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Some Gitmo Prisoners Moving to Illinois; Dreamliner Takes Flight; Are Democrats Compromising Real Health Care Reform?
Aired December 15, 2009 - 16:00 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: President Obama goes to new lengths to try to get Congress off his back about a problem that's costing Americans every day. This hour, we reveal a new proposal being studied behind closed doors over at the White House. Stand by for new information.
The Obama administration is moving forward with a plan to transfer about 100 terror suspects from Guantanamo Bay in Cuba to an Illinois prison. Critics are railing about security risks and questioning the president's motives. Stand by for that.
And it took a long time to get this plane to get off the ground. We're tracking the maiden voyage of Boeing's first new commercial airliner in over a decade. Stand by for the landing for the Dreamliner and find out whether it passed this big test.
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.
We will get to all those stories in a moment, but we're standing by for the landing. There you see some picture of the Dreamliner that's getting ready to land. Apparently, it is landing right now near Seattle, Washington. This is the 787 Dreamliner. It's a new generation of commercial aircraft. And you're seeing history unfold right now.
Let's talk about it with Darryl Jenkins, former visiting professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
Darryl, take a look at these pictures. We will show our viewers. You see the rain there. And the plane has not yet landed. I want to just correct. That picture we just saw was not the actual landing. That was when it was getting ready to take off, but we're expecting any moment now for this Dreamliner to land in Washington State.
Why is this so significant?
DARRYL JENKINS, EMBRY-RIDDLE AERONAUTICAL UNIVERSITY: Oh, this is a big day for all of us for a number of reasons.
One, it's an entirely new plane, an entirely new design, and entirely new economic model for commercial airlines.
BLITZER: Talk a little bit about it. JENKINS: Well, it's lighter. It can fly longer. It has really great economics. At a time when jet fuel is going through the roof, it's going to use about 20 percent less fuel on the same length of flight as older planes.
BLITZER: The fact that it's raining now, should that make any difference as far as the landing in this maiden voyage is concerned?
JENKINS: Oh, no, no. This plane can go through this with no problems. You might see -- if there's a lot of winds, you might see the wings fluttering back and forth, but this is no big deal.
BLITZER: All right. We are going to have live coverage of the landing of the Dreamliner. I want our viewers to see it, so don't go away, Darryl. We are going to continue this conversation.
But in the meantime let's move on to some other important news.
We saw President Obama just a little while ago defending health care reform, sternly insisting it would reduce the federal deficit, not add to it.
We're also learning that privately the nation's massive budget shortfall, well over a trillion dollars at the end of the fiscal year, is very much on his mind. We're going to have much more on health care wrangling. That's coming up momentarily.
But, right now, CNN has learned how the president may confront all that red ink and concerns, deep concerns in Congress and among the American public.
Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry. He's getting some new information.
Ed, there's some serious consideration under way at the White House for a new initiative to deal with the deficit?
ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. This is a CNN exclusive
The president, the White House in general has said very little publicly whether or not the president will sign on to a deficit commission that would basically institute potentially major tax increases, major spending cuts to try to bring the federal deficit under control.
But CNN has now learned that, behind closed doors, the president and his top aides are very actively considering the president signing an executive order that would basically institute this fiscal commission. It could have a major, major impact on Washington, all around the country.
HENRY (voice-over): Documents obtained by CNN reveal the president considering an executive order that would create an outside commission to weigh sweeping tax increases and deep spending cuts to programs like Medicare that affect millions of Americans, all aimed at slashing the exploding federal deficit, which the president has promised to tackle after the economic recovery takes hold.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I'm looking forward to working with the group of leaders that I just met today about how we can structure a plausible scenario to get to medium- and long-term deficit reduction.
HENRY: The documents suggest a split within the administration, some advisers arguing the commission should have a narrow mandate, because it's too complicated to tackle reform of Social Security, taxes, and Medicare all at once.
But other advisers, according to the documents, believe there should be -- quote -- "everything on the table."
SEN. JUDD GREGG (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: We are on path to bankruptcy as a nation, and it's that simple.
HENRY: The White House is facing heavy pressure from senators threatening to block a large increase in the nation's debt ceiling, unless the president signs on to their version of a deficit commission.
SEN. KENT CONRAD (D), NORTH DAKOTA: I believe a defining moment -- 27 senators, 12 Democrats, 15 Republicans, have signed on in just a matter of hours.
HENRY: The Senate version of the commission would give 10 Democrats and eight Republicans power to study the problem, and then vote after the midterm elections on a reform package that could include dramatic tax hikes and spending cuts.
