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President Obama's To-Do List; U.S. Preps for Flu Siege; H1N1: Worst May Lie Ahead; CEO Perks Rise As Pay Falls; Mexico City A Ghost Town; President Stuns White House Press Corps

Aired May 1, 2009 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, a new warning about the H1N1 flu virus -- the worst may be months away. That has researchers racing to develop a vaccine.

Can they do it in time to stave off a global pandemic?

Also, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warns that Chinese, Russian and Iranian influence is growing right in America's backyard and she's not hesitating to lay blame on the Bush administration.

And Defense Secretary Robert Gates -- he's speaking candidly to CNN about the limits of what the U.S. can accomplish in Afghanistan.

Will he be requesting even more troops?

Our Fareed Zakaria asks him.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The threatened pandemic has yet to arrive, but President Obama is warning that America cannot let its guard down against the H1N1 flu virus. U.S. health officials are now taking new steps to fight it, as new cases are announced around the world.

We're covering all angles this hour, with our senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen, CNN's Ted Rowlands in Mexico City.

But let's begin with our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve -- Jeanne?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention says there are now 141 confirmed cases of H1N1 influenza in 19 states. As the virus continues to spread, scientific detective work is making progress.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE (voice-over): President Obama Marshaled his flu fighting team at the White House, saying the country must prepare for a long siege.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will take every single step that's necessary to make sure that the American people are safe.

MESERVE: New steps include purchasing 13 million courses of anti-viral medications for the strategic national stockpile, to replace those being disbursed to the states; shipping 400,000 anti- viral regimens to Mexico, where the flu has taken a greater toll; and posting the genetic sequence for the virus on the Internet so researchers around the world can study it. So far, scientists have not seen the marker for virulence found in the 1918 flu strain that killed millions. And in six countries where the new virus has appeared and been studied -- good news.

NANCY COX, CENTER FOR IMMUNIZATION, RESPIRATORY DISEASES: All of the genes of all of the virus that we have examined to date are 99 to 100 percent identical. It will be somewhat easier to produce an influenza vaccine.

MESERVE: The World Health Organization indicates production of a vaccine is a foregone conclusion and scientists are rushing to prepare for possible mass prediction. A key factor in that decision will be the severity of the illness the virus causes. Officials say it is too early to know.

ANNE SCHUCHAT, CDC: You might think about a baseball player -- trying to estimate a baseball player's batting average one week into the season. I think that's about what we -- we are trying to cope with here in the U.S.

MESERVE: Meanwhile, the government continued efforts to educate the public.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wash your hands with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: Officials went to great pains today to explain why the H1N1 virus is so much more worrisome than seasonal influenza. It is a new strain and we may have no immunity -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jeanne Meserve, thanks very much.

The deadliest impact of H1N1 -- the virus -- may still be months away. There is a race underway right now to try to develop a new vaccine.

Let's go to our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen.

It's a lot easier said than done -- Elizabeth.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: That is for sure. And, Wolf, the government has learned from infections in the past that if you want a vaccine and you want to get it made fast, you'd better get your ducks in a row -- or, in this case, your eggs in a row.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) COHEN (voice-over): The 2005 bird flu raised the specter of a deadly global outbreak that never happened. But the scare prompted then President Bush to spend billions to ready the nation for the next pandemic.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When the next virus strikes, our government must have a surge capacity in place that will allow us to bring a new vaccine online quickly and manufacture enough to immunize every American against the pandemic strain.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COHEN: But even with this fast, aggressive approach, it still will be months before a vaccine is ready.

BRUCE GELLIN, NATIONAL VACCINE PROGRAM OFFICE: If all goes well, then it could be available by early September.

COHEN: Here's how it works. The U.S. government is now growing the virus. That takes about a month. Once it's grown, labs will send out what's called seed stock of the virus to manufacturers. If the vaccine makers get the go ahead from the Department of Health & Human Services, they'll begin growing the H1N1 virus in as many as 900 million fertilized chicken eggs. During the avian flu scare -- that's H5N1 -- there were concerns that there weren't enough eggs to make a vaccine.

