Return to Transcripts main page


BP Oil Spill Investigation; Republican Tsunami in November; Reading the Tea Leaves for Tea Party Candidates in Key Swing States; Angelina Jolie Visits Flood-Ravaged Pakistan

Aired September 8, 2010 - 07:00   ET



JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Controversy over Cordoba, the man behind an Islamic cultural center and mosque blocks from New York City's Ground Zero is breaking his silence, promising that the project will not stop. Financial backers identified and tonight he speaks exclusively with CNN.


ROBERTS: Good morning. Thanks for joining us to the Most News in the Morning on this Wednesday, the 8th of September. I'm John Roberts.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Kiran Chetry. We're going to have more on the imam and the Ground Zero mosque in a moment, but first, some other top stories this morning.

And it's the economy. President Obama's $350 billion plan to stimulate the economy is going to be rolled out in Cleveland today. The White House is not calling it a stimulus. Republicans, of course, panning it. We're going to hear from the president himself. Ten minutes from now, we're also going hear from his top adviser, David Axelrod, about why he thinks this approach will work when similar attempts have seemed to fail.

ROBERTS: More than 7,000 acres are burning just outside of Boulder, Colorado. The governor has declared a state of emergency. Close to 100 buildings have burned to the ground, and it could be days before some 3,500 people can return home.

CHETRY: BP getting ready to release the results of its own investigation into the cause behind the oil spill. Their report due to come out any moment now. Our Ed Lavandera has been monitoring the situation for us. We're going to check in with him for a live report in just a couple of minutes.

ROBERTS: And of course, the "AM Fix" blog is up and running. Join the live conversation going on right now at

CHETRY: We have two controversies going on involving the U.S. and Muslim worlds, one happening in New York and one in Florida.

ROBERTS: Each promises to ignite and enflame intense reaction as we're three days away now from observing the September 11th attacks.

First, the man behind the controversial Islamic center in downtown Manhattan just from blocks ground zero is breaking his silence. He's speaking out this morning in an op-ed in "The New York Times." He promises the Cordoba Islamic Center will go on as planned.

CHETRY: Also in Florida, a pastor of a small church is still planning to burn copies of the Quran this weekend. He's talking about General Petraeus' comments that his book burning will put more Americans in harm's way. We're going to hear from him just ahead.

ROBERTS: First though to the Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, developer of the Islamic center and mosque just blocks from New York City's ground zero now addressing the controversy in a "New York Times" op-ed this morning.

He writes, quote, "We are proceeding with the community center. More important, we are doing so with the support of the community, government at all levels, and leaders from across the religious spectrum."

He goes on to say, "As I travelled overseas I saw firsthand how their words and actions made a tremendous impact on the Muslim street and on Muslim leaders. It was striking, a Christian president and a Jewish mayor supporting the rights of Muslims. Their statement sent a powerful message about what America stands for and will be remembered as a milestone in improving American-Muslim relations."

CNN Deb Feyerick now with a closer look at the imam who despite the firestorm says he is committed to working for peace.


DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: If you never heard him speak, this is what Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf has to say.

IMAM FEISAL ABDUL RAUF, AMERICAN SOCIETY FOR MUSLIM ADVANCEMENT: The major theme in Islam is the oneness of god and that we should worship one god, love and adore the one god.

FEYERICK: People who know Imam Feisal say he's a voice of moderation. The State Department --

P.J. CROWLEY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: His work on tolerance and religious diversity is well known.

FEYERICK: The developer of the controversial Islamic center near ground zero.

SFARIF EL-GAMAL, CEO SOHO PROPERTIES: He is somebody who has sacrificed his life to building bridges within communities.

FEYERICK: Islamic scholar and university professor John Esposito.

FEYERICK (on camera): How you would describe him? Is he a threat?

PROF. JOHN ESPOSITO, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: Feisal is, from my point of view, he is Mr. Mellow.

FEYERICK (voice-over): Imam Feisal is a Sufi Muslim, at the other end of the Islamic section from the radical theology that feeds groups like Al Qaeda.

ESPOSITO: He approaches Islam spiritually. He is of Sufian background, which means one pursues, if you will, a more kind of spiritual, mystical path. He is somebody who finds terrorism and religious extremism as abhorrent. He's run a mosque in this area for years and years and years.

FEYERICK: That mosque is ten blocks from ground zero and has co- existed peacefully in the Tribeca neighborhood for 28 years.

ESPOSITO: He is integrated himself into the community.

