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Catholics Wait For Benedict's Replacement With Bated Breath; Warnings That Troops May Be Less Prepared For Surprise Attack; Automatic Defense Cuts Mere Weeks Away; The Hero Who Confronted A Killer

Aired February 16, 2013 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Dire new warnings that troops may be less prepared for a surprised attack.

Automatic defense cuts, only weeks away.

Catholics around the world want to know who will replace Pope Benedict. The surprise exit and the politics inside the Vatican.

And a hero who confronted a killer and was shot more than a dozen times. He is helping the president make his case on guns, the sharing a story exclusively with CNN.

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

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

The Pentagon's top brass sounding alarm bells over automatic spending cuts now only weeks away. That could affect America's security and hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Let's go to the Pentagon, our correspondent, Chris Lawrence, is standing by there. Very worried over there at the Pentagon, aren't they?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: They are, Wolf, and you're already starting to see some of the effects of the possible sequestration, the U.S. Navy, going down of one carrying the Persian Gulf from to cancelling the deployment of some other ships, the civilian hiring freeze, cancelling some maintenance and pushing back some of the civilian contracts that they had signed.

They say this is really just the tip of the iceberg, and down the road you could see a reduction in personnel. You could see training drastically cut back on a lot of areas.

BLITZER: Chris, if these cuts do go into effect, they will be immediately felt or will be felt in the month his to come?

LAWRENCE: This is going to be the toughest year, because critics will say look, once you get into year three, four and five, then the military will be able to dig in, cancel maybe some of the big contracts so that they can spread out the hurt a little more. The issue here is that pay and benefits take up about a third of the budget. You can't touch that with sequestration.

Also, off limits are the wounded warrior program. They are not going to affect Afghanistan very much. So, to pull to make the cuts is smaller. And in a limited amount of time, you know, nine months left in a year, six months left in the fiscal year, you know, they're going to have a very tough time making some hard decisions.

BLITZER: And I know that Leon Panetta, the former defense secretary, shall we say, he is very, very concerned. But the army chief general Ray Odieno, he was pretty outraged, as well.

LAWRENCE: And Wolf, he is specifically drilling down on the training. He is saying that this is going to leave soldiers unprepared. Take a listen.


GENERAL RAYMOND ODIERNO, CHIEF OF STAFF, U.S. ARMY: If we do not have the resources to train and equip the force, our soldiers, our young men and women are the ones who will pay the price. Potentially with their lives.

It is our responsibility, the department of defense and congress, to ensure that we never send soldiers into harm's way that are not trained, equipped, well-led, and ready for any contingency, to include war.


LAWRENCE: Now, here is the reality check on that, Wolf. He is right in one respect, but you're not going to see cuts for the troops already deployed to Afghanistan. There is not really even going to be much of an effect for those who are about to go and who have already been trained. It could cascade, say a year from now. That is when you may start to feel testify the effect. But it is not like all of a sudden, all these troops in Afghanistan are about to deploy are all of a sudden going to be unprepared. That is not going to happen.

BLITZER: Chris Lawrence at the Pentagon. We will be watching this together with you.

Thank you.

Let's dig a little deeper right now about the impact of this proposed automatic spending cuts and politics what is involved.

Joining us, our chief correspondent, Dana Bash. She is up on Capitol Hill. Also, our senior political analyst Ron Brownstein, the editorial director of "the National Journal."

Listen to the Republican leader, Dana, Mitch McConnell in the Senate, speaking about these proposed cuts. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: Their whole goal here is not to solve the problem. It is to have a show boat that is designed to fail. Call it a day and wait for someone else to pick up the pieces. Well, my message this morning is really quite simple. There wouldn't be any easy off ramps on this one. The days of 11th hour negotiations are over. Washington Democrats have gotten used to Republicans bailing them out of their own lack of responsibility. But those days have passed.


BLITZER: All right, so Dana, they are eyeball to eyeball right now. And it potentially looks very ugly.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And you know, look, the bottom line is that what you're seeing now are the residual effects of, in the words of the house speaker, he is feeling like he got burned. And his failed attempts over and over to cut deals with President Obama over the past couple of years.

