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Obama Administration Tries to Ease Flu Fears; Swine Flu Ground Zero; Interview With Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano

Aired April 27, 2009 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, swine flue is spreading in the United States and around the world. New cases reported and new precautions taken. We're tracking the infection and the risk for you and your loved ones.

The Obama administration says there's no need to panic right now. Can this dangerous outbreak be stopped in its tracks? I'll ask the homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano, if the government is ready for the worst-case scenario. She's standing by live.

And a classic American car brand is now totaled by the auto industry crisis. This hour, Pontiac's demise and other new and desperate measures to try to keep U.S. carmakers in business.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're THE SITUATION ROOM.

The United Nations now fears the swine flu outbreak is turning into a full-fledged and deadly global epidemic. In Mexico right now -- that's ground zero for this fast-spreading infection -- the health secretary there says 149 deaths are believed linked to swine flu. More than 2,000 have been hospitalized. Health officials confirm 75 cases around the world from Canada to New Zealand, and two brand new cases in Scotland, the first in the United Kingdom.

Forty cases are confirmed right here in the United States. More than half of them at a school in New York City. No deaths have been reported in this country.

U.S. officials now are advising Americans against most travel to Mexico, the epicenter of this outbreak. The European Union, meanwhile, is urging its citizens to avoid travel to Mexico and to parts of the United States, a move U.S. health officials say isn't necessary.

The White House says the federal government is in a strong position to respond to the swine flu outbreak. President Obama is staying on top of the situation and trying to calm Americans' fears.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are closely monitoring the emerging cases of swine flu in the United States. And this is obviously a cause for concern and requires a heightened state of alert. But it's not a cause for alarm. The Department of Health and Human Services has declared a public health emergency as a precautionary tool to ensure that we have the resources we need at our disposal to respond quickly and effectively.


BLITZER: Let's go right to our White House correspondent, Ed Henry. He's over at the White House.

It's almost day 100, Ed, over at the White House for the Obama administration, and this is emerging as a real serious crisis.


You heard the president there. The key is that he's trying to calm the American public, make sure there are not fears about a pandemic, calm everyone down, but they're facing a potential public health crisis at a time when they have some glaring personnel issues.

You'll remember because of the Tom Daschle debacle, they still do not have a permanent secretary of Health and Human Services. They also don't have permanent heads of the surgeon general's office, nor of the Centers for Disease Control.

Nevertheless, in fairness to this White House, it's clear that there is no indication that that's led to a slowness in response to any part of this crisis, a point that Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman, stressed today.


ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I mentioned this yesterday. There's -- our response is in no way hindered or hampered by not having a permanent secretary at HHS right now.


HENRY: Now, right now, there's an acting secretary over at Health and Human Services. They do, here at the White House, hope that as early as tomorrow, Governor Kathleen Sebelius will be confirmed. She's the second choice after Tom Daschle to be Health and Human Services secretary.

Until then, they have an acting chief, Charles Johnson. He's a former Bush official -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed, quickly, the president was just in Mexico, and there's a lot of speculation out there he actually got a tour by a Mexican who wound up dying the next day. And I know this came up at the White House press briefing with Robert Gibbs.

Is there a sense the president himself, when he was in Mexico, or his advisers, was in any serious danger?

HENRY: Robert Gibbs stressed over and over that the president's health was never in any jeopardy, that his doctors feel he's healthy now. He's shown absolutely no symptoms.

And in fact, the person you mentioned who had given the president a museum tour in Mexico, who died, it's not clear that that person died from the swine flu. So they insist that there's no concerns that the president has any health problems. He's shown no symptoms. The incubation period is about 48 hours or so. He hasn't had any symptoms, and this was April 16th, 17th, that he was in Mexico, so they insist his health is fine -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. And we're just getting word according that according to a Mexican government official, that person who gave the president tour died from a preexisting condition and not from swine flu.

We'll continue to monitor this story. Deb Feyerick is standing by in New York.

Let's go to Mexico City right now.

Ted Rowlands is on the scene for us, where there's enormous concern.

You're at the epicenter, Ted. What's going on?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is a big day in Mexico City. Unlike Saturday and Sunday, when the city was pretty much shut down, traffic is back in the streets, although we've been told by locals about 50 percent of what it normally is in this city of almost 20 million. But people are out of their houses, and this is a concern for the Mexican government and the Mexican health officials, because there are people gathering in buses, in subways, at workplaces.

