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Final Stimulus Vote Soon; Fatal Flight of Continental 3407; Senate Approves Stimulus Bill; CNN Heroes Finalist Gets a New House

Aired February 13, 2009 - 23:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight's breaking news and heartbreaking news.

The breaking news: the U.S. Senate tonight just moments away from approving the economic stimulus bill. The vote stretching late into the night being held open; several people simply waiting on the floor as you can see there. Just a couple of people waiting for Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown who spent the day back home at a memorial service for his mother.

We're going to bring you the vote as it happens and look at what it means for you.

But we begin with the heartbreaking news: the investigation into the plane crash that left 50 people dead. From the plane's cockpit and data recorders, investigators tonight have early and compelling clues about what happened as Continental Connection Flight 3407 made its final and doomed approach to Buffalo- Niagara International Airport.


COOPER: I-Report home video taken moments after Flight 3407 nose- dived into a house near Buffalo, New York. Flames soar from the crash site. The tail of the airplane is still visible.

WILL CHARLAND, WITNESS TO CRASH: It sounded like a lawn mower was falling from the sky. The best way to describe it, the next thing you know, I hear a just a loud crash and the sky lit up like the sun was rising.

COOPER: All 49 people aboard and one person on the ground were killed. Incredibly, a mother and daughter inside the home survived. It is the first fatal U.S. commercial air crash since 2006.

This is an actual picture of the plane. The 74-seat Bombadier Dash8 Q400 turbo prop. It was built last year and operated by Colgan Air. The flight delayed two hours in Newark Airport before taking off.

Flight 3407 was not full. It had 45 passengers and a crew of four; one of them off-duty. As it approached Buffalo, communication between the cockpit and air traffic control indicated no sign of trouble.

ATC: Colgan 3407. Turn left heading 310.

Co-pilot: Left heading 310. Colgan 3407.

ATC: Colgan 3407 contact tower 122.5. Have a good night.

CO-PILOT: Colgan 3407.

COOPER: But at 10:17 p.m., contact is lost and the plane falls off the radar screen.

TOWER: Colgan 3407 Buffalo tower, how do you hear?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is ground communication we need to talk to somebody at least five miles Northeast, ok. Possibly Clarence, that area right in there, Akron Area, either state police or sheriff's department, we need to find if anything's on the ground.

COOPER: What happened? Investigators have the data and flight recorders. They're also looking at the weather. There was ice and sleet in the area. And officials said the crew reported significant ice build-up on the windshield and the edges of the wings.

Aviation experts suspect the ice weighed down the Flight 3407 sending it into a spiral. A theory backed up by one witness.

DAVID LUCE, WITNESS TO CRASH: We heard the plane, and it was unusually loud. So clearly it was low. But the engine sounded like -- like they were revving and very high, high speed unnatural sound.

COOPER: Among the victims, Beverly Eckert, her husband was killed on September 11th. A voice for the families of 9/11, she met with President Obama just last week. Eckert was heading to a memorial for her husband's birthday.

This young man's sister was also on board.

CHRIS KAUSNER, SISTER ON FLIGHT 3407: Right now I'm thinking the worst. And I'm thinking about the fact that my mother has to fly home from Florida and what I'm going to tell my two sons. That's what I'm thinking.


COOPER: Well, speaking of Beverly Eckert, President Obama today paying tribute, sending condolences to her family. We're going to have more on her in a moment.

Also, among the dead, a woman who documented the genocide in Rwanda and two members of musician Chuck Mangione's band. And on the ground, Doug Wielinski, 61-years-old in his living room. His wife Karen and daughter Jill also at home survived the impact and fire.

Today, Karen told her story to a correspondent from local station WBEN.


KAREN WIELINSKI, CRASH SURVIVOR: I shouted first. In case anybody was out there. And then, just kind of pushed what was on me, part of that off and crawled out the hole.

I had heard, like, a woman crying and when I came out of the hole, you know, the back of the house was gone. You know, the fire had started. I could see the wings of the plane, and Jill was over to the side. You know, crying, of course, hysterical.

To me, it looked like the plane just came down in the middle of the house and unfortunately that's where Doug was. He was a good person. He loved his family.


COOPER: The grief still so raw. The investigators' work is well under way and although it normally takes months of pain-staking effort, there were early and significant signs of progress today in the case.

For the latest on that, let's turn to Jason Carroll near the crash site. Jason?

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And Anderson, investigators here at the command center have a lot of information to work with. As you mentioned, they recovered the cockpit voice recorder as well as the flight data recorder.

