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THE SITUATION ROOM
Still Missing Decades After Korean War; 'Strategy Session'; Arizona Statute Endangers Congresswoman Giffords' Seat; Senators Visit Afghanistan, Pakistan; WikiLeaks Could Release New Documents; Apple CEO Takes Leave Of Absence
Aired January 17, 2011 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Thanks very much, Brooke.
Happening now, the main target of the Tucson shooting could be out of the hospital sooner than anyone might have dreamed. This hour, new milestones in Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' recovery.
Plus, a new jolt of instability in Haiti now that the nation's former dictator is back. We're following the mystery and the shock surrounding Baby Doc Duvalier's return.
And new anxiety about the future of a high tech giant -- will Apple take a financial hit, as CEO Steve Jobs steps aside on another medical leave?
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Up first this hour, a legal showdown in the works over where the accused assassin, Jared Loughner, will be tried. We're told today that the Justice Department will oppose any effort to move the proceedings out of Arizona. Loughner's lawyers are expected to file a formal motion for a change of venue in the coming weeks, arguing he couldn't get a fair trial in Arizona because of all the publicity. Also today, new and dramatic progress to report on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' remarkable recovery.
Let's turn to CNN's Thelma Gutierrez.
She's in Tucson watching this story unfold -- Thelma, what's the latest?
THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I can tell you, what stood out to me, when I went to that news conference, is when one of her doctors actually reasserted his belief that her progress is, quote, "miraculous." He says this kind of a brain injury typically has a 10 percent survival rate and now, just a little more than a week after she was shot, she's already breathing on her own.
GUTIERREZ (voice-over): Just one week after Gabrielle Giffords nearly lost her life, husband Mark Kelly sees more miraculous signs of recovery.
DR. RANDY FRIESE, TRAUMA SURGEON, UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER: Mark told me that he thought he may have see -- seen a smile. We're all very optimistic. So we could be wrong. But we all want to see the best. And sometimes we see -- we want to -- what we want to see. But if he says she's smiling, I -- I -- I buy it.
GUTIERREZ: Over the weekend, doctors say Giffords hit another major milestone -- she's off the ventilator and breathing on her own again through a tracheostomy tube.
FRIESE: We removed the breathing tube from her mouth and placed another breathing tube into her trachea through an incision in her neck. They're -- the tracheostomy that we have in place now does not allow her to get air past her vocal cords. So she cannot vocalize.
GUTIERREZ: She also has a feeding tube and doctors surgically reconstructed her fractured right eye socket.
DR. MICHAEL LEMOLE, CHIEF OF NEUROSURGERY, UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER: And I'm happy to say that within a few hours of the surgery, she was waking up. And the through the weekend, she came back to the same baseline she had been before the surgery -- that same level of interaction she's been having with us. And that's all very good.
GUTIERREZ: Mark Kelley has stayed by his wife's side. Dr. Michael Lemole says Kelly told him she expressed her affection by rubbing his shoulder with one hand.
LEMOLE: There's a lot of inference there, but it does imply that she is recognizing him and that she's interacting, perhaps, in an old familiar way with him.
GUTIERREZ: Dr. Lemole says Giffords is opening her eyes more frequently and responding to more complex commands.
LEMOLE: The next major step is the graduation to rehabilitation. And that skull repair is many months down the road. So we won't even cross that at this point. The -- the -- the key we're trying to get her to is to rehabilitation so she can take -- move on to the next phase of -- of her recovery.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
GUTIERREZ: And so you can see right behind me, Wolf, there is a large memorial; many people coming out -- I mean dozens today. This memorial continues to grow outside of the hospital, while two patients remain inside. A third patient was released over the weekend and, of course, the Congresswoman, who is making incredible progress.
BLITZER: Thelma, thanks very, very much.
And that's good news. We're praying for her complete recovery.
The Arizona shooting victim who made threats at a town hall meeting in Tucson is said to be apologetic and very sad about what he did. James Eric Fuller was arrested and sent for psychiatric evaluation after his outburst on Saturday. Fuller threatened a Tea Party leader, saying: "You are dead" -- a direct quote -- when the discussion turned to the issue of gun control. A companion of Fuller tells CNN he wishes he could go back and do things differently.
President Obama is drawing a connection between the tragedy in Tucson and the spirit of unity preached by Martin Luther King, Jr. On this MLK Day holiday, the President and Mrs. Obama took part in a community service project here in Washington.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: After a painful week, where so many of us were focused on tragedy, it's good for us to remind ourselves of what this country is all about. This kind of service project is -- is what's best in us. And we're -- we're thrilled with everybody who is participating.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We have new CNN polls on the Arizona massacre, including this one. Check it out. Seventy percent of Americans believe the shooting is making the political debate in this country more civil, but they don't think it will last long.
