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THE SITUATION ROOM

Dueling Immigration Reform Plans; Gas Prices Go Up, Up, Up; Country Music Star's Apparent Suicide; Country Music Star's Apparent Suicide; Nightmare Scenario For Spending Cuts; How GOP View Second Chance for Sanford; High-Profile Visits to Israel; Accused Baby Slapper Charged; Living in American Nightmare?

Aired February 18, 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, gas prices going through the roof right now. And it's still just the middle of winter. Thirty-two days in a row increases at the pump. We're going to tell you what is going on.

Her deeply troubled personal life overshadowed her singing career. Now the words of her songs echo like a cry for help. Country music star Mindy McCready is dead, an apparent suicide.

Plus, a man accused of uttering a racial slur and slapping a crying toddler aboard an airliner is out of a job. And that's just for starters.

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

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

President Obama spent the day out on the golf course in Florida once again today. But a leaked draft of his immigration bill is raising eyebrows back in Washington, where a bipartisan group of lawmakers, they have been working on an immigration bill, a reform bill, a comprehensive bill.

The president's version proposes an eight year path to permanent residency and eventually citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Right now, the waiting time for millions of people who want to enter the United States legally could be anywhere from six years to 24 years.

Republicans are crying foul.

Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is joining us now with the latest details -- Jessica.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Congressional Republican sources tell me they are angry that the White House continues to move forward with its own immigration bill without Republican input. They say it hurts the effort on Capitol Hill to work out a bipartisan agreement.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN (voice-over): Senator Marco Rubio, who's led the Republicans' effort to work out an immigration compromise, now says the White House's proposal is half-baked, seriously flawed and dead on arrival. On ABC News, former Republican vice presidential candidate, Paul Ryan, slammed the White House for its immigration politics.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE BUDGET COMMITTEE: Leaking this out does set things in the wrong direction.

YELLIN: The debate had been going so smoothly.

What changed?

Over the weekend, details of the White House's draft immigration bill leaked out. Some specifics -- the president's bill would allow undocumented workers to apply for green cards after eight years. That's if they pass the background check, paid back taxes and learned English. After another five years, they could apply for citizenship.

But that's not new. The president proposed the same path to citizenship in 2011 and the White House has repeatedly said he stands by that.

It's also no secret the White House has written its own immigration bill.

But the timing of this leak is bad politics. Just days ago, Mr. Obama renewed a pledge to let a bipartisan group on Capitol Hill take the lead on immigration reform.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: And I met with the president Wednesday and he agreed to give us the space we need to come up with a bipartisan proposal. And so we're working well together. I know that Senator Rubio was upset with this leak.

YELLIN: In an interview with Univision, the president made it clear his patience with Congress has its limits.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So we need to take the opportunity and we need to do it fast. I don't want us waiting six months, a year to get this done.

YELLIN: But some on Capitol Hill worry this leak was the White House's way of pushing its agenda now.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

YELLIN: Now, White House officials insist they did not leak this draft and they didn't even want it out. They are still unapologetic, at the same time, about preparing their own legislation. They say they're doing that in case the Senate's efforts to reach a bipartisan deal collapse. And they want a backup plan.

And, Wolf, the group of senators who are working out a bipartisan compromise, they've already agreed on their principles.

But don't be mistaken, they have not yet written a complete bill. Sources tell me that that is on track to be done around mid-march. But, again, the White House is prepared that that process could collapse. They say it's making progress -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What exactly, Jessica, did the Republicans object to in this draft immigration bill that was leaked out of the White House?

YELLIN: They say that the White House's bill, as far as they know so far, is too vague and too weak on border security, as you know, a big issue for Republicans.

But another major complaint that I hear from both business leaders and Republican officials is that the president's proposal does not include a temporary worker program for low skilled workers. Now, those workers, some see them as competing for American jobs, so unions are of wary a temporary worker program and so are Democrats.

BLITZER: Jessica Yellin over at the White House.

Thanks very much.

So we know about gas prices going up during the summer driving season, but guess what, it's still winter and gas prices have gone up for 32 straight days. The average price for a gallon of regular is now $3.73.

So what's going on?

CNN's Alison Kosik is joining us from New York right now with some answers -- the question, Alison, what is going on?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that is the question. And it's interesting you mentioned $3.73 as the national average for a gallon of regular. But, look, here in New York, we have the privilege of being over the national average at $4.15 a gallon. Same with LA. LA actually has it worse, at $5.19 a gallon.

