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The Situation Room

Interview With New York Governor David Paterson; President Obama Visits Mexico

Aired April 16, 2009 - 18:00   ET


FELIPE CALDERON, MEXICAN PRESIDENT (through translator): And, here, U.S. cooperation is also fundamental. Why?

Well, because, on our side, we are cleaning our house. We are sweeping everything from top to bottom, so that all the police forces at the -- from the top officials at the attorney general's office, the army, the navy, that all officials in Mexico, all police officials that we can truly trust in their honesty and that at the same time technologically they will be top-notch, as the rest of the world, in investigation, in databases.

We want a scientific police, one that is very well trained in technology. And U.S. help will be very welcome. And it will be essential. We also have a no -- judicial plan for oral trials.

And I think that, as we fulfill these objectives, many of them have already -- are part of our agreement on safety, security, and protection, with a shared responsibility that we now have with President Obama and his team.

We are certain that we will reach these objectives and that our strategy, which is the correct one, will have many more possibilities of achieving success, and that, at the end of our administration, we will have a Mexico, a United States that are much safer and freer of violence -- violence-free, rather.

Of course, drug-trafficking cannot be ended by decree. As long as there is a supply, a high -- or, rather, a high demand, there will be a high supply. But what we can control is the effect of criminal activities in society, to stop the actions of organized crime.

And we can also act preventively in order to bring down the consumption of drugs in the United States and, in Mexico, too, which also begins to be a problem of great concern to us.

QUESTION: Mr. President, thank you.

Mr. President.

President Obama, you said in an op-ed that was out today that your new Cuba policy was part of an effort to move beyond the frozen disputes of the 20th century.

Why then is it so limited? Why not open the doors for all Americans to visit Cuba? And what will you say to your colleagues at the Summit of the Americas who want you to do more? And, President Calderon, what do you think the United States should do more on Cuba in order to improve relations with the region?

Thank you.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, first of all, I don't think that we should dismiss the significance of the step that we took.

We eliminated remittance restrictions and travel restrictions for Cuban-Americans who have family members in Cuba. For those families, this is extraordinarily significant. For the people in Cuba who will benefit from their family members being able to provide them help and to visit them, it's extraordinarily significant.

We took steps on telecommunications that can potentially open up greater lines of communication between Cuba and the United States. And, so, I think what you saw was a good-faith effort, a show of good faith on the part of the United States that we want to recast our relationship.

Now, a relationship that effectively has been frozen for 50 years is not going to thaw overnight. And, so, having taken the first step, I think it's very much in our interests to see whether Cuba is also ready to change. We don't expect them to change overnight. That would be unrealistic.

But we do expect that Cuba will send signals that they're interested in liberalizing in such a way that not only do U.S./Cuban relations improve, but so that the energy and creativity and initiative of the Cuban people can potentially be released.

I mean, we talk about the ban on U.S. travel to Cuba, but there's not much discussion of the ban on Cuban people traveling elsewhere and the severe restrictions that they're under.

I make that point only to suggest that there are a range of steps that could be taken on the part of the Cuban government that would start to show that they want to move beyond the patterns of the last 50 years.

I'm optimistic that progress can be made if there is a spirit that is looking forward, rather than backward. My guidepost in U.S./Cuba policy is going to be how can we encourage Cuba to be respectful of the rights of its people on political speech, political participation, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of travel.

But, as I said before, I don't expect things to change overnight. What I do insist on is that U.S./Cuban relationships are grounded with a respect, not only for the traditions of each country, but also respect for human rights and the people -- the needs of the people of Cuba.

And, so, I hope that the signal I have sent here is, is that we are not trying to be heavy-handed. We want to be open to engagement, but we're going to do so in a systematic way that keeps focus on the hardships and struggles that many Cubans are still going through.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And, so, there he is, the president of the United States and the president of Mexico, Barack Obama, Felipe Calderon, answering reporters' questions in Mexico City on a wide range of issues involving U.S./Mexican relations, including the U.S. relationship with Cuba, clearly, the president of the United States trying to change that relationship right now, announcing steps earlier in the week to allow Cuban-Americans to visit Cuba as often as they want, and to send unlimited remittances or money to relatives in Cuba, significant changes, the president says, in trying to reach out to the Cuban government.

There's much to digest. And we have two good strategists here to assess what we have just heard.

Joining us now, the Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor Donna Brazile and Mary Matalin, the Republican strategist, former top official in the Bush White House.

On this Cuba story, issue, since it was the last question asked of the president, Mary, what do you think of the president reaching out right now, trying to see if there's going to be some reciprocity from Raul Castro and his older brother, Fidel Castro?

MARY MATALIN, FORMER ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT BUSH: Right. Well, that's the key question. What is the reciprocity?

