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Oil Continues to Leak into the Gulf of Mexico; BP Continues to Use Toxic Dispersants Despite the EPA's Order for it to Cease; Administration Pushed for New Compromise Plan to End ' Don't Ask, Don't Tell'; The High Cost of College; GOP's Virtual Town Hall

Aired May 25, 2010 - 07:00   ET


KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you. Welcome to AMERICAN MORNING on this Tuesday. It's May 25th. I'm Kiran Chetry.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you. I'm John Roberts. Thanks for being with us today. Here are the big stories we'll be telling you about in the next 15 minutes.

The federal government and BP in a dispute this morning over dispersant. The oil giant ordered to cut back on a chemical it's using because it's too toxic, but BP is defying the request, and this morning, miles of Louisiana coastline are now covered in crude oil.

CHETRY: The White House Democrats on the Hill and possibly the Pentagon all on board with a plan to repeal don't ask, don't tell. A look ahead at a possible timeline and what this could mean for the military in the future. We're live at the Pentagon coming up.

ROBERTS: And how do you get the best value for your child's college education? A special series looks at the high cost of college and how one grad is now paying for the decision to go to his dream school.

CHETRY: First, it appeared to be an order, a 72-hour deadline. When that passed, the order became a request. No matter how the EPA delivers the message, it is apparently not getting through. This morning BP is refusing to cut back on the chemical disperse Corexit, still spraying tens of thousands gallons into the Gulf to break up the massive oil slick.

Ed Lavandera is live in New Orleans this morning. It seems BP is determined to go ahead what they think is the best plan despite the fact that EPA did, it appears, order them to stop using Corexit all together. So what happened?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The EPA gave that directive to BP, and they chose not to change and wrote a detailed letter explained why what they were using was the best option. The EPA administrator says the amount of dispersant is reaching world record levels. So we find ourselves in a standoff between the EPA and BP.


LAVANDERA: Despite being told to use a less toxic dispersant, BP continues to spread tens of thousands of gallons of Corexit into the Gulf of Mexico. BP's chief executive is unapologetic.

TONY HAYWARD, BP CEO: We have used dispersants that are on the EPA approved list. Everything we do with dispersants with the explicit approval of the EPA.

LAVANDERA: Not quite. EPA administrator Lisa Jackson gave BP a three-day deadline to change dispersants or explain why they couldn't. The deadline has passed and BP is still using Corexit.

LISA JACKSON, EPA ADMINISTRATOR: The answer we got back from BP to me seemed more like a defense of their current choice, reminding me a little bit of that old commercial, I would rather fight than switch.

LAVANDERA: Bp says there are five viable dispersant options at this point besides Corexit. The EPA says Corexit is the most toxic of those. But, in fact, on May 4th BP ordered 100,000 gallons of one of those call Sea-brat, but it's still sitting in an industrial park outside of Houston, Texas.

After our story aired last week questioning why this potential help was sitting hundreds of miles away, BP now says sea-brat needs more testing because it may harm the environment more than Corexit. The maker of sea-brat says BP is nit-picky.

JOHN SHEFFIELD, PRESIDENT, ALABASTER CORPORATION: I'm anxious to get started. I think the window of opportunity to start effectively dealing with the oil spill is closing.

LAVANDERA (on camera): So that makes it more urgent?

SHEFFIELD: Absolutely.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): While BP keeps fighting to stick with the product it always used, Louisiana environmentalists like Wilma Subra say the EPA amount should force BP to stop using Corexit.

WILMA SUBRA, LOUISIANA ENVIRONMENTAL ACTION NETWORK: Nobody is standing up to BP. They make the decision and disperse it into the water column, and then we have to live with environmental damage.

LAVANDERA: The EPA says it is calling on the oil giant to dramatically cut back on the amount of dispersant it is shooting into the Gulf of Mexico.


And Kiran, last night officials with the EPA said they want BP to cut back on the use of dispersants by 50 percent. In the meantime, the EPA says its own scientists will study the toxicity of dispersants being used in the Gulf of Mexico. So stay tuned.

CHETRY: Ed, thanks so much.

And for so many communities along the Gulf coast, it's all they know and it's been taken away. Now the federal government has declared a fisheries disaster, that frees up cash in the Gulf of Mexico. The oil spill has shut down close to a fifth of the fisheries in the Gulf.

Fishing is a $2.5 billion industry in Louisiana alone. That state provides 40 percent of the U.S. seafood supply.

ROBERTS: Thousands, many tens of thousands of gallons of oil are still pouring into the Gulf of Mexico each and every day, oil furiously pouring into the sea and local leaders demanding less finger-pointing and plugging of the leak. The Obama administration is saying the time for excuses is over.


