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Bomb Strikes Pakistani Hotel; Explosion Rocks North Carolina Plant

Aired June 9, 2009 - 18:00   ET


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.

Terrorists bent on killing innocent people succeed in their disturbing plot. We are following breaking news. Blood and bodies mark a scene of horror in Northwest Pakistan. Attackers stormed one of the most heavily guarded luxury hotels, setting off a car bomb and killing at least 11 people.

Let's go straight to CNN's Reza Sayah. He's in Islamabad -- Reza.


REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a suicide targeting one of the most powerful explosives in Peshawar, Pakistan's third largest city, this blast one of the most powerful explosives we have seen recently in Pakistan. To put it in perspective, a senior police official tells CNN this car bomb was packed with about 1,100 pounds of explosives.

Compare that to the bomb that destroyed the Marriott in Islamabad in September of 2008. That bomb was about 1,300 pounds of explosives. The target here was the Pearl Continental Hotel in the heart of Peshawar. This is a hotel that is set back from the main road and protected by an outer gate and a security check-post.

But police tell CNN, three men in a pickup truck drove up to this gate, fired shots at the security guards, forced their way in, drove down the driveway off to a side parking lot. And that's where the bomb detonated. This hotel oftentimes frequently by foreigners, indeed, among the dead, according to the officials, a U.S. officials, an employee of the U.N.'s Refugee Agency.

A U.S. official tells CNN there were no employees of the U.S. embassy inside the hotel. And when Americans visit Pakistan, they have the option of registering with the U.S. Embassy. And this U.S. official telling CNN no one among the registered Americans in Pakistan was staying at the Pearl Continental during this attack -- Wolf.


BLITZER: Reza Sayah, our man in Islamabad. I once stayed at the Pearl Continental in Islamabad. It was a really, really lovely hotel there, as well. I am sure the one in Peshawar was excellent at well.

Our hearts go out to all the folks who have been killed and injured.

Regarding another issue of terrorism, something happened today in New York that has the top Republican in the House calling it -- and I'm quoting now -- "the first step in the Democrats' plan to import terrorists into America."

Let's go straight to CNN's Deborah Feyerick. She's working the story for us.

Deb, what is the latest?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the first Guantanamo detainee to arrive in the United States stood before a federal judge in a courtroom here in Lower Manhattan and pleaded not guilty.

The transfer of alleged al Qaeda terrorist Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani being watched very closely as a possible sign of things to come.


FEYERICK (voice-over): He will be the first Guantanamo detainee to face trial in a U.S. criminal, not military court. For many, the trial of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani will be an important test case for the Obama administration.

Counterterror expert says one of the things they're hoping to remind both Congress and the public is:

SUZANNE SPAULDING, BINGHAM CONSULTING GROUP: One of the things they are trying to accomplish is to remind the American public and, frankly, Congress that we have a long history of prosecuting terrorists in our criminal courts, that they are equipped to handle it, and that we have got lots of convicted terrorists in U.S. prisons right now as we speak.

FEYERICK: Ghailani is being held in a maximum security wing at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, where four fellow embassy bombers were housed during their trial in early 2001. Some in Congress argue bringing detainees to the U.S. could threaten national security and make it more likely terrorists would strike.

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: My point is, why have this unnecessary risk imposed on us?

FEYERICK: Ghailani was captured during a shoot-out in Pakistan in 2004 and brought to Guantanamo two years later, where he has been held ever since.

However, unlike the majority of detainees, Ghailani was indicted prior to 9/11 in connection with the al Qaeda bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, indicted long before Guantanamo ever existed. SPAULDING: This case is less likely to raise some of the tricky issues that may be raised for those who -- for whom the information was gathered either as a result of their detention and interrogation or through other methods after they were taken into detention.

FEYERICK: While legal experts believe this is one of the strongest cases against a detainee, national security expert Michael O'Hanlon with the Brookings Institution says others to follow are not so cut-and-dry.

MICHAEL O'HANLON, SENIOR FELLOW IN FOREIGN POLICY STUDIES, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: There will be the ongoing question of what you do with people that you can't keep at Guantanamo, because we're closing it, you can't release because they're too dangerous, and you can't try because the evidence is too murky.


BLITZER: And that category of detainees who cannot be tried likely to trigger a lot of legal questions in the coming years -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Deborah Feyerick monitoring this story for us, history unfolding in New York right now.

It is called pay as you go, a proposal that would require Congress to balance any increased equal federal spending by equal savings elsewhere. And President Obama today said he wants it to become the law of the land.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Entitlement increases and tax cuts need to be paid for. They are not free. And borrowing to finance them is not a sustainable long-term policy. Paying for what you spend is basic common sense. Perhaps that's why, here in Washington, it has been so elusive.


