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AMERICAN MORNING

Update on Times Square Explosion; Patrick Swayze's Pancreatic Cancer Fight; Delegate Dilemma: Howard Dean Weighs In; Oil Hits $105 a Barrel

Aired March 6, 2008 - 07:00   ET

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


KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news. Times Square shut down. A commuter nightmare at the crossroads of the world after an explosion.
Count us in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHARLIE CRIST (R), FLORIDA: Are you kidding me? This is the will of the people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: Florida and Michigan fight to have their voices heard. Florida's governor and Howard Dean join us live.

Grand experiment inside the plans of Flush the Grand Canyon and save some species. A dramatic sight, but will it do the trick on this AMERICAN MORNING.

And welcome. If you're just joining us this morning, some action in Times Square this morning. Not the type police are looking for. A small explosion taking place in the building that houses a military recruitment center as well as a police station.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. It happened right at the corner of 43rd Street and Broadway, and there you can see the building. It's on a traffic island here. An explosion this morning. It was 3:45 a.m. According to reports, somebody on a bicycle went by and tossed an incendiary device. Thankfully it was a small one. No injuries to report. The damage was fairly minimal.

The FBI there now assisting with the investigation. The damage was contained pretty much just to a pane of glass on the front of the building there. It shattered it though. It happened on one of the busiest areas in North America, that crossroads of the world as it's called. Witnesses say that they heard a huge bang just about 3:45 this morning. Listen to how some people described it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I called my neighbor who lives on the other side of the building, and I asked him if he heard the same thing. So they could hear it on both sides of the building it's something big.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Here's a look at the picture from the scene shortly after the blast. You can see a couple members of the New York City police department there. The blast intensity shattering one of those windows as we said, and they still got part of that area locked down this morning. Traffic is slowing through the area. Subway service restored, but these people are moving through the area. The frozen zone, as they call it, has narrowed down quite a bit.

CHETRY: Looks like possibly a statement -- an attempt at making a statement more than actually doing any harm. This, by the way, is the busiest recruiting center in the country. They say that every year they get national records for enlistment...

ROBERTS: Yes.

CHETRY: ... averaging about 10,000 volunteers a year. High profile right there. And there you see another picture of the glass. It says I want you, the famous Uncle Sam poster and then the shattered glass right around where that small explosion took place.

ROBERTS: Now, as you can imagine, because this is such a heavily traveled area, both pedestrian traffic and vehicle traffic, they've got tons of cameras. Here's some time lapse video of the area at about the time that it took place. Unfortunately, you're looking just a little bit at the wrong angle. It looks like it's 43rd Street and Broadway. But Broadway area, maybe even 44th Street there. But that military recruiting center actually not in the shot. But you can see is --

CHETRY: What about the light off to the right?

ROBERTS: I don't know if that would just be a flashing light from one of those signs, or that could be a flash from the blast. But you can see the police coming to the area, cordoning it off with cars, putting yellow tape up all over the area. And this investigation will be going on for some time. They're still looking for a suspect.

CHETRY: And, you know, you talk about a search for a needle in a haystack. I mean, in Times Square, these cameras may help as you pointed out, heavily ringed with security cameras. But such a heavily traveled area that finding someone in that area, maybe they're going to be relying on some witnesses who may have seen anything.

ROBERTS: Our Alina Cho is down there in the area. And as you can see, members of the ATF, or they're Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, as well as the FBI. DHS is involved with this because of some fears about terrorism that this could have just been sort of one of a series of attacks. They closed down the subway system earlier today, but that's all reopened again so people can get to work.

Alina is down in the area collecting a lot of information from her sources, and she'll be with us in just a little while.

CHETRY: Meanwhile, it could be a dramatic twist in the Democratic race for the White House. Talk this morning of a possible, possible do over vote in both Florida and Michigan. The caucuses in Michigan. With Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama locked in a neck and neck fight for delegates, here's what's at stake; 210 delegates in Florida, 156 delegates in Michigan. And the Democratic National Committee stripped both states of those delegates when the primaries were scheduled early in violation of party rules.

Well, late last night, lawmakers from both states met behind closed doors on Capitol Hill discussing their options. Kate Bolduan is on Capitol Hill this morning with more on that. So what happened last night?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kiran, the members say it was a good first step. Really, they wanted to get together to kind of sit down, hash things out and find out where each other stands on how to resolve the issue of the delegations in Michigan and Florida. Now, House Democratic members met at this meeting last night, as you said. They met for about an hour, and they were really tossing around ideas. Some of the ideas were they could, as you mentioned, have a do over vote. Redo the primary or they could simply use the results from the previous primary.

Some members said they would support another vote if the Democratic National Committee, the party, would pay for it. Other members said, hey, wait a second, these primaries already happened. We had great voter turnout and these votes should be the ones that actually count. Now, Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, he clearly disagrees. He came out yesterday with a statement simply to say on behalf of the party that the Democratic nominee will be determined in accordance with party rules. And out of respect for the presidential campaigns and the states that did not violate party rules, we are not going to change the rules in the middle of the game.

