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Report: More than 400 Dead in Syria; Silent Attack on Iran; Raging Battles in Misrata; Your Taxes Helping Big Oil; GOP Presidential Field in Flux; Major Levee Break Prompts Massive Floods; 'Strategy Session'

Aired April 26, 2011 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Brooke, thanks very much.

Happening now, a new report of hundreds of people killed in the uprising in Syria, most of them civilians.

This hour -- will the growing body count persuade President Obama to intervene?

Also, a flooding emergency in the Midwest -- rising rivers, a broken levee and a catastrophe that may be the worst in decades.

And the recovering economy may be hazardous to your marriage. Many couples who were putting off divorce now feel they can afford to split.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We begin with a life and death question being asked here in the United States and, indeed, around the world -- how are the brutal crackdowns against civilians and opposition forces in Syria and Libya different?

The U.S. and its allies show no willingness, at least for now, to intervene directly to stop President Bashar al-Assad, as they have against Moammar Gadhafi. This, as we get new reports that the death toll in Syria is climbing dramatically.

Let's turn to our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty.

She is working the story for us.

Lots of concern, not only here, but around the world, about what's happening on the streets of major cities in Syria -- Jill.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. And, you know, the bitter truth is that the U.S. really has very little influence in Syria. Privately, U.S. officials are pessimistic right now about stopping those killings any time soon. And, in fact, one U.S. official told CNN that it could actually get worse.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) DOUGHERTY (voice-over): In Syria, more than 400 people dead in a violent crackdown on demonstrators. But Syria is not Libya.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Colonel Gadhafi needs to step down from power and leave.

DOUGHERTY: No call from President Obama for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to leave office.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE

SPOKESMAN: We call on President Assad to change course now and heed the calls of his own people.

DOUGHERTY: That's the closest the White House will come. Travel bans, asset freezes -- that's the latest plan. But Syria has few assets in the U.S. and an administration official tells CNN: "There isn't a lot we can do with Syria. We're pretty maxed out with sanctions."

The U.S. ambassador to Great Britain is blunt in an interview airing Wednesday on CNN's "AMERICAN MORNING".

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LOUIS SUSSMAN, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO BRITAIN: And then you've also got to balance your values and your security and what your national interests are. And I think that we're doing that. And we have condemned the violence in Syria. We have not been in favor of any regime change.

DOUGHERTY: Unlike Libyan leader, Moammar Gadhafi, who many leaders despise, with the Syrian president, officials tell CNN U.S. allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia are pressuring the U.S. to go slow, fearing Bashar al-Assad's departure could make way for a more regime. The U.S. has not severed diplomatic ties -- a move that would make it harder to talk to the Syrians when you want to get them to do something. And trying to tell Syria what to do could backfire.

JONATHAN ALTERMAN, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC & INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: You don't want the president to calling for something that then doesn't happen. You don't want to have the president demanding something happen and not doing anything to follow up, because then people say, well, you demanded it happened, what have you done to meet your demand?

(END VIDEO TAPE)

DOUGHERTY: You know, dealing with Libya is hard enough. But Syria is a key player on a lot of different issues -- on Mideast peace with Israel, on Hezbollah in Lebanon, and it's also, crucially, the only Arab ally of Iran. So if Bashar al-Assad went down, you can bet that Tehran would be -- it would be a major blow to Tehran -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, because I've been hearing from some of the -- some Israelis that originally they were concerned. They were wondering what would happen next. But now they're increasingly coming around to this notion that if Bashar al-Assad is removed, that would be a severe setback for Iran, which represents a much greater threat, they believe, to Israel than Syria does.

When is the U.S. going to recall its ambassador from Damascus?

In other words, what has to happen for the U.S. to sever diplomatic relations with the Syrian regime?

DOUGHERTY: You know, Wolf, that is one thing that they don't want to do. It sounds like an easy fix -- send a message, look as if you're angry. But in reality, up until the last minute, you want to, they say they want to keep some type of representative there so that you can really talk turkey with the other government. And so, you know, in other countries, the U.S. has taken out its ambassador or closed down the embassy, let's say, you know, in Libya. But not so far. There's still, apparently, they think, a lot of talking to be done.

