Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
BP Attempts Next Procedure to Plug the Spill; World Community Criticizes Israel's Deadly Assault at Sea
Aired May 31, 2010 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: OK, Rick.
Happening now: There's yet another attempt to contain the Gulf oil spill that is now in the works, amid growing fears that it's going to be months before this leak is plugged. This hour, B.P.'s dwindling options after the top kill procedure failed.
Plus, President Obama struggles with to weather the storm on this Memorial Day, this amid renewed calls to deploy U.S. troops to the spill and for the commander-in-chief to start showing a bit more muscle.
An international protest against Israel for its deadly assault on ships carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza. The U.N. is holding emergency talks and even allies, like the U.S., have questions that they want answered.
Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
MALVEAUX: It is already the worst oil in U.S. history and now, the Obama administration says it could be the biggest environmental disaster that we have ever faced. Now in the wake of that top kill failure, B.P. is now preparing to execute its next plan of attack, and it involves this custom fitted cap, which is going to be placed on top of a piece of equipment known as the lower marine riser package.
It is a move that some critics say could actually make the massive leak worse before it gets better.
Our Chad Myers is joining us for more on the procedure.
And, Chad, I want you to take us through this, how -- explain how this new attempt, this new procedure is going to stop this potential leak, this cap. How does this work?
CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, the pipe that used to go up all the way from the blowout preventer all the way up to part of the Horizon that burned up and collapsed and exploded, there used to be a straight pipe. Well, right now, it's a bent pipe. It's kinked over like this. And that kink is actually slowing some of the oil flow. That kink could be cut off with this new procedure, allowing, all of the sudden, the big hole to be opened up again. So, therefore, all of the sudden now, you can see more oil coming out before they get this thing on top. They're going to put a cap on top of that pipe that they're cutting because now they don't want any bad edges. They're going to try to get a cut. They're going to get a straight cut.
And then they're going to -- this is the animation. They're going to cut this guy off. See how that's kinked over?
MYERS: Well, you kink a hose when you're trying to wash your car, the water stops coming out. So that's slowing down the oil. And there you see the gusher, then the oil really comes out but they're going to put this cap on top, the lower marine riser package cap.
It's just -- one thing after another. I think we're on plan G or H now. We did have the -- they tried the top kill. They did -- they put a junk in, a junk shot. They tried that. That didn't work either.
MALVEAUX: It wouldn't stop.
MYERS: We are searching now, I think.
MALVEAUX: OK. And, Chad, explain to us here -- what is the difference between what you are calling this new procedure, this lower marine riser package cap and what they had first started which I guess was called a top hat? What's the difference between what they tried in the very beginning, and now what they're resorting to?
MYERS: Well, what they tried in the very beginning was this large containment dome. They were going to put it completely over the top. There was way too much volume in there and ice got in there and it just clogged itself up.
Then they made a smaller one called the top hat, and they were going to put that right over that tube, that's -- the horizontal tube with all that oil coming out. Well, eventually, they decided: that's a bad idea. Let's put the -- let's put the insertion tube in there and try to suck it out instead.
So, they didn't use the top hat. They don't even know if it failed. It's sitting down there doing nothing.
Now, they have a better one. It is going to be better fit. It's going to have a better seal and they're going to be able to take all of this oil, they hope, up into another ship waiting.
Now, it's going to leak. It's not going to be perfect, but if they can get more of it than they're getting now, it's still a win.
MALVEAUX: All right, Chad. We're going to be keeping a close eye on all of this. Thank you so much, Chad.
MYERS: You're welcome. MALVEAUX: Hope to plug that up.
You can bet, of course, that B.P. is studying the lessons of the world's worst oil well blowout and spill that is the Ixtoc I disaster. It happened back in 1979 in Mexico's Bay of Campeche in the Gulf. That is where many similarities, including those failed attempts to plug the leak with a containment dome and the top kill, the junk shot procedures -- all those things they tried.
And it took almost 10 months to finally stop that spill and that happened after a relief well was completed. Now, B.P. estimates that they're going to complete this relief well at the Deepwater Horizon site in August. Now, that's about four months after the rig explosion.
We are hearing renewed calls now for the U.S. military to also get heavily involved in the B.P. oil spill cleanup, now that the latest attempt to plug that leak has failed.
