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From Times Square to Pakistan; Scary Moments Again in Times Square; Oil Containment Dome Lowered

Aired May 7, 2010 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You're in the SITUATION ROOM. Happening now --

U.S. investigators are tracing the Times Square bomb suspect's ties to his homeland and counting on counterterrorism help from Pakistan. We have a pair of our best reporters digging into this story. Teaming up to bring you the details. Stand by.

More scary moments in Times Square, a partial evacuation as police investigated suspicious package. It's the latest in a series of alerts. Are people, though, overreacting?

And a four-storey dome is now being placed over the damaged well in the Gulf of Mexico. The best hope for containing the oil leak, but it's never been tried a mile below the surface.

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

Investigators working on the botched Times Square bombing now think that the suspect, Faisal Shahzad, may have had some serious help. A senior law enforcement official says investigators are looking into the possible ties to a Pakistani Taliban group. The U.S. has provided Pakistan with billions of dollars in aid. Is it getting the anti-terror help, though, that it needs in return?

Joining us now our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty, and our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence. They're both working on this story. And both have been deeply involved in getting the information that we -- that we need. We asked them to report together on what we're learning. So, Jill, I suppose we're going to start with you.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Actually, I think we're starting with Chris.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: It's the wonder twins, Wolf. It's an all-star affair here.

BLITZER: Women go first.

LAWRENCE: In this case, we're going to mix it up just a little bit. You know, there's no American combat troops in Pakistan, but I think Jill and I have both seen that the Pakistanis are giving the U.S. better intelligence, so they can use some more of those unmanned drones to target these terrorist groups.

DOUGHERTY: Right. And, you know, this investigation is zeroing in really on two crime scenes, that's New York City and Pakistan. Tracing Faisal Shahzad's actions in the U.S. and the full scope of any networks he might have had in Pakistan.


DOUGHERTY (voice-over): As they develop leads in the Times Square investigation, the U.S. relationship with Pakistan is key.

P.J. CROWLEY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: The flow of information to Pakistan has begun, and with that flow, you know, would come specific steps that we would expect, you know, Pakistan to take.

DOUGHERTY: If the evidence shows he got help from Pakistan-based terrorist groups, one official tells us, the U.S. wants Pakistan to take them down. At the state department, they tell us that a year ago, such a request would have been a hard sell. Things were pretty tense between the U.S. and Pakistan. Remember this? Hillary Clinton accusing Islamabad of turning a blind eye to the terrorist threat.

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: A policy that is ceding more and more territory to the insurgents, to the Taliban, to al Qaeda.

DOUGHERTY: Now, you hear U.S. officials praising Pakistan for cracking down on the Taliban.

LAWRENCE (voice-over): That's the same message we're hearing at the Pentagon. Pakistan can be our friend. A couple hundred U.S. military personnel are working in Pakistan right now, and up to 50 more will be deploying next month. Pakistan bought 18 new F-16s from the U.S and the first batch gets delivered in June. In fact, eight Pakistani pilots just graduated from flight training in Tucson, Arizona. American military instructors taught them how to fly the newer model F-16 which gives Pakistan the ability to conduct night operations.

MAJ GABE JOHNSON, U.S. AIR FORCE: We're training our allies so that they can fly, fight, and win with us.


LAWRENCE (on-camera): And, Jill, the area where the United States wants to win is right here. North Waziristan where it's sort of a terrorist syndicate has been operating.

DOUGHERTY (on-camera): But the U.S. says it needs more than the military to fight terrorism in Pakistan. If it wants to pull away civilians from the terrorist, it needs to provide for the real needs of the people.


DOUGHERTY (voice-over): Which is why the U.S. has pledged $1.5 billion in development and counterterrorism aid, and even more funding to meet Pakistan's energy needs by building power plants.

LAWRENCE (voice-over): Al Qaeda's new power in Pakistan isn't so much training its own attackers, it's co-opting other terrorist groups that used to only focus on, say, the disputed border with India. Those groups are like partners to the Pakistani government. But analysts say the U.S. will increase the pressure on officials to crack down on those groups.

BRIAN FISHMAN, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: The Pakistanis are going to have to recognize that it's in their interests to do so. I think we can make that case because it's increasingly clear that al Qaeda is winning over militant groups in Pakistan that previously were willing to cooperate with the Pakistani states, but now are not willing to do so. Now, they want to attack the Pakistani state or attack targets in the west.


