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AMERICAN MORNING

Record High Gas; Carter Vs. Bush; Wayward Whales; "Cutty Sark" Burns; Pelosi Speaks

Aired May 21, 2007 - 06:00   ET

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


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Jacked up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That was a major decision in my changing jobs is the gas prices and my commute to work.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Gasoline is more expensive now than ever before. Some cities speeding past $4 a gallon.

Historic loss. A world famous ship fully in flames overnight.

And homeward bound. Two humpback whales on the move to open water right now on this AMERICAN MORNING.

And good morning to you. It is Monday, May 21st. I'm John Roberts here in Washington.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Kiran Chetry in New York.

Happy Monday, John. Good to see you.

ROBERTS: Good morning to you.

CHETRY: I'm so happy to hear about the whales making their way. And we're going to be update people a little bit later on in the show on their progress. But they're headed in the right direction. So that's good news.

ROBERTS: It's all very exciting.

CHETRY: In the meantime, we have some other stories "On Our Radar" this morning.

The White House firing back at former President Jimmy Carter. All of it in response to some harsh words by Carter, saying that the Bush administration "has been the worst in history." So we're going to talk about that a little later.

ROBERTS: It's a big week in Washington, Kiran. The war spending bill, they've got to get it done before their self-imposed deadline of Memorial Day, which is coming up this weekend. They're all going away for Memorial Day break. Also, a lot of talk about immigration as well. And we'll going to run both of those topics by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with her. We put some tough questions to her. Listen to what she has to say coming up.

CHETRY: All right. Looking forward to that.

Meanwhile, we begin with yet another spike in the price of gasoline. A gallon now hitting another record high. The national average now at almost $3.20 a gallon. It went up 13 cents in just the past two weeks according to AAA. The highest average price nationwide, $3.59 a gallon in Chicago. That's where we interviewed a cab driver last week.

ROBERTS: Yes.

CHETRY: A lot of them were going out of business. And the lowest, not so low, $2.87 in Charleston, South Carolina. And at this Exxon, take a look right there, this is in downtown Atlanta. Well, it's not 37 cents. I would say that's $3.37.

ROBERTS: Wow. Yes.

CHETRY: And AMERICAN MORNING's Ali Velshi is here right now.

They almost had to black out the first number just because people can't bear to look.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, because it's embarrassing to have that number on there.

There are now only three states that are below the $3 a gallon club, New Jersey, South Carolina, as we talked about, and New Hampshire. Four more states moved into the $3 club over the weekend, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and Virginia. On Saturday, we had $3.16 national average. Then $3.18. Now $3.19 and change.

And AAA is forecasting that within the next 60 days gasoline will hit $3.25 a gallon. Although if this trend were to continue, and we can take a look, I think we've got a graphic of how this trend has been going. $3.25 should be next week sometime. We're not even at Memorial Day yet.

That's the price we're looking at, $3.19 a gallon for self-serve average. Look where it was a month ago, $2.86. A year ago, just a little higher than that, $2.89.

So we're in a different place than we were a year ago. We had a very different price of oil. So the issue here is not that your gas prices are going up because of the price of a gallon of oil, it's that it's going up because of those refineries that are down for longer than usual maintenance because of fires, because of all sorts of things that are keeping these refineries that are supposed to be working at full tilt a little lower than average.

So we're going to be back in about half an hour. We're going to talk about hybrids, whether this becomes a logical alternative right now and why more people aren't buying them despite these high prices.

CHETRY: Yes. And we were reading on a couple of them, you can get 125 miles per gallon.

VELSHI: (INAUDIBLE). They're impressive.

CHETRY: And it would say, why are you doing it. But there are some hidden catches as well. So we'll talk about it, Ali. Thanks so much.

VELSHI: OK.

ROBERTS: In Iraq today, American troops are following local leads as they search for three missing soldiers. One tip led to a canal where farmers said they saw body parts. U.S. forces drained that canal but nothing turned up. Today is the tenth day of searching for those three missing soldiers.

Meanwhile, Iraq's president, Jalal Talabani, is in the United States getting a quick checkup at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. He says he wants to lose weight. Talabani is 73. He was hospitalized in Jordan recently after collapsing.

CHETRY: Israel stepping up its bombings of targets in Gaza today. The recent attacks included air strikes on the home of a Palestinian lawmaker yesterday. He wasn't home, but eight people in the area were killed. Israel says it was targeting an area that was firing rockets across the border.

