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5.7 Magnitude Mexico Earthquake; House Speaker Clams up About CIA; Tom Ridge: Cheney Got it Wrong

Aired May 22, 2009 - 16:00   ET

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


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: And happening now, former Vice President Dick Cheney undercut by a fellow Republican. America's first homeland security secretary says Cheney got it wrong when he said President Obama has made the nation less safe.

It's a CNN exclusive.

Plus, the commander in chief salutes a new generation of warriors. This hour, his final graduation speech of the season and a new interview with the president, capping a week on the political defensive.

And the survivors of the miracle on the Hudson get their long lost luggage. It's an emotional flashback to the terror that they endured four months ago.

Wolf Blitzer is off today.

I'm John Roberts. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And we're following breaking news this afternoon. Just a little while ago, an earthquake measuring 5.6 struck about 90 miles southeast of Mexico City.

Our Abbi Tatton is monitoring the situation.

Abbi, what have you got?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: John, the very latest information coming into the USGS Web site right now, which has just been updated, actually a 5.7 magnitude earthquake striking about 35 minutes ago. We're going just to the south of Mexico City here, about 85 miles south, 30 miles south of the city of Puebla.

The shake maps the USGS puts online is recording what people are feeling in this area. You've got people making reports in the Mexico City area, in the Puebla area as well.

Eyewitnesses saying that they did feel shaking about half an hour ago. On the shake map, on the spectrum of how heavy that shaking was, it's around light to moderate, according to these very early reports. But we have heard from eyewitness that they did feel the buildings shaking, some people going out into the streets.

We'll bring you the very latest when we get more.

ROBERTS: Any reports at this point, Abbi, of any damage?

TATTON: Not so far that we have seen here, but as we say, this was just about 35 minutes ago, and we'll be waiting to get eyewitness reports, more information and pictures, and we'll bring them to you when we have them.

ROBERTS: Abbi Tatton for us.

Abbi, thanks so much. We'll let you keep monitoring the situation there.

They are two of the most well-known targets in politics right now, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former Vice President Dick Cheney. Today, former Bush Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge is disputing Cheney's claim that President Obama is making the country less safe.

Stand by for that exclusive.

Nancy Pelosi, meantime, is getting hammered by Republicans once again. Try, as she might, she can't seem to move beyond her bombshell claim that she and Congress were misled by the CIA.

First up, our Senior Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash.

Dana, is the speaker trying to change the subject here?

DANA BASH, CNN SR. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, both in her words, John, and in the unusual choreography of today's weekly press conference, she is trying to change the subject, or at least avoid one subject.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): House Speaker Nancy Pelosi came before cameras knowing she would be asked about the controversy that has embroiled her, but was determined to say nothing.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: We're going forward in a bipartisan way for jobs, health care, energy for our country. And on the subject that you asked, I have made the statement that I'm going to make. I won't have anything more to say about that. I won't have anything more to say about it.

Another subject?

BASH: A far different approach from last week, when she gave prepared remarks insisting she was never told waterboarding was used, lashed out at the CIA...

PELOSI: I am saying that they are misleading, that the CIA was misleading the Congress.

BASH: ... and delivered a performance even her biggest supporters called poor.

PELOSI: Let me read it again. I'm sorry, I have to find the page.

BASH: This time, the speaker brought backup, surprising reporters by coming to her weekly press conference with three members of her leadership team who all delivered remarks about Democrats' accomplishments and had a lot to say.

They talked...

REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD), MAJORITY LEADER: We passed a budget that makes strong investments in energy technology.

BASH: ... and talked...

REP. XAVIER BECERRA (D-CA), VICE CHAIR, DEMOCRATIC CAUCUS: Next up, health care. We intend to move forward.

BASH: ... and talked...

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD), DCCC CHAIRMAN: So we are restoring ourselves to budget honesty.

BASH: ... for nearly 25 minutes before taking any questions at an event meant to be a press conference.

PELOSI: With that, I would be pleased to take any questions.

BASH: And when reporters in the jam-packed room did get to question Pelosi, that lasted just over five minutes.

Pelosi's deputy, Steny Hoyer, clearly thought he was there to give her a hand. He moved in to try to intercept a question about the controversy.

QUESTION: Being misled by the CIA have...

BASH: Reporters did try to ask other questions on the topic to no avail.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Now, the question we tried to ask is whether the speaker has pressed the CIA to release classified notes from her 2002 briefing. These are notes she says prove she was never told harsh interrogation tactics were used.

It could get to the bottom of what she knew when, and those, of course, John, are the questions Republicans are still pounding away on and still calling for an investigation.

ROBERTS: All right.

Dana Bash for us on Capitol Hill this afternoon.

Dana, thanks so much.

Now former Vice President Dick Cheney is being called on the carpet by America's first homeland security secretary. Tom Ridge sat down for an exclusive interview with CNN's John King. The subject, Cheney's charge that President Obama is making America less safe.

Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You had the intelligence. You served in a very sensitive position in those days after 9/11.

Do you believe we are less safe today because of steps taken by President Obama?

TOM RIDGE, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I do not.

KING: You disagree with Dick Cheney then?

RIDGE: Yes, I disagree with Dick Cheney, but I also disagree with the approach both men are taking.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Let's bring in our Chief National Correspondent John King. He's the anchor of CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION." And our Senior Political Analyst Gloria Borger.