LAWRENCE (on-camera): But the Pakistanis say they're already stretched thin in Southern Waziristan and even Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the U.S. can only push them so far, Jill.

DOUGHERTY (on-camera): Uhhm. And, you know, this case really could be a test of the U.S./Pakistan relationship. Both sides say that it's a lot better. And now we could really see whether that's the case.

BLITZER: Explain, Chris, also to our viewers, why the Pakistanis are so sensitive about acknowledging any CIA involvement in Pakistan or any U.S. military involvement for that matter?

LAWRENCE: Well, Wolf, privately, some defense officials will say, some of the Pakistanis feel that the U.S. is there to take away their nukes. There's still a basic fear on the Pakistani side as to U.S. intentions, and we're seeing everything reported from our American media. There in Pakistan, any mention of CIA or military involvement is sensationalized in the media and really gets people riled up, so it's a thing that the U.S. has to tread lightly.

BLITZER: It's a delicate, delicate issue, guys, but the stakes are enormous. Appreciate it very much.

Scary moments once again today in Times Square just days after the botched car bomb attempt. There was a partial evacuation right in the heart of New York City while authorities investigated a suspicious package. After an anxious hour or so, investigators determined it was just a cooler containing some water bottles.

Let's bring in our national security contributor, Fran Townsend, she was the homeland security adviser to President Bush. Are people, law enforcement, overreacting right now, Fran?

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: I don't think so, Wolf. That was the one you mentioned, there were three today, major disruptions, where they were closing streets in the Times Square area, and it was -- there was a good deal of tension, as you can imagine, in the streets and the neighboring buildings. Former mayor, Rudy Giuliani's office is there. I was talking to folks in his office. They had been -- the NYPD had advised them of the disruptions.

Look, the law enforcement is understandably in what I call a hypervigilant state. They're looking now at every suspicious package differently, as is the public, by the way. Many times the way they see these things is the public comes up to them. That's not a bad thing. Because you worry in the immediate aftermath of a -- of a legitimate attempt on Times Square that they'll be copycats, that there are other operatives maybe we haven't identified yet, and so there's understandably a good deal of vigilance and very aggressive going after this, and there will be for a while.

BLITZER: As there should be, because it's clear now that the terrorists are not simply trying to get some spectacular 9/11 attacks, but they're looking for some more modest, but very deadly, attacks.

TOWNSEND: That's exactly right, Wolf. This wouldn't have killed the thousands that happened on 9/11, but people would have been injured and killed if it had been successfully put together. And when you put this -- when you look at this in the context of what we've seen recently, whether it's the attempted Christmas day bombing, it's the Zazi Najibullah case of the subway backpack bomb potential, these are the smaller kinds of attacks, will be deadly, and they're much harder to disrupt in advance.

BLITZER: And it's good that the public is becoming more sensitive to alerting law enforcement whenever they see something very, very suspicious.

TOWNSEND: That's exactly right, Wolf. The NYPD, Commissioner Kelly, would be the first to tell you they won't be successful without the help of the public. So, we don't want to discourage people. They just have to understand there are going to be these disruptions when they have to resolve a suspicious package.

BLITZER: Fran, thanks very much. Fran Townsend, our analyst.

Jack Cafferty is standing by with the "Cafferty File."

And a CNN exclusive, we're going to take you where television cameras have never gone before, inside a government facility where the oil cleanup techniques being used in the Gulf of Mexico right now are researched and tested.

And the help-wanted sign is out. The latest employment numbers are the best in four years. Can Democrats use that to their advantage?


BLITZER: Let's get right back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's called the terrorist expatiation act, and if it passes, the government would have the right to strip citizenship from any American suspected of supporting terrorism. Bipartisan bill's been introduced in both the House and Senate. Supporters point to the recent terror attempt in Times Square, which was carried out by a Pakistani-American. They say the measure reflects what they call the changing nature of war. The proposal would actually update an existing, but rarely used law, that is currently run by the state department.

That 1940 law allows the government to revoke citizenship for actions like voting in another country's elections or joining the army of a nation at war with the United States. What's interesting here is the measure is not drawing the usual partisan responses. Some top Democrats seem to be supporting it, including Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, who says the administration is going to take a hard look at extending the existing powers of the government. Also House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, says she supports the spirit of the measure, although she still needs to hear more details.

