Return to Transcripts main page
Lou Dobbs Tonight
Swine Flu Outbreak Spreading; Arlen Specter Switches Political Parties
Aired April 28, 2009 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LOU DOBBS, HOST: Wolf. Good evening everybody.
Hundreds more Americans reporting symptoms of possible swine flu -- top government officials now say they fully expect deaths from the virus in this country. In Mexico, more than 150 people have already been killed by swine flu. And the federal government is now sending antiviral drugs and medical supplies to every state. We'll have the latest for you from a top official with the Centers for Disease Control; two leading authorities on infectious diseases join us here.
And the Democratic Party is closer to outright control of the Senate tonight after Senator Arlen Specter defects from the Republicans. We'll tell you what that may mean for President Obama and his agenda.
We begin tonight with a global swine flu outbreak that is spreading in this country. Several hundred students have fallen ill in New York now with symptoms resembling swine flu -- the Centers for Disease Control now says the number of confirmed cases in the United States has risen to 64. The acting head of the Centers for Disease Control, Richard Besser, today said he fully expects to see deaths from this infection.
So far, no one has been killed by the virus in this country. All deaths have been in Mexico. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said, quote, "This is going to be a marathon". Louise Schiavone has our report.
LOUISE SCHIAVONE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The nation continues on a public health emergency footing, as swine flu cases once few in number show the potential to expand and worsen. In New York, currently with the most confirmed cases and literally hundreds of suspected cases, two schools are closed.
RICHARD DAINES, NY STATE HEALTH COMMISSIONER: Anyone with symptoms that could be influenza needs to isolate themselves in their own home, seek out their own health care providers, and certainly not move around in public.
SCHIAVONE: Several schools have closed elsewhere, with an entire school district shut down near San Antonio. At the Centers for Disease Control, this prediction: DR. RICHARD BESSER, ACTING DIR., CTRS. FOR DISEASE CONTROL: I expect that as we continue to look for cases of flu, we'll find more severe disease, and unfortunately, given what we know even from seasonal flu, some people die from the flu.
SCHIAVONE: In California, a state of emergency and a decision to undertake independent swine flu laboratory testing, cutting out the time-consuming step of sending samples to the CDC. Near the U.S./Mexico border, intensified precautions and crowded hospital rooms, as president Obama asks Congress for $1.5 billion in emergency funds to expand stockpiles of antiviral drugs and production of a vaccine.
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president has been -- continues to receive those regular updates from the Homeland Security Council, but if our opinion, this is about prudent planning.
SCHIAVONE: There's still no intention to close the U.S./Mexico border, but Americans are still advised not to travel to Mexico and the airlines are washing down cabins on flights coming in from Mexico, keeping an eye out for potentially ill passengers and several carriers are permitting ticket holders to reschedule their flights to Mexico.
SCHIAVONE: Lou, there's a growing consensus that this flu could recede in the summer months, but reemerge with a vengeance in the fall and the race is on now to create a vaccine to prevent that. Lou?
DOBBS: Thank you very much and Louise we should point out no decision has been taken yet as to whether or not to call for the production of that vaccine. Louise Schiavone from Washington -- thank you.
Health officials say the number of confirmed cases of swine flu outside the United States and Mexico is rising. There are now six confirmed cases in Canada, 11 in New Zealand. The World Health Organization says there are two cases each in Spain, Scotland, and Israel. U.S. government officials today reinforced their warnings about travel to Mexico. The acting head of the Centers for Disease Control, Dr. Richard Besser, told CNN that Americans should delay any trips to Mexico.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BESSER: Based on what I know as a public health professional and as a physician, I would not recommend that people go on nonessential travel. So if I have vacation plans for Mexico coming up right now, I would look to postpone those.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DOBBS: The United States has not imposed an outright ban on travel to Mexico.
The number of fatalities from swine flu in Mexico today rising to 152; the government of Mexico announcing new measures to control the outbreak. Officials ordering restaurants to serve only takeout food, they closed bars, clubs, movie theaters and other facilities. But critics say those measures are simply too little, too late -- Ines Ferre with our report.
INES FERRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Mexican government says at least 10 of the country's 32 states have seen deaths probably caused by swine flu. More than 150 deaths are being investigated, and hundreds of patients are hospitalized. Yet some experts worry that the spread of the illness is going underreported.
DR. RICHARD WENZEL, FMR. PRES., INTL. SOC. INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Right now, we don't know. But whatever they're reporting there, 1,200 cases, 1,600 cases, that's a gross underestimate, in my opinion.
FERRE: Amid stepped up efforts to contain swine flu, Mexican officials made it clear that commercial activity would not be stopped.
