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AMERICAN MORNING

Alabama Shooting Spree; Democrats Concerned Over Obama's Plan; Madoff Faces 150-Year Sentence; Singer Chris Brown Still on Kids' Choice Ballot; New Cuba Policy Would Allow More Frequent Visits by Family Members

Aired March 11, 2009 - 08:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour now, and here are three big stories that we're watching for you this hour. We'll be breaking them down for you in the next 15 minutes here in the "Most News in the Morning."

Police have identified the gunman who they say went on a two-town killing spree in Southern Alabama yesterday before killing himself. They say Michael McClendon murdered ten people including his own mother, his grandparents, and aunt and uncle, along with a sheriff's deputy's wife and 18-month-old child. And there is still no clear reason why.

In about 90 minutes, Wall Street kicks off the trading day and it comes on The Hills of the biggest stock market rally in four months. Right now, world markets are up as well, but this morning a growing number of Democrats are taking aim at President Obama's financial fix. We're live in Washington to break down the lingering concerns.

And President Obama, about to sign the final piece of the Bush budget. It's full of pet projects, earmarks, both Democratic and Republican. Some say the president is turning his back on a campaign pledge to cut the pork. We're live at the White House to talk more about that this morning.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: We do begin, though, with breaking news. And police in Alabama now trying to piece together the details of one man's bloody rampage that stretched across two counties. Police say that the string of shootings left 11 people dead, including the shooter, who police have now identified as Michael McClendon.

CNN's Sean Callebs is live in Samson, Alabama. I had a chance to talk to the mayor, Sean, who said that he knew this fellow from T-ball Little League, and that if you asked him two days ago, could he have done this. He would have said certainly not. So really a town in shock over this.

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We talked to the mayor after that interview. He's simply baffled to use his terminology. Now, here where we are in Samson, seven of the ten victims lost their lives in just this very small area. Now authorities clearly hope that that daylight is going to shed more light on to this and perhaps a motive. But as you mentioned, a lot of people here say they simply have no idea what set the gunman off.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One of the worst tragedies in recent memories.

CALLEBS (voice-over): The suspected gunman, Michael McClendon, of Kinston, Alabama, police say he started his killing spree near the Florida/Alabama border by shooting his mother and her four dogs. He left the home in flames and from there he took his rampage on the road across southeastern Alabama, firing shots as he barreled down State Highway 52.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And he puts five or six bullet holes in the truck. And then he took off.

CALLEBS: The shooter, also targeting the family that raised him.

CPL. STEVE JARRETT, ALABAMA STATE POLICE: Four adults and one child were found shot to death at one residence. One adult was found shot to death at a second residence, and another adult was found shot to death at a third residence.

CALLEBS: The county coroner says the victims included McClendon's grandfather, grandmother, aunt, uncle, and a sheriff's deputy's wife and child who lived across the street. Unsuspecting residents, some sitting on their porches, witnessed it all.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I heard about ten shots, and I saw someone with a gun, and I turned and went the other way.

CALLEBS: Then two more people shot and killed, apparently at random. At a gas station, and the Samson pipe and supply store. The horrible tale came to an end at the Reliable Metal products plant. First he fired a 30-round burst, a police chief shot and wounded, but saved by his bullet-proof vest. Then McClendon went inside and apparently turned the gun on himself.

JARRETT: Within minutes shots were heard from within Reliable Metal and law enforcement officers found him dead from what are believed to be self-inflicted gunshots.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CALLEBS: Now, Reliable is 12 miles from Samson, in a town of Geneva. We had a chance to talk with the mayor of that town just a short while ago, Kiran, and he says he doesn't believe it was a disgruntled employee-type of retribution. He believes that McClendon actually resigned from that company a couple of years ago and has had a job since.

So, once again, another folks simply baffled as to why the gunman went on this violent rampage.

CHETRY: Questions this morning still. We'll continue to follow it. Sean Callebs for us this morning in Alabama. Thanks. ROBERTS: President Obama is set to sign a spending bill today that will keep the government running for the next six months. The $410 billion measure is chock-full of pet projects, pork, if you will. Some 9,000 from both Democratic and Republican members of Congress and senators, totaling some $8 billion. It's a lot for a president whose campaigned for change pledged to eliminate earmarks. His campaign opponent, Senator John McCain, says he's not too impressed with what's going on.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: The bill will go to the president's desk. He'll sign it, and the signal to the American people is, you voted for change. But you're not getting any change today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Suzanne Malveaux is following all this for us. She's live from the north lawn of the White House this morning. So, what about this campaign for change in Washington, Suzanne? Is that just kind of temporarily being put on hold with this bill?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, you know, I spoke with a senior administration official who said they believe the president can take this political hit. This is not a battle that is worth fighting for them. You're going to see the president today talk about reform in terms of getting those pet projects stuffed into these spending bills, get them out of there, under his watch.

