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THE SITUATION ROOM

Hackers Break U.S. Power Grid; U.S. Crew Repels Pirate Attack; Iran Charges U.S. Journalist; Gay Marriage Gaining Momentum; Home to a Host of Problems

Aired April 8, 2009 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: You're THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, the charge is very serious, the situation more perilous than ever -- an American journalist held hostage in Iran now accused of spying.

Can the U.S. government save her?

Also, breaking news -- an American ship captain held hostage by pirates off the coast of Somalia -- how his crew repelled that attack.

And the battle over same-sex marriage is heating up after a sudden series of victories for gay rights advocates. Now their opponents are warning democracy itself may be at stake.

I'm Don Lemon in today for Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

For years, it's been a security concern. Now, the worst case scenario may be playing out. Sources are telling CNN that foreign computer hackers could easily disrupt power in the U.S. and that may be just the beginning of it.

CNN's homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, joins us now live -- Jeanne, how serious is that threat?

JEANNE MESERVE, HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, distressingly enough, the electric grid isn't the only piece of critical infrastructure that hackers appropriate to have penetrated.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE (voice-over): Could a foreign entity turn off our power from afar with a computer mouse?

Two former federal officials tell CNN hackers have embedded software in the electric grid that could potentially disrupt the system or even destroy equipment.

JANET NAPOLITANO, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: You know, I don't think it's appropriate for me to confirm that one way or the other.

But what I can say is that the vulnerability has been something that the Department of Homeland Security and the energy sector have known about for years.

MESERVE: It is hard to trace the origin of covert cyber activities, but there is heavy suspicion that China and Russia are involved.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is deterrence. In the event of war, they're going to have another weapon at their disposal, which would be to turn off our power.

MESERVE: But the power grid is not the only vulnerable sector. According to the former officials, malicious code has also apparently been found in the computer systems of the oil and gas, telecommunications and financial services industries. What is discovered can be destroyed. But experts doubt everything has been found.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you have somebody who knows what they're doing writing that code and embedding it in a clever way, you can look right at it and not recognize it.

MESERVE: The implications are extraordinarily serious.

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: When I think of terrorism, I think of high-end WMD terrorism -- nuclear, biological weapons. And I put cyber right in the same category -- not because of the likely loss of life. I put it up there because of the likely economic impact.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: In 2007, we showed you a government experiment which demonstrated that a cyber attack could destroy electrical equipment. But critics say the electric industry has not done enough to ferret out cyber vulnerability or close them.

The industry, Don, says it is making progress.

LEMON: Well, Jeanne, why is this information coming out now?

MESERVE: Well, there's a lot of speculation about that. There is a big government-wide cyber review being conducted by the Obama White House. It's due by the 17th of this month. Some people are speculating that people want to give this issue a higher profile. Others are speculating that perhaps some agency wants to bring their particular piece of the puzzle to the forefront. But no one knows for sure why exactly now this got published first by "The Wall Street Journal."

LEMON: A big story when it comes to our security.

Jeanne Meserve, we appreciate it.

MESERVE: You bet.

LEMON: We're following breaking news this hour -- a life or death drama at sea playing out right now -- an American ship hijacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia. It is an attack that the crew managed to fight off. But now their captain is being held hostage.

CNN's Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, joins us now with the very latest.

What do you know -- Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, we've now learned that the military has been using P-3 surveillance aircraft to monitor the ship. They have been flying over to keep an eye on the Alabama.

We also know that the USA Bainbridge, a Navy destroyer, is on its way to the Alabama and may be just less than a few hours away from it.

Now we know, from what we know, this crew of the Alabama was unarmed. Keep that in mind as you hear how we got to this point.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE (voice-over): The Maersk Alabama was cruising nearly 300 miles off the eastern coast of Somalia. It's bound for Moumbassa, carrying 5,000 tons of food for humanitarian aid. When pirates moved in on the Alabama's 20 man crew, which includes second in command, Shane Murphy, they sent a global distress message...

JOE MURPHY, FATHER OF CREW MEMBER: Which was received by the United States Navy. And the U.S. Navy responded immediately. The problem is that the Navy was almost 200 miles away. They used evasive maneuvers to keep the pirates off.

LAWRENCE: For hours, it works. But Wednesday morning, the ship called again. They had been boarded by four pirates.

MURPHY: They held the crew in a secure area. They shut down all communication. No further communications.

LAWRENCE: But hours later, Crewman Murphy calls his wife to say, "Honey, I'm alive. I can't speak for very long. I just wanted you to know that we've taken down one of the pirates.

By phone from the Alabama, a crewman describes how it happened.

