Return to Transcripts main page


Lawmakers Effort Drop-Side Crib Ban; North Korea Cuts Ties with South

Aired May 25, 2010 - 17:00   ET



Happening now, President Obama plans to see the still growing Gulf oil disaster for himself. Another desperate bid to plug the leak is only hours away.

Will BP let the world see what's happening?

Also, new word that hundreds of U.S. troops are being sent to the border with Mexico. Illegal immigration and border security are getting serious new attention after the controversial crackdown in Arizona.

And a top Democrat demands answers from Pennsylvania Senate Democratic candidate Joe Sestak.

Who in the White House allegedly offered Sestak a job to drop out of the primary?

James Carville and Ben Stein on political pressure tactics and questions of impropriety.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


President Obama is now set to visit the Gulf Coast on Friday. And we may know by then whether the latest attempt to stop the massive oil leak was boon or a bust. BP is running a series of tests today and before the make or break "top kill" procedure is tried, most likely tomorrow morning. Company officials predict a 60 to 70 percent chance of success.

But there are new questions about whether the public will see what's going on. Democratic Congressman Ed Markey says BP plans to kill its live video feed of the leaking well during the "top kill" operation. But BP tells CNN that no final decision has been made. And just a short while ago, I asked the president's director of energy and climate change policy, Carol Browner, if the White House would be OK with BP taking down the video feed.


CAROL BROWNER, ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT FOR ENERGY & CLIMATE CHANGE: No, that's not OK. Look, people need to be able to see this. Obviously, we don't want to get in the way of -- of what they need to do down there in terms of the robots. But this is something people should be able to see.


BLITZER: Stand by for my full interview with Carol Browner. That's coming up.

But right now, let's bring in our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry -- Ed, what was the thinking?

Why is the president going back to the Gulf on Friday?

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you will remember the president was there on May 2nd. He had a quick visit. And the story has changed dramatically since then. And senior people inside the White House say they know that there's a lot of heat on this president now. They say he has been wanting to go a second time for quite some time, but they also realize there's a lot of pressure out there. And it's interesting because late last week, you had White House aides basically saying BP is in charge, the government can't take over. Then over the weekend, you had the Interior secretary, Ken Salazar, saying, maybe we'll kick BP out of the way. That's caused more confusion here.

And in fact, today, Republican Senator Olympia Snowe was saying there doesn't appear to be any one single person in charge at any level here. She said there needs to be more rigorous leadership. And she said the president himself needs to step in.

When you have a moderate Republican like that -- like Olympia Snowe, not a bomb thrower, saying that, this White House realizes they have a political problem. And the president is going to jump in and try to show he's on top of this -- Wolf.

BLITZER: He's flying to California for a fundraiser for Barbara Boxer, the Democratic senator.

She's not very happy about what's going on either?

HENRY: No. She's been all over this. She knows she's the chairwoman of the Senate Environmental Committee. She was the first Democrat, really, last week, to come out swinging and say she believes BP has been involved in a cover-up. Very strong words there.

Now today she had warm words for the White House in saying that the Justice Department is pursuing answers and potential criminal investigation on whether or not BP really had all the facts, you know, in line; whether or not they really knew how to deal with something of this manner.

But on the other hand, she's not exactly on the same page with the White House and the president in terms of offshore oil drilling and the president's ideas about expanding that. So it's quite interesting, because they're not completely on the same page. And I think also worth noting, Republicans are already jumping on the fact that the president had three fundraisers here in San Francisco tonight -- one of them at the Getty home, Getty of oil fortune fame, of course. Republicans jumping on that irony and saying the president shouldn't be out fundraising here in California, instead should be focused more on the oil spill -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry is out in California with the president.

Thanks very much.

In Mississippi today, a memorial service for 11 men who died in that rig explosion. The owner of the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform organized the event and held it under tight security. There were tributes from drilling company executives and from country music stars, as well, including the singer Trace Adkins.

Let's get to illegal immigration right now and America's security. New word today that President Obama will deploy up to 1,200 more National Guard troops to the U.S. border with Mexico. A senior administration official telling CNN Mr. Obama also will request an additional $500 million in funding for border protection. The president has been calling for comprehensive immigration reform since Arizona passed its controversial law. But some lawmakers have urged the president to focus on increased law enforcement.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I appreciate the additional 1,200 being sent of the Guard, as well as the additional $500 million. But it -- it's simply not enough. We need 6,000. We need 3,000 across the border and an additional 3,000 -- 3,000 National Guard troops to the Arizona-Mexico border.


