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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Toyota Under Fire on Capitol Hill; Fixing America's Failing Schools
Aired February 23, 2010 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JESSICA YELLIN CNN ANCHOR: Tonight: behind the wheel of a car that just won't stop, one woman's riveting account -- why Toyota's fix for the problem might not really fix much.
And the lawmakers taking big money from Toyota, we are "Keeping Them Honest."
"Up Close" tonight: Will firing each and every teacher in a failing school solve the problem? We're about to find out. It just happened. And you will hear from both sides of the pink slip.
And late word about six Haitian orphans adopted by American parents, but stuck in legal limbo. Well, not anymore, and the news is good.
But first up tonight, she calls it her near-death experience, six miles of sheer terror at 100 miles an hour, trying desperately to stop her runaway Lexus.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RHONDA SMITH, TESTIFIED ABOUT LEXUS SUDDEN ACCELERATION: I prayed for God to help me.
I called my husband on the Bluetooth phone system. I knew -- I'm sorry.
I knew he could not help me, but I wanted to hear his voice one more time.
In 2006 and '07, we hoped that our efforts might spare others the unnecessary terror and pain of an SUA incident.
And it pains our hearts deeply to realize that we failed. But this failure is surely shared by Toyota and NHTSA today. In our view, they demonstrated an uncaring attitude and disregard for life. The results have been tragic. And today, I must say, shame on you, Toyota, for being so greedy. And shame on you, NHTSA, for not doing your job.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
YELLIN: Rhonda Smith testifying there before a congressional subcommittee today. Well, lawmakers grilling the company's president, Akio Toyoda, tomorrow. But, meantime, dealers have been installing new parts on millions of recalled vehicles. Still, today on the Hill, expert witnesses cast doubt on those repairs, doubt that Drew Griffin first exposed weeks ago.
And he's "Keeping Them Honest" tonight.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He is Toyota's top salesman in the U.S., and James Lentz in testimony and under questioning stuck to the pitch. Toyota's unintended acceleration problems are not electronic problems.
JAMES LENTZ, PRESIDENT AND CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER, TOYOTA MOTOR SALES USA: We've designed our electronic throttle system with multiple fail-safe mechanisms, to shut off or reduce engine power in the event of a system failure. We've done extensive testing of this system and we've never found a malfunction that's caused unintended acceleration.
GRIFFIN: According to Toyota, the problems are mechanical, stuck pedals, stuck floor mats, and therefore easily and cheaply fixable. But four leading experts in the field of sudden acceleration, car safety and automotive recalls, tell CNN that Toyota's explanations do not make sense.
CLARENCE DITLOW, CENTER FOR AUTO SAFETY: And, even today, Toyota says it can't be the electronic controls, but if you take the floor mats out, if the gas pedal doesn't stick, what's left? It's the electronic controls.
SEAN KANE, SAFETY RESEARCH STRATEGIES: I would say unequivocally that Toyota's explanations do not account for the -- the share of unintended acceleration complaints that we've examined.
Sean Kane with Safety Research Strategies, an automotive safety consulting firm that has tracked the sudden acceleration complaints literally for years now, says follow the data. Some, yes, are floor mats. Some, yes, he says, may be a stuck gas pedal. But that's the problem. The records show just some of the problems explained.
KANE: There's a series of patterns that are emerging that cannot be explained.
GRIFFIN: Rhonda Smith is one of those unexplained incidents, telling Congress her runaway Toyota Lexus didn't have a stuck gas pedal or a stuck floor mat. It just took off.
SMITH: I put the car into all available gears, including neutral, but then I put it in reverse, and I placed both feet on the brake. And I was going to have to put the car into the upcoming guardrail in order to prevent killing anyone else. GRIFFIN: This noisy electronics lab at the University of Maryland's Clark School of Engineering is where professor Mike Pecht specializes in laboratory-controlled interference testing. He believes Toyota still doesn't know what's causing the problems. Most likely, it's electronics. And that, he says, is a worst-case scenario for a car company losing sales.
MICHAEL PECHT, DEPARTMENT OF MECHANICAL ENGINEERING, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND: I think that the evidence is pointing that way. I think the evidence is pointing that way, absolutely.
GRIFFIN (on camera): So, any fix is not a fix?
PECHT: So -- so they're in a -- they're in a little bit of a -- a quandary. If they announce that the electronics is a problem, they're -- they're going to probably be in a -- in a lot of trouble because nobody is going to want to drive the car.
So I think, at this stage, they don't want to announce that there's an electronics problem.
YELLIN: God, Drew, it's a chilling report.
Today, James Lentz acknowledged that the current recalls won't completely fix all the problems, so how can they even be so confident that this is not an electronic problem?