KEN QUINN, CREW MEMBER ON MAERSK ALABAMA (VIA TELEPHONE): When they boarded our ship, they sank their boats. So the captain talked them into getting off the ship with our lifeboat. But we -- we took one of their pirates hostage and we did an exchange.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE: So the pirates took -- these three pirates took the captain with them on the lifeboat. The crewman says it was supposed to be an even swap -- the crew gives back the pirate, the pirates hand over their captain. The crew says they kept their end of the bargain, but the pirates did not. They kept the captain.

The crew says they have been trying to offer the pirates food and anything else in exchange. So far it's not working. But really, what they're trying to do is hold out until that Navy destroyer gets there -- Don.

LEMON: So, Chris, the Navy is on the way.

Did the Navy think that this was a vulnerable area?

LAWRENCE: They knew it and they've warned ships in the area. We saw a U.S. military briefing document just two days ago that warned ships in the area that the pirates had changed their tactics. With all the ships patrolling more in the Gulf of Aden up north, the pirates had moved down and started to attack ships in this area off the eastern coast of Somalia. And they've also been using larger ships -- sort of mother ships -- to go further out to sea and then launch these smaller boats, putting a much wider area in danger.

LEMON: Spelling it out for us very clearly here.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence.

Chris, thank you very much for that.

LAWRENCE: You're welcome.

LEMON: A troubling situation is taking a grave turn in Iran, where an American journalist is now charged with spying.

CNN's Brian Todd has been following this -- Brian, what do you know about this?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, for two months, Iranian officials have declined to provide details on the charges against this woman, Roxana Saberi.

Now reports out of Iran say the allegations are more serious than the original one of possession of invalid reporters' credentials.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): The stakes are raised -- American journalist Roxana Saberi, in detention since January, has been charged with espionage in Iran, according to Iranian TV.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We wish for her speedy release and return to her family.

TODD: Iranian officials have said that her journalist credentials had expired. But now they have added: "Under the cover of a journalist, she gathered classified information and sent it to the U.S. intelligence services."

DAVID GORDON, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think we have to take a very strong stand on this. I mean she may have technically broken the law in terms of having her work permit run out. But I -- I would be astonished if there was a real case here of espionage. TODD: Her parents say he told them she was originally arrested for illegally buying a bottle of wine. They've gone to Iran to meet with her. But last month, her Iranian born father said they are very worried.

REZA SABERI, ROXANA'S FATHER: She is under great psychological pressure and her condition seems to be dangerous now. We are very concerned about her health and fear that something tragic may happen to her.

TODD: Saberi planned to return to the U.S. and publish a book about Iran after living there for six years.

Could she be convicted?

GORDON: What I believe they're probably doing is setting themselves up to make what looks like a very friendly gesture when, in four days or a week, they drop the charges and release her.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: But one Iranian official told local media that Saberi's case will be sent next week to the Revolutionary Court, which handles national security cases -- Don.

LEMON: Not the only American, no, detained or missing in Iran.

TODD: No, she is not. There is Robert Levenson, a former FBI agent. He was -- he disappeared two years ago, apparently while researching a -- investigating a cigarette smuggling case there. There's also Esha Momeni -- or Momeni -- a graduate student at Cal State University. She was arrested in October, allegedly for a traffic violation. You've got three Americans detained or missing in Iran. It could complicate diplomatic efforts on other fronts.

LEMON: Oh, boy.

All right, thank you very much, Brian Todd.

In less than a week, two states legalized same-sex marriage and Washington, D.C. Takes its own unprecedented action -- gay marriage gaining momentum and controversy.

Also, one family's tragedy becomes another -- why doctors had to cancel a heart transplant for a baby at the last minute.

And from Hollywood to the White House, a young actor's new supporting role in the Obama administration.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: A series of sweeping victories for same-sex marriage supporters in the span of less than one week. Two states, Iowa and Vermont, have legalized gay marriage and Washington, D.C. officials have voted to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.

We turn now to CNN's Alina Cho.

She is working the story for us -- Alina, what is the significance of these developments we're hearing about?

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Don, good afternoon.

You know, you really have to look at what happened in Vermont. Now remember, this is the state that invented civil unions back in 2002. And now Vermont is making news again, as the first state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage by a vote in the legislature, not a court ruling. And that is key.

Now there are currently four states that allow gay marriage -- Vermont, Iowa, Connecticut and Massachusetts. Four other states currently have bills before lawmakers to allow same-sex marriage right now. And they are New Hampshire, Maine, New York and New Jersey.

So how do Americans feel about this?

Well, pretty evenly split. No surprise there. A CNN/Opinion Research poll out in December showed that 55 percent of Americans believe that gay marriage should not be recognized by law as valid. Forty-four percent say yes, it should be recognized.

