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The Situation Room

Swine Flu Spreading; White House Apology to New York City

Aired April 27, 2009 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We'll talk to a CDC flu expert and get advice that could help you avoid getting this virus.

Almost $900 million to fight a flu pandemic stripped from the economic stimulus package -- who's to blame?

Paul Begala and Tony Blankley -- they're here to discuss that and more.

And General Motors fights for its life and unveils a drastic plan for survival. It would put American taxpayers in the driver's seat as majority shareholders and mean the end of the road for one legendary car brand. The General Motors' CEO, Chris Henderson, joins us here in THE SITUATION ROOM this hour.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


The numbers are climbing, the threat is increasing and there's growing concern right now that the current cases of the deadly swine flu could erupt into a global pandemic. Among the latest developments, the World Health Organization has just raised its pandemic alert level to four on its scale of six -- six being the worst -- saying the virus can no longer be contained.


DR. KEIJA FUKUDA, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: The directors general have decided on the following issues. One, that the pandemic phase alert should increase from Phase 3 to Phase 4.


BLITZER: Other developments in Mexico. The apparent epicenter of the outbreak is now reporting 149 deaths and ordered schools nationwide closed for at least a week. Here in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has now confirmed 40 cases of swine flu -- 20 of them today alone.

Globally, the World Health Organization is counting 73 cases, including the first reported cases in Europe.

As the number of cases increases around the world, the federal government here in the United States is ramping up its response. But some experts warn we're simply not prepared for a pandemic.

We're covering all angles of the story for you.

Our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, is standing by.

But let's start with our CNN homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve --Jeanne, what's the latest?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the administration is carefully calibrating its swine flu response, trying to react aggressively to the latest data without triggering panic.


MESERVE (voice-over): Flights are still arriving in the U.S. from Mexico, though Customs and Border Protection is watching passengers for signs of illness and some travelers are wearing masks. But travel in the other direction is about to plunge. Travel advisories now warn Americans not to go to Mexico if they don't have to.

JANET NAPOLITANO, U.S. HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: They encourage individuals to avoid any non-essential travel to Mexico for the time being. You may ask, how long will the alerts be operative. And the answer is we don't know.

MESERVE: With their frequent briefings and decision to distribute anti-viral medication to states, experts give the government generally good marks for its response. There is concern, that if the outbreak explodes into a pandemic, public health laboratories will be overwhelmed.

A recent report says budget cuts have resulted in the loss of 11,000 state and local public health jobs and another 10,000 are in jeopardy.

JEFF LEVI, TRUST FOR AMERICA'S HEALTH: That could Rick be a threat, because it would delay our ability to identify what's going on. And that's critical to a rapid response to a pandemic.

MESERVE: Experts say hospitals don't have enough beds, masks, gloves or breathing machines, called ventilators.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the country needs on the order of a couple of hundred thousand additional ventilators over what we have now.

MESERVE: Officials say it could take months to get a vaccine in production and then we may not be able to make enough.

MIKE OSTERHOLM, CDC: The worldwide capacity to make vaccines right now, John, is about 450 million doses of influenza virus per year for the world. That's far short of 6.5 billion people.


MESERVE: Experts say there has been tremendous progress in pandemic preparedness, there just hasn't been enough if we are facing something very big -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jeanne, thank you.

Lots of questions about swine flu.

Let's go to our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen.

She's taking a closer look at all of this, what we know and a lot we don't know -- Elizabeth.


Let's first talk about what we know. What we know is that CDC officials here in the U.S. say that we should expect to see more cases of swine flu in this country and that some of them will likely be much more severe than what we're already seeing now.


COHEN (voice-over): The swine flu starts out much like the regular seasonal flu -- experts say fever, headaches, dizziness, nausea and body aches. It's transmitted from pigs to humans and then from person to person. It's a virus that's never been seen before, so no one has immunity.

DR. MARTIN BLASER, CHAIRMAN, NYU DEPARTMENT OF MEDICINE: When a new virus comes in, it's usually much more dangerous. We don't know yet how dangerous this one's going to be.

COHEN: Dangerous enough to be suspected in the deaths of at least 149 people in Mexico, but none so far in the U.S.

DR. RICHARD BESSER, ACTING CDC DIRECTOR: Thankfully, so far, we have not seen severe disease in this country. We are only aware of one individual who was hospitalized and all people who have been infected and were sick have recovered.

