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Sea Search After Oil Rig Blast; Reports: GOP Star Probed; Into Lion's Den on Financial Reform
Aired April 21, 2010 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JESSICA YELLIN, GUEST HOST: Thanks, Rick.
Happening now, a search at sea for oil workers missing after their rig exploded. This hour, the fiery wreckage, the rescue operation and safety questions that need to be asked.
Plus, the possible dangers of flying through volcanic ash -- I'll ask Virgin Atlantic founder Richard Branson about his company's decision to restart flights in and out of London.
And could the next National Day of Prayer be the last one?
We'll tell you what the administration has planned now that a judge has ruled the upcoming event is unconstitutional.
Wolf Blitzer is off today.
I'm Jessica Yellin.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
It began with a powerful explosion less than 24 hours ago. A column of flames shooting into the night sky over the Gulf of Mexico. At last word, the oil rig still was burning and could topple into the water at any moment. Helicopters and ships are frantically searching the waters off Venice, Louisiana for 11 people who are missing after the blast. Seventeen were hurt, at least three critically. But most of the 126 people on board the deep water Verizon drilling platform apparently escaped safely.
The company that owns the rig says there was no sign of trouble before the blast and it's too soon to know what may have caused it. Federal authorities tell CNN that so far, there has been no report of any oil spill.
So let's bring in chief -- CNN's chief business correspondent, Ali Velshi, who has spent a good deal of time on oil rigs -- Ali, and you've reported on the oil industry.
So give us a sense, how -- how often do accidents like this happen?
ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: In recent years, Jessica, not often at all. There were a series of -- of bad incidents on rigs in '80s. And what happened is everybody learns from them. So now, when you get on shift, every single day on an oil rig, you go through a safety briefing. Any shortcomings are dealt with. There is zero tolerance for safety breaches. Every oil rig has a fire team on it, because they can't wait if there's a fire for help to come in by helicopter or by ship. It could be hours.
They are completely self-sufficient. They can handle most fires on their own. So the fact that -- you see that picture. The fact that this was such a massive explosion and it is still burning suggests that this was very fast. It was some kind of combustion of a mixture of natural gas and oil, quite possibly. There's always natural gas in an oil well. They take great precautions to make sure that it doesn't combust. But it does look like something may have gone wrong, something malfunctioned to cause this kind of an explosion.
Keep in mind, whenever there's something on an oil rig called a hot job, something that is potentially flammable, Jessica, there are always firefighters at the ready. Every time a helicopter lands on a rig or takes off, firefighters at the ready. I've never seen firefighters like this. They have hoses in their hands. They're fully in uniform ready to go fight a fire. So very, very unusual to have a serious fire or an explosion on a rig in -- in the '90s or in the 2000s.
YELLIN: So, Ali, you've spent time on these rigs. Obviously, you cover business for us.
How much do these kinds of rigs contribute to U.S. oil production?
VELSHI: Well, keep in mind that two-thirds of the oil that we use in the United States is imported. So we only produce about a third of our oil that -- in the United States. But of that, fully one quarter comes from the Gulf of Mexico. On a busy day, there might be 10,000 people working on rigs or platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, with no way to get back or forth other than by -- by boat or by helicopter. It is very active in the Gulf of Mexico. This is -- this is hard work. It pays well. And as we learned today, it still has its risks.
YELLIN: Important, but dangerous work.
YELLIN: Thanks so much, Ali.
YELLIN: CNN's Ali Velshi.
The president is moving forward today with choosing a nominee to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. And as you might expect, he is being very careful about what he has to say on the issue of abortion.
During a meeting with Senate leaders, he said he will not ask his nominee to pass a so-called litmus test on abortion rights. But he made it clear that women's rights and privacy rights will be a factor.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want somebody who is going to be interpreting our Constitution in a way that takes into account individual rights and that includes women's rights. And that's going to be something that's very important to me, because I think part of what our core Constitutional values promote is the notion that individuals are protected in their privacy and their bodily integrity. And women are not exempt from that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
YELLIN: The president said he hopes to have a nominee before the end of May.
Well, one of the Republican Party's fastest rising stars suddenly finds himself under a legal cloud today. Florida's newspapers report U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio is being investigated by the IRS.
At issue, did he use state party credit cards to buy things for himself and for his family?
Our Brian Todd is looking into the allegations -- Brian, this was already a fascinating Senate race.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was.