The former secretary of state, General Colin Powell -- he says it may be time now for the federal government to move in with decisive force.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COLIN POWELL, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Military brings organization. It brings control. It brings assets. Whether it's the right combination of assets that you need right now, I don't know. But certainly, I am sure my colleagues in the Pentagon are looking at it. And what you want is somebody who is in the military now, not somebody who used to be in the military -- somebody who is controlling troops now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: The current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, was asked about Powell's remarks on CNN's "AMERICAN MORNING" today. Here's what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ADM. MIKE MULLEN, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: Any change in how we would do this would really be up to the president. There are some limits in terms of skills that we have in order to do this. We looked at the technical side of this. It's enormously difficult challenge technically.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: So I want to bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.
Obviously, there are calls for the U.S. military to contribute more. What are they doing now? Do they have a real significant presence?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, they have a presence in support and assistance if you will, Suzanne. The military for weeks now has been having several things going on. They're being contributing to cleanup equipment, some booms and dredging. But also, a number of C-130 aircraft have been flying overhead, spraying some dispersant chemicals, up to 17,500 National Guard members are authorized to go into the area and assist. But the governors have only asked for a handful of them, and, of course, the U.S. Coast Guard is out there.
A lot of people say that what we are now seeing is a lot of signaling back and forth. General Powell says it's time for the military. Admiral Mullen says, well, wait a minute, it's a technological problem for the industry to fix, and they have to step in and do it, and his feeling is, the Coast Guard right now, the Department of Homeland Security, have it well in hand. He's not anxious to get the U.S. military involved.
MALVEAUX: And, Barbara, what's the difference here when you talk about the military offering their advice and actually taking command and control?
STARR: Well, you know, that's really the interesting question. A lot of people are saying, I think it's probably what General Powell was referring to -- what is military command and control? Essentially it's the military's management expertise. You put a four star in there, people say, that's the kind of person that knows how to coordinate everything, pull everything together, get everybody organized and then send the assets, the troops, the ships, whatever it takes, back out into the field, prioritize the cleanup, and get the job done.
But still, that puts the military very directly in what Admiral Mullen says is a problem for the oil industry.
MALVEAUX: OK. Thank you very much, Barbara. Appreciate it.
Well, our other big story: Israel is defending its actions in a deadly assault on ships carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza. But the raid is being condemned in many parts of the world. Ahead: is the U.S. standing by its ally?
Also, it almost looks like a military invasion on a New York park. Stand by to find out what really happened on this Memorial Day.
And did the president make a mistake by spending most of his holiday in Illinois and not visiting Arlington National Cemetery? The rain may not only be the only reason for him to rethink his plans.
MALVEAUX: Angry protests today in parts of the world over Israel's deadly assault on a group of ships carrying humanitarian aid for Gaza. Nine pro-Palestinian activists were killed in the pre-dawn raid and there are conflicting accounts of what actually happened.
Now, Israel says its soldiers were defending themselves against armed activists trying to break an Israeli blockade. But the Palestinian prime minister -- he says there is no excuse for an attack on armed forces by a humanitarian convoy. The U.N. Security Council opened an emergency meeting on the incident and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut short a visit to Canada to return home. And he also scrapped plans to meet with President Obama in Washington tomorrow.
Now, I want to bring in our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry.
And, obviously, Ed, this was an important meeting between Netanyahu and President Obama, especially after that, the March meeting, things didn't go so well. What is the White House telling you today?
ED HENRY, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, what's interesting is the president -- you're absolutely right, this was going to be a big meeting tomorrow. So, the president has been working the phones. He spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu first early this morning to get a hand on the situation and stress that the U.S. is trying to gather all of the facts.
As you note, there are conflicting accounts here. The last thing the U.S. wants to do is come down on one side or the other before they really know exactly what happened. The president also reached out to Prime Minister Harper of Canada. You know that Prime Minister Netanyahu was there in Canada earlier today, so President Obama reaching out to that prime minister as well, get a handle on the situation of what he knows and get the latest on the situation and the meetings.
I think it's also interesting. I've just learned from some administration sources, there's been a conference call with White House aides -- senior aides -- this afternoon, also trying to gather as much information they can from there on the ground in Israel to get a sense of how urgent the situation is.