JOSE ANGEL CORDOVA, MEXICO'S HEALTH SECRETARY (through translator): The measures taken allow us to continue with economic and work activities in the country and assurances in commercial and tourist relationships with the rest of the world.
FERRE: Relationships that are vital to Mexico's economy, already reeling from the effects of the global credit crunch. Between January and February of this year, the U.S. imported over $20 billion worth of goods from Mexico, excluding oil. Over the same period, the U.S. exported over $19 billion of goods to Mexico.
ALAN TONELSON, U.S. BUSINESS & INDUSTRIAL COUNCIL: Whenever you have a major trading relationship, as the United States has with Mexico, you don't shut it down or even interfere with it lightly. It would be especially ironic if the economic and public safety concerns were not properly balanced, given that most U.S./Mexico trade consists of U.S. imports from Mexico.
FERRE: Mexico City is trying to minimize the outbreaks' financial impact. Banks announced extended hours of operation for their customers. Restaurants have not been closed, but told to serve only meals to go. But bars, clubs, movie theaters and gyms have been ordered to close.
FERRE: And the mayor of Mexico City said he's been working with economic officials to make sure their measures don't lead to a total halt of economic activity, Lou.
DOBBS: This is understandably a concern, but we're looking at an outbreak of this potential, with the World Health Organization talking about the possibility of a pandemic, raising the worldwide alert to a four, an unprecedented level. This seems a confused priority to put on economic activity at this point, does it not? FERRE: And the Mexican officials saying that even though it's raised to four, that doesn't mean the World Health Organization didn't recommend that they close the borders or that they cancel trips, that they put restrictions on international travel.
DOBBS: All right. Thank you very much -- Ines Ferre.
Well much more on the swine flu outbreak ahead -- also, a top Republican senator defecting to the Democratic Party today. We'll tell you why, what it means for the president.
And an astonishing video of a police chase -- a stolen big rig in Georgia. We'll tell you what happened and how it was concluded. We'll be right back.
DOBBS: We'll have much more for you on the swine flu outbreak -- the latest developments here. But first, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania today defecting from the Republican Party, joining the Democratic Party. Senator specter declared the Republican Party has moved far to the right, as he put it, since the Reagan era.
His defection means the Democratic Party is now one vote within winning outright control of the Senate, which would make it easier for the president, of course, to push through his agenda. Dana Bash has our report from Capitol Hill.
DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Calling his decision painful, Arlen Specter announced that as a moderate, he no longer felt welcome in the GOP.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (D), PENNSYLVANIA: I have found myself increasingly at odds with the Republican philosophy and more in line with the philosophy of the Democratic Party.
BASH: But the reality is that Specter's decision to bolt the Republican Party is more about raw politics than philosophy. Specter admitted he made up his mind to become a Democrat this past weekend after receiving news from his pollster Friday that he would likely lose his Republican primary in Pennsylvania mainly because of GOP anger at Specter for breaking ranks and supporting President Obama's $787 billion stimulus plan.
SPECTER: The prospects for winning a Republican primary are bleak. I am not prepared to have my 29-year record in the United States Senate decided by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate.
BASH: The veteran senator's chances appear much better as a Democrat in increasingly blue Pennsylvania, especially with President Obama campaigning for him. Specter's Republican colleagues slammed him for playing crass politics.
SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: This was simply nothing more, nothing less than political self-preservation.
BASH: Democrats are rejoicing that Specter's move may make it easier to pass their agenda, because it gets them tantalizing close to a 60-seat filibuster-proof majority. Not so fast, said Specter, who's long been known as unpredictable. He said that will not change.
SPECTER: I will not be changing my own personal independence or my own approach to individual issues. I will not be an automatic 60th vote.
BASH: And Democratic leaders do admit just because Arlen Specter is now one of them, it doesn't necessarily mean he is going to vote with them, especially on controversial issues like labor rights or even health care reform. But, Lou, Specter was very clear in saying that he got a promise from President Obama and Democratic leaders that they were going to campaign for him, even though that could mean campaigning against Democrats who are already running for a Senate seat in Pennsylvania.
DOBBS: Absolutely, Dana. Thank you very much -- Dana Bash.
The last time any party had a so-called super majority in the Senate was in the 95th Congress, back between 1977 and 1979. During that period, Democrats had 61 seats compared with 38 for the Republicans and one Independent. President Jimmy Carter was in the White House at that time. President Reagan, of course, was elected in 1980.
President Obama today called Senator Specter, told him Democrats are thrilled to have him on their side of the aisle. Ed Henry has our report from the White House. Ed, what's the Obama administration saying about the effect of all of this tonight?
ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou -- Lou, as you said, thrilled certainly is the word to describe the way from the president on down to top aides felt about this early this morning, about 10:25 a.m. Eastern Time. The president was in the Oval Office getting a briefing, all of a sudden he was handed a note by an aide, saying that Senator Specter was about to switch parties.
Two minutes later, the president picked up the phone -- you can see the photo they released showing the president calling Senator Specter to fully welcome him to the party. We're told by White House aides the president is saying he will back Senator Specter in any potential Democratic primary and also raise money for Senator Specter as well.
What it could mean for this president's agenda is enormous. Obviously, as you heard Dana mention, this could now help them reach a 60-vote filibuster-proof majority. Particularly, they think this will help on key issues like health care where the president has been having a hard time winning over people, specifically Republicans, moderates, et cetera. They think Specter can help move forward there. But we also have to note, this doesn't mean that everything will be a slam dunk for President Obama. The fact of the matter is, even with Arlen Specter on board, there are some conservative Democrats who may peel away, not sort the president -- support the president on some issues. Nevertheless, obviously, the president raising money, backing Arlen Specter can help keep him in the fold, even though Arlen Specter today said he will not be an automatic 60th vote, Lou.
DOBBS: Well that makes for a very good photo opportunity, the picture of the president welcoming Senator Specter to the Democratic Party. Do we have any sense of how long this deal was in the works?
HENRY: We don't have a full sense, although we've been told that Vice President Joe Biden, who's very close to Arlen Specter, from their decades together in the United States Senate, has been talking to Arlen Specter on and off for weeks about this and that potentially other White House aides were involved as well.
But they've been trying to say that the president himself was sort of kept away from it and only really learned that it was a reality today, but certainly there were people like Vice President Biden who were working on this for weeks. They wanted this to happen. And in the long run it still remains to be seen how many other Republicans without switching parties will support the president on key issues. That's something he thought he would get in the first 100 days and it hasn't really happened, Lou.
DOBBS: Senator Olympia Snowe today taking note of the fact that she'd been approached a number of times, but as she put it, not recently. One could have interpreted her remarks as inviting possibly some consideration on part of the Democrats in her case.
HENRY: It could be. And the other moderate Republican from Maine, Susan Collins today put out a statement, you know, expressing concern about Arlen Specter doing this, suggesting perhaps she's not ready to switch parties. I think the bottom line is there is a political reality here that you've been talking about, which is the fact that moderate Republicans in the northeast are a dying breed.
Arlen specter looked at the political reality, made this particular move. We'll see whether others decide they need to do that as well. Olympia Snowe may be waiting for some calls. We'll see whether they come in or not, Lou.
DOBBS: The president may decide he wants a little larger comfort margin in the Senate.
DOBBS: Thank you very much -- Ed Henry from the White House.
A new opinion poll shows Americans becoming increasingly skeptical, however, of the Democratic Party and its agenda. The CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows 51 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of Democrats now. That was compared with 58 percent back in February. Americans view of the Republican Party is the same as in February, 39 percent with a favorable opinion.
Up next here, the death toll from the flu outbreak climbing in Mexico, so far no confirmed deaths anywhere else. We'll have that report.
And a big rig hijacked in Georgia and the owner hanging on for dear life. That's right. That's him, right behind the cab. We'll have that story and all the day's news as we continue.
DOBBS: Seven countries have now confirmed cases of swine flu. But Mexico is still the only country with any deaths from that virus. Those deaths now total more than 150. There are a number of theories tonight about why the death toll is so high in Mexico, including social, environmental factors. But so far health officials in Mexico and around the world for that matter are still far from certain about any possible answers. Casey Wian has our report.
CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): So far the so-called swine flu has killed more than 150 people in Mexico. There have been no confirmed deaths in the United States. Health officials are struggling to determine why.
DR. JOE BRESEE, CTRS. FOR DISEASE CONTROL, FLU EXPERT: We fully expect more U.S. patients will have severe disease, will be hospitalized and might even die. There clearly is a difference between what Mexico is describing right now and what we're seeing. Understanding that is going to be a key.
WIAN: Flu normally kills by progressing to pneumonia.
BESSER: On average, in the United States, each year from seasonal flu, we see approximately 36,000 deaths. And so influenza is a severe infection. It affects different people differently.
WIAN: Most involve the very young, old, or those with pre- existing medical conditions. But many Mexicans killed by this flu virus shown here were young and middle-aged adults. Mexican President Felipe Calderon says who lives and dies largely depends on how quickly patients receive medical treatment.