BLITZER: The president went to Capitol Hill today to talk about immigration and a wide range of issues with some Senate Republicans. We're told there was plenty of tension behind closed doors. Let's bring in our senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash -- Dana, what are you learning about the meeting?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, if anybody thought this was going to be a Kumbaya moment, they can think again. We are told from multiple sources in that room that it was pretty intense, at times. And perhaps the most contentious moment -- forgive me, there's an ambulance going by here at the Capitol. But the most contentious moment at that closed door meeting appears to be when Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, stood up and really confronted the president on the issue of financial reform and accused him of being overly partisan when it came to that bill.

I talked to Senator Corker afterwards and he said that he told the president point -- point blank he doesn't now how he can get up in the morning and talk about bipartisanship. I want to read you some quotes from Senator Corker on this exchange he had with the president. He said he, quote: "I thought there was a degree of audacity" -- there you see a -- an allusion to the president's book -- "an audacity in him being there on a Tuesday, after just last week passed the third of his major initiatives in an almost total partisan vote."

Senator Corker went on to say: "I said I realize we are props in this meeting and asked, 'How do you reconcile that duplicity?' It obviously hit a nerve."

And, Wolf, other sources

told me that that was a moment that the president was taken aback, even miffed by that exchange. And hearing that from somebody who had been -- somebody who was a friend of Senator -- President Obama when he was a senator here and that the president just simply responded by saying that he thought he had worked with both Senator Corker and other Republicans on financial reform.

BLITZER: What are you hearing, Dana, about what's being described as a little tussle that the president had with his former rival, John McCain?

BASH: This is another moment that I'm told happened in that meeting, Wolf. The president, I'm told, began by talking about a list of things that he thinks that still can be accomplished with the help of Republicans -- in the words of president, "if the Republicans would just come and meet him half way."

One of those issues he talked about was immigration reform and said that there were 11 Republican senators who were currently in that room, currently serving, who actually worked with Democrats back in 2006 and 2007 on comprehensive immigration reform.

Well, we're told that later, John McCain, the president's former rival, stood up and said, yes, he was one of those people, but that he now believes that it's important -- critical to secure the border first, that he has learned that lesson. Obviously, McCain has a very tough primary battle back in his state of Arizona.

And we're also told that there was a tense moment between the two on the whole issue of the Arizona immigration law, that McCain said to the president that he thinks it's, quote, "egregious" that members of the president's administration haven't read the law. And he says that they're mischaracterizing it.

So you see, these are just two examples of the fact that -- that the president came here for the very first time when he was elected to meet with not Democrats, but Republicans. There was a lot of hope that perhaps they could get along. But now, in these very intense, partisan political times, there's a lot of tensions that are frayed and nerves that are frayed. And that it's pretty clear that it came out in this closed door meeting that lasted about an hour and 15 minutes today.

BLITZER: It's probably get worse as we get closer to November.

All right. Thanks very much for that, Dana.

We know a lot of Republicans don't agree with the president. But check this out. Our brand new poll shows Americans are split on whether they agree with Mr. Obama on issues that matter to them most -- 48 percent say yes; 50 percent say no. The president fares far bettel -- better on a personal level. The CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll showing 65 percent of those surveyed think Mr. Obama has the personal qualities a president should have.

Our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, has been going through all of these numbers. We also have some numbers, Gloria, on the battle for Congress.

Which party should be worried?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think both parties should really be worried, Wolf. But if you're in charge, as the Democrats are, you probably should be a little more nervous.

Take a look at the this poll, which really shows what we've been talking about -- that anti-incumbent sentiment there. When we asked people who you're likely to vote for, by 17 points, they favored challengers generally. No names attached to this, generally. That's bad for all incumbents.

But you need to take a look at who is likely to turn out to vote, Wolf. So when we asked people if you're enthusiastic about voting, what we saw is that Republicans are way more enthusiastic than Democrats. That's 22 points. And I was talking to a senior House Republican today and I said, what's going to make the margin of difference about whether you could retake control of the House?

