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THE SITUATION ROOM

The Politics Of The Gulf Oil Disaster Heat Up, As Tony Hayward Appears On Capitol Hill, While The Size Of The Leak Gets Even Bigger; Desperate Effort to Save Birds; U.S. Lawmakers Blast BP CEO; "A Weird Malaise" Haunting Dems?; Taking A Verbal Beating

Aired June 19, 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, THE SITUATION ROOM: The politics of the Gulf oil disaster heat up. While the size of the leak gets even bigger. Also, dramatic efforts to stop the crude by setting the Gulf on fire. Plus, CNN's Anderson Cooper takes us inside the desperate race to save hundreds of birds from an oily death.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This oil spill is the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced. And unlike an earthquake or a hurricane, it's not a single event that does its damage in a matter of minutes or days. The millions of gallons of oil that have spilled into the Gulf of Mexico are more like an epidemic, one we'll be fighting for months and even years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Obama ramping up his response to the oil disaster this week with his fourth visit to the Gulf Coast. This time he stayed overnight and included Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida in his trip, which culminated with his first ever Oval Office address to the nation.

Then on Wednesday, he summoned top BP executives to the White House including the company's previously unseen chairman. After four hours of meetings, BP agreed to fund a massive compensation fund with an initial payment of $20 billion. On Thursday, BP's boss Tony Hayward was on Capitol Hill testifying for the first time since the April 20th spill. The CEO of the oil giant got it from both sides as lawmakers gave him quite a grilling. But Hayward's answers sparked even more frustration. And there was an extraordinary side show. As a Republican congressman apologized after accusing the Obama administration of a shakedown. CNN's Senior Congressional Correspond Dana Bash has the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Tony Hayward swore to give-

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

BASH: But what BP's beleaguered CEO gave lawmakers was a whole lot of this.

TONY HAYWARD, CEO, BP: I wasn't part of the decision making process on this well.

I had no prior knowledge or involvement in the drilling of this well.

I wasn't involved in any of the decision making.

BASH: This investigative committee's goal, get more information about crucial decisions leading up to Deepwater Horizon's explosion that lawmakers show BP putting profit ahead of safety. Democrats tried-

REP. HENRY WAXMAN, CHAIRMAN, ENERGY & COMMERCE CMTE.: Did BP make a fundamental misjudgment?

HAYWARD: I wasn't involved in any of that decision making.

WAXMAN: Well-

HAYWARD: I'm not prepared to draw conclusions about this accident until such time is the investigation is concluded.

WAXMAN: This is an investigation. You are failing to cooperate with other investigators as well? Because they're going to have a hard time reaching a conclusions if you stonewall them, which is what we seem to be getting today.

HAYWARD: I'm not stonewalling.

BASH: Republicans tried, too.

REP. MICHAEL BURGESS, (R) TEXAS: You're the CEO of the company. And - do you have any sort of technical expert who helps you with these things who might have been there?

HAYWARD: With respect, sir, we drill hundreds of wells a year all around the world.

BURGESS: Yes, I know, that's what's scaring me right now.

BASH: And while Hayward was bombarded by scathing criticism, another controversy was born when the committee's top Republican accused the White House of forcing BP to fork over what he called a $20-billion slush fund.

REP. JOE BARTON, (R) TEXAS: I do not want to live in a country where any time a citizen or a corporation does something that is legitimately wrong, is subject to some sort of political pressure that is, again, in my words, amounts to a shakedown. So I apologize.

BASH: A senior Republican apologizing to BP, Democrats from Capitol Hill to the White House saw a political opportunity and pounced.

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I -- I find it insensitive.

BASH: As pressure mounted CNN is told that House GOP leaders met with Barton and demanded he take back his apology to BP, or lose his senior position on the committee. Hours later, this:

BARTON: I want the record to be absolutely clear that I think BP is responsible for this accident. And if anything I've said this morning has been misconstrued in an opposite effect, you know, I want to apologize for that misconstrue -- misconstruction.

BASH (On camera): Later Barton issued a written statement saying flatly, "I retract my apology to BP." One senior GOP source told me Republicans forced that because they have been saying that BP bears responsibility and Barton's comments allows Democrats to say, you see, Republicans are beholden to big oil. Dana Bash, CNN, Capitol Hill.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Democratic Congressman Charlie Melancon is a member of this Energy and Commerce Committee. He is joining us from Capitol Hill.

