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The Situation Room

Dick Cheney Suffers Heart Attack; Toyota Hearing; Recession in your State?; Green Jobs Czar; Chemical Threat

Aired February 23, 2010 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And happening now, Dick Cheney suffers his fifth heart attack. It was mild, but with the former vice president having experienced so many heart problems, how should he proceed now?

And dramatic apologies and dramatic details of cheating death all unfolding at a government hearing into Toyota's problems as the lawmaker acknowledges quote, "mistakes" one woman describes her car's out-of-control ordeal. And she says, and I'm quoting her now, "I prayed to God to help me".

And baby boom. Scientists want to follow 100,000 unborn children from the womb to age 21. How can children of today help children in the future?

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

We're now learning Dick Cheney's hospital stay after chest pains is more serious than originally thought. The former vice president actually had a heart attack. It's Cheney's fifth heart attack. Doctors gave him a stress test and inserted a catheter. His office says Cheney is feeling good and should be out of the hospital soon, but they're not saying when.

And a source tells CNN Vice President Joe Biden and former President George W. Bush both called Dick Cheney with well wishes. Let's bring in our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. They say, Sanjay, it was a mild heart attack. What does all this say to you? A fifth heart attack has got to be a serious issue.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SR. MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean there's no question, any kind of heart attack is going to be a serious issue. What they looked at specifically, and it's interesting, if there is a concern about a heart attack, a certain muscle within the heart attack actually, some of the enzymes will be released into the blood, and that can actually be measured.

So you can measure if someone had a heart attack and the severity of that heart attack by actually taking some blood. Let me show you really quickly, Wolf, this is something that we've talked about quite a bit in the past. This is basically an artery within the blood vessel, and you can see this coronary artery, how the closure starts to occur, and if that closure becomes quite significant, not enough blood can get through. And that's essentially what happens in someone that has a heart attack. Eventually heart muscle will start to die, and the heart just won't pump as well. As you pointed out, Wolf, this is now his fifth heart attack, and as you get an accumulation of these sorts of heart attacks, the heart muscle, the pumping of it, just doesn't work as well, and that's probably what doctors are focused on the most right now.

BLITZER: Yes, first heart attack was back in June of '78, second heart attack in 1984, third heart attack 1988, then it goes on, he's had other complicating issues. He's had stents, pacemakers. What can he expect like in the immediate hours and days ahead?

GUPTA: Well what's interesting, Wolf is what we heard specifically from the former vice president's office was that he had a stress test and he had a heart catheterization where they actually inject some dye. If I can just show you really quickly, Wolf, they make a little puncture wound in the femoral artery, which is down here in the leg, and actually thread a catheter all the way up into the heart and inject some dye into there to look specifically at those blood vessels.

What you didn't hear them say is that he had an angioplasty, sort of opening up the artery or a stent placed. Now they're not saying that he didn't. They just didn't -- in that statement didn't say that he had that done. What -- the biggest question doctors ask right now is how likely is this to happen any time in the near future? Can -- is this something that can be controlled with better medication control and better monitoring, and if he didn't have an angioplasty or a stent placed, that's probably in the direction they're leaning.

They say that this heart attack may have affected anywhere between five to 15 percent of his heart muscle. They think that it can be controlled in terms of not happening again with simple medications. But again, you know Wolf he had significant coronary artery disease. The blood vessels on top of the heart, and you know he's had five now. He's certainly at risk for another one. Medical management and close monitoring is going to be the name of the game for him.

BLITZER: And this deep vein thrombosis issue he had three years ago, that's potentially a very, very serious issue as well.

GUPTA: What happens with deep venous thrombosis is that's a blood clot essentially in one of the deep veins in the leg. And the big concern about that, it can cause pain, it can cause swelling in the leg, but the large concern that you're alluding to is sometimes that clot can break off and travel all the way through the blood system and end up in the lungs. And that's called a pulmonary embolism and people certainly can die of that.

That can be a sudden sort of thing that can happen. But he is on blood thinning medications now, we understand, which sort of allows those clots to sort of dissipate over time, really reducing the risk of that, Wolf. BLITZER: And he's 69 years old. We wish him, obviously, a very, very speedy recovery, hope he'll be back out of the hospital very soon. Sanjay, don't go away. I know you're working on another important story for us. We're going to get back to Sanjay in a few moments.

Another former Republican stalwart, Bob Dole, he's recovering from knee surgery and a bout with pneumonia. In a statement the former Republican Senate majority leader and presidential candidate says he's making quote, "great strides", thanks his doctors at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The 86-year-old Dole retired from politics back in 1996 now serves as a special counsel at a Washington consulting firm.