And so what you're seeing are Republicans, particularly in the house, putting throwing their hands up, saying you know, we already passed a bill a couple of times to replace the sequester, it is now in the hands of Democrats, which is true. Democrats in the Senate know that the ball is in their court. But the sort of rub now is how to replace the sequester, and it really falls on the same philosophical divide that we have seen over and over.

Republicans are saying no, it won't be done with anymore raising taxes and Democrats are saying yes, we do want to raise taxes in addition to cutting spending in order to replace the draconian cuts that will happen if nothing, if no one ask by March 1st.

BLITZER: Yes, the sequester, these automatic spending cuts that go into effect.

Ron, I want you to listen to what the president said in his state-of-the-union address this week.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These sudden, harsh, arbitrary cuts would jeopardize the military readiness. They devastate priorities like education, energy and medical research. They would certainly slow our recovery and cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs. That is why Democrats, Republicans, business leaders and economists have already said that these cuts, known here in Washington as the sequester, are a really bad idea.


RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, as Dana pointed out there is something circular about this whole debate. The sequester was created to overcome the inability, putting more pressure on the two sides to overcome their inability to reach the deal on the underlying budget challenge. It was never designed to actually go into effect. But their inability even this, even this Guillotine at the end of the month has been unable to get them to overcome this basic disagreement whether you go forward solely was spending cuts, or do you include spending cuts and revenue, and we are sort of back in the position that we were really since the summer of 2011, and the debt ceiling deal.

You know, one of the point about the sequester, not only is kind of be distributed, it really aims at the wrong side of the problem. The long-term challenge is fundamentally about entitlements, the sequester is fundamentally about discretionary spending, including all of our meaningful investment in the future. So, you know, from a fiscal hawk point of view it doesn't get to the real issue.

BLITZER: And when you say, Ron, revenue, would you mean our additional tax increases?

BROWNSTEIN: And from a tactical point of view, and I think they would agree with it, you know, Democrats clearly, I think put themselves in the difficult position by not getting everything they want in that one moment, if you point the Bush tax that has expired in the end of the year. Asking the Republicans to come back and vote for a second tax increase is asking for a lot, politically.

BLITZER: Yes. What about that Dana?

BASH: Absolutely, he is right. The moment the deal was struck on New Year's Eve or New Year's Day, it is kind of a blur, Republicans came out and said if the Democrats think they are going to get anymore tax increases, they're living on Mars. It is not going to happen. It is it, we're done, no more. You are exactly right.

But you know, what is so fascinating and what makes people so understandably frustrated with Washington right now is exactly what you said, Ron. The whole point of this sequester was to cut in places that is going to hurt the most, because they did that in order to force Congress to do what was hard and to have more understandable cuts, and to have cuts that Washington could live with. And even that, they can't do.

So, it really is mind-blowing that they haven't been able to come up with this. They have kicked the can down the road and now, they put themselves in the box where people are really going to get hurt, it is mind-blowing.

BLITZER: What are the chances? You know the grand bargain, as they used to say, have comprehensive tax reform coupled with comprehensive entitlement reform, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, do that whole, huge package. Once again is that out of the realm of possibility?

BROWNSTEIN: It is not out of the realm of possibility. But doesn't seem to be a high probability right now. I believe the real moment for that, the opportunity was the end of the year when the Bush cuts expired and you possibly could have gotten the Republicans to go higher on revenue on that at that point if Democrats at that point were willing to include major restraints on the growth and entitlements.

And you know, the president in his speech this week in the state of the union made the case for that from the left arguing that unless we control entitlements over time we'll eventually squeeze out the growth for the future. There is a strong case for both parties here. But, it is just very difficult as we have seen really in the last two years to get over the political hurdles.

BLITZER: And one final question for you, Dana for you, taking a look at the Republicans on the hill and the Democrats on the hill, are they pretty much united within their own parties? Or are there splinter factions out there?

BASH: Oh, there are definitely splinter factions out there in both parties on this issue. And if you want to just focus, first of all, maybe only right now on Republicans, there are a number of Republicans who, you know, sort of throw up their hands in the house and say, if the sequester goes through, oh well, you know, because they want to do the really tough cutting of the federal government, of federal spending. And so that is one of the challenges that the Republican leadership has had all along and has even right now when you get to the end of the day.

