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Nightclub Inferno in Brazil; Senate Meeting on Immigration Reform; Vote on Sandy Relief Today; Iran Sends Monkey into Space; Postage Price Increase

Aired January 28, 2013 - 11:00   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, ANCHOR, "CNN NEWSROOM": Obama keeps it up and the tea party will continue to flourish."

Please keep the conversation going. and thanks for joining me today.

"CNN Newsroom" continues right now with Ashleigh Banfield.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, ANCHOR, "CNN NEWSROOM": Thanks, Carol. And hi, everybody. Nice to have you with us. It's 11:00 in the East.

And now come the funerals and the arrests, the grief and incrimination, all of it in the wake of a terrible nightclub inferno in Brazil. More than 200 people dead and one American said these horrific fires will continue to happen until authorities insist on sprinklers.

We are also watching the border at this hour, our border, and Capitol Hill and what could be a breakthrough in a hugely divisive debate. And that's where we start this hour, immigration, specifically, immigration reform.

It has been a very tough slog, even before the political landscape turned so incredibly toxic but now this bipartisan group of senators on your screen, they're unveiling a wide ranging compromise that includes a so-called path to citizenship for roughly 11 million immigrants who are in this country illegally.

The senators are due to brief reporters this afternoon, give us some of the details. All of this one day before President Obama unveils his own ideas in Las Vegas.

Joining me now with more on both fronts, CNN chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, and also our White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar.

Dana, I want to start with you. Walk me through the details here and why this seems like such a surprise.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's start with some of what is in this bipartisan proposal.

First, what they call, we're using their words for a reason, "tough but fair path to citizenship." That is clearly what we're going to hear this afternoon, tough but fair, because path of citizenship, of course, is such a sticky, sticky issue.

Then they say they are going to put laws in place to attract the world's best and brightest, meaning they will do their best to still allow people into this country who want to work hard and can do well for the country.

Then, improve employment verification, or e-verification. This is something that is critically important to a lot of pushers of comprehensive immigration reform and also a lot of conservatives.

Then allow immigrants to fill low-skill jobs. That's important to Democrats and Republicans in big agriculture-producing states.

The other thing I should mention, Ashleigh, is that they are definitely also putting big emphasis on border security. That is another thing that Republicans very much push and say that that is the first and most important aspect of any comprehensive immigration bill.

Some of the details still have to be worked out and sources who were familiar with this process which started right after the election do say that some of the details of path to citizenship or border security are sort of left on the table and that is something that you never know.

I mean, these are the kinds of things that are probably the most explosive and could blow up the whole thing.

BANFIELD: So, it's not the first time we've had a conversation about proposals to solve the inauguration problem in this country.

In fact, in 2007 there was a similar proposal. The Dream Act failed in 2010. So. now. all of a sudden. what has changed?

BASH: The November election. I mean, if you just look at the way Mitt Romney did or maybe, more importantly, the way Barack Obama did with Latino voters, first of all, it was the biggest -- there you see, Obama, 71 percent, Romney, 27 percent.

And not just that, it was Latino voters were 16 percent of the electorate which was by far the biggest percentage of the electorate.

Republicans, you even heard them over the weekend. John McCain himself said it was a wake-up call. And that's why I'm told that Lindsey Graham, the senator from South Carolina, who has kind of been in and out of pushing comprehensive immigration reform, gone on the phone right after the election with Democrat Chuck Schumer and said let's revive our bipartisan talks.

They had a meeting shortly thereafter in November and then they've had a total of, I'm told, five meetings since then. The last one was last Wednesday and that's when they decided to go ahead with this. And Chuck Schumer actually called the president last night to say that we're going to push this. You mentioned 2007. One thing that I'm going to be fascinated by is I was actually sitting in the same exact room that they're going to be in today back in 2007 when they had this big bipartisan event. Ted Kennedy was there. John McCain was there. Of course, that went south big time.

But it will be very interesting to see how they refer to that and talk about how different things are, particularly, politically, with Republicans.

BANFIELD: And let's start talking the politics about it. I want to -- thank you, Dana.

I want to bring in Brianna Keilar who's at the White House to -- I wasn't quite sure how to take this, pre-empting the president by one day.

Was that that snarky or is there something where the White House is actually on board on this and it actually gives some more power to the president with his message tomorrow?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think that's how the White House looks at it, Ashleigh.

Obviously you have top Democrats involved in what's going on the Hill and, so, I think there's kind of a sense of building momentum around this issue in general that the White House will welcome.

President Obama met on Friday or spoke on Friday, I should say, with the congressional Hispanic caucus. And that was ahead of what he's doing tomorrow.

He's already put out his immigration plan, but he's trying to build support for it, highlight it. And he will head to Las Vegas to get that going tomorrow.

But his plan, I will tell you, is similar to the Senate plan, but there are some key differences and they have to do with that pathway to citizenship. We're expecting to learn more about exactly what the differences are.

