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Obama Administration Fires Back at Critics; Michelle Obama Focuses on Military Families

Aired March 3, 2009 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight: President Obama firing back at critics, and his financial team out in force trying to win over doubters -- the president, for the first time anyone can remember any president doing, actually telling Americans to consider getting into the stock market.



BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: what you're now seeing is -- is profit and earning ratios are starting to get to the point where buying stocks is a potentially good deal if you've got a long-term perspective on it. I think that consumer confidence, as they see the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act taking root, businesses are starting to see opportunities for investment and potential hiring.


COOPER: His unprecedented advice following a course of criticism for not paying more attention to the market, with millions of Americans watching their 401(k)s erode every single day.

In a moment, we're going to check the record, how the president's policy announcements directly caused the stock market declines.

The Dow closed down for a second straight day, below the 7000 mark today, no bottom in sight.

We begin, though, with Ed Henry, the president, and the "Raw Politics."


ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Even as the president suggested it may be a good time to start buying battered stocks, he said he's not paying much attention to the markets.

OBAMA: You know, the stock market is sort of like a tracking poll in politics. You know, it bobs up and down day to day. And if you spend all your time worrying about that, then you're probably going to get the long-term strategy wrong.

HENRY: But it's the president's long-term strategy that's coming under fire, with the Dow plummeting to the lowest level since 1997. While the dive started on former President Bush's watch, critics say Mr. Obama's proposed tax increases and spending hikes have brought more uncertainty.

The chorus reached a sort of crescendo this morning, when financial TV host Jim Cramer appeared on NBC's "Today Show."


JIM CRAMER, HOST, "MAD MONEY": I think that we had a budget that came out that basically put a -- a level of fear in this country that I have not seen ever in my life. And I think that that changed everything.

This is the most -- greatest wealth destruction I have seen by a president.


HENRY: At the risk of elevating a critic, team Obama decided to fire back.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: And I think you -- you can go back and look at any number of statements that he's made in the past about the economy and wonder where some of the backup for those are, too. Some people are on TV every day to comment on the tracking poll, the ups and the downs. There are other people that were elected to try to fix the problem.

HENRY: To hammer that point home, the president went to the Transportation Department to again tout passage of his economic stimulus plan, making sure to mention, the first federal infrastructure project has begun on a highway in Maryland.

OBAMA: Over the next few weeks, we will launch more than 200 construction projects across this country, fueling growth in an industry that's been hard-hit by our economic crisis. All together, this investment in highways will create or save 150,000 jobs by the end of next year.

HENRY: Later, at his first White House meeting with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the president expressed confidence in a turnaround, but asked for patience.

OBAMA: My main message to the American people is to just recognize that we dug a very deep hole for ourselves. There were a lot of bad decisions that were made. We are cleaning up that mess. It's going to be sort of full of fits and starts, in terms of getting the mess cleaned up, but it's going to get cleaned up.

HENRY: A reminder that, while he inherited this, it's his mess now.


HENRY: Nevertheless, the public seems to be giving this president some breathing space. A new NBC/"Wall Street Journal poll just out tonight is saying that 84 percent of Americans think that the president inherited these economic problems.

But, obviously, as the stimulus plan takes effect, as the president begins to push his budget plan, he will begin taking on more and more of this economic mess, for better or for worse. If it starts working, obviously, he will start getting some credit. If these plans are not working, he's obviously going to get more of the blame -- Anderson.

COOPER: Ed, I understand you're also getting some new information tonight about -- about a housing rescue plan.

HENRY: That's right.

The administration tomorrow is going to be releasing some guidelines for banks and other lending institutions about who will be helped under that plan the president talked about a couple weeks ago to try to stave off more foreclosures.

It's going to help two different groups of people. Here's what people need to know tonight. First of all, on the $75 billion loan modification plan that the president talked about a couple of weeks back, banks are going to get guidelines tomorrow that basically say that they're going to give them tests to figure out who might benefit from a plan that would basically reduce your housing payment down to 31 percent of your gross monthly income.

That's the first part. The second part is refinancing. There are people out there who are struggling, but they're still making their payments, but they want lower payments, because we have historically low finance rate, or interest rates, right now.

Basically, before, if you had a Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac loan, basically, only if your loan was 80 percent to the value, the loan-to- value, could you refinance. A lot of people are underwater. They don't have a lot of equity. They don't have that much equity in their home. They're going to extend it so that it's from 80 to 105 percent, the loan-to-value of the actual home that you can actually refinance.

So, those guidelines are coming out tomorrow. People are going to have to pay close attention to them to see if they qualify -- Anderson.

COOPER: Ed, I just want to bring in Ali Velshi, who is sitting by on this breaking news.

What do you make of that?


