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THE SITUATION ROOM
The $3.6 Trillion Pitch/Budget's Red Ink Risks/Not Looking Out for the Little Guy/North Dakota Braces for Record Floods/"God Has A Way of Revealing Stuff"
Aired March 25, 2009 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, he's already clashed with conservative icon Rush Limbaugh. But embattled GOP chairman, Michael Steele, is not ruling out a run for the presidency -- why he says that may be up to God.
$3.6 trillion -- critics say the president's budget could drive the nation into bankruptcy.
I'll ask the White House budget director, Peter Orszag, about that. That's coming up.
And a pilot recalls how he screamed in horror. One jet slammed into a house in California, the other went down near Buffalo, New York. There's new information on both fatal crashes.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
President Obama was on Capitol Hill today trying to sell his massive budget plan to a skeptical Congress. Democrats have been trying to whittle away at the $3.6 trillion proposal. Republicans are certainly not impressed.
Let's go to our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian.
He's following the story for us -- Dan.
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, in any negotiation, you always ask for more than you end up with.
The question is, how much ground is the president willing to give in order to get a budget?
LOTHIAN (voice-over): Behind closed doors, President Obama lobbied Senate and House Democrats on Capitol Hill, pushing his $3.6 trillion budget proposal. There's resistance, but the White House is trying to minimize the differences.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now, we never expected when we printed out our budget, that they would simply Xerox it and vote on it.
LOTHIAN: What appears to be out -- those permanent middle class tax cuts Mr. Obama had been promising since his campaign and a reduction in charitable tax deductions for wealthy Americans.
PROF. PETER MORICI, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND: The White House is trying to put the best spin that it can on Congressional surgery on Obama's budget proposals. Certainly, this is a very different budget than we'd have President Bush, but it's significantly different than President Obama would like to have.
LOTHIAN: Still, the president is said to be, "enormously pleased" with the direction lawmakers are going. And from the administration's view, only a small slice of the pie is being eliminated.
AUSTAN GOOLSBEE, WHITE HOUSE ECONOMIC ADVISER: Ninety-eight percent of these budgets are literally exactly the same as what the president asked for and put forward in his budget. And now there's some negotiation over that last bit. But I think we start from a really good place.
LOTHIAN: But economist Peter Morici says that math doesn't add up.
MORICI: The president is losing much more than 2 percent of his budget proposals. Congress is removing the cap and trade tax. At the same time, it's trimming back many of Obama's spending proposals. Congress is simply worried, especially Democrats, that he's spending too much money.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
LOTHIAN: White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs admitted that the president is not getting everything that he wants.
When he was pressed on this optimistic view of how little had been cut, Mr. Gibbs pointed to the budget director and others, who do believe that this 98 percent number is right on track -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Dan Lothian at the White House for us.
BLITZER: And joining us now from the White House, the budget director, Peter Orszag.
Peter, thanks for coming in.
PETER ORSZAG, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET
It's a pleasure to be here.
BLITZER Judd Gregg had this fascinating chart that he released showing that between 1776 and 2008 -- 232 years of U.S. history -- the national debt became $5.8 trillion. And in the new budget -- the projected budget that the president wants to go for -- it would add another $8.7 trillion up the year 2016, for a federal debt of $14.5 trillion.
Are those numbers accurate?
Well, they are. But what they don't reflect is the mess that we are inheriting. And that without the policies the president has put forward, that those debt numbers would be $2 trillion higher.
So it's true. We are -- we have inherited a big fiscal mess. And it's going to take time to work our way out of that. But proposals that are being put forward reduce the deficit relative to the course that we're on.
And, unfortunately, the course that we're on involves significant increases in debt.
He says this -- this budget proposal you have, if it goes forward as you would like, it's going to bring the country to bankruptcy.
Well, I think -- I saw some comments of his this morning suggesting that perhaps he's walking that back a bit. I don't -- I don't know that I would use that kind of language.
I think, look, what we face is a significant fiscal problem that we're inheriting. This budget is working that down. And in terms of our long-term fiscal future, health care is at the root of that. And that is why we want to get health care reform done this year.
Even a lot of Democrats -- moderate Democrats in the Senate and the House -- they say the country simply can't afford what you're proposing. They're looking to scale back. And in terms of the Senate Democrats -- the moderate ones -- maybe by hundreds of billions of dollars over the next 10 years, what you have in mind.
You just came from the Hill with the president. You met with them.
How big of a problem do you have with those Democrats?