Imagine if it were you trapped in an out-of-control car worried you will die. That's one woman's gripping story at a House panel hearing on Toyota's problems. She described how her Toyota-built Lexus zoomed out of control back in 2006. What happened to her is enough to cause chills.


RHONDA SMITH, TOYOTA-MADE LEXUS ZOOMED OUT OF CONTROL: I put the car into all available gears, including neutral, but then I put it in reverse and it remains in reverse as the car speeds to over 100 miles per hour down the interstate. I placed both feet on the brake after I firmly engaged the emergency brake and nothing slows the car.

I figure the car was going to go its maximum speed and I was going to have to put the car into the upcoming guardrail in order to prevent killing anyone else. And I prayed for God to help me. I called my husband on the Bluetooth phone system. I knew -- I'm sorry -- I knew he could not help me, but I wanted to hear his voice one more time. After six miles, God intervened. As the car came very slowly to a stop, I pulled it to the left median.


BLITZER: What a nightmare. As for who is to blame, she says this.


SMITH: This failure is surely shared by Toyota and NHTSA (ph) today. In our view, they've demonstrated an uncaring attitude and disregard for life. The results have been tragic, and today I must say shame on you, Toyota, for being so greedy, and shame on you, NHTSA (ph) for not doing your job.


BLITZER: Toyota's U.S. sales chief says he does not think sudden acceleration in some Toyota cars is caused by an electronic problem. That prompted this question from a congressman.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. ED MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: If there is no possible problem with your electronic throttle control systems, why do you need to find a way to override the electronic throttle if there is no problem? Why do you have to find a way to override?

JAMES LENTZ, PRES. & CEO, TOYOTA MOTOR SALES, USA INC.: I think you always have to keep your eyes and ears open in the event that there is something.

MARKEY: But you can't have it both ways. You can't say there's no problem but you're trying to find a way to override something that's not a problem.


BLITZER: Let's bring in our congressional correspondent, Brianna Keilar. She's up on Capitol Hill. You watched these hearings unfold all day, Brianna. Bottom line, are the lawmakers buying Toyota's explanation?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what they seem not to be buying is this assertion that these problems are mechanical and that they're not having to do with the electronics in the vehicles, Wolf. This is a big concern of lawmakers and frankly a lot of engineering experts who say they fear this has to do with more than just the floor mats, more than with the gas pedals. And they're concerned that it has to do with the actual computers in the car, which you may have heard throughout the hearing referred to as that electronic throttle system. They're worried that this problem is -- it runs deeper than what they heard today.

BLITZER: What is Toyota doing to try to fix this?

KEILAR: They say they're doing a number of things. You heard during the hearing today, they were talking about this fix where it would be rebooting the computer system. Even though they haven't really been able to really pinpoint the issue, if there is one, with this computer system, they're talking about doing a reboot. They're also running tests right now on it. They say preliminary tests show that there isn't an issue with the computers but they say they're going to keep working on it, and also that idea of the brake override of the gas pedal.

You apply the brake hard enough and it would override any sort of acceleration that may be being applied. Also in a different way, not having to do with the car so much, Wolf, but talking about changing the way they respond to customer complaints. That was a big one today that we heard from the head of Toyota U.S. but I think what was really interesting was we heard from James Lentz and also from the Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. They said these recalls may not be the end of the problems, and certainly that is a big headline.

BLITZER: Tomorrow the head of Toyota Worldwide, Mr. Toyoda himself comes up to Capitol Hill. Set the stage for us. What can we expect? KEILAR: We're expecting him to be contrite. We've already seen his testimony for tomorrow, at least his prepared remarks, and he's expected to say that Toyota pursued growth at the expense of safety. Just some color that we're going to be seeing tomorrow, Akia Toyota (ph) is a fluent English speaker, Wolf, but he's going to be having a translator and that of course is going to give him more time to answer questions because he will hear the question once in English, then he's going to hear it once in Japanese and it will be interesting.

I've talked with some lawmakers who think that if he relies on that too much of a crutch, as a crutch they could become a little frustrated with him. It's going to be a very interesting situation tomorrow, and it's a huge spectacle.


KEILAR: I can't even tell you how much media and how much Japanese media is paying attention to this.

BLITZER: I'm surprised he's doing it through a translation. He lived here; he studied here in the United States. Obviously his English is good, but maybe he's got another issue that he wants to do it through a translation, maybe for Japan.

KEILAR: Well and I think -- I think the issue as well is that he wants to be precise, and he wants to not mess up. And I've spoken with just some general business people here in the U.S. and they say that they would do the same thing if they were in another country.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for that. Brianna is going to be busy tomorrow as well.