John, there's a striking contrast there between what Dick Cheney said and what Tom Ridge said.

How much of a dig is that on the part of the former homeland security secretary?

KING: It's a big shot, because, John, that is Dick Cheney's central argument. Yes, he's saying keep Gitmo open, closing that is a mistake. Yes, he's saying the enhanced interrogation tactics worked, President Obama should not have abandoned them.

But at the root of it all is Dick Cheney saying the decisions made by this president make Americans less safe. And here's a man that he recruited to join the Bush administration, who was there at the beginning, right after 9/11, helping to come up with the homeland security front in this administration who says he is wrong, Dick Cheney is wrong, that I don't think President Obama is making us less safe.

Now, Tom Ridge did take issue with some of the things President Obama has said and done. But on that big question that the former vice president has been out now for two months, Tom Ridge says no, disagree.

ROBERTS: And what do you think, Gloria? Does this take some of the ammunition out of Cheney's arguments?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think, sure, it does. I mean, this is a former homeland security secretary. Don't forget, Dick Cheney has also had some arguments publicly with Colin Powell of late, you know, and I think that's a pretty formidable opponent for him. Much of the American public opposes the use of torture, John McCain opposes torture.

So I think he's talking to the base of his party. He's talking about his legacy, he's talking about history right now, and the way it's going to be written about Dick Cheney and George W. Bush.

ROBERTS: You know, John, we see a lot of players on the Republican side saying wholly different things. This was the party of lockstep discipline. Now you've got Tom Ridge saying one thing, Dick Cheney saying another thing. You've got Newt Gingrich out there maybe getting ahead of the curve, saying Nancy Pelosi should step down as speaker, while John Boehner is only asking her to apologize over the CIA flap.

Are there too many independent operators out there?

KING: Well, your point about -- think back to the early days of George Bush and how disciplined the Republican Party was. Now, many think that was a mistake, that they didn't have good congressional oversight, that they didn't question the intelligence going into the Iraq War, that they didn't cut more spending and they allowed too much spending. So many think it was a mistake.

But right now, you do have -- it is -- some Republicans calling it a circus act. And you don't know who's on first in any given moment.

A number of conservative leaders joined Newt Gingrich in saying Nancy Pelosi should step down. Now, that is a great rallying cry for the right, but is it a health care message, an economy message, a climate change and energy message for the 2010 midterm elections? That is the worry many Republicans have. By the time we're on the ballot next time, we need to be talking policy.

BORGER: You know what? And Nancy Pelosi is a diversion. She's a real problem right now for the Democratic Party.

President Obama has avoided commenting on Nancy Pelosi and the question of what she knew and when she knew it. And Nancy Pelosi is playing right into the Republican game plan right now, because they know Barack Obama is popular, they want to keep the attack on her and on Senator Reid, and that works for them.

ROBERTS: Although, you've got Michael Steele, chairman of the RNC, John, saying that the attacks should be on President Obama, take him on head on.

KING: Well, I don't think there's anyone who disputes the idea that they should have a fight about policy. There's a lot of Republicans, John -- and some say maybe he will recover. Most Republicans aren't paying too much attention to their chairman right now, which is not a good thing for Michael Steele. But on the question of should you question the specifics of the Obama energy plan, cap and trade, for example? Republicans say it's a carbon tax, it's a higher energy tax. Should you question how big of a role the government will have in health care? Republican strategists say that is the way to do it, come at the policy, don't come at the president personally.

On that ground, they would agree with Michael Steele. However, he's having a tough time getting an audience in his own party right now.

BORGER: Don't forget they have a decision they're going to have to make about how to deal with the Supreme Court nominee that's coming up. Do they oppose the nominee just point blank, or do they say it's his choice?

ROBERTS: Lots more fun to come.

Gloria Borger, John King, thanks very much.

By the way, you can hear more of Tom Ridge's interview Sunday on "STATE OF THE UNION" with John King. It all begins at 9:00 a.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

Time now for "The Cafferty File."

And since I'm in New York, we have the pleasure of having Jack Cafferty in the studio with us today.

Good afternoon, sir.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: John, how are you?

You know, all of this carping -- I'm getting feedback in this thing, so I'm going to take it out of my ear.

All of this carping that Dick Cheney has been doing, I read something this morning, his approval numbers are actually going up.

ROBERTS: They are. He's up about eight points. George Bush is up about six points.

CAFFERTY: They're not good. They're a long way from good, but they're actually going up.

President Obama says some terror suspects from Guantanamo Bay detention facility will be sent to U.S. prisons. Despite opposition from Congress, the president is moving ahead with his plan to close Gitmo by next January. He says he will not authorize freeing any of the detainees who would "endanger the American people."

That's a good idea.

But he says some of these suspects will be tried in U.S. courts and held in federal Supermax prisons. The president says other detainees could be tried by military commissions and sent to other countries. Congress has dealt President Obama a big blow by blocking funds to close Gitmo until he comes up with a detailed plan on what to do with the 240 detainees that are being held there.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin is one of the few who voted against blocking the necessary $80 million for closing that place down. Durbin says the U.S. can safely house these terror suspects just like we're already housing 348 convicted terrorists in U.S. prisons.