YELLIN: Quite a complication.
TODD: It is. And, Jessica, this is just what the doctor ordered for Rubio's opponent, Governor Charlie Crist. This development has slowed down Marco Rubio's momentum for now. But it will likely take more than what we know at the moment to turn the tide of this race.
TODD: (voice-over): He's grabbed Florida's crucial Senate race by the throat. But now, rising Republican star Marco Rubio is furiously counterpunching reports that put his financial expenses into question. The "St. Petersburg Times" and "Miami Herald" report the IRS is looking into whether Rubio, along with other former state officials, misused a credit card issued him by the Florida Republican Party. From an anonymous source, the papers report they obtained credit card statements from Rubio's term as Florida's House speaker.
The personal charges, according to "The Times" and "Herald," include grocery bills, repairs to his family's minivan, a purchase at a wine store.
Contacted by CNN, a Rubio aide acknowledges those charges were made, but says the newspaper reports are selective and incomplete and says Rubio's not been approached by the Feds.
An IRS spokesman tells CNN his agency can't confirm or deny the reports.
Rubio has said this. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA STATE SENATE CANDIDATE: These are political funds, not taxpayer funds. They were spent for political purposes. There were some instances where I made personal expenses and I paid for those all of my own pocket. And I did so months before any of this was even written about.
TODD: Rubio's aide tells CNN the items not paid back from Rubio personally were expenses approved by the state. The aide admitted that the candidate double billed taxpayers for plane tickets, but called that a clerical error by his staff and said the state will be paid back.
He also acknowledged that in at least one instance, plane tickets were bought, but not used.
Analysts say this episode isn't making much of a dent in Rubio's Senate primary bid, where he's hammering Governor Charlie Crist in the polls. Crist might even abandon the race and run as an Independent. Some polls suggest Crist could do well in a three-way race.
But I asked Leslie Clark of the "Miami Herald" about the larger picture.
(on camera): Does this illustrate kind of the broader divisions in Republican Party and -- and a fracturing going forward that could be worrisome for them?
LESLEY CLARK, "THE MIAMI HERALD": Yes, it seems like it does, because you have Charlie Crist, who was incredibly popular in Florida with the Republican Party. He was viewed at one point as a possible vice presidential candidate. And now you have, you know, high level Republicans suggesting that he get out of the race and that he's not a Republican and run as an Independent.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
TODD: But other high level Republicans are warning Charlie Crist about that. In an e-mail given to CNN by a Republican source on the condition of anonymity, a top party strategist urges GOP consultants to persuade Crist him to not run as an Independent. A quote from that e-mail: "Call this campaign and encourage him to do the right thing."
The strategist says it's almost certain Crist will drop out of the primary race. But he says if he runs as an Independent, the party will back Rubio. And, Jessica, if that happens, the party is going to come at Charlie Crist with guns blazing. They're not going to hold back on him.
YELLIN: OK. But let's go back to Rubio, because he has a reputation as a fierce critic of government spending.
TODD: That's right.
YELLIN: It doesn't look so good.
Is this going to damage his reputation with fiscal conservatives? TODD: It certainly will. It certainly will do that if Crist runs as an Independent. He's going to come after him on this episode and on this issue. He's already done that in -- in campaign ads and on the trail. But, also, analysts say that Tea Partiers might turn against Rubio, because it might cast him as kind of reckless with finances, careless in that regard. That's a big issue for them. They might turn on the guy for that.
YELLIN: Investigation and a new wrinkle.
YELLIN: Thanks, Brian.
All right. In the battle over financial reform, President Obama is heading into the lion's den.
What should he say when he's just blocks away from Wall Street tomorrow?
Plus, he's an influential religious leader, but the Pentagon is having second thoughts about letting Franklin Graham speak on National Prayer Day.
And what did this man throw at a leading political figure?
Here's a hint -- it wasn't a shoe.
YELLIN: Jack Cafferty is here now with The Cafferty File -- hiya, Jack.
CAFFERTY: Jessica, Wall Street may be enemy number one for President Obama and the Democrats these days, but things get complicated when you look at how corporate America has lined their pockets.
