Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Nuclear Nation Could Explode; Flu Shouldn't Close Schools; Interview With Pakistani President Zardari

Aired May 5, 2009 - 15:59   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, a war against extremists threatens to consume Pakistan and send thousands running for their lives. Stand by for my exclusive interview with Pakistan's president on the Taliban threat, his talks with President Obama tomorrow, and whether his nation's nuclear weapons are in danger.

Also, new guidance for America's schools on how to respond to the swine flu outbreak, what it means for you, your children, and your health.

And a new effort by the White House to keep a public relations debacle under wraps. The surprising follow-up to the photo shoot that gave New Yorkers 9/11 flashbacks.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in CNN's command center for breaking news, politics and extraordinary reports from around the world.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

One of the worst fears of the Obama administration right now, that Taliban extremists will seize control of Pakistan and its nuclear arsenal, threatening the region, the United States, indeed the entire world.

President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan, he's here in Washington right now for talks with President Obama, along with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai. President Zardari joined me just a short while ago here in THE SITUATION ROOM for an exclusive interview.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Are your nuclear weapons safe?

ASIF ALI ZARDARI, PRESIDENT OF PAKISTAN: Definitely safe. First of all, they are in safe hands. We have a command and control system under the command of Pakistan.

And (INAUDIBLE), like you say, as the crow flies, these mountains are 60, 70 miles from Islamabad. They've always been there. And there's been fighting there before. There will be fighting there again. And there's always been an issue of people in those mountains who we've been taking on.

BLITZER: Because you know the world is worried if the Taliban or associated groups were to take over.

ZARDARI: It doesn't work like that. They can't take over.

BLITZER: Why can't they take over?

ZARDARI: They have a 700,000 army. How could they take over.

BLITZER: But aren't there elements within the army who are sympathetic to the Taliban and al Qaeda?

ZARDARI: I deny that. There aren't any sympathizers of them.

There is a mindset maybe who feel akin to the same religion, God, et cetera, et cetera. But nothing that should concern anybody where -- as far as the nuclear arsenal or other instruments of such sort.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. A lot more of the exclusive interview coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM with the Pakistani president on the crisis in his country right now. And a lot more looking ahead to his big meeting tomorrow with the president of the United States and the visiting president of Afghanistan.

Stand by.

The situation in Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan is threatening to explode on President Obama's watch. The strategy is very complicated. The stakes, though, are enormous.

Our Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jill Dougherty is over at the White House. She's working the story for us.

Jill, what's the president's approach right now in deal with these talks, with the leaders of Pakistan and Afghanistan?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, one of the critical things, Wolf, is simply to bring them together in one place. And we're actually looking at three days. They are here today. Two more days, critical meetings, very important meetings with the president and with the secretary of state up on Capitol Hill, et cetera. And face-to-face meetings at a critical time.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DOUGHERTY (voice-over): Under severe strains at home, the presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan brace for make-or-break talks with President Barack Obama in Washington, on the offensive to prove they can stand up to the Taliban.

HAMID KARZAI, PRESIDENT OF AFGHANISTAN: Afghanistan is the closest neighbor of Pakistan, the closest brotherly/sisterly relationship with Pakistan. We are like conjoined twins. We are not separable.

We are one. We are together. We were living together. We will die together.

But we will not die. We'll continue living together.

DOUGHERTY: But on Capitol Hill, questions are growing.

REP. GARY ACKERMAN (D), NEW YORK: Let me be blunt. Pakistan's pants are on fire.

DOUGHERTY: Some lawmakers fear Pakistan could collapse, leaving its nuclear weapons in terrorists' hands. The top diplomat to the region says it's not that bad yet.

RICHARD HOLBROOKE, U.S. SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR AFGHANISTAN, PAKISTAN: And we should not allow comments about how serious the issue is to be confused with predictions of a collapse. We do not think Pakistan is a failed state.

DOUGHERTY: The administration is pushing for emergency money for the region, including $500 million for the Pakistani military to fight an advancing Taliban. And it wants to triple civilian aid to Pakistan, $1.5 billion a year for the next five years. But Congress wants accountability, regular reports from the White House on how Pakistan is fighting terrorists.

HUSAIN HAQQANI, PAKISTANI AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: As partners, we can certainly contain the Taliban. The important thing is that we don't get into a shouting match with one another.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DOUGHERTY: And Wolf, also, you know, on Capitol Hill, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke shooting down some of those media reports that said simply because the U.S. is talking with Nawaz Sharif, the opposition leader, does not mean that the U.S. is distancing itself from President Zardari.

Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And we're going to be speaking momentarily with President Zardari in our exclusive interview, Jill. Thanks very much.

All right. This just coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM just a little while ago.

Officials have confirmed the death of a Texas resident from swine flu. This is the second death here in the United States from the virus.

Meantime, federal health officials are reversing themselves today in connection with the flu outbreak. At issue? Whether schools should close when students are infected with the virus.

Let's bring in CNN's Elaine Quijano. She's been working the story for us.

