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THE SITUATION ROOM

Interview With Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard; Hillary Clinton's Final Days on the Job

Aired January 3, 2013 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Out of the hospital and on her way out of a job -- a closer look at Hillary Clinton's final days as secretary of state, as she prepares to step down.

And extraordinary measures as the children of the Sandy Hook Elementary School, they return to school for the first time since the massacre.

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

Days of drama replaced by solemnity and celebration on Capitol Hill, as the 113th Congress was sworn in today. Newly elected members and returning lawmakers now make up a national legislature unlike any in American history.

CNN senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash is up on Capitol Hill for us.

So, Dana, tell our viewers what we saw today.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, our producer here, Ted Barrett, who's been here a long time, summed it up perfectly. It was like a combination of the last day of school and the first day of school.

The last day, because the old Congress went right into the new Congress. There was no break. So people were fed up, they were upset, they wanted to get out of here, but the first day of school, because you also saw the halls filled with new members of Congress, their children, their parents. It was a much-needed burst of hope.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Senate will come to order.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The House will be in order.

BASH (voice-over): The 113th Congress gaveled in at noon on January 3, just as the Constitution requires. And the House speaker sought to remind lawmakers they're part of a privileged history.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: And for those of you who are returning, who have walked these aisles before, maybe it's time we get a little awestruck again. Put simply, we're sent here not to be something, but to do something.

(APPLAUSE)

BASH: Boehner's reelection as speaker was not as easy this second time around. Roughly a dozen Republicans cast protest votes against hi, conservative freshman, determined to shake things up

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jones? David Walker?

BASH: GOP members Boehner booted from committees.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Honorable John A. Boehner of the state of Ohio.

BASH: But Boehner got 220 GOP votes, enough for reelection, and he tried to reassure restive Republicans.

BOEHNER: As speaker, I pledge to listen and to do all I can to help all of you carry out your oath of office that we are all about to take, because in our hearts, we know it's wrong to pass this debt on to our kids and our grandkids.

BASH: The new Congress didn't bring a shift in power, but it did usher in big change.

BIDEN: Please raise your right hand.

BASH: New female senators sworn in brought the total for women to 20, an historic high. And in the House, where Democrats were once the party of the solid white South, for the first time, white men are now the minority of Democrats.

(on camera): How do you feel about your caucus, for the first time, being not majority white men?

REP. JOE GARCIA (D), FLORIDA: Well, look, you look across the chamber and you look at the Democratic side, they look like America. And I think it's is a wonderful thing.

REP. TAMMY DUCKWORTH (D), ILLINOIS: It means that we reflect America more. The district where I come from is a very diverse district, and it's good to see Congress starting to look more like the rest of America. And you see the demographic shifts that are happening across the country.

BASH: But for all the sights and sounds of the new Congress, like names being changed on this board, perhaps one of the most poignant moments was this, a triumphant return for 53-year-old Senator Mark Kirk, absent for a full year after suffering a stroke. He came back into the building for the first time with a climb up the Senate steps.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BASH: And at a time of deep dysfunction here in Congress, the fact that Senator Kirk had this personal ability to overcome adversity was a pretty powerful symbol again of hope.

BLITZER: A lot of people focusing once again on the speaker, John Boehner. He gets weepy-eyed and sentimental, pretty emotional on these kinds of days. We're getting used to it, right, Dana?

BASH: We're definitely getting used to it, although one of producers timed it. He didn't take out his handkerchief until three minutes and 45 seconds into his speech, which I think is a record.

BLITZER: OK. Thanks very much, Dana, doing an excellent job for us.

Kate Bolduan is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Gloria Borger is here with us as well.

A new Congress sworn in. Major battles, though, looming, Gloria, debt ceiling.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: This may be why Boehner is crying.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Will they raise the debt ceiling? Automatic spending cuts within two months supposed to go into effect, domestic, national security cuts, unpopular spending cuts, funding to keep the federal government open. Are we in a state of constant confrontation in this new Congress right now?

BORGER: We are. And we just got here. And there's a lot of unfinished business.

And it all has to do with the state of the economy. And it all has to do with politics, and it's like one speed bump after another, when you think of it. I was talking to an aide to the Republican leadership in the Senate today, who said to me, look, we might not even get to think about what the president calls his agenda until June at the earliest.

So you're talking about issues like tax reform, which everybody has been talking about, lots of questions now about whether the air has gone out of the balloon on that one, because they have done some tax changes. Immigration reform, whether you're ever going to be able to get Republicans and Democrats together on that one if there's a lot of bad blood, and we assume lots will be spilled going through the rest of these fiscal issues.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: And you wrote about it in another one of your great columns, your most recent column for CNN, about who's to blame, really, for where we are. It was very interesting. I want to read to you and to our viewers in part what it says.

