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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Barbara Bush Hospitalized; Obama Administration Targeting Rush Limbaugh?

Aired March 4, 2009 - 22:00   ET

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


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, we begin with breaking news: former first lady Barbara Bush recovering tonight from heart surgery, the operation to replace a faulty heart valve done today at Methodist Hospital in Houston.

Mrs. Bush, seen here in better health, has been experiencing shortness of breath. Doctors detected the heart valve last week, scheduled surgery for today. According to the hospital, surgeons replaced the bad valve with a biological substitute.

That can mean from a cadaver, from a cow or a pig. The statement does not specify. The procedure, as they say, took about two-and-a- half-hours. Surgeon Gerald Lawrie saying -- quote -- "The surgery went extremely well. I expect her to recover fully and soon resume her normal activities."

Let's get more insight now from 360 M.D. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, joins us by phone.

How serious is this surgery, Sanjay?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the operation itself is fairly common in people of that age, in terms of heart surgery.

Tens of thousands of these are done every year. It's open-heart surgery. And I think that that always carries some risks, no question about it, actually, opening someone's chest, finding a particular valve and replacing it.

In someone of her age, Anderson, 83 years old, my understanding, the anesthesia, itself, and putting the patient on what's essentially a bypass machine is probably a bigger risk than the operation itself.

Anesthesia in someone of that age, the bypass machine, those carry different risks as well. So, it sounds like everything went quickly. It went well, so probably going to be no long-term problems -- Anderson.

COOPER: What exactly is the aortic valve?

GUPTA: Yes, the aortic valve -- there are several different valves around the heart, in the heart.

This is the -- this is sort of major valve. It's -- there is a valve that controls all the blood leaving the heart that goes to the rest of the body. That is the aortic valve. And sometimes what happens when it gets a little hardened is that it can't open and close as well as it once did.

Think of this as a one-way valve. That's what you want these valves to do. Once the blood is pushed from the heart, you don't want the blood to go back into the heart. If the valve becomes hardened, it can't close properly. So, the -- the blood starts to regurgitate back into the heart. That makes the heart work harder. That can cause cardiac failure, not to mention not enough blood is getting to the rest of the body anymore, and that can cause other problems.

COOPER: And how do you detect this? I mean, is this something that routine screening can -- can just detect?

GUPTA: You know, not really. And that's sort of the interesting about thing.

Oftentimes, it can come on somewhat unexpected. You will remember, Anderson, we talked about when -- when Barbara Bush had surgery a few months ago for a perforated ulcer. And there was no mention made of this at that time.

So, I'm not sure if there was problems and it just wasn't mentioned, or if she just didn't have any problems at all. My understanding was, just over the last week or so, she started to develop shortness of breath. That is -- that is exactly what you would expect. Again, with that regurgitation, the blood is starting to back up into the heart, sometimes can back up into the lungs. That causes a shortness of breath.

And that is what prompts the investigation. What exactly is going on here? What is causing that shortness of breath? That's when they find this valve to not be working properly.

Sometimes, you can put a stethoscope on someone's chest and hear a heart murmur, just like you -- you know, any routine exam would -- would find that. But my understanding was, they just found this over the last couple weeks.

COOPER: What's the prognosis for someone at her age having this procedure? And we should also say the hospital just released a statement, a spokeswoman, Amy Felker (ph), saying -- and I quote -- "Former first lady Barbara Bush is recovering from successful heart surgery Wednesday at the Methodist Hospital in Houston. The aortic valve replacement was scheduled last week, after she experienced shortness of breath and physicians detected a hardened valve in her heart."

She, they say she may have to be in -- she's in the ICU -- that she may have to stay there for more than a week.

GUPTA: Yes, I mean, this is still pretty major surgery. Any time you open someone's chest and operate on the heart, and, again, putting someone on that bypass machine, you know, that's major surgery, no matter how short it is or how else you define it. There's really three ways of looking at prognosis. One is the immediate-term prognosis, how she is going to do from the operation itself, how she's going to recover from the anesthesia. We will know more about that within the next couple of days.

The second question is, is the valve going to do the job that it's intended to do, prevent that regurgitation of blood back into the heart, allow blood to sort of flow more normally through her body. That will -- that will be a few more weeks before we know that.

Also, sometimes, with these types of operations, patients need to be on certain medications afterwards, including blood thinners. And, you know, how she responds to those medications is going to be a longer-term question.

She's 83 years old. This is a big operation for an 83-year-old. But, again, this is an operation that is done tens of thousands of times a year on people just her age.

COOPER: The surgery was performed by Dr. Gerald Lawrie, who is a heart surgeon at the Methodist DeBakey Heart and Vascular Center. He talked to Larry King just a short time ago. I just want to play some of that sound.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LARRY KING LIVE")

DR. GERALD LAWRIE, METHODIST DEBAKEY HEART AND VASCULAR CENTER: The family have all been in very close communication with each other.

President Bush left her room right after the surgery, and called all the family personally. And there's been a lot of back and forth before and after the surgery.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Sanjay, you know you and have both had our hearts examined using some -- some pretty advanced techniques. We did it together for a story.

A lot of women, though, don't realize how -- how deadly heart disease, I mean, affects women throughout the United States.

GUPTA: Heart disease is the biggest killer of men and women in this country, Anderson. I'm glad you brought that up.

