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JOHN KING, USA
BP Oil Spill; Alabama's Fragile Coast; President Obama Visits the Gulf
Aired June 8, 2010 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN KING, HOST: Wolf, we're live tonight on fragile Dauphin Island, Alabama, on the edge of the Gulf of Mexico where more oil washed ashore today and with it more frustration. We saw more of these globs. I'll show you one right here. This is one of the globs that hit the shores here. Modest in size but more than enough to scare away the tourists and a bit alarming to the team here to protect this island because this was the first impact on the other side of the island, the Mobile Bay side -- more on our visit here, more of the beautiful pictures here in a moment and we'll also talk to New Orleans Saint quarterback Drew Brees and Coach Sean Payton about their effort to help Louisiana with yet another crisis.
But first other news you need to know right now on this day 50. President Obama is heading back there to the Gulf Coast. He'll visit this state, Alabama, as well as Florida and Mississippi next Monday and Tuesday.
And look at this. We have for the first time high resolution video of the well spewing into the Gulf. This is from last week, June 3rd. This video available to us thanks to demands from a Senate committee. Images like this now helping experts estimate just how much oil has really escaped into the Gulf of Mexico. On the House side of the Capitol Congressman Edward Markey of Massachusetts accuses BP of deliberately low-balling its spill estimates.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ED MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: It's either lying or they're grossly incompetent. And the difference in terms of the impact on people in the Gulf is meaningless, but I think right from the very beginning their interest was in their own liability rather than in the livability of the Gulf.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: On the lower right of your screen you see our meter estimating just how many gallons of oil have leaked since the spill began back in April, more than 36 million gallons. That based on government figures and BP numbers which may or may not be completely trustworthy. We estimate about 7,000 gallons an hour, 7,000 gallons an hour still leaking into the Gulf of Mexico.
The administration announced new safety guide lines for shallow water oil and gas rigs like those visible just a few miles off the coast of Alabama here. Natural gas rigs visible all out here in the bay off Dauphin Island but because of the president's moratorium on deepwater drilling, Anadarko Petroleum Corporation today announced plans to move three of its rigs out of the Gulf to other areas of the globe.
That's exactly why the industry and some Gulf state governors say the moratorium exacerbates the spill's economic damage because of lost jobs and production (INAUDIBLE). One of those Gulf state governors is live with us now -- Governor Bob Riley of Alabama stepping in -- sorry, Governor.
It's a little confusing out here on the beach. What do you make of that decision? You have the natural gas rigs in close but you do have some deepwater drilling rigs way out. The administration said today shallow it's OK as long as you show your environmental plan is a good plan, your safety plan a good plan but the deepwater moratorium the administration says will stay in effect -- that good for you?
GOV. BOB RILEY (R), ALABAMA: Well, until someone can find out a way to cap this, be able to assure the American public that the people that live on these estuaries up and down the Gulf Coast, I think everyone is going to have a real problem with it. Shallow water where you can go in and cap this off, shut it down, that's one thing. But to go back and try to replicate or allow something to replicate what we're seeing out there today, I think most of the American people are going to have a problem with it.
KING: So this is one example where you're in line and sync with the administration at least for now but at odds with your fellow Republican governor, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana says not lifting that moratorium will have a devastating impact on his economy.
RILEY: Every time I talked to Governor Jindal we talked about shallow water. And I'm not sure that that is an accurate characterization of what he's saying about deepwater because I don't think anyone -- until we come up with some type of solution to make sure that we can assure the American people that this will never happen again -- I think everyone is going to have some qualms about ever going that deep again without some safeguards.
KING: You spoke to the president of the United States today. He called to tell you that he's going to come to your state. He's going to be in Mississippi and Florida next week. The previous three trips have all been to Louisiana. You've been kind enough to go over and see him. There's been some frustration in your state including in your office and with you about the pace of the federal response, the swiftness in federal decisions. Where are you now? Are you in good shape with the president or is he failing to give you things you need?
