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THE SITUATION ROOM

Interview with Phil Bronstein; Preview of the President's Speech; Interview With Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; Fight Brewing over Treasury Secretary; Shark Attacks; Trapped in Your Own House

Aired February 11, 2013 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, the former Navy SEAL who killed Osama bin Laden is breaking his silence.

Plus, the massive manhunt for an ex-cop -- the mayor of Los Angeles joins me live this hour to talk about the latest on the search.

And just what's behind the pope's resignation?

We're taking a closer look at his health.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

They're being called the three shots that changed history. For the first time, the former Navy SEAL who actually killed Osama bin Laden is now speaking out. His account of the days, the hours, the minutes leading up to that one minute is gripping, as is the story of his life right now. And it's all in the new issue of "Esquire" magazine.

And the author of this amazing article is joining us now.

Phil Bronstein is joining us from New York.

Phil, thanks very much for coming in.

Thanks for writing a terrific piece.

PHIL BRONSTEIN, BOARD CHAIR, CENTER FOR INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING: Thank you for having me, Wolf.

I appreciate it.

BLITZER: Let me read to you from the article. Here's a quote from the shooter. And you don't identify him by name. You just call him the shooter. "I remember as I watched him breathe out the last part of air, I thought, is this the best thing I've ever done or the worst thing I've ever done? This is real and that's him."

Go into detail a little bit.

What was it like for this shooter to be the man who killed bin Laden?

BRONSTEIN: Well, I think, Wolf, he points out in the piece more than -- on more than one occasion, it could have been any one of his colleagues. There were a couple dozen SEAL Team 6 members there on the assault team that night, the Red team. And he even told a couple of people who were on the assault team that he thought it would be them.

But he just happened to be the number two guy behind the point man who went up the -- to the third floor of the building where Osama bin Laden had his quarters. And the point man took these two women who were out screaming in the hallway, members of the household, put them aside very heroically, because they might have been having -- wearing vests and -- suicide vests and exploded themselves. And the shooter kind of rolled right into bin Laden's bedroom and found himself face-to-face.

I think right there, he talks about how he registers -- he, first of all, he was very unused to this idea of shooting up, so he wasn't prepared for somebody quite as tall as -- bin Laden was much taller than he expected. So he talks about having to aim his gun up.

But he also talks about bin Laden's short beard and short haircut. And so all of that registered in a moment.

But remember, all the -- the whole thing happened in seconds. And he shot him once in the forehead and another time in the forehead as he was going down. And then a third time in the forehead when he was at the foot of his bed, obviously, probably already dead.

And then afterwards, he was a little shocked. And he said, I just killed Osama bin Laden. And it's kind of what do I do next?

And one of his colleagues came up and said let's go downstairs and start loading up. We need to load up on all the computers and hard drives and everything else that was on the second floor.

And so he said, "OK, I'm back, I'm back, let's go do that." And that's what he did.

BLITZER: How did he come across to you in talking about all these very sensitive details -- the raid, the killing of bin Laden, his demeanor, for example?

What's he like?

BRONSTEIN: Well, he's hilariously funny. He's very wry. He can be very gruff. He can be a little off-putting if you don't know him. You know, he's a big guy, as a lot of these guys are. Lots of tattoos, as a lot of them have. And essentially, I mean it -- things changed over time, because remember, I met him a year and a quarter ago. And he was still on SEAL Team 6 and it wasn't that far from the killing of bin Laden itself -- and then came to know him over a pretty long period of time, with pretty regular contact, both phone contact and a lot of in person conversations.

So I got to know him, which was the key here.

BLITZER: You know, the book, "No Easy Day," Matt Bissonnette, his account differs from the account described by the shooter to you. You're very confident that the account the shooter gave you is the definitive account.

BRONSTEIN: I am, Wolf. And, I mean I -- Matt Bissonnette's book, obviously, he was made a great -- he was a great warrior in the SEALS and he gets nothing but respect from everyone, including the shooter. His book was riveting reading. I read it. I would recommend it to people.

But, yes, there is a discrepancy about who was the number two man. Matt Bissonnette does not say he was the one who shot bin Laden in the head. He said when he came in the room, bin Laden was already dying on the floor with his head blown open.

But, yes, there's a discrepancy about the number two. I certainly can't speak for Matt Bissonnette. But over time, again, a lot of conversations with other SEALS -- conversations, dinner parties that happened right after the event and right after the mission, where members of the mission were talking. I talked to a lot of people who were at those dinner parties.

