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THE SITUATION ROOM
Hugo Chavez Dies; Dow Hits Record High; Federal Crackdown on Marijuana?; Interview with Jeb Bush; Former Drugs Chiefs Urge Pot Crackdown; Delicate Balance On Supreme Court; Ruth Bader Ginsburg Going Strong; Killing U.S. Citizens At Home?
Aired March 5, 2013 - 15:59 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER: We're counting down the final seconds of trading on Wall Street where the Dow -- listen to it -- it's ending right now on a record high. Listen to the bells. Topping the previous milestone, look at this -- 14,254. That's not necessarily the final number, but it is a high.
CNN's business chief correspondent, Ali Velshi, CNN's business correspondent Christine Romans, they are all standing by.
But let's go over to Alison Kosik. She's over at the New York Stock Exchange right now.
Alison, what's the reaction?
ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: What's funny is as excited as the headlines make this out to be, with the Dow hitting and not just hitting but blowing pats an all-time high, Wolf, and making history today, despite all of that, I just didn't see the excitement on the floor today. No confetti, no cheers.
And it's really the numbers that tell the story. When you look at the board at the other numbers, the volume of trading that happened here on the floor today, the numbers of trades was actually really low. And one trader puts it this way. Usually when the markets get to these new highs, you see tripled the volume. Instead, we're seeing less than usually today, so it's really lacking the excitement.
But, yes, no doubt about it, it's a huge milestone even though much of the rally is being fed by the Fed's stimulus. The Federal Reserve is pumping $85 billion into the economy. It's buying up treasuries. It's buying up mortgage-backed securities every month. What's that doing it is pushing interest rates lower and it's essentially moving investors from the bond market right into the stock market where really it's the best game in town to make money.
Now, skeptics know that the Fed isn't going to keep juicing the economy forever. It's a big part of the reason we didn't see the champagne bottles popping today. The mood is very different today compared to where we were when we were at this level back in 2007. Traders on the floor today are pretty sarcastic about the excitement about this, Wolf.
BLITZER: Hold on a second, Alison. I want to bring in Christine Romans into this conversation.
Christine, there seems to be a disconnect between the state of the economy right now and the state of Wall Street.
CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: There's a lot of conflicting signals about what is going on in the economy right now and quite frankly and there's lot of theatrics in Washington.
What's happening on Wall Street is companies -- the Dow is 30 stocks. Those 30 stocks are representative of what is happening for those 30 companies. They got a lot of cash on the books, they got a lot of money in the bank and they got profits coming in from overseas and they're doing better.
So that's why you're seeing those stocks doing well. And that's the 30 stocks. But your 401(k) probably more likely is represented by the S&P 500. That's 500 different stocks. But, remember, Wolf, 53 percent of Americans, according to the most recent Gallup poll on this, 53 percent of Americans own stock, say they are exposed to the stock market. There are a lot of people who looked at this milestone and say, this means nothing for me. I don't have a job or I'm not comfortable in my job or I don't have a 401(k) or stocks and so this is really symbolic for the investing class, not necessarily for Main Street, Wolf.
BLITZER: Let me bring Ali into this conversation .
There seems to be, Ali, a disconnect between Wall Street and what's going on here in Washington, the forced spending cuts, the deadline for making sure that the government does not shut down. A debt ceiling has got to be raised again pretty soon. So what's going on? Would any of those issues devalue this rally?
ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Remember, we're talking about $85 billion in cuts with the forced budget cuts going into effect over the next seven months. The Fed, as Alison pointed out, puts $85 billion or thereabouts into the economy every single month.
That's the money they print. Take a look at this. Christine was just talking about the people who are not affected by this. And 53 percent of people own stocks. The other 47 percent do benefit. This is a chart of job creation all the way since the beginning of 2009. These are companies. This is private sectors hiring people.
It's not been like the stock market where the stock market has gone sort of like this. The job market has kind of sputtered around a little bit, but these jobs are coming from the private sector and that, back to your question, Wolf, is where the problem comes in.
We have already seen layoff notices, furlough notices going out. We heard at Lockheed Martin that there will layoffs. Where you're seeing iffy job creation around here, you could start to see that go down while the stock market continues its surge forward. That's the disconnect. There's a disconnect between the economy which most people think of more as jobs and GDP, plus the stock market and what the government is doing.