BLITZER: The president said a previous pay-go mandate helped erase federal budget deficits in the 1990s. Republican leaders say the new proposal comes after record spending initiatives by the Obama administration.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, I remember when we tried that once before. And it works, doesn't it?

BLITZER: Yes, it does.

CAFFERTY: Yes, it does.

Speaking of paying as you go, facing a staggering $24 billion state budget deficit, California is now considering making cuts just about everywhere, including social programs for the poor, elderly and frail.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposals could end the welfare- to-work program for mothers and their kids, affecting more than 500,000 families, eliminate health insurance for a million children from low-income families, and greatly reduce services for Alzheimer's patients and others who receive in-home care.

Schwarzenegger acknowledges these proposals would be painful -- quoting here -- "It's an awful feeling, but we have no choice" -- unquote.

Really, Governor? How about whacking about 40 percent of that state governmental bureaucracy? That would save you a few dollars. Anyway, the governor has said he won't raise taxes. And that leaves lawmakers with few other alternatives.

So, we're going to cut welfare to the poor. That -- yes. Critics say they are in shock at the idea of getting rid of the state's welfare program. And the results could be devastating, forcing thousands of families into homelessness.

But supporters say that states still have many other assistance programs available. Few people would be left without any help. For example, federally mandated programs like food stamps, low-income housing and Medicaid would continue.

California is not the only state cutting back in these difficult economic times either, Arizona reportedly cutting funding for a rehab program for almost 5,000 children with chronic or disabling conditions. Georgia has cut back services for the elderly. And Nevada will make it harder for low-income families to apply for cash assistance and health insurance.

So, here's the question. Should states reduce or eliminate welfare benefits as a way of balancing their budgets?

Go to and post a comment on my blog.

I'm -- I'm no economist, but I will bet you could find a few dollars in savings around Sacramento if you looked real hard.

BLITZER: I suspect you are way, way right.


BLITZER: Thanks very much.

A peek inside North Korea's family dynasty. Who will succeed the communist leader Kim Jong Il? His eldest son is now speaking out in English.

And with a date now set for her confirmation, the Supreme Court nominee Sonya Sotomayor is making the rounds on Capitol Hill by hobbling around in a cast. And it happened without warning. Three people are missing after an explosion and roof collapse at a food processing plant in North Carolina.


BLITZER: North Korea gets even bolder as it thumbs its nose at the world. And now this ominous warning: If provoked, North Korea is threatening to use nuclear weapons and says there will be no mercy, that according to a state-run newspaper in Pyongyang.

Meanwhile, questions about the North Korean leader's health are also raising questions about succession, about who might one day replace him.

Let's turn to our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty. She has been looking into this part of the story.

And it's very intriguing. Jill, what's going on?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, over here at the State Department and throughout the administration, there is a lot of concern over how to really influence the behavior of North Korea.

And some experts believe that what is going on inside the North is at least as important as what's going on outside.


KIM JONG-NAM, KIM JONG IL'S ELDEST SON: Well, it's my holiday. A holiday.


DOUGHERTY (voice-over): A rare glimpse into North Korea's family dynasty. The eldest son of leader Kim Jong Il on vacation.

KIM: Sorry, I'm not interested in the politics.

DOUGHERTY: But this son, known to Korea watchers as a playboy and a gambler, is not the heir chosen by his ailing father weakened by a stroke. Experts believe it's the youngest son, 26-year-old Kim Jong-un. The only known picture of him is this one taken when he was 11, seen here being burned by South Korean protesters.

But even his brother doesn't know for sure.

KIM: Well, I hear that news by media, and I think it's true.

DOUGHERTY: U.S. officials admit they don't know either, but they believe the succession from father to son is under way. The North, they say, is striking out to avoid appearing vulnerable, carrying out a nuclear test and firing missiles, and convicting two American journalists for filming on its border with China. DENNIS BLAIR, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: So anytime you have a combination of this behavior of doing provocative things in order to excite a response, plus succession questions, you have a pretty dangerous -- potentially dangerous mixture.

DOUGHERTY: But could Kim's western-educated youngest son leave lead the reclusive North in a new direction?

VICTOR CHA, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: This younger leader could potentially represent a new future leadership with North Korea that has more access to the outside world, and that could be a positive thing.


DOUGHERTY: But even he would be just one person in a regime that is isolated from the outside world. And some experts actually believe that the North Korean military might not support the heir apparent to Kim Jong Il. That could be another factor, they say, that is fueling the behavior of the North -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bizarre behavior, some are suggesting.

Jill, thank you.

FEYERICK: Kim Jong Il's eldest son is saying even more. He is also answering questions about whether or not he defected from North Korea, and how he would feel about someone to replace the North Korean leader other than himself.


KIM: I never defected from North Korea. And I don't see the reason why I have to do that. However, it's my father's decision. So, once he decides, we have to support.


BLITZER: Once he decides, we have to support him -- we heard that from the elder son.