Also in Lebanon, a heated battle outside of a Palestinian refugee camp now into its second day. Nearly 60 people have died in fighting between the Lebanese Army and Islamic militants linked to al Qaeda. It's the worst fighting in Lebanon since the end of a civil war more than 15 years ago.

ROBERTS: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is setting a new deadline related to the war spending bill. She told me that she wants to get a bill to President Bush before this weekend.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) HOUSE SPEAKER: It's going to be difficult and challenging. We owe it to the American people to try to find our common ground with the president on this on how we can end the war. But if we don't find that common ground, to stand our ground on how we end the war.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: So a lot of work to get done before this weekend. We'll have more of my interview with Speaker Pelosi coming up in just about 10 minutes' time.

Meantime, it's going to be a fight on both sides in the Senate today over the immigration bill. Critics on the right saying that allowing 12 million illegal immigrants a path to citizenship is the same as amnesty. Critics on the left are upset that guest worker skills are taking precedence over reuniting families.

The battle for immigration boiled over for two border state Republicans, John McCain of Arizona and John Cornyn of Texas. Cornyn reportedly complained that McCain didn't pay enough attention to the immigration issue because of his presidential campaign. Sources say that McCain reacted hotly to that accusations and he dropped the "f" bomb and characterized Cornyn's charges as stuff that comes out of the back end of a chicken.

Bill Richardson makes it official today, he's running for the Democratic presidential nomination. Richardson is the governor of New Mexico but he's going to make his announcement in Los Angeles. Seven other Democrats and 10 Republicans are currently running for president.

Five minutes after the hour now. Well, it's the kind of verbal sparring that you rarely see, president on president. The White House blasting back at Jimmy Carter after Mr. Carter called the Bush administration "the worst in history" in terms of international relations. John Dickerson is the chief political correspondent for Slate.com.

John, let's take a quick look at exactly what it was that Jimmy Carter said. This was in an interview with "The Arkansas Democrat Gazette" over the weekend. He said, "I think as far as the adverse impact of the national around the world, this administration has been the worst in history." That's not the sort of stuff you usually hear presidents say about each other.

JOHN DICKERSON, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, SLATE.COM: No, no. This is the most exclusive club in the world and they behave each -- you know, ex-presidents behave themselves. We saw this weekend also Bill Clinton and former President Bush speaking at the same university in New Hampshire. Well, also you've got this situation where President Carter had the worst approval ratings in the history and now this president has those same bad approval ratings. So it's sort of the battle of the basement here a little bit.

ROBERTS: Right. But they're all getting down to James Buchanan level, aren't they?

What's really extraordinary about this exchange from Carter is that the White House swatted it back. Tony Fratto, the president's spokesman said on Sunday, take a look at this, "I think it's unfortunate, and I think he," talking about Jimmy Carter, "is proving to be increasingly irrelevant with these kinds of comments." You don't expect the verbal sparring to go both ways here.

DICKERSON: Well, in some sense you could say, why would the White House bother? They've got enough things to worry about. But as it was explained to me by somebody in the administration, they want to hug Jimmy Carter. Why not take someone like Jimmy Carter away from whom many Democrats run and why not embrace him as sort of the voice of the opposition, because he's not terribly popular among even some Democrats. ROBERTS: So he is a good punching bag to represent all the Democrats? Is that the strategy (ph)?

DICKERSON: That's exactly right. I think Michael Moore may be the only better punching bag for the White House.

ROBERTS: There was an interesting development over the weekend as well. "The Des Moines Register," which, of course, is the big local paper in Iowa, had a new poll out of the Republican and the Democratic presidential candidates. Lo and behold it found that Mitt Romney is now running first with 30 percent, coming second is McCain with 18 percent, Giuliani third with 17 percent. A big turnaround for Mitt Romney. What does it give him?

DICKERSON: This is a big deal for Romney because he was the best in fund-raising, but he'd always kind of been stuck in the polls. And now you see he's actually working with voters. Now this poll may be an aberration. It may bet blasted out by other polls. But it allows Romney then to go to his supporters and other Republicans and say, see, I can do something more than just look good and raise money. I can actually convince voters to vote for me. And that's crucial at this point.