GRIFFIN: I mean, that's a big question, right? The company is basing those statements on electronic testing that it had done that, quite frankly, one of our experts called amateurish.
Another said, at the least, the testing that Toyota has done is inadequate. The consensus seemed to be that Toyota at this point can't explain what is happening in a lot of these cases, Jessica, and, therefore, certainly can't fix it. And that is a terrible position to be in when -- especially when you're trying to sell these cars.
YELLIN: Yes, and I drive a Toyota.
So, let me ask you. The president of Toyota goes before Congress tomorrow. We have all been eagerly anticipating this. Do you expect that he will bring us anything new?
GRIFFIN: You know, we have advance statements from both the president of Toyota and the president of Toyota North America. Both of those advance statements seem to be sticking to the script. The president is going to say, look, Toyota grew too fast. We had our eye off the ball as far as safety, and we're going to reposition ourselves on safety.
But the president of Toyota North America is again saying we have rigorously tested our solutions and are confident with these repairs, and it's a mechanical problem.
To experts studying this, it just does not add up, Jessica.
YELLIN: Well, we will be watching his testimony closely tomorrow.
Thank you, Drew -- Drew Griffin.
All right, the live chat is up and running at AC360.com, if you would like to weigh in on all this.
And up next: what Toyota is buying with the millions it spends on lawmakers in Washington.
Also, mild-mannered Harry Reid's tough new talk about health care reform and what he's threatening to do to pass the bill.
Later, hear from one of 88 teachers and counselors all fired -- that's the entire staff, by the way -- because their school just wasn't making the grade. We will speak with a guidance counselor and the superintendent who fired him.
YELLIN: Toyota has a lot of problems -- no question about that -- but the company also has a lot of friends in Washington, high- powered, high-priced friends.
And, in our "Broken Government" segment tonight, who they are, what they get from Toyota, and how Toyota's influence reaches into the agencies that are supposed to be looking out for your safety.
Answers tonight from Joe Johns.
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Congresswoman Jane Harman sits on one of the congressional committees looking into Toyota. Last year, she reported that she held tens of thousands of dollars of Toyota stock, and her husband's company does business with Toyota.
So, Harman just announced she's recusing herself, saying she will not participate in the investigation of the company.
But other members with connections to Toyota are staying in the game, like Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia. Toyota sponsored and paid for in part a dinner where Rockefeller was honored last year, and Toyota runs a plan in Rockefeller's home state that created 1,500 jobs and close to $1 billion in investment.
His staff says he's going to stay with the investigation and that he will be tough on Toyota if he thinks they deserve it -- just two examples of the close connections between Congress, the policy-makers, and the foreign automaker that spent more money on lobbying in the U.S. than any other.
Toyota has spent $25 million on federal lobbying over the last five years, according to the independent researchers at OpenSecrets.org. And Dave Levinthal says it's hired more than a platoon of lobbyists.
(on camera): The revolving door in Washington, is that phenomenon?
DAVE LEVINTHAL, OPENSECRETS.ORG: Toyota employed in 2009 more than 30 federal lobbyists. And who are these lobbyists? Well, some of them are former members of Congress, former high-ranking congressional staffers. It's like a sports team.
You know, you want to get the best players to play on your team, so that you can win at the end of the day.
JOHNS: In other words, they go directly from setting policy about companies into lobbying for them. They're coveted because of their contacts and their access with their former colleagues.
Former regulators who use for the highway safety agency known as NHTSA now work for Toyota. In their new jobs, they try to influence government policy for Toyota. In fact, some have reportedly been defending the company from the same highway safety agency.
(voice-over): Toyota has said the men's actions -- quote -- "have been consistent with our efforts to maintain the highest professional and ethical standards."
But that brings us to sudden acceleration, the safety problem that's prompted all the congressional investigations. A confidential Toyota document turned over to the House Oversight Committee suggests that same office saved Toyota $100 million-plus by negotiating a limited recall over complaints about sudden acceleration in their vehicles, with the government finding no defect in its cars.
REP. DIANA DEGETTE (D), COLORADO: What was the role of NHTSA, and did they take this investigation seriously? Did they make a deal with Toyota that limited a tough and thorough investigation?
YELLIN: So, Joe, during the hearings today, there were a lot of tough questions.
Are you suggesting that these members were actually pulling their punches because of all the campaign cash they have gotten from Toyota?
JOHNS: Not at all. Today is an indication it could be a really tough period for Toyota.
But this is also, as you know, seen as theater on Capitol Hill. And the real question that's sort of being asked right now is whether all that power and influence and money Toyota provided actually got it protection from regulators that it wouldn't have had otherwise, before all of this came out in the open.
Did the regulators intentionally look the other way? Of course, the regulators, the folks over at NHTSA and elsewhere, already saying their problem is that they were strapped, they didn't have enough people or funding to do all the things they were expected to do.