If 14 of the 18 members approve the package, giving it a bipartisan nod, it would force an automatic up-or-down vote in both the House and Senate. White House officials, meanwhile, are considering their own version of a commission, with more Obama officials on the panel to give the president more control, though the documents obtained by CNN warn that also brings political risk -- quote -- "the promise of greater say over the deliberations and final product of the commission, but the peril of being more deeply implicated in the event of failure."
HENRY: Now, part of the fear among some of the president's advisers is handing over so much power to an outside commission. What if they come back and basically say, look, we should raise taxes on anyone making over $100,000, instead of people making over $250,000, which was a campaign promise the president made?
There are other advisers to the president and other top Democrats saying, in private, look, the president could have deniability and say, look, this bipartisan commission outside the White House decided this is the best prescription. And, look, there's major, major problems. It needs to be dealt with. I'm told that in the days ahead, this is a big, big issue the president is going to be grappling with -- Wolf.
BLITZER: He's got a lot of big issues right now.
Ed, stand by. I want to bring in our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger.
If this commission is created, Gloria, would it really make much of a difference?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think that's -- that's the big question, Wolf, is, would a commission on reducing the deficit actually have any teeth.
And Ed talked about the commission that is being recommended by Senate Kent Conrad. They want a guarantee on that commission that there would be a vote in the Congress, Wolf, by a date certain. And that's very important, because that means Congress has to take this up. It would have to pass their recommendations by a supermajority, but nonetheless have to take it up.
If the president just issues an executive order, he can say, this is what they ought to study, this is who you might think of having on the commission, but he can't guarantee without legislation that he would take it up by a date certain. So it would have less teeth if the president recommended it.
BLITZER: The annual budget deficit is exploding, more than $1 trillion, but the national debt is exploding as well. And now they have to increase that debt ceiling, one House leader suggesting, though, today only a two-month increase, as opposed to a long-term increase. What's happening here?
BORGER: It's called punting. It's a technical term, Wolf. But what they're doing is, they're saying, look, we cannot pass over a $1 trillion increase in the debt ceiling without some guarantee that we're going to have a deficit commission. They can't get their act together on that yet, Wolf, right now.
So they're saying, we're going to do it in a small increment. We have got to pass health care reform before January. In January, we will come back and we will take up the larger issue and the larger increase in the debt ceiling.
BLITZER: The president has been speaking about the deficit and health care reform. I want to play a little clip. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: And in terms of deficits, because we keep on hearing these ads about how this is going to add to the deficit, the CBO has said that this is a deficit reduction -- not a deficit increase.
So all the scare tactics out there, all the ads that are out there, are simply inaccurate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The Congressional Budget Office suggesting that, when you take a look at all -- this entire package over the next 10 years, it will actually bring down the deficit a little bit.
BORGER: Right. That's a talking point the president is going to have to continue to say over and over and over again, because, Wolf, if you look at our polls -- take a look at this one we did in early December -- we asked people, would the Senate health care bill increase the budget deficit? And almost eight out of 10 are saying they think that it would.
And so the president really has got a tough thing to sell to the American public, that a health care bill that is going to cost a trillion dollars is actually in the long term going to help reduce the deficit.
BLITZER: All right.
BORGER: Tough sell.
BLITZER: Tough sell, indeed. All right.
I want to go right to Washington State right now, because that Dreamliner, take a look at that. It's landing right. That is not the Dreamliner. That's another plane that's landing.
BLITZER: I'm sorry. Apologize for that. That is definitely not the Dreamliner. That's an old Boeing aircraft landing in Washington State.
But, once that plane, that Dreamliner lands, we will show it to you, bring it to you.
Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now for "The Cafferty File."
Jack, a plane is not a plane, necessarily. These planes are different.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Well, a plane is not a Dreamliner. There's only one Dreamliner.
Let me go back to this commission that they're talking about. Did you catch in Ed Henry's piece nothing will happen after the elections next year, which means another trillion added to the debt?
And what is it -- these people need a commission to tell them that they need to raise taxes and cut spending? Isn't that what we pay them to do, figure out what has to be done to balance the budget? It's just sinful, what these people in Washington try to pass off as some sort of responsible carrying-out of their -- their job assignment.
Nearly a year after President George W. Bush left office -- by the way, if any more planes land, don't hesitate to interrupt -- nearly a year after President left office, computer technicians have found 22 million e-mails that his administration said were missing.
Two watchdog groups had sued over these documents, saying that the e- mails had been mislabeled and effectively lost. That's a quote. But it could be years now before the public gets to see any of this stuff. First, all of these e-mails go to the National Archives. They will decide which e-mails get released. Records from the Bush White House won't be available until 2014, at the earliest.
