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President Obama Urges Congress to Act; Emotional Day in Court for Oscar Pistorius; Jodi Arias Trial Continues Today; Alleged Rapist Uses Christian Dating Site to Target Victims

Aired February 19, 2013 - 11:00   ET


BARACK OBAMA PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And in the abstract, people like the idea, you know, there must be some spending we can cut. There must be some waste out there. There absolutely is, but this isn't the right way to do it.

So, my door is open. I put tough cuts and reforms on the table. I am willing to work with anybody to get this job done.

None of us will get 100 percent of what we want. But nobody should want these cuts to go through, because the last thing our families can afford right now is pain imposed unnecessarily by partisan recklessness and ideological rigidity in Washington.

As I said at the State of the Union, the American people have worked too hard for too long rebuilding from one crisis to see the elected officials cause another one, and it seems every three months around here there's some manufactured crisis.

We've got more work to do than to just try to dig ourselves out of these self-inflicted wounds.

While a plan to reduce our deficit has to be part of our agenda, we also have to remember deficit reduction alone is not an economic plan.

We learned in the 1990s when Bill Clinton was president nothing shrinks the deficit faster than a growing economy that creates good, middle class jobs. That should be our driving focus, making America a magnet for good jobs, equipping our people with the skills required to fill those jobs, making sure their hard work leads to a decent living.

Those are the things we should be pushing ourselves to think about and work on every single day. That's what American people expect. That's what I'm going to work on every single day to help deliver.

So, I need everybody who's watches today to understand, we've got a few days. Congress can do the right thing. We can avert just one more Washington manufactured problem that slows our recovery and bring down our deficits in a balanced with, responsible way.

That's my goal. That's what would do right by these first-responders. That's what would do right by America's middle class. That's what I'm going to be working on and fighting for not just over the next few weeks, but over the next few years.

Thanks very much, everybody. Thank you guys for your service.


WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S "THE SITUATION ROOM": That's the president speaking once again, restating his position, not breaking any new ground by any means, but in effect, campaigning for avoiding what he calls the sequestration. these forced spending cuts that will two into effect March 1st unless Congress takes specific action, action that he would have to then sign into law.

Gloria Borger is here. John King is here, as well. Christine Romans is in New York. Jessica Yellin's over at the White House.

Gloria, explain why, if this is such a horrible idea, these forced spending cuts, why did the White House come up with this plan in 2011 to begin with?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: If you noticed, Wolf, the president kept calling this a manufactured crisis.

Well, in fact, it was manufactured right here in Washington by the president of the United States and voted for. One-seventy-four House Republicans voted for these forced spending cuts so it would force them to do their jobs.

So, now, we're in this crazy situation in Washington where, publicly, people are protesting, politicians saying we can't do this, but privately, there are liberal Democrats who say, you know what? This wouldn't be such a bad thing. We could cut self-defense.

And there are conservative Republicans who are saying, you know what? Five percent across-the-board in domestic spending, not such a bad idea.

BLITZER: And what we're talking about, defense cuts, John, you and I, you know, we've gone through this over -- these are cuts only in Washington language.

There will be increases in defense spending every year over the next 10 years, but if the so-called sequestration goes through, they won't be as huge as they would have been without it.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. Many agencies, including the Pentagon, aren't going to get as much of an increase as they expected, if this goes through.

And that's one of the reasons that Republicans want to -- most Republicans want to protect the Defense Department. They say those cuts are wrong and put the cuts in domestic spending.

But it's one of the reasons that many Republicans say, this is a president crying wolf, if you will -- forgive the metaphor -- in this setting, that government agencies will have to do, if this kicks in, what every American family has had to do over the course of the last five years, make a piece of paper, list your priorities, say, how much money do we have? What are our priorities? List them first and then pay for them until you've run out of money.

They say, you know, when the president says border patrol, prosecutions, first-responders, that agencies can shift money around, and make sure those priorities, if they are the top priorities, can be met.

So. the question is, will there be a temporary fix again? Sequester, as you said, it's a fancy word for forced budget cuts. It's also a way of saying neither the president nor the Congress have done the basic job they are elected to do, which is get the government with a functioning budget.

If they kick in, will there be this chaos the president predicts, or will there not be so much chaos, and the Republicans will say, we told you so. Let's cut more.

BORGER: And don't forget you have a looming government shutdown on March 27th and there are lots of Republicans who believe that would be much more of a p.r. disaster for them than even these forced spending cuts.

So. you've got a bunch of economic crises coming up.

KING: You've got two political dynamics under way. There are a lot of Democrats who think, if the president can keep pushing the House Republicans into disfavor with the public, maybe in 2014, he can get the House majority back and have a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate for the final two years of his presidency.

