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Congressman and Sheriff Debate New Arizona Immigration Law; RNC Chairman Michael Steele Defends Arizona Immigration Law; Latino Voters Want Promised Immigration Reform; Poland Emerges from Tragedy; Greece Facing Financial Collapse?

Aired May 1, 2010 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Illegal immigration on the front burner and Arizona's new law under fire. As protesters rally across the nation, we'll hear from two outspoken figures in this emotional debate.

Also, the former first lady Laura Bush's startling claim that President Bush and she were poisoned during a 2007 trip to Germany. The former Bush homeland security adviser, Fran Townsend, gives us the back story.

And President Obama in league with geeks and rock stars. "Time" magazine's "100 Most Influential People" revealed.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

BLITZER: Right now, the state of Arizona is facing the threat of a boycott and nationwide protests over its new and very tough immigration law. This week, state lawmakers responded to the outrage by moving to soften the bill somewhat, hoping to ease fears that it would open the door to racial profiling, but that may not satisfy critics or stem the intense national debate over the law and how the federal government should respond.


Joining us now, Congressman Xavier Becerra of California. He's one the House Democrats urging the Obama administration to challenge the law and to promote comprehensive immigration reform. Also with us, the Pinal County sheriff in Arizona, Paul Babeu. He's a vocal supporter of Arizona's new law. Gentlemen, thanks to both of you for coming in.

Congressman Becerra, has the Obama administration done enough to protect the borders along -- the borders with Mexico?

REP. XAVIER BECERRA (D), CALIFORNIA: Wolf, they've done more than any president has in the past, but certainly, we can continue to do more because there is growing violence emanating from Mexico. So I don't think anyone thinks we've done enough. But certainly, this president has done more than any president before him.

BLITZER: Do you agree with that, Sheriff? SHERIFF PAUL BABEU, PINAL COUNTY, ARIZONA: Absolutely not. In fact, President Bush had deployed 6,000 soldiers to the border, and I was honored to serve as one of them. And that's why Senator McCain and John Kyl proposed 3,000 soldiers to the border, and in fact, that's exactly what we need. And you wouldn't have sheriffs and law enforcement leaders actually calling for troops to help us address the crime situation in our state if that wasn't the case.

BLITZER: The argument, Congressman Becerra, that they're making, the supporters of this new law in Arizona, is that it's just a dangerous situation -- violence along the border, illegal immigrants coming in, the federal government not doing enough. They had to take the ball into their own court. What's wrong with that argument, Congressman?

BECERRA: Well, there's nothing wrong with an argument if you want to help -- or if you want to protect yourself or do something to help protect your citizens. It does become a problem when you try to do that in a way that's unconstitutional, and that's what this would be. It would be an unconstitutional invasion of people's privacy rights and also a violation of the 4th Amendment.

So there's nothing wrong with Arizonans trying to protect themselves lawfully and there's nothing wrong with local law enforcement trying to protect its citizens. It's just that when you start to go into federal law and do it in ways that cause racial profiling and violate the Constitution that there's a problem.

BLITZER: Can you do -- implement this law, Sheriff, without racial profiling?

BABEU: Absolutely. And with due respect to our congressman, this is a mirror copy of the federal law that we just made as a state law. And it's a class one misdemeanor here in Arizona.

And how we work in law enforcement, we do not profile. Every day, our officers across America respond to emergencies or calls for service, and we put all those building blocks of reasonable suspicion and probable cause in order to respect the 4th Amendment and our Constitution, and we take lawful action.

BECERRA: Wolf...

BABEU: I have 200 of my staff that are Hispanic, and a third of our population. So clearly, we're going to do so with due regard as the protectors of our community.

BLITZER: Congressman, you disagree with that. Go ahead.

BECERRA: I respect the sheriff and I applaud him for his service and I thank him for his service because we need folks who will stand up to help protect our citizens. But Sheriff, there's no way you can tell me how you're going to determine when someone is unlawfully in this country without profiling. There is nothing about someone that the Constitution would say you could do to try to determine whether someone has the right to walk on a street or not. The law permits any law enforcement official in the state of Arizona who makes contact, lawful contact, with an individual. That means we could be crossing paths on a street, making contact, so long as they don't do it illegally, allows that officer to then ask questions. On what basis? We don't know. And so while he may not have any concerns about it, maybe he will enforce the law, Wolf, we know that this is far from constitutional. And we've gone through things like "separate but equal" and other things that people say are OK...

BABEU: Well...

