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Speaker John Boehner Resigning; Pope Francis Arrives at Ground Zero. Aired 11-11:30

Aired September 25, 2015 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We'll be back with a lot more. In the meantime, let's go to Anderson and Chris.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, Christiane, thanks very much.

We're here at ground zero. And the pope is said to be on his way here for what promises to be an extraordinary morning here in lower Manhattan.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: And also we're dealing with Speaker Boehner stepping down. Not just as speaker but saying he's going to resign his position in Congress. His timing is curious, the role with the pope being so strong. And what it will mean in the timing of the budget process. Why now, is the big question. We're getting some answers, but plenty to look into.

COOPER: Let's talk to our Kevin Madden, who is joining us along with Gloria Borger, David Chalian as well, Michelle Kosinski, White House correspondent.

Kevin, what do you make of this?

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: A lot of people are pointing to John Boehner's emotional response while the pope was speaking yesterday, creation the throng out on the west front of the capitol yesterday. And if anybody who's worked with John Boehner would be able to tell you that John Boehner is an emotional guy is not news. He is somebody who wears his heart on his sleeve. He's somebody who treats staff like family. And is also somebody who's a very committed Catholic. Seeing all of that really didn't -- I didn't think it was much news.

But what I did find was news is when John Boehner was asked about the historical significance of that moment and saying that this topped all other days that he'd ever had working in the Congress. This is somebody who's been there since probably the early '80s. That, I think, had a tremendous -- that made me stop and think. And then when you hear this news today, you recognized the profound impact of the pope addressing the Congress had on John Boehner.

He is, at his core, an Institutionalist. By that, he cares more about the institution of Congress than he does about party. And I think his -- this decision today is a reflection of just how important he thinks it is for the institution to move on and to have new leadership. CUOMO: But it's interesting time, though, Anderson, because if he's

such a devoted Catholic, nobody questions that, he has a pope in the country whose signature phrase is, get busy, mix it up, don't be fatigued in the search for progress. At the same time that message is coming, he's stepping aside. It has to be more than just about what's going on with his faith. It must be something to do with the pragmatism of the political situation in his party.

COOPER: Also, Kevin, one thing to step down as speaker. It's another thing to leave all together.

MADDEN: Yeah, it's true. But once you're a speaker, I think, the role of that -- of that job, which is to listen to everybody in the conference, to work both sides, to bring both together, to build the coalitions you need, to get things done, it's very hard to go back to being -- to being a rank and file member. And I think that would -- could very well serve as a distraction, having a former speaker, just another member of the conference. So, I think this is an effort by John, again, to do everything he can to help not -- to help the conference move forward, but to also help the institution move forward with new leadership. And I think that is an indication of just how strongly he believes in the institution.

CUOMO: Dana Bash, everyone saying they're surprised here, the timing is a big deal, what it means in terms of moving forward with the budget process. What are you hearing from people in terms of how much of a surprise this is and what the motivations are?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL REPORTER: Of course, that's the answer. Not so much about the fact that John Boehner was ready to leave, because that's been quite apparent for some time, just for those of us who cover him and especially those who are very close to him, that it has been more and more difficult to kind of rein in the unruly caucus and also he didn't plan to stay very long. But the fact that he did it so abruptly and nobody from my reporting had a heads up, even those who are closest to him in the House leadership, until really shortly before, really tells you how quick this decision was. And I can tell you, according to somebody very close to John Boehner, he didn't make the decision until last night, in part because he was swept up in what happens with the pope. His day with the pope, the fact that it was two decades in the making on his personal behalf, as somebody who grew up as a devout Catholic, who was trying to use his position as speaker and a member of Congress to make this historic event that happened, that happened yesterday, come to fruition. I'm told he made a final decision last night, he slept on it, and he didn't even tell his staff, people who have been working for him for years and years and years, until this morning. So the answer is, yes, it was very surprising.

