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Aortic Valve Problems, Who's at Risk?; Backlash Against Those Suffering From Mortgages They Can't Afford; Proposition 8 Drawing Large Crowds; Health Care Power Player

Aired March 5, 2009 - 14:00   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: The high cost of health care, it's enough to make the economy sick. We're pushing forward on today's White House summit agenda. President Obama calling health care reform a moral and now fiscal imperative.

And the man tapped to push FEMA forward, touring New Orleans today, hoping to see lessons learned and progress made since Katrina.

I'm Kyra Phillips live at the CNN world headquarters in Atlanta. And you're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

Pushing forward a prescription for change. President Obama says the economic health of the nation depends on reining in health care costs and broadening coverage to just about everybody. That's the focus of a White House forum that got under way in the last hour. And CNN's Dan Lothian is there.

Dan, I'll ask the same question I asked about the fiscal responsibility forum last week, is this just a photo-op or what?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, this administration would say that it's much more than a photo-op. That it's a chance to get a lot of different ideas around the table and to try to find a real solution.

The president pointing out that the high cost of health care is bankrupting a lot of American families, so he's looking for some solution. He wants to be able to help those families who have health insurance, but can barely afford it, hang on to it. And he also wants to help the 46 million, nearly 46 million Americans who simply don't have any insurance at all. Clearly this White House realizes that there's a tall mountain here that they have to climb, and in particular because 15 years ago the Clinton administration tried this and failed.

But what the president pointed out today is that what's different this time around is they're starting from the bottom up. They're bringing a lot of different, diverse ideas to the table. And his ideas are not set in stone.


BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In this effort, every voice has to be heard. Every idea must be considered. Every option must be on the table. There should be no sacred cows. Each of us must accept that none of us will get everything that we want. And that no proposal for reform will be perfect. If that's the measure, we will never get anything done.


LOTHIAN: The president sort of laying the foundation from where they're going to be building from today. After those opening remarks, then they broke into groups. They have about 150 people broke into five different sessions, led by the president's economic advisers, as well as the new health czar. Again, the idea is to get various different ideas, perspectives from different people about how they can come up with true health care reform.

And what they plan to do going forward, Kyra, is to sort of take the show on the road. The president himself we're told, at least at this point, isn't planning to sell it like the stimulus plan. But what we're being told by senior administration officials is that they'll have sort of a listening tour in various states, Michigan, Vermont, Iowa and North Carolina and California. They'll have these town hall meetings that will be hosted by governors. And the idea, again, is to get the public to provide some input as they try to push for health care reform, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: All right. Dan Lothian, thank you so much.

And the White House briefing is set for 2:45 p.m., Eastern today. You can see the first few minutes live right here in the CNN NEWSROOM.

Barbara Bush is reported in good condition and resting comfortably today after heart surgery. Doctors in Houston replaced the former first lady's aortic valve after she experienced shortness of breath. The procedure last about two and a half hours. Doctors say it went extremely well and they'll give us a live update on the 83-year- old Mrs. Bush coming up at the half hour right here on CNN.

Right now, we're talking economic health. And it's a job market that's sickly despite better-than-expected numbers. First-time claims for jobless benefits fell more than expected last week, down to 639,000 edging off recent highs. Plus the total number of Americans claiming benefits for more than a week fell slightly to 5.1 million. That number had risen to record highs for five straight weeks. And tomorrow, the government releases the jobs report for February. Economists expect the unemployment rate to rise to nearly 8 percent.

Now General Motors wants more of your tax dollars, a lot more. But is it worth it? A new report from GM's accounting company questions the automakers ability to survive, raising substantial doubt about whether gm can keep running in the future. GM has already gotten more than $13 billion in federal loans, and it's seeking a total of $30 billion to jump-start a massive restructuring plan.

The Obama administration is assessing GM's outlook. It certainly doesn't want to force America's biggest automaker into bankruptcy. But the latest report doesn't help. GM says it's taking aggressive actions to restructure. And the report has no impact on that plan. GM's plight hitting the markets hard, right now, Dow industrials down 236 points. Also contributing to the Dow market, China hasn't boosted its own economic stimulus plan, something investors had been hoping for.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You are exactly like Adolph Hitler. Can't you see that?

CROWD SINGING: Needs now is love, sweet love.


PHILLIPS: Thousands of gay marriage supporters and opponents are rallying this hour in San Francisco. They're right outside the state supreme court building where arguments are underway right now over the state's ban on same-sex marriage. That ban known as Proposition 8, was approved by 52 percent of voters back in November. Supporters of the ban say that the people have spoken, and the issue is settled. Opponents argue that the ban violates the state constitution.

