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Reading the Political Tea Leaves; System Fails Whistleblowers; Double-Dip Fears Recede; A New START for U.S./Russia Relations; BP Oil Could be on Ocean Floor; Coverage of Robert Gibbs Daily White House Press Briefing

Aired September 15, 2010 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Let's keep the conversation going. Send us some suggestions as to the worst song ever.

Live, everybody, from Studio 7 at CNN world headquarters, the big stories for Wednesday, the 15th of September.

The GOP strategy to retake control of Congress in doubt today. A Tea Party candidate wins big in Delaware despite firm opposition from the Republican establishment.

Federal workers who report violations may be putting their careers on the line. It turns out the government advocate for whistleblowers is accused of retribution.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not only is this system dysfunctional, it is really set up to make sure whistleblowers do not blow the whistle.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: And a new nuclear reduction treaty moves toward a critical vote on Capitol Hill. I am talking live this hour with former U.S. senator Sam Nunn.

Good morning, everyone. I'm Tony Harris.

Those stories and your comments right here, right now in the CNN NEWSROOM.

So, how about a cup of tea with your primary election results? Ahead of the vote, we've highlighted some of the hot races to watch -- Delaware, New Hampshire, New York.

We begin with Delaware and a big win for the Tea Party. Their candidate, political commentator Christine O'Donnell, defeated Republican Congressman Mike Castle in the U.S. Senate primary.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTINE O'DONNELL (R), DELAWARE SENATE CANDIDATE: There are a lot of people who are rallying behind me who are frustrated that the Republican Party has lost its way. What you see in this race, and then especially the attitude after our win, is that, you know, the so- called leaders have been proven wrong. They got behind a candidate who didn't even support our party principles, supported the liberals nearly 70 percent of the time some years, and they chose to get behind him because they were taking the easy way out. And now they underestimated the power of we, the people, and the strength and the determination that we have to take back our country. And, you know, their credibility has been shot.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: OK.

And still too close to call in New Hampshire. The candidate backed by local Tea Party groups is locked into a tight race with the Republican Party candidate.

Take a look at where the race stands right now. And we will continue to follow the results here as we get close to a decision in that race.

In New York, veteran Congressman Charles Rangel wrangled a win while facing ethics questions. He fended off five challengers in the Democratic primary, including the son of the late congressman Adam Clayton Powell. Rangel got some last-minute help from former president Bill Clinton in the form of robo calls.

So let's pull back and look at the big picture from the primaries. On CNN's "AMERICAN MORNING, Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley led a discussion of what the results suggests about the November midterms.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I know we're not talking about your side of the Hill, as we say, but I have to get your impressions on what last night meant. First, let's talk about what it meant for Democrats.

Congressman Van Hollen, what does the win -- is it clearly a big night for the Tea Party? What's the message for Democrats in those victories?

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), MARYLAND: Well, Candy, we saw similar patterns in the House races that we saw in the Delaware Senate race and the New York governor's race. And I have to say, I think voters are going to look at this and it's going to be a wake-up call. Because what we just saw was the complete purging of moderates and independents out of the Republican Party.

Mike Castle is somebody who has been a voice of moderation. He has been a pragmatist. He's been somebody who is willing to work across Party lines.

And what happened in Delaware, just sends a message that there is no room, no room at all for that kind of moderation and independence in the Republican Party and I think that that's going to be a wake-up call to voters in these swing districts. Because swing district voters -- they're moderate voters. They are those independent voters and they're going to see this huge swing to the right and they're going to say we don't want to go way over there.

CROWLEY: Congressman Pence, you are one of those listed in a Tea Party press release today of those that were backed by the Tea Party. So I know that you have friendly and good relationships with those who identify themselves as Tea Partiers. But I wonder, you know in politics, perception is everything, and I assume that you'll argue that these are not right wing extremists who have been nominated. But perception is a lot in politics. And don't you all at this point have a perception problem with some of your candidates?

REP. MIKE PENCE (R), INDIANA: Well, look, Candy, there's a Party that has a problem out there today. And frankly, it's the Democratic Party on Capitol Hill and it's this administration. The American people are tired of the borrowing and the spending and the bailouts and the takeovers. And they're looking for men and women all over the country that are willing to come to Washington, D.C., and rein in this federal government.

