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Ground Zero Visit: President Obama Visits Engine 54, Ladder 4; Interview with Sen. Charles Schumer

Aired May 5, 2011 - 11:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: President Obama honors the spirit of Americans and pays tribute to the almost 3,000 lives lost in the September 11th attacks.

I'm Wolf Blitzer, in Washington. And we want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world to CNN NEWSROOM'S special coverage of the president's visit to Ground Zero.

This is an important day for the president of the United States. It's an important day for the American people.

Anderson Cooper is going to be joining us shortly.

Mr. Obama's visit comes just six days after he ordered the raid that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the architect of the terrorist attacks. The president meets with families of the 9/11 victims, he visits a fire station that lost 15 firefighters, and he lays a wreath at the hallowed ground where the World Trade Center once stood.

The site has certainly changed a lot since President Obama was there during the presidential campaign. Just take a look at this amazing time-lapse images showing the progress. The pictures are from the upcoming documentary "Rebirth."

Our coverage of today's visit by President Obama will focus on people, people who lost loved ones in this terrorist attacks, people like the first responders who died saving others, including the 343 New York City firefighters killed in the attacks.

This hour, the president visits the Engine 54 firehouse to honor the memory of the firefighters, the police, and other first responders. It's about the people who have gathered at Ground Zero today to remember the victims, and it's about the people around the country and indeed around the world who rallied together in the aftermath of the horrific attacks of September 11th.

CNN's Mary Snow is joining us now from fire station Engine 54 firehouse, which lost 15 firefighters on 9/11.

Set the scene for us, Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we're anticipating the president to arrive here within a half hour. And as you can imagine, security has been stepped up throughout the morning. Once the president gets closer, traffic will be blocked off around this firehouse, and we're told that he will probably be here for about 45 minutes. He may make some remarks inside the firehouse.

So we're told that he will be meeting with all of the on-duty firefighters today, about 17 or 18 firefighters within the firehouse. He'll be getting a tour. You know, there is a memorial within the firehouse, Wolf. All 15 of the firefighters who were killed on 9/11, their pictures are up in the firehouse, and also plaques remembering them.

And we are also told, Wolf, that the firefighters here have prepared lunch for the president. They anticipate sitting down with him.

We spoke to two of them earlier this morning, and they said that they would like to thank him for in their words, "a job well done." And they once said that they believe he believes this will be a morale booster for Engine 54, Ladder 4.

This has certainly been very emotional days since Sunday, a lot of mixed emotions. Some of the firefighters saying that they were so relieved that Osama bin Laden had been captured and killed, but saddened when they were reminded of why that mission was -- why they had to go and capture Osama bin Laden. And they are always constantly on guard. This is one of the busiest fire stations in New York City -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Have you had a chance, Mary, to ask those firefighters how they feel about the president's decision not to release the photo of bin Laden's body?

SNOW: We didn't get a chance to ask them that. We are told though that we will be able to talk with them after the president meets with them. So we certainly want to hear whether or not that is brought up during their conversations with the president.

BLITZER: The president is in New York City, getting ready for this emotional, very significant, dramatic moment.

Mary, we'll get back to you.

CNN's Deborah Feyerick is also speaking with a lot of people on Greenwich Street in lower Manhattan, where crowds are gathering.

What's the mood where you are, Deb?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the mood, it's a somber mood, still. Many people who are coming, looking at some of the things that have been posted up along the wall on the perimeter of the World Trade Center.

We are basically west of the trade center site. This is a site clearly that has defined the psyche of so many New Yorkers. Everybody has a story as to where they were on that day, what they were doing, and how it changed them.

And one of the folks I spoke to said while this is significant, while this is a major blow, it is not the finishing blow. People who got illnesses related to the cleanup of Ground Zero, the first responders, a number of the firefighters and police, they are still living with the effects of this.

Talk about the people, others also who are still over in Afghanistan, and they're still dying. So there is a sense that this is going on.

But for the president today, it is a victorious moment. He's going to come here, he's going to meet with about 50 families. It's going to be a very intimate setting. He's going to be able to talk to them individually, sort of share his thoughts and listen to them.

The 9/11 families, really, from the very beginning, they have wanted to be listened to, because this was such a tragedy to them, to everybody, to fighting politics globally for the last decades or so. So he will meet with them, he will look at the site.

We were down inside the site back on the ninth anniversary. It's being turned into a memorial, a museum, really critical pieces, Wolf, of mementos, for lack of a better word, from that day.

But here, people are waiting for his arrival. You can see some of the satellite trucks just behind me there. Those are closer to the actual site, and he will be there and he will be able to lay a wreath. Everybody waiting for his arrival right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: This is the first time he's been back to, as I say, to Ground Zero since he's become president of the United States. This meeting he's going to have with family members, I take it there are not going to be any cameras, it's not going to be live coverage. This is very personal, very private. There may be some still photos released later.

