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Inside BP's Crisis Center; Obama: It's BP's Problem

Aired June 7, 2010 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Rick, thanks very much. We certainly will.

Also happening now, a CNN exclusive: we're about to take you inside BP's crisis command center where they're working desperately to find answers to a disaster how to contain a gushing oil well a mile below the surface and how to clean up an epic mess.

BP is now collecting nearly half a million gallons of that leaking oil each day, but what are they doing with it? Does the oil giant actually stand to make a profit? Stand by. We have new information.

And American voters, feeling angry and alienated. On the eve of key primaries, we're taking a closer look at who might replace California's governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. We'll also get a check on the races that could change the face of the U.S. Senate.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Much more oil is being collected from that gushing well at the bottom of the Gulf. Countless patches of polluting are spreading farther from the source, threatening much more of America's coastline.

Here are the latest developments right now: The total amount of oil being captured is now estimated at 466,000 gallons per day. That's more than 11,000 barrels. The Coast Guard admiral, Thad Allen, the government's point man on this crisis, says BP may soon bring in another ship enabling it to nearly double that capacity. But at least 100 miles of coastline are now impacted and the nature of the spill puts more and more people and beaches at risk.


ADM. THAD ALLEN, NATIONAL INCIDENT COMMANDER: We're no longer dealing with a large, monolithic spill. We're dealing with an aggregation of hundreds of thousands of patches of oil that are going in a lot of different directions and we've had to adapt and we need to adapt to be able to meet that threat.


BLITZER: Just moments ago, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal at news conference breaching said this. Listen.


GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: First, we went out to East Grand Terre. You may remember, this is the first dredging project that the state of Louisiana started nearly three week ago. We started even before the corps permitted our request. We started even before we got many dollars from BP. We had done this on our own.

We had a coastal restoration project out there. We redirected our dredge to go ahead and build a sand boom. Over two miles is already done, six feet high. We saw again a significant pooling of oil outside of that sand boom.

Literally today, at least 15 birds were sent from that island, from that area to Fort Jackson and Plaquemines Parish where hopefully they'll be cleaned and hopefully they'll be released after they've had a chance to recover.

But for the state of Louisiana, this is one of the most obvious examples that sand booming, that sand dredging works. The idea is we don't want a drop of oil on our coast.


BLITZER: That's the governor 6 Louisiana, Bobby Jindal. He toured some of the devastated areas with the managing director of BP, Bob Dudley. He also spoke at the briefing.


BOB DUDLEY, MANAGING DIRECTOR, BP: So, one step in that commitment after talking to the governor today, to Billy, is to announce BP that will fund a full $360 million to construct the six berms.


DUDLEY: We understand this project, and the governor very eloquently described the benefits of it. I saw it firsthand. We understand the importance of this to Louisiana, the parishes, the cities, towns and our responsibility to ensure that that funding is made immediately.


BLITZER: You saw Billy Nungesser behind Bob Dudley applauding. He's the president of the Plaquemines Parish. He's been one of most severe critics of BP. But on this day, he's applauding Bob Dudley and the commitment to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to help Plaquemines Parish and other devastated areas in Louisiana. We're going to hear more from Billy Nungesser, what he had to say, that's coming up.

But, right now, we want to go inside BP's crisis command center where they're working around the clock to try to find some solutions to a catastrophe which defy solutions. This is a CNN exclusive.

Our own Brian Todd is in Houston. He was granted access today.

Brian, walk us through what you saw and what you learned.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, normally this building, BP's headquarters in Houston, just west of the city -- normally, this is used as a kind of a crisis center to deal with approaching hurricanes, where they meet here to essentially order the shutdown of rigs, the shutdown of well as those storm approach. But this building behind me has been converted to a 24/7 crisis center for this oil spill.

We had kind of a rapid fire access to this. We had only about 30 minutes inside. So, we had to move fast.

We went to a subsea containment room where they worked on deployment of dispersants and ordered the skimming operations and the surface burning operations. We went to what's called a "simops" room where officials here are working like air traffic controllers on the high seas, making through the vessel that are all in a very tight area just above the leaking wellhead don't crash into each other.

Here's a little of what we saw earlier.


