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THE SITUATION ROOM
5.7 Quake Rocks Mexico City; Taliban Mountain Captured; Pakistan: Help Swat Refugees; President Obama Signs Credit Card Legislation with Gun Bill Included; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Now Mum on CIA Controversy; Prison Guards Watch as Inmates Walk out of Mexico Prison
Aired May 22, 2009 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
And happening now, breaking news -- a powerful earthquake rocks Mexico City, sending people fleeing into the streets, as skyscrapers sway and homes and apartment buildings shake. We're monitoring all of the latest developments by satellite, on the phone and on the Web.
Also, a jailbreak that looks more like a walkout -- guards literally standing by as inmates simply leave their prison. It's all recorded by surveillance cameras and now we think we know how it happened.
Wolf Blitzer is off today.
I'm John Roberts.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
ROBERTS: We're following the breaking news out of Mexico City, where a magnitude 5.7 quake struck just about 90 minutes ago in a city still scarred by the memory of a 1985 quake that killed some 10,000 people.
With that in mind, thousands of panicked people fled into the streets this afternoon. But it now appears the Mexican capital is not reliving that nightmare today.
We're covering the story from all of the angles this hour.
And joining us now on the telephone is Ariel Crespo from CNN's Mexico City bureau -- Ariel, what's the latest?
You've been working the phones. You've been talking to officials there.
How are things in Mexico City?
ARIEL CRESPO, MEXICO BUREAU MANAGER, CNN EN ESPANOL: Hi, John.
Yes, as you said, police are still surveying the streets. But preliminary reports by city officials indicate that there are no damages or injured so far to be reported.
As you just mentioned, this strong earthquake shook Mexico City at approximately 2:25 local -- remember that we are an hour behind Eastern time -- sending people into the streets just when locals were about to go -- ready to lunch -- for lunchtime.
It was felt strongly in the State of Puebla, particularly in the Principality of Tezchucan (ph), where the epicenter was located. That is 90 miles southeast of the capital. Initially, Mexico's seismological center measured it at 5.9 on the Richter Scale. And we also have reports from the U.S. Geological Service saying it was 5.7.
As I was telling you previously, I was in the Condessa (ph) neighborhood when it happened and it really felt -- it felt like a very strong shake side to side. You could tell people were concerned, but reactored -- reacted immediately. The (INAUDIBLE) fast. Everybody lined up in the streets, waiting for it to be over or praying for it to be over, I must say.
As I said, people have pretty much gone back to their normal activities -- John.
ROBERTS: All right. Ariel Crespo from our CNN en Espanol bureau there in Mexico City.
Juan Carlos Lopez of CNN en Espanol has been working the telephones, contacting folks in and around Mexico City and surrounding areas. Of course, the epicenter of this earthquake in the Puebla Province. It's about 90 miles southeast of Mexico City -- Juan Carlos, what are you picking up?
JUAN CARLOS LOPEZ, CNN EN ESPANOL: Well, more or less in the line with Ariel. You have a city of 20 million -- a city filled with sky -- skyscrapers. On Friday, people coming back from lunch and all of a sudden they feel the jolt. They said it was very short, very intense.
But they're very organized. In 1985 -- you were talking about that earthquake that killed more than 10,000. After that, the construction code changed and people learned to prepare for disaster.
So you saw the images of people in the street. What we were hearing from our colleagues in Mexico City was that people did what they were supposed to. They walked in order. They left the buildings. They followed orders, waited until it was confirmed that they could go back and then they returned to their normal Friday.
And, obviously, this city just -- just finished the scare with the H1N1 flu. And now they -- they've -- they showed they were prepared for that. And now they're showing us that they're very prepared for earthquakes -- something that happens quite frequently in this part of the world.
ROBERTS: Any idea, Juan Carlos, how widespread the power outages are there? LOPEZ: Well, speaking to sources in Mexico, speaking to our bureau manager in Mexico, they tell us that it's not really that widespread.
LOPEZ: At first, what they really felt were phone lines were jammed. It was very difficult to make calls because people were trying to get in touch with their loved ones to let them know they were OK.
But it seems that everything is back to normal in this city. And it's a city of 20 million people. And it's working, from what we hear, just fine.
ROBERTS: Juan Carlos Lopez from CNN en Espanol.
Juan Carlos, thanks very much.
Let's bring in CNN meteorologist Bonnie Schneider now.
She's been talking with the U.S. Geological Survey -- Bonnie, there's been some seismic activity in that area of Mexico, Central America, over the last 48 hours. A quake in Guatemala yesterday.
What do we know about this quake and how it might be related to that quake?
BONNIE SCHNEIDER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, what -- the first thing to note is that this quake isn't necessarily an aftershock of that other quake. And I want to show you where the quakes are located and where the fault line is.
As we zoom into where the quake that just happened, the 5.7 magnitude -- Sean (ph), if you can select this for me now, we can give you a little more information on the location and the depth of the quake.
Originally, we were getting reports that this was a shallow quake. But, indeed, now we're getting reports that it actually had been a very deep earthquake. This is key.
With a depth going all the way down to about 35 miles, that's well beneath the Earth. So that gives a lot of absorption -- shock absorption. And that's probably why we're not seeing widespread damage reports, at least not right now, from this original quake.
So the magnitude at 5.7 here. And there's the location for you in latitude and longitude. And the epicenter, again, about 90 miles southeast of Puebla.
Let's open up the picture. I want to show you where the other quake was and where the fault lines are on Google Earth. That's what we're looking at right now.