KEN SALAZAR, INTERIOR SECRETARY: I want to make it very clear. Under the law, BP is the responsible party. BP is charged with capping their leaking oil well and paying for the response and for the recovery without limitation. They will be held accountable. We will keep our boot on their neck until the job gets done.

GOV. BOBBY JINDAL, (R) LOUISIANA: We have been frustrated with the disjointed effort with the oil hitting our coast. We need folks in each of the vulnerable basins to mobilize resources quickly to contain oil when it arrives. We don't need to wait 24 or 48 hours.


ROBERTS: And still President Obama's point man in the gulf says it is up to BP to clean up its own mess. Dan Lothian is live at the White House this morning. He spoke to Admiral Thad Allen and he was doing pushback against the Interior Secretary Salazar, saying you push BP out of the way, and do what?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. That's a question being asked. I should point out Thad Allen has spoken with other oil companies and they believe BP is taking the right steps to try to the plug the leak.

Having said that, those questions do continue. Will there come a time when the government has to push BP out of the way and take over the entire operation? Admiral Allen says that would not be his recommendation.


ADM. THAD ALLEN, U.S. COAST GUARD COMMANDANT: I know to work down there you need remotely operated vehicles. It would be very technical work at 5,000 feet. You need expertise in terms of what the federal government could do. There may be other ways to get it, and right now the relationship with BP is the way we should move forward.


LOTHIAN: According to a recent CNN poll, it says most Americans don't believe that not only BP, but that the president is doing a good enough job in handling this leak. That's why you're seeing a stepped up effort with Secretary Napolitano and Ken Salazar fro Interior to the Gulf, also bringing Thad Allen out for the press corps briefing. They really want to show they are on top of the situation. They believe Thad Allen saying he believes this situation can be contained, but there's a lot of frustration that this has taken so long.

ROBERTS: Dan, if the government doesn't have the expertise or equipment to deal with things on the bottom of the ocean, what about the cleanup? Is there something they could be doing there?

LOTHIAN: Certainly they have been deploying a lot of resources to help with the cleanup operation. There seems to be a little frustration that while BP is capable of plugging that leak, they say they are in the business of drilling for oil, not in the business of cleaning up.

Thad Allen pointed out that he believes they need to "tighten up" their operations in terms of dealing with the oil that's coming onshore. He said he's spoken with the CEO of BP to tell them that.

ROBERTS: Dan, thanks so much. Good to see you.

At 15 minutes after the hour, we'll talk with the White House energy czar, Carol Browner. Is the government completely at big oil's mercy here? And why are both sides apparently so hopelessly unprepared for a leak this big this deep?

And tomorrow beginning at 6:00 a.m., we'll report live from the Gulf coast as BP begins a potentially risky attempt to plug that leak. That's "AMERICAN MORNING " live from Grand Isle, Louisiana.

CHETRY: A deal has been reached that could get rid of "don't ask, don't tell." The White House is backing a proposal to speed up the repeal, but is the Pentagon on board? We'll be live there in minutes. It's eight minutes after the hour.


CHETRY: Ten minutes pasts the hour. Lawmakers on the Hill, President Obama, and possibly the military brass coming together on a deal to repeal the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

ROBERTS: Three members of Congress have a plan laid out and now the ball is in the Pentagon's court. Our Barbara Starr is joining us live from the Pentagon this morning to break it all down for us. Good morning, Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. So far Defense Secretary Robert Gates silent on this compromise, but the White House is endorsing it. The plan would be to vote in the coming days on repealing "don't ask, don't tell," the ban that does not allow gays and lesbians to openly serve in the military, repeal it, but with a huge condition -- that repeal would not take place for some time until the military basically certifies that it's OK with it, that it's continued this review that's underway, it's talked to the troops and it wouldn't hurt military readiness and they could actually move forward with an implementation plan. So that's the big caveat. Now the White House says they would support this idea. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is silent. The Joint Chiefs of Staff haven't weighed in yet either. John, Kiran?

CHETRY: Why is Congress pushing for a vote now if they are allowing the military to take time before figuring out how to implement a repeal?

STARR: You know, politics of course, it's Washington. A lot of Democrats are looking at how the next election may shape up. They think they may not have the votes after the next election that the face of the Congress will change. It's problematic that they have the votes now to do it, but they think if they get it done now, at least that is going to be their best chance.

Nonetheless, there is a huge issue here, which is the president, the secretary of defense, Robert Gates, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, all promise the troops they would get the time to weigh in, offer their opinion, their views and their concerns about all of this.

So there's certainly going to be a lot of effort from the Pentagon to make sure that the time is taken, even if the vote happens to let the troops have their say. John and Kiran?