Just ahead a CNN exclusive, President Obama's controversial green jobs czar left under a cloud after only a few months in the administration, now he's about to get a prestigious reward. Our Suzanne Malveaux is getting ready to break the story.

And a law is supposed to protect us from toxic chemicals in the workplace and in the military, but the safeguards aren't working. Sanjay Gupta is back. He'll take a closer look at "Broken Government".

And a big drop in consumer confidence rattles financial markets. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Get right to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Well there are signs that the national economy is slowly beginning to recover. It's still a bleak situation in many of our 50 states. A new report says because of declining revenue, state economies still have not seen the worst of this recession. The National Governors Association says that fiscal year 2011, which begins this summer, will be, quote, "the most difficult to date". And 2012 isn't going to be much better. Revenues have been down for five consecutive quarters due to shrinking tax collections. The longest period the states have taken in less money since at least the great depression. The situation is most difficult in places like Oklahoma where revenue declined nearly 27 percent last quarter compared to the previous year. Or Arizona which saw a 17 percent drop.

Seven states reported increases in revenue, but it's believed that's because of tax increases there rather than a growing economy. Meanwhile, the drop in revenue comes despite hefty tax increases in many other states. At the same time, costs are going up for programs like Medicaid, which means a lot of states will have to either raise taxes again or cut spending and jobs.

States face a combined budget gap of $134 billion over the next three years. And because states actually have to balance their budgets, well, it's not going to be pretty. Plus the states are facing a combined $1 trillion shortfall for employees' pensions and retirement benefits.

Some governors are banking on getting more money from the federal government, but that's money that hasn't even been approved yet. And besides, they don't have it, either. So here's the question. Is the recession over in your state? Go to; post a comment on my blog.

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty, thank you.

Let's get to a CNN exclusive right now. Remember the controversial environmentalist, Van Jones? Last fall he resigned as President Obama's green job czar. He's now back in the spotlight. Let's go straight to our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux. She's getting ready to break an exclusive story. What are you learning, Suzanne?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, we know that Van Jones left under a cloud of controversy here at the White House. The NAACP says that is not the whole story. They say he was a pioneer when it comes to civil rights and the environment. They believe it so much so that they're going to be rewarding him one of the most prestigious awards of the NAACP, an Image Reward of the NAACP.

I had an exclusive interview with the director of that organization. They are aware of the controversy. They are ready for it and they know that it will stoke some controversy.


MALVEAUX (voice-over): It was just last September Van Jones resigned under a firestorm of criticism, saying he was the victim of a vicious smear campaign based on lies and distortions. The NAACP agrees. That's why its president, Ben Jealous (ph), is giving Jones one of the civil rights organization's highest honors -- an NAACP Image Award. (on camera): Out of the host of African-Americans who are very well accomplished --


MALVEAUX: -- with stellar images, why pick Van Jones?

BEN JEALOUS, NAACP PRESIDENT: Because Van Jones is one of the few new voices out there with more ideas for new jobs. He's done more in the past several years to change the way we think about job creation than anybody that we could find.

MALVEAUX: You know this is going to make some people go nuts. Do you care?

JEALOUS: Not really. What should be controversial is that we pushed one of the greatest minds off to the side in this country when we needed his ideas most.

MALVEAUX (voice-over): The controversy came less than six months into Jones' stint as President Obama's green jobs czar. Republicans and conservative commentators pointed to a vulgar phrase he used to describe the GOP before he came to the White House, an event captured on YouTube.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well the answer to that is they're (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

MALVEAUX: Then his critics revealed a petition Jones signed in 2004, questioning whether Bush administration officials may indeed have deliberately allowed 9/11 to happen, perhaps as a pretext for war. Jones said that petition never reflected his views, but the damage had been done. Jones resigned under a cloud that the NAACP wants lifted.

JEALOUS: You have a young black guy born in rural Tennessee who, before the age of 40, has been named one of the 100 best minds by "TIME" magazine in the entire world.

MALVEAUX (on camera): Are you picking him in part because he's controversial, because he'll create attention, he'll create debate?

JEALOUS: I think one of the things that we're sensitive to is that this country has a shameful history of taking people who have done great things, casting -- creating distractions, just crediting them for things deep in their past and not letting the country realize their full value in the present.


MALVEAUX: And Wolf, since this is just breaking now, we haven't had any kind of response yet to this award, but some of the other people that have gotten an NAACP Image Award include President Bill Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, Jesse Jackson and if you want to learn more about this story, we have more on it on You'll be able to see Ben Jealous' own op-ed explaining this decision further. BLITZER: Did you get the sense, Suzanne that Ben Jealous, others at the NAACP were disappointed the White House didn't fight harder to keep Van Jones on the job?