A new recommendation issued just a little while ago.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Wolf. With this new flu relatively mild, and after getting an earful from state and local officials, the government has dropped its earlier recommendation.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

QUIJANO (voice-over): With more than 700 schools closed, affecting nearly 500,000 students and their families, government health officials now say schools no longer need to shut their doors for up to two weeks. And instead, can reopen immediately.

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, U.S. SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: This virus does not seem to be as severe as we once thought it could be.

QUIJANO: School districts nationwide have grappled with the decision to close or not to close.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't take it lightly. We realize that it's extremely disruptive to parents, to community.

QUIJANO: Acting CDC Director Dr. Richard Besser says along with the science, the government considered how it was disrupting people's lives.

DR. RICHARD BESSER, ACTING DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR DISEASE CONTROL: When we hear of the difficulty involved, of children who are dropped at libraries because there's nowhere for home care, people who could lose their jobs because they don't have sick leave, these factors are really real.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

QUIJANO: Now, the CDC says it's still up to local officials to decide exactly when their schools will reopen, and it's still recommending keeping students home for seven days if they are sick -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Elaine Quijano with the latest.

Thanks very much for that, Elaine.

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The powers that be are now duking it out over how much money you have to make to be considered rich. And it matters a lot because the states and the federal government grapple with record deficits. They are planning to tax the wealthy more. And it pretty much all depend on what your definition of wealthy is.

"Fortune" magazine reports on this debate in a piece called "The Government's New Definition of Rich." President Obama draws the line at those who make $250,000 a year. He wants to raise taxes on them. And others like New York's governor, David Paterson, agree that that's a good idea. It turns out that only about five percent of U.S. households have annual incomes over $200,000. But lots of people in this group probably don't see themselves as rich, especially if they live in a big city where the cost of living is higher.

This group of upper middle class or the so-called working rich actually pay more taxes proportionately than the super rich. And they are also not as good at finding loopholes to avoid paying some of those taxes as the very rich are.

Meanwhile, others have different definitions of rich. The Securities and Exchange Commission tells financial companies that a high net worth individual is someone with at least $750,000 put away in a single place, or a person who the firm reasonably believes has a net worth over $1.5 million.

So here's the question. How much money does it take to be rich?

Go to cnn.com/caffertyfile and you can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's all very relative. Jack, thanks very much.

White House officials are going to new lengths right now to try to put an embarrassment behind them. We have new information about the photos taken from a spare presidential plane that scared quite a few New Yorkers.

And the president summons members of his own party to try to save him on a signature issue.

Also coming up, my exclusive interview with the president of Pakistan, President Asif Ali Zardari. I ask him if he's afraid of being overthrown in a military coup and who he'd blame if that happens.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There are various concerns out there and threats regarding Pakistan. Tomorrow, Pakistan's president meets with President Obama. Today, President Asif Ali Zardari spoke with me in an exclusive interview. We covered a wide range of topics, including the safety of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. I also asked the president to assess the exact areas of extremist activity.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Tom Foreman, our correspondent, is here in THE SITUATION ROOM, and he has on the map -- he is going to show us where some of the threats to your government, what some would consider to be existential threats, are located.

He's here.

ZARDARI: If I may say, they are not threats to my government. They are a threat to my security, they are a threat to my security of (INAUDIBLE), for my Army, my police, yes. They're not set to my government. My government is not going to fall because one mountain is taken by one group or the other.

BLITZER: All right. I want you to watch this and then we'll discuss -- Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Wolf.

Let's take a look at the geography of this land and get a sense of what we're talking about here. Of course you know area, Iraq over here, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan. The area we're most interested in here is the northwestern region of Pakistan.

This has been an area where the Taliban has been strong, particularly down here, south Waziristan, north Waziristan, just across the border from Afghanistan. You know after 9/11, when the Taliban was crushed here, they retreated largely into this area, including al Qaeda leaders.

The concern for the United States and, Mr. President, presumably for your government, from what you say, has been the expansion this way toward the east, into this area. And north, up here.

Only a year ago, the limit was sort of here with influence up here. But now it's moved up further.

This is the Swat Valley, very important up here, and of course Buner we were talking about a little bit ago. All of this area along here, to some degree, can be described as contested these days, and when we zoom in tighter to Islamabad, you can actually see that distance we're talking about. If you look at the actual measurement from here down to here, it's going to be about 60 miles.

That is one big concern on the Pakistani front. But for the United States there is another concern. The more that the Taliban is able to establish firm hold in here, uncontested by the Pakistani government, for the United States the concern is this is a big base from which to wage war into Afghanistan, where President Obama says he wants to reestablish the government based in Kabul.

Which, as you know, Wolf, and Mr. President, is having a very hard time.

BLITZER: Is that a pretty accurate assessment of what's going on in those areas?

ZARDARI: No. I would say it's an accurate assessment, but exaggerated.

BLITZER: What is exaggerated?

ZARDARI: The exaggeration is that they have been there -- they have been not today...

BLITZER: The Taliban. ZARDARI: The Taliban, they've been there historically. They are the tribes. They are the people. They are the kin.

