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Air France Mystery; Sotomayor Makes Promise to Senators; Nancy Reagan Visits White House

Aired June 2, 2009 - 15:59   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. A race to identify debris at sea, possible clues in the Air France mystery. We're unfolding theories about what went wrong and the heartbroken families left in limbo.

Also, China's piece of the USA. A new deal to buy GM's Hummer unit raising questions about American brands sold off overseas.

And the president's Supreme Court nominee makes a promise to senators. What Sonia Sotomayor is revealing to lawmakers behind closed doors.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in CNN's command center for breaking news, politics and extraordinary reports from around the world. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Right now, searchers are converging on areas of floating debris off Brazil. It could be all that's left of the Air France flight that vanished yesterday. All 228 people on board are feared dead, but a race against the clock is under way right now to find the jet's so- called black box recorders.

CNN's John Zarrella is in Rio de Janeiro -- John.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that debris was spotted early this morning by Brazilian Air Force planes flying in an area about 450 miles off the coast of a chain of islands on Brazil's northeast coast. And it's in the area where they believed the plane would be if, in fact, if it had gone down.

Now, once they spotted that debris -- and what they think they spotted was an orange life vest, a metal or steel drum, and also what they described as possibly an oil slick on the surface. But, of course, they've got to get to the scene to actually identify that debris and look for any more.

Now, the first ship in the area is a commercial vessel. A French commercial vessel arrived on the scene earlier this afternoon to continue the search in that area, and the first order of business for that ship, according to the Brazilian Navy, was to look for any signs of survivors.

The weather conditions out there are said to be good. The sea surface temperature is fairly warm out there. So the Brazilian Navy is saying that, in fact, they -- if anybody did survive and they are out there, there is a good chance they are still alive. So that's the first order of business.

Two ships from the Netherlands also on their way to the scene, as well as a Brazilian Navy ship. But that navy ship won't get there until sometime tomorrow. Now, the Brazilian Air Force is also continuing its search efforts and looking for more debris in that general area.

The United States military has also sent a P-3 Orion out there with its team. And they arrived, arriving in Brazil, to also assist in the search efforts for the downed Flight 447.

And meantime, here in Rio, family members gathered at a hotel not far from where we are, said to have been meeting with the Brazilian authorities. Probably updating those family members, briefing them on these latest developments -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. John Zarrella, thanks very much.

John is in Rio de Janeiro. We're going to be getting back to him.

But let's talk about what we just heard and more with a former National Transportation Safety Board director, Peter Goelz. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Peter, the fact that they've seen all this debris in the area, does that say to you, can we determine that there was -- that it was -- crashed on impact, or that there was an explosion, or it just broke up in air, the way we're seeing this debris?

PETER GOELZ, FMR. NTSB DIRECTOR: Well, you can't tell yet, but if this debris is from the aircraft, it's a good first step. But it's only a first step because, you know, this plane went down some time ago. There's going to be current and wind movement.

You just don't know where the main wreckage is, but you'll want to take a look at this. Is there any singe marks? Are there any sooting? Was there a fire beforehand? There's a lot of information you can get from this.

BLITZER: Because one of the pilots flying around the area said he spotted some fire coming from that area. What, if anything, does that say?

GOELZ: Well, that probably means there was impact, that it crashed into the surface of the ocean somewhat intact and exploded. But, boy, we're only at the opening steps.

BLITZER: This is right at the beginning.

All right.

Abbi Tatton, come in here for a moment.

Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, is looking at how this debris is being impacted in these extraordinarily deep waters over there in this vast area where they are searching.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: It really is a huge area, and we've got Google Ocean here to try and talk you through this field, the debris field and the search area. Now looking at the conditions right there on the surface.

We're going about 400 miles northeast along the flight path here from this island group. This is where the debris was spotted.

The temperature around there right now we've got from these buoys either side, about the low 80 degrees. This is roughly the same as off the coast of south Florida right now. The waves, about one to three feet, not too high.

It's really the depth that we're talking about right here, going under water here with Google Ocean. At some points it's as low as 8,000 feet. But a lot of the points were going to 10, sometimes. Right now we're about 12,000 feet in depth underneath this area, and that, Wolf, that's about two miles down or more.

BLITZER: But you say you, Peter, that technically, they can go down two miles and try to find that so-called black boxes.

GOELZ: Yes. They can use remote control vehicles. They can dive down and retrieve them. The question is, can they hear them? And each of the black boxes...

BLITZER: When you say hear them, what does that mean?

GOELZ: Each of the black boxes has a locator device that is activated once it hits water. And it emits a ping on a certain frequency that the searchers, they drop listening devices into the ocean. If they hear it, then they go to it.