Women oftentimes will present to emergency rooms with classic signs of heart problems, but because doctors and patients alike are not thinking about it, oftentimes, those symptoms will be chalked up to something else, indigestion or something related to the lungs, as opposed to the heart.

So, yes, it is just a very good point. Now, with -- with the former first lady's case here, she didn't -- we're not talking about what is coronary artery disease, the sort of disease process that would cause a heart attack, the chest pain that so many people are familiar with. This was more of a valve problem, as you know, which caused sort of that shortness of breath and -- and maybe some chest tightness.

But, you know, you're right. There's a lot of -- a lot of people who would (INAUDIBLE) complaining of chest symptoms, and not think of heart disease, whereas they should.

And let me add to that, Anderson, as a result of this underdiagnosis, Anderson, proportionally speaking, more women die of heart attacks and heart disease than men. So, it is -- it is certainly something to bear in mind.

COOPER: And why is that? It's just that it goes undetected? It's -- it's -- they -- they're not screened for it as much?

GUPTA: Yes, I think -- I think all levels. First of all, there's not -- the prevention strategies aren't as -- as strong. Men are sort of focused on prevention strategies from early age, because it's thought to be a male disease.

There's also the underdiagnosis at the time that someone might go to an emergency room or -- or start having some symptoms. But even studies have shown the treatments are even different, less aggressive with women than they are for men.

The good news is that that's starting to change now as, you know, people are understanding more and more the -- the fact of disease, heart disease, is in a woman, but it still -- there is still a disparity there.

COOPER: Bottom line for former first lady Barbara Bush, she is in the hospital in the ICU right now. She -- they say she will be there, maybe discharged seven to 10 days. And we certainly wish her and her family the best.

Sanjay, thanks for calling in.

We're going to be following this story throughout the program, bring you any updates as they happen.

As always, the chat room is also open, the live chat, at AC360.com. You can also watch Erica Hill's live Webcasts during the breaks on the Web site.

Up next: Rush Limbaugh's war with the White House escalating, it seems. We have new details on a possible strategy behind it. Was it all a trap for Rush to walk into by the Democrats? You decide for yourself.

Also, we're following a late rally out of San Francisco, people filling the streets, marching in support of same-sex marriage -- a big court ruling expected tomorrow. We will have details on that later tonight.

And, also, a 360 exclusive -- George Clooney helped bring the Darfur genocide home -- now his take after the dictator responsible is indicted today for murder -- our conversation with George Clooney coming up. Also, much brighter news -- today, Sasha and Malia Obama got a big surprise. We will let you in on it. Here's a hint. They ran straight outside in the winter cold to play with it for quite a while -- more when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AUDIENCE: Rush! Rush! Rush! Rush! Rush! Rush! Rush! Rush! Rush! Rush! Rush! Rush! Rush! Rush!

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Rush Limbaugh at a get-together for conservatives over the weekend.

New shots today in the war of words between him and the White House -- that and the remarkable possibility that this entire battle has been a trap set by Democrats that Limbaugh somehow played into. Some conservatives are even calling it a left-wing conspiracy. We will let you judge for yourself tonight.

Days after Limbaugh again called for President Obama to fail, he was talked about today at a White House briefing. Then, he went on his radio program, challenged Mr. Obama to come into his studio and debate him.

Humble, he is not.

Meanwhile, Politico reported that Limbaugh has dragged the Republican Party into a political trap conceived by none other than Paul Begala and James Carville, and carried out with the help of White House personnel.

In a moment, we will talk to Paul Begala about that.

First, Randi Kaye with the facts, as we know them, and the "Raw Politics."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Web site Politico.com says it all started back in October, when Democratic strategists James Carville and Stan Greenberg added Rush Limbaugh's name to a political favorability poll.

It reportedly found, no matter how popular Limbaugh may be on his conservative radio show, a lot of people, simply put, don't like the guy. They seized on the results. Politico reports, Limbaugh's lack of appeal even outranked Obama's controversial pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, and Bill Ayers, once considered a domestic terrorist by the FBI, who Republicans tried to tie Mr. Obama to.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

KAYE: Limbaugh had the potential to become what Democrats saw as GOP poison. And now they're doing something about it.

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: We poll all the time. And none of this would have happened without -- without Rush being the one that started it by saying that he wanted the president's policies to fail.

KAYE: That was January 16, just four days before the inauguration, when Limbaugh told listeners he hoped Barack Obama would fail.

Even Republicans and people who hadn't voted for him at that time had said they wanted the new president to succeed, for the good of the country and the economy.

In Limbaugh, Democrats have found their foe for the post-Bush White House. He's a toxic asset, says one Democratic strategist, which is exactly why they have tried to paint him as the de facto leader of the GOP.

CARVILLE: It is the Republican office-holders who have deemed him his daddy. He is the daddy of this Republican Congress right now.

KAYE: It's a role Limbaugh seems to relish. Just today, the radio host challenged the president to a debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW")

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Why doesn't President Obama come on my show? I am offering President Obama to come on this program, without staffers, without a teleprompter, without note cards, to debate me on the issues.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAYE: He also sent an e-mail to Politico.com that reads: "An ever larger number of people are now being exposed to the antidote to Obamaism: conservatism, as articulated by me."