TODD: This may be the most critical room of all, the ROV operations center. Cantwell (ph) tells us that everything that is planned in these other rooms is executed by the ROVs in here. Very sensitive. We can't talk too much. We can't interfere to much, but we're going to head in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a picture of an ROV, stands for remote operated vehicle. It actually weighs about 10,000 pounds. It's about 10 feet long, seven feet high, six feet wide, and it's got manipulator arms.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roger that. Roger that. You're actually position --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's talking to the lead on an ROV boat. The lead on the ROV boat talks to the ROV pilot. And the reason is, you don't -- you want to communicate -- he's following those procedures.

He'll go through step by step. Tell the lead, the lead tells the pilot, and then the pilot executes. That's the guy that's controlling ROV operations. (INAUDIBLE) OK?

And these guys all have specific expertise, whatever, if he needs something, you know, what can you tell me? That's the manipulator arm. That's the LMRP cap.

And what we're going to, the reason we have that is we're injecting dispersant. That's why they (INAUDIBLE) so much is we're dispersing that rig. As it comes around the bottom of the cap, we disperse it immediately. And it's far more effective to disperse it when you get it right down.


TODD: That ROV command center, fascinating room. You can see everything in real-time, several monitors up on the screen. It is much like an air traffic control center. That is, of course, the room where they operate the remotely operated vehicles down below. Essentially, engineers in that room give commands to the pilots of the ROVs that are on the vessels. They control the ROVs, essentially in real-time, what they're doing down there 5,000 feet below the surface.

We're going to take you through more of these rooms and show you a lot more in the next hour, Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll see you then, Brian. Good work. Thanks very much.

While this disaster is bringing a major response from the federal government and the states along the Gulf Coast, President Obama is making it very clear that, in the end, he believes the problem still belongs to BP. Listen to this.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This will be contained. It may take some time, and it's going to take a whole lot of effort. There's going to be damage done to the Gulf Coast, and there's going to be economic damages that we've got to make sure BP is responsible for and compensates people for.


BLITZER: Let's go to the White House. Our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry, is standing by with more.

The president's strategy here, he meets with some members of his cabinet over at the White House, allows cameras to come in. He's showing that he's staying on a minute-by-minute on top of this story.


And there's another key part of this strategy. When you talk to the president's senior advisers, they basically tell me that they believe that despite all the pressure on this president to get this cleaned up, get the well capped, et cetera, they believe, inside the White House, behind me, that BP is really taking the brunt of the blame of the American people for this leak and that the federal government's responsibility is more about the cleanup efforts. And that's why you keep hearing the president like you did there, talking about BP's responsibility, about paying claims, et cetera.

And Friday, back in Louisiana, the president was also hitting BP hard on the question of why they're paying out dividends right now and still not paying all the claims that are coming in, number one. And number two, why are they spending millions of dollars on a flashy ad campaign focused on their image, again, when people in Louisiana are hurting?

So, they're very clearly trying to drive a wedge here, Wolf.

BLITZER: But there's an issue involving expectations. He's got to manage the public's expectations right now. How does he do that?

HENRY: Well, you can see the rhetoric from the president. In the cabinet room there, he was pointing out -- look, there are some confidence that maybe this thing is finally being capped. But even if it is in the coming days fully capped, he's trying to prepare the American people for the fact that this is going to go on for some time. In fact, Thad Allen was in the White House briefing room making that very same point.


ADM. THAD ALLEN, U.S. COAST GUARD: I think there's needs to be an expectation that we're going to be working at least four to six weeks after that well is capped on the oil that's just presently overhead, and that doesn't account for what oil might come ashore, allude us. So, we'll have to deal with it as far as the impact on the marshes.


HENRY: And that's really just the early phases of this. What was really most eye-opening about this briefing is Thad Allen was standing with Robert Gibbs and basically said, in the long run, overall, this is going to take decades to finish, just like the Exxon oil Valdez spill. So, that, you know, we can talk about weeks and months that this is going to go on. Thad Allen is talking about years and years and years.

And, so, that gives you an idea of how they're trying to play this expectations game with the American people, that even if this is capped in the near future, it's going to take a long time to finish it, Wolf.

BLITZER: When we say this is an epic disaster, we mean it. An epic disaster, even under the relatively best of circumstances right now. The damage is already done. The cleanup is going to be costly and it's going to go on for years and years.

