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THE SITUATION ROOM

Americans Taken Hostage in Algeria; President Obama Pushes Gun Control; Are the President's Kids More Important?; New CNN/Time/ORC Polls on Gun Laws; President Signs 23 Executive Actions On Gun Safety; Inside Inauguration Security Command Center

Aired January 16, 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: breaking news -- Americans held hostage in a deadly terrorist attack in Algeria. We will have the latest.

Also, the president of the NRA is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're getting his reaction to President Obama's sweeping proposals against gun violence.

And the presidential inauguration only five days away. We will take you inside the law enforcement command center working to keep him safe.

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Let's get to the breaking news, a deadly terrorist attack on a gas field in eastern Algeria near the Libyan border.

Some of the more than 40 hostages seized have been released, but a number of them are still being held, including Americans. The State Department confirms those Americans are affiliated with the oil giant BP.

Let's bring in our foreign affairs reporter, Elise Labott. She's been working the story for us.

The latest information, Elise, you're getting is what?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, well, what happened is this morning, at first, these assailants, these affiliated-al Qaeda militants tried to storm a bus. These BP employees that were headed for an airfield in nearby eastern Algeria, that was not successful.

Then they stormed the compound of this living -- the living quarters of this airfield and they took about 40 hostages. We understand that about seven Americans -- we're not sure. It could be a little bit more, a little less -- are being held, as well as nationals from Britain, Japan, Norway, and Ireland.

BLITZER: Do we know who these Americans are, what they were doing there precisely? Have their families been notified? LABOTT: Well, they were all working in some capacity for BP, because it's a very remote area, and that's really all that is going on, is this gas field in the area.

We know the State Department has been in touch, we're told by officials with some of the families, not all. So they are hesitant to release their names until all of the families are involved. We understand that some nationals from other countries have even called their families to tell them that they were being taken hostage, but the families here in America haven't be said anything yet, Wolf.

BLITZER: U.S. officials calling this a terrorist incident. Do we know who these terrorists are?

LABOTT: Why are they calling it a terrorist incident? Because they say that this group is related with al Qaeda and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, other groups. The group is called the Brigade of the Masked Ones.

BLITZER: Brigade of the what?

LABOTT: The Brigade of the Masked Ones.

BLITZER: Masked Ones?

LABOTT: Masked Ones.

BLITZER: All right.

LABOTT: We know that they are based in northern Mali. We understand that they are also in Libya.

And what is happening now is they are saying that this is retribution for France getting -- for Algeria giving France access to its airspace for this offensive we have been reporting on, on militants in eastern Mali.

What is happening is, this hornet's nest in Mali with all these militants is really shaking up the area, spilling over. These militants that are believed to be involved have ties to the Islamic groups in Benghazi that were believed to responsible for that terrorist attack the U.S. Consulate. This is the concern right now, that this is really spilling over to the other areas of the region.

BLITZER: So, Americans are now being held.

What is the U.S. doing? What are you hearing? What is the U.S. government trying to do, the military and the civilian sector?

LABOTT: Well, right now we understand that on the diplomatic front the U.S. is letting the Algerian take the leads. The Algerians have surrounded the compound. They are trying to negotiate with the kidnappers. We are told that in addition to this retribution that they are talking about, they are also asking for some of their prisoners who were being held by Algeria and other countries to be released and sent to northern Mali. They are handling that. Obviously the U.S. does have assets in the region and can be contemplating some type of rescue.

BLITZER: Elise, thanks very much.

Let's continue our breaking news coverage. We're learning the Pentagon's Africa Command is taking the lead on the military side of the crisis.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence. He's working the story for us.

Chris, if needed, where could the military help come from?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: It could come from Europe and even closer. It could come from even closer, Wolf.

A senior defense official tells me now that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has assured Americans that the U.S. military will take all necessary and proper steps to deal with this attack.

What could that mean? Most importantly, the Pentagon's Africa Command has what is called a Commander's in-Extremis Force. It's a small, very lethal force that is dedicated to hostage rescue and counterterrorism. They are at an undisclosed location, but we're told they are on a very, very short window to be put into action.

Now, expanding out just a little bit, take a look at the map, look at where Algeria is. Look at where this oil facility is. You can take a look in Italy. The U.S. has air bases in Italy which they could use a cargo lift. They could also use surveillance planes from there, and they also have about 150 Marines that are trained in crisis intervention at Sigonella Base in Italy, and also as we move over to Rota, Spain, there are two Marine Corps anti-terrorism bases there.

Further out, if necessary, back here on the East Coast, all U.S. special operations forces are operating on about a four-hour window to be mobilized, if needed, Wolf.

