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AMERICAN MORNING

War Spending Standoff: What Happens Next?; Rice to Egypt for Iraq Summit

Aired May 2, 2007 - 06:59   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR (voice over): Face to face. President Bush and congressional Democrats at the White House today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody gets out of the room today at the White House until there is an agreement.

ROBERTS: Where is the common ground on funding or ending the war?

Plus, tear gas, rubber bullets and questions at an immigration rally gone wrong on this AMERICAN MORNING.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: And good morning to you. It's Wednesday, May the 2nd.

I'm John Roberts.

CHETRY: And I'm Kiran Chetry.

We have a lot of stories on our radar this morning.

There is more news about the tainted animal food turning up on farms. We're going to be speaking to a former FDA insider about how much food is imported into the U.S. and how little of it is actually inspected.

ROBERTS: Oh, every day, every day extreme weather across the country. Twisters in Kansas yesterday. Take a look at that as this one starts to form. Lightning in Ohio.

Severe weather expert Chad Myers -- take a look at that -- wow -- he's monitoring all of this. He is going to be in our severe weather center down in Atlanta bringing you all the latest because it's not over yet.

CHETRY: Speaking of not over yet, Britney Spears, she's back. She is back on stage, apparently doing a surprise concert last night. There she is.

We wondered why she was always photographed in fishnets and hot pants.

You were wondering, right, John? Well, it's because she was practicing.

ROBERTS: I -- a question I've long had for that. Was she wearing, you know, undergarments?

CHETRY: There she is. Yes, we hope so.

We'll find out more about her comeback, as it were.

ROBERTS: Can't wait. Can't wait.

Round two in the war-funding battle begins this afternoon when the president sits down with congressional leaders. And we could hear from the president within the hour on all of this.

We have got coverage from Andrea Koppel on Capitol Hill this morning, and Suzan Malveaux, who's at the White House.

Let's begin with you, Andrea. And let me play a couple pieces of sound, some statements yesterday from the speaker of the House and the Senate minority leader on this whole thing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: The president wants a blank check. The Congress is not going to give it to him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: If the president thinks by vetoing this bill he'll stop us from working to change the direction of the war in Iraq, he is mistaken.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: So, Andrea, the Democrats are talking tough there, but because they went all the way on this and drew the veto and they don't have the votes to override it, are they going to have to compromise?

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, John. They are -- they are definitely going to have to compromise.

I mean, they had a short, live victory. They did push through this bill with a timeline in it, but President Bush basically made it dead on arrival, vetoing it yesterday. They're not going to get it through today in the House.

So, the fact of the matter is, they know that. They don't really have a firm plan B. There are a few ideas floated out there. Among them, to include benchmarks. Whether or not they'd have teeth, however, remains to be seen.

ROBERTS: On this idea of benchmarks, Suzanne, the president has said that he rejects anything that includes dates, timetables for a withdrawal. But benchmarks, particularly if they were, say, non- binding benchmarks, is that something that he might be able to agree to?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the White House and the president certainly might be able to agree to something like that. Something that is a little bit looser, if you will, than what they've seen before.

Certainly, this is something the United States and the Iraqi government, they have actually agreed upon some of these political benchmarks, some of these things that they need to hit. But the big question here, of course, John, is whether or not that's going to be enough incentive if you don't tie it to economic aid or resources.

We've already seen the Iraqi government miss a lot of those benchmarks in the past.

ROBERTS: Right. Well, you know, it seems to be something that Republicans might be able to accept.

Take a listen to what House Minority Whip Roy Blunt said about this. Roy coming up a little bit later on the show, by the way.

Take a listen .

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ROY BLUNT (R-MO), HOUSE MINORITY WHIP: Yes, it's my view that the White House has been for benchmarks for the Iraqis. And we need to have that discussion as to what consequences, a failure to meet those benchmarks would have.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: So, we're talking about potential benchmarks here, Andrea. But that's not going to be enough for the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. Are they expected to break and just go wild over this idea of compromise?

KOPPEL: Absolutely. And that certainly is the challenge for Speaker Pelosi, especially, is to get that anti-war left-wing in line, because they are quickly going to become a political liability for her.

Right now, the American public is behind the Democrats. They want this timeline, but the minute that it starts impacting troops in the field, John -- and that is, after all, what this bill is all about, funding, emergency funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- the minute it starts affecting troops in the field, that public opinion could turn.

ROBERTS: So, Suzanne, does the White House thinks that it is increasingly is looking like it's getting the upper hand on this issue?

MALVEAUX: Well, right now the president and the White House do believe they have the upper hand on this, but there are a couple of things that are happening here. They are listening to the Republicans, Congressman Roy Blunt, Senator Trent Lott, talking about the fact that, look, they're tired of these ultimatums here, they are looking for a real compromise.

So what you're going to see from the White House, really a much more conciliatory tone, an effort to keep those Republicans in line, if they can. And also, the president, once again, you saw him last night, primetime, reaching out directly to the American people. They say they don't care about polls here, but believe me, they are trying to convince the American people here that the president is doing the right thing.

ROBERTS: That meeting this afternoon, 2:30 there at the White House.

