Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
Supreme Court says Public Schools Can't Use Race in Assigning Children. Senate 14 Votes Short of the 60 Needed to Cut Off Debate on Immigration Bill. Democratic Candidates Having a debate at Howard University Tonight. Is Bill Clinton's Campaign Role Helping or Hurting Hillary?
Aired June 28, 2007 - 1900 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Lou.
Happening now, new limits on public school immigration. The U.S. Supreme Court rejecting race as a factor in assigning students. Tonight, the impact on America's children, affirmative action and presidential politics.
Also this hour, is the seafood you may be eating right now contaminated? Imports from China are under scrutiny tonight for potentially dangerous antibiotics.
And Bill Clinton is a target of Hillary Clinton's rivals. Is he more of an asset or a liability to her presidential campaign? The Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author Carl Bernstein will join us.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
It might affect where your child goes to school. Tonight many are reacting to an important U.S. Supreme Court decision. Some are applauding it, but others say it's brought quote, "shame" to the court. Today the justices issued what will likely be a landmark decision, one that some suggest threatens the historic decision a half a century ago that outlawed racial segregation in America's public schools.
Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd. He's over at the Supreme Court. What a contentious way, Brian, for this Supreme Court session to end this term.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf. This court sharply divided along political and now even personal lines. Experts say the decision handed down today could define for decades how school systems deal with the question of race.
TODD (voice-over): For years, students like Howard Brim have benefited from Louisville, Kentucky's controversial school choice program.
HOWARD BRIM, BALLARD H.S. STUDENT: Ballard High School has a much higher education standard than my home-school. TODD: But the Supreme Court strikes down the plan that helped Howard get into Ballard High, ruling that Louisville's method, and one in Seattle, are unconstitutional, because when popular public schools start to fill up, they use race as a key factor in deciding who gets in and who doesn't. Chief Justice John Roberts for the five to four majority -- "the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race." Parents of different races joined in lawsuits to stop these plans and now believe the courts made the playing field a little more even.
DEBORAH STALLWORTH, PLAINTFF: I agree with integration, but not at the cost of my child's education.
TODD: Those who favored race-based admissions see ominous clouds building. Justice Stephen Breyer, his voice halting with emotion, says in descent "this is a decision that the court and the nation will come to regret." Others believe this rolls back gains made by the historic Brown v, Board of Education ruling in 1954 ending school segregation.
THEODORE SHAW, NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE FUND: If the result is that schools re-segregate even more quickly and more profoundly, then what we are facing is not only racially separate, but financially unequal schools.
TODD: Analysts say this is part of the court's ongoing struggle with race and schools, with the balance now tipped toward the conservative majority.
EDWARD LAZARUS, AUTHOR, "CLOSED CHAMBERS": Over time, they've tightened and tightened and tightened the rules and made it more and more difficult for schools to use affirmative action, and I think today's decision walks right up to the water's edge of saying never.
TODD: So what will public school choice programs do now to make close calls on admissions? Well experts say they'll likely have to take into consideration things like neighborhood geography, economic situations, other factors, but if they're going to use race, Wolf, they say they better be very, very careful.
BLITZER: And you say it got acrimonious and it got personal inside that Supreme Court today. Give our viewers a little example.
TODD: Really striking. Observers say it has not gotten this personal for decades with this court. Justice Stephen Breyer reading from the dissent, very, very emotional today. He made a comment that many believe was directed right at the new justices, the conservative new justices, John Roberts and Samuel Alito. He said quote, "rarely in the history of the law have so few undone so much so quickly." Observers say that got a visible reaction from Roberts and Alito.
BLITZER: Stinging words from Justice Breyer. Thanks very much, Brian, watching this story. Now to a major defeat for President Bush. A Senate vote today effectively killing his dream of comprehensive immigration reform. It likely was his last chance. Certainly it was his best chance to try to accomplish something big in these remaining months of his presidency. Tonight opponents who blasted the compromise as amnesty are claiming a huge victory. Supporters are trying to put their best face on their loss.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Illegal immigration is one of the top concerns of the American people, and Congress's failure to act on it is a disappointment. The American people understand the status quo is unacceptable when it comes to our immigration laws.
SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: We hope that as a result of this debate that the American people all over our country will take seriously this debate.
SEN. DAVID VITTER (R), LOUISIANA: The message is crystal clear that the American people want us to start with enforcement, both at the border and at the workplace.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's turn to our congressional correspondent Andrea Koppel. She's on Capitol Hill. So Andrea, where do we go from here? Could any of this legislation really be enacted any time soon?
ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's unclear whether any piece of the comprehensive immigration reform could actually become law, but we heard today again some conservative Republicans floating the idea, these are conservatives like John Cornyn of Texas, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, that perhaps they could have some sort of emergency supplemental spending bill that President Bush could sign into law, which would boost the amount of money, billions of dollars, to be spent on increasing border security and other technological aspects of that.
And you also heard some Democratic leaders today again talk about the dream act. This is for illegal immigrants, their children born in this country, the idea that there might be a path to citizenship for them or even in-state funding for tuition if they choose to go to some universities in their state -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Looks almost certainly that comprehensive immigration reform is dead, not only this year, but next year. Probably a new president 2009 will be the next time any of this really could come up for some comprehensive legislation.
KOPPEL: Absolutely. In fact, Lou -- Wolf, rather, when you look at the president's domestic agenda, this was the top agenda item for him. The fact that he lost 37 Republicans in this vote today doesn't bode well for other top domestic and international agenda items, certainly like Iraq, which is going to be front and center in the weeks to come.
We saw just this week two Republicans, George Voinovich of Ohio and Richard Lugar of Indiana, break with the president on this and start calling for troops to come home. That's only going to increase in the weeks to come -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Andrea, thanks very much. The Senate showdown over immigration reform was widely viewed as a critical test of President Bush's power in his remaining months in office.
And joining us now from the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, where the president delivered a speech earlier today, our White House correspondent Ed Henry. A lot of people suggesting, Ed, that the president had invested so much of his personal influence and prestige and power in trying to get this immigration bill through, a complete collapse today. What does it say about his ability to influence events on Capitol Hill and elsewhere over the next year and a half?
ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: What it means is if it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, he's inching closer and closer to being a lame duck. And a fact -- and a clear sign of that is when people in your own party are no longer afraid to take you on, on issue after issue, on the immigration reform bill. The president made that personal appeal, dramatic effort on Capitol Hill, face to face with Senate Republicans, and yet in the end, only 12 Senate Republicans voted with him.
So the vast majority went against him. If you look on Iraq, the issue he was talking about today, you know how (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Republicans from red states like Dick Lugar, standing up against the president, saying we can't wait until September. You need to change the policy now, because the increase in troops is not working.
And then you look at the subpoena issue. That's not really about his own party, it's about the Democrats. And you look at the subpoenas that are arriving at the White House day after day on issue after issue. This president's moving closer and closer to lame duck -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Well, on that subpoena issue, the Senate Judiciary Committee, what, they voted 12 to 3 in favor of issuing these subpoenas to get some documents and testimony from White House officials. It looks like there is going to be a constitutional showdown over this issue.
HENRY: Absolutely. It's very likely headed to the courts. That could be part of the White House strategy, drag this out, because by the time there is a resolution, it's very possible that President Bush will be out of office, Wolf.
BLITZER: Ed Henry reporting for us from Newport, Rhode Island. Ed, thanks very much.
Let's go to Jack Cafferty. He's in New York for "The Cafferty File" -- a pretty busy news day, a lot of major developments unfolding today, Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Yes and not much good news for President Bush in any of it.
Here's something, though, that the Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives can agree on -- it's time for a pay raise. Low poll numbers and public dissatisfaction aside, they voted to accept a cost of living increase of about $4,400, which will raise their salaries to almost $170,000 a year. Of course, they don't work anywhere near a year, but that's beside the point.
If you'll recall, the issue of congressional pay raises was off the table for a little while. Democrats had made a campaign promise to hold off on pay hikes for themselves until they raise the minimum wage. It was the first time there had been an interruption of any kind in their annual pay increases in seven years, and of course, now that's over.
Yesterday, Democratic Congressman Jim Matheson, Republican Congressman Lee Terry tried to get a direct vote to block the cost of living increase, the raise. Guess what? They got voted down, 244 to 181. Supporters of the pay hike say that it's necessary to keep experienced lawmakers, to keep pace with inflation, and to make sure that Congress is not dominated by only the wealthy.
But Matheson says quoting here, "we need to show the American people that we're willing to make some sacrifices, that we recognize there's a struggle for some in today's economy.", unquote. It is not clear yet when the Senate will take up a similar measure, but you can bet the deed to your house that they will get theirs.
So here's the question -- do members of Congress deserve a pay raise, another pay raise? E-mail CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile. You know, it's just bad for them, Wolf. The public doesn't like these people. They shouldn't be voting themselves pay increases.
BLITZER: But aren't they working more than three days a week now? They have to show up sometimes on a Friday or even a Thursday?
