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AMERICAN MORNING

GOP Moderates Demand Results on Iraq; Tony Blair Stepping Aside; Local Elections in Iraq

Aired May 10, 2007 - 06:59   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR (voice over): Friendly fire. Moderate Republicans warn the White House time is running out on Iraq. Is it a turning point? What happens next?

Plus, outbreak. A highly-contagious illness races through daycare centers, making hundreds of toddlers sick.

The health alert ahead on this AMERICAN MORNING.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHETRY: And good morning to you once again. It is Thursday, May 10th.

I'm Kiran Chetry.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Roberts.

Thanks very much for joining us. Always good to have you with us.

Stories on our radar this morning.

(NEWSBREAK)

ROBERTS: British Prime Minister Tony Blair is about to make a major announcement. He's stepping down as head of the Labour Party. That means that the party will choose a new leader who will then take over as prime minister. That might happen in about two months' time.

Blair has led Great Britain for 10 years, but like President Bush, his policy on Iraq cost him his popularity.

He's in his home district of Sedgefield right now, about 240 miles north of London, for the announcement. And we'll take it live just as soon as it begins.

CHETRY: And back in Washington, we are learning about an extraordinary meeting at the White House, and the most significant pressure yet on President Bush to rethink Iraq policy. A group of House Republicans, moderate House Republicans sat down with the president this week, and in a "candid and frank discussion," they told him that the voters back home are running out of patience, want to see some positive results, or maybe even a change soon. We go live to Ed Henry at the White House with more on this meeting.

Why are they calling it so extraordinary, Ed?

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Kiran.

Clearly, it's extraordinary because this really reflects the growing angst in the Republican Party about a lack of progress on the ground in Iraq. That's part of the reason, as well, Vice President Cheney has been in Iraq for the past couple of days, trying to send a stern message to Prime Minister Maliki that it's really time to step up, that the clock is ticking. And it's not just ticking in Iraq, it's ticking back here.

That's what this meeting showed.

Now, it's not completely unexpected that some of these lawmakers would be speaking out. As you noted, they are moderate Republicans. They have previously, some of them, said that they were not too keen on this idea of sending more U.S. troops to Iraq. So, they've been on record as having concerns.

But the fact that they all came together Tuesday afternoon here at the White House, sat down directly with President Bush, as well as Secretary of State Rice, Karl Rove, and others, really shows the fact that a political earthquake is bubbling in Washington.

It's not just Democrats going after the president anymore. It's Republicans privately and now publicly really prodding and pushing him.

The question is, where is this on the political Richter scale? At this point, I think it's probably a 3.0, a 4.0. It will get to a 7.0, 8.0 if you get more senior lawmakers than some of these more junior members stepping up.

And as well, as you showed in that graphic, John Boehner, the House minority leader, was in this meeting, though he says that he wasn't really expressing the same concerns as the moderates.

CHETRY: Right.

HENRY: He was just bringing them along. But if John Boehner and other leaders start coming out saying what these moderates are, it's going to be really tough for the president, obviously.

CHETRY: And Ed, we are going to cut it short there because we are just seeing Tony Blair step up to the microphone. And as we know, today is going to be an historic day. Ten years of his leadership coming to an end.

Let's listen.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS) TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: ... to meet exceptional people. And he is one exceptional person.

And also, if I may refer to another exceptional person, is my wife, friend, and partner, Cherie.

(APPLAUSE)

BLAIR: And the children, of course, Euan and Nicky and Kathryn and Leo, who make me never forget my failings, but give me great love and support.

So, I've come back here to Sedgefield, to my constituency, where my political journey began and where it's fitting that it should end.

Today I announce my decision to stand down from the leadership of the Labour Party. The party will now select a new leader. On the 27th of June, I will tender my resignation from the Office of Prime Minister to the queen.

I've been prime minister of this country for just over 10 years. In this job, in the world of today...

CHETRY: All right. It looks like we've got a little blip there with the audio. We're going to -- it's back.

BLAIR: ... is to set it down.

It's difficult in a way to know how to make this speech. There's obviously judgments to be made on my premiership. And in the end, that is for you, the people, to make.

I can only describe what I think has been done over these last 10 years, and perhaps more important, why I tried to do it. And I never quite put it in this way before.

I was born almost a decade after the Second World War. I was a young man in the social revolution of the '60s and '70s. I reached political maturity as the Cold War was ending and the world was going through a political and an economic and a technological revolution.