And I put some of these things in the story, one of them being that there's a guy called "the mentor," who's an older former SEAL, former CIA, former Blackwater, who mentors the shooter. And he has friends in very high places, you can imagine. And someone very high in government called him two hours after the raid and said it was your guy, meaning the shooter.

BLITZER: Another passage from your article that jumped out at me, for obvious reasons. I'll read it to you. "May first, 2012, the first anniversary of the bin Laden mission. The shooter is getting ready to go play with his kids at a water park. He's watching CNN. They were saying, 'So now we're taking viewer e-mails. Do you remember where you were when you found out Osama bin Laden was dead?' And I was thinking, of course I remember. I was in his bedroom looking down at his body." It's just a very telling situation. A year later, he's trying to go through a normal life, but his life is anything but normal.

Let's pick up the story from there, because he has got some major problems right now.

And just briefly walk us through some of them.

BRONSTEIN: OK. Well, you know, I work at the Center for Investigative Reporting. And our reporter, Aaron Glantz, has done some ground-breaking work on the problems that all vets have with the Veterans Administration. I think they're commonly known now. It's a nine month average wait for you to get your disability claims adjudicated. So there's that. That's true of all vets.

In this particular case and in other cases, this shooter served 16 years. If you had 16 years, the vast majority of them going on deployment after deployment, killed 30 plus people, sometimes face-to- face, went on hundreds of missions. And he gets out four years early, a 20 year retirement. He gets no pension -- zero pension.

He's worried about the safety of his family, should his name come out, as Matt Bissonnette's name did come out and went -- and Matt went up on a jihadi Web site. There's no protections for his family.

The SEAL command offered him the possibility of witness protection, like a Mafia snitch. And they don't have that even set up yet.

So he talks very poignantly about teaching his wife how to put the kids in the bathtub in their house, because there's a retaining wall which is safety there, and how he taught his wife to sit on the bed next door, to prop her elbow and her shoulder against the wall and shoot a long gun through the door should anything happen.

So he's still concerned about his safety, as he should be.

BLITZER: Is he making a living?

Is he able to put food on the table?

He's not getting a pension, as you point out, from the U.S. Navy.

How's he doing on a day to day basis?

BRONSTEIN: Well, I make a purposely vague reference to the fact that he's gotten some work in recent months. I would call it a sort of kind of consulting. But the problem is, is it's not consistent. He doesn't know how long it's going to last. And he still has the same bills that he had when he was in the Navy.

BLITZER: The Navy put out a statement in response to your article. Among other things, it says this in the statement" "We have no information to corroborate these new assertions. We take seriously the safety and security of our people, as well as our responsibility to assist sailors making a transition to civilian life."

What does he think of the response of the Navy over these past few years since he went out there and killed bin Laden?

And what do you think about the way how -- with way the Navy has dealt with this?

BRONSTEIN: He's very disappointed. His wife is very disappointed. And one of his friends who's still on SEAL Team 6 told me he was about to go on deployment. And he said, you know, the Navy does well with life insurance. It's one thing they do well. He said, if I go over there and I get killed, I know my kids will go to school, will go to college. My wife will be OK, because of the life insurance. But if I don't get killed and I come back -- I don't think I can say the expression that he said in the story. But he won't have anything, is his view.

And these guys -- some -- many of these guys think they don't -- the only skills they have are hunting and killing, because that's what they do. But, in fact, they have extraordinary executive skills. They have -- you know, they know how to act in a crisis. They know how to remain calm.

BLITZER: Maybe some employer who's read your article or seen this interview might want to get in touch with this individual and offer him a job and see what happens down the road.

The article is entitled, "The Man Who Killed Osama bin Laden is Screwed." That's the name of the article.

Phil Bronstein is the author.

Phil, thanks very much for doing this.

Thanks for coming in.

BLITZER: Wolf, it's good to see you.

Thank you.

BLITZER: We just want to note that CNN has not independently verified that the shooter in this "Esquire" article is, indeed, the man who killed Osama bin Laden. Many details of the mission, obviously, remain highly, highly classified.

Our own Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, is taking a closer look.

He's investigating. And his special report will come up in our next hour. Chris Lawrence at the Pentagon.

