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Obama Prepares for Overseas Trip; Flooding Still a Concern in Fargo

Aired March 29, 2009 - 08:00   ET


BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everybody. From the CNN Center, this is CNN SUNDAY MORNING. It is March 29th, 8:00 a.m. at CNN Center's World Headquarters there, right here in Atlanta. It's 7:00 a.m. in the heartland.

Good morning, folk. I'm Betty Nguyen.

T.J. HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Hello there. I'm T.J. Holmes. Glad you could be with us.

And the president won't be with us from much of next week. He's heading now, taking a trip, his first major international trip of his administration. A pretty ambitious trip he's taking to.


HOLMES: He's going to be a busy man. The G20 summits among the stops he's making.

NGUYEN: Well, say it ain't so. Apparently, the bad economy has even forced comic book character out of a job. Really? We're going to explain.

HOLMES: But, first, we do want to head to Fargo, North Dakota. We're having an eye on that place for the past several days now. The icy flood waters are possibly starting to rescind a bit. Still, the threat is not quite over. People there are hoping that it will actually stay cold enough. Yes, they are hoping for cold temperatures so they can keep that snow and ice from melting in the coming days.

As for overnight, the Red River there, which everybody has been keeping an eye on, has slightly dropped since yesterday. The University Of North Dakota has canceled classes there until April 6th. Also, we do know that two people have died, according to health officials. They had heart attacks related to overexertion during this whole mess with the flooding. Also, we do know about at least 50 injuries to report.

Again, all eyes are on the Red River right now. Supposed to snow in the Fargo/Moorhead area tomorrow, what does that mean for the area, this whole flooding threat?

We want to head on to our Reynolds Wolf, who's been keeping an eye on things for us there, live in Moorhead.

So, again, we're hearing it's supposed to snow. What could that possibly mean for the folks there?

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It could mean, T.J., that we could see, you know, if the snow comes down, then we have a little bit of a warm-up and we can see more water eventually moving back into the Red River, that's the last thing we possibly need. You know, this river has disrupted life in so many ways in this part of the country. In fact, I'm standing right now in a parking lot. This happens to be the Moorhead Center Mall.

And right behind me, you see the Herberger Store here, over in this corner, you got Boss (ph) Drug. And I'll tell you, in a Sunday, a lot of times, you have people that be coming out here. Not necessarily now, but by the afternoon, they'd be coming out here, doing some shopping, maybe going out to a nice lunch or so. But today, the customers are going to be gone today. The Red River swept its way into this parking deck.

And I'll tell you something else, T.J., if you look off in the distance, you see that free parking sign, you see a little bit of a stop sign at the same time. The hope is, that in the coming hours, we're going to see more and more of those signs hopefully that will be an indication of that water receding.

But as you come back to me for just a moment, Steve, let's show you some of our viewers at home something else. One of the big problems we have is what you see you're going to see right over behind Steve. You got stuff like this all over this area, plenty of snowfall.

And if you got all this snow that's sitting here, well, there's a good change if those temperatures go up a little bit, we're going to see a lot of this melt and, of course, you know what water does, water follows the path of least resistance, it's going to go back into those rivers and that could be one of those things that could really exacerbate the problem, really cause these water levels to jump up.

You know, the forecast has the rivers dropping, the river levels dropping. But the National Weather Service wants people to be ready for the possibility that we could see a spike in the water. It could right back up. You know, it's not out of the realm of possibility that we could get to 42 feet. Still, it looks good now. It has leveled off a little bit. But fluctuations with that water level, the river level, could certainly happen.

And with that, the cities remain very vigilant, especially the mayors, the people are getting ready. In fact, over at Fargo, right across the river, at the Fargo Dome, the mayor is having a 24-hour blitz of people, volunteers going in and making sandbags starting at 8:00 o'clock local time. The idea is to get as many those bags as they can, T.J. and Betty, and put them out to reinforce a lot of the dikes, the levees, doing what they can as this river continues to threaten.

Let's send it back to you.

HOLMES: Yes, still a threat but not rising. That's good news.

Reynolds, we appreciate you this morning. Thank you so much. We'll be checking in with you again.

WOLF: You bet.

NGUYEN: The Obama administration says it is on top of the federal response to the floods. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano says this is just the reminder of the unfinished business after Katrina, but she seems satisfied with the efforts in the Midwest so far.


JANET NAPOLITANO, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: The FEMA administrator actually has been on the ground in North Dakota, in Minnesota the last couple of days. And we've had, I think, very good linkage with the mayors, the governors, the members of the congressional -- all of those who are concerned, the Red Cross getting shelters up, getting meals, water, everything in place.

At the same time, however, myself and the secretary of HUD were just in New Orleans several weeks ago. We want to make sure that recovery continues. That was a storm of a dimension that's really hard to describe on television. But there's still work to be done there in terms of recovery. We want to get it done.


NGUYEN: Napolitano warns that there is still a lot of work ahead in the Midwest, especially in those flood zones that she was referring to and speaking of. Fargo Mayor Dennis, Walaker knows all of that very well. We'll talk to him about these tense days still ahead for them. He's our guest at the half hour. Don't miss that.