Why is this happening?

Why are we seeing gas prices go up?

A couple of things that are kind of, you know, business as usual.

First of all, a seasonal factor. What's happening now is the winter blend of gasoline is being switched over to the cleaner, more expensive summer blend. So what happens with that -- and a lot of refineries wind up shutting down and that crimps supply, causing prices to go up more.

But the bigger reason you're seeing these prices go up is because a lot of the price that makes up the price of gas, actually, is oil. Oil prices are up 10 percent in the past two months. So that's because there is an expectation that demand for fuel is going to rise as we see the economy improve. Now, keep in mind that who sets the price for oil?

Oil prices are determined in the global marketplace. And the U.S. is just one small player in it. And that's why a lot of drivers that we talked to today just say, you know what, we just have to accept it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I always have this mind set in my head that $50 to $60 gas, I have to put it every day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I want to convert to diesel, to vegetable oil, because I do a lot of frying. And I want to convert to -- the -- so I want to have a diesel engine, convert it to a diesel engine and the diesel generators with the vegetable fuel. Go green.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOSIK: Go green. But, you know, that, I think it's a long time before something like that happens, Wolf.

So a lot of people kind of thinking about getting creative. But the reality is, I think we're stuck paying these high prices, at least for a while -- Wolf.

BLITZER: How much longer can we expect these gas prices, Alison, to go up?

And the key concern is that every time it goes up a little bit, it affects poorer people, middle class people, a whole lot more than rich people, because so much more of the middle class, they have to devote to -- to buying gasoline.

KOSIK: Exactly. And that is a huge factor. And you think about our paychecks are much smaller since the payroll tax holiday went away. So, yes, as that happens, we see our gas prices go higher.

There is some good news, though. We talked to some analysts. Even AAA saying that you can expect that the average price for a gallon of gas won't go any higher than last year's peak at $3.94. Now, so expect, you know, prices to continue going higher this year. And they're going to probably peak in the spring, Wolf. Of course, if other factors happen, that $3.94, well, that could go higher than that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's almost like a regressive tax on everyone who wants to drive a car.

KOSIK: Yes.

BLITZER: So it's certainly something of concern.

Alison, thank you.

By the way, for a state by state look at the price of gas and an interactive map, go to CNNMoney.com.

A South African newspaper reporting a blood-stained cricket bat has emerged in the murder case against the Olympic star, Oscar Pistorius.

Our Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What's the latest -- Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the paper, citing a source, reports detectives are working to determine whether that bat was used to attack the so-called blade runner's model girlfriend or whether she used it in self-defense. They're also investigating the possibility he used the bat to break down his bathroom door.

An official says she was shot four times through the door and was later carried downstairs by Pistorius, still alive. The Olympic star is due back in court tomorrow, the same day his girlfriend is being buried. He denies any wrongdoing. And we will have much more on this case just ahead in our next hour.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced via Twitter today that he's back in his country after months of undergoing treatment for cancer surgery in Cuba. The announcement comes just after the release of this picture, showing the ailing president with his two daughters. Chavez says he'll continue treatment in Venezuela. Government accounts of his condition have been vague since the December surgery. He's seen with his daughters there.

And just weeks after leaving the State Department, Hillary Clinton is now ready to join the high priced speaking circuit. She has signed up with the Harry Walker Agency, which represents former President Bill Clinton, along with former Vice Presidents Al Gore and Dick Cheney. Mrs. Clinton is expected to make well into the six figure range per speech. Her husband has made more than $89 million just from speaking fees.

And security is high at the upscale Four Seasons Hotel in Midtown Manhattan, where police say two men smashed a lobby display case and got away with more than $160,000 in high end wristwatches and jewelry over the weekend. The hotel says this particular jewelry line is popular with celebrities ranging from Jay-Z to former New York City mayor, Rudy Giuliani. And the NYPD continues its search for the suspects.

So not a place that you would think of as a possible target, but, yes, they apparently targeted this hotel lobby and stole a lot of these high end watches -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes.

All right, thanks very much, Lisa, for that.

A troubled country music star is dead, an apparent suicide. Joining us next, our own Dr. Drew Pinsky, who spoke to the singer not long ago.