Here's Mexico and the United States. And you can see the fault line.
The line right here, just off the coast, this is where the tectonic plates meet. And this is often where we tend to see earthquakes, certainly well beneath the ocean floor.
But we have a slow movement of the tectonic plates. You can see here, it's only 61 millimeters a year. That is very, very slow.
So one quake here in Mexico City; another further to the south in Guatemala. Both are not necessarily on the fault line, so we're not seeing a direct connection. But we are certainly seeing a volatile area. And Mexico City, in particular, John, is actually very volatile when it comes to quakes.
You saw our correspondent report on the 1985 quake that killed over 10,000 people. That's because the city itself -- the structure is built on -- if you go back, looking at the geological history, it's based on volcanic ash, clay and silt -- more of a weaker soil. So the structure and the foundation beneath this city is a little bit more vulnerable and certainly more volatile to any shaking mechanism that a quake -- even 90 miles away -- could cause.
ROBERTS: Yes. It's just sort of like a big bowl of oatmeal, if you will. And when it's disturbed, the surface actually sends waves across it, which is why there was so much destruction back there in 1985.
Bonnie Schneider for us.
Bonnie, thanks so much.
Abbi Tatton is in THE SITUATION ROOM in Washington this afternoon.
She's been monitoring the Internet and our iReports and she's got more on the earthquake for us -- hi, Abbi.
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Hi there, John.
Yes, the moments just after this quake here in Mexico City captured by iReporter Melvin Franciscini (ph).
Look at this. He was in one of the taller buildings of Mexico City here, captured the people leaving, frightened, going out into the streets. He says -- Melvin says that he's experienced quakes before, the last one April 27. But this one, he says, a lot stronger.
Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MELVIN FRANCISCINI: A lot of people here were startled. The building definitely shaked a lot more. But I think I'm getting a little bit used to the earthquakes. And I think that half the building evacuated. The other half were still in our building.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TATTON: We're also getting reports in from Twitter, people recording the shaking not just in Mexico City, but also in Puebla. This is just 35 miles away from the epicenter, so a little bit closer. This was one of the first reports that came in. Someone writing there in Puebla: "It's shaking, it's shaking."
But we've been following what he's been writing over the last hour, saying that the people that were out into the streets are now returning to their homes and also that their cell phone lines that were jammed for a while, that he's now able to call friends and family -- John.
ROBERTS: All right. That's good news.
Abbi Tatton for us.
Abbi, thanks so much.
Jack Cafferty is here now with "The Cafferty File."
Our apologies for delaying the answers to your questions last hour. But you got the answers in and you've got a new question for this hour.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Leave a little -- some extra in the mailbox when you're done, OK?
CAFFERTY: The question last hour was: do you have a problem with housing the GITMO detainees in U.S. prisons, which was the subject of a portion of what the broadcast consisted of, talking about that idea.
Terri in California writes: "Instead of sending the convicted detainees to places like the Alcatraz of the Rockies" -- that's that supermax in Colorado -- "reopen the real Alcatraz and let the inmates do repair work and clean up the place. Give them three squares a day, necessary medical care -- no bypass surgery, kidney transplants. No TV, no air conditioning. Give them plenty of time to think about what America's freedom from terror means to us."
Ralph in Chicago writes: "Give Guantanamo back to Cuba. Leave the detainees there. Castro gave us his detainees a few years ago when he cleaned out his jails. Now it's our turn."
Lance in California: "I am completely against this plan. It's all we need is trained terrorists housed with career criminals so they can pass on their warped view of the world and the country to malcontents. Couple this with the obvious instant engagement of the ACLU to release these terrorists because we're ignoring their rights and the country will pay a huge price for this stupidity."
Bill in Phoenix says: "I'm surprised we don't see the current game here. The administration will return the lesser known detainees to their countries of origin then ship the ones for whom release would be politically unsustainable to U.S. federal facilities with the full knowledge that this will result in their release based on subsequent court orders. GITMO was chosen because it's outside the scope of all national legal systems."
Peter in Georgia: "No, I don't have a problem with it. What I have a problem with is the gullibility of so many Americans that allows them to be ruled by the politics of irrational, illogical fear. Scare tactics are the only arrow left in the Republican' quiver, but it continues to be extremely effective with some segments of our population."
And D.M. writes: "I don't have a problem with them living in one of those supermax prisons. You don't think they'd radicalize the folks living there, do you?"
We'll have answers to this hour's question, which I'm going to do right now, later.
ROBERTS: I can't wait.
ROBERTS: I can't wait.
CAFFERTY: Well, you'll have to, John. It's not time yet.
CAFFERTY: It's time of year again -- graduation season. This year's crop of college graduates looking for jobs in the worst economy their generation has known -- not exactly the best time to look for work. 5.7 million people have lost jobs since this recession began.
An A.P./MTVU poll surveyed 2,200 college kids on 40 campuses to find some recent college graduates on food stamps, other undergraduate kids working three jobs while attending school full-time.
The poll also showed 22 percent of students say they worry a lot about having enough money to get through the week. A third of them say they really worry about their parents' finances. Almost 20 percent changed plans and decided to go to graduate school because their undergraduate degree might not be enough to get them a job. And one in five students say at least one of their parents lost a job in the last year. These students are less likely to go to grad school because they can't afford it.
Almost one in five students considered quitting school. Thirty- two percent say money worries have a big impact on their stress level. And that's up five points from a year ago.
