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THE SITUATION ROOM

White House to Unveil Gun Reform Package; Lance Armstrong Comes Clean; Key Jewish Democrat Backs Hagel; Which Party Is Best for Black America; A Political Future for Chelsea Clinton?

Aired January 15, 2013 - 16:00   ET

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


JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: President Obama decides to go big on gun reform, acting on his own and asking Congress for reforms that will be hard to pass.

We will hear part of Oprah Winfrey's reaction to Lance Armstrong's confession.

Plus, an exclusive look inside a lab that could save your life. See how close we are to a super vaccine to keep you from getting the flu for years.

Wolf Blitzer's off today. I'm Joe Johns. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We begin now with a guessing game about what is in President Obama's so-called comprehensive proposals to cut down on gun violence. The president and his vice president, Joe Biden, are set to unveil their plans tomorrow, but even though officials are trying to keep the details under wraps, we already know a good deal of what is in the plan.

CNN White House correspondent Jessica Yellin has been working her sources and joins us live now.

Jess, what do you know?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Joe.

Today, Vice President Biden delivered his plan to the president just a month after the Newtown shootings, and among the top recommendations that the president will unveil tomorrow we're told are enhanced background checks for gun sales of all kinds and limits on high- capacity magazines.

We're told the vice president has outlined two different types of paths forward for the president. He has told legislators that he is going to give the president 19 different executive actions that the president can take essentially on his own without any congressional action. These types of things could include first of all better enforcement of existing gun laws, keeping data on where the guns are. The government actually stopped keeping those records back in 2004 -- and improving the background check system, so there's more sharing of information, more prosecution of people who try to buy guns illegally. Joe, the other path forward would be congressional action and we're told that the president will push for passage of an assault weapons ban and expansion of the background check law so that it would apply to gun sales of all kinds. Even if I tried to sell you a gun privately, that would require a background check and then limiting the sale of high-capacity magazines. Those are some of the major issues we expect to hear the president outline tomorrow, Joe.

JOHNS: Jess, is this the kitchen sink or are there some things they held back on?

YELLIN: Well, what the president is describing it as, the White House, is comprehensive and these are issues that they prioritize. I expect that the White House is going to place a serious emphasis on this high-capacity magazine issue.

I'm told that in private meetings the vice president has emphasized that the high-capacity magazine could make as much of a difference, more of a difference, maybe, than any other measure. He has pointed out to multiple people that the Gabby Giffords shooter used a high- capacity magazine on a handgun. So if an assault weapons ban had been in place, that wouldn't have made a difference in the Gabby Giffords shooting, but the high-capacity magazine law could have.

That's something you could look for them to maybe push, even if the assault weapons ban doesn't get anywhere. The president is outlining this tomorrow 11:45 a.m. surrounded by kids who wrote him in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy.

JOHNS: And you will all be able to watch that on CNN. Thanks so much for that, Jessica Yellin, at the White House.

Congress will have to approve some of the most controversial ideas in President Obama's plans to cut gun violence. Those are the same lawmakers who seem to have trouble doing anything lately.

CNN senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash joins us live now from Capitol Hill.

Dana, how are you doing?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm well, Joe.

CNN's Deirdre Walsh that the vice president in a meeting he had yesterday at the White House with congressional Democrats said the Obama administration intends to use the campaign infrastructure that they used to election the president, reelect him just a few months ago in order to galvanize support for the gun control measures he will formally announce tomorrow. And talking to members of Congress, even Democrats, they are going to need it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): Newtown, Connecticut, is now represented by a freshman Democrat determined to ban the weapons used to massacre her young constituents. REP. ELIZABETH ESTY (D), CONNECTICUT: It's my job to advocate for my community and all of these other communities. That's what I will be doing and working with leadership to get the votes we need.

BASH: But her burst of fresh energy to pass the new gun control proposals is already colliding with political reality. Listen to how lukewarm the Democrat who runs the Senate is.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: The numbers around the country, most people favor having the ability of people to carry guns. The American people want us to be very cautious with what we do.

BASH: Gun control is still such political dynamite. A House GOP leadership aide tells CNN the Democratic-controlled Senate must go first. Yet the Senate majority leader, a gun owner himself, won't yet commit to any legislation.

REID: Let's be realistic. In the Senate we're going to do what we think can get through the House. I'm not going to be going through a bunch of these gyrations just to say we have done something.

