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THE SITUATION ROOM

Senate Debates Gun Control; Deadly Weather; Mark Kelly Interview; Biden: Why The GOP's Wrong About Hagel; Hagel Confirmation Fight Starts Tomorrow; Hillary Clinton In 2016?; The Top Power Player On Guns; Dire Warning: Egypt May Collapse; Search For Missing American In Turkey

Aired January 30, 2013 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: deadly weather, a 1,000- mile-long line of dangerous storms and tornadoes stretching from the Gulf Coast to New England.

Also, he listened to his wife's impassioned plea for gun control and then spent hours answering senators' questions. Mark Kelly joins us this hour live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Plus, the mother of an American woman who was making her very first visit overseas and vanished in Turkey.

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

We begin with the deadly storms here in the eastern part of the United States. There is wind damage all across the Southeast, some of it from tornadoes. One death is reported in Tennessee, another in Georgia. Right now, the worst weather is crossing Georgia.

CNN's Miguel Marquez is about 70 miles northwest of Atlanta in Adairsville, where there is significant damage.

It looks pretty awful over there, Miguel. Tell us what is going on.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Huge damage.

At least one person, we understand, was killed when a building collapsed, but fortunately not where I'm standing, or at least not that we know of. This entire area, everywhere you look here is just -- this looks like it was someone's lunch -- part of somebody's lunch that was being made is now tossed here.

Across the road here, this is the main road here in Adairsville, Georgia. You can see there are two buildings that have been completely destroyed. You can see the cars that have just been flipped over and there are trucks, semitrucks throughout this area that are flipped over as well.

If you can over here to the right you can see this was a plant making heavy machinery this morning, Daiki plant, 50 to 100 people in this thing. It is completely demolished. Everyone, everyone made it out alive and fine. We talked to a couple of employees there who said they hid in the bathroom and they prayed and prayed but they finally were able to get out and amazingly enough, nobody was killed there.

Throughout this area, though, whether it's in Marietta or in Lawrenceville or throughout Atlanta, there were tornado warnings and the sirens going off all the way up here. It's a very, very frightening day across this part of Georgia, Wolf.

BLITZER: What are they saying to you, the folks where you are in Adairsville right now, Miguel? What are they bracing for?

MARQUEZ: Well, right now, a lot of the electricity is out. The temperature has dropped 10 to 15 degrees here. So it's very cold. You can see across the street the cleanup has already begun. A lot of the cars in the area, they are starting to tow them off onto the side streets.

A lot of electrical lines are down. Most of the electricity has been cut off so that crews can get in here and fix those. But at this point it's mainly a game of cleanup. There is still concern about the weather, but it's mainly rain at this point and some wind -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Miguel Marquez on the scene for us, thank you.

As we said, the line of storm stretches for more than 1,000 miles and behind it much colder air is moving in. You heard Miguel saying it's getting colder there right now.

(WEATHER UPDATE)

BLITZER: But let's move to Capitol Hill right now and today's long and dramatic clash of opinions over gun control in the United States.

Take a look at this remarkable picture. It's the National Rifle Association's Wayne LaPierre shaking hands with Gabrielle Giffords's husband, Mark Kelly, at the end of today's hearing on what, if anything, can be done to cut down on the epidemic of gun violence in the United States.

Mark Kelly is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. He will be joining us live in a few minutes.

First, though, let's go to our chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash. She has highlights of today's dramatic hearing.

Go ahead, Dana. Share with our viewers what happened.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the highlight, undoubtedly, was the woman who wasn't even on the witness list, Gabrielle Giffords.

If you take a look at the screen, you can see a handwritten note written by her speech therapist, I am told, the 16 sentences she uttered before this committee and had everybody in the room, no matter what their position on guns, mesmerized.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BASH (voice-over): A dramatic entrance from a woman who was a congressional colleague until a gunman shot a bullet through her head while she was doing her job. Even more dramatic, Gabby Giffords' labored yet passionate plea for action.