Now, the members that met, the Democratic House members that met last night, say that's pretty much unfair. They don't think that's fair to the candidates or fair to their state. Now, Representative Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, she criticized Dean as well as the committee, as she was heading into the meeting last night. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D), FLORIDA: Unfortunately, Howard Dean made the wrong decision initially, and that's part of why we have to have this meeting so that we can make sure in November, we're in the strongest possible position as a party to elect the next president of the United States. We need to undo the damage that was done at the beginning of this process by the Democratic National Committee.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Well, she definitely felt very strongly about having their delegates in Florida as well as the delegates in Michigan seated and recognized at the convention. No word yet on another meeting between these members or with campaigns or with members of the party. However, they do say that there will be formal, and informal talks will be continuing -- Kiran.

CHETRY: Kate Bolduan at Capitol Hill for us. Thanks so much. You know, they're really are at logger heads. The DNC saying the same thing that it was the fault of the states for breaking the rules initially. They're not going to change the game halfway through. So, once again as we said, it's making for quite a fight as these delegate counts between the two candidates are so close that every one matters.

We're going to be talking to two of the main players in the fight this morning. DNC Chair Howard Dean, he joins us live in actually just a few minutes from now. That's five minutes. And then a little bit later, we're going to hear from Florida Governor Charlie Crist at the bottom of the hour, 7:30 Eastern time.

ROBERTS: The caucus system is also under fire this morning. Hillary Clinton is claiming that it's unfair after early results from the caucuses in Texas show her behind Barack Obama. Only 40 percent of the precincts have been counted so far. Obama is at 56 percent currently. Clinton at 44. We're still waiting for final results. We hope to get them by this afternoon. Sixty-seven delegates hang in the balance there. Ten of Obama's 25 victories had been in states that hold caucuses.

For presumptive GOP nominee John McCain, it is full speed ahead to the fall campaign after getting President Bush's blessing. McCain met with the president at the White House yesterday where he received a formal endorsement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A while back I don't think many people would have thought that John McCain would be here as the nominee of the Republican Party. He's going to be the president that will bring determination to defeat an enemy and a heart big enough to love those who hurt. I can help raise money. And if he wants my pretty face standing by his side at one of these rallies, I'll be glad to show up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: McCain said he looks forward to campaigning in the general election with the president at his side.

And this just in. Something to think about as you are about to get in your car and turn the key. Oil prices hitting a record high at $105.51 a barrel. It comes after yesterday's news of a surprise drop in crude supplies and word that OPEC will not boost production. Earlier this week, oil prices broke the previous inflation adjusted price record of $103.76. That was set back in 1980 during the Tehran hostage crisis. Again, breaking news. Oil hitting an all-time record of $105.51 a barrel. We'll continue to follow that throughout the morning and bring you the very latest on it -- Kiran.

CHETRY: Well, actor Patrick Swayze is battling pancreatic cancer. That shocking news coming in yesterday. His publicist says he was diagnosed a month ago and is responding well to treatment. Chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is at the medical update desk for us in Atlanta. And, Sanjay, when you hear pancreatic cancer, it usually means pretty long odds of survival. What about in the case of Patrick Swayze?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, what we're hearing is that his disease is limited. That's what the folks in his camp are telling us. It is one of those difficult cancers because by the time anyone has any sort of symptoms at all, often times the cancer is advanced. By the time someone starts to have pain or significant weight loss, it has already become a much more serious cancer.

We have heard about pancreatic cancer in the past. As you know, Kiran, Pavarotti, for example -- Michael Landon died of it. This is one of those cancers that once you're diagnosed with it, as you said, the odds are very much not in your favor. People oftentimes don't live long.

Take a look at some of the numbers. It is not a very common cancer necessarily. About 37,000 cases. Of those 37,000, 33,000 often die. So take a look there at the odds for survival and with that life expectancy, three to six months. Only about five percent survive more than five years.

Kiran, the pancreas is an organ. It's in the abdomen and obviously is responsible for producing insulin which helps control your blood sugar. It also produces certain digestive enzymes. When people start to develop symptoms with blood glucose problems or they're not digesting their food as well, that can be a sign sometimes of pancreatic cancer. But as you pointed out, there often very few symptoms in the initial stages which makes this cancer so incredibly difficult to treat.

CHETRY: Also, apparently, there's not really a lot of early screening measures in place either for this situation. What is the typical treatment, though? Because as you said, they said it's in a limited area or it's a limited amount of the disease. Can they do surgery?

GUPTA: Yes, you know, they can. And I don't know what limited means necessarily in his case. But if the cancer is in a particular area of the pancreas, surgery can be performed. And that's really the only bet at actually curing someone of pancreatic cancer. It's not very likely but that's the only chance of doing it. There's also the possibility of radiation. There's also the possibility of chemotherapy depending on whether or not how far along the cancer is.

I just want to tell you really quick for people who are at most risk for pancreatic cancer. Again, you saw the numbers. But people who are smokers, for example, men seem to get this cancer more likely than women at over age 45. We hear that Patrick Swayze is 55 years old. So, yes, he fits into that demographic as well.

CHETRY: All right, Sanjay. And you talk about some other risk factors as well. People want to know if they can prevent pancreatic cancer. Can you? GUPTA: Well, it's hard to -- there's been a couple of studies talking, for example, about vitamin D and how using vitamin D -- just a normal dose is about 400 international units a day can actually reduce your pancreatic cancer significantly. Some studies say by up to half. But these are hard studies to do because oftentimes it requires going back and looking at someone's lifestyle over a period of time to determine what made them more at risk for it or less at risk for it. We know that smoking, as pointed out in that graphic, is certainly a risk factor. So not smoking decreases your risk.