FEYERICK: According to his biography, Feisal Abdul Rauf was born in Kuwait in 1948 into an Egyptian family steeped in religious scholarship. In 1997 he founded the nonprofit American Society for Muslim Advancement. Its mission described on the website as "Strengthening an authentic expression of Islam based on cultural and religious harmony through interfaith collaboration, youth, and women's empowerment."

Several years later, Rauf founded the Cordoba Institute to improve relations between the Muslim world and the west, writing how American Muslims can help bridge the divide. The State Department noticed, sending him as a cultural ambassador on four trips to the Middle East, most recently this summer.

GRAEME BANNERMAN, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: They tried to get people who reflect the best aspects of American societies.

FEYERICK: Rauf is often asked to speak at meetings like the World Economic Forum in Davos. He was criticized after 9/11 for saying U.S. support of repressive regimes is partly responsible for the attacks, but maintained his remarks on "60 Minutes" had been taken out of context.

Rauf supports Israel's right to exist but says as a bridge builder, he can't condemn radically Palestinian group Hamas as terrorists. Asked for the proposed Islamic center and mosque near ground zero, he says that, too, is about bridges.

RAUF: This is also our expression of the 99.999 percent of Muslims all over the world, including in America who have condemned and continue to condemn terrorism. This is about our stand as the Muslim community.

FEYERICK: But right now this moderate Muslim cleric finds himself at the eye of a storm.

Deborah Feyerick, CNN, New York. (END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf will appear exclusively on tonight's "LARRY KING LIVE" where he will speak with CNN's Soledad O'Brien. That's tonight at 9:00 eastern right here on CNN.

And if you want to submit a video question for the imam, there is still time to do it. The deadline is today at noon. Go to

CHETRY: To Florida now and the controversy there over a small church pastor's plans to burn copies of the Quran on 9/11. Terry Jones is the pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center. They have about 50 congregates.

You may remember I questioned him yesterday about this whole issue, and he said that he was still praying about it and the only way he'll back down is if god tells him to.

Last night he seemed to get a bit more strident in his intentions, firing back at comments by General David Petraeus who said that burning Islam's holy book will put American troops in danger.


TERRY JONES, PASTOR, DOVE WORLD OUTREACH CENTER: Right now I have plans to continue. We are thinking about it. We are praying about it. As I said, we are taking his concerns very seriously. The general needs to point his finger to radical Islam and tell them to shut up. Tell them to stop. Tell them that we will not bow our knees to them.

We are burning a book. We are not killing someone. We're not murdering people.


CHETRY: Well, there are more high profile leaders weighing in on this controversy this morning. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg in this morning's "Wall Street Journal" writing "I'm here to defend his right to do that. I happen to think it is distasteful but the First Amendment protects everybody, and you can't say we're going to apply the first amendment to only those cases where we are in agreement."

However, members of the Obama administration are coming out against the plan. Attorney General Eric Holder calling the Quran burning "idiotic" and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaking out, saying she is glad so many leaders from all faiths are saying they're against this plan to burn the Quran.


HILLARY CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I am heartened by the clear, unequivocal condemnation of this disrespectful, disgraceful act. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: And Secretary Clinton echoed General Petraeus' comments that burning the Quran would endanger our troops overseas.

ROBERTS: To politics now. Later on today the president is going to deliver a big speech in Cleveland. He'll be detailing a new plan to kick start the economy and create jobs. The stakes are high, and so is the price tag -- $350 billion.

We're told we'll be seeing a more personal side of the president when he speaks this afternoon. Here now with a preview is David Axelrod, the senior adviser to President Obama. He joins us live from the White House briefing room.

David, thank you so much for being with us.


ROBERTS: Let me ask you first of all, David, before we get into the -- excuse me. You would mind not doing that while I'm talking? Thank you. I appreciate that. If you don't mind.

David if, I could just Terry Jones and this Quran burning that is planned for September 11th, what does the president think about that? Does the president -- is he as concerned about it as other members of his administration are?

AXELROD: Well, sure. John, look, the reverend may have the right to do what he's doing. But it's not right. It's not consistent with our values.

You know, I'm someone who came to this -- I'm an American because my father came to this country after his home was blown up because of the faith his family practiced. And his family came to America because this is a -- this was place of religious freedom. It made us the envy of the world.

And we ought to protect -- protect those values, beyond which it jeopardizes our security as General Petraeus spoke to yesterday. So the president, I would join all the other leaders who have spoken out to denounce that plan.

ROBERTS: Do you expect -- he said he'll only back down if god tells him to. Do you expect that the 11th hour he's going to receive a message from god who will tell him not to go ahead and do this?

