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THE SITUATION ROOM
Romney's Economic Plan; GSA Under Fire; Tornado Death Toll Climbs to Six; Obama Leads in Latest Poll Versus Romney; Surprise Speech by New in Korean Leader; Tax on Millionaires Likely to Fail; Discovery Makes Its Final Voyage
Aired April 16, 2012 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: unexpected details of Mitt Romney's plans to try to turn around the U.S. economy, details that were not meant for the public -- what the candidate said when he didn't know reporters were listening in.
Also, new polls on the presidential contest just coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM, the first since Rick Santorum dropped out of the presidential contest. How does Mitt Romney do in a head-to-head matchup right now President Obama? Stand by, the new numbers fascinating.
Plus, the young new leader of North Korea surprises everyone with his first public speech before the massive show of force, but how real is that threat? CNN on the ground right now in Pyongyang.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
It can be a politician's worst enemy, as presidents from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama have learned the hard way. Now a would-be president is having his own open mike moment, Mitt Romney speaking candidly at a private fund-raiser about eliminating government agencies, tax deductions and a whole more, all of it overheard by reporters.
CNN's national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, is working the story for us
Jim, tell our viewers what's going on.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is sort of an open mike moment, except there were no microphones and nobody was actually recording what Mitt Romney had to say.
But Mitt Romney has talked about paring down the federal government to help balance the budget but he has been reluctant to offer many details to voters. Yet at a private fund-raiser over the weekend, Romney was willing to get specific.
ACOSTA (voice-over): For Mitt Romney, it was supposed to be a private fund-raiser. No press allowed. But two reporters, one from NBC, the other from "The Wall Street Journal," overheard specifics from Romney's deficit reduction plan that he has yet to share with the public.
Among the ideas Romney said he was considering, eliminating the Department of Housing and Urban Development and consolidating the Education Department with another agency. Those reporters also heard Romney talk about doing away with the mortgage deduction fro second homes, as well as state income and property tax deductions.
The Obama campaign was quick to pounce, accusing Romney of having a penchant for secrecy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Americans expect the opportunity to be able to evaluate candidates based on their records and their policies, to be able to lift up the hood and kick the tires and make that determination before Election Day. And what's clear is that Governor Romney is trying to make the specifics of his policies off-limits for the American people.
ACOSTA: Even at the fund-raiser, Romney didn't spell out all of his plans, saying things like "Housing and Urban development, which my dad was head of, might not be around leader, but I'm not going to actually go through these one by one. What I can tell you is we have got far too many bureaucrats. I will send a lot of what happens in Washington back to the states."
Former Senator Jim Talent, a Romney surrogate, said on a campaign conference call that voters shouldn't read too much into the comments.
JIM TALENT (R), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: He talks about different ideas as they come up on the stump. He wasn't announcing a policy.
ACOSTA: On a separate call, the Republican Party chairman said that the remarks were meant for a private audience.
REINCE PRIEBUS, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I respect the governor and his comment that what is said in private will remain in private.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is my last election. And after my election, I will have more flexibility.
ACOSTA: But the revelation come less than a month after Romney slammed the president when he was overheard on a live mike telling the Russians that he will have more flexibility to deal with hot button foreign policy issues after the election.
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The idea that our president is planning on doing something with them that he's not willing to tell the American people before the election is something I find very, very alarming.
ACOSTA: Meanwhile, the wife of the likely GOP nominee, Ann Romney, was also at that fund-raiser, Wolf, and she called that accusation from Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen that she hasn't worked a day in her life, Ann Romney called it an earlier birthday present, a sign that she welcomed this controversy. She called it a defining moment in this race.
BLITZER: All this was said at a fund-raiser as you point out in Palm Beach with very, very wealthy individuals and they were trying to raise money for the super PAC and you can give unlimited sums to that pro-Romney super PAC. Is that right?
ACOSTA: That's what we understand.
It's interesting to note that -- a lot of people may not know this but by and large, campaigns try and keep the press away from these fund- raising events. However, many times those news organizations will to at least put a reporting presence outside perhaps a perimeter outside of these events.
It just so happens at this event that these two reporters were standing within earshot of what Governor Romney and Mrs. Romney were saying at this event. They were able to jot down those comments and bring them basically to the voting public, comments that I will have to tell you, Wolf, I have covered Mitt Romney for many months now, he has not talked about eliminating HUD at any of his events up until this point, so these were definitely new disclosures from this candidate, Wolf.
