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Oil Slick Expect to Reach Louisiana Coast; Charlie Crist Plans to Quit GOP; Senate Democrats about to Unveil New Reform Plan; Two Dead in Kentucky Mine Accident

Aired April 29, 2010 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Rick. Happening now, the growing oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico would reach the coastline within the next few hours. The Obama administration is diving into the fight to contain it. Have the feds been slow to respond to a potential environmental disaster?

Also this hour, the Florida governor is about to leave the Republican Party and set the stage for a potential three-way senate showdown this fall. We're standing by to hear from Charlie Crist. He will be making his big announcement. We'll also hear live from Marco Rubio and Kendrick Meek, the democratic candidate.

And senate democrats react to the immigration crackdown in Arizona. They're set to unveil a new reform plan and offer republicans incentives to support it. But even the president wonders if it can pass this year. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the situation room.

Under a state of emergency as a giant oil slick triggered by that massive rig explosion is about to hit the coast. President Obama says, his administration will use every available resource to combat the spill, which is growing by about 5,000 barrels of oil every day. Federal officials expect the slick to reach the Louisiana coast tonight, within the next few hours. By this time tomorrow, it's expected to spread closer to Mississippi, moving to just 20 miles off that coast by Saturday.

CNN's Brian Todd is standing by live. Chris Lawrence is over at the Pentagon. Ed Henry is over at the White House. Let's go to Brian first with the latest from the scene. Brian, what's going on?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, officials here have just told us about the scenario that so many people are worried about, that this 120-mile long slick is now about to reach the mouth of the Mississippi river. We're told that the leading edges of the slick may be only about three or four miles from the Mississippi delta and it could hit there tonight. Admiral Mary Landry, the lead coast guard official in charge of this clean up operation tried to down play that a few moments ago with me saying, it's really just tiny slivers of the slick that could hit the Mississippi delta tonight and she said that they have booms in place to turn to mitigate all of that.

But still the fact remains, this slick has crept closer to the coast, it is about to hit the mouth of the Mississippi river within hours. Now, that controlled burn that they've been trying since yesterday has worked but they've only done it in really small increments. DOD officials of BP said that they've been able to burn off about maybe 100 barrels and it did worked well but in a very small amount. He says that larger burns are planned and that they'll going to step up that operation to burn maybe between 500 and 1,000 barrels of oil at a time, that if the weather cooperates, that is not a given. And of course with 5,000 barrels a day pouring out of this thing, that may not do much to mitigate, you know, a lot of this oil slick -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So, what I hear you saying Brian, is that some of those beautiful beaches along the gulf coast, they are really in danger right now and the beautiful white sands could turn to black sand pretty soon.

TODD: You could at least see fringes of the oil and running until they're coming on shore very very soon. Whether it's going to turn these beaches completely black remains that remains to be seen. A lot of this oil officials are stressing to us is very thin and in very small slivers. So, you may not see massive amounts of it although you may, I mean, a lot of it is going to depend on the weather, a lot of it is going to depend and whether they can be able to burn off massive chunks of this at a time. None of that is really a given right now.

BLITZER: All right. Brian on the scene for us. We'll get back to you, Brian. All of this as the Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar gets ready to meet with big oil executives within the hour to explore ways to prevent future disasters like this one from occurring. Chris Lawrence is getting more reaction over at the Pentagon. A Federal government is responding to this dire situation, Chris. But, as you know, there is already criticism that it's taking too long.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Well, the Interior Department is sending an actual s.w.a.t. team down to the gulf to inspect all the platforms and rigs in that area. The BP company has now asked the military for certain underwater technology that it cannot get commercially which includes imaging equipment and some remote operated vehicles.


(voice-over) It's going to take more than one cleaning crew to clean up this mess. That's the message from President Barack Obama, who has ordered high level government officials to get to the golf by Friday.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Not just to respond to this incident but also to determine its cause.


LAWRENCE: And the cause (AUDIO GAP) you bring to plug the leak? (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JANET NAPOLITANO, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Or assist in making sure that a minimal amount of water or oil, excuse me, reaches the shoreline.