You're from Louisiana. You have a lot at stake. Your folks have a lot at stake. When you heard Congressman Barton this morning say this, I'll play the little clip, I want you to tell me what went through your mind. Listen to what he said earlier in the day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARTON: With the attorney general of the United States who's legitimately conducting a criminal investigation, and has every right to do so to protect the interests of the American people, participating in what amounts to a $20 billion slush fund that is unprecedented in our nation's history.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. The point he is making is it was a shakedown, that was the word he originally used. They were negotiating what to do with that escrow account. The attorney general was in that meeting at the White House. Was it appropriate for the attorney general to sit in on that four-hour meeting yesterday, Congressman?

REP. CHARLIE MELANCON, (D) LOUISIANA: You know, I can't give you a good answer to that. I'm one of the few people that aren't an attorney maybe in the legislature.

But what I do know, I mean, you've got consensual parties. We've got a responsible party. We don't want to see the people of Louisiana have to go through with people in Alaska went through waiting five, 10, 15 years or so to resolve the settlements on legitimate claims. And we already are having problems in Louisiana.

You know, the ranking member kind of threw me back. It offended me. On behalf of the people of Louisiana, the entire Gulf Coast, obviously he needs to go down there and visit with the people that are out of work or their businesses are shut down. You can go through the grocery store in Grand Isle and shoot a gun down an aisle and you wouldn't hit anybody. That is not normal during the summer.

And the shrimpers, their boats are parked, unless they were lucky enough to get their boat hired to put out boom. It is a bad situation. What was a bright spot on the economic barometer for the United States through the last two or three years or so, right now has the potential to be one of the darkest and gloomiest, maybe a black hole for lost jobs if this moratorium doesn't get put in -- I mean if it does get put in and put in the wrong way. It shuts down. It's not going to be good.

BLITZER: You know him, Joe Barton. You worked with him for a long time. He represents a district I think from Houston. Were you surprised how blunt he was and what he said earlier in the day?

MELANCON: Joe can be quite blunt. I don't have a problem with people that are matter of fact. I just don't think that was a very well thought through statement, or maybe just found out where Joe is going to work when he leaves the Congress.

BLITZER: Well, that's a serious allegation, if you think he's going to go to work -- I assume I think for the oil industry. Is that what you're saying?

MALANCON: Well, you know, I'm not making any accusations. It's just that -- we represent people. I don't represent corporations. I mean there are people that own corporations. But I represent the people of my district and if they -- if the people of his district were hurting, or potentially hurting as bad as the people in my district, I don't think he'd be making those statements just so. That's why I think he needs to maybe come back down to south Louisiana and take a look, talk to some of these people.

Our people are hard-working. There as hard-working people as you're going to find in this country. It's about dignity. It's about making a living, making your own way. They fish, they hunt. I talked to a friend of mine that's a fishing guide. He's putting out boom right now. That's not at all what he wants to be doing. You know, he may not have been a rich man, at least he was doing what he wanted to do.

BLITZER: Let's get to Tony Hayward. I heard your questioning of him. He showed up. He expressed his contrition, he apologized once again. But when it came to substantive answers to technical questions, even though he's been with BP for almost 30 years, he didn't have a whole lot of answers. How disappointed were you, congressman?

MELANCON: Well, my expectations weren't let down because I didn't really expect to get much more than pro forma kind of standard responses.

BLITZER: But Bart Stupak and Henry Waxman gave him the questions a few days ago to prepare.

MELANCON: Isn't that something? But that's, I'm sure his lawyers just said, you know, this is what you're going to respond no matter what the question is. And that is kind of what we got today. At the same time, they got to ask some questions. They got to put some on record. They asked questions. Members asked questions that he couldn't answer and said we'll let you respond to us in written form so we can put them in the record. And then as the investigation and the oversight goes forward, there's a method of who's going to be interviewed and the questions will get asked. Just to kind of cross tab them, if you would, to make sure that we're getting honest answers, when we are getting answers.

BLITZER: Congressman Melancon, good luck you to. Good luck to all the folks along the Gulf. I know how concerned you are.

MELANCON: Thank you.

BLITZER: We're all concerned. People not only here in the United States, but all over the world based on the reaction we're getting. We're appreciating what you're doing.

MELANCON: Thank you, sir. I appreciate it.

BLITZER: Latest government estimates say the amount of oil gushing from the ruptured well is much more than we originally thought. But could it be even a whole lot worse?

