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THE SITUATION ROOM
President Obama Holds Press Conference; Gun Owners' Fears; Newtown Families Join Gun Debate; Twenty Children Have Died From The Flu
Aired January 14, 2013 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KATE BOLDUAN, HOST: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, as the president weighs tough proposals to curb gun violence, why are many gun owners fearful he wants to take their weapons away?
As the flu spreads, so does the fear. In many places, the vaccine is now hard to come by, as thousands rush to get their shots.
And they're up to 20 feet long, among the world's largest snakes. They've invaded Florida by the tens of thousands. Now the hunt is on.
Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world.
Wolf Blitzer is off tonight.
I'm Kate Bolduan, along with Joe Johns.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
President Obama today made it a public stare-down with House Republicans over raising the debt ceiling. And neither side is about to blink.
GOP leaders seemed ready to let America default on its loans and let the government grind to a halt unless Democrats agree to big spending cuts.
But the president says that's a false equation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Raising the debt ceiling does not authorize us to spend more. All it does is say that America will pay its bills. And we are not a deadbeat nation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: Let's go live to CNN senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash -- Dana, I want to play a little bit more of the president's warning to Republicans on -- Republicans in Congress on the debt ceiling.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: They will not collect a ransom in exchange for not crashing the American economy. The financial well-being of the American people is not leverage to be used. The full faith and credit of the United States of America is not a bargaining chip. And they'd better choose quickly, because time is running short.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: And when you hear that, the president clearly says he's not budging.
But is there any sense of there, from the Congressional perspective, what about Congressional Republicans?
Do they have any intention of backing down in what seems to be yet another staring contest?
DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kate, they say the answer is no. In fact, even before the president came out today, we were already hearing from Republican leadership aides in the House, telegraphing that this time they really mean it, meaning, as opposed to a year-and- a-half ago, where they really, at least the House speaker, and most members of the leadership and even rank and file, were not willing to go to the point where they are willing to -- to default on the U.S. debt.
This time, they are. In fact, they are saying that they really mean that they are not going to go any -- do anything without matching, dollar for dollar, spending cuts with the debt limit.
And here's what the speaker himself said in a statement right after the president was done with his press conference. "Without meaningful action, the debt will continue to act as an anchor on our economy, costing American jobs and endangering our children's future. The House will do its job and pass responsible legislation that controls spending, meets our nation's obligations and keeps the government running. And we will insist that the Democratic majority in Washington do the same."
Now, the translation here is that the House majority of Republicans do -- they do plan to push legislation to have those spending cuts that they are culling for.
But the question, of course, is what happens when -- I don't even think we should say if -- when the Senate doesn't follow suit?
What will the House do?
How fare are they willing to go?
As I said, they were telegraphing this morning that they are willing to -- to take it to the nth degree and to keeping the president's analogy of hostages and holding a gun to their head, shoot the hostage. But, you know, when we get to that point, the question is whether or not they really do mean it, because, as you know, Kate the House speaker has been making clear, at least in private, that he doesn't think that that really is a good idea, that they don't really have the leverage that they think they do.
But he's also got a lot of pressure on him to -- to really have a hard line when it comes to this issue.
BOLDUAN: Yes, it's hard for -- it's, as we've seen in many -- in many fights in the past, it's hard for him to force whatever -- even if it is his will, it's hard for him to impart his will on his conference.
So there's clearly so much distrust on both sides when it comes to any kind of negotiation between the White House and Congress.
But what are you seeing there?
How much is pent up frustration among House Republicans driving the showdown this time?
BASH: A lot. There's no question about it. And in particular, just look at what happened on New Year's Day, with the House vote on the fiscal cliff package. Only 85 Republicans voted for it. Most of them voted against it. But politically, they -- you know, when it comes to the frustration focused on the House speaker, many were willing to give him a pass. You saw some protest votes on the day of the new Congress against him. But most were willing to give him a pass, because they saw the big fight as this one, the debt ceiling and after that, of course, on the government shutdown.
So right now, there really is a tightrope that the speaker is walking between, as you said, making clear that he is fighting for what they want, those spending cuts, but also understanding that if the U.S. does default, that the credit of the United States will be a problem. And that's why the president made clear today he knows that he's got the bully pulpit to try to put the blame back on the House Republicans even before this fight really starts in earnest.
BOLDUAN: Yes. No matter who thinks they're in the right on this one, there are real consequences if they don't make a deal.
Dana Bash on Capitol Hill.
It's just starting all over again.
JOHNS: Kate, exactly one month ago, the horrifying massacre of schoolchildren in Connecticut rekindled the national debate over gun violence and a fresh effort to try to do something about it.
Vice President Biden is soon going to announce new proposals by his federal task force and President Obama is already checking them out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: What you can count on is, is that the things that I've said in the past, the belief that we have to have stronger background checks, that we can do a much better job in terms of keeping these magazine clips with high capacity out of the hands of folks who shouldn't have them, an assault weapons ban that is meaningful, that those are things I continue to believe make sense.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNS: But why is it so many gun owners fear the Obama administration is coming for their guns?