BLITZER: Go ahead, Sheriff.


BECERRA: ... constitutional.

BLITZER: Go ahead Sheriff.

BABEU: Well, here in Arizona -- and we've been stopping cars and -- for a primary purpose, and just last night, we had deputies stopping vehicles for speeding or for other violations. And when we have contact, here's what reasonable suspicion is. If I ask you for your driver's license, registration and proof of insurance, as we do with every motorist, it -- now, if you don't give us an Arizona or another state's driver's license, and say it's a Mexican national driver's license or I.D., that gets us to the point now. That's a clue in law enforcement when we can ask, Hey, where are you from? Do you have permanent...

BLITZER: But Sheriff, let me...

BABEU: ... residency here, not...


BLITZER: Sheriff, let me though out a hypothetical to you.

BABEU: Yes, sir.

BLITZER: You got a bunch of guys who are standing on a street corner, day laborers. Can you just go over there? If they're peaceful, they're just standing by, waiting for a truck, let's say, can you go over there and ask for their papers?

BABEU: Well, here that -- always, there's a lawful purpose and a contact that for us to go out there and do that -- that's a little bit of a stretch. And here...

BECERRA: That's a lawful contact, Sheriff. That's a lawful contact.

BABEU: It is a lawful contact. In fact, we have border patrol...

BECERRA: That gives you a right to ask...

BABEU: ... and ICE...

BECERRA: ... the people who are standing whether they are here legally or not.

BABEU: Absolutely...

BECERRA: And why would you ask somebody who's standing as a day laborer and not standing in front of Macy's department store? What's the difference?

BABEU: Well, here -- here's where -- Arizona happens to be a border state, and when we've had literally hundreds of thousands of people who are here illegally -- and this is the key word...

BECERRA: I respect that. No one contests that, Sheriff. We agree with you on that, and we understand the frustration and the fear of folks in Arizona. But that doesn't give us the right to violate citizens' constitutional rights. I want you to go after the folks who are trying to harm the citizens in Arizona, or the citizens of California...

BABEU: And what's...

BECERRA: ... but I want you to do it lawfully.

BABEU: Absolutely, and we do everything lawfully. And then the fear is that...

BECERRA: But you can make a lawful contact...

BABEU: ... that certain people put out...

BECERRA: ... at any point.

BABEU: ... all the time that -- referring to law enforcement here in Arizona as jackboot thugs and all these other extreme...

BECERRA: I've never said that.

BABEU: ... descriptions.

BECERRA: Nor would I do that.

BABEU: You haven't said that. Absolutely. And this is where we ask people...

BLITZER: But I want to be precise, Sheriff.

BLITZER: On the hypothetical -- it's a hypothetical, a bunch of guys standing on a street corner, waiting to get a job, hoping that some guy will pull up with a truck and say, We're going to go out and do this work, is that reasonably suspicious enough for you to say, I want to see your papers? BABEU: It's reasonable enough to have a conversation with a person and to establish -- absolutely, for here in Arizona, where this is...

BLITZER: Even if they're peaceful and they're not doing anything wrong, they're just standing there?

BABEU: Well, there are laws currently...


BABEU: ... in Arizona for people who are standing on the street. And this is where we have had issues like this throughout Arizona, where there could be 10, 20 people who are standing, that it's a law currently that people cannot go and pick up illegal immigrants and take them to jobs or to work. And this is where -- why are we here in this situation, in this crisis?

BLITZER: Congressman...

BABEU: Here -- in law enforcement, people trust us with doing everything from making an arrest...

BECERRA: Sheriff, no one challenges...

BABEU: ... and suspend somebody's -- law enforcement...

BECERRA: Sheriff, no one challenges your good faith. That's not the point here. And we want you to do what you can to avoid the death of another rancher in Arizona or the harm to any Arizonan.

BABEU: Or police officers.

BECERRA: We want to help you with that.

BABEU: We -- we have had...

BECERRA: And we would...


BECERRA: ... give you more police officers, the Cops on the Beat program. But what we don't want...

BABEU: Well, no, you haven't.

BECERRA: ... is for my father to be pulled over because while he was born in this country, he grew up in Mexico and his English is still broken, and he probably has an appearance that might cause someone to say...

BLITZER: All right...

BECERRA: ... he may not be here legally.

(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: Hold that thought for a second because we got...

BABEU: Sure.

BLITZER: ... we're out of time. But a quick question, Congressman Becerra. Do you support a boycott of Arizona?