Plus, it's a critical way of trapping that spewed oil. And it involves setting it on fire. Our own Ali Velshi has a firsthand report. And we'll take you to one town where residents aren't sitting by waiting for the oil to hit. They're taking matters into their own hands right now. Stay with us your in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's a number that keeps on climbing. As of this past week, the latest government estimate is that as much as 60,000 barrels of oil are spewing into the Gulf each day.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Let's talk about this with Steven Wereley. He was an associate engineering professor at Purdue University. He is a member of the government's flow-rate technical group that came up with this 35,000 to 60,000 barrel a day estimate.

Are you satisfied, professor, with that estimate or could it be even more?

STEVEN WERELEY, PRUDUE UNIVERSITY: Well, first of all, I should say that I'm very satisfied with that measurement. I think it's a result of a scientific process and I got absolutely no sense that that politics was involved in it. I think we came to a well-reasoned and scientific conclusion.

BLITZER: Because some people went in thinking it could be 100,000 barrels a day. You were among those, weren't you?

WERELEY: Well, what I said initially was 70,000 barrels a day. Then I looked at this kink point and added another 25,000. But the important thing to remember about that, and what the others independent experts said in the very beginning, was that this is oil plus gas. And so roughly 30 percent of the total volume, the oil plus gas, will actually turn into oil. Will actually materialize as oil.

BLITZER: I was going to say, let's say it's 60,000, at the high end, right now. If they're collecting 15,000 to 20,000 a day, what, still 40,000 still spewing out. Is that right?

WERELEY: That's correct. I think that math is 100 percent correct. And the reason that we can do this is that the top hats, of the cap that's on there now, doesn't exert a whole lot of back pressure on the well. And so we can assume that the flow that's coming out of there today is the same as the flow that was coming out when we measured it on June 3rd.

BLITZER: Here's what the president said today. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: In the coming days and weeks, these efforts should capture up to 90 percent of the oil that is leaking out of the well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

Is he -- does he have solid ground to say that? That 90 percent of the oil that is coming out in the next few days and weeks will be capped?

WERELEY: I believe that he or one of the secretaries issued a memorandum to BP saying that they produce a plan to capture 90 percent of the flow by middle July, I think. Whether that plan is practical or not, I haven't seen the plans. So I can't say. We are talking about capturing a lot of oil. And 90 percent of 60,000 is 54,000 barrels a day.

BLITZER: He says also that by later in the summer, Thad Allen says, by the first two weeks in August, one or both of those relief wells will be completed and that will completely stop the oil from gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. Is that -- is that for sure? Or are there potential problems between now and then in building the two relief wells?

WERELEY: Well, I think -- I mean the petroleum industry has been concentrated on drilling wells, not so concentrated on, you know, capturing, dealing with well has have blown out. But the they have- the thing that I think they can do well is drill wells. And hit small targets that are far away. So directional drilling and acoustic imaging, I think they can do this. They were initially planning to drill one well and then at the government's insistence, planned to drill two relief wells. So I think between those two that they'll hit the target.

BLITZER: And the target, just to be precise, is about the size of a dinner plate, is that right?

WERELEY: Yeah. That's correct. BLITZER: So it's not that easy. I mean, if you're looking for a needle in a hay stack, if you think of the Gulf of Mexico you're going down thousands and thousands of feet looking for a dinner plate.

WERELEY: Yeah. I think the thing to remember about these drilling processes is that it's not like you're home drill. The drill head is a really smart piece of equipment that has different sorts of directional sensors. They can have magnetic sensors on them, they certainly have temperature sensors, various kinds of sensors. So I think that they will be able to hit the target.

BLITZER: One expert said to me, I don't know if this is overblown or not, that there is still really concerned about the structural base of this whole operation. If the rocks get moved, this thing could really explode, and they're sitting on a billion potential barrels of oil at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. Is that a real concern or is that just out of the question unrealistic?

WERELEY: Well, I've heard concerns about the structural integrity of the well. In particular, with the top kill, the attempted top kill, lots of cement and drilling mud was pumped into the well. And it didn't come shooting back out of the well. And, yet, it didn't stop things. So there is some conjecture that casing of the well is faulty at some point. And what that suggests is that a top kill, in which you try to stop the flow from the top, isn't going to work and a bottom kill is the way to go, which is what the relief well will be classified as.

BLITZER: So how fearful should we be about the structural integrity of that entire well?

WERELEY: I doubt that it's degrading at this point. But let's say if we put a big valve on top of the blowout preventer and just turned it shut, that would put a tremendous amount of back pressure on to that casing, the well casing. And that might be a bad idea at this point.

BLITZER: I suspect it would be. All right. Steven Wereley, thanks for your expertise. Thanks for the work you're doing.