GABRIELLE GIFFORDS (D), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSWOMAN: Speaking is difficult, but I need to say something important. Violence is a big problem. Too many children are dying, too many children. We must do something. Be bold. Be courageous. Americans are counting on you.

BASH: In Congress, Giffords was an advocate for gun rights and still owns a gun. So does her husband, Captain Mark Kelly, a star witness.

MARK KELLY, HUSBAND OF GABRIELLE GIFFORDS: I'm as strong a supporter of the Second Amendment as anyone on this panel. My wife would not be sitting in this seat, she would not have been sitting here today if we had stronger background checks.

BASH: At the other end of the table, the other star witness with a very different perspective.

WAYNE LAPIERRE, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: Law-abiding gun owners will not accept blame for the acts of violent or deranged criminals.

BASH: Wayne LaPierre of the NRA said strengthening background checks won't stop criminals.

LAPIERRE: None of it makes any sense in the real world.

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL), MAJORITY WHIP: Mr. LaPierre, that's the point. The criminals won't go to purchase the guns because there will be a background check. We will stop them from the original purchase. You missed that point completely. And I think it's basic.

LAPIERRE: Senator, I think you missed...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Order.

BASH: The line to get into this first hearing on guns since Newtown was huge, snaking down this long hallway and down the stairs, citizens on both sides of the issue.

SUSAN COLBERT, TEACHER: I truly care about this issue and want to support commonsense gun laws.

STEPHEN NESBITT, NRA MEMBER: Guns are not the primary cause of the issue. It's the people that operate or use the guns.

BASH: Inside, Republican Lindsey Graham wanted to bring in real guns, but red tape and laws prevented it, so he used pictures.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Does everybody on the panel agree that a convicted felon should not have either one of those guns?

BASH: A staunch defender of gun rights, he argued against limiting high-capacity gun magazines...

GRAHAM: Put yourself in the shoes of the mother.

BASH: ... by telling the story of a woman trying to fend off an intruder.

GRAHAM: Her husband said, shoot, shoot. She emptied the gun, six- shot revolver. The guy was hit five of the six times. He was able still to get up and drive away.

BASH: Kelly pushed for limiting magazines by reminding people that Tucson shooter Jared Loughner shot 33 rounds from one magazine and was unable to reload.

KELLY: Meaning he did not have access to a high-capacity magazine and the same thing happened, Christina Taylor Green would be alive today. I certainly am willing to give up my right to own a high-capacity magazine to bring that young woman back.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: So the question is, now what? One of the leading Democrats on gun control, Chuck Schumer, revealed today he is in talks with senators with high NRA ratings.

And, in fact, Wolf, I'm told that he is in talks with somebody with perhaps the best rating from the NRA, Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma. Sources close to both senators say that they are such serious talks that Schumer has delayed releasing his new legislation on background checks in the hopes of making changes to make Tom Coburn a co-sponsor on this legislation.

BLITZER: On background checks, but not necessarily on magazines or on assault-type weapons, right?

BASH: Correct, just on background checks. Still, sources high up in the Democratic Party here in the Senate say that they simply do not think that those high-capacity magazines or, more importantly, an assault-weapons ban, that that has any chance. They are really focusing on strengthening those background checks because they think it has the most realistic chance of any of passing.

BLITZER: Yes. All right, Dana, thanks very much.

And just a short time ago, after today's hearing ended, the former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, the retired astronaut Mark Kelly, they visited President Obama over at the White House. You see a picture that has just been released. Now, Mark Kelly is in THE SITUATION ROOM. Come on in, Mark. We're going to talk about what is going on, what happened today, where you stand on all of this right after this commercial break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Today's Senate hearing on guns started with a very, very dramatic, emotional statement the former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who survived a gunshot to her head by a would-be assassin just two years ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GIFFORDS: Thank you for inviting me here today.

This is an important conversation for our children, for our communities, for Democrats and Republicans.

Speaking is difficult but I need to say something important. Violence is a big problem. Too many children are dying. Too many children.

We must do something it will be hard. But the time is now. You must act. Be bold, be courageous. Americans are counting on you. Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: That was very, very impressive.

