Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
Still Far Apart After Health Summit; Powerful Predators or Performers?
Aired February 25, 2010 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, Democrats and Republicans come out from behind closed doors for an extraordinary summit on health care, but they are still far apart.
We will see how Democrats might use a controversial Senate rule to force through a reform bill. Stand by.
And they may be the most powerful predators in the ocean. Why are they kept penned up as trained performers? A day after a killer whale kills its trainer, we will hear from both sides of this debate.
I am Wolf Blitzer. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
But first this just coming into the CNN. The Obama administration is formally letting Congress know that it strongly opposing any move to restrict the prosecution of terror suspects on U.S. soil.
Let's turn right to our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, who is following this story.
What is going on here, Jeanne?
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: A letter has been sent from the attorney general, Eric Holder, but also from the defense secretary, Robert Gates. It's been sent to Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, and also Minority Leader Boehner, saying, leave our options open. Let us try terror suspects in civilian courts, as well as in military commissions.
They say: "The exercise of prosecutorial discretion has always been and should remain an executive branch function. We believe it would be unwise and would set a dangerous precedent for Congress to restrict the discretion of our departments to carry out specific terrorism prosecutions."
It notes that on several occasions, Congress has voted to permit detainees currently held in Guantanamo to be tried in courts here.
BLITZER: And so this letter was signed not only by the attorney general, Eric Holder, but also by the secretary of defense, Robert Gates. And that makes a specific point.
MESERVE: Yes, exactly. Eric Holder has been a lightning rod in all of this. He is an Obama appointee. He's believed to have a relatively liberal agenda. Robert Gates, on the other hand, served in the Bush administration. This is somebody who has a different portfolio altogether. Both of them have signed this letter.
BLITZER: Has legislation actually been introduced that would bar trying some of these Gitmo detainees in civilian courts?
MESERVE: Yes, a couple of different tactics have been used by people in Congress. Some would bar entry of people from Guantanamo into the U.S. Others would say no funding for these trials, and then some have said no funding for security for these trials, so several different approaches, all attempting to head off the possibility of people like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed being tried in the civilian court system.
BLITZER: So, clearly, this letter significant.
And just to recap, the administration, the Obama administration letting Congress know that it would strongly, strongly oppose any move to restrict the prosecution of terror suspects or detainees on U.S. soil. They are going to fight any effort in Congress.
MESERVE: That is absolutely right.
BLITZER: Jeanne Meserve, thanks very much for that.
Let's get back to the big story here in the United States today, this historic health care summit here in the United States. What if anything was accomplished? You saw it live unfolding here on CNN. We heard earlier from the president's senior adviser, David Axelrod.
Let's get Republican reaction now from a leader who was in that room, the minority whip, the number-two Republican in the House of Representatives, Eric Cantor.
Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.
What, if anything, was accomplished today?
REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), HOUSE MINORITY WHIP: Well, Wolf, we certainly saw the differences between the two sides put on display.
We -- we came to talk to the president because Republicans do care about people's health care and we put out, you know, our ideas once again.
And, you know, there were some points in which we could maybe see some agreement. But fundamentally, there's a real difference. We don't care for his bill. And we said over and again, Mr. President, if we want to make some progress, please set aside that bill and then let us try and effect positive reform for the American people.
BLITZER: But you heard the president say he's not ready to do that, he's not ready to write new legislation and scrap what has already been passed in the House and Senate. And he basically said, you know what, Republicans, you have maybe three, four, fix, six weeks to basically reach an agreement with us on this. Otherwise, he's going the other -- the other route, which would be a simple majority in the Senate, a simple majority in the House and trying to get it passed that way.
CANTOR: Well, Wolf, if -- if that's the direction that's he's headed, then, really, if you're talking about winners and losers today, then the American people are going to lose, because this bill is not good for the American people or their health care.
This bill is a trillion dollar bill. It raises $500 billion in taxes, imposes mandates on small businesses and working families and, frankly, doesn't reform health care. It doesn't even bend the health care costs for this country.
BLITZER: Because he said he would work with you on medical malpractice, on tort reform, as it's called, work on, perhaps, interstate competition for health insurance companies.
But when it comes to the fundamental need to insure 30 million more Americans, on that, he doesn't a whole lot of bail -- a whole lot of opportunity for compromise.
