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THE SITUATION ROOM
Big Shift In U.S. Nuclear Policy; Health Care Reform A Tough Sell
Aired April 6, 2010 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now, a painstaking operation to find four men missing deep inside a West Virginia mountain.
Could they have survived the deadliest U.S. mine disaster in decades?
And while four families cling to a sliver of hope, dozens more are grieving and angry at the way mining executives are handling the crisis.
Plus, President Obama's new nuclear strategy -- a major overhaul of the rules of engagement.
Will it make the U.S. more or less safe?
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We're following all the latest developments in that massive explosion that killed at least 25 people in a West Virginia coal mine, the deadliest U.S. mining disaster in 25 years. Right now, the focus is on finding four men who are missing. Deadly gases inside the mine have forced rescuers out. Crews are drilling holes in the mountainside to release those gases, but officials say it could be two days before the first bore is completed.
There is emergency breathing equipment inside the mine. And the governor says there's a shred -- a shred of hope that the missing men will survive.
CNN's Brian Todd is in West Virginia, near the mine.
He's been talking to folks there -- Brian, what are they saying for you?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, to get a glimpse of what this has done to the local community, it first helps to look at the landscape a little bit. My photographer, Dave Rupp (ph), and I are going to show you a little bit of that.
Throughout these hills, this is what you see. You see mines, mine shafts, conveyor belts, support buildings snaking all the way through all of these hills. This is just one of the facilities we're talking about. When you see these places and you talk to the people who live and work here, you really get a sense that they know that this kind of an accident could happen literally at any time. Still, this particular event has devastated this area.
And we caught up to one miner who's having a pretty tough time.
TODD: (voice-over): A sense of loss so sudden, an entire town struggles to process it. Brian Collins can barely bring himself to talk about the dozens of miners he knew who died. Collins, a section boss at the Upper Big Branch Mine, was just outside an entrance, felt the violence of the blast and describes how everyone reacted.
BRIAN COLLINS, MINER: Just had to -- they were scattering everywhere and don't want (INAUDIBLE) make it.
TODD: Collins did what he could to help rescuers get in. After venturing inside, some of them told officials how violent this explosion must have been.
GOV. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: Rails that had -- that cars, buggies and heavy equipment -- train rails that go back in looked like they'd been twisted like a pretzel. That's horrific. That's an explosion that is just beyond proportion. And the heat that would come off that explosion that caused that would be something.
TODD: Chris Ellis has been through rescue operations a few times, but he still gets anxious knowing he's got to take this 100,000 pound drill, bore a hole deep into this mountain and try to help rescuers find anyone alive.
(on camera): Is it different from what you do normally and how?
CHRIS ELLIS, DRILL OPERATOR: Yes. It's a whole lot more pressure. You know, you want to do the -- the best job you can for them as fast as possible. And it's just a whole lot of pressure.
TODD: Ellis works for a well service, but like many here has been pressed into duty at the Upper Big Branch Mine. He says he's got two drills and two teams who will work in 24-hour shifts.
Collins doesn't want to go back to this mine right away, but feels he has to.
(on camera): You knew all the guys who apparently were lost.
What are you going through right now?
COLLINS: It's heartbreaking. That's all -- that's it.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
TODD: Collins says he is upset -- Collins says that he is upset with all the reports of his company's safety record. We have all reported over the past 24 hours about the fines accrued and the violations committed by Massey Energy. But Collins says as far as the mine that he operated, that record is very, very safe -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian, stand by for a moment, because the governor of West Virginia, Joe Manchin, is at the podium right now. He's about to start with an opening statement that answers some reporters' questions. There are lots of questions underway. And I know you've been speaking with a lot of the victims' relatives.
They're not very happy, apparently, with some of the communications -- or should I say lack of communications -- that's been going on.
What are you hearing?
TODD: Well, that's right, Wolf. One family in particular, the family of Betty Willingham, a miner who was killed yesterday, told us all morning basically that they were upset. They never got one call, they say, from Massey Energy to tell them about what had happened, about the fate of their loved one. They had to come down to a community center and kind of scope their way around to get word on something.
They finally found a Massey official who told them.
BLITZER: All right. Let's listen to the governor.
MANCHIN: Vice President Biden called today and we had a nice talk. He comes from Pennsylvania, an area that -- that understands coal mining. And -- and so we had a nice talk.
And the secretary of Labor, she is in -- in West Virginia now. She's had people here. So we've had great support from the federal level. We're just waiting to see if Senator Rockefeller is on his way here.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) in the interviews (INAUDIBLE).