BLITZER: Ali, Christine, Alison, guys, thanks very much. Much more on this story coming up later.
But there's other news we're following, including the treacherous driving conditions right now on Midwest roads and the Mid-Atlantic region, including right here in nation's capital, Washington, D.C., next in line. A major winter storm is blasting eastward and for millions and millions of people in its path, this will be their biggest snowfall of the season.
Our meteorologist, Alexandra Steele, is at the CNN Severe Weather Center. She's tracking the storm for us.
But first let's go to Chicago right now. CNN's Ted Rowlands is there on the streets. The snow is already falling.
What's the latest expectation there, Ted?
TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's been snowing all day. The wind has picked up now creating more problems. The bottom line, this storm is hammering much of the Midwest.
ROWLANDS (voice-over): Across the upper Midwest, driving was treacherous as snow continued to fall throughout the day. Salt trucks in Chicago were out in force trying to keep the freeways open before the evening commute. In some parts of North Dakota and Minnesota, more than a foot of snow is expected to fall.
Airports are struggling to keep planes flying at O'Hare, where about 900 flights have been canceled. The normally packed United terminal was near empty Tuesday.
Fashion designer Mark Dafang (ph) is trying to get home to Charlotte to deal with a family emergency.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They say it was canceled so I got a ticket to the flight and now it's canceled again. So, now I have no idea which flight I'm going to go on. So, I'm going to ask them again. Hopefully, I get on a plane and go home. Yes, I want to go home badly.
ROWLANDS: Most schools and many businesses around Chicago were closed Tuesday. Those that had to come into the city were having a tough time getting around.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These main streets, they look OK, but when you go on the ulterior streets, they are really bad.
ROWLANDS: This is the third major storm to slam the Midwest in as many weeks. While many people say they are ready for spring, a few people we met say they actually like this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm a skier, so what more can you ask? (END VIDEOTAPE)
ROWLANDS: Most people, though, Wolf, don't like it. You see these people walking across the Chicago River, some going to buses and trains. The commute just starting now and it's going to be an ugly one around Chicago tonight.
BLITZER: Not only there, but a whole bunch of other places as well. Ted, thank you.
BLITZER: There's a new recommendation for how many U.S. troops should remain in Afghanistan after all troops are supposed to be out at the end of next year. 2014, that's when the majority of the force is supposed to leave, if not all of the troops.
The U.S. plans to keep some troops there. The head of the U.S. military's Central Command now telling the Senate Armed Services Committee today that he recommends that 13,600 American service members remain in Afghanistan in 2015 and beyond.
Last month, when he was still defense secretary, Leon Panetta said up to 12,000 U.S. troops should remain in Afghanistan, remain behind. How much maintaining all of those troops in Afghanistan starting in 2015 will cost U.S. taxpayers, who will foot the bill for all of that, questions that have not been answered, but it will be in the billions and billions of dollars.
Meanwhile, a possible presidential contender in 2016 talking immigration with CNN's Jake Tapper. Jeb Bush sits down with Jake.
Plus, former federal drug chiefs urging the government to crack down on states that have legalized recreational marijuana. We're going to debate the controversial issue this hour right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: The Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is said to be in the worst condition since his most recent surgery almost three months ago. And now Venezuelan officials are alleging that the United States, the Obama administration is behind Chavez's poor health and that they are trying to kill them. And they are kicking out at least two U.S. Embassy personnel.
CNN's Shasta Darlington is joining us the Venezuelan capital of Caracas right now.
Shasta, what's going on? What are you hearing?
SHASTA DARLINGTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's been a pretty interesting day, puzzling to say the least.
As you mentioned, we have had this news since last night that Chavez's health has taken a turn for the worse and today the vice president, the man who is in charge with Hugo Chavez is recovering, Vice President Nicolas Maduro, met with top ministers and military brass and then called a press conference.
We expected to get more details on his health. And instead what we heard was a rambling one-hour press conference where he accused the U.S. military attaches of plotting to destabilize the government and even accused foreign enemies of causing Chavez's illness.