CANTOR: Well -- well the difference is, Wolf, we believe we get more people access to health care by lowering costs. And we believe we ought to focus on that and make sure that people are able to keep the health care they have, whereas the president fundamentally believes that if you have the government here in Washington begin to prescribe what people's health care should look like, then -- and then require everyone to purchase those kind of policies, that it will lead to a better health care system.
We just fundamentally disagree. That's why we're asking the president to set aside his bill.
BLITZER: The -- the president and other Democrats have made the point that when the Republicans were in the majority in Congress and the Senate, when there was a Republican in the White House, they used the so-called reconciliation process -- a simple majority, 51 votes in the Senate -- to avoid the filibuster and to get major legislation passed, including huge tax cuts, expansion of Medicare prescription drug benefits, the welfare reform back in the '90s.
Why can't the Democrats do that now?
CANTOR: Well, if they do, certainly, Wolf, they could try and do that. I think they would do so at their political peril. And, really, the losers are going to be the American people. But you also have to look at the fact that right now, Speaker Pelosi does not have the votes in the House to pass this bill.
The reason is, Wolf, because the American people don't want this bill and the moderates in the House are looking at this, scratching their heads wondering why in the world they would want to vote for something their constituents don't want. And in truth, they're -- the bipartisanship surrounding this bill is in opposition to it.
BLITZER: Did you think the Republicans got a fair shake in this seven hours or six hours of -- of talks at the Blair House summit today?
CANTOR: Yes, I think that there was an adequate airing of views on both sides. People across the country that may have been watching some of this, I believe, did get the sense of where the two parties are coming from on this.
But I'm hopeful, maybe, that the president will take the message from the American people to set this bill aside and allow us to come together in a very much more modest, incremental way to put some common sense reforms to work to lower costs so we can increase the access and maintain the quality of care that the American people have become accustomed to.
BLITZER: In making the case for comprehensive health insurance reform, he said baby steps don't take you where you need to go. So he was pretty flat, pretty firm on that issue, rejecting that step by step approach. He wants to go for the comprehensive agreement.
CANTOR: Again, you know, I -- I don't -- I don't fault him for his vision. The problem is his -- the plan to get there will ruin the health care system that we know. We can't afford it.
We've got to do some things first to fix the problems in the system that we've go, so that we can allow the folks -- the 85 percent of Americans who have insurance to keep that insurance and then lower costs, increase choices so that more people can have access to quality care.
BLITZER: Congressman Eric Cantor is the number-two Republican in the House.
Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.
CANTOR: Wolf, thank you.
BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is coming up with "The Cafferty File."
Also, we're going to have much more in-depth coverage of the winners and losers -- are there winners losers at President Obama's health care summit? And James Carville and Erick Erickson of RedState.com, they are both standing by live.
New video and new questions in the wake of that deadly killer whale attack at SeaWorld in Orlando. We're getting new information. Are these giant predators or are they performers?
BLITZER: Let's get right to Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The death of a whale trainer at SeaWorld never had to happen.
The park canceled its whale shows today and is now reevaluating safety procedures one day after a 12,000-pound killer whale grabbed the trainer's ponytail, dragged her underwater and killed her.
The 22-foot-long killer whale has been linked to two other deaths, including the drowning of another trainer, as well as some idiot who apparently climbed into the whale's tank one night after the park closed.
One marine biologist said, in yesterday's death, the whale may simply have been trying to play with the trainer or get her attention, because that's how whales play with seals and sea lions in the wild, by tossing them in the air.
She says killer whales normally live in groups with their families. The males stay with their mothers their entire lives. They rely on their family for social structure and play and cover hundreds of miles of ocean. She says situations like the one at SeaWorld cause stress. Duh.
PETA wants SeaWorld to stop confining these animals to an area that's -- quote -- "like the size of a bathtub" to them and forcing them to perform stupid tricks over and over. That's not what they were put here and that's not what they were meant to do here.
And it's not just about killer whales either. Wild animals are not meant to be kept in places like circuses, where there are many reports of abuse, or small cages in zoos, or forced to perform in nightclubs in places like Las Vegas, where a tiger attacked its handler during a Siegfried & Roy show a few years ago.
