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THE SITUATION ROOM

Remembering Shooting Victims; Awaiting President Obama in Arizona; Alleged Shooter's Brushes with the Law; Lawmakers Rush to Protect Themselves; Federal Judge Larry Burns Named to Oversee Federal Trial of Tucson Gunman; Victims Recovering From Shooting; From War Zone to Tucson Massacre; Links Drawn Between James Brady and Gabrielle Giffords' Wounds; 'Strategy Session'

Aired January 12, 2011 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Brooke, thanks very much.

Happening now, we're standing by for the president's arrival in Arizona to mourn for the victims of a senseless shooting that struck at the heart of democracy. This hour, his words and their legacy.

Plus, we're learning more about the shooting suspect's brushes with the law.

How did Jared Loughner raise so many red flags without anyone knowing about the violence he allegedly pass planning?

And Sarah Palin is rejecting the idea that she and her partisan politics had any bearing on what happened in Tucson. It's her first extended remarks about the shooting. Critics already questioning her choice of words.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Right now, we're watching a defining moment unfold for the president, the nation and, most of all, for the people of Tucson. You'll hear a lot over the next few hours about what the president of the United States will say and won't say in tonight's memorial service. But there's a very, very clear effort in Arizona underway, as well as here in Washington, to make this day about the victims and their families.

Listen to members of Congress honoring the dead and the survivors, including one of their own, fighting to recover with her husband at her bedside.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Our hearts are broken, but our spirit is not. This is a time for the House to lock arms in prayer for the fallen and the wounded and to resolve to carry on a dialogue of democracy. REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), MAJORITY LEADER: Saturday's cowardly crime was more than just an attack on dozens of innocent Americans at a grocery store. It was an attack on the very essence of democracy and representative government.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Our colleague, Congresswoman Giffords, was the primary target of this cowardly act. And as she recovers, we honor her as a brilliant and courageous member of Congress.

REP. LOUIE GOHMERT (R), TEXAS: Gabby always finds something for which she can look forward.

Our prayers remain with her. This is no time for assigning blame to anyone but the gunman.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Now to President Obama and his attempt to bring some comfort to the grieving people of Tucson. He's landing in Arizona very soon for tonight's memorial and to meet privately with the victims' families.

Kate Bolduan is over at the White House -- Kate, I know you're checking with a lot of sources over there.

What -- what can we expect to hear from the president tonight?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, as, you know, Wolf, the focus is going to be largely on the victims and the victims' families, as you just mentioned. This is a task that, unfortunately, so many presidents have faced, as now does President Obama -- comforting the grieving, as well as all of those impacted after a tragedy like this, as well as trying to lift up the country to move forward from here.

I'm told President Obama has been working on this speech with his speechwriting team since Monday night and has continued to work and tweak this speech throughout the day today. As you know, the president is very hands-on when it comes to these speeches.

I am told that the president will devote most of his remarks to memorializing the victims of this shooting, as well as honoring the heroes that have come from it, much as the president did earlier this week, during a meeting here at the -- in his Oval Office, with French president, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Listen here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it's important for us to also focus, though, on the extraordinary courage that was shown during the course of these events -- a 20-year-old college student who ran into the line of fire to rescue his boss, a wounded woman who helped secure the ammunition that might have caused even more damage. The citizens who wrestled down the gunman. Part of what I think that speaks to is the best of America, even in the face of such mindless violence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: The president's remarks are expected to run under 20 minutes, I am told, and traveling along with President Obama and the first lady en route to Arizona includes many high -- high level officials here in Washington, like Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, Attorney General Eric Holder, secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, who is also the former governor of Arizona, as well as House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi.

As you well mentioned, Wolf, at the top here, while in Tucson, I'm told by a White House official the president will also be meeting with the families of the victims, many of whom he has already spoken to in the past few days since the tragedy -- is calling them on the phone here from the White House -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll, of course, have live coverage.

Kate, thanks very, very much.

Please join me and my colleague, John King. We'll have live coverage of the president's address at the memorial service in Tucson. We'll cover the whole thing. Our coverage begins at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, 5:00 Pacific, only here on CNN.

As the people of Tucson come together in mourning, the accused assassin, Jared Loughner, is alone in jail. His every move and every word in the lead-up to the shooting is now under intense scrutiny.

Our national correspondent, Susan Candiotti, is in Arizona following the investigation.

What's the latest -- Susan?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.

Well, a couple of key pieces of information that are brand new this day.

