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THE SITUATION ROOM

Olympian Charged With Murder; Impact on Planet Earth; First Lawsuit over "Floating Hell" Cruise; Asteroid Zips Past Earth; 1,000- Plus Hurt by Meteor Detonation; Secretary Panetta Stuck on the Job; Obama Talks Gun and Economy in Chicago; Cruise Passengers Scatter After Homecoming

Aired February 15, 2013 - 16:00   ET

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


JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: Look up in the sky, a fireball and a shocking reminder that planet Earth is spinning around in a very unpredictable neighborhood.

Back on dry land and already heading to court, we have details of the first lawsuit filed by a passenger who says a cruise line's negligence turned their vacation into a nightmare.

And the Blade Runner goes to court and cries uncontrollably as he's charged with his girlfriend's murder. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Jim Acosta. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We are starting in Chicago, where right now President Obama's about to take the stage to talk about two of the priorities from his State of the Union speech, jobs and guns. We expect him to connect the need for jobs as a way to get young people off the streets and out of trouble. Right now, you're looking at some video of Cleopatra Pendleton. She's the mother of Hadiya Pendleton, the young girl who was struck down by some gunmen in Chicago a few weeks ago, right around the time of the inauguration after she performed at President Obama's inaugural.

She's obviously one of the guests there today for President Obama's visit. And we will be going there to Chicago as soon as Mr. Obama starts speaking.

But, first, I want to bring in our Chris Cuomo, who was in Chicago right now. He's going to tell us a little bit about what we should expect from the president and what he will be talking about.

Obviously, Chris, gun violence has been a major issue in Chicago for many, many months now and the president has been called to this question, why hasn't he dealt with more forcibly sooner? And I suppose we will be hearing some of that in his remarks in just a few moments, Chris.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. That sets it up pretty well.

It's a delicate situation. This is a place where the president has very strong connections. In the '80s this is where he began his political career as a community organizer. He would go to law school, return and become a state legislator and then a U.S. senator and of course now president of the United States. The connection is great. He still has a home here.

The 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton was killed just a mile or so from where his job is. The connection is very real for him. However, so is the need. And that's what creates the delicate situation. The gun violence rate here is one of the highest in the country. The poverty rate in the South Side of Chicago where he will be speaking today, where he was once a community organizer, one of the highest in the country.

We have been here now for a couple of days, talking to people in that area, community organizers ow. They say the need has never been greater. So when the president comes here, politically the main thing is to give his message from the State of the Union and put it on the ground where the people are and where the situations require it.

And, of course, Chicago, the South side of Chicago is a place where urban violence is very much afoot. However, there's going to be the looming question, are you just giving your speech or are you going to make good on the promises here where you call home? And there are a lot of people here are so happy to see the president, but they will be even more happy if these words turn into actions and help create opportunities for the kids they say will wind up killing themselves and others if there's no better way for them provided.

ACOSTA: That's right, Chris. And also joining us is our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.

And we heard the president in his State of the Union on Tuesday night, those words, they deserve a vote, talking about the parents of Hadiya Pendleton, talking about the people of Newtown. And now we're seeing the president make this plea in Chicago. I guess politically speaking from a realistic standpoint, how much do events like this accomplish? Does this help him make this point?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, as we have seen, and you have watched it up close, the president's strategy now is to go over the heads of Congress directly to the American people. And you can't go to the city of Chicago, even though you want to talk about opportunities, social programs, mental health services, increase in the minimum wage and all of the rest, you can't go to a place like Chicago and not talk about gun violence.

So what he's trying to do, I think, is say, look, this is not a rural issue vs. an urban issue. This is an American issue. So, it's just one more way that -- he understands what the political odds are in Congress for a ban on assault weapons. He gets that.

But this is just one way for him to make the case to the American people to pressure members of Congress -- and lots of them, by the way, as you know, are Democrats who are in districts where it might not be so popular.

ACOSTA: Or states.

BORGER: Or states. Pressure members of Congress to be with him at least in part of his gun reform proposals.

ACOSTA: And our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian, is also taking a closer look at this. This has been a major problem in the city of Chicago, President Obama's hometown.

