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THE SITUATION ROOM

New Immigration Reform Push; President Obama Talks Gun Control

Aired January 28, 2013 - 18:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This image alone is newsworthy.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: This bipartisan blueprint is a major breakthrough.

BASH: Prominent liberals and conservatives saying it's time to deal with this.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Eleven million human beings who are here undocumented.

BASH: The bipartisan framework would create a path to citizenship for immigrants, but only after the borders are deemed secure. To secure the borders, there would be an increase in drones, border agents and surveillance equipment. Undocumented workers could only stay after passing a background check, paying fines and back taxes.

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: If you got up and had fruit for breakfast, it was probably picked by the bent back of an immigrant worker.

BASH: The plan would also create an employment verification and improve the process for admitted needed workers.

MENENDEZ: I am the most optimistic I have been in quite some time.

BASH: Still, senators here acknowledge they have stood in the very same spot before, only to have hope collapse under the weight of partisanship.

(on camera): Senator, you all to some extent mentioned the fact that you have been here before.

In fact, in 2007, Senator Kennedy stood with you -- and, Senator McCain, you were standing with him -- he said 2007 is the year.

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: We must fix our broken system. We must strike while the iron is hot.

BASH: 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 are in agreement with our Hispanic citizens but this is a preeminent issue with those citizens.

BASH: Just look at these results from 2012. Barack Obama won 71 percent of the Latino vote and Mitt Romney only 21 percent. Even Republicans conceded Romney alienated Hispanic voters with lines like this.

MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And if people don't get work here, they're going to self-deport to a place where they can get work.

BASH: McCain himself only did slightly better in his presidential run, with 31 percent of the Latino vote in 2008. Participating in bipartisan immigration talks almost cost McCain the GOP nomination until he pulled back on his call for citizenship for undocumented workers.

MCCAIN: I know what the message is. The message is we must secure our borders.

BASH: Now?

MCCAIN: In Espanol, vamanos.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Sources in both parties say the reason why senators wanted to unveil their bipartisan proposal today was to preempt the president who was giving a big speech on immigration tomorrow. The reason why they wanted to do that is we are told they simply were worried about being associated with something that the president was going to do and alienating some important Republicans whose support they might need. They wanted to do something that was independent and separate from President Obama -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Do we know what's in the president's proposal, Dana?

BASH: We just got information as that piece was running from our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, saying she learned that the president will not, will not unveil a bill tomorrow. He will simply urge the process to keep moving. He will say he is encouraged by what has happened today in the Senate.

It was very interesting because I was told that last week members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus went to the president and said please, please, we know you actually have a bill. Please don't unveil it. According to Jessica, he is acquiescing. He is not doing that. He is letting the process, bipartisan process work its way and he doesn't clearly get the politics of interfering. He is going to use the bully pulpit and not much more tomorrow.

BLITZER: It goes to show he listens to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

BASH: There you go.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Dana, for that.

Kate Bolduan is here and she's digging a little bit deeper into some of the changes that affect a whole lot of people.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. From the politics to the people that it really affects. These are mothers, these are fathers, many of them living in fear that any day they could be thrown out of this country and possibly separated from their children.

Our Lisa Sylvester talked to one of the families.

Lisa, what did this family say about the latest push on immigration reform?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi.

Well, Kate, this really gets to the heart of this whole issue, why it is so difficult to solve. People will say it's important to have the rule of law and not to reward rule breakers. Very, very valid argument on the macro level. But it's when you talk and get down to the micro level and you talk to these individual families.

What do you do with the families who are considered mixed status families, where some of them are legal and some of them not?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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 in the coming weeks. He's going to continue lobbying Congress and working as an activist on this issue -- Kate and Wolf.

BOLDUAN: Lisa, thank you. You can see much more of our coverage, I want to remind our viewers, on this latest immigration reform fight. Go to CNN.com for much more of that. We will obviously continue to talk about that throughout the hour.

While lawmakers deal with new realities after the 2012 election, many political junkies already are looking forward to the 2016 presidential race.

BLITZER: Like me, for example.

BOLDUAN: Like me, too. BLITZER: I'm always looking forward to that.