And I think the bottom line is -- a little earlier, I saw Dennis Ross, one of the president's top national security aides handles Mideast affairs, coming back in shorts and a polo shirt here to the White House. This is a day, as you know, most people were not expected to be working. But they've called some people back, making sure that they're on top of the situation, meeting, calling, getting the latest information they can, Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: Obviously, Ed, catching a few folks in polo shirts and shorts, very observant. And we know from covering the last visit between President Obama and Netanyahu, when he was at the White House, a lot of frustration over the Israeli settlement issue, that that hasn't gone very well for the administration.
Where do we find -- what are people telling you about where this relationship stands today?
HENRY: You know, on the record, as you know, everybody on both sides, U.S. and Israeli side, are trying to say, look, things have been relatively warm, the media has sort of blown this out of proportion. But I think you're exactly right, that on March 23rd, when they had their last one-on-one here at the White House, it did not go well at all. It was frosty. And so, the back-story is last week, White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, was in Israel. In part, it was personal. He was celebrating his son's Bar Mitzvah. But then he engaged in some diplomacy, had a one-on-one himself with the prime minister and extended this invite from President Obama to come here to the White House again tomorrow.
That, as you noted, has now been called off, for clear reasons. The White House understands that Prime Minister Netanyahu has to get home to Israel. But when you talk to White House aides, they say this could not have happened at a worst time. They were hoping this meeting tomorrow would sort of warm relations up a bit. Now, that meeting has been delayed indefinitely and certainly puts things, you know, off-track still when they were trying to get this back on track, Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: OK. Ed, thank you so much.
HENRY: Thank you.
MALVEAUX: See you tomorrow.
I want to talk more about all of this, what it means to the United States and its relationship with Israel. We are joined by CNN's senior political analyst David Gergen.
David, thank you so much for being here, obviously on this holiday.
There are a couple of things here that are important with this administration -- obviously its relationship with Israel, key ally, critical. But then also you take Turkey, predominantly Muslim nation, very important when it comes to looking at possibly sanctioning Iran and its nuclear program.
What kind of situation is President Obama now? He seems almost to be caught somewhere here in the middle?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Suzanne, he is very much caught in the middle because this incident has set off a firestorm in the Arab nations, the Muslim nations, as well as in Europe, bringing almost universal condemnation. While President Obama has been much more cautious "let's get the facts before we make a judgment," much of the rest of the world is already making harsh condemnations -- and that has not only created a public relations nightmare but could create a nightmare for President Obama.
MALVEAUX: This flotilla was sponsored largely in part by Turkey, they say it was a humanitarian mission, a humanitarian effort, and now Turkey is widely condemning Israel for this action.
What is President Obama need to do when he has and sits down and has a conversation with the Turkish leadership and then also with Netanyahu?
GERGEN: Well, he's going to have to do -- I think he's going to have to decide pretty quickly what his overall stance is going to be, his public stance. Is he going to remain with had cautious "let's figure out the facts" or is he going to move toward a harsher view of what has happened here?
From an international perspective, it doesn't matter if the Israelis acted in self-defense on the ships themselves. That's not what's at issue. Their -- the argument internationally is, look, this was a humanitarian mission. It was undertaken with humanitarian aid only. There were no guns coming in. It was intercepted in international waters. It was intended to bust a blockade, an Israeli blockade of Gaza that is seen internationally as illegal.
The United States does not agree with much of that position. The United States is much more sympathetic with Israel. But for the president, he's going to be in the middle trying to figure this out: do I come down harder on Israel? Do I call for an end to the blockade? And what, very importantly, Suzanne, does he do at the U.N.?
Here's where Iran comes in because the president was moving toward getting sanctions out of the U.N. Security Council. As you know, he had China, he had Russia on board, but the other nations were not quite there yet, but he was moving -- making progress. Now, at the U.N., you're going to have a big effort to in effect condemn Israel, pass all sorts of resolutions.
How does the United States play that and still get the Iranian sanctions deal done? That's going to require some very daft diplomacy on the president's part. It's not going to be easy. This has -- this has been a very, very unfortunate incident. It has -- it can have very serious consequences.
MALVEAUX: And how does President Obama deal with -- eventually, when he deals with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, they say this is a security issue that you have these boats, flotillas that can come in, the reason they have a blockade is so that they keep out potentially weapons that are going to Hamas, that are used to hurt Israeli civilians here. Does he have any influence or any sway with Netanyahu in light of the fact that they have not been able to get a freeze on those Israeli settlements?