Here's Dan with more on that.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Jim, the president is addressing some of the big problems plaguing distressed neighborhoods and talking about the struggle to get into the middle class.

But in a city familiar with crime, the president is also focusing on gun violence.

(voice-over): On the streets of Chicago, another potential crime in progress. It's an all-too-familiar call, last year, almost 2,500 shootings in the Windy City and more than 500 murders. That's the backdrop as the president returned to his backyard.

The president wants universal background checks, a ban on some assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, but his message in Chicago was also about creating better conditions in tough neighborhoods to address high unemployment and crime.

The spotlight on gun violence isn't fading in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre. Six Sandy Hook teachers and staff were honored posthumously with Presidential Citizens Medals, the president getting emotional during the ceremony.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The courageous heart, the selfless spirit, the inspiring actions of extraordinary Americans, extraordinary citizens.

LOTHIAN: And there's the high-profile case of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, gunned down near the president's Chicago home.

CLEOPATRA PENDLETON, MOTHER OF HADIYA PENDLETON: Something is better than nothing, I would say. They need to do something.

LOTHIAN: But the voices for tighter restrictions, like in this new TV ad...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need to stop the wrong guns from getting into the wrong hands.

LOTHIAN: ... are being fiercely countered by gun rights groups like by NRA.

WAYNE LAPIERRE, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: The president has taken the art of public deception and manipulation to a whole new level on this one.

LOTHIAN: The group is launching a full-court press, aimed at protecting its Second Amendment rights, even as their defenders argue for the enforcement of existing laws, not the creation of new ones.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I do wish the cheerleading would stop and the prosecutions begin.

LOTHIAN (on camera): LaPierre with the NRA is vowing to stand and fight, accusing the White House of trying to ban every gun, tax every gun sold and register every gun owner -- Jim.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Dan Lothian at the White House, thank you.

I want to go back to Chris Cuomo in the loop in Chicago.

Chris, you heard Dan Lothian's report there. Obviously this is a subject on the minds of Chicagoans on a daily basis. Have you run across talking in talking to people today on the ground there in Chicago?

CUOMO: Very much so, Jim.

I think Dan's piece was spot on with what we're hearing here. When you talk about gun control and would a law help, many of them are very reluctant. They say enforcement of laws that when criminals here use handguns, they are not punished the way that they are in New York City which has a comparably lower homicide rate than here, they say.

They don't know about more gun laws. They know more about enforcement. On the flip side, they have overcapacity problems here in their prison system. So they have to figure out how to reprioritize. But one thing is for sure. This is the place, Chicago, that is a real template for a place where we need to do better. You need to do better with poverty. You need to do better with opportunities for young people.

You need to do better to do those things to stem the violence and there's a very strong feeling that another law, a gun control law will not be the remedy. Opportunity, which is much harder to provide than just another gun control law, will e what they think will really help. But, again, very tough. Easy to say. Tough to do. Right, Jim?

ACOSTA: That's right.

Gloria, what conservatives say is that Chicago has some of the strongest gun laws in the country and yet look at all of the violence that they have there. Obviously, pro-gun control advocates say just outside the city of Chicago, if you go to Northwest Indiana, it's not so difficult to buy firearms.

BORGER: Right. They said that universal background checks would not help because a lot of these guns are obtained illegally.

But what you have Mayor Emanuel talking about is mandatory minimum sentences, something he talks about truth in sentencing which is that if you're convicted and you serve for two years, you're sentenced to two years, you actually serve for two years. You don't get off after a bunch of months. He's looking at it at the other end of the spectrum.

But what the president is going to say is that it's all the same puzzle. It's all part of a whole. You have to start with social programs and opportunity and mental health services and then you have got to look at it at the other end of the funnel as well when it comes to sentencing and being tough.

ACOSTA: It is a puzzle, indeed, a policy puzzle and a political puzzle. We're going to get back to Chicago in just a few moments.

We're expecting the president to start speaking very soon. He was supposed to start speaking almost a half-an-hour ago. So we will get to that just as soon as it gets started.