Is that your understanding, Deb?

FEYERICK: Yes, that's our understanding. You know, it's really sort of an opportunity for him to meet and say we keep our promises, that we kept our promises to you, all the families, that no matter how long it took, that we would get bin Laden.

And think about it, Wolf. President Obama being here today, it's going to be a very different picture, a very different feel. Something very momentous.

The last picture we have of a president down at this site was when George Bush was here when he was president, days after the attack. He was meeting with the firefighters, he was rallying the first responders, and he was really sort of rattling the saber. Well, now, President Obama is going to be here, and he's going to sort of put that final stamp to say we got him -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. It's going to be a very emotional moment, and I dare say, probably one of the iconic images of his presidency whether it's a one-term or two-term presidency, the president of the United States at Ground Zero, laying a wreath, only a few days after bin Laden has been killed. This is going to be a very emotional, passionate, dramatic moment that all of us will want to see.

And Deb, before I let you go, has anyone at all in New York -- and you're based there, you speak to people, including family members, first responders, police, firefighters -- has anyone said to you in New York that this is inappropriate, that the president is politically exploiting the death of bin Laden by coming to New York today?

FEYERICK: You know, New Yorkers as a whole are a pretty cynical bunch, but I think there is a deep understanding that this is OK, that this is being done. Yes, there is going to be a photograph, but with all due respect, it's something that I think most people feel that is right, for him to come to meet with the families.

Some people would argue, look, you should stay in Washington. But I think there's really a sense that, you know, let him come, let him at least come to the very spot where all of this began. And if nothing else, there's a sense of closure that, now, as we begin to celebrate the ongoing memorials, and as this whole site, the sacred ground where the towers fell becomes a memorial and a museum and a place for people to come and reflect, it will have a very different tone. Because, if nothing else, Osama bin Laden has been killed, and now, with all the information that we may be getting from computers and the hard drives and the disks, that there's a sense that, you know, really, it's not over.

This part is -- still a lot more work to be done, but it's going in a very different direction now. Now there's a sense of finality that he's gone.

BLITZER: We're going to come back to you, Deb Feyerick, as well. If you get some people over there who want to speak, family members, survivors, first responders, we want to hear from them as well.

We're just getting ready. The president of the United States is in New York City. He'll be going to Ground Zero, laying a wreath.

He's meeting with firefighters at a fire station. He's going to be meeting with family members, those who survived the nearly 3,000 people who were killed on 9/11.

Our continuing coverage of this historic and dramatic moment will continue.

But I want to bring in CNN's Anderson Cooper, who has now made his way to Ground Zero.

Anderson, you had to go through security, I take it. Not all that easy on a sensitive day like this.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. Obviously, security is very tight, Wolf, understandably so. But it's moving along. They've just opened up the site to reporters and to others who need access to it.

We're actually at the memorial location which is going to be dedicated on September 11th of this year. Behind me, also, you can see the museum which is still being built. That's supposed to be open to the public the following year, September 11th of 2012.

So, there's a lot for the president to see, a lot of changes since the last time he was here. We'll be talking about that a lot throughout the day -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Anderson. We're going to be getting back to you.

Anderson is going to be anchoring from the site, from Ground Zero in New York. I'm here in Washington.

We have a lot to go through. This is one of those days a lot of us will always remember.

Our coverage continues right after this.


COOPER: And I'm Anderson Cooper in New York.

Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. I also want to welcome our viewers who are watching on CNN International around the world. Special coverage of President Obama's visit to Ground Zero.

During his visit, the president is meeting privately with families of 9/11 victims, and he'll also take part in a wreath-laying ceremony at this spot, at the World Trade Center site.

My colleague John King from "JOHN KING USA" is here as well.

For this president, I mean, it's an important day to try to in some ways, perhaps, mend relationships with some 9/11 families.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Mend relationships with 9/11 families. The word "closure" has been used a lot in the last week. I don't know that you could ever have closure after what happened at this site on 9/11.

COOPER: Yes, that's a key word.

KING: I think that's true. But for the president of the United States to come here, very carefully done. Not a speech, no public remarks, private meetings with families. Engine and Ladder Company 10 right over there.

Remarkable progress. There have been a lot of delays here, but remarkable progress as late, as you see this take shape.

They were expecting a big event here in September for the 10th anniversary. And, of course, the killing of bin Laden now brings the president of the United States here today, which the time with the 9/11 families, it will be interesting to talk to them after about their emotions of seeing a president at this site, very different emotions.

Remember, Bush was here just days after 9/11, saying, "I hear you. We will get them. We will get them."

And George W. Bush, of course, wanted this day, and wanted to get bin Laden. And now his successor will be here to -- "celebrate" might not be the right word because of the solemnity of the site, but just to reflect on the moment.