And he did mention it. And that's good that he did. But what are the triggers to measure that reciprocity? Can Cubans there, particularly those who have family members here, can their travel be unrestricted? You cannot free the energy of these people, who are very innovative, many of them in New Orleans, with -- under that kind of system.

I don't hear what the triggers to mark the reciprocity are. He's saying this is a good-faith effort, but he should have some measurement in place for which we can know if there is a reciprocity.

BLITZER: Because, as the questioner, the Reuters reporter who just asked that question, pointed out, it only involves Cuban- Americans who have these opportunities now to travel to Cuba. Other Americans don't have these opportunities, the president clearly saving that potentially for down the road.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, there's no question that these Cuban-Americans will be able to go back and forth home to visit their relatives.

They will be able to provide some form of economic help for their family members. I believe that we have to go further in opening up the Cuba border and Cuba should open up its border so that we can have a relationship. There are still human rights violations, but there's no reason why our policy should be set in the past.

It's time that we move forward and see if we can have a new relationship.

BLITZER: Another sensitive subject, Mary, and you heard the president discuss it, trying to get a new assault weapons ban.

The Mexicans are complaining that they say 70 percent of the assault weapons that are flooding into Mexico, they say, coming from the United States. And the president taking the position, you know, enforce existing laws right now, maybe not going forward with a new law on assault weapons.

MATALIN: Well, President Calderon and our president made the same point.

We can distinguish between those hunters and people who like to use guns for private purposes, Second Amendment people, you can distinguish those from people who are buying grenades and stacks of assault weapons and whatnot.

But people here, because of the history of this, know that you sometimes use a problem, and this president in other cases right now has showed a capacity to do this, use a current problem to overreach. And the gun people here, the hunters and what here, are very nervous about that...


BLITZER: There's a big spike in purchases of weapons, rifles, right now, because there's concern, at least among some of the gun owners out there, that the president, the U.S. president is going to take steps to further reduce the opportunity to buy guns.

BRAZILE: A lot of ammo sales as well.

But, look, I think we need to separate that from what's really going on down in Mexico. They're fighting a major drug war. The president has -- the president of Mexico has launched a war on these drug cartels. He needs us to control our borders, the flow of these weapons, to support the existing law.

If we're not going to ban these weapons of mass -- of mutual destruction, then we need to figure out how to register them.

BLITZER: If he runs into Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela, in Trinidad and Tobago over the weekend -- from Mexico, the president's going there for the Summit of the Americas, as it's called -- what do you think he should say to the president of Venezuela?

MATALIN: You know, he should use this for a Sister Souljah moment. This is a great opportunity for him to say something great about this country -- he's gone out of his way to say -- be contrite about things -- that it's rubbing Americans the wrong way.

But Hugo Chavez deserves to hear the full -- a full-throated defense of America. And it would be a good Sister Souljah moment.

(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: What would you like to hear him say to Hugo Chavez?

BRAZILE: Well, I'm all about strengthening our allies and repairing our ties, but this is a president who has snubbed us, who has made some very belittling remarks, not just about President Obama, but the former president.

He needs to understand that America's coming to shake his hands, but if he wants to ball that fist, well, we can play that game, too.

BLITZER: Most recently, Hugo Chavez called President Obama "poor and ignorant." And he said that was the least of it, words not necessarily sitting well over at the White House.

BRAZILE: But I don't think it reflects the views of the Venezuelan people. Let's think about them as well.

BLITZER: She's always positive, Donna Brazile.

MATALIN: She's a happy, happy woman.

BLITZER: Donna, thanks very much.

Mary, thanks for coming in.

A huge story we're following here in the United States right now, the attorney general, Eric Holder, saying the government won't prosecute CIA officers for using harsh interrogation tactics on terror suspects during the Bush administration.

The Obama administration has just released some Bush-era legal memos authorizing those tactics.

Our congressional correspondent, Brianna Keilar, has gone through a lot of those memos.

Brianna, what are these memos telling us?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they give us graphic details of what some critics of President Bush call torture.


KEILAR (voice-over): Four memos newly declassified by the Obama administration reveal Bush administration lawyers gave the CIA the green light to use harsh techniques for interrogating high-level terrorist suspects, including stress positions, nudity and simulated drowning, known as water-boarding.

And in August 2002, as the CIA intercepted intelligence similar to what preceded 9/11, Justice lawyers authorized interrogators to put Abu Zubaydah, an alleged top al Qaeda operative, in a confined space with insects, a technique that was ultimately not used.

These methods fell short of torture, said the lawyers, though President Obama has since prohibited the use of these harsh tactics. As his administration released the documents, delivering on a campaign promise of transparency, President Obama also promised CIA interrogators who used the then-approved tactics would not be prosecuted, saying, "We have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history, but at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past."