GERGEN: Well, he does have influence one very big respect, and that is, Israel is in the unfortunate position now where it's losing -- it's going to be ever more isolated in the international sphere. America remains an extraordinarily important partner to Israel and, you know, our support, our financial support, our moral support, our defense support and all of those ways. So, we do have leverage but the president can't be oblivious to what the international reaction is.
I would imagine, Suzanne, we have been fairly quiet on -- with regard to Gaza. I imagine the president may now have to actively get involved in what would be a good, just solution for the whole Gaza problem, where after all, if you look at it from the Israeli's point of view, they were threatened. They have threatened by Hamas in Gaza, that's what --
MALVEAUX: All right.
GERGEN: -- they're trying to prevent guns from coming into Gaza.
MALVEAUX: OK. We're going to have to leave it there, David. Thank you so much.
GERGEN: Thank you.
MALVEAUX: Appreciate your perspective.
And on this note for our viewers, you can also check out David's new column on our other big story that we are following, that is the oil spill, and that's at CNN.com.
Well, dizziness, headaches, shortness of breath, these are just some of the symptoms that are turning up in some of the workers charged with cleaning up that massive oil spill in the Gulf. So, what is it that's making them sick? Our Elizabeth Cohen is investigating.
Plus, what led an airplane to fly into restricted air space near President Obama's Chicago home during the weekend? That story is ahead.
And, the first tropical storm of the season ravages Central America, leaving more than 100 people dead. We'll have the very latest on Agatha.
MALVEAUX: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories that are coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
Hey, Lisa. What are you working on?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Suzanne.
Well, the U.S. military says that it has killed one of the Taliban's most senior commanders in Afghanistan's Kandahar province. The air strike which reportedly occurred yesterday also took out several of the people with him. A Taliban spokesman denies that any militants were killed by NATO in recent days. Kandahar province is the site of a major upcoming coalition offensive.
And a private Cessna that violated restricted air space around President Obama's hometown was forced to land by military aircraft. The temporary restricted zone was implemented for the president's weekend Chicago visit. The military reports the incident occurred on Sunday. Temporary no fly zones are routinely established during presidential visits.
And new troubles for German Chancellor Angela Merkel after the surprising resignation of her head of state. President Horst Koehler stepped down amidst public scrutiny for controversial remarks he made linking military deployments abroad with the country's economic interests. The head of the parliament's upper house will temporarily take over the largely ceremonial position, but a new president must be elected within 30 days.
Suzanne, back to you.
MALVEAUX: All right. Thank you, Lisa.
For many Gulf Coast residents are cursing the oil spill and B.P.'s ongoing failure to plug that leak. They are venting their frustrations, as this disaster keeps growing, and they say the oil spill is making them sick. Now, one fisherman who was hospitalized is fighting back.
We're going to examine the health risks in the Gulf right now.
MALVEAUX: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now: Was B.P. having trouble with the gushing oil well off the Gulf of Mexico long before the deadly blast? Our Brian Todd has the very latest on details emerging in this investigation.
And, there are the men responsible for defusing the bomb in the failed terror plot in New York's Times Square. Now they're sharing what that moment was like with our Susan Candiotti. It is a CNN exclusive.
Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux -- and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
MALVEAUX: Frustration is growing in the Gulf after the best hope yet of capping that leak, top kill, was declared a failure over the weekend. Now, B.P. officials are preparing to try a custom built cap to fit over the leak site. But residents increasingly are fearful that this environmental disaster is also going to become an economic disaster.
Our CNN's John Zarrella -- he's been talking to people in and around New Orleans.
John, you know, my people there in New Orleans, they're fed up. They're frustrated. They just can't get a break. What are people telling you?
JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly it in a nutshell, no question about it, Suzanne. You know, the top kill failure just another disappointment here on the Gulf Coast. And with every failure, the people here are growing more and more impatient and frustrated with B.P.
MERLIN SCHAEFER, SCHAEFER'S SEAFOOD: They come out back without this shell.
ZARRELLA (voice-over): Merlin Schaefer's seafood business is quite literally feeling the pinch.