And his answer to me was, that voter intensity. If their voters turn out to vote, they think they have a shot at control.

BLITZER: Republicans are talking about change this time.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: As, you know, Gloria, today they introduced this new social media project to engage voters. We previewed that yesterday with Dana Bash.

Are voters buying this shtick that the Republicans should lead?

BORGER: Well, you know, at this point, I would have to say they're kind of sitting back and not yet, because our polls show that they're not really happy with either party, Republicans or Democrats. We asked a question, would the country be better off if Congress were controlled by X. Republicans, 28, Democrats 27.

No difference?

Forty-four percent. So right now, that gives you a sense of the extent to which people are anti-Washington.

But this senior Republican said to me again, we are still going to be talking about checks and balances, because he believes that, in the end, when voters go into the booth, they're going to want to put a check on Democratic control of Washington. And one way to do that is in the mid-term elections.

BLITZER: Yes. Democrats and Republicans basically split on that poll question.

BORGER: Absolutely.

BLITZER: It's in marked contrast to what the Demo -- the Democratic advantage going into 2008 and 2006, when there was a nice advantage they had, who do you prefer run the Congress the Democrats or Republicans?

BORGER: Absolutely. You know what they say, Wolf, overnight can be a lifetime in politics, much less a year.

BLITZER: It's a fluid situation.

All right. Thanks, Gloria.


BLITZER: Another nail biting day on Wall Street. And foreign markets seemed to be driving the roller coaster. David Gergen has been in Europe. He's getting the bottom line on the market swings. David is standing by live.

Over two dozen dead in Jamaica in an all-out assault on suspected drug lord's strongholds. Cartel violence threatening another tourism Mecca right now.

And Hillary Clinton explains why she just may try to solve the world's problems by picking up a ping pong paddle.


BLITZER: A tumultuous day on Wall Street today. The Dow closing down just 22 points after an earlier plunge took it well below the 10,000 mark earlier in the morning. It was down at 1 point -- around 300 points.

So let's talk about this roller coaster with our senior political analyst, David Gergen -- David, you just spent some time in Europe.

We're deeply worried about Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy. The impact of what's happening in Europe could have a -- still a very significant impact on us right here.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: It certainly could, Wolf. And, you know, there's a parallel here between what's going on with the oil spill and what's going on the currency crisis in Europe. And that is, in both cases, our fate seems so much in the hands of people we can't control. In one case, BP, you know, and the -- and the U.S. government is having a hard time, you know, controlling that. And now, on the -- on the currency side, the United States' economy is threatened increasingly by this -- the crises that's taken over Greece. But it's spread beyond Greece now into the European community.

BLITZER: And at some point, you know, the fear is that if more banks in Europe, if the economy over there really goes into a deep recession, there will be less opportunity to buy U.S. products and that could have a spillover effect here.

GERGEN: That's absolutely right, Wolf. A couple of things. One is the exports into Europe. Both the United States and China export a fair amount into Europe. And so our growth rate, we could be affected. If Europe were to, in effect, go down and have a second recession, have a W, in effect, in their economic -- they went -- they went down into a recession and started coming back up and they go back down again, that will have an impact.

It's also true that there may be a number of financial institutions in the United States that could have exposure if suddenly Greece can't pay its debts, if it goes, if it tanks. And that's not out of the question yet.

Nobody knows about whether the under -- whether the governments involved in those various countries you named, starting with Greece, whether they have the capacity, really, to bring their debts down, to bring deficits under control. Even in the U.K. There's uncertainty about whether they can do that. And, of course, that's a foretaste of what the United States itself is going to face with deficits in years ahead.

BLITZER: So how vulnerable is the U.S. economy right now?

GERGEN: Well, the underlying economy, Wolf, by all accounts, is strong. We've seen a number of indications. You know, if -- if Europe were out of the -- you know, not in the picture, I think most economists would agree that we're going to have 3, 3.5 percent growth this year and good growth next year.

But Europe is becoming the wild card in the equation. And it's -- it's accounting for this huge volatility -- that, along with the tensions in -- in North Korea.

But that volatility is giving us pause about whether we can continue on this growth rate. Will we plateau, in effect, or maybe, worst case, go down ourselves and have a W?

