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113th Congress More Diverse; VP Biden Swears In Senators; Top Taliban Commander Mullah Nazir Killed

Aired January 3, 2013 - 12:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Suzanne Malveaux. Here is what is going on right now.

History is being made right now on the floor of the U.S. House and the Senate. The 113th Congress is convening for the first time. The gavels came down just moments ago. All re-elected and newly elected lawmakers are going to be taking the oath of office and sworn in, many of them for the first time. There were 97 freshman, 84 in the House, 13 in the Senate. And while Republicans still control the House, Democrats gained seats in both chambered, two more in the Senate, eight more in the House.

There's going to be a bit of added drama as well on the House side. Speaker John Boehner hoping to hold on to his leadership position. He has lost some support from some Republicans who were outraged that he delayed a vote on Hurricane Sandy relief. Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who is also hoping to keep her leadership role, they're going to be officially nominated in about 40 minutes or so. Then the voting begins.

Want to bring in our team whose keeping a close eye on history being made. Of course, Wolf Blitzer, Gloria Borger, they are in Washington, Dana Bash live on Capitol Hill.

Wolf, I want to start off with you. You probably have lost count on the number of times that you have covered this event, that you have watched this take place. We're going to talk a little bit about Boehner in a minute. But talk a little bit about the diversity that we're seeing in this Congress. Never the likes before. A record number of women in the Senate. A record number of Latinos in the House. How will this impact whether or not the President can get more done in his second term?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": Well, as important as it is to have a Congress, a House and a Senate that really looks like the United States of America, and there will be 20 women, as you point out, among the 100 Senators, there will a lot more women and minorities, Hispanics, African-Americans in the House of Representatives. When all is said and done, there are Democrats and Republicans, and there is a Democratic majority in the Senate and there's a Republican majority that's maintained in the House of Representatives. The President's going to have to deal with those facts of life. And in the Senate, as you know, and as our viewers know, on really important issues, even though there will be 55 Democrats, 53 Democrats, two Independents who will caucus with the Democrats, 55-45, even though there will be a Democratic majority, you still need 60 to get stuff -- important stuff done. So the Republicans will have a little check on that.

And the House of Representatives, I think the final number is 233 Republicans, 200 Democrats, two vacancies right now. So the Republicans still have an impressive majority in the House of Representatives. So as diversity is important, Suzanne, the political parties are pretty important as well. The President's going to have his challenges dealing with this Congress.

MALVEAUX: And we've seen so much partisanship in the first term.

I want to bring in Gloria here to talk a little bit about the Republicans licking their wounds, it seems, after the presidential election. There are less freshmen who are in the House, fewer Republican faces than we saw in the last Congress and quite a bit of division within the party itself. What do you make of their potential power going into the second term?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I think, Suzanne, what we're seeing is pretty much an open civil war in the Republican Party. Some Republicans will say the President caused that. I would say they did it to themselves, actually. This is a party that's trying to figure out where it stands. It lost a presidential election. You have a speaker --

MALVEAUX: All right, Gloria, I want to interrupt for a minute just because they're doing the Pledge of Allegiance to begin this ceremony.



JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For 2013. All certificates, the chairs is advised, are in the forms suggested by the Senate or contain all essential requirements for all of the forms suggested by the Senate. If there is no objection, the reading of the certificates will be waived and they will be printed in full in the record. If the Senate --


MALVEAUX: Vice President Joe Biden.

I want to go to Dana. I understand that she has House Speaker Boehner with her.


DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Mr. Speaker. How you feeling, sir? Just so you know, he has a policy, Suzanne, of not talking to reporters in the hallway. So that's what that was about. It was -- that was a smile saying, come on, you know I'm not going to answer you. But he was walking from his office into the House chamber for the beginning of the session and, most importantly, for what we're going to -- see happen in a matter of minutes, which is going to be the election of the speaker. And what we're going to be watching for is to see if there are very many defections on the Republican side.