And four months after super storm Sandy, some victims are reduced, right now -- get this -- to begging their banks for money.

Why they're not getting their insurance payments.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know, we came here to live the American dream and -- and now we're living the American nightmare, because they're holding our money and we can't get it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(singing)

BLITZER: "I need 10,000 angels" -- words that propelled a young Mindy McCready to country music superstardom nearly 20 years ago, now taking on chilling new meaning after her long spiral downward has ended in an apparent suicide.

CNN entertainment correspondent, Nischelle Turner, is taking a closer look at her troubled past.

NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Mindy McCready first caught the public eye at the tender age of 21, as a fresh-faced country singer with a lot of promise. But in recent years, she'd been in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TURNER (voice-over): Mindy McCready reached the heights of country music in 1996.

(SINGING)

TURNER: Her song "Guys Do It All The Time" hit number one on the country charts and her debut album sold more than two million copies. But while she was able to put a total of 14 songs and six albums on to the country chart, she never surpassed that early peak, becoming more famous for her arrest records than her musical ones. In 2004, she was arrested for trying to illegally obtain OxyContin and entered a guilty plea.

That was followed in 2005 by an arrest for drunken driving. That same year, McCready also testified against her boyfriend who was accused of beating her. He served a 30-day sentence after pleading guilty to assault. At the time, she told CNN's Larry King she was treating the incident as a wake-up call.

MINDY MCCREADY, ENTERTAINER: Yes, things have been going bad. I think it's God's way of getting my attention, saying, you better wake up, girl. I have important stuff for you to do in life, and I've definitely been preoccupied and side tracked doing the wrong things.

TURNER: But her life continued to go off course later that year with arrests for identity fraud and drunken driving and a drug overdose while pregnant that authorities called a suicide attempt. Giving birth to her son, Xander, in 2006 didn't stop the downward spiral. She was charged with domestic battery and resisting arrest in 2007 after a fight with her mother.

She slashed her wrists in another apparent suicide attempt in 2008 and fought a very public custody battle with her mother over her son. In 2009, she went public with her substance abuse issues on "Celebrity Rehab" with Dr. Drew who works for CNN/HLN. He says she was getting better.

VOICE OF DR. DREW PINSKY, HOST, HLN'S DR. DREW ON CALL: She'd actually been doing very well. Things were looking up for her.

TURNER: But it seems any progress may have been derailed when her current boyfriend and the father of her second son, Zane, died of a reported self-inflicted gunshot wound last month.

PINSKY: She had children with a boyfriend who ended up killing himself a few weeks ago. She was struggling after that, actually was admitted herself to a psychiatric facility. She became so fearful of the stigma and the way people were responding to her being hospitalized that she actually checked herself out prematurely, and now, we have what we have.

TURNER: She leaves behind two sons, ages six and 10 months old.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TURNER (on-camera): And if you're wondering where the boys are today, CNN received a statement from McCready's rep this morning saying, quote, "Zane and Xander are loved, cared for, and comfortable with foster families at this time" -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Nischelle Turner, thanks very much.

Joining us now, HLN's Dr. Drew Pinsky. He's the host of "Dr. Drew On Call." And as you saw on Nischelle's report, he treated Mindy McCready on VH1's "Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew" back in 2009. Dr. Drew, thanks very much for joining us.

You've treated her. She was on your show, "Celebrity Rehab." Tell us about her a little bit. Does her death surprise you?

PINSKY: It surprises me in the sense -- well, I'll tell you how it doesn't surprise me, first. She had severe enough addiction that she had a seizure in withdrawal, as you're seeing there. She had repeated bouts of treatment, repeated concomitant mental health issues, suicidal gestures, domestic violence. So, we have somebody who with advanced addiction and dual diagnosis. That is a fatal combination, particularly, if someone is not actively engage in treatment.

It look -- I'd not been treating her for several years, but it appears that she was beginning to get things together. She had a trouble relationship. She had her children back in her own custody, and things were going well until the boyfriend killed himself and things completely unraveled at that point. I was contacted by friends and family, and actually, I reached out to her about ten days ago, and she agreed with me that she needed to get help at that point.

She was really struggling. She was profoundly depressed and shattered by the death of the boyfriend. She went to treatment, but her main concern was the stigma and the judgment of people in the press and public. And I'm convinced, and I'm just beside myself about this, that she left treatment prematurely because of that stigma.