COOPER: Yes, a bittersweet day in many ways.

President Obama had invited former President Bush, and former President Bush chose not to come.

KING: He has chosen not to come. He has kept a very, very low profile. And he wants to stay away from any political events.

And this is not a political event. This is a national day of reflection, a day of some celebration. Again, it feels like an odd word to use. But the former president simply said that he appreciated the invitation, but he wanted to stick to his low profile and didn't feel like it was appropriate for him to be here on this day.

COOPER: How concerned do you think the White House is about sort of the drip-drip of information. You know, the story has changed about events on the ground. Perhaps some of that is to be expected in the fog of war and the heat of combat. You know, recollections are different. But there obviously has been a history of the U.S. military, U.S. officials saying -- giving out incorrect information, sometimes purposely in the case of Pat Tillman, Jessica Lynch.

Is the White House concerned about this sort of evolving story?

KING: They are concerned, which is one of the reasons now in the last 24 hours they've become very stingy with any new details. They are getting all the after-action reports.

All of the SEALs, all the support forces, all the CIA operatives have all filed after-action reports now and they've all been debriefed. So the White House now knows a lot more.

There is a shame in a sense in that they put out this muscular narrative first that there was a constant firefight, that bin Laden perhaps was armed, and perhaps he even fired a few shots. Now we know he was not armed. Perhaps there was an AK-47 in the room, maybe a pistol. But if that at all takes away from the heroism of these SEALs, it's a shame, because now you have the narrative of the White House pulling back a bit.

They realize they made a mistake. They got out too soon. They say it was an effort to give us more information for a story we were all thirsty for every last detail. But in the end, they undermined a bit the sense of now can we believe what they tell us now?

And that's a shame in the sense that the commandos who did this operation, the president having the guts to order this operation, then to have now a debate about, well, are they telling us the truth, are they trying to hide something, why did they say it was as muscular as it was at the beginning when we find out now it was less so, that doesn't mean it wasn't daring. It doesn't mean it wasn't risky and it doesn't mean that these commandos didn't put their lives at risk. So the fact that we're quibbling over the details now, in some ways that takes away from that.


For this president, obviously it comes at an important time. But he is really working today to not have this in any way anything political about this -- or trying to.

KING: That takes care of itself. We have seen an increase in his poll numbers.

The White House says of course the decision was not political. For nine and a half years, the hunt for bin Laden has been a top priority of the United States, regardless of the name of the president or the political party of the president. There's no doubt though that a president benefits when dramatic events that are viewed as positive happen.

So, this president benefits from it. We see his handling of terrorism numbers are up, the percentage of Americans who view him as a strong and decisive leader is up .

What conversation will we be having in a year from now when we're closer to a presidential election? We'll be having a conversation about how Americans feels about the economy. But to the degree that the president is viewed as a stronger commander in chief, a more decisive president, of course it helps him politically.

That will take care of itself. He doesn't need to talk about that.

COOPER: And for all the talk among some officials about releasing a photo, it seems as if from what the president told CBS News yesterday, "60 Minutes," that all along he never intended to release the photo.

KING: He told CBS that his inclination was no. His top aides are saying his inclination was no.

The CIA director, Leon Panetta, got way out ahead of people saying it would be released, the question was not if, but when. But I'm told, and I know Ed Henry at the White House is told and others are told, that Secretaries Clinton at the State Department and Gates at the Defense Department were the most forceful in saying, Mr. President, look around the world. Have there been any major anti-American demonstrations? No. Have there been any initial retaliatory strikes in these first 72 hours? No.

Why would you want to release the photo and risk inflaming a situation that so far around the world has gone as well, if not better, than anybody in the national security and intelligence business could have hoped?

COOPER: We'll be talking with John a lot throughout our coverage.

Wolf, you could not have a more glorious day in New York City than this one. A few clouds in the sky, but a blue sky all around, and really just a beautiful day to be down here remembering at Ground Zero -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very appropriate on this very, very special day. Over at Engine 54, the fire station, the president should be arriving with his motorcade, Anderson, momentarily. You can see the buzz already there.

CNN's Mary Snow is over at Engine 54.

Set the scene a little bit for us, Mary, because the president will be going inside, meeting with firefighters.

SNOW: Yes, Wolf, as you just mentioned, it's a beautiful day here. An American flag flying above Engine 54, Ladder 4.

Security is extremely tight. The street has been blocked off around this firehouse. And just a few moments ago we even heard a police officer coming over with a bullhorn telling people who are living in this area to close their windows.

Some people have gathered behind barricades waiting for the president's arrival. And once he is inside, we're told that he's going to be meeting with about 17 or 18 firefighters. These are the firefighters who are on duty today. And he'll be there in.