And I looked at my own country, a great country, a wonderful history, magnificent traditions, proud of its past, but strangely uncertain of its future. Uncertain about the future. Almost old- fashioned. And all that was curiously symbolized, you know, in the politics of the time.

You -- you had choices. You stood for individual aspiration or -- and getting on in life, or social compassion and helping others. You were liberal in your values or conservative. You believed in the power of the state or the efforts of the individual. Spending more money on the public realm was the answer or it was the problem.

And none of it made sense to me.

It was 20th century ideology in a world approaching a new millennium. Of course people want the best for themselves and their families, but in an age where human capital is the nation's greatest asset, they also know it's just insensible to extend opportunities, to develop the potential to succeed for all our people, not just an elite at the top.

And people today are open-minded about race and sexuality. They're averse to prejudice. And yet deeply, rightly, conservative with a small "c" when it comes to good manners, respect for others, respect for others, treating people courteously.

They acknowledge the need for the state and the responsibility of the individual. And they know spending money on our public services matters, and they know it's not enough.

CHETRY: All right. We were listening now to a little bit of British Prime Minister Tony Blair announcing that he is stepping aside, giving his resignation after a decade as the head of the U.K.

We're going to dip back into it when we hear more from him about the specifics. But meantime, let's go to Ed Henry, live at the White House.

You know, he came into office with such euphoria a decade ago, Ed, and then the cloud of the Iraq war has really chipped away at Tony Blair's popularity with the British people.

HENRY: Absolutely. And when you think back to 2001, there was a lot said here in the United States questioning a lot of people in both parties, wondering, how is Tony Blair going to get along with George W. Bush? Because Blair, as you know, had such a close bond with Bill Clinton. How was he going to get along with a Republican president?

As it turned out, he was George W. Bush's key alley, his most important friend on the world stage throughout the Iraq war, the war in Afghanistan as well. And as you note, that's ultimately what brought Tony Blair down. And for President Bush, the impact is real.

His best friend on the world stage is now leaving. The only one left is John Howard from Australia.

The prime minister is also very close to President Bush, has been stalwart as well as an ally in the war on terror, but John Howard facing a tough re-election battle of his own in Australia. So, that may make other world leaders take a look and say, boy, if you get too close to President Bush, especially in the war in Iraq, what does that mean for you politically back home?

Now, White House officials point out that there are others emerging on the world stage. For example, in Germany, you have Angela Merkel now, the chancellor who is also forging a close bond with the president. That's much different than her predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, who, as you know, was not a good ally to President Bush.

And then in France, with the election now, you have Jacques Chirac leaving the stage. He never got along with President Bush. Now you have someone coming to the stage who might get along a little bit better at least with the president -- Kiran.

CHETRY: Right. Sarkozy there.

But, you know, forget international politics for a second. I mean, the fact of the matter is, is you have a big bloc of GOP moderates who are telling President Bush, you know, we're not going to undermine you when it comes to this war funding, but we do want to let you know this is not an open-ended commitment of support when it comes to the Iraq war, our constituents won't allow it to be.

HENRY: That's right. It seems the bottom line from Tuesday's meeting that President Bush had with these Republican moderates is, in the short term, these moderates are venting, they're angry, they're concerned, but they are sticking with the president on this war funding bill. But it's that big caveat, as you know, for now.

The bottom line is, they are all pointing to the president to this date of September, which General Petraeus has said that's when he will come up with a progress report. And these moderate Republicans are saying, look, by the fall, if there's not major progress, there's going to have to be a change in policy.

Very ominous for the White House because the clock is ticking. They have a very small window here to turn things around in Iraq -- Kiran.

CHETRY: Ed Henry at the White House for us today.

Thanks.

HENRY: Thank you.

ROBERTS: As you just saw just a couple of minutes ago, Tony Blair makes it official. He says that he is stepping aside as the party leader, and, therefore, as Britain's prime minister.

Coming up next, CNN's Christiane Amanpour joins us to talk about the Blair era, its legacy, and where Britain and American relations between the two -- relations between the two countries are headed.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: British Prime Minister Tony Blair is stepping down as the head of the Labour Party. That means that he will step down as prime minister when the party finds a replacement. The official date that he will be stepping down is June the 27th. The announcement came just a few minutes ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLAIR: I've come back here to Sedgefield, to my constituency, where my political journey began and where it's fitting that it should end. Today I announce my decision to stand down from the leadership of the Labour Party. The party will now select a new leader on the 27th of June. I will tender my resignation from the Office of Prime Minister to the queen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: After 10 years of highs and lows, how will the history books remember Tony Blair?

