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Steps Towards Healing in Arizona; Tracing Accused Assassin's Path; Dr. Giffords is Holding Her Own; Missed Warning Signs in Loughner Case; Arizona Legislature Passes Funeral Protest Law; Uproar Over High-Capacity Magazine

Aired January 11, 2011 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Thanks very much, Brooke.

Happening now, a move to protect the funeral of the youngest victim of the Arizona shooting -- state lawmakers are now trying to prevent extremist fringe protesters from getting near mourners. This hour, their action and the outrage that's developing.

Also, President Obama is trying to find the right words to comfort the people of Tucson and the nation without sounding too political. We'll talk about the challenges he faces at tomorrow's memorial services.

And how does a troubled young man wind up as an accused assassin?

I'll talk to a top psychologist about Jared Loughner's state of mind and the warning signs that were apparently missed.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


This hour, new steps toward healing in Arizona, three days after a Congresswoman's meeting with constituents turned into a bloodbath.

Doctors say Representative Gabrielle Giffords is breathing on her own and is less sedated. But she's still in critical condition, recovering from the bullet that went through her brain. Roughly 24 hours before President Obama attends a memorial service for the shooting victims, a mass will be held tonight in memory of the six people killed and 14 wounded. Mourners will gather at the Tucson church where the youngest victim, 9-year-old Christina Green, had her first communion.

State lawmakers are refusing to let anyone disrupt the funeral of Green or any other shooting victim. They've been working feverishly to pass legislation to bar protesters from getting too close to mourners. A group known for picketing at military funerals is promising to show up in Arizona Thursday when Green is laid to rest.

Jessica Yellin is watching all of this and more unfold in Tucson -- Jessica, what's the latest? JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, right now, the Arizona State House and Senate are meeting to take up this legislation in what the House speaker told me is an unprecedented, expedited way. The legislation would bar any protesters from within 300 feet of the funeral of Christina Green, but also of any funeral here from an hour before to an hour after the proceedings.

As you know, the Westboro Baptist Church has an anti-gay rights agenda and has used high profile funerals to get attention. So the House and Senate are taking up this measure today. They say that it's a measure that usually would take days and days, if not weeks, to pass. They've waived all rules so they can pass it by the end of business today. And the governor has said she would sign it.

It is taking place, as we speak, Wolf. And it should happen within a few hours.

BLITZER: Jessica --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I happen to believe that Arizona can -- can lead the way for the country in many different areas. And certainly when we've -- when this tragedy has struck our state, the way that we react to it, the way we respond, how we move forward, I think, can have a positive effect on the entire country.


YELLIN: Wolf, that was the speaker of the House, who I interviewed earlier today, who's saying Arizona should lead the way and this piece of legislation is the first act of unity that they are showing -- bipartisan unity. But he also said that everybody in the legislature should think about the way they use words and have a conflict of ideas, not a conflict of personalities. That man just, for the record, he's a Republican, the speaker of the House -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. It's obscene to even think about the disruption of this little girl's funeral.

Tell us a little bit more. I know you've been learning more about this little 9-year-old girl.

YELLIN: Wolf, as you know, she was a young woman who wanted to go into politics, believed in politics and was beloved by not just her parents, but by this community. And the family of the woman who brought her to Gabrielle Giffords' event spoke earlier today. They were, of course, broken up, but said that everybody should go on in Christina's spirit to think of positive things and lessons we can all learn from this looking forward.

And I'm sure that's will hap -- what will happen after her funeral, which takes place Thursday -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jessica Yellin is on the scene for us in Tucson. Thank you.

Now to President Obama and his leadership as the entire country tries to process this tragedy. A lot of people are drawing comparisons -- comparisons between this moment and President Clinton's remarks after the Oklahoma City bombing.

CNN's Kate Bolduan is covering the White House for us today -- Kate, this is going to be an important speech that the president will deliver at this memorial service tomorrow in Tucson.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf. And in the aftermath of tragedy, the nation looks to the White House, to the president, for comfort and for strength. And finding the right words to do that is the big task at hand for President Obama, as he prepares to head to Tucson tomorrow.


BOLDUAN (voice-over): President Clinton in 1995.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When there is talk of violence, let us stand up and talk against it. In the face of death, let us honor life.

BOLDUAN: This widely praised speech after the Oklahoma City bombing many describe as a defining moment for the Clinton presidency.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.

BOLDUAN: And President Bush faced a similar task of being the nation's voice of sorrow and courage after the 9/11 attacks.