HOLMES: The Kansas governor, Kathleen Sebelius, is declaring a state of emergency. This order affects 62 counties that have been hit pretty hard by the snow and ice there. Of course, the disaster declaration frees up some money and resources to help in those particular areas. Parts of Kansas also have lost power; and as you can imagine, the driving is still pretty treacherous there for a lot of folks.

Heavy winds are a problem in parts of the south; in particular, we'll take you to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, windows blown out of a shopping center at least. Some of this video we're showing you here, the wind also damaged the roof of this particular shopping center, three people were treated for injuries from flying glass and metal. Cold front pushed into the region, bringing those strong winds and those heavy rains.

NGUYEN: Well, because of the volcanic activity on Mount Redoubt, officials have grounded all planes in and out of Anchorage International Airport. The 10,000-foot high volcano is only about 100 miles southwest of Anchorage. Mount Redoubt has been erupting all week long.

You're looking at some of the ash right now. It blew some of that smoke and ash several thousand feet high. Look at it. It's almost looked like snow on the ground.

Operations manager says a thin layer of ash blowing to Anchorage after an eruption late yesterday was enough to force the closure of the airport there and officials may reopen that airport about 11:00 Eastern this morning.

HOLMES: All right. Karen Maginnis is keeping an eye on things for us, a lot of things to keep an eye on this weekend. In particular, what's happening in North Dakota, that Red River. Well, what's the word Reynolds used earlier?

NGUYEN: It was leveling off?

HOLMES: Levels off ...


HOLMES: It's stable, it's not rising -- whatever he's used. But what is it?

MAGINNIS: Yes, and I know those sound like wiggle words ...


MAGINNIS: But actually, what we could see these all are perturbations, you know, they'll go up a little or go down a little. But right now, the overall trend is downward slowly because we're still seeing those temperatures right at the freezing mark. So, it's not going to be that dramatic over the next several days.

But, here is something that's going to be traumatic. A storm system gathers strength across northern Rockies, pulls into the Dakotas. You can kind of see the bull's-eye here right along that border with North Dakota and South Dakota. That's what we're looking at the heaviest amounts of rainfall, snowfall. In addition to the snow, we could expect some wind gusts on the order of 40, maybe 50 miles an hour.

Look at these temperatures though. Still in the teens and not expected to get much above the freezing mark. But, downstream or upstream, since the Red River flows this way, we're going to see some heavy snowfall here. So, if they start to see some warming, that's just going to flow as the water will do downstream in towards Fargo.

Let's go ahead and show you what happened over the last 24 hours on Google Earth. Lots of tornadoes reported all the way to the Tennessee River Valley region. And take a look, take on up towards Kentucky and Tennessee, Ashland City, they did see some property damage.

Let's take a look at the wind reports as well. Very high winds reported, Hopkinsville, Kentucky, 59-mile-an-hour wind gusts. Oak Grove also had a tractor-trailer tossed around.

A real quick look at the hail reports, we had golf ball-sized hail right around Griffin, Georgia. That's just under two-inch-sized hail. So, we just had so much to talk about. We could spend the next 24 hours doing it. Now, back to you -- Betty, T.J.?

NGUYEN: All right. And, you know, we will be spending probably the next few days talking about the flooding in North Dakota because they're -- like you said -- they haven't -- we're not officially calling it a crest just yet, but those levels could change within the coming days.

HOLMES: Any time now. Karen, we do appreciate you this weekend. Thank you so much. We'll check in with you again.

NGUYEN: Well, we want to tell you about this. Bishop Earl Paulk, the controversial founder of one of the largest churches in the south, has died. A nephew of Paulk says the bishop died at Atlanta Medical Center around midnight after losing a long battle with cancer. Paulk was the founder of the Chapter Hill Harvester megachurch in Metro Atlanta. And at one point, you may remember this, Paulk became the focus of sexual misconduct charges that were later settled or dismissed. Earl Faulk was 81.

Well, President Obama is getting ready to pack his bags for his first overseas trip in office, and on Tuesday, he leaves for London, ahead of the Group of 20 Summit. And on Friday, he heads to France to give a speech and attend a NATO summit. Then on Saturday, the president travels to the Czech Republic where he's going to talk about stopping the spread of nuclear weapons.

But before all of that, the president will turn his attention to budget problems and the ailing auto industry.

Deputy political director, Paul Steinhauser, a friend of the show, he joins us live this morning from Washington.

Good to see you, Paul.


NGUYEN: All right. We want to know what can we expect from the president on -- well, tomorrow, on Monday? Because he has a busy week ahead.

STEINHAUSER: Yes. He's got a large to-do list before he jets off to Europe on Tuesday. And tomorrow, Betty, as you mentioned, the auto industry, worst auto sales in almost three decades. We expect the -- White House says the president will make a major announcement on the auto industry tomorrow. We think it's going to be a promise for more federal aid, more taxpayer money going to two of the Big Three automakers, Chrysler and G.M.

These companies have already taken about $17.4 billion from taxpayer money. They're asking for about $21 billion more. And we hear the president will give them money in return, though, for some serious cost-cutting measures that will help make these companies survive. Both companies had talked about (AUDIO BREAK) of the tough automaker times -- Betty? NGUYEN: OK. So, more money to the auto industry. How does the public feel about the way the president is handling the problems with that industry?