WERELEY: Thank you. >

BLITZER: In this operation, as well.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: As the massive oil spill gets closer to their town, residents are fighting back. Our Mary Snow is there.

And could public outrage in that company that used to be known as British Petroleum now take a toll on the close ties between the United States and the U.K.? I'll ask the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: As the oil moved towards their part of the Alabama coast, residents of one small community took matters into their own hands. Our Mary Snow reports from the mouth of Alabama's Magnolia River.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Jamie Hinton has a battle plan to block oil from encroaching into his community. And he took us out to show us. Yes, there's containment booms, but he's not trusting it.

CHIEF JAMIE HINTON, MAGNOLIA SPRINGS VFD: You can see here just with the little wave action we have now it's almost going over the top of it as it is.

SNOW: And that's why Hinton mobilized nine barges at the mouth of the Weeks Bay. But to get that line of defense in place, Hinton had to fight, and he was eager to show us why. The bay is home to an estuary and leads to the Magnolia River. Seven hundred, plus people live in Magnolia Springs where Hinton has lived his whole life, and serves as the chief of the local fire department.

Mail is delivered by boat and wildlife dot the landscape. But there is an underlying anxiety.

HINTON: And to think that if we can't stop the oil from getting in here, it could be lost for multiple generations.

SNOW: In early May when CNN first visited Magnolia Springs, Hinton had already sounded the alarm and was told by some locals he was overreacting. BP had provided a single line of booms so Hinton drew up a plan to use barges along the containment booms. BP has since provided much more booms, staff, and equipment, but Hinton says he's relying on his community and not the government.

HINTON: They're going to handle it like they did Katrina, Ivan and the Valdez spill?

SNOW: The town of Magnolia Springs had to get government approval to line up the barges. Hinton says he was ready to do it even if it meant going to jail. That didn't happen. Magnolia Springs now has government money to keep those barges out here for four months. At the first sight of oil, they'll move the last barge in place.

HINTON: The barge with the crane just gets diagonally placed between there and this barge, and that seals the gap.

SNOW (on camera): How confident are you that they're going to block this oil?

HINTON: I'm very confident that we're going to block it the stuff on top of the water.

SNOW: How about below? There is talk about those plumes?

HINTON: It scares me to death.

SNOW: Oil hasn't reached here but local officials say it's just a matter of time. Traces of oil have been found about 10 nautical miles out. The residents here say they're going to give everything they got to protect what they call their piece of heaven. Mary Snow, CNN, Magnolia Springs, Alabama.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: One the lower tech methods for getting rid of the oil in the Gulf of Mexico is making some good headway. Trading an oily sea for a blackened sky. We'll take get a closer look at the fires on the water.

And trying to save the disaster's most innocent victims. We go to the front lines of the fight to rescue the wildlife.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Even more oil will be reaching the beaches and marshes if some of it wasn't being burned off on the surface of the Gulf. CNN's Ali Velshi takes us out into the Gulf of Mexico, where specifically trained crews are trapping and igniting pools of oil.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): So what we're going to be witnessing is a controlled burn, this in situ burning. We know they've been able to burn some of the oil off a little bit earlier today. We'll evaluate what the situation is when we get there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is actually oil that you're seeing on the surface of the water. Our fishing vessels come along and we collect it. When we get an appropriate amount of oil in the boom, we bring an ignition boat over and we will ignite it.

DAVE STEVENS, BURN SUPERVISOR: That's what you want to see.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is. We call those the mega burns. Or our very successful burns.

VELSHI: If you look up, if you follow this thing up, and you see it up to there, it's like a weather system being created here. And if you see the bottom of that burn, the smoke is white. That's the steam.

STEVENS: That's the steam from the adjacent water, yes.

VELSHI: You'll see as we come up, there are shrimpers on either side of that fire. That's where the boom is - is connected.

ANDREW JAEGER, U.S. COAST GUARD: We have them pulling a "U" configuration. They gather that oil into the boom and they just keep working real slow.

VELSHI: They corral the oil, basically, that is then set on fire.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So we're averaging 2,000 to 5,000 barrels an hour each time we burn. VELSHI: So even though this is crude oil, it's been degraded a little bit from its mixture of the water. You can't sort of just throw a match on it and hope that it's going to ignite. So what happens is they put one of these in with it.

This is two half gallon jugs of diesel. And then at the bottom here, you see a flair. They light the flair. The flair then melts the plastic around the diesel, ignites the diesel and hopefully the diesel burns hot enough and long enough in that oil that it ignites the oil.

We're right in the middle of where these - this oil is. Just a few miles away, in fact, right in the distance maybe it's 10 miles away, you can see the source of the - the spill. That's where the Deepwater Horizon went down.