BUSH: In this trial, we have been reminded and the world has seen that our fellow Americans are generous and kind, resourceful and brave.

BOLDUAN: And now it's up to President Barack Obama.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As president of the United States, but also as a father, obviously, I'm spending a lot of time just thinking about the families and reaching out to them.

BOLDUAN: White House officials say the president began working on his speech last night and is still thinking through what he wants to say in Tucson. The message could range from personal to profound. Officials say Mr. Obama will devote most of his remarks to memorializing the shooting victims.

However, this is, unfortunately, not the first time President Obama has been forced into the position of mourner-in-chief. The Fort Hood shootings left 13 people dead in 2009.

OBAMA: It may be hard to comprehend the twisted logic that led to this tragedy, but this much we do know -- no faith justifies these murderous and craven acts.

BOLDUAN: And the challenge is always striking the right tone.

STEPHEN HESS, PRESIDENTIAL SCHOLAR: He has to give a lovely, passionate memorial statement -- a eulogy of grief, of -- of hope, perhaps, for -- for the future. But it's not a political speech.


BOLDUAN: President Obama's speech is still being drafted this evening. And I'm told that he and his team will likely continue to work on it and tweak it throughout the day tomorrow.

In terms of tone, Wolf, I'm told by a White House official, who stressed to me that the president and the first lady are attending a memorial service, speaking there, not the time for a political speech -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we'll have live coverage here on CNN, 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

I'll be joined by my colleague, John King. He's in Tucson. 8:00 p.m. Eastern. We'll have special coverage of the president's participation at the memorial service in Tucson. That's coming up tomorrow night.

Our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, is getting some more information -- new information on the investigation into this assassination attempt -- Jeanne, what are you learning?

JEANNE MESERVE, HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a law enforcement source tells us that Jared Loughner took a knapsack with him to that shooting scene. We know he had that .9 millimeter Glock. He had 32 -- two .30 -- .30 round magazines, two .15 round magazines and a knife. This law enforcement official says they are still looking at this scene. This source isn't willing to say definitively yet just how many rounds he fired there.

They are still at that shooting scene. They're using something called a total station. This is a digital piece of surveying equipment which takes very precise measurements. This can be fed into a computer to give them a recreation of the crime scene.

One instance in which it was previously used, the collapse of that bridge in Minneapolis back in August of 2007. They used it there to try and figure out exactly what had happened. They're using it for the same purpose here in Tucson.

This source tells me that they now have a pretty good handle -- those are the source's words -- on Loughner's 22 years. Obviously, they're particularly interested in the days and weeks prior to the shooting. But law enforcement, at this point in time, not sharing with us any of the details.

They are still looking for people who knew Loughner to try and get more. Still no indication, this source says, that there were any other people involved. No indication that he had any links to any groups. They're still, of course, trying to come up with a motive for all of this.

And this final note, Wolf. We are told by administration officials that both the attorney general, Eric Holder, and the secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, will both be in Tucson tomorrow for that memorial service.

BLITZER: I know the president personally dispatched the FBI director, Robert Mueller, to -- to lead this investigation. He went there over the weekend.

Is he still there, leading the investigation, or has he delegated to other FBI agents?

MESERVE: No, he came back late yesterday, Wolf. He's back in Washington now.

BLITZER: All right. The FBI, the lead investigation on this case.

Thanks, Jeanne.

MESERVE: You bet.

BLITZER: Thanks very, very much.

We heard today from some relatives of the victims stories of heroism and heartbreak. It gives us more of a glimpse into how far parents of young Christina Green are coping right now.

And some doctors believe shooting suspect, Jared Loughner, is a schizophrenic. I'll ask a top psychologist about the warning signs and how it might after Loughner's case.

And could the Tucson massacre been prevented if -- if ammunition clips that hold a lot of bullets were banned?


BLITZER: The horror in Tucson and the challenging task for President Obama -- that's on Jack Cafferty's mind right now.

Jack's here with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It is the nature of events that confront our leaders that often serve to define them. And in the wake of Tucson massacre, President Obama has been given an opportunity to deliver on a promise he made to all of us a long time ago -- to raise the level of political discourse and by so doing, unify this country.

Politico has a terrific piece today on how the tragedy presents President Obama the opportunity to elevate the nasty tone of politics, much like Bill Clinton did after the Oklahoma City bombing.

Political analysts say that the president could use this experience to help move the country to a higher moral ground. This was a promise the president first made in that famous 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention. And civil discourse is something he has talked about tirelessly, not just on the campaign trail. But since he's been in office, as well.

