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Interview With Senator John McCain; Push for Immigration Reform; Former Israeli Prime Minister Sharon's Doctors See Brain Activity; A "New World Order" Out Of U.S. Control; Hagel's Confirmation Fight; Obama And Clinton Look Ahead To 2016; "I Don't Know What Will Happen"; Families Fleeing For Their Lives; Queen Beatrix Abdicating Dutch Throne

Aired January 28, 2013 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: a powerful new push for immigration reform. Can this one succeed where others have so often failed? I will ask one of the senators behind the bipartisan plan, John McCain. He's here to talk about immigration, guns, the upcoming confirmation hearing for defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel -- John McCain live this hour.

Plus, a royal shakeup -- a queen announces she's abdicating. Her country is about to get a new king.

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

A new push to tackle one of the most contentious issues facing Washington. Just about 90 minutes or so ago, a bipartisan group of senators laid out a framework for an immigration reform bill. This comes as the White House is working on its own immigration bill and President Obama will address the issue tomorrow in Las Vegas.

The bipartisan Senate plan includes a path to citizenship, but illegal immigrants would have to undergo a background check and pay a fine and back taxes before gaining legal status here in the United States. All that is contingent on securing borders. The proposal provides for increased use of drones, more personnel and improved infrastructure and it would create an employment verification system and improve the process for admitting needed workers.

CNN chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash and CNN chief White House correspondent Jessica Yellin, they are both working the story for us.

Let's go to Dana first.

Dana, the tone was pretty optimistic up on Capitol Hill today.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It sure was, but, you know, we have seen this movie before, you and I, Wolf, and a lot of other people who have been watching this issue go kind of up and down with the partisan winds. But this is something that is different this time because of something very simple. And that is what happened in the last election to Republicans, particularly Mitt Romney with the Latino voters. He lost big time. And that's why when I asked Senator McCain and others who were standing right here where I'm standing half a dozen years ago why this is different, that's why they answered that way. Listen to this.


QUESTION: Senator Kennedy stood with you, and, Senator McCain, you were standing with him, and he said 2007 is the year we must fix our broken system. We must strike while the iron is hot.

What makes you think -- and you have all expressed optimism -- why is this year different?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Elections. Elections.

The Republican Party is losing the support of our Hispanic citizens. And we realize that there are many issues in which we think we're in agreement with our Hispanic citizens, but this is a preeminent issue with those citizens.


BASH: Wolf, it's important to underscore that we really did see some of the people who have been here before, with Senator Kennedy and others half a dozen years ago, but some important faces like Marco Rubio, who, of course, is an up-and-coming conservative who has made this issue one of his own, because of the fact that he too is very concerned about the way the Republican Party is perceived in the Latino community.

But the important thing to keep in mind is this is just the beginning. There are some very divisive issues within the immigration concept that have not yet been worked out. For example, you mentioned at the beginning that this whole idea makes a path to citizenship contingent on border security. They have not worked out yet what the so-called metrics are for how they know that the border is secure. That is very, very important.

And the devil is, to use a cliche, in the details there. And it also goes for how they define a path to citizenship, how that would work.

BLITZER: A lot of devils on those details.

Jessica, you're getting some new information about the White House, what the president is planning to propose, maybe as early as tomorrow, when he's in Las Vegas.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The difference between the president's plan and what the Senate has proposed is the path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants who are here illegally.

The Senate plan, as you have explained, would require essentially officials verify that the U.S. border is secure before any of the immigrants can -- these immigrants can begin signing up, getting in line for citizenship. The president's proposal would include no similar border security trigger, if you will.

Now, to help the president press his case, beginning next week, a grassroots coalition that the White House has actually been working with for months dating back to the president's -- the time the president was campaigning for reelection, the coalition will begin a campaign next week that's called Bibles, Badges and Business.

It's a group of church leaders, including evangelical pastors, law enforcement officials, and small business leaders that will press for immigration reform on the local level, the grassroots level, and some of these grassroots leaders as well as other advocates confirmed to me that the White House has its own legislation, its own immigration reform bill that it has been writing for some time now, very detailed, but it is unclear whether that will ever see the light of day, Wolf, now that the Senate has come out with its own proposal, Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana, is it an accident that the senators were unveiling their plan on this day?