Now, the vote in Washington is interesting, because, if approved, that measure would then be sent to Congress for a legislative review and a vote. Now that's because Washington, as many people know, not a state -- a district. So its bills must past through Congress. And that could make for a very interesting showdown on a national stage.

So where does the president stand on this?

Well, Don, President Obama says he supports civil unions, but not same-sex marriage -- Don.

LEMON: All right. Alina Cho, we appreciate it.

Thank you very much for that.

We're going to take this topic really in depth right now.

And for that, we are joined by CNN's senior political analyst, Jeffrey Toobin; Lara Schwartz of the Human Rights Campaign and Carrie Gordon Earll of Focus on the Family.

I hope you guys are all doing well this evening -- well enough to join us here in THE SITUATION ROOM -- Jeffrey, I'm going to start with you, because we were talking about D.C. and Alina brought that up.

D.C. has now voted to allow gay couples married in other states to be recognized in D.C.

Could this mean other states will follow, so, you know, as D.C. Goes, so will the rest of the country?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I -- I don't think other states are going to say, well, D.C. Did it, we need to do it, too. But in each state, there is a movement in favor of gay marriage. In some states, it's pretty clear. Like New Jersey, gay marriage is clearly going to arrive. In some states -- through much of the South -- gay marriage is not going to arrive. And I think we're approaching a real federalist solution here. Gay marriage is going to exist in some states and not in others. And that's probably an acceptable compromise, for at least most people.

LEMON: A federalist solution. Carrie, when you see this happening in states -- and many people thought that they would never see it happen.

When you have an economy that's struggling, people concerned about losing their jobs and paying for their homes, even losing their homes, is it hard for people to support the issue -- this issue -- when they have what they might deem bigger issues to deal with?

CARRIE GORDON EARLL, SENIOR DIRECTOR OF ISSUES ANALYSIS FOR GOVERNMENT AND PUBLIC POLICY, FOCUS ON THE FAMILY: Oh, absolutely not. I mean the people who are tuned into this issue, Don, are fired up. And you saw that in November when you had three states -- two really big ones, Florida and California and Arizona -- passing marriage amendments that said marriage was between a man and a woman.

People in these states and across the nation sacrificed time and a lot of money -- I mean, if you look at the money that was raised.

So most certainly, this is an issue in the Heartland and across the country. People know that in the 30 states -- in the 30 times people were allowed to vote on this issue, they overwhelmingly voted for marriage. And by the way, the Vermont legislature could have let their people vote and they refused to do so.

LEMON: I see -- I hear what you're saying. But again -- and I'm going to turn now to -- to Lara to talk about this.

I mean, Lara, do you think that -- usually social issues are sometimes put on the back burner. And now with the economy and with, you know, huge things happening overseas, people may not be turning to those now. And social issues may be the ones that they turn to because they feel that they can make a difference.

Are you finding that the economy or this environment is helping you at all?

LARA SCHWARTZ, LEGAL DIRECTOR & CHIEF LEGISLATIVE COUNSEL, HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN: You know, the economy is affecting all American families in such profound ways. And for gay and lesbian families, you know, there's a risk in most states in this country that you can be fired because you're gay or transgender. If you lose your job, you don't benefit from the new subsidized COBRA that has just been passed. You pay into Social Security equally, but don't get that safety net from those family benefits. So...

LEMON: So because people are so focused on that...

SCHWARTZ: So...

LEMON: ...on those economic issues, that they have...

SCHWARTZ: But well...

LEMON: ...become even more dogged about getting what think they're owed?

SCHWARTZ: Well, I think what we're learning from this economy is that we're all facing this. And I think, to an extent, people know that -- that other people trying to commit and raise their families isn't the biggest threat to them when there's foreclosure and job loss. But at the same time, it's really teaching us how much all of our families have in common, which is just -- far outweighs our differences.

And that's why the Vermont legislature could very proudly, in the light of day, pass a law that says all families are equal. They're all struggling equally. They're all committed equally. And now they're going to be equal under law.

LEMON: And, Jeffrey, I'm hearing that this is something that could just be decided about -- what you decide marriage is or what you decide a civil union is. And, you know -- and what -- how much rights someone should get. It may come down to a compromise on what the actual name is. Rather than marriage, they may want to call it something else.

TOOBIN: You know what?

I don't think it's going to come down to a compromise. This is really about marriage and the whole bundle of rights that comes with marriage. And a lot of gay people have said look, you can call civil union whatever you want, but it treats us as second class citizens not to have the same rights and the same name as marriage.

But just in terms of one -- one issue -- one thing about this issue that I think is so interesting. It is true that more than a majority of Americans don't support gay marriage. But the demographics are really striking. Young people support it. Older people oppose it. And I think that argues for change in the direction of pro-gay marriage, as gay people get older -- as young people get older.