CNN national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, has been looking into that.
And this is something that has spanned the Obama administration. You hear from so many gun owners who say, he's going to take our guns away. He says no.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And we've been hearing this for years, Joe. I mean you've been to these gun stores. I've been to these gun stores. The president addressed this fear today in his news conference. And he accused the gun industry of trying to exploit it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, Chad, thank you.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Take a look inside any firearms shop these days and it's clear nothing sells guns like the fear of gun control.
CHUCK NESBY, NOVA FIREARMS: Every time the president or Senator Feinstein comes out and talks about restricting Second Amendment rights of U.S. citizens, the phone rings off the hook. The line goes out the door. Gun sales skyrocket.
ACOSTA: At Nova Firearms just outside the nation's capital, in Virginia, the AR-15 assault style rifle is not the only item that's hard to keep in stock. High capacity magazines are selling fast, too. The store's Web site warns customers last chance. "Due to uncertainty of Obama's potential unilateral AR restrictions, this is the last batch of ARs we will be getting in."
Salesman Chuck Nesby says it might surprise people to know who his customers are.
NESBY: Forty percent of our customer base are females and senior citizens.
ACOSTA (on camera): Senior citizens?
NESBY: Senior citizens. Um-hmm.
ACOSTA: They're buying assault rifles?
NESBY: Absolutely. Absolutely. They're very easy for them to operate.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Last December, the National Shooting Sports Foundation says gun background checks surged nearly 59 percent over the same month in 2011.
At a news conference, President Obama accused the weapons industry of exploiting gun owner fears to whip up sales.
OBAMA: That there's probably an economic element to that. It obviously is good for business.
ACOSTA: An administration official tells CNN Vice President Joe Biden's task force is expected to recommend a new ban on assault weapons, a limit on high capacity magazines and universal background checks on buyers.
But the president cautions, that's not the same as taking citizens' guns away.
OBAMA: Even the slightest hint of some sensible, responsible legislation in this area fans this notion that somehow, here it comes, and that everybody's guns are going to taken away.
ACOSTA: Pro-gun groups and conservative Web sites also fear what's coming up. Up on the Michigan militia Web site is the warning, "We will oppose all attempts to disarm law-abiding citizens."
The National Rifle Association Tweeted out a warning from conservative columnist, Emily Miller, who said the Obama administration would confiscate weapons if it could.
EMILY MILLER, "WASHINGTON TIMES" COLUMNIST: I think that if Obama had his way and he could somehow put enough people on streets and do this and go door-to-door and somehow even, you know, get around the search and seizure laws and go into our houses, yes, I believe that he believes that the only people who should have guns are the military and the police.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
ACOSTA: President Obama said he would outline some of his gun control proposals, including some by executive order later this week. That potential for an executive order has one member of Congress, Republican Steve Stockman of Texas, threatening to begin impeachment proceedings.
And here is his news release right here, guys. It says, "Come and take it." And it appears to have what looks like a cannon there in the press release.
So this could get very, very tense up on Capitol Hill.
JOHNS: There are just no illusions in the administration that whatever they do on gun control is going to create a huge fight on that. ACOSTA: That's right. And I think it's really up in the air as to whether or not this passes. I mean one senator could block this, obviously, in the Senate, with a filibuster. And in the same way that the fiscal cliff fight tested the power of Grover Norquist, the anti- tax activist, this is going to test the firepower of the National Rifle Association. We're going to find out whether or not this organization is as effective as it once was.
BOLDUAN: And it has been in the past.
ACOSTA: That's right.
JOHNS: Thanks, Jim.
BOLDUAN: Jim, thank you so much.
One place where the gun debate hits home -- no kidding -- is Newtown, Connecticut. It's the one month anniversary of the shooting tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary. Families of some of the victims today unveiled a campaign to prevent it from ever happening again.
David Wheeler lost his son Benjamin.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID WHEELER, FATHER OF VICTIM BENJAMIN WHEELER: I would respectfully request that every parent in this country who hears these words simply pause for a moment and think. Ask yourself, what is it worth doing to keep your children safe?
What is it worth to you?
What is it worth doing?
What is worth doing?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: Let's go live to CNN's national correspondent, Susan Candiotti, in Newtown -- Susan, you've been following this from the beginning and you were there to hear these heartbreaking statements and also spend some time with parents of one of the victims.
What were your impressions?
SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, it was very painful to listen to these families, families who lost their children, 6-year-old boys and girls, who lost teachers, who lost staff. And this is the first time we saw so many of them together holding photographs of their loved ones.
Some of them were silent. But after the press conference, Ian and Nicole Hockley, who lost one of their two precious sons, Dylan, spoke with me about how loved he was.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CANDIOTTI: Please Hook Elementary a bit about Dylan.