CAFFERTY: I don't know. We got a great e-mail in the 5:00 hour and somebody says Congress should do something or maybe nothing, I'm not sure any more which is worse.
BLITZER: Jack, stand by. Thanks very much.
Coming up -- your vote matters. Some believe that many court decisions like today's ruling on race and education are partly determined by who wins the White House. We're going to take a closer look at the stakes in this coming presidential election.
The U.S. Supreme Court decision will likely be a major topic at tonight's Democratic presidential debate. Eight candidates will be there. At historically important black university, Howard University right here in Washington. We're going to have a preview. And it's dinnertime for millions of Americans. Might the fish that you be eating -- might it be dangerous to your health? The government has a new and important alert. Carol Costello working that story.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Let's get back to our top story. The United States Supreme Court now making a landmark decision, they're throwing a new twist into the presidential campaign. At issue, today's ruling against using race as a factor in assigning students to public schools.
Let's bring in our senior political analyst Bill Schneider. He's watching this. For years, a lot of analysts have always asked the question, Bill, does the Supreme Court follow presidential elections?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Here's the answer, now more than ever.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Back in 1900, Findlay Peter Dunn (ph) quoted Mr. Dooley, his fictional Irish bartender, as saying the Supreme Court follows the election returns. That's certainly the case with President Bush.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: The Roberts Court is a different court because George Bush won the last election and John Kerry didn't.
SCHNEIDER: In several significant cases this year, a five to four conservative majority on the new court has overturned rulings made by a five to four liberal majority on the old court. The new court has reversed itself on late-term abortions and campaign finance reform and the use of race in student admissions. When presidents nominated justices in the past, ideology was one consideration among many.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Presidents didn't used to run for office making promises about the kind of justices they would appoint. But President George W. Bush did, and he has delivered on those promises by transforming the court in a short period of time.
SCHNEIDER: Was the court an issue to voters? In 2004, a "Newsweek" poll asked Americans how important each of 11 different issues would be in their vote for president. The results in order of importance were the economy, health care, education, Iraq, terrorism, Social Security, taxes, the deficit, foreign policy, the environment, and at the bottom of the list, the Supreme Court. In 2008, the court could be a bigger issue.
TOM GOLDSTEIN, ATTORNEY: Mistakes in the next presidential election are actually huge, because the only likely retirees at the Supreme Court are on the left.
SCHNEIDER: So, yes, the Supreme Court did follow the election returns. After all, you could argue that in 2000, the election returns followed the Supreme Court -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Bill Schneider, thanks very much.
Race certainly going to be a factor, a major topic of discussion when the Democratic presidential candidates return to the debate stage tonight. All eight candidates are facing off at Howard University here in Washington. That's a predominantly black school.
Our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley is over there at the debate site. How important is this forum tonight, if you will, for these eight Democratic candidates?
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's very important, Wolf. As you know, the African American constituency in the Democratic Party is one of the largest and one of the most loyal. So this is an audience to which all of these eight candidates have to play, have to have the answers that they're looking for. So this is an important night for these eight candidates.
BLITZER: What's the likely impact from today's landmark Supreme Court decision removing race as a factor in public school admissions? What's the likely fallout going to be on the presidential campaign?
CROWLEY: Well, I think you will hear, and we have seen from the press releases we got from many of these candidates that they believe it puts the make-up of the Supreme Court back on the agenda. Now, it's always been a big Republican agenda item because it tends to drive out the Republican base. Democrats because there was a feeling that Roe v. Wade wasn't really threatened, have not always seen Supreme Court nominations as a big campaign issue.
But now we have seen in these press releases that these candidates have put out from Barack Obama to Hillary Clinton to John Edwards, that they are saying this proves that these elections matter because of these Supreme Court nominees, Barack Obama saying, you know, if I'm elected president, I'm going to appoint Supreme Court nominees that will understand Brown v. the Board of Education.
BLITZER: Thanks very much. Candy is over at Howard University, getting ready for this debate later tonight.
Meanwhile, Senator John McCain is denying rumors he might drop out of the presidential race if his second quarter fund-raising numbers are low. The Republican tells reporters on Capitol Hill these rumors, in his words, "ridiculous." McCain says he's happy about where his campaign is politically, and he says it's always been difficult for him to raise money because he contends the special interest groups simply don't want him to become president of the United States. The next presidential debate to be featured here on CNN, by the way, will take place on July 23rd. We're teaming up with YouTube. It will be the first debate where all of you can submit your questions to the candidates online.