Nobody quite knows. There's enough that's causing worry. It's causing this volatility. And it does suggest that even as we come out of this, that we are -- we still have vulnerabilities. There are still fragilities in this economic picture.

BLITZER: And even if there is some economic improvement, the jobless rate is going to hover...

GERGEN: Right.

BLITZER: -- around 9 or 10 percent, at least for the balance of this year, based on all of the economic indicators that are out there.

All right, David.

Thanks very much.

David Gergen joining us.

Is it OK if BP decides to cut the live feed of that much anticipated "top kill" procedure expected to be conducted in the Gulf of Mexico early tomorrow morning?

A top official in the Obama administration is now weighing in. Stand by.

The embattled former Detroit mayor -- he's now facing real jail time. We'll have the latest on Kwame Kilpatrick's sentence.

And if you're planning to see U2's lead singer, Bono, in concert anytime soon, think again. We'll tell you why.


BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Lisa, what's going on?


Well, more violence erupting in the popular tourist destination of Jamaica today. Twenty-seven people have been killed and 31 wounded in the assault on a suspected drug lord's compound in the capital city of Kingston. For the last several days, security forces have been battling residents who are trying to block his extradition to the United States. Parts of Kingston are now under a state of emergency and the U.S. has closed its embassy there.

Two Americans who were kidnapped in Yemen are now free, according to the Yemeni embassy. Officials say gunmen kidnapped the two American tourists and demanded the release of a jailed tribesman in exchange for freedom. So far, their identities have not been released.

Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is now facing up to five years in prison. The disgraced Democrat was sentenced for violating the terms of his probation on an obstruction of justice charge. He pleaded guilty to the charge in 2008 after sexually explicit text messages revealed that he lied under oath about an affair with a staff member.

The U2 lead singer, Bono, has been released from a German hospital after emergency surgery on his back. But his band's North American tour has been postponed until next year while he undergoes physical therapy. Bono suffered a severe injury to his sciatic nerve while preparing to get back on tour. His doctors say that his prognosis is excellent, as long as he gets at least eight weeks of rehab. So a little R&R. And they're working, Wolf, on rescheduling those dates, for anyone with tickets

BLITZER: He's a great talent and a great man. Let's hope he recuperates just fine.

Thank you very much, Lisa.

Pennsylvania's Senate candidate, Joe Sestak, still won't reveal exactly who in the White House supposedly offered him a job.

Was anything improper done to try to push Sestak out of the Democratic primary in Pennsylvania?

James Carville and Ben Stein -- they're both standing by. They'll help us get to the bottom of this mystery.

Also, tough questions about the president's handling of the Gulf oil spill and his confidence in BP. Stand by for my interview with the director of energy and climate change policy over at the White House, Carol Browner.

And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's big confession about what's really important to her.



Happening now, there's new word coming in that the Obama administration plans to deploy 1,200 National Guard troops to help secure the US/Mexico border. We'll have the very latest on this major development.

The Interior secretary calls it -- and I'm quoting now -- another reason to clean house. A blistering new report is revealing details of porn and drug use with the government agency which oversees oil drilling in the Gulf.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


One Gulf Coast resident says a sense of doom hangs over the area, as the massive oil spill keeps growing and growing. President Obama is getting ready to visit the spill zone on Friday.

BP is just hours away from yet another attempt to plug the leaking well. Just a short while ago, a BP spokesman again denied that any final decision has been made on whether to provide live video of that critical "top kill" procedure planned for tomorrow morning.

And joining us now, the assistant to the president for energy and climate change, Carol Browner.

Thanks very much for coming in. As we're speaking right now, BP is saying, you know what, we might not be able to see on live television this "top kill" that's supposed to take place tomorrow morning. They might shut -- they may shut down access to that live feed.

Is that -- is that OK with the White House?

BROWNER: No, that's not OK. Look, people need to be able to see this. Obviously, we don't want to get in the way of -- of what they need to do down there in terms of the robots. But this is something people should be able to see.

BLITZER: How much involvement does the federal government have in this "top kill" operation tomorrow morning?

BROWNER: Well, we've got our best minds down there. Secretary Chu, the secretary of the Department of Energy, a Nobel Prize physicist; the heads of a number of our labs; people from universities down there

asking the tough questions, pushing BP to get this done and to get it done in the right way.