IAN HOCKLEY, FATHER OF VICTIM DYLAN HOCKLEY: Go ahead.
NICOLE HOCKLEY, MOTHER OF VICTIM DYLAN HOCKLEY: Dylan was just a real joy. He was, um, he was autistic, but incredibly empathetic. He was always smiling and happy and people always remember him smiling and happy.
I. HOCKLEY: The things that we used to do together, I would get home from work and I would come in the house and he'd just run up and he'd just go, "Daddy!"
N. HOCKLEY: It's a strange moment when you wake up in the morning and for that brief second, everything is as it was. And then you realize that nothing is ever as it was and never will be again.
CANDIOTTI: Can you please Hook Elementary about your understanding of what happened that day?
We understand that, in part, his teacher tried to protect him.
N. HOCKLEY: She had been found with her arms wrapped around Dylan. And that just -- that was what we had hoped for. That gives you a huge peace of mind to know that he was loved even in those last moments.
CANDIOTTI: What do You want Sandy Hook Promise to accomplish?
N. HOCKLEY: We want to be part of a proper, intelligent conversation and come up with recommendations to actions and push actions.
CANDIOTTI: Why do you think things might be different this time?
N. HOCKLEY: It's different because it's the children. It's inhumane what happened to them.
I. HOCKLEY: This is unthinkable.
CANDIOTTI: Any final thoughts you wish to share about Dylan?
N. HOCKLEY: So I wish this had never happened in so many respects. And I wish that everyone would have a chance to get to know him better, because I think he could have brought a lot more joy to many other people.
But it's our duty now to honor him.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BOLDUAN: Taking a look here, again, on the -- of the picture of little Dylan Hockley, six years old, who died in that massacre -- Susan, his parents say they want to be part of an intelligent conversation about gun control.
So what is their message now?
What are they hoping their son's legacy will be?
CANDIOTTI: Well, you know, they haven't made any final decisions about what they want to come out of this Promise, except they want things to change. They do hope this. They are setting up a foundation in their son's name in order to help other autistic children -- Kate.
BOLDUAN: Susan Candiotti in Newtown, Connecticut.
Thanks so much, Susan.
BOLDUAN: Even one month later, it's so difficult to discuss. I mean that goes without saying.
JOHNS: I know. It's so hard for those families.
BOLDUAN: So hard.
JOHNS: As Vice President Biden leads the effort for new gun control proposals, his son has been doing the same thing in their home state.
I'll speak to Delaware attorney general, Beau Biden.
And disgraced cyclist, Lance Armstrong, today tearfully apologized to the staff of his charity. The question now is whether he will admit to using performance enhancing drugs?
And disgraced cyclist, Lance Armstrong, today tearfully apologized to the staff of his charity. Question now is whether he will admit to using performance-enhancing drugs.
BOLDUAN: The death toll from this season's powerful strain of the flu virus continues to rise. The government reports 20 children under the age of 18 have died from flu-related symptoms and data from some states suggested dozens of adults have died as well. All but three states, California, Hawaii and Mississippi report widespread flu activity.
JOHNS: The flu may be peaking early, but it's definitely not too late to get a flu shot. That's the message from the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who's standing by live to take your flu questions in just a minute. But first, we go to CNN senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, in New York, where the demand for the vaccine is so high, people are on a waiting list to get a shot -- Elizabeth.
ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Kate, Joe, there are shortages of vaccine in various parts of the country, but we're hearing it's especially bad in New York. And it may be because the governor declared this public health emergency, and so, people are rushing to get their shots, which is good, but sometimes, they're not finding them.
For example, this urgent care center stayed open over the weekend but actually ran out of shots. They just got a shipment this morning at 11:30. The staff immediately got on the phone, called people on the wait list, saying, come on in, get your shot. And people were glad to see them. A lot of people have been looking all over for a flu vaccination.
SAM BRUNSWICK, SEARCHED FOR FLU SHOT: I looked at Duane Reade, and they were all out.
JOSEPH DEGEORGE, SEARCHED FOR FLU SHOT: I tried three Duane Reades and one CVS and then came to the urgent care.
COHEN (voice-over): As part of this public health emergency, Governor Andrew Cuomo gave pharmacists special permission to vaccinate minors. Usually, they're not allowed to do that, but there seems to have been a little catch here. Both CVS and Duane Reade, big chains in New York City, said that they're not going to vaccinate minors even though they're allowed to.
We asked CVs about this, and they said, look, there are some procedural things that need to be ironed out in connection with giving them permission. They felt like they weren't quite resolved. Plus, some pharmacies are having trouble getting the pediatric form of the shot. That's the kind that's given to children under the age of three.
COHEN (on-camera): The Centers for Disease Control says even though this has been a tough season so far, they feel like we're, perhaps, beginning to turn the corner. They point out this data. They say there are now 24 states that have high levels of flu activity, whereas, in their last report, just the week before, there were 29 states. It seems to be getting better, especially in certain parts of the southeast -- Kate, Joe.