Christiane Amanpour is our chief international correspondent. She joins me now from London.

Christiane, is Tony Blair going to be remembered more for what he did for Britain, or as he has been derogatorily called, as President Bush's lapdog?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think he's going to be remembered for a lot. This is right now the end of an era.

Tony Blair made his departure and his farewell at his home constituency of Sedgefield. There they really love him.

There was emotion, there was a standing ovation, there were claps. And the old exuberant smile and bounce in Tony Blair's step was on display.

He said that in the last 10 years, Britain has really undergone a transformtive change. He talked about how the old sclerotic leadership of the past had now been turned into a dynamic new future. He said when he came to the helm it was about judging Britain's proud past and its history with what had seemed up to then an uncertain future. And he listed a whole set of accomplishments by which he now said Britain is now a leader today and not a follower.

The speech is still going on.

His popularity level has sunk considerably over the last several years, mostly and really because of his close association with Tony -- with George Bush, and most particularly because that association has been a failed policy. And I'm talking about the Iraq war.

Certainly that legacy will be a millstone around his neck and will damage and dampen the look back at the considerable achievements he has made in Britain, not just in Britain's foreign policy, but also in its domestic policy.

In short, under the last 10 years, Britain has become economically viable, has the best and most vibrant economy in Europe. It has, you know, one of the least inflations, one of the lowest interest rates. As I say, the highest economy, and it's a place where people all over Europe want to come.

Many European leaders when they go into elections look to Blairizing their parties, to making them electable. He took a virtually unelectable Labour Party from 18 years in the wilderness to three successive victories. And one of those after the Iraq war.

So, this is a considerable strong politician who has had a deep imprint on Britain in many ways. Unfortunately, the Iraq War is going to be a deep, deep shadow over his legacy -- John.

ROBERTS: And Christiane, what impact do you think this is going to have on U.S.-British relations? Gordon Brown, chancellor of the Exchequer, who is expected to be chosen the next leader of the Labour Party, who will then become prime minister, vacations in Cape Cod. But will he not be under some pressure to show a little more independence than Tony Blair did?

AMANPOUR: I think a little more independence, but I think Britain has clearly staked out its role as a chief Atlanticist. That is Britain's role. You can see that certainly under Tony Blair, and, of course, before that, with the conservative government of Margaret Thatcher, and the predecessors, Britain has staked out its position that it is an Atlanticist country, it stands with the United States.

What I think people regret here is not the close association with the United States, but the fact that this particular association, man to man, was at the expense of British and, of course, American prestige, influence, authority. This Iraq war, unfortunately, the way it's turned out, has been a negative impact for British projection of power, American projection of power, credibility, influence, prestige, and all the great values these two nations stand for. And I think that is what people here regret more than anything else.

This is, of course, a warrior nation. When it came to going to war, people stood behind Tony Blair. It's when it started to deteriorate that people's, you k now, feelings about the whole situation came out.

ROBERTS: So, Christiane, quickly, do you think that Gordon Brown may be more inclined to side with Democrats on the war than the White House, thinking that the Democrats may well win the next election?

AMANPOUR: Well, you know, obviously Labour, the Labour Party and the Democratic Party, are more historically aligned. But it will be -- it will be to see who actually does win the next election in the United States. But I think British policy will stay the same.

Gordon Brown is not going to go out right now and say, I hope that Republicans win. He is going to be elated, if, in fact, he does become prime minister. But obviously, historically, the policies to the left of center -- but really, actually they brought them to the center -- are more in common.

ROBERTS: All right. Christiane Amanpour, our chief international correspondent outside the British parliament for us this morning.

Christiane, thanks very much.

CHETRY: President Bush said he wanted to see provincial elections in Iraq. So is Iraq anywhere near ready for them? We get a reality check on that benchmark up next.

Also, Rudy Giuliani taking heat for his response to the abortion question. Now he's making himself crystal clear where he stands. We're going to talk more about how that will affect his chances as the GOP nominee coming up on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Vice President Dick Cheney is in Iraq. He actually spent the night there. The highest U.S. official to do so since the war started. And he is pressing Iraqi leaders to move ahead with reforms.

All week we have been looking at the benchmarks set out by President Bush. The goals, the ones that Iraqis needed to reach to achieve so that U.S. troops could eventually come home.

Well, today's benchmark, progress on provincial elections.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To empower local leaders, Iraqis plan to hold provincial elections later this year.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: All right.

When we talk about later this year, is that now?

CNN's Arwa Damon is in Baghdad.