Number one, we have learned that about two-and-a-half hours before the shooting took place last Saturday, that the suspect, Jared Loughner, was stopped by -- for a traffic stop at an intersection about six miles away from the Safeway shopping center where the shooting was to occur. Now, he was pulled over by an officer with the Arizona Game and Fish Commission because Loughner had run a red light. Now the officer pulled him over. He checked his license. He did a background check on him, found that there were no outstanding warrants. And Loughner was allowed to leave with just a warning.

Now, of course, little did that officer know what was to happen two-and-a-half hours later.

We have also learned some time before or after that very same morning, that Loughner showed up at the house. And our John King interviewed the chief investigator of this case, who says that the father noticed that Jared was out in the front yard. He said that he had a black bag with him and that when his father asked him about it, he couldn't get a replay, what is it, what's in the bag?

He said that -- whoops, we had a little accident there with a wind screen, but that's OK.

He said that his father asked Jared about the bag. Jared wouldn't tell him what was in it and mumbled a little bit. And then his son left.

The police say that Jared's father took off after him, but couldn't find him and just assumed he went off to the desert someplace.

Unfortunately, as we've come to know, that isn't what happened -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And, Susan, no more statements from the family. At this time yesterday, they had just released that statement. Today, they're silent. I assume they're still in their home?

CANDIOTTI: Well, we don't know exactly what happened. After they made that statement, a couple of hours later, they left their house in the darkness. They had hoods pulled up over their head. A man who had been at the house earlier put them in -- into his car and they took off. We don't know where they are right now.

BLITZER: Susan Candiotti on the scene in Tucson for us.

Thank you.

Members of Congress took time out for prayers and tributes to the shooting victims today to focus on their own security, as well. The bloody assault on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords has left many lawmakers feeling vulnerable.

Let's bring in our senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash -- Dana, I know there were briefings for members of Congress today. And I know a lot of the members -- because they've told me this -- are not only worried about themselves, but perhaps they're even more worried about their staffers and their aides.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You're exactly right. Look, walk these halls, Wolf, and lawmakers will tell you that they don't want to do anything to restrict access to constituents, but they also know that security for them and their aides -- it has been ad hoc, at best, and some changes need to be made.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): Members of Congress gather for a pair of security briefings by top law enforcement officials trying to find out what they can do to avoid a tragedy like the one that struck their colleague, Gabrielle Giffords. REP. HOWARD MCKEON (R), CALIFORNIA: And what they're asking is if something happens, you call the local law enforcement, but that you also have that local coordinator contact the Capitol Police so that they can coordinate things.

BASH: Those recommendations are not new and some were openly frustrated.

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: I think it was a little shallow. I think people are still in -- in shock a little bit. But it is contact your local law enforcement and we'll help you as best we can, but good luck.

BASH: Utah's Jason Chaffetz, a gun owner with a concealed weapons license, told CNN over the weekend, he'll carry a gun more often now back home.

The Senate's top law enforcement officer calls that a bad idea.

TERRANCE GAINER, SERGEANT AT ARMS, U.S. SENATE: Putting more guns into the mix is not the answer. It may be part of a solution to have more police, more law enforcement. But we shouldn't just turn to guns as to how to end violence.

BASH: In response, Chaffetz told CNN he's not changing anything. It's his Second Amendment right.

CHAFFETZ: I happen to be -- feel comfortable with it and will continue to do it. But some members in there do and some members don't. So it's -- it's a little bit of a mixed bag. And it's a personal choice.

BASH: Louis Gohmert of Texas wants to allow members of Congress to carry concealed weapons in Washington, even in the Capitol. But most lawmakers, like Dan Lungren, have no interest in carrying guns.

REP. DAN LUNGREN (R), CALIFORNIA: Every town hall I have -- public town hall I have, I've had the presence of at least one uniformed police officer who is armed.

BASH: Lundgren had already stepped up his office's security back home. He chairs the committee overseeing the Capitol Police and wants them to develop standardized security plans with local authorities.

LUNGREN: I stress on the coordination between local law enforcement and the local district office, coordination between local law enforcement and the Capitol Police.

BASH: Several expressed deep concern for aides working in their districts away from the heavily armed Capitol.

Jesse Jackson, Jr. wants more funding to help protect them.

REP. JESSE JACKSON, JR. (D), ILLINOIS: In some areas, it will require surveillance cameras. In other areas, it will require new locks and key pass entries to unsecure offices. In some areas, it may even require that district offices be offset from busy thoroughfares and from streets, so that no one can park a -- a manure bomb next to a district office to make a political point.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Now, in the short-term, the House sergeant at arms told lawmakers that they would send -- circulate existing security procedures to all offices and that they would post them, also, on a secure Web site that lawmakers and their aides can access -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Really a source of concern on Capitol Hill.