BOLDUAN: Elizabeth, thanks so much. Joining us now live is the director of the Centers for Disease Control and prevention, Dr. Thomas Frieden. Doctor, you are a busy man and we thank you for coming in and giving us some time. Today, I think the real question standing right now is when do we know that the worst has passed or when this flu season has peaked? Where are your areas of concern right now?
DR. THOMAS FRIEDEN, DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: Well, most flu seasons last about 12 weeks, and we're coming up to about halfway through that time. But we won't know until the next couple of weeks what the trend is. We had a small downturn last week, predominantly, in the southeast. But, sometimes, we see that kind of a downturn in holiday weeks.
So with this week, we'll know more and the following week, more still. We track this 24/7 to see where flu is spreading and to let people know what we can do about it.
BOLDUAN: And we know the numbers it has reached, you know, epidemic levels in many places. Is there one area that's a real concern to the CDC right now?
FRIEDEN: It's not so much a geographic area. It's more what population groups. So, very young kids, older people, and people with underlying health conditions are more susceptible to severe illness with flu.
So, if you or someone you know or in your family is in one of those three groups and you get cough, fever, and symptoms of flu, which often come on quite suddenly, it's important to see a doctor or other health care provider, because rapid treatment in the first 48 hours after you get sick can really make a big difference.
BOLDUAN: And you know this probably better than most. So many families and parents, everyone has so many questions about this flu season and we're very concerned about it. We reached out to our viewers on Twitter and Facebook to ask then what questions they have for you, and we wanted to bring you some of those.
Remus asked us on Twitter, asked this, "Why are we out of vaccines in so many locations? I mean, we're hearing about vaccinations shortages in certain places. Is it simply a problem of demand?"
FRIEDEN: What we're seeing is spot shortages in some areas. They pop up and then be addressed. Overall, there is still vaccine out there. People may need to call around to find someone who has it or check with different pharmacies. And additional vaccine is being made available through the companies that manufacture it. But we are seeing some spot shortages.
Unfortunately, what happens is when we tell people get vaccinated, not too many people do. Then, when there's a lot of flu, there's a lot of interest. And the best way to increase interest in vaccination is for people to hear that there might be a shortage of vaccine.
JOHNS: Doctor, it's Joe Johns. There's also some questions about just how well it works. Musab on Twitter asked, "Is the typical flu vaccine reliable enough?"
FRIEDEN: The flu vaccine is far from perfect, but it's, by far, the best thing we have to protect you from the flu. It has about a 62 percent effectiveness at reducing the likelihood that if you get it, you'll need to go to your doctor because you're sick with flu. That also means you're much less likely to spread it to your family and friends.
So, it's not where we'd like to see a vaccine or childhood vaccines are up well over 90 percent in terms of many of their effectiveness, and we're working on better vaccines for influenza with companies and with other parts of the federal government. But it's still by far the best tool we've got. And it's completely without risk of getting the flu.
You can't get the flu from the flu vaccine. And you do need this year's flu vaccine to protect you from this year's flu.
JOHNS: And we have a question on Facebook. This is from Loti Emanuel who writes, "I took my flu shot in September 2012 but got sick this week. Does this flu shot really work or, perhaps, the other question is, how long does it work?"
FRIEDEN: Well, the flu shot does work, but it's not flu proof. So, first off, if you're sick, it may not be from flu. There are lots of illnesses going around, lots of colds. It's not just flu season, it's cold season. There are some other syndromes going around. The diarrheal outbreaks that we're seeing. So, just because you're sick doesn't mean it's flu.
But if you do get the flu, it is possible even after vaccination. That's why, if you're someone or know someone who's very young, older, or who has an underlying health condition, even if you've had a flu shot, if you're very ill, please go see your doctor promptly.
BOLDUAN: And get your flu shot. That continues to be the message. Dr. Thomas Frieden, thank you so much for your time, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Thank you very much, doctor.
FRIEDEN: Thank you.
BOLDUAN: Up next, Lance Armstrong says I'm sorry, but he hasn't said I did it, at least not yet. Why we could hear him say those very words soon?
BOLDUAN: Today may be the day disgraced cycling champion, Lance Armstrong comes clean. Armstrong's publicist says he apologized to the staff of Livestrong, the cancer charity that he started.
JOHNS: He's sitting down with Oprah Winfrey today where we expect he'll address allegations of performance-enhancing drug use and blood doping, and possibly, admit to all the allegations he's denied for so long. Joining us now is CNN's Lisa Sylvester. She's been looking at Armstrong's long history of denial.
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT. Yes. So many developments here. Lance Armstrong's apology to his staff of the cancer fighting charity, Livestrong, is very telling in and of itself. That is ahead of an interview with Oprah Winfrey. And we don't know what he's going to say or might have even said at this point, but apparently, everything is on the table.