The president got a very warm response from the Senate Democrats. The chairman's mark that is being considered by the Senate Budget Committee today is fully in line with the four principals that the president has put forward -- cutting the deficit in half, investing in health care, investing in education and investing in clean energy.
I'm confident that what's coming -- that what will come out of the Senate is something that fulfills the budget priorities the president has put forward.
But they don't want to go forward with making that middle class tax cut that you have for the next two years as part of the stimulus package. They don't want to make it permanent, because they say it's simply too expensive.
Well, again, we've gotten the four priorities that we identified. It was never going to be the case that we would just send up a budget and they would take absolutely everything in it.
But we do have the Making Work Pay tax credit in law for two years. And we've got two years to figure out how to finance its extension. That's why we're asking the Volcker board to take a close look at, for example, a tax gap -- $300 billion a year in taxes that are owed that are not collected that would more than pay for Making Work Pay.
Most of the Republicans -- and, indeed, a bunch of Democrats, as well, say the country can't afford what you would like to do as far as carbon emissions are concerned -- to have the so-called "cap and trade" tax, if you will, making electricity -- gasoline even more expensive for American consumers. While worthwhile, it would simply be too expensive.
Are you ready to back away from that, as well?
Well, again, the key thing we want to do is reduce our dependence on foreign oil and move towards clean energy. I think what we're seeing emerge from the House and Senate on cap and trade, specifically, is perhaps moving that outside of the budget resolution process.
So, in other words, not making it what you originally wanted, but you're ready to compromise on that?
Again, what we're -- what we -- what we're focused on is investing in clean energy and reducing dependence on foreign oil. And with regard to cap and trade, there are different ways for getting legislation done.
Cap and trade, though, effectively, the Republicans say, would be a tax on gasoline, electricity and other forms of energy.
Is that right?
I wouldn't characterize it like that. There will be effects on energy prices. But again, global warming and global climate change are -- is one of the key threats facing our planet. And we will need to address it at some point.
Let's talk about the CBO. You were once the director the Congressional Budget Office...
Yes. I know the former director well.
And that would be you.
The -- they say that your assumptions in your bud -- 10-year budget are overly optimistic. They have a much more, what they call realistic -- lower expectations, as far as the assumptions are concerned. And, as a result, they think it would be an additional $2 trillion deficit over the next 10 years.
Are their assumptions -- and you know these professionals over there at the Congressional Budget Office -- are their assumptions more precise, more accurate than the White House assumptions?
Look, I have a lot of respect for the Congressional Budget Office. But if you look at the -- and there are legitimate technical disagreements.
If you focus on economic growth, which is a key driver of the overall budget deficit, in the -- out five years, in the back five years, they have a growth rate that declines to 2.2 percent a year. We're at 2.6 percent. The Federal Reserve is between 2.5 and 2.7. And the blue chip -- the private forecasters -- the consensus of private forecasters is at 2.6.
So we're right in line with those outside groups. The CBO is somewhat below it. And, you know, again, legitimate technical differences, but that's a key driver of those out year deficit differences.
So you're still standing by your numbers?
Peter Orszag, thanks for coming in.
Thanks for having me.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
BLITZER: Let's go right back to Jack Cafferty.
He has The Cafferty File -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: I like him. He's got his stuff together.
BLITZER: He's a very smart guy.
CAFFERTY: He is a smart guy.
CAFFERTY: And you know what?
Members of Congress will take on this president on the budget at their own peril. The country is still in love with the president. Most of the country can't stand the Congress.
BLITZER: Forty million people, by the way, watched the news conference last night. The Nielsen numbers just came out -- 40 million people.
CAFFERTY: Forty million?
CAFFERTY: And on Sunday night, he was on "60 Minutes." And that was the highest rated program they'd had in like forever.
CAFFERTY: So he's a hot commodity. And these malcontents wandering the halls of Congress probably should be well-advised of that. They need us to help them.
The government might step in and might help rescue the struggling newspaper industry. Democratic Senator Benjamin Cardin has introduced a bill that would allow newspapers to operate like non-profit organizations -- sort of like public broadcasting. The Newspaper Revitalization Act would let newspapers choose a tax-exempt status. They wouldn't be allowed to make political endorsements anymore. But they could still report on all issues, including political campaigns.
Advertising and subscription revenue would be tax-exempt and contributions made to support news coverage of your local paper would be a tax deduction for you.
The Maryland senator says the bill is aimed at saving local papers, not the big conglomerates. He calls the demise of the newspaper industry: "A real tragedy for communities across the nation and for our democracy".