GELLIN: We have tremendous experience that's been generated by the intense amount of work on the H5N1 vaccine. That will almost put us in a position that we never would have had before.

COHEN: One of the provisions put in place since 2005, a guaranteed supply of eggs year round. Another -- increasing the number of vaccine makers in the U.S. from one to six.

Even so, any unexpected technical problem could delay the vaccine, possibly by months.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COHEN: Now, just today, a CDC official said that if they do go ahead and make a vaccine, they would then later make a decision about who would get it. It wouldn't necessarily be offered or encouraged for everyone -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a really complex, critically important issue.

All right, Elizabeth, thanks very much.

COHEN: Thanks.

BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack once again for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack. JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, as the debate against -- about torture rages on in Washington with calls for investigations of the Bush administration, here is, perhaps, a surprising nugget about how Americans view torture of suspected terrorists.

I was surprised by this.

It turns out that the more often people go to church, the more likely they are to support torture. This is according to a new survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

The poll finds more than half of Americans who attend church services at least once a week -- 54 percent of them -- say the use of torture is often or sometimes justified. Only 42 percent of people who seldom or never go to church agree with that statement.

White Evangelical Protestants are the religious group most likely to agree, while people unaffiliated with any religious group are least likely to support torture.

Of course, Evangelicals were a major voting bloc courted by President Bush both times he ran for office. And former Bush officials continue to speak out now about how these harsh interrogation techniques yielded critical information that helped keep this country safe.

But it's ironic that the faithful are more supportive of torture, isn't it?

Overall, Pew found 49 percent of Americans say torture is at least sometimes justified; 47 percent say it rarely or never is. Republicans are more likely to support it than Democrats. And the majority of Independents believe torture is sometimes justified.

So here's the question: Why is it that the more often Americans go to church, the more likely they are to support torture of suspected terrorists?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and you can post a comment on my blog.

Every once in a while, you find one of those head-scratchers.

BLITZER: Yes.

CAFFERTY: I think this is one of those.

BLITZER: That's a good question.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

BLITZER: And it's surprising to me, as well.

All right, Jack, thanks very much.

President Obama stuns the White House press corps. We're going to show you what the president did that caught everyone in the Briefing Room off guard.

And outrage over executive bonuses -- now some companies may be trying to sweeten the pot for their CEOs with a pile of perks.

Plus, a children's coloring book is at the center of a controversy that's forcing FEMA to take some unusual action.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The bad economy is certainly forcing companies to cut employees and salaries. But that's not necessarily the case when it comes to corporate CEOs.

We asked CNN's Mary Snow to take a closer look at that.

What's going on -- Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the Associated Press did a new survey. And it finds that even though the median pay for CEOs dropped last year by about 7 percent, there was a rise in extras -- or what some people call goodies.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): Perks like flying the corporate jet on the company dime may be under fire, but they're not dead. In fact, the Associated Press found more perks for CEOs in 2008 -- a rise of about 7 percent in value among the 309 of the Standard & Poor's 500 companies it surveys.

It comes as a surprise to compensation consultant James Reda, who's seen companies cut back because of investor backlash over excessive bonuses.

JAMES REDA, COMPENSATION CONSULTANT: I can tell you, it puts a chill down the spine of lots of boards of directors and lots of senior executives.

SNOW: A.P. calculated the median value of perks was roughly $170,000. That included things like a car with a driver, home security on top of use of planes. Some, though, stood out. Take the $400,000 worth of financial planning for Occidental Petroleum's CEO Ray Irani -- part of the $30 million he earned last year. A spokesman says the board sees the comprehensive financial planning as a way for Irani to keep his complete attention on the business.

Another perk, XTO Energy gave millions to Baylor University, the alma mater of its retired CEO. Our calls to the company weren't immediately returned.

REDA: Well, certainly, it makes that CEO the big man on campus. But it doesn't do much for the company's shareholders.