Durbin says Guantanamo has become a symbol and an organizing tool for the terrorists, it's not helping us win friends in the war on terror, and he says we can't exactly ask any our allies to take any of these detainees when we're not willing to do the same. It makes some sense.

Nonetheless, Republicans continue to argue, and very successfully. They have played the Democrats like a violin on this. They continue to argue that the president's plan could endanger Americans.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney mumbling about his reversal of Bush-era detainee policies, Obama's, is "recklessness cloaked in righteousness" that will make the U.S. less safe. The gospel according to Darth Vader.

Here's the question: Do you have a problem with housing Gitmo detainees in U.S. Supermax prisons?

Go to cnn.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog.

To give you a sense of the political component of this, I'll bet I looked at 200 e-mails downstairs in my office before I came up here. I saw two that people said, "I'm concerned about this." There's 198 that said, Supermax prisons, they're not going anywhere. Lock them up and forget about it. Let's go on to health care and other stuff.

ROBERTS: I guess one of the big questions is, if you house those detainees in those prisons and they get into the general population, not in isolation, could they influence people to extremism? And while they may never get out of jail, the people that they influence might?

CAFFERTY: The other legal question is, the reason they chose Gitmo is it's outside the jurisdiction. The ACLU can't get to Gitmo and petition to get these guys released because of whatever. And they're concerned if they bring them back into this country, that there will be a judge somewhere who will say, well, these guys' rights have been violated, we've got to let them go.

ROBERTS: Looking forward to the responses, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

ROBERTS: Good to see you.

CAFFERTY: See you in a bit, John. ROBERTS: We're following breaking news out of Mexico City this afternoon, where a 5.7 magnitude earthquake hit just minutes ago. We're going to go there live.

Plus, a brand new interview with President Obama. He's on the defensive over the bailout of the auto industry, and he's pressed about criticism that General Motors, GM, should be known as "Government Motors."

And find out if he has ever spoke to his predecessor, George Bush, since taking office.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ROBERTS: We're following breaking news here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

John Roberts in for Wolf Blitzer this afternoon.

An earthquake measuring 5.7 struck 90 miles southeast of Mexico City, just a little more than a half an hour ago. A lot of rocking and rolling, a lot of shaking of high buildings.

We don't know if there are any reports of damage or injury at this point, but we do have someone on the ground there in Mexico City we can bring on to talk to now.

Aldo Pontecorvo is the relief director for World Vision there in Mexico City.

Aldo, thanks for being with us.

What did you feel about 40 minutes ago there in Mexico City?

ALDO PONTECORVO, RELIEF DIRECTOR, WORLD VISION: Thanks, John.

Well, slightly after 2:00 Mexico City time, we had this earthquake that lasted for approximately 20 seconds. It was (INAUDIBLE).

Fortunately, you know, the traffic here in the city usually on Friday evening is very crowded. And now it's worse because several regions, several parts of this city are without electricity and (INAUDIBLE) are not functioning. So we have a mess here.

Actually, I'm walking right now while I'm talking with you. I'm walking to a civil protection meeting in which they're going to give us the latest information.

We have a lot of helicopters going around the city and a lot of civil protection units that are going around the city trying to find out if there were some damages. So far, there have been no reports of any damage in Mexico City. So far, as well as in the city of Puebla, that is nearby the place where the epicenter is located. ROBERTS: Yes. We're seeing some pretty good pictures from TV Azteca on our screen right now. A lot of people out there in the streets, traffic obviously at a stop. I guess people getting out of buildings for fear that they could collapse, even though this is only described as a moderate earthquake.

Where were you, Also, when it hit? And how would you describe the shaking?

PONTECORVO: OK. Well, I was inside of my office, and our whole building was evacuated, as well as many, many others. It was a short one, but it looked to me that it was very hard. But it came from nothing, without any warning, and everybody had to go out.

Once we were out, we started to get together and find out more information. That's why I'm trying now to try to get to this meeting to get more information.

But traffic delays right now, and it's difficult to go through the city. That's why they're using the helicopters to check on all the buildings. All the people are outside of the buildings, and only a few are ready to go in.

ROBERTS: Also Pontecorvo for us. He's the relief director with World Vision.

Aldo, thanks very much. We'll let you get to your meeting, and maybe we can reconnect with you after that meeting to find out what's going on there in Mexico City.

We should point out, too, that there was an earthquake magnitude 5.4 that hit in Guatemala, some distance south of Mexico City, but in that same general area. Don't know if it's along exactly the same fault line, but certainly there has been some seismic activity there in the last 24 hours.

(NEWSBREAK)

ROBERTS: Juan Carlos Lopez from CNN en Espanol has been contacting folks in Mexico City. He joins us now.

Juan Carlos, what have you been hearing from folks on the ground there?

JUAN CARLOS LOPEZ, CNN EN ESPANOL CORRESPONDENT: John, everyone talks about the big earthquake of 1985, there were 10,000 dead. And that set a pace where Mexicans started preparations.

And nowadays, what I was just hearing from my colleagues in Mexico City, is that all the skyscrapers in Mexico -- remember, it's a city of 20 million -- are designed to resist the earthquake. So they felt that it was very strong, it went by very quickly, but they were really prepared.