If they have been there, the Taliban, the United States has been there for the last 10 years. And if they don't know the exact locations of individuals, then don't expect us to know.

But we have been giving them a fight. We've taken back -- we've cleaned out Bajaur, Mohmand (ph), Buner, Dir (ph), all of those areas. We've cleaned them out.

BLITZER: Because you're going in there now after you've made a cease-fire, you made a deal with these Taliban-related groups that -- has it collapsed completely?

ZARDARI: The provincial government, (INAUDIBLE), made an arrangement, an agreement with them that if they were to lay down their arms, we would talk to the reconcilables.

BLITZER: You would let them, for example, institute Sharia law?

ZARDARI: No, no, no, no, no. Not at all.

It was swift (ph) justice under the constitution of Pakistan, and as is, the constitution of Pakistan would work and the laws of the country would apply there, not Sharia law. Sharia law is already in Pakistan, all around.

BLITZER: Because right now we're seeing and hearing reports that women can't leave their homes in some of these areas unless not only they're fully covered, but unless their husband or a male takes them outside.

ZARDARI: That is their interpretation of their law. That does not mean that we adhere to it or we accept it. We do not accept that. Wherever we are, wherever the government is, that is not happening.

Whenever they come in (INAUDIBLE) -- because you must remember, this is -- hasn't been -- there's no police station in most of this area. There is no law in most of this area. It has been like...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Are you going to send your troops in? You have 600,000 or 700,000 troops.

ZARDARI: Yes, sure.

BLITZER: Are you going to send them in and clean out that area from the Taliban and al Qaeda?

ZARDARI: Most definitely. Most definitely, we've cleaned out like...

BLITZER: So that cease-fire agreement is history? That's... ZARDARI: The cease-fire agreement is not holding. But we are going to try and hold them to it because they're the reconcilables. They're supposed to fight for us.

BLITZER: Do you need American help, more drone attacks, for example, against suspected al Qaeda or Taliban targets in Pakistan?

ZARDARI: I need drones to be part of my arsenal. I need that facility. I need that equipment. I need that to be my police arrangement. I need to own those...

BLITZER: Because there you can see, we have some -- if you turn around over there, you can see some pictures from those Hellfire missiles on those U.S. drones going after suspected Taliban or al Qaeda targets in your country.

Are you OK with this U.S. strategy of attacking targets inside sovereign Pakistani soil?

ZARDARI: Let's agree to disagree. What I have agreed upon is I need this. We've have asked for them -- we've asked the United States for this...

BLITZER: For the technology?

ZARDARI: Technology.

BLITZER: Have they agreed?

ZARDARI: We're still in dialogue. They haven't disagreed, but they haven't agreed.

BLITZER: Is that the most important item on your shopping list right now?

ZARDARI: It is one of the items on our shopping list.

BLITZER: So you will ask the president of the United States for these drones?

ZARDARI: I will request the president of the United States to give it a thought that if we own them, then we take out our targets rather than somebody else coming and do it for us.

BLITZER: We invited some of our viewers to submit a comment or a question because knowing you would be coming here. And we have this iReporter who is a Pakistani student studying in Melbourne, Florida, right now. He's a Fulbright scholar. And I'm going to play what he wants to ask you.

Turn around and you can see him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ZEESHAN USMANI, CNN IREPORTER: Why can't we solve the problems we have created for ourselves? And why do you have to beg to the U.S. every time anything goes wrong in Pakistan?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: His name is Zeeshan Usmani. He's a student in Florida.

ZARDARI: Definitely, Zeeshan, democracy is part of the answer. We -- this is our problem, this is our situation, this is our issue. We will solve it. By bringing in democracy, by electing me as the president to Pakistan, the people of Pakistan have voted. They have said yes to democracy and no to the Talibanization of Pakistan.

So we are solving this problem, and we shall.

BLITZER: The president of the United States, at his news conference the other day, he also said this about your fears of your neighbor, India. And I'm going to play the clip for you.

Listen to President Obama.

ZARDARI: Sure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK H. OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: On the military side, you're starting to see some recognition just in the last few days that the obsession with India as the mortal threat to Pakistan has been misguided.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Has your what he calls "obsession with India as the mortal threat to Pakistan" been misguided?

ZARDARI: Democracies have never gone to war. No Pakistan democratic government has gone to war with India. We've always wanted peace. We still want to -- want peace with India. We want a commercial relationship with them.

I'm looking at the markets of India for the Pakistani -- for the industrialists of Pakistan and am hoping to do the same. I'm waiting for the elections to be over so that all of this rhetoric is over and I can start a fresh dialogue with the Indian government.

BLITZER: Because, as you know, there is concern, especially in the Congress, that of the approximately $10 billion the U.S. has provided Pakistan since 9/11, most of that money has been used to beef up your arsenal against some sort of threat from India, as opposed to going after the Taliban and al Qaeda.

ZARDARI: Let's say they've given $10 billion in 10 years, a billion nearly a year for the war effort in -- against the Taliban, and the war that is going on.

BLITZER: Just explain what that means.

