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Congress Sworn In; Sandy Hook Elementary Students Return to School; How Safe are Medical Helicopters?; Boehner Back As House Speaker; Clinton Could Be Back in Office Next Week; Hillary Clinton's 2016 Chances; The Killing Field of Our Children; Social Media Casts Spotlight on Alleged Rape

Aired January 3, 2013 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: an emotional and very historic day on Capitol Hill. A brand-new United States Congress is sworn in and with it a new hope for reaching across the aisle.

Some of the cases may be new, but many of the tough issues that have to be tackled certainly haven't changed. So is there any real chance of getting anything done?

And nearly three weeks since the devastating massacre, Sandy Hook Elementary students return to school. We will go there for a live report.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

An extraordinary day here in Washington, D.C. The 113th Congress takes office, ushering in, in a moment, what appeared to be a renewed push for bipartisanship on the heels of what has been an extremely tumultuous week of gridlock. One of the most striking moments of the day was this, a very emotional House Speaker John Boehner taking the gavel after being voted in by his colleagues to another term.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Put simply, we're sent here not to be something, but to do something.


BOEHNER: Or, as I like to call it, doing the right thing. It's a big job and it comes with big challenges.


BLITZER: He got emotional, for good reason.

Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, was watching all of it unfold on Capitol Hill.

An exciting, very passionate moment for the speaker of the House?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I should say you probably see the crowd of people behind me. Those are all new members of Congress, or actually, all of the members of Congress as they are streaming by going to get their photos taken and going to have their mock swear-ins.

The ceremonies are continuing here. But as far as that moment goes, of course, it's emotional because John Boehner tends to get emotional but his message was really interesting I thought on two levels. One is, he clearly tried to telegraph that he still very much supports the philosophy and the goal of the 2010 Congress that let him be speaker for the first time, which is to keep the taxes low and keep the deficits low or make the deficits lower.

But he also tried to signal that he, you know, understands things haven't been that great and he said something along the lines of, people should understand that they should look at Congress as something that is -- that they should be awestruck by and maybe members of Congress don't do that enough right now.

But obviously the big thing we're watching politically, Wolf, was the question of him and the votes that he got and it is important to note that he lost about a dozen Republicans. They voted for other people and there were different camps of them. Some voted for others as a protest because they got kicked off of committees by the speaker.

Some voted for others because they are incoming freshmen who want to prove that they are not going to be pulled into the leadership. But at the end of the day, he did get enough votes to remain speaker as he predicted and others predicted because the vast majority of Republican members still think that he does a good job and, frankly, there are not a lot of people that could do a better job, they think.

BLITZER: The Republicans have the majority in the House. The Democrats have the majority in the Senate, basically similar. The Democrats did pick up a few seats in the House. They did pick up a couple seats in the Senate. The demographics though of this 113th Congress are different, though. Tell us about that.

BASH: They are different. You're exactly right.

The balance of power is the same but the faces and the diversity is quite different. Starting in the Senate, which is way behind me, we have been talking about the fact that there is an historic number of women, 20 women. But in the House, I think people remember or known more now about the Democratic Party because many people have seen the movie "Lincoln," that the Democratic Party got its roots as being the party of white men in the South.

And now for the very first time, the majority of the Democrats in the House are not white men. They make up a whole host of other races and genders and so forth. And listen to a couple of those new members that helped bring that about.


REP. JOE GARCIA (D), FLORIDA: We have women, Hispanics, African- Americans. It's diverse. It looks like our country and hopefully beyond that we will be able to get together and deal with the problems of the country and I think everybody is committed to doing that.

REP. TULSI GABBARD (D), HAWAII: But I think now we're seeing Congress starting to catch up with where a lot of the rest of the country is and seeing a lot of diversity and representation here that brings different voices to people's house.


BASH: And, Wolf, I have talked to several of these members, whether they be Hispanic, or Asian, or other non-white members who say they think it's important, if for no other reason than everybody here is human. Everybody brings their own perspective and their own history and their own philosophy and that in and of itself no matter what happens, will change the dynamic and change the tone and texture of the debate here.

BLITZER: Looks like it's going to be an interesting and exciting debate. I have no doubt about that. We're going to speak to some new members in our 6:00 p.m. Eastern hour. That congresswoman, the Democratic congresswoman from Hawaii, that representative that you just had in your little clip there, we will speak with her, also Ted Cruz, the Republican senator from Texas. They will both be joining us in our 6:00 p.m. hour. Dana, thank you very much.