MALVEAUX: Well they certainly realize the politics around it and they realize and Ben Jealous says that he believes that in part of this that the criticism was certainly unfair but that the White House was put in a difficult position once those revelations came forward that there was very little that could be done. We do know that during the time of the controversy the White House said, look, the president doesn't agree with some of those statements that were made, but they said it was ultimately Jones who came forward and offered his resignation willingly.

BLITZER: It's going to cause quite a little stir. Suzanne thanks for breaking it here in THE SITUATION ROOM, appreciate it very much, Suzanne Malveaux at the White House.

Sick at sea, a Caribbean cruise becomes a nightmare for hundreds of passengers and it's not the first time this ship has been hit by an outbreak of illness.

And a tearful apology from a fallen basketball star, the Jayson Williams (ph) sentencing, you're going to want to hear what he says.


BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What else is going on, Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there Wolf. Well an unexpectedly large drop in consumer confidence rattled markets today after three months of improvement, a closely watched consumer index tumbled this month. The Dow closed down 100 points or one percent while both the S&P 500 and Nasdaq lost more than one percent.

Authorities now say more than 350 people are ill on a Caribbean cruise. They're suffering from what appears to be a stomach bug. The ship's celebrity (ph) lines Mercury left Charleston last Monday and is due back Friday. A doctor and two nurses came aboard in the Caribbean to help treat passengers. The CDC says last winter there were two outbreaks of the stomach flu on the very same ship.

And Senator John McCain will attend the president's open camera health care summit on Thursday. He was invited by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. A spokesman for the senator says that McCain looks forward to sitting down in a bipartisan fashion and starting over.

Former New Jersey Nets basketball star Jayson Williams was sentenced to five years in prison for fatally shooting his limo driver eight years ago. He avoided a retrial for reckless manslaughter by pleading guilty to aggravated assault. He's eligible for parole after 18 months. Williams apologized in court.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JAYSON WILLIAMS, FORMER NBA PLAYER: To my friends who are those within the community, the church and the NBA, I regret having let you down. I'm grateful for all your support (INAUDIBLE) to your prayers and despite all my faults. Judge Coleman (ph) and the Christofi (ph) family, I'm not a bad man, but I acted -- acted badly on February 14th.


SYLVESTER: The prosecution claimed Williams was recklessly handling a shotgun when it discharged -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Emotional statement from him, thanks very much, Lisa.

Take a look at this -- pictures from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina where the U.S. Navy is studying the health effects of years of exposure to contaminated water. Our chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is standing by to tell us about a new proposed law to protect Americans from toxic chemicals and why the old safeguards simply are not working.

And a hiker is spotted stranded on a rocky ledge in Oregon. We're going to show you the dramatic video from a failed rescue attempt by a chopper and tell you what rescuers are doing now.


BLITZER: U.S. Senate is working on an overhaul of the 30-year- old law governing toxic chemicals and is part of our look at "Broken Government". Our chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta has been doing some digging looking at the safeguards we have to protect us from these chemicals. What he found is simply shocking, the system is not working. Dr. Gupta is joining us now once again. Sanjay, what -- what are we talking about -- about these products that are supposed to be helping us to be safe?

GUPTA: Yes, I mean we have a certain expectation of safety when it comes to all the products that we use in our everyday lives, but I can tell you, first of all, when we started digging into this, it's sort of an alphabet soup out there. You have the Consumer Product Safety Commission, you have the Food and Drug Administration, but it really seems to come down on the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, to try and make sure the chemicals that we are exposed to in the air and the water all around us are safe.

But you know as we started to dig into this a little bit, it is a very daunting task, the task that EPA has in front of them. Let me give you a little bit of context. There are about 80,000 different chemicals out there and we are exposed to a lot of them on a pretty regular basis. Only of those about -- only about 200 have been tested specifically for safety concerns and only about five have actually been regulated. So that gives you a little bit of context as to just how big an issue this is -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Does this mean the others aren't necessarily safe? GUPTA: Well the answer to that is we simply don't know for sure. And the way things work with regard to chemicals, and it's a little different for pharmaceuticals or pesticides, but with chemicals it's sort of an innocent until proven guilty mentality. There are not a lot of requirements to try and prove things are safe before they go to market.

Let me give you one quick example. There is this chemical out there known as TCE (ph). It's sort of a grease-cutting substance. It's used in the military. It's used in the industry. It's been used for decades. Over time, they started to see that water that had been contaminated (INAUDIBLE) TCE (ph) was causing an increase in birth defects, was causing an increase in childhood leukemia.