You know, Christine O'Donnell ran a competitive primary, won yesterday. And you know, I have every confidence that upbeat positive mainstream conservative message you saw her delivering this morning here on CNN that she delivered all over Delaware is going to continue to resonate.

And, you know, for those who are willing to write off this race now. I think electing Christine O'Donnell in Delaware or a Republican senator in Delaware, it's about as crazy as electing a Republican senator in Massachusetts.

Who'd have thunk it? Look, the American people want change. They don't want more of the same run away federal spending that frankly characterizes the last administration has gone on steroids in this administration. And they want people that are willing to come to Washington, D.C. and bring that change about.

CROWLEY: Let me just ask you, though. And a lot of Republicans have said, look, these are not, you know, some sort of extremists. These are mainstream Republicans, mainstream America.

Is it mainstream to want to overturn health care reform, which is one of O'Donnell's positions? Is that a mainstream position to you?

PENCE: Oh, Candy, I'll tell you what -- come on out to Indiana real soon and walk up and down the streets of Muncie and ask people whether they agree with me that we need to repeal Obamacare, lock, stock, and barrel. People don't like to be told that they have to buy health insurance whether they want it or need it or not. They don't want this government takeover of healthcare. I think there's a broad and decisive majority in this country of Republicans, independents and many Democrats, who want to scrap that bill and start over.

So you bet, I think that's a mainstream position. But you know, the American people are saying enough is enough to the spending, the deficits, the debt, the takeovers, the bailouts. I think Christine O'Donnell's message was emblematic of that. Andy Harris' message is emblematic of that in Maryland and I think it's why the American people are being drawn to these good candidates.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(NEWSBREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: So, how much do you trust the government? Not very much, according to a new poll in the CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey.

Only 25 percent say they trust the government to do the right thing all or most of the time. Sixty-six percent say some of the time. Eight percent never trust the government to do what's right.

Government whistleblowers risk their careers to try and do what is right. So what happens when the office they trust to protect them doesn't?

Senior Correspondent Allan Chernoff reports on a system critics say is broken and dysfunctional.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICHARD WYEROSKI, FMR. FAA SAFETY INSPECTOR: Nice airplane.

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Former Federal Aviation Safety inspector Richard Wyeroski was fired after reporting safety incidents at New York area airports a decade ago that he claims the FAA wanted to keep quiet. Wyeroski says his supervisor also tried to prevent him from earning this aviation inspection certificate and then terminated him in late 2002, falsely claiming Wyeroski had lied on his certificate application.

(on camera): You got another certification --

WYEROSKI: Right.

CHERNOFF: -- to improve your expertise in safety?

WYEROSKI: Yes.

CHERNOFF: And you're saying that you were fired as a result?

WYEROSKI: Yes, that's true. And I have been trying to clear my name for seven years now. It's affected my livelihood, it's affected my reputation, all because I did my job.

CHERNOFF (voice-over): We asked the FAA to comment on Wyeroski's dismissal. They declined.

To try to get his job back, Wyeroski turned to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel.

(on camera): The U.S. special counsel, a presidential appointee, is supposed to help whistleblowers like Richard Wyeroski. Six times Wyeroski has filed complaints with the Office of Special Counsel, but those complaints have gone nowhere. And advocates for whistleblowers say that's typical.

DANIELLE BRIAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, PROJECT ON GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT: Not only is this system dysfunctional, it is really set up to make sure whistleblowers do not blow the whistle.

CHERNOFF: Scott Bloch is the last person to have been U.S. special counsel, a job he held when Wyeroski began filing his complaints. Bloch was forced to resign in 2008 and recently pled guilty to lying to Congress about deleting files from his computer at a time when he was the subject of a federal investigation into whether he retaliated against his own employees and dismissed whistleblower cases like Wyeroski's without adequate examinations.

BRIAN: Scott Bloch wasn't actually getting his agency to do the investigations into allegations of wrongdoing. They were disclosing cases left and right without actually doing investigations.

CHERNOFF: The Office of Special Counsel says it flatly rejects Brian's charges. Since Bloch left the office, OSC has substantiated a number of whistleblower complaints, but the office remains leaderless.