Let's start at the top. The president got nearly a million dollars in campaign contributions from Goldman Sachs. That would be the same Goldman Sachs that the government is now accusing of civil fraud tied to those subprime mortgage investments. Federal law prohibits a company from giving directly to an election campaign, so the money came from Goldman's political action committee and its employees. The $1 million represents the president's second largest contributor. And these donations from Wall Street's top investment bank to Mr. Obama were more than four times the amount they gave to John McCain.
But in light of these allegations against Goldman and as Mr. Obama and the Democrats push hard for financial reform, maybe the president ought to consider returning this money. As a candidate, you'll recall, Barack Obama made lots of lofty promises about not being beholden to special interests. Well, here's a chance to prove he meant what he said.
Of course, it's not just the president. Records show in the 2008 election campaign, three out of every four dollars given by Goldman went to Democrats. And since then, the company has contributed generously to the members of the two different Congressional committees that have oversight of the financial industry.
Sadly, that's the way the game is played. The big corporations in this country own our government lock, stock and barrel. Our so-called representatives sell their souls for campaign contributions. And then when it comes time to pick a side, the corporations or the people they're elected to represent -- guess which side they most often choose?
Here's the question -- should President Obama return the nearly $1 million in campaign contributions from Goldman Sachs?
Go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile and give us your thoughts -- Jessica.
YELLIN: Given current circumstances, Jack, Goldman might want that money back.
CAFFERTY: Well, they could probably use it to pay their lawyers.
YELLIN: Jack Cafferty, thanks.
All right. President Obama -- he's taking his push for financial reform into Wall Street's backyard. He'll deliver a major speech on the issue in New York tomorrow, just as the Senate moves toward a showdown on overhauling financial regulations.
Let's bring in our senior political analysts, Gloria Borger, and, of course, David Gergen -- Gloria, let me start with you. Tomorrow, President Obama is going to Wall Street.
What message will he deliver and what do you think can come of this?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I spoke with a senior White House adviser, Jessica, who said look, it's going to be a strong message. He's going to outline the consequences of inaction. He's also going to take on what they called the myths being propagated by the Republican leadership and Wall Street -- notice they're lumping them together.
And the key fact here, Jessica, what's interesting to me is that this is very different from the Barack Obama we saw on health care reform. He is engaging. It took him about a nanosecond to respond to Republicans last week. Health care reform on the public option -- we didn't know where Barack Obama was until August. He sent a detailed bill up to the Hill. He clearly believes public opinion is with him, so he's happy to go into that lion's den.
YELLIN: David, clearly, a different approach from President Obama.
I'm curious, you're up in New York. We know Mayor Bloomberg there is trying to protect Wall Street from too much regulation here.
What do you think financial reform ultimately looks like if it gets out of Congress?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Well, I do think the chances of a bipartisan bill emerging are rising. Senator Shelby, a leading Republican, said they're very close tonight. And so I think we'll be looking at that.
And the question for Mike Bloomberg, the mayor of New York, is not whether it's -- not whether it's regulation, but whether it's zealous overregulation, because that could really harm an industry he thinks is vital for the economy of this city.
YELLIN: All right, Gloria, let's talk a little about the fact that Democrats right now have framed this as a debate where Republicans are fighting regulation, Democrats support regulation. But if you go back in time, it was Democrats.
BORGER: Not so much.
YELLIN: Yes, right. It was Democrats who developed this current system. It was Democrats Larry Summers, Bob Rubin -- they had a hand in setting this up.
BORGER: Yes. Well, it -- it was interesting, because former President Bill Clinton was interviewed on ABC. And he said, look, we made a mistake. We should have regulated derivatives. And he wasn't quite clear about who gave him the advice not to regulate derivatives. His memory was kind of fuzzy. And Bob Rubin says and wrote in his book that he's always been concerned about the systemic risk of derivatives, but for legal reasons, they didn't do it.
There probably wasn't the political will to do it at the time. Maybe it didn't seem as large an issue. And as we know, Congress and the White House are crisis-activated institutions. So we've had a crisis.
YELLIN: And, David, you worked in the Clinton White House. You worked in a number of White houses. Gloria points out that President -- former President Clinton is defending his record now.
Is he on a legacy cleanup campaign right now?
GERGEN: I think -- no, I don't think so. I think he was being pretty straightforward when asked a question. You know, he's -- he's admitted to other mistakes, such as Rwanda. You know, he said we didn't -- we didn't respond rapidly enough to that. He said it several times.