BLITZER: Jim Acosta, reporting for us, thank you.
And this just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM, a brand new poll putting Mitt Romney in a head to head matchup with President Obama. The CNN/ORC survey of registered voters shows 52 percent say Mr. Obama is their choice for president in November, compared to 43 percent for Mitt Romney.
Let's get more now from our chief political analyst Gloria Borger and our chief White House correspondent Jessica Yellin.
Some early strength, very early, we should say, six-and-a-half months before November, but an encouraging sign at least this point for the president.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, very encouraging and let me tell you where this strength is coming from.
If you look at our poll, we ask questions about who is in touch with the problems facing the middle class, and you see Barack Obama 51 percent, Mitt Romney 33 percent. Who is in touch with problems facing women, Obama 55 and Romney 27 percent. Likable, President Obama 56, Romney 27.
And is a strong and decisive leader, again President Obama way ahead 50-34. The likability number though is really key to me because what I think this means -- and again it's huge, 29 points -- what this means is that voters will give the president the benefit of the doubt and he's going to need it when it comes to issues like the economy.
BLITZER: Having said all that, Jessica, there's some vulnerability if you look closer inside these numbers for the president when it comes to issue number one. JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Issue number one, the economy.
When we broke that down, asked the question who can get the economy moving, we found this number. President Obama 44 percent, Mitt Romney 42 percent. While the president is still ahead, that is very close and within the margin of error, and when you go even closer, Mitt Romney is beating the president among that key swing vote, independents, Romney 43 to President Obama 41.
And Romney is also beating President Obama on the question who can move the economy among men and among white voters and among white male voters. That's one of the reasons I think you're seeing the president really target women and target Hispanics, African-Americans, young voters, some of these other categories because they know they have a ceiling of support when it comes to white male voters.
BORGER: But on this independent vote, you don't see that large gap that you see in the overall population right now, whether it's because of women or white men.
YELLIN: Very close.
BORGER: But it's so close and that is, of course, the key voters that President Obama or Mitt Romney needs to win over in order to win the election. That's a virtual tie right now.
BLITZER: But take a look at the gender gap, shall we say.
We asked among regular voters nationwide their choice for president. When it comes to men, you see it's pretty even, 49 percent for the president, 46 percent for Romney, within the 4.5 sampling error. But look at this, for women, 55 percent, Jessica, for the president and 39 percent for Romney. That's a 16-point spread.
YELLIN: That's massive. And it will inevitably shrink for the president, but he will have to maintain a lead in that category if he's going to hold on to the White House.
The one thing I would add is that you have to keep in mind that Romney has been fighting off other folks in the primary. He has not had a chance to define himself for the general public in the general election. I think he will gain among women as he seeks to define himself going forward.
BORGER: And the president's challenge is the white men you were talking about because our internal polls show that Mitt Romney beats President Obama by 17 points with white men. So that can kind of balance out the gender gap here and that's sort of the game they're both playing.
BLITZER: There's a lot of African-American men, Hispanic men. There are not just white men out there. BORGER: There are. But they vote and they have always been a problem for President Obama, and the question is whether he can turn some of them around.
YELLIN: I still the fight for the women's vote will be the battleground issue this election.
BLITZER: Women vote in higher percentages than men do, so they're much more important when it comes to the American public.
BLITZER: Guys, thanks very much.
Some remarkable exchanges at a House hearing today on the scandal over a lavish Las Vegas conference held by the General Services Administration.
Both Republicans and Democrats tore into witnesses, one of whom mourned the loss of her job, while another the other took the Fifth Amendment and refused to answer questions.
Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, was there covering every step fight way.
Dana, there were some pretty dramatic moments in this hearing.
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There sure were and it actually just wrapped up. It lasted for more than two-and-a- half hours. It ended with the lead Democrat on the committee and I'm quoting him here. He's talking about this whole scandal. He said: "It pisses me off. I'm just pissed."
BASH (voice-over): It's one thing for Republicans to criticize Obama officials. But when the committee's top Democrat rips into them, you know it's bad.
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: Mr. Neely invited personal friends to the conference, writing, and I quote -- and this is simply incredible,-- quote -- "We'll get you guys a room near us and we'll pick up the room tab. Could be a blast. Why not enjoy it while we have it and while we can? Ain't going to last forever" -- end of quote.
Well, Mr. Neely, it stops now.