President Obama has never appointed a new U.S. special counsel even though early in his legal career he worked on behalf of government employees who exposed fraud.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I actually used to be a plaintiffs' attorney that represented whistleblowers.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHERNOFF: While the president has failed to appoint a new special counsel, the White House has been working on a bill with Congress that would give whistleblowers more protection. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel says, "We continue to conduct full and fair investigations and seek corrective and disciplinary actions when appropriate" -- Tony.

HARRIS: So, Allan, you know, it seems ironic here that the president himself represented a whistleblower when he was in private practice, but he hasn't appointed a new special counsel. Any explanation from the administration on this?

CHERNOFF: Tony, it's incredibly ironic. The president had actually represented somebody back in Illinois, he had written a brief. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, but still, he has yet to actually name a special counsel.

People are kind of scratching their heads, people who are supporting the whistleblowers. They're wondering, what's up? And apparently there have been some possible nominees, but they've been scratched and so we are still waiting on that.

HARRIS: Yes. Scott Bloch, the former special counsel, pled guilty to lying to Congress. When is he going to be sentenced? And is he likely to serve prison time?

CHERNOFF: He had been scheduled to be sentenced last week. Now, there's a plea deal, and it seems based on the arguments that were presented in court last week, that the plea deal calls for him to just get probation, no prison time.

Now, there was an argument before the judge between the attorneys as to whether or not the judge is actually able to do that, able to just give him probation, so now the judge has asked for written briefs on that very issue. She's supposed to get those later this month, on September 24th, and then set a sentencing date. But it is definitely possible here that Scott Bloch is going to walk with no prison time.

HARRIS: Wow.

Allan Chernoff for us.

Allan, appreciate it. Thank you.

Business is coming back, lending is picking up, keeping a double- dip recession at bay for now.

Let's take a look at the markets, coming up on two hours into the trading day.

Where are we? Are we in positive territory? We are, Up 15 points.

We'll follow these numbers throughout the day for you right here in the CNN NEWSROOM.

We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: Let's see here. Let's get everyone to CNNMoney.com and take a look at what we have here as the lead story.

"Bush Tax Cuts: What You Need to Know." The noise from the debate in Washington is deafening. We've brought you some of that.

Cover your ears and keep reading, answers to five common questions. That's the lead story at CNNMoney.com.

Let's get you to the Big Board, New York Stock Exchange. Now coming up on two hours into the trading day, we are in positive territory, a little pop here. We're up 23 points. The Nasdaq is -- let's just call it flat.

You know, there has been a lot of talk about a double-dip recession. Everyone wants to know if the economy is going to take a turn for the worse. We don't have a crystal ball, but we can look at the data. Let's walk here for a second. And this month the numbers have been pretty good.

Alison Kosik is at the New York Stock Exchange with some details for us.

And Alison, I guess the question is, has the mood on the Street changed?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: It really has, Tony. You know, the mood here on Wall Street, on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, is definitely more optimistic.

You know, we haven't heard all the talk about a double dip, falling back into a recession. That hasn't been mentioned much this month. But besides the feeling of optimism, we're seeing numbers showing that it's less likely that we'll fall back into a recession.

(STOCK MARKET REPORT)

HARRIS: All right. Let's do the tease here.

Denzel Washington joining me in the noon hour to talk about a new boys and girls clubs initiative to help kids graduate. Can't wait for this conversation. Denzel credits his hometown club for motivating him to succeed.

That's in the noon hour of CNN NEWSROOM. OK.

(WEATHER REPORT)

HARRIS: He is passionate about reducing the nuclear threat to the world. Former senator Sam Nunn talks about the new -- there he is. He joins us next in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: Got to tell you, with Congress focused on the economy and election, the new START Nuclear Reduction Treaty has gotten little attention. We're going to change that.

The Senate held more than a dozen hearings and briefings over the summer. The treaty did be debated and voted on tomorrow in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The pact, signed in April, limits U.S. and Russia to 1,550 warheads and 700 intercontinental missiles. The administration denies claims from critics the treaty will limit missile defense systems and conventional strike capabilities. It will take support from 67 senators to ratify the treaty, a vote not expected until after the November election.