RILEY: No, actually the president has been very gracious to us especially in the last couple of days. Last week when I met with him in Louisiana we told him that the amount of boom that we were going to need here had been drastically cut and shipped out of state. We had to have it back if we were going to adequately protect the marshes and the estuaries in the state of Alabama. He got personally involved and today allowed us to go back to 150 percent of what we had anticipated. KING: What's your sense of the impact here? You've had a relatively modest impact visible. We showed some of the tar balls that have washed up all around mostly on this end of the island, some on this beach the other day. If you look at this place, this is a ghost town. These beaches would be filled on a normal day like this. And we talked to some of the property owners who say BP is making good on their claims so far they say, but they're worried about the long term impact because their fear is that under that water out there the plumes are out there, there's damage out there that's going to hurt the fishing and the ecosystem. Do you know --
RILEY: John, I think the biggest thing right now is know about what one does know. If you had gone down to Gulf Shores' Orange Beach, which is in Baldwin County on Alabama's coast, it was very, very dramatic. There was a tremendous amount of oil that came in. Is it going to be cleaned up?
Absolutely -- what we don't know is when some more is coming in. This whole coastal area operates from Memorial Day to Labor Day. That is our tourist season. And until we do something to make sure that the people that are coming here can be assured it's not going to impact them, it's going to be very difficult to bring them back.
KING: And let me ask you lastly. You've been in constant contact with BP officials. You've talked about using the National Guard to help speed up the claim process because of the frustration. Progress in that area or does the company still need a kick?
RILEY: No, we actually had about a four-hour meeting today with BP officials with our Alabama National Guard, with our Emergency Management Agency. We've done this before. What we're doing in Alabama now is we're going to take the same lessons we learned after a hurricane comes through. We take these same people deploy out and within just a few days we can determine what claims are legitimate and which ones are not. That's what we're going to do in cooperation with BP and see if we can't get it down to at least a 48-hour turnaround.
KING: Governor Riley, we appreciate your time today. We wish you the best of luck in the weeks and the months ahead as you deal with this.
And why are we here on Dauphin Island? As the governor just explained it's a beautiful place. It's incredibly sensitive. This island actually protects the city of Mobile. It essentially protects it from the force of the Gulf. It is a beautiful place, but because of where it is, it is also incredibly fragile.
KING (voice-over): The shoreline barriers run more than five miles long checked daily by the Alabama National Guard. And on this day, day 50, the first sign of oil on the Mobile Bay side of Dauphin Island.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Actually that's the first I've seen. KING: Dan Koons is a contractors hired by the state of Alabama and paid by BP. These barriers contain sand for now but will become a coastline science lab if oil comes ashore in a major way.
DAN KOONS, CI AGENT SOLUTIONS: I'm going to add marine diesel. As you can see, we've got a layer of the fuel on the water. Now this is essentially what we're doing out on the beach. We've created about 5.5 miles of individual cells like this using the gabion (ph) basket system. And within each cell we'll put the CI agent. Now when the oil would enter the cell it would solidify. What is going on as the polymers come in contact with the hydrocarbon they physically bond. It's not a chemical reaction. It's a physical reaction. Just this quick we can remove the hydrocarbon.
KING (on camera): Looks like gum.
(voice-over): So far the environmental toll here has been modest. A few waves of tar balls clean from the beaches on the Gulf side and the west end. But that Dauphin Island is a ghost town is proof of the economic impact. These waterfront rental homes mostly empty at what is usually a bustling beginning of the summer season.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Normally every house is full.
KING: David Meyer owns two and manages another dozen rental properties, 66 weeks canceled in recent days, worth some $200,000.
DAVID MEYER, DAUPHIN ISLAND BUSINESS OWNER: As it starts to affect the area more than people that were on the fence you know decided that they want to try someplace else.
KING: Meyer though compliments BP so far anyway saying his claims have been processed quickly.
MEYER: We submitted our claim to BP and they made us whole (ph) for the month of May, so we're hoping that they're able to continue that going forward because this is the time of the year where most of our revenue comes in.
KING: The work on these sand berms predates the oil spill. Hurricane Katrina wiped out a row of beachfront homes and this is part of a long-term restoration project, but also serves as another line of defense if the oil does come ashore.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But I see the thing kind of sloshing out back and forth --
KING: George Crozier has been studying Gulf ecosystems for years and says he worries some recent tests showed dropping oxygen levels in waters critical to red snapper and other species, but there is too little information to know for sure.
DR. GEORGE CROZIER, EXEC. DIR., DAUPHIN ISLAND SEA LAB: We haven't had the serious impact. As far as I know the samples they brought in from the multilayer sampling, the discreet sampling, still had live stuff in it. It's not this toxic mess out there, everything is not dead. But we are on the fringe of the impact.