President Obama's State of the Union Address just a little more than 24 hours away.

Will it help repair the growing divide in Washington or will it make things even worse?

Plus, three days after a monster blizzard paralyzed parts of the Northeast, some people are still trapped -- still trapped in their homes. We made the hike to get one of them.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The last time Democrats and Republicans joined together for one of those rare ceremonial moments of bipartisanship was for President Obama's second inauguration. The honeymoon did not last very long.

Just over 24 hours from now, they'll meet again on Capitol Hill for the president's State of the Union Address. And whether any of that bipartisanship spirit can be revived remains, obviously, to be seen.

Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is here in THE SITUATION ROOM, getting ready for a little preview of the president's speech.

Our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, has a look ahead at the Republican response -- Jessica, first to you.

What can we expect?

I know you're talking to a lot of sources.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

BLITZER: What can we expect from the president tomorrow night?

YELLIN: Well, first of all, Wolf, the president is going to pivot back to the economy and talk about jobs. But he's also going to take on Republicans over debt and taxes.

Expect him to say that Congressional inaction on spending will hurt the economy and call on the GOP to compromise. The president, tomorrow night, is going to make an appeal for economic equality in the tax code and in the way spending cuts are decided, which Republicans are likely to view as partisan. Multiple sources also tell me that on other fronts, he's going to strike more bipartisan themes. For example, on immigration reform, he will emphasize common ground. And on gun safety, he'll call for action.

I'm told he will not make new policy on both those issues, but rather advocate for his existing positions.

Now, he's going to spend less time on foreign policy than on the economy, but that -- but that's always the case in his State of the Union speeches. On those fronts, expect him to address the drawdown in Afghanistan, the U.S. relationship with China and also announce the start of a U.S./European Union trade negotiation. Big picture, Wolf, it sounds like when it comes to Republicans, he'll sort of have a club in one hand and olive branch in the other.

BLITZER: So, it sounds like he's going to be emphasizing many of the themes he emphasized in the inaugural address. How will this one really substantively be a whole lot different?

YELLIN: Well, his aides say to me that that one was sort of the philosophical statement of his beliefs. This one sort of puts policy meat on the bones.

I'm told he will also, tomorrow night, talk about gay rights, women's rights, and climate change as he did in the inaugural, but the big difference from the inaugural is the president views tomorrow night as his big opportunity to speak to the American people about the stakes in those across the board budget cuts looming at the end of the month and make his economic case, again, to the American people, speak over congress to the American people.

And a side note, tomorrow night is going to be the last big speech written by John Favreau, his chief speechwriter for all these years. And the first speech, big speech, shepherded by Cody Keenan, the speechwriter taking over for --

BLITZER: So, did John write the speech tomorrow night?

YELLIN: This one was overseen by Cody Keenan, the first one overseen by Cody Keenan, but Favreau had a big role in it, too, with the president.

BLITZER: But the president writes a lot of his speeches, too.

YELLIN: Yes, of course, he does.

BLITZER: Standby for a moment. Tomorrow isn't just a big night for the president, it's also a huge moment for two rising Republican stars and possible presidential contenders who will deliver, shall we say, dueling State of the Union responses. Our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, once again is here with this part of the story. What are you picking up?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, an aide to Marco Rubio and Tea Party leader say the two responses to the president's State of the Union address don't mean the GOP is divided going into tomorrow night. In fact, one Tea Party official is calling the twin speeches a victory for the conservative movement.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): After the State of the Union, it's the matchup Washington will be watching. In one corner, Florida senator, Marco Rubio, dubbed the Republican savior on the cover of "Time" magazine, giving the GOP response to President Obama.

SEN. RAND PAUL, (R) KENTUCKY: Had someone been aware of these things --

ACOSTA: In the other corner, Kentucky senator, Rand Paul, with the reaction from the Tea Party movement. For both men, the dueling speeches are another sign of their sudden star power.

(APPLAUSE)

ACOSTA: Just three years ago, Rubio was a Tea Party favorite but a long shot for the Senate when he sat down with CNN for one of his first interviews.

Will you be the first Tea Party senator if elected?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO, (R) FLORIDA: Well, I'm running as a Republican.

ACOSTA: Little more than two years later, he had a prime speaking slot at the Republican convention. RUBIO: I don't want unemployment to be that high, and yet, it has stubbornly been so under this president.