SYLVESTER (voice-over): Lance Armstrong was tested more than 200 times by the International Cycling Union and the U.S. anti-doping agency for alleged use of performance- enhancing drugs. He vehemently denied using any banned substances to give him a competitive edge, including this 2005 testimony under oath at a deposition obtained by CNN.
It involved a case brought by a Dallas insurance company that had shelled out huge bonuses for Armstrong's Tour de France wins.
LANCE ARMSTRONG, CYCLIST: You've never used your own blood for doping purposes, for example?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolute -- that would be banned.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. I'm not trying to agitate you. I'm just trying to make sure your testimony's clear. OK? All right.
SYLVESTER: Deny, deny, deny. Armstrong has consistently maintained he did nothing wrong. But the U.S. anti-doping agency put out a 202-page report in October, detailing otherwise. But now, Armstrong is sitting down with Oprah Winfrey. According to media reports, it will include a confession.
If the allegations are true, it would be a mind-boggling fall from grace for the man dubbed the greatest cyclist in history.
DON RIDDELL, CNN WORLD SPORT ANCHOR: Armstrong hasn't just denied doping, he's vehemently denied doping. And it's not as if he just said, I didn't dope, next question. He has gone after the people that have suspected him or accused him and he's made their lives very, very difficult. And he's really built this culture of fear where he's really discouraged anybody from going after him.
SYLVESTER: That includes that Dallas insurance company that will want its bonus money back.
DANNY CEVALLOS, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: SCA is going to claim he probably still has the $7.5 million that they paid him and they're going to be looking for that back. So the question is going to come up, do they now have a right to reopen that case if Lance Armstrong lied back at the arbitration?
ANTHONY REISS, MANAGER, PROTEUS BICYCLE: Especially on cycling magazines. I mean, he'd be on every other month's cycling cover.
SYLVESTER: Anthony Reese is a manager at a Maryland bike store. He says cheating has been widespread in the sport. I asked him why.
(On camera): Is it all about the money then? REISS: I think it's about staying in the game. You know, maybe they're getting paid well and when you do win, you do get paid really well, but for a lot of those guys, they just -- they just want to stay sponsored so they can keep racing.
SYLVESTER: And if it turns out that Armstrong lied at that deposition, well, he could normally face perjury charges, but the statute of limitations has run out. But there certainly are a lot of other legal headaches. There is for example "The Britain Sun Times" that paid him for a libel case. There is that insurance company we -- mentioned that have paid out his bonuses. And a whistleblower federal lawsuit that has been brought by a former teammate.
So again, we don't know what he's going to say. We don't know if it's a confession. But that interview airs this Thursday. I'm sure a lot of people are going to be watching that Oprah Winfrey interview.
JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: Think about rehabilitating his image. This could go on for years and years.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: It may take years and years, right? I mean think of -- how many years and years he's been denying that he's done anything wrong.
JOHNS: That's right.
SYLVESTER: And a big question is why. You know, why would -- of all the times, why would he come out now? And a lot of people think it's because of Livestrong. I mean, ever since you had that report that came out, that really damaging report that came out in October of 2002 by the Anti-Doping Agency, his charity has really taken a hit.
And so some people believe that the reason why he's coming forward or possibly could come forward, because, again, we don't know what he's going to say, is that if he sets the record straight, if he goes on record, if he answers all these questions once and for all, that maybe he can move this chapter, maybe it's a first step, and then move on and that his charity can survive on its own.
JOHNS: Especially now. Leave it up to the lawyers.
SYLVESTER: Exactly. That's -- and you're absolutely right, let the lawyers have this one now.
BOLDUAN: Lisa, thank you.
JOHNS: All right. Thanks, Lisa.
His father is spearheading the administration's effort to curb gun violence. Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden is playing a similar role in their home state. He join us next.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BOLDUAN: Well, the federal task force headed by Vice President Joe Biden has been putting together recommendations on curbing gun violence. His son, a Delaware attorney general, Beau Biden, is helping to introduce some tough new gun proposals in his state.
JOHNS: They would end the gun show loophole on background checks, ban military-style assault type weapons, ban large capacity magazines, ban firearms within 1,000 feet of schools and make reporting of lost and stolen firearms mandatory.
Beau Biden joins us now live from Wilmington, Delaware.
Thank you so much for coming in, Mr. Attorney General. I want to --
BEAU BIDEN (D), DELAWARE ATTORNEY GENERAL: Nice to be on.
JOHNS: I want to read you a quote from a gun owner in your state. He's been shooting weapons, he says, since he was 7 years old and began to buy weapons for protection after he was a victim of a home invasion with a gun, frankly, pointed at him. He says, quote, "I'm really worried about them taking away our Second Amendment rights. I don't know if more gun control is the answer."
So when you hear from somebody who's actually participated in a situation where they had to defend themselves from crime and that's why he took up a weapon, what do you say to that person?