COHEN: Just why this virus is so potent in Mexico but so tame in the U.S. is one mystery U.S. health officials are trying to solve. They do know that the virus is sensitive to two anti-viral drugs, Tamiflu and Relenza.

BESSER: For now, early treatment with those drugs is effective -- or we would expect it to be effective.

COHEN: As far as preventing swine flu, the best bet -- simple hygiene.

BESSER: It's important that individuals realize they have a key role to play in reducing their own likelihood of getting infected -- frequent hand washing, covering your cough or your sneeze. That's very important. And if you're sick -- if you have a fever and you're sick and your children are sick, don't go to work and don't go to school.

(END VIDEOTAPE) COHEN: Now, the World Health Organization has said that we have not reached a pandemic with swine flu. But as Wolf mentioned earlier, they have moved the pandemic alert to Phase 4. What that means is that they have noted that there is sustained human to human transition of this virus, not just pig to human -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That's very frightening, that word pandemic, by itself.

All right, Elizabeth, stand by.

We'll get back to you.

We'll get back to the swine flu crisis momentarily.

But I want to go to Barbara Starr right now.

She's over at the Pentagon -- Barbara, you've been monitoring this uproar over what happened earlier in the day when a plane -- an Air Force One look-alike -- was flying low over New York City with some fighter jets escorting it. And now we get an apology from the White House.

What's going on?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a really extraordinary story and quite a security scare in lower Manhattan earlier today, when a Boeing 747, which is, in fact, designated as Air Force One when the president is on board, was flying low over Lower Manhattan, being chased by two F-16s.

You can only imagine how the people of lower New York felt about it. Reports are that hundreds of people left office buildings and apartments and went into the streets, fearful of what was about to happen.

It turned out it was all a photo-op -- that this was an authorized flight. They were flying a training -- part training mission, part photo-op to take pictures of this plane flying over New York City.

Now, the White House Military Office has apologized to the City of New York. Louis Caldera, the head of that White House office, saying: "I apologize and take responsibility for any distress that that flight caused."

And plenty of distress, starting with the mayor of New York, who said he had no idea that this was going on. The FAA and the Air Force say they notified the city. The New York Police Department knew about it, but Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York, who takes security very seriously, said he was furious. He had no idea that this was happening -- Wolf.

BLITZER: They may have notified the police, they may have notified the mayor's office, they may have notified the FAA, but they didn't notify the public. And that's of enormous concern, because people see a plane like that flying low level, chased by fighter aircraft, and you get really worried, given the history of New York City.

All right. Barbara, thanks very much for that.

Barbara Starr working that story.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty once again for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, Wolf. Before I get to the question, I was just curious about something. I had my producer, Sarah Leider (ph), check this out. The Center for Disease Control -- to put this swine flu story into perspective. The Centers for Disease Control in this country reports that 36,000 people die of flu-related illnesses in this country every year and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized with the flu.

So it's something to keep in mind before we all go running into the streets and having a panic attack.


BLITZER: Good point.

CAFFERTY: Since the release of those Bush era enhanced interrogation or torture memos, former Vice President Dick Cheney has not been able to stop talking. You may have noticed. This was a guy we barely ever saw or heard from for eight years.

Cheney insists the harsh techniques kept the country safe, President Obama ought to release more documents that would prove that.

Karl Rove, formerly Bush's top political adviser, accuses President Obama of seeking show trials of former administration officials. And even Senator

John McCain, who once fought for limits on interrogation during the Bush administration, says: "Any talk of prosecution now is about folks settling old political scores."

I guess the fact that laws may have been broken don't matter to John McCain.

All of the talk, one person that we have yet to hear from on any of this is the former president, Bush, himself.

Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy insists an independent commission is needed on this, to find out who exactly authorized this stuff: "I want to know who was it who made the decisions that we will violate our own laws, we'll violate our own treaties, we will even violate our own Constitution?"

While President Bush repeatedly denied that his administration authorized torture of prisoners -- but just last week a Senate report showed top Bush officials, as early as 2002, gave the CIA approval to use techniques like waterboarding, which has been considered torture since the Spanish Inquisition. So here's the question: When it comes to the torture debate, why has former President Bush been silent?

Go to and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

Growing concern over a potential swine flu pandemic -- we're following all the latest developments this hour. We're going to be speaking live with a CDC flu expert and he'll answer many of the questions all of us have about this deadly virus and why we should be so concerned.