It's a decision the American Civil Liberties Union, which sued to make the interrogation memos public, opposes.

AMRIT SINGH, ACLU ATTORNEY: It's wrong to rule out prosecutions of individuals who conducted torture. Torture is illegal, it is immoral, and it is essential that individuals who conducted torture be held accountable.


KEILAR: And the ACLU says this is not where it ends. They say they're pushing for the release of even more documents detailing these harsh interrogation tactics -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, we're going to have more on this story coming up, Brianna. Thanks very much.

BLITZER: Let's check back with Jack Cafferty, though, right now for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Just a quick update on this hour's question.

These passengers might soon have to buy two tickets in order to fly on United Airlines. The company says for the comfort and well- being of all their customers, they have a new policy for passengers who cannot fit into a single seat, who cannot properly buckle the seat belt using an extender and cannot put the armrests down once they're seated. If there are extra seats available, the passenger would be moved. Next to an empty seat, no charge.

But if the flight is full, they either have to buy an upgrade to business or first class, where the seats are bigger, or change to a later flight and buy a second ticket.

The question this hour is: Should obese passengers have to pay for two seats when they fly?, we will have some e-mail responses. We have got a lot of them in a few minutes -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much. We will get back to you.

Two presidents against drug kingpins, President Obama and President Felipe Calderon of Mexico talking about battling drug lords. You just heard them at their news conference outlining their strategy. Will it work? Also, what would happen if Texas divorced itself from the United States? The governor, Rick Perry, suggests Texas potentially could leave the union.

And the New York governor, David Paterson, he's here in THE SITUATION ROOM. He's pushing today for same-sex marriage.


GOV. DAVID PATERSON (D), NEW YORK: We stand to -- to tell the world that we want equality for everyone. We stand to tell the world that we want marriage equality in New York State.



BLITZER: Major statement today from the governor of New York State, the governor saying the time has come to bring marriage equality to the state of New York.

The governor, David Petraeus, introducing legislation to allow same-sex marriage.

Governor Paterson is joining us now here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Governor, thanks for coming in.

PATERSON: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Why now? Why did you decide this is a good time to bring back this issue of authorizing same-sex marriage in New York State?

PATERSON: Well, Wolf, I think Americans have a viscerally negative reaction to same-sex marriage when you first hear about it.

But then, when you realize that there are over 1,300 protections that people who are married have, that people who are not married don't, even if they are living together in a sort of civil union, you realize that this is more than just a religious ceremony. It is a contract.

And while many religious groups oppose marriage equality -- and we respect them, that they are the tenets of their religion -- we are a state, which in many respects issues that contract. And we think that, when people can't put their loved one on an insurance policy or a health benefit plan, when they have no rights of intestacy when their partner dies, and when they can't make medical decisions for that person in a hospital or even visit them in a hospital, that the only way to cure it would be to allow for same-sex marriage, which we're proposing in New York.

BLITZER: Because, many of your colleagues, including Democrats, the president of the United States, President Obama, says, you know what, they can work all these legal issues out with civil unions, and not necessarily go that next step and authorize, you know, same-sex marriage.

Why do you disagree with President Obama?

PATERSON: Well, I think that what the president says is true.

But we have waited years and years for states to work those legal issues out, and nobody has actually been able to do it. And so we think that the right of people at this time in history, when we have so many conflicts and so many wars, just to live in peace with each other and call themselves married to me is not one of those issues that I would get upset about, as much as the economic and social unrest and the 23 different wars, conflicts that we have around the globe.

I think this is something that we could allow citizens of New York State to have, if that's what they desire.

BLITZER: Is it your sense that you could get this passed this time? Because they tried. It got through the assembly in New York State in Albany, didn't get through the senate. It was dropped.

What do your political instincts say right now? Will this become the law in New York State?

PATERSON: Right now, I think the assembly will pass the law again. The senate will have some difficulty passing it.

But we thought that, in terms of advocacy, to have the issue on the floor being debated and being discussed was better than holding back. And so I thought that this was the right time to introduce a piece of legislation such as this.

It was introduced two years ago by the previous governor, when I was lieutenant governor, and we were able to get far more votes in the assembly. It was predicted to pass there. So, we think that the energy that we are putting into the process will inevitably bring marriage equality to New York State.

BLITZER: There have been articles, as you have probably heard about, in various publications in New York State saying, this is a political ploy on the part of the governor, David Paterson. He wants to get reelected. He thinks this will help them, at a time when your job approval numbers are not very good.

What do you say to your critics?

PATERSON: I would say that I supported this issue in 1994. I supported it when I was a candidate for lieutenant governor in 2006.