We're told that the firefighters have also cooked lunch for him and plan to sit down and eat with him. He may make some remarks. We may hear from him once he is inside.

And this is his first step in New York City. You may have heard that bullhorn police again telling people staying in a hotel room to close their windows as they anticipate the president's arrival here.

BLITZER: Yes. You can see security obviously is very, very tight for the president of the United States in this very, very sensitive part of lower Manhattan.

I am told, Mary, the remarks the president will make at some point, probably inside this fire station, will be -- firehouse -- will be rather informal. It's not going to be like a major political-type speech or anything like that. He's just going to have some remarks.

Is that what you're hearing over there?

SNOW: That's what we are anticipating, that they would be informal remarks if the president does speak to the press inside the firehouse. There will be a pool camera in there with him. But, yes, definitely the tone here is that it's going to be a very informal setting, that he'll be taking a tour also of this firehouse, and see the memorials that are inside the firehouse, the memorials to the 15 men who were killed on September 11th.

BLITZER: All heroes, indeed.

Yes. All right, Mary. Stand by, because we're going to obviously want to see the president's motorcade arrive, we're going to want to see him go inside. We'll have coverage, of course, for our viewers on that.

David Gergen is joining us, our senior political analyst.

David, you worked for four American presidents. The tone that President Obama sets today on this, the few days after bin Laden has been killed, is very, very important, because you don't want to be overtly political on such a sensitive day.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: And not overtly celebratory either. And so I think the wreath-laying is meant to convey very much a sense of dignity and honor, that the president -- it's a quieter ceremony than perhaps we would have expected.

We all remember, Wolf, how George W. Bush went there just after 9/11, and famously was so defiant. And when people yelled at him, "We can't hear you, Mr. President!" firemen and policemen, he yelled back, "But I can hear you, and so can all of America!"

And that was a moment in which we had to rally people and sort of come together and fight this terrorism. And now, President Obama comes a decade later, after a decade of war, to the most important shrine we have to the beginning of this war. 9/11, this site is almost to America now what Pearl Harbor is to our national memories.

BLITZER: Yes, that's a good point.

David, stand by for a moment.

Anderson Cooper is there at Ground Zero awaiting the president.

Anderson this is a date, I was saying earlier, that a lot of folks will always remember, but it's certainly one this president of the United States will always remember.

COOPER: Yes. And obviously, he felt it was important to be here and come and meet with the families.

John King is with me now.

John, you're getting information about who met the president when he arrived here in New York.

KING: Just looking at the pool report filed by the group of reporters who are with the president as he travels. And they brought Marine One, the president's helicopter, to the Wall Street landing zone, which is very close to here.

And you can see motorcycles in the motorcade now approaching. We are told President Obama is arriving at the site.

Rudy Giuliani, the mayor of New York City at that time, the man who was on these grounds so often that day and in the days after, met the president. That's a sign of the sort of bipartisan American spirit today

COOPER: Mayor Giuliani meeting President Obama on the tarmac.

Mary Snow is in the crowd.

Mary, are there a lot of people there to see the president?

SNOW: There are, Anderson. And we're just seeing the motorcade pull up. And you can hear the cheer of the crowd behind me.

You know, there's so many tourists in this area, and there's been so much anticipation, the motorcades right now pulling up to the doors of the firehouse and crowds --

COOPER: Let's listen in and see if we can hear anything.

The firehouse knows very well the pain of 9/11. They lost 15 men on 9/11, Engine 54, Ladder 4, Battalion 9 on 48th Street on 8th Avenue in New York.

So, Mary, now, the president will -- how much time is he going to be spending inside, and what is he going to be doing?

SNOW: We're told he will be in there for about 45 minutes, and he's going to be meeting with about 17 or 18 firefighters, the men who are on duty today. We're told that they are going to be taking him on a tour of this memorial in there dedicated to the 15 men who were killed on September 11th.

And we're also told he will be chatting with them, talking with them. We're also told that they have also made lunch for him. You know, firemen have a reputation for being such good cooks, and they've been working on that this morning.

You know, we did talk to two firefighters earlier this morning, Anderson. And I said, "What do you want to tell him? What's the message?" And they both said, "We want to say thank you," in their words, "for a job well done."

You might see these sanitation trucks now blocking the view. And we were told by the NYPD earlier that, once the president was inside, that these trucks were going to be pulled up. This is a security measure as part of securing the block around this fire station in the heart of Times Square.

COOPER: Mary, thanks very much.

Wolf, a full day for the president here, and we'll be covering it every step of the way -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, Anderson. And I think I want maybe John to weigh in as well.