But the pathway to citizenship and also border security. And, as you heard Dana mention there, Ashleigh, these are the hottest of the hot button issues. So, these differences are really something to pay attention to as we get more details.

BANFIELD: And maybe somewhat, as Dana had written in some notes earlier, somewhat of an insurance policy in case this current proposal doesn't get traction.

I want to switch gears only because we have you there standing in the rain and I don't want you to stand outside for too long, Brianna.

There is going to be a flurry of activity and, again, the issue of gun control today at the White House. Give me a quick run down, very quickly. KEILAR: That's right. The president and the vice president along with Attorney General Eric holder and the secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano, are meeting with national law enforcement representative, but, also, and I think this is something that really gets a lot of attention, the police chiefs from Aurora, Colorado, from Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and from Newtown, Connecticut, to talk about gun violence today.

The president, dealing, obviously, with another hot button issue here of gun violence, but the White House, as they're looking at significant pushback from gun rights advocates like the NRA, they're trying to build some support with law enforcement behind some of the proposals that President Obama has recently put out, Ashleigh.

That includes background checks, making them universal so even if there's private sales that people have to go through a background check to purchase a gun.

And also the reinstatement of the assault weapons ban and trying to limit those high-capacity magazines as well as making more resources available for mental health.

So, they're trying to build some support. And that's really what this meeting happening this hour at the White House is all about.

BANFIELD: Yeah, and we can call them officials, but from that -- from those particular jurisdictions, you can bet that will be very emotional at the White House.

Brianna Keilar, thank you. And, also, my thanks to Dana Bash, as well.

And a reminder to you as well, folks. This Thursday night, Anderson Cooper has a very special "AC 360" town hall meeting scheduled. It's going to be an examination of the Second Amendment and the push for gun control.

Can there be a solution to America's gun problem? Please make sure you tune in at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, this Thursday, right here on CNN.

And I want to turn to that other top story that we mentioned right off the beginning of the newscast. And it's a sad, sad story. And it is a frequent story.

Now, police in Brazil are beginning to make arrests in that horrifying nightclub fire that killed 231 people, most of them college kids enjoying the last day of their summer vacation.

The bar they chose had only one exit. And that bar was jam packed to double its capacity, about 2,000 people inside. The band on the stage using pyrotechnics and the ceiling coated with flammable sound- proofing.

There's word that people who were trying to run their lives were actually blocked by bouncers who thought they were trying to skip out on their bills. All of this happened in the southern college city of Santa Maria. Many people died choking on the thick, black smoke. Other people died trampled in the stampede for that one exit -- one exit.

Shasta Darlington has been gathering more details.


SHASTA DARLINGTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ashleigh, the latest news we've gotten from Brazilian TV, (INAUDIBLE), is that three people have been arrested in relation to the investigation.

One was a club owner, the nightclub where this tragic fire took place, and also two of the band members that were playing there that were involved in a pyrotechnics show.

Now, today, things are fairly quiet around here, but early Sunday morning, it was a totally different story.

Smoke filled the air when the first firefighters entered the nightclub, where shirtless men were already trying to rescue some of the injured. Emergency vehicles arrived not realizing the extent of the tragedy they faced, chaos and terror among survivors and the bodies of victims, all around.

The fire broke out about 2:00 in the morning at a nightclub called Kiss in Santa Maria in Brazil's southern-most state. The club was packed with some 2,000 people, twice its legal capacity, according to officials.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (via translator): People who were inside the facility informed us that, when they came out, the security guards blocked the exit to prevent people there from leaving and that's when the crowd started panicking and the tragedy grew worse.

DARLINGTON: This is Santa Maria's local gymnasium, but it's been turned into a makeshift morgue. There are more than 100 bodies here.

Hundreds of families have come together trying to locate and identify their relatives who were, of course, young people in their late teens, early 20s. They died of asphyxiation and some of them were even trampled to death.

As the coffins for the many victims were lined up, investigators searched for the cause of the fire which tore through the sound- proofing insulation in the roof.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff cut short her appearance at a summit in Chile and headed to Santa Maria to personally oversee the government's response to the tragedy.

It was the end of the summer holiday season in Brazil, the last chance to party for many young people due back at school or work on Monday.

Now, this is going to also be a day of funerals. They've already started across town at the cemetery, Ashleigh, just one after the other, with this whole town of Santa Maria mourning for them.


BANFIELD: Shasta Darlington reporting for us in Brazil. Unbelievable pictures out of Santa Maria.

And for many people who live in this country, it sounds familiar because what happened in brazil is triggering a lot of memories of what happened at the Rhode Island at The Station nightclub fire.

These flames, sparked also by pyrotechnics, swept through The Station nightclub, West Warwick. One hundred people died there in 2003. Two hundred people were injured there.

One of the two brothers who owned the club was sentenced to four years in prison. The other brother got a suspended sentence.