A former spokesman for Bush says too much is being made of the discovery of 22 million missing e-mails, saying that misleading statements about the former administration show a continued anti-Bush agenda.
What he fails to mention is that there is a law that says records of the presidency must be preserved. But, then, the Bush White House often ignored the law when it was convenient for them to do so.
You suppose it's coincidence that the 22 million e-mails missing between 2003 and 2005 cover some fairly significant periods in our recent history, including the months leading to the run-up to the Iraq war, the firing of those U.S. attorneys by the Bush administration, and the announcement of a criminal investigation into the leaking of CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson's name? Just coincidence? Sure.
Here's the question. Will the public ever get the truth of what happened during the Bush administration? Here's a hint: No.
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile to post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much.
And -- and get ready, because we expect that Dreamliner to actually be landing in Washington State momentarily...
CAFFERTY: Well, I -- I...
BLITZER: ... the new 787. I know -- I know you want to see this, right?
CAFFERTY: Well, at -- no, at this point, I really hope it does, because we have built this thing up. Now, the plane has to come down for us here.
BLITZER: It definitely will be landing.
All right, Jack, thank you. Meanwhile, President Obama says Congress is on the brink of passing health care reform, and he won't let it get derailed. Just ahead, the inside story on his talks with lawmakers, and we will also hear from the senator who's been standing in the president's way, at least until now, Joe Lieberman. What's going on?
Plus, we're learning more about the plan to transfer some terror suspects, perhaps 100 of them, from Guantanamo Bay to an Illinois prison -- lots of question about security and the message the president is sending.
And an exclusive interview in Afghanistan with the head of the U.S. military's Central Command. General David Petraeus tells our own Barbara Starr about the growing threat to troops being confronted right now.
BLITZER: President Obama says the United States is on the verge of doing what it hasn't been able to do in generations, pass a sweeping health care reform bill that would insure millions more Americans, protect every American from insurance industry abuses, and reduce health care costs for families, businesses and the nation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: The final bill won't include everything that everybody wants. No bill can do that. But what I told my former colleagues today is that we simply cannot allow differences over individual elements of this plan to prevent us from meeting our responsibility to solve a longstanding and urgent problem for the American people.
They are waiting for us to act. They are counting on us to show leadership. And I don't intend to let them down and neither do the people standing next to me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The president spoke after meeting with Senate Democrats.
Dana Bash has more on what's going on, on the Hill.
But let's go back to our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry.
He came out pretty passionate today, saying it's now other never.
HENRY: That's right, Wolf.
You know, we have seen so many important moments in this health care debate, but I spoke to one of the president's top advisers, who said, flatly, this really is the critical stage in the debate. It is now or never. That's why the president called over all the Democratic senators here to the White House for this long meeting, almost an hour-and-a-half, to, I'm told, cajole them.
He wasn't warning them. He wasn't berating them in any way about it looking like the process is falling apart in some ways. Instead, they really do feel like it's close to the finish line. And, so, the president was being very respectful, I'm told, by the officials in the room, to some of the moderate senators who seem to be holding it up, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.
Very important point, I'm told that, after this big meeting, Ben Nelson went in for a one-on-one with the president. Joe Lieberman, though, was not invited in for a one-on-one -- Wolf.
All right, let me go back to Dana Bash. She is up on the Hill, our senior congressional correspondent.
Dana, you caught up with that one senator today who was -- that one senator who caucuses with the Democrats, the independent Senator Joe Lieberman. And when it came eyeball to eyeball between him and Harry Reid, Harry Reid is the one, apparently, who blinked.
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, with the coaxing of the White House, because, just as Ed was saying, they want this done. They want this done on the timetable that they laid out quite some time ago to get it passed in the Senate.
And the only way that they know that they can do that is by appealing to and cowing to Joe Lieberman, and specifically on the fact that he will not vote for a bill without (sic) a so-called Medicare buy-in, allowing people starting at 55 to buy in to Medicare.
He wasn't -- Joe Lieberman wasn't at that meeting at the White House, the private meeting afterwards, because, after the large meeting, he did come here to talk to us. And he talked about the fact that the president, from his perspective, made very clear that he believes that Democrats have to try to work out their differences. They can't worry about the fact that they're not going to get everything they want.
And guess what? Joe Lieberman, who is not a very popular guy, to say the least, right now among Democrats, because of the fact that they have dropped this, he said that he got up and spoke to his colleagues at the White House. Listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: Look, I -- I -- I spoke, and I said -- I thanked him, because I think the president's leadership has put us in reach of a consensus on health care reform.