And he's right.
The head of the newspaper industry's trade group calls the bill a positive step, although he agrees the approach may not work for all newspapers. Newspaper subscriptions and advertising revenue have declined significantly over the last few years. More and more people get their news from the Internet or cable TV.
Several newspapers have either stopped publication, announced they might stop publishing, might have to and others have filed for bankruptcy protection. They've had lay-offs and they've announced employee furloughs.
So here's the question -- should the government be involved in saving the newspaper industry?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog.
You know, the local newspaper, Wolf, as you know, the last bastion of good, in depth coverage of things like council meetings and school boards and the local politics that drive so much of where our tax money goes in this country. Without those guys, the thieves will run amok, I have a fear.
BLITZER: Whenever a newspaper dies, I -- I feel so sad. I remember as a little boy, when the Buffalo "Courier Express" went down and there was just one newspaper left in Buffalo. It was a sad day for all of us.
CAFFERTY: And how many did there used to be in New York?
BLITZER: I know.
CAFFERTY: Something like 16 daily papers. And they're all gone except for "The Times" and "The Wall Street Journal" and the two tabloids.
BLITZER: Sad stuff.
All right, Jack.
Thank you. CAFFERTY: Sure.
BLITZER: A blue collar worker calls the Labor Department to report wage theft by the boss.
Listen to the response.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you sure you don't want to just have a nice conversation with him yourself?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. No, I don't want to, because he's -- gets really loud and angry.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. Well, here's another avenue that you can pursue.
Do you have another job lined up?
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BLITZER: It's part of an undercover probe. And it's not the only shocking result. We're getting new details.
Also, the Republican Party chairman, Michael Steele, talks about his very public feud with Rush Limbaugh in a one-on-one interview with CNN's Don Lemon. Steele says there's more to it than meets the eye.
Plus, a new focus into the deadly plane crash. Ice is apparently ruled out as a cause. Now attention turns to the cockpit crew.
BLITZER: Zain Verjee is off today.
Alina Cho is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
What's going on -- Alina?
CHO: Hey, Wolf.
We're following a developing story out of California. An Air Force F-22 fighter jet down near Edwards Air Force Base. So far, we know that the single seat plane was on a test mission and apparently crashed mid-morning local time. We don't know yet if the pilot ejected. And, of course, it is still too early to know the cause of the crash.
A defiant first trip abroad by Sudan's president. He's facing an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity in Darfur. But that didn't stop Omar al-Bashir from traveling to Egypt and meeting with that country's president, Hosni Mubarak. Egypt and 21 other Arab League nations are choosing not to act on Bashir's arrest warrant, which they opposed.
And a surprise guest at a ceremony for Medal of Honor recipients. That would be President Obama. Imagine that. The president showed up at Arlington National Cemetery unannounced after meeting with Senate Democrats on Capitol Hill. Mr. Obama helped lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns, as you see there. Thirty-six of the 98 living Medal of Honor recipients took part in the event.
And what a surprise that must have been -- Wolf, back to you.
BLITZER: They must have been very pleased.
All right. Thank you, Alina.
An undercover investigation shows the Labor Department is not looking out for the little guy.
Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd.
He's got some details.
What are we seeing?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there is a division of the Labor Department that is set up to do only that -- protect low wage employees. Now when investigators look into its performance and then use phrases like "inadequate" and "sluggish responses," you know it's not a good sign.
TODD (voice-over): A Labor Department official takes a call from a low wage worker complaining about his boss.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you sure you don't want to just have a nice conversation with him yourself?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. No, I don't want to do it because he's a -- he gets very loud and angry.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. Well, here's another avenue that you can pursue. OK.
Do you have another job lined up?
TODD: The worker was fictitious -- was really an undercover agent. But the Labor Department official and her advice were very real. This call, released by investigators from Congress' Government Accountability Office, who say the Labor Department's division in charge of protecting workers, wages and overtime pay is falling short.
GREG KUTZ, GAO INVESTIGATOR: Thousands of actual wage theft victims end up being subject to unscrupulous employers who know how to beat the system and get away with violating labor law violations with no help from the federal government. TODD: The GAO found the Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division didn't follow up properly on many real complaints, including those of Tennessee restaurant workers and Montana boarding school employees, who were cheated out of more than $400,000 in wages and overtime. One complaint that division didn't investigate at all -- a voicemail from an undercover agent fictitiously reporting child labor at a meatpacking plant.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're working on some -- some heavy type of equipment like, I don't know, I guess you call them circular saws. And -- and the ones that -- the machine that makes like hamburger meat.