SNOW: As unemployment rises and stock prices fall, another compensation expert says overall, pay packages for executives need to be revamped. PAUL DORF, COMPENSATION CONSULTANT: I think that there should be written into them circuit breakers that say you cannot get this award under any conditions unless certain things are met.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Now, compensation consultant Paul Dorf, who you just saw there, says if companies, for instance, have certain financial goals that aren't met or if a company has been taken over because it was going into bankruptcy, then those incentives wouldn't be paid out -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Mary, thanks very much.

Fredrick Whitfield is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Fred, what's going on?

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello again, Wolf.

Well, the man driving the car that careened into a parade honoring the Dutch queen has died. Police say the man was trying to attack the royal family. His car yesterday missed the bus carrying the royals, but smashed into a crowd of parade spectators, as you see right there, killing at least five people. Police say he died of injuries today. Investigators aren't sure what motivated that attack exactly.

A warning about a popular diet supplement. The Food and Drug Administration says people should stop using Hydroxycut immediately. The FDA says it has received 23 reports of serious liver damage and one death linked to Hydroxycut. The company is recalling 14 products. And you can find a list of those products on the company's Web site, Hydroxycut.com.

And a former University of Georgia professor accused of murdering three people is still on the run. But police found his Jeep. Authorities discovered the jeep this morning in a ravine near his home. The former professor is accused of shooting and killing his wife and two others Saturday outside an Athens, Georgia community theater. Police say the man then dropped his kids off with a neighbor and has simply disappeared.

And meet a 2-year-old girl who would put many adults to shame. This toddler is now Britain's youngest member of the high I.Q. society known as Mensa. Her dad says it was clear early on that the girl was quick, remembered things after being told just once or twice. And, by the way, in the U.S. the youngest current Mensa member is just three.

And members of Congress today pressed college football officials to switch the Bowl Championship Series to play-offs. Republican Joe Barton of Texas says the current system is an unworkable system, which he describes as communism. And he jokes the series should be labeled B.S. instead of BCS. The BCS coordinator rejects the idea of a playoffs system, saying it would threaten the existence of the very lucrative Bowl Games -- Wolf. BLITZER: Fans really want to see a playoff like that, though, irrespective of the lucrative nature of those Bowl Games. They'd like to know for sure which team is the national champion.

WHITFIELD: And we know, oftentimes, these competitions -- it's like a religion.

BLITZER: Yes.

WHITFIELD: Depending on what region of the country you are from.

BLITZER: I totally agree.

All right, thanks, Fred.

WHITFIELD: A huge commitment.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Apologizing for America -- the Defense secretary, Robert Gates, goes one-on-one with CNN's Fareed Zakaria. He answers critics who accuse the Obama administration of going overboard.

And we'll go live to Mexico City, which has been virtually shut down by the fears of swine flu.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's a huge city of many, many millions. And now Mexico City literally on its knees. People are feeling an enormous financial pinch in the midst of this swine flu crisis.

Let's go to Mexico City.

CNN's Ted Rowlands is watching this story for us.

It's so sad to see what's going on in a huge, beautiful city like that.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. And, again, Mexico City today is a virtual ghost town, which is great in terms of fighting the flu virus, but it is taking its toll on people's bottom line.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROWLANDS (voice-over): Guillermo Jimenez hasn't worked in seven days. This restaurant where he waits tables is closed because of the flu outbreak. His family, including his wife Maria, daughter Sandra (ph) and grandchildren Diego and Vanna (ph) all rely on Guillermo to survive.

GUILLERMO JIMENEZ, WAITER (through translator): I can hold on for a week or two, but no more.

ROWLANDS: While only a minuscule percent of the nearly 20 million people in Mexico City actually have the flu, everyone is feeling its effects. Businesses are losing money, children are out of school and public gatherings have been canceled.

On a normal May Day, the roundabout circling the famous Angel of Independence Statue would be jammed with people and parades. Instead, Mexico City is a ghost town.

The good news for Mexican health officials is that the number of new cases is dropping. And of the sick people they've tested, less than half actually have the virus.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator):

Statistics are telling us that we are headed toward a stabilization phase.