Sam Nunn spent 24 years in the U.S. Senate, he is now co-chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, which works to reduce the global peril from nuclear weapons and he joins me from New York.

Senator, it's good to see you. Thanks for your time. Thanks for working it out in your schedule. We have been trying to get you on for a couple of weeks now, thanks.

SAM NUNN, CO-CHAIR, NUCLEAR THREAT INITIATIVE: Thank you, Tony. Glad to be with you.

HARRIS: Well, I've got to tell you, let me start here, so as I mentioned just a moment ago, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is set to vote on the new START Treaty. What is your view, your overarching view of the new START Treaty?

NUNN: Tony, I would start by saying that the threat has fundamentally changed since the Cold War. At that time, we were concerned about an invasion of Europe. We were concerned about the Soviet Union's overwhelming conventional capability. We were concerned about a deterrent to any kind of war with the Soviet Union. And today, some of those things remain relevant, but most of them have fundamentally changed.

Today, the U.S. and Russia have a real stake in working together to avoid proliferation in the world, to prevent countries like Iran and North Korea from becoming nuclear powers, to make sure that we secure nuclear materials around the globe and make sure we do not have catastrophic nuclear terrorism.

So the threat has fundamentally changed. And arms control was important during the Cold War, but it is even more important now because the United States and Russia have so many threats in common and we have such a stake in basically making sure we do not lose confidence in verification, making sure that we limit the number of launches, making sure that we are credible in terms of trying to prevent proliferation around the globe.

For all of those reasons, the treaty is very important, particularly on the verification bit.

HARRIS: Well, let me follow up this way. If this agreement is that important -- right now, it's just between the United States and Russia -- how does it help us reduce the nuclear threat from, say, Iran and North Korea?

NUNN: Well, the United States and Russia working together is important, and this builds confidence. That is fundamental, and that would be true with the challenges in Iran and North Korea. We are much more likely to get Russian assistance on that, Russian pressure, Russian sanctions. All of those are difficult, but Russian leadership on nonproliferation is important.

And Russia securing not only its own but global nuclear materials that could be seized by terrorists all over the world is enormously important. The United States and Russia need a partnership on that.

When you sort of back off it and get away from some of the details and look at the fact that United States and Russia still have 99 percent of all the nuclear weapons in the world, we have enough nuclear weapons to destroy god's universe or we can work together to make nuclear energy a positive for mankind. So that's really -- not all of that is in this treaty, but the treaty is a step in the direction of recognizing how important it is for the United States and Russia to work together and then to get other nations to join us, of course.

HARRIS: Well, Senator, is there anything in the treaty -- because you hear this as pushback sometimes -- anything in the treaty that limbs U.S. missile defense capabilities?

NUNN: No, there's nothing in the treaty. The Joint Chiefs of Staff have testified to that fact. The people in charge of the missile defense program in the Pentagon have testified to that fact. Secretary Gates has testified to that.

The Russians have their own position on missile defense and they assert certain things themselves, but that is not in the treaty. It is not binding on us.

And if you get beyond the treaty itself, it's in the United States interest to work with Russia on missile defense, not to give them a veto, but President Reagan had that as a vision. It was perhaps premature, but it is very relevant because if we begin working with Russia on missile defense, I think we will begin to understand then there is no reason in having the kind the major offensive force pointing at each other on hair trigger that could basically destroy each other's countries in the amount of one hour or so.

We have taken all sorts of safeguards to prevent that from helping, but this treaty itself is a confidence builder because without the treaty there is no verification. So trust but verify remains very important with our dealings with Russia and other nuclear powers.

HARRIS: So we are hearing from some Republicans, particularly Republican Moderates are on the fence on this treaty. What do you think of the analysis? And is it principled in your view, or are we just talking about politics here?

NUNN: I think there's perhaps some politics involved when you get involved when you get within a couple of months of an election. That's probably one of the reasons that both John Kerry, Senator Kerry, and Dick Lugar are working together on this.

By the way, I think we all ought to note that is a very positive development in partisan Washington today, for two leaders to be working together. I know that Senator McCain and Senator Levin are working together on a number of items, including, perhaps, this. I hope that Senator McCain will end up voting for this.

