Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
FAA Takes New Rules To Air Controllers; S&P Cuts Outlook On U.S. Debt; Yemeni Women Join Push to Topple Leader; Donald Trump Steps up Attacks on President Obama; President Obama Flip-Flopping on Campaign Promise?
Aired April 18, 2011 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Brooke. Happening now, it is getting harder to tell friends from foe in Afghanistan. Insurgents in Afghanistan uniforms are carrying out brazen attacks and taking a growing toll on both troops and civilians.
As Donald Trump seems to edge closer to a presidential bid, he is taking heat from an influential conservative group which calls the business mogul just another liberal.
And houses ripped to shred. Dozens of people are dead as tornadoes sweep across the southeast. Now, the painful task of recovery begins.
Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm Suzanne Malveaux and you're in the SITUATION ROOM.
Seven air traffic controllers have fallen asleep on duty this year, and federal regulators and union officials are angry and embarrassed. They have hit the road bringing new safety rules to control towers across the country. The first stop, a radar facility near Atlanta. Our CNN's Jeanne Meserve is tracking this for us. And Jeanne, what are we learning today?
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, the head of the Federal Aviation Administration and the head of the air traffic controllers union both have a big stake in fixing this problem, and they're working together to try and figure out.
RANDY BABBITT, FAA ADMINISTRATOR: We are at a critical junction here at the FAA.
MESERVE (voice-over): Air traffic controllers in Atlanta heard it directly from the boss. No more sleeping on the job.
BABBITT: Just because 99.9 percent of us do it right, we've got to have us all doing it right. This is a business where one mistake is one too many.
MESERVE: The string of sleeping controller incidents grew longer over the weekend with a Miami controller nodding off on shift. All of these incidents controllers were told, jeopardize safety, professionalism, and pride. PAUL RINALDI, PRES. NATL. AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS ASSN.: We have a couple situations and the balls dropped and also moved come but end of a joke (ph). We don't deserve it. We don't like it, and we will stand together and fix it.
MESERVE: Over the weekend, the FAA mandated that controllers must have a minimum of nine hours off between shifts including swaps. They cannot work unscheduled midnight shifts after a day-off, and there will be more manager coverage during early morning and late night. These changes have a price tag.
BABBITT: It could be anywhere from $2 million or about 9 million depending on how you manage the system.
MESERVE: But one air traffic controller says while fatigue can be mitigated, it will never be eliminated.
DEREK BITTMAN, AIT TRAFFIC CONTROLLER: Yes, I have a young family. I have little kids at home. My wife works. Sometimes, you know, I don't get the rest that they want me to get, and it's just impossible. And when I come to work, you know, I just have to do my job and get through it.
MESERVE (on-camera): The FAA says more changes to scheduling rules could be in the offering (ph). In addition, a professional code of conduct is in the works, and as well, controllers are going to get more instruction on fatigue and what to do about it. Of course, Babbitt and Rinaldi could get more ideas from controllers as they continue these meetings coming up in Kansas City, Chicago, New York, and Washington, D.C. Suzanne, back to you.
MALVEAUX: Thanks, Jeanne.
Several reports of air traffic controllers asleep on duty this year alone. So, how serious a problem is this? Well, I put that question to transportation secretary, Ray LaHood.
RAY LAHOOD, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: Well, it's a big concern. It's a very big concern, and that's the reason we've been working 24/7 to correct some very bad behavior on the part of controllers who are sleeping on the job. They've been suspended. We're doing investigations. We've implemented new work rules, new hours, new hours for managers. We've put two controllers in 27 air traffic control towers.
We haven't been sitting around crying in our coffee. We've stepped up. We've worked all weekend. We've been working 24/7. We will do better. We should do better. The flying public expects to have safety in the air control towers, and I want to make sure that happens.
MALVEAUX: Mr. Secretary, I know that one of these new rules is that it extends the rest period. It used to be an eight-hour rest period, now, it's a nine-hour rest period. How much of a difference do we think this is really going to make?
LAHOOD: Well, we got recommendation, really, from a fatigue study that we just are releasing, and that study says that pilots should actually have nine hours, and we thought the controllers should, too.
But look, if that's not enough hours, and that's really one of the reasons that the administrator and the president of the controllers union are traveling the country starting in your bailiwick today in Atlanta talking to controllers about workplace rules, about more rest, and if it needs to be more, then obviously, we'll take that into consideration. We think nine hours is probably the right amount of rest, but if it's not, we'll do better.
MALVEAUX: How do you actually hold those air traffic controllers accountable? I mean, let's say they have a nine-hour rest period, but they're not sleeping, they're not resting. I mean, how do you actually change people's behavior?