The big question right now, was there some deeper meaning to the president's decision to hold an unprecedented joint interview with Hillary Clinton? And Steve Kroft of "60 Minutes" asked them if there were any political tea leaves to read.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You guys in the press are incorrigible. I was literally inaugurated four days ago. And you are talking about elections four years from now.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I am -- as you know, Steve, I am still secretary of state. I'm out of politics and I'm forbidden from even hearing these questions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We are joined by our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Forbidden? She said she is forbidden?

BOLDUAN: I don't think so.

BORGER: By whom?

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: She was joking only.

What is really going on here between the president and the outgoing secretary of state?

BORGER: There is a lot of Kremlinology going on among people like us.

And I think the question we're all asking is, was this a tacit endorsement of Hillary Clinton? The answer is no. Here's what happened. The president wanted to thank Hillary Clinton. Nobody will suggest this. Mr. President, how about you sit down with Hillary Clinton and give a joint interview on "60 Minutes"? No.

Nobody suggested it. The president decided he wanted to do it. Hillary Clinton was sick when he nominated John Kerry. She could not stand there and he didn't get a chance to give her the kudos that he clearly felt she deserved. He decided he wanted to do it this way.

The question, of course, we are all asking is, was this a huge slap at Joe Biden? I talked to some Biden people and obviously reading their tea leaves, would they have rather this interview had not taken place? Probably. But, in the end, Joe Biden has a very visible role in this administration. He has got four years to prove himself. He is in charge of gun control. He's clearly going to be the closer on economic issues. I don't think there is any sense that Joe Biden has been downgraded as a result of this interview. But it's clear the president wanted to thank Hillary Clinton. And he did in a very, very big way.

BOLDUAN: You just sat down with the vice president. What did he himself have to say about his future?

BORGER: Right. I actually asked him whether he was ready to run against Hillary Clinton in 2016. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I haven't made that judgment. And Hillary has not made that judgment.

But I can tell you what. Everything that should be done over the next two years that I should be part of would have to be done whether I run or I don't run. If this administration is successful, whoever is running as a Democrat is better positioned to make. If we are not successful, whoever runs as a nominee is going to be less likely to win.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BORGER: That's kind of a non-answer answer, actually.

But I have to believe that if Hillary Clinton were to decide to run, I don't think Joe Biden would. She would be a very formidable opponent for him. I don't think you would want two people from this administration running against each other. I think they know each other well enough that they would honestly talk about it beforehand.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Those will be interesting conversations.

BORGER: They are not strangers. They are really not strangers.

BLITZER: I think they are both open to it and they are both thinking about it, but let's see what happens in the next year or two.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: It's going to be quite a dance between their two camps.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: And I have to say Hillary Clinton has been incredibly loyal.

There have been lots of disagreements between the staffs of -- these were the Hatfields and the McCoys, don't forget. There has been a lot of disagreements, and one thing you really haven't seen are leaks coming out of the State Department disparaging the White House. I think for that alone, the president really wanted to say a very big thank you, because you don't see that a lot.

BLITZER: She has been loyal.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: She has been loyal. Exactly.

BLITZER: We will see what happens.

When you say four years, it goes quickly, those four years.

BORGER: It does.

BLITZER: First of all, Iowa and New Hampshire three years from now. Second of all, you have got two years they will be making...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: It's not that far.

BORGER: And anyone who decides to run has to do it...

BLITZER: Quickly.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: They're already thinking about it.

BORGER: Right. In fact, President Obama gone. Right?

BLITZER: Thank you.

BORGER: Sure.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

BLITZER: President Obama is trying to keep the conversation going about gun control. But a lot of people are talking about his surprising remark about his own shooting experience. If you think this looks scary, wait until you see what happened after the snowmobiler fell.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're just getting word that the United States and Yemen have intercepted a ship carrying some illegal weapons.

Barbara Starr is standing by at the Pentagon.

What is going on here, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the first word of all of this came a short while ago from the Yemeni government. They're the ones that put the word out, not the Pentagon.

But administration officials have confirmed that on Wednesday, the Yemeni Coast Guard and the U.S. Navy conducted an operation just off the Yemeni coast in Yemeni waters, captured and intercepted a small dhow fishing vessel and what they found was shocking.

Let me read some of what was found on board. They found a large cache of weapons, including surface-to-air missiles that can shoot down civilian and military aircraft, C-4 military-grade explosives, .122-millimeter shells, rocket-propelled grenades, bomb-making equipment, IED triggers, the whole lot of it.

