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Experts Fear BP is Lowballing Spill; Arizona Immigration Challenge; Interview with Laura Bush

Aired May 14, 2010 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Rick.Happening now, President Obama slamming some finger pointing that's going on by oil company executives in his sternest comments yet about the spill in the Gulf of Mexico.This hour, tough questions about federal oversight and exactly how much oil is spewing into the water.

Also, the final liftoff for "Atlantis."We're following the farewell mission, one of the last hurrahs for NASA's space shuttle program.

And we're here in Dallas, Texas, for my one-on-one interview with the former First Lady Laura Bush.She talks to me about a whole range of issues, life in the White House.We'll talk about some of the social issues, abortion, same-sex marriage and why she hated the image so many people had of her in the White House.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.You're in "The Situation Room."But first, new uncertainty and outrage over the Gulf oil spill right now.Some experts are questioning whether BP officials are low balling the amount of crude gushing into the water.This is a serious issue.The company has said the leaky well is spewing 5,000 barrels a day or 210,000 gallons.But a researcher who studied the video released by BP just the other day believes the spill is at least ten times bigger than that with perhaps 70,000 barrels of oil leaking every day.That's almost, get this, 3 million gallons.BP officials dispute that strongly.Let's go to CNN's Ed Lavandera.He's watching all of this in Louisiana for us.Ed, what are you learning?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you remember a couple of days ago, we have been pushing hard to get video released of what that leak looks like 5,000 feet under the Gulf of Mexico for this very reason, to get independent analysts to be able to kind of assess what's going on and as this video has essentially gone viral, experts from across the country really starting to weigh in.It's not just one expert but several more that have started reporting back and saying that they believe that the estimates of 5,000 barrels a day are rather low and that they believe that it is actually leaking many, many more barrels of oil and in some cases up to 70,000.

You mentioned that one professor from Purdue University.Others we've talked to have it a range between 20,000 barrels and 100,000 barrels.The bottom line is here is by everyone's standard, even BP, government officials and all of these experts, they say that it's impossible to pinpoint exactly how many barrels of oil are spilling into the Gulf of Mexico every day.It's almost impossible to calculate but BP insists anything beyond 5,000 barrels is completely exaggerated.


BOB DUDLEY, BP MANAGING DIRECTORWell that's not what our experts, multiple experts, not only from BP and the industry say.This crude is what's called a light sweet crude.It has lots of gas.When it comes out, it expands rapidly like bubbles in a soda pop.It's difficult to look at it and say the volume will be much higher.We certainly don't see that at the surface.The satellite photographs are fairly accurate in terms of where crude is coming up.We measure the thickness of the crude.A lot of it evaporates very quickly.That number is not anywhere close to anything that we think and we believe today, best estimates roughly 5,000 barrels a day.


LAVANDERAObviously that was an interview that my colleague Brian Todd had tracked down a BP executive there in Washington today and was able to throw out the question about these estimates there that are starting to emerge.Many of the experts I've talked to as well say there's still more time is needed.It would actually be more helpful if more video was released because Wolf, what happens is the fluctuation in what's coming out of the leak site changes quite a bit.

So in that 30-second clip, we've only been able to see so far, it's difficult at times to acknowledge or to figure out exactly, it changes a lot between oil and natural gas, the amount fluctuating out at any given time fluctuates as well.So the experts say it's also hard to pinpoint.But they say based on what they've seen, that estimate they believe of 5,000 barrels a day is very low and as you heard there from the BP executive, Wolf, they strongly disagree.

BLITZER: Ed, are the crews who are working this going to resume using those dispersants under water to try to break up at least some of that oil?

LAVANDERA: Wolf, that's another big controversy that's being studied right now.There has been a push to use these dispersants that would help break up the oil that's leaking underwater.But it has been put on hold, the underwater use of these dispersants.Environmentalists say that the options that on the table, the dispersants that can be used under water at this point are too toxic, would actually cause much more environmental damage given the quantities that would be needed to do the work needed under water.So right now the EPA is trying to figure out if they will allow the use of these under water dispersants.We understand that that's a decision that could be coming pretty soon.Wolf?