And right here -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a small (INAUDIBLE) -

VELSHI: -- fish. You can actually see them swimming around. The water is fairly clean here. This is an area that there's been burning going on.

In a good day, they can burn maybe 30,000 to 40,000 barrels of oil in these controlled fires. Now, the sun is getting ready to set here. Any fire that's already burning can remain burning at night. They don't set new ones, but they will be here first thing in the morning as the sun rises to start burning more of this oil.

They say they'll keep doing it until there's no more oil left to burn.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Well, the Deepwater Horizon Joint Information Center says it's conducted more than 220 controlled burns, removing more than five million gallons of oil.

CNN's Anderson Cooper takes us to a facility where a desperate effort is underway right now to save birds as rescuers fight the oil and the odds.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): When birds are first brought in, though, they're not immediately cleaned.

DUANE TITUS, INTERNATIONAL BIRD RESCUE RESEARCH CENTER: No, no, no. They couldn't withstand the stress.

COOPER: The stress of being cleaned would - might kill them.

TITUS: Correct. Yes. We stabilize them for about three days, you know, prior to one.

COOPER: What's so difficult about the wash for them? TITUS: You know, it's - it's just a really difficult process for the bird. They're being held still. They're being bathed with warm water and they view us as predators. They don't really realize that the humans that are working with them are necessarily trying to help them. So, as far as they are concerned, they are being attacked.

COOPER: So, for them, it's incredibly stressful?

TITUS: Incredibly stressful, yes, very, very.

COOPER: And - and that can actually kill them?

TITUS: Sure, yes. Stress is definitely known to kill just about, you know, any kind of wildlife --

COOPER: Yes.

TITUS: -- and human beings. So, it's a very stressful process.

COOPER: And then is there any -- what - what are they cleaning right there?

TITUS: It's the pouch - basically the pouch of the pelican. We try to clean inside and outside. That pouch is very elastic. So we try to stretch it out to get both inside and outside very clean.

COOPER: Wow.

TITUS: So --

COOPER: What - what are they doing right here? At first, they - I mean, what's the process for cleaning?

TITUS: So, right now, he's just beginning to process the bird. They'll get a good look at it, basically get the wings held together to keep it safe. And then - this is actually a pre-treating process.

COOPER: What does that do?

TITUS: It - it loosens the oil. It makes it much softer. The oil has been weathered and fairly dried, and that basically breaks down the oil and makes it much easier to wash this bird.

COOPER: They put that all over the bird?

TITUS: Correct. They'll put that all over the bird. And then typically what they'll do is they'll put that in a special enclosure with birds that have been pretreated, and at about a half hour to an hour time they'll pull that same bird out and begin the wash process.

COOPER: And then they - they literally have to wash inside the bird's mouth.

TITUS: Inside the bird's mouth, yes. We try and wash - these birds have been preening. If you watch in the fence, they really excessively preen to try cleaning the feathers COOPER: What you mean preen, cleaning themselves --

TITUS: Correct.

COOPER: -- with their beaks?

TITUS: Correct. They're trying to kind of comb their feathers and straighten and realign their feathers to get themselves waterproof and get the oil off of them. So they've ingested some, so we want to try and clean as much as oil from inside the bill and the mouth and that pouch. And so it's - it's much inside as it is outside.

COOPER: Do you ever get used to seeing this?

TITUS: Not really. No. It's - this is pretty moving, you know? It's a heartbreaking thing to think that these beautiful animals are - are soiled. Basically to make our lives, you know, convenient and simple. So it's - we - we all have a hand in this. So, I think we all have a hand in cleaning it up.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: CNN's Anderson Cooper reporting from Fort Jackson, Louisiana.

Federal Wildlife official - officials say more than 600 oiled birds have been recovered, but more than 800 have been found dead. And keep in mind, that's just the number of recovered. The actual number could be much, much higher.

It's the company being blamed for the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. Are BP's ties to the U.K. not taking a toll on the very tight relationship between Britain and the United States? The former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is here in the SITUATION ROOM to weigh in.

And we'll tell you why one writer is saying a weird malaise is now haunting Democrats.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Members of Congress hurled all sorts of criticism in the face of BP CEO Tony Hayward this week. Lawmakers accused BP of being oblivious to safety, irresponsible and of stonewalling. The hearing may fuel concerns in Britain that U.S. officials are coming down too hard.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Let's talk about that and more with the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. He's now serving as a special envoy to the Middle East. And there are dramatic headlines coming out of the Middle East, Prime Minister. We'll talk about that in a moment.