They say if they see an uptick at all in the amount of people who come down with this virus, they will shut the city down and do what they have to, meaning private businesses will be shut down. The subways and buses, et cetera (AUDIO GAP).

BLITZER: All right, it looks like we've...

ROWLANDS: ... will also be shut down.

That said, school still not in session, and any governmental building is also not working -- or not up and running. So, what you have here is a city that is coming back slowly, but officials watching very, very carefully. And again, if they see an uptick in the amount of people that come down with this virus, Mexico City will be virtually shut down by the government.

BLITZER: Ted, stand by. I know that Sanjay Gupta, our chief medical correspondent, is in Mexico City right now. We're going to go to him shortly as well.

Let's go to New York City. Deborah Feyerick is on the scene for us.

Deb, this is where most of the confirmed cases in the United States have been reported, right where you are. DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf, 28 confirmed cases of swine flu right now. That's about one in four of all people who came to hospitals over the weekend in order to be tested, presenting with flu-like symptoms. But the mayor stresses that, in fact, this is a cluster, it's one particular area. The reason people are taking the precautions that they're taking is because they don't want it to spread.

That was the big concern, and that is why all of this is going on now.


FEYERICK (voice-over): Hospitals around the country took stock of inventory, while emergency rooms braced for a possible surge of people concerned they might somehow have been exposed to the swine flu.

DR. RICHARD BESSER, ACTING CDC DIRECTOR: You don't know going into an outbreak what it will look like in the end.

FEYERICK: In New York City, the number of swine flu cases continued to rise, all apparently connected to a school in Queens, where a group of students had traveled to Mexico on spring break.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These confirmed cases of human swine flu were, in all likelihood, contracted in New York City at the school community at St. Francis.

FEYERICK: By mid-afternoon Monday, only one person in New York had been hospitalized. The rest, suffering mild flu-ike symptoms, recovered at home.

As laboratories worked overtime processing samples, disease specialists at the World Health Organization was busy investigating where the swine flu came from and how it might have spread.

BESSER: And I would fully expect that we'll see a broader range in terms of the severity of the infection.

FEYERICK: Although there was no formal warning, the State Department urged people traveling outside the U.S. to take precautions. And the U.S. Embassy in Mexico was open only for emergency business. This, as other countries took steps to limit foreign travel.

BESSER: There's no single action that will control an outbreak, but the combined actions that we are proposing and that are being undertaken around the country will help to stem the tide of any infectious disease outbreak, and this one in particular.


FEYERICK: Now, the World Health Organization is one of the agencies leading this, making sure that it stays under control. You know, the sense of urgency right now is because no one knows how far this will spread or if, in fact, Wolf, if it will just simply die out, as did the avian flu. So by letting everybody know what they have got to do, that's what they're hoping will happen, that this will just peter out and nobody will have to worry -- Wolf.

BLITZER: They want to err on the side of caution.

All right, Deb. Stand by. We'll get back to you as well.

And we're also standing by to speak with the secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano. She's here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll get to her shortly.

Let's get to Jack Cafferty right now for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: You know, I was just sitting here watching those stories and wondering how much safer we all would feel if we had bothered to establish some sort of meaningful border security with Mexico following 9/11. There are thousands of illegal Mexican aliens that enter this country every single day, and there's nothing that we seem to be willing to do about that. We just let them keep coming in, and now some of them might be bringing this swine flu with them.

That's swell.

The consensus is that President Obama's first 100 days in office have been pretty successful. But the outlook for the next 100 days may not be as rosy.

The president's first three months in office focused, among other things, on the economy -- reaching out to world leaders and winding down operations in Iraq, while ramping them up in Afghanistan. But despite job approval ratings of about 65 percent -- not exactly chopped liver there -- there is criticism.

Conservatives say the president hasn't worked for real bipartisanship. Some Democrats are worried about bailouts of the big financial institutions and the car companies, as well as with his plans to increase troop levels in Afghanistan.

CNN's John King points to three things that could trip up the president in the days to come.

First, he's perceived as a liberal. And that's often a liability in U.S. politics. Nearly four in 10 Americans think that Mr. Obama is trying to do too much at one time. And if there are major setbacks, the risk is that voters will question his leadership, as well as his governing skills.

In the next 100 days, then, look for some new issues to take center stage, including the president's push for health care reform, energy and environmental proposals will be on the table. It's yet to be seen if the American public will back Mr. Obama's push for even more government intervention in these areas, but if the current poll numbers are any indication, his honeymoon is far from being over.