I do think it's important to point out about -- talking about President Clinton, he also took a hard swipe at the Bush administration. He said, look, if they had kept Arthur Levitt, who was Clinton's SEC director, if -- if they had kept him in place and kept the SEC team in place, a lot of this wouldn't have happened.
So Bill Clinton, yes, he's admitting a mistake on derivatives, but he's arguing strongly that, you know, a lot of this happened because of the Bush bunch. And, by the way, he's arguing on something called Glass-Steagall -- the repeal of Glass-Steagall, the taking down of the wall between commercial banks and investment banks. But that wall had basically collapsed already and it wasn't much of a big deal.
So Clinton -- he's carefully sorting it out. He's sorting out his legacy. I don't think it's cleanup.
YELLIN: All right, Gloria, let's bring this down to earth finally.
What would this reform ultimately mean for the little guy?
BORGER: Well, I think it's going to mean more consumer protection basically. Jessica, you know so much about this from covering this, that what this is going to say to the consumer is we're going to protect you from these -- these bad mortgages. We're going to make sure that the banks can't essentially sell you out. And we're going to allow state attorneys general to sue on your behalf. So, you know, this is about the banks, but it's really mostly about making sure that they can't pull a fast one on the consumers out there.
GERGEN: Yes, but, Jessica, beyond that, it's -- it's really important -- it's just like after the Depression, when we set up the SEC. You come along after one of these things, you put -- try to put some safeguards in place so you don't have this kind of collapse again.
YELLIN: All right. Well, Democrats are feeling optimistic it will move pretty quickly through the Senate.
Thanks to both of you, Gloria Borger and David Gergen.
GERGEN: Thank you.
YELLIN: Since January, a whopping $19 million has been spent by candidates and interest groups on television commercials attacking Wall Street. You've probably seen some of them. Another $6 million has been spent criticizing President Obama's financial regulation. That's according to a new analysis for CNN by the Campaign Media Analysis Group.
So what do these numbers mean?
Well, no surprise, it appears the financial industry will be a chief villain in the midterm election.
It's a day many Americans are passionate about and presidents have been honoring for years.
So is the National Day of Prayer now potentially in danger of ending?
And a new $100 bill is unveiled. You'll want to hear how its new design could potentially curb crime.
YELLIN: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Lisa, hi.
What do you have?
SYLVESTER: Hi there, Jessica.
It's nice to have you in THE SITUATION ROOM, by the way.
YELLIN: Good to be here.
SYLVESTER: Some of those airline passengers stranded because of Iceland's erupting volcano may not get fully reimbursed for their troubles. Ryanair, one of the Europe -- one of Europe's largest budget airlines -- says it will consider passenger receipts for expenses, but reimbursement will be limited to the original ticket fare. An official for the European Union calls the move a potential violation of its rules, which say airlines are responsible for passengers when stranded.
New signs today that General Motors could be making a comeback from bankruptcy struggles. The auto giant announced today that it's investing $257 million into two of its factories to build the next generation Chevrolet Malibu. The company also announced its early repayment of $6.7 billion in U.S. government loans.
And take a look at this.
If you watch closely, you will see British Conservative Party leader David Cameron getting hit by an egg during a campaign stop. He was unhurt. And he laughed the whole incident off. The 16-year-old -- he was briefly detained for throwing the egg. Cameron is running for prime minister in next month's U.K. elections.
Take a look at that windup. That kid had quite a arm on him. He's just throwing the wrong thing. Maybe he should be throwing a baseball instead of an egg.
YELLIN: That's got to hurt.
SYLVESTER: I know. And -- and look at that. Look at that. He had a little pump going in there, too.
YELLIN: Ouch. And he's got a -- a lob.
National Prayer Day is just a couple of weeks away. And there's new reason for supporters and opponents to fight about it.
Will a judge's ruling end a longstanding tradition?
And the Reverend Franklin Graham play not be a National Prayer Day speaker, after all. His remarks about Muslims are coming back to haunt him.
And stay right here to see what's so special about the new $100 bill.
YELLIN: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, a major explosion at an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. Now 11 people are missing and 17 injured. We'll have the latest on this dramatic developing story.
And the office of the director of National Intelligence marks its fifth year anniversary.
But how effective has it been in doing its part to keep you safe?
We're getting answers.
Wolf Blitzer is off today.