LAHOOD: By telling them that they have to take personal responsibility for the idea that when they're supposed to rest, that means sleeping, that means resting, that doesn't mean doing other extracurricular activities. They need to take personal responsibility for the idea that they the lives of thousands of people in the job that they do everyday, and so, they need to be well rested and well trained and they need to just say they're going to do this.
MALVEAUX: So far, these guys have been suspended. They've been suspended. Would they let go? Would you fire people who just don't seem to be able to do their jobs?
LAHOOD: Look, when the investigations are complete, we will announce the results of those investigations, but I want everybody to understand, including controllers, that we're going to make sure that controllers are well-trained, well rested, and the workplace opportunities are an environment where people can do their job and make sure that safety is the number one priority. And so, when we finish the investigations, we will announce the results of what happened.
MALVEAUX: And one of the new rules that you have in place is that there are two air traffic controllers that must be in place like at Reagan National and other major airports. I believe it applies now to about 27 airports or so, but there are more than 400 in the country. If it's that serious, I mean, should there not be a requirement that says two air traffic controllers and a lot more airports?
LAHOOD: Well, we have air traffic controllers in the numbers that we need them now. The additional air traffic controllers in those 27 facilities, I think, really meets the standard for safety that we think is important. In big airports, you know, there are multiple controllers, day in and day out, night and day. In these that we added to the 27 too, those are airports where we thought two controllers were needed rather than one.
MALVEAUX: So, Mr. Secretary, what kind of car do you drive? How much does it cost to fill your tank these days?
LAHOOD: Yes. Back home in Peoria, I have a Ford Escape Hybrid which gets very good gas mileage because it's part battery-powered and part- combustion. I just bought a car here in Washington. I got rid of a 1997 Buick Regal which was a gas cash (ph). When I just got a Chevy Malibu which gets great gas mileage, I'm happy to say, almost 30 miles to the gallon. But, look, even 30 miles to the gallon, when I filled up this weekend, it was about $45. That's real money.
MALVEAUX: We're feeling it.
LAHOOD: Look, I know, I drive my car. I know that the second most expensive item in the family budget is the cost of filling a tank up. This is a bad situation.
MALVEAUX: So, what do we do? You're Secretary of Transportation. What do we do?
LAHOOD: Well, first of all, we now address the big problem. We hope that when the unrest is settled in the Middle East, you know, a barrel of oil will start going down, but the president has laid out a big, bold plan. I was at the Georgetown University when he laid it out. The president has a vision. We're going to do our part to work with auto manufacturers to manufacture cars that get better gas mileage, that use more battery-powered.
We're going to encourage people to buy cars to get better gas mileage, but we know that people are still driving cars that use a lot of gasoline, and we know this is a big, big serious problem for family budgets, and we're going to stay on it and take, you know, a multi- faceted approach to it.
MALVEAUX: All right. Mr. Secretary, thank you so much. Ray LaHood, appreciate your time. Thank you.
LAHOOD: Thank you.
MALVEAUX: A gloomy outlook on U.S. debt sends stocks plunging and raises the fear level. Will the politicians on both sides finally do something about it? Well, David Gergen is standing by.
And a series of attacks by infiltrators in Afghan army uniforms. For U.S. troops, it's getting harder to tell friend from foe.
Plus, controversy swirls around the best-selling author of "Three Cups of Tea," why he's accused of telling lies.
You're in the SITUATION ROOM.
MALVEAUX: Jack Cafferty is here with the "Cafferty File." Hey, Jack. Good to see you. JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Hi, Suzanne. Likewise. You're looking good. Today is the deadline. File your income tax return. Three days later the usual this year because of a federal holiday. Despite this country's dire financial straits and they're getting direr everyday, the rich are paying a lot less in income tax than they did just 20 years ago. IRS tracks 400 households with the highest adjustable gross incomes each year.
In 2007, the average federal income tax rate that that group paid 17 percent. In 1992, they paid 26 percent over that same period of time. The average tax rate for all taxpayers has actually gone down to 9.3 percent from 9.9 percent while our deficits and debt have gone to the moon and back. What's more, according to the Tax Policy Center, 45 percent of U.S. households, a total of about 69 million households, pay no federal income tax, nada.
In fairness, most of the 69 million households don't pay other taxes. They pay state and local income tax, property tax, sales tax. Two- thirds of that group pays payroll tax, as well. Many pay more than they get back from their federal turn. Most of the households in that group that doesn't pay federal income tax earn less than 50,000 a year, but, about 5 million of those 69 million, they make between 50,000 and a million dollars a year. The secret is in the tax breaks, on everything from having a child to going to college to paying your mortgage.