People started evacuating. And apart from the scare, it seems that the main concern right now is that phone lines are jammed and there might be power out in some parts of Mexico City. But for people who live in Mexico City, it's over and it's something they're used to, although obviously it was a very frightening experience.

ROBERTS: Yes. What was the degree of shaking that was described to you?

LOPEZ: Well, they said the difference between this one and others was that it was intense, but very short. It was very short. They felt it -- our bureau in Mexico City is on the 8th floor, and they felt it quite strongly, but then it was quick.

People wanted to evacuate. And then everyone is now just returning. It was 2:30 -- they're an hour behind -- when it happened, and people were coming back from lunch. And it's Friday, so it was a difficult moment for them, but they say that things are going back to normal now in the Mexican capital.

ROBERTS: All right. Juan Carlos Lopez from CNN en Espanol.

Thanks. We'll let you keep on working your sources there in Mexico City.

(WEATHER REPORT)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And happening now, breaking news. A 5.7 earthquake hits Mexico City. And the earthquake hits some 90 miles southeast of the Mexico's capital.

Plus, tourists taking in the beauty of national parks might soon be packing heat legally.

The president just signed the law, the fine print in the credit card bill that not everyone knew about.

Plus, a battle zone with some very high stakes. What we found inside an abandoned Taliban training camp.

And what Mexican authorities call a big embarrassment. How did several dangerous inmates walk right out of prison?

Wolf Blitzer is off today.

I'm John Roberts. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Well, heading into this long Memorial Day Weekend, President Obama today saluted some of America's future military leaders including one named McCain.

CNN White House Correspondent Dan Lothian reports on the president's remarks at the U.S. Navel Academy in Annapolis.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: John, this was President Obama's third and final address to a graduating class. No controversy surrounding this visit. Instead, the president praised the class of 2009 for their commitment to country, and he vowed to make necessary investments to strengthen the military.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN (voice-over): A flyover by the Blue Angels followed by a vow from the commander in chief.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will only send you into harm's way when it is absolutely necessary, and with the strategy and the well-defined goals, the equipment and the support that you need to get the job done.

LOTHIAN: To the 1,036 graduates of the U.S. Navel Academy, President Obama said America needs you from training foreign militaries to defeating insurgents and extremists. And like the Navy SEALs, even freeing kidnapped captains from the hands of pirates.

OBAMA: They remembered their skills. They did their duty. They performed their job. They stood their watch. They took their time and then they took their shot.

LOTHIAN: The president's address came on the same day that he signed into law a bill aimed at cutting wasteful spending in the military, money he says that could benefit the troops.

OBAMA: At a time when we're fighting two wars and facing a serious deficit, this is inexcusable and unconscionable.

LOTHIAN: At the commissioning ceremony, the president also hit on another familiar theme, polishing America's image abroad.

OBAMA: When America strays from our values, it not only undermines the rule of law, it alienates us from our allies.

LOTHIAN: The commander in chief shook hands with each newly commissioned officer...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: John S. McCain IV.

LOTHIAN: ... including Senator John McCain's son Jack. A proud moment for Mr. Obama's presidential rival and his wife Cindy. The fourth McCain to graduate from the academy plans to become a naval aviator.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN: It's unclear how many of these graduates will soon be headed overseas, but President Obama said he's looking to these young men and women to help wind down the war in Iraq and ramp up the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan -- John.

ROBERTS: Dan Lothian with the president in Annapolis.

Dan, thanks so much. Right now, anticipation is building for President Obama to announce his first nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court. His choice to replace retiring Justice David Souter could come next week.

The president's short list reportedly includes several women and Hispanic candidates. He's under pressure to bring more diversity to the court, and the White House is bracing for a possible confirmation battle.

Nonetheless, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs had some fun today with the impending announcement.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Let me give you a quick run-through of the week ahead.

At 6:30 a.m. tomorrow morning, the president will announce his Supreme Court nominee.

(LAUGHTER)

GIBBS: Gotcha. I'm done. That's obviously a joke, but I did love to see that somebody can quickly text me the name of a chiropractor, because at least four dozen necks snapped in one direction.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: It's like going trout fishing.

In the debate over terror detainees at Guantanamo Bay, many people do not want them on American soil. It's called NIMBY, not in my backyard. But some people in one community out West say hardened terror suspects are welcome there.

CNN homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve explains.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): John, Hardin, Montana, population 3,400, is opening its doors to some people no one else wants.

(on camera): This could be Gitmo West. Right now, it's a prison with no prisoners in tiny Hardin, Montana. City officials want to fill it with detainees from Guantanamo Bay, terrorists like self- proclaimed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

GREG SMITH, ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR: It would bring jobs. Believe it or not, it would even bring hope and opportunity.

MESERVE: This is the poorest county in Montana, and the $27 million prison has turned into a white elephant. But not everyone wants detainees here.

DARLEEN MCMILLEN, RESIDENT OF HARDIN, MONTANA: I would move out of Hardin. My son is in the military. He came back from Afghanistan. He says the people have no respect for any human life, even their own.

MESERVE: Some in the community worry that, if detainees were put here, they would attract other radicals to the area, or, even worse, escape.

SMITH: The person that wants to make it an issue, we would be happy to lock them up and see how long it takes them to come out. And, then, if they can, I will buy them coffee at the coffee shop. Not a problem.