BASH: Never mind Republicans. Harry Reid's reluctance to go through -- quote -- "gyrations" mostly comes from some half a dozen vulnerable Democrats up for reelection next year who represent pro-gun states. Support for any gun control would immediately put them in the NRA's political crosshairs, an organization always looking for new ways to advocate gun rights, like this new app on iTunes, a 3-D target practice game marketing to consumers starting at age 4.

But the NRA doesn't need to pressure Republicans like Cory Gardner from Colorado.

REP. CORY GARDNER (R), COLORADO: I don't think that this administration's ideas on gun control are the right steps forward.

BASH: Gardner is one of many Republicans who will oppose virtually everything the president proposes, even strengthening federal background checks.

(on camera): From the perspective of House Republicans, is anything that the president will announce with regard to gun control measures likely to pass legislatively?

GARDNER: I hope that we can work with the president on issues that concern mental health.

BASH: But what about gun control?

GARDNER: I don't think gun control is the right direction and I believe most of my colleagues in the House Republican Conference would disagree with gun control measures.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Now, as for the NRA, Joe, they are not saying anything formally or even informally until the president officially makes his announcement tomorrow.

But another thing that CNN's Deirdre Walsh learned is that the NRA is going to have a meeting next week with Democratic members of the gun task force that was put together a couple of weeks ago. There is a little bit of a silver lining just when it comes to something that we haven't seen a lot around here and that's dialogue.

JOHNS: But the bottom line here is that Harry Reid is just a little bit concerned about the idea of asking Democratic members, especially in red states, to walk the plank on a sensitive issue like this.

BASH: Bingo. That's exactly it. A lot of people look at Harry Reid and know that he is from a pro-gun state. He's from Nevada. As I said in the piece, he's a gun owner himself. But it's not necessarily about his politics or personal advocacy for guns.

It's all -- it's the political reality that -- never mind the Republicans -- Democrats, a lot of Democrats who are in vulnerable political situations right now may not want to do anything until, unless, unless they think it could actually get to the president for a signature.

JOHNS: Dana Bash at the Capitol, thanks so much for that.

A spokesman for the National Rifle Association tells CNN there's been an unprecedented spike in membership numbers over the last month. About 250,000 new members have now signed up.

For more on the challenge President Obama faces on pushing comprehensive gun reforms through the Congress, I'm joined by CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger.

When you look at this in a nutshell, certainly, it's early -- the question arises what is better, to sort of put a comprehensive wish list out there or to just put out the things you think you can get through first. Which is the better choice?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: They are going to put out there what one White House adviser described to me as a menu of options.

And that's because the White House doesn't want to be seen as doing this in a piecemeal way at all and it's also because, for example, if you put out the assault weapons ban, which everyone assumes they are going to do and have to do, that if something has to be taken off the table in some kind of a compromise, maybe it will be the assault weapons ban, but not the ban on high-capacity magazines or closing the loophole for gun shows, for example.

So I think the White House understands that if you put out a whole bunch of stuff and you only get some of it, it can then be seen as a success when you do get something through in the end and you're not forcing everyone to vote for everything. As Dana pointed out, they have problems with Democrats in a lot of pro-gun states like Montana or South Dakota or Louisiana who are up for reelection.

They understand the political reality of this.

JOHNS: So they want to see what sticks, more or less. That's what is going on here.

BORGER: That's right. And so if you put out a big list there and something comes off the table, you can still succeed to a great degree.

JOHNS: Public opinion obviously is a big question here.

BORGER: Oh, yes.

JOHNS: And it sort of shifted over the past few weeks. However, that's going to be what drives how much the president can do, perhaps?

BORGER: Sure, it does. And I was on the phone with a Democratic pollster who is in touch with members of Congress all the time.

What he said to me is what they are seeing, sure, the national polls show that more people favor gun control than don't. That may always have been the case, even before Newtown. But what they are seeing is, they believe it's a shift in intensity.

The intensity has always been on the side of the National Rifle Association, the gun owners who come out and vote on a single issue particularly in a midterm election, which is we're coming to.

He said what they are now seeing and they are hoping for is an intensity, maybe equivalent, they don't know, on the other side, that Newtown has really mobilized their supporters on the other side of the gun issue. They also say, look, we're going to get sheriffs out there, we're going to get police chiefs out there, we have got money. New York Mayor Bloomberg has said he's going to put his wallet behind all of this.

As Dana was reporting, they are also going to have the White House grassroots organization behind them, which, as you recall from the last election, was not small potatoes.

JOHNS: Right. And the other thing is, during the Clinton administration, the assault weapons ban, that was a nasty fight.