CRAIG GORDON, WHITE HOUSE EDITOR, POLITICO.COM: For him, the more we talk about him, the more James Carville talks about him, the more Rahm Emanuel talks about him, that's ratings gold.

KAYE: Politico says, strategists are feeding the White House information and helping craft the Limbaugh strategy.

GORDON: There is someone working inside the White House who is sort of coordinating with other folks on the Rush Limbaugh situation.

KAYE (on camera): The White House tells CNN, that's ridiculous. Meanwhile, the joke among Democrats? Limbaugh needs to stay healthy and keep talking, a strategy Democrats believe will only work in their favor.

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Paul Begala joins us now, along with former Bush communications director Nicolle Wallace.

Paul, is this Politico accurate? Are you and other Democratic strategists, like your buddy James Carville, working with the White House to paint Republicans as the party of Rush Limbaugh?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't have to.

First off, I don't work for the White House or any other politician, as you know. I live my life out loud. If I think something, I say it. And, fortunately, you and the other folks on CNN are good enough to give me a platform to do that.

But I -- this is one of those occasions where, you know, I mean, I try to be an honest analyst. And, of course, I'm also a committed partisan. In both roles, the statement is, I believe inarguably true, that Mr. Limbaugh is the leading, most powerful force in the Republican Party. I think it's an undeniable truth. Go ask Michael Steele.

COOPER: But -- but -- but you didn't answer the question. Are you working with James Carville, perhaps Rahm Emanuel, others in the White House, as part of a concerted effort to do this?

BEGALA: I -- I don't know what you mean by concerted effort.

I guess the short answer is no. I do what I do. James, I'm -- he and I agree. He's my best friend. We have been in business, informally at least, or formally, for 25 years.

COOPER: Well, let me -- let me -- let me go back.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: On this Limbaugh thing, as you will recall, on election night of '06, I was hammering Limbaugh.

COOPER: According to this Politico article, though, this began with a poll that James Carville's company took...

BEGALA: Right.

COOPER: ... in which they discovered Rush Limbaugh had very high negatives.

How -- how -- how bad were his negatives?

BEGALA: They were catastrophic. It was in October of -- of '08, if memory serves, when the Republicans were -- were ginning up a lot of controversy, you will remember, about Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright.

So, Democracy Corps, which is a nonprofit that Carville is affiliated with, did a poll. And they put Limbaugh's name in there, as well as those -- as those two who were central, I think, to some of the Republican attacks on then Senator Obama. And it turns out that Mr. Limbaugh's negative was 58 and that Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright were right at about 50.

COOPER: So, he had -- he had more people didn't like Rush Limbaugh than -- than didn't like Reverend Wright?

BEGALA: Yes.

And he had -- now, in fairness to the data, a whole lot fewer people knew who Reverend Wright was. A lot more people liked Limbaugh, as well as disliked him. So -- so, you know, it probably averaged out where the net might even have been better for Rush.

But the negative rating, that is, the disapproval of Limbaugh was 58, higher, significantly higher, I think, than either Jeremiah Wright or Bill Ayers, who were central to the debate.

And I remember thinking then, well, why isn't Limbaugh central to the debate? And God bless Rush. He then made himself central to the debate by saying he hopes that the president fails.

COOPER: But, according to this Politico article, by -- it says, "By February, Carville and Begala were pounding on Limbaugh frequently in their appearances on CNN."

BEGALA: Mm-hmm. Sure, and not just CNN.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Street corners, at the dinner table. Wherever two or more were gathered, there, too, was my anti-Rush views. And they have been longstanding.

As I was saying a moment ago, on election night of '06, when Rush Limbaugh was then engaged in a big fight with Michael J. Fox, I suggested that one of the reasons Claire McCaskill won the Missouri Senate race two years ago was because, as I said then, it came down to a beloved American -- a beloved actor, Michael J. Fox, against Limbaugh, who, at that time, I described as a -- I think it was a gas bag -- or a drug-addled gas bag, I think. That was it.

So, I have a lot of history of disliking Rush. And I don't intend to stop now.

COOPER: So, Nicolle, I will bring you in, in a second, but I just want to try to get an answer on this.

You, allegedly, Paul, have daily phone calls with Rahm Emanuel, an old friend of yours, as well as James Carville. This is all what I have -- I have read. It's been reported. So, clearly, the light bulb goes off with you and Carville about Rush Limbaugh and his high negatives. Is that something you tell Rahm Emanuel? Because, all of a sudden, this weekend, Rahm Emanuel, out of the blue, unprompted, started talking about Rush Limbaugh.

BEGALA: Well, you would have to ask Rahm what prompts him to do again.

But, you know, we're very close friends. But I don't take orders from -- I love Rahm. He's dear friend of mine. I don't take orders from him or anybody else. I don't work for any politicians. I work for CNN. And -- but I don't take orders from anybody.

COOPER: But, clearly, clearly, if you're talking to -- if you're talking to Rahm Emanuel every day on the phone, and this light bulb has gone off in your head and James Carville's head, I find it hard to believe you didn't say to Rahm Emanuel: Guess what? Look at these poll numbers.

BEGALA: Oh, I don't know. I don't keep careful notes of these things.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: My view is, I keep private conversations private, Anderson.

COOPER: OK.