I'm Jessica Yellin.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
It's a longstanding tradition in this country, but a National Day of Prayer is now in legal peril. A federal judge in Wisconsin recently ruled that it's unconstitutional. Some members of Congress and religious leaders today urged the Obama administration to appeal the decision.
Our Lisa Savester -- Lisa Sylvester -- excuse me -- is here today.
SYLVESTER: My first time.
YELLIN: The National Day of Prayer, it's only about two weeks away, but what's going on now?
SYLVESTER: Jessica, this is an issue that people are very, very passionate about. One day a year, the president recognizes the National Day of Prayer. And this is a practice that has actually been around for the last 58 years.
But the question now is, does it violate the Constitution?
SYLVESTER (voice-over): "In God we trust," words printed on our money.
OBAMA: God bless you and may God bless the United States of America.
SYLVESTER: The signature ending to the president's speech.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lord, at this time...
SYLVESTER: Religion and prayer are central to the lives of many Americans.
But where is the line between personal religion and government involvement?
Congress, in 1952, mandated the president establish one day a year as National Prayer Day, when Americans are urged to take time to pray. The Freedom from Religion Foundation, a group of agnostics and atheists, say that's unconstitutional.
Dan Barker was an ordained minister for 19 years before he became an atheist.
(on camera): What's wrong with having a National Day of Prayer?
DAN BARKER, FREEDOM FROM RELIGION FOUNDATION: Well, there's nothing wrong with a National Day of Prayer if it's voluntary and private, the public square being the government. In the public square, in our official secular government, religion does not and should not have a place.
Our government is secular.
SYLVESTER (voice-over): Wisconsin federal Judge Barbara Crabb agreed, declaring National Prayer Day unconstitutional -- a violation of the separation of church and state.
(on camera): U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb said prayer is a personal issue that the government should not try to use its authority to influence whether someone prays or not. But many in the religious community strongly disagree.
REV. DAVID SHELLEY, SMITH SPRINGS BAPTIST CHURCH: When you talk about religious things, everybody's got an opinion.
SYLVESTER: The pastor says national prayer day is an expression of religious belief, nothing more.
SHELLEY: Urging the citizens to pray is not the establishment of a religion. It is simply urging people to pray as they wish. And that's all it is. It's not a requirement. There's no punishment for not doing so.
SYLVESTER: The first amendment says the government can't take sides on religion, but it also guarantees the right to free speech and expression. And on national prayer day, religious groups plan to keep on praying.
SYLVESTER: Judge Crab's ruling won't prohibit national prayer day until all appeals are exhausted and the white house has already said that it intends to issue a proclamation this year as it has in the past on a national prayer day is scheduled for May 6th.
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks so much, Lisa.
Here's another reason that the national prayer day is getting people riled up. It involves the Reverend Franklin Graham and plans for him to appear at the pentagon. Our pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is here. Barbara, Graham had said some things that people found offensive. BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, Jessica. That is why at this very hour, just a couple of floors above the CNN office here in the pentagon, officials are debating whether to rescind an invitation to Franklin Graham, the son of the iconic Reverend Billy Graham, an invitation for him to speak here on national prayer day.
STARR: It was this invitation to speak at the pentagon's May 6th national day of prayer ceremony that sparked the controversy. Army officials tell CNN they began to reconsider the invitation after realizing Reverend Franklin Graham made remarks like this in an interview with CNN's Campbell Brown.
REV. FRANKLIN GRAHAM: True Islam cannot be a practice in this country. You can't beat your wife. You cannot murder your children if you think they've committed adultery or something like that, which they do practice in these other countries.
STARR: Graham later tried to temper his remarks, saying he had Muslim friends. But Graham has a long history of remarks that worried the military. Shortly after 9/11, he called Islam, quote, a very evil and wicked religion. The army, which oversees the national day of prayer at the pentagon, was afraid if Graham spoke, insurgents would put his remarks on the internet and fuel tensions in the Islamic world. Graham's supporters disagree.
REP. RANDY FORBES (R), VIRGINIA: What are they afraid that Franklin Graham's going to say? I think again we're getting to the part in the country where what I want to do is try to exclude everybody from speaking if I disagree with what they're going to say.
STARR: Concerns have also come to the pentagon from a watchdog group, the military religious Freedom Foundation, which not only complained about Graham but raised concerns that basically national prayer day had become a fundamentalist Christian event. At this hour, we're still waiting for the army to issue a decision on whether Franklin Graham will speak here at the pentagon on national prayer day.