MALVEAUX: All right. Dana, I know that you've had a chance to do the back and forth with House Speaker John Boehner. He doesn't answer many questions. He has infuriated a lot of Republicans, including the New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, and New York Congressman Peter King regarding the Superstorm Sandy aid. I want to ask you that, but in a moment.

We want to get back to the floor here. House and Senate members taking the oath of office. Let's listen in.


BIDEN: The duties of the office on which you're about to enter, so help you God.



BIDEN: Congratulations, Senator. Congratulations.


MALVEAUX: We are watching Representative Tammy Baldwin. She is signing the pledge, the oath that she has taken. The Vice President swearing in the Senators there on the floor.

We are now watching, of Wyoming, John Barrasso, whose actually signing -- I actually had a chance to talk to him just the other day about his impressions and what he's looking forward to.

And that is Sherrod Brown of Ohio who is signing, giving the congratulations. And, of course, the handshakes.

Wolf, I want you to talk a little bit about this moment and what this means. You have new Senators who are signing the pledge there. There are 13 new Senators who have signed on. This is a pretty special moment for our country, the fact that we have turnover --

BLITZER: They usually -- they bring in a few Senators at a time to be sworn in by the President of the Senate, who also happens to be the Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden. They walk them in. usually the senior Senator from -- or their colleague from that state. These are Senators who have just been re-elected. They're walking in. And you see they're accompanied by a colleague. They will raise their hands. They'll be sworn in by the Vice President.

You know what. Let's just watch this ceremony, because it's going to be repeated several times.


BIDEN: Please raise your right hand. Do you solemnly swear that you will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that you bear truth faith and allegiance of the same, that you take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion and that you will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which you're about to enter, so help you God.



BIDEN: Congratulations, Senator.


BLITZER: All right. So, there you see, this is the ceremony that's going to be going on. The newly elected members are coming in. Twelve newly elected Senators, eight Democrats, three Republicans, one Independent, Angus King of Maine, and a 13th if you count Senator -- soon to be Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, who is succeeding Jim DeMint, who's decided to give up his Senate seat in order to become President of the Heritage Foundation, a think tank here in Washington.

Dana Bash is watching what's going on. But, Gloria, as we watch this ceremony, the Vice President, he plays an important role as the President of the Senate, but in the last few days he played an incredibly important role in making sure this fiscal cliff deal got through, working with the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell.

BORGER: Right. Don't forget, the Vice President is a long-time veteran of the Senate, has relationships that span decades. And then, of course, he got the phone call from Mitch McConnell saying, can anybody around here cut a deal? And the two men, Wolf, really worked together to get that deal done. There were lots of folks who were angry about it in the Congress. Dana knows this better than anyone. I mean they were mad because they were kind of cut out, including, at certain points, Harry Reid, the leader of the Democrats. But the President said to Joe Biden, I want you to get this deal done, and so he did. He's being heralded as a hero by some, but by others, who think there weren't enough promises made on budget cuts in it, they're saying that he punted.

BLITZER: Yes. And here comes the next batch of Senators who are going to be sworn in for this term, for this 113th Congress. Similar ceremonies are going to be taking place on the House side as well. That 112th Congress is now history. Not a whole lot of legislation passed the House and the Senate, went to the President's desk for his signature. And there's a lot of people saying, well, maybe the 113th Congress will be a little bit more productive than the 112th Congress was, not necessarily a high hurdle to pass. Let's listen to the Vice President.


BIDEN: Supported and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that you will bear true faith and allegiance to the same, that you take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion and that you will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which you're about to enter, so help you God.



BIDEN: Congratulations, Senators.


WOLF: Ted Cruz there, the newly elected Senator from Texas. Dianne Feinstein from California, the veteran Senator, the chairman of -- the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

If you take a look, and if Dana's still there, Dana, if you could hear me, you take a look at some of these new Senators, 20 women will be in this United States Senate, 20 out of 100. That's a record. That's pretty impressive.