But in the meantime, today brought a scary, unprecedented event in Earth's recorded history. A meteor exploded over a highly populated area. At least 1,000 people were hurt. We will have the amazing pictures coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ACOSTA: All right.

In just a few moments, we're going to be bringing you some live coverage of President Obama in Chicago speaking about two of his top priorities, jobs and guns. Obviously, the subject of guns will be a big priority there. We are expecting the mayor of that city, Rahm Emanuel, to introduce the president.

So, we will be bringing that to all of you shortly.

But in the meantime, there's some news on the cruise ship Carnival Triumph. It's only been home for less than a day and already there is a lawsuit to report to you. A passenger, Cassie Terry, is suing Carnival Corporation, describing the ship as a "floating hell."

The suit says Terry had to "wade through human feces" in order to reach food lines, where the wait was counted in hours, only to receive rations of spoiled food. The suit continues that the plaintiff was forced to subsist for days in a floating toilet, a floating petri dish, a floating hell. That is a quote from the lawsuit.

It goes to demand actual and what it calls exemplary damages, but does not give a dollar amount. The ship docked shortly before midnight Eastern time in Mobile, Alabama. It had to be towed to port after Sunday's fires knocked out the engines, as well as most of the ship's power and plumbing was wiped out.

Today, washed and fed, most of those passengers headed home, thank goodness. Buses took them to New Orleans, Galveston, and Houston. From there they scattered to airports and parking lots and their lawyers' offices, apparently.

And speaking of legal issues, let's bring in our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, who joins us live from New York.

I guess, Jeffrey, it was only a matter of time.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, and not a lot of time.

It's been less than 24 hours since they docked and we can be sure there will be lot of lawsuits. But we also have to be careful here. This all starts, from a legal perspective, with the fine print on the back of the ticket, which absolutely no one reads, but it does define at least the broad outlines of what these lawsuits will look like.

ACOSTA: In other words, stuff happens? Is that -- I mean, is that maybe the legal cover that Carnival has here?

TOOBIN: I would say it's a little more elaborate than that but that's sort of the gist of it. I mean, the idea that Carnival limits its damages. They don't -- you don't get punitive damages. All of the lawsuits have to be tried in Miami, which is the hometown of Carnival.

Now, Carnival has already made an offer to all of the passengers involving free tickets, $500, of course, all of their money back. That is probably just a starting point for negotiations. But you can be sure, Carnival wants to avoid reliving this experience in court because it's -- of course, it's been a public relations disaster for them.

ACOSTA: And -- I mean, could the cumulative effect of these lawsuits that are coming, could that endanger the company, do you think? Are we talking about that astronomical amount of money that might be sought in damages and a variety of lawsuits here?

TOOBIN: I doubt it actually. I mean, for all the excitement. Remember, you know, most lawsuits deal with people who have been seriously terribly, injured or died. I mean, this has obviously been an unpleasant experience for these passengers and surely they deserve compensation.

But I can't imagine any court sustaining millions of dollars worth of damages to individuals here. Yes, it was very inconvenient, it was very unpleasant, but it's not the kind of the thing where people were paralyzed, people died. I mean, that's where the big money tends to be in lawsuits.

I mean, this is mostly, I think, a public relations problem for Carnival. I mean, who is going to want to go on one of these cruises. That's the issue they really have to think about.

The lawsuits will probably, in a way that lawsuits do, drag on for some time, most of them will settle, but I don't think the money is going to be something that really endangers carnival as a business.

ACOSTA: All right. Our Jeffrey Toobin in New York for us -- Jeffrey, thank you very much. We appreciate it.

And our Brian Todd was in Mobile, Alabama, right now, where he's been listening to some of the other passengers' stories of these terrible conditions and their praise for the hardworking crew.

Let's listen to what Brian Todd has picked up from those passengers in just a few moments.

But, first of all, we want to keep you posted on what's happening in Chicago right now. We are waiting on President Obama to start speaking. That is something we're expecting in just a few moments.

But, let's take a quick break, we'll come back and hopefully we'll hear from the president on the other side of this break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ACOSTA: Now to the day's dramatic cosmic news.