The governor, Eliot Spitzer and I, introduced this bill in 2007. And I lobbied and helped pass it in the assembly. And when -- in 2008, when my poll numbers were very high, I actually recognized marriages outside of New York State in the state under the doctrines of our constitution that permit that.

So, I don't think I have been anything other than consistent. The political expediency, I would say, is really, on many respects, on the other side of the issue that throws up any reason, rather than consider this piece of legislation, which would only give people the right to live together in a marital contract, so that they would have rights vis-a-vis their partner...

BLITZER: All right.

PATERSON: ... which we don't allow for in our society now.

BLITZER: The recent poll -- there was a poll taken by Quinnipiac University -- showed, in a hypothetical contest between you and the attorney general, Andrew Cuomo, he would do much better, 61 percent, only 18 percent for you, leading Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, the Republican, to say this in "The New York Times: "Yes, it's true the current governor is terrible. Yes, it's true the government is indefensible, but let me tell you, if I had to bet money, you're not going to face the current governor next year. You have got to design a campaign that beats Cuomo."

First of all, you're definitely running for reelection, right?

PATERSON: I'm definitely running for reelection.

And, if you notice, the real desire is to have me not run, because they know, if I do, I will probably win. And, so, what I am trying to do right now is not think as much about elections, but what's right for the state.

We just balanced a budget deficit that was four times higher than the state had ever faced before. And we did it proportionally and distributed a shared sacrifice around the state. And I think, when people get a chance to look back, because it's so shocking how much in deficit New York State is, they will realize that some of the tough decisions that we made and some of the prohibitive cuts that we had to exercise were actually the right decisions for the state at that time.

BLITZER: Governor Paterson, thanks very much for coming in.

PATERSON: Thank you, Wolf. It's always a pleasure to join you.

BLITZER: Thank you.

The crew members of the U.S. ship hijacked by Somali pirates, they're back now on U.S. soil, and they're speaking out about their ordeal. Stand by. We're speaking to them.

Also, does Texas really want to secede from the United States? You might be surprised to hear what that state's governor, Rick Perry, has to say.

And her performance touched millions of people around the world. And it certainly changed her life. Susan Boyle talks to CNN about her newfound fame.


BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: Wall Street firms are about to be investigated again, the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, announcing Congress will form a commission to look into the causes of the financial crisis. Pelosi says the goal is to prevent future meltdowns.

A giant shopping mall company that operates 200 malls in 44 states filing for bankruptcy protection today. General Growth Properties says the credit crunch made it hard to refinance its debt. The company says shoppers won't notice a difference.

And a late-day rally on Wall Street sent stocks to their highest level in two months. The Dow closed up more than 95 points. Analysts say surprisingly good earnings from companies like Google sparked the surge.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A rescued U.S. sea captain and his crew are putting their pirate hostage ordeal farther behind them. Captain Richard Phillips is expected to return to Vermont from Kenya tomorrow. His crew members landed at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington this morning. And they told terrifying accounts of their captivity at sea.

Our Brian Todd is covering the homecoming in Maryland just outside Washington.

They have some pretty amazing stories, and they shared some of them with you, Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You really couldn't stop listening to them, Wolf. The narrative of this ordeal just got a lot clearer. Crew members are giving riveting detail about how those pirates got on board the Maersk Alabama and what happened when the crew confronted them.


TODD (voice-over): Reunited with their families, crew members from the hijacked American tanker give new details about how the young Somali pirates overpowered them.

WILLIAM RIOS, MAERSK ALABAMA CREW MEMBER: Scary. Scary. All we had were knives. They had AK-47s.

TODD: The crew now reveals they had been shadowed before on this journey.

RIOS: We were attacked three times. They tried to board three times. Different pirates were trying to attack us on that stretch.

TODD: They described taking evasive maneuvers to get away. Finally, the pirates got the upper hand.

ZAHID REZA, MAERSK ALABAMA CREW MEMBER: Before they came on board they started firing with AK-47s. And one guy, one pirate, their leader, Abdul, he was the one who came on board first. And he came on the bridge -- "Stop the ship. Stop the ship." And then we -- "Hands up."

TODD: Seaman Zahid Reza said he convinced the pirate leader, Abdul, a fellow Muslim, to go to the engine room with him to check on the crew. He says the hijacker didn't bring his gun. When they got him alone, the chief engineer jumped the pirate.

REZA: The pirate is lying on the floor, and chief engineer on his back, with the knife. And he's having a hard time to control him. And I jumped over the pirate, and I stabbed him. He was fighting me and chief engineer to get away from us. I was attempting to kill him.

And the chief engineer said, "No, no, no. We need him alive."

TODD: That hijacker got medical attention when the U.S. Navy got there and turned out to be the only pirate who survived.