KING: So the barriers stand at the ready and those here to protect fragile Dauphin Island say their mission is no less urgent but often has the feel of Groundhog Day.
KING: You saw Doug Koons giving that demonstration earlier in the piece, this is the goo -- essentially the gooey substance that comes out when they pour that chemical into the oil. They say it's nontoxic. Certainly hope so.
We're watching a lot of other big stories today, too. There are some crucial primaries and a runoff in a dozen states, a big political day across the country -- next South Carolina where the polls have just closed and the counting is under way.
And as we go to break, take another look. These are pictures from just last week finally released today, our first high-resolution look at the oil spewing from that Gulf -- a well on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico. We'll be right back.
KING: More there of the newly released high resolution pictures of the oil spewing from the BP well into the Gulf of Mexico. Those pictures from last week but released just today because of congressional pressure on BP. Day 50 of the oil spill but also a big day in politics.
The polls in South Carolina closed at the top of the hour and officials there say voter turnout has been mostly moderate but heavier in traditional Republican strongholds. That's due to the four-way Republican primary for governor.
Let's stick on the oil spill for now though and talk to two of our close friends. Our CNN contributor Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and Republican strategist and former Republican National Committee Chairman and Bush White House counselor Ed Gillespie. Let's just start Ed and Donna, it is day 50, the president announced today he will make his fourth trip to the Gulf. You just heard Governor Riley. I just want your assessment of where we stand as a country on day 50 especially in the question of the presidential leadership -- Donna, you first.
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well first of all, John, you heard Governor Riley talk about that he has more equipment today to try to prevent the oil from coming ashore. I know the White House is rapidly trying to get to those governors more boomers, more skimmers, working with Thad Allen, working with Lisa Jackson. They're trying to make sure that we preserve those beaches as well as contain that oil spill. So I think the White House is right on track to try to give the governors finally what they've been requesting for the last couple of weeks. KING: Ed, before you jump in, I want you to listen to this because some would say this is a sign of either a mixed message or an evolving message from the president. It goes back a little bit of time to when we had some very tough words from the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Then it seemed like the president was trying to get us back to calmer language and then let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KEN SALAZAR, INTERIOR SECRETARY: So our job is basically to keep the boot on the neck of British Petroleum to carry out the responsibilities that they have both under the law and contractually to move forward and to stop this spill.
BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would say that we don't need to use language like that. What we need is actions that make sure that BP is being held accountable.
I don't sit around just talking to experts because this is a college seminar. We talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answers so I know whose ass to kick.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Ed, you've been around a president in the Oval Office at a time of crisis and great challenge. Why is the president's language shifting in that direction?
ED GILLESPIE, FORMER RNC CHAIRMAN: Well John I think that he's trying to share the frustration and the anger that is being felt by so many voters. I think he clearly is frustrated himself by seeing the images that we see on the TV screen. Let me just say by the way I do some work for a client that supports offshore drilling, not BP.
It doesn't affect my point of view of the president here. I'm more informed by my time at the White House and I think what we're seeing in this president is someone who is visibly trying to demonstrate to the voters that he shares their frustration and their anger. I'm not sure that the use of that language is helpful to him.
I remember one time talking to President Bush and saying you know voters are frustrated and angry about this and suggesting he do a similar thing and share that frustration and anger and the president said you know those aren't really presidential traits. That's not what people look for from the president and I think I would agree with that seeing how President Obama using that kind of language. I'm not sure it's helpful necessarily.
BRAZILE: But John, let me just say this. As you well know --
KING: If you're hearing a roar from --
BRAZILE: That's one of those --
KING: I was just going to say, Donna, if you're hearing a roar from my microphone we've got a little tourism by here, up the Gulf Coast. The president's decision today to say OK you can drill in shallow water as long as you give us a good environmental, a good safety plan but the deepwater moratorium stays in place.
Donna, as you know, the governor of Louisiana has been complaining that that's a double whammy, a double whack at his state. You have the impact of the spill and he says that's going to devastate him from an economic standpoint.
BRAZILE: Well you know John there are so many companies out there drilling in the Gulf and I think the White House is absolutely correct to ensure that all of the proper safety measures are in place before they resume the deepwater drilling. As you well know, four of the wells out there in the Gulf are owned by BP or co-owned by BP.