You write: "Republicans are divided, engaged in outright civil war. The no-tax die-hards kept the House speaker from cutting any real and meaningful deal. Then again, liberal Democrats wouldn't touch Medicare and Social Security." You later say: "And then there's the president himself. Sometimes it feels like his debate is mostly internal, between the transformational president he wants to be and the transactional president he has become."

You're absolutely right on all of those points.

BORGER: Thank you.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Can you place blame on one party more than the other, one elected official over the other?

BORGER: No. And, by the way, then there's us. Then there are the voters, the voters who say, we want everything, but we don't want to pay for it, OK? Or cut the other guy, but don't cut me. Raise his taxes, don't raise my taxes.

And, sure, you know, the president has a point when he says that he wasn't able to deal with Republicans, who didn't want to raise taxes, no matter what. He made it a campaign issue. And he won that fight. Now we're going to come back and the Republicans are going to say, our issue, by the way, was making government smaller, spending cuts, and they're going to say to the president, now you have got to deal with us on our turf.

And so we're going to be re-litigating these arguments for months and months and months. And it's the public that's sort of sitting there saying, OK, I get it. We elected you to make the hard decisions. And what's occurring is the politicians are following, they're not leading. And that's not news to any of us, but that's what's going on. So it's easier...

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: They have a zero approval rating, but we're the people who elected them.

BORGER: Right. But it's easier to fail, because then if you fail, you can place the blame on somebody else. If you succeed, you actually have to take responsibility.

BLITZER: Do you have any advice for these new members?

BORGER: Well, get something done. Get something done.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: My advice would be, and you guys know this, because you have all covered the Hill and the politics and Congress. It's actually, get to know the people you work with. I would say to the president, have some of these guys over to dinner once in a while and talk when you're not at the fiscal cliff.

BOLDUAN: Big criticism of his first time.

BORGER: Right. Exactly. And I would say that to Republicans and Democrats, actually stay in town a weekend or two, like the old days, and try to get to know each other, so that maybe you can try and cut some deals for the good of the nation.

BOLDUAN: When you know each other, it's easier to cut a deal. It's harder to just yell and point the finger at the other guy. That's how deals used to be done.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: Good advice.

BOLDUAN: In the olden days.

BLITZER: Thank you. Thanks.

Much more on these stories coming up. We have got some new members who will be joining us as well.

Other news, though, we're following. We're learning from Connecticut officials that the former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords now planning to visit Newtown, Connecticut, tomorrow, the scene of that school massacre that took the lives of 25 children and teachers. Giffords, herself, was gravely injured in a mass shooting in Tucson in 2011.

Today was the first day back at school for the survivors of the Newtown tragedy, and every effort was made to put students and parents at ease.

CNN's Deborah Feyerick was there.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there was a lot of anxiety, a lot of concern. Nobody knew exactly what quite to expect today, or how all the children would react. But the school started on time, and by mid-morning, a mom told me that in fact both the parents and the kids were doing great. She said it was an amazing day. She said that the teachers greeted the children and the parents with great big hugs, they took them to the classrooms.

The kindergartners had circle time, they talked about what they did over their Christmas vacation, while some of the fourth graders, they went on a scavenger hunt. They explored the new building. It has two floors, not just one. All of this was a way to establish some routine, to get the children back into sort of what an ordinary day was like before the tragedy happened.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They took the bus, so we had the normal routine of giving them breakfast and getting their backs -- getting 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 just kind of waved and ran on to the bus.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There were some emotional moments in the beginning of the day, but I think once everybody got there and saw the community and the way the school was all set and ready and everybody that was there for support -- I mean, you couldn't walk around you couldn't walk around a corner without somebody asking, did you need something, were you OK? There was coffee. Everything was set up for us. So I think that made everybody feel at ease.

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

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, I did not see any of them.

FEYERICK: OK.

And so, Abbie (ph), when you go back to class, it's a new school, but do you think the school is going to be OK?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

FEYERICK: Yes? Are you nervous anymore?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.

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

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think I will be OK.

FEYERICK: And that seems to be really the prevailing sentiment, that, in fact, everyone is going to be OK. The people of Sandy Hook and Newtown don't want to be identified by the tragedy that happened here, but how they responded and how they healed as a community. And there were lots of volunteers, lots of counselors, even therapy dogs all there to support the families and the children who were inside that school building.

The parents were allowed to go to the classes, they were allowed to sit with the children, and take part in the activities, just to show the children that, you know, it's OK, that everything is going to be OK. The parents then met with the principal, the superintendent, and police officers. Security wasn't the issue. The greater issue, the greater concern was counseling, how will authorities identify whether a child needs help or whether, in fact, a teacher may need help.