Within the last couple of hours, planet Earth dodged a bullet, we can report. This may look like nothing more than an oddly shape moving dot, but actually, it's a football field-sized rock, traveling many times faster than a bullet. It zipped past us and missed us by the cosmic equivalent of a whisker.

CNN's Casey Wian is in Pasadena right now where he is tracking the asteroid, as well as NASA. I guess the force was with us, Casey. Is that right?

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim.

You know, here at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, they have been tracking this asteroid for about a year now and just about two hours ago, it came oh so close to planet Earth.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WIAN (voice-over): It may not look like much, a tiny blip speeding across the screen, but asteroid 2012 DA14 packs a powerful punch. Fortunately, the punch missed.

Scientists say an asteroid with a similar 150-foot diameter collided with Earth 50,000 years ago in Arizona.

PAUL CHODAS, NASA JET PROPULSION LAB: This is a rare opportunity to see a small asteroid up close. It's very rare. We think an asteroid of this size doesn't come close to the Earth more than once every 40 years on average.

WIAN: This time, the asteroid raced past the southern hemisphere at 4.8 miles per second, missing Earth by about 17,000 miles. It came close enough to threaten satellites orbiting the Earth but fears of a loss of telecommunication and cell phone signals apparently unfounded.

NASA is using radar and other technology to study how the asteroid behaves, including its rotation rate, its composition and how it's impacted by the earth's gravity. The idea is to learn enough to prevent catastrophe from an asteroid directly threatening the planet someday in the future.

CHODAS: We're going to get a lot of information about the asteroid. We're interested in its future motion, whether or not it could come back, whether it threatens the Earth.

WIAN: The odds are, either this one or another will be back, an asteroid impacts the Earth once about every 1,200 years on average.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WIAN: Now, the asteroid will be visible in the northern hemisphere through this evening if you have access to a telescope. But, for now, it's on its way away from the Earth, out into outer space harmlessly rotating -- or revolving -- excuse me. Harmlessly rotating -- I can't even think of the right word. Orbiting the sun, harmlessly at least for now, Jim.

ACOSTA: All right. Casey, thanks very much. We appreciate it.

In other galactic news, before the asteroid missed us, a meteor lit up the skies over eastern Russia today. The blinding light was followed by a series of deafening explosions. Listen to this.

(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)

ACOSTA: An expert tells CNN that the detonation appears to be the equivalent of roughly 300 kilotons of TNT. That is about the same magnitude of a nuclear blast. The impact on populated areas is widespread and historic. The concussion shattered windows. At least 1,000 people are hurt.

And CNN's Mary Snow is keeping track of it all.

And, Mary, there's a lot to keep track of. This is just unbelievable, isn't it?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is, and frightening, you know? And you showed incredible video. More continues to come in. The scene was surreal has the meteor struck, sending off mass confusion.

Meteorites are reported to be scattered over three regions of Russia with reports of damage to about 3,000 buildings.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): It came out of nowhere. The bright streak long enough to capture on camera as it lurched towards Earth and exploded. A deafening boom followed as fragments rained down over Russia's Ural Region.

The sonic boom shattered glass. At least 1,000 people in the bull's eye of the falling meteor were injured.

It's a bombing, says this man. There were reports that a large chunk of it was found in a lake. As frightening as it was, scientists say it's not all that rare to have meteors falling out of the sky. What's not common is when they hit largely populated areas.

DENTON EBEL, AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY: Small bodies like that hit the Earth regularly. Every year, there's probably several, mostly over oceans.

SNOW: Denton Ebel is the curator of meteorites at the American Museum of Natural History. His attention had been solely focused on the asteroid passing the Earth and was stunned the meteor and asteroid both occurred within 24 hours of each other.

(on camera): Are they related in any way?

EBEL: As far as we know, they are not related.

SNOW (voice-over): Ebel says the gap in time between the two events was too wide for them to be related and then there's a matter of size.

EBEL: The size difference between the big one, 45 meters, and this little guy, which was maybe 3 meters that air-bursted over Russia is so large that there would have to be more. We don't see that. So, it is a cosmic coincidence.