BASH: Oh, absolutely. There are more Senators, as you said, female Senators, than ever before. But, you know, on the flipside of that, it is still only 20 percent of the Senate and women make up more than a majority of the country. So it's they're doing better, but still have a ways to go to really match the way the country looks.

Having said that, you know, these women, talking to them in the hallways, the new Senators, the new House members and even those who have been here for a long time, they're not shy about the fact that they think that if there were more of them even that things would run a lot more smoothly here. In fact, the Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, said earlier today just that. That she thinks that just by nature women are more consensus builders. And so it could help more to have them not just around, but in positions of leadership. So there definitely are a lot of women who are extremely excited.

And one other bit of history in the new Congress. Barbara Mikulski, the Senator of Maryland, who is kind of the dean of the Senate women, she is going to be the first female chair of the Appropriations Committee, which, of course, is one of the most powerful committees in all of Congress.

BLITZER: That will be impressive. You know, Suzanne Malveaux, you've covered Washington for a long time as well. I don't know about you, but I still get excited when I watch these ceremonies. History unfolding. The start of the 113th Congress right here in Washington.

MALVEAUX: You know, I mean, every time you watch it, it really is kind of exciting. Because you think about it, all these other countries really don't have this kind of turnover, if you will, a peaceful turnover of power. And as much as we're frustrated by the Congress, I mean, 12 percent approval rate at this point, there is a certain sense that this is something that is historic and that's a tradition that we respect. Certainly we hope that the members of this Congress are going to behave in a way that was different than the last go-around, putting a lot of things off at the very last minute.

Want to talk a little bit about some of -- a little bit of the color there, at least on the Senate side. When they go up, they sign the oath. They're actually able to keep that pen for them. And then there's a ceremony that happens later in the afternoon for the families of those Senators, a reenactment, if you will, with the Vice President that happens later in the afternoon. So this is something that's special, it's important to the American people, obviously for our cameras and their colleagues there, but also for their families, the people who are part of watching their loved ones participate in a representative government. And that really is quite extraordinary and unique when you think about it.

I want to bring in Gloria Borger to talk a little bit about what you think this new Congress is going to be able to accomplish in the second term with the President. Are we looking at potential immigration reform?

BORGER: We might be.

MALVEAUX: Are we looking at gun control as two possible accomplishments? Things that the President can actually work with this Congress to push through?

BORGER: First of all, I just want to add something on the diversity we've been talking about, because what's interesting to me is when I was sort of a young Congressional reporter covering the Senate, the big deal was that Barbara Mikulski got women allowed to wear pants on the Senate floor. And now here she is. It's so wonderful. Here she is the chairman of, one would argue, the most powerful committee now in the United States Senate. But when I first met her, she was talking about being allowed to wear pants. But that's another story.

In terms of the agenda, I do think there's going to be a long list. But there's a question of how much of a speed bump the debt ceiling is going to be.


BORGER: And all of these fiscal issues are going to be. The President clearly has a path towards getting immigration reform. I would argue he might want to partner with a Republican, as odd as that sounds, like Marco Rubio, to try and get something done in a bipartisan way from the outset.

MALVEAUX: All right. OK, Gloria, we're going to talk a little bit more about that in a little bit. I want our viewers to know at the top of the screen there you're looking at the House -- the House floor there, and the ceremonies that are taking place as the representatives are being ushered into the room. The bottom there screen is -- that is on the Senate side. We're going to be following this close. We're going to take a quick break and then we'll bring you live coverage again of the 113th Congress being sworn in.


MALVEAUX: All right, you are watching the House floor there. There are 84 new representatives that are being sworn in the House today. This is the 113th Congress and you are looking at the assembly there.

The House Democratic caucus is the most diverse than it has ever been. We are looking at a totally different look when it comes to Congress. The majority of members are either women or non-white. That is the first time that is happening in the House.

Some other notables, as well. Fifty-seven House Democrats are women and 20 House Republicans, women, as well. Record number of Latinos, looking at 28 Latinos also being sworn in the House.