ZARDARI: That money has been spent, my forces -- 125,000 forces are mobilized, they're there in the region fighting the Taliban for the last 10 years. It takes -- it is a lot of expense.

BLITZER: Do you want U.S. troops in Pakistan?

ZARDARI: I don't think the U.S. troops want to come to Pakistan.

BLITZER: But if you were to ask the United States, we need help -- maybe, I don't know if you do -- to deal with this threat, is that something you're open to?

ZARDARI: No, I'm open to the fact that we need more equipment, we need more intelligence equipment, we need support, intelligence- wise, et cetera. But not personnel. I don't think personnel are necessary. They'll be counterproductive.

BLITZER: Because the defense secretary, Robert Gates, told our Fareed Zakaria this the other day, saying he's open to listen to what you need.

Listen to Gates.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: There has been a reluctance on their part up to now. They don't like the idea of a significant American military footprint inside Pakistan. I understand that. And -- but we are willing to do pretty much whatever we can to help the Pakistanis in this situation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. What do you think about that?

ZARDARI: I think the last statement, I'll take it on first value and go with it. I'll run with it and ask for more help.

BLITZER: Because he says, pretty much what you want you'll get. Just ask.

ZARDARI: We are asking. We've been asking for a lot of help, and it has been in the pipeline for a long time. And I'm not here to, you know, point fingers at anybody. I'm here to get more support for democracy, get more support for the war effort, and show them my record, and try and tell them, listen, one year of democracy, eight months of -- seven-and-a-half months of my presidency, we've done more than your dictator did before...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Do you have confidence in President Obama?

ZARDARI: I have confidence in the American system. I have confidence in the democracy in America. And definitely, I have hope in Obama.

BLITZER: How would you describe right now the U.S.-Pakistani relationship? ZARDARI: I think our relationships are pretty strong. I think it needs more effort. I think it needs more understanding on both our sides, and we need more interaction. But I think our relationship is pretty strong.

BLITZER: As you know, I interviewed your late wife. Benazir Bhutto, here. She was sitting in that seat, where you are right now, just before she went back to Pakistan. All of us were worried what might happened, and we know the worst-case scenario happened.

Let me ask you, how worried are you, Mr. President, about your security?

ZARDARI: I'm always - that is a very -- it's in the back of my mind. But the fact of the matter is, running doesn't solve anything.

She came, she was there, she got attention. She managed to throw out a dictator. In her spirit, under her name, under her philosophy, democracy, we took the presidency, we took the prime ministership, we made a first time woman speaker of Pakistan and Parliament.

Now, under the same philosophy, we shall defeat the Taliban, we shall defeat all the challenges, and take Pakistan into the 21st century.

BLITZER: Mr. President, good luck.

ZARDARI: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Much more of the interview coming up, including an extensive exchange on Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. How secure is it? What does he need, the president of Pakistan, from the president of the United States, to make sure that nuclear arsenal is secure? And will he share with the United States the details, exactly where Pakistan's nuclear bombs are located?

Much more of that coming up, part two of the interview. That will be here, in THE SITUATION ROOM, today.

Some New Yorkers still get shivers just thinking about the spare presidential plane that flew over the city, reminiscent of the 9/11 attacks. We're learning now what is happening to the photos taken by that plane, photos paid for by taxpayers.

And sometimes even the two most powerful men in America need to get out and grab a burger.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now, new information after that horrible collapse at the Dallas Cowboys training facility. We're now learning the manufacturer of that tent structure was previously found negligent in the collapse of a similar structure in another city.

A CNN exclusive -- our reporter puts himself in an extremely risky situation to talk to the Taliban. The Taliban leader delivering a chilling message about American troops in Afghanistan saying -- and I'm quoting right now -- "We will win and they will die."

And the first lady, she's over at the United Nations. We're standing by to see what she has to say.

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

But first, this is just coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM right now. The swine flu outbreak is disrupting a U.S. Navy deployment.

Let's go to our Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr. She's got the details.

All right, Barbara. What's going on?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Navy says there's no cause for alarm, that it's all out of an abundance of caution. But a U.S. Navy amphibious warship, the USS Dubuque in San Diego, now will not put out to sea on June 1st for a four-month tour of the Pacific as scheduled.

One sailor on board has a confirmed case of swine flu. Fifty others are experiencing symptoms and are taking Tamiflu. And 370 other members of the crew, no symptoms, but taking Tamiflu protectively. The entire ship is being scrubbed down, and now the Navy says it will not put out to sea for that four-month tour of duty simply under an abundance of caution -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much for that, Barbara.

We have a follow-up story we're work on right now, a story that scared a lot of New Yorkers more than seven years after the 9/11 attacks. You probably remember when a spare presidential plane flew over lower Manhattan last month, sparking panic and then controversy.

Our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, is here. She's got the story for us.

All right, Jeanne. What's going on?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you know, more than 328,000 taxpayer dollars were spent last week on a Manhattan fly-over by a plane used as Air Force One. The Pentagon said it was a training mission, but it also was a photo-op, and now we aren't even going to get in see the pictures.

photo-op. And now we aren't even going to get in see the pictures.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE (voice-over): It looked like Air Force One flying low over Manhattan with F-16s in pursuit. And it sent some New Yorkers into the streets and into a panic.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my God.