BORGER: Oh, bad. Bad.

JOHNS: And if I remember correctly, the Democrats controlled the House then.

BORGER: Before, yes.

JOHNS: Now the Republicans control the House. It's going to be an even nastier fight.

BORGER: Right. And lot of Democrats are still spooked by something that happened 20 years ago. Don't forget, Joe Biden who is running this was in the middle of that fight, then, too as a senator. So Democrats are completely spooked by the gun issue. That's not going to change. What they have to be convinced of is that public opinion has shifted because of Newtown and that there are some of these fights, not all of them, some of these fights that they can win.

I mean, Republicans are worried if they vote for some of these issues, they are going to be primaried by more conservative Republicans. But Democrats understand that this may be an opportunity.

JOHNS: Gloria Borger, thanks so much for that.

BORGER: Sure.

JOHNS: You're about to hear Oprah Winfrey's reaction to Lance Armstrong's admission that he's a cheater.

Later, does another member of the Clinton family have political ambitions?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: One of the greatest athletes in American history appears to be a fraud.

According to Oprah Winfrey, cyclist Lance Armstrong has acknowledged he used performance-enhancing drugs after years of vehemently denying it.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is in Armstrong's home town of Austin, Texas.

Ed, what do you know?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Joe.

We are in a bike shop called Mellow Johnny's. This is in the heart of Austin, Texas. We're here because Lance Armstrong is actually part owner of this bike shop. His seven yellow jerseys hang on the wall, big posters of him with his arms up in victory. But when we see him on TV in a couple of days, that's not what he will look like.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAVANDERA (voice-over): For Lance Armstrong, it was not enough to deny using performance-enhancing drugs. He had to stand on a mountaintop and righteously challenge anyone who questioned how he did it.

This was Armstrong in Paris after winning his seventh Tour de France title in 2005.

LANCE ARMSTRONG, CYCLIST: To the people who don't believe in cycling, the cynics and the skeptics, I'm sorry for you. I'm sorry you can't dream big and I'm sorry you don't believe in miracles. There are no secrets. This is a hard sporting event and hard work wins it. So, Vive le Tour forever. LAVANDERA: So, the question is, which Lance Armstrong will appear in the two and a half hour interview with Oprah Winfrey. Her comments so far only add to the injury.

OPRAH WINFREY, HOST, "OPRAH'S NEXT CHAPTER": I would say he did not come clean in the manner I expected. It was surprising to me.

LAVANDERA: But what does that mean? Will Armstrong make a full confession and accept full responsibility for his actions? Will he bring down others in the cycling industry? Or will he be the combative cyclist who, as he has many times in the past, complained that he's the victim of a witch hunt?

WINFREY: I choose not to characterize. I would rather people make their own decision whether he was contrite or not. I felt that he was thoughtful. I thought that he was serious. I thought that he certainly had prepared himself for this moment.

LAVANDERA: Lance Armstrong knows it is time to salvage his reputation.

Veteran political consultant, Mark McKinnon, who lives in Austin, Texas, and sits on the board of the Livestrong Foundation, says he feels betrayed.

MARK MCKINNON, LIVESTRONG FOUNDATION: I think he's got a lot of apologies. I think he's got to crawl over a lot of broken glass and drag the sackcloth. And -- but I think that they're the one thing they can't take away from him, John, is his cancer survivorship. And he does -- that story gives hope to millions of people.

LAVANDERA: And for Craig Staley, a long-time friend of Lance Armstrong, that's what he is he holding on to. Staley runs Mellow Johnny's bike shop in Austin, Armstrong is one of the owners. Staley and Armstrong have known each other since they were teenagers.

(on camera): Have you -- I mean, have you told him you lost faith in him? I mean, do you --

CRAIG STALEY, MELLOW JOHNNY'S: There's still a lot there. You know, there's still a lot of things that he's done and accomplished outside of the seven Tours of France. A lot of people are sort of abandoning him really quickly, and I think that -- I think that was in some ways a rush to judgment, because I've known the guy a long time and story's not over and he's not finished.

LAVANDERA: But many of Lance Armstrong's biggest enemies in the cycling world, and there are many, now must feel like they're the ones standing on the mountaintop, looking down on him.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAVANDERA: You know, but the World Anti-Doping Agency says that simply sitting down for an interview will not be enough to lessen any kind of the lifetime ban that Lance Armstrong faces because of the report that that came out back in October. But they said that he will have to sit down under oath and help investigators understand how all of this happened in the cycling industry.

