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THE SITUATION ROOM
New Treasury Secretary Nominated; Flu Spreading Across U.S.; Google Chief Defends North Korea Trip; Pastor Bows Out of Inauguration; California School Shooting: Student Critically Hurt; What Makes a Gun an Assault Weapon; Trillion Dollar Coin?; Oscar Race: Who's In and Who's Out
Aired January 10, 2013 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: President Obama nominates his chief of staff for treasury secretary, as critics raise questions about the lack of diversity in the president's inner circle.
Also, the fierce spread of the flu across the United States and now a shortage of a critical medicine used to treat it.
Plus, prominent voices lending support to an unlikely idea of a trillion dollar coin.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Judgment, integrity, and friendship all cited by President Obama as he nominated his chief of staff, Jack Lew, to be the next treasury secretary, but the announcement is drawing attention to the makeup of the president's second-term Cabinet. It's on track to be dominated by men.
Our White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar, is joining us now from the White House.
Brianna, so what is the White House saying about all of this?
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the White House has been asked about this quite a bit. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has said that the president believes diversity is important and he's highlighted that there are a number of women serving in high- level positions in the White House and the administration, and indeed there are, Wolf, but it's also true that there's lack of diversity in the president's top picks in his Cabinet.
KEILAR (voice-over): President Obama choose a trusted insider to replace Timothy Geithner as treasury secretary.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Under President Clinton, he presided over three budget surpluses in a row. So for all of the talk out there about deficit reduction, making sure our books are balanced, this is the guy who did it three times.
KEILAR: Jack Lew, Obama's chief of staff and former budget director, has been by the president's side through bruising deficit reduction negotiations. But Lew is not a darling of Wall Street or Republicans.
In Bob Woodward's "The Price of Politics," Speaker John Boehner says he told the president, "Please don't send Jack Lew" during the fragile debt ceiling negotiations of 2011. "It was unbelievable," Boehner said. "At one point, I told the president, keep him out of here. I don't need somebody who just knows how to say no."
With the Lew pick, all of the president's top four Cabinet posts, State, Defense, CIA, and Treasury, will be white men. At every briefing this week, reporters have peppered Press Secretary Jay Carney about what some observers have dubbed Obama's white guy problem.
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: These stories are in reaction to a couple of appointments. I think it would be useful to wait and make judgments about this issue after the president has made the totality of appointments that he will make in the transition to a second term.
KEILAR: Of Obama's 16 Cabinet positions, only two are women., Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, though Labor and Commerce are open and more will likely become so.
It's an issue that can catch fire, as we saw during the presidential campaign.
MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I went to a number of women's groups and said, "Can you help us find folks?" and they brought us whole binders full of women.
KEILAR: The White House is sensitive to this becoming Obama's binder full of women moment, but there are other issues with the new Cabinet.
In the East Room, as the president spoke glowingly of Lew, he noted one exception, Lew's loopy signature, which, as treasury secretary, will appear on dollar bills.
OBAMA: When this was highlighted yesterday in the press, I considered rescinding my offer to appoint him.
OBAMA: Jack assures me that he's going to make at least one letter legible, in order not to debase our currency, should he be confirmed as secretary of the treasury.
KEILAR: By far the funniest moment of that ceremony today, Wolf.
But on the topic of diversity in the president's Cabinet, there are a number of women whose names are being discussed as possibilities for positions that are now open or may become open. That includes Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg, Washington Governor Chris Gregoire and former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm.
But as of right now, those names are just speculation.
BLITZER: Those names are just names as of right now. All right. We will see what happens. Brianna, thank you.
Let's get a little bit right now with our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, and Ruth Marcus, the columnist for "The Washington Post."
Ladies, thanks very much.
Ruth, you wrote a column. Everyone is talking about your column in "The Washington Post" today entitled, "Obama Needs Some Binders of Women." The actual quote is actually binders full of women, but that's all right. You didn't write the headline.
Among other things, you did write this: "To be clear, I have got nothing against white guys. Some of my best husbands are white guys. White guys get to be secretary of state, too, and John Kerry will be the first in 16 years. But to look at the most important jobs in the government in 2013 and see such lack of diversity is just so drearily disappointing."
How disappointing is it? You got to give him a chance. Maybe there will be a whole bunch of women in some of these other openings.
RUTH MARCUS, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Not only maybe will there be a whole bunch of women. I'm absolutely certainly there will be a whole bunch of women.
But the reason it's fair to point this out now, rather than waiting to see who gets Commerce or who the next head of the Small Business Administration is, is that these are, and pardon my language, the big boy jobs. These are the four jobs that really, really count. And to have no women in them, as I said, it's not outrageous. I'm not accusing the president of being sexist or not valuing women, but it really is disappointing now in 2013.