BLITZER: What does it say to you that there was no Mayday call? The pilot or the co-pilot didn't actually communicate with anybody, "Mayday, Mayday, Mayday?" Because in all the movies we've seen, that's what they say.

GOELZ: Well, that really is an ominous sign, because it means whatever happened, it happened so quickly that the pilots were not able to radio out. And it probably indicates that it was a catastrophic failure at altitude.

BLITZER: When you say a catastrophic failure, of the electrical system -- could that alone?

GOELZ: That alone would not be enough. I mean, because the plane has a backup system.

BLITZER: That's what I mean.

GOELZ: You can drop -- it's a small propeller that comes down underneath the plane that generates electricity. That alone would not be enough to cut off transmission. BLITZER: What kind of turbulence potentially are we talking about? Because there were reports of other Lufthansa planes, huge planes, also, were flying before and after in relatively the same corridor as this plane.

GOELZ: The turbulence was severe but it was not beyond the capabilities of the plane. At least that's what we know so far. You have got meteorologists looking at the weather carefully to see if there was some phenomena taking place. So far, we haven't seen it.

BLITZER: The other thing I read was that there might have been hail, even at 30,000 or 40,000 feet. Is that common? Is that normal in a thunderstorm, to see hail, which potentially could have caused some destruction?

GOELZ: It's not uncommon to see hail. Usually you can pick it up on your forward-looking radar, and you avoid it. There have been a number of cases in which hail has severely damaged the wind screens of the cockpit, but in this case, that's a reach as well, I'm afraid.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to have you back in a few moments. There's more to talk about, the reliability of this A-330. But stand by. We're going to be getting back to you.

Much more on this story coming up.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty, though, right now for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.


BLITZER: Yes, he is.

CAFFERTY: He speaks in sentences that people like me can understand about very complex issues. I enjoy listening to him.

BLITZER: Yes, that's why he's coming back, too.

CAFFERTY: Well, that makes sense.

When President Obama speaks at Cairo University in Egypt on Thursday, he will have a huge audience and the undivided attention of many of the world's 1.5 billion Muslims. The White House hopes the long-promised speech and trip to Saudi Arabia and Egypt can help to boost the image of the United States in the Muslim world.

Under the Bush administration, Muslims, a lot of them, grew to hate this country with the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the creation of a prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, ,and the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Our president has a chance now to bring about change. But the experts say Muslims want more than just words.

The United States is going to have to follow up on the president's speech with concrete policy changes. It seems that Mr. Obama is off to a good start. Soon after inauguration, he banned those harsh interrogation techniques, promised to close Guantanamo within a year, and gave his first formal interview, you'll recall, to an Arabic language television network. All of this just might be working. A new Gallup poll shows that while approval ratings for U.S. leadership in 11 Muslim nations remains generally low, the ratings are up by double digits in eight of those 11 countries, including Egypt.

Meanwhile, President Obama's indicating that he'll be more willing to criticize Israel than other administrations have. And he's repeating his call for a freeze on the Israeli settlements, a call that so far has been rejected by the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

And this is very significant. Israel is not on the president's itinerary. That's significant because at no time in recent memory that I can recall has a U.S. president ventured to a Middle Eastern nation and not included Israel in his travel plans.

Anyway, here's the question. How can President Obama make the most of his speech to the Muslim world in Cairo, Egypt, on Thursday?

Go to and post a comment on my blog.

I'm also reading that the stop, Wolf, in Saudi Arabia was something that was rather hastily arranged, perhaps because the Saudi kingdom felt like they were being ignored.

BLITZER: Yes. No, he's got work to do with the Saudis. And he's going to need the Saudis to step up to the plate, if you will, maybe take a step, a gesture toward Israel to try to reassure the Israelis that there might be something in it for them. So we'll see if he can get that from the king in Saudi Arabia.

CAFFERTY: It's going to be an interesting trip.

BLITZER: Yes. We'll watch it tomorrow and Thursday, every step of the way.

Jack, thanks very much.

The president's Supreme Court nominee is asked directly about conservative claims that she's a racist. Stand by to see Sonia Sotomayor's reaction.

Plus, as you just saw live here on CNN, the former first lady Nancy Reagan is over at the White House. What message is President Obama sending about Ronald Reagan's legacy?

And GM ships the Hummer off to China. The bankrupt automaker's new deal, and why it may be controversial.


BLITZER: The president's Supreme Court nominee went face-to-face with some of the senators who will be judging her. In private talks, Sonia Sotomayor addressed what one Democrat calls vicious attacks, including race, gender and how they influence her rulings.