As you saw, Giffords' husband, the retired astronaut, Mark Kelly, was right at her side this morning, testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee for hours afterwards.

Mark Kelly is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. He just came over from the White House.

First of all, let's talk about your wife. How did she prepare for that? Because that's really the first time we've heard her speak like that over these past two years.

MARK KELLY, GABBY GIFFORDS' HUSBAND: Yes. She suffers -- Gabby suffers a condition called aphasia and that kind of thing is difficult for her. So, she practiced. She hasn't been practicing for weeks. We only made the decision to come up here a few days ago.

But she put in some time in getting ready and actually crafting the speech herself. So, she was involved in the writing on it and, you know, she worked on it.

BLITZER: We saw the handwritten notes that what her speech therapist had prepared, had wrote those out there. They are right there on the screen. So, she was basically reading from the handwritten notes.

KELLY: Yes. Some of it and you could see, sometimes she's looking up and she even ad libbed a little bit at a time.

But I think the most important thing is that hopefully the senators and the people hearing this and hearing her, you know, take something away from that message. Because this is really serious and we need to do something.

BLITZER: She spoke from the heart.

KELLY: Yes.

BLITZER: And what does she want -- what do you want, in a nutshell, the United States Congress right now to do?

KELLY: Well, certainly, we want the United States Congress to work together to try to solve this problem. We've seen, especially over the last couple of years, just so much division that it's really hard to get things done.

But certainly everybody agrees that we have a problem. We, first of all, need to have a universal background check. We need to close the gun show loophole. We need to do something about mental illness in this country.

And then, for us, you know, specifically what happened in Tucson, high-capacity magazines. I don't think anybody has the need for a 33- round magazine like Jared Loughner had or a 100-round magazine that was used in Colorado.

And then, the assault weapons, I mean, we really need to seriously look at the lethality at these weapons and, you know, why they are so prevalent in our society.

BLITZER: Because the prevailing wisdom here in Washington is maybe you get something on background checks. But when it comes to the magazines and the assault-type weapons, that's a major uphill struggle.

KELLY: I agree. Yes, it does get harder. I mean, you can see or I can see just watching this hearing, you know, many of the Republican senators seemed somewhat inclined to do something on the background checks. But when you start talking about banning hardware, you know, people like Wayne LaPierre who testified alongside me, they are adamant about their position on that issue.

But I really think they need to think about this. I mean, these guns were made to kill a lot of people all at once, designed, basically, for use by the military. I've served in the military for 25 years. You know, I understand how lethal they are and I honestly don't think you need that type of weapon to protect yourself.

BLITZER: But there are still so many gun owners out there who oppose any kinds of restrictions, if you will, on these kinds of weapons.

So, look in the camera. Talk to them and tell them why this is the time for action.

KELLY: Well, I mean, I could just say, you know, we've had many, many mass murders in this country. I mean, we've had a lot of them, especially -- you know, especially recently. What we saw in Newtown and Colorado and Tucson, I mean, this is unacceptable.

I mean, I think people understand that when somebody does a mass shooting and they use semiautomatic weapon and assault rifle, twice as many people are hurt and injured. It's not -- you know, it's something that needs to be addressed. But more than that, as a universal background check and closing the gun show loophole, we really need to make sure that criminals, the mentally ill, terrorists, do not have access to firearms. You know, in fact, 72 percent of NRA members believe to be universal background check before buying a gun, 72 percent, or 74 percent. You would think that the head of the NRA, who testified today, would agree with that position. But he doesn't.

BLITZER: Because here's what a lot of people don't understand. Maybe because you've been -- you've got a new group, Americans Responsible for Solutions. You and Gabby have launched this. This is going to be your cause, right?

KELLY: Yes.

BLITZER: So, why should someone on a no-fly list or a criminal, if you will, be able to go to a gun show or from a private sale, be able to go buy a gun without any background checks?

KELLY: Well, they shouldn't be.

BLITZER: Has anyone given you a good explanation for that?

KELLY: Well, I mean, I think with the --

BLITZER: Did you hear Wayne LaPierre give you a good explanation for that?