So I think that there is distrust going back to the Cold War. Russia has the same kind of distrust. But what we have to understand, without this treaty the distrust is going up because we have no way of verifying. With this, we have onsite inspections where required and where needed. We have a certain amount of telemetry exchange. We have all sorts of things that give mutual reassurance and allow us to both move ahead and try to put some of the Cold War great tensions behind us, and that's enormously important to the security of the American people and the people in Russia and indeed, to the global security.

HARRIS: And that leads me to my last question. The treaties that the countries have signed over the years -- SALT I signed by President Nixon, the treaties signed by President Reagan in 1987, that was the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and the treaty signed by the Presidents Bush -- have the treaties made this country safer?

NUNN: I would say, yes. I would say all of them have. We and the Russians have outlawed intermediate range missiles. We have also regulated and started building down missiles instead of increasing them. Most people around the globe, indeed, don't know we are dramatically lower than we were 10, 15 years ago. We still have a lot of challenges where we need to work together, including, as I mentioned, securing nuclear materials wherever they are everywhere.

We also need a breakthrough in dealing with the Russians on bio. We have not dealt with the biological threat, which is going to be one of the threats of the future. We also have a real need to work with them on cyber security as well as the Chinese.

So there are a lot of things we need to work together with them on including energy and climate change, and this treaty is a confidence builder. It's not going to do all of that. I don't want to exaggerate the treaty. It's a modest step forward, but it's an important step forward.

HARRIS: Senator Nunn, thanks for your time. Thanks for finding the room in your schedule. And next time, let's visit here in Atlanta. It would be great to see you.

NUNN: Thank you. Thank you , Tony. Thank you very much.

HARRIS: My pleasure.

And still to come, all of that oil in the Gulf had to go somewhere, right? It may be lurking at the bottom.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: Let's get you caught up on top stories now.

Hurricanes Igor and Julia are churning through the Atlantic, both expected to miss the United States. Tropical Storm Karl is battering Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.

Another big win for the Tea Party Movement. Christine O'Donnell defeated Republican Mike Castle in the GOP Senate primary in Delaware. Castle was backed by the National Republican Part. O'Donnell says she didn't hear from any of them after her win.

California may soon require automatic or remote controlled shutoff values on natural gas pipelines. Intense heat from the explosion and fire in a San Bruno neighborhood kept firefighters from a manual shutoff valve for two hours last Friday.

Ken Feinberg was appointed by President Obama to oversee BP oil spill claims along the Gulf Coast, but local business owners are complaining they still aren't being paid.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALICE BRETZ, WOLF BAY LODGE RESTAURANT: They say we'll get your claim in so you can get a check. Well that never happened, and then when the new claims process took over, we had to do everything again. Each time we call, we have gotten somebody different. They don't know what's going on. They don't know what to tell us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: So, Orange Beach, Alabama pulled its city workers from BP sites this week over lack of payment and says they won't be back until there is a check in the bank.

It has been two months since BP plugged its gushing well. Where did the oil in the Gulf go? Brian Todd reports that some researchers are looking deep down below.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRAIN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A deepwater CSI in the Gulf and a potentially ominous finding. Researchers discover what they say is a substantial layer of oil in the sediment in areas near the Deepwater Horizon spill.

The team, led by a University of Georgia marine science professor, canvassed an area as close as two miles from the wellhead and as far away as about 80 miles. In several samples from the sea floor, they found concentrations of oil seeping as much as two inches in the sediment.

(on camera): We are going to the source of this new finding. We are going to talk to Dr. Samantha Joye on a research vessel about 10 miles south, about 25 nautical miles east of the well head. She is on the research vessel the Oceanis (ph). We're going to call that right now.

(voice-over): I asked Joye about other scientists who question her findings, including those who say so much oil seeps into the Gulf naturally every year that some of this might not be from the Deepwater Horizon spill.

SAMUEL WALKER SR., NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATION: There is spillage from other vessels, there's leakage from pipelines, there's all sorts of things like that. And so, to find oil in the Gulf of Mexico either in its sediments or in the water column is not an unusual thing.