BLITZER: So is it fair to say you've signed off on what BP is going to try to do tomorrow morning?

BROWNER: Well, they're still going through the processes, testing what has to take place at each and every step. We have our scientists

looking at what is being proposed, at what is the next step. And, obviously, these steps are taken only after we reach agreement.

BLITZER: Based on everything you know, how likely is it to succeed tomorrow?

BROWNER: You know, I'm not going to put any odds on this, Wolf. What we -- what we are doing is everything we can to ensure that we have the administration's best minds -- this country's best minds in that room asking the critical questions, making good recommendations so that we can get this done.

BLITZER: But right now, do you still have confidence in BP?

BROWNER: Well, I think, you know, everyone is, obviously, frustrated. Things have gone on long -- longer than anyone had thought. This is a difficult situation. We're not relying on BP, but we absolutely need their expertise. You know, they're the ones who have the cameras, who have the robots, who have the vessels, who know how to operate them, more importantly.

And so what we're doing is -- is taking the fact that they have that know-how, bringing our best minds in and hopefully getting the American people a good answer tomorrow.

BLITZER: We're getting a lot of reports of dead animals just sort of showing up, whether turtles or dolphins or fish.

Based on everything you know right now, are those dead animals the result of the oil that's creeping up or the dispersants -- some of which may be toxic?

BROWNER: I think it's fair to say that -- that some of these dead animals are a result of the accident. We will have to, obviously, study them. They will be studied to determine exactly what's happening out there. The dispersant is something that is being used because it helps to break up the oil before it comes onshore, but obviously, we want to be very mindful of whether or not it's adding to the problems rather than helping us solve the problem.

BLITZER: Lisa Jackson, the head of the EPA, was concerned that some of the dispersants that BP are using are not necessarily safe. Are you and BP together on the same page right now? Are they still doing whatever they want?

BROWNER: Ms. Lisa Jackson has raised a lot of very important questions and demanding the answers and will get those answers. In the meantime, she has directed BP to use less of the dispersant that they have been using. She's undertaken an analysis of what else might be available and might be appropriate, and we're going to be guided by the science here.

BLITZER: If this doesn't work tomorrow, is the federal government ready to take over?

BROWNER: There are other options that are also being looked at in terms of stopping the flow from the well. Again, as we move forward, we're not relying on BP, but we're going to need their expertise in terms of the equipment, in terms of the technical know- how. We're going to continue to bring our best minds to bear, working to find the best solution.

BLITZER: I want to talk to you a little bit about the president of the United States and his role in all of this. And I'll read to you from a "Washington Post" story that Karen Tumulty and Steve Mufson wrote the other day. "To those tasked with keeping the president apprised, of the disaster, Obama's clenched jaws becoming an increasingly familiar sight. During one of those sessions in the oval office the first week after the spill, a president who rarely vents his frustration cut his aides short, according to one who was there. Plug the damn hole, Obama told them."

I'm sure you've been in most of those meetings where these issues have been discussed. Talk a little bit about how angry, how frustrated the president is.

BROWNER: He's very frustrated that this has not, the hole, has note been plugged, like everybody, he's frustrated. He's also very concerned about the people of the Gulf Coast. He's concerned that their needs are being met. That we're getting the right containment boom into place, but he is staying up to speed on this issue on a daily, sometimes a more than daily basis. He's concerned and he wants this corrected, and he wants to know that those communities are protected.

BLITZER: Is this potentially the worst environmental disaster ever?

BROWNER: I think that is possible, Wolf. I think sadly that is possible.

BLITZER: The president is going to go there on Friday. I don't know if you're going with him, but what does he hope to accomplish by being there?

BROWNER: Well, the president wants to go again. He's been before. This will be his second trip down there. We've had a senior adviser. We had cabinet members down there throughout. He wants to go, and he wants to see the people, and he wants to actually see, again, firsthand, what's happening, but most importantly, he wants the opportunity to visit with the people down there.

BLITZER: are you going along with him?

BROWNER: We'll see. There's a lot going on and sometimes being at my desk is the best place for me to be.

BLITZER: Is this priority number one for the administration right now?

BROWNER: I would tell you it is priority number one for me, and it's certainly at the very, very top of the list for the president. Absolutely.

BLITZER: All right. Carol Browner is the assistant to the president for energy and climate change. Good luck, Carol. Thanks very much.