Let's go straight to our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash. She's up on the Hill.

All right. This was the first day she went up there. Sort of a round of hello, I'm here, let's talk.

DANA BASH, CNN SR. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And she's currently finishing up her sixth Senate meeting. She's got two more to go and a jam-packed day of courtesy calls where her Senate allies are trying to use these courtesy calls, Wolf, to try to quiet some controversy surrounding her.


BASH (voice-over): One Senate office to another, Judge Sonia Sotomayor sat, smiled and made small talk for the cameras before meeting privately with the senators now judging her. As she made her rounds, Sotomayor would not answer questions publicly, not even about incendiary charges against her.

QUESTION: Judge Sotomayor, what do you think of the fact that two prominent conservatives have called you a racist?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks, everybody.

BASH: But the majority Democrats, first on her calling card, made a preemptive move to address the controversy figuring prominently in Republican attacks, her quote from a 2001 speech suggesting as a Latina woman, she would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male.


BASH: Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy told reporters he asked her about it, and he announced her response.

LEAHY: What she said was, of course one's life experience shapes who you are. But ultimately and completely -- and she used those words -- ultimately and completely, as a judge, you follow the law.

BASH: A senior Democratic source tells CNN Democrats made a tactical decision to have Leahy ask Sotomayor about the controversy so he could portray her answer before Republicans did. Ironically, the lead Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee didn't go there.

(on camera): Did you directly ask her about the comments that she made in 2001?

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R), RANKING MEMBER, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: No, not directly. We talked about the idea and the concept of personal feelings and -- to some degree. You know, how that influences a decision, how it should not.

BASH (voice-over): He's saving pointed questions for later. He called Sotomayor delightful after cameras captured this...

SESSIONS: You saw Senator Leahy before you got here. And he's as knowledgeable about this process as anybody you will find. That's for sure.



BASH: Now, Republican Jeff Sessions was very clear that he wanted to have fair hearings for Judge Sotomayor, but, Wolf, there's a big tug of war going on between Republicans and Democrats over when those hearings will be. Republicans want them in September. Democrats say they want them in July. They're going to meet -- at least the ranking Republican and Democrat will meet tomorrow morning to figure it out.

BLITZER: It's a sensitive issue, the timing. We'll have more on that coming up.

But you did, I take it, hear about some -- a very interesting behind-the-scenes moment?

BASH: Behind the scenes, indeed. This apparently happened in the ladies room.

Judge Sotomayor ran into four senators in the ladies' room. Obviously, female senators. And a source familiar with it said it was quite a scene. Lots of enthusiasm.

If nothing else, Wolf, that's a stark illustration of what happens when you have a female nominee and a lot more female senators than you had. It certainly shows you how different the world is these days.

BLITZER: Yes, very interesting.

All right, Dana. Don't go far away. We'll be getting back to you.

We're also going to be speaking in the next hour with Senator Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee. That's coming up.

You saw it live here on CNN just a short while ago, the former first lady Nancy Reagan with President Obama over at the White House. He signed a bill creating a commission to plan Ronald Reagan's 100th birthday celebration in the year 2011, and he praised the 40th president of the United States.


BARACK H. OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... to have all of you here today. I'm especially glad to have Mrs. Reagan here today as we sign this bill. I look forward to seeing the fruits of this commission's work culminating in the celebration of President Reagan's life on the occasion of his 100th birthday. And on that morning in America, we can be proud to come together as one nation and one people to honor a leader who loved this country and wanted nothing more than to see its promise fulfilled.


BLITZER: All right. Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger. She's here.

Gloria, dare I ask, could anyone complain about the president of the United States inviting the former first lady over to the White House?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: No. I don't think any Democrats would do it.

I think at this point they would think that it was smart politics. But it wasn't that long ago, Wolf, during the campaign when candidate Barack Obama went out of his way to praise Ronald Reagan at the expense of Bill Clinton. And it did get him into some trouble.

Listen to this.


OBAMA: I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that, you know, Richard Nixon did not. And in a way that Bill Clinton did not.


BORGER: That turned out to be a real problem for him. And I think the key thing that Barack Obama thinks about when he thinks about Ronald Reagan is that word "optimism," because that word "optimism" is an awful lot like "hope," which was, of course, the theme of his campaign.

And these could not have been two more different presidents politically. But I think Barack Obama would like to be remembered as a transformational president in the end, and that's the way people remember Bill -- Ronald Reagan.

BLITZER: Ronald Reagan, because he changed so much, the direction and movement of the United States back in 1981 when he became president.