She is hobbling around in a cast now, but that is not stopping Judge Sonia Sotomayor from making her rounds on Capitol Hill. And now the U.S. Supreme Court nominee knows when confirmation hearings will begin.

Our congressional correspondent Dana Bash is up on Capitol Hill working the story for us.

All right, Dana, they have made their decision. When do the hearings begin?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we learned that the Judiciary chairman, along with the Democratic leader, spoke with the president himself by phone this morning. And what they did is, they agreed to a timetable what -- along the lines of what they wanted. And that is much sooner than what Republicans wanted.


BASH (voice-over): On the Senate floor, a surprise announcement: The Democratic Judiciary chairman said he will begin Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearings July 13, in five weeks.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: The schedule, I think, is both fair and adequate, fair to the nominee, but also adequate to the United States Senate, to prepare for the hearing that's under consideration.

BASH: That caught GOP senators off-guard. The Judiciary Committee's top Republican told us he was not consulted and it's to rushed.

(on camera): You look kind of surprised.

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R), ALABAMA: I am, really, a bit disappointed. We're trying to work. We have -- we have -- we have gone through a first review of the thousands of opinions. And it takes a lot of time.

BASH: On behalf of most Republicans, Jeff Sessions was pushing Democratic Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy to give senators more time to pore Sotomayor's dense records, including 3,500-plus opinions.

SEN. JON KYL (R-AZ), MINORITY WHIP: She was involved in 10 times as many cases as Justice Roberts. And whether or not we're going to be able to complete that work in advance of that time period in order to have the hearing at that time is not yet known.

BASH: But Democrats insist there's plenty of time to prepare. And Leahy argued, the sooner Sotomayor gets a hearing, the sooner she can publicly explain controversial speeches and answer conservative critics outside the Senate who called her racist.

LEAHY: I want to be fair to the nominee, allow her the earliest possible opportunity to respond to attacks made about her character.

BASH: Sotomayor is still doing that in private with Senate courtesy calls, and got a big boost from the only Hispanic Republican in the Senate.

SEN. MEL MARTINEZ (R), FLORIDA: I understand what she is trying to say, which is, the richness of her experience forms who she is. It forms who I am. That does not mean that she has allowed that to filter her opinions, at least not that I have seen so far.


BASH: Now, Republicans spent pretty much all afternoon on the Senate floor complaining about what the GOP leader called the Democrats -- quote -- "heavy-handed actions" in dismissing their desire for more time.

But, Wolf, Republican senator will admit that they really can't do much about changing the Democrats' timetable, and that is not only to hold these hearings starting in mid-July, but to have a full Senate confirmation vote for Sotomayor by the time the Senate leaves for August recess -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we will, of course, have wall-to-wall coverage of those confirmation hearings starting July 13.

Thank you, Dana.

The miracle on the Hudson played out in stunning detail before Congress -- what the transcripts show about the calmness in the cabin that saved U.S. Airways Flight 1549.

And the U.S. military has between 12 and 18 months to show whether the war in Afghanistan will be a success. And it may have to be done with fewer troops than Iraq -- what the top Pentagon brass is now saying.

And a soldier wounded in a shooting at an Army recruiting office is speaking out. And so is a man who is charged with shooting him and killing a comrade.


BLITZER: It was certainly a heart-stopping story with a most unexpected happy ending. A U.S. Airways Flight sucked birds into its engines and was forced to land in New York's Hudson River.

Today, on Capitol Hill, the pilot who successfully steered the plane down shared his amazing, amazing story.

Let's get the details from CNN's Mary Snow. She watched it all unfold.

We're learning new details from Sully on this, Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, today, Wolf, Captain Sullenberger described the decisions he had to make to land Flight 1549 in the Hudson River back on January 15, saying he couldn't afford to be wrong.

Transcripts reinforce the calmness inside the cockpit, with the captain asked the co-pilot at point to grab a handbook. Keep in mind when you watch this, from takeoff to splashdown, the whole ordeal lasted five minutes, eight seconds.


SNOW (voice-over): Minutes before US Airways Flight 1549 would land in the Hudson River, Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger took in the surroundings, ,saying, "What a view of the Hudson today." But some 30 seconds later, cockpit voice recorder transcripts show there was a sound of a thump, followed by a shuddering sound. The engine sucked in birds that the captain says filled the entire wind screen. The first officer responds, "Oh, (EXPLETIVE DELETED)," apparently the only expletive used in the cockpit during the ordeal.

Sullenberger instructed the first officer to "Get the quick reference handbook," noting a loss of thrust on both engines. Flight 1549 relayed the message to air traffic control.

CAPT. CHESLEY SULLENBERGER, US AIRWAYS: We've lost thrust in both engines, we're turning back towards La Guardia.