LAWRENCE: The u.s. navy has sent more than 60,000 feet of inflatable boom to help rope off and collect the spill. It shipped seven skimming systems to squeak of the surface of the water. And it sent 50 civilian contractors to help officials already in the gulf.


GEOFF MORRELL, DOD SPOKESMAN: This is receiving top level attention in the department.


LAWRENCE: The military issues Sea 130 to dropped foam on water on wildfires out west. Now, a Pentagon official says, they could deliver similar oil dispersing chemicals by air. Still is worst than it look at first, so the cleanup mission could drag on a lot longer. The Naval Air Station in Pensacola has been converted to a staging area. For all of those barges, hooks and other equipment needed in an extensive clean up mission.


MORRELL: If we were heading that direction and we were called upon to look at those kinds of things, I'm sure we would be as responsive as we could be.



LAWRENCE (on camera): Now, that could include putting troops on shore to help clean up the spill there if it came to that. Now, is this help free? Of course not, it costs, maybe millions depending on how long this drags on. But the Pentagon and Homeland Security both say, there is precedent for making a company reimburse the government so that taxpayers don't get stuck with the bill.

BLITZER: Chris Lawrence, watching this for us, coordinate, the coordinator federal response. Let's get some more now from our Senior White House Correspondent, Ed Henry. Ed, the accident happened on April 20th and as I point it out, there's already criticism. What's taking so long for the federal government to do its job?

ED HENRY, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there's no doubt that the Obama administration was pretty hands off last week. They were letting this play out a little bit. But they really sort of changed their tactics, especially after last night's acknowledgement that this was spilling about five times more oil than originally anticipated from the president on down. Mr. Obama getting a big briefing this morning from top officials, then Secretary Napolitano from the Homeland Security Department coming out and saying, this is a spill of national significance which is important. Because, as you noted, that means now, more federal resources can be sent to the scene. But I think what's also significant is from the president on down, they are not so subtly pointing the finger of responsibility at the company, BP. Take a look, listen, how the president put it himself.


OBAMA: While BP is ultimately responsible for funding of the cost of response and cleanup operations, my administration will continue to use every single available resource at our disposal.


HENRY: So, they are clearly pointing the finger at the company. Nevertheless, a whole slew of Obama officials are now heading down to Louisiana on Friday. They know this could be a big political problem and they want to get on top of it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The other big political problem and potential environmental problem is only a few weeks ago, the White House with a lot of fanfare announced that they now support offshore oil drilling along the Atlanta coast, more in the gulf and this is now causing a lot of second thoughts, shall we say, a lot of concern.

HENRY: And maybe a shift at the White House. Right after the spill, Spokesman Robert Gibbs insisted, no, there's no change in thinking here at the White House when it looked like things were relatively contained. Now all of a sudden, a lot of top democrats on the hill, Senator Bill Nelson of Florida for example saying, he's going to have legislation saying, you can't increase more offshore drilling unless we get an idea on the safety concerns because of this. Senator Frank Lautenberg, another democrat, just put out a statement saying, quote, "This is more than a spill of national significance, this is an absolute catastrophe" and saying that much more must be done on safety. Publicly, White House officials are now saying, look, we're going to wait until the investigation goes forward before we make any change in policy. But I can tell you in private, top White House officials are acknowledging the obvious. This could really shift the president's position, could really make them rethink what he just announced a few weeks ago -- Wolf.

BLITZER: No more chanting of "drill, baby drill" at least for the time being, given what's happened in the Gulf of Mexico. Ed, thanks very much.

The Republican Party is about to lose a governor who once was a shining star in the party. What is Charlie Crist's expected exit say about him? About the GOP, about his prospects in the Florida Senate race. We're standing by for his formal announcement, we'll also stand by for live reaction from Marco Rubio, the other republican candidate and Kendrick Meek, the democratic candidate. They'll all be live here in the situation room. And even as baseball fans are weighing in on Arizona's controversial new immigration law, so are Senate democrats. But will their new plan strike out with republicans?

And for the first time, get this, a European country is getting ready to ban Muslim women from wearing face coverings. Stand by to find out where and why.


