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President: U.S. Shores Under "Assault;" Oil Spill Damage Control; Flow Rate Estimate Rises Yet Again

Aired June 15, 2010 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Drew, thank you very much.

Happening now, from the Gulf Coast to the Oval Office -- President Obama is preparing for one of the most important nights since he came to the White House. We're counting down to his address to the nation on the oil disaster. And the stakes are enormous for him, for the environment, for the region, which is in crisis right now.

There's still a lot of tough questions about the amount of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico right now. I'll try to get some answers from the president's point person on energy and climate change, Carol Browner. She's standing by to join us live.

And senators were stunned when General David Petraeus simply fainted right in front of them.

What caused the battle-tested commander to pass out?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


The president says America's shores are under assault right now and he's promising to fight back promising to fight back "with everything we've got." Mr. Obama is about three hours away interest delivering from delivering his first Oval Office address to the nation. The backdrop speaking volumes about the scope of this oil disaster -- one that's getting worse by the moment.

Experts estimate right now as much as 40,000 barrels of oil -- maybe be a whole lot more -- have been spilling into the Gulf every day for almost two months. The president wrapped up his fourth trip to the region since the rig explosion with remarks in Florida just a few hours ago.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And let me say to the people of Pensacola and the Gulf Coast, I am with you, my administration is with you for the long haul, to make sure BP pays for the damage that it has done and to make sure that you are getting the help you need to protect this beautiful coast and to rehabilitate the damaged areas, to revitalize this region and to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again. That is a commitment I am making to the people of Florida and people all across this Gulf.


BLITZER: CNN correspondents are fanned out across the Gulf to cover the spill and the president's address later tonight. We're counting down to that.

Meanwhile, a new setback in the oil cleanup driving home the enormous challenges for the president. BP saying it suspended its oil siphoning operation for a while today because of a fire on board a drill ship.

Brian Todd is here with details -- Brian, it got pretty scary for a while.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It did, Wolf. At about 10:30 this morning, Eastern time. That's when BP officials say they spotted a fire at the top of the derrick of the ship that's pumping the oil up from the broken pipe, the drill ship Discover Enterprise. The fire was likely caused by a lightning strike and was quickly extinguished, according to BP officials. But they say they had to stop collecting oil from the broken pipe for about five hours.

The Joint Information Center tells CNN that containment operations resumed at 3:15 p.m. Eastern time.

Now, at the rate they've been collecting, that's between 3,000 and 4,000 barrels that they probably could not collect -- Wolf.

BLITZER: If you were looking at the -- at the live feed coming out, could you tell more was coming out because they weren't collecting the -- the oil at that -- during those hours?

TODD: Well, we've got some images to show you which may or may not give you an indication here. On the left is a broken oil pipe with the cap over it, this morning at about 9:00 Eastern time, when we believe it was collecting oil. On the right, the broken oil pipe when it was not collecting, at 2:00 p.m. Eastern time.

The question, is there all that much difference?

All we have to go by, Wolf, is the naked eye. Measuring this flow rate has been the source of a lot of consternation and controversy, as you know. We're waiting to get another update this week on the flow rate.

BLITZER: We might get that as early as today, I'm told.

TODD: Possibly. That's right.

BLITZER: This flow rate technical group is supposed to come up with a new number. We'll see if it comes up before or during the president's Oval Office address later tonight.

TODD: Right.

BLITZER: We're standing by for that.

Let's get to the spill zone, though, right now, and a fresh look at the oil tainting the Gulf Coast.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is just back from a boat tour with the Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal -- Ed, how did it go?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was interesting, Wolf. The -- the governor really speaking in terms today of we are in the midst of a war, meaning the people here along the Gulf Coast. And, really, he wanted to highlight some of the efforts -- the ideas that have been created here locally and sold to BP and the federal government, although, they say it's taking quite a bit of an arm- twisting and convincing them to let them do a couple of the ideas that they were highlighting today.

The governor took us out by boat to one location in Barataria Bay, which is about 15 miles north-northeast of here where we are, in Grand Isle, Louisiana. This is significant, Wolf, because this is, the governor says, the deepest that they have seen oil into the Louisiana marshlands. So a very concerning, very serious situation here, where we saw thick patches of oil creeping into the marshland, about five feet deep in some places.