TODD (on camera): How do you come to believe that the oil you found is from the Gulf oil spill in the BP situation? SAMANTHA JOYE, UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA RESEARCHER: We have samples that were collected in May, (INAUDIBLE) in May on the Pelican (ph) cruise (ph) from many of the same sites we're sampling right now. In May, this layer was not present. It was not here. This layer has developed over the past four months.

TODD (voice-over): Joye concedes they won't know for sure that this oil is from the Deepwater Horizon spill until they chemically fingerprint it when they get back at their labs. Joye discovered dead organisms underneath the oily sediment and worries about marine life that would feed off those organisms.

(on camera): What kinds of organisms are exposed to this oil?

JOYE: Well, anything that forages to the bottom. I mean, any fish, any invertebrate, squid, octopus, anything that is going to the bottom looking for food is going to be exposed to the material.

TODD: Then, Joye says, that could deprive other fish up the chain from a healthy food source.

An official with NOAA tells CNN this finding does not necessarily contradict a government study issued last saying 75 percent of the oil from the spill was either captured, evaporated naturally or dispersed into the water column in microscopic droplets. The official says the oil in these samples could be part of the 25 percent that got away.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HARRIS: Got to tell you, it is they award for college football players, so why is one winner giving the trophy back?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: He already has a Super Bowl ring and now he is going for a second. Reggie Bush is, however, returning his Heisman trophy. Why is that happening? I know it's a trending story. Ines Ferre is following this one for us.

Ines, what's the story here?

INES FERRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Tony, the Heisman trophy is college football's most prestigious award and it's been around for 75 years. No player has ever given it back, until now. Reggie Bush won the award in 2005 when he was a running back for USC. Of course, a lot has happened since then.

NCAA investigators claim would-be sports agents gave Bush and his family money and lots of gives when they was a Trojan. Now, Bush says that he doesn't want all this speculation over his college years to hurt the Heisman's dignity and that's why he's giving it up.

And, Tony, he's also been tweeting about it. We just want to show you a couple of his tweets. He says, "I hope that kids and upcoming youth can look at me and use this story as an example and learning tool. Challenges are a part of life."

Also, his most recent tweet, "Now that this is behind me, I look forward to the future and winning more awards and championships here in New Orleans. Who dat!"

HARRIS: Who dat, all right.

FERRE: He tweeted that.

HARRIS: All right, Ines, see you at the top of the hour.

Here's what we're working on for the next hour of CNN NEWSROOM.

The role of online services and sex trafficking of minors, it is the focus of a House hearing today. We will bring you a live report.

Plus, the great actor Denzel Washington live in the CNN NEWSROOM. And we're not talking about movies here. Denzel is focusing on the very real problem of kids dropping out of school. Find out what he is doing to help.

Let's get to you the daily White House briefing now, and White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: TV people better hurry up -- yes.

Let me do -- before we start, let me just do a couple of -- hold on. I'll wait for Bill to get in.

Just one quick scheduling announcement for tomorrow. Thursday, the president will host two events focusing on the administration's work to increase America's competitiveness and ensure long-term economic growth.

In the morning, the President's Export Council will meet to discuss the administration's ongoing commitment to export promotion. In the afternoon, the president will make an announcement on the expansion of his Educate to Innovate Initiative, to improve science, technology, engineering and math education in order to better prepare students to lead in the 21st-century economy.

Thursday's events highlight the Obama administration commitment's to doubling exports in the next five years, while laying the groundwork in preparing our workforce to lead the world in this global economy.

And with that --

QUESTION: Will there be a spray (OFF-MIKE)

GIBBS: I think they're both -- well, the second event, I know there's remarks. And I think the first event, I presume there will be a spray.

Yes, ma'am? QUESTION: A couple questions on tax cuts, which the president is really laying out as a wedge issue for the election, but there seems to be a lot of divisiveness among Democrats on the Hill. Is the president going to ask Democrats to bring a vote to the floor on plans to cut taxes only for the middle class ahead of the November elections?

GIBBS: Well, look, I'm not going to get into what -- what Congress may or may not decide to do in terms of how they want to bring certain things to the floor or what have you.