The silver lining here is the pollsters say despite all of the apprehension and all the uncertainty, there's a lot of determination and spirit on the part of these youngsters. These kids think eventually their education will pay off -- and it will -- and it will help them land a job -- and it will.
Here's the question -- in light of the economy, what advice would you give to a college graduate?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile, where you can post a comment on my blog.
The one piece of advice you want to be sure to give them is you're not moving back to my house.
CAFFERTY: That's -- that's over.
ROBERTS: You know, I gave a commencement address at the University of Colorado a couple of weeks back and a lot of the students said, you know, we were thinking about getting out and going to find a job, but now we're thinking about going to graduate school because we might as well get a better education because there's no jobs out there.
CAFFERTY: Their mom and dad are happy to hear that.
ROBERTS: I'm sure they are.
CAFFERTY: Grad school is twice what the undergraduate degree is.
ROBERTS: It is.
ROBERTS: Jack, thanks so much for that.
ROBERTS: Pakistan's military says it has Taliban fighters cornered. The country's ambassador to the United States is here to talk about the crackdown on the Taliban and the humanitarian crisis that's unfolding in those northwest provinces as a result.
And 30 years after his murder, gay rights activist Harvey Milk is at the center of a new controversy. It involves a middle school student.
ROBERTS: Pakistan's military is keeping up its offensive to crush Taliban fighters inside its borders. Some of the toughest battles have been in Northern Pakistan's Swat Valley.
CNN's Ivan Watson reports from there.
IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This crater is the result of either a Pakistani airstrike or artillery strike after the Pakistani military moved to conquer this mountaintop from Taliban militants. Now, we're told that the Taliban used this as a training camp, that they had a system of bunkers here from which they controlled supply lines through the Swat Valley.
Now, take a look at the incredible breathtaking view that the fighters would have had here. This was formerly one of their machine gun nests. And from here, they could have controlled the entire area.
Now, Pakistani soldiers are occupying these same bunkers.
Now, the battle for the Swat Valley is still far from over. We've heard some distant explosions. We've heard fighter jets flying in the distance. There are still Taliban militants operating in these very difficult mountains. The battle for the Swat Valley is still far from over.
Ivan Watson, CNN, reporting from the Swat Valley in Pakistan.
ROBERTS: And the fighting in the Swat Valley is taking a very heavy toll on civilians. Nearly two million of them have fled and Pakistan is now appealing for donations to aid in what it calls a humanitarian crisis.
Joining us to talk more about that is Pakistan's ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani.
Mr. Ambassador, thanks very much for being with us.
Part of what you're doing over the next few days is a text message campaign.
Could you tell us a little bit more about that?
HUSAIN HAQQANI, PAKISTANI AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: Well, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees will receive $5 for every time somebody text messages the number 20222 and sends the word Swat, S-W- A-T on it. It's a simple method, but it has two purposes.
One, of course, is to raise money for the two million people who have become homeless as a result of the fighting. And it is also a way of reassuring the people of Pakistan that the world will stand behind their effort at eliminating terrorism from that region.
ROBERTS: And just to reiterate, in case people at home didn't get it, that's the number 20222 and then the letters S-W-A-T -- Swat?
HAQQANI: Absolutely. You just text message the word S-W-A-T, 20222. And that donates $5 to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.
Other ways of making contributions is by contacting various relief organizations that have created funds for the refugees in Pakistan, and, of course, going to the Embassy of Pakistan Web site, which is embassyofpakistanusa.org. I know it's a very long e-mail -- Web site address, but it's easy to remember -- embassyofpakistanusa.org. And you can make a contribution with credit cards and you can also send us checks or donations to the government of Pakistan or to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.
ROBERTS: How bad is the humanitarian crisis there in those Northwest provinces, Mr. Ambassador?
HAQQANI: Well, we must understand that the Taliban would have used all these people as human shields if they had not left their villages and towns. So two million people have had to move out of their hometowns and they are living in camps or under the sky. They need food. They need shelter. They need health care. And then, more than that, after immediate relief, they need rehabilitation so that they can resume a normal life and make sure the Taliban and Al Qaeda never come back into their areas.
ROBERTS: Right. Our Fareed Zakaria, who you know well, has been watching the situation closely there. And he believes that Pakistan may be at least partly responsible for the -- the flood of refugees coming out of the Swat Valley in the way that it's conducting the campaign against the Taliban.
Here's what Fareed told our Anderson Cooper a couple of nights ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "A.C. 360")
FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST, "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS": This is an approach to counter-insurgency that the Pakistani Army is using that is widely discredited. You create a kind of gangland atmosphere, which tends to be better for the Taliban than it is for the Pakistani government.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: So he's on there saying that you're -- you're approaching this the wrong way and that you may actually be creating sympathies for the Taliban in the situation that you're creating there in the Swat Valley by the way that you're going after those Taliban fighters.
What do you say?
HAQQANI: Well, I have tremendous regard for Fareed Zakaria and all the other critics of our approach. But here is the problem. If we do not fight the Taliban, people blame us for not fighting the Taliban. When we fight them, then the method of fighting becomes the issue.
I think it is important to fight the terrorists and defeat them. And I think that we can have all the quarterbacking, we can have, all the commentary we can have after the game, but let us fight this fight, win it and, at the same time, provide relief for the people who are becoming victims of this -- of whatever the strategy is that people are criticizing.