And General Motors' drastic turnaround plan would make the taxpayers the majority shareholder of G.M. and mean the end of the Pontiac line, among others.

Can it save the struggling automaker?

I'll speak with G.M.'s CEO. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Here's some more on the developing story we're following -- swine flu spreading in the United States and around the world. We want to bring you the latest information we have, including expert advice.

For that, we go to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

In Atlanta, joining us now, Dr. Jan Jernigan.

He's deputy director of the influenza division.

Captain, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: Why should we be so concerned?

A lot of people asked -- Jack Cafferty just asked -- about 30,000 Americans die every year from flu-related illnesses, yet 40 people have come down -- in the United States -- with confirmed -- a confirmed case of swine flu right now. I believe one has been hospitalized. Most of the cases have been relatively mild.

Why should we be so concerned about swine flu?

JERNIGAN: Well, I think it's important to remember that influenza is something that strikes Americans every year and millions of Americans get it each year. What we're seeing here is something that's different than what normally circulates for seasonal influenza.

This particular virus has genes in it, it has characteristics that are different than what we normally see circulating with regular flu. So what we're concerned about is that, is this one of those viruses that might take hold in the population and cause more severe disease?

And so, as we look for these viruses, this one was detected. At the same time, we see what's happening in Mexico City.

And so the issues there are something that concern us very much. And so we're watching very closely with what's happening in the U.S. to make sure that we don't have the same kind of problem that they have there. And if it seems like that, we want to be able to prevent that.

BLITZER: Well, what's the problem -- what's the difference?

Because in Mexico, what, almost 180 people have -- are believed to have died from this, yet no one has died here in the United States.

Is there a explanation why people are dying in Mexico and so far, thank God, no one has died in the United States?

JERNIGAN: That's right. Well, there are many factors that may be playing here. And so I think what we're at the point now is trying to tease out exactly what are the things that are the differences here.

Are some of those cases actually not due to the H1N1?

Are there problems that are circulating that are caused at the same time?

These are things that we want to find out. And so we have a team down there. We're working with the WHO to understand that better. And so, hopefully, we'll see what are these differences, because the kind of illnesses that we're seeing in the U.S. don't exactly match what we're seeing in Mexico.

BLITZER: The World Health Organization, just moments ago, raised the alert level for a pandemic from three to four. The most concerning level would be a six.

What is -- what is your worst case scenario that you fear the most right now?

JERNIGAN: Well, we -- we want to be prepared. And so we've been preparing for the last two years with a whole lot of exercises, trying to put together guidance documents, forming ourselves into a way that we would be able to respond to something like that.

And so what we're doing is we are following the virus. We're making sure that it doesn't have the kind of characteristics that would lead to a pandemic. But we -- we're certainly being prepared so that we don't have problems with it.

The Level Four basically says that there is transmission within the community of a -- of a new virus. And so that makes a lot of sense that we've moved to a Phase 4. But there are a lot of things that we need to follow -- factors to -- to characterize that we do not want to -- to fall into a problem with not having any information to know if we are moving forward with it. But...

BLITZER: I just want to interrupt for a moment, because in Mexico, they've closed all the schools. It's a huge country. Millions of people are walking around with these masks.

At what point would the CDC recommend that Americans start taking those kinds of steps?

JERNIGAN: Well, currently, the recommendations for masks are for people that have had the H1N1 diagnosis. So if you have had it, we'd recommend that you wear it if you're at home.

At this point, we're not recommending that people wear these masks in the community. We're not seeing the virus in those places, at this point. And so there is not a recommendation now for folks to be wearing them all the time.

BLITZER: So the most important thing that Americans who are watching us right now should walk away with and do immediately, if they're concerned about swine flu, is what?

JERNIGAN: Well, certainly, if you have symptoms of influenza -- that is, if you have a fever, cough, a sore throat, things like that. If you have also had some exposure to people that have been to Mexico or if you've traveled to Mexico, we recommend that you contact your health care provider. And they can assess you and determine whether or not you should have some of the medications that take care of it.

BLITZER: Captain Dan Jernigan is the deputy director of the Influenza Division over at the CDC.

Thanks very much, Dr. Jernigan, for coming in.


My pleasure.

BLITZER: One of the world's biggest cities at the center of the swine flu outbreak -- we're going to show you the impact that fear of the virus is having on Mexico City.