MAYOR GAVIN NEWSOM, SAN FRANCISCO: I believe in full equality for everybody. And I'm very, very concerned that if the will of a majority, a simple majority can take the rights anytime and place of a minority, then there's nothing to stop a subsequent majority to take away your rights, or my rights or someone else's rights based upon religious or ethnic or any other construct, not just the issue of sexual orientation. So there's a profoundly important question here. We're a constitutional democracy not a pure democracy and wherein does the Constitution lie in this debate?


PHILLIPS: The court will also determine if the 18,000 same-sex marriages conducted in California before the ban took place are still legally valid. A ruling is expected in about 90 days.

Well, three and a half years after Hurricane Katrina, people are still rebuilding, still recovering, and the government is still rethinking its disaster plans. Today the Obama administration pledged another $438 million to still struggling Gulf Coast communities.

Right now, top administration officials are actually touring the region that you're seeing right now, measuring how far it's come or hasn't come. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, has been accused, as you know, of not providing enough money and supplies and not preparing enough for another disaster. It's about time we pushed this story forward. Special Investigations Unit Correspondent Abbie Boudreau here.

You would think one of the first things that needs to be done is to figuring out what's going on with all those FEMA trailers?

ABBIE BOUDREAU, CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT: Well, people are still living in those FEMA trailers. I man, it's so hard to believe that it's three and a half years later, people are still living in those FEMA trailers. We talk to FEMA today, they told us 4,410 travel trailers are still being occupied along the Gulf Coast after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. That's 4,410 travel travelers. We're not even talking right now about the number of people.

You've been in these travel trailers. They're tiny. They're small. They're hard to keep clean. I mean, the ones I've been in have been infested with roaches and rodents and -the mold, the formaldehyde. There's so much that still needs to be done. People should not be, of course, living in these trailers three and a half years later.

PHILLIPS: A lot of medical cases that have come forward. Kids that are sick, respiratory problems.

BOUDREAU: Who knows the long-term effects at this point? There's so much there.

PHILLIPS: It was just last week that you and I were talking about the hearings that were taking place, and Senator Landrieu even came forward and said, look, we're not even prepared for another Hurricane Katrina if it were to happen again. It's amazing after everything that's been done, all the money that's been put into that city, all the things that have been changed, the levees, how they've been worked on, that she would come forward and say that.

BOUDREAU: That's what the report shows. It's like a 300-page report. They spent a lot of money in this report. Nine months investigating and that's what they found. They say, no adequate housing plan in place to handle, if another disaster struck, to handle the victims of these types of disasters. It's very surprising that that's the case.

Of course, FEMA, we did talk to FEMA just moments ago, just got off the phone. They tell it's national disaster housing strategy spells out how it could handle another storm by using rental units, alternative housing, new construction, and mobile homes as need. But they even say, quote, "significant progress, although there's challenges that clearly remain ahead."

So they know there are problems that they still need to address. And that a lot needs to happen. And they still would use those travel trailers if the states requested them. They would want to maximize the use of the travel trailers, in the hope they wouldn't use it for more than six months. They say they would test the trailers to make sure there's no health risk.

PHILLIPS: I know there's a lot of eyes on the new head of FEMA, and also the Obama administration to see exactly what's going to happen there in New Orleans.

BOUDREAU: Oh, absolutely.

PHILLIPS: Abbie, appreciate all of your investigative reports. We like staying on top of this story. It means a lot obviously to a number of us who used to live there. We're not through pushing the story forward, that's for sure. This is the man who's going to do the pushing. Oh, yeah, he's pushed things forward all right. Straight ahead and the face and voice of Katrina recovery, General Russel Honore.


PHILLIPS: Making the White House a home for the little ones. Back in the day FDR's grandkids had a little jungle gym and slide. Pretty basic, right? Check this out. The Obama girls just got the Taj Mahal of swing sets. Check this thing out. Four swings, a climbing wall and a fort. Now a nation anxiously awaits pictures of its commander in chief on that sliding board.


PHILLIPS: Recovering from a past disaster, preparing for a future one, the Gulf Coast not faring too well on both counts. Katrina recovery still sluggish in many communities and now the government's being accused of not being prepared enough to handle another storm.

Let's get some straight talk from General Russel Honore. Push this story a little bit forward here. We heard from Abbie Boudreau. We already know there's still issues with the trailers. We know that there are problems with regard to - is that city prepared for another hurricane.

However, the president now appointing this new head for FEMA, Fugate. Already people like, let's say James Lee Witt who is the FEMA director from '93 to 2001, saying, "Craig's experience will be an asset in rebuilding the trust and relationships between the federal and state governments."

That's what truly failed America in so many ways, was that lack of trust and experience.