Right now, House Republicans are trying to avoid using fighting words, even as they get ready for a very partisan showdown over repealing health care reform.
Let's go to our Congressional correspondent, Brianna Keilar.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this gets started tomorrow with debate before Wednesday's vote on this repeal. And all indications are that this will not be the war of the words we were expecting before the shooting in Arizona.
KEILAR: (voice-over): President Obama signed the health care bill into law in March. This week, the House, now run by Republicans, will vote to undo it.
REP. CANDICE MILLER (R), MICHIGAN: It's the result of, particularly this last election, the American people were speaking out very clearly about the direction that they want the country to go to and go in.
KEILAR: It's a politically charged move, but the rhetoric surrounding it has been toned down after the shooting in Tucson that killed six and seriously wounded Democratic congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords.
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R), CALIFORNIA: And we saw a friend get terribly injured in this process. And people are going to look to one another a little differently.
KEILAR: Republicans unveiled the bill before the Tucson tragedy with this name, "Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act." REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: That's why we're taking the first steps to repeal the job-killing health care law.
KEILAR: But in the last few days, Speaker John Boehner has tempered his language, calling the health care law "job-crushing" and "job- destroying" instead -- a subtle shift, even as House Republicans push ahead with their attempt to upend health care reform, even as they admit their effort will run right up against a Democratic-controlled Senate and White House.
REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), MAJORITY LEADER: We, as Republicans, do not control this federal government. The other party does.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
KEILAR: House Democrats are trying to get out in front of Republicans tomorrow with a mock hearing scheduled before the debate begins. Witnesses at the mock hearing include people who Democrats say will lose their insurance coverage if Republicans get their way -- Wolf.
All right, Brianna.
Thanks very much.
We'll watch it unfold all week.
The many secrets locked away in Swiss bank accounts could be exposed by the Wikileaks' founder, Julian Assange.
And the return of Haiti's former dictator is causing a lot of concern there and among Haitians here in the United States, as well. No one knows what Jean-Claude Baby Doc Duvalier is up to.
And American service members unaccounted for six decades after the Korean War -- why the Obama administration can't or won't do more to help families finally get answers.
BLITZER: The veteran White House reporter, Helen Thomas, is now speaking out about the controversial remarks about Israel that got her fired. She spoke exclusively with our special correspondent, Soledad O'Brien.
And Soledad is joining us now with more.
How did that conversation go -- Soledad?
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: I think it went very well, Wolf. Helen is back -- or at least she's trying to be. Those controversial remarks, as you well know, lost her that front row seat that she had so she could ask questions of the president. And I spoke to her on the day that she was hoping, once again, to convince the White House to get access to the president.
Take a listen. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
HELEN THOMAS, COLUMNIST, "FALL CHURCH NEWS-PRESS": You really want to go to war.
O'BRIEN: Helen Thomas was a legend, calling out presidents from the front row at White House.
THOMAS: When are you going to get out of Afghanistan?
Why are you continuing to kill and die there?
What is the real excuse -- and don't give us this Bushism, if we don't go there, they'll all come here.
O'BRIEN: Now 90 years old, she spent 50 of those years relentlessly asking questions like that -- the longest serving White House correspondent ever -- prolific, influential, respected.
O'BRIEN: Until this exchange with a rabbi who runs a Web site.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any comments on Israel, who are arresting everybody today?
Any comments on Israel?
THOMAS: Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ooh.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any better comments on Israel?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Helen is (INAUDIBLE).
THOMAS: Remember, these people are occupied. And it's their land. It's not German. It's not Poland.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So were should they go?
What should they do?
THOMAS: They can go home.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where's their home?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So the Jews... THOMAS: -- Germany.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You think the Jews should go back to Poland and Germany?
THOMAS: And -- and America and everywhere else.
O'BRIEN: The fallout was swift. Hearts Newspapers retired her and she lost her historic front row seat at White House news events.
(on camera): What did it feel like, beyond sad?
THOMAS: Well, I -- I put myself under house arrest for a couple of weeks and cried. And then I said, get with it, you know, you -- you're going to have to face reality.
O'BRIEN: Do you think that you made a mistake and deserved to be fired?
THOMAS: Hell, no.
O'BRIEN: Why do you think they fired you?
THOMAS: Don't touch the third rail, which is Israel. You can never mention Israel without being immediately called anti-Semitic, lose your job or anything else.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Today, Thomas has a new job, as a columnist at the 30,000 circulation "Falls Church News-Press" in Virginia. She spoke to me the day she applied to get back her White House press pass.
(on camera): Why do you want to keep working?
THOMAS: I love being in the press. And I love being a reporter. And I love being there. A lot of the pro-Israeli people thought I was anti-Semitic, which is very wrong.
O'BRIEN: Was that hurtful?