ACOSTA: And now, he's a leading voice on immigration reform.

RUBIO: Meanwhile, the president is going to have to answer why his party controlled the House and Senate for two years, he did absolutely nothing on immigration.

PAUL: We're coming to take our government back.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

ACOSTA: Paul, who also rode the Tea Party wave into the Senate in 2010, says his response to the president will be different.

PAUL: I think, really, there's some things that I will emphasize that maybe Marco doesn't.

ACOSTA: And a reminder the conservative movement hasn't gone anywhere.

PAUL: I don't always agree, but the thing is, this isn't about he and I. This is about the Tea Party.

ACOSTA: The chair of the Tea Party Express, which is hosting Paul speech, tells CNN, "Tuesday night, we have two Tea Party senators respond to the president's State of the Union address. That is historic." But GOP strategist, Ana Navarro, says make no mistake, Rubio is a Republican first.

ANA NAVARRO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think Marco Rubio's a Republican senator. He's always been a Republican. I've known him for 20 years from Republican politics in South Florida. At the same time, he's very receptive, embraces a lot of the concepts that the Tea Party stands for.

ACOSTA: And it's Rubio's rise that has caught the attention of top Democrats who brushed off his upcoming, high-profile address in this conference call with reporters.

VOICE OF DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ, DNC CHAIR: They don't think there's anything wrong with their policies. They think they just need to package them better. You can't put lipstick on a pig.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (on-camera): Now, even though Rubio and Paul could square off as presidential contenders in 2016. There's no overt gamesmanship in the run-up to their dueling speeches. The Tea Party Express says it will be careful not to step on the official Republican response. Noting Paul's remarks will come a few minutes after Rubio is finished speaking, and a top Rubio aide says the senator welcomes the Tea Party response -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta, we'll be watching together with you. Thanks very much for that. Jessica Yellin, thanks to you as well. You guys will be busy tomorrow. All of us will be busy. CNN will have special live coverage of the president's State of the Union address. It all begins right here tomorrow night 7:00 p.m. eastern right after the SITUATION ROOM.

An alleged killer still very much on the loose right now. An entire region is on edge. We're going to get an update on the search for a dangerous ex-cop.

The mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa, he's standing by live.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: If you know anything about where Christopher Dorner is right now, you could be a million dollars richer. That's the reward being offered by the city of Los Angeles to find the ex-cop suspected of killing three people last week. It's apparently all in retaliation for being fired from the Los Angeles Police Department, a firing which the chief of the LAPD now says he'll personally review.

Let's talk about what's going on in the search for Dorner, and of course, much more. The mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa, is joining us right now. Mayor, thanks very much for coming in.

MAYOR ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA, (D) LOS ANGELES: Thank you, Wolf. And let me just clarify, although, I spearheaded the effort to raise the money, the million dollars, the city of Riverside, the county of Riverside, city of Irvine, a lot of folks participated, and I want to acknowledge them as well.

BLITZER: Any real clues? Has the trail gone cold or are you on to something right now, without, obviously, jeopardizing the investigation?

VILLARAIGOSA: Well, thank you, and that's the key. We don't want to jeopardize the information -- the investigation, rather. We are following every single lead, and there's more than a thousand, probably into the thousands of leads here. And we've got the best investigators, the best detectives on this. We're collaborating, working with law enforcement agencies throughout the region, including our federal partners, the FBI, and the marshal service.

We're doing everything we can to bring this man to justice. We're hoping this reward, an unprecedented size, a million dollar reward, will help us bring him to justice as quickly as possible. There are a lot of very anxious people. You know, some 50 people on the list including their families. And we want to make sure that this man doesn't do any more harm to the public.

BLITZER: These 50 people, I assume, are getting special security protection, right?

VILLARAIGOSA: Yes, they are, but, remember, he killed three innocent people who had nothing to do with any of this. He killed them in cold blood. He -- they were not in, any way, related to this effort. And so, you know, the families of these police officers are all under supervision, under -- we have police protecting them right now. And, it's a pretty difficult time for them and their families.

BLITZER: Are you using a drone or drones in this search as some have speculated?

VILLARAIGOSA: We're not using drones, but we're using a lot of -- every other equipment we have at our disposal. You know, we were up in the mountains. San Bernardino sheriffs were up in the mountains looking for him and have been. We're following every single lead. We're using every technology we can, but we're not using drones.