ROBERTS: Barbara, thanks.

Patience running thin, the oil getting thicker onshore and underwater. Is the federal government at BP's mercy? We'll ask the president energy adviser coming up next. Carol Browner is coming right up. It's 13 minutes after the hour.


CHETRY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. It's 36 days and the oil is still gushing from the Gulf of Mexico. BP says it's cooperating but still defying an order to stop using a potentially toxic chemical to clean up the oil leak in the gulf.

ROBERTS: After visiting Louisiana and seeing the black syrupy oil form themselves, Obama administration officials are saying patience is running out.


KEN SALAZER, INTERIOR SECRETARY: I want to make it very clear. Under the law, BP is the responsible party. They will be held accountable. We will keep our boot on their neck until the job gets done.


ROBERTS: Joining us live from the White House is Carol Browner. She is the assistant to the president on energy and climate change.

Ms. Browner, good to see you this morning. How is it that neither the government nor BP were prepared to deal with the spill this big or this deep without adequate safeguards being put in place? How do they even get permission to drill without having a disaster plan?

CAROL BROWNER, ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT ON ENERGY & CLIMATE CHANGE: Well, there are plans. The states have plans. The drillers are required to have plans. There are plans. And obviously this is a very, very large complicated situation. And what we're doing right now is making sure that all of the best minds are brought to bear and that, you know, BP, we're not relying on BP that their expertise is being taken advantage of, but we're making sure that everything is being done to get this thing shut down.

ROBERTS: Well, you said that there well plans but it would be a pretty clear indication from what we're seeing now 36 days out, that those plans were wholly inadequate. So how did they ever get through?

BROWNER: Well, for example, each of the states have plans in terms of what needs to be protected, what's their most sensitive areas. We are working with the governors. I was on the phone with the president yesterday when he spoke to the governors. We speak to the governors daily to ensure that those plans are being fully implemented.

Now some of the states are bringing forward new ideas, ideas that weren't in those plans. For example, Governor Jindal has proposed building about 80 miles of barriers. We're looking at that very seriously. But I think people should know that even by his own estimation, that might not be done or completed for another six to nine months. But we want to make sure is happening are the things to protect these communities right now today. At the same time --

CHETRY: I want to ask you about that actually because there's a lot of anger and frustration within these communities. A parish president saying, look, we put a plan forward two weeks ago to protect, to put up sand barriers to protect some 80 miles of shoreline and that was not approved by the Coast Guard. So they're saying that you're talking about six to nine months that they could have gotten started on this if they had gotten federal approval. So if you are leaving it in the hands of some of these local parish presidents and local governors to make these decisions, why not approve it so they can move forward?

BROWNER: We are looking at it right now. It is a very, very detailed proposal. It needs to be carefully vetted. We are doing that right now. But again, we want to make sure that we are putting the resources into those things that can help the communities immediately. We take all of their proposals seriously.

Look, we share the frustration of these communities. We I think understand just how difficult the situation is. As I said, we've been working very closely with the governors from day one. Yesterday on the call with the president, the governors were complimentary of everything that's going on but we're all frustrated. We're frustrated that this leak hasn't been stopped and we're frustrated that we're not able to get it stopped. Hopefully tomorrow we're going to be able to make that happen. We've got our best minds down there. Secretary Chu, a Nobel Prize winning physicist, our national labs, we've got everybody on the spot, making advice, asking pointed questions to try and get this done.

ROBERTS: The EPA has ordered BP to cut back on the use of this dispersant Corexit, at least on the surface. Apparently, it's still approved for undersea injection. But when it comes to Corexit, do you trust BP's data on toxicity and effectiveness?

BROWNER: Well, EPA is collecting their own data. They're working with NOAA and others in the government to ensure that we have all of the appropriate data. Here's the situation. The dispersants are one of the tools that are helpful in a situation like this. It's a very complicated situation.

ROBERTS: Do you trust what BP is saying?

BROWNER: We're not relying on BP. We'll have our information. We're doing our own evaluations and we will continue to do that.

CHETRY: The question though, is, you talk about the six to nine month timeline before approving local plans like Plaquemines Parish president talking about --

BROWNER: Oh, no, excuse me, I misspoke. If it sounds like it I'm saying that it will take us six to nine months to approve something, that isn't what I meant to say. What I was saying is that it will take them six to nine months to construct these. And that's, you know, something that we need to evaluate, which is a solution that won't be in place perhaps for six to nine months. Is that the best solution in the near term?

We're looking at these very, very seriously. We understand where the parish presidents are coming from. We will be responsive to their requests, but we need to make sure and I'm sure they want us to make sure that these are the best responses to get us the fastest protections.