Inevitably, when some human being is playing around with these wild animals and gets attacked, it's the animal that gets put down. It ought to be the other way around.
Here's the question: Should wild animals be used as entertainment?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. Post a comment on my blog.
BLITZER: All right, Jack, thank you.
As Jack notes, the killer whale attack raises new questions about whether these powerful predators should be kept as performers.
Brian Todd has been looking into this shocking incident for us.
What are you discovering, Brian?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: First, Wolf, we want the show you some new video of this area right before the incident and some new information for you -- this video from a visitor at SeaWorld taken just before the incident. You see it right there. This video does not show the attack at all.
It does appear to show the trainer who was killed, Dawn Brancheau, feeding one of these orcas, prepping the animal, playing with the animal. The Orange County Sheriff's Office now says that the county medical examiner has determined Brancheau likely died from multiple traumatic injuries and drowning. The sheriff's office clarifies an earlier comment that Brancheau might have slipped into the water by now saying the whale pulled her into the pool, grabbing her by the hair while she was in knee-deep water.
Now, this all fuels the debate on whether these massive creatures should be kept in captivity. You heard Jack mention this debate just a moment ago.
I spoke with Jeffrey Ventre. He was a killer whale trainer at SeaWorld for eight years. He knew Dawn Brancheau. He trained the whale Tilikum, which killed her.
This is YouTube video of Ventre performing tricks with another killer whale. He is conflicted on the captivity issue. He says Tilikum gets excellent care at SeaWorld, and he believes that's the best place for him to be. But he makes some counterpoints.
He says that in the wild, the dorsal fin for the male killer whale is healthy. You see it here on the left. It goes straight up because it's supported by the gravity of the water. But, in captivity, he says -- look at this picture -- the whales are often kept in tanks that are not even as deep as the whales are long.
They rest at the surface, or just below the surface with their backs exposed. The fibroelastic cartilage in their -- cartilage -- excuse me -- in their fin weakens and the fin droops.
Another key question in this whole debate, why isn't this animal destroyed like many other are after it attacks a person? Well, Jeffrey Ventre says Tilikum shouldn't be destroyed, that it's a great animal, and he likely just thought he was playing with Brancheau when this incident occurred, but he says there is also financial motivation here. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFFREY VENTRE, FORMER SEAWORLD TRAINER: I am sure that he cost millions of dollars, and I'm sure that he is worth many millions more. He perpetuates the SeaWorld gene pool. He continues to perform and wow people.
To lose that genetic diversity by eliminating one of a few successful male breeders would be a big, probably a detriment to the breeding effort in general, and would impact SeaWorld's long-term goals, which is to perpetuate itself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Ventre says he believes Tilikum has sired about 13 offspring, 10 which he believes are still alive.
Now, we have called and e-mailed SeaWorld and Busch Gardens officials to response to numbers, to verify some of the numbers in his other comments. We have not heard back yet, Wolf. This is a debate that's going to be going on for a long time, this whole captivity issue.
BLITZER: And it is going to be really heated. What does he think may have triggered this whale to go ahead and do this?
TODD: It's interesting. It is fascinating to hear an expert talk about this. He says that Tilikum has some potential stressors -- and we're going to over those with you right now -- stressors that he believes could have triggered this.
He says one of them is living in a small pool. He says, aside from maybe two pools at SeaWorld, many of them these whales can barely fit in. As we mentioned earlier, some of them are not even as deep as the whales are long.
Another potential stressor, he is a male. And killer whales are a female-dominated society. He calls him a sub-dominant animal in a matriarchal pod of killer whales. Some of those females might have agitated him. He says those females, Wolf, very, very dominant in these pods.
BLITZER: Does he think that Tilikum, for example, could survive in the ocean, in the wild right now?
TODD: He is a little conflicted about that, and he says that's a big debate. He says the Seaquarium crowd believes that they cannot do that. The environmentalists believe that they can do it.
He believes that the best place for Tilikum, this particular whale, is at SeaWorld. But he says one thing they might want to try is reuniting him with his native pod back off Iceland. That's where he is from which, apparently. It may or may not work. So, it is a real dicey issue.
BLITZER: And he has been held there for a long, long time.
TODD: A long time in captivity, long time in SeaWorld, probably -- we are guessing from the early '90s.