And I think the White House is absolutely right. They're going to expedite some of the requests for drilling but they're going to do it safely to ensure that this never happens again. We don't know what happened. And before we start drilling again in those deep waters I think we owe it to the people of the Gulf, all 14 million residents, to do it safely.
GILLESPIE: I don't think --
KING: And take us back --
KING: Go ahead -- go ahead.
GILLESPIE: No, there's no disagreement with that at all. I agree with Donna. We do have to find out you know what is the cause of this, how do we make sure it doesn't happen again. What are the technological advances that industry needs to take and what are the steps that government needs to take from a regulatory perspective? You know what are the lessons learned here to make sure that we can continue to produce domestically safely and protect the environment and lives as well.
BRAZILE: And sea life --
KING: Ed Gillespie, Donna Brazile, we appreciate your help and your insights tonight. All right -- Ed and Donna, thanks so much. We'll get back to you on another day.
And when we come back we're going to go "Wall-to-Wall" looking for that underwater oil plumes out in the Gulf of Mexico. There are growing questions about whether BP is being honest.
Today's "One-on-One" is actually well two-on-one with New Orleans Saint quarterback Drew Brees and the head coach, Sean Payton. They tell us about their visit to parts of the coast that have been hit hard by the oil spill. Call it the Saints versus the Oilers.
A lot of primary contests on my "Radar" today, in a little bit members of our best political team on television will join us live from California and Arkansas and in D.C.
And Pete on the street -- Pete Dominick is asking some folks in New Orleans to compare the government's response to the oil spill with the response to Hurricane Katrina.
KING: In "Wall-to-Wall" tonight a closer look at the controversy over the plumes. Is this oil spill -- is the biggest damage actually under water making its way through the Gulf of Mexico perhaps causing lasting damage to the ecosystem? Take a look at this map graphic here. Oil found by University of South Florida research vessel 142 miles southeast of BP's broken well did not, did not come from that well, but a sample taken 40 to 45 miles away from the well does show oil plumes that have been linked to the BP spill.
Now the federal government is confirming this today on day 50 of the Gulf oil disaster. Plumes created from the BP spill they occur as a result of the dispersants. The dispersants are dropped in, they break the oil up into fine particulate matter and essentially goes under water and floats around. But the naturally occurring plumes happen when cracks in the sea or other leaks allow oil to seep up from shallow wells. Why are plumes a problem?
They could wash tiny plants and animals that feed larger organisms into a stew of toxic chemicals and we need to continue to watch this as things go on. And NOAA, the federal government, will continue to study these issues as we go forward just to get a sense of where the plumes are coming from and how dangerous they could be to the Gulf ecosystem. We want to check in now with someone whose been tracking this story from day one.
Anderson Cooper joins us from New Orleans. And Anderson you have talked to some of the survivors of this rig explosion. Their stories are so emotional, so gut wrenching. Give our viewers some of what to you are the most important points. Certainly can't call them highlights.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well you really get a sense of just the power of this explosion, I mean multiple explosions that rocked the rig, picking people up, throwing them as one of the survivors said like rag dolls and also just the terror they experienced sitting in the lifeboats you know suspended some 50 feet above the water waiting for people to muster, waiting for everyone to get in so the lifeboats could be down -- put down.
Tonight on the program you're going to hear from the survivors about their concerns about the rig. Many said that for months there was a lot of talk on the rig that this was a rig that -- this was a well that wasn't meant to be dug and that people were kind of messing around with Mother Nature, to quote -- to paraphrase one of the survivors I talked to. Now whether that's just kind of the talk that exists on the rig very could be.
But this is unanimous among the five survivors that I talked to. There was this sense of foreboding they said and also criticisms of both Transocean and BP that they talked a lot about safety but when it was in their interest to cut on -- you know whether it was to save time or to save money, they would not push safety as much as they did at other times. Again, this is the opinion of five of the survivors but pretty unanimous of those people that I talked to.
KING: And Anderson, you also had a chance today to take a look at one of the impacts we have seen visiting one of the bird rescue centers. Tell us about that visit and how the folks are doing and trying to help these animals.
COOPER: Well you know I actually went out on the water to kind of track how they actually captured these birds and find them. It was interesting to see. There's a lot of hard working people from the federal government, you know fish and wildlife from state, fish and wildlife and also from NGOs going out there, but there's also --
COOPER: -- a lot of people -- a lot of people tell me off the record and off camera that they have great concerns about disorganization, about the kind of bureaucracy that exists in terms of finding these animals. There's about 150, 160 or so people in Louisiana out right now tasked with finding birds. But in every boat that we saw there had to be somebody from the federal government.
