(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR (voice-over): This week, disaster in the Pacific. As my team and I cross Japan to find almost biblical scenes of destruction, fears of a nuclear meltdown after the powerful earthquake, the devastating wall of water. A race is on to stop a dangerous radiation leak and rescue tens of thousands.
ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, a special "This Week" with Christiane Amanpour, disaster in the Pacific, live from Tokyo, starts now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Hello again. And we are here live broadcasting from Tokyo, where the government is scrambling to deal with this massive crisis: an earthquake, a tsunami, and a nuclear disaster.
The prime minister said on television tonight that this is an unprecedented crisis, the worst challenge this country has had to deal with since World War II. And we are here near the Narita Airport, which is the staging ground for U.S. and other international help that is now rushing in.
The government is concerned about a possible second meltdown at a second reactor, the Fukushima plant. It is also concerned about a possible explosion at that second reactor, although it's playing down the idea of leakage of nuclear radiation. And we are going to talk about that.
We're also going to talk about what we saw today. My team and I went up to the north, where the most devastation has been, and also my colleagues have reached some of the worst-hit areas, as aid officials also are reaching those areas for the first time. We will have all that in this broadcast.
And later, Jake Tapper, my colleague, will turn to all the news from Washington. President Obama and the United States administration is not only having to monitor this international crisis, but also the civil war in Libya and, as well, a bitter budget battle on Capitol Hill.
But first to the situation here in Japan.
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AMANPOUR: Let's take a look at a map of the country. The earthquake struck just off the coast of Japan, and it sent strong tremors that shook and damaged buildings at least 200 miles from the epicenter. And the tsunami wave then destroyed and damaged two-thirds of the east coast of this island nation.
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AMANPOUR: And now government officials north here in the Miyagi prefecture, which is home to Sendai, the worst-hit area, are saying that there could possibly be 10,000 people dead in that one place alone. The government is calling on all people here to conserve electricity. It's warning that electric power will be rationed because so much of Japan's electricity comes from those nuclear power plants that are now shut down.
My team and I took a helicopter tour up north. We saw the devastation firsthand from the air.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR (voice-over): As we make our way through the outskirts of Tokyo, life looks surprisingly normal. The trains are running again, three days after the powerful earthquake that shook even this capital, hundreds of miles from the epicenter. Last night, there had been an explosion at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. And as we're driving now, we hear that another reactor is overheating.
(UNKNOWN) (through translator): We are acting -- assuming that a meltdown has occurred. And with reactor number three, we are also assuming the possibility of a meltdown.
AMANPOUR: As we continue to make our way towards the quake zone, we wonder how much of the country has been affected by this kind of chaos and destruction. We're about to find out, as we arrived at the airfield.
(on-screen): The helicopter is taking on fuel, and we're going up to the Sendai earthquake zone. Japan is not a massive country, but part of that Sendai area is quite remote. Some of the roads have been damaged. There are mountains in the greater area around there. And that's hampering not just assessment, but also relief and the delivery of supplies.
(voice-over): On the hour-long ride to the city of Sendai near the epicenter, little evidence of the earthquake. Much of the countryside appears unscathed. And even as we approach Sendai, we see the city still standing.
But as the chopper turns to the coast, the full extent of the devastation reveals itself. Huge swaths of land along the coast remain underwater. We fly past this massive plume of black smoke, billowing 3,000 feet into the air. The petrochemical plant below has been burning since the earthquake struck. And oil is spilling into the water.
Japanese rescue operations are being launched by sea and by land. And search-and-rescue teams are coming to help them from across Europe, the United States, Australia, and South Korea.
(UNKNOWN): We do know that the longer time goes on, the less likely it is we'll find survivors, so the imperative is for us to get there as soon as we possibly can.
AMANPOUR: And a team of Japanese workers which had gone to New Zealand to help with recovery efforts after last month's 6.3 earthquake here are now heading home.
(UNKNOWN): We have heard quite severe situation in Japan, and we are going back to Japan today. We have heard quite severe situation in Japan, and we are going back to Japan today.
AMANPOUR: Already we've seen dramatic rescues taking place this weekend, workers searching through rubble and rescuers transporting survivors to safety, but the fear here among so many is palpable.
(UNKNOWN) (through translator): My husband hasn't come here yet. He left home a little later than me. Our house was swept away.
AMANPOUR: They search the names of the missing.
(UNKNOWN) (through translator): My son might have been engulfed by the tsunami. I hope he's taking shelter somewhere.
AMANPOUR: And this young mother can only hope that her worries are unfounded.
(UNKNOWN) (through translator): That's my name. The tsunami swept away my car, and my house was burned down by the fire afterwards. My sons must be very worried about me. The phone lines are bad, and I could only send out one text message. I just want to let my family know that I'm alive.
AMANPOUR: Best of all, scenes like this one, a man reunited with his wife.
(UNKNOWN) (through translator): I'm so lucky to have survived.