BROWNER: Thank you.

BLITZER: If you have a baby, beware. There are new moves right now to make a type of crib illegal. We'll tell you why.

And get ready to pay more if you're planning to fly to your summer vacation.


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

SYLVESTER: Hi, Wolf. We're monitoring a very important story. The FDA is looking into 775 serious side effects for drugs that were recalled by McNeil. It's a division of Johnson & Johnson. Thirty deaths have been tide to this recall of Tylenol, Motrin, and Benadryl, and we will have much more on this story coming up at 6:00 with our medical reporter, Elizabeth Cohen.

And parents could soon see an end to those cribs with the sides, you know, the ones that slide up and down. New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has introduced legislation banning the so-called drop side cribs. More legislation is expected to be introduced later this week. More than 30 infants and toddlers have been strangled or suffocated in the bed since 2000.

And if you are planning to fly somewhere for your summer vacation, well, it's going to cost you just a little more. Five of the largest U.S. airlines are adding peak air travel surcharges to the ticket price almost everyday from early June to late August. That's an extra $10 to $30 just to get you where you're going.

And did Sarah Palin's spoof help Tina Fey win a prestigious humor award? As Palin would say, you betcha. Fey is going to receive the Mark Twain Prize for American humor at the Kennedy Center here in Washington this fall. The 40-year-old star of "30 rock" and veteran of "Saturday Night Live" is the youngest person to receive the Twain Award. She joked that Betty White must have been disqualified for steroid use. Tina Fey has certainly a lot of fans out there, Wolf.

BLITZER: I'm one of them. I love her.

SYLVESTER: I do, too. I'm a big fan, huge fan.

BLITZER: All right. Good. Good for her. Congratulations to Tina.

A top Democrat is urging the Senate candidate Joe Sestak to come clean. Lots of questions about Sestak's claim of a job offer from the White House, and whether anybody did anything wrong. You're going to want to hear with James Carville and Ben Stein what they have to say about it. They're standing by live.

And the pentagon chief weighing in on a plan to repeal don't ask, don't tell. Is there an end to the ban on gay serving openly in the United States military any closer to reality right now?


BLITZER: The number two Senate Democrat is urging Congressman Joe Sestak to come clean. The Majority Whip Dick Durbin telling CNN the Pennsylvania Democrat should fully explain whether White House officials pressed him to drop his primary challenge to the incumbent Arlen Specter. Sestak has said that he got a job offer from the White House, that he refused, but isn't saying much more than that. For example, who made the offer? My colleague, John King, pressed Sestak and senior presidential adviser David Axelrod on "John King USA" last night.


REP. JOE SESTAK, (D) PENNSYLVANIA SENATE CANDIDATE: I said all I'm going to say on the matter and I have great respect for you, but others need to explain whatever their role might be. I did explain with integrity my role, and, but, thank you very much.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Either Congressman Sestak is lying or somebody had some conversation with him about a job.

DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: John, you're absolutely right. If such things happened, they would constitute a serious breach of the law, and that's why when the allegations were made, they were looked into, and there is, there was no evidence of such a thing.


BLITZER: All right. Let's discuss with our senior -- with our CNN political contributor the Democratic strategist, James Carville, and former Nixon's speechwriter and good friend, Ben Stein. Guys, thanks very much for coming in. Dick Durbin, a Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the number two Democrat in the Senate said at some point I think Congressman Sestak needs to make it clear what happened. If there's been some confusion, I hope he can make the facts as clear as possible. Then as far as the administration is concerned, they will react to that.

James, the White House is not explaining what happened, and certainly Sestak's not explaining. What's going on here?

JAMES CARVILLE, CHIEF STRATEGIST, CLINTON-GORE CAMPAIGN, 1992: Looking at -- they're going to explain, I mean, this thing has got, I don't if 24 or 36 hours, but it's pretty clear that there has to be some kind of further explanation to this, and we'll wait and see what happens. I don't know why it's the worst thing in the world. Maybe somebody did say, hey, probably a good job for you or who knows what role was played by --

BLITZER: Would that be -- would that be stepping on some legal issues right there, James? Based on what you know? If, in fact, somebody at the White House said to Sestak, don't run against Arlen Specter. You can get this job in the administration? Is that a violation of laws, as far as you know?