SNOW: Unlike the asteroid passing the Earth, he says the meteor that hit Russia was too small to be detected, but the cosmic coincidence has left him a bit unnerved.

EBEL: Yes, we can predict things. We know the laws of gravity. We know the masses of the planets and so forth. We can predict what's going to happen down the road, but the interplay of all of the celestial bodies together and the ones we don't know about is such to make it kind of scary in a way.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Scary indeed. Now, there was an asteroid in 1908 that entered the atmosphere, exploded over a remote area of Siberia. It leveled trees over an area about two-thirds the size of the state of Rhode island and destroyed about 80 million trees -- Jim.

ACOSTA: Incredible. In those pictures you, I mean, you watch them over and over again and it's just incredible. I mean, to think that that happened earlier today and made that kind of explosive commotion there, I can't imagine what the people there living in those communities were thinking when that was happening. But --

SNOW: Yes, absolutely. Not knowing what was going on, not knowing whether it was an airplane crash or what was going on, that happened.

ACOSTA: Exactly. All right. Mary Snow, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was supposed to be the former secretary today, but because of Republicans blocking the nomination of Chuck Hagel on Capitol Hill, Panetta is still on the job. The latest on the fight over the nominee for defense secretary, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ACOSTA: Today was supposed to be Chuck Hagel's first day as defense secretary, but it did not work out that way. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is still on the job even though he's more than ready to leave Washington.

Let's go now to Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. She joins us live. I guess, Secretary Panetta, can't leave just yet, right, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Jim, he made it as far as his home in California. He is there now. The question is, is he really still defense secretary?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): This should have been Leon Panetta's final appearance as secretary of defense.

LEON PANETTA, DEFENSE SECRETARY: My office is packed up, Sylvia is packing at home. I'm ready to go.

STARR: A ceremony for former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, who already made it out the door.

PANETTA: It is probably a good thing at this point in time that we have a chance to get some damn rest.

STARR: But as Panetta was saying goodbye --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On this vote, the yays are 58 and the nays are 40. The motion is not agreed to.

STARR: On the Senate floor, Chuck Hagel fell short of the votes needed to break a GOP filibuster of his nomination as defense secretary keeping Panetta, for now, from his retirement, but not from his immediate plans.

Panetta flew home to his California walnut farm as he does on many weekends. On Tuesday, he comes back to Washington and then on to Brussels for a NATO summit. On Friday, he returns, but will he go back to work at the Pentagon or go back home?

MACKENZIE EAGLEN, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: Leon Panetta is never fully checked out. There's nothing going unsecure. There's no lapse in power structure at the Pentagon.

STARR: Panetta still gets daily intelligence briefings, updates on the war in Afghanistan and signs deployment orders, but President Obama wants the new guy.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I'm still presiding over a war in Afghanistan and I need a secretary of defense.

STARR: But if Hagel gets confirmed, can he work with Congress after the bruising nomination fight?

EAGLEN: He comes in to office lacking political capital and that's exactly what you need as a secretary of defense.

(END VIDEOTAPE) STARR: So if Panetta is confirmed, one of the first decisions he may have to make is how to deal with military spending cuts if there is no budget deal with Congress and nothing upsets Congress more than cuts in spending in their own home states. So the beginning of the bumpy ride for Chuck Hagel may happen as soon as he's confirmed, if he is confirmed -- Jim.

ACOSTA: All right, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you.

And we now can take you out to Chicago where President Obama is getting started with his remarks. He is in his home city talking about the issue of guns and the economy and let's go ahead and listen to his remarks. It sounds like he's starting to thank some of the VIPs in the audience, but let's go ahead and listen.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: -- attorney general and former seat made of mine when I was in the State Senate, Lisa Madigan, Tony (inaudible) in the house and I've got -- I see a lot of clergy here, because if I miss one, I'm in trouble. They are all friends of mine.

You know, some people may not know this, but obviously this is my old neighborhood. I used to teach right around the corner. This is where Michelle and I met, where we fell in love.

