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Lou Dobbs Weighs in On Immigration Reform; White House Chief of Staff Steps Down; GM Lays off Hundreds of Salaried Workers; "High School Musical" Sparks Craze

Aired March 28, 2006 - 09:30   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CO-HOST: You can see right there the opening bell just rang on Wall Street. Players and coaching from the Final Four teams from the national invitation tournament are doing the honors today. The Dow begins trading at 11,250. That's off 29 points at Monday's close.
JOHN ROBERTS, CO-HOST: And we'll see how it does today with the Fed expected to raise interest rates another quarter of a point. Was that already factored in or might it ding the Dow again today?

O'BRIEN: Everybody is watching that, including us, as well, this morning. Welcome back everybody.

Talking about that. We're also talking about immigration.

ROBERTS: We've been talking about it all morning. We're going to be talking about it more and more and more.

Immigration reform tops the agenda on Capitol Hill on the streets of several major U.S. cities immigrants legal and illegal and their supporters protesting a House bill that would make being in the country illegally a felony. A Senate judiciary proposal is more to their liking.

CNN's Lou Dobbs has followed this issue closely. His "Broken Borders" series looks at U.S. immigration policy. A little bit earlier on I asked him for reaction to the plan that was passed of the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, one that would allow illegal immigrants to become landed immigrants if they paid a $2,000 fine and waited six years.

Here's what Lou had to say.


LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": My position on what the Senate is doing is that it's an amnesty program. It is putting at least 11, as many as 20 million people, to the front of the line. We have a backlog of legal immigrants to this country of three million waiting naturalization and visas.

It is an unconscionable act that pits the lowest paid two million Hispanic workers in this country against illegal, predominantly Hispanic illegal aliens, as demonstrated in a study by the Pew Hispanic Center. This is unconscionable. It is a sell-out. Something we're used to seeing on the part of this Congress and this administration, frankly. It's a sell-out to corporate interests and illegal employers who should be being punished not given a free pass, because middle class, hardworking men and women and their families are paying the price for this.

ROBERTS: Lou, does it really put them to the front of the line? Because it does stipulate that they have to wait at least six years.

DOBBS: It absolutely does. It puts them on a path to citizenship. And in any other term, John, you covered Washington, you know what this is. This is a sham. This is obfuscation. And it's a device.

And it is unconscionable what both the administration and Congress have done in terms of border security and what they're now attempting to do with the guest worker program. The guest worker program has not worked anywhere in the world. It won't work here.

ROBERTS: Does the Sensenbrenner bill which would criminalize all undocumented immigrants in this country and also provide for construction of a 700-mile fence along the border, does that meet your criteria for what an immigration bill -- immigration reform bill does should look like?

DOBBS: Well, frankly no, John, it does not, but it is the best attempt and at least moving toward enforcement of our borders and security at our borders.

Look, we can't reform -- let's be really honest about it. We can't reform immigration in this country if we can't control immigration. And we can only control immigration if we control and secure our borders.

And this is a ridiculous attempt on both the part of the Republicans and the Democrats. Democrats seeking votes, the Republicans seeking cheap labor. They can continue to exploit in corporate America instead of dealing with the real issue.

Our ports are absolutely vulnerable to terrorist attack. Only one percent of the cargo at most is screened for radiation. A little over five percent is being inspected.

Our borders, three million illegal aliens crossed our borders last year. You just reported that going through ports of entry where we have control of the border, the few ports of entry we have on our northern and southern borders they good material through, according to the General Accountability Office for two dirty bombs.

At what point do we just acknowledge that the Homeland Security Department is a joke. And that this Congress is in the pockets of the corporate interests, and middle class America, working men and women of this country, are simply without representation and absolutely, still, four and a half years after September 11, vulnerable to terrorist attack. (END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: And in just one more day Lou lands in Mexico for the immigration summit, three leaders plus Lou live from Mexico for the rest of this week. That's starting tomorrow at 6 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Pretty big change to tell you about in the West Wing. President Bush is announcing just about an hour ago that his chief of staff, Andy Card, is stepping down. He's going to be replaced by the budget chief Josh Bolten.

Let's get right to White House correspondent Ed Henry. He's live for us this morning.

Hey, Ed, good morning.

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning again, Soledad.

That's right. There have been calls from various Republican critics on Capitol Hill and elsewhere for this president to shake up his staff. Andy Card obviously has obviously been on the job a long time as chief of staff since day one of this administration.

He was the man who whispered in the president's ear on the morning of 9/11 that America was under attack. The average tenure for someone in the job is two years. Much longer for Andy Card, a back breaking pace. He said a short while ago that it was finally time for something new.