AXELROD: I am not in a position to judge his communications with the almighty. But I hope his conscience and good sense will take hold. This is not the right thing to do. It's not good for our country. It's not consistent with our values. If can you burn the holy book of one faith, one day you can burn the holy book of another faith the next. We ought to be promoting religious tolerance, not shredding it. ROBERTS: Now let's go to the president's economic plan that he's going to unveil this afternoon, specifically this $50 billion infrastructure revitalization plan. Paul Krugman of the "New York Times," who has been a fan of much of what you have done, says "It's a good idea, it's much too small, and it's not going to pass anyway." What do you say to that?

AXELROD: I think he's wrong on all counts. First of all, what we're talking about is front loading a larger six-year surface transportation program. So this would be the beginning of the program. And we believe that it will allow us to rebuild hundreds of thousands of miles of roads, of railways, of runways, and jumpstart the construction industry in this country, which has been the hardest hit in this recession.

So we -- and I also believe, because there's been bipartisan support in the past for the surface transportation program that we can get support in the future. Maybe not in the next two months because we can't, you know, we've had a hard time even getting tax cuts for small businesses passed by the Republicans in the Senate have held it up with procedural maneuvers.

But ultimately, I think the public will demand and the Congress will accede, the Republicans in Congress, to ideas that will help move this economy forward.

ROBERTS: One of the other big issues on the table there, David, are the Bush tax cuts which are set to expire at the end of this year and what to do about them.

The president will argue today they should expire for the wealthiest Americans but stay in place for middle income Americans. Peter Orzag, as you know, your former budget director in an op-ed the other day in the "New York Times," said this, quote, "Higher taxes would crimp consumer spending, further depressing the already inadequate demand for what firms are capable of producing at full tilt."

He says, "A better idea is leave them in place for a couple years and then eliminate the tax cuts for everybody." What do you say to that?

AXELROD: First of all, you have to go back and read the top of Peter's column, because what he said is he would prefer if we didn't move forward on the tax cuts for higher income people because he didn't think they were useful, but he thought we might have to in order to get them passed. He was offering a legislative strategy.

On substance what we need are the middle class tax cuts. The middle class has taken it -- taken the hardest hit in the last ten years, not just in the recession, but before that under policies that saw their income flat-line. And so we need to do what we can to propel the middle class.

One of the things that the president is going to talk about is that the middle class is the heartbeat of our economy. If you don't have a healthy middle class, you won't have the sustained growth you need. So we'll fight for that.

As for the upper income tax cuts, what we're talking about is a $700 billion borrowing essentially over the next ten years to give a tax cut almost entirely to millionaires and billionaires. More than half of that tax cut go to people who make $8 million a year or more.


AXELROD: And we don't have the money for that.

ROBERTS: And that point has been made several times. But if Congress were to come forward with a plan, leaving the tax cuts in place for a period of time, would the president veto it?

AXELROD: Look, the president's made his position absolutely clear. He believes that's we should move forward. He is not going to support -- he is not going to support --

ROBERTS: But would he veto that?

AXELROD: -- if it includes a permanent extension of the high income tax cut, he absolutely would, because we don't have $700 billion to spend on tax cuts for people who don't need them and weren't asking for them. We have to help the middle class, move our economy forward, deal with the deficits that exploded under the last administration, and get our economy back on track. And that's what we're about the business of doing.

ROBERTS: All right, David Axelrod, thanks for joining us this morning. We look forward to the speech later on today.

And when the president delivers the remarks on the economy this afternoon, CNN is the only place to be. We'll bring it you to live beginning at 2:10 p.m. eastern time.

CHETRY: We told you this report was going to come out during the course of our show. We're just getting the breaking news that BP released its findings. We have several people pouring through it right now to get you the latest on what BP thinks was behind the largest oil spill we've seen.

Meantime, we're also heading to Pakistan where actress Angelina Jolie brings the plight to millions there on the world stage. She is a U.N. good will ambassador. She has now toured the flood-ravaged region and spent a lot of time talking to the afghan refugees.

She also visited with aid workers and talked to them about their need for food and medicine. We're going to hear from her coming up.

Within the hour, Sanjay Gupta just returned from Pakistan. He'll be talking to Jolie via satellite. And like us, Jolie watched Sanjay tell one heartbreaking story after another about the flood victims. So we'll hear some of their discussion about what needs to be done. That's coming up in just an hour here on AMERICAN MORNING.

Well, thousands of people in Colorado are out of their homes this morning as a massive 7,000-acre wildfire is taking over Boulder County. It has taxed every resource available to try to contain it. We're going to tell you why some firefighters have even more reason to worry about what's going on there.