CHETRY: He said that he would go toe to toe with anybody who claims it will take six months. He says it will be -- it could be done quicker than six months. But the question is, you said you want to carefully go over these plans and make sure the best things are happening when it comes to some of the issues, yet you said the EPA is still evaluating the toxicity and effects of Corexit, yet 700,000 gallons have already been dumped in the ocean and it's still continuing. So why is that allowed to continue as the evaluation of the toxicity is continuing to take place?

BROWNER: Let me go back just a second to the plans from Louisiana because I think this is important. It is their estimates that it will take six to nine months, it's not our estimate. So I just want to make sure we all understand that we are going to look at this very seriously.

CHETRY: He says it's the Coast Guard's estimate. He says it's the Coast Guard's estimate.

BROWNER: Well --

CHETRY: Plaquemines Parish president says it's the Coast Guard's estimate that it will be six months. He thinks it can be faster.

BROWNER: If it can be faster, that's good news. We'll take that very, very seriously. That's not the information we have now. But if there is new information, obviously we'll take that seriously.

In terms of the dispersants, EPA has ordered BP to use less dispersants while we continue to do the analysis. I mean, I think it's important to understand that there aren't as many dispersants sort of on the shelf available for use. We do think that dispersants are a part of how we move forward in this difficult situation and so we're going to be evaluating, determining if others can be manufactured quickly, if others can be brought to the scene. We need to understand what is available. It may be that there's not a lot of options. That's sort of our initial information. But EPA and NOAA are doing all the evaluations and we will have an answer.

ROBERTS: So when the EPA says to BP the other night, stop using these dispersants. They give them three days to do it, first of all, and at the end of those three days, BP says no, we're not going to stop using the dispersants. Why aren't they listening to the EPA?

BROWNER: There were a series of meetings after that letter in which it became clear that the alternatives may not be available and that we need to determine whether or not those alternatives are available. EPA is doing that. But in the meantime, EPA has directed BP to start using less of the dispersants and they are required to follow that.

ROBERTS: Let's talk for a second about the Minerals Management Service, Ms. Browner, which is the organization of the government, the arm of government that hands out these permission slips for drilling in the gulf. Environmental groups are charging that they're not much more than just a handmaiden to the industry. And I know that Secretary Salazar says that he wants to split up the MMS, so that you have one side of that service that's dealing with leases, you have another side that's dealing with safety. Just get them apart. The Center for Biological Diversity complained that, quote, "The agency seems to think its mission is to help the oil industry evade environmental laws. You're a former EPA administrator. Does that section of MMS need a top to bottom reform?

BROWNER: Yes, and that's exactly what Ken Salazar is doing. I couldn't agree me with what the secretary is doing. This is a deeply troubled agency. It doesn't exist anymore. The secretary has already taken steps to divide it up to make sure that there are -- that safety issues are handled by one group, as you said, the royalty collections, the permitting. This is an agency that has struggled. He's put in place new ethics guidelines and we're going to make sure this thing works in the future and it works in a way that protects the environment first and foremost.

ROBERTS: But at the same time, they're still in charge and they're still handing out environmental waivers to wells that were already in the drilling process, albeit, fairly new wells. Why is that still going on?

BROWNER: Well, two things are underway. First of all, CEQ, who is responsible for the need for process for the review of all environmental impacts, has launched a review of the whole MMS situation. They had announced this in February. That is now under way. Secondly, there's an oddity in the law.

In the law, interior is given 30 days to respond to a proposal for an exploratory well. We've asked Congress to change that. That's simply not acceptable to require that they respond within 30 days. They need adequate time to ensure that all of the environmental issues have been fully reviewed. I think what happened over the years is because of this 30-day window, they started using these exemptions. Those are not acceptable going forward.

CHETRY: And, Ms. Browner, I want to ask a question about the top kill situation. This is the attempt to ultimately finally plug this leaking well by using the mud and then sealing it with cement. Looks like they're going to start doing that tomorrow morning. How much faith do you have that this will work? What's your assessment?

BROWNER: Well, what I can tell you is we brought our best minds to bear. We have them in Houston. You know, we all want this to work and we are going to do everything in our power to make sure it works. Obviously, we need the BP technology. You they're the ones who know how to operate the little robots that have to move everything around down there, how to operate the vessels. But you know, we're not relying on them. We also have our own people in there asking sharp questions and making suggestions, analyzing how are we going to go about this. We want this thing shut down.

CHETRY: Yes, of course. Well, thanks for joining us this morning and answering some of these questions. Carol Browner, assistant to the president on energy and climate change, we appreciate your time.

