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John Boehner Reelected Speaker; Interview With Congresswoman Ann Wagner; Sandy Hook Kids Return to School

Aired January 3, 2013 - 15:00   ET


JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour. I'm Joe Johns, for Brooke Baldwin.

I'm live from Washington, D.C., where, today, despite days of criticism, John Boehner gets to keep his title as speaker of the House.

In the last 90 minutes, Boehner received the vote of approval.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Therefore, the Honorable John A. Boehner of the state of Ohio, having received a majority of the votes cast, is duly elected speaker of the House of Representatives for the 113th Congress.



JOHNS: And as speaker, his first official words were ones of welcome and warning to a new Congress.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Our government has built up too much debt. Our economy is not producing enough jobs. And these are not separate problems. At $16 trillion and rising, our national debt is draining free enterprise and weakening the ship of state.

The American dream is in peril so long as its namesake is weighed down by this anchor of debt. Break its hold and we begin to set our economy free, jobs will come home and confidence will come back.


JOHNS: Let's bring in senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash.

Dana, there was actually an interesting moment there involving the vote. What happened?


We have been reporting on the fact that there is some discontent within the Republican Caucus with John Boehner. I think that the discontent is more general frustration is probably a better way to put it that Republicans run the House and they haven't been able to do what some of the most ardent supporters of spending cuts and tax cuts really want to do, which is take advantage of the House minority.

Some of that was borne out in some symbolic votes for other people, people other than the House speaker. We saw that from a couple of the brand-new members who were just sworn in, voted for other people, but the other interesting note that we just found out about from our Deirdre Walsh, who is doing some pretty amazing reporting, is that two of the outliers, I think maybe two of the biggest loners in the Republican Caucus who are not freshmen, Justin Amash and Walter Jones, they said they actually actively trying to recruit people to effectively vote against Boehner and force a second vote.

That's the way it would have worked. The process is if somebody doesn't get the majority, then a second vote happens. They were trying to make that happen and they failed. They were not able to get enough Republicans to do that, perhaps because the people who were doing it don't have a deep reservoir of support themselves in the caucus.

But it certainly made for a very interesting and very different moment from two years ago when the speaker was first voted as speaker and, of course, he had pretty much unanimous support.

JOHNS: The palace intrigue continued. Dana, Boehner has 84 new members in the House and they join 13 new senators today in their first day on the job. The 113th session of Congress has begun. It is already making history with many firsts, including more women senators than ever before.

There are 58 women in the House and they took a moment on the Capitol steps with the House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, front and center. Inside the building, the new senators were sworn in first.



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 to the same, that you take this obligation freely without mental reservation or purpose of evasion and that you will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which you are about to enter, so help you God?


BIDEN: Congratulations, Senator. Hope you enjoy...


(END VIDEO CLIP) JOHNS: Look closely at the picture. You are seeing some familiar faces because along with the new senators reelected, members were also taking the oath as they begin their term.

Several hours later, once the speaker was elected, new House members were sworn in.


BOEHNER: According to precedent, the chair will swear in the members en masse. So all the members-elect will rise and the chair will now administer the oath of office.

If all members-elect will raise their right hand. Do you solemnly swear or affirm that you will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic, that you will bear truth 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 are about to enter, so help you God?


BOEHNER: Congratulations. You are now a member of the 113th Congress.



JOHNS: A total of 97 new members in the United States House and the Senate.

Dana, let's a little bit talk about the freshmen to watch out for.

BASH: I think we should talk about maybe two of the senators who are most noteworthy for various reasons. Let's start with the person you have on the screen, Elizabeth Warren, the brand-new Democratic senator from Massachusetts who beat the Republican Scott Brown.

The reason why she is so interesting is because she is coming in as somebody who already has a very big national profile. She was the darling of the liberal side because she has been a consumer advocate and I think one of the most ironic things here is she is coming in to serve in a body that would not allow her to be approved as the official consumer advocate.

The senators effectively blocked her nomination so there is a little bit of irony there. Then on the Republican side, one person that is certainly going to have a lot of attention on him is Ted Cruz, the new Republican senator from Texas.

He is interesting for several reasons. First of all, he is a Latino and he has been pretty outspoken about the problems that his party has with the Latino community which is problematic for the growth of the party as we very much saw in this last election with the majority of white men simply not being enough of a majority to elect Republicans.

The other reason why he is interesting is just more internal party politics is that he was not initially the person who the Republican establishment here wanted. But he was able to win just like many other Tea Party-backed, so-called Tea Party-backed Republicans in primary fights. He might be somebody to add to the list of people who might not always go along with Republican leaders.

JOHNS: That friction that has made it so hard for John Boehner to lead apparently continues in the United States House of Representatives. Dana Bash, thanks so much for that.