CHETRY: All right. Sanjay Gupta, thank you. We'll see you in the next hour with some more...

GUPTA: All right.

CHETRY: ... interesting health news including...

GUPTA: Yes.

CHETRY: ... some news about autism that parents will want to hear. Thank you.

GUPTA: We'll support it. Thanks.

ROBERTS: Twelve minutes after the hour now.

The wave of foreclosures hitting one group of Americans the hardest. A new report just in this morning. Our own Gerri Willis has got the latest. Just who is suffering the most?

In a race where every delegate counts, two key states are being shut out. Five million voters being silenced. What should happen now? We'll ask DNC Chairman Howard Dean next.

And we'll also have the very latest for you on that explosion in Times Square this morning. A live look now, and most of the area open. But there at the bottom of your screen, you can see the investigators still looking into what it was that caused the explosion outside that military recruiting center.

We'll be right back in just a moment. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Fighting for the rights of five million voters. The Florida and Michigan Democratic Congressional delegations met last night in the U.S. Capitol. It is the first time that they talked about what to do with their delegates. They could be ultimately the deciding factors in picking the Democratic nominee. But right now, the state's primaries don't count. So what should happen?

Joining me now is the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Howard Dean, live at DNC headquarters in Washington. Chairman Dean, good to talk to you this morning. Are we headed for some kind of do-over in Florida and Michigan? HOWARD DEAN, CHAIRMAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: I don't know, John. That depends on Florida and Michigan. Well, the rules were set a year and a half ago. Florida and Michigan voted for them then decided that they didn't need to abide by the rules. Well, when you're in a contest, you do need to abide by the rules. Everybody has to play by the rules out of respect for both campaigns and the other 48 states.

So, Florida and Michigan basically have two choices. They can come back to the DNC with a set of delegate selection procedures that do comply with the rules of the 48 states honored. Or they can appeal to the Credentials Committee of the Democratic National Convention. That's their choice. We're delighted that this conversation is taking place. It's not the voters fault in Florida and Michigan that they didn't get included. So we think it's a good thing to have these discussions going on.

ROBERTS: Jennifer Granholm, the governor of Michigan, and Governor Crist of Florida said that it's intolerable to take away their state's votes. And here's what Governor Crist said yesterday on CNN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHARLIE CRIST (R), FLORIDA: The right to vote is at the very foundation of our democracy. This primary season, voters have turned out in record numbers to exercise that right, and it is reprehensible that anyone would seek to silence the voices.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Governor Crist also said it's unconscionable to me that some party boss in Washington is not going to permit the people to be heard. But didn't he sign off on the law that moved the primary up?

DEAN: Yes. Ironically, it was Governor Crist that moved the primary up. Now, I have a lot of respect for Governor Crist. He's done some very good things for Republicans in Florida. But the fact of the matter is you cannot violate the rules of the process and then expect to get forgiven for it. Now, what happens here has a big effect on what happens at the nominating convention.

It could determine, as you pointed out, the nominee. We've got to play by the rules. If you don't do that, then half of the people in the Democratic Party whose candidate doesn't win this nomination are going to go away believing they've been cheated. I've got to run a process where everybody believes this is an honest result. And the only way to do that is to stick to the rules that were agreed to by everybody at the beginning.

ROBERTS: Governor Crist is suggesting that he might be open to the idea of holding another primary down there in Florida, but he's not willing to foot the bill. He's saying that if anybody should foot the bill, it's the Democratic National Committee. Are you willing to open up your pocketbook and pay out what some people estimate could be as much as $25 million for it? DEAN: We actually offered to help the Democratic Party in Florida a long time ago, and they turned us down. Now, unfortunately, that time is gone. We've got to focus our resources on winning, and, frankly, on John McCain, who yesterday promised to do -- give us another four more years of George Bush in Iraq and in the economy and so forth.

ROBERTS: Yes.

DEAN: So, our job now is to elect the president of the United States and we're not going to have the resources to run a primary in Michigan or Florida. So we hope they can comply with the rules, but they're going to have to figure out how to pay for it.

ROBERTS: You know, when you look at the players involved here, Governor Crist is a Republican. It might be in his interest to have Hillary Clinton become the nominee because Republicans would like to run against her. Governor Granholm of Michigan is a Hillary Clinton supporter. She got the most number of votes there during the primary in Michigan. Are there any really any honest brokers involved in this discussion?

DEAN: Well, that's the big problem, John. You put your finger on exactly the problem. If you argue this after the fact, then you're arguing to advantage one campaign or the other. To be honest, I have to be the referee. I have to be the honest broker. I have to say we're going to stick to the rules. It's the only way that you can maintain the integrity of the process.

Look, the rules may be wrong. Maybe Florida and Michigan wish they hadn't done that now. I suppose they thought they're going to do it and then they're going to come and push us into violating the rules. If I violate the rules, I essentially throw the integrity of the nominating process out the window and half the Democratic Party goes away angry. That is the only thing that could make John McCain president if the Democrats get divided.

This is a Democratic year. Americans want change. We've had record turnouts in the Democratic side including support from Republicans and independents. We've got to keep that going, and that's my job.

ROBERTS: Yes. It's a Democratic year. There's also this idea of democracy as well. And people are saying it looks like it's increasingly coming down to the idea that these superdelegates are going to decide who the nominee is. And how does that improve the democratic process when a group of people who are either party insiders or elected officials might decide who the nominee is, that it hearkens back to the days of the smoke-filled room?