BLITZER: Governor Charlie Crist is about to turn his political career and the u.s. Senate race in Florida upside down. Just a short moment for now, he's expected to announce that he's abandoning the GOP primary to run as an independent. You can and help and wonder of this image that will be on as mine. Many political observers trace what Chris is about to do to the day early last year when he embraced President Obama and the economic stimulus package.

Our Senior Political Correspondent Candy Crowley is in St. Petersburg watching all of this unfold. That is she's hometown. What do we know for sure, Candy, if we know something for sure about what Governor Chris is about to announce?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know for sure it's Governor Crist and that could mean last-minute changes. But we don't think so, as of last night and this morning, those who have talked to him and that includes fundraisers have said, he fully intends to drop out of their republican race and run as a not affiliated candidate. We expect him here at 5:30 Eastern where he is supposed to make that announcement. You can see the podium and the wall you've got behind me. Lots and lots of media. So, that's what we sort of know will be happening, Wolf. Certainly if he does go ahead and say he's going to be a nonaffiliated candidate, it shakes up this race something fierce.

BLITZER: It's not cheap to run in a state like Florida. The media market pretty expensive. He's not going to have the Republican Party behind him. Where is he going to get the money?

CROWLEY: Well, he's hoping from independents and he's hoping from moderate republicans who he thinks will come with him. There's a larger question right now and that is, will some of those fund- raisers, especially some of those who went out and solicited other donations for him, are they going to ask for their money back? I mean, that tends to put kind of a hole in where your starting point is. So, what they're looking for, of course, is some of those moderates and some moderate democrats to come with him and to contribute. But, you know, there's nothing like free media either Wolf, and that starts today. You will see, I don't know how many cameras are behind me, maybe 20, you take use of that when you're a candidate who may or may not have the money to always put ad for ad up on the air.

BLITZER: I suppose a lot of the local TV stations will be carrying his remarks live. That's free media as far as he is concern. Marco Rubio is going to be speaking shortly thereafter. There will be live coverage, I'm sure of that. Certainly, we'll have live coverage of both Kendrick Meek by the way, the democratic candidate, he's going to be here in "The Situation Room." He's up on the hill voting, so he's going to be here in Washington. He'll be joining us to talk a little bit, Candy, about Charlie Crist's expected strategy.

CROWLEY: Well, listen, if you're not a republican, you're not a democrat, you can certainly go at both parties and say, sort of tap into that kind of disgust that we are seeing in the polling of people who do not like either party. They look at Washington, they don't like it. So, he runs as kind of a populist, it's you and me against them. There's sort of a problem here in that part of what he wants to do will be the outsider. I'm not a republican, I'm not a democrat. I'm running for you. The problem is, he's been in Tallahassee in office for more than 15 years.

Not all of them obviously as governor. But nonetheless, a lot of people look at this race and say sure, Marco Rubio, the other republican, did have some Tea Party support, but this is also about insiders and outsiders. And although Rubio has been in the state legislature, he's not as well known as Crist. A lot of people think that republicans looked as Crist, independents looked at Crist and thought, you know, sort of the same old thing. So, in order to reframe this race, he's going to have to run as the outsider and what he's looking at in their polling right now, he likes which show that he has a slight edge if he runs in a three-way race for those people you just mention.

BLITZER: All right. We'll going to check back with you, Candy. Thanks very much. We'll have live coverage of Governor Crist as soon as he gets out there. We'll hear what he has to say in his opponents, we'll hear what they're saying over the next hour in a half or so as well. Meanwhile, there are new protests against Arizona's controversial new immigration law. Check out this rally outside of Wrigley field in Chicago where the cubs were playing the Arizona Diamondbacks today.

Also today, four immigrants' rights groups announced they will challenge the Arizona law that requires police to question anyone suspected of being in the United States illegally. All this has pushed immigration to the front burner in Congress. A short while from now, senate democrats will unveil their new plan for what they call comprehensive reform.

Let's bring in our Senior Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash who is working the story for us now. All right. So, do we know Dana, what's in this plan that is about to be unveiled?