But a source close to the situation, aware of what's going on of the situation, tells CNN that Armstrong at this point has no intention of testifying against others in this case.

Joe, back to you.

JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: Ed Lavandera in Austin, Texas -- thanks for that, Ed.

You just heard a little bit from Oprah in Ed's piece. But here's more of what she told CBS "This Morning," starting with the wheeling and dealing she did to get the interview.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WINFREY: Yes, I think the entire interview was difficult and may I just say that we had agreed before this moment, before the interview, we had agreed that the term of the interview and what was included in the interview, specifically what was included in the interview would be left for people to make their own judgments about and that I would not be discussing or he would not be discussing or confirming. We agreed to that.

And then by the time I left Austin and landed in Chicago, you all had already confirmed it. So I'm like, how did you all do that? We all agreed we weren't going to say anything.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

WINFREY: So I'm sitting here now because it's already been confirmed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: She also told CBS that Armstrong got just a bit emotional at times during the interview.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WINFREY: I would say there were a couple of times where he was emotional, but emotional doesn't begin to describe the intensity or the difficulty that I think that he experienced in talking about some of these things. I would say, you know, all the people who are wondering if he actually goes there and answers -- to answer your question that you asked earlier, Charlie, I think -- Charlie, and Nora, and Gail, I think that you will come away to understanding that he brought it. He really did.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: Oprah also admitted to preparing for her interview by reading author David Walsh's books on Armstrong. He's one of the first reporters in the world to raise the doping question. Walsh joins us in THE SITUATION ROOM coming up live in our next hour.

A victim of last month's shooting in Newtown is honored. What one Connecticut town is doing to make sure a heroic teacher's legacy lives on.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: A Connecticut school will be renamed for a Sandy Hook teacher. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Lisa, what do you have?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Joe.

Well, HoneySpot Elementary School in Stratford, Connecticut, will now be renamed after Victoria Soto. She is the 27-year-old teacher who died trying to shield her students from Newtown gunman Adam Lanza. Our affiliate WTNH reports the council voted unanimously for the game change to the joy of Victoria's sister.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JILLIAN SOTO, VICTORIA SOTO'S SISTER: I'm happy that the town was able to come together and pass this, and I feel honored to know that my sister's name will stay alive and she will never be forgotten.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SYLVESTER: Soto's mother told CNN Victoria loved her students more than life and would, quote, "put herself in front of them any day for any reason."

In other news, Pakistan's supreme court is calling for the arrest of Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, alleging he took kickbacks. He denies these allegations, but thousands of demonstrators took to the streets and supported the court's decision, including a well-known cleric who is trying to flush out corruption by defending the current government.

And Venezuela officials say President Hugo Chavez is responding to treatment and is health is improving. Chavez is at a Cuban hospital suffering from a severe lung infection. But officials say he's conscious and in contact with his family and advisers. Top members of the government visited Chavez over the weekend, including Venezuela's vice president.

And Walmart is announcing one of the largest hiring commitments to veterans ever. Over the next five years, the super store says it will hire every veteran who honorably left the military within the past year. One hundred thousand people are expected to find work. The unemployment rate for veterans is over 10 percent, and that is 3 percent higher than for nonveterans.

So this is probably a good P.R. move, I think, for Walmart but it's a nice thing that they are doing.

JOHNS: Exactly. Good policy, public relations, everybody wins.

SYLVESTER: Exactly. Right. JOHNS: Good to see you, Lisa.

A rare scene on the floor of U.S. House of Representatives, lawmakers taking the time to read the entire Constitution instead of passing laws. Was it a waste of time?

Plus, CNN gets exclusive access into the lab formulating a new "super flu shot", take it once and it lasts for years. We'll tell you when it might be available.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: I'm Joe Johns.

Here are some of the stories we're working on for our next hour. Just as one of the largest gun shows takes place in Las Vegas, we're taking you to a shooting range off the strip like you've never seen before.

Plus, Coca-Cola taking on obesity. Our doctor, Sanjay Gupta, gives us a reality check on why they're doing it.

And why all the lies by Lance Armstrong. We'll delve in the mind of the cyclist.

Stand by. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(MUSIC)

JOHNS: Joining me for today's strategy session, our Democratic strategist and CNN contributor Cornell Belcher, and CNN contributor Ari Fleischer, a former White House press secretary under George W. Bush.

Welcome to you both.