(UNKNOWN) (through translator): I'm relieved to see him again, but I can't rejoice completely because people are still waiting to be rescued.
AMANPOUR: And pictures continue to emerge reminding us of the enormity of this tragedy. In the city of Kaesunuma (ph), residents look on helplessly as entire houses are carried away by the powerful waters. Here is what the city of Minamisanriku (ph) looked like before the quake and here is what it looks like now. The local hospital is the only building left standing in this neighborhood.
This is a country united in grief, in shock, and in their struggles. Many residents in Fukushima, near the nuclear power plant, expressed fear about the fallout here. This factory worker said, "20 kilometers away is safe, but the radiation may change and go out wider. It's very disturbing. There's no way to get out of here."
"I thing it's safe at the moment," said another local resident, "but I'm worried that the radiation might have already reached us."
Throughout the day, the government said radiation levels were safe outside the 20-kilometer evacuation zone and offered treatment for evacuees coming from near the plant, but there have also been reports of higher than normal levels and people suffering from full-on radiation sickness.
"The place where I work might be contaminated," said this schoolteacher, "so I came here to have a check and try to find out what I have to do next."
At the airport in Tokyo yesterday, I spoke with a German journalist who's trying to get close to the plant. He came prepared.
(on-screen): Tell me what you've got here.
(UNKNOWN): A Geiger counter, I think it's called in English, yeah?
AMANPOUR: What does it measure, the Geiger counter?
(UNKNOWN): It measures the radioactivity right now here in the airport in Tokyo.
AMANPOUR: Is it high or low here?
(UNKNOWN): It's completely low. It's nothing.
AMANPOUR: But if it should rise as he approaches...
(UNKNOWN): We should go, yeah, because then it's rising, and you should -- you should leave. But now it's nothing dangerous at the moment.
AMANPOUR: And now, as you know, there have been mixed reports about the radiation issues. The government has been saying lately that it's going down, but there have been so many reports about how the levels have been much, much higher than is acceptable, several times higher than the Japan -- Japanese legal limits.
As we were in the air over the Sendai area, our colleague, Clarissa Ward, had reached Sendai and gives us now a snapshot of some of the worst-hit areas that she got to just as we were in the air.
WARD: Christiane, one of the first things we noticed driving into the city was just the amount of traffic. Literally, there were 10-block lines of cars waiting for gas, which is now being rationed out, also, long lines of people waiting outside of convenience stores. It's been two days since that quake, people getting very anxious now that supplies are dwindling.
But for the most part, this area of the city looks pretty normal. There was some electricity. Traffic lights seemed to be functioning. And it was only really when we hit the port area that we saw the scope of the devastation. Really, that area just felt like a warzone. There were sirens wailing, soldiers pouring into this area trying to assess the damage, smoke billowing up into the sky.
It's almost impossible really to describe the level and the scope of that devastation. Even the process of just trying to get into this city turned out to be quite an epic journey.
We're on our way to the city of Sendai. And we've been traveling now for 36 hours. We've been diverted through three different cities. Japan's internal transportation system, which is normally a sort of model of efficiency, has been completely crippled by this earthquake. And we've actually come across a mountain range in the middle of the island, and we're now coming towards the city of Sendai.
Getting to this part of the port on foot is actually pretty tough. There are cars driving around with loudspeakers telling people to evacuate the area because there are still fears of another possible tsunami.
And when you look at the damage here, you can understand why they're so nervous. It's just incredible, the scope of the devastation, these cars strewn like toys. Everything was destroyed by this massive wave of water.
Authorities have now completely blocked off that port area. They say it is simply too dangerous for anyone to be there at night.
AMANPOUR: Clarissa Ward in the Sendai area, and she talks about a possible another tsunami. Well, the government has said that, in the next three days, there could also possibly be another earthquake, of a 7.0 magnitude, and that, of course, is worrying all those people around the nuclear power plants.
David Muir of ABC has gone up north and has got to the limit of where people are allowed to get to when it comes to that nuclear reactor area.
MUIR: Christiane, good morning.
As you know, we've been traveling around the perimeter of the evacuation zone that's been set around those nuclear reactors that are now causing so much concern here in Japan. One of the things that we first recognized on our route was that driving at night, obviously, hard to see the true damage out there, workers stopping us at roadblocks, telling us the road was too buckled to pass over.
Then in Hitachi City, this was really hard to miss, cars piled atop one another. They'd been carried up the street by the tsunami.
And then further out in rural Japan at daybreak, you could see that even inland homes were completely flattened. The neighbors told us in this particular home that the older couple living inside actually survived, that they're now living with their own grown children.
But there was something that we did notice a little bit eerie: children's music still coming from inside that flattened home. We couldn't tell whether it was a toy or an alarm, still going off long after the earthquake.
And then one of the most telling images of all in this zone around the nuclear reactors, the massive lines for water now.
Have you ever seen anything like this?
He told us it was the first time he'd ever seen anything like this.