SCHAEFER: We've got all three things going (INAUDIBLE).
ZARRELLA: Crabs, shrimp -- all in short supply.
While most seafood markets along the 17th Street Canal were closed Memorial Day, we found Schaeffer open.
(on camera): Why did you open?
SCHAEFER: I don't know how many more days we're going to have, being able to get, you know, the good seafood like we've been getting. Right now, you're getting a little bit in. Come a month from now, you don't know what's going to happen with the shrimp. So, right now, we're taking every day we can get.
ZARRELLA (voice-over): Schaefer bought a refrigerated truck and now drives sometimes five hours each way to find boats selling shrimp. For Merlin it's tough, having no choice but trusting your future to an oil company.
SCHAEFER: There's nothing you can do. You're at their mercy. That's why you have to trust them that they're going to do what's right.
LT. GEN. RUSSEL HONORE (RET.), CNN CONTRIBUTOR: There's a new way to curse you out down here, "B.P. you."
ZARRELLA: But with every failed attempt to stop the leak, trust in B.P. says retired General Russel Honore who lives in Louisiana is getting hard to find, even amongst people who depend upon oil for their livelihoods.
HONORE: (INAUDIBLE) depend on this oil industry. People here need this thing to work. Can you imagine, all of the people here that worked for B.P. -- they want their jobs, and I'm sure every time they hear a negative word, their skin crawl because they need these jobs.
ZARRELLA: Down along the water in Venice, about 90 minutes from New Orleans, this is prime fishing season for charter boat captains.
LARRY HOOPER, CHARTER BOAT CAPTAIN: I'm shut down. My business is shut down.
ZARRELLA: Captain Larry Hooper is sitting on dry land. He ought to be floating in the Gulf.
HOOPER: The phone never rings in late April or early May except to cancel the trips I had in June and July.
ZARRELA: Sean Lanier had one that didn't cancel, rare. Takes his mind off what's going on in his gulf.
SEAN LANIER: Until they stop this leak, you know, it's just like getting stabbed and the knife's still in you and moving it around, you know. But at least you can get it sewed up if the knife's out.
ZARRELA: For men who make their living off the gulf it may as well be their blood leaking from that well. (END VIDEOTAPE)
ZARRELA: And tomorrow begins hurricane season, and of course that is just another worry for these people along the gulf coast. Suzanne?
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: John, there's a lot of anxiety there and hopefully things will be getting a little bit better. Appreciate it.
We have heard a lot from BP about the biggest oil spill in U.S. history but the company that owns the rig that exploded has been less visible. There is a new move by a leading Democratic senator to make sure that it, too, is held accountable. Our Mary Snow is following that story and obviously people are turning to them as well and saying look, you have a role in this. What are they saying?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, and leading the charge is the message from new York Democratic Senator Charles Schumer who says, BP isn't the only company that needs to pay for all the damage done from the gulf oil spill. He's turning up the heat on Transocean, the company that owns the oil rig that BP leased and here's why. Earlier this month, Transocean went to court citing a 150-year-old law called the limitation of liability act and sought to limit its liability at $27 million. Now the justice department fired back reportedly saying Transocean's action was unconscionable and last week Transocean made some alterations. But Schumer is calling for Congress to repeal the law that Transocean cited and is turning up the pressure on the company.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Transocean owned the rig. BP leased the rig, and they're each going to be playing a game of pointing the finger at one another so if Transocean's off the hook, the taxpayers, the industries that were hurt, the communities that were hurt could be in real trouble.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SNOW: Transocean told me today it clarified its position in court last week. Bottom line it means that individuals and businesses can file claims against Transocean in f they believe they suffered damage at the hands of Transocean. The company then has 90 days to respond. Suzanne?
MALVEAUX: If Transocean owned the rig, aren't they partly responsible for this?
SNOW: Yeah and here's where it gets tricky. When I asked Transocean about that today they said the company accepts responsibility for contamination from the rig itself. That's the big structure that sank after it caught fire more than a month ago, but it says BP had accepted it was the responsible party for leaks from the well. So there's still a lot to be figured out here.
MALVEAUX: President Obama quite frustrated with all the finger pointing back and forth. Many people are to be held accountable for this. Thanks, Mary.
MALVEAUX: It was supposed to be a fun memorial day in the park, until this happened. The story behind the aircraft scare.