BECERRA: If the Arizona politicians think this is courageous leadership, then I am one of those who believes that Arizona -- its leadership is telling me it doesn't want my business. I love folks in Arizona, but...

BABEU: Then, Congressman, what's your solution to this? What's your solution to this?

BECERRA: We have to have sensible immigration laws so you can go to the business of arresting people who are harming folks in your community...


BECERRA: ... and go after the crime in your community and let us deal with, as you said, beefed-up border enforcement...

BABEU: Are you going to send...


BABEU: ... soldiers to the border to stop the flow of hundreds of thousands of people who are coming across our unsecured border...


BECERRA: We need to send you more law enforcement authority to take care of the border. Absolutely. And that way, you can focus your taxpayer-funded police officers on crime in your community. Absolutely.

BLITZER: All right, guys...

BABEU: That's why we have done this. In the absence of federal action, we have had that...

BECERRA: And Wolf, there's the answer. And Wolf, there's the answer. See, I don't -- I don't -- I'm not going to...

BLITZER: All right...

BECERRA: ... judge what the sheriff or others are trying to do. They're trying to deal with the frustration and anger that's out there, and the fear.

BABEU: Absolutely.

BECERRA: We got to take care of that. That's why we need to act here now to resolve these broken immigration laws. BLITZER: Congressman and Sheriff...

BABEU: Then I'd ask you to support the Senator McCain and Kyl plan that literally brings it -- and this is more important than senate bill 1070, in my opinion. If we stop the flow of illegal immigration, then some day, we can have a more meaningful discussion about what we do with the...


BLITZER: And Sheriff, we got to leave it right there...

BABEU: You bet.

BLITZER: ... but it's a good discussion. And we'd love to have you both back, if you're willing. Appreciate it very much.

BABEU: Absolutely.

BECERRA: Thank you. Thanks, Sheriff.


BLITZER: The Arizona law is creating problems for Republicans. Some are praising it, but some are very critical. We'll talk about the divide with the GOP chairman, Michael Steele.

Plus, Poland reeling from tragedy. How stable is the government in the wake of that plane crash that killed the president and so many of the country's top leaders? The Polish foreign minister joins us right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: More now on Arizona's crackdown on illegal immigrants. The state's controversial new law is dividing Republicans. I talked about that and more with the party chairman, Michael Steele. We also spoke about the Florida Senate race. That was just before the governor, Charlie Crist, announced his independent bid.


Mr. Chairman, thanks very much for coming in.

MICHAEL STEELE, RNC CHAIRMAN: Good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: As you know, the former Florida governor, Jeb Bush -- Marco Rubio is running for the U.S. Senate from Florida, another Republican -- they're among an increasing chorus of Republicans thinking, Well, maybe the Arizona law is a mistake. What does Michael Steele, the former lieutenant governor of Maryland, say about that?


STEELE: Well, Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, understands that the realities right now for the country, as reflected in Arizona and elsewhere, is that we have -- as a people have to come to grips with this issue of immigration. We can no longer use it as a political football.

We must keep in mind the families that are impacted by the lack of decision in this area. And the leadership has to confront what has always been the growing chorus of concern from the American people is, Let's deal with border security and control. Let's put that house in order, and the rest then takes care of itself.

BLITZER: Did the governor of Arizona do the right thing signing this law -- signing this bill into law?

STEELE: Well, the governor of Arizona acted in the best interests of the people of Arizona. And you may find that the governor of another state may come to a different conclusion based on what's in the best interests of the people of that state. That's why the federal action at this time so important.

And my hope is, is that the administration and the leadership in both the House and the Senate do not engage in some political footballery here with respect to this very important issue that has a direct impact on jobs and has a direct impact on families, and an even broader impact on (INAUDIBLE)

BLITZER: But you know there are some Republican strategists -- Karl Rove, among others -- who are worried this is going to alienate Hispanic voters. The Republican Party needs these people.

STEELE: I think Karl Rove is exactly right about that. And we need, as a party, to be mindful that our prior actions in this area and certainly our rhetoric in this area has not been the most welcoming and the most supportive of helping those who want to assimilate into the way of life of America, learning English, getting a good job.

Coming through the process in a legitimate way has not helped that. So now we have an opportunity, I think, and our leadership has expressed this fact, that we can go about this a little bit differently and we can create a path the way that assimilates individuals who respect and follow the rule of law, who come in through the right doors, fill out the right forms, have a little apple pie, home -- you know, sing a few bars of "The Star Spangled Banner (ph)" and get to work.