I -- I will reiterate what -- what the president has said, that we should -- as you heard him say on a number of occasions last week -- make middle-class tax cuts permanent and not hold the middle class hostage in -- in that to borrowing $700 billion for tax cuts for the wealthy.

That's -- if you listen to part of what Congressman Boehner said over the weekend, there appeared at least earlier in the week to be a willingness to go along with that. We would certainly hope that there would be a willingness to go along with that. It appears as if that has largely been walked back to the original position of holding the middle class hostage. And the price of that, the ransom price for that, is $700 billion that we can't afford.

QUESTION: But now that the president has put this issue out there at the forefront, doesn't he have to take some type of ownership in this? And is he reaching out to some of the conservative Democrats who have questions about whether this is an issue they want to take on?

GIBBS: Well, look, again, I think the president has been clear about where his position is. Look, we are -- we are a big party, and I don't doubt that there will be differing viewpoints, just as -- well, the Republican Party appears to have some differing viewpoints, as well, on a whole host of issues.

But, look, I -- I -- I think the president has laid out where he is. Whether or not this gets solved in the next couple of weeks, during this session, whether it gets kicked over to the lame duck, I -- I don't know the answer to that.

But I will say this: I think there's enough overlap in -- and as the president said, enough -- if there's a willingness to provide the very type of certainty that we hear many Republicans would like to provide, we can move forward on the middle-class tax cuts. And I think that's what the president believes we should do.

QUESTION: And then if I could just ask on the consumer protection agency, there have been -- there's been talk about the possibility of appointing Elizabeth Warren as the interim head of the agency, but there are senators on the Hill, including Senator Dodd, who have said that, in doing so, you would de-legitimize that post. Does that do anything to change the administration's thinking on whether that's a viable option? GIBBS: No. Look, I -- I think the president spoke clearly and has over the past several weeks about how he views Elizabeth Warren. Obviously, this was -- the concept of a consumer office is something that she created. I think, obviously, she is among the people that the president is looking at to implement the provisions of the legislation that Congress passed.

I don't have any personnel announcements. The president doesn't have any personnel announcements. They could come later this week.

QUESTION: And the interim head is still an option that's on the table?

GIBBS: Look, I'm not going to get ahead of any announcements that the president may or may not make until he does.

Yes, ma'am?

QUESTION: Also on Warren, with these reports that she might be made an interim head or she might be made a counselor to the treasury secretary, are you worried that that would be seen as some kind of a half measure, especially given that she's been endorsed by groups like the National Organization of Women?

GIBBS: I'm not going to play hypothetical until there's a personnel announcement. I think that -- as I said a minute ago, as the president has said over the course of many weeks, I think she is -- based on the work that she has done over the course of her career, the fact that she -- again, this is an idea that was born largely by her, I think it's -- the president's right to consider her for a role in implementing what the Congress has passed.

QUESTION: Can I discuss a couple of currency questions?

GIBBS: What questions?

QUESTION: Currency.

GIBBS: Oh. I -- I -- I -- let me save you the time and point you over to -- to Treasury, so I do not --

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

GIBBS: No. I -- I -- I -- if you want to borrow five bucks, I could probably do that, but I -- I will leave the yen and everything else to my good friends at the Department of Treasury.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Christine O'Donnell, who won the Delaware senatorial primary last night for the Republicans, in 2008 said that then-Senator Obama was so liberal that he's anti-American. Does the White House have any comment on that? GIBBS: I -- I just saw a couple of clips on that right before I came down. I -- if I'm not mistaken, that was probably an election -- she was at that time running for the same position she runs for now, right?

QUESTION: I'm not sure if she was a candidate or a pundit.

GIBBS: Well, I -- I think she -- maybe both. If I'm not mistaken, she ran in 2008 against -- against then-Senator Joe Biden and I think lost fairly handedly, close to 2-to-1.

I think -- look, I think last night showed that there is a very vociferous debate going on inside the Republican Party for the hearts and minds of Republican voters. I think if you look at what people like Karl Rove or people like the state GOP chairman have said, the Republicans in Delaware nominated somebody that they don't believe can win -- I think, in the words of the state party chair, couldn't be elected dogcatcher.