BLITZER: What does that mean, a four-hour window for special operation forces, let's say North Carolina or anyplace else? What does that mean, specifically?

LAWRENCE: That means at any point in time, whether it's SEALs or Delta Force, they alternate the readiness, but at any one time, the commanders could call on these special forces and within about four hours they could be ready to go.

BLITZER: And then they move.

What has to happen before that? What happens first before they do that?

LAWRENCE: They have got to get a clear situation of what is going on, on the ground. And from what we're hearing from sources right now, they just don't have that yet. They really want to understand exactly how many hostage takers they are dealing with, the real -- the detailed layout of this oil facility. Is it easy to defend or difficult to defend? And a better idea of the territory around it, how you would get in, how you would get out, those are all questions that they would want to get answered.

And, of course, you have still got the State Department and the Algerians working and perhaps talking so that this maybe does not have to come down to some sort of military response -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Chris, I know you're working the story for us. We will stay on top of the breaking news, Chris Lawrence over at the Pentagon.

Other important news today, with a stroke of a pen, President Obama signs 23 new executive actions. He's vowing to use whatever weight his office has without new congressional approval to battle gun violence in the wake of the devastating massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.

He's also calling on Congress to approve the most sweeping gun legislation in decades. Standing at his side, four children, each of whom wrote him letters like this one, which reads -- let me put it up on the screen -- "Dear President Obama, I beg you to try very hard to make guns not allowed."

Let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin. She was over when the president and the vice president announced their plans.

Give us the latest. What's going on, Jessica?

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

Well, 33 days after the Newtown shootings, the president has now unveiled his proposal to overhaul the nation's gun safety rules, and he's making it clear that he hopes to channel the nation's outrage over that Sandy Hook tragedy into congressional action.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN (voice-over): President Obama laid out an ambitious agenda to change the nation's gun safety rules and insisted he won't back down from a fight.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will put everything I have got into this, and so will Joe. But I tell you, the only way we can change is if the American people demand it.

YELLIN: He used the power of the presidency, moving executive actions allowing the government to crack down on gun crimes by tracking stolen guns and prosecuting people who use them, improving background checks, with more mental health reporting and information-sharing, upping school resources and supporting mental health with more teachers and counselors.

OBAMA: Congress needs to help rather than hinder law enforcement as it does its job.

YELLIN: So he's calling on Congress to step it up, too, with a ban on armor-piercing bullets, stricter gun trafficking laws and more cops on the street.

But the top priorities will be pushing Congress to ban high-capacity magazines and making background checks universal. His point man on the issue predicts tough politics.

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have no illusions about we're up against -- what we're up against or how hard the task is in front of us.

YELLIN: To make the case, they brought persuasive advocates, elementary school kids who wrote the president after the Sandy Hook shooting.

OBAMA: Julia said - Julia, where are you? There you go - "I'm not scared for my safety. I'm scared for others."

YELLIN (on camera): What do you hope can happen?

JULIA STOKES, WROTE LETTER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I hope it's much harder for people to buy guns. I hope that like people with mental illness don't -- can't buy a gun.

YELLIN: What made you write the president?

TAEJAH GOODE, WROTE LETTER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: I wanted the children that still have their lives now to be safe, instead of endangered.

YELLIN (voice-over): It's a message the president hopes will deliver results.

OBAMA: Let's do the right thing. Let's do the right thing for them, and for this country that we love so much.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN: And, Wolf, they are not just leaving that to chance.

Already, grassroots organizations that work with the White House are mobilizing to push this agenda. They include the president's campaign apparatus Organizing for America, which will help press the message.

MoveOn.org is undertaking its own efforts. And so is an organization, Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Some of those mayors will be at the White House, I'm told, later this week, Wolf.

BLITZER: I know the president has got a lot on his plate in the first few weeks of his second term. Do we expect him to take his campaign against this kind of gun violence out there on the road as well?

YELLIN: Wolf, that is something that he said that he will do, that he will take his message to the people this term. And I would expect that this is a top priority. We could see him pressing this on the trail in the public eye. They have not made that explicit point, but I suspect it's something this president would have in his mind, yes.

BLITZER: Jessica Yellin, thanks very much.

Coming up in a few minutes, this hour in THE SITUATION ROOM, the president of the National Rifle Association, David Keene, he will join me live to talk about what he sees is going on right now. I will get his reaction to the president's ambitious plan.

I will also ask him about a new NRA ad talking about the president's daughters, an ad that says the president is being a hypocrite. Did he cross -- did that ad cross a line?