O'BRIEN: If it's wrong, was it hurtful?
THOMAS: Of course. All lies are hurtful.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Thomas says she does regret not being clear that she accepts Israel's right to exist in peace and was in no way suggesting Jews should return to the land of the Holocaust.
(on camera): If you had a chance to do that question from the rabbi again...
THOMAS: Um-hmm. I'd say the same thing. But I'd...
O'BRIEN: Really? THOMAS: -- I'd have to explain. I'm not talking about Auschwitz, which they definitely tried to interpret it that. I can still say, I wish I had said stay -- why can't they stay where they are now, because they're not being persecuted.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Thomas is the daughter of Lebanese parents, who are members of the Greek Orthodox Church. She spent most of her career as a reporter for United Press International. More recently, as a columnist for Hearst Newspapers, she was openly critical of Israeli policy in the Middle East.
(on camera): Do you think there's a difference between talking about Israel and Israeli government issues versus if you were to talk about blacks and Hispanics?
THOMAS: I think it's tougher against the Israelis. But I think it's very bad, also -- not against Hispanics. Now in Arizona, you probably could call them anything. I could can President Obama anything in the book and no one would say anything. You touch one thing about Israel and you are finished.
O'BRIEN: Well, a reputation spanning every president since Kennedy is a lot to risk.
THOMAS: Nobody else can wipe out my reputation. It's there. I feel very solid about what I am.
O'BRIEN: So if you were in the Briefing Room, what would you be asking President Obama?
THOMAS: I would ask why in the hell we're in Afghanistan and Iraq, killing and dying?
Give me a good reason.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
O'BRIEN: So, Wolf, at the end of the day, what she wants is that hard pass -- that White House press credential that you know oh so well.
And when we spoke to an official at the White House Press Office, he said she's going to have to go through the same process that everybody goes through to apply for that hard pass. The way they put it, she retired from her job, which means that that pass, over time, expired.
We have -- as you well know, we re-up our passes every single year. Now she's with a new organization, so, like everybody else, she's going to have to reapply and -- and have a letter written on her behalf by her news organization. And then she'll have to wait and see if she gets her new pass -- Wolf.
BLITZER: She will be able to go back to the White House on an -- on an ad hoc basis from time to time, just call up and say, I'm coming to the White House and they'll say fine. But to get that hard pass, as you point out, that will take a lot of work. We'll see if she winds up getting it. For a 90-year-old woman, she still appears remarkably feisty, doesn't she -- Soledad?
O'BRIEN: Yes, you know, feisty is a really good word. I think that's a perfect description for Helen Thomas. It's challenging to interview her, because, as she's being interviewed, she tends to interview you back and ask questions of the questioner, but, yes, she really is, you know, she loves reporting, and she would like to get back to it in the spot or close to the spot where she used to be.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We'll see what happens. All right. Thanks very much. Soledad O'Brien, reporting for us.
We're monitoring some other important top stories here in the SITUATION ROOM, including growing questions and turbulence in Haiti following the mysterious return of a former dictator in exile 25 years. We'll go there for a live report.
And a surprising announcement from a tech giant and Apple CEO, Steve Jobs, why he's now taking a leave of absence.
BLITZER: High-profile senate delegation visiting Afghanistan and Pakistan. Lisa Sylvester is here. She's monitoring that and some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM. What's going on, Lisa?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf. Well, Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says he and six other GOP senators will return to Washington from the region tomorrow. While there, the senators met with U.S. troops from their respective states. They also sat down with the top U.S. military commander there, general David Petraeus and Afghan president, Hamid Karzai.
The controversial whistleblowing website, WikiLeaks, could release new documents in just a matter of weeks. According to the site founder, Julian Assange, a Swiss man has given Assange what are believed to be secret banking records but isn't revealing who or how many people are involved. The banker says he has a right to stand up if he sees wrongdoing. He faces trial though for violating Switzerland's secrecy regulations.
And for the second time in two years, Apple CEO, Steve Jobs, is taking a leave of absence because of what he calls a medical condition. In 2003 the tech giant was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Then, in 2009, he underwent a liver transplant after losing a considerable amount of weight. Jobs says he will maintain his title and continue to be involved in major corporate decisions.
And, just in case, if your 20-ounce Venti Starbucks isn't enough of a jolt, that's the largest size they have right now. Get ready, though, brace yourself, here is coming the Trenta. Starting this week in some states, you'll be able to get your ice coffee, ice tea, ice tea lemonade, your lattes, in a new 31-ounce serving. That just to put it in perspective is one ounce shy of a quart. The Trenta will be available across the country beginning in May. So, you know, you've got the Venti which is already about that bigger. So, now, they're going to the Trenta.
BLITZER: I get my Venti skim latte, I might want to ask for a Trenta.