And, you know, I said, quite honestly, to my colleagues, that I knew some of them were upset about positions I had taken, but, like each of them, I didn't get elected by telling my voters in Connecticut that I would follow the majority of my caucus, even if I thought, on some things, they were wrong. We each have to do what we think is right, and that, as the president said, we all -- we each did have different points of view, but the challenge was to blend them.
And it wasn't easy in a caucus of 60, but we needed 60 votes, according to Senate rules. In a group of 60 senators, achieving ideological uniformity is impossible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: Now, I asked him several times about the very real anger towards him among Democrats. He says he understands that. He says he is not happy about it.
I asked him about the fact that people are saying he just wants to be the center of attention. He called that -- quote -- "poppycock," Wolf. He says he has not enjoyed this process, the fact that he stood in front of a major piece of -- a major idea that many Democrats wanted.
One other very interesting note I want to tell you about I thought was newsy. I asked Senator Lieberman if, when he runs again for Senate in Connecticut in 2012, if he would consider running as a Republican. Guess what? He didn't close the door on it. He said that he was leaving all options open. He said that he will probably run as an independent, but he said it is possible that he could run as a Republican.
BLITZER: He's got, what, five years to think about it? Is that right?
BASH: That's -- well, two-and-a-half, 2012.
BLITZER: Is that when he's up for reelection?
BASH: That's correct.
BLITZER: All right.
Howard Dean, the former chairman of the Republican Party (sic), former Democratic presidential candidate, former governor of Vermont, he's now saying he hates this -- this compromise, isn't he?
BASH: He is. And I actually asked Senator Lieberman about that, because Senator -- Howard Dean has a lot of -- has a lot of pull with some Democrats up here, especially those on the left of the Democratic Caucus.
And he is saying, you know, this is not reform without the so-called Medicare buy-in or a government-run health care option. And Senator Lieberman, as you can imagine, said that he believes that Howard Dean has to realize that everything is not -- is not doable.
And he believes that the -- as the president said today, that the reforms in this bill, insurance reforms, making sure people are not discriminated against because of preexisting conditions, he says that those are enough so far.
BLITZER: Howard Dean is the former chairman of the Democratic Party, just to be correct.
BASH: That's right. BLITZER: Here's what he says. And it's on his Web site: "If Barack Obama's health care plan gets changed to exclude a public option, like Medicare, then it is not health care reform. Legislation rises and falls on whether the American public is allowed to choose a universally available public option or not."
So, if there's no public option, Dana, he says it's really not health care reform.
BASH: That's right.
And, you know, you have a lot of Democrats who have said that for some time. The question is, what happens when the rubber meets the road? And the rubber is meeting the road. And you have a president who made very clear, at least to Senate Democrats in that private meeting, and again in public, he hopes that they can deal with the fact that they're not going to get everything they want.
Some of the senators coming back from the White House, according to our Ted Barrett, who talked to some of them, said they are still concerned that, yes, maybe they have Joe Lieberman. But, if you get Joe Lieberman on the right, you may lose some senators on the left. It's not a done deal yet.
BLITZER: Yes, they are still working away. But these are critical days, today and tomorrow...
BLITZER: ... because, if they have to send it to the Congressional Budget Office to give an estimate how much it's going to cost, they have to finish their work now, if they want to vote before Christmas, at least in the Senate.
Dana, thank you. We will be checking back with Dana Bash up on Capitol Hill.
One company's dream takes flight and is soon to land. We're awaiting the landing of Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner. The company says it will change everything we know about commercial flying. Richard Quest is standing by to assess.
And while parents rush to get their children swine flu shots, we're hearing thousands of doses -- Guess what? -- they are now being recalled.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now: fear of disease and danger, a shocking new report warning that CAT scans could cause thousands and thousands of cancers and death. Could this prove that Americans are overexposed to radiation from these specific, yet routine, medical tests? Stand by.
Now that we have learned that the federal government will move some terror detainees from Guantanamo Bay to an Illinois prison, will this help U.S. security interests or hurt them? An Illinois congressman and a noted law professor, they are standing by. They have different views.
And tweet this. Guess what the group that officially measures earthquakes is using right now? We're talking about Twitter.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Right now, one company's dream floating high over Washington State. Boeing's Dreamliner 787 is set to land momentarily, after taking off from Everett in Washington state. It's seen over two years of delay. Now some are calling this flight historic.
Boeing says this plane is more environmentally friendly -- friendlier, quieter, and could use 20 percent less fuel. Boeing also says that it will eventually cost you less to fly on this plane. The 787 is mostly made of lightweight composite materials. Boeing says that will mean less wear and tear, the price tag, about $150 million each. It won't officially fly until 2011.
CNN's Richard Quest, who covers aviation, is joining us now from London.
We have heard from a lot of folks, Richard. This is really a big deal.
RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, it's a big deal, Wolf.
And, you know, we have to divorce two things here, the beauty of the plane and the magnificent way in which it took off and how it's flying, and the reality that Boeing now has to build this plane in sizable numbers, because 850 or so have already been sold.
That's going to be the large challenge. Can they take this new technology and so-called industrial ramp-up of production? It was the big mistake that Airbus made with the A-380, the Superjumbo. Oh, oh, yes they could build them in the ones and twos, but when it came to sizable production, they simply couldn't do it.
Now, Boeing is aware of this problem, but, as we move to the next stage of development, Wolf, that is going to be potentially the costly issue.
BLITZER: Eight hundred-plus planes that have already been sold. This is a huge moneymaker, potentially, for Boeing and for the U.S. aviation industry, Richard. And it certainly puts them at a level, assuming everything works out well, at a level above Airbus.
QUEST: Well, up to a -- as they say famously, up to a point, Wolf, up to a point.
Airbus does have the A-350, which is its rival to the Dreamliner. Now, the A-350 has not even stated to be built yet. It's not due to go into service for another three or four years. And that plane has sold 500 already. You see, it's a bit like leapfrogging. You have a new car, but your neighbor has a better new car that is newer with more technology. So you then have to get the next new car. And so it goes on.
What we are seeing, of course, is, very clearly, Boeing and Airbus building these major projects, having great difficulty getting them off the ground -- pardon the pun -- but ultimately, if they get it right, well, then the rewards are vast.
BLITZER: To the passenger out there who will fly aboard the Dreamliner, what will be some of the differences he or she will feel?
QUEST: I think the fundamental difference which has been explained to me, when you walk down that narrow little jetway and you see a little airline door, what they're trying to do is get rid of that. They want you to walk into the plane and have what they described to me as this cathedral-like experience. In addition to that, the windows will be much larger and they will be at the proper height, not down there, so you can see the horizon.
The air mechanism for changing the air in the plane is going to be much more sophisticated. You will get literally more oxygen.
And, of course, the whole environment will be designed to reduce the feeling of being cramped. And why do I say that? Because this plane is designed to fly medium to long haul, the replacement for the 76. It could go, for example, Sydney to Los Angeles. Certainly, it will go London/Paris to L.A.
BLITZER: Well, it's a nice flight indeed.
All right. Stand by, Richard, because we're standing by to see this Dreamliner land in Washington State. We're told it's supposed to happen pretty soon. We'll have live coverage here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
By the way, we're seeing these pictures coming in from Boeing right now. I don't know if this is the Dreamliner we're seeing right now, but we'll soon find out fairly soon.
We are being told now by Boeing that this is the plane that is coming in to land in Washington State. It's a historic moment.
Darryl Jenkins is here. He's a former visiting professor at Embry- Riddle Aeronautical University.
As you see this -- Richard Quest is still with us as well -- talk a little bit about the significance of what we're seeing, Professor Jenkins.
DARRYL JENKINS, FMR. VISITING PROFESSOR, EMBRY-RIDDLE AERONAUTICAL UNIVERSITY: Well, this is the first flight of many that's going to take place over the next year now. They're going to have six of these up in the air for the next 12 months going through all sorts of different tests. You see it's coming in now, and it's just coming in so nicely. These pilots are having the time of their life. BLITZER: Based on the wings and the -- you can clearly tell this is the Dreamliner.
JENKINS: This is a beautiful plane.
BLITZER: Because those wings seem to be lifting up more than other airliners. Is that right?
JENKINS: Yes, there's a lot of flex in those wings.
BLITZER: And what does that say to you?
JENKINS: Well, I mean, this is a plane that has different aerodynamics than other planes. I mean, appreciate this -- this is a different operating economic model than we have seen before. We're all very excited to see this coming down now. And it probably has another 12 months ahead of it, very stringent tests. You don't want to even be near that plane when it's flying.
BLITZER: Why were there so many setbacks? There's been about a two- year delay.
JENKINS: Oh, yes. They've had all sorts of problems.
BLITZER: What have been the big issues?
JENKINS: Well, they had issues with suppliers getting them parts on time, they've had issues where they had their mechanics went out on strike. And then they had some design problems here just recently where the wing and the fuselage weren't meshing together correctly. So they've had nothing but problems on this for the last two years.
BLITZER: And are you confident that they've fixed all those two problems?
Here it comes. It's coming in right now, as you can see.
JENKINS: Well, that's what we're going to see throughout the test flights, isn't it?
BLITZER: Richard Quest, weigh in as you're watching these live pictures of this airliner making its final approach.