Despite all of today's pomp and circumstances, there are plenty of contentious issues ahead for this new Congress. At the top of the list, the battle over raising the nation's debt ceiling. Here's what the Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said about that today.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: In a couple of months, the president will ask us to raise the nation's debt limit. We cannot agree to increase that borrowing limit without agreeing to reforms that lower the avalanche of spending that's creating this debt in the first place, and in the past few weeks, if the past few weeks have taught us anything at all, that means the president needs to show up early this time.


BLITZER: I spoke exclusively about all of this with a former White House chief of staff during the Clinton administration, Erskine Bowles. He was the co-sponsor of the so-called Simpson/Bowles commission to deal with debt relief and deficit reduction.



We shouldn't negotiate on the full faith and credit of the U.S. government. That is crazy. Why would we want to put our economy through that? But there are lots of things we can negotiate on. We do have a sequester. We do have the end of a continuing resolution. We have lots of things coming up that will force us to make some of these tough decisions. The reality, Wolf, is that what we have to do is actually make some of these tough decisions instead of talking about them. We do have to reform the tax code, broaden the base, simplify the code, reduce some of that backdoor spending.

We have to cut some of these entitlement programs in order to slow the rate of growth of health care and make Social Security sustainably solvent. If we don't face up to these long-term problems and if we don't fix them and fix them soon, we're going to put our whole fiscal house in jeopardy.


BLITZER: The full interview with Erskine Bowles will air, by the way, here in THE SITUATION ROOM in our next hour.

Joining us now to talk a little bit more about this historic day in Washington is our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.

Gloria, the speaker of the House, the old speaker, is the same as the new speaker. He's under enormous pressure right now.


BLITZER: Especially since he voted with the minority of his party in favor of averting the fiscal cliff.

BORGER: Speaker Boehner has had a tough couple of weeks, Wolf, when you look back on this. He didn't deliver a majority of his own party for the fiscal cliff, as you point out.

Two of his top lieutenants actually voted again him. So there were all of these stories about, is there going to be an insurrection? Of course, that did not occur, not this time around. He's already put the White House on notice, I'm not going to negotiate directly with you guys anymore because of what happened the last time.

So he has to figure out a way that his membership can remain relevant without negotiating directly with the White House and try and get what he wants in the future. That's not going to be real easy for him, particularly when he may be taking some knives out of his back half the time.


BLITZER: The president says he's not even going to negotiate on raising the debt ceiling. The Republicans say he better. They are setting up a huge fight right now.

BORGER: They are. And, look, this is what the Republicans have going for them.

The question of spending and reducing the size of government is Republican turf, just like raising taxes on the wealthy was Democratic turf. This is Republican turf. It's popular. Government is unpopular. People want to reduce spending. What the Democrats have going for them and what the president believes he has going for him is, the president says, OK, do you guys want to reduce spending?

Do you want to be responsible for shutting down the government? Do you want to be responsible for us defaulting on our debt which people in this country believe is irresponsible? Your public approval rating is, already, what, 12 percent, which I think is high for this Congress. So the president believes he has the better part of that argument. The Republicans a saying, you know what? The people are with us when it comes to government spending. That's what we have to look forward to.

BLITZER: You have a very strong column on

BORGER: Thank you.

BLITZER: Let me read a line or two from it.

"We have stacked the deck against ourselves. Even when we create a fiscal cliff as a way to force real, meaningful action, we choose to fail because in an odd way, failure is much easier to explain. Just blame the other guy. Success, on the other hand, comes with responsibility and no one wants that."

So where do we end up going from here?

BORGER: Well, that's the problem. We all want someone to blame, which is what we're doing here. And so Republicans, you can blame them for their intransigence on taxes. You can blame the Democrats for their unwillingness to do any kind of meaningful entitlement reform deduction.

I believe you can blame the president for playing small ball when he should be playing a larger game there and maybe he will down the road. But if you actually succeed and were to do a big package and were to do tax reform, as people say they want to do, then you would have to take responsibility for that.

Then you would have to go home to the voters and say, I made the tough decisions. You might not like them, but please vote for me again and members of Congress are sort of afraid to do that, even though they have drawn congressional districts that almost guarantee their reelection. They still have no courage.

BLITZER: Yes. Well, they have tried with that grand bargain, the Simpsons-Bowles commission that would have created -- averted all of these problems, but for some reason, the president didn't like it completely. Paul Ryan was a member. Certain Republicans didn't like it.

Erskine Bowles, as I pointed out, he is joining us in the next hour.


BORGER: Right. And he thinks this deal was way too small.

BLITZER: Way too small.