SNOW: Sullenberger told a National Transportation Safety Board hearing that he quickly determined returning to La Guardia would be problematic. Teterboro Airport, New Jersey, he says, was too far away. He says the only place long enough, wide enough and smooth enough to land was the Hudson River, and he drew upon something he had observed on his leisure time.

SULLENBERGER: From my previous experience on layovers in New York visiting the Intrepid Museum, I knew that there was an area of a lot of boat traffic in that part of the river. We're trained in our ditching training to try to land near vessels to facilitate rescue.

SNOW: At 3: 29 p. m...

SULLENBERGER: I said, "This is the captain. Brace for impact."

SNOW: Seconds later, air traffic controllers received their last contact from Flight 1549.

SULLENBERGER: We're going to be in the Hudson.

SNOW: Inside the cockpit, the first officer asked Sullenberger, "Got flaps, too. You want more?" Sullenberger says, "No, let's say at two." Then asks, "Got any ideas?" The first officer replies, "Actually not."

A warning system is going off, warring, "Terrain, pull up." And Sullenberger says, "We're going to brace."

Their first words once they landed on the Hudson?

SULLENBERGER: And first officer Jeff Skiles and I turned to each other and almost in unison, at the same time, with the same words said to each other, "Well, that wasn't as bad as I thought."


FEYERICK: And, Wolf, Captain Sullenberger said at today's hearings that one of the challenges for airline pilots today is that flying has become so safe, it is easy to forget what is at stake -- Wolf.

BLITZER: He is a genuine hero, indeed. There's no doubt about that. Really cool. Thanks, Mary. The Federal Aviation Administration has ordered its inspectors to make sure training programs for regional airlines are in line with federal regulations.

Today's directive was prompted by the February crash of Colgan Air flight near Buffalo, New York, that killed 50 people. It was later discovered that the pilot had failed to reveal two exam failures on his job application. "USA Today" reports that, in almost all serious regional airline crashes over the past 10 years, at least one of the pilots had failed multiple skill tests.

The Obama administration takes a clear and decisive stand in Chrysler's sale to Fiat now put on hold by the United States Supreme Court. Is the deal in danger of collapsing?

Plus, Al Gore to the rescue? Can he help free two American journalists imprisoned in North Korea? I will ask journalist and author P.J. O'Rourke. He's here, together with the best political team on television.


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

Happening now: The Obama administration is urging the U.S. Supreme Court to let Chrysler's sale to Fiat proceed, warning, the Italian automaker could walk away from the deal. The court is considering a challenge by some Chrysler debt-holders. We will have more on this coming up.

Also, the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor now set to begin July 13. That's prompting complaints from Republicans who pushed for September. But do they have any fight left in them when it comes to this nominee?

And North Korea launching missiles and imprisoning Americans -- could former President (sic) Al Gore help out?

All of this, plus the best political team on television.

I am Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

As the U.S. Supreme Court steps in with a deal -- it steps in with a deal to sell U.S. automaker Chrysler to Europe's Fiat, there are developments unfolding right now. The Obama administration today warned there he is a -- quote -- "substantial possibility" -- direct quote -- "substantial possibility" that the deal could simply collapse if the court doesn't act very quickly to approve it.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux. She's got the latest information -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, one of the things that is really battling is this whole idea of executive authority. President Bush had his own battles with the Supreme Court over how far-reaching his executive power was, particularly when it came to the war on terror.

Now it is President Obama who is facing challenges about his authority in how he is fighting the economic crisis.


MALVEAUX (voice-over): President Obama once again as the reluctant car salesman in chief.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have said repeatedly that I have no interest in managing the banking system or, for that matter, running auto companies.

MALVEAUX: For four-and-a-half months, it has been full speed ahead for Mr. Obama. But now the Supreme Court is putting the brakes on the president's plan to save Chrysler -- at issue, whether the Obama administration overreached in exercising its executive power when it made a deal for Chrysler and Italian maker Fiat to merge.

THOMAS GOLDSTEIN, CO-FOUNDER, SCOTUSBLOG.COM: The objection here is that the power over bankruptcy belongs to Congress, not to the president, and President Obama's administration didn't have the power, literally, to force this bankruptcy through.

MALVEAUX: The president said the deal would limit the damage from Chrysler's bankruptcy and save tens of thousands of American jobs.

OBAMA: I am very confident that we're going to be able to make, once again, the U.S. auto industry the best auto industry in the world.

MALVEAUX: Congress granted the president the authority to use taxpayer bailout money to rescue troubled banks, but not the auto industry.

A group of Chrysler creditors, backed by some Republicans in Congress, say the president is overstepping his bounds and should not be spearheading the creation of a new car company. They point to the Supreme Court decision in 1952, when it rejected president Harry Truman's attempt to seize steel mills during the Korean War. Truman argued it was a national emergency.

In a statement, Republican Congressman Tom Price said: "President Obama has shown an overzealous willingness to meddle in the affairs of prevent businesses and it may have finally caught up to him."