DEAN: John, that is nonsense. I know that's a popular thing in the media, but that's not true. Superdelegates were elected by essentially exactly the same people who went to the primaries and caucuses and voted. They look like the rest of America.

It's true that about two-fifths of them are elected officials. All those elected officials have constituencies, and they have to be responsive to their constituency. The other three-fifths of them look exactly like the Democratic Party. They are gender diverse, ethnically diverse. They're diverse in every way you can think of, and they look like the Democratic Party.

ROBERTS: But why did --

DEAN: One of the youngest ones is 21 years old.

ROBERTS: But why does their vote count for more?

DEAN: It doesn't count for more. It counts for exactly the same as everybody else's vote.

ROBERTS: Well, I mean --

DEAN: And they were elected by the same people. This is not a smoke soaked, smoke-filled bunch of cigar smokers tapping each other in the back. This is American democracy at work. These rules have been in place for 25 years.

ROBERTS: All right. Governor Dean for us this morning from Washington. Governor Dean, it's always good to see and talk to you. Thanks for being with us.

DEAN: Thanks for having me on.

ROBERTS: All right. Take care. We'll see you again soon.

And that bring us to this morning's "Quick Vote" question. If they were to hold them, who should pay for the new primaries in Florida and Michigan? Right now, 45 percent say the state should. Fifty-five percent say the Democratic National Committee should. So perhaps Governor Dean may be opening up his wallet. Cast your vote at CNN.com/am. We'll continue to tally your votes throughout the morning.

CHETRY: We should add a third one. Should they split it? We'll see.

Well, back to our breaking news this morning. It's an explosion that hit Times Square early in the morning. No one hurt, but they're trying to figure out who was behind it. This happened at a military recruiting center right in the heart of Times Square. The city's police department, the FBI and the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force all on the scene now.

There you see a still shot from earlier with the poster. I want you -- the famous Uncle Sam poster -- and you can see the shattered glass around it. It happened shortly before 4:00 this morning. Earlier reports say someone on a bicycle tossed a device at that center. And again, police inspecting the damage at the window.

Our own Alina Cho is in Times Square this morning. Are you learning any more about what they think might have happened? ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Kiran, good morning. FBI agents, as you mentioned, are on the scene. The Department of Homeland Security is closely monitoring the situation. The truth is any time you hear the words bomb and New York Times Square in the same sentence, people are bound to get scared. They're bound to get jittery. But even though Times Square was under lockdown for a couple of hours this morning, we are happy to report that traffic is once again flowing. Subway service has been restored, and that is very good news for the tens of thousands of people who are heading to work in America's largest city.

Now, here is what happened. New York City police tell CNN that around 3:45 this morning, somebody threw a small incendiary device at an army recruiting center. We should point out this center has been the site of several anti-war protests over the years since 2003, since the start of the Iraq war. But it is too early to tell if there's a connection there. There was some damage to the building. The windows were blown out, but there are no injuries to report.

Police are also, we should mention, searching for a suspect at this hour. Nobody in custody just yet. People in the area say they heard a loud bang, even felt the explosion. One woman said she felt it from the 44th floor of her hotel. But again, the headline being 3 1/2 hours after this incident, things appear to be pretty much back to normal here in Times Square, but for the television cameras, but for the helicopters buzzing overhead. Of course, Kiran, there is a full scale investigation underway, and the FBI is urging anybody with information about this incident to contact them right away -- Kiran.

CHETRY: All right. Hopefully someone will. They might have to rely on eyewitnesses in that case just because of how crowded and how many people come in and out of that area at all hours of the night. Alina Cho, thank you.

ROBERTS: A new report about the home lending crisis and just who is getting hit the hardest. Our Gerri Willis shows us next on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Well, a "Financial Security Watch" for you this morning. There is a new report showing minorities are the hardest hit in the current foreclosure crisis. Our personal finance editor Gerri Willis joins us now with more on this.

GERRI WILLIS, PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: Right.

CHETRY: You know, there's been a lot of talk about targeting certain neighborhoods and targeting certain people with subprime loans.

WILLIS: That's exactly what's going on here. A new report talks about scores of subprime lenders. We talked about them on the show before, that have gone out of business. The report says that these lenders targeted minorities with subprime loans, exploding arms, other kinds of loans difficult to repay, and that is now leading to foreclosures in those neighborhoods.

Now, the report -- one of the points of the report is that race and ethnicity played a bigger part in lending than income. This is exactly the kind of thing that federal laws were written to prevent, and it's unfortunate to see.

I was in one of these neighborhoods Monday in Cleveland. This is one of the cities that this report actually took a look at. And the kinds of devastation you see in these neighborhoods, homes boarded up, vandals come in and rip copper wiring out to sell on the market, abandoned homes. You can see all kinds of problems there. That's the kind of thing going on in these neighborhoods where minorities were targeted. And, you know, these poor areas where people have a lot of wherewithal, a lot of backup to weather a storm and they certainly got one right now.

CHETRY: You also talked to us last week about some of these cities saying maybe we need to get some money back. Maybe we need to sue to get money back because that has trickled out into many more problems in our communities that didn't exist before.