BEGALA: And that's part of -- of what I do to try to figure out what is going on in the world.

But, also, I mean, I -- I talk to my friends about any number of things. But here's the secret. I don't like Rush Limbaugh. Here is the other secret. He is the most powerful person in the Republican Party today, bar none.

COOPER: Nicolle, what do you make of all this?

NICOLLE WALLACE, FORMER BUSH WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: There are two things wrong with this strategy. And, as you have noted, it is obviously a strategy.

One, this is a president who promised in his inaugural address an end to childish things. And it may be a smart political tactic, but, no doubt, it is childish and hypocritical for the chief of staff to a president who promised an end to childish things to go out and start a food fight with a talk radio host.

Now, here's the second thing that is wrong with this strategy. Barack Obama relies very heavily on a villain. In the primary, it was Paul's friend and former colleague Hillary Clinton who was his villain. and Barack Obama railed against her.

In the general election, surprisingly, it wasn't John McCain, as much as it was George Bush that Barack Obama relied upon to give us something to fear and someone to blame and his promise that he would protect us and save us from that person.

Now, you know, they -- they ran a poll, and they came up with a new villain. And it's Rush Limbaugh. And I think the larger question is, why, as president, when his mission is to govern, not campaign, does he need to rely on fabricated villains?

COOPER: Paul?

BEGALA: Well, first off, I don't know that he's relying on anything. He's trying to fix this country.

I -- I will say -- and I do have some friends and contacts in the White House -- they have a lot bigger fish to fry, Nicolle. You need not worry. I don't think they're spending very much, if any, time worrying about Rush Limbaugh. That's why God created me.

WALLACE: They sure talk about him a lot.

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE: You know, the chief of staff on a Sunday show?

BEGALA: No, no, no. No, I do. I do, but I'm not busy trying to solve peace in the Middle East and fix the financial crisis, like they are.

WALLACE: Rahm Emanuel on a Sunday show.

COOPER: It's interesting, though, Paul, because Robert Gibbs, the spokesperson for the president, has talked about Rush Limbaugh at the daily briefings.

And, in fact, today, he was asked about it. And he said, well, you know what? Maybe it's counterproductive to do it.

But, based on what you have said and this Politico article says, he must not think it's counterproductive. He must think, actually, it's -- it's quite effective and therefore part of a strategy.

So, when he said today it's counterproductive, was he being honest?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, we will have the answer to that question next, as our conversation continues. Is Rush Limbaugh being targeted? Is it a left-wing conspiracy, as some are calling it? Will it backfire?

Also, tonight, budget, pork, and pigs, literally -- President Obama promised to end earmarks. Soon, he will sign a budget with plenty of earmarks, including money to study pig odor. Does that smell right to you? You can decide for yourself. Some -- some lawmakers say it is money well spent. We're "Keeping Them Honest."

And a surprise at the White House today for Sasha and Malia Obama, we will tell you all about that. And new developments in the strange case of the octuplets' mom -- 911 calls, reports of police visits. We will fill you in -- tonight on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Rush Limbaugh firing up conservatives this weekend. We're talking about a new and striking twist in the war between him and the White House, namely that, not only is it a war the White House seems to welcome, given Limbaugh's lightning rod status, but it is also a war that some top friends of the White House actually hoped for.

We heard from Paul Begala and Republican Nicolle Wallace before the break, the segment ending with a question: Was White House spokesman Robert Gibbs playing it kind of cute today when he said, making -- when he said, making an issue of Limbaugh was counterproductive?

Here's how Paul Begala answered.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BEGALA: Oh, I think so. I don't -- that's certainly his view. I can't speak for -- for Mr. Gibbs.

I -- I do think people make a mistake if they try to take what I say and do and ascribe it to the White House.

COOPER: Do you think it's counterproductive?

BEGALA: I did not support Mr. Obama in the primaries.

COOPER: You think -- you don't it's counterproductive, though. You think it's -- it's actually spot-on, A, accurate, and, B, effective.

BEGALA: Here's -- here is the difference: in response to a question.

You know, that was a journalist from "The Washington Times," which is a -- I read that paper, but it's a conservative paper. And they asked a question about Limbaugh. Gibbs gives an answer about Limbaugh, and then they say, why are you talking about Limbaugh? It's a little bit of a trap, if you ask me.

But I have the strong sense from my contacts in the White House that they have much bigger fish to fry. They would rather leave political commentators like me to mud-wrestle with political blowhards like Mr. Limbaugh, than -- than themselves get involved in that. COOPER: Nicolle, clearly, Rush Limbaugh seems to be loving this. He wrote -- he sent an e-mail to Politico, says: "The administration is enabling me. They're expanding my profile, expanding my audience, and expanding my influence. An even larger number of people are now being exposed to the antidote to Obamaism, conservatism, as articulated by me."

And now he's challenged the president to -- to a debate. Have, though, Nicolle, Democrats been effective in this boxing, I mean, Republicans into a corner...

WALLACE: Well, I -- look, what...

COOPER: ... sort of damned if they criticize Rush Limbaugh, and, you know, I guess, criticized by some if they don't?

WALLACE: Well, look, I don't know what corner we're in. I mean, we're -- we are out of control. We're in the political wilderness. We're regrouping.