MALVEAUX: And the president has said time is of the essence, Wolf. His solicitor general filed this opposition today, saying that every day of delay is costing Chrysler $100 million a day. That is in losses.

The other reason this is important is it could set a precedent for how the government deals with General Motors, another big auto giant that, of course, is also bankrupt -- Wolf.

BLITZER: In short, the stakes for so many people -- hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions of people -- really on the line right now.

Suzanne, thanks very much.

Let's talk about this and more with our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger. She's here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. P.J. O'Rourke is visiting, the great author. His new book is called "Driving Like Crazy

Thirty Years of Vehicular Hell-Bending."

Congratulations on the new book.


O'ROURKE: Thank you.

BLITZER: And our senior political analyst, David Gergen, the tall guy. He's all the way on the end of this table.

Guys, thanks very much.

You know, this brief that was filed with the Supreme Court today by -- by the Obama White House, it underlines how critical this Chrysler-Fiat deal is for the president of the United States.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: The longer this hangs out there unresolved, Wolf, the more problem it is for the administration. You have Chrysler losing what some say is $100 million a day. And they need to get this deal settled because it will effect, for example, the survival of General Motors, as well.

So they have to figure out how they can do this.

BLITZER: Because there are significant legal issues that the Supreme Court might want to spend not just a few days thinking about, but weeks, maybe even months -- whether, for example, these teachers pension bondholders in Indiana do have the first crack at getting some of this money before the UAW.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, as would be the normal order of things. So, absolutely, except for that, again, I think -- I think the Supreme Court is aware of things going on. They are going to be very aware that come the 15th of this month, next Monday, Fiat can back out of this deal.

So I think they're aware of the urgency with this.

BLITZER: But there are, P.J., four really pretty conservative justices on the Supreme Court that may not necessarily see it along the lines of the president of the United States.

O'ROURKE: Well, Ginsburg is not one of them. I don't think this is -- if it's conservative, it's conservative with a small C. And maybe by slowing down this process, we can just let something that is terribly ill die of natural causes instead of paying to keep it on life support with our tax dollars.

When a company quits making products that anybody wants, it's time for that company to go away.

BLITZER: Because, David, as you know, the argument was the White House, in helping to facilitate this deal gave the UAW, which is politically very much aligned with the Democrats, you know, a little bit of a benefit over some of these bondholders.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Well, that's right. They -- under the normal law, the secured creditors would -- would normally come first, as Candy points out. They would get -- they would get the most on their dollar.

The way the Chrysler deal is structured is that the secured creditors get 28 cents on the dollar and the UAW Health Fund gets 43 cents on the dollar.

So there is a legal argument that is a challenge. It reminds me very much of, you know, what happened to Franklin Roosevelt during the New Deal. I mean a number of his initiatives were struck down. They were done because there was an emergency and they thought that it was the right thing to do. And he eventually got into a fight with the court.

I don't think that's where this is coming out. Candy (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: But, P.J., I just want to be precise. You...


BLITZER: You think the country would be better off if this whole deal dies?

O'ROURKE: Absolutely. I mean what we're going to do is we're going to end up losing investor money and we're going to lose taxpayer money. I mean, who is it -- somebody pointed out the other day, if I wanted shares of General Motors, I would have gone and called my broker and bought (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: But what about the hundreds of thousands of workers who rely either directly or indirectly for -- in -- for Chrysler staying in business?

O'ROURKE: When you keep workers working on something that nobody wants, what you get, in the end, is a Trabant car from East Berlin. I mean all you have to do is go back behind the old Berlin Wall, when it was still there, to see the results of keeping businesses in business when they had no business being in business.

BORGER: But, you know, politically, Wolf, this is kind of Main Street versus Wall Street. Here, you know, siding with the workers and the UAW versus the bondholders...


BORGER: argument.

CROWLEY: But that's understandable.

BORGER: It's a political argument...

CROWLEY: It's a political argument people get.

BORGER: It's a political argument they -- they can make.

O'ROURKE: That's how it looks politically. But in point of fact, it was the Indiana pension associations that brought the suit. It turns out -- I mean, you can see them at the White House again and say, who cares about those fat cat bondholders?

Well, the fat cat bondholders turned out to be widows and orphans.

And see, the thing is, you know, there ain't no capitalist fat cat and unified working class anymore. We're all in this together.


CROWLEY: I totally agree with that. I just think it's easier for people to look and say, oh, we don't want all those autoworkers to go out of business. These are -- these bondholders are basically faceless at this point, politically.


GERGEN: They are. But I think...


BORGER: ...saving jobs, you know.

GERGEN: If you were sitting in the Obama White House, you would have done what they have done. Of course they have favored the workers over the -- over the investing -- the investors.


GERGEN: They're Democrats. They're going to do that. That's what comes from sort of getting politics into business.