Mary, I don't know if you had a good view of the president and his limousine arriving there. We saw Valerie Jarrett walking in behind the president, the president's senior aide. But I think I saw Rudy Giuliani emerge from the president's limo as well. John, you had heard that Rudy Giuliani was there to welcome the president into lower Manhattan. Did we know he was going to drive to the firehouse with the president of the United States? KING: We have not seen that level of detail in the schedule, but Mayor Giuliani, who, Wolf, as you remember, became known as America's mayor in those days after 9/11, walked this site that day, was here so often in the days after, became a national figure of unity and resolve just after 9/11, has also given the president of the United States, a Democrat -- remember, Rudy Giuliani is a Republican -- has given the president of the United States a lot of credit in recent days.

And so it is a sign of how this is viewed as a day of healing and reflection for this city, remembrance for this city. This is not a political day. And credit to Mayor Giuliani for being there to greet the president, for being at his side today, especially among the first responders. Mayor Giuliani still a very popular figure in this city.

BLITZER: Very popular, indeed.

The former president, George W. Bush, declined the invitation. Former President Bill Clinton declined. Rudy Giuliani did not decline. It's very appropriate that the former mayor of New York, who was there on 9/11 -- all of us remember what he did.

All right, guys. Everyone stand by, because the president is now inside this firehouse.

We're going to have continuing coverage, all building up to that moment not too far down the road when he will go to Ground Zero. That's where Anderson is, where John is, and he will lay a wreath remembering the nearly 3,000 people who died on 9/11.

Our special coverage will continue from the CNN NEWSROOM right after this.


COOPER: And welcome back to our continuing coverage of President Obama's visit to Ground Zero.

We have video now of the president landing a short time ago. Also, then now, what you're seeing him arriving at the fire station to meet with a number of firefighters. This is a fire station that had lost 15 members on 9/11, Engine 54, Ladder Number 4, Battalion 9.

He'll be coming to Ground Zero to lay a wreath along with representatives from the New York City Fire Department, Port Authority, and the New York City Police Department.

I want to tell you about Monica Iken. She lost her husband Michael on 9/11 in the World Trade Center. Michael Iken was a bond broker on the 84th floor of the South Tower.

It's a pleasure, Monica. Thank you very much for being with us today.

You founded a non-profit not long after the attacks. Tell me about it.

MONICA IKEN, LOST HUSBAND IN 9/11 ATTACKS: Yes. I founded September's Mission which started probably two weeks after when I realized my husband wasn't coming home and I may never get him home, which I haven't to this day, have any remains of him. So I started to work on the memorial soon after talks about recovery were happening and really wanted to make sure we have a proper, fitting place to go to in the future at this World Trade Center site. And that's really what I focused on and have been doing that ever since.

COOPER: And you're one of the people that's been selected to actually meet with President Obama later today.

What do you want to say to him? What do you want him to hear?

IKEN: Well, I really want to say, I'm so proud of our government right now and the Military, especially our Navy SEALs. I cannot believe -- you know, I was so shocked because I don't think about him and I never have since it happened on that horrific day when I lost my husband and all those other 3,000 lives, almost, and only focused on doing the right thing by honoring them and making sure we had the world class memorial and museum we will have in less than 129 days with a newseum to follow.

So I'm really proud to show that off. We worked hard to get the eight acres out of 16. And it's going to be an amazing memorial and a tribute to our loved ones, a place that we can finally go and honor them. I look forward to seeing my husband, Michael. In less than 129 days I'm going to go home and see him finally because he's at that site.

And I want to make sure the president understands the importance of sustaining this memorial for the future, you know, for future generations a hundred years from now. And because he's no longer here with us, that evil person, I don't say his name, that shows what the perhaps of the site is still for us and he needs to realize, you know, he's coming here now, and it's a proud day to show it off because he's going to be amazed at how much progress has been made at the site. And also, when he comes here on the 10th anniversary.

So, because this person's not here, he's coming earlier than expected. And I'm really proud to show it off.

COOPER: Monica, it's interesting, you don't say his name, the name of the murderer who did all this and out of respect, I'm not saying it either for you.

Why is that, though? Why is that important not to even utter his name?

IKEN: Because I don't want to give evil any perhaps, you know. I don't want to -- when I say my husband, Michael Patrick Iken, I carry his spirit and he lives on through my words and the name. And we don't give credit to someone who's evil and who took him away.

So the less power he gets, the better off we are in making sure we move forward and really understand what the importance of this day is. This day is to honor our loved ones. The sun is out, my husband's here in spirit and, you know, I'm very proud that I'm here to be able to show it off and tell him about my husband, Michael, that I lost that day and I'll never forget and, you know, we'll never forget what happened here.

We need to make that clear, that we have to continue to honor them and move forward now. He's no longer here so we can rejoice in that and, you know, kind of think about what's important. And our loved ones are the most important things. And I'm happy that the sun is out because this is really -- I'm proud. I'm proud today to be an American and I'm so proud to show off this memorial. And the world is going to see it soon, 129 days to go.