DANA BASH, CNN SR. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We do. What we know is that the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other senate democrats will come here and unveil a draft proposal, which is aimed at in -- where the one source I just talk to. A Hail Mary pass, Hail Mary play rather to try to woo republicans on this issue of immigration reform. Now, let me give you a reality check, Wolf. Does this mean that democrats in the senate think that they can actually pass comprehensive immigration reform this year? The answer in talking to democratic sources privately is no. So, what we know is that what they're trying to do is make it clear to some republicans who I think, may be in play for some kind of bipartisan deal to come on board.

So far, republicans that we have talked to that they are targeting senators, Claire McCaskill, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire have said sorry, we're not interested. But still this idea, this strategy Wolf, was hatched in a meeting with the six democratic senators, we'll going to see here in a short while and some outside activists. And the whole idea in a way this is written, this is a draft proposal of what they're going to talk about, it's 26 pages and it is written specifically with the attempt to woo republicans or at least try to put some of them in a tough bind. Because the way, it's written, it really gives the first, the majority of it, the bulk of it is on border security, not until the very end, page 23 of 26 pages, does it talk about way for illegal immigrants to get legal status.

BLITZER: Dana, President Obama last night as we're back to Washington. I meet with some reporters on board, Air force one. He seemed to suggest that it was unlikely Congress could pass comprehensive immigration reform this year. Listen to what he said.


OBAMA: It's a matter of political will. Now, look, we've gone through a very tough year and I've been working Congress pretty hard. So, I know there may not be an appetite immediately to dive into another controversial issue. There's still work that has to be done on energy, midterms are coming up. So, I don't want us to do something just for the sake of politics that doesn't solve the problem.


BLITZER: So, the question is this, is it really just for show, is it really a nonstarter? What's going on?

BASH: Well, what's going on in the words of the democratic sources spoken to recently is that democrats here in Congress like to remind the White House that the president is not on the ballot in November and many democrats are here. And of course, the biggest and maybe the toughest race is for the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. And he among many democrats are well aware that Hispanic voters are simply furious that democrats have not taken up and kept a promise to put forward immigration reform. And the president's comments really do, reveal a subplot, Wolf, that has been stirring, very interesting between the White House that is worried about pushing this for political reasons and some democrats who say, well, maybe we at least need to give it a try.

Listen to what Deirdre Walsh, our Congressional Producer asked the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi about the president's comments, listen to the way she responded.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: If there is going to be any movement in this regard, it will require presidential leadership as well as an appetite, is that the way it is? Is that the appetite? As well as a willingness to move forward in the Congress. We have had shared principles of securing our border, protecting our workers, enforcing our laws and having a path, an eventual path to legalization.


BASH: Now, the political fight if there is one is going to be in the Senate. And talking to democratic sources Wolf, is still unclear because it doesn't seem as though the strategy has really been borne out, whether or not Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will actually try to force this immigration issue to the senate floor if he know he doesn't have the vote just for political reasons or whether this push that they're going to start here right now is enough of a strategy to give him political cover to say, look, I tried. If not republicans are coming on board, not much I can do at least we tried.

BLITZER: And he hopes that will energize the Hispanic in Nevada.

BASH: Exactly.

BLITZER: Which he desperately, desperately needs, Dana. Thanks very much.

A new mine accident in Coal County proves deadly. We're going to have details stand by for that. And a new warning to Iran's president not to show his nuclear defiance at American soil. And hats off to a civil rights pioneer. President Obama and the nation say, farewell to Dorothy Height.


BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in the situation room right now. Hi Lisa, what's going on?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf. Well, two people are dead after a roof collapsed in a large Kentucky coal mine. Officials say, the mine which is operated by Alliance Coal Company has a history of safety violations. Records show more than 30 orders to close sections of the mine since January of 2009. One witness calls it a scene too horrible to imagine.

A man with a knife managed to slash almost 30 children in a Chinese kindergarten with a knife. Experts say, it was a copy cat rampage triggered by a similar incident this week. Five students had been hospitalized in critical condition. Two teachers and the security guard were also hurt.

