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Taliban Storm Giant U.S. Base; "Heavy our Wetlands"; Thai Troops Storm Protesters

Aired May 19, 2010 - 18:00   ET


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

Armed with guns, grenades, and suicide vests, Taliban insurgents assaulted giant U.S. base in Afghanistan. I'll ask Afghanistan's opposition leader if the enemy is winning right now.

Heavy oil in the gulf coast wetlands. A CNN team joins Louisiana's governor on a tour and makes a very disturbing find. We're going to show you the grim new evidence.

And during the visit by Mexico's leader, President Obama says illegal immigration is down, but the first lady may have come across a different reality.

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

A mass attack by the Taliban on the nerve center of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. Heavily armed insurgents today stormed the giant Bagram Air Base. A U.S. contractor was killed. Nearly a dozen insurgents died. This coming a day after a Taliban attack in Kabul which killed 18 people including 5 U.S. troops and a Canadian military officer. CNN's Paula Hancocks is joining us now live from the Afghan capital. Paula, tell our viewers what happened.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this was a very brazen attack. It happened in the early hours of Wednesday morning, about 3:00, 4:00 in the morning, and according to the Pentagon, there were 30 insurgents, the Taliban says there were 20, but they all tried to infiltrate the Bagram Air Base, one of the biggest military bases in Afghanistan. The U.S. says that they didn't manage to get in, but there was a fierce gunfight. We know that many of the personnel that were living close to that gate actually had to go down into the bunkers for at least an hour and a half whilst this carried on.

There were rockets being fired. There were grenades being thrown. Some of those insurgents actually were wearing suicide vests, although, the Pentagon says they didn't actually detonate them. So, certainly a very brazen attack by the Taliban -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Paula, how did you and your CNN team get word, first of all, on this attack? HANCOCKS: Well, 5:00 this morning, Wolf, the phone rang, and it was the Taliban spokesman telling CNN exactly what was going on. He phoned us during this attack. Now, obviously the attack was ongoing, and it went on for another hour at least with this gunfight, but he said that there were 20 armed men. He said that some of them had suicide vests, and he claims that they had detonated them close to the gate trying to clear the way for more of the fighters to go in.

And he also said this is part of what they announced last week. They announced that spring offensive if you like, saying that they were going to go after any NATO troops and anybody who tried to help these NATO troops. And as you see twice in two days, they have managed to hit their targets.

BLITZER: Is that really conceivable, 20 suicide bombers attacking this base, which is the suggestion of the Taliban, is that conceivable?

HANCOCKS: It sounds a lot, but the Pentagon believes that there were 30 of these insurgents. They say that only a handful were actually wearing suicide vests, and they didn't detonate them, but it's not unheard of. This air base has been attacked in the past. Another air base, back in the fall of last year, in east -- Eastern Afghanistan, was attacked by 200 fighters. Now, in that particular attack, there were casualties, obviously, on both sides. But it just shows that the Taliban has the men. It has men who are willing to be suicide bombers, and it has them here in the capital, and it is able to hit at the heart of this U.S. mission -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Paula Hancocks reporting for us from Kabul. Be careful over there. Paula, we'll check back with you tomorrow.

Just ahead, I'll be speaking with the former Afghan foreign minister, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah. He dropped out of last year's presidential runoff election charging widespread corruption. I'll ask him about the latest violence and if anything at all has changed in Afghanistan.

Now, the stunning new evidence showing just how much that massive oil leak is starting to impact the Gulf Coast in the area where the Gulf of Mexico meets the Mississippi river. CNN's David Mattingly and his team have been out on a helicopter and a boat with the Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal. They've made a very, very disturbing find. David Mattingly is joining us now with more. David, tell our viewers what you and the governor saw.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, what we saw today was by far the worst damage from the oil that we have seen so far. We went back into these wetland areas, these marshes that are at the mouth of the Mississippi river, and it's in that location that we saw this oil as thick as chocolate syrup on top of the water, back into these marshes. This is the first time we've seen this heavy crude making contact with land, and it couldn't have been in a worse place because these sensitive marshlands, these wetlands were very environmentally sensitive, very important to future fish population and that's where they this discovered this oil. Very disturbing to the governor here, Bobby Jindal, who says he's concerned that this is only the beginning.


GOV. BOBBY JINDAL, (R) LOUISIANA: You didn't see this heavy oil off the coast a couple days ago, and so, again, the concern is, is this oil coming submerged oil, is this oil coming in? And part of the concern for us is the tide that's coming on and not taken the oil out.