If she had stayed in treatment, she'd be with us today. She has chronic issues. It needs a regular maintenance. We should not judge her any more than we would judge a cancer patient who had a recurrence of their tumor and needed to go back in the hospital for some treatment. She needed to take care of herself. She was on the road to do so and felt too stigmatized to see it out and look what we have.

BLITZER: Because there are so many people out there who are afraid of that stigma, how it could be impacting their lives and they don't get the treatment they really need. Talk to those people right now, Dr. Drew, and tell them that they can't worry about that. They need help.

PINSKY: That's right. Wolf, these are medical conditions. They're brain diseases just the way we take care of heart diseases. And it's potentially fatal. This is a case in point. People with severe depression die of their depression through suicide. Suicide is a symptom of their depression. If you throw in drugs and alcohol on top of that or eating disorders or cutting or any other chronic conditions, the probability of a bad outcome is so much higher.

Do not think in terms of people conquering a chronic illness. Think in terms of enrolling in treatment and maintaining treatment for as long as is necessary, often, lifelong maintenance. Maybe not every day but regular maintenance. And, again, think of it as a cancer that's dangerous. It has recurrences. You need to go back in the hospital and you go back to the chronic treatment. It is no different.

BLITZER: What can you say, Dr. Drew, to some folks out there who might be watching right now? They're worried about someone they love who has all the warning signs of addiction, has actually attempted suicide before, how can they help these people?

PINSKY: You know, some of it you have to realize is that you, yourself, can only do so much. And when somebody has a life- threatening medical emergency, which is what a suicidal gesture or thought is, you need to bring in help, whether it's law enforcement or suicide assessment teams or the mental health community or the medical community. Just take them to an emergency room.

Do not -- this is the big advice. Do not go it alone. On HLN, 90 percent of the horrible stories I'm reporting about are mental health issues that come in contact with firearms. People didn't go all the way to the mat with getting these people care. And as a result, disaster has occurred. BLITZER: I'm told, Dr. Drew, that Mindy is, what, the fifth "Celebrity Rehab" cast member to die in two years. Here's the question, are you worried that the show potentially could be having a negative impact on the lives or -- of these troubled celebrities or is this just an unfortunate reality?

PINSKY: I believe it is the latter. We always worry these people are getting the right care and enough care. It appears that the people that are now sober and maintaining their treatment are doing great. And those that pulled away and started doing things on their own may or may not have been piecing together treatment, things don't turn out so well.

BLITZER: What a sad story, indeed. What a talented woman. And to --

PINSKY: Yes. Lovely, lovely woman, beautiful.

BLITZER: And to end it all like this is such a horrific situation. So sad. Dr. Drew, thanks so much.

PINSKY: Sickening. Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Massive automatic spending cuts are looming throughout the federal government right now. Most Americans could feel at least some kind of serious impact, but are government officials using scare tactics to make their point?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: So, time is quickly running out, unless, Congress acts by March 1st. $85 billion in spending cuts will kick in automatically. Two million federal workers potentially could face furloughs, but one way or another, the impact may be felt by most Americans. The White House is warning that 10,000 teacher jobs, for example, would be at risk, and 70,000 children could be removed from head start.

The cuts would hit during the tax season, meaning, millions of taxpayers would have an even tougher time getting answers from the IRS. CNN's Chris Lawrence has been looking at other areas where you may feel the sting. Chris, the government officials, are they overly hyping the impact of these forced cuts?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, in some cases, yes, they are. In fact, in a minute, I'm going to give you a very surprising number that may make you rethink this whole idea of what a cut to the budget really is.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE (voice-over): Travelers stuck and frustrated at airport checkpoints. National parks closed during kid's summer break. Even disability checks delayed for weeks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd be scared to death. LAWRENCE: Some officials are turning the threat of deep budget cuts into a federal government version of "Fear Factor."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Scared the heck (ph) out of folks.

LAWRENCE: Nobody's Social Security check will be reduced because of these budget cuts, but someone still has to process them. The Social Security Administration is sending letters to Congress, warning what will happen if it has to fire or furlough workers. Applicants will have to wait two weeks longer on an initial disability claim and nearly a month longer for a disability hearing decision.

Homeland security says flyers won't be able to easily clear customs.