911 EMERGENCY DISPATCHER: What is the problem, sir? You have got to tell me. What is going on, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a -- (INAUDIBLE) falling, an aircraft, a big aircraft, kind of like the 9/11.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MESERVE: It turned out to be a photo-op. "But where are the photos?" the White House press secretary was asked.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I -- I don't know where those are.

MESERVE: The White House Press Office says the photographs will not be made public. "There is nothing wrong with the previous photos. So, we are going to use them."

So, why was the flight over Manhattan necessary in the first place? The White House didn't respond. Remember that declaration of a new era of openness?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JANUARY 21, 2009)

OBAMA: The old rules said that, if there was a defensible argument for not disclosing something to the American people, then it should not be disclosed.

That era is now over.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MESERVE: So why, exactly, doesn't that apply to the photos? An advocate for government disclosure says, it should, saying it is silly and absurd to withhold them.

PATRICE MCDERMOTT, DIRECTOR, OPENTHEGOVERNMENT.ORG: These are public records. These photographs, videos, or whatever they have are public records, because they were done on government time, using government resources and government personnel.

MESERVE: And, back in New York, the news reignited public outrage over the incident.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It doesn't seem right. If we spent the money to have these photos taken, they should be available for the public to see.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They are still worried about their image, and they don't want to be seen in a bad light.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: When President Obama found out about the flyover after the fact, he said it was a mistake, that it wouldn't happen again. A White House inquiry into the matter should be done within a few days. But there's no word on whether the report, unlike the photos, will be made public -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jeanne. We will wait and see what happens.

Let's check in with Betty right now. She's monitoring some other important stories incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM.

Betty, what is going on?

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf.

Swimmer Michael Phelps' three-month suspension from competition, well, that suspension is over. Phelps tells the Associated Press that he's happy to have some structure back in this life. USA Swimming suspended Phelps after a picture of him inhaling from a marijuana pipe surfaced.

Phelps is set to compete next week. And it will be his first time swimming competitively since winning eight gold medals at the Beijing Summer Olympics.

Well, Washington, D.C.'s City Council approved legislation today that recognizes same-sex marriages performed in other states. It's considered the first step toward eventually allowing gay marriages to be performed in the District. The 12-1 vote, with former Mayor Marion Barry passing the lone opposing vote, now heads to Congress, which has final say over the city's laws.

And we do have some sad news to tell you today. Dom DeLuise, the popular actor/comedian has died. His easygoing nature made DeLuise a popular character actor for decades. His love of cooking led DeLuise to a second year as a chef of fine cuisine and an author of cookbooks, two of them, in fact.

He was 75 years and old and had been battling cancer for more than a year -- Wolf.

BLITZER: He was one terrific actor and a very, very funny guy, too. I remember watching him as a kid growing up.

All right, thanks, Betty.

NGUYEN: Sure.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

Sarah Palin is proving to be a lightning rod again, even among some fellow Republicans desperate to try to improve the party's image.

And what caused the roof of the Dallas Cowboys' practice facility to collapse? Court documents raising new questions right now about the company that built it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART")

JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART": First of all, who is that guy?

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: David Souter. It's like nobody even knew he was on the thing. And he's quitting. He's 69.

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: What part of lifetime appointment don't you get, Souter?

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: Kennedy, Scalia, they are in their 70s. Ginsburg has got pancreatic cancer. She is still banging out opinions.

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: Justin Stevens has been dead since '06.

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: Still there.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

STEWART: That's how much he respects the institution. Judge Judy has been serving longer than this guy.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

STEWART: He's all like, "I'm bored."

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO")

JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": Supreme Court Justice David Souter said he's going to retire next month, 69 years old.

Why is he retiring? I mean, he's a senior citizen. What's he going to do? (LAUGHTER)

LENO: He's going to sit around the house all day in his robe being judgmental, right?

(LAUGHTER)

LENO: He might as well just stay on the job. It doesn't make any sense.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

LENO: Exactly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Comedians trying to take some of the air out of what's otherwise a very, very serious issue.

Now that Justice David Souter is retiring, who might replace him on the United States Supreme Court? President Obama is facing some serious scrutiny over who he's going to be selecting.

Let's talk about this and more with our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger.

Gloria, there's a lot of questions about the -- about the president's decision, but I want you to listen to what the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, said earlier today on "The Today Show."

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TODAY SHOW")

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: Well, I personally would like to see us get away from you have to be a judge to be a Supreme Court justice.

I think it would be good we would get a -- we could get a governor, we could get a senator, or former senator, people with some real life experiences for a while, rather than people who walk around in these black robes all the time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Does -- does he have a point?

BORGER: Yes, he -- he -- he does.