BLITZER: Here's what the governor -- former governor of Virginia, Tim Kaine, who's now the chairman, as you know, of the Democratic Party, your counterpart -- he announced a new Democratic Party strategy today to try to win in November, the mid-term elections.

He said this. He said, "Democrats under President Obama's leadership have been a results party, and that is what Americans want. The Republicans, on the other hand, have been a party of obstruction. We think Americans will reward results, rather than obstruction."

All right, go ahead and tell us why you think that's not going to work.

STEELE: Well, it doesn't work because, look at the results!

BLITZER: They got health care reform, and they're about to get financial reform, right?

STEELE: Wait a minute. But wait a minute! Wait a minute, Wolf! A health care reform that 60 percent of the people in the country said they don't want! That's not a result. You mean to tell me that if I force-fed you something that you didn't want that you thought that would be a good result? No!

So look, you can call it results all day long. The reality of it is, the real result will come in November, when Republicans sweep in the House and in the Senate and governorships around the country, very much as we've already seen in New Jersey, Virginia and Massachusetts.

The real result will come in the polls, you know, that are really reflective of how people feel about what this administration is doing with the leadership and the Democratic Party has failed to do. That is to create jobs. That is the bottom line. That's the result (INAUDIBLE)

BLITZER: But the economy continues to improve. It's certainly better today than it was a year ago. If the economy continues to improve...

STEELE: But that's great...

BLITZER: ... between now and November, won't that help the Democrats?

STEELE: The Dow hit 11,000. Great. Did 11,000 jobs get created today? Did 11,000 jobs get created this week? That's where the reality is. And folks who -- like, that's great. We love all these other indices out here that are doing things that are bubbling up, but they're not bubbling up jobs.

This administration has fundamentally failed to address the core concern that people have for over a year-and-a-half now. Could you please put me to work? Would you give me the opportunity to get back into my small business to create jobs, create the opportunity for me to go back out into the workforce so I can provide for me and my family?

BLITZER: Give me your quick reaction to Charlie Crist, the Republican governor of Florida, a man you know well.

STEELE: As I've said from the very beginning, I'm looking forward to going into Florida in November and supporting the Republican nominee for the United States Senate. We want to keep that seat in the Republican column, and we are looking forward to going forward with the nominee. And if Crist is not in the primary any longer, then we know who the nominee will be. That'll be Marco Rubio. And guess what? There will be no Senator Crist.

BLITZER: You know, the polls show, in a three-person race, he's very -- you know, he's potentially a winner.

STEELE: Well, that -- that -- that's a real possibility. It's a dynamic that's unfortunate, in my view. I think that the voters out there should be given a chance to have a clean call between the Republican nominee and the Democratic nominee, Congressman Meek. And we're looking forward to helping carry the Republican nominee across the finish line.

What the governor -- you know, I would not want the governor to leave the party, but that's his decision to make. My responsibility is to make sure that the Republican wins the seat, and that's what we're going to be committed to doing.

BLITZER: A quick question on this Republican Party 2010 "congressional district census" that was sent out with your name...


BLITZER: ... right on page one. You're getting a lot of criticism that this was a fund-raising device, but it looks like a real census. And people are saying this was inappropriate, this was misleading. I want you to respond to the criticism. And you've seen plenty of it.

STEELE: Well, yes. I met with Congressman Issa on this and I've talked to other leaders in the party. We've talked to our lawyers, that this was within the law as written and we were not outside of those bounds. And you know, I can't help it that the Democrats wrote a bad bill. The reality of it is, we complied to what the law required and the mailer went out.

BLITZER: You still enjoying your job, or are you ready to think about...


BLITZER: ... moving on at some point?

STEELE: No. No, I enjoy my job very much. I'm looking forward to bringing home victories for Republicans across the country, at the state-wide level for governor and certainly other offices in Congress and the Senate. So it's going to be a great year. We've got a lot of work to do, still, Wolf, as you know. This is a long season, given there's only seven months left and there's still a lot can happen. But we're committed to raising the dollars necessary to win the races that we're required to win.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens. And we hope you'll be a frequent visitor here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

STEELE: Oh, you know I will.

BLITZER: Mr. Chairman, thanks very much.

STEELE: Someone's got to check up on you, man!

BLITZER: I know. We love having you here.


BLITZER: Thanks very much for coming in. We'll continue this conversation.

STEELE: All right, Wolf.