BLITZER: And it's disappointing for you, in particular, because what a difference four years makes. We went back and we got a clip. This is what you said on the "PBS NewsHour" in November 2008.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARCUS: I think one of the other things that strikes me as you look at the tableau that is being assembled is the sort of effortless diversity that's being created.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: At that time, you were pretty impressed.
MARCUS: I was on the team.
BLITZER: Yes, you were... MARCUS: And I'm really glad you found that clip because one of the things that I was excited about back then was the effortless part of the diversity, that we weren't scrounging for women. We weren't scrounging for African-Americans.
The pipeline had come up 20 years ago. President Bill Clinton when he was president-elect had a famous eruption of his temper at the bean counters who were complaining about lack of women in Little Rock.
BLITZER: In Little Rock.
MARCUS: But it's been 20 years. There's been a generation since then. And it ought to have been easy. In fact, it would have been easy to find women. Imagine what the stories would look like now if Susan Rice had been nominated to be secretary of state and Michele Flournoy were the first nominee for defense secretary.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: And now you set up a situation where the next woman who comes in -- and I'm told that they are looking for a woman for Commerce. I'm sure they are all very qualified.
But then you say, oh, they needed a woman and they are putting that woman in a job because she's a woman. Well, that's not a good storyline for them.
MARCUS: It's not a good storyline for them. It's not a good storyline for people like you and me.
BORGER: Right. Exactly.
And then the other question I have is, how much does the president, the top people listen to the women who are there? Is it a question of numbers of women or is it a question of influence of women? I mean, you could argue that Valerie Jarrett is the closest person on the senior staff to the president, longtime friend close to the president and close to the first lady.
But how much input do senior women have? Two of the three deputies chief of staff are women. What's their impact? I don't think we fully know that.
BLITZER: I can't tell you, Ruth, how many Democratic women have whispered, said to me and they are pretty upset about this, why is it did the president decide to fight for Chuck Hagel to be the secretary of defense? Why did he decide to fight for Jack Lew to be secretary of treasury? He didn't fight for Susan Rice to be the secretary of state.
MARCUS: That's an interesting question. And I have been stunned actually -- to your point and Gloria's question -- about the number of Democratic women inside and outside the administration at very high levels that I have heard from today basically saying, you go, girl, thank you for writing that column.
I think Valerie Jarrett clearly is, if not the most influential, one of the most influential women in the administration. At the same time, there is definitely a sense that this is -- that it's a boy's club that the president is the head of. And women do feel excluded.
BLITZER: They did release another picture today, a very different picture showing the staff. Let's show our viewers the picture they released today because it shows a lot of women in that picture.
BLITZER: The other day in the "New York Times" picture, we saw a whole bunch of guys with the president.
BORGER: Where the girls are is right there in the Oval Office. Right?
BORGER: Yes, of course they did, Wolf. The other picture that they had the other day with all men aside from Valerie Jarrett's leg was a problem of optics for them.
I think they have choreographed this whole rollout of the Cabinet in a way that is less than optimal. And that could be because they are in the middle of the fiscal cliff and they had a lot of other things to deal with.
But I think one of the reasons that we saw Jack Lew alone today was because if you had the whole national economic team, you might have had the same problem.
BLITZER: Take a look at this. This is the picture that they released. I don't know who at the White House made that decision to release -- maybe -- Ruth, you're an excellent reporter. Who made that decision to release that picture?
MARCUS: I'm an opinion columnist now. But the thing that's really striking is I had an e-mail from an administration official saying about my column, well, that was predictable.
You want to say, excuse me, well, if that was predictable, why didn't you guys insulated yourselves a little bit?
BORGER: They did. They put out all this -- fact sheet.
MARCUS: After the fact.
BORGER: Right, 50 percent of the people in the staff are women, you know, on and on.
MARCUS: Roll it out with a -- as I use the word tableau, I'm going to use it again -- roll it out with a more diverse tableau when you have more people to name.
BLITZER: Ruth, thanks very much.
BORGER: I'm going to make one prediction.
BORGER: There will be more women.
BLITZER: I hope there will be, because that's good not only for the president. It's good for the country as well.
Guys, thanks very, very much.
This afternoon, Vice President Joe Biden met with a representative of the National Rifle Association, as well as people from other gun owner and sporting groups. The NRA just released a statement saying -- let me quote that statement -- "We were disappointed with how little this meeting had to do with keeping our children safe and how much it had to do with an agenda to attack the Second Amendment."
The statement also says: "It's unfortunate that the administration continues to insist on pushing failed solutions to our nation's most pressing problems."