The governor there has -- in the last week, has basically created the system of using barges, an idea from the Louisiana National Guard, getting trucks put on top of barges with hoses, essentially acting as vacuums, sucking the oil out. This is not the -- what the governor says the ideal way to battle this. But he calls it Cajun ingenuity at this time. But he says it would -- that it would be key to be able to keep this -- the oil from furthering polluting the -- the marshes that are so vital to this area of Louisiana.


GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: We've given them specific things they can do to ramp up the intensity of this effort. The bottom line -- they need to be doing more. They need to intensify this effort. This oil doesn't need to be in Barataria Bay. We're over 12 miles from Grand Isle. We need to be fighting this oil out there away from the coast.


LAVANDERA: Wolf, the governor says that he has requests for about 28 to 30 more of these barges with these vacuum trucks on -- on top of them. So far, there's about nine of them deployed. We believe that in the next 24 to 48 hours, there will be another about 16 in -- in total that are -- are being used.

And also here in Grand Isle, local officials are -- are pushing with the federal government and BP, as well, to block the passes in between the barrier islands here, to create a system of rocks and barges, to be able to collect the pool and use more of these vacuum trucks to suck up that oil that is creeping in more and more. They say here that, look, this is just the initial wave. They expect more and more oil to keep coming this way for months -- Wolf.


All right. They'll be listening very closely to the president's address tonight on Grand Isle; indeed, all along the Gulf Coast.

Ed Lavandera with the governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal.

The president goes before the camera later tonight facing growing criticism of the way he's handled the oil spill.

Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry.

He's in Florida working the story for us.

What did -- what kind of reception, Ed, based on the folks you've been speaking to in Pensacola, elsewhere in Florida, what kind of reception is he getting from -- from Floridians?

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's very mixed here, frankly. There are some people -- small business owners I'm talking to, people on the beach, who are basically saying, look, there's only so much the president can do in a situation like this. We're only seeing part of the picture. He's got a lot going on behind-the-scenes trying to figure this -- all of this out.

Then you've got other people -- his motorcade passed today. Signs on the side of the road basically saying, less words, more action. Lead now.

There are also, in what's a big surprise, signs on some of the restaurants here saying, Mr. President, activate FEMA. FEMA, of course, was the agency that, after Hurricane Katrina, so many people were irate about, that they were slow to react and deal with that crisis.

But when you talk to some of the people on the ground here in Pensacola, they're waiting for the oil to land. It hasn't really come ashore. And they basically say that at least FEMA could be a go-to person. They still don't feel like the federal government is fully in charge here.

I spoke to Buck Lee, the man in charge of Pensacola Beach, behind me. And -- and basically he said, look, if you're going to ask who's to blame here, BP or the federal government, he said both of them -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The president has said repeatedly about 17,000 National Guard troops are available for deployment. Only a little bit more than a thousand have actually been used by the governors in those states. But the president is determined to get more of those National Guard men and women out there helping.

What's the problem here, based on what you're hearing? Why aren't more National Guard troops deployed right now?

HENRY: Frankly, when you talk to local officials here in Florida, they feel like there's not a lot of coordination that -- that's sort of flowing enough. They say there's been progress since the president has gotten more aggressive in the last couple of weeks, but they're still not fully coordinating.

We saw the president step up his rhetoric a little bit today when he went to a Navy base here in Pensacola and was basically saying, look, this is an assault on our shores, we're going to fight fire with fire.

But you're right, people are wondering if not all the National Guard troops are being deployed, is it really fighting fire with fire?

He also met with a small businessman here, Michael Pinzone. He runs a pizza shop, as well as a fish restaurant.

Take a listen to the plight he's facing, why he's frustrated with BP right now.


HENRY: You've gotten two $5,000 checks so far?

MIKE PINZONE, OWNER, FISH SANDWICH SNACK BAR: I've gotten two $5,000 checks. This last one was a couple of days ago and it was for an advancement for next month. I've got a $34,000 claim in for this month and I haven't received anything. I have a -- right now, I'm sitting -- I'm done about $60,000 and we're only half way through the month, OK?

HENRY: Sixty thousand for June?


HENRY: And...

PINZONE: OK, so...

HENRY: And you've only gotten $10,000?

PINZONE: I've gotten...

HENRY: How do you feel about that?

PINZONE: I feel that it's not going to be long and that we're going to all be out of business. And then it's going to be my house. It's going to be everything.