SYLVESTER: That's exactly right.
BLITZER: Is that what it is? A Trenta?
SYLVESTER: Yes, it's Trenta.
BLITZER: Trenta skim latte.
SYLVESTER: And so, here's the thing. So, that's a whole lot of caffeine as it is. If you thought that Venti, and I think that Venti is pretty large.
BLITZER: That's huge.
BLITZER: That's like something in 7-11, a giant gulp. Trenta means giant gulp, big gulp, is that what they call it at 7-11, the big gulp.
SYLVESTER: Big gulp is what it is in 7-11. And well, they're supersizing it. That's the botton line.
BLITZER: I'm going to tweet that now.
BLITZER: Thirty ounces, that's not only a big gulp, but that's a Trenta.
SYLVESTER: A Trenta.
BLITZER: Thanks very much.
A paralyzing snow storm in the south leads to a firestorm over schools that have effectively cancelled the MLK holiday to make up for lost days.
And we're also following the political uprising in Tunisia under way right now. It matters more to Americans than you might realize.
And Piers Morgan's new show begins here on CNN. Later tonight, 9:00 p.m. eastern. I'll talk to Piers about how he got Oprah to open up on a lot of subjects, including this very sensitive subject, trying to kill herself.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PIERS MORGAN, HOST: Do you still read them?
OPRAH WINFREY, HOST: No. I haven't read them in years, but, you know, I have them in a safe deposits box.
(END VIDEO CLIP) (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: Growing turbulence and uncertainty in Haiti this hour. The ailing country already plagued by violent political turmoil and deadly disease is now contending with the mysterious return of the former dictator, Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier. Duvalier, who is reportedly huddling in his hotel room, was ousted from office 25 years ago and has been in exile ever since. Our Mary snow is monitoring how his return to Haiti is playing with the Haitian community here in the United States. What's the reaction, Mary?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, just one of disbelief, Wolf. You know, New York is home to one of the largest Haitian communities in the United States. Many here are just anxious for answers now that Jean-Claude Duvalier is back in Haiti, and with today's news conference at Duvalier's hotel was cancelled, that only added to the mystery.
SNOW (voice-over): At Radio Soleil in Brooklyn, news from Haiti that Jean-Claude Duvalier or Baby Doc, as he's known, returned, is all anyone is talking about.
How big of a shock is it to this community?
RICO DUPUY, STATION MANAGER: It is the mother of all shocks. It's very, very shocking, to say the least
SNOW: Rico Dupuy is the manager of this radio station that serves New York's Haitian community. As soon as Duvalier landed in Haiti Sunday after 25 years in exile, Dupri says he received hundreds and hundreds of calls from listeners. He guesses for every ten calls, one was a Duvalier supporter saying things weren't as bad when he ruled. The rest say they remember the reign of terror during the dictatorship of Duvalier and his father.
DUPUY: They're afraid, and they don't know what it is. I mean, for normal of them, the uncertainty is unbearable. They wish they know what it meant. And for that to happen, one day was an electoral stalemate. After we just come and oriented (ph) the first-year anniversary of the quake, after the epidemic of cholera, now we have to deal with this. It's too much uncertainty.
SNOW: Gary Pierre-Pierre, editor of the "Haitian Times" sees dysfunction in Haiti's government and reaction to the earthquake having its roots in the Duvalier years, creating a country where people are afraid to take initiative. He bases that on his memories as a child in Haiti when he remembers people too frightened to even speak to one another.
GARRY PIERRE-PIERRE, EDITOR, HAITIAN TIMES: And then went even beyond just strangers. Even in families, wives and husbands didn't trust each other. They didn't know where they come from, where they came down politically. And that was a reality. And that has a really deep psychological scar on the nation that hasn't healed today. SNOW: Pierre-Pierre says Duvalier's trip could be a turning point.
PIERRE-PIERRE: There's like a bright spot is that, finally, I think we have to face that demon that we have never faced straight on. I think we've been in denial about what happened during the 29-year reign of the dictatorship of the Duvaliers.
SNOW (on-camera): And the editor of the "Haitian Times" here in New York says this will be a real test of Haiti's legal system. He says even if Duvalier only stays for a few days in Haiti, it's now clear that he can be extradited -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We'll have more on this story the next hour as well. Thanks, Mary.
Let's get to the political upheaval in Tunisia where a new interim government is just being implemented in the aftermath of the deadly riots which sent the country's president fleeing. Our senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman, is on the scene for us.
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): More tear gas in Tunis. Police scatter protesters who are marching on headquarters of the ruling party. Street protests brought down former president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, but many Tunisians insist that was the beginning of their revolution, not the end. Old regime figures from Ben Ali's party, the constitutional Democratic rally, including the interim president and the prime minister are still in power. These protesters want them all to go.