Joining us now from the Capitol, one of the newly minted members of Congress. Even though she is a freshman, Ann Wagner of Missouri is no political novice. She has chaired the Missouri Republican Party and served as co-chair of the Republican National Committee.

Ann Wagner, how does it feel to be a member of Congress and how is your first day so far?

REP. ANN WAGNER (R), MISSOURI: It's fantastic. It has been a full day, a real whirlwind, but we are ready to get to work. It's a marvelous privilege to be here in the people's house and I look forward to serving my constituents in the 2nd Congressional District in the suburbs of St. Louis County and the metropolitan area.

JOHNS: What do you make of the dozen or so members of your caucus that cast protests against Congressman, I should say, Speaker Boehner as he was being reelected? Why the protest votes?

WAGNER: It's the House. And the House, they like to mix it up. I have seen it from the very beginning of just coming and into our orientation time. Obviously, we have seen it over the last 112th Congress.

People like to speak their minds. They want transparency. They want to be heard. And I think we are open to that kind of open dialogue. But there is tremendous support for Speaker Boehner and for our leadership, and really what there is support for needs to be bipartisan support for reining in our spending and doing something to attack this massive debt and fiscal glide that we are on right now.

JOHNS: To that end, I'm sure you watched with interest the vote on the fiscal cliff bill with Speaker Boehner and Congressman Ryan and others all in favor of it, but there were a lot of Republicans who didn't think too much of it and have said so. How would you have voted on it?

WAGNER: I would not have supported that fiscal cliff bill that was put through at the nth hour.

HR-8, that piece of legislation, was sent to the Senate over five months ago on August 1 and really should have been taken up by the Senate. The president should have shown real leadership I think in trying to move things forward before the nth hour like this. And my biggest objection is that it has cut no spending and in fact did really only raise the debt and add to our trillions of dollars that have got to be dealt with. Otherwise, we are going to mortgage and continue to mortgage our children's future.

I am here to get things done. I think the biggest thing, Joe, about this Congress, 113th, is we are doers. And I have been a doer my entire life and this is an important time in history for us to actually do something about this fiscal abyss that we are in and do something about spending and debt, do something about real entitlement reform and tax reform.

These the kinds of issues that are going to spur the economy and begin to grow jobs back in the 2nd District and all across America.

JOHNS: Coming up in the next few months, we will be talking more about cutting spending as well as the debt ceiling.

Where do you come down? Do you think Republicans ought to even stand to shut down the government if necessary in order to reduce spending across the board in the government?

WAGNER: There has got to be a serious discussion about this and real movement on reining in our spending and doing something to attack this out-of-control deficit.

When President Obama came to office over a term ago and just in 2008, 2009, we were $10 trillion and now we are north of $16 trillion and on a trajectory towards $20 trillion to $22 trillion of debt. This is just not sustainable.

I think any discussion about the debt ceiling is going to have to include some kind of real transparent and fundamental cuts in our spending. That kind of dialogue is something that I am most interested in being a part of.

JOHNS: Like to get you on the record quickly on gun control considering your home district. Where do you stand on that? Do you think the country is ready for a gun control bill coming out of the Obama administration?

WAGNER: I think that we should take the tragedy that happened in Newtown and have a full comprehensive dialogue about all issues, whether it has to do with mental health, whether it has to do with the social decline of our young people and some of the things that they are exposed to, whether it has to do with the firearms and guns.

There are multiple things that have got to be done to keep our children safe and secure. I think that we need to have a dialogue on all of these issues before moving forward. I look forward to being a part of that dialogue also.

JOHNS: Ann Wagner, you have been around politics for a long time, but this is the first time we have ever called you Congresswoman Ann Wagner.

Very good to see you today. Congratulations.

WAGNER: It's a privilege. Thank you, Joe, very much.

JOHNS: In Connecticut, Sandy Hook Elementary students returned to class today for the first time, that tragic shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Just a short time from now, they will be getting out of class. You will hear from some parents next.


JOHNS: The children of Sandy Hook Elementary have just wrapped up their first day back in class since the school massacre that claimed 20 of their classmates and six members of the staff.

CNN's Deborah Feyerick is near the Monroe, Connecticut, middle school that has been reconfigured to resemble their former elementary school in Newtown.

Deb, what are you hearing from the parents?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Joe, we can tell you that the teachers and staff of Sandy Hook Elementary, they pulled off nothing short of a small miracle.

They greeted everyone, the parents and the children, with hugs this morning. The kindergartners had circle time and they talked about what they did over Christmas vacation. Some of the fourth graders went on a scavenger hunt so they could kind of get used to their new environment. It was an amazing day according to one mom.

What the teachers and the staff were able to do is they were able to restore badly needed routine. Take a listen.