Is it bad? Is it difficult? "Yes," he told us. In fact, that line for water, as far as we could see -- and at the only convenience store open in two hours of driving today was, in fact, a 7-Eleven, believe it or not. No power there. The families were scooping up what they could on the shelves, anything that was left.
And then outside, this mother and her little girl.
How old is she?
The mother told us something we had heard so often.
Are you nervous about the nuclear reactors?
Yes, very nervous, she told us, not sure quite what to do. And when I asked what she is doing, she said she's following the instructions given to her on the television not to leave the home, to seal the windows. She said she's got them shut tight. But the reason she left her home this time was simply because she was running out of food, running out of drinks.
But I've got to tell you, there was at least one other parent who said, "I'm not worried about the nuclear reactors. I don't even have television or electricity right now. I'm more worried about being at home in the dark with my children at night."
Christiane, back to you.
AMANPOUR: David Muir, up as far as he could get towards the nuclear power plant. And when we come back, we are going to have a report about the nuclear industry. We're going to have a report about the dangers there. We're going to have an interesting panel to talk about what might be next. And later, Jake Tapper will take us to Washington with all the news there, including President Obama's budget battle on Capitol Hill, after a break.
AMANPOUR: So, first, an earthquake, then a tsunami, and then a nuclear disaster. This country is in a race to really save those reactors from any further damage than has already been created.
ABC's Bob Woodruff takes a look inside what the government is trying to do.
WOODRUFF (voice-over): Friday's devastating earthquake, one of the most powerful ever recorded, was centered off the coast of Japan, just about 80 miles from two nuclear power plants. The horrific tsunami that soon followed slammed into both facilities. Even as the nation struggled to comprehend the vast tragedy around them, another nightmare had already begun.
KAKU: First of all, the backup systems failed. The pumps, the electricity all gone because of the earthquake and the tsunami. This was not supposed to happen.
WOODRUFF: Here's why that mattered. At the core of a nuclear power plant are uranium rods that become super hot. And that heat drives turbines to create electricity. But the uranium core must be kept underwater at all times to keep it from getting too hot. That's exactly what was beginning to happen here. And plant workers tried everything they could, the experts were getting nervous.
KAKU: They are trying to end this crisis. It's a question of capability. Can they?
WOODRUFF: As temperature and pressure rose in the Fukushima Daiichi reactor, officials struggled in a fight against time to get the pumps fully working. Finally, on Saturday, an explosion ripped away the building housing the reactor.
KAKU: One by one, every single layer of safety is failing right before their eyes. And so as a last-ditch measure, they're reaching for the ultimate solution, and that is inject seawater right into the reactor core, anything to stabilize the core to prevent it from going up.
WOODRUFF: As tensions continued to rise, an evacuation plan was quickly widened to include 200,000 people around the Daiichi plant and the nearby Fukushima Daini plant, which is deteriorating, as well.
KAKU: On Friday, Japan had never declared a nuclear emergency. By Friday afternoon, they had declared five. They had five reactors where they had lost control of the cooling systems. All five were potential meltdowns.
WOODRUFF: As the drama continued in northern Japan, Americans were reminded of our own near nightmare, the 1979 Three Mile Island accident.
(UNKNOWN): Radioactivity is 75 times a dose that would be lethal to a human.
WOODRUFF: That meltdown is still considered the most serious accident in U.S. nuclear power plant history, causing widespread panic, as 140,000 neighboring residents chose to evacuate.
In the end, no one was injured, but experts say disaster was perilously close. The worst-case scenario, however, came seven years later in the Soviet Union.
JENNINGS: There has definitely been a meltdown at the nuclear reactor in Chernobyl.
KAKU: By far, the worst accident was Chernobyl, which was the biggest explosion, biggest collapse, the only real core fire that we've ever had that spewed tons of radioactive material in the atmosphere and around the globe.
WOODRUFF: In the end, experts estimate at least 4,000 were killed, both by the immediate disaster and by radiation-related diseases in the years to come. The Chernobyl plant, however, lacked a protective concrete shell that is considered to be crucial for safety in Europe, Japan and the U.S.
KAKU: Three Mile Island ended nuclear power construction in the United States. Chernobyl ended most nuclear power construction around the world.
WOODRUFF: In the years since, safety has greatly improved. Thirty years after the accident at his plant, the current manager of Three Mile Island assured me a repeat of 1979 would be extremely unlikely.
(on-screen): That kind of melting is not going to happen again?
(UNKNOWN): That's correct.
WOODRUFF: There's no way?
(UNKNOWN): That's correct. These plants are extremely robust. The safety systems are tested frequently.
WOODRUFF (voice-over): But the disaster in Japan could again sway public opinion against nuclear power, despite the industry's insistence that safety is better than ever.
Bob Woodruff, ABC News, New York.
AMANPOUR: Joining me now to discuss all of this is, nuclear expert Joe Cirincione of the Ploughshares Fund and ABC's Jake Tapper and Martha Raddatz.