I have likened it to the beginning of "American Idol," where, you know, by the end of the season, hopefully, we will be able to make a cogent case to the American people.

(LAUGHTER)

WALLACE: But, in the beginning, there are a lot of performances that are a little rocky. So...

COOPER: You're saying, like, the Republican Party is a bunch of bad singers right now?

(LAUGHTER)

WALLACE: Well, yes, but there's always a star there in the midst.

But, you know, I think Republicans, you know, when they're -- when they're speaking truthfully, we're acutely aware of where we are.

Rush Limbaugh made a much larger point in his speech on Saturday night at CPAC. And he talked about how Republicans would be well- served to begin a philosophical debate about the role of government in people's lives. And I read about this on The Daily Beast. And it enraged people on the left, because how dare you question the philosophy of punishing the prosperous among us and trying to redistribute the wealth in this country?

But I do think that -- that -- that some of Rush's larger points will be heard by a far wider audience because the White House has so elevated him. And I think, at the end of the day, before we, as Republicans, stand before the voters, you know, for elections in two years and in four years, you know, we can only hope to regroup as effectively as the Democrats have between their losses in 2004 and their victory in 2008.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: It's interesting, though, Paul. I mean, we have -- I have been -- you know, we have been talking about Rush Limbaugh last night on the program, I think the night before as well.

And a lot of viewers are saying; Look, enough. I'm sick of hearing about this guy. I don't care about him. I don't want to hear about him.

Clearly, he has a huge following among many people in the United States...

BEGALA: Right.

COOPER: ... probably of all political stripes. A lot of people just listen to him for entertainment, even if they don't agree with him.

But is this a sideshow? I mean, is this an effective strategy? Is this something you think the Democrats should continue to be hammering at, identifying, linking the Republican Party to Rush Limbaugh? Or do you think it's -- it's time to move on?

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: There's about four questions.

Yes, it's a sideshow, but, yes, it's a very effective one, because it's true. Look, this presidency is going to be judged by whether the economy is working and the world is in -- is more secure and the American people are more secure.

Those are the things I'm quite sure -- believe me -- that President Obama is working on. So, you're right. At base, this is a sideshow. What makes it so appealing is that Rush Limbaugh and I agree. I don't want to hush Rush. I don't want to bring back the so- called fairness doctrine. I don't want to do anything that limits his First Amendment rights, because the more people hear them, the more they want to be Democrats.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: So, he is driving converts to my side.

But, fundamentally, you're right. Of course, this thing is going to be decided on the big things. It's just that I don't work on the big things anymore. Nicolle and I have worked in the White House. I know what the big things are.

I'm just now here just trying to state the obvious truth, that this guy is the most powerful force in the Republican Party. And, frankly, I think he's a toxic asset for the Republicans.

COOPER: We will leave it there.

Paul Begala, fascinating. Nicolle Wallace, as well, thanks so much.

WALLACE: Thanks.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, let us know what you think at AC360.com, the live chat happening now, a lot of people weighing in.

Up next, the latest on our breaking news: former first lady Barbara Bush undergoing heart surgery at a hospital in Texas.

Also, details of President Obama's housing plan, they were outlined today -- how you can be sure you keep your house, as well as those who say they're paying for someone else's problem.

Also, this -- take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We thought it was important for us to be able to step back for a moment, remind ourselves that we have things in common, family, friends, laughter. And, hopefully, we will have a chance to appreciate each other a little bit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, another party at the White House tonight. The Bushes barely held any. What is behind the change? And what does it say about the way this first family mixes business with pleasure?

Later, new allegations against the octuplets' mom -- reports of 911 calls, her frantic plea, police visiting the home -- all when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Updating our breaking news, former first lady Barbara Bush recovering tonight from heart surgery. Doctors at Methodist hospital Houston replacing a major valve in her heart. The aortic valve, seen in this animation, was apparently hardened.

According to the hospital, surgeons today replaced her bad valve with a biological substitute. That can mean from a cadaver or a cow or a pig, though the statement doesn't specify. The procedure took about two and a half hours, we're told.

The problem was pinpointed last week. It was right after Mrs. Bush complained of shortness of breath. She's 83 years old. She's in the ICU right now. That is normal. Doctors expect her to be able to go home within seven to ten days.

To Washington now, where the Obama administration launched another piece of its $275 billion housing plan today, a mortgage relief measure designed to cut monthly payments for millions of homeowners in danger of foreclosure. Here's how President Obama described it this morning. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a plan that won't help speculators or that neighbor down the street who bought a house he could never hope to afford. But it will help millions of Americans who are struggling with declining home values, Americans who will now be able to take advantage of the lower interest rates that this plan has already helped to bring about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: The plan will allow bankruptcy judges to rewrite mortgages to lower homeowners' monthly payments. Millions of people could use that kind of help. But who exactly qualifies under the fine print of this measure?

Tom Foreman joins us with all the "Raw Politics" -- Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Two groups are being targeted here. First, about five million people who cannot refinance and take advantage of lower interest rates, because the values of their homes have dropped so much they just can't qualify for a new loan. That's the first group. Five million people, Anderson.

COOPER: And Tom, those people are described as upside down with their mortgages. Right?

FOREMAN: Yes. That's exactly right. You've heard that term. That's exactly what we're talking about. And if you think that's you, here's what the Treasury Department says must be true if you're going to get help.