KELLY: He gave me an explanation. I don't think it was a good explanation. I mean, his explanation was, basically, more bureaucracy. It creates more bureaucracy. But I know from what happened in Tucson --

BLITZER: But it would save lives.

KELLY: It would save lives -- absolutely, it would save lives.

Jared Loughner, who was the shooter in Tucson, he actually had somewhat of a criminal background. He was an admitted drug user. He also was intent on mass murder and assassination. He went through a background check.

Now, if there was the correct information in the background check system, he would -- he would have been denied access to the gun, like 1.7 million Americans have been since 1999, who should not have been able to buy a gun. Now, obviously in his case, he probably would have went to a gun show.

That's why we need to close the gun show loophole. You know, the argument that criminals will often get the guns some -- in some other manner, that's probably true in some cases. But I think in the case of what happened in Tucson, certainly in that case, if he would have been denied access to the gun, I don't think that would have happened that day.

BLITZER: Even much more difficult to get it --

KELLY: Yes.

BLITZER: -- that could potentially save some lives.

KELLY: It also gives you time. If you make it more difficult -- may be in that period of time, you would have gotten some treatment.

BLITZER: Americans for Responsible Solutions, is that going to be, if you have your way, the counter to the NRA?

KELLY: Well -- I mean, our goal is not to be the counter to the NRA. I mean, Gabby and I are both supporters of the Second Amendment. We're both gun owners.

I mean, part of what I want to do is protect the rights of Americans to own a gun. I think you should be allowed to own a gun to protect yourself, and to protect your family, to protect your property. But that only extends so far.

I mean, I think part of being a responsible gun owner is to have a responsible background check. I recently bought a hunting rifle at Walmart a few months ago and I went through a background check. It didn't take that long to do that.

BLITZER: And you did it.

One final thing, at the end, we saw you shaking hands with Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association. Did you exchange any words? Did you say anything to each other?

KELLY: Yes, I think I said, you know, "Nice to meet you and enjoyed testifying with you today."

BLITZER: We'll see how this situation moves on.

Mark Kelly, please pass along our best wishes to Gabby. Wish her only, only the best. We've all been impressed with her remarkable progress over these past two years.

KELLY: Thank you very much, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Mark Kelly.

KELLY: Thanks for having me on the show.

BLITZER: A hero on his own right. Thank you.

Investors are off to a very good start in 2013, but there's one number they all have their eyes on.

And Chuck Hagel's bid for secretary of defense has caused lots of critics but the vice president is now standing dramatically in his corner. You're going to hear what he had to say to our own Gloria Borger.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're back with the astronaut Mark Kelly. We had completed the interview but during the commercial break, he told me something fascinating that I wanted all of our viewers to hear about as well.

Mark, you're a retired astronaut but your brother Scott is still an astronaut.

KELLY: Yes.

BLITZER: You were over at the White House, you came here to THE SITUATION ROOM from a meeting with the president, Gabby Giffords, your wife. And you spoke about your brother a little bit, Scott.

Tell us about what that conversation was like.

KELLY: Well, we talked to -- with the president, we talked a little bit about what happened today at the hearing, but I also mentioned to him about my brother getting ready to go into space for a year.

BLITZER: A year?

KELLY: A year. A little while ago, we decided we needed to send an American into space instead of for six months, which is a typical increment on the International Space Station. We're going to double that and do a year-long flight. And that person is going to be my brother, my brother Scott. He's starting to train for that mission here in the next couple of weeks and he's going to launch in 2015.

BLITZER: So he'll be on the International Space Station?

KELLY: For a whole year.

BLITZER: And he's going to be there with some Russians and some others?

KELLY: Yes. I mean, people will come and go. There'd be a, I think, one tourist that will come and go as well.

BLITZER: We're showing a picture of your brother.

KELLY: Europeans. You know, there's always Russian crewmembers on board, always Americans. My brother will be the commander of the space station.

BLITZER: So, he's going to be there for a year. So, how do you prepare for that? I mean, you can't come home every few weeks just for a weekend or anything. You're there for a whole year on this International Space Station?