As Ed said, very correctly, there are two kinds of people, those who are in a lot of trouble. That's the modification part, if you are up to 50 percent underwater. So, let's say you have a house that's worth $100,000, but your mortgage is $150,000. You're able to modify and they will bring your payments down. For the rest of them -- and this is an interesting point -- if you're a little bit underwater, so your house is worth $100,000 -- let's say your house is worth $200,000, but your mortgage is $210,000, you have not been able to refinance to take advantage of these low rates, about 5 percent.

This second plan will allow people who are not suffering, but who would like a lower rate, to be able to refinance. These are the details of the mortgage plan that the -- the White House announced a couple of weeks ago. They're coming out with the exact specifications tomorrow, so people will be able to find out if they qualify.

COOPER: Ed, do we know what time this happens tomorrow?

HENRY: It's going to be coming out in the morning. We don't have a specific time yet. We expect it relatively early, because they want to get it, I'm told by various administration officials, to as many banks around the country, so they can start posting these in the actual banks, so people can come in and see them, number one.

And, number two, it's going to be on the Web sites tomorrow of both the Treasury Department and the Housing and Urban Development Department to try and make sure people can actually go online and just get the information themselves -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Ed Henry with the breaking news from the White House -- Ed, thanks.

On Capitol Hill today, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, Budget Director Peter Orszag, and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner answered critics of the Obama bailout policies and the new budget.

Now, we want to play you some of the most significant moments that happened today, starting with Chairman Bernanke, when asked about his biggest frustration. Listen.


BEN BERNANKE, FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRMAN: I think if there's a single episode in this entire 18 months that has made me more angry, I can't think of one than AIG. AIG exploited a huge gap in the regulatory system.

We're doing this to protect our financial system and to avoid a much more severe crisis in our global economy.

REP. JEB HENSARLING (R), TEXAS: Is it true that the -- in eight years, that the debt would be doubled under this budget?

PETER ORSZAG, DIRECTOR OF OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET: Yes, but, again, the debt increases less than if we -- if we fail to act.

TIMOTHY GEITHNER, U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY: And the judgment we are making -- and it is absolutely the right judgment -- is that, as a country, given where we started, we have no choice but to move aggressively in these fronts. And we are trying to do so in a way that is as fiscally carefully and responsible and as is going to leave our economy stronger, not weaker, in the future.


COOPER: Secretary Geithner doing something he rarely does, talking, today -- his past performances coming under fire, of course, for lacking detail and confidence.

For weeks, markets have been asking more of him in particular. We're also waiting for details of Geithner's plan to deal with the banking crisis.

Let's check back in now with Ali Velshi.

Did you hear anything today that gave you hope or a glimmer of optimism?

VELSHI: Yes. Yes. And what you heard was a glimpse of -- first of all, I heard Ben Bernanke saying that he got angry about it, not seeming detached, like he has sometimes sounded like in the -- in the last 18 months.

Peter Orszag gets technical. He's got the details of the budget. But Ben Bernanke, the missing man for a while, seemed to be engaged. The three of them were forceful. They were aggressive. They were on offense.

Now, here's the thing, Anderson. You -- smart people can disagree as to whether they like the stimulus and the housing plan and everything that's going on. But what we needed was the team, more than just the president, coming out and saying, this is why this plan makes sense, this is why we're committed to it, and this is what's going to -- it's going to do.

I sensed a turnaround in the tone today. That doesn't mean that it makes it right. It just means that so much of our economic problem is confidence. I heard confidence today in this testimony. And I listened to a lot of it. It -- it really sounded like they're on their game and they're speaking off the same script.

COOPER: One congresswoman was critical, saying, essentially, every time Tim Geithner talks, the markets go down.

I guess the same, some critics, would say about President Obama. Is that actually true?

VELSHI: Well, you could say the same thing about the last, you know, 10 months of President Bush and Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke.

Let me just show you some interesting times. If you look at this market -- now, I think the president's point about not looking at -- being like a tracking poll and not wanting to track it every day makes sense.

The only difference is, you can't go too far with that analogy, because a tracking poll doesn't cost you your retirement. Here's what we got starting back in November, Election Day. The day after the election, the market dropped 486 points. It was still 9139, Anderson. We used to talk about a bottom being around there.

Then, on the 24th of November, Tim Geithner was announced as the treasury secretary. He was the one everybody wanted. Look at that. The market liked that, up 397 points, had a bit of a blip.

Now let's take a look at Inauguration Day, down 330 points. This is interesting, because Inauguration Day came the day after Martin Luther King. And, on that day, our markets were closed. World markets were open, and they dropped. So, we were playing catchup.

I wouldn't put too much on that one. And then take a look at this. When -- the day that Timothy Geithner announced his bailout plan, you and I talked that night. It was supposed to be this big plan. It kind of petered out. The market was down 380 points. And that's really where this big decline started. The market has been very disappointed in Tim Geithner's performance.