CARVILLE: My understanding, some problem, but we don't know if somebody said there's a job in the administration. Maybe somebody said you get a job as, I don't know, defense consultant. Who knows? I don't know what the facts are. I only know that it seems to me that there's a lot of heat on this story, and they're going to have to give a firmer answer to it. I suspect that will come sooner as opposed to later.

BLITZER: Is this a big deal, Ben, or a little deal?

BEN STEIN, WORKED AS AN ECONOMIST AT COMMERCE DEPARTMENT: It seems to me like politics as usual, and I'm surprised with Mr. Axelrod said they thought there was a serious violation of law. I don't know what the serious violation of law would be. Look, we have a potential war in the Korean peninsula. We have an Iran about to get the nuclear bomb. We have incredibly, incredibly bad environmental disaster. We have recession that just won't go away. We have a debt crisis in Europe and in the United States. This is incredibly small potatoes. It's just politics as usual. I think we should just drop this and go on to serious challenges. BLITZER: All right. Let's do that talk about the oil spill. You're right there, James. You're in New Orleans. I don't know if you can smell the oil, seeping into the Gulf of Mexico from where you are, but I know you've been quite critical of not only BP, but you've been quite critical of the administration's response so far as well.

CARVILLE: First of all, let me be very clear, that you cannot smell any oil, any such thing in New Orleans, and it will be kept away. They're being kept out of Lake Pontchartrain. So, that's not an issue at all here in New Orleans. Tragically, gone down with the governor and Anderson and CNN crew and we'll have a lot more to say about that tomorrow, and Ben is right. This is probably the greatest environmental disaster in the history of the United States, and I think it's starting to dawn on people just at the magnitude of what's going on in the Gulf of Mexico.

And you're right I have been bitterly critical of BP. I actually think that they have some criminal exposure here, but that's -- hopefully, the justice department will look into that. That's not for me to decide, and I do think that the administration could have been more sort of aggressive. I think, as a Democrat, this is -- you have 11 working class people killed as a result of corporate greed and negligence and you have a regulatory agency that was sort of bought off and didn't regulate. This, to me, shows everything as I ever believe as a Democrat is exactly right.

BLITZER: Now, regulatory agency over the department of interior. Ben, as you know, is very, very cozy with the big oil companies doing this offshore drilling. Go ahead and react to what James just said.

STEIN: Well, I think the main thing we should be doing here is no more finger-pointing for a little while. I think both BP and Transocean, the operator of the rig who it seems to me as a lawyer, they're going to have the most legal exposure and the most potential criminal exposure, but the real thing is, we've got to get the very smartest people in the whole world now working on stopping this. The environmental effects of this are potentially catastrophic and life- ending in a good part of the coast of the United States.

We have got to get this stopped. I mean, this has to be an absolutely number one priority, call in everybody, get all the best brains working in this field. There are a lot of very smart people in petroleum geology. Get them in right now and spare no expense to get this thing solved. This is not a tiny matter. This is a huge matter.

BLITZER: James, should the president --

CARVILLE: Everybody could say a prayer this thing works.

BLITZER: Yes, but quickly, James, should the president be doing fund-raisers flying across the country for Barbara Boxer in a crisis moment like this?

CARVILLE: Well, I've done a fund-raiser for Senator Boxer. Look, he's coming to Louisiana on Friday. I think that -- I think that BP, they believed BP for too long. I think now that they see to the magnitude (ph) this and hopefully, we need the present here. We're delighted that he's coming to our state to see this firsthand. I think when he does, it will be what a monumental disaster it is. And Ben is right. And everybody should say a prayer that what they try tomorrow works. I don't doubt that it's much critical of BP. I don't doubt that they want this to work as everybody in Louisiana --


BLITZER: Let's pray it succeeds. Guys, thanks very much. James Carville, Ben Stein.

Is the United States one step closer to ending the ban on gays serving openly in the U.S. military? The Pentagon right now weighing in on a controversial new proposal, the defense secretary's apparent lukewarm support.

And is north Korea on the verge of war with South Korea? It's a growing concern as tensions seriously escalate between the two countries.

And ping-pong diplomacy. A work for the U.S. and China many years ago. Now, the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says she's going to revive it. The details ahead.