GERGEN: Having said that, you know, I just don't think the president of the United States -- any president of the United States, including George W. Bush, would have let Chrysler and General Motors go under.

BLITZER: All right, well, let me... O'ROURKE: You're probably right.

BLITZER: Let me move on to Sonia Sotomayor.

David Brooks, the columnist in "The New York Times" -- he's considered a conservative by a lot of folks out there. He writes this: "Sotomayor's career surpasses the crude categories she sometimes articulates. Despite the ideas she picked up while young, she has, over many years, chosen to submit herself to the discipline of the law and she has not abused its institutions. I hope she's confirmed."

P.J., is there any fight really left among Republicans as far as this nominee is concerned?

O'ROURKE: There probably shouldn't be. If the best the Republicans can do is some wise cracks that she made at -- at dinner, presumably after a couple of glasses of wine (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: It was at Berkeley. It was a speech at Berkeley.


O'ROURKE: Whatever.


O'ROURKE: Well, then, who knows what she'd had?


O'ROURKE: A speech at Berkeley. At any rate, I mean so it all depends -- what she said so depends upon tone of voice.

BORGER: Right.

O'ROURKE: You can say that. And so -- and it doesn't really mean anything anyway. They'd better have something substantive. If I were a Republican, you know, faced with questioning her -- of course she's too liberal for me. But I would ask her for her position on business law.

Do you move the bondholders to the back of the line, even though they're secured creditors?

BLITZER: Good question.

O'ROURKE: You know, if you're going to -- and I'm not saying I'd go after her. That's what I would ask her about.

BLITZER: But, you know, her record shows that she's pretty favorable to big business, at least on the Circuit Court of Appeals.

BORGER: Right.

O'ROURKE: Yes. BORGER: Her record has shown that. And it's also shown that she judges very narrowly. This isn't a judge who has a huge overarching vision. She's ruled very narrowly on cases, which is something that David Brooks pointed out.

I think, in the end, you're going to see her getting almost 70 votes.

BLITZER: Really?

BORGER: I think -- I think you're going to see lots...


BORGER: I think you're going to see lots of Republicans going for her. Today, Republican Senator Mel Martinez stopped just short of endorsing her...


BORGER: ...but I wouldn't be surprised if he did.


O'ROURKE: And we Republicans want the Hispanic vote, too. But, also, but this -- none of this lets David Brooks off the hook for drinking the Kool-Aid over at the -- at "The New York Times."


O'ROURKE: We've been marching David's march to the left.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Don't go away.


BLITZER: Don't go away.

We've got more to discuss. An excellent panel. We're going to continue our conversation.

Tension growing right now between the U.S. and North Korea.

Can Al Gore help bring those two American journalists home?

We're taking a closer look at the possible role for the former vice president.


BLITZER: We'll get back to our political panel in a second.

But I want to go to Mary Snow right now -- Mary, we're getting new information on the -- the operation looking for bodies of that Air France flight. MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. CNN has confirmed with Brazilian military officials that officials have recovered 17 more bodies. That brings the total of bodies recovered to 47. That leaves 187 -- I'm sorry, the total is now 41. One hundred eighty-seven bodies have yet to be recovered -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And the search will continue for that.

Thanks, Mary, very much.

Let's get back to our panel. Gloria Borger is here; Candy Crowley; P.J. O'Rourke; and David Gergen.

Is it -- would it be smart, David, for the former vice president of the United States, Al Gore, to go to North Korea to try to get these two journalists out of there?

They did work -- they do work for Current TV, which is a company that he runs?

GERGEN: I think if he's invited, he has to go. But I would imagine he doesn't want to go unless he has some assurance in advance that he will actually bring them back. He doesn't want to...

BLITZER: Wouldn't you want to do everything possible to try to get these two women out of there?

GERGEN: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. And I think he would go a couple of times. But he has to -- I don't think he wants to come back empty-handed. And, you know, that's not what you do if you're a former vice president.

O'ROURKE: What's his technique going to be?

We were just kidding when we were off camera that he's going to bore them to death (INAUDIBLE)...


O'ROURKE: ...that if the North Koreans don't turn over those journalists, he's going to give them the global warming speech and they'll be sorry.


O'ROURKE: Well, they do -- they burn a lot of coal over there and so he'd be on -- he'd be on firm -- firm footing to do that.

But I understand what the carrots are that we could offer the North Koreans.

But what's the stick?

BLITZER: Well, right now, there's an enormous amount tension, Candy, going on between the whole world and North Korea because of these nuclear and missile tests. CROWLEY: Right. But I think there are sort of two -- two tracks of diplomacy going on here, because I don't think that you can do anything about trying to gather nuclear capability, in the same way that you would deal with we need to get these two women out.

In fact, I think it's a balance that, in fact, they must be thinking about at this point. Because I think at this point, if you're going to send Al Gore over there, it probably has to be a you're doing yourself no good, you're -- you know, you need to let these women go and it will make you look as though you've given a gesture of goodwill...