HENRY: A small businessman who feels he's at the end of his rope, essentially, Wolf. Interesting, though, Michael Pinzone told me he felt that when he met with the president one-on-one, he thought the president was sincere. He thought he was concerned and very knowledgeable of the situation, asking very good questions.

So while some people have been critical on the ground, here's one small businessman who got to meet with the president and is basically saying, he was on top of the situation and he thinks, you know, that's the kind of president that needs to connect tonight when he delivers that speech from the Oval Office -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Ed.

Thank you.

Ed is going to be standing by.

BP can add something else to its list of problems. Fitch cut BP's credit rating down six levels, to a low investment grade that's just above junk status. Look at how the company's stock has fared since the Gulf oil rig exploded back on April 20th. After lingering around $60 a share since the start of the year, BP's stock has fallen to today's closing price of just more than $31.

Scientists may finally get a better handle on how much oil is spewing into the Gulf by listening to it. There's new technology in action.

Also, the president's assistant on energy policy on how many billions of dollars BP will have to set aside to pay damages. We'll be speaking live with Carol Browner. She's standing by.

And California gubernatorial candidate, Meg Whitman, defends the way she treated employees at -- as CEO of eBay.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: All right, the new number has come in. It is not good. Right now, the government experts are estimating that the flow -- the oil flow spewing from the Gulf -- in the Gulf of Mexico -- is anywhere between 35,000 and 60,000 barrels a day -- 60,000. That's their high end estimate.

Remember, it was only a few weeks ago they were suggesting it could be 5,000 barrels a day. Then they went from 12,000 to 19,000 barrels a day. And last week, they said maybe 20,000 to 40,000 barrels a day. Now they're estimating it could be up to 60,000 barrels a day.

They're capturing, right now, about 15,000. If it's 60,000, that means about 45,000 barrels a day are still spewing into the Gulf of Mexico.

These are live pictures, right, you're seeing behind me. Those are the live pictures of the oil that's spewing into the Gulf of Mexico right now. This is a number we anticipated would go up, but 60,000, the high end of this estimate right now. That's a lot more than a lot of folks thought. We're staying on top of this story for you. More information coming up.

But once again, the government number just coming out, between 35,000 and 60,000 barrels a day are continuing to flow randomly into the Gulf of Mexico. Even if they capture 15,000, that's an enormous amount of oil. Do the math and you'll see how much has come up over the past two months.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now for "The Cafferty File."

This is really, really depressing information -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight could be one of those moments for President Obama that might determine his relevancy for the remainder of his first term in office. Nearly 60 days since the worst environmental catastrophe in U.S. history. President Obama will address the American people from the Oval Office for the first time since he was elected.

The pressure is on. The Gulf Coast oil spill could carry a tremendous political price for President Obama, perhaps putting re- election in 2012 out of his reach. A lot of people -- and we're not talking just Republicans here -- are disappointed with the president's response to the oil spill. According to a "USA Today"/Gallup Poll, seven out of 10 Americans say Mr. Obama has not been tough enough on the oil company, BP. And the majority rate his response as either poor or very poor.

An Associated Press poll shows 52 percent of the people questioned disapprove of the way the president's handling the oil spill. That means when it comes to tonight's speech, there'd better be some real meat on that bone -- and not just more fancy rhetoric delivered with the aid of a teleprompter.

And it's not just about the oil spill. Dana Milbanks writes in "The Washington Post" today about Obama's shrinking popularity. Hillary Clinton is now more popular than President Obama by measure -- favorability ratings or job approval. Of course, as secretary of State, Mrs. Clinton is not nearly as much in the line of fire as the president. But still, it's not a good sign for President Obama when the polarizing former first lady is beating him in virtually all of the polls.

Here's the question: If the election were held today, would President Obama win a second term?

Go to and pot a comment on my blog.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

Just to recap the breaking news we just reported, new government estimates just coming in put the flow rate of gushing oil right now into the Gulf of Mexico anywhere between 35,000 and 60,000 barrels a day. Perhaps as much as 60,000 barrels a day spewing into the Gulf of Mexico right now that they're capturing. Fifteen thousand -- that still leaves 45,000 barrels just randomly going into the Gulf. Mary Snow is in Massachusetts with a firsthand look at one of the cutting edge devices being used right now to help determine such estimates -- Mary.