However, actions speak louder than words and over the last couple of years, we haven't seen much, if any, of this, in Washington, DC. In fact, the partisan division and heated rhetoric between the two sides are arguably worse than they have ever been, at least in my memory.

President Obama, at times, has been a part of the problem himself. During the campaign, then Candidate Obama said, of countering Republican attacks, quote, "If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun." And more recently, in the lead-up to the mid- terms, President Obama referred to Republicans as "enemies."

The president has called the Tucson shootings a tragedy for the entire country. He's headed there tomorrow. A nation increasingly weary of anger and division will be listening.

Here's the question -- what can President Obama say in Tucson to ease the pain?

Go to and post a comment on my blog.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

There's certainly a lot of political and legal aspects to this story. But we never want to lose sight of the victims of this mass shooting and their families.

Doctors say Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' recovery is, in large part, up to a -- to her right now.

Listen to some of today's update on her condition.


DR. MICHAEL LEMOLE, CHIEF OF NEUROSURGERY, TUCSON UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER: This is the -- the phase of the care where it's so much up to her. And this is where we constantly say, it's week to week, month to month. And I know everyone wants to hear new results every day. But if we -- as long as we don't backslide and as long as she holds her own, that's good. That keeps us hopeful.

But we have to play this, really, according to her time line, not ours. And we have to avoid the frustration that so often her family will feel; we, the doctors will feel; and, of course, all of you will feel.

She's going to take her recovery at her own pace. And I'm very encouraged by the fact that she has done so well. This kind of injury, I think we've said it a couple of times, a penetrating injury through the skull, really the survival, let alone recovery, is abysmal. And she has no right to look this good and she does. We're hopeful, but I do want to underscore the seriousness of this injury and the fact that we all have to be extremely patient.


BLITZER: Excellent advice.

We also heard today from some of the victims' families. The daughters of Dorwin Stoddard praised their father a hero. He died in the arms of his wife, Mavy, while trying to shield her.

We also heard from Bill Hileman whose wife, Susie, who brought 9- year-old Christina Green to the Congresswoman Giffords' meet-and-greet event.


BILL HEILMAN, HUSBAND OF SHOOTING VICTIM: Susie's going to be fine long-term, not sure we'll be quite as active with all her physical activities for a while. She'll be in a walker for at least three months and serious physical rehab after that. But she's a tough, strong woman and a survivor.

The Greens very much remain in our prayers every minute. They are dear, sweet friends of ours, who have been from the get-go trying their best to take care of Susie, despite the loss that they personally suffered.

The graciousness that that couple has shown, given the tragedy that they've experienced, is unlike anything I've ever experienced. And beyond the safety of my wife and those of the other victims, I most pray for John and Roxanna Green.

PENNY WILSON, DAUGHTER OF SHOOTING VICTIM: He heard the shots and covered my mom with his own body, protected her and saved her, yes. Mom definitely felt that way.

ANGELA ROBINSON, DAUGHTER OF SHOOTING VICTIM: I think further of that is as because dad lay dying, mom didn't know she'd been hurt. She thought that she was holding him and her leg started hurting, and it wasn't until they got to the hospital that she even realized she'd been shot.

QUESTION: It sounded like the couple really came together --

ROBINSON: it was a beautiful way to say good-bye and go home.


BLITZER: The deadly massacre's fueling the debate over Arizona's controversial gun laws. Just ahead, we're going to show you some of the weapons and ammunition, the ammo magazines now being called into question.

And could the controversial WikiLeaks founder actually end up at Guantanamo Bay? Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: The missed warning signs in Jared Loughner's case, the CNN's Special Investigations Unit is digging in deeper to that. Our correspondent Drew Griffith is getting ready to join us with more on this part of the story.

Meanwhile, new concerns for the attorneys of the controversial WikiLeaks founder. Our Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that, some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What's going on?


Lawyers for Julian Assange say he could be sent to Guantanamo Bay if he's extradited to Sweden. In legal papers released today, the attorneys also argue that extradition could subject him to the death penalty.

Assange, who's free on bail, is wanted by Swedish prosecutors in connection with sex allegations separate from the WikiLeaks document dump. An extradition hearing is scheduled for next month.

The oversight commission appointed by President Obama to investigate the BP oil spill is warning that if the government doesn't take drastic steps, another disaster could occur. In a new report, the panel faults the government for years of complacency and blames the three companies involved in the spill, BP, Transocean, and Halliburton, for systemic failures. It also calls for a drilling safety overhaul.