Just down the hall from where I am right now, there was a regular meeting of House Republicans, where they were going over the legislative activity that was coming up. That is when, after he talked about the legislative schedule, after that, it seemed very mundane, the dropped the bomb, saying he was going to not only leave, but leave at the end of October, so, in one month. And I'm told that -- Chris, you'll appreciate this -- after he discussed the fact that he had only planned to stay for two terms, but he decided to stay longer after his deputy, Eric Cantor, was defeated by a fellow Republican to the right, he decided to stay a bit longer. I'm told after that, he recited the prayer of St. Francis. And that is something that made a lot of people, I'm told, in the room, as you can imagine, get quite emotional, not the least of which was John Boehner himself.

[11:05:50] COOPER: I know we just got sound in, Dana, to stand by from Nancy Pelosi. Let's listen to what she had to say and then we'll talk about it with Dana.


REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: Our speaker announcing his resignation, that resignation of the speaker is a stark indication of the disarray of the House of Republicans. A demonstration was their obsession with shutting down government at the expense of women's health and a sign of the failure of the House of Republicans to be willing to engage in dialogue for the good of the American people and for us to move forward.


CUOMO: Kind of an oblique defense of John Boehner there by implication of attacking what she would see as an unreasonable aspect of his own party. You know, I expected something different.


COOPER: I did as well.

CUOMO: You know, as you well know, the political relationship and the personal relationship is often very different. That is certainly the case between Pelosi and Boehner. They are at odds, you know, to say the least politically, not so much personally.

So, Dana, to you, Pelosi took that as an opportunity to talk about the politics going on and maybe that may well be a motivation for the speaker to step down, but what will this mean now going forward?

BASH: Well, first off, let me speak to what you were just talking about with regard to John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi, who have been kind of the co-leaders of the House for, what, about 10 years now. They -- if you look at the history of how leaders interact across the aisle, they have not had the warmest and fuzziest of relationships. You know, it has historically been kind of common place for even those who very much disagree to have regular meetings, even if it's just to kind of get a sense of the schedule. They did not historically do that at all. They didn't have regular meetings. They didn't have meetings very often. I think they certainly had and have a respect for one another, but they don't have the kind of personal relationship that you would expect them to have.

Having said that, what is interesting is that over the last six months or so, they have had more of one. In fact, they made a deal just about six months ago on something that was very significant to kind of fix a major problem with the Medicare system with regard to how doctors are paid or not paid. And they did it the old fashioned way. They did it with John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi, talking one-on-one, their staffs talking one-on-one. It was a major bipartisan deal. The way it used to work around here, Chris. And so that was maybe an indication that John Boehner had sort of had enough of his right flank, those who had been giving him so much of a problem, made it almost impossible for him to lead around here. And maybe an indication that he was trying to kind of get the power back and do what is in his heart, and I know Kevin Madden has been talking about this because he worked for some time for John Boehner, he is at his heart a legislator, a deal-maker. He worked with Ted Kennedy on education reform. But it is impossible to do that in this day and age with the environment, not just in Washington, but with the Republican rank and file.

CUOMO: All right, Dana, thank you for that. We'll come back to you.

Right now on your screen, you'll see live picture of Pope Francis coming where we are, Anderson Cooper and I, ground zero. He'll be met with Cardinal Dolan, archbishop of New York, the gentleman on his left. They are going to get into a car, we're told, so they can travel around this very large plaza, go to both reflecting pools. Those, of course, are the original sites of the World Trade Center, the twin towers. And they're going to pray at each. There are certain steps of the ceremony here that will culminate in Pope Francis giving his message of what this place means to him and what he thinks it should be used as in terms of motivation for everyone else.

Anderson, that will come after he meets with some of the families of those who lost loved ones.