MANCHIN: OK. Let's start now. Of course, you know, Joe Main. Joe is with our office of for -- Joe heads up MSHA.
And then, of course, Congressman Rahall.
We've got the president of the Senate.
And my lieutenant governor is Earl Ray Tomblin.
The legislature is here.
Kevin Strickland, you know Kevin in government. He works with Joe.
And they -- they've been great partners here working with us. We have Chris Atkins from Massey with us.
Ron -- you know Ron Wooten. Of course Jimmy Gianato (ph) is Office of Emergency Services.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Johnny Humphrey (INAUDIBLE).
MANCHIN: John Humphrey.
John, it's nice to see you.
Let us just start -- I guess we can go ahead and start and the senator will come in.
And what we -- what we...
The senator will be coming, I'm sure and we'll just bring him up when he gets here, OK?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sure.
MANCHIN: The drilling, as, you know and we explained to you earlier, moving the drills in the timetables and all that. The drills are in place now.
Chris will be able to give you an update on that, what's going on, as far as Joe and Kevin on the concerted efforts. But everyone is in agreement. I understand that from the federal to the state level to the company level that nothing can be proceeding with the -- with the rescue operation until we know it's safe for miners to enter. And they're not going to recommend putting them in harm's way until we get the first hole to see what type of levels that we have of methane and that.
So that's the thing that's really kind of putting everything on hold right now until we make sure everybody is safe.
The families -- we've been working with the families, talking to the families. We just left them. We told the families and I think that -- and they'll go over that again. Nothing is really going to change a lot between now and 8:00 in the morning. So they were told if -- if they needed to go get a bite to eat or take a shower or get some rest, that this is the time to do it. I knew and a million West Virginia families, they're going to stay right there and -- until they find out. So they will continue to be updated every two hours -- the families will -- on the progress of the drilling.
And that's about all we have to offer right now until that's broken through.
If you all have any questions for me, you know everybody's back here. I can go ahead and let them answer questions that you might have that will give you more of an update on what's going on. And -- and with that, we will go ahead -- unless, Joe, do you have anything from yours?
JOE MAIN, MSHA: Yes. Thank you, Governor.
MAIN: Yes, I think the -- it's clear that we're focused on one mission right now and that is the completion of the rescue efforts at the mine. And we have all the folks who are involved in this putting everything into it that we can and moving as expeditiously as -- as we can.
But until we get some...
BLITZER: All right. So officials in West Virginia are going to answer some questions. But there aren't a whole lot of answers right now. They're searching for these four missing men. There's poisonous gas still there -- Brian Todd, you've been listening in on the governor and what he had to say.
Did we learn a whole lot?
TODD: Not really, Wolf. He did say that the drilling is getting going. And what we know from talking to the drill operator is that this is a slow process.
Chris Ellis, the gentleman we had in our piece and who operates one of these drills, he's -- he's doing what the governor talked about. He's up on top of this mountain. He's got to drill a hole down about 1,000 feet. He said it takes several hours to get down there. They've got to try to find the right spot.
Part of the danger and part of reason that it goes so slow is that when they puncture a hole, it's -- part of the objective there is to try to release some of the methane gas. And that's why the governor talked about they can't go back in until this is safe. A lot of the methane gas that has built up inside that mine has got to be released and kind of dissipated before the rescue teams can go back in there.
They found it very slow going this morning. The visibility was only about two feet earlier this morning. So the drilling is a key part of this, to try to release some of the methane gas, make it a little bit safer for the rescue teams to go in there. And when the governor said that we may not know anything until 8:00 in the morning, he may have been pretty conservative with that estimate.
BLITZER: All right, Brian, we're going to monitor that news conference and hear what they have to say.
We have a lot more coming up on this story, including the track record -- the history of the ownership of this mine. I know you've been working on other parts of this story, as well, so stand by.
But I want to move on right now to a major shift in the U.S. nuclear strategy. The Obama administration pledging to end development of new generations of nuclear weapons. It also says it won't use the U.S. existing arsenal against non-nuclear states that stick to the non-proliferation treaties.
There are seven -- there are seven countries with confirmed nuclear arsenals and two unconfirmed.
What does this new policy -- this new strategy mean for countries with nuclear ambitions?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: If there is a message for Iran and North Korea here, it is that if you're going to play by the rules, if you're going to join the international community, then we will undertake certain obligations to you. And -- and that's covered in the NPR.
But if you're not going to play by the rules, if you're going to be a proliferator, then all options are on the table in terms of how we deal with you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's go to our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian, who's working this story.