And actor Michael Douglas, he says that he believes he has won his six-month battle with throat cancer. In an interview with NBC's "Today" show, Douglas seemed optimistic about his long-term health.


MATT LAUER, NBC NEWS: So you've allowed yourself to look that for a down the road?

MICHAEL DOUGLAS, ACTOR: Yes. Oh, absolutely. No, I think -- absolutely. I think the odds are with the tumor gone, and what I know about this particular type of cancer, that I've got it beat.


SYLVESTER: Douglas says he'll be examined on a monthly basis and he's calling his experience, quote, "a wild ride." He also says that he's back at the gym and, Wolf, he says that he's, quote, these are his words, "He's eating like a pig after losing 32 pounds."

So we certainly wish him well.

BLITZER: We certainly do. And we hope it's a real, real great recovery and he'll be in many, many motion pictures down the road.

SYLVESTER: You're a fan? BLITZER: I'm a huge fan, yes. I know him, he's a very, very nice man.

We're getting new glimpses at the warning signs that something was very wrong with the alleged gunman in the Arizona shooting. We're going to walk you through the missed clues.

And there's a lot of talk that the bitterness here in Washington helped fuel the violence in Tucson. Did it? The American people seem to have their doubts. Paul Begala and Mary Matalin are, they are both standing by for our "Strategy Session."


BLITZER: A disturbing pattern of behavior is emerging as authorities attempt to learn more about alleged gunman Jared Lee Loughner. Now there are new concerns that more could have been done to prevent Saturday's deadly massacre, and fears that potential warning signs may have been missed.

Drew Griffin with CNN's Special Investigations Unit has more.



DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT (voice-over): On the very first day of class, math teacher Ben McGahee knew there was something wrong with the student in classroom 209. A student named Jared Loughner, who had first become a disturbance, sudden outbursts, challenging his teaching, then going silent and ignoring everyone while listening to his iPod. The behavior the professor thought was threatening.

MCGAHEE: I still felt uncomfortable as well as the other students.

GRIFFIN (on camera): Even after he was --

MCGAHEE: Even after he was gone. Cause you never know these guys, they could come back and try to, you know, cause harm.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): McGahee teaches elementary algebra at Pima County Community College. Jared Loughner, one of his students.

MCGAHEE: School officials, teachers on all levels need to take this more seriously as far as security goes.

GRIFFIN: School officials suspended Loughner in late September after five different incidents involving campus police. Campus police visited him and his parents, but school officials say they couldn't do anything more. Hamstrung, they say, by personal privacy rights.

Keeping them honest, we asked the vice president of student development, Dr. Lorraine Morales, if they did enough. (on camera): The school felt it had done what it needed to do to protect the other students on campus?


GRIFFIN: This is where he went to high school, Mountain View High School. His friends say he was talented, played saxophone in the high school band. But in junior year, something happened. His friends say he began to use drugs, and he never returned for his senior year.

(voice-over): Friends say Loughner became obsessed with the nuance of language and with U.S. currency. In this text-only posting on YouTube just before Christmas, he said the majority of the residents of his congressional district were "illiterate." He added, "Nearly all of the people who don't know this accurate information of a new currency aren't aware of a mind control and brainwash methods."

Here at the Tucson store where Loughner bought the Glock semi- automatic pistol back in November, he didn't fit any of the, quote, "prohibited possessor categories" that would have prevented the purchase. He passed an instant federal background check and was on his way.

He first tried to buy ammunition at this Wal-Mart store, abruptly left, and made the purchase somewhere else.

As the memorial candles still burn outside the hospital where Congresswoman Gabby Giffords is being treated, questions persist about how and whether Jared Loughner might have been stopped before the mayhem.


GRIFFIN: Wolf, new information has come out today about what was in Jared Loughner, at least his family's, safe. In it, he apparently had kept a letter that Congresswoman Giffords sent to him back in 2007 thanking him for coming to a meet-and-greet session that was taking place, much like the one that happened on Saturday. He saved that letter.

And also in the safe, according to court records, was an envelope, on which was written, "I planned ahead" and also Giffords' name.

Just a few more clues into what is just an unimaginable and un- understandable crime -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good points, Drew. Thanks very much.

Let's talk a little more about this, about Jared Lee Loughner. Joining us now is the psychologist Alan Lipman, he's the founder for the Center of the Center For the Study of Violence here in Washington, also is a lawyer in addition to being a psychologist.