I mean, there are lots of people who agree with Harry Reid that, since Justice Sandra Day O'Connor left the court -- remember, she was a legislator in the state of Arizona -- that the court is just way too monochromatic, all these former jurists, and that you ought to bring some kind of fresh blood. And, from a political point of view, Wolf, too, there's also some virtue, some Democrats I spoke with today think, in having someone who doesn't have a long paper trail full of controversial opinions, somebody that might get confirmed a little easier.

After all, remember, Barack Obama himself, when he ran for president, did not have a very long resume. And, in the end, that didn't seem to hurt him...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: And you remember, the president, the other day, said he would like to have his new nominee confirmed, so, when the Supreme Court reconvenes in October, they will have all nine justices there.

What about the timing of when he's going to make his announcement?

BORGER: Well, we have -- we have learned today that it isn't going to be this week, as we -- we may have thought earlier. But I don't think this mystery is going to go on for very long.

And that's because of what we learned from recent history. Believe it or not, nine of the past 13 Supreme Court nominees were named within six days of the announced vacancy. So, presidents don't way that long.

And let's take Bush 41 as an example. It took him only three days to announce the nomination of David Souter, and then four days to announce the nomination of Clarence Thomas.

Now, some conservatives are saying, don't move too quickly. We need to take more time.

But history shows that presidents start thinking about who they are going to name to the Supreme Court as soon as they get elected.

BLITZER: Yes. All right. Thanks very much.

BORGER: Sure.

BLITZER: Desperate for more power, as the political minority, the Republican party is now plotting its path back to power.

One key strategy, re-branding itself -- that's what a group called the National Council for a New America hopes to do. Its leaders, some very big Republican names, are on a so-called listening tour right now.

Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.

Bill, what's happening with this new effort at outreach by the Republicans?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, the outreach is getting pushback. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The National Council for a New America is not even a week old, and it's already getting pushback from some leading conservatives, such as Rush Limbaugh. The council is trying to revive the shrinking Republican Party by being positive and inclusive, not what Democrats are calling the party of no.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "STATE OF THE UNION WITH JOHN KING")

MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR: Our party is a big tent party. We have folks of different perspectives. We have always been that way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHNEIDER: The current issue of "TIME" lists the world's 100 most influential people. The list includes two big-name Republicans, Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh.

Mitt Romney was asked about that on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "STATE OF THE UNION WITH JOHN KING")

ROMNEY: Was that the issue on the most beautiful people or the most influential people?

(LAUGHTER)

ROMNEY: I'm not sure.

If it's the most beautiful, I understand. We're not real cute.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHNEIDER: Was he dissing Sarah Palin? That was too much for Rush Limbaugh.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW")

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: They -- they despise Sarah Palin. They -- they fear Sarah Palin. They don't like her either. She's -- according to them, she's embarrassing.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

SCHNEIDER: Governor Palin was invited to join, the council says, but she didn't accept the invitation until this week. The council insists, it's looking forward, not backward.

JEB BUSH (R), FORMER FLORIDA GOVERNOR: It's nice to remember the good old days, when the good guys, if you are a conservative, were in power. None of that matters right now.

SCHNEIDER: Was he dissing Ronald Reagan? That was also too much for Rush Limbaugh. (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW")

LIMBAUGH: When you strip all the talk, it's, the Reagan era is over, and we have got to stop all this nostalgia and stuff.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

SCHNEIDER: All this talk about a bigger tent bothers some conservatives. They are pushing back. The Republican Party is their tent.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: The National Council for a New America held its first event Saturday in a pizza restaurant in Arlington, Virginia, just outside Washington. The message? We're in the heartland, where real Americans go to eat.

Not to be outdone, President Obama and Vice President Biden had lunch today in Arlington. And what's more American than pizza? How about burgers? -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We are going to have more on this story coming up later.

Bill, thanks very much.

Also, the pilot behind the miracle landing on the Hudson may or may not be a hero at his local library.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHESLEY "SULLY" SULLENBERGER III, PILOT: You have misplaced your library book. Perhaps you have just forgotten to return it until it's late, and you owe fines. Or maybe you're just trying to think of a really, really good excuse, like, it got lost in the Hudson River?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, we have a new read on what Sully is up to right now.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get to our "Strategy Session."

Joining us now, our CNN political contributor the Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, and Republican strategist Dana Perino, former White House press secretary during the Bush administration.

All right, guys, the president and the vice president -- you will appreciate this -- they had a little fun today. They got out of the White House. They got in the motorcade, crossed the Potomac River for a burger. Let's watch this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All right, guys.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're next. You're up.

OBAMA: Thanks.

OK.

(CROSSTALK)

OBAMA: How are you doing, man? What's your name?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)

OBAMA: Good to see you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, welcome (INAUDIBLE)

OBAMA: Nice to see you.

Joe?

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm going to have a Swiss cheeseburger, jalapeno peppers. And do you put ketchup on it, or do we do that ourselves?

OBAMA: I'm going to have a -- just your basic cheddar cheeseburger, medium-well.

There you go. All right. Thanks, guys.

This is -- this is mine?

(CROSSTALK)

BIDEN: I think that's mine.

OBAMA: That's yours. (OFF-MIKE) peppers, I have got to admit, looked pretty good. I should have...