And that is kind of a plausible argument, because you do know the last administration was pretty anti-regulation -- Jessica.
YELLIN: Joe Johns reporting -- thank you, Joe.
And, as always, we have a lot more online at AC360.com, where, tonight, you will find a profile of Toyota's namesake and president, who, as we said, will be testifying before Congress tomorrow.
And just ahead: some tough talk on health care, another "Broken Government" report ahead and all this week. Tonight, what is Harry Reid threatening? And is he bluffing or not?
Also up next: how Dick Cheney is doing and what doctors say sent him to the hospital yesterday.
And, later, the high school that canned its entire staff because the school just wasn't performing. You will hear from the fired guidance counselor and the woman who did all the firing.
YELLIN: Eighty-eight teachers -- that's the entire teaching staff -- in one of Rhode Island's worst-performing schools is being fired. those teachers and their supporters protested the move at a rally today.
And, tonight, we will hear from one of them and also from the school superintendent who is drawing both praise and fire for the decision.
But, first, some of the other important stories we're following tonight, and Brianna Keilar joins us with those with a 360 bulletin.
Brianna, good to see you.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good to see you, Jessica.
There are new details about Dick Cheney's health scare -- his office saying today the former vice president suffered a mild heart attack yesterday, but is feeling -- quote -- "good." It's the fifth heart attack the 69-year-old Cheney has survived. His first was when he was just 37. He's expected to be released from a Washington hospital in the next day or two.
Nearly 450 passengers on a Celebrity Cruises ship have been sickened with a gastrointestinal illness. The ship departed Charleston, South Carolina, a week ago headed for the Eastern Caribbean. And passengers began falling ill over the weekend -- the cause still unclear.
Torrential rain triggered a massive landslide on a tea plantation on Indonesia's main island of Java. Close to 30 homes were buried. Rescue officials have found four bodies so far, but dozens of people are reported missing.
A wild police chase in Texas ended with the suspect actually leaping from his moving car and trying to escape on foot. Well, he didn't get very far.
KEILAR: This chase...
KEILAR: ... actually began in Fort Worth. It lasted 45 minutes, reaching speeds up to 100 miles per hour. The suspect was wanted for parole violations and faces multiple charges.
YELLIN: He could have wished for a Toyota with an acceleration problem.
KEILAR: Why did he think he could get away with that?
KEILAR: I don't know. These high-speed chases -- can't get enough of that video, though.
Thank you, Brianna. All right.
Next on 360: firing the teachers for failing the kids. One district is sending out pick slips to the entire high school faculty. Are they to blame? We will hear from both sides coming up.
And, later, legal limbo -- a group of orphans in Haiti and the fight to bring them to the U.S. tonight. Our Gary Tuchman reports on a happy ending.
YELLIN: In Rhode Island tonight, a vote means mass layoffs at one struggling high school. This evening, city trustees approved the firing of all 88 teachers at Central Falls High School, where less than half the kids graduate, and almost all live in poverty.
Meanwhile, most of the teachers earn more than $70,000 a year. And pink slips could go out as early as tomorrow. Well, the trustees' vote follows the decision by the school superintendent. And we're going to talk to her in a moment. We're also going to talk to a teacher who's being fired.
But first up tonight, "Up Close," here's Randi Kaye.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is Central Falls High School in Rhode Island, where the poorest students in the state go to school. Seventy-five percent of the district lives in poverty. A good education may be their only shot at a brighter future.
So, to give these students a better chance, Central Falls' superintendent this week did something so radical, so unheard of, it's captured the nation's attention. She cleaned house, fired dozens of teachers, because the district says they refuse to spend more time with students to improve test scores.
DR. FRAN GALLO, SUPERINTENDENT, CENTRAL FALLS SCHOOL DISTRICT: We have a serious problem. When you have a 48 percent graduation rate, we lose more children than we graduate.
KAYE: Central Falls is one of the lowest-performing schools in the state. Of the 800 students, 65 percent are Hispanic. For most, English is a second language. Half are failing every subject. Just 55 percent are skilled in reading, only 7 percent proficient in math.
(on camera): Meanwhile, the majority of their teachers are earning between $72,000 and $78,000 a year, well above the national average. And the district says the teachers wanted even more money, as much as $90 an hour more, for the extra time spent with students.
(voice-over): This in a community where the latest census figures show the median income is $22,000. Based on federal guidelines, the superintendent proposed teachers work a longer school day, seven hours, tutor students weekly for one hour outside of school time, have lunch with students often, meet for 90 minutes every week to discuss education, and set aside two weeks during summer break for paid professional development.