So, thanks very much, Ed, for that.

HENRY: Thank you.

BLITZER: The Obama administration was slow to accept foreign help for this oil crisis, but the State Department now says the U.S. has informed Canada it will accept an offer of almost 10,000 feet of ocean boom to help contain the spill. The material is expected to arrive in the Gulf area tomorrow. The federal government will pay Canada for the boom and expects to be reimbursed by BP.

There's news of another energy-related disaster happening right now. Look at these pictures, a massive explosion and fireball from an underground natural gas pipeline in Texas. The fire chief there in the town southwest of Dallas says there are several injuries, there are also reports of fatalities, and one account says 10 people are missing.

We're going to bring you more details of this as we get them. Stand by. This is a developing story we're following as well.

They were there on the Deepwater Horizon the day it exploded. Now, former workers on the rig are speaking out to CNN's Anderson Cooper. You're going to hear firsthand from them about the harrowing experience in the Gulf.

And, Helen Thomas in a major controversy. Today, her career comes to an end.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, THE CAFFERTY FILE: Wolf, what are they waiting for? It has almost two years since the House Ethics Committee -- talk about a conflict of terms -- started investigating Congressman Charlie Rangel. So far, nothing. Two years.

Meanwhile, the 79-year-old New York lawmaker has filed for reelection. Rangel wants to run for his 21st term in the House. But, first, he has to win the Democratic Party primary on September the 14th.

So, will the ethics committee release its report before then? If they do and if there's damaging information in it, Rangel could be toast. If they don't, the report is held until after the election, chances are Rangel will win again, but this will raise political questions about the timing of the report -- as it should. As one Democrat tells "Politico," quoting here, "It would let everyone say that this is a cover-up. That it's just the same old ethic system," unquote.

And that's right on the money. Remember when the Democrats took control of the House in 2006? Nancy Pelosi promised that they would, quote, "drain the swamp" after a decade of Republican rule. Sure.

Well, leaders of the ethics committee aren't commenting on the Rangel case. Of course, not.

For his part, Rangel insists he's innocent, that he's done nothing wrong. He says he had given up his powerful chairmanship of the ways of means so he wouldn't be a target for Republicans. Nonetheless, Charlie Rangel is being investigated for a whole bunch of stuff, from using his chairmanship to raise money for a public service center that carries his name, to failing to pay taxes on income from a home in the Dominican Republic, to hiding hundreds of thousands of dollars in assets and income on a required financial disclosure form.

Here's the question: Isn't it past time for the House Ethics Committee to release its findings on Congressman Charlie Rangel? And here's a hint: Yes.

Go to and post a comment on my blog.

Two years, Wolf.

BLITZER: Two years. The House Ethics Committee, they take their time in deal with these issues.

CAFFERTY: It's an oxymoron, ain't it?

BLITZER: Yes. Well, there's a Senate Ethics Committee, too.

CAFFERTY: Same deal.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Let's get back to our top story: The oil disaster in the Gulf. Right now, we're waiting to hear Billy Nungesser, the president of Plaquemines Parish. He spoke out at a news conference together with the managing director of BP, Bob Dudley, and the governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal.

They had some interesting things to say, new information, stand by. We'll share that with you.

Meanwhile, they thought they were going to die. Survivors are now recalling the terrifying moments when that rig blew up in the Gulf of Mexico. They spoke with CNN's Anderson Cooper. Listen to this.


ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "ANDERSON COOPER 360": So you heard that third (ph) explosion?

DANIEL BARRON III, RIG EXPLOSION SURVIVOR: Oh, yes, yes. You heard it and felt it. I mean, it was like -- I mean, it was like being in a car accident, because you just -- you're shaking and the whole rig's moving and, you know, things are falling down and you're hearing people screaming and yelling. It is complete pandemonium.

COOPER: What was the scene like in the lifeboat when you got there?

BARRON: It's insane. I mean, people were just jumping in the lifeboat. So, there's other people, because there's two lifeboats side-by-side. And you're assigned to each one.

COOPER: And each lifeboat could hold about 75 people.

BARRON: Yes. But people were just running and jumping in them. And, you know, it's dark. You know, people were screaming and yelling. And you know, we just got on the lifeboat, and -- I mean, it was even worse. I mean, that was probably the worst part, being on the lifeboat.