Suzanne, we know that you'll be following it. As well, Andrea up on the Hill, with reaction to that. We'll see you folks later on today. Thanks.

CHETRY: And President Bush has been saying that this funding feud has to end quickly. If not, U.S. troops will begin paying the price. Is that true?

CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr joins us now with a "Fact Check".

Hi, Barbara. Good to see you.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Kiran.

Well, you know, here at the Pentagon, they always say they stay out of the politics, but, of course, they do have their list of budget cuts that they are beginning to circulate. Let's look right off the top here at a couple of things they say if this goes on that they will have to start cutting back on by May 15th. Here are a couple of the items.

Training for brigade combat teams, those teams that are going to Iraq and Afghanistan Afghanistan, that might be delayed if there's no founding. Tours in Iraq, combat tours in Iraq in Afghanistan, may be extended. And as for new contracts and service orders, spare parts, maintenance, that type of thing, all of that will have to be stopped over time as this funding crisis goes on.

But Kiran, what's the real bottom line here? As we have all discussed, the political common sense is that, of course, some deal, some compromise will be reached. Nobody wants to be held responsible for the troops not having the training and equipment they need. And, of course, the top military brass says, at the end of the day, no one will be deployed to the war without the training and equipment -- Kiran.

CHETRY: What about the impact that the lack of funding can make on the training of Iraqi troops? STARR: Well, you know, that's an interesting question. We haven't heard an lawful lot about that, but as time goes on, if this is not resolved, that's another funding line, another pile of money that will dry up. And there could very possibly be delays in that. And, of course, that's something that the administration doesn't want to see. But the betting money in these hallways, as much as they don't do politics here -- that's what they say, as much as they don't do politics, the betting money is politics will win out at the end of the day and some sort of compromise will be reached -- Kiran.

CHETRY: Barbara Starr for us at the Pentagon.

Thank you.

Well, U.S. and Iraqi officials are still trying to determine if the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq is dead or alive. He's Abu Ayyub al- Masri. Iraq's Interior Ministry first reported yesterday he had been killed. U.S. authorities have not been able to verify that, and now an al Qaeda front organization is denying it.

ROBERTS: The numbers are in this morning. Fewer people did show up to march at immigration rallies across the country yesterday -- 150,000 reported in Chicago, 15,000 in Phoenix, 35,000 in Los Angeles. And in L.A., there were problems. Take a look.

Police officers fired rubber bullets and tear gas at protesters, also whacking a few of them with batons. Several people went to the hospital.

Police moved in after they say protesters began throwing rocks and bottles. The department is promising to take a second look at how its officers responded, just to make sure the application of force was appropriate.

Immigration again front and center tonight. A special "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" town hall meeting will be live in Hazleton, Pennsylvania. A town where city officials have strictly cracked down on illegal immigrants.

Join Lou tonight, 8:00 Eastern, right here on CNN.

CHETRY: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrives in Egypt today for international meetings on the future of Iraq, and the question on everyone's mind, will she bump into her counterpart from Iran?

CNN's Zain Verjee is in Sharm el Sheikh. Secretary Rice is due to arrive in the next hour. Ad so Zain's bringing us an update.

Hi, Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPT. CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Kiran, from Sharm el Sheikh.

Secretary Rice told reporters on the plane that this region has everything at stake. She said, "The most important message that I will be delivering is that a stable, unified and democratic Iraq is an Iraq that will be a pillar of stability in the Middle East."

She's going to be here to ask Arab countries to give a lot more support than they have both financially and diplomatically to Iraq. Sunni-Arab governments have been very skeptical about doing that, Kiran, basically, because they don't like or really trust the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki. They don't like the Shia-dominated government. And they don't like the fact that Sunnis in Iraq haven't been included enough, they say, in the political process.

Now, at this conference, as well, Iraq is going to have its own responsibilities. It's expected to carry out certain economic and political reforms in exchange for international aid -- Kiran.

CHETRY: Now, the fact of the matter is, is the Iranians are at the table. So, is there a chance that she's going to actually meet with the Iranians?

VERJEE: That's going to be the most interesting thing at this conference here in Sharm el Sheikh, Kiran. Secretary Rice said to reporters on the plane that she's ruling out full negotiations, but she's not ruling out any kind of exchange that may happen.

She said, "Look, I'm a polite person. If I run into them, I'm going to talk to them." But the question is, how substantive will those talks be?

She's also said that, you know, if the talks wander a little bit and we get into territory of the nuclear program, she's open to discussing that. She said she can handle any of the questions. She said, "I'm prepared to address them in terms of U.S. Policy." But officials have told us, Kiran, that there's no real plan A, plan B, or plan C here with Secretary Rice and the Iranians. She's really just going to go with the flow.

CHETRY: All right.

Zain Verjee -- that's what you've got to do sometimes -- in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt.

Thanks so much.

ROBERTS: Potential political upheaval in Israel today. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's future is appearing increasingly in doubt today. One poll has his approval numbers at a stunning zero percent. Now a senior member of Olmert's Kadima Party is urging the prime minister to resign.

Our Atika Shubert is live in Jerusalem with the latest from this morning's special cabinet meeting.