TODD: Not guessing. We know he was brought there in the early '90s. He was in captivity before that. That is a very long time.
BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much. Good reporting.
We also have a story that is related coming up. A massive indoor aquarium housing tens of thousands of fish, so imagine what happened when it sprang a giant leak. We're going to show you.
And, later, a planned military drill prompting an ominous warning from North Korea.
BLITZER: Now to another installment in our new series "Building Up America," a look at how people in many companies are beating the odds, despite all these tough economic times.
We are taking a closer look at one company doing that. You may never have actually heard of that company, but you likely use its services maybe all the time.
Let's go to Austin, Texas.
CNN's Tom Foreman is over at the CNN Express.
All right. Tom, tell us what is going on.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf.
I'm here at the University of Texas, where, of course, a lot of young people are studying business, but one of the greatest examples of business being clever and moving fast is just about 20 miles outside of town here. It is a company that saw a niche in the market that needed to be filled and it saw a resource that was absolutely not being used nearly enough. They put them together, and they have a remarkable success story of building up America.
Take a look.
FOREMAN (voice-over): The morning commute for Julie Barrett (ph) is only as far as the kitchen, where she grabs coffee, puts out the cat, and starts reading what other people write on the Internet.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel like I have the best of both worlds, that I contribute to the family income, and then I also get to participate in my children's life.
FOREMAN: It is real work with real pay for dozens of stay-at-home moms who have found new income, purpose, and satisfaction in a company called Bazaarvoice.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am a single mom with four kids.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I wanted to be home.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I needed something that would allow me to contribute to my husband's income, especially in these economic times.
BRETT HURT, FOUNDER AND CEO, BAZAARVOICE: You use us all of the time. You just probably don't realize it.
FOREMAN: So, what exactly does Bazaarvoice do? Brett Hurt started the company, and it runs those consumer product review sections you see on company Web sites when you want to buy a TV, a camera, a car.
HURT: And you have got to make sure that that conversation doesn't have anything racist or profane or some kind of religious statement.
FOREMAN (on camera): So, you are not editing it for content? People can say whatever they want to about the product? HURT: Absolutely.
FOREMAN: As long it's legal and...
HURT: Right. Right.
HURT: Just like any community, you want to have some standards.
FOREMAN (voice-over): This is big business. In under five years, Bazaarvoice has picked up almost 800 clients, suites of offices with gongs and game rooms, all in the middle of a global recession.
HURT: So, in this office, we have about 250. As I mentioned, we have quite a few that work at home.
FOREMAN: Brett's simple philosophy, care about the workers, and they will care about the company. Need proof? The vacation policy is this: Take as much as you need.
HURT: And in four years, nine months of business, treating people with that amount of great respect, not a single person has abused it, not once.
So, how many volumes of "War and Peace" have you read with user- generated content?
PATTI SCHUMACHER, BAZAARVOICE: This is the first job I have ever worked in 30 years of a career where I feel like I can plan my work schedule around my family, rather than the other way around.
FOREMAN: The result? Just listen.
(on camera): How many of you are optimistic about the future of your area right now?
FOREMAN: Well, the thing is, I think we're going to hear more, Wolf, about this fellow Brett Hurt. He is working on a book right now, because he believes so much that rebuilding across this country can be hastened and improved by this philosophy of saying, look. Look at the culture around you. Look at how people want to live, and make business accountable to that, so they can be more accountable to business.
That is the way to grow and to rebuild the economy, not by simply saying, let's do it the old way. He found a new way and it is really working. This company is now 500 times bigger in just about five years than he thought it would be -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Very impressive indeed -- Tom continuing his series from Austin. Thanks.
BLITZER: After an extraordinary live TV debate, both parties are still far apart on health care reform. Will Democrats take matters into their own hands? I will speak about that and more with James Carville and Erick Erickson. They're standing by live?
And could there still be room for compromise on health care? We will speak later with the president's senior adviser, David Axelrod.
And there were hugs, handshakes and plenty of health care horror stories. Jeanne Moos was watching today's summit very carefully. She finds it all "Moost Unusual."
BLITZER: Let's get back to our top story, an historic day here in Washington, D.C.
Democrats and Republicans came out from behind closed doors, called together by President Obama for an extraordinary summit on health care. It was all on live TV. They let it all hang out for hours, clashing on many issues, agreeing on some others.