According to the IRS, the tax code currently contains $1.1 trillion of credits, deductions, and exemptions, which averages out for about $8,000 per taxpayer. That could change, though. House Republicans want to limit tax breaks lower the overall tax rates. The president said he wants to do away with tax breaks, too.
The question, then, this hour, is how should the income tax laws be changed? Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog. Did you file your taxes, Suzanne?
MALVEAUX: I knew you were going to ask that, Jack. No, I have not. I filed for the extension. I got an extension. That takes a little longer for me.
CAFFERTY: Are you hoping to get a big refund?
MALVEAUX: I hope so. I hope to get some money back.
CAFFERTY: Why didn't you get them in on time?
MALVEAUX: I never do, Jack. I put it off a little bit, wait a little longer.
CAFFERTY: You're a procrastinator.
MALVEAUX: I am. Did you file yours?
CAFFERTY: Oh, yes.
MALVEAUX: You did? CAFFERTY: It's like pumping blood out, putting it in the jar and just calling the UPS guy and sending it in.
CAFFERTY: It's just very painful.
MALVEAUX: Very dramatic, Jack. Very dramatic.
CAFFERTY: Very painful.
MALVEAUX: All right. Thanks.
MALVEAUX: Worries over America's huge debt problem sent Wall Street into free fall today. The Dow Jones Industrial average plummet to 230 points before clawing it's way back to a loss of only 140 points. All three major indices were down by more than 1 percent. Now, the trigger was a report from Standard & Poor's which cut it's long-term outlook on U.S. debt to negative. So, U.S. debt still gets a top credit rating, but the report means there's now a one in three chance that the rating could be lowered within two years.
Our CNN senior political analyst, David Gergen, he's joining us. David, first of all, when you look at those numbers, when you look at what happened earlier today, how frightening a wake-up call is this?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It's very serious. This wasn't just a great shot across the battle, Suzanne. This is a canon shot. And it was certainly heard in the markets. You know, Standard & Poor's has been judging U.S. credit worthiness for 70 years. This is -- and we've always had a AAA rating during that time. This is the first time in 70 years they've taken an action like that. And it says something very important to the politicians.
You can't just please Main Street. You got to worry about Wall Street, too, because the bond market is out there watching us very closely. And what I also found very significant about this, Suzanne, is there's been a growing consensus in Washington that we may eventually reach a big, mega agreement, but it's going to come after the 2011 elections. What this report is saying is you've got to reach a big agreement before the 2012 elections.
MALVEAUX: That's a huge task. Now, you know, the gang of six, a group of three Democrats and three Republicans, they're working behind closed doors try to come up with some sort of consensus on how to deal with the deficit. The thinking is that liberals and conservative, they can come to some sort of an agreement. They might have a chance of getting through Congress.
So this gang of six, I mean, Even Democrat, Mark Warner says that it's going to make everybody mad. You've been to Washington a long time, David. Does this stand a chance, even a slight chance of surviving?
GERGEN: The odds are against it, but it's probably the plan that could have the best chance of getting through in Washington and that is that, you know, the president is taking his position now. It's off to the left. The Republicans have taken their position off to the right. The gang of six might be able to come up with a plan, very akin to what the Simpson Bowles Commission came up with. It seems more centrist.
They could attract more moderate, and it would have a chance. It will be controversial, and Mark Warner very strikingly have said -- and all of the silence about Social Security, he actually has come out and said, you know, guys, we may have to do Social Security this year, too.
MALVEAUX: That's such a controversial proposal. You know, you're known for being a consensus builder or centrist. Last week, President Obama gave a pretty tough speech going after Republicans for their plan to deal with the deficit. He got some criticism, but I want you to take a listen here to what liberal columnist, Paul Krugman, wrote at "New York Times".
And he says, "The president, we were told, was being too partisan. He needs to treat his opponents with respect. He should have lunch with them and work out a consensus. That's a bad idea. Equally important, it's an undemocratic idea. Let's not be civil. Instead, let's have a frank discussion of our differences. In particular, if Democrats believe that Republicans are talking cruel nonsense, they should say and take their case to the voters."
Does he have a point, you think?
GERGEN: No. If I may speak -- listen, Paul Krugman is an excellent economist. He want to know about price (ph) for economics, but his advice on politics is something I, sometime, disagree with, and here, I appreciate his point, but, you know, the fact is it can -- and frank discussion does not mean one has to be uncivil. And there is no way this is going to be settled without people being able to sit down in the same room, look each other in the eye and say, listen, I trust you, and you've got to trust me to make this work.