YELLIN: We'll wait for that update. Thank you, Barbara.
New criticism of Arizona's sweeping immigration reform bill from south of the border. Is it a license for racial profiling?
And a lot of wild thins happen in Las Vegas, but none quite like this. Especially if you're afraid of heights.
YELLIN: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other stop stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Lisa, what do you have?
SYLVESTER: Hi Jessica. Well the Mexican government is warning that a tough immigration measure approved by Arizona lawmakers could result in racial profiling and could damage relations between the U.S. and Mexico. The controversial new bill just approved by legislators would make it illegal for immigrants to be in the state without the proper documents. And it would require police to question anyone they suspect is in the state illegally. The bill is now awaiting the governor's consideration.
The former president of the company once known as Blackwater is free at the moment despite a pending trial on weapons charges. A federal judge today denied a government request to set bond for Gary Jackson and four of his former colleagues, but he ordered them to turn in their passports and refrain from carrying guns. Jackson left Blackwater, now known as z, in a company shake-up last year.
A long serving president of the International Olympic Committee has died. Juan Antonio Samaranch led the IOC from 1980 to 2001 through a period of unprecedented growth and ethics scandals. They died today at a hospital in Barcelona, Spain, after being admitted for heart trouble. He was 89.
Visitors who venture up Las Vegas' highest building will now have a whole new way of coming back down. Jumping. Sky jump Las Vegas has just opened at the stratosphere casino, hotel and tower, it allows people to descend 800 feet down the building using a cable. The ride is the highest of its kind. Our Jeanne Moos will have more on the sky jump in our next hour. Not so much for me.
YELLIN: Yeah, terrifying.
SYLVESTER: I'm not afraid of heights, but I am afraid of falling.
YELLIN: Jeanne Moos no doubt will do it justice.
A new bill could mean that President Obama might have to show his birth certificate to qualify for a re-election bid in one state. We'll have the details.
And our Donna Brazile nabbed an interview with house speaker Nancy Pelosi and asked her about her presidential ambitions. We'll have the answer ahead
YELLIN: In our strategy session now, more on financial reform and the fraud charges against Goldman Sachs. Joining me now two CNN political contributors, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and Republican consultant Alex Castellanos. Alex, there's been a lot made of the timing of this fraud charge against Goldman Sachs. Conveniently hitting as Wall Street reform is about to go to the Senate floor. Listen to what the president said in a CNBC interview with John Harwood just earlier today.
PRES. BARACK OBAMA (D), UNITED STATES: I gave a speech about financial regulatory reform in 2007 before our current crisis, in 2008, before we fully knew what this crisis was going to be. We released financial reform as a package over a year ago. And so we're not Johnny come latelies to this thing. We've been pushing this thing hard throughout. And the S.E.C. is an entirely independent agency that we have no day-to-day control over, and they never discussed with us anything with respect to the charge that will be brought. This notion that somehow there would be any attempt to interfere in an independent agency is false.
YELLIN: Do you take the president at his word?
ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: It's a little difficult when you begin to put the pieces together here. This administration passed a health care bill by vilifying the insurance industries. They've got a villains help us strategy. All of a sudden they're using Goldman Sachs to get their financial reform package through at the same time that the S.E.C. announces these charges. Gosh, "The New York Times" just happens to come with a front page article with a whole back story setting the agenda. That's a political decision when someone leaked that. At the same time the story comes out, if you Googled Goldman Sachs and S.E.C., guess what you got? A Google ad for Barack Obama.com. So yes, it looks like the heavy hand of politics is deeply involved in this one.
YELLIN: It could also be capitalizing after the fact. Donna, my question to you, is the white house trying to have it both ways here? Vilifying Wall Street now but Democrats have been close to Wall Street for years.
DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: The timing is irrelevant. For two years we have been going through this crisis, how do we fix what happened on wall street so we never get back into this situation of too big to fail. I think most Americans are tired of Wall Street fleecing hardworking people. The white house is approaching a strategy that will try to fix the problems that were uncovered during this entire crisis, and I think again the timing is totally irrelevant. Look, Mitch McConnell went up to New York and sat down with bankers. Now, what about that?
YELLIN: He says there's nothing wrong with that.