BLITZER: You're going to be interested in my interview with the British Defense secretary, who's here in Washington. He's been over at the Pentagon meeting with Defense officials. He's got some strong words for Bashar al-Assad. That interview is coming up later here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Jill, thanks very much.

DOUGHERTY: Thank you.

BLITZER: We're learning about a potential threat to Iran, a silent attack that could hurt the country's controversial nuclear program without even dropping a bomb.

Brian Todd is looking into this part of the story.

New information coming in -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And this information coming to us from Iran's semiofficial news agency. From what they're saying, it looks like the race between Iranian officials trying to build their nuclear program and outside forces trying to stop it is getting more intense.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: (voice-over): An Iranian facility has been targeted for cyber attack -- the second time it's happened in less than a year. That from the official in charge of defending Iran's nuclear sites.

(on camera): This worm is called Stars and it follows a destructive cyber attack last year on Iran called Stuxnet.

I'm now with Sam Visner.

He's a former NSA signals intelligence official.

He's now a cyber security expert with the firm CSC.

Sam, could this particular virus disable any kind of a nuclear program?

SAM VISNER, CYBER SECURITY EXPERT, CSC: We don't know at this point. I don't know anyone who has done real forensics on this, Brian. Here's what I would say. It probably speaks to an emerging class of problem that we call industrial control system problems, the ability to get into an embedded system that controls a turbine, that controls a centrifuge, that controls an engine.

TODD: (voice-over): Visner and other experts say this attack, like the Stuxnet virus that hit the Iranians last year, may be a so- called "zero day exploit." Like a patient zero case, it means the Iranians may not have had any warning, hadn't seen anything like it before and didn't know what to look for. The Iranian officials haven't said exactly what was hit this time. But last year, the Stuxnet worm infected centrifuges at a key nuclear energy facility.

I asked nuclear weapons expert, David Albright, about that.

(on camera): Here's a satellite photo of the Natanz nuclear energy facility.

How badly did the Stuxnet virus affect that facility?

DAVID ALBRIGHT, INSTITUTE FOR SCIENCE AND INTERNATIONAL SECURITY: Well, the -- the idea was to get -- take control of the computer systems inside this facility. And the -- and the part you worry about is here, underground, about 25 feet underground, are two very large structures or buildings. And in those buildings or sites, where the centrifuges that were targeted by Stuxnet and -- and about 10 percent of the centrifuges were -- were destroyed by Stuxnet.

TODD: (voice-over): Experts say it's a way of crippling Iran's nuclear sites without bombing them.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

TODD: Iran blames the U.S. and Israel for that Stuxnet attack last year. Officials from both countries still haven't commented, really, at large, on those accusations. And we couldn't get comment on them -- from them on this latest attack.

An Iranian official told me today that this act was sabotage, it was a criminal act, he said, aimed at preventing Iran from carrying out a peaceful nuclear program. He said that won't work.

He didn't respond when I pressed him on who he thinks launched this cyber attack, Wolf. The implication will probably come later on that they think it might be the U.S. or Israel.

BLITZER: And now what about retaliation?

Could Iran still retaliate? TODD: David Albright says the Iranians likely will not take this lying down. He said what they probably will do will be to come after some kind of a -- a softer target, like cyber attacking an electrical power plant or another industrial facility, maybe in the U.S. or Europe. He says they probably won't come after harder sites, like U.S. military or nuclear sites. Those are a little bit better defended.

BLITZER: Do the Iranians have that -- even have that capability?

TODD: He says they have the capability. Have not exhibited a willingness yet to do something like that. But this is two attacks on them now in less than a year. They might be a little bit fed up with it at this point.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Brian, for that.

Now to the battle for Libya. Britain's defense minister says the rebels are gaining momentum against Moammar Gadhafi forces. I'll talk to him in the next hour about what's going on, the mission and whether or not NATO is now targeting Moammar Gadhafi for assassination.

But right now, we're getting grim reports about new fighting and shelling in the besieged city of Misrata.

And joining us now from Benghazi, Leila Fadel.

She's with "The Washington Post".

You just got out of Misrata. I know it was a very tense and dangerous situation there.

What impacted you the most, Leila, what you saw there?

LEILA FADEL, "WASHINGTON POST": We saw, at the hospitals there, people overflowing, doctors working 24 hours a day, children coming in -- 8-year-olds, 4-year-olds, with shrapnel wounds and bullets to the head; indiscriminate shelling all across the street, all across the city. And a true humanitarian crisis growing there in a city that's truly under siege.

