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Gay Marriage: Debating an Amendment; Military Misconduct?; 'Hot Topics'

Aired June 5, 2006 - 06:30   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everybody.
Happening this morning, President Bush throws his support behind a gay marriage ban. A constitutional amendment will be debated in the Senate today and then voted on later in the week.

An Amber Alert is out for a 5-year-old baby in Texas. Her name is Priscilla Maldonado. The suspected kidnaper posed as a hospital worker and befriended the baby's mother. Little Priscilla has jaundice and needs medical attention.

You can add 50,000 active duty members of the National Guard and Navy to the list of people whose personal information was stolen on that VA computer. The first report of 26.5 million people at risk included mostly veterans who had been discharged since 1975.

Good morning. Welcome back, everybody. I'm Soledad O'Brien.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Miles O'Brien. Welcome to Monday.

With his numbers low and a midterm election on the horizon, President Bush is turning to an issue near and dear to conservatives, gay marriage.

CNN White House Correspondent Ed Henry with more.


ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: President Bush is planning a big push today in favor of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage which will be debated in the Senate this week. This comes as the president faces heavy criticism from fellow conservatives who believe he was reelected in part because his strong opposition to same-sex marriage drove conservatives to the polls in 2004. But conservatives now complain the president has been silent on the issue, while Mary Cheney has denounced the amendment and the first lady, Laura Bush, has said it should not be used as a campaign tool.

That's why Democrats and some Republicans believe the president is just going through the motions, trying to rev up conservative voters for the midterm election, knowing full well this amendment will fail in the Senate. White House spokesman Tony Snow insists the president's move is not politically motivated, that with a number of courts stepping in, the president believes the time is right for Congress to act. Ed Henry, CNN, the White House.


M. O'BRIEN: The president will speak in the White House Rose Garden 1:45 p.m. Eastern Time. You'll see it here live -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: The U.S. military is clearing troops of wrongdoing in the killing of 11 Iraqi civilians in Ishaqi. That is one of three investigations into allegations of misconduct by American troops in Iraq. Perhaps the most talked about one is that U.S. Marine incident in Haditha in which 24 civilians were killed last November.

CNN's Tara Mergener joins us. She's in Washington, D.C.

Tara, good morning.

TARA MERGENER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Soledad.

The conclusion of a new report says U.S. troops acted with appropriate force. But political fallout continues.


MERGENER (voice over): A U.S. military report released Friday clears soldiers of any wrongdoing during a raid in the Iraqi town of Ishaqi. But some Iraqis insist civilians inside the suspected al Qaeda safe house were killed intentionally.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We searched through the rubble and we found the children's bodies.

MERGENER: The deputy chief of staff for multinational forces in Iraq denies allegations a family was intentionally killed and the evidence covered up by an air strike.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All loss of innocent life is tragic and unfortunate. And we regret such occurrences.

MERGENER: But some Iraqi officials are not satisfied with the outcome of the investigation and are conducting their own.

Meantime, the investigation continues into the November incident in which Marines initially reported 15 Iraqi civilians died in a roadside bomb in the town of Haditha. Sources with knowledge of the investigation told CNN military investigators now suspect a small number of Marines went on a rampage.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: We are going to be certain that there is a thorough investigation of any of these incidents.

MERGENER: But there are calls from lawmakers for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to step down.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: When you make serious mistakes, you step forward and you acknowledge them and you walk away.


MERGENER: Two investigations into the Haditha incident are still under way. The findings will be released in an official report.

Live in Washington this morning, I'm Tara Mergener.

Soledad, back to you.

S. O'BRIEN: All right, Tara. Thanks.

At 34 minutes past the hour, it's time for a check of the forecast. Rob's in for Chad this morning.

Hey, Rob. Good morning.



MARCIANO: That's the latest from here. Back over to you guys.

S. O'BRIEN: All right, Rob. Thanks.

M. O'BRIEN: Thank you very much, Rob.

Still to come on the program, police in London conduct a raid and discover some chemical weapons. They arrest two. We'll tell you about an alleged plot.

S. O'BRIEN: And remember that mysterious disappearance of Olivia Newton-John's boyfriend? We haven't talked about that for a while. Well, there's new evidence to tell you about in that case. That's just ahead.