Meanwhile, some Republicans are skeptical, including House Minority Leader, John Boehner, who questions the constitutionality of the idea. Legal experts are also mixed in their opinions, some worry that it's an extraordinary step to take away citizenship from someone, and they say to do it based only on suspicion without court trials is simply giving the government too much power.

So, that's the question this hour. Should the government revoke citizenship of people involved in terrorism? Go to You can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

That massive oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico has already reached Louisiana's barrier islands and threatens coastal areas far beyond. Fifty miles offshore hopes for containing the leaking well rest on a four-storey structure which workers are now placing over the wellhead. If all goes as planned, in a few days they can use it to try to contain the oil and pump it to a tanker up on the surface.

CNN has gained some exclusive access to the government's oil spill research and training facility at a secure naval base on the New Jersey shore. That's where the techniques now being used in the Gulf have been researched and tested. It's the first time that television cameras have been allowed there. Our senior correspondent, Allan Chernoff, takes us inside.


ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, when cleaning up a giant oil spill, how does the oil industry know exactly what to do, what techniques are going to work? The research is done right here, at Omset, the oil and hazardous materials simulated environmental test tank. This facility is run by the interior department's minerals management service, and it is the largest of its kind in the entire world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fire in the hole. CHERNOFF (voice-over): Oil sprays into the water, a slick forms and expands, but it's all intentional.

CHERNOFF (on-camera): Here the government creates controlled oil spills in a giant tank more than two football fields long. Operators create ocean wave conditions, then they use various techniques to clean it all up.

CHERNOFF (voice-over): There are three primary plans of attack for cleaning oil spills in the water. Burn the oil, apply chemical dispersants to break it down, or manually remove it. All three are at work in the Gulf of Mexico.

JOE MULLIN, MINERALS MANAGEMENT SERVICE: You would try to use as many techniques as you can to remove the oil off the -- off the water, the surface of the water.

CHERNOFF: You get out every form of artillery you've got?

MULLIN: Yes, sir.

CHERNOFF (on-camera): Today, cleanup experts are practicing manual techniques to remove oil. Taking oil off the surface of the water is kind of like peeling the filling off of an oil cookie. You're skimming it, and that's what all these various devices do, they skim the oil off the water. Depending upon the grade of oil, how heavy it is, you use a different type of skimmer.

CHERNOFF (voice-over): At Omset, all different types of oil are sprayed into the tank from a moving bridge. Workers can test skimmers, various dispersants, even burning, all in a safe and closed environment that simulates the ocean's salinity and even its wave patterns.

CHERNOFF (on-camera): We all know oil is lighter than water. That's an advantage when it comes to cleaning up a spill, because the oil sits on top of the water. Using those booms, oil can actually be pushed into that skimmer and then it's sucked up using this giant vacuum.

CHERNOFF (voice-over): Cleanup workers from private industry, government and 24 countries around the world have come here to practice and research some techniques, including responders trying to clean the Gulf of Mexico right now.

MULLIN: You want to be prepared so, you know, firemen have fire training centers, you know, paramedics have paramedic training centers and stuff. So, for responders, you have the Omset tank right here.

CHERNOFF: The gulf cleanup presents an immense challenge. Indeed, high waves have made it difficult to contain some oil, but the Minerals Management Service says industry and government are better prepared to handle this catastrophe than the "Exxon Valdez" disaster more than 20 years ago.

MULLIN: There's more equipment. There's more technologies. Folks are better planned, better trained.

CHERNOFF (on-camera): Thanks to the Omset facility, the folks who are in the gulf right now know exactly which techniques to use in each marine environment to clean up the mess -- Wolf.


BLITZER: Allan Chernoff reporting for us. Thank you, Allan.

Nuclear containments reach a main water supply in New Jersey. What health officials are not telling us about the potential consequences?

And as Wall Street shudders at week's end, the jobs picture takes an encouraging turn. We're going to find out who's hiring. Lots of news happening today right here in the SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester's monitoring some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. Lisa, what do you have?


Well, New Jersey environmental officials say radioactive water that leaked from a nuclear power plant has reached a major source of southern New Jersey's drinking water. The state said today, though, that there is no imminent threat to water supplies. It also launched a new investigation into the April 2009 spill from the oyster creek nuclear generating station. Officials say actions by the plant owner have not adequately contained contaminated water. Oyster creek is the nation's oldest nuclear power plant.