We learned from another columnist, David Brooks last week at the "New York Times" that President Obama and Mr. Ryan have never sat down to talk about the long-term needs of this country. You know, that's just unthinkable to me. I don't understand that. That was not the politics when I first arrived here in this state some years ago.
MALVEAUX: We'll see if the president sits down and talks to his foes. This is going to be a very controversial messy process. David Gergen, thank you for helping us sort all of this out.
GERGEN: Thank you. I love your laugh today, Suzanne. It was a lot of fun when you were on with Jack.
GERGEN: That little giggle of yours. MALVEAUX: Nice to be back.
GERGEN: OK. Thank you.
MALVEAUX: Thanks, David.
New concerns, President Obama is now ignoring a key component of the last-minute budget deal that he just signed into law. Details ahead.
Plus, Donald Trump stepping up his mission to tell President Obama you're fired. Will he really run for president or is it just a publicity stunt?
And your favorite subway sandwich could be about to undergo some changes. We're going to tell you what they are, next.
MALVEAUX: Fierce new clashes erupting in Syria. Our Brian Todd is monitoring that and some of the other top stories that are coming in the SITUATION ROOM right now. Brian, what are you working on?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, an opposition source says Syrian security forces have killed as many as 24 people over the past two days of anti-government protests. You can see here what appears to be demonstrators taking cover as gunshots can be heard in the background. Political unrest in the country has been escalating since last month. I'll have much more on the tensions in Syria next hour.
Clean-up efforts are underway in much of the south at this hour after one of the most active tornado outbreaks in U.S. history. At least 45 people were killed over the weekend in a number of states, including North Carolina, Arkansas, and Alabama. Meanwhile, forecasters are watching a new system which could bring tornadoes and hail to the Midwest region tomorrow.
Democrats may have a Senate candidate in Texas. Sources (ph) confirmed to CNN that retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez is expected to run for the seat soon to be vacated by Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. Sanchez served as the top U.S. military commander in Iraq in 2003 and 2004. That was during the infamous Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal. He retired from the army in 2006.
Subway is slashing the amount of sodium in its sandwiches. The restaurant chain announced today a 15 percent reduction across the board with its so-called fresh fit sandwich line getting even steeper cuts. It says the changes will result in 450 fewer tongs of sodium in the American diet. Suzanne, I guess, the American public have stand a little bit less sodium, but they don't say how those sandwiches are going to taste. I guess, that will be coming up in ad campaigns soon enough.
MALVEAUX: Well, we'll have to try about it.
MALVEAUX: Not so bad. All right. Now, we can all use a little cutting back from the salt.
MALVEAUX: All right. Thanks, Brian.
Well, it is getting harder to tell friend from foe in Afghanistan. Insurgents in Afghan uniforms are carrying out brazen attacks and taking a growing toll on both troops as well as civilians.
Plus, thousands of outraged women joining the push to drive Yemen's leader from power.
And as Donald Trump seems edge closer to a presidential bid, he is taking heat now from an influential conservative group which calls the business mogul just another liberal.
MALVEAUX: A brazen insurgent attack today inside the Afghan defense ministry compound in Kabul. A gunman in uniform killed two people before being shot dead. A Taliban spokesperson says the infiltrator was a militant who had joined the Afghan army. Well, it is the third such attack in three days. I want to bring in our CNN Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. Barbara, it seems like it is becoming more and more difficult to tell friend from foe in Afghanistan.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: It does seem that way, Suzanne. A growing number of attacks where the perpetrators are dressed in Afghan military or police uniforms, it's a very troubling trend.
STARR (voice-over): U.S. and Afghan forces in the remote mountains of Eastern Afghanistan. Six U.S. troops lost their lives here trying to dislodge the Taliban and protect local citizens But it's the threat of insurgents wearing Afghan uniforms and attacking one secure areas that is increasingly worrisome. Former Afghan war commander, Retired Lt. Gen. David Barno says the Taliban are getting ready for U.S. withdrawal.
LT. GEN. DAVID BARNO, U.S. ARMY (ret.): The approach is not only to try and find ways to get inside the wire as it were to kill Americans but also to suddenly undermine psychologically American confidence in their Afghan counterparts.
STARR: On Monday, a man wearing an Afghan army uniform entered the security compound of the defense ministry and opened fire, killing two. Five U.S. soldiers were killed Saturday when a suicide bomber wearing an Afghan military uniform struck a military base. On Friday, the Kandahar police chief was killed by a suicide bomber wearing a military uniform,. U.S. military officials say civilians still suffer most from the suicide attacks.