ROBERTS: Yes, a big bump for the Romney campaign, which was beginning to worry too why it was lagging so hard back in the polls.

John, we'll get you back the next hour and throw some more topics at you?

DICKERSON: Sounds good.

ROBERTS: Appreciate it. John Dickerson, chief political correspondent for Slate.

Thanks very much.

CHETRY: Well, there is some good news this morning about the two wayward humpback whales. They are headed back down river toward the Pacific Ocean after swimming some 90 miles inland. CNN's Dan Simon is live from Marin County, California, near the Golden Gate Bridge.

And I guess that's the marker. Once they make it to that, it looks like they're going to be home free. But do we know what got them moving in the right direction in the first place, Dan?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kiran, no one really knows and no one's complaining. This is a story that really became an obsession for a lot of people here locally and it's really easy to understand why. At its very essence, you're talking about a mother and her baby whale both lost, both injured and everybody hoping for a safe conclusion. It looks like you're going to have one.

At this point it's believed the whales are about a third of the way from where they need to be in the Pacific Ocean behind me. The Golden Gate Bridge. This is the last stop, as it were, before they reach those safer waters. And making sure those whales went on the right course, they were escorted by none other than nine vessels. Those vessels filled with Coast Guard personnel and wildlife experts. They were there just to make sure the whales didn't deviate course. Those efforts suspended overnight but sometime this morning, as soon as you get daylight, crews hoping again to meet up with those whales.

Kiran.

CHETRY: How are they going to track the whales late on this morning?

SIMON: That's a good question. These whales do not have tracking units, but they're basically going to go by an educated guess and also they're going to have the helicopters in the sky to see if they can't pinpoint them.

Kiran.

CHETRY: And is that flotilla of boats going to continue following them to make sure they don't turn the other way?

SIMON: That's exactly right. You know, there still are some challenges ahead for these whales. They have some muddy deltas to go through. There's some pylons beneath some of the bridges. They've got to go, you know, underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. So still some challenges. And those crews out there just to make sure those whales don't deviate course again.

Kiran.

CHETRY: That's right. And people have certainly fallen in love. I guess they've already named them Delta and Dawn, those are the names. Hopefully they won't have any trouble getting through, as you said, some of those muddy areas of the delta.

Dan Simon, thanks so much.

ROBERTS: It's the namesake and image of one of the world's most famous scotches and there were some dramatic moments early this morning at a world-famous London landmark. A huge fire raged on the "Cutty Sark," which has been in dry dock on the banks of the river Thames for the last half century. It was built to make tea runs between England and China back in the 1800s. This is the ship before the fire. Now caretakers are worried that much of its original timber and iron can never be replaced. CNN's Phil Black is live near the "Cutty Sark" in London.

And, Phil, this is just such a tremendous loss. Any idea how it started?

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, good morning.

That remains a mystery for the moment. Behind me, the smoldering remains of a very significant piece of British nautical history. The "Cutty Sark," a sailing clip of some 140 years old. It was in the process of being restored at a cost of $50 million.

But early this morning, here in London, it caught fire and the damage has been extensive. Whether that damage can be fixed depends on how much damage has been done to the ship's frame. Its skeleton, if you like, that holds it in shape.

Now police say they're treating this suspiciously because they don't know the cause. But the people who know and love this ship say they can't begin to imagine what possible motive there is for doing this.

John.

ROBERTS: Phil, how long is it going to take for the officials -- the people who are involved in the restoration there, to figure out whether or not the ship can be saved or if it will have to be scrapped?

BLACK: Well, John, it's about securing the site first. The dry dock itself has received some damage here this morning and so there is some fear that it could be unstable and it could perhaps move to one side. Then it will be a process of getting down there in the guts, if you like, of that framework and see whether the timberwork there has been warped, whether the shape of the ship has changed.

John.

ROBERTS: Well, a huge loss there, Phil. And, you know, perhaps a major piece of British naval history gone forever.

Phil Black for us in London, outside the dry dock at "Cutty Sark" there.

Phil, thanks very much.

CHETRY: And some other stories we're following this morning.

Police don't yet know why a man opened fire on a courthouse in Moscow, Idaho. Two people, including a police officer, were killed. The gunman hid in a church before eventually taking his own life.