The associated press says the International Atomic Energy Agency is tentatively set to turn its attention to Israel's nuclear activity for the first time. In its provisional agenda, shared with the associated press today, the IAEA board lists Israeli nuclear capabilities as the eighth item. A senior diplomat said the item was included as an Arab request. Israel's nuclear program has long been shrouded in secrecy.

And what a giant mess on a highway in California. Take a look at these pictures. Officials say at least 40 cows were killed when a big rig overturned on Interstate 10 yesterday afternoon. Lanes were closed for several hours as crews cut off the top of the trailer to get the remaining live animals out. The California highway patrol says the truck was loaded with 160 young cows. No people were hurt.

And the Republican National Committee confirms that it has fired finance director, Rob Bickhart. Bickhart has come under fire in the wake of two embarrassing spending scandals. The committees 168 members were informed of his dismissal today. Deputy finance director, Debbie Lehardy, was also fired -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A lot of stuff going on over there at the RNC. Thanks very much. Michael Steele clearly has his hands full. There's another way to follow what's going on here in SITUATION ROOM. I'm on Twitter. A lot of you probably know that by now. You can get my tweets at, all one word. We're getting a lots of tweets today. Happy 20th anniversary here at CNN to Wolf, that's me, for being here for 20 years. My anniversary is tomorrow.

Employers are hiring again. The latest job report is the best in years. We'll tell you who's hanging out the help wanted sign.

And Britain's election fails to produce a parliamentary majority. So, who will run the next government? Stand by. We're going to London.

And the first lady host to pre-mother's day event over at the White House with some famous mothers and daughters.


BLITZER: Investors here in the United States are still feeling queasy a day after Wall Street took them on a gut-wrenching ride that briefly saw the Dow drop almost 1,000 points. Today, the ride was still pretty bumpy. The Dow was down 140 points and all three major indices ended well into negative territory.

In fact, all three are now down -- down -- for the year. But there's some encouraging economic news. The nation's employers are hiring once again. The monthly jobs report out today was the best in the last four years. 290,000 workers were hired in April.

Lisa's back. She's working the story for us. Who is hanging out the help wanted sign?

SYLVESTER: You're seeing them in industries like construction, manufacturing, hospitality, these were the industries that were hit really hard during the recession, and now those industries are coming back, hiring tens of thousands of workers.


SYLVESTER (voice-over): Home depot is now adding to its staff this year for the first time in three years. They're hiring cashiers, computer operators, and workers for their supply chain.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're definitely hiring now.

SYLVESTER: Maryland resident, Sam McNeill, is here applying for a job. He was laid off in March as a counselor at a homeless shelter, but with the economy picking up, he's hoping things will turn around.

SAM MCNEILL, MARYLAND RESIDENT: The bills never stop coming in, so I'm trying to find some work.

SYLVESTER (on-camera): And it's not just home depot that is hiring, according to a recent survey by the business roundtable, more employers are expected to add to their payroll this year. SYLVESTER (voice-over): 29 percent of CEOs surveyed this first quarter say they expect to hire more people. That compares to 19 percent of employers surveyed at the end of last year. In April alone, employers added 290,000 jobs. Among the companies hiring? UPS, looking for loaders to replace some of their aging baby boomers.

Google wants to expand its sales team. Costco is adding warehouse jobs, and Best Buy is also posting help wanted ads. Labor analysts say companies that trimmed staff during the recession now are looking for a few good workers as demand picks up.

JOHN CHALLENGER, CHALLENGER, GRAY & CHRISTMAS: Some of the strongest areas are health care, education, energy, and then on an increasing basis, I think we'll see areas like retail and core services. The areas like international businesses that are growing as the world economy comes back as well.

SYLVESTER: But there are still more than 15 million Americans without a paycheck, while employers added to their payrolls in April, the unemployment rate picked up from 9.7 percent to 9.9 percent.


SYLVESTER (on-camera): The jobs report was positive in many ways, but it wasn't all rosy, the long-term unemployment rate. That's people who have been out of work for more than six months that number went up. Also, the underemployed rate increased. That number includes people who have settled for part-time jobs but who really want full-time work -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I hope all of these people find full-time work at some point. They need these jobs. Lisa, thanks very much.

President Obama today trying to strike an optimistic note about the country's employment picture.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, we've got a ways to go, but we've also come a very long way. And we can see that the difficult and at times unpopular steps that we've taken over the past year are making a difference. Productivity is up. The hours people are working are up. Both are signs a company may be hiring more workers in the months to come.