Let me start with you first, Mr. Cirincione. How bad is this nuclear meltdown, for want of a better word, and the fears that there may be another explosion here at one of the reactors?
CIRINCIONE: This is already one of the worst nuclear accidents in history if it stops right now. And we're dealing with multiple meltdown possibilities at reactor number one, at reactor number two at the Daiichi site. There's also concern about reactors at the Daini site. There were actually incidents at other nuclear facilities in Japan that would have been significant incidents by themselves, but they're caught in the wake of these major crises at these nuclear reactors that possibly will melt down in the next couple of days.
AMANPOUR: Jake, how worried is the U.S. administration that this could reach the United States?
TAPPER: As of now, the concerns are minor that this will reach even Guam or the Marianas Islands or Hawaii, the gulf -- or the shores off of Alaska or the West Coast. There's very minor concern, because there has not been a major release as of now, but administration officials are, of course, concerned in general about the potential for the spreading of radioactive material. And that's why they've sent a whole -- a number of experts to the region to monitor the situation, to help the Japanese, of course, but also to get our own information firsthand.
AMANPOUR: And, Martha, talking about information, there's been this feeling that perhaps the Japanese government has been playing it down, even though they've been on television almost every hour, giving briefings. Take us back to Friday and how this all played out.
RADDATZ: Well, Christiane, literally right after the earthquake and the tsunami, I was talking to U.S. officials. And they were saying the Japanese are playing this down. They are very, very nervous about what's happening at the nuclear plant, but they weren't really talking to U.S. officials. It was sort of one-way communication. The U.S. was offering help. They were offering immediate help to get nuclear teams in there, and the Japanese were resisting that.
So that was a real frustration in the beginning. I think that frustration remains somewhat, because they have a lot of people who can go in and help immediately.
Obviously, this facility could not withstand that earthquake. So you have to wonder, going forward, are they really ready for what may happen next?
AMANPOUR: Now, Mr. Cirincione, we know that at least three people have been treated for radiation sickness inside the plant, according to the government. Can you explain how these fail-safe measures actually failed? What happened that did not make sure that this nuclear reactor, this facility shut down safely?
CIRINCIONE: Sure. Nuclear reactors are built to withstand crises, and even multiple crises. But it's very hard to build a facility that can withstand this.
This was a one-two punch. First, the earthquake knocked out the electrical supply to these reactors, and then the tsunami came in and knocked out the backup electrical supply. So for the last few days, they've been running on battery power, rushing to re-establish electric power to the plants, to the pumps that keep the water around the core and keep it cool.
As those pumps lost the ability to do that, the core was exposed. We have at least half the core exposed at reactor number one at Daiichi. This led to the radiation exposure. No amount of radiation exposure is good for those workers scrambling to get these reactors under control. It could be fatal.
AMANPOUR: And, Jake, they've already said that they've filled those damaged reactors with saltwater, which basically means they've given up on them, they're not going to work anymore. How much confidence does the United States have in its counterparts here in the nuclear facilities, in the nuclear agencies?
TAPPER: Well, if this crisis had happened here in the U.S., the U.S. government would be turning to Japan for help. These are the top people in the field.
That said, these are government officials. And it has been pointed out, it's not always true that the first things you're hearing from government officials are the accurate information. It's often optimistic. They don't want to have a panic.
And so the administration is confident, but I think they have their eyes wide open that not all the information they're getting might be -- the worst-case scenario might always be the best-case scenario
We though these things affect the idea of using nuclear power for energy. What effect do you thing this will have on many people's desire to increase the use of nuclear power?
AMANPOUR: And, Martha, we know that these kinds of things always affect the idea of using nuclear power for energy. What effect do you think this will have on many people's desire to actually increase the use of nuclear power?
RADDATZ: I think it will have a huge effect. And that's sort of something that you haven't heard very much talked about yet. We're dealing with the crisis now.
But I spoke to a senior administration official last night. And they said that's one of the major concerns, how this will affect nuclear power in the future.
I think there were already demonstrations in Germany. I think you'll see here in the U.S., we will surely take a look at our nuclear facilities and have Japan as a -- as a bad model there in what can happen that you haven't planned for.
AMANPOUR: Martha Raddatz, Jake Tapper, and Joe Cirincione, thank you all so much for joining me.
And Jake will be back after a break with all the news from Washington and the big budget battle. And I'll be back later from Japan. Stay with us.
TAPPER: Welcome back to "This Week."
President Obama found himself battling twin global crises this week, the natural and nuclear disaster unfolding in Japan and an end-game showdown in Libya that seems to be dividing the president from some of his closest allies here at home.
With me at the Newseum in Washington, our roundtable, ABC News' George Will and Cokie Roberts, senior political correspondent Jon Karl, and Democratic strategist Donna Brazile.
Now, George, this morning, we have news that the rebels in Libya have withdrawn from Brega, after being heavily bombarded by Gadhafi's forces from sea, land and air. How do you think President Obama has been handling this crisis?