First of all, this must be your primary residence. It can't be an investment property or a second home of some sort.

Secondly, your loan must be guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. This is for refinancing help. If you don't know whether it's Fannie or Freddie for you, your bank does. Give them a call. They can tell you about it.

Thirdly, you must still be making payments on your house. You have to be current, no matter how hard that has been.

And last, No. 4, your house's value must be either close to or a bit lower than it was when you bought it. Not way below, because the government does not want to take on hopeless cases here.

But all that applies, if this is all true for you, give your bank a call. You might qualify for refinancing at a lower rate, which would bring your payments down.

COOPER: So the first group is people who have seen their home values fall. The second is for people who are in danger of defaulting on their loans? FOREMAN: Yes. That's right. There's a big distinction. And that's about four million people. Families who bought with an adjustable rate loan or they lost jobs and something like that, and now they're on the brink of missing a payment. They need their loans fundamentally modified. So we're talking about a modification program now, and that's going to extend the loan life, perhaps maybe up to 40 year, or interest rates could be lowered.

So do you qualify for that? Let's look at the criteria again. No. 1, again, it must be your primary residence.

Secondly, the amount you owe on the house must be less than $730,000.

Third, you have to make sure that you're having trouble meeting monthly payments and that you can document this amount. You have to make it very clear that you are genuinely having troubles paying your mortgage.

And you have to take this loan out before the start of 2009. This can't be something you just jumped on now.

Here's one rule of thumb, if you're looking at whether or not you're having this much trouble. If more than 1/3 of your income is going to house payments, that's a sign of real trouble, Anderson. Those are the people this is targeted at. So that's what we're looking at right now.

COOPER: Good to keep in mind. Tom, thanks.

President Obama says he wants an end to earmarks. We've all heard that. So why are you still paying for pork in a new spending measure? Spending measure, by the way, he's not going to veto. Tonight we're "Keeping Them Honest."

And a big surprise awaiting Sasha and Malia when they got home from school today. Find out what is new to the White House coming up. And as her octuplets continue to grow, so does the story of Nadya Suleman. Newly-released 911 calls reveal a startling moment. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NADYA SULEMAN, MOTHER OF OCTUPLETS: Help me. Help me. My son is missing. I'm going crazy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: President Obama hoping to convince Americans he's the reformer in chief. Today he said he'll save the country up to $40 billion a year with a White House directive that will end the days of wasteful, bloated government contracts. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) B. OBAMA: Over the last eight years, government spending on contracts has doubled to over half a trillion dollars. Far too often the spending is plagued by massive cost overruns, outright fraud, and the absence of oversight and accountability. In some cases contracts are awarded without competition. In others, contractors actually oversee other contractors. We are spending money on things we don't need, and we are paying more than we need to pay. And that's completely unacceptable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: While the president's vowing to trim the fat, the pork keeps piling up. Thousands of earmarks, those self-serving projects lawmakers love to stuff into legislation, are finding their way into a leftover spending bill from the Bush administration. We're talking hundreds of millions of dollars in earmarks.

So is the president pushing for change but playing politics at usual? Joe Johns is "Keeping Them Honest."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's hard to sell mixed messages in this town. Just last week, during the president's speech to Congress, he sounded like he'd turned a corner in the fight against pork barrel spending.

B. OBAMA: I'm proud that we passed a recovery plan free of earmarks. And I want...

JOHNS: But some in the audience were saying, "You've got to be kidding me."

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON (R), TEXAS: There was just a roar of laughter. Because there were earmarks.

JOHNS: And now more comic relief: as the president hammers away at reducing wasteful spending and saving taxpayers' money, his buddies over at the Capitol are hammering out a monster spending bill, loaded up with more than 8,800 earmarks worth nearly $8 billion.

According to Taxpayers for Common Sense, a group that monitors government spending, that includes about $1.6 million for pig odor research in Iowa; $143,000 for a natural history museum in Las Vegas; $238,000 for the Polynesian Voyaging Society in Hawaii, all in a bill that's supposed to just keep the government operating.

Many senators openly defend the earmarks because, for one thing, they're a tiny fraction of the overall bill.

SEN. JIM INHOFE (R), OKLAHOMA: The earmarks, if you total them up, are less than 1 percent of the $410 billion, so we're not talking about a huge amount.

JOHNS (on camera): You both have earmarks in the bill?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: Good ones.

JOHNS: Authorized ones?

LIEBERMAN: Not all of them, no. But they're good ones. And I'd be prepared to stand up and defend them, if somebody raised the point of order.

JOHNS: But critics say, in a time of exploding deficits, Congress should be tightening up. And many Republicans, who according to Taxpayers for Common Sense control about 40 percent of the earmarks in the bill, are saying that, if the president is so committed to rooting out wasteful spending, he'd veto this thing.

BAILEY HUTCHISON: It's just not credible to say that we're against earmarks and then sign a bill that has earmarks.

JOHNS (voice-over): The truth is the president probably can't afford to pick a fight right now with congressional Democrats who are getting 60 percent of the earmarks. These are the guys who can either drag his massive agenda over the finish line or drag it down to defeat.

So the White House and its defenders say this bill is just last year's unfinished business, and next time it'll be different.