PRES. FELIPE CALDERON, MEXICO (through translator): With a sickness like this, if you don't take it seriously, if you don't go to the doctor right away, it can have very grave consequences.
WIAN: There are other theories including Mexico City's dense air pollution, which makes people more susceptible to respiratory disease. Some experts are looking into viral mutations or differences in the availability of medical care between Mexico and the United States. Then there's a threat that seems straight from a horror film (INAUDIBLE) storms. They happen when immune systems in normally healthy adults over react to an unfamiliar virus and are suspected in the 1980 Spanish flu pandemic that killed millions. DR. PETER KATONA, UNIV. OF CALIF. AT LOS ANGELES: We've never been exposed to this virus. All of a sudden the immune system sees something brand-new, it overreacts, and that in itself causes a circulatory collapse and causes death. We think that might have happened in 1918 and maybe that happened here.
WIAN: The CDC says it's not ruling out any theories about why swine flu has been so deadly in Mexico, but has not caused a confirmed death here.
WIAN: A Los Angeles County coroner's office today reported the results of a preliminary investigation into the deaths of two men, age 33 and 45, suspected of contracting swine flu. One has already been ruled out. Tests are ongoing on the other case, but the coroner says it appears likely that that case is also negative for swine flu, Lou.
DOBBS: All right, Casey. Thank you very much. And Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declaring an emergency there in California, to draw on further resources for public health, correct?
WIAN: Absolutely. He did that and he also confirmed that California is now able to confirm whether a virus is a swine flu virus, as you mentioned in last night's broadcast. There were only two locations, one in the United States and one in Canada up until now that could do that. Now California has the ability as well. Lou?
DOBBS: All right, Casey, thank you very much -- Casey Wian reporting from Los Angeles.
Some other stories we're following across the country tonight. In Georgia, a man is in custody after he led police on a 50-mile chase near Atlanta in a stolen semi-tractor truck. The man hijacked the truck. He took off down Interstate 75. That's the truck's owner there behind the cab, in front of the hitch, clinging to the back. The truck's tires eventually shredded and flew off, but the driver kept going.
Eventually, the truck was forced to slow. The owner who was hanging on, as you see, for dear life throughout this chase with armed officers right behind him and the tractor as they continued their pursuit. The driver finally slowed and the -- and the owner managed to take that opportunity to jump off from the back as they were rolling along. The police, as they stopped him after this 55 or 50- mile chase, they eventually had to break through the windows to pull him out.
A Georgia State Trooper was injured by a round that ricocheted from another officer's weapon. He was treated at the hospital for a flesh wound and a bruised shoulder. The truck owner, by the way, who did have to jump from the back of that truck, was taken to the hospital. We're told those injuries were only minor.
Well, heavy winds sweeping through Michigan with gusts reaching up to 70 miles an hour. Thousands of people lost power, but one family in Detroit -- in the Detroit area at least lost their most prized possession that you see here, their pet long-haired Chihuahua. A strong gust carried away five-pound Tinker Bell.
The family was reunited three days later when Tinker Bell was found a mile from where she was last seen. The dog was dirty and hungry, but not hurt. And we are told, but have not confirmed, that the family used an animal psychic to locate their missing Chihuahua.
Well, there's some signs of improvement in our economy tonight. I want to share with you very quickly -- a jump in consumer confidence. Consumer confidence rising in April to the highest level since November of last year and this is the biggest monthly increase since November of 2005. It is also the fourth largest increase in the -- in one month in consumer confidence in 32 years.
Separately, the decline in home prices is slowing. Home prices fell nearly 19 percent over a year ago, but this is the first time in nearly a year and a half that home prices have not set a new record low, down by only a little over two percent in the last month.
Up next, the very latest on the swine flu outbreak -- we will be bringing to you some of the world's leading authorities here in this hour and joining me next, one of the top officials from the Centers for Disease Control. The federal government now says it's taking what it calls aggressive action to deal with a possible pandemic. We'll have that special report, a great deal more, straight ahead. We're coming right back. Stay with us.
DOBBS: "The Big Issues" tonight -- Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania defecting from the Republican to the Democratic Party. His defection means the Democratic Party is closer to outright control of the Senate, and that could mean President Obama is in a much stronger position to push through his agenda in Congress.
The Centers for Disease Control tonight reporting 64 confirmed cases of swine flu in the United States. That number, however, is expected to rise and rise significantly. Hundreds of students have fallen ill in New York now with symptoms resembling those of swine flu. Top government officials say they fully expect deaths in this country to result from this outbreak. More than 150 people have died from the virus in Mexico.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the government is taking what she called aggressive action to lessen the impact of the swine flu outbreak. Jeanne Meserve has our report.