TODD: Officials of that Labor Department branch have defended their record, saying they've recovered more than a billion dollars for nearly two million workers.
STEVE PASSANTINO, LABOR DEPARTMENT, WAGE-HOUR DIVISION: But our managers and investigators do a remarkable job of targeting local industries and local employers to find compliance problems.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
TODD: Another former Labor Department official told us the division has suffered from a lack of funding and manpower, Wolf, under both Democratic and Republican administrations. This one official told us the vast majority of people in that division do a good job.
BLITZER: Well, what's going to be done about all this?
TODD: Well, the new Labor secretary, Hilda Solis, she took office only 12 days ago. She says she's going to hire 250 new investigators for that division. It's only a fraction of what's needed, but at least it's a start.
BLITZER: A good start.
All right, thanks very much, Brian, for that.
Dramatic action to prevent a catastrophe -- officials are hoping to blast away the ice jams that are backing up a swollen river and now threatening historic flooding.
Plus, are Republicans who want President Obama to fail crossing a line?
A rising GOP star says not necessarily. Bobby Jindal calls President Obama's plans dangerous and he explains why.
BLITZER: Two swollen rivers are putting North Dakota cities at risk and volunteers are filling and stacking sandbags as quickly as they can. Snow and ice jams have the state bracing for record flooding.
Let's go to CNN's Chris Welch. He's outside Fargo with more -- Chris, how bad is the situation where you are?
CHRIS WELCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I'm standing here in the small rural town of Oxbow, North Dakota. This is where folks weren't really expecting it to be that bad, especially today. We woke up to about five to eight inches of snow here. And things just got pretty nasty.
For starters here, the U.S. Coast Guard and local emergency crews had to go out in life boats and rescue about nine people who -- one of them even was caught in a tree here. They had to pull them out and rescue them.
Not they've shut down this whole area. They're not even letting anyone into this town of Oxbow unless they're the media. They've actually said they'll start arresting people if people cross into this town.
BLITZER: All right. Chris, stand by.
I want to go to Chad Meyers, our CNN meteorologist and severe weather expert -- Chad, they're -- they're planning dramatic steps to try to ease this situation.
CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes. Yes. We have two separate rivers, as you said, Wolf. One here, the Red River, it flows to the north. So far, ice jams are OK. They've continued to move. But back out to the west, the Missouri River, that goes the other way right at Fargo today, did have an ice jam.
Now, these boulder-sized blocks of ice came all the way down the river and stopped just south of Bismarck. So there's the ice jam right there, to try to make this bend. These boulders all got in the way and literally did make a dam. And the water backed up. And so all of these neighborhoods had to be evacuated.
So what did they do today?
They put C4. They put explosives in the ice jam, trying to blow a hole in the dam so that the water would continue to run to the south. That only happened about 22 minutes ago. We don't know the results just yet. We'll keep you up to date.
BLITZER: All right. When you do, let me know, Chad.
BLITZER: By the way, there are a number of organizations that are preparing to provide volunteers, food and shelter and supplies for the residents in the flood's path. You'll find links to them in our Impact Your World page at CNN.com/impact.
He's already had a rush -- a run-in with Rush Limbaugh, but Michael Steele, the new GOP chairman, is not ruling out a run for the White House -- why he says that may be up to God.
Plus, a pilot who bailed out of his plane recalls how he screamed in horror when he watched it slam into a house. New details on two fatal crashes.
And as the champion cyclist Lance Armstrong recovers from surgery, nearly half a million people are getting updates on his condition.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Mexico, as drug violence threatens to rip the country apart, even as it spills across the border into the U.S. We have new details of what the Obama administration intends to do.
Also, stocks making modest gains on Wall Street today, with the S&P now up 20 percent in just the last two weeks.
But is it a sign of recovery?
Our chief business correspondent, Ali Velshi, has a reality check.
And out of office and onto the airwaves -- the disgraced former governor of Illinois has a new gig on the radio.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
He's putting the Republican Party in the spotlight, not necessarily always flattering. The new chairman, Michael Steele, talked one-on-one with CNN's Don Lemon earlier today.
And Don is here -- Don, you had a chance, when you spoke to him, to ask the question -- a rather provocative question -- about whether he would actually one day think of running himself for the White House.
I want to play that little exchange.
DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: OK.
LEMON: You have never thought of running for president?
MICHAEL STEELE, RNC CHAIRMAN: No. I'm telling you -- I'm looking you in the eye honestly and telling you, without blinking, without hesitation, straight up.
