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Interview with Arizona Congressman Ron Barber; Court: Christian Can Wear Cross At Work; Shocking Report on Natalie Wood's Death; Wal- Mart Wants to Hire Veterans

Aired January 15, 2013 - 09:30   ET



CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Thank you so much for being with us. I'm Carol Costello.

Stories we're watching right now in THE NEWSROOM, at 31 minutes past the hour.

Opening on Wall Street and a bit of good news. Retail numbers were up from what analysts predicted for December. But it wasn't holiday shopping that was up. It was auto sales up.

Ringing the bell this morning, executives from the United States Commodity Funds.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will testify next Wednesday about the September terror attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. As you know, that attack killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador. Four State Department officials have been disciplined after an independent review of the attack revealed leadership failures within the State Department.

After nearly seven years of not speaking during oral argument, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas finally breaks his silence. He did it on Monday. He made a joke about the confidence of lawyers from Yale, his alma mater, and their Harvard colleagues.

Six members of the current high court went to Harvard. Thomas, Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor, by the way, went to Yale.

Gun violence survivors and gun control advocates plan to hold a rally in just about 90 minutes outside a Walmart in Danbury, Connecticut. That's not far from Newtown, which, of course, was the scene of last month's mass shooting. They'll deliver a petition from survivors, asking Walmart to honor its 2004 pledge to stop selling assault weapons and munitions in their stores nationwide.

And my next guest has seen the impact of gun violence up close. Ron Barber was a staff member for former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords who, as you know, was shot during a campaign appearance just over two years ago.

Barber was also injured in the shooting and was later asked by Giffords to run in a special election for her seat after she resigned. He won and was sworn in last summer.

Congressman Barber joins me now from Washington.

Welcome, Congressman.

REP. RON BARBER (D), ARIZONA: Good morning. Nice to be with you.

COSTELLO: We're happy that you're here. We've heard a lot about states moving forward with gun control measures, but at the federal level, it seems like a tough sell. The Majority Leader Harry Reid saying he doubts such a measure to ban assault weapons, for example, would get through the House.

What does that mean for national gun control laws? Are we at a stalemate?

BARBER: I don't believe we are. I think it really comes down to what are we going to be able to get bipartisan support for in the Congress. And there are three things that I believe are possible to get across the aisle support. My major focus has been since January 8th on mental health services and awareness, and I'll be dropping a bill today that will move in that direction. It's called the Mental Health First Aid Act.

So that's one thing that I believe is possible. There seems to be some cross unanimity, if you will, across the aisle on mental health services and my bill will hopefully be one of the first steps in that direction.

COSTELLO: You met with Vice President Biden as part of a task force convened by the president. The vice president was supposed to deliver his recommendations today to the president, but he delayed that. Why the holdup?

BARBER: I'm not sure I could tell you why the holdup. I know that when we met yesterday, the task force that I'm a member of, vice chair of, the Prevention of Gun Violence Task Force in the House, we met with vice president and three cabinet secretaries for two and a half hours yesterday to present our thinking and our ideas about how we might get a handle on and hopefully reduce particularly mass shootings in our country. I proposed the Mental Health First Aid Act and I believe that was well received. We'll see if it comes into the final packet.

But there are two other things I think we can possibly get bipartisan support for. One is universal background checks, particularly at gun shows where people who are not supposed to have guns under the law can go in without a background check and get those guns. We're talking about felons and people who are endanger to their selves or others with mental illness.

And the third, which is very personal for me, is trying to reduce the amount of bullets that can be carried in a magazine. We were shot with a Glock, a pistol that had 30 bullets in a magazine, and one more in the chamber and in 45 seconds or less, 19 people were down and six died. I believe we can get some consensus to reduce the size of magazines to at least give people a chance to get away, to intercept, to intervene with the shooter, get police there, certainly cut down on the number of people who were killed and wounded in Tucson, and I believe in Connecticut as well.

COSTELLO: Yes, we just had a graphic up just reaffirming what you said about some of the recommendations, the task force will make to President Obama.

President Obama yesterday said in a speech that he is ready to issue an executive order concerning gun control. Are you in favor of that?

BARBER: Well, first of all, I'd have to see what the executive orders or order that the president is talking about before I could make a judgment as to whether I would support it or not.

I believe though generally speaking that any changes that are going to impact the public and public policy ought to be made through the congressional process, where we can have hearings, we can have floor debate and we can actually enact laws. And I believe the most serious aspects of this issue are going to be resolved that way, not by executive order.

So I would have to wait and see what the president proposes, but I generally favor going through the congressional process which is how our government was designed to work.