A spokesman for the school district told me the teachers union wanted to negotiate the changes, so the superintendent felt she had no choice but to fire all 88 teachers for the next school year.
KATHY MAY, CENTRAL FALLS HIGH SCHOOL TEACHER: I'm disheartened. I feel like, after 20 years, I can see some progress beginning to be made. And I'm sad that we're not going to be around to follow that through, to push that forward.
KAYE (on camera): A spokesman for the teachers union called the firings -- quote -- "drastic" and told me, in the last two years, reading scores have gone up 21 percent. Math scores, he said, have also gone up 3 percent. The spokesman says that the teachers had accepted most of the changes, but just wanted to work out the compensation for the extra hours of work.
(voice-over): Before the pink slips went out, the teachers made this video to show their commitment to the students and try and save their jobs. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The people who are in that building are there because they wanted to be, which makes a big difference.
KAYE: The school district sure didn't see it that way, and now dozens of teachers who have taught here for decades suddenly need a job.
Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.
YELLIN: A little more background on this story.
Under new federal requirements for school reform, low-performing schools have four options for shaping up, including two that Randi just described in her report. Now, one is called the transformation model. It includes a series of changes that teachers just agree to adopt.
But when the negotiations on those changes failed at Central Falls High, the superintendent went with another option that's called the turnaround model, which means firing every single teacher at the troubled school.
Now, again, both options have the backing of the federal government.
And I earlier spoke to Fran Gallo, the superintendent of Central Falls School District, just a short time ago.
YELLIN: Let me ask you, firing these teachers en masse obviously extremely disruptive to the students, in the middle of the school year. You had no better alternative?
GALLO: Well, first of all, they're not dismissed as of today. It is the middle of the school year that a decision had to be made. But that's because of a Rhode Island law that insists that we notify teachers by March 1. It would not be my preference, but it is what it is.
YELLIN: So, these teachers will finish out the school year. There are 88 teachers in all. Is that what you're saying?
GALLO: Yes, ma'am.
YELLIN: Well, are you trying to wipe the slate clean and bring on board 88 entirely new teachers?
GALLO: No, that was not my preference to begin with.
But when we had to move from the transformation model, the next best move was the turnaround model. And that requires us to remove the teachers and rehire, of those who reapply, up to 50 percent.
YELLIN: OK, so some of them could get their jobs back.
Now, Dr. Gallo, the teachers say they have been improving test scores over the last few years. Is it a little unfair to blame the problems at the school solely on the teachers?
GALLO: Absolutely it would be unfair, but it isn't solely on the shoulders of the teachers.
This is an entire community issue. And we have been working on it. I have been in the district three years, and we began with a very low attendance rate. We have improved that attendance rate. It is now in the 90s, 89 percent and 90 percent attendance.
So, we are working on a host of problems over a long period of time. But we really have been tinkering around the edges with that. This is a major move, for a very significant reason, and that being that we couldn't hone in on the assurances we needed for the transformation model.
YELLIN: So, obviously, this is going to be extremely dispiriting for the teachers the rest of the year. What if the teachers union now says, OK, we accept the original terms? Is it too late to turn back, or could you accept a renegotiated settlement now?
GALLO: Well, there's been an awful lot of inappropriate language and letters written. And the teachers have brought all the students into the issue.
This would be a very difficult thing to turn around. I -- I can't imagine that that would be possible. But, on the other hand, I don't discount a thing. And if, as we approach 120 days of planning as we move forward, if indeed something of that effect comes around, then I still think we have a lot of doors that could be opened.
YELLIN: All right, Dr. Gallo, a very drastic, but also very bold move. Thanks for being with us. And we wish luck to you and to the students in your district.
GALLO: Thank you, ma'am.
YELLIN: And, at 360, we bring you all sides of the issue. You just heard from the head of the school district.
So, now let's talk with a guidance counselor who's being fired. George McLaughlin isn't the only one in his family getting a pink slip. So is his wife, who's a chemistry teacher.
So, Mr. McLaughlin, first, thanks for joining us.
You have just learned that you and your wife could soon be out of jobs. So, tell us what's going through your mind at this moment.
GEORGE MCLAUGHLIN, FIRED GUIDANCE COUNSELOR: Thank you, Jessica. Well, it's a sad day for me, for my family, and for Central Falls, especially our students. What's going through my mind is that this was all avoidable. It was all avoidable.
YELLIN: Well, let me ask...
MCLAUGHLIN: But there's a political...
YELLIN: Go -- let me ask you, what is the problem at this school? How did it really get this bad, because, clearly, there is a problem? Only half the students graduate.
MCLAUGHLIN: Well, look, we live -- we have the most transient population in this state. Nobody comes close to us. So when they say that 50 percent of the people graduate, a very high percentage of our students leave our school. They return. They leave again. They go back to other countries.