But essentially they're putting this on the Bush administration. It's not a fight that they want to re-fight again. Nobody's hands are clean. They're arguing here. You've got Republicans and Democrats alike stuffing these pet projects in this bill that he is going to sign.

And, quite frankly, John, there are some real benefits, at least to his own party, the Democrats. They're looking at major increases for food programs for the poor, as well as housing vouchers. So, this is something, yes, perhaps he'll hold his nose and he'll go ahead and sign it. But they believe that it's a blip on the radar, John.

ROBERTS: All right. Suzanne Malveaux for us live this morning. Suzanne, thanks so much for that.

CHETRY: And to the economy now. And this morning, investors cautiously optimistic after the biggest single-day rally on Wall Street we've seen this year. Yet despite yesterday's spark, it's not just Republicans, but also some Democrats who are concerned about the president's financial fix. With so much taxpayer money at take, they want some answers. They want explanations, and they want them in a hurry.

CNN's Jim Acosta is following this story, live, in Washington.

Good morning, Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Kiran. Yes, they are having a Calgon moment you could say. These congressional Democrats that we talked to were careful not to criticize the administration, but the White House is apparently getting an earful these days from anxious leaders inside the party.

Consider the plea from one congresswoman, who simply told the White House, please hurry.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): With the White House comparing the nation's economy to a house on fire, some congressional Democrats are asking, where's the fire truck? One New Hampshire congresswoman said as much to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner on Capitol Hill.

(on camera): And you said what?

REP. CAROL SHEA-PORTER (D), NEW HAMPSHIRE: I said hurry. Please hurry. Because people are waiting, and they are hurting, and they need the help now.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This afternoon I met with members of my economic team.

ACOSTA (voice-over): She's one of a growing number of nervous Democrats on edge or at odds with some of the Obama administration's plans on the economy. Some are taking aim at the president's budget proposals that would curb popular tax deductions for wealthier Americans.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I don't think ultimately the criticism is surprising. That certainly happens. And is all part of the process.

ACOSTA: As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged Democrats to stay on message...

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Word of the day is the word that is important to our economy every day, and that word is confidence.

ACOSTA: She said top economists told her a second stimulus package may be necessary.

PELOSI: We have to keep the door open to see how this goes.

ACOSTA: Budget hawks in her party don't like the sound of that.

(on camera): Are the votes there for that right now, do you think?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, if we were to take a vote this afternoon, the stimulus package, it would probably fail. But they want a substantial, more public funds committed. They're going to have to go out there and explain precisely how this is going to work.

SHEA-PORTER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Democrat Carol Shea-Porter said she's simply passing on the message she's getting at town meetings back home. A message that's also aimed at some in the media...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Obama, are you listening?

JIM CRAMER, NBC/CNBC ANALYST: Whatever money you may need for the next five years, please, take it out of the stock market right now.

ACOSTA: ... who she accuses of fueling the flames.

(on camera): Is that having an effect?

SHEA-PORTER: Yes. It's terrifying people. Before people were very optimistic and their leaders were optimistic. Then we hit a spell here where we're hearing a lot of media...

ACOSTA: So-called experts.

SHEA-PORTER: ...media people who are frightening without necessarily giving both sides.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: For now, the White House says, its plans do not include another stimulus for the moment, arguing its current plan needs time to work. In other words, the fire is not out yet, Kiran, but they say their fire trucks are on the way.

CHETRY: All right. Jim Acosta for us this morning in Washington. Thanks so much.

ACOSTA: You bet.

CHETRY: All next week, by the way, we're using all of CNN's worldwide resources to give you unprecedented coverage of the global economic meltdown. Join us for "ROAD TO RESCUE: A CNN SURVIVAL GUIDE." When you're away from your TV, you can also catch our coverage online at cnn.com.

ROBERTS: Ten minutes after the hour. Let's fast-forward to stories that will be making news later on today. There should be plenty of verbal fireworks tonight in Chicago.

Political commentator and comedian Bill Maher will face off with conservative commentator Ann Coulter in a debate. This will be their third meeting. Sparks expected to fly.

The clouds are expected to stay away for tonight's shuttle launch. If all goes well, "Discovery" will blast off around 9:20 p.m. Eastern. The crew is heading to the international space station, where they'll drop off the last set of solar panels. It takes a long time to get deliveries up there, doesn't it?

And at 10:00 a.m. Eastern, new SEC Chair Mary Schapiro will outline plans to monitor potential fraud to House Appropriations Committee. Lawmakers still putting lots of scrutiny on the S.E.C. after amidst loads of clues on the case against Bernie Madoff. We'll take a look at the charges and extremely long sentence that Madoff could face just ahead. 11 minutes after the hour.

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": Bernard Madoff, you know, the Ponzi scheme guy, has apparently agreed to a plea bargain. He agreed to a plea bargain with prosecutors. He's now facing 150 years in prison.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whoa.

