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President Orders Review of Oil Disaster; Arizona Immigration Law to Change; Latino Voter Outrage; Spill Fuels Fears of New Drilling

Aired April 30, 2010 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Rick, thank you.

Happening now, the Gulf Coast on the brink of a major environmental disaster. Leaking oil is oozing for the shore despite an all-out effort to try to contain the spill. We're following this crisis on the ground, in the water, and from the air.

President Obama sends top officials to the spill zone and promises a full review of what went wrong. But there are still lots of questions about why the administration didn't sound the alarm sooner.

An Arizona political leader seemed to be having second thoughts about that tough immigration bill the governor signed only last week. We're going to tell you what they are now doing to try to address critics' fears of widespread racial profiling.

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

Strong winds and choppy water in the Gulf of Mexico right now could push a massive oil slick into coastal areas faster and deeper. Miles and miles of floating barriers are in place to try to contain the oil threatening the Louisiana coast as well as parts of Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi.

Florida's governor today declared a state of an emergency following the lead of Louisiana only the day before.

Obama administration officials in the spill zone say they're pushing BP -- that's the company that leased the leaking well -- to do more to clean up the spill and prevent a major environmental disaster.

It's been 10 days since the Deep Water Horizon drilling rig exploded in the gulf unleashing what the government says is about 5,000 barrels of oil a day. Today the president ordered a full review of the deadly accident and the spill.

Let's go to the White House. Our correspondent Dan Lothian is working the story for us.

All right, Dan, tell us the latest what this administration is trying to do to contain the spill.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, first of all, you know, a lot of people are asking whether or not the administration has done enough, whether they have acted quickly, but the administration really is defending their actions, saying that the morning after the accident Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes went to the region.

They also point out that the difficulty in all of this is that the situation has been very fluid and White House spokesman Robert Gibbs says anyone who says that the government is playing catch-up now is badly ill-informed.


LOTHIAN (voice-over): So concerned was the Obama administration of appearing ill-prepared for the Gulf Coast oil spill that for the second day in a row, the president commented on the government's response to the crisis during the remarks on unrelated subjects.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But we are fully prepared to meet our responsibilities to any and all affected communities.

LOTHIAN: After initially taking a less aggressive public approach in the hours after the spill --

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The Coast Guard has been directing their response to the leaking.

LOTHIAN: The White House is pushing hard to fully engage in the region and publicize its efforts. Aides released an early-morning e- mail detailing the administration's quick action. Then hours later the president walked into the Rose Garden and again repeated that he's dispatched key members of his Cabinet, including Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to the Gulf Coast.

OBAMA: And I expect their report from the ground today.

LOTHIAN: And apparently trying to dodge the political ramifications of being tagged with blame, the administration from the president on down hasn't missed an opportunity to point the finger at BP.

OBAMA: Bp is ultimately responsible.

GIBBS: BP, as the responsible party.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: BP as the responsible party.

LOTHIAN: As the response to the crisis intensifies, so too is the pressure from some lawmakers to scrap offshore drilling plans recently announced by President Obama. Senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez of New Jersey wrote a letter to the president asking him to reverse course.

Press Secretary Robert Gibbs says he hasn't seen the letter but added the White House will await for a review of the accident before deciding how it will impact all drilling decisions going forward.


LOTHIAN: Now the president has directed every deep-water platform be inspected. Now overall, who's in charge of this operation? It is BP but the federal government is overseeing it and Robert Gibbs said that they will continue to keep pressure on BP to make sure that the job gets done the right way -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dan Lothian, thanks very much. We're going to speak to the commandant of the Coast Guard shortly, Thad Allen, had an important interview with him.

But let's go to Democratic senator Bill Nelson of Florida right now. He's a long-time opponent of offshore oil drilling. He's urged the president to stop any new drilling in the wake of the Gulf spill.

Senator Nelson is joining us from Jacksonville right now.

Senator, thanks much for coming in.

SEN. BILL NELSON (D), FLORIDA: Good afternoon, Wolf.