MATTINGLY: And that's what we're looking at right now, Wolf, a bottle full of that stuff that I saw out there in the marshes. It is as thick as chocolate syrup, absolutely nasty, and deadly to everything it's touching out there. Those grasses that you saw growing in the water that this stuff comes in contact with, in about a week to ten days, that's all going to be turning brown and dying.

All of the environmental -- all of the microbes and the first layer of sediment out there that's coming into contact with this, that's going to be dying, and that's going to have ramifications on the food chain, starting that cascading effect, that bad environmental disaster that they've been talking about. They're seeing it in that particular marsh, and they're worried they might be seeing more -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Is there anything that can be done in terms of any kinds of activities that prevent this oil from getting so close?

MATTINGLY: Well, that's what's so mysterious about this. This managed to get past the booms. It got past the crews that are out there dredging -- or skimming. It got past the people who are spraying it with dispersant. It got past all of that, and somehow got into this environmentally sensitive area. Governor Jindal has been pushing the corps of engineers very hard to approve a permit for this state where they can start dredging and start building up these barrier islands off the coast of Louisiana that have eroded away over time.

He believes that if they build up those barrier islands, that's going to stop the oil and keep it from getting into these environmentally sensitive areas. Plus, it will be a lot easier to clean it up on a barrier island using shovels out on the sand instead of having to go back into marsh where it's in the water.

BLITZER: David Mattingly reporting for us. Good luck to everyone over there. We'll watch this story closely.

The oil, by the way, may reach far beyond this so-called spill zone. If it gets into the loop current areas, most at risk includes the northwest coast of Cuba and the coast of Southeast Florida from the keys all the way to West Palm Beach. The state department says the U.S. is now talking to Cuba about the oil spill. Working-level discussions are focusing in on the cause of the spill where the oil is heading and how to stop it. This is a serious, serious situation seems to be getting worse.

Jack Cafferty's coming up next with "The Cafferty File.

Then, a Missouri man admits pledging allegiance to al Qaeda and funneling tens of thousands of dollars to terrorists.

Plus, Mexico's president over at the White House. He just walked in, with the -- with his wife for the state dinner that the president and the first lady are hosting. Earlier, he was slamming Arizona's controversial crackdown on illegal immigrants. Standby, we have more.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty's here with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: For someone who electrified the electorate during his run for the White House, President Obama isn't getting it done when it comes to helping out his fellow Democrats. The losses it seems keep piling up. First, his candidates lost the governor races in both New Jersey and Virginia, then that shocking loss of the late Senator Ted Kennedy's seat in Massachusetts, and now, Republican-turn-Democrat Senator Arlen Specter who was backed by the president has been turned out. His career in the U.S. Senate is over. Suddenly, democratic incumbents are sort of like deer on the opening day of hunting season.

They're all running for cover and fearing the worst. Come November, one or both Houses of Congress could fall to the Republicans. One top Democrat told the New York "Daily News" this morning, if the election was held today, we'd lose both houses. And it seems like the White House may be starting to get it now after his guys got their hats handed to them in Massachusetts, Virginia, and New Jersey, President Obama pretty much stayed away from Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania. They smelled a bad thing happening, even before it actually did.

It's worth pointing out that some of these candidates didn't want the president's help especially either. They don't want to get too close to a president with mediocre approval ratings whose policies like health care reform are not popular with everyone. Meanwhile, the White House is busy spinning an awful day the best they can. They claim the race that meant the most was the Pennsylvania congressional seat where Democrats managed to hold on to the late Congressman John Murtha's seat.

The White House also cites weak candidates in the other races as well as a toxic political environment for incumbents. In golf, it ain't how, it's how many, and they lost a lot of these races. Here's the question -- to what extent are yesterday's election results a referendum on President Obama? Go to Post a comment on my blog.

BLITZER: All right, Jack, thank you.

After a secret arrest and detention, a Kansas City resident was in court today accused of helping to bankroll al Qaeda. Let's bring in our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve and our national security contributor, Fran Townsend. First, Jeanne, to you, what is it all about?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: First of all, no plot against the United States here, but a 32-year-old former owner of an auto parts store in Kansas City, Missouri, Khalid Ouazzani, a naturalized U.S. citizen, born in Morocco today pleaded guilty to providing more than $23,000 to al Qaeda. Money he got through bank fraud and money laundering. He was arrested back in February, but today, he admitted taking an oath of allegiance to al Qaeda and having conversations with others about ways to support the group, including fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Somalia.

His co-conspirators are not named. Officials won't say if they're in this country or abroad. But prosecutors say they used various methods to try to disguise their communications. Ouazzani's lawyers issued a statement saying he regrets what he has done and is taking steps to atone for his crimes, Wolf.