There had to be someone from the state government as well as a bird expert from one of these NGOs, a person from BP. So they're kind of limited in terms of the structure that they use to go out and there's a lot of concerns that enough birds are not being reached in time. We'll talk about that also on the program tonight.
KING: That's Anderson Cooper joining us from New Orleans. Check in for both of those dramatic stories on "AC 360" tonight from New Orleans. We'll continue our coverage from Alabama in just a few minutes. And when we come back we will reach out to Louisiana, that state once again dealing with hardship trying to help the community with a psychological boost and a financial boost, the Super Bowl's quarterback Drew Brees and his coach Sean Payton when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: Just like the New Orleans Saints overcame the odds, just like they proved we're world champions, Louisiana is going to win this battle to save our coast.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal with some company along Louisiana's gulf coast today. Members of the super bowl champions New Orleans Saints. A bit earlier I spoke with the Saints head coach Sean Payton and the quarterback Drew Brees. They had just toured the wildlife center. I asked them about their firsthand sense of the impact what goes through their mind and what do they see as their role in helping their community. DREW BREES, NEW ORLEANS SAINTS QUARTERBACK: There's nothing like seeing it in person. Certainly an opportunity to come down here and show our support. Really whatever we can do. That's why we're here. The fish and wildlife organizations as well as the National Guard and all the military, coast guard, are doing a phenomenal job down here in their clean-up efforts. To have an opportunity to see some of the brown pelicans that they saved drenched in oil. We went right over to the area where they were cleaning them off and trying to bring them back. So it was really a touching thing to be able to see that and certainly we know how hard everybody is working down here.
SEAN PAYTON, NEW ORLEANS SAINTS HEAD COACH: The big thing like Drew mentioned is just us being able to have a presence and really show our support as a team and as an organization. And there's going to be a lot of long days for these people. Hopefully today wasn't as long. Hopefully we were able to give them a little break from what has been a lot of bad news.
KING: One of the things you're trying to do as a team and as an organization is to raise a million dollars I understand by raffling off a super bowl ring. What is the purpose of that? Where do you want that money to go?
BREES: First of all, this is a rare opportunity but we felt very strongly about it as an organization and through our owner Tom Benson. So to not only give one of our fans which we know we've got them nationwide the opportunity to get one of our super bowl rings through this raffle but certainly the opportunity to raise significant funds -- in the millions is our goal -- to be able to put directly in the gulf coast region to support families out of work for months and will continue to be out of work, to bring back their way of life and also to help the responders and help with the clean-up efforts. You can go to www.saintsgulfcoastrenewal.org to get more information.
PAYTON: I think this will be the first time really in the history of our league that a super bowl ring goes to a fan really, someone that, "a," is wanting to help out this area. Which 100 percent of the proceeds are going to. And secondly, is looking to win an actual ring. It's the exact same ring that our players, coaches, organizational members will be getting next Wednesday night. So it's pretty unique.
KING: Full disclosure. I'm a Patriots fan but it's a worthy cause. I may buy a few tickets myself and see how I can do. Help me understand. The team was so critical to helping rebuilding the city's morale, the city's confidence and city's bounce in its step if you will post Katrina. Very different crises for the city, very different disasters but both testing the community in the long term. Where do you see the similarities Drew to you first and what's different this time?
BREES: Both Sean and I came to New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina about six months post Katrina and we saw the devastation then with our own eyes. Not only did we see the opportunity that we had to help rebuild the organization and to win football games and to bring the championship here but also be involved with the community and rebuilding efforts. Whereas hurricane Katrina was the largest or most devastating natural disaster in U.S. history now we're encountering the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history and just happens to be in the same place affecting many of the same people. Whatever we can do. We have a bond with our fans that was molded here the last four years because of everything we went through post Katrina. We were able to give them a championship in February. Hopefully we can give them a few more by the time we're done. For now it's doing whatever we can to help these people come back.
PAYTON: I think that relationship that exists, as Drew mentioned, between the fan base of really all the south and our team and organization is unique. And there's been a lot of times where in a much different theater we've counted on them for their support but in much more serious venues now and certainly with what's going on here and what took place shortly after 2005. It really -- it takes a group effort. And I think our players all the time get humbled by these opportunities we have just to spend part of an afternoon hopefully helping people's lives.