BLITZER: Ed Lavandera on the scene for us.Ed, stand by.

Officials by the way say this oil leak is so difficult to plug because the well is so deep.We'll look at this, federal regulators say there are 30 active deep water rigs in the Gulf of Mexico right now -- 30.And there are more than 1,000 -- and that these are all more than 1,000 feet below the surface. Moving onto the White House right now, President Obama says he won't rest or be satisfied until the Gulf oil spill is stopped at its source.He met with cabinet officials about the disaster today. Then he publicly blasted oil executives for trying to pin the blame on one another.Listen to this.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know BP is committed to pay for the response effort.We will hold them to their obligation.I have to say though I did not appreciate what I considered to be a ridiculous spectacle during the congressional hearings into this matter, executives of BP and Transocean and Halliburton falling over each other to point the finger of blame at somebody else.The American people could not have been impressed with that display and I certainly wasn't.


BLITZER: The president also promised to crack down on federal oversight of the oil industry and its drilling practices.


OBAMA: For too long, for a decade or more, there's been a cozy relationship between the oil companies and the federal agency that permits them to drill.Seems as if permits were too often issued based on little more than assurances of safety from the oil companies.

That cannot and will not happen anymore.To borrow an old phrase, we will trust but we will verify.Now from the day he took office as interior secretary, Ken Salazar has recognized these problems and he's worked to solve them.Often times he's been slammed by the industry suggesting that somehow these necessary reforms would impede economic growth.Well, as I just told Ken, we are going to keep on going to do what needs to be done.


BLITZER: Let's bring in our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian.Dan, what exactly has the Obama administration been doing to try to back up its claims?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well first of all Wolf, this administration does not want this oil spill to become their Katrina.I was talking to top aides in the administration today and they were telling me that back in early 2009, Mr. Salazar was already working hard to implement some reforms at MMS, which is the Minerals Management Services.

This is the agency that is charged with the oversight and the permitting for these drilling operations.They say that he's been working on implementing some ethics regulations there and also pushing for more oversight and enforcement at these offshore operations.But clearly all of this was not enough to prevent this oil spill and this administration realizes that there's a lot more work to be done on this front, Wolf.

BLITZER: What do they say, Dan, that they will be doing in the coming days about getting a solution specifically on the leak and this whole notion of the president using the old Ronald Reagan phrase "trust but verify" as far as the oil executives are concerned?

LOTHIAN: Well Wolf, first of all, what the president said today is that all the best minds are working to stop this leak.All of the scientists are using all of the best technology that they have to make sure that they can stop it as quickly as possible but they realize that this is a major, major challenge.

Now in terms of going forward, what will happen next, the president saying that loopholes have to be closed so that these oil companies, that there's more oversight as to these oil companies making sure that they follow all of the environmental regulations.And in addition to that, the president has charged Mr. Salazar with conducting a top to bottom review of MMS.Now you might remember that earlier this week, Mr. Salazar said that he would be breaking the agency into two.

Part of that agency will be focused on the licensing, the permitting for doing the drilling.The other one would be on the enforcement and the oversight.And the reason for this is the hope obviously is that there will not be any conflict of interest so any potential problems that could occur that could lead to something like another oil spill will be prevented, Wolf.

BLITZERAll right.Dan, thanks very much.By the way, coming up later here in "The Situation Room," I'll be speaking with the commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, Thad Allen.He's overseeing the efforts in the Gulf.

Also coming up, the former first lady of the United States, Laura Bush.She's sharing her personal opinions with me on some very sensitive social issues including abortion and same-sex marriage and what she believes on those issues very different from what her husband believes.My interview with her, that's coming up today here in "The Situation Room."

Also, we're getting new information suggesting that government might soon take legal action against Arizona's controversial new immigration law.We're going to have the latest details for you.That's coming up as well.

And blood in the streets of Thailand, as the deadly violence there escalates.Stay with us.You're in "The Situation Room."