BLITZER: If he's watching you right now, mayor, what do you say to him? Look into that camera and talk to him.

VILLARAIGOSA: I'd say, Christopher, turn yourself in. You've caused a lot of pain and anguish to too many families. You've got to turn yourself in. If you really are someone who was innocently accused in the way that you say you were, then please, you've done enough harm. Turn yourself in.

BLITZER: Let me make the turn while I have you, mayor, to immigration. You've been on the forefront in the battle to get comprehensive immigration reform. How confident are you that the president will stress this tomorrow night in his State of the Union address and that something productive from your perspective will be achieved?

VILLARAIGOSA: I think he's going to talk a lot about jobs and the economy, about the issue of sequestration and the damage it could do to our economy. It could put us back into recession, the need for balanced cuts, and balanced approach to solving this issue. I hope he does speak about immigration. I expect that he will.

I do think there is a confluence of support increasing in the Senate for a comprehensive immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million people who are here that requires that they, you know, get at the end of the line and earn that citizenship. But we're a bit away from getting that kind of support in the House.

I'm hoping that with a Senate movement, that the House will pass this and maybe get away from that (ph) rule so that we can get a majority in the House to support comprehensive immigration reform.

BLITZER: Is there something special you would really like to hear on immigration from the president tomorrow night?

VILLARAIGOSA: Well, I think we expect that he's going to say that he's for it, that he's going to fight for it, that he believes in it, that it's important to our economy. It's important to the values that we represent as a country, that we've done a lot to secure the border. As you know, according to the migration policy institute, there's now a net migration minus.

They're going the other way from the United States to Mexico, not from Mexico to the United States. We spend more money on border security today than for the budgets of the FBI, the DEA, and the ATF. It's time to provide a pathway. And I think that's what he'll emphasize.

BLITZER: Before I let you go, quickly, mayor, the pope stunned all of us, stunned the whole world, by announcing today that he was resigning at the end of this month. You're catholic. You must have been stunned to hear it as well. Are you hoping that the next pontiff will have, shall we say, a more liberal position when it comes to gay marriage, for example, or abortion rights for women? Do you support both of those?

VILLARAIGOSA: Yes, I do. Let me just say that I think it's refreshing that the pope has decided that because of his frail health and his strength, that he's stepping aside. This is something we haven't seen in more than 600 years. I think that's refreshing. Yes, I would like to see our church get into the 21st century.

I do believe -- I am a catholic and I -- practicing catholic, but I would like to see some changes in our church. I'd like to see much more involvement on the part of the laity. I think we need to acknowledge that there are things that we do currently that we should change.

BLITZER: You leave office June 30th. Can you give us a hint what's next for Antonio Villaraigosa?

VILLARAIGOSA: Well, you know, I've said for some time that I'm going to work as hard as I can till the end of the road, and then, I'm going to gallop into the sunset, if you will. But we still have a lot to do. We got to balance our budget. We're going to open up a new international terminal. We're going to get off of coal very soon. We're going to sign agreements to get off of coal by 2025. We're dredging our harbor to compete with Panama. We've got a lot of work to do, and I'm going to work as hard as I can to the last day.

BLITZER: And you've got a media challenge right now. Let me wrap up a final thought on the search for this killer of three people, he's still on the loose. But you're telling us there are clues. Is it fair to say you're hot on the trail, or are you at a dead end?

VILLARAIGOSA: Well, it's fair to say we're on the trail. I can't say hot on the trail. I will say this: we will find him. Make no mistake. I hope he turns himself in. That's the right thing. Let's not have any more bloodshed or any more people hurt. But we're going to find him. We're working hard, and we're going to follow every lead until we do.

BLITZER: Mayor Villaraigosa, thanks as usual for coming in.

VILLARAIGOSA: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's that Vatican bombshell felt around the world. We're going live to Rome to tell you who are some of the likely potential candidates to replace Pope Benedict XVI.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Just hours after Pope Benedict XVI shocked the world with historic news of his resignation, talk is already shifting to who the next pope will be. Our senior international correspondent Jim Bittermann is in Rome. He's joining us now from St. Peter's Square with the latest. Jim, any names being mentioned right now?