Look, let's remember, the terrorists have an advantage. They don't have territory to protect. They only have territories to destroy. They do not have a nation state to keep together. We want our nation state to become strong, prosperous and secure. So we really do have to move at a rapid pace. We have invested a lot of time in the past, for various reason. I think it's time that we just fought the Taliban successfully, defeated them and, at the same time, help the people who are becoming victims as a result of the fighting.
ROBERTS: Another issue that was talked about at quite some length this week in Washington regarding Pakistan is the nuclear program there. Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, suggested that Pakistan is expanding its nuclear arsenal.
Is that true?
HAQQANI: Well, I think we don't need to go into whether it's expanding its nuclear arsenal or not. We are maintaining our minimum deterrence vis-a-vis our neighbor.
ROBERTS: Why is it...
HAQQANI: At the same time...
ROBERTS: Why is it not relevant to go into it, particularly when you've got the Taliban there, you've got India involved, as well...
HAQQANI: Well, I think...
ROBERTS: And we are...
HAQQANI: I think...
ROBERTS: ...and the United States is pouring billions of dollars of aid into that country...
HAQQANI: I think...
ROBERTS: Can you assure Americans that none of the military aid is going toward the development of nuclear weapons?
HAQQANI: I think that that assurance has already been given by no less a person than the secretary of State of the United States government.
I think that a lot of times when countries like Pakistan are discussed, the media -- which includes you, my friend -- has a tendency to create some kind of shorthand about those places. So talking about nuclear weapons is one of those things.
Everybody in the United States government who knows anything about nuclear weapons knows that Pakistan has a very secure nuclear program. It's a very limited nuclear program to maintain deterrence vis-a-vis our neighbor. And, at the same time, Pakistan is willing to engage with our neighbor for a comprehensive settlement in which the nuclear weapons can be phased out by both countries.
So I don't think...
ROBERTS: Yes, but yet...
HAQQANI: ...I don't think -- I don't think that we should just focus on that. That's all I meant by the relevance question.
ROBERTS: Right. Right.
HAQQANI: Pakistan's nuclear weapons are safe and Pakistan is not going to expand nuclear weapons capability to a point when it becomes a threat to any country in the world, including our neighbors.
ROBERTS: But, at the same time, Mr. Ambassador, the CIA director, Leon Panetta, says that while he believes and certainly hopes that Pakistan's nuclear weapons are safe, the United States doesn't know where they all are and that is a matter of concern for U.S. officials.
HAQQANI: I don't think it is, actually, a matter of concern. It's one of those things, again, that are always said because (INAUDIBLE)...
ROBERTS: It's certainly a matter of concern for the secretary of State, who mentioned it in a Congressional hearing a couple of weeks ago.
HAQQANI: I do not think that she expressed the kind of concern you're talking about. What she did say was of course the U.S. would like to know. But I don't think any country knows or tells the location of all its nuclear weapons to any country in the world.
The Soviet Union never did it with the United States until an -- after comprehensive negotiations between the U.S. and Soviet Union started. So whenever that starts between Pakistan and its eastern neighbor, we will move in that direction.
But I don't think Pakistan's nuclear weapons are a threat to the United States. I think the threat to the United States right now comes from terrorists that might be in Afghanistan or in parts of Pakistan. And Pakistan is doing a great job fighting those terrorists right now.
ROBERTS: So then, getting back to the terrorism question, let me ask this question, because there are a lot of American officials who were extraordinarily critical of Pakistan's agreement with the Taliban to let them rule the Swat Valley with Sharia law. That kind of blew up in your face when they went into Buner Province. You're in there now. You're fighting the Taliban.
Are there going to be any more peace deals with Islamist extremists -- between the Pakistani government and those -- and those people?
Are you out of the peace agreement business?
HAQQANI: Well, first of all, no one is ever out of the peace agreement business. But the peace agreement in Swat was, obviously, mischaracterized. We always, as I said, I have a serious problem, despite being a journalist myself, from background, I have a problem with what I call sort of thumbnail characterizations and shorthand.
ROBERTS: How was it...
HAQQANI: The fact that we...
ROBERTS: How is it mischaracterized, though?
HAQQANI: If you will, I will tell you.
HAQQANI: The Swat agreement was a limited agreement with a group that was not the Taliban. It was a group that supported the Taliban. The idea was that this group will prevail upon the Taliban and get them to lay down their arms.
Our president, President Zardari, made it very clear that he did not think that this agreement is going to work.
But it was important to do it to ensure that all those people in the Pakistani political spectrum who did not want to fight would then not have an excuse to support the government when the government did go ahead and fight. So it was...
ROBERTS: Well, what...
HAQQANI: ...it was a tactical move. And I don't think that the -- while it was criticized at that time, I don't think anybody is talking about the peace agreements right now. The -- right now, the government of Pakistan has sent in the forces. You've seen the images. The Pakistan military is fighting the terrorists effectively. And I think we will fight them and we will win.
ROBERTS: So -- so let me ask you this, then, Mr. Ambassador, in closing.
Have you learned a lesson from what happened in the Swat Valley?
HAQQANI: I think that the United States is learning a lesson every day in Afghanistan and Iraq and the Pakistani...
ROBERTS: No, no, no.
ROBERTS: No, no, no, no. Has...
HAQQANI: And the Pakistani...
ROBERTS: Has Pakistan learned a lesson?
This is not about the United States.
HAQQANI: No, no, no. It is about everybody...
ROBERTS: You're fighting the Taliban... HAQQANI: No, John.