Those are some of the questions they were asking. But the dad, Andrew Paley (ph), who I spoke to earlier today, he told me, he said, look, perception and reality are two different things, but the perception, based on what he experienced with his two 9-year-old twins, he said, it is good. It is really good.

So the healing certainly has begun, and more importantly, the routine that the children so desperately need to begin to heal and move on, that also has started -- Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Deborah Feyerick, thanks very much.

Twenty-six people were killed in that school, 20 kids, six educators, not just 25, as I just said.

Brings back -- you and I were there, pretty horrible memories for all of us.

BOLDUAN: Horrible memories, and they still live on for so many families there.

Still ahead in THE SITUATION ROOM, the 113th Congress was sworn in just a few hours ago. We already know it's the most diverse Congress ever, but how else will it be different, if at all? We will talk to two brand-new members about their plans for changing Washington.

Plus, a terror and assassination force 30,000 strong -- troubling new details on a new report of Iran's intelligence service.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: A lot of new faces in Washington, D.C., today and this week, and Wolf is very excited about it, but soon they'll be familiar to the whole country. We're talking about the new lawmakers sworn in today as members of the 113th Congress.

BLITZER: Two of them are joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM right now, the new Republican senator from Texas, Ted Cruz; also, the Democratic congresswoman from Hawaii, Tulsi Gabbard.

It's your first day in Washington. All right, Congresswoman, what do you think?

REP. TULSI GABBARD (D), HAWAII: First of all, we've had a large group of people who flew out from Hawaii for this special day. Very lucky that they brought me some lei and fresh flowers --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: -- any symbolic meaning...

(CROSSTALK)

GABBARD: This is the Maile lei, which a very sweet-smelling fragrance and a lei that's often worn by the Alii (ph) in Hawaii.

BLITZER: Ooh, very nice.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Yes.

Senator, do you want to smell this?

GABBARD: Sorry we didn't bring anything --

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: You know, I feel very underdressed.

BLITZER: You got a hat, you got boots, what do you got from Texas...

(CROSSTALK)

CRUZ: I've got my boots on.

BLITZER: Oh, you do have the boots. OK, good.

Is this your first time -- first time, obviously, as a senator. You've been here before, but what do you think?

CRUZ: Well, it's my first time in elected office. I've actually joked: the last office I was elected to was student council.

BLITZER: And now you're the United States senator from Texas. How cool is that?

CRUZ: Well, it's been a pretty magical trip.

BLITZER: Are you walking around pinching yourself a little bit?

CRUZ: A little bit, and when I'm not, my wife is pinching me for me.

BLITZER: Right. So you're getting excited.

This is a very exciting time, obviously, for both of you.

So what's going to be your priority? Now that you're a United States congresswoman from Hawaii, what is the number one issue that you want to work on?

GABBARD: You know, there's an issue that means a lot to me personally today, but that means a lot to a whole bunch of really selfless heroes across the country, in that Tammy Duckworth and I are the first female combat veterans ever elected in our nation's history.

And understanding that we have 1.8 million -- over 1.8 million women veterans all across the country, women who leave their homes every day to go and serve overseas, leaving their families behind, I look forward to being able to bring a very strong voice to the challenges that they face, but also the capabilities that they offer and the opportunities that are there.

BLITZER: So you want to be on the Armed Services Committee?

GABBARD: I will not be on -- I will be on the Homeland Security Committee, actually, but look forward to being an advocate for the armed services, as well as veterans, as a veteran myself. BOLDUAN: You know, Senator, I had the opportunity to speak with you, just the day after the election. And during our interview, you said that if President Obama followed the model of President Clinton and worked with Republicans, you would be happy to work with him on many issues.

So you are here today, you're finally not senator-elect, you are Senator Ted Cruz. What does that mean now that you are in -- you are here, you are in Washington, and specifically, when you've seen the debacle and the fight that has gone on over the last few weeks?

CRUZ: Right. Well, I think the deal that was cut on the fiscal cliff was a lousy deal. I would have voted against it.

BOLDUAN: You would have?

CRUZ: It raised taxes by $620 billion. I think that's going to kill jobs. I think that's going to hurt small business, and I think that's going to hurt Americans.

BLITZER: You would have voted against it?

CRUZ: I would have voted against it. And it combined tax increases with not spending cuts but $330 billion --

BLITZER: You would have voted against it, even though millions of Texans would have seen their -- middle class families would have seen their taxes going up?

CRUZ: I would have voted against it. The only reason their taxes would have gone up is because President Obama and Harry Reid were pushing to raise taxes.

BLITZER: Except in the real world, the only reason their taxes would have gone up is because you would have voted to see their taxes going up.

CRUZ: At the end of the day, I think we need to be solving these problems. And jacking up taxes and increasing spending makes the problems worse. We need economic growth.