KELLY: Yes, it is. This is one step into sending people to Mars for the first time, because when we ultimately get to the point of doing that, that mission might be two years long. So, you know, this is a stepping stone to pushing out further in the solar system.

BLITZER: And mentally, that's going to be a difficult, difficult -- six months is long enough. The longest you were in space was --

KELLY: Seventeen days.

BLITZER: How difficult was that?

KELLY: Not difficult at all. I mean, I really love it. These space shuttle missions are incredibly busy. Different mindset for a space station crewmember who is there for a long period of time. I mean, it's more of a marathon than a sprint. My brother is going to be on a year-long marathon.

BLITZER: So, he's up there for a year. Wish him the best and best of luck up there.

When does he leave?

KELLY: 2015 in the spring.

BLITZER: Oh, it's still a couple of years --

KELLY: On the Russian Soyuz.

BLITZER: He's going to be preparing for the next two years --

KELLY: Yes, a long time. Yes.

BLITZER: -- for him to spend a year in space?

KELLY: In space, absolutely.

BLITZER: And did the president share any other thoughts with you that you want to share with our viewers?

KELLY: Some -- no. No. I mean, it was a great conversation we had about what happened today. He really enjoyed seeing Gabby again and it was -- it was nice to see the president.

BLITZER: Yes, I'm sure he's --

KELLY: We talked about the issue.

BLITZER: He's rooting not only for Gabby. He's rooting for the issue as well.

KELLY: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Do you think he's committed. Is he going to do his best to get what you want?

KELLY: I think he's 100 percent committed. Absolutely. I think all of us, I mean, I think all of us are -- after what happened in Newtown, 20 first graders murdered in their classrooms -- I mean, how can we not do something?

BLITZER: I was there for four days right after Newtown happened. It was a powerful moment and all of us personally experienced the aftermath. I think we'll never be the same as a result of that.

KELLY: Yes, that's true.

BLITZER: Mark Kelly, thanks very much.

KELLY: You're welcome.

BLITZER: And as I said, before, give our best to Gabby.

KELLY: I will. Thanks.

BLITZER: CNN Gloria Borger spoke exclusively with Vice President Joe Biden. Up next, why the vice president thinks Republicans are wrong to oppose Chuck Hagel for defense secretary.

And on this, the eve of Super Bowl XLVII, CNN is live in New Orleans with our take on the biggest sporting event in the country, what it means to the city, how it's become such a cultural phenomenon, a whole lot more.

We also will welcome Rachel Nichols as a new host of CNN, a special CNN bleacher report this Saturday, 4:00 p.m. Eastern.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We are expecting a major fight on Capitol Hill tomorrow when confirmation hearings get under way for defense secretary-nominee, Chuck Hagel. Several Republicans say Hagel has no credibility as some of the most dangerous foreign policy issues out there.

But the vice president, Joe Biden, thinks very, very differently. The vice president spoke exclusively with our chief political analyst Gloria Borger who is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Obviously, they have been friends, Biden and Hagel for a long time.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Going back to their days in the Senate. I asked the vice president about the Hagel nomination and he was sort of key in paving the way on Capitol Hill for this. I asked him about the charge among Republicans that this foreign policy team is too dovish and that Chuck Hagel would not be right man for the job. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: The real President Obama has exercised force responsibly as boldly and as bravely as any president in American history. This is the guy who has not backed away. And he's also ended wars that almost any military man out there will tell you we should not be engaged in again.

The idea of getting engaged in a ground war in a country that's in transition is not a prescription any military man would suggest and to suggest that two war heroes, a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, Silver Star, taking over both the state department and defense is -- whatever the phrase was, is ridiculous.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So what are you hearing? What are the chances that he won't be confirmed? I think he will in the end. BORGER: The White House is pretty optimistic that he's going to get confirmed. He's going to face a pounding tomorrow in the Armed Services Committee. I mean, you have Senator McCain there, used to be a friend of his, if you'll recall, but after 2007 when Chuck Hagel all but endorsed then candidate Barack Obama, the friendship kind of dissolved.