Now, today -- not today, but the day the stimulus bill was announced, the market was down another 293 points. So, there's been a lot of disappointment with this administration so far, and again lower today. But today was just a little bit lower, Anderson. Ultimately, it looks like Tim Geithner might be back in the game. The administration might be playing offense -- playing offense. And they might be at least be coming together with a unified message that this is why they're doing this and this is why it's going to make a difference -- Anderson.

COOPER: And, as Ed Henry just reported, news on housing going to be announced tomorrow.

Ali, thanks.

Let's dig deeper now with David Walker, who ran the Government Accountability Office during the Clinton and G.W. Bush administrations. Currently, he's president and CEO of the Peter Peterson Foundation. Also, Stephen Moore, senior economic writer of "The Wall Street Journal" editorial page and author of "The End of Prosperity," and with us in Washington, White House correspondent Dan Lothian.

I'm going to ask the same question to both -- to both David and Stephen, a different question to Dan, just off the top, so a quick answer, if we can.

David, to paraphrase "The Wall Street Journal," has President Obama's policies become part of the economy's problem? I mean, is he to blame for the stock market decline?

DAVID WALKER, FORMER UNITED STATES COMPTROLLER GENERAL: Look, he inherited a $1.2 trillion deficit and some problems. But he's had proposals as to what he wants to do about them, so he's got to accept responsibility there.

And he really hasn't come out with a bank restructuring plan yet. That's the core of the problem, I think.

COOPER: Stephen, is he to blame?

STEPHEN MOORE, SENIOR ECONOMIC WRITER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Well, unfortunately, the markets certainly aren't showing any enthusiasm for what Barack Obama has come out for so far.

I mean, the -- the -- we have seen about a 28 to 30 percent decline in asset values since Barack Obama was -- was inaugurated. And that's a really scary thing. And every new economic initiative is -- is greeted with grunts from the financial markets.

COOPER: Dan, I'm not going to ask you your opinion on this, but I want facts. The White House clearly is arguing that the stock market is reacting to problems that existed before President Obama even took office. That's basically their line, right?


And, again, they're pointing out that you -- you can't really pay attention to the daily gyrations of the market. They will go up and down, and that example, again, saying that it's much like a tracking poll.

The problem, though, is that, if you had a tracking poll that was going down like this so long, it becomes a trend, and this trend has been going south.

COOPER: And, as Ali pointed out, it's not a tracking poll, because people are losing -- this is people's money that they're losing. It's their livelihoods, their futures, their -- their kids' tuition money.

LOTHIAN: That's right.

COOPER: We're going to continue talking with our panel right after this break.

The conversation continues on television and online. You can join the live chat happening right now at I'm just about to log in. And, also, check out Erica Hill's live Webcasts during the breaks tonight.

Also ahead tonight: First, he said he wanted the president to fail. Now Rush Limbaugh -- Rush Limbaugh is saying the administration has no interest in stopping the economic crisis. That's not all. We will have details ahead.

Plus, the latest on the fate of three missing men lost at sea, two of them NFL players. Hear from the man who survived at sea and the parent of a shipmate who wants the search to go on for his son.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's just an extreme fighter. And, so, what I'm holding on to is that he's out in the waters right now just fighting. He doesn't back down and won't give up.


COOPER: And Michelle Obama talking to and about military families today. Hear what she said and what roles she plans to play in the White House on this subject.

We will be right back.


COOPER: There, you see the Dow since November, all the way down.

We're talking about the economy, the markets, and accountability. You see it there, the Dow industrials, from Election Day to today, dropping nearly 2,900 points in the last four months.

We're back with our panel, David Walker, Stephen Moore, and Dan Lothian.

David, should the White House, should this president be paying more attention to the stock market?

WALKER: I think you have to look at it, and you have to be concerned about it, because there's a lack of confidence. And there has to be more done...

COOPER: And that's -- that's what's reflected in the Dow going down?

WALKER: That's what's reflected on the Dow. There's a lack of certainty. There's a lack of confidence. I think the president's trying to do too much.

I think he needs to focus his energy and efforts on trying to deal with the credit crunch and the banking challenge. You know, he's doing a lot of things that he promised in the campaign. But, you know, frankly, there have been some big adverse subsequent events since the campaign, and he needs to reconsider.

COOPER: Stephen, there's a new "Wall Street Journal"/NBC News poll which I know you're aware of. You're at "The Wall Street Journal." It says 84 percent of Americans think that President Obama is not the cause of the current economic crisis. They say it was inherited by him.

MOORE: Well, he certainly did inherit a huge economic crisis. There's no question about that, Anderson.

And, look, everyone wants this program to work. The problem is, why is the stock market so important here? Anderson, I think the answer to that is the -- the stock market is the most forward-looking indicator that we have about where the economy is headed.

So, investors are looking ahead three months, six months, nine months, a year or two. And the fact that they are so bearish and so grim about the future suggests to me that people just don't have any confidence right now. And it's not just a confidence game. It's the fact that many of the policies that Barack Obama has proposed, especially that big liberal budget, with income redistribution policies, there's just nothing good for stocks.