STEINHAUSER: Public doesn't like these bailouts. They didn't like the ones for Wall Streets or the banks.

Take a look at this. A recent CNN/Public Opinion Research Corporation poll, and you can see right here, while president overall gets pretty high marks, 63 percent, when we asked specifically about how he is handling the problems facing the auto companies, Americans are split. In fact, slightly more, 49 percent disapproved of how he's handling it. They don't like that money. They don't like taxpayer money going to the auto companies.

But, Betty, we're talking about a lot of jobs at stake here. So, we can understand, you know, the purpose for what the president is doing.

NGUYEN: Yes. We got stimulus money, bailout money, whatever you want to call it. Then, of course, you've got the budget. It is a bold and costly budget. What is the president doing to rally some support for his budget within his own party?

STEINHAUSER: Yes. He is meeting tomorrow with House Democrats. Remember last week, the president went to Capitol Hill to meet with Senate Democrats? Tomorrow, he powwows with House Democrats. Now, both the House and Senate, their budget committees have passed the budget, but now it goes to full votes in both chambers.

This is an expensive budget, as you mentioned, $3.6 trillion and $1.3 trillion deficit. Republicans say this budget is going to put the country more in the red. The president wants to make sure he has his Democrats on his side.

NGUYEN: All right. Paul Steinhauser -- joining us live -- we do appreciate it. Thank you, Paul.

STEINHAUSER: Thanks, Betty.

NGUYEN: OK. We're going to get to the bottom of an Internet sensation. Here it is. We've heard about it and now we're really delving into it. A homeless man who found fame, a little bit of money, and then something called "pimp this bum." Yes, you heard it right, "pimp this bum." We'd delve on that.

HOLMES: We have to explain it.

Do you remember who's your commencement speaker in college?

NGUYEN: Oh, gosh.



HOLMES: I bet if the president was your commencement speaker, you would remember that.

NGUYEN: Absolutely.

HOLMES: Well, some students are going to get that honor of having him be their commencement speaker and a lot of people are not too happy about it. Why? It's at Notre Dame. Can you figure out why? We'll get into that controversy. Stay with us.


NGUYEN: All right. So, what started as a simple, but potentially, offensive business plan is turning out pretty well for a homeless man in Dallas.

HOLMES: Yes. Our Ed Lavandera is looking into this for us. And he shows us a marketing experiment turning into an Internet sensation that's also helping the homeless.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tim Edwards says alcohol and drug abuse left him strung out and homeless. For the last five years, he's been a fixture on Houston street corners begging for money, a life Edwards describes as dehumanizing and empty.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think one of the hardest parts is boredom, it's very mentally un-stimulating.

LAVANDERA: Then two months ago, father and son marketing entrepreneurs, Sean and Kevin Dolan, walked into Edwards' life. They came armed with a video camera and a plan to test out an Internet advertising strategy, using homeless people to create a viral buzz for their Web site. So the Dolans offered Tim Edwards $100 a day to advertise and he accepted.

SEAN DOLAN, CO-CREATOR, PIMPTHISBUM.COM: We had to make this kind of edgy to get that exposure and have people talking about it.

LAVANDERA: This marketing experiment has turned into a mission to help one homeless person at a time, as Web traffic jumped, the Dolans set up a donation section. Edwards gets all the money. People can buy him a cheeseburger or pay for him to get laser hair removal, among other things. Some homeless advocates worry Edwards is being exploited.

But Edwards says becoming an Internet sensation is a gift.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm thinking of myself dead under a bridge. I'm watching my friends die left and right. So what do I got to lose? So to everybody who thinks that I'm being exploited, I ask you to think again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at that baby. I ain't seen this in years. He's actually got skin under here.

LAVANDERA: The makeover of Tim Edwards on the verge of his 38th birthday is in full swing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You ain't getting this shaver back from me.

LAVANDERA: $50,000 in donations, but most importantly, this drug and alcohol treatment facility in Washington State is treating Edwards for free. He hosts nightly Web chats with hundreds of followers. That's where we caught up with him.

(on camera): All right, Tim, thanks so much for doing this. Right now, you're dressed like, you know, you're on your way to a job interview.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cutting off the hair and beard was a symbolic act of change. I guess embracing the change and moving on to a new stage of my life.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): When Edwards leaves the rehab center, he says he'll try to find a job and a home, big steps toward feeling human again.

(on camera): was supposed to be a money-making business, but instead, it's become a nonprofit venture looking to expand around the country. In fact, they've already lined up their next homeless person to help out, one of Tim's friends, back on the streets of Houston.

Ed Lavandera, CNN, Dallas.


NGUYEN: That is an interesting concept. I mean, if he can benefit from it. I see why there is a worry that he is being exploited, but donations are going to help him get treatment. He's cleaned up, he's not on the streets anymore.

HOLMES: And looks good.

NGUYEN: Yes, he looks like a totally different man, didn't he?

HOLMES: You know, who knows how the guys, the marketing entrepreneurs, as we've said, are benefiting from this, but there's no question he is in a better place than he was not long before they walked into his life.