In February and March of 2010, insurgents killed or injured 82 Afghan civilians. This year, it was 353, a 330 percent jumped. But Barno warns U.S. troops shouldn't feel too secure.
BARNO: We felt in the past that we are inside of our bases and if we are working with our Afghan counterparts that we were relatively secure. And I think this whole strategy now puts that into question.
STARR (on-camera): Well, the U.S. military is now training Afghan units in basic counter intelligence so they can try and find these infiltrators and Afghan police and military units before they attack -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you, Barbara.
The latest push to drive Yemen's leader from power is now coming from women. Outrage that comments by President Ali Abdullah Saleh, thousands of women have turned out for marches all across the country. Here is CNNs Mohammed Jamjoom.
MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Women in Yemen out in the streets of Sana'a, furious at the country's president, demanding he step down.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Ali's regime insulted women. In his speech yesterday, he attacked our dignity, and we came out to protest against it because we will not remain silent after what he said. This is an attack on our souls and dignity.
JAMJOOM: The cause of their anger? In a short speech to his supporters on Friday, President Ali Abdullah Saleh said women who were protesting against his regime were violating the Yemeni cultural and religious norms. He suggested they stay at home.
ALI ABDULLAH SALEH, PRESIDENT, YEMEN (through translator): We call on the opposition to judge their conscience and to move towards dialogue so we can reach agreement for the security and stability of this nation. I call on them to prohibit the intermingling of men and women, which is against the laws of Islam. The intermingling of men and women in public is not allowed by Islamic law.
JAMJOOM: By Saturday morning, thousands of women in Sanaa were marching to the attorney general's office demanding legal action against the president. They said Saleh had maligned their morality.
But the fury was not contained to the country's capital. Huge crowds of women had mass gathering in at least 10n of Yemen's provinces, an extraordinary development in an extremely conservative country where women have never been this vocal.
(on camera): The government tried to play it down, saying the opposition had taken Saleh's comments out of context to promote their own agenda, a response that only added fuel to the fire.
(voice-over): On Sunday, women were out in force once more. In Taiz, male anti-government protesters even formed a protective ring around some of the female protesters, clear defiance. Yemeni state television started broadcasting these images -- crowds of women at pro-Saleh rallies. And the president attempted damage control, meeting with female leaders in Sanaa, telling them he had only made those remarks because he was worried about protecting women from "mob and anarchists" in the crowds, saying women had demonstrated rare courage in all parts of the country during this current crisis.
The growing number of female protesters say they already know the kind of courage it takes to do what they are doing, pointing to recent clashes between security forces and anti-government demonstrators, highlighting once more how volatile the situation in Yemen really is. But these women say they are not going home anytime soon.
Mohammed Jamjoom, CNN, Abu Dhabi.
MALVEAUX: Real estate mogul Donald Trump is stepping up his attacks against President Obama. Is he gearing up for a presidential run or is it all a publicity stunt?
Plus, his scathing "Rolling Stone" interview cost him his job as the top U.S. military man in Afghanistan. But did General Stanley McChrystal really do anything wrong? The results of a recent military investigation have just been released.
MALVEAUX: It's been almost one year since that massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.
Earlier today, I spoke with EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, and she talked about the lingering effects.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: A lot of people still suffering. Two hundred million gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf. Is it all gone now? Where is the oil?
LISA JACKSON, EPA ADMINISTRATOR: No, I don't think it's fair to say it's all gone. Some of it was recaptured, some of it evaporated. But we now know, as scientists are starting to do work, that some amount of oil is still trapped in the ecosystem itself, some of it at 1,100, 1,300 meters, 3,500 feet down. And, of course, there's still some oil in marshes, some amount that washed up as well.
MALVEAUX: What is the impact of that oil that still remains?
JACKSON: Well, the oil that's in the deep sea, I think we're learning. Scientists are learning what happens when that volume of oil gets trapped at that depth. It's very cold down there, it's under pressure. The good news is that they haven't seen anything above levels that harm marine life.
(END VIDEO CLIP) MALVEAUX: Our Brian Todd has a look at some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
Hey, Brian. What are you following?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Suzanne.
House Republicans have hired a prominent Washington attorney to defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act in a pending lawsuit. House Speaker John Boehner disclosed that strategy in a letter Monday to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. The Obama administration announced last month it believes the act which defines marriage as between a man and a woman is unconstitutional.