But, I think the whole idea of a deal at the 11th hour, if you believe speaker Boehner, it is not going to happen. The clip you played from Mitch McConnell saying there is no off ramp. They are going to try to pass something in the senate, see how it plays in the house, go back and forth, the way the founders originally said it was originally happen. And we might bump up against March 1st, and they're not done.

BROWNSTEIN: Real quick, Wolf, for longer term issue, when we are talking about the budget, immigration, guns, climate, any of the issues we are facing, we have this close division in the country, Republicans controlling the house with an institutional advantage there, Democrats, Obama has been president for four years. And none of us are going away. We are either going to find ways to overcome our differences on the questions or we are just going to be stuck until the next presidential election.

BLITZER: Let's see what happens.

All right, thanks very much, Ron Brownstein, Dana Bash. Guys, appreciate it.

This next two weeks are going to be critical.

Other news we are following in Syria right now. Both sides in the ongoing bloody civil war are claiming small victories. But the Syrian people are still falling victim to huge amounts of violence. In one area, residents are returning after fleeing the relentless attacks. And as CNN Frederik Fleitgen reports from inside Syria, the scars are war are easily found inside Syria.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over) A game of soccer in the rubble of a civil war. After months of heavy fighting, people are returning to the Baba Amr (ph) district in Homs slowly and cautiously.

You know, there are not many places in the world where you can feel how fierce and intense fighting was when you go there after the fact. But Baba Amr (ph) is certainly one of those places. The government says it is in complete control of the area. But you can clearly see just how fierce the fighting here was.

During our visit we couldn't find a single house left unscathed. Baba Amr was one of the first places to fall into opposition hands in the uprising against President Bashar Al-Assad. It began with peaceful protests. But what followed was some of the worst fighting in the ongoing (INAUDIBLE), including artillery shelling and air raids by government forces and fierce urban combat that caused thousands of casualties.

Now, the battle is over and some shops have reopened.

Business is OK, he says, but compared to when we returned two months ago it has really improved because more and more people are coming back.

We had a government escort with us, as we toured Baba Amr, clearly making it difficult for people to speak openly with us.

The regime troops have driven many out of the area of Homs, but it remains a city with two faces. Just a few blocks from the utter destruction, you would never know there had been an armed conflict. The streets are full of life and predominantly Alawites mainly loyal to the regime.

We got a chance to speak to the government of Homs, a man respected, even by many opponents of the government. He says he believes the turmoil here is almost over.

If the support of terrorism is stopped in the media and on the battlefield, I am convinced, God willing, Homs will go back to what it used to be within four months, he told us.

The governor says he is trying to reach out to opposition fighters not affiliated with the Islamist groups, even offering in amnesty for those who surrender. Rebels still control some places. The government estimates at about 7,000 are holed up in neighborhoods, especially in the old city.

The fighting continues there as fierce as ever, says one opposition activist we managed to reach on Skype.

There are hundreds of thousands living in tents and hundreds of thousands living under siege, he says, there are tanks and rockets fired on a daily basis, this is what the regime and supporters want.

For many months, Homs was the symbol and epicenter of the uprising against the Assad regime. But what remains is a city divided between those who want to forget the civil war and those still entrenched, fighting on. And places like Baba Amr that serves as a warning to both sides what may happen to other parts of Syria if the civil war is brought to an end.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN. Homs, Syria.


BLITZER: The Pope shocks the world, he announces he is resigning. The first pontiff to step down in some 600 years. We have new details of why he is making this dramatic move and what is next for the Catholic Church.


BLITZER: Pope Benedict XVI stunned every this week by announcing he is resigning at the end of this month. We expect the cardinals to gather in mid-to late March to elect a new Pope.

Our Brian Todd has a closer look now at who will run things in the meantime, and at the quiet politics to picking of Benedict's successor.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is palace intrigue in overdrive, with Benedict XVI leaving the papacy on February 28th, who will be in power at the Vatican until a new Pope is elected. There is a position called camerlengo, a right-hand man to the Pope, and administrator who deals with finances and the managing tasks.

In the 2009 movie, "Angels and Demons," the camerlengo was portrayed as a evil master power broker.