BASH: Mr. Neely is Jeff Neely, the GSA official who organized the now infamous lavish 2010 Las Vegas conference costing taxpayers more than $800,000. Thanks to a committee subpoena, he showed up, but wouldn't answer questions.
JEFF NEELY, REGIONAL COMMISSIONER, GENERAL SERVICES ADMINISTRATION: Mr. Chairman, on the advice of counsel, I respectfully decline to answer based upon my Fifth Amendment constitutional privilege. BASH: With cameras rolling, House GOP Chairman Darrell Issa still asked six more questions.
NEELY: Mr. Chairman on the advice of my counsel, I respectfully decline to answer based upon my Fifth Amendment constitutional privilege.
BASH: Neely, whose attorney told the committee he is worried about a criminal probe, was eventually excused.
Other GSA witnesses took a very different approach. Fall on their swords? Hardly. They dove on them.
MARTHA JOHNSON, FORMER GSA ADMINISTRATOR: I am extremely aggrieved by the gal of a handful of people to misuse federal tax dollars, twist contracting rules, and defile the great name of the General Services Administration.
BASH: Martha Johnson was GSA administrator until she was fired two weeks ago. Briefed 11 months ago, she suggested she needed a final report which took a long time to complete until she could take disciplinary action.
JOHNSON: I personally apologize to the American people. I will mourn for the rest of my life the loss of my appointment.
BASH: But much of the focus was on the man who left, Jeff Neely. The inspector general, whose investigation unearthed the excess spending, said several of Neely's appointees feared speaking up because of retaliation, even bullying by Neely.
REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: Were you aware that excess money was spent at that conference, significant excess?
JOHNSON: I had received a communication from the I.G. with non- conclusive results.
REP. DAN BURTON (R), INDIANA: And you gave him a $9,000 bonus. It just seems almost unthinkable. And even if you didn't know for sure, you would have taken the precaution of putting him someplace where he couldn't bully anybody again. I hate bullies. Don't you?
BASH: Despite the apologies, this fiery forum allowed lawmakers to express outrage.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ms. Johnson, why were you giving out bonuses when the president said there was a pay freeze?
JOHNSON: The senior executives were entitled to bonuses under our -- were entitled to bonuses. I don't believe the pay freeze affected those bonuses.
BASH: One of the key questions that the Republican chairman, Darrell Issa, said that he had going into this hearing is what the actual White House knew about this report, which again Martha Johnson, the former GSA administrator, she was briefed on at least the interim findings back in May.
And we just at the very end of this hearing heard from the chief of staff of the GSA, Michael Robertson, that he told somebody in the White House Counsel's Office, his regular contact there, Kim Harris, about the emerging scandal shortly after they were briefed, so May of 2011, about 11 months ago. At least someone in the White House Counsel's Office according to this testimony, knew about this scandal.
BLITZER: Where does all this go from here?
BASH: To the next hearing, Wolf. This is the first of four hearings we will see on this issue here on Capitol Hill, tomorrow, another one in the House and then two in the Senate on Wednesday.
These lawmakers are not giving up on this because they understand the politics of this, that they are expressing the outrage of the American people and this really crystallizes it, what is wrong with Washington. And that is why you saw Democrats and Republicans alike really go after these witnesses at the GSA.
BLITZER: Even though the money is minuscule by Washington standards, obvious it's caused enormous, enormous outrage out there for the waste. Thanks very, very much, Dana.
The Romney campaign is playing the mom card with a video tribute to Ann Romney. Will it help with the candidate's gender gap?
Also, the speech no one expected -- the young new leader of North Korea addressing his country and the world. For the first time, we actually hear him speak.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: I'm Rob Marciano, Woodward, Oklahoma, where six people lost their lives with a tornado late Saturday night and early Sunday morning. Now hundreds are homeless. We have got some amazing survival stories. And you're going to hear them next in THE SITUATION ROOM.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I'm Rob Marciano in Woodward, Oklahoma, where six people lost their lives with the tornado late Saturday night and early Sunday morning, now hundreds are homeless. We've got some amazing survival stories, and you're going to hear them next in THE SITUATION ROOM.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Jack Cafferty is here with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Gun sales in this country are booming and women are a big part of the reason why. "The Daily Beast" reports on the National Rifle Association getting in touch with its feminine side in its recently concluded annual convention. Companies are selling everything from all sort of pink firearms, to guns that are small enough to fit in small purse, to black and pink shooting targets.