BASH: No, it's not. It's because of what Jessica was just talking about, the president planning a major address on this issue tomorrow.

I am told by multiple sources in both parties that these bipartisan senators wanted to get out today in order to signal to everybody out there, but perhaps most importantly to Republicans who may be on the fence about supporting a bipartisan effort, that this is independent of what the president is doing.

That is incredibly important for Republicans who don't want to touch anything that the president is involved in or even authoring. One thing I can tell you is Jessica and I have been reporting that members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus went to the White House on Friday and urged the president to please not unveil the bill he has prepared that Jessica is talking about, for that reason, not to spook a lot of people, especially Republicans.

BLITZER: Obviously, that didn't have a huge impact if the president's going to do it anyhow tomorrow. How are they feeling about all this over at the White House, Jessica?

YELLIN: Wolf, we're not -- I'm not at all clear or convinced that the president will unveil his bill tomorrow. They might actually hold it back now, for all we know, because the Senate has gone first. We're going to have to wait and see. The White House is staying mum.

For now, they are pleased and optimistic that the Senate has moved forward with its proposal. For them, the more momentum on this issue, the better. At the very least, the president would have a bill in his back pocket if the Senate's momentum eventually stalls.

BLITZER: Jessica Yellin at the White House, Dana Bash on Capitol Hill, guys, thank you.

Let's dig a little bit deeper right now with our chief national correspondent, John King. You heard Senator McCain, John. He was pretty blunt. It's about elections. The Republicans did not do well with the Hispanic voters last time around. Remind our viewers about some of those numbers.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Even that, saying not do well, is an understatement.

Wolf, as you know, there's some very legitimate policy concerns here. When is the border secure? Legal status, citizenship, is that amnesty? So we will debate the policy. But as Senator McCain notes, the numbers don't lie. Let's just look at the presidential race. Then we will dig deeper. In the presidential race, Mitt Romney got 27 percent of the Latino vote nationally in 2012.

That was down from -- John McCain got 31 percent in 2008 and he still lost. George W. Bush proved the point right there. The Republicans need to get about 40 percent or more to win a race for president. But this isn't just about the presidency. Look at a couple of Senate races from 2012 right here. In the state of Florida, Democrats nearly six in 10 Latino votes. In Virginia, 62 percent of Latino vote, in Arizona, 74 percent, in Nevada, 66 percent.

You can go state, by state, by state, Democrats above 50 percent, sometimes above 60 percent in the Latino vote. You look at the demographics, especially those key states, Republicans can't sustain themselves. Let's look at the House races. In 2012, 68 percent, again, nearly seven in 10 Latinos vote Democratic. That's matching the number from 2008, 70 percent. In 2004, it was 56 percent.

When it comes to the politics, Republicans have a huge problem. Yes, there are policy questions here. But as Senator McCain was honest enough to say, a lot of this being is dictated by election results.

BLITZER: The Senate looks like they're working on a bipartisan coalition for comprehensive immigration reform. It's moving along well in the Senate for those who support it. What about the House of Representatives?

KING: I wouldn't get too far out ahead of yourself and say this will pass the House, but there is clear changes under way.

Number one, here's the statement from Lamar Smith, Republican of Texas. If we were having this conversation last year, he was the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, he would be the main man in the committee hearings there. He said this just morning: "By granting amnesty, the Senate proposal actually compounds the problem by encouraging more illegal immigration."

But if you support this bill, here's the good news for you. He's not the chairman anymore. Here's the current chairman, Bob Goodlatte of Virginia. He says -- quote -- "The American people and members of Congress have a lot of questions about how this would work, what it will cost and how it will prevent illegal immigration in the future," so a much more open-minded noncommittal statement there.

Wolf, you want to know how the politics are changing? That's Bob Goodlatte today. When that proposal came out six years ago very similar to this, here's what he said then: "The Senate immigration bill actually rewards immigrants who have consistently broken our laws by giving them amnesty."

You get a sense from Speaker Boehner and his leaders now, the new committee chairmen, they're not saying no. They're not saying yes but they're not saying no and that's a big difference.