But how worried are you that BP, which used to be called "British Petroleum", that there's a CEO Tony Hayward who's British. How worried are you this could spill over and affect the special relationship between the U.S. and the U.K.?

TONY BLAIR, FORMER PRIME MINISTER OF GREAT BRITAIN: I believe that the relationship between the British nation and the American nation's a very strong, deep relationship. And, you know, it's got ties of history, ties of values, and there are things that we - we do together, as in Afghanistan today, that make that relationship very, very strong. So I think it will remain strong.

Look, I think people in Britain also totally understand why a catastrophe of this nature, particularly for the people down in the - in the Gulf of Mexico, means that there's huge anger and concern and anxiety, to make sure that this is fixed and fixed as soon as possible. But I think between our two nations, no, this relationship is strong and will remain strong.

BLITZER: If you've been watching these hearings up on Capitol Hill, there's a long history, apparently, of BP's failures to deal adequately with safety issues. When you were prime minister, you had a deal with BP and offshore drilling. Did you have a concern about BP and its safety record?

BLAIR: This wasn't something that - I mean, it's three years since I've been prime minister, obviously. This wasn't an issue for me as prime minister, no. But, you know, again, I'm sure, of course, these issues will be gone into in a great deal of depth. There will be people obviously anxious to learn the lessons but, of course, primarily to get the thing fixed now.

Incidentally, I'm not absolutely sure from all the - I mean, I've been here on Middle East business, really, but from all the discussions I've had with people, the administration, BP, everybody is working 24 hours a day seven days a week to get this fixed and get it fixed as soon as possible.

BLITZER: Let's hope they do. Let me make a turn to the Middle East. Prime minister, you're the so-called quartet's special envoy. The Israelis announcing that they're now going to relax this blockade of stuff coming in to Gaza. What's your reaction to this? Is this enough or does Israel need to do more?

BLAIR: This is definitely a welcome step, and what we now need to do is hammer out the details, but essentially I think what Israel wants to do is to say let us - let us get to a policy that makes sense which is that we keep out arms and combat material from Gaza, from getting into the hands of people who would harm innocent civilians and let in those items for daily life, food stuffs, household items, also those things necessary to repair the power and the water and sanitation, the housing and to allow legitimate business to conduct itself in Gaza.

So, I think, you know, we have to work out details of this, but the principle today of liberalization of this policy, making sure that we let in those things people need to live and to - to start to return to normal life in Gaza and keep out the weapons, that principle is absolutely right.

BLITZER: The Iranians say they're going to send what they call a humanitarian ship to Gaza and that the Israelis better not stop it or inspect it. Is that a serious threat from the Iranians or is that just bluster?

BLAIR: I honestly don't know. But what I do know is the whole purpose of what we're trying to do is to get a practical solution to this, and the practical solution is that Israel's got to be able to check things that are coming in to Gaza. I mean, the fact is there are people who fire rockets from Gaza and who are trying to attack Israeli civilians as well as Israeli soldiers, so Israel has got a perfect right to protect its security.

What we've got to do is, however, to help the people in Gaza to lead a more normal life, and that means getting in, you know, far more stuff than we've been able to get in over these past months - past years actually and make sure that - that for all the items that are necessary for people to lead normal lives and daily living, we get those in.

But I - I hope very much we can get sufficient movement over the next few days that people understand that sending more flotillas, more ships is not necessary because we're getting in what people need through the proper and legitimate crossings between Gaza and Israel and between Gaza and Egypt.

BLITZER: And very quickly, prime minister. The Israelis say they're establishing this commission of inquiry with some independent outside observers participating. Does the United Nations now stay out of this? Should the U.N. have their own investigation or is the Israeli investigation enough?

BLAIR: Well, there's still an ongoing debate about that frankly, and - and I think there will be people in the United Nations who feel they want to continue with - with trying to get agreement on a different type of tribunal.

I think what Israel has announced again is significant and important, and for me personally I think the single most important thing is to get the closure policy and respect of Gaza changed so that we can get in what people need to - to live their lives. And I'm conscious of the fact particularly that this is important because over half the population of Gaza is under the age of 18 and there are around about 300,000 of them actually under the age of 4 so that's - you know, that's my focus really now.

BLITZER: Well, good luck. I know you've got a tough mission. We're counting on you to help over there.

BLAIR: Thank you.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Prime Minister, for coming in.

BLAIR: Thanks, Wolf. Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: The oil disaster in the gulf is getting a lion's share of attention from Washington these days. But critics say the case for more government action and more spending isn't working. Are they right?