How about the progress on holding these provincial elections, Arwa?

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kiran, hypothetically speaking, this could actually happen. However, it would require parliament forming a committee and passing a law about the logistics of these elections by June. The likelihood of that happening is rather iffy, especially if we take a look at parliament's ability to actually pass these sorts of laws.

Let's take today's parliament session as an example.

There was a heated debate about the security crisis happening in Diyala, the new frontline in the fight with al Qaeda. Parliamentarians was screaming at one another. One woman member of parliament stood up and demanded that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki be brought into parliament and held accountable for the security crisis in Diyala and throughout all of Iraq.

This led to an even further debate about what was happening throughout the country, and eventually the speaker of parliament stood up and berated the members of parliament, saying to them flat out, 75 percent of you are responsible for the killings and for the displacement of people in this country. This eventually ended up in complete and total chaos, and the session was brought to an abrupt end, once again illustrating just how difficult it is to try to pass through any sort of legislation in this country right now -- Kiran.

CHETRY: So, when you talk about the thing that is causing the biggest amount of conflict there in the parliament -- and, of course, it's the security situation -- the common wisdom has been, if you can bring some of these militant factions into the political fold, maybe they will put down their arms, try to have a say in their government.

Is that realistic?

DAMON: Well, Kiran, that is essentially the premise for trying to hold these provincial elections.

Basically, back in 2005, most of Iraq's Sunni population voted on the national level, but boycotted the provincial elections. So the logic behind holding provincial elections, which the government fully accepts, that the provincial councils are not representative of the populations, the logic is that by re-holding these provincial elections, more Sunnis will participate, they will be more involved in their provincial councils, and they will have more stake in the future of their own nation.

The hope behind that, of course, is to bring down the levels of violence, especially amongst the Sunni insurgency. But again, we have to underscore the reality that the Iraqi government, the Iraqi parliament right now, is essentially paralyzed and not capable of pushing forward through the necessary legislation.

CHETRY: Wow. OK.

Arwa Damon, a reality check for us. Thank you so much.

And tomorrow's benchmarks, how many former members of Saddam Hussein's government have been allowed back into their old jobs?

John.

ROBERTS: The top stories of the morning are coming up next.

It looks like Rudy Giuliani may be facing his critics head on. He says he wants no one to mistake his stand on abortion.

Also, more trouble for Michael Moore. The government is after him. Find out why.

And he's got one leg, no arms, but police in Florida are calling him a menace to society. Why? He led them on a car chase.

Ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

The most news in the morning is on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING. It is Thursday, May 10th. I'm Kiran Chetry.

ROBERTS: And I'm John Roberts.

A lot happening in this half hour, including a leg cramp that just hit me. So let's get right to it. Sorry about that.

We begin this morning with President Bush under pressure to change his Iraq policy. But this time it's not from Democrats. Now it's members of his own party -- House moderates who want something done before they have to go back and face the voters.

John Dickerson is the chief political correspondent for slate.com and joins us now.

John, you've been talking to the White House this morning. We had a meeting on Tuesday in which a group of junior Republicans led, though, by the House minority leader, went over there and told President Bush that they didn't think the support for the Iraq war was going to last very long unless there was some progress shown.

What is the White House saying about all that?

JOHN DICKERSON, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, SLATE.COM: Well, the White House saying, yes, that was said at this meeting, but that's what they expected, that the meeting wasn't a big surprise to them. There were sort of two purposes to this meeting, one for members of Congress to give their views, but also for members of Congress to walk out of that meeting and tell their constituents we gave the president what for. We told him where we stood, so that this wasn't something that hit them unexpectedly. What it does of course is puts lots of pressure on that September moment when General Petraeus comes back and gives an update. There's no other chance for these House members to use this political ploy. So it's a tough moment for the White House.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR, AMERICAN MORNING: You know, it was junior members, but the fact that it was John Baner (ph) who took them over there, almost enabling them to speak to the president about this, does this suggest a greater significance to what happened earlier in the week?

DICKERSON: It is significant. What the White House is doing is they're trying to get a sense of the pulse of the Republican caucus. They don't want Republicans to shoot off and go join with the Democrats. In this case the White House says these Republicans are still with us. So they feel good about that. But, again, they're so conscious of how bad the political situation is and particularly in these districts that are swing districts with moderates, how precarious things are, that they have to watch these members closely.

ROBERTS: The White House sort of characterized this as not Republicans marching up to Nixon as they did during the Watergate scandal. But how far away perhaps are they from that?