Both recovered from the tail section of the plane earlier today. There is two hours of conversation on the cockpit voice recorder. The investigators are focusing what they heard from the crew, the crew discussed several things. They discussed weather. They discussed visibility and, of course, ice.


STEVE CHEALANDER, NTSB: It was at 16,000 feet that they noticed that it was rather hazy and they requested air traffic control to allow them to descend to 12,000 feet. Shortly after that request, they were cleared to 11,000 feet.

The crew discussed significant ice build-up, ice on the windshield and leading edge of the wings. The flight data recorder indicated airframe de-ice, which is a system on the airplane that helps deice those wings and windshields and surfaces on that aircraft.

That the airplane de-ice was selected in the on position before those comments were made, about the significant ice on the windshields and leading edge of the wings.


CARROLL: And a little bit more information about what they were able to retrieve so far, on the flight data recorder. According to what they were able to discover so far, in the final moments the pilot lowered the flaps, they tried to slow down the plan and also in the final seconds before there was a lot of pitching, a lot of rolling going on before the plane ultimately went down, Anderson. Of course, at this point, investigators on the ground here are working with members of the FBI as well as the Medical Examiner's office to try and recover remains. At this point, the NTSB saying despite all the information they've been able to get so far, it's just too early to determine an exact cause -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Jason Carroll thanks very much.

One woman tonight is badly shaken but thankfully, that is all.

Susan Reinhardt had every reason to curse the weather yesterday afternoon, she was grounded at Newark, running four hours late. Tonight, she can thank her lucky stars.

Looking for a stand by seat on 3407, the gate agent sent her to another line, essentially, saving her life.

Susan Reinhardt from Buffalo. Susan, thanks very much for being with us. I can only imagine what must be going through your mind. How are you doing?

SUSAN REINHARDT, TOOK ANOTHER FLIGHT TO BUFFALO: I'm not sure that it's completely hit me yet. I think I'm still in a little bit of shock. My phone has been ringing off the hook all day. People saying, oh my God, I'm glad that you didn't get on that plane so, you know, I'm happy to be here, believe me. I'm happy to be here.

COOPER: You were on another flight and then you heard that 3407 might leave before your flight was taking off. What made you not get on that, flight?

REINHARDT: Absolutely. It was a combination of things. One, I would have had to change a gate. It wasn't that much time difference, Anderson. It was maybe 30 minutes, and I had been at the airport since 3:15. And by now, it is about 6:30. And I thought, what's another half hour?

So I said I can get some dinner. And I did -- I opted not to get on that plane.

COOPER: And that -- I mean, that decision, that split-second decision or several minute decision, I mean, that saved your life.

REINHARDT: Yeah, I guess to a certain extent and unfortunately I think this is the hardest thing for me. I was at the gate trying to determine if I should get on 3407 and there was a young woman there with me. We were using our Blackberries to determine which flight was going to go out sooner.

My 4:30 flight or her 7:00 flight and it was determined the 7:00 flight was going to go out sooner than the 4:30. And she said, I really want to get to my boyfriend. He's in Buffalo. I'm calling him and going out on the 7:00 flight and she left. And my heart breaks for her family, her boyfriend, and I didn't get on that plane.

COOPER: Do you know her name? REINHARDT: No, I don't. It was just one of those coincidental meetings where we both happened to be there talking about the same flight. And as I said, we were texting, we were texting and using our Blackberries on to find out what flight would go out sooner.

COOPER: I'm sorry -- go ahead.

REINHARDT: Frequently, frequently. Probably two to three times a month.

COOPER: So do you tend to see the same people on these flights?

REINHARDT: I do. Mostly on the way out of Buffalo into Newark, rather than on the way back. You know? On the way out, it's almost always the same people. On the way back, it depends upon what your hours have done for you, what you've been there, can you get on a 4:30 or a 5:00 or 6:00 or a 7:00 and you just get on the plane that works best for you. And at the time, it was a 4:30.

COOPER: So you flew over the scene of the crash but at the time didn't realize it.

REINHARDT: Absolutely. We flew over the scene of the crash. Did not know there was anything wrong. When we landed at the airport, there was no indication that there had been any type of tragedy. And it was only through conversations of people on the plane once we -- once we landed and were taxiing, people were on the phones to others who were picking them up and you heard, oh, there's been a plane crash.

And we had no idea what it was. And when someone said, it's in Clarence, we said, well, we just flew over Clarence. And we -- we automatically assumed it was a small plane, a two-seater or something along those lines. I had no idea it was a big commercial plane.

COOPER: It is just extraordinary how choices which we don't even realize they're important choices at the time change the course of our lives.