A boarding party from both the Yemeni and the American side approached this small dhow, boarded it and took control of the material. They are now investigating whether Iran might, might have been responsible for this. They are looking for the documentation for the ship trying to figure out where it came from.

BLITZER: Glad they intercepted the ship. Barbara, thanks very much.

BOLDUAN: Today, President Obama got some input on easing gun violence from law enforcement officials who deal with life and death situations every day.

BLITZER: The talks came on the heels of some surprising statements by the president about his own personal experience shooting guns.

Let's bring in our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin.

What do we know here, Jessica?

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

President Obama began week two of his second term by keeping his vow to keep up the pressure on his top priority, fighting the effort to fight gun violence.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN (voice-over): At the White House, President Obama continued his push to change the nation's gun safety laws.

OBAMA: To prevent something like Newtown or Oak Creek from happening again.

YELLIN: The latest additions to the conversation? Police chiefs and sheriffs from major cities and those impacted by recent gun violence.

OBAMA: If law enforcement officials who are dealing with this stuff every single day can come to some basic consensus in terms of steps that we need to take, Congress is going to be paying attention to them and we will be able to make progress.

YELLIN: Around the table, officials from Sandy Hook, Connecticut, Aurora, Colorado, and Oak Creek, Wisconsin. This police chief vowed action.

CHARLES RAMSEY, PHILADELPHIA POLICE CHIEF: We do understand that something has to be done about gun violence. Something has to be done now.

YELLIN: The president said his top priorities include universal background checks, a ban on high-capacity clips, improving school safety and mental health assistance. He also pressed for passage of the assault weapons ban, considered a heavy lift even by its sponsor.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: This never has been easy. This is the hardest of the hard.

YELLIN: Senator Dianne Feinstein also took a shot at the NRA, whose vice president will appear Wednesday before her committee.

FEINSTEIN: The NRA is venal. They come after you. They put together large amounts of money to defeat you.

YELLIN: Over the weekend, the president said he has done some shooting of his own. He told the "New Republic" magazine: "Up at Camp David,we do skeet shooting all the time, not the girls, but oftentimes guests of mine go up there and I have a profound respect for the traditions of hunting that trace back in this country for generations."

The NRA pounced quickly. In a statement, their chief lobbyist responded: "The Second Amendment is not about shooting skeet and it's not a tradition. It's a fundamental right upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN: Now at the White House briefing, I asked whether there are photographs of the president skeet shooting and the White House said the president does not go to Camp David to get photographs taken. He goes there to relax.

On the larger issue of gun safety, I am told by White House officials that the president plans to continue to do events promoting this issue. It is one of his top priorities. As you know, tomorrow, he will be out pushing now on immigration reform. And, again, White House officials insist to me that they believe he can press on both immigration reform and gun control at the same time -- Wolf, Kate.

BLITZER: I'm sure he will. Thanks very much for that, Jessica Yellin.

By the way, Anderson Cooper is tackling the gun issue with a special town hall, "Guns Under Fire." Can there be a solution to America's gun problem? You can find out Thursday night 8:00 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN. Anderson will be at George Washington University for the town hall.

BOLDUAN: Still up next: Britain's Queen Elizabeth, she is not going anywhere. But another long-serving monarch is calling it quits. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: Battle lines are forming right now over that new bipartisan blueprint for immigration reform unveiled in the Senate today. Stand by for a heated debate on the pros and cons and whether it could get passed.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Obama lays out his second-term vision for comprehensive immigration reform tomorrow.

BOLDUAN: But the senators who unveiled a new reform blueprint today say they are not stealing his thunder. In fact, they say the president cheered them on.

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. All that is contingent on improvements in securing America's borders. To accomplish that, the Senate proposal calls for increased use of drones, more personnel, and improved infrastructure. It also would create an employment verification system that would hold employers accountable for hiring undocumented workers.

BLITZER: Our guests have very different views about comprehensive immigration reform and that blueprint that was unveiled on the Senate today. Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez is joining us from her home state of California. Here in D.C. Daniel Stein is president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

Thanks to both of you for coming in.

Congresswoman, let me start off with you. A pathway to citizenship for, let's say, 11 million or 12 million illegal immigrants here in the United States. Isn't that a form of amnesty, as the critics like to say?

REP. LORETTA SANCHEZ (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, first of all, we're going to have regulations, I believe, about what the qualifications that they need to meet.