TODD: Now, the crew members say that lead pirate, the leader of the group, appeared only to be about 18 years old, and had told them that he was looking for a ransom of about $3 million -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And you're getting some other fascinating details from these crew members, aren't you, Brian?

TODD: You're picking up bits and pieces as you go along and it's really fascinating to listen to and to read.

There was actually an e-mail from one crew member that reporters got hold of. He said that a lot of the crew were able to hide in the steering chamber of the boat down below, and that a couple of them were able to cut off power to the vessel. They say that that was crucial, because the pirates were reluctant to move around in the dark. And with no lights on one of these cavernous vessels, they were kind of hemmed in there.

Also, they said that they needed that orange lifeboat that they eventually held the captain in, because one of their own boats got capsized during this whole thing.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thank you.

For 10 years, Texas was a sovereign territory, before joining the United States back in 1845. Now, there's actual talk of the Lone Star State seceding from the country. Even the Texas governor, Rick Perry, isn't necessarily completely ruling out the possibility.

So what's going on?

We asked CNN's Samantha Hayes to check into this story and find out.

What are you finding out -- Sam? SAMANTHA HAYES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Governor Rick Perry certainly made some interesting comments off-camera with reporters at the tax protest party in Austin yesterday, suggesting that the Lone Star State may eventually want to go it alone.


GOV. RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: Texas is a unique place. When we came into the union in 1845, one of the issues was that we would be able to leave if we decided to do that.

There is absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the -- at the American people, you know, who knows what may came may came -- or may come out of that?

HAYES (voice-over): The governor's words, according to University of Texas law professor, Sanford Levinson, amounts to nothing more than bravado.

SANFORD LEVINSON, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS, GOVERNMENT AND LAW PROFESSOR: The notion that this could actually be a live issue, he can't be serious. The people around him can't be serious. The people around him can't be serious. It's, you know, the cheapest sort of demagoguery.

HAYES: Texas is known for asserting its independence and size. The Texas Capitol Building is second only to the U.S. Capitol and almost 15 feet higher. On the state grounds, there are three statues of confederate soldiers. And there's even a movement of sorts that claims the state is not part of the union. And, of course, there's that Texas swagger.

But reporter Jason Embry with the "Austin-American Statesman" says when it comes to the governor's comments, consider the politics.

JASON EMBRY, "AUSTIN-AMERICAN STATESMAN": Governor Perry has a very serious re-election challenge facing him in less than a year in the form of United States Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, who is going to run against him in the Republican primary for governor.


HAYES: And Senator Hutchison's office and the office of former President George W. Bush declined to comment on this issue.

But Texas Democrats are calling on Perry to disavow any talk about withdrawing from the United States -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Did you check with his office?

Was he really serious?

Did he just mean what he was saying?

Was it just a little bravado?

Did he issue a clarification today?

Do we know -- Sam?

HAYES: He didn't issue a clarification, Wolf, but I did check with his office. He wasn't available for an interview. But he never specifically he thinks this should happen or he wanted this to happen. He thinks very much that Texas should stay a part of the Union, but certainly kind of did give a nod to the opinions and feelings of some people in his state.

BLITZER: Yes. Texas is not going anywhere.


BLITZER: It's part of the United States.

All right. Thanks very much, Sam, for that.

Let's move on and beyond Texas. In fact, let's go back to Fredricka Whitfield.

She's monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Fred, what's going on?


Well, tens of thousands of Russian troops could soon pull out of Chechnya. Russia today declared an end to its 10 year anti-terror operation in the breakaway republic. The operation imposed curfews and restricted travel. Russia has fought two wars in Chechnya since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. Violence in the region has died down and Russian leaders say ending the operation is necessary for Chechnya's growth.

Maroon and orange balloons sail into the sky at the start of a race honoring victims of the Virginia Tech shooting. Today marked the two year anniversary. The race was 3.2 miles long in memory of the 32 people killed by a student gunman. Most of the victims' families accepted an $11 million settlement. And the Associated Press reports the remaining two families have just filed suits today.

Before John King and his magic wall, John Madden had his telestrator. And now, this legendary football broadcaster and Hall of Fame coach is retiring. Madden made the announcement today. The former Oakland Raiders coach provided NFL commentary for more than 20 seasons and worked for four television networks. The 73-year-old said it has been a great ride, but it is time to retire.

Something tells me, Wolf, we'll probably be seeing him still in some way, shape or form.

BLITZER: I'm certain. And when he says it's been a great ride, he means it literally.

WHITFIELD: Yes. BLITZER: Because he doesn't fly. He's been riding in that bus for Monday night and Sunday night football games for decades. So when he says it's been a great ride, he means it literally.

WHITFIELD: He loves the journey, not just the destination.