REINHARDT: Absolutely. And I was fortunate and I do want to express my condolences to everyone who wasn't as fortunate as I am. My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone who wasn't able to get by the way I was.

COOPER: All right, Susan Reinhardt, I appreciate you talking to us. Thank you, Susan.

We're going to have more on the investigation in a moment.

And let us know what you think. Join the live chat happening now I've logged on at Also Randi Kaye will be having a live web cast during commercial breaks.

Up next, retired airline Captain Jim Tilmon on what the flight crew may have encountered in the air last night and why just a tiny coating of ice can turn a routine flight into a tragedy. Later, one of several notable victims; we mentioned her just a moment ago, Beverly Eckert, her story of bravery and compassion in the wake of 9/11 ahead.

And our breaking news: we're watching closely the stimulus bill, the final Senate vote happening any moment. And we'll show you what it is, how that occurs and also what's in the final version of the bill. And we'll hear from President Obama, his thoughts on what happens now with the bill in his own words with the stimulus.

That and much more tonight on "360."



MARY JANE LUSE, CRASH WITNESS: After a few seconds of silence, we heard this huge explosion and the house shook. So we ran toward our back windows which look out towards the house that was hit. And we could see flames rising high into the sky.


COOPER: They said there were sometimes 40, 50-foot flames. Early clues tonight to why it happened, the cockpit voice recorder picking up mention of ice. Conditions last night diabolically perfect for coating aircraft which is called rime ice.

We've got a photograph of the now of Captain Marvin Rezlo there he is on the left with his family. He apparently was at the controls last night. His first officer Rebecca Shaw in contact with air traffic control.

In addition to the cockpit voice recorders, investigators have a lot more to go on. Now, the flight data recorder, weather reports, radar tapes. What other flight crews encountered. Including a similar Dash 8 400 that landed a short time later.

Now, we wanted to get some perspective now from retired airline Captain Jim Tilmon who was up with us most of the night last night.

Jim thanks for coming in and talking with us. According to flight data recovered from the scene, the crew discussed what they called a significant ice build-up on the plane and they tried to pull out of their landing approach. What does that tell you? Does that tell you that ice is most likely the cause of this crash?

JIM TILMON, AVIATION ANALYST: Yes. I'd say that that's where the investigation is going to be pointed initially. However, I want to caution that this is so early in the investigation. One should not speculate too soon. It could be so many things and maybe the ice exacerbated the situation but we've got a lot yet to learn.

COOPER: Yes, and Jason Carroll reporting that the pilot lowered the flaps and there was a lot of rolling before the crash. And it seems almost unbelievable that only one house on the ground would be destroyed in this crash.

TILMON: Well, you know, ice is so, so difficult to deal with in that it's never symmetrical, it never coats exactly both wings exactly the same amount and of course that would create a differential in your lift because as this ice coats the wings, it not only creates weight for the airplane to carry it, also changes the lift that's available on that wing's surface.

And if you had the wings that were not symmetrically balanced, you could end up having the airplane begin to tilt and turn and bobble back and forth a little bit.

I still feel however, that this crew was capable of dealing with this. It's just that they got overwhelmed by an event that took place very suddenly and they were not able to recover from it. It is possible to literally to fly into kind of a little pool or a level of a super- saturated air that's full of ice that's just going to really dump all of a sudden on your airplane and then at your air speed you may not be able to sustain flight.

COOPER: This is probably a stupid question but so the wings aren't heated at all? And there's no way to melt that ice?

TILMON: Well, on that Turboprop airplane, there's just isn't enough heat available to heat the wings and fly the airplane to keep those engines working properly. So they use a system which is very effective of boots that are on the leading edge of the wing's surfaces. And they will allow for changing the configuration of that leading edge by expanding and contracting and breaking up any ice that's there as well as some electrical circuits that do a nice job of heating up the cowling and the propellers.

This airplane, remember, was built in Canada. That's where they understand very clearly what it's like to fly in winter conditions. So an airplane's configured so that it should be able to be handled very nicely under most circumstances.

COOPER: I want play you what one witness said, that a lot of witnesses have talked about a strange sound they heard from the aircraft, a sputtering sound or a sputtering from the engine. Let's listen.


DAVE HARTZELL, EYEWITNESS: You could tell when the plane came in, it was going -- and we see planes that are -- hear planes go over all the time and as the plane was going over, you knew something was wrong.


COOPER: You and I heard this last night from multiple eyewitnesses. What do you make of that?

TILMON: Well, you know, the NTSB will be able to come up with it specifically but it does lead one to believe that there was a differential in the way that the propellers were responding to the commands and where the airplane was.