COSTELLO: I'm just curious and it's a last question. What kind of law would you object to that might be executed by the president through an executive order?

BARBER: I don't know what his breadth of how powers are really. Talk about perhaps having to do with gathering data, background checks, but I really believe in order to do anything significant, we're going to have to pass laws. And the three that I'm concerned about are mental health, background checks, universal background checks and reducing the capacity for weapons that can shoot so many people in a short period of time.

COSTELLO: Arizona Congressman Ron Barber, thank you so much.

BARBER: Thank you for having me this morning. I appreciate it.

COSTELLO: We've got new information on why a coroner changed the controversial cause of death -- actually a coroner's ruling, he changed the cause of death for Natalie Wood so the mystery remains. We'll talk about that.


COSTELLO: A controversial story out of London this morning. British Airways worker says she was sent home from her job for wearing a cross. Now, a top European court said she was the target of religious discrimination.

Zain Verjee is in London to tell us more. Good morning.


Her name is Nadia Eweida. And basically, she was sitting at a British Airways desk and she had a big crucifix around her neck and a chain. And she told that she had to be transferred to another job. So, she basically said, excuse me, wait a minute, this is discrimination.

She filed and filed and filed here in the U.K. and her case was heard and then dismissed over and over again. I think it was rejected like six times.

Anyway, she persisted, she went to the European Human Rights Court and they basically were weighing what B.A.'s perception of its corporate image should be or versus her own right and desire to wear any kind of religious artifact that she wanted to.

So, anyway, they said and they ruled and this was significant because it was the first time in a case like this something had happened that she was right, so she won, and upon hearing of her victory she said, "Thank you, Jesus" -- Carol.


COSTELLO: But the ruling's not legally binding, is it?

VERJEE: Yes, that's what's interesting about this. The European court made this ruling but it's not essentially legally binding, so they can't basically order the U.K. courts to say implement our ruling. But by the same token the U.K., because they support the European courts, can't just decide eh, we don't care what you said and just ignore it.

So they have to carry it out to some extent. B.A. has already changed its policies, people can wear charitable artifacts and religious artifacts as well.

COSTELLO: Zain Verjee, thanks so much.

We're back in a minute.


COSTELLO: A new ten-page supplement has been attached to Natalie Wood's 1981 autopsy report. The new explosive information led the coroner to amend the controversial cause of death.

Let's head to New York and get the latest from A.J. Hammer.


Yes, she had bruises and this is apparently what led the medical examiner to change the cause of death from accidental drowning to drowning and other undetermined factors. Now, the change was made public last summer, we were talking about it then. But we're finding out the reasons behind the decision. The medical examiner specifically sighted fresh bruises in woods' right forearm and left wrist, as well as a scratch on her neck as evidence that there are unanswered questions about her 1981 drowning death.

The medical examiner also cited other factors including the lack of a life jacket and a lack of a suicide note as a reason to call the circumstances surrounding Wood's death as not clearly established. And the circumstances surrounding her death had been a topic of speculation since she died, as we know.

She was on a yacht with her husband at the time Robert Wagner and friend Christopher Walken when she disappeared and just how her body wound up in the water a mile from the boat still remains a mystery, Carol, that I am certain will probably continue to fascinate people for decades to come. It's a story that does not go away.

COSTELLO: Yes and I was just going to say, I mean it answers some questions but certainly not all.

HAMMER: I think it raises a whole lot -- a whole lot more.


HAMMER: A lot of things that people have speculated about over the years and there have been a lot of people who have paid very close attention to this. We're talking of what some 30 years now.

COSTELLO: Yes. A.J. Hammer, thanks so much.

HAMMER: You got it.

COSTELLO: There are thousands of veterans looking for work and now Wal-Mart wants them to join the team, but there's a catch.


COSTELLO: Forty-eight minutes past the hour. Time to check our "Top Stories".

For the first time in nearly two months President George H.W. Bush is waking up at home today. He was released yesterday from a Houston hospital where he had been treated for a bronchitis-related cough and other health issues. The former President is 88 years old.

Florida A&M University will officially announce the hiring of a new band director today, FAMU's entire band was suspended last year in the wake of the November 2011 hazing death of drum major Robert Champion.

Facebook has been building a mystery and many people think it might be the much rumored Facebook phone. The social media giant has invited the media to its headquarters today with an invitation that read quote, "Come and see what we're building." CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently shut down the idea of a Facebook phone so I guess we'll just have to wait and see. GM unveils its first battery-powered luxury car today, the Cadillac ELR. Reports say the battery-driven coupe is based on the same technology as the Chevrolet Volt. The unveiling is happening this morning at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

The world's largest retailer is looking for a few good veterans. Wal- Mart says it wants to hire any veteran who wants a job but there's a catch. Alison Kosik is in New York to tell us what it is. Hi Alison.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ok hi Carol. So yes, Wal-Mart is saying it will hire any veteran who wants a job. The two stipulations are those veterans had to have left the military in the previous year and two could not have received a dishonorable discharge.