They think at the White House, the Pentagon, that this will make the U.S. safer -- Dan, what is their argument?
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, they really do. And -- and, Wolf, you know, the president today, in a statement, said that today's review really fulfills a pledge that he made a year ago in Prague. And he seems to be striking a balance here because there is criticism coming from both the left and the right. Liberals -- some liberals think that this doesn't go far enough. Some conservatives saying that it compromises a critical deterrent against future attacks.
So I did ask Robert Gibbs about national security concerns as they were putting this strategy together.
Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: You can be assured that whether it's in a meeting about the latest nuclear posture review or the president's daily intelligence briefing or, quite frankly, walking from the residence of the Oval Office, the safety and security of the American people are on his mind.
LOTHIAN: Was there a push or pull at any time during that process where you were saying, you know, did -- what you are posing here, I don't think it would make America safe? GIBBS: Well, Dan, I think, you're -- you can -- you can be assured that the document that we've come up with is done so in a way that the president believes can best keep this country safe.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LOTHIAN: So tomorrow, the president heads to Prague, where he will sign that new START Treaty. Both the United States and Russia looking to substantially reduce their nuclear arsenals -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, later in THE SITUATION ROOM, we're going to go to Prague and speak with our own Ed Henry, our senior White House correspondent. He's already there.
Dan, thanks very much for that.
Some sobering facts about nuclear weapons. As we mentioned, at least seven countries possess nuclear weapons. Two others, Israel and North Korea are unconfirmed. According to the Federation of American Scientists, the vast majority of them -- more than 80 percent -- are in the United States and Russia. The most common nuclear weapon in the United States is five times more powerful than the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. The U.S. also has warheads up to 25 times more powerful than the atomic bomb.
The U.S. and Russia have enough nuclear weapons to destroy each other as functioning civilizations.
When we say those countries are unconfirmed, they are not officially announced by those countries that they have nuclear weapons, both Israel and North Korea.
The president of Afghanistan is scheduled to visit the White House on May 12th. But recent fiery words that the administration calls "troubling and untruthful" could mean Hamid Karzai will be uninvited.
Also, danger at every corner
in Baghdad -- a new wave of deadly explosions rocking the Iraqi capital.
And he led New York back after 9/11 -- we'll find out if the former New York mayor, Rudy Giuliani, thinks the president's new nuclear policy will make the U.S. safer.
Stay with us.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Let's get right to Jack Cafferty for The Cafferty File -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: It's an old line, but it -- it fits here -- with friends like Hamid Karzai, who needs enemies?
Here's what America's alleged ally, the president of Afghanistan, has been up to lately.
First, he invited Iran's President "Mahmoud Ahmad dinner jacket" to hang out with him in Kabul.
Then Karzai blamed the fraud in Afghanistan's elections on foreigners, who he says wanted a puppet government in his country.
This past weekend, Karzai reportedly threatened to quit the political process and join the Taliban if he kept coming under what he called "foreign pressure to reform."
And lastly, our good buddy told a group of tribal leaders that the US-led alliance won't move against Taliban fighters in Kandahar, quote, "until you say we can," unquote.
The United States has poured hundreds of billions of dollars into Afghanistan, propping up this little jerk's government since the 2001 invasion, not to mention all the American lives that have been lost there.
For what exactly?
Tom Friedman recently wrote in his "New York Times" column, "when you can steal an election like Karzai did, you can steal anything."
He asks how the U.S. can rebuild Afghanistan while relying on a corrupt partner like Karzai?
Friedman writes that we, quote: "Once we clear, hold and build Afghanistan for him, Hamid Karzai is going to break our hearts," unquote. Well, if that happens, it won't be the first heart to be broken in that cesspool of a civilization.
Meanwhile, this afternoon, the White House indicated it may have finally had enough, saying it could cancel Karzai's upcoming U.S. visit if he keeps making, quote, "troubling and untruthful remarks," unquote.
Here's the question -- what should U.S. policy be when it comes to Afghanistan?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I must say, I'm stunned by Hamid Karzai's comments. As someone -- I've known him now for several years, interviewed him on many occasions and this is not the Hamid Karzai that I've seen over the years. This seems to be a very different Hamid Karzai.
CAFFERTY: Well, he's -- it sounds like he's playing to the street a little bit over there and to some of those tribal leaders. Apparently, his government is not exactly the -- the bright shining beacon on the hill for the average run of the mill Afghan citizens.
And the other question I have is what role did his drug lord brother, perhaps, have in, quote, "stealing the elections?"
There was some -- there was some suspicion that he might have had a role.