BLITZER: Is there any evidence that any of this oil has reached any of the beaches or areas of Florida, your state?

NELSON: It's expected to Monday, Wolf. I was just in Pensacola this morning and those people are panicked. The world's most beautiful beaches, they -- all they can do is just be frightened that oil is going to be splashing up on their sugary white sands.

BLITZER: Is there anything that can be done to stop that from happening between now and Monday?

NELSON: I've talked to everybody that I can get my hands on in the government, including Admiral Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs. And they're bringing in the entire resources of the federal government.

The Navy is out there in support of the Coast Guard. They have the lead. They've got booms, they've got skimmers, they've done burns. The problem is that the waves are crashing over the booms so when you get a massive spill like this, the only thing you can really do is to try to cut off the oil and that's where the problem is.

Those safety devices did not work.

BLITZER: Who is to blame for this?

NELSON: Well, you've got to look to who manufactured the safety devices and who maintained them and who bears the responsibility. You've got these pistons that are supposed to drive together automatically when there's a blowout and then when that doesn't happen, further on the pipe is supposed to cut off -- they call it the dead man cut off. And if that doesn't work, then they are supposed to have a remote device, either through a signal acoustically or a submersible that goes down there and drive those pistons together and cut off the oil. And none of that has worked, Wolf.

BLITZER: The Obama administration, the president, announced a great fan fare only a month or so ago that he now supports offshore oil drilling, not only along the Atlantic coast but along the Florida coast as well.

You hated that decision, that announcement he made a month ago. Do you have any reason to believe he will backtrack now and say, you know what, it's never going to happen?

NELSON: I think he's going to have to face the reality that he's just not going to have the support with all of this catastrophe and monstrosity that's potentially going to happen. I mean, there's just no way that you can go and say that you want to drill up close to the shore.

At least the administration was kind enough -- Ken Salazar, the interior secretary -- they originally wanted to drill up to 75 miles off of Florida's Gulf Coast and I said, you know, we're not going to even consider it within 125 miles and we're not going to consider it unless the secretary of defense says that his test and training area isn't going to be impeded.

And, of course, the secretary's position is that you can't have oil rigs where new testing sophisticated weapons.

BLITZER: One final question because we're out of time. Should the president go even further and put a moratorium of freeze right now, suspend -- all offshore oil drilling on the west coast, the east coast, Alaska, every place else pending a complete investigation of what happened in the Gulf of Mexico?

NELSON: He should suspend the exploratory wells, Wolf.

BLITZER: What about the existing wells?

NELSON: Existing wells, I think you're OK. But it's the exploratory. That's what exploded this time. It was an exploratory well. It wasn't a producing well.

BLITZER: Senator Nelson, good luck to all the folks, not only in Florida, but along that Gulf coast. This is a horrendous situation. We're going to be speaking with Thad Allen, the commandant of the Coast Guard, and I know he has some strong views. He's the lead agency -- he's in charged of the lead agency involved right now.

Appreciate it, Senator.

NELSON: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: A week after that Arizona law was signed by the governor -- that tough immigration law -- state legislators are now addressing critics' worst fears about racial profiling. We're going to tell you about some changes that are in the works and whether they are likely to ease the outrage.

New terror arrests involving Americans accused of helping al Qaeda. We have new information.

It wasn't an act of violence. It was a planned explosion that you may want to see over again.


BLITZER: Arizona lawmakers are now responding directly to the heated controversy over whether the state's new immigration law is racist. In the wake of the brewing firestorm, the state legislature has now passed a series of changes to the law and the governor could approve them.

Let's go to Phoenix to get some more on what's going on. Casey Wian joining us.

What kind of changes, Casey, are they talking about?

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the changes are fairly subtle in the wording of the legislation but they are intended to address the concerns that you heard from protesters even before this legislation was passed by the state government here in Arizona that it would allow police to indiscriminately pull over people of color specifically Latinos in Arizona and check their immigration status.