You end up with the airplane on the one wing down and one wing up. The up engine is going to be developing different sound because the propellers are going to be shaped differently at that point in time. They're going to be configured differently.

So that difference in the resonation between those engines takes what would normally be kind of a purr that you hear with a Turboprop engines working in coordination with each other to something more of a flutter or something that's a burbling sound.

Like having two stands of fans that you hook up one at one time, it purrs. Hook up another right next to it, and now you get a burbling; that's because of the air not being uniformly dealt with.

COOPER: Well, Jim again, I appreciate you staying up late with us last night and you helped our coverage a lot. I appreciate it and thanks for being with us tonight.

TILMON: It's an honor to be on your show.

COOPER: Well, just ahead tonight, a life story cut tragically short. The remarkable story of Beverly Eckert who lost her husband in the 9/11 attacks and went on to helped so many others.

She met last week with President Obama. We'll get his thoughts on the tragedy, as well.

And we'll bring you the moment as it happens tonight, the breaking news when the 60th vote is cast and the massive stimulus bill is finally passed. We'll also look at what really is in the bill and we'll play you a lot of President Obama's comments today about the stimulus and what happens now.



BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends who lost loved ones. And as always our thanks go out to the brave first responders who arrived immediately to try and save lives and were still on the scene keeping people safe.

Now, tragic events such as these remind us of the fragility of life and the value of every single day. One person who understood that well was Beverly Eckert who was on that flight and who I met with just a few days ago.

You see, Beverly lost her husband on 9/11 and became a tireless advocate for those families whose lives were forever changed on that September day. And in keeping with that passionate commitment, she was on her way to Buffalo to mark what would have been her husband's birthday and launch a scholarship in his memory.

And so she was an inspiration to me and to so many others and I pray that her family finds peace and comfort in the hard days ahead.


COOPER: President Obama today on the tragedy of Flight 3407. You heard him talk about Beverly Eckert; one of the passengers. A remarkable woman, as the President said a 9/11 widow, she became a champion for the families of those who perished on September 11th and she was determined to keep her husband's memory alive.

It was in fact his birthday this weekend, in so doing as she turned her personal grief into a very public mission.

Here's Randi Kaye.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: These were happier times. Beverly Eckert and her husband Sean Rooney, high school sweethearts. She worked in insurance. He worked on Wall Street. They lived in Connecticut across the street from this woman.

GAIL ARMONDINO, NEIGHBOR: They were the first mate neighbors we met when we moved in. They came over with a fresh baked pie that was still warm, and it was quite delicious.

KAYE: Beverly and her husband enjoyed the theater. He was an avid golfer. She had a book club. They didn't have any children, just the two of them. Then, the planes hit.

BEVERLY ECKERT, FLIGHT 3407 VICTIM: My husband called me, and he was very calm and he was trying to figure a way to get out of the building.

KAYE: Sean Rooney never found a way out. He perished in the World Trade Center South Tower. Beverly couldn't make sense of it. She turned her grief into action.

ECKERT: Well, I'm simply resolved that his death won't be meaningless.

KAYE: She co-founded "Voices of September 11th," an advocacy group for survivors and 9/11 families. Valerie Lucznikowska lost her nephew on 9/11 and got to know Beverly.

VALERIE LUCZNIKOWSKA, FRIEND: We've lost an advocate for humanity. I'm still rejecting the understanding that Beverly isn't here anymore. I still can't quite accept that.

KAYE: Beverly worked tirelessly in her husband's name and she co- chaired the 9/11 families steering committee devoted to exposing failures that led up to the attacks and fixing them. She pushed for the 9/11 Commission and for Congress to adopt its recommendations.

ECKERT: If this bill doesn't pass, I don't think I'll ever -- I don't think I'll ever be able to go back there. I think I'll be too ashamed because -- first, because I will have failed my husband and secondly because his government will have failed him again.

ECKERT: In recent months, Beverly started volunteering for Habitat for Humanity and working as a teacher's assistant. She had a boyfriend, too. Just last Friday, she took the train to Washington, D.C. to meet with President Obama and other victims' families about how he planned to handle terror suspects. Valerie was on board with her.

LUCZNIKOWSKA: She had prepared a two-page agenda on what we could do about Guantanamo.

KAYE: What did she ask the President during this meeting?

LUCZNIKOWSKA: The one thing that she asked the President during the meeting was if there would be more meetings. She was hoping that there would be something to build on.

KAYE: This picture was taken with Beverly's camera just minutes before that meeting. It is one of Beverly's last. She sent it to Valerie a couple of days ago.

Beverly had launched a scholarship in her husband's name in their hometown of Buffalo, New York. She was headed there Thursday night on Continental Flight 3407 to celebrate with family what would have been his 58th birthday.