LENO: That's when you know you're guilty, OK. When you take a plea bargain and still get 150 years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. Jay Leno having some fun at Bernie Madoff's expense. And we've learned from his attorney that the accused con man will plead guilty to all 11 counts against him.

CNN's Allan Chernoff is here to tell us, there is no plea bargain, as Jay Leno said on the table. He's not making any kind of a deal here.

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Maybe Leno could have cut it better, too, for him. Yes, the fact is there actually is no deal at all. In fact, the very first line of this letter from the U.S. government to Madoff's attorney says, this document is not a plea agreement.

This outlines the 11 charges and Madoff is expected to plead guilty to 11 charges tomorrow, carrying a sentence of 150 years in prison potentially. The fact is, he's not cooperating with government investigators.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHERNOFF (voice-over): Bernard Madoff now prepared to plead guilty to operating the biggest investment fraud in history. A plea that could carry a sentence of up to 150 years in prison.

Ronnie Sue Ambrosino is among the 4,800 alleged victims who had a direct account with Madoff. She said she invested all she had, $1.6 million. She and her husband, Dominick, were traveling in their R.V. when they learned of the fraud and they've had to live it in ever since. Unable to afford to drive the gas-guzzling vehicle. RONNIE SUE AMBROSINO, FORMER MADOFF INVESTOR: I never felt that Madoff would pull the rug out from under us. We wanted to have a long retirement together. And our thoughts were, we'll save as much as we can today. Put it in with Madoff. And that money will carry us through.

CHERNOFF: The losses are staggering. Madoff, a former chairman of the NASDAQ stock market, reported to clients around the globe in November that their accounts were worth a total of nearly $65 billion, according to a government court filing.

In fact, Bernard Madoff investment securities had only a small fraction of that amount. Since the 1980s, prosecutors alleged, Madoff used new funds from investors to pay redemptions to other investors, apparently the biggest Ponzi scheme ever.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No comment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Money back?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No comment.

CHERNOFF: Madoff's attorney, Ira Sorkin, who has received death threats and anti-Semitic hate mail, refused to elaborate on the planned guilty plea. But Sorkin and prosecutors have made clear that Madoff is not cutting a deal to help the government investigate. Placing victim Helen Louis Chaitman who feared Madoff might get off easy.

HELEN LOUIS CHAITMAN, FORMER MADOFF INVESTOR: My reaction to the fact that there's no plea agreement is actually one of relief.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's trying to protect people, very likely his family, his wife, Ruth, by not having to point fingers to other family members who might have been involved.

CHERNOFF: Bernard Madoff has claimed he committed the fraud on his own, but prosecutors said Madoff directed his employees to keep the fraud going.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHERNOFF: The government is continuing to investigate to figure out who else may have to face charges. Mr. Madoff will not be sentenced right away. The judge said it could be several months before he actually holds a sentencing hearing. That likely will send Madoff to prison for the rest of his life. But until then, he remains under house arrest at his luxurious apartment on the upper east side of Manhattan -- John.

ROBERTS: So he had basically by pleading out here, he's taking a bullet.

CHERNOFF: He does appear to be trying to protect family members, his two sons, his wife who had been involved in his business. He apparently does not want to give up other people. This investigation has a very long way to go.

ROBERTS: Yes, so the secrets may go to jail with him. We'll see if the investigators can uncover everything.

Allan, thanks so much for that -- Kiran.

CHETRY: All right. Well, Chris Brown may have a new problem, angry parents. Now there's a push to get him off the ballot of the Nickelodeon's Kids' Choice Awards after he apparently beat up his girlfriend, Rihanna. I'm going to show you what parents are doing with their petitions to try to make the change. It's 17 minutes after the hour.

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ROBERTS: Time now for some of the top stories right now on cnn.com. Most popular, talk about the past coming back to haunt you, when this Arizona woman applied for a loan to buy her new house, a 14- year-old traffic ticket popped up during a credit check. She says that she paid the ticket, but a Phoenix court was still posting an $1,800 collection on her report.

Also, what appears to be an abduction caught on tape. Two masked men jumped out of a van and wrestled a teenager inside and speed away. The problem? He was all hoax, set up by some high school pranksters. Police were infuriated by the, quote, "joke," and said it wasted valuable resources.

And we brought you this story on AMERICAN MORNING yesterday. Now it's one of the most popular videos on cnn.com, prostitution on Craigslist. I interviewed Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart. He's filing a private lawsuit against the Web site to get them to shut down their erotic services section. Go to cnn.com to check out the entire interview. And so those are some of the most popular videos on cnn.com right now -- Kiran.

CHETRY: All right. John, thanks. Well, there's new heat on Nickelodeon this morning over the Kids' Choice Awards. Parents upset over the fact that Chris Brown, after the alleged attack on Rihanna, is still up for an award. This controversy is not going away anytime soon. Kareen Wynter tells us why.