Dozens of wildfires are burning out of control in what authorities are describing as conditions never seen in Texas before. In all, firefighters are battling some 700,000 acres across the state, and the Forest Service says a predicted change in wind direction could worsen matters. So far, hundreds of people have been evacuated from their homes.
Match.com says it will begin cross-referencing its members against the National Sex Offender Registry after being hit with a lawsuit from a woman claiming she was raped by a convicted sex offender that she met on the dating Web site. The company says improved technology will help with accuracy. A lawyer for the suspect in the case tells ABC News the sexual encounter was consensual -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: Thank you, Brian.
Not every conservative is thrilled about the idea of Donald Trump as president of the United States. Just ahead, why one group now says, "You've got to be joking."
MALVEAUX: Potential presidential hopeful Donald Trump appears to be stepping up his mission to get President Obama fired as president of the United States.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, CHAIRMAN AND PRESIDENT, TRUMP ORGANIZATION: Whether you like him or not, George Bush gave us Obama. And I'm not happy about it. OK? I'm not happy about it.
We have a disaster on our hands. We have a man right now that almost certainly will go down as the worst president in the history of the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: Joining us to talk about that and more in today's "Strategy Session," interim chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, Donna Brazile, and Alex Castellanos. He is a CNN political contributor and Republican consultant. Good to see both of you. It's been a little while. Nice to see both of you.
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Thank you.
MALVEAUX: Donald Trump, is he going to run for president, or is this just another publicity stunt to drive the viewers to the show "The Apprentice"?
Alex, I'll start with you.
ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Donald Trump craving publicity? Could it be?
CASTELLANOS: I think his plan to put a big "Trump" neon sign over the White House is not going to go over that well. I don't think Donald Trump is a serious candidate. I think most voters are going to find him too unstable politically to really give him a long run.
But he does represent something important. And that is the protest vote, the Tea Party vote out there. But Democrat and Republican, people who are so angry at Washington, they just want to roll a hand grenade under Washington's door and shake the place up.
That's what the Trump candidacy is. It's not pro-Trump, it's anti- Washington.
MALVEAUX: Do you think it's all about getting attention for himself?
CASTELLANOS: Well, again, he's -- go ahead, Donna. No.
BRAZILE: Well, first of all, you think Donald Trump, you have to think about PR, because in addition to being a businessman, a real estate mogul, Donald Trump is also an entertainer. So he understands the value of good publicity, getting his name out there.
I think the Republicans should take him seriously because of his name and identification, the fact that he can generate buzz. And in a crowded field right now with no really stars, Donald Trump will walk into that Republican primary, and I believe he will be able to get a lot of delegates, as well as a lot of attention. So with his money, his PR background, I wouldn't write him off.
MALVEAUX: Donna, is he the kind of candidate that President Obama wants to run against?
BRAZILE: Oh, absolutely. We can name a few. Let's start with Mr. Trump, Ms. Palin, Ms. Bachmann, Mr. Huckabee, Mr. Santorum, Mr. Gingrich. Keep them coming.
But, you know, Donald Trump once supported universal health care before he didn't support universal health care. Well, that sounds a lot like Mitt Romney. So I think Donald Trump is somebody that will not only scare Republicans, but he will probably scare a lot of other people as well.
MALVEAUX: Alex, does he help or hurt the Republican Party?
CASTELLANOS: Oh, I think in the long term, he's fairly irrelevant to the Republican process. You know, to disagree just a tad with Donna, though I'm sure she wants what is best for Republicans --
CASTELLANOS: -- Donald Trump is a guy who agreed with President Obama that America need single-payer government-run health care. He voted for Hillary Clinton. He supported huge tax increases like a lot of Democrats do.
You know, the thing about Donald Trump is, you just never know which way his hair is going to blow. And that's a very unstable candidate, I think.
MALVEAUX: Let's talk a little bit about that. Let's talk a little bit about where the hair is blowing, because there's some established Republicans, they seem to be getting quite nervous about him.
The Club for Growth, a conservative anti-tax group, their take on him, they say, "Donald Trump for president? You've got to be joking. Donald Trump has advocated for massive tax increases that display a stunning lack of knowledge on how to create jobs."
That is coming from conservatives.
Is his past going to catch up with him? Is it essentially going to undermine him for advocating tax increases, initially supporting Obama, and also, you know, donating to liberal Democrats like Chuck Schumer?
CASTELLANOS: I think --
BRAZILE: Go ahead.
CASTELLANOS: -- the Club for Growth I think is right on this one. If you want a Republican nominee that is going to last and go the distance against Barack Obama, if we want a candidate who wants higher taxes, we've already got one. That's Barack Obama. So you need to be able to draw that bright, clear line.