Plus, five members of Congress arrested, including a venerable civil rights leader -- we have details of the charges they're now facing.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi to friends and family, from Mexico City. Here we are.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're still alive. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're still alive. We're surviving.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're very warm in the masks, but we're doing well.


BLITZER: All right. That's the scene in Mexico City, where people are trying to deal with the swine flu outbreak that's already hospitalized nearly 2,000 people in Mexico and killed perhaps as many as 150 or so.

Let's bring in our Abbi Tatton.

She's got a closer look at this city. It's a city of, what 20 million people?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Right. And we're used to it looking a certain way -- Mexico City bustling with people. This is what its main downtown square normally looks like -- filled with pedestrians, with tourists.

Now take a look at what that square looked like over the weekend -- absolutely deserted, save for just a couple of people wearing masks and praying. Apart from that, nobody around. That was what the -- the scene in Mexico City looked like over this weekend.

Some normal life has been carrying on. For example, this football match was played. You'll see athletes on the field. But to no spectators. No spectators allowed in, as officials try and stem the spread of infection.

It was the same thing Sunday morning in churches. Church service -- church services there canceled, as well.

Today, Monday, people had to go to work. It was a work day. But look as the pictures from the subway. Almost everyone in that picture there wearing a mask. By some estimations, Wolf, one in five people going around wearing a mask today.

BLITZER: And we heard earlier, Janet Napolitano, the secretary of Homeland Security, telling Americans don't go to Mexico unless you absolutely have to go there.

TATTON: Right.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Abbi, for that.

The swine flu outbreak has people rethinking their travel plans. In response, U.S. airlines are waiving fees for passengers who are reconsidering their decision to visit Mexico right now. Continental, American, United, Delta, AirTran and US Airways -- they're all allowing travelers to adjust their reservations to Mexico without penalty. U.S. airports are beginning to make major adjustments, as well. Over at Los Angeles International Airport, for instance, custodians are sanitizing doorknobs, handrails, restroom faucets. And more drastic measures are being taken elsewhere around the world.

In Japan, officials are taking the temperatures of passengers returning from Mexico. And at Mexico City's airport, people are wearing protective masks.

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

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, five members of Congress face misdemeanor charges after being arrested outside Sudan's embassy in Washington today. They were part of a demonstration against genocide in Darfur. Police arrested Representatives John Lewis of Georgia and four other Democratic representatives. As he was led away in handcuffs, Lewis, a former civil rights activist, told CNN: "You have to find a way to dramatize an issue."

And take a look at this -- a replay now of a heart-stopping, breath-holding stunt in China over the weekend. Stunt man Samat Hasan set a new Guinness world record by completing a 700-meter tightrope walk at an angle of 39 degrees. Hasan performed his seat over a valley in Central China's Hunan Province -- Wolf.


That's amazing.

SNOW: Pretty incredible.

BLITZER: All right, Mary.

Thank you.

If the swine flu outbreak becomes a pandemic, the U.S. will need to find the money to fight it. Hundreds of millions of dollars were stripped from the original economic stimulus package.

What if the funds were still there?

And do we need them now?

And Pontiac is out and a new restructuring proposal is in -- can General Motors avoid bankruptcy?

I'll pose that question to the carmaker's CEO, Fritz Henderson. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


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

Happening now, from Homeland Security chief, Janet Napolitano, word that the swine flu outbreak has triggered a global alert just shy of a full blown pandemic. Napolitano says the U.S. if mobilizing big time to fight the virus' spread.

A senior U.S. diplomat was poised to meet for talks with Cuba's top representative in Washington today. This would be the second such meeting. But the State Department says: "It does not signal a renewed push for improved relations with Cuba."

And news of the swine flu is being blamed with sending Wall Street back to a state of caution. The Dow Jones average retreated from a midday recovery, ending the day down 51 points, to close at 8025.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


There are now concerns that the swine flu outbreak could leap from Mexico to the U.S. and could become a full blown pandemic. At least 40 cases are confirmed in the U.S. -- in New York, specifically; California, Texas, Kansas and Ohio.

The U.S. has released part of its national stockpile of anti- viral medications.

Mexico has closed all schools until at least May 6th to help ward off the spread of the virus.

The World Health Organization says there have been 26 swine flu deaths confirmed in Mexico so far. The WHO today raised its alert to Phase 4 out of 6 on a potential pandemic.