BLITZER: He was arrested, Fran, earlier in the year, but all of this was kept secret. How does that work? I don't get it.

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: It looks clearly, Wolf, that he got a lawyer assigned. He may decided to cooperate. And what it means is the government believed that he had actionable intelligence that they could gather and then follow-up on leads they could follow-up on. I think the most telling part about is when Jeanne says there are co-conspirators who are referred to but not identified, those are the kind of things that they would have looked to him to help them put piece together.

BLITZER: So, all of the legal parts brought before a judge, accusations, charges formally leveled against this individual, that can be done in secret?

TOWNSEND: It can. All of that could have been waived either by him alone or by him with a lawyer.

BLITZER: What if he doesn't want to waive it?

TOWNSEND: If he doesn't want to we've it then he's going to be--

BLITZER: Then the government has to be public about it.

TOWNSEND: That's exactly right.

BLITZER: You can't just go out and hold someone in secret without his cooperation.

TOWNSEND: That's right, Wolf, but he understands, he and his lawyers that it's in his interest. If he has information that may help the government, that will all be taken into consideration now in sentencing after he pleads guilty.

BLITZER: Are they saying that this was part of some sort of bigger activity? In other words, if there are co-conspirators, there may be others who are trying to support al Qaeda, pledged allegiance to al Qaeda, raise funds for al Qaeda here in the United States?

MESERVE: They indicated today that there are these co- conspirators, but as I say, they didn't say specify where they were. They went out of their way in the press conference today to say there was no threat specifically to the Kansas City area, Wolf.

BLITZER: Because if you raise money and provide that money to any terrorist group, let alone al Qaeda, you're going to jail.

TOWNSEND: That's right. And, Wolf, you know, the charging document alleges this $23,000 transferred to al Qaeda, that's a lot of money. Look at a plot like Faisal Shahzad in Times Square or the Christmas day bomber, bombing attempt, those aren't expensive plots. Imagine, how many of those you can get for $23,000. And so, I suspect that the government is very interested in knowing who is he transferring the money for, what did he know it was going to be used for, and who can help him identify them.

BLITZER: And should people be more alarmed right now when they hear this report?

TOWNSEND: Wolf, no, I mean, because he's been in custody a while and he's been working with the government. I think we shouldn't be alarmed by. We actually should be heartened that the government is following the--

BLITZER: I ask the question because for every one the U.S. catches, there may still be plenty of others out there who are at large.

TOWNSEND: That's right. We've seen an increasing number of arrest of those who are working with al Qaeda who either naturalized U.S. citizens or American born, and that's the thing a lot (ph) to be concerning.

MESERVE: In fact, today, I got the list from someone at the justice department. They don't claim that this is the comprehensive all-inclusive list, but they came up with 25 names of naturalized or native-born U.S. citizens who have been picked up on terrorism charges just since 2009.

BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks very much. We'll continue to watch this story.

Millions of Facebook users find the website blocked after their government turns off access because of a controversial Facebook page.

Plus, why some automakers are planning to make their vehicles -- get this -- noisier.


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

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. We want to show you some pictures. At least one tornado has touched down in Oklahoma as severe storms roll across the state. One trucker was injured when powerful winds blew over his rig on Interstate-35, more than 40 counties are now under tornado watches, and at least two high schools in the Oklahoma City area have had to postpone their graduation ceremonies.

A controversial Facebook page has prompted Pakistan to block the hugely popular social networking website, Facebook. The page encourages people to draw pictures of the Muslim prophet Muhammad which is forbidden in Islam. That prompted protests, and today, a group of Islamic lawyers want a court order requiring the government to block Facebook until the end of the month.

Two astronauts picked through a list of tours on a seven-hour space walk. It took them just a few minutes to untangle a cable that had snagged 100-foot boom on space shuttle "Atlantis." They also replaced three giant batteries on the international space station, each one weighing 375 pounds, at least back on earth. The third and final space walk is scheduled for Friday.

And the makers of electric and hybrid cars have agreed to make their vehicles, yes, noisier! At low speeds, they're so quiet and the problem is that people can't hear them coming. And that's especially dangerous for blind people. Groups representing automakers and the disabled have sent Congress a proposal for minimum noise levels as lawmakers weigh a new motor safety act. So, the hybrids are going to get a little noisier, Wolf.

BLITZER: Do we know if anyone has been hurt by the very quiet cars?

SYLVESTER: You know, that's a very good question. I've got to believe that there's some kind of reasoning behind this, but you can imagine, my husband, for instance, drives a hybrid, and there is a big difference between the hybrids and regular car and how much noise they make. So, that's something to look in to whether there have actually been injuries, Wolf.