The problem is that there was no health testing done on this particular chemical beforehand. So the way people find out something is a problem is people get sick, and only then is something taken off the market. Here was something else that was sort of interesting. What you're looking at here are essentially redacted papers based on something known as "confidential business information". This is quite striking, Wolf. When a company tests chemicals, does the animal testing, and finds out that the chemical is dangerous, they're under no obligation to disclose publicly what that chemical is or even disclose the name of the company that's producing that chemical. So that information is simply not available to the public.

Now if you talk to Lisa Jackson about this, who is the current EPA administrator, the fact of the matter is that's changing slightly. What she tells us is that chemicals that are already in the public data base do have to be made public, but if chemicals had been confidential all along, they will remain confidential, and there is about 16,000 chemicals that fall under that different category -- Wolf.

BLITZER: As you know, Sanjay, there's been a lot of rumblings out there about changing the law or changing the way the EPA does business. What are you hearing hear? What's going on?

GUPTA: I'm hearing the same things, and I think you're alluding to Senator Frank Lautenberg in New Jersey who's specifically trying to put a bill within the next month. He's been sick in the hospital, as you may know, Wolf, but he's trying to do that within the next month or so. Called the "Kids Safe Chemical Act."

And really the way to think about that it's sort of changing the paradigm from innocent until proven guilty to guilty until proven innocent in the sense that it has to be tested before it can actually come to market.

And again, pesticides are already treated that way. Pharmaceuticals already treated that way. And at least with respect to kids, they want to make sure that any new potential exposures out there are tested for health effects before they ever come to market.

And again, we talked to EPA administration Lisa Jackson about that and she said she supports that. There is some pushback from the industry on things like that but I think Senator Frank Lautenberg seems to have some momentum, at least with regard to kids -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. Let's wish Senator Lautenberg the best of health. He's got some stomach cancer issues, but it's curable and we hear he's going to do just fine, at least we hope so.

Thanks very much, Sanjay, for that.

And to our viewers, this programming note. Mark your calendar. Sanjay's upcoming documentary "TOXIC TOWNS USA," it debuts on March 20th, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

Let's get some more now on "Broken Government." Take a look at the CNN Opinion Research Corporation poll. Only 26 percent of those asked say they trust the federal government most or all of the time.

State government fares slightly better. It has the trust of one- third of the people surveyed. More than half trust their local government.

Let's talk about it with Rick Stengel. He's the managing editor of our sister publication, "TIME" magazine. We've been working together on this project.

Rick, what's the single most important thing -- of all the research you and your team have done over the past several weeks, getting ready for this cover story, had you learned about the "Broken Government"?

RICHARD STENGEL, MANAGING EDITOR, TIME MAGAZINE: Well, I mean you talk about trust in government, Wolf. I mean it has been going down steadily for about 25 years. But by the way, that isn't necessarily such a bad thing.

I mean one of the things we noted, for example, trust in government was very high in the 1950s, and that was at a time when the government said, hey, if you just put your head under a desk during a nuclear attack, you will be safe.

I mea part of the reason that the trust in government is going down is partially a good reason that government is more transparent. People do know more about it, and they are, in some cases, more disappointed.

BLITZER: So in certain degree of skepticism, what you're saying is good for the American public.

STENGEL: I think so. I mean, look, we've always had skepticism about government in our country since the founders. I mean, you know, the founders were against political parties, they were against a strong, central government.

You know there's the famous bumper sticker, you know, "I love my country, but I fear my government." So we've always had a funny relationship with the central government. But right now, at a time when we have very, very big challenges and very important things to do, the fact that trust in government is so low, I think it prevents us from accomplishing some of those things.

BLITZER: In your editor's note in the new issue of "TIME" magazine, you say that in the '80s there was a much better atmosphere here in Washington. I remember Washington in the '80s and there were moments of real cooperation, when Bob Dole, for example, the Republican, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the Democrat -- they would get together on a huge issue like Social Security and work out a deal during the Reagan administration.

We've got a picture there.

Can that happen again or is that just history?

STENGEL: Let's reminisce about the '80 for a second, Wolf. I mean, you know, Pat Moynihan and Bob Dole adored each other. You have a picture of Tip O'Neill and Ronald Reagan, and Reagan famously said in his memoirs, you know, we were -- They said, we were rivals before 6:00 p.m. but we were friends after 6:00 p.m.

And when I was in Washington in those days, I always was amazed by the kind of -- the "Punch and Judy Show" on the floor, but the fact that these guys and women had a lot more in common with each other than they did with anybody else, and they were actually friends.