Just over seven years after a plane took her husband's life, a plane took her life.

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


COOPER: Up next the crisis in Congo. Actor Ben Affleck joins us with the heartache and the hope he has witnessed in the worlds most deadly conflicts since World War II.

And Hillary Clinton at the mike, speaking out today blasting former President George W. Bush when "360" continues.


COOPER: Tonight a "360 Dispatch:" an update on a story we tried to cover a lot here over the years -- the conflict in Congo.

It is the deadliest conflict since World War II. After years of war and the resulting spread of malnutrition and disease, more than five million people have died.

But now, with the arrest of powerful warlord and renewed efforts to wipe out other rebel groups, there is a glimmer perhaps of hope. Ben Affleck has traveled to the Congo a number of times in the past two years and in the latest edition of "Time" magazine he writes about what he's seen.

Ben Affleck joins us now. Ben, thanks for being with us. BEN AFFLECK, ACTOR: Anderson, thank you very much for having me.

COOPER: When you go there, what strikes you first? What kind of -- and what stays with you the most?

AFFLECK: I think the, you know, the most striking thing is obviously that it's a place that's completely -- where the security sector has completely broken down. There's no real functioning -- particularly in that eastern Congo -- law and order. So you have a lot of militia groups that operate with total impunity and mostly they are victimizing and exploiting the population.

Even the FARDC which is the Congolese military operates in a lot of ways like, you know, what they call a negative force. Oftentimes raping or exploiting the population. And so this gives rise to conflicting different armies. As you mentioned Laurent Nkunda who was captured has one of the largest militias there.

COOPER: Yes, we're showing his picture right now.

AFFLECK: Right. And so that environment creates this humanitarian disaster where most people don't actually die from the conflict but because there's no infrastructure, because there's no health system, because food has a hard time getting anywhere and people are moved -- there's more than a million internally displaced people there. People are moved off their land.

You can't get healthcare and you can't eat so people are dying from malnutrition and people are dying from -- you can get a scrape and that becomes infected. In a lot of rural areas that can be a death sentence. So it's kind of a perfect storm of violence and neglect and it's a place where I guess the overwhelming sense that you get is this shouldn't exist in the modern era.

COOPER: There's, you know, you see the statistics, you read the numbers, more than 5 million people and it's impossible to even wrap one's mind around what that really means. When you go there and you see the faces, you know, and you put names to numbers, it becomes very real.

The rape situation in Congo is something I know you talked to women who had been attacked -- some of the photos that James took, a woman who was burned after being raped. Most of the rapes are gang rapes. Had you ever seen anything like this before?

AFFLECK: No. It really is like sort of stepping into an alternate and kind of terrible world and in particular areas there are parts of Eastern Congo where rights groups told me two out of every three women had been raped. And there are a lot of organizations working on, you know, this gender-based violence issue.

It is symptomatic of again, this kind of larger break down of state security and it's just -- you know, horrifying and something that really warrants the attention of the world.

COOPER: Often we look at Africa as sort of -- these people need our help and certainly a lot of people are in need and do need help. But there is just remarkable strength and -- are there -- is there someone you met that sort of stays in your mind?

I think back to a woman, Angela, I met who was gang raped in front of her children, one of her children was burned in front of her and yet everyday she is surviving and she gets up and tries to scratch out a living for her kids.

AFFLECK: I think that's the most critical, critical point. I went to Africa with this idea that it was going to be people lying around with flies in their eyes in these crisis zones and the westerners were doing all the aid work. And really the opposite is true.

The westerners were really on the periphery and the people finding the solutions to most of these issues were Africans themselves. Oftentimes they would complain to me and say, "You know, we're really pictured the wrong way. People see us as just broken and falling apart but we are also the ones who are surviving and creating the success stories.

And even the woman whose pictured in this -- they asked me not to use her name, who is the survivor of rape there, you know, she said she wanted to speak to me and she wanted to have her picture there because it was important to here that other women see that and know that it was okay to come forward and say that they had been raped and tell their stories.

And, you know, that struck me as an act of remarkable courage and bravery because I know that she was, you know, obviously traumatized and I was very moved by that. And I witnessed a number of people like that and stories like that. And it completely redefined the way I saw Africa and challenged all of the preconceived notions that I had going in.

COOPER: Yes. Many of the women that you talked to there they want the stories told, they want the world to know what's happening to them. I appreciate you going and I appreciate you writing about it in "Time" magazine. It's a great article. Thanks very much.