BLITZER: That's a good point. All right. Thanks very much, Lisa.

Bangkok turned into a battleground today as Thailand's army moved in on anti-government protesters. The two sides traded gunfire and protesters set major buildings ablaze right in the heart of the capital, at least five more people have died. The violence has already taken dozens of lives. CNN's deploying all of its resources to bring you this extraordinary story. Our Dan Rivers reports from the scene, but we must caution you, his piece contains very disturbing images throughout.


DAN RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's before dawn. Hundreds of soldiers move into position ready for the crackdown the government has been threatening for days. We watch as squads fan out across Lumphini Park, engaging armed protesters on the barricades. The protesters fired back and then set lights to the southern barricade, turning the may sky black. Armored personnel carriers moved in. The bamboo in Thai walls were no match for this military vehicle. For some seven hours, soldiers fought protesters. Journalists were among those caught in the crossfire. And all around, people who had nothing to do with this protest, cowering in fear.

RIVERS (on-camera): You can see how vulnerable the local residents are here. This family are crouching with us on the roof of their building, and the bullets are literally flying right beneath where we are.

RIVERS (voice-over): During a brief lull, we find another resident, a British expatriate.

How do you feel towards the protesters? Are you angry with them for causing all this disruption?

DAVID QUINE, RESIDENT: Yes, I think a lot of people are angry at the disruption caused, but who is to blame and the complexity of the politics here it's not -- it's not easy to --

RIVERS: Let's go inside.


RIVERS: You go in.


RIVERS: Thanks. OK. Bye.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Careful, careful, careful.

RIVERS: This was the aftermath of an M-79 grenade attack by protesters, which seriously wounded a soldier and a Canadian cameraman. Elsewhere, the body of a man, the government brands these hard line protesters terrorists, while some were captured alive, it's not clear how many escaped. But after hours of fighting, it was clear the army was unstoppable. And finally, the Red Shirt leadership surrendered.

PANITAN WATTANAYAGORN, GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN: The areas are now stable. We are still facing a few pockets of problem in several places in Bangkok. We would like to ask for your cooperation to remain in your own household.

RIVERS: As the clear-up began, a nighttime curfew was announced. It became clear the Red Shirts were operating a scorched-earth policy, setting more than a dozen buildings ablaze including Thailand's biggest shopping mall. Incendiary politics of Thailand have entered a new and grave phase. The government implied (ph) ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is to blame for the scenes. Thaksin's denial sounds hollow to many in government who fear more violent may be about to be unleashed in this British kingdom.

Dan Rivers, CNN, Bangkok.


BLITZER: New tensions, meanwhile, in one of the most dangerous corners of the world, hours before an official report is released on the sinking of one of its warships, South Korea is publicly blaming the communist north. South Korea's Foreign Minister said today that an underwater explosion from a torpedo caused the ship to split apart in March with the loss of 46 sailors.

He said North Korea is clearly responsible and that there is enough evidence to take the matter to the United Nations. The United States has aided in the investigation. North Korea denies involvement in the sinking.

Two bold attacks in two days. Could the Taliban be winning the war in Afghanistan right now? I'll ask the opposition leader, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah.

It's already a pretty mean midterm election year, but could things get a whole lot nastier in the nation's capital?

And I've got a new favorite soccer team in my hometown, can you believe the Buffalo Blitzers?


BLITZER: More now on our top story this hour, the second major attack in two days, Taliban insurgents have stormed the giant Bagram Air Base, part of the U.S. military operation in Afghanistan. A U.S. contractor and nearly a dozen insurgents were killed. I sat down with Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, the former Foreign Minister of Afghanistan, now the key opposition leader.


BLITZER: Dr. Abdullah, we've known each other for a long time. I've known you as a blunt, candid individual. Do you believe Hamid Karzai is the legitimate president of Afghanistan right now?

DR. ABDULLAH ABDULLAH, FORMER AFGHAN FOREIGN MINISTER: He is not legitimate, and he, himself, admitted that a few weeks ago, but at the same time, he put the blame for the fraud on the United States. But he is the president of the country, unfortunately.

BLITZER: Do you think he stole the election?

ABDULLAH: Absolutely.

BLITZER: You have -- you have no doubt in your mind?

ABDULLAH: Absolutely, no doubt in my mind.

BLITZER: And when you tell that to U.S. officials, what do they say to you?

ABDULLAH: They are sorry about what has happened, but they accept it, and they might live with the status quo.

BLITZER: Do you believe the people of Afghanistan have accepted Hamid Karzai as their president?

ABDULLAH: The people of Afghanistan are aware of what happened during the elections, and what happened as a result of the announcement for Karzai on -- by the commission which was in charge of fraud. And they are aware of all these facts, but they are not given other choices.