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Custodians disinfect a school in California, trying to stop the spread of swine flu. But cases continue to pop up across the country. This virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control officials' statistics, has now sickened 64 people in five states with five hospitalized. New York officials say hundreds of city school children appear to have contracted it, all are recovering.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We do not know whether it will continue to spread. Sometimes these strains just fizzle out over time, and we don't know whether it's worse. It doesn't appear to be worse so far, but it's early.
MESERVE: In California, the governor declared a state of emergency while two deaths were investigated for possible connections to swine flu. One has been ruled out. Preliminary indications are the second will be too. But federal officials continue to sound a warning.
DR. RICHARD BESSER, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL: As this moves forward, I fully expect that we will see deaths from this infection. They're seeing many deaths in Mexico.
MESERVE: As a command center at the Department of Health and Human Services tracks the illness' spread, the white house is asking for $1.5 billion to ramp up production of antivirals and possibly vaccines as the government girds for a marathon.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This particular outbreak may day off naturally and we may see a resurgence again in the fall. So we're in this for the long haul.
MESERVE: The federal government is distributing antiviral medicines and medical supplies to the states now. Texas and California were expected to get theirs today. All states will have them by the 3rd of May in case this keeps spread.
DOBBS: Jeanne, thank you very much.
Joining me now is Dr. Dan Jernigan, he's deputy influenza director at the Centers for Disease Control. Joining us from the CDC now. Thank you very much. Good to have you with us.
DR. DAN JERNIGAN, DEPUTY INFLUENZA DIRECTOR, CDC: Thanks a lot.
DOBBS: Let me turn first to Dr. Besser, the acting head of CDC today had this to say about his expectations, if we could play this for everybody.
BESSER: As this moves forward, I fully expect that we will see deaths from this infection. They're seeing many deaths in Mexico and we're trying to learn more about that and why the situation in Mexico is different from here.
DOBBS: Dr. Jernigan, do you have any better sense of what is going on with this virus? Why it seems to be more -- well, it appears to be more virulent in Mexico City, in particular in Mexico than here in the United States?
JERNIGAN: Well, we're doing a lot of things to try and figure that out. We have staff that are down working with the ministry of health there. We have staff that are also helping with the WHOT in Mexico city. And they're looking at the charts in the hospital and trying to find out information about those cases and about the extent of disease in Mexico City, so that we can understand it better.
DOBBS: And to -- is there any progress in all at finding out where this virus originated specifically within Mexico?
JERNIGAN: That information, I don't have. And I think it's going to take a while. We have looked at the animal populations in the United States and we've not found it there so far. The first cases were identified in humans. So because of the genes in the virus, we think that it came from swine, but we don't know the origin at this point.
DOBBS: The World Health Organization, as you know, doctor, has not recommended -- they raised the alert level to a four, the highest level they've ever raised the alert level to worldwide, but they did not put forward border closures or restrictions of any kind. Are you surprised at that?
JERNIGAN: Well, not really. We know that the virus does not respect borders. And this virus can transmit from person to person very quickly. So there are some things that we have done, though. We have put some travel advisories, to say that folks should avoid nonessential travel to Mexico. And that's something that we did as a country. So WHO has made that decision and they are the ones that I think it would be best to talk with them about that.
DOBBS: Let me talk with you about what you know, which is why did you put in those recommended restrictions on travel if the World Health Organization had not?
JERNIGAN: Well, I think we've looked at the situation. We've seen that there is what appears to be transmission in Mexico City. And there are these reports of increased deaths there. And now those are corroborated to be associated with the virus. So those factors were taken into account in making that travel advisory.
DOBBS: Over what period of time -- give us your best estimate as to what will be required to say that this has taken its course and is no longer a threat to the public health or how soon you'll be able to determine, get a sense of, at least, a better sense of whether or not this virus will require further study and vigilance?
JERNIGAN: Well, we're looking at how well the virus transmits from person to person and how many generations, that is how many times it goes from one person to another person to another. That's what we're looking at right now. And I think what we're seeing is that these first cases of introduction into the United States, we'll be monitoring it closely to see if there is sustained transmission going on.
DOBBS: All right. Thank you very much, Dr. Dan Jernigan of the CDC. We appreciate it.
JERNIGAN: My pleasure. DOBBS: Up next, we'll continue our coverage of the global swine flu expert. Two leading experts on infectious diseases join me here next.
And the senate's emergency action defines the swine flu. Will a new health and human services secretary and a lot more money help the government combat this outbreak? We'll be finding out.