Atika, just refresh our memories. How did -- how did it get to this point for Olmert?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you know, John, last year's war in Lebanon did not go well for Israel at all. And a special investigative committee was set up to find out what went wrong, and that report finally came out on Monday, and it put the blame primarily on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

The report said basically that he rushed into a war the country simply was not prepared for. And as a result, the floodgates of criticism opened. Members of his own party, members of his own cabinet are now calling openly for his resignation. Still, however, Prime Minister Olmert says he will not go -- John.

ROBERTS: But Atika, how is this all playing in public? We mentioned that there's one poll that shows him at zero percent, which I've never heard of before. But is there any support for Olmert there in Israel anymore?

SHUBERT: That's right, those are some stunning numbers. The fact is, today's newspaper poll showed that more than 65 percent want the prime minister to resign immediately. Others say they want him to resign later on when the full report comes out.

But clearly, public opinion has been dropping, and there is going to be a big demonstration tomorrow. Thousands are expected to come out in the streets demanding that he step down.

ROBERTS: So really quickly, Atika, if he was to go, who might step in? Some people talk about foreign minister Tzippy Livny. Is it possible that Benjamin Netanyahu could try to wrangle his way in there somewhere?

SHUBERT: Both are possibilities. The key question here is whether or not parliament and the president, if Olmert steps down, are going to be able to come up with a successor quickly.

Tzippy Livny, as you mentioned, is a possibility. So is former prime minister Shimon Peres. But if they can't come up to agreement, then new elections will have to be held, and that is where former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and also possibly Ehud Barak come into play. They both say that they might want another shot at that top job.

ROBERTS: Well, that would be something to see, Peres do another tour of duty as prime minister.

Atika Shubert in Jerusalem.

Thanks. Appreciate it.

CHETRY: Still ahead, tainted pet food, animal feed, and now it's made its way to the human food supply. Can the FDA do enough to protect what you and your family eat? We're going to talk about that.

Also, the world's most popular polar bear with some growing pains. Is he outgrowing what made fans love him so, or is he still the lovable polar bear that the world fell madly, madly in love with.

ROBERTS: The answer to that question, no.

CHETRY: Yes.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Fifteen minutes after the hour. Welcome back to the most news in the morning here on CNN.

Take a look at this still photograph. Wow. Lightning in the skies over Canton, Ohio, on Tuesday as a spring storm moved through.

There is just so much severe weather across the country everywhere you look. Thunderstorms, tornadoes forming.

Chad Myers in the weather center down there in Atlanta.

Chad, and who is in the line of fire today?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It's not the heat, it's the humidity. And that would be Raleigh, North Carolina, right up through Jackson, Kentucky, and even up towards the northern sections of Ohio again there.

The heat was on yesterday. And you draw a line between where the heat is and humidity is, and where the cold air is pushing it back down to the South, saying, wait, it's a little bit too early for you.

Bluefield, West Virginia, 86. Raleigh, 92 yesterday. Asheville 86.

And then you get a storm system in the central part of the plains making flooding rainfall from the Ozarks, right on back down even in to San Antonio. The front is right through Richmond, Virginia, Hampton Roads this morning, and then sinking all the way down into the Carolinas. And this is kind of a back-door frontal system that will come in from the north and from the northeast and bump into that warm air and make storms fire there.

And then, Kiran, for about Fort Smith, right on back down to San Antonio again, more flooding rainfall. Some spots in Texas have picked up 10 inches of rain in the past five days. That's two months' worth of rain, three months' worth of rain in some spots, in five days.

CHETRY: Wow. And the pictures really tell the story from what we saw with the lightning strikes, and also those tornadoes, those funnel clouds.

MYERS: That was a cool shot. If you have something like that, go to cnn.com/ireport and send it to us. Just don't get in trouble. Or, you know, don't put yourself in danger trying to get those shots for us.

CHETRY: True, true.

Chad, thanks so much.

MYERS: Sure. CHETRY: Well, U.S. officials say that tainted wheat gluten from China which sparked the massive pet food recall has now been found in chicken feed on some farms growing poultry for human consumption. They say, though, that the problem poses little threat to humans and that no new recall will be issued. But the problem with tainted food comes as critics say the Food and Drug Administration, which inspects such imports, is woefully understaffed and underfunded.

William Hubbard is a former associate commissioner of the FDA, and he joins me from Washington this morning.

Thanks for being with us today.

WILLIAM HUBBARD, FMR. ASSOCIATE COMMISSIONER, FDA: Good morning, Kiran.

CHETRY: You say that people would be shocked if they knew just how weak the FDA inspection program is. Why do you say that?

HUBBARD: Well, Kiran, the country is being flooded with foreign imports from around the world, including developing countries. And the FDA staff has not increased. In fact, it has been cut to protect our food supply. So I believe there is real risk.

CHETRY: Is that the only line of defense, the FDA, or does the Department of Agriculture and others get involved in these types of -- these types of monitoring?

HUBBARD: Well, the Agriculture Department inspects meat, and they do a good job with that. They're well-resourced. But FDA has 80 percent of the food supply, including all the vegetable proteins that are involved in this pet food issue.

CHETRY: You're right. And we have the numbers here.