BLITZER: You mean Walid?
BLITZER: Yes. That guy.
OK, Jack, thank you.
Thanks very much.
The nuclear question has been on the presidential table for decades. President Obama's move away from nuclear development and deterrent is viewed as a departure from his predecessors.
Let's discuss with our senior political analyst, David Gergen -- how much of a departure, when all is said and done, David, is this?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Well, "Ahmad dinner jacket" -- I'm still musing over that one, Wolf. I haven't heard that before.
Wolf, the president's policy that's behind his efforts are really more of an evolution than a sharp departure from the past. As you well know, for a long time, we were essentially concerned about a massive confrontation with the Soviet Union. But several years ago, leading thinkers and heavyweights in American foreign policy began to say that's not -- no longer our chief threat. Our chief threat is a rogue nation or a terrorist group getting its hands on nuclear weapons.
And so people like Henry Kissinger and George Shultz and the Democratic heavyweights like Sam Nunn and Bill Perry joined together and have been pushing the idea of not only stronger safeguards against these rogue weapons, but also toward a nuclear-free world.
And Barack Obama signed up for that a year ago, gave a speech in Prague calling for a world free of nuclear weapons.
And what he's trying to do now is a series of steps and -- and conferences to push in that direction. And he's -- he is -- it's a bold vision that he's pursuing cautiously, so that he says, on one hand, that we will no longer wait -- we'll take off the table the idea of using nuclear weapons against anybody that attacks us with chemical, biological or massive conventional warfare. But, by the way, we're going to have this carve out for nations like Iran and North Korea. We're not going to build any new nuclear weapons, but, by the way, we're going to have a large investment in upgrading our conventional -- our current weapons. So it's a cautious step that's going to attract some attack from left and right. But I think it's sufficiently down the middle that he's going to have pretty widespread support among -- within the foreign policy establishment.
BLITZER: Within the foreign policy establishment here and, certainly, I think, among a lot of the Western European allies...
BLITZER: -- at the same time, when he goes to Prague in the coming days. We're going to go to Prague in the next hour. Our Ed Henry is already there to set the scene.
David, thanks very much.
GERGEN: Thank you.
BLITZER: David Gergen, our senior political analyst.
The Republican Party chairman, Michael Steele, as you all know, he's under fire.
We'll talk about Steele's uncertain future with one of the key players in his rise to power. Our CNN contributor, Alex Castellanos, is standing by.
BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- hi, Lisa.
What's going on?
SYLVESTER: Hi there, Wolf.
Well, deadly explosions in Baghdad today. At least 49 people were killed and more than 160 others wounded in seven separate blasts across the Iraqi capital. The explosions are the latest in a five day spree of attacks in and around Baghdad. Iraqi and U.S. officials blame the new violence on Al Qaeda insurgents trying to create havoc during a political deadlock following parliamentary elections last month.
A funeral service today for the first of four people killed in a drive-by shooting last week in Washington, DC. Services for 17-year- old Tavon Nelson were held at a Baptist church. Nelson and three others were fatally shot last Tuesday as they returned home from a funeral. Five others were wounded in the attack. One man has been charged with first degree murder. Another man and a juvenile also face charges.
And the nation's top health official is warning Americans to be wary of scam artists selling phony health insurance. Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says she's writing to state officials about a proliferation of scams involving the new health care law. She says some would-be insurers are even going door-to-door, claiming there's a limited open enrollment to buy health insurance now. Don't believe it.
And the suit, tie and shirt O.J. Simpson wore on the day he was acquitted of murder is headed to the Newseum in Washington, DC. The journalism museum says the clothing will be added to a collection of artifacts related to the coverage of Simpson's 1995 trial. The Smithsonian actually turned down an offer to display the infamous attire, saying it was inappropriate to be included in its collections.
The Newseum probably is a better home for it, I would think, Wolf.
BLITZER: Did they have to pay for that stuff?
SYLVESTER: No, you know, that this was part of, actually, a settlement -- part of a court arrangement, because the question was, you know, whether or not O.J. Simpson would try to make money by selling his -- his stuff, you know, in this day and age of eBay. So the compromise with the victims' families was that he would turn it over to a museum.
The first choice was The Smithsonian. The Smithsonian said we don't want it, we don't think it's appropriate. So now it's going to the Newseum -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Thanks, Lisa.
Don't go too far away.
President Obama's major shift in nuclear strategy -- will it make the U.S. more or less safe?
The former New York City mayor, Rudy Giuliani -- he's standing by live. We'll talk about that and a lot more, including the controversy engulfing the GOP party chairman, Michael Steele.