You know, Will Rogers said don't believe everything you read in the newspapers. Well, don't believe everything you hear about statistics. I know for a fact we have three times as many students who are accepted to colleges now as they were five years ago. How do I know that? I'm in the guidance office, and I do most of that work.
YELLIN: OK. Let me ask you...
MCLAUGHLIN: Nobody's talking about those kinds of statistics.
YELLIN: There are a lot of teachers that teach in troubled school districts, and I understand there are issues in your district, too, but teachers here have been the one constant at your school. And even though, as you point out, test scores have been improving, maybe even college acceptance levels, they still remain abysmal. So why not just start with a clean slate here? It sounds tough, but why not?
MCLAUGHLIN: Well, this superintendent has been with us for a little more than three years. I've been here for 15 years. Most of our -- many of our teachers came from Central Falls themselves. They grew up here and went away to college and came back and chose to teach in the community they grew up in.
She doesn't seem to be interested in the history of our city, one One-Square-Mile City. It's the smallest municipality in the smallest state in the union. And it seems to me as though, if she were willing to negotiate, listen to someone like Lincoln Chafee, who is a former senator from our state, who stood out in front of our school yesterday and said he would mediate, then maybe we could resolve this instead of causing more trauma to us.
YELLIN: Well, let me ask you -- let me ask you about these negotiations and, frankly, about money. Because our understanding, as Randi Kaye reported, is the negotiations broke down because the union was fundamentally asking for more money for the extra time that's asked of the teachers.
But the fact is that many of your students live in poverty, whereas many of their teachers make over $70,000 a year. So was this really all about cash?
MCLAUGHLIN: First of all, you're wrong. It wasn't just about money. Money was never even -- never got to the table. It was about job security, and it was about sitting down and working out all the details. As far as I know, management walked out.
When Lincoln Chafee made this announcement yesterday in front of our school that he was willing to mediate, two hours later he was given an answer by management here saying no. Why no? Why not yes for us and for our children here?
YELLIN: Well, let me ask you a question that I asked Dr. Gallo. Is there any chance you could go back to the table and resume negotiations? Would you be -- would the teachers be willing?
MCLAUGHLIN: We're ready.
MCLAUGHLIN: As far as I know, everybody in this school is ready at any table at any time to talk to Superintendent Gallo and the board of trustees and anybody else who wants to be involved.
We've said that from the beginning when everything broke down. And as far as I know, they walked away from the table. We've said it over and over and over again.
There seems to be some other agenda here. They don't seem to be listening to us. And if they don't listen to us soon, the tragedy won't just be for myself and my family after 32 years in education. It will be for Central Falls as a city.
The former governor of this state graduated from this high school, Lincoln Almond. We have many, many people throughout the country who have become famous and have great influence, and the history of this place will go down the river.
YELLIN: All right, George McLaughlin. Thank you for your time tonight. And I wish you also very good luck and to your students.
MCLAUGHLIN: Thank you, Jessica.
YELLIN: And a reminder, you can join the live chat now underway at AC360.com.
Next on 360, Harry Reid plays hardball. He's pushing the health- care bill and vowing to get it passed with or without Republicans. But the question is how? We're going to tell you, coming up.
And later, a group of Haitian orphans and the fight to bring them to the U.S. Tonight, the battle is over. We'll tell you the outcome when 360 continues.
YELLIN: In "Raw Politics," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said today he may use a controversial parliamentary short cut to pass a health-care bill. This fast-track approach is known as reconciliation, and it would allow Democrats to pass health-care reform without any Republican support.
Now this, of course, is just days ahead of the president's big health-care summit that's supposed to be all about bipartisanship. Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, joins us now live.
Dana, hi, and how likely is it really that Democrats are going to use this tactic, reconciliation, to push through health-care reform?
DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It seems very likely, Jessica.
Look, it is a very cumbersome, very complicated tactic, but you know, the reality is that, as soon as Democrats lost their Massachusetts Senate seat and lost their 60-vote super majority in the Senate, they knew that this was the most likely scenario for salvaging their health-care scenarios.
And the Senate Democratic leader, as you said, he was really the strongest that he ever has been today in suggesting he would use the parliamentary short cut to pass the Democrats' version of health care.
And you walk through the halls like I did today, and you hear Republicans saying, "Wait a minute. Why are we planning to go to this six-hour live summit at the White House to talk about health care when Democrats are already planning on going ahead without us?"