And the three main candidates in next week's national UK election will have one final opportunity to go head-to-head. The last of Britain's first-ever televised debates. Here today, the debate could be the final opportunity for British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to repair his image following a wildly publicized open Mike Gaffe and which he referred to a voter as a bigoted woman. And Belgian could become the first country in Europe to ban Muslim women from wearing face coverings. The country's lower House of Parliament voted today to outlaw burkas which cover the entire bodies -- body as well as veils that partially cover the face. Violators of the law could face up to seven days in prison or a fine of around $30, the senate there still has to approve it.

And I know Wolf that you were watching that UK debate very closely and a lot of people very interested in that, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, first time they've ever done a series of debates like this. We've had them here in the United States since 1960. But this is new territory for the British folks out there and was fascinating to watch it.

SYLVESTER: Yes, a lot of the same issues out there as here in the United States -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. Taxes, spending, I guess people could relate. Thanks very much Lisa for that. We're standing by to hear from the Florida Governor, Charlie Crist. We're expecting him to formally announce his plans to leave the Republican Party and run for the u.s. senate as an independent but there's a question, could he still surprise us? Stand by, you'll see it, you'll hear it for yourself. And later, we'll hear from his challengers Marco Rubio and Kendrick Meek, they're both be live in the situation room.

And there are also new ways to change the way companies might be donating money to federal elections. At least there are some proposals. If the new proposals worthy to become law, we could find up seeing CEOs appearing in political ads.


BLITZER: You're in the situation room. Happening now, we're learning more about that massive rig explosion that's sending gallons of oil plunging toward the Louisiana coast. Brian Todd has the harrowing accounts of what happened in the immediate moments after that blast. Stand by.

And we're also standing by to hear from the Governor of Florida, Charlie Crist at a live statement he's about to make. What do Governor Charlie Crist's opponents on the democratic and republican side think about his decision potentially to bolt from the GOP and run as an independent? We'll get live reaction from both of them.

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

But first, the story of a remarkable woman, a civil rights pioneer. Today, many in the country's top dignitaries, including President Obama, gathered here in Washington, D.C. at the national cathedral to honor the late Dorothy Height. Our white house correspondent Dan Lothian has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT. A few words spoken at her funeral mass may not be enough to paint the complete picture of Dr. Dorothy Height's remarkable life. But most who were touched by her including President Obama needed to say only one thing -- thank you.

OBAMA: It's an unambiguous record of righteous work. Worthy of recognition. And yet one of the ironies is that year after year, decade in, decade out, Dr. Height went about her work quietly, without fanfare, without self-promotion.

LOTHIAN: She had plenty to brag about. Desegregating the YWCA, fighting to stop lynchings, spearheading voter registration drives, leading the National Council of Negro Women which fought hunger and helped find housing for struggling families.

OBAMA: What she cared about was the cause, the cause of justice, and the cause of equality, the cause of opportunity. Freedom's cause.

LOTHIAN: Even in her final days, the woman President Obama called god mother of the civil rights movement, was still fighting for that cause.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have always admired her as a lady, her charisma.

LOTHIAN: The civil rights icon rubbed shoulders with kings and presidents. She was there when the "I have a dream" speech was delivered in 1963, awarded the presidential medal of freedom in 1994 by President Bill Clinton and the Congressional gold medal ten years later by President George W. Bush. And she visited the white house 21 times, one final stop last month for an international women's day reception. But Dr. Height never lost sight of her mission, blazing trails and opening doors for people who didn't have a voice.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She taught us no matter what, things will get better and you just don't stop. You have to have the faith to keep on moving.


LOTHIAN: President Obama says she did not come to know Dr. Height in a personal way until the early days of his campaign, but that he and the first lady did come to love her stories, her smile and hats. And he joined many others today in celebrating her life. Wolf?

BLITZER: She was a wonderful, wonderful woman who did amazing work for the entire country. Thank you very much for that, Dan Lothian over at the white house.

We're standing by for an announcement. Could be a dramatic announcement from the Florida governor, Charlie Crist, about his plans potentially to abandon the Republican Senate primary. Means a potentially whole new ball game for his Republican opponent Marco Rubio. We'll hear from Rubio and the Democratic candidate in this race, Congressman Kendrick Meek. They will have live reaction to what Crist announces coming up in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're following the other important news, that dramatic growing oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico. The threat to the coastline is imminent, within the next few hours. That oil could be reaching the beaches of the gulf. We'll also bring you the stories from people who witnessed the explosion that lead to this spill.