BLITZER: What would you do differently right now, if you had been elected president of Afghanistan, and you -- you, you ran against him?

ABDULLAH: To be honest to our own people, as well as to our friends, and to start changing things.

BLITZER: Like what?

ABDULLAH: In terms of issues of governance, corruption is the main problem. And that's the main problem which has helped insurgency in some parts of the country.

BLITZER: The drugs.

ABDULLAH: It's drugs. It's corruption in the government, in the higher officials. It's (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: Is he corrupt, Karzai?

Do you believe President Karzai is corrupt personally?

ABDULLAH: He has a lot -- a lot of corruption around him and...

BLITZER: But is he stealing money?

ABDULLAH: He, himself, personally, no. I shouldn't say so. But...

BLITZER: So he doesn't...

ABDULLAH: -- but the family.

BLITZER: You think his brother, for example, Walid?

ABDULLAH: The -- everybody is using his -- the influence of name in order to get something. And corruption is there in the very high level of the government and also deep down.

BLITZER: What should the U.S. -- the Obama administration -- be doing differently right now?

ABDULLAH: To define the mission in a way that it is understandable to your own public here, as well as to our own people. And also to stand by the process and to regain the trust of the people by proving that you are supporting the people of Afghanistan, the process in Afghanistan and not just one person.

ABDULLAH: Because as we speak, the Taliban -- the other insurgents, the terrorists -- they seem to be on the offensive, even going after the U.S. base at Bagram, even as we speak right now.

ABDULLAH: Yes. I think we have missed already really some golden opportunities in the past few years. And I don't think that we can afford to do so in the coming years. But to -- for -- for the current administration -- the U.S. administration to have a consistent message to our people, as well as to yours and to have consistency in their strategy, policies, and, also, a greater voice.

BLITZER: Does President Obama have a consistent strategy in Afghanistan?

ABDULLAH: The -- the perception about the strategy in Afghanistan, as far as the people of Afghanistan is concerned -- are concerned or the enemies of peace -- and a peaceful process in Afghanistan, like Taliban and Al Qaeda is concerned, or the countries surrounding Afghanistan, the perception is very different and you will find people confused.

BLITZER: Do you believe the U.S. And NATO forces in Afghanistan right now are occupying forces?

ABDULLAH: No, I don't. I don't -- I still do believe that the people of Afghanistan are appreciative of the -- the efforts by the United States and NATO there. And they do understand the need for their presence.

BLITZER: What happens when they leave?

ABDULLAH: If they leave at this sort of a stage, we will be back in the first square.

BLITZER: The Taliban will win?

ABDULLAH: The Taliban will win. Al Qaeda will return back. And the people have...

BLITZER: And all of this war, this fighting, the sacrifice over the past several years, will have been for naught?

ABDULLAH: If -- if you leave prematurely, without leaving behind a stable system and institutions which can function and keep the country together, the only people which will benefit from that will be Taliban and Al Qaeda.

BLITZER: It looks like Karzai wants to negotiate with the Taliban.

Am I right or wrong?

ABDULLAH: You are right. He says that he wants to negotiate with the Taliban.

BLITZER: Do you want to negotiate with the Taliban?

ABDULLAH: Before getting to -- to this part of your question, I don't think that he knows what he's -- what he -- about -- if he understands that what is it that he's talking about. Because if you're talking about the Taliban which are intimately working together with Al Qaeda and, at the same time, this government, led by Mr. Karzai, is losing support of ordinary people -- an absolute majority of the people -- the two cannot work together.

BLITZER: So is the Taliban right now winning?

ABDULLAH: The -- certainly, the current partnership is not in the winning side.

BLITZER: Because I'm very worried about three years, five years, 10 years from now.

How long do you believe U.S. forces will have to make a commitment to stay in Afghanistan?

ABDULLAH: I think some of the opportunities which has been missed, it's because of the failures of your partner, led by Mr. Karzai. So...

BLITZER: Right now, how much longer should American -- the American public think that U.S. troops will have to remain in your country?

ABDULLAH: If the current circumstances prevail while your partner is failing to deliver to its own people, then it is -- I don't see an end in sight. If that circumstances changes, that we, altogether, Afghans and the international community, can win the people of Afghanistan, then that will shorten that period.

BLITZER: Dr. Abdullah, good luck to you.

ABDULLAH: Thank you.

BLITZER: Good luck to all the people of Afghanistan.

ABDULLAH: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you.

The results are in -- so what do yesterday's elections tell us about the upcoming midterm?

Gloria Borger and John King -- they're showing us what's in store.