But there does not seem to be enough common ground. And the majority Democrats may try to push through health care reform using controversial Senate reconciliation rules. Normally limited to budget-related bills, reconciliation bypasses the normal rule that 60 votes are needed to end a debate. And that means Republicans can't block legislation with a filibuster. Democrats could rely on a simple up or down 51-vote majority. Both sides are well aware of the implications. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: There is an issue that's overhanging this entire conversation and we all know what it is. It is whether the majority leader of the Senate will impose the quote reconciliation, the 51 votes. Now having been in the majority and the minority, I prefer the majority. I understand frustration that the majority feels when they can't get their agenda through. And it is real and I understand it and I have some sympathy. But I remember, and I think you do, too, Mr. President, the last time when there was a proposal that we Republicans in the majority would adopt a 51-vote majority on the issue of the confirmation of judges.
There was a group of us that got together, and said, no, that is not the right way to go, because that could deal a fatal blow to the unique aspect of the United States Senate which is a 60-vote majority. And we came to agreement and it was brought to a halt. If a 51-vote reconciliation is enacted on one sixth of our gross national product, never before has there been -- there have been reconciliation, but not at the level of an issue of this magnitude. I think it could harm the future of the country and our institution which I love a great deal for a long, long time.
OBAMA: OK. Let me just address two of the points that you made and then I am going to turn to Dick. You know, this issue of reconciliation has been brought up again. I think the American people aren't always all that interested in procedures inside the Senate. I do think that they want a vote on how we are going to move this forward, and, you know, I think most Americans think that a majority vote makes sense, but I also think that this is an issue that could be bridged if we can arrive at some agreement on ways to move forward.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about this with our CNN political contributor and Democratic strategist James Carville and Erick Erickson, the editor of the conservative blog redstate.com. What are the risks, politically speaking, James, for the president if he uses this controversial procedure to get it passed?
JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, people will -- it will be a big deal. We are making a big deal out of it and it will blow up and be a big deal. As I understand it, it has been used eight times on controversial pieces of legislation and it was six times used by Republican Congress, twice by Democrats. It is not unprecedented, but as I understand it, they have to get a parliamentary ruling from the Senate parliamentarian and I don't know if anybody is absolutely certain how the Senate parliamentarians will rule on this. It's not a given that they'll be able to proceed this way is my understanding of it. I'm not an expert on it, but that is the -- and so we might be premature until -- I think it is a he, until he decides.
BLITZER: Usually on this kind of legislation, I have done some research on it, if you are going to go avoid the filibuster and just do the reconciliation, the 51 majority, there has to be a set time limit. It can't be open ended. It's got to go for a number of years, eight years, 10 years, sort of like when President Bush used this process to get tax cuts back in 2001, 2003. They are about to lapse those tax cuts because there were a finite number of years involved. How controversial, Erick, is this?
ERICK ERICKSON, REDSTATE.COM: I think it's very controversial, by and large, because of the way the Democrats are recommending that it be done has never been done before which is for the House approve the Senate version of the plan and then send it back to the Senate and throw an amendment to go through reconciliation that way. This is a very novel approach that hasn't been done before, and James is right, nobody is sure what the Senate parliamentarian will say to that.
But it is interesting to hear the president say that he thinks the majority of Americans want just a majority vote in the Senate when only back in 2006, the president himself said that that wasn't what the founders wanted. The founders wanted a Senate set up where a majority vote by a majority couldn't get anything done, that he required that the filibuster be there just as founder intent.
CARVILLE: I don't think that the founders had anything to say about the filibuster. ERICKSON: That is what the president said.
CARVILLE: I'm not a constitutional scholar, but I don't think the filibuster is in the Constitution, I think it is a Senate rule. It was 57 and now it is 60, but there is no constitutional question here, it's a question of the Senate rules which is quite not the Constitution.
BLITZER: But it has been a rule for a while, James. The use of the filibuster, and Democrats have used when they are in the minority. Republicans use it now that they are the minority. It goes back for many, many decades.
CARVILLE: Right. And again, it has been used in controversial times and I am told that the Congressional Research Service says eight times and 22 are the numbers, and I'm not an expert or not even expert, I'm hardly conversant on the Senate rules, but that's my understanding that the parliamentarian has to decide this. They're going to try to do this.