MESERVE: There are plenty of cameras and wiring for more and row upon row of razor wire.

(on camera): They are even ready for trouble here. They have got gas masks and riot helmets, shields, batons. They even have guns.

(voice-over): Because there are no prisoners, Glenn (ph) and Rae Perkins got laid off after moving to Hardin to take guard jobs. They oppose moving detainees here, even though it might getting their jobs back.

RAE PERKINS, FORMER PRISON GUARD: Bottom line, I just want the facility to open. But, no, I don't really want people in my backyard.

MESERVE: But, if Guantanamo is closed, detainees will have to go somewhere.

SMITH: Coming into a community that really wants them is going to be a lot easier than going into one that doesn't.

MESERVE: And this may be the only city in the country that's ready, willing and able to take them.

(on camera): Federal officials are on the hunt for somewhere to put the detainees, but Hardin hasn't heard from Washington, not yet -- John.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: And we're following breaking news this afternoon, an earthquake that hit in Mexico City, actually 90 miles southeast of Mexico City, measuring 5.7. It was 34 miles deep, so, a fairly shallow earthquake.

Ariel Crespo is the bureau manager for CNN en Espanol in Mexico City. He's on the telephone with us now.

Ariel, can you describe what the situation was when the earthquake hit, and what do we know about its aftermath?

ARIEL CRESPO, MEXICO CITY BUREAU MANAGER, CNN EN ESPANOL: Well, thank you, John. Exactly as you said, a strong earthquake shook Mexico City, sending people to the streets around lunchtime. Actually, the epicenter was in (INAUDIBLE) which is in the state of Puebla, like 90 miles away from Mexico City. As you said, 5.7 is the magnitude so far reported.

No immediate reports of injuries or damages. Residents across the city gathered on sidewalks, while police surveyed streets. Again, so far, no major damages or victims reported.

Where I was exactly was in downtown Mexico City in the Condesa area. Everybody started like running, because it felt like a big shock from side to side. So -- but, as I said, nothing really major damages reported so far.

ROBERTS: Ariel, everybody of course remembers what happened in the mid-1980s there in Mexico City, when that huge earthquake took down so many buildings and killed some 10,000 people.

The geography and the geology of that area, that Mexico City is a -- is a city that sits up fairly high in altitude, but in a big bowl as well that is sort of filled with, as Bonnie Schneider was telling us, a mixture of volcanic ash and clay, very susceptible to earthquakes there.

CRESPO: That's true, John, but let me tell you as well that because of that experience in 1985, Mexico has developed a very, very, very effective preventative policy regarding this.

And it was really amazing to see thousands of people lining up in the street and getting out of the buildings orderly. So, I think that lesson is still very, very, very in -- aware in people's minds here.

ROBERTS: All right.

CRESPO: John.

ROBERTS: All right, as -- you know, as -- as you -- as you said, Ariel, no reports of damage or injuries at this point, but, certainly, it -- it has caused some problems across the city with power outages. Do we know the extent of the power outages there?

CRESPO: Particularly with cell phones, not necessarily with energy, but cell phones. I was one of them who actually hasn't been able to have access to my cell phone for the last 38, 40 minutes.

But, other than that, and, again, as I said, it happened just minutes before into lunchtime, so you can imagine traffic is really hectic and crazy, chaotic in the city at the moment as well.

ROBERTS: All right.

Ariel Crespo, who is the bureau manager for CNN en Espanol, our sister network, there in Mexico City -- Ariel, thanks very much. We will get back to you in just a little bit. We will keep an eye on developments, by the way, from Mexico City during the course of the afternoon, as -- and give you details as we get them here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're standing by to hear from President Obama. He just sat down for an interview. He talked about how long he expects to oversee General Motors.

And, also, Tom Ridge vs. Dick Cheney, Colin Powell vs. Rush Limbaugh, is it every Republican for himself these days? Stand by. We will have that and our "Strategy Session" coming up for you.

We will be right back. You're watching THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: It's the miracle seen around the world, the U.S. Airways flight that landed in the Hudson River after an emergency. The pilots and crew's heroic acts saved the lives of everyone on board.

But, as far as saving their belongings, well, that might have felt like standing on a wing and a prayer -- that is, until now.

Our Mary Snow is at the Hudson River with some very good news for those passengers -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, pretty remarkable, John.

As you recall, when Flight 1549, after it touched down in the Hudson four months ago, it had drifted to Lower Manhattan. And, by that time, the plane was totally submerged. So, imagine the reaction of passengers when they learned that some of their items were able to be salvaged.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARRY LEONARD, U.S. AIRWAYS FLIGHT 1549 PASSENGER: This is actually the other part of my boarding pass from January 15. As you can see over here, it's January 15, Flight 1549 and my seat number, which is 1-C.

SNOW: It's not something Barry Leonard ever thought he would see again. When U.S. Air Flight 1549 splashed down into the frigid Hudson River, he jumped into the water and started swimming.

His jeans are one of the few things he was able to save from that day, and he continues to wear them. But other reminders came rushing back recently when a box arrived at his home.

LEONARD: Everything from "The Wall Street Journal" of that day to my W-2 form that I didn't even realize was in...