SARAH SWANSIGER, MOTHER: Really, any anxiety I had was myself. Once seeing the kids were excited to be back and happy and the environment in the school, I can't think of a better place to leave them. If I can't be with them, those teachers and the staff and everybody are amazing.

FEYERICK: They haven't -- you know there is security. Was the security visible and did that give you some measure of comfort?

SWANSIGER: The security was visible. I was happy that the media -- and I thank you guys for staying away from the bus routes -- that the kids got in without -- only seeing police officers coming in and out, which was very good.

As for making me feel more secure, I don't know if that makes a big difference to me. I think the teachers did a better job at making us feel welcome back again and happy they are there. Honestly, they were the ones who protected our children. And they're back with them, which is good.

FEYERICK: It's a new school. The school is a little bit farther, but on the whole do you think it will be the right place for your girls?

SWANSIGER: To keep them together. It doesn't matter where they were sending them. That's all that's important.

FEYERICK: Abbie (ph), let me ask you, what was your favorite class today?


FEYERICK: Yes? And what was the thing that was the most different about your new class?


FEYERICK: Yes. It looked a little bit different, right?


FEYERICK: Did you feel comfortable in that room?


FEYERICK: OK. So are you happy you are going to be going to this school now, that you have a place to go?


FEYERICK: That's wonderful.

All right, well, thank you both so very much.

When you think of the other parents, when you think of the other parents who were there, did the majority, were they able to hold it together? Or were there some that...


SWANSIGER: No. I think, everybody, this was a very big healing point as a first step forward to get them back into school and for us all to meet and to see that things are going back into some semblance of what they were prior to.


FEYERICK: There was just a lot of energy inside that building. First of all, it had been completely refurbished to look as much as possible as the old Sandy Hook Elementary School, but there were volunteers and counselors and therapy dogs for anyone who needed it. The parents were on hand. If any of them needed to go into the class, they were more than welcome to do so.

Then the parents met with the principal and the superintendent and police officers. But some of the big logistical questions were specifically what if the child begins to appear as if they need to speak to the counselor? What if a teacher needs to talk to a counselor. Those were among the questions that were asked. One father who said he put his boys on a school bus today and they waved goodbye and didn't even look back, he said perception and reality are very different, but judging by perception, it was good. It was really good. That is a quote -- Joe.

JOHNS: Perception, certainly that is just about everything at least at this stage. Thanks much, Deb Feyerick.

Radio host Glenn Beck wanted his own TV network and made a bid for Current TV, but he was apparently turned down. Find out why and what Al-Jazeera will do with access to 60 million American homes.

Media analyst Lauren Ashburn weighs in coming up next.


JOHNS: Arab-owned Al-Jazeera is about to introduce itself to millions more viewers in America. And former Vice President Al Gore apparently is lined to net millions of dollars from Al-Jazeera's purchase of the Gore-founded network Current TV. The reported sale price is a half a billion dollars.

Al-Jazeera is owned by the Persian Gulf state of Qatar and it covers the Mideast like no one's business. Al-Jazeera says it is editorially independent, but critics have charged it has an anti-American bias and whips up trouble among radicals. Its purchase of Current TV could gain Al-Jazeera close to 60 million viewers on cable.

Joining us now from New York, media analyst Lauren Ashburn, former managing editor of "USA Today" and currently editor in chief of Daily Download.

Lauren, listen if you would to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifying before Congress. Clinton sounds very much like a fan of Al-Jazeera.


HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Like it or hate it, it is really effective. In fact, viewership of Al-Jazeera is going up in the United States because it's real news.


JOHNS: Lauren, I guess answer that question for you. In your view, is it real news? And give us some background about why this sale is going on in the first place.

LAUREN ASHBURN, DAILY-DOWNLOAD.COM: I think you have to be very clear about what Al-Jazeera is and what Al-Jazeera English is.

If you remember, Al-Jazeera is the network that aired Osama bin Laden clips. Al-Jazeera English has won several awards for its reporting. The two are very different things. I think what Al-Jazeera is trying to do which as you said is owned by Qatar, which is kind of odd for Al Gore to be sending to the government that produces oil and he is Mr. Global Warming. I kind of find that a little odd, but anyway he has done it.

I think what they are trying to do is reach a larger American audience, but will that happen? I think they have a big P.R. uphill battle going forward for two reasons. One, Current's ratings were terrible and they were lousy. There were Internet sites that had better video ratings than Current did. I can see how Al-Jazeera might have those same problems, Al-Jazeera America, as I think they're calling it

Not sure whether or not the carriage will continue.

JOHNS: There has been this charge and I have heard from conservatives and even some liberals and Democrats on the other side that Al-Jazeera incites radical elements in part in the Middle East. Do you think that is a fair assessment?