O'ROURKE: Because we don't know what's going on within North Korea...

CROWLEY: opposed to the nuclear...

O'ROURKE: We don't have a darned idea.

BORGER: I'm told that Gore is quite focused on this, that he does want to go...

GERGEN: And he wants to go.

BORGER: ...and he wants to go. But you're right, David, he will only go if there's a real prospect of getting these -- these women out and if he is invited.

O'ROURKE: Now, some leadership -- there's a leadership struggle going on, presumably, in North Korea.


GERGEN: Right.

O'ROURKE: And how -- how is all this playing out behind-the- scenes over there?

I would imagine we really don't know.

BLITZER: Yes. That -- you really need good intelligence analysis for that.


BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: And everybody says we don't have it.

GERGEN: But the way to do this, it seems to me, P.J., is to go have Gore go over with Steve Bosworth, who is the appointed envoy for the administration to North Korea. And have Bosworth deliver the message, here's what the sticks are if you guys don't pay attention. He's better at delivering (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: Well, what's wrong with Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico, who's done it twice, in '94 and '96?

He went to North Korea, brought out...


O'ROURKE: You know better than anybody else.


BORGER: I don't know.

O'ROURKE: I mean isn't he the fellow who endorsed someone else?


BLITZER: President Obama not...

BORGER: Hillary Clinton is not going to do that (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: ...not Hillary Clinton.


O'ROURKE: ...but Hillary won't?


BLITZER: What do you think -- Candy?

CROWLEY: Yes. I think probably Richardson would not be top on their list, although, again, he has dealt with these players before. If they feel like it could (INAUDIBLE)...

O'ROURKE: Bill's good, too.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bill is really good.


BORGER: He's done it before.


CROWLEY: So, you know, certainly, he would be a good pick, just whether or not politically...


CROWLEY: ...that's politically (INAUDIBLE)...

O'ROURKE: But it's also more fun company than...


GERGEN: There's a rationale for sending -- if there is a rationale for sending Gore there. But sending Bill Richardson versus your own envoy, that's just -- that's a hard one to split.


BORGER: Well, you can do both, as you say (INAUDIBLE)...

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

An excellent discussion.

But let's just hope these two women get out there and get out of there very, very quickly, whatever way it happens.

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


Coming up at the top of the hour, we'll have complete coverage of the escalating political battle over the future of this country's health care system. The president's health care reforms could lead to higher taxes for tens of millions of Americans.

Also, North Korea is stepping up its threats against the United States, now saying it could use nuclear weapons in what it calls a "merciless offensive." We'll have that report.

And confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee, Judge Sonia Sotomayor, to begin on the 13th of July. We'll examine charges that the judge puts group and identity politics ahead of the law. That's the subject of our face-off debate tonight.

And three of my favorite talk radio show hosts join me to talk about those confirmation hearings and a lot of other issues.

Please join us for all of that and more at the top of the hour -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right, Lou.

We'll see you then.

Thank you.

We're just getting word into THE SITUATION ROOM of some damage over at the White House from a very strong storm that has just rolled through the Washington, D.C. area. We've got the pictures. Stand by for that.

Also, a shooting at a U.S. Army recruiting center and now a wounded soldier is speaking out.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Let's go right back to Mary Snow.

She's monitoring some of the other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Mary, what's going on?

SNOW: Wolf, we're getting some new information in from North Carolina. Search teams at the site of today's plant explosion near Raleigh reportedly have located a person in the rubble. Now, at this time, we don't know the person's condition. The explosion happened at this Slim Jim plant owned by ConAgra. The blast left a toxic cloud around the facility and sent more than 40 people to area hospitals. The company says it's assessing what triggered the disaster.

A 23-year-old Muslim convert accused of killing a soldier at an Arkansas Army recruiting center says he doesn't consider it murder. Abdul Hakim Muhammad says the shooting death of Private William Long was justified because of the U.S. military action in the Middle East.

A second soldier who was wounded in the June 1st attack spoke publicly for the first time today in Little Rock.


QUESTION: How are you feeling today?


QUESTION: It still looks like you're a little sore there on the bottom there.

EZEAGWULA: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: After all of this has happened, what are your plans and do you plan to stick with the Army?

EZEAGWULA: Yes, ma'am. I like defending this country, ma'am.


SNOW: Meantime, top American military leaders say U.S. forces have between 12 and 18 months to turn the tide of the war in Afghanistan. Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates told a Senate committee today they believe the right strategy is in place and that 68,000 U.S. troops should be able to carry it out. That's roughly half the number of U.S. troops in Iraq.

And, finally, if a tree falls at the White House, it will make a sound and be noticed. A fierce storm brought this tree down on the White House grounds. A spokesman says it's a European linden planted in 1940. And tomorrow, crews are expected to cut it up and grind it up for mulch.