Hundreds of millions of dollars for a pandemic flu was actually stripped from President Obama's economic stimulus package.

Let's go to CNN's Elaine Quijano.

She's got more on this story for us -- Elaine, walk us through what exactly happened, because those hundreds of millions of dollars are looking pretty important right now.


Democratic Congressman David Obey had argued that a flu pandemic could devastate the U.S. economy. But money to help deal with an outbreak got stripped out in the heat of that bitter debate over stimulus spending.


QUIJANO (voice-over): Just months before the swine flu outbreak, the Senate cut $870 million for pandemic flu research and development from the economic stimulus plan.

Senator Susan Collins, a key Republican, vote, argued the money wouldn't create or save jobs.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: It doesn't make sense to include $870 million for pandemic flu preparedness -- again, an issue that I care deeply about because of my role on the Homeland Security Committee.

QUIJANO: Even Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer agreed the money to fight the flu didn't belong.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: All those little porky things that the House put in the bill -- the money for The Mall or sexually transmitted diseases or the flu pandemic -- they're all out.

QUIJANO: While experts say the money wouldn't have made a difference dealing with the current swine flue outbreak, some warn Washington can't afford delay.

LEVI: This is definitely a wakeup call.

QUIJANO: Jeff Levi heads up a public health organization called Trust for America's Health. He says the only way to ensure that the U.S. is truly prepared for a pandemic outbreak is to invest hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

LEVI: It means having laboratories able to rapidly diagnose what's going on. It means having epidemiologists who can investigation cases, it means having in place all the resources that you need if this were truly a large outbreak.


QUIJANO: Congress did include $156 million for pandemic flu preparedness in the omnibus spending bill that President Obama signed in March. But we just heard from David Obi who says the U.S. still is not prepared. He says he'll try again to get more money -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Elaine thanks very much.

Let's assess what we've just heard on that and more with Democratic strategist, CNN political contributor Paul Begala and Republican strategist Tony Blankley, former spokesman for the House speaker Newt Gingrich. Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

What do you think of this development, Tony? We'll start with you. The fact that hundreds of millions of dollars were stripped out because it wasn't deemed all that important.

TONY BLANKLEY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think both parties are trying to play a little bit of politics. The Democrats are saying it was stripped out, the report said it wouldn't come online. On the other hand, the Republicans are saying there's no HHS secretary, the top 19 people, surgeon general, head of the public health service. That would never happen. In any administration, it takes three to six months to get your people online. The reality is what happens in the first three to six months of the administration you're fighting with whatever the last administration left you and that's the reality.

Regarding public health, when I wrote my book in '95 on radical Islam, took a good look at it, we're underfunding in every way you'd want to measure the whole public health system but it's a very expensive proposition to gear up enough to prepare for a rare emergency. So that's a constant problem. I think more should be spent.

BLITZER: Nobody should be surprised politics already is being played on a very sensitive and important issue like this.

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I agree with everything that Tony said, politics is a part of it and that's not all together bad, so long as it's accountable. You know, we saw in Elaine's piece, Senator Collins, a Republican senator from Maine standing on the floor bragging about cutting the money for pandemic flu out. Now her argument was we didn't get the whole clip, in defense of her, it was it won't stimulate the economy. Well David Obi I thought had the better of the argument. He said, yes, in fact it will prevent a deeper depression because if something like this hits the economic affect will be colossal and I think that David Obi is going to be proved right in this little debate here.

BLITZER: For Mexico's economy right now, which depends so much on tourism, that economy is going to go through devastation because tourism is going to dry up.

BLANKLEY: Recognize the technical facts involved. If you're going to do money for research and you pass the money in February, you're not going to -- the contracts won't even be cut by April let alone the result. But point of fact, it didn't make any difference for this event, but it does make a difference down the line whether we're investing enough in public health.

BLITZER: I think you agree with that. What about the criticism of President Obama that he doesn't have key people in place right now to deal with the crisis.

BEGALA: First of all, the secretary of health and human services, can you imagine that we're potentially moving into four on a scale of six, the World Health Organization says of a pandemic and we don't have a health secretary confirmed. That's not because he hasn't sent someone up, it's because the Republicans have blocked action. Harry Reid, the Democratic leader, has brought her up again and again. They continue to block it in the Republican Party and she will apparently get a vote tomorrow and not a moment too soon.