BLITZER: You're looking at live pictures from St. Petersburg, Florida. We expect the governor of Florida, Charlie Crist, to go to the microphone pretty soon. He's supposed to do it a few minutes ago but he's not there yet. But he'll make his dramatic announcement, is he bolting from the GOP primary to run as an independent candidate? We'll have live coverage of that and get live reaction from his Republican challenger, Marco Rubio, and his Democratic challenger Kendrick Meek. They will have live reaction here in THE SITUATION ROOM as well.

In the meantime, a new warning to Iran's president from the United States not to disrupt a nuclear conference at the United Nations next week. The secretary of state Hillary Clinton says she doesn't know what Mahmoud Ahmadinejad plans to say at the meeting, which begins on Monday. Some believe he may use the conference to lobby against a new round of U.N. sanctions for his nuclear defiance. Secretary Clinton says she hopes instead that President Ahmadinejad embraces the goal of the meeting, limiting the spread of nuclear weapons.


HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: If President Ahmadinejad wants to come and announce that Iran will abide by their nonproliferation requirements under the NPT, that would be very good news indeed. And we would welcome that. But if he believes that by coming he can somehow divert attention from this very important global effort or cause confusion that might possibly throw into doubt what Iran has been up to about which I don't think there is any room for doubt, then I don't believe he will have a particularly receptive audience.


BLITZER: Iran has continued to reject international pressure to accept tighter restrictions on its nuclear program.

Let's go back to Lisa. She's monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM. What do you have, Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there Wolf. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is set to testify next week before a bipartisan panel investigating the root causes of the financial crisis. The Thursday hearing will focus on the so-called shadow banking system and how some financial companies were able to escape regulation. The financial crisis inquiry commission also will hear from former treasury secretary Henry Paulson and two former CEOs of Bear Sterns.

The government is recalling thousands of cribs warning they could put babies at risk of being strangled or suffocated. The targets of the recall, Simplicity full size cribs with tubular metal mattress support frames and Graco drop sided wooden cribs made by LaJobi, both brands have dangerous hardware problems. The Simplicity recall is linked to at least one death.

And meet the teacher of the year. She is Sarah Brown Wesley. You see her there. She teaches English at Johnston High School in Iowa. She got high prize from President Obama today. But the best compliment may have come from one of her students who was quoted by the president. The student said, in Wesley's class, no discussion is fruitless, no assignment pointless, and not one day was boring.

For the first time in history, women will be serving on U.S. navy submarines. A policy change effective today now permits women to work in what was an elite service open only to men since the start of modern navy's submarine program. The first women are expected on the job in the fall of 2011.

BLITZER: We wish them only the best and a good, successful career aboard the subs. Thank you very much, Lisa, for that.

Could corporate CEOs wind up in political ads come the next campaign cycle and how will that play in this year's midterm session? Our strategy session, James Carville, Kevin Madden are standing by.


BLITZER: Charlie Crist, the governor of Florida, is getting ready to come to the microphone up there in St. Petersburg, Florida, and tell us all whether or not he's leaving the GOP Republican primary and running as an independent for the U.S. Senate. We expect him to reach the microphones fairly soon we're told and we'll all be anxious to hear what he has to say. Let's talk about it with our CNN political contributors, Democratic strategist James Carville and Republican strategist Kevin Madden. Thank you very much for coming in. Before we get to Charlie Crist and some other stuff, you live in New Orleans. Tell us how worried the folks are in Louisiana right now about this oil slick that apparently is only hours away from reaching land.

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, it's awful. My good friend, who is the president of the parish, they were hit during the storm, having coastal erosion and there are a lot of hard-working people. This has the potential to economically ruin them. No fish, no crabs, no shrimp, no oysters, no anything, no recreation. I don't know what it's going to do to shipping. No one knows what it's going to come if a storm comes and you got all that crude sitting out there. Look, I can tell you this, base petroleum needs to change its name to Louisiana petroleum because we're going to own that company.