Coming up tomorrow, by the way, 6:00 a.m. Eastern, we're going to be reporting live from the Gulf Coast. BP begins this massive, as we said, very risky attempt to plug the leak. And it's the last or the latest best hope. That's tomorrow morning on AMERICAN MORNING live from Grand Isle, Louisiana, starting at 6:00 a.m.

ROBERTS: Coming up, four years of his dream school and what does this grad have to show for it? A nightmare of debt. And he's not alone, not by a long shot. Our "A.M. Original" series, "The High Cost of College" is coming up next.


CHETRY: Coming up on half past the hour, it's time for your top stories this morning. Overseas stocks falling sharply overnight, taking it too from Wall Street which closed yesterday at a three-month low, an official correction. Asian markets were down as much as 3.5 percent. Wall Street is getting up on the wrong side of the bed this morning, as well I guess you could say. Dow futures some 200 points lower and signs pointing to more losses. ROBERTS: A show of solidarity with South Korea. The United States plans to take part in two joint military exercises with Seoul off of the Korean Peninsula. The Pentagon says one of the drills involves anti-submarine warfare. South Korea claims the North torpedoed one of its warships back in March killing 46 sailors.

CHETRY: Pomp and circumstance across the pond. Britain's Queen Elizabeth opening a new session of parliament with a traditional queen's speech. It's the 56th time she's done it. The official state opening usually takes place in November or December. But it's happening now because of Britain's new coalition government, the first in nearly 70 years led by David Cameron.

ROBERTS: Well, it's time now for an "A.M. Original," something that you'll see only on AMERICAN MORNING. A new study suggests job prospects for this year's college grads have improved slightly.

CHETRY: So that's a little bit of good news for students overwhelmed with debt and forgetting that diploma.

Alina Cho is here with the second part of her series, "The High Cost of College." And it is expensive and in some cases it's out of reach for some people without going into debt.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, but they have dreams, right and they say, "I got into this school. I got into my dream school. I want to go. I don't care. I'm going to pay for it, somehow right? And they find a way but then they are in debt.

Good morning, guys. You know, and we found one young man who is in exactly that situation. For high school salutatorian Ryan Durosky, there was no question really that he would go to New York University, a brand name school but very expensive. It cost him. Now he's nearly $300,000 in debt and he's not alone.


CHO (voice-over): As a graduate of prestigious New York University, Ryan Durosky thought his business degree would be a ticket to financial security.

But today he lives above a gas station in an apartment he shares with three others. He commutes two hours each way every day from Pennsylvania to his job in Manhattan and back to stretch his budget. He says he can't afford any other way, strapped by sky high college debt.

(on camera): You talk about the American dream.

RYAN DUROSKY, COLLEGE GRAD IN DEBT: Yes, it's almost become an American nightmare.

CHO (voice-over): Call it a $275,000 nightmare. What Ryan took out in student loans plus interest for four years at his university at this rate, 24-year-old Ryan will be almost 50 before his loans are paid off. (on camera): You had an offer for a full scholarship?


CHO: And then you had NYU as an option.


CHO: Which was so much more expensive.


CHO: So why?

DUROSKY: In my opinion, NYU is a better school. It was right in the middle of Manhattan. I thought it was going to be providing me with better opportunities after I graduate.

CHO: Did you have any idea how much it was going to cost?

DUROSKY: Honestly, no. I mean, I had done the math but when you're 18 and, you know, and you're about to move into New York City, it's just like who cares, I'll pay for it, and I'll worry about it later.

CHO: So after four years here at NYU, Ryan did get a job, but soon after, just as the economy was collapsing, he was laid off. What's worse, right about the time that he got his pink slip, Ryan also got his first bill for his student loans.

DUROSKY: I believe it is $1,020 or something like that.

CHO: What did you think at that point?

DUROSKY: And I freaked out.

CHO: (voice-over): He's no alone. Two-thirds of bachelor's degree recipients graduate with an average of $23,000 in debt, that's up 50 percent since 1996. And then there's this.

JACQUES STEINBERG, "NY TIMES" EDUCATION REPORTER: Fewer than half of the kids who will start a four-year degree program will end up graduating even in six years. And that's a staggering number of kids who are spending a lot of money -

CHO: As for Ryan, in the two years since he graduated, he's paid down $12,000, about four percent of what he owes. Debt he calls both daunting and depressing.

(on camera): Do you regret your decision?

DUROSKY: Yes, I do. I look at the amount of money that I have to pay back, and it's the money that I would almost be using to fulfill my American dream. I would like to, you know, get my own house one day, and get married and possibly start a family. And right now, I don't see that as part of my future. You know, my future right now is debt. It's almost devastating in some cases.

CHO: You do have a degree?