LEMON: And probably sooner than we think.

Jeffrey Toobin, our senior legal analyst; Lara Schwartz of the Human Rights Campaign and Carrie Gordon Earll of Focus on the Family.

Thank you all very much.

We appreciate your time here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Wave after wave of grim economic news making the results of a new poll all the more surprising -- what Americans are saying about the country's outlook.

And a bitter divorce is rocking the Nevada governor's mansion -- details of nasty allegations, including adultery.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Our Alina Cho is following stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

What do you have for us now -- Alina?

CHO: Hey, Don.

Seven people are dead, 23 others injured after a bomb exploded today near a Shiite shrine in Baghdad -- the latest in a recent wave of violence to hit Iraq. So far, no one has claimed responsibility for the attacks, which have occurred in Baghdad's predominantly Shiite areas. But U.S. military officials suspect that Al Qaeda may be behind the recent attacks.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi defending some controversial comments he made to earthquake survivors in his country. Listen to this. Berlusconi told some survivors who lost their homes that living in a tent was like going camping and maybe they should go to the beach. The Italian prime minister says he was only trying to infuse survivors with some optimism. A 6.3 magnitude quake struck Central Italy on Monday, killing at least 260 people.

British police today arrested at least 10 people in a counter- terrorism operation. The arrests occurred during a series of raids in the City of Manchester, in Northeastern England. The BBC reports that 10 of those arrested are Pakistani nationals on student visas.

Well, you may not be able to afford his yachts or mansions, but here's one piece of Bernie Madoff's empire within reach for some. That would be his season tickets to the New York Mets games. The tickets are among the assets the government has seized from the man who ran a multi-billion dollar Ponzi scheme. The two tickets are on eBay right now -- where else?

Face value -- $500 each. And at last check, there was just one bid of $800 for the pair.

And back in Washington after an eight day European tour and an unannounced visit to Iraq, President Obama is now turning his attention back to domestic issues. The president had no public events today. But tomorrow, he'll take on military health care. And tomorrow night, President Obama and his family will mark the beginning of Passover with a White House Seder for friends and aides -- Don.

LEMON: It is Passover and the president needs some sleep. So he'll be back at work tomorrow.

Thank you, Alina.

We appreciate it.

A to-do list that isn't pretty and can't be put off -- the president is back from his big trip. Four reasons he needs the goodwill he felt overseas to continue at home.

Plus, a baby who heart was set to be donated makes a remarkable turn. See what happened when doctors removed her from life support.

And a governor's bitter divorce -- a former Playboy model, secret text messages, racy claims a governor's wife is making.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The captain of a U.S. cargo ship held hostage by pirates. The crew says it regained control of the freighter seized off Africa. But Somali pirates still have the captain. Ahead, why this case is not the norm.

Plus, one man claims he predicted that deadly quake in Italy weeks ago -- why the science of quakes is so tricky.

And a small rally at the end of the day on Wall Street. The Dow finishes up 47 points. Analysts say optimism about economic recovery fueled the rise.

Wolf Blitzer is off.

I'm Don Lemon.

You're THE SITUATION ROOM.

President Barack Obama back from his first overseas tour as commander-in-chief and facing a host of problems on the home front, some of which could be even more challenging than what he's faced so far.

CNN's senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, joins us live -- Candy, what is in store now for the president?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, one of these things, Don, is that, in some ways, the journey of a president is a lot like anybody who takes off on a trip -- when you get back home, you face the same problems you had when you left.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY (voice-over): His trip was seen by most Americans as a successful goodwill tour -- fortifying his already high approval rating. The president will need it on the home front. Recent figures show U.S. consumers are reducing their debt -- meaning they're not spending and the economy is still hemorrhaging jobs.

More of the same ahead.

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It will take at least another year before you start to see employment.

CROWLEY: There's already talk about a second stimulus plan -- hundreds of billions of dollars -- might be needed. That will take a lot of goodwill to get through Congress, which will need some indication that the first stimulus worked -- precisely why the people talking about a second stimulus plan are not in the administration.

BIDEN: I wouldn't rule anything in or out. But, look, Gloria, we haven't even totally laid out...

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Likely, not likely?

BIDEN: No. I -- I think -- I think it's much too premature.

CROWLEY: Beyond stimulus money, the administration may also need an additional infusion to bail out the banking industry. This is not likely to sit well in a country and a Congress suffering bailout fatigue.

Also ahead, a battle royale over the president's health care reform. A mix of moderate Democrats and Republicans think the $634 billion starter fee is unaffordable. And the president's plan to control pollution, known as cap and trade is also headed into the buzz saw. An issue that cuts across party lines, many industrial state congressional members believe the plan will increase unemployment and energy costs.