Now, the nice thing is, part of the reason we got a lousy deal is that when you have divided government, whoever owns the default, whoever wins if there is inaction, has the advantage.

With the fiscal cliff, if there was inaction, it would be a massive tax increase, that would be a President Obama advantage. Moving fast forward to the debt ceiling, I think it is the mirror image, and I am hopeful we will see some serious reforms to rein in our spending and to address these fiscal...

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Let me ask you real quick about that. Part of that lousy deal you're describing, that was cut by your leader, Mitch McConnell, working with Vice President Joe Biden. So what are you going to tell Mitch McConnell about that lousy deal and how you're going to work with him going forward?

CRUZ: Well, what I have said is I would have voted against it. But the reason we got a lousy deal is, as I said, the terrain was incredibly favorable to President Obama.

BOLDUAN: So it sounds like you're -- well, you're saying you want to work with President Obama; it sounds like it's going to be pretty tough for you to get to a place where you're ready to work with President Obama.

CRUZ: Well, I'm happy to work with him if he's actually being productive solving the problems. I think jacking up taxes and increasing spending hurts growth, costs jobs, makes them -- the lives of the American people worse.

BLITZER: Congresswoman, how would you have voted?

GABBARD: I would have voted for it because I think what we have to remember here is how many middle class families all across the country would have seen that tax hike immediately, and by making those tax cuts permanent for the middle class families, I think, is incredibly important.

I think there's no doubt about the fact that we have a lot of work to do. There are many reforms that need to be done. There was a tight deadline here. And when you're looking at working families, families who are struggling just to put food on the table, you've got to work with what you have and have a plan for how to go forward.

BLITZER: And if there wouldn't have been a deal, Senator, all the economists made the same prediction, that, within a few weeks, there would be a lot more unemployment; we could potentially be going into a recession. Look, it wasn't a perfect deal. Nobody was thrilled by it, but you got a deal with what's doable in a divided Congress like we have.

CRUZ: The only reason this lousy deal happened is because President Obama and Harry Reid wanted to raise taxes on Americans. I think that's going to hurt growth and it's going to hurt the middle class and working class.

BLITZER: But, remember, the president was re-elected. Harry Reid is the majority leader in the United States -- you're in minority in the United States Senate. You got to deal with reality. You can't just be -- you can't just be overly idealistic.

CRUZ: But let me say two things. Number one, the same voters that re-elected the president re-elected a Republican majority in the House.

BLITZER: But not in the Senate. And not in the White House.

CRUZ: Number two, this president --

BLITZER: You got a divided government. You've got to make concessions, you've got to compromise. If you're just going to come into Washington and say, do it my way or the highway, you're not going to get anywhere.

CRUZ: Now who's saying do it my way or the highway? Look, Wolf, this president campaigned, saying he supported spending cuts and his deal had zero in spending cuts and $330 billion in new spending. The person who's saying "do it my way or the highway" is the president.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: I'm just saying 89 senators out of 100, including almost all of the Republicans, voted for it.

CRUZ: Well, I'm going to make a prediction. That was driven because the advantage of the default gave President Obama the leverage. Fast forward a few weeks to the debt ceiling, it's the mirror image, and I think we're going to see -- I hope we're going to see real reforms to address these problems.

BOLDUAN: You know, Congresswoman, the dysfunction of Washington, the dysfunction, specifically, of Congress and its inability to work together and with the White House is why Congress' approval rating is at an all-time low. It is the worst in Washington.

And you are walking straight into it. At some point, our elected leaders need to stop following and start leading. We're having -- I'm fearing we're having a similar conversation that we've been having with the senators and Congress and our congress men and women for an entire session now. How is it going to be different? How can -- what are you going to do to try to make it different?

GABBARD: Well, it has to be different. Like you said, it's up to us. We've been sent here to serve the people in our communities and the people of this country, and people are demanding that we be those servant leaders, who focus not on negativity and not on the blame game, but saying, OK, we can disagree on some things, but how can we find a point of agreement, find that common ground?

Because at the beginning and the end of the day, we all come from a place where we care very much about, we care very much about the families, the young people, our seniors in our communities who are trying very hard just to get by every single day.

So if we stay positive and stay focused on the opportunities that we have to work together, then I think that's the only way that we can make progress.

BLITZER: Both of you spoke at your respective Democratic and Republican conventions. We have a little clip of both you speaking. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CRUZ: I have the honor of standing before you this evening for one reason, because thousands and thousands of grassroots activists stood united, not for a candidate, but for the sake of liberty.

GABBARD: The Democratic women of the House, standing here, will honor the service and sacrifice of our troops to move America forward.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Big issue for you. Are you going to work with the president to get comprehensive immigration reform? And I ask it not only because you're a United States senator from Texas, but also because of your Hispanic origins.