So here's the question: How are President Obama's second 100 days likely to be different from the first?

Go to and you can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty, thank you.

It's a very real fear right now, that people in this country will die from swine flu like dozens apparently have in Mexico. I'll ask the homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano, what the Obama administration is doing to try to make sure that doesn't happen.

And we're tracking the spread of the swine flu virus from Mexico to the United States and beyond. Our Dr. Sanjay Gupta is talking to Mexican officials about what went wrong.

And the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff sets off alarm bells after his trip to Pakistan. The Taliban threat on the ground right now. Can Pakistan survive?


BLITZER: A hundred and forty-nine deaths are believed linked to swine flu in Mexico. Health officials confirm 75 cases of swine flu around the world, including 40 cases right here in the United States. And now there's new information just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let's go to the secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano. She's joining us.

Madame Secretary, thanks very much. I know you're incredibly busy these days.

I want to get right to this story that's just moving, quoting the Mexican Health Department as saying that the World Health Organization is now raising this pandemic alert level to Category 4, verifying human-to-human swine flu.

I wonder if you know anything about this and can us what this means.

JANET NAPOLITANO, U.S. HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Yes. The World Health Organization has a continuum of 1 to 6, 1 being no evidence of flu, 6 being full-fledged pandemic. And we have been at level 3 for the past several weeks. The World Health Organization now has moved to level 4.

For our purposes, our planning, our preparations, the things we have been doing over the past days are all the things you would do for level 4 or 4, or even preparatory, to level 6. So, it doesn't make a difference in terms of what we actually are doing within the United States, but does indicate that we have a serious outbreak of swine flu on our hands.

BLITZER: How worried should folks watching us right now be?

NAPOLITANO: Well, not worried, but be prepared and think through. For example, if over the next week or two, the school where your children go has to be closed because of an outbreak of flu, how are you going to take care of the kids? Make sure that if you are sick, you're showing a fever, a heavy cough, and what have you, don't go to work and contaminate others. Check with a doctor or other health care professional. And wash your hands a lot.

BLITZER: Because there's only been, what -- at least as far as we can tell -- 40 confirmed cases here in the United States, and none requiring any serious -- one maybe hospitalization. And so folks are just e-mailing me and they're saying, why are we reporting this as if this is such a threat?

What's your worst-case fear?

NAPOLITANO: Well, obviously, a worst-case fear is a full-fledged pandemic. And, you know, the scientists really can't tell us now why this is presenting so severely in Mexico, in Mexico City, and not as severely up here. And there are a lot of hypotheses for that, so that's probably better addressed to the scientists.

But, you know, this is a changing dynamic. And it may differ tomorrow from today, the next day from tomorrow. So we're going to have to be ready and prepared for whatever situation occurs.

BLITZER: Are we watching people coming into the United States from Mexico more carefully now, screening them, making sure they don't show symptoms including temperature?

NAPOLITANO: Yes. We have passage screening going on both at airports and our land ports. And both the CDC and the State Department have now issued travelers' alerts or advisories for people to avoid nonessential travel to Mexico.

BLITZER: So that means if you're supposed to go on a vacation to Cancun or something, this is not a good time to do it. Is that what you're suggesting?

NAPOLITANO: You might want to rethink that for right now, correct.

BLITZER: Yes, that's going to be another major concern for Mexico's already battered economy, because so much of that economy relies on tourism. But obviously health comes -- a lot more important than tourism.

NAPOLITANO: That's right. And we're working very closely with the Mexican government. We have CDC teams down there now. We're providing assistance on laboratory capacity, on collecting data, because one of the better ways that we can prepare up here is to know what exactly is happening epidemiologically in Mexico.

BLITZER: As you take a look at the vaccines that are potentially out there, you're releasing some right now, but there is no real cure if someone comes down with swine flu, is there?

NAPOLITANO: Well, we're not talking vaccine. We're talking antivirals, which you would take after you already got sick.

And there is a family of them, Tamiflu and Relenza, that's pretty effective. And we have 50 million courses of that in our stockpile. We have released 25 percent of those to states already. And discussions are being held with the manufacturer about ramping some more production.

BLITZER: And what point does the Department of Homeland Security, which you head, recommend that people start wearing masks?