And a ball of flames in the middle of London after a helicopter crashes during rush hour. We're going live with what caused the crash.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: One of the harshest critics of President Obama's battle against gun violence is the National Rifle Association. But some, including many Democrats on Capitol Hill, are criticizing a new NRA ad that mentions the president's daughters and calls him an elitist hypocrite. They say that ad goes way too far.

Our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, is joining us now with more on the details.

This ad has really generated a huge, huge uproar.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

I talked to a House Democrat today who called the ad dangerous. There is no doubt, Wolf, the NRA's tactics have been effective over the decades in blocking gun control on Capitol Hill, but the question is whether the group's latest ad will backfire.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): More than 12 hours before President Obama and Vice President Biden unveiled their proposals for gun control, the nation's most powerful advocate for the Second Amendment had already launched a preemptive strike.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, NRA AD)

NARRATOR: Are the president's kids more important than yours? Then why is he skeptical about putting armed security in our schools?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: In the move to rally gun rights supporters, the National Rifle Association released this ad, calling attention to the Secret Service protection guarding the president's daughters Malia and Sasha at their private school in Washington.

AD NARRATOR: Protection for their kids and gun-free zones for ours.

ACOSTA: The spot echoing the group's proposal for armed police officers in schools nationwide is another reminder of the NRA's hardball tactics aimed squarely at any gun control measure to hit the halls of Congress. But House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi heading into a hearing of new gun restrictions with Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said the ad crosses a line.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), CALIFORNIA: It was completely inappropriate to include the president's children. They have protection because of national security and it was really inappropriate.

ACOSTA (on camera): Do you think the NRA made a mistake there?

MAYOR MICHAEL NUTTER (D), PHILADELPHIA: It's just a disgrace.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Other House Democrats said the ad amounted to intimidation.

REP. GEORGE MILLER (D), CALIFORNIA: We're dealing with people who aren't terribly stable. And so, that kind of ad is -- I think it's dangerous.

REP. RUSH HOLT (D), NEW JERSEY: It was irresponsible and, you know, this is not your grandfather's NRA.

ACOSTA: There was also outrage over at the White House. "Most Americans agree that a president's children should not be used as pawns in a political fight," said press secretary Jay Carney. "But to go so far as to make the safety of the president's children the subject of an attack ad is repugnant and cowardly."

NRA leaders are also ratcheting up the rhetoric in an email to their members, saying, "I warned you this day was coming and now it's here. This is the fight of the century and I need you on board with the NRA now more than ever."

At his news conference, President Obama indicated he knew this was coming.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This will be difficult. There will be pundits and politicians and special interest lobbyists publicly warning of a tyrannical, all out assault on liberty.

ACOSTA: Back at the Capitol, Janet Robinson, the superintendent of the Newtown School System said she's not backing down either.

(on camera): It was going to be tough, isn't it, for your side to prevail on this?

JANET ROBINSON, NEWTON, CONNECTICUT SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT: I'm standing up, I'm standing here talking about children and I have no issue at all with people's Second Amendment rights. But I will tell you, I have no locks. I have no artificial barriers I can put up to withstand an AR-15.

ACOSTA: We've tried to reach out to the NRA to ask the organization about the ad, but they did not respond to our request for a comment. The group did release a more toned down statement in response to the president's proposals, saying the lobby looks forward to working with Congress on a bipartisan basis.

And, Wolf, it's worth pointing out we also tried to reach out to House Republicans, many of them out of town on a political retreat down in Virginia. And this ad is hardly costing the NRA any money. They're not really placing a lot of spots out there. It's just getting a lot of free media attention on social media and so forth, and that's how it makes the rounds.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, it's going viral.

The president of the NRA, by the way, David Keene, he's coming here to THE SITUATION ROOM. He'll be joining me live this hour and we're, of course, going to get his reaction to the uproar that that ad has caused. We'll see what he has to say.

Thanks very much for that, Jim Acosta.

We're just releasing CNN/"TIME" -- here we are -- ORC polls on gun control. They are just coming in. Take a look at this, new numbers just coming in.

Fifty-six percent of those polled say existing gun laws make it too easy to buy guns with just 3 percent saying they make it too difficult, 40 percent saying they are just about right.

Joining us now to breakdown these numbers, our chief political analyst Gloria Borger.

So, a majority, 56 percent, too easy to buy gun, 40 percent, just about right. So, that majority should make it relatively easy for the president to get his wish and see this legislation passed.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you'd think so, but not so fast.