WILLIS: Right. Cleveland and other cities are suing these lenders now to try to get money back. And I want to say, you know what? There's an opportunity out there. Just this week the mortgage bankers reported that mortgage rates are down, and down dramatically under six percent. Last week, they were at 6.27 percent. Now, at 5.98.

If you were out there and you're suffering with one of these mortgages right now and you have the opportunity to refinance, now is the time to take it. Long-term mortgage averages are eight percent. Of course, we've seen them in double digits overtime.

ROBERTS: My first second mortgage --

WILLIS: This is very good.

ROBERTS: My first second mortgage was at 20.5 percent.

WILLIS: Really? Oh, my goodness.

ROBERTS: That's a long time ago.

WILLIS: That's astonishing. And you've got out of it as quickly as you could, I'm sure.

ROBERTS: Oh, yes. Absolutely.

CHETRY: He just paid it off last week. Gerri, thanks.

WILLIS: My pleasure.

ROBERTS: Well, hundred of delegates up in the air. Florida and Michigan voters cast their ballots, but the delegates won't count because the states jumped the gun. Coming up, Florida Governor Charlie Crist in the effort to get those delegates into the respective conventions. He joins us live coming up next.

And important news this morning about autism and childhood vaccines. The research says there is no link, but a new ruling is vindicating a family that insists that there is. We're paging Dr. Gupta. He's got more on this. Good morning, Sanjay.

GUPTA: Good morning, John. I said before when we talked about this it wouldn't be the last word on autism. Do vaccines lead to autism? Some recently sealed court documents shed some light on that. I'll have that coming up, and the story of the little girl at the heart of all of this as well. That's coming up on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN, ANCHOR: Well, welcome back in this AMERICAN MORNING. A live picture from Times Square. You're looking at a military recruiting center that sits on a bit of a traffic island there, at about the corner of 43rd Street, Broadway and 7th Avenue. An incendiary device was thrown at that station about 3:45 in the morning. It shattered the front window. Nobody was injured thankfully. Police have cordoned off the area. ATF, the FBI and the New York City Police Department all investigating this to see exactly what kind of device it was and who might have been responsible. They are actively searching for a suspect who reportedly rode away on a bicycle.

The reports are that he rode up at that station at 3:45 in the morning, tossed this incendiary device and then rode away on a bicycle and disappeared into the night. And so, we' re following that for you this morning. We'll have a report from Times Square coming up.

Also new this morning, oil prices setting a new record of nearly $106 a barrel this morning. The key factors driving the price of oil up are reports showing a drop in U.S. crude oil supplies and the refusal of OPEC to increase production. The White House criticized OPEC's decision saying they should not underestimate the economic impact of restricting oil supplies.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN, ANCHOR: Well, to count or not to count. The big question now surrounding the results of the Democrat's Florida and Michigan primaries and caucuses. Delegates from both states are now banned from this summer's convention as punishment for the states breaking party rule, holding a primary too early. Lawmakers from both states met behind closed doors on Capitol Hill late last night to discuss any possible re-vote. Just moments ago on AMERICAN MORNING, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said Florida and Michigan both agreed to the rules and then violated them but there possibly could be a chance.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOWARD DEAN, CHAIRMAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CMTE: The rules may be wrong. Maybe Florida and Michigan wish they hadn't done that now. I suppose they thought they were going to do it and they were going to come and push us into violating the rules. If I violate the rules, I essentially throw the integrity of the nominating process out the window and half the Democratic party goes away angry. That is the only thing that could make John McCain president if Democrats get divided.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: Here's what's at stake. 210 delegates in Florida. 156 in Michigan. Senator Clinton won both. Obama wasn't even on the Michigan ballot. You heard from Howard Dean. We're going to bring in another man at the center of the debate and that's Florida's Governor Charlie Crist. Governor, thanks for being with us this morning.

GOV. CHARLIE CRIST (R), FLORIDA: Good to be with you, Kiran.

CHETRY: Your position is what? You're hoping for a full recount or do you want not a recount, I guess, but it would really be a revote or do you want the results that already happened to be allowed to play into it heading into the convention?

CRIST: Well, ideally we want the votes that were already cast to be counted. I mean, that's just the logical thing to do. On January 29th, we had a record turnout for both Republicans and Democrats in Florida. The argument that Governor Granholm of Michigan and myself are making is that the people of our respective states voted. They cast that precious right. They made their voice heard and those delegates that represent them should be seated at both conventions. This is not just a Democratic issue. It's also a Republican issue.

The Democratic party has said that none of the Democratic delegates from Florida will be seated and the Republican party has said that only half of the Republicans will be seated. We want them all to be seated because democracy matters. It is important and common sense would dictate that these votes should be counted. Every vote should count and this should make a difference and people should be heard, not the party bosses in Washington but the people in Michigan and Florida need to be heard.

CHETRY: There are obviously differing points of view on this. One is that, you know, voters were told, I mean, they knew that their votes might not count because of the back and forth that took place between the DNC and your state and so candidates didn't campaign there. Some would argue it was unfair advantage to Hillary Clinton who had more name recognition than Barack Obama and they all signed pledges not to campaign there and not run ads there. Is it really a fair election?