You know, as we look at the White House starting roll out all of these executive actions they called them, 19 executive actions relating to different types of gun control and so on, it reminds me of some conversations I had with people in what would you call gun lobby, even before Newtown. There are people out there who believe for some time that this president essentially was going to sign a bunch of executive orders, removing the rights of people to carry and own guns, throw it all into the courts and sort of fight it out until the president leaves.

And now, it's happened, which raises a question as to whether this was all sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy on the part of the NRA and others.

So, I'll ask you first, Ari Fleischer, what do you think about that?

ARI FLEISCHER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I don't believe that's the case, Joe. I worked in Congress for 16 years, I worked in the White House for three years, and the fact of the matter is, the president is constrained. He has the right and all presidents do, through executive orders to take lawful actions allowed by Congress. He cannot ban weapons on his own. Only Congress can do that and the constitution even limits that ability.

So the president has the ability through regulatory power to take such actions as tougher background checks, closing loopholes, and dealing with some issues involving sharing of information in the government. That's as it should be and I do not see the president, as much as I don't support this president, I don't see him going beyond executive power to do things he does not have the legal right to do.

JOHNS: Cornell, what do you think about the whole notion of the president sitting in the White House planning for four years to get rid of guns?

CORNELL BELCHER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think it's a silly notion pushed by silly people. Look, the president has the authority -- where the president has the authority act to protect the American people, he absolutely should take the authority to protect the American people.

Look, what happened in Connecticut was a conscious altering event for Americans and poll after poll shows that. You know, you have 65 percent of -- from the "Washington Post" poll, it's 5 percent of parents with school age children, you know, worried about another mass shooting in their community.

And that you see this coming to fruition right now, which I think Missouri we don't really know what's happening. So the ideal that the president shouldn't do or shouldn't take any action to protect the American people after such a tragedy is just as silly as to say that George Bush after 911 should sit around and not do anything to protect the American people.

The president has a job to protect the American people and where he has that authority he should take that authority and keep us protected.

JOHNS: I'm going to ask you about the optics of the president's announcement on guns. We're told by Jay Carney today that the president will not only be joined by Vice President Biden, but also by children from around the country who have voiced their concerns about guns.

There are those who will say the president will essentially be using children for props. What do you think of that, first to you, Ari? What do you think of the notion of children being used as props?

FLEISCHER: Well, look, there's nothing new here about bringing forward American citizens, whether they are children or adults, to illustrate their point. I don't begrudge him that. I think the most important thing here on this issue is, one, for the Democrats to show a sense of reality.

It's very hard to imagine that any gun law has gone to prevent these types of horrors from taking place. The Republicans, on the other hand, need to show some sympathy. Given what happened in Newtown I also think -- I've heard other people call it a placebo effect. That it's important for us as a society to show that we're not going to throw up our hands to say there's zero to be done. I'm mostly interested in the mental health aspect of this. Is there anything that the government can do to prevent people that are psychotic criminals from obtaining guns and using guns and being on the street? That's the core of the issue to me. That's what I'd like to see people address.

JOHNS: Cornell, will you weigh in on that?

BELCHER: I think Ari is right. The issue of the optics are problematic because on Ari's side, the language that you're hearing from certain groups of Republicans is that they don't want any gun legislation or gun laws at all coming down. And what poll after poll shows is that the majority of Americans disagree with that.

So Republicans can't seem to sit there in their box and look like they don't want any laws or legislation to come down at all because I think there will be a political price to pay for it if they are looking like they don't want anything to change because, look, I think the conscience of America changed that day after that shooting.

You see even sort of the even Democrats in very red states and even some Republicans at the Senate levels saying, you know, we need to have this conversation open for change. I think people who sit inside their ideological boxes and say no, no, no around this issue where the American people have come to a different conclusion, I think they are going to pay a political price for it.

JOHNS: Now I want to ask you on that floor of the House of Representatives. Today, the House read the entire United States Constitution. It's actually the second time they did it. They did it in 2011 for the first time. The question really is whether this needs to happen every two years with all of the pressing issues that Congress has to deal with, shouldn't it be using its time better, Ari Fleischer?

FLEISCHER: Joe, I loved it and I think there's a lack of this in our schools. We don't teach civics that much in schools. Every kid learns everything they need to about protecting our rain forests and the environment.

But we really don't spend enough time teaching children the basics of the American government beginning with their founding original documents, the declaration and the constitution as well as the Bill of Rights.

I love civic lessons like this. I think it's instructive. I hope a lot of schools pick up what Congress is doing today and talk to children about the very same documents and have them read them.

JOHNS: Cornell, quickly?