BARRON: Because it was just -- it's like you're almost waiting to die, because it felt like we took so long for everybody to get on and there's people screaming. You know, put it in the water. Let's go. And it's filling up with smoke. And you can feel the heat from the fire. In fact, one of the guys that was on the lifeboat, he actually -- he panicked so much that he got up out of the lifeboat and then jumped overboard.

COOPER: And what was it like sitting in it and waiting for the others to come, and waiting for it to get loaded?

MATTHEW JACOBS, RIG EXPLOSION SURVIVOR: We're just screaming, you know, to everybody, you know, get on the lifeboat, get on the boat. And I remember another explosion. And when it exploded, the lifeboat free fell for about three foot, and then just stopped all of a sudden.

I was scared to death sitting there in that lifeboat. I said, you know, I've done made it out of my room, out of the living quarters. And here I am on a lifeboat that's supposed to help me get me off this rig and I'm going to wind up dying on this lifeboat. And I just -- I started praying.


BLITZER: You can hear a lot more dramatic details of how these men got out alive later tonight on "A.C. 360" that airs live from Gulf, 10:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

More than two decades ago, thousands of people died from a chemical leak in India. Now, a decision in the case against Union Carbide has been handed down. We're going to tell you the verdict.

And she's been a mainstay in the Washington press corps for decades. Helen Thomas resigns today, going out on a sour note.


BLITZER: North central Texas, look at this, a natural gas explosion. A natural gas line explodes and the city manager there says at least three people are dead. Ten are missing. We're watching this story very, very closely.

An explosion in north central Texas, and that massive fire has been going on now for at least an hour. Stand by. We're getting more information.

Lisa Sylvester is also monitoring some other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Lisa, what's going on?


Well, it was the first day in court for two New Jersey men accused of plotting a violent jihad. Mohamed Mahmoud Alessa and Carlos Eduardo Almonte are charged with conspiracy to kill, maim and murder persons outside the U.S. They were stopped at New York's JFK Airport Saturday. Prosecutors say they were headed to Somalia to join the terrorist organization al-Shabaab. Both face life in prison if found guilty.

And more than two decades later, an Indian court finds seven executives of former chemical company Union Carbide guilty of the deaths of thousands of people in a toxic gas leak. The 1984 leak at the company's plant in Bhopal, India, immediately killed 4,000 people and left hundreds of thousands with health problems. It was one of the worst industrial disasters in history.

And she has been a mainstay in the Washington press corps since the 1960s. But Helen Thomas suddenly retired today in the wake of controversy. Last week, a video showed Thomas saying, Israel should, quote, "get the hell out of Palestine," and that Jews should go home to Poland, Germany, America, and everywhere else. The 89-year-old journalist has since apologized.

And you worked alongside her, didn't you, Wolf, at the White House?

BLITZER: She was always saying, you know, some controversial things, but she'd been there for so long. She worked hard. She got there early in the morning. And there was an enormous amount of respect paid to her over the years, 89 years old.

You know, I shutter to think what I will say when I'm 89 years old. Hopefully, I will have retired long before then, if I'm going to say ridiculous things. All right.

SYLVESTER: Well, yes. It's hard to imagine, the briefing room, without her being there.

BLITZER: Yes, I know. I worked closely with her. For seven years I covered the Clinton White House, she was there every day. She sat in that front row and she made her presence felt, Helen Thomas.

All right. Thanks very much for that, Lisa.

The White House has taken heat for its handling of the Gulf oil disaster. Today, President Obama and his cabinet, they held a publicized meeting on the federal government's response. They allowed cameras inside. You can see some of the pictures. Is it enough though to boost the Obama administration's credibility right now? That's coming up in our strategy session.



Happening now: Iran warns that its Red Crescent Society will try to breach the Israeli blockade of Gaza. If it does, how would Israel respond? I'll ask the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And the blowout of the Deepwater Horizon claimed their husbands' lives. Now, two widows tell Congress what they knew about the events leading up to the disaster. Did safety take a back seat to getting the job done?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Just moments ago, Billy Nungesser, the president of Plaquemines Parish, an outspoken critic of BP, was at a news conference with the managing director of BP and the governor of Louisiana.