Fifteen minutes now after the hour.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ROBERTS: Eighteen minutes after the hour, breaking news this morning.

BP releasing the results of its internal investigation just moments ago. The oil giant spreading blame around five months after an oil rig explosion triggered the worst oil spill in U.S. history. BP questioning decisions made by, quote, "multiple companies and work teams for the catastrophe." Our Ed Lavandera is pouring over the report right now. We'll check in with him at the bottom of the hour for more. And Don Vanheuwen (ph) who is also going to join us this morning to talk more about it.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: Well, the wildfire that's burning out of control right now outside of Boulder, Colorado, is still causing problems this morning as they work to try to get control of it in some way. The governor declaring a state of emergency after it doubled in size. Ninety buildings now, including homes have been destroyed. Some of them actually belong to the firefighters themselves who were trying to put this thing out. It could be days more before 3,000 people can return to their home.

So we get a check of this morning's weather headlines. Rob Marciano in the extreme weather center. We talk a lot about how, you know, the firefighters need help of Mother Nature. What's it going to be like for them today as they're out there trying to fight this thing?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, they had a nice break from wind yesterday. It's going to get a little bit more windy today. The winds at the peak when that fire happened were gusting over 40 miles an hour and the dew points just sunk like a rock. It was unbelievably dry. And kind of similar weather happened in Detroit when those fires broke out yesterday. That front is moving towards the east, so it will be dry and windy across parts of Jersey and New York City throughout the day today. And the red flag warning actually posted for the Philadelphia and the surrounding area there.

Meanwhile, I can't get enough dry air into the Texas area. This is tropical storm Hermine which is -- well, it's not a tropical storm anymore, but it's certainly dumping tropical storm-like rain from San Antonio up through Dallas. Some of these areas have already seen 10 inches of rainfall, and we could see another six as this continues to dump -- take moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and dump it from San Antonio all the way up to Oklahoma City. So flash flood watches and warnings posted for this area. This is a serious situation until we get this rain out of here. It doesn't look like it's moving all too quickly. So we'll continue to monitor this and, of course, detail a little bit more for you in about 30 minutes -- John and Kiran. CHETRY: All right. Rob, thanks.

MARCIANO: All right.

CHETRY: Well, meantime, he was the darling of the Tea Party. But now that Marco Rubio is running for a U.S. Senate seat in Florida, some say that his positions are softening a bit, leaving some to wonder if the Tea Party can make inroads in swing states. Our Jim Acosta is going to be joining us live with more coming up.

Twenty minutes past the hour.


CHETRY: Twenty-three minutes past the hour. Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning.

Marco Rubio has been declared one of the darlings of the Tea Party. But now that he's running for the U.S. Senate in Florida, some say that his positions appear to be softening. The big question is can the Tea Party ever prevail in a key swing state like Florida?

Jim Acosta is live in Washington for us this morning. So, it's interesting when we talked about all the Tea Party candidates, it almost seems like Marco Rubio is now on the bubble. Why is that?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, things are changing down in Florida pretty quickly, Kiran. You know, for months, Marco Rubio appeared to be in the driver's seat in the race for the U.S. Senate in Florida. His conservative message had activists in the Tea Party Movement lining up to (INAUDIBLE). But that race has gotten more complicated, raising the question of whether Rubio will move to the middle of the road to win.


MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE: Every generation of American has had a great challenge to face.

ACOSTA (voice-over): For Marco Rubio, times were simpler when it was tea time all the time.

RUBIO: This reckless out of control expansion of government, it simply goes too far.

ACOSTA: Earlier this year, there were cups of tea at his side --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The next United States senator, Marco Rubio.

ACOSTA: And conservative Tea Party activists at his feet.

RUBIO: I've been hearing about these tea parties now. I've been reading about you, guys.

ACOSTA: Rubio's run to the right forced the more moderate Republican governor of Florida, Charlie Crist, out of the race for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate. But with this contest now a three-way battle Royale featuring Crist running as an independent and Democratic Congressman Kendrick Meek, the former state House speaker is taking his tea differently these days.

RUBIO: The reason why Iran wants the anti-aircraft missiles for one simple reason, to shoot down Israeli and American planes.

ACOSTA: He's hired a team of high-powered Washington-based GOP consultants who allowed us to watch Rubio run through some debate preps on President Obama's foreign policy.

RUBIO: And I think it's failed miserably.

ACOSTA: And the son of Cuban exiles is even distancing himself from tea partiers on one of the movement's key issues, Arizona's tough immigration law.