BLITZER: Were there any areas, any pockets where it was safe to be, Leila?

FADEL: I would say that no part of Misrata is really safe. There are parts of the city near -- closer to the fort, but not exactly next to the fort, the neighborhood of Zaruch (ph), for example, was an area where much of Misrata was being displaced to. Opposition leaders there estimated that 60 percent of Misrata was internally displaced.

We saw at the court, which had been shelled, and rocketed, constantly thousands of migrant workers waiting for an escape, sleeping in unhygienic conditions in tents. Today, one of those migrant workers was killed under fire, shelling of the port. Eleven were injured just waiting to get out of Misrata. And the only lifeline for that city is the sea.

BLITZER: Did you get the sense that Gadhafi's forces were targeting specific areas or were they just randomly killing innocent people?

FADEL: It seemed to be both, actually. I think they are targeting the port strategically in order to cut off the lifeline to the city. I think they were also targeting the Taqueel Street (ph) and where the steel factory was, because that is where there are water, gas and food reservoirs.

They were also targeting, obviously, the center of the city. And there were Gadhafi forces holed up in buildings all along the main drive that divides the city between east and west. And from those buildings, they were indiscriminately firing on homes, on children and women, anything that was moving. And you could see that very clearly in the hospitals. And you could also see that in the -- in the buildings were people had fled from.

We were in one building in an area called the Al Jazeera (ph) area, kind of on the coast, where they took us into the lobby of an apartment building. And there was still the flesh of a family of five that was killed on the walls. And the cars were all smashed. And there was nobody left in that apartment building, because they all fled.

So I think it's a combination of hitting everything, but also strategically targeting life-sustaining places that will eventually starve the city out by hitting them.

BLITZER: Are the rebels in Misrata well organized enough to get the job done?

FADEL: I think, defensively, they were surprisingly organized. They had emergency lanes for fighter and ambulance -- fighter vehicles and ambulances. They had figured out how to sort of fortify their positions.

But I don't think they can go on the offensive. They're able to shoot back. And they're able to have the advantage of knowing the city and, therefore, creating alleyways and tunnel ways that the Gadhafi forces wouldn't know. But that -- they have been under siege for 60 days and only this week did they clear Tripoli Street -- or supposedly clear Tripoli Street -- get snipers out of those buildings.

And can they do much more?

Even if that street is cleared, there are Gadhafi forces all around Misrata. And so, therefore, they're still a city under siege. And when they cleared the -- that street, the -- one of the deadliest days in the entire time came the next day from shelling and rockets coming from a distance. They're under -- they don't have enough weapons. And despite their organization, none of them -- most of them have not fought before. They're doctors and economists and engineers and microbiologists who are suddenly figuring out how to destroy tanks with a Kalashnikov and an RPG. BLITZER: Leila, thanks...

FADEL: So it's a difficult situation for them.

BLITZER: Thanks so much, Leila, for your excellent reporting in "The Washington Post."

We're glad you got out safe and sound.

Our deepest condolences on those two journalists who unfortunately did not. We remember them -- we remember them fondly.

All right, thanks very much, Leila.

Leila Fadel of "The Washington Post."

She's now safe, relatively speaking, in Benghazi.

American taxpayers are giving the oil industry a huge, huge tax break, even as gas prices soar. We're going to take you what President Obama wants to do about that and whether it will work.

And the Republican Party appears to be suffering from what we're calling a generation gap when it comes to finding a candidate to challenge President Obama.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: As all of our viewers know, Jack is always concerned about federal spending. He's here with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: That's just another way of saying I have no life.

So far so good for House Republicans when it comes to how to cut the deficits and balance the budget. According to a "USA Today" Gallup poll, Americans think the Republican Party is the party better able to handle the budget problems facing the country and better able to fix the economy. Apparently, that six-month game of chicken that they played on the 2011 budget paid off for them, at least for now.

But a much bigger battle over the budget and spending looms. When Congress returns from its two-week spring break and raising the nation's debt ceiling is front and center, we will see if popular changes. It might.

According to that same "USA Today" Gallup poll, Americans are split on whether the deficit plan proposed by House Budget Chair Paul Ryan or the one advanced by President Obama is the right path for the country. Two-thirds of Americans are concerned that the Republican plan for reducing the deficit would cut too deeply into Medicare and Social Security.