ROWLANDS: Health officials say if people continue to stay home through the long holiday weekend, they could get the upper hand on the virus -- allowing people like Guillermo Jimenez to get back to work.

JIMENEZ (through translator): We don't have any money and we have mouths to feed. So now, I don't know what to do.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROWLANDS: They're trying to get us back in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Got it?

ROWLANDS: No. I have radio.

BLITZER: All right. Ted Rowlands is obviously having a little technical problems over there in Mexico City. It's a city that's in trouble right now. And we're hoping -- hoping the situation improves -- eases up a little bit.

We're going to go back to Mexico City and get some more. Stand by for that.

Meanwhile, White House reporters get a surprise from the president of the United States. He shows up unexpectedly to confirm that the Supreme Court justice, David Souter, has decided to retire. We're going to have the president's entire comments in his own words. That's coming up right here.

And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warns about a growing influence of Iran and China on Latin America.

And the Federal Emergency Management Agency pulls a controversial children's coloring book with images of 9/11 from its Web site.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, hundreds of schools across the United States are now closed because of the H1N1 flu virus. Thousands of families are affected. A quarter of a million students have now been told don't go to school.

Is the move an overreaction?

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates says things may get worse in Afghanistan -- but is he willing to ask for more U.S. troops?

His answer may surprise you. The interview, coming up.

And stocks end up -- end this week, up as the market completes its best one month performance in nine years.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

It's not easy to surprise the White House press corps, but President Obama did it today. He did it dramatically -- appearing by surprise over at the daily briefing to personally announce the upcoming retirement of the Supreme Court justice, David Souter.

The press secretary, Robert Gibbs, was answering reporters' questions.

Watch and take a look. See what happened.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This is the likely course that this will take. We could see this again in the fall -- in the beginning of flu season.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE).

GIBBS: Right.

QUESTION: ...as the president said the first time, I believe.

GIBBS: And...

OBAMA: Hey.

QUESTION: Mr. President.

QUESTION: Mr. President.

OBAMA: I'm sorry, but Gibbs is screwing this thing up.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: Yes, no. There's a job to do.

Please, everybody, have a seat.

If there's a job to do, you've got to do it yourself.

GIBBS: See you guys later. Have a good weekend.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: This is kind of cool, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's way cooler than that (INAUDIBLE).

OBAMA: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: Absolutely. The reason I am interrupting Robert is not because he's not doing a good job. He's doing an unbelievable job.

But it's because I just got off the telephone with Justice Souter. And so I would like to say a few words about his decision to retire from the Supreme Court.

Throughout his two decades on the Supreme Court, Justice Souter has shown what it means to be a fair-minded and independent judge. He came to the bench with no particular ideology. He never sought to promote a political agenda. And he consistently defied labels and rejected absolutes, focusing instead on just one task -- reaching a just result in the case that was before him.

He approached judging as he approaches life, with a feverish work ethic and a good sense of humor, with integrity, equanimity and compassion -- the hallmarks of not just being a good judge, but of being a good person.

I am incredibly grateful for his dedicated service. I told him as much when we spoke. I spoke on behalf of the American people, thanking him for his service. And I wished him safe travels on his journey home to his beloved New Hampshire and on the road ahead.

Now, the process of selecting someone to replace Justice Souter is among my most serious responsibilities as president. So I will seek somebody with a sharp and independent mind and a record of excellence and integrity. I will seek someone who understands that justice isn't about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a case book, it is also about how our laws affect the daily realities of people's lives -- whether they can make a living and care for their families, whether they feel safe in their homes and welcomed in their own nation.

I view that quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with people's hopes and struggles as an essential ingredient for arriving at just decisions and outcomes.

I will seek somebody who is dedicated to the rule of law, who honors or Constitutional traditions, who respects the integrity of the judicial process and the appropriate limits of the judicial role.

I will seek somebody who shares my respect for the Constitutional values on which this nation was founded and who brings a thoughtful understanding of how to apply them in our time.

As I make this decision, I intend to consult with members of both parties across the political spectrum. And it is my hope that we can swear in our new Supreme Court justice in time for him or her to be seated by the first Monday in October, when the court's new term begins.