JANET NAPOLITANO, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Peak wait times which can already reach over two hours could grow to four hours or more.

LAWRENCE: In the Persian Gulf, the navy dropped from two aircraft carriers to one and says more cuts are coming.

ADM. JONATHAN GREENERT, CHIEF OF NAVAL OPERATIONS: We will not be able to respond in the way the nation has expected and depended.

LAWRENCE: But some are wondering if there are less frightening alternatives. Representative Duncan Hunter says the Pentagon could cut the navy's experimental green fleet or an underperforming army system instead of deployments that affect national security.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no fat left to cut.

LAWRENCE: So says the national parks. Officials are warning anyone planning a family trip to Yellowstone or Yosemite expect shorter hours and --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Possibly closed camp grounds.

LAWRENCE: The park service could lose more than $100 million, but it's got a $2 billion budget. Some critics say almost any organization can survive a five percent cut to its budget.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE (on-camera): Now, about that number, the number is $1 trillion. That's what the federal government had in discretionary spending in the year 2007. Even cutting 85 billion off these mandatory cuts, the federal government would still be spending more than they did in 2007. In fact, $150 billion more. A lot of the critics will point to that year and say, look, are we still were able to fly?

The kids got school lunches. We got our Social Security checks. And they say some of this hype has been overblown in terms of this mandatory budget cut deal, Wolf. BLITZER: So, even if there are the mandatory cuts, let's be precise, the defense department, your Pentagon correspondent, the Defense Department's budget spending will go up every single year over the next years but not necessarily at the rate of increase they would have liked without these mandatory cuts, isn't that right?

LAWRENCE: Yes, look, Wolf, when they say budget cuts, it's not the same as you and me at home. It's not the same as saying, I've got $100 to spend, now I only have $80 to spend. What these cuts are saying is, we expected to get this increase in two years or in six years or in eight years. And now, we're going to shave a bit off all of those increases. The budget's still going up. It's just not going up quite as much.

BLITZER: Yes, these are cuts in the projected growth. Only in Washington are they really called cuts because there will be increases in defense spending every single year, but not necessarily at the rate of increase they would have liked.

All right, good explanation. Chris Lawrence, working the story for us.

President Obama spends the weekend at an exclusive golf club in Florida. You wouldn't necessarily - you can bet he wouldn't have done that before the election. We're talking about that and more in our "Strategy Session." Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Obama has had a private golf outing over the weekend with Tiger Woods. So, is there anything wrong with that? Joining us more to discuss that and more in our "Strategy Session," Ben Labolt, the former Obama 2012 campaign secretary, along with CNN contributor and Republican strategist Ana Navarro. Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

So, there's been a little of commotion about the president playing golf with Tiger Woods. Let me read from "The New York Times" story today by Jackie Calmes. She writes, "It is hard to imagine that a year ago Mr. Obama would have spent a three-day weekend at an exclusive resort with an all-male group, especially giving recurring complaints of too few women in his innermost circle."

What do you think about that kind of criticism, Ben?

BEN LABOLT, OBAMA 2012 CAMPAIGN SECRETARY: Well, listen, every president needs a break. This is one of the most mentally challenging jobs in the world. George W. Bush went to Crawford. H.W. Bush went to Kennebunkport. Reagan went to Santa Barbara. The fact is the president wanted some time off. This will allow him to ensure that his decision making is in top form.

And every president along the line has done this. I'd be surprised if you heard Republicans who have worked in the White House criticize this. They know that a president needs vacation time to ensure his performance is where it needs to be. BLITZER: I think that's fair enough, Ben. But why the secrecy? Why not let photographers get a picture of the president playing golf with Tiger Woods?

LABOLT: Well, I think this is much ado about nothing. Those are the same terms, the same arrangement, that the press has had for every golf outing he's taken at Andrews Air Force based. You get a list of the people he golfs with but not a picture. It's not a photo op. I'm always a little bit leery when reporters become the story. It was obviously a slow weekend in the news.

BLITZER: What do you think about that, Ana?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Wolf, look, I think if Michelle Obama is okay with the president spending a guys weekend alone with Tiger Woods, I'm okay with it, too. I think the guy has a right to play golf. I think he has a right to do it in privacy.