BORGER: Absolutely.

BLITZER: This current president's relationship with Nancy Reagan, a little speed bumps there over the years.

BORGER: Ups and downs. And you'll remember recently, just after he was elected, the president-elect spoke to former presidents and then made a little bit of a faux pas when he said he only spoke to living presidents because he didn't want to get into that Nancy Reagan seance kind of thing. And just recently...

BLITZER: : She had an astrologer when she was the first lady to make sure that when he went on an overseas trip, it was a good time for him to go.

BORGER: And they did call her to apologize afterwards.


BORGER: And in the recent issue of "Vanity Fair," the former first lady said that President Obama should have invited her to the White House to celebrate the signing of stem-cell research, which is something she has championed.

She said, "Politically it would have been a good thing for him to do. Oh, well, nobody is perfect. He called and thanked me for working on it. But he could have gotten more mileage out of it."

And today, Wolf, of course, he mentioned it.

BLITZER: And she looked great in her Reagan red, as usual.

BORGER: Nancy Reagan red.

BLITZER: Beautiful.

All right. Thanks very much..

We wish her only the best, Mrs. Reagan.

We know the missing Air France plane encountered turbulence on its flight, but can severe turbulence actually tear a plane apart? You're going to want to hear what the experts are now telling us.

And celebrating America's Day of Independence with Iranians. You're going to find out why Iran will be a major factor in some 4th of July events this year.



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: The breaking news this hour, Brazil's defense minister right now confirming that a missing Air France jet crashed into the Atlantic. The Associated Press saying that that conclusion is based on the large amounts of debris that has been spotted and found.

Ships are converging on the area off the coast of Brazil. So far, there are no signs of any survivors.

In light of the Air France disaster, we're looking at any government warnings or concerns about the Airbus A-330, the model that vanished over the Atlantic Ocean.

CNN's Richard Quest is joining us on the phone right now.

All right, Richard, tell our viewers what you're learning.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there is one particular airworthiness directive for the A-330. It concerns an incident late last year with a Qantas 330 that was going from Singapore to Australia.

There was -- if you like, the computers on board the aircraft went somewhat haywire and caused the plane to go into something of a shallow dive. Several passengers were injured in this respect.

Now, what the investigation, which is still under way, showed is that one computer basically sent erroneous information to other computers. An airworthiness director has been put out by Airbus on this subject, and they are still waiting for the final resolution.

Wolf, in simple terms, what this means is there was a problem with the computers, they knew what happened. They don't know why.

BLITZER: Well, let's just be very precise, because I know this is very sensitive information, Richard. There are a lot of A-330s that are flying right now all over the world, including here in the United States. This directive that was issued by the European version of the FAA saying precisely what in the aftermath of that incident where that Qantas A-330 was forced to nosedive?

QUEST: What the -- what the airworthiness directive basically says is, is this thing -- if this thing happens, this is what you do about it.

Now, we have seen similar directives before from -- concerning, for example, the 777 with Boeing. We have seen numerous ones on most aircraft. They don't address the core problem. They are effectively, if you like, putting a sticking plaster over the -- over the injury, until people work out what actually has gone wrong.

And the A-330 case, and I have read the -- not only have I read the Australian report, but I have read the airworthiness directive. It's very detailed. It's extremely complicated, but it does say, if A happens, then you do B.

And what we don't know, of course, if there's any connection with what happened with Air France last night.


QUEST: The only thing that we know about the Air France incident is that there was some catastrophic incident that took place. And, Wolf, there were serious malfunctions of major electrical components.

BLITZER: And, just to be precise, this happened when, last January? QUEST: The actual incident on the -- the Qantas incident happened in October. The airworthiness -- the interim report from the Australian authorities came out in January. And the airworthiness certificate followed thereafter.

We are still waiting for that final report from the Australian authorities that will not only tell us what happened, but also perhaps tell us why.

BLITZER: All right. And we have asked Airbus for a comment on this, and they have not been able to give us an on-the-record comment so far. But, hopefully, they will fairly soon.

Richard, stand by.

I want to bring back Peter Goelz, a former director of the National Transportation Safety Board.

It sounds to the layperson like me pretty ominous, pretty scary.

PETER GOELZ, FORMER MANAGING DIRECTOR, NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD: Well, the airworthiness directives are really the backbone of the safety system.

They are issued on a regular basis, and they are issued by the departments that oversee the air carriers. And -- and the -- the -- the manufacturers really respond quickly to them. In this case, you have got a procedure that will countermand this erroneous message.

What happens is, these -- these planes are fly-by-wire. The...