Thirty-two people are recovering this morning from a charter bus crash. This happened in Pennsylvania. Two people were killed. That bus was heading to Chinatown in New York when it ran up an embankment and flipped on its side on Route 80.

Well, change is coming to the nation's largest cell phone network. Alltel is agreeing to a $27.5 billion offer from Texas Pacific Group and GS Capital Partners.

We're going to take a break. When we come back, John Roberts one on one with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Do you have more of a problem with Democrats or Republicans when it comes to the immigration bill?

REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) HOUSE SPEAKER: Well, with the Republicans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: You're watching AMERICAN MORNING. The most news in the morning is on CNN. More of that interview with House Speaker Pelosi in just a couple.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: And welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING.

There's some progress to report on the wildfires burning around the country. A fire near Payson, Arizona, northeast of Phoenix, now 90 percent contained today. And everyone is allowed back home. That was a fire that started last Sunday.

In California, firefighters are expecting to contain a wildfire near Gorman that forced thousands of campers to leave the Angeles National Forest over the weekend. Twenty-five hundred acres burned there.

Also, the fire in southern New Jersey that we talked about a lot last week, it's under control this morning. National Guard members thinking that a flare dropped from a jet sparked it. More than 17,000 acres of New Jersey's pine lands scorched.

And they definitely need rain in Florida. At least one part. But maybe not like this. Up to seven inches drenching Miami. Flash flooding the roads. Unfortunately, most of it fell mostly on the coast, not where it was really need inland.

It's 16 past the hour now and Chad Myers is here in New York.

Good to see you in the flesh.

(WEATHER REPORT)

ROBERTS: Eighteen minutes after the hour and the clock is ticking here in Washington. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants to get an Iraq War funding bill done by the end of this week. I had a chance to sit down with her and asked her about it when we talked this past weekend.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: Madam Speaker, just prior to your meeting with White House and Republican officials, you said that you were "almost certain" that you would have what the troops need or "absolutely certain," actually, that the troops would have what they need by the Memorial Day weekend. Are you still certain of that?

REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) HOUSE SPEAKER: I believe so, yes. We went into the meeting with the White House representatives in the spirit of openness and hoping to find common ground. We tried to address the concerns they had expressed, and we did.

ROBERTS: You were pretty negative coming out of that meeting. Can you get it all done in the next five days?

PELOSI: I believe that we can. I believe that we can. We just have to work very hard. It's going to be difficult and challenging. We owe it to the American people to try to find our common ground with the president on this on how we can end the war. But if we don't find that common ground, to stand our ground on how we end this war.

ROBERTS: We hear again and again from Democrats, the surge has failed. The surge has failed. Does that mean that the war is lost?

PELOSI: Well, we can only go with what General Petraeus has told us, and that this war cannot be won solely militarily. That there has to be a political solution to accompany the military effort. And that political solution is not happening and the president will not hold the Iraqi government accountable.

ROBERTS: But General Petraeus has also said, I need until the end of the summer to know if this is working and Democrats aren't listening to him on that.

PELOSI: We'll see what happens at the end of the summer. You have to remember that when the president made this announcement on January 10th, he said he needed 60 to 90 days. And now the 60 to 90 days have passed and then they kicked it into the summer. Now they're kicking the can down the road into September.

ROBERTS: Do you trust General Petraeus?

PELOSI: I have great confidence in General Petraeus and I want the surge to work. Our young people are in harm's way.

ROBERTS: Let me shift gears to immigration. The Senate bill, as proposed, would that pass the House?

PELOSI: Well, the Senate bill, as proposed, is a good first step, as President Bush said, and I agree with him. It's a good first step.

ROBERTS: What are your problems with it? Where could it be improved?

PELOSI: Well, we have had principles that we've put forth. In fact, they are spelled out in something called the Stryback (ph) in the House. They are principles that say, we must protect our borders, secure our borders, enforce our laws, protect American workers, unify families -- that's a very important principle in our immigration policy -- and have a path to legalization.

ROBERTS: Do you have more of a problem with Democrats or Republicans when it comes to the immigration bill?

PELOSI: Well, with the Republicans. You saw what -- I don't know if you saw . . . ROBERTS: Because you've got a lot of liberals in the Democratic Party who are saying, we don't like this idea of a guest worker program.