RUBIO: The original law allowed for racial profiling. I don't know if they intended that. I don't believe they did. But the language in the original law allowed for racial and ethnic profiling. They changed that, to their credit. A week later, they passed a bill that changed that.

ACOSTA (on camera): And you're comfortable with it now?

RUBIO: For Arizona, I am. Now I don't think the Arizona bill should serve as a model for the rest of the country.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Most Florida Tea Partiers say they still like Rubio. But they wonder.

(on camera): Are you worried that Marco Rubio might change a little bit if he gets to Washington?

EVERETT WILKINSON, CHAIRMAN, SOUTH FLORIDA TEA PARTY: Oh, definitely. When you send a politician or a candidate to D.C., you wonder if you're going to get the same guy back.

ACOSTA: There is a difference with you and them?

RUBIO: I represent the things I stand for.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Rubio has good reason to be his own man. He's watched Crist surge in the polls as a self-style centrist.


GOV. CHARLIE CRIST (I), FLORIDA: Because at the end of the day, there's only one party I work for.


ACOSTA: Although the governor recently stumbled on the issue of President Obama's health care law, saying he was for it.

GOV. CHARLIE CRIST (I), FLORIDA: I would have voted for it. ACOSTA: Before saying he was against it.

CRIST: There are parts of it I do support and there are parts of it that I take issue with. That's the beauty of being an independent candidate. Had I been there, I would have voted against it.

ACOSTA: Crist declined to talk to us for this story.


KENDRICK MEEK (D), FLORIDA U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE: With three of us running, you should know it makes me different.


ACOSTA: Then there's Kendrick Meek who is trying to fend off Crist's recent appeals to Democrats.

KENDRICK MEEK (D), FLORIDA U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE: Charli8e Crist is trying to be indefinable in this race. And that's -- that has an expiration date on it. And that date is coming past.

ACOSTA: And that leads to perhaps the most fascinating sideshow in this three-ring political circus. The Tea Party and the Democrats have a common mission, to beat Charlie Crist.

RUBIO: America doesn't need to be changed. America needs to be fixed. And we think both political parties are to blame for the things that are going wrong. And that sentiment has found its expression through the Tea Party Movement. And yes, I'm proud that people that feel that way are supporting our candidacy, I am.


RUBIO: Who would have thought that that Tea Party and the Democrats would have found something in common. They don't like Charlie Crist. Well, one of the biggest worries among tea partiers is that Marco Rubio will be another Scott Brown. Remember Senator Brown had Tea Party support up in Massachusetts before he got to Washington and started voting a few times with the Democrats. Not to fear, says Rubio, who is set to speak at a Tea Party rally down in Florida later this month -- Kiran.

CHETRY: So how tight have the polls gotten, by the way? Is Crist, you know, gaining a lot?

ACOSTA: You know, there were some polls just about a month ago, Kiran that showed Crist actually beating Marco Rubio in this race. Things have changed a little bit. Crist has had a couple of stumbles. You saw that health care stumble where he said I was for it before I was against it. And the polls have moved a little bit more in Rubio's direction. But these polls are going to be all over the place.

And watch out for Kendrick Meek. He is going to run a very aggressive campaign. He faced a tough primary for the Democratic nomination. Had $20 million spent by his opponent and Kendrick Meek still won. And he's going to have President Obama and Bill Clinton down there campaigning for him in the final days of this campaign.

CHETRY: Not over until it's over. All right.

ACOSTA: Not over until it's over.

CHETRY: Jim Acosta for us this morning. Thanks.

ACOSTA: You bet.

ROBERTS: Well, continuing coverage of this morning's breaking news. BP releasing the results of its own investigation of the oil spill in the gulf just minutes ago. Our Ed Lavandera going over the document as we speak. A live report from him and the oil giant's findings just ahead.

It's 28 minutes after the hour.


CHETRY: We're crossing the half hour right now. Time for a look at this morning's top stories. The imam behind the controversial plans to build an Islamic center near Ground Zero is breaking his silence today. Feisal Abdul Rauf says that the construction will go forward. He also says he's convinced that it's the right thing to do. He'll tell CNN why tonight he's speaking exclusively on "Larry King Live," 9:00 p.m..

ROBERTS: And President Obama heading to Cleveland in just a few hours. He's going to make the case there for his plan to jump-start the economy, including expanded business tax cuts in infrastructure spending. The president will also reinforce his position against extending Bush era tax cuts for the wealthiest two percent of families. Coming up next, Bob Shrum and David Frum on the president's speech.