BLITZER: Which means what?

GOELZ: Which means they are completely -- the old planes used to be run by cables, used to control the flaps, the ailerons. These are controlled by electrical impulses along wiring.

So, there's always been a concern that, with the very complex computers, if you have got a glitch in them, how are you getting -- and it's, you know, an itinerant glitch -- how are you going to be able to analyze that if it only happens occasionally?

BLITZER: Can these pilots, are they trained -- because they could be overwhelmed in a situation like this.

GOELZ: Well, that's the question.

The question is, if you get a combination of events, and you get a -- a pilot that's taken by surprise, are they going to do the wrong thing? Are they going to make the wrong call?

And, in this case, they are certainly going to look at this airworthiness directive. They haven't figured out what caused this glitch. The plane pitched initially eight degrees nose down, dropped almost 1,000 feet, then pitched again down far less, about three -- three degrees. And, each time, the pilots arrested the dive. BLITZER: By doing what?

GOELZ: Well, they -- they -- they took command of -- of the aircraft and pulled the stick back.

BLITZER: Presumably, if the Air France A-330 had the same problem, the pilots were very experienced in the -- in the Air France.

GOELZ: They would be able to...


BLITZER: They would have done exactly the same thing that the Qantas...

GOELZ: Right.

BLITZER: ... pilots flying the exact same plane did.

GOELZ: Right.

But, certainly, this is going to be a point that the investigators are going to look at. It's going to be one of the early areas of the investigation.

BLITZER: At what point would they -- let's say -- you know, obviously, we had a horrible tragedy here, and the Brazilian defense minister is now confirming...

GOELZ: Right.

BLITZER: ... that the debris in the Atlantic Ocean is the wreckage from this Air France A-330.

At what point would they issue a stop, a halt to using this plane to investigate, at least for a day or two or three, to make sure that everything is the way it's supposed to be?

GOELZ: I think they are well away from that. There is no indication that this plane is -- is unsafe or un -- is not airworthy. They are going to have to have some real information and some data that would indicate that a grounding is necessary. And I don't think we're anywhere near that yet.

BLITZER: Is it safe for viewers out there who may be getting ready to fly on an Airbus A-330 this year, is it safe for them to go on this plane?

GOELZ: Absolutely. And, if it wasn't safe, the FAA and the corresponding government agencies would be quick to put a plane down. They don't hesitate when they think there is safety at stake.

BLITZER: All right, hold on one more minute.

I want to bring in our Brian Todd. He's looking at some of the questions that are being asked about the role turbulence may have played in this Air France disaster.

What are you picking up, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the experts we spoke to today say you can never rule anything out. But, when it comes to the possibility of turbulence actually breaking a plane apart, airplanes are pretty strong.

The wings are far more flexible than you might think. We're told they can bend 20 feet up or down without breaking. Now, here's how a manufacturer makes sure a wing is strong enough. This video that we're showing now hosted on Boeing's Web site, this is a test for a new plane that is not yet in service.

They use hydraulic jacks to put pressure on the wing and slowly increase the pressure. It can take several days, as they keep pushing it until it breaks. A plane has to be able to withstand one-and-a- half times the worst-case stresses it will encounter in real life before it's certified by the FAA.

So, when it comes to turbulence, experts say the threat may not be so much that it would break up a plane, but that it could make the plane just a lot harder to fly.


DENNIS FITCH, FORMER AIRLINE PILOT: Significantly, the turbulence can be so much so that the pilot has lost control of the aircraft. In other words, the updrafts, downdrafts and all the violence that are -- are ensuing in the middle of the thunderstorm will -- beyond the capability of a pilot to control a plane through its flight controls.


TODD: But, again, Wolf, while data from the Air France plane suggests turbulence was present, at this time, there's no way to really know if this contributed to the disappearance of that plane -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, how strong are the stresses on a hurricane hunters' plane, for example, when they fly right into the eye of a storm, and not just any storm, but a hurricane?

TODD: Well, we spoke to a hurricane hunter pilot today, who said that their planes had registered G-forces as high as six times the force of gravity during Hurricane Hugo in 1989.

Now, those planes are specially equipped. But one expert told us today that an average airliner can withstand more G-forces than a human body can.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thanks very much.

Peter Goelz, former director of the NTSB, is still here.

Peter, it -- it takes -- it would take an enormous amount to break off a wing...

GOELZ: Absolutely.

BLITZER: ... from a plane, especially a plane that's relatively new. It's only a few years old with state-of-the-art equipment.

GOELZ: Absolutely.