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty joining us right now with "The Cafferty File."Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: From the Lone Star State you are today, right?

BLITZER: Dallas, Texas.A nice place but it's raining -- raining pretty heavily here.We're in the mobile "Situation Room" today.

CAFFERTY: The mobile "Situation Room."We travel everywhere.

Government might soon be in charge of something else, Tracking how fat or skinny American children are.Under the Healthy Choices Act, states would receive federal grants to track the body mass index of children between the ages of two and 18.The bill would require doctors to collect this information, then pass it to the state government, which would then pass it to the federal government.

The bill says that federal officials would use the data then to identify obesity trends in different parts of the country and how the trends change depending on gender and socioeconomic status.Don't we know all this stuff already? Also, if a child's body mass index is greater than the 95th percentile, we're talking really fat here, the bill requires the state to give the parents information on how to lower it, like take the kid's fork away on local childhood obesity programs.

One of the bill's sponsors, Democratic Congressman Ron Kind from Wisconsin, tells Cybercast News Service no one would be forced to go into their doctor to get their body mass index tested.It would be taken when the child is at the doctor for a regular visit.

The bill's sponsors also point out any data collected would not include the patients' names.It's all part of a larger measure that funds several programs and introduces new regulation meant to reduce obesity.Many would argue it's long past due with one-third of all U.S. children and two-thirds of all adults either obese or overweight.Being fat also means being more likely to have things like diabetes, heart disease and cancer and the costs of treating those things affect everyone.

So here's the question.Should the government start keeping track of how fat our children are? Go to and post a comment on my blog.Wolf?

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.Exactly three weeks after Arizona's governor signed a very, very controversial immigration law, there's new word about a federal challenge that is now in the works.Lisa Sylvester is working the story for us.Lisa, what have you learned?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the mayor of Phoenix was in Washington today, he was making the rounds.He made a number of stops meeting with officials from Capitol Hill and the Department of Homeland Security and he walked away from those meetings in his words very optimistic that within the next three to four weeks, the federal government will challenge Arizona's new law that cracks down on illegal immigration.He believes that this new law is racist.

BLITZER: Quickly, Lisa, there's also some new developments unfolding related to all of this, a new push for a border fence.What you learning on this front?

SYLVESTER: This was another topic that I asked him about, a very controversial topic.There is a new push to build a fence along the southern border, something that Senator Jim DeMint has been talking about, he wants to introduce an amendment.Senator John McCain has also talked about this.But critics are saying that it won't solve all of the problems.


SYLVESTER (voice-over): The Secure Fence Act promised 700 miles of double layered fence along the southern border by the end of this year.But in a subsequent amendment, Congress left it open to the U.S. Border Patrol to decide whether that's actual fence, vehicle barriers you can walk right past or a network of cameras and sensors.The result?Some U.S. ranchers say it's not that difficult for smugglers to bring people across.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is another example of pedestrian foot traffic circumventing the checkpoint.

SYLVESTER: Senator Jim DeMint wants an amendment that would require the federal government to build 700 miles of actual double layered fencing.While Customs and Border Protection says it now has 347 miles of single layer pedestrian fence, DeMint says so far only 34 miles of the more effective double fence have been built.

SEN. JIM DEMINT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The American people are adamant about securing our Southern border.It's a matter of security.It's a matter of jobs.It's a matter of drug trafficking, weapons trafficking.

SYLVESTER: It's also a matter of politics.Senator John McCain, who once advocated a system to legalize illegal immigrants, is now running for re-election in Arizona and one of his top priorities, well, just listen to his latest campaign ad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You bring troops, state, county and local law enforcement together.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: And complete the dang fence.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It will work this time.

SYLVESTER: Build the dang fence, McCain says.But the mayor of Phoenix, Arizona, says the fence will only further drive a wedge in the Latino community that is already reeling from a new state law that gives local officers the authority to verify immigration status and he doubts a fence alone will work.

MAYOR PHIL GORDON (D), PHOENIX: We saw historically the Great Wall of China to the Berlin Wall to any wall.People determined to get across when there's an economic motive will get across and smugglers certainly have been doing it.