NGUYEN: Absolutely. He's drinking himself to death and he's on a bridge. And now, he's getting rehab and maybe possibly a new job and his life back on track.

HOLMES: Yes. If it helps one guy, you can't be upset with that.

NGUYEN: That's true.

HOLMES: All right. Well, one guy, coming up at the top of the hour.

NGUYEN: The king, in fact. HOLMES: He is the king. We're the warm-up act for this guy here. John King, of course, "STATE OF THE UNION" is coming up at the top of the hour.


NGUYEN: All right. John King, "STATE OF THE UNION," is coming up at the top of the hour. Actually ...

HOLMES: We're just ...

NGUYEN: Yes, we are looking forward to this.


HOLMES: We're always looking forward to you, John. But -- really, man, we have been belittled by you. It's hard -- but we're just a warm-up act for the "STATE OF THE UNION."

JOHN KING, "STATE OF THE UNION" HOST: No. That is so not true.

NGUYEN: You have a lot on your plate today, my goodness. And, you know, first things first. Let's talk about the floods. President Obama, you know, he's making a disaster declaration, not the first, during his presidency, but obviously, this is something a concern for him.

KING: It's obviously a concern to president, Betty and T.J., especially a concern politically because of the fallout from Katrina on President Bush. Without a doubt, every administration is a little extra sensitive since the tough decisions and the tough failures from the Bush administration days.

I was just listening to Reynolds Wolf when you talked to him a few minutes ago. And we can all be hopeful this morning that the worst appears to be over, but as Reynolds was noting, more cold weather, that ice eventually will melt.

So, the president is keeping a close eye on this. When Senator Kent Conrad was out there yesterday, the president called him on his cellphone and said, "Whatever you need, I'll send it your way." So, the president and his administration are trying to stay on top of this for good reason.

HOLMES: And, John, the president is going to have to pack a pretty big suitcase for this trip he's taking on Tuesday. This is an ambitious and fairly long trip he's taking here.

Why such a bold trip, if you will? He has stuff to do, but he is meeting with everybody that side of the Atlantic.

KING: Well, one of the things that happens when you become president is you inherit the schedule of annual events. And one of these is an annual event, the NATO summit. And at the NATO summit, the president will be talking about this. The meeting is in Europe, but the president will be talking about his new plan to send more troops into Afghanistan, to try to do a better job getting Pakistan and helping Pakistan to fight the Taliban and al Qaeda.

This is the major foreign policy, national security concern of the president on this trip. He is trying to get NATO allies to help him. But many are saying they won't send more troops into Afghanistan. The president will say then, at least help me with more money and more civilian advisers.

The other issue is financial. It's a G20 Summit, and the president and the other western leaders will be discussing what can they do in this continuing effort about the financial institutions and the declining global recession, and how can they -- with more regulation, with more stimulus money -- how can they try to get the economy, not just the U.S. economy because it's a global crisis back on track.

So, difficult negotiations on the financial front and on the national security front.

NGUYEN: Yes, talking foreign policy. You know, let's stay on that for just a minute because you have David Petraeus on your show today, don't you?

KING: We do. We have General David Petraeus and also Ambassador Richard Holbrooke. And they are the officer and a diplomat, as I like to put it, who are in charge of this area I'm talking about. Ambassador Holbrooke is the special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

General Petraeus, the Central Command leading general, this is his whole theater of operations right here. He has Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan -- the hot spots in the world. This president doesn't like to use the word "war on terror" but General Petraeus uses it; right in here, so many challenges.

So, we're looking forward to having General Petraeus and Ambassador Holbrooke explain the new Afghanistan strategy and there's a meeting in the week ahead where United States and Iran will be in the same room. That hasn't happened in a while. We'll see what happens with that.

NGUYEN: Oh, yes.

HOLMES: And on the issue of Afghanistan there, the president -- you know, the plan to send in 17,000 troops and another 4,000 announced as well -- is this certainly, I mean, certainly, now, this is his war. I mean, Iraq, he's trying to clean up that mess but is Afghanistan now becoming this president's war?

KING: Without a doubt, T.J. These are this president's decision. They had very tough internal deliberations over what to do. He is sending in more troops but not as many troops as the commander on the ground said he would like to have. So, these decisions are now President Obama's decisions.

Yes, he can say he's inherited this as well as Iraq from the Bush administration, but from this day forward, this is his strategy. And look, there are a lot of Democrats who are bit nervous about this, and you hear people from time to time using words like Obama's Vietnam. Now -- well, that's why we want to talk to the general and the ambassador today.

The president made the case that it is critical -- critical to go after al Qaeda, go after the Taliban up here to try to prevent future attacks on the United States and international instability. But this -- you put it just right -- this is his policy now and he will be judged by whether or not it succeeds.

NGUYEN: Well, we can't let you go, John, without talking about something ...

KING: Sure, you can.


NGUYEN: ... the president did not inherit, it's something that he actually crafted.


NGUYEN: And, of course, that is being the March Madness bracket. How is he doing so far?

KING: This is the president's bracket here. By our way of keeping score, he's at 67, which is rather dismal.

NGUYEN: Oh, yes.