(CROSSTALK)

BIDEN: That's cheddar, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's the white cheddar. That's Swiss with peppers.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. They must have had a good -- good hamburger, a cheddar cheeseburger, as you -- you heard him say. What -- what do you think of that, these little spontaneous outings that the president and vice president have? They go out to Northern Virginia and go out for a hamburger?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it's a really good thing, because, first of all, they get an opportunity to see regular people, order hamburgers, hot dogs, what have you.

But, also, they get -- they get an opportunity to really talk to real people. Apparently, the president wanted to some spicy mustard on the side. So, that's a good thing.

BLITZER: Your former boss, the former president of the United States, he liked to do that kind of thing, too.

DANA PERINO, FORMER GEORGE W. BUSH WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Oh, he -- he loved to do it. I think those are great events. And it was really good to see that the vice president felt like it was safe enough to go outside in public...

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

PERINO: ... after his last -- after last week's gaffe.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: You know, we -- we had a close-up shot, Dana. Take a look at this. We're going to play it for our viewers.

PERINO: Was it hand sanitizer?

BLITZER: Because, afterwards, the president left a little tip for the folks at that burger joint.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: There you go. All right. Thanks, guys.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PERINO: Absolutely. You have to do that.

BRAZILE: Twenty percent tip.

BLITZER: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

PERINO: You have to do that.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: If you look closely at the tape -- of course, we did -- he left five bucks.

BRAZILE: That's great.

BLITZER: It was a nice little tip...

PERINO: That's a great tip.

BRAZILE: That's a wonderful tip.

BLITZER: ... for the guys over there.

All right, let's move on and talk a little bit about what's happening in the GOP right now. The governor of Indiana, Mitch Daniels, he used to work in the Bush administration as the OMB director, a lot of us remember him when he was here in Washington. He says this right now.

I'm curious, Dana, to hear what you think.

"To me, there's not a lot of upside in whining. I hear Republicans whining about, you know, the Democrats not being bipartisan. You know, we weren't included in this. We weren't included -- we weren't at the table in that. Well, get over it. That's the way those folks are."

What do you think of that advice from Mitch Daniels?

PERINO: Well, I think, obviously, Mitch Daniels went from being involved in politics here in the administration, and then he went on to be a successful governor. And I'm sure that the GOP would benefit from his constructive criticism.

Look, I don't know if people are necessarily whining. I think there is a problem that the administration says they will do one thing on bipartisanship, but they're not walking the walk. And the one thing you can do about it is complain. But there are also some constructive things you can do. And I think the Republicans are starting to turn a corner and to participate in the debate as long as they are allowed to.

BLITZER: I don't think whining ever helps anybody try to get through a political crisis, does it?

BRAZILE: All they have to do is ask the Democrats what we did.

I mean, we first -- we formed the circular firing squad. Then we won. And then we got to business and rolling up our sleeves.

BLITZER: And you got over it and decided to look ahead.

BRAZILE: And let me tell you, after the 2000 campaign, it's tough, but you get over it.

But I think the governor is absolutely correct. It's time that the Republicans coming up with a strategy to help govern, not just say no, not just clinch their fists, but to work with the president and the Democrats on Capitol Hill to find real solutions.

PERINO: Well, you saw that last week, when Representative Cantor and Boehner and Jeb Bush and others put forward that new Council for a New America. I think I'm saying that -- the name correctly.

And, so, they are getting their act together.

BLITZER: They want to go on a listening tour.

PERINO: And...

(CROSSTALK)

PERINO: ... going to be in the wilderness for a while. And that's OK. And we will get through it, and we will be a stronger party for it.

BLITZER: What do you think about this -- you know, the gaffe, when that presidential plane, a backup to Air Force One, flew over Lower Manhattan last week? It scared a lot of folks down there.

And now the White House is saying, you know, the pictures -- it was a photo-op. There was nothing sinister about it. It was a photo- op. And now the White House is saying they're not going to release the photos to the American public, even though we paid for that photo- op.

PERINO: Well...

BLITZER: If you were in the White House right now, and an incident like that happened, you were the press secretary to the president, and the president said, "Well, what should we do, Dana, about something like this?" what would you say?

PERINO: Well, first of all, I think that we would be answering questions for why there shouldn't be a special prosecutor, because that was usually what we got accused of.

But I understand the White House has an internal investigation under way. This is a White House who said they would be the most transparent in history. So, I'm sure, when that investigation is finished, that they will be willing to show those photos. I think the one thing that they're very vulnerable on is the fact they changed what was a military career person into a political appointee. And that could be something that I think needs to be looked at.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: You mean the liaison in the White House to the military?

PERINO: That's right. We had a career military person. They changed it to be a political appointee.

BLITZER: Shouldn't they just release those pictures and say, you know what, we screwed up, we made a mistake, but, if you want to see the pictures, they're lovely pictures of this plane, Air Force One look-alike? The president wasn't on board, so we can't call it Air Force One.

Just let the public see the pictures, if they want?

BRAZILE: Well, the president apparently was furious. And Rahm Emanuel took that gentleman's head off. I don't know...