BLITZER: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, a frantic search is underway right now for four people missing after the deadliest mine disaster in 25 years. We're on the ground with the latest on those efforts. Stand by.
And just how safe is the mine where this tragedy occurred?
We have new information for you.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, a frantic search is under way right now for four people missing after the deadliest mine disaster in 25 years. We're on the ground with the latest on those efforts. Stand by. And just how safe is the mine where this tragedy occurred? We have new information for you. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We're also following a major shift in U.S. nuclear strategy. The Obama administration promising today to end its nuclear weapons development and reduce its reliance on existing weapons at the same time. Let's talk about that and a lot more with the former New York City mayor and Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani. Mr. Mayor, thanks for coming in.
RUDY GIULIANI, (R) FORMER NEW YORK MAYOR: Thank you for having me, Wolf.
BLITZER: Were you happy with the president's announcement today?
GIULIANI: No, I wasn't. I was very quite confused about it, really. It seems to be he's got his eye off the ball. The ball is trying to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear power. He's already given away a great deal of leverage by giving away the nuclear defense of the Czech Republic and Poland to Russia for nothing. Got nothing in return for that. I don't know that he should have given it away at all, but certainly, he should have gotten from Russia an agreement to very strong sanctions against Iran.
We learn that he's already watered down the sanctions in order to try to beg Russia and China to agree with us. So, even if they do agree with sanctions now, apparently, they're going to be sanctions that don't have much of an impact.
BLITZER: I guess his thinking is as far as Iran is concerned, if you guys, the Iranians, whichever regime is in control over there, if you honor your commitment to the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, stop trying to build a nuclear bomb, you will never have to worry about the U.S. launching some sort of nuclear preemptive strike against them.
GIULIANI: I mean, you see the mullahs in Iran logically thinking that way? I mean, that makes no sense.
BLITZER: I guess it maybe trying to reach beyond them to those green revolutionary -- those who -- the thousands who were protesting against the regime.
GIULIANI: That's a group that he sort of abandoned when they were protesting. So, I can't imagine he's going to do a good job of reaching them. And secondly, the reality is that there's nothing in the history of this regime in Iran that suggests that they are going to -- they're going to succumb to the United States just backing off, backing off, backing off. What he has failed to do is to create in their minds the real sense that there could be a military option, because I think the only thing that will work with Iran is their thinking that there is a military consequence that could be faced if they become nuclear. The further he moves away from that, the more difficult his role with Iran is going to be.
BLITZER: Let's move on to a little bit of domestic politics. Michael Steele, chairman of your party, the Republican party, some are saying he should step down. What does Rudy Giuliani say? GIULIANI: I believe Michael should remain exactly where he is. He goes through skirmishes like this in politics. Somebody made a very serious mistake, very embarrassing, terrible mistake. It's something Michael certainly didn't sanction, something Michael didn't want. It happens in every organization. Gosh, it happens in the White House. You know, every other day, both to this president, the president before and the one before that. So, I think Michael has us on a good track.
We've won three major elections in a row. I participated in one way or another in all three of them, and I think Michael played a strong role in them. So, I don't see why he should step down. I think he should apologize, as he's done, make sure this doesn't happen again. Set up more accountably on all these expenditures of money. He has to continually work on that. You've got all these people working for you. You know, some are going to disappoint you.
BLITZER: You like the outcomes in Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts and you give him a little bit of the credit for that.
GIULIANI: I give him a lot of the credit for it. He certainly takes all the blame for it.
BLITZER: Yes, when things go wrong. You were down to Florida campaigning for Marco Rubio. He's running for the Republican nomination for the U.S. senate against the Republican governor, Charlie Crist.
BLITZER: Now, you know that some of the Crist supporters are saying this is Rudy Giuliani. Payback time to Charlie Crist who endorsed John McCain in Florida as opposed to you. is it?
GIULIANI: No, it's not. It's my belief that Marco Rubio would best represent what I think the Republican party should be doing, which is stopping the Obama administration from moving us too far in the direction of a European social democracy.
BLITZER: What does that mean, a European social democracy?
GIULIANI: What that means is they've taken over the car companies, something I never thought could happen in America. They've taken over banks. They've taken over financial institutions. They have now governmentalized a big portion of our health care that wasn't governmentalized before. They're aiming to do even more. Many of them say that. They've got this whole cap in tax thing in which they're going to have the federal --
BLITZER: Let me just be blunt, are you saying that the president is a socialist?
GIULIANI: I said social democracy.