GEN. RUSSEL HONORE, U.S. ARMY (RET).: Well, that, I think, he's the right man at the right time with the right experience. The question will be, how will he face the overwhelming federal bureaucracy dealing with the Stafford Act, and resolving issues in New Orleans, along the Gulf Coast, and Hurricane Ike. The challenge of how we handle the future and the recovery side of dealing with disasters.

PHILLIPS: You're someone who truly had to cut through the B S when it came to bureaucracy during the hurricane. I mean, we saw you do it, and you did it, and you still faced a lot of challenges even as a military general. If you were to sit down with Fugate, which I'm sure you probably will, if you haven't already and said to him, this is what you've got to keep in mind and how you have to move forward.

HONORE: Focus more on preparedness. For every dollar we spend on preparedness, data from the Red Cross will show, will save $6 to $9 after the storm. So, if we spend $1 to put water in New Orleans, before hurricane season, we'll put it there, it will be at the convention center ready for the people. If we wait 'til two days after the storm, that same water costs us $9. That is the smart spending we need to do.

The other thing is focus on the people. The people who struggle the most during the storms are the poor, the elderly and the disabled. They die at a higher number, because they don't have the ability to evacuate.

PHILLIPS: So where is the disconnect? I mean, you are from this area. You grew up in this area. I just went back for Mardi Gras. You know this is a place that is close to my heart. If you're wealthy or middle class, you're doing well. There's a lot of money being funneled into that city and a lot of money being made. But if you're poor, you're still hosed.

HONORE: You're hosed. And the Disaster Housing Assistance Fund, which was developed, continued to be extended month by month. We need to stop playing around with that. He needs to go in, make a decision, extend that for a year. You've got to understand, we didn't start tearing down the public housing in New Orleans until three years after Katrina.

So, we've got design issues. I just talked to some people down in New Orleans, close to the situation, that says they've got a $1 million -- $1 billion gap between what their architects say need to be provided to provide the housing and infrastructure, as opposed to 40 percent of that which is on the board which FEMA's bringing forward. That's a big gap. We've got 30,000 people in the New Orleans area that still -and South Louisiana -that still receiving disaster assistance housing, 15,000 are out of state. He's got to do something about that.

PHILLIPS: Senator Landrieu is still pretty frustrated too. Let's take a listen to what she had to say last week.


SEN. MARY LANDRIEU, (D) LOUISIANA: Another storm strikes, we're basically in the same position before Katrina and Rita. So, you know, this new administration, this new Homeland Security administration and the new HUD is basically going to have to start from scratch.


PHILLIPS: Start from scratch? Where did all the money go, where did all the resources go? Where did all that support go that went into that city?

HONORE: Well, you have to understand, she said another Katrina- type storm. Another Katrina-type storm anywhere along the Gulf Coast, or the Eastern seaboard, will overmatch the local capacity. I do say there's been improvements on the levees. Even as we saw during Gustav last year, those levees were being overtopped. There's a point where you can do so much. The number one thing people have to do is evacuate.

PHILLIPS: So there - but it seems like there's two issues here. It's not just everybody being prepared.

HONORE: Right.

PHILLIPS: And having supplies, but it's the structural preparation. The levees and the buildings and how people are living. Are houses above water level and things like that?

HONORE: Those issues remain. Some improvements have been done on the levees. They put in the floodgates; a lot of work being done, millions and billions of dollars. The issue remains, is how do we get those people who want to come back to the city, get them in affordable housing, so they can get back to the city and continue on with their lives.

There's a active program there. The city of New Orleans generated about 20 to 25 percent of the tax base for the city -- for the state of Louisiana from the tourist industry. That city lives off the tourist industry. That industry -- still need to have conventions, still need to have conferences. That makes a big difference in the city. And get the people back who want to return. The Stafford Act needs to be adjusted. The Stafford Act focus on recovery, Kyra. The Stafford Act has to also focus on preparedness. It's best we position -- pre-position water, food and tarps in Louisiana and Florida.

The other thing the state of Louisiana needs to get off and move it. They have still not passed a law that requires hospitals, old folks' homes, and gas stations to have generators. Guess what? Florida has. Guess where Fugate come from? Florida. I think he's going to bring the energy to this and remind the states, you have to prepare.

PHILLIPS: General, I'm still waiting for you to run for office. Governor, mayor, something in the state of Louisiana. Thank you, sir.

HONORE: Thank you.

PHILLIPS: All right.

We told you what's wrong with the economy. Now we're going to tell you what's right. We're pushing forward and finding real solutions to real problems. One major problem, finding a job. There's opportunity out there. As a matter of fact, it's happening right now and we're going to tell you where. Stay with us.