Thanks, Dana.

Thanks very much.

Sarah Palin releases an extraordinary video today about the Tucson shooting. But a couple of words she used are drawing criticism.

Also, one man who knows exactly what Gabrielle Giffords is going through right now -- the former White House press secretary, Jim Brady. He shares his thoughts on the Tucson shooting. That's coming up a little later.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Six people of different ages and different walks of life will be remembered tonight by mourners, shooting survivors and the nation. They're the U.S. district judge in Arizona, John Roll, age 63. Nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green, born on the day of the 9/11 attacks, the youngest victim. Phyllis Schneck was the oldest at age 79, a widow and a great grandmother.

Dorothy Morris, 76, her husband of more than 50 years survived the shooting.

Dorwan Stoddard also was 76. He died trying to shield his wife. And 30-year-old Gabe Zimmerman was the director of outreach for Congresswoman Giffords. He was engaged to be married.

Sarah Palin is offering her sympathy today to the victims of what she calls "a shocking tragedy." Palin posted a video online -- her first extended remarks about the Tucson shooting. The former Alaska governor rejected suggestions that anything she has said or did might have played a role in encouraging the violence. She said the blame lies with the shooter, not Americans exercising their rights to free speech.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: President Obama and I may not agree on everything, but I know he would join me in affirming the health of our democratic process.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Let's bring in our chief political correspondent, Candy Crowley, and our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger.

Candy, this was a very well-produced statement that she made, almost like an address to the nation with the American flag behind her looking into a camera, reading from a teleprompter, her words carefully considered.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and she clearly felt the need to go beyond what she had done prior to this, which was just one Internet statement about it. I think she probably went a couple steps further than she might have.

She's obviously been the object of a lot of talk and a lot of criticism that some of her words over the course of this last campaign had been over the line, some of her ads and that kind of thing, and she felt the need to push back.

It was well-produced. It was produced in a way that obviously she's not out there taking questions, but then neither are most of the people who are putting out these statements, so I don't think you hit her for that. But she felt the need to speak out and why not, because she's been the one taking a lot of criticism.

BLITZER: I saw it almost as a "prebuttal" to what the president might be saying later tonight. She wanted to get her views not in an interview format where she could be asked maybe awkward questions, but just get her thoughts out there.

Two words that she uttered, though, are causing some controversy. Let me play this clip, Gloria. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN: Especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence that they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. The words "blood libel," it's got a long history, centuries of history. It was the blood libel -- it refers to Christians blaming Jews over the centuries for killing little children, using their blood for Jewish rituals like baking matzo during Passover and causing countless numbers of Jews over the years in (INAUDIBLE) in Europe to be killed.

Was it an appropriate use of "blood libel" in this particular case?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, look, I think these are difficult words and at a time when you want to be a national leader, I think it's your job to ratchet down the rhetoric rather than ratchet it up. These words have been used in a "Wall Street Journal" op-ed the day before. We can argue about whether or not she should have used them. What I think is important is that her defenders had been making a very good case for her. People and the American public now believes that she didn't have anything to do with this, that the rhetoric doesn't have anything to do with this. The case had been made.

So what Sarah Palin should have gone out there and done is, the top of her speech, which was essentially a call for unity and a declaration of sending your sympathies to the families, et cetera, et cetera.

So when you're a national leader, you know, we look to you at these moments for guidance, and I think it made it too much about Sarah Palin. She didn't need to defend herself anymore. Other people had done that for her, and very well.

BLITZER: A poll, a CBS News poll that came out asked this question -- Did harsh political tones have anything to do with the Arizona shootings? And 32 percent said yes, 57 percent, significant majority, said no.

CROWLEY: Right. And which only underscores what Gloria and I are trying to say, which is the first part of the speech by Sarah Palin was great. It was what people were saying, let's come together, this was horrific, I send out my prayers, that kind of thing.

She didn't really need to do the part about don't attack me, don't do this, and bringing religion into something that already has mayhem and politics in it is, you know, a triple toxic mix. The American people don't believe this had anything to do with political words by and large.

BORGER: The American people probably, if you look at this, this accused shooter is more like Hinckley, John Hinckley, than Timothy McVeigh. Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma City was politically motivated, a domestic terrorist, if you will, and that's what Bill Clinton ended up speaking about the day after his speech in Oklahoma City. But John Hinckley was somebody who had an obsession, right, and ended up -- and was crazy and shot the president.