Take a listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NICOLAS MADURO, VENEZUELAN VICE PRESIDENT (through translator): The situation is one of complication amid the battle of our president for his health. The infection that is being treated now, it is a severe infection. As we told you yesterday that there are complications and worsening of the respiratory function. And the medical team is working flat out and our people are praying to provide and bring God's energy so that he can overcome this difficult moment as he has before.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DARLINGTON: That may not have been actually the one sound bite I was talking about. There was another time when Maduro said foreign enemies had caused this disease and that time and tests would show that foreign enemies were to blame. Again, he also said this was the lowest point in his health since he had undergone surgery and they said there would be an update later this evening about his health situation.
But many Venezuelans are sitting back wondering what has happened. They haven't seen him in public for three months and that's what they really want to hear, Wolf.
BLITZER: When he makes this extraordinary allegation that foreign enemies, his words, foreign enemies, were behind this severe infection of Hugo Chavez, in effect he's saying that they tried to kill him, they are trying to kill him. The same breath he says that they are expelling two U.S. embassy officials, two U.S. military attaches.
The foreign enemies, is he saying directly, basically, that the United States has tried to kill Hugo Chavez?
DARLINGTON: No, Wolf, they didn't go so far. They sort of separate these two different ideas. When he was talking about the military attaches, what he said is they had made contact with Venezuela military personnel to try to convince them to become involved in plots to destabilize the armed forces, but he didn't go into detail.
And then as far as the attacking the health of Chavez, again, no details, he spoke of inoculations. He made a reference to Arafat. But all very vague, no details. In the sense, what it seems to me is that he really trying to drum up support from Chavez's very avid, almost religious-like supporters because this is the man, after all, who will have to run in elections if Chavez either dies or isn't capable of assuming the full responsibilities of the presidency, Wolf.
BLITZER: And we should point out, officials here in Washington flatly denied these allegations against these U.S. embassy personnel, the accusations hurled against them for the expulsion of these two Americans.
All right. We'll stay in close touch with you, Shasta. Thanks very much.
He's one of the most talked about Republican names for the next presidential election and in his new book the former Florida Governor Jeb Bush tackles one of the most contentious issues facing the party, facing the country, we should say at the same time. That would be immigration. He tried to clarify his position in an interview with our chief Washington correspondent Jake Tapper.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: One of the most contentious issues, as you know, is whether or not those in the country illegally now should be provided a path to citizenship. You in the past have supported a path.
JEB BUSH (R), FORMER FLORIDA GOVERNOR: Yes.
TAPPER: The book suggests that if you're in the country illegally, you can get a legal status but you can't have a path to citizenship unless you go back to your country and get in the back of the line.
BUSH: Yes. So, I have supported both, both the path to legalization or the path to citizenship, with the underlying principle being there should be no incentive of people to come illegally at the expense of coming legally. Today, basically, the only path to come to this country other than family reunification is to come illegally. We need to create another category of legal immigration where people -- where there is actually a line.
So if you could create that through a path to citizenship, I would support that.
TAPPER: So you say you've supported both. Where are you --
BUSH: In other words, instead of saying send people back that are here illegally, which was kind of the mantra of 2006, '07, and '08 amongst Republicans, I've always felt that you could not deal with 11 million people and saying, "See you later".
TAPPER: One of the proposals in your book is that those petitions -- those who petition because their family members are here --
BUSH: Yes. TAPPER: -- should be narrowed. Family petition should only be for spouses and for minor children. No more cousins, grandmas. Instead, those slots should go to high-skilled labor?
BUSH: Not just high-skilled but labor in general.
We're the only country that has this broad definition of family reunification. We're the only country. No other country in the world does this. And the net effect is we have what's called chain migration. So, if your brother is petitioned -- your adult brother is petitioned and your parents, then their brothers and their parents --
TAPPER: And it goes on forever.
BUSH: And it's gone on forever for 30 years and it has crowded out all the other categories to the extent that we really don't have what traditionally has existed in the United States, which is a simple category of "I want to come to the United States and pursue my dreams". We don't have that.
TAPPER: You will be criticized by immigrant groups for a --
TAPPER: -- rather -- you can call it pragmatic, you can call it cold, you can call it self-interested but for changing it so it's no longer: let's help Uncle Julio get in this country because he's a family member --
TAPPER: -- and we love him, but instead let's give this slot to somebody who can help the American economy?