Listen to Billy Nungesser. Here's what he said:


BILLY NUNGESSER, PLAQUEMINES PARISH PRESIDENT: It's time we got somebody down on the ground with BP. It's obvious seeing his response today that he cares. And we're going to see some things change. We're going to get out there and fight this, and we're going to win our coastline back. Thank you.


BLITZER: Billy Nungesser, we haven't heard that in a while, praising Bob Dudley, the managing director of BP, for bringing in cash, several hundred million dollars to help with this cleanup. We're staying on top of this story.

The amount of oil being captured from that gushing well in the Gulf is getting close to half a million gallons a day, but the slick is turning into countless patches of oil spreading farther and farther along the Gulf Coast.

CNN's John King is joining us now from Pensacola Beach in Florida.

John, I know you've had an opportunity today to spend time studying what's going on in the Florida Panhandle. Tell our viewers what you see.

JOHN KING, HOST, "JOHN KING, USA": Wolf, number one what we're seeing is a huge amount of frustration, conflicting information, a lot of dissatisfaction with BP and the federal government for not, local officials say, doing enough to get offshore and skim up all the oil before it can come along these sensitive areas.

So far in this area, the immediate, what you can see for an environmental impact -- excuse me -- has been relatively modest.

I will show you here in my hand -- these are some of the tar balls. You've seen these now for 40-plus days in Louisiana, and now on the Florida coast -- about size of a quarter, some of them about the size of a nickel. They're sprinkled along the beaches here. About 80 BP workers or 100-plus BP workers are out cleaning them up off the beaches today.

They put them in sandbags and they take them away. Nobody likes to see these Wolf but everyone says this is not so bad. They can deal with this and clean this up. What they're worried about is the oil they can't see. A number of divers have gone under waters five, six, eight miles offshore. They say there are plumes under the water. There are plankton size clumps of oil floating in the water. What they're worried about is that that oil will eventually make it in and make it to these. These are oysters. We went out to a very sensitive area today in the marshlands where oysters thrive and spawn. What they're worried about is if the oil comes in especially underwater where you can't see it, where they can't skim it, that oil will get into the life supply, the water supply, the food supply for oysters, for other fish, for the birds in these sensitive marshlands areas much as you've seen in the New Orleans area, south in Louisiana, Grand Isle, for example.

They are worried underwater could be the biggest threat Wolf and they might not see it for weeks if not months. They're hoping they can skim the oil and fight it miles out off the shore here. They've had a little good luck with the tides and winds in recent days. Here is what they worry about most, Wolf. $1.2 billion in this county alone tourism every year. They say it was down a bit in May and already dropping, they say, off the charts, June, July and August. Some people canceling their reservations. Nobody calling up to make reservations. They say because the fishing waters off here are mostly closed and because people are seeing the images of some of the tar balls on the beach. They're worried that their economy, even if they don't get a huge environmental impact, they're economy will get a huge hit Wolf.

BLITZER: We should know in the days to come how serious this problem is. But I know they're doing everything they can to prevent this oil from getting closer and closer. John's going to be back later. He's going to have a full hour coming up at 7:00 p.m. eastern on "JOHN KING USA" from Pensacola as well. John, stand by. We'll get back to you.

Also we'll have much more coming up on the oil disaster.

Also we're filing, also watching what's happening in north central Texas right now where there's been a natural gas explosion. You're looking at these live pictures, at least three people are dead. Ten are reportedly missing. We'll update you on what's going on with this disaster that information is just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Other news we're watching. Voters across the country getting their chance tomorrow. Primaries are coming up in 12 states, at stake in California, choosing a Republican to square off against Democrat Jerry Brown for governor and a candidate to challenge Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer. And a pivotal race in Arkansas, where two term incumbent Senator Blanche Lincoln faces a very real challenge from within her own party.


BLITZER: Underwater and land. Look at these dramatic pictures coming in from north central Texas where just a little while ago a natural gas line exploded. At least three people are now dead according to the city manager on the scene. Ten others are still listed as missing. We're staying on top of this story, but that blaze has been going on without stop now for at least an hour and a half. We'll show you what's going on, getting more information. This is north central Texas, a natural gas line explodes.

Motorists go to the polls tomorrow with some hotly contested primary races in California's Republican gubernatorial race. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is prohibited from seeking another term. Society field is wide open. Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman and state insurance commissioner Steve Poizner are the two top Republican candidates in that contest. Whoever wins faces Democrat Jerry Brown in the November general election. He's a former governor.