BLITZER: Because until she's confirmed and she's been placed, they can't fill a number of other jobs.

BLANKLEY: Of course and you can always play the situation his first nominee failed, insufficient vetting, but I find the appointments issue to be secondary. I mean I remember Rumsfield didn't have but about three people in the defense department by the summer of 2001, so it's always a slow buildup of all your sub cabinet members.

BLITZER: What grade would you give the president and his team right now for emergency preparedness as we approach 100 days in office? BLANKLEY: I mean with the team he inherited, we'll see how he executes if the problem develops. He's got a good nominee for FEMA, who I think will be confirmed. He's Jeb Bush's guy in Florida and he's a very able man.

BLITZER: He's widely respected. Go ahead.

BEGALA: He gets great reviews. The new FEMA director should be confirmed quickly.

You fight here with facts and the problem with the team that let us into Katrina, which was Mr. Brown and Judge Chertoff, is that they don't know what was going on and so then they spoke to the public and they looked like fools because kept basically saying all is well, all is well. Well, all was not well. Janet Napolitano, just starting out but many briefings. She removed quickly to release more tamiflu into the market which our government controls the supply of and she seems to have a ...

BLITZER: Giver me a grade.

BEGALA: I would give her an a because she seems to know what the hell she's doing.

BLITZER: The whole administration on the issue of emergency preparedness?

BEGALA: Yes and what a difference from Michael Brown and Michael Chertoff.

BLANKLEY: Keep in mind it's been reported on the news today that the flu epidemic team has been trained by the previous administration and that's why, in fact the Democrats were saying, we don't have to worry about not having the top people.

BLITZER: There are a lot of career professionals out there.

BLANKLEY: I think trying to find a partisan angle on the swine flu is sort of swine.

BLITZER: Do you want to give a grade?

BLANKLEY: Incomplete. I mean I can't help it. We don't know yet.

BEGALA: I do think that Janet Napolitano seems to have the facts than I think Michael Chertoff did when he said people aren't stranded at the convention center when we were covering the fact that they were there.

BLITZER: We'll hear from her in the next hour. All right guys. Thanks very much

Remember, Wednesday night starting at 7:00 p.m. eastern, CNN's National Report Card on the 100th day of the Obama administration, we want you, our viewers, to grade the president and the administration and the Congress. Our coverage begins 7:00 p.m. eastern Wednesday night.

Fifteen billion dollars in government loans and how much more will GM need to survive? The company has a dramatic new turnaround plan. We'll get the details from GM's CEO Fritz Henderson. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Plus our chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, right now he's at ground zero of the swine flu outbreak. He's going to join us live from Mexico City with all the latest developments, information you need to know.


BLITZER: Let's get back to our coverage of this swine flu crisis momentarily but there's other important new that we're following.

There's been some significantly movement in General Motors' bid to try and stay alive. The car maker announced a restructuring plan it hopes will forestall bankruptcy. And it's discontinuing it's very popular muscle line, Pontiac.


BLITZER: Joining us now the president and CEO of General Motors Fritz Henderson.

Mr. Henderson, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: What are the chances that by the end of May General Motors is going to have to file for bankruptcy protection?

HENDERSON: Today, we launched a bond exchange that provided options for bondholders and it also provided conditions to the bond exchange. We have been clear through this process and certainly we were in the prospectus that if we can't achieve our goals outside of a bankruptcy process which is our objective, then we would do it inside of one. So this is an important step today, it gives us a chance to execute this restructuring outside of a bankruptcy process. But if it doesn't succeed, if we're not able to accomplish what we need to accomplish, we would fall into a bankruptcy process by June 1.

BLITZER: The stock of GM a couple of years ago was selling for about $42 a share, a year ago, $25 a share, now it's just over $2 a share. This whole avoiding bankruptcy hinges right now on this contingency plan that you unveiled today. Give us your ballpark estimate, 50/50, 60/40, what are the chances it's going to work so you won't have to file for bankruptcy.

HENDERSON: As I look at the operating side of the business, we're confident that we can execute the plan that's included in the prospectus today, we're moving aggressively, we're moving fast, it's all about going faster, going deeper, in terms of what the bondholders want to do, I can't predict that.

BLITZER: So you say it's a 50/50 thing right no.