BLITZER: Politics will be fascinating. We will see what happens. John, thanks very much.

We will have much more on this coming up, including my interview with Senator John McCain. He's standing by live. He's part of that bipartisan group behind this comprehensive immigration plan.

Plus, that nightclub fire in Brazil that killed more than 200 people, now we're getting word of arrests.


BLITZER: And joining us now from Capitol Hill, a key senator in that group that announced today's bipartisan plan for comprehensive immigration reform.

Republican Senator John McCain is joining us.

Senator McCain, thanks very much for coming in.

MCCAIN: Thank you.

BLITZER: There already are some critics, including Republican critics, Lamar Alexander -- Lamar Smith, I should say, Lamar Smith, Republican of Texas.

He issued this statement. He said: "When you legalize those who are in the country illegally, it cost taxpayers millions of dollars, costs American workers thousands of jobs, and encourages more illegal immigration. By granting amnesty, the Senate proposal actually compounds the problem by encouraging more illegal immigration."

I guess the question, is a pathway to citizenship amnesty?

MCCAIN: Well, I don't think so, Wolf. There's 11 million people who are in our country living in the shadows.

I don't believe that anyone has come up with a plan, if you wanted to deport them, not to mention the effect it would have on our economy. The majority of them have been in our country for over 10 years. But the point is that they would have to -- our plan, they would have a legal status here. But then they would have to go through a long process, get in line behind everyone who is a green cardholder, who has come to this country legally, pay back taxes, go through a background check, learn English, take civic lessons in order to be eligible for a path to citizenship.

And so, I hope that some my colleagues in the house will look at the provisions that we have. And, by the way, they would have to pay back taxes, and they would have to pay for their path to citizenship. So I do not see a scenario where it would cost money.

What costs money now is when people are in this country illegally, show up in the emergency room, with illness, and that bill is paid for by the taxpayers.

BLITZER: I guess the argument, the other side makes -- Lamar Smith, among others -- you tried this in the '80s, during the Reagan administration. There was amnesty and they say it only encouraged more illegal immigrants to try to come to the United States.

MCCAIN: Well, I think that's a good point. I was one of those who voted for that amnesty for 3 million, but there was also the promise along with that, which was not kept, and that is to secure our borders. I believe we now have the technological capabilities, such as surveillance, such as drone, such as fences, that are surveilled, that we can -- coupled with penalties for employers, coupled with a tamper-proof identification or Social Security card or others -- that we cannot only prevent illegal immigration, but we can discourage it by telling people who want to come to this country illegally or showing them that they can't get a job once they get here.

BLITZER: And you think it has a much better chance of winning Republican support. You were pretty blunt at that news conference earlier in the day because of politics. And I'll put some numbers up on the screen. 2012, Romney got 27 percent of the Latino vote. You got 31 percent in 2008, 44 percent went for Bush in 2004.

Our own John King who studies these numbers closely, to win a presidential race, you need at least 40 percent of the Latino vote and that vote is growing.

So, is politics behind this shift among so many Republicans right now?

MCCAIN: Well, I'm not sure if it's politics but it certainly is a realization that if we continue to polarize the Latino/Hispanic vote, that the demographics indicate that our chances for being in the majority are minimal. And so, I'm sure that that is a factor, because many of us believe that they're a natural constituency of ours -- small business, less regulation, big service in the military, pro- life, all of those reasons. But this issue of illegal immigration has obviously been a major driving factor of the decision-making of the Hispanic voter.

BLITZER: The former Florida governor, Jeb Bush, who's pretty popular down in Florida and elsewhere, he had a piece in "The Wall Street Journal" the other day. Among other things he said, "The immigration system is like a jigsaw puzzle. If one or more pieces are out of whack, the puzzle makes no sense. To fix the system, Congress must make sure all of the pieces fit together, logically and snugly."

In other words, he wants a comprehensive package. He doesn't want any piecemeal legislation.

Are you with him on that? MCCAIN: Absolutely. That's why we set out a set of principles that covered literally all aspects of the issue, and we'll be coming forward with comprehensive legislation. Let me emphasize, there will still be fights. There will still be battles.