JIM BITTERMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we started off this afternoon with about three names being mentioned. Now the list is gone to about 12. It just seems to expand exponentially here as the day goes on. A couple of names you hear most often is the Canadian Marc Ouellet, cardinal who is here in the Vatican. Two candidates who were around last time around, Angelo Scola, who is the archbishop in Milan. And Christian (INAUDIBLE), who is the archbishop in - the cardinal archbishop in Vienna.

But there are a lot of names out there. One of the things they say, Wolf, if you go into a conclave as a pope, you come out as a cardinal. Basically, speculation really doesn't do much good. We were last time around, we here at the Vatican were watching and speculating quite a bit and, in fact, got proven wrong. So -- we were surprised at Cardinal Ratzinger got elevated to Pope Benedict XVI.

So there are plenty of surprises. And we had one of the surprises today, because I don't think anybody expected this to happen to come out the way it did this morning.

BLITZER: Yes, we were all stunned when we got word early this morning. When do we expect a decision from the college of cardinals?

BITTERMAN: I think basically we're looking at a time frame that's going to -- the clock has really started ticking already with this announcement this morning. Basically, the cardinals themselves will start making plans to come to Rome. Even though they have not been officially notified at least up till now, have not been officially notified, that there will a gathering of the college of cardinals. But one would expect that they will be clearing their agendas right now and making plans to come sometime after the pope resigns. The Vatican spokesman said this morning, in fact, nothing would happen in terms the college of cardinals till after the pope officially steps down, which is the 28th of February.

So, in fact, the clock is really running right now. How this will all unfold is another question. Whether or not they'll be brought to Rome early for meetings before the conclave or whether they'll come to Rome and just go right into the conclave. These things are unknown because we're in totally uncharted territory here, Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Bittermann. We'll watch together with you. Thank you.

Pope Benedict in announcing his resignation said this, and I'm quoting, "Strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me." Powerful words from the pope.

Our senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen is joining us to give us more about the pope's health. What do we know, Elizabeth?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we really don't know much. The pope hasn't gone into many specifics about his health. But here's what we do know and here's what we know about the pressures of his job.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Being pope isn't easy. Leading a church counting more than 1 billion members, Pope Benedict XVI rises early, leading mass, performing baptisms, meeting with world leaders. Traveling to Israel, the United Kingdom, Jordan, Latin America. And the pace picks up more in the weeks before Easter.

We don't know much about Pope Benedict's health history. He suffered a brain hemorrhage in 1991, and in 2001 he fell and broke his right wrist, requiring surgery.

Perhaps most significant, Pope Benedict is 85. Making him the oldest pope in more than 100 years and among the oldest in the church history.

ARCHBISHOP THOMAS WENSKI, MIAMI: The Holy Father is 85, and we can appreciate how at that age, the weight of the office of the papacy is a very heavy weight.

COHEN: Before ascending to the papacy, Pope Benedict was a close aide to Pope John Paul II and would have seen up close how his health deteriorated. From Parkinson's, arthritis and several surgeries, while still retaining the papacy.

Pope Benedict has been thinking for some time about resigning. He even discussed it with his brother, also a priest, according to a family friend. He was even told by doctors to stop traveling overseas, according to his brother. And in a 2010 interview, Pope Benedict is quoted as saying, "If a pope clearly realizes that he is no longer physically, psychologically and spiritually capable of handling the duties of his office, he has a right and under some circumstances, also an obligation, to resign." It may be that Pope Benedict made up his mind years ago he would break tradition and resign while still alive.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COHEN: Earlier today on CNN, Thomas Wenski, the archbishop of Miami, said he saw the pope a few years ago, and he was alert but certainly frail. Wolf.

BLITZER: We wish the pontiff only the best obviously. Thanks very much, Elizabeth Cohen. For full coverage, by the way, of the pope's resignation, the latest developments in the Vatican, be sure to go to CNN.com. Lots of information right there. A bipartisan pick that is definitely not getting bipartisan support. Why former Republican senator Chuck Hagel still has hurdles to jump before becoming the country's next defense secretary.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There's a job you'd think would have support from basically everyone. It's the job of the secretary of defense. It's supposed to be a nonpartisan position in charge the largest arguably, most important, segment of the government. But that's far from the case for the president's nominee Chuck Hagel.