BLITZER: I know. Does that mean a socialist? GIULIANI: I have no idea. People can consider that whatever they want. What I think is he likes the European model of government. He likes major government control of large portions of our economy, which most presidents have been very afraid of. I mean, look, the facts are the facts. He has taken over more of our private institutions than any American president that I can -- in my lifetime.
BLITZER: But you have to admit, he did inherit a mess?
GIULIANI: Maybe what he should have done was go in exactly the opposite direction, and we'd be in a lot better shape right now. I mean, the reality is his stimulus program, which Charlie supported, was a payoff to Democratic politicians and the Democratic unions. When the administration counts jobs and CNN did a whole special on counting jobs. I watched that very carefully. You know the jobs that were preserved that I'm not even sure you should count jobs that are preserved. The jobs that were preserved were largely government jobs. Who are those government jobs for?
BLITZER: But mayor, isn't the economy in better shape now than it was a year ago?
GIULIANI: Not for the people who are unemployed, isn't it?
BLITZER: I mean a lot of people who are unemployed, but the whole economy supposedly was on the brink of a great depression again.
GIULIANI: I mean, but the reality is we are staying in this recession much longer than we have to. Our unemployment rate is intolerably high. The president predicted we'd be down to 8 percent or lower by now. He was dead wrong about that. He said his stimulus program would achieve that and it hasn't. He has to be held accountable for the things that he promises and the things that he says.
BLITZER: So, you're not happy with that?
GIULIANI: Am I happy with the direction of the country?
BLITZER: You're not happy with the president.
GIULIANI: I'm very concerned about the direction of the country, and getting back to the original question, I think Marco Rubio best reflects smaller government, lower taxes, and a very strong national defense. Charlie supported the stimulus program, which all you had to do was look at what was in it and you could see it was a payoff program not a stimulus program. He supports cap and trade, which I think we can go into that. I mean, that's going to create 20 more buildings in Washington and another 50,000 federal workers trying to figure out what the caps are going to be on every one of our industries and homes and buildings. This is massive government jobs program.
BLITZER: We're out of time, mayor, but always good to have you here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
GIULIANI: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Next time you'll have to tell us how you really feel.
BLITZER: Rudy Giuliani joining us from New York. You just heard the former mayor what he had to say, the Republican Party chairman, Michael Steele should stay on his job. Just ahead, the man who helped him win that position is about to weigh in. You're going to want it here what he has to say about this controversy. I think the mayor will want to hear what Alex Castellanos to say as well.
And we'll take you back to West Virginia and the scene of that deadly mine disaster. We're following all of the latest development.
BLITZER: Health care reform is now law, but unhappy Americans are still venting their anger. One top Democrat faced her first town hall meeting, and she found that the package is still a tough sell. Here's CNN's Jim Acosta.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Don't tell these protesters outside this congressional town hall meeting in Florida the debate over health care reform is over.
Are you a little nervous about this?
REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ, (D) FLORIDA: No, I'm not nervous.
ACOSTA: That's despite threats Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz says she received in the days after health care reform became law.
SCHULTZ: We received a couple of threats that we had to turn over to the police.
UNKNOWN MALE: Here for democracy.
ACOSTA: Unlike some rowdy town halls around the country before the health reform vote, tea partiers this time around didn't have the best seats in the house. Instead, it was reform supporters who had staked out the front rows, ready to give the congresswoman a warm welcome. When the local fire marshal declared the event hit its capacity, hundreds of protesters were left outside the event to sound off.
UNKNOWN MALE: Make it illegal.
SCHULTZ: That's what we need the make sure this remains a civil and civic forum.
ACOSTA: So, the congresswoman's staff drew constituent's names from a box. Sometimes, the questions were straight down the middle.
UNKNOWN FEMALE: So many people think that the new health care law is going to raise their taxes.
SCHULTZ: That's not the case. For a vast majority of Americans, they will actually see an improvement in their health care. Their costs will go down.
ACOSTA: Other questioners got downright testy.
UNKNOWN FEMALE: I want you to explain to me and defend the dirty deals, the backroom deals on this health care.
SCHULTZ: You ask your question. OK. No. I've heard your question, and I'm going to answer it. So, if you can sit down, I'd be glad to answer your question.
ACOSTA: And as the night dragged on -- the volume only went up. Both inside --
SCHULTZ: You are not welcome to disrupt this meeting.
ACOSTA: And out, especially when one man was tossed out of the event by police.
ACOSTA (on-camera): For Debbie Wasserman Schultz, this should be a safe district. She won her re-election in 2008 with 78 percent of the vote. This time around, she has eight Republican challengers all vying for the GOP nomination to take her on in the fall. They hope health care reform will be their ticket to victory. Jim Acosta, CNN, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.