DICKERSON: If you use that analogy, this might be the meeting before the march up to the president meeting. As the White House described it, this is not one where they said we are bolting, Republicans said we are bolting. They said we're still with you, but they said this may be the last time we're still with you, and if September -- by September we don't have something we can really show our constituents, it's going to be a very big problem for you. What the White House says is yes, we know that, so it's a sense of how tough things are for the White House but they're saying it's not all hope is lost yet.

ROBERTS: John, you also talked this morning to the Giuliani campaign. The news out of their camp this morning is that he's going to try to get away from this nuanced position on abortion that he demonstrated at the debates last Thursday and be more direct about it. Were they finding -- here's a guy who usually speaks very directly. Are they finding that that heavily nuanced long convoluted explanation just wasn't playing well for them?

DICKERSON: Well, they don't want -- yes, long and convoluted is bad, particularly on a subject that a lot of Republican activists care about. Here's what they want to try and do. They want to say, yes, I'm pro choice but I'm not going to push it in your face to Republican activists. So Giuliani's not going to take a strong stand, but he's going to be up front about it and they recognize there is a benefit to the fact that some of these moderate states that he can do well in, California and Florida, have moved up in the process. So he's not going to take a strong stand leading with it in his speeches, but he's going to try and be blunt and shorter and more succinct in his answers about it.

ROBERTS: So does that mean that they're writing off Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina or they're just not placing as much importance on them than they are say, Florida, California, states like that?

DICKERSON: We'll see. They say no we're not writing those states off and in fact, it would be very hard to. We will see if their actions match their words. It's very tough to write off those states because, you know, those results will have an effect on the race. So right now they're saying no, we have field operations in there. We're going to run in those states. So that's their position as of this morning.

ROBERTS: All right John Dickerson of slate magazine.. Thanks for joining us, John. Good to see you.

DICKERSON: Thank you.

ROBERTS: In a couple minutes we're going to be talking with Congressman Ray Lahood of Illinois, one of those moderate Republicans who when up to the White House. We will find out what went on inside that meeting right from the horse's mouth today.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR, AMERICAN MORNING: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales returns to Capitol Hill. He's going to be answering more questions about the firing of Federal prosecutors from the House. A report in the "New York Times" this morning says that Gonzales is confident he's weathered the storm of this scandal. Court TV's Savannah Guthrie joins us now from Washington with more insight on this. Do you agree? Has he weathered this storm?

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, COURT TV: I don't know. Not if you look at the front page of the "Washington Post" today which suggests that yet another prosecutor was asked to resign even earlier than anyone thought. So, what's happening is this continuing trickle down of more and more information, more revelations. It doesn't help Gonzales. So now there's this new revelation about yet another prosecutor asked to resign. Gonzales has to talk to the House Judiciary Committee today. And it's probably going to be question number one, what is this all about? You have never mentioned this to us before and he's testified several times before on this.

CHETRY: His last performance was widely panned. I mean, a lot of news organizations clipped together the number of times he said I'm not aware, I don't recall, over and over again. Does he have to do something different today to save his job?

GUTHRIE: Would think so, except even though Republicans and Democrats alike did not think much of his prior testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, it did not seem to have any effect whatsoever on the one man who matters most, which is President Bush. He said his confidence actually increased for Gonzales after that testimony. So you are starting to get the feeling that no matter what happens in these hearings, short of an absolute disaster, Gonzales will survive.

CHETRY: Looks like it's because a lot of the people who privately behind the scenes told the president they may have had misgivings, seem to have lined up being, supporting him for now.

GUTHRIE: It may be that or it may be the famous Bush loyalty where he says this is my guy. He didn't do anything wrong and I'm going to stand by him.

CHETRY: All right, let's listen quickly to one of the sound bites from Alberto Gonzales.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALBERTO GONZALEZ, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I'm not going to tolerate decisions made with respect to investigations and prosecutions based upon partisan politics. We're not going to do that as long as I'm attorney general.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: So, he said I'm not going to tolerate dot, dot, dot. He talked a little bit about that situation. Yet he has to go there and still make his point known and answer these types of questions. Is he going to be able to sort of hide under this is a partisan attack?

GUTHRIE: You know, he'll have to walk a real fine line here because, of course there are people on both sides of the aisle who are less than thrilled with the way this was handled. So what he'll have to do is say, OK, I made mistakes, but let's move on. The bottom line is that the U.S. attorneys do serve at the pleasure of the president. Gonzales has said in his prepared testimony over and over again, you may not like how I did it, but the bottom line is we didn't do it for any improper political reason and he's really got to drive that point home and convince these senators and congressmen today that there was nothing wrong done here.