KING: I hate to criticize the president but he's not doing too well. He like me had Pitt in the Final Four. He also had Memphis in the Final Four. That's not happening.


KING: The president is at 67. I hate to tell you, John King is at 76. This is my bracket here. But I'm not doing all that well either. My Pitt got beat last night. I still have a little prayer in our "STATE OF THE UNION" pool but both the president and I better stick to our day jobs, I guess.

NGUYEN: I was about to say, yes, don't go far from the set.

KING: You mention the pool. Is that a money pool?

NGUYEN: Yes, that's illegal.

KING: We wouldn't do that. Here at CNN, we wouldn't do that, T.J. and Betty.

NGUYEN: Absolutely not. He just wants that on the record.

KING: Betty, are you beating T.J.?

NGUYEN: Always. I have no idea.

HOLMES: See? I told you, I don't feel out brackets. I'm a purist about ...


NGUYEN: OK. All we can say is our two teams are not in it anymore, so we've kind of lost that bracket altogether.

HOLMES: All right. John, we appreciate you as always.

KING: Thank you, guys.

HOLMES: And Betty and I will keep the airwaves warm for you here on CNN, and certainly, your big show at the top of the hour, "STATE OF THE UNION WITH JOHN KING." Don't miss it. It's coming up about a half an hour.

NGUYEN: In the meantime, though, it is a controversy that has got 200,000 people going online trying to get President Obama's attention.

HOLMES: Yes, why they don't want him at their graduation ceremony. A special conversation this morning for our "Faces of Faith."


NGUYEN: Hello everybody, welcome back on this Sunday morning. I'm Betty Nguyen.

HOLMES: And hello to you all, thank you for being here, I'm T.J. Holmes. We're at the half hour here.

First, Fargo, North Dakota. They are dealing with icy flood waters. Hey, they are starting to rescind a bit. That's good news, but the threat is far from over however. Residents hoping it actually stays cold enough there to keep the snow and ice from melting in the coming days. Overnight, the Red River has dropped slightly. Two people we can report have died in this. Actually died according to health officials, of heart attacks from overexertion. Also we know about 50 people have been injured as well.

NGUYEN: Yes, and as serious as the situation continues to be this morning, many feared it would be much worse. Fargo's mayor is getting high marks for his role in recent days. Dennis Walaker joins us now by phone this morning from Fargo. Mayor Walaker, you have been a very busy man. We spoke with you yesterday right here on this show. Does it seem like you're out of the woods just yet?

MAYOR DENNIS WALAKER, FARGO (on phone): No and that was basically reinforced by a failure we had at the local high school. They have a high school that's on the peninsula and we constructed a permanent levee in front of their building after 1997 after they lost the fight then. And our dike is holding. They constructed what is called a coffer dam dike that with the velocity that comes through the river, it undermined that, coming in through the lower levels and so forth.

So right now, the high school has been evacuated and it's starting to fill some of the improvements that have been made there but that was at about 1:00 this morning. And right now, that's the only failure that we're aware of. But these things are going to continue to occur and that's one of the things about the flood fight is people have to understand even though the river has dropped a half a foot, we're still above record floods that have been here since the beginning of time, as far as I'm concerned.

And no, things are -- the sun is going to shine here in a few minutes. It's cold. Not as cold as it was yesterday, but as the river goes down, there's a lot of water that's still making its way to the Red River and it's going to keep the levels high. Our high schools, our grade schools, they're all postponed for the entire week next week.

NGUYEN: Even the University of North Dakota has canceled classes on Monday. Let me ask you this. You've been talking about the dikes and whether they can hold. And you've got several days to go, indeed. And we're also hearing that another storm system could be on the way. How worried are you?

WALAKER: A day at a time, a day at a time. We will, some of our meteorologists say it could come through here. And the other one says it couldn't. So we'll wait for that. Today, Sunday, we will continue doing what we need to and we'll worry about Monday on Monday.

So it's a process. I can't even keep track of my schedule. My girls are doing that for me. So any calls to us probably should go through them but things are good.

We've been getting some pressure to evacuate the entire city and that is what people don't understand. This is not -- this is our area. And we evacuated all of the hospitals. We evacuated a lot of the nursing homes, the majority of the nursing homes and now are dealing with the people who are living in homes or in apartments and so forth.

NGUYEN: So you don't want to do an all-out evacuation?


NGUYEN: You're saying unless it's absolutely necessary, you advise people to stay in their homes?

WALAKER: Yes, we do not want people to panic. But we want all of the people that have problems with getting around. A lot of these people are out of the area, but we still want people to continue to monitor their dikes in front of their place, along with the National Guard who is doing it every two hours. But we need to respond and that is what this response team is all about, trying to shore it up. We are not ready to abandon our city.

NGUYEN: Well and you know hopefully you won't have to do that. I know another storm system is headed your way. But so far you know the levees have held, the river has not gone above the stage that you were worried about, that being 43 feet. And maybe within the next few days we will eventually see you get out of the woods, per se, and we will be watching very closely and hoping for the best. Thank you, Mayor Dennis Walaker of Fargo, North Dakota, joining us live by phone.