And with that, I would like you to give Robert a tough time again.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I guess he wasn't (INAUDIBLE) best today.

(LAUGHTER)

GIBBS: I have an announcement to make. I've been notified that Judge Souter is stepping down from the Supreme Court. I have this from the very highest levels in our government.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He then proceeded to answer some reporters' questions. Quite a moment over at the White House Briefing Room, in the West Wing, earlier today.

So the question swirling through Washington and, indeed, throughout legal circles across the country right now, who will be the next Supreme Court justice?

CNN's senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): An ideological showdown?

Maybe not. Replacing one moderately liberal justice like David Souter with another would mean little change. But there are other pressures on President Obama -- like diversity. How about the first Latino justice? Another woman? An African-American with different views than Clarence Thomas? All the current justices were taken right off the federal bench. What about someone who doesn't come out of what's been called the judicial monastery? Right now, not one justice was ever elected to anything.

OBAMA: If we can find people who have life experience and they understand what it means to be on the outside, what it means to have a system not work for them, that's the kind of person I want on the Supreme Court.

SCHNEIDER: Presidents used to pick political figures with practical, real world experience, like three chief justices who served with distinction, William Howard Taft had been president of the United States, his successor, Charles Edmond Hughes had been governor of New York and ran for president. Earl Warren was elected governor of California three times and ran for vice president. It was the Warren court that made the landmark Brown decision desegregating the public schools. If Supreme Court justices were less removed from the world, they might avoid making foolish decisions, like the 1997 decision that allowed Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit against President Bill Clinton to go forward. The court ruled that the suit would not be a burden on the president's time and energy. Ha.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: All right. Bill Schneider reporting. Let's talk about this and more with Democratic strategist Mark Penn and Republican strategist and CNN political contributor Mary Matalin.

It clearly show what is the president of the United States is about to do, nominate a new Supreme Court justice and elections really do matter. President Bush, you got Samuel Alito and John Robertson in there for decades presumably to come and what President Obama's about to do will impact the nation indeed for decades to come.

MARY MATALIN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST; That's true, but strategically it's not a fight I would think the white house wants to take on right now for three reasons that are equally troublesome, if I were sitting in the white house I would be thinking of this. There's nothing like a Supreme Court nomination to unify the Republican Party. The Republican Party is pulled together on this issue. It pulls all those factions together. Secondly it's highly, highly contentious and thirdly, he's been used to having the stage to himself. There's nothing like a supreme court fight to suck all the oxygen out of the air and he's got a lot of other things he's got to communicate, educate and try to get done here. This not good timing for the president.

BLITZER: Is that right? Do you agree Mark?

MARK PENN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think when you've got this kind of strong majority in the Senate in order to get confirmation, I think it's also good timing because he's trying to bring change to the country, it's a major opportunity for the president to do what he said, appoint a strength supreme court justice that's close to every life and someone who will interpret the law as it should be interpreted in our time. It's a signal that he's looking for someone with a very moderate approach.

BLITZER: What do you think he's going to do based on what he's told us in the two years running for president because he was asked many times about his thoughts on a Supreme Court nominee? Let me ask Mary.

MATALIN: Well, this is that empathy quotient is code word for just prudential social engineering that's what conservatives and a lot of independents think is the province of the legislative branch. That's the point, this is not the kind of change that people voted for. This is the last place that we can attach ourselves to our founding which is the constitution and there's nothing greater than what Mark just said, that we'll get a lot of the country up in arms, they don't want social engineering done for the bench. If they don't like it at the state level, they're not going to pick it there.

BLITZER: If you pick someone that's imminently qualified from the law's perspective, what's wrong with having somebody that's empathetic, for example of poor people?

MATALIN: There's nothing wrong with and one presumes it's sort of insulting to presume that there's no one on the Supreme Court right now that's ether empathetic to poor people or has no real life experience. They don't live in an ivory tower. They shop, they go out, they read the papers. That they have made mistakes in the past is not evidence of their being detached from the world or is it evidence that they have no empathy or they don't know how real life goes on. None of them make very much money, they know what it's like to live in this kind of economy with the money they make. And if you pick someone that's academically rigorous, it will be fine. But he's been emphasizing empathy.