NAPOLITANO: Oh, we're far away from that. And that would probably be a recommendation that would come out of your local public health department before it would come out of anything federal.

BLITZER: So at this point, that's obviously not necessary.

What about the pigs in the United States, the swine population? Is there evidence that they also have already been infected with swine flu?

NAPOLITANO: No. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is part of our team and have professionals working with us. And they have identified nothing in our swine population. And of course, you can't get the swine flu from eating pork. So that's not something not to worry about.

BLITZER: We see these cases in New York, Ohio, Texas, Kansas, California. You're a former governor of Arizona. Before this thing is over with, are we going to see cases popping up potentially all over the United States?

NAPOLITANO: We could certainly see it in a number, if not all of the United States. That's correct. Right now it's what we call kind of the popcorn effect, some here, some there, but in all likelihood, we will see other states have cases as well.

BLITZER: Is it wise for the Europeans to be recommending avoiding travel to the United States?

NAPOLITANO: Well, they haven't. I think that's some misinformation that's out there. There was an EU minister speaking "on a personal level" who said something, who now is backtracking. So there is no EU recommendation on that score.

BLITZER: And the fact that there is no secretary of Health and Human Services right now, and no director of the Centers for Disease Control right now, no surgeon general of the United States. United States, none of these posts have yet been confirmed, how big of a problem is that for the Obama administration?

NAPOLITANO: Well, I'm looking forward to having Governor Sebelius confirmed, and I'm told that the Senate is going to be taking action on her nomination tomorrow. It will be great to have her there.

But in the meantime, the department has a number of career professionals. The acting head of the CDC, Dr. Besser, I think has been very good about communicating with the American people about what this is, what this is not, and very good to work with. So we'll work with the career professionals, but we look forward to Governor Sebelius's leadership.

BLITZER: He indeed has been very impressive at those briefings.

All right. Madame Secretary, thanks very much. Good luck.

NAPOLITANO: Thank you.

BLITZER: We have much more on this story. Mexico City is ground zero for fears about swine flu. The first case was in Mexico. Our own chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, is now in the capital city of Mexico. We're going to go there for the latest.

And it's brought back thoughts of 911, a large airplane flying low in New York's skyline. Now the White House in the hot seat about it.

What happened?

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, the government is responding to the swine flu outbreak. One strategy, watching flights from Mexico and watching and warning passengers about the illness.

You're going to find out how experts are grading this swine flu response.

Also, why have there been cases of the swine flu in the United States but no reported deaths like in Mexico? The director of the CDC's influenza division is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And in another story we're following, GM drives Pontiac off a cliff. GM is killing its once popular brand and making other major changes in order to try to survive.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're THE SITUATION ROOM.

The Obama administration says it's taking the swine flu outbreak seriously and acting aggressively.

Checking the latest developments right now, the government has stepped up checks of people entering the country by air, land and sea. And it's warning most Americans against traveling to Mexico, the epicenter of the outbreak.

The World Health Organization has now raised its pandemic alert level to Category 4. A hundred and forty-nine deaths in Mexico are believed linked to the outbreak right now, and we just learned that a soccer championship in Tijuana has been canceled because of swine flu concerns.

Forty cases have been confirmed right here in the United States, more than half of them at one New York City school. But U.S. health officials are stopping short of encouraging Americans to wear masks. The European Union is clarifying that only one commissioner warned against travel to the United States because of the outbreak, and that the E.U. itself doesn't issue travel warnings.

Its epicenter is in Mexico, but now health officials from New Zealand to New York are investigating reports of swine flu.

Our Abbi Tatton -- Tatton is crack -- tracking all of this around the world.

And it seems to be escalating.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: And they are numbers that have been changing all day, Wolf, as we have been putting this together.

Starting in Mexico, more than 1,600 reported cases in that country, but the spread from that country started last week. It was last Tuesday that the CDC reported two cases here in the United States, in the San Diego area.

By Thursday, that number was up to seven -- two more cases in another border state, in Texas reported -- now, as we just heard, the number of confirmed cases in the United States up to 40 in five different states, in Kansas, Ohio, 28 cases in New York City, and we have got six cases in Canada as well.

Because Mexico is a country that so many people visit, health officials around the world are now on alert. If we go to Europe, we have got confirmed cases, one in Spain, two in Scotland, so the United Kingdom with two confirmed cases as of this afternoon, and then suspected cases in other countries.