AFFLECK: Thanks so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

COOPER: Partisan politics and the economy. The president has the votes but only from three Republicans. How can he govern? Talk about that with our panel next.

And later, in his own words, President Obama on the financial deal: his comments today and on this unprecedented moment for our country.



OBAMA: The goal at the heart of this plan is to create jobs. Not just any jobs but jobs doing the work America needs done. Repairing our infrastructure, modernizing our schools and our hospitals, promoting the clean, alternative energy sources that will help us finally declare our independence from foreign oil.


COOPER: That was President Obama this morning speaking to members of business council pushing the promise that his stimulus package will create jobs by the millions.

We're going to play a lot more of the president's remarks later on in this hour.

Right now, the breaking news: his economic recovery plan is about to be passed by the senate. We are awaiting the final vote, literally awaiting the final vote. Sherrod Brown, the senator from Ohio is on his way to Capitol Hill to vote on this. As soon as he gets into the view of cameras, we are going to bring those shots to you live. There's only a few people left right there on the floor.

As of right now, only three Republican senators favored this bill. In the House, not one single Republican lawmaker backed it so when President Obama signs the legislation on Monday, Washington will be as divisive as ever; not exactly the bipartisanship Mr. Obama was hoping for in the first 100 days.

Joining me now: senior political analyst, David Gergen, Joe Johns and senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash.

David, I want to play some of what Republican Congressman John Boehner said on the house floor this morning. Take a look.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R): Here we are with 1,100 pages. 1,100 pages that not one member of this body has read. Not one. There might be a staffer over the appropriations committee that read all of this last night. I don't know how you can read 1,100 pages between midnight and now.

Not one member's read this. What happened to the promise that we're going to let the American people see what's in this bill for 48 hours? But nope. We don't have time to do that.


COOPER: Does he have a point, David?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: He has a point and he made it dramatically. That's the right of someone in opposition.

At the same time, Anderson, you have to ask the question. Look, if you want to have a long time for deliberation, we have a fire in the house. Do you want to put water on it quickly and have some spillage or do you want stand back and look at the hose?

And in this case, I think there was a shared sense of urgency on both sides of the aisle. They just disagree strongly and I think there's a great disappointment in the White House with the lack of Republican votes. And I think there's great disappointment among Republicans that they feel they had very little authorship of the final package.

COOPER: Joe, how often do congressmen, senators and the members of the house, vote on bills they haven't read?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, quite a bit. I mean, it happens all the time. Frankly, if you look at the average member of Congress's schedule, usually it's packed from day-to-day-to-day with hearings, with meetings. They have to go here, they have a lunch.

How can you sit down and read 1,000-page bill? So they have aides. They get help and then if they don't get the result they want, they can go out on a floor, especially if they're in the opposition and say, you know, I didn't get to read this bill. Nobody got to read this bill. Nobody knows what's in it.

That said, the truth is, a lot of times there are big surprises in these bills. Again and again and again, I have seen things. The last Congress, we talked so much about something that may have actually slipped into a bill after it was passed in the House and Senate and before it made its way to the president's desk which is just simply incredible.

So yes. You have that kind of problem that happens out there. It's one of the big problems in Washington because people are voting on things, they don't know what's in there and then a lot of unusual things get slipped in.

COOPER: Dana, President Obama today described the sometimes contentious debate leading up to today's vote as a good thing, those are the words he used, and said that the viewpoints is how we learn and refine our approaches. What do you think the president has learned from all this in particular about his relationships with Republicans and even Democrats on the Hill?

DANA BASH, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think one thing that he learned is that he can lobby and try to charm them as much as possible but on core issues where there are philosophical differences like this one, it's not going to help.

And I just want to go back to what you were talking about. I want to show you this, Anderson. This is what you're talking about. This is how enormous this bill is. I mean, I can barely lift it. It is 1,100 pages. This was not on the website until 11:00 last night.

So, you know, Republicans wouldn't have voted for this even if they were able to read this. But I talked to a lot of Democrats and they said that they were not happy about it either because just speaking to what Joe was talking about, the things that are slipped in here, this was so rushed, one of my colleagues up here, Jamie Dupree (ph) he found a page -- and I'm sure there are lots of these -- where it said in type "no money for the Smithsonian." That was crossed out with somebody's handwriting an instead was written 25 and then six zeros; $25 million instead.

That's happening throughout this and really nobody had a chance to really look at it. That is, again, frustrating not just to Republicans but I talked to Democratic lawmakers who said the same thing.

COOPER: That's the power of the pen being able to write in $25 million and have it. I should just remind viewers we are waiting for the arrival of Senator Sherrod Brown from Ohio.