PHILLIPS: All right. We know there's plenty wrong with the economy. But we can't leave it at just that. Amid all the doom, gloom and negative numbers, there are opportunities out there, and people are flocking to them. Opportunities like this one happening right now in New York City. Our Senior Correspondent Allan Chernoff at a job fair hosted by


ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SR. CORRESPONDENT: This ballroom has been packed since early this morning and the line streams through the hotel, down the lobby, and out the front door; 3,500 people pre- registered for this event. As you can see, there just are hundreds and hundreds of people lining each aisle of this huge room. It's an event that is obviously in massive demand here with the economy in very tough shape.

But the good news is that companies are hiring; 90 companies represented here. They have about 1,000 job openings. And there are potentially many more. Some of the companies here are employment agencies, and they certainly have a window to new opportunities every single day.

One of the recruiters here is a sales manager, by the name of Annette.

Annette, now, you work for a media company. What are you looking for people right here?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are actually looking today for six media consultants who have experience working with small- to medium-size businesses in the Manhattan area. So I'm very, very encouraged by what I'm seeing today. I think there's a lot of great qualified candidates.

CHERNOFF: A lot of quality people out there in this economy with the recession really hitting a lot of folks. But in terms of the qualifications, when you meet somebody, the first time at a job fair, what do you want to see from them?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to see somebody who has some enthusiasm when they walk up, that they're very confident, and that they really have experience working with small to medium-sized businesses.

CHERNOFF: Annette, thank you very much.

A lot of recruiters saying the same thing, even in this tough economy. People out of work, they want to see you being positive. That's very important in hunting for a job.

Allan Chernoff, CNN, New York.


PHILLIPS: If you say job fair, they will come. These pictures now from Miami prove it all. Lines stretching around the block and beyond, as more than 1,000 people turned out yesterday for a job fair there at Miami-Dade Community College. Only 186 positions, though, were even being offered. Some people stood in line for hours only to be turned away. The college says it plans more job fairs in the near future, though, so that's good news. One woman who showed up before dawn said, yes, it's that bad out there.

They're hiring by the thousands over at Target. The discount chain is forging ahead with grand openings Sunday at 27 new stores nationwide. Those stores will mean jobs for about 4,300 people. The chain is not immune from the tough times, though, target did cut about 600 jobs at headquarters earlier this year. And sales were down 4 percent last month. But that is still slightly better than analysts had predicted. We've got two websites to show you. In case you're looking for one of those job fairs. Obviously, we've got correspondents covering as many as we can, like the one you saw with Allan Chernoff in New York. We found two great sites. This one first, If you go to the bottom of the front page, you actually see where the job search tools are. There's a section here where you can go to straight to career fairs. We may be in your home town. Click on that. And this is what pops up.

Then on the right side, you'll see all the upcoming career fairs brought to you by, from Tucson to Seattle to Dallas, Atlanta, Phoenix. Gives you all the details, the time. By the way, all these job fairs are free. You would hope.

Here's another website we found. This, of course, is a part of where Allan Chernoff was in New York. This is On the front of this website, just come down a little on the right-hand side, you actually have the "Keep America Working Tour". You just click onto that. There you go. It tells you all the spots there, where the tour is going. Minneapolis, Indianapolis, New Jersey, D.C. Click on, you can register, you can send in your resume actually ahead of time. It tells you the time. We'll keep monitoring these web sites. You obviously can click onto them as well. We'll tell you as much as we can about all the job fairs happening across the country every day here from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m.

The mother and wife of presidents recovering from heart surgery this hour in Houston, Texas. We're waiting for Barbara Bush's doctors to give us a live update on her condition.


PHILLIPS: Hello, everyone, I'm Kyra Phillips at the CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta. You're live here in the CNN NEWSROOM.

Healthcare for all, or almost all, for less, that's the long-term goal and short-term focus of a White House brainstorming session that got underway last hour. At the moment, this country spends $2.4 trillion a year to stay healthy, yet tens of millions of us still don't have insurance. The White House forum brings together doctors, insurers, advocates, lawmakers. Some of whom opposed reforms that President Clinton tried and failed to pass 15 years ago.

And forget what I said about a long-term goal. President Obama wants a bill on his desk by the end of this year.

Well, we're waiting to hear from the doctors who performed heart surgery on former first lady Barbara Bush. She underwent an operation hours ago in Houston where she had her aortic valve replaced. That procedure lasted about 2 1/2 hours. It was scheduled after Mrs. Bush experienced shortness of breath last week.