ROBERTS: ...in the Swat Province.
HAQQANI: No, no, no, no, no.
HAQQANI: I am not going to...
ROBERTS: Has Pakistan learned a lesson...
HAQQANI: With due respect, I am not going to...
ROBERTS: Regarding these...
HAQQANI: I am not going to say what you want me to say...
ROBERTS: No, but...
HAQQANI: I am saying everybody...
ROBERTS: No, but I'm asking you a question about your...
HAQQANI: ...learns a lesson.
ROBERTS: ...your country, Mr. Ambassador.
HAQQANI: I am, Mr....
ROBERTS: With all due respect...
HAQQANI: Mr. Roberts, I am...
ROBERTS: You turned it to the United States...
HAQQANI: With all due respect...
ROBERTS: ...in Afghanistan.
HAQQANI: With all due respect, I was trying to say that every country learns a lesson every time with situations that evolve. Pakistan is no exception. It's about time people treated Pakistan with the respect it deserves, appreciate the good that it has done, acknowledge that, like every nation, it has problems. But it is not some -- it is not a problem in itself.
ROBERTS: That said, Mr. Ambassador, have you learned a lesson about these peace agreements?
HAQQANI: I think we have learned many lessons and I don't think that there was a lesson to be learned. Many of us in the government of Pakistan already knew that the peace agreements cannot work. They were a political tactic. And if the tactic has to be used again, it will be used again.
ROBERTS: All right.
Ambassador Husain Haqqani from Pakistan.
Good to talk to you, sir.
Thanks for coming in today.
HAQQANI: A pleasure talking to you, too.
ROBERTS: All right.
We look forward to seeing you again soon.
Inmates walking out of prison while guards just look on -- it was all recorded by surveillance cameras and now we're learning how it happened.
Plus, a provision allowing loaded guns in into national parks -- how it wound up in the credit card reform bill that President Obama signed into law today.
ROBERTS: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
And happening now, we're following that breaking news out of Mexico, where a magnitude 5.7 earthquake has rocked Mexico City. No injuries are reported so far, but witnesses describe buildings shaking. Thousands of people ran out into the streets. The U.S. Geological Survey says the epicenter was about 85 miles southeast of Mexico City.
Those "Miracle on the Hudson" passengers are getting a piece of their lives back -- what crews pulled up from the bottom of the river and the bottom of the aircraft that passengers thought they would never see again.
And Wall Street finishes out the week with another down day. The Dow Jones dropped almost 15 points today.
Wolf Blitzer is off.
I'm John Roberts.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
The credit card reform bill that President Obama signed today includes a measure that will allow loaded guns in U.S. national parks and wildlife refuges. The Interior Department says that won't take effect for another nine months.
CNN's Joe Johns reports on how Congress found a way to connect loaded guns with credit card reform.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just imagine, along with the sweeping views of natural beauty of Yellowstone and Yosemite, mixed in with history at Mount Rushmore, that some of the tourists toting diaper bags and binoculars might also be packing heat -- extreme, perhaps. But absurd is, in fact, how it looks to some Congressional Democrats. They're almost apoplectic about how the gun lobby slipped the provision into, of all things, the credit card reform bill -- a provision that really has nothing to do with the rights of credit card holders and a lot to do with the right to bear arms.
REP. SAM FARR, (D) CALIFORNIA: I think this is the most embarrassing amendment Congress has ever passed. To take a credit card bill and have the NRA use that as a vehicle to allow people to carry guns in national parks is just ridiculous. It makes no sense, it's not the purpose of national parks.
JOHNS: NRA, the National Rifle Association and the rest of the gun lobby are naturally pretty happy about it. They say guys with guns have been getting locked up for years on parklands and that it's just not right.
LARRY PRATT, GUN OWNERS OF AMERICA: This is something that's been an ongoing harassment and it's an immoral policy telling people you shouldn't have a gun, you shouldn't be able to protect yourself.
JOHNS: But how in the world did a credit card bill get so hijacked? Senator Tom Coburn who gets kudos back home in Oklahoma for standing up for the rights of gun owners is the guy who put it in, with help from lots of democrats who have learned the hard way that opposing gun rights could be a bad career move. Plus, the president wanted the credit card reform bill quickly approved.
REP. CAROLYN B. MALONEY, (D) NEWYORK: It's regrettable that a dangerous and totally unrelated provision was added to a very important consumer protection bill and you should not pass a consumer bill in the barrel of a gun, it's really wrong. But that's the way the system works.
JOHN: And the White House never threatened a veto. The president doesn't want to set off gun owners who already fear he'll take away their weapons. So if you can't beat them join them. Meanwhile, a lot of people on the hill are now expecting more attempts to push through the pro gun wish list.
FARR: I expect we'll see gun amendments in almost every major bill. I think it's a failure of the democratic leadership in both the House and the Senate to allow these amendments to get adopted. It's embarrassing.
JOHNS: But taking a step back in keeping them honest, democrats are crying about being outmaneuvered by the gun lobby, but you should know this, the amendment was supported by 105 House democrats. After all, it's not like someone put a gun to their heads on how to vote, Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Let's bring in our political contributors now. Democratic Strategist Paul Begala and Republican Consultant Alex Castellanos, so Paul do you agree with Congressman Sam Farr that the democrats just kind of rolled over on this.