SYLVESTER: Senator DeMint had hoped to attach his border fence amendment to the bill on financial regulation but that effort failed.His staff says he's now looking for a new political vehicle to try to get it through but he's confident that if he can, that he will have the votes in Congress to get it passed.Wolf?

BLITZER: Lisa, thanks very much.We'll stay on top of this story for our viewers.

Meanwhile, there's more bloodshed in Bangkok, Thailand.We're going to tell you what unleashed yet another round of anti-government anger that's exploding in the streets.We have the videotape for you.

And something's happened to that runaway balloon, behind an infamous hoax on the nation.


BLITZER: Let's go back to Lisa.She's monitoring some of the other top stories in "The Situation Room" right now.Lisa, what else is going on?

SYLVESTER: Hi, Wolf.Well the streets of Bangkok are exploding after Thai troops opened fire on anti-government protesters.The clashes have already killed eight people and wounded more than 100.Local television is reporting that a shopping center and a rail station have been hit by grenades.A key protest leader was also shot in the head during an interview yesterday.

In news from the U.K., Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says Britain's newly formed coalition government is off to a good start.Mrs. Clinton met with Britain's new foreign secretary William Hague during his first official overseas visit since taking office.The alliance between the new Prime Minister David Cameron's conservative party and the liberal Democrats was formed this week.

And that infamous runaway balloon, you know the one that was at the center of the most talked about hoaxes in memory?Well, it's back in the hands of the parents who pleaded guilty to creating the incident.Richard Heene served 90 days for falsely claiming his 6-year- old Falcon was trapped in the UFO shaped object last year.His wife was also charged.

And Wolf, it's hard to believe this, but we're told that the father actually measured the balloon to make sure that it was the same one.Sounds to me like he's planning on selling that thing, probably on eBay or something, Wolf.

BLITZER: Or he wants to do some sort of reality TV series and wants that for it.We'll see what he wants to do.

SYLVESTER: That will be the prop.

BLITZER: Yep.All right, thanks very much.

Laura Bush remembering the chaotic moments, very chaotic moments after the attacks on America.She tells us what it was like, what life was like staying in a bunker below the White House.What that bunker was like, whether she was scared for her life and for her family.

And we're also holding some BP executives feet to the fire.We're asking tough questions about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and whether the company is underestimating its size.


BLITZER: You're in "The Situation Room."Happening now, new questions coming into "The Situation Room" this hour about just how much oil is gushing from the leaky well in the Gulf of Mexico.I'll ask the commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, Admiral Thad Allen.He's standing by.

And the space shuttle Atlantis blasting off on what's likely to be its final mission to space.I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in "The Situation Room."

We're reporting live from Dallas, Texas.I'm here because I spent some time earlier in the day with the former first lady of the United States, Laura Bush.We sat down together on the beautiful campus of Southern Methodist University.And we spoke about her new memoir and the many, many revelations in it including her life in the White House.


BLITZER: Mrs. Bush, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: You've written a really, really excellent book.

BUSH: Oh, good.Thanks.

BLITZER: "Spoken from the Heart." And -- as you can see on almost every page, you are speaking from your heart.

So let's pick up where the book leaves off and try to fill in some of the blanks.


BLITZER: There -- there were some really dangerous moments in the eight years when your husband was president of the United States -- 9/11; there -- there was a grenade thrown at him in Tbilisi, Georgia.

Were you ever really scared for -- for your husband, your family, yourself?

BUSH: Well, I think every first lady probably worries a little bit about her husband.I think that's just part of it.But not really. I'm not really a fearful person and neither is George.And, of course, we knew we were protected by the Secret Service and -- and so it was not -- but seldom was I really afraid for -- for either him or for myself.

BLITZER: What about on 9/11? How scared were you that day?

BUSH: Well, I was not scared on 9/11.I wasn't afraid either for myself or for him.I knew he was OK, as the Secret Service and the military flew him back on the way, stopping in a couple of spots before they got back to Washington.And...