You know, for a while now, the public has really been in favor of more gun control. Newtown brings a new urgency, just like Columbine brought a new urgency or Virginia Tech or Aurora, Colorado. So, we have seen a bump in that, but that doesn't mean, Wolf, that the politics of gun control have completely evolved and when we heard the president this morning, it's clear he was pretty realistic about what his chances are about getting all of these things through.

Here's another issue politically for the president. For two decades now, the intensity has been on the side of the NRA. That the people who were single issue voters on guns, who are against regulation, come out and vote in midterm elections on that single issue. The big question now is, after Newtown, whether those who support regulation can become single issue voters in favor of regulation and whether they can mobilize enough support to pressure members of Congress to either change their views or moderate their views a bit so they can get some of this package through.

So take away some of the intensity from the NRA voters.

BLITZER: You've been looking into these numbers and these polls and you're digging deep inside those numbers. So, how realistic is the American public when it comes to the whole issue of gun control?

BORGER: I think the public is quite realistic, Wolf. Take a look at this. While the public clearly favors gun control and you see here that 55 percent favor gun control, 44 percent oppose. So that's quite a hefty 11-point margin.

But then when you ask the question of whether you believe that gun control is actually going to fix violence in this county -- look at this, by a two to one margin people say, you know what, this alone is not going to fix the problem. They understand that there are lots of factors that go into this, including how you deal with crazy people who would do such a thing in the mental health system and they understand that the laws that were proposed today would not have resolved the Adam Lanza problem, that it is a larger issue that has a lot of factors that need to be considered. So, while they want gun control, they understand it's not a single solution to the problem.

BLITZER: Most people at the White House up on Capitol Hill, they think part of the president's legislative proposal that's most difficult to pass should be the ban --

BORGER: Sure.

BLITZER: -- a new ban on military-type assault weapons.

The other background checks that they have a good shot, maybe the ammunition clips having a limit on how many bullets can be in an ammunition bullet clip, but the ban on assault weapons, that might be the most difficult.

So, here's the question: why put that in if it's not necessarily going win?

BORGER: Well, you've watched a lot of congressional negotiations, a lot of congressional White House negotiations. Sometimes you put things on the table that you know aren't going to pass so you can take them off the table, and then you can come up with some kind of compromise.

Obviously, the president had to put in an assault weapons ban. It's expired. It's been talked about for years. He hadn't done that before. So, we had to put this on the table.

But you're right, Wolf. When you talk to people in the White House or on Capitol Hill, they seem to understand that it may be a bargaining chip, actually, so that they can get the background checks that they want for every single gun owner to have a background check or conceivably to reduce the size of those high capacity magazines that are now being sold.

BLITZER: Gloria, thanks very much.

BORGER: Sure.

BLITZER: Remember, later this hour, David Keene of the NRA, he's coming over here. We'll get his reaction to all of this.

It's probably no secret that members of Congress are richer than average Americans. But wait until you see how much the richest member of Congress is really worth.

(COMMERCIALK BREAK)

BLITZER: It's been a mixed day on Wall Street. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What happened?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.

Well, the Dow dropped 28 points today. The NASDAQ was up 0.2 percent, while the S&P 500 was flat. Boeing shares dragged down the blue chips, skidding 3 percent. Investors are wary after two Japanese airliners grounded their entire fleets of Boeing flagship Dreamliner aircraft. The move came after one the 787 passenger jets had to make an emergency landing today.

And this from our own political reporter, Peter Hamby. Former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford has formally announced his candidacy for the U.S. House of Representatives. Sanford says he is running to rein in out-of-control government spending. Many, though, thought his career was finished when he admitted to an extramarital affair in 2009.

And the 113th Congress may be one of the wealthiest that this country has ever had. The median net worth of all members of the current Congress nearly a million dollars in 2011, the last year for which financial disclosure data is available. Now, you can compare that to the income for the average American family, a relatively paltry $66,700. By the way, in case you are wondering, the richest member of Congress is Republican Representative Michael McCaul of Texas. He's worth $500 million and change.

And an Oregon woman is all smiles after being rescued by firefighters following a harrowing ordeal. She was stuck for several hours between an apartment building and a wall in Portland. She was wedged in just a foot of space and her feet couldn't touch the ground. Crews managed to get her out after they cut holes in the wall and it's still not clear, though, Wolf, how she got stuck in there in the first place.

You can see what a narrow, narrow space -- I'm sure she --

BLITZER: How do you get stuck in a space like that?

SYLVESTER: I don't know. Obviously she is quite pleased that she is free. BLITZER: Can you imagine?

SYLVESTER: That's the story behind the story. How did she get there in the first place, Wolf?