But I am more confident now that I have ever been that we can reach an agreement and have a bill signed by the president. Not the least of which reason is that more and more Americans realize that we can't forever have 11 million people live in the shadows. We can't have children who were brought here by their parents long ago while they were young children remain in that status.

And we understand, also, that the work and contributions to our economy that our Hispanic citizens and noncitizens have provided is very important.

BLITZER: I think you have the votes in the Senate. But the question is the House. You think you have the votes in the House?

MCCAIN: I think you and I have known each other for many years. I've never counted votes. I've always done what is right. And if that is rejected, I accept that.

But I think I have talents as a politician, but arm-twisting isn't one of mine.

BLITZER: Let me ask you a couple other questions on some other unrelated matters.


BLITZER: Are you going to vote to confirm Chuck Hagel as the next secretary of defense?

MCCAIN: We're going to wait for the hearing on Thursday. I'd like to see how he responds to the committee and my questions during the hearing.

BLITZER: You had a chance to meet with him privately I take it, the other day. Did he give you the answers that you wanted to hear?

MCCAIN: Well, we had a general discussion. There are many specific questions that I had that I didn't ask and he hasn't answered.

BLITZER: What about on guns right now? Are you in favor of much more sweeping comprehensive universal background checks for people who want to purchase a gun?

MCCAIN: I'm certainly glad, and I think all of us are, to see where improvements can be made to keep the guns out of the hands of criminals. Obviously, we'd have to look at the specific proposals.

BLITZER: Because right now if you're a criminal potentially and you have a record, you can go out and buy a gun. If you don't go to a store, you either go to a gun show or you buy it from a private person, should that be made impossible? MCCAIN: Well, obviously, if there are improvements that need to be made to keep -- as I said, to keep these weapons out of the hands of criminals, I'm sure all Americans, including the NRA, would agree with them, I would think.

BLITZER: What about putting a limit on clips, magazine clips and an assault weapons ban, assault-type weapons ban?

MCCAIN: I've not seen how that would improve the situation at all.

BLITZER: Meaning as far as the clips or the assault weapon?

MCCAIN: Either.

BLITZER: So you don't se a need for tighter legislation? In other words, reducing the number of bullets, for example, from 100 down to 10, which is what Senator Feinstein's recommending?

MCCAIN: I think the burden of proof has to be on those who want such a thing. A second thing is I would point out -- in Norway, where a mass killing took place, they had the strictest gun control laws in the world. Handguns are the ones that commit the majority of crimes in our metropolitan cities in America now. Perhaps we're chasing after the wrong rabbit.

BLITZER: So, what, if anything, would you do as far as tightening up -- if you want to tighten up, guns -- gun control in the country right now is concerned?

MCCAIN: Well, obviously, tighten up controls in either way to keep the guns out of the hands of criminals, including looking seriously at the so-called, quote, "gun show loophole", looking at ways of identifying people who, despite tendencies that could lead to this kind of mayhem that we have seen with these mass murders, educating society about how guns should and could and must be used in a safe and secure manner. There's lots of things we can do, lots conversation.

But to think banning assault weapons is going to stop how many murders that just took place in Chicago over the weekend defies the facts.

BLITZER: One final question before I let you go, Senator -- Sarah Palin, she and FOX have terminated their exclusive arrangement. I'm not sure what she's going to be doing next. Do you have any clue if she wants to get back into politics, stay a pundit? What she wants to do next?

MCCAIN: I know from all my travels that Sarah still has a very sizable following in America. And I'm proud of the work she has -- continues to do, and I'm not sure exactly what her plans are. But I'm sure she will be a major factor in American political scene, and I'm still and always proud of her.

BLITZER: Senator, thanks so much for coming in. We've invited, by the way, Sarah Palin to be a guest here on the show now that she's no longer -- has an exclusive arrangement with FOX and hopefully she'll say yes and we'd love to have her on the show if she wants to do that. MCCAIN: I'm sure she will, like me, look eagerly at the opportunity of chatting with you.

BLITZER: I'm not so sure about that. But you're always very generous in your time. Let's see if Sarah Palin wants to be as generous.

Appreciate it very much, Senator. Thanks very much.

MCCAIN: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: We're following developments in that deadly nightclub fire that killed more than 200 people. We have new detail of arrests.