CHETRY: And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is unpopular. That according to a new CNN opinion research poll out this morning. It finds that 51 percent of Americans have an unfavorable opinion of Pelosi. That may put her among the lowest of all Democrats in Washington today. But the speaker's not alone. Because she still polls better than Sarah Palin, former President George W. Bush and is only six points behind the president.

ROBERTS: Breaking news now.

Five months after an oil rig explosion are triggered a massive spill in the Gulf of Mexico, BP is releasing the results of its internal investigation into the disaster. The oil giant spreading the blame around, questioning decisions made by "multiple companies and work teams for the catastrophe." Our Ed Lavandera joining us live from Dallas this morning.

Ed, there's plenty of blame to go around in this BP report. What else does it say?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's clearly the way BP sees it right now. If you're looking for some heavy reading here this morning, try the 193-page report that BP has just released, part of their four-month investigation into what caused the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig.

And John, as you mentioned, quickly out of the gate in the summaries, in the press releases that they are providing, BP is, quickly kind of shouldering the blame among three different companies, Transocean, the company that owned the Deepwater Horizon rig as well as Halliburton, which is the company that cemented the well.

Initially BP in its investigation says that the cement essentially wasn't done properly. So they placed a lot of blame on Halliburton right out of the gate on there. In fact, in the initial summary of their findings so far, they point out that they point to eight things. Just one time does BP mention that its own crew members failed to read properly that the pressure test that were done in the hours before the rig exploded.

So clearly, there will be a lot of opinions floating around throughout the day as more people kind of sift through this 193-page report, massive kind of product that BP has put out here this morning. The report itself plus a video which is almost 30 minutes long. So we we'll continue to sift through all of this as well.

One other interesting thing, they do say that they have kind of perhaps pinpointed the cause of the explosion. They say as the oil and gas was making its way into the oil rig itself, that that gas mixture had perhaps gotten into the ventilation system inside the Deepwater Horizon rig and made its way into the engine room which would have been the spark that caused the explosion and 11 people to die.

So we'll continue to sift through all of this. There's a lot to sift through, John and Kiran, as you might imagine, and to make sense of what BP is putting out here this morning.

ROBERTS: Yes, that's a long report. All right. Ed Lavandera with the (INAUDIBLE) and we'll continue to dig down in this this morning. Ed, thanks so much.

CHETRY: Meantime, a Thai Airways plane has been cleared to leave Los Angeles airport. This is after a threatening note was found on board. Passengers on the flight from Bangkok were rescreened after someone scribbled a message on a bathroom mirror. And the jet was taken to a remote area of the airport where it was searched and again, the FBI is looking into this incident.

ROBERTS: Actress Angelina Jolie tours flood ravaged Pakistan to try to encourage aid relief. The U.N. goodwill ambassador in the country's northwest region yesterday. She spent most of her time speaking to some of the Afghan refugees affected by the disaster. But she also visited with aid workers about their needs for food and medicine.

Within the hour, CNN Sanjay Gupta who just returned from Pakistan himself is talking to Jolie via satellite. Like us, Jolie watched Sanjay tell one heartbreaking story after another about the victims of the flood disaster. Hear some of their discussion about what needs to be done, coming up at 8:20 Eastern.

CHETRY: 55 days to go until the midterms. And polls are showing that Republicans stand to make some significant gains, shifting the balance of power, at least in the House of Representatives. Do Democrats have enough time to turn the tide? If Republicans take control, what's their plan to make the economy better? We're going to be speaking about this with Democratic strategist Bob Shrum and former President Bush adviser David Frum in just a moment.

36 minutes past the hour.


CHETRY: It's 39 minutes past the hour. If the latest polls are right, there could be a Republican takeover in Washington in November. The GOP needs and here we take a look at the balance of power. 39 seats to seize control of the House from the Democrats.

The Cook Political Report which predicts a lot of this says Republicans could net 40 seats. The Rothenberg Political Report, another big hedger of how these elections turn out upping the predictions as well that the GOP could gain 37 to 42 seats. And even higher than 50 on the outside.

It's a grim picture for Democrats. But is it totally accurate? And is it too late to reverse the fortune if it is? Joining us, Bob Shrum. He's with us this morning. Good to see you. Columnist at "" and a former strategist for the 2004 Kerry-Edwards campaign. Also, live from Washington, we have with us David Frum, former speechwriter and senior adviser to President George W. Bush. Great to see you as well.

So David, let me start with you. These numbers seem fantastic for Republicans. Do you believe it?