KAREEN WYNTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, Kiran, pop star Chris Brown has a new audience of critics. They are concerned about the example he could be setting for children.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WYNTER (voice-over): It was once hard not to like Chris Brown, the 19-year-old fresh-faced R&B singer wooed kids and their parents with his clean lyrics and polished good looks. But that was then.

Brown now stands accused of viciously beating his equally famous girlfriend, Rihanna. He faces arraignment next month on charges of assault and criminal threats.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was like, Chris Brown? You wouldn't expect Chris Brown to do that because, like, his music and how he acts.

WYNTER: And now, the latest wrinkle in the ongoing case involves the upcoming Kids' Choice Awards on Nickelodeon. Both Brown and Rihanna are up for two. A growing community of angry parents is calling on Nickelodeon to remove Brown's name from nomination.

DR. CARA NATTERSON, MOMLOGIC.COM: We're telling our children it is OK to behave this way. It is OK to break the law and to hurt someone.

WYNTER: An online petition linked to from sites like TwitterMoms.com and Momlogic.com gathered thousands of signatures in its first days up, and has been adding hundreds of new Web signatures every hour. In part, it reads, "To say that either of these people are setting a suitable example to be held up as winners is preposterous."

But Nickelodeon isn't backing down, telling CNN, quote, "Like all our Kids' Choice Awards nominees, Chris Brown was nominated by kids several months ago, and the kids who vote will ultimately decide who wins in the category."

NATTERSON: The network is for kids but the network is not run by kids. And we don't allow children to make their own decisions in many different facets of the world. So it is important for us to step in and tell kids what is right from wrong.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WYNTER: Nickelodeon's Kids' Choice Awards will air later this month. The network has said neither of the two stars has indicated they plan on attending. Brown's next court appearance, by the way, is set for April 6th -- John, Kiran.

ROBERTS: Kareen Wynter for us this morning. Kareen, thanks so much.

Some big changes on the way. When it comes to Americans being able to travel to Cuba. But is Cuba ready for an influx of Americans? We're live in Havana this morning.

And for years they've been saying, never leave home without it. But now American Express is changing the message. You might not even have a card to take with you at all. The plan to pull cards out of customers' wallets. We'll have that for you. Twenty-three and a half minutes now after the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. The $410 billion government spending bill is being criticized for all of its pork, but it could also be a piece of landmark legislation and a welcome change to Americans who have family in Cuba.

Our Jim Acosta is following the story for us from Washington.

And, Jim, we should point out that your family came from Cuba, so this is big news for your folks as well.

ACOSTA: That's right. My dad came over from Cuba to the United States just three weeks before the Cuban missile crisis. So, he just got in under the wire.

But, you're right, John. There may be some big changes coming to U.S. policy on Cuba. Consider one provision tucked into the spending bill passed by the Senate and on its way to the White House for the president's signature.

It allows Cuban-Americans who still have relatives on the island to see them more frequently. The Cuban provision in the bill will open the door for Cuban-Americans to visit the island once a year, instead of every three years as previously said in the Bush administration policy. And now those stays will be longer than previously allowed. And that change, believe it or not, is being welcomed by even some of the most hard-line Cuban-Americans in Miami. So, Americans may be wondering, can I pack my bags for Cuba? The answer for the moment is, no.

Americans who don't have relatives in Cuba will still have to get permission from the government to travel to the island. Of course, that's been part of the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba since Kennedy was president. And the Obama administration clearly believes that that policy is no longer working.

And, John, I have a letter from Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, that was sent to New Jersey senator, Bob Menendez, and it says, we are currently reviewing policy toward Cuba to determine the best way to foster Democratic change on the island. So, it appears, from what this letter is saying, that there are more changes coming, John.

ROBERTS: So basically what this allows is people who are restricted to traveling to Cuba once every two weeks -- or for two weeks once every three years, allows them to go more often?

ACOSTA: That's right. Once a year, and the stays -- it's not really specified how long they can stay, but it sounds like they can say longer than those two weeks.

Now, obviously the longer you stay, the more money you spend. You know, the more you're going to be under the radar of government officials who monitor all of this, at the Treasury Department. But this is clearly a relaxing of policy, aimed at Cuban-Americans, and what it really is is the beginning of bigger changes that could be coming down the road.

And I don't want to belabor this, but there's a summit coming up for the Americas -- the summit of the Americas coming up in April, and there are signals coming from the State Department that there could be some changes coming from the administration prior to that summit. So, we'll have to wait and see. But for the moment, hold the mojitos, keep the cigars, you know, tucked in your desk drawer, John. Can't break them out just yet.

ROBERTS: I don't have any Cuban cigars in my desk drawer, Jim. They're illegal.

ACOSTA: Oh, that's right. I'm sorry.

ROBERTS: All right.

ACOSTA: I forgot about that.

ROBERTS: Jim Acosta for us this morning. Jim, thanks so much.

ACOSTA: You bet.

ROBERTS: Coming up on 29 minutes after the hour now, and here are the three big stories we are watching for you this half hour.