The winner of the GOP Senate primary including candidates Carly Fiorina, Tom Campbell and Chuck Devore will face incumbent Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer in November and in Arkansas, two-term Democrat incumbent Senator Blanche Lincoln faces a runoff from the lieutenant governor of Arkansas Bill Halter. Let's get a closer look at the crucial primaries taking place tomorrow starting with California. Our national political correspondent Jessica Yellin is in Los Angeles watching all of this. What's amazing, Jessica, are the millions, tens of millions of dollars, that Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner have already spent.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Between them they have spent more than $100 million on the primary campaign, and get this. Of that, Meg Whitman contributed $71 million from her own fortune. Her ads are on the air nonstop. They are tough attack ads. Voters out here frankly are getting sick of them. But I'll tell you Meg Whitman is pulling far ahead of her opponent Steve Poizner. She's running as the more moderate of the two and says that her eBay experience, running that company, gives her the business skills to turn this state around. As you know, California is facing potential almost bankruptcy and voters here are desperate for a change. She believes her business acumen is the answer. Some voters are asking, it's an awful lot of money to be spending and liberal protesters say that's buying democracy. It'll definitely be part of race if she should win tomorrow and face-off against old-time governor Jerry Brown Wolf.

BLITZER: That will be exciting. The other exciting race could be Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of HP against Barbara Boxer. Here's a question. According to the polls she's doing very well, expected to win the Republican nomination tomorrow, but she's running to the right. California sort of a moderate Democratic state. How will she do? I'm sure a lot of Republican consultants are worried how she would do against Barbara Boxer in a general election.

YELLIN: You've nailed it, Wolf. Barbara Boxer is considered quite vulnerable this year. Carly Fiorina, the candidate on the right, has taken something of a gamble, running as the more conservative of the Republican candidates. She even says it in her ads. She's taken stances that are somewhat out of step with the majority of the state. For example, still favors offshore drilling even after the BP spill. And she is opposed to abortion rights. Something the majority in Californians disagree with her on, but she's selling herself at the true Republican in the race and she clearly thinks that will win, because when I interviewed her and listen to what she said about Barbara Boxer.

CARLY FIORINA (R), CALIFORNIA SENATE CANDIDATE: The truth is Barbara Boxer is the most liberal, the most partisan member of the U.S. Senate and she's championed policies of the majority of Californians simply don't agree with.

YELLIN: That's a message you'll hear from her over and over if she should win tomorrow. Wolf, I'll tell you this polls show that while Fiorina is poised to win the prime marry tomorrow, currently she would lose to Barbara Boxer in the general election in the fall. That has to have some Republicans in this race worried.

BLITZER: Two exciting races shaping up in California. Looking ahead to November. Jessica Yellin from California, spending quality time back home. Thanks very much, Jessica, for that.

In Arkansas, Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln faces a major challenge from with her own party. Our senior Congressional correspondent Dana Bash joins us from Little Rock right now. Talk a little about the enormous challenge that Blanche Lincoln faces not from her right but from her left.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Her challenge certainly is from within the Democratic Party, from Bill Halter. He is the lieutenant governor here, and what we are going to see here in Arkansas is whether or not anti-incumbent fever is as red hot here as it was when I was covering the primary race on May 18th, a few weeks ago that led to this runoff that voters will go to the polls for tomorrow. The question is will Blanche Lincoln become the third sitting U.S. senator to get defeated from with other own party? There is no reliable polling down here. We're talking to representatives from both camps. They say look it just seems too close to call. When it comes to Blanche Lincoln, she's been barnstorming the state Wolf. She has been saying, look, she understands that people are angry. She understands that they're angry at Washington. She gets that but she insists she is somebody who is an agent of change from within and she also says that incumbency shouldn't be a dirty word and her seniority helps Arkansans. We caught up with her challenger Bill Halter just a few hours ago here in Little Rock. He is still riding that anti-Washington wave that helped put him in this runoff with a two-term fellow Democrat.