I've heard you say, Alan, that you believe he's a schizophrenic. Why do you say that? What does that mean?

ALAN LIPMAN, PSYCHOLOGIST: Well, first of all, let's get clear that the evidence is increasingly concrete that this is not someone who was driven largely by political motivations. So let's take it through a road map of why, with the caveat that we haven't seen him in the flesh. There's such ubiquitous evidence that suggests this is someone with schizophrenia.

Number one, we've looked at these videos, with the strange and twisted logic --

BLITZER: The YouTube videos?

LIPMAN: The YouTube videos. And people have pored over them wondering, does it show he's on the left or he's the right? Well, it doesn't show either.

What it shows is the incoherence, the twisted thinking and the neologisms, the coined words, that are classic signs of what is called formal thought disorder, one of the are hallmarks of schizophrenia. And if you went into an schizophrenic unit, from when I began at Yale to all the way to the hospitals here in town, you would see writing just like this. That's number one.

BLITZER: Is that a paranoid schizophrenic, or is there a difference?

LIPMAN: Well, formal thought disorder is present in all forms of schizophrenia. But the next feature which is very clear is a part of paranoid schizophrenia. And it's very important to the shooting that occurred. And that is delusions.

Delusions are false beliefs that are bizarre. If you look at his writings, which, as we've seen in Secret Service reports about such shootings, writings are very valuable indicators of state of mind, Loughner stated that he believed that his mind was being controlled. He stated that he believed that the government was listening in on him. Again, textbook demonstrations of delusions of persecution --

BLITZER: So these are signs we should be looking for in individuals like this?

LIPMAN: If you see these writings, they are clear indicators that this person has a very high probability of suffering from a psychotic illness.

BLITZER: Is it also a clear indicator that this person could become violent?

LIPMAN: Well, let's talk about -- you are asking the questions that are most important, because the third indicator, which is this disruptive behavior that he showed in the classroom at Pima Community College, five times they had to call the campus police, and the behavior was not this kind of opportunistic antisocial behavior. It was strange, bizarre. So strange, that his algebra teacher feared that if he turned his back -- remember, before the shooting -- that he would actually be shot by Loughner with an automatic rifle.

This is someone who is having a psychotic break. And there was a witness, a friend of Loughner's, or an acquaintance, who knew him during the years of 19 to 22, the age he is now, and said that he underwent a radical change.

BLITZER: So what makes a schizophrenic, even a paranoid schizophrenic, become dangerous?

LIPMAN: It isn't even a paranoid schizophrenic, but it's especially a paranoid schizophrenic. Schizophrenics as a whole are not dangerous. A psychopath would be more dangerous. But a paranoid is afraid more than anything else, Wolf, that someone is out to get them.

BLITZER: Are they hearing things? Are people talking to them in their brains?

LIPMAN: Some have hallucinations and some have delusions. But the key here and the connection to Giffords is that if someone believes that the government is out to get them in a delusional way, that it's filling their mind and running through their mind, and around them is rhetoric which is hostile and chaotic, research shows that it makes the symptoms worse, that because they are paranoid and believe that people are out to get them, they believe in the threat, and in that case they act on it. And that's what I believe --


BLITZER: And the tragedy here is that with the proper medication, these people can be treated and live relatively normal lives.

LIPMAN: Well, a very interesting point. Arizona, unlike many other states, has a very unique law. And the law states that any person, a faculty member, a teacher, can petition the state to have a psychiatric evaluation done.

No one did this. If this had been done, or if a friend, a counselor, a teacher had taken him --

BLITZER: A parent?

LIPMAN: A parent -- had taken him to a hospital, there are antipsychotic medications that would have removed the very paranoid delusions that you are talking about, or reduced them, in most cases. And I tell you now, having seen this cases for 25 years, if that had occurred, we would not be talking about this tragedy today.

BLITZER: Finally, you're a lawyer, too, in addition to being a psychologist.


BLITZER: If his attorney or he pleads innocent on the grounds of insanity, does he have a case? Is he insane? LIPMAN: Look, so that your viewers understand, there is a difference between the medical diagnosis of schizophrenia and the legal standard of insanity. Insanity is a legal word, it's a legal standard. And to boil it down to its essence, it means, did the person know what they were doing was wrong, and did they know the difference between right and wrong?