Police have identified the gunman who they say went on a killing spree in southern Alabama yesterday. They say Michael McClendon murdered ten people, including his own mother, his grandparents and aunt and uncle, along with a sheriff's deputy's wife and child.

The bulls were back on Wall Street, at least they were yesterday. All three major U.S. markets posting their strongest gains so far this year, with the Dow gaining 379 points yesterday. Nearly six percent to close at 6926. That gave stocks across Asia a big boost this morning. We're looking ahead to see if the rally is going to keep going here today. We're hopeful.

The terror watch list now reportedly hitting one million strong. That's according to "USA Today." The newspaper says the number came from the office of the director of National Intelligence. It's up by about a third since 2007. CNN has found in the past that a pilot who was allowed to carry a gun on board flights and an 8-year-old boy, and even one of our correspondents, Drew Griffin, were all on that list -- Kiran.

CHETRY: Well, President Obama's first 50 days are now history. It's been a busy 50 days, passing the economic stimulus, ordering Guantanamo Bay Closed, announcing an Iraq pullout, and pitching health care and education reform. Depending on how you look at it, he accomplished a lot so far. Others say he may have bitten off a bit more than he can chew.

So joining us now to chew that over from New Orleans is Democratic strategist James Carville, and here in New York Republican strategist Ed Rollins. Both CNN contributors.

Great to see you both this morning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good morning.

CHETRY: Thanks for being with us.

So, Ed, let me start with you. His approval rating right now, President Obama is at 61 percent, slightly higher than some of his predecessors. At this point in the game how do you think President Obama is doing? ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, he sprinted out of the blocks. He's had a very aggressive attempt to live up to all of his campaign promises, you know, the concerns I have is that there is an awful lot on his plate, an awful lot that Congress has to do and an awful lot of money that's been thrown out there. And I say this as an American, not as a republican. I hope it works, because there's no second chance to spend this kind of money again.

CHETRY: What's your assessment, Jim?

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I'm in New Orleans. We do a lot of chewing down here. And, yes, think - I think Ed is a kind of anti-love ball kind of guy. Most people want this thing to succeed. There is a lot on his plate. He's done a lot in 50 days. And I think now they're probably going to have to catch up or get some of this stuff done. I think it will work. And I sure do hope it works. It's a lot of stuff.

CHETRY: You know, it's interesting CBS did a piece on the Web site talking about how in the age of twitters and texting and blackberries, we're in such a fast-paced world and we all believe it should have gotten done yesterday. And that the technological advances have actually made the country expect an instant cure for the ill. So, Ed, do we need more patience as we take a look at improving our economy down the road?

ROLLINS: Well, it would not be fair to this president or this Congress to expect the mess that he inherited to be done overnight. I think the key thing here is to have long-range, strategic planning which is very thoughtful. James knows this well. Southern governors used to pretty much get one term and they would tackle one thing, the education governor, the transportation governor, what have you. This president has to be the economic governor - or economic president. He has to fix the economy. The other stuff's important, but nothing's more important than getting this economy moving forward.

CHETRY: And, James, the Dow Jones from January 20th was at about 8,000 points. Yesterday after that big rally we saw, it's about down to 6,926. And we also saw the unemployment rate shoot up to eight percent, that's the highest since 1983. A lot of people are saying there has to be a laser focus on figuring out the economy first. Do you buy that argument? Do you think that the President can keep many balls in the air?

CARVILLE: Well, he got a big staff. I mean, over there the West Wing, they have the executive office building, they got the Treasury Department, they have a State Department and all of that, and people expect him to be able to do more than one job, obviously, and I think by the way, he's perfectly capable of doing it. He's got some very strong people in there.

And, you know, if I knew what the stock market was going to do, then, you know, I'd be a lot - a lot better off than I am today. But I think they're executing it. There are some very sound people in there and you just can't twitter your way out of this recession. I mean, it's going to take some time. But I think they're going to make some progress over a period of time. And I think people will look back and very kindly toward him. But they're fighting right now. And they're trying to do a lot of different things, and let's see how they do. For me, I think they're doing well.

CHETRY: All right. The job approval rating as we said for President Obama, about six in 10 Americans are happy with the job that he's doing and still have confidence in him. It's interesting, our pollster Keating Holland said that the real test for Obama and the democrats won't come until the midterm elections in 2010, by then it's likely that Americans will think that Obama is responsible for the condition of the economy at that time.

What do you think about that, Ed?

ROLLINS: Well, I think the reality is, 2010's a long ways away. I think if there's not some progress and people don't think he can handle the job in six, eight months, then they'll start to be some erosion of that approval rating. James worked for a president that was popular. I worked for a president that was popular. There's peaks and valleys in the course of an administration.

I think the most important thing is that the plan is right, and that the Congress, who has a big, big agenda ahead of it, is not known to move quickly. It's spent more money in the last 60 days than it ever has in history. They better get it right and the details are always what's very important.