KEMAL SHAABOUNI, PROTESTER: We don't want anymore party here. We don't want it at all. We want a new constitution. We want freedom, freedom, freedom.
WEDEMAN: Nervous soldiers ried to keep the demonstrators under control, but people intoxicated with a rush of freedom --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) free.
WEDEMAN: Many Tunisians credit the army with dealing the final blow to the old regime by standing down the day before Ben Ali fled. In the Tunis working class district, a Sudaman (ph), small but vocal group joins in the call for a clean slate. It was here that the first anti-regime protest in the capital broke out, and now, they want power.
We want a government that represents us, says Ali, a government employee. We made this revolution. We shed our blood for the revolution.
Unemployed worker, Riyad (ph), says we demand the withdrawal from the government of every minister, every official from the previous government. By late afternoon, the capital was quiet again. Residents making their way home before the start of the nightly curfew, but the revolution that is sweeping this once sleepy country seems to be on everyone's mind. Tariq, an engineering student, can now utter a simple word of profound significance.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know what's changed? Yesterday, we can't say no. Today, I came to say no for anyone.
(SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
WEDEMAN: Monumental change, indeed, for people who have suddenly found their voice.
Ben Wedeman, CNN, Tunisia.
BLITZER: The tensions between North Korea and the United States are affecting some American military families in a very, very personal way. They're desperate for answers about loved ones who served in the Korean wars some 60 years ago. Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is here. Barbara, I know this issue came up when I recently visited North Korea.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, absolutely, Wolf. You know it better than anybody. Now, this issue once again is front and center with these families that are trying to get answers.
STARR (voice-over): Rick Downs (ph) has come to the National Archives for just one reason, to find any information on what happened to his father.
RICK DOWNS (ph), FATHER MISSING: My father was missing in action 59 years ago yesterday. He was Air Force, and his plane went down, and we don't know what happened to him.
Lieutenant Harold Downs (ph) is one of more than 8,000 U.S. service members listed as unaccounted for from the Korean War.
For years, the U.S. and the North Koreans cooperated inside North Korea, together finding over 200 sets of remains. That all ended years ago, but suddenly there is a glimmer of hope for families since the visit of Bill Richardson with CNN's Wolf Blitzer to North Korea.
BILL RICHARDSON (D), FMR. NEW MEXICO GOVERNOR: The North Koreans started out by saying, you know, if we can better our relationship, we can give you more remains of your soldiers. And he handed me pictures of American remains, and he said, "We found close to 100 in the southern part of the country, and we want normal relations to resume and the joint recovery efforts between our militaries."
STARR (on camera): Here at the Korean War Memorial in Washington, there are constant memories for the families. The missions into North Korea were suspended in 2005 by then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who felt due to rising nuclear tensions he couldn't guarantee the safety of U.S. recovery teams going into the North.
(voice-over): At the time it all seemed fairly routine.
LAWRENCE DI RITA, PENTAGON SPOKESMAN: Again, it's a question of an uncertain environment in which everybody thought it was prudent that they not be in the country at the moment.
STARR: The North has reason to want the U.S. back. Washington pays Pyongyang for the cost of the recovery efforts, cash the North desperately needs, which leaves Rick Downs still with no answers for his 84-year-old mother.
DOWNS: Well, I'll have to tell her she has to wait.
STARR: Now, even with the positive signals that Bill Richardson got on his trip into North Korea, Wolf, there's just no indication from the Obama administration at this point that they plan to change this policy at all and get started again looking for the missing in North Korea.
BLITZER: Because the North Koreans say they really want to help, and they say, look, they can't afford to go out and dig up all these areas. They would like the U.S. to pay for it. And if the Obama administration, they say, were willing to pay for whatever it costs, they could find -- help find some of these remains.
STARR: This is when the North Koreans say, and certainly they want the U.S. money. From the U.S. point of view, as you extensively reported, the Obama administration wants the North Koreans to get back to the table on nuclear talks, and so right now, officially, it appears to be a standoff.
BLITZER: I'm finishing up a one-hour documentary, "Inside North Korea," we're going to air here in THE SITUATION ROOM soon I think you'll enjoy.
STARR: I will.
BLITZER: And hopefully our viewers will as well. Thank you.
A lot of commemorations today of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the holiday. But some schools in the South are getting some flak right now for calling kids back to school. Are they violating the spirit of the holiday or upholding it?
And do Americans think the government can do more to prevent another shooting like the one in Arizona? Stand by. James Carville and Ed Rollins, they are here together, with our brand new poll numbers.
BLITZER: Let's get right to our "Strategy Session." Joining us now, our two CNN political contributors, the Democratic strategist, James Carville, the Republican strategist, Ed Rollins. There's Ed Rollins right there. I think James is getting hooked up. He'll join us in a moment.