What do you think your most powerful message is? LT. GOV. BILL HALTER (D), ARKANSAS SENATE CANDIDATE: I think the message has clearly been that if you send the same people back to Washington, you're guaranteed to get the same result. Now, underneath that there's a whole set of differences between us that we have -- that we've outlined and I think voters are making a choice based upon that. So, for example, on fiscal policy. Senator Lincoln's been in the Senate now for over 11 years. In the last 10 years, the debt has gone up by $7 trillion.

BASH: Now that is the message from Bill Halter --

BLITZER: Let me interrupt for a second.

BASH: Sure.

BLITZER: The polls right now. Who's up? Who's down? Going into tomorrow, who looks like they're going to win?

BASH: It's unclear. There really is no reliable polling here, but what is fascinating about the dynamic in this race is, as you just heard from Bill Halter, but in many ways it is not necessarily just Bill Halter who is running against Blanche Lincoln. One of the subplots here that has national implications is the race has a lot to do with national labor. They have come in here in full force. We're talking about organized labor, unions. They have spent millions of dollars. One union source told me $6 million in the primary, in this runoff, to try to defeat Blanche Lincoln. You might ask why. The reason is and these union sources are very candid about it. They want to make an example out of Blanche Lincoln a Democrat, for not supporting their issues a host of issues from a public option in health care to supporting free trade deals and they say this is something, again, not a union state. Arkansas is not a union state at all, but they are sending people from all over the country, and we've seen them already here in Arkansas to try to make an example out of Blanche Lincoln. You listen to her, you listened to Bill Clinton who endorsed her and stumped for her, they say that's exhibit a why people here in Arkansas should think twice before voting her out because they say it is outside forces who want to defeat her. Not necessarily people here in Arkansas.

BLITZER: We'll see the results coming in tomorrow night. Dana will be in Little Rock for us. Thanks very much.

The oil spill disaster is a critical moment for president Obama's administration. The white house wrapping up its PR offensive now. Is it too little, too late? We'll assess.

And half the oil is being gathered and pumped to the surface. What happens to it next? How much is it really worth? We're finding out.

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


BLITZER: Joining us now in our strategy session, our CNN political contributors Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, our senior political analyst Gloria Borger and David Gergen. Thanks very much for coming in. There's a brand new ABC News/"Washington Post" poll that asks the American public their views of the federal government's response to the oil gulf disaster. 69 percent have a negative response. 28 percent have a positive response. If you compare that to two weeks after Katrina at the time 62 percent had a negative response at the federal government's reaction, to 38 percent had a positive response, Donna, this is not encouraging news for this Obama administration which is the federal government.

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: No, it's not, but let me just say it's not hurricane Katrina. I remember that nightmare, and everyone who remembered that nightmare understands exactly why these two, these are two separate events.

BLITZER: Why do 69 percent of the American people have a negative response?

BRAZILE: They're frustrated. They see this, this bill. They know that it's having an impact on the public. It's having an impact on the people of the gulf, wildlife and sealife and they're visibly upset the federal government cannot go and contain it. This poll was also taken before the new containment measure was put in place. Perhaps it's given some relief that BP is doing a better job in containing it, but until this spill is contained people are going to be visibly upset.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I also think, oddly for Barack Obama, he's had a very difficult time explaining this problem to the American public, maybe because he got into it late and maybe because he ceded a lot of the authority to BP at the beginning. So at the beginning he said, well, BP is taking care of it. What the American public wanted to see was actually, that the president was in charge. Now he's changed his message tremendously, and has set BP to the side and said today, look, I don't want to see them nickel and diming folks who earn their living off the water. The president has separated himself, now taking charge. We'll see if the polls a month from now so something different.

BLITZER: Is it, David, a matter of communications or another issue here?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it's partly communications, Wolf. I think it's a deeper issue and that is a sense of being ineffectual and the early stages they -neither the government nor BP seemed to have a very strong or a good response to this and both of them are being condemned for it. What does surprise me is that the response is more negative today than with Katrina. That's counterintuitive. With Katrina we had the face of human suffering and ineptitude that was quite staggering at the time. To have this worse, you know, is surprising. The only -- one caution I would put, Wolf, is, it's not so clear that this negative response about the government, the government's handling of it is leading to a direct rub-off on President Obama in terms of his poll numbers. There's been no nose dive on the part of the president. What I do think is he's getting hurt in terms of the narrative, in terms of the overall sense of his presidency. This combined with the stubbornness of the unemployment problems and other things I think is starting to create a narrative in the press, perhaps in country, of ineffectuality.