BIDEN: Well, number one, I say that I and the governor and the lieutenant governor, all of whom were part of putting forward this package today, believe in the Second Amendment. You know, I believe in the Heller case, made that clear that there's a constitutional right to bear and keep arms. But it is not an absolute right. It is one that even in the Heller case, it opened up the question about -- stated quite directly that there can be limitations on that right.
What we did today is try to propose a comprehensive package on three prongs of this strategy. What we put forward today, the governor and I and the lieutenant governor, was, one, how to curb violence -- gun violence in our state. The second part of that package will be forthcoming and that's how we deal with school safety. And the third part of that package will be how we deal with the mental health issue and the interrelation -- intersection between mental health issue and the gun issue.
But you laid out the five parts about how we curb violence in our state. The most important which of one of those five measures is a measure to really give teeth to, and effective, the 1968 Gun Control Act, which has categories of citizens which -- since 1968 have prohibited a whole group -- groups of people, convicted felons, to fugitives from justice, the people who have been addicted to drugs, to people who've been dishonorably discharged from the military, as well as people that are subject to a stay-away order in a domestic violence setting.
All of those people have forfeited their right to bear arms pursuant to the 1968 Gun Control Act and is consistent with the Second Amendment. So your Second Amendment rights are alive and well. I'm going to make sure that's the case. But also have commonsense measures to make sure our communities and our children are safe.
BOLDUAN: Well, you take a look at these list of proposals. It almost looks like a wish list for a national change to gun laws. As Joe was listing out, background checks, tightening background checks, an assault weapons ban, ban on high capacity magazines. It sounds familiar to what your father is working on at the very same time. Is this a blueprint for him?
BIDEN: Oh, you know, I don't know, Kate. I -- you know, I'm confident that some the things that we've proposed here in the state of Delaware are being considered. The administration's talked about that. I, like you, look forward to the vice president's report to the president tomorrow.
You know, my father spent a lot of time working with all the stakeholders from the NRA to sportsmen to victims to survivors. He was on the phone with many of the survivors of the tragedy in Connecticut over this weekend. I personally listened to -- was in and out of the room when he was on some of these calls which are private calls. And I would, you know, go to the door and go away when I knew he was on the phone with these -- these moms and dads.
And so he's listened to everyone that has a stake in this. And is doing his best to come up with a comprehensive strategy to put forward to the president. To do the things that he's talked about, and that's make sure we don't have another tragedy like Connecticut. And make sure that citizens are safe. The Second Amendment is respected. And we're ultimately safer.
BOLDUAN: And I know you and your father are very close. Have you talked to him about these proposals? Have you talked to him about the -- you know, task force that he's working on?
BIDEN: Well, I talk to my dad all the time, as you know, Kate, and -- but I don't talk -- I don't talk about what I talk to him about. You know, I know, though, that he's listened to all the stakeholders and is working with his staff and the folks in the White House, coming up with a comprehensive strategy.
You know, our comprehensive strategy that Jack Markell, our lieutenant governor, put forward today is not just, as I said, on the gun violence piece. That's where we started with. But there's going to be pieces of this that deal with the mental health issue. You know, there's a question right now, is under current law in our state and federally, people that have been adjudicated mentally ill or committed to an institution are the ones that are prohibited.
There's a question that we have to talk to stakeholders about. What if someone's been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic? Is that someone who should be able to walk into a Dick's sporting goods or a local gun shop and purchase a weapon? Those are the discussions that we're in the process of having and whether or not we need to revisit some of the prohibiting categories in my state and nationally. I mean, I very much look forward to Congress acting on some of these things at the national level because doing it on a state-by- state basis is sometimes not the most productive way to do it. But we felt compelled to start the process, at least here in our state.
JOHNS: One of the biggest most controversial issues here in Washington, D.C. when you talk about background checks is how do you enforce background checks when you're dealing with a transaction between two private individuals that typically doesn't get recorded here in the United States? How would you deal with enforcement of private sales?
BIDEN: Well, our statute goes beyond closing the, quote/unquote, "gun show loophole," which I'm not sure if most listeners know what that is. It means that there's a lot of transactions that take place at gun shows here in our state and around the country. Ours is very simple. We would apply the same burden that is on a Federally Firearms licensee to do a background check of a prospective purchaser when they walk into a Wal-Mart or a Dick's. On any sale or transfer of a weapon. So anytime anybody sells a weapon in our state with very limited exceptions, they would have to seek out and tap into the NICS, the National Institute of Criminal Background Checks Systems, as it's known, the NICS, and it's been around since the Brady bill was implemented fully and its permanent provisions. And tap into that.
And that's what our bill would require.
As you know, Joe, you know, the Brady bill being implemented was controversial in it of itself. There were some who oppose the creation of instant check systems. There are those who have made the implementation of it difficult. There's aspects of it that still aren't fully implemented in terms of, you know, getting all the 10 categories of prohibited persons in that database.