PELOSI: Right. Well, I don't either. I mean I like the idea of a guest worker program, but it would have to be defined in a much different way than in the Senate bill.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on immigration and war spending. Again, she says that they believe that they can get this deal done by the Memorial Day weekend. They are still a long way apart when it comes to differences with the White House. We'll see if they can get it down. And we'll have more with Speaker Pelosi coming up in the next hour of AMERICAN MORNING. I asked her who she was picking in the presidential race, among other things.

Kiran.

CHETRY: All right. We look forward to that. Good job, John.

And also, one of cnn.com's most popular stories right now is actor Sylvester Stallone formally convicted today and paying the price for bringing muscle building hormones into Australia. He was ordered to pay more than $10,000 in fines and court costs. The judge ruled Stallone failed to show a valid prescription for the vials of human growth hormone that were found in his luggage back in February.

And a new box office champ, "Shrek the Third" bumped "Spider-Man" from the top spot. We'll run it all down when AMERICAN MORNING Comes right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: What does it take to knock "Spider-Man" off of his perch? A big green ogre. "Shrek the Third" racked up $122 million at the box office this weekend. That's enough to make it the biggest opening ever for an animated film and the third biggest opening of all time. "Shrek" bumped the other big sequel of the summer, "Spider-Man 3," down to the number two positioned, followed by "28 Weeks Later," "Disturbia" and "Georgia Rule."

CHETRY: So weird, John, three out of the top five movies all sequels. Noone has any new ideas anymore.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Yes, this was a summer of sequels.

CHETRY: It really is.

All right, 27 past the hour. And Ali Velshi is "Minding Your Business."

We talked about the record price of gas yet again.

VELSHI: Right.

CHETRY: The average now, what is it, $3.11.

VELSHI: $3.19 and change now across the country.

CHETRY: $3.19.

VELSHI: It's up 11 cents. It's gone up so much from -- that's why it's hard to keep track, because we just broke our $3.06, $3.07 record eight days ago.

CHETRY: So why are not more people, then, buying hybrid cars?

VELSHI: Yes, I don't get it. They're all going to see "Shrek," but it's all about being green.

CHETRY: You're right.

VELSHI: We have two things working in favor of buying a hybrid vehicle. One is the trend toward being green, the idea that it's OK, even on the road, not to have the toughest, biggest car out there. And the fact that over $3 a gallon for certain drivers in America, it will pay to buy a hybrid.

There are a lot of advantages. Obviously, fuel efficiency. Many times the fuel efficiency of a normal car. There are some tax credits, although be careful if you're buying one of these, a Toyota Prius, because those tax credits are running out. There are better power in these things. There used to be a sense that there wasn't as much power in the hybrids.

CHETRY: Right. They even made their first V-8 hybrid, the Lexus.

VELSHI: Yes, I know. They're strong, they're big, they're SUVs. In fact, the Lexus RX hybrid truck is one of the best-selling, one of the top five of all. And this trend toward leaving a smaller carbon footprint.

There are some cons to buying a hybrid. And this is what's holding most people back. One of them, there's still a bit of a power gap. The same car in traditional gas engine versus hybrid will be stronger.

These are better for urban drivers. The more stop and go driving you do, the more gas mileage you'll get because you get a lot of the benefit from breaking. And some of those tax credits are phasing out. So make sure, please, before you buy one, check with your dealer and check with your accountant to make sure you qualify for the tax credit. But if gas keeps on going like this . . .

CHETRY: Maybe Congress will be making some changes to the tax law, too.

VELSHI: They really kind of need to. CHETRY: My other question is, when you talk about fuel efficiency, what are we talking about? I mean, how many miles to the gallon?

VELSHI: You can get upwards of -- you can get -- I mean there's some cars that go up to 98, 99 miles per gallon in a hybrid depending on how you drive. Big difference from the 17, 18, 20 miles a gallon that people often get.

CHETRY: It's startling when you think about it.

VELSHI: Yes. (INAUDIBLE).

CHETRY: All right, Ali, thanks so much.

A little bit later, actually, we're going to be talking with somebody from one of the car magazines about which of these cars are the best and why we're not seeing more hybrids out there.

So good preview, Ali. Thanks.

John.

ROBERTS: We'll also be talking with Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington, who's introducing a bill yet again to try to create a federal law against gas gouging in terms of prices. So be watching for all of that coming up.

The top stories of the morning are coming up next.