BLITZER: All right because there's no doubt Mark that a lot of conservatives, a lot of Republicans out there, maybe some others will say the president's looking for someone to make the laws as opposed to simply interpret the law. That's the social engineering notion that Mary Matalin's talking about.

PENN: Well I think no doubt that Republicans will try the angle that Mary is raising, but the truth is it's become a far more tolerant country over these last few years and they're not looking to really play out social conflict in the Supreme Court. Many of these decisions about everyday life have been decided. People obviously think it's critical that choice remain an important issue that really has been decided with Roe v. Wade and there be no backtracking on any of those issues, particularly when the country has become far more tolerant. I think she's saying this is an opportunity for Republicans to jump in and say this is about a social war. I think that would be a big mistake by the Republicans. The president has said this is an opportunity to move the country forward, to have someone who understands people's real world problems, to have somebody who's going to interpret the law in our time. I think those are important statements about the kind of change he's going to bring and I think Mary's trying to take this debate back.

MATALIN: No, no, Mark. Let me tell you not what you think I said, what I specifically said, I said nothing about any social agenda, what this president is doing and has done in the first 100 days is move issues that are potentially unconstitutional in the national security area, in the economic area, I didn't say one word about having a social war which is exactly where the liberals want to take this. Mark has set these polls, he's an expert pollster, he knows that the president's personal popularity far outruns the popularity of his programs. This is a center right country and it's concerned about the national security moves, concerned about the economic moves. There's not room for social engineering there.

PENN: I think quite the opposite. The president has been uncovering actions that were taken that potentially were unconstitutional during the previous administration and I think that therefore he's going to be listening for, I think, a judge that interprets the constitution according to the values that he's reflecting and the values that I think people put him in office for.

BLITZER: Mary, does it really make any difference? As you say it will energize the Republican base, the conservatives out there a good fight but when all is said and done, when there is 59 Democrats in the Senate, maybe 60 depending on what happens in Minnesota, they look like they have the votes to confirm any nominee that the president puts forward.

MATALIN: I said something a little different than energizing the base, which of course it will do. It will unify the Republican Party which is disparate right now, the security Republicans, the economic Republicans; all the Republicans can come together on this.

BLITZER: But practically speaking Mary can they derail an Obama nominee for the Supreme Court seat?

MATALIN: It won't be just up to the Republicans. There are at least 14 Democrats we know that have walked in front of the cap and trade, have walked in front of extending health care to a single payer, walked in front of the budget, who are running in and representing states that are center right and they are ran on conservative values and this is a very high value conservative value. There will be Democrats that won't want to be liberal in there.

BLITZER: All right. What about that Mark?

PENN: If you look at the president's choices of nominees from Senator Clinton on down, he's made some great nominees and selections and I think he's going to take his time. This is an area he knows extremely well, probably more so than any recent president who really is a former editor of the Harvard law review, follows people's decision and legal acumen very carefully. So I think he's going to make a smart choice.

BLITZER: Mark, what do you think about one Yale Law School graduate who could be on the Supreme Court named Hillary Clinton?

PENN: Well look, I always thought she would make a great anything, including Supreme Court justice, but I think she's doing a great job at secretary of state and I doubt he'll want to move her around considering she's just started her job, but of course she would always have been a great Supreme Court justice.

BLITZER: I think there's a precedent of a former president of the United States later serving on the United States Supreme Court. I asked the question in context of Hillary Clinton's husband bill Clinton, what do you think about that?

MATALIN: I'm not going to be a knee jerk against that. It sounds provocative and evocative and he's obviously a smart man and there's less evidence that he was a social engineer when he was in office compared to this president and we know he is a smart guy and you're right, elections have consequences but I would rather have a free trader, welfare reformer person in that spot than what we -- what might be the choice of this president.

BLITZER: A lot of fun, we're going to have speculating between now and shall we say June when presumably he will have vetted someone for this Supreme Court position. Thanks, guys very much for coming in.