CRUZ: Well, I think there's no doubt that as Republicans, we need to do a better job connecting with the Hispanic community, and I think immigration is a critical issue.

The problem, unfortunately, is that I think both sides have been demagoguing on this issue. They haven't been willing to work together.

Most Americans agree on the issue of immigration. Most Americans agree, number one, that we've got to secure our border. We've got to get serious about stopping illegal immigration, and number two, that we should remain a nation that welcomes, that celebrates legal immigrants.

You know, today at the swearing-in, my father was sitting in the gallery, watching me be sworn in. Fifty-five years ago, my dad came from Cuba with nothing, 18 years old, couldn't speak English, washed dishes making 50 cents an hour.

If someone had told that teenage kid in Austin, Texas, that 55 years later his son would be representing the state of Texas in the Senate, that would have been unimaginable. That is our legacy as Americans and I think we need to welcome and celebrate legal immigration.

BOLDUAN: And congresswoman, we're running out of time, but really quickly, when you look at those clips that we were playing of you both speaking at your national conventions -- and I know you've heard it, but people are calling you both rising stars in your party. That comes with a pretty big burden in your first day in office, national office.

What do you say to that? How do you react?

GABBARD: Again, I'm just grateful. The overwhelming feeling that I feel today is grateful to the people of Hawaii for placing their trust and confidence in me. It's a great responsibility. And we have a lot of work to do. And I will do my best to serve them and to be their voice and to work hard to move our country and to move Hawaii forward.

BLITZER: I love the way you say "Hawaii."

BOLDUAN: And a very diplomatic way to answer that question.

BLITZER: Yes. And a beautiful state -- you've got a beautiful state as well.

Good luck to both of you.

BOLDUAN: Senator, Congresswoman, thank you --

BLITZER: You know, you're in the House; you're in the Senate. We'll see if there's some bipartisan cooperation.

I keep saying this, but I was thrilled, at least in the last few hours of this 112th House, 112th Senate, there was some bipartisan cooperation in averting that so-called fiscal cliff. Let's see how long that lasts.

BOLDUAN: Let's just not need deadlines and cliffs to get everybody to work.

BLITZER: Exactly. Congratulations to both of you and good luck to both of you as well.

(CROSSTALK)

CRUZ: Thank you for having us.

BLITZER: We have new information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM about Hillary Clinton, when she may return to work, what she did on her first day out of the hospital, her complicated final days as the United States secretary of state.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now: Controversy and health crises mark Hillary Clinton's final days as the secretary of state. We have new information about some critical presidential Cabinet posts coming up.

Also, sources are telling me, telling CNN, I should say, when we might be hearing an announcement. And we will have much than on a regular army -- disturbing new details emerging about Iran's intelligence service.

Just out of the hospital, already working, and the State Department says Hillary Clinton dialed into a conference call today, and she could be back on the job, full-time, as early as next week, following a series of health crises that have overshadowed her final days as the secretary of state.

Kate is here. She's been taking a closer look at what lies ahead for the secretary of state.

BOLDUAN: As you well know, Wolf, the end of 2012 was supposed to be marked by Hillary Clinton's farewell tour as the country's top diplomat. Things have clearly changed, leaving many to wonder with what lasting impact.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: She is tireless and extraordinary.

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It's because, I think, she works hard, she does a good job, she really cares. She authentically cares. And she has, I think, devoted her whole life to this set of issues, trying to help folks.

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, SPOKESPERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: 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 11 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. The president and the vice president, certainly, wouldn't be knowledgeable about specific decisions that were made by security professionals.

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

AARON DAVID MILLER, WOODROW WILSON INTERNATIONAL CENTER: It can't be ending on a high, but I think it's part of a broader piece. This isn't a slam-dunk world. There were no spectacular successes to be had. 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 -- that Americans are going to be looking back and saying, "How come you didn't fix Syria, or why didn't the mullahs -- how come the mullahs haven't given up their quest for a weapon?" I think her greatest challenge is that she's running against history. Can you have another four to eight years of Democratic rule after the -- after the last eight?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BOLDUAN: Still, she is hugely popular, both here and abroad. When asked today about the number of goodwill, get-well messages that secretary Clinton has been sent following her illness, a spokeswoman at the State Department said it has been a tsunami of messages. BLITZER: Yes, she's very popular, and not only in the United States, but around the world. And she's been, I think, to almost every country in the world.

BOLDUAN: Paul Begala even told me today, he thinks she's the most recognizable face, female face, especially, coming from our country, around the world.

BLITZER: Yes. And we wish her the best.

BOLDUAN: We do.

BLITZER: We're also just learning that three powerful senators are asking the CIA for documents about the agency's cooperation in making the film "Zero Dark Thirty" about the mission that took out Osama bin Laden. Our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, has been working this story for us.