These static tests which they were showing the tape of, these really put an enormous amount of pressure on a plane, far beyond anything...

BLITZER: We're showing it, our -- the -- the video...


BLITZER: ... to our viewers once again right now.

GOELZ: Far beyond anything that -- that you would encounter in flight.

BLITZER: The tropical wave that was -- supposedly within the area...


BLITZER: ... that is not enough to do any damage?

GOELZ: No. I mean, it will -- it will give you a good rattling, but it's not going to break a wing off.

BLITZER: Because, sometimes, you are flying at, let's say, 39,000 or 40,000 feet on a big jumbo jet. And -- and the next thing you know, you're going through some turbulence. And, sometimes, you feel the plane actually drop.

GOELZ: That's right.

BLITZER: I mean, it's happened to me. I was on Air Force One a few years ago with the president of the United States, and we -- we dropped pretty quickly. But, then, of course, everything smoothed out.

GOELZ: It -- it -- it exaggerates -- the feelings are exaggerated inside the plane.

We would investigate upsets, particularly when we were looking at the 737, and pilots would say, I was -- we were at 45 degrees, and we would pull the flight data recorder, and they were at about 25 degrees. They were -- but the -- the surprise, you are not ready for it. It comes and you say, holy cow, what was it?

Oftentimes, it's not as -- it's not as severe as you think.

BLITZER: And it -- this explains why you should be wearing a seat belt, even when they take... GOELZ: Absolutely.

BLITZER: ... off the "fasten seal belt" sign.

GOELZ: Wear it all the time when you are not in the rest room. It absolutely is a key safety item.

BLITZER: Because you never know when that turbulence is going to start.

GOELZ: That's right.

BLITZER: And you could be just simply thrown right off your seat.

GOELZ: Absolutely. Clear-air turbulence is a real threat.

BLITZER: Bottom line, right now, the Airbus A-330 should not be grounded; it's still safe to fly?

GOELZ: Absolutely.

There is -- there is no question that it's a safe aircraft. But the -- the investigators are looking at this. The over -- the regulators are looking at it. If there's evidence that indicates action has to be taken, they won't hesitate.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Peter. Good work.

GOELZ: Thank you.

BLITZER: Now that GM is in bankruptcy, it's starting to sell off pieces of the company. The Hummer brand now appears headed to China -- just ahead, what that could mean for U.S. workers.

And critics fear President Obama will be too apologetic. We're taking a closer look at his big speech in Egypt on Thursday, what he hopes to accomplish.


BLITZER: Some people say it's a brand as American as any. But GM is driving Hummer off a cliff. Now there's a twist. You might be shocked to learn who we're hearing is actually going to be buying the Hummer line.

Let's go straight to Poppy Harlow of

What's the answer, Poppy?


Well, a lot of people thought this would be the hardest brand for GM to get rid of, the Hummer. But they have secured a buyer, according to a source with knowledge of the deal. GM has agreed to sell the Hummer brand to a privately-owned Chinese industrial company, not a car company. You may never have heard of this company, Sichuan Tengzhong, heavy industrial vehicles.

They sell special-use vehicles, oil tankers and highway construction machinery. They don't sell commercial vehicles, at least not yet, but they might if this deal goes through. GM, of course, would not confirm that buyer, but said the deal should be completed by September.

Let's take a listen to what the chief financial officer of General Motors, Ray Young, had to say about the sale earlier today.


RAY YOUNG, CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER, GENERAL MOTORS: We have been negotiating with three potential buyers of Hummer, the -- the Hummer brand and some of the Hummer assets. We have reached an MOU.

We're actually very, very pleased with this arrangement, because we will be able to continue the Hummer brand with this purchaser, and also maintain production of Hummer here in the United States.


HARLOW: Well, Hummer meant big profits, Wolf, up until gas prices spiked last summer. And that meant sales of Hummer tanked.

Take a look at the numbers on your screen. In 2008, sales of the Hummer fell 51 percent, in the first quarter of this year, even worse, down 62 percent. And GM said today, just in May alone, sales were down another 40 percent.

I asked the CEO of AutoNation -- that's the largest car dealer in the world -- what he thought of this sale. And he said, listen, with gas prices so volatile now, those new CAFE standards, Hummer presents a really tough business model.

Wolf, it's going to be quite interesting to look and see, if the sale does go through, what that Chinese company does with this brand -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a sign of the times, I guess, what's going on.


BLITZER: Poppy, thanks very much.

Hummer may now be taking hits, but it was once making hits. Hummer is a child of the Humvee. The U.S. Army praised those vehicles, especially during the first Persian Gulf War. The company that made Humvees wanted something for everyday drivers, hence, the Hummer.