ANDY CARD, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Most of all, I watched you as a person. And you're a good man, Mr. President. And you do great things. I'm grateful for the friendship that you have shown me. Grateful for the love that Laura has shared with Kathy and with me. I'm grateful for the White House staff that has served you so well and helped me do a better job. But it is a different season. And Josh Bolten is the right person for that season.


HENRY: You saw Andy Card growing a little emotional there. In addition to his long service for this president, he served for transportation secretary for the first President Bush. A lot of speculation he may have politics on his mind, as well, possibly jumping into the Massachusetts governor race. That's been speculated for a long time.

As for Josh Bolten, the man who will replace Andy Card, this may not actually satisfy some of the Republican critics who have been calling for new blood, fresh ideas.

Josh Bolten has been serving as the White House budget chief since June of 2003. He was a deputy to Andy Card for over two years before that, so there may still be pressure on this president to come up with someone else. There's been talk about maybe an unofficial ambassador to Capitol Hill, a senior statesman of some kind. Maybe someone like former Senator Fred Thompson. The name of former Montana governor Marc Racicot. Someone else to try to help this administration not only bring in new blood but really try to revitalize the president's agenda, which is stalled on Capitol Hill -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: We'll see. Ed Henry for us this morning. Thanks, Ed -- John.

ROBERTS: The disappearance of accused war criminal Charles Taylor is sending a shockwave through Liberia today. The former Liberian strong man disappeared from exile in Nigeria. He is accused of starting civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

CNN's Jeff Koinange is live on the phone from Johannesburg, South Africa.

And Jeff, what's the Nigeria government telling you about Taylor's disappearance?

JEFF KOINANGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John if this wasn't such a serious matter it would be considered a comedy of errors. I've been working the phones the last couple of hours, and nobody, and I mean nobody, seems to know where Mr. Taylor has disappeared to.

Let's not forget that he wasn't really under house arrest. He was just basically under surveillance. But you can just imagine when the announcement was made this week, and that the Nigerians had basically washed their hands of Mr. Taylor. He basically got the information. He got the message. And since no one was basically guarding him, he basically disappeared.

And we're getting news that the Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has ordered the arrest of the so-called security detail that was surrounding Mr. Taylor. And here is another twisted to it, John. The Nigerian president is actually heading to the White House Wednesday. So you can imagine what kind of Q&A he'll be getting from the local reporters -- John.

ROBERTS: Well, what's the speculation there, Jeff? Did he disappear himself or was he abducted?

KOINANGE: Well, that's a very good question. If he did disappear where would he go? Because he would be considered an international fugitive. He would be put on the most wanted list. So that would be very, very -- he better think about that.

If he was abducted why wait until now is the question. He's been basically a free man the last two and a half years. Why wait until now to abduct him? Lots more questions than answers.

What is most important is that this criminal court that you mentioned in Sierra Leone is still awaiting his arrival to charge him on 17 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. One last thing, John. Let's not forget this is not the first time Mr. Taylor has escaped. In 1985 he was actually in a Massachusetts jail awaiting extradition back to Liberia on embezzlement charges, and the story has it that he tied his bed sheets together and jumped tout window and the next thing we knew he ended up in the jungles of west Africa. So he's not new to escaping, John.

ROBERTS: Yes. This fellow seems to have more lives than a cat. Jeff Koinange, thanks very much.

Now for a look at what else is making news this morning we head over to Carol Costello, who's in the newsroom this morning.

Good morning, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, John. Good morning to all of you.

The future of the Middle East peace process could be a piece of paper, the election ballot. The Israelis heading to the polls for the first time since Prime Minister Ariel Sharon slipped into a coma. The biggest challenge facing the new government: how to deal with a Palestinian government led by Hamas. In the meantime, the Palestinian parliament has voted to approve the Hamas cabinet. It happened just a few minutes ago. The new government will be sworn in on Thursday.

A potential breakthrough in HIV/AIDS treatment. Scientists say they may soon have a pill that could prevent infection. It's actually a combination of two drugs already on pharmacy shelves. It's shown great promise in monkeys. Early tests are now being expanded to people.

Actor Robert Blake wants a judge to throw out the $30 million verdict in his civil trial. That was the payout after a jury found him liable for the deft his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley. But Blake's lawyers are alleging misconduct. It seems one of the jurors forgot to mention that her daughter is serving time for murder.

And who would have thought that George Mason would make the Final Four? Not many. We're not exaggerating here. Only four, count them four people out of three million got the final brackets right on Among them, Russell Pleasant from Nebraska. And he admits he chose George Mason by mistake, because he got them confused by George Washington.

George Mason plays Florida on Saturday. LSU meets UCLA. The national championship is next Monday. The ESPN pool 10,000 bucks, so good luck.

O'BRIEN: That would be funny if he really walked away with it all.