Last year, it looks like nine million foot shipments arrived in U.S. ports, but only 20,000 were actually sampled by FDA inspectors. That's less than one percent of all shipments.

How -- you want to ask, how come we haven't seen this before? How come we haven't been in more trouble before if that's how little inspection is going on?

HUBBARD: Well, there have been import problems in the past. They tend to be ignored because people move on.

I would hope that this time this is a wake-up call that this could have been human food, and some people could have died from this. And there needs to be a strengthening of the FDA so that the FDA can do what the public expects it to do.

CHETRY: Yes. And there have been some who spoke and who testified yesterday. I think former commissioner David Kessler had something to say. Let's listen to what he said about the focus of the FDA.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. DAVID KESSLER, FMR. FDA COMMISSIONER: The fact is that the food safety has been a second-tier priority within the FDA.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: So he's saying maybe it should be the Drug Administration and there should be separate Food Administration. Do you agree?

HUBBARD: Well, some people believe that. The FDA's food budget has been cut steadily for the last decade. That needs to not only stop, but be reversed. They need a big boost in funding.

The FDA people are wonderful people. They do a great job. But they're totally overwhelmed by this tremendous volume of imports.

CHETRY: Yes. And in Congress they've introduced legislation that would give the FDA the power to order mandatory recalls of tainted foods and establish early warning systems for them, and for companies, and also fine companies that don't report them earlier.

Will any of that help?

HUBBARD: It may certainly help, but if you don't have the resources, the basic people at the ports to look at this stuff, all these new laws just aren't going to work.

CHETRY: William, can people trust that their food is safe, bottom line?

HUBBARD: I think the food supply is safe, but this is really a marker that we are at risk. And we need to step up and put in place a protective system that enables us to say to the public, someone is looking at your food when it comes in from China or India or anywhere else.

CHETRY: William Hubbard, former associate FDA commissioner.

Thanks so much for your insight today.

HUBBARD: Thank you.

ROBERTS: Twenty minutes now after the hour. Coming up, startling details of a CEO's private life go public. What happens now with one of the world's largest oil companies?

And Knut the polar bear experiencing some growing pains. It seems that he's outgrowing his world famous cuteness. (SPEAKING GERMAN)

Stay with us on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Britney Spears back in the spotlight, back on stage. She showed up at the House of Blues in San Diego for an unpublicized concert. It's her first in nearly three years.

In the last few months, Spears has gone through a divorce. She had two kids -- well, she had a couple of stints in rehab, one trip to a hair salon, some tattoos.

She's wearing a wig there. She also sang five songs last night, including her timeless classic, "Hit Me Baby One More Time".

That is on your iPod.

ROBERTS: It is. Absolutely. In fact, it's on solid repeat.

Speaking of things that used to be cute, not so much anymore, remember Knut the cute little polar bear rescued by German zookeepers after his mother abandoned him? Well, he is now almost five months old, and the past few weeks have not been so kind to Knut.

Now that he's growing into an adolescent, he's getting a little more bear-like. Now 37 pounds, twice what he weighed when he first stole hearts around the world. And that cute little stubby nose of him showing the first hints of an adult muzzle there.

Many people still find Knut very endearing. Twenty-five thousand people dropped by to visit him last weekend.

He's still got a little bit to go, but soon he'll just be Knut the bear, and not Knut the cute bear.

CHETRY: Yes. Well, that's if you don't think adult polar bears are cute. But they are.

ROBERTS: Until they eat you.

CHETRY: Yes.

ROBERTS: Then they're not so cute anymore.

CHETRY: That's the one difference, is he was running after his little trainers and being pet. That stops...

ROBERTS: Now he'll be running after them.

CHETRY: ... very quickly. Exactly.

Well, it's 25 past the hour, and Polly LaBarre is in for Ali. She is "Minding Your Business" this morning.

Hi. Good to see you.

POLLY LABARRE, BUSINESS JOURNALIST: Good to see you.

CHETRY: You're talking about another scandal?

LABARRE: Well, yes. And so the exit of the CEO of British Petroleum is competing for Rupert Murdoch's bid, $5 billion bid for Dow Jones. And the headlines is bracing business news. Not as exciting as Britney Spears, but, you know, it's some scandalous stuff.

CHETRY: Right. She's on the opposite.

LABARRE: Right. She's below the fold there.

(CROSSTALK)

LABARRE: So, John Browne is the larger than life CEO of British Petroleum who has just resigned abruptly over personal revelations that are coming off -- coming out about an affair he had, a four-year relationship with a man. More importantly, that he lied about it in court proceedings over the last few months. Now, I think what is really going on is he thinks the business has been having a series of problems over the last few months and he was already going to be forced to resign early.

Now, this is an organization that was -- created at $200 million makeover over the last decade, from a second-rate oil company to one of the biggest and most successful global companies out there in the world. And John Browne really took a leadership role in environmental leadership, changing it from British Petroleum to BP.

CHETRY: To BP. And we saw the commercials, and they would talk about all the things they were doing to develop alternative energy sources.

LABARRE: Right. Right.

And when you set yourself up there larger than life, you're going to take the fallout when you make yourself vulnerable to these kinds of problems.