This is where we raised our daughters in a house just about a mile away from here, less than a mile. And that's really what I've come here to talk about today, raising our kids.

I love you, too. I love you, too. I'm here to make sure that we talk about and then work towards giving every child every chance in life, building stronger opportunities and new ladders that they can climb in the middle class and beyond, and most importantly, keeping them safe from harm.

Michelle was born and raised here, a proud daughter of the south side. Last weekend, she came home, but it was to attend the funeral of Hadiya Pendleton. Hadiya's parents are here, by the way. I want to acknowledge them. They are just wonderful, wonderful people.

And as you know, this week in my "State of the Union," I talked about Hadiya on Tuesday night and the fact that, unfortunately, what happened to Hadiya is not unique. It's not unique to Chicago. It's not unique to this country. Too many of our children are being taken away from us.

Two months ago, America mourned 26 innocent first graders and their educators in Newtown and today, I had the high honor of giving the highest civilian award I can give to the families of the educators who had been killed in Newtown.

And there was something profound and uniquely heartbreaking and tragic, obviously, about a group of 6-year-olds being killed. But last year there were 443 murders with a firearm on the streets of this city. And 65 of those victims were 18 and under.

So that's the equivalent of a Newtown every four months. And that's precisely why the overwhelming majority of Americans are asking for some commonsense proposals to make it harder for criminals to get their hands on a gun. And as I said on Tuesday night, I recognize not everybody agrees with every issue.

There are regional differences. The experience of gun ownership is different in urban areas than it is in rural areas. Different from upstate and downstate Illinois, but these proposals deserve a vote in Congress. They deserve a vote. They deserve a vote.

And I want to thank those members of Congress who are working together in a serious way to try to address this issue. But I've also said no law or set of laws can prevent every senseless act of violence in this country.

When a child opens fire on another child, there is a hole in that child's heart that government can't fill, only community and parents and teachers and clergy can fill that hole.

In too many neighborhoods today, whether in Chicago or rural America, it can feel like for a lot of young people the future only extends to the next street corner or the outskirts of town.

That no matter how much you work or how hard you try, your destiny was determined the moment you were born. There are entire neighborhoods where young people, they don't see an example of somebody succeeding.

For a lot of young boys and young men in particular, they don't see an example of fathers or grandfathers, uncles who are in a position to support families and be held up and respected. And so that means that this is not just a gun issue.

It's also an issue of the kinds of communities that we're building and for that we all share a responsibility as citizens to fix it. We all share a responsibility to move this country closer to our founding vision that no matter who you are or where you come from, here in America you can decide your own destiny.

You can succeed if you work hard and fulfill your responsibilities. That means we've got to grow our economy and create more good jobs. It means we've got to equip every American with the skill and training to fill those jobs and it means we've got to rebuild ladders of opportunity for everybody willing to climb it.

Now, that starts at home. There's no more important ingredient for success, nothing that would be more important for us reducing violence than strong, stable families, which means we should do more to promote marriage and encourage fatherhood.

You know, don't get me wrong. As a son of a single mom who gave everything she had to raise me with the help of my grandparents, I turned out OK, but -- no. But -- so we've got single moms out here. They are heroic what they are doing and we are so proud of them.

But at the same time, I wish I had had a father who was around and involved, loving, supportive parents. And by the way, that's all kinds of parents. That includes foster parents and that includes grandparents and extended families. It includes gay or straight parents, those parents supporting kids.

That is the single most important thing, unconditional love for your child. That makes a difference. If a child grows up with parents who have work and have some education and can be role models and can teach integrity and responsibility and discipline, delayed gratification, all those things give a child the foundation that allows them to say, you know, my future -- I can make it what I want.

And we've got to make sure that every child has that. And in some cases, we may have to fill the gap and the void if children don't have it. So we should encourage marriage by removing the financial disincentives for couples who love one another, but may find it financially disadvantageous if they get married.

We should reform our child support laws to get more men working and engaged with their children. And my administration will continue to work with the faith community and the private sector this year on a campaign to encourage strong parenting and fatherhood because what makes you a man is not the ability to make a child, it's the courage to raise one.