We saw the largest increase in manufacturing employment since 1998, and we can see the benefits of our recovery act in the strong employment reports from construction and other sectors where we've made key investments in creating and saving jobs.


BLITZER: Let's talk about the political fallout with John King. He's the host of "John King, USA" which comes up right at the top of the hour. Almost 300,000 jobs created in April. That's a lot better than losing 300,000 jobs. JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: It certainly is, and yet, you talk about the president's optimistic tone, but it's a cautious optimism. And he's certainly not doing handstands. And he's not overly celebrating because he understands the political reality.

As Lisa just noted, the underemployment rate is still up. So many people who want to work full time only have part-time jobs. Those who have left the job market are slowly coming back in which is why the rate actually is still going up.

And so politically, people don't feel this. A couple of tough days on Wall Street, too. The market are negative for the year now. So people don't feel it yet. So that number of job growth is great, as the president said, if you're one of those people who just got one.

But he know and his party knows that right now if you look at the unemployment rate, 9.9 percent, that's up more than two points from when he took office. If those numbers stay that way, his party knows it's going to be a tough November.

BLITZER: And you and I remember in '94 after the first two years of the Clinton administration they lost -- the Democrats -- the House and the Senate. Do you remember what unemployment was back in '94?

KING: It was in the 6's.


KING: It was in the 6's. So that's one of the big things. And the percentage of the people who thought the country was off on the wrong track. Those are the two leading political economic indicators. The unemployment rate and do people think the country's headed in the right direction.

And just like in the Clinton days right now about two-thirds of Americans think the country is on the wrong track.

This is why, Wolf, you heard the president say today in every session when the Democrats come back from a weekend off or a short recess home, they'll focus on economic measures.

There's a small business proposal they want to do now. There's some new efforts -- a controversial one will be they want to give $25 or $30 billion to states to keep some of those teachers on the payrolls, and the Republicans will say, no, give private sector tax cuts, not public sector stimulus money.

So that will be a big political debate. But the Democrats want to keep saying we're trying to do more, understanding that if they can at least get people to feel a little bit more optimistic about the economy, they will cushion the losses.

The Democrats know they're going to lose in November. The question is, can you cushion the blow by trying to convince people that, A, trust the Democrats more in the economy, and B, it's starting, starting to get better. BLITZER: Because that right track/wrong track question is so critical especially going into a midterm election when enthusiasm is so important, turnout is critical.

KING: That's the drive. Right? And, again, if you have a liberal base that is a little bit down, maybe it's because of unemployment, maybe it's because they didn't think they got enough out of their Democratic majority, whether it's the health care bill, maybe they're upset about more troops in Afghanistan, so the liberal enthusiasm is a little down, and the conservatives see an opportunity to make a big change in Washington.

It's that intensity gap. Helped the Democrats in 2006 and 2008. Still five months to go. Very long time. But right now the intensity gap favors the Republicans.

BLITZER: Tomorrow's SITUATION ROOM on Saturday, David Plouffe and Steve Schmidt together, they were the two strategists for the Obama and McCain campaigns. It's interesting because we look ahead at length to what's going on in November. It's going to be an interesting discussion --

KING: Two smart guys to talk to.

BLITZER: Very smart guys.

KING: I'm not leaving without saying happy anniversary.

BLITZER: Thank you very much. Twenty years, and you're going to celebrate 20 years in?

KING: Seven years. Thirteen will be right now.

BLITZER: Seven more years.

KING: And counting.

BLITZER: It's been a good ride for both of us. Thanks, John.

Britain has a queen, and now, get this, it has a serious issue. The queen has to be a king-maker who may be holding all the cards after the parliamentary election produced no clear winner.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Britain's parliamentary election produced no clear winner, and that means both major parties may be courting the third- placed finisher who is suddenly a very popular and powerful fellow.

CNN's Max Foster is in London -- Max.

MAX FOSTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, from Clegg-mania to kingmaker, it seems the future of British politics lies in the hands of the Liberal Democrats. The two main party leaders have had time to reflect and regroup, and they both realize that they need the Lib-Dems on side.


FOSTER (voice-over): Arriving at party headquarters a bleary- eyed and dejected Nick Clegg reached out to the Conservatives without a mention of Labour.

NICK CLEGG, LEADER, LIBERAL DEMOCRATS: It seems this morning that it's the Conservative Party that has more votes and more seats, though not an absolute majority. And that is why I think it is now for the Conservative Party to prove that it is capable of seeking to govern in the national interests.