BLITZER: But you write that you were having trouble communicating with him...

BUSH: We -- that was...

BLITZER: It's hard to believe that the president of the United States...

BUSH: That's right.

BLITZER: -- was having trouble communicating with the first lady.

BUSH: It was a shock for everybody that it was hard to call off Air Force One that day and then to call to it.And we tried several times to reach each other and then finally did reach each other.But I think, you know, we learned a lot, probably, WACO -- White House Communications -- probably learned from that day and made some changes.

BLITZER: It's surprising to me to hear you say you were never really scared. So many millions of Americans were scared for you and for your husband.

BUSH: In retrospect Flight 93 may have been headed toward the capitol, which is where I was on September 11th, with Senator Kennedy and Senator Judd Gregg, but I really was not afraid of that. And then when I got to the bunker late that afternoon when George was on his way home after I was taken to a secure location, Lynne Cheney and Dick Cheney were already there and Condy Rice was already there in the bunker where they spent the day and Lynne told me the plane that crashed in the pentagon had circled the white house. The white house is so tucked in that if that was really the first site or first intention of that hijacker, they went onto the pentagon.

BLITZER: People hear the word bunker and they have a vision. Describe what the bunker at the white house is like.

BUSH: It really is sort of like a bunker. It's deep below the white house in a basement. I think it was maybe added during Truman or Roosevelt during war. And it looks like it was added during Truman or Roosevelt. The furniture looks that old in it. There's a hideaway bed there that the very first night, September 11 that night, the secret service told George and me they wanted us to stay there to spend the night there and George just said no. He said I've got to be in my own bed. I have to get some sleep. He knew that everything had changed for him and for his presidency. And for our whole country after that terrorist attack.

BLITZER: Your life changed that day.

BUSH: That's right it changed. Everything we thought when George ran for president, he ran on nearly all domestic policy issues, on education, and tax cuts and, you know, peace was on its way we thought. The Balkans and Northern Ireland peace was on its way there. All of those central European and eastern European democracies were standing up and we knew of course there were still problems as there still are with Israel and Palestine but we didn't expect that terrorism would be the dominant issue and what he focused on the most for the rest of his presidency.

BLITZER: And there would be real wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. When he became president never thought he would be a commander in chief in a war.

BUSH: Uh-huh.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about your husband. You write in the book -- I'll read this to our viewers. The criticism that he received. He did get a lot of it. "It was still painful to see the man I loved, the man I knew, so misrepresented by his opponents to the American people. And the hardest part was knowing that our daughters saw it too." I want to get to your daughters in a moment. Tell us something about the president that you don't think the American public even to this day appreciates.

BUSH: I do think the American public know -- I hope they know how deeply and strongly he supported the men and women of the United States military. And how very, very difficult it is for him and for any other president to send troops into harm's way. Those kind of decisions are the decisions that every president dreads.

BLITZER: He agonized about it?

BUSH: He did.

BLITZER: You write that he didn't lose sleep.

BUSH: I would see him walking on the lawn. I would look out the window and see him walking across the lawn with Spot, our dog that came to the white house with us, I knew he was agonizing about it.

BLITZER: Did he have second thoughts that he made a mistake?

BUSH: I really don't think so. I think they gave Saddam Hussein every chance to disclose or disarm. Everyone, all of the intelligence said that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. And do we wish Saddam Hussein was still there? No. I don't think anyone does.

BLITZER: When they finally said to him, Mr. President, we've been looking for weapons of mass destruction, the stockpiles we haven't found any and you know what? He probably never had any. What did he say?

BUSH: Of course he was very disappointed that our intelligence said that that everyone -- it wasn't just the U.S. It was British intelligence obviously. Intelligence from many other countries as well as U.S. intelligence. Every leader in the United States I'm sure you have quotes from many, many senators from both sides of the aisle, former presidents who also believe that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

BLITZER: Did he pound the table? I know you said he was disappointed. Did he start screaming at people or anything like that?