So what's involved in aortic valve surgery? Who's at risk? And what are the warning signs that you need to be aware of? Some answers now from our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen. She's been following, of course, the surgery and all the developments. What can you tell us?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is not an uncommon surgery to have. I imagine that many of us know people who have had to have an aortic valve replaced. The reason why is, well, our parts wear out after a certain number of years. And the former first lady is 83-years-old.

Let's look at what a valve is and where it is in the heart. The aortic valve pumps blood from the heart to the rest of the body. Calcifications can sometimes build up over time.

So what doctors did is they did a 2 1/2-hour procedure. They put in a valve from a pig. That's right, they put in a valve from a pig.

And even though the former first lady is 83 years old, people her age have an slept prognosis after a surgery like this, as long as they don't have any underlying problems like diabetes or kidney disease, and we're told that she has none of those underlying problems. So she is expected to do quite well with her new pig heart - pig heart valve, I should say.

PHILLIPS: Pig heart valve. How long does that last, that valve?

COHEN: You know, the doctor who did the surgery said it lasts for a lifetime.


COHEN: Yes. That she can keep it forever.

PHILLIPS: OK, and how common is this? It's pretty common, isn't it?

COHEN: It is relatively common. The surgeon who did her surgery said on "LARRY KING LIVE" last night that 70 percent of people, age 70 and older, will need a new aortic valve. So she's in good company.

PHILLIPS: OK. And obviously her age has something to do with this. What else contributes to this needing to be done?

COHEN: Well, sometimes people need a new aortic valve because they're older and that part is starting to wear out. Other people need it because they have congenital heart deformities and so that valve just isn't working right. So while old age is sort of the big reason why people need it, there could be other reasons why people need new valves as well.

PHILLIPS: We'll wait for the live news conference. Thanks, Elizabeth.

Well, he had the uniform, he had the routine, he really didn't have the armored car. A crook scores big bucks from the big guy ripping off a Nebraska church.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) PHILLIPS: President Obama's new $75 billion plan is in place to help struggling home owners stay in their homes and avoid foreclosure. Now a new national poll shows most Americans think it's unfair. A Quinnipiac University poll found 64 percent of those questioned say that the program is unfair to those who pay their mortgage on time, while 28 percent say it's fair.

And there's a lot of outrage with people feeling their tax dollars will be used to bail out homeowners who bought a house that they can't afford. CNN's Jim Acosta has a follow-up on one woman's story.


MINTA GARCIA, HOMEOWNER: We're going to be losing the house. We're going to lose everything.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You think you're going to lose everything?


ACOSTA (voice-over): When we introduced you to school bus driver Minta Garcia, she told us her bank was threatening to foreclose on her $800,000 home in suburban Washington. She could no longer afford the house which is now worth less than her mortgage.

(on camera): How much was the house when you bought it?

GARCIA: Eight hundred.

ACOSTA: Eight hundred thousand dollars. And how much is the house worth?

GARCIA: Right now, it's like $675,000 on the market.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Since then, she's become the target of bloggers who say she's the poster child of America's housing crisis.

(on camera): You feel attacked?

GARCIA: Yes, of course. I never thought they're going to write those nasty comments.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Craig from Jackson on 1390 AM.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Her story spread to talk radio on west Tennessee's 1390 AM. Callers showed no mercy, blaming Garcia and her bank almost equally.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We should not have to bail that kind of irresponsibility out. I mean, that's not our job.

MIKE SLATER, TALK RADIO HOST: The people who are most upset about these are very self-reliant people, and they don't automatically turn to the government to help them get out of their problems. ACOSTA: Talk radio hosts are staging Boston Tea Party-style rallies across the country, protesting the nation's bailouts, for banks and homeowners.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You are spending money we don't have on social programs we don't need.

ACOSTA: Garcia says she and her husband, a construction worker, simply want their bank to lower the interest rate on their mortgage so they can try to make their payments.

(on camera): So if people say, "Oh Minta, you were irresponsible"?

GARCIA: They say that because they don't know. I never asked for people to pay my mortgage or pay, you know, my bills or something.

TIMOTHY GEITHNER, TREASURY SECRETARY: This plan will help homeowners meet their mortgage obligations.

ACOSTA (voice-over): She's waiting to find out if she qualifies for the president's housing plan.

GERRI WILLIS, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: And I know it's frustrating, but boy, at the end of the day you know, you got to think how are we going to dig out of this?

ACOSTA: CNN personal finance guru Gerri Willis cautions allowing troubled homeowners to go down in flames could leave everybody burned.

WILLIS: You know how this is, you get one foreclosure in a neighborhood, and all the prices near that property start going down. You get two, the prices go down further, faster. It affects us all.