There's even a bra holster. Here's a picture -- as the inventor of the flash bang women's holster tells "The Daily Beast," quote, "Nothing comes between a girl and her gun." Of course, if you're going to carry a gun like this, you want to be doubly sure the safety is on.
The National Sporting Goods Association says 47 percent more women are shooting today compared to 10 years ago and the Gallup poll last year found almost one in four American women own at least one gun. It's estimated the number of women at NRA shooting clinics has skyrocketed from 500 to 10,000 in the last decade. Gun ranges hold ladies nights, enrolment of one women's concealed carry class in Oklahoma reportedly up 400 percent.
Female gun enthusiasts give different reasons for the spike in ownership, some cite security. Others say its an extension of gender equality. As for the NRA, they denied that it's going after women over any other demographic group. They say want everyone to be a member of the NRA.
Overall, gun sales are way up in the United States, big profits for gun makers like Smith & Wesson. Some say the trend is due to fears of a second Obama term and the potential tightening on gun restrictions. Others say that a weaker economy makes people just feel unsafe.
Here's a question: What do you think is behind the surge in women gun owners?
Go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile, post a comment on my blog, or go to our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page.
Stick them up, Wolf.
BLITZER: You know, that picture you showed us of the bra with the gun -- let's put that up on the screen, Jack, because if you take a look at that, maybe we can understand, sometimes when you go through these TSA security screens at the airport, they do a pat down if something happens, a woman forgets that she's got a gun there, she's going to get a little extra security.
CAFFERTY: Indeed, she'll get a lot of extra attention and she won't be getting on a plane any time soon.
BLITZER: Yes, she better not forget that she's got a gun there if she's carrying it on the plane. Sometimes people forget.
All right, Jack. Thank you. One of dozens of people injured in this weekend's massive tornado outbreak has died, bringing the death total to six. More than 120 tornadoes rippled across 10 states. But the worst damage in all of the fatalities were in Woodward, Oklahoma, where more than 100 homes and businesses were simply destroyed.
CNN meteorologist Rob Marciano is on the scene for us.
Rob, tell our viewers what you're seeing over there.
MARCIANO: Well, Wolf, the cleanup effort continues to today, it was a feverish and frantic pace yesterday. Today, a little bit more organized, the heavier equipment has been out in various neighborhoods, a rural community, so there's plenty of that to go around. We had a lot of tree debris to remove as you can imagine, and they have made some progress, the weather obviously is pretty good.
But throughout the day today and yesterday, we came across so many people that through the storm had truly remarkable stories, including the gentleman that lives here with his wife. He went to bed unknowingly that the tornado is coming. He's brother watching the news in another town, called him and said, hey, you've got a tornado coming your way.
He got up and he got into the bathroom. That likely saved his life, one of many survival stories from Woodward, Oklahoma.
MARCIANO (voice-over): It's been 65 years since the big one hit Woodward, Oklahoma. In 1947, more than 100 died in a twister here. Back then, Charles Hogue lived 30 miles away, but he remembers it well.
CHARLES HOGUE, WOODWARD RESIDENT: I was 10 years old and I've seen it, and it wiped out this whole town.
MARCIANO: But now he lives in Woodward, and this latest tornado hit his home, blasting into the living room, blowing off the road, and ripping the house inside out.
(on camera): Look how this tornado actually shoved this house off its foundation, it's tilted by a good 20 maybe 30 degrees. Last night before the storm hit, though, Mr. Hogue and his wife got warning, they came outside of the house into the backyard, why? Because there's a valuable commodity out here, a storm cellar, extremely fortified. And he had opened up. He and his wife got down there, and that's what saved them.
That door is heavy. Why you were able to -- you're a strong man.
HOGUE: You just do that.
MARCIAN (voice-over): Paul Lord's family didn't have a storm cellar or any basement and now, they're lucky to have their lives. The tornado threw Paul out of the house and on to the street. PAUL LORD, WOODWARD RESIDENT: When I was laying down there on the curbs and I looked up and saw the house gone, I didn't know what to do. And then neighbors started come over and started pulling bricks off and tilting walls up and everybody started coming out.
MARCIANO (on camera): What kind of injuries did you sustain?
LORD: I got a big gash on the side of my head, or the flap laid over and laid open, and they stitched that back up.
MARCIANO (voice-over): His grandson had deep cuts too after getting buried under appliances.
LORD: That's about where the bathroom is at and that's where he was underneath in the tub, and they had the washer and dryer on top of him.