BLITZER: Economically it's a disaster. So much depends on that fishing industry and the beaches. CARVILLE: The beaches in the Mississippi coast, Alabama, Florida, but a beach you can fix. This marshland, it's going to be much, much more difficult. This is some of the most productive high quality area in the world, in the entire world, and you're going to see prices of shrimp skyrocket. Everybody is going to be eating those cheap Chinese immigration shrimp that they produce. I hope the wind course changes or something. We need a miracle.

BLITZER: My heart goes out to those folks along the entire gulf coast who only a few years ago were suffering from Katrina.

KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I worked with the Texas members and delegation down there. You learn very quickly that the Gulf of Mexico is such an important tributary for our economy. So just the economic impact that we're going to feel right now. Everything from food prices to oil prices for the simple fact that we're losing oil and that area is such a major part of shipping area.

CARVILLE: The commerce that comes up through the mouth of the river. I don't know what the effect is going to be. You know, we don't know but our hopes and prayers is out to everybody down there in those coastal parishes. And it's going to go all the way up. And between the storms, and losing a coastline, it's difficult.

BLITZER: Brian Todd is there, we'll be going there to get a live report. A lot more on this story. Our best wishes to the people on the coast. This is a real disaster unfolding right now. As I said, we're standing by to hear from Charlie Crist, the governor of Florida. He's going to announce whether or not he's dropping out of the GOP primary. Kevin, do we have any reason to believe that we might be surprised that he's not going to drop out of the Republican primary?

MADDEN: That would be the greatest head fake in politics if he changed his mind. It would have meant that every donor he called, every staffer said they were going to leave his campaign, he just recognized what it was going to be was a $6 million vanity play for the next few months. I expect him to step there and try to channel some sort of that populist independent rage out there and use it to his advantage against the Republicans and Democrats.

BLITZER: It looks like it could be a lively three-man race if it comes down to Charlie Crist as an independent, Marco Rubio as the Republican and Kendrick Meek, the Congressman as a Democrat.

CARVILLE: You know what? It's going to be fun to watch. It's going to be a great diversion. I was with Governor Jeb Bush Monday of this week, and I'll guarantee he's going to be fired up. He'll be for Rubio. The other people will be out there. I like our guy. Kendrick Meek is a heck of a guy; I contributed to his campaign openly, gladly. You know, we might have a shot here.

BLITZER: We're going to be speaking to Kendrick Meek here in THE SITUATION ROOM. He's making it already clear, James, that he will want President Obama to come down to Florida and campaign on his behalf. Is that smart? CARVILLE: Well, the calculation is somebody could win this thing with 35 percent, 37 percent, it can Jack up his turnout. He was for Mrs. Clinton.

MADDEN: If I was Marco Rubio, I would invite him down there for him. The fact that he's going to have to explain to the -- to the people of Florida that he believes in Barack Obama and the Democrat's spending positions, he believes in their taxation and big government when it comes to issues like health care, I think it's going to work for Marco Rubio.

CARVILLE: This is the lowest unemployment we've had in four years and these guys are going to be trying to explain away the --

BLITZER: Both of you know in a midterm election, the key is turnout, who is going to be energized, is the base going to come out.

MADDEN: That is a great point. That's why I believe that Governor Charlie Crist's best day as a candidate is today. The infrastructure that you need to get out the vote, the enthusiasm that you need inside a party apparatus to win is going to be gone the second he announces.

BLITZER: We're getting ready to hear from Governor Charlie Crist. Will he surprise us, won't he surprise us? That's coming up. Later, we'll get reaction from Marco Rubio and Kendrick Meek. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: There he is, the governor of Florida, Charlie Crist. He's been introduced. He's going to be speaking, I guess, right now, in the next minute or so. And he's going to tell us -- let's just listen in very quickly and see if he makes his announcement at the top or if he's going to thank a whole lot of people. If he starts thanking people, I want to move away from this.

GOV. CHARLIE CRIST (R), FLORIDA: But I first want to thank my family and my god. Thank god first, and to my mother -- wonderful mother and father. I can't thank you enough. Dad, talking to you. And mom, thank you, god bless you so much. To my beautiful wife, Carol, god bless you, sweetie, the first lady of Florida, god bless her. And my amazing three sisters, they're absolutely incredible and they are truly Charlie's angels along with Carol.