So, I will be back at 55 after the hour with a conversation around the new transparency in the business world. So we'll talk about that a little bit.

CHETRY: Sounds good. Polly, thanks so much.

LABARRE: Thanks a lot.

ROBERTS: Twenty-seven minutes after the hour right now. The top stories of the morning are coming up next.

The $65 million question: How much could a pair of pants really be worth? This is a really crazy lawsuit that you just have to hear about.

And chaos on the streets of Los Angeles. An immigration protest turns violent. Did it have to end like this?

You're watching AMERICAN MORNING. The most news in the morning is on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Strategy session. An urgent meeting at the White House this afternoon to hammer out a solution to a war-funding showdown. The president speaking out this morning and sitting down with Democrats to try to strike a compromise on this AMERICAN MORNING.

And good morning to you, it's Wednesday, May 2nd. I'm John Roberts.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR, AMERICAN MORNING: And I'm Kiran Chetry. The stories on our radar this morning. Mayhem at a May Day immigration rally. Was it handled properly? Our cameras were there and apparently some of the people that were lining up for that rally were throwing bottles and rocks at police. They launched, as you can see there, some rubber bullets and we captured a lot of what went on. So we're going to talk more about whether or not that situation was handled right. All in all though, relatively quiet. There were no other problems at May Day rallies, a lot smaller than last year, as well.

ROBERTS: Bill Bratton, who used to be the New York City police commissioner, now is the LA police department commissioner said he's going to look into that, make sure everything was as it should have been and that what excessive force was not used against the protesters.

Also, here's a story making the rounds around the water cooler today, a dry cleaner loses a judge's pants and now he wants the cleaner to pay for the pants, no, for the pants, the shirt, the house, the BMW, $65 million.

CHETRY: That's just silly.

ROBERTS: Well, one would think. This is a judge, don't forget. Judge would seem to think that there are some certain bounds of a lawsuit, maybe he can fit himself within those.

CHETRY: I know Judge Judy or Judge Alex, they would throw that right out of their courtroom.

ROBERTS: This is not going to go before Judge Judy, is it?

CHETRY: I guess not.

If you have anything that you want to know about, about the news, about stories that we cover, more detail, how we cover them, we want to hear from you. Ask AM, e-mail us your questions or any suggestions at am@cnn.com. We're going to pick some of them. We're going to find out the info for you and then give you the answers as we go along here on AMERICAN MORNING.

ROBERTS: Looking forward to that. This afternoon at the White House, President Bush sits down with leaders from both parties trying to find a compromise in the war funding bill, but the president has already made it clear that he's not going to accept any legislation with a deadline for troop withdrawal. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It makes no sense to tell the enemy when you plan to start withdrawing. All the terrorists would have to do is mark their calendars and gather their strength and begin plotting how to overthrow the government and take control of the country of Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: So, what comes next? Joining me now from Washington is Michigan Senator Carl Levin. He's the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Good to see you Senator Levin.

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D) MICHIGAN: Good morning.

ROBERTS: So what is your reaction to the president's veto yesterday?

LEVIN: What he did was veto the will of the American people last November, that we should find our way out of Iraq, that we've got to begin to reduce our troop presence because there's no military solution in Iraq. There's only a political solution and only the Iraqis can reach it. He also vetoed in effect the pressure that Congress is putting on those Iraqi leaders to take responsibility for their own country. Instead of risking some of their political advantage, our troops continue to risk their lives every day, but the Iraqi leaders will not take political risk. As a matter of fact, apparently they're planning a two-month vacation.

ROBERTS: So where do you go from here? You can't get a bill with deadlines, what is your fall-back position?

LEVIN: I think what we obviously are going to need to do is to try to find, actually ask the president whether or not he's willing to tell the Iraqis that they must keep the commitments that they made. These are their benchmarks, their commitments to reach a political settlement in terms of power sharing and resource sharing and the provincial elections, setting a date for that. Will the president tell the Iraqis, as the Iraq Study Group recommended, this was a bipartisan study group, tell the Iraqis in no uncertain terms that they must meet their own benchmarks, their own commitments or there will be fallout. There will be some response on our part and what the Iraq Study Group recommends in terms of consequences, if the Iraqis fail to carry out their commitments, the Iraq Study Group says that we should then begin to cut military and economic aid to Iraq. Will the president go along with the Iraq Study Group?

ROBERTS: Well, the president did, in a way, go along with the Iraq Study Group, Senator Levin, in that the Iraq Study Group did recommend a temporary increase in the number of troops to try to bring more security, particularly to the Baghdad area. General Petraeus was up there last week talking to you and other members of Congress about the situation there. You voted for him for his confirmation, it was unanimous. There were no nays when he was confirmed for the position that he is in, yet here a couple of months into his tenure, you're saying we don't believe you. We don't think the so-called surge is working. We want to get troops out. Why aren't you giving him the time that he wants to be able to determine if he can bring stability to the country?