(LAUGHTER)

BRAZILE: I'm sure he will want to go into the military, after Rahm took his head off.

But Jim Messina, who's the deputy White House chief of staff, has conducted the internal review. Why not let them complete the review, and then we will see what comes with the package?

BLITZER: Always...

PERINO: I don't think you're going to be able to call them lovely pictures. I think they were terrifying.

BLITZER: Well, the pictures, we -- we will just see the plane.

PERINO: I know. I just -- I still don't think that anyone will think that they were lovely.

BLITZER: You're probably right. All right. They weren't lovely. I agree.

(LAUGHTER)

BRAZILE: I agree, too.

BLITZER: Guys, thanks very much.

BRAZILE: Yes.

BLITZER: Sarah Palin's daughter is getting ready to speak out on an issue that hits close to home, teenage pregnancy.

Plus, a Taliban leader's ominous warning to the United States that Americans will die -- our Nic Robertson went to dangerous lengths to get the interview.

And new concerns about the company that built the Dallas Cowboys' practice facility that caved in. We have been digging through court records. We will have a full report. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Sarah Palin's 18-year-old daughter is joining a national campaign to raise awareness about teen pregnancy prevention.

Bristol Palin will take part in a town hall meeting on the issue in New York tomorrow. She gave birth in December to a boy whose name is Trip. She's now separated from the baby's father, her former fiance, Levi Johnston. Palin says she feels she could be a living example of the consequences of teen pregnancy.

Remember, for the latest political news any time, always check out CNNPolitics.com.

Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, a library spokesman -- after his heroic landing, his library books got waterlogged in the Hudson River. And now he's delivering a message for the San Francisco Public Library.

Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.

Abbi, what is he saying?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, you remember this scene January 15. Well, somewhere on that sinking plane that day, Captain Chesley Sullenberger's four library books.

The library was good enough to waive the late fee. And now Sully has become a spokesman for the San Francisco Public Library's amnesty program, saying, now is your chance to come clean.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SULLENBERGER: I know what sometimes happens. You have misplaced your library book. Perhaps you have just forgotten to return it until it's late, and you owe fines. Or maybe you're just trying to think of a really, really good excuse, like, it got lost in the Hudson River.

Well, don't let fear of fines keep you from using one of our community's most precious resources.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TATTON: San Francisco library patrons are told they have two weeks to have overdue fines waived, whatever the excuse.

Sully, meanwhile, is trying to salvage his books. The pilot says they have been sent to be freeze-dried. The subject, reportedly, of those books was professional ethics -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting stuff.

I love that guy. He's -- he's really the...

(LAUGHTER)

TATTON: He's very popular.

BLITZER: Every time I fly into New York on that shuttle, and we go over the Hudson River, I'm saying to myself, I hope Sully is commanding this plane, if necessary.

TATTON: There you go. BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Abbi, for that.

Let's go back to Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: There -- a plane with you on it wouldn't dare crash.

BLITZER: You know...

CAFFERTY: Are you kidding me?

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: You get nervous. You come into La Guardia.

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: No, I know.

BLITZER: You see the Hudson River, you know what goes through your mind.

CAFFERTY: I know. You see nothing but water until you are much too close to the water.

BLITZER: Right.

CAFFERTY: And, then, miraculously, the -- the runway appears suddenly underneath the plane. It's a scary proposition.

The question this hour: How much money does it take to be rich, asked in the context that the governments, both state and federal, are looking to suck more money out of people who have more money.

Rick writes: A poll taken a couple of years ago asked people at various levels this very same question. The consistent answer was always twice as much as I make now. At $37,000 a year, the answer was $75,000. At $150,000, it was $300,000. I wonder if people's answers have changed this year."

Keren in Lansing, Michigan, writes: "I make $22,000 a year, and can barely make ends meet. I would love about a 440,000-a-year raise. That would do me just fine. I'm not greedy."

Anthony in New Jersey: "The definition of rich is easy: being able to hire help, so you'll never have to lift a finger for the everyday drudgeries we all detest, going to Europe like we go to the shopping mall, wondering which summer home we're going to spend the winter in, and treating the help like unfortunate dolts. Being able to afford all the lawyers needed to protect their glutinous lives doesn't hurt either. To these people, taxes are to be avoided like the plague. It's simply pocketbook over patriotism."

Gary writes: "Two hundred and fifty thousand seems about right. If you're in the top 5 percent of incomes, you're rich." Mike writes: "How much money does it take to be rich? It depends. Where do you live? Philadelphia, Pennsylvania? Philadelphia, Mississippi?"

Susan in Oregon: "If you live in the county and have only wood heat, rich is three cords of wood in February.

Anita writes: "Simple answer. If you have surplus income after you pay all your financial necessities, then you are well off. But you are really rich if you have good health, because it can't be bought and it is not taxable."

Jerry writes: "Rich? What is rich? Is Bernie Madoff really rich?"

And Cedric in Canada: "Two hundred and thirty-seven dollars and a case of Moosehead."

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

BLITZER: Thank you Jack.

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