But since its inception, 1.5 -- between 1.5 million and two million people, prohibited people, have gone and attempted to buy weapons and have been stopped by the Brady Bill. Nearly half of those people going to try to purchase weapons have been convicted felons. So we know a universal application that will save lives and make our communities, at least in our state, I believe, safer.
BOLDUAN: All right. Mr. Attorney General, we're going to have to leave it there today, unfortunately today. Lots more to talk about, though.
Beau Biden, Delaware's attorney general. It's great to see you. Thanks for coming in.
BIDEN: Thanks, Kate.
BOLDUAN: Still ahead, President Obama says he likes a, quote, "good party," but what you folks on Capitol -- but do folks on Capitol Hill agree? We'll examine the role the president's social habits will play in his second term.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) JOHNS: With the battle lines drawn on spending and the debt ceiling, should President Obama be trying to make friends with congressional Republicans? He was asked about that today. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Most people who know me know I'm a pretty friendly guy. And I like a good party. And, you know, the truth is that when I was in the Senate, I had great relationships over there. And up until the point that I became president, this was not an accusation that you heard very frequently.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: Joining us now is CNN congressional correspondent Dana Bash and CNN's chief political analyst Gloria Borger.
This is a very interesting topic that I think we've talked about here and there, but it really came up today.
Dana, you're on Capitol Hill, you're talking to both sides of this. How big a problem is this for the president?
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is a problem. You know, we were talking all day and into the show about the fact that there really is a confrontational tone. He's right, with more parties together or, you know, socializing, really change that? Probably at this point, no. But part of the issue is that there isn't a lot of trust and there isn't a lot of trust because they don't get together.
They haven't built that trust across party lines. Not just across party lines but even within the party. So I think that listening to Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill, they really feel like, you know what, it is the president's job. He should -- instead of having golf outings with his aides who already know him and like him, do it with members of Congress who he doesn't really know. It really matters --
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: But he doesn't really like either. That's -- and that's the issue.
BASH: You know what, it's probably true but it doesn't matter.
BOLDUAN: So are we feeling --
BOLDUAN: Are we now seeing real -- the real consequence of that, the fact that he's not -- building any bridges there?
BORGER: The job of a president, I would argue, is to build relationships with Capitol Hill. Not only with people who like him and who have voted for him, who are on his team, but people who are on the other team.
Now the president made the point today and it's a -- it's a real and decent point, which is lots of Republicans don't want to be seen with him. The president said the optics of that aren't really good. But the truth of the matter is that you can always invite people to dinner privately at the White House.
I was told during the debt ceiling negotiations in 2011, the summer of 2011, a senior Democrat suggests to the president, why don't you have a bunch of these folks over to dinner.
BORGER: And the president said, no, I'm not going to do that. That's his job.
JOHNS: But they argue -- they argue, or the president, I should say, argues, that they take absolutist positions, and they're the ones who are refusing to negotiate. True or not?
BORGER: Well, look, I think it's easy to demonize people when you don't know them. And that's -- and that's what Dana is hearing from the Hill, which is that even Democrats don't know the president very well.
BASH: Yes. And here's an example of that. Joe Manchin, who is a conservative Democrat, probably the most conservative Democrat in the Senate right now, when he was first elected, he heard from the president, and then not again until he came out against guns. To me it's just the whole idea of that is kind of surprising, because every Senate vote matters, and Joe Manchin is somebody who strays. So never mind not talking to Republicans and, you know, picking up the phone and calling them, it's fellow Democrats who he needs who he doesn't always have.
BOLDUAN: Are we just talking about this or -- how does he -- I mean, are we talking about it's kind of a Washington parlor game, are they friends, are they not friends?
BORGER: No, it matters, it matters.
BOLDUAN: Or it doesn't compare --
BORGER: It matters.
BOLDUAN: -- to past presidents.
BORGER: Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton would always go to his staff. Talk to any former staffer and the president would always say, who do I need to play golf with this weekend? Who do I need to call? What do I need to do? There are stories that are so famous about people getting calls from Bill Clinton at midnight.
JOHNS: Is this effective -- BORGER: One in the morning.
JOHNS: Does this affect his legacy if he doesn't start connecting with the Republicans?
BORGER: Well, I think it affects what he can get done.
BASH: Yes. I think it affects what he can -- and you talk about Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton is famous. They love to socialize and that (INAUDIBLE).
BOLDUAN: Still does.
BASH: George W. Bush, not so much. He didn't love members of Congress either. And that was an open secret. He has them over. He had them to the residents. He brought them out on the Truman balcony and he would talk to them about legislation that they didn't want to do. But, you know -- and he didn't want to be there. They didn't want to be there. But that's just the way it works.
BORGER: You know, you don't have to love them.
BASH: It's human contact.
BORGER: You don't have to love them, but you need them. And that's the thing. Presidents need to do their jobs with people they sometimes don't really like. And that can include an awful lot of members of Congress. But you need to -- you need to kind of try and get it done.