BLITZER: I'd be freaking out stuck in a little area like that.

SYLVESTER: Yes, not for those who are claustrophobic. Not at all, Wolf.

BLITZER: She might be looking for something there. Who knows? Thanks very much, Lisa.

The National Rifle Association is about to respond to President Obama's crackdown on guns. The powerful gun rights lobbying group will join us later in this hour in THE SITUATION ROOM. Lots to talk about with David Keene.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's continue the conversation in our strategy session. Joining us right now, two CNN political contributors, the Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher and the Republican strategist Alex Castellanos. Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

The president laid out, thanks to the vice president's task force, a very ambitious plan to deal with guns. Cornell, you're familiar with this issue. Can he deliver?

CORNELL BELCHER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think he can deliver because If you look poll after poll, even your new CNN poll came in, this is where the American people are. I mean, what happened in Connecticut was really sort of a conscience jarring event for Americans.

Similar to what we saw on 9/11 where the world is not the same now after what we saw in Connecticut. Americans are hungry for change. The assault weapons ban, the commonsense registration laws, fixing the loopholes, these are commonsense things that Congress should get on board.

I'll say this. You're seeing a lot of grumbling from Congress right now. If they don't understand where the American people is on this, they are going to pay a price for this in two years.

BLITZER: Because the polls do show, our new poll, all of the other polls show there is a significant majority who want to see greater action.

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know, we all want something done. I think the thing that the American people are suspicious about is, is this another palliative from Washington? Is this another placebo drug that makes you feel better but doesn't do anything. We've been promised so many things. For example, Mayor Bloomberg from New York pointed out the other day that 77,000 felons last year tried to buy guns, right? And that's a felony in itself, a crime. You can arrest them right there. That's a law we already have.

This administration, we only prosecuted seven of those people. I mean, less than one-tenth of 1 percent. More laws? The American people are very suspicious. I think that's why survey said that over 60 percent of Americans think that, yes, we want something done, but these new laws won't make a difference.

BLITZER: The felons can go to gun shows or just privately buy guns. They don't have to go through any background checks.

CASTELLANOS: You know, isn't that amazing?

BLITZER: There should be more background checks, right?

CASTELLANOS: I think the system we have right now for background checks must be deterring some criminals because they don't get the guns to commit crimes with by gun shows. It doesn't happen.

Have you been to a gun show, Wolf? You know who are there, a bunch of cops and people who like guns. Criminals don't get the guns from gun shows. Where do they get them, they're stole it. So again, if we're going to do something, let's do something that's effective and I think that's what Republicans are looking at doing.

BELCHER: I think it's very telling that my friend here Alex won't even come out and support closing the loopholes for guns. I mean, I think what we're seeing is background checks -- it's really telling, what sort of gun control measures are Republicans for? They don't seem to be for any measures whatsoever.

CASTELLANOS: Not true.

BELCHER: They put together a very comprehensive package of reform and commonsense that people support and Republicans are against all of them. Why are Republicans so afraid of the NRA? Do they work for the NRA or do they work for the American people?

CASTELLANOS: Well, generally believe it or not, a lot of Republicans are Americans and what they would really like us to do something that works. For example, how many of these horrible crimes that we've seen, Aurora, Newtown, how many of those crimes are committed at gun shows, none.

BLITZER: Columbine.

CASTELLANOS: Columbine --

BLITZER: Those guns were bought at gun shows.

CASTELLANOS: Those were kids. Those were kids who have broken a ton of laws anyway. We have a ton of laws to get those things off the books already. Wolf, by the way, the majority of guns that are used in crimes, the vast majority, nearly all of them are stolen.

Criminals generally don't like to do a lot of paperwork. So promising the American people a real solution, for example, another one, the high-capacity magazine, that sounds great.

And if you love Mayor Bloomberg in New York and you think that banning 32-ounce sodas is going to make American people skinnier because you believe, what, they are never going to figure out they could buy two 16-ounce sodas? You are going to love the high-capacity ban.

BLITZER: Why?

CASTELLANOS: Are you really saying that a crazy person should walk into a school but only have seven bullets? No. He should have none.

BELCHER: There's a difference between --

CASTELLANOS: Which by the way, Ted Kennedy has opposed and Democrats have opposed for years.

BELCHER: Ted Kennedy?

CASTELLANOS: Ted Kennedy for 20 years opposed tougher measures.

BELCHER: Well, I'm not going to go back to Ted Kennedy.

CASTELLANOS: Democrats still do.

BELCHER: The president has put forth a plan, I mean, that takes --

CASTELLANOS: I think that's a good thing the president did.