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, actually and it's because the two parties have two different sets of priorities. The democrats have been working for over a decade to try to get this credit card reform to help middle class families who are getting ripped off by credit card companies, they finally were able to accomplish it but the only way they could is if the republicans could pursue their highest priority, which was helping out the gun lobby. Now I say this because I'm a gun owner, I'm a hunter, I'm going hunting tomorrow in fact over the Memorial Day weekend. So I'm not anti-hunting, but it does show you the difference in priorities. If you ask any American, including a hunter and a gun owner like me, which is a higher priority, protect you from being ripped off by credit card companies, or to allow you to carry a gun in a national park, they're not exactly equivalent.
ROBERTS: So Alex, can you just explain to the folks at home who may not understand the connection, why it's so important to get this gun provision in a credit card reform bill?
ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: It wasn't important to get it in the credit card reform bill, this was the vehicle that was available at this point and that's how politics works in Washington, we all know that. Look, this is being portrayed as why some crazy people out west want to carry guns in national parks and shoot smoky the bear. These are ordinary Americans and their states back home, western states say they have the right to bear arms, they have the right to do that.
And federal law says well, not if you go through a national park for example. In a western state, you might find yourself hundreds of miles from law enforcement, you have a right to defend your family. All they're trying to do here is make federal law consistent with state law. And by the way, Americans' attitudes on gun control -- I know the elites in Washington think well gosh, nobody should have a right to carry a gun any time. But only 29 percent of Americans now think that we should ban handguns for example. So people know we're living in a world that's a little dangerous and you can deter crime by letting criminals know that you're not ready to be a victim.
ROBERTS: So Paul are democrats going to continue to make these tradeoffs going forward.
BEGALA: Sure. To me, I'm sorry to be so pragmatic, but we have two parties in this country the democrats are the dominant party, but the republicans still have a lot of sway particularly in the Senate, where they mount filibusters all the time, which is their right. So yes, this is how you try to make sausage, the democrats' most important objective is to try to jump-start the economy to protect your pocketbook. If they have to give up on a pretty -- how much crime is there in national parks? How many people really need guns or vice versa? Why is it such a terrible threat to allow people to carry guns there?
ROBERTS: Will that change Paul if Norm Coleman throws in the towel?
BEGALA: I fully expect actually in the next couple of weeks the Minnesota Supreme Court to rule in favor of Al Franken and then order the governor to see him. It may change the dynamics somewhat but Alex does have a point about this, gun control is less popular today than it was a few years ago. It's one of the few issues in America where we have not moved left. This is a center of left country today on almost every issue. But Alex is right, this gun issue has risen up and bitten my party in the hind quarters before and I guess democrats are not going to let it happen again.
CASTELLANOS: I hate to disagree with my good friend Paul, but it's not exactly a center of left country, it's a right country. That's why people are so concerned about the incredible and frightening amount of spending that the Obama administration and the democrats in Congress are doing for example. And by the way, republicans' highest priority is of course getting the economy going. But I think as President Obama has established, you can do more than one thing at once, can't you.
ROBERTS: This center left, center right, at least the latest polls show you got the center part of that right, not quite sure which side it goes on according to some of our latest polls. Let's talk about Nancy Pelosi for just a second, she had her first press conference since the infamous statement not so long ago that the CIA misled her and misleads Congress, she didn't back down from that, but she also didn't take a whole lot of questions on it. Let's listen to what she said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) HOUSE SPEAKER: I made the statement that I'm going to make on this, I don't have anything more to say about it. I stand by my comments and what we are doing is staying on our course and not being distracted from it and this is a distractive group.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: Alex at Politico had an article today which suggested that the House Minority Leader John Boehner is a little bit concerned about how hard republicans are going after her. He had only ever asked her to apologize for what she said. But the other day Newt Gingrich former speaker of the House came forward and said she should resign. Apparently a couple of other republicans have said that as well. Now Boehner is concerned that they're setting sort of impossible goals here and that may actually play in her favor and against the Republican Party. What do you think?
CASTELLANOS: I think it's something to be concerned about but frankly the speaker herself is making it very tough to resolve this issue. She made a fundamental political mistake today. You know, violated politics 101. She did a Nixon, she stonewalled. It would have been so easy for her today, we're going into Memorial Day, to do the smart political thing and the right thing and say, gosh, I wish I hadn't said that, I have great respect for our men and women who defend this country and the intelligence community, I did not mean to impugn them, gosh I wish I hadn't gone there and would have explained herself. But what she's done now is actually extend this argument and she's going to be the Newt Gingrich of the 2010 elections for the democrats. You're going to see her on a lot of ads.
ROBERTS: Do you agree Paul, is she making it worse?
BEGALA: No of course not. Yesterday Alex and I talked about this very thing, in advance of this press conference, and yesterday Alex and I agreed that she needed to kill the story, she did not need to kick the story. What she said today was music to my ears as a strategist, let this thing stop. Now what she said, by the way, she did need to apologize for anything. What she said was the same thing that republican leaders have said in the past when they have been fussing and feuding with the CIA. Mr. Boehner, the republican leader of the House has said the same thing, he said the CIA lied to him. Mr. Hoekstra, the ranking republican on the House Intelligence Committee, he says the CIA has lied to him.
Now I think Ms. Pelosi did exactly the right thing. Today was a day to try to refocus the press on this credit card bill. The president signed that credit card bill today it would not be law without Nancy Pelosi, that's what democrats ought to be talking about. Because every American is going to have more protection in their wallet now because of Speaker Pelosi.