(LAUGHTER)

LEONARD: ... in this package, you know, my -- my briefcase that, you know, I had had for decades, it was all of those things. And, you know, to think about the fact that that was underwater is just amazing to me.

And, you know -- and the fact that how many times does an airline get to send all of these types of products back to a living person?

SNOW: Rarely. U.S. Air worked with a Texas-based company, which tells CNN it sorted through about 30,000 items from the flight, cleaning them, sometimes freeze-drying items to preserve them.

MARK ROCCO, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, GLOBAL-BMS: Passengers' emotional tie to their possessions because of a traumatic incident like this, highly emotional. So, we -- we just want to make it available.

For Mary Ann Bruce (ph), getting back some of her jewelry held strong sentiment. She was amazed to find her electric toothbrush still working.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... toothbrush.

(LAUGHTER)

SNOW: The book that Dan Vinton (ph) was reading on the plane is now back in his hands.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm about two or three chapters into the book. In fact, I think my mark is still here.

SNOW: And still there and working for Vicky Barnhardt (ph) are the four flash drives that were salvaged. She is now using running shoes that were returned, but says she mostly treasures her boarding pass.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I thought, well, that is kind of cool. That will be a nice little souvenir to save for the kids and grandkids.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: And, John, one passenger e-mailed us to say that his briefcase was returned last week on his birthday. And he and other passengers have said that it's important for them. They're trying to remember moment by moment. This -- obviously, getting their personal belongings brought everything back -- John.

ROBERTS: All right, Mary Snow down for us down there on the Hudson River.

Amazing that they're getting anything back, after that ordeal.

Well, what happens when your bags are lost, but are found by someone else? The airlines will typically spend about three months trying to reunite bags with their owners. After that, it becomes unclaimed luggage. According to a company called the unclaimed baggage center, a very small amount of luggage is truly lost. But potential findings for customers are large. The company says it has come across an almost 41 karat emerald, like the one seen here, a full suit of armor, even a live rattlesnake.

We have got our "Strategy Session" coming up with James Carville and Bill Bennett, as well, a brand-new interview with President Obama.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: More now on one of our top stories this afternoon: former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and his comments about America's safety.

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

KING: You had the intelligence. You served in a very sensitive position in those days after 9/11. Do you believe we're less safe today because of steps taken by President Obama?

RIDGE: I do not.

KING: You disagree with Dick Cheney, then?

RIDGE: Yes, I disagree with Dick Cheney, but I also disagree with -- -- with the approach both men are taking.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: All right, that's Tom Ridge, the former homeland security secretary.

We're going to be checking in for our "Strategy Session" with CNN political contributors Bill Bennett and James Carville.

But, first of all, we have got a brand-new interview with President Obama to tell you more about. And that was by C-SPAN's Steve Scully. He joins us now from the White House.

Steve, you asked the president about a lot of different things, including health care. Why don't we listen to a little bit about what he said on that topic?

STEVE SCULLY, POLITICAL EDITOR, C-SPAN: Sure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, C-SPAN)

SCULLY: Mr. President, let's move to health care, because some of the same people who were at odds with President Clinton, tried to block his initiatives 15 years, are at the table today. What's changed?

OBAMA: Well, a lot's changed.

What hasn't changed is the ever-escalating cost of health care. And, so, people have seen, since '93, when we failed to reform health care, that costs have continued to skyrocket.

I think, probably, the biggest change politically is that businesses now recognize that, if we don't get a handle on this stuff, that they are going to continue to be operating at a competitive disadvantage with other countries.

And, so, they anxiously seek serious reform. The fact that we have got hospitals and doctors who also recognize that the system is unsustainable on its current path, fiscal conservatives who recognize that the single biggest component of driving down our deficits and long-term debt is getting control of Medicare and Medicaid costs, and that health care reform is critical to bend the curve, all of those things, I think, have converged.

And you are absolutely right. The meeting we had here with insurance companies, drug companies, doctors, hospitals, labor, all the stakeholders involved, nurses, we haven't seen that before.

Now, it's still going to be very difficult to get a bill passed, but I'm absolutely committed to keeping this process moving, keeping...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: You know, Steve, the -- the president says that one of the ways -- and the only way, really -- to sort of rein in deficits long-term is to reform health care. But what do you put his chances at, given the climate these days?

SCULLY: Well, you know, two things that he said, one is that, using his words, the stars are aligned to get this passed, and he seemed to indicate that something is going to pass this year.

And my sense, in talking with him, is that, once he gets beyond his Supreme Court nominee, this is going to be topic A over the second half of next -- of this year, and so a lot of hearings to cover for CNN and C-SPAN.

ROBERTS: You know, he talks about this idea of, you know, we're running out of money. And with the deficit running about $1.8 trillion at present and deficits running for as far as the eye can see, adding as much as $5 trillion to the debt just over his first term, is he giving Republicans a pretty powerful talking point there, if what he says, we're -- we're running out of money?

SCULLY: Absolutely.

I mean, I brought up that point up, the fact that we have an $11 trillion national debt. And I said, at what point do we run out of money? And his response was, we already have.

And then what he did is, he walked through the process involved in trying to bring down the deficit, attributed health care costs as part of the problem, the situation with the auto industry, the financial markets, and saying that, if we can reduce some of these costs, we will then bring down the deficit, as the economy turns around.