LEMON: Would you consider it? STEELE: I'd consider it if the opportunity were there and it was right. But, you know, God has a way of revealing stuff to you and making it real for you through others. If that's part of the plan, it'll be the plan.
We may have this conversation in eight, 10, 12 years and you'll sit back and you'll play the tape back and say oh look at what you said. But it will be because that's where God wants me to be at that time.
Honest to God, I do not sit -- you cannot plan this. There are too many moving parts to plan this. You just cannot plan it.
LEMON: But if the opportunity presented itself, then you would run for president?
STEELE: I would think about it. I'd have to have a very long conversation with the wife and kids, because this is -- this is not a fun thing. Our politics today does not incite or inspire someone to make that sacrifice, because you make -- the way our politics is played out today, in all honesty, is very ugly.
LEMON: Has anyone ever approached you and asked you to run?
STEELE: Oh, I have a lot of folks out there I run into and say, you know, I want you...
LEMON: In the party.
LEMON: In the party.
STEELE: Oh, you mean officials of the party?
STEELE: No. No. No. I think they kind of look at me and scratch their head and go, OK, what is this?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He was a former gov -- a lieutenant governor of Maryland.
BLITZER: He ran for the Senate and lost in the heavily Democratic state of Maryland.
But it's fascinating to hear him even, you know, speculate about that possibility.
LEMON: It is fascinating. And the reason I asked him was because I asked him a question just talking about the values of the Republican Party being a more open, big tent party. And -- and his answer sounded like a presidential speech. And just in conversation I said, that sounds to me like a presidential speech. Just in conversation I said, that sounds to me like a presidential speech and he said, well maybe somebody should give it. I said, well how about you? That's where that line of questioning came from.
BLITZER: You also followed up on the provocative comments he made about Rush Limbaugh earlier and I want to play this additional exchange.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL STEELE, RNC CHAIRMAN: I'm very introspective about things. I don't do -- I'm a cause-and-effect kind of guy. So if I do something, there's a reason for it, even -- it may look like a mistake, a gaffe. There is a rationale, there's a logic behind it.
LEMON: Even with the current events and news?
LEMON: A rationale behind Rush and all of that stuff. You want to share with us?
STEELE: Sure. I want to see what the landscape looks like. I want to see who yells the loudest. I want to know who says they're with me but really isn't.
LEMON: How does that help you?
STEELE: It helps me understand my position on the chess board. It helps me understand, you know, where the enemy camp is and where those who are inside the tent are.
LEMON: It's all strategic.
STEELE: It's all strategic.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So he says he has a plan about all of this.
LEMON: He says he has a plan and it's very interesting to see how all of that played out saying one thing and going back and retracting it and all the criticism he got from that. It's hard to understand why it is strategic but according to him he says it is and he doesn't do anything without thinking about including running for president and he doesn't do that without talking to his wife.
BLITZER: I want to bring Donna Brazile, our democratic strategist in and Kevin Madden the republican strategist. Come on in, guys. I want to broaden this conversation a little bit.
Kevin, let me get your reaction to these fascinating comments from the chairman of the Republican Party. KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I think every day or every interview that Michael Steele spends saying, "I" or "me" is a day lost as chairman of the Republican Party. The Republican Party is going to rebuild itself by focusing on grass roots, the infrastructure and the ideas collectively of millions of republicans across the country. I think what happens is we lose a day, we lose a new cycle. We lose a lot of common effort when Michael Steele starts talking about what he thinks and his future and starts using words like "we" or "me" and "I."
BLITZER: If Don Lemon asks him a question about his future what is he supposed to say?
MADDEN: I think he has to talk about what the Republican Party is going to do. This is not about the chairman as an individual but instead the collective will of the party and our ideas and infrastructure and how we're going to rebuild going forward and building an agenda for republicans and for the country not about Michael Steele.
LEMON: He did talk about that. This is only one part of the conversation. He did talk about those values but in the course of the conversation these things came up.
MADDEN: By taking the bait and talking about me and I, that ends up being the story. And I look at this as probably a little bit as a communications person.
BLITZER: Do you buy what he says, his comments about Rush Limbaugh, which forced him later to apologize to Rush Limbaugh, that that was a strategic, well conceived plan on his part?
DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: No. I believe Chairman Steele was shooting from the hip and not really thinking about the future.