ACOSTA (on camera): The White House insists its housing plan does not bail out irresponsible homebuyers. In order to get help, homeowners have to meet certain requirements to show they can afford to stay in their houses, a process Minta Garcia will have to begin right away.

Jim Acosta, CNN, Washington.


PHILLIPS: Well, it isn't spring quite yet, but you're about to get more daylight in the evening. Chad Myers is here to tell us about the time change. Or I should say, remind us of the time change, right?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEROLOGIST: Right. It's Saturday night when you go to bed. Sunday morning. Everybody wonders when it is. If you go to bed, you're going to work all day tomorrow, then you're going to play all day Saturday. And theoretically, when you go to bed Saturday night you push your clock ahead one hour. And if you don't, then you'll be late the next day for church or whatever it might be. It seems early. And it is. It's earlier than usual. Should be, or used to be a month later than now. But they're trying to save more, push more light into the evening so you don't have to turn your lights on. Maybe that'll save some electricity. We'll see. That change happened just a couple of years ago.

The big story today, though, the fire danger in the west all the way from Nebraska through Colorado. The winds are blowing 50 to 60 miles per hour. This orange area right here, the danger zone. No fires whatsoever today. Big red flag warning. I don't think they really take red flags and run them up the flag pole, but that's what they're called: red flag warning. Which means the air is dry, the relative humidity is very low, the winds are blowing like heck. And if you just put one spark there, you're going to start a fire in El Paso, and it's going to be in Amarillo by tonight because those flames are just going to keep going and going as the embers keep jumping.

So something not to do today. No playing around outside with any kind of fire, not even any welding or that kind of thing.

Look at this. Eighty degrees today in Dallas. Kind of a spring type day for sure. Atlanta probably makes a run at 75 to 80 for the weekend. But the west gets much, much colder. We'll talk about that in a little bit tomorrow - Kyra.

PHILLIPS: All right, thanks, Chad.

Well, seriously, some people have absolutely no shame. And anybody who would rob a church definitely qualifies. Listen to this. A Nebraska church lost all of last weekend's offerings to a crook posing as an armored car guard. Well, the guy was wearing a uniform. He said his name was "Carl," and he just walked into the financial office, told an employee he was there for the weekly deposit. Well, he left with $145,000 in cash and checks. Nobody saw the getaway car. All I can say is, it's time for confession, Carl.

And he's been over in Iraq getting the job done for his country, but now a Navy reservist is out of his job as a firefighter. The New Bedford, Massachusetts Fire Department just laid off Leo Pike Jr., and about three dozen others. Well, the chief says that his hand was forced by city budget problems and state rules that dictate layoffs be done by seniority.

So just to hammer home the point here, he goes over, risks his life to serve for our country and now he's being fired from his job when he comes home. As you can imagine, his family's pretty fired up.


LEO PIKE SR., FATHER OF NAVY RESERVIST: It's scary to come home and not have a chance - you know, he's been gone, so he has no chance to set up another job. He's coming home to no job.


PHILLIPS: Well, the Firefighter's Union plans an appeal on Leo Pike's behalf. They say that he never got a hearing, by the way, and that's required by state law.

Rick Sanchez, can you just imagine going over, serving your country in Iraq or Afghanistan, and then come back and find out, sorry, budget cuts, you've been fired?

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Some of the stuff that we've been learning about in these cases is pretty amazing.

PHILLIPS: It's ridiculous.

SANCHEZ: We told the story the other day of the woman who served her country, stayed there, worked hard, went - did you guys just lose me there?

PHILLIPS: Sorry about that.

SANCHEZ: That's all right. Stop pressing those buttons.

PHILLIPS: They're adjusting the lights.


SANCHEZ: Hey, so it's interesting and we've been following up on a lot of those stories as well.

Let me tell you what we're getting now. We've just gotten some of the charging documents in the case of Chris Brown and Rihanna. Kyra, you're not going to believe this. I mean, you know, we thought maybe they'd been involved in some kind of scuffle, maybe that kind of thing that some people would relatively refer to as a tiff or something. This is serious. I mean, he's being charged with some serious crimes.

As I read these affidavits, you know what I'm thinking to myself? I'm thinking, what a lot of other people would think when they read some of this is, is this guy really went off on her. I mean, he hits her. He talks about what he's - let me read you a couple quick quotes.

This is them on the way home. This is -- they're coming back from a Grammys' party. The Grammys is the next day. They're in their car in Los Angeles. They're driving in their car. He says to her, I'm going to beat the blank out of you when we get home. You wait and see. He goes on to say, I'm on my way home. Make sure the cops are there when I get there. And then he says to her, because she apparently threatened to call the cops on him, you just did the stupidest thing ever. Now I'm going to kill you.