HENDERSON: I'm not in the business of providing probablistic estimates right now. With respect to bondholders and how they exercise their options, they have to make their own choices.

BLITZER: Bringing the total to $15.4 billion do you think more money will be necessary from U.S. taxpayers?

HENDERSON: The prospectus outlines what might be necessary from the U.S. taxpayer, we identified $27 billion in total. And that is by the way when we made our commission in February, we outlined an upper level of $30 billion, so we're baseball within the $30 billion we asked for in February. We have a $2.6 billion draw at the end of May and another $9 million beyond that.

BLITZER: In terms of repaying taxpayers, I take it what you really want to do is give perhaps 50 percent if not more of the common stock of General Motors to the U.S. treasury, making the General Motors in effect a U.S. government-run and owned operation?

HENDERSON: The bond exchange actually has as one of the conditions that 89 percent of the shares would be split between the U.S. treasury and the retirees and the payment of health care benefits. One of the ways for the bond exchange to be successful is that the exchange be over 50 percent. The treasury has not indicated any interest of running the business, as one of the announcements they made in March is that we need to reconstruct or board and if that were to occur, they would be the largest shareholder, they would be over 50 percent, as to what they would do in the future, I can't say, but in terms of what they have asked us to do is basically run the company and in terms of the board, have the board reconstitute it?

BLITZER: If you got your way, the majority of the ownership of GM would be you and me, the American taxpayer?

HENDERSON: There's no commitment, but certainly one of the conditions of the bond exchange is that.

BLITZER: Pontiac, why is Pontiac going to go away?

HENDERSON: We in our February commission talked about repositioning Pontiac as a niche brand between a Buick and a Pontiac retail challenge. We have spent the last 30 days trying to see how we would make Pontiac as a niche brand to be successful. We could not provide the right resources in terms of research and development and the right are resources in terms of product development. We need to stop.

BLITZER: Oldsmobile went away a few years ago, Buick is still there, why is Buick there, Chevy there, but Pontiac is going to disappear?

HENDERSON: Our core brand, Chevrolet, Cadillac, Pontiac and GMC represents 85 percent of our volume. It's a far higher level of the profitability level of the company. In terms of the Pontiac brand, a fair amount of their volume we're able to fulfill that with other brands. And as we get behind strong Chevrolet offerings, we could keep at least a relatively reasonable percentage of those customers within the family. We'll have to tell, but I think we're going to do fantastic cars and trucks across the ford core brand which is the most important thing we can do in the marketplace.

BLITZER: Make the case to the viewers right now, given the talk of bankruptcy and the major problems GM is facing right now, why should someone go out and by a GM car?

HENDERSON: First of all we have to tap the cars and trucks, first of all they should do it because they love our cars and truck. First of all we will succeed and we will get through this. President Obama in his speech talked about the fact that GM could be viable and would be viable and successful going forward. He basically then went on to stand behind the service and warranty of our products and services saying that the customers can have confidence that they can buy a GM car or truck and we will get through this and we will take care of customers. We will be there and you're going to be really happy buying a GM car or truck.

BLITZER: Fritz Anderson the CEO of GM's cars and trucks.


BLITZER: GMC triggering a wage of nostalgia. There's Brian Todd, he's about to join us.

And a low flying plane over Manhattan triggers panic on the ground. We're going to tell you why the white house has now issued an apology for the incident.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Checking in with Jack for the Cafferty File.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour: When it comes to the torture debate, why is former President Bush been silent up to this point?

Raymond in North Carolina: "Bush's probably lawyered up and his lawyers have told him to remain silent on everything until the smoke settles from his administration's disastrous policies."

Deb in Illinois: "George Bush hoping that one old saying is true. Out of sight, out of mind. And that one old saying isn't. The buck stops here. Just who do you think is ultimately responsible for the acts of torture committed in name of the United States of America? I think George Bush knows, too."

Adam in Thousand Oaks, California: "My guess is he is at peace with the decisions he made and believes they are no small part of what kept our country safe since 9/11. I agree with John McCain it's a slippery slope when we start prosecuting people for their political views and interpretations."

Jay writes: "Because Bush knows he is not as smart as Dick Cheney. When he here's how absolutely stupid Cheney sounds when he tries to defend this stuff, he understands how much dumber he will come off if he opens his mouth."