You know, there are a number of organizations that are providing volunteers, food and supplies for the residents in the flood's path. You will find links to them on our "Impact Your World" page, that's at

And I want to tell you about this. The crew of the space shuttle "Discovery" back safe on the ground this morning. They touched down yesterday at Kennedy Space Center. And their mission to the International Space Station lasted almost two weeks. The crew finished installing a new power system that will allow more people to live up there.

HOLMES: All right, the president invited to your commencement ceremonies and you don't want him there. Some people consider it an honor but some don't want him there. And why? Well, because the university we're speaking of is Notre Dame. The president has accepted an invitation to speak there on May 17th but now all kind of protests have popped up because the president of course supports some policies that go against Catholic beliefs. Now Notre Dame has a long tradition there of actually having presidents, President Carter actually served as a commencement speaker there. President Reagan as well, also President Bush 41. Here you see some pictures of them. All spoke at Notre Dame soon after they were elected. Well they are keeping in the tradition now with President Obama.

Well, a Web site has popped up. The name of that Web site is And it asks people to sign a petition and they can sign that petition to say that they don't want the president to be there. Some 200,000 people that we know of have now gone online demanding that the university rescind that invitation and again the reason being because the president does support stem cell research and also a woman's right to choose, two things that many Catholics are against.

So I want to bring in now Scott Appleby, with the university there, Notre Dame. Sir, we appreciate you being here.


HOLMES: Thank you so much. And I know you are supporting, you like that the president has -- that the university asked and the president accepted but speak for a moment, if you can here, to those students, to those alumni and to many people of the Catholic faith who certainly look up to this prestigious university who say why in the world give a platform like the University of Notre Dame to a man who supports policies that are against our core fundamental beliefs? So answer that question for those folks out there.

APPLEBY: Well, I would challenge a couple of those assertions. Many of the president's positions are not against core Catholic positions. His position on global poverty, his leadership of civil rights and his embodiment of the civil rights campaign. His overall approach to dialogue with those he disagrees with.

HOLMES: But you know in particular the two I'm talking about, sir. You mentioned those which of course many Catholics would agree with. But we're talking about stem cell research and abortion that people are pointing to. APPLEBY: I was going to get to that if you would let me finish.

HOLMES: All right, sure thing.

APPLEBY: And so I want to make it clear that it's not everything the president disagrees with Catholic teaching. And of course, he's not a Catholic but you're exactly right.

On core teaching and in the bishop's minds, the most important teaching of the church in terms of social policy, the abortion question and life issues. The president's policies are directly contravened those teachings. And many Catholics are correctly concerned that this president is not merely a pro choice president which would trouble them enough, but that some of his policies have been aggressively so. And that many of the restrictions placed currently on abortion could be rolled back during his administration.

So the point is that at Notre Dame, everyone is concerned about this question and the people who are behind the invitation of the president are in sympathy with and agree with the opponents of it while disagreeing on the proper approach to give a witness to life. And the people at Notre Dame want to engage the president and honor him for what he deserves to be honored for. That's not his positions on these life issues.

HOLMES: Well certainly I want to start that dialogue. Many argue of course that this isn't the proper place to do it, to give him this platform at your university. And if you want to engage in a dialogue, by all means, pick up the phone and talk to the White House. I'm sure they would take a call from Notre Dame. So why give him this platform?

APPLEBY: Because he is the president of the United States and because this is a university and it's one of many instances, and we hope, chapters in an ongoing dialogue not just from Notre Dame but from the Catholic Church in general in this country with the president and this administration. But Notre Dame is a university. This is a sitting president. And it's entirely appropriate for our graduates to hear from the president of the United States.

HOLMES: I want to put up here if we can a statement here. I know you're familiar there with John D'Arcy, the head of the diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend there. But here is his statement, saying that "the president has recently reaffirmed and has now placed in public policy, his long-stated unwillingness to hold human life as sacred."

And of course we know D'Arcy is going to be boycotting but goes on to say, "While claiming to separate politics from science, he has in fact separated science from ethics and has brought the American government for the first time in history, into supporting direct destruction of innocent human life."

Sir, are you disappointed that -- like you said, this is a university. I can't remember who my commencement speaker was. My co-anchor couldn't either. People are honored to have the president on their campus. Are you disappointed that this honor and the prestige of having him on the campus has now been muddled in all of this controversy and back and forth?

APPLEBY: Well of course Notre Dame didn't seek controversy by this invitation. That was not the goal. On the other hand, if this is an occasion for deeper engagement on the issues of life across the Catholic community and even more importantly in the nation and this issue gets raised to a level of scrutiny and discussion that it hasn't been before, there a lot of other things crowding out the abortion, the life issues in the economy, in the news. Well if this issue becomes more prominent now, that is all to the good.

HOLMES: You are bringing up that point, I was about to let you go, but do you think that in any way played into it? You say you didn't seek out this controversy, but you had to know this was probably coming. So was this a way to get this abortion back to the forefront of discussion?