M. O'BRIEN: And how strict parenting can be harmful to your child's health.


M. O'BRIEN: A hunger strike is over for more than 70 detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. There were nearly 90 suspected al Qaeda operatives refusing to eat. There are now 18 inmates still refusing food there, although four of them are being force-fed -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Happen "In America" this morning, a search in Texas today for a missing 5-day-old baby girl. Police say that Priscilla Maldonado, the baby, was taken from her mother's house on Sunday by a woman who was posing as a nurse. The fake nurse became friends with the baby's mother at the hospital when little Priscilla was born. Apparently she's -- she's got medical problems and needs some help.

In New York, the search for a missing 3-year-old boy is over. Brandon Aponte was found on a street in Brooklyn just over four hours ago. Police say they suspect 13-year-old Tatiana Morales (ph), that she lured the boy out of his father's tattoo parlor on Saturday. She's being questioned. The boy is in the hospital right now for observation.

In Indianapolis, hundreds gathered for a memorial at the home where seven people were killed on Thursday night. The victims included three children. Police have two people in custody. Formal charges against the alleged shooter could come on Tuesday. The prosecutor says he's going to seek the death penalty in the case.

And two men who escaped from a D.C. prison on Saturday are back behind bars. The last to be captured was found less than seven hours ago after a short foot chase in Virginia. The other was apprehended early on Sunday, also in Virginia. The two escaped by breaking out of a prison window.

A 44-year-old D.C. man faces charges of unlawful entry and disorderly conduct after being caught trying to jump the White House fence. Roger Witmer (ph) is his name. He never made it, though. He did toss a plastic bag onto the White House grounds. The areas were cordoned off while police inspected the bag and deemed it harmless.

And in Minnesota, a big party for some special twins today. A farewell celebration for 6-month-old Abigail (ph) and Isabel Carlson (ph). They were former little conjoined and they were separated last month at the Mayo Clinic. Now they're heading home to Fargo, North Dakota.

That's going to happen tomorrow. Good for them.

Those are cute little babies, huh?

M. O'BRIEN: They are cute.

S. O'BRIEN: Relieved parents, too, I bet.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes. Quite happy.

Still to come on AMERICAN MORNING, President Bush pushes the gay marriage issue to the forefront. Could this be a case of election year politics at work here?

And later, an alleged terror plot in Canada. Officials now confirm the men had contact with suspects in the U.S. What does that mean for your security here?

Stay with us for more AMERICAN MORNING.



HOLLY FIRFER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It's been called nature's health club. People are kayaking more than ever for fitness and adventure. Expert kayaker Bubba Sloan (ph) says he enjoys the serenity of nature and muscle toning at the same time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You decide how fast you want to paddle and what type of aerobic exercise you want to get. It works not only your arms, but your back muscles, your stomach muscles and your thighs.

FIRFER: Kayakers burn an average of 300 calories or more in an hour's worth of paddling.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kayaking is actually a great workout. It combines an incredible upper body workout with cardiovascular exercise. If you keep moving, depending on your water conditions, you're going to burn a lot of calories.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The most comfortable stroke would be right in front of you.

FIRFER: Whether you're a beginner or an expert paddler, those who do it say kayaking is great for a true mind and body workout.

Holly Firfer, CNN.



S. O'BRIEN: Police in Great Britain today are questioning two brothers suspected in a terrorist plot. That tops our look at stories that CNN correspondents around the world are covering today.



Two men are still being held in custody here at this central London police station after a predawn raid on Friday in their home involving more than 200 police. Now, one of the brothers who was arrested has been questioned. The other was shot during that predawn raid.

There are conflicting reports as to how the gun went off. He, at the moment, is still under medication and too ill to be questioned.

Now, there has been speculation that the intelligence that led to this raid involved a chemical device or chemical substances. Many of the police in the raid were wearing protective clothing. But as yet, nothing has been found at the house.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And I'm Ben Wedeman in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, where hopes have been rekindled for progress in the peace process. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert vowed to expert maximum efforts to revive talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

One Israeli diplomat told me Israel will play the bad cop wielding the stick. Egypt, the good cop holding out the carrot to coax the Palestinians back to the negotiating table. But Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has problems of his own, grappling with Hamas in an often violent power struggle which threatens to scuttle the best laid plans in this Egyptian resort.


JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm John Vause, reporting from Baghdad, where Saddam Hussein is due back in court today. His lawyers have submitted a list of dozens of witnesses who began giving testimony last week. The court has set aside another three days, no more.

Saddam is charged with the murder of 148 civilians in Dujail in 1982. His defense, though, has argued at least 23 of those victims are still alive. Defense lawyers are also expected to complain to the judge today about treatment of their witnesses, claiming they're being harassed and intimidated by Iraqi officials.


S. O'BRIEN: For more on these stories or any of our top stories, you can go right to our Web site, -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Monday morning in the White House is hoping to change the debate in Washington. Instead of the alleged atrocities in Iraq, immigration reform, or rising gas prices, the president and some Republican lawmakers will be focused on a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. It must be an election year.

Joining us now from Washington, as he usually does on Monday, John Mercurio, senior editor of "The National Journal's Hotline".

John, good to have you with us.


M. O'BRIEN: There's some on the left who would call this political pandering.

MERCURIO: There are quite a few on the left who would say that. Look, clearly the president decided not to take the advice of his wife, who, of course, came out a couple of weeks ago saying she didn't want gay marriage to be a campaign issue. And he's obviously not taking the advice of Mary Cheney, the vice president's daughters, who in her book distances herself from the administration's support for this.

The president technically has no role in the ratification of a constitutional amendment. It's two-thirds of Congress needed and then two-thirds of state legislature. So I think that it's sort of beyond debate, but the president is just trying to sort of enter the political debate, use this as a political tactic.

Why? Of course because he is now alienated -- or he has alienated so much of his conservative base. Twenty percent of the evangelical community has left his base over the past year. He needs them back, going into the midterm elections, and going into the special election tomorrow, even more immediately in California, where Republicans are in danger of losing a strong Republican seat. He needs to motivate that base tomorrow and in November.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. I want to talk about that special election in just a second, but do you think that there are some conservatives who might feel as if they've been used here a bit? Because the president hasn't said anything about this issue up until this point.

MERCURIO: I mean, most people you talk to inside the White House, outside the White House, who have watched this administration, do believe that the president's uncomfortable with this issue. He came out a couple of years ago standing in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, announced his support for these types of amendments, for the constitutional amendment, supported the amendments that took place at the state level, but was never comfortable campaigning on the issue.

Anybody I think you talk to in the conservative community would say that they don't believe that he's committed, and that beyond today and beyond this Senate vote this week, they doubt they'll see much action from this White House.

M. O'BRIEN: It will be interesting to see how this one plays out.

Let's talk about California. In the political world, everybody's going to be watching this special election. This is the Randy "Duke" Cunningham seat. Mr. Cunningham has other obligations he has to attend to now, subsequent to a bribery deal there.


M. O'BRIEN: This one, it should be a solidly Republican district, correct?

MERCURIO: Absolutely. I think President Bush won this district by about 19 points over John Kerry in 2004.

M. O'BRIEN: So we've got Francine Busby or Brian Bilbray, the Republican versus the Democrat, formerly. What -- what -- how do you see it playing out? Close?

MERCURIO: It's neck and neck. Private and public polls at this point show that Bilbray has a lead of maybe one or two points. But that's statistically insignificant. It's very close.

Democrats have been able to take advantage of the fact that this is Duke Cunningham's district. Republicans in this district saw firsthand what corruption can do not only to a congressman, but also to the people who live in his district. So I think Republicans already started out at a disadvantage there. The immigration issue is also huge. This is almost a border district in southern California. Brian Bilbray trying to make a big issue out of the fact he's very, very, you know, sort of hard line on the issue of immigration.

Francine Busby, though, supports John McCain's immigration proposal, which a lot of moderate to liberal voters in the district are supporting. So she's made it very competitive.

Republicans have spent about twice as much. If you ask for my prediction, which you didn't, I think Bilbray probably edges her out by a couple of points. But it's still a Democratic spin victory because, look, this is -- this is a race, the district, that they should have won by double digits.

S. O'BRIEN: So they'll try to turn the victory into a loss, won't they?

MERCURIO: Exactly. Oh, absolutely. That's what Washington does.

M. O'BRIEN: That's what it's all about. All right. And we always appreciate your predictions.

John Mercurio, senior editor at "National Journal's Hotline."