CHETRY: Last word, James?

CARVILLE: Well, yes, you know, Ed's right. It's not - there's not much to argue with. I think we both agree, if this stuff kicks in and starts doing better somewhere down the road, you know, a year from now, then it will certainly help the president. Come 2010, we're doing like we're doing now, it's not going to be very good.

CHETRY: All right.

CARVILLE: But, you know, I hope that doesn't happen, but, you know, I think -- I mean, I feel very confident that this administration has fulfilled its campaign promises, if you look at everything from foreign policy to Gitmo to economic thing, to stopping this idiotic war on science as the previous administration had. I mean, they're moving very decisive and very quickly. But if we have a high, higher, 10 percent unemployment rate before the 2010 election, no, we're not going to do very well.

CHETRY: James Carville, Ed Rollins, always great to talk to both of you.

ROLLINS: Thank you.

CHETRY: Thanks for being with us this morning.

CARVILLE: OK.

ROBERTS: Well, imagine needing health care coverage and being told you're simply uninsurable. Our Dr. Sanjay Gupta makes sense of the pre-existing condition clause in your medical plan. What is a patient to do?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. Health care reform, it's on the horizon, somewhere out there. But while you're waiting, what if you had to buy your own medical insurance and nobody would take it? You've heard of the term pre-existing condition, but it may surprise you just how often it is used to deny people coverage. We're "Paging Dr. Gupta" this morning to explain what a patient can do.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One or two?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Jim Matthews was living the American dream in South Carolina. But a serious heart condition forced the 56-year-old optometrist to sell his practice. To replace his group insurance policy, Matthews went looking for individual health insurance. He told us he was stunned by what he was told.

JIM MATTHEWS, OPTOMETRIST: He basically laughed, and he said, you have no hope of getting insurance as an individual.

GUPTA: No hope because of something called a pre-existing condition. Matthews had had open-heart surgery and also been diagnosed with an aneurysm that could require more surgery one day.

MATTHEWS: He won't even write you a policy. It's a waste of time. He said, you are uninsurable in the state of South Carolina.

GUPTA: A pre-existing condition is any illness or a medical problem you have before buying or enrolling in a health plan, even surgery a decade ago could count. And in 44 states, and the district of Columbia, it's perfectly legal for insurers to deny coverage or in some cases charge higher prices to people with pre-existing conditions.

Different companies have different lists of conditions they won't cover. Things like arthritis, diabetes, depression even pregnancy and obesity. No one is immune. Recently Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal, talked about the difficulty his mother had when she was pregnant with him.

GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: I was called a pre-existing condition.

GUPTA: There are exclusions that vary state to state, even policy to policy, and different rules apply for individual plans and employer-sponsored group coverage. But if President Obama has his way, insurers will not be allowed to discriminate against people like Jim Matthews and would be required to cover pre-existing conditions, no matter the illness or the medical history. The insurance industry says, that's fine, as long as everyone has to buy insurance. Otherwise, premiums, they say, will increase dramatically.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, reporting.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: Be sure to tune in to "LARRY KING LIVE" tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern when Dr. Gupta fills in for Larry. His special guest, President Bill Clinton, and the topic tonight, health care.

CHETRY: Also, credit card giant American Express is actually trying to ditch some of its customers. We'll tell you why and whether you could profit from it. It's 40 minutes after the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING. A live shot right now coming to us from Orlando. Our affiliate there WESH. Sixty-three degrees right now. It looks soupy out there. Rob Marciano, at the weather center. Also, it's pouring right now for us, as well, but we're not taking the shuttle from New York.

ROB MARCIANO, CNN, METEOROLOGIST: Exactly. It's not all about you, Kiran.

CHETRY: I know. I'm sorry.

MARCIANO: I love to say that. The weather should be fine. Actually, it can clear things out, you may be able to see that launch happen off Cape Canaveral. Plus this handy, dandy map off of space.com. Check this out, after eight minutes after launch, you may be able to see that if you live within this circle. That will include Atlanta, you might be able to see the flare for the first couple of minutes. It's solid rocket boosters. And then after that, it's the main engine up until about eight minutes after cutoff, and that would include the New York City area, and especially out towards eastern Long Island Cape, look low and southeast immediately after launch.

Because at 9:20 tonight, you may get lucky. I mean, it's not going to look much more than a little flickering bright yellow star moving quite rapidly. But if you get lucky, you might see it. I think we'll get lucky with the weather tonight. About 10 percent chance of seeing any sort of weather delay with this thing. Although it does look soupy now, it will be all right come 9:00, 10:00 tonight.

A little bit of rainfall across New York as Kiran mentioned, up to Boston as well. It should be clearing out later on today. But we already have some travel delays that you would expect at La Guardia, Philly and Detroit. Nashville, 80-degree high temperature. That's a - the old record was set over 100 years ago. You believe that, Louisville same deal. So, record-breaking hot temperatures across the southeast. And those engines will be burning hot tonight on 9:20 when the space shuttle goes out. So, Kiran, back to you. CHETRY: They tell me it's not pouring outside, Rob. I swear there were raindrops all over our camera two seconds ago, but it's clear now.