They are going to need to speak English, for example. They are going to have to pay a fine for having probably gone around the system in being here. Of course if they have anything criminal in their background, they are not going to be eligible. So I think there's going to be a high bar for these people to meet, and it's also going to be a time of residency that they're going to be required before they even have a chance at citizenship here.

But I do believe that they're already here. We've already realized in the Congress and even the Republican side has realized that you can't ask them to self deport. You can't deport them all. You can't incarcerate them all. And that it's important for our country to move forward for homeland security reasons, from a family values standpoint and from the economy in our interests.

So all in all, I hope that this bipartisanship that has been shown in the Senate will come up with details that will be acceptable to a majority of the people in the House also.

BLITZER: Dan Stein, it's not just liberal Democrats who favor this and a lot of conservatives. Marco Rubio of Florida, John McCain, Lindsay Graham, they were all out there saying the time has come to deal with this in a comprehensive way.

DAN STEIN, FEDERATION FOR AMERICAN IMMIGRATION REFORM: Look, we've heard all this before. I mean, I've got video of Chuck Schumer in 1986 saying this will be the last amnesty. We won't do it again. Take a look at the debates in 2006. This is the only time. Ted Kennedy said that. I think you had some footage earlier today.

Look, Marco Rubio said he wasn't going to support a path to citizenship. The AFL said they're not going to support a big guest worker program. We've got a slack labor market, and we certainly have job displacement. We have flat wages. We see an awful lot of Americans who were struggling. How is this bill, by giving a big amnesty and setting off a tidal wave of more foreign labor, going to help the average American get his kid to college, get a job, get better wages and improved working conditions. How is it going to help our fiscal situation in the states?

The way the bill -- see, what we've got right now is a skeletal draft. And these guys go into it holding arm and arm like they're going in the tunnel of love. By the time they get through the immigration debate, it's like they've been in the lions' den.

Because ultimately, when you get down to the details, what you see is all the enforcement provisions are things that we've essentially had on the books anyway. If the president would enforce the law, most of that stuff would be gotten done anyhow. So ultimately, it's a big amnesty bill with a prospect of illusory enforcement with which, with this administration's track record, is really illusory.

BOLDUAN: And Dan, this is a bipartisan push, at least, you know, at this point it is. And Senator John McCain, a strong Republican, he said today at least part of the reason behind this push has to do with elections and the fact that elections matter. Listen -- listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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 are in agreement with our Hispanic citizens. But this is a preeminent issue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: So if this is the reality, you know, the political reality and simply the reality, what can you do? I mean, if you're against the Senate bill, what's the other option?

STEIN: This is a watershed for the Republican Party, because ultimately, what they have is a problem with low-income voters, 50,000 and under, single women. And because immigration is dramatically increasing the population of people working with less skill, less education, they're having trouble reaching that -- that population with an effective message.

Now the business groups want to continue to increase that population dramatically over time. Even though that's a population voting for the politician who wants bigger spending.

BOLDUAN: What's the alternative, then, if you don't support what they're saying?

STEIN: Well, Obama himself, with McCain -- remember, McCain was Mr. Amnesty in 2008. He didn't do that well with Latino voters. Both Obama and McCain said, "We've got to support Border Patrol, get credibility to the system the way Barbara Jordan (ph) did." And now ultimately we're at the same place. Where's the credible enforcement that would be a condition for moving forward?

BLITZER: Let's let the congresswoman respond.

SANCHEZ: Let's talk about -- let's talk about enforcement. Because I've sat on the board of security committee of homeland security since its inception. I've actually been the chairwoman of that.

We now see Candice Miller, Republican, who represents Michigan. We have increased our Border Patrol from about 5,000 people to now 22,000 people in that agency. So we've seen an increase in agents and the majority have gone on the southern border.

I've got to tell you, terrorists who have come across have actually come from the northern border. We have problems with our coastlines.

So, you know, everybody always points to the Latino community, but the reality is that we want enforcement to ensure that we know who's coming in and out of our country. We -- one of the stipulations that the Senate has put in this is that we cover the overstaying of visas. I think that's an in important to do.

Certainly, the U.S. visa program, which was a visit program that both the Bush and the Obama administration put in place. They only did "let's check the visas when people come in." They didn't do the "let's check them when they go out." We need to get that, because we need understand that, for example, the 9/11 hijackers were actually on overstayed visas.