Everybody wants the deficits cut, nobody wants to cut entitlements. But it's a topic that won't go away. House Speaker John Boehner said in an interview with "Politico" yesterday that there might not be any deal on raising the debt ceiling unless Democrats agree to reign in discretionary spending and reform Medicaid and Medicare, ergo, things could get very ugly, very quickly when Congress comes back from spring break.

Here's the question: Do the Republicans have the right idea when it comes to the budget? Go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile and post a comment on my blog.

You think Congress ought to get a spring break, Wolf?

BLITZER: Two weeks. This is the second week of spring break, right?

CAFFERTY: Yes.

BLITZER: They'll be back to work next week. So they took two weeks off. But they are working in their districts and they're studying what is going on --

CAFFERTY: No, they are not. Some of them are in China at Macao playing roulette.

BLITZER: That is also true.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: I don't know if they were playing roulette. It could have been blackjack, could have been poker. Who knows what they were doing.

All right, Jack, thank you.

President Obama is trying a new tactic in the fight against the sky high gas prices. He's asking congressional leaders to take immediate action to end what he calls "unwarranted tax breaks for the oil and gas industry."

Let's turn to our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian, he is watching this part of the story, certainly the politics surrounding it.

Lots at stake here, Dan.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And you know, Wolf, this is something that the president has been pushing for quite some time. He has called on Congress in his last two budgets to cut se subsidies and then stepping it up a bit today with this letter to congressional leaders of both parties, as you pointed out, calling on them to take, quote, "immediate action."

So the president, in the letter, going on as well to essentially compliment House Speaker John Boehner for some comments that he made in an interview yesterday with ABC News where he suggested that he was open to this whole idea.

So are we seeing the president and John Boehner on the same page here? Not so fast. John Boehner did say that this is something that we should be looking at, but he also said that he wanted to see all of the facts.

And another example of how there is still a wide divide here, his spokesman, Brendan Buck, went on to say that, quote, "what the president has suggested so far would simply raise taxes and increase the price at the pump."

So amid all of this back and forth, there are now questions about the timing of the release of this letter and whether or not it was politics at play here. Here's what House -- rather, spokesman here at the White House, Jay Carney, had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: Somebody sticks the credit card in the pump or pays the cashier the cash for the tank of gas that they are thinking about an election in 2012, they are thinking about the hardship it causes them, the pinch that is places on the family budget.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LOTHIAN: In that interview yesterday, Speaker Boehner also said that President Obama could lose the election in 2012 if these gas prices continue to go up.

And let's not forget, Wolf, that the oil and gas companies will be announcing their profits this week, expected to be pretty high, so that will only add more fuel to this debate.

BLITZER: And what we're really talking about is with what the White House says is $4 billion a year in tax breaks that the oil and gas industry gets right now, tax breaks that other companies, other private industry companies don't necessarily get. These are specially designed for the oil industry.

LOTHIAN: That's right. And the oil industry, obviously, against these cuts if they would happen because they say it would only cut jobs and also would cut back on the oil exploration here domestically, it only increase the amount of oil that the U.S. would have to get from overseas. So they are against this, and it will be interesting to see how it all plays out on Capitol Hill.

BLITZER: We certainly we will watch together with you. Four billion dollars a year, though, that's a lot of money for American taxpayers.

LOTHIAN: A lot of money.

BLITZER: Over 10 years, that's 40 billion. We'll see if these tax cuts for the oil industry go away. Thanks very much.

A major levee breach in Missouri prompting massive evacuations and a dozen rescues. We'll have the latest on efforts to curb the raging floodwaters. Also, horror on a bus in Pakistan. What prompted a fire that burned more than a dozen people alive?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: An arrest in the case of an alleged Colorado bomb plot near Columbine High School. Lisa Sylvester is it monitoring that, some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What is the latest?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, police say Earl Albert Moore was taken into custody today and turned over to the FBI. He's being investigated in connection with a pipe bomb found in the mall on the 12th anniversary of the deadly Columbine shooting massacre. Moore was released from federal prison just two weeks ago, he is now being held in a Colorado jail.