And an unprecedented look inside New York police bomb squad and its response to the attempted bombing in Times Square.
MALVEAUX: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories that are coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Hey Lisa. What are you working on?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi Suzanne. It was a Memorial Day scare for a New York crowd, watching a U.S. marine aircraft demonstration. Take a look at this, as the tilt rotor osprey landed its powerful propellers generated what one witness described as a swarm of sand and garbage. You can see it there. Branches were knocked off of trees. Ten people were left with cuts and minor injuries.
At least 131 people are dead and dozens missing in Central America after the season's first tropical storm Agatha triggered floods and more than 100 landslides as it ravaged the region. Rescue efforts were hampered following a volcanic eruption Thursday. The storm made landfall at the Guatemala/Mexico border on Saturday.
Still trying to recover from the devastating earthquake, Haiti is now facing a whole new risk, what is being described as a very active hurricane season begins tomorrow, and hundreds of thousands of quake victims have only tarps or tents to protect them during a major storm. The Haitian government is working on emergency evacuation plans but that is such a potential for a disaster. So much misery on top of misery.
MALVEAUX: So tough to see what they're going through. Thank you, Lisa.
As this massive spill grows in the Gulf of Mexico, is President Obama being tough enough in handling the crisis? We're going to talk about it in our strategy session up ahead.
And our Carol Costello is just back from a boat tour of that spill. We're going to get a firsthand look at the most recent damage.
MALVEAUX: As a massive spill grows bigger each day the Obama administration is now saying it could be the worst environmental disaster that we have ever faced. Joining us to talk about that and more in our strategy session, Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons, he's a principal at the Raven Group, and Republican strategist John Feehery, John is also the founder of the Feehery Group and BP is currently one of his clients, full disclosure here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I want to start off first here obviously this was devastating news over the weekend when they said top kill has failed, we're moving on to something else. Carol Browner of the administration on environmental policy said look this could be months before we actually get some real resolution here, that's that relief well that's going to be built and they're currently building later on down the road. The president is facing a serious situation and here is just some of the criticism, Maureen Doud who wrote an editorial blasted him for being what she says is distant. She said, "Oddly the good father who wrote so poignantly about growing up without a daddy scorns the paternal aspect of the presidency, the man whose presidency is rooted in his ability to inspire withholds that inspiration when it is most needed." She's saying that he just doesn't seem to care or show enough compassion about this. What do you think of the notion people looking for a paternal figure in the president, a daddy figure?
JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think the presidency is a weird hybrid that we have in our country, where we have both the sort of royalty function and the prime minister function all embodied in one person. If you go back and look at what the president's been doing over the course of the last year and a half since he's been in office he's very good at managing and getting the process things done. I have to say they're a little tick-tock short when it comes time to do the sort of emotive part of being the president. You can see the Obama team maybe needs a course in drama because the first thing you learn in writing class is don't tell your audience that your character is upset. Show your audience your character is upset and they've got to do a better job having the president get out there and show it. On the substantive side he's doing very well. He's got people on the ground, they have the coast guard involved, all of the substances handled right. The question is, will they get on the ball about the next sort of emotive response the American public is looking for.
MALVEAUX: John, one of the things in covering President Bush he was always the gut guy, you know, he went, he shot, he used his gut when it came to making decisions, not so much you know big on naval gazing and analysis and one of the things we saw in the rose garden when he was there with President Clinton and joined Obama to work on Haiti it was very obvious that President Obama just was not that same emotional guy compared to the two former presidents that he was standing beside. How important is that quality?
JOHN FEEHERY, FEEHERY GROUP: You know, I think Jamal has a lot of it right, is he a tick-tock short on that. There needs to be some emotional energy expounded on the issue and leadership and really focus. The one thing I would credit size the president is not focusing on the enormity of the complexity of the situation and Colin Powell said, get more assets down there, get more troops down there, show how difficult this thing is and put it all in context. I think the president has been a little bit distant on this, and hasn't really been focused on it as much as he should be.