We have done a lot of enforcement. This president has deported more people than President Bush did. We've done a lot of enforcement and we'll do some more, but we need to give status to the people who are part of our community already. BLITZER: It looks, Dan Stein, like you may be on the losing side of this debate, given the political atmosphere right now after this election.

STEIN: Well, keep in mind that if Obama really wants to get something done, he'd go with a piecemeal approach the way Rubio says.

(CROSSTALK)

STEIN: If it's omnibus, it's ominous, because there's always stuff you can find.

BLITZER: Jeb Bush wants comprehensive immigration reform. The former Florida -- you read his article in the "Wall Street Journal."

STEIN: Well, it's a Bush family fallacy that Latino voters will vote Republican if you just give them amnesty. It doesn't work.

BLITZER: He got 44 percent of the vote in 2004.

STEIN: Our job -- our job at FAIR is to make sure that reform means that we fix the problems that brought us to where we are today so we don't have to do this every 10 years. What we have right now is the beginning of a dialogue but we're a long way from the finish line.

BOLDUAN: There's one thing that you would need to see in a comprehensive bill.

STEIN: Mandatory e-verify, mandatory e-verify. Repeal the ban on warrantless open-field searches. We're not going down the path of a big agricultural guest worker program unless we repeal the ban on warrantless open-field searches.

Also, the Jordan Commission and the Hentzberg (ph) Commission over 30 years of saying you've got to eliminate the merit (ph) adults, sons and daughters references and the brothers and sisters, because you have chain migration. And no rational reform can work if you don't get it done.

BLITZER: Dan Stein is the president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

BOLDUAN: Got a lot to go with this debate.

BLITZER: Loretta Sanchez is the United States congresswoman from California, a Democrat. This debate, obviously, only just beginning, again.

After seven years of being semi-conscious, Israel's former prime minister, Ariel Sharon, is now showing what is being described as, quote, "significant brain activity." I'll ask Dr. Sanjay Gupta if that could possibly lead to a recovery.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: This just in to CNN: more than $50 billion in help for the victims of Superstorm Sandy finally is on its way. Just now, the U.S. Senate passed the emergency relief bill by a vote of 62-36. The new spending measures already made it through the House, and it now is going to go directly to the president. We all know he will be signing that into law.

BLITZER: Yes. The folks need that money, and they need it quickly.

Meanwhile, a medical shocker has doctors scrambling right now to try to figure out what it means. An 84-year-old man who's been semi- conscious now for seven years is showing what's being described as significant brain activity.

It's eve more fascinating because the patient is Ariel Sharon, the former Israeli prime minister who suffered a devastating stroke back in 2006.

Our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, is joining us.

Sanjay, we're told when doctors saw these latest results, they were silent in shock. You're a neurosurgeon. How shocked were you that Sharon still has what's being described as significant brain activity?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, it's interesting because I think the terms really matter here. And what we've been hearing for some time was that he was in a persistent vegetative state. And that's clearly not the sort of description that they're saying for him now.

What is interesting is obviously, you look and you think, he's had this stroke seven years ago. We thought he was in a persistent vegetative state, and now we see evidence of brain activity. But when we talked to the doctors, Wolf, we learned that, in fact, you know, over the past few years, he has been having sleep-wake cycles. He will go to sleep. He will wake up. He will eat. His eyes will open and close.

So again, the terms matter here. That's not a persistent vegetative state, what they're describing and what I'm describing to you. That's more of a minimally conscious state. People use these terms interchangeably, persistent vegetative, minimally conscious, coma. And here, you know, minimally conscious is much -- a better description. And that fits with what they saw in that MRI.

BLITZER: So seven years in this kind of a state. Let's say it's not a persistent vegetative state; it's not even a coma. Is there a chance an 84-year-old like this -- have you seen cases where someone would recover and starts talking, starts responding, if you will, to questions?

GUPTA: There have been a couple of cases. You know, and it's pretty rare as you might guess. And again, the terms matter there, as well, because it's sometimes not clear exactly what state they were in prior to them being able to wake up and become more lucid, as you're asking. I think, you know, look, we only have this one point in time, and they did these experiments with him or tests where they would show homes, for example. And there would be no lighting up on the MRI scan. But when he saw a picture of his own home, there was lighting up.