Beyond his legislative to-do list, the president needs to maintain public support for his decision to ramp up the war in Afghanistan. He's already sent 21,000 more troops. The question is, how many more will go? How many more will the public tolerate?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: Recently, for the first time since 1991, the media was allowed to record the return to the U.S. of a combat casualty. Thirty- year-old U.S. Air Force Sergeant Phillip Myers was killed by an IED along a roadside in Afghanistan -- Don?

LEMON: Yes, very sad. Hey, Candy, you know the president's approval ratings are sky high. Why would he have trouble then getting his economic agenda especially through?

CROWLEY: Well, when you look at Congress, you have to remember that these are people who represent specific constituencies, and it's also not as clear cut as OK, it's the president's ratings are high, he has a Democratic Congress, why not get it through, because there are moderate Democrats who agree with Republicans that a lot of spending is being done here.

You also have those industrial state senators, some of whom are Democrats saying we don't want more unemployment in our state with cap and trade, so it's not so simple as an approval rating, but what an approval rating does do, Don, is make his chances a whole lot better.

LEMON: All right. Thank you very much for that. Candy Crowley.

You know the president may be walking a fine line when it comes to mending fences abroad and tending to troubles back here at home. Gloria Borger is back with us, but also with us is our Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor, Miss Donna Brazile and Republican strategist John Feehery.

Go for it...

BORGER: Well -- yes, I'm going to take over. I'm going to pass this to Donna here right now.

OK, Donna, Obama is going to Mexico? Next week. The president has just returned from a very long trip. The question is at what point is there a tipping point with the American public when they say start paying attention to us at home.

And let me read you something that was in the "Los Angeles Times" today which is, "There's a delicacy about the optics. Does the public want to see him speaking before the Turkish parliament or would they rather be seeing him conferring with the treasury secretary?"

There's a recession here.

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, first of all, the treasury secretary went along for the ride because we need to...

BORGER: He did.

BRAZILE: ... reopen global markets so that we can sell our goods and if we sell our goods and reopen these financial markets across the world, then guess what? The president can say that he's creating jobs back here at home.

(CROSSTALK)

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: But the interesting thing is, campaign -- the president runs on campaign on domestic issues but then they tend to govern on international issues. So for the president, you know, he's got to pay attention to the home fires, there's no doubt about that.

And these are tough problems that he's trying to solve, with Democrats who are not necessarily going to go on the same wave that he wants. On the other hand, he's also going to solve these international problems if he wants to be successful president. So that's the tightrope, and he got to walk both ways. And it's very difficult.

LEMON: Let's talk about some of the things that happened overseas. I want to go now to what some conservatives are saying, especially one in particular, Newt Gingrich said the president is in a world where Hamas is firing missiles every day into Israel and that Iran is putting nuclear arms and North Korea.

And talking about all of these issues, is -- does it seem that the president is in, according to Newt Gingrich, a fantasy world when it comes to foreign policy and what he's doing overseas? BRAZILE: Well, he -- what President Obama is trying to do is to restart our diplomacy, restart it, not just in the Middle East, but restart it across the globe. And while we've had eight years of cowboy diplomacy, this president is trying to put in place what I call a different tone so that we can solve some of these pressing international issues.

LEMON: Maybe he can relate in a way that the Bush administration didn't, you know, by seeming to push people to the side instead of drawing them in and maybe he's not in a fantasy world when he -- as far as him relating.

FEEHERY: I think what Newt is saying it's not all sweetness and light. You have to be tough with the North Koreans, you have to be tough with Hamas -- it's a very tough world out there and it's not just enough to say I'm going to bring people together since some of those people aren't just going to come along.

BORGER: OK, well, John, let's talk about sweetness and light for a moment. You wrote something on CNN.com today that was very interesting to me coming from a Republican. You wrote about Barack Obama.

You wrote, "I still like him and I think many of my fellow Republicans on Capitol Hill are stuck in the same trap. They like the man, but they don't like the policies."

Why would you call that a trap?

FEEHERY: Well, you know, I like Barack Obama because, first, he's a White Sox fan. I'm a White Sox fan. But on a very personal level, he is...

BORGER: I don't get scores. Yes.

FEEHERY: He's a very nice person. He's got a great family and he's got a great presence about him. And I think that you'd appreciate that a lot of people find him very likable.

At the same time, you have to find a way, as you go after his policies, not to make it personal, but to make it just on the policy front. I think if Republicans do that, they're going to be much more successful.

Polls show that people like Republican policies, they just don't like Republicans. And for Republicans have to become likeable if they're going to compete.