BLITZER: Brazilian authorities are detaining three people as they investigate a horrific nightclub fire.

Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What's the latest, Lisa?


Police say they are holding those three temporarily because their statements are needed to help clarify what happened. What we know so far is the band's pyrotechnics show ignited insulation, causing that fire. Two hundred thirty-one died, many because of smoke. Others were trampled at the exits. And we will have an update live from Santa Maria, Brazil, in our next hour.

President Obama phoned Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu today. The president congratulated the Israeli leader on his party's victory in last week's elections. A White House statement also says the president repeated his commitment to the deep and enduring bonds between the U.S. and Israel.

And we are getting new details about the condition of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon who suffered a devastating stroke seven years ago.

Here's CNN's Sara Sidner.


SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: One thing is clear, doctors and Sharon's family are excited about what a new test has revealed. Doctors and scientists from the U.S. and Israel used a high-powered MRI on Mr. Sharon. And the scan showed significant brain activity in response to external stimuli. Mr. Sharon has been in the hospital for seven years after suffering is a brain hemorrhage in 2006.

Now, for years, the public has been under the impression that the storied Israeli political powerhouse was in a coma or vegetative state. But I spoke with the doctor who said Sharon actually has had a low level or intermediate level of consciousness throughout the years, which means he was not on life support or comatose all this time but somewhere in between consciousness and comatose, and doctors just don't know where exactly on the spectrum.

Now, the head of the medical imaging unit told me when the new test was performed was on Mr. Sharon, everyone in the room went silent with astonishment because the brain imaging showed it is possible, not for certain, but possible, that he can hear and understand what's going on around him. For example, when his son spoke, his brain scan showed high activity in the proper location and was different than when he heard a stranger's voice.

Now, this all came about partly because in 2011, Mr. Sharon's sons who have been by his side, taking shifts visiting him at the hospital through these seven years, believed that their father could recognize and understand things, even though he couldn't respond normally. But they had no proof. The result of this powerful MRI scan is giving them a great deal of hope.

Now, this is very new, medical test procedure. But it could signal new and important information about people with diminished brain capacity.

Sara Sidner, CNN, Jerusalem.


BLITZER: You know, Lisa, it's pretty amazing story when you think about it. Seven years, and all of a sudden, they sense a little bit of movement. We're going to be speaking with Dr. Sanjay Gupta, our chief medical correspondent, who himself is a neurosurgeon, later here on THE SITUATION ROOM, about this.

SYLVESTER: It's a fascinating story, there's no question. And a very hopeful story as well. As Sara mentioned, there are other people who are in this situation, so perhaps people who are in commas, perhaps they're more aware than we realize. So I'm very excited and looking to what Dr. Sanjay Gupta has to say.

BLITZER: Yes, I'm hopeful, too. Let's hope for the best. Thanks very much for that, Lisa.

Defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel is getting ready for what could be a rather difficult round of confirmation hearings later this week. Our "Strategy Session" guests have very different points of view on the man Bob Woodward calls the president's soul mate on issues of war and peace.


BLITZER: Let's get right to our "Strategy Session." Joining us now our CNN contributor, the former Bush White House press secretary, Ari Fleischer. He is also a consultant and board member of the Republican Jewish Coalition, and also joining us, CNN political contributor, the Democratic strategist, Hilary Rosen. Let's talk about the confirmation hearings. Ari, I'll start with you. Thursday for Chuck Hagel to be the nation's next defense secretary. Bob Woodward has a piece in "The Washington Post" today about a conversation he says Hagel had with the president early in 2009 right after the Bush administration in which Hagel said this.

According to an account that Hagel later gave, he told Obama, we are at a time when there is a new world order. We don't control it. You must question everything. Any assumption ten years old is out of date. You need to question our role. You need to question the military. You need to question what we are using the military for.

It sounds to me like that makes a lot of sense, what Hagel was telling the president right after he took office, given some of the blunders that occurred during the previous eight years.

ARI FLEISCHER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Wolf, I don't disagree with any of that. I think that's actually the type of fresh thinking every president should do not only on foreign issues but on domestic as well. What used to work doesn't always work.