FOSTER: In other words, if you want support, modify your policies.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown, unfazed by Clegg's dismissal, offered the Lib-Dems what they want most -- electoral reform.

GORDON BROWN, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I understand and completely respect the position of Mr. Clegg in stating that he wishes first to make contact with the leader of the Conservative Party.

For my part, I should make clear that I would be willing to see any of the party leaders. Clearly should the discussions between Mr. Cameron and Mr. Clegg come to nothing, then I would, of course, be prepared to discuss with Mr. Clegg the areas where there may be some measure of agreement between our two parties.

FOSTER: And the last to pitch up? David Cameron.

DAVID CAMERON, LEADER, CONSERVATIVE PARTY: Britain voted for change yesterday. But it also voted for a new politics.

FOSTER: In order, he says, to create a strong and stable government quickly Cameron is willing to talk business.

CAMERON: So I want to make a big, open, and comprehensive offer to the Liberal Democrats. I want us to work together in tackling our country's big and urgent problem -- the debt crisis, our deep social problems, and our broken political system.

But, of course, there are policy disagreements between us. Many of which were highlighted in those television debates.

I want to make it clear that I do not believe any government should give more powers to the European Union. I do not believe that any government can be weak or soft on the issue of immigration which needs to be controlled properly.

But across our two manifestos, there are many areas of common ground. And there are areas, I believe, that we in the Conservative Party can give ground. Both in the national interests and in the interests of forging an open and trusting partnership. (END VIDEOTAPE)

FOSTER: Gordon Brown remains in power until a new coalition is built. And that coalition could well be headed by David Cameron.

The Liberal Democrats say they won't decide straightaway, though, who they're backing -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Max Foster reporting for us from London. We'll stay on top of the political story in London.

Fallout from the flood, national's mayor puts the damage price tag at $1.5 billion and that's just for starters.

Plus, Michelle Obama hosts a Mother's Day gathering over at the White House with some well-known moms and daughters.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


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

Lisa, what do you have?


Nashville Tennessee mayor, Karl Dean, says damage estimates from last weekend's flooding stand at $1.5 billion, and that's before they calculate the cost of public roads, bridges, and the contents of buildings.

Fifty-two of Tennessee's 95 counties have been declared disaster areas. Record-busting rains pushed rivers and creeks to levels not seen in decades.

The storms are blamed for at least 31 deaths in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Mississippi.

Nutrisystem said it has cut ties with former New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor who is facing a rape charge. Taylor had been a spokesman for the weight-loss program.

The 51-year-old Hall of Famer was charged yesterday with rape and patronizing a prostitute. The case involves a 16-year-old girl. Taylor's attorney said the former football star denies the charges and will fight them.

Police in Peru dislike cocaine and lots of it seized in a series of drug enforcement operations. The chief of the Peruvian National Police says the 4 1/2 tons of cocaine represents a culmination of a joint investigation last month.

After Colombia, Peru is the second largest producer of cocaine and coca. Most of the drugs from Peru winds up in Europe and the United States.

And Mother's Day is this Sunday but first mom Michelle Obama was marking it in advance today. She hosted a luncheon to celebrate moms in general and in particular her own mother, who lives with the first family at the White House.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: We spent the last year or so, as you know, just settling into our new lives here in this city. So you all know the girls are doing great, and mom is doing well, too. She's enjoying a very active life here in Washington.

And, by the way, Bo is adjusting to his newfound celebrity. For those of you who care to ask, he is probably the most important person in the household for kids who visit. And after all that time, on the campaign trail, I have to say that we're enjoying living above the store.

So -- so that dad can come home for nights for dinner and that's something that we truly treasure.


SYLVESTER: At another event later in the day Mrs. Obama talked about how her family has taken to life in the White House.


M. OBAMA: There's no way that I could ever fully measure all that my own mommy has done for me. This is my mommy. This woman who tries to take absolutely no credit for who I am. For some reason.

She is my rock. She has pulled me up when I've stumbled. She's pulled me back when I've run out of line. Talking a little too much. She'll snap me up. She really does push me to be the best woman that I can be.

Truly as a professional and as a mother and as a friend. And she has always, always, always been there for me. And as our family has grown, she's managed to expand her love for all of us.

And raising our girls in the White House with my mom -- oh, I'm not going to do this -- is a beautiful experience. And the opportunity to have three generations living in the White House is beautiful.