Still ahead tonight right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, some are wondering, is President Bush actually wishing Cuba's Fidel Castro dead? You'll hear just why some people are asking that question tonight.
And don't let this happen to you. Just before the Fourth of July, officials are using objects that look like humans to warn all of us about fireworks. Our Jeanne Moos is standing by with an unexpected turn of events.
Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Our Carol Costello is monitoring stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Carol, what do you have?
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Pretty incredible pictures to show you, Wolf. Firefighters are again battling a massive brush fire in Cape Coral, Florida. At one time it was considered completely contained, but it flared back up again today. It's grown from 85 acres to 1,900 acres now. Nearby residents are being told to evacuate. The fire started last night, and firefighters believe it was caused by lightning.
A 65-year-old St. Louis man who was kicked off an Amtrak train is missing. Police in Williams, Arizona, say Amtrak personnel ordered Roosevelt Sims (ph) off the train for drunk and disorderly behavior, but his family says he is a diabetic and was instead going into diabetic shock. He was let off at a stop in the middle of a national forest two miles from the nearest road, since has been missing since Sunday.
President Bush has formally nominated Navy Admiral Michael Mullen to replace Peter Pace as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Pace's term ends September 30. His reappointment would have led to contentious Senate confirmation hearings. Many lawmakers blame Pace for failures in Iraq. The president also nominated General James Cartwright (ph) to replace the retiring Joint Chiefs vice chairman.
Back to you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Carol, thank you.
Just ahead, major asset or major baggage? Just how valuable is Bill Clinton to his wife's run for the White House? Carl Bernstein will join us, that's coming up.
Also, Michael Moore's latest movie already getting a lot of buzz, and it has yet to be released nationwide, but when it comes to health care in Cuba, just how accurate is "Sicko"? Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now -- the Supreme Court stops the pending execution of a Texas double murderer. In a five to four vote, the court said lower courts did not consider if the man fully understood why he'd be killed. The inmate involved is mentally ill.
An amendment to withhold almost $5 million in funding for the vice president's residence, vehicles and entertainment fails. It was offered by Democratic Congressman Rahm Emanuel. He and others are upset at the refusal by the vice president's office to comply with an executive order examining how it handles classified documents.
And Lady Bird Johnson is released from a Texas hospital. A representative says the 94-year-old former first lady is resting comfortably at home. Local reports say she was in the hospital for a fever.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Former President Bill Clinton is being put to work in his wife's White House effort. Her campaign certainly considers him a major asset. But political rivals are seizing on his presence as well.
CNN's Mary Snow has more -- Mary.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Bill Clinton is wrapping up his supporting role in his wife's presidential campaign, and some say it can be both a plus and a minus.
SNOW (voice-over): He added star power to Hillary Clinton's "Sopranos" spoof campaign video.
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: How's the campaign going?
SNOW: Next week, another first. He plans to campaign alongside her in Iowa. As Bill Clinton becomes more visible in his wife's presidential campaign, her rivals are also elevating his status. Republican Rudy Giuliani, for one, targeted Bill Clinton over his handling of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The United States government, under then President Clinton, did not respond. Bin Laden declared war on us. We didn't hear it.
SNOW: The comments grabbed headlines. The Democratic National Committee shot back, saying Giuliani's arrogance has gotten the best of him. Giuliani later clarified, saying he wasn't laying blame. GIULIANI: I say completely that we shouldn't blame prior administrations. I don't think it's fair to blame people before September 11th.
SNOW: And it's not just Republicans injecting Bill Clinton's name on the campaign trail. Fellow Democrat Barack Obama brought up the former president while taking a jab at Hillary Clinton's experience.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The only person who would probably be prepared to be president on day one would be Bill Clinton, not Hillary Clinton.
STUART ROTHENBERG, THE ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT: It's natural that the other candidates are going to either take a shot at him, particularly in the case of Republicans, or in the case of Democrats, compare his performance, his readiness, his background, with his wife's.
SNOW: Some Clinton supporters say, though, there is one area where Bill Clinton can't be compared.
NOAH MAMET, DEMOCRATIC CONSULTANT: He's the greatest surrogate in the history of political fund-raising. I think any campaign would love to have him involved at any level.
SNOW: But even as Bill Clinton appeals to donors in the final days of the second quarter, he admits, opponents may raise more money, hint, Barack Obama. It underscores the fierce competition in the 2008 race. As the former president gets pressed into service, strategists say the balancing act is for him not to overshadow his wife.