BLITZER: Nuclear armed North Korea is on combat alert right now after announcing that it's cutting all ties with South Korea. Tensions between the two countries have escalated in the recent days after an international investigators blamed North Korea for sinking a South Korean warship. The communist north denies responsibility and accuses the south of waging a smear campaign that's effectively, they say, a declaration of war. The U.S. now planning military exercises over South Korea. The U.S. is warning the North to stop savor (ph).


P.J. CROWLEY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: It's odd. You know, South Korea is one of the most dynamic economies in the world. North Korea is a failing economy, even by their own admission. North Korea is unable to care for its citizens. It's unable to feed its people. And so, I can't imagine a step that is less in the long-term interest of the North Korean people than cutting off further ties with South Korea.


BLITZER: We'll have a full report on the showdown with North Korea. The threat of a war, that's coming up in our next hour right here in the SITUATION ROOM.

A new plan to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays serving openly in the United States military is expected to move forward this week. Initial votes on the Senate Armed Services Committee and full House could happen as soon as Thursday. Supporters of the proposal were hoping to get a ringing endorsement from the Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Let's bring in our Pentagon Correspondent, Chris Lawrence. I take it was rather a lukewarm response from Secretary Gates?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it was sort of like the New Jersey Nets must have felt after they got stuck with the third pick in the NBA draft instead of the first. In other words, not that excited. Try to read any kind of enthusiasm into this statement from Robert Gates' spokesman. Here it is, quote, "Secretary Gates continues to believe that ideally the DOD review should be completed before there is any legislation to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" law. With Congress having indicated that is not possible, the Secretary can accept the language in the proposed amendment."

Not exactly a ringing endorsement. Here's why. Of the top military officers have said, they have some serious concerns about repealing this law. In fact one even went so far as to say this is not the time. Even though the Secretary, himself, does support repealing don't ask, don't tell, he could at least go to the joint chiefs and say, look, we're going to talk to the service members and the troops, find out what they think. We'll wait until this huge review is done before any action is taken. Even the center for military readiness came out with some questions about the timing of all this.


TOMMY SEARS, CENTER FOR MILITARY READINESS: In essence to call for a vote now before a process that had been agreed upon, within the military and at the White House, from the president, would -- is nothing more than a payoff to the gay advocacy groups. They're pushing for this.


BLITZER: Chris, this is all about timing right now, isn't it?

LAWRENCE: Yes, you said it, Wolf. The review was expected to be done in December, but Congress and supporters in the White House have another date in mind. It's November 2nd because after election day, after supporters lose, they might not have the votes to pass this at that point. The big question is now, though, do they have the votes right now. The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, a Democrat, Ike Skelton has said he will not support this vote until the Pentagon finishes its study on the Senate side.

Newly elected Republican Scott Brown has also said he will vote no, but a key republican, Senator Susan Collins has now said she would vote yes. We may get to this vote before the end of the week, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thursday, a critical day in this legislative initiative. Thanks very much, Chris Lawrence.

Disturbing allegations of porn and drug use inside the U.S. government agency responsible for overseeing oil drilling in the Gulf. We're going to have details of a blistering new report. Bryan Todd is standing by.

And ping-pong games and weddings not necessarily topics you'd expect the Secretary of State to be discussing, but Hillary Clinton is weighing in on both. And that's coming up next.


BLITZER: The secretary of state Hillary Clinton showed a bit of a lighter side today in the midst of what is a critical visit to China. Mrs. Clinton discussed a series of wide-ranging topics with a Beijing audience among them, the game of ping-pong?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you play ping-pong (INAUDIBLE)?

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF SATE: Well, you know, I think I'm going to take it up again. I think that Madam Leo and I are going to revive the ping-pong diplomacy. I think it's actually getting more popular in the United States again. There are ping-pong clubs now in some cities. So, we'll bring back the ping-pong diplomacy.


BLITZER: She also shared a little confession about her daughter Chelsea's upcoming wedding.


CLINTON: My daughter is getting married this summer. And we are very excited about it. We are looking forward to it. But it is something that, you know, every mother dreams of. And so, for me, it's the most important -- most important activity going on in my life right now. I have to confess. Don't tell anybody that. But you know, it's such an enjoyable and exciting time for our family.


BLITZER: And you're in the SITUATION ROOM.