In real life, the title of camerlengo was held by the cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. He also holds the powerful position of secretary of state, who in the Vatican is like a prime minister. But experts say don't get the idea that Bertone is the stuff of movie legend.

Despite the job title and responsibilities, he is not the best organizer?

MICHAEL SEAN WINTERS, CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL CATHOLIC REPORTER: No, I mean, the joke in Rome is that he couldn't organize a one-man band, the number one criticism of that his papacy has been the training have not run out of time and this was his jobs to make the they couldn't make the job run on time.

TODD: Michael Sean Winters, the correspondent for the national catholic reporter newspaper says Tarcisio Bartone was damaged in the so-called Vati-leak scandal when the Pope's butler leaked documents. Despite his current status, experts say Bertone has no shot at becoming Pope. Analysts say he is also a bitter rival of the cardinal Angelo Sedano (ph) who heads the College of Cardinals which elects the new Pope. Are we looking at a power struggle in the interim between those two?

CHESTER GILLIS, PROFESSOR, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: No. I don't think so, because the interim is a very short period. You don't have to have the funeral, you don't have to have the mourning period as we have known this, so they can go right into the general congregation, and then the conclave, very shortly after the Pope resigns.

TODD: Another part of the palace intrigue, why would the Pope resign now just as the Easter season begins, the most important part of the year for the Pope? The Vatican is keeping secrets announcing Benedict had surgery to implant a pacemaker, but they insist he is not sick.

GILLIS: The common phrase is the Pope is well until he is dead.

TODD: Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


BLITZER: We'll have much more on the shocking resignation of Pope Benedict. I' will speak to the man who introduced me to the holy father here in Washington, D.C.

Carnival's latest cruise nightmare. Triumph is not Carnival's first ship to sail into crisis. Former passengers from other carnival ships also have some harrowing stories to tell.


BLITZER: Carnival cruise has found itself in crisis mode this week after its ship "triumph" found itself lost in the Gulf of Mexico, leaving passengers with few toilets, no air conditioning facing long lines for food. Carnival was forced to have the ship towed port in Alabama.

CNN's Sandra Endo report this.

It wasn't carnival ship to experience severe problems.


SANDRA ENDO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): How many times can carnival say they are sorry? The company's CEO apologized to the more than 3,000 passengers stranded aboard the Triumph.

GERRY CAHILL, PRESIDENT, CEO, CARNIVAL CRUISE LINES: And we obviously are very, very sorry about what has taken place.

ENDO: In 2010, to the passengers on the Splendor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are very, very sorry for the discomfort.

ENDO: A year ago, an engine fire knocked out power on the carnival's Costa Allegra off the coast of the (INAUDIBLE). Also in 2012, 32 people were killed when carnival's Costa Concordia crashed off the coast of Italy.

In this most recent incident, carnival said it did not deliver on its promise to provide a great vacation.

CAHILL: We try very hard to do that all the time. So obviously, in this particular case we did not deliver on that promise.

ENDO: And some relatives of passengers are making a vow of their own.

BRENT NUTT, WIFE IS ABOARD CARNIVAL SHIP: I promise you none of my family members on there will probably never, ever take another cruise.

ENDO: The Triumph experienced an electrical problem with one an alternator about a week ago. And another propulsion problem in January. The carnival says those problems were fixed, passed inspection and had nothing to do with the recent engine fire. Despite all of carnival's recent troubles, the maritime experts say it had nothing to do with the line.

DOCTOR BURKE, STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK MARITIME COLLEGE: Unfortunately, I think with carnival, this is just a bad coincidence for them that it happened on two of the ships in this market. I have no reason to believe that carnival is in any way not a first class operator.


BLITZER: Sandra Endo reporting for us. Senator Marco Rubio caused a little bit of a stir with the sip scene around the world. But how did he go from an intern to a huge Republican star?

We will go to his hometown, that's coming up.



OBAMA: Well, we also have to make sure that America remains a place where everyone who is willing to work, everybody who is willing to work hard has the chance to get ahead. Our economy is stronger when we harness the talents and ingenuity of striving, hopeful immigrants. And right now, leaders from the business labor law enforcement, faith communities, they all agree that the time has come to pass comprehensive immigration reform. Now, is the time to do it. Now is the time to get it done.