KING: Coach, the president said in an interview that was broadcast this morning that he's looking for names in case he needs to kick a little a-s-s. If he's looking for conditioning training, can he stop by?
PAYTON: I don't know what drill we're going to be able to put the president in. We're going to see him in August. We look forward to our trip there as we head east for the preseason. Drew has had a chance to see him catch the football. I haven't. I would defer to Drew.
BREES: He's a pretty good athlete.
PAYTON: He's from Chicago though so he can't be a bad athlete.
KING: Got a little street sense maybe. Coach Payton, Drew Brees, thanks so much for your time. Best of luck in the season to come and best of luck now as you try to help your community once again.
BREES: Thank you.
PAYTON: Thank you.
KING: We're here in Dauphin Island, Alabama, day two of our tour of the Gulf of Mexico. But it's also a big night in politics. Polls in three states have just closed. More close in the next half hour. After the break we dive into the key races and what they're telling us now and what it means for November.
KING: Today's most important person you don't know is a Republican woman running for high office. Maybe you know one. Right now there are more of them than ever before in U.S. history, whether you look at governors' races or house races or Senate races. Here are the numbers. 14 Republican women are still in the running for U.S. Senate seats, 94 for house seats and 11 for governor. It's an all- time record but with a bit of an asterisk. It's only early June. Not all of them of course will win their primaries. Still they're outnumbered by Democratic women running for high office but 2010 has the potential to be the new year of the women. We'll have to wait and see.
Let's bring into the conversation three highly talented women helping to cover all these ambitious women candidates, our national political correspondent Jessica Yellin is in Burbank, California tonight, our senior Congressional correspondent Dana Bash in Little Rock, Arkansas and our senior political analyst Gloria Borger in D.C. Gloria to you first, why more women in both parties but especially a big year in the Republican side?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well you know John, part of it is the natural progression of women, right. Since the '90s we saw women really starting to get involved in politics down ballot. Now they've moved up the ballot. We've seen them take corporate positions -- CEO of major companies. But also I think there's an issue here that in a year that people want reform and they're anti- incumbent, they look at women as more nontraditional candidates who can kind of clean up the mess. I know at my house I'm cleaning up the mess. And I think people see women as more outsiders than insiders.
KING: Oh, boy. I'm afraid to go to Arkansas now to talk about who cleans up the mess at my house. But, Dana, when you cover Capitol Hill, you have a female house speaker. You see more women on the Democratic side, a woman in the leadership in the Senate on the Democratic side. I think one on the Senate Republican side, one on the house Republican side. Do you expect -- is there a mood that as the number of women on Capitol Hill have grown have the politics of the place changed?
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think so, yeah. I think there are 17 senators who are female right now and you definitely get the sense that the feel of the place has changed. And I can tell you just from my perch here in Arkansas covering a female incumbent senator, just this speaks exactly to what Gloria was mentioning. She doesn't talk about her gender. Gender is not an overt issue in this race. But when she tries to make it clear she's different from politicians in Washington, she talks about the fact that she is a wife, that she is a mother, that she cuts through it all and does what she needs to do as also a moderate who happens to be a female to get things done. So it's a subtext absolutely and what Blanche Lincoln is trying to do to beat back that anti-incumbent fever right now.
KING: Let's move on to other stories on the radar because one I want to start with includes a very prominent woman candidate who has had quite the controversy. The polls have been closed for about 40 minutes down in South Carolina. All eyes are on the Republican primary for governor and on specially State Representative Nikki Haile. She's not only battling three men but she's been fighting allegations of infidelity. Jessica Yellin, this race in the last couple of weeks has taken a hugely dramatic turn. JESSICA YELLIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's a remarkable story, John. One of those situations you rarely see a woman involved in where she is accused of being an adulteress and in a sex scandal but you know we can't treat it any differently than you would with a man. You have to wonder whether when her campaign manager alleges this is the boys going after the woman trying to shake up the fraternity party maybe that's true too. Who knows? A definite gender twist we didn't see coming in that race but good to discuss.