ROBERTS: Gentlemen, we have to run, I'm sorry guys, we're out of time. Next time definitely, Alex Castellanos, Paul Begala, always great to see you. Hoping you enjoy the Memorial Day weekend, remember the troops.
We're following developments in that Mexico City earthquake, we'll be bringing you the latest information that sent thousands of people fleeing into the streets. Also, they survived that spectacular emergency landing in the Hudson River and now they're about to finally get their luggage back.
Plus, inmates walk out of a prison as guards simply look on. How did it happen? The story behind the surveillance video.
ROBERTS: Video has emerged of a prison break unlike anything that we have ever seen, inmates literally walking out as their guards simply look on. CNN's Dan Simon joins us live with the pictures and the story. Dan, this seems incredible, what do we know about this?
DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi John, this is an enormous embarrassment for Mexico. If the allegations are true, it shows corruption at its worst, prison guards letting dangerous inmates go free, take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SIMON (voice-over): A prison break caught on security cameras and it appears those escaping had help on the inside. As the first prisoner opens his cell door, two guards just seem to watch. Soon 10 prisoners are out and they put the two guards in the cell. This surveillance video first obtained by the newspaper "Reforma," shows why Mexican officials now say it was an inside job. At least one of the inmates has gotten a hold of a gun. Another one picks up a blanket and throws it over a camera lens. Outside, it looks like a police convoy arriving and the front gate is opened. But the heavily armed men in police uniforms who enter the prison are soon seen casually leading the inmates out. Not a single shot is fired. The video also shows after the convoy gets away, it takes at least 30 seconds before any guards come out in pursuit. Officials say the gunmen wore fake police uniforms.
RICARDO NAJERA, ATTORNEY GENER'S OFFICE (translator): We are offering up to 1 million pesos for each of the fugitives and up to 3 million pesos for information that leads to the arrest of those who planned the escape.
SIMON: In dollars that's between $70,000 and more than $200,000 per reward. A manhunt is underway for the 53 inmates who escaped. Many of them believed to be drug traffickers and some considered highly dangerous.
SIMON: Forty guards have now been detained including three staffers as well as the prison director, all this John under investigation. Back to you.
ROBERTS: Amazing, more than 50 of them walking out. Dan Simon for us in San Francisco for us today. Dan thanks so much.
More on the breaking news this hour, we're going to have the latest information on the earthquake that rattled Mexico City this afternoon sending thousands of people fleeing into the streets.
ROBERTS: Fredricka Whitfield is monitoring stories incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Fred, what do you have for us?
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello John, hello everyone. The U.S. is one step closer to preventing swine flu. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it received what's called a candidate vaccine virus from the lab. The CDC has also developed a candidate virus. The agency hopes to send suitable viruses to manufacturers next week and says test vaccines may be ready by mid- June. The CDC estimates the swine flu has infected 100,000 people in the U.S.
Swirling winds, lightning and heavy rains, people in Germany are trying to clean up after a tornado tore through. There are no reported injuries but the storm is said to have damaged more than 60 homes in the northern part of the country. Authorities say the twister which surprised Germany's weather service caused about $5 million in damage.
And the American journalist accused of spying in Iran and imprisoned there for four months is back home in the U.S. Very happy there. She arrived in Washington, D.C. just a short time ago. Thirty-two year old Roxana Saberi grew up in North Dakota but moved to Iran six years ago. Saberi was convicted of spying in a closed door trial back in January. The U.S. repeatedly demanded that she be released. This month a court reduced her sentence and Saberi was freed, she talked about enduring her imprisonment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROXANA SABERI, JOURNALIST: One thing that kept me going when I was in prison was singing the national anthem to myself and it may sound corny, but I'm so happy to be back home in the land of the free. Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: And Saberi maintains her innocence. She says she will spend a few days in Washington before eventually returning back to North Dakota. Congrats to her. I know her family's happy she's back too. John?
ROBERTS: Absolutely, couldn't be anything but ecstatic. Fred, thanks very much.
There's a trend emerging when it comes to Americans and the way they see the recession and it's reflected in some new poll numbers that have just been released. Let's bring in CNN's senior political analyst Bill Schneider. Bill, does the public think that things are finally looking up?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well John, back in the '60s, the author Richard Perini(ph) wrote a book called "Been Down So Long it Looks Like up to Me." That's about where we are.
OBAMA: By no means are we out of the woods just yet. But from where we stand, for the very first time we're beginning to see glimmers of hope.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Do Americans see glimmers of hope? Only 28 percent say things are going well in the country. About the same number say things are very bad. The prevailing view? Things are pretty bad. When the number of Americans who say things are going well is this low, bad things happen to people in power. In 1980, Jimmy Carter was thrown out. In 1992, same thing happened to the first President Bush. And last year, republicans got wiped out. In most states, 2009 is not an election year. Saved by the calendar, except in California, where voters were asked to ratify a budget deal made by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the democratic legislature.
GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, (R) CALIFORNIA: They'll just say why are you bothering me again? I'm busy. You take care of it, you guys have sent Sacramento to take care of these problems, don't come to us. I'm angry, I'm upset.
SCHNEIDER: Will things get better in time for next year's midterm? The trend is in the right direction. The number of people who believe things are going well has been creeping up. Many economists believe the recession will end this year, but the treasury secretary warns --
TIMOTHY GEITHNER, TREASURY SECRETARY: Even as growth starts to turn positive, which will happen, unemployment is going to keep increasing for a while and it is not going to feel -- it is not going to feel better for a long time for millions of Americans.