MARCIANO: Paul got into a battered truck, drove himself and his bleeding grandson to the hospital. His wounds are bandaged now, but still stunned. The Lords are getting a helping hand with the cleanup.
But searching for keepsakes and sentimental items are a low priority.
(on camera): What specifically are things that you want to find in this rubble?
LORD: I found them, my son, my daughter, son-in-law, my grandbabies, my wife. Everything else is just brick and stick, and they're all easily replaced.
MARCIANO: Well said. Mike as you saw in that piece, all community members coming together, you're seeing it again here. This is a situation where it was a pretty narrow tornado, you either got hit and hit hard, our your home may have been saved.
And it's amazing how this town has truly come together -- friends, neighbors and relatives to help those that have gotten hit the hardest and you saw that in Mr. Lord's piece.
By the way, he's a very appreciative man. He's been through for brain surgeries and two open heart surgeries, the house that got destroyed, Wolf, was supposed to be closed and sold this coming Friday. That's obviously not going to happen. But he's definitely going somewhere, but not out of this town -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Rob, thanks very, very much. Good luck to all the folks out there.
New information coming on those Secret Service agents busted for hiring prostitutes. We're also learning more about members of the U.S. military who apparently have been involved in that as well.
And for the first time since taking over for his father, we're going to hear from the young and still very mysterious leader of North Korea.
BLITZER: Let's get to our strategy session right now. Joining us, the Democratic strategist and CNN contributor Donna Brazile. Also joining us, our CNN contributor Erick Erickson. He's the editor and chief of RedState.com.
Erick, I'll start with you. Take a look, you probably saw at the top of the hour, we reported our brand-new CNN/ORC poll, registered voters across the country, Obama versus Romney, 52 percent right now for President Obama, 43 percent for Governor Mitt Romney.
What does Romney need to do in the short-term, let's say, to pick up that number?
ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, not panic to begin with. You know, the CNN poll today showing Obama had -- there's a Gallup poll out today showing Romney ahead and a FOX News poll showing the same. Let's just remember, in 2004 at this time, John Kerry was ahead of George W. Bush.
And 1992, George H.W. Bush was ahead of Bill Clinton and went on to lose. In 1980, Jimmy Carter was ahead of Ronald Reagan at this point.
Spring polling is probably the worst indicators of what's going to happen. Come November, around Labor Day, things will shape up.
But Mitt Romney does have a consistent gap in every poll, whether he's ahead or behind, with women. I don't think it's the Democratic hyperbole in the war on women, largely, because most polls are showing that somewhere around 80 percent of women in swing districts and swing states, don't even know what his positions are. But there was a bruising primary. He does seem to some degree out of touch and he needs to, in some way, figure out how to connect with women voters.
BLITZER: And let's put those numbers up, Donna, we'll talk about them among men and women, registered voters across the country right now. Among men, it's pretty close, Obama, 49 percent, 46 percent for Romney, a 4.5 percent sampling error. But among women, President Obama is doing much better, 55 percent to 39 percent.
But Erick makes a great point. It's still so early in this process. You know, Donna, those numbers are going to change dramatically.
DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: And as you well know, Wolf, the numbers that we're really concerned about, of course, the numbers in the battleground states. But yes, there's enough for both camps to go home tonight and relook at the playbook to see if they're reaching out to the voters they need to win this fall.
The one thing I want to say about women, and that is President Obama in that poll, most of the women that you all polled say that they are comfortable with his policies and they feel that he understands their issues and that he cares about their concerns. They know that he's working to address the economy. That's why we've had 23 months of consecutive job growth.
And they know that President Obama will champion women's health care and women's economic security. Tomorrow is equal payday. It takes women this long, a year plus a couple of months to make the same amount of money as men do. That's why under this president, the first law that he passed the Lilly Ledbetter Act. That's what they care about. They care about their paychecks just like men.
BLITZER: Everybody cares about their paychecks, unless you're really, really fabulously rich. Not so important then.
Let's take a look at this new video, Erick, the Romney campaign put it out in connection with Ann Romney's 63rd birthday today. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANN ROMNEY, MITT ROMNEY'S WIFE: Will you do me a favor? Will you please sing a song for us?
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: OK, hold on.
A. ROMNEY: This is a professional diving lesson. Now you show me how it's supposed to be done.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Me?
A. ROMNEY: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't.
A. ROMNEY: I know Matt. That's why we want to see it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We got the point, Erick. She's going to be a huge asset for Romney going forward over these next six, seven months.