BLITZER: That tough new immigration law in Arizona and growing discontent among Latinos over White House policies, or lack of them. What if -- what if Latino voters take those frustrations over immigration to the voting booth?

Also, a former president, a soccer star and Lady Ga-Ga. We're going to find out what got them onto "Time" magazine's list of the world's most influential people.


BLITZER: It's a frustrating period for many Latino voters in the United States. Some are outraged by Arizona's signing of a controversial new immigration law. There's growing concern that President Obama is simply not doing enough overall to push for comprehensive immigration reform. So what if -- what if they take these frustrations to the polls this November, or if they stay home altogether? Our 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 (ph), 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 own 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 Democrat, says his party needs a wake-up call, and it could come in November's mid-term 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 them, they're 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 that there's going to be less voters, based on not delivering on what the promise was. And I think it'll keep on minimizing the trust. Right now is the time to deliver what was promised.

SIMON: Dan Simon, CNN, reporting.


BLITZER: Were President Bush, his wife and others poisoned during a G-8 summit three years ago? We're taking a closer look into the story, revealed for the first time in a brand-new book by the former first lady, Laura Bush.


BLITZER: Were President George W. Bush and his wife poisoned -- poisoned -- during a 2007 visit to Germany? That stunning possibility is raised by Laura Bush herself in a forthcoming book.

Let's talk about it with our national security contributor, Fran Townsend. She was the homeland security adviser to President Bush.

Fran, here is the book, "Laura Bush: Spoken from the Heart." And in it, she writes this and I'll read to our viewers this except. "Nearly a dozen members of our delegation were stricken, even George, who started to feel sick during an early morning staff briefing. One of our military aides had difficulty walking and a White House staffer lost all hearing in one ear. Exceedingly alarmed, the Secret Service went on full alert, combing the resort for potential poisons. We never learned if any other delegations became ill, or if ours mysteriously was the only one."

Now, you were working for the president at that time. You remember that incident vividly.

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Very well, Wolf. I was not with the delegation in Germany. I was back at my office in the West Wing of the White House when I got a very concerned call. The president often worked sick, as most presidents do. They have colds, Bill Clinton would get laryngitis. Presidents often get sick and work through it.

This was very unusual that the president was down so hard, as we would say. He literally was dizzy, he felt weak, his stomach was not well. The first lady was not well. Steve Hadley, the national security adviser at the time was not feeling well.

And, so, of course, I got a phone call. And you can imagine, as the president's wife, she was concerned for her husband. And as the homeland security adviser, my job was to think the impossible. What was the worst potential?

And so, working with the Secret Service, remember, Wolf, this is in the context of the presidential candidate, ultimately, the president of Ukraine had been poisoned. There was a poisoning and murder in Great Britain. We were working with the British on that case.

BLITZER: So, that poisoning theory, that was on the top of your mind right then?

TOWNSEND: Oh, it's certainly.

BLITZER: Because at the time, when we were told, or maybe the president had a stomach virus, he wasn't feeling that good. He himself said at one point, "I need some fresh air. I got very sick this morning." But we just thought it was a stomach virus. That was the story that we were given.

TOWNSEND: Right. And, Wolf, the truth was, ultimately, we didn't believe there was a basis to think they were poisoned. But you can understand, you would have thought us not competent if we had not considered the possibility and looked at it. And it really was the president himself who decided he was very concerned, he didn't want to disrupt the meeting in Germany. He didn't want to draw attention away from the substantive issues to himself, to something that may have turned out to just be a virus.

And, really, he was very gracious -- very graceful in wanting to be a good guest, if you will.

BLITZER: Did you think he might have been poisoned? Did the president believed that as the first lady now writes?

TOWNSEND: Well, you know, it's interesting, Wolf. This was not the only time that I had to have a very difficult conversation like this with the president. I remember, after his trip to Georgia, there has been an attempt on his life.

The president was very, sort of, live and let live about it. His attitude was it came with -- it's part of the job. There were going to be attempts against him. It wasn't successful, that was the point. And he was prepared to move on.

And the president didn't dwell on these sorts of things and didn't want us to dwell on them. He wanted his focus on the business of keeping the American people safe.

BLITZER: And did you ever follow-up and find out what was the cause of that illness? Did you do some post-mortem, if you will?

TOWNSEND: Well, certainly, the Secret Service -- as the first lady indicates, the Secret Service, as you can imagine, as more and more of the U.S. delegation are getting sick, they were concerned. The doctors there who were attending to the president were on-site looking into it with them. They believed it was just a virus, a local virus. But, you know --

BLITZER: A whole bunch of people got it.