QUEST: Yes. Look at this, Wolf. It's coming in over the threshold. Any second now, Captain Conico (ph) will flare the nose up about -- up it goes, and -- yes, not even a crosswind much there, because it came down on all main gear.
The front gear is down. Reverse thrusters engaged from those Trent 1000 engines from Rolls-Royce. Even though -- and he's right on the center line. Look at that nose wheel as it goes down the center line of the runway at Boeing Field. The spoiler's deployed to slow the aircraft down.
Perfect landing. A beautiful landing. I think the professor might agree. BLITZER: What do you think, Professor? That would look like, at least to me, as a perfect landing, even in the rain.
JENKINS: Yes, that was a beautiful landing. What an exciting moment for everybody out here and here watching that.
BLITZER: Is this plane going to be safer than other commercial airliners?
JENKINS: All planes are created equal when it comes to safety. Think of it this way -- this plane is going to go through 12 months of tests now, and they're going to do everything imaginable to it.
When they build a plane, they build it and they figure out, what's the worst conditions it's going to fly through? And then they have to build it so it can fly through that worst condition, plus another 50 percent. And they're going to go through all of the shear testing, all that redundancy.
BLITZER: Since fuel, supposedly, you'll be able to fly with 20 percent less fuel, bottom line for passengers out there, will that mean 20 percent reduced fares from now on?
JENKINS: No way. Good thinking.
BLITZER: I guess that's too optimistic of a thought.
JENKINS: That's Boeing press, it's not the airline's press.
BLITZER: I guess it's still going to be expensive to fly, Richard. What do you think?
QUEST: I think the fascinating bit is going to be how they're going to -- I mean can they get -- one problem they still have got with this plane is it's too heavy. They've got to get the weight down, or, frankly, Wolf, that 20 percent fuel advantage is going to go up in smoke out the back of the engines.
At the moment, it's still on the heavy side to keep their promises. It's going to be a game-changer. That's the word, that's the phrase. Airlines have got to have it, and that's why United Airlines just last week announced it was buying 25 of them, and then hedged their bets and said they were buying 25 Airbuses as well.
BLITZER: Well, we just saw the 787 Dreamliner land in Washington State, near Seattle over there. A pretty landing, I must say, indeed. We'll watch this plane continue over the next year, go through the tests, and then I assume at one point all of us will be flying aboard a 787 Dreamliner.
Thanks very much, Professor Jenkins.
BLITZER: Richard Quest, always a pleasure as well.
You never know who you'll run into at an airport in Afghanistan. That's how our Barbara Starr snagged an exclusive interview with the head of the U.S. military's Central Command. We're talking about General David Petraeus. He's sharing information about some highly- sensitive talks in the war zone with Barbara.
And new explosions of violence -- Afghanistan and other global hot spots. Stand by for our top stories.
And the president's family tree is richer than you might have known. Keyword, "richer." A financial giant turns out to be a distant relative of President Obama.
BLITZER: President Obama is ordering the federal government to move forward with the controversial transfer of about 100 terror suspects held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. A limited number of those detainees will be housed at a prison in rural Illinois. Plans to make that happen are in the works right now. It's causing quite an uproar.
Our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, is here.
The reaction, shall we say, has been mixed.
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and very strong and mixed.
The administration says it's closing Guantanamo to eliminate a potent al Qaeda recruiting tool, but there is argument over whether the move will eliminate a national security threat or just move it.
MESERVE (voice-over): The maximum security prison in Thomson, Illinois, is only eight years old, largely empty. With some strengthening of perimeter security, the Obama administration argues it will be the perfect place to put as many as 100 Guantanamo detainees and hold military commissions. It doesn't hurt that some of the state's key political players support it.
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: We believe this is in service to our country, to make certain that Guantanamo is fazed out, and the threat that it currently poses to us around the world is eliminated.
MESERVE: On Capitol Hill, a Republican blitzkrieg of criticism.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), MINORITY LEADER: They're going to move these prisoners from Gitmo to northwest Illinois because of some campaign promise that was made in the dark. I just think this is a very bad decision. And the American people do not support it and will not support it.
MESERVE: But at the lone bar in tiny Thomson, residents were positive about the prospect of an estimated 3,000 new jobs in their community.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I love this idea. I love it. Open it up. Bring in some workers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's been kind of rough here the last few years. And this would be awful good for the community.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You just can't hang on year after year. The economy has suffered, and we'll take what we can get.
MESERVE: Others fear that the Thomson facility will become Gitmo North, a target of al Qaeda propaganda and possibly attack. The administration claims the Thomson facility will be more secure than the supermax in Florence, Colorado, where terrorists like shoe bomber Richard Reid are held. At maximum security prisons, there is usually one guard for every two inmates, but Defense Department officials told a member of Congress there will be 10 soldiers for every one terrorist detainee at Thomson.