What lawmakers have decided to do is they have taken some of the language in this bill to clarify it. The original law said that police could check someone's immigration status during a, quote, "lawful contact with that person."

Now a lot of folks said lawful contact was fairly vague. It could mean police officers could stop anyone at any time. So the lawmakers changed that, that it can only now question someone's immigration status after a lawful stop, detention or arrest. So that takes the sort of indiscriminate walking-down-the street off of the table.

Lawmakers also removed one word from a key phrase on this bill about racial profiling. They removed the word "solely" from the phrase about authorities investigating complaints that are based solely on race, color, or national origin. That of course is to deal with the concerns of racial profiling.

Now lawmakers worked late into the night last night, the last day of the legislation, to craft these changes. We spoke earlier today with the original author of the bill so he could explain why the changes were made.


RUSSELL PEARCE (R), ARIZONA STATE SENATE: It's simply a clarification. It's a better bill. There's not a bill passed that can't get better. I've never seen a bill perfect. You could always improve on anything. But we're going to just take the wind out of the sail of the ACLU, MALDEF and the far-left anti-American organization that continue to sue any time you want to enforce the law.


WIAN: Now Senator Pearce says he fully expects Arizona governor Jan Brewer will also sign that revised legislation within the next several days.

Now Phoenix Police Department held a news conference just a couple of hours ago saying that this law still is confusing. They are worried that their officers won't know whether they should enforce federal law as it's interpreted by the Phoenix Police Department or state law.

They say there could be subject to lawsuits either way, Wolf. So still a lot of confusion here.

BLITZER: And the governor will probably sign it but the mayor of Phoenix, he still hates this law, right?

WIAN: Absolutely. And he says he's going along with some of these efforts we've seen by groups like the ACLU which is planning to file a lawsuit. Religious organizations, which has already filed lawsuits, they want this law stopped. They say it's a drain on police resources and they're worried that Latinos and other -- and immigrants, illegal or legal immigrants, are going to be afraid to cooperate with police in other investigations.

BLITZER: Casey Wian on the streets for us in Phoenix. Thanks, Casey, very much.

This note, the National Urban League has announced that it's suspending consideration of Phoenix as the site of its 2012 annual conference league. President Marc Morial is comparing the law -- he's comparing this law to South Africa's apartheid era and says it invites racial profiling.

The league will reconsider Phoenix should the law be repealed or overturned. A strong statement from the National Urban League and Marc Morial.

The Arizona controversy coupled with growing concerns that President Obama isn't doing enough to push for comprehensive immigration reform is making for some frustrating times for many Latino voters in the United States.

So what if -- what if -- they take these frustrations to the polls this November or they simply stay home all together?

CNN's Dan Simon has the story.


DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We're at a restaurant in Chicago's little village neighborhood. Obama territory. So Democrats might be alarmed to hear comments like this from Enrique, the waiter. ENRIQUE, WAITER: When I see, you know, the change, probably I'm not going to go and vote for him. I'll probably vote for somebody else.

SIMON: The next presidential election in 2012 is a long ways off but many Latinos are pressing for action now to overhaul the nation's immigration laws, as Obama promised in his election campaign.

And the president last week urged Congress to move on legislation that would, quote, "secure our borders and set clear rules and priorities for future immigration."

Chicago congressman Luis Gutierrez, a Democrats, says he's party needs a wakeup call and it could come in November's midterm congressional elections.

REP. LUIS GUTIERREZ (D), ILLINOIS: I don't want a Latino community that is growing in power and influence and number disrespected simply because the Democratic Party believes they have nowhere else to go because the Republicans treat us so poorly. They do. They can abstain. They can decide not to vote.

SIMON: And what would that mean?

VICTORIA DEFRANCESCO SOTO, NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY: Democrats are going to lose seats if Latinos stay home. Not just Latino representatives but representatives in mixed districts that have Latinos in there that are going to suffer.