MALVEAUX: I want to change topics here. Obviously Memorial Day holiday, Arlington National Cemetery that's where we saw Vice President Joe Biden today, and not the president participating in that wreath-laying ceremony which is traditional of the president. Some criticism here, red state blogger, CNN contributor Eric Ericson tweeting saying that Obama skipping the tomb of the unknowns this weekend for Chicago is offensive. He called it offensive, there were some other people who actually picked up on that but he did have his own wreath-laying ceremony in Illinois at another location. Why do you suppose this is gaining traction, when we have, we've had previous presidents who did not do Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day?
FEEHERY: Well, I think that this is one of our most national, important national holidays and I think for the president, he's only in his second year, and we are in two wars and I think he's got to go the extra mile to show how he is connecting with the troops, how he connects with American history, how he connects with all those who have laid their lives down in the past, I think for him, this is too soon in his presidency to say I'm going to give this over to Joe Biden. For him he needs to be there.
SIMMONS: Here is the problem, though, he didn't give anything over to Joe Biden. He went to a cemetery in Illinois to give a speech today to spend time with family. He spent time on the bus with the families during the rain, when they couldn't sit out there when he was supposed to give his speech. He went and visited wounded soldiers today. What makes the people who are here at Arlington Cemetery inside Washington, D.C., any different than the people who are in Illinois who are also marking this day? So I think we've got to give the president some credit and not play politics on a day when clearly we should be uniting around.
FEEHERY: I agree with that. I don't think we should be playing politics. The troops don't like playing politics. I do think that for the president to be at our national cemetery is very, very important, and it's an important symbol and I think some people will take offense to it.
SIMMONS: And other presidents did not go.
MALVEAUX: That's what I was going to mention. Why would it be President Obama would get flack, in 2007 I covered President Bush, and he was in Texas, and it was Cheney who was at Arlington National. His father, George H.W. Bush was spending the holiday in Kennebunkport. Obviously he acknowledged veterans but it was not at Arlington National.
FEEHERY: Well, I think that part of this is credibility with the troops, how you are viewed, are you viewed as someone who is going to be ultimately with the troops and I think the president, there's always been this criticism that he's not as pro-defense as some others would have it. George Bush was there and that was the seventh year of his presidency, this is only his second year as president. I think for him, he really needs to go over the top and really cover that base very well.
MALVEAUX: Does John bring up a good point he's vulnerable, because people are criticizing the policy in Afghanistan, wondering okay, where do we go next?
SIMMONS: This is part of the historical pattern where a lot of Republicans or people outside of the progressive left will say that Democrats start off with a deficit when it comes to national security in terms of trust. So in fact what the reality is, this president has done a tremendous job whether it's Afghanistan or Iraq and now Memorial Day and joined the troops, shown he's there with them. I think they understand that.
MALVEAUX: All right. Jamal, John, thanks for joining us on the holiday, being Memorial Day.
SIMMONS: Thank you.
MALVEAUX: We are tracking international outrage on Israel's deadliest assault on ships carrying aid to Gaza. We'll have a report on violent protests out of turkey.
And they were first responders to the failed terror attack in Times Square. CNN has been given unprecedented access to take you inside the New York police bomb squad.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm curious to see if I can actually walk.
MALVEAUX: The spotlight on illegal immigrants is growing in the wake of Arizona's controversial new law. And President Obama's recent decision to send up to 1,200 National Guard troops to the state's border. But what about those who come to the states legally but stay longer than permitted? Is there an even greater threat to national security? Here is CNN's Casey Wian.
CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not all illegal immigrants sneak across the border. 40 percent of the nearly 11 million people living illegally in the United States came here legally and overstayed their visas. Before they're fingerprinted and removed, they must be found. In the Los Angeles, that's the job of immigration and customs enforcement agents such as Dan Showalter.
DAN SHOWALTER, ICE: We're off to the apartment of a former j-1 visa holder. This is a gentleman from Kazakhstan. He has overstayed his visa by two years.
WIAN: Ice compliance enforcement teams start before dawn to catch visa violators before they have left for work. This time, no luck.
SHOWALTER: His wife that he lives in the apartment with is there, but I guess he's in Chicago. Visiting some friends.
WIAN: On to the next location. Across town in search of a Tunisian man. There are only about 300 I.C.E. agents nationwide for more than 4 million noncriminal visa violators. Their priorities include people from countries with links to terrorism. Another apartment building, another miss.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most likely, he's not there. But sometimes, you know, we get where they won't come to the door. So we'll come back to this one another day.