CRIST: Well, we think so. I mean, ads were in fact run here. As I understand it there are national ads on the Obama side that were run. What matters is that we set a date for the people to be able to vote. To have their note make a difference and to put Florida, in our case, at the forefront of choosing the next leader of the free world. That's the right that our founding fathers put forward when they founded this country. So many Americans have fought for that precious right. You know, in Florida, just 90 miles south of key west there's a place, an island called Cuba where they don't have that precious right. We exercise that right and we did it in a fair way. Michigan did the same thing. The governor of Michigan is a Democratic. I happen to be a Republican. This is not a partisan issue. This is about common sense and people having the right to vote. It is unconscionable that people 's votes will not count. They should count. They should be seated. I've already had communications with Senator Bill Nelson who happens to be a Democratic.

CHETRY: Right.

CRIST: And Senator Mel Martinez from Florida, a Republican. They both agree that the right thing to do is to have those votes already cast count. If not, then they both make the argument that the Democratic National Committee should pay for and it should be overseen if there's a recount by the state of Florida which we would be happy to do.

CHETRY: All right.

CRIST: It's not fair that taxpayers should pay for it.

CHETRY: I think that let's just get to a couple other points first of all. One is what Howard Dean said just a couple minutes ago on the show. I would like to hear your response to that.

CRIST: Well, what he said...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DEAN: Florida and Michigan - well, the rules were set a year and a half ago. Florida and Michigan voted for them. Then decided that they didn't need to abide by the rules. Well, when you're in a contest you do need to abide by the rules. Everybody has to play by the rules out of respect for both campaigns and the other 48 states.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CRIST: We're not in a contest.

CHETRY: Do you bare some responsibility knowing that these delegates were not going to be seated, knowing that your state is going to be penalized and still signing off on moving up that election.

CRIST: Yes, moving up the election is the right thing to do. Democracy is always the right thing to do. And giving our people the opportunity to be heard is exactly what I'm supposed to fight for. What the Florida senate and the Florida House are supposed to fight for.

CHETRY: You know, it's ironic right now is that your state voters may not be heard when if perhaps you guys would have waited. I mean, hindsight is 20/20, it may have made a much bigger difference given how close the delegate counts are between the two candidates.

CRIST: Well, the reality is that people's voice should be respected. And the irony is here is one party who says that every vote should count. Well, if they want every vote to count, they ought to count them and they ought to seat the delegates. You know, I want the next president to be a Republican. You know, but I feel for my fellow Floridians who happen to be Democrats. Their voice should be heard just as much as anybody else's. I'm the governor for all of the people of Florida and I want to make sure that democracy matters and that whether you're a Republican, a Democrat or an independent, if you live in Florida, I want to make sure that your vote counts.

CHETRY: You know, we got a lot of e-mails from people, Governor, who said I sat this out because I was told it wasn't going to count. I was told we were being penalized. I would have gone to the polls if I thought that was the case. What about the people who already feel they were disenfranchised in your state?

CRIST: Well, it's an interesting argument. We had a record turnout, Kiran, in Florida, both on the Republican and the Democratic side. So, that doesn't hold a whole lot of water with me. People turned out in droves irrespective of what some party bosses in Washington, D.C. said. What they cared about is exercising their precious right to vote. And they did it on record numbers. They did it on January 29th and those votes should be counted, those delegates should be seated. And I believe, I really do, that cooler heads will prevail. I think at the end of the day, the common sense will be the order of the day and that those delegates will be seated. It's the fair and right thing to do.

CHETRY: This is another question that's been raised. You've endorsed John McCain. Hillary Clinton won the Democratic primary in your state. In a head to head hypothetical match up John McCain does better against Hillary versus Obama. Is there a conflict of interest there for you?

CRIST: No conflict of interest. My interests are the people of Florida. I'm supposed to fight for the people of my states. And that's exactly what I'm doing. And the polls I've seen is that John McCain beats either Obama or Clinton no matter which one it is. My concern is those people who voted on January 29th in the sunshine state, their voice should be heard. That's just the right thing to do. And that's what I'm fighting for here in Florida. It's what Governor Granholm is fighting for in the state of Michigan.

CHETRY: Right. To be continued. We'll see how it turns out. Governor Charlie Crist, thanks so much for joining us today to share your point of view.

CRIST: Thank you. Great to be with you.

CHETRY: It also brings us to this morning's "Quick Vote" question. And we ask the viewers if they were to hold, meaning new primaries in Florida, new caucuses in Michigan, who should pay? Well, right now 46 percent of you think it's the state should pay, which really means the taxpayers in that state. 54 percent say the Democratic National Committee should pony up. Cast your vote at cnn.com/am. We're going to continue to tally them throughout the morning. ROBERTS: Senator Barack Obama has vowed to take a more aggressive stance as the campaign battle moves into Pennsylvania. Obama talked with reporters on his way home to Illinois an explained why he thinks Senator Hillary Clinton snapped his winning streak.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's no doubt that Senator Clinton went very negative over the last week. The kitchen sink strategy had some impact particularly in a context where many of you in the press corps had been persuaded that you had been too hard on her and too soft on me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Shortly after the Obama campaign criticized Clinton for not releasing her tax returns. The New York senator's campaign fired right back promising that Clinton's tax returns since they left the White House would be available by next month.

And on the Republican side, fresh off his endorsement by President Bush, Senator John McCain's camp now dialing up former big named donors to the Bush campaign. President Bush also expected to hit the campaign trail for the presumptive nominee but McCain's advisers are limiting the time the two will be seen together. And they're insisting it's because McCain needs to "stand in the sun on his own."