SIMON: Back in Mia Terra, restaurant manager Alfredo Lopez says he's hurt that the White House hasn't done more to make immigration reform a national priority especially now that one border state has taken matters into its own hands with a new law critics say will empower police to engage in racial profiling while cracking down on illegal immigration.

ALFREDO LOPEZ, MIA TERRA RESTAURANT MANAGER: I think and I hope that the laws that are being changed in, for example, in Arizona, it's devastating to the way this country was built.

SIMON: The Democrats are in charge of both the House and Senate in Washington. And if they don't fulfill expectations for immigration reform before November's elections, will Latinos make them pay at the polls?

LOPEZ: I think there are going to be less voters based on not delivering on what the promise was. And I think it will keep on minimizing the trust. Right now it's a time to deliver what was promised.

SIMON: Dan Simon, CNN, reporting.


BLITZER: The former Alaska governor and GOP heavyweight Sarah Palin -- she's now, just moments ago, started weighing in on the massive oil slick that is threatening the Gulf Coast. Has it altered her position on drilling? You're going to want to hear what she is now saying. Stand by.

And we'll tell you why Alaska's tallest structure was just demolished.


BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Lisa, what else is going on?


Well, the Justice Department says two New York men suspected of providing material support to al Qaeda overseas have been arrested. The men, both U.S. citizens, have been indicted for allegedly conspiring to provide computer advice as well as currency to the terrorist group.

They appeared in a Virginia federal court this afternoon. If convicted, they could face 15 years in prison.

New troubles for embattled Wall Street firm Goldman Sachs. Shares of the company stock plummeted following reports that the Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation into mortgage security deals that it arranged.

Inquiry follows civil fraud charges brought by the SEC in connection with the 2006 and 2007 transactions.

And one day after the last in a series of contentious televised debate, the UK race for prime minister, well, it's up for grabs. In a new poll published today the gap between the three front-runners is in a statistical dead heat.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair hit the campaign trail today for his successor, Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Britain's national election is Thursday.

And take a look at this. What you are watching is a demolition of Alaska's tallest structure. See it there. Using explosives, the Coast Guard brought down this 1300 foot navigation tower. There it goes.

The structure was completed in 1961 and was part of the maritime and flight communication system.

But it is no more, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, the Coast Guard, they're busy right now. They're also very busy in the Gulf of Mexico.


BLITZER: We're going to be speaking to the commandant momentarily. He's outspoken on what is going on right now. Stand by for that, Lisa. Thank you. As crews scramble to contain the oil spill in the gulf, is Sarah Palin sticking by her motto drill baby drill? We're going to tell you what the former Alaska governor is now saying about this disaster.

And we'll also get a firsthand look at the spill fighting operation. We're going to see where the first layers of oil will reach land.

And the president welcomes new evidence that the recession is over. At least on paper. Does it take some of the pressure off of him to keep jump-starting the economy?


BLITZER: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, we're on the frontlines of that massive oil spill now pushing deeper and deeper toward Louisiana's coast, perhaps the entire Gulf Coast.

Brian Todd has the firsthand look at the first areas to be hit. Stand by.

Despite the headlines created by Arizona's new immigration law, many people are struggling to cross the Mexico border into the United States illegally. So you might be surprised by some of the dangerous ways they're trying to do it.

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

The former Alaska governor Sarah Palin has just spoken out about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. She isn't backing off of her very vocal support of new fuel exploration.

In an online statement, Palin writes, and I'm quoting her, "I repeat the slogan, drill here, drill now, not out of the naivete or disregard for the tragic consequences of oil spills. My family and my state and I know firsthand those consequences. I continue to believe in it because increased domestic oil production will make us a more secure, prosperous, and peaceful nation."

That's just coming in from Sarah Palin.

In Louisiana right now, the Governor Bobby Jindal says emergency crews are doing everything they can to protect the state's fragile coastline from that massive oil slick. The state National Guard troops are trying to make some preparations right now in case they're formally called up to help.

Governor Jindal has asked the Defense Department to approve funding for the deployment of 6,000 National Guard troops.