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: The president's budget we'll take up in a couple months. This is a leftover from last year.

JOHNS: But when it comes to earmarks the tradition has been the more things change, the more they remain the same.

Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Coming up my exclusive interview with actor and activist George Clooney. We'll talk about new developments, dramatic new developments in Darfur and his recent meeting with President Obama, including how he tried to score points with the new president.

First Erica Hill joins us with a "360 News & Business Bulletin" -- Erica.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Anderson, tonight, there's a developing story in San Francisco where hundreds of same-sex marriage supporters are preparing for a march and candlelight vigil.

CNN affiliate KRON is reporting Molotov cocktails were actually found in the nearby Castro District. The demonstration comes on the eve of a state Supreme Court hearing on Proposition 8, the measure banning gay marriage in California.

Wall Street snapping its five-day losing streak after reports that China's economy may be improving. Details of President Obama's mortgage relief plan also helped to spur stocks. The Dow surging 150 points today. The NASDAQ added 33, while the S&P 500 was up 17.

New and troubling reports tonight about Nadya Suleman, the California woman who gave birth to octuplets. The Web site TMZ has released a recording of a frantic 911 call it says Suleman made last October, apparently to report one of her sons missing. Here's part of that call.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SULEMAN: Oh, my God. I'm going to kill myself. I'm going to kill myself. Oh, my God.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Don't say that in front of your other child, OK? Keep yourself under control for your other child. He doesn't need to hear that. OK?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, mommy.

SULEMAN: He went on a walk.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What?

SULEMAN: He went on a walk, and he came back by himself.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: A 360 follow for you tonight. Last night we told you about a 27-year-old Florida woman who was arrested for misusing 911 when she called three times from a local McDonald's to complain the store would not refund her money for an order of Chicken McNuggets. They had run out. She didn't want anything else. And in case you missed it, here's that call.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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. And so I told them to just give me my money back. And she told me I have to pick something else off the menu.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: Well, tonight there is -- she wanted her Chicken McNuggets and she is going to get those Chicken McNuggets, Anderson. Tonight we have a response from McDonald's. This statement, quote, "We want to correct our mistake. We will be sending the customer her refund, along with an invitation to return for her original order on us.

COOPER: Yes. Yes.

HILL: "We never want to disappoint a McNuggets fan or any McDonald's customer." End of story.

COOPER: You knew they would have to respond. I mean, you knew they would have to -- it was ridiculous that they had this no refund policy. That's moronic.

HILL: It is ridiculous, especially when they pay for the order and then they run out. Is it that hard to give you back the money?

COOPER: And I'm not -- and I'm not defending her use of 911. Clearly, that is ridiculous as well.

HILLS: Absolutely not.

COOPER: Her three-time use of 911.

All right. Still to come, the big surprise today for Sasha and Malia at the White House. What was it? It wasn't McNuggets. Details ahead.

Plus, our breaking news. Former first lady Barbara Bush hospitalized tonight after undergoing heart surgery.

First, a 360 exclusive: George Clooney's crusade bringing attention to the crisis in Darfur. Today a crucial development. The president of Sudan charged with war crimes. First time this happened for a sitting leader. We'll talk with Clooney, who's been there and seen the devastation.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Today the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Sudan president Omar Hassan al-Bashir, charging him with war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. As many as 300,000 people have died in the brutal campaign of violence that began six years ago. More than three million people have been driven from their homes.

The charges against al-Bashir include murder, extermination, rape, and torture but they do stop short, however, of genocide. This is the first time the ICC has indicted a sitting head of state, but there are real questions over whether it will actually help end the atrocities in Darfur in the short term.

It's not certain al-Bashir will even be tried. First he has to be served with the warrant.

Sudanese officials responded today by ordering as many as 10 aid agencies to leave the country, a move that will have immediate consequences for Darfur's refugees and those who are internally displaced.

Actor and activist George Clooney has made Darfur a focus. He met last month with President Obama to discuss the crisis. He joins me now for our "360 Dispatch."

George, this arrest warrant for President Bashir, does it really change the situation? It hasn't been served. He's not going to be apprehended any time soon.

GEORGE CLOONEY, ACTOR/ACTIVIST: There are mixed feelings about these things, you know. What you found is that this has been a long, ongoing cycle of negotiations, and deal making, and promises, and nothing's happened. Nothing. Literally, nothing's happened. And these things continue on.

This seems to be a step in the direction to, at the very least, hold the people who do business with the government of Sudan, the governor of Khartoum, hold them responsible for doing business with someone who's indicted for war crimes. And that, I think, might be the most effective part of this.

COOPER: The fact that aid agencies have been kicked out, I mean, it's yet another sign of just the true nature of this regime in Sudan.

CLOONEY: It's not as if they had it very easy while they were there anyway. You know, I was there with U.N. peacekeepers last year. And they're understaffed. And through no real fault of their own, the mandate they've been given has been so watered down, they're not really allowed to protect anybody.

COOPER: There is something which you wrote on the Daily Beast, on this blog, that struck my attention, and I think it's very true. And it's, I guess, the third element of what this does, which is that it does tell people on the ground there that the world at least knows of their plight.