BELCHER: That's one good thing the president did. Look, take high capacity -- these clips. You don't need all of those clips for hunting. It makes it easier to kill more people. I think what's interesting here, Wolf, I think you sort of see this right now is that Republicans are so dug in on a position that, quite frankly, is not where the American people are. You can come along and help change these laws or in two years Speaker Pelosi can change these laws.

BLITZER: Politically though, how endangered can some of these Democrats, specifically for some of the more rural states that are up in 2014, there is a history of this, how politically dangerous, though, is this for these Democrats to support the president?

BELCHER: Let me tell you this. I think what we're seeing right now is the same sort of thing we saw after 9/11 where the sort of conscience of America has changed. I hope this is an issue for going into the next midterm election, the next off-year election.

I think the Republicans are going to make this a front and center issue and they are clearly not where the American people are. They can either do it now or I'm telling you, Speaker Pelosi will do it in two years.

CASTELLANOS: Ra-ra. Do you think you can get some Democrats then to support this because that is what's been blocking this it's Democrats in swing states who actually have read the constitution and think that they can go right to the people that infringe --

BLITZER: Like the NRA --

BELCHER: The Democrats aren't the ones blocking this. The Democrats aren't the ones --

CASTELLANOS: Speaker Reid, Harry Reid, the leader of the Senate, he's all on board for this, right? Just want to make sure.

BELCHER: I think Leader Reid is fine with it. In fact, they put out a statement supporting what the president did today.

CASTELLANOS: In two years, Republicans and Democrats are going to be measured at the ballot box. A lot is going to happen between now and then, but the biggest thing that is going to happen is we're going to have time to see what works. Not more false promises.

BELCHER: Well, we know nothing works, Alex.

CASTELLANOS: Well, is the president, for example, going to start enforcing the laws that we already have? His attorney general doesn't want a cookie cutter --

BLITZER: Why is the NRA and its supporters so much more effective politically than the other side in dealing with this issue?

BELCHER: All right, poke me with me with a stick here with this, money.

BLITZER: Why are there Democrats -- and the antigun types, they have a lot of money out there too.

BELCHER: No, they are not. I'll give this to my Republican friends. They are always better organized on the issues like this and they raise the money and the NRA is effective in scaring Republicans in primaries by putting money in organization on the ground.

Now some people have questioned whether or not they still have that power, but clearly Republicans are afraid of the NRA. So commonsense sort of things that they should before --

BLITZER: Their membership has gone since the month, since the Newtown massacre, they, what, got another 250,000 members.

BELCHER: But 250,000 -- we're a country of 300 million?

BLITZER: You know, that's pretty impressive, though, when you think four million members, five million members right now for an organization like that.

BELCHER: Well, here's the other thing, I think when you look at some of the extremism that you see coming out of the NRA, I've got a feeling that moderate role of Americans is --

CASTELLANOS: Extremism.

BELCHER: You know, extremism like, I mean, you're an ad guy. That the ad they put out today that crossed the line, going after the president's children, that is sort of disgusting.

CASTELLANOS: Look, I want to defend that ad.

BELCHER: You want to defend that ad?

CASTELLANOS: Yes, absolutely. I think the tone of that ad, you know, I was taught to hate the sin and love the sinners. So calling somebody a hypocrite like that, technically in that ad, there's nothing wrong. The fact is we're giving more protection to politicians than we are giving to our own children and that is a real issue.

BELCHER: Alex, there's nothing wrong with calling out the president's children? Alex, this is something that -- by the way, it's something we never do in this country we never sort of go after the president's children. Of course, the president's children are going to have protection.

The president's children, it is despicable. I can't believe that you would stand here and not call that out as despicable. It crosses the line, Alex. You don't go after the president's children.

CASTELLANOS: Nobody went after the president's children. All we're saying is we do a whole lot more to protect money and politicians and their families than we do to protect our own children in school and that should change. You know, just because you live in Washington doesn't mean you should get a better deal.

BELCHER: I think, well, I live in Washington, I certainly don't get a better deal because I'm being tax without representation and there's a lot of crime in my neighborhood. So I'm not getting a better deal of going after the president's children. That is something that we just never have seen before.

CASTELLANOS: I would disagree that that's what the NRA did, Wolf. I think they are making an important point there.

BLITZER: They didn't necessarily go after the president. What they did is they brought the president's children into a political ad and as someone who covered the White House in earlier Republican and Democratic administrations, you know what, leave the kids out of it, have your fight.

You don't have to bring these young little girls, you know, Sasha and Malia, into this fight. Just they didn't have to bring Chelsea Clinton or the Bush twins. We didn't have to bring these kids into a fight like this.