In Israel, health officials are looking at suspected cases, in New Zealand as well. A tour group recently returned just on Saturday. You have now got 25 people there in quarantine, as -- as they check them out.

BLITZER: And I know you're going through our iReports. We will get back to you, see what people in Mexico and elsewhere are going through right now.

Abbi, thanks very much.

The first case of swine flu in Mexico was detected back on April 2, but officials did not issue any alerts because they thought it was an isolated incident.

Our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta is in Mexico City and he's looking into why the infection has spread so quickly.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: The mayor of Mexico City told me that he believes this particular swine flu started on a big farm somewhere outside Mexico City, and patient zero, or the first patient, made his or her way here.

Now, how this is going to progress is hard to say. There are around 100 deaths now, 102 to 103 deaths, here in Mexico City. But we have no idea how many people have become sick in any way.

About 1,300 people have become seriously ill, but there may be many more with mild illness. And that could be a very good sign. It could mean the fatality rate is very low. And just to give you a frame of context, the regular flu, the flu that many people are familiar, with kills about 36,000 people every year in the United States alone.

So, that's a little bit of context. The city is trying to understand how best to deal with this. I had a chance to sit down and talk with the mayor about that very issue.

Have you been wearing a mask?


I am wearing a mask all day.

GUPTA: You're wearing it all day?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, in order to -- you know, in order to promote to the people to use the mask, which is a very important thing to do.


GUPTA: How worried are you?


GUPTA: Very worried.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Since Thursday that we received the information that this virus is an -- old one (INAUDIBLE) of virus, a new one. So, it's -- the potential damage for the city is very, very high.

GUPTA: What we now know is that the mayor is going to meet with officials here in the city of Mexico City to determine whether or not people should stay home from work, as well, over the next couple of days. Already, the churches and schools are closed. They may also consider shutting down public transportation, which would include busses and subways, very important in this congested city of 20 million people.

A lot of people are asking, how do I know? How do I know if I have the swine flu? It can be very similar to the regular flu, some of the same symptoms, including fever, which can be one of the first symptoms. We're checking our temperature often to see if we have that early sign.

But, also, the body aches, the runny nose, the cough. Two symptoms seem to keep coming up that the doctors tell me about, sudden onset of dizziness, and a lot of the gastrointestinal symptoms, including nausea and vomiting.

The best protection, the same thing we're using, a mask like this, we're outside the hospital. This is one of the higher-risk areas. I wear the mask when I'm not doing television. And simply washing your hands with a hand sanitizer. This is a virus that can live on inanimate surfaces, like keyboards, on money. It can live on your hands.

So, it's not shaking hands and washing your hands as frequently as possible. People appear to get sick about three days after they have number exposed to the virus. There are many clues here. We're going to search for more in the days to come. And we will have it for you as it comes to us -- back to you for now.


BLITZER: All right, Sanjay, thanks very much.

The Obama administration is confronting the swine flu outbreak without a full team of top health officials in place. Health and human services secretary nominee Kathleen Sebelius has yet to be confirmed by the Senate. They're hoping she will be confirmed this week.

The jobs of surgeon general, the FDA commissioner, and the CDC director, the Centers for Disease Control, remain open, those Richard Besser is acting director over at the CDC.

Fifteen additional jobs within HHS, Health and Human Services, have either yet to be filled or the nominees are awaiting Senate confirmation. Not all those positions would necessarily deal with the swine flu outbreak.

Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger. She's here.

These gaps in these personnel, is it a big deal, a little deal? What do you think?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, if you talk to administration officials, they will say no. And there -- there is some reason for what they're saying, Wolf.

And that is because, in the last administration, a specific strategy was written and exercised with their Cabinet members and with a senior level of officials in all of those areas. And they did what they called pandemic preparedness training.

So, while you may not have the people at the top level, you do have those career officials, like Dr. Besser, who know what to do, because they have been trained specifically for it. And that's why you need that kind of a training when you have a transition between administrations.

The only kind of criticism that I really have heard is that one former top Homeland Security official said to me that the State Department should have issued its travel advisory sooner than it did.

BLITZER: And the -- the -- the notion that there's no secretary of health and human services, we're approaching day 100...


BLITZER: ... of the Obama administration. We know why the -- they -- they were late. The initial nominee, Tom Daschle, it didn't exactly work out for him...

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: ... because of some tax problems, so it takes a while to go through this.

But what's the problem that the Obama administration has had in filling these jobs?