APPLEBY: You know, I didn't make the invitation and so I don't want to speak for the administration in that sense. But I think the invitation was made in the spirit that this is a president and it's a tradition of Notre Dame to invite the president. Also this is, everyone admits, a remarkable figure who, by his very election, is an African-American president and reaffirms all of our hopes. And also Notre Dame by the way has a strong traditional beginning with Father Hessberg who was still a president for 35 years and is still a very prominent national figure. Father Hessberg marched with Martin Luther King Jr. So this is a remarkable president. We do not agree with him on some very critical issues but it's absolutely correct to bring him here for engagement at commencement.

HOLMES: Well again Scott Appleby with the University of Notre Dame there in South Bend. Sir, we appreciate you giving us the time this morning. We certainly will be watching over the next couple of days, weeks and months leading up to the president being on your campus for commencement. Thank you so for your time sir, have a good Sunday.

APPLEBY: Thanks.

HOLMES: All right, and we're right back with our new good buddy here on CNN SUNDAY MORNING, Carl Azuz of CNN Student News, extra credit coming up.


NGUYEN: That is the coolest intro. We don't have anything like that. We're kind of jealous.

HOLMES: Where did you get that?

CARL AZUZ, HOST, CNN STUDENT NEWS: I have no idea but I guarantee you it's better than the anchors deserve.

NGUYEN: We are giving you a little extra credit today with Carl Azuz. And basically we want to talk about what students have on their minds. There is so much news out there. We cover it, you cover it, but you break it down in a way that students can understand it. AZUZ: Absolutely do and one of the things we are focusing on this week is small businesses. And we're going to start off this today, I have a true/false segment for you guys to take you back. First off here we go, true or false, around half of the companies in the U.S. are considered small businesses. Any guesses?

HOLMES: I'm going to go with true.

NGUYEN: I would say true.

AZUZ: OK actually this one is false. It threw me off, too. I totally would have blown this. But it is actually 99.7 percent of businesses in the U.S. are considered small businesses and this is one of the things we try to impress on students too is to give them a definition. We went into a little more detail saying small businesses, as we said, 99.7 percent of all U.S. companies. The government defines them as containing fewer than 500 employees and they accounted for 60 to 80 percent of new jobs in the last decade. So these are the kinds of things that we want to find in the drive home to a student audience. That number sounds pretty -- T.J. is looking skeptical.

HOLMES: No no no, I knew, I was thinking half, I figured more.

NGUYEN: We were thinking at least half but 99.7?

AZUZ: Especially when you consider all the news you're always hearing about Google, you're always hearing about huge companies.

NGUYEN: And you think about these students too, a lot of their parents probably are owners of these small businesses out there.

AZUZ: You're exactly right and that's one of the things that they are commenting on, they're talking to us about. We have a quick sound bite from one small business owner who really took hit for his employees. Listen to this.


PAUL GEMELLARO, CEO, ACCUTECH PHOTO MACHINING: You know, the bills keep piling up. A lot of people that work here are my friends. That makes it more difficult. But they are loyal to me and they help me through the tough times. So I have to return the loyalty.


AZUZ: Paul Gemellaro returned that loyalty by taking a 50 percent pay cut. He was making around $75,000 a year. Now he's making less than $40,000 a year and he did that so that he could keep his employees on staff. And roughly 50 percent of small business owners are doing the same thing nationwide in order to keep people to avoid layoffs.

So it kind of presented an interesting moral dilemma to our student audience. We wanted to ask them, what would you do if you owned a small business. Do you take a cut to keep your employees on staff? I have a couple of comments on our blog for you guys. One from Juny who says "Lower unemployment rates will help the economy to recover. And if I am the owner of a small business company, the only way I can contribute to the country is to do my best to prevent layoffs."

But there were a few folks like Sean who wrote in, "I wouldn't take such a big pay cut so that I would be bankrupt in a month. I guess would make the same pay cut for all my employees, me included."

So it was sort of an interesting moral dilemma for them because some were taking it a step further. I have my own business. What do I do if I have my own family and my own responsibilities to deal with?

NGUYEN: Right and how do you keep that business afloat?

AZUZ: Exactly right.

HOLMES: It's nice to hear those stories like that. You talk about 99.7 percent small businesses, a lot of them the bosses are cutting. We cover all these other stories about these guys keeping their bonuses and crap like that at these big companies. Nice to see refreshing stuff like that.

AZUZ: It absolutely is and just as you said, most of the students who did write in were saying hey look, I would take the hit from my employees, too. So that was kind of cool.


HOLMES: Go ahead, the shout-out, quick.

AZUZ: We have some students watching today from Marriotts Ridge High School. We want to give a shout out to Mr. Ault's government classes in Marriottsville Ridge High School at Marriottsville, Maryland. And one more to Coach Zimmerman's contemporary issues class at Parkview High School in Lilburn, Georgia. Thank you guys for getting up early to watch extra credit.

HOLMES: Always good to see you. And again, Carl, you can catch him here every single Sunday at this time.

AZUZ: Every Sunday but Easter. I'm going to seek a little credit in church.

HOLMES: We all should.

NGUYEN: We need a little bit of that, absolutely.

HOLMES: Carl, we appreciate you.

NGUYEN: Thank you, Carl.

HOLMES: And our Facebook page you can catch us being led by our fearless leader there in the middle, Carl Azuz, teaching us, walking us through the Facebook. You can reach us all right there. Comment on any day. Always glad to have you participate in our newscast. NGUYEN: And it is the must have accessory for the civic minded celebrity. A political adviser of course, right?