Our Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence is joining us now with more on what the U.S. military is doing on the ground, in the air, at sea to deal with this enormous crisis.


CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, both the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Navy have been already sent assets down there to help with the cleanup effort.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates today authorized two C-130 planes to begin -- to start flying over that area as soon as the weather allows them to. Now these C-130s are equipped with what's called a modular aerial spray system.

What it does, think back when you saw those planes going over the wildfires out west. Somewhat like that. But these are a little different in that they shoot the special chemical from the side in more of a focused pattern and what that does is that chemical will allow it to break up some of the oil that is collecting on the surface of the water.

The U.S. Navy has already sent more than 60,000 feet of that inflatable boom. What that is used for is to try to rope off some of the oil spill, trying to collect in certain areas or to keep it from going closer to shore, depending on how it's deployed.

The Navy has also sent seven skimming systems. So what those do, they're kind of -- they're towed behind what you would think of as a boat. And what that does is kind of skim the oil off the surface and then it's rung through sort of a ringer. Think about like if you were at home and you got a dirty mop and you kind of squeeze it out trying to squeeze out the oil separating that oil and the water. Wolf?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: What are the plans for the National Guard to get involved?

LAWRENCE: The navy has sent 50 civilian contractors down there to help. Governor Jindal, as you mentioned, has put in a request to pay for about 6,000 national guardsmen for the next three months, which is pretty much what they are looking at in terms of the cleanup effort. What this means is that Governor Jindal has the power to mobilize his national guard anytime he wants. He could do it today, he could have done it yesterday, or the day before. This is a matter of who is going to pay for it. The letter that he wrote to the secretary of defense is basically saying, we'd like the pentagon to pay for up to 90 days, fund these guys for 90 days to do their work and then ultimately I think whether it's from the state of Louisiana or the department of the defense, that bill is going to get passed on to the BP company.

BLITZER: Chris Lawrence over at the Pentagon working this story for us. Thank you.

The coast guard certainly has been at the forefront of the federal government's response to this massive oil spill. And joining us now, Thad Allen. He's the commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard. Commandant, how significant is this oil spill in the scheme of things.

ADM. THAD ALLEN, U.S. COAST GUARD COMMANDANT: Wolf, it's very, very significant. I've been doing oil spill response over 30 years and this is the most complex response that I've ever been involved in for a lot of reasons, not only on the water but because the source is 5,000 feet down on the bed.

BLITZER: How many barrels a day are gushing out?

ALLEN: There's been a lot of talk about that. Earlier on we said a thousand. Now we're saying 5,000. I think everybody needs to understand we're watching from a video relay from a remote operated vehicle of a product that's escaping from a pipe and we're trying to make an estimate and trying to estimate how much to recover on the top. I think 5,000 barrels a day is a good estimate for now but I think we need to understand, we could have something catastrophic happen down there. We need to be prepared for the worst case scenario and that's where we're headed.

BLITZER: Because you saw the story in the Wall Street Journal that maybe it could go up to 25,000 barrels a day.

ALLEN: Wolf, what we need to do is try to stop the leakage and hold what we've got. The first course of action would make the blow out preventer work. That's an automatic valve that's supposed to close that either didn't close or only closed partially. Absent that, we need to try to control the leakage and BP is looking at putting copper dams over the source of the leaks and piping that oil to the surface. That's a challenge because they're trying to engineer the fittings that are half operated at 5,000 feet. Another novel thing we looked at today we're going to be testing is actually putting a pipe down to the source of the leakage and putting dispersants on it as it actually exits the pipe and see if we can't make it disperse in the water column before it hits the surface but the long-term fix is going to be to drill a relief well and relieve the pressure and cap the existing well.

BLITZER: That could take weeks if not months, isn't that right?

ALLEN: That's correct.

BLITZER: And in the meantime the environmental disaster to the coast to the whole marshland all the wildlife there, everything else, it's going to be horrible.