I mean the situation now is very different. It's very fraught. They -- you know, that kind of after-hours camaraderie that existed back then just doesn't exist anymore. It's a permanent enemy campaign.

BLITZER: Yes, we saw that camaraderie, that friendship, when Orrin Hatch gave a eulogy for Senator Ted Kennedy, conservative Republican, liberal Democrat, but you know what? They were pals. And I think you're right. We don't see a whole lot of that right now in Washington, and I assume you've concluded that's not good.

STENGEL: I think it -- look, I think as I said there are big problems that we need to deal with. The deficit, the entitlement programs. I mean, Tip O'Neill and Ronald Reagan showed, I mean, you can only do that when you actually have the two sides working together.

And I think to accomplish those big things, to fix some of those big problems, we do need a spirit of bipartisanship.

BLITZER: Good work, Rick. The current issue of "TIME" magazine has got a lot of good, useful stuff in there. Thanks very much for joining us.

STENGEL: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Rick Stengel is the managing editor of "TIME."

White House intrigue. President Obama's chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. He's come under some bipartisan fire, but is it warranted? We're going to talk about it with our senior political analyst David Gergen. And cameras rolling as rescuers try to pluck a hiker from danger but they find the mission itself too risky.

And we're going to show you why researchers are looking for 1000,000 pregnant women. Details of what promises to be a landmark study.


BLITZER: The president's falling poll numbers, ongoing backlash from Republicans, even some grumblings from Democrats. Might someone inside the White House bear most of the blame? Some critics say yes and they're pointing to White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel.

But is that anger misdirected?

Let's bring in our senior political analyst David Gergen who's taking a closer look.

David, thanks very much for coming in. You worked with Rahm Emanuel in the early years of the Clinton administration. You know him quite well. I'm going to read to you from this article that Dana Milbank wrote in the "Washington Post" that's generated a ton of commotion out there.

Milbank writing, "Sacking Emanuel is the last thing the president should do. Obama's first year fell apart in large part because he didn't follow his chief of staff's advice on crucial matters. Arguably, Emanuel is the only person keeping Obama from becoming Jimmy Carter."

All right. Give us your assessment.


DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, you know, if you're chief of staff and people call for your head, that sort of goes with the job description, don't you think? We've seen this with lots of chiefs of staff.

And what's interesting about this is for about a year the Obama team, both the White House staff and national securities team, enjoyed very close relationships. There were very few leaks and very few tensions.

But when they hit the wall over the health care at the end of the year and then lost Massachusetts, there was a rumbling that started outside the White House that changes ought to be made with the inner circle, and a lot of that criticism is now being directed at Rahm Emanuel because he is the chief of staff.

He is the man in charge of the White House. And Dana Milbank, in this very controversial piece in the "Washington Post" seemed to be channeling the response, if you would, the backlash from the Emanuel people. He said he never talked to Rahm, Dana Milbank. I think people generally agree, he didn't talk to Rahm, it didn't come from Rahm. But clearly he was prompted by some of the allies, and the argument some of the allies of Rahm Emanuel are making is, hey look, Rahm didn't want to do this great, big comprehensive health care bill back in year one that has cost us so much. He did not want to try to run so fast on Guantanamo.

But what the -- what now the critics, the Rahm critics, are now saying, the Milbank piece, yes, it puts out Rahm's defense out there but it does it at the price of the president. It says what -- Obama should have taken his advice if he had. He'd be in much better position. It's Obama's fault that he didn't take Rahm's advice. So you can imagine that's really stirred the pot.

BLITZER: Because that article that Dana Milbank wrote it really makes Rahm Emanuel sound very, very smart, very savvy.


BLITZER: And it makes a lot of the other officials in the White House less so, whether David Axelrod or Valerie Jarrett or Robert Gibbs, for example. And Dana Milbank basically names those names.

GERGEN: He does. And I think there are friends of those other three Chicagoans who took great umbrage at that and a lot of the criticism. I have to tell you that I -- you know, I think that we haven't seen anything yet if this major gamble the president is taking on health care with this summit and then trying to put a comprehensive bill.

If that fails, we're going to see a lot more of these kinds of stories coming, and once again the allies of Rahm will say, but he didn't want to go with this great big comprehensive bill. You know he has real questions about that. He prefers a slimmed-down version as a "Wall Street Journal" reported this morning.