COOPER: Monica, it is -- as you said, it is a glorious day to be on this site and in this city. Thank you for sharing part of it with us and thank you for your strength.

IKEN: Thank you so much.

COOPER: I'm joined now by New York Senator Charles Schumer who joins me here at the site.

What is it like for you to be here on this day?

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Well, it's amazing day. I think back to the day after 9/11, when we came here, the smell of death was in the air. There were people holding posters saying, have you seen my sister, my daughter, my husband? And everyone thought downtown would be deserted. We thought everyone would move far away.

Here we are. Buildings are going up, the streets are crowded, young people are flocking here. America triumphs and bin Laden being gone, turning point in the war on terror. It gives you a lot of faith in the future of this country and that good and right can prevail.

COOPER: In the last couple of days, a lot of -- you know, more and more details have come out. Do you want to know all these details? Is it important, do you think? Because now, you know, there's been criticism that the details are changing.

SCHUMER: Yes. I think the details are important, not anything that gives up security. Knowing what we've retrieved will help us understand the future war on terror. And frankly, knowing what Pakistan has done and not done is going to help shape our policy to Pakistan. So --

COOPER: How concerned are you about the relationship with Pakistan?

SCHUMER: I think it's going to be our number one policy problem -- foreign policy problem in the next decade. Pakistan is a divided country, it's a weak country, it's a nuclear country. They've never had strong leadership and there's real trouble there. Any country that makes Dr. Kahn, the man who sold nuclear weapons to North Korea a hero, something's wrong.

COOPER: What do you want to see today from President Obama? What do you plan to talk to him about? SCHUMER: I think he's doing it exactly right. This is about the families. This is saying, look, we've captured bin Laden and that's a great thing, but we have not forgotten you and know that the pain you have will be there forever.

You know, I was there when George Bush stepped on the pile and that was vintage George Bush. It was not -- I can tell you, some say it was staged. It was not staged. It was spontaneous. This is vintage Barack Obama. He is quieter, he's more cerebral, but he's just as strong and he cares about the family.

So the fact that he's not giving a speech, the fact he's laying a wreath, the fact that he's meeting with them privately speaks so well, I think, of him and it's totally right and appropriate.

COOPER: For so long there has been controversy over the site. It's been slow. There's been a lot of different competing interests. It does seem, though, in the last year or two years, there really has been real noticeable progress.

SCHUMER: No question.

COOPER: This memorial is going to be dedicated September 11th, the museum the following year.

SCHUMER: The tower is going up. Other towers are going up. And again, when you contrast that to the idea that downtown would be deserted and bin Laden had victory over us, never count America out and never count New York out.

COOPER: Do you think al Qaeda is -- do you think this has been a death blow for al Qaeda?

SCHUMER: I think it's a turning point. It's like a Gettysburg. The war on terror is not over, but there is a major turning point, both substantive but psychological. All those young people whose mind he infected and he said to them, you know, the west is weak and you just --you throw a few blows at them like this and they'll collapse. Well, he's gone. We're downtown here and we're booming.

COOPER: It also seems like his message that the only way you can affect change is through murder and death has been prove an failure, not just by the United States and Europe, but by young people in the Muslim world who are rising up.

SCHUMER: You bet. Yes. This is world change and it's symbolic in a very important way. It's also real. But it also shows you that, you know, there is --the world is right. Evil sometimes takes steps forward but it just somehow doesn't prevail. It's maybe an article of faith but it was proven by the events of this week and proven by being here today.

COOPER: Senator Schumer, I appreciate your time.

SCHUMER: Thank you.

COOPER: Thanks very much. Pleased to be here with you.

Wolf, just one of the many people who we will be talking to today. And again, it's really -- it just an extraordinary day here in New York. You know, yesterday was raining and it was cold. You could not ask for just a more lovely day to remember and honor those we've lost -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, it's fascinating, Anderson, that woman who refuses to utter the name of the mastermind, the killer who was responsible, who himself was killed over the weekend.

I'm hearing that increasingly from folks. They don't even want to utter his name and out of respect right now, I won't. But it's just a fascinating, important development that is happening on this almost 10 years since 9/11.

The President of the United States right now is inside Engine 54, one of the fire stations. You saw him arriving live here on our coverage just a little while ago. He waved to some folks who were there. Valerie Jarrett walks in, that's Valerie, one of the senior aides behind him. And you see Rudy Giuliani right behind her, the former mayor, there he goes, walking in, as well. He's accompanying the president on this historic day, which is totally appropriate since he was mayor of New York on 9/11.