BLITZER: In his state of the union address, the president got almost the entire chamber roaring, the bipartisan response on immigration reform. It is a key issue for Senator Marco Rubio who gave the official Republican responds on Tuesday.

Our Kate Bolduan traveled to Miami to get the back story on the rising GOP star.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Good evening. I'm Marco Rubio.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The 41-year-old senator, already labeled the Republican savior, was blunt in his official GOP response to the president's state of the union address.

RUBIO: His solution to virtually every problem we face is for Washington to tax more, borrow more, and spend more.

BOLDUAN: His big moment, however, overshadowed by an unscripted drink of water now deemed Watergate. Rubio took the moment now gone viral in stride.

RUBIO: I needed water. What am I going to do, you know? It happens. God has a funny way of reminding us that we are human.

BOLDUAN: That charm is one reason behind his rapid rise in the Republican party. To better understand his star power, we went to his roots, West Miami, Florida. His success may seem improbable.

RUBIO: My dad was a bartender. My mom was a cashier.

BOLDUAN: But it's no surprise to those close to Marco Rubio.

REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN (R), FLORIDA: Marco always was a superstar. He was a standout intern.

BOLDUAN: Rubio got his first taste of politics interning for Florida congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

ROS-LEHTINEN: I was a lot thinner and he had a lot more hair. But he's the same old Marco. Marco would do anything and everything I asked interns to do, and willingly so. Whether it was getting coffee or making copies. But mostly going with me to events. He was a real people person. BOLDUAN: Soon after, at 26 years old, Rubio won his first election for the West Miami city commission. The community he grew up in and still lives with his wife and four young children.

So this is kind of where it all began, if you will?

REBECA SOSA, CHAIR, MIAMI-DADE COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS: It is where it all began for him and for me.

BOLDUAN: I'm sure people were wondering, was he good?

SOSA: He was excellent. That was his seat.

BOLDUAN: Rebeca Sosa is a longtime friend and considered Marco Rubio's political godmother.

What makes Marco Rubio tick?

SOSA: Sometimes people get so arrogant that they don't listen. Marco listens. Marco sits with people. Marco analyzes his surrounding.

BOLDUAN: But it wasn't always easy. After becoming one of the youngest speakers of the Florida state house, he was the long-shot Senate candidate in 2010. Jose Mallea ran his campaign.

JOSE MALLEA, FORMER CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Early on, the entire establishment was against Marco. I think if you asked 100 political strategists from all over the country, 99 would have probably told you that it couldn't happen.

BOLDUAN: And that come-from-behind victory launched Rubio into the national spotlight. He was considered a top vice presidential contender during Mitt Romney's White House run. He introduced Romney at the Republican convention last year.

RUBIO: My dad used to tell us - (SPEAKING IN SPANISH). In this country - in this country, you're going to be able to accomplish all the things we never could.

BOLDUAN: Rubio's personal story has been a big part of his political narrative and the source of his biggest controversy to date. A son of Cuban immigrants, Rubio long suggested his parents fled the rule of Fidel Castro. But they actually came to the U.S. more than two years prior.

RUBIO: Do I wish I had known those dates earlier? Absolutely. Does it change anything? Absolutely not.

BOLDUAN: Still, those Latin roots and his conservative credentials are a perfect combination for a party in search of a makeover and desperate to attract more Hispanic voters. So it's fitting that Rubio responded to the president in both English and Spanish.



BOLDUAN: Add to all that Rubio taking a leading role in the latest push on immigration reform, and it leaves pretty much everyone asking for the inevitable question, Wolf. What is next for Marco Rubio? I'll tell you, spending some time in West Miami, his hometown supporters are definitely not setting their expectations very low. We even saw - already saw a man on the street in West Miami, holding a Rubio 2016 sign. I guess it is never too early to start.

BLITZER: And there will be a lot more of them, I guarantee you -

BOLDUAN: Yeah, no kidding.

BLITZER: -- He has a huge future ahead of them. Thanks very much.

A police officer and hero. He took took multiple bullets to the head, neck and body and survived. Up next, one of the president's guests at the state of the union this week, speaking exclusively with our own Chris Cuomo about his shoot-out with a mass killer.