Fire roars through a world famous landmark ship. Lots of concerns about the "Cutty Sark" and whether it can be saved.

Plus, a right turn for two humpback whales. They're heading back to the ocean where they belong. We'll get an update on their progress from the Coast Guard.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Sunrise over the U.S. Capitol here on this Monday morning. There's going to be a lot of business taking place in that -- in the hallowed halls of that building over the next few days as they try to get a war spending bill done, trying to make some progress on immigration. And lots of problems on both of those fronts.

Welcome back. It's Monday, May the 21st.

I'm John Roberts in Washington.

Good morning, Kiran.

CHETRY: Good to see you, John.

I'm Kiran Chetry, here in New York.

Some stories on our radar this morning.

(NEWSBREAK)

ROBERTS: In Iraq, American troops are following local leads as they continue their desperate search for three missing soldiers today.

Our Arwa Damon is embedded with the troops who are combing towns and villages south of Baghdad, following their every move. She joins us now via broadband video.

Arwa, General Petraeus was saying over the weekend that he believes that at least two of the soldiers are still alive. Is there anything more on that front today?

Obviously having some transmission problems there with Arwa. This technology still relatively new, and sometimes it drifts in and out. So we'll try to re-establish contact with her and get you the latest on the search for those three missing soldiers just as soon as we can -- Kiran.

CHETRY: Well, some dramatic moments early this morning at a world famous London landmark. A huge fire raged on the Cutty Sark, which has been in dry dock on the banks of the river for the last half century. It was built to make tea runs between England and China back in the 1800s.

This is the ship before the fire. Caretakers are now worried that much of the original timber and iron can never be replaced. The Cutty Sark was closed for renovations. They're still trying to figure out how that fire started.

And those two wayward whales now nicknamed Delta and Dawn are back on the move home toward the ocean from the port of Sacramento, California. The humpback mother and her calf now face an almost 80- mile journey back, but they have made some progress. I believe they covered about 20 miles yesterday.

Lieutenant Robert Bixler is on board the Coast Guard Cutter Pike, and he joins us now on the phone.

Thanks for being with us.

LT. ROBERT BIXLER, U.S. COAST GUARD: Good morning.

CHETRY: Do you have a status update today?

We have not received a status so far this morning. At about 06:00 Pacific standard Time we'll be putting up a California Highway Patrol aircraft to locate the whales' position. And once they're located, we will resume operations this morning.

CHETRY: All right. Well, last night, I guess right about 10:00 at night Eastern Time, they figured they traveled about 10 miles, and they were looking good. They had about 60 miles to go before they head into the Golden Gate and the open ocean.

What's your assessment so far of how they're going to be able to complete their journey?

BIXLER: That's correct. When we ceased operations last evening, we had transmitted about 24 nautical miles from the Sacramento Basin. Right now our forecast is pretty good. We're hoping that they continue on their southerly course.

They were making almost five miles per hour throughout the course of the swim yesterday. And we're hoping that they will continue to do that.

The concern now is that the whales might run upon a sandbar, which occurred seven times during the Humphrey case 22 years ago. We just don't want to stress the whales. We want them to pace themselves and, you know, continue down on their own pace.

CHETRY: What about all the boats behind them? Is that enough to make sure they don't reverse course?

BIXLER: We're hoping that it is. Yesterday we had a 10-boat flotilla that trailed and encouraged them to continue on the southerly course. It seemed to work. This morning, where the whales are located, we will get around 10 to 15 boats in flotilla again, and hopefully continue to assist them towards the Golden Gate and open ocean.

CHETRY: All right. Well, it is quite a turn of events, though, because, I mean, last week we were hearing from some of the chief marine biologists, don't get your hopes up. It seems that that's turned around a little bit today.

BIXLER: Yes, it has. Dr. Frances Gulland, she's the lead veterinarian for this project, and her team, they employed a hydrophobic underwater recording device that recorded the acoustics within the basin, and some people were asking, you know, did the timing of the tugs happen to push them out? We're not really sure if that occurred or if it was just coincidental, but Dr. Gulland and her team will be analyzing those sounds to determine if it was just coincidence or it had some effect on the whales departing.

CHETRY: Yes, that's right, because that will give- them info into future situations like this if they crop up.

Lieutenant Robert Bixler, commanding officer of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Pike, thanks for joining us.

BIXLER: You're welcome.