Now this is a huge commitment when you look at this because this is going to wind up being a five year initiative for Wal-Mart. And Wal- Mart is estimating it'll wind up hiring 100,000 veterans over that time. It represents more than 13 percent of all unemployed veterans. It even got recognition from First Lady Michelle Obama who's campaigned for this issue that veterans should be hired.

You know other companies they are veteran-friendly too. This is worth mentioning that they actually make note of it in their job postings, they say that they make a commitment to hiring returning veterans.

So at this point this appears to be working. You look at the unemployment rate, it's falling at a pretty good clip for veterans. The only one group of vets that has an unemployment rate above national average that's veterans of the most recent wars, the so- called Gulf Era II wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.


KOSIK: Unemployment in that group Carol was above 13 percent a year ago. About 225,000 they remain unemployed. So hopefully this new Wal-Mart program you know could be a big dent in that number. If you're looking to put your resume in this program launches on May 27th, Memorial Day -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Those veterans of those other wars are probably retired by now.

KOSIK: Right.

COSTELLO: So that 10 percent is still a pretty big number.

KOSIK: It is.

COSTELLO: You know young people with families. Alison Kosik, thank so much.

KOSIK: You're welcome.

COSTELLO: "Talk Back" question for you today. "Can Lance Armstrong redeem himself?"

I'll be right back.


COSTELLO: "Talk Back" question this morning. "Can Lance Armstrong redeem himself?"

This from Steve, "It's one thing to have cheated and come clean about it, it's entirely another to have cheated and lied about it for years and only come clean once the proof is in the offering."

This from Cory, "Hell, yes, I was never mad at him. If anything, I applaud him. America is looking at this whole thing the wrong way. Isn't it interesting how his condition with cancer suddenly improved when he started taking human growth hormone?"

This from Dan, "He raised over $500 million for Cancer Research, didn't he? Doesn't that count for anything?"

And this from Mark, "He can't change the past, but he can go forward and accomplish great things. Just ask Bill Clinton." or tweet me @CarolCNN if you'd like to continue the conversation. I'll be right back.


COSTELLO: After years of denying doping, legendary cyclist Lance Armstrong has reversed course. Reports say Armstrong has admitted to using steroids to advance his career. The confession comes in an interview with Oprah Winfrey set to air on her network Thursday night.

We still don't know the details -- you know all the specific details of Armstrong's interview, but a source tells CNN Armstrong might pay back part of the money he received from the U.S. Postal Service. It sponsored the cyclist and his team when Armstrong won six of his Tour de France titles.

ESPN anchor Stewart Scott has tweeted that his cancer has returned. Scott says he'll get chemo every two weeks but continue to work around the treatment. Scott also praised LiveStrong the charity Lance Armstrong founded for its support of cancer patients.

Rory McIlroy now the highest paid young athlete in the world. That's what "Forbes" magazine says after the top rank golfer signed a multiyear contract with Nike. Media reports say McIlroy could earn between $200 million and $250 million a year. McIlroy says hey, the money won't add any pressure.


RORY MCILROY, PROFESSIONAL GOLFER: The most pressure I feel is the pressure that I put on myself. And you know I know if I live up to my own expectations, then I'll more than live up to everyone else's. So, you know, I just want to play as well as I can and hopefully that translates it into tournament wins and ultimately more Major wins.


COSTELLO: The Nike announcement came in Abu Dhabi where McIlroy will play in a tournament this week with another Nike client Tiger Woods.

Tebowing is so 2012. Kaepernicking is now trending. San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick struck a touchdown pose in Saturday's playoff game against Green Bay and now fans are doing it and tweeting the pics. For the uninitiated, kaepernicking involves flexing your bicep and then kissing it.

Kaepernick has been doing this for a while but now it seems it's caught on and everybody's doing it.

And that's a look at sports this morning.

The next hour of CNN NEWSROOM begins right now.

Stories we're watching now. Lance Armstrong reportedly comes clean and Oprah Winfrey is fascinated.


OPRAH WINFREY, TALK SHOW HOST: I would say that for myself, my team, all of us in the room, we were mesmerized and riveted by some of his answers.


COSTELLO: Oprah dishes about her sit-down with Lance Armstrong.

In just six days, the President will stand in front of the nation to take the oath of office and with --