However, remember, and the president touched on this, he's a second- term president. He wants to get things gone. He needs a stronger economy to do that. And if this does put the economy back into peril, even if the president wins politically in the short-term, it could hurt his second term.

BORGER: And if this is so dire, Republicans are saying -- I talked to a couple last week -- why hasn't he reached out to us on this?

BLITZER: On a personal level, brought some of them ...

BORGER: Yeah, exactly.

BLITZER: ... over to the White House.

Let's go to Jessica Yellin then Christine Romans.

Jessica, over at the White House, I'm sure that all of the top officials, they recognize there are Republicans who are willing to engage in what's called tax reform, eliminating some of these loopholes for big corporations or for wealthy or whatever.

But they want it to be part of a big package involving entitlement reform at the same time, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid.

The president knows that if he's going to demand elimination of some of these tax breaks, some of these loopholes right now, tax increases, in effect, for the wealthy, the Republicans in the House aren't going to go for it, so why keep pushing for it? Seems to be a non-starter right now.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, a couple of things. One is the -- you're absolutely right. The Republicans are willing to do tax reform and they're willing to close these loopholes. They just want the money spent differently.

They don't -- the president's pushing for it because it's a negotiating tactic. He wants it his way, and he believes if he holds firm with enough first-responders by him, beside him every day, if he shows up later this week maybe with firefighters behind him, if we see him next week with teachers who are going to lose their jobs behind him, over time, the White House believes eventually Republicans will see things the president's way and see the political light -- this is the White House's perspective -- and agree to do thing the White House's way.

But there's something Gloria just mentioned, Wolf, which is the outreach to Capitol Hill. The president said, my door is open. And one of the frustrations I hear when I'm talking to sources, including this morning, is that they argue, the president hasn't made himself available.

Sequester is pending in 10 days and they have not heard from the president, and they want to know why.

Now, there are Democrats who are negotiating, or trying to reach out to Republicans on Capitol Hill. They say there's not enough willingness to talk, but this same narrative continues and a lot of frustration on both -- from Republicans that there's not enough flexibility from the White House to reach out and get something done ahead of this -- these draconian cuts that are coming, Wolf.

BLITZER: Draconian cuts, I guess that's going to be a subject for some debate, how draconian they actually are. Jessica, hold on for a moment.

Listen to Rand Paul, a Republican senator from Kentucky, the other day in his tea party response to the president's State of the Union address.


SENATOR RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: Tea party people are saying, the sequester's a pittance. It's not -- it's just a very much even the beginning. $1 trillion and we're going to includes spending $9 trillion, so really, even with the sequester, spending goes up $7 trillion or $8 trillion over the next 10 years. We're not getting close to scratching the surface of the problem.


BLITZER: Christine Romans, take a look at the big picture on the economy. If these forced spending cuts go into effect. As Rand Paul points out, this year there will be a projected cut of, what, about $89 billion out of a budget that's nearly $4 trillion, so how much of an impact would it really have on economic growth on the economy?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: It would be a drag on the economy. The Congressional Budget Office says you'd lose about 750,000 jobs because -- directly because of this. That's about a hundred thousand a month between now and the end of the year.

You know, it's not the chaos on March 2nd that some would have you think it is. It is a drag on the economy, overall.

When you have FBI agents furloughed for 14 days, they're not buying a house, they certainly aren't buying a car, and they're not spending the way they used to.

When you have longer waits for travel or all these other kind of knock-on effects that so many people are predicting because of just the arbitrary nature of the cuts, that's something that is halting the economy.

When you look at the overall numbers, Wolf, look, you're right. These are, as Rand Paul says, a pittance in the overall big bucket that we're overspending, or, you know, that we're spending more than we're taking in every day.

But the point is, this is no way to run a country. This is no way to run a business and no way to run a country. You don't just lop off nine percent on your budget just like that. You do it with priorities. You do it with consensus. You do it with an eye to investing in the future, making sure that you don't hurt jobs.

And that's not what Congress is doing here. What Congress is doing is basically forgoing the day-to-day budget operations that they're supposed to be doing and doing brinksmanship every three months and that's not good for running a country and grow an economy.

BLITZER: Yeah, you're absolutely right.

And as the president himself said in his remarks at the top of this speech today over at the Old Executive Office Building, now called the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, he said, when they came up with the idea in 2011 of these forced mandatory spending cuts, it was so unattractive, so unappealing -- those were his words -- that it would force Congress, Democrats and Republicans and the White House to come up with a solid, well-thought-out plan for dealing with these issues.

Obviously, that has not happened and they will go into effect on March 1st, assuming that there is a failure to either kick the can down the road or come up with a plan over the next 10 days or so.