[11:10:00] COOPER: From our vantage point now, overlooking the south reflecting pool, we can see there are a number of people, probably 100 to 200, perhaps, people. We know he's going to be meeting with family members, also first responders who worked on the site. They are going to be meeting with Pope Francis. There will be time for Pope Francis to talk with them, to hear from them, to hear their stories, to hear about their loved ones who lost their lives here. And then there's going to be an interfaith prayer service inside below ground zero, underground, which should be one of the, sort of emotional high points. That is obviously something we'll bring to you as well.

CUOMO: I think you're touching on something that's going to matter most this morning. This, we're talking about John Boehner, talking about Pope Francis, he's a very emotional man, connects deeply with those who have lost, the disenfranchised and he's going to meet a set of families here who have really lost everything, and in the most dramatic way that they did. So, it will be very interesting to see how the pope processes talking to these families that we see beneath, the people who are surrounding the reflecting pool, a very unfortunate distinction is to get in today the way they have and be situated the way they are. You are someone connected to the loss of 9/11. That's who was invited to that proximity. So, after he meets with them, it will be interesting to see how Pope Francis communicates what he's feeling and the message he conveys to the rest of the world. COOPER: This is obviously something he has been looking forward to

throughout his trip here. Meeting with the family members and having some time to absorb the full impact of what occurred here on September 11th. There are now -- you can hear some applause and cheers going up from the crowd who have assembled here. They have been coming here for several hours, going through security.

CUOMO: Watch him as he moves around. You see a more solemn face on the Pope Francis. As we've been reminding, if you watch him move, and he seems as though he's limping, it is because he is. But it's not anything serious to worry about. The Vatican has confirmed the pope has, for a very special man, he has a very common malady, he has sciatica, which is a nerve impingement that goes down his leg, makes him limp slightly. It acted up in Cuba. They say he's fine and he has incredible energy for how much he's undertaken on this trip.

COOPER: Let's listen in as family members and first responders greet the pontiff.




[11:15:39] COOPER: Pope Francis greeting some of the family members, who have been pre-selected to spend some time with him. There you see New York former mayor, Michael Bloomberg, to the left of Pope Francis. Obviously, that is the pope's interpreter, who is helping him communicate with the family members.

CUOMO: Pope Francis was supposed to take to a cart to help him move around. It shows that his resolve to respect the dignity of this occasion and of this place and of these people that he has continued to stay on foot. He prayed for a long time.

You know, Anderson, he has not been anywhere like this. There is no other place like this. And he will be nowhere else on this trip, and maybe anywhere in the world that has this kind of significance. To stand at that reflecting pool, as you and I have many times, to look down and remember what was there. Up until now, this has been a tour of celebration for Pope Francis, but now he is dealing with one of the darkest moments in American history, at least, and it will be very interesting to see how he processes it. It was so important for him to meet with the families. They were added to this. He wanted to make sure he met with them before he did any speaking. That it was certainly to be their occasion to be respected. We did see a little bit of the influence of Francisco. You and I have been here many times. You've covered this for a long time. To hear cheers here is a very rare occasion. But we've heard them for Francisco.

COOPER: We're also joined by CNN religious analyst, Father Edward Beck.

Father, there was a moment when Pope Francis was praying at the south reflective pool. From our vantage point, there was something so stark about the giant -- the size of this giant reflecting pool and one lone man in white standing at its corner in silent prayer.

FATHER EDWARD BECK, CNN RELIGION COMMENTATOR: Anderson, I'm wondering if we're not going to hear him make mention of that pool, because, you know, water has great symbolism, especially in the Christian tradition. It is a sign of rebirth and new life. And so as he stands there at this pit of death, I'm wondering if he will also say that there's remembrance here and hope in this place of death and despair. I'm also very interested to see the interreligious dialogue and this prayer that takes place. Remember, we're in a debate in this country about fundamentalism, about the Muslim tradition. And in some ways, I think here we are going to talk about how do faiths need to come together. And he is going to stand there with an imam and rabbi. This pope had a delegation that traveled for the first time to the holy land. He brought an imam and rabbi with him. That's never been done before. Again, we have this interfaith dialogue and prayer with this pope.