But let me start with you, Ed.
This brand new CNN poll, we asked Americans if they blame the gun laws for the Arizona shootings. Thirty percent said a great deal; 22 percent, a moderate amount; 14 percent said not much; 33, percent not at all.
Are gun laws -- the lax gun laws, I guess we should say -- to blame in part for what happened in Tucson?
ED ROLLINS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: There are too many guns available to too many people that are unstable. How you change that, how you alter that with the Second Amendment and the way that the court has ruled is a very difficult task.
You know, you don't want to take guns away from law-abiding citizens, and you basically don't quite know how to put away people that are mentally disturbed at this point in time. But it's a very serious question and it needs some debate.
I'm a gun advocate. I basically believe that you should have some restrictions if people are certainly criminals or certainly mentally unstable, but how you basically get to that point is a very important question.
BLITZER: Well, do you think anything is going to be done on a federal level to make -- to strengthen gun control, especially the purchase of ammunition with people who have some sort of medical -- mental medical problem?
ROLLINS: I would hope that we can somehow get more information about people that are mentally disturbed. It's very difficult, and you don't want to basically impose on anybody's life. But clearly, this was a young man who had put up some real significant warning signals in his community college and elsewhere, and if somehow you could have some kind of restriction on his ability to buy guns or buy bullets or go that morning and load up, you know, certainly you could have saved a number of lives.
BLITZER: As a son of Louisiana, James, are you in favor of stricter gun control right now?
JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you know, I'm a gun owner, and generally I think this thing is a political nonstarter. But, you know, there's a lot of drunk people in a lot of cars, and we do what we can to keep drunk people out of driving cars. And, you know, maybe we can look at this thing to keep crazy people away from guns, which this was obviously the case. I'm very pessimistic that anything like that is going to pass this Congress in particular, but probably any Congress. BLITZER: Would it be smart, James, for the president of the United States to make this an important issue right now, stricter gun control laws? Should the president be speaking out about it?
CARVILLE: You know, I'm a little bit of the view that people are so concerned about their jobs that we have here, and the economic crisis, that anything that sort of gets away from that for an extended period of time is probably not that helpful. I mean, certainly there's some political benefit in bringing this up, but there's about less than zero chance that the House of Representatives would do anything to -- that would upset the NRA, and that's just a fact of political life.
Now, maybe there's a way that it can be negotiated as part of something larger. I don't know that. Most people believe that crazy people shouldn't have guns. That's kind of a simple --
ROLLINS: I would totally agree with James. The only other thing, I don't think it would pass in the Senate either.
I think the NRA has such an influence today, and the court has clearly ruled on the Second Amendment, that there's a long ways to go. And education may be a part of it. But letting people who obviously are mentally unstable have guns is a very, very serious problem facing this country.
BLITZER: In our new poll, our CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, James, we asked, "Can the government and society take actions to prevent another shooting similar to the one in Tucson?" Thirty-three percent said yes, but 66 percent said no.
What does that answer say to you?
CARVILLE: I don't know. You know, if somebody is crazy, and they want to get a gun and a bullet in this country, it's just not that hard to do.
And, you know, honestly, I don't know if the government could really do much to stop him. If I was crazy and I wanted to shoot somebody, it wouldn't be very difficult at all for me to get a gun and a bullet. I mean, I could get it legally, not even to mention what you can get on the black market.
So I kind of understand what a 66 percent are coming from. It's unfortunate, but that's the way -- that's the state of affairs here in this country right now.
BLITZER: You know, a lot of people watching from around the world, and they look at the gun laws in the United States and they think, you know, what's the matter with those Americans? Why do they let anybody who basically wants to go out and buy a gun -- if somebody from Italy or Spain or Europe came up to you and asked you that question, what would you say?
ROLLINS: Well, it's been a part of our heritage. I mean, we were a wilderness that had to be settled early in the day. Our forefathers said owning a gun was a very important element of our freedom.
And I think to a certain extent, you know, a long time since Italians had to settle the Wild West, or the French, or what have you, and I think to a certain extent, Americans see it as part of their individualism. And obviously that responsibility is something that's borne on the individual that owns the guns.
BLITZER: Guys, stand by. We have more to discuss, including what's going to happen in Washington this week.
Also, in the wake of the deadly Tucson massacre, new details are also emerging on Gabrielle Giffords' congressional seat. Could she lose it because of the shootings?
BLITZER: Earlier we told you there's good news on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' medical condition, but now, thanks to a little known Arizona statute, her hold on her congressional seat could be in danger.
CNN's Brian Todd is looking into this story for us.
Tell us what's going on.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Checking into a statute in Arizona state law, Wolf, and there is one that talks about a vacancy and what will happen if a vacancy is defined there. And according to this Arizona state law, an office shall be deemed vacant -- this is one of the statutes -- if "The person holding the office ceasing to discharge the duties of office for the period of three consecutive months."