BOLDUAN: In any industry. In politics and business and media, relationships help. I think we can all --
BORGER: Yes, and you know, the president said look, I tried, but they don't like me. So --
BOLDUAN: Right. Now they can just (INAUDIBLE).
Dana Bash, Gloria Borger, thank you so much.
BASH: Thank you.
Up next, free tickets for next week's presidential inauguration are now being handed out. But they're not for everyone. We'll explain.
BOLDUAN: Cubans now face the loosest travel restrictions in 50 years. Lisa Sylvester has that and some of the other top stories we're getting in the SITUATION ROOM.
What do you have, Lisa?
SYLVESTER: Hi, Kate. Well, President Raul Castro will now allow Cubans to leave the island with only a passport. They previously needed an exit permit and letter of invitation from someone in another country. Cubans can also stay abroad for two years, more than twice as long as before, without losing their property or ability to return. Strict travel laws have been in place since Fidel Castro took power in 1959.
And Apple stocks tumbled today following the report that demanded for the iPhone 5 may be waning. Shares dropped 3.5 percent, briefly falling below $500 this year. Apple stock hasn't closed below that level since February.
And hundreds of thousands of free tickets to next week's inauguration are now being distributed to those who won a ticket lottery. Senator Chuck Schumer who chairs the Committee on the Inaugural Ceremonies says they are not to be sold. He is asking Stub Hub, Craigslist and eBay to keep an eye out for anyone trying to sell their tickets. The lottery, by the way, is now closed -- Joe.
JOHNS: I'd say good luck on that. Thanks so much, Lisa Sylvester.
SYLVESTER: Yes, exactly. I'm sure we'll probably see some of those popping up and --
JOHNS: You bet.
JOHNS: All right.
One of the world's largest species of snakes has found a new home right here in the United States. Coming up next.
BLITZER: A massive hunt is underway in the Florida Everglades.
CNN's John Zarrella has the story.
JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Joe, scientists don't ever expect to be able to completely eradicate pythons from the Everglades, but they hope that this python challenge will at least help them put a lid on the exploding population. The first of the snakes caught during this research have already arrived at the University of Florida research facility.
ZARRELLA (voice-over): No one knows how many are out there. It's estimated there may be up to 100,000 slithering Burmese pythons. Some nearly 20 feet long in Florida's Everglades. And these nonnative snakes have no natural enemies.
OFFICER JORGE PINO, FLORIDA FISH AND WILDLIFE CONSERVATION: If we remove one snake from the ecosystem, we've done a good thing. So imagine if 700 people are out there and they all bring one snake, that's 700 snakes -- less snakes that we have out in the ecosystem.
ZARRELLA: That's the result State Wildlife officials are hoping for from the python challenge. More than 700 people paid 25 bucks to sign up to hunt down the Everglades' enemy number one. To sweeten the deal there are cash prizes to the hunter who records the most kills and the hunter with the largest. The challenge kicked off and runs for a month.
Snake expert Jeff Fobb showed off a 13-footer caught a year ago in a backyard pool. His advice to the hunters, simple.
JEFF FOBB, SNAKE EXPERT: Don't get bit and don't shoot somebody if you're using a firearm.
ZARRELLA: Justin Matthews walked through shin-deep water. He poked his stick under rocks, a favorite python hiding place. The sun was nearly down over the glades, but Matthews knows finding one won't be easy.
JUSTIN MATTHEWS, SNAKE HUNTER: Look at all that land. It's like looking for a needle in a haystack. You know?
ZARRELLA: But there is evidence pythons were here. A stall.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Python.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. That's (INAUDIBLE).
ZARRELLA: The pythons have to be brought in dead to drop off stations. The first seven kills came into a University of Florida research facility near Fort Lauderdale.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This snake would be two, maybe three years old.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's it. Two or three years old.
ZARRELLA: For wildlife officials and scientists this is about more than killing snakes in the grass. They are hoping to gain a better understanding of what they are up against.
PINO: What are do they eat? What's in their bellies? What species are they targeting?
ZARRELLA: Wildlife officials believe pet owners may be responsible for these non-venomous constrictors getting into the Everglades. When the snakes got too big to handle, they dump them.
Back out on the hunt darkness is falling. Matthews is now walking the brush along the Tamiami Trail. The road that bisects the Everglades between Miami and Naples. The cold-blooded reptiles often come out seeking the heat off the pavement.
JUSTIN MATTHEWS, PYTHON HUNTER: I have been looking for snakes like that since I was a kid. My dad used to take me out snake hunting. And we could always find snakes like that.
ZARRELLA: But on this night for Matthews, what are he needed most, luck, was not with him.
(on camera): All the media coverage makes it seem as if pythons are everywhere out in the wild. But the reality is, even if you are out there looking for them, you would be hard-pressed to find them -- Joe.
(END VIDEO CLIP)