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THE SITUATION ROOM
GOP Rep. Slams Gangster Government; Crist Burning Bridges with GOP; Pres. Obama Called for Accountability on Mine Tragedy; Porn for the Blind
Aired April 15, 2010 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now: A volcano sends a cloud of ash high into the atmosphere, and it's spreading across Europe right now, canceling, get this, thousands of flights and affecting countless travelers in the United States and around the world.
Tea Party protesters take to the streets on tax day here in the United States, rallying in cities across the country. Will their grassroots muscle be felt on Election Day?
And as Republicans try to catch a ride on the Tea Party bandwagon, did one member of Congress go too far in slamming what she calls -- and I'm quoting her now -- "this gangster government"?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
A massive cloud of ash billowing into the atmosphere from a volcano in Iceland is causing chaos for air travelers between the United States and Europe. The volcano blew a hole in a glacier, sending smoke and ash to the altitudes where airliners fly.
The volcanic cloud can cause jet engines to shut down, and that's led to the grounding of more planes than at any time since 9/11. Airspace over the U.K. was closed, and the drifting cloud has led countries across Northern Europe to do the same thing.
The impact has now spread from Britain to France, Germany, Denmark, and beyond. Dozens of airports are closed and thousands of flights are disrupted.
Our meteorologist, Chad Myers, is over at the CNN Weather Center in Atlanta.
Tell us about this phenomenon, because it's extraordinary, what is going on, Chad.
CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It truly is. And it's also extraordinary the way the jet stream is right now and how that it's affecting Europe.
We should be seeing the jet stream move across the north and most of Europe be completely in the clear of this ash cloud. That is not happening with this event. We have a big ridge of high pressure. It comes down, and it's right over the U.K. right now, this ash plume here.
It goes out into the Atlantic Ocean, then back over Spain. This ash cloud, Wolf, could last for days, maybe a week. And could you imagine if all the airports are shut down for a week and people trying to get home? They can't go anywhere. They can't go north, south. They can't even leave. You said planes are not flying, and they are not.
This is the busy time of day. Planes from the East Coast fly to Europe at about this hour, because they can land tomorrow morning in Europe time, and so everybody gets on those planes. They sleep through the night, and they get there and they're wide awake when they get there.
But there are no planes flying, a couple, but they are going to destinations where it's farther south, or at least southeast, of where this ash cloud is, Wolf.
BLITZER: Do we know, Chad, how many planes have been affected by this?
MYERS: Not really. The number of planes would probably be at this point in time, I would say, 75 to 100 in the air.
BLITZER: What about flights?
MYERS: And I would say -- I would say I can see 10. So, that's more than 80 percent of the flights, especially -- it's 100 percent of the flights going into Northern Europe.
This is not precautionary. You know, I had -- I said this earlier. This is not just a, hey, let's not fly and let's have a precaution. If you fly into that cloud, your engines die, and your plane falls out of the sky. This is nothing to be -- you have to take this seriously. It doesn't happen very often, happened at Mount Saint Helens, happening at Mount Pinatubo, where planes couldn't fly anywhere where the volcano.
BLITZER: I want you to listen to this little clip from a pilot who through a volcanic plume back in 1982. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIC MOODY, FORMER BRITISH AIRWAYS PILOT: We were going from Kuala Lumpur to Perth in western Australia, not a long flight, on a very, very dark night. And we got across Java over the southeast of the Indian Ocean, and we got this effect of Saint Elmo's fire around the airplane, which is not unusual, but it usually happens in mist or fog or up high in the cirrus clouds.
You need moisture. And we were watching this beautiful display of Saint Elmo's, and the engines stopped, one after another, very quickly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So, I guess, as you say, Chad, they're not overreacting...
BLITZER: ... when they simply shut down all of those airports, cancel all of those flights. And it's having an enormous impact.
MYERS: The ash cloud made up of small, tiny particles, but they are very coarse. Think of pumice, because that's basically what comes out of a volcano.
But these ice clouds, these ash clouds, they get into the jet engines. The jet engine is hot. It melts this ash cloud, turns it into basically glass. And then that glass is deposited on the back of the jet engine, and the ash cloud literally chokes the engine to death, and you can't put a jet in that cloud. It's just unsafe.
BLITZER: Chad, hold on for a moment, because Atika Shubert is standing by right now at the world's busiest, one of the world's busiest air hubs in London.
It's already what -- it's getting around close to midnight over there, Atika. Set the scene for us. What's going on?
ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it used to be one of the world's busiest airports, but this is right by Heathrow's runway, and it is dead quiet. There are absolutely no planes taking off or landing here.
All flights across the U.K. have been grounded, and it's not just here. This is a volcanic ash cloud hundreds of miles long stretching from Russia to France. Airports in -- everywhere from Germany, Netherlands, all across Scandinavia and also France have basically had their airports completely closed.
We're now hearing from the U.K. authorities that airports here will be closed at least until noon tomorrow, and possibly longer. That's causing chaos for passengers. Tens of thousands of passengers here have been stranded across Europe. Many of them just have nowhere to go, and there's no sign that it's going to get better tomorrow -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I want Chad Myers to weigh in.
Chad, you have a question for Atika? She's there.
I don't know, Atika, if you can see anything, if you can smell any of this volcanic ash.
But, Chad, go ahead and ask her a question.
MYERS: Right. Can you feel any grit in your hair, on your fingers, on the ground? Is any of the ash actually falling on the land there, or is it just suspended up there into clouds? SHUBERT: No, not at all. It's far too high up there. In fact, it was a brilliantly sunny day, one of those rare occasions in London where there was a lot of sunshine.
And many people just couldn't understand. Especially, the passengers were looking up into the sky and saying, what's the problem? It seems like a perfectly fine day. It's just that that volcanic ash cloud is just too high for us to see, but it's exactly where planes are going to be flying into.
SHUBERT: And that's the real concern. And, as you say, it is a very real danger.
BLITZER: Guys, hold on for a moment, because among those passengers stranded right now is an American named Michael Flood. He's stuck in Dublin, Ireland. He's joining us on the phone.
Michael, tell us what they're telling you in Dublin.
MICHAEL FLOOD, STRANDED TRAVELER: Well, the government has actually been very good, Wolf. They have been broadcasting throughout the day, giving you updates on what's going on.
But, basically, the -- the airlines have shut down here. We're not out. I was due to fly out tomorrow morning at 10:00, and the earliest flight I have got is 10:00 on Sunday.
BLITZER: On Sunday. Where are you flying from Dublin?
FLOOD: Flying from Dublin, Dublin Airport to Newark and then down to Washington.
BLITZER: So, basically, they're saying you're not going to get out at least until Sunday, but we're also hearing it could be -- if this situation continues, it could even be a day or two longer.
FLOOD: Yes, there's a great deal of speculation. They're worried about the weather and whether -- how the winds are going to blow or if there's any prescription that may bring this down into the field that would impair air traffic or any of the instruments on the plane.
BLITZER: Is this the kind of situation, Michael, where the airline gives you a hotel room, or are you on your own?
FLOOD: We're on our own. The E.U. policy is that, since it's a natural -- naturally occurring event, that we're on our own. You're paying for your own thing, your own. You can get a reimbursement to get another flight, but there's no other flights. There's no purpose in trying to go for that. So, it's all men for themselves.
BLITZER: How are the flying public -- this is a -- this is a case of security and safety, but how are your fellow passengers dealing with all this?
FLOOD: Well, I -- as your previous guest was saying, we have actually had astonishingly great weather here in Dublin over the past week, so people are fairly upbeat.
The most criticism I have heard is that, why aren't -- why aren't the U.S. airlines and the U.S. carriers giving us any the information that we seem to be getting streaming from the -- from the Irish government?
BLITZER: All right, well, good to know that.
Michael, thanks very much, one of those stranded passengers in Dublin right now.
That cloud of ash is spreading, by the way, to Poland right now. President Obama's due to fly there this weekend for Sunday's state funeral of the president, Lech Kaczynski, and his wife killed in a plane crash last week in Russia. A White House spokesman says that, as of right now, the president's trip is still on, but officials are keeping a very, very close eye on the ash cloud situation. We will update you on that as we get more information.
Meanwhile, tea partiers are turning out for tax day here in the United States. We're going live to CNN's Jessica Yellin. She's out on the National Mall in Washington.
And the pope speaking out today on sex abuse in the Catholic Church, why he's calling on Christians right now to repent.
BLITZER: Jack Cafferty's here with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, in honor of today's dreaded tax-filing deadline, a whopping, huge majority of Americans say the government wastes their tax dollars. Not exactly breaking news, is it?
A new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows 74 percent of those surveyed say a lot of their tax money is wasted by the government -- 23 percent say some of their tax dollars are misspent. So 97 percent feel the money is either wasted or misspent. Only 3 percent say not much is wasted. Those people are not well.
This poll also finds that 50 percent of the public says the tax system is unfair. That's not surprising either when you consider that 47 percent of U.S. households will not pay federal income taxes this year, not a dime.
And the survey shows a growing public frustration with taxes over the last couple of decades. Forty percent say they are angry about the amount of taxes they pay. And that number is up sharply from the 1980s. It's a big part of the message coming from the Tea Party folks. Whether you're angry or not, though, you don't have a choice, and I don't either. We don't get to choose where our tax money goes. Federal income taxes represent the government's largest source of income, about $900 billion a year. The money's used to run the country, everything from national defense, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to things like education, public safety, and infrastructure.
So, here's the question. If you could choose, where would you want your tax dollars to go? Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog. And do not write in and say, back in your own pocket, because it ain't going there.
BLITZER: That is correct.
CAFFERTY: That's correct.
BLITZER: Good assessment, Jack.
BLITZER: Thank you.
And, as Jack notes, it is tax day. Thousands of Tea Party protesters are now taking to streets here in Washington, D.C., and in other cities across the United States. But will their grassroots strength be felt on Election Day?
Our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is over there at the National Mall. She's joining us now live.
Jessica, tell us what you're seeing and hearing. We see a big guy standing behind you, but it must be a lively crowd out there.
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Very lively.
Right now, Wolf, we're listening to the hip-hop sounds of the Tea Party rapper Hi-Caliber. And, as you can tell, this is a very calm crowd, a happy crowd. There's a lot made of some of the anger and upset during the protests during the health care bill's passage, very different kind of mood here, polite folks who are just here protesting the fact that there are, in their words, just too many taxes.
For example, there's people from all over. This woman came from Chattanooga with her crew, "Tyranny Response Team." And that is a sentiment, that Americans are living under tyranny, that I have heard from speakers and other folks throughout the day here at the Tea Party.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm tired of bailing out companies that mismanage their money. Folks, the government doesn't have any money. That's our money, and I'm taxed enough already.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The nationalization of your body, the federal government taking over your liberty to manage your own health care, that's got to go.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
YELLIN: You can see that they're into the music this -- at this rally.
So, Wolf, I have heard from a lot of folks that they're upset about their taxes, very upset about health care reform, and, of course, federal spending. The overarching theme, though, is that politicians, in their view, are just not listening, and folks are increasingly saying that they will make their voices heard on Election Day.
The takeaway from today is, this movement is insistent, all this energy will translate into making a difference at the ballot box in November. We will have to see -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We will watch together with you, Jessica. Thanks very much.
The notion of a so-called value-added tax hits a big stumbling block. The Senate today passed a nonbinding resolution condemning the tax, calling it -- and I'm quoting now -- a massive tax increase that would cripple families.
The issue arose after some top White House economic -- a top White House economic adviser, an outside adviser, Paul Volcker, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, said the U.S. tax system needs to be revamped and that a value-added tax might -- repeat -- might be more acceptable than in the past.
Lisa Sylvester is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Lisa, I want you to explain to our viewers what a value-added tax is.
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we keep on hearing this term being thrown out, a VAT. It actually stands for value-added tax.
And you can think of it as a national sales tax that is levied at each stage in the production of a good. So, here's how it works. We're going to use as an example cotton socks. The farmer goes out with his tractor. He goes and harvests some cotton. We're going to keep this simple, so we're going to say he then sells that cotton for a dollar.
That dollar -- that cotton is then spun into yarn. From the yarn you can see that there's an increase in value there of a dollar there, from a dollar to $2. From yarn, it's then turned into socks. It's knitted into socks, again, a value added from $2.00 to $4.50.
Throughout this chain of production here, you can see that it's a value that is added. We started out at a dollar, now at $4.50. The value added is $3.50. So, we're going to assume here to keep it basic and simple a 10 percent value-added tax.
So what we're talking about is a 35 percent tax that is added on to the price of the socks to the $4.50. Final price for the socks, with a VAT, is $4.85. So, you can see, Wolf, there's a comparison. Without a VAT, you would be talking about a $4.50 pair of socks, with a VAT, $4.85. The difference would go to the federal government.
BLITZER: But, as you know, in a lot of countries, in Europe and elsewhere that have this value-added tax, this national sales tax, that's in lieu of, instead of an income tax. That's how the government gets the money they need. And they think it can be more effective in terms of dealing with cheaters, if you will, if they just tax every step of the process.
SYLVESTER: Absolutely right. But in this case, Wolf, what they're talking about is not a replacement of the U.S. income tax, as we all well and know on this April 15. They are talking about a VAT that would be in addition, a smaller VAT that would be in addition.
And the reason why -- this is some of the pros -- the reason why is they say that the VAT would be a way to pay down this budget deficit, enormous budget deficit that we're facing. And that is a side benefit, that it could encourage U.S. exports and reduce foreign imports.
But, you know, there are some major cons along the way as well. One big thing, which, Wolf, you just alluded to, is that it does hit middle- and lower-class the hardest. I mean, this is a regressive tax. And at the same time, it also increases the tax burden.
You know, people are already paying income taxes. They're already paying property taxes. The thing about a VAT to keep in mind is, this is on top of your local and sales taxes that states levy.
BLITZER: And if it would be on top of your income tax, that is a huge tax increase across the board, no matter how much money you make every year.
But explain, though, how, potentially, this kind of tax could reduce the deficit.
SYLVESTER: Well, in addition to reducing the budget deficit, because we will have a large sum of money that the government will have, it can also reduce the trade deficit.
And this is why -- there is a group out there -- they are manufacturers, for instance -- which they will say, look, the rest of the world, basically the rest of the developed world, they have a value-added tax, so when our goods go overseas, our goods are then more expensive compared to the local products.
But when goods come in, say, from countries like China, we don't have a VAT, and, in some cases, those Chinese goods -- oftentimes, in fact, those goods, when you factor in labor costs, are actually cheaper than the U.S. goods, so they're saying could be a boost to improve our trade deficit picture as well.
But you know that this is a very political issue because people feel like they are taxed to the limit. And so to then say to people hey, folks, you might have another tax, you are going to get some pushback on this one.
BLITZER: And we heard some bipartisan agreement earlier in THE SITUATION ROOM, Steny Hoyer and Eric Cantor, the number-two Democrat, the number-two Republican in the House. They both said it ain't happening.
SYLVESTER: And it's an election year, too, so keep that in mind.
BLITZER: Yes. They don't want it. And the Senate votes this nonbinding resolution that it shouldn't go forward either. So, it's a good discussion, an academic discussion, but probably not going to go anywhere, at least not for now.
A shocking statement from a member of Congress. Speaking over at the Tea Party rally, Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann slams what she calls -- and I'm quoting her now -- "this gangster government."
Donna Brazile and Alex Castellanos, they are here. They're standing by.
And just in, the United Nations issuing a report saying the assassination of the former Pakistani prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, could have been prevented. We have details.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: This just coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM.
The United Nations has now issued a report on the assassination of the late Prime Minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto, who had returned to Pakistan to run for election. She was killed as she was campaigning.
Lisa Sylvester, you have got some details for us.
SYLVESTER: Yes, we do. This information is just in. The United Nations says that the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto could have been prevented. The report by a U.N. commission was just released. The panel blames inadequate security for Bhutto's 2007 killing, saying Pakistani authorities failed to provide it.
It also says the intelligence agencies hindered the subsequent investigation. And we have a direct quote that we can read for you. It said -- quote -- "The federal government, under General Musharraf, although fully aware of and tracking the serious threats to Ms. Bhutto, were not proactive in neutralizing them or ensuring that the security provided was commensurate to the threats."
And, you know, she was killed in December 2007. And she actually was in THE SITUATION ROOM, as I understand it, and you spoke -- you did an interview with her...
BLITZER: Before she left to go back to Pakistan to run, she was basically sitting where you're standing right there. We were sitting around a small table. And I asked her how worried she should be, and I sort of tried to discourage her. I was worried, because I had known Benazir Bhutto for a long time.
She said she was going, her fate was in God's hand. She later went. She started campaigning. There was an attempt against her in Karachi. She survived that. She then sent an e-mail to her longtime friend and U.S. spokesman, Mark Siegel, saying: Give this e-mail to Wolf Blitzer, but make sure he doesn't read it unless something happens to me.
BLITZER: And I got that e-mail at the time. And, of course, I hoped nothing would happen to her.
I went back and just checked that e-mail. And this is what she said. She said: "Nothing will, God willing, happen. Just wanted you to know, if it does, in addition to the names in my letter to Musharraf," who was the president of Pakistan, "of October 16, I would hold Musharraf responsible. I have been made to feel insecure by his minions. And there is no way what is happening, in terms of stopping me from taking private cars or using tinted windows or giving jammers or four police mobiles to cover all sides, could happen without him."
That's what she sent Mark Siegel. She asked him to send it to me. I read it, that e-mail, the day she was assassinated. It was heartbreaking, of course.
And I'm just reading this report from the United Nations. And it says, in another part, that they clearly feel that General Musharraf, the president of Pakistan, could have done more, especially -- it goes on to say, "This is especially grave, given the attempt on her life in Karachi when she returned on Pakistan on 18 October, 2007." So, this is a very, very harsh condemnation of President Musharraf and his government for doing not enough, obviously, to try to save her.
And it was clear that, you know, there was -- there should have been signs, because the attempt was October 18. She was killed December 27. There were threats being made. But this U.N., independent -- and this is an independent panel, and it's a three- person panel -- they have concluded that -- essentially, that security was not what it should have been for her.
BLITZER: Yes, let me just read one other little paragraph.
"Ms. Bhutto's assassination could have been prevented if adequate security measures had been taken. The responsibility for Ms. Bhutto's security on the day of her assassination rested with the federal government, the government of Punjab, and the Rawalpindi district police. None of these entities took the necessary measures to respond to the extraordinary, fresh, and urgent security risks that they knew she would face."
SYLVESTER: They also mentioned the intelligence agencies, that they might have hindered the investigation. And I think that's -- that's going to be key in the next coming days, too.
BLITZER: A tough, tough indictment of General Musharraf, the former president of Pakistan, and his government.
Lisa, thanks very much.
We're going to continue to watch this story, follow it a lot more coming up, obviously, in the days and weeks to come. There will be serious ramifications in Pakistan and beyond.
Other news -- a -- quote -- "gangster government," that's how one Republican congresswoman, Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, is referring to the American government right now. Wait until you hear her comments over at a Tea Party rally.
And, the Florida governor, Charlie Crist, angers some fellow Republicans by vetoing an education bill. Is that a sign he will turn his Senate race into an independent candidacy?
BLITZER: Republicans are doing all they can to catch a ride on the tea party bandwagon. But are some going too far? One member of Congress today slammed what she called -- and I'm quoting her now -- this gangster government, referring to the U.S. government.
Let's discuss with our two CNN political contributors, the Democratic strategist, Donna Brazile, and Republican strategist, Alex Castellanos.
Michele Bachmann, she's always outspoken as we all know, Republican of Minnesota. Here's what she said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: We're on to this gangster government, and we are not going to let them have their way. They don't get to take over any more of our economy. We're done with that game. We're done. And I say it's time for these little piggies to go home.
(END OF VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. That was pretty colorful language, I should say. Donna, what do you think?
DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, she needs a new speechwriter, Wolf, maybe it's the weather outside.
Look, the truth of the matter is for the first time in a long time, taxes this year for the vast majority of Americans is lower. And that's because President Obama put in policies to lower taxes for middle-class Americans.
And when she talks about gangster government, I don't really know what she's referring to. Is she referring to the people who are protecting our border? Is she referring to the people who are trying to make sure that when we go on airplanes we're safe?
Or is she referring to members of Congress like herself who saw a budget surplus go into a huge budget deficit? I don't know what she's referring to.
ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I can help you with that. She's referring to a government that right now -- on all levels -- takes over 40 percent, nearly 50 percent of a country's wealth, of the money we all work for, and says that's not enough, Wolf. As you were just talking about, now they're talking about a value-added tax.
Not even John Gotti took that much money from people. So that's what she's talking about the gangster government. Using the power of government to take money from people.
She's in a very good district for a Republican. She is the Sarah Palin of the House. And, yes, she's very outspoken. She can be. She raises a lot of money that way on the Internet. But this is a Jesse Ventura district. He won there.
This is a district McCain won, 53-45, so she can say these things and she'll be just fine in that district.
BLITZER: Within the suburbs of St. Paul in Minneapolis.
CASTELLANOS: Yes, she is. BRAZILE: I don't know if her electoral prospects are as strong as Alex mentioned. But look, in a civilized society we all know that we have to pay taxes in order for police protection and all the many things -- good things -- that government will do this year to make our lives better.
So, again, I think she's referring to the members of Congress like herself who saw a huge budget surplus turn into a huge federal deficit.
BLITZER: Let's move to Florida. From Minnesota to Florida right now. Charlie Crist, he wants to be the next U.S. senator from Florida. He's got a Republican primary challenger. Charlie Crist is the governor. Until recently pretty popular governor, I should say, in Florida.
Marco Rubio is challenging him, doing very well in the polls. And today something happened that you noticed, Alex, that you think suggests what?
CASTELLANOS: Well, today Charlie Crist did something unusual. The Republicans in the House and in the Senate in Florida, in that state government, passed an education bill that would judge teachers on their merit. How well each kid did, their progress. And teachers would get paid more on that.
Charlie Crist vetoed what the Republicans and Jeb Bush and other Republicans in Florida supported. What does that mean? Charlie Crist has cut a deal with the teachers union in Florida, and it probably means he's going to run not in the Republican primary, but go as an independent.
Why? Because he's become very unpopular in Florida since he hugged President Obama and embraced President Obama's big spending down there.
BRAZILE: All across throughout the country the Republican Party's revolting against their own. Charlie Crist has been a governor that has governed in the middle and Republicans have a hard time accepting moderates in their party.
What Governor Crist did today is favored by not just teachers unions, it's favored by parents, it's favored by many stakeholders who believe the right way to reform our education system is to bring everybody along and make sure everybody is on the same page.
BLITZER: We're going to watch this race very, very closely in the weeks and months to come, guys. Thanks very much.
President Obama calls for a safety crackdown in the wake of that West Virginia mine disaster. Is it reactionary or is it real? We'll hear what the president said. We'll talk about it with our own John King.
And it lit up the night sky. Some people felt the ground shake. So where did this meteor strike? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: President Obama's ordering a review of mines with poor safety records. In doing so, he criticized the company that owns West Virginia coal mine where 29 miners died in an explosion last week.
He blamed the disaster on management of the Upper Big Branch mine and on loopholes in existing laws and regulations.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We owe them more than prayers. We owe them action. We owe them accountability. We owe them an assurance that when they go to work every day, when they enter that dark mine, they are not alone.
They ought to know that behind them there is a company that's doing what it takes to protect them. And a government that is looking out for their safety.
(END OF VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's talk about this, and more, with John King. He's the host of CNN's "JOHN KING, USA," which comes up right after THE SITUATION ROOM.
Is this serious, just reactionary, or is it going to lead to some major action?
JOHN KING, HOST, "JOHN KING, USA": It is very serious in the sense that, A, the president says we have to close those loopholes, and I'm going to talk to the labor secretary in the next hour. We're going to ask her specifically what she wants to do.
There are also concerns, Wolf, that the government should have seen the flashing lights, this company's growing safety problems, and tried to do something. The position is that the company kept appealing these citations and as long as those appeals are ongoing you can't do anything.
A lot of people think the Mine and Health and Safety Administration should have stepped in and said sorry, we need to call a stop here. So that's one of the questions for this investigation.
But the president also said he wants the Department of Justice involved. And so one of the key questions here is, in the preliminary investigation do they see some evidence that the company should have nobody and there could -- this administration believed there's criminal negligence.
Using the terms, I want the Department of Justice involved, raised a lot of eyebrows, it got the company quite upset. They issued a statement today saying that the president must have been ill informed that they've done everything they can for safety. But this one is going to get hot.
BLITZER: Let me read the statement from Massey Energy.
"Today's statement by the White House statements about the Upper Big Branch tragedy are regrettable. We feel that the president has been misinformed about our record and the mining industry in general. Unfortunately some are rushing to judgment for political gain or to avoid blame."
KING: It is a tough one for the company because it's a publicly traded company. It also owns a number of other mining properties. So number one, you're going to have at the state level and now the federal level a promise of more sweeping, more aggressive inspections and investigations.
And at the same time they're dependent on their board of directors and obviously publicly traded company. So it's been a very tough time for Massey.
But the president's language, they were very, very tough both in terms of investigating this specific mine, but there's also a sense that why didn't the government fight through the loopholes and do something?
And the president put a new team, the Mine Safety and Health Administration for years. My first job in Washington 22 years ago was covering the Labor Department. It's always been known they don't have enough people, they don't have enough money, they're too cozy with the industry.
This administration says that has changed, but the new director of that agency, Wolf, they were slow to be nominated, who's only been on the job six months.
BLITZER: And you'll speak to Hilda Solis, the labor secretary, in the next hour, right?
KING: We'll ask these questions.
BLITZER: OK, good. Tough questions from John coming up.
A spectacular sight that had people across the Midwest wondering what is that. Now we know and we're learning more about this meteor and where it hit.
And we're getting some new information about those American missionaries who were accused of kidnapping kids in Haiti. Late details just coming in. That's coming up.
BLITZER: Just want to alert you that the former president, Bill Clinton, will be my special guest tomorrow here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We're approaching the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing. I was out there, covered his visit there. Spent some time. We'll talk about the lessons learned that domestic terrorism and beyond. The former president, Bill Clinton, my special guest tomorrow, 5:00 p.m. Eastern, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
Lisa, what do you have?
SYLVESTER: Hi there, Wolf.
Well, this news is just coming in to CNN. The kidnapping charges against nine of the 10 missionaries held in Haiti earlier this year have now been dropped according to Idaho Senator Jim Reich.
The group's leader Laura Silsby remains in jail. The group was accused of trying to kidnap 33 Haitian children after January's devastating earthquake.
Pope Benedict XVI has broken his silence about the church's sex abuse scandal. At homily at a mass within the Vatican, the pontiff noted the recent attacks on the Catholic Church.
He also calls for the need for, quote, "We Christians to recognize mistakes and repent." Demands by abused victims for the Pope himself to take responsibility intensified in recent weeks when charges arose that the Pope had been negligent in handling some cases.
New troubles for car giant Toyota. The company has announced that it will now test all of its SUVs. The decision comes after the company decided to suspend sales of its Lexus GX 460 because of a reported rollover risk.
Tests will include current models of the RAV4, FJ Cruiser, Highlander, 4 Runner, Sequoia, Landcruiser and the Sienna. Toyota has already recalled some eight million vehicles this year for other problems.
And it's commonplace in the United States, but something never before seen in Britain. For the first time ever leaders of the three major British parties held a televised election debate.
Prime minister and Labour Party leader, Gordon Brown, faced off with the conservative party's David Cameron and the Liberal Democrat Party's candidate Nick Klegg. Brit voters will go to the polls in three weeks.
And take a look at this. You know you might think that you were watching an explosion here, but this giant burst of light that you see right there, it's actually a large meteor. It streaked across the skies of the Midwest last night and managed to rattle houses and shake the ground.
As it passed through, radar information suggests that the meteor landed in southwest Wisconsin although no injuries are reported.
There it is. You see that bright flash. BLITZER: Yes, was that over Milwaukee, those pictures?
SYLVESTER: You know, I think that it was. I know that they said that it landed --
SYLVESTER: It landed in Wisconsin. But no injuries so that's good news.
BLITZER: That's good, but dramatic.
SYLVESTER: Yes. (INAUDIBLE) off the Midwest.
BLITZER: Like a firework.
SYLVESTER: Yes. Some firework.
BLITZER: Lisa, thank you.
SYLVESTER: All right. Take care, Wolf.
BLITZER: Here's a loaded question. If you could choose where you want your tax dollars to go, Jack Cafferty will tell you. He's got some e-mail coming up, "The Cafferty File."
And later, there are plenty of magazines with racy photos out there, but only Jeanne Moos can share a little sensory overload for us. Stick around.
BLITZER: On this tax deadline day in the United States, the White House is releasing President Obama's tax return. It shows he and the first lady made $5.5 million last year, most of it from sales of his books, and they paid almost $1.8 million in taxes.
The first couple donated $329,000 to various charities, including CARE and the United Negro College Fund. The president also divided his $1.4 million Nobel Peace Prize money among 10 charities.
Let's go back to Jack for "The Cafferty File." Jack?
CAFFERTY: If you could choose where would you want your tax dollars to go is the question this hour.
Nick writes: "I think the tax dollars need to stay domestic. The billions we've wasted and continue to waste in Iraq and Afghanistan are a much bigger problem than any local pork spending. If it weren't for those pointless wars, we wouldn't be dealing with record deficits."
Jack in Florida writes: "If I was given my choice, I'd have my taxes go to public financing of elections instead of our Supreme Court's choice of both foreign and domestic corporations controlling our elections. The Washington lobbyists could then stand in the unemployment line."
Joe writes: "It's not flashy or profound or even that interesting, but my choice would be to pay down the debt. What good will all the other projects be if we're being crushed by mounting debt? In my own life when I get some extra cash, I put most of that into paying debt and then possibly when I can put some away for the future. Our freedom is imminently tied to our ability to manage our financial affairs."
Bob writes: "Education, education, education. We need a smarter electorate."
Cat writes: "I would like more money to go to policing the borders and removing the illegal menace."
Jeremy in Michigan writes: "The most important things the government should spend our money on are job stimulation in more sectors than construction and energy technology, which would also generate jobs. Those are the two reasons for the current crisis."
Dominick writes: "I want my taxes to continue going to support illegal aliens and their dozen kids. And for more foreign aid to ungrateful foreign countries that still hate us."
And John in Louisiana writes: "I'd like my tax dollars to go to Jack Cafferty. Maybe then he'd have enough money to retire."
CAFFERTY: That hurts, John. It cuts me to the quick, buddy.
If you want to read more on this, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile.
BLITZER: You know even when they write that kind of stuff, they really don't mean it, Jack. They love you. You know that.
CAFFERTY: I don't know. I think John might mean it.
BLITZER: No, he doesn't mean it.
CAFFERTY: Wants me out of here.
BLITZER: He doesn't. He wants you here with me every day in THE SITUATION ROOM for many, many years to come.
CAFFERTY: Like a sentence.
BLITZER: Go home.
CAFFERTY: All right. See you tomorrow.
BLITZER: We'll do this again tomorrow.
BLITZER: All right, coming up, Jeanne Moos, she's got a "Moos Unusual Report" on pornography for the blind.
BLITZER: Here's a look at some "Hot Shots" coming in from our friends over at the Associated Press.
In Chechnya, a boy celebrates the first anniversary of the end of Russia's counterterrorism operation in the Russian republic.
In India, Sikh grooms sit in a mass marriage ceremony for poor couples.
In South Africa, a man shows off his World Cup soccer tickets. Five hundred thousand tickets went on sale today for the month-long tournament which begins in June.
And in England, check it out. A four-day-old elephant stands beside its mother over at the zoo. Very cute.
"Hot Shots," pictures worth a thousand words.
It's pornography written in Braille, and it's stirring quite a controversy. Our Jeanne Moos takes a "Moos Unusual Look."
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There are plenty of racy pictures for people who can see. But if you're blind, this may be the only way to cop a feel.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What?
MOSS: Raised images of naked bodies with Braille descriptions alongside. Some are calling it porn for the blind, but its creator, Canadian Lisa Murphy, has another term.
LISA MURPHY, CREATOR, "TACTILE MIND": I call it nudie pictures.
MOOS: The book is called "Tactile Mind" and lots of folks might mind if we showed the raised image on the cover. But inside things are far tamer.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's the torso, right?
MOOS (on camera): Yes.
(Voice-over): But most of these torsos are wearing rabbit ears or elephant masks. As one critic joked -- GREG PROOPS, ACTOR/COMEDIAN: Those were clearly Abyssinian drawings taking from the palace that Nebuchadnezzar built. And they're only a turn on if you're wearing a braided beard and riding a goat with golden horn tied.
MOOS: Actually they're wearing masks because it was easier for Murphy to get her friends to pose nude if their faces were covered.
MURPHY: I'm actually in the book as well myself.
MOOS (on camera): Oh, you are.
MURPHY: Yes, but you can't tell who I am.
MOOS (voice-over): Murphy used to be a volunteer at the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. She spent two years and $14,000 making this book.
(On camera): What did it say?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're going to have to learn Braille.
MOOS: Now is it supposed to be arousing?
MURPHY: It has aroused a few people.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My gut feeling when I looked at that for just a second was like, A, it's hilarious, and b, that's it. Like I don't have any other reaction to it.
MOOS (voice-over): The masks seemed to throw off our blind testers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It feels square.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I hope to God it's a camera or a television.
MOOS (on camera): It isn't sexy.
MURPHY: Well, maybe not for you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To me it's very cold and sterile.
MOOS (voice-over): Kevin Coughlin it turns out is gay and I've been giving him nude women to explore. But he felt the same way about the male images.
"Tactile Mind" was a labor of love for Lisa Murphy. Her homemade book sells for 225 bucks. She sold fewer than 100 copies of what she called nudie pictures.
MURPHY: Other people have been calling it crass but you know.
MOOS: Porn for the blind? You have to feel it to believe it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ew.
MOOS: Jeanne Moos.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ah.
MOOS: CNN, New York.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh no.
MOOS: New York.
BLITZER: Jeanne Moos.
This programming note for tomorrow, a special interview with the former president of the United States, Bill Clinton. He'll be here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're approaching the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing.
He was president of the United States. I covered his visit there. Many of you will remember that memorial service that he conducted at Oklahoma City. We'll talk about lessons learned, domestic terrorism, and more tomorrow, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
A special interview with the former president, Bill Clinton, 5:00 p.m. Eastern.
That's it for me today. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. "JOHN KING, USA" starts right now.