Listen to the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, and then Harry Reid after that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: We're happy to go down there. I'm always pleased to see him. He's fun to be around. And I'm sure we'll have a great six hours. But it looks to me like he's already posted on the Internet what he would like to see the majority jam through.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Nothing is off the table. We'll be happy to take a look at that, but realistically, they should stop crying about reconciliation as if it's never been done before. It's done almost every Congress. And they're the ones that used it more than anyone else.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: Jessica, Reid said that reconciliation has been used 21 times since 1981. Just the fact that he was armed with those statistics and a defense shows how seriously they are considering using this parliamentary tactic, which again, would just need 51 votes to pass health care.
One interesting thing I heard from Democratic sources I'm sure you'll find interesting, as well, and that is that one of the main reasons the president came out with his plan yesterday is actually to bridge the Democratic divide ahead of this summit in the hopes of, once they do that, using this tactic to get a health-care bill to his desk.
YELLIN: So let's talk about the politics of reconciliation. Because Democrats have to be concerned that there's at least some political danger in looking like they're jamming through health-care reform when they're trying to talk about bipartisanship.
BASH: Absolutely. And there certainly is some concern. For example, Blanche Lincoln, Democrat from Arkansas, she's in a very tough re-election battle this year. She has already said no way, she can't support this.
But it actually surprised me and our congressional producer, Ted Barrett, today. We were walking around, talking to some -- informally polling Senate Democrats, and we found that there was actually more support than we thought there would be for using this.
I think the main reason is that there still is a feeling -- even though this is very controversial, this Democratic health-care plan, feeling it is worse politically to do nothing.
And there's something else, and that is that there is a growing backlash among the Democratic base, inside the Democratic base, Jessica, saying a majority is a majority and you have a huge, huge control over Washington, both in Congress, of course, and the White House. And, you know, we can't take no for an answer. Get something done on this health-care bill. And that's why you're seeing more and more talk, serious talk about trying to push it through with this tactic. That certainly is controversial.
YELLIN: It's going to be a lively next week and a half, I guess, Dana. Thanks for staying on top of this.
BASH: Thanks, Jess.
YELLIN: All right. Health-care reform, the battle definitely comes to mind when you think of "Broken Government." It is a perfect example of the political logjam we face. The health-care meeting President Obama is hosting Thursday is supposed to be a last-ditch effort to hammer out a compromise. But given Congress' track record on the issue, is there really hope for bipartisanship this late in the game?
Joining me now, our chief business correspondent, Ali Velshi, and Peter Beinart, senior political writer for the Daily Beast and a contributor at "TIME" magazine. He wrote the current issue's cover story, "Frozen Government."
So Peter, let me start with you. The Republicans are crying foul. They say since Harry Reid is stealing Republicans to stop crying, that they're going to use reconciliation anyway, it gives the lie to the president's health-care summit and suggests it's just political theater. Is that a fair criticism?
PETER BEINART, SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER, THE DAILY BEAST: Yes, I think it is just political theater. I think the truth is that nobody can realistically expect the Republican Party is going to change their opposition to this -- to this bill.
But I think the Democrats have a reasonable case which starts with the understanding that the Republicans have used the filibuster in a really historically unprecedented way, much more often than people have historically.
And we do not have a political system in the United States in which -- in which you should expect that you need 60 votes to do anything in the U.S. Senate.
So in those circumstances, I think the idea of going through reconciliation, you still need a majority. It seems to me it's pretty reasonable.
YELLIN: All right. Let's get back to the stalemate and the politics in a minute. I want to bring in Ali Velshi to give us the context, because the president has come out with what he calls, Ali, a compromise health-care plan. Does it really actually break the log jam in Congress? Because does it even address the issue of cost, which is what this was supposed to be about to begin with?
ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: Jessica, when -- when you look at why Americans who are opposed to health care are opposed to it, cost is one issue; access quality of care, choice, things like that.
But in terms of cost, the president in his proposal that he put on the Internet on Monday, doesn't bring down the cost. In fact, if your opposition is that health care is too expensive, he's not doing a lot to address that.
None hundred and fifty billion dollars is the president's estimate. The Congressional Budget Office, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which has offered estimates of what this health care will cost over time, hasn't put out an estimate on this and won't unless it becomes a bill. Or at least becomes the makings of a bill.
So the bottom line is, we don't know how much it's going to cost. The president has said that, over 10 years, his proposal that he's put out there will actually save $100 billion, but again, no -- no independent measure of that just yet.
But, you know, to Peter's point, on Monday, we thought that this was the first effort as -- at a compromise. And, as -- as Dana reported early on Monday, there was just no sign that that was actually going to be the case. If anything, everybody's dug in as much as they were before the president put out this compromise.
YELLIN: Right. And to some extent, the president's plan is an effort just to get the Democrats on the same page...
YELLIN: ... as Dana has reported tonight. All right. So -- so Peter, let me read you something. I've been e-mailing with a White House official who describes the summit meeting on Thursday this way. This person says, "At a bare minimum, nothing bad can come from the American people watching the debate on health care. The odds may be long, but we're hopeful, and the president is open minded."