There's only one Republican so far, Wolf, that's come out for Chuck Hagel and that's Thad Cochran of Mississippi who says that Hagel is one of his best friends. So while it looks like the Democrats are going to be able to keep their own party in line, they are going to need five Republicans if there's a prospect of a filibuster, they don't quite have it yet. They still think it's going to get through.

BLITZER: Yes, we'll see what happens in that hearing before the Armed Services Committee in the Senate tomorrow.

BORGER: That's right. Tomorrow morning.

BLITZER: Gloria, thanks very much. Let's get to our "Strategy Session" and dig a little bit deeper with Democratic strategist, Paul Begala, along with former Bush White House press secretary, Ari Fleischer, a consultant, board member for the Republican Jewish coalition. They are both CNN contributors.

I think both of you agree with me that, in the end, Ari, I'll start with you, he will be confirmed.

ARI FLEISCHER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It seems that way. The senators lean that way when you count the numbers. But Chuck Hagel owes the American people an explanation. If he cannot give a good enough explanation for some of the controversial positions he's taken in the past, positions which almost no other senator shared, he's going to have a very hard day. So I think you have to let him have his chance tomorrow and we'll see.

BLITZER: What do you about all of this? Do you have any doubt about it, Paul?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I have very little doubt and I actually agree with Ari, maybe shock to hear that. He might have to revisit his position, but Senator Hagel has been going around office to office on the Hill as all these nominees do.

And he's been asked some very, very tough questions. He did cast votes. Ari is exactly right. Opposing sanctions on Iran, which most senators in both parties disagree with, sanctioning Iran has helped to really damage their economy, has not stopped the nuclear program.

But it is a corner stone of the way the United States is trying to confront Iran. Ari is right, he will be asked tough questions about it, but when strongly pro-Israel Democratic senators like Chuck Schumer and Frank Lautenberg and so many others have heard the answers that Hagel has given them in private.

They have come out for Chuck Hagel. So he will have to cross that bar in public tomorrow the way he has with so many senators in private.

BLITZER: You can add Dianne Feinstein among those Democrats as well. She is going to be joining us, by the way, in our next hour. Let me move on and talk about Hillary Clinton.

BEGALA: -- of the Intelligence Committee, she's a real power in this because --

BLITZER: We'll see what the Republicans decide to do and if they decide to filibuster, for example, that would require 60 votes to break a filibuster so this is not done yet although in the end I suspect he will be confirmed.

Let's talk about Hillary Clinton. Paul, let me start with you. I'm going to play a little clip. She had an interview yesterday with CNN and she was asked about this new super pac. She's not affiliated with it already calling on her to run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's a pac just ready and registered for Hillary Clinton.

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Is there really?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you going to tell these people to stand down? Everyone is waiting for that --

CLINTON: You know, right now. I am trying to finish my term as secretary of state and the president and I had a good laugh the other night because I am out of politics right now and I don't know everything I'll be doing. I'll be working on behalf of women and girls and I'll be hopefully writing and speaking. Those are the things that I'm planning to do right now.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: All right, Paul, this super pac, "Ready for Hillary," that's what it's called, are they jumping the gun?

BEGALA: Sure. Of course, they are and frankly so am I by even talking about this with you, Wolf. Of course, I love Hillary and worked with her husband for so many years. You certainly did not hear her do her impression of General Sherman in that interview on CNN.

But she also I think it's quite obvious, no one knows the lay of the land. She's not going to commit to running when I think in her heart she is not decided to. She's got the time. She's the support. There's no need to rush into 2016 for Hillary or frankly for me or the rest of your pundits and analysts.

BLITZER: What do you think? How formidable would she be if she were the nominee, Ari?

FLEISCHER: She would be formidable. I think that she brings a lot of power to the primary, but remember, everybody thought she was formidable and would win in 2008 and she lost to a junior senator from Illinois.

You know, I think the issue for Hillary is at this stage in her life, what she's done in her career. Does she really want to go through Iowa? Does she want to go through South Carolina, New Hampshire, live the primary life?