We're going to have a lot more on this throughout the day here on CNN, certainly much more coming up, 4:00 p.m. Eastern in "The Situation Room."

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Our "Newsroom" coverage will continue after this break with John Berman.


JOHN BERMAN, ANCHOR, "CNN NEWSROOM": Hello, everyone, I'm John Berman in for Ashleigh Banfield.

What a dramatic day in a South African courtroom, Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius says he had no intention to kill his girlfriend, the model Reeva Steenkamp.

At an emotional bail hearing, Pistorius said he thought she was a burglar and that she died in his arms. That was part of his statement read by his attorney. He was too emotional to speak.

The prosecution spelled out a very different version of events, contending the killing was premeditated murder.

Robyn Curnow is covering this case for us in Pretoria in South Africa. And, Robyn, set the scene for us right now. What was it like inside that courtroom?

ROBYN CURNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was very claustrophobic. It was a small courtroom. Sixty people should have been in there, and about 150 were, so you can imagine.

Not only was it claustrophobic, it was hot. It was very sweaty, and there was a real palpable sense of tension, people really, really watching Oscar and he was quite a lonely figure in the midst of all this sort of jostling and chaos.

And he often sat slumped in front of himself, his head bowed in his hands. He seemed inconsolable at times, particularly when Reeva Steenkamp's name was mentioned or the word "murder" was mentioned.

He seemed to sort of sob, break down. At one point, I thought he was hyperventilating, that they would need some sort of medics to deal with him, because he seemed inconsolable, broken, half the time.

And, you know, I think there were very serious charges brought against him, the magistrate saying that he couldn't rule out that it was premeditated murder. But after the break, we heard Oscar Pistorius's side of the story. We'd been waiting for this, haven't we? All these rumors, all the speculation, but this is out. This is his affidavit in which he spells out what he said happened that night. And the crux of is seems to be fear -- a fear of crime here in South Africa, which is, of course, a very crime-ridden country.

I'm going to read some of this. It says, "It filled me with horror and fear that an intruder or intruders were inside the toilets. I thought they must have entered through the unprotected window. I did not have on my prosthetic legs and I felt extremely vulnerable. I knew I had to protect Reeva and myself."

So, he said he then hobbled on his stumps, he didn't put on, he said, his legs, and he shot into this toilet door at that stage, not knowing, not thinking Reeva was in there. In fact, he said he called to Reeva and told her to call the police. It took a while for him to dawn that it was her, perhaps, inside that toilet.

And then also these tragic details of how he says he tried to break down the door. When he picked her up, she was still alive. He rushed her downstairs with the idea of trying to take her to hospital, but he said she died in his arms.

So that is Oscar's side of the story. And the prosecution, punching holes in it. They say when did he put on his prosthetic legs? This was premeditated, planned. They believe he picked up his gun, put on his legs, and walked six meters into this bathroom and deliberately shot through that door.

So obviously all of this playing out in the courtroom here and more tomorrow. The bail application continues then.

BERMAN: All right, as you said, it was an emotional day, Robyn, also jam-packed with new information. Our very own Robyn Curnow in Pretoria in South Africa. Thanks for that report.

Meanwhile, some 500 miles away from Pretoria, family and friends of the killed Reeva Steenkamp, they gathered to attend that funeral in her hometown of Port ElizaBeth. Speaking to reporters, her brother, Adam Steenkamp, said, quote, "There's a space missing inside all the people she knew that can not be filled again."

Reeva Steenkamp was 29 years old.

You should tune in tonight, because, before Oscar Pistorius was charged with the murder of his girlfriend, he talked to Piers Morgan. See the interview and hear the latest on the case on CNN at 9:00 Eastern Time.

We have some top stories to bring you up to speed now. Checking all the news from around the world, a U.S. computer security firm claims this is building is where China's army carries out extensive hacking against the U.S. government. corporations and scores and scores of other organization around the world. China calls the report baseless, irresponsible, also unprofessional.

In Belgium, eight bold thieves pulled off a $50 million diamond heist. The armed and masked robbers drove two cars onto the tarmac of the Brussels airport and swiped the rough and polished diamonds from a jet liner. It took three minutes, no shots were fired, lots of questions about whether it may have been an inside job.

Meanwhile, she's been on the stand for more than a week, and court watchers are wondering if today is the day that Jodi Arias will finally testify about killing Travis Alexander. Stay with us.