LEVIN: General Petraeus is qualified. The issue here are the policies of this administration. Right now it is an open-ended commitment to the Iraqis. We have not forced them with any kind of consequences, if they fail to meet their commitments to meet those commitments and since there is only a political solution, no military solution in Iraq and even General Petraeus acknowledges that, we've got to keep the pressure on the Iraqis and on the leadership there. We've also got to keep the pressure on the president. Even Secretary of Defense Gates, by the way, just said the other day something, which every American should take to heart, which is that Congress' timetable probably has a positive effect in terms of putting pressure on the Iraqi leaders. By God, we got to keep the pressure on those leaders. Only they can reach a political settlement and only that political settlement can end the violence in Iraq.

ROBERTS: I think that there is a growing consensus that you do have to keep pressure on the Iraqis. It is the way in which you do it. Last week I had Congressman John Murtha on. I said to him, what do you think would happen if U.S. troops were to begin to pull out of Iraq. He said he thought the situation would get more stable because the U.S. presence wouldn't be there any more. But take a listen to what our correspondent Michael Ware told Wolf Blitzer yesterday. Michael Ware has been living in Iraq since the war, more than four years now and here is his perspective on what - also what the Iraqi people are saying about what would happen if U.S. troops were to begin to pull out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Should America pack up tonight and leave tomorrow morning and be gone with empty bases, the blood would flow.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: So, Senator Levin, where are you on this? If you begin to pull out U.S. troops, do things get better in Iraq or do they get worse?

LEVIN: The key words there were if we pull out tomorrow and pack up tonight. Those are the key words that should end quote in your question. Of course, you can't pack up tonight and pull out tomorrow. That's why our resolution says that we're going to give the Iraqi leaders four months to reach a political settlement of the issues that they agreed to address four months ago. They promised to divide resources, have a constitutional convention, amend their constitutional convention. They made those promises 14 different milestones, excuse me, benchmarks. They made those commitments to be carried out last December and January. They have failed to carry out their political commitments. Their own prime minister says the reason that the bloodshed continues in Iraq is the failure of the Iraqi political leaders. They are the only ones who can solve this problem. We cannot save them from themselves. We should give them a four-month period in which to reach those political settlements and the way to force that is to tell them we're going to reduce our military presence in four months, not tonight, not tomorrow morning.

ROBERTS: Senator Levin, there's just one other issue I think that needs to be addressed. There is this new nexus between al Qaeda and Iraq and al Qaeda in south Asia, particularly in the new camps that have been cropping up in Pakistan. If the American military were to leave Iraq and you were to leave al Qaeda with a tremendous degree of influence, as they have right now, would that not be putting America in a position where it could actually be in more danger than it was prior to 9/11, because al Qaeda is creating a new group of leaders who actually have real-time combat experience?

LEVIN: Well, there was no al Qaeda in Iraq before the president decided to attack Iraq --

ROBERTS: I didn't say there was, but there is now.

LEVIN: I'll get to your question. Now that they're there, the resolution, which we adopted that the president just vetoed yesterday, provided that we would keep a limited number of troops in Iraq for exactly that purpose to go after al Qaeda. But the only way to get al Qaeda out of Iraq and it can be done with our help that we provide for that help in our resolution, is if the Iraqi political leaders decide that they want to have a nation instead of a civil war. They can get rid of al Qaeda with our help. Al Qaeda is going to stay there unless the Iraqi political leaders put together this settlement.

ROBERTS: Senator Levin, thank you very much for your time sir. It's always good to see you, appreciate it.

CHETRY: The numbers are in this morning and fewer people did show at immigration rallies across the country. The largest was in Chicago, 150,000 reported there. That was down from from about 400 to 700,000 by estimates last year. But take a look at this, this is video on the streets of Los Angeles. Police say only about 25,000 to 35,000 people came out there compared to several hundred thousand last year and it ended badly. It ended with some clashes. Police in riot gear, clashing with protesters in Macarthur Park after rocks and bottles were thrown. They fired rubber bullets into the crowd.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The people wanted a peaceful march to demand full (INAUDIBLE) and amnesty. What they're doing, they're psychologically torturing the people so they can go ahead and think this is a police state, riot. All we wanted is to walk (INAUDIBLE) demanding full immigration rights.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: LAPD Chief William Bratton defended the action, but he said that he will be looking into exactly what happened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHIEF WILLIAM BRATTON, LOS ANGELES POLICE: It is a very large incident that occurred here in a very large geographic area and we will, as we always do, investigate this thoroughly, completely and we will go where the truth takes us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: Fire officials say that three people were taken to the hospital and several more were treated at the scene. No one suffered any serious injuries.

Also outside of Los Angeles, there were no major problems reported at any of the immigration rallies held across the country Tuesday. The majority of people marched peacefully. Crowds were a lot smaller than last year as we said. Organizers say it's because they think a lot of the illegal immigrants stayed home out of fear they would be arrested.

Immigration, again, front and center tonight. A special Lou Dobbs tonight town hall meeting live in Hazelton, Pennsylvania. It's a town where city officials have strictly cracked down on illegal immigrants. You can join Lou tonight 8:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

Now to the case of the $65 million pants. It began years ago when a dry cleaner lost a pair of pants. The owner of the pants a judge in Washington, DC. He sued for $1,500 a day for every day that a satisfaction guaranteed sign hung in the door. He also wants $500,000 for emotional damages, another $500,000 for legal fees. He also wants them to pay for a rental car that he leased for the last 10 years because he says he had to drive to another dry cleaner. (INAUDIBLE) This guy is a creep. These poor people, they offered him $15,000 to settle for one pair of pants.