BLITZER: We saw the raw emotion in the House chamber when President Obama urged Congress to vote on gun control this week. During his state of the union address, the president pointed to one of his special guests to help make that case.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We should follow the example of a police officer named Brian Murphy. When a gunman opened fire on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, Brian was first to arrive, and didn't consider his own safety. He fought back until help arrived. And ordered his fellow officers to protect the safety of the fellow Americans worshipping inside. Even as he lay bleeding from 12 bullet wounds. And when asked how he did that, Brian said that's just the way we're made. That is just the way we're made.


BLITZER: CNN anchor Chris Cuomo sat down with Lieutenant Murphy in an exclusive interview before the president's address.


LT. BRIAN MURPHY, SHOOTING VICTIM: I've been hit an awful lot. When you're on your belly and you look down and your hands are basically just shot to pieces, then you start thinking, I might be in trouble here.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Lieutenant Brian Murphy remembers every one of the 15 bullets he took of what he calls a beautiful Sunday morning this past August, just moments after responding to a call of shots fired at a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin.

(on camera): What happened?

MURPHY: I yelled stop. I saw his pistol come up, we both shot pretty much about the same time, 30, 40 yards away, maybe. I missed and he hit me directly in the chin and went down my throat and ripped apart my voice box and my larynx.

CUOMO (voice-over): His voice is still damaged, but there's dash cam video to tell the story, Murphy confronting the shadowy figure of the killer who runs right at him, both firing. When Murphy is hit, the shooter closes in. Nine people were already shot, six died in a hateful act of domestic terrorism. Now Lieutenant Murphy was in the shooter's sights.

MURPHY: That's when the shots hit me in the back of the leg and hit the vest a couple of times and then he shot me directly in the back of the head just right here in the back of the skull and that was the one that kind of stopped me in my tracks for a second.

CUOMO: That should have killed Murphy, but it was just the beginning.

MURPHY: He just continued to shoot probably six to eight feet away and then all of a sudden it got very quiet. There was no sound. There was nothing and that was the first time that I thought I might be going out. I just felt warm and my eyes got heavy, and I thought, I could stay here.

CUOMO: In a life or death situation, the officer makes an amazing decision. Instead of curling up to protect himself, he keeps moving to distract the gunman, a heroic move that came at great cost.

(on camera): Nobody gets shot this many times. Was that going through your head at all, like I can't believe how many times I've been shot?

MURPHY: Absolutely. It's funny you say that and it's kind of silly to laugh about it. But there was a point where I thought, Jesus, are you not done? How many times can you shoot someone?

CUOMO (voice-over): Even when help comes, Murphy waves off his fellow officers, telling them to help others first. His survival is a miracle.

(on camera): I've never met anybody who took 15 rounds before. You've probably never heard of anybody who took 15 rounds before.


CUOMO: So why you? Do you ask yourself? Why was I chosen to survive?

MURPHY: It's probably one of the first questions I asked, even in intensive care, was why me? I probably couldn't have lived with myself if it was one of the officers who I work with.

CUOMO (voice-over): Part of why may have been answered when he received an invitation to be a guest of the president at the "State of the Union."

(on camera): When people see you at the "State of the Union," what do you think you'll symbolize?

MURPHY: I hope perseverance, I hope dedication to duty.

CUOMO (voice-over): His presence in the first lady's box may also symbolize the president's push for tougher restrictions on guns.

MURPHY: From a societal point of view, there needs to be recognition of the fact that this is a problem. Does it necessarily mean restriction? I don't know. My shooter would have passed any background check.

As a matter of fact, went and bought his weapon legally. Does that mean that we just give up and say we don't need to touch anything? I think what's being done is the correct thing. CUOMO: For all he's lived through, there is one thing that Lieutenant Brian Murphy is not sure he can live with. He doesn't like to be called that word.

MURPHY: If you want to call me (inaudible) or the man of the year, I'll take it, but hero, I still have a hard time with.

CUOMO (on camera): You're going to get used to it because you're going to get some practice.


CUOMO: Because you are exactly what we want to hold out to people as what heroic behavior is all about.

If not you, who?

MURPHY: I appreciate you saying that. I really do.