MARCIANO: The radar didn't look too promising but you know. I'd like to take your word for it.

CHETRY: All right. Rob, thanks.

MARCIANO: See you.

ROBERTS: Rain, no rain.

CHETRY: Cloudy, sunny.

ROBERTS: Who cares.

With the recession dragging on and the credit market staying tight, one of the world's biggest credit card companies is trying to ditch some of its customers, and it's targeting some of the same ones it tried so hard to sign up, even offering them cash incentive to come on board. Personal finance editor Gerri Willis here now with the details.

GERRI WILLIS, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: Hey, good morning, guys.

ROBERTS: With the bucket and throw them overbroad, right?

WILLIS: Yes, exactly. That's exactly what's happening. American Express, the company don't leave home without it, well guess what they are paying their customers, 300 bucks. Some of them at least to pay off their balances and close their accounts. Now, this is after a decade of growth for American Express. As they've tried to expand their customer base. Check out how many people they've added in the last four years alone.

They've gone from 65 million cardholders to 92 million cardholders. So, why are they reversing course? Well, it's fear of default. In fact, the default rate at AMEX is about eight percent, according to experts. So, that's a lot of people who won't be making payments. They'll eventually have to write off. The question is, should you take the offer?

Well, you're going to want to consider the following. You don't want to drain your emergency funds if you're worried about losing your job. This is a point in time the economy is so weak, you really want to have some cash on hand, so don't spend all your cash to pay off your credit card. You also want to consider your credit score.

So, if the American Express card is the oldest card you have, you've paid on it faithfully, well, then, you don't want to pay it off, because that will hurt your credit score. Also check out these offers, because they often have time limitations. So you want to pay attention to the details there. Bottom line, don't throw out your mail from your credit card issuer. It could have free cash in it. ROBERTS: AMEX, the only company that's doing this, or there are others out there?

WILLIS: Not by a long shot. Some really interesting offers out there. Emerge Visa, you may or may not have heard of this. This is a subprime credit card, they are offering credits of thousands of dollars to people with high balances. This is a last-ditch effort to get these people off their books, fascinating.

We've seen the letters to consumers saying, hey, we'll give you $4,000, we'll give you a $3,000 credit if you make a monster payment. Citibank has offered a payment-matching program in which cardholders can get a 10 percent match for any payment made in excess of the minimum due. And then what we've typically seen, though, is, of course, the stick rather than the carrot, right? I mean, bumping up minimum amounts due or raising interest rates or simply cutting total credit available. That's more likely, but interesting to see what these credit card companies are doing just to get people off the books, because they're so afraid they won't pay and they have to write off this debt.

CHETRY: Right, they were doing the exact opposite before, bumping up your credit limit and trying to get you to take out more cards.

WILLIS: Yes, it makes it more important than ever to manage your credit card debt the right way. Pay it down and get it out of your hair. Who wants credit card debt?

CHETRY: And if you can take advantage of these, and why not. Thanks, Gerri.

WILLIS: My pleasure.

ROBERTS: Thanks so much.

Forty-eight minutes now after the hour.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS (voice-over): Look who's on the cover of comic books now. Super heroes new face.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are strong, independent women that people want to know more about.

ROBERTS: Sarah Palin, Hillary Clinton, political heavyweights as comic book queens.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well this is America, if it sells, it will do really well.

ROBERTS: The power of the "Female Force," ahead, on the most news in the morning.

(END VIDEOTAPE) (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. First, President Obama was penciled into the pages of a Spiderman comic, now two high-profile political women are going two-dimensional. Here's one of them. Our Jason Carroll has got the story for us this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Supermodels cried foul when celebrities took over their coveted fashion covers. Now, super heroes are taking a back seat as two new comic books are released featuring Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton and Alaska's governor, Sarah Palin.

DARREN DAVIS, BLUEWATER PRODUCTIONS: It's kind of insane because right now, the Hillary Clinton and the Sarah Palin comic have sold out to our distributor.

CARROLL: Darren Davis and Jason Schultz are the masterminds behind the new comic books, both represent Bluewater Productions, the company publishing the creations. They say it is all part of their "Female Force" series.

JASON SCHULTZ, BLUEWATER PRODUCTIONS: These are very strong, independent women, that people want to know more about. What better to teach younger kids about these role models than through comic books.

CARROLL: Blue Water Productions hopes their comics will rival others put out by another company featuring President Barack Obama and Senator John McCain. Today is their first day that "Female Force" comics hit stores.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It shows comics isn't just about guys in tight jeans. It is about information. It about understanding people a little better.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it just says that women are important. It is to show people what they are all about.