BORGER: Well, John, if you look at the polls, Republicans aren't doing too well these days. I mean, popularity is around, what, 30 percent?

BRAZILE: Well, I'm not going to give them a recipe for success...

(LAUGHTER) ... while they're stirring up in their own stew. But look, I think John is absolutely right. In order to oppose a president, you shouldn't oppose him personally, but oppose him with your own ideas, your own alternatives, your own policies.

And I think, again -- and I want to applaud John for writing this because he said, look, I don't agree with his policies, but I like the person, I like the family, I like what he's projecting. That's -- really, that's the kind of tone that we wish we had in Washington. Maybe we should run John for office.

LEMON: But even by opposing in this sort of environment when we have the economy and what have you, don't you think the American public may be looking at it as an attack just from opposing? You remember during the Bush administration, you're not for us, then you're against us.

FEEHERY: Well, that was part of the reason why I wrote this because I saw what people did with George Bush and, you know, they attacked the man and the policies and they viciously attacked the man.

I think we can go after the policies and disagree without being disagreeable and going at it with better ideas because I do think Republicans have better ideas. If they spend most of their time marketing those better ideas they'll be much more successful than trying to attack the man.

BORGER: Have they not been successful then in your view?

FEEHERY: Well, not so far. I mean look at the approval rates. I think they've tried to market it up, but I think if they spend more time trying to market those ideas they'll be more successful.

BRAZILE: I want to correct myself. I think he should be the next chair of the Republican Party rather than run for office.

BORGER: And lose him in "Strategy Sessions"? Oh, my god.

LEMON: What would you do with Michael Steele then? You see the next, right?

BRAZILE: Well, I think Michael Steele is off to a rocky start and you need somebody who's both a strategist and somebody who can vision what the party should look like and John clearly has that.

FEEHERY: Thanks, Donna.

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: He's not on vacation so I can be nice.

LEMON: Donna, John and Gloria, thank you very much for that.

The Obama administration wants direct talks with Iran and some European countries. Do you think this is a good idea? I want you to submit your video comments to iReport.com/SituationRoom. Then watch tomorrow to see if your video makes it on the air.

A gravely ill baby is taken off life support as another dying infant waits for a heart. But the planned transplant had to be canceled at the very last minute leaving two families grief stricken.

And we're following breaking news. The American captain of a U.S. ship help hostage by pirates off the coast of Somalia. We're digging deeper details.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

LEMON: We're following breaking news here today in THE SITUATION ROOM. Pirates attacking an American cargo ship off the coast of Somalia and attacked that crewmembers were able to repel, but not before the hijackers took the captain hostage.

All of this information relayed by the ship's second in command, Captain Shane Murphy. And his wife Serena, well, has just spoken to CNN affiliate WJAR in Providence, Rhode Island. And let's listen to what she had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SERENE MURPHY, WIFE OF SHIP CREW MEMBER: I'm trying to be as optimistic as possible. Just praying and hoping for the best for the whole crew.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Just tell us when you heard that something had happened?

MURPHY: My father-in-law called me this morning, Captain Joe Murphy, and he told me, Shane called -- you want to say hi?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi.

MURPHY: OK. And Shane called me at about 10:00 and spoke with me for about three minutes just to tell me that he was OK and he was alive.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: So they let them make a phone call or did he...

MURPHY: No. They came in the room and he had to get off the phone immediately.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: And what was he able to tell you about what was going on?

MURPHY: That they had taken down one of the pirates. That he had taken down one of the -- not he personally, but they had taken down one of the pirates. I said have you, have they tortured you or hurt you, he said they hadn't had any water at all to drink since they have been captured and nothing to eat. They've been kept in a room and that he wasn't safe yet but he would be soon. (END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: That was Serene Murphy who is the wife of the second in command of that cargo ship that was held captive off the coast of Somalia earlier today. We're waiting more word on this. And also, we're going to -- expecting to hear from some of the crewmembers.

We want to tell you, though, the captain is still being held hostage and they're trying to negotiate to get him back. Much, much more right here THE SITUATION ROOM at the top of the hour on this breaking news story.

Meantime, a remarkable turn of events between in what was supposed to be a heart transplant between two babies. A Canadian family made a gut wrenching choice. Their terminally ill baby was taken off a respirator so that another infant might have a shot at a normal life.

Jason Wallace and Crystal Bitelli (ph) made that decision in Toronto last night. Two-month-old Kaylee, her heart was supposed to be donated to another couple's ailing newborn, Lillian O'Connor.