We also know, though, there's no sure path to success in the middle class but a good education. And what we now know is that has to begin in the earliest years. Study after study shows that the earlier a child starts learning, the more likely they are to succeed. The more likely they are to do well at High Park Academy.

The more likely they are to graduate. The more likely they are to get a good job. The more likely they are to form stable families and then be able to raise children themselves who get off to a good start. Chicago already has a competition, thanks to what the mayor is doing that rewards the best preschools in the city.

So what I've also done is say, let's give every child across America access to high-quality public preschool, every child. Not just some. Every dollar we put in early childhood education can save $7 down the road by increasing graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, reducing violent crime, reducing the welfare rolls.

Making sure that folks who have work, now they are paying taxes, all this stuff pays back huge dividends, if we make the investment. So let's make this happen. Let's make sure every child has the chance they deserve.

As kids go through school, we'll recruit new math and science teachers to make sure that they have the skills that the future demands. We'll help more people in low-income neighborhoods get summer jobs. We'll redesign our high schools and encourage kids to stay in high school so the diploma they get leads to a good job once they graduate.

Right here in Chicago, five new schools have partnered with community colleges to prepare our kids with the skills that businesses are looking for right now and your college to careers program helps community college students get access to the same kind of real world experience. So we know what works. Let's just do it in more places. Let's reach more young people. Let's give more kids a chance. So we know how important families are. We know how important education is. We recognize that government alone cannot solve the problems of violence and poverty that everybody has to be involved.

But we also have to remember that the broader economic environment of communities is critical as well. For example, we need to make sure that folks who are working now, often in the hardest jobs, see their work rewarded with wages that allow them to raise a family without falling into poverty.

ACOSTA: So President Obama there in Chicago using some very emotional and personal terms to make his pitch for new gun control measures. At one point saying too many of our children are being taken away from us. He repeated his call for a vote on gun control saying they deserve a vote.

He used those words during the "State of the Union" speech on Tuesday and then talked about the importance of families and raising children in these neighborhoods that are prone to violence. At one point he said, I wish I had a father who was around and involved.

Let's bring in our "Strategy Session" to talk about this, Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen and Republican strategist, Ari Fleischer and our CNN chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.

Let me start with you, Hilary, why do you suppose that the president was using those very personal and emotional terms there in Chicago a few moments ago?

HILARY ROSEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Look, you know, the way that we're going to get this passed, the way that this is going to finally be different than years past when people have tried to pass measures restricting the access, easy access to guns, is with President Obama and other advocates on the bully pulpit all across the country.

This is not an insider's game. This is convincing the country that this is really possible to do this time. I think when you have a president committed and when you have other leaders willing to talk about this to make it a priority we really have a chance to do something.

So I'm so grateful that the president is expending so much capital here. And when you go home to Chicago, when you experience what they have with so many shootings then it really does bring it home and people all across the country can relate to it really well.

ACOSTA: And Ari, gun control is a heavy lift for Democrats no matter how emotional the terms may be in terms of making these kinds of remarks. Do they help the president in terms of getting something passed?

ARI FLEISCHER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I heard something very, very different in this speech. I think this was one of the best and most important speeches the president has ever given. When the president of the United States goes to Chicago, a city that is plagued by gun violence and children die on the streets every day.

When he talks about the importance of marriage and the importance of having dads in children's lives, that's the heart of the matter and what's so important now is for the president to stay at it.

If the president will dedicate as much time and effort to those two themes and work to see what policies can be effective, nothing will make a bigger different in a child's life than to have two parents that raise that child.

Whether they are married, separated, divorced, whatever the case is, children will grow up stronger if you have two parents instead of one. That's the heart. That's the key. That's the heart and that's what I heard.

ACOSTA: Just quick follow up, Ari. This is something that Republicans want to hear. This obviously struck a nerve with you?

FLEISCHER: Yes, because it's the core of things. You know, redistribution of income has done everything that it's going to accomplish. We still have too many Americans in poverty and crime without good education.