ASHBURN: It's been called the terror network by some people.

As I said earlier, Osama bin Laden has appeared on it and I think that's where that comes from. However, Al-Jazeera English has been bringing as Al-Jazeera says independent and insightful news to Americans. I think that as Hillary Clinton was saying there is some value in it. They covered the Middle East.

We have reporters who are being cut back and bureaus being cut back from everywhere and don't do a very good job on international reporting. It will be up to the public to decide whether or not they want to get their international news from Al-Jazeera.

JOHNS: Now "The Wall Street Journal" has reported that conservative host Glenn Beck actually expressed interest in purchasing Current TV, but the assertion was that Beck was told Current TV just was not a good ideological fit. They decided to sell to Al-Jazeera. What's your take on that?

ASHBURN: OK. It came back in 15 seconds really, 15 minutes actually, that they said no to Glenn Beck. He made an inquiry and 15 minutes later and they are saying absolutely not. It would have looked really funny for Al Gore to sell to him.

But as I said before, it's weird that he wouldn't sell to Glenn Beck, yet he would sell to Al-Jazeera. I don't know. It doesn't seem that different to me.

JOHNS: Yes, I know. That's quite a story in and of itself.

Lauren Ashburn, always good to see you. Thanks so much.

ASHBURN: You too, Joe. Take care.

JOHNS: Outrageous tweets, a cell phone picture and now a new video that mocks an alleged rape, all evidence in a case that is dividing one small Ohio town. Wendy Walsh joins me next on the emotions running through the community.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) JOHNS: There is a horrific rape case that says something about the callousness of youth and also highlights the power of the Internet in piecing together a crime that happened in Steubenville, Ohio, one of the small towns where just about everybody knows everybody else.

The victim is a 16-year-old girl. She reportedly was drunk, possibly unconscious when she allegedly was raped by two high school football players during parties around the end of the summer. The alleged rape came to light through shocking tweets, a cell phone picture that purportedly shows the limp victim being carried by her arms and legs and this online video that shows young people callously laughing about it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What if that was your daughter? What if it was?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But it isn't. If that was my daughter, I wouldn't care. I would just let her be dead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Listen to yourself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm listening to myself fine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In about 10 years, I'm going to come back to this video.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ten years. My daughter's going to be getting raped and dead in 10 years.


JOHNS: Two 16-year-old boys are charged with rape and they're scheduled to be tried by a juvenile court judge in coming months.

I want to bring in psychologist Wendy Walsh.

Wendy, it strikes me there at least a couple of issues here, the alleged treatment of this girl and also the attitude of the teenagers who are talking about it afterwards. What's going on?

WENDY WALSH, FAMILY THERAPIST: I listened to the video and it's pretty lengthy and it's kind of disturbing. It is certainly not for everybody.

I watched it and listened to it carefully two times. It appears to me this video is sort of the aftermath. In other words, the young woman had been taken away and they were laughing about it. They said things like, did she throw up on Mark's carpet? Hah, hah, hah. They used the word rape so cavalierly like, oh, she got good and raped, like that was great, like they were cheering.

I must say also these are drunken males. There is a lot of male bravado going on and the person operating the video camera is egging on the main guy and trying to get him to say some more misogynist things, but nonetheless, very, very disturbing that young males can even talk or think this way.

JOHNS: Also, there is that question of diminished capacity if there was alcohol involved. Right?

WALSH: The big weapon in rape nowadays is certainly not a gun or a knife. It is alcohol.

It's important for young men to understand that alcohol can be used as a weapon. And, again, by the way they were talking about it and what we're trying to piece together with the tweets and the pictures and the video, is that she was unconscious first. So, who gave her the alcohol or whether she self-consumed, it doesn't matter. It still becomes something that makes her incapable of saying no.

JOHNS: There's a little background on that video we showed you. It wasn't really noticed until a loose cooperative of so-called "hacktivists" known as "Anonymous" drew attention to what the group says the town is keeping quiet to protect the football team and it's threatening to release more information unless everybody comes clean about what happened that night.

What's your take on what seems to be Internet ridge vigilantes?

WALSH: Well, we are now living in a time where there is a video, tweet or recorded conversation that can follow you just about anywhere in your life and there seems to be no delineation between public or private time.

Obviously, there are times where that's not good, but in something like this where there's a victim, a clear victim, where we need to see some evidence, then this kind of voyeurism with someone's cell phone and vigilante youtubing can be a good thing, ultimately.

JOHNS: Certainly a very shocking story there. Wendy Walsh, thanks so much.

WALSH: Thanks, Joe.

JOHNS: You know actor Gerard Depardieu for his movie, "Green Card," but the Frenchman wants to leave his country because of higher taxes. And get this. Vladimir Putin is involved. Wait until you hear it. Coming up next.