BLITZER: Candy, Gloria, thanks very, very much.

We just getting in confirmation the vice president of the United States, Joe Biden, is now in Iraq in Baghdad having landed there just a little while ago. He's on a trip to South Asia. Was in Afghanistan, Pakistan, he's now in Iraq even at this stage almost 10 years afterwards, they can't announce that he's going to Iraq yet. Still insecure, the situation.

That's when he was in Pakistan as you can see there, but he's now in Iraq. We'll have coverage of the vice president in Iraq, see what comes up. That's coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM as well.

We're also standing by for President Obama's arrival in Arizona, only minutes from now. We're going to bring it to you live when it happens.

Meanwhile, we're monitoring other important top stories, including what's being called one of the worst disasters in Australia's history. We'll have the latest on the deadly flooding that's left more than 60 people missing.

And a powerful winter storm now ripping -- crippling, I should say, most of New England. Residents could see as much as two feet of snow before it's over.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Standing by for live coverage of the president's arrival in Tucson. Stand by for that, but there's other important stories we're following right now, including a collapsing government in the Middle East.

Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that, some of the other top stories.

What's going on?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there is a political crisis in Lebanon where members of Hezbollah and its allies have resigned from the Unity Government. This comes as Prime Minister Saad Hariri met with President Obama at the White House today. Officials say the meeting was meant to show support for the Lebanese government. The United States has designated Hezbollah a terrorist group.

And it is being called one of the worst natural disasters in Australia's history. With the waters of the Brisbane River rising, it's estimated that almost 20,000 homes in Brisbane alone will be completely flooded. Residents are become evacuated and stocking up on groceries, batteries and flashlights. Thousands are without power and officials say 12 people have died and 67 are missing.

Here in the United States, Boston and much of New England are getting pounded by the latest snowstorm. Forecasters are expecting up to two feet of snow in Massachusetts and Connecticut. More than 57,000 homes are without power in Massachusetts and thousands of flights have been canceled, Amtrak service suspended between Boston and New York, and, Wolf, schools are obviously closed there.

BLITZER: Mess up there, a serious mess. All right, thanks very much.

From the battlefield to a hospital in Arizona, we have the backstory on how war surgeons were called in to help with Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' recovery.

And he survived the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan, went on to e a champion for gun control. The former White House press secretary, Jim Brady, shares his thoughts on the Tucson shooting.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: This just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM, the Ninth Circuit Court of the United States has just designated Federal Judge Larry Burns of Southern California to preside over the federal trial of the accused Tucson gunman, Jared Lee Loughner.

We're standing by also right now for the president's arrival in Arizona. We expect Air Force One to touchdown any moment now. The president will be meeting with families of the victims in Saturday's massacre and will then address the nation at a memorial service. When he lands, we'll bring you the arrival live here.

Meanwhile, a touching and very personal first glimpse inside Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' hospital room. Her husband, an astronaut and Navy captain, Mark Kelly, at her bedside holding her hand just one day after she was shot.

The Congresswoman's doctors say she's in critical condition and able to breathe on her own. Two other shooting victims are in serious condition, three more are listed as fair.

Family members of some of those hospitalized spoke about their recoveries at a news conference today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JENNY DOUGLAS, DAUGHTER OF SHOOTING VICTIM: My dad, Ron Barber, is doing well after his second surgery yesterday morning. He has been very alert since coming out of his six-hour surgery on Saturday. He was able to see his four grandchildren on Monday, which gave him great pleasure. We expect him to be released from the ICU on Thursday.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Congresswoman Giffords' husband and medical team are leaving no stone unturned when it comes to finding the best people to consult on her care. In this case, that means getting some help from doctors who have worked on the frontlines of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is joining us now with more on this part of the story -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, think about it, these days who knows more about these terrible types of head wounds than military trauma docs who have served on the frontline for years?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): When Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head, she was rushed to a civilian hospital, but it was experience brought from the war zone to the operating room that may have helped her the most.

DR. PETER RHEE, CHIEF OF TRAUMA, UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER: The resources of the entire military has been made available to us. STARR: Working on Giffords, Dr. Peter Rhee chief of trauma at University Medical Center. A Navy doctor for more than 20 years, he treated the wounded in Fallujah, Iraq.

At the behest of Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the military flew in two of its best, schooled from years in the war zone on ways to deal with brain injuries and gunshot wounds, including retired Army neurosurgeon Dr. James Ecklund, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan.