KING: As Dana noted, down in Arkansas, Democratic Senator Lincoln in a runoff with the lieutenant governor Bill Halter who has the backing of organized labor and some other liberal groups. Earlier Senator Lincoln talked with Dana about this year's angry electorate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BLANCHE LINCOLN (D), ARKANSAS: I would say we may have underestimated some of the anti-incumbent moods. We've definitely underestimated the volume of outside interest money that would come into the state.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Dana, how is the turnout today especially anything anecdotal in from Lincoln's old district in the northeast corner of the state?
BASH: Anecdotally they think that they're doing okay in the key districts where she needs to win. You mentioned of course that district she used to represent in the house. The other county is where I am right now Pulaski, which of course is Little Rock. They're looking for high numbers here. With regard to that whole concept of her underestimating the anti-incumbent mood but also more importantly she talked about those special interests against her, John, it is absolutely remarkable to see this subplot going on here because those interests are big unions. They have come down here in full force with the explicit goal of making an example out of Blanche Lincoln, a moderate Democrat, for not sticking with them on their issues. They say they want to use this is a warning to other Democrats to not cross them. And it really is an example of how Democrats might have the majority but there are a lot of disgruntled constituencies out there with regard to how they're handling it.
KING: Gloria, come in on that point because that is expected to go Republican anyway. What about the idea that you have Democratic infighting? Are there any worries that come general election across the country there will be fights within the party?
BORGER: No. Both parties. Because you've got Barack Obama's liberal base not very happy with them. And on the Republican side, you've got the fight between the tea party candidates and the more establishment Republican candidates. So I think, John, you're going to see it on both sides. And that really could help the outsiders and hurt the incumbents who are of course seen as more establishment candidates. And that is part of Blanche Lincoln's problem although she's trying to run as an outsider from Washington. KING: And big names and big bucks the headlines out in today's California primary. The former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina feeling comfortable enough in her Republican contest that she started looking ahead and taking shots at Democratic incumbent Senator Barbara Boxer.
CARLY FIORINA: We're going to keep talking to the people of California about the fact that we need to hold Barbara Boxer accountable for her over 28 years of failure in Washington.
KING: Jessica Yellin, she's that confident, huh?
YELLIN: She is that confident. And it has gotten mean already. Carly Fiorina last week released an ad where she has Barbara Boxer saying that climate change is a national security issue and then Carly Fiorina comes on the screen saying, we face terrorism and Barbara Boxer wants to talk about the weather? It's just very, very bitter, personal, and Barbara Boxer going after Fiorina claiming that her tenure as the CEO of Hewlett-Packard is a minus, not a plus, because she laid off or transferred tens of thousands of people, saw the stock price plummet and got fired. So not a fun race. But, again, not a happy time race, not a positive race. But two women going after each other in a very tough way. Neither one talking about gender. Both talking about the issues, John.
KING: Jessica, Gloria, Dana, stand by. Up next what you might call a senior moment at a president's speech at a high school graduation.
And still to come, we go to Louisiana to see how people in New Orleans feel about the response to the oil spill. That's Pete on the street tonight. Day two on the gulf from Dauphin Island, Alabama.
KING: Tonight's play by play we're still in Dauphin, Alabama. I decided to move inside to the cozy confines of the CNN Express. Dana Bash, Jessica Yellin, Gloria Borger still with us to help break down the tape. Let's begin, the president did an interview with the "Today" show this morning with Matt Lauer. One of the bytes that got a lot of attention we played last night where the president said he might have to go out at the end of this and kick a little. He was also asked in that interview why hasn't he had a conversation one-on- one with the very controversial CEO of BP Tony Hayward.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I have not spoken to him directly and here's the reason. Because my experience is when you talk to a guy like BP's CEO, he is going to say all the right things to me. I'm not interested in words. I'm interested in actions. And we are communicating to him every single day, exactly what we expect of him and what we expect of that administration.
MATT LAUER, TALK SHOW HOST: In all due respect, that feels strange to me, that here we've got the CEO of a company that is responsible for the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, and I think I'm just curious why you wouldn't pick up the phone and in some ways just give him a piece of your mind?
OBAMA: Well, look, this has been -- this has been the main critique of the administration is giving a piece of my mind to these guys. Look, I would love to vent. I would love to.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: The president said he would love to vent. Well get the point of that. Gloria, the president at one point of the interview says he is going to kick a little you know what. There he is trying to about very calm.