I want to talk a little bit about specifically who we're looking at, Ted Cruz. He's a Republican from Texas. He is one of them. He is a freshman and he is a Tea Party favorite.

Our Jim Acosta caught up with him this morning. And, Jim, give us a sense of who he is. I know he got a lot of attention at the RNC convention last year.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, he was a Tea Party favorite in the run-up to last November's elections and it's interesting to note, as a lot of Americans seem to be saying at least in the polls that they want the Congress to work together -- they want Republicans and Democrats to work together on matters such as the fiscal cliff -- they have sent more partisans into the Capitol and one of the those partisans will be Ted Cruz.

He is a Tea Party conservative, was the solicitor-general down in Texas before running for the Senate. He is a graduate of Princeton and Harvard and also the son of a Cuban-American immigrant.

But I had a chance to talk with him just briefly earlier this morning because he had been very critical of the negotiated agreement between Mitch McConnell and Vice President Joe Biden on the fiscal cliff.

And he made no bones about it when I talked to him heading into the Capitol earlier this morning. Here's what he had to say.


ACOSTA: Is this going to be a time for compromise, do you think, in the next couple of months?

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: Well, I hope it is a time for solving the problems we have. We have enormous fiscal and economic problems and I hope the members of Congress are ready to get serious about solving them.

ACOSTA: were you disappointed how the fiscal cliff went down?

CRUZ: I was. I think it was a lousy deal. I think it raised taxes by $620 billion, which is going to hurt the economy. It's going to kill jobs.

It combined that not with spending cuts, but with spending increases, $330 billion in additional spending. That doesn't solve the problems we've got.

I think we need to get serious about solving these problems and about not bankrupting the country.


ACOSTA: And I should note there, Suzanne, I shot that on my iPhone earlier this morning. You know, there are so many new members of Congress flooding into the Capitol today, you have to get them any way that you can.

And we should also note that behind me in the Russell Rotunda, the Senate office building here on the Capitol, that Elizabeth Warren, she is going to be paying a visit to a swearing-in party that is happening behind me.

On the other side of the aisle, she is also somebody who is expected to be fairly partisan in terms of how she will vote and how she will conduct herself up here on the Capitol, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Jim, I don't know if a lot of people realize that, but it's one of the unique things about covering the Hill is that people pass you by all the time in the hallways and elevators. There's a lot of access.

It's not really very much like the White House, but you get a chance to grab them any way you can through the iPhone or in the gym, as Dana has also done, as well.

Jim, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

Want to bring back Wolf to talk a little bit about looking ahead here. A new Congress, the 113th, I know they've got at least Sandy hurricane aid that is on the agenda. But what can we expect? I mean, there's going to be some really hard-fought battles when it comes to the budget and also raising the debt ceiling, as well.

BLITZER: Well, the president says he's not going to negotiate raising the nation's debt ceiling when it comes up, once again, at the end of February or the latest, early March.

He says that the Congress is just going to have to do it as they always do it. Now, Republicans have a very different notion and we're talking as there's the vice president getting ready to swear in some more members, newly elected members of the United States Senate over there.

You can see them right there. The vice president will swear them in. They're doing it in a batch of, what, four at a time. And that's going to go on for a while. Every two years, a third of the Senate -- there's Tim Scott, who is the new Senator on the left, the new Senator from South Carolina who is taking over for Jim DeMint who gave up his seat in order to become head of the Heritage Foundation in Washington.

Elizabeth Warren, you see her as well, the newly elected Senator from Massachusetts who beat Scott Brown there.

But I think this debt ceiling, to answer your question, Suzanne, that debt ceiling is a huge, huge battle even though the president says he's not going to be part of that battle. He's not going to negotiate the raising of the debt ceiling. Congress is simply going to have to do it.

I suspect there's going to be a bitter fight at the end of the February. It's going to go on. The Republicans say they'll raise the debt ceiling, but they want to make sure that whatever they raise it by, let's say a trillion dollars, that there's a similar cut in spending so it doesn't increase the nation's debt.