DAVID FRUM, FMR. SPEECHWRITER & SENIOR ADVISER TO PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: I do believe it. They represent what's going on now. Now the Democrats can make a bit of a difference if they do a good turnout in the vote drive and make sure that some of the disaffected alienated voters do make it to the polls. The likely voter numbers right now are very favorable to Republicans.

On the other hand, this is probably a moment when intensity runs very strong. 60 days is some time. People, though, have made up their minds. This economy is terrible. The president had $800 billion to fix it, $100,000 for every person who lost their job in the first quarter of 2009. Not a lot of improvement.

CHETRY: So Bob, you have 54 days left. You don't think it's going to be as bad, right? You think that these predictions might be a little high for the GOP?

BOB SHRUM, COLUMNIST, "THEWEEK.COM": I think it will be close. I think that to use the word tsunami reminds me of all the predictions about Hurricane Earl last week. It was just going to level the East Coast. Look, David is right. The economy is bad. Democrats are paying the price for that. There is an enthusiasm gap. But the president can energize Democratic voters.

I think the most important story of the day is the decision to take on the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. I think the president ought to do that, ought to have a big fight about that as Harry Truman would have done. I think he ought to go a step further and say the Treasury is not going to keep this money. We're going to give this money on a temporary additional tax cut to middle class people so we can help move this question.

Let the Republicans then be the party of tax cuts for the privilege and the Democrats be the privilege of the tax cuts for people.

CHETRY: Yet Democrats themselves are saying, "I don't know if I could go back to the congressional district and support repealing tax cuts."

SHRUM: You know, there is not a single piece of data that I've seen. And I defy anybody to show me one that says there is majority support or anywhere near majority support for the Bush tax cuts for the top two percent. This isn't about that. This is not about the tax cuts for the middle class.

This is about what's going to happen with that $700 billion that will go to the wealthiest two percent of this country if we don't do something about it? Let's give that temporarily for the next two years to the middle class. Then let's use it to reduce the deficit.

CHETRY: David, would that have you worried if that was the fact that your Democratic challengers were taking?

FRUM: Yes but from every indication, that's not what the president is going to do. It sounds like what he is going to do is to take what seemed to him the low risk option. He is going to endorse a six-year cement mixing rollout.

CHETRY: Wait, hold on. We just heard from David Axelrod. John talked to him about 30 minutes ago. He said the president would veto permanent tax cuts for permanent extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest income earners.

FRUM: The question is what will the president do? The economy is stuck. We do not have liftoff. The stimulus did not achieve the results promised. What will the president do next? And we've been hearing some trial balloons in advance of the president's next statement about what he's interested in. He's interested in a six- year infrastructure project for $50 billion.

That sounds like a lot of money over six years. It's really not. It will be rolled out in time for his re-election, not for this one. And he's interested in some kind of acceleration of write off for investment which is a good anti-recessionary measure. But again, something that is not going to have a lot of immediate effect for a lot of people. He seems to be backing away from the big ambitious ideas of a payroll tax cut and other kinds of concepts like those that Bob was mentioning just a moment ago.

CHETRY: And Bob, I do want to ask you about this. Because you said that really the key to possibly bridge the enthusiasm gap lies in getting the president out there talking, getting the president to talk about this. But there is a new poll that just posted last night showing that 30 percent of people only, only 30 percent of people (INAUDIBLE) think that economy has gotten better under the president's economic programs. The vast majority of people think it's either it had no effect or gotten worse. So how do you fight that?

SHRUM: Well, I don't think you adjudicate whether or not the economy has gotten better. Because if you tell people that it has, even though it probably has, it's a lot better than it would have been. You're not going to win that. People care about what's going on in their own lives.

And David is right about something. The fact is people don't march to the polls chanting R & D tax cuts. The president has to give folks a reason to be energized and a reason to care. And that's why he needs a battle along divided ideological lines, much as Ronald Ragan did in 1982 when he stood up. He said stay the course. And he argued for conservative values. And when the economy finally came back, he was able to start a conservative era in this country.

The big challenge for the president is not to take the safe approach but to go out there and fight and fight hard on clear dividing lines.

CHETRY: And David, let's say that the best case scenario does happen for the GOP. They get control of the House. They're now at least running one aspect of what is going on there. What is the biggest solution that they have to offer for getting us out of this economic ditch?

FRUM: Actually, the best case scenario is they take the House and the Senate. I think the Republican - the best Republican idea is the payroll tax holiday. It costs $40 billion a month in forgone revenues. You can do a year and a half of it for less than the cost of the unsuccessful stimulus. It would immediately put people's money to people's pocket. Really boost aggregate demand, if you really care about that. It would also - if you're interested in monetary policy, increase the deficit, creating more money to flow through the economy.