Biden says his task force on gun violence will send its recommendations to President Obama by next Tuesday. While the vice president says he hasn't come to any specific conclusions yet, he sees an emerging consensus on certain ideas.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is a surprising -- so far, a surprising recurrence of suggestions that we have universal background checks, not just closed the gun show loophole, but total universal background checks, including private sales.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Assault weapons are another possible target for new gun restrictions.
CNN crime and justice correspondent Joe Johns visited a gun store today and will join us in a little bit for a closer look at what turns an ordinary gun into an assault weapon and the changes that may -- repeat -- may be coming.
An unlikely idea is gaining momentum, minting a trillion dollar coin to avert a debt ceiling crisis. Some experts say it's not as crazy as it sounds.
Plus, a shortage of the medicine used to treat some of the most vulnerable flu victims. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: A fierce flu season, and now, a troubling shortage of a medicine used to treat some of the most vulnerable victims. The makers of Tamiflu report a shortage of the children's version of the drug, which can help alleviate symptoms and some flu vaccines are also in short supply as demand picks up dramatically.
Tomorrow, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will release new numbers on the outbreak. The most recent report says that the flu is widespread in 42 states, up from 31 states the week before, with more than 2,000 people hospitalized. The situation is so severe in Boston that the mayor has declared a public health emergency.
Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health tells me the flu came on early in the season, towards the end of November, and spread in what he calls a steep trajectory unseen since the flu season of 2003.
Joining us now is CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
Sanjay, put this surge in flu cases in some proper perspective for us. In other words, how serious is it compared with last year?
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, last year was a pretty mild year. So, you know, if you take Boston as an example that you were just giving, Wolf, at this time last year, they had about 70 documented cases and now they have 700. So, in that one city, it's literally 10 times worse and it's just more significant all around the country.
I'd also say, you know, because of what Dr. Fauci was mentioning, when you have a surge in flu cases early on, remember, there are still other viruses out there that are circulating as well. Norovirus, for example, something known as RSV. So, all of a sudden, you get all these different viruses sort at the same time affecting the country and that can make the problem even worse.
Typically, flu peaks in February. The question now, Wolf, is: is this peaking and then going to taper off as well? Which would be good news. Or are the numbers going up or going to stay high for a while through the flu season? And that we don't know the answer to yet, Wolf.
BLITZER: I can't tell you how many people tell me all the time, "I'm not getting a flu shot, Wolf, because I think it will give me the flu or will make me sick." What's the response to these folks?
GUPTA: That's not true. That's the response. That's a myth.
And, you know, I feel like you have to state it almost that candidly. Look, the flu shot itself contains a dead virus. And you know me, Wolf, I'm not -- I don't take a lot of medications or encourage them.
But the flu -- the flu shot is a good way of protecting yourself against the flu. It's the best thing that we really. But it's a dead virus. So, you can't get the flu from a flu shot.
A couple things to keep in mind: it takes about two weeks for the protection to become complete. So you're not going to get protection right away. Also, it's about 60 percent effective. So, there are people who will get the flu shot and then still get the flu, but they're not getting it from the flu shot.
And finally, you know, when you get the flu shot, Wolf, the whole point of the flu shot is to sort of teach your immune system to recognize that virus as foreign. The next time it sees it, it can attack it.
The thing is when your immune system ramps up like that in response to the flu shot, you might feel cruddy after a day or two. You might get soreness around the arm and just not feel well. It's not the flu but it's your body's own immune system.
Also, finally, let me just say, Wolf, even if you get the flu having had the flu shot, your symptoms may be milder than they otherwise would be. So, you're still getting the flu but you're getting some benefit as a result of having that shot.
BLITZER: But there are some people, Sanjay, who should not get a flu shot, right?
GUPTA: Absolutely. We talk about people, for example, children under the age of 6 months. They should get a flu shot. Certainly people who have had reaction in some way to the flu shot in the past. If you have a fever right now or sick, now is not the time to get a flu shot.
Eggs -- the medium that they make these flu shots in is eggs. If you have an allergy to chicken eggs, specifically, you should not get the flu shot.
And again, you are your own best judge. If you've had a specific reaction to a flu shot in the past, that would be a reason not to get it as well.
BLITZER: The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta says they expect up to potentially, what, 50,000 deaths from this flu season -- 50,000 people could die. That's a very scary number, obviously.
So, how does a person go from having fevers and aches to actually dying?
GUPTA: Well, there's a few specific things and when you think about the vast majority of people who get the flu, it's going to be a if you bad days. They should stay at home, get plenty of rest and fluids.