BLITZER: Erick, you watched this debate at Blair House unfold throughout the day like millions of other folks, they were watching it here on CNN and other networks. If you were an Independent and really unclear, undecided and you are stepping back and you saw what the Republicans said, you saw what the Democrats said, I know where you personally feel, but objectively speaking, try to put your best foot forward, who came out on top? The president let's say or the Republicans?
ERICKSON: I think across the board, it was a healthy although painful to watch discussion. The American people probably left today realizing that the Republican Party is not the party of no, the Republicans actually do have substantive proposals. I think a lot of people probably are disappointed that they didn't delve into some of the constitutional issues behind the plan overall, but I think the Republicans came off very, very well, actually engaging on the substance of the issues of the legislation. Eric Cantor there with all 2,700 pages being scolded by the president that it was a prop. Well, that is what they were there to discuss and they had a really long discussion.
BLITZER: What do you think, James?
CARVILLE: I think that if you watched it, and look, I have attention deficit disorder, so it was a pretty painful day for me to sort of check in. First, in general, by most part, most of the people were pretty knowledgeable. They had done their homework and I do think that the president, it was -- actually was the smartest guy in the room, but it struck me more like a tenure hearing than maybe a political debate that was going on in there.
You know, I think that Erick makes a valid point, the Republicans were careful to make some sort of alternate proposals. They are probably up a little bit there. I thought that Senator Alexander and Senator Coburn did great, and if they would have left them, I thought the Republicans got off to a good start, but it kind of deteriorated a little bit after that, and I thought that the president, you know, the strong one to close.
But I think overall if you could sit through it, you'd have to walk away in whatever you think of these politicians that, you know, stupid wasn't the word that was coming to mind for most of them.
BLITZER: No, they were pretty impressive. The president certainly was impressive, but so was you pointed out Tom Coburn, Lamar Alexander, I think Paul Ryan, Republican from Wisconsin, Eric Cantor, the Republican from Virginia, they were all impressive. Very quickly, Erick, just make a final point.
ERICKSON: I was kind of surprised actually watching this that I felt like the president really did a good job of holding his own, but it seems like the Democrats there backing him up, maybe it's because he was the president, leader of their party, they didn't seem to be as with it as the president which kind of surprised me.
BLITZER: All right guys, let's leave it there. We will continue this conversation down the road. James Carville and Erick Erickson, thanks.
Former President George W. Bush and his vice president Dick Cheney together again. We'll have details of their first meeting since leaving the White House.
And more on that trainer killed by a killer whale at SeaWorld in Orlando. The man in charge of all of the park's animals is standing by to join us here in "The Situation Room."
BLITZER: Back to that shocking incident at Orlando's SeaWorld in which a trainer was attacked and drowned by a killer whale. Chuck Tompkins has worked at SeaWorld Parks for three decades. He worked with Tilikum, the whale involved in the incident and Chuck is joining us now. Thanks very much for coming in.
CHUCK TOMPKINS, SEAWORLD: Thank you.
BLITZER: You have heard all the criticism that it is cruel to put these giant killer whales in this pool, take the killer whale out of its environment in the ocean and force him or her to sort of simply be in a small, relatively small pool, and that, that could make, and put enormous stress on these whales. What are you saying to that criticism?
TOMPKINS: I don't believe in that at all. I have been doing this 32 years, and I have spent my entire career taking care of these animals, and obviously, I care very much for these animals under my care and along with all of the other trainers who take care of these animals. We have been doing this for 46 years. And we have had a great track record. We have had no incidents, any even close to this.
So, this is devastating for us. Obviously, we lost a family member, and we are very concerned about that. We want to make sure that as we move forward, we are very respectful with the life that was lost, but we also need to make sure that we move forward taking care of these animals and making sure that we provide the safest environment for the trainers as well.
BLITZER: What is your understanding of what happened yesterday?
TOMPKINS: What I know to be true is that Dawn, our trainer, was working Tilikum, our killer whale. She was sitting in front of this killer whale, and obviously, it was at the end of a very good session with him. And she was reinforcing him or rewarding him by rubbing him down. When she leaned over, her ponytail swung in front of her face. That is when Tilikum either felt it or saw it. He grabbed her ponytail and then pulled her under water.