The question is -- and this is something that you would have to see him to know -- is, is he so psychotic, if indeed psychotic -- and the chances are high -- that he did not know that his actions were wrong -- and look at his last note that he left on MySpace. He told his friends, "I'm sorry. Please don't be mad at me." And that, you can be, sure the prosecution will use as state of mind evidence that he knew what he was doing was wrong.

BLITZER: Alan Lipman, thanks very much. Useful information.

I want to stress, though, you have not seen him, you don't know him. This is all based on just your observations, reading about him.

LIPMAN: Not only do you want to stress it, but I want to stress it. And I want to make clear that while this information is available to us, and in schizophrenia gives us particularly useful amount of evidence, there is a strong caveat that I have not seen this individual, but nonetheless, it is compelling information that we should take into account.

BLITZER: Alan, thanks very much for coming in.

LIPMAN: It's a pleasure meeting you.

BLITZER: We're going back to Tucson next. Jessica Yellin is getting some new information about that the funeral protest bill that's being debated right now. Stand by for that.

And a leading gun control advocate whose family was torn apart by a shooting is pushing for new limits on high-capacity ammunition in the wake of Tucson tragedy. We'll take you inside a gun store for reaction.

And Jack Cafferty is asking, what can President Obama say in Tucson tomorrow to ease the nation's pain?


BLITZER: Want to get right back to Tucson. Jessica Yellin is standing by. New information coming in on the legislature there taking dramatic action to do -- what? Because something has just happened, Jessica.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the State House and Senate here in Arizona have just passed a bill that will block protesters from coming within 300 feet of any funeral, but this is true of all funerals, but particularly aimed at the funeral of 9-year-old Christina Green, who will be laid to rest here on Thursday. The Westboro Baptist Church, known for its anti-gay positions and for using high-profile funerals to call attention to them, has said they will protest. So, in addition to having members of the Democratic and Republican parties here lining the road to create a barricade between the mourners and the protesters, now the State House and Senate have come together in unanimous action to show their first bipartisan effort after this tragedy to pass this legislation, expedite it in a way that's very unusual.

Usually, a measure like this would take days, weeks to pass, not hours. The governor has told CNN that she plans to sign this bill when it gets to her -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good for them. All right. Thanks very much, Jessica, for that.

The congressional debate over guns has now rekindled; namely, the type of high-capacity magazine that allows a shooter to keep firing round after round after round.

Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is up on Capitol Hill looking into this part of the story for us.

What's going on, Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN SR. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What's going on is that after unfortunate tragedies like we saw over the weekend, there does tend to be a focus on Congress and a focus on whether or not there can be more gun control laws added to the books. And members of the community who fight for gun control say that they hope because a member of Congress was involved this time, that maybe her colleagues here will listen.

Sources I'm talking to say, unlikely.


BASH (voice-over): Accused gunman Jared Lee Loughner opened fire with a gun using a magazine holding up to 30 bullets before he was tackled while trying to reload. Some Democrats in Congress argue such high-capacity magazines should not be legal and are pushing for a ban.

SEN. FRANK LAUTENBERG (D), NEW JERSEY: That enabled him to do the kind of damage that he did. So there is no earthly reason for these weapons to have that kind of bullet capacity.

BASH: In 1994, President Clinton signed an assault weapons ban that did make high capacity magazines like the one Loughner allegedly used illegal. But the ban lapsed in 2004 without much of a fight.

Senior Democrats who had been front and center on gun control concluded it was bad politics.

AL GORE, FMR. VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We believe it is time for some commonsense gun safety measures. BASH: Democratic strategists believe Al Gore and other Democrats lost critical votes in rural America by pushing for stricter gun laws, and are still weary of the issue.

Liberal Senator Patrick Leahy supports gun rights.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: Gun control is probably not a winning issue.

BASH: Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid is a gun rights supporter, too. In fact, even before Republicans took control of the House, pro-gun forces had gained ground, passing measures like allowing firearms in national parks and on luggage on Amtrak.

Still, in the wake of another tragedy, the 2007 shooting spree at Virginia Tech, Congress did act to strengthen reporting requirements for gun background checks. Gun control advocates want to seize the moment again.

PAUL HELMKE, BRADY CENTER TO PREVENT GUN VIOLENCE: It has directly involved a member of Congress. It involved a congressional staffer who's now dead. It involved a federal judge who's now dead, the 9-year-old who's dead. I think when it hits that close to home, hopefully the folks on the Hill will wake up.

BASH: But opponents argue high-capacity magazines are already out there and say banning them is pointless.