China, Russia, even Iran, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says they're all gaining influence in South America, details of what she calls a disturbing trend.

And critics accuse Defense Secretary Robert Gates of going on an apology tour accepting too much blame for America. Now the secretary of defense is responding, he's going one-on-one with our own Fareed Zakaria.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: China's ambassador to Mexico presents $1 million in aid from his country to Mexico. President Felipe Calderon and Mexico's foreign minister will help fight the swine flu epidemic. This comes as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton raising some concerns about the influence of China, Russia, Iran in Latin America. Let's go back to CNN's Mary Snow. She's working this story for us -- Mary?

SNOW: Well Wolf, Secretary of State Clinton is raising concerns about some of the inroads being made by those three countries in America's backyard and she says the U.S. must work to counter their efforts.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: A warning from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about America's rivals for influence in Latin America.

HILLARY CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: If you look at the games, particularly in Latin America that Iran is making and China is making, it's quite disturbing. They're building very strong economic and political connections with a lot of these leaders. I don't think that's in our interest.

SNOW: Our foreign competitors encroaching America's turf. Iran's leader visits Venezuela and opens new embassies in Bolivia and Nicaragua. Russia sends warships to Venezuela for a port call. And China is striking deals for natural resources in Cuba and Brazil. Peter Deshazo has been a U.S. diplomat in some Latin American countries and is less concerned about China.

PETER DESHAZO, CTR. FOR STRATEGIC & INTL. STUDIES: Some countries in the region see China has an important economic partner, as a source of investment, is this a rivalry? Perhaps, to a limited degree but not to the point where it takes on a political dimension.

SNOW: But some like consumer advocate Lori Wallace says China's economic investments give it political clout.

LORI WALLACE, CONSUMER ADVOCATE: The Chinese government, not a private company, has the controlling share of three major industries. Imagine that and the leverage that they'll have over that government.

SNOW: Clinton also accused the previous administration of alienating some leaders in the region.

CLINTON: From my perspective, the prior administration tried to isolate them, tried to support opposition to them, tried to turn them into international prize, it didn't work.

WILLIAM BENNETT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: President Obama and Hillary Clinton go to other countries and somehow not defer to people who say they're our sworn enemies or people who violate human rights.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: And China's increased relations with Latin America benefit everyone in the region's prosperity and are not against any third country. Wolf?

BLITZER: Mary Snow, thank you.

This week the defense secretary Robert Gates sat down for a wide ranging interview with Fareed Zakaria. Among the topics he addresses, the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan and President Obama's acknowledging America's shortcomings to some other countries.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We have heard criticism that Barack Obama is going around the world apologizing about America. Do you accept that?

ROBERT GATES, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I like to remind people that when President George W. Bush came into office, he talked about a more humble America. And, you know, you go back to Theodore Roosevelt and his line about speaking softly but carrying a big stick, I think that acknowledging that we have made mistakes is not only actually accurate, I think that it is unusual because so few other governments in the world are willing to admit that. Although they make them all the time, some of them make catastrophic mistakes.

And in speeches myself, I have said that at times we have acted too arrogantly and I didn't feel that I was being apologetic for America, I just was saying--I was just saying that that's the way we are. In terms of being willing to recognize our own limitations and when we make a mistake, to correct it. Because I think the next line that I always use is, no other country in the world is so self- critical and is so willing to change course when we feel that we have strayed from our values or when we feel like we have been too arrogant. So I have not seen it as an apology to her at all, but rather a change in tone, a more humble America, but everybody knows we still have the big stick.