(on camera): Because you have now treated so many cases of either blast injury or penetrating gunshot wounds in the war zone, what has the neurosurgery field learned from 10 years of war?

DR. JAMES ECKLUND, ARMY NEUROSURGEON: I think one of the major lessons we've learned in this conflict is that with blast injury, there is often a higher incidence of early cerebral edema, very -- you know, a lot of swelling of the brain that occurs early on. As a result, early on in this conflict we saw a larger volume or need for a procedure called decompressive craniectomy, which is when an operation is done, instead of taking the bone flap on and putting it back on, you take the bone flap off to do what you need to do and leave it off because of swelling.

STARR (voice-over): Ecklund made clear with wounds to the brain, it's almost impossible to predict right away what will happen. He recalled for us a young soldier who was brought in.

ECKLUND: I immediately put a tube in to a ventricle which is the fluid sack of the brain, to release some pressure.

STARR: Almost given up for dead, but the docs kept working on him and he began to come back.

ECKLUND: I received a Christmas card from him a year and a half later.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: Now, Admiral Mullen got involved after talking to Captain Mark Kelly, Navy captain --- of course, the congresswoman's husband. But, you know, these military doctors all really know each other from this time in the war zone.

A third doctor has gotten involved, Colonel Geoffrey Ling. He's still on active duty, but right now he is researching some of the most advanced rehabilitation techniques to help the critically wounded, wounded from the war zone, and wounded here at home like the congresswoman -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Barbara Starr, for that.

We think Air Force One has now landed outside of Tucson at a U.S. Air Force base. We've got some pictures. Unfortunately, we don't see Air Force One right now. We saw Air Force -- we think it was Air Force One. Usually there are two planes that come in that travel with the president. One of them has just landed.

We see some people there awaiting the arrival of the president. I think that's Jan Brewer, the governor of Arizona, out there with some U.S. military personnel.

Once we see Air Force One, we'll go back there and see the president walk down those stairs. We think it was Air Force One. I just want to be precise before we do report that he's formally landed in Arizona. It was supposed to land around this time, so it probably was, but we'll just be cautious.

There are certainly few people who could likely relate more to what Congresswoman Giffords and her husband are going through right now than James and Sarah Brady. James Brady was shot in the head during John Hinckley's assassination attempt on former president Ronald Reagan. That was back in 1981. He was then the White House press secretary.

CNN's Jim Acosta had a chance to sit down with the Bradys earlier today. He's joining us now.

Jim, tell us how that went.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it was remarkable. As you said, it's been almost 30 years since Jim Brady was shot in the head in the assassination attempt on President Reagan. And since then, he and his wife Sarah have been tireless advocates for the issue of gun control, something that hasn't been too easy lately up on Capitol Hill.

But we sat down to talk to them about the tragedy that is unfolding in Tucson, and they've watched it all with great interest, because as Jim Brady says, he's been there, done that.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SARAH BRADY, JAMES BRADY'S WIFE: Both shot by deranged young men, both head injuries, severe brain injuries.

ACOSTA: And Jim was pronounced dead at one point.

BRADY: Yes. They read his obituary on the news, and then he made a miraculous recovery.

ACOSTA: Much in the way that Gabrielle Giffords has made this unbelievable recovery.

BRADY: Yes. She, too -- there were reports, I believe, that she had not made it.

ACOSTA: Right.

BRADY: And my heart just sank and I thought, oh, no. But they were -- luckily, they were incorrect. You remember the other day when we heard that.

JAMES BRADY, FMR. WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Said, "Been there."

S. BRADY: Yes, been there, done that.

ACOSTA: Been there, done that.

J. BRADY: Been there and know that.

S. BRADY: And wish you hadn't.

And we know for her it's going to be a long haul, but I know she's a fighter and she's going to do great.

ACOSTA: Why does this keep happening? Why in this country?

Why is it that every so often, a deranged person is able to go out, get firearms, and cause mass carnage like this? Why does it keep happening in this country do you think?

S. BRADY: Well, I ask myself that, too. We're always going to have deranged human beings. I mean, there's just nothing we can do about something who has a mental illness. But we haven't taken the steps that we should take.

We still should make it almost impossible for people with problems, or felons or fugitives, ,to be able to get a hold of weapons, and especially large-style magazines like this. We just haven't had and we've got to have the political courage to step up and take that step.

ACOSTA: The National Rifle Association is very powerful up on Capitol Hill.

S. BRADY: Extremely.

ACOSTA: Democrats won't cross them now.