BLITZER: And we loved his -- his work, as well.


BLITZER: Good luck to John Madden.

Thanks very much for that, Fred.

In Latin America, President Obama isn't facing the kind of adoration he necessarily got in Europe.

Is he making a good first impression south of the border?

The best political team on television is sanding by.

And she dazzled the world with her singing voice. Now she's talking about what it's likely to be an unlikely overnight sensation.


SUSAN BOYLE, "BRITAIN'S GOT TALENT" CONTESTANT (singing): When hope was high and life worth living.



BLITZER: Let's get back to our top story.

The president of the United States in Mexico City right now meeting with the Mexican president, Felipe Calderon. So much is at stake for both of these countries in what's going on.

Let's talk about it and more with our CNN political analyst, Gloria Borger; our CNN political contributor, Steve Hayes, of "The Weekly Standard;" and our CNN political analyst, Roland Martin.

All of us watched the news conference. We see what's going on -- Gloria, how did the president do?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think the president did just fine. I mean there were really not too many surprises there. We know that -- that this is a meeting that was going to be dominated by lots of domestic issues that matter here at home, issues like immigration, issues like -- like gun control, the question of whether the president is still for an assault weapons ban, which is what President Calderon supports and President Obama said that he is for it. And he believes you can still have a Second Amendment and have a ban on assault weapons. So he reiterated that, which is an important statement for him politically back here. BLITZER: And he has also strongly defended, as you heard, Steve, his strategy toward trying to break the ice, if you will, with Cuba.

STEPHEN HAYES, SENIOR WRITER "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": He did. And, you know, what jumped out at me, again, was his use of the word "heavy-handed" to describe American policy in Latin America in the past. He said it this morning in his interview with CNN en Espanol, in the op-ed he -- today, he talked about problems that America has had in Latin America, saying that America has been too distracted -- too easily distracted in the past from conducting relations in that part of the world.

I do think at some point, you know, this -- this constant criticism, even when he uses it sort of as a couplet and then asks Latin America or Mexico or whoever the other party is to step up, at a certain point, this gets pretty tiresome. I mean, I think -- frankly, some of my conservative colleagues made too much of this when he did it on his European trip. But this has got to end at some point. It's getting -- it's getting bad.

ROLAND S. MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, here's the question, Wolf, why should it have to end if he is actually right?

Look, when you're the president of the United States, what you have to do is deal with the reality on the ground. And that is we have some issues when it comes to these Latin American countries. And I think what President Obama does not want us to do is to be in a situation where we have people who are saying you know what, we don't even want to talk to you in terms of the United States.

He's talking about being able to have partners. And so when you have people out there who have written about these issues and covered them, it has not always been a two-way street.

And so I think by saying, look, it's a partnership here, he's acknowledging a reality that sometimes we Americans don't like to admit to.

BORGER: You know, I think the general theory is, though, that the administration believes it's got a lot of repair work to do, not only when it comes to Latin America, but when it comes to relationships with our NATO allies. And so I don't think you see the president apologizing so much as he is trying to say we're actually listening to you, which was the major complaint about the United States.

BLITZER: Steve, is it your concern that he says these kind of things critical of the Bush administration or earlier administrations while he's outside the United States or is it -- does it make any difference where he physically is?

HAYES: I think that's part of it. And I understand -- look, I understand the tactic. I understand what they're trying to do here and say, look, we can identify with you on this, we're going to fix things. But at a certain point, you have to talk -- you have to spend more time talking about what's right about America and about the policies that you're putting forward than you do criticizing your predecessors.

You know, we are now several months into this administration. This criticism was -- was appropriate in the campaign. I think it's far less appropriate now, as he is the president of the United States, and certainly far less appropriate when he does it in a -- in a foreign country.

MARTIN: We are so used to, Wolf, in terms of exerting in terms of our positive attributes and this is who we are and what we have done. But, also, when you're dealing with other countries, there's a matter of also having trust. And I think when you're able to say, look, I can stand here as the president of the United States and admit where we have gone wrong and this is how we are going to operate moving forward.

I mean, so when you look at in terms of Venezuela, when you look at in terms of our history when it comes to Chile, when you look in terms of Cuba, we have to have a president who recognizes that we are now operating in a whole different world. You're relying on countries when it comes to oil, you'd better have a relationship with them and not all always be the adversary.

HAYES: But look at -- look at what he says about Cuba. You know, I mean in talking about Cuba policy, he talks about the United States perhaps being too heavy-handed in the past. And he only gently raises the issue of human rights about a dictator with as checkered a history as Fidel Castro has.

MARTIN: Steve, don't...


BORGER: But you've got to take one step...

MARTIN: Stephen, don't get me started on this.