WILL: As well as could be expected in a crisis he cannot possibly control. It begins by people saying the president must say something. The president says Gadhafi must go. Then the International Criminal Court, via the U.N., has him recommended for prosecution, which means, if he leaves, Gadhafi leaves Libya, he's subject to arrest and prosecution.
Then there's an arms embargo of unclear intent passed that probably also includes an embargo on arms to the people fighting Gadhafi, at which point people begin to say, well, the president having said Gadhafi must go, if he doesn't go, Gadhafi has defeated America and we can't stand for that. This is how interventions come about.
TAPPER: The -- overnight, if you're in the U.S., the Arab League came out in favor of a no-fly zone to be imposed by who-knows-who. But there's other -- a no-fly zone has also been supported by someone else. Let's role this tape.
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B. CLINTON: We have the planes to make our appropriate contribution to this. And I wouldn't do it if they hadn't asked, but if the leaders are on television pleading for it so that the people don't get bombed who are there with, you know, revolvers, I think that...
(UNKNOWN): But NATO today...
B. CLINTON: ... we should do it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: "I think we should do it," says Bill Clinton. Is President Obama showing enough leadership on this?
ROBERTS: I think it's a problem that the United States should have private leadership. I mean, the president, as George says, has said what he can say publicly at this point. But when he says we want NATO to lead, we want the U.N. to lead, that really means the U.S. has to lead and has to lead inside those organizations.
The problem is, they don't know where they want to go. We don't know who the opposition is. The administration really doesn't have a clue who those people are. And getting involved, as -- as Secretary Gates and Chief of Staff Daley have made clear, in another Muslim country with U.S. military is problematic, at the very least.
TAPPER: And yet, Jon, Republicans on Capitol Hill have been very -- are starting to become very critical of the president.
KARL: Yeah, no question. And, look, there are good reasons why a no-fly zone might be a very bad idea. I mean, you have to begin by bombing the country, as Gates pointed out. It's not simply a no-fly zone. It starts with an attack on Libya. Make that clear.
But make no mistake, Jake: If this -- if Gadhafi is still in power next year, if Libya is still a mess, this will be a central issue for Republicans. They will say this is Exhibit A of what happens when you have a foreign policy where America does not show leadership. You're already seeing it with some on the Hill saying, look, the French are leading on this. Where is America?
TAPPER: Donna, is this fair?
BRAZILE: No, it's not fair. And I agree with George Will. This is a first. No, I'm joking.
TAPPER: It's a second.
BRAZILE: No, it may be a third. But, look, the French, they are taking the lead, the British. They want to impose a no-fly zone. But Italy is not prepared. Other countries, Germany, they're not prepared. So the Europeans are divided.
The Arab League might -- may be united, but the Europeans are not united. I think the president is right to pressure Gadhafi as much as possible, to help the opposition, to the extent we know who they are, and to hold all of the other contingencies on the side. The last thing we need to do is right now is to intervene in another Muslim country, unless we have the kind of broad support from our allies, NATO and others, so that we can enforce whatever we decide to do.
ROBERTS: Well, so it's not just the U.S. going in.
WILL: It seems reasonably clear from John McCain's comments that, if he had won the 2008 election, we would be at war in a third Muslim country right now. Jim Webb, senator from Virginia, perhaps the only man in Congress -- you may correct me -- who's known combat, said, "I do not think it's a good idea to give arms"...
ROBERTS: John Kerry.
WILL: Yeah, that's true.
TAPPER: McCain from the air. But in any case, he knows combat.
WILL: ... who would -- who would -- says, "I don't believe it's a good idea to give arms and military support to people we don't know." All the insurgents have in common is they hate Gadhafi. Some of them probably hate each other. And what happens if they topple him and the people who topple Gadhafi turn on one another? What then are our responsibilities?
TAPPER: So -- so why -- why do we hear this -- this -- for want of a better term, drumbeat for action? Why do we constantly hear this now in the media and on Capitol Hill, we need to do more, we need to do more?
ROBERTS: Because Gadhafi's a bad guy. And he's been a bad guy for a long time. And the idea of getting him out of there is very appealing. And -- and it's in the context of what's going on in the rest of North Africa.
And so this sort of romantic notion of sweeping out the bad guys and bringing in democracy is wonderful, except we don't have any clue whether that's going to happen.
BRAZILE: We've frozen his assets, so long term it will make it even harder, if he retains power, to enforce anything beyond what he's doing now, which is killing his own people. But, you know, I think our focus on Libya is -- is -- is a distraction from where our focus should be, which is Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and other parts of...
BRAZILE: ... right, other parts of the Middle East that might be imploding at this moment.
TAPPER: All right. Much more on our roundtable coming up. On Capitol Hill, the budget battle hits a boiling point. And in New Hampshire, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann fires off the gaffe heard 'round the world.