DUROSKY: Yes, I do have a degree. That's a positive point, yes.


CHO: Always trying to look at the bright side. You know, to be clear, Ryan does not blame NYU for his college debt. He blames himself for making that choice and he believes the economic downturn played a role. He certainly did not expect to be laid off especially so soon after graduation. NYU tells CNN that it's advice for prospective students is to plan ahead. College they say is an investment. People need to save for it.

Also, guys, they say if you are in default, contact your lender. Of course, that's a given, but also contact NYU's Career Center. They say they are here to help.

But you know, you really can understand, you feel for this kid, Ryan. Because he's 18 years old and he gets into his dream school. He's first in his family to go to college. And he says you know, why should I not go to the school that I want to go to because I can't afford it. I'm going to get loans and somehow I'm going to pay for it. And he sees that number way off into the distance, hundreds of thousand of dollars but you don't really process it at age 18.

CHETRY: So did he save at all for college? He and his family?

CHO: He wasn't able to. You know, and basically he scraped by getting six different loans, some government and some private and he was able to pay for it that way. Now he's looking at paying $1,000 a month. He's not making much at his job. He was laid off soon after he graduated. It took him six months to find work again. But he's in a tough situation, you know.

On the other hand, he says, "boy, I had that full ride at Hofstra, maybe I should have taken it."

ROBERTS: And I assume too that he's not the only one that's in that boat.

CHO: He isn't. He certainly isn't, not by a long shot.

ROBERTS: Alina Cho this morning. Alina, thanks so much.

The GOP turning to the internet, putting together a virtual town hall. What does the party hope to accomplish? We'll ask the chairman of the House Republican Conference, Congressman Mike Pence when he joins us live. Coming up next. 36 minutes after the hour.



ROBERTS: House Republicans are turning to the internet as we gear up for this fall's midterm elections. They launched a new web site titled "America's Speaking to build grassroots support and get some ideas as well about an agenda. Billing it as a sort of a virtual town hall to craft their new agenda.

Here to talk about it, live from Capitol Hill, the chairman of the House Republican Conference, Congressman Mike Pence.

Congressman, great to see you this morning. Thanks for joining us.


ROBERTS: According to a recent AP poll, Republicans haven't yet convinced voters that they will do a better job if they take control of Congress. When asked the question, "do you want to see Democrats or Republicans win control of Congress?" 45 percent of respondents said Democrats, 40 percent said Republicans. Sounds like you've got some work to do.

PENCE: Well, you know, probably when it comes to the upcoming election, there is work to do. But America speaking is really about right now. It's about realizing that we have enormous challenges at home and abroad, families are hurting and during this struggling economy. And as we raise the curtain today on, we're going to say yes, we have principles.

They are principles built on fiscal responsibility, a strong defense, values, limited government. But we believe the best ideas, the best articulation of those principles comes from America. And so as we built a governing agenda for this Congress, we want to be listening to the American people, which is a pretty new idea in the last year and a half here on Capitol Hill, John.

A lot of Americans, me included, feel like this Congress has been more about tuning out the voice of the American people and moving big government, liberal agenda. We want to be listening to the American people, building a governing agenda to get this economy and to get this country moving again right now.

ROBERTS: Well, certainly, one of the major criticisms of the Republican party over the last decade is that it's kind of lost its way. And I'm wondering is this program of reaching out to constituents, are you just reinforcing that notion that there is no real leadership in the Republican party or are you kind of saying, implicitly, "we don't have any ideas, what do you think?"

PENCE: Well, John, I'm one of the people that believes the Republican party lost its way back in 2006. I think after that election I actually said we didn't lose our majority, we lost our way. But it was because we walked away from the principles that minted our national governing majority, which was a commitment to fiscal responsibility, limited government and reform.

We know what those principles are. When people go to today they're going to see right on the logon page, Republicans are going to outline, we know who we are. We know where our compass leads but we really do believe the best ideas in America come from America.

And so what we're saying to the American people and we think frankly millions of Americans are going to go to this web site, is to say, all right, in the area of fiscal responsibility and putting our fiscal house in order, what are your specific ideas for how we do that? What are the priorities for bringing about changes in these various areas of foreign and domestic policy.

ROBERTS: Yes, you know, you say that this is about now. But the time between now and November is pretty short.

Is this going to lead to maybe another contract with America as we saw in 1994, which ended up in a landslide victory for Republicans?

PENCE: Well, let me say, this really is about - this isn't about a campaign agenda, this is about a governing agenda. You'll recall back in 2006 -

ROBERTS: Understood but good governing agendas do lead to good results in an election.