CHETRY: All right. But that new report, you're right, is likely going to trip him up at least a little bit, raise some new questions for sure. Court TV's Savannah Guthrie, thank you.

ROBERTS: It is the beginning of the end for a political era in Great Britain today. British Prime Minister Tony Blair stepping down after 10 years as the head of the Labour party. An official announcement came just a few minutes ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I've come back here to Sedgefield to my constituency where my political journey began and where it's fitting that it should end. Today I announce my decision to stand down from the leadership of the Labour party. The party will now select a new leader. On the 27th of June I will tender my resignation from the office of prime minister to the queen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: There it is, the end of an era. Only Margaret Thatcher ever served as prime minister longer. She served 11 1/2 years, Tony Blair 10. We will get live reaction from London and the White House coming up at the top of the hour.

Film maker Michael Moore is reportedly in trouble with the U.S. Treasury Department for his upcoming health care documentary titled "Sicko." The Associated Press is reporting that he is under investigation for taking sick 9/11 rescue workers to Cuba, which might be a violation of the U.S. trade embargo restricting travel to Cuba. No comments from Moore's camp on that investigation.

CHETRY: And still to come, the fierce flooding turning the town of Big Lake, Missouri, literally into a big lake. They are starting to recede. Now homeowners are going to be coming back seeing what's left. We're going to be live there with an update.

Also it's a highly contagious virus that sweeps through day care centers, a bit of an outbreak going on in one town. What is it and how dangerous is it to children? Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins us with the answers coming up on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Some pictures right now of the ongoing fire fight in Los Angeles. Firefighters are expecting to have the fire in Griffith Park fully contained today. They made a lot of progress working on bringing this blaze down. More than 800 acres of the park have burned. 150 firefighters were on the fire lines all night. Investigators say they think now the fire was started in a golf course when someone threw a lit cigarette into the brush. One man is being questioned. At this point he is not considered a suspect.

In the Midwest, water is finally starting to recede in Big Lake, Missouri, which quite literally turned into a big lake. That's where AMERICAN MORNING's Sean Callebs is for us today. Hi Sean.

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning Kiran, just want to show you what a vast area is under water. We are talking about thousands of acres of farmland, also several hundred homes. If we can just pan over this way, you can see the sunrise here in Big Lake and just look at this. We talked in the last hour, it's going to take a long time for this area to get back to normal, for the water to recede, at least talking to the locals. The water may not be very deep, but it just goes on and on and on. What happened? There were earthen levees about two miles from where we are, they simply gave away. A lot of the locals are very upset. They say these levees are simply not maintained very well. It happened after just a couple of days of very intense rain, some 7 1/2 inches over a couple of days.

We also have another camera set up. I want to show you this rail line that's here because workers have been working on that around the clock. You see all the heavy machinery out there. They are doing what they can to bolster that line to make sure that its integrity is not challenged in any way. But I tell you one thing Kiran, those rail lines have been busy. They come by about every 15 or 20 minutes or so. So it's been somewhat of a hectic morning in terms of the rail traffic. Some residents hopefully going to get back into the area, take a look at their homes over in this area. We know of one gentleman, Tom Bullock (ph) who rode out the last couple of days without electricity in his home. He said he did it not because he is not terrified of looting or anything, but he has a lot of items in his refrigerator and his freezer. So he has a generator Kiran. He's been turning that on every so often to make sure he keeps items as fresh as possible. People just making do with what they have out here.

CHETRY: Absolutely and a lot of people want to check on their animals as well because they had to leave them. Sean Callebs, thanks so much and right now it's about 43 minutes past the hour. Rob Marciano is going to give us a big picture look at what we can expect weather-wise today as well. Hi Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Hi Kiran. First off, we want to talk about that subtropical storm before the hurricane season even starts. We've got a name for you and her name is Andrea. Winding down though, not a whole lot to this system except a lot of wind which is not good for beach erosion and also the fire situation across parts of Florida and south Georgia. Most of the precip with this is off to the east. So, you know we are not getting what we need which is rainfall. Oddly enough, before this system was named, it was actually doing more damage to the Carolinas and out to sea with 50-foot waves.

Let's move along to the central part of the country where issues of flooding are a concern and showers and thunderstorms are in the forecast again today although they're mostly going to be in the Oklahoma area south into Texas where they were yesterday. So, the bull's eye isn't really going north of that area towards Kansas City and Saint Joseph's. So showers and thunderstorms in this area, severe weather potentially down across parts of southern Texas. And red flag warnings remain in effect across parts of southern California where they continue to battle the fires there. But the Santa Ana winds aren't going to be too much of an issue.