Wolf, the size of the oil spill in the Gulf keeps getting updated. And that's because the government has tapped teams of scientists from around the country to measure it. One of the teams is here in Woods Hole. And we talked to them about how they've reached their numbers.


SNOW: (voice-over): Andy Bowen is a deepwater expert the government is counting on to measure the amount of oil spilling into the Gulf. He once sent this vehicle seven miles under the ocean's surface. In his lab, you'll find robots like these, that operate deep in the sea. For the first time, Bowen was asked to use his engineering skills to measure an oil spill that was initially estimated to be 5,000 barrels of oil a day.

ANDY BOWEN, WOODS HOLE OCEANOGRAPHIC INSTITUTE: I think that, you know, the initial estimates were just that -- they were initial estimates, kind of from the hip and, really, they were pulled almost from thin air, I think. And so, you know, what -- what we and others have been trying to do is to employ different techniques to make good measurements as to how much oil has been -- has been spilled.

SNOW: Bowen and scientist Rich Camili from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, measured the spill from a ship above the spill site in late May. Unlike other scientists, who rely on images for measurement, they rely on sound, using this acoustic sensor.

BOWEN: Because it creates a -- it's sort of like if you banged on the side of a tank, right, and then you -- it would -- it would create an acoustic wave which goes out from this face and then bounces off something and comes back and is received.

SNOW: Comparing it roughly to medical ultrasounds, the Woods Hole team attached the acoustic sensor to an ROV, or remotely operated vehicle, planted within feet of the gushing plume on the sea floor. The team measured the volume of products flowing from the leak, not just oil, but things like natural gas. And that information was given to the Coast Guard, which estimated that as many as 40,000 barrels of oil a day were leaking into the Gulf before the riser was cut in early June.

And those pre-riser estimates aren't even final.

BOWEN: I don't expect that will result in major differences in the numbers that we've already worked up. But it will be more refined and, I think, stand up to the kind of scrutiny that these -- these estimates require, so that people feel confident that they're -- that they're the best that are possible.

SNOW: (on camera): And that's what people really want right now is confidence in the numbers?

BOWEN: Yes. I feel that we've managed to gather information that will help to improve that level of confidence in the numbers that are being discussed presently.


SNOW: Scientists here at Woods Hole are now taking their technology to the Gulf to search for underwater plumes of oil. And they're hoping to provide a picture of those plumes that we haven't yet seen -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary Snow reporting for us.

Thank you.

New details are emerging about the man the authorities say tried to breach a Florida air base.

Was it an attempted terror attack?

And the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan startles lawmakers here in Washington on Capitol Hill when he faints. The details of what happened to General David Petraeus -- that's coming up.


BLITZER: The government has just released new estimates of how much oil is continuing to spew out of that rig -- the exploded rig. The estimate now being between 35,000 barrels and 60,000 barrels a day -- up to 60,000 barrels a day. So if they're capturing, as they say they are, 15,000, that still leaves about 45,000 barrels a day that's still going into the Gulf of Mexico. These latest numbers a lot higher than earlier estimates. Every few days, they seem to increase the estimate of how much oil is simply going into the Gulf. Much more on this coming up.

But let's check in with Lisa right now.

She's monitoring some of the other top stories here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

What do you have -- Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we have a new development. President Obama has just announced his selection of Michael Bromwich to lead the administration's efforts to accelerate reforms in regulation and oversight of offshore drilling. Bromwich will lead the effort to reform the Minerals and Management Service. And he replaces Elizabeth Birnbaum, who stepped down. Bromwich is a former inspector general at the Justice Department. And one of his top new goals will be reorganizing the MMS.

And in other news, a man who authorities say tried to enter a Florida air base with a car full of guns and ammunition is AWOL from the military. Officials say the man and a woman were taken into custody after trying to enter MacDill Air Force Base with phony I.D.s yesterday. It is not being investigated as a terrorist threat.

And Meg Whitman's camp fires back after "The New York Times" reported the Republican gubernatorial candidate shoved an employee while she was the CEO of eBay. A campaign spokeswoman says a verbal dispute isn't uncommon in a high pressure working environment. Whitman allegedly settled with a private mediator, paying about $200,000. And the employee eventually returned to work -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right.

Thanks very much, Lisa.

Don't go too far away.