BLITZER: And that was that. What should happen to Tilikum now if anything?
TOMPKINS: Well, I -- we are going to keep taking care of this animal obviously. He is under our care and we want to make sure that he is mentally and physically taken care of. Obviously how we interact with him is going to change. We obviously are going to be much more careful in what we do around him because of the way he reacted. We are going to make sure that from this point on that our training procedures are evaluated and that we are very careful about what we do and that our first priority and one of the most important things is making sure that the safety of the trainers is always taken care of before we work with him.
BLITZER: So you are not going to kill this whale, I take it?
TOMPKINS: Absolutely not. He is going to be a part of our family for a long time to come.
BLITZER: The other two incidents in which this, Tilikum, this killer whale was involved in killing two humans, they were different -- those incidents were different than this one, right?
TOMPKINS: Yes. The first one was in a marine life park and not at SeaWorld, but in another marine life park he came from. It was two other killer whales with him. This trainer fell in the water and the three of them played with that trainer, and she eventually drowned in cold water.
The second time was in 1999 when we had somebody -- a homeless person sleep in the park, he stayed in the park, he waited until everybody was gone, then tried to go swimming in his pool, and the next morning we came in, we found that the man had died of hypothermia.
So to assume that he killed these individuals is wrong. We're not sure about those things. And I don't think those situations are any closely related with what just happened. But, taking that into consideration, we recognize that he is different based on those incidents and the fact that he is a very large animal. He is 12,000 pounds. We don't get in the water with Tilikum. We work him from dry deck and that is what Dawn was doing, she was out of the water working him when the incident occurred. So we knew that he was a special animal and we treated him very, very special. He had special training techniques that we used and we were very careful around him.
BLITZER: Any immediate changes in procedure that are going to go forward?
TOMPKINS: Well, obviously, we need to change how we work around him to make sure that our trainers are taken care of. We are still in part of the investigation of finding out exactly what happened. As we know more, obviously, we are going to make any changes we have to to make sure that this situation never occurs again.
BLITZER: Chuck Tompkins, thanks very much for joining us, good luck over there.
TOMPKINS: Thank you.
BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is asking, should wild animals should be used as entertainment? Your e-mail just ahead. Stay with us. You're in "The Situation Room."
BLITZER: Let's go right to Lisa Sylvester. There is a story developing just coming in to "The Situation Room." What is going on?
SYLVESTER: Hi there, Wolf. Well, we are learning according to Vancouver police that a body has been found is believed to be that of "Growing Pains" star Andrew Koenig. It was found by authorities earlier this afternoon in Stanley Park around mid day. He has been missing since February 14th. There is a news conference that has been scheduled for 8:00 p.m. Eastern, and we will be monitoring this story and bring you new developments as they come in.
In other news, the past case involving accused University of Alabama shooter Amy Bishop is being reopened. A Massachusetts prosecutor is ordering an inquest into the 1986 shooting death of Bishop's 18-year- old brother. The killing was ruled an accident then. Bishop is now accused of opening fire on faculty colleagues at the University of Alabama Huntsville, killing three people.
And a cup of coffee and a chat. Former President George W. Bush paid a visit to former vice president Dick Cheney at his home today. Aides say this is the first time the two have gotten together face-to-face since the 2009 inauguration. Cheney is recuperating after having a mild heart attack this week. Wolf?
BLITZER: And that was an old picture, I just want to tell our viewers, not a figure of -- Donald Rumsfeld in that picture as well, that is a file photo that we used to show the former president and former vice president. But I am glad they had a chance to get together today especially after the heart procedure that the vice president had in recent days. We hope he has a speedy recovery.
The lighter side of President Obama's health care summit, CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a most unusual look. And should wild animals be used as entertainment? That is Jack's question. Your e-mails coming up.
BLITZER: Let's check back with Jack for "The Cafferty File." Jack?
CAFFERTY: The question this hour is should wild animals be used as entertainment?
Dan writes, "We used to visit SeaWorld when I was a child. I remember the magical atmosphere of the place. Then I visited as an adult. I was sickened and sad. Anybody who cannot see the cruelty inflicted on these creatures hardly deserves to be called human. As badly as 0 feel for the trainer, I feel even more sorry for the whale. Ban SeaWorld. It's no different than dog fighting."
