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THE SITUATION ROOM
Karzai Remarks 'Genuinely Troubling'; Billions Repaid, Billions To Go; Federal Report Delayed
Aired April 5, 2010 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Thanks, T.J.
Happening now, lots of eyes on Tiger Woods as he returns to golf. Five months after his personal and professional lives imploded in the headlines, he tees off with an extraordinary new press conference.
Also, a terrorist assault on a U.S. consulate -- guns and grenades and a suicide car bomb all part of a deadly attack, with the Taliban now taking credit.
And the oldest U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, leader of the liberal wing, weighing retirement -- possibly soon.
Will we see a summer showdown between President Obama and Senate Republicans over a nominee to replace him?
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
He's a sports legend, but seldom has the spotlight on Tiger Woods been as hot as it was today, as he returned to professional golf for the first time since admitting to infidelities that almost cost him his marriage and his career. He played a practice round today at the Augusta National Golf Club, where he'll try this week for his fifth championship.
Afterwards, held a news conference where he spoke candidly about his return and his rehab.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY AUGUSTA NATIONAL GOLF CLUB)
TIGER WOODS, PROFESSIONAL GOLFER: As far as getting out there, I was definitely more nervous. On that first tee, I didn't know what to expect. I really didn't. So, you know, it's one of those things where I've never been in this position before. To be out there in front of the people where I -- I've done some -- some things that are just, you know, horrible. And, you know, for the fans to, you know, really want to see me play golf again, I mean that -- that felt great. That really did.
WOODS: Yes? Yes?
QUESTION: You -- you said in one -- in your statement that you felt entitled over the years.
How were you able to rat -- I assume that wasn't the first time you thought that -- but how were you able to rationalize that while you were engaging in that behavior and still playing such winning golf?
WOODS: Well, explain that again?
QUESTION: You said you were entitled -- you felt entitled to re -- to what you were doing before.
QUESTION: And at the same time, I'm wondering how you were able to rationalize that on your mind while it was going on?
WOODS: Well, that's -- that's part of, you know, the problem I had is that, you know, the way I was thinking was not correct. And that was part of, you know, where I was at. I was rationalizing, I was denying -- in total denial at times.
Whatever I did was -- and I lied to myself, I lied to others and just because I said just because winning golf tournaments doesn't mean a thing. The way I was thinking caused so much harm with the people that I love and care about the most on this planet.
QUESTION: Did you only realize that after it became public?
WOODS: After I started going to the treatment. That's when they -- they start stripping all of that away from you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a gentleman behind you (INAUDIBLE).
QUESTION: Tiger, your behavior personal life before Thanksgiving, do you think it negatively impacted your play on the course at all?
Could you have been playing better had you had more discipline in your personal life?
WOODS: I would like to say yes. I would be -- certainly I would have had -- I would have been more centered, more balanced. And that's where I'm -- I'm headed toward. That's what I'm working toward each and every day.
I meditate religiously again, like I used to. I've gone back to my -- my roots in Buddhism with my mom. And I need to do these things the way I used to do it. And, unfortunately, I -- I got away from that. And I just lost that. And, unfortunately, I also lost, you know, my life in the process.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: For more on Tiger Woods' return to golf, we're joined now by "USA Today" sportswriter Christine Brennan.
She's at the Masters.
She was there at the news conference.
Christine, thanks very much for coming in.
So what did you think?
CHRISTINE BRENNAN, "USA TODAY" SPORTSWRITER": Thank you.
Well, he certainly looked more human, Wolf, than he's ever looked here at the Masters. This is my seventh Masters and I've been in quite a few Tiger Woods' press conferences.
And -- and what you saw there -- the clips you played, I think that gives a sense that this is a guy who seems to be more real than ever before.
Now, having said that, you and I talked in February when I was up at the Olympics after his speech and I also felt he was as rock bottom and seemed to be working his way up, it might take him a year to come back to golf. Well, he was back within 25 days.
So I hope it's real. I really hope that's he's worked through something and that we can...
BLITZER: Do you think he's telling us the truth now?
BRENNAN: You know, I'm going to say what journalists almost never say, Wolf. I don't know. I hope he's telling us the truth. I hope, for his sake, for his family's sake -- you know, when he talked about his son and he missed his son's first birthday, he seemed to be crushed. And that was a -- a moment that had to be poignant to everybody.
So I know I've been cynical about Tiger Woods, but I -- I certainly hope that he's a changed man. But then, of course, he says he still wants to win on the golf course. Of course he does.
But how do you -- how are you changed and then also you're that same -- you have that same aura of invincibility, Wolf, on the golf course?
I -- I think it's going to play out, especially these next few days, on the course -- Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. I think we'll know a lot more about Tiger Woods then, in terms of how real all of this is, than just from the words today.
BLITZER: Do you think he helped himself with American public. International public opinion, by what he did today?
BRENNAN: I do. I absolutely do. He -- again, he looked so -- so human. And, you know, he -- I asked a question about performance enhancing drugs and his association with that doctor. And he answered it and -- and he -- whether -- you know, I have no idea, again what -- what the true story is. But he did answer it. And he followed up. He kept answering these questions.
I know some people said it wasn't the toughest news conference. But those who cover Tiger, cover sports and cover journalist -- and are journalists who cover this as cultural issue, I think we were as tough as we could be. In many ways, I certainly wanted to be as tough as I could be.
And I think -- you know, I think he acquitted himself quite well.
So, you know, each time, we see a little more of him. But I think there's always going to about question, you know, because this is a man who lied his way through the last few years.
So do we believe him now?
As a journalist, I have to say, I don't know.
BLITZER: Were -- were there any other major headlines that you thought emerged from this news conference?
BRENNAN: Well, certainly, Elin, his wife, is not going to be here. He was asked that question. And as you know, Wolf, he said no, she will not be here. And then there was a follow-up about what should we interpret that -- you know, any -- anything we should interpret from that?
And he shut it off and said I'm happy to be here. And that was when he actually looked like the Tiger Woods from the '90s or the early part of the 21st century -- shutting off a question, done, next question.
And, you know, he took his shots again at the -- at the way his family has been treated and covered by the media. I think he means the tabloid media there. And when he does that, I think it's unbecoming of him, because there is no one to blame for any media attention on Tiger Woods but Tiger Woods.
So there's still those moments. But as far as great headlines, I think it's just the fact that he felt like, again, he was at rock bottom and he's back here to play golf and he seems genuinely pleased to -- to be back, which I guess is -- you know, obviously it's a very good thing for him.
BLITZER: So much of the game of golf, especially at that level, is a mental game. It's been five months since he's competed aggressively against anyone on the golf course.
What do you think?
Is he going to do really great, not so great, mediocre?
What are the experts out there thinking? BRENNAN: Well, I -- I think that anything is possible. I mean, I -- I would say -- the prudent thing to say, Wolf, as a journalist, is to say he's got to be rusty. While all of these other guys have been playing golf for, you know, tournament after tournament, he has not done that. And so he's not tournament ready, in that sense.
But then you say, it's Tiger Woods. And this guy has done the most impossible things on the golf course over the last 13 or 14 years. So I would say, would I be surprised that he's in or near the lead on Sunday?
But would I be surprised if he's back in the pack?
Again, I -- I'd say no. I don't mean to not give you an answer. I expect he'll be pretty good, but I expect he will not win the tournament, if you put me on the spot.
BLITZER: All right. Well, we put you on the spot and you gave an answer. But one of the great things is none of us knows and we'll just have to wait and see. And it will be fascinating to watch.
Thanks very much, Christine, for joining us.
BRENNAN: Thank you Wolf.
BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is up next with The Cafferty File.
Then, a possible vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court -- is retirement looming for Justice John Paul Stevens?
What would it mean for President Obama, his agenda and his legacy?
I'll speak about it -- that with our senior political analysts, David Gergen and Gloria Borger. They're standing by.
Also, new comments by the Afghan president -- CNN's Atia Abawi catches up with him in a delicate meeting with tribal leaders. Her interview with the Afghan president -- that's ahead.
BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here with The Cafferty File -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: Wolf, if the Vatican won't clean it up, there's another way to get the Catholic Church's attention when it comes to a global sex scandal involving the molestation of tens of thousands of little children at hands of priests.
Take the pope's native Germany, for example. When the news broke there last week and the church opened a hot line meant for victims of abuse, more than 4,000 people called in on the first day. The system was overwhelmed. Therapists were only able to answer 160 calls. But more importantly, as the scandal grows, the church in Germany is beginning to suffer the fate that, perhaps, it deserved -- people are leaving it in droves. One recent survey shows one fourth of Catholics in Germany say they have lost faith in the church's leadership.
Meanwhile, Easter Sunday has come and gone with little from the church. The pope passed up yet another opportunity to address the scandal in his address. But we did get this. While defending the pope, one top Vatican cardinal denounced, quote, "petty gossip," unquote. That's what he called the accusations of the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests -- petty gossip.
If the pope and the rest of the church hierarchy remain silent on this scandal long enough, there may be nobody left in the pews to talk to about it. My guess is when the money that hits the collection plates every Sunday begins to dry up, the church may suddenly decide it's time to admit, address and confess what they've been only too willing to turn a blind eye to for years and years and years. And by then, it might be too late.
Here's the question -- in light of the worldwide child sex abuse scandal, what's the future of the Catholic Church?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog Wolf.
BLITZER: Jack Cafferty, get ready. You're going to be flooded with e-mails right now. And -- and I know you're ready for this.
CAFFERTY: We are.
BLITZER: Questions are swirling right now about the future of the U.S. Supreme Court. There's growing expectation that 89-year-old Justice John Paul Stevens will announce his retirement soon, paving the way for President Obama to nominate a replacement, setting the stage for a possible Senate confirmation battle.
Let's talk about it with our senior political analysts, David Gergen and Gloria Borger.
This could have a huge impact for President Obama's legacy, not in the short-term, but for decades to come -- replacing one liberal with another liberal, but one liberal is almost 90; another liberal who may be 50. That could be huge for the president's legacy.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, Wolf, you're assuming, I think, that -- that he might replace him with another liberal. And, you know, the Democrats I'm talking to -- folks on the Hill are saying, you know, maybe he wouldn't do that. Maybe Barack Obama would surprise us and come up with a candidate that would not be quite as divisive, because he's also worried about his legislative agenda. He wants to get a legislative agenda through. There's some thought on the Hill that this could derail his agenda. So maybe he comes up with more of a centrist candidate to replace Stevens who would vote the way Stevens voted in most instances, but perhaps not all.
I mean we just don't know where this president is headed at this point.
BLITZER: David, if you look at some of those names that are being floated out there, what do you think?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: I actually disagree with Gloria on this. I -- I -- it would be stunning to me if he did not nominate someone who would be a reliable member of the liberal block of the court.
After all, there are only four. There are four in the conservative block and there's Justice Kennedy, who's a swing vote in between. And Justice Stevens is the most senior member of that liberal bloc. For the president to nominate another Justice Kennedy, another swing vote, I think, would be devastating to his base, which, after all, he paid a lot of attention in the health care fight for -- partly for political reasons.
And I think it's just not -- I don't think it's consistent with who -- what -- who Barack Obama is and what he thinks about the law.
GERGEN: I think he's made it quite clear that he's no -- that he himself is very firmly in the -- sides with Justice Stevens and the other liberal justices -- the more liberal justices.
BORGER: Well, but, David, there are some justices and some choices that would be kind of more in your face to...
GERGEN: Oh, I think that's right, Gloria...
BORGER: -- Republicans. And, for example, Merrick Garland, right here from D.C. Is somebody whose -- whose name has been thrown around, who -- who is -- who thinks like Barack Obama, but wouldn't -- but wouldn't kind of be shoving it to Republicans. And, you know, I heard that somebody like that could get maybe a dozen to 15 Republican votes, which, you know...
GERGEN: I -- I think he's more interested -- I think, Gloria, with all due respect, I think he's more interested in his legacy and how he shapes the court and if he can get one or two or three Republican votes. And certainly Elena Kagan, who is solicitor general and is a former dean of Harvard Law School, who does not come with a long judicial record that they could take apart...
GERGEN: -- would be, I think, fairly acceptable. Also, the judge who's in -- Diane Wood, who's in the Court of Appeals in Chicago, who is the third leading candidate in all the speculation, works well with a couple of very conservative justices out there. All three of those names seem to be mainstream enough...
GERGEN: I agree with you, he's not going go way off to the left.
BORGER: No, he won't.
BORGER: He won't go way off to the left. And some people think Stevens is way off to the left.
The other -- the other question, of course, is what do Republicans do?
You know, what is their strategy here?
Is there strategy to filibuster any nominee?
Is their strategy to say, look, we're doing pretty well on health care and a bunch of other issues right now, we don't want to get derailed on the social issues at this point?
BLITZER: Now, that's an important question -- will there be a filibuster or not?
And we won't know until it happens or doesn't happen.
The most recent address he gave before a joint session of Congress, David, when he was referring to the Supreme Court decision on campaign finance reform, drew that angry sort of murmuring from Justice Alito. You remember that.
It's left an impression, I guess, with the conservatives in the Supreme Court -- not a good impression, as far as the president is concerned.
BLITZER: Yes, go ahead, David.
GERGEN: Yes, sure. The -- and it's very, very interesting, Wolf, because just within the last few days, I've spoken to someone in the administration -- high up in the administration -- who says the Democrats will now bring forward legislation, just after the recess, to reverse that opinion. That was an opinion for which, from their point of view, is going to unleash tons of money from corporations, less from unions. But both now are unleashed. And they want to get legislation on the books before this election cycle gets too much farther along. They'd like to get it completed by the summer. And they think that Republicans are going to have a hard time standing up just for business and campaigns. It's going to be a difficult issue for Republicans.
So they're -- they're licking their chops at the prospect of getting major legislation to reverse that Supreme Court opinion.
And, by the way, I think...
BORGER: And they'll get it.
GERGEN: -- that's going to enrich the fight. It's going to enrich the fight over who's going to replace Justice John Paul Stevens.
BLITZER: We'll continue this conversation in the next hour.
Jeffrey Toobin, our senior legal analyst, who actually spoke in recent days with Justice Stevens is going to be joining us. We'll get his perspective, as well.
Guys, thanks very much for coming in.
Republican Party chairman, Michael Steele, under fire even from with his own party. Now he's likening himself to President Obama in one way.
We'll talk about it in our Strategy Session with Donna Brazile and Bill Bennett.
And look who threw out the first pitch over the season opener for the Washington Nationals. We're going to go to the ball game with the pitcher-in-chief.
And more than 150 men trapped underground for a week. Now, dramatic moments in a mine disaster.
BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
What else is going on -- Lisa?
SYLVESTER: Hi, Wolf.
Well, well organized and well equipped is how Pakistani officials are describing today's deadly blast near the U.S. consulate in Peshawar. Two Pakistanis working as consular security guards died, as well as at least six other people. No Americans were killed or injured. Authorities say the attack involved a suicide car bomb, grenades and weapons fire. We will take a closer look at the situation on the ground in Pakistan when we talk with CNN's Paula Nugent, coming up.
An amazing rescue of dozens of Chinese miners trapped underground for more than a week. Some survivors say they ate sawdust and strapped themselves to the shaft's walls to avoid drowning while they slept. A hundred fifty-three miners were trapped when water rushed into the mine last Sunday. Rescuers expressed confidence that they can reach them all. And the Brazilian grandmother of the boy at the center of an international custody dispute between the U.S. and Brazil is complaining she's unable to visit the child. In December, the 9-year- old returned with his father to New Jersey from his mother's native Brazil, where he had been living with his stepfather. His mother died in 2008.
A lawyer for the dad insists says they're not denying visitation, but the child is still adjusting to his new life. A judge has scheduled a hearing -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Lisa, thank you.
Today, marks the start of the Major League baseball season. And like his predecessors, President Obama kicked off the season by throwing out the ceremonial first pitch of the season.
BLITZER: Unlike some other presidential pitches, President Obama's pitch this afternoon here in Washington made it to home plate, although it did sail high and wide. He wore a Washington Nationals jacket, but he did sneak in a Chicago White Sox cap. That's his hometown team. This marks the 100th anniversary of the presidential first pitch, with the first being thrown by William Taft back in 1910.
Here's President Roosevelt throwing out the first pitch in 1941. Nice throw, Mr. President.
Richard Nixon threw out a pitch during the heart of the Vietnam War in April 1969. A nice picture of that.
Harry S. Truman, who is seen here in 1949, was the first lefty -- there he is, a lefty -- to throw out the first pitch three years earlier.
And in 1993, Bill Clinton became the first president to throw from a mound and make it to the catcher. Unfortunately, the Nationals lost to the Phillies today. Good news for the Phillies fans. Not such good for the mascot (ph).
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, he's turning up the heat on the international community in a new interview with CNN. You're going to want to hear what he's now saying.
And U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan under investigation following an attack that left five civilians dead. We'll have the latest for you.
BLITZER: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, near collisions, badly marked crossings and a litany of home errors -- the FAA releases a new report detailing thousands of hazardous mistakes in the air traffic system that have gone unreported until now.
Dozens of aftershocks at the Mexico/ California border. A powerful and deadly earthquake leaves at least one city damped and rationing its water supply.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, he's defending fiery words against the West last week and a vow to stall a coalition in Kandahar Province for tribal leaders' support. His remarks have tested his government's relationship with the international community.
CNN's Atia Abawi spoke with President Karzai today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ATIA ABAWI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And how is your relationship right now with (INAUDIBLE)?
PRES. HAMID KARZAI, AFGHANISTAN: The relationship is good. It has nothing to do with the relationship. It had to do with the -- with a state of fact. And that had to be cleared and told. I felt (INAUDIBLE). There was a need for that. And this was also something that I had mentioned yesterday during my remarks to -- to the gathering in Kandahar.
So it's not a reduction in an alliance or a reduction in partnership or a reduction in relationships. It's just to make sure that we all understand as to where each one of us stands.
Afghanistan is -- is the home of Afghans and we own this place. And our partners are here to help in a cause that's all of us. We run the discussion with Afghans.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Joining us now is our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian.
The Obama administration is still weighing in on Mr. Karzai's charges of last week, laying blame for election fraud at the feet of the United States and the West -- Dan, what is the White House saying today about all of this?
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, clearly, they are not pleased. In fact, one White House aide saying that they're quote "frustrated" in Robert Gibbs in an off-camera briefing with reporters said quote "the remarks are genuinely troubling. The substance of the remarks as have been looked into by many are obviously not true." You know, this is the obviously the second time now that we've heard criticism against the United States from Mr. Karzai saying that, you know, the U.S. and other foreign nations are meddling and their responsible for the fraud. And also suggesting that he would join the Taliban.
We don't know if that would happen or not, but clearly here, what the U.S. wants is a stable government in Afghanistan, and so all of this comes at a very critical time as the U.S. is trying to build up its resources there on the ground as it's planning a major offensive in Kandahar. This could not come at worse time -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It is pretty shocking. I read that story in the "Wall Street Journal" say they quoting in a closed door meeting with Afghan leaders saying unless the west back down, he would consider, consider, joining the Taliban. That's pretty shocking when you think about it. The president was just there a week or so ago, invited President Karzai to come to the White House on May 12th. Is that invitation still out there?
LOTHIAN: You know, it's interesting because Robert Gibbs use very careful language when he was asked that question today. He said quote "as of now, that meeting still stands." So, you know, that could always change, but right now, the meeting is still moving forward. The White House saying that they still consider him the democratically elected leader of Afghanistan, and they plan to work with him, but clearly, with this criticism, it's making it much harder.
BLITZER: Let's see what happens. If he come to the White House, does he get a photo op? No photo op? A dinner, no dinner?
LOTHIAN: That's right.
BLITZER: We'll see how they treat him if he shows up in Washington. All right. Dan, thanks very much.
Big money, big bail out, big payback. Last week, we examined a staggering amount of money the federal government shelled out to prop out a struggling Wall Street. Today, we're digging deeper. Our national political correspondent Jessica Yellin is here in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Jessica, first of all, trillions and trillions laid out. Viewers want to know, will this money be paid back?
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good question, and the answer is, much of it will be. The Treasury Department has announced that banks and financial institutions, they've repaid $181 billion that they got through the Wall Street bailout program known at TARP at a little less than half of what's been spent and also trillions of fed loans are repaid almost instantly, but there are other parts that have not been repaid. Like almost $121 billion that went to the insurance giant AIG. Most of the $90 billion in aid, the auto industry has not been paid back nor hundreds of billions in bad assets the government took over -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Why should we care that much? If this money is going to be repaid back to the federal treasury at some point, why should we care?
YELLIN: You know, it's because -- the senate's about to take up the debate over financial reform. And to understand that debate, it probably helps to know that it took trillions of dollars to stabilize the nation's financial institutions. That just helps give a sense of the depth of the problem as we begin to enter this debated, of course, senators will disagree about how to fix it.
BLITZER: A lot of Republicans and Democrats, they say they all want financial reform, but disagree on so many details, I think in part because of all the money that was shelled out to begin with.
YELLIN: Exactly. And one of the big concerns is that simply because Washington gave these banks so much money, a lot of it is being paid back, but the fact that they paid out, swooped in and rescued the banks means these bankers could take even more risky gambles in the future believing the government safety net will be there if their investments go south. That would not be good for the economy. And that's one of the big reasons people on both sides of the aisle, Democrats and Republicans, are pushing for some kind of reform.
BLITZER: It's a notion of too big to fail. There are still some institutions out there I think including AIG right now which are too big to fail.
YELLIN: They haven't changed that at all. In fact, some of those institutions have gotten bigger.
BLITZER: Are staying on top of the story for us?
BLITZER: Jessica Yellin, doing a great job. Thank you.
He's being scrutinized amid allegations of running fast and loose with the Republican party's money. Now, the GOP party chairman Michael Steele says he has a slimmer margin of error than others in positions of power. Is he being held to a higher standard because he's African-American?
Another powerful earthquake this time at the U.S./Mexico border. It's an active time along the earth's fault lines. Why so many earthquakes? Why right now? And three more to go. "Discovery" lifts off on one of the shuttle program's last missions.
BLITZER: Lisa's back. She's monitoring some of the other top stories in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Lisa, what do you have?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, wolf. Don't expect to hear about the financial status of social security and Medicare any time soon. The Obama administration is delaying the release of this year's annual trustees report about three months, so data can reflect the impact of the recently passed health insurance overhaul. The associated press says the report now isn't expected to be released until June.
The Dow Jones is getting ever closer to the mental benchmark of 11,000. It's been 18 months since it's traded that high. The Dow rose 46 points today to close at 10,973. Buoyed by stronger reports on jobs and service industries. Friday's report that marked posted the economy's biggest job gain in three years also is raising hopes that a recovery is taking hold.
Scientists have tallied about 100 aftershocks following a deadly 7.2 magnitude earthquake near the California/Mexico border in Calexico, California. The earthquake severely damaged the cities downtown including huge tanks that hold the community's water supply. Residents are now being asked to limit their water usage. Across the border in Mexicali, Mexico, two people died and about 100 people were injured.
And it's another successful launch for space shuttle "Discovery" lifted off early this morning. Setting a record. This trip to the international space station includes the most women onboard ever. Three female crew members. NASA plans to retire the shuttle fleet at the end of September. So, Wolf, only three more missions remain -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I guess we'll get nostalgic. Let's just hope they're safe and sound. That's what we want.
I love the blue and white, Lisa. Are you sending a message about Duke? Because those are the colors of duke, as you know? Or maybe you don't know.
SYLVESTER: I do know that. I actually went to Georgetown and so Duke was a big rival of Georgetown while I was there, and I know that you have said, because you told me this when we were talking about it, you said on "THE SITUATION ROOM" that you called Duke early on in the NCAA to win it all. So we'll see if your prediction is right on.
BLITZER: We'll see tonight. We got to give Butler a lot, a lot of credit.
SYLVESTER: Yes. You've got to love that story.
BLITZER: So, you're not showing solidarity with Duke tonight?
SYLVESTER: Not particularly, but for all the Duke fans out there, all right. I do like Butler, though. I love the underdogs.
BLITZER: It is a lovely outfit.
SYLVESTER: Yes, thank you.
BLITZER: Thank you, Lisa.
The violence is ratcheting up again in Iraq. Dozens of people are killed in a string of suicide bombings, and the country's former Prime Minister is fearing for his life. Maybe he's going to be the next Prime Minister as well.
And more trouble for Toyota. The struggling automaker is facing a stiff fine from the federal government. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: Getting word of a disturbing story that developing right now. Lisa, what's going on?
SYLVESTER: Wolf, this story is being reported by the associated press. According to them, Massey energy says that an explosion has occurred at one of its underground mines. At this point, we're still trying to get definitive confirmation of this. We don't know if there are any injuries or any miners are trapped but the company -- and the company is not providing a full extent of the damage here. We know that this happens about 30 miles south of Charleston at its upper big branch mine in Raleigh County. So, we will continue to track this story, Wolf, and bring the latest details as they come in.
BLITZER: And this is in West Virginia?
SYLVESTER: This is. Charleston, West Virginia. To get about 30 miles south of Charleston. It's the upper big branch mine in Raleigh County.
BLITZER: All right. We'll keep watching, and let's hope nobody has trapped inside. Thank you, Lisa. We'll check back with you.
Let's get to our strategy session right now. Joining as our CNN political contributor as a democratic strategist Donna Brazile and national radio talk show host, Bill Bennett. Guys, thanks very much for coming in. I want to play this exchange that George Stephanopoulos had with Michael Steele, the RNC chairman, on "Good Morning America" this morning. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, HOST: Do you feel that as an African- American you have a slimmer margin for error than another chairman would?
MICHAEL STEELE, REP. NATL. COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: The honest answer is yes.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Why is that?
STEELE: It just is. Barack Obama has a slimmer margin. We all -- a lot of folks do. I mean, a different role for, you know, for me to play and others to play, and that's just the reality of it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Is he right, Donna?
DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Absolutely not. Look, he's been the vice chair -- I mean, he's been the lieutenant governor of the State of Maryland. He's been a party official for a long time. He is expected to raise money, go out there, broaden the base, win elections, but the one thing that I think Chairman Steele needs to do is to dial it back a little bit. He needs to focus on building a party and not alienating some of the key leaders. If he focuses on that, I think the chairman will do very well.
BLITZER: Bill Bennett?
WILLIAM BENNETT, FORMER GEORGE H.W. BUSH DRUG POLICY DIRECTOR: Yes. I agree with Donna. Absolutely not. Michael is my brother. I've supported him forever. He was the first alternate on talk show, my radio talk show, but to play the race card here, no. It's not right. Barack Obama doesn't play it. Says he shouldn't play it and Michael Steele shouldn't do it either. Look, he's done this a couple of time. It's a mistake. There've been some real problems with the RNC. There's a sense that the place is not tightly managed and Michael should not go in that direction. It's a different country. Yes, there is still a few coups (ph) out there, but this is a changed country. I think we proved that.
BLITZER: Let's talk about the latest CBS news polls, Donna, because they are not good numbers for the President of the United States. Is President Obama, on his job approval rating, for example, it's now at an all-time low for him in this CBS news poll. only 44 percent approve of the job that he's doing. That's Donna, at least 20 points, maybe more, since he took office. Why has his job approval number gone down so dramatically?
BRAZILE: To paraphrase my home boy here in Louisiana, James Carville (ph), it's all about the economy. I think people still like the president. They want him to succeed. They want the country to succeed, but right now, people are tying a lot up with job, the economy and their own economic security. When that improves, I'm sure the president's numbers will go up and look he's like every politician. One day he's up, the next day, he's floating.
BLITZER: On the economy and on health care, look at this, Bill. He only has 42 percent approval as far of his job on the economy and only 34 percent as far as his job on health care. That can't be very encouraging to the White House?
BENNETT: It can't be, and, yes, people look to their lens, their own lens, their own eyes and you have these economic problems here fearly (ph) in the land, but people are saying, what's he doing? What is with the spending? And of course, they're angry, because they said don't do this health care thing. We're not for it and the president did it anyway. And that's why I think those numbers are low, but sooner or later, he got to come back to reality and start doing things that will adjust and make a difference positively to this economy, and it hasn't happened yet. They do need to pay some attention to what the American people are saying to them.
BLITZER: He does much better on the national security issues and some would say that's ironic, on terrorism, 54 percent approval, on Iraq, 49 percent approval, on Afghanistan 48 percent approval. Donna, are you surprised by that?
BRAZILE: No. He's a wartime president. Look, the American people elected him to improve the economy. It's improving, but people need to feel it right there in their wallet, at the kitchen table. They're also deeply concerned about health care, because they don't know what impact it will have on their lives and their wallets. So, I think the president is doing overall a good job, but once again, the proof is in the pudding. The American people want to see jobs created, and government cannot create the jobs. Government can create the conditions for jobs, but the government cannot create the kind of jobs we need in this economy.
BLITZER: The government did create bill 48,000 or so temporary jobs as far as the census bureau is concerned. Give the president, if he's listening right now, I doubt he is, but if he is or some of his associates at the White House, some advice Bill Bennett. What should the president focus on between now and the end of the year?
BENNETT: Focus on the economy and let me just say this -- they should do whatever they can if there's something they can do to avoid this downgrading on the moody's rating, the bond rating. If this rating goes and drops for the United States, it would be a catastrophe economically. It would be a catastrophe politically for Barack Obama. I do not wish him ill in this regard, but they have to focus like a laser on this question.
BLITZER: Explain what you mean as far as this moody's --
BENNETT: We have had triple A rating for as far as anyone can remember, and now, there's a threat that Great Britain and the United States may be dropped to a double A rating. This means our interest rates go up, and people -- because people will lack confidence in the United States as a trading partner as an economic power. This would be a verdict, a judgment, in the international economic community that the United States cannot meet its obligations. What it says, we're spending too much, have too much debt and we cannot be trusted to pay our debts. That's not good news for the president or for anybody in the United States.
BLITZER: That would be terrible news, but unfortunately, we can't discuss it right now, Donna. So, hold your thought on that for the next time. We will see what happens. The U.S. economy, certainly take a severe, severe jolt if that were to happen. Guys, thanks very much for coming in.
Jack Cafferty is coming up with your e-mail and a shocking new report from the FAA revealing thousands of dangerous mistakes made in the air traffic system. We have the details.
BLITZER: Right back to Jack for the Cafferty File -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The question this hour, Wolf, in light with worldwide child sex abuse scandal. What's the future of the Catholic Church?
Larry in Washington writes it's not the sex abuse, it's the cover-up that will hurt the church the most. Think how many incidents would not have happened if only people like Cardinal Ratzinger had protected children instead of protecting the church's reputation. Ben in California another writes the Catholic Church has been in trouble for a long time. Eventually, people will stop going to church or change religions. Even as a young altar boy, I saw things that I didn't think were right, but I was afraid to tell my parents because they would tell me that I was wrong and that priests don't do that.
Sharon writes, the Catholic Church must address these scandals, put aside every priest who committed sexual abuse. Without this happening, the church is in serious trouble. This is the 21st century. No longer can institutions like the Catholic Church hide their heads in the sand and ignore what has happened or push it aside. What a ridiculous remark, petty gossip. There's nothing petty about what happened to those kids.
Griff in Vermont writes, to quote "Gandy, I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians." This extents to the political hierarchy of the Catholic Church, as well, especially in this situation. I believe the real church is the people in it, not the officials. When the frame of the house fails and crumbles, the people within simply repair and rebuild.
And Todd in St. Louis writes, the Catholic Church in its current form has no future, in my opinion. I was raised catholic, attended catholic schools through high school, and have a number of nuns and priests in my extended family. Once evidence was made public of the extent of their cover-up, I lost all faith. I still believe in God, but the Catholic Church has lost any credibility it once had in my mind. Further, I can't help but believe that the God I was taught about as a child in their church is as disgusted with them as I am.
If you want to read more on this, got a lot of e-mail, go to my blog, cnn.com/cafferty file -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Strong statements coming in. All right. Jack, thanks very much.
U.S. special forces in this Afghanistan. Why are some of them now facing new questions about an attack that left five civilians, including three women, dead?
BLITZER: A deadly attack in Afghanistan is creating new concerns for U.S. forces in the region. Our pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is following the story.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Finding out what happened that February night in Gardez, Afghanistan has led to accusations of cover-up, and now an about-face by the military. On the night of February 12th, U.S. special forces and Afghan troops went to a compound in Eastern Afghanistan, hoping to capture or kill a Taliban leader they believed hiding there. What is not in dispute in the end, there were five dead Afghans, two local policemen who thought the troops were Taliban out to attack them, and found and gagged bodies of the women, after forces were engaged in a firefight by insurgents.
On March 13th, Nato said allegations in a British newspaper were categorically false, but there was a cover-up on how the women died. But Nato also said it realized the women's bodies had simply been prepared for burial. Now, Nato has finally acknowledged its troops killed the five afghans, none were Taliban. It's been a mess for the U.S. military, which is trying to cut down on civilian casualties.
P.J. CROWLEY, ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: If we're going to continue to be supported, you know, then we have to aggressively investigate incidents like this, and we're -- our operations have resulted in the tragic loss of life of Afghan people. We need to say so explicitly.
STARR: Afghan investigators told McChrystal there was evidence the bloodied walls had been washed and bullets removed from the scene, leaving McChrystal to try one more time to find out what really happened.
STARR (on-camera): Now, as senior U.S. military official tells CNN there is no evidence of any wrongdoing, but General McChrystal wants another investigation and some clear answers -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you.
And to our viewers, you're "The Situation Room." Happening now, terrorists launch multiple attacks leaving dozens of people dead. Among the targets, a U.S. consulate in Pakistan bombarded with gunfire, grenades, and suicide bombs.
Also, braving (ph) the damage and bracing for more aftershocks from the powerful 7.2 earthquake along the U.S./Mexico border. We're on the ground with new information from the quake zone.
And new rules result in thousands of new reports from the FAA about airline problems on the ground and in the air. We have a first look at the information, information anyone who flies needs to know about. I'm Wolf Blitzer. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. You're in "THE SITUATION ROOM."