And most importantly, Wolf, your baseball game may be interrupted tonight because of that bad weather.

BLITZER: Yes. We'll see if the Washington Nationals get to play tonight. Love those trees on the North Lawn of the White House. The South Lawn sad for that.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now.

He's got The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Are the Nationals any good this year?

BLITZER: Not very good, but they're getting better.

CAFFERTY: Well, maybe they should pray for that rain tonight and, you know, it will give them another day to rest and think about it.

The question this hour -- should states reduce or eliminate welfare benefits as a way of balancing their budgets?

Schwarzenegger is thinking about doing this out in California. They've got a budget deficit that would choke a dinosaur out there.

Charlette writes: "You've got to be kidding. The state of California has the wealthiest of all Americans living in it and they're going to make cuts to low income families? Governor, you should be ashamed of yourself. But, hey, you were in Hollywood. Did you ever watch "Trading Places?" Maybe you should try it."

Ron in Florida writes: "Reducing welfare, disability and a host of other benefits could save a lot of money if those who unfairly abuse these programs are cut off. I've met too many people on assistance programs who live better than I do. They're able-bodied adults who can take care of themselves and many of them do. They work full-time jobs, they're paid off the books and ice the cake with government benefits."

Giorgio in Italy watching THE SITUATION ROOM: "States should increase welfare benefits. There are too many poor and lower middle class people who can barely survive on the current welfare benefits. Please, there are many unethical events that led to the current ongoing economic crisis in the U.S. But welfare benefits and other social entitlements had nothing to do with it."

Susan in Alabama writes: "We should eliminate welfare benefits to the defense contractors, the worthless politicians, the Wall Street thieves, the incompetent corporate CEOs and other rip-off artists who stay fat and sassy and pay little or nothing for the privilege of getting obscenely rich in America. But, as usual, the poorest and the most vulnerable will suffer."

Peter says: "This is the best course to financial stability. California taking $100 from the five million below the poverty line is a lot easier and more reliable than trying to take $5 million from the top 100 earners in the state, because then, those top 100 earners won't live in the state anymore. Taxing the rich is fun to say, but eventually you have to get down to business and make ends meet."

And Tom in Fort Lauderdale writes: "Jack, if we eliminate welfare, what will AIG, Citibank, Bank of America, General Motors and Chrysler do?"

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

And Mr. Blitzer, I will see you tomorrow.

BLITZER: I'm looking forward to it, Jack.

Thanks very much.

Jeanne Moos on an awards presentation like no other.

Stand by.


BLITZER: The so-called Oscars of the Internet require the briefest of acceptance speeches.

Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "The Gettysburg Address" it ain't.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When do we get dinner?


MOOS: At the Webbys, winners are limited to five word acceptance speeches. Count them.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm not with these guys.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Free all attractive political prisoners.


MOOS: Whether it was for fashion online, accepted by two models...



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sexy lingerie, yes.




Tough economic times.


MOOS: Like any award show, the Webbys had a red carpet then star presenters, from Cameron Diaz to Martha Stewart; then star winners, from Lisa Kudrow to Jimmy Fallon, who just took over Conan O'Brien's show.


JIMMY FALLON, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW": Thank God Conan got promoted.


MOOS: Being famous doesn't mean you get more than five words.


SARAH SILVERMAN, COMEDIAN: Holocaust -- did it happen?



MOOS (on camera): But if there were a Webby for best Webby speech -- all five words of it -- it would go to a complete unknown.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's Dick Buschman.


MOOS: Dick accepted the award for best banner ad campaign for Volkswagen. But he didn't have cars on his mind.




MOOS: She needed only one word.




MOOS: Dick finalized his speech on the plane as he flew here to New York from the Netherlands.


BOMERS: Yes. He caught me off guard, totally.


MOOS: He meant to get down on bended knee to deliver his five words.


BUSCHMAN: I put down the award, but the microphone was too high.


MOOS: And speaking of romance Internet style, "Web Site Story" debuted at the Webbys.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): I'm on Twitter. I'm on Twitter. And I'm Tweeting, I'm singing a song.


MOOS: Not so romantic was the winner who stripped.


MOOS: Arianna Huffington was more civilized, accepting for her political blog.




MOOS: Computer scientists credited with inventing the worldwide Web got a standing ovation.


MOOS: But when you're counting words, these are the words that count.


BUSCHMAN: Erna, will you marry me?


MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.



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

DOBBS: Good evening, everybody.

The political battle over the president's sweeping health care plan entering a new and perhaps decisive phase. Democrats trying to push through health care legislation in two months -- legislation that could lead to higher taxes for tens of millions of Americans.

Also tonight, North Korea stepping up its threats against the United States, now saying it could use nuclear weapons in what it calls a "merciless offensive." Those threats coming just days after the president declared he's considering tough new measures against North Korea.