Fifteen passengers, mostly women and children, were burned alive when a bus was set on fire. Four unknown men opened fire on the bus at a Pakistani province. Authorities say four unknown men opened fire on the bus while it was parked at a hotel, then started the blaze. The province is currently battling an insurgency.

And former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak won't be moved to a military hospital to Cairo because it could be life threatening. The country's prosecutor general says Mubarak is detained at a hospital in Sharm el-sheikh where he was admitted with health problems. He's being investigated in the deaths of hundreds of activists during the uprising that threw him from power -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for that. We're going to have much more from you coming up.

There's a new Republican officially now exploring a presidential bid. Why doesn't Ron Paul have more company in the early race for the White House? Stand by.

And the results of CNN's in depth investigation of President Obama's birthplace. You're going to find out if it puts the questions about his birthplace completely to rest.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A new announcement in the Republican race for the White House. The Congressman Ron Paul of Texas formally declaring just a few moments ago that he's forming a presidential exploratory committee. He spoke in the lead-off caucus state of Iowa. We're told Ron Paul is still not 100 percent convinced about launching what would be his third presidential campaign.

The former Libertarian candidate talked to CNN's Eliot Spitzer about the still pretty sparse GOP field.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ELIOT SPITZER, HOST, "IN THE ARENA": Why are so many Republicans apparently hesitant to get into this race, from Haley Barbour, to Senator Thune, to Mike Pence? Strong candidates with ideologies that are well-defined, a president who is below 50 in the approval ratings, which is sort of the normal threshold for vulnerability. Why aren't more Republicans getting in?

REP. RON PAUL (R), TEXAS: Well, I don't know. They may be thinking they have to be cautious, and maybe they believe the president is stronger than some of the polls show.

And the president is liked a lot. And, you know, in politics, being liked is very important. So maybe they don't think he's as vulnerable as the polls indicate he might be.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is over at the data wall with more on the Republicans who are in, who are out, and some with who are just iffy.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.

OK. So, of the Republican contenders who are in or likely to get in, I have broken them down into four categories, which you know means I'm going to get endless e-mail from Republican strategists calling these categories absurd. But here it goes.

Of those who have real appeal to the conservative base, and especially social and Tea Party conservatives, we have these: Texas Representative Ron Paul; Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann; Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich -- we'll come back to him in a moment -- and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum. Now, although they have significant base appeal, it's more questionable whether they would have crossover appeal in a general election.

Now, these men point to their experience as governors and, in Mitt Romney's case, in the private sector, to argue that they have track records, especially on fiscal issues. They are former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney; former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty. They also have strong relationships with the Republican establishment.

In the next category, we call these folks wooing the middle -- start e-mailing me now, Republican strategists -- Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, and former Utah governor, current ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman. Both strong fiscal conservatives.

Why do we say wooing the middle? Well, they don't emphasize potentially divisive social issues and are less likely to go after the traditional social conservative base. That could make them best- positioned in a general election if they could get through a primary. But the primary is a big hurdle and, importantly, neither has said if he is running.

And then the wildcards: Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee. They aren't making the moves it takes to run, but they have enough popularity to get in late. If they do get in late, we put them here for base appeal.

Another move, we'd say, Newt Gingrich, he might go over here because he has some challenges sometimes appealing to the base. And these guys, boy, they would love to be running in this category. But not necessarily always in that category.

So, Wolf, a lot of moving pieces, to say the least.

BLITZER: All right. Come on over here, because I want to continue this conversation. Gloria Borger is here as well, our senior political analyst.

What strikes you most, Gloria, about this Republican field?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, you look at everything Jessica has just done, it seems to me to be a party in search of a brand. Right? What is the brand of the Republican Party right now? We don't know.

Is it the Tea Partiers? Is it the people like Mitt Romney, who is selling his experience? We just don't know.

There's also a generational issue. You have some very qualified, talented people in the younger ranks, Paul Ryan, the House budget chairman. You've got Marco Rubio in the Senate. And they're concerned, well, they're a little new, a little young to funs. So, you have got the older folks, more experienced, and the younger guys, maybe just not ready.

So, what's the brand and who's going to get it done? Big question.

BLITZER: You've been speaking to some Democrats, some sources over at the White House. What is the Obama team most worried about right now?