Plus, the first lady, Michelle Obama, caught off guard as she grilled a second grader about immigration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: My mom says my mom says that Barack Obama...


UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: My mom says that I think that she says that, um, Barack Obama is taking everybody away that doesn't have papers.



BLITZER: We're looking at the fallout from yesterday's primary and special election with our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, and CNN's John King, host of "JOHN

KING USA," which comes up right at the top of the hour -- Gloria, let me start with you.

This Congressional race in Pennsylvania, a special election. It had a Democrat and a Republican actually...


BLITZER: -- fighting each other in this race. You think that that sort of portends ugliness big time in the weeks and months to come?

BORGER: Well, it portends -- it does portend ugliness. But -- but let me just say one thing. That is the good news for the Democrats. They won this election. It was an election that actually was between two people. One of them is going to go to Congress.

It didn't have an incumbent in it. And if there's going to be a wave that the Republicans are predicting for the Republicans, they've got to start winning some of these special elections.

JOHN KING, HOST, "JOHN KING USA": That's exactly right.

BORGER: And they've been losing one after the other after the other. You had a good Democratic candidate, defined his differences with other Democrats...

KING: Right.

BORGER: -- defined his differences with Barack Obama, made it a local election and won.

KING: And what's interesting is the Republicans are right when they say this Democrat ran a good campaign, he ran anti-abortion, he ran pro-guns, he ran in a conservative district...

BORGER: Right.

KING: They're absolutely right when they say that. But the difference is, in 1994, there were a lot of Democrats who ran near perfect campaigns who still got caught up in the wave. And that's what concerns Republicans -- maybe this wave isn't as powerful as they think.

I'm told, Wolf, that Congressman Pete Sessions -- he's the Republican who runs the Congressional Campaign Committee -- he had to go before the House Republican Conference today and take responsibility for this loss. And there is a lot of grumbling, not about just Pete Sessions, but about the staff at that committee, saying do you people really understand what you need to do to help these candidates?

BLITZER: So should the White House and the Democrats be giddy about this?

BORGER: Well, I wouldn't...


BORGER: I wouldn't say they're giddy, would you, John?


BORGER: No. There they're -- they're not giddy.


BORGER: But they're looking at it. And they say maybe this provides a model for us as -- as a way to win elections now -- talking about how that effects things here in Washington.

KING: Sure.

BORGER: It means that. You're going to see Democrats distancing themselves from the president...

KING: Right.

BORGER: -- going their own way when they need to go their own way. And that, I think, could have, you know, a bad impact on the Obama agenda going forward.

BLITZER: Rand Paul had a very impressive victory in Kentucky. And he says the Tea Party helped him and he's very proud of that.

What does that portend?

KING: I had a great conversation with Dr. Paul today. We're going to have it at the top of the hour.

What it portends is, number one, Republicans are a bit nervous. They think he is -- was facing their other candidate, who's more, frankly, a vanilla candidate -- and I don't mean that as an insult -- was a safer candidate statewide, a more traditional establishment Republican. They think some of Dr. Paul's views will make it interesting to see if he can defend. He's still favored in Kentucky. And...

BLITZER: Because he's got that libertarian streak. KING: He has the libertarian streak. Now, as he consolidates the Republican Party in Kentucky, the question is, is he the next Scott Brown?

Because he's not -- he's only won a primary, not a general election.

But will other candidates say, hey, come. I want the power of the Tea Party movement. Come campaign in my state.

In Nevada, there's a Tea Party candidate vying for the Republican nomination against Harry Reid. Watch to see if Rand Paul go plays there. And, Wolf, watch to see if he goes to Arizona. J.D. Hayworth, the former congressman, a Tea Party favorite, running against John McCain. The Tea Party activists want Dr. Paul to go play in that race. That could cause a little complication for John McCain.

BLITZER: Well, is it a forgone conclusion that Rand Paul is going to win in November?

BORGER: No, I don't think so...


BORGER: -- because the -- the Democrats have...

BLITZER: Because the Democrats...

BORGER: -- and they started...

BLITZER: -- got a good...

BORGER: -- right away.

BLITZER: They've got a good candidate.

KING: Right.

BORGER: By the way, they started last night. Tim Kaine, head of the...

KING: Right.

BORGER: -- Democratic Party now, you know, portraying him as an extremist. Don't forget, on foreign policy, this is somebody Dick Cheney was opposed to because this is somebody...

KING: Right.

BORGER: -- who doesn't support the war, who doesn't support anti-terror policies. So I -- I think that. You're going to see a lot of Republicans distancing themselves...

KING: They're going to have to -- they're going to have to fight for that seat.