One of the biggest causes of that are the noneconomic causes of poverty and much of that is because kids don't have dads at home. Of course, their life is going to be harder than for the white kid who has a mom and dad. That's a crucial issue if you want to take on people who need help in our society.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALSYT: But I don't think that's a new message from this president. I think he's been talking about it as part of his message all along. Today, he said no law or set of laws can prevent every senseless act. It depends on a parents' unconditional love and it's not talking about the usefulness of social programs, mental health programs and tough gun laws.

ACOSTA: All right, Gloria, Ari, and Hilary, thanks so much. We appreciate it.

Meanwhile, passengers on the Carnival "Triumph" call their ordeal hell, but now we're hearing from the crew members. That's coming up next.

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ACOSTA: The Carnival "Triumph" is on its way to the shipyard for repairs. Brian Todd has been speaking with passengers and joins us live from New Orleans with more on this. Brian, I guess the shipyard is one place to put it.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim. It's still at the shipyard right now. Just moments ago, the last of the buses carrying passengers from the Carnival "Triumph" left this hotel where we are. They are headed back to the airport.

Some of them directly back to Texas by bus. Many of them are still clearly shaken by this experience.

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TODD (voice-over): It wasn't until after she finally got of the Carnival "Triumph," after riding on a bus from Mobile, Alabama, to New Orleans, that the gravity of the ordeal really sat in with Maria Morales.

MARIA MORALES, CRUISE SHIP PASSENGER: We were just drifting. We were just out there. And now that I realize it, it's like, my God, you know, I can't believe that we were just there, just at the mercy of the wind, wherever it wanted to take us.

TODD: From her wheelchair, 68-year-old Joyce Glover told us that at certainly points she didn't think she'd make it out.

(on camera): What have you gone through?

JOYCE GLOVER, CRUISE SHIP PASSENGER: Well, I have congestive heart failure and diabetes and had to cut my medicine down in half because I only had it until Monday. So then I had a heart condition and my lungs were filling up with fluid so we had to go clear down to the basement.

TODD (voice-over): That's where Glover said she had to go for medical treatment where she says garbage was piled more than 30 feet high. Another passenger gave us these pictures from inside. Murky water in a hallway, her bathroom where she says the sewage never stopped flowing.

CHARLA HIGGINBOTHAM, CRUISE SHIP PASSENGER: It came above the drain and in my shower stall.

TODD: An image of passengers sleeping on deck and food rationing, but Higginbotham and many others told us crew members worked heroically.

HIGGINBOTHAM: Awesome. They were wonderful to us. They tried to clean our bathroom, but without running water and electricity, it's very hard to clean whatever that was in our bathroom.

TODD: Crew member, Sachin Sharma, told CNN they took pride in helping passengers through this.

SACHIN SHARMA, CARNIVAL TRIUMP CREW MEMBER: It's about our job. We know how to do and Carnival did the best and they do the best.

TODD: How did passengers behave? We got accounts of the worst in human behavior.

MARIA HERNANDEZ, CRUISE SHIP PASSENGER: There was about three altercations and fights because either people were trying to get their phones charged or just pushing in lines for food while they were drunk.

VERONICA ARRIAGA, CRUISE SHIP PASSENGER: There were people that would hoard food, like you could see that they would take a big tray and have ten burgers on there and not try to share with other people.

TODD: But better sides were also on display.

(on camera): What was the best thing you saw as far as people responded?

DAVID RICHARDS, CRUISE SHIP PASSENGER: Everybody helping each other, everybody pulling together.

JULIE GLOVER, CRUISE SHIP PASSENGER: Sharing things.

RICHARDS: Sharing.

GLOVER: We played poker with Fruit Loops. That's what we used for poker chips.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Now, for these passengers, this experience isn't completely behind. Some of the passengers told us that as compensation carnival is offering a full refund for this trip, plus a free similar cruise of equal value and $500. They say they are going to have to weigh that offer of the possibility of taking legal action against Carnival -- Jim.

ACOSTA: We're glad the ordeal is over. Brian Todd, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

A Tennessee congresswoman caught tweeting a beautiful young woman during the "State of the Union," but it's not what you think. The amazing story is just ahead.

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