YELLIN: Well, campaign sources and Democrats are most worried about a Republican candidate who is enough of a neutral personality that they can make the campaign all about President Obama, somebody who doesn't have skeletons in their closet or big errors, and because they really want to run. And the Republicans would want to run a campaign attacking Obama, and that would be the biggest fear for the White House and the president.

And one other point I'd like to make is the only one I left out of this whole thing is Donald Trump. He sort of is in a category of his own.

BORGER: But you know the reason a Donald Trump can come in now and command so much attention is that you've got a lot of angry, depressed voters out there. That's Democrats and Republicans and Independents.

But particularly in the Republican Party, there are a lot of people who are so anti-establishment, that they look at Donald Trump and they say, well, you know what? He's not one of those guys that we've seen ever running for president before. He represents our anger and our frustration, and that's why he can, at least at this early stage, gain some traction.

BLITZER: Well, say what you will about Donald Trump. In all of the recent polls that I've seen among Republicans, including our own, he's right up there at the top with Mike Huckabee.

YELLIN: But when asked -- you know, there's a new "USA Today"/Gallup poll: will you vote for him? And I think it was 63 percent of Americans say they definitely would not.

He is a candidate that the White House would be thrilled to run against because, going back to what I said, they want a blank slate -- a blank slate would be their biggest fear. Donald Trump is not a blank slate. They could really run a hard campaign against Donald Trump. They would be happy if he were the nominee.

BORGER: And, you know, these early polls, remember Rudy Giuliani? OK, he was going to win the Republican nomination. I rest my case.

BLITZER: Enough said. Thanks very much.

The House Speaker tells the president to grow up. Is that any way to talk to the commander in chief?

And a levee break and rising flooding danger in the Midwest right now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A dangerous outbreak of severe weather forecast for much of the South this hour. The National Weather Service warning, everywhere from northeast Texas into Mississippi and Tennessee are now at high risk for severe thunderstorms. This could be the second go- around for Arkansas, which got pounded with fierce thunderstorms yesterday, leaving eight dead and dozens of homes destroyed.

Meanwhile, near the city of Poplar Bluff, in Missouri, massive flooding and growing fear following a major levee breach.

Here's CNN's Ed Lavandera.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Poplar Bluff is on the brink of disaster. A major levee protecting the city of 17,000 people has breached in four spots along a two-mile stretch on the Black River.

ED STERENFEL, BUTLER COUNTY COMMISSIONER: This could be very imminent danger within minutes. If the levee was to break, you will have a very, very, very short time to get out of the way. LAVANDERA: On Monday, a thousand people were evacuated from this area in Poplar Bluff. Nearly 85 people have been rescued from rising waters in the last two days.

For now, the water escaping through the levee breaches is flooding a lightly-populated rural area south of town. Witnesses say the water is rising slowly but steadily where the levee breached. This dog left in a yard was rescued by the local sheriff.

JOE WARD, POPLAR BLUFF POLICE: If that levee breaches -- the rapid influx of water in that neighborhood -- you're not going to have time to outrun it. It's too late then. So you want to get out ahead of time.

LAVANDERA: So many residents near the river aren't taking chances and rushing to higher ground.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's stressful. You know? You pay for a home to stay in, then you're out of your home. Your things, your comfort zone is gone. You have nothing.

LAVANDERA: The fear of dangerous flooding is spreading across the Midwest from Arkansas and Missouri to Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky. Emergency crews are shoring up levees with sandbags and bracing for what some say could be record-setting flooding. And for those in the heart of the storm's path, they're struck by the weather system's fury.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And all of a sudden, the wind picked up. And I looked out the windows, and all you could see was the trees going, like, in a giant blender. And the house shook, and there was glass broken and everything. And then by the time we ran for shelter, it was over with.

LAVANDERA: For now, officials in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, say the most populated area of town is safe. But they are worried, with more rain to come, it could cause a levee rupture closer to town.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAVANDERA: And the threat of more rain will only get worse Tuesday afternoon, into the evening hours. Another three inches of rain is expected, possibly more. And in parts of Arkansas and Tennessee, those storms could bring severe weather, including tornadoes as well -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Lavandera, thank you.

The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, could try to force the GOP hand on that controversial House spending plan. Could it backfire, though?

And the economy is certainly picking up a bit, but now so is the divorce business in the United States. We'll explain the connection. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: And let's get right to our "Strategy Session."