That's when they deem the office to be vacant. They could conceivably hold a special election if that office is deemed to be vacant, if Congresswoman Giffords cannot discharge her duties for three consecutive months. But there is a lot of gray area here.
What does it mean that she can't discharge her duties? Could she possibly vote? Could she make other decisions even while she's recovering in the hospital? Not clear at all, but it is in the statute that an office will be deemed vacant if the person fails to discharge their duties for three consecutive months.
Now, we've tried -- we've called the governor's office. I've not gotten calls back on this yet. We have just started calling a short time ago to see if, you know, they have considered this.
Now, they did talk to "The Washington Post," and there was a quote to "The Washington Post" from Governor Jan Brewer's chief of staff -- her deputy chief of staff, Paul Senseman, who wrote in an e-mail, "With Representative Giffords' tremendous progress and answer to many prayers, we've deemed it to be far too early and entirely inappropriate to speculate, analyze or consider." They are not really talking about doing this yet, Wolf, but it has to be pointed out, there is something in the statute that says if this congresswoman can't discharge her duties for three consecutive months, they may have to, you know, deem that office to be vacant, hold a special election. And then, I guess, maybe the balance of power in Congress could shift.
That is really looking too far ahead. I think everybody agrees on that right now, but it is in the statute.
BLITZER: All right, Brian. Thanks very much.
Let me get quick reaction from James Carville and Ed Rollins.
James, first to you, what do you make of this three-month statute?
CARVILLE: Look, I don't think that that governor is the brightest bulb I've ever seen, and I've said so publicly, but no one would be stupid enough to declare this seat vacant after this woman has made this progress and everything that's happened. That's just not going to happen.
And discharge of duties -- and she's going to be released from the hospital, doctors say, in a matter of days or weeks. And if she answers one piece of constituent mail, does that constitute a duty?
But I can't imagine what the outcry would be if she was making progress toward a recovery and somebody tried to declare the seat vacant. I don't think anybody is going to do that.
BLITZER: Yes. I tend to agree.
But what do you think, Ed?
ROLLINS: I totally agree with James. I mean, first of all, as people have learned more and more about this congresswoman -- and I didn't know very much about her -- she's an extraordinary woman.
I mean, she is what we need in the Congress. She's hopefully going to recover quickly, be back there serving well. I think she's now unbeatable in a very Republican -- the most Republican district in the country. She's won it two times, in a very tough election.
I think at this point in time, her courage has inspired us all, and I think to a certain extent, like when Reagan got shot, he felt there was a destiny to why he went on and did meaningful things. I think her coming back will basically mean that she has the opportunity to serve that state better than ever before.
BLITZER: She got re-elected last time I think by 4,000 votes, which aren't a whole lot, obviously.
All right, guys. Stand by. We have a lot more to discuss, including James Carville's good friend Rahm Emanuel. He's running for mayor of Chicago. We're going to discuss that and more right after this.
BLITZER: Let's get right back to James and to Ed.
James, Boehner, the new House Speaker, John Boehner, he know longer is calling it the "job-killing" health care reform law. He's now toned it down a bit to call the "job-crushing" or "job-destroying" health care reform law which they want to repeal on Wednesday.
A big deal or a little deal? Do you see a change in tone in the aftermath of Tucson?
CARVILLE: I don't see that much. It's just kind of playing around with some adjectives here. It looks like somebody got in a thesaurus and tried to pick up another couple of words.
You know, maybe it's some kind of a slight whatever in light of the events, but it's almost comical, that they would actually call the legislation this. And they've dug themselves in a little bit of a hole, and I think they're trying to get out of it.
ROLLINS: Well, I think it's very important, as Republicans attempt to repeal this or alter this bill, that they put forth their arguments in ways that are very believable. And I think that whether it's the cost or why you're doing it, or what have you, the language is going to be very important.
I'm happy he made the modification. I think at the end of the day, it's a long, hard battle, but I think they're going to have success if they articulate and convince the public they're doing it in their best interests.
BLITZER: All right. Let's quickly change gears.
James, your good friend Rahm Emanuel, he had a debate of sorts with some of the other Democrats who want to be the next mayor of Chicago, and I guess it got a little ugly, some of them really going after him for his well-known use of, shall we say, inappropriate words from time to time.
Is this going cause him a lot of grief, you think?
CARVILLE: No. I mean, they'll go after him, and he's probably let a couple of words go that he wishes his children hadn't heard. But, you know, who am I to criticize somebody for something like that.
I think Chicago's probably heard a bad word or two along the way. But Rahm drives himself hard.
He has high expectations of himself. He has high expectations of the people around him. And he feels passionate about things, and he uses adjectives sometimes. That's a kind of endearing part of his personality in some ways.