I do worry that the president's response to it is the creation of vacuums around the world and his belief that America's use of its influence leads to former damage around the world. That seems to be the president's policies globally and especially the Middle East.

But looking at the hearing itself, you know, you got to say Chuck Hagel goes into it, presumed he will pass, unless something comes up and he says something wrong, a lot of pressure on him to explain his long-standing record at that hearing.

BLITZER: What do you think, Hilary, does he have this basically wrapped up or is the burden of proof on him to answer these tough questions for some of the votes he took, some of statements he made while he was a United States senator?

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I think he's going to be confirmed. I think he ought to be. He's the president's choice. I think that on some of the issues that people have raised concerns about, he's working for the president's policies, not his own.

And I like the fact that he is a decorated war hero himself. Going into a Pentagon badly in need of more reform, more budget cutting, and who better to do that, than someone with the kind of credibility with the troops that Chuck Hagel has.

BLITZER: You know, Chuck Schumer, speaking of Chucks, another Chuck, Ari, Chuck Schumer, as you know, a very strong supporter of Israel, very tough on Iran and its nuclear program. He had a private meeting with Chuck Hagel.

He emerged from that meeting strongly endorsing Hagel saying he's going to vote to confirm him. You read that long statement that Chuck Schumer put out on what he was told by Hagel during the course of that private meeting. I assume that's reassuring. I assume that's reassuring to you. Is it reassuring enough though for you to encourage Republicans to vote to confirm him?

FLEISCHER: No, Wolf. I think Chuck Hagel has broken the land speed record for the most apologies on a way to a hopeful confirmation. I've never heard of a nominee who has apologized to so many different people for so many different positions he's took over his career in order for him to get confirmed.

I suspect this is more a confirmation conversion than anything heartfelt from Hagel. That's why he's saying this to gay groups, to Jewish groups, to Jewish senators explaining away everything.

If I were a senator, what I would do with Chuck Hagel is keep my questions very short, make no speeches and make Chuck Hagel talk. I think that could do the greatest damage to Chuck Hagel's confirmation.

Specifically, I would ask him why he sent letters in support of Israel are stupid and let him explain that. He's refused to sign many letters that support Israel. His explanation was these letters are stupid. What does that mean? Let Chuck Hagel explain it.

BLITZER: You have an answer to that, Hilary?

ROSEN: Well, I think what Ari is saying is totally out of context. He obviously has sent several letters himself in support of Israel. He sent letters to the secretary-general for instance about Iran and concerns about protecting Israel.

So I think that Hagel has a record he can talk about. I don't think he's going to talk himself into trouble the way Republicans like Ari are hoping. I think he's going to talk about the president's agenda and why he's going to be a good steward for the Defense Department.

It's, you know, I, myself, would rather be having a fight over Susan Rice's confirmation than Chuck Hagel's, but having said that, I think that Chuck Hagel is the president's choice. He's got a good record that he will stand on.

It's a record of not going along to get along, and that's the kind of leader that the president likes. That's what we need in the Defense Department I think.

BLITZER: I want to move on and talk about Hillary Clinton and the joint interview she had with the president last night. But just to wrap up that point that you said, are you disappointed, Hilary, that the president was willing to fight for Chuck Hagel as defense secretary, but not fight for Susan Rice to be secretary of state?

ROSEN: Sure.

BLITZER: OK. Just wanted to make sure I heard you right. Let's talk a little bit about Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and the president of the United States. Here's a clip from the "60 Minutes" interview.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: You guys in the press are incorrigible. I was literally inaugurated four days ago.


PRESIDENT OBAMA: And you're talking about elections four years from now.

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Yes. I am, as you know, I am still secretary of state, so I'm out of politics, and I'm forbidden even from hearing these questions. I think that, you know, look, obviously, the president and I care deeply about what's going to happen for our country in the future. And I don't think, you know, either he or I can make predictions about what's going to happen tomorrow or for the next year.


BLITZER: Hilary, who do you think he would prefer to succeed him, Biden or Hillary Clinton?

ROSEN: Sofie's choice, Wolf, two of his favorites. I think that the president is hoping he is not going to have to choose between the two, that they'll work it out among themselves because he has very deep affection for both Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton.