I also think the press has a right to push for wanting access and for wanting pictures. They are the White House press corps. They're traveling. They're there. They want to do something. They're frustrated; they're twiddling their thumbs. So, I think it's fine. I think that's what our society is. And they have transparency.

I also think "The New York Times" is right. This probably would not have happened a year ago. Then again, he's not standing for election again. And there's things a president can do after an election that he wouldn't do before one.

BLITZER: I want to show our viewers an Air Force One picture, by the way. This is Air Force One on the tarmac, West Palm Beach International Airport. The president getting ready to board Air Force one after his weekend outing -- golf outing, I should say. And the president getting ready to fly back to Washington. We'll show you live pictures as the president gets there and goes up those stairs.

Let's get to another issue right now. Ben, I'll start with you again. The whole issue of immigration. This leaked plan that the president apparently has that the White House has been circulating within the administration. Republican Senator Rubio of Florida, he reacted when the story came out over the weekend. He said, "If actually proposed, the president's bill would be dead on arrival in Congress, leaving us with unsecured borders and a broken illegal immigration system for years to come." The draft of bill includes an eight-year path to permanent residency, eventually citizenship, for illegal immigrants.

I'll ask, Ana, let's start with her first. What's wrong with some of the ideas in this draft immigration reform plan that's circulating within the administration, assuming Congress can't get its act together?

NAVARRO: OK, what's wrong with it, it puts at risk and demeans the bipartisan agreement Congress has been working on. It's practically the only glimmer of hope we have for immigration, is if this bipartisan agreement can survive. And these sort of leaks are certainly not helpful to the survival of these bipartisan -- of the bipartisan agreement. There's a lot of suspicion when it comes to the White House, when it comes to whether this is going to be used for political purposes. Whether it's about the Hispanic vote being used as political pawns. You know, it's just not going to work.

Look, Wolf, in an ideal world, the president, the White House, would be calling Republicans and Democrats and Senate in the bipartisan group and working together with them on a plan. That has not happened. And right now, whether we like it or not, whether we accept it or not, the president of the United States has a level of toxicity within Congress that is a reality. And so it has a better shot of passing immigration reform if it comes from Congress to Congress.

BLITZER: The president, I must say, he hasn't been actively involved, Ben. He's letting these bipartisan leaders in the Senate and the House do the work. This plan, correct me if I'm wrong, is out there in case they fail -- he wants to have some sort of, I guess, last resort to see if they can achieve some comprehensive reform.

LABOLT: Well, that's because that's what has the best chance of passing. I think there's a little bit of kabuki theater going on here on the Republican's part. The fact is, the White House reached out immediately after that "USA Today" story hit to say they hadn't leaked this plan, that they stand by the bipartisan Gang of Eight process in the Senate.

And they've known the principles the president has been fighting for dating back to his days in the Senate. He outlined them in the state of the union address. Sure, they have a responsibility to put a plan together, to make sure it's ready to go, if they need it. And they circulated it to agencies within the administration who are going to do the work to get that done.

But the way to get this done is through the bipartisan process. Republicans were never going to rubber stamp what the president put forward. This has the best chance of passage.

BLITZER: Guys, hold on for a moment, I want to continue this conversation. We're also standing by to see the president take off from West Palm Beach, back to Washington. Much more of our "Strategy Session" right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Disgraced politician seeks forgiveness in a new campaign ad. We're back to talk about that with former Obama campaign press secretary Ben Labolt and our CNN contributor, the Republican strategist Ana Navarro.

Ana, I'll start with you this time. Mark Sanford, he was the governor of South Carolina. His whole governorship got derailed because his marriage, his reputation got derailed at the same time for an extramarital affair. But he's now running in a special congressional election in South Carolina. I'm going to play a clip from an ad he's now running. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK SANFORD, FORMER GOVERNOR OF SOUTH CAROLINA: I've experienced how none of us go through life without mistakes. But in their wake, we can learn a lot about grace, a God of second chances and be the better for it. In that light, I humbly step forward and ask for your help in changing Washington.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What do you think about that, that strategy that he's got there as a Republican candidate?

NAVARRO: Well, Wolf, yes. Our Christian God is a God of second chances. I think he better hope that the voters of South Carolina are voters of second chances and give him a second chance. I think he got lucky that his wife isn't running in the seat as some had expected her to do. It would have been a political War of the Roses. And he's got to apologize; everybody knows in South Carolina what happened. He's got issues with the favorability numbers. And it's good to apologize. It's good to admit you made mistakes and to ask for forgiveness. He's got no other choice.