ROBERTS: We're back to Iraq now, re-establishing contact with our Arwa Damon. She's, as we said, embedded with the troops who are combing those towns and villages south of Baghdad looking for the three missing U.S. soldiers.

Arwa, when we lost contact with you, I had asked you about this idea that General Petraeus has said that he believes that at least two of the three soldiers are still alive.

What are you hearing from the unit that you're embedded with?

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, I'm embedded with the 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, and that is the unit that they killed and kidnapped soldiers were with. I spoke with the battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Michael Fontaine (ph). He, in fact, says that he -- they still believe that his three soldiers are alive.

He says he's basing this information on the fact that he has not heard otherwise. The battalion has established a number of informants and forces on the ground throughout their nine months deployment here thus far, and he says that if one of his soldiers had been killed, information would have trickled out.

He says he knows the way the enemy operates in this area quite well, and is certain that if anything had happened to his men, he would have heard about it from rumors going around in the various circles. And as of now, he says that he still believes that his three men are still alive. And that is, in fact, the hope amongst all of the soldiers that are here -- John.

ROBERTS: So how much is there left to search down there, Arwa? And how difficult is the search?

DAMON: John, really the search is unspeakably difficult. Its search from the fact that the terrain out here is incredibly challenging, the intertwining canals where it goes from fields and farmland to kind of a jungle-like density, to the roadside bombs that are pretty much over the place -- and the troops are out there relentlessly.

Just today, they had five operations in one area. And this is an area that is about a 15-mile radius around the site of where the attack took place. And they did end up detaining 14 individuals.

Why did they detain them? Because they were in homes where they did not belong.

These men know this area very well. They know who lives where. When they find people where they're not meant to be, they bring them in for questioning.

We are also on a separate operation that's just across the river from this run. There they were combing the area because they had received information from detainees, from other sources, that relatives of individuals associated with the attack lived in that area.

Now, they came up with nothing in that case, but this is such an incredibly challenging search. And what they're doing is they're going through the same areas over and over and over again, literally combing this entire area through as many times as it takes for them to find their men.

ROBERTS: Lots of leads but nothing concrete yet. So, Arwa Damon, thanks very much for the update. We'll get back to you a little bit later on this morning.

CHETRY: And some other stories we're following this morning.

The FDA is expected to approve Lybrel. It's a birth control pill which is taken continuously, so you wouldn't get a monthly period ever, really. Is it a good idea?

We're going to go ask CNN's medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, coming up in our next half hour.

Also, in southern California, fire destroyed part of the school that inspired the movie "Stand and Deliver". The auditorium and several classrooms were damaged at Garfield High School in east L.A. No cause has been figured out yet.

Well, the most news in the morning right here on CNN.

We're going to take a quick break. Please stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Michael Moore's latest documentary isn't in the actual competition, but it is drawing rave reviews at the Cannes Film Festival. "Sicko," Moore's attack on the U.S. health care system, debuted to a crowd of more than 2,000.

Moore's in hot water, though, for a part of the movie where he takes sick people to Cuba for treatment. The U.S. government is investigating whether he violated trade and travel embargoes. "Sicko" is going to open up in the United States in late June.

A Saudi billionaire didn't fare as well as Michael Moore at the Cannes Film Festival. His 364-foot yacht, the Lady Mora, belonging to Nasr al-Rashid (ph), ran aground, hitting an underwater cluster of rocks. It leaked several hundred gallons of fuel into the Mediterranean, but it was cleaned up quickly.

Partying on the beach resumed. The yacht, meanwhile, has been taken to Gibraltar for repairs -- Kiran.

CHETRY: Wow. All right.

Forty-seven past the hour now. Chad Myers in the flesh, here from Atlanta.

(WEATHER REPORT)

CHETRY: Meantime, a record being set on Mt. Everest. A young American sets foot on top of the world, and that's just one of the steps in her historic journey.

We're going to meet her coming up on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ROBERTS: Fifty-two minutes after the hour now.

Eighteen-year-old Samantha Larson skipped her freshman year of college to get high. And did she ever. She has just completed a record-setting climb of Mt. Everest, and is now the youngest person to climb the highest peak on seven continents.