And, you know, my guess is that we're going to get to a point in a Democratic primary where it's not going to be, you know, the president won't have to choose.

BLITZER: Hilary Rosen, Ari Fleischer, guys, thanks very much for joining us.

Coming up, the Boy Scouts of America now rethinking its stand on gay scouts and leaders. Standby new information coming in.

Plus, a frightening snowmobile accident.


BLITZER: Bipartisan Senate group unveiled an immigration reform plan today that includes a pathway to citizenship. CNN's Lisa Sylvester showing us what's at stake at least for one family in the region. Right now, this could be hugely significant.

SYLVESTER: Wolf, you know this, immigration reform has been something that has been debated, defeated, debated again. But this year may be the year for action on Capitol Hill. The November election changed the dynamic. Republicans lost the Latino vote in the presidential race in a big way.

President Obama seems ready to make good on a campaign promise. So for one family, now they can only hope.


SYLVESTER (voice-over): A close-knit family always worried they could be torn apart. Marcela and her husband are undocumented immigrants. Her baby is a U.S. citizen. Her brother just received temporary legal status. They all want to stay in the U.S. the place they call home.

MARCELA CAMPOS: This is my country. I was teenager when I came here.

SYLVESTER: When Marcela and her brother, Ricardo Campos, came to the United States from El Salvador, she was 16 and he was 12. They went to school here, graduated from high school, but have always lived in the shadows.

Ricardo is a premed student in college. As a teenager, he was diagnosed with bone cancer. Several operations later, he was cancer free. Now he dreams of one day becoming a doctor.

RICARDO CAMPOS: Helping people is -- helping folks is what I always wanted especially after my cancer. Like, I think I owe people -- I owe the American people back for giving me my life back.

SYLVESTER: What stands in his way is his legal status. For now, he is free from the threat of deportation under the Obama Deferred Action program. But he wants to become a citizen. Last June, Ricardo joined several groups lobbying Capitol Hill for action on comprehensive immigration reform. Now with talk of a new bipartisan framework, he is optimistic.

RICHARD CAMPOS: What is necessary is a comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship. I mean, we are pretty much Americans. Even though we are undocumented, I call ourselves undocumented Americans.

SYLVESTER: But there are many in the country who may take issue with that, 43 percent of Americans polled, according to a CNN national exit poll, say the U.S. government should deport illegal immigrants and stop more from coming in.

(on camera): Deport all the people who were in this country illegally. What is your response to that?

RICHARD CAMPOS: I mean, it's clear that even government has stated, that's not even an option. These are people who are contributing to our economy. These are people who are lived here like probably for, like, 10, 15 years, 20 years. I don't know. These are people who are truly Americans.

SYLVESTER (voice-over): When you look at this family, you can see why the immigration issue is so hard.

MARCELA CAMPOS: I have a baby and I don't know what happens to me if they deport me to my country.

SYLVESTER: Marcela lives in fear and an impossible choice if she ever faced deportation. Leave her child here in the United States where he could have a better life or stay with her and have him go to a country that neither of them knows.


SYLVESTER: And on the front door of that family's home, two small American flags. Now Ricardo Campos plans to go back to Capitol Hill to continue lobbying and to continue serving as an activist on this issue -- Wolf.

BLITZER: There's a moment right now. This might happen -- they've tried several times over the past many years, but this might be the moment to pass this.

SYLVESTER: In particular because you're hearing a very different tone from conservatives, which we have not seen in the past. You know, again, the November elections, I mean, that was a big thing.

When you saw those numbers, of just the low turnout, in terms of the Latino vote for Republicans, they all went, practically 70 percent, went for President Obama. So that's part of the consciousness, part of the debate now.

BLITZER: When you saw Rubio and Chuck Schumer all together on this, it's a dramatic moment. Thanks very much.

A desperate and dangerous escape from a bloody civil war.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They told me that they left everything behind, left everything in their house behind. All they brought is the clothes on their back and the clothes in this bag, five children, his wife. Everything else, back in Syria where he says he can't return.


BLITZER: Syria's civil war sparked a refugee crisis as hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people have fled. The journey is as dangerous as it is desperate. CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom is in Jordan right now. He's got an exclusive report. He is joining us live. This is an awful situation -- Mohammed.