One thing about the Republican field, right now Trump is filling a vacuum. But that's the way the process goes.
Campaigns don't pick candidates. Campaigns make candidates.
Right now you have a lot of candidates on the Republican side. They are going to grow, get stronger, they're going to be tested by the process. Six months from now, some of these candidates will die out, but some will be a lot stronger, and there will be no vacuum for Trump. BRAZILE: And Suzanne, we don't know what's in his head or his heart. So Donald Trump will make this decision probably without even looking at the polls or talking to analysts.
But what we do know is that President Obama and the Democrats, we've had 13 good months of job growth in this country. The president has taken us back from the brink of a great depression.
So I'm confident that regardless of what Republican that they decide to pick, President Obama will win in 2012. But right now this is just a wonderful sideshow. We'll let the Republicans figure out which way they want to go in 2012, but I'm confident that President Obama will win regardless of which candidate decides to throw its hat or hair in the ring.
MALVEAUX: And Alex, which candidate should we be looking out for if it's not Donald Trump on the Republican side? Who is going to be the standout?
CASTELLANOS: Oh, I think Mitt Romney is still the front-runner. I think he's going to be tested, kind of go through the valley of the death.
He's going to have to explain Romneycare. But at the end of the day, he's a familiar face that a lot of Republicans trust.
You're seeing Pawlenty build a tremendous organization. Mitch Daniels is out there, governor of Indiana, who has been very successful in his state, one of the few states where the size of government and the number of government employees has actually shrunk, which is what we need in Washington.
Yes, President Obama has created a lot of jobs, but he's growing Washington's economy, not America's.
BRAZILE: That's because he had to take us back from the brink, Alex. You're confusing the bailouts that President Obama continued after President Bush with what is really going on right now, which is an economy that is working for the American people.
We've got to get the middle class back to work. We want to make sure that every child out there that wants to come to work every day will be able to find a job for the future. That's what the president is doing, and that's what the 2012 election will be about.
The Republicans will not have President Obama to kick around. First, they have to decide among themselves, who will be the best standard bearer for a party that has gone farther and farther to the right?
CASTELLANOS: The 2012 election is going to be about which economy do you want to grow? Do you like Barack Obama and do you want to keep growing Washington's economy, or do you want to take that money from Washington, put it in Americans' pockets and grow the real economy?
BRAZILE: Well, I can tell you one thing. We will not outsource American jobs, providing the wealthiest of Americans with tax loopholes that will not give average middle class families a head start and a healthy start in life.
CASTELLANOS: It sounds like the campaign has started already.
BRAZILE: We've got two more weeks of this, Alex.
MALVEAUX: You guys both are doing a great job here. And obviously, the campaign in full swing here.
Donna, Alex, thank you very much.
BRAZILE: All right.
MALVEAUX: We're going to have much more on Donald Trump. We'll look at how the real estate mogul is embracing conspiracy theories and why those claims seem to have such a long shelf life.
Plus, the best-selling author of "Three Cups of Tea," surrounded now by controversy and accused of telling lies.
And on the deadline for filing tax returns, we're going to look at what President Obama reported to the IRS.
MALVEAUX: Here's a look at today's "Hot Shots."
In India, a woman sits with her child as a soldier stands guard near a polling station.
On a base near Baghdad, Iraqi soldiers stand guard during a joint exercise with U.S. forces.
In Sudan, villagers work on the walls of a half-built hut.
And in England, children who live on Prince William Street are getting ready for a royal wedding street party.
"Hot Shots," pictures from around the world.
Jack joins us again with "The Cafferty File."
CAFFERTY: Are you excited about the royal wedding?
MALVEAUX: Well, you know, a little bit. Honestly, just a little.
CAFFERTY: Yes, precious little.
The question this hour: How should the income tax laws change? You have until midnight tonight if you haven't filed your deal yet. Simon in Florida, "Why don't we eliminate all deductions, go with a flat tax? Just charge everybody 15 percent of everything they make over $30,000. That takes the Washington lobbyists and the IRS out of the picture."
Ray in Georgia, "I would suggest all taxes be collected at the state level, and then the state send a percentage on to the federal government. They keep talking about simplifying the tax code. Maybe this suggestion would be a good start."
Fran writes, "The tax rates should be at the level they were under John Kennedy or Bill Clinton. The poor did better, the middle class was strong, and the rich were still rich."
C.M. in Pasadena, "A start would be to do away with all deductions, credits and subsidies. There should then be a progressive flat tax, a tax that increases with your gross income. The tax should begin at a nominal 3 percent for the lowest incomes and at least 25 percent for those making over $200,000. No one should be exempt, including the corporations."