CUOMO: I've never been so happy to shake a hand from Brooklyn before.

MURPHY: Thank you.

CUOMO: Thank you.


BLITZER: Great report from Chris Cuomo. We do consider Lieutenant Murphy certainly a hero.

He is the man who introduced Pope Benedict right here in Washington. Up next, my interview with Bishop David O'Connell.


BLITZER: More now on this week's shocking resignation by the Pope. Back in 2008, I had the opportunity to meet Pope Benedict when he visited the Catholic University of America right here in Washington. I was invited by Father David O'Connell, who was then the president of the university. He's now a bishop, and he joined us from his diocese in Trenton, New Jersey.


BLITZER: Bishop, thank you so much for joining us. Thank you so much for obviously inviting me to Catholic University to meet with Pope Benedict XVI. You remember that day, it was an incredible day for you, an incredible day for me. I'll never forget the honor that you bestowed on me. And of course, as someone who received an honorary degree from Catholic University, gave the commencement address, I feel very close to your university.

Just remind our viewers what happened on that day.

BISHOP DAVID O'CONNELL, DIOCESE OF TRENTON: Well, it was a great day. Probably the most memorable day of my life. I had invited the pope when he was a cardinal to come to Catholic University. He wasn't able to come. And so after his election as pope and his decision to come to the United States, he wrote and said one of the places he wanted to visit in addition to ground zero and the United Nations was the Catholic University of America.

So I was thrilled that he was able to come. It was such a beautiful day, as you remember, with all our thousands and thousands of students cheering him on, signs all over the place, Rock the Pope. People really loved it. And the pope really was very, very touched by the outpouring of love and affection for him.

BLITZER: All of us were thrilled to meet Pope Benedict XVI, especially my old friend from Buffalo, New York, the late Tim Russert of NBC News, who himself was Catholic. And remember how excited he was holding that holy Bible as he met with Pope Benedict XVI. All of us were excited but especially Tim. I'll never forget the look on his face, the stunned, how passionate and excited he was. Those were incredible days, I must say. Thank you for inviting us.

O'CONNELL: Oh, you're welcome. Did I ever tell you the story about Tim? Tim had written around to the cardinal and to he nuncio and all these other people asking for the opportunity to meet the pope and all of them said they didn't think it wasn't possible. And so I had the ten guests to invite and of course, I was friendly with Tim so he lucked out that day.

BLITZER: He certainly did. He was like a little boy there, I'll never forget, a little choir boy standing in front of Pope Benedict XVI. Didn't open his mouth. First time in my life I saw Tim Russert afraid to open his mouth and say anything to Pope Benedict XVI.

So let's talk about today. You wake up this morning, you hear the stunning news. What did you think?

O'CONNELL: Well, I got a tap on my door by my secretary, Jason Parzinski. And he said, Bishop, the pope has resigned. And I thought I was dreaming. He said, it's all over the news. I got up and turned on CNN, and of course it was all over the news, the story. I was stunned like the rest of the world. I mean, I don't think anybody expected this announcement today.

In fact, I was talking with Cardinal Dolan last night and, in New York, and no indication of an expectation that this would happen. So it really was a shocking announcement.

BLITZER: You actually, I believe, correct me if I'm wrong, but you had a meeting scheduled with Pope Benedict?

O'CONNELL: Yes, I was invited to a private audience on March 6th of, you know, the coming year, March 6th, I was going to be in Rome for a meeting of the board of trustees of St. John's University. And I had been notified I would have a private audience with the Holy Father on March the 6th. Now that's all changed.

BLITZER: So walk us through the process and your understanding what happens. He steps down at the end of this month. They'll be a period whether -- will there be an acting pope? I mean, what happens before a new pope is elected?

O'CONNELL: Well, you know, this is just very unusual. It's almost a new experience for us. This hasn't happened for almost 700 years, since the last time a pope resigned I think was 1415, Pope Gregory, one of the Gregories. The pope has always died in office. And so we had a period of mourning and Mass and then the cardinals would gather from all over the world.

So he had a period of time that was just part and parcel of the process. We don't have that situation here. The pope has not died. The pope has resigned. Has left the office. And so there probably will not be a long period, what they call a (INAUDIBLE), what they call an empty chair. There probably won't be a long period before the conclave is summoned and the cardinals make their vote.