Some wintry weather sweeping down the plains this morning. Our Reynolds Wolf in for Rob Marciano tracking extreme weather. And glad to see you finally got back from Ohio.

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN, METEOROLOGIST: Yes, got a little bit more room in here. Much better than being inside the plan. That's for sure. But I tell you John, it's still a very busy morning, especially in parts of the central plains and southern plains. We got a lot of cold air in place and with that we got some overrunning moisture already through parts of New Mexico and into the Texas panhandle and even into portions of Oklahoma we're seeing the combination of rain, sleet and snow. Oklahoma City definitely under the mark right now. A little bit of dry air in there for the time being but south along parts of I-44, and I-35, we're seeing scattered showers on one side but a little bit of freezing rain and snow, and sleet on the top half, up in Guthrie and back towards Perry and even into Enite (ph).

What we can anticipate later on today is for more of this winter weather to really begin to pound parts of Oklahoma City. In fact, we already have some warnings and watches and even some advisories through much of the plains and also southward into Dallas you are also going to be dealing with that winter weather. Back into Arkansas, no great precipitation as of yet but overnight and into tomorrow into Little Rock, they can upwards of a foot of snowfall. Now, you have a foot of snowfall in a place like say western New York, it's a big deal but here in Arkansas, it's a tremendous story. One we're going to have to watch for you. In terms of travel, could we see delays in some of those spots we just showed you? Well, it certainly appears that way. I would say in Dallas, you're going to have the rain, the low clouds before you have a chance of snowfall. Could have some issues from a 15 to 30-minute delay. Also same story for Houston where we're expecting just some rainfall. However, for much of the northeast for New York, Boston and Washington, no delays at this time. Kiran, that's the latest. Let's send it back over to you.

CHETRY: All right. Thanks so much, Reynolds. At least you are safe and sound after your four-hour ground stop, stuck trying to get out of Cleveland yesterday.

WOLF: Oh, yes.

CHETRY: All right. Well, you made it safe and sound and no worse for the wear. And a lot of crossword puzzles done. Thanks a lot, Reynolds.

Well, the latest research shows that vaccines don't cause autism but there is a new ruling that is raising that question again perhaps it's not cause and effect but is there a link, a new link emerging? We're paging Dr. Sanjay Gupta with answers next.

Also, enough water flowing to fill the Empire State Building in just 20 minutes. The plan to flood the Grand Canyon all in an effort to save endangered species. How will it work? We'll take you there ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: 45 minutes after the hour. Numerous studies say there is no link between vaccines and autism. But government health officials have just concluded that vaccinations may have triggered autism like symptoms in a nine-year-old girl from Georgia. We're paging our Dr. Sanjay Gupta now. He's in Atlanta. So, is the government saying here that these vaccines did cause autism? Because that would be a hugely controversial statement.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN, CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: They're not saying that exactly, John. But this is still an unprecedented case. No question. This is a story of Hannah, a nine-year-old girl now who was developing normally as she received her vaccines at her well baby visit around 18 months of age and then shortly thereafter started to have some problems. She developed high fever. She became inconsolable. She started to regress in terms of her speech, in terms of her walking. Within months after that she subsequently was diagnosed with something on the autism spectrum disorder. They took this case to sort of a vaccine court and the parents did that is and now exactly what you said has happened. The court has ruled in favor of the parents and they are going to be awarded money saying that we don't know exactly what happened here but there seems to be some sort of link between the vaccine and the condition that Hannah developed.

A couple of important points. Nuance points but important ones. It also came out at that time that Hannah had an underlying gene for something known as a mitochondrial condition. Mitochondria are these sort of power houses of cells in the body and they thought that her mitochondria -- she had a gene that may not make them work well. The court put it specifically like this. Take a look at how they specifically addressed the situation. They said "the facts of this case meet the statutory criteria for demonstrating that the vaccinations significantly aggravated an underlying mitochondrial disorder which manifested as regressive encepalopathy with features of autism spectrum disorder.

John, what that means basically is what they're saying. Look, she may have already had something that predisposed her to developing this autism spectrum disorder. She never had any problems with this mitochondrial problem but the vaccine may have somehow worsened it. We talked a lot to people over the last week about this, John. The Department of Health also released a statement and we asked them specifically about this and they say "vaccines do not cause autism and has never concluded in any case that autism was caused by the vaccination."

John, if you're a little bit confused by that, so are we. You're hearing sort of two different things from the court, different from the Department of Health. But that is sort of -- those are sort of the ingredients of this case. John.

ROBERTS: There seems to be pretty clear Sanjay that the court is saying that the vaccine could have triggered an underlying condition that was dormant and not creating symptoms. Could it possibly then be extrapolated that with other children who developed autism that the link isn't necessarily the vaccination that's causing but maybe triggering other underlying systems to manifest themselves?

GUPTA: I think absolutely a lot of the autism advocates that we have been speaking to as well as people from the Department of Health say that's possibly true. You know, if you think about autism, you think about a child being born with the predisposition to autism and then something triggered that predisposition. The questions were what are the predisposition and what causes it. People have pointed to vaccine, as you know, for some time. John.

ROBERTS: So this is going to open that whole can of worms again, I would imagine.

GUPTA: Yes. And you know, it's important to point out with Hannah's case specifically, this girl I was talking about, that her vaccines were given at a time when thimerosal, this mercury preservative was still present in the vaccines. They are no longer present in pediatric vaccines but there's a whole can of worms opened up about thimerosal, again that as a result of this case. John.