Frank Buckley of our affiliate KTLA has her story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FRANK BUCKLEY, REPORTER, KTLA (voice over): It was a father- daughter trip that took them to the top of the world. Eighteen-year- old Samantha Larson of Long Beach and her doctor dad, David Larson, were part of a group that summited Mt. Everest on Thursday.

Samantha's sister, 8-year-old Emma, and Samantha's step mom, Janet Moore, got the news by satellite phone straight from the summit of Mt. Everest.

JANET MOORE, SAMANTHA'S STEPMOTHER: They were at the top.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When she got the call, I woke up and I screamed.

BUCKLEY: Samantha, an honors graduate from Long Beach Poly High School, became one of the youngest and possibly the youngest foreigner ever to climb Mt. Everest. At 18, she also became the youngest person to have completed the so-called seven summits, climbing the highest peaks on each of the seven continents, reaching the top of each with her dad.

MOORE: Her dad has brought it out in her, but the determination and the "I'm going to do it" is coming from Sam.

BUCKLEY: Next up for Samantha, college. She'll be a freshman at Stanford next year, and it's a good bet she'll be the only freshman who will be able to say, "Last year I climbed Mt. Everest."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: What did you do after high school?

Frank Buckley of affiliate KTLA with the story of 18-year-old climber Samantha Larson. Unbelievable.

CHETRY: What an accomplishment. She has a lot to be proud of, for sure.

Well, coming up, they've been away for 17 years, and they're coming back and they're chirping. I don't even know if it's really chirping.

What is it? Do they rub their wings together? Well, they do something. They're cicadas, and they're pretty gross, and they crunch when you step on them. And they are coming out of hiding. They also have red eyes, if they weren't creepy enough.

Also, the celebrated jumping frog of Calaveras County. It was marred -- it was a big contest. Well, it was marred by controversy this year.

We're going to explain why coming up on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Three minutes before the top of the hour. Ali Velshi is "Minding Your Business".

And you're going to somehow explain how a big purchase by China of a private equity firm here in the U.S. could help our portfolio picture.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely. It's $3 billion.

CHETRY: You have three minutes, remember.

VELSHI: It's China and it's -- I don't even have that. I'll tell you what it is. The Chinese government has decided that it is going to make a $3 billion investment in Blackstone, which is the big U.S. private equity firm that's been buying up companies left, right and center.

What's that got to do with you? Well, China is a fast-growing economy. It has more than a trillion dollars in foreign reserves. And it's got to do something with that money. And like your portfolio, it wants to diversify.

So, countries often buy the bonds of other countries as investments. But these days, bonds are doing nothing in particular in terms of their interest rate. And markets are so hot. So the Chinese government has decided, well, who understands this better than a company like Blackstone, these big private equity firms that have been buying other companies?

So, it is investing directly $3 billion in Blackstone, which is also going public, which means you can buy shares in Blackstone, as well. It may be worth paying attention to, because this means that China believes in America. It believe it gets the best, safest return by investing in America. And it might even out a bit of that trade gap that we keep complaining about, because Americans keep buying pretty much everything China makes.

Now China is investing in America. It sounds like it's a good investment deal.

CHETRY: Not bad. Good job, Ali. Thank you.

VELSHI: All right.

CHETRY: See you in the next hour. Meantime, "Quick Hits" now.

It's called brood 8. Not a horror movie, but it's the name of billions of cicadas that are expected to emerge in the Midwest this month after spending 17 years underground. They're shrimp-sized insects. They Don't bite or sting, but they do have a mating call that's been known to drown out ringing telephones, even lawnmowers.

The swarms of emerging cicadas crowd into trees. They live for about 30 days. But the worst part is when they die and they hit the ground. And when you walk you crunch over them.

ROBERTS: We had them here a few years ago, and it is an experience.

Thousands of frogs, meantime, invaded California this weekend. And an amazing 4,000 frogs and their proud owners taking part in the annual Calaveras County frog jumping contest.

It was inspired by a Mark Twain story. This year's contest, though, was marred by a minor controversy when the club that usually hosts the event pulled out to stage its own competition. But the big show still went on.

Frogs have been jumping and croaking at Calaveras for almost 80 years. The record, in case you're curious, is 21 feet, set by Rosie the Ribbiter back in 1986. Nobody bested that record yet.

CHETRY: Rosie the Ribbiter.

ROBERTS: Rosie the Ribbiter.

CHETRY: Got to love that one.

All right.

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

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