And, you know, unfortunately, there's a lot of government growth in this budget, but you know what? You can't buy stocks in government.

COOPER: But, David, to Stephen's point, is the market entirely rational? I mean, doesn't the market do irrational things? Don't people make irrational decisions?

WALKER: You know, Chairman Greenspan talked about irrational exuberance a number of years ago. I think, right now, we have irrational pessimism.

At the same point in time, look, when you have an omnibus bill that has an 8.3 percent increase in discretionary spending and over 9,000 earmarks, when you end up having a lot more debt-finance spending in the budget proposal that the president came out with, that's a matter of concern.

COOPER: Dan, you're at the White House every day. To -- to David -- to David's point, is there anyone there saying behind the scenes -- or even out in front -- that -- that maybe they're trying to do too much? Has there been a public discussion about not trying to do everything at once, not to have this big bang theory?

LOTHIAN: Yes, certainly, there is that public discussion. The White House, behind the scenes, is not saying that they're trying to do too much too quickly.

What they are saying is that the time is -- is such -- it's such a critical time, that they really have to seize this moment and get as much done as possible. But I did talk to a political science professor, who told me that they're simply juggling too many balls right now, and one of those balls will ultimately drop.

And one other -- one other point, as well, what the White House will do is, they will say, listen, these other things that you're talking about that they're doing too much, such as health care, for instance, they try to couch it all in the economy and creating jobs.

So, while people may look at health care as being something separate, they will say, hey, if we can have health care reform, we can create jobs. So, that's how they say, you know, all these things are connected.

COOPER: Well, Stephen, do you buy that?

MOORE: Yes, let's look at just two things that I think are really bearish right now.

One is, Anderson, the idea of raising the capital gains, the dividend, and the income tax rates now. I mean, this is just craziness. We're in the worst bear market since the Great Depression, and the administration is talking about raising the tax on stocks? That makes no sense.

And the other thing that I think is really just bad for stocks and bad for manufacturing, I mean, here, we have one of the worst manufacturing crises in -- in 30 years in this country, with -- with -- look what's happening with the auto industry, the steel industry, and Barack Obama's talking about this big cap-and-trade tax on American manufacturing that will lead to, we're not going to have any manufacturing left in this country if we do that.

COOPER: David, supporters of the president will say, look, you know, folks on Wall Street who and -- and folks on television who talk about Wall Street are looking at this every second, every -- you know, every up-and-down gyration, that they're paying too close attention to it, and -- and that this is something which needs time, the stimulus plan needs time, and that, by watching it so intently in such a micro way, you're kind of losing any -- any sense of fairness and giving it time.

Is there anything to that?

WALKER: Well, you can't look at it every day, but the trend is clearly down. There's no question about that.

And it is going to take some time for the stimulus to work, in part because only about a third of the $787 billion really passes the definition of a stimulus. And it's going to take a while for that to be able to work its way -- way through the pipeline.


MOORE: You know, Anderson, there is one positive note.

I have been kind of negative. Let me say something positive.


MOORE: I worked for Ronald Reagan. You know, Reagan took over in -- in a big economic crisis, as you recall.

And it was 18 months into his presidency before the economy turned around. And then we had the big boom. So, hopefully, we will see, maybe even not 18 months. But, right now, it sure doesn't look good.

COOPER: Well, we have got to hold on to hope wherever we can, I guess.


COOPER: Stephen Moore, appreciate it.

Dan Lothian, David Walker, thanks again. Good to have you on.

And we all know a lot of money has already been spent, but where has it gone? Can anyone actually really say? Up next, Tom Foreman is "Keeping Them Honest," looking at what is working, what could soon be working, and what flat-out isn't.

Also, the first construction project getting stimulus money, rebuilding a bridge. It sounds good, right? But if you're envisioning a big bridge that's going to create a lot of jobs, think again.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's the perfect example. This is the stuff that will come down.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That came down off there.


COOPER: Does this bridge really deserve to be a package that's supposed to be about stimulus? Drew Griffin following the money tonight.

And, later, Michelle Obama's promise to military families -- ahead on 360.


COOPER: Today, the Transportation Department, President Obama and Vice President Biden talked to workers about what they believe the $787 billion stimulus package will do for them and how the White House will keep track of all the money.

Take a look.


OBAMA: We also need to ensure that tax dollars aren't wasted on projects that don't deliver results. And that's why, as part of his duty, Joe will keep an eye on how precious tax dollars are being spent.

To you, he's Mr. Vice President, but around the White House we call him the sheriff...


OBAMA: ... because if you're misusing taxpayer money, you'll have to answer to him.


COOPER: Notice they're all wearing blue ties? Anyway.

It's been two weeks since President Obama signed the stimulus package into law. The bank bailouts began months ago. Mr. Obama keeps saying that it will take time to clean up the economic mess he inherited. But, as we all know, the clock is ticking. Taxpayers want to know when they will start seeing results.