Get ready for a bruising battle on that front.

MALVEAUX: Gloria, do we think that the president is going to be able to accomplish when he's looking at his legacy some of the things that have been very dear to him when you take a look at the 113th Congress, that there will be less of this kind of partisanship, that he will be able to break through?

I mean, it was one of the pledges going in the first go-around that he was going to change Washington. It has not been something that he's able to accomplish with the former Congress.

BORGER: No, it isn't. And I think looking at the fight we just had and the fight that Wolf is talking about, I think it's hard to be optimistic about how these two sides are going to work together.

When you look at the debt ceiling fight that's coming up, that is really Republican turf, cutting the budget, cutting spending, cutting the size of government. Just as the president ran on taking away the tax cuts for the wealthy, Republicans have spent the last four years running on making government smaller, so this is their turf. That's what they're going to want to talk about.

But, as we were talking about earlier, members of Congress these days tend to get things done when it's in their own self-interest. And what's in Republican self-interest and Democrat self-interest is immigration reform. I think if there's anything we can look towards and say, wait a minute, let's be a little optimistic about something, I think it would be that issue because Republicans saw that Hispanic voters in this last election went for Democrats by more than three-to- one. It's in their interests to get something done.

MALVEAUX: All right, we are watching a historic occasion as both Senators and members of the House of Representatives sworn in at the new 113th Congress.

Wolf Blitzer, Gloria Borger, thank you for your help and your analysis. We're going to bring you back, of course, in about a half hour or so.

You are watching CNN NEWSROOM. We're going to be right black.


MALVEAUX: You are watching history being made. This is the 113th Congress that has been sworn in to session. It is taking place now. On the top there, you can see on your screen, that is in the House chamber. Below is the Senate chamber.

There are 97 new members being sworn in, a very diverse group among the two chambers there. There are 13 new Senators that are sworn, 84 new representatives in the House. More women, more Hispanics. Openly gay Senator, as well.

This is a group that will be working with the president for his second term to see if they can push forward an agenda. A lot of controversial issues on the plate. You're talking about the budget deal as well as the debt ceiling, among many other things.

We're also following another story. A suspected U.S. drone strike has now killed a top Taliban commander, Mullah Nazir. He's believed to have been behind a number of attacks on the United States and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Two of his deputies also died in that strike.

It happened in Pakistan's volatile tribal region in the province of South Waziristan and Pakistani officials say the men were among 15 people killed today in two drone attacks.

U.S. officials insists the use of unmanned aircraft with missiles has been a successful way to fight terrorist elements in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere, but human rights groups say the number of civilians killed in drone attacks is just too high.

Our CNN security analyst Peter Bergen is joining us from Washington. And, Peter, first of all, tell us about how the Obama administration has relied on these drone strikes, what they've been able to accomplish.

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, they've killed 37 leaders of al Qaeda and the Taliban, but they've also in the process killed hundreds of others. There's a controversy about how many civilians.

I work at a foundation called the New America Foundation where we track this carefully. We calculate that there were five civilian deaths in 2012. That's not dissimilar to the accounts of other organizations that count these things.

So, the civilian death toll, Suzanne, has dropped very remarkably in the last several years. In the 2004-2007 time frame, it was about 60 percent. The reason for that, I think, are, you know, better intelligence, drones that fly longer, can linger longer over targets, are more discriminatory, smaller payloads.

And, so, you know, the fact is that the civilian casualty rate has dropped rather markedly. That said, most of the victims of these attacks are low-level militants. Are they really a threat to the United States? That's a sort of debatable question, I think.

MALVEAUX: Tell us about the Taliban commander who was killed.

BERGEN: You know, I would say he's not Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban, but he certainly leads a large Taliban group. It's a group that basically had some form of cease-fire agreement with the Pakistani government, wasn't attacking in Pakistan like many of these Pakistani Taliban groups do. They were certainly attacking across the border into Afghanistan, attacking U.S. and NATO forces there.