What are you picking up, Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, Republicans and Democrats are demanding that the CIA hand over all information that it provided to the film makers of "Zero Dark Thirty," and our indications now are that the CIA is going to apply. A CIA official telling us just in the last few minutes, really, that they take their responsibility to these oversight committees very seriously.

Now, I don't want to ruin the film for anyone, but you almost have to tell a little bit about it to tell the story. There is a scene in the movie where a suspected terrorist is being water-boarded. He then gives up some information on the courier, the courier, the al Qaeda courier is the one who led the CIA to Osama bin Laden.

Now, compounding this is the fact that the CIA director sent this letter to all the CIA employees after this film started to come out saying, basically, "Look, that's not completely accurate. We know this one person did not lead to Osama bin Laden."

But they did get some information from enhanced interrogation that did help find bin Laden. And that's what these senators are really pointing to. What is this "some information"? Because the senators are saying, "Look, our committees pored through millions of documents, went through all of this testimony, looking into this -- this hunt for bin Laden, and we were never told that."

They say that the one person who actually gave the most accurate information about this courier, he did so before he went through this enhanced interrogation. And no prisoners who were interrogated in this way gave up the name of the courier or the fact that bin Laden was at this compound.

So they've got a lot of questions for the CIA, and they want to see the documents and the information, because the film does say that it was based on firsthand, real, factual accounts, Wolf.

BLITZER: Chris, thanks very much. I don't know about you, but I'm looking forward to seeing the film and then making up my own mind. Appreciate it very much.

BOLDUAN: Still ahead, inauguration day is less than three weeks away, and the White House is trying to fill gaps in the president -- in President Obama's second-term cabinet. With the clock ticking, is a controversial pick still on the table?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: So with a new Congress now in place, more attention is turning to the new presidential cabinet and several key posts that need to be filled and filled quickly.

BOLDUAN: And filled quickly is right. Our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian, is traveling with President Obama in Honolulu.

Dan, what are you hearing from your sources?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, administration sources are telling me that there are no plans for the president to make any cabinet announcements while here in Hawaii, but that it's possible, though not definite, that it could happen as early as next week, back in Washington.

These are key positions that the president has to fill, and these are nominations, some of them, that could get some stiff resistance.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN (voice-over): CNN has learned Chuck Hagel, a top contender for the Defense Department post, whose prospects had appeared to be dimming, amid criticism from pro-Israel groups and gay organizations over past comments, is still in the game.

Close friend, former senator, Max Cleland, tells CNN, quote, "I understand his nomination is back on the table, and I believe very strongly he should be defense secretary."

A strong endorsement that the president is not yet ready to make. But recently on NBC's "Meet the Press," didn't count him out.

OBAMA: My No. 1 criteria will be, who's going to do the best job in helping to secure America.

DAVID GREGORY, HOST, NBC'S "MEET THE PRESS": Anything disqualify him?

OBAMA: Not that I see.

LOTHIAN: But Hagel's supporters are concerned about the process of names being floated, exposed to harsh scrutiny before they are formally named.

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Anyone with any record of involvement in controversial issues will always mobilize against the would-be appointee a whole phalanx of accusations and sometimes distortions.

LOTHIAN: If not Hagel, Michele Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy, remains in the mix.

At the Treasury Department, where Secretary Timothy Geithner plans to leave some time around inauguration, one name floated, American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault, has no plans to leave that country, a spokesman confirmed to CNN.

White House chief of staff Jack Lew is considered to be another choice for the job.

And at the CIA, counterterrorism and homeland security advisor John Brennan and acting CIA director, Michael Morrell, remain on the short list, according to a source.

History shows most presidents get the nominees they want, but in this political environment, there's no guarantee.

REID WILSON, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, NATIONAL JOURNAL HOTLINE: It used to just be Supreme Court justices who inspired these sort of partisan free-for-alls. Now it's bleeding down into a president's cabinet picks, as well.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN: Now, we do know one of the picks the president has made for secretary of state. That is Senator John Kerry. His confirmation expected to be a smooth one.

Now, I did talk to a senior administration official to find out if the president had already settled on names, but just not made them public. This official told me, quote, "No decision is final" -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: We are watching and waiting along with you. Dan Lothian in beautiful Honolulu tonight. Thanks, Dan.

BLITZER: A very different story we're following, including Iran. It has thousands of secret agents who the U.S. government now says are plotting attacks across the globe and here in the United States, while hurting people right at home. We have details of a new congressional report that has just come out.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: Tens of thousands of people whose job description includes murder, terror, and mayhem.