But there are certain situations that are going to prompt at least a call to the doctor, if not a visit. Again, people shouldn't do this, you know, just without thinking about it. But if you have a sudden onset of dizziness, for example, that could be a red flag. If you're having trouble breathing -- typically flu affects the upper part of your respiration system, but if it affects your lungs, that could be of concern, pressure in the chest area. And, Wolf, this last one, which is the return of a fever, is I think it's really important. The reason is, Wolf, let's say you had the flu, you get over it and then a couple days later, your fever returns. What that means to doctors typically is that during the time that person had the flu, the immune system was somewhat weakened and now they got set up for a bacterial infection, oftentimes a staphylococcus infection affecting the lungs. And that's a red flag. That's something that does need to be treated.
And what I've just described there is the most common way that young people die from this, by getting the secondary infection, Wolf.
BLITZER: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, our chief medical correspondent, thanks very much.
GUPTA: You got it, Wolf. Anytime.
BLITZER: A disappointing end to former Governor Bill Richardson's trip to North Korea. We're going to have the latest on what he and one of the men who run Google have to say about their trip.
BLITZER: Google's executive chairman Eric Schmidt wrapped up his controversial visit to North Korea today. The State Department complained the trip was ill-timed and not helpful. Schmidt defended his actions today after arriving in China.
CNN's Paula Hancocks is monitoring a story from her post in Seoul, South Korea.
PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Google's chief Eric Schmidt is certainly the highest profile U.S. businessman we've seen visiting Pyongyang since Kim Jong-un took over. And we now know why he was there.
Talking to reporters at Beijing airport when he touched down, Mr. Schmidt said he went to North Korea to talk about and push for a free and fair Internet, a concept completely alien to Pyongyang.
ERIC SCHMIDT, CHAIRMAN, GOOGLE INC: The world becomes increasingly connected, their decision to be virtually isolated is very much going to affect their physical world and so forth. And it will make it harder for them to catch up economically. We made that alternative very, very clear.
HANCOCKS: Schmidt has shown the pretty archaic computer system at Kim Il-Sung University while he was in Pyongyang. Currently the lucky few, there are just a lucky few who have access to a computer can only connect to an internal Internet. Only the handful of the elite can actually access international Web sites.
Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson was also on the trip and said it was productive, although the U.S. State Department characterized the trip as ill-timed, coming just a month after North Korea launched a rocket to international condemnation. Richardson, though, said he urged one North Korea nuclear official not to repeat such a launch.
BILL RICHARDSON, FORMER NEW MEXICO GOVERNOR: We're concerned with the current level of tension in the peninsula. We think that both sides need to move in new directions. The North Koreans need to temper their nuclear development. They need to have a moratorium on missile activity. The countries in the region, I believe, too, need to develop a new positive approach.
HANCOCKS: Governor Richardson did not manage to secure the release an American citizen who had been detained in Pyongyang last month for unspecified crimes against the state. He also said that he wasn't able to visit with the man but he said he does have guarantees that he was being treated fairly and his judicial proceedings are about to start.
Paula Hancocks, CNN, Seoul.
BLITZER: Tomorrow, the former Governor Bill Richardson will join us right here on the situation room. He'll be in Washington to tell us more about his controversial visit to North Korea with Eric Schmidt.
Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the day's other top stories right here on THE SITUATION ROOM.
Lisa, the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, he's continuing his meetings here in Washington as well.
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf.
Ahead of his sit-down with President Obama tomorrow, Karzai met with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta today. When Panetta described the last chapter in the decade of war, Karzai responded by assuring that Afghanistan will soon be able to protect its borders from being, quote, "threatened by terrorists." And we will have a live report in the next hour when the Afghan president sits own with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
And more legal wrangling over the attempt release of pictures of a dead Osama bin Laden. It's unclear how soon a federal appeals court could rule after hearing today's arguments from Judicial Watch. The conservative group says President Obama's refusal to publish the photos violates the Freedom of Information Act. The White House says the images could threaten the lives of U.S. soldiers and our allies.
And after serious breakdowns in 911 systems last year, the FCC could require strict rules that ensure phone companies have backup power and plans to keep things running. The most severe breakdown came after a freak windstorm after a dozen of call centers in North and West Virginia couldn't receive 911 calls last June. Similar problems cropped up when superstorm Sandy hit in October. And a closer look at the brain of the late NFL linebacker Junior Seau showed a serious brain disease after years of hits to the head. The 10-time all pro committed suicide in May. Specialists who have studied it closely say Seau's brain had evidence of scarring and a condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE.
And in our next hour, we will have a live report from Sanjay Gupta on this new diagnosis.
It certainly raised all kinds of interesting questions, the safety of pro football, particularly when you're talking young kids and so forth, we've heard about the issue of concussions. So, we have to watch out.
BLITZER: And Sanjay has done a lot of research, a lot of work on these concussions, these head injuries from football. It's a serious, serious subject.