BUSH: There are people who would love to this country who don't have relatives here that could make an immediate contribution. And is it -- is it wrong for our country to have a strategic approach to immigration? I don't think so. I think we should take all of the highly skilled people that we can -- that want to come.
TAPPER: How do you convince Republicans that they need to be part of this?
BUSH: I think there is a growing consensus that not that immigration is the driver of people's decisions but it's a gateway issue. It's an issue that does allow Republicans if they are engaged in it to make their case to a broader -- on a broader suite of issues than what we're allowed today. Today, basically, if you keep being against things, particularly something that has -- where you have emotional connectivity, as immigration is for a lot of emerging voting groups, you're not going to have a chance to even make your case.
So, I think there's an awareness of that.
BLITZER: And Jake Tapper is joining us now.
Jake, let's talk a little bit about this interview (AUDIO GAP) your reaction. Listen, for example, the very sharp words just uttered by the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: What we should do about that is let's wait for a few minutes and see how Jeb Bush changes his mind again. His opinion on immigration is not evolving, it's devolving. He keeps going backward. I think he's frankly made a fool of himself the last 24 hours.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Those are pretty strong words from Harry Reid. In the book, he doesn't support a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants but now he is leaving that open. So what is really going on here?
TAPPER: Well, a couple of things. First of all, I think the intention of former Governor Jeb Bush was to start a conversation about immigration reform by putting a platform and a plan and a proposal out there in the time between him handing in his book, his manuscript in November and it being published. The conversation kind of evolved beyond where he was and where the conversation was among Republicans in November.
I think, as he said in the interview, he has supported both, a pathway to citizenship for people in the country illegally and his current proposal does not have that same path to citizenship, it has a path to residency. For him, Jeb Bush argues this isn't about the particular -- he could support either one -- the point is to get an immigration reform bill signed into law.
BLTIZER: And so, do you think there's a significant difference between where he stands on this and his Floridian, the Florida Senator Marco Rubio who clearly is on board for a pathway to citizenship?
TAPPER: There is a difference in terms of the proposal that Jeb Bush makes. But I think ultimately if Jeb Bush were in the Senate or were the president, I don't think it would matter. I think he's showing that he's flexible on this issue. Some might call it a flip- flop. Some might have harsher language, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid does.
But the point as far as Jeb Bush is concerned, we need to do something, something needs to be accomplished. He doesn't seem to be bothered by the criticism. His position is: look, the system we have right now does not work. Whatever we come forward and propose as a solution is better than the unworkable reality of today.
BLITZER: We're going to have more of your interview in our 6:00 p.m. Eastern hour, Jake, including the possibility, a possibility, he's leaving it open, that he might run for presidency in 2016.
Is there a third Bush potentially in the run for president? We'll talk about that and a lot. You'll be back.
Jake, thanks very much.
TAPPER: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Two states have now legalized recreational marijuana use. Some former federal drug chiefs say Washington needs to crack down on those states. Get ready. We have a debate on this specific issue, and that's next.
BLITZER: Eight former heads of the federal government's Drug Enforcement Administration are urging President Obama to crack down on recreational marijuana use. They say the government is running out of time to nullify laws recently passed in Washington state and Colorado that makes pot use illegal.
In a letter to senators, the former DEA chiefs say this, "We the undersigned strongly support the continued enforcement of federal law prohibiting the cultivation, distribution, sale, possession and use of marijuana -- a dangerous and addictive drug which already has severe harmful effects on American society."
The letter goes on to say, "Ask for the canard that marijuana is a legitimate medicine, the overwhelming consensus of the accredited medical and scientific communities declare that it is not."
So, let's discuss what's going on with the former DEA administrator, Asa Hutchinson, one of the signers of this letter; and Democratic Congressman Jared Polis of Colorado, his state -- home state has approved marijuana use, recreational marijuana use.
Congressman, first to you. They say it's a dangerous, addictive drug which would have a harmful effect on American society. What do you say?