TOWNSEND: But you look at all sorts of possibilities like things, was there spoiled food? Or intentionally poisoned food? There was no indication of that. And I will tell you, Wolf, I have tremendous confidence, not only in the physical security capability of the Secret Service, but there's a whole host of tools they use to make sure the food, the water, everything around him is secure.

BLITZER: Coming on the heels of what happened in Ukraine, it's clearly understandable. The president goes to Europe, and that's what happens.

TOWNSEND: He was very sick.

BLITZER: Yes, I believe it.

And Laura Bush, we're going to be speaking to her here in THE SITUATION ROOM. That an interview I'm looking forward to speaking to her about this and a lot more.

Thanks very much.


BLITZER: With its president and many key players dead, Poland prepares to rebuild its leadership. How's the country coping and how will its upcoming special election secure its recovery? I'll ask the Polish foreign minister. He's here.

Also, the Greek economy right now is teetering on the brink, and the rest of Europe is also worried. Could ripples of economic stability though reach across the Atlantic to the United States?


BLITZER: An unsuspected election campaign is underway in Poland right now after last month's horrific plane crash which took the lives of Poland's president, the first lady and numerous government and military officials. Is that U.S. ally recovering from the shock?


BLITZER: And joining us now here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the foreign minister of Poland, Radoslaw Sikorski.

Mr. Minister, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: First of all, our deepest condolences to everyone in Poland, almost 100 people were killed, including your president. You knew almost everyone on the plane.

SIKORSKI: That's right. It was shocking. Imagine if the president of United States went to commemorate the anniversary of 9/11 and died with the chief of staff, with the chairman of Federal Reserve, with the chiefs of the armed services, and with the families of the victims of what you are about to commemorate. It was just a horrible shock.

BLITZER: Do we have a better appreciation and understanding now of what happened?

SIKORSKI: Well, I think it was a combination of unusually bad weather, pretty basic airfield, and pilot error. But there's a commission, joint Polish-Russian commission which I'm sure will get to the truth.

BLITZER: And this notion of foul play that some conspiratorialists have put out there.

SIKORSKI: There are always conspiracy theories. But this time, I think there are no serious ones. And I see no shred of evidence of any foul play.

BLITZER: You are getting ready for new elections though. There will be a new president sooner rather than later.

SIKORSKI: Well, the silver lining in this crisis has been our constitution has stood the test. The speaker of parliament immediately took over the duties of the president, and he has now announced the election on the 20th of June.

BLITZER: Poland is a NATO ally. Is it stable right now? Because this is an enormous tragedy.

SIKORSKI: Well, not only is it stable, we're the only country in Europe which is growing. Growth from last year was actually revised upwards, 1.8 percent. We expect at least 3 percent this year.

And we actually are helping some of the countries that are in trouble. We have extended $200 million to Iceland. We've chipped in from Latvia and from Moldova. And we are looking at the crisis in some Euro area countries with some trepidation because we would like to join, but at the moment, our prospects are actually better. BLITZER: I will get to that in a moment. But let's talk about President Obama. You are meeting with top U.S. officials, including his national security adviser, the secretary of state.

How worried are you about the Obama administration's decision to cancel a missile defense system, a shield, if you will, that was supposed to be based in Poland?

SIKORSKI: Well, it wasn't canceled, it was changed. And we have actually now negotiated the amended agreement. And we like the new configuration rather more. We have also signed and ratified a status of forces agreement, and the first patriot missiles are coming to Poland next month. So Polish-American security cooperation is rather good right now.

BLITZER: But this change -- was it a total surprise to Poland? Because there was a lot of concern that was initially expressed by people in Poland.

SIKORSKI: Well, we negotiated the previous deal with the previous administration. And we didn't ratify it in anticipation of what the new administration would think about it. The new configuration of the system is based on existing missiles. So, it's more realistic. And we expect work to begin in a couple years' time.

BLITZER: So, with the level of distrust towards President Obama and Poland right now, you would describe as --

SIKORSKI: Well, I don't see any level of distrust.

BLITZER: I'm talking about rank-in-file, grassroots, forget about the government.

SIKORSKI: And as soon as he comes to Poland, and he's very welcome. I'm sure his popularity will rise.

BLITZER: So, you're -- but basically what I hear you saying is that U.S./Polish relations right now are strong.

SIKORSKI: They are very good. And they are branching into new areas.

BLITZER: Is there a problem that you want to talk about?