They took his son's voice. They garbled it to kind of like noise. No activity when he listened to that. But then when they left the voice normal, you did have activity in the brain.

So clearly, there was some recognition. There was some processing; there was something going on there.

But the thing is, Wolf, it's been seven years. As you point out, that's a long period of time. Someone who's been in that state for seven years, now you're asking yourself are they likely to improve at this point?

And I have to say, as tough as it is to hear, I think, for a lot of people, that's unlikely. If he'd had this functional MRI right after, you know, in the first couple of months, you'd think, well, this could be an optimistic sign.

It is still interesting, certainly, to know this brain activity is there, but I don't know how -- whether it will ever translate into something where he's more interactive, functional and answering questions.

BLITZER: Sanjay Gupta, joining us with a good explanation. I appreciate it very much, Sanjay.

GUPTA: You got it, Wolf. Any time.

BOLDUAN: Still ahead, there aren't any photos to prove it, but President Obama says he likes to go skeet shooting. Who knew? We'll talk to the man who got that surprising bit of information out of the president.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: President Obama's revelation that he liked to go skeet shooting at Camp David has raised questions and definitely raised some eyebrows.

BLITZER: It certainly has. But it was a surprising bit of information that came out during the president's interview with the "New Republic" magazine.

And joining us now, the publisher and the editor in chief of the "New Republic" magazine, Chris Hughes. Chris, thanks very much for coming in.

CHRIS HUGHES, EDITOR IN CHIEF, "NEW REPUBLIC": Thanks for having me.

Congratulations also on the new, "New Republic." BOLDUAN: The new, "New Republic."

BLITZER: It's very glossy.

A new look. Very glossy. I'll get to more of that.

I want to talk about your interview with the president of the United States. Something very interesting. I learned that he actually likes to go shooting when he's at Camp David. "Up at Camp David, we do skeet shooting all the time," he's -- he told you. "Not the girls, but oftentimes guests of mine go up there, and I have a profound respect for the traditions of hunting that trace back in this country for generations."

On a serious note, does he believe he can get gun-control measures through this current Congress?

HUGHES: Well, I think so. And I mean, the answer that he gave around skeet shooting was surprising to me and to a few people, I think, because we knew that he fired weapons on Secret Service firing ranges and things like that in the past.

But this idea of him going up to Camp David and skeet shooting regularly and enjoying it is a new side to the president that I at least hadn't seen and I don't think a lot of others had either.

He talked in the interview about how he wants to go about seeing gun control passed. And what he really focuses on is getting folks who don't own guns to actually understand the world view of those who do and vice versa. Which I think is, you know, certainly an ambitious and honorable goal, but it still doesn't get to the question of how. How is he going to be able to get congressional Republicans to come on board with a lot of these proposals?

BOLDUAN: And that's looking forward into this second term. You're a longtime and big supporter of President Obama. And in this interview, you talk quite a bit kind of about lessons learned from the first term. So what do you think he should do differently in this second term?

HUGHES: Well, you know, he said very clearly in the interview that they didn't do a great job communicating their values and their program in the first term, and he wanted to do a better job in the second. Which -- which I think is true.

But you know, I'm sort of moved over to the journalistic side now as publisher and editor in chief of the New Republic. And so from my perspective, what I want to see us do is really keep the folks in the White House on their toes.

There's lots of questions about -- about what they're going to do in this second term, particularly given how aggressive they're being and the expectations that they're setting. And they're talking about immigration reform, gun control, climate change, and then of course there are these ongoing fiscal battles which just keep playing out month after month in the Congress. And so you know, in some ways I feel like they're entering their second term and are really, you know, are really setting the bar quite high. Which -- which is ambitious. So we'll see if they can meet it.

BLITZER: Another thing that jumped out at me from your interview with the president, football. I know he's a huge sports fan. This is Super Bowl week.

He says, "I'm a big football fan, but I have to tell you, if I had a son, I'd have to think long and hard before I let him play football, and I think that those of us who love the support are going to have to wrestle with the fact that it will probably change gradually to try to reduce some of the violence."

That was pretty surprising for him to take a pretty firm position on that.

HUGHES: Yes. This was a very fascinating moment in the interview. Because for most of the interview, the president was speaking, you know, in his characteristic pace: slow, thoughtful, very careful.

But when we asked this question about the culture of violence and the love of football, he very quickly and directly said that he didn't know, if he had a son, whether or not he would allow him to play.