B. writes, "There needs to be a change in the tax brackets. I make a little over $250,000 a year. I don't need higher taxes. I'm paying a lot of tax already."
"I don't need to be in the same bracket as people making over a million dollars a year, and I find it offensive when President Obama stands there and says I don't need a tax break. I find I'm paying taxes and know that a lot of people are taking advantage of loopholes, getting huge returns, or not paying what they should. The government needs to address those issues."
Susan in Colorado writes, "Time to scrap the entire loopholed, exempted, credited, bailing wired, chewing gummed tax system that we've created over many decades and start over with something new, clean, simple, and fair."
And Robby says this: "Yes, it should be changed to a flat tax or a national sales tax. But it will never happen. All the people who work for the government and the IRS will stop any notion of doing anything that makes any sense. This is all political theater. Nothing changes."
If you want to read more on the subject, go to my blog, CNN.com/caffertyfile.
When is that wedding, Suzanne? It's next week, right?
MALVEAUX: Yes, a couple weeks. Friday night. I think it's the 29th. Something like that.
CAFFERTY: I ought to get that DVR thing tuned up and make sure it's working properly, because I don't want to miss any of it.
MALVEAUX: Get the popcorn. You know, get it all together.
CAFFERTY: Yes. And get some cyanide.
MALVEAUX: Get ready for it.
MALVEAUX: We're going to be covering it, Jack. Come one.
CAFFERTY: To death, no doubt, along with everybody else. You will be so sick of the royal wedding, you will want to stick sharp things in your eyes by the time they say, "I do."
MALVEAUX: Three weeks, it will all be over. Three weeks, it will be done.
CAFFERTY: Mercifully, yes.
MALVEAUX: All right. Thanks, Jack. We'll see you.
Is President Obama ignoring a key part of the last-minute budget deal he just signed into law? Details ahead.
And a top general loses his job as point man in Afghanistan following a scathing "Rolling Stone" article. But did he really do anything wrong?
MALVEAUX: New concerns that President Obama is ignoring a component of the last-minute budget deal that he signed into law just a few days ago. At issue, signing statements involving his so-called czars or policy advisers.
Our CNN senior White House correspondent Ed Henry is here to explain.
And Ed, what is this about?
ED HENRY, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, you know, signing statements, it's a practice that allows a president to sign a bill into law, but then, in a statement, say, look, there are specific provisions I don't agree with and we're just not going to follow them. The president criticized those as a candidate in 2008, but now Republican critics say he is changing his tune.
HENRY (voice-over): As a candidate for the White House, President Obama was pretty unequivocal about slamming the Bush administration's use of signing statements.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: That's not part of his power. But this is part of the whole theory of George Bush, that he can make laws as he is going along.
I disagree with that. I taught the Constitution for 10 years. I believe in the Constitution, and I will obey the Constitution of the United States. We're not going to use signing statements as a way of doing an end run around Congress.
HENRY: But late Friday, the president seemed to take an end run of his own around Congress, issuing a signing statement taking aim at some of the provisions in the budget deal he sealed with Speaker John Boehner.
In particular, Mr. Obama declared he will not comply with a Republican provision to deny funds to several presidential advisers, a cause celebre for Republicans who have attacked the so-called White House czars.
SEN. PAT ROBERTS (R), KANSAS: We have got about what now, 20, 25 czars in this town? I can't even name all the czars that are in this town. It's like a Russian banquet. And I think we need a process czar or a fair play czar, or open up the door and let the sunshine in czar.
HENRY: But White House spokesman Jay Carney correctly noted the president also said as a candidate he was not entirely opposed to signing statements.
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He made clear that every president should retain the right, of course must retain the right to have signing statements, to raise constitutional concerns and objections with the law passed by Congress that he is signing into law. His concern was with what he saw as an abuse of the signing statement by the previous administration.
HENRY: More than anything, this seems like yet another case where governing turns out to be a bit different than campaigning.
HANNS KUTTNER, HUDSON INSTITUTE: What's that, where I stand depends on where I sit? Something along those lines. I think that's what's at work here.
HENRY: And White House aides stress that what's different here, compared to the Bush administration, is that the president, in this case, is coming up with a constitutional objection to what Congress did and said, basically, look, I can pick and chose who my presidential advisers are. A lot of constitutional scholars say that it's perfectly within his right, and they say here the difference is the Bush administration used far more of these signing statements to do things that basically just shaped their agenda to their cause, not because of constitutional reasons -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: All right. Ed Henry.
Thank you very much, Ed.