This may be him actually pulling up. This is a scene from right outside the Capitol. We'll just continue to watch this. We have really basically this is the last vote.

David, how unusual a situation is this, I mean, waiting for a senator to cast the deciding vote?

GERGEN: It is unusual but we have had examples where senators have been carried in on stretchers. I think probably one or two have been carried in drunk.

So it's not unique but it is unusual but, Anderson, to go back to this. I think one of the things that the White House has learned -- I was over there this afternoon. They're very proud of how much they've accomplished so far in governing but think they have a tough road ahead with so many things.

The automobile companies are due to report this coming Tuesday; we're going to have a whole new set of controversies starting next week about whether we're going bail out the automobile companies.

COOPER: And we should say that is the senator who's just arrived from a memorial service for his mom today. He's now entered Capitol grounds. He came in through the carriage entrance. We're going to continue to watch this as we discuss this.

It's interesting, though. I mean, as the president, you know, begins to tackle the rest of his domestic agenda, how hard, Joe, or how hard should he continue working for bipartisan support? It is still clearly a priority for this president.

JOHNS: sure. It's absolutely a priority and certainly if he doesn't actually push that then people will say he's hypocritical.

And you know, David was talking about it a little bit there at the top. This is one of those situations where this president has taken over the country and he has crises in a lot of different areas.

And you saw a very interesting dynamic here. There's a big rush to get this bill through. It is a stimulus --



COOPER: Sorry to interrupt you. I just want to -- I think that's Sherrod Brown who just entered. Dana, I think he is talking there to Harry Reid from what I can see. What's going to happen now?

BASH: He's -- they should call his name or maybe they won't call his name because I think they actually officially called it about five hours ago. And he'll probably raise his hand and he will officially cast his vote, the decisive vote, the 60th vote.

And you're right. He is standing there talking to the senate majority leader who arranged this and who worked with the White House to arrange this. We should say that Sherrod Brown just returned from Ohio on a government plane -- a plane that was actually officially arranged by the White House to take him back from his home state, bring him here and guess what?

They're bringing him right back home because unfortunately the funeral for his mother is tomorrow. So it really does show, as Joe was saying, the rush that they're going through to get this done but not just that, Anderson. It also really proves your point about the question about bipartisanship and the bipartisan vote that they were hoping they're going to get at the White House but they're not getting.

There you see him. He's walking up. There you go. He just cast his vote. That was just the senator's way of saying aye.

There you have it. We'll probably hear a gavel momentarily. Maybe they're so tired they're waiting a little while. But in any event, the fact that they had to do this, they had to go to these lengths to get the 60th vote just spoke to --

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: The yeas are 60; the nays are 38. Three-fifths of the senators, duly chosen and sworn, having voted in the affirmative, the motion to waive Section 204-5A of S-Con-Res 21, regarding emergency legislation as agreed to, as a result, the point of order falls.

Pursuant to the previous order, which imposed a 60-vote threshold for the adoption of this conference report, this vote also constitutes the vote on the adoption of the conference report. Pursuant to that order, the conference report to accompany HR1 is agreed to, and a motion to reconsider that vote is considered made and laid upon the table.

COOPER: That was Dick Durbin there. And that's it -- Dana.

BASH: That's it. That's it. And officially, they're going to have to do some business, clean up this bill a little bit. And they're going to -- they call it here enrolling it, but they are going to officially send it to the president.

That right there, that was the last stop for President Obama's top priority, his economic plan. And he will -- he will get it over the weekend likely, and we understand he's probably going to have a big signing ceremony on Monday.

But as I was saying, the fact that they had to rush Sherrod Brown back here to give him just the votes that he needs to squeak by to get this...


BASH: ... just proves that he simply does not have the bipartisanship that he was looking for.

COOPER: You know, David Gergen, it was interesting watching that moment. Not a very dramatic moment -- kind of a procedural moment. And yet so many people are seeing it with different eyes. Some people are seeing this as the -- you know, a great step toward the recovery of America, the recovery of America's economy. And an awful lot of people are seeing this as a step -- as a moment of doom.

GERGEN: Yes. All the polls suggest, Anderson, that the president's travels over the last few days have actually strengthened support for the measure. I think particularly "USA Today" series of polls on that. So that we do have now more than half the country, nearly 60 percent, who believe that this stimulus measure is a good idea.

But you're absolutely right about the controversy, among Democrats as well as Republicans, about the actual contents of the bill. And I think it's going to be now some months, maybe a year or two, before we know whether this has worked or not.

The bill does require the president's economic advisers to report back, I think, every three months on progress on jobs. So maybe we'll get some measures sooner, but the White House itself does not expect many jobs to be created in the near term. They think in the near term, the bill will do more to save jobs, especially at the state and local government level.