REP. MIKE ROGERS (R), MICHIGAN: Bad guys are going to get guns. They're going to get clips. They're going to do bad things, if that's what their intention is.

We should not divert our attention from what the real problem was here. We had an individual who has expressed violent intent, who clearly had some mental instability along the way.


BASH: A senior House GOP leadership aide tells me that the chances of passing new gun control legislation, even in the wake of this tragedy, is "zero." As one senior Democratic aide told me, look, this just is a pro-gun Congress right now.

And that is why even though in the Senate, Democrats still control it, I am told by Democratic sources there not to look for them to push this or other legislation any time soon. As one Democratic source said, "We're going to focus on fights we can win" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana Bash on the Hill for us.

Thank you.

Defending the alleged gunman, Jared Lee Loughner, will likely be an uphill battle. But how likely is it that he will actually face the death penalty? I'll speak with a prominent attorney. That's coming up. Also, one of the first trauma surgeons to treat Congresswoman Giffords is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll get an update on her condition. That's coming up live.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: We'll go back to Tucson in a moment, but there's some other important news we're following, including a new pledge from the vice president about the timeline for withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that, some of the other top stories, in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What about the vice president? What's going on?

SYLVESTER: Well, Wolf, this is some new information.

Vice President Biden says U.S. troops will stay in Afghanistan beyond 2014 if officials there want them to. The vice president made the comments on an unannounced visit there. He also stressed it's not the intention of the United States to nation-build. President Obama previously outlined plans to begin withdrawing troops in July, with all scheduled to be out by 2014.

Well, the winter blast crippling the Southeast, it's heading up the coast, where it is expected to merge with another system and hammer Northeastern states. Cities from Philadelphia to Boston, they are bracing for anywhere from five to 15 inches of snow. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was criticized for his response to last month's blizzard, says the city is doing everything possible to tackle this storm.

And new signs that former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich is considering a presidential run in 2012. A spokesman says Gingrich will visit Iowa, a key state, at the end of the month to address ethanol proponents. This is his third visit to the state since September.

So it's all revving up right now already for 2012 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Newt Gingrich, he says early spring he'll make the formal announcement.

Thanks very much.

The American people, apparently, are skeptical that the angry tone here in Washington played a role in the Tucson shooting. Paul Begala and Mary Matalin, they are both here. They're standing by live.

And we'll take a closer look at the type of guns that are being watched right now, under scrutiny after the massacre.


BLITZER: We have been waiting for this all afternoon. You're looking at live pictures from outside the home of the parents of Jared Lee Loughner. He's the accused gunman in the killing of six people, wounding of 14 others, including a United States congresswoman.

Only moments ago, someone walked out of that home and began passing out a statement, a written statement. We believe this is a statement from the family. The Loughner family has issued its first formal reaction to the killing of these six people and the wounding of 14 other individuals.

Our Susan Candiotti is there on the scene for us, and we're going to get her ready. She's going to read that statement to us, the first formal reaction from Loughner's parents, we believe, on what has occurred, what occurred Saturday morning in Tucson.

As we wait for Susan Candiotti to get ready, let's bring in our CNN contributors, Paul Begala and Mary Matalin.

Paul, this is one of those wrenching stories that we have lived through in the past, but every time it happens, it seems to get worse. Maybe it's because we are getting older and we've lived through these kinds of things before. But now we're getting reaction from the family of this accused killer.

I think Susan is ready.

Susan, are you ready to read that statement to us?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I'm going to read a statement to you. It was brought out just a few moments ago by some people who spent hours inside the house. They did not identify themselves, but this is a statement from the Loughner family.

And it reads, "This is a very difficult time for us. We ask the media to respect our privacy."

"There are no words that can possibly express how we feel. We wish that there were so we could make you feel better. We don't understand why this happened. It may not make any difference, but we wish that we could change the heinous events of Saturday."

"We care very deeply about the victims and their families. We are so very sorry for their loss. Thank you." And it's signed, "The Loughner family."

Again, this is a statement from the family of accused shooter here in Tucson, Jared Lee Loughner. And he -- his parents have been holed up in their home for several days.

Let me go down. Something happening here behind us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Out of the way!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Out of the way, sir. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Down in front.

CANDIOTTI: What's happening there is that the people who came out and gave a statement are standing at the door -- who distributed the statement, rather. And someone just approached the house and went in the back, apparently to pay a visit to the Loughners.

There's been -- they have been inside of the house all day, Wolf, and there is activity of a man who was going in and coming out. And then two other people went in, a woman and a man.