Tom Foreman tonight is "Keeping Them Honest."


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, when the president said it will take some time to dig the economy out of its deep hole, we started calling around to figure out what that means.

After all, "Keeping Them Honest," the government is spending hundreds of billions to stabilize the economy, and, yet, loans remain hard to come by, jobs keep disappearing, and the markets are still a wreck. So, is anything getting better?

Let's start over here with banking. After the mortgage collapse, banks were afraid to make new loans, so the government gave them billions to build their confidence to start moving money again, to homebuyers, small businesses. And the Treasury Department says it is working. The number of loans is not falling substantially anymore.

And between banks and big businesses, more loans are actually being made than what we saw during the deep freeze of the loan market last autumn, which should ease the credit crunch for you. So, we're going to give that an even arrow and a bit of an up arrow, too.

What about jobs? The stimulus package is supposed to create a great many of those. Well, we called the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which says it is moving stimulus money out to the states very quickly, for example, $3 billion for the backlog of delayed projects in public housing.

HUD says, right now, counties everywhere are lining up contractors for jobs like re-roofing housing projects or installing new windows, new sidewalks. And, once the paperwork is done, HUD says you will actually start seeing people hired for this work in your neighborhood, probably within weeks. So, for jobs, it's a down arrow right now, but that could start turning, at least a bit, soon.

And, finally, over here to the markets -- why are the markets acting so crazy? Well, like you, investors are trying to guess when this economy is going to turn around, and they just don't know. So, one day, the market is up. The next day, it is down. Clearly, they are not yet convinced the country is headed for better days. But that can change suddenly, as we have seen. So, we're going to give it both a down and an up arrow.

The bottom line is, critics still have plenty to doubt about this whole economic recovery scheme. But, if you look closely, you can see these faint indicators of progress that are giving the White House hope -- Anderson.


COOPER: Well, you have got to look closely. Just ahead, we're following the money straight to the first project paid for by the stimulus bill, a bridge that will cost more than $8 million. So, how many jobs will it create? You might be surprised.

Also ahead: Rush Limbaugh on the attack again, trashing President Obama's stimulus plan, as Republicans fall in line, praising the man with the golden mike.

Plus, new developments in the search for three men, two of them NFL players, missing at sea. Their boat capsized in rough waters.

We will have the latest ahead.


COOPER: President Obama says the stimulus package will save the economy, create millions of jobs, and get the nation back on track.

But should the first order of business be to rebuild a decaying rural bridge? The controversial project unfolding in Missouri has become a centerpiece to the rescue plan debate. Should the bridge be a top priority? We'll let you decide as we follow the money.

Drew Griffin reports.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We're headed to the nation's first project paid for by the nearly $800 billion stimulus bill. It's a bridge across the Osage River in Missouri. Where's that? Fair to say that's part of the story.

(on camera) All right. Show me where we're going now. We're here, right?

(voice-over) Drive 40 miles south of Jefferson City, then take a left, ten miles on a two-lane rural road, and we find your stimulus dollars at work. A handful of truck drivers, a bulldozer, and a crumbling 75-year-old bridge near the tiny town of Tuscumbia, Missouri. It's about three hours from Missouri's second largest city, St. Louis, where the mayor is not happy about the bridge.

The governor says stimulus money in his state is going to rural, far-flung projects almost forgotten until stimulus money started flowing from Washington.

MAYOR FRANCIS SLAY, ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI: This is an insult to the people of St. Louis. It's a violation of federal law, and I think that they're doing -- they're spending this money contrary to the intent of Congress.

GRIFFIN (on camera): Of more than $4 billion in stimulus money coming to the state of Missouri, $600 million will be spent on transportation projects, and the mayor of St. Louis says most of that money should be spent in high unemployment areas like St. Louis, putting people back to work.

But the Department of Transportation in this state will spend just $2 million in this city, only enough, says the mayor, to repave a road.

(voice-over) The Missouri Department of Transportation says $200 million will be spent around St. Louis and says the projects are on a "worst is first" priority.

The Osage River Bridge tops that list, even though it's difficult to find on a map.

David Cochran, the project manager here, says there's no doubt it needs replacing.

(on camera) So they're getting a two-year jump -- whoa, there's a perfect example.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the stuff that will come down.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That came down there.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Up the road, at the Red Oak Inn, owner Wes Horton says Missouri has been promising a new bridge for years. It's only the federal money, the Obama money, he says, that has suddenly got things going.

WES HORTON, OWNER, RED OAK INN: I think they ought to spend all their money on things like this instead of buying the bankers out.

GRIFFIN: There are will be 30 jobs here directly connected to this $8.5 million project. But like the Obama administration, Cochran says this one project will be a jobs multiplier: steel workers, concrete haulers, even the gas stations supplying fuel, an estimated 245 jobs created or saved from this one rural bridge.