CASTELLANOS: But you know on the other hand, we are talking about all our children. We don't have to bring them in either, but I guess this incident brought them in. BLITZER: I don't have a problem talking about all of our children. I do have a problem, Alex, singling out these two girls whose father happens to be the president of the United States and that is why they need special security.

CASTELLANOS: And all of the politicians who enjoy special security that we don't get, should we leave them alone, too? No. I think it's a healthy part of the debate. I think the tone of the ad, you know, it went a little further than it should in terms of name calling and all of that.

But certainly there is a lot of hypocrisy involved in this issue. Selling the American people answers that don't work, you know, would you declare your home a gun-free zone? No. It would be -- it invites crime. We should talk about those things.

BLITZER: The only point I was trying to make is I think it's inappropriate to start to bring Sasha and Malia, just as it was inappropriate to start to raising other kids of presidents into a political fight.

BELCHER: It's a despicable thing. I can't believe you're standing here defending it because it's not something that should be done.

CASTELLANOS: I think we can talk about all of our kids and I think it's a worthwhile thing to do.

BLITZER: On this point, I think the president's kids are unique because they are the kids of a president. They are not your kids or my kids or somebody --

CASTELLANOS: I think no more special than those kids that lost their lives. I'm sorry. They are not more special.

BELCHER: They are not in more danger?

BLITZER: We're not saying they are more special. We're saying they are unique. Their father is the president.

BELCHER: They are not more endangered, Alex?

CASTELLANOS: Not more endangered, it turns out, than those kids who were at Newtown. It turns out -- and that's our point, isn't it?

BLITZER: All right, we're going to have more on this and the head of the NRA is going to be here to discuss this as well, this new ad among other subject. Guys, thank you.

Inauguration day only five days away, we're going to take you inside the security command center. We're going to show you what is being done to keep the first family safe.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get back to the breaking news we're following right now, the hostages, some of whom are Americans being held in Algeria. Joining us on the phone, CNN contributor, the former assistant FBI Director Tom Fuentes. He opened the FBI office, by the way, in Algeria years ago.

What do we know, Tom, about this group that claimed responsibility for the taking of these hostages, including Americans, the Brigade of The Masked Ones. What do we know about them?

TOM FUENTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR (via telephone): Well, Wolf, at the moment, you know, there isn't as much known about them as there is about some of the other larger groups in the region, such as al Qaeda in the land of the Islamic, AQIM. So much of the activities from these groups have been either directed directly at Algerian government facilities, military or businesses.

And it's really the groups in the area kind of morphed more from their original name of GSPC and back during the last 10 or 15 years, they've tried to become an al Qaeda franchise if you will, took over the name al Qaeda in the land of the Maghreb.

But they also received a great deal of criticism frequently from Zawahiri at that time saying, wait a minute. You guys call yourselves al Qaeda, but you're never attacking westerners, you're only attacking Algerians.

If you're going to be just a nationalist group only serving national interest, then that's not what we want. We're going to take away your name. But later, you know, the name never really was taken away and they still use it.

But much of the activity lately has been taking over facilities and taking hostages for ransom and this is not much different than what was originally a terrorist group in the Philippines called Abu Sayaf.

When it became clear all they did was raise money and more or less became a declared an organized crime group as opposed necessarily to an Islamic-based terrorist group. And of course, we have the Somali pirates, same thing, kidnap people, hold them hostage and it's all about the money. It's not for any other political or religious aim so --

BLITZER: I just got a statement from Ed Royce, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee among other things, he said today's terrorist attack in Algeria is the latest demonstration of a large and growing radical movement across North Africa.

He said al Qaeda and the Islamic Maghreb have been conducting regular kidnappings for years, financing much of its operations through ransoms, earning millions. Is this all about money or is this a political statement? What do you sense?

FUENTES: Well, that's a hard thing to judge sometimes when you don't have adequate intelligence. You don't know if they are raising the money in furtherance of terrorist activities but, if so, where are those terrorist acts?

So when these groups commit these hostage situations and you receive the ransom, are they bolstering their personal retirement plan or are they really using the money in furtherance of the organization?

AQUM and these other regional groups there have been pretty weak historically. They've not funded or carried out any large-scale attack. And you know, when you have a couple dozen people jump in pickup trucks and take over a facility that literally is out in the middle of nowhere, you know, that makes it a pretty soft target to be able to do.

They are not attacking a facility or a major company or government structure in Alger, the capital. They are not doing it in a heavily populated area where they taking on the military in a strong police force. They are out in the middle of nowhere.