BLITZER: He was at a cabinet meeting today Donna. He brought together all of his key advisers on this issue. You saw them sitting around the table. He has got to do something every single day to remind the American people, this is priority number one right now.

BRAZILE: Yeah, I think visibility is viability. The fact is that the navy was there, the coast guard was there when this accident occurred. No one at the time, because I remember I was out there, I knew what was going on, I had been to the gulf three times. The national media wasn't even paying attention, Wolf, and all of a sudden the American people woke up, it was day 30, and they said, oh, is this thing still going on? So there has been a visible response to this, and the white house hasn't always kept up with the events, but they're on the case right now.

BORGER: But you know to David's point is you get to a point where the American public begins to believe things are out of control, and they want to see that the president and the white house are in control. And if you look at the leak, it's still not plugged. If you look at jobs and the economy, the unemployment rate is still a huge problem. Has the president sold health care reform to the country? What about his energy policy? And they sort of take a look at the whole, and they say, is this administration in charge? And that's the question that you see reflected in this poll, but not yet, as David points out, on Barack Obama personally.

BLITZER: Bottom line, this administration has a lot of work to do between now and November to avoid a major political --

BRAZILE: But I want to say, BP must be held responsible. They're the ones. They're responsible.

BLITZER: Everybody agrees with you Donna.

The battle to bring the gushing oil in the gulf under control is waged not only at sea. CNN's Brian Todd will take us inside for an exclusive look at BP's command center for this massive operation. Stand by, you'll see something you'll see only here on CNN.


BLITZER: Let's check back with Lisa. She is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What else is going on Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf, well possible brake problems prompted Chrysler to recall 365,000 Jeep Wranglers. It says brake fluid leaks in 2006 through 2010 model Wranglers could cause drivers to lose brake control. 2008 and 2009 Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town and Country minivans are also being recalled for electrical wiring problems. No crashes or injuries have been reported. The army arrested a soldier accused of leaking a video that shows apache helicopters attacking unarmed men, including journalists in Iraq. The 2007 cockpit video was posted on the website, The military says Bradley Manning is being detained for releasing classified information.

And a fox sneaks into a London home and mauls twin baby girls. Police say it got through an open door. The 9-month-old sisters are now recovering in a hospital. Doctors say they're in stable but serious condition. The fox was trapped and destroyed. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Lisa, thank you very much.

Jack Cafferty coming up with your e-mail, and the widows of those killed in the oil rig explosion testifying emotionally before Congress, and charge BP with putting profits before safety.


BLITZER: Jack is joining us with the Cafferty file. Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The question this hour, Wolf. Isn't it pastime for the House Ethics Committee to release its findings on Congressman Charlie Rangel? They have been looking at this thing for almost two years.

Lori in Pennsylvania, "Yes. Two years, more than enough time to investigate Congressman Rangel. The House Ethics Committee needs to release a report to drop the investigation if they were unable to find evidence of wrongdoing."

Matt in Illinois writes, "Of course it is, but there is no motivation for them to rat each other out, because they believe the voters are mindless robots and we will reelect them. I sure hope they're wrong about us."

Carolyn writes, "The results of Rangel's investigation will not be released until the elections are over. If what was found in the investigation had been positive, it would have been released long ago so that Mr. Rangel could resume his duties as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. In politics, it's all about re-election. But isn't that our fault, because we keep electing the same people. Why would you vote for someone with this kind of investigation pending? His name is probably the only one that some voters recognize on the ballot so they vote for him again and again and again."

Leslie writes, "Not only is it unethical for the ethics committee to withhold this information, it does not allow the public the ability to make an informed decision in the voting booth. My question is, how much money do these committees cost, and why does it take two years to find out if he committed an ethics violation?"

Rob writes, "Rangel is just one more example of why there ought to be term limits for all politicians. This crook has been in Washington for 20 terms. Enough is enough, Rangel should be in prison." And Larry in Ohio writes: "Jack, it looks like it's time for someone to look into the ethics of the Ethics Committee."

If you want to read more on this, you will find it on my blog at

Why, look at the time, Wolf. It's 6:00.

BLITZER: It is, Jack. Thank you. Don't go too far away.