Look, I have to agree with Kevin that the role of chair of the party is to help rebuild the party, especially a party that has lost two straight elections. They've lost first-time voters for the last six elections, so the house was on fire. What they need now is somebody who can not only rebuild that house, the Republican Party, but someone who can help --
BLITZER: But didn't he tell you, Don, that the Republican Party has an opportunity to become more diverse, to bring in more African- Americans, and they're missing that opportunity.
LEMON: Absolutely. When it really came to a head for him just after the last Republican National Convention, he didn't think at that convention that republicans took advantage of the people - of the diversity of the administration, the Bush administration and not only from the top but people who were in lower levels of positions in the administration, not just Condoleezza Rice or Colin Powell and they didn't take advantage of that and carry it out through the convention. He said, you know, 36, 38 African-Americans at the republican convention and said, boy, it was embarrassing. BLITZER: We now know that 40 million Americans were watching the president at his news conference last night Donna. Some pundits were suggesting he didn't do so well. Others thought he did great. What did you think?
BRAZILE: Unfortunately I wasn't one of those 40 million Americans. I was on the road but I had an opportunity to watch it later. I thought he did OK Wolf and I say OK because he explained not just his policies and what he's trying to accomplish in terms of the budget and all of these other financial regulatory things but look, at the end of the day, the American people want someone to connect the dots and I think that is still one of the most important challenges is for this president to connect the dots to their everyday lives. Right now we're in a discussion about how many trillions. We should be talking about how many jobs, how many people will get healthcare as a result of his policy.
BLITZER: How do you think he did?
MADDEN: I think he was admirably on message. The message he wanted to deliver to the American public about how his budget is tied to the economic environment that we have and what he's trying to do, I think he did very well but I have to agree with some of the comments that Alex Castellanos made earlier. I do think that when he was talking about himself and his ideas, he was very comfortable. When it came to having to defend some of these policies that are very far outside the mainstream, he was a little thin skinned and I think that you're going to see a little bit of a cresting of some of the relationships he has with the press right now.
BLITZER: When you say he was thin skinned, tell me specifically what you didn't like because if you're referring to the answer he gave to Ed Henry's question ...
MADDEN: No. I remember one of the questions that was about whether or not that the opposition that's coming from within his own party to the sticker shock of his budget that he actually dodged that question and I think he again started to talk to - started to talk about himself and started to talk about what he's done rather done a robust defense of his budget and what he's going to do to convince the democrats.
BLITZER: Don, you covered him way back in Chicago. It must seem like 100 years ago and you've seen the maturity of this man. What do you think?
LEMON: I have and you know watching the whole way through and I think the moment really hit me like I said at the inauguration but then going to the Lincoln ceremony with him and he and his wife walked in and it almost it was like is that really Barack Obama which is now President Obama. But yes really thin skinned but I think that should be understood because he hasn't been in office 100 days yet and so you're going to be - you're going to grow on the job. So is he a little thin skinned when it comes to the press, absolutely because you hear him mention you know the republicans and that and call out reporters. But I think as he grows as president, as he matures, as the administration matures, I don't think that they'll ...
BLITZER: I've seen politicians who are thin skinned and I didn't sense that he was thin skinned last night compared to a lot of other politicians who really are.
BRAZILE: Well, I believe that the president is trying to be careful and articulate not just his values but where he wants to take the country. He doesn't want to offend the democrats on Capitol Hill. He doesn't want to offend the republicans. I think he is really trying to walk this line between being cool and being very passionate. You know I'm one of these women that I like a little passion in my men and unfortunately he doesn't emote as much as I would like him to but I believe that he came across as someone who is sincere in putting forward these policies that by the way Wolf, these are complicated issues.
LEMON: I didn't feel like he was thin skinned at all last night but in prior questioning yes and sometimes if you mentioned someone who's criticizing you give them more press and more thought so that's what I mean by that.
MADDEN: And I do think when we talked earlier about here's somebody who's only been on the job a couple of weeks and he's growing into the job, I think the big problem that he has right now is that there was a gulf between where the American public really had a lot of issues with his experience previously during the campaign and now what we're seeing is somebody who's in office still learning on the fly and some of those very valid criticisms I think are starting to ...
BRAZILE: He's going to learn how to wean that puppy out of the White House. I think he's doing a great job in presenting.
BLITZER: Guys, we have to leave it there. Thank you.
Don Lemon's interview, by the way, with the Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele is part of a new series of CNN special reports entitled "Up from the Past" African-American firsts. You can see more of the exclusive interview with Michael Steele. It will air this Sunday night at both 7:00 and 10:00 p.m. eastern.