He's inside the fire station right now, Engine 54, Ladder 4, meeting with firefighters, other first responders, having lunch with them. Later, he will go to Ground Zero to the memorial. He'll lay a wreath there. After that, he'll have a private opportunity to meet with some surviving family members. That will be a very emotional, powerful moment as, well. We're going to cover all of this. We're not going away. Much more coming up right after this.


BLITZER: Welcome back. You're looking at live pictures right now from Ground Zero, the memorial specifically at Ground Zero. You see police officer, security there. The President of the United States will be heading there from the Engine 54 fire station where he's meeting right now with firefighters and others, having lunch with him. He'll be going over to the memorial over there. He'll be laying a wreath at what's called the Surviving Tree. The president will not be speaking. Then afterwards he will then go into a nearby building to meet with family members -- 9/11 family members -- those who survived loved ones who were killed on 9/11, nearly 10 years ago. All this happening only a few days after Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. Navy SEALs in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

We're going to have extensive coverage of all of this. CNN's Anderson Cooper is over there at Ground Zero. He's watching all of this unfold.

Anderson, I can't tell you how emotional this is for so many of our viewers here in the United States and viewers around the world who are watching right now.

COOPER: Yes, and certainly for New Yorkers as well.

And I'm honored to be joined by a great New Yorker, Lee Ielpi. He's a former firefighter whose son, Jonathan, died on 9/11. Lee actually found and removed his son's body a few days after the terrorist attacks.

We've talked to you a lot during the years, how are you on this day?

LEE IELPI, FORMER NEW YORK CITY FIREFIGHTER: I think it's a great day. I think it's a great day for the country, it's a great day for free world countries. I think we're sending a beautiful signal out there that we know the fight is not over. We've eliminated the snake in the grass. We've cut off the head, but there's still the cells out there, so we still have to stay vigilant.

And if I had the opportunity, which you're giving me, I want to say thank you, of course, first to President Bush, President Obama to continue it.

But we have to say thank you to these great guys and gals on the ground. Our intelligence people, they did a fabulous job. The military, fabulous job. SEAL Team Six, you can't say enough about these people.

So -- and it was great that we did it, we did it. You know what, it took a while. I knew we were going to do it. We can't forget the 6,000-plus that have died trying to do this job.

COOPER: You served in Vietnam as well, you had some interesting experiences there. When you heard the operation, where you -- I mean, it's a remarkable -- what they did is just extraordinary from a military standpoint.

IELPI: You know, people really don't understand what went into this operation, especially the special units, these SEAL teams, you know, special forces. They are the elite off the elite, and it's not something where you hop in a chopper, drop down, go in and do it.

They train, train, train. You have a mission, if you don't stay focused, you can't accomplish it. These guys and gals, they stay focused. You wouldn't want anybody else coming to help you than this group. I was extremely pleased.

COOPER: You work with the visitor's center here, you also come to this site a lot. As you see it develop, this is the memorial area that's going to be dedicated to your son and others in September, that's the museum behind us, do you like the way it's turning out?

IELPI: Anderson, it's interesting because I've been here literally for almost 10 years. I wasn't too sure how it was going to transpire. I came here about two weeks ago to do a special for a documentary. I came on site, I stood over there, there was the survivor tree.

COOPER: Survivor tree.

IELPI: It was in full bloom. It was pure white with the little buds. It's a flowering pear, I think it is. I can't tell you how impressed I was. I can't tell you the feeling that came from inside here, because we are bringing life back in a way. But we have to understand why we're rebuilding. We can't lose focus about what happened 10 years ago.

So, I'm so pleased that it's going to be done for the 10th anniversary, and our buildings around us. But I am still so concerned about our young people especially, what tomorrow is going to bring, and education has got be key. We need to educate in this country.

COOPER: You're going to be meeting with President Obama, yes?


COOPER: What do you want to say to him?

IELPI: I'm going to say to him, if I have the opportunity, I'd like to know why there is not one state in our country that has a curriculum in place to teach the history of 9/11, New York state included, New York City schools do not have to talk about 9/11.

I'm confused how we can send young men and women out to fight a war, but our young people know nothing about it. It's troubling to me.

I think one of the key things, especially in our country here is education. We learned about the Holocaust, we learned about slavery and we learned the good. We're not learning about 9/11. And we're sending young kids out into the world without a background of what happened on 9/11?

We have to go back many years to understand that. And we can't be afraid to talk about radical Islam opposed to good solid Islamic people, and there's so many more of them.

So we have to step up to the plate and educate.

COOPER: Lee, it's always good to see you. You're looking great.

IELPI: Thank you.

COOPER: You're like working out, you're fit. Geez, you could take me in an a second.


COOPER: Lee Ielpi.

We're going to talk with Ed Henry and Mary Snow coming up with details about what's happening inside, inside the firehouse where President Obama is right now.