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MANCHIN: Why are we doing all this when the most powerful person in these negotiations, our president, has failed to lead this debate or offer a serious proposal for spending and cuts that he would be willing to fight for? How does that make sense?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: A rare rebuke of President Obama from a member of his own party. New West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin saying it's time for the White House to show leadership on the budget.
This week, the president told Congress he's had enough of the temporary budget extensions, it's time to get down to brass tacks. But as our senior political correspondent Jon Karl learned, roping in the spending spree will not be easy.
KARL (voice-over): Here's an unlikely front in the budget wars: the cowboy poetry festival in Elko, Nevada. The Senate majority leader is accusing Republicans of trying to kill it by slashing funds for the National Endowment for the Humanities.
(UNKNOWN): As I fly out on the morning, before the bird, before the dawn...
REID: National Endowment of the Humanities is the reason we have in northern Nevada every January a Cowboy Poetry Festival. Had that program not been around, the tens of thousands of people who come there every year would not exist.
KARL (on-screen): Why are you trying to kill the Cowboy Poetry Festival?
COBURN: Isn't that wonderful, that at a time when we're borrowing $3.5 billion a day, and our -- our future is bleak, that we're going to defend something that is not something we have to do?
KARL (voice-over): Republicans are trying to kill much more than the Cowboy Poetry Festival. Their bill to fund the government for the rest of the year eliminates funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Planned Parenthood, it cuts more than $1 billion from Head Start, $1.5 billion from FEMA, $2.8 billion from the EPA, and nearly $5 billion from the Department of Education. It also hits some programs favored by conservatives, nearly $600 million cut from Customs and Border Protection and $450 million for an F-35 fighter jet it eliminates.
All told, about $60 billion in cuts that Democrats say are mean-spirited and devastating.
REID: It's a very, very difficult, bad piece of legislation.
KARL: Democrats countered with a relatively paltry $4.7 billion in cuts. Both bills failed to pass the Senate, but the Democratic bill got fewer votes, even though Senate Democrats are now the majority. Now they've got to find a compromise or face a government shutdown.
But in reality, neither bill does much at all to address this year's $1.6 trillion.
(on-screen): So this pizza represents that $1.6 trillion deficit. Those Republican cuts are only about this much, one-twenty-fifth of the deficit, and the Democratic cuts, well, they're just one-tenth of this, not much.
(voice-over): Among the items not cut by either bill, unemployment benefits for millionaires. That's right: The government spends more than $20 million a year on unemployment checks for people with more than $1 million in annual income.
And no cut to the $28 million spent each year to print the congressional record, a chronicle of every word uttered in Congress. It's already available online.
(on-screen): About the only thing the printed version of the congressional record is used for these days is filling up recycling bins on Capitol Hill.
(voice-over): And there are a bunch of bigger-ticket items, including about $6 billion a year in tax breaks and subsidies to cash-rich oil companies, which most Republicans are unwilling to touch.
(on-screen): But does ExxonMobil really need tax breaks to...
BARTON: They should be treated equally as any other domestic company...
KARL: But they have these tax credits. I mean, you said it yourself. Tax credits that go back to the early days of the oil and gas industry. I mean, why? I mean, do they need it?
BARTON: Do you want a domestic manufacturing capability? Do you want a domestic financial capability? Do you want whatever it is...
KARL: But ExxonMobil is not going to go out of bus.
BARTON: Do we want everything made in China?
KARL: Do you find it's hard to defend these -- these tax credits, though, at a time when Americans are paying what they're paying at the pump...
BARTON: I've just been doing it for the last 10 minutes.
KARL (voice-over): But the real reason for that sky-high deficit is that neither party is willing to deal with the big-ticket items. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, interest, defense just don't get cut. Until they do, the debt will keep climbing higher and higher, no matter what happens to the Cowboy Poetry Festival.
For "This Week," I'm Jonathan Karl.
TAPPER: And Jon makes a salient point in that amusing spot, which is that most of the budget is not being debated right now, George.
WILL: It's not being debated because they say we're only going to debate discretionary spending. We should...
ROBERTS: Domestic discretionary spending.
WILL: We should ban that word. It's all discretionary, other than interest on the national debt. Social Security is discretionary. We have the discretion to change the law. Same is true with Medicare and Medicaid.
ROBERTS: But -- but -- the -- you know, they don't, because they're scared to. And what it requires is everybody holding hands and jumping at once. And there's not a lot of hand-holding and Kumbaya singing on Capitol Hill, so I don't think that you're going to see that happening. But this fight I do think is going to be very interesting to see how it works out for Republicans next year.
TAPPER: You think there might be overreaching?
ROBERTS: Absolutely. And it happens with both parties. They do it all the time. They come into power and they think the voters have told them something different from what the voters have actually told them.
The voters say, "We want you just to do something, stop bickering, get along, and pay us -- you know, run the country." And instead, they do things like, say, "We're going tell the EPA not to have any power over greenhouse gases." You know, that's overreaching. "We're going to cut Head Start." These people have never run on a record. They're going to have to next year go out and run on a record. And they're going to have trouble with that.