It's a brutal, hard, long, long hours' life. I think if she got the primary handed to her on a silver platter, which will never happen, she could run or she would run. But going through the primary process, I just think that's going to really be a bar that -- at the end of the day, why would she want to cross that bar?

BLITZER: Because she wants to be the first woman president of the United States. I suspect that she will. She's still got a lot of energy. If her health is OK, I think she will run because she sees history potentially being on her side and I've known her for 20 years, as someone who gives up easily. So that's just my guess, but who knows? We'll wait and see guys.

FLEISCHER: Write it down.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

The NRA is described as Washington's most popular lobby. Is that hype? Is that reality? We're taking a look at whether the gun lobby really wheels the kind of influence people think it does?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Many folks think the National Rifle Association has lots of money and political influence. CNN crime and justice correspondent, Joe Johns takes a closer look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The NRA took center stage on Capitol Hill and didn't give much ground.

WAYNE LAPIERRE, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, NRA: Law-abiding gun owners will not accept blame for the acts of violent or derange criminals nor do we believe that government should dictate what we can lawfully own and use to protect our families.

JOHNS: It's the influence of Wayne Lapierre and the National Rifle Association that makes gun control advocates like Senator Dianne Feinstein say any legislation on guns will be an uphill battle.

SENATOR DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: The NRA is venal. They come after you. They put together large amounts of money to defeat you.

JOHNS: But freshman Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut doesn't buy it and he's on a mission to convince his colleagues. SENATOR CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: We need to wake members up to the fact that if they want to do the right thing here and joins us on common sense gun reform there's not really a political price to pay at the hands of the NRA like there may have been a decade or two ago.

JOHNS: In a new report, Murphy calls the NRA a paper tiger. During the 2012 campaign, the NRA flooded the airwaves with ads targeting Senate candidates with a low NRA rating, like Tim Kaine in Virginia and Sharod Brown in Ohio.

In fact, figures from the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics show the NRA spent over $4 million on Senate campaigns last year, losing seven out of eight races where they spent over $100,000.

The only winner, Republican Jeff Flake of Arizona who sits on the Judiciary Committee, the group who will craft any legislation on guns, but money isn't the only way to measure influence.

VIVECA NOVAK, CENTER FOR RESPONSIVE POLITICS: I think that the NRA as a single issue group is extremely potent political force out there. And even though their success rate was 50 percent with their outside spending in the last election, they have these members, millions of members that they can mobilize who are passionately motivated on this issue.

JOHNS: Four and a half million members, according to the NRA, who they can call on to lobby Congress or vote in elections.

DAVID KEENE, PRESIDENT, NRA: The NRA doesn't have the power, but those Americans who believe in the second amendment do.

JOHNS: NRA President David Keene points to the Wisconsin recall as a prime example. That election kept pro gun rights Republican Governor Scott Walker in office.

KEENE: In that race, we made a six-point difference. Gun owners in this country have as much influence as they always have and perhaps more because guns are more acceptable than they were ten years ago.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: In case you were wondering, besides Jeff Flake, seven other Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee have gotten money from the NRA for their campaigns since 1988 and one Democrat as well, the committee's chairman, Patrick Leahy -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting stuff. We're following the money together with you. I know you're working on this story and we'll get more in the days to come.

JOHNS: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for that, Joe.

An American woman on the trip of her life until she misses the flight home, now her family is terrified. They are wondering what happened. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Egypt's top general is warning that it may collapse because of the political fighting and the rioting. CNN's Reza Sayah is joining us now from Port Said, the scene of days of violence right now. This is the largest Arab country, arguably the most important Arab country. Reza, what is going on?

REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there is calm where we are in Port Said right now, nowhere near the violence that we saw over the weekend. There were some demonstrations within the past hour, but this time those demonstrations did not break the government- imposed curfew put in place a couple of days ago.

That's because there was a change here within the past few hours. The governor here decided to reduce the curfew and instead of the curfew going into effect at 9:00 p.m., it's now going into effect at 1:00 a.m. that's why we're seeing some people out and about today.