SNOW: (on camera): Just today the campaign touts President Clinton's role in a new message on its Web site, saying he's a huge asset in this race. The campaign is estimating it's raised about $27 million this quarter. Still, it says it expects to be outraised by the Obama camp, which hasn't yet come out with an estimate. Wolf?
BLITZER: Mary Snow reporting for us in New York. Thanks, Mary. . Let's get more now on the role of the former president in this presidential campaign.
Joining us now is the journalist and author Carl Bernstein. His latest best-selling book is entitled "A Woman In Charge: The Life Of Hillary Rodham Clinton." Carl, it's good, as usual, to have you here with us in THE SITUATION ROOM. What do you think, is Bill Clinton, when all is said and done, an asset or a liability for her campaign?
CARL BERNSTEIN, JOURNALIST: He's the biggest factor of all. And presumably, that means he's an asset, unless something untoward happens, and certainly, no one in the Clinton campaign expects anything untoward to happen. He's the greatest campaigner in modern political history. He's been the president. He is the elemental part of Hillary Clinton's process. He loves that she's running for president. He's the key advisor, the key decision-maker. As he would be the key advisor in the White House.
It would be a kind of co-presidency, if she were elected. They wouldn't call it that. He tried that once, and it didn't fly. But he would certainly be the great presence in the White House in terms of heft, advice, and also having a role, as she said, as a kind of ambassador at large.
BLITZER: But she's got to get to the White House first. As a strategist, how important is he? Everybody knows he's very talented out there, but do you think he's involved on a day-to-day basis in helping her plot strategy?
BERNSTEIN: Absolutely. I think that he is the smartest strategist probably around, as well as the smartest campaigner on the ground. And one of the things, you know, I was listening to Giuliani there for a minute, and it -- one of the things to remember here is that after the Bush presidency, the Clinton presidency looks awfully good to many, many Americans, and he's held in great affection. And he's definitely an asset in that regard. There is excitement about him.
Also, we are talking about sui generis territory here. We've never had a husband and wife, a wife running for president after his her husband has already been there, she's lived in the White House for eight years. She was an elemental part of that presidency and by no means a successful part for a long time, and then her stature became enhanced toward the end of it.
So there is a kind of almost soap opera drama to what we're seeing here that captivates people, and I don't mean captivates in the sense that they necessarily love it all, but they're fascinated by it. It has its own dynamic, and we've never seen it.
BLITZER: You've spent seven years researching this book. Tell us a little bit about the relationship that Bill and Hillary Clinton have.
BERNSTEIN: Well, it's like any married couple, it's as complicated as can be, and only the two people in the relationship really know all the truths about it. What we do know is, and especially since I've been able to talk to so many people who have figured in their lives and know them best, this was a great love affair from the time they met. I think it's still a love affair. He thinks that she is the brightest star in the constellation, always has. Whatever his wanderings or affairs have been, even to the point where at one point he wanted to leave the marriage, there is no question about that. I was able to find out about that. And then Hillary wanted him to stay in the marriage and wouldn't give him a pass, as Betsy Wright, Bill's chief of staff said to me, and they put it back together again.
BLITZER: How do they make sure, Carl, that he doesn't overshadow her, especially on the campaign trail?
BERNSTEIN: I think there is a kind of natural dynamic at work here. She's the star right now. He's a different kind of star, but she's the candidate. No woman has attracted this kind of attention in our history that's kind of a little bit Paris Hilton phenomenon, and meaning in the popular culture, and a little bit Eleanor Roosevelt phenomenon. It's a kind of crazy mix. So it's totally unlike anything we've seen.
BLITZER: Would it be smart for the two of them to go out together on the campaign trail, or should he go separately, she go separately, and work their respective crowds?
BERNSTEIN: Let me tell you, I'm a pretty good journalist, and I've written a biography that I really think finally tells us who this woman is. But I am a lousy political adviser. You wouldn't hire me for 20 cents to advise a campaign on what to do.
My guess is that they will find times that it will be advantageous for the two of them to be together, and they will find probably more times when it's advantageous to be separate.
But I can't imagine there won't be times when we're going to see them together, and when we do, there is going to be pandemonium on one side, and there also, is going to be from the other side, particularly if she's the nominee, we're going to hear a lot of references to there they go again, and there are going to be reminders and placards and everything else about the Clinton circus or whatever, you know, the Republicans care to call it. They're going to do every damn thing they can to paint the Clinton years as an aberrant chapter in American political history.
But that's going to be harder after the disaster and catastrophe of the Bush years.