The one other interesting point that he made is the auto industry, pointing out that there are about 10 million vehicles sold in the last year. And he thinks, if we get up to 14 million or 16 million, that's going to help Detroit, GM and Chrysler as a leaner, meaner company, as they move out of bankruptcy for Chrysler or potentially move into bankruptcy for GM.

ROBERTS: Of course, Steve, the former vice president has been very vocal. He's been out on the -- the stump there, and he's been very critical of the president.

But we wonder, as he talked with his predecessor, Bush 43? You asked him about that. Let's listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, C-SPAN)

SCULLY: ... any conversation with former President Bush since the inauguration?

OBAMA: I have.

SCULLY: And?

OBAMA: Well, you know, the -- I think that, although I have only been president four months, I think a general policy of keeping confidence with your predecessors is -- is important.

SCULLY: Yesterday, and your speech, followed by the former vice president, was described as historic.

Was it?

OBAMA: You know, I'm not sure it's historic.

I think that I tried to create a context for what we're doing around issues like Guantanamo, my decision to ban enhanced interrogation techniques, how we can both preserve our values, uphold our ideals, and wage an aggressive battle against organizations like al Qaeda that want to do us harm.

And, you know, I am confident that we are stronger when we uphold our principles, that we are weaker when we start pushing them aside. I think there was a period of time right after 9/11, understandably, because people were fearful, where I think we -- we cut too many corners and made some decisions that were contrary to who we are as a people.

I think there were adjustments that were made, even within the Bush administration, to try to deal with some of those mistakes. There are still consequences, though, to some of those earlier poor decisions. And I think Guantanamo was one of them.

And -- and it's -- it's a messy situation. It's not easy. We have got, you know, a lot of people there who we should have tried early, but we didn't. In some cases, evidence against them has been compromised. They are -- may be dangerous, in which case we can't release them. And, so, finding out how to deal with that, I think, is going to be one of our biggest problems.

On the other hand, I'm very confident that, you know, if we approach this in a way that isn't trying to score political points, but is trying to create a legal and institutional framework with checks and balances, respectful of due process and rule of law, if we set up that system, then there's no reason why we can't try, either in a military commission or in a federal court, people...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: So, there you had the president there talking about his plans for Guantanamo Bay.

Steve, obviously, it's a difficult situation for him to resolve and one that even his Democratic colleagues are not on board with, denying him the money to close down Guantanamo Bay.

But also very interesting to note that he has spoken with former President Bush. Did he -- did he tell you how many times or maybe even what they talked about?

SCULLY: You know, as he was leaving, I asked him that again. And he was to -- quick to go to the bill-signing ceremony -- held it very close to his chest, but, again, as you saw from the interview, saying that he wanted to make sure that he could continue to have that conversation, so no indication, although we do know that there was the one conversation before his speech on Iraq.

My guess, just based on the interviews, it's probably been a couple of times.

ROBERTS: All right, Steve Scully from C-SPAN -- Steve, thanks for being us, and thanks for sharing the interview, by the way.

SCULLY: My pleasure.

He also said the job exceeds his expectations, which I thought was interesting.

ROBERTS: That is interesting.

And you can see more of Steve's interview tomorrow morning on C- SPAN. That will be at 10:00 a.m. Eastern.

Let's bring in today's "Strategy Session" now. CNN political contributor and Democratic strategist James Carville is with us. And CNN political contributor Bill Bennett, national talk radio host, is with us as well.

Let's go back to -- to Tom Ridge. John King, in an exclusive interview with the former homeland security secretary, asked him if he shared Dick Cheney's view that America less safe than it was because of Obama administration policies. Tom Ridge said, "No, I don't think so." But he also didn't like the way either man is approaching the topic.

James, is there too much politics that has been injected into this argument?

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I -- you know, honestly, I don't think the president has injected a lot of politics in it.

It wasn't just, by the way, Secretary Ridge. It was Senator McCain that expressed reservations. Senator McConnell said that he didn't -- didn't even watch the vice president's speech.

This morning, I read -- I think it was David Brooks -- but I don't want to miscredit him, someone else -- who said that these policies had actually stopped like in 2003, 2004, this -- these enhanced interrogation, or torture, or whatever you want to refer to it as.

So, I'm not sure where all this is coming from. And there seems to be some reluctance in the Republican Party at -- at very, very senior and high levels to engage in this debate. And I think we ought to let the president try to figure this get Gitmo thing out and move on from there.

ROBERTS: Bill Bennett, do you agree that the president has not injected any politics in this? He's been pretty harsh on the previous administration.

WILILIAM BENNETT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Oh, yes, he's been all over the Bush administration. They really need to stop complaining about the Bush administration. It's their presidency now. It's their administration now. Let's move on with it. Stop griping about the other guy and go to work.

Particularly, it's ironic, because it's interesting what you just pointed out, John, that he did speak to President Bush. I'm not surprised because, although the president talks like he's from the ACLU, he's acting like George Bush. Whether you're talking about military tribunals, or not releasing the photographs, or surveillance, or the Patriot Act, this is consistent with the Bush administration, with two exceptions, Guantanamo, where the Democrats don't agree, and they don't want to water-board three people, which we did and which I think was a very good idea.