COOPER: And you see, one by one, family members coming up, having some time, no doubt, telling Pope Francis about their child or their brother or sister or husband or wife, showing -- in this case, showing a photo of somebody who was killed here on September 11th.

Want to bring in also Marco Politi, Vatican reporter for "le Repubblica."

Marco, you have followed Pope Francis throughout his time as pope. What do you make of what you are seeing here at ground zero?

MARCO POLITI, VATICAN REPORTER, LE REPUBBLICA: I'm remembering also pope Benedict came here, but over these years, there has been now a new threat on the international scene. There's no more al Qaeda. It is the ISIS. During his speech, to the U.N. Assembly, the pope made a very clear reference to the atrocities of ISIS against ethnic and religious minorities. And he has asked a joint of the international community. This is very important, because the pope has said that it is negative if only there is an intervention of one nation, which is not coordinated with the other members of the international community. So, in this speech, he gave the indication that it is a necessity, top members of the U.N. organization really join in stopping, preventing and fighting the ISIS terrorism, which is a great danger today in the Middle East and also in part of Africa.

[11:20:24] CUOMO: Marco, let me ask you something. It's very important to Francis on this trip to meet with people, especially the less fortunate. He's meeting now with a very special group of people to America. These are the families of the victims of 9/11. Knowing this pope the way you do in covering him, how do you think it will affect him? What do you think he will take from meeting him? How do you think he will use it in his message here today at ground zero?

POLITI: For him, it is always important to meet real people. Also in his speech to the U.N., he was just saying to the politicians, never forget that you have to deal with real suffering, with real lives. So, in this moment when he speaks to these victims of September 11th, for him it is a very important moment because he really doesn't want to make up speeches or nice ceremonies. He is always searching the personal contact with people, with their lives, with their wounds, their problems, with their tragedies. Certainly, being at this site of ground zero will enforce his will to be the voice of conscience on the international level to fight terrorism and fundamentalism all over the world with joint effort of everybody.

COOPER: We're joined also by Bruce Feiler, biblical scholar.

I think it's so important for so many family members that their loved ones be remembered, their names be remembered and talked about. And I think clearly we saw family members talking to this pontiff, telling him the names of their loved ones who are no longer with us, showing him, at least in one case, showing him what we saw to be a photograph of a loved one.

BRUCE FEILER, BIBLICAL SCHOLAR: Well, 9/11 has come to mean so many different things, but for those of us who live in New York, it's very personal. Almost everybody knows somebody who lost a family member. And part of what it means to be alive is to tell your story and to have him interested in hearing those particular stories is very meaningful.

To kind of move to the larger point, I think it's worth remembering the first pope who came to the United States was Paul VI. It was 50 years ago this week, and that was in the middle of Vatican II. The most contention within the four-year Vatican II conference was the discussion of inter-religious dialogue and co-existence. There was a big force that was against the Catholic Church opening its arms to others. But in the end, in part because of Paul VI's personal intervention, Vatican II became the symbol of inter-religious conversation. I bring that up for those people who feel despair among the relationship define Jews, Christians and Muslims, and who choose to focus on terrorism and the negativity, which is quite real, we have seen dramatic change in the relationship between Christians and Jews. Change is possible.

CUOMO: Right. Bruce, that's a strong point.

But Father Beck, let me bring you in on this.

Yes, everything Bruce said matters so much in terms of why Pope Francis has come here, his message of tolerance is absolutely true. However, context often compromises a message. And, yes, there's a temptation when people talk about 9/11 to want to find some positive resolution in it, that we need to seek peace, but that is not an easy thing to say for those who suffered through this event. 9/11 for many is still an un-righted wrong. Their families were lost and they believe that that which is responsible is still very much out there. And the idea of seeking peace to many is unsettling. How do you think the pope navigates that, tries to talk about peace in a place that is still very raw for people, no matter what is built on top of it?