So we're at the early stages of what could be a bigger controversy at the White House, but we should keep in mind that there are two things. One is there are always some tensions as there are here between -- as I said, the David Axelrod wing which it wants to be the keeper of the flame, the idealist who would like to get the packaged paths that the president promised in the campaign on health care, versus Rahm Emanuel, who's the pragmatist, has to get the deals done, has to get -- and understands the politics on Capitol Hill.

There are always a tension between the keeper of the flame and the pragmatist. In this case, whether it's going to -- I think the only other thing to keep in mind is that Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod are very close friends.

BLITZER: Yes. They certainly are.


BLITZER: We'll see if they disagree but they -- I'm sure they're good friends and they have to work together every single day. That Dana Milbank column generated follow-ups in the "Wall Street Journal." "Politico," I suspect, there's going to be a lot more of this coming.

We'll have a chance to follow up ourselves.

GERGEN: Stay tuned.

BLITZER: David, thank you.

Dramatic changes in store for the United States Navy submarine fleet. A longstanding ban is about to be lifted. Stand by.

And a very, very dangerous rescue effort unfolding right now as crews try to reach a stranded hiker.


BLITZER: Let's go back to Lisa. She's monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What's going on, Lisa?

SYLVESTER: Hi there, Wolf.

Well, the Navy has decided to lift the ban on women serving on submarines. They were one of the last places women were excluded in the military. But Defense Secretary Robert Gates has notified Congress by letter that the Navy intends to repeal the ban. It was thought to close quarters on subs that would make co-ed service hard to manage.

The U.S. Coast Guard spotted this hiker trapped on a rocky lake ledge after falling near Multnomah Falls in Oregon. But rescuing him is proving to be a bit of a challenge. The chopper lowered a cable first, but it wasn't long enough to reach him.

The team is now trying to reach him by land. He is in contact with rescuers by cell phone and isn't injured.

Sarah Palin's daughter Bristol has landed a TV role. The TV mom will play herself on ABC's "The Secret Life of the American Teenager." Palin will play a friend of the popular show's named character Amy. Palin says that she is thrilled to be on a show that educates young people about the consequences of teen pregnancy.

And former Democratic congressman James Traficant is telling CNN he plans to run for Congress as an independent. He says he's disgusted with both parties and is eyeing a campaign in an Ohio district.

Traficant, you may recall, he spent seven years in prison for corruption. So Wolf, we'll have to see how that campaign goes along.

BLITZER: We'll see how his district reacts and if he's elected back to Congress. Thanks very much, Lisa.

The "Jack Cafferty File", that's coming up. Jack has got your e- mail.

And researchers may want to interview you about your unborn child even if you're not yet pregnant. We'll tell you what's going on. How they're tracking children's development from the womb to adulthood.


BLITZER: Former Democratic congressman, Navy veteran, Charlie Wilson, was laid to rest with full military honors today at Arlington National Cemetery. He was first elected in 1972, represented the state of Texas for 12 terms. He retired in 1997.

A strong anti-communist, Wilson helped arm Afghan rebels in their war against the invading Soviet Union back in the 1980s. His work behind the scenes is widely considered to have been instrumental in forcing the Soviets out of Afghanistan.

Wilson's story inspired the 2007 movie, "Charlie Wilson's War," in which he was portrayed by Academy Award-winning actor, Tom Hanks. Wilson died of respiratory complications on February 10th. He was 76 years old.

He's an amazing, amazing guy. I knew him.

Let's check in with Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File." Jack?

CAFFERTY: The question this hour: Is the recession over in your state?

Tony writes from Tampa: "It may not be obvious now, but I suppose the statistics will show a few months from now what I, as a government inspector, am seeing in the field. Namely, that businesses are starting to rehire. Everywhere I've been for the last 90 days, business owners say that things are picking up again, steadily. That's my report. Without prejudice from Florida."

Curtis in Kansas writes: "I couldn't be happier to be a Kansas transplant from California for the last eight years. Sure, I miss the housing bubble but I miss the crash, too, so it's all good. The recession is not over here in Wichita, but it does seem to be improving. Our housing prices don't skyrocket but they don't plummet, either. We're going to be all right."

David in San Diego, California: "Yes, we're doing great. Thanks for asking."

Anna in Itasca, Illinois: "The recession is over for Wall Street bankers and CEOs of the big companies that send jobs offshore, charge more for their products, and then post huge profits. For the rest of us the end is nowhere in sight."

Meg in Ohio says: "Jack, Ohio is in bad shape economically. I don't see any end here. Some houses in my neighborhood have been for sale for as long as three years in some cases. We're in for a long haul in the buckeye state."

Bill writes: "The recession is only over for those who live in the state of denial."