Thanks, Gloria. Good to have you back.

BORGER: Thank you.

BLITZER: Hillary Clinton has a serious health scare only days before she's scheduled to testify in that Benghazi consulate attack. What will all this mean for her legacy, prospects of a 2016 presidential run? Stand by.

And are you better off not getting into a medical helicopter in an emergency? We're examining how safe they are after two more horrific crashes within a matter of hours.


BLITZER: Certainly a sad day when anyone dies in a crash but it's especially tragic when it happens to people rushing to save the lives of others. A string of fatal accidents involving medal helicopters now raising the question, just how safe are they?

Brian Todd has been looking into this question for us. Brian is walking into THE SITUATION ROOM.

Brian, very worrisome stuff. What are you learning?


Wolf, two medical helicopter crashes during an eight-hour period yesterday again drawing attention to aircraft that are intended to save lives, not take them. The first crash occurred midday near Seminole, Oklahoma, when a pilot experienced engine problems, crash- landing in a field, breaking the tail off of that aircraft. All four crew members were injured in that crash.

But just eight hours later, 9:00 p.m. local time, a chopper responding to a call went down near Ventura, Iowa, killing all three members of the crew. Neither of the helicopters had patients on board when they went down.

Of course, it's too early to say what exactly caused the crashes, but a rash of events a few years ago prompted the NTSB to focus on medical helicopters specifically and medical planes. Officials say the pressure to quickly respond in various conditions at night, in foul weather, they make those operations inherently dangerous. The safety board made 19 recommendations, including better pilot training, especially for inclement weather, safety management systems to assess the risk of flying, night vision systems for pilots and crews, flight data recorders with regular reviews of the data.

Now, both aircraft yesterday were just a few years old each and we know that the pilot in the fatal crash in Iowa did have access to night vision goggles and the newer technology but did not have a flight data recorder, Wolf.

BLITZER: What do we know about the companies that operated these helicopters?

TODD: Well, these were two large nationwide air medical operations. The first one, Air Methods Corporation, that's the one involved in the Oklahoma crash yesterday, that has some 300 aircraft. The company involved in the Iowa crash, Med-Trans, has about 60. We've reached out to both companies but have not heard back yet.

The FAA and NTSB are investigating both of these incidents.

We should say about the Air Methods Corporation, the one involved in that Oklahoma crash, according to NTSB records, it has about -- it has had 12 crashes since 2011, with 20 fatalities. So, that's a fairly significant record.

BLITZER: Fairly. That's awful.

TODD: Yes.

BLITZER: That's a pretty awful record.

TODD: It is. It certainly is.


TODD: Again, we've reached out to both companies for comment. We have not heard back yet. NTSB and FAA investigating what happened yesterday.

BLITZER: Brian, thanks very much. I'd like you to stay on top of this for us.

TODD: Sure.

BLITZER: Thank you.

A key Taliban commander is killed in Pakistan. We're going to tell you about the high-tech method the United States used to kill this guy.


BLITZER: A major Taliban commander is killed in a suspected drone strike.

Kate Bolduan is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

This is a big deal, Kate.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is a big deal. There's a lot going on, Wolf.

It happened in Pakistan's volatile tribal region. Fifteen people are dead from what appears to be two separate drone strikes targeting militants. The slain Taliban leader is believed to be behind a number of attacks that targeted U.S. military. We'll have a full report from CNN's foreign affairs reporter Jill Dougherty on this very subject coming up in the next hour.

Also what we're watching, first, BP paid a massive fine for its role in the 2010 Gulf oil spill, and now, Transocean seems to be following suit. The offshore drilling firm which owned the Deepwater Horizon right where an explosion killed 11 men and triggered the worst spill in history will pay $1.4 billion to the government and plead guilty to violating the Clean Water Act. BP, you'll probably remember, paid $4.5 billion in November.

Also, Spam and peanut butter may not go together, definitely not a sandwich, but they do now fall under the same corporate umbrella. Hormel Foods, which makes Spam lunch meat, will pay $700 million to buy Skippy peanut butter from Unilever. Hormel says the deal should help in China where Skippy is the leading brand of peanut butter. It only trails Jiff worldwide. Now, you know.

And here's ultrasound picture this family no doubt will no doubt treasure this forever. That's a baby girl you're seeing still inside her mother's womb grabbing on to the doctor's finger during a C- section procedure. The proud father shared the story to our affiliate KTVK in Phoenix.


RANDY ATKINS, FATHER: The doctor called me over and said, hey, she's grabbing my finger. So, I just ran over there and just grabbed the shot and I was just in awe, you know, looking at it. It was such an amazing picture.