BELCHER: You know there's going to be a point where Ari and I are going to have a strong disagreement. I strongly disagree. When you look at the unemployment, when you look at the deficit, when you look at Americans struggling right now and the ideal that they are going to spend all this time reading the constitution as opposed to passing legislation or working on issues that are top of mind concerns for working Americans, this is why they have approval rating lower than root canal. This is it. They are dysfunctional.

JOHNS: All right, stand by, guys.

FLEISCHER: It's dysfunctional.

BELCHER: They should be doing something else, yes.

JOHNS: All right, we'll get back to some more stuff in just a minute. Up next, Chelsea Clinton's subtle moves. Is she eyeing a political career?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: We're back with Democratic strategist and CNN contributor, Cornell Belcher and CNN contributor, Ari Fleischer. He is a former White House press secretary under George W. Bush and a member of the Republican Jewish Coalition.

I want to play you all a clip of former general and former Secretary of State Colin Powell on NBC's "Meet the Press" talking about his own Republican Party's issues with race. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLIN POWELL, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: There's also a dark -- a dark vein of intolerance in some parts of the party. What do I mean by that? What I mean by that is they still sort of look down on minorities.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: Now this has been a hot topic, certainly all day long. And today conservative radio host, Laura Ingraham, weighing in, challenging Colin Powell saying, get this, "Liberalism has been an utter disaster for black America."

So Cornell Belcher, I wanted you to sort of weigh in on this controversy. What do you think first of Colin Powell's statements and then the response from Laura Ingraham?

BELCHER: Well, look, I think from just a pure political standpoint, you can't look at the changing face of the American electorate and look at 2008 and this last election cycle and argue that, you know, both political parties have to vie for minority voters and look at the whooping that Republicans took at the hands of minority voters and not get the danger here.

If I were a Republican, this is what I would do. As opposed to attacking Colin Powell, a war hero, you know, a leader whether you're a Democrat or Republican, a well-respected leader in this country, as opposed to attacking him, I would sit back, invite him in, and have a conversation with him about what the party can do better to fix this perception that's out there because clearly the perception is out there.

Look, I did a poll last year for an organization looking at African- American issues and what came out sort of correlated strong with unfavorable ratings for Republican Party among African-Americans was the idea that the Republican Party was openly hostile to their community and their leaders.

That's a real issue. And to act as though there's no racial aversion in the Republican Party I think is a conversation that is silly because we clearly know there is. In fact, I'm going to write a book about it shortly.

However, I would take Colin Powell. I would invite him over to the RNC. I would sit down with him and talk about how we fixed this because long term the Republican Party has to fix this at the national level.

JOHNS: Ari, this is an issue George W. Bush tried to address this head on. What do you think about the controversy now?

FLEISCHER: Well, frankly, I think that you can look at both parties and find things you don't like. I think frankly in the Republican Party it's extremely small sliver. I suspect there are people still in the Democratic Party that have some very old views that they should no longer be holding.

I'm disappointed that Secretary Powell, a man I hold in high esteem, would only look in one direction and that's the Republicans. I think there are a hostility in much of the liberal wings of the Democratic Party towards organized religion. You look at the way they look down on Evangelical Christians.

I think it's intolerance of the left toward people of good faith on the right and that worries me. I wish Colin Powell had talked about that as well. I wish Colin Powell had talked about the implications of Chunk Hagel talking about the Jewish lobby that intimidates people.

Or when Chuck Hagel was referring to a (inaudible) in Israel he said, make the Jews pay. Colin Powell could have addressed those issues and talked about that. Is that some type of dark strain or is this focus only on when Republicans act wrong?

Chuck Hagel did, too, in these circumstances. It's a topic worth discussing, but it needs to be discussed in every direction, not just one. Tolerance needs to be taught and practiced by all.

BELCHER: I think that's -- you know, I've got to say that's the sort of thinking by Republicans that, seriously, gets in the way. As opposed to attacking, you know, clearly there are issues with the Republican Party and minorities in this country.

FLEISCHER: It's a one-way street.

BELCHER: A false equivalence about Democrats and Evangelicals, which quite frankly that makes me scratch my head. Taking what Colin Powell has to say, look at the election results and don't attack him. He could be the leading voice for Republicans on this and the leading voice for --

FLEISCHER: You've said that before. You've said that before.

JOHNS: All right, guys --

FLEISCHER: I don't know you can equate that with attacking Colin Powell when it's reflecting on the whole bigger issue of tolerance. You know, tolerance in America is a tradition that everybody should follow. It does not just apply in one direction.