BLITZER: Mounting concerns from the right about the man at the helm of the Republican Party and his ability to lead. Is it time for Michael Steele to step aside? I'll ask the key supporter. That's coming up next. You might be surprised what he has to say.
And three teenagers charged in a bullying case that authorities say led to the suicide of a 15-year-old girl are now entering their plea. You'll want to hear what their say.
BLITZER: Let's get to our strategy session right now. We're joined by our CNN political contributor and Republican consultant Alex Castellanos. Alex is an unpaid adviser to the Republican National Committee. He was a key adviser in helping Michael Steele become the Republican party chairman. Alex, thanks very much for coming in. I want to talk to you about Michael Steele. What you think he should or should not be doing right now, but the governor of West Virginia, Joe Manchin is joining us right now, and I want to pick his brain on what's going on. This is a horrible tragedy that has occurred, governor. What can you tell us about the four missing miners right now?
GOV. JOE MANCHIN, WEST VIRGINIA: Wolf, we have four missing miners. We have 14 confirmed that have perished that are in the mine right now. Altogether, we have 11 that's been identified, 2 are in the hospital alive. We have 14 still left in the mine, and we have 4 unaccounted for. The total of 31 that's involved. It's a hard situation to really have, Wolf, is that of the 18 people that are still in the mine, we know 14 of them have perished. We don't know the whereabouts of the other 4. So, the anxiety that every family member has is very hopeful, maybe a miracle where all four of them could be found. And that would be their loved one or husband or brother or son.
BLITZER: I think you said earlier, there was a sliver of hope. That's not very encouraging. What is your assessment?
MANCHIN: This was a horrific explosion. It was of mammoth proportion, the explosion, a methane buildup, and that lowers the percentage of your chances. Everyone knows that we're working against long odds. In West Virginia, we have a lot of faith and these are wonderful people, they're hard working people, and we're very hopeful for a miracle.
BLITZER: Apparently, there were a lot of violations that were documented over the past several years. And I guess folks have just been asking me and I'm sure they've been asking you if there was such a bad track record of safety in this mine, why was it allowed to operate?
MANCHIN: Representatives from this company was just in a briefing that we had. He was explaining the size, a very, very large response be have. And there is no excuse for violation. A violation has to be cured. And if the violation is cured, then they're able to continue. The whole operators have due process the same as every individual. And they're able to correct them. We're going to find out in this investigation from a state level, I can assure you. In West Virginia when we had sago, we found and we changed very quickly.
I can't make excuses for what might have happened or blame anybody. This is an absolute tragedy (INAUDIBLE), but we have to find out what caused this. Wolf, there was some large buildup. And we just don't know to have an explosion that turned in the rails as pretzels. So, those are the things that we're concerned about and we want to find out as quickly as possible. We hope to be able to get in there tomorrow.
BLITZER: Governor, good luck to you. Our deepest condolences to all the families, to all of West Virginia. Our heart goes out to you. We'll touch base with you tomorrow, if that's OK.
MANCHIN: Thank you, Wolf. These are good people. The best coal miners in the world come from West Virginia. Good honest, hard working people. Thank you. We need your prayers.
BLITZER: You've got our prayers and you've got the prayers of our viewers as well. Governor, thanks very much. Governor Joe Manchin of West Virginia. We'll take a quick break. When we come back, Alex Castellanos on Michael Steele right after this.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: We're bringing in our CNN contributor, the Republican strategist, Alex Castellanos right now to talk about Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican National Committee. You worked with Michael Steele for a long time. You know him, you wanted him to be chairman, is that right?
ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: Yes, I did. He's a good man, a very decent man and a tremendously talented man. I have great affection for Chairman Steele and respect for his abilities but --
BLITZER: And you're an unpaid adviser to the RNC.
CASTELLANOS: Like all good Republicans, you know, the party blows the horns, and I try to help whenever I can.
BLITZER: So, you heard Rudy Giuliani say just a little while ago here in THE SITUATION ROOM, he supports Michael Steele, wants him to stay on. He has a good track record of helping the Republicans win in Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. Keep it up, that's what Giuliani said. What does Alex Castellanos say?
CASTELLANOS: I hope we can, but you know, Chairman Steele, I think has lost the support of two important constituencies in the Republican Party, one is our most successful candidates, our leaders on the hill, in the House and senate, the people who have won elections and who have responsibility of carrying our party into the next election. But more importantly, he's lost the support of a lot of our major donors. The donors who provide the money, the lifeblood, the oxygen that the Republican party needs to succeed on its mission to take back control of the House.