COSTELLO: That would be great for him.

O'BRIEN: Oops. Big mistake but a lucky mistake.

All right, Carol. Thanks.

Forecast now, Chad has got that for us.

Hey, Chad.


ROBERTS: We just kind of let him get away with this stuff don't we? Here's Chad. He's got a really terrible forecast but that's fine. We're moving on now.

Andy is minding your business just ahead on AMERICAN MORNING. What have you got coming up for us?

ANDY SERWER, "FORTUNE" MAGAZINE: Well, I'm going to take credit if there's some good business news, John. First of all, how will Wall Street respond to news of GM layoffs? Plus, there's a new sheriff in town over at the Federal Reserve. What does that mean for interest rates? We'll tell you, coming up next on AMERICAN MORNING.


ROBERTS: Black Tuesday in Detroit. General Motors is announcing layoffs for several hundred salaried workers.

Art Edwards of CNN affiliate WDIV is at GM's technical center in Warren, Michigan, just outside Detroit.


ART EDWARDS, WDTV CORRESPONDENT: I'm outside of the General Motors tech center in Warren, Michigan, one of the places where we believe a number of engineers are going to be told today that they are going to lose their jobs. It's the latest round of cutbacks by GM in an effort to sort of retool itself.

The company says that they are going to be laying off white collared workers this time around. We are told there is going to be several hundred workers here at the Warren tech center and also possibly several hundred workers in Milford at what they call the proving grounds, where they test out some of the cars and some of the equipment that they have.

Overall, about seven percent of the 36,000 white collar workers at General Motors are going to be laid off throughout this year. That amounts to about 2,500 people or so.

What we understand today is that employees have all been told they have to come to work today. All vacation and sick time has been canceled. If you're an engineer who drives a company car, you have been told that you have to drive your company car to work today.

And the CEO of the company, Jack Wagoner (sic), is going to address all the employees sometime today and give them a better idea what is going on right now. We've been told that the employees are going to gather in certain spots inside the tech center and at Milford, as well. Those employees who are going to be laid off will be notified at that point and then most likely will be leaving the plant.

These are only the beginning of the layoffs, probably, for General Motors, as far as the white collar workers are concerned. We are told that in April there's going to be an announcement about marketing and sales people who will be laid off, as well. General Motors says that they have no choice to do this in order to remain competitive.


ROBERTS: That was Art Edwards of CNN affiliate WDIV in Detroit for us this morning.

O'BRIEN: And for more on that story and also the market Andy Serwer is "Minding Your Business."

Good morning.

SERWER: Good morning to you guys.

Let's go down to Wall Street and see how stocks are faring at this hour. There's the big board, and you can see the Dow is up about seven points, 11,257.

Just an interesting note here. Dow up about eight percent over the past 12 months. Indian stock market also passing 1,000. But it's up 70 percent over the past 12 months. Guess which economy is growing faster?

You heard Art Edwards talking about GM. That stock is basically flat. Talking about white collar layoffs, several hundred employees getting pink slips this morning. And interesting that GM is choosing to do this sort of in dribs and drabs, because they say they're going to be laying off seven percent of the 36,000 white collar employees they have. That would be about 2,500. So obviously they're doing some today and they're going to be doing some over the coming months, as well.

Finally, a Fed meeting will wrap up today at 2:15. We'll get word as to whether or not we'll have higher interest rates. You should expect that we will. The new Fed chairman Ben Bernanke expected to raise the Fed funds rate to 4.75 percent. That means higher interest rates from the banks on loans for cars and personal loans, as well. And probably interest rates going to go up at least one more time in May.

ROBERTS: Looks like the market's factored that in today, though.

SERWER: Yes, I think so. Widely expected, John. That's right.

O'BRIEN: Andy, thank you very much.

SERWER: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: "CNN LIVE TODAY" is coming up next.

Daryn, good morning to you.

DARYN KAGAN, HOST, "CNN LIVE TODAY": Soledad, we have some great stories for you today, including the story of a blind man who put his life on the line facing flames to help save the life of his neighbor.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of a sudden she called, "Jim, Jim, Jim," and I said, "Uh-oh." And I thought something had happened. And she said, "The house is on fire."


KAGAN: A couple of baby monitors helped lead this man on a heroic path.

And he's 83, she's 81. Think they might be heading to a retirement home. No, they're looking to ship out with the Peace Corps. It will be their seventh time around. We'll find out what makes them tick and their adventures around the globe. A couple from Seattle, Washington. That's still ahead.

You guys have a great day in New York City. We'll see you in a couple minutes.

O'BRIEN: All right, Daryn. Thank you.