BORGER: This is the president we elected, John. People elected Barack Obama because they thought that he was cool and that he wasn't going to vent. They didn't want a president who was going to vent. In terms of whether he talked to the CEO of BP, this is the president of the United States. He can call up a prime minister. He can call up the head of state. His justice department is investigating BP right now. In fact, I would argue it might be inappropriate for the president to be talking to the chairman of BP because right now they're not actually on the same team anymore.
KING: Jess, when you're out on the road in California and then Dana to you in Arkansas, are people talking about this? I know they're focusing on the primary elections. When you talk about to people, does the president's handling specifically come up?
YELLIN: Oh, to me. I found that people are frustrated that -- they're frustrated that the oil company they think is getting let off the hook because they've had the same experience here in California. There was a major spill in Santa Barbara in 1969. They thought it was because regulation wasn't in place. They got a pass, and not enough happened afterwards. And they see it happening again. So there is a jaded quality out here where yeah, we've seen it, we know how this plays out. And it's happening all over again. They feel cynical about it, John.
BASH: Playing right into the sentiment and right into the way it is already going on against Washington. This Arkansas is of course a conservative state where President Obama is not very popular. In fact, just to tie the two-stories together, I had a Democratic source talking about the future and whether or not the Democrats can hold on to the seat joke to me that Barack Obama probably has lower approval ratings here in Arkansas than the CEO of BP. This whole issue plays right into a sentiment that was already going on. That's why Democrats to put it bluntly are freaking out about it politically.
KING: As we go to break, I want to show you ladies and show our viewers, this is what we call a senior moment. The president giving a commencement speech, a graduation speech at Kalamazoo Central High School. Look just over the president's shoulder as he tries to give this speech here, and you see somebody who is, shall we say, not so interested. All the video here.
OBAMA: And that's to give back.
KING: Nodding off. Nodding off. All right. We've all been at speeches where the politician loses at least one or two people out there in the audience. Dana, Gloria, Jessica, thanks for being with us tonight.
We've got to take a quick break. When we come back, we'll continue our tour of the gulf coast. We'll also bring you Pete on the street. He is in New Orleans tonight. There you see the beautiful waters, but the endangered island of Dauphin, Alabama. We'll be back in just a second.
KING: We're out all week on the gulf coast assessing the impact of the oil spill economically and environmentally, and we wouldn't go out on the road without bringing Pete Dominick with us. Pete is on the street while I'm in Alabama. He is in New Orleans asking this important question, Pete. How has the government responded now compared to a few years back when it was hurricane Katrina?
PETE DOMINICK, OFFBEAT REPORTER: Yeah, John King, we've heard from the politicians. We've heard from BP and the pundits. I wanted to talk to the people of New Orleans who have been through so much. I went out on this ferry and crossed to Mississippi with some of them today.
DOMINICK: If you could describe this oil in the water in one sentence, what do you think?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Catastrophic.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Complete disaster.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's bad. I mean it's killing our way of life.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A couple of words? Tragic, appalling, astounding.
DOMINICK: How do you keep a smile on your face?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not easy, trust me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I keep drinking.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Prayer and meditation.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm not going to cry all day.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sometimes we need laughter to make us very happy, because right now Louisiana has been through a lot.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm considering moving. DOMINICK: Really?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think I'll live to see the full recovery of this disaster.
DOMINICK: Your son, how old is he, 5?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 6.
DOMINICK: Does he understand what is going on?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, no. In fact there are many adults who don't understand what is going on.
DOMINICK: How do you explain to your kids what is going on, or are you really yet?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's difficult.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All these people without jobs.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know how they can accommodate all the oil that is there.
DOMINICK: You think you'll recover down here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, yeah, New Orleans always.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to pray that we recover. It's not about thinking, it's just praying and hope for the best.
DOMINICK: No matter what, people will always come to New Orleans?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I pray so.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: New Orleans and Louisiana and Mississippi, they're such resilient people because they've had one disaster after another. They will find a way.
DOMINICK: You left after Katrina, and you came back.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just in time for the oil spill.
DOMINICK: Just in time for another disaster. Sir, may I say you have the worst timing of anybody I have ever met in my life?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, home is home, you know.
DOMINICK: Hey, John, I tried to find a funny every day, but some days I just can't do it.
KING: Amen to, that Pete. This one is not funny some days. But it is great to get out and hear directly from the people. We thank Pete Dominick in New Orleans. We're live in Dauphin Island, Alabama. We thank you for spending some time with us. Campbell Brown takes it away right now.