Joining us now is our chief political analyst Gloria Borger. The chairman of the Senate Armed Services, Carl Levin said there will be a vote in the committee tomorrow. So, is this train leaving the station?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think the train is leaving the station. He wants to have a vote quickly. And you have senator Lindsey Graham, Republican, saying that he's going to put a hold on this nomination till he gets some more answers from the administration about the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi. And just listen to what the president's press secretary, Jay Carney, said about that, Wolf.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: What is unfortunate here is the continuing attempt to politicize an issue -- in this case, through the nominees who themselves had nothing to do with Benghazi. And to do so in a way that only does harm to our national security interests.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BORGER: So what Lindsey Graham is trying to do is really stall the nomination and, in talking to Hagel's supporters today and even to some Republicans in the Senate, they believe that Hagel, in the end, will have the 60 votes need to break any kind of a filibuster. And the Democrats hope to have a vote on him sometime later in the week, perhaps Wednesday or Thursday on the Senate floor. So it looks like Hagel's going to make it.

BLITZER: But even his supporters are acknowledging that even if he is confirmed, he might not escape unscathed, shall we say.

BORGER: Even his supporters admit, Wolf, and we've been talking about this, they say, look, his performance before the committee was not what they would have hoped. That he made mistakes on questions that he should have had the answers to particularly regarding Iran. You're going to go now and run the Pentagon. And the question is, how are the people inside the Pentagon going to react to him. Will there be a hangover from that.

And he's got a lot of work to do. You have those pending cuts at the Defense Department. You've got to wind down a war in Afghanistan. And also you have to downsize the military. So the job is immense. And you have to have confidence inside the building to do it well. And so that's, you know, that's a question that does come out of this entire process.

BLITZER: Now Jack Lew has been nominated by the president to be the next Treasury secretary.

BORGER: Yes.

BLITZER: But all of a sudden, there's an issue involving the Cayman Islands that has come out. How significant -- what's going on there?

BORGER: You know, there's a -- there's a question of whether Jack Lew's had a Cayman investment through Citigroup that is not unlike the one, Wolf, that Mitt Romney had in his portfolio. So I think what you're seeing here, look, Jack Lew has been confirmed twice before. This is not going to hold him up. But it does allow Republicans to kind of say what's good for the goose is good for the gander.

OK, you Democrats raised a question about Cayman Island investments for Mitt Romney. We're going to raise it for Jack Lew. A little bit of payback, I'd say.

BLITZER: Yes. He was confirmed twice in the Obama administration, once more in the Clinton administration.

BORGER: That's right. OK. Three times.

BLITZER: When he was budget director.

BORGER: You're right, you're right. Three times.

BLITZER: I know a lot about Jack Lew.

BORGER: You sure do.

BLITZER: OK. Thank you very much.

Over 4,000 people stranded with no power, no running water and limited food, and this isn't after a massive blizzard. This was supposed to be a vacation.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Powerful storms leave Mississippi emergency crews with their hands full. Lisa Sylvester is here. She's monitoring that, some of the other top stories in the THE SITUATION ROOM.

What's the latest, Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, several thousand people still have no power and there's widespread damage in seven Mississippi counties. Pretty bad storms swept through that area yesterday evening, damaging or destroying hundreds of homes. Dozens of people were hurt, two of them critically.

A tornado slammed Hattiesburg. That is where the University of Southern Mississippi is located. And the governor there, Phil Bryant, he has declared a state of emergency.

Near Dallas, Texas, thousands of mourners were on hand at Cowboys Stadium for today's memorial service for a former Navy SEAL sniper who was shot and killed allegedly by a fellow veteran.

Thirty-eight-year-old Chris Kyle and a friend were gunned down at a shooting range February 2nd. Kyle served four tours in Iraq, received two silver stars, and co-authored the book "American Sniper." He will be buried in Austin tomorrow.

In other news, one step at a time for Boeing and its troubled Dreamliner. The aircraft manufacturer conducted its second test flight of one of the planes similar to the one seen here on a so- called ferry flight last Thursday.

Today's test follows one on Saturday, which was described as uneventful. The 787 Dreamliners were all grounded after two of them experienced major problems with their batteries.

OK. Here is an unsettling stat if you happen to enjoy surfing or a nice ocean swim. There has been an upturn in the number of shark attacks in the U.S. The University of Florida, which keeps track, reported today that there were 53 shark attacks last year. That is the most since 2000. Researchers say surfers had the most frequent shark encounters.

I'm not surprised the surfers are actually getting in the most trouble with the sharks. But all in all, Wolf, it is still relatively safe if you consider all of the millions of people who spend time actually swimming in the ocean.