PENCE: Well, you look back in 2006, the House Democrats through their official resources developed an agenda for that Congress in 2006. That's what we're about doing right now except rather than Republicans huddling back in a room and pulling in, you know, a policy wonks and pollsters, we're throwing the sash open. We're saying to the American people, here's our principles, they're built on the timeless American ideals of limited government, fiscal responsibility and traditional values and national security, but now we want the American people in this highly dynamic, what you're going to see when you go to

This is a state of the art - my kids would say, really cool social networking site where people can put up ideas and other people can rate them, score them, thumbs up, thumbs down. It's really going to be a lot of fun for people and it's going to help us develop the governing agenda for this Congress.

ROBERTS: Do you expect that you'll hear from a lot of Tea Party supporters? Because they are probably the most vocal segment of the Republican party and if you hear a lot of Tea Party supporters, do you expect that they may try to push your agenda further to the right?

PENCE: Well, look, I think we're going to hear from a lot of Americans across the board, John. I really do. There's no filter here, there's no, "are you an activist conservative in the Tea Party movement," even are you a Republican?

People are going to go to, they logon and they get a little avatar, I just, you know, learned the last couple of years what that is, a good little picture of themselves.


ROBERTS: It's a very successful -

PENCE: They can participate in the conversation.

ROBERTS: All right. Well, we look forward to seeing what the results of all of these. And I don't know if it will be as successful as "Avatar," the movie, but I do look forward to seeing how this might shape your agenda in the future.

Congressman Mike Pence, good to talk to you this morning.

PENCE: Thanks, John.

ROBERTS: All right.

PENCE: Appreciate it.

CHETRY: My, how things have changed? Who knew people in Washington would be talking about logging on and getting avatars?

ROBERTS: Who knew?

CHETRY: 44 minutes past the hour. Bonnie Schneider will be along with the travel forecast for you right after the break.


CHETRY: A look at New York this morning where it is - it looks a little foggy there, but the sun will be cutting through the haze a little bit later, 86 degrees for a high in New York for later on today. Right now it is 64. There was some fog coming in this morning.

ROBERTS: Yes. It was pretty muggy yesterday, even in the 60s.


ROBERTS: I mean, walk around in the city, you start to get really damp. And one guy I met in the elevator, saying, wow, this is like being down in Texas. I said, yes, except it's not hot. This is just muggy.

Let's get a quick check on this morning's weather headlines. Bonnie Schneider in the CNN Weather Center, and we're going to have a lovely one here in New York. Looking forward to that today.

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: That's right. It's going to feel like summer for sure before Memorial Day weekend, John and Kiran.

We are looking at all the heat that's been working across the country. It's now moving to the northeast, but I want to talk a little bit about some of the severe weather that's been popping up. We had 17 reports of tornadoes yesterday, most have been happening across the Northern Plains, some down into the Central Plain. So it's another day we're watching for severe weather. You can see these incredible pictures of Oklahoma and into areas of much of the areas of the Northern Plains. We had some tremendous funnel clouds, a lot of that touching down, bringing some damage to areas out there. It is tornado season, and May is the busiest month for tornadoes. And you could see some severe weather breaking out across Kansas and Oklahoma right now.

As we look further to the east, you can see also some showers popping up along the Carolina coastline. Some of that is being influenced by what could have been a tropical system named Alex. It didn't really amount to much. It didn't develop just yet, but it will bring some wind, some waves and possibly beach erosion to areas along the Carolina coast.

It's sort of just a reminder that we're getting into the very start of hurricane season, June 1st, and we need to be prepared and be ready in advance of any kind of storm systems that would come through.

We're also tracking - checking your travel delays for today, and, as you could see, the haze in New York City may bring about some delays, 30 to 60 minutes all across the New York area, Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia. We saw that yesterday. Some more expected today.

Also, look for storms to pop up across Atlanta, Chicago, Charlotte, down through Florida and some fog to start you off in San Francisco, mixed in with rain. And those delays could be long, a busy travel week with a holiday just around the corner. And get ready, this is going to be a steamy one in the northeast - John, Kiran.

ROBERTS: Bonnie, thanks so much.

CHETRY: Hey, you'll be hot out at your barbecues.

ROBERTS: But looking forward to a steamy one for a change. We've had a kind of a crappy May, haven't we?

CHETRY: Yes, and some rainy Memorial Days, but hopefully this one will be nice.

Coming up, though, women looking to boost their sex drive may have the pill to do it. We're going to speak with a doctor who deals with sexual disorders about what's being dubbed the female Viagra, a possible wonder drug that the FDA will now meet to discuss, coming up.


CHETRY: Fifty-three minutes past the hour. Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning.

Now, it sells as an antidepressant, but a German pharmaceutical company says that a certain drug produced an unexpected side effect when they were testing it. It actually increased sexual desire in women.