HOLMES: All right, if you say so. They bring the extra clout stars need to get their messages heard on Capitol Hill.


HOLMES: All right, do you have a publicist, an agent, stylist?

NGUYEN: Yes, both.

HOLMES: A manager?

NGUYEN: I don't have a manager.

HOLMES: Do you have a stylist?

NGUYEN: We have makeup artists over here.

HOLMES: OK, that counts.

NGUYEN: They keep us, the metamorphosis that goes on around here.

HOLMES: OK but if you're a big star out there, you've got to have those things. You've got to have a publicist, agent and manager and a stylist.

NGUYEN: All of that. You really have to have all of that. All right, well you can add another member to the team that being political consultant. Really? CNN entertainment correspondent Kareen Wynter has the story.


KAREEN WYNTER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Barbra Streisand's got one. Steven Spielberg, too. Rob Reiner, check. Richard Dreyfuss, check.

DONNA BOJARSKY, PUBLIC POLICY CONSULTANT: I was honored to help him accomplish his goals.

WYNTER: For a growing number of celebrities, a political consultant is a must-have member of the entourage. When Brad Pitt visited Washington recently to promote rebuilding efforts in New Orleans, political consultant Trevor Neilson was at his side.

BRAD PITT, ACTOR: I just want to say thank you to the speaker.

WYNTER: Neilson brokered high level meetings and helped craft the message.

TED JOHNSON, MANAGING EDITOR, DAILY VARIETY: The biggest knock on celebrities engaged in politics in Washington, D.C. is that they really don't know what they are talking about. And these political consultants can help them overcome that image. WYNTER: Neilson, a former Clinton White House staffer, has advised Angelina Jolie and Bono on their humanitarian causes.

BONO, SINGER: We work together on debt cancellation.

WYNTER: Richard Dreyfuss, who is active in Democratic circles, gets advice from Donna Bojarsky, head of the Foreign Policy Roundtable in Hollywood.

BOJARSKY: If you care about your politics and you are a busy actor or producer or director, you might not have the time to do the kind of research or outreach that you might to do and so you hire a professional.

WYNTER: Bojarsky gets starts up to speed on issues and can help them work the levers of power.

BOJARSKY: I have connections so we can sometimes more easily make those kinds of contacts and know kind of how the system works.

WYNTER: Still, some celebrities don't find the need for a consultant. George Clooney had no trouble gaining access to the White House following his recent visit to Darfur. His publicist told CNN pointedly, "George does not use political advisers."

(on camera): It was the issue of Darfur that prompted Steven Spielberg to back out of his role last year as an adviser to China on the Olympic games. Helping him make that decision, his political consultant Andy Spahn.


NGUYEN: You know, that's really interesting because you always wonder how these stars get that access to people in power and to push whatever format or whatever cause they want. And there you go.

HOLMES: Who knew?

NGUYEN: A political consultant.

HOLMES: Clooney he doesn't have one. Like we said, he can probably just call the White House switchboard. This is George Clooney.

NGUYEN: Right. I'd like to speak with Barack. Nah, I don't think it goes that far.

HOLMES: All right. Stay with us folks. We're just a few minutes away from John King and "STATE OF THE UNION." We're back after a quick break.


NGUYEN: All right, we all know that hard times for real life newspapers is happening all across the nation and it's actually being reflected in fictional ones. We're talking about the famed comic reporter Brenda Starr. She's getting furloughed, T.J. Yes. The comic strip writer says there is no way that they could ignore the plight at real newsrooms. And we're seeing so many reporters being laid off. But she is only getting furloughed. She has not been laid off according to the comic writer.

HOLMES: So this is just a par of the script there for her?


HOLMES: Part of the whole storyline there for Brenda Starr is that she is getting some time off. Starr will be transformed. She's going to transform herself apparently.

NGUYEN: Maybe she can send her resume to us. We could tweak it here on CNN.

HOLMES: Live on the air, maybe we should look into that. They're going to leave us with a cliffhanger because it could actually help the real newspaper sell a few more papers there.

NGUYEN: Here's an idea. She can come back in the form of a super hero right, like Superwoman and work for Clark Lent. He was a reporter, right? There you go. There is an idea.

HOLMES: If we see that, we are willing to have Betty...

NGUYEN: ... We had it right here first.

HOLMES: Well, "STATE OF THE UNION" as we know is coming up here in just about 30 seconds with John King. He's going to be talking about the president, as we know preparing for that big trip he's going to be taking to Europe.

NGUYEN: A lot on the table.

HOLMES: Hitting London for the G-20, heading over for a NATO meeting in France as well. Pretty much sitting down with every leader who will sit down with him and pretty much all of them want to at this point. Still a popular president out there.

NGUYEN: "STATE OF THE UNION" with John King is just ahead. You don't want to miss that.

HOLMES: And we certainly do appreciate you sticking here with Betty and I for the CNN Saturday and Sunday morning. We will of course see you back here next weekend as well. But right now, we want to hand it over to our good friend John King, "STATE OF THE UNION" right now.