KARL: You know, they did run on a promise to deal with this. And Paul Ryan is about to come out with a budget. Next month, he's going to come out with a budget that is going to address Medicare. And a lot of the Republican leadership up on the Hill thinks this is a terrible mistake, that he is driving them off a cliff to do this before the White House goes first or at least goes with him.
But Ryan is charging ahead. And it will be very interesting to see how this plays. But he is -- you know, he has somebody who has consistently promised to do this. He did it on his own, before he was chairman of the Budget Committee, when he was in the minority, he had only 13 co-sponsors of his bill. Now he's doing it on behalf of the Republican leadership.
BRAZILE: We're five months into the fiscal year. And what the Democrats are urging the Republicans to do in the House is to send over a clean bill, not all these cultural and political appetizers...
TAPPER: These riders that are attached to the bill, yeah.
BRAZILE: These riders. And let's have an up-or-down vote and to get this bill through so that we can finish up this fiscal year.
ROBERTS: It's not clear how an up-or-down vote would go, though. The Senate voted down two budgets this week, and it's -- what we've learned is the leadership really can't control their forces. So it's hard to know how it's going to go.
BRAZILE: They keep -- they keep moving the goal post, Cokie. Last year, Mr. Inouye had a bill that Ms. McCaskill and Mr. Sessions, a bipartisan bill, that would have reduced the deficit by $20 billion in this -- the last current fiscal year. That was rejected. Now they've moved the goal post to $40 billion.
So we're looking at -- the Republicans wanted $100 billion. The Democrats said $50 billion. We're somewhere in between those two figures.
But what bothers me is that we're focusing on one little slice of that pie. And, by the way, I noticed you didn't bring me in because there's not a lot of pie there.
BRAZILE: We're focusing...
TAPPER: Twelve percent is the domestic discretionary budget.
TAPPER: And that's what everybody...
BRAZILE: Non-security. I mean, and imagine if this was the kitchen table we all sat at when we had to make budget decisions. And they say, OK, we've got a budget deficit. Let's throw the kids off of Head Start.
TAPPER: I do want to talk about one small nibble of that domestic discretionary spending slice, which is National Public Radio and the funding for the Corporation of Public Broadcasting, because Cokie is a long-time employee of NPR. This was not a great week for NPR.
ROBERTS: No, to put it mildly.
TAPPER: Conservative guerilla filmmaker James O'Keefe did a sting operation and caught the now-former vice president for fundraising saying many disparaging things about the Republican Party and the Tea Party. He's gone. The CEO, Vivian Schiller, is gone. And then, towards the end of the week, this video was released. It shows Betsy Liley, NPR's senior director of institutional giving, talking to the fictitious donor who claimed he was with the Muslim Brotherhood and wanted to give -- or a group affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood that wanted to give a $5 million gift.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(UNKNOWN): It sounded like you were saying that NPR would be able to shield us from a government audit. Is that correct?
LILEY: I think that is the case, especially if you were anonymous, and I can inquire about that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Cokie, you've been at NPR for almost 40 years. Obviously, this institution means a lot to you, but why should we care?
ROBERTS: Well, I should just say that they did then reject that money and sent internal e-mails basically saying this is totally unacceptable. We have to have tax forms, all of that. So, you know, that -- that should be stated.
But, look, we should care, because 34 million people listen every week and want to get the news that you get there, that you can't get anyplace else.
NPR has got 17 foreign bureaus. That's something you can't say for any other broadcast organization these days and -- and brings you terrific information day in and day out, week in and week out. And the reporters who are there on the line being shot at in North Africa at the moment are being very badly served by the management that's now gone.
TAPPER: George, very quickly.
WILL: We learned this week redundantly that NPR is run by people who don't like people like me, which is fine. The problem is, there are 14,000 radio stations in this country. The government shouldn't be subsidizing neither entertainment and certainly not journalism. In fact, this is a solution in search of a problem.
ROBERTS: Well, there are not 14,000 radio stations in rural areas, which is where most of the federal funding goes. Most of those stations are the ones that -- NPR gets hardly any money from the federal government and the big stations get hardly any money. But the little tiny, rural stations that -- where there's nothing else on the air, get a lot of money and they would go dark.
TAPPER: OK, we have to take a quick break. Up next, Michele Bachmann misfires in New Hampshire, as Newt Gingrich tries to make amends. The campaign roundup, when we return.
And we'll go back to Japan, where Christiane has the latest on that killer quake.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GINGRICH: There's no question that, at times in my life, partially driven by -- by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and that things happened in my life that were not appropriate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Former Speaker Newt Gingrich explaining his marital infidelity in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network. The former House speaker is inching closer to an official campaign announcement.
Donna Brazile, Mr. Gingrich in that interview said he believes in a forgiving God. Are the voters in Iowa as forgiving?