S. BRADY: I know, but there are going to be some brave souls, I think, that are going to speak up. And I think we ought to honor them, and to say we want more courageous leaders. I'm a little sick of wimps up there.

ACOSTA: You think there are wimps up there?

S. BRADY: I think they're a bunch of wimps.

One thing I want to say, one of the big things that helps is the support of the community and the people around the country. That meant so much to me, and then to Jim when he heard about it. You know, it's like having a little cheerleader at your side.

ACOSTA: And it means a lot?

S. BRADY: It means the world. ACOSTA: What's your message after Tucson?

B. BRADY: Well, it sounds to me like she's got a great support group that's right there with her, and that means a lot.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: And as we wrapped up that interview, Jim Brady was off to another round of physical therapy near the couple's home in Delaware. It's another example of, Wolf, how the recovery process for gunshot wound victims can take a lifetime -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It certainly is. And all of us who covered that remember it well. We wish the Bradys only the best, of course.

Thanks very much, Jim Acosta.

Air Force One is now on the ground. You can see behind me, that's the Boeing 747. It has just touched down. The door is now open.

We expect the president of the United States and the first lady to be walking down those stairs momentarily. He's come out to Arizona to participate in the memorial service tonight. That's supposed to begin at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, about two hours and 20 minutes or so from now.

The president will be participating in that memorial service, together with the governor of Arizona. Janet Napolitano, the homeland security secretary, a former governor of Arizona, traveled with the president out to Tucson for this memorial service.

You see the delegation coming up to the stairs over there, including the governor, Jan Brewer, of Arizona, to receive the president and the first lady. They'll be meeting briefly at this Air Force base outside of Tucson, and then they will drive towards we believe -- we're not exactly sure where, but I assume the president will be going to meet with some of the families of the victims to comfort them, together with the first lady, before they head over to the university for tonight's memorial service.

This has been a difficult experience for everyone, including the president of the United States. He has carefully crafted remarks, a speech that he will deliver at the memorial service tonight, probably lasting about 15 or 20 minutes during this one-hour scheduled memorial service. Others will be speaking as well.

So the president -- momentarily, we expect him to be walking down those stairs and meeting with the delegation, then heading over to meet privately with some of the victims' families. It will be a rather emotional moment. The president and the first lady hoping that they will have a chance to comfort them during these very, very difficult times.

This is something that all presidents, unfortunately, need to do from time to time, become mourner in chief, comforter in chief. We saw Bill Clinton do it after the Oklahoma City bombing, we saw certainly saw President George W. Bush do it after 9/11. We saw Ronald Reagan do it when he was president.

This is part of being president of the United States. And we know from White House officials that the president personally has worked very, very carefully on his remarks to make sure that he strikes the right tone.

We're going to have extensive coverage here on CNN during the 8:00 p.m. hour on what the president and others will be saying, what he should say, what he shouldn't say. We'll certainly have extensive coverage here in THE SITUATION ROOM and on "JOHN KING USA."

There's the president and the first lady. They're going to walk down these stairs and be received by the delegation led by the governor of Arizona, Jan Brewer.

Interestingly, the president brought with him on Air Force One some members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, including a freshman Republican congressman from Arizona, Ben Quayle, the son of the former vice president, Dan Quayle. And if you remember, there was a campaign commercial that Ben Quayle made during this most recent campaign saying that President Obama is the worst president ever.

So it could have been a little awkward, but the president wanted to invite the Arizona delegation to come with him and to forget about that, at least on this day, during these difficult, difficult times, to make sure that they strike the right balance. Forget about politics for now.

It was one example of why I think the president will not talk at all about any political aspects of what may or may not have happened in leading to the shooting Saturday morning. I think he will stick with the proper tone of paying tribute to the victims, paying tribute to their families, to the acts of heroism that certainly were displayed during Saturday morning.

So we'll see the president. He's going to be going over and meeting privately behind closed doors with some of the family members. We'll watch that, we'll bring you the news, of course, as we get it.

And stay with CNN, of course, for complete coverage of tonight's memorial service. Our coverage, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, right after "JOHN KING USA" -- 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

Coming up, the CNN interview with the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Even half a world away from home, the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, is weighing in on the shooting rampage in Arizona.

Speaking in Yemen on Monday, she seemed to compare the suspect, Jared Loughner, to Muslim extremists. Listen to this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Look, we have extremists in my country. A wonderful, incredibly brave young woman Congress member, Congresswoman Giffords, was just shot by an extremist in our country.