JOHNS: All right, guys, I want to just turn the corner because we did promo the issue of Chelsea Clinton and I'd like to get her in here very quickly. All right, she wrote an opinion piece for cnn.com about the inauguration day she's heading up.

I want to read a bit of that. My father reminded us of what King once called life's most persistent and urgent question. What are you doing for others? There are countless right answers to that question. The only wrong one is to do nothing.

So after staying out of the spotlight for a long time, she certainly appears to be raising her profile. Do either of you think Chelsea Clinton is getting ready to run for office?

FLEISCHER: Well, you know, I live in New York and actually she, at least her parents' house is 20 minutes from my house. I don't know what offices are open. Look, any time a child of a president thinks about running or the nephew of a president thinks about running, it lends itself to a little bit of excitement. You got some name I.D., but they also have to put meat on the bones. Your last name alone never carries you.

BELCHER: That's true. However, the name Clinton is not a bad one to have right now. There's not a better name in all of political America, Democrat or Republican, than Clinton at this time.

JOHNS: All right, Cornell Belcher, Ari Fleischer, thanks so much. Always good to see you, guys.

FLEISCHER: Thank you.

JOHNS: We're about to get an exclusive look inside a government laboratory where they are coming up with what could be a medical miracle. Imagine getting one shot that could protect you from the flu for years.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: The government's Center for Disease Control and Prevention is warning that flu vaccine maybe harder to find now than it was earlier in the season. The CDC is advising people they may need to contact a number of places such as pharmacies, public health departments and individual doctors.

Now, imagine just getting one shot that protects you from getting any form of the flu for years? This isn't a science fiction story. Today, CNN's Brian Todd went inside the high-tech lab that's turning the dream into a reality.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Joe, every year the flu virus kills about 500,000 people around the world. This year as we know is a particularly bad strain of it, but government researchers are working furiously to develop what they call a universal flu vaccine that could combat different strains of the virus for years to come, and this is at the cutting edge.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): It's not a pandemic this year, but as always it causes serious illness and even death, a big part of the problem, vaccines that can't keep up with the flu virus.

(on camera): Why isn't the flu vaccine that we're getting now as effective as it should be?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: People get exposed to influenza more or less every year, but the influenza virus itself generally changes a little bit. It drifts.

TODD: Not like illnesses that we get childhood vaccines for like measles or polio according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the U.S. government's Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He took us inside the lab that could be turning that battle in our favor, the Vaccine Research Center at NIH, where more than a dozen top minds are developing a universal flu vaccine. If they nail it --

FAUCI: Then you'll have a vaccine that you can give to someone and not worry about those little bit changes from year to year and you'll have a response you may need to give it every few years, every five years, every 10 years, but you won't have to give it every year and have to chase after those little changes.

TODD: But Fauci says it may mean changing the plan of attack.

(on camera): This is the flu virus. On it are a bunch of proteins called hemaglutins, blown up, they look like this. The problem with the vaccine, as we know it now is that it induces a response that only attacks the head of each hemaglutin, which changes basically from year to year.

So the vaccine can't quite keep up with it. Now the goal of the universal vaccine being developed at this lab is to attack not only the head, but the stem of the hemaglutin, which doesn't change. So if they can to induce the response that attacks the stem, they can combat multiple strains of the flu for years to come.

(voice-over): A crucial step takes place in the tissue culture room.

DR. JOHN MASCOLA, DIRECTOR, VACCINE RESEARCH CENTER: What you see here are studies where we've actually grown the flu virus in culture and we're taking human blood specimens and we're asking if we've taught the immune system to make antibodies to that conserve region of the virus. TODD: Fauci says when it's ready, the universal vaccine won't eradicate the flu.

FAUCI: But I think that you're going to have a significant impact on the incidents of influenza as well as the degree of protection.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: So how far out are we from people like you and me actually being able to get this flu universal flu vaccine? Dr. Fauci said it's not going to be next year, but it's also not going to be in 40 years. He said with some luck, it might be 10 years down the road and if they can accelerate it, maybe even sooner -- Joe.

JOHNS: Brian Todd reporting from Bethesda, Maryland.

A rocky day on Wall Street for a huge company. Lisa Sylvester is back with that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM -- Lisa.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there, Joe. You know, of all of the companies, it's Apple's stock that caused the Nasdaq to close lower. For the second straight day, the shares of the tech giant dipped $500, closing below that benchmark for the first time since February of last year.

Stocks dipped following reports the company had cut orders for search in iPhone parts due to weaker than expected demands for the latest version of the popular smartphone.