CLOONEY: When you go out to these refugee camps and way out in the far out refugee camps that have virtually nothing, they don't have television. They see us pull up every once in a while, and we've all done it with our trucks. And we take pictures and then we leave. And they go, "This time it'll be better. You know, you'll tell the world." And they don't really know that the world hears it. And not much really changes.

COOPER: The other thing that interested me in your blog, that a lot of the kids you saw, you were along the border with Darfur and Chad in the refugee camps. A lot of the kids were chanting "Obama," and they had renamed, I think, a school or a building "Obama." Did you tell the president that? I'm wondering, if you did, what his reaction was if you did.

CLOONEY: I did. I was very manipulative. I had all the kids...

COOPER: If that didn't get him, I don't know what would.

CLOONEY: No, I had all the kids yelling, "Salam Obama."

You know, the president, before he was the president, when he was a senator, and I held a press conference in 2006 with Senator Sam Brownback, Secretary Clinton, Vice President Biden, when they were all senators were involved, very much involved on this issue. So this isn't something that they're coming too late, and it's not something that some activist is bringing to them to bug them. This is something that concerns them and they've been very involved with.

So the hope is that as we go, as we move forward -- and there are an awful lot of things that America has to do and an awful lot of things the United States is in the middle of including internationally -- is that -- the understanding is this is something that requires money. You know, this is something that requires political will. And that's something that all of us can help with.

COOPER: George Clooney, appreciate you being with us tonight. Thank you.

CLOONEY: Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: The latest on the breaking news coming up. Former first lady Barbara Bush hospitalized tonight after undergoing heart surgery.

But first, entertaining at home the Obamas' way. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP))

B. OBAMA: It is a pretty big house, so we get lonely. So -- and it's hard for me to move around out there sometimes, so I got to bring the world to me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: At the White House tonight they are hosting another event tonight. We'll tell you what it's about coming up.

And the big surprise today for Sasha and Malia Obama. See what was in store for them after school.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: President Obama, Michelle Obama welcomed a new addition to the White House today. We think it's just for the kids. Not a puppy. A swing and play set for Sasha and Malia. This one was a surprise for both of them. It was delivered while the girls were at school. We're told Sasha and Malia tried it out this afternoon for an hour. Apparently had a ball. What kid wouldn't? Pretty cool swing set there.

It is from a South Dakota company. It is all wood, includes ramps, ropes, climbing board, a green tent, a tire and what looks like a slide.

A spokesperson for the first family said they are trying to make the White House more like a home.

As for the parents, tonight they were mixing business with pleasure. President and Mrs. Obama just wrapped up hosting a dinner in the East Room for congressional committee chair members. The plates, we're told, were gold rimmed. Celery soup and salmon were on the menu. The president said it's good to unwind after a day at the office.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

B. OBAMA: We thought it was important for us to be able to step back for a moment and remind ourselves that we have things in common: family, friends, laughter. And hopefully we'll have a chance to appreciate each other a little bit, take a time-out before we dive back into the game.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: From formal banquet to casual meetings to star-studded celebrations the Obamas are putting their own personal stamp on the people's house, turning it into party central, you might say. Up close tonight, Erica Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HILL (voice-over): Change has come to Washington, and this change doesn't shy away from a good party.

B. OBAMA: This is a pretty big house so we get lonely. So -- and it's hard for me to move around out there sometimes, so I got to bring the world to me.

HILL: In just six weeks, the Obamas have hosted everyone from school kids to Stevie Wonder, and they're just getting started.

CYNTHIA GORDY, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, "ESSENCE" MAGAZINE: From day one the president and first lady have adopted a sort of open door policy for the White House. I mean, literally on the first day, their first day in the White House, they had an open house for hundreds of regular citizens.

HILL: The Obamas have pledged their White House will be a more inclusive, open one.

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: Walk around, touch some stuff. Just don't break anything.

HILL: Making White House social secretary Desiree Rogers a very busy and popular woman.

DESIREE ROGERS, WHITE HOUSE SOCIAL SECRETARY: They've been great sports at all these events and really, you know, have extended themselves to make people feel welcomed.

HILL: Among those events a concert for nearly 200 D.C. school children to commemorate Black History Month. An award ceremony and tribute for Stevie Wonder, one of the Obamas' favorite singers.

And at the dinner they hosted for the nation's governors, as if Earth, Wind, and Fire, wasn't enough, the Obamas had the chairs taken away after dinner, forcing people to mingle and maybe even dance.

ROGERS: I think that our focus is really on making certain that everything we do is really reflective of them, as opposed to looking backwards. I think we're going to make this one our own.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To have this youthful vibe, the kids are younger. They're younger. Their friends are younger. Their friends are more diverse. You're going to have the potential for a lot of bigger parties.

HILL: And America will be watching.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HILL: Now, as for what's next when it comes to those parties, I asked both Cynthia Gordy and Amy Arbesinger (ph). They said expect more music and Cynthia Gordy told me expect it to be eclectic, because the president said he has eclectic taste. She said who knows? Maybe up next, a country artist.

COOPER: All right. We'll be watching. Erica, thanks.

A lot more tonight. Coming up in the next hour, Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins us with the latest on former first lady Barbara Bush undergoing major heart surgery. We'll have an update on her condition.

And Rush Limbaugh's verbal war with the Obama administration. Is it a war the White House actually welcomes. We'll talk to a top Democratic strategist who maybe in the midst of it. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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