Margaret in Omaha, Nebraska, "Wild animals are wired to be free and to roam and to do what comes naturally to them, not do stupid animal tricks. If people could put themselves in the animal's skin and think about being confined and forced to do unnatural things, I think people would no longer buy tickets to shows with animals."
Brett in Virginia writes, "Many years ago, when I lived in Manhattan, some drunk climbed into the Central Park zoo's polar bear enclosure. The polar bear didn't invite the drunk to a game of hearts and open a bottle of Merlot, the bear attacked him and New York's finest, the police, shot the bear. Of course SeaWorld sees neither the animal nor the human, it sees the dollars. People will pay to see this whale, secretly hoping it will chow down on another trainer."
Joanie writes, "I agree with PETA and Jack. Get rid of all confinement and silly tricks in circuses and places like SeaWorld. Wild animals were meant for the wild, not for human entertainment. It's called respect. Respect for our environment and for those who share it."
And Chris writes, "No. Killer whales should not be kept in captivity and used for entertainment in any way. I was watching CNN this morning. The spokesman for that particular SeaWorld was trying to convince everyone that the sole purpose for keeping these animals was for research. That is B.S. They're making money and that's all they care about. I mean, I saw a picture of a woman surfing on top of one of these animal's heads. That's research?"
If you want to read more on this, I got a lot of mail on this subject. You can go to my blog, CNN.com/CaffertyFile.
BLITZER: Will do Jack, thank you. Congressional Democrats and Republicans reacting to President Obama's health care summit. What were they thinking going into it? Did it meet their expectations?
Plus, some summit antics you might have missed. CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a most unusual look.
BLITZER: There are sides of today's historic health care summit here in Washington some people may have missed, but not CNN's Jeanne Moos. She takes a most unusual look. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: With a scraping of chairs, everybody jumped to their feet to be greeted by the backslapper in chief. He backslapped everyone, hugged the opposition, even bestowing a pat on one-time opponent Joe McCain, though they later got snippy.
MCCAIN: In the United States Senate.
MCCAIN: Can I just finish, please?
OBAMA: Let me just make this point, John, because we're not campaigning anymore. The election is over.
MCCAIN: I'm reminded of that every day.
MOOS: Instead of name calling, they call each other by first name.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Respectfully --
OBAMA: Dave, I don't mean to interrupt --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Again --
OBAMA: We're going to have Nancy and Harry --
MOOS: There were plenty of health care horror stories, for instance hand me down dentures.
REP. LOUISE SLAUGHTER (D), NEW YORK: She wore her dead sister's teeth.
MOOS: Speaking of teeth --
SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER (D), WEST VIRGINIA: The health insurance industry is the shark. It makes me sick.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), MINORITY LEADER: This right here is a dangerous experiment.
MOOS: This being the Senate health care bill.
REP. ERIC CANTOR (R), VIRGINIA: We don't care for this bill.
OBAMA: When we do props like this, you stack it up and you repeat 2,400 pages, et cetera, health care is very complicated.
MOOS: One of the fun things about watching coverage of the summit was comparing who got the bigger box. When showing confrontation in a split screen, MSNBC put President Obama in a bigger box. FOX put the Republican in the bigger box. CNN gave them equal size boxes.
CANTOR: We really do need to set this aside.
MOOS: There was quibbling over hogging the mike.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Republicans have used 24 minutes, the Democrats 52 minutes.
MOOS: Leaving President Obama to confess --
OBAMA: I'm the president, so I made -- I didn't count my time.
MOOS: He talked more than anyone. These are the many faces of President Obama listening, listening while chewing gum drew our apparent attention to the apparent Secret Service agent behind Senator Tom Coburn.
SEN. TOM COBURN (R), OKLAHOMA: We know how to treat acute asthma.
MOOS: One right wing blog called it a blowheartathon. It sure had the agents staring at his watch.
COBURN: We could cut health care.
MOOS: But our favorite spectator blog is watching notes get passed, especially notes to the president. He studied it like the fine print on an insurance policy, and then, a few minutes later, he picked it up and read it again. It's hard to pay attention to health care when you pay a premium to know what's in the president's note. Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.