DOBBS: This breaking news into CNN. Two passengers aboard a flight from Mexico at Baltimore/Washington International Airport have been placed into quarantine after arriving at Baltimore International Airport. So-called passive surveillance revealing that the passengers were exhibiting flu-like symptoms and with rising concerns about swine flu, authorities there at the airport decided to put them into quarantine. Again, two passengers aboard a flight arriving from Mexico to Baltimore placed in quarantine after appearing to be sick.
The Senate tonight confirmed the nomination of Kathleen Sebelius as the new health and human services secretary. That vote, by the way, was 65-31. Senators taking emergency action to fight the swine flu outbreak. They also moved to transfer funds to local health officials as the number of cases across the country has risen. Lisa Sylvester has our report.
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Admiral Anne Schuchat, the CDC interim scientist and public health director, warned senators the swine flu could be just ramping up.
DR. ANNE SCHUCHAT, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL: We are really at early days here in the United States and we may see a worsening of the disease.
SYLVESTER: The senate responded by voting 65-31 to confirm Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius as secretary of health and human services. While some republicans opposed her selection over her stance on abortion, other congressional members emphasized the need for leadership at health and human services. Another 18 top posts are vacant or awaiting confirmation.
SEN. CHRIS DODD (D), CONNECTICUT: I believe most Americans, regardless of political party, would like to see someone leading that agency and helping us grapple with these issues.
SYLVESTER: The white house also wants congress to approve $1.5 billion to address the swine flu crisis. Many local and state governments facing tough economic times have recently slashed public health care services with close to 12,000 layoffs in the last year.
SEN. TOM HARKIN (D), IOWA: The public health departments, both of our state and our federal government, have been inadequately funded in the past. They seem to be the first to be cut in budgets. And then when something like this rears its ugly head, we find we may not be as prepared as we should be.
SYLVESTER: The federal government has stockpiled 50 million doses of antiviral medicine and has sent 11 million doses to the states, beginning with those with active cases.
SYLVESTER: And the $1.5 billion would be attached to a supplemental budget bill. The house is scheduled to take up that legislation next week, Lou?
DOBBS: Lisa, thanks very much; Lisa Sylvester.
Mexico today launching an official protest against an Israeli official who called the swine flu outbreak Mexican flu. Israel's deputy health minister said he changed the name of the flu, because the reference to swine is offensive to Israel's Jewish and Muslim citizens. Thailand, one of the world's largest meat exporters also calls it Mexican flu. The European Union who doesn't want to hurt pork producers or offend Mexico have come up with a novel name. They call it novel flu. The Paris-based world organization for animal health wanted to remove the animal and national stigma, calling it neither nor swine or Mexican, instead referring it to as North American influenza. Even our own secretary of agriculture, Tom Vilsack, caught up in the political correctness of nomenclature today tried not to use the term swine or Mexican. He called it repeatedly H1N1 virus.
Up next here, the rapid spread of the swine flu. Two leading authorities on infectious disease join me. Dr. Donald Low and Dr. Anne Moscona join me.
And what Arlen Specter's defection from the Republican Party means for president Obama. I'll be joined by three of the best political analysts in the country. We'll be right back
DOBBS: Public health officials in this country, Mexico, Canada, all gearing up as our nations across this world trying to fight this spreading swine flu outbreak. Joining me now, for their assessment and professional insight, Dr. Donald Low; Dr. Low is head of the microbiology department at Toronto's Mt. Sinai Hospital, medical director of the Ontario Public Health Agency. Doctor, it is good to see you again. Thanks more being here. And Dr. Ann Moscona; she's professor of pediatrics and microbiology and immunology at the Cornell Medical Center here in New York. Great to have you with us.
Let me begin, Dr. Low, with you. As we try to assess what's happening here, we have seen with an outbreak of 75 students here in Queens, New York, testing of nine students, not 75, resulted of eight, that becomes a confirmed eight cases. Yet we know that a larger number are sick, a far larger number. In Mexico, 150 people dead, and yet the claim is that there are only 1,600 people sick. These numbers, I have said have to be, at least in my judgment, significantly lower than the reality, because it doesn't seem to make any sense. You know, give us your professional opinion here about what's going on with these numbers?