BORGER: a time. You have to take one step at a time. And...

BLITZER: All right, guys, hold on one second...


MARTIN: Stephen, don't get me...


BLITZER: Quickly -- I want to quickly have you weigh in on a major decision today by the president and the attorney general not to prosecute any CIA officers who were engaged in enhanced interrogation -- waterboarding of Al Qaeda suspects and others, a decision that the president says, you know what, it's time to go forward and not look back -- Gloria, this is a big deal. A lot of people on the left are not very happy about this.

BORGER: Yes. But I think that, in a way, it's the only decision the president could have made, with his attorney general, Eric Holder. I think there was a decision that was made that what would this do to the CIA going forward if people in the CIA believed that they had gotten legal clearance, as they had, to do things right after 9/11 and now were being prosecuted?

What would that do to the people who serve this country in that agency...

BLITZER: A quick thought...

BORGER: who are trying to protect us?

BLITZER: A quick thought from Steve and Roland.

Steve first.

HAYES: Well, I think he deserves credit for that part of it. I have real concerns about what he did in revealing the techniques over the advice, I think, of some pretty senior intelligence officials.

BLITZER: Roland?

MARTIN: Look, unfortunately, the left, frankly, needs to shut up when it comes to this issue, because if you're the president -- if you're President Obama, the last thing you want is the future president, if it's a Republican, looking back at what you did and saying we're going to prosecute those folks, as well.

You do have to get beyond this and say you have to move forward. It's a great...

BLITZER: Roland...

MARTIN: It's a smart decision.

BLITZER: Roland is going to have more on this subject coming up at 8:00 p.m. a little bit more than an hour from now, on "NO BIAS, NO BULL".

Guys, thanks for coming in.

Our question to you this hour, should obese passengers have to pay for two seats when they fly?

Jack Cafferty is standing by with your e-mails.

And her performance touched millions of people and changed her life -- Susan Boyle is now talking to CNN about her newfound fame.


BOYLE (singing): I dreamed that love would never die.



BLITZER: She became an instant hit around the world after her surprising performance on a British talent show turned out to be an Internet favorite.

CNN's Atika Shubert spoke with Susan Boyle about going from anonymity to having the world cheer her on.


BOYLE: I thought mentally I'll show them. So I did.


BOYLE: Most people are (INAUDIBLE). It what (INAUDIBLE). It must have been a (INAUDIBLE) to watch.

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It really were -- were you scared at all?

BOYLE: I was scared. I was scared. I mean everybody is nervous on such a big program like that -- such a big program.


BOYLE (singing): I dreamed that love would never die.


SHUBERT: What is it about singing that really appeals to you?

BOYLE: It's a release. It's a release.

SHUBERT: It's a release from what?

What is it a release from?

BOYLE: It's a release of the emotions that you're thinking at the time. You can put it into -- into soul.

SHUBERT: What about has been, for you, the most surprising, but also the most emotionally affecting part of this whole process?

BOYLE: Well, that everybody seems to have embraced it, the way everybody seems to have apparently fallen in love with me. They chased me around the office. (INAUDIBLE) but you have to.

SHUBERT: Do you feel overwhelmed at all?

BOYLE: I do feel rather overwhelmed and humbled. I'm very humbled and very grateful.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, that was the biggest surprise I have had in three years on this show.


BOYLE: Like everyone else. Just your -- just your -- the girl next door, that sort of thing. That's exactly what it's like.


BOYLE (singing): So different now from what it seemed.


SHUBERT: What message do you have for other people who may want to follow in your footsteps, for example?

BOYLE: Go for it. That's all I can say, is just go for it.


BOYLE (singing): I dream.



BLITZER: Let's bring in our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.

You've been watching this on the Web. She's become a sensation out there.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, let's just put it this way, Susan Boyle's Wikipedia page -- it's already longer than yours.


TATTON: Sorry to break it to you that way.

BLITZER: I'm not surprised.

TATTON: And that's just the half of it. On Facebook, more than 100,000 fans already. She's been written about in English, in Dutch, in Italian.

If you look around the Web, she has fan sites who are already selling products with uplifting messages like: "never judge a book by its cover." And you've heard that Susan Boyle's never been kissed, right?

Yes, at this point you have. There's even a t-shirt for that, found on CafePress this morning. You can see it over there: "I'll kiss you, Susan Boyle."

BLITZER: A lot of people want to kiss her. She's got an amazing voice.

TATTON: She has a big following. BLITZER: We'll follow-up on this story.

Thanks very much, Abbi.

It's an uncomfortable situation all around, but, you know, these passengers have to pay for two seats when they fly -- Jack Cafferty with your e-mail.

Plus, growing a tree the hard way -- in your lung. CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a Moost Unusual look.