My decision to run for the United States Senate as a candidate without party affiliation in many ways says more about our nation and our state than it does about me. As someone who served the people in Florida more than 15 years, from the State Senate to the governor's mansion, I can confirm what most Floridians already know, unfortunately our political system is broken. I was never one who sought to hold elective office to demagogue or point fingers, for me, public service has always been about putting the needs of our state and our people first. And every single day as your servant I have tried to do exactly that. Frankly for me it's always been that simple. I haven't supported an idea because it's a Republican idea or it's a Democratic idea. I support ideas that I believe are good ideas for the people, for the people.

And I've always find -- always found that that's exactly what the people believe, too. They've had enough of political fighting. They're tired of the games and the name calling and the politics of destruction. And, my friends, I know they want progress and not gridlock. They are tired of things not getting done for them, for you. They want someone that's more concerned about standing up for them than standing up for special interests or party. They look at Washington, and they don't like what they see. They don't like what they see from politicians. They don't like what they see from bureaucrats. They don't like what they see from the gridlock. They have a hope. And they have a concern, and they have a desire to have people that will represent them, represent you, and fight for you first every single day. That's why I'm running for the U.S. Senate. That's why I run for this office for you. Frankly, the easy thing for me would have been to run for re-election as governor, but for me it's never been about doing what's easy. It's been about doing what's right for the people first.

And, my friends -- thank you. I love ya. I love ya. You know, I've made some tough decisions as your governor, and they all haven't been popular, but I've done them because I think they're what's right for the people and what's right for our state, whether it's offshore drilling, whether it's -- and stopping it, whether it's fighting for our teachers and our children and education. Whatever the issue might be, you know, expanding our -- hours for people to be able to vote back in 2008. Some didn't like that, but I believe in democracy and the people have the right to choose. Always.

Now, I could have chosen to stay in the primary, but frankly for me, it's your decision. It's not one club's decision or another or even a club within that club. It is a decision too important. It is a decision for all the people of Florida to be able to make, and so that's why we go straight to November. We give you the chance to make that decision. It's your decision to make. Now, I know -- I know this is unchartered territory. I am aware of that. And I am aware that after this speech ends, I don't have either party helping me. But I need you. I need you, the people, more than ever. And I guarantee you, I'm counting on you. I'm counting on you, and I believe in you. And you can believe in me, and I'll be with you forever. Forever. I think we need a new tone in Washington. I love my country. I love the fact that we are the land of the free and the home of the brave. That we have principles that are supposed to be stood for, that at the end of the day, even if we don't agree, we can agree to disagree, without being disagreeable.

Our country is better than what we see up there. I know it in my heart. I feel it in my soul. I prayed to my god about this, more than I usually talk to my father -- not you, dad. The other one. And I can tell you, from the bottom of my heart, I know we're doing the right thing. It's the right thing for America. It's the right thing for Florida. It's the right thing for people. God bless you for being here today. I'll never forget this, but we got to work hard. We got to win. We got to be organized, and we got to take this thing. God bless you and god bless Florida. Thank you so much. BLITZER: All right. So, you heard it. It's now official, the governor of Florida is no longer the Republican candidate for that primary for the U.S. Senate. He's now going to be running as an independent. It was fully expected, not a big surprise, but, still, it is now official. David Gergen is here, Gloria Borger is here. Let's assess what we've just heard in the ramifications and as we do, David, I want our viewers to know we'll be hearing shortly from Marco Rubio, the Republican candidate. We'll get his reaction. Also Kendrick Meek, the Democratic candidate, we'll get his reaction. But as we begin our assessment of what's going on, David Gergen, give us some perspective, because you heard him say the political system is broken.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, you know, it's almost a decade since the nation's eyes were on Florida in that bizarre ending to the election 2000 with bush and gore, and now we have another bizarre race that's opened up in Florida. And it's going to be a wide-open race. I still think Marco Rubio is favored. Charlie Crist is at this moment up in the polls, but the other thing, Gloria can talk about this, but we have this absolutely remarkable situation where Charlie Crist was 30 points ahead in the Republican primary.