SYLVESTER: Ah, that is really, really touching.

And some notable mothers were at today's White House luncheon, including former first lady Rosalynn Carter and former first daughter Tricia Nixon Cox.

And to all the moms out there, happy Mother's Day -- Wolf. BLITZER: Of course, happy Mother's Day to all the mothers. Happy Mother's Day to you, Lisa.

SYLVESTER: Thank you.

BLITZER: Happy Mother's Day to my mother. Happy Mother's Day to wife. Everyone else who is watching. All the mothers, you deserve only the best.

Should the government revoke the citizenship of American involved in terrorism. That's Jack Cafferty's question of the hour. He'll read what you think when we come back.

And the politics of oil. President Obama faces a massive spill within weeks after he decides to increase offshore oil drilling.

John King getting ready to take a closer look at the implications. That's coming up at the top of the hour.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Time to check back with Jack for "The Cafferty File." Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour, should the government revoke citizenship of people involved in terrorism?

John writes, "No, remember the House on American activities Committee witchhunts of the 1950s? I never want to see that again. If we turn this country into a dictatorship to prevent terrorism, the terrorists have won, and that's what you do if you penalize people without a fair trial. If they're terrorists, try them and convict them of a crime, but let's not become like the Islamic Republic of Iran in order to combat terrorism."

Art writes, "Does it really matter if such people spend the rest of their lives in a prison as a U.S. citizen or as a person whose citizenship has been stripped? What purpose is being served by this move other than an opportunity for a few senators to grandstand and pretend that they're doing something about terrorism."

John writes, "I personally feel the question not even be asked, the answer is a resounding yes. The individual in the recent Times Square incident no doubt should be stripped of his citizenship as well as all the rights that go with it. What I fear, though, is that with all the botched investigations and mistreatment of citizens by those in authority, who's going to be the ultimate decision maker when it comes to stripping citizenship?"

Tracy in Texas, "Involved in terrorism or suspected of terrorism? Seems there's a world of difference to me. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, Scott Brown of Massachusetts are supporting draconian legislation. I guess we Texans aren't the only ones who send Constitution challenged folks to Washington." Greg in Pennsylvania writes, "Lieberman, God bless him, he ought to be a Republican."

And B writes, "Revoke citizenship? OK, but where will they go? Arizona?"

If you want to read more on this, go to my blog at Wolf?

BLITZER: Have a great weekend, Jack. Thanks very much.

CAFFERTY: You too. See you Monday.

BLITZER: See you Monday. Jack Cafferty with "The Cafferty File."

Job gains in April and their potential political impact. "JOHN KING USA" only minutes away. That's coming up at the top of the hour.

When we come back, Jeanne Moos has a "Moos Unusual Story."


SYLVESTER: Hi, Wolf, and I'll take it from here. We have a few hot shots that we want to share with you, Wolf, and all of our viewers as you celebrate your 20th anniversary here at CNN.

We had a party for you a little bit earlier and we've got some pictures that we can show with our viewers there. Have a little cake and you can see on that cake, you can probably make it out, we've got the Pentagon and the White House.

It was May 8th, wasn't it, Wolf? Of 1990 when you walked in the door here at CNN. Since then you have shined covering the Pentagon, the White House and now leading us here. The Wolfpack at THE SITUATION ROOM.

Our CNN's Jeanne Moos has the "Moos Unusual" look back. Roll the tape, Howie.


BLITZER: The president has now --

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For 20 years now we've been listening to the call of the Wolf.

BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer. I'm Wolf Blitzer.


MOOS: The real Wolf Blitzer used to be a newspaper man, but when he came to CNN.

BLITZER: Senator Dick (INAUDIBLE) has said he will support the plan. MOOS: -- he turned over a new leaf, getting into TV as CNN's military affairs correspondent.

BLITZER: Here's Pete Williams, let's listen.



MOOS: He went from the Pentagon to the White House.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The normally suave, unflappable Wolf Blitzer, suffering technology breakdown.

MOOS: Wolf became a household name covering the first Gulf War.

JOHNNY CARSON, "THE TONIGHT SHOW": There's probably nobody in the country who doesn't know who he is now. Would you welcome please, Mr. Wolf Blitzer.

MOOS: Here's Wolf on Johnny, in those pre-BlackBerry days, he described how he found out that Saddam Hussein had invaded the Kuwait when his beeper went off.

BLITZER: I had put it on the vibration part, not on the beeping part.

CARSON: Right.