ALLEN: The big factor here is and I think the public needs to understand, I think there may be a perception out there that we're changing the estimates and we don't know what is going on. We know exactly what is going on. We're getting up to date satellite imagery and projections from NOAA. What's happening is Mother Nature gets a vote and the wind is changing and it moves the slick in different direction and sometimes and sometimes it's not. Right now it's not favorable because the wind is out of the south and southeast. Had it continued where it was a couple of days ago it very well could have impacted the Mississippi or Alabama coastline. And so we have a huge amount of are resources. The question is trying to understand where it's going to come ashore and be ready when it does and that's what we're doing.

BLITZER: You're a straight talker. Who do you blame for this disaster?

ALLEN: I'm not in the blame game right now Wolf because I'll tell you why. There's a dual investigation that has been impaneled. One from Minerals Management Service and one by the coast guard under the signature of both Secretary Salazar and Secretary Napolitano. We need to understand what happened on the drilling side of this on the well head. We also need to understand what happened on the ship. Because we don't know the source of the explosion. We don't know why the blowout preventer did not work. Because of that, we've committed to do a joint investigation together with total transparency and produce a set of facts for both the interior and homeland security which will identify the source of the problem. But it's going to be very complex, boarding on some of the very complex investigations that the National Transportation Safety Board does.

BLITZER: Bottom line, your worst case fear, this could be worse than the Exxon Valdez?

ALLEN: Well, total loss of that well head with a pipe going down 18,000 feet to a reservoir is not something that I don't think anybody wants to think about but we have to consider and be ready for it in a worst case. The Exxon Valdez was about 11,000, excuse me, 11 million gallons but it was on a fixed ship, we knew the size of it and we knew exactly what we were dealing with and while it was bad, it was measurable. The problem here is we have a leak that's uncontrolled right now leading to a source of oil that's not infinite, but it's very, very large there. We're not going to know the total impact on the oil release until we actually shut it down. In the meantime, we're trying to prevent as much oil loss as possible.

BLITZER: Commandant, good luck to all the men and women who are working with you. Good luck to everyone involved. The stakes here are enormous.

ALLEN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: This just in to CNN, the U.S. coast guard now saying it is responding to an overturned oil rig in an inland canal near Morgan City, Louisiana. The rig is not leaking fuel at this time the Coast Guard says but 500 feet of containment boom has been deployed around the rig as a precaution. We will update you as soon as we get more information. Another worrisome development and remember what Senator Bill Nelson of Florida told us at the top of this hour, they now expect the oil from the Gulf of Mexico to start reaching the beaches of Florida by Monday. We're watching all of this. This is a significant story, much more coming up.

You may not believe some of the ways that illegal immigrants are trying to sneak into the United States. We're going to tell you just how desperate they are getting, including smuggling a child inside a pinata.

And you're going to find out if your car is at risk for catching fire. Details ahead of a brand-new recall. Stand by.


BLITZER: Let's check back with Lisa. She's monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What do you have Lisa? LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we begin with a new warning for Honda owners. The automaker is recalling 167,000 from its luxury Acura division because of risk of fire in the engine compartment. The recalled vehicles are TSX sedans with 2.4 liter, 4 cylinder engines from 2004-2008 model years. Honda is urging owners to contact the company to have the effective steering fluid hoses repaired.

And no word yet on whether Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be coming to the United States next week. The State Department says it's processing and granting some of the visas requested by the Iranian delegation to come to next week's nuclear nonproliferation treaty conference in New York but it isn't providing details on whether or not Ahmadinejad is one of them.

And the Thai hospital has evacuated patients and suspended all but emergency surgeries after becoming the latest target of anti- government protesters. As many as 100 so called red shirts stormed the hospital looking for troops they believed were inside. The protestors are demanding that the prime minister step down and the parliament be dissolved.

We know that he's a cycling legend and a cancer survivor. Now Lance Armstrong is ready for a new challenge. It's his fifth child. He revealed that his girlfriend will give birth in October. He made the announcement on twitter. He's even set up a twitter account for his expectant child under the name Cinco Armstrong. I can imagine what the first tweet is going to be. I have arrived.