So that would be a powerful idea. Accelerated business depreciation, the things that the president is talking about at the last hour. Those are good ideas. And extend the Bush tax cuts at least for another period. Speaker Boehner -- the soon to be Speaker Boehner --

SHRUM: Speaker Boehner. You're already celebrating, David. I think you've got to wait for November.

FRUM: -- all right, has been talking about them for two years, maybe five. Give people some certainty about what lies ahead, even if it does seem too fiscally expensive to extend them indefinitely. CHETRY: We'll bring him back if it's not the case. OK. Don't worry about it.

All right, David and Bob, great to talk to you as always.

Thanks for joining us this morning.

SHRUM: Thank you.

FRUM: Thank you.

CHETRY: When the president delivers his remarks on the economy from Cleveland this afternoon, CNN is, of course, the place to be. We're going to bring it you to live, 2:10 Eastern Time this afternoon. It's going to be from the West Campus of a Cuyahoga Community College.

ROBERTS: What's that fish in your sushi? Just ahead, the plan that could have fishermen in lab coats catching your next salmon. And Texas still getting soaked this morning. Hermine still dumping quite a bit of rain in the region. The rest of the country, though, looking pretty nice today. Rob's got this morning's travel forecast coming up right after the break. It's not 14 minutes to the top of the hour.


CHETRY: We want to show you a live picture right now. This is Sanjay Gupta speaking with Angelina Jolie. He's in Atlanta, just returning from a very long trip to Pakistan, where he witnessed first- hand the plight of thousands of flood victims. Angelina Jolie, as a result of some of that reporting, wanted to see it first-hand herself. She is there now speaking to Sanjay. We're going to turn around some of that interview and bring it to you here on AMERICAN MORNING in just a few minutes.

ROBERTS: Looking forward to that.

You won't find it swimming anywhere but a new fish could be coming to your local supermarket. The Food and Drug Administration is preparing to hold public hearings on genetically engineered salmon.

CHETRY: So even if it is deemed safe to eat, not everyone's convince the they would want to. Senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen joins us live in New York today.

You know, there's a big push among a big push among organic groups and places where you buy foods like, Whole Foods and others that say, this is not genetically modified. They make a big label on the front of their packaging.

If it's salmon, how the heck do they do this?


Salmon apparently -- I learned something about salmon doing this story -- salmon apparently have growth hormones in their bodies part of the year but not all of the year. What scientists did was they took a gene from a different fish, put it into the salmon so that they would produce growth hormone all year around.

Here's the result. Instead of taking 30 months to get to maturity it takes them 16 to 18 months to get to maturity. You can see the obvious business advantage there. It takes about half the time to reach maturity. If you're growing salmon that's a good thing.

ROBERTS: It sounds good on the surface.

So, what's the objection to all of this?

COHEN: The objection is what does it mean to our bodies to eat salmon that's been exposed to growth hormone all year round instead of just some of the months of the year. What does that do to us? The bottom line is nobody really knows because we haven't fed this salmon to anybody yet. FDA scientists looked at it and they said it seems safe to them but the FDA has not made a final ruling saying it can go on the market.

CHETRY: Would you know -- would they have to label it clearly this has been genetically modified? Or would it be a trickier thing to try to figure out what fish you're eating?

COHEN: That's a great question and it remains to be seen. It remains to be seen, will the FDA approve it? And if they do, will they force the company to put a big label on it that says this salmon has been genetically modified. And if they did do that, would people buy it? Would they still want to buy something that's been genetically modified.

ROBERTS: The genetic modification, does it potentially cause any abnormalities in the fish that could be passed on?

COHEN: No. The folks that make the fish say you can't tell the difference. If you look at the fish you can't tell the difference and nutritionally they're the same. The folks that make it say it is identical.

CHETRY: It's interesting because already the labels have to say farmed versus wild caught on the salmon. It would be interesting to see if there would be a consumer market for genetically modified salmon.

COHEN: Right. Maybe some people would think it was better. Maybe they think genetically modified would make it tastier. I don't know. But It would be interesting to see how consumers respond to that kind of a label.

ROBERTS: Elizabeth Cohen, this morning. Thanks so much.

President Obama preparing to unveil a $350 billion plan to stoke the economy. Big speech in Cleveland coming up this afternoon. But not everyone's onboard. Even his former budget director is taking the other side. We've got that story coming up. It's 52 minutes after the hour. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)