MESERVE: But the White House may have put the cart before the horse here. Senior White House officials acknowledge that current law does not allow them to bring to the U.S. any detainees who are not going to be tried in courts or military commissions, but held indefinitely. Though the ongoing review of Guantanamo detainees has not put anyone in that category yet, the president himself has acknowledged some detainees are so dangerous, they will be -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We're going to speak later with the congressman whose district this prison is in and a law professor who disagrees with him on whether this is a good or bad idea. That's coming up later here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Thanks very much, Jeanne.
The White House message, it's now or likely never to pass health care reform. Is that message a bit too ominous?
And Howard Dean is weighing in with a very strong message of his own. Stand by.
And with every death of a U.S. troop, a family feels great pain. It's policy for the United States president to send a condolence her to families of troops killed in action. Should the same be sent to families of troops who commit suicide? The White House has been weighing this policy and has new guidelines.
BLITZER: The former Vermont governor, Howard Dean, and former DNC chairman, says it's not worth it, passing health care reform, if there's no public option.
Let's talk about it in our "Strategy Session" with Robert Zimmerman. He's a CNN contributor and Democratic strategist. And Erick Erickson, he's editor-in-chief of RedState.com, billed as the largest right-of- center community on the Internet.
Robert we've had before.
Eric, welcome to THE SITUATION ROOM. Good to have you here.
Howard Dean says, you know what? If there's no public option, get rid of it, start from scratch, because it's not worth it. What do you think about this?
ERICK ERICKSON, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, REDSTATE.COM: You know, I think this is the way the sausage-making happens on Capitol Hill. They negotiate each other into a bad bill, and then they pat themselves on the back and nobody else likes it.
I think it's not worth supporting. Of course, I think...
BLITZER: For different reasons than Howard Dean.
ERICKSON: Right. You know, and fortunately for the Republicans, though, the Republicans have been so focused on the public option, they've totally ignored the individual mandate which is just as noxious to conservatives, but they've dropped the ball on fighting it.
BLITZER: How much influence does Howard Dean have with his fellow Democrats? I assume some of the so-called progressives or liberals will hold their nose and vote for it when all is said and done.
ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, CNN DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: That's exactly right. Howard Dean certainly has influence on the grassroots level, but on Capitol Hill this debate is not about Howard Dean or his agenda.
I was up on the Hill today, and I spoke with several senators, actually, and a number of House members. They know they have to get this legislation done and they know in total that the actual health insurance reforms, the concept of expanding Medicaid, and also providing a deal they're talking about now about a structure to let people buy into the public exchange that federal employees have may be a way to go to bridge this gap.
BLITZER: Here is what Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said when asked about Howard Dean's strong words.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I wouldn't argue medicine with Dr. Dean. I would argue policy with him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And that policy, the president has been very, very firm, it may not be perfect, but it's good. And if it doesn't happen now, it probably will never happen.
ERICKSON: They've stripped out all the selling points for the Democrats. They're taking out the public option, they're taking out the Medicare, they're taking out everything to restrain the costs. They want what they're calling reform so desperately to give the president a win on this issue, they're willing to pass a bad bill that no one likes to get credit.
ZIMMERMAN: You know, I think it's important to put it in perspective here, Erick. While Howard Dean may be a new supporter of RedState.com, it's important to remember here that, ultimately, this bill is going to expand coverage dramatically, it's going to provide major health insurance reform such as preventing discrimination based upon gender or based upon the issue of pre-existing conditions. There are important distinctions here.
BLITZER: Is the White House communications director, Dan Pfeiffer, correct when he says this? And I'll put it up on the screen.
He says, "If President Obama doesn't pass health reform, it's hard to imagine another president ever taking on this Herculean task. For those whose life's work is reforming health care, this may be the last train leaving the station."
ERICKSON: If reform, in your definition, is taking over one-sixth of the American economy, yes, I think this is the Democrats' last chance to socialize medicine.
ZIMMERMAN: You know, there were seven previous presidential administrations. Their history bears witness to the fact that this an unprecedented difficult task.
You know, when Lyndon Johnson put through his historic Medicare achievement, he had 68 Democratic senators to work with. Now we have 60 senators. It's really a razor-thin margin to work with. And I think, ultimately, if it doesn't happen now, the pragmatics of it, not the policies, but just the pragmatics are that it won't get done.
BLITZER: Erick, let me briefly switch gears and talk about Oral Roberts, the evangelist, 91 years old. Unfortunately, he passed away today.
Talk a little bit about his influence on the conservative movement.
ERICKSON: You know, I think, to some degree, his influence may be overstated, other than in the '70s and '80s, as the rise of evangelicals and Tim LaHaye, Oral Roberts played a role. When my father was little, he had a speech impediment, and my grandmother took him to see Oral Roberts. He was great back in the '50s and '60s.
His influence has waned a long time. I'm 34, and I think when I was 20 or 25, I realized he was a real person.
BLITZER: But he was on television early. You and I are old enough to remember. He had a significant role as a televangelist before it was as fashionable, let's say, as it is right now.
ZIMMERMAN: He really stayed above in many ways the political scandals that haunted other televangelists. And he really became almost a national symbol. Certainly there were philosophical differences with Oral Roberts, but he was in many ways an American institution. ERICKSON: Evangelicals on TV, religious preachers on TV, do what they do now in large part because of what Oral Roberts was a trailblazer for.
BLITZER: And our condolences to his family.
BLITZER: Oral Roberts passed away today at the age of 91.
Guys, thanks very much for coming in.
ZIMMERMAN: Thank you.
ERICKSON: Thank you.
BLITZER: President Obama's poll numbers may be sliding, but how do Americans feel about the first lady? We have some new approval ratings on Michelle Obama. Stand by for that.
And a shocking new report warns CAT scans could cause -- get this -- thousands and thousands of cancers and deaths. CAT scans we're talking about. Could this prove that Americans are overexposed to radiation from these specific yet routine medical tests?
BLITZER: On our "Political Ticker" right now, more Americans think Michelle Obama is doing is good job as first lady as she closes in on her first year at the White House. A new Marist poll shows 57 percent of registered voters nationwide approve of the way Mrs. Obama is handling her job. That's up seven points from March.
While Mrs. Obama is popular, almost half of those surveyed don't think she's done anything so far to change the role of first lady.
Here in Washington, gay rights activists and a lot of other folks are celebrating. The D.C. City Council voted today to legalize same-sex marriage. The bill was overwhelmingly approved by a vote of 11-2.
Mayor Adrian Fenty has promised to sign it into law. Opponents are vowing to take their complaints to the U.S. Congress, which has a say over laws in the nation's capital.
Lawmakers have 30 days to intervene. If not, the district of Columbia will join Connecticut, Vermont, Massachusetts and Iowa in allowing same-sex couples to marry. New Hampshire begins issuing same-sex marriage licenses next month.
Remember, for the latest political news any time, you can check out CNNPolitics.com.
Let's go back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: The question this hour is, "Will the public ever get the truth about what happened during the Bush administration?" And the question comes off these 22 million White House e-mails that have been located during, among other things, the period of the run-up to the war in Iraq.
Hugo in New Jersey writes, "I would say we have most of the truth already. George Bush was incompetent. Dick Cheney, his evil guru."
"Together, they had the U.S. invade the wrong country, let its main enemy escape, made the rest of the world hate American, and created the most serious economic meltdown since the Great Depression. If the U.S. never resumes its leadership role in the world, it will be because of these two clowns. What other truth is there?"
Jeff in Colorado writes, "We're back on the Bush administration again? This is getting tiresome. This e-mail discovery is just an attempt to shift focus from the current administration's inability to get anything done."
Joe writes from Virginia, "It took some time to find these. That is, if they were ever lost or hidden to begin with. I'm not sure if we really want to know what was in them. They could harm the country even more."
Tom in Atlanta writes, "Yes they will. The truth always comes out. The problem is, by then we won't care. We're already just 12 months past the administration of George W. Bush, and people have forgotten the Republicans and Bush entirely. In fact, they're ready to re-elect them again."
Lucy in Illinois writes, "It depends on who's in office in 2014. If the Republicans are in office, we'll never get to see what's in those e-mails. I only hope that I live long enough to get to know what they were hiding, and then I hope they all get put in prison for many years."
And Chuck writes, "If half of what I suspect is the truth, then you can't handle the truth."
If you want to read more on this subject, go to the blog, CNN.com/caffertyfile. You'll find lots of e-mails to peruse -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Love to peruse "The Cafferty File."
Jack, thank you.
CAFFERTY: It's the place to peruse, yes.
BLITZER: That's where we should peruse.
And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, growing concern about one of the most common forms of cancer screening. We're talking about CAT scans, and millions of them are performed each year. Could some of them, though, be causing the very disease they're trying to find? Stand by for new information.
Cuban President Raul Castro dispels any thought of warming relations with Washington. Tough talk as he hosts Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and other leftist leaders in Havana.
And from Guantanamo Bay to rural Illinois, controversy flaring right now as President Obama moves to relocate dozens of terror detainees.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.