SIKORSKI: We have --

BLITZER: Is there anything on the agenda that's of concern to you?

SIKORSKI: Well, our prime minister met President Obama just a few weeks ago in Prague at the meeting when the START treaty was signed. In July, we will host the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, in Krakow for the 10th anniversary of the Community of Democracies. Promoting democracy by peaceful means is something that we, Poles, and Americans do rather well together. Poland has the technology. We are proud of solidarity, of the way we have made ourselves into a modern democracy. And with American help, I think we can -- we can -- we can spread the word to other countries.

BLITZER: How worried is Poland about Iran's possibly getting a nuclear bomb?

SIKORSKI: Well, we have a European process. We have empowered the European Troika to speak on our behalf. And we would urge Iranian authorities to confine their ambitions to peaceful uses of nuclear technology because, otherwise, it will be very destabilizing for the Middle Eastern region, and therefore for the rest of the world.

BLITZER: Let's get back to the economic situation. Poland is doing relatively well compared to so many other countries in Europe. But Greece is in deep trouble; Portugal is in deep trouble; Spain; maybe Italy. How worried are you that this domino effect could impact Poland right now and the rest of Europe?

SIKORSKI: Well, we've pursued prudent policies. We've cut spending in the crisis instead of expanding. Not a single Polish financial institution has suffered during the crisis. So, we are coming out of it rather strengthened.

BLITZER: That's encouraging, especially for someone like myself who's followed U.S./Polish relations over many years. And I remember when things were not good, it's good to see that there's a good democracy developing -- has developed in Poland right now and the relationship with the U.S. is strong.

SIKORSKI: We've given the U.S. our best.

BLITZER: All right. Thank you so much for joining us. And good luck.


BLITZER: Amid worries of financial collapse, the prime minister of Greece has promised he will do whatever it takes to save the country. But what are worries about the European economic problems really all about? Are these problems only just beginning? So just how bad could things get on the other side of the Atlantic?


BLITZER: And joining us now from London, CNN's Richard Quest.

Richard, what's the worst-case scenario in Greece right now?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The absolute worst case scenario would be that money isn't forthcoming from the IMF and the eurozone. And that Greece would have to restructure and actually default on its debt.

Now, that is if you like the nuclear reaction or the nuclear option. Far more likely is that it muddles through. There are demonstrations. There are general strikes. There may even be civil disobedience, and it all becomes extremely messy before it gets better.

BLITZER: But this problem of a -- of a government -- of a financial structure in a government basically collapsing, it seems to be spreading elsewhere.

QUEST: Well, still some collapse elsewhere, but what we all getting is the first whiff of something else smelling in the other countries, as we've downgrades of debt in Portugal. We have a downgrade of debt in Spain today. And, clearly, investors in the market and there's beloved or hated traders are now starting to spook around to see who might be next. Who else can they attack? What other prey might there be in the bloodied waters?

BLITZER: Tell our viewers here in the United States why we should care about what's going on in Greece and elsewhere in the European Union.

QUEST: For the exact same reason that the contagion in the subprime crisis, those home loans in California, Florida and Arizona brought banks to collapse in Europe. Everything was so interconnected. For instance, if the dollar rises, what does that do to export markets in the ability of U.S. exporters to send goods overseas? If there is problems with debt in Europe, how long will it be before similar questions are asked about the ballooning and budgeting U.S. budget deficit?

Oh, no. Nobody should be under any illusion, Wolf, that they stand alone or isolated in this one. If contagion happens, it will happen to just about all.

BLITZER: Richard Quest in London for us -- Richard, thank you.


BLITZER: Ted Nugent and Sarah Palin, Phil Donahue and Oprah Winfrey -- it's "TIME" magazine's annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world.

Plus, we'll follow President Obama as he stopped at Peggy Sue's diner. We'll take a look at what's on his plate.


BLITZER: Here's something I look forward to every year. "TIME" magazine's new issue, the 100 most influential people in the world.

Joining us now, the editor, Rick Stengel.

I know it's not easy to put this together. Those covers -- you've got four separate covers of "TIME" magazine that have just come out. Let's talk a little bit about the bottom line criteria for being one of the most influential people of the world. RICK STENGEL, MANAGING EDITOR, TIME MAGAZINE: Well, you know, Wolf, it's not a power list. It's not a hot list. It's about the power of influence, not the influence of power.