BLITZER: We're talking about Iran's intelligence service. Brian Todd has been working on a disturbing new report that's just come out. And you've got the details, Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf and Kate, it tells us that Iran's intelligence agencies, which report directly to supreme leader Ali Khamenei, are so powerful, that they've got operations going on all over the Middle East, but also in Latin America and the United States.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Assassination plots, terrorist bombings, cyber warfare. Tactics used around the world by Iran's intelligence service, one of the largest and most aggressive spy operations in the world. That's according to a new report by government researchers commissioned by the Pentagon.

The report says Iran's ministry of intelligence and security has 30,000 people working for it. That's compared to just over 100,000 in the 17 U.S. intelligence agencies and offices.

(on camera) From the standpoint of U.S. national security, western national security, what's the most dangerous operation that Iranian intelligence has its hand in, do you think?

REUEL MARC GERECHT, FORMER CIA OFFICER: Well, I think the most dangerous thing they do is terrorism. They have, for decades now, developed networks, with other terrorist groups, so they, themselves, don't necessarily have to do something. They can contract it out. They can encourage others to engage in terrorism against the United States and our allies.

TODD: Reuel Gerecht, a former CIA officer who tracked Iranian intelligence through Europe and the Middle East, says the Iranian ministry of intelligence and security used to conduct most Iranian- sponsored assassinations overseas. He says that unit killed Shapour Bakhtiar, the former Iranian prime minister, assassinated in Paris in 1991.

But Gerecht says now those operations have shifted to the feared Quds force, the shadowy Iranian military unit that's part of the Revolutionary Guard.

What's the ministry of intelligence's biggest job now?

GERECHT: They're primarily used as an instrument of internal repression. They know how to hurt people.

TODD: The report also says the Quds force is inside Syria, back President Bashar al-Assad's forces.

(on camera) Separate from the report, Congressman Peter King, chairman of the homeland security committee, has said that Iran runs spies out of its mission to the U.N. and here at the Iranian intersection in Washington.

(voice-over) King made those comments after a plot was revealed to assassinate Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the U.S. The Iranian- American who pleaded guilty in that case said he'd worked with Iranian military people to formulate the plot. In the wake of that, King called for strong retaliation against Iranian diplomats in the U.S.

REP. PETER KING (D-NY), CHAIRMAN, HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE: We, to me, should get rid of either all of them or most of them and send a clear signal.

TODD: Now, Iranian officials have denied any role in trying to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington. We called and e- mailed Iran's mission to the U.N. for comment on this latest report on the country's intelligence operations, and we got no response.

BLITZER: They may deny it, but I know Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi ambassador here in Washington, he believes and so many other officials believe it was a real attempt to kill him.

All right, let's talk a little bit about some of the ingenious Iranian plots that were out there, including one here in the United States, which was really a protection scheme.

TODD: It was a protection operation. And Reuel Gerecht says it was just fascinating. When he was with the CIA, he saw a report on what they did when Iran's longtime foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi (ph) would come to the United Nations all the time on state business.

Well, the Iranian agents who were assigned to protect him, intelligence agents, they were not allowed to do, like, a standard protection detail. They couldn't walk alongside him; they couldn't have a car.

When the foreign minister would often visit a friend of his who lived down the street from the U.N., a pediatrician, he would walk there. Well, instead of having a protection detail, which they weren't allowed to have, they would commandeer the hot-dog stands along the route and pose as hot-dog vendors and keep an eye on the foreign minister as he walked down the street. They were making hot dogs, they were posing as hot-dog vendors, and watching the foreign minister has he walked down the street and then back down to the U.N.

They would ask the vendor, "How much do you make in a day," and the guy would say, this much, and they would say, "We'll pay you that much and $500 more. Just give us your hot-dog stand."

And they got some hot dogs. They made hot dogs.

BLITZER: Those hot dogs are good.

BOLDUAN: We're hungry. Almost dinnertime.

BLITZER: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Brian, thank you so much.

Still ahead, Starbucks is expanding globally. Just ahead, you won't believe where the coffee giant is about to open up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: CNN's Erin Burnett is going "OUTFRONT" tonight in regard to this new 113th Congress.

Erin, what are your guests? The House freshman who voted against John Boehner for speaker. Tell us what happened?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. Ted Yoho is his name. He's a large animal veterinarian. He's been profiled as someone who could be very important in this 113th Congress. Not only did he vote against John Boehner today; he voted for Eric Cantor. We're going to find out why.

And Wolf, even though you say, OK, that perhaps he's really in the Tea Party side of things, well, he also refused to sign the Grover Norquist pledge. So we're going to find out. He could be a real blueprint of whether anything is going to get done in this Congress and why he voted for -- for Eric Cantor.

Plus, we're going to talk about in Maryland, Wolf, we've been talking a lot about mental health in relation to gun policy in this country. And in Maryland, a panelist comes forth with a panel of recommendations that say, if you make a threat against somebody, a threat against their lives or it makes them feel afraid, that if you have a gun, law enforcement could come and seize all of your firearms. Is that fair, or is that a violation of the Second Amendment? That's coming up, top of the hour.