And BP's CEO takes a beating at congressional hearings. CNN's Jeannie Moos recaps a most uncomfortable day for Tony Hayward.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get to our "Strategy Session". Joining us now are CNN contributor Roland Martin and our other CNN contributor John Avalon. He's a senior political columnist with TheDailyBeast.com. Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

Roland, I'll start with you and I want to read to you a few lines from E.J. Dionne's column today in the "Washington Post". He's a political columnist. "A weird malaise is haunting the Democratic Party. From Plaquemines Parish to Wall Street, we are seeing what happens when government takes too hands-off an approach to private economic actors, yet the GOP is managing to sell the idea that the big issue in this election should be government spending. Professor Obama and his allies ought to be ashamed of this." Those are pretty strong words from E.J.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, first of all, he doesn't make any sense, because, look, the Republican Party, they have to sell a particular narrative. And so what you saw coming out of the 2008 election, you saw them returning to this whole notion of fiscal conservatism. They felt health care too overreaching, far-reaching, also the stimulus bill, bailout, and so they are tagging President Obama and Democrats as free spending liberals and trying to go back to what made Republicans strong in the early '80s. That's what you're supposed to do. They have a narrative. Democrats have one. I don't see what the issue, is E.J.

BLITZER: A lot of us remember - a lot of us remember the word "malaise" that haunted the Jimmy Carter administration, if you're of a certain age you'll remember that. John, but what do you think of E.J.'s basic point when he says a weird malaise is haunting the Democratic Party?

JOHN AVALON, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think the point he's trying to make is that that there should be a case after BP for more government action, for more government spending, but that narrative isn't working. That message isn't playing.

You know, we spent over $400 billion in stimulus funds since the Obama administration began and we're still down 2.8 million jobs. Increasing numbers of voters say that the number one thing the next government should do is focus on cutting the deficit and cutting government spending. So I think the appetite for that kind of Keynesian stimulus spending just isn't there among swing voters in particular.

Now, Democrats may try to switch that narrative around, but they're - it's not working today and the spending hasn't evidently improved unemployment today. MARTIN: Well, Wolf, the real issue with Democrats is simply coming out in 2009, really started with health care, the Obama administration, you saw basically how the DNC was gutted. They focused on Obama for America. They also lost the people who put them in office. They lost that enthusiasm, so the gap that exists between enthusiastic Democratic voters and enthusiastic Republican voters is playing a part here. That's the real issue.

People are saying he's not doing what we thought he was going to do. That's I think also you see the evidence in the polls as to why Democrats are down and Republicans are up.

BLITZER: John, you're shaking your head.

AVALON: Yes. I don't think this is a failure of play to the base politics. This is about losing the center and losing independent voters. You know, I mean, President Obama campaigned on a return to fiscal responsibility. Now, events overtook it and there was a decision to go ahead with stimulus spending, but it's that frustration that of big government and big business seemed to be able spend enough to balance their budget that has so many small business owners and middle class Americans feeling alienated and frustrated.

So the answer isn't to move for the left, it's to reconnect to the center. That's how you win elections.

MARTIN: No, no, no, no. John, it's about move to the left, but you have to also talk to your base. And the reality is here. If you loses - if you lose your base, you can even forget the center. You have to shore up your base and the core voters, if you look at the elections in New Jersey, in Virginia, Massachusetts, the people who put him in office were not coming back to the polls. So beyond the independents, his own folks are not there. That contributes to the low numbers.

AVALON: I disagree. I mean that's just a mirror image of the play to the base politics. But if you look at Virginia and New Jersey and all of that, what happened is independent voters who voted for Obama in '08 swung hard towards Republicans. That's the narrative I see in this whole --

MARTIN: Young voters were not there, African-Americans were not there, Latinos were not there, core base voters for Democratic Party.

BLITZER: The White House is just kicking off what they're calling, John, right now a recovery summer. They're still really worried about a nearly 10 percent unemployment rate that looks like it's going to hold for the time being.

AVALON: Yes. I mean, you know, and it sounds - it's got a great label and needs a good theme song. But, again, I mean, the stimulus spending too date hasn't really succeeded. You know, stimulus spending is a - is a band-aid on a budget and it can help the short- term employment, but in the long term, long term job creation comes from the private sector, not the government. So I think there's a credibility gap here. They can, you know, try to - try to pump up that optimism going into the election, but today, that $400 billion of stimulus spending we've seen hasn't resulted in an increase of employment. We're still down (INAUDIBLE) of jobs.