We have the same kinds of problems. So rather than standing off from each other, we should work to try to prevent the extremists anywhere from being able to commit violence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty, sat down with the secretary in Oman today for an interview. She asked the secretary to explain her comments.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CLINTON: When you cross the line from expressing opinions that are of conflicting differences in our political environment into taking action that's violent action, that's a hallmark of extremism, whether it comes from the right, the left, from al Qaeda, from anarchists, whoever it is. That is a form of extremism.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Granted, there has been some success in sanctions slowing down Iran's nuclear program, but, essentially, you haven't really been successful and no closer to stopping their program.

CLINTON: Well, Jill, I disagree with the notion that we haven't made progress, because the facts are very different. We have made progress.

In the last two years, we moved from a policy of condemning and standing alone and seeing nothing happen, to rallying the international community to impose very tough sanctions which are making a difference. Can we, you know, run up the flag and say, oh, no, we've reached the conclusion we sought? Not yet, but we're making progress.

DOUGHERTY: The Yemenis have not been able to capture al-Awlaki. Also, we've had two failed attempts, terrorist attempts, emanating from Yemen.

How long can the American people continue to support action in Yemen if these things continue to happen?

CLINTON: Well, I hope that the American people understand that this is being done because, first and foremost, it's in our national security interests. Walking away from Yemen, not supporting it in both the counterterrorism efforts and its broader development needs, would be basically ceding the ground to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. That would be a very tragic mistake, in my opinion.

(END VIDEOTAPE) DOUGHERTY: I also asked Secretary Clinton about China. She has a major speech on China this Friday.

I asked her whether in this new Congress there could be more China bashing. Ever the diplomat, she sidestepped that, but said the U.S. has to work with China, but she'll stand up for U.S. interests -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jill Dougherty, traveling with the secretary of state in Oman.

Secretary Clinton's comparison, by the way, of the Tucson shooting suspect to Muslim extremists is raising some eyebrows.

Donna Brazile and John Feehery, they're here to discuss that and more. Our "Strategy Session" is next.

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BLITZER: Let's get right to our "Strategy Session."

Joining us, our CNN political contributor, the Democratic strategist, Donna Brazile, and Republican strategist John Feehery. He's the president of Quinn Gillespie Communications here in Washington.

You just heard Jill Dougherty's interview with the secretary of state, which she seemed to say, look, "We have extremists in my country as well," referring to the alleged shooter in Tucson, making the comparison, if you will, Muslim extremists in one part of the world and an extremist here.

Was that appropriate, for her to make that comparison?

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I found it actually very troubling, because there's no evidence that this psychotic down in Arizona was a political extremist. There's a lot of evidence that he's crazy and has some real emotional problems. So I think to make that equation is not accurate.

I think that we do have heated debate here in Washington, D.C., and we have heated debate in the country. But we don't have arms struggles like they have in Yemen. And I do think that you have to be very careful, especially in this time, to makes sure that you don't make that similarity there

BLITZER: Do you agree, Donna?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think the secretary was talking about violence in the sense that, clearly, what happened in Tucson is a tragedy that impacts not just that community, but the entire country. I don't think she was trying to compare it to the extremists who flew into the buildings here in the United States. But she has gone around the world speaking against violence, especially against women and girls in the Congo and other places, so I will take her in context and believe that she understands the difference. BLITZER: Because it's causing a bit of stir out there, that she is making this suggestion that this guy, the alleged shooter, was a political extremist like maybe al Qaeda.

BRAZILE: Well, I don't know his motives. I don't know Mr. Jared's motives. And none of us know his motives so far. But what we do know is that this has caused a lot of pain and anguish in this country. He's killed six people, injured many more, victims still in the hospital struggling with their lives. Again, I think the secretary was trying to make a larger point about violence in society.

BLITZER: It's such a sensitive issue. Everybody has got to watch his and her words so carefully right now, because as Donna points out, we don't know what his real motivation was.

FEEHERY: But we have two different arguments and two different problems.

One is the political problem of intense political rhetoric, and that's a different problem than this problem, which I think is a mental health problem. I was in the Capitol when Weston came in and shot up and killed two friends, John Gibson and Jacob Chestnut. And I'll tell you what -- he was a psychotic.

And I think that looking at what happened with this guy down in Arizona, we have the same kind of situation. So I think we have to be very careful in not mixing up these two arguments.

BRAZILE: But we've got to be careful about what we say, because for an unstable mind, for people who are troubled -- and look, Wolf, we don't like to talk about mental illness in this country. People are afraid of it. But we have to understand that what we say sometimes can impact those individuals.

And we -- again, last night I saw the family reach out to the victims, and we have also pray for his family as well.