SYLVESTER: That's reason enough to tune in and continue to stay tuned in.
BLITZER: Junior Seau was a great, great football player.
SYLVESTER: Oh, yes. It was such a tragic loss. You know, people were so surprise to the news. I remember the day upon hearing the news of his suicide, really, really sad.
BLITZER: All right. Thank you.
We're just about to get a close look at assault weapons. They are likely to become the targets of proposed gun control laws once again. But, first, what's wrong with this picture? Our strategy session is looking at whether the president needs to recruit more women and minority members for the top jobs in his second term.
BLITZER: The pastor who had been scheduled to deliver the benediction at President Obama's inaugural abruptly withdrew today after the words of an old ceremony delivered caught up with him.
CNN's Athena Jones is walking into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. She's got details. You have been working this story. What's going on?
ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. You know, this is not the first time that a controversy has arisen over gay rights, a pastor, and an inauguration.
JONES (voice-over): Atlanta Pastor Louie Giglio tapped to give the benediction at the president's second inaugural is now pulling out of the festivities. Why, because of a firestorm over his mid-1990 sermon on homosexuality. REVEREND LOUIE GIGLIO, PASSION CITY CHURCH: If you look at the counsel of the word of god, Old Testament, New Testament, you come quickly to the conclusion that homosexuality is not an alternate lifestyle. Homosexuality is not just a sexual preference. Homosexuality is not gay, but homosexuality is sin. It is sin in the eyes of God, and it is sin according to the word of God.
JONES: Giglio withdrew from the ceremony after those words drew fire from gay rights groups saying in a message to his congregation, the issue of homosexuality is one of the most difficult our nation will navigate. However, individual's rights of freedom and the collective right to hold differing views on any subject is a critical balance we as a people must recover and preserve.
Earlier this month, Giglio welcomed thousands to a conference for his passion movement aimed at ending human trafficking and global sex slavery. He said Thursday he feared his participation at the inauguration would distract from that message.
The Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group said that Giglio made the right decision.
FRED SAINZ, HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN: His inclusion in the inaugural festivities would have been inconsistent with the tone that this president has set for inclusion and diversity and such. We thought that his pulling out of the inaugural festivities was entirely appropriate.
JONES: The president's Inaugural Committee said that they were not aware of Giglio's past comments and are now working to select a new speaker who better reflects the administration's views.
This isn't the first time a pastor's invitation to take part in the inauguration has sparked controversy. In 2009, liberal and gay rights groups slammed the choice of influential Evangelical Pastor Rick Warren to speak because of his open possession to same-sex marriage.
The Family Research Council, a conservative Christian advocacy group is concerned about what they see as a growing trend.
TONY PERKINS, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: What's shocking here, I think, is that this is further evidence of a desire to sanitize the public square of anyone who holds the biblical morality.
JONES: Now, Wolf, I should mention the president's Inaugural Committee is making history by selecting Richard Blanco as the first Hispanic and the first gay person to recite a poem at the swearing in ceremony.
BLITZER: Athena, thanks very much for that report. Let's follow up right now in our "Strategy Session." Joining us the Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons and CNN contributor Ari Fleischer, who was the White House press secretary for President George W. Bush.
Jamal, should Reverend Giglio be punished now in effect for what he said nearly 20 years ago?
JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, his views clearly don't reflect the president's views and I think the controversy that's erupted is going to overshadow any role that he plays in the inauguration.
The thing that's interesting here, we're going to have an entire generation of trouble on this question because he's not alone. There a lot of pastors in America who hold very similar views, who have said very similar things.
As we all come to some new reconciliation and understanding around gay rights, we're going to have to find a way where we can maybe rehabilitate people who have some views earlier or let them have views that are outside the mainstream on one topic and perhaps more aggressive on another.
I think there's going to be a real struggle for us over the next few years as we bring all these views together after this really controversial issue.
BLITZER: Ari, where do you stand on this?
ARI FLEISCHER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR Well, I disagree with the pastor's sentiment. I think gays are fellow citizens and should be treated with respect as such. Tony Perkins does make a valid point about there are people who disagree with me. Should they be banned from the public square?
That's why these are difficult, difficult issues to wrestle with, but I come down fundamentally on the point this is the president's inauguration. It should fit his tone, fit his voice and he's entitled to have the people on that stage who share his voice.
I have to add though, Wolf, what I don't get if it's wrong for him to be there for one day and I suppose it is, is it right for Chuck Hagel to be there each and every day who has espoused something based on what the pastor was saying.
BLITZER: Well, the difference is, Jamal, that Chuck Hagel apologized for the views he expressed nearly 20 years ago and the statement today from Reverend Giglio, he said this, "Neither I nor our team feels it best serves the current message and goals that we're seeking to accomplish to be a fight on an issue not of our choosing thus I respectfully withdraw my acceptance of the president's invitation.