Facebook is unveiling a cool new feature. It's calling "Graph search." It's scours the mass of social network to answer more sophisticated searches like who are my friends that live in Washington or find photos of me and Joe. For now "Graph Search" focuses on four main areas, people, photos, places, and interest pulling data from one billion profiles, 24 billion photos and one trillion connections.

And you may hear the name Harvey Milk San Francisco International Airport in the near future. Openly gay lawmaker plans to introduce legislation to rename the city's airport after Milk, who is one of the first openly gay politicians in the U.S. before he was killed in 1978. Compass hopes it will put San Francisco back in the spotlight as a, quote, "beacon of hope for the LGBT community."

And as President Obama prepares to be sworn in, his Kenyan half- brother is preparing a campaign. Yes, Malik Obama tells CNN he is running for governor of a county in Kenya where his and the president's father was born.

He says President Obama gave him the advice to, quote, "have thick skin, be honest and sincere." Malik and Barack, they are close. Each served as the other's best man at their wedding. So who knew that, Joe?

JOHNS: Amazing, they all have pretty good name recognition I guess. SYLVESTER: I know with a name like Obama. And guess what, Joe? You know what his campaign theme is all on change, so bringing change. Isn't that great?

JOHNS: Like brother, like brother. That's great. All right, thank you so much, Lisa.

Nearly a million people are coming to Washington for President Obama's inauguration. See what is being done to make sure their smartphones and tablets don't crash the system. It might come in handy for the next big event or natural disaster where you live.

And in our next hour, one of the first reporters in the world to raise doping questions about Lance Armstrong.

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JOHNS: We're just six days away from Washington's big inaugural bash. The VIP stands are all set for Monday's swearing in ceremony at the U.S. capital. Nearly a million people are expected to witness the public ceremony. Chances are most of them will have a smartphone to send pictures and call friends.

CNN's Sandra Endo has been being looking into the extraordinary precautions being taken to make sure the system doesn't crash. They could come in handy the next time there's a big event in your town -- Sandra.

SANDRA ENDO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Joe. You see them at Super Bowl, parades, New Year's Eve celebrations and even in disaster zones. Temporary cell towers that can accommodate increase communication and with the throngs of people that will descend on the National Mall, cell service providers are gearing up for the extra demand.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ENDO (voice-over): It's the picture everyone will want to capture. President Obama swearing in for a second term and cell phone providers are gearing up for those coming with cameras and smartphones in hand.

RICHARD DOLSON, VERIZON WIRELESS: Everybody wants to post pictures so that their family can see that they were here. People want to check the weather. People want to check how the transit system is doing and all of the capabilities through apps on their smartphones or tablets.

ENDO: It will be a smaller crowd than the historic 1.8 million people who watched his first inauguration, but hundreds of thousands will descend on the nation's capital on Monday.

(on camera): If you're one in a throng of people here during the inauguration, try posting your photos on Facebook and it may be slow going.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're going to experience slow data speeds because everybody is trying to do the same thing. They want to be able to talk. They want to be able to send their pictures and their text messages.

ENDO: Cell phone providers are hoping to prevent service disruptions like four years ago and they are putting cell towers like these around the National Mall to handle the crowd. Most people will likely be coming with more than one device.

DOLSON: Since the last inauguration, we have built additional permanent sites that served this area. We have added capacity to existing cell sites and then we have added temporary locations like we have here.

ENDO (voice-over): Service providers also put up temporary towers at other big events like the Super Bowl and NASCAR races. The extra cell towers also ensure communication for emergency responders. At any big event, experts recommend not making phone calls if possible, leaving frequencies open for 911 calls. But if you absolutely want to share the excitement --

GREG NAJJAR, SPRINT ENGINEER: Text is really the best thing. That doesn't take up much. It can go very quickly and get a response.

ENDO (on camera): The Presidential Inaugural Committee wants people to stay plugged in. It launch a new smartphone app providing key information regarding road closures, inaugural events and even porta- potty locations. It could also be used off line to prevent crowding data connections.

(voice-over): Service providers recommend taking all the pictures and videos you want, but up load them once you get back home.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ENDO: A Sprint's spokesperson said out of all the big events where they enhance communications, the inauguration is one of the largest where they have to put extra resources -- Joe.

JOHNS: Thanks, Sandra. For the best view -- for the best view of the inauguration, you don't need to come to Washington. Just tune in to CNN. Our live coverage on Sunday and Monday mornings starts at 9:00 Eastern.