BLITZER: Pope Benedict XVI is, what, 85, almost 86 years old. He was 78 when he became the pontiff. Do you think it would be wise to select someone younger so someone would serve for a longer tenure?

O'CONNELL: Well, it's interesting, you know. In our lifetime, Pope Paul VI was in his 80s. Pope John Paul II was in his 80s when he died. And of course, Pope Benedict, as you said, he's 85, he's almost 86. You know, it depends, it depends. What the cardinals are looking for. What the cardinals are seeking in someone to take Pope Benedict's place.

You know, in my mind, we watched Pope John Paul become a grandfather. Pope Benedict walked out on the world stage as a grandfather. And was just an interesting, different experience of his fatherly qualities, as you know from having met him, you know the gentle kind way that he had. But, you know, I think that depends on what the college of cardinals is looking for. You know, Pope Benedict was a teacher. And he spent his pontificate, his papacy, teaching. He taught well and with great clarity. So, it's a matter of preference of the college of cardinals and also, as we believe in the church, the working of the Holy Spirit.

BLITZER: We'll stay in very close touch with you, Bishop, thank you so much. Thanks for everything that you've done. Thanks for inviting me to Catholic University. Once again, I really appreciate it. And thanks for coming here to THE SITUATION ROOM.

O'CONNELL: Oh, it's great to be with you, Wolf. You take care. God bless.


BLITZER: A guy with a unique haircut gets an invitation to sit with the first lady at the state of the union. You are going to find out what happened.


BLITZER: If you look at the rules for the House of Representatives, there are some specific lines about how you can and cannot dress. Like you cannot wear hats for example. Traditionally male members are supposed to wear a coat and a tie.

But there aren't rules for hairstyles. As CNN's Jeanne Moos reports, that's a good thing for one of the first lady's guests at the state of the union.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): His mohawk blasts her bangs right out of this world. Remember Mohawk guy? The Mars rover flight director who cried when Curiosity landed on Mars.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Touchdown confirmed. We're safe on Mars.

MOOS: Bobak Ferdowsi gave a high five. And ever since, at least his hair's been high.

MOOS (on camera): Leaning forward so we can see the top.


MOOS (voice-over): He is definitely no show off, though he will show all sides. This is his State of the Union look.

Since the rover landing, he's changed his Mohawk to note accomplishments on Mars. The dots symbolize chloromethane, which an instrument found on Mars. And these symbols are Morse Code for the jet propulsion laboratory.

When President Obama's science adviser called to tell Bobak the first lady was inviting him to the State of the Union.

FERDOWSI: I told them I needed a minute to breathe.

MOOS: It's been a whirlwind from being mentioned by the president in a phone conversation with the Mars rover team.

OBAMA: I understand there's a special Mohawk guy that's working on the mission.

MOOS: Fans have painted him, turned him into a yarn doll, and used a lookalike to create a parody music video to the tune of "Sexy and I Know It."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): Yes, I got stars on my hawk and I ain't afraid to show it, show it, show it, show it. We're NASA and we know it.

MOOS: Bobak thinks it's all great, though he gets shy about the marriage proposals and fan love.

MOOS (on camera): One tweet, "I'd let that Mohawk dude land his rover on my red planet any time."

FERDOWSI: Uh, yeah, hmm. MOOS: His hair style, by the way, is not some do-it-yourself Mohawk.

MOOS (voice-over): It's done by a salon.

MOOS (on camera): Don't worry, I'm not going to ask how much it costs.

FERDOWSI: That's all right.

MOOS: But how much does it cost?

FERDOWSI: Ha, ha, ha.

MOOS: Of all the tributes floating around the Internet, this is one of Bobak's favorites.

MOOS (voice-over): "You'll never get a good job with a haircut like that." But you might get to the State of the Union.

Jeannie Moos, CNN --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): We're NASA and we know it.

MOOS: New York.


BLITZER: Nice haircut.

Remember, you can always follow what is going on here in THE SITUATION ROOM on Twitter. Tweet me @wolfblitzer. You can tweet the show @CNNSitRoom. And like us on Facebook as well.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. The news continues next on CNN.