REP. JARED POLIS (D), COLORADO: You know what? Same tired rhetoric. We're talking about people who have been on the gravy train of drug war, both in the public side, to the DEA, as well as making millions of dollars through consulting on this drug war. Of course, they are going to be against it.
It's not only the criminal cartels that benefit from the drug war, it's also the professional drug warriors. And they are benefiting to the tune of millions and millions of dollars and kids are abusing drugs. So, we need to take actions, like the state of Colorado, to make sure that it's regulated, keep it out of the hands of kids and keep it out of the hands of gangs and criminal cartels.
BLITZER: So, Asa Hutchinson, as you can see, he supports regulation but not banning marijuana. What's the difference between marijuana and alcohol?
ASA HUTCHINSON, FORMER DEA ADMINISTRATOR: Well, let me just go to where we are right now, the purpose of the letter by eight bipartisan served in both Democratic and Republican administrations, that we have a conflict between state and federal law. There's three options for the Department of Justice. One, you can ignore it, let that conflict exist. Secondly, you can file suit and have a clarification as to whether state action is a violation of federal law. Or three, you could crack down, I suppose, in terms of enforcement actions. I don't believe that should be the case. I think we need a clarification, which would be filing suit, similar to what the Obama administration did against Arizona on the immigration issue. Let's file suit. Let's have a clarification because this conflict cannot continue to exist. What happens in Colorado on this issue is not going to stay in Colorado. It's going to cascade across America, and it needs to be clarified now.
BLITZER: And I want to get to that because there is a momentum out there in other states as well. You're right on that. But explain why alcohol should be regulated but marijuana is different, and then I'm going to let the congressman respond.
HUTCHINSON: Well, that is a debate that could be conducted in the halls of Congress. Whenever you're looking at marijuana, it's a harmful drug. If you legalize it, it's going to expand use. Certainly our democracy is not going to fall if you legalize it. It's a question that our country needs to decide, and it's a fair debate. The congressman has a bill where we would nationalize and legalize it across, say, the national basis. That's a fair debate. I'm just saying, let's don't go two directions where you have a state law and state action that directly conflicts with federal action. That's a recipe for disaster in our country.
BLITZER: All, right, Congressman, respond.
POLIS: Yes, look. In answer to your question, Wolf, marijuana is a harmful drug. Asa and I agree on that. There's no doubt about it. Alcohol is a harmful drug. Tobacco is a harmful drug. It's a question of how harmful, how addictive, how best to deal with it in society? The policy of prohibition has failed. It's time to replace it with a new policy like the voters of Colorado approved by a 10-point margin.
Look, ideally, of course. We want to change the law at the national level. In the meantime, the President Obama administration's approach, as articulated through the (INAUDIBLE) memo of essentially establishing lowest enforcement priority for states that have legal sale of medical marijuana and hopefully the next states that have legal sale of regulated marijuana is the best that the Obama administration can do in the meantime.
So, of course, they need to focus the limited drug enforcement resources after the real hazard here. And I think Asa and I agree, the meth houses, heroin addiction -- these are real problems, and the law enforcement role in (INAUDIBLE) them is very real. Let's not focus on recreational use in marijuana.
BLITZER: Go ahead and respond, Asa Hutchinson.
HUTCHINSON: That shouldn't be the federal priority. It's not recreational use. But the federal priority is to enforce federal law. And that does not have to be done by raids. It doesn't have to be done by enforcement actions, but it needs to be clarified, just again like they did in Arizona. There can be a declaratory action in federal court which determines whether the state action that violates federal law should continue or not. That's the proper venue to resolve the issue.
The Obama administration and Department of Justice is evaluating this. I think they still can make the decision that they can not just simply turn their back on what's a clear violation of federal law.
POLIS: Look, our state of Colorado, the state of Washington, are well along in a thoughtful process, a bipartisan process, a multi- stakeholder process of coming up with sensible regulations about marijuana. The last thing they need is interference or a lawsuit from the federal government.
BLIZTER: There's a lot of money at stake, Asa Hutchinson in this whole debate. And at a time of financial distress in the country and budget deficits and all of that, spending all this money to prosecute recreational marijuana users, throw some of them in jail -- obviously that's very, very expensive. Can't the federal government use those funds in a smarter way?