FLEISCHER: If the pastor had apologized, do you think that would have made it go away? I suspect he still would have been chased from being there for the inaugural.
SIMMONS: I'm not --
FLEISCHER: Having said that.
SIMMONS: I'm not sure that's true, Ari. I think that one of the ways that we're going to move past this issue is for people who have views that maybe now they reflect a different view.
Coming out and saying I regret those views or I've changed my position or we need to have a broader understanding, something that moves us past their past views, people in the administration will focus on these issues of human trafficking and slavery, they were aligning with these groups to come together on other issues important to the administration.
Lastly, I will say that the administration has other people who are on their side, people like Pastor Delman Coat who was one of the forefront ministers in the gay marriage movement and opening that up that they could turn to for the inaugural prayer.
BLITZER: Ari, let's talk a little bit about the vice president and his task force on guns right now. Here's the question. He's obviously going to come up with his recommendations by Tuesday. With every day that passes, since the Newtown massacre, do the chances of real substantive gun control legislation fade, get weaker?
FLEISCHER: I don't think so. I think Newtown is so searing in people's minds that this has a longer lasting factor than most shootings previously. There was another shooting today, as you saw, Wolf, and this one involved a shotgun.
I think it still raises the question, do any of us know how to stop these shootings from taking place? Are we going to ban shotguns now? Like the sentiment is to ban assault rifles. I think we're still going to grapple with this.
I want to see what the vice president comes up with. I hope it's balanced. I hope it's not just gun control in disguise as a way of taking advantage of Newtown. We do need to do something, but if it's only one thing, it's not going to be effective and that's what we've learned with today's shootings, certainly.
SIMMONS: Wolf, we know there's got to be balance, but we also do know that when people have to reload clips and there's chance for people to do well and stop the shooting to get at that shooter and get them. So someone with a shotgun with two or three -- one or two shells in it is very different than someone with a clip with 30 shells in it.
BLITZER: Here's what the former President Bill Clinton said this week at the Consumer Electronics Show. I'll read it to you. This is the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas. He said, I grew up in this hunting culture, but this is nuts. Why does anybody need a 30-round clip for a gun? Does there need to be armed guards in schools where there is a higher crime rate and student may take guns to school?
Absolutely, but it's not an excuse not to deal with this issue. He dealt with it back in '93, '94. He paid a pretty significant price because the Democrats lost a whole bunch of seats in the House of Representatives and control in the House, Ari, as you well remember.
FLEISCHER: Wolf, I think both sides are going to have to give on something on this. Given what happened in Newtown, I also don't accept that nothing can be done, we hate to say there's no answer, but I do think both sides have to give.
There's a speech issue that involves Hollywood and videogames that I hope the vice president puts it on the table and I think just like we have to travel and have to go through metal detectors and take off our shoes.
There may be some infringement on our liberties that we don't want to live with. We're law-abiding people with automatic weapons may have to give something up. But it's a balance and you have to be realistic. I don't know that anything is going to stop it.
Because the fundamental issue is mental illness and I haven't heard any good ideas about how to stop the mentally ill who are out on our streets from occasionally engaging in horrors. I wish there was. I would be the first one to support it if there was.
BLITZER: We'll see what the recommendations are from the Biden task force next Tuesday. Jamal and Ari, guys, thanks very much.
SIMMONS: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Much more on this story coming up. Do you know what changes turns a gun, a regular gun into an assault weapon? Our own Joe Johns visited a gun shop and shooting range today for a hands-on demonstration. He's in THE SITUATION ROOM today straight from the shooting range.
BLITZER: Another school shooting incident is in the news today, unfortunately. It happened at Taft High School in Current County, California. That's about 130 miles north of Los Angeles. Authorities say a 16-year-old student is in critical condition after being shot by another student who brought a shotgun to school, walked into a classroom, and opened fire. The unidentified gunman is in custody.
In the wake of last year's mass shootings in Colorado and now in Connecticut, we're hearing frequent calls for restrictions on assault weapons. CNN's crime and justice correspondent Joe Johns is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
But earlier he visited a gun store and a shooting range today for a hands-on explanation for what these guns are and the kind of restrictions that may be coming. It's really an eye-opening experience you went through.
JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It certainly is, Wolf. You know, what is an assault weapon, anyway? You hear that question all the time. Many gun experts say the terms is imprecise. It's really meant to describe weapons with military or combat uses as opposed to recreational shooting, which can be a distinction without a difference.
The other question is whether this is banning certain firearms because of how they look. If an AR-15 for example is somehow more dangerous because it has extra features attached to it. We went to Blue Ridge Arsenal in Northern Virginia to take a look.