DR. DONALD LOW, ONTARIO PUBLIC HEALTH AGENCY: No, they aren't. This is a disease that's widespread in Mexico. All we're seeing is the tip of the iceberg. We're seeing individuals that are sick enough to come into a hospital, to have the special testing done, which is now, only in the last five days, identified this as swine flu. We don't -- this has been going on in Mexico for at least two months and maybe even longer. And we've seen tourists come back from all over Mexico, taking this disease with them. This has to be widespread throughout Mexico, and I think at the end of the day, what you're going to see, Lou, is that there's probably at least, if not tens of thousands, well, I think it will be hundreds of thousands of people that have actually had this disease and we've put it all together. The mortality rate or the death rate will probably be more reasonable around what we see, possibly with seasonal influenza, or maybe what we saw in the pandemic of 1957 or 1968, which weren't so severe. Not as bad as we saw in 1918.
DOBBS: Yeah, because if one takes these numbers right now, we're talking about a mortality rate that would be frightening in any historical context, 150 people out of 2,000. My god, that's just upside down. We've got the mayor of New York confirming the number of swine flu cases at 44. These students coming back. Are we to believe that these students in Queens are the only students in all of America who contracted swine flu in Cancun on a spring break? This is getting a little peculiar.
DR. ANNE MOSCONA, WELL CORNELL MEDICAL CENTER: Right. I think what was just said is really the key. I think we're just getting hold of the situation right now. And clearly the infection is already much more widespread and fortunately seems to be mild in most cases, but it's been going on for longer than we know. And it's possible that there have been far more flu cases, even in the United States, and that we've only more recently become aware of it. And in Mexico, they did not become aware of it, understandably, until they began seeing severe cases.
DOBBS: Dr. Low, we've just received word here that -- as I just reported -- that two passengers arriving on a flight at Baltimore from Mexico have been quarantined. At the same time, we are not aggressively dealing with traffic across our borders, into our sea ports, into our airports, arriving from Mexico. Why are we bothering to quarantine two passengers if it's not important to control intelligently the immigration of people into this country who are exhibiting signs of illness? It seems a contradiction.
LOW: Well, we should be quarantining people that are coming back that are ill. Because the risk is obviously very high. I think, though, the key for -- there's so much travel, just in Ontario alone, we see 60,000 people a month coming back from Mexico. I think what's critical is to educate travelers, anybody coming back, whether it's by car or plane, that if they do become ill to stay at home, to notify their public health authorities so that proper testing can be done and minimize contact with individuals.
DOBBS: You both have indicated -- and by the way, I've just received word, the two passengers at Baltimore airport have been cleared from quarantine, so that is very good news, both for them and for the nation. And I'm delighted to be able to report that to you. You both obviously expect these numbers to be significantly higher, and these are large numbers, that you're projecting. Do you expect -- well, let me put it this way. I don't want to ask you to do that. Because we want to balance here honest reporting and concern for alarm. But at what point do you have -- will you feel we'll have a sense of whether or not this is going to grow into something more serious than what it appears to be right now, possibly a pandemic.
MOSCONA: I think the next few weeks are going to be very telling, both in terms of severity of this particular virus and in terms of the rapidity of spread throughout the population. And I think we have the opportunity to be so closely monitoring it and we have antivirals to treat, I think the next few weeks we'll be able to have a handle on what's going to happen.
DOBBS: Dr. Low, you'll get the lost word. And if you can, give us a sense of what's happening in Canada.
LOW: In Canada, we reported our first four cases in Ontario. I think Ann's right. The next two weeks, if we start to see secondary spread from these clusters that have returned from Mexico into the community, I think then we're going to see a much different story.
DOBBS: Dr. Ann Moscona, Dr. Donald Low, thanks very much for being here.
Up next at the top of the hour, "NO BIAS, NO BULL." Roland Martin in for Campbell Brown. Roland?
ROLAND MARTIN, CNN ANCHOR: Lou, tonight Republican Party's losing one of its top power players. We'll have the latest on what was behind Senator Arlen Specter's decision to leave the GOP for the democrats and how it affects President Barack Obama's agenda.
We'll also have the latest on the spread of swine flu. We're learning about new cases tonight and we'll tell you where they are and how the white house is dealing with this growing health crisis.
Plus, we've got an incredible story that raises this question, Lou. Is it okay for spouses to have a secret bank account? We have all the details and we'll take your calls on that. All at the top of the hour. Love to get your thoughts on that, Lou.
DOBBS: If you need a secret bank account, you need to recheck your marriage, I believe. Thank you very much.
Up next, the democrats one seat closer to outright control of the senate.
And an Air Force One photo shoot causes panic in New York City and reveals there's a little stupidity running around somewhere there on 1600 Pennsylvania. We'll find out what the president does with that. We'll be talking with three of the best political analysts in the country here next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
DOBBS: Joining me now, Ed Rollins, republican strategist, former white house director, chairman of the Mike Huckabee presidential campaign, republican strategist, "New York Daily News" columnist, Errol Louis, good to see you. And democratic strategist, Robert Zimmerman, democratic national committeeman -- democratic this and democratic that, very good at all of it. Good to see you.