A lot of fear that BP could go bankrupt and leave taxpayers holding the bill for the worst oil spill in U.S. history. I'll ask the president's assistant on energy policy, Carol Browner, about the challenges of making BP pay. That interview coming up live.

Will the president's address to the nation later tonight silence his critics on the handling of the spill?

Paul Begala and David Gergen -- they're both standing by live for our Strategy Session.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: And it's dramatic numbers that we're following right now. The breaking news -- government scientists increasing their estimate of the rate of oil continuing to flow into the Gulf of Mexico to as much as 60,000 barrels a day. That's a whole lot more than only a few days ago. This, as the president prepares to speaks to the nation about the spill in about two and a half hours.

Joining us now is the director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy, Carol Browner.

Thanks very much, Carol, for coming in. This...


BLITZER: This number, 60,000 barrels a day, I'm assuming if it's at the top end and they're capturing 15,000 barrels a day, 45,000 are still spewing into the Gulf of Mexico.

Is that right?

BROWNER: Well, first of all, what the scientists gave is a range of 35,000 to 60,000. And that's what scientists do. They look at all of the information available and then they make adjustments. They looked at this information. Previously, they had one set of ranges. Now they've been able to look at it again and -- and they have a new set of ranges.

And we're going to keep making that available to the American people, as the scientists continue to get more information, ask more questions, do more -- more analysis.

We are now capturing, I think, on the order of 20,000 to 25,000 barrels a day. And we directed BP, over the weekend, to bring in even more equipment and to begin collecting even more oil. And so by mid- July, they should be able to collect on the order of 60,000 to 80,000 barrels per day.

BROWNER: We are now capturing I think on the order of 20,000 to 25,000 barrels a day, and we directed BP over the weekend to bring in even more equipment and to begin collecting even more oil. And so by mid-July they should be able to collect on the order of 60,000 to 80,000 barrels per day.

BLITZER: Per day so that would be, assuming it's 60,000 they would be able to capture almost everything, if not all of it. Is that what you're saying?

BROWNER: That's absolutely the hope. Obviously you know these are complicated situations, we're dealing a mile below the ocean floor but working with our leading scientists, Dr. Chu, the secretary of energy, we've been able to offer some important recommendations in terms of changing how some things were done so that more and more of the oil can be captured.

BLITZER: A lot of our viewers will be skeptical, because early on BP said a thousand barrels a day, and then the estimate 5,000 a day, and then 12,000 to 19,000 a day, then 20,000 to 40,000 barrels a day, now 35,000 to 60,000 barrels a day. Should we expect a huge new number next week? BROWNER: Obviously we hope not. Scientists do continue to look at this as they should. That's the scientific process. What allowed the scientists to bring forward this number was new measurements that they were able to get. Some enhanced video they were able to look at after the riser had been cut. So this is an ongoing process. They feel quite confident that range they're now proposing is based on all of the information that they have, but in the event there's more information, I mean it's a very a complicated thing they're doing, we will make that information known and their analysis of that known.

BLITZER: Did you manage to get one of those, I don't know the technical term, some sort of pressure gauge in there that would be precise? Right now based on the video, even if it's enhanced video or based on sonar evidence or whatever, it's not precise, but a pressure gauge would be precise. Is that already in place?

BROWNER: That is in place. That is partly what led to the change in numbers. You're right, that looking at the video, looking at the sonar, looking at the Doppler, those are just pieces of the puzzle. There was a pressure gauge that was put down in the last couple of days. That has given us new information that they have been able to analyze.

BLITZER: The other news we're following is the president has nominated someone to take charge and oversee this troubled agency, Michael Bronwitch, someone that used to work in the Clinton justice department. Tell us why this is significant.

BROWNER: Michael is known as a former prosecutor. He's a reformer. What the president realizes and what Secretary Salazar knows is that this agency needs to be reformed. The secretary has already taken some important steps on ethic steps, already sort of disbanded the agency that he's separating out, permitting and working with the industry and the enforcement, but what the president wanted and what the secretary wanted was to bring in somebody who could really sort through this and make sure that we give the American people the kind of agency that will protect our environment, protect our coastlines and allow us to move forward in a thoughtful manner.

BLITZER: He has an excellent legal background but what does he know about the oil industry and deepwater drilling specifically?