CASTELLANOS: He didn't get a million dollars like Barack Obama did, but here's why timing does matter. Timing matters here because the Obama administration is trying to ram this bill through before anybody knows what's in it. Republicans have just started reading the bill --
YELLIN: This bill has been out there for a while.
BRAZILE: To stop whining about --
CASTELLANOS: People know that in this legislation, government gets access to your personal private financial information.
BRAZILE: That is not true again.
CASTELLANOS: In a way it's never had before.
BRAZILE: Here we go again with new talking points, in lies, cherry picking. Right now we're talking about cleaning up a corrupt system that fleeced so many homeowners. CASTELLANOS: And everybody wants to do that. The question is whether this bill is the right way to do it.
BRAZILE: Again, where is your alternative, Alex? The Republicans decided to leave the room. They have a talking point to just say no. It's becoming a very tired strategy.
YELLIN: It does sound like that they're close to a compromise to get this through. Let me turn -- because you had an interview with Nancy Pelosi. You asked her if she would like to run for president. What did she say?
BRAZILE: She totally rules it out. She enjoys being speaker of the house. She said that whatever she sets her mind to doing, whether on the appropriations committee or speaker, she puts all her energy into doing a great job. She's doing a great job as speaker.
YELLIN: You would probably love her to run.
CASTELLANOS: I would recommend the interview. I didn't know Donna had such an amazing second career. She may end up with Wolf's job here.
BRAZILE: Oh, no, no.
CASTELLANOS: But interesting to see what these folks are like in real life. They're families. How they decide to run. I think Nancy Pelosi's problem is, right now, I share some inside data from a Republican source here.
BRAZILE: Oh, gosh.
CASTELLANOS: Nancy Pelosi's favorable rating in a survey, a national survey is 34.6. Her unfavorable rating is 53.5 with a 42% of voters saying they have a strongly unfavorable rating. She's the face of an unpopular Congress. She in many ways has to carry the water that Barack Obama doesn't have to carry.
BRAZILE: Yes, I talk about how popular -- I talk about not just her personal popularity. I talk about the popularity of the institution itself. She said, we're elected to do the job for the American people. Mr. Boehner is not popular, Mr. McConnell is not popular, Mr. Reid is not pap pair. The Congress as an institution, they're as popular as a root canal. I wouldn't worry about her popularity as a speaker or as Congress, but worry about taxpayers are being fleeced.
YELLIN: You might not like her policies, but what the president has asked her to do, she's done.
CASTELLANOS: She's done and she gets points for that. But if you ask Americans about a Democratic Congress, do you agree that they don't listen to voters? 62% of Americans say yes. Is it too liberal? 16% of Americans say yes. Are they fiscally irresponsible? 61% say yes.
BRAZILE: We did not --
YELLIN: It's the policy or the institution?
BRAZILE: It's the institution. There's a decline in trust across the board.
CASTELLANOS: That's true.
BRAZILE: When you keep the reckless fiscal policy of the previous administration and you build on to that to help people, yes, you have to go with those numbers.
YELLIN: One thing we can all agree on, we'll read Donna's interview.
BRAZILE: "Capital File" magazine. And I also note what's on her ipod. U2.
YELLIN: She's got good musical taste.
BRAZILE: And she likes dark chocolate. You need to read it. You will like her.
CASTELLANOS: I did read it. I do like her. The policies, we have to discuss.
YELLIN: Alex Castellanos, Donna Brazile, thanks, guys.
And Jack Cafferty is asking, should president Obama return the nearly $1 million in campaign contributions from Goldman Sachs? He's standing by with your e-mail.
And Virgin Atlantic planes are flying again in the ashy skies over London. Are they at risk? I'll ask the airline's founder Richard Branson about the volcanoes fallout for his company and passenger safety.
YELLIN: Jack joins us again with "the Cafferty file." Hi, Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jess, the question this hour is should President Obama return the nearly $1 million in campaign contributions that he got from employees of Goldman Sachs?
Simon in Orlando, "You bet. I guess the change we can believe in went into his pocket. How can we believe that he'll support any meaningful reforms on Wall Street when he's just taken that much money from just one company? How much did he get from the others?"
Tom in Virginia writes, "Goldman Sachs and their employees are free to give their money to whichever political candidate they want and maybe they gave to President Obama's campaign because they wanted to have some sway in his administration. The recent fraud investigation in to their practices has made one thing clear, they don't."