BLITZER: Carl Bernstein's the author of "A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton." It's a best-selling book right now. Carl, thanks, as usual, for coming in.
BERNSTEIN: Good to be here.
BLITZER: And still ahead tonight -- if you love catfish, eel, shrimp, other seafood, beware, some of it may be dangerous to you. The government's announcing some new worries.
And beware of things that go boom. Just days before the Fourth of July, officials are giving some graphic warnings about the dangers of fireworks. Stick around. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Pet food laced with chemicals, tainted toothpaste and now fish containing medicines blocked from the U.S. The list of contaminated imports from China is growing right now. Let's turn to CNN's Carol Costello. She's following this story for us. Here's the question, Carol, how concerned should we be?
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: You know, your guess is as good as mine, because it's hard to say. The FDA says it's banning seafood from China, but if you have it in your freezer, go ahead and eat it, pop it in the microwave. It's confusing.
COSTELLO (on camera): It's enough to knock the seafood lover right out of you. The FDA has issued an import alert on shrimp, catfish, eel, basa, and dace shipped in from China.
DR. DAVID ATCHESON, FDA: There is fish out there that likely does contain these very low levels of drugs. What we're doing here is preventing that from continuing.
COSTELLO: Chinese farmers use these drugs to reduce disease in fish, but their use is banned here in the United States. Scientists say here they have caused cancer in mice if consumed over a long period of time.
So what does that mean for humans? Well, the FDA isn't sure, but says the levels of these antibiotics in Chinese fish are so low, you should not worry about that fish already in your freezer.
ATCHESON: The concern is really long-term exposure from some of the drugs that are in these types of seafood. It's not a short-term exposure issue. You don't need to worry about what's on your dinner table tonight.
COSTELLO: Yet the FDA is now requiring Chinese importers to prove their incoming fish are drug-free, by inviting an independent third party to conduct tests on fish.
CAROLINE SMIT DEWAAL, CENTER FOR SCIENCE IN THE PUBLIC ISSUE: I think the FDA is basically taking the gamble that consumers don't generally eat enough seafood anyway. Our consumption of seafood products is actually quite low compared to other types of meat.
COSTELLO: The FDA has been wrestling with a number of Chinese imports. Take a look at what it's recalled from American store shelves in just the past few months, everything from toothpaste to dog food to chicken feed. Consumer groups say it's time for the FDA to discover these problems before Chinese goods hit American soil.
DEWAAL: The FDA needs to have a comprehensive program for ensuring the safety of imported foods. And this includes not only checks at the border, but also checks in the country of origin.
(END VIDEOTAPE) COSTELLO (on camera): Now, if you're wondering how you can tell if the fish you're eating comes from China, well the FDA does not require companies to label where the fish is coming from. So the only way to find out is ask at the supermarket, or if you're in a restaurant, you have to ask your server. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right. Thank you, Carol, for that complicated story.
He feels he's helping diagnose a sick society. Michael Moore's film "Sicko" tells what he says are horror stories, Americans getting sicker, even dying because they simply can't afford quality health care. Moore compares the U.S. to countries that offer universal health care like Cuba. But how exact are the comparisons? CNN's Morgan Neill is in Havana. Morgan?
MORGAN NEILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, in Moore's new movie, Cuba is painted as a sort of health care paradise compared to the united states. We took a look at just how that picture holds up.
MICHAEL MOORE, FILMMAKER: Hello?
NEILL (voice-over): In Michael Moore's "Sicko," when a group of ailing 9/11 rescue workers can't afford treatment in the U.S., they head to Cuba. First to the U.S. base at Guantanamo.
MOORE: Permission to enter! I have three 9/11 rescue workers. They just want some medical attention, the same kind that the evil- doors are getting.
NEILL: Turned away, the group then heads to Havana, where they're treated for lung and dental problems and set on their way, free of charge.
REGGIE CERVANTES, 9/11 RESCUE WORKER: It's the same kind of care we got here. The difference is, there is no bill.
NEILL: Is that really how it works? Just about. Actually, foreigners, or at least those of us not involved in making movies, usually do have to pay for our care. And it's worth pointing out, there are separate hospitals, like this one for non Cubans. Nevertheless, Moore's central point is valid. For Cubans, health care is universal and it is free.
(on camera): And it's provided with a modest public health budget. How do they pull it off? Gail Reed, an American journalist who lives here, co-produced a documentary on Cuba's health system.
GAIL REED, CO-PRODUCER, "SALUD": They concentrate on prevention. They concentrate on bringing services closer to people's homes so that the big-ticket items don't really take up, don't sponge up all that small budget they have.