Joining us now, our CNN political contributor, the Democratic strategist, James Carville. Also, the former Republican congressman from Virginia, Tom Davis. He's now president and CEO of the Republican Main Street Partnership.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

James, I'll start with you. Listen to John Boehner telling ABC News that the president needs to do something as far as the deficit, the debt is concerned. Listen to his words.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE SPEAKER: He took exactly none of his own deficit reduction commission's ideas. Not one. Come on! It's time to grow up and get serious about the problems that face our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: "Time to grow up," he's telling the president of the United States.

Appropriate, not appropriate? You're smiling.

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you know, here's a guy that cries all the time telling somebody else they need to grow up. I mean, you know, this is the new thing. You have to be an adult and you have to act serious. And I think these guys just hear all this humbug so much, they just repeat what they said.

The president, the truth of the matter is, has laid out a plan for the deficit. You know, people tend to forget that he said they would have a deficit commission and you could vote up and down on it, and seven Republican senators who had already said that they were for it once he proposed it said they were against it. So, he proposed that right at the beginning of his term.

But I like Senator (sic) Boehner fine -- I mean Speaker Boehner fine, but he shouldn't be talking about people growing up when he's weeping all the time.

BLITZER: Well, he's an emotional guy. He's a sensitive guy. And he cries sometimes.

Do you think that's appropriate language, Tom Davis?

TOM DAVIS, PRESIDENT & CEO, MAIN STREET PARTNERSHIP: Well, look, they are co-equal branches of government. And I think what they are looking for is a serious budget proposal by the president to match something like Representative Ryan does.

BLITZER: You don't think what he proposed the other day was serious?

DAVIS: Well, that's his own scoring. CBO scores it differently.

And the reality here is that we're borrowing 41 cents on the dollar, and these guys ought to be across the table from each other as we approach this deficit plan to raise the budget deficit at this point. If we hit the skids on that, all bets are off. This is a serious time, I think, for serious actions. It's time to cool the rhetoric and get across the table.

But, frankly, both plans are a little bit short and play to each party's bases.

BLITZER: Well, that's why a lot of people are looking at that Senate version, that so-called Gang of Six, three Republicans, three Democrats.

Maybe they will come up with something that is doable, James.

CARVILLE: Well, look, we've had the Simpson-Bowles commission, we had the Ryan plan, we have the Obama plan, we have the Domenici- Rivlin plan. We have now the Gang of Six that's going to have a plan. There's another one that I'm forgetting out there somewhere.

We have as many deficit plans as we have wars right now. And, you know, I don't think anybody is going to come up. And as far as I know -- I mean, Tom Davis is a pretty bright guy, maybe he can think of something else. But it's all kind of been put out there left and right, and we're going to have to take a little from each one, I suspect. But there's no lack of plans that we have.

Remember, we have the progressive plan which the House Democrats put out, too, that actually balances the budget faster than any of them. So, like I say, everybody's got to -- you know, one more plan, I don't know if there's going to make much of a difference.

BLITZER: And now Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, he's saying, you know what? He may let that Paul Ryan budget proposal come up for a vote in the Senate to sort of make some moderate Republican senators who were up for re-election squirm if they want to cut Medicare spending, get some sort of a voucher program in there.

What do you think of that threat from Harry Reid?

DAVIS: Well, Wolf, there is too much politics in this and not enough substance. The reality is that whatever occurs, it's going to be meaningful, it's going to be painful.

Nobody wants face -- everybody wants to tax the other guy. Everybody wants to cut the other person's -- the other party's base. You're going to need a bipartisan agreement. People are going to have to come to the table and they're going to have to make some tough decisions.

They're not going to be popular, but we cannot sustain this borrowing 41 cents on the dollar. Standard & Poor's issued a warning last week. I think we need to heed that warning, or the bond markets will settle it for us if Congress and the president are incapable of doing it.

BLITZER: How vulnerable are some of those moderate Republicans, James?

CARVILLE: Well, first of all, imminently fair to take the proposal and put it up and allow people to vote on it. I can't imagine anybody will have an objection to that. That's democracy at its best.

I mean, you know, Standard & Poor's, we ought (ph) to pay a lot of attention to them. Actually, the bond market improved after they did it. Standard & Poor's haven't been right about anything. They ought to -- they ought to do themselves and the whole world a favor and go and stop rating things and issuing things. They missed the whole housing meltdown.