BLITZER: What do you think about all of this from the Democratic perspective, Ben?

LABOLT: Well, I think the slogan for her -- his campaign should be elephant in the room. Look, he was going to have to address this at some point. I think, you know, in the eyes of the public, his violation of the public trust might be worse than what he did on the personal front, disappearing for days without telling his staff or the people of South Carolina where he was.

And I think it says something about the state of the Republican Party, that this is the strong et candidate they can field in a ruby red district in South Carolina.

BLITZER: Let's talk about Israel for a second, Ana. Marco Rubio, he's in the region right now, he's visiting Israel. Rand Paul was there in January. President Obama's scheduled to go in March. What's going on here? Why is -- are all these guys visiting Israel right now?

NAVARRO: Well, because it's such an important part of the world. For the same reason that the press, that you have spent so much time there, because it's so important to the United States and we have such a special relationship with Israel, also with Jordan. I think what Rubio is doing is very smart. Anything and everything Marco Rubio does right now gets viewed through the 2016 prism. But the best thing he can do --

BLITZER: Hold on, Ana.

NAVARRO: -- is being serious and (INAUDIBLE) senator.

BLITZER: I just want to tell our viewers, you see the president climbing the stairs to Air Force One, getting really to head back to Washington from his golf outing over the weekend. He'll wave. There he is. He always does that. Then he'll go inside, take that relatively short flight back to Washington probably two hours or so.

Go ahead. I interrupted. Finish your point, Anna.

NAVARRO: So what -- Marco Rubio, Wolf, is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, he's a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. This is not his first time in Israel. It was the first trip he did just after getting elected. It's also important from a local politics perspective. There's an enormous amount of very significant Jewish community in south Florida and Florida and it's an important thing for him to do.

He's got to do his job as a senator first before thinking of anything else. And this is part of it certainly.

BLITZER: As you know from the campaign, Ben, and you were deeply involved in his re-election, he was criticized for not visiting Israel during his first year. But now he's going. Why now?

LABOLT: Well, I think there's a window for progress at this moment that the White House sees. And if you look at many of the recent presidents, many of them didn't visit the region or Israel specifically until their second term. And there's a window for action now. In terms of Senator Rubio in the 2016, he's following the same path that the president did. He came from state government. He joined the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He's educating himself with this series of trips abroad.

But through that 2016 lens, he's now going to get more scrutiny in terms of everything he does. You saw it with the water bottle incident. You'll certainly see everybody take a look at those other stories that came out during the campaign. Whether it was the ethics allegations in Florida, "The Washington Post" stories, looking into whether or not he told the truth about his family's history.

So all of that will be heightened now that folks are looking at this through the 2016 lens.

BLITZER: All right. We'll leave it on that note. Guys --

NAVARRO: Well, I did tell him -- you'll be happy to know that I did tell him to stay properly hydrated in Israel and Jordan.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: I'm sure he --

LABOLT: Good advice.

BLITZER: Got to drink a lot of water over there.

All right, guys. Thanks very much. Interesting, though, Ben, you seem to think that Marco Rubio's going to the president's handbook back when he was a senator, thinking about running for president. I think Rand Paul is probably doing the same thing. He's on the Foreign Relations Committee as well.

Up next, a mother tries to console her crying toddler on a plane and a stranger actually slaps the boy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JESSICA BENNETT, MOTHER: I could not believe that he would say something like that, and -- to a baby, and then to hit him was just -- I felt like I was in another world. I was shaking.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We've heard of a lot of strange things happening on airplanes, but not necessarily this. A little boy allegedly slapped by the man sitting next to him on a plane because he wouldn't stop crying.

Let's bring in CNN's Rene Marsh. She's got stunning details. This is generating a lot of commotion out there.

RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It sure is, Wolf. You know, the allegations that this happened on a flight, for some parents, they may be furious when they hear the details. For other parents they may be in shock that this actually could happen. But the attorney for the man accused of slapping this crying baby on a plane said today don't rush to judgment just yet.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARSH (voice-over): Jonah Bennett is the 19-month-old allegedly slapped for crying on a Delta flight from Minneapolis to Atlanta on February 8th.