NEILL: Critics say Moore's picture of the Cuban health system doesn't show the conditions ordinary Cubans face. In this video posted on YouTube, Cuban American filmmaker Luis Moro (ph) blasts Moore.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How dare you lie to the people on a pretense of making documentary?
NEILL: He then he shows what he says are the real conditions in Cuban hospitals. Health facilities are certainly rudimentary compared to the U.S. The government decides where doctors will work and how much they earn, typically around $20 a month. Patients often supply their own sheets and their own food while in the hospital.
And some hospitals are in conditions that would appall most Americans. But Cuba's health care achievements are impressive. According to the World Health Organization, life expectancy on the island is 77.1 years compared to 77.3 in the U.S. And infant mortality rates are actually lower in Cuba. All of that, while spending roughly nine percent what the U.S. spends on each citizen per year.
NEILL (on camera): As you can tell, anything involving Michael Moore or Cuba, for that matter, sparks angry debate. And this latest movie is no exception. Wolf.
BLITZER: Morgan Neill, our man in Havana, thanks very much. This note, you can hear directly from Michael more. He'll be sitting down with a one-on-one interview with our own Larry King, that will air tomorrow night at 9:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.
Also regarding Cuba, today the House of Representatives agreed to relax restrictions on agricultural trade with Cuba. That's according to the "Congressional Quarterly." The House action defies a veto threat from President Bush. The president has long been an opponent of normalizing trade with the communist nation. And President Bush today had this to say about the Cuban leader. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT: One day, the Good Lord will take Fidel Castro away.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Asked whether the president was wishing Castro dead, the White House National Security Council spokes Gordon Jondro (ph) said, and I am quoting now, "The president was commenting on an inevitable event."
Still ahead, does Colin Powell feel Dick Cheney left him out of the loop in the former secretary of state weighs in on the way the vice president does business.
And do members of Congress deserve a pay raise? Jack Cafferty's standing by with your e-mail. We'll be right back. Vice President Dick Cheney is under political fire on several fronts. The "Washington Post" recently reported that Cheney kept then Secretary of State Colin Powell out of the loop for two years on a memo outlining the administration's definition of torture. CNN's Larry King asked Secretary Powell today about the way Cheney conducts political business.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COLIN POWELL, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Mr. Cheney has strong views on issues, and as you would expect, he presses those strong views. We all have strong views, and we press those views. Sometimes he went directly to the president. And the rest of us weren't aware of what advice he was giving, and sometimes I would do that, as well.
It was not a system where we routinely exposed all points of view. But the bottom line is that the president is the one who decides what advice he wishes to accept and act on, and what advice he doesn't feel he should act on.
LARRY KING, CNN HOST: So this was not personal?
POWELL: With me, it's not personal, it was business. And sometimes, I agreed with all of my colleagues -- Secretary Rumsfeld, Vice President Cheney, Dr. Rice, we all were uniformly agreed on an issue. But there were a number of issues where we had serious disagreements.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You can see all of the interview with Secretary Powell later tonight on LARRY KING LIVE, 9:00 p.m. Eastern.
Let's go to Jack Cafferty in New York for "The Cafferty File." Jack?
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: I think the country misses having him around.
BLITZER: Very good guy, yeah.
CAFFERTY: Yeah. Absolutely.
They do this every year and it's always fun to get your reaction. The question is do members of Congress deserve a pay raise?
Joy in Illinois writes, "Jack, I say we can discuss a raise after they bring the troops home and restore the rule of law to the executive branch. Then we'll talk."
Ben writes, "It always makes me laugh how quickly Congress votes themselves a raise. Why can't they vote this quickly on real issues that matter? Maybe they can vote on giving our armed forces a raise, because they are the ones that do real good for our country."
Jonathan, "A cost of living increase is not a raise. Without such an increase, one makes less each year. The issue is not whether or not our congressional representatives ought to receive COLAS," that would be cost of living allowance, "it's that everyone should."
Walter in Louisiana, "Jack, as a taxpayer, and as such, one of their employers, I cannot justify yet another raise. As an employer, the annual employee review never appears that great."
Michael in Florida, "No but if they were to impeach the shooter or the decider I would reconsider and offer Medals of Freedom, as well."
Sam in Louisiana, "Jack, in the normal world people get raises for accomplishments and doing good work. For the past six years, Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Congress have accomplished next to nothing which is what their pay raise should be."
Jim writes, "Congress does not deserve a pay raise, but Jack, you do."
Right on, Jim.