Listen to Kaylee's father here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JASON WALLACE, KAYLEE'S FATHER: I'm so scared right now. Our daughter is OK. We understand that. But we don't want to lose two.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: When doctors removed Kaylee's life support, she kept breathing on her own. She is still alive and breathing without assistance, but she's not expected to survive. And the transplant surgery for the other child is on hold.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. JIM WRIGHT, HOSPITAL FOR SICK CHILDREN: This protocol is designed to give the recipients, the potential recipients, the best chance and not to put them at even greater risk.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Let's bring in CNN's chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Dr. Gupta, explain to us what happened here. I mean, sadly, they that the little baby would probably die sooner than she did.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, just tough to hear the story, Don. The baby has something called Gruber syndrome. It's a pretty rare syndrome but it's indicative of a severely malformed brain where there's all sorts of different malformations that occur in the body. One of them being that the child may have a great deal of difficulty breathing when they fall asleep or when they're not getting any assistance from a breathing machine, which exactly to what you were saying earlier, Don, they thought that when they took this child Kaylee off the breathing machine, she would have what's known as a cardiac arrest and cardiac death and they would immediately be able to take her heart and transplant it into this other child.

What happened was they took off the breathing machine, and she kept breathing on her own. So she still has a severely malformed brain but is breathing on her own. And it's out -- you know, it's created this very gut wrenching situation, Don.

LEMON: And it's -- there's a difference here between someone who is brain dead, right, Doctor, and on life support?

GUPTA: That's right, and typically, in this country, the United States, we think of brain death as the first step towards organ donation. Someone who is brain dead means that their brain is not working but the rest of their organs may still be getting blood flow because the heart is still pumping. And that leaves the organs, you know, ready for transplantation.

In someone who is -- has a cardiac death, the heart has stopped. You have a very short window, because the blood has stopped flowing to the body, a very short window in which to do a transplantation.

LEMON: All right. So, you know, they if they don't end up operating, is it possible that she could go on to live some sort of normal life maybe with the breathing device at night?

GUPTA: It's a tough question. And you know with Gruber syndrome, there's an entire spectrum from more mild to more severe. I don't know this particular child. This is a pretty significant syndrome. Obviously this is a child they thought was going to die. So I think a normal life would be a tough way to describe it, I think. But she may continue living without the assistance of breathing machine for some time.

LEMON: Our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Thank you, Sanjay.

GUPTA: Thanks, Don.

LEMON: Drama on the high seas. A U.S. ship seized by pirates, but what happened next is not the norm. Hear from a man who knows all too well how the situation could end.

And a big shift in American policy. Who the White House says it will sit down and talk with.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Grim economic times for the U.S., but the outlook of many Americans is looking up, if only slightly.

CNN's senior political analyst Bill Schneider has some new poll numbers for us. Bill?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Don, there's evidence that the country is economic outlook is improving but you have to look very closely.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Is the economy beginning to turn around?

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I do believe it is. And I think the American people have confidence that it will.

SCHNEIDER: Do they? The number of Americans who say things are going well in the country has crept up a few points. Nothing to blow your skirts up. But let's take a magnifying glass and look more closely.

The number who say things are going pretty badly has shot up from 39 percent in December to 51 percent now. The number who say very badly has gone down, from 40 to 26 percent.

Aha, a trend. It's not a sudden burst of economic optimism, it's less pessimism. The Obama administration will take what it can get.

TIMOTHY GEITHNER, U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY: Where we've moved, where we've acted, you can start to see some signs.

SCHNEIDER: Does the U.S. economy stop at the water's edge? The treasury secretary says it doesn't.

GEITHNER: Many of the countries around the world are moving with us.

SCHNEIDER: The public agrees. Most Americans believe the U.S. cannot recover on its own. We're all in this together.

At the summit in London, there was some finger-pointing at the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're all (INAUDIBLE) there that the problem started.

SCHNEIDER: Don't point fingers at us, Americans say. Other countries are just as responsible for the downturn.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: The American public's view? We're all in this together. Don?

LEMON: All right, Bill, thank you very much for that.

A governor's personal life revealed, but probably not in the way he'd like. Nevada's governor Jim Gibbons is going through a bitter divorce and now some wild accusations have him caught in a scandal.

CNN's Ted Rowlands is following this story for us.

Ted, this is very salacious stuff.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Don, the governor did not want the details of his divorce to be made public, but a judge in Nevada disagreed with him, and now everybody has a front-row seat, or at least access to one, if they're interested, to quite a nasty slip.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROWLANDS (voice-over): Dawn Gibbons alleges in court papers that her husband, Republican governor Jim Gibbons, had relationships with, quote, "many other women during their 22-year marriage." And she wants to talk to two of them, a former Playboy model and a woman whom the governor sent more than 800 text messages to last year using a government cell phone.