And this is not about any one man. This is nothing personal. This is about a party that has a cause, and that is, rescuing this country from bankruptcy. We have a responsibility as Republicans, I think, to provide the support that our candidates need to do that. And right now, I don't think that you're seeing a lot of that money that is frozen, it's not coming into the party, and perhaps a change in leadership here would thaw that and allow that support to flow.
BLITZER: So, what do you want Michael Steele to do?
CASTELLANOS: I think what you're going to see is you're going to see some of the members of the Republican executive committee, three from each state, the two national committee people and the party chairman, are going to need to have a little come to Obama meeting or come to Jesus (ph) meeting, and a lot of people think it's the same thing in this town, and either come to terms with Chairman Steele on what he's going to do and conduct himself through the next election or else take a different direction. And I think sometimes a change in leadership would be a good thing.
BLITZER: You want him to resign?
CASTELLANOS: I think that's up to them. I think a change in direction now at this point would do the party good. BLITZER: So, you want Steele to resign.
CASTELLANOS: I think a change in direction --
BLITZER: For the good of the party?
CASTELLANOS: For the good of the party would be good. And again, it's not about one person, but without that financial support -- look, we're not going to be as successful as we need to be for the country, and that's important for all of us. Look at the RGA, the Republican Governors Association, they have over $30 million on hand. The RNC has a fraction of that, $10 million. There's a lot of support out there and that's a good news for Republican party.
There is a broad base of support. the National Republican Congressional Committee, Guy Harrison, doing a fantastic job, Nick Ayers of the Republican Governors Association, a fantastic job, Rob Guessworth (ph) the senate committee doing a terrific jock of mobilizing Republicans, but we can't have one hand of the RNC tied behind our back.
BLITZER: So, just to be precise, Alex Castellanos, if I hear you right saying the party would be better off if Michael Steele on his own decided to resign.
CASTELLANOS: I think that's a decision for the chairman to make himself, but I do think that without the support of our major donors and without the support of our leaders on the hill, our party won't be as successful, and I think the executive committee needs to look at this and say, we still have seven months to go to pull our act together. Should we suffer through seven months as we are or do we, in fact, need to make a change now? I think a change at this moment would be a good thing.
BLITZER: You'll stay on as an unpaid adviser to the RNC?
CASTELLANOS: Wolf, I've lost by ability to be of service, I think, to the RNC, and that's happened for quite a while. It's not uncommon. A lot of people have found me less than useful, so -- so, no, I've stepped away from the RNC.
BLITZER: All right. Alex Castellanos, thanks very much for talking very candidly on a subject I know very, very close to your heart.
CASTELLANOS: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thank you.
Let's check in with Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: One of the great lines I've ever heard, a lot of people have found me less than useful. I have employers stretching back over almost 50 years in television that would probably say the same thing about me.
The question this hour: "What should U.S. policy be when it comes to Afghanistan?"
Ed in Ohio writes: "Simple, we shouldn't be there in the first place. The minute we leave, be it in a year or ten years, the country will revert to what it's always been, a lawless territory where tribal lords fight it out for control."
Adam in California writes: "What it always should have been, destroy al Qaeda and those that harbor and enable our enemies such as the Taliban. We're far too weak on our foreign policy. If Karzai wants to become another Saddam and throw in his lot with the Taliban and other Islamic extremists, then he made his bed. He should suffer their fate."
Richard writes: "The Karzai regime is hated by most Afghans. Turn him over to the Taliban. Install an unbiased Afghan tribunal to govern internal affairs, allow the tribunal to form its own non- Taliban military force while the U.S. flies cover. Eventually, pull back coalition forces to remote bases in northern alliance strongholds, strike the Taliban, then, from there, with air power, when they make their moves. The U.S. should adopt guerrilla tactics in this war."
Mark writes: "You need to understand the situation Karzai is in. His innocent fellow citizens are being killed by military mistakes almost every month, and he's seen as the head of the government being backed by the foreigners. Karzai's exercising independence to try to save face."
And Joe in New Jersey writes: "We really need to know where the Afghans stand regarding their loyalty to Hamid Karzai. If he has their full support for his comments, then perhaps we ought to think about packing up, taking everything we own and leaving that thorn to fester. They can then return to the third century A.D. and continue their tribal ways."
If you want to read more on the subject, you'll find it on my blog at cnn.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jack, stand by. We'll get right back to you.
We'll continue our coverage of all of the major news right after this.