BLITZER: It's a good, intriguing question. I'll be watching, Erin. Thanks very much. Sounds like an excellent show at the top of the hour.

Other news we're following including a Taliban commander who was killed in a suspected drone strike. Kate's been monitoring that, some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM. What happened?

BOLDUAN: This all 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 have targeted the U.S. military.

Other stories we're watching, first BP paid a massive fine for its role in the 2010 Gulf oil spill, and now Transocean appears to be following suit. The offshore drilling firm which owned the Deepwater Horizon rig, 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 back in November.

And a remarkable comeback for the auto industry. 2012 was the best year for carmakers since the recession, with the biggest sales jump in almost three decades. Initial figures show Ford, GM, Chrysler, and Toyota all meeting or beating their sales forecasts. Consumers drove off with $14.5 million new vehicles last year, and more than 15 million are expected to move this year. Quite a comeback.

And Starbucks, probably no surprise at this point, is expanding. Where this time? In Asia. The Seattle-based company has announced plans to open its first store in Vietnam next month. That follows the company's debut in India just a few months ago. Starbucks has more than 3,000 stores across Asia, and Vietnam will be the 62nd country in the world where you can get a venti, half caf, skinny latte, or whichever you prefer.

BLITZER: I like a venti skim latte.

BOLDUAN: You like venti skim lattes.

BLITZER: I would like to learn how to say that in Vietnamese.

BOLDUAN: I -- we'll have to look that one up for you.

BLITZER: Check that?

BOLDUAN: I will check it.

BLITZER: Make it over to Vietnam.

BOLDUAN: Like, I will check.

BLITZER: Like a half caf?

BOLDUAN: I'm more a straight, black coffee girl.

BLITZER: Oh, really?

BOLDUAN: Yes.

BLITZER: Venti skim latte for me.

BOLDUAN: Well.

BLITZER: It's a bird; it's a plane; it's Superman, sort of. Jeanne Moos is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: Upstate New York has gotten a lot of snow lately, as it often does this time of year, and that's helped one man create this larger-than-life snowman, all for a little fun and also for a good cause.

This guy is more than 36 feet tall. And when folks come by to take a picture with it, they're asked to bring food to donate to the local pantries. They've collected more than 65 pounds of food in just a few days. That is a whole lot of snow.

BLITZER: Yes, big guy. Nice. Very nice.

BOLDUAN: That's a big guy.

BLITZER: Look at this. It's a bird; it's a plane; it's a remote-controlled device that looks an awful lot like Superman. While that phrase may not catch on, necessarily, the Superman flying machine most certainly is. CNN's Jeanne Moos has the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here it comes.

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He may look like the man of steel, but he's actually the man of lightweight foam.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Faster than a speeding bullet.

MOOS: Actually, his top speed is 30 miles per hour. But the sight of Superman flying above the California coast was enough to make a cyclist stop and shoot it. The video went viral, and now folks are wondering.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look! Up in the sky!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a bird!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a plane!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's Superman!

MOOS: Yes, if Superman were 5'2" and weighed less than 2 pounds.

He's a sensation on the local news.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The big question, where'd they hide the propeller?

MOOS: It's not nice to laugh at Superman. But we'll show you, on the female version, Supergirl.

OTTO DIEFFENBACH, DESIGNER: There's a propeller.

MOOS: There's an electric motor and a battery that goes on her head.

Otto Dieffenbach has built about a dozen of these remote- controlled figures. He's a former Air Force test pilot, with a long career in aviation. He even customized Superman with a cape, that he had to shorten to keep his superhero aerodynamic.

DIEFFENBACH: Aesthetically, it adds a lot to it, and plus, it sounds really cool, when you fly by, and it's fluttering.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And plus, it's removable.

MOOS: Otto and partner Gary Graph (ph) plan to launch a business, in a few months, selling slightly smaller remote-controlled figures for under $500 each. The buyers would assemble and customize their superheroes.

DIEFFENBACH: What I really like to show off are her stiletto heels on the back.

MOOS (on camera): She's very shapely, actually.

DIEFFENBACH: She actually started as a nose art. You know, like the old aircraft used to have nose art.

MOOS (voice-over): Modeled after pinup Vargas girls, but Supergirl's anatomy offered engineering opportunities.

(on camera) You mean, her breasts are actually landing gear?

DIEFFENBACH: Yes. Silicone implants, so that she would roll along the ground and do graceful landings.

MOOS (voice-over): While the males have to resort to sort of sticking their landings, she's shapelier than a speeding bullet.

Jeanne Moos, CNN...

(on camera) Hey, get your hands off her, Gary!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is my wife going to see this?

MOOS: ... New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: That's it for us. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.