BLITZER: We heard that statement yesterday.

The president is now on the ground in Tucson, and he is going to be participating in this memorial service later tonight. He brought with him a congressional delegation from Washington aboard Air Force One, and one person, one Republican congressman, a freshman, Ben Quayle, the son of the former vice president, Dan Quayle, he was one of the guests that the president invited aboard Air Force One.

Remember this commercial of Ben Quayle during the recent campaign?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BEN QUAYLE (R), CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Barack Obama is the worst president in history. And my generation will inherit a weakened country. Somebody has to go to Washington and knock the hell out of the place.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Talk about an awkward flight, if the president did in fact greet and meet with Ben Quayle.

FEEHERY: Well, I wonder if they played cards in the front of the plane there.

You know, in political campaigns, you have rhetoric like this. I remember when Harry Reid called President Bush "a loser" during a very heated moment.

I mean, this is part of politics. Sometimes you call each other names, and that's part of the thing. But it worked for Quayle. He got elected.

And so now he is an elected representative. The president has got to deal with him if he wants to work together with the Congress.

BLITZER: And I think the president was trying to show that, you know what? This is a time we all have to come together and let's work together.

BRAZILE: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Guys, thanks very much.

This programming note -- please join me, along with John King, for live coverage of the president's speech at the memorial tonight. Our coverage begins at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, 5:00 Pacific, right here on CNN.

We saw President Obama landing in Arizona just a few moments ago. We are looking ahead to his remarks at the memorial service for the shooting victims tonight. Veteran White House speechwriters for President Clinton, President Bush, they are both standing by with some thoughts on what the president should and should not say.

And should students as young as 6th grade be tested for drugs and alcohol? One school is making that decision today.

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BLITZER: The president of the United States, he's now in Tucson. We've just been told he is on his way to the hospital there to meet with Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, their family. The president and the first lady heading over there to comfort some of the victims, some of to family members, and then in about two hours, they will all be participating in a memorial service at the University of Arizona. We will have extensive live coverage here on CNN.

Other news we are following right now includes this -- just how young is too young to begin testing students for drugs and alcohol? Tonight, a New Jersey school board is set to vote on whether to conduct random tests on sixth, seventh and eighth graders starting this year, and it's prompting some strong opinions from parents.

Mary Snow is working this story for us. She's joining us now with more -- Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, random drug testing of kids in middle school isn't unheard of, but it's not common. About 14 percent of middle-schoolers in the country are subject to these tests. That's according to the Department of Education. And only a handful of districts in New Jersey do this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now what happens when we multiply?

SNOW (voice-over): A lesson in math conversions is what you might expect in sixth grade.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Give me the ratio.

SNOW: But for these 11-year-olds in Belvidere, New Jersey, learning real-life lessons may come earlier than most kids in their state. School officials want to randomly test middle schoolers for drug and alcohol, something that is usually reserved for high school students.

SANDRA SZABOCSIK, PRINCIPAL, OXFORD STREET ELEMENTARY SCHOOL: When parents call or even when we get anything from the police, it's very general.

SNOW: Principal Sandra Szabocsik says she gets calls about weekend parties involving marijuana and alcohol in this small rural community. She can't pinpoint a specific drug problem at her school, but says there are realities that can't be ignored.

They include a 2009 drug bust in a nearby town involving teachers arrested as part of a ring selling prescription drugs. Szabocsik hopes the random test will serve as a deterrent in keeping middle schoolers away from drugs and alcohol.

SZABOCSIK: I'm hoping that because they know they could be tested come Monday, maybe they will just say no, I can't do that, I'm afraid. And I also look at it as a way they can say no to their peers.

SNOW: In order to conduct testing, both parents and kids have to agree to participate.

We spoke with several parents ready to sign up.

CHRISTINA TAURIELLO, PARENT: Oh, I think it's great.

SNOW (on camera): Why?

TAURIELLO: Because, you know, the kids now, you don't know what they are doing, performance-enhancement drugs, things like that, even regular drugs. The kids are not as open to come home and tell their parents.

SNOW (voice-over): But others question the need to expose kids this young to random tests saying it can backfire.

GREG CASTERLINE, PARENT: What's the message being sent to them that they have to be random drug-tested? There is a question then about the integrity of every kid.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Now, the ACLU is sharply critical of these random drug tests, and schools saying it's not a good civics lesson, it doesn't reduce drug use. Schools involved say they do. And Belvidere students who fail these tests won't be punished, but will receive counseling -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary Snow, thank you.