I think comments like that is probably what led to her losing 2- to-1 in Delaware in 2008 and I think -- I think, obviously, is -- is why you have people in the Republican Party structure in Delaware saying that she will be hard to elect, because her views are outside the mainstream of -- of what people in Delaware think now.

QUESTION: Are you -- is the White House concerned at all that a lot of the voter anger that Republican incumbents have generally been feeling will now be directed at Democratic incumbents now that -- other than why the primaries are over, now it's the general election time, and a lot of this enthusiasm and a lot of this energy and a lot of this anger is going to be focused on the Democratic incumbents?

GIBBS: Let me -- I'll take this two ways. One, I think -- I think you have to look at the practical implications of the anger that you just spoke about.

I think there is no doubt -- and I don't think anybody would disagree -- that that intra-party Republican anger has changed the complexion of a number of races at a state and a district level. And that has real-world practical implications for the outcome of what happens in November.

Again, last night, I think -- I think is a pretty good example, both in a congressional race and in a Senate race in Delaware, that -- that makes winning those races for the Republicans a fundamentally harder task.

I will say this, and I've said this --

QUESTION: You're talking about the House race in Delaware, also?

GIBBS: Delaware, yes. And I've said this on a number of occasions, in all honesty, for about two years. There is -- there -- there -- there is -- there was two years ago, not just because of the collapse of something like Lehman two years ago today -- there was a frustration in the electorate about where we were economically. There -- that -- that frustration, I think, in many ways is still in the electorate.

I -- I -- I -- it was -- I'd -- I'd spoke about this after Massachusetts. I think that same type of frustration was there, and -- and I have no doubt that it continues today. We'll -- we'll see what that produces in November. I remain confident and, as I've said, that -- that on election night we'll retain control of both the House and the Senate.

But I don't think anybody would tell you that there's not a frustration -- particularly based on -- on -- on what has happened economically and -- and where we are in that recovery. And -- and the president shares in -- in some of that frustration.

QUESTION: Robert, if I can try the currency question in a different way, the Washington Post reported -- I think last week -- that 41 White House aides owed the IRS over $800,000 in back taxes. Is that correct? Have you been able to check that out? And are they being paid?

GIBBS: I -- I don't know the answer to that, but I can check.

QUESTION: Would we be able to get a list --

GIBBS: I don't know if that's a currency question, but let me --

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: But in all seriousness --

QUESTION: A lot of currency there.

GIBBS: Yes, let me -- let me -- I don't have the answer, but I will check on that.

QUESTION: OK. And just a second thing on General Odierno. What kind of advice do you think the president is getting from him? What was the purpose of bringing him in?

And with the war in Iraq still continuing, even though it's not officially a combat, we still have 50,000 U.S. troops there, you've got the war in Afghanistan, obviously, a few weeks back, there was a lot of speculation about Secretary Gates' future. What's your sense right now, what's the president's sense of how long he's staying? There's some ambiguity as to whether -- is he staying through the end of the year? Is -- a lot of people are wondering because of continuity in both war zones.

GIBBS: I will -- let me take the second part. I do not know -- I have not heard any update on that. I would point you over to Geoff and Doug at the Pentagon for an answer on Secretary Gates.

I will say this: I think somebody -- I think Secretary Gates has provided an enormous amount of leadership at a time, as you said, in which we were -- in which we're involved in a war in Afghanistan and still involved in assisting in Iraq. I think, if you look at the steps that he and the president have talked about taking as it relates to restructuring the Pentagon, those are tremendously important, not just from a budgetary perspective, but for a readiness -- from the perspective of readiness. The debates we had about the F-22 and the second engine for the F-35, obviously, are -- are -- are very important.

In terms of the first one, I don't have a readout of their meeting. I know that Vice President Biden has spent time both in Iraq and in the United States recently with General Odierno, and the general gave an update on -- on government formation. Obviously, that's the biggest, most pressing outstanding question about where we are in Iraq.

I know that the president and the vice president wanted to bring the general into the Oval Office and -- and thank him for his service and his commitment to -- to what he's done for our men and women in uniform and -- and for our effort in Iraq.

I will try to get a more fulsome -- if there was the (inaudible) yes, sir?

(END OF CNN COVERAGE OF WHITE HOUSE BRIEFING)