And Barbara in Michigan writes, "A pay raise? They ought to be taken to a junk yard and sold for any parts of them that are still good."
If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to cnn.com/caffertyfile, where we post more of them online, along with video clips of "The Cafferty File." Trot them all down to the junk yard and turn them in for parts.
BLITZER: Very clever viewers, Jack. See you tomorrow. Thanks very much.
Let's see what's coming up at the top of the hour on PAULA ZAHN NOW. Roland Martin filling in for Paula tonight. Hi, Roland.
ROLAND MARTIN, CNN GUEST HOST: Hi, Wolf.
Look. We're going to look at today's Supreme Court ruling. Does it really matter who students are sitting next to or whether they're getting an education?
Some billboards around Chicago say, "Stop listening to trash" and name some of the country's biggest rappers. I'll ask a rapper if he's paying attention.
And will you take a class from Professor Paris Hilton? It's all at the top of the hour.
BLITZER: Roland Martin, we'll be watching. Getting a nice shout out yesterday from Bill Cosby right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
MARTIN: That's cool.
BLITZER: Coming up right now after a short break, you wouldn't want this to happen to you. As consumer safety experts try to make their point about the dangers of fireworks. Jeanne Moos will show us. She's no dummy.
BLITZER: Don't be a dummy when it comes to fireworks. That's the message the nation's consumer safety watch dog wants to drive home this Fourth of July holiday. It's a very serious message, but our Jeanne Moos has a "Moost Unusual" look at what happens when sparks fly.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There are fireworks that make you go "oh," and there are fireworks that make you go "uh- oh!" These guests have been making the rounds of all the morning news shows.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How dangerous are these fireworks?
MOOS: For these guys, very.
JIMMY KIMMEL, TALK SHOW HOST: So if you're a mannequin, be very careful this year.
MOOS: And if you think it's dangerous for mannequins, try being a watermelon.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wow.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my goodness.
MOOS: Watermelons and mannequins have the Consumer Products Safety Commission to fear. Every year the commission puts on a demonstration of the damage fireworks can do.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I want to warn you, this is going to be quite loud.
MOOS: And they do it on the Mall in front of the Washington Monument.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh!
MOOS: It's enough to give an unsuspecting motorist a heart attack.
JULIE VALLESE, CONSUMER PRODUCT SAFETY COMMISSION: We did observe some Washington tourists taking cover at the base of the Washington monument.
MOOS: And tourists weren't the only ones startled.
VALLESE: I do have to say that Secret Service agents materialized out of nowhere.
MOOS: The Products Safety Commission goes through about eight mannequins every year, but these two resisted ignition. Over and over, technicians tried to light the sparklers. Last year there were 1,000 real injuries associated with sparklers. But these two didn't seem to want to be added to that toll.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am told that we are going to move to number two and come back to the sparklers.
MOOS: Over to the bottle rocket. To show what happens if one ignites in a kid's pocket.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're now going to go back to demonstration number one with the sparklers.
MOOS: Oh yeah?
VALLESE: We had a little problem with the torch. For some reason, it wouldn't stay lit. It was breezy on the Mall.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right, I think we're going to abandon the sparklers here.
MOOS: The mannequins were unceremoniously carted away. Dark humor aside, the demonstrations sure make the dangers of fireworks stick in your mind, if you still have a mind. When a mannequin visited one of the morning shows, he wore a different shirt.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my gosh!
MOOS: As for the mannequins who escaped unscathed, eventually, they were reinstalled and finally ignited to demonstrate how sparklers can set someone's clothes or hair on fire.
On July 4th, let's give the fireworks a hand, but not this kind of hand. But not this kind of hand. Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.
BLITZER: Be careful with those fireworks.
Let's take a closer look at the "Hot Shots" coming from our friends over at the "Associated Press," pictures likely to be in your hometown newspapers tomorrow.
In Iraq, a police academy graduate demonstrates his martial arts skills.
In Zambia, first lady Laura Bush sits with a child during a roundtable meeting. The first lady is working to combat disease in the southern African nation.
In Jerusalem, the hip hop singer Sean Paul stands at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site, during a visit to Israel.
And in Hungary, an animal keeper snuggles up to a rhinoceros calf while feeding her from a bottle.
Some of this hours "Hot Shots," pictures often worth a thousand words.
Please be sure to join us weekday afternoons 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern and another hour, 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Tomorrow the road to the White House isn't supposed to be easy, but has the debate become too shrill? Elizabeth Edwards here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Let's go to Roland Martin sitting in for Paula. Roland?
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.voxant.com