BECK: I think, Chris, he does it within the context of his Christianity. That passion and death leads to resurrection. That's the fundamental mystery. And I think he'll point to suffering is not the final word, that there's hope and remembrance of love here that has risen from these ashes. And he will focus on that. COOPER: Meeting with some dignitaries, Charles Schumer, who we talked

to last night, who was also at St. Patrick's.

We should point out, before meeting with dignitaries, he was meeting with some other family members. Some was unplanned. Some family members were pre-selected, but some was also impromptu, meeting with more families who are at the site. And we should point out, there are several -- maybe 100 to 200 or so people who have not met with Pope Francis, but who are around the south reflecting pool, just wanted to be here, and lucky enough to be able to be here on this day, to get a glimpse of the pontiff.

[11:25:25] CUOMO: Remember, if you're that close to the reflecting pool, it is an unfortunate distinction to have, because the way this was planned out, they had people who were attached to the victims come to be closest to the reflecting pool for obvious reasons. Those are the sites of where the towers were. This was very controversial when they were deciding. Anderson, you know of your great coverage of the day, but what to do with this space. And the families were very divided over it. When they came up with the compromise of the reflecting pool, the metaphor value was that this would be an eternal waterfall that would come into this pool. It's regenerating of itself. Of course, it pointed to what Father Beck was talking about earlier, about the idea of water being eternal and replenishing. But this is such an important place for so many people and to have Pope Francis here will mean a lot, that he gave this priority.

COOPER: And the interfaith service that we have been talking about, that's going to be in foundation hall, which is underground. It's an extraordinary setting. We actually see one of the foundation walls, which is still in place. So, that will be something. Obviously, we will be bringing it to you live. He'll also be at the museum. He's moving indoors, it looks like, right now, but he'll be shortly headed toward Foundation Hall.

BECK: It was interesting, Anderson, in the speech to Congress he brought up fundamentalism, religious fundamentalism. He says every religion has fundamentalists and it's never wrong and never black and white. It's never that simple. Don't demonize people because of their religion but there's a danger to fundamentalism. Here we see the evidence of that danger right behind us. And he wants to move to something else for all traditions.

COOPER: Bruce, this day for Pope Francis, it's an extraordinarily busy day. Obviously, a major speech like that at the United Nations, that's enough for one 78-year-old man on any day. Now this event and this service here at ground zero. He's also going to be holding a mass in Madison Square Garden. He's also going to be visiting a school in east Harlem. And as well going through Central Park to -- which is a ticketed event. People will be -- thousands of people will be in the park there to see him. It's an incredibly busy day for this man.

FEILER: As we've seen as the week has unfolded, there seems to be a thematic unfolding we're witnessing as well. Sort of be one was sort of coming to America and being welcomed here. Be two, if you will, was the sort of political official Washington part that was -- that ceremony at the White House and spectacular speech before Congress. Today the envelope opens even wider, right, so that we have sort of international interfaith day with these big, symbolic events of the morning, followed by these kind of classic New York moments where he's going to, as you said, visit the poor, drive through Central Park and then go to Madison Square Garden, kind of a big part of New York to have mass.

CUOMO: You know, we've been talking, Bruce, about the impact that Francis has everywhere he goes. And I think whatever the grandest expectations were, he has exceeded them already. But I have to tell you, all of us are connected to people who live here and grew up here to what happened on 9/11 through people who are no longer with us. And there are a number of people whom I know who are coming down here today because Pope Francis is here. And they haven't been here in a long time. That this could mean more than just a step for Francis in his understanding of New York and America, that for so many of the families who are involved here, Anderson, this is a moment for them that Pope Francis of the holiest of people is in the place where they saw the most evil in their lives.

COOPER: We're going to take a short break. Pope Francis has moved indoors. It's going to be a few minutes before we see him again. There's that interfaith service. So we'll take a short break. Our coverage continues in just a moment.