ERICKSON: Yes, you know, she really is. Just take this past week and Hilary Rosen's comments on CNN on "ANDERSON COOPER." A friend of mine pointed out, you know, it's terrific, finally all the Republicans are rallying around Romney, it's just the wrong Romney.
People really like Ann Romney. She relates to people who are struggling with breast cancer, with MS. She's a relatable person, she humanizes Mitt Romney in a way he hasn't been able to humanize himself. So she's going to be out on the campaign trail for him. The question is, if she gets out on the campaign trail too much, does she become a political target?
The president and the Democrats have said she should be off limits as should the kids. But if the -- if the candidates' spouses, Michelle Obama as well, are out on the campaign trail, where will the parties draw the line so they don't have any more situations like the Democrats had last week? BLITZER: I think you agree, Donna, correct me if I'm wrong, Ann Romney probably should be off-limits, Michelle Obama should be off- limits, certainly the children should be pretty much off-limits. What do you think?
BRAZILE: Well, of course I agree with that and I wish Michelle Obama was off-limits. As you well know, Wolf, on many occasions I have had to come on this show and repeat that, you know, the first lady should be off-limits, especially some of the personal attacks that we've seen against her as well as her daughter, just even recently on the trip to Mexico.
But look, I just want to wish Ann Romney a happy birthday. I'm 52. I hope I look as good as, you know, she looks at 63, but I'm working on it.
BLITZER: You look fabulous, Donna.
BRAZILE: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: You don't look a day over 32 years old.
Donna Brazile, looking good.
BRAZILE: Teasing me.
BLITZER: Erick Erickson, looking very handsome as well.
Guys, thanks very much for coming in.
ERICKSON: Thank you.
BRAZILE: Thank you.
BLITZER: North Korea's young and mysterious leader, he's under 30, he's making a surprise speech and hinting that the North Korean regime has failed its people in the past. CNN is there for the extremely rare appearance.
BLITZER: This just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM from our chief national correspondent John King. He has learned that the 11 members of the U.S. Secret Service who were apparently involved in this prostitution scandal in Colombia, South America. All 11 have had their security clearances revoked as of today. They could be reinstated if they're cleared.
All 11 have been interviewed at least once, follow-up interviews are likely in many of the cases because of conflicting accounts. Efforts to check out stories are raising new questions. Most if not all of the 11 Secret Service personnel arrived in Colombia the same day last Wednesday. They were not all at the same club, they were out in several groups, though. They range in experience from relative newcomers to those with 20 years. A lot more coming up at the top of the hour on this developing scandal. And Peter King, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, has been well briefed. He'll join us live at the top of the hour as well.
Other news, the United Nations Security Council is strongly condemning last week's rocket launch by North Korea which marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of its founder, Kim Il-Sung, and his grandson, the new North Korean leaders, Kim Jong-Un, surprised everyone, unexpectedly actually speaking words in public at the celebration for the first time since assuming power. We actually heard his voice.
CNN's Stan Grant is in North Korea.
STAN GRANT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Not yet 30 and supreme commander of all he sees. Kim Jong-Un, now stands on the shoulders of his father and grandfather as the leader of this reclusive nation. With one of the world's biggest armies.
He is adored here yet they have never heard him speak until now. His tone was soft, a stark contrast to the deafening roars of his people. He pledged to build on the legacy of the two leaders who have gone before him and a hope to reunite a fractured Korean nation.
"We have suffered the pain of separation for nearly 70 years," he says. "We have lived as one people on the same land for thousands of years. To suffer like this is heart breaking." But this was a military parade and with menace.
(On camera): This is not just a show of strength to the North Korean people, this is being designed to send a deadly message to the rest of the world. The so-called Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-Un, says his enemies think they have not (INAUDIBLE) on weapons, well, this, he says, shows that North Korea also has the firepower to prevail in any war.
KIM JONG-UN, NORTH KOREAN LEADER (Through Translator): Our military has become a powerful military, able to handle any kind of modern warfare with complete offensive and defensive capabilities. The foreign powers are not the only ones with the monopoly of military supremacy and the days of their threatening and lying to us with atomic weapons is forever gone.
GRANT: This was all to mark the anniversary of 100 years since the birth of the founding father of the country, Kim Il-Sung. On display the full range of the nation's firepower, soldiers in lock-step, tanks and big guns. And if seeing is believing, their answer to Western high-tech weapons, drones, and the latest in missile technology that potentially could strike thousands of kilometers or miles away.