ROBERTS: He suffered emotional damage.

CHETRY: So have they, apparently.

ROBERTS: Must have been a very special pair of pants.

CHETRY: Apparently. But he wants to argue and he is arguing in court that they should pay for a rental car that he had to lease for 10 years to drive to a different dry cleaner.

ROBERTS: I don't think he's going to get the $65 mill, but he might get 25 grand.

CHETRY: I hope he never is hearing any cases that you or I bring before the courts.

ROBERTS: Certainly none that are in litigation like that. News that may help you really enjoy that morning cup of coffee today. The health benefits may be bigger than we thought. That's coming up next.

And take this question to the office. Do left-handed women have shorter life spans? Surprising new research next on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Fifteen minutes before the top of the hour. We're checking in with Chad Myers now with a look at some of the extreme weather. The rain, the rain won't stop in Texas.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It certainly won't. That low just will not move away and that low is pumping up in the east of it, very warm air. Bluefield, West Virginia yesterday broke a record at 86, Spencer, Iowa, 92. So was Raleigh Durham, North Carolina. The low still making rain from New Mexico all the way northward even into Missouri. Kansas City picking up some showers, so is Little Rock this morning. This area, although dry right now will fill in later on this afternoon and evening with severe weather. An area that usually is unlikely for severe weather this time. We know severe weather is going to happen in tornado alley. That's why they named it that. But here along this frontal boundary from southern Virginia right on down to the low country of South Carolina, showers and storms are going to fire up and could bring some wind damage there and also some small hail. John, back to you.

ROBERTS: Hey, thanks very much.

Some headlines this morning in health news and some good news about that morning cup of coffee. Researchers say that coffee can help ward off type two diabetes and even prevent certain types of cancers. The findings are report today in the American Society for Nutrition.

Get this, left-handed women are more prone to certain diseases and in general have a shorter life span than right-handed women according to Dutch researchers. The evidence is not conclusive and certainly could be a coincidence, but several studies have shown a link between left-handedness and certain disorders. I remember other studies about left handedness, that because you live in a right-hand oriented world, sometimes in certain emergency situations left-handed people can't react as quickly and therefore, suffer shorter life spans.

CHETRY: So we're down on the left-handed --

ROBERTS: I'm not down on the left-handed people. I'm just pointing it out.

CHETRY: I still remember in elementary school John, they had left-handed scissors for the kids.

ROBERTS: At least they made the accommodation.

CHETRY: That's right. They sure did. They tried.

It all stared with cats and dogs. Then it spread to pigs and chickens and now the chemical melamine has entered the human food supply. Are we at risk? For the latest, we're paging Dr. Sanjay Gupta in Atlanta this morning. The news was I think that the feed that they fed to chickens apparently had some of this melamine in it and that somehow entered into our food supply, eventually.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right, Kiran. Some new numbers as well come coming in this morning talking about that wheat gluten that was contaminated with melamine now finding its way into chicken feed. It sound like there are 38 different poultry farms in Indiana that actually had some of that contaminated feed in with the chicken feed there. A couple things about that, how many chickens may have been affected by this. Again, some newer numbers there, about 2.5 to three million chickens they estimate, probably ate some of that tainted contaminated feed and then they subsequently entered the food supply. Now, that may seem like a huge number, I thought it was a big number. But in fact there's about nine billion chickens slaughtered every year, so, relatively small number. The chickens that ate that contaminated feed are already in the food supply. The FDA thinks they probably already been consumed as well. No chicken recall has been issued here because of that and the FDA specifically saying the risk is very, very low for any humans to actually be affected by this or to get sick Kiran, as well.

CHETRY: What is your advice for consumers?

GUPTA: Well, you know, I think that there is very little that you can actually do about this. First of all, you don't know specifically, the FDA is not telling you specifically where the chickens, the chickens that you find in your stores if they were contaminated or not. So there's really nothing you can do. But to keep in mind, instead, that there is this dilution factor. First of all, pets just eat pet food. We as humans eat lots of different foods. So even if you had some of that chicken that may have been contaminated with a little bit of the melamine, you have lots of different foods so you start to dilute it. Also, the chickens ate it first and they usually excrete a lot of the melamine out. So the idea that you would get a high enough concentration of melamine from this feed into your system, very, very small. I guess the best advice and what we're hearing from everybody that we talk to is probably not to worry about this, unlikely to affect you.

CHETRY: All right. We'll cross it off our list of worries then today. Thank you Sanjay. Good to see you.

GUPTA: All right, thanks.

CHETRY: If you have any questions about food safety, send them Sanjay's way. You can head to our website, cnn.com/americanmorning and Sanjay will answer your questions tomorrow morning.

ROBERTS: Ahead, you won't find the good book, but you'll find a copy of Al Gore's book at a new kind of hotel in California. We'll show you next on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... my second trip to Colombia, my first to your capital and it was a very special occasion and we thank you and the first lady for such gracious hospitality.