BLITZER: I guess he's going to have a lot of followings at some point. Thanks very much Lisa for that.

It's a controversial new book. I'll ask the author, the former Ohio secretary of state, Ken Blackwell why he says President Obama has a plan to subvert the constitution. He's here with Paul Begala in our strategy session. Stand by.

And you're going to want to hear why some U.S. war veterans are now training to run for political office.


BLITZER: Let's get to our strategy session. Right now joining us our CNN political contributor, the Democratic strategist, Paul Begala, and the former Republican Ohio secretary of state, Ken Blackwell. He once was the mayor of Cincinnati. He is now with the Family Research Council. He's the co-author of a brand new book, look at it, "The Blueprint, Obama's Plan to Support the Constitution and Build an Imperial Presidency." Guys, thank you very much for coming in. Wow. Give me one example of how the president of the United States is trying to subvert the constitution.

KEN BLACKWELL, CO-AUTHOR, THE BLUEPRINT: Obama care. And the individual mandate that is flashed right in the face. It was one thing for the government to regulate, you know, economic transactions. It's another thing to say, you must, under the penalty of law, buy health care. BLITZER: Is that a subversion of the constitution?

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Only if you excise article one section eight which is congress has the power to levy and collect taxes, fees and duties to provide for the common defense and promote the general welfare. Well this is the general welfare. It's a tax. It's a mandate. We've mandated the participation of Medicare. We've mandated the participation in social security. It's completely constitutional. I have to say, I've wrote a lot of books attacking President Bush and I respect descent is always patriotic and Ken is a patriot but I do worry that some of this is over the top. This president taught the constitution. He swore to preserve the constitution and his health care bill is totally constitutional. It may be bad policy in your eyes but it's straight out of article one section eight of the constitution.

BLACKWELL: Let me give you another example. He had basically nominated Goodwin Lu to the ninth circuit. Goodwin Lu has basically said, anybody who believes in the original intent of the constitution should not be elevated to the Supreme Court. The constitution, from the originalist point of view, is the big road block, big wall in the middle of the road to the president's attempt to grow central government, to the detriment of individuals, individual families, and to the detriment of states. That's why you have 14 attorneys general challenging the constitutionality of Obama care.

BLITZER: But the Supreme Court could adjudicate whether something is or is not constitutional.

BLACKWELL: I think what you are locked up on is to subvert, which is to undermine the principles on. And I'm saying to you that his whole approach is to undermine the principals of the constitution. This is not saying that he's a tyrant. It's basically saying, look, this country was fashioned in a way to avoid a monarchy and what he's trying to do is give us a 21st monarchy by strengthening and expanding the power of the executive branch.

BEGALA: The power of the federal government has been expanded much more by the right frankly than President Obama ever has been. Many on the left and the right didn't like President Bush's patriot act. No serious scholar of the constitution can respect for example Bush versus Gore where the state of Florida had a system to count votes and for one time only to put Bush in the white house and the Supreme Court said we the federal government is going to overrun the state of Florida. The federal government came in, obviated the state law and it's way more from the right wing.

BLACKWELL: I have no obligation to write the book. This book deals with 21 counts, not only of unconstitutional actions but of bad policy that will drive us to a government lead economy.

BLITZER: It's one thing to criticize the policies and you certainly criticized the Bush administration's policies but it's another to suggest anti-American, if you will.

BLACKWELL: Who said he's anti-American. That is a not anti-American. What I'm saying to you is the anti-individual liberty. It's anti- families wanting to make their decisions on how to govern their lives at the kitchen table and they don't like big government telling them how to run their lives and that's what the book deals with.

BEGALA: First off I think frankly, I think books like this are good for Barack Obama. Because many of his critics are going off the deep end. They are going off to the far fringe of the extreme. There's a poll out. 67 percent of Republicans say that Barack Obama is a socialist. 57 percent say that he's a Muslim. 38 percent say that he does many of the things that Adolf Hitler did and 24 percent say that he may be the anti-Christ. Now when one out of four Republicans believes that our president is the anti-Christ they've gone off.