So what is the president's plan for Thursday's summit? What's the ideal outcome?
BEINART: Well, I think first of all, the president is a better debater than the Republicans. I think that's pretty clear. He knows these issues better than they do. And I think this is a chance to move public opinion.
The other thing about polling on this, although it's clear that, in polls, Americans say they're skeptical of this health-care effort, in polls that break down the component parts, actually, Americans say they like the component parts of these efforts. So it's possible the White House thinks that, if they can do a better job of explaining what's actually in the bill, they may have a chance to move public opinion at least a little bit.
VELSHI: That's been the challenge for the last 2 1/2 years on the economy, too. You're right. Anybody who can explain it might just get supporters because they explained it well. But this is as complicated as the financial crisis. That is a big challenge that the White House has to face.
YELLIN: And Peter, let me put this to you. If the Republicans come into this meeting and don't want to compromise with the president, and the president doesn't make headway in getting a new bill written, what do we end up with? What are the next steps?
BEINART: Well, I think the next step is this move for reconciliation. You know, the thing that's important to remember about reconciliation is the Democrats don't need to hold all their votes. They have 59. They only need 50-50. And Joe Biden could break the tie. So people like Blanche Lincoln, as Dana mentioned, could oppose it, but they would still get it through.
I think the tougher vote would be in the House, where -- where the Democrats did only pass their health-care bill by a fairly small margin. That's why I think Obama would love to be able to convince people that the public opinion is shifting, at least just a little bit, in his favor.
YELLIN: All right. Well, we'll see who wins the game of political theater on Thursday. Peter Beinart, Ali Velshi, thanks to both of you for being here tonight.
And still ahead, new developments in the story of six Haitian children. They were delayed from leaving the country to join their new adopted families. But their American escorts were questioned by police for hours, the kids taken to an orphanage then moved again. Our Gary Tuchman has the latest next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
YELLIN: In Haiti tonight, a new development in an emotional story we've been following for some time: the fate of six children.
As we've been telling you, those six orphans were to be flown to the U.S., but over the weekend they were seized by Haitian authorities and placed in government custody. That after the three women were to take the children to America were accused of having papers with a fake authorization signature from the prime minister. The women were detained for nine hours, the children taken away.
But tonight, it seems a happy ending.
Tonight we have an important update to tell you. Gary Tuchman is live from Haiti with all the new details.
Gary, tell us: what have you learned?
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jessica, the Haitian government says there was a miscommunication. Today, the prime minister of this country and the ambassador smoothed it all over, and tonight a very happy reunion at the U.S. embassy here in Port-au- Prince. The six orphans back with the three women who will take them to their new families in Florida tomorrow.
Police detaining these women over this weekend, saying there was a fraudulent signature, but that was all wrong. As it turns out, it was right. The signature was good. But the orphans were separated from the women, brought to an orphanage they'd never been to before. The women weren't allowed to visit the orphans over the last 72 hours.
But a big scare today. They went to visit before the approval. The orphans were gone. They had disappeared. Well, what happened was they sent them to a new orphanage. The people at the first orphanage had never told anybody. But U.S. embassy personnel found them, brought them to the women at the embassy, and we have the great honor of taking the three orphans and -- or the sick orphans that is, and the three women in our CNN van, because they didn't have a ride at all. They had a friend's house they had to go to, and we brought them there this evening.
TUCHMAN: I would now like to introduce you to these six little boys who got an approval to go to the United States. And this right here is Sara Thacker (ph). Sara (ph) is the mother of little Reese. There's three women who are detained. There are several parents who are going to get the five other children. But this is Sara's (ph) son.
How do you feel right now, Sara (ph)?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Fantastic.
TUCHMAN: It was a wild couple of days for you, wasn't it? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, it required a lot of patience and strength to get through it. Yes.
TUCHMAN: I mean today, when you went through the orphanage and your kids weren't there, that was very frightening, wasn't it?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Very frightening.
TUCHMAN: But it's all ended up happily?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All ended up happy.
TUCHMAN: OK. Well, this is Stephanie over here. And this is Maria. Maria works at the orphanage and helped raise all these children. Maria won't be going to Florida with them, but you must be very happy right now.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am. I'm so excited.
TUCHMAN: Tell us who these kids are and where they're going. First of all, start here.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is Jeff and Jeff's younger brother Simon.
TUCHMAN: And they're going where?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're going to Montana.
TUCHMAN: OK. And this is Ben?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is Ben, and Ben will be going to Minnesota.
TUCHMAN: OK. This young man?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is Albert. And Albert is going to Iowa.