PHILLIPS: OK, Rick, and now there's chatter out there that they're back together. Have you been able to confirm anything? Have you...

SANCHEZ: You know, it's a part of the story, we're going to have Ashleigh Banfield who going to handle the legal part of this story for us. We're going to do this in just a little bit at the top of the show. And then we're going to have Brooke Anderson as well and she's going to handle the entertainment side of this to help us understand if that's the case.

We are also hearing - and this is interesting, we're also hearing that there's some folks in Hollywood who are going to try and do almost sort of - what's the word we're looking for - an intervention thing of sorts. Thank you, Angie Massey (ph). An intervention, where they come to her - someone like, let's say, a Tina Turner who says, you know, you may not want to jump right back into this relationship given what you've gone through.

PHILLIPS: What do you mean, you may not want to jump back in? Bottom line, a man who hits a woman is a thug. He's a coward, he's a thug. And he has absolutely no right to walk the streets. And I mean, you - there's just no debating this issue with me, Rick.

SANCHEZ: There is no debate. I couldn't even begin to understand how something like this can go down. The facts are in. We're going to share them with the viewers and they can pretty much draw their own conclusions. But it is ugly.

PHILLIPS: Yes, sure is. All right, Rick, talk to you later.

Are we going to take (INAUDIBLE) here or no?

All right, well, basically, we had video of the gay marriage supporters and opponents that are rallying this hour in San Francisco. They're right outside the State Supreme Court, where arguments are underway over the state's ban on same-sex marriage. The ban, as you know, is known as Proposition 8. We've covered these rallies before, and it was approved by 52 percent of voters back in November. We're going to stay on top of that story.

And as we get a live look now inside the courtroom, opponents of the same-sex marriage ban argue that Proposition 8 violates the state constitution.

Our Dan Simon is outside the States Supreme Court building. He brings us this report.


DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, a very lively atmosphere outside of the courthouse. Oral arguments now under way. The Supreme Court looking at whether or not to uphold the ban on same-sex marriage.

Now, that ban was a result of Proposition 8, which was narrowly approved by California voters in the November election by a 52-48 percent margin. As you may recall, that set off a wave of protests throughout the country. Gay rights groups were very well organized, obviously very vocal on this issue.

And we should note that it was just about six months ago that the California Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, only to see that decision invalidated by Proposition 8.

I want you to listen now to CNN Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin, who framed the issue in a very profound way. Take a look.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: This case is really about democracy, because the voters have spoken. The voters said no gay marriage. But courts are often supposed to be a check on democracy, to protect oppressed groups. So the question is, is the Supreme Court here going to support the democracy of the majority or protect the rights of the minority?

SIMON: One of the participants in the proceedings is very well know, Kenneth Starr. He is best known for handling the inquiry into President Clinton's affairs during the Whitewater scandal. He is now dean of Pepperdine University's law school.

We should note that the Supreme Court is not expected to make a ruling today. A ruling is expected in 90 days.

Dan Simon, CNN, San Francisco.


PHILLIPS: A quick reminder, if you want to watch it uninterrupted, the California Supreme Court hearing is streaming live online at

And fighting for health care reform, tooth and nail, a new and powerful force inside the White House. We'll introduce you to the woman behind the president's health care summit.


PHILLIPS: All right, we are waiting for the White House briefing. Robert Gibbs expected to step up to the mike any moment now. We will dip in, see what he has to say, and take reporter's questions.

Now, when it comes to health care reform, one person the president turns to is pushing his agenda is Melody Barnes. Who's that, you may ask. Well, someone you definitely need to know.

Here's our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin.


JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Melody Barnes may be one of the most powerful inside players you haven't heard of. Her job this week? Get the country so excited about health care reform, Congress is forced to act.

MELODY BARNES, WHITE HOUSE DOMESTIC POLICY ADVISER: This has to happen. If we are going to fix our economic circumstances, health care reform has to be addressed.

YELLIN: It's a tall order. Anti-reform forces are gathering for a fight. But Barnes, the White House domestic policy director, is adamant.

BARNES: Our top priority is to get it done and to make sure that it happens this year.

YELLIN: A lot of that pressure will rest on her shoulders, which means lots of West Wing meetings plotting strategy.

BARNES: You notice it goes through Saturday and Sunday.

YELLIN: Barnes starts her day starting what she says the White House chief of staff does, yoga.

BARNES: Yoga is very, very important. Keeps me centered. I know yoga is also something that Rahm practices.

YELLIN: She's not your average policy wonk. She jumped into politics in an unusual way.

BARNES: Selling cupcakes when I was eight for George McGovern.

YELLIN: "Washingtonian" magazine named one Washington's best dressed. And last year, she was the voice of a liberal satellite radio show.