BRAZILE: You know, the irony of this situation is that Newt Gingrich impeached Bill Clinton on this matter, so I don't think infidelity will be a disqualifying issue for Mr. Gingrich. Perhaps his positions on the issues, perhaps something else.
But do I believe in forgiveness? Yes. Do I believe that the speaker should go out there and make his case on other issues? Yes. Will this disqualify him? No.
ROBERTS: No, I think it will. And I think it's just a great line. I mean, I can see every straying husband coming home and saying to his wife, "Honey, I'm just loving my country. You know, nothing I can do about it."
You know, I mean...
TAPPER: Over and over and over again.
ROBERTS: Over again. Right.
TAPPER: George, is this going to hurt him?
WILL: Sure. Look, forgiveness is God's business. It's not the electorate's business. And it seems to me that the answer is exactly as Cokie says. Gentlemen, don't try this at home.
WILL: It really doesn't work.
TAPPER: Jon, what do you hear from Republicans about this statement? Because this infidelity is not -- is not new.
KARL: No. No.
TAPPER: We've known about it for a long time, but this was a rather unusual...
KARL: Jake, he's had 12 years to come up with an answer for this, and this was the answer? I mean, it did not play well. It did not play well at all.
TAPPER: Speaking of not playing well, another would-be presidential hopeful was up in New Hampshire, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann from Minnesota, and here's what she had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BACHMANN: What I love about New Hampshire and what we have in common is our extreme love for liberty. You're the state where the shot was heard 'round to world, at Lexington and Concord.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: All right. Now, Mr. Will, perhaps you can explain to our viewers what exactly Michele Bachmann got wrong when she said that New Hampshire is the state where the shot in Lexington and Concord was heard 'round the world.
WILL: It was by the rude bridge that arched the flood, their banners to April's breeze unfurled, there the embattled...
TAPPER: This is why she's so confused, because you say things like that.
ROBERTS: Cowboy poetry.
WILL: You're interrupting Emerson. There the embattled farmers stood and fired the shot heard 'round the world, at Concord Bridge in Massachusetts. Now, full disclosure, my wife, Mari, occasionally advises Michele Bachmann, not on American history.
ROBERTS: Or geography, apparently. Well, you know, Maine was part of Massachusetts then. Maybe she was confusing Maine and New Hampshire.
KARL: And to be fair, Concord, New Hampshire, is only 72 miles -- I checked it -- from Concord, Massachusetts. I mean, I think you could probably see it from your porch if you're in Concord, Massachusetts.
TAPPER: Going to go with the porch thing again?
TAPPER: But how serious do you thing Congresswoman Bachmann is about running for president?
KARL: I think she's totally serious about it.
(UNKNOWN): I agree.
KARL: She's laying the groundwork. You know, I was told by one of her top advisers just on Friday that he would be surprised if she did not run. And moreover, Jake, I'll tell you, you talk to Republicans in Iowa, they say that she could be a force in the Iowa caucus.
TAPPER: And I -- and I agree with that, because she has -- she is the head of the Tea Party Caucus in the House. And there are a lot of Republicans in the base who really find her very compelling and...
ROBERTS: Well, also in the Iowa caucuses, so many of the caucusgoers on the Republican side are evangelicals. And she is, you know, very much a religious person, has -- has five kids, I think.
TAPPER: And foster-cared for more than 20. She walks the walk.
ROBERTS: She really -- she does, indeed. And so I think that that would be very appealing.
BRAZILE: And she's from Minnesota, and that's a nearby state. And, look, she's the gift that keeps on giving in the Republican caucus at this moment. Come Tuesday, when they have to decide on the budget, she may bring up some issues that Mr. Boehner may not wish to discuss, this so-called $105, you know, billion dollar that she's identified with the health care bill. So I think she's going to cause a lot of confusion, a lot of chaos within the Republican caucus. But if this furthers her presidential run, go for it.
TAPPER: I want to end with George on this, because Donna's right. She does -- confusion and chaos are words that do come to mind when it comes to Congresswoman Bachmann sometimes. Some of her pronouncements -- you wrote a very biting commentary about Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, versus some of the more serious, adult Republican presidential candidates. Where is Michele Bachmann in this construct?
WILL: She's not among the serious contenders. We know who settles presidential elections. They're independent votes. Independent voters are not enflamed -- and not enflamed in the way that some of the marginal Republican candidates are.
TAPPER: All right. We'll have to leave it there. Christiane will be back for more -- with more from Japan after this.
AMANPOUR: Back with a final word from here, Japan.
When the sun rises and dawn breaks, relief operations will get underway and rescue operations. The USS Ronald Reagan has now arrived in the waters off Sendai, and it will also take part, and we'll be covering it all, including the unfolding nuclear drama.
So stay with ABC for all the events, including "World News with David Muir" later tonight, and tomorrow, "Good Morning America," and tomorrow night, "World News with Diane Sawyer."
Thank you for watching, for me, Christiane Amanpour, and my colleague, Jake Tapper.