This is an army always battle ready, a country still technically at war with the United States and with soldiers determined to follow any order. "With the strategy of the Great Leader Kim Il-Sung, and the Dear Leader Kim Jong-Il and Kim Jong-Un, our Supreme Leader, and with out bombs and weapons, we will destroy them," these soldiers say.
In North Korea, the army comes first, no expense spared. While it shows off its guns to the world, people here go hungry. The military is well fed, but aid agencies say rural people scrounge for food and started growth and chronic malnutrition. In a veiled concession, Kim Jong-Un said this regime will not allow people to suffer anymore.
KIM JONG-UN (Through Translator): Our fellow citizens who are the best citizens of the world, who have overcome countless struggles and hardships, it is our party's firmest resolve not to let our citizens go hungry again.
GRANT: And in this country, loyalty to the regime is demanded. The people know exactly what to say.
(On camera): Kim Jong-Un?
"I want to shout to the world how proud we are," this man says, "to have such a great man as leader of this country."
On this day, Kim Jong-Un, a man who has inherited power, can honor the past but when the parade passes then there's the reality of ruling this poverty-stricken pariah state.
Stan Grant, CNN, Pyongyang.
BLITZER: Excellent, excellent reporting by Stan Grant on the scene in North Korea for us. Thank you so much.
It's hugely popular according to our brand new CNN/ORC poll with the American people. But here's the question, why is Congress expected to vote down a proposed new tax on millionaires?
BLITZER: Let's go to Capitol Hill right now. The Senate expected to reject a bill that would impose a 30 percent tax on millionaires. This despite a new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll that shows 72 percent of Americans right now actually favor the tax hike, 27 percent oppose.
Let's bring in CNN's Erin Burnett from "ERIN BURNETT: OUTFRONT."
Erin, why are Democrats pushing this so hard, the so-called Buffett Rule, if they already know it's going to fail.
ERIN BURNETT, ANCHOR, OUTFRONT: Well, I guess as you would say, Wolf, it's a political football and this obviously politically, you just showed the poll, really seems to favor the Democrats' point of view. So it would seem to them, actually, if they lose, they even have more fodder to say that Republicans are standing in the way of fairness and what the American people want.
When you look at the numbers, though it's interesting. What the Democrats try to say it's fat cats, they're not paying their fair share. You know CNN.com has a very interesting analysis. People that make between $30,000 and $50,000 a year in this country pay an average tax rate of about 6.4 percent at the federal level. Millionaires pay about 24.6 percent.
So those pushing back on this will say, well, in terms of the fairness arguments, millionaires already pay a whole lot more than everybody else. Millionaires earn 10 percent of the income in this country and pay 20 percent of the taxes, according to the Tax Foundation.
But on the other side, the Republicans who try to say, well, this is -- this is ridiculous, this is not a fair argument by the Democrats. They try to say it's going to hurt small businesses. But when you look at the numbers ,the Republicans are wrong on that. Only 1 percent of small businesses actually have enough money to fall into that million-dollar plus level. So there is a lot of obfuscations and fact smearing over by both sides on this, Wolf.
But I think the bottom line is politically it's a victory for the Democrats and perhaps even more of a victory when it doesn't pass. So we're going to talk to a man tonight who is a billionaire, is in the category that would be affected by this, John Paul DeJoria of Petron, and also Paul Mitchell, he's got some very strong points of view on it. He'll be our special guests "OUTFRONT" tonight.
BLITZER: Yes, I'm going to look closely at some senators who are insensitive re-election campaigns right now, whether a Republican. I stop round in Massachusetts to see where he votes on this, how that could impact his bid for re-election.
BLITZER: Or a Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri, to see how she votes. It's going to be fascinating to see.
BLITZER: Who votes which way. You'll have much more, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, Erin, as you always do. Thank you.
Coming up in our next hour, there's new fallout from the Secret Service prostitution scandal. We're just learning 11 Secret Services employees have had their security clearances revoked.
And the gun controversy swirling around Prince William's sister-in- law, Pippa.
BLITZER: Jack is back with "The Cafferty File". Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The question this hour is what's behind the surge in women gun owners.
Gary in California, "My wife has always been uncomfortable with firearms, especially when our boys were young. But I saw a change in her recently. One son joined the Marine Corps and the other went off to college. With her body guards gone, she wanted to learn how to shoot so we took her to the range a few times. Turns out mommy can shoot very well. Go figure."