Here's your current radar out of Oklahoma. North of the city we're seeing some showers and storms south towards (INAUDIBLE). We're seeing heavier showers and storms and then across the Red River Valley of Texas, we are seeing some showers and storms there. So, the places that have gotten the rain continue to get it and the places that need the rain aren't getting it and that seems to be the ongoing theme for the past well couple of weeks, looks like. Back to you guys.

CHETRY: All right, Rob Marciano, thanks so much. There's some worries about the cleanliness of day care centers. Health investigators say there's been a huge jump in the number of kids coming down with what is called shigellosis, a bacterial infection. In St. Louis hundreds of toddlers actually got sick. We are paging Dr. Sanjay Gupta. He's at the CNN center in Atlanta this morning to fill us in on this. Hi, Sanjay, good to see you.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning Kiran. Exactly you said, shigellosis is a bacterial infection caused by the shigella (ph) bacteria. There's about 18,000 or so cases a year. A large number of them actually concentrated in this area that you're just talking about near St. Louis and in the day care centers. That's the bacteria. That's what it looks like in cash you're curious. There are several different types of the bacteria. Most commonly, you may not get very sick at all. It may pass through your system without you even knowing that you were ill, although you can still be a carrier. The vast majority of people might get symptoms like this though, diarrhea, fever, stomach cramps and then some people might actually get more sick and dehydrated to the point, especially young children get dehydrated to the point where they might need hospitalization.

Talking specifically about the situation here, it's been going on since November of last year. It's almost seven to eight months now. The longest sort of outbreak was about eight months previously so this is almost approaching that. So far the majority of cases have been in day care centers. The good news is there have been no hospitalizations and no deaths as of yet. So they're just seeing sort of the normal pattern diarrhea. It looks like they got things sort of under control at least for now though Kiran.

CHETRY: That's one of the things that parents fear when they take their kids to day care is that, you know, things like this can be easily spread among other children. How do they catch this particular bacterial infection?

GUPTA: Yeah. This is one of those great morning show sort of topics. It is spread person to person. Think of dirty diapers, think of kids who are not yet potty trained touching things. That's how this particular infection is spread. It can be fairly easily spread. You take it home then, you might infect an older child, even your parents and that's I why all these different day care centers start to get involved. You get kids sort of overlapping in different school districts, different day care centers and that's why so many people get involved. But that's typically the route of transmission, person to person directly.

CHETRY: So is it hard to knock it out? We see anti-bacterial gels and they do try to keep things clean. Is it just difficult to knock out that bacteria?

GUPTA: It requires a lot of diligence with children which you and I both know can be difficult at times. With regards to the treatment of this specifically, you can use an antibiotic, but what they have found is that with this particular strain here, it appears to be 100 percent resistant to ampicillen (ph) which is one of the first line generation antibiotics. So what doctors typically will do in a situation like this is just sort of let it run its course. Again it's five to seven days or so. You do have sort of a miserable couple of days, but you sort of get over it on your own. Anti-diarrheal medications typically not recommended. You want to let that bacteria if you will get out of your system so really in this case, just taking fluids no medicines for the most part.

CHETRY: But not fun when you're dealing with a sick toddler.

GUPTA: Yeah.

CHETRY: All right Sanjay, thanks so much. And we asked, you delivered. We want you to join us in our next hour. Sanjay will open the mailbag and answer the questions that you e-mailed to him.

ROBERTS: Could it be a major turning point in the Iraq war. This morning we are getting details of a meeting between President Bush and some moderate Republican lawmakers that happened on Tuesday afternoon. Their message to the White House, show us some progress in Iraq and show it soon. Illinois Congressman Ray Lahood was one of the Republicans at that meeting. He joins us now on the phone. Ray Lahood, your fellow Congressmen Tom Davis said that this was a remarkable, very candid meeting. What words would you use to describe it?

REP. RAY LAHOOD (R) ILLINOIS: Unvarnished, about as frank and honest as I have ever been to at the White House. I've been to a lot of meetings, most of them on the war and members really told the president in I think the most unvarnished way that they possibly could that things have got to change, that we're going to hang with him until September, but we need an honest assessment in September and that peoples' patience is running very, very, very thin.

ROBERTS: So are you hearing that back from the congressional districts? Is this pressure being put on you by your constituents?