BORGER: Well, they -- they -- because -- because there's a bottleneck, because they don't have the HHS secretary. And the secretary would appoint the rest of those positions that you listed on the wall before.

Kathleen Sebelius has had some problems with Republicans because of her position on abortion and because of the way she feels about health care reform. I was told by a senior Democratic leadership aide today her nomination will come up tomorrow. They believe they have the 60 votes, and she will get confirmed.

BLITZER: All right. We will...

BORGER: So, they will fill those slots.

BLITZER: We will see what happens tomorrow and then there's other jobs to be filled as well.


BLITZER: Don't go away. We're going to be coming back to you, Gloria.

There's no vaccine right now to prevent a deadly strain of swine flu that's spreading around the world. But I will ask a flu expert from the Centers for Disease Control if health officials are doing enough right now to keep Americans safe. President Obama is closing in on his 100 day in office. That happens Wednesday. And Americans are making a distinction between the man and his policies.

And a dire warning from the president's top military adviser about whether Pakistan can survive a power grab by the Taliban.


BLITZER: We will get back to our coverage of the swine flu crisis that is out there shortly -- the World Health Organization just raising its pandemic alert level from a three to a four. The worst case is a six. We will explain what is going on. Stand by for that.

The Obama administration, meanwhile, is set to make history. In just two days, the president will mark his 100th day in office. He will face intense scrutiny every president has endured.

CNN is assessing his accomplishments and missteps in a national report card -- today, your thoughts on the president.

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, is joining us now with more on this story.

All right, what about the public? What does it find most controversial, Bill, about President Obama?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the president is more popular than his policies -- than -- his personal qualities much more popular than his policies. His policies are intensely controversial.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Americans have two different assessments of President Obama, one personal, the other policy.

President Obama's overall job approval as he nears his 100th day in office, 63 percent, but 75 percent, a noticeably higher figure, admire Mr. Obama's personality and leadership qualities. Do they agree with the president on issues? Fifty-seven percent say yes. That's high, but it's nearly 20 points lower than Mr. Obama's personal appeal.

A lot of Americans, more than 40 percent, say they disagree with President Obama on the issues.

NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I have listened carefully to the president's speech that night. I think it is the boldest effort to create a European socialist model we have seen.

SCHNEIDER: President Obama is the mirror image of President Clinton. Clinton was personally a very polarizing figure. Remember the so-called morphing ads?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD) NARRATOR: If you liked Bill Clinton, you will love Joe Prather.


SCHNEIDER: But President Clinton's policies, after the first two years, were more moderate and consensus-driven. He triangulated.




SCHNEIDER: President Clinton engendered huge controversy over his stand on social issues like guns, gays in the military and abortion. President Obama has treated those deeply divisive issues with caution.

OBAMA: I continue to believe that we can respect and honor the Second Amendment rights in our Constitution, the rights of sportsmen and hunters and homeowners who want to keep their families safe to lawfully bear arms.

SCHNEIDER: Republicans hated Bill Clinton. How do they feel about President Obama? Two-thirds disapprove of the job he's doing. But they're split over the president's personal qualities.

Republicans disagree with him on the issues, overwhelmingly.


SCHNEIDER: With President Obama, the controversy is much more over the issues than the individual. With President Clinton, it was the other way around. Mr. Clinton's signature policies, welfare reform, free trade, a balanced budget, were passed with a lot of Republican support -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Bill, thanks very much -- Bill Schneider crunching all the numbers for us.

Don't forget, Wednesday night, starting at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, our "CNN National Report Card." We want you, our viewers, to grade the Obama and Congress. The coverage begins 7:00 p.m. Eastern Wednesday night.

Now to another major issue the assess within the president's first 100 days, the worrisome situation right now in Pakistan. Extremist elements, including the Taliban, are a growing threat. And now the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is said to be very alarmed at what he saw during his last visit to Pakistan.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is watching the story, and she has more.

Barbara, what -- what is going on? BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, the question now is whether the Taliban are creating so much havoc inside Pakistan that maybe -- just maybe -- the Pakistani military is going to step in one more time with a military coup.


STARR (voice-over): Residents in northwest Pakistan fled as security forces tried to push militants out of areas said to be under Taliban control.

President Obama's top military adviser is sounding increasingly dire. Admiral Michael Mullen told CBS News, after two visits to Islamabad in less than three weeks, he is more concerned than ever before about Pakistan's ability to survive the Taliban advances.