Now, a panel of FDA advisers will meet next month to discuss approving the new drug for women who suffer from low sex drive. It's been dubbed the female Viagra, but obviously it works a little bit differently.

Joining us now is Dr. Ken Rosenberg, a psychiatrist specializing in addictions and sexual disorders in New York's Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Dr. Rosenberg, thanks for being with us this morning.


CHETRY: So it's been dubbed the female Viagra, but basically, for women, sexuality and sexual desire is a little less black and white than -

ROSENBERG: Absolutely.

CHETRY: -- what Viagra helps men for. So what would this drug - and we're still figuring out how exactly it's pronounced, but it looks like it's either Flibanserin.

ROSENBERG: The name is probably going to change to something a little bit more friendly.

But, regardless, what - what this drug does is it increases the chemicals in the brain that are responsible for sexual desire - not - not performance, necessarily, but desire. In the brain, there is serotonin - that's what Prozac increases - and that's why we have sexual side effects, because serotonin causes sexual side effects.

Dopamine, which this drug increases, causes sexual desire. There are a number of drugs on the market currently that do that, Wellbutrin, Buspar, drugs that are already in our world, the psychiatrist, that we could use. No drugs that is FDA approved for that purpose.

This drug -

CHETRY: So Wellbutrin is a mood elevator or an antidepressant?

ROSENBERG: Which increases dopamine.

CHETRY: And that increase - by extension, increases sex drive in both sexes?

ROSENBERG: In both sexes. Absolutely.

I mean, the drug - the interesting thing about this drug is it will be good for men and women. You know, there's a market, obviously, the pharmaceutical companies identify this market of hypo- active women, women who have low sexual desire, but that - you know, I see men with this problem as well.

You know, the range of sexual problems occur in men and women. CHETRY: So the interesting thing is would this basically - would this help people who were on antidepressants, both men and women, who experience, as you said, some of the side effects of antidepressant medication, which is a lower sex drive, a decreased sex drive?

ROSENBERG: Absolutely. Cornell, about 10 years ago, I did a study just on that question, what can we do for - for patients who are on antidepressants and drugs that cause sexual side effects? What can we do for them to give them a normal sexual life?

And Viagra is one of those drugs, Wellbutrin and Buspar is another one of those drugs. This could very - help us out and get us much further.

CHETRY: Why would it be different than what's already out there? It just -

ROSENBERG: It might not. There's no way of knowing.

But, you know, the - anything that brings attention to this problem is a wonderful thing. There are millions of people suffering with this. This is not a made up problem. There's hypo-sexual problems, there's sexual addiction. You know, there's a whole range of very real problems that, even in medicine, we don't pay sufficient attention to.

So anything that draws our attention to something that affects millions of people, in my opinion, is a good thing.

CHETRY: But it is - it is controversial in that some would argue, look, as long as we can make up a disorder and make up a market for selling our drugs and the pharmaceutical companies make more money, when your problem might not be something that requires medication.

ROSENBERG: Perhaps. I mean, there's always people who will get medicine who don't necessary need them. There's all - there will always be people in the health care industry who try to sell something that it ought not sell.

But, by and large, there are enormous people suffering, who are suffering in shame and suffering in ignorance. And this medicine might help those people. And the marketing of this medicine might help get these people out of the closet and have them, you know, really start to address their sexual problems and not -

CHETRY: What do you find about -

ROSENBERG: -- not be so ashamed of what they have. That's - in my opinion, that's the big enemy. It's ignorance and it's shame.

CHETRY: And what do you find about women's sex drive, why it doesn't seem to be as black and white as in men?

I mean, look, Viagra exploded. People use it. The other drugs like it, there's a huge market for. But for women's sex drive, what makes it different?

ROSENBERG: Well, women's sex drive is - is much more complicated. I mean, but what Viagra does is very specific to the sexual cycle. It improves blood flow. It improves the plumbing.

CHETRY: Right.

ROSENBERG: It enables the penis to have an erection.

It can also enable the clitoris to have engorgement. So, you know, that could be extremely useful.

But, with women, as with men, the brain is the most important organ in sex. So if you could increase dopamine, decrease serotonin, take medicines like this and be in psychotherapy. My - I do spend most of my time giving psychotherapy to people, not giving medicines to people.

CHETRY: Right.

ROSENBERG: If you could do all those things, you could vastly improve sexuality.

CHETRY: All right. Well, the FDA panel is going to review this and we'll see what they come up with.

Dr. Ken Rosenberg, great talking with you this morning. Thanks.

ROSENBERG: Thanks so much.

CHETRY: Top stories coming your way in two minutes.