TUCHMAN: OK. And this young man who I'm holding?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's Malachi. And Malachi is (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
TUCHMAN: You're going to Pennsylvania.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wow!
TUCHMAN: OK. That's very good.
And, of course, this is Reese, and Reese is going to the great state of?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Minnesota.
TUCHMAN: And the great town of? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Fergus Falls.
TUCHMAN: Fergus Falls, Minnesota. So everyone, these are the young little boys, going home tomorrow.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tomorrow.
TUCHMAN: So congratulations to all of you. It's been a tough time, but these are some very, very grateful people.
TUCHMAN: Now the women and these orphans were supposed to leave this Saturday. When they got to the airport, a huge number of Haitian men and women started surrounding them and said, "Don't steal our children. Don't kidnap our children, you missionaries."
The police ultimately came. What this is a result of is the people here, many people are very scared and fearful and angry about the ten U.S. missionaries who were arrested and charged with kidnapping. And Haitian authorities have been very careful now in allowing adopted children to leave the country.
But these women were never charged with anything. They were detained for nine hours. And as it turns out, they were 100 percent right, handled it all correctly. And tomorrow night at this time when you're all watching ANDERSON COOPER 360, these six children will be with their new moms and dads in the United States of America -- Jessica.
YELLIN: Great story, Gary. Thanks for bringing us a happy ending on that one. Gary Tuchman from Haiti.
And just ahead, it was first Tiger Woods, and now another celebrity is headed back to rehab in an attempt to save his marriage. We're going to tell you what Charlie Sheen's move means for his hit TV show.
And our tribute to the Olympics and some of the spectacular crashes on the slopes and on the ice. See who won the gold, silver and bronze medals in our "360 Crashes Competition." It's our "Shot of the Day," coming up.
KEILAR: Let's get caught up on some other important stories. Brianna Keilar joins us again with a "360 News & Business Bulletin" -- Brianna.
KEILAR: Jessica, 702 banks in the U.S., or nearly 1 out of 11 are at risk of failing. That is according to a new government report. And that's the highest level in 17 years.
And a 360 follows. Former NBA star Jayson Williams is sentenced to five years in prison for shooting to death his limo driver in 2002. Williams pleaded guilty to aggravated assault in the death last month, avoiding a retrial on reckless manslaughter after a jury deadlocked on the charge in 2004.
And police in Vancouver, Canada, say they've received a substantial amount of tips in their search for Andrew Koenig, who is best known for his role as Boner on the 1980s sitcom "Growing Pains."
The actor vanished on Valentine's Day. His parents say at the time he was despondent and suffering from depression.
And actor Charlie Sheen has checked into rehab and is taking a break from his CBS show "Two and a Half Men." The move comes nearly two months after his arrest in Colorado for attacking his wife Brooke. She, Jessica, is also in rehab for substance abuse.
YELLIN: All right, we'll leave that one alone, Brianna.
Let's turn instead to tonight's "Shot." Can't say we don't turn our camera on ourselves. We are saluting 360's own Olympic-ish athletes for better and, believe me, for worse.
All right. There have been a lot of falls at the winter games. Here are pictures of just a few. But they don't give out medals for crashes or embarrassing crashes in Vancouver. Count on us, because we do.
So let's celebrate the on-air moments here at CNN that make us laugh.
So we begin tonight first with the bronze medal and it goes to our own Tom Foreman, who risked personal injury in his attempt to jump on a desk. I guess that's the picture there after a doctor was summoned and Tom was treated. Poor Tom Foreman. Such a good guy. He's OK. A trooper, a warrior. And deserving. We give him the bronze.
Turning now to the silver. David Mattingly for courage under fire. Check this out, Brianna. What do you think those are?
KEILAR: I think -- I know they're Asian carp, aren't they?
YELLIN: Very good. Flying fish in the Illinois river. The Asian carp literally hurl themselves out of the water. Let's take a look as David took a direct hit from one of these guys.
DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh! Ouch!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Keep filming.
MATTINGLY: That hurt!
YELLIN: It's got to hurt the manhood when you're attacked by a fish. David kept his composure. The judges were impressed.
But we're turning, Brianna, to the gold medal winner. Guess who it was? No contest.
KEILAR: No contest. YELLIN: Hands down, the judges give it to, you can say...
KEILAR: Rick Sanchez, ladies and gentlemen.
YELLIN: He willingly allowed himself to be tasered. Can't see this video enough.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: I'm about to receive 50,000 volts of electricity. Do it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: It's not funny, but it's funny.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SANCHEZ: It hurts.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: You know, he did it to himself. And there's been so much controversy in the Olympics about, you know, gold or silver and who's getting it. But I think in that case, clearly gold, right?
YELLIN: He gets the gold. Thanks, Brianna.
And we have a lot more coming up at the top of the hour.