BLITZER: We're out of time. Make your final point.

BLACKWELL: I think anybody who loves liberty and the tradition of our constitutional of the Democratic Republican ought to leave this book. In fact, we can engage in the debate.

BEGALA: You don't think he's anti-Christ. You don't. Call them out on it.

BLACKWELL: Well, I guess you haven't seen any of my criticisms of the left and the right. When they are off base. But I will tell you right now, this book is what you ought to read because it's a about a battle for the constitution and its original intent.

BLITZER: The book is entitled "The Blueprint," thank you very much for coming in.

BLACKWELL: Good to be in.

BLITZER: As the nation day debates tougher laws on immigration, illegal immigrants are going to new extremes to try to smuggle themselves into the United States. Just ahead, their desperate and often dangerous tactics.

And we're covering the oil disaster from all angles. An up-close look at how the floating barriers that are supposed to contain the oil are holding up.


BLITZER: Some Americans who have served their country in uniform are now hoping to serve it in another way. Does military combat prepare you for a Congressional campaign? Here's our pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Tom Wesley and Tommy Sowers, two military veterans, two ready to serve their country again. This time on the political battlefield. Both are in tough races for Congressional house seats. Tom Wesley, a Republican in Massachusetts, Tommy Sowers, a Democrat in Missouri. Both, more alike than different. Campaigning, they say, with an independent voice. TOMMY SOWERS (D), MISSOURI CONG. CANDIDATE: The great thing about running in 2010 is there is so much demand for new blood out there.

TOM WESLEY (R), MASSACHUSETTS CONG. CANDIDATE: You know, I think this is going to be a watershed year in 2010. I think we're going to look back at this 30 years from now and say this was the year that America took control of Congress.

SOWERS: Everywhere I go, I introduce myself, I'm Tommy Sowers, I'm a veteran running for Congress and I'm running to get new blood in D.C. and everyone shakes their head and says it's about time.

WESLEY: I think what people are looking for is an independent- oriented voice. I'm beholden to no party as a Republican or Democrat.

STARR: We met them at this workshop run by a veterans campaign, a nonpartisan group that trains veterans to run for office, veterans from around the country here to learn how to win from longtime political operatives.

JAY PARKER, WORKSHOP PANELIST: You have to be the one most visible and in control of the message.

STARR: Jay Parker who worked on Democratic campaigns warns the vets they want more than a candidate with war stories, so what does it take to win?

PARKER: The veterans who can connect their experience to broader issues and show an understanding of concerns about health care, about -- about education, about community renewal.

STARR: Sowers served as a green beret in Iraq, he thinks he can connect in a Democrat in a region of Missouri where Rush Limbaugh grew up.

SOWERS: I ride my truck like a NASCAR truck and I've got my dog in here and we do this thing called boots on the ground, where there's 28 counties, I spend a day and a night in each county.

STARR: Wesley, a Republican, served in the navy in the 1980s. He's a long-shot candidate trying to appeal to the change voter and the tea party influence.

WESLEY: I think there will be 40, 50, 60 or more freshmen coming in and that's going to be the effective third party that some of the tea party people are looking for.

STARR: Tommy Sowers doesn't disagree when looking at his Missouri race.

SOWERS: So you've got a Republican incumbent being challenged by a tea party candidate in the Republican primary. There's an independent tea party candidate that's collecting enough signatures to be on the general election ballot. I'm unopposed as the Democrat.

STARR: Senators like John McCain and John Kerry campaigned very successfully on their war records. But the number of veterans in Congress has been declining. This new generation hopes they can offer a broader appeal and win on Election Day.

Barbara Starr, CNN, the pentagon.


BLITZER: That massive oil spill is inching deeper and deeper and deeper toward the Louisiana coast. Where will it hit? We're going to get the latest forecast. Stand by.