Always a pleasure. We'll see you next Monday.

MERCURIO: Great. Thanks.

M. O'BRIEN: Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Andy Serwer is minding our business up next.

Good morning. Have a nice weekend?

ANDY SERWER, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, "FORTUNE": Good morning, Soledad. I did. How about yourself?

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, it was all right.

SERWER: Excellent.

Some business news coming up. A rebuke to GM's chief, Rick Wagoner.

Plus, we've got another a dollar-a-year CEO, but there is a catch, Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: There's always a catch, Andy.

SERWER: There is, Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Thanks.

SERWER: Yes. S. O'BRIEN: Also ahead this morning, promising new weapons in the fight against breast cancer. We're going to tell you about cutting-edge treatments that can specifically target cancer cells and prevent them from spreading. That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

We're back in a moment.


S. O'BRIEN: A new study to tell you about this morning that says that being firm with your kids could have some serious health repercussions. Researchers say strict moms are more likely to raise overweight kids. Moms who are more flexible are more likely to have kids of a healthy weight. Permissive and negligentful parenting is also to be found related to overweight kids.

That almost seems contradictory.

Why is everybody so blurry? It's not your eyes.

M. O'BRIEN: You know what, folks? Your set is fine. Somebody has decided this is the way to protect the identity of these kids. I've seen better ways of doing that.

SERWER: Maybe bad parenting has something to do with that.

S. O'BRIEN: Children like those children, but let's blurry...


SERWER: Yes, right.

S. O'BRIEN: It comes in the journal "Pediatrics" this month.

Let's talk business news. Shall we?

SERWER: Yes, we shall.

With GM not exactly firing on all cylinders these days, Soledad, why should shareholders rubberstamp all the board's decisions? So says an influential proxy advisory firm. That's a company that tells shareholders how to vote.

GM has its annual meeting tomorrow in Delaware. And ISS, Institutional Shareholder Services, is recommending that investors support four proposals that would weaken the influence of the board and CEO Rick Wagoner.

Number one, it wants to separate the role of the CEO and chairman. Wagoner is both right now. That would provide more oversight.

There's Rick Wagoner right there. Not so blurry.

And then -- and then this is a really interesting one to me. They want to recoup bonuses paid to executives based on financial results that were later restated. That would sort of make sense.

In other words, if you got paid a bonus of $5 million...

M. O'BRIEN: I'm for that. I'm totally for that.

SERWER: ... based on $300 million of earnings, and then five years later those earnings didn't exist...

M. O'BRIEN: Absolutely.

SERWER: ... could you give us that money back, please?

M. O'BRIEN: And if for some reason the earnings go up, you should get a little more. It's only fair.

SERWER: Right. It's just...

S. O'BRIEN: It's so rare that those...


M. O'BRIEN: But it doesn't happen that way, does it?

SERWER: Soledad always points that out. That is not going to happen. She understands -- you really understand business.

I want to tell you about another dollar-a-year CEO. Terry Semel, the CEO of Yahoo!, is now only going to be paid a buck a year. That's great news for shareholders. However, he will be getting six million options priced at the price Yahoo's price today.

So they're not any value right now, but they will be. And I bet they're dated properly. Don't you think with everything going on, with that backdating scandal?

S. O'BRIEN: Yes.

M. O'BRIEN: I suspect so, yes.

SERWER: Also, he has reaped $429 million from previous options. So, in other words, he's got a nice little wad of cash there in his pocket.

M. O'BRIEN: Right. More than a dollar.


M. O'BRIEN: So he won't be doing food stamps while he's getting through this period, right?

SERWER: No. So shed no tears.


SERWER: Also, next half-hour, we're going to be talking more about Iran and its influence on oil prices and oil markets. So that will be coming up.

S. O'BRIEN: All right. Andy, thanks.

SERWER: Thank you.

M. O'BRIEN: Thanks very much.

Let's get a check on the forecast. Rob Marciano is at the CNN Center.


MARCIANO: The next hour of AMERICAN MORNING begins right now.

S. O'BRIEN: Thanks, Rob.

Gay marriage moves front and center in Washington, D.C., today. But is the president's push for a constitutional amendment simply election year politics? We'll take a look.


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