He's clearly a big fan of football. He talks about it -- talks about it all the time. And he also seems to see a difference between professional football on one hand and collegiate on the other, with the idea being that professional players are well compensated. They have a union. They're grown men, as he says in the interview, and can make decisions about their own health themselves, whereas in college, it's a little bit more complicated.

But it's clearly something that he thinks about personally and -- and is not shy to talk about, speak out on.

BLITZER: Chris Hughes, the publisher and editor in chief of the "New Republic." He's making a major commitment to this world of magazines, actual print copies of magazines.

BOLDUAN: A dying art.

BLITZER: Unlike the publishers of "Newsweek" or "U.S. News & World Report." Chris Hughes has a commitment to what we like to see.

BOLDUAN: We'll be watching. Good luck, Chris.

BLITZER: Good luck to you.

HUGHES: Thank you, guys.

BLITZER: Wait until you hear the story behind a funeral procession that stopped at a Burger King's drive-through window. Who else but our own Jeanne Moos will have the story for you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: In our "Video of the Day," extreme sports are dangerous, but extreme sports get very dangerous for spectators. Take a look at what happened last night at the Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado, when an Australian snowmobiler tried to do a back flip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Attempting the jack. Oh! Oh, had to jump away from the sled.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Uh-oh. Throttle is stuck.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: As scary as that looked, and it sure does, we're told there was only one minor injury after this. And the snowmobiler apparently walked away unharmed.

Oh, my goodness. I don't need to see that again. That is scary. Wow.

BLITZER: Thank God everybody was OK.

Finally, a World War II veteran goes out in style by way of the drive-through window at his favorite place to get a burger. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It wasn't exactly a whopper of a funeral. It was a Whopper Jr. This is the story of a World War II vet laid to rest, but not before the hearse and the entire funeral procession went to a Burger King drive-through on the way to the cemetery.

LINDA PHIEL, DAUGHTER OF DECEASED (via phone): It was a joke, and then it became a reality.

MOOS: The deceased, David Kime of West York, Pennsylvania, loved fast food, especially Whopper Jr.s.

(on camera) One of Kime's daughters told the "York Daily Record" that her dad's version of eating healthy was the lettuce on the Whopper Jr. After he died of a heart attack at the age 88, a funeral director asked the family if there were any way they'd like to personalize the service.

PHIEL: And we kind of said, "Oh, well, what we ought to do is go through, have one final burger."

MOOS (voice-over): A funeral director arranged for Kime's favorite Burger King to prepare about 40 Whopper Jr.s, paid for by the family. MARGARET HESS, BURGER KING MANAGER: I think it's great that we had something that's that devoted that that's their last and final thing that they're going to do.

MOOS: One by one, the cars in the funeral procession came through. However many people were in the car, that's how many burgers they got. Everyone in the hearse got a Whopper Jr., including the deceased.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now, this is different. One way to get (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

MOOS: Everyone in the hearse got a Whopper Jr., including the deceased.

PHIEL: He would be thrilled. There is no doubt.

MOOS: After all, just 15 minutes before he died, he was on the phone from the hospital, joking with his daughter Linda, asking her to bring him a burger, and she did. Brought it to him here at Prospect Hill Cemetery.

The family had always tried to get him to eat healthier. But no more nagging, as Linda laid the bag on the casket to be buried with him.

(on camera): What was that like?

(voice-over): She cried.

PHIEL: I remember thinking, "Dad, this is the first time I can do this is and say OK, you can finally have your burger."

MOOS: A burger to go.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Loved those Whoppers -- Jr. Little Whopper.

BOLDUAN: That's very sweet. I will tell you, watching that, I'm really hungry now. I know that's bad for me.

BLITZER: Are you going to go for a Whopper. Are you going to go stop off and get on?

BOLDUAN: No, I cannot allow myself to have a Whopper.

BLITZER: No Whoppers.

BOLDUAN: As good as they may sound.

BLITZER: That's it for us. Thanks very much for watching. Remember, you can always follow what's going on here in "THE SITUATION ROOM." You know how they do that? BOLDUAN: How do they do that, Wolf? Do tell us.

BLITZER: You can follow us on Twitter @WolfBlitzer. You can follow Kate. You can follow me. You can see what's going on a little bit behind the scene. That's it for us.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.