COOPER: What's so worrying, I guess, is that you have smart people, very smart people on both sides of the aisle, on both sides of this debate who are arguing the exact opposite things. And it's hard to know who's right, and I guess time will tell to some degree. We're just going to have to -- you know, at least we're all in it together.

David Gergen, Joe Johns, Dana Bash, thank you.

Next, the peanut company linked to the deadly salmonella outbreak just filed for bankruptcy. Are they actually just trying to get an easy way out of this thing? We're going to bring you the details ahead.

And our breaking news: the stimulus plan just now approved -- a whole lot of cash. Will it help you? Hear from President Obama in his own words tonight.

And one musician has been chosen to get a White House honor. Who is it? Well, the president's a huge fan. We'll tell you coming up.


COOPER: Still ahead tonight, the president's favorite artist, performing soon at the White House and getting a special honor. We'll tell you who it is in a moment.

But first, Randi Kaye has a "360 News and Business Bulletin" -- Randi.

RANDI KAYE, CNN ANCHOR: Anderson, a sharp rebuke of the Bush administration today from Hillary Clinton. The secretary of state told the Asia Society today that, in recent years, the U.S. government acted without hearing the facts or listening to others.

Clinton leaves on Sunday for her first overseas trip. That will take her to Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and China.

The peanut processing company responsible for a nationwide deadly salmonella outbreak today filed for bankruptcy. The move also shields that corporation, the Peanut Corporation of America, from liability lawsuits. So far, nine people have died, more than 600 people have gotten sick after eating peanut products.

On Wall Street, stocks tumbled today. The Dow fell 82 points. The NASDAQ lost 7 points. And the S&P closed 8 points lower.

And Alex Rodriguez made his first public appearance tonight since admitting to using steroids this week. The Yankee third-baseman dedicated a new baseball complex at the University of Miami that he supported with nearly $4 million. Call it the Field of Dreams or, as some of his detractors may call it, the Field of 'Roids.

COOPER: Yikes.

Up next, why a CNN Heroes finalist can now help more people thanks to the generosity of others; we're "Uncovering America."


COOPER: Just one week before we introduced our first CNN Hero nomination of 2009, tonight a look at how far one of last year's finalists has come.

Maria Ruiz of El Paso, Texas regularly delivers food and supplies to poor kids across the border of Mexico. Now she's moving into a new home with a bigger kitchen that's going to help her feed even more people.

Here's David Mattingly "Uncovering America."


DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Being the center of attention was never what Maria Ruiz had in mind, but lately she can't help it.

MARIA RUIZ, FINALIST, CNN HEROES: It's a blessing to us, but we weren't expecting all of this at all.

MATTINGLY: In 2008, Ruiz was honored as a CNN hero for her work feeding poor children across the border from her home in El Paso, Texas. Cooking in her cramped kitchen, turning her family's modest home into a warehouse she carries meals across the border to 1,200 kids a day. She says she's no hero and gives credit to calling from God.

RUIZ: I know tonight God is calling many of you to do something, something you might not want to do, but I challenge you to listen.

MATTINGLY: Turns out, many were listening and moved by one woman's inspiring story.

Now almost 13 years after Maria Ruiz first started fighting hunger across the border, she's now having to deal with some unintended consequences of her work right in her own home.

On a Wednesday heavy equipment smashed the Ruiz house to bits. Maria's story caught the attention of ABC and Extreme Home Makeover. Host Ty Pennington says the idea was to give Maria what she needs most, the tools to do more.

TY PENNINGTON, HOST, EXTREME HOME MAKEOVER: That's the whole point here. To be able to give her what she needs to make her life easier to really spread literally dreams and hope to people who have absolutely none of either one of those.

Five days later, Maria and her family returned to a brand-new house. We can't show you the house or what's inside because the show hasn't aired yet, but we can tell you she's now got the kitchen and the space to work miracles.

How many more are you going to be able to feed with that new kitchen?

RUIZ: A lot more. A lot more.

MATTINGLY: But Maria Ruiz's work only begins with food. She's also feeding young minds with ideas.

You are not only trying to feed them, you're trying to teach them.

RUIZ: So that they can in turn give back to the community. We teach them and train them as a child, and they go out and do the things, you know. We would live in a much better world.

MATTINGLY: A world that Maria Ruiz is making better, a thousand meals at a time.

David Mattingly, CNN, El Paso, Texas.


COOPER: That does it for "360" tonight. Thanks for watching. Have a great weekend.

"Larry King" starts right now.