ADM. MICHAEL MULLEN, JOINTS CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: I was just shocked that it had moved so far so fast over a two-, two-and-a-half period.


STARR: Senior U.S. officials say the Taliban are in control of key areas of northwest Pakistan. A top Mullen aide says the chairman is -- quote -- "deeply alarmed."

For now, the U.S. is officially supporting the current government.

ROBERT WOOD, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: Pakistan understands the threat that it faces internally. And it's got to take steps to deal with it.

STARR: But Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is under mounting pressure. Senior U.S. officials now question whether the Pakistani president is overwhelmed by the mounting Taliban challenge -- the ultimate worry, Mullen says, Pakistan's nuclear weapons in Taliban hands.

Zardari says it won't happen.

ASIF ALI ZARDARI, PAKISTANI PRESIDENT: It's not that one little Taliban can come down and press a button. There is no button. So, I want to assure the world that nuclear capability of Pakistan is under safe hands.


STARR: Now, no one is predicting a military coup, Wolf.

But Mullein's aide says the chairman now believes the situation in Pakistan is precarious -- his words -- and sees little sign of that changing in the coming days -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What a headache that is. All right, Barbara, thanks very much for staying on top of that story.

The acting director of the Centers for Disease Control says, it's wise to stay up on what's true and what's not about this swine flu outbreak.


BESSER: This situation is evolving very quickly. It's changing quickly. And, so, you will continue to hear information that seems in conflict. You will see numbers in one place that may be different from another.


BLITZER: How is the federal government and President Obama handling this potential crisis?

And GM slashing jobs, killing Pontiac, while Chrysler's future hangs in the balance. Can they both avoid financial collapse?


BLITZER: A senior official with the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, says now that this swine flu crisis, the -- that spread of it, he says, cannot -- repeat, cannot -- be contained.

The assistant director general of the World Health Organization says, at this time, containment is not a feasible option, as the virus has already spread to several other countries.

We're watching this story, obviously very, very closely.

Let's talk about it and more with Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons, Republican strategist Danny Diaz, former communications director for the Republican National Committee. Jamal used to work for the DNC as well.

Guys, thanks to both of you...


BLITZER: ... for coming in.

Here's the president of the United States, President Obama, speaking earlier today on this crisis.


OBAMA: We are closely monitoring the emerging cases of swine flu in the United States. And this is obviously a cause for concern and requires a heightened state of alert. But it's not a cause for alarm.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: All right, what do you think, Danny? How is the president and his team doing in these early days of what the World Health Organization fears could be a pandemic?

DIAZ: Well, first off, I think people look at this from a public interest perspective, less from a political perspective. I have young kids in school, so people are concerned. They want their government to handle it appropriately and competently.

There's no reason to believe that this administration is not doing that. I think this puts the spotlight back on Napolitano. She has had a big of a rocky start. So, we will see how she handles this. I mean, Arlen Specter said today we're not prepared. We don't have a CDC head. We don't have a surgeon general. So, I think there are some areas of concern, but, hopefully, it's handled appropriately.

BLITZER: It would be better, clearly, if the administration was at full strength in all of these key jobs right now.


And it bears mentioning that they had a little trouble getting an HHS secretary into the slot.

BLITZER: Because of Tom Daschle.

SIMMONS: Because of Tom Daschle.

But Janet -- but Governor Sebelius from Kansas has been sitting there for a while in the Senate trying to make it through the process. I mean, we're finally going to get her, it looks like, tomorrow. But there's been a little bit of time of wait.

I think the president is doing a good job right now. You had Janet Napolitano, the homeland security director, on earlier today. We also have heard from the CDC -- acting CDC director. The president is setting the right tone of keeping everything measured and letting some of the people underneath deal with the details.

BLITZER: Because you want people to be concerned, but you don't want to cause panic out there. That would be awful.

DIAZ: No, I think that is right. You want a heightened sense of concern. You want people aware of what is going on, but you don't want panic. And I think they're -- they have got the right tone right now. And, obviously, we will have to see how developments play out.

BLITZER: All right, give me a grade as to how the administration so far is doing in this crisis.

DIAZ: I think satisfactory.

BLITZER: Satisfactory.


BLITZER: What about A, B, C, or D?


SIMMONS: You do have young kids in school. Everything is satisfactory.

DIAZ: We will go with a B right now.

BLITZER: A B right now.