And this change really reflects what's been seemingly a confused and sometime schizophrenic strategy by the president, who's tried to calm things down. You'll recall a couple of days ago he came out and imposed emergency rule and curfew for three provinces along the Suez Canal.

Last night, the Muslim Brotherhood, through their web site, announced that the president has changed his mind somewhat. He's asked the governors in these three provinces to make the decision whether they want to keep the curfew in the emergency rule or cancel it. And, as we mentioned it, one governor here, the Port Said governor, has decided to reduce it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And what do we expect in the days to come? What do we expect from President Morsy?

SAYAH: Well, look, when there's turmoil in a country like this, things are unpredictable. I don't think anyone knows where this country is going, but all eyes are on President Morsy to see how he resolves this conflict. Probably the most glaring problem is these two sides are not talking.

You have the opposition factions, the secularists, the moderates who have made their own list of demands and then the president and his supporters, they insist that they are moving this country forward effectively to just going through growing pains.

They are asking for patience and trust, but the opposition factions, the protesters in the streets simply don't trust this president and we're waiting to see where things go in the coming days -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll stay with you. Reza, thanks very much. Reza Sayah reporting for us from Port Said in Egypt. The best place, by the way, to follow the volatile situation in Egypt is on cnn.com. The stories are constantly updated. Go there for much more of what is going on in Egypt, the stakes in North Africa and the Middle East dramatic right now. An American vanishes in Turkey, but her family prays they will soon see her. We're going to hear directly from her mother.

And a day of brutal weather across the United States, we'll have more on the damage caused by tornadoes and other storms. All of that and a lot more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The brother of a missing 33-year-old American woman says he doesn't want to come home from Turkey without her, but the search for Sarai Sierra has been frustrating. No one is giving up yet. CNN's Mary Snow is following the hunt for her right now. What's the latest?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Sarai Sierra is a native New Yorker and her distraught parents are at a loss to explain what may have happened. From what they know, she was heading to Istanbul on January 20th and hasn't been heard from since.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): More than a week after 33-year-old Sarai Sierra disappeared in Turkey, her parents cling to hope. As they wait in New York, Sierra's husband and brother are in Istanbul working with authorities to find the missing mother of two.

BETZAIDA JIMENEZ, MOTHER OF MISSING WOMAN: I see myself just running, just running, I want to grab her and hold her.

SNOW: The image for most in their minds right now is this surveillance video. It was released by Turkish police showing Sierra in an Istanbul shopping mall on January 20th. A day earlier her parents say they spoke to her on Skype.

DENNIS JIMENEZ, FATHER OF MISSING WOMAN: She was giving me the flight information when she was coming in on the 22nd, what the flight was and what time she was coming in. She told me, don't forget.

SNOW: They say she had shortened her trip by a few days. Dennis Jimenez went to Newark Airport to pick up his daughter but she never showed.

BETZAIDA JIMENEZ: Because she kept in contact with us all the time and then not to hear from her, it's not like her.

SNOW: Sierra traveled by herself to Turkey on January 7th, they say, because a friend who was supposed to go with her canceled. They say she had rented a private room she found on the internet. Her passport and bags were later found inside, they say, after she was reported missing.

Perhaps the strongest clues about what may have happened to her may be found online and social media. She documented her trip on Instagram. Sunset, Istanbul style, is one of the many entries of her visit not only to Turkey, but to Amsterdam and Germany for a few days as well. It was her first trip abroad, one of her parents say was prompted by a photography hobby. As her parents wait for news, they are taking care of Sierra's two boys, working to shield them from what has happened.

BETZAIDA JIMENEZ: Having the kids get up, have to get up and be strong, you know, but just so broken inside.

SNOW: And on Sierra's Instagram account, more than 3,000 followers, with messages like these, you are in my thoughts and prayers. I hope you come home safe.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: And Sierra's husband as we mentioned is now in Istanbul and told CNN that his wife had gained many admirers of her photography on that Instagram account. He said that she had gotten pretty well acquainted with friends in Istanbul and that she chose to take this trip with the help of people she had met -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We hope they find her and find her quickly. Thanks, Mary, for that report.