CARROLL: It's no secret, many comic book readers are young men and much of the imagery in comic books of women glorifies the female form. Bluewater Productions' first cover version featuring Secretary of State Clinton was deemed inappropriate by some who saw a preview.

DAVIS: We did an early rendition of the cover of Hillary Clinton that just really didn't - it was almost too comical. And we ended up changing it.

CARROLL: But will these new comics change readership by bringing in more young women?

LATOYA PETERSON, EDITOR, RADIALICIOUS.COM: Say there is a young student who is not really motivated by reading a biography of Hillary Clinton. They would definitely be motivated by reading the comic book version or the graphic novel version of that.

CARROLL: Bluewater Production is banking on that. They are also rolling out a comic for First Lady Michelle Obama and Caroline Kennedy.

RICHARD LAERMER, CEO, RLM PUBLIC RELATIONS: Well this is America, if it sells, it will do really well. And if not, it will always be thought of as a classic.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CARROLL: Well, we'll have to see, next comes a comic featuring Princess Diana, and then get ready for the female force media series featuring Oprah Winfrey, Barbara Walters and Kiran Chetry. No just kidding.

ROBERTS: I tell you who needs men in tights when you got women in pantsuits, right?

CARROLL: Yes. Yes, I guess. I'm a comic book fan...

ROBERTS: Oh, you like men in tights?

CARROLL: I like the classics. Well, let me just be clear, I like the traditional comics.

ROBERTS: Big ballet fan, too, are you?

CHETRY: He likes drawings in tights, OK?

CARROLL: Let's switch the conversation. Kiran, if you were going to be in a comic, who would your nemesis be?

CHETRY: John, of course.

CARROLL: Dude, you had to ask?

CHETRY: The scripts aren't even written for us. That's an easy one.

ROBERTS: OK.

CHETRY: Thanks, Jason.

CARROLL: All right.

CHETRY: Well, would you pay $50,000 for an old photo? Just discover what could be the very last picture taken of Abraham Lincoln. It's 54 minutes after the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. You know, historians are buzzing this morning over an old photograph that may just be the last one ever taken of President Abraham Lincoln, and our Alina Cho is here to explain. Hey, Alina. ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, good morning, guys. It is really remarkable. Good morning, everybody. You know this photo is actually from a private album that once belonged to Ulysses S. Grant. His great-great grandson of the same name had the picture for years but he never really took a good look at it until recently.

That's when he noticed a tall figure in front of the White House. Now if you zoom in, you can see that the man to the right is much taller than the rest. Lincoln was 6'4", the tallest president in U.S. history. And if this photo is authentic, it could very well be the last known photo taken of the 16th president before he was assassinated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEYA MORGAN, LINCOLN HISTORIAN: It's very, very significant. It's the only photo in existence of Lincoln in front of the White House. It's one of the only photos of Lincoln actually doing something other than, you know, he's usually in a studio shot, where he's doing nothing. It's an artificial shot. But this is a natural shot. And it's well documented. And it's inscribed on the back by Grant's son.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHO: Now, the man you just heard from, Keya Morgan, is a lucky man. He studied photos of Lincoln for 15 years, and he was so convinced that the picture was authentic, he bought it from Grant for $50,000. Now there are many clues. If you turn the photo over, you'll be able to see the words Lincoln in front of the White House. There you see it at the top. And the year, 1865, the same year Lincoln was assassinated. Also on the back, an important stamp.

Now, that seal is the seal of photographer Henry Warren and it seems that Warren was only able to get to the president, thanks to Lincoln's son. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MORGAN: He said, well, now, Tad, go get daddy. You know, I'll photograph him, too. So, Tad rushed inside. And he basically, you know, brought his dad out. And, you know, Lincoln was very annoyed, very pissed. This is probably one of the first acts of paparazzi ever.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHO: Did we just say that word on television? OK. 130 photos of Lincoln are known to exist and none in front of the White House. Again, if this was taken in March of 1865, it could be the very last image taken of Lincoln. He was assassinated in April which is why Morgan wants to keep this photo in his private collection. Hold on to it tight, Morgan. He says he might loan it to a museum someday, but he will never sell it. Imagine, if this were authentic, imagine what it would be worth like 10 years from now, 20 years from now.

CHETRY: Yes, Grant sold it.

CHO: I know. It was in his private collection. He never looked at it until January, and imagine that.

ROBERTS: Strange the pixilation is a problem, but it certainly does look like the president.

CHO: It does. It does. He's much taller. It does make sense, but certainly a rare find, guys. Fascinating.

ROBERTS: It is.

Thanks so much for that, Alina.

That's going to wrap it up for us. Thanks so much for joining us on this AMERICAN MORNING. She'll see you back here tomorrow. I'm headed north to Canada for a couple of days.

CHETRY: You're taking a couple days off. Goodness, you'll be back on Monday, right?

ROBERTS: Right. See you then.

CHETRY: And right now, CNN NEWSROOM with Heidi Collins.

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