Let's go back to Wolf, though, in Washington -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a dramatic day, I must say, Anderson, as we watch all this unfold. And I love hearing from all these firefighters, police officers, family members on this special day. Certainly, it's going to happen again on the exact 10th anniversary of 9/11, that's coming up only in a few months. The president will be back in New York. The former president, George W. Bush, will be there. I'm sure Bill Clinton will be there, others will be there.

This is a very special day, though, because so many people have been moved by the death of bin Laden and the president, certainly, among them. We will go to that fire station, Engine 54, Ladder 4, this station where the president is inside right now meeting with firefighters, speaking with them, having lunch with them.

Our coverage continues in a moment.

TEXT: "I want to meet the president shake his hand, look him in the eye and say, 'thank you.'" -- Charles Wolf, wife died on 9/11.


BLITZER: Welcome back.

You're looking at live pictures from Engine 54, the fire station. You see that huge sanitation truck outside, it was placed there for security reasons. The president is inside having lunch with some of those firefighters. We're get new details on what's going on.

We're also waiting, once the president leaves there, he'll head over to Ground Zero in lower Manhattan, not far away from the fire station. He'll lay a wreath at what's called the surviving tree, one of the surviving trees there, and then he will meet privately with some family members.

All of this is going to take place in the next hour or so.

Anderson Cooper is on the scene for us over at Ground Zero.

Anderson, I take it we're getting more details of what's happening inside?

COOPER: Yes, we are. For that I want to bring in our own Ed Henry, White House correspondent, also Mary Snow who is at the firehouse.

Ed, what are you hearing about what's going on inside?

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you're right, Anderson, there's a private lunch going on right now with the firefighters. They lost 15 at this firehouse on 9/11. And Jay Carney said the purpose of this visit, in part, is to help the city, help the country have some closure, and that's exactly what the president started doing.

He spoke briefly before lunch. He basically said this is a site of incredible sacrifice at that firehouse and you can't bring back the loved ones, but it's a chance, an opportunity now in the wake of Osama bin Laden being killed to try and show, as he put it, when we say we never forget, we mean what we say.

The president also added that as long as he's in office, these firefighters will have someone who, in his words, will always have your back.

Now that's significant beyond just what Jay Carney said about trying to bring closure to the city, to the country as well. The fact that the president has had a difficult relationship with some of these first responders, some of the 9/11 families who have been quite frustrated that the administration wanted to bring Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in for civilian trial here in New York City. They ended up scotching those plans in part because of outrage from some of the 9/11 families.

Also, there has been -- you know, it certainly was a very touchy subject when the president seemed to endorse the building of an Islamic center and a mosque near this site at Ground Zero. That caused a lot of heartburn as well amongst some of the 9/11 families.

So this is a chance for him to repair that relationship as well, beyond just bin Laden. And also, he's walking a fine line, let's not forget. Because I saw some buttons they were handing out near the site, selling on the street, that say, "Mission Accomplished: May 1st, 2011." It's a very loaded phrase. When you go back to the Bush administration and the war in Iraq, this president is fully aware, the mission is not fully accomplished yet. The war on terror goes on. We have 100,000 troops in Afghanistan right now, Anderson.

COOPER: Mary Snow who's at the firehouse.

Mary, the comments President Obama made inside the firehouse, were those put -- there was a camera present that we're going to get a tape of, is that correct?

SNOW: That is correct, Anderson. We're going to get that after the president leaves.

And just to pick up on something Ed said earlier about not forgetting these firefighters. One told me this morning, he said that this visit, he thought, was a real morale booster.

And you know, earlier this week when I spoke with these firefighters, they said that they had felt over the years that people forgot about the 343 New York City firefighters who died on September 11th. And what they saw on Sunday night after the news broke about Osama bin Laden, they said that they were grateful to see that they had not been forgotten, as people came and embraced them, physically embraced them in Times Square.

Just to set the scene for you here, Anderson, I'm not sure if you can see these trucks. This area has been secured outside of the firehouse. There's about 10 sanitation trucks that are just blocking the perimeter of that firehouse, and sharp shooters are on the roof of the firehouse and other buildings as the president is inside eating lunch with about 18 firefighters inside.

And we got some details. They came out to tell us these firefighters have been preparing lunch all morning, that they were dining on eggplant parmesan, shrimp, scallops. Pretty hearty lunch, but this is a very informal setting inside -- Anderson. COOPER: This firehouse calls itself, "The Pride of Midtown," and I'm sure President Obama is seeing that pride.

He was also shown a plaque inside the firehouse that honors the 15 firefighters from the firehouse who lost their lives.

Our coverage continues all throughout the day here from Ground Zero, from Washington and all points in between.

We'll be right back.

TEXT: I think the shoulders of New Yorkers, Americans and people throughout the world stand a little taller." -- Sen. Charles Schumer (D), New York, on bin Laden's capture.