JOHNS (voice-over): Simplicity and ease of use are two things that make AR-15 type rifles so popular. We got former Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms official Mike Bouchard to demonstrate how fast 15 rounds can hit a target.
(on camera): When was the last time you fired an AR?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Four or five years ago.
JOHNS (voice-over): AR-15s and similar models are at the center of the debate over whether there should be a ban on the so-called assault weapons.
(on camera): What do you think of this assault weapons ban?
MARK WARNER, BLUE RIDGE ARSENAL: I'm not for it. I don't think it's going to change anything. I think if someone wants to create havoc or cause a crime, they are going to do it there own. Criminals don't follow the rules to begin with.
JOHNS (voice over): A lot of this comes down to a discussion of individual features, characteristics like pistol grips, folding or telescoping stocks, grenade launchers and how many would make it a prohibited weapon? In 1994, any two characteristics meant it was banned.
MICHAEL BOUCHARD, FORMER ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, ATF: The argument why they banned things like folding stock is that it's more easily concealed and folding stocks were typically designed for military-type purposes. Pistol grip, they outlawed that because it's meant to be a shoulder fired weapon you can shoot it from the hip, which is typically what you would do in combat.
JOHNS: A current proposal from Democrat Senator Dianne Feinstein would be less permissive than the old law banning the firearm if it contained any one of the disfavored characteristics. It's true that some of these guns look formidable, but in our short time at the range it wasn't hard to find an owner who uses one for sport.
HECTOR UGARRIZA, RECREATIONAL SHOOTER: It's amazing. It's my favorite gun to shoot out of all.
JOHNS (on camera): Why?
UGARRIZA: Insanely accurate rate. It doesn't have any recoil to speak of and a lot of rounds on the target.
JOHNS (voice-over): Perhaps the biggest debate is over whether the last ban worked. Gun control advocates say it saved lives and the country is ready for it now.
MARK GLAZE, DIRECTOR, MAYORS AGAINST ILLEGAL GUNS: I think the public has reached a point where a polling suggests a large majority want it and the reason is they are seeing these mass shootings are happening increasingly, rapidly, and they are becoming increasingly massive.
JOHNS: But Bouchard, who once worked to enforce the ban says there's another way to go.
BOUCHARD: I don't think it was expected because there were so many in circulation at that time that it was not a problem to find one. I didn't notice much of a difference.
JOHNS (on camera): Right. You can't get all of those guns off the streets.
JOHNS: So what's the answer?
BOUCHARD: Too many on the street. Personally I think it's to go after the ammunition source, the number of rounds that you can have in a magazine.
JOHNS: The Feinstein proposal is definitely looking to deal with the ammunition issues that would require fixed magazines of no more than ten rounds, ban large capacity feeding devices. They remove things like bayonette mounts and flash suppressors from the ban characteristics because they are easy to remove.
And they also require a federal registration of certain weapons already on the street, but the question, of course, Wolf, is whether something like that could get through the Congress.
BLITZER: Have you ever fired one of these before?
JOHNS: Well, yes. I fired today for the first time an AR-15. I fired a lot of weapons in my lifetime and I have to tell you, I was a little bit surprised of the accuracy of it and how easy it was to get the round on the target with essentially no practice. It's very, very easy to use.
BLITZER: Joe Johns, thanks very much for that report as I said, eye- opening.
Political and popular momentum is building behind an idea that at first glance seems outrageous. We're looking at why the government may consider minting, get this, a trillion dollar coin. We reported this earlier in the week, now there's new information.
BLITZER: Chances are you can certainly find plenty of coins rattling around your pocket or your purse or your couch. But could a coin worth a trillion dollars actually join the familiar line up of pennies, nickels, and quarters?
CNN's Brian Todd is here to explain why the idea seems to be picking up some political and popular momentum in recent days. You reported on this earlier in the week. I thought it was sort of ridiculous, but some people are taking it seriously.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are, Wolf. You know, it's gotten to the point now where many of us are joking, I hold in my hand the solution to the debt ceiling crisis, but in reality this idea has gotten more serious momentum recently mostly because after the fiscal cliff and everything else, so many want to avoid the fallout from another political brawl in Washington.
TODD (voice-over): It's gone from never in a million years to, well, maybe. The idea of the president minting a $1 trillion platinum coin to do an end run around the Republicans and avoid debt ceiling drama has gained popular and political momentum.
What started as a blogosphere whim in 2010 got more attention during the debt ceiling standoff a year later and now has left leaning, Nobel Prize winning "New York Times" columnist Paul Krugman writing that if the debt ceiling impasse isn't avoided, quote, "Mint the darn coin."