Otherwise, despite the rhetoric, and despite the left-sounding stuff, it is perfectly consistent with the Bush administration, which is why the left is starting to go nuts.

ROBERTS: James, Bill Bennett talks about a point that Charles Krauthammer made in his editorial in "The Washington Post" today, saying that there's not a whole lot of daylight between many Bush administration policies and the policy that this president is pursuing.

Do you agree?

CARVILLE: Again, I can't -- I can't figure out what these guys are saying, because you have the vice president saying that his policies are making us less safe, and you have the secretary and Charles Krauthammer saying that he has the same policies. So, I'm a little bit vexed here.

But, given that, I thought that we opened up an entire new front in the Israeli-Pakistani conflict. I thought he said he was going to close Gitmo. We have changed commanders. We're redefining our mission in Afghanistan right now.

He's completely reversed our policy in -- in -- in Iran, in terms of -- of what we're doing now. So, I -- I think -- and -- and he's been in office for four months. I mean, you know, and, sometimes, prudence dictates that you don't come like the cavalry and start shooting things up and changing everything all of a sudden.

But I think he's done a lot for the image of the country. And I think you're starting to see some changes. And you know something? Just because President Bush did it, it doesn't mean everything that he did had to be necessarily wrong. I think you have got to evaluate each thing on its merits.

ROBERTS: But is it true or untrue that, during the campaign, the president spoke out quite strongly against these military tribunals, and then has said, in the last 24 hours, that, where prudent, he will try people through a military commission system?

CARVILLE: Right.

I also think what he said was is that he wanted to have more safeguards in there. But, you know, some -- you know, a campaign promise is one thing.

BENNETT: Yes.

CARVILLE: And, if you look, and he said he would close Guantanamo, he's going to do that.

And we have got people there -- obviously, the president was saying it when he was with Steve Scully. We have got people there that probably never should have been there in the first place that, who knows, they may not have liked us when they got there, but they sure in the heck don't like us now.

And I don't have a good answer for what to do with these people. That's why opening the thing in the first place was -- was -- was not the smartest idea I ever heard of.

BENNETT: Yes, it wasn't a smart idea I ever heard of, to make this promise, when he can't keep it.

And James is one of the best campaign strategists around. But this tells you why the American people are cynical about the campaign business, because you can say it's only a campaign promise. Well, fine. But the president does seem to be learning on the job.

I think the critical question about the Obama presidency is the education of the president. He is figuring out some stuff on the job. And that's a good thing, because he's getting a recognition of reality. Those daily briefings, I imagine, are a lot different than what he was given in mornings on the bus on the campaign.

ROBERTS: In terms of how this administration's policy is being described, I heard something interesting, James, this morning during "AMERICAN MORNING" when I was interviewing somebody who you may be familiar with...

(LAUGHTER)

ROBERTS: ... your dear wife, Mary Matalin, who kept using the word soft power when describing the Obama administration. Let's listen to how she put it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "AMERICAN MORNING")

MARY MATALIN, FORMER ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT BUSH: This so-called soft powers has resulted in Iran being more verbose, launching a missile this week. North Korea has pulled out of any kind of negotiating posture. Soft power isn't working.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: So, soft power, soft power, soft power.

James, is this administration pursuing a policy of soft power?

CARVILLE: This administration has been in office for four months. Thank God that hard power kept Iran and North Korea in check. It really -- they didn't -- they wasn't bellicose or use any kind of language during the era of hard power in this country.

I think we need to take a deep breath. We're four months into this administration. There are a lot of things that are changing here. I think a lot of them are for the good. And -- but let's see where -- let's see where this thing goes.

You know, these are some -- some rather sticky problems that we have with Iran and North Korea and other things. I think the president has changed policies, and changed them pretty dramatically. And let's see. Who knows? It may work.

ROBERTS: Last word to you, Bill, with what James said. And I actually came back at Mary with that this morning to say, you know, during the Bush administration, Iran did exactly the same thing. It was test-firing missiles. And North Korea was extraordinarily belligerent.

So, whether you pursue the policy the way that the Bush administration did or the Obama administration is, you're going to have the same problems.

BENNETT: Well, I didn't agree with a lot of what happened on Iran policy.

But notice, since Barack Obama has been in office, the Iranians haven't been slowed down at all. They fired that missile, 1,200-mile range, that -- that race -- conference on race in Europe, declaring war against the Jews again.

Soft power is, I predict, not going do it. I have great affectation for Mr. Carville, but I will side with Mrs. Carville, AKA Ms. Matalin, on this one.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

BENNETT: The meeting -- the meeting of Benjamin Netanyahu with the president was a deadly serious meeting. And I don't think soft power is going to be the resolution.

ROBERTS: All right, gentlemen, we have got to wrap it there.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: Let me say this. If, after eight years, it has the same result as the Bush administration, I will agree with you.

ROBERTS: All right. James Carville, Bill Bennett, good to catch up with you. Thanks, gentlemen. And I hope that you enjoy the Memorial Day weekend.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And happening now, breaking news: A powerful earthquake rocks Mexico City, sending people fleeing into the streets, as skyscrapers sway and homes and apartment buildings shake. We're monitoring all of the latest reports by satellite, on the phone, and on the Web.