ROBERTS: And also thimerosal is present in some flu shots as well.

GUPTA: That's correct. So out of the pediatric vaccines but have been present for some time in flu shots. You're right.

ROBERTS: All right. Dr. Sanjay Gupta for us this morning. Sanjay, thanks very much. Fascinating stuff. Tonight on "Larry King Live," Larry interviews the family of the girl at the center of the case. That's coming up tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

And remember, if you have a question for Sanjay, e-mail it to us. Go to cnn.com/am. Sanjay is opening up the mail bag in our next hour as he does every Thursday here on AMERICAN MORNING. Kiran.

CHETRY: Still ahead, the recent drop in home values has millions of Americans living upside down, owing more on the house than the house is worth. Gerri Wills has some tips on how to get right side up again straight ahead.

And here's some live pictures right now from the situation in Times Square. Earlier, overnight an explosion at a military recruiting center where we just had a truck stop in front of our live shot of Times Square there. No injuries and no major damage but they are trying to figure out who was behind this. We're going to have the latest on the investigation when AMERICAN MORNING comes right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Millions of Americans are living "upside down" as they call it. That means that they owe more on their home than the home is actually worth. CNN's personal finance editor Gerri Willis joins us now with more on this phenomenon and why it is happening to more and more people. Hi, Gerri.

GERRI WILLIS, CNN, PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: Yes, I know people are panicking out there about this. And it's really scary when you owe more than the house is worth. So, what can you do. Job number one, make sure that you have the best mortgage possible. Right now, mortgage rates are falling. They're below 6 percent. Now is a good time to get a better loan. And make sure that when you do this you don't pay too much in fees and interest as well. And as a rule of thumb, you want to make sure that you get your new loan, the difference between your interest rate and the rate in the marketplace is half percent to one percent. That's a great thing to do.

But Kiran, I also want to tell you a little bit about other things you can do to build equity. You know, we talk about what do you owe. People think they own the bricks or mortar, but they really don't. What they own is the equity in their loan. That's what they pay to principal. And to boast that, you want to think about maybe adding another payment a year that will give you big help in paying off your house. And if you have private mortgage insurance, that's the insurance you pay if you did not put down 20 percent for your mortgage, when you want to pay that off as quickly as possible. Now, there is an interest reduction for that right now but you are better off getting rid of PMI.

ROBERTS: You want to make sure too that when you go into a mortgage that there's no penalty for prepayment on principal right?

WILLIS: Yes. That can be really expensive. And in some of those sub prime loans we've seen, the penalties can be thousands and thousands of dollars.

CHETRY: You got to read the fine print. It would make no sense to pay early if you get penalized or to pay ahead you could get penalized. What can people also do to reduce their mortgage debt?

WILLIS: Well, again, I think you want to really look at how much am I paying every month? Can I pay a little bit more? Add another payment each and every year. That really helps you pay down your mortgage much faster and you know, if you didn't put down 20 percent, you are paying private mortgage insurance. That's just an extra cost. And I have to tell you, the lenders really come back and say, you know, you don't have to pay this anymore because now you have 20 percent equity in your house. It's up to you to say, OK, I don't owe this anymore. I paid this down. You got to take this off of my mortgage.

ROBERTS: So that was such a great feeling to not be drowning in debt, isn't it?

WILLIS: Yes. it's liberating.

ROBERTS: Not that any of us aren't.

CHETRY: What was your original, re-fi 25 percent?

ROBERTS: That wasn't a re-fi. It was a second mortgage on my very first house. The first mortgage was I think 13.5 percent. And the second was 20.5 percent. That was back in the battle days in the early '80s.

WILLIS: That's hard to imagine. And people think, you know, 8 percent is high right now.

ROBERTS: I was just a young kid making no money. It was tough. But we made it by.

CHETRY: Meanwhile, people can read about this and other tips and other very interesting facts about their home in "Home Rich." This is Gerri's new book. How about that, she has time to get up with us and she has time to author a book.

ROBERTS: There you go.

CHETRY: Pretty impressive.

ROBERTS: Now, I'm a middle age guy making no money. So...

CHETRY: Your daughter is taking it all. Thanks, Gerri.

WILLIS: Thanks, you guys.

ROBERTS: Police searching for a suspect after a small overnight explosion in Times Square here in New York City. Legal analysts Sunny Hostin joins us to talk about the possible charges that, that suspect could face. Plus, a ballot battle. Should delegates from Florida and Michigan count? All more important as the Democratic race tightens up. Reaction from both sides of the debate, that's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY (voice-over): Breaking news. An explosion in Times Square.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It had been, something like a huge bang. There's no car accident. So.

CHETRY: This morning, the search for the suspect.

Making it count.

DEAN: It's not the voters fault in Florida and Michigan that they didn't get included.

CHETRY: Five million voters fight for their right to be heard. But how/

Plus, crude awakening. Oil breaks $105 a barrel this morning. Now the big squeeze at the pump on this AMERICAN MORNING.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: (inaudible) where they are paying $4 and $5 a gallon for gasoline.

ROBERTS: And with gas now over $105 a barrel, you can imagine where the price of oil -- up there, where the price is gas is going, particularly when they go into those spring reformulations. When it always goes up, anyway.

CHETRY: And the busy summer travel season.

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