BROWNER: What he needs to understand is how does government work, how do you regulate complex industries? And that's what he's been very good at. He's come into police departments, he came into the department of justice, again a reformer who understands how government should work on behalf of people in terms of regulating industries so they don't adversely impact our environment and livelihoods.

BLITZER: The other number we're waiting for, and I expect we'll get it soon, maybe you can give it to us right now, the escrow account that BP is supposed to set up to help pay for this spill. The president wants BP to establish an escrow account. How much money do you want them to put in that escrow account? BROWNER: Well, as you know, the president will be meeting with the chairman of the board, of the BP board, tomorrow. There are, obviously, discussions that are under way, those discussions will continue tomorrow. The president has said and what we are working towards and what we will be absolutely, you know, clear about in the meetings is these communities, these people need to be made whole. I just returned from the gulf with the president where we were in Florida, Alabama and Mississippi and we heard time and time again from people whose businesses are suffering. They have half the customers they had last year. We want to make sure that all of those costs are covered and they're covered by --

BLITZER: Can you give us a ballpark numbers? How many billions do you think would be needed in that escrow account?

BROWNER: Well it's obviously going to be a large number.

BLITZER: Is it going to be $20 billion, $10 billion, $5 billion?

BROWNER: It's going to be whatever it takes to make sure the people of the region are made whole.

BLITZER: Do you know that number right now? You just can't tell us?

BROWNER: There are discussions going on and let's leave at that. The president will have an important meeting tomorrow.

BLITZER: How worried are you that BP could go bankrupt and that the American taxpayers could get stuck paying for all of this?

BROWNER: Well, this is, obviously, a very successful company. They continue to have many, many performing assets. We strongly believe that this company can continue to cover the costs of these damages, to make whole the people of the Gulf of Mexico, to make whole the communities and continue to perform as a company.

BLITZER: You're a Florida native. This must hit personally very close to home for you. As someone who spent your whole professional career dealing with the environment and energy, how worried are you right now that as bad as it is, Carol, right now could get a whole lot worse?

BROWNER: Obviously we're all worried and I was in Florida today with the president and it was, obviously, you know, hard to see. My fellow Floridians and what they are fearing and the loss of income they're already experiencing. But we have launched the largest environmental cleanup in the history of this country and we are not going to stop until not only is it cleaned up but these communities are restored. The gulf is made even better than it is today.

BLITZER: Good luck. We're counting on all of you and hoping for the best. We'll be anticipating the president's oval office address in a few hours. Thanks very much, Carol Browner.

One man on a Rambo-style quest to find and kill Osama Bin Laden. Who is he and what drove him to take on a mission the U.S. military hasn't been able to accomplish? And president Obama updates the timetable for U.S. troops to leave Iraq.

Hello, Pensacola.


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

SYLVESTER: Hi Wolf. Well still on schedule, President Obama says U.S. forces should finish up a near seven-year combat mission in Iraq this summer. While discussing the massive oil spill in the gulf the topic turned to Iraq. The president says armed forces there earned their place among the greatest of generations.

And no new deal, no flights. Spirit Airlines couldn't reach a pay agreement today with its pilots' union. Hundreds walked off the job Saturday. The airline says it won't fly until Friday at the earliest. Customers are getting a credit for canceled flights and as well as $100 for future bookings.

Apparently he just can't catch a break. Another one of actor Charlie Sheen's Mercedes, he has more than one of these things, this was found crumbled at the base of a cliff off Mulholland drive in California. Police believe someone took the car from Sheen's driveway. His other Mercedes was stolen back in February. Imagine the odds of that.

BLITZER: Needs better luck, I guess. All right. Thanks Lisa.

President Obama preparing right now to give his first oval office address. Will it be enough to silence his critics in response to the growing oil disaster? And what are those directly affected want to hear tonight? Anderson Cooper he's in New Orleans. We'll speak with him.


BLITZER: Let's get to our strategy session. Joining us our CNN political contributor, the Democratic strategist Paul Begala and our senior political analyst David Gergen. I want to get to the president's address, the oval office address, in a moment but very quickly, David, these new numbers, almost now all of a sudden we're going from 35,000 to 60,000 barrels a day that are spewing out. It was only a few weeks ago, 5,000 barrels a day. What's going on here? Because a lot of Americans will be skeptical when they hear these increasingly higher numbers.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right, Wolf. And this is not just a BP problem. Remember, it was a government that told us a few weeks ago that it was 5,000 barrels a day. It's now the government that's raising the estimates to 35,000 to 60,000. I think it does erode confidence that the government's actually got a firm handle on the problem. Confidence is already pretty low. BLITZER: And next week, they could say it's 40,000 to 100,000 barrels a day, Paul. It's just -- it's a question of credibility, I think, right now.