BLITZER: Very quickly, Roland, 10 seconds.

MARTIN: Well, one of the fundamental problems there because you did not put enough money in infrastructure. When you do that, you are targeting private sector, and when you had a third going to tax cuts, only a third going to infrastructure, that's part f the problem.

You have to be able to employ people. Infrastructure should have been two-thirds of this overall stimulus plan and it wasn't.

BLITZER: Good, smart discussion, guys. Thanks very much, Roland and John. Appreciate it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: The BP chief, Tony Hayward took a most unusual beating on Capitol Hill this week. Our Jeanne Moos takes a closer look.

And a "Star Wars" stormtrooper takes a break from a Los Angeles Entertainment Expo. Just one of our "Hot Shots".

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's a look of some "Hot Shots".

In southeastern France, people attempt to salvage what's left of their caravan and their livelihoods as flash floods devastate the countryside.

In Los Angles, a "Star Wars" stormtrooper takes a break at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo or E3.

In New Zealand, the Vice President of China receives a traditional welcome as part of his three-day trip to enhance economic and political ties between the two nations.

And here in Washington, D.C., look at this, CNN's Dana Bash steps up to the plate during the second annual congressional women's softball game. Nice picture.

"Hot Shots", pictures worth a thousand words.

If BP's CEO Tony Hayward, if he took a verbal assault from lawmakers on Friday, he certainly did. But guess what? He stood firm. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The CEO of BP was pinned down like a lab specimen - his every gesture under the microscope while he was being dissected. REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY (D), ILLINOIS: How could you do that?

REP. NEWT GINGRICH (R), GEROGIA: You're copping out.

REP. ELIOT ENGEL (D), NEW YORK: You're really insulting our intelligence.

MOOS: No wonder Tony Hayward was checking his watch less than an hour into the hearing.

HAYWARD: With respect, sir, we drill hundreds of wells a year all around the world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. I know. That's what scares me right now.

HAYWARD: One of the reasons that I'm so distraught --

REP. HENRY WAXMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: Could you answer yes or no?

HAYWARD: Is that --

WAXMAN: I don't want to know whether you're distraught.

MOOS: Within seconds of when he began reading his prepared testimony --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tony Hayward, look at my hand --

MOOS: A protester popped out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You need to be charged with a crime. You need to go to jail.

MOOS: She ended up being arrested, describing herself as a fisherwoman from the Gulf Coast.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think your voice was heard today?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I hope to God it was.

MOOS: When Hayward resumed his prepared testimony it sounded familiar like BP's commercial, the "Huffington Post" pointed out.

HAYWARD: The Gulf spill is a tragedy - a tragedy - that never should have happened. And I'm deeply sorry that it did. I'm deeply sorry.

MOOS: He had plenty of regrets.

HAYWARD: I regret. BP regrets.

ENGEL: Can't you just say, I'm sorry?

HAYWARD: I'm very, very sorry.

MOOS: On TV, CEO Hayward had a gushing co-star - sometimes got bigger billing. WAXMAN: It said BP used a more dangerous well design to save $7 million. What do you think about that?

MOOS: But Hayward wasn't exactly spilling his guts.

HAYWARD: I can't answer that question because I wasn't there. I was not part of that decision-making process. I was not involved in any of the decision-making --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I don't want to hear that.

MOOS: Hayward danced around the committee's questions like that Brazilian baby who's become a hit viral video. But Hayward was facing the music.

ENGEL: You're stalling.

REP. STEVE SCALISE (R), LOUISIANA: But I want you to keep this in your mind as well.

MOOS: As the hearing went on Hayward's face grew redder, possibly stress-induced rosacea, suggested one dermatologist. As he evaded questions, we learned what Hayward isn't.

HAYWARD: I'm not a cement engineer. I'm not an oceanographic scientist. I'm not a drilling engineer.

MOOS: Everyone kept asking if he'd stay a CEO.

REP. BART STUPAK (D), MICHIGAN: Do you expect to be CEO of BP much longer?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is it time for that CEO to resign?

HAYWARD: I'm focused on the response, sir.

MOOS: When you're having a day this bad, it's best not to look back.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You need to be charged with a crime.

MOOS: Jeanne Moss, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Don't forget Jeanne Moos everyday right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And stay with us throughout the week for complete coverage of the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. Join us weekdays in THE SITUATION ROOM from 5:00 to 7:00 P.M. Eastern and every Saturday at 6:00 P.M. Eastern right here on CNN, and at this time every weekend on CNN International.

The news continues next on CNN.