And Dan in New Orleans, home of those world champions, Saints: "The recession is still upon us here in the state of Louisiana. However, the blazing occupation of the Who Dat Nation is an emotional bailout, and a stimulus offer that cannot be refused. A needed takeover, just short of militant."

If you want to read more on this, go to my blog at

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty, thank you. A lot of people will do that.

Let's check in with Campbell to see what's coming up at the top of the hour.

Campbell, what are you working on?

CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Hey there, Wolf. At the top of the hour, we're going to look at one of President Obama's campaign promises. Of course before the election he had said that no lobbyists would serve in his administration. Of course a number of lobbyists or former lobbyists are serving in his administration.

It's part of our week-long investigation of "Broken Government" and what that really means, Wolf. We'll talk about that.

Also, I'll talk to Commerce Committee chairman Henry Waxman about Toyota's safety problems and why isn't Toyota admitting that their car's electronic systems could be the culprit. We'll look at that as well. Wolf?

BLITZER: Thanks, Campbell. See you in a few moments.

Why scientists want to follow 100,000 unborn children from the womb right up to age 21. We're going to tell you about a very ambitious study.


BLITZER: Wanted, 100,000 volunteers for a ground-breaking study, but there's one big catch. You might say applicants should be unborn.

Let's bring in our Mary Snow. She's working this story for us.

What's going on, Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is the first of its kind study with high ambitions and major challenges. Scientists at the National Institute of Health plan to track kids from across the country as they're about to be born through adulthood. And part of that effort is in full swing right here in New York.


SNOW (voice-over): Going door to door in Queens, New York. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where's yours? This way?

SNOW: These researchers are on a mission. They're looking for women who are pregnant or who may become pregnant in the near future.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We'll probably call you again in about six months just to see if there are any changes to the questions.

SNOW: It's part of an unprecedented government-funded study that will track children from the womb to age 21. The goal? To figure out how the environment impacts a child's health, from pollution in the air to the home where they grow up.

Persuading people to sign up, say these researchers, isn't easy, but they found one willing partner in this woman we can only identify as 31-year-old Aine. The study's ground rules are that the identities of participants not be disclosed.

(On camera): What do you want to get out of this study?

AINE, NATIONAL CHILDREN'S STUDY VOLUNTEER: Well, I would just like to be part of something that might benefit everybody as a whole. I am in the health care field, so I can understand people's wanting to know what makes people healthy and not healthy.

SNOW (voice-over): When Aine's daughter is born in April, her placenta, even her first diaper, will be examined. Aine's also given samples of her own hair, nail clippings and saliva. Even particles from the floor have been collected.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is a hair collection that --

SNOW: It all comes here to a hub for the National Children's Study in Queens, one of dozens of centers. Overseeing it all is Allan Guttmacher who hopes he can one day answer questions about how diseases like asthma and autism in children develop.

DR. ALAN GUTTMACHER, NATL. INST. OF CHILD HEALTH & HUMAN DEVELOPMENT: To really understand all of the influence in children's health, you need to follow a lot of children. You can't simply look at a small group of children who've already developed the disease to figure out how it started.

SNOW: Guttmacher runs the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. He says so far around the country 700 volunteers are on board, but the goal is 100,000. That is just one of the challenges, says a member of an independent panel that reviewed the National Children's Study.

DR. ELLEN WRIGHT CLAYTON, CMTE. TO REVIEW NATIONAL CHILDREN'S STUDY: Recruiting this many families and keeping them engaged over 21 years is going to be a challenge, particularly in a society that's as mobile as ours.

SNOW: Another challenge? The cost. A Senate committee criticized the National Institutes of Health for not disclosing that the study's price tag had risen sharply from the original $3.1 billion, describing it as a serious breach of trust.

GUTTMACHER: We certainly take it very seriously when a Senate panel says that they feel that there's been a serious breach of trust, so we are being very open with them.

SNOW: And the search continues for more volunteers like Aine, willing to allow scientists to watch her child all the way to adulthood.


SNOW: And it's taking a lot of work to get volunteers to sign on. Researchers say for every 1,000 doors they knock on, they get eight volunteers who join the study. Wolf?

BLITZER: Do they have any idea when they'll get to 100,000 volunteers?

SNOW: You know, at this point they're saying it could take up to five years to reach that goal of 100,000.

BLITZER: Wow. OK, Mary. Mary Snow, thanks very much for that report.

Remember you can follow what's going on here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm on Twitter. You can get my tweets at WolfblitzerCNN. That is all one word.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Up next, "CAMPBELL BROWN."

ANNOUNCER: CNN Primetime begins right now.

BROWN: Hi there, everybody. Our top story tonight, Toyota under--