LAHOOD: There were 11 members there and I think each member expressed in a little different way, but the theme was the same -- the American people are war fatigued. The American people want to know that there's a way out. The American people want to know that we're having success, either the government or our men and women who are doing the hard work. It's not reflected on the television screens and it's not reflected in the numbers, particularly as the surge begins. People are very war weary and that's going to be reflected in peoples' opinions, much stronger in the fall, I believe.

ROBERTS: Congressman Lahood, what was the president's reaction to what you told him?

LAHOOD: He listened very carefully. I think he was a little -- I don't know if surprised is the right word, probably maybe sobered. The fact is that, I don't know if he's gotten that kind of opinion before in such a frank and no holds barred way but he was very sober about it and he listened very intently. Frankly, he wasn't defensive. I think he appreciated the fact that people were willing to really open up and give it to him.

ROBERTS: Let me ask you this question, Congressman Lahood. There's a possibility, of course, that this so-called surge works and General Petraeus reports back at the end of August or the beginning of September that things are getting better. But if he reports back that things are not better, what happens then? Does the bottom drop out of support for the president?

LAHOOD: I would think that the situation becomes very dicey. I think public opinion probably turns even worse than it is, even though some of us believe that it's about as bad as it gets. But --

ROBERTS: But what about you? Could you continue to support him on the war if Petraeus comes back with a negative report?

LAHOOD: It depends on what Petraeus says. I mean if we are making some progress and we need to move ahead more aggressively -- it will -- for me, it's going to depend on what he says in terms of where we're at and what the way forward looks like in terms of success. The other part of it is people are very frustrated with the Maliki government. And people wonder whether Maliki can really get his act together and really pull off -- make this government work. And part of the reason Cheney is over there is to make sure they don't take two months off which is a great source of irritation for people.

ROBERTS: Congressman Lahood, we thank you very much for your time. We thank you for your candor with us, very much appreciate it sir.

LAHOOD: Thank you very much.

CHETRY: Interesting, he's fired up.

ROBERTS: They are all fired up as well. Some of them are junior members, but others like Congressman Lahood have been there for a while. And one of them used to be the former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee.

CHETRY: Up next, he has no arms, one leg and a big rap sheet. How does he continue to elude cops when they try to chase him? Stay with us on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Michael Wiley has been running away from Florida cops for years. He's not your average suspect though. He has no arms and one leg. He's pictured there. So when he runs, he does it in a car and he's quite a daredevil behind the wheel. In fact in one chase, police say they clocked him going 120 miles per hour. Thomas Lake is covering this story for the "St. Petersburg Times." Thanks for joining us this morning Thomas. Is it as strange as it sounds what's going on with this suspect?

THOMAS LAKE, "ST PETERSBURG TIMES": It's amazing how he's able to do what he does. And there are a couple of ways to look at it. Some people see him as almost a folk hero, in a way. You can picture him as the lead character in a Farley Brothers movie or something like that. But the other side of it is that police say he's a real danger because when he runs from them, they chase him and, you know, when there's a police chase there's a risk of innocent bystanders being hurt or killed.

CHETRY: He's a habitual violator, police say. He is awaiting trail right now on separate drug and illegal driving charges, apparently head butted his wife, been involved with drugs in the future, I mean in the past. But the initial bond, $500,000. People that may have been awaiting charges of murder don't have a $500,000 bond.

LAKE: You're right and I think that's a sign that finally, after more than 20 years, the justice system is ready to crack down on him. He has been out there doing his thing for so long and he has gotten these really light sentences. People let him out of jail, because they feel sorry for him, as you can imagine. It's not hard to see why they would. And then he just gets back out. He told me driving is the only thing that makes me feel free. You can see that at the same time driving is what keeps putting him back in jail.

CHETRY: Is he allowed to drive if it weren't for all the violations because of his physical handicaps or no?

LAKE: Yes, there was a time many years ago when he did have a driver's license and he was allowed to drive legally. But he just had so many violations, that now the simple act of driving for him has become a felony.

CHETRY: And he could be going to jail if they get their hands on him again.

LAKE: They say up to five years.

CHETRY: OK. Well, interesting story you are covering there in St. Petersburg, Thomas Lake, thanks for joining us.

LAKE: Thank you Kiran.

ROBERTS: Coming up in our next hour, an idea for mom for Mother's Day. Dr. Sanjay Gupta says talking with mom about her heart may be the best gift you can give her, inexpensive, too.

And a last request from death row, not for a steak dinner, but pizza for others. It's one of cnn.com's most popular stories ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

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