Straight ahead this morning on "AM Pop." Disney's "High School Musical". It's a hit with the kids. If you've never heard of it, well, you're not alone. The secret of how a simple made for TV movie has become a nationwide sensation. It's just ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. We're going to the crew upon our skating into, "AM Pop." Just needs "High School Musical." Stand by your break, master. Break and flash.


O'BRIEN: This morning in "AM Pop" it is one of the most popular movies and albums in the country but you've probably never even heard of it unless, of course, you're under the age of 14.

What started out as a little made for TV movie is setting some pretty big-time records. Entertainment correspondent Brooke Anderson has more on a phenomenon that's prompting millions of kids all over the country to burst into song.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was awesome. It's pretty upbeat. All my little sisters were up and we were dancing around.

BROOKE ANDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The object of these kids' affection is the Disney Channel film that's sweeping the nation, "High School Musical.

It's being call a modern day "Grease", a combination of song and dance, teen drama, and puppy love, complete with cell phones.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll call you tomorrow.


ANDERSON: Both the film and sound track are having unprecedented success. The movie's January debut earns the Disney Channel its highest ratings ever with more than seven million viewers. The accompanying disk has sold nearly half a million copies and is currently No. 1 on the Billboard's top 200 chart for the second time, an astounding feat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sure everyone that's been listening to it is, like, looking on the charts. "High School Musical," what is this? Who are these kids?

RICH ROSS, PRESIDENT, DISNEY CHANNEL: This is the first one that I believe has been a cultural phenomenon. It's being played at bar mitzvahs and sweet 16s and gyms across the country.

ANDERSON: Rich Ross, president of the Disney Channel, says this film, which was made on a modest budget of $5 million, has grown exponentially through the help of savvy marketing.

ROSS: It's all about sequencing. Allowing our consumers, kids and families to get it when they want it, how they want it, whether they want it on the video iPod, whether they want it on the computer screen or whether they want it on the TV, whether they want it on the car, whether they want it in the backpack.

ANDERSON: Disney dollars and marketing aside, there's more to boast than just the bottom line.

ROSS: It's a really smart story, really talented cast and really very Disney. And I think that's something we're very proud of.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If I can do something that -- if we can do something that inspires kids to do what they really want to do, then, you know, well what else can you ask for?

ANDERSON: Brooke Anderson, CNN, Hollywood.

O'BRIEN: The film is on repeat on Disney which means it's played 10 times and counting. And cannot tell you the number of e-mails I've gotten since we started talking about this story this morning. Everyone's like, "You haven't seen this? You need to see it."

The DVD is going to be released in May and there will be a sequel to "High School Musical," and it's already in the works. And one of the things they do that's so clever is the marketing of it. After they run the movie they do a whole thing on learn the dance steps for kids or learn the music after the movie.

ROBERTS: Well, it looks like very wholesome entertainment. There really is a shortage of...

O'BRIEN: Yes. Wholesome entertainment and good marketing.

ROBERTS: Yes. Put together. Sometimes you might think that it would be a recipe for failure.

O'BRIEN: No, no.

ROBERTS: But seems to have clicked in this case.

O'BRIEN: Yes, all right. Short break, guys. We're back in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: Big thank you for helping us out.

ROBERTS: Hey, good to be here again.

O'BRIEN: They dragged you back.

ROBERTS: As I said earlier, just when you think you've gotten out they drag you back in again.

O'BRIEN: Just when you think you're getting eight hours of sleep a night.

ROBERTS: You know, I didn't do too badly last night. I got about seven. It was pretty good.

O'BRIEN: Happy for you. Good.

ROBERTS: I hate to go on about it. But when you work this shift, sleep does becomes something of an important thing.

O'BRIEN: It sure does. Thanks for helping us out. We appreciate it.

ROBERTS: Glad to be here.

O'BRIEN: Miles is back tomorrow. He is working today.

And we are out of time. So we're going to head it over to Daryn Kagan. She's at the CNN Center going to take you through the next couple of hours on CNN LIVE TODAY.

Good morning to you, Daryn.

KAGAN: Clearly, John is not addicted to "24".

ROBERTS: I am, but I've TiVoed it.

KAGAN: OK. I'll tell you one of the best episodes ever last night.

ROBERTS: Really. Don't tell me, though. The bad guy got away, right?

KAGAN: Well, they do have to do 24 hours for the whole season.

ROBERTS: I mean, I remember one episode last year where they said, "Jack is the perimeter secure." He said, "Yes." And I said why would it be secure this time when it hasn't been for the last 19 episodes?

O'BRIEN: What will they do for the next episode?

KAGAN: Got to believe. You watch it on TiVo and we'll talk, OK?

ROBERTS: All right. You bet.

KAGAN: All right. Get some sleep, as well. And you guys have a great day in New York City.

ROBERTS: Thanks. You, too.


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