BLITZER: Let's go right back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: A lot of e-mail today on this question: Should obese passengers have to pay for two seats when they fly?

Rebecca in South Carolina: "They should pay for the space they occupy. If a person is so large he spills over beyond a single seat, he should not expect a non-obese person beside him to give up a part of his seat that he has paid for. Occupying another person's seat is a form of theft."

Jack in Ohio writes: "The real cost of flying should be based on weight anyway. For years, I thought those who wondered up to the counter with tons of bags were really pushing the limit. Eventually, they were -- applied additional charges for the extra baggage. We should all fly by the pound."

Randy says: "As an obese person, I agree with this policy. My doctor just told me to lose weight. It's a great incentive to lay off the extra portions. It's literally something I can live with."

James says: "Twice as big equals twice the fare. It's very fair."

Peter says: "Sitting next to an oversized passenger who overflows his seat space into the space you've paid for is wrong. Buying an airline ticket is like renting an apartment -- you pay for the right to use that space and the services that come with it for period of time, just like your neighbors do. When you rent an apartment, it doesn't matter if you have a family of eight and your neighbor is a single guy, you don't get to move into your neighbor's living room."

Stephanie says: "It's a matter of physics and economics, not fat. If I paid for a seat on an airline or bus, that's where footage has been sold and is not available for the duration of travel and I'm not obligated to share or donate."

And McCarlson says: "If I can fit me and my wife into one seat, can we get 50 percent off?"

Check with your wife. My hunch is she wouldn't be interested. If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at and look for yours there among hundreds of others -- Mr. Blitzer...

BLITZER: Thanks...

CAFFERTY: I will see you tomorrow.

BLITZER: Definitely. See you tomorrow, Jack.

CAFFERTY: All right.

BLITZER: Thank you.

What was supposed to be cancer surgery revealed a condition that was completely unexpected.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In his lung, that grew to a size of about two inches.


BLITZER: A tree inside a man's lung -- the story behind this "Moost Unusual" discovery. That's just ahead.


BLITZER: A man who thought he had cancer got quite a surprise when surgeons operated.

Jeanne Moos has this "Moost Unusual" story.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Trees can grow almost anywhere -- out of cement, out of basements.

But in your lungs?

They're saying this Russian man must have inhaled a fir tree seed. Surgeons thought he had cancerous tumor. He was coughing blood. But when they operated...



What could it be?

I was simply shocked.


MOOS (on camera): They found a tiny fir tree. In his lung, that tree grew to a size of about two inches.

(voice-over): The patient said he was just glad it wasn't cancer. But he couldn't explain it.

ARTYOM SIDORKIN, PATIENT (through translator): Maybe I inhaled a fir tree bud somehow, I don't remember.

MOOS: Now, even the weatherman is cracking jokes.


BILL EVANS, METEOROLOGIST: Yesterday, I inhaled a sesame seed.


EVANS: And I grew a Big Mac, I think, in my lung.



MOOS: And kids are citing the tree in the lung as proof of what their parents once warned.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't eat watermelon seeds or a watermelon will grow inside of you.

MOOS: Of course, there are skeptics.

And a Russian plant expert says...

OLGA BARANOVA, UDMURT STATE UNIVERSITY (through translator): : This is absolutely impossible that a green plant could have grown inside a human body from this small seed.

MOOS: It needs light, water and a certain temperature, though a spokesperson for London's Royal Botanical Gardens told "The Guardian" a seed might be able to germinate in the damp, dark conditions of the lung.

Talk about evergreen...


TRACY MCINTYRE, PATIENT: Oh, that's terrible.


MOOS: ...surgeons found an inch long sprig in this, at the time, 16-year-old California girl's lung. She had been having problems for years.

MCINTYRE: Stupid me, I had to put something in my mouth when I was a baby.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MOOS: At the age of two, her parents called 911 when she had a choking fit next to the Christmas tree. But then it passed.

(on camera): Now we've done lots of stories about weird things being inhaled or swallowed. I'm sorry, I'm out of control.

(voice-over): So was Hannah (ph) the Lab, who loved chasing golf balls.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Seven, eight, nine.

MOOS: They took nine out of her stomach.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Was that in your belly?

MOOS: Or the dog named Penny, who had 75 pennies, a quarter, two dimes and a nickel removed from her stomach. But a diagnosis of fir in the lung...


MOOS: ...sort of gives new meaning to the words of that old Christmas favorite.


MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Thank you, Jeanne.

Tomorrow, President Obama will attend the Summit of the Americas in the Caribbean. Among those expected to be there, the Venezuela president, Hugo Chavez, who recently called the president "ignorant."

Should President Obama sit down with him?

Submit your video questions to We'll try to get some of them in on the air.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.