WIAN: Agents tracking visa violators operate under different rules, because overstaying a visa is an administrative violation, not a crime like sneaking across the border. They're also hampered by limited manpower. The border patrol has more than 20,000 agents, I.C.E. has only half that, and it's also responsible for enforcing customs as well as immigration law. Julie Myers Wood lead I.C.E. during the Bush administration.
JULIE MYERS WOOD, FORMER ICE ASST. SECRETARY: Congress needs to think about the other border, not just the individuals that cross over illegally, but the individuals that overstay their visas and then go off and out and do things that cause harm to our country.
WIAN: Nearly all of the immigrants who have either plotted or carried out attacks against the United States first entered illegally.
MICHAEL CUTLER, FORMER INS AGENT: It seems the government for decades has been utterly unwilling to deal with the issue of interior enforcement. It's kind of like playing baseball and having the outfielders sit out the game.
WIAN: Back on the street, agents arrive at a house seeking two Nigerian men with expired tourist visas. They're not home, but another man with an expired visa is. He is taken downtown and processed for possible deportation. Later, agents find a Mexican national who crossed the border illegally in the 1980s and served time for a sex crime in 2000. Last year, I.C.E. arrested 1,800 visa violators, yet our morning ends with another miss. A Turkish man with an expired work visa left this building owing rent six months ago.
SHOWALTER: It's either he never showed up for the job or stopped going to work. Five years, he's been out of status.
WIAN: It's yet another challenge. Agents often have only a visa violator's name, date of birth and an old or even phony address.
I.C.E. is considering imposing new regulations that would require more from visitors to the United States. That way, they would be easier to track down if they overstay their visas.
Casey Wian, CNN, Los Angeles.
MALVEAUX: Israel on the defensive after a deadly clash at sea with pro Palestinian activists. We'll get the latest on Israel's response to condemnation in the Muslim world and beyond.
And fishermen involved in the oil spill clean-up. They say they're getting sick. Could something besides the oil be to blame?
MALVEAUX: A fisherman who was hospitalized after cleaning up oil in the gulf has filed for a temporary restraining order against BP in federal court. It asked the company to give masks and not harass them for publicizing their health concerns. BP's CEO questions whether it's really oil that is making them sick.
TONY HAYWARD, BP CEO: I'm sure they were genuinely ill but whether it was anything to do with dispersants in oil, whether it was food poisoning or some other reason for them being ill. You know, food poisoning is going to be an issue when you have a concentration of this number of people in temporary camps, temporary accommodations, it's something we have to be very, very mindful. It's one of the big issues of keeping the army upraising. The army's march on their stomachs.
MALVEAUX: Want to bring in our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen. You have been talking to doctors about Hayward's theory here. Is this credible, the possibility of food poisoning?
ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: The doctors I talk to said they doubt this is food poisoning. For example I talked to Dr. Mike Osterholm who is one of the foremost authorities on foodborne illness in the United States. He's at the University of Minnesota. And he said look the symptoms are things like shortness of breath, irritated nasal passages, disorientation. Those are not things we think about when we think about food poisoning. He said I don't know what made these men sick, but he doesn't think it's food poisoning.
MALVEAUX: Elizabeth, what are they breathing out there?
COHEN: They're breathing in vapors from what's in the water, and the E.P.A. and BP have been monitoring the air and say it's completely safe which is why they're not offering up masks to the workers. But what's in the water is a combination of oil and also possibly dispersants. Now, the dispersants, if you remember, are the chemicals being used to break down the oil. And the labeling on the dispersant clearly says, "Avoid breathing in the vapors." But again, BP says their monitoring shows everything is safe.
MALVEAUX: Just hearing these accounts from these fishermen, it sounds -- it's a difficult -- difficult argument to understand or believe. Why are they not speaking publicly about this? Those who have been hospitalized?
COHEN: You know, it's interesting. You've got nine people hospitalized. And they're not talking publicly. They're making up to $3,000 a day from BP. They say they have no other way to earn money, because, of course, they can't fish anymore, and they say it is really difficult to bite the hand that feeds them. And then they also say that they are -- they're really worried about losing their jobs, and that's why the restraining order says BP should not be allowed to harass us or fire us if we speak out publicly.
MALVEAUX: OK. Elizabeth Cohen, thanks for the update.
MALVEAUX: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.