BLITZER: And I had never experienced that vibration along here. I thought I had gas so I didn't know.

MOOS: Since then Wolf has interviewed everyone who's anyone. He's faced some tough customers.

BLITZER: Today he said the president listened too much to the vice president. That was John McCain.


MICHAEL MOORE, FILM DIRECTOR: So for me to have to sit here and listen again to more crap about socialized medicine.

MOOS: And sometimes Wolf wanted to talk about one thing and the guests another. Lynne Cheney wanted to discuss her book.

BLITZER: We're going to talk about this excellent new book, "Our 50 States." We'll talk about your book then we'll get to the book.

LYNN CHENEY, AUTHOR: You promised, Wolf, that we're going to talk about my book.

BLITZER: I do promise.

L. CHENEY: Wolf, could we talk about a children's book for a minute?

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about your book. We can agree that this is a beautifully done book.

MOOS: Wolf has gone where no anchor has gone before.

BLITZER: You've never seen anything like this on television.

MOOS: He was the first to welcome a hologram, correspondent Jessica Yellin reporting from Chicago.

BLITZER: We beamed you in here.

MOOS: To CNN's election center in New York. The hologram even ended up on a Beastie Boys song. And Wolf moves to the music. Remember when he danced on to Ellen DeGeneres's show. An anchor not afraid to weigh anchor or sit on a camel.

BLITZER: I'm on a camel. On a camel. Oh, my god, hold on, hold on.

MOOS: For two decades, he's been riding the bucking camel that is cable news.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The only other man in America with his own situation room.

MOOS: And that unforgettable name.

CRAIG FERGUSON, "LATE, LATE SHOW WITH CRAIG FERGUSON": That's a German name. Isn't that, Wolf?

BLITZER: Wolfgang. But it's not Wolfgang. It's just Wolf.

FERGUSON: Right. So it's just Wolf. Raised by?

MOOS (on camera): Actually Wolf was his grandfather's name, and don't you forget it. Although some do.

SEN. HARRY REID (D), MAJORITY LEADER: Well, first of all, Blitz.


BLITZER: Wolf. Not Chris. I don't know who Chris is, but it's Wolf.

RICHARD HEENE, FATHER OF "BALLOON BOY": Say hi to Wolf. There's Wolf.


BLITZER: Hi, guys.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who the hell is Wolf? MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN.

FERGUSON: Would you ever go on "Dancing with the Stars."

MOOS: New York.


SYLVESTER: Oh, that is a classic. I love the camel shot, that's the first time that I have seen those camel shots before -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. Jeanne Moos does a most unusual report. I never thought she'd do one about this reporter, but that was nice report she did.

SYLVESTER: Did you -- you didn't fall off the camel there. You looked like you're a little wobbly.

BLITZER: Have you ever been on a camel?

SYLVESTER: I have never been on a camel.

BLITZER: They get really high up there. It's a little scary to be on a camel. But, you know, it's part of the job. Got to do it.

SYLVESTER: Did it seem like 20 years or did it go by for you?

BLITZER: No. It went, you know, quickly. Almost overnight. I remember the first day walking into CNN, May 8th, 1990, not knowing anything about television news. I had been a guest on CNN but I was a print reporter and all of a sudden they threw me in there, thrust me in there, and it was a great. It was a great experience. Still is a great experience.

I'm looking forward, Lisa, to the next 20 years.

SYLVESTER: Yes, you know, this is something to keep in mind, this is only the first 20 years so we got the next 20 years to look forward to. And maybe a few more camel rides.

BLITZER: Yes. We're going to celebrate. We're going to do a lot of celebrating. It's not only this week but the whole year. It will be the 20th anniversary year.

And you know what? We're also going to be celebrating in August, the fifth anniversary of THE SITUATION ROOM. So that's gone by very quickly as well. And we're thrilled that you are part of our SITUATION ROOM, Lisa Sylvester every day.

SYLVESTER: I'm glad to be here and from all of us, Wolf, congratulations.

BLITZER: Thank you very much. It's been a lot of fun. We've always had a nice ride here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Tomorrow, 6:00 p.m. Eastern, THE SITUATION ROOM on Saturday, we have special combination, the two top strategists for the Obama and McCain campaigns, David Plouffe and Steve Schmidt. They'll be together. We'll assess what's going on in politics looking ahead to November.

That's 6:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN. Thanks very much for watching.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Up next, "JOHN KING USA."