BLITZER: That's why I'm not a surfer. I don't know about you, but I don't like sharks.

SYLVESTER: Well, one of the reasons is that they have people -- I mean, there are more people, that tends more shark attacks. But they also have surfers who are going out further and further and doing more daring things.

BLITZER: Yes.

SYLVESTER: And so --

BLITZER: Stay away from those sharks.

SYLVESTER: Exactly. Good advice, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Schools closed, businesses shut down, hundreds of flights grounded, staying in during this past weekend's blizzard was a smart move. But as CNN discovered when we visited one house in Connecticut, it's getting out that is now the problem.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's a look at this hour's "Hot Shots." In Venice, look at this, a gondolier rides through the canals during carnival. In Oman locals watch a cyclist competing in the Tour of Oman race by. In Hong Kong fireworks light up the night sky to celebrate the Chinese new year. And in Malaysia a 4-month-old chimpanzee plays at the national zoo.

"Hot Shots." Pictures coming in from around the world.

Stop for a minute and think about all the things you did this weekend. Maybe you went to the store or restaurant. Maybe you just messed around in the backyard. These things weren't possible for so many people in the northeast this past weekend. Some of whom have been trapped in their houses since Friday.

CNN's George Howell reports from Connecticut.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): The conditions here in Hamden, Connecticut, really kind of miserable. I mean, you've got the freezing rain. You've got sleet and plenty of snow on the ground. The highways are not so much the problem. It's these neighborhoods. You see that snow plows have gone through. They've cleared many of the roads but you still find people who are stuck in their homes.

Like right over here. Peter Curtis. He's lived in that home since 1947 and since Friday he's been snowed in with no way to get out.

I'm going to come over and see if I can talk to you.

(Voice-over): Curtis waited at the front door.

(On camera): It's not the easiest walk, as you can imagine.

(Voice-over): Watching curiously to see how deep the snow is that's kept him trapped in his home for days.

(On camera): So how long have you been stuck in here?

PETER CURTIS, HAMDEN CONNECTICUT RESIDENT: I went to the store Friday morning, you know, and got all the stuff I needed. So I've been here since Friday.

HOWELL: I guess I'm your first visitor, if I can make it.

(LAUGHTER)

CURTIS: Yes. Good.

HOWELL (voice-over): A Vietnam veteran living here alone, Curtis says he isn't able to dig himself out of the snow like a lot of his friends but he takes it all in stride.

CURTIS: Well, you know, what you want me to say is I'm -- you know, it's terrible. But I've got books. I'm reading.

(LAUGHTER)

HOWELL (on camera): You're catching up on your reading.

CURTIS: Yes, of course. I've got, you know, a book here, a book there.

HOWELL (voice-over): And patience is important. According to Hamden's Mayor Scott Jackson. He says digging out from 40 inches of snow will take weeks.

MAYOR SCOTT JACKSON, HAMDEN, CONNECTICUT MAYO: We have about 240 miles' worth of road. And as of right now about 50 percent of them are impassable.

HOWELL: The city has called in extra crews to operate payloaders that scoop up the snow. Snowplows have worked around the clock to clear most major highways. And you find people in neighborhoods doing their part.

JAVIER RODRIGUEZ, HAMDEN, CONNECTICUT: I've got my friend. He lives down the street. And his street isn't plowed. So I owe him a couple, but that's about it.

HOWELL: And that's what Peter Curtis is counting on.

CURTIS: As far as I'm concerned, OK, I hope to get plowed out or, you know, get some Boy Scouts to come and shovel me out today.

HOWELL: Neighbors helping neighbors to get life in Hamden back to normal.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL: So the good news, we did see some of the snow melt today. But the bad news is it's expected, I should say, to get down into the 20s tonight. So a lot of the water that you see here on the roads, this will turn into black ice, and it will make for a very dicey commute for drivers in the morning -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And so it looks like the weather -- I don't know if they're going to get more snow, but it's going to get cold and there's going to be ice. Are they expecting more snow, too?

HOWELL: Right. Well, we did check the forecast. It will be in the 20s through the week as a low. And yes, we checked with our meteorologist. They're expecting more snow later in the week, Wolf, to add to the snow that they're already trying to get rid of.

BLITZER: George Howell on the scene for us. Lots of snow there in Connecticut. Thank you.