BLITZER: Yes. Well, some didn't think it was so endearing. Carol Moseley Braun, the Democratic candidate, the former senator from Illinois, she said this, Ed. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CAROL MOSELEY BRAUN (D), CHICAGO MAYOR CANDIDATE: Everyone has fought for education and public safety, but none of us have a reputation for sending dead fish to people, for making statements that I'm almost embarrassed -- I'm not going to even repeat it, but statements like that, poking people in the chest, cursing them out. I mean, and the question is one of temperament and whether or not you bring that kind of temperament to the city of Chicago.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What do you think, Ed?
ROLLINS: You know, maybe that's the best charge she can make. She's going to lose, as she's lost before when she tried to run for re- election.
You know, I think Rahm is going to win it. I think as James said, Chicago's a different place. They're used to tough people.
I remember 35 years ago, the present mayor's father throwing -- when I was an official at the Department of Transportation, throwing me out of a mayor's meeting because he didn't like the department's priority. They're used to tough politicians, and Rahm will fit right in there with them.
BLITZER: The most recent polls has Rahm Emanuel ahead of Carol Moseley Braun, 42 percent to 26 percent. But, what, there's still about a month to go? Is that right, James? How much time is there between now and the election?
CARVILLE: Oh, maybe about a month. I think it's in February. The exact date, I'm not certain.
And look, they're going to attack him for something, and they've kind of run out of stuff. And now he poked somebody in the chest one time. And in the world of things that we see in politics, that doesn't seem like a particularly damning indictment to Rahm.
BLITZER: The point that's getting all the publicity is he was quoted as telling "The New York Post" -- or at least he was quoted by "The New York Post" as having told some workers -- and this came up in the debate, Ed -- "Take the tampons out and get to work." He supposedly said that to a male staffer who was apparently not doing what he wanted him to do during a sensitive moment.
ROLLINS: I mean, that's inappropriate. I've said inappropriate things, and I'm sure James has. We know you haven't.
But Rahm sort of fits in the mold of a tough, hard-core player, and that's why he's done so well in his career. And my sense is I may disagree with him philosophically -- I've known him for a long time, I've been head-to-head with him -- and he's tough and he's going to be effective. But that particular comment I think was a little bit inappropriate.
CARVILLE: I doubt if a quote in "The New York Post," and there's no attribution as to who it is, or context or anything, is going to -- he may lose the race, but it won't be because of that, I don't think.
BLITZER: He's got to clearly --
CARVILLE: It doesn't strike me to be the stuff to bring a politician down.
BLITZER: James and Ed, guys, thanks very much.
ROLLINS: Thank you.
BLITZER: Twenty-five after he was ousted, Haiti's former dictator is now back, and he's making a lot of people in Haiti very nervous. We'll have a report from Haiti. We're going there live.
And today it's Tunisia. Tomorrow it could be, say, Egypt. We're going to tell you why the Tunisia uprising is generating fear here in the United States.
BLITZER: The family of Martin Luther King Jr. at his gravesite today on this, the holiday honoring the civil rights leader.
Some school districts in Dr. King's home state of Georgia and other parts of the South are being accused of dishonoring his memory. At issue, the decision to bring students in for a snow makeup day today.
Lisa Sylvester is working the story for us.
Lisa, what's going on?
SYLVESTER: Hi there, Wolf.
Well, we are talking about areas that typically don't receive much snow, really, if any, getting slammed with up to 11 inches of snow and ice combined -- North Carolina, South Carolina, for example.
Now a handful of school districts in those states, including the Charlotte, North Carolina, school district, remained open today. And that's really upset some parents and black leaders in Caswell County, North Carolina.
A small group gathered there for a silent protest outside the school board saying it shows insensitivity given the historical context, that these are two states that were among the last to approve MLK's birthday as a holiday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NATE HALL, NAACP: Today is a national holiday to commemorate the contributions Dr. King made to this country and to the world.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm not sending my daughter to school. I won't send her to school on that day.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: A quick question. What are the school officials saying about this?
SYLVESTER: Well, Wolf, Rock Hill School District in South Carolina, we talked to them there, and they are saying that this is not in fact the only holiday that they have canceled. They are also having classes on Presidents' Day and Memorial Day.
BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester, thanks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our mission is to engage kids and help them be successful academically, and the best way to do that is to be in class. I'm sorry that it interferes with something that's a very important day, but we're going to give kids the opportunity to really expand their knowledge of Dr. Martin Luther King.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SYLVESTER: And Wolf, I just want to say one other thing on this. You know, unlike in other parts of the country, well, some of these school districts, they don't actually start off the school year with built-in snow days. And by the way, if these states get anymore snow, well, kids could also end up having some classes on Saturday -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester, thanks very much.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
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