HUTCHINSON: Well, the federal government does not prosecute recreational marijuana users. That is the flat truth. That's a decision up to the states as to how they handle that issue, so take it up with them. In terms of resources, that's not the priority. That is not happening.
If you're being looking at tax revenue, that is an argument for regulation and legalization. Let that argument happen in the marketplace. Colorado, you know, did their sovereign choice of passing this initiative. We got ourselves in a box here. We have federal law conflicting with state law, and it should not just simply be left there with no consequence or with no determination of this. And clarification.
If this -- if there's no action by the Obama administration within five years, there will be legalization of marijuana across the United States, in my judgment. And so I think what is happening in the Department of Justice, this decision is critically important, not just for Colorado but for Arkansas and Missouri and every state that's going to have to be dealing with this issue in the coming years.
BLITZER: We're almost out of time. But Congressman Polis, I'll give you the last word. Should state laws in this particular case regulate are marijuana trump federal law?
POLIS: Absolutely. We need to change federal law. I agree with Asa. We need to legalize marijuana nationally. But in the meantime, the best thing the federal government can do is just step back, make it clear it's a low-enforcement policy, and let the experiments in the states begin a more rational drug policy for our country.
BLITZER: Jared Polis and Asa Hutchinson, a good debate, a debate that's going to continue. Thanks to both of you for coming in.
POLIS: Thank you.
HUTCHINSON: You it.
BLITZER: While we're waiting to see when the cardinals at the Vatican will pick a new pope, the Vatican is waiting as well. Coming up, we're going to tell you why the cardinals can't yet start the conclave.
BLITZER: Cardinals at the Vatican are deciding a little bit closer -- they are trying to decide when they will begin the conclave that will choose the next pope. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. They are almost ready but not quite?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Almost but not quite, Wolf. The Vatican is actually awaiting the arrival of the last five cardinals, who can cast a vote for the next pope. But it they won't say when they will get there. Preparations for the conclave are already in full swing. The Sistine Chapel has been closed to the public. American Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston says right now is an important time of prayer and reflection. And the archbishop emeritus of Washington, D.C., Cardinal Theodore McCarrick will join us here in THE SITUATION ROOM in the 6 p.m. hour.
And in other news, a dozen former students face manslaughter charges over the hazing death of a Florida A&M student back in 2011. The parents of Robert Champion say the new charge is appropriate, but a lawyer for one of the students says this is designed to pressure his client into accepting a deal with jail time. The defendents face a maximum of 15 years in prison if convicted.
And you've got to take a look at this. All right. A man who tried to rob a Dunkin Donuts in Connecticut, he got a faceful of hot coffee instead. Yes, the aspiring robber, he asked the cashier to make change for a hundred-dollar bill at a drive-thru. When the worker refused, the man tried to climb in the window to rob the store. The clerk threw a cup, and then a whole pot of coffee at his face. Yes, police are now looking for that suspect. So, don't mess with that clerk! I'm telling you, do not mess with that clerk. Trying to rob a Dunkin Donuts, knowing they have hot coffee?
BLITZER: I don't necessarily recommend his behavior (INAUDIBLE) he's OK. But God forbid if that guy would have had a gun or something, he could have been in trouble.
SYLVESTER: Yes. That was one of those, what were you thinking kind of things, Wolf.
BLITZER: Fortunately he's okay. I hope they find that bad guy. Thanks very much.
Questions swirling around the United States Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. She's now approaching 80. Here's the question: will she retire? Our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, asked her about it. He's standing by live. Stay with us.
BLITZER: There's a certain delicate balance on the United States Supreme Court right now. Five conservative leading justices, including one who's an occasional swing vote. Four justices who are clearly liberal leaning. Knowing how precious each vote is, court insiders are now keeping an eye on Ruth Bader Ginsburg. If she retires, President Obama could appoint a third justice, another huge part of his legacy.
Joining us now, our CNN senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin. He's in New York to discuss what's going on. He's the author of the book "The Oath: The Obama White House and The Supreme Court." He recently had a chance to speak with Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
She's about to turn 80. You asked her, Jeff, if she's thinking about retiring and let me read to you what she said.