So, we're looking for people who have an effect on other people all around the world, not just through, you know, fiat and making decisions but through charitable efforts, through their art, through their thinking, through their science. And it's broad-based because it does have scientist, it has thinkers, it has artists. You know, it's not just leaders and heroes.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about some of these folks. What I really like is that you have amazing people write the articles about these 100 truly influential people. Sarah Palin made the list once again.

And Ted Nugent, the rock star writes this: "If Sarah Palin played a loud, grinding instrument, she would be in my band. The independent patriotic spirit, attitude and soul of our forefathers are alive and well in Sarah. In the way she lives, what she says and how she dedicates herself to make America better in these interesting times, she represents the good, while expressing the bad and the ugly."

That's pretty eloquent stuff from Ted.

STENGEL: Yes, the -- you know, the pairings are part of the magic there. So, I mean, getting Nugent who is -- you know, who's a very conservative gun advocate -- you know, the idea is that he would be able to relate to Palin and say something about her that other folks wouldn't. So, for example, on the other side of the spectrum, we have Bono writing about President Clinton, also, you know, a person who believes in philanthropy and can write about that aspect of Clinton.

BLITZER: Well, let me read what Bono, another rock star, says about the former president. "Where I'm from, he's a mythic figure. Ditto Haiti, ditto Africa -- a huge crowd puller wherever he goes. Rock stars can't be president -- lucky for you -- but we've got all reason to be thankful that presidents can be rock stars."

That's a pretty nice tribute to the former president.

STENGEL: It is. And, indeed, you know, Wolf, I mean, not only is Clinton on the list because he is Haiti's best friend and has pulled out all the stops to help that country that he loves. But, you know, the Clinton Global Initiative every year and the Clinton Foundation -- I mean, they're raising money in real-time for things like malaria, HIV, and he's having an enormous influence in his post- presidential career and I think creating a whole new template for that.

BLITZER: I love the tribute to Oprah -- she made the list -- from Phil Donahue. Let me read a line. "There is no match for you in media history. You are not only hot, you are cool; the dream girl for millions of ambitious young women whom you've inspired all over the world. You are a once-in-a-century woman." Now, that's pretty nice.

STENGEL: Pretty nice. And, Phil, as you know, in some ways was the prototype for Oprah. I mean, he had a daily show that was like Oprah's. He was a person whose audience was mostly women. He could relate to his feminine side obviously.

And so, he's putting Oprah in perspective because, of course, she is coming to the end of her term as day time talk show host, as you know.

BLITZER: We highlighted three of the 100, 97 others in there. There are one or two right now that stands out in your mind that you want to talk about.

STENGEL: Let's see. I mean, you know, the thing is we do people that are not -- that you don't know about. We did Zaha Hadid. She's one of the women on the cover. She's an Iraqi architect -- a woman Iraqi architect who's changing the way architecture relates to people, very sinuous feminine forms.

I mean, we're doing people like that.

We have -- in fact, one of my favorites is that piece that Sully Sullenberger, the airplane captain, wrote on a guy named Master Sergeant Tony Travis, who is in charge of the airport in Haiti, in Port-au-Prince, after the earthquake and basically on his own, as a air traffic controller, to the next 48 hours, got all those planes in and out.

It's a fantastic tribute to both what, you know, individuals can do by someone whose courage is unquestionable.

BLITZER: It's a great list, the "TIME" 100.

Rick Stengel, thanks for putting it together.

STENGEL: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: The president picked up the tab while eating on the road this week. We're taking a closer look at what's on his plate over at Peggy Sue's diner.


BLITZER: President Obama is no stranger to good food, and this week, he seemed to get plenty of it. I can relate. During his Midwest swing, the president made a surprised stop over at Peggy Sue's Cafe in Monroe City, Missouri.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't think you just have a cheeseburger, don't you think?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, we do. OBAMA: That's what I thought.


OBAMA: I'm going to have a cheeseburger and fries. And let me get this takeout --


OBAMA: -- because we're on our way to Macon.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. And what do you want on your cheeseburger?

OBAMA: Lettuce, tomato, pickles and just some mustard, no mayonnaise.


BLITZER: No mayo. But it wasn't just burgers on this trip. There was also pie.


OBAMA: I had rhubarb pie, and it was some tasty pie. By the way, some of you heard that my cholesterol had gone up? It's because of pie.


BLITZER: I can relate to that as well. The president alluding, of course, to that recent physical what his doctor told him he needed to lower his cholesterol.

Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Join us weekdays from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Eastern, and every day at 6:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN. And at this time every weekend on CNN International.

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