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It is. It's also a question of ability. In other words, they don't really know and one of the things that you hear back in the day when people like Gergen and I used to be in the other situation room, when there is a crisis, the people who have been through these things before will tell you the early reports are always wrong, we just don't know where they're wrong. I think even today these data that we're getting ought to be met with great skepticism. So far the estimates both from the government and BP, have underestimated consistently and I don't think anybody ought to hang their hat on the numbers they're getting today. I hope the president don't doesn't go out in his speech and say we know for a fact x number of barrels are flowing out from that well because I don't think we know that yet.

BLITZER: The numbers are very, very, I hate to use the word fluid, but they are. David, should the president as he's expected tonight in his oval office address use this moment to push for new energy legislation, the cap and trade legislation, so controversial on Capitol Hill?

GERGEN: I think it's an important moment to push for a transformation of our -- the way -- the places where we go for energy, to move toward a new energy future, one that's renewable. I don't think that that's the heart and soul of this speech. The heart and soul has to be what are we doing about this spill? Let's go back to basics about the leak and about the cleanup. Both of them seem to be very problematic now and I think there is a great sense -- I was in the White House yesterday. Paul knows this from his experience, his contacts there. There is a sense in the White House now, they acknowledge the public is not with us on this. The public does not think we're on top of this. This is the one chance we have to convince the public we're in command here and we will solve the problem.

BLITZER: Because I heard the hearing today, before the energy subcommittee, that Chairman Markey was chairing earlier in the day, Republican after Republican after Republican kept saying, Mr. President, solve this problem, cap this leak right now. We'll deal with energy, bigger term energy related issues down the road. Let's get this behind us. Do they have a point?

BEGALA: No. I don't mean to be so partisan, but no. First off, the president has pointed this out and I think he has a pretty good point. Many of the same people today are saying the government should fix this problem caused by big oil, not by big government, have always been opposed to the government having more authority over big oil. I think he'll lay down a marker on energy. I went back and looked. In his first speech on the national stage in 2004, that remarkable keynote address, a very broad speech, not a lot of specifics, back in 2004, when he burst on the national stage in Boston he mentioned energy. Even in his inaugural address, one of the few specifics, energy. This vision of a clean energy economy, creating jobs through different sources of energy here at home is really central to the Barack Obama presidency. I think David is right it's not central. What's central is accountability for BP, but accountability I think is the heart of this, but also over time we have to shift to a new energy economy. I think you will see the president make that case tonight.

GERGEN: Let me come back to this, I think tonight it's really important, this speech be short on rhetoric and long on action. What is he actually going to do? What's the government going to do? This escrow account is one thing. Cleaning up is very important too. Now the president has told us he's in charge. The government is in charge. Then we open up and read the stunning lead story in "The New York Times" today about how chaotic the cleanup effort is and the people are not coordinated with each other. We have people that don't quite not what they're doing and a lot of waste. If the government is going to be in charge, we wouldn't run a military operation like this. We should not be willing to tolerate a chaotic cleanup.

BLITZER: And in fairness the big oil -- you're right, Paul -- big oil is responsible for this mess in the Gulf of Mexico right now, but big government was M.I.A. in terms of regulation, Congress was M.I.A. in terms of oversight of this agency at the department of interior. They really weren't involved. They were basically letting BP and the others do what they wanted.

BEGALA: That's right. I don't think the president will get into this tonight, but I think in time, there's a good case that he can make that what happened here, was a failure of philosophy. That fundamentally, Washington became captured by special interests who believed that the best regulation of business was little or no regulation of business or self-regulation of business. And that leads to the Wall Street collapse, it leads to Toyota's crashing into each other without proper brakes, it leads to the messy energy mining disaster in West Virginia and leads to BP. I don't think he'll get into that tonight. David's right. This is not the time for philosophical discussion. But I think in time perhaps at the next state of the union address the president is well positioned to make the case for sensible accountability for corporate America because that's the one line through all of these crises in the last six months.