BLITZER: All right, we'll look forward to your interview...

BORGER: Absolutely.

BLITZER: -- at the top of the hour on "JOHN

KING USA" with Dr. Paul.

Thanks very much.

KING: Thank you.

BLITZER: Mexico's president is being honored over at the White House and the guests are arriving right now for the state dinner. Among the celebrities, Beyonce. She'll be performing, and George Lopez, as well. I don't think he'll be performing.

But we also have some other news that we're watching. President Obama says illegal immigration is down. The first lady, though, may have come across a very different reality today.

Stay with us.



BLITZER: The state dinner for the Mexican president, Felipe Calderon, is about to get underway over at the White House, after a day in which immigration was a major topic in some expected and some unexpected ways.

Our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry, is joining us now from the White House -- first of all, Ed, what's happening right now?

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, right now, all the VIP guests have arrived -- a lot of policymakers, as well as celebrities like Whoopi Goldberg -- for the state dinner. We're going to hear the toasts pretty soon at the top of the next hour, President Obama and President Calderon. But as you noted, a lot of substance before that, especially on the issue of immigration. President Obama today saying that illegal immigration is down, not up. Although his wife, Mrs. Obama, found out the facts may be a little murkier than that when she went to a school just a few miles from the White House in suburban Maryland.


HENRY: (voice-over): It was billed as a chance for the first ladies of the U.S. And Mexico to teach second graders about exercise and healthy eating.

M. OBAMA: One more?


M. OBAMA: OK. HENRY: But Mrs. Obama quickly got a lesson herself about the hot button issue of illegal immigration.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: My mom said that I think that she -- she says that, um, Barack Obama is taking everybody away that doesn't have papers.

M. OBAMA: Yes. Well, that's something that we have to work on, right, to make sure that people can be here with the right kind of papers, right?

That's exactly right.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: But my (INAUDIBLE) doesn't have any.

M. OBAMA: Yes. Well, we have to work on that. We have to fix that.

HENRY: Not exactly the message President Obama was trying to send during Mexican President Felipe Calderon's first state visit.

B. OBAMA: Illegal immigration is actually down on the borders, not up. I know that's not the perception out there, but that's the fact.

HENRY: Mr. Obama rolled out the red carpet for his neighbor, who promptly slammed the new Arizona law making it a crime for non- citizens to fail to carry immigration documents.

PRES. FELIPE CALDERON, MEXICO: We will retain our firm rejection to criminalize migration so that people that work and provide things to this nation will be treated as criminals. And we oppose firmly the S.B. 1070 Arizona law given in fair principles that are partial and discriminatory.

HENRY: The president noted he may launch a legal challenge to the Arizona law. But he also pressed Republicans to work with him on national reform, so states do not create their own patchwork systems.

B. OBAMA: I don't expect to get every Republican vote, but I need some help in order to get it done. I'm actually confident that we can get it done and the American people, including the people of Arizona, are going to prefer that the federal government takes responsibility and does what it's supposed to do.


HENRY: Now, I pressed White House officials to give us some documentation backing up the president's assertion that illegal immigration is actually down right now, despite all of the public perceptions that it's up. They gave me some statistics from the Border Patrol showing that over the last five years, the number of apprehensions along the US/Mexico border has decreased by 53 percent. They think that that shows that the flow of illegal immigration is decreasing so much, that's why there's less arrests. Because of all the technology being used, less people are trying to cross the border. They think the flow is actually down -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry is over at the White House.

Ed, thanks very much for that report.

Jack Cafferty is coming up next with your e-mail.

Then, a new nickname for one soccer team hits close to home -- my home.


BLITZER: Let's check back with Jack for The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is, to what extent are yesterday's election results a referendum on President Obama?

Paulette in Pennsylvania: "A hundred percent. The way Specter, in Pennsylvania, was hung out to dry was shameful. The man put 30 years of his life on the line by crossing the aisle and voting for the stimulus package. He had no choice but to convert to being a Democrat then. I'm sure he was promised the world. And on election day, Obama was in Youngstown, Ohio. That shows me how he honors his word."

Sean writes: "I think it's more of a referendum on how pitiful Congress is and the Democrats' agenda than it is on Obama personally. I think Republicans are likely to get every bit as much of a wake-up call come election time. Look at the number of incumbent Republicans who are struggling in the primaries and you can see. However, if Obama doesn't learn to govern from the center, he's going to have a rude awakening come 2012."

Bob in Arizona writes: "Arlen Specter wasn't a Democrat, he was an opportunist. This was not a vote against Barack Obama, it was a vote against someone whose only goal was to remain in office."