BENNETT: I was having trouble comforting him and that's when the guy had made his comment to me.

MARSH: Thirty-three-year-old Jessica Bennett says the altitude change on descend caused her son's discomfort and a fellow passenger lost it. Court documents say this man, Joe Rickey Hundley, allegedly told Jessica, quote, "shut that N word baby up," then he allegedly slapped Jonah with an open hand.

BENNETT: I could not believe that he would say something like that and -- to a baby or about a baby and then to hit him was just -- I felt like I was in another world. I was shaking.

MARSH (on camera): Bennett says she and her adopted son were sharing seat 28b and seated right next to them in 28a was Hundley.

BENNETT: He's just being rude and belligerent, and I just felt very uncomfortable.

MARSH: Bennett says she spent most of the flight standing in the back of the plane with Jonah. But she returned to her seat for landing. That's when the incident happened. Fellow passengers came to her aid, according to the complaint. Bennett also says Hundley appeared intoxicated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The family wants to make sure that Mr. Hundley and anyone like Mr. Hundley never does something like that again.

MARSH: On Sunday, Hundley's employer fired him, calling reports of his behavior while on personal travel, quote, "offensive and disturbing." He worked at AGC Aerospace and Defense. The company supplies technology and other services to the military.

Hundley is charged with assaulting a minor. His attorney tells CNN, quote, "This has escalated into a racial issue and I want to be clear my client is not a racist," end quote. She says he's dealing with his own issues.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARSH: All right. Well, the family's attorney says that they are exploring the option of a civil suit. Hundley's attorney says that he will plead not guilty -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Actually there are eyewitnesses on that plane who can verify this.

MARSH: Absolutely, and the FBI actually in the process of interviewing all of those people who saw something that might be helpful in the investigation.

BLITZER: Slapping that little baby and using the N word? I mean, that is disgusting.

MARSH: Yes.

BLITZER: Yes.

They say they've gone from the American dream to an American nightmare. Up next, desperate measures for some Sandy victims.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Almost four months since Superstorm Sandy battered the northeast, thousands of families still haven't gotten the money they need to rebuild. Now some are being forced to resort to desperate measures.

Here's CNN's national correspondent Deborah Feyerick.

CATHERINE HALL, SUPERSTORM SANDY VICTIM: When am I going to get my money?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Begging for money is not something Catherine Hall ever thought she would have to do. C. HALL: I had to run to the bank two Fridays ago, and beg them to give me a loan just so that I could pay my contractor and once he's finished doing this segment of the work, we have to stop because we don't have any more money.

FEYERICK: Nearly four months since Superstorm Sandy destroyed her home in Island Park, New York, Hall has been calling her mortgage banker almost every day. She's begging them to release insurance money so she and her family can rebuild and go home.

C. HALL: We have a 4-year-old little boy who basically we spent his college fund. You know, the money that we've put by since his birth towards being able to send him to college later in life is what we've spent. It's gone.

FEYERICK: Hall, who is originally from Britain, and her husband Bob and 4-year-old son Nathan, have been living in a hotel since November.

The Halls are among more than 6,000 families still waiting for insurance money. New York's governor blamed unnecessary red tape and accused banks of failing to release more than $200 million worth of insurance. The problem is some lenders require proof the repair has been made before they will reimburse for the cost of that repair.

BOB HALL, SUPERSTORM SANDY VICTIM: There's a lot of older people here that, you know, that just don't have any money and they're being told that, you know, do 30 percent of the work and then they'll get 30 percent of the money. Do 50 percent of the work, you'll get 50 percent of the money.

C. HALL: The reason that they do that I think is they're scared that you're going to get the check and leave and leave them with a property that's not sellable. You know, but we've invested a lot of money in this house, you know, and it's our home.

FEYERICK: Banks contacted by CNN, including Wells Fargo, J.P. Morgan, Citibank and Bank of America, tell CNN they have distributed more than 75 percent of all insurance money. The Halls' (ph) mortgage lender, who they asked we not name, did not respond.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We came here to live the America dream, and now we are living the American nightmare, because they are holding our money and we can't get it. And it's not fair; it's not fair on everyone. And everybody is in the same position, everybody. Like I said to you, I don't know a single person who has had a dime.

And the waiting and uncertainty is taking a toll as devastating as the storm itself.

Deborah Feyerick, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)