BERMAN: In Phoenix, Jodi Arias will be Back on the stand today in her murder trial. She's accused of stabbing, cutting and shooting her former boyfriend. Arais has been on the stand for six days so far, recounting all kinds of really salacious details of their sex life, but she still hasn't really mentioned the day of the killing. So joining me is Beth Karas, correspondent for "In Session" on our sister network truTV, and Judge Glenda Hatchett, former juvenile court judge and Emmy-nominated television judge. So this trial has been delayed now for five days. The judge has been sick. So, Beth, my first question to you: Do you think that delay will have any effect?

BETH KARAS, CORRESPONDENT, "IN SESSION" ON TRUTV: Well, you know, it's good for the defense, I suppose, because they're still in the middle of her direct examination. If this long delay had occurred in the middle of cross examination, it's better for the state because the state would have been probably dismantling some of her story and punching holes in her credibility. So it's not really a bad thing for the defense.

BERMAN: We're stale still waiting for the Judge Hatchett so get her audio back so, Beth, let me ask you this: The testimony, as we said, has been incredibly graphic. I mean, lurid sexual details. Do you think that will sway the jury in any way?

KARAS: Well, there's no question there is one of the more salacious trails I have ever covered in all my years. It's probably now numbing the jury. I have actually coined the term "Jodi fatigue" that the jurors, like the rest of us in the courtroom, are getting accustomed to all of the salaciousness. But, really, everyone is eager for her to get to the actual killing. That's what this case is about. Was she justified in any way in doing what she did to him? She killed him three different ways: a stab wound to the heart, a slash to the throat and a shot to the head.

BERMAN: So Judge Hatchett, we have now had six days of the lurid sexual details. The question is, is the defense taking too long to get to the night of the actual killing?

GLENDA HATCHETT, EMMY-NOMINATED TV JUDGE: Well, I think that they're gambling on this. But honestly, John, I don't know what other choice they have. They are throwing everything they can at this jury. I think they are trying to get some sympathy in here that she was really a victim in the situation.

But I think it's taking too long. And, actually, when we actually get to the day of the killing, I mean, that's when the jurors are going to be riveted. And there I agree with you, I think that there is just fatigue now with this jury and that is dangerous.

BERMAN: So, dangerous for whom? It has been a slow case; who does that favor?

HATCHETT: I think it may, in the end, favor the prosecution. I think they may get tired of all of these stories, all of these sex tapes. And I tell you, on cross-examination, she has opened herself up. I mean, obviously, she had to take the stand because this is the defense, she has to assert self-defense. But I tell you, a good prosecutor will rip her apart on cross-examination is what I predict.

BERMAN: Hey, Beth, it's been a long time since I --

KARAS: Because you can't keep telling all the stories together. I mean, this is four or five years ago.

BERMAN: It's a long, long time ago and I can't recall, Beth, seeing a defendant on the stand for so long, facing quite so many questions.

HATCHETT: Right. I think it's a problem.

BERMAN: All right, we're going to talk to --

KARAS: But I don't think --

BERMAN: Go ahead.

KARAS: I don't think I've ever seen a defendant this long either, or any witness, quite frankly, so many days on the stand, and I've been around the court system for a long time.

HATCHETT: Exactly.

BERMAN: It does open yourself up to a world of problems, potentially. We will find out more about this case. Again, back in hearings today for the first time in five days. Our thanks to Beth and Judge Hatchett. Reminder, you can watch the Jodi Arias trial this afternoon on our sister networks, HLN, truTV's "In Session", also on


BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone. Several members of Congress are in Havana today to press Cuba's government to release an American contractor. Alan Gross is serving 15 years for allegedly bringing banned satellite equipment into Cuba. He was jailed in 2009. U.S. officials say he's suffering from chronic health problems.

A New York City television anchor is in court today accused of choking his wife. Rob Morrison of WCBS is charged with second degree strangulation and disorderly conduct. He allegedly accosted his wife, CBS Money Watch anchor, Ashley Morrison, at their Connecticut home over the weekend.

In California, a suspected rapist apparently used the dating site, and police are investigating the possibility of other victims. My friend Miguel Marquez is following this disturbing case for us from Los Angeles. Miguel?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, disturbing is right there, John. This involves the case of Sean Banks, he's a 37-year-old former Navyman. He got in 2002 and police say that, back in November, he talked a woman into going to her house after meeting her on He became sexually aggressive then, and it led to rape. He's been charged with rape, burglary, and digital penetration.

What's concerning here to police, they say, is that Mr. Banks has gone by several different names, several different profiles on He used the name "Rarity" the night that this alleged incident occurred, but he's also gone by "Rylan", "Rylan Butterwood" and "Rylan Harbough". Also concerning to police is this is an individual who has connections to several states since getting out of the Navy in 2002. North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Colorado, Virginia, and Michigan he all has connections to. Christian Mingle has -- the parent company Sparks Network that owns other faith-based dating sites like, they have been cooperating with police.