So, I don't know, I mean, yes, it's unfortunate and it's bad, but you have these oil and gas wells all over North Africa and, you know, many cases it's not going to be that hard to take over, just like we've seen the takeover of the oil facilities or boats transporting workers in the Gulf of Guinea off the coast of Nigeria.

We've had that happen over and over. Usually the victim has been Shell Oil out of the Netherlands. But you know, this is not uncommon for terrorist organizations to use criminal activity to fund their activities.

But, again, when they get the money, what are they doing with it? What are they trying to accomplish? Is it for political, religious or personal ends?

BLITZER: We are going to get much more on this story as it develops and I noticed the taking of these hostages, including the Americans, in Eastern Algeria, right near Libya.

For all we know these people have moved that's easy to cross the border between the Algeria and Libya. And they could easily move into Libya if so they want. There you see the map. Much more on this coming up. Tom, thank you.

A fiery helicopter crash stuns one of the world's financial capitals. A chopper plunged to the ground after a surprising accident. More details after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: You're looking at a live picture right now at the White House. You can see it in the background there with the reviewing stand at the bottom of the screen. In just five days, that's where President Obama will watch his inauguration day parade. Of course, we'll have live coverage throughout the day.

The top priority on inauguration day will be keeping the president and his family safe. Our own Brian Todd got an inside look at the command center behind that effort.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, with all of the planning and choreography for the inaugural events, few people are as on edge right now as those in charge of security because unlike a ceremony or an inaugural ball, all it takes is one minor security glitch to start a cascade of problems.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Joe Hagin remembers his first jolt working security in an inauguration. January 2001 just after George W. Bush's swearing in, Hagin is in a motorcade moving with the new president toward the White House.

JOE HAGIN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF: Turned down Pennsylvania Avenue and the military aid who is in the right front seat of the car I was riding in turned around and said, sir, there's a gas being mask under your seat, get ready to put it on. That was a little startling.

TODD: That was to prepare for possible teargassing of protesters. Later as deputy White House chief of staff under President Bush, Hagin coordinated security and logistics for big events, summits, secret presidential trips to war zones, inaugurations.

As we looked at the buildings President Obama will pass, Hagin said the Secret Service, the lead security agency for the inauguration, will make sure the buildings are clear of potential snipers.

Elsewhere, manhole covers will be welded shot. SWAT teams will be deployed all over the city, plain-clothed law enforcement officers mingling in the crowds, bomb sniffing dogs even teams trained on weapons of mass destruction and --

DEBRA EVANS SMITH, FBI ACTING ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: Our dive team, our intelligence analysts will be working around the clock, our hostage negotiators.

TODD: That FBI official spoke to us inside the multi-agency communications center where security teams will do real-time monitoring of surveillance cameras posted on buildings and roads. They will share tips and incident reports.

(on camera): With all of the checkpoints, monitoring situations and other precautions, it's this stage, the parade route here along Pennsylvania Avenue where the real unknown comes in. It's often along here where the president gets out of his car.

(voice-over): That's when the president is most exposed and the crowds are massive.

(on camera): If he's right in here and gets out of his car and walks, what is going through your mind at that moment?

HAGIN: Well, what's going on in my mind is, you know, having faith in the plan and, you know, assuming that the agents are, you know, doing their job.

TODD: Hagin says the Secret Service often choreographs where the president will get out of his limo and where he'll get back in, a tightly held secret. When it's all over, a big sigh of relief. HAGIN: An event of this magnitude takes hundreds, thousands people to execute it effectively and those people tend not to have a whole lot of fun.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Hagin says no matter how smoothly it may go security officials are going to conduct a thorough review of the inauguration security after the event so they can tweak their practices for the next time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, thank you. CNN's coverage of President Obama's second inaugural spans two days, first, the official oath of office in a private ceremony at the White House on Sunday and then Monday's public ceremony over at the U.S. capital. Please be sure to watch the presidential inauguration, both of them starting at 9:00 a.m. Eastern on Sunday and Monday, right here on CNN.

In our next hour, the Pentagon isn't waiting around to resolve the hostage situation in North Africa. They are already looking at various military options. We're outlining to you what they might do to try to rescue Americans being held hostage in Algeria right now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, breaking news, Americans held hostage. They are among a number of Americans being held by an Islamic militant at a gas filed in North Africa, the latest front in the terror war.

Also, President Obama unveils his tough new gun control proposals and immediately signs a series of executive actions. The rest, including a ban on assault-type weapons now up to Congress. That won't be easy. We have full coverage this hour.