Bunk, says university of Missouri economist, Michael Sykuta.

MICHAEL SYKUTA, UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI ECONOMIST: There's been a lot of research done on the Great Depression. Most of that work and the general consensus of my economic report is that it didn't work. That there were a lot of people deployed, but it didn't create a net long-term growth in the economy.

GRIFFIN: St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay says the Osage River bridge project is just plain wrong in the middle of nowhere and nowhere on the road to recovery.

FRANCIS SLAY, ST. LOUIS MAYOR: This money is to be used for a specific purpose, and that purpose is to stimulate the economy and to benefit economically distressed areas. And that money is not going towards that.

(END VIDEOTAPE) COOPER: So if there's this much of a dustup over the very first project, you can only imagine what's going to happen on these others. I mean, is there any mechanism in Washington to try to keep an eye on all this stuff?

GRIFFIN: You know, Anderson, honestly, I can't believe there can be. You've got 50 states, each given hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars, and with the only caveat to spend this money, basically, on projects, as fast as you can.

Now, that in the past has been a recipe for waste. I don't see how even Sheriff Biden back in Washington is going to come out to, let's say, this river bridge out in the middle of Missouri and keep an eye on it, let alone the tens of thousands of other projects that are soon to be under way.

COOPER: And what you're saying backs up -- we had an author, Steven Flynn, who's written a lot about infrastructure. And we had him on a couple weeks ago, and he said the same thing, that there's no national kind of clearinghouse to kind of oversee all these projects to give a sense of what the priorities should be, what roads are most important, what bridges are most important, even from like a national security standpoint. So I don't know. Maybe that's something else they can work on.

Drew, appreciate it. Thanks very much. Drew "Keeping Them Honest."

Tonight, a new attack from Rush Limbaugh to talk about, taking on President Obama and his critics. But this time changing his language. See what he's saying now about the president, his plan, and failure. His words, next.

Also tonight, Michelle Obama, the first lady's message to military families. What she has to say about them and why they believe her.


COOPER: More words between radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh and the White House. Took a new turn today. Limbaugh drew administration heat this weekend after he said he hoped President Obama's policies fail. He also got into it with the new head of the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele, who then promptly caved in with an apology to Mr. Limbaugh, giving the White House even new ammunition. A lot of twists in this battle of rhetoric.

Randi Kaye has details.



RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Three days after his fist-pumping, chest-pounding speech electrified and divided conservatives, the man in black was back with a huge surprise. LIMBAUGH: Well, I'll tell you, I would become Barack Obama's biggest cheerleader in this country.

KAYE: Come again? Rush Limbaugh, a potential fan of the president? Hardly.

LIMBAUGH: If he actually proposed ideas to jump-start this economy so there isn't any more economic pain, so we can bottom out at some point and start building this back. But, folks, his plan doesn't do that.

KAYE: Trashing the plan while offering a new twist on his CPAC address. Namely, this line.

LIMBAUGH: I want Barack Obama to fail if his mission is to restructure and reform this country so that capitalism and individual liberty are not its foundation. Why would I want that to succeed?

KAYE: That was Saturday. This morning, Rush Limbaugh clarified the remarks while taking a shot at the news media.

LIMBAUGH: The Democrat Party, and you people in the media ought to be ashamed. You tried to talk the people in this country into believing that we had a bad economy. This notion that I want Obama to -- I want everybody to succeed.

KAYE (on camera): Influential words, but are they coming from the de facto leader of the GOP?

Limbaugh and RNC boss Michael Steele struggled over that title in back and forth highly public statements this weekend, with Steele finally saying, "To the extent that my remarks help the Democrats in Washington to take the focus, even for one minute, off of their irresponsible expansion of government, I truly apologize."

(voice-over) Democrats seized on what they said was Steele's about-face.

GOV. TIM KAINE (D), VIRGINIA: The fact that he backtracked immediately kind of leads me wondering, OK, so is Rush Limbaugh the guy who's really in charge of the party? The kind of -- the wizard of Oz?

KAYE: The White House is also pressing the point.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I was a little surprised at the speed in which Mr. Steele, the head of the RNC, apologized to the head of the Republican Party.

KAYE: While Washington talks about him, Limbaugh slammed the president again and again.

LIMBAUGH: Some of you are hoping that the words from Obama's mouth will magically bring you back, and it ain't going to happen.

I do not want economic collapse. This is it for me. This is enough. It's got to stop! The problem is, this administration has no interest in it stopping right now.

KAYE: One man's opinion or the voice of the party?

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


COOPER: Let us know what you think at the AC 360 blog. The live chat happening now.

New details tonight about a tragedy at sea. A massive wave capsized a boat. The turning point in a search for three men, two of whom are NFL players. First, Erica Hill has a "360 News & Business Bulletin" -- Erica.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Anderson, an intensive manhunt is under way in Pakistan for at least a dozen gunman who ambushed a convoy carrying a Sri Lankan cricket team. The brazen attack triggered a 15- minute gun battle with police who were guarding the cricket squad. In all a driver and seven officers were killed.