DAVIS: Well, Jim, I think we do have a long-term problem with this.

CARVILLE: We do.

DAVIS: And I think you recognize it as well.

CARVILLE: We do.

DAVIS: And we've got to get these people to the table.

CARVILLE: Right.

BLITZER: Stand by.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: The last economic crisis was not necessarily great.

CARVILLE: No.

BLITZER: James makes a fair point on that.

Guys, thanks very much.

James Carville and Tom Davis.

The U.S. and its allies are defending airstrikes on Moammar Gadhafi's compound. Here's the question, though: are they trying to assassinate Moammar Gadhafi, the Libyan leader? I'll ask Britain's defense secretary pointblank. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And as the stock market goes up, more newly single people may be back on the market. We're taking a closer look at the link between the economy and the divorce rate.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The royal wedding in London will be a traditional affair, but Londoners are celebrating in some non-traditional ways.

At a pub, a bartender pours a pint of special royal wedding ale.

In London, bookmakers wager on what color hat the queen will wear on the big day.

On London's South Bank, a street performer dresses as the grandmother of the groom, Queen Elizabeth II.

And on the streets of the capital, a man and a woman dress as zombie versions of the famous couple.

Folks have a lot of free time over there.

Meanwhile, it's one of the more sobering realities of the strengthening economy, an increasing divorce rate. A study released by the National Marriage Project over at the University of Virginia shows that a little more than a third of married Americans considering divorce chose to put those plans on hold during the recession. But now that seems to be changing.

Let's bring in CNN's Mary Snow. She's taking a closer look at the study.

What are we learning, Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, a sad statistic, Wolf.

Divorce attorneys say they noticed an uptick in divorces late last year, and it's been continuing. They attribute it to the improvements in the economy after a downturn that forced some couples to stay together not for love, but for lack of money.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): Nancy Partridge and David Snyder found themselves in an odd situation when they divorced in late 2007. They were ordered to sell their suburban Denver home as the housing market collapsed around them. To avoid potential bankruptcy, the exes decided to stay together in their home but sleep in separate quarters.

NANCY PARTRIDGE, DIVORCED DURING THE RECESSION: That was one of those awkward things, when you're staggering out the first thing in the morning, barely awake, and you run into your ex. It's a little awkward, but you deal with it.

SNOW: And they weren't alone. As the economy soured, many couples opted to put their divorces on hold. Now the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers finds after several years of declining divorce cases, the numbers are increasing as the economy improves.

In New York, famed divorce attorney Raoul Felder says he's also seen an uptick, particularly among clients in the financial industry.

RAOUL FELDER, DIVORCE ATTORNEY: Divorce lawyers' practice is a good barometer of the economy. It's better, but not great. The old lawyer joke used to be, my husband's broke, he owes everybody money, we're starving. So now is the time to sue for divorce. And that's really why it doesn't happen. You wait until somebody has money, then you sue them for divorce.

SNOW: The housing market has also changed divorce battles. In Florida, one of the states hardest hit by plummeting home values, one divorce attorney tells us that instead of fighting to keep a house, duels are now often over who is responsible for the debt.

SANDY T. FOX, SANDY T. FOX P.A.: In a lot of cases, if you do walkway from the home and you don't have any liability, you are considered the winner.

SNOW: Back in Colorado, Nancy and David consider themselves the winners, but not because of their home value. It's still under water. But toughing out the recession rekindled their romance.

PARTRIDGE: I think if it weren't for the recession, we wouldn't have gotten back together, because we probably would have been living in different states by now.

SNOW: The couple plans to remarry, and once again they find themselves in another odd situation since many people don't know they're divorced.

DAVID SNYDER, DIVORCED DURING THE RECESSION: How do you explain that? Well, she's not my wife, she's my ex-wife. But she's my fiancee, my girlfriend. It's weird. You just roll with it like we are married for the most part.

PARTRIDGE: We joke that the divorce was annulled.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: And as Nancy Partridge put it, when life gives you some lemons, you make lemonade out it. But her story is rare. Divorce attorneys say one trend they are seeing is couples skipping court battles, instead going to mediators, in order to cut costs on legal bills -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Happy that couple got back together. Thanks very much, Mary, for that report.

SNOW: Yes.