What do you think?

SIMMONS: I think they're about an A-minus. They have had a little -- a couple of bumpy roads, but they have been doing pretty well, OK, so far.

The president has done a lot of things, including that big stimulus package. He's ended the war -- or started to get us out of Iraq, started the process. He's starting to get us out of Guantanamo Bay. He's ended torture. And I think that -- that sort of thing...


BLITZER: In our latest CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, his approval numbers are still very, very strong. How is President Obama handling his job as president? Sixty-three percent approve. Thirty-three percent disapprove.

That's a pretty strong number.

DIAZ: Yes, he's popular. He's very popular right now. His policies are less popular. I think, at some point, those two lines will intersect.

You know, it's very popular to say, we're going to close Guantanamo Bay. When you start talking about sending some of these prisoners into people's neighborhoods, people like it less.

So, I think, you know, on the auto industry, the economy, and some of these other policies, he's not polling as well. We will see what happens over the long-term. Right now, he is very popular, though.

SIMMONS: Well, you know, and Danny makes sort of an interest point about sending some of people from Guantanamo Bay back to where they came from.

You know, Vice President Cheney has asked to see the memos on -- on what happened -- what information have we gained from some of these enhanced techniques. You know, the other question to ask is, let's see some of the memos on the people who were radicalized because they were treated poorly when they were in our country -- or in our custody and were at Guantanamo.

So, if they are going to release these memos, they should release all the memos that show the breadth of what... (CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Well, right now, there's a flu crisis out there, so they -- the other issues, I think, are taking a little backseat, appropriately so.

All right, guys, thanks very much.

DIAZ: Thank you.

SIMMONS: Thank you.

BLITZER: Is the United States doing enough to handle the swine flu problem? You can submit your videos to Tell us what you think. We will try to get some of them on the air.

Jack Cafferty is back with your e-mail.

Also, a growing threat to America's health and security -- will the U.S. be ready if -- if -- the swine flu outbreak turns into a deadly epidemic here in the United States?

And it was a hot brand name when muscle cars were king of the road. Now Pontiac is being sacrificed to help save General Motors, a fond farewell -- that's coming up.


BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Wolf, the question this hour: is how are President Obama's next 100 days likely to be different from the first 100 days?

Gia in L.A. writes: "The actions President Obama has taken in his first 100 days will begin to show fruit during the second 100 days, allowing him to tackle more. But expect continued -- if not amped up -- criticism from the right in an effort to negate the perception of the incredible advances that are being made."

Dee in Florida says: "I would say it all depends on several things, one, whether he is able to fill the rest of his jobs with taxpayers -- I mean, people who have actually paid their taxes -- two, whether any of those corporations or banks that have been bailed out actually start paying back some of our money -- three, whether the Taliban gains control of the nuclear arsenal in Pakistan -- and, four, most important to me, whether my husband, after being unemployed for nearly a year, gets a job."

David in Florida says: "On the international side of things, Pakistan and China will become more prominent. South America will start getting deserved attention. International economic, as well as domestic economic, issues will dog the administration. How to turn our economy around without breaking the bank will continue to be the central concern at home. Republicans will entrench as the loyal opposition. And, if there is any bipartisanship left at all, it will completely gone in the next 100 days."

Dave in Arizona: "I would expect things to slow down, as the energy of his arrival gives way to politics as usual. Though he's shown a remarkable ability to cut through that, its heavy hand will weigh down on him more and more."

Michael in Oregon: "I don't think he will be smiling as much. I don't think the Republicans are going to lie down and die either."

And Ali in North Dakota: "Jack, exhale. This country is so impatient. While there is a lot that needs tending to, each has its time and place. President Obama is doing just fine, and I really wish the media would go fishing or something. Relax. We're in very capable hands."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at Look for yours there, among hundreds of others -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Will do, Jack. Thank you.

And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: swine flu spreading in the United States and, indeed, around the world. The death toll -- death toll is climbing, and the Obama administration is quickly stepping up its response. But is it enough? We will talk to a CDC flu expert and get advice that could help you avoid getting this virus.

Almost $900 million to fight a flu pandemic stripped from the economic stimulus package -- who's to blame? Paul Begala and Tony Blankley, they're here to discuss that and more.

And General Motors fights for its life and unveils a drastic plan for survival. It would put American taxpayers in the driver's seat, as majority shareholders, and mean the end of the road for one legendary car brand.