BOLDUAN: It just seems like it could be a small or very big miracle. The baby's name may have something to do with it. Her name is Nevaeh, which is heaven spelled backwards.

An amazing, I mean, if we were talking to the family, it wouldn't even look real.

BLITZER: Yes. Look how sweet that is. That's adorable.

BOLDUAN: I know.

BLITZER: Such a special, special moment.

BOLDUAN: For that family. Happy they shared with it us.

BLITZER: I'm thrilled. Thank you.


BLITZER: A new Congress is sworn in, but if all the people in the leadership positions in both sides of the aisle look the same to you, it's because they are. Should we expect anything different from this new Congress than the last one? We'll assess. Ari Fleischer and Paul Begala, they're both standing by live for our strategy session.


BLITZER: It wasn't unanimous among his GOP caucus, but John Boehner certainly got plenty of votes to keep his job as speaker of the House. There's no arguing though that he's had a very rough week. The Republican congressman has been around long enough, though, to know it's nothing new and he let that be known in a very blunt message to the new 113th Congress.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: So if you've come here to see your name in the lights or pass off a political victory of some accomplishment, you've come to the wrong place. The door's right behind you.


BLITZER: Let's go to our strategy session. Joining us are CNN contributor, the Democratic strategist Paul Begala, and our CNN contributor, the Republican -- I guess we can call him strategist, former press secretary to George W. Bush White House, Ari Fleischer.

Ari, what do you think? What do you think about this? You -- I got to know you many years ago when you actually worked in the House of Representatives.


BLITZER: What do you think is the main challenge the speaker has right now? Because he's got a big problem. A lot of his colleagues on the Republican side weren't happy with the way he operated on this fiscal cliff.

FLEISCHER: Wolf, first, thanks for the reminder of how old I am. I started working in the House 30 years ago this year.

BLITZER: Yes, probably --


FLEISCHER: It's one of the hardest jobs in Washington to be the speaker and particularly now because the Republican majority is a shrunken majority from what it was in the previous Congress. It's still is a healthy majority, bigger majority than George Bush enjoyed in some of the Bush years but the majority has shrunk.

And the speaker is under pressure, and he's under pressure from those who are fed up with Washington -- how it works and who want to cut spending and who came to Washington to cut spending. The speaker is the one who has to, at the end of the day, reach an agreement with the Senate, with President Obama, while he on his right flank has those Republicans pressuring him to do everything in a Republican way.

BLITZER: Knowing how a normal speaker, Ari, and the House of Representatives operates, those two dozen or three dozens, whatever they were renegades, shall we call them, Republican congressman who didn't vote for his reelection, do they get punished? Will there be retaliation? What happens to them?

FLEISCHER: No, I think at this point they get their mulligan. They have their ideological point, they made it, and they'll unite behind the speaker when they can.

But, Wolf, I think one of the important things I'm looking for in a new Congress is now that Senator Reid has 55 Democrats, he got reinforcements, will the senate pass the budget for the first time in four years? If the Senate passes a budget and House passes a budget, that's how Congress is supposed to work.

When one body utterly fails to do their constitutional mission of passing a budget, that's one thing that leads to all of the breakdown and last-minute wrangling and the cliff and the chaos. In regular order, can the Senate pass a budget happen this year?

BLITZER: Let's soon find out.

Paul, Nancy Pelosi was re-elected, the minority leader, the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, although here, too, not completely a unanimous vote. Listen to this exchange when they called the name of one Democratic congressman from Tennessee.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cooper. Colin Powell.


BLITZER: That was Jim Cooper of Tennessee. He said, Colin Powell. Now, technically, you don't even have to be a member of the House to be elected speaker. So, Colin Powell potentially could have gotten a few votes. What did that say to you, if anything, Paul?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It sounds like Jim Cooper doesn't like Colin Powell very much. I think Ari is right when he says it's one of the hardest and worst and toughest jobs in America to be the House speaker. There are always a few dissenters in each party. But Democrats clearly want Nancy Pelosi to continue lead them. And I think she's done so ably.

The Republicans want Speaker Boehner. Yes, there were a few dissenters.

But I've got to tell you, the House Republicans that Mr. Boehner leads again is a failed state. It is the classic definition, the kinds of places like, you know, Somalia and Democratic Republic of Congo, the kinds of places you like to report from, Wolf. That's where the House Republican conference is.

I looked up the definition, the textbook definition of a failed state. It's a collapse of central authority, check. The inability to receive collective decision making, check. Inability to provide basic public services -- well, sometimes they do. I don't give them a total pass on that.