BARNES: Join me to discuss those issues and more on the "Progressive Beat."

YELLIN: Barnes has also been a senior aide to two liberal powerhouses, Senator Ted Kennedy and Obama transition chief, John Podesta.

JOHN PODESTA, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: I think you'll see her out on Capitol Hill speaking to the public, traveling the country.

YELLIN: As an African-American woman working in a White House where male aides hold a great deal of power, so far, she says she and her female colleagues have not had a problem being heard.

BARNES: The president sends the signal.

YELLIN: She has one other challenge to navigate. In the middle of it all, she's planning a June wedding. So when does she find the time?

BARNES: Very, very late at night.

YELLIN (on camera): Health care isn't Barnes' only issue, she also coordinates policy on domestic issues like education and immigration. It's up to her to ensure the entire administration has a consistent position.

Jessica Yellin, CNN, Washington.


PHILLIPS: Well, now a little recognition for Miriam's Kitchen. You'll recognize the special guest who showed up to help serve lunch today. Michelle Obama came to show her support for the D.C. non- profit that offers meals and more to the homeless of America's capital.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: We are facing some tough times in this country. And there is a moment in time when each and every one of us needs a helping hand. Miriam's Kitchen has become a place where so many people have been able to find that helping hand.

And we have to - I want to, on behalf of the White House and the administration, thank the staff and the volunteers of the Miriam Kitchen for their focused work over the past 26 years, providing a home for their guests. Folks who represent all of the best that this country has to offer.


PHILLIPS: Well, in this tough housing market, some California homeowners have discovered a creative way to sell their homes. It's called house swapping.


PHILLIPS: Straight to the White House now. Robert Gibbs up at the mike. We'll go ahead and listen in to the briefing.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: ... on her trip that the president and Mrs. Obama will visit the United Kingdom, France, Germany and the Czech Republic, March 31st through April 5th of year. So be on the lookout for that. Obviously, that's a combination of the G-20 meeting and the NATO (INAUDIBLE) as well.

So, with that, I will take a few questions. Yes?

QUESTION: Robert, I want to follow up on a couple of points the president made today. One of his comments was that, those who seek to block any reform, at any cost, will not prevail this time around in the health care debate. Can you explain who he's talking about there? Who does he mean when he says that those are trying to block reform at any cost?

GIBBS: Well, I think that many times health care reform has been tried, and many times health care reform has failed based on any number of things. Sometimes it's special interests.

But what we have to do, and what the president believes strongly is that we can - we cannot wait for health care reform any longer. That we have to do all that we can. And I think today's event was an important start in that process.

I think many people have written, today, in stories about the number of people that oppose health care reform 15 years ago, 15 or so years ago, were in a room today with others that wanted health care reform, working together to try to come to a solution. The president wanted to get stakeholders involved, from differing viewpoints and representing different constituencies into the same room to begin this process. Understanding that there are shared goals, but there may be differences as to how to achieve them.

I think that's why this process - the beginning of this process was so important.

QUESTION: He said the goal is to have this done by the end of the year. I understand that is a goal, but can you explain why, given the history and complexity to this, why that's feasible? How that's feasible?

GIBBS: Well, again, I think it's feasible largely because we can't wait for it to happen. The problem has only gotten more intense over the past few years. Getting sick eats into people's retirements. It's eating into the federal budget. It affects millions of families that are watching the costs of their health care skyrocket. And he believes that all the stakeholders are poised and ready to act. And I think that's why today was an important first step in insuring that that process moves forward.

It's ambitious, but as the president has said, and as we've noted, that for quite some time, we've run up huge deficits. We've spent money we didn't have and didn't get anything for it. This president has decided that we're going to make tough choices, and invest in health care and education and energy independence in order to ensure sustained long-term economic growth. And one of the only ways we're going to do that is to deal with the health care problem.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: General Motors says its auditors have raised doubts about its ability to survive without bankruptcy. And now General Electric says that it may face a cut in its credit rating, which raises some concern that it might have to also resort to federal bailout money.

What is the administration's level of concern about these - the problems with these two industrial heavyweights? And with new problems of this sort cropping up by the day, is there any consideration that the level, the amount of money that's being allocated to financial bailout may not be adequate?

GIBBS: Well, let me try to address many of those questions, break them off a little built.

Obviously, I don't think it comes as a big surprise to many that the auto industry is in crisis. I think if you look at the plans that were submitted recently by GM and Chrysler, and certainly if you look at last month's auto sales, you understand the level and the depth of the crisis that the auto industry is in. But it's also important to understand that it's not just GM and Chrysler. Toyota sales were down 40 percent or so.