minds. Call it a civil union or a practical partnership. Call it anything but marriage."

And Yomi writes: "What will it take? When your son or daughter says, I am gay."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile and look for yours there. There are hundreds of them -- hundreds, I tell you -- maybe thousands -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I'm sure there are, Jack.

See you tomorrow.

CAFFERTY: All right.

BLITZER: Thank you.

And we're just getting in these remarks from the California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. He did a live chat today on CNN.com. He spoke about that California Supreme Court ruling yesterday upholding Proposition 8, the ban on same-sex marriage.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: When it comes to my personal opinion, I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. But I, at the same time, believe very strongly that I should not -- we should not enforce my opinion on other people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Schwarzenegger twice vetoed bills from the legislature that would have made gay marriage legal in California.

A U.S. warship is sunk on purpose. Our Jeanne Moos on why it will still serve a purpose after going down.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A retired U.S. warship is now at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.

CNN's Jeanne Moos fills in on a "Moost" Unusual mission from the Hoyt S. Vandenberg.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Prepare for that sinking sensation.

(VIDEO CLIP) MOOS: It's not so much the 44 explosive charges that make an impression. It's watching a former troop carrier sink lower and lower and lower.

(VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Until the stern of the Vandenberg disappeared. It sort of makes you say the same four letter word over and over again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was pretty cool, huh?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a pretty cool experience.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was pretty cool.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's pretty cool.

MOOS: The holes they cut in the ship made it sink right side up in just under two minutes. It took less time for the Vandenberg to sink than it took for a storm...

(VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: ...to sink the ships in "The Little Mermaid."

(VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: It will be better for the fish.

The Vandenberg used to track space shots and missiles. But now it will be a habitat for marine life off Key West.

It's the second biggest artificial reef in the world, meant to attract divers and tourism dollars. The biggest artificial reef is an aircraft carrier sunk off Pensacola, Florida.

(VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Spectators paid from $75 to $300 to watch the Vandenberg to go down.

(on camera): The sinking was delayed for about 20 minutes. They had to wait for a CNN.com/caffertyfile to swim out of the danger zone.

(voice-over): And speaking of danger...

(VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: ...the Vandenberg had a previous starring role in the 1990 film, "Virus."

(VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: It was cast as a Russian scientific vessel attacked by robotic aliens.

(VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: It's a little sad to see the last of a ship go under.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a wonder to behold.

MOOS: Joe Weatherby describes sinking the ship as surgery.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "VIRUS," COURTESY UNIVERSAL PICTURES)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This brain is still alive.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: In the movie "Virus," the ship ends up getting blown up.

(VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: But they didn't really blow it up. Good thing, because there would have been no ship to blow up...

(VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: ...this time.

Swim with the fishes, Vandenberg.

(VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.