BUSH: Of course not. That's not his style. That's not the way it would be.

BLITZER: My interview with the former first lady Laura Bush will continue in just a moment. Up next, how did the Bush daughters deal with all of that criticism against their dad?

Plus, the advice the two daughters gave the Obama girls. Sasha and Malia and later, the multimillion dollar defense system the U.S. might build for another country.


BLITZER: Now back to my interview with the former first lady, Laura Bush. We're here in Dallas, Texas. We talked about perhaps her most important role as a mother. It's not easy raising two daughters in the white house. What was difficult thing with teenage girls in the white house eight years?

BUSH: I think for them the scrutiny. The public sort of life that they had to live when they wanted to be totally unanimous like all freshmen in college which is what they were during that campaign during the fall of 2000 and then that spring of the first year of their dad's term. A lot of freshmen in college don't even want to admit they have parents much less that their parents are president. I think that was difficult for them. And then also and mainly was the criticism.

BLITZER: The criticism --

BUSH: Of their father. We knew that. We had been the children of a president. We knew when George decided to run that that's what happens. And it's not just what happens to a Republican president. Now as we see, it's what happens to anybody on either side of the aisle that serves in the office of president of the United States. There's always a loud chorus of complaint from the other side. Or even from your own friends.

BLITZER: How did Barbara and Jenna handle that criticism?

BUSH: I think they just lived with it. They knew about it because they were born the year their grandfather was elected vice president. So it was something they were aware of. As they wrote to the Obama girls in that letter they wrote --

BLITZER: To Sasha and Malia.

BUSH: They know their dad. They know their own dad. They know what he's like. And so the criticism that you hear, you know is in many ways the caricature that comes from the criticism is something that they knew his faults.

BLITZER: In that letter they wrote to Sasha and Malia, what specific advice did they give the two? BUSH: The one thing they said is take advantage of it. Do things with your dad. The special things that you get to do which Barbara and Jenna did. They both traveled with us. They both really developed a very strong interest in Africa and AIDS prevention from being able to travel with us to Africa more than once. They got to meet people they always admired. Jenna got to meet Wendy Kopp. Jenna is a teacher and she had always been impressed with teach for America. Barbara got to have dinner and meet with one of the great freedom fighters of the cold war during the cold war who was actually jailed in Czechoslovakia and then became president of the Czech Republic. They got to -- Barbara was with me up in George Steinbrenner's box when their dad threw out the first ball at that first game in New York at the World Series. Take advantage of it.

BLITZER: So they basically told Sasha and Malia enjoy it. Take advantage of it and be grateful for the opportunity.

BUSH: And then they said the main part, the point that I was making earlier is remember who your dad is.

BLITZER: Because you'll hear people say nasty things.

BUSH: Yes.

BLITZER: We'll have much more with my interview with former first lady Laura Bush. That's coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM in the next hour. We'll get her take on some of the more controversial social issues of the day.

Also other news we're following, how will Tuesday's big primaries shake out? And will they spell bad news for incumbents? We'll get predictions in our strategy session coming up next.


BLITZER: Let's get right to our strategy session. Joining us, our CNN political contributor, the Democratic strategist Paul Begala, and Republican strategist Tony Blankley of Edelman PR in Washington. All right. Let's go through some races next Tuesday they're saying it's Super Tuesday. A few of these key primaries, Pennsylvania. Paul, first to you. Joe Sestak is challenging Arlen Specter the incumbent Democrat for the Democratic senatorial nomination. Who is going to win?

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Arlen Specter hasn't lost an election in my lifetime but I think he's about to. I think Admiral Sestak -- Congressman Sestak now is probably going to take that primary. It will be close but he has momentum.

BLITZER: What do you think, Tony?

TONY BLANKLEY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I'm always cautious the weekend before with a volatile electorate. You don't want to be too confident but it seems to me that Specter has been steadily a little bit behind and it does feel like the end of the road for him. BLITZER: There's also a Democratic primary, the incumbent Senator Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas facing a challenge from Bill Halter the lieutenant governor. Tony firs to you, who will win that one?