ZAKARIA: You once said the chief lesson you learned in 40 years of government are to the limits of power. Apply that limit to Afghanistan today. What do you think of -- what are the limits to what America can do in Afghanistan? GATES: Well, I have been quoted as accurately as saying I have real reservations about significant further commitments of American military -- of the American military to Afghanistan, beyond what the president has already approved. The Russian -- the soviets were in there with 110,000, 120,000 troops, they didn't care about civilian casualties and they couldn't win. If there is ever an example that military power alone cannot be successful in Afghanistan, I think it was the soviet experience and I think there is a lot we can learn from that and so I worry -- it is absolutely critical that the Afghans believe that this is their war. It is their war against people who are trying to overthrow their government, that they Democratically elected. For all of its flaws and shortcomings, it is theirs. And -- and they -- we must be their partner and their ally. If we get to the point where the afghan people see us as occupiers, then we will have lost.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: You won't want to miss the entire interview with secretary gates this Sunday on "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS" it airs at 1:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. eastern. "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS" on Sunday.

More cases of the H1M1 flu virus reported. Our Dr. Sanjay Gupta is over at the centers for disease control and prevention. We'll talk to him about what's going on.

And Cuban-Americans return to their homeland to celebrate May Day. Is this a start of the thaw in U.S./Cuban relations?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Get right over to Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack?

CAFFERTY: Wolf, the question this hour: Why is it that the more often the Americans go to church the more likely they are to support torture of suspected terrorists? One of the more provocative questions we've asked here in a while if I do say so for myself.

Alex in Florida write: "This should be a wake up call to pastors. They need to teach their congregations that supporting a conservative ticket based on some values like marriage and/or abortion does not mean that you have to support the parts of that platform that don't jive with those values. They need to address the paradox and say you cannot be pro-life and at the same time be pro-death penalty, pro-guns and pro-torture."

Boots writes: "Hi Jack. I'm not sure that the faithful finding torture acceptable should surprise us. Isn't that what Islamic fundamentalists do? All radicalized forms of thinking lack innate tolerance. That's what radicalism does, whether it's based on religion, politics, culture, money or anything else. And that's what I think we should be considering here."

Charles writes: "I'm an Evangelical Protestant and I absolutely abhor torture, Bush and all he stood for. I can only hope that the poll which was the basis of this accusation was somehow flawed."

Ralph in Florida writes: "Frequent churchgoers are more likely to be self-righteous, intolerant and ready to demonize others, all of which makes it easier for them to justify torture."

Michael in New Mexico: "This is a loaded question, Jack. I don't accept the premise. Churchgoers are not more likely to support torture. I don't know who they polled to arrive at such as absurd conclusion but I suspect it to be propaganda, with an agenda to smear church believers using a very broad brush."

Clinton writes: "Why? Why? Really? Jack, come on can you say crusades? Can you say holy war? Can you say jihad? Nobody loves man's inhumanity to man more than those who have God on their side."

And George writes: "Having been tortured sitting through all of those sermons, I think it's no wonder churchgoers simply want to share the misery."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/Caffertyfile. Look for yours there among hundreds of others. This is a good one to go to the blogs and read the e-mails on. We got a really lot of bright people that answered the question -- Wolf?

BLITZER: We're going to do it Jack. Thank you.

Our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta is inside the CDC emergency response center right now. He's working all the latest developments on the flu outbreak. Stand by.

Plus, a children's coloring book so controversial, FEMA is now forced to pull it from its website. We're going to show you what's going on.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Get this, a children's coloring book on FEMA's website showing images from the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It's now been taken down but our internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, is here to tell us what the book was doing on FEMA's website to begin.

What's going on, Abbi?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: The idea was to help children cope with disasters. Here's the book "A Scary Thing Happened" it's called. It features floods and tornadoes, but those aren't the pictures that people are focusing on now. It's this one, a picture of a plane flying into the twin towers, one colored in, one for children to color in. This has blogs, radio and newspapers saying this goes too far. And until FEMA took it down last week, it was on the kids' section of the website and it had been there since 2003 designed by a group of crisis volunteers in Minnesota, who I spoke to one of them today, Rose Armstead and she said at the time FEMA had praised the book and they said that they've had requests for copies of the book from as far away as Australia, but reviewing it recently, FEMA said it had to go and suggested more might have to go. A FEMA spokesperson saying today, without saying specifically why it was taken offline, saying FEMA is currently reviewing all web content designed and posted by by the previous administration -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Abbi, thank you.

And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM

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