BLITZER: Hold on a second. It's a little more than two hours. Paul and David are going to be with us throughout the evening for all of our extensive coverage. Guys, hold your thought. Because we'll have more time later to discuss. Guys, thanks very much.

Jack Cafferty is asking if the election were held today would President Obama win a second term? Jack and your e-mail, that's coming up.

Who would try to hunt and kill Osama Bin Laden all by himself? We're looking into a Colorado man detained right now in Pakistan.

And new reason to fear BP, might, might go bankrupt.


BLITZER: Jack is joining us again with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack?

CAFFERTY: Faced with declining poll numbers, President Obama will address the nation tonight from the oval office on the subject of that big oil spill. The question we asked this hour is: If the election were held today, would President Obama win a second term?

B. writes from Tennessee, "We voted for home, we voted for change. Now I just hope it will change. We trusted rhetoric during the campaign and gave him a chance but he seems stuck on rhetoric. I don't want another speech tonight. I want him to call the brightest minds from around the world and solve the problem at hand. I doubt he would win if the election was today. I certainly know he has lost my vote."

Loman writes: "He has the toughest job of any president in the modern era. He is doing an above average job. I believe he will win again because this tide, too, will turn. Besides the Republicans don't have a candidate or the policies to win."

Don writes: "I doubt it. President Obama has shown a rather astounding lack of acuity for a Chicago guy coupled with overall knowledge of what it takes to lead a great nation. He is great at teleprompter."

Stephanie says: "I'm biased because I didn't vote for him in the first place, but when the curtain was pulled back on him, the American people discovered that Obama is not as great and wonderful as so many desperately wanted to believe in 2008. Hope and change are nice pretty words, but they have no substance."

Jean writes: "Your crystal ball is cracked. Obama is doing a great job under terrible circumstances. He will win in 2012 because he will have been the best president we have had in a long, long time, intelligent and informed and decisive and yes, calm. We don't need a raver as president and we don't need pundits as prophets."

Rick in Cincinnati says: "He would not be re-elected before the oil spill, Jack. He blew the second term by the way the Democrats went about getting the health care bill passed."

And Wayne says: "Yes, he would win if he were running against McCain and Palin, but not against someone competent."

If you want to read more on the subject, you'll find it on my blog at

BLITZER: Will do Jack. Thank you.

Senator John McCain couldn't do much more than stare at the United States commander of armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, the central commander, fainted in front of him. What happened to General David Petraeus? We'll have an update.

And lawmakers confront BP accusing the company of having a cookie cutter response to disaster.


BLITZER: The commander of the U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan General David Petraeus gave lawmakers a bit of a scare when he briefly fainted during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing today. The four star general was escorted out, but quickly reemerged ready to continue and joking about the incident. Despite that, the committee decided to resume the hearing tomorrow.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: General, can you tell us what happened, please?

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS: I got light-headed and dehydrated. That is all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't have a tumor or something do you?

PETRAEUS: I don't think so.


BLITZER: We learned that General Petraeus received a concerned phone call from President Obama, and let's bring in our medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen, and what are some of the medical reasons that a healthy person might faint in this kind of a situation?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we have been asking doctors that question this afternoon and they say it could be anything from anxiety to silent heart disease, and anything from heat to something called vasovagal syndrome which is related to low blood pressure. They said it's just really difficult to know until you start to do more testing.

BLITZER: He wanted to go back to testify, but the chairman Carl Levin said you know what? We'll resume this tomorrow. So should he have gone to a doctor or even to a hospital for a more thorough examination given the fainting incident?

COHEN: Well, as we understand, Wolf, he did see a doctor there at the capitol for a brief period of time. I think some doctors would be concerned that he didn't go for a more thorough examination, and a lot of doctors we talked to said he really ought to have an EKG, he ought to have a more thorough review of the personal history of his family health history. They say 20 minutes off to the side with the capitol hill doctor may not have been enough, and this may have been simply as I said, heat or anxiety, the but it can be a sign of something bigger and the doctors like to do a thorough workup when someone collapses like that.

BLITZER: I suspect he will get that sooner rather than later. Thank you, Elizabeth.

COHEN: Thanks.

BLITZER: And you are in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now breaking news, a grim new estimate of the amount of crude oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. Government experts now say it could be as much as 60,000 barrels a day.