Inability to deal with other states in the international community. In this sense, the Senate or the White House.

Poor Speaker Boehner and it's not entirely his fault. He's presiding over a failed state and I don't see it getting any better. Maybe that's why he was weeping today when Nancy Pelosi gave him the gavel.

BLITZER: All right. Go ahead and respond to that, Ari.

FLEISCHER: Actually, I think the House is the only thing keeping us from becoming a failed nation or a broke nation. You know, that's the other side of this. That if the Democrats run everything in Washington, everything would be done through tax increases on everywhere they can possibly find them. And that is the last we want to do.

What is stopping us from cutting government so we don't put all of these burdens on our children? The Democrats in the Senate and the president. The House is the only bastion left that's stopping the president from getting his way every time, everywhere.

BLITZER: Am I the only one -- I'll go to you, Paul, first, who is impressed that the 112th Congress on the Senate and the House side ended with bipartisanship lopsided majority votes in favor of legislation to avert that fiscal cliff?

BEGALA: Well, I think that is impressive, but it was impressive how each party dealt with it. In the Senate, which Ari was just unfairly maligning, by the way, I worked in the House, too. I worked for a senator as well. So, I guess, I've got experience on both sides.

The Senate got 89 out of its 100 -- I guess it's 98 at the time, 89 of the 98 senators to agree on a very difficult, very important piece of debt reduction. That's how Washington ought to work. I don't like that it was at the last minute and so forth.

The House side, the speaker took the unusual step of voting for a piece of legislation, rarely done. Speakers do it when they want to make it like Nancy Pelosi did voting for Obama care. The speaker voted for it. The House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan voted for it.

And yet two-thirds of their conference voted against their speaker and their budget committee chairman. That's why I say it's a failed state in the Republican conference. Thank God the democrats were there to actually form a bipartisan coalition and put this thing through. But Nancy Pelosi was more responsible for passing this than John Boehner.

FLEISCHER: But Wolf, you've got to remember too, on the previous budget deal to avert the cliff in 2011 or the debt limit increase, half the Democrats in the House voted against President Obama on that because it was spending cuts. I think this is a sign of the times that we're in.

Both parties are going to split over these issues and really what's happening, Wolf, step back, our debt is so big, our deficits are so big, they are going to force tough choices on everybody and you're not going to get many easy, good votes out of Congress because the issues that they finally have to start wrangling with are massive.

We can kick the can down the road, but if you're going to face, how do you deal with trillion dollar deficits? A lot of people are going to have to be made unhappy. That's how you save the next generation. So don't pass our problems to them.

BEGALA: Like I said, Bush administration official talking about debt is like Ben and Jerry's talking about obesity. We know what cause the debt, Ari, it was your boss and his policies. Now you're going to blame President Obama and the Democrats --

FLEISCHER: The Democrats can't complain about the very things that they keep extending and doing. The president was continuing the war in Afghanistan and not paying for it.

BEGALA: He's winding it down.

FLEISCHER: The president is going to provide relief for Sandy victims without paying for it. The president is continuing the Bush tax cuts without paying for it. So I think it's the time now to solve the trillion dollar deficit problems that both parties have created rather than complaining or finger pointing. And that is why it's going to be so difficult.

BLITZER: Paul, hold your fire. We have more to discuss and neither one of you is going away. We're going to have more to discuss, including the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. She may be back in her office as early as next week after that dramatic blood clot scare.

Up next, what it could mean for her legacy. Talk about running for president in 2016. Paul and Ari, they are standing by live.


BLITZER: We're just learning from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's office that she's dialed into a meeting today from her home. Could be back to work as soon as next week. She was discharged yesterday from a New York City hospital where she was being treated for a potentially dangerous blood clot in her head.

It all makes for a surprising and dramatic twist in the ending of her tenure as the country's top diplomat. Let's bring back Kate. She's got more details on what is going on. Goes without saying, we're thrilled that she's out of the hospital, she's home, she's beginning to get back into action a little bit.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: But, of course, everyone is looking ahead, Wolf. The end of 2012 was set to be mark by Hillary Clinton's farewell tour as the country's top diplomat. Things have clearly changed leaving many to wonder with what lasting impact.


BOLDUAN (voice-over): After logging more than 950,000 miles, visiting 112 countries, Hillary Clinton is known for keeping a grueling schedule and enjoys something rarely seen anymore in politics, a huge approval rating. Close to 70 percent in early December.