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. It's a mass exodus of Syrians fleeing for safety into Northern Jordan. At least 40,000 Syrians have crossed over just since January 1st.

Now, we went to Jordan's border with Syria. We were just a few feet away from Southern Syria, witnessing a harrowing night time escape of Syrians crossing over into Jordan.


JAMJOOM (voice-over): Darkness their only cover. Families are fleeing for their lives. In an escape as treacherous as this one, you walk if you're old enough, no matter how young you may be. A mother's arms are reserved for the babies. Her hands for whatever possessions she can carry.

(on camera): This group of Syrians has just made the extremely dangerous journey into Jordan. They're being led to safety just over this hill by one of the Jordanian border guards. He's showing them where they need to go.

(voice-over): Lights aren't allowed. They're still too close. It's far too risky. Some of the adults are relieved, but most the children are simply stunned.

(on camera): They told me that they left everything behind, left everything in their house behind. All they brought is the clothes on their back and the clothes in this bag, has five children, his wife. Everything else, back in Syria where he says he can't return.

(voice-over): This 80-year-old woman was carried across. She hated leaving home, but she had no choice. The first day, they killed my nephew, she says. The second day, they killed my niece, third day, my cousin, fourth day, another cousin. Temporary shelter at hand, papers are being processed as soldiers distribute food.

A respite from hunger. Yet some are too tired to eat. Many recount their harrowing experiences. When we first got on the road, says this woman, it was extremely scary. I mean, we saw death all around.

With over 350,000 Syrians having crossed over since the beginning of the conflict, neighboring Jordan is bursting at the seams, yet their borders will remain open and their border guard ready to help, despite the difficulties.

We welcome them on the border, says the commander of Jordan's border guard, and then we take them to a safer area. Then we start treating the wounded and the injured. Extremely cold temperatures only exacerbate the misery. On this perilous pilgrimage that's nowhere near over.

Loaded on to a bus that will take them to their final destination, a camp, where around 70,000 of their fellow citizens already reside. Syrian families so grateful to have been ushered to safety, still absolutely shocked at the realization they are now refugees.


JAMJOOM: Wolf, it's hard to put into words just how desperate the situation is for these refugees. What I can say is many of them told us that it would have been easier for them to die than to have left Syria and made this journey -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mohammed, can the Jordanians really continue to accommodate the flood of refugees?

JAMJOOM: Well, Wolf, they say they're committed to keeping the border open. That they feel it's their duty to try to help the Syrians fleeing such horrific violence. But at the same time, I've spoken to many officials this past week including the foreign minister who said, look, there's already an economic crisis going on in Jordan. There is really taxing the resources of this country. They've gotten hundreds of millions of dollars so far from international organizations and bodies and countries, but they're going to need a lot more to meet the desperate needs of these fleeing refugees -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mohammed Jamjoom joining us from Aman, Jordan. Mohammed, thanks very much.

Up next, which country is now facing a royal shake-up.


BLITZER: A royal shake-up is looming in the Netherlands. Queen Beatrix has announced she will abdicate on April 30th, 33 years to the day since she ascended to the Dutch throne. The country will have its first king in more than a century. CNN royal correspondent Max Foster has more.

MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, in a televised address, Beatrix said her country need a new generation as the monarchy there marks its 200th anniversary. She's been on the throne since 1980.

Prince Willem Alexander, the eldest of her three sons, will become king now on the 30th of April. It's a surprise, but it's not shocking in the Netherlands because her mother and grandmother both be abdicated. So there's a tradition of stepping down, rather than reigning until death.


QUEEN BEATRIX, NETHERLANDS (through translator): I'm not stepping down, because the role would become too difficult, but because I feel the responsibility of this land should lie in the hands of a new generation.


FOSTER: Like other European monarchs, the Dutch queen has a ceremonial role and stays out of politics. The prime minister described her as an icon of the Netherlands. She's always been there, he said.

And this is a queen who has suffered during her reign, her second son still in a coma following a skiing accident last year. Beatrix is one of three long-serving European queens.

Like her British and Danish counterparts, she enjoys very high approval ratings. It's something their sons will endeavour to live up to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Max Foster, thank you.