GM -- GM stepped in soon thereafter. One big Hummer supporter is the California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. He owns some. And, although, these days, he's an advocate of greener vehicles, he wasn't always that way.


ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, ACTOR: I'm going to get the whole collection of Hummers, just to make sure that someone out there doesn't have something that I don't have, God forbid.


BLITZER: Currently, the governor is pushing for an electric Hummer that could achieve the equivalent of 100 miles a gallon. Good luck on that.

President Obama gives gays and lesbians a major honor, but is it a gift to substitute something else he's not yet done?

And, now that Brazil says that missing plane actually crashed, might searchers find the so-called black boxes to figure out what happened? If so, how can they get to them?


BLITZER: Let's get to our "Strategy Session."

Joining us, our CNN political contributor the Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen, and Republican strategist Rich Galen.

Rich, I will start with you.

Our CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll asked favorable, unfavorable numbers for most of the top Republicans who we're hearing a lot from lately. And look at these numbers. Colin Powell, he is at 70 percent favorability, then John McCain, 58 percent, and then -- then it goes down, Sarah Palin, 46 percent, Romney 42 percent, Dick Cheney 37 percent, Newt Gingrich 36 percent. Rush Limbaugh is only at 30 percent favorability.

You look at that -- and that's among all Americans -- what does it say to you?

RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, it says that -- that what you need to do, as we say in politics, you have to look beyond those numbers to what we call the cross-tabs, see what Republicans think about that, as opposed to Democrats or liberals, however they broke it out.

I didn't see the methodology. But it does -- it does say that the Republican Party is a pretty broadly-based party. And I think, if everybody would get their act together in the Republican Party, they would realize that the secret is to construct, literally and figuratively, a platform that can embrace both a Colin Powell and a Rush Limbaugh.

BLITZER: That's pretty good spin on his part. What do you think?

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I was going to say, that was interesting. BLITZER: That's pretty good.




ROSEN: Considering that, you know, two weeks ago, the major party leaders were ready to run Colin Powell out of the party, and he's the most popular Republican that they have.

I think, you know, you can't run a national election anymore, or even get anything done, by the way, without broad support among independents, without crossing party lines. And, you know, the Republican Party just doesn't have leadership that is able to do that.

BLITZER: But if they could do what -- what Rich is recommending, have a party that encompasses Colin Powell and Rush Limbaugh, and they are all working together, even though they have different strategies or tactics, or whatever, that would be a formidable challenge to the Democrats.

ROSEN: It would be a formidable challenge. And I would -- I would submit that was probably the Republican Party of the early -- you know, of the '80s -- '70s and '80s, when they were more successful in the '80s.

But that's not where it is. Right now, the conservatives...


BLITZER: How do they get their act together, the Republicans...


ROSEN: ... seem intent on driving moderates out of the Republican Party. And, until they stop doing that, they are going to be in the 30 percent range.

GALEN: Well, I think what happens, though -- and we saw this, I think, amongst Democrats exactly eight years ago, when they were in a similar position that Republicans are in now -- is that what happens is, the parties tend to retreat to their base, and say, if we were more faithful to the...

BLITZER: More pure.

GALEN: Yes, more pure, exactly right.

But, then, when you start thinking about it, to Hilary's point, that, if you are going to be the majority party, the edges, by definition, have to move farther apart. And I think, over time, the -- people will find...

BLITZER: Let me move on. The president of the United States today signed the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month 2009 proclamation. And, among other things, the declaration said this: "I, Barack Obama, president of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim June 2009 as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month. I call upon the people of the United States to turn back discrimination and prejudice everywhere it exists."

Now, as soon as I read that, I said to myself, well, he could turn back prejudice and discrimination very quickly on two very sensitive issues, if he really wanted to do it right now, which he clearly doesn't want to do, namely, lifting the ban on gays serving openly in the military and allowing gays to get married.

ROSEN: Well, of course, that's not a presidential prerogative. Congress...


BLITZER: But he could take steps.


ROSEN: ... statutes.

BLITZER: He could express his support for that.

ROSEN: And I'm not defending him. I -- I -- I think that they need to move more quickly on -- on keeping some of those campaign promises.

Of course, Congress has a lot to do with the don't ask/don't tell policy. And, you know, I fully expect the president and the administration to begin to develop plans to unwind that policy.

I -- you know, it -- this issue is somewhat related to the other issue. When you have former Vice President Dick Cheney saying things like, "Well, you know, I -- I'm not so against, you know..."


BLITZER: He supported yesterday at the National Press Club gay marriage.