A U.S. prison inmate from El Salvador has been charged now with first-degree murder in the 2001 slaying of former federal inter Chandra Levy. Levy's serving a ten-year sentence for two assaults in the same Washington, D.C., park where Levy's body was found.

Auto sales last month plunging to their lowest level in 27 years, down 40 percent from February 2008. General Motors took the biggest hit, its sales tumbling 53 percent. That is a near 40-year low.

And you may want to mark your calendars for this one. Michael Jackson planning a news conference in London on Thursday.

COOPER: Is that what he looks like now? Or is that old?

HILL: You never know. Quite honestly...

COOPER: That's file footage.

HILL: I think that could be file footage. But you know, Thursday, we may just get a new look.

No details from Jackson's camp, by the way, but there are some reports that the 50-year-old pop star will play a series of concerts this summer at the very same London arena where said news conference will take place.

COOPER: All right. Wow. We will wait with bated breath.

HILL: I think we know what our lead story is on Thursday.

COOPER: I don't think we do.

Coming up, a serious story, lost at sea. Two NFL players -- I don't know how closely you've been following this -- but a lot of twists and turns. Still missing after a fishing trip turned tragic. The search has now been called off. Family members say they are not giving up hope. We'll have the latest ahead.

And Michelle Obama taking her message to America's military families, finding out what change she hopes to bring.


COOPER: Players and a third man missing off the coast of Florida since Saturday was called off by the Coast Guard today, to the anguish of three families. One man, as you know, was rescued from the capsized boat yesterday, but we're still trying to understand exactly what happened to the others. We're getting new details tonight from the survivor. John Zarrella has a 360 follow-up.


JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The families of the three missing men cried and embraced, trying to comfort each other, sharing the pain. Their worst fears. The Coast Guard's search was over.

CAPT. TIMOTHY CLOSE, U.S. COAST GUARD: We're extremely confident that, if there were any survivors on the surface of the water, that we would have found them.

ZARRELLA: The men, four in all, were thrown into the chilly waters of the Gulf of Mexico when their 21-foot boat capsized late Saturday afternoon. Nick Schuyler, the only one rescued, was found Monday, sitting on the boat's hull, wearing a raincoat and a life vest. Despite the Coast Guard's decision, Schuyler's rescue is something that still gives the other families hope.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe in my heart that he's out there fighting to get back, because he knows he has a daughter and a wife and a lot of people who love him, to get back to. So that's really what I'm clinging on to.

ZARRELLA: There so many questions about what went wrong, and Coast Guard officials believe Schuyler has many of the answers. But his dehydration and exhaustion are so severe he's having trouble filling in the gaps. We do know he told Coast Guard officials and his family that a large wave hit the boat about 5 p.m.

Schuyler's father, Stuart, told CNN's Heidi Collins what his son says happened next.

STUART SCHUYLER, FATHER, They were all clinging together, helping each other the whole time. And, you know, of course, it's hard to keep track of time out there. He was in the water roughly 40 hours, and he said the last four or five hours he was alone. He said they drifted apart and it was so dark, they couldn't see each other and he just kept crying.

ZARRELLA: There was a belief that, because of their physical condition, the others might beat the odds of surviving hypothermia and dehydration. Two of them are NFL players, Corey Smith and Marquis Cooper. William Bleakley played football at the University of South Florida with Schuyler. All in good shape.

But grim discoveries Tuesday made the Coast Guard's decision inevitable.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We found one cooler and one orange life jacket in near proximity to each other, approximately 16 miles southeast of where the vessel was found.

ZARRELLA: In the direction, the Coast Guard says, the current would have taken the missing men.

(voice-over) Some of Marquis Cooper's fishing buddies are, according to Cooper's, going to go out in the morning and search the area. And Tank Johnson, a friend and fellow NFL football player, told the local media that pilots can volunteer by e-mail to search the area.

John Zarrella, CNN, Miami.


COOPER: Sad news for the families.

Next, Michelle Obama and military families. Hear their struggles and her message to families serving our country.

And later, take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She don't have what I want and she can't force me to eat something I don't want.


COOPER: Our "Shot" tonight, it's going to put a smile on your face or make you mad. A real 911 call about Chicken McNuggets. And it gets even better. Our "Shot of the Day," coming up.


COOPER: Michelle Obama traveled to Arlington National Cemetery today, visiting a memorial for women in the military. The first lady said the country is grateful for the sacrifices made by all service members. Here's some of what she said.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: It is my great hope that today's and future generations will honor women and men in uniform by, first of all, never taking the blessings of freedom for granted and by doing their part to create a more perfect union. I know that we will continue to do our parts over the coming years.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: Michelle Obama has made it her mission to help military families. She's spoken about that during the campaign and now the White House. She's pledging to champion the cause. Erica Hill takes us up close.