Leslie writes: "I was never a fan of George Bush. I would love to write something not so nice about him. However, in the case of torture, I believed it was Cheney pushing all the buttons along with his pal Rumsfeld. Cheney feels the need to defend himself and Bush has nothing to defend."

Jim in North Carolina: "Former President Bush's silence is very simple. He does not believe water boarding is torture. Torture is Nancy Pelosi lying about when she knew."

And Jack in California writes: "Jack, who cares? I spent eight years wishing President Bush would remain silent so now I just want to enjoy it while I can."

If you didn't see your e-mail, go to my blog at and look for yours there among hundreds, hundreds, I tell you, of others.

BLITZER: I believe you.

CAFFERTY: Hundreds.

BLITZER: Of course, Jack. Thank you.

The epicenter of the swine flu outbreak, Mexico City. Our senior medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is there is and is investigating the spread of the virus and the potential for a pandemic. Sanjay is getting ready to join us live.

The road -- end of the road for Pontiac.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Brian Todd in northern Virginia. We're going to show you the G-6s, G-8s and Pontiac, the last of a dying breed in America. We will take down memory lane to talk about this story brand of American vehicles.


BLITZER: On our Political Ticker, even a president with a glib tongue can get tripped up with a teleprompter. We saw it happen to President Bush and John McCain during his run for the white house. Today it was President Obama's turn. Check out his oops moment during a speech over at the national academy of science.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will charge with advising me about national strategy to nurture and sustain a culture of scientific innovation. In addition to -- sorry. The -- I just noticed that I -- I jump the gun here. Go ahead and move it up. I had already -- I already introduced all you guests. In biomedicine --

BLITZER: You've got to be careful with the teleprompter operators. For the latest political news, any time, check out

When you think about popular muscle cars of the '60s and '70s no doubt the Trans-Am and GTO, the Fire Bird are on the list. Pontiac right now on its way out. Let's go over to CNN's Brian Todd. I'm getting nostalgic thinking about my old Fire Bird. First car I ever had. It was silver and great. I loved that Fire Bird. And I'm sad to see Pontiac going down.

TODD: Wolf, I'm already a bit jealous. How did you get rid of that car? What happened to it?

BLITZER: You know what, it lived for a long time, that Fire Bird. I had many good years with it. In the end, sort of just died and I traded it and got rid of it, whatever. It was a terrific car.

TODD: We're going to take through those years and newer models. This is the 2009 Solstice, the latest in that long line of Pontiac performers. With the news of GM is going to kill off Pontiac, we came out here to wax nostalgic about this model and some of its classic predecessors.


TODD (voice-over): They will still be with us in spirit, lightning fast Trans A.M. that Burt Reynolds tore through the south in "Smokey and the Bandit." And the futuristic talking Trans A.M. from "Knight Rider." But the Pontiac brand that produced the legendary muscle cars of the 60s, 70s and 80s is going the way of the Oldsmobile, killed off as part of GM's so-called viability plan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just hate to see any of the car companies die.

TODD: 1966, GTO, more special to him now, a present from his wife.

Back then there was a difference between cars. It is not as big a difference anymore. And to lose one brand almost seems like you are narrowing the differences even more.

TODD: The difference then was a wide-tracked wheel well introduced by John Delorean in the early '60s. It became a standard feature in the GTO and then in the Fire Bird and Fire Bird Trans A.M. soon to be copied by other muscle cars.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 0 to 60 in what?


TODD: The high end of the performance line, the G8GXP and the new Solstice, we test drove them at Koons Pontiac of Tysons Corner in Virginia. Alex Perdikis who runs this dealership is saddened at the demise of the brand but it still has the same selling points.

ALEX PERDIKIS, KOONS PONTIAC: One thing that we've always been accustomed to is power, is performance. And style. And I think we are going to miss that. Pontiac has such a great lineup of performance vehicles.


TODD: That's a lineup that you will not be able to see at the dealerships by the end of next year. Alex Perdikis predicts that these types of cars are going to be even better bargains by then and have a new selling point. You can buy one knowing that it is vintage value will go up as soon as the line is discontinued -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Loved my Fire Bird. All right. Brian, thank you.

To our viewers, you are in THE SITUATION ROOM

Happening now, a frightening new warning that the swine flu outbreak cannot be contained. World Health Organization officials are declaring a state of fire alert now that dozens are dead in Mexico and the infection is spreading in the United States and beyond.

Desperate new measures to try to keep GM and Chrysler from going under.