SCHNEIDER: The last major recession ended in March 1991. Unemployment kept going up for more than a year. What happened? Well in 1992 we got angry voters, Ross Perot, the year of the woman, the economy, stupid, and a president thrown out of office. John?
ROBERTS: Bill Schneider for us. Bill, thanks so much.
They were in a plane crash and lived to tell about it. Now the survivors of January's miracle landing on the Hudson River have been given something else they thought that they would never, ever get.
Thirty years after his death, murdered gay rights activist Harvey Milk is still causing a stir this time at a California school. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ROBERTS: Today is the birthday of pioneering gay rights activist Harvey Milk, assassinated in 1978. He would have been 79 years old today. But more than three decades after his death, he is still a controversial figure. As one southern California student found out. CNN's Thelma Gutierrez has that story.
THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, the sixth grader says she chose Harvey Milk, the first openly gay public official in the country for her school project after watching actor Sean Penn win the Academy Award for his portrayal of Milk. She says she never would have imagined her power point presentation would cause such controversy.
GUTIERREZ (voice-over): The life of Harvey Milk, his rise in San Francisco politics, his gay activism, his murder, and legacy. A power point presentation that Natalie Jones, a sixth grader in Ramona, California, says she worked hard on for an independent studies assignment.
NATALIE JONES, SIXTH GRADER: There is no boundaries to it. It was -- you could use anything or any person.
My name is Harvey Milk and I'm here to recruit you! GUTIERREZ: Natalie says she chose Harvey Milk after watching "Milk," the Academy Award winning movie based on his life.
JONES: He stood for all minorities no matter what you were really and he gave all of them hope.
GUTIERREZ: But the day before her presentation she was called into the principal's office.
JONES: The principal is saying how great it was and how it was as good as a high school student's presentation pretty much. But then she told me that I might not be able to do it tomorrow because it was a sensitive matter. First, I was like, I didn't really understand it because I was, like, what? But then she explained to me because he was gay that not maybe all the parents might agree with their kid watching that.
GUTIERREZ: Citing policy on sex education, the district sent out letters to parents requiring parental permission to see the presentation during lunch recess. The ACLU says this is censorship.
DAVID BLAIR-LOY, ACLU ATTORNEY: The school district illegally discriminated against Natalie Jones based on the content of her speech.
GUTIERREZ: The Ramona Unified School District would not comment, but Natalie's mother Bonnie says she doesn't understand.
BONNIE JONES, NATALIE'S MOTHER: I just couldn't understand how that had to do with her doing a presentation on a guy that -- on a guy's life, on what he did.
GUTIERREZ: The ACLU says the district owes Natalie an apology, and must provide assurance it will not happen again.
GUTIERREZ: The ACLU is giving the school district five days to respond or it may file a lawsuit on behalf of the sixth grader, who earned a near perfect score for her written report. John?
ROBERTS: Thelma Gutierrez for us. Thelma thanks so much. Time now to check back in with Jack Cafferty, he has "The Cafferty File." Hey Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY: Thanks John. I'm glad I don't have to do this any more, in light of the economy, what advice would you give to a college graduate? And times are tough. This is the toughest economy most of these kids have ever seen. Sheri writes, "Look for work in a non profit organization. Although the pay probably won't be as much as you'd hope for, the intrinsic rewards that you'll get from helping those who cannot help themselves are priceless. You'll learn at a very early age you can get anything in life that you want if you just help enough other people get what they want."
Amber in Boston, "Don't think you're above the entry level position. We often think our recently-attained college education entitles us to something bigger and better, more exciting. Take what you can get in this economy and run with it. No, it may not be your favorite, but work hard and you'll at least have a chance. Good luck." Penny writes, "Look for the largest union in your area, except any position they are willing to offer and then relax. President Obama will take care of everything in your life from there." Doug writes, "Jack I disagree with you, I think the advice I'd give in today's economic times is to stay at home, find a job and contribute to the household financially. It would help out with the parents and it would allow them time to save a little money as well. I think the family unit gets stronger in troubled times and who else can you depend on?"
Karen writes, "Get a degree in something that leads to an actual job... nursing, engineering, etc. Any job that requires a license is a better choice. Forget psychology, sociology, art history, etc. There won't be jobs for those degrees for a long time. Be realistic, think about what society needs." Diane says, "Learn how to say, "You want fries with that?" with a smile on your face in both English and Spanish. And unless you want to live in your car, learn how to live with a lot of roommates." Hey, I had to do the equivalent of that when I graduated in 1974 and I'm one of the ones out there right now competing with you for that minimum wage job. So smile when you say that.
If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at cnn.com/caffertyfile, actually you might want to check it out if you're a college graduate or soon to be or a parents of the same. We got a lot of mail and some pretty interesting suggestions.
ROBERTS: There is some evidence Jack that psychologists are busier than ever now with all of that anxiety out there. So maybe some jobs in that field.
CAFFERTY: Speaking from personal experience?
ROBERTS: Not me. But I know folks who have. Thanks Jack.
Happening now, breaking news, a powerful earthquake rocks Mexico, tall buildings sway and terrified people run for their lives. New pictures and reports are coming in.
Plus, the commander in chief salutes a new generation of warriors, this hour the president reaches out to a McCain and he's talking about his contacts with George W. Bush in a brand new interview.
And a day they never thought they would ever live to see, the survivors of the miracle on the Hudson get pieces of their lives back. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm John Roberts, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.