ROSEN: And...


BLITZER: And he cited a very personal issue, his daughter Mary.

ROSEN: And what Barack Obama is doing, I think -- and effectively doing -- did it in the campaign and will continue to do -- is say, these are not partisan issues, that this affects every family.

What he also said in that proclamation was that gays and lesbians are -- are parts of all families, that have -- have, you know, integrated substantially into people's lives.

BLITZER: All right.


ROSEN: And we ought to change the law to make it better.

GALEN: This is way less than half-a-loaf.

I mean, the president -- the bully -- the president could very easily, as you pointed out, use the bully pulpit to -- to argue forcefully in favor of...


BLITZER: If he wanted to.

GALEN: But let me just say that the most popular Republican, Colin Powell, is also on record on this issue about gays in the military. And he was opposed to changing the don't ask/don't tell.

BLITZER: He was -- he was in charge of the don't ask/don't tell. But now he says times have changed over these past nearly 20 years.

All right, guys, thanks very much.

GALEN: You bet.

BLITZER: President Obama hopes to set the restart motion -- restart button, that is, on America's relationship with the Muslim world. Jack Cafferty is standing by with your e-mail on the president's big speech this week.

And Hillary Clinton sets some new conditions for Cuba.


BLITZER: On our "Political Ticker": The Senate is now moving forward with a bill to give the government new controls over the tobacco industry.

The measure would allow the Food and Drug Administration to regulate cigarettes and other tobacco products, but not to ban them. The Senate could hold a final vote by the end of the week and send the measure to the House, which approved a similar bill last month.

In Minnesota, just a short while ago, Governor Tim Pawlenty announced he won't run for a third term next year. The Republican's approval ratings in his home state have slipped in recent months, but there is speculation he may be eying a presidential bid in 2012. Pawlenty was widely reported to have been on John McCain's vice presidential short list last year.

Remember, for the latest political news any time, you can always check out

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: But McCain chose Sarah Palin instead.

BLITZER: Right. Tim Pawlenty was number two or three on that list, I remember very, very clearly. He was either the first or second runner-up.

CAFFERTY: It -- it might have been -- I don't know if it would have -- if the results have been different, but it might have been a closer race had he picked somebody besides Ms. Palin.

The question this hour: How can President Obama make the most of his speech to the Muslim world in Cairo, Egypt, on Thursday? It's big stuff he's going over there to do. He promised he was going to do it during the campaign. And now he's going.

"Having" -- Don writes: "Having lived in Syria from age 2 until 18, I can say that what will impress Arabs the most is an assurance from Obama of an even-handed foreign policy, one that treats Arab countries and Israel equally. One recent example is his pressing Israel to stop building those settlements in the West Bank. It's wonderful, also, to see Obama not stopping in Israel on this Middle East trip."

Matt in Libertyville, Illinois: "President Obama needs to let the Muslim world know that America is not anti-Islam, but anti-Islamic extremist. Muslims get a bad rap for the few extremists who make all Muslims look bad. And Obama needs to let the world know that we support Islam's fight against the radicals in their religion who are making our life hell."

Don in Massachusetts says: "I don't care if the president throws his shoe at the audience. We're worried about the Muslim world liking us, when they intentionally murder innocent people and children with suicide bombs? And, on top of that, they do it in the name of God, Allah. Why do the real God-loving Muslims who respect life just sit idly by and allow this to happen?"

Kevin in Canton, Ohio, writes: "President Obama could make the most of his speech by promising to completely pull our troops out of the Middle East, declare that our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and aggressive policies in Pakistan are ending immediately. He could declare that we're going to extend an equal hand of friendship to all nations, and not show favoritism."

Jenny in New York writes: "Just going there to give a speech is a great gesture. It's yet another sign that Obama sees Muslims as human beings, and not targets. Showing them his outstretched hand puts the onus on them to accept it."

And Tom in Florida writes, "He should bring a cardboard cutout of George Bush with him and throw his shoe at it, and then invite others to follow suit."

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

BLITZER: Will do, Jack. Thank you.

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

Happening now, breaking news: an air disaster now confirmed, Brazilian officials reportedly saying that a massive field of debris in the Atlantic is, in fact, from the crash of that missing Air France flight.

Also, President Obama's Supreme Court pick goes one-on-one with senators who will soon be judging whether she's qualified to join the high court. One of them, Republican Jeff Sessions, he's standing by to join us live. He's the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee. What does he think after meeting with Sonia -- Sonia Sotomayor today?

And Nancy Reagan back at the White House as a guest of President Obama -- what's the special occasion that's bringing them together?

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