Secondly, we had a discussion today about an important vote that our Congress must take and that is a vote to confirm a free trade agreement with Colombia. This agreement is good for the United States. It's good for job creators, farmers, workers. This agreement is good for Colombia. It's good for a job creators and workers and farmers. This agreement has strategic implications. It is very important for this nation to stand with democracies that protect human rights and human dignity. Democracy is based upon the rule of law. So the free trade agreement with Colombia, Peru and Panama, these agreements are more than just trade votes. They're signals to South America that we stand with nations that are willing to make hard decisions on behalf of the people.

ROBERTS: So President Bush there talking about an upcoming vote in Congress saying nothing about his veto of the Iraq supplemental yesterday or where things are going today. But later on this morning, he is speaking with the Associated General Contractors of America, 9:45 Eastern. He will have that speech and then at 2:30 this afternoon, he is meeting with leaders of both the House and Senate on the Republican and the Democratic side. We'll carry the speech live and we'll be reporting on what the results of that meeting were when it comes up this afternoon. President Bush expected to try to reach some sort of compromise with Democratic leaders in Congress. We'll see if he does.

Some political headlines now, a new campaign poll shows John McCain leading his Republican presidential rivals in some key states. The American Research Group poll shows that McCain is ahead of Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. What a comeback, three early primary states there. On the democratic side, John Edwards leads Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in Iowa. Clinton though is ahead of both Obama and Edwards in New Hampshire and South Carolina. CNN's dance card is now full for two presidential debates that we'll be hosting early next month in the Granite State, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton agreed to participate yesterday so now all eight Democratic candidates are onboard for June 3rd and all 10 republicans on for June 5th. That's at Anselm (ph) College in New Hampshire.

CHETRY: Well, in the race to be green, one California hotel is pulling out all the stops. In addition to the low flow toilets, solar lighting and recycled paper, visitors to this hotel in Napa Valley will find a copy of Al Gore's book, "Global Warming, an Inconvenient Truth" on the nightstand, that in place of a bible. The hotel is also looking to become the first in California certified by the U.S. green buildings council. They also have something called waterless urinals in that hotel.

ROBERTS: Those would be good, wouldn't they?

It was a devastating accident, but what if it hadn't been an accident at all? How easy is to turn trucks into rolling bombs. Our next guest says it's too easy. You're watching AMERICAN MORNING. The most news in the morning is on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Coming up to three minutes before the top of the hour and Polly Labarre (ph) is in for Ali Velshi "Minding Your Business" today. And it seems like the blog phenomenon has caught on even with the CEOs. POLLY LABARRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think you have to assume as a CEO that you live in a full disclosure economy. Every e-mail, every memo, every voice mail is going to get out there in the web and the blogosphere anyway. So the most progressive CEOs are realizing, I better embrace this. I better put information out there and practice openness and transparency rather than trying to control it and control my image. So blogs are one way to do it.

CHETRY: It seems like there would be a lot of pitfalls to the blogs, as well. You have to watch what you have to say.

LABARRE: I think the key is, are you a natural? It's the same reason that some CEOs should not be the star of their own television commercials (INAUDIBLE) not be the star of their own blog. Really great example of one that works is John Mackey (ph) of Whole Foods, (INAUDIBLE) the grocery store that's reinvented the way we all shop for groceries and how much we pay for groceries. He has a blog where he really discusses important issues that they stand for as a company. Whether it's health, the environment, the compassionate treatment of animals and he's really out there with his views and engaging in public debate and dialogue as opposed to just sort of putting up PR spins.

CHETRY: He does address some of the controversy because there are some who say, hey, what happened to the -- you guys welcoming the local farmers or you getting away from that at Whole Foods.

LABARRE: He's made that a real conversation. He's created actual public forums. He's had dial ups with Michael Pollan (ph), the author and really been very honest about it. He made changes about it. So I think that's the right way to do a blog as opposed to the sort of let's do a PR statement.

CHETRY: Exactly. You say Southwest Airlines also is one that has effectively done this.

LABARRE: Sure, it's a group blog. The CEO, flight attendants, pilots, they all get in on the game and make posts. Again, they discuss really important issues like are they going to change their seating policy or how does the reservation system work. Again, they engage in real issues. They're open. They're honest and it's true to their personality.

CHETRY: Pretty interesting.

LABARRE: So I'll be back at 55 after the hour to talk about some really radical vacation policies some companies are incorporating.

CHETRY: We'll look forward to that. Polly thanks so much.

In the next hour of AMERICAN MORNING, starts right now.

ROBERTS: Exit strategy. The president and Congress look for a way out of their war-spending impasse.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody gets out of the room today at the White House until there is an agreement.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Plus, edge of disaster. One accident exposes just how vulnerable we are and where we need to tighten up on this AMERICAN MORNING.

And it's Wednesday, May 2nd. Welcome to AMERICAN MORNING: I'm John Roberts.

CHETRY: And I'm Kiran Chetry. We have some stories on our radar this morning. One of them is the aftermath of some of the immigration rallies. Particularly in LA, there was some sort of debacle that took place here. It looked like riot police were shooting rubber bullets after apparently, at least according to witnesses, rocks and bottles were thrown.

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