Karen in Idaho writes, "Fear of being raped, fear of being attacked, fear of being stalked. I hope those women buying guns realized that they, too, could end up in jail like George Zimmerman. It's too easy to pull the trigger without realizing the consequences."
Bob in Texas writes, "Way too easy, Jack. One part marketing, two parts fear-mongering, works every time, whether it's karate classes, pepper spray, electronic takedown devices or guns."
Deborah in Colorado writes, "I live alone in an aging community next to an interstate 35 miles from the nearest law enforcement. I'm getting security bars and doors on my house. I'll have to be able to defend myself and my property. I have absolutely no faith in the government to maintain a civil society."
Rebecca in Georgia writes, "Women are tired of being taken advantage of so they get a gun for protection. Truthfully I'd get one, too, if I thought I could use it. I prefer a dagger, though. It's more easily concealed and I don't need any special permits to have it."
And Ben writes from Maryland, "Women are determined to show that they can be as violent and stupid and can display the same biases and prejudices as their male counterparts."
If you want to read more about this, go to the blogs, CNN.com/caffertyfile or through our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jack, thank you.
Just ahead, what were they thinking? Eleven members of the Secret Service facing very serious punishment right now after getting caught with prostitutes in Colombia. We have a behind-the-scenes look at what was going on.
And you're looking at a live picture right now, check it out of the space shuttle Discovery. It's preparing for it's final flight. Stand by for that.
BLITZER: The space shuttle Discovery getting ready to make its final voyage. Only this time it's not actually leaving earth.
Joining us now from Florida, CNN's John Zarrella.
John, pretty incredible to see this historic shuttle on top of another plane. What's going on? Explain to our viewers. JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, Wolf, it is really stunning and surreal. Behind me there, the shuttle Discovery on top of that 747. It is also very sad, an exclamation point to the end of an era.
ZARRELLA (voice-over): February 24th of last year, the 39th and final liftoff of the shuttle Discovery. One hundred and forty-eight million miles traveled over a quarter century.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Discovery now making one last reach for the stars.
ZARRELLA: The oldest of the three orbiters Discovery was the first to be retired. At first light Tuesday morning, it will leave the Kennedy Space Center one last time. This time no roar of rocket engines. Just jet engines, riding piggyback on a 747. Destination, permanent display at the Smithsonian in Washington.
ALVIN DREW, MISSION SPECIALIST: I think this beckons, like, come on, I can take this on again. Come on, hop in. Let's fire it up and go again.
ZARRELLA: The astronauts who flew Discovery that last time are here to watch her off.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's sad in that we're done and, you know, it's going away, on the other hand, she's going to the Smithsonian where hopefully millions of people over the next gazillion years are going to get to see Discovery.
ZARRELLA (on camera): The U.S. now relies on the Russians to ferry its astronauts to the International Space Station. The cost about $60 million a seat. NASA is stuck with this arrangement for at least the next four years.
(Voice-over): That's until a commercial company is ready.
DREW: I am confident that commercial space will eventually succeed and do great things. Yes, I won't put my money on any one company, saying this company is the one that does it or succeeds. I don't know. It just don't -- they're all taking very different approaches.
ZARRELLA: SpaceX hopes to be that company.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have liftoff at the Falcon 9.
ZARRELLA: It has already orbited its dragon space craft around the earth. At the end of this month, the company's toughest test to date, an attempt to rendezvous its unmanned dragon and birth it to the space station. By then Discovery will be on display. Enterprise, a test shuttle which was in the Smithsonian, will be in New York going to the Intrepid Museum.
For me personally once we get Discovery to the Smithsonian, and we've done all the work and she's ready to go, and now it's my time to walk away and leave her there. I'll now start focusing on Enterprise and getting Enterprise up to New York but that's going to be very hard to leave Discovery for that last time.
ZARRELLA: At least now, everyone will have the opportunity to look up close at a space flying machine unlike anything ever built.
ZARRELLA: And, you know, Wolf, when Discovery leaves here tomorrow, it's going to fly down the coastline, fly over launch pad 39-A where it left from so many times. And back up over the visitor complex, then head up the East Coast of the United States flying at about 15,000 feet. And then it will be in your neighborhood at about 10:30 tomorrow morning, flying over several landmarks before landing at Dulles and another ceremony there -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Washington, Dulles Airport. Very exciting.
John Zarrella, thanks very much.