Let's start with you Ed. I reserved ...
ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: When he saw those polls show that he could not win, he could not win a republican primary, which he apparently did over the weekend against Pat Toomey; he decided to do what any opportunist does. He shifted sides.
DOBBS: Well, I don't -- I don't suppose the Capitol Hill right now is reeling from the sudden presence or manifestation of opportunism, do you?
ROLLINS: I don't think so. I don't believe so. Those guys have never been -- you know, I think the bottom line is, he couldn't win a primary.
DOBBS: That was a remarkable, candid admission, I thought.
ROLLINS: It absolutely was. I think the poll was all over the state. But at the end of the day, I wish Robert's side -- I've had to deal with Arlen for a long, long time. He was not always a good vote for us. He blackballed us to make him chairman of the judiciary committee and I think to a certain extent, you're welcome to him.
DOBBS: Well, you got him. And the president is thrilled. Now, what do you say to those folks, those democrats and the governor on Pennsylvania who had put forward candidates to run against him? Those folks have been told, get out of the way.
ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, you know. I've been in touch with a number of elected democrats in Pennsylvania today, checking out the scene. And while you have certainly a congresswoman like Congressman Patrick Murphy, who appears to be running strongest against Arlen Specter and does not plan to run, you have a number of democrats who are going to keep him on a very short leash and monitor it very closely. Just because Washington says he's the one --
DOBBS: Wait, wait, wait. Here's your pal now, you can't -- come on.
ZIMMERMAN: He's yours.
DOBBS: It sounds like you're doing aggressive surveillance on Arlen Specter.
ZIMMERMAN: That's exactly when democrats in Pennsylvania are doing. ERROL LOUIS, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: The first words out of his mouth are, by the way, I'm not with you on free choice act, one of the central pieces of the Obama agenda.
DOBBS: To put that in context, I don't think many democrats are. It's been pretty much acknowledged the democrats don't have the votes to move that through. I think the unions have decided that card check is done. So his display of independence, I think, may be less --
ZIMMERMAN: A very important point, Lou. Just because they have the majority doesn't mean the democrats are in control. In fact, during the election, one of the democratic leadership said to me, the good news is we can come close to 60 votes. The bad news is, many of them vote like republican. So I think it's not just -- I think there's an illusion to what 60 votes represents. It can block a filibuster occasionally, but it does not mean a blank check for any agenda.
ROLLINS: From my perspective, I think it gives us great freedom.
DOBBS: Us being --
ROLLINS: Us being republicans. I'm still a republican. And if I ever decide to switch -- I did that 40 years ago. They'll throw me out, but won't take me back in. The bottom line is that, I think, like the house now, the republicans are the opposition party. And you don't have to worry about one of yours going over the fence on every kind of issue.
DOBBS: Well, now, wait a minute. Today, Olympia Snowe, making noises like she was kind of hurt she wasn't invited to the party. Susan Collins --
ROLLINS: If they go, they'll go together. But the truth of the matter is the 60th vote was the important one. 62 is not --
DOBBS: Well, 60 is norm -- excuse me, is Al Franken waiting to find out the --
ROLLINS: They'll have the 60. So the bottom line is, the president can move whatever he wants to move. And the key thing here is, how is he basically going to have any kind of restraint when --
Well, I'm not sure the president can move whatever he wants to move. You see cap and trade being sidelined a bit.
DOBBS: Well, they've discovered it was a tax for crying out loud, Errol. This revelation, John Dingell saying, enough of the nonsense, this is a tax, and we don't know where it's worked anywhere.
LOUIS: Life under the big tent is now the Democratic Party, at least on Capitol Hill, is not always going to be smooth, it's not always going to be pleasant. Who on his staff -- I'm thinking about Specter's staff that's been associated with the republicans so for so many years. Are they suddenly going to start making merry and having fun with all the democratic colleagues? ZIMMERMAN: Don't worry about Arlen Specter's staff. They'll adjust just fine to keeping their jobs. The bigger point is we'll see a debate around philosophy, not partisanship.
DOBBS: Oh, I'm sure that's the truth. Robert, thank you very much. Errol, thank you. Thank you.
A reminder to join me on the radio Mondays through Fridays for the Lou Dobbs show on the radio. 710 radio here in New York. Go to Loudobbsradio.com to get the local listings in your area.
"NO BIAS, NO BULL" starting right now. In for Campbell Brown, Roland Martin.