She said as long as I can do the job full steam, you can never tell when you're my age. But as long as I think I have the candle power, I will do it, next year for certain. After that, who knows? What do you think? What's going on?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think there's a paradox about Justice Ginsburg now because she is at once the top of her game. She is now the senior liberal on the court. She had a very well regarded opinion in the health care case last year.
She has united the liberals in many cases. They speak with one voice. But at the same time, she recognized she's turning 80 and she has great regard for Barack Obama. It is clear that there is a real kinship between the two of them.
And I think in President Obama's third year, you notice Justice Ginsburg said not this year, not next year, but I do think in his third year Justice Ginsburg will retire and give President Obama a chance to fill the seat.
BLITZER: And not wait until the next president who could potentially be a Republican. It would be a very different kind of court if that were -- if she were replaced, let's say, by a conservative-leaning justice. Give us a little thought of how she has shaped the court.
TOOBIN: Well, you know, the irony about Justice Ginsburg is that she shaped the court more as a lawyer than as a justice. In the 1970s, she was sort of the turgid marshal of the women's rights movement. She brought case after case that really succeeded in creating equal justice under the law for women.
But since she joined the court when President Clinton appointed her in 1993, it's been mostly a conservative court. So in most of the big cases, whether it's Citizens United or Bush V. Gore, she's been in the minority.
Yes, she was in the majority in the health care case, but she has not had the good luck to be in a liberal moment as a liberal justice.
BLITZER: Can we assume she will support same-sex marriage, marriage equality in these upcoming decisions?
TOOBIN: Well, we sort of talked around that issue a lot in my "New Yorker" story and I think in the defense of marriage act case, the case that challenges the constitutionality of the law that says the federal government will not recognize same-sex marriages, even in states where it's legal, I think it's pretty clear she will vote to declare that law unconstitutional.
I think the Proposition 8 case, the case that challenges California's ban on same-sex marriage. I think her position is a little harder to tell. She does not believe in grand pronouncements, even liberal grand pronouncements from the Supreme Court.
So I think if she rules in favor of same-sex marriage, it will only be in California, not some broad ruling for the whole country.
BLITZER: Jeffrey Toobin has written an excellent article in the "New Yorker" magazine as he always does. Jeff, thanks very much.
TOOBIN: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Drone strikes on Americans on U.S. soil. It's a shocking scenario, but one that the attorney general of the United States says is possible to imagine. We're going live to the Pentagon.
BLITZER: A lethal drone strike on an American citizen on U.S. soil. The attorney general of the United States, Eric Holder, won't completely role out such a shocking scenario. Our Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence is working that story for us. Chris, what is going on here?
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this has got to come as a bit shock to a lot of Americans who may not have imagined that the U.S. government could assert this kind of power here inside the United States. Basically, Senator Rand Paul wanted some explanation about how much power the government has to go after citizens. He got that clarification and therefore now so do we.
In a letter, the Attorney General Eric Holder wrote to Rand Paul. He said that authorizing a drone strike against an American citizen right here on U.S. soil that would be a hypothetical situation, unlikely to occur and something he hoped no president would ever have to do.
But, quote, "It is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the president to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States."
The letter goes on to give examples, such as the impending attack on, say, Pearl Harbor from 1941 or the attacks on September 11th, 2001. In a separate letter, the nominee to be the CIA director, John Brennan, said this would not be a mission that the CIA could authorize. It would have to come from the president himself -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Hold on a second, Chris, because I want to bring Jeffrey Toobin into this conversation. Jeff, if it's OK, if it's legal for a U.S. drone to kill an American citizen on foreign soil whether in Yemen or Somalia or Afghanistan or someplace else, what is the difference between using a U.S. drone to target an assassination of an American citizen on U.S. soil?
TOOBIN: Well, it is a different situation. The federal government has more limited powers under the constitution within the United States, but it still has a lot of powers here and if you had a national security situation with that -- with tremendous urgency along the lines of Pearl Harbor or 9/11, you could see a situation where the drone, like a fighter plane, like a very powerful gun could be used in the United States. It's just another weapon and the police have a lot of weapons in this country.
BLITZER: And let me go back to Chris Lawrence for a moment. There's no indication that the U.S. military has any plans obviously to actually use a drone to target the assassination of anyone in the United States for that matