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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Oil Outrage, Presidential Visit; Fishermen: BP Payments Falling Short; Grieving Families Testify on Capitol Hill; Trent Lott on Learning
Aired May 27, 2010 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: What a day it has been. Tonight, BP is pumping drilling mud back into its leaking well again, the so- called "top kill" operation apparently under way. I say apparently because we only have BP's word to go on and right now not a lot of folks in Louisiana believe what they say.
Today for 16 hours or so, BP stopped pumping drilling mud into that leak. But they didn't feel the need to mention it, not in any public statements, not apparently to the Coast Guard Admiral supposedly in charge and perhaps not even to the President who just today said they don't make a decision without approval of the federal government.
Now, BP doesn't come on this program for some reason, though we invite them to every single night, but this morning they did appear on other shows. And even though they had stopped pumping fluids down at that point for about six or seven hours, they didn't mention it.
Here's one of their top officials on CNN this morning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOB DUDLEY, BP MANAGING DIRECTOR: But what we really need to do is try to kill this thing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
DUDLEY: So far that operation is proceeding like we expected.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Proceeding like we expected, he said; 16-hour shutoff. Now, maybe that was expected, but it was not reported. Turns out too much of the muddy fluid they're using to force oil back down the well head and kill the well was leaking out of these holes.
So they stopped, refilled on fluid, weighed their options and started pumping again just this evening in hopes of clogging the holes enough and pumping fast enough to get more mud down into the well.
So they don't feel the need to mention it publicly, and Admiral Thad Allen admitted today that he hadn't heard about it. He gave a press conference around 3:00 or so, saying the operation was proceeding and that the mud was being pumped.
Well, by late today even BP admitted they dropped the ball. Here's BP's Chief Operating Officer on "John King USA."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DOUG SUTTLES, BP CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER: We somehow need to continually feed data out there to the public so they know what's occurring. They're obviously able to watch the plume and the end of the riser, but we've actually said it's very difficult to tell exactly what's occurring from that.
So John, I probably should apologize to the folks that we haven't actually been giving more data on that. It was nothing more than we're so focused on the operation itself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: The idea that they're just so focused on the operation, they can't spare anybody to actually brief the public, I mean, they have so many PR people and lobbyists, it is unbelievable. It's hard to believe they just forgot to mention it.
The other big news, BP and the government estimate a 5,000 barrels a day leaking, the one that the government's been using, BP has been using for more than a month now, ok, today we learned that's wrong -- way wrong. It's somewhere in the neighborhood now according to the government of 12,000 to 19,000 barrels a day.
That's the new official government estimate for now. It's now officially the biggest American oil spill ever, by far bigger than the "Exxon Valdez" and the oil, of course, is still gushing.
And just today, we learned that some of that oil has formed a new massive underwater plume miles wide, miles across heading for Mobile Bay. That's only part of the picture that President Obama will be seeing when he visits tomorrow.
Today from Washington, he tried to set a big reset message down the chain of command, taking ownership but around the country and especially down here, I got to tell you, people are asking, what took you so long?
Talking to reporters today, Mr. Obama disputed the notion he's been slow to react and tried to make it clear he gets it. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And so my job right now is just to make sure that everybody in the Gulf understands, this is what I wake up to in the morning. And this is what I go to bed at night thinking about -- the spill.
And it's not just me, by the way. And when I woke up this morning, and I'm shaving, and Malia knocks on my bathroom door and she peeks in her head, and she says, "Did you plug the hole yet, daddy?" (END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Now, the President -- that was him today. He also extended the moratorium on new offshore drilling. The head of the MMS, the discredited agency in charge of drilling, she stepped down or was fired. It's not really clear. But officially she stepped down.
And here on the ground the President's man on the ground, Admiral Thad Allen, spoke with us. Now, at the time we should point out he was apparently unaware that BP had ceased pushing fluid down in that "top kill" procedure. He later said he had been on helicopters all day and hadn't heard the news.
He told us BP had not been doing as good a job as they should cleaning up on shore and that his own chain of command structure needs to be changed, and that he was going to go back doing that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ADM. THAD ALLEN, U.S. COAST GUARD: We are moving more Coast Guard people in here, in a position to overlook at what's going on, stand beside these folks, even be more involved in the day-to-day operations right now on the beach. A lot of that's done by contractor right now and so were in the process of actually bringing more Coast Guard people in.
COOPER: So I mean again --
ALLEN: But that's not federalization or takeover. We already make the decisions. It's how you execute the decisions.
COOPER: And it begs the question, though, if you were dealing with this as a worst-case scenario from day one, how come you need to be bringing in more people now?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Now, that is the question. And his answer to that question is coming up later in the program.
First let's talk to Plaquemines Parish president Billy Nungesser and Rice University presidential historian Douglas Brinkley.
Billy, when you heard that for 16 hours BP had stopped pushing mud and hadn't bothered to tell anyone, not apparently even Admiral Allen, what did you think?
BILLY NUNGESSER, PRESIDENT, PLAQUEMINES PARISH, LOUISIANA: Well, it's par for the course. You know, we've been dealing with this since day one. And the information has not flowed on anything.
You know, you were down here and we went out there and saw an area that we thought was going to be cleaned up several days after, still had not been touched in over a week. Then we learned today that there really wasn't a plan to clean it up.
So we presented a plan today at 3:00 to BP and if they approve it those crews will move tomorrow. If not, we will move those crews Saturday on our own without the support of BP.
COOPER: And Billy, when you hear the Coast Guard today, Admiral Allen, saying essentially, look, we're making changes in our command structure to give you guys, to give the parish presidents, you know, folks who can make decisions and things can be, you know, things can happen much faster, that's what you've been calling for, do you buy it? I mean, do you believe it's going to happen?
NUNGESSER: Well, you know, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. Several of his assistants from Washington met with me this evening. And when I showed up here in Myrtle Grove to go out to the area of the pelicans, there's a lot of equipment here on the ground. Bam, it was here overnight.
There's a lot of stationed airboats, boom, on barges out in the marsh ready to be deployed. We've just got to get the organization together to make that happen. And we see the effort put forth here today.
I also want to say, we got some mixed signals here today. And I just got off of an airboat. We've been out in the marsh checking on those pelicans.
But we were told -- I was told by the people sent by Admiral Allen that the permit was approved for several reaches of our coastal plan. And I was told by the BP -- by the -- by the Coast Guard that they were going to, through their funding mechanism for this disaster, fund those reaches and task the Corps to get started on it.
I hope we'll have some private management in there to move it along quickly --
NUNGESSER: -- because the Corps procedure is a little slow.
But then I also saw "The Times Picayune" reported that they were only paying for only one reach. So I haven't gotten confirmation, of what -- is it one reach, or is it all the reaches that was approved --
NUNGESSER: -- which I believe was about 30 percent of the project.
COOPER: I want to bring in Doug Brinkley. Doug, I mean, what do you make of BP, for 16 hours, not saying anything about this. And you have the President of the United States standing up there saying they don't make any decisions without the federal government, you know, without us making them.
And the Admiral, the Coast Guard Admiral, didn't even seem to know about it. He was on Wolf Blitzer's show and seemed to be informed about it by Wolf Blitzer.
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN, RICE UNIVERSITY: I mean, Anderson, that's why we've been talking on CNN for the last weeks, almost a month, really, now, that it's unacceptable to trust BP. Whatever they say is meant to minimize situations. They haven't been transparent. They're not honest with people.
And the fact of the matter is, Thad Allen, who's a first-rate person, he did a great job during Katrina, is being compromised by BP now. He's starting to look embarrassing for it. We've got to create a kind of command structure in Louisiana because this "top kill" may not work. This could go on for months.
If that's the case, you're going to have worse wildlife devastation, more people, health workers feeling dizzy, more people than just Louisiana; it could go to Mississippi, Alabama. We could have a larger national catastrophe.
And what's -- I think is causing a meltdown in Louisiana but also throughout the United States is we're being asked to wake up every day praying for BP to plug the hole while we can't stand BP for being a dishonest company.
And that's a very hard kind of yin-yang emotions to have. So we're pulling for BP to plug this thing, but we want to see them sued and we want to see these fishermen and people that live in places like Plaquemines Parish win a lot of lawsuits against a rogue company.
COOPER: Billy, I mean, the President made a big point today of saying that -- that the government has given the green light to the plan that you've been pushing. They said that the government is in control of this. Is it your experience, that that you feel like the government and the Coast Guard has been the overseers of BP, or do you feel like it's been the other way around, that BP has been calling the shots?
NUNGESSER: Well, you were down -- you're down here. You heard the stories about the Coast Guard turning back vessels because BP closed the waterways, and Governor Jindal said these are state waterways. You can't do it. The FAA has a person in the BP headquarters, shut down many flights for a local airport, that's trying to make a living, but wouldn't let them fly if they had media in the plane.
Some kind of way that relationship intertangled has to be severed. There needs to be somebody in charge and held accountable and the information to the media, to the parish presidents, to the governor, it needs to be forthcoming and open and immediate.
You know, hopefully we do see a change here today. Hopefully after the President - I have got to be optimistic that something's going to change. It's got to change. But, you know, we -- we -- we really got to see a big change. It's not working.
COOPER: Doug, we're going to talk to Ed Henry who's been covering the President to find out if he knows whether the White House knew that this mud had been stopped going for 16 hours or what the president knew when he made his press conference today because he didn't mention it during the press conference. We're going to try to find that out later on in the program.
But -- but Douglas, as you watched the President today, what did you think of the way he was handling this or the way he was talking about this?
BRINKLEY: I think it was an important press conference and a big day for the President. I think the retirement of Elizabeth Birnbaum of MMS was a great step in the right direction. I think the stopping of Shell from drilling in the Arctic refuge, step in the right direction. He had a buck-stops-here attitude.
But tomorrow, I don't think it should be like when President Bush went to Jackson Square once and left, I think he needs to spend a few days in the Gulf south. I don't think this can be an in-and-out trip. He has to connect with the people, the President, of Louisiana and say I care.
Its Memorial Day weekend, spend time down there and those images so they won't be photo ops. It will be a President having his White House essentially for a few days down there in the Gulf south.
I think that might start turning around the message that the President really is in control. He's starting to try to be the leader of this crisis.
COOPER: Doug Brinkley, I appreciate your time, and Billy Nungesser, I know it's been a long day for you. It's going to be a long day tomorrow and you've got a long -- a lot of long days ahead. We'll talk with you tomorrow night. Billy, thank you.
Let us know what you think. The live chat is up and running at AC360.com.
Up next, more on the President's visit tomorrow and his message from Washington today. We'll talk to Democrat James Carville, whether for him Mr. Obama finally gets it. We'll also talk to his Republican wife, Mary Matalin, both living here in New Orleans.
And later, let's never forget the families of the 11 oil workers killed when this disaster began. Their fight for justice, which you haven't probably heard about when 360 continues from New Orleans.
COOPER: Well, the President is going to be here in the region tomorrow. A lot of folks are going to be looking at that, waiting to hear what he has to say. I can tell you in situations like this, people are not Democrat or Republican, they're skeptics.
They're willing to listen, yes, but needing more than anything else to be heard, looking for answers. There a lot of people who are angry here, who are hurt, who are disappointed, and even back in Washington it shows. Take a look. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. CHARLIE MELANCON (D), LOUISIANA: Our culture is threatened. Our coastal economy is threatened. And everything that I know and love is at risk. Even though this marsh lies -- along coastal Louisiana, these are America's wetlands. Excuse me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: That's Congressman Charlie Melancon of Louisiana's Third District on Capitol Hill, heartsick for his home. The question is in the face of such deep wounds, can President Obama connect? What can he do? What should he do? "Raw Politics" now from Ed Henry.
ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The President's message again and again, "I'm in charge."
OBAMA: In case you're wondering who's responsible, I take responsibility. It is my job to make sure that everything is done to shut this down. It doesn't mean that we're not going to make mistakes. But there shouldn't be any confusion here. The federal government is fully engaged. And I'm fully engaged.
HENRY: But there seemed to be a disconnect after days of the President's own aides insisting BP was in control.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I understand what you're saying, but you're legally not allowed to take sort of command and control of the whole situation.
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No, again, Jennifer, we -- they're responsible for and we are overseeing the recovery response.
HENRY: Mr. Obama was now saying the government has been running the show all along.
OBAMA: The American people should know that from the moment this disaster began, the federal government has been in charge of the response effort. As far as I'm concerned, BP is responsible for this horrific disaster, and we will continue to take full advantage of the unique technology and expertise they have to help stop this leak.
But make no mistake: BP is operating at our direction.
HENRY: That was news to lawmakers from here in Louisiana. Still angry, Governor Bobby Jindal's request for the Feds to help build barriers for the wetlands fell through the cracks.
REP. STEVE SCALISE (R), LOUISIANA: Today the President held a press conference where he said that he's been in charge from day one. And I've just got to disagree. If this has been his top priority, and if he's been in charge from day one, then why is it that it took more than 16 days to get an answer from our governor and our local officials who submitted a plan to protect the marsh from the oil?
HENRY: Also confusion about the ouster of Liz Birnbaum, head of the agency in charge of offshore drilling permits. A chance to show the White House was cleaning house. But oddly, the President seemed out of the loop.
OBAMA: And if it was a resignation, then she would have submitted a letter to Mr. Salazar this morning at a time when I had a whole bunch of other stuff going on.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But she was fired?
OBAMA: Come on, Jackie, I don't know. I'm telling you the -- I found out about it this morning. So I don't yet know the circumstances.
COOPER: That was Ed Henry reporting. More now on the political dimension and also the local impact with political strategist, James Carville and Mary Matalin; we spoke earlier.
COOPER: That's it?
JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I mean, let's start out with a couple of things here. Let's be favorable here; you saw, you did say that New Orleans is open for business. The Gulf Coast is very true, we're sitting right here on the middle of the city. It's a nice night. There's kind of a breeze. There's no -- don't believe any of this stuff about it smells. It doesn't.
CARVILLE: Everything is fine down here. I didn't think it was a good press conference I'll be honest with you. I was not and I don't think anybody else did either. I just don't --
COOPER: Do you believe him when he said the federal government is in charge?
MARY MATALIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it's going to this point that the atmospherics of this, Steve Scalise -- the Congressman from here said they talk like John Wayne and they act like Pee-Wee Herman. I mean, that's what's been going on.
In fairness to the President, he's not an emotive guy, and he's - he's juxtapositioned with Billy Nungesser and all those parish presidents and the governor and the people suffering through this. He did acknowledge these people live there, work there, have for generations. That was important.
More importantly, you've seen this and you heard what the governor in the Plaquemines Parish and from all the parish presidents was situational awareness, real-time response and the Admiral today said --
COOPER: Well, Admiral Thad Allen says that's going to happen, that he's basically flattening out his command; that they're going to have more power at the center. But you're sort of scoffing at that.
CARVILLE: I'm not scoffing. I mean, I think, look, I think anything is good. And I think Admiral Allen had an incredible record on Katrina. I just think that -- that the President -- you saw the Congressman Melancon who's district is most impacted by it. He was emotional today, the stress that people feel down here.
I don't think that that the people in Washington really understand that. And I don't think that they understand the depth of what this means to us. I mean, to them, to some extent, it's land, it's water, with what the heck. And -- and -- and I think if the President comes down and sees that and spends some time, and that's why I saw that Senator Landrieu was critical of the President for not spending enough time.
Until you see it and feel it and know it and instinctively see what's going on, it's not an intellectual exercise. It's a very, very human thing that is happening here in Louisiana.
COOPER: For the first time today we learned, according to the government now, this spill is anywhere from 12,000 gallons a day to 19,000 gallons a day.
CARVILLE: And guess what? And then it's going to be updated in a few weeks. And so well, gee, you know what? It's really like 20,000 or 35,000 --
COOPER: But what's remarkable to me is that all along the government, NOAA, has been agreeing with BP --
COOPER: -- that it doesn't really matter how -- how much oil is pouring out which is, logically, again, boggles my mind.
CARVILLE: Because it doesn't matter what the government or BP tell us. We don't believe it anymore. The information itself has no credibility to people down here. And so if you knew -- still they've got a guy from Perdue who was saying it was 70,000. You know, who knows? It's hard to get an answer.
And it's very important, now we find out today that an oceanographer from the University of South Florida found a six-mile thing coming up on Mobile Bay. Why don't they have the people from Woods Hole, the people from Scrip, the finest oceanographers in the world out in the Gulf, charting this stuff, finding out where it is, telling us what's going on?
That's what people need to know. We need the information. It's not forthcoming as far as I can see, it really isn't.
COOPER: So do you think change is going to happen tomorrow after President Obama comes here? I mean, Thad Allen is already saying there's going to be changes starting today because the command structure is different, I'm giving more power to people at the local level, and we're going to be pushing this thing.
MATALIN: To me that was prerequisite to anything that --
COOPER: That should have happened three weeks ago.
MATALIN: What they need is the resources that only the Fed can send down, if their tankers or there are more dredges or whatever it is, they can have a better command structure, but they do not have the vessels. And it's just like the booms.
Again, he's citing numbers that are nonexistent. That boom is not here. It's not a be-all and an end-all, but you can't just say those numbers and they go to the wrong place or they don't show up at all.
We don't -- we hope and we pray, we pray and let's be clear again, the Governor and Billy and everybody you've met down there are -- have been giving the President the benefit of the doubt. They want to -- as Billy said, I'm going to look him in the eye, and I want to see that he understands. And then he has to follow up.
COOPER: It's an important day tomorrow?
MATALIN: It's in his hands, too.
CARVILLE: Yes and again, I just really think the big thing that the people need -- I mean, I know this -- they want to be told and they want to be assured and they want to be convinced that they're not going to be abandoned because BP already -- Anderson, they've already gaming this and trying to get this in front of a friendly judge in Houston.
CARVILLE: They're already gaming this trying to get people to sign this pledge. Either CEO said, look, this is a minor thing. This is not going to be much environmental consequence. They are ready to abandon us. And this is what I really believe. This is what I want President to say.
There's a great story on Bloomberg, that over ten times on this network I've called for this, a criminal investigation. These people, in order to -- for anybody to be convinced; justice has to be done here. BP and its senior officers have to be subject to a grand jury investigation. If they're guilty of something, they've got to be brought to the bar of justice.
That is what -- and then if you give them the choice between going to jail or paying the claims in a fair way, they're going to pay claims in a fair way. Because I'm going to tell you what, Tony Hayward he would not fare well in a Louisiana prison. I promise you that, it would not be a good place for him to be.
MATALIN: Little Bob and all the rest in Angola, I get it, that's fine. That's the future. Boot on the neck. They haven't even had a ballet slipper on their neck.
MATALIN: He can say all that.
MATALIN: Tomorrow is about today. Fix it today. Stop it today. If these dispersants are causing ill health and they were not masked, these fishermen who can't fish now, so they have to do this work, fix the damage, the horror that's going on today. And we'll deal with BP tomorrow.
CARVILLE: I tell you what, you issue some grand jury subpoena, it will get fixed pronto. Pronto. Nothing will bring action like that.
COOPER: All right, James Carville and Mary Matalin, thanks.
MATALIN: Thank you.
COOPER: I just want again to reiterate, we invite BP as always to be on this program. We try to look at things from all different sides on this program. We really would like to have their perspective.
Up next, the local fishermen and others who make a living from the Gulf say they are still waiting for the money BP promised to pay them. We're "Keeping Them Honest".
And the families of the 11 fallen oil workers: their search for answers and for justice. A little-known law that may be depriving them of justice; we'll talk about that ahead with two members of the family of one of the fallen next
COOPER: Since the first days of this disaster, BP has waged a massive PR campaign, claiming it's doing everything possible to stop the leak. The company has also publicized its payments, insisting it has handed out more than $35 million for claims received in connection with the spill.
That may be true, but many fishermen and others who make a living from the Gulf say BP has left them high and dry so far.
Here's Ed Lavandera.
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Chris Battle and his crew of crabbers want more than just talk from BP. They want money.
(on camera): How much money do you think you lost?
CHRIS BATTLE, CRAB FISHERMAN: Oh, close to $20,000, $30,000. You know. I mean, that's -- it's a good bill.
LAVANDERA (voice-over): Crab fishing waters closed for more than three weeks because of the oil spill, leaving these guys out of work. When Battle filed his claim with BP, all he got was a $5,000 check.
BATTLE: At this time of year, like, I mean, I'm catching $2500 to $3,000 worth of crabs a day. And they wrote me a check for $5,000. It's just not enough. It's not what I lost. If you go by what I lost, I lost way more than that.
LAVANDERA: Deckhand Derrick Bennett said he only got a $725 check for the three weeks he was out of work and he says he can't find out from the claims rep if more money is coming.
DERRICK BENNETT, CRAB FISHERMAN: He tells me call him back every week. I call him back every week, it's the same (EXPLETIVE DELETED) over and over again.
LAVANDERA (on camera): So far BP says it has paid more than $35 million on about 27,000 settlements. The company promises that this is just the beginning, that it's only a partial settlement. But around here people who make a living off the Gulf waters say it's going to take a lot more than that to make things right.
(voice-over): Anger is spreading across the Gulf coast, and many business owners like Buggie Vegas don't trust BP to pay up.
(on camera): So business has completely disappeared?
BUGGIE VEGAS, BUSINESS OWNER: Just -- I sold four cups of coffee this morning.
LAVANDERA (voice-over): Vegas owns the Bridgeside Marina in Grand isle. He filed a claim more than two weeks ago and he's still waiting for a check.
(on camera): What have they told you that you can get?
VEGAS: They're putting us in a large claim, and they said we could get $5,000.
LAVANDERA: That's it?
VEGAS: That's what the lawyers claim.
LAVANDERA: One check for $5,000?
VEGAS: That's what they tell us. That don't even pay the light bill.
LAVANDERA (voice-over): At town hall sessions, BP claim representatives are getting an earful from angry folks out of work.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When that oil is gone, BP is going to be gone, too.
LAVANDERA: The company vows to bring more money and streamline the process.
ALAN CARPENTER, BP CONTRACTOR: We're doing as much as we can as quick as we can as far as that goes; that is not the end.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are taking the next step within -- actually, we've begun taking the larger claims which affect businesses like yours. It wasn't there in the first 30 days, you're right. But it's now time for the second phase.
LAVANDERA: Those are just words for Chris Bennett and his crab- trapping crew. They won't count on any more money from BP until they see it.
COOPER: So basically, I mean, there seems to be a real logjam and just lack of organization.
LAVANDERA: Well, it's going pretty slowly, I think, at least from the fishermen's standpoint and the business owners along the Gulf Coast here. What's going to be interesting here in the weeks ahead is how quickly that second round of payments that they're promising comes.
COOPER: When they say -- you use a term like primed for the second round, I get worried. That doesn't -- that sort of sounds --
LAVANDERA: Right. There's also a clause in one of the things that says if it's needed when this event is over. So, I think there's going to be a lot of room for debate as to what can and cannot be paid out. I think that's going to be the basis of a lot of lawsuits going forward.
At what point do you stop paying out? It's like you've got the shrimper who needs gas for his boat.
LAVANDERA: So does the guy who sells him gas? Does he qualify? So kind of -- you backtrack from there. And it goes not only to Louisiana but all the way to the Florida coast where you've seen hotel cancellations and that sort of thing.
COOPER: And these whole communities are really dependent on this industry. So it really does decimate whole communities.
LAVANDERA: Oh, absolutely. COOPER: Ed Lavandera, thanks for the reporting.
Coming up next on the program: accusations of putting profits over lives; family members of the men killed in the oil drill explosion demanding justice. A little-known law that may need to be changed according to them; we'll talk to the father and brother of one of the victims, Gordon Jones, coming up.
COOPER: On Capitol Hill today, heartbreaking, difficult but important testimony from the father of Gordon Jones today. Gordon was an engineer, one of the 11 men who perished on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig last month. Speaking to the house judiciary committee, Keith Jones talked about his son.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KEITH JONES, FATHER OF GORDON JONES: We know that Gordon's body was cremated. Then the fireboats washed his ashes out to sea. I admit that having nothing to say good-bye to is much, much harder than I thought it would be. Call it closure or whatever, something is missing for us.
If you want these companies, one of which is headquartered in Great Britain and another in Switzerland, to make every effort to make sure their employees don't act as these did, putting American lives at risk, you must make certain they are exposed to pain in the only place they can feel it, their bank accounts. As a friend recently said, make them hurt where their heart would be if they had a heart.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Keith Jones and Gordon's brother, Chris Jones, joins me now.
Keith and Chris, I'm so sorry for your loss. And I know this is difficult. I know being on television is not something you are looking to do, but I know you feel it's important not only to let people know about Gordon and the others who lost their lives, but also to bring justice to their families.
I want to talk about the justice part in a moment. But Keith, just tell me a little bit about Gordon.
K. JONES: Gordon was someone who everybody remembered once they met him. He was a great family man, loyal to his friends and sort of a one-in-a-million kind of guy, because -- and I said it many times when he was alive -- everybody liked Gordon. Everybody liked Gordon. He didn't have a mean bone in his body.
He had a wonderful marriage to Michelle. He had a wonderful family, and he was looking so forward to having it grow.
COOPER: And Chris, how -- how are Michelle and the kids and I mean how are you doing?
CHRIS JONES, GORDON'S BROTHER: Well, Michelle had a baby, I think, 13 days ago. So the family's really focused on that. Michelle's doing OK. The baby's healthy, fortunately. And we're really trying to stay together as a family and look towards the future in that regard.
COOPER: Keith, you were on Capitol Hill today about a law that I had never heard of, and I think a lot of people haven't heard of. There's a federal law that, basically, if you die at sea, your dependents are not eligible for anything. What is the law?
K. JONES: It's the Death on the High Seas Act. It was enacted originally in 1920 in response to the sinking of the Titanic. And it doesn't mean -- actually, it means some relatives get nothing, but if you are dependent upon the person who dies at sea, you can recover pecuniary losses only.
And by that in Gordon's case, for example, it means only the loss of his future income, minus what he'd have to pay in income taxes, minus what he would consume himself, and then reduced to present value by an economist.
Michelle would recover nothing for the loss of the love of her life, nothing for the loss of the father of her children, nothing for the loss of the man she wanted to grow old with. The boys recover nothing for the loss of their dad, nothing for the loss of his guidance, his love -- nothing. It is an antiquated, backward law.
COOPER: And it's been amended once for -- because a commercial airliner, I understand, crashed into the seas, and they amended if people die in an airliner at sea. So you want it amended now, for oil rigs?
K. JONES: Exactly. Well, it ought to apply to anybody who dies at sea. I don't know why -- I don't know why airline passengers are more special than oil-rig workers. But I don't know why oil-rig workers are more special, for example, than cruise-ship passengers or anybody else who dies at sea as a result of the fault of another.
COOPER: The law was originally passed to protect the owners of the Titanic, not the people who died on the Titanic, correct?
K. JONES: Well, it was passed four years after the Titanic sank, because at the time there was no recovery at all for people who died at sea, nothing. And it actually was passed so that people could recover something. But --
COOPER: I see.
K. JONES: But our idea of what fair compensation was in 1920 is a lot different from what it is today, and it's better. It's wiser today, more responsible today.
COOPER: Chris, what -- have you -- your brother worked for TransOcean. I know there was a service by TransOcean. Have you -- what has BP said to you? Have you gotten sympathy card from them or a call from them?
C. JONES: Before I answer that, I'll make one correction. Gordon worked for a subcontractor of BP called Immis Swasher (ph).
COOPER: OK. I apologize.
C. JONES: I did -- that's OK. I did attend a memorial event in Jackson, Mississippi, on Tuesday that was put on by TransOcean. It was very well done. I can see footage from here. It was tough. We saw a lot of the families there.
What I didn't see is the BP executives or anybody come up to us. And they haven't. In the month --
COOPER: You haven't heard anything from BP?
C. JONES: In the month or so since this accident, we haven't heard a single word from BP. In fact, after the memorial event, I saw them rushing out the back door jumping into tinted-window SUVs with private security to avoid the media.
Today at the hearing there was a BP representative ten feet away who didn't look at us, didn't say a word to us. And honestly, it's an insult. You know, they're going to take responsibility for the economic damages. And that's what they talked about today. They haven't said a word about the families of the victims of this explosion on April 20th.
COOPER: Keith and Chris Jones, I appreciate you being on tonight. Again, I know you're not seeking publicity. This is not something you want to be talking about, especially at a time like this when you're grieving. Please give our best to the rest of your family and to Michelle, and our thoughts and our prayers are with you.
K. JONES: Thank you very much Anderson.
C. JONES: Thank you.
COOPER: Next on 360, breaking news on the Military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
COOPER: Let's check in on some other stories that we're following. Joe Johns joins us with a "360 News & Business Bulletin" -- Joe.
JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, a little bit of breaking news here in Washington, D.C. The U.S. House has voted to repeal the law that bans gays and lesbians from openly serving in the military but only after some conditions are met. The measure is part of a defense bill. A final vote on that bill is expected tomorrow.
Gary Coleman is in a Utah hospital where officials say he's in critical condition. No other information is being released. The 42- year-old actor is perhaps best known for his role in the 1980s sitcom "Diff'rent Strokes".
And a big rally on Wall Street sent blue chip stocks soaring nearly 300 points. China dismissed reports that it is reviewing its investments of European bonds, and that is the thing that triggered those big gains. So a tiny bit of good news from Wall Street, Anderson.
COOPER: All right. Joe, thanks for that.
Still ahead, former Republican senator Trent Lott on learning what he likes -- yes, likes -- about the education reforms the Democrats are pushing. That's next on 360.
COOPER: Contributor Steve Perry made his name as a school principal with a tough love approach. In tonight's "Perry's Principles", he sits down with former Republican Senator Trent Lott who left politics in 2007 and is now a lobbyist.
We were curious to hear his take on education reform. He's old commander-in-chief, George W. Bush said he made it his signature issue. Here's what Lott had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRENT LOTT, FORMER REPUBLICAN SENATOR: The answer to education is not just more money. It's not just stimulus money. It's not just money for technology. It's how you use that money. And I emphasize rewards of incentives rather than punishments for the kids or for the teachers. That is --
STEVE PERRY, CNN EDUCATION CONTRIBUTOR: Unions don't want to hear that, though.
LOTT: I know and I think that's wrong. I think that tenure and seniority is the only criteria for staying in a position and getting paid. It's not the right thing. I mean this is America. In America you work hard, you give it your best, you show results. You can succeed.
PERRY: Some of the traditional Republican beliefs would seem to benefit (INAUDIBLE) specially home-schooling.
LOTT: Charter schools.
PERRY: Charter schools. Why is it that you feel that the minority community has not embraced the principles when they hear them come from the Republican Party?
LOTT: A lot of it is because Republicans when they start talking don't talk about education. You have to talk about it. You have to go there, where they are. You have to go to the best public schools in the state, the best private schools. You have to go to the really poor schools. I thought that we were not focused properly. We were doing things that help people temporarily but didn't help them get a bridge to a better education and a better life and a better job.
In the Mississippi Delta, 70 percent of the African-American males do not finish high school. You have to do something about that because their next ticket is to a state penitentiary.
PERRY: I just wonder if some of the reason why the black community in particular and other minority communities (INAUDIBLE) have had trouble believing in the Republican Party is because of some of the decisions that the Republicans have made.
LOTT: That's what Democrats say. And that's what they want to talk about. Let's talk now about a Republican agenda. I think that many aspects to what the Obama administration and the Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is doing and the race for the top that have some positive features.
PERRY: Let's hear about that because I'm very interested in hearing what you have to say.
LOTT: I think they are trying to improve the quality of education; to, you know, improve the quality of teachers which they're getting resistance on. That they are trying to modernize schools to, you know, use technology, to help track students and how they're doing.
I'm sure that I wouldn't agree with all of it and there was $10 billion in there for education. Now I didn't think that they used that $10 billion all that wisely. But to give incentives to find and help teachers and to have better quality teachers; to give incentives for schools to work and make their programs better for all their students; there's some good things in that program.
PERRY: What would you say to your former Republican colleagues to get them back in the ship that was leading the way in many ways on education?
LOTT: First of all, there's going to be an election and the numbers will be different come this fall. And you're going to need leadership from the President and from the leaders in the Congress. They'll say, all right, we're not going to continue down the path we've been going for the last two years. Maybe we'll take up a different order of priorities. One of those could be education.
COOPER: So, Steve, where do Democrats in your opinion or Republicans agree and where do they differ on education reform?
PERRY: I think we have to first start with the challenge here. The challenge is how do you overcome the traditional party lines? And the principle, the Perry principle, is that we have to accept that answers come from all over the political spectrum. Where I think the Democrats and Republicans differ is where their allegiances lie. Many of the Republicans, especially the right-wing, focus on a group of people who want to have their children in schools of their choice. And the Democrats tend to focus on the labor.
Where they need to come together is they need to understand that we're all here for children and to find a way to see what it is that we both can do together to create a better education experience for all of American children.
COOPER: All right. Steve thanks very much. Steve Perry.
That does it for 360 tonight. Thanks for watching.
"LARRY KING" starts now.
I'll see you from the Gulf tomorrow night.