Dawn Gibbons alleges that her husband must have spent family money on the two women, and she wants to find out how much. Asking a judge to, quote, "permit me to ask them if they had sex with my husband during our marriage and theirs, how much he spent to woo them and keep them."

The governor, who publicly apologized for the texting, denies having an affair with either of the women. Also in the documents, according to the Associated Press, there's a reference to Jim Gibbons trying to get his wife out of the governor's mansion, which for a while she refused to do.

Gibbons characterized her as aggressive saying, in part, quote, "like being locked in a phone booth with an enraged ferret." Dawn Gibbons now lives in an apartment on the grounds of the governor's mansion.

Jon Ralston, publisher of the "Ralston Report," says bottom line dirty laundry like this is bad for the governor.

JON RALSTON, RALSTON REPORT: It's just another straw on the camel's back for Jim Gibbons and it's such a spectacle. It's so lurid. It's so grotesque I think.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROWLANDS: Governor Gibbons is up for re-election in 2010. A couple of Republicans have already thrown their hat in the ring, in the state of Nevada, so they'll have to get through the primary before the general.

He seemed to acknowledge how difficult a position he is with voters in some of these court filings, Don, saying at one point, quote, "He works for notoriously fickle employers who are currently in no mood for forgiveness," talking about the voters.

We'll have to see what happens to his political career and I guess the state of Nevada will see what happens with this divorce as it unfolds.

LEMON: Yes. But, Ted, Governor Gibbons is no stranger to controversy.

ROWLANDS: No, he's had other problems as well. In fact, just before he was elected in 2006, there were allegations that he assaulted a cocktail waitress. No charges were filed there. But that is going through civil court. It was also when he was in Washington, the subject of a probe. That also, no charges were filed in that one.

In all of these things, Gibbons says he's completely innocent. Whether voters will believe him come time in 2010 remains to be seen.

LEMON: Boy, oh, boy. OK, Ted, thank you very much for that.

We're following breaking news here in THE SITUATION ROOM. An American ship attacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia, the captain held hostage.

CNN Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is in the region. She will be live with late developments for you.

Plus, from Hollywood to Washington, an actor takes on a new role. He's going to do it in the White House.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: The Obama administration wants direct talks with Iran and some European countries. Do you think this is a good idea? Submit your video comments to iReport.com/SituationRoom. Then watch tomorrow to see if your video makes it here on our air.

Giving up the bright lights of Hollywood to work for the White House. One of the newest members of the Obama administration is an actor you've seen in movies and on TV shows.

Our entertainment correspondent, Brooke Anderson, has the story of "Kumar Goes to Washington." Brooke?

BROOKE ANDERSON, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Don, Kal Penn regularly transforms himself into many things as an actor, but his newest role might just be his toughest challenge yet.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON (voice-over): Kal Penn, the actor, is now Kal Penn, the political insider. He's just been hired as the associate director in the White House Office of Public Liaison. And Penn knows it's a long way from playing Kumar in the "Harold and Kumar" movie franchise...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KAL PENN, ACTOR: I want something we haven't had in a while. Something different. Something that will really hit the spot.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ANDERSON: And a doctor on the FOX TV drama "House."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PENN: You didn't keep this patient despite the cat, you kept the patient because of the cat. You're scared there's something to it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: Now Penn is putting all acting on hold for now and he admits his new gig pays substantially less than what he earns in Tinseltown, but that's OK. The 31-year-old says he'll be doing what he loves, and that's bridging the gap between the White House and the Asian American and art community.

Penn told us he has wanted to be a part of the administration since he campaigned for President Barack Obama, and through subsequent talks with the president post-election.

PENN: Barack ran an incredible campaign based on really small donations for the most part and so I think that the influences that you'll see, and the hope is that those influences of the average person that, you know, the everyday American whose voice probably hasn't been heard in, gosh, I don't even know how long, is actually going to come to the forefront.

And especially with the economy the way it is, I mean, the list is almost endless, unfortunately right now. I'm really looking forward to seeing the types of changes we have not had the last eight years.

ANDERSON: Penn, who is a registered independent, just wrapped up his stint on the TV show "House" and is planning to fly to D.C. next week to look for a place to live.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON: The White House confirms to CNN that Kal Penn has been hired, but, Don, they aren't saying exactly when he will start. Back over to you.

LEMON: All right, Brooke.

Happening now, breaking news. U.S. Navy warships are rushing to the scene of a pirate drama. Americans battle pirates who hijacked their ship off Somalia. And a crew member tells CNN the captain is being held hostage.

The Obama administration turns its back on a Bush administration policy. The U.S. will now join direct nuclear talks with Iran.

And amid death and destruction from that earthquake in Italy, some wonder if you can avoid earthquake deaths by predicting them.