Maria writes from Maryland, "No, he shouldn't. He ought to put the money toward the national debt. That would make Goldman Sachs weep like babies. Or Obama should give it to a specified list of nonprofits or applying it to greening government buildings or vehicle fleets, but nothing should go back to Goldman Sachs."
Brandon in Colorado writes, "Is this really a conflict of interest? Obama received $1 million from Goldman but how much did he get from other sources? A million dollars isn't exactly a game changer in the United States economy today."
John in San Antonio, "He should, but don't look for the CEO of the U.S. government, Inc., to do anything to upset its parent corporations."
Travis in San Diego says, "I'm stunned, on a daily basis, that any individual in this country thinks they're being represented by the elected officials at any level of government. These people take money from anyone, only to get elected and hold on to their power. I'm ashamed at the masses for being so gullible."
And Joe in Minneapolis says, "If Obama isn't a hypocrite, he'll return the money. If he is a hypocrite and he keeps the money, what did it buy?"
If you want to read more on the subject, go to my blog, CNN.com/Caffertyfile. Jessica?
YELLIN: All right. Jack, thanks so much.
Just ahead, dramatic pictures of a tornado touching down in Texas.
And we're following that huge oil rig explosion that left 11 missing and 17 injured. We'll have the latest details on this unfolding story.
YELLIN: Dramatic new pictures of a tornado touching down in Texas. Now reports that tornadoes could develop near Greensburg, Kansas, tomorrow. It's a town already struggling to build up from a devastating twister. Our Tom Foreman is there. Tom?
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Jessica, I want you to take a look at this town behind me right now, because it really is a unique place in America right now, because they have had to build up in two different ways. First, they had to try to recover from this enormous storm that just laid waste to all of the buildings that used to be right here, and they had to do it at the very time when so many communities are struggling just to survive.
FOREMAN: The tornado that ripped through Greensburg three years ago was a swirling black cloud with winds exceeding 200 miles an hour, and it left this small town in ruins.
DANIEL WALLACH: It was a 1.7-mile-wide tornado. And the town is 1.5 miles wide. So, there was just very little on the peripheries that survived.
FOREMAN: But the storm of rebuilding that Daniel Wallach and others have led since is proving just as powerful, only this one is green.
WALLACH: And so this town knew they had to have a unique identity.
FOREMAN: And that's what you set out to do with this plan?
FOREMAN: With the strong backing of the local government, this town is being rebuilt as a model of environmentally sustainability. At the new school, drainage systems capture and conserve rainwater to feed the landscaping. Salvaged wood covers the walls. Cabinets are made of wheat harvest leftovers, and natural light pours in everywhere. Superintendent Darin Headrick is expecting much lower power bills.
DARIN HEADRICK, GREENSBURG, KANSAS SUPERINTENDENT: During the day, we won't even turn lights on here to have classes and activities during the day. Our classrooms are the same way, we really don't know if we'll have to turn a light switch on during the day in the classroom.
FOREMAN: That's a big savings.
HEADRICK: Well, we hope.
FOREMAN: One of the town's many new wind turbines generates up to 30% of the new hospital's electricity, while power and water-saving utilities dominate. Mary Sweet runs the place. Were you skeptical of this idea to begin with?
MARY SWEET, KIOWA COUNTY MEMORIAL HOSPITAL: Initially I was, yes. At first I thought it was a gimmick. It was a way to build back and have people help us. But like I mentioned, it's just a roadmap of where to follow in construction.
FOREMAN: And you think it's working now?
KIOWA: It's working wonderful, yes.
FOREMAN: And all over townhouses are springing up with eco friendly designs, like this model made with concrete filled with smart utilities feeding off solar cells. A machine that pulls drinking water from humidity in the air, and so much more. What's going on up here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, up here we have the rooftop garden.
FOREMAN: You're going to grow food for the house right up here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, absolutely.
FOREMAN: The payoff, by most accounts this was a small, dying town before the storm, but with each new stage of the green comeback, it is being reborn. And every day, fewer folks are looking back.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With a name like Greensburg, you know, it was a natural fit.
FOREMAN: There are still plenty of empty lots like this around town, but over time, they hope they can fill them all in with new, green buildings, and in the process, they're hoping that what they rebuild will be a more economically viable town than the one that they lost. Jessica?
YELLIN: Thank you, Tom.