Steve writes: "What about the special election for Congressman Murtha's seat? Isn't that a referendum on Obama, showing that Pennsylvania swing voters, who voted for John McCain, are now voting Democratic?"

Bill writes: "Hey, Jack, I think we have to wait for the fall elections. These are a critical six months for President Obama. If he loses both houses, it will be a no vote of confidence. If they can create good paying jobs, this anger will evaporate quickly. "It's the economy, stupid," said the bold man years ago. That phrase will stand forever."

And Catherine writes: "Absolutely a referendum on the president. Even the people who voted for Obama are now realizing what a mistake it was. He's not listening to the American people. The idea that we don't know what is good for us is becoming more than insulting. I can't wait for November."

If you want to read more on this, you'll find it on my blog. Go to

BLITZER: Jack, see you tomorrow.

Thank you.

He's now the Republican Senate candidate in Kentucky. We're talking about Rand Paul. He'll join John King right at the top of the hour to talk about Tea Party momentum.

Plus, will it be the Buffalo Bolts the Buffalo Blue Collars or the Buffalo Blitzers?

The votes are now in. We'll reveal the winner.


BLITZER: Here's a look at some of the Hot Shots coming in from our friends over at the Associated Press.

In Beijing, a worker cleans the exterior of a skyscraper.

In Poland, people stand on the edge of a flooded road after heavy rainfall caused flooding in Eastern Europe.

In India, a Hindu devotee performs yoga.

Take a look at this in Indonesia -- sea turtles are hosed down with water after police seized 70 illegal sea turtles from poachers.

Hot Shots -- pictures worth a thousand words.

We've been following the voting for a new nickname for the FC Buffalo, the National Premier Soccer League team in my hometown of Buffalo, New York.

CNN's Lisa Sylvester is back with an update on what is going on -- all right, Lisa, tell our viewers.

SYLVESTER: Well, Wolf, this is a story I am very excited about.

FC Buffalo was looking for a new nickname and they left it up to their fans. More than 2,300 of them voted on the team's Web site. And among the options -- and here we go -- the Buffalo Bolts the Blitzkrieg, the Blue Collars, the Expos, the Rust and the Wolf Blitzers. We talked to the team as voting began two weeks ago. And many of them were rooting for you, Wolf.

SCOTT FRAUENHOFER, SOCCER TEAM CO-OWNER, RESIDENTIAL CONTRACTOR: Think about the mascot possibilities -- a wolf in a suit with a white beard who's running around terrorizing the other team.

NICK MENDOLA: Definitely glasses.


MENDOLA: Definitely glasses on a wolf, which you don't see every day.

SYLVESTER: What about the wolf packs?

Do you have like the fan base be calling themselves the wolf packs?

FRAUENHOFER: Oh, absolutely. It -- it -- unending marketing possibilities.

MENDOLA: We think he should come out for a game.

FRAUENHOFER: Yes, if you -- hey, Wolf, if you win this contest, we would like to see you here at our inaugural game May 29th. Maybe I'll blow the opening whistle, something like that.


FRAUENHOFER: Come on down. Come -- come home.

MENDOLA: You can do whatever you want. We can -- we can -- you know, if you want to address any of the schoolchildren, you know, we'll have them out to come out to a game. Anything would work. We just want to see Wolf Blitzer. Or maybe you can just hold up our scarf on TV.


SYLVESTER: Hey, I like that.

Well, Wolf, today, guess what?

The team announced the winning name on its Web site. And with almost 900 votes, the team's new nickname is now the Buffalo Blitzers. There it is on their Web site -- and, Wolf -- oh, there it is. You've got the scarf on.

BLITZER: How does it look?

SYLVESTER: It looks great. It's a great color for you, too.

BLITZER: The Buffalo Blitzers -- it's -- it's got a good ring to it.

What do you think?

SYLVESTER: Yes, it does. And, you know, are you going to go there?

That's the big question.


SYLVESTER: You've got an invitation.

BLITZER: Unfortunately, I can't go for the opening game. I've got a wedding that I've got to go to that weekend. But I will. I'll go see the Buffalo Blitzers. I've got to go. Everybody has got to go see the Buffalo Blitzers, right?

SYLVESTER: Yes. And you...

BLITZER: Right. What...

SYLVESTER: And you've got the scarf now, too.

BLITZER: What possibly could be better and more fun than the Buffalo Blitzers?

Good luck to my team in Buffalo, New York.

I hope they have an undefeated season.

Lisa, thanks very much.

Remember, you can also follow what's going on behind-the-scenes here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm on Twitter at wolfblitzercnn. If you want to start Tweeting, start doing it. You can also start following.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"JOHN KING USA" starts right now.