HILL (voice-over): Lisa Pagan spent more than three years in the Army. And while her active duty ended in 2005, she's in the ready reserves through next year. This week, she reported for duty at Ft. Benning with her two young children in tow. Her husband travels for work. Their families live out of state, and she says there's no one else to care for them.

LISA PAGAN, MILITARY MOM: That's what all of this is all about, is just them, what's in the best interest for them.

HILL: A feeling and a situation thousands across the country can relate to as they struggle with their duty to country and to family. It's a cause Michelle Obama championed on the campaign trail.

M. OBAMA: We have to remember that when our troops go to war, our families go with them.

HILL: Today, at Arlington National Cemetery, she addressed those challenges as first lady.

M. OBAMA: Military families have done their duty and we, as a grateful nation, must do ours. We must do everything in our power to honor them by supporting them. Not just by word, but by deed.

HILL: Mrs. Obama was on hand to commemorate Women's History Month, but for military families, her visit meant much more.

KATHLEEN MOAKLER, ARMY SPOUSE AND MOTHER: We have every hope and expectation that she will be a great help to military families in raising the visibility of their sacrifice.

HILL: Kathleen Moakler lived that sacrifice. Her husband served in the Army for 28 years. Two of her three children followed. And as director of government relations for the National Military Family Association, she spends her days making sure families like hers get what they need.

MOAKLER: One of the things that we're concerned about is reintegration. They need a time of adjustment. Families need to have the proper tools to help them make that adjustment. We are also concerned about the long-term effects of deployment on our military children.

HILL: Issues the first lady has promised to champion and resources people like Lisa Pagan need. Pagan was granted an exemption this week and will be discharged, but her situation isn't unique.

As families continue to struggle, there is some comfort in being noticed. MOAKLER: While our military families are happy and proud of the sacrifices they make, that recognition is like the icing on the cake.

HILL: And proof these small words go a long way.

M. OBAMA: Thank you so much.


HILL: And Anderson, just to point out one of the questions, so many people excited about the fact that Mrs. Obama is championing the causes of military families, but there aren't any specifics yet. And that is one of the things that people are waiting on, is what specifically will she do as first lady to help overcome some of these obstacles?

COOPER: All right. Erica, thanks very much. Appreciate it.

Up next, McDonald's emergency. Bizarre 911 call. We mentioned it involved McNuggets, but there was more. A McDouble. Yes. We'll have that for you in just a second.

And at the top of the hour, President Obama firing back at critics of his economic policy. We have the "Raw Politics" ahead.


COOPER: Tonight's "Shot" comes from the "911 Calls of Shame" file. This time a Florida woman called 911 to report a fast-food emergency. Apparently, McDonalds ran out of McNuggets and would not give her a refund.

HILL: The horror.

COOPER: They said that all sales are final. Here's part of the call.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How can I help you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm calling from McDonald's at U.S. 1 by the bridge.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. What's going on there?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just ordered some food, and the manager just took my money and they won't give me my money back. They're trying to make me get something off the menu that I don't want. I ordered chicken nuggets, and they don't have chicken nuggets. I told them to just give me my money back, and she told me I have to pick something else off the menu. She's not going to give my money back, and she don't have the right to take my money. Here's the officer right here.


HILL: Yes.

COOPER: A 27-year-old woman insisted her McNuggets were an emergency. The police were not listening. They issued a misdemeanor citation for misusing the 911 system.

HILL: Apparently, she was offered a McDouble instead.

COOPER: She didn't want the McDouble. She wanted the McNuggets.

HILL: It wasn't going to do. She wanted chicken, not two all beef patties. By the way, there's only one only one...

COOPER: She called three times, by the way.

HILL: You know, that alleged food emergency reminds me of another 911 call a while back.

COOPER: Probably the best 911 call we've ever heard.

HILL: Probably the best one ever. No shame here. Oh, no. A man calling for help after he and his wife ate marijuana brownies. Let's refresh your memory.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think I'm having an overdose and so is my wife.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You and your wife?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Overdose of what?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Marijuana. I don't know if it had something in it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will you please send rescue?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you have a fever or anything?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I'm just -- I think we're dying.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How much did you guys have?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know. We made brownies and I think we're dead. I really do.


HILL: I love the 911 operator on that call. COOPER: She's just so calm. He thinks he's dead.

HILL: She gets that every day.

COOPER: The man who made the call was actually a police officer, we should tell you, we should remind you, who allegedly stole the marijuana from criminal suspects he'd arrested. So it gets better. It's not just that he thought he was dead. He was actually a police officer.

HILL: And that is proof that crime doesn't pay.

COOPER: Nor do pot brownies. You can see all the most recent shots on our Web site, From what I've read.

Coming up at the top of the hour, President Obama firing back at critics who say his policies are tanking the market. Do they have a point? And will it affect the bottom line? That and more when 360 continues.