BOLDUAN: It seemed certain the secretary would end her tenure on a high note, but the closing chapter of her post has turned into anything but a fond farewell. Illness, a concussion, and most recently a blood clot has sidelined Clinton for more than three weeks.

VICTORIA NULAND, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: She is talking to staff. She is taking paper at home. She sounds terrific. She's looking forward to coming back to work next week.

BOLDUAN: And she still faces tough questions about the September 11th attack on the mission in Benghazi, which threatens to leave a lasting stain on her three-decades long career. Clinton told CNN back in October it's a disaster she takes responsibility for.

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I'm in charge of the State Department, 60,000 plus people all over the world, 275 posts all over the world. The president and vice president certainly would not be knowledgeable about specific decisions that are made by security professionals.

BOLDUAN: Beyond leaving a mark on her legacy, that attack and continuing violence in the Middle East, especially Syria, now become unfinished business the secretary may leave behind.

AARON DAVID MILLER, V.P. WOODROW WILSON INTERNATIONAL CENTER FOR SCHOLARS: It can't be ending on a high, but I think it's part of a broad are piece. This isn't a slam-dunk world. There were only, as I've described elsewhere, migraines or root canals.

BOLDUAN: As she moves into the next chapter of her life and possibly a 2016 presidential bid, a real question is whether unfinished business might become political baggage.

MILLER: Her challenge is not going to be that Americans are looking back saying, how come you didn't fix Syria or how come the mullahs haven't given up their quest for a weapon, the quest is going to be can you have another 4 to 8 years of Democratic rule after the last eight.


BOLDUAN: And still she is hugely popular, both here and abroad. When asked today about the number of goodwill, get well messages, Secretary Clinton has received since her illness, the State Department spokesman, Wolf, said, she called the list of messages a tsunami of get well messages.

BLITZER: I'm not surprised. She's been very popular. I've traveled with her on one trip to Paris, Cairo, Tunisia and you could see how she never stops.

BOLDUAN: Look at the miles she's logged. BLITZER: All right, well, let's hope she comes out of this in perfect shape. Thank you very much.

Let's get back to Paul Begala and Ari Fleischer. Paul, you worked with the secretary of state when she was first lady of the United States. This has not necessarily the best way she wanted to end those four years as secretary of state.

BEGALA: No, but I think particularly in Kate's piece, it's impressive how she has taken responsibility for what went wrong in Benghazi. She hasn't passed the buck. She commissioned an independent -- didn't wait for Congress which should and will look into this as part of Congress' constitutional duties.

She commissioned an independent investigation led by Mike Mullen, the admiral, former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman and Tom Pickering, a veteran diplomat, that was really tough on a State Department, on the government in which she serves and accepted all 27 of their recommendations.

That shows real character. It can't be anybody's standards that nothing goes wrong when you're secretary of state, like she said, 60,000 employees and 245 posts, but the way she has dealt with this. It's classic Hillary, character, confidence, intelligence and indefatigable energy.

Obviously we all hope that she feels better soon, but I think she's going out having been one of the most accomplished and beloved secretary of state we've ever had.

BLITZER: I have no doubt, Ari, that if she's healthy and up to it, she's looking forward to testifying before the House and Senate on what happened in Benghazi and wrapping up her tenure with that testimony.

FLEISCHER: Well, I don't know that anybody ever looks forward to testifying before Congress, but she is very capable and very able and I think she owes to it the country, as Paul rightly pointed out, she did take responsibility as the head of the State Department for what took place and people want to know.

People died and we have a reasonable expectation that our diplomats can be protected when they go abroad and when things go wrong, government officials regardless of party owe the public a very upfront explanation. They have to take the hard questions to make sure they thought through the answers.

So if that's coming up, she'll deal with it and that's her style. I think she would deal with it. I do accept absolutely that she hasn't in the past because of her illness and hopefully she will be able to recover and testify.

BLITZER: You know, my sense has always been, assuming she is emerging from this blood clot and the concussion in excellent shape and she's strong, healthy, Ari, how formidable of a presidential candidate would she be in 2016? FLEISCHER: Well, you know, Wolf, I think everybody except for a few smart souls in Chicago thought she was unbeatable in 2008. In 2016, I think you'd have to stay that she would emerge as the front-runner for the Democratic Party. But frankly, at the end of the day, I think she's not going to do it. I think it's a lifestyle choice, a lifestyle issue.

I think after all of the years that she's been in public life. She's entitled to relax and enjoy the good things of life. I don't know that she wants the burden. I think if she could get promised that she would not have to go through primaries and the primary process.

She might want to do it and take on the Republican, but to go through all of the primaries again and pancake eating in Iowa, and everything you have to go through that's a lot to impose on somebody again.

BLITZER: Paul, what do you think?

BEGALA: First off, nobody gives these things away and nor should they. She wanted to be a president, very much and made I think historic and honorable run at it. Close as any woman has come to our top job in the country. By the way, she wasn't wild about becoming secretary of state.

She loved being senator of New York. She loves the state of New York, God only knows why, but she does and served it wonderfully. I have no idea. I think the last thing she needs is another headache and certainly not one from me. I'd give her a couple weeks, let her recover from this serious injury, more than just a bump on the head but let her recover from that.

Let her take a little time to figure this out. I travel the country a lot. I talk to Democrats everywhere and she is a beloved figure by everybody who supported her last time. But also by the folks who supported then Senator Obama against her the last time. She would be incredibly formidable but she will not be unopposed, I promise you that.

BLITZER: All right, guys, a good way to end this little conversation, but you know what? Over the next few years, we're going to be talking about this subject a lot. Thanks very much. Paul and Ari, appreciate it.

The Colorado movie theatre that was the scene of this summer's deadly shooting massacre is about to reopen and the family members of the victims are outraged because of a letter. We're going to share with you the details.


BLITZER: To Newtown, Connecticut, right now and a huge milestone for the students and teachers of Sandy Hook Elementary School. They are returning to school for the first time since that horrifying shooting massacre nearly three weeks ago.

CNN national correspondent Deborah Feyerick is joining us there. She is on the scene with details. Deb, how did this first day go?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, there was a lot of anxiety, a lot of concern heading into today. The teachers from Sandy Hook Elementary School and the staff and even staff and officials from Monroe, Connecticut, which is the area that helps them, the teachers really pulled off a miracle.

They were able to transform this old school that had not been used for about two years and they turned it into a place that was very familiar to all these kids and breathing new light into that school, they breathed new light into a traumatized community.

You know, the teachers greeted everyone at the door. They gave them big hugs. One mom said it felt like the first day of school all over again. Some kindergartners had circle time and what they did over Christmas vacation.

The fourth graders went on a scavenger hunt and exploring the building because it's a brand-new building and they want to know where the art room was as well as the gymnasium.

But the teachers and everyone here today, they did what people three weeks ago would not have imagined possible and that is, they restored normalcy. Take a listen.


ANDREW PALEY, FATHER OF TWO SANDY HOOK STUDENTS: They took the bus. So we had the normal routine of giving them breakfast and their backpacks packed and then they went out, we went out and waited for the bus and then as soon as the bus came, they didn't even look back.

It was, bye, guys, and they ran on to the bus. They were able to pick their seats because now they are the first picked up versus the last and they were excited by it. I went to school after that and I met them -- I actually got there before they did. They came through the door and saw me and we were very excited that I was there and walked me up to their classrooms.

FEYERICK: What was that like, in terms of the building, the activities, the teachers? Describe the environment to what was going inside the building?

PALEY: They were trying to do that as normal as possible, but not doing a lot of education stuff. It's more social, doing a lot of arts and crafts and doing scavenger-type hunts on their floor so they could get to know where things were, making things adventurous and fun for them.

SARAH SWANSIGER, MOTHER OF TWO SANDY HOOK STUDENT: There were some emotional moments in the beginning of the day, but I think once everyone got there and the way the school was all set and ready and everybody that was there with support, you couldn't walk around the corner without someone asking if you were OK. I think that made everyone feel at ease.

FEYERICK: Did you, by any chance, see any of the siblings of the 20?

SWANSIGER: No, I did not see any of them.

FEYERICK: OK, so Abby, when you go back to class, it's a new school, but you think the school is going to be OK?


FEYERICK: Yes? Are you nervous anymore?


FEYERICK: Do you think you want your mom to come tomorrow or do you think you'll be OK?

ABBY SWANSIGER: I think I'll be OK.


FEYERICK: I think that really sums it up. I think I'll be OK. That's what a lot of the kids were thinking. One little boy I spoke to, Wolf, you know, he said he wants to take the school mascot -- he wants to turn the turtle into the school mascot and the motto should be, one step at a time. Today was actually a good day, Wolf.

BLITZER: One step at a time is a good slogan for them. My heart goes out to all of them. I wish them only the best. Deborah Feyerick, thank you.

In Aurora, Colorado, shock and outrage over the controversial reopening of the movie theatre were 12 people died, dozens were wounded last summer. Victims' family members are charging an invitation to attend this special event is nothing short, in their words, of disgusting. Here's CNN's Jim Spellman.

JIM SPELLMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, plans to reopen the Cinemark theatre in Aurora on January 18th is infuriating some of the family members of the people killed in the shooting there back in July.

They've been invited to a special private screening a day before the public reopening. The families say they are not going to go. They feel that this is a crass way for the theatre to use them to create good PR.

Not only will they not go to the screening, they say they plan on boycotting that theatre and all Cinemark properties across the country. This is Jessica Watts. Her cousin, Jonathan Blunk, was killed in the shooting.


JESSICA WATTS, COUSIN KILLED IN AURORA SHOOTING: We don't have the time to grief like we need to and they throw this at us and basically how we view it is that they are looking to boost their own ticket sales for their grand reopening to the public. We're trying to move on and trying to remember our loved ones and the last thing that we want to do is go and sit in a movie theatre where our loved ones died because they paid the final ticket price.


SPELLMAN: Cinemark declined to comment. Now not all family members are joining the boycott, some will go to the screening and some are encouraging others to go to the theatre as a way to remember their loved ones.

But for those people who are joining in this boycott, they say the theatre is just too painful of a reminder of their loved ones and what happened there back in July and they'd like to see the theatre torn down -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Spellman, thank you.

Outrage over an alleged rape made into a joke. Up next, the chilling details of a case involving two high school football players and a 16- year-old girl.


BLITZER: A correction to a story we brought you a while ago on those medical helicopter crashes. According to the NTSB, the National Transportation Safety Board, Air Methods Corporation, that's the company involved in the crash in Oklahoma yesterday has had 12 crashes since 2007, 2007 with 20 deaths.

Showing video social media messages are at the heart of criminal charges against two Ohio high school football players charged with raping a 16-year-old girl. CNN national correspondent Susan Candiotti is joining us with details of what is going on. What are you learning, Susan?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf, two star high school athletes face horrific allegations, that they raped a 16-year- old girl during parties to celebrate the end of summer last August in Steubenville, Ohio. The two teenagers face charges in juvenile court there next month.

An attorney for one of the boys says his client and the alleged victim were boyfriend and girlfriend and that his client, in his words, did not rape anyone. His client is also charged with taking a nude photo or photos of a minor.

But what makes this case stand out is an explosion of chatter about this on social media and even more so than that, Wolf, is all of the charges in the media that people are talking about this.

Now we also wanted to tell you that there is also a videotape that we can play for you if we have it. That's been playing online, taken down and put back on where they are talking about this on social media.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What if that was your daughter?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What if it was?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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 ten years I'm going to come back.

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


CANDIOTTI: Now, that continues for about 12 minutes. He goes on to make offensive one-line comments about rape and talks about the girl as if she was dead, which she isn't. Attorney -- Ohio's attorney general says he has been made aware of this video, but says it is not a crime to be stupid.

Now police in part found out about the alleged rape by piecing together outrageous tweets, a cell phone photo that claims to show the girl at the center of the alleged attacked being carried seemingly limp by her arms and legs. And at least one online video that show young people callously laughing about it, Wolf.

BLITZER: What do we know, Susan, about the alleged victim's condition at the time of the incident?

CANDIOTTI: Well, Wolf, that's a key point of contention. Was she able to consent or did she consent to any alleged sexual activity? In open court, prosecutors say the two boys treated her, quote, "like a toy" and said, quote, "The bottom line is, we don't have to prove that she said no. We just have to prove that when they are doing things to her she's not moving. She's not responsive. And the evidence is consistent and clear," end quote.

However, a defense attorney for one of the accused teens says consent is one of the things he'll argue over at trial. His client is under house arrest until then.

BLITZER: What about others that might be involved here?

CANDIOTTI: Ohio's Attorney General Mike Dawine says the investigation is not over. Authorities are still conducting interviews and he expects to close the case in a few weeks.

BLITZER: Pretty shocking stuff. Susan Candiotti, thank you for that report. A very emotional day here in Washington up on Capitol Hill for Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois. He triumphantly returned to work today one year, one year after suffering a debilitating stroke.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome back. Yes.


BLITZER: That's Vice President Joe Biden and Kirk's fellow senator from Illinois Dick Durbin greeting him on the stairs of the capitol, helping him walk the rest of the way up. Dozens of senators cheered him on as he made his way up.

Senator Kirk participated in intensive walking studies as part of his physical therapy. He basically had to relearn how to walk after suffering a severe stroke on the right side of his brain in January of last year. In July Kirk said, he quote, "walked an average of 3,677 steps per day."