We just heard from our political panel. Now we want to hear from you. When it comes to the budget, do you think republicans are doing enough to explain how they would do things differently? Submit your video comments to ireport.com/situation room. Then watch tomorrow to see if your video makes it on the air.
Two deadly plane crashes. Now new developments in both investigations including one pilot recalling how he screamed in horror and what he saw. And are republicans who say they want president Obama to fail crossing a line? Listen to the Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.
GOV. BOBBY JINDAL, LOUISIANA: Make no mistake. Anything other than an immediate, compliant -- why, no, sir, I don't want the president to fail -- is treated as some act of treason, civil disobedience or political obstructionism. This is political correctness run amok.
BLITZER: There is new information on two tragic plane crashes. One killed a family on the ground and the other killed everyone onboard. Let's go to our senior correspondent Allan Chernoff standing by but Ted Rowlands first, new information on the marine core fighter jet and crash out in California.
What are we learning, Ted?
TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well basically Wolf, the military has made available a report that was written by the pilot of the FA-18. It is riveting. It is basically a first-hand account from the pilot's point of view what happened before, during, and after this deadly crash.
ROWLANDS: I screamed in horror when I realized what had just happened writes marine lieutenant Dan Neubauer after the FA-18 jet he was piloting crashed into a suburban San Diego home. A four-page report written by Neubauer and obtained by the Associated Press is the first public account of what happened from the point of view of the pilot. Quote, I saw that I was over a significantly populated area, Neubauer writes, recounting the moment before the crash. I saw a canyon off to my left and up ahead and put the aircraft into a slight left bank. A second later, I knew I had to get out. After ejecting, he writes, I looked down to see where my plane had crashed and saw that it had gone right into a house. I screamed in horror when I realized what had just happened. That home belonged to Dong Yoon. His wife and two young daughters were inside and died with his mother- in-law. After the crash Yoon touched people from around the world when he asked for prayers for the pilot whose plane had just killed his family.
DONG YOON, LOST FAMILY IN CRASH: You know, I don't blame him. I don't have any hard feelings. I know he did everything he could. Please pray for him not to suffer from this accident.
BLITZER: Ted, did they talk about the decision to fly over houses?
ROWLANDS: Yes, Wolf, the pilot said at one point when they were deciding whether to land at Miramar marine base where they landed over those houses or North Island he said he was told to land at Miramar marine base. A key piece of evidence that should be noted, 13 people were disciplined. Neubauer, the pilot, has not been disciplined as of yet because of the incident.
BLITZER: All right, Ted. Thank you.
There are also new details on the Continental commuter crash outside Buffalo, New York. Let's go to our senior correspondent Allan Chernoff.
What are we learning on that crash, Allan?
ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the investigation appears to be pointing toward pilot error as a cause of the fatal crash. You'll remember there was lots of speculation about icing being a likely cause. The NTSB now says there was some icing but it was not the prime cause. Investigators have concluded there was no mechanical problem with the aircraft. That leaves pilot error. The flight data recorder revealed that after the aircraft warned of an eminent stall, the pilot or copilot pulled back on the control column to raise the nose, not the right move.
KIRK KOENING, AVIATION EXPERT: Normally you lower the nose and add power and maintain the configuration of the aircraft. The NTSB is saying someone or something pulled it back, which would have been improper recovery procedure.
CHERNOFF: Veteran pilots who have looked at the NTSB report say it appears the pilot and copilot on approach to landing may have been discussing something other than flight operations. That is against regulations, so-called sterile cockpit rules. That will be among the topics at an upcoming NTSB public hearing on the investigation. Also to be addressed, crew experience, fatigue management, and stall recovery training. Wolf?
BLITZER: How experienced, Allan, was the crew?
CHERNOFF: The captain and the first officer were fully trained and certified but he had only 110 hours of flight time in that cockpit. The first officer had 770 hours. The main issue, though, say veteran pilots, is how much training do pilots get in emergency situations? They tell CNN that is a gap in today's training for commercial pilots. The company which operates Continental connections flights says we stand by our FAA certified crew training programs which meet or exceed the regulatory requirements for all major airlines and include training on emergency situations. Wolf?
BLITZER: Allan Chernoff, thank you very much.
Are they crossing the line? The Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and some other key republicans don't mince too many words when they openly say they want the president to fail.
Plus, super cyclist Lance Armstrong is recovering from surgery and giving nearly 500,000 people up to the second tweets.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: During this economic crisis, some well-known republicans are suggesting out loud that they want the president to fail. Let's go to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. All right. What's the latest, Bill?
BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, it's about crossing the line.
RUSH LIMBAUGH, TALK SHOW HOST: It is not their right to remake this nation --
SCHNEIDER: Last month, talk show host Rush Limbaugh created a stir when he said --
LIMBAUGH: What is so strange about being honest and say, I want Barack Obama to fail if his mission is to restructure and reform this country so that capitalism and individual liberty are not its foundation? Why would I want that to succeed?
SCHNEIDER: Now Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has joined the fray.
JINDAL: Make no mistake. Anything other than an immediate, compliant, no, sir, I don't want the president to fail is treated as civil disobedience or political obstructionism. This is political correctness run amuck.
SCHNEIDER: Former Senator and republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson seems to agree.
FRED THOMPSON (R), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: I want his policies that I believe take us in the wrong direction to fail.
SCHNEIDER: Are these critics crossing the line between fair and unfair criticism? Where is the line, anyway? It's fair for critics to oppose the president's policies. That's politics. It's harsh, but fair, to predict that those policies won't work.
JINDAL: And we believe that it is a dangerous path that could harm the very promise of America.
SCHNEIDER: But is it fair to say, unless the president does what I want, then I hope his policies fail?
JINDAL: Do you want the president to fail? It depends on what he is trying to do.
SCHNEIDER: These critics see the president's policies as failed by definition. Bigger government, more debt.
THOMPSON: If he takes us down the road of tripling our national debt in ten years and making us vulnerable to higher interests and higher inflation and things of that nature, I want all those policies not to succeed.
SCHNEIDER: If you believe President Obama's policies are wrong, you might assume they have no chance to work. But not everyone shares that assumption.
SCHNEIDER: Ideologues believe in a policy is wrong, it can't work, even if it does work. Pragmatists believe that whatever works is right. Most Americans are pragmatists. Wolf?
BLITZER: Yes we are. Thanks very much for that Bill.
Lance Armstrong has left the hospital after surgery on a broken collarbone, but you already know if you're one of his 400,000 twitter followers, you have the information. Let's go to our internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.
How did the surgery go?
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: It went very well, according to the latest posts on twitter from his manager, saying that Armstrong is well, out of surgery, but with 12 screws in his collarbone. This has Armstrong himself popping up on the site this morning before heading into that three-hour surgery, telling his followers, see you in a few. He's wearing a hospital gown, an IV in his arm.
He's been using this site to update all the people about how his surgery has been going. On Monday, after the accident writing, I'm alive, but hurts like hell. And yesterday from his doctor's office in Austin, Texas, I guess it wasn't such a clean fracture after all. Bummer.
The surgery today was to stabilize that collarbone that was broken in four places. The healing process, eight or nine weeks. But first he has this mandatory 72-hour rest period. We'll see if that applies to posting on twitter as well. Wolf?
BLITZER: Thanks very much.
President Obama is facing some growing problems with some of his fellow democrats on Capitol Hill. Our senior political analyst David Gergen is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll talk about it.
The Illinois radio listeners waking up to a familiar voice in an unfamiliar setting. The disgraced former governor, Rod Blagojevich, on the radio.
ROD BLAGOJEVICH: Good morning, this is former Governor Rod Blagojevich, how are you?
BLITZER: We'll be right back with Jack Cafferty for the Cafferty file.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The question this hour, should the government be involved in the saving the newspaper industry.
Jack writes from Florida, "The government should definitely be involved in whatever manner necessary to keep our newspapers printing the news and tell us what our government officials are up to. Short sound bites on cable television news can never replace investigative journalists and thoughtful columnists, no matter how hard they try."
Darr writes from Cleveland, "No. Let's save some trees and have everyone tap the net. If people are worried about local news regarding their community, have the community start a website or get up off the couch."
Jaden in Alabama writes, "Definitely. Newspapers have been driven by profits for far too long. Look at the top-flight services like NPR and the BBC to look at how much better our print media could be."
Melissa says, "No, the newspapers aren't failing because of the economy, they're failing because they've outlived their usefulness. We knew the newspapers would be replaced eventually. They're either going to have to change their format or close down."
And Seth writes, "Absolutely not. This is capitalism at work and we ought to accept that. More effective and efficient sources of news are and will continue to take the place of these relics. It's just the way it is. That's just the way it is." That's just the way it is, that's what Cronkite used to say.
If you didn't see your e-mail, go to my blog, CNN.com/Caffertyfile and look for yours there among hundreds of others. Just the way it is, Wolf.