And so, presumably, they have been spending the entire day talking with the family. But they declined to identify themselves, though we've asked them several times to tell us who they were and what their connection is to the family. But we've had no response.

And then, finally, after several hours, really after a day, they came out and issued this statement.

Wolf, we don't know whether it might be the defense attorney who is in there meeting with them, or exactly who is inside. But, of course, we are standing by in hopes of finding out exactly who they were.

But at least this is the very first time that we're hearing in some meaningful way from the Loughner family -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Do me a favor, because I want to digest what this statement says. Read it -- it's not long. Just read it one more time, Susan.

CANDIOTTI: Exactly. Absolutely.

It reads like this: "This is a very difficult time for us. We ask the media to respect our privacy."

"There are no words that can possibly express how we feel. We wish that there were so we could make you feel better. We don't understand why this happened. It may not make any difference, but we wish that we could change the heinous events of Saturday."

"We care very deeply about the victims and their families. We are so very sorry for their loss. Thank you." And it's signed, "The Loughner family."

We have been talking to a lot of the neighbors here, Wolf, really throughout the day -- the past couple of days, really -- to get a sense of this neighborhood and the Loughner family.

From the neighborhood, it seems very friendly, a safe neighborhood. Everyone likes everybody.

This family is universally described as being very quiet, that they keep to themselves. They have lived here a number of years.

First, Mr. Loughner moved in here when he was single. When he got married, his wife moved in, and they raised their only son, Jared.

And even he had some interaction with some of the children in the neighborhood and others who visited the neighborhood, but as he grew -- he is a person that they said didn't say much. And nor was there much interaction between Mr. and Mrs. Loughner and the other neighbors.

Sometimes we were told that they would exchange niceties among themselves, but then one neighbor described how, for some reason, he stopped talking to her. And when the neighbor tried to find out why, no answer was really given.

And another neighbor across the street had some difficulties with him because of some trash that was temporarily located that he hadn't yet gotten rid of, and that was something that the neighbor said Mr. Loughner had a hard time letting go of, even after the trash had been removed.

Other than that, I talked to one elderly neighbor who lives across the street who said that the last time he saw Jared was about six, seven weeks ago. And that is the first time that he saw him with his head shaved. Before that, he said that he wore his hair in a close-cropped fashion. And then all of the sudden, inexplicably, it was shaved.

So, not much talk, not much friendly feelings among the neighbors and the Loughners. After this happened, universally, they said, however, that they feel very sorry for them, too.

BLITZER: Susan, I'm going to have you stand by, because I want to dig deeper into what's going on over there.

Susan Candiotti with the breaking news, the first reaction from the family of Jared Lee Loughner. He lived with his parents in that home that you were watching.

When we come back, Jack Cafferty is asking, what can President Obama say or do in Tucson to help ease the pain? Jack, with your e- mail, that' coming up next.

And the woman who was with little Christina Green when she was killed in the Tucson massacre. Ahead, her husband tells us how much she remembers after being shot three times.


BLITZER: Let's go right to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: What can President Obama say in Tucson tomorrow to try to ease the pain?

Dianne writes, "He can't. All he can do is acknowledge the pain, but there is some comfort in simply having one's pain recognized."

Carol in Massachusetts, "He ought to be more community organizer and less professor. President Obama should focus on the good people of America, the heroes at the shooting site, the health care providers, the things that make us more alike than different. And in the end, he should react as a father of two young daughters."

Rita writes, "The president, by going to Tucson, shares his humanity. He can't ease the pain, but as a man and as the president, he can share it."

Marvin in Missouri writes, "I think President Obama needs to use the tragedy in Tucson as an example of what we can expect in the future if we don't unite as a country and start to work together to solve the problems that we face. He needs to tell the American people what their lives are going to be like if we continue to fight each other."

John in Alabama says, "Sometimes there is nothing that can be said to ease the pain of those who have lost loved ones. President Obama's appearance at a memorial service alone is a strong sign that the nation mourns the loss of a life in Tucson. The president's message should be very personal and directed at those whose loss is the greatest."

And Michael writes this -- I like this one -- "At an elementary school in Tucson, there is an empty desk. It belonged to a little girl whose classmates sit in shock and wait for an explanation. There's an empty bench in a courtroom where justice goes answered. And in Washington, there's an empty seat in Congress where the voice of a half a million people goes unheard."

"President Obama has to give us back that voice for justice and for the future of those kids."

If you want to read more, go to my blog, CaffertyFile.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.