Democratic Congressman Gerald Naddler solidly behind it. Not to mention a petition on the White House web site with thousands of signatures in support speaking at the White House.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will you fully rule it out?
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: You can speculate about a lot of things -- for the specifics of this question.
TODD: The punt's in the air. It's a high floater. The Treasury Department decides not to field it, declining comment. But why is this being discussed more seriously now? Analysts say frustration and fatigue in Washington.
PETER BEINART, "THE DAILY BEAST": There's an increased search for ways out of this problem, especially by Democrats. And I think that's how some of them hit on this idea about the coin.
TODD: We've explained how it would work.
(on camera): Treasury can mint it and print on it $1 trillion. The president can then order that coin to be deposited at the Federal Reserve.
The real buzz overall of this is about the possibilities. Humorous and not, who would be on the coin? President Obama and John Boehner have been considered because, after all, we wouldn't be here if it wasn't for them.
Lady Liberty is always a popular choice. Michael Phelps riding on a bald eagle is a little bit too scary. We should probably keep it on the safe side with him. Have a nice look to it?
MATTHEW COOPER, EDITOR, "NATIONAL JOURNAL DAILY": Well, it's nice to collect. I don't think it's a great way to solve our national debt problems. TODD (voice-over): Matt Cooper of the "National Journal" says one reason why the idea hasn't been shelved is because it's more politically correct for President Obama to use it for leverage than it would be for him to actually use it.
COOPER: I think it would very hard to then go forward and negotiate things on the budget and other tax issues and sequestration and other things that face this president.
TODD: Not to mention, the mockery that it would draw on the president, the Congress, the American currency system. Still, as strange as the coin idea might seem, most analysts say it's really no crazier than getting into yet another huge political fight over the debt ceiling, possibly even jolting the financial markets as a result -- Wolf.
BLITZER: So what are the predictions?
TODD: Most experts say it's really very unlikely, but no one is saying impossible right now. President Obama is probably going to have his back to the wall with the debt ceiling for a while and they point out that the White House is giving up one weapon.
They've already said that they will not use this invoking of the 14th amendment, the amendment requiring the president not to put the validity of the public debt into question. The White House says it will not use it to avoid this.
That's one weapon that they are giving up. So this thing that we're seeing in the pictures here and making so much fun of is still a political weapon for the president, not ruling it out.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Brian Todd, for that update.
The Oscar nominations are now out. Who's been left off the list is just as interesting as who is in the running.
BLITZER: Plenty of big names and big movies, but it's always Hollywood buzzing about who has been snubbed. CNN's entertainment correspondent Nischelle Turner is joining us from Los Angeles right now. It's been a long day for you, Nischelle. What happened?
NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, a lot happened today, Wolf. That's the thing about the academy. They seem to zig when everyone else zags. There were some quote/unquote "snubs" to talk about. But let's talk about what gave people a smile.
Let's talk about "Lincoln," it earned 12 nominations. "Life of Pi" not far behind it with 11. Let's get to the category for best picture and tell you who was nominated this morning for that. The academy can choose between five and ten movies. This year they decided, we'll choose nine. "Lincoln" was nominated, "Life Of Pi," "Amor" Silverlining "Playbook", "Zero Dark Thirty," "Argo," "Beast Of the Southern Wild," "Django Unchained" and "Les Miserables."
Now the best actor category I think is going to be a tight race of good category, lots of star power here, Daniel Day Lewis was nominated for "Lincoln." Hugh Jackman for "Les Miserables," Denzel Washington for "Flight," Bradley Cooper for Silverlinings "Playbook," his very first nomination and Joaquin Phoenix for the "Master."
Now the nominees in the best actress category, Jessica Chastain was nominated for "Zero Dark Thirty," Jennifer Lawrence for Silverlining's "Playbook," both of them favored to going in to the Oscar race.
Naomi Watts was nominated for "The Impossible," Quvenzhane Wallis for "Beast of the Southern Wild," just 9 years old and Emmanuelle Riva was nominated for "Amor" 85 years old and adorable, but Wolf, "Lincoln" clearly a front-runner.
We may have some dark horses for a movie like Silverlining's "Playbook" or "Beast of the Southern Wild," but it could be a big night for "Lincoln."
BLITZER: Nischelle, a few big names were left out of the honors.
TURNER: Yes, basically in the directing category. We thought we'd hear names like Ben Affleck for "Argo" or Katherine Bigelow for "Zero Dark Thirty" -- neither one of them were nominated for best director. Both Affleck and Bigelow have been gaining a lot of momentum after getting nominated for Golden Globes and Director Guild's Awards, but this morning, no dice from the academy.
BLITZER: No dice, indeed. Nischelle, thank you.
TURNER: Yes. Absolutely.