BLANKLEY: I think she hangs on in the primary and will have a very serious race in the general. That's my sense. She's being attacked from the left with labor unions in a pretty conservative state. She's been ahead but not by much. I think she hangs on for a while.

BEGALA: Wolf, you might actually have a runoff there believe it or not. It's not only Blanche Lincoln, the incumbent United States senator who is a Democrat and Bill Halter the Democrat lieutenant governor, there's a third conservative Democrat. I can't remember his name. I don't mean to dismiss you, sir, but there's a third candidate, even more conservative Democrat, that could pull enough, four, five maybe eight or 10 percent of the vote so if nobody gets over 50 percent under Arkansas law, then Bill and Blanche have to go to a runoff. Not good news for Democrats. This has been difficult bloodletting already. Last thing they need is a second round of bloodletting.

BLITZER: Paul you were there in '94 when the Democrats suffered their own political blood bath after two years of the Clinton administration. Listen to Haley Barbour. He was the Republican Party chairman and now the governor of Mississippi. Listen to what he said today.

GOV. HALEY BARBOUR (R), MISSISSIPPI: In the spring of 2010 the political environment for conservatives and Republicans is better than it was in the spring of 1994. That's just a fact.

BLITZER: In '94 Democrats lost the house and the Senate. Is it just a fact, do you agree, Paul, with Haley Barbour.

BEGALA: No Wolf and I have not been sugar coating how difficult the terrain has been for Democrats in 2010 but there's a very, very important difference. Not to blow smoke on Tony Blankley but the Republicans don't have Tony Blankley. They don't have Newt Gingrich. In 1994 as the Democrats went down, the Republicans were going up at this very time in the summer of '94, Democrats were going down, Republicans were going up. Now Democrats are going down and in face President Obama is coming back up but the Republicans have remained low. Approval for the Republicans in this week's "Wall Street Journal" poll only 30 percent. That wasn't what was happening in '94. Republicans were moving up. This is much more generally anti- incumbent than it is anti-Democrat. '94 was anti-Democrat. So I think Haley is wrong on this but it would not be the first time.

BLITZER: Tony, what do you think?

BLANKLEY: Pretty close to the first time. Haley is one of the surest politicians in either party. What I think is this is a very different election environment than '94. I think the country is much, much more negative on Washington than it was then. But I do agree that I think that we as a Republican Party in '94 were probably better fighting force and had more positive message going. It was a much more benign environment for the Democrats. My sense is that it's worse for the Democrats only because it's really bad against the Democrats right now and not because relatively the Republicans are probably a little stronger last time.

BLITZER: Let me get your quick thoughts on Eric Holder, the attorney general. He's coming under fire. Republican Congressman Peter King of New York doesn't think he deserves to be an attorney general in part because of an exchange like this that he had this week up on Capitol Hill.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Radical Islam could have been one of the reasons.

ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: A variety of reasons.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was radical Islam one of them?

HOLDER: There are a variety of reasons why people do these things. Some of them are potentially religious beliefs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All I'm asking is if you think among those variety of reasons radical Islam might have been one of the reasons that the individuals took the steps that they did.

HOLDER: Radical Islam, those people who espouse a version of Islam that's not --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you uncomfortable attributing their actions to radical Islam? It sounds like it.

HOLDER: I don't want to say anything negative about a religion.

BLITZER: All right. Tony, first to you. Is this a big deal or a little deal his reluctance to blame radical Islam for what happened in Times Square, some of the other incidents?

BLANKLEY: I think he looks foolish. I think if you polled the public I would guess plus 90 percent would say of course it's related to radical Islam. Whether it's being an attempt to be extremely politically correct or whether it's his actual judgment. If it's his actual judgment, it's very serious. If he's being politically correct it's not useful because it undercuts the clarity with which we have to understand the circumstances. Either way, it's not a winning moment for the attorney general.

BEGALA: First, if you want to talk --

BLITZER: Other criticism, Paul, against him, was this exchange he had on the Arizona immigration law, which he wants the justice department to review. Listen to this --

REP. TED POE (R), TEXAS: Have you read the Arizona law?

HOLDER: I have not had a chance to. I've glanced at it. I have not read it.

POE: It's ten pages. It's a lot shorter than the health care bill which was 2,000 pages long.

BLITZER: All right, Paul, go ahead, what do you think about that?

BEGALA: Well, first off, he also went on to say he had been briefed on it, but, you know, I think that's kind of a silly thing. The point -- I want to come back to Tony's point about terrorism, though, what's silly when John Ashcraft was attorney general under George W. Bush, he was opposing efforts to beef up counterterrorism funding before 1997 and instead spending his time at putting a blue drape over the brass breasts of the statue of justice in the justice department. Eric Holder now his justice department and FBI in 53 hours and 17 minutes Eric Holder's department caught the guy who was allegedly was behind the attempted bombing in Times Square. They disrupted a plot by this guy Zazi allegedly to bomb the subway system in New York City. Eric Holder has been a very, very effective counterterrorism attorney general. He's kept America safe. The fact that he wasn't want to smear one of the world's great religions, you know, nobody attacked the attorney general back when I was working for Bill Clinton when she wouldn't smear Christianity when this animal McVeigh committed an act of terrorism under the bastardization of the Christian faith. He wasn't really a Christian at all, but it's the faith he tried to pretend to proclaim. It's the same thing with these radical terrorists. They are not truly Muslim at all, and he didn't want to smear one of the great religions.

BLITZER: We don't have time, Tony, but we do have to wish Paul happy birthday, because it's a big week for him. Happy birthday, Paul.

BEGALA: And enjoy Texas Wolf. Tell my fellow longhorns, I say hook 'em horns.

BLITZER: They love you here in Texas, thank you very much.

It's the beginning of the end of the space shuttle program. We'll have the very latest on the launch of "Atlantis" and that shuttle's farewell mission.


BLITZER: Get right back to Jack Cafferty in New York with "the Cafferty file." Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the question this hour is should the government start keeping track of how fat our children are? There's actually a bill in Congress that would be designed to do just that.

Donna in Illinois, "The federal government already has too much control and they still want to be in control of every aspect of our lives. Here's an idea, keep track of the federal deficit. Spend more time on important issues, jobs, the economy, immigration reform, and cutting spending."

Rob writes, "Absolutely, first, there's nothing wrong with collecting some relevant anonymous data and, second, it's literally a growing problem. I think there would be more outrage if the government were doing nothing about this."

June writes, "No, they should not. My daughter's overweight. It's due to a thyroid problem. The doctors kept saying she was overweight and put her on diets, and after 15 years they finally listened and found out she has a thyroid problem. The government has too much control over our lives as it is. Enough is enough."

Steve says, "Normally I would think, no, but much like regulating the stock market, the free market has shown it cannot be trusted to take care of itself in matters of health and obesity. I think it's a good thing for the U.S. government to step up and help the country which is becoming the fattest and unhealthiest on earth."

Frankie writes, "No, they ought to keep track of what schools feed children. Ever since Reagan tried to have ketchup declared a vegetable in school lunches, things have gone downhill."

Tara in Texas, "No, the government cannot even keep track of who's in this country illegally, much less try to keep track of children's weight. Parents are the ones that need to step up to the plate here. It's their children and not the government's children whose health is at risk."

And Sara writes from Denver, "No, hell no. My body, my kids' body, my business. This is just another step toward the government telling us where, what, when, and how to eat. Stop the food police, now."

If you want to read more on this, go to my blog at Lots and lots of mail today, Wolf, but it's mostly because of the question in the next hour.

BLITZER: Yeah. Well, we're going to get to that shortly. Stand by.

We're also going to get more of my interview with the former first lady, Laura Bush, that's coming up in the next hour as well.

Plus, why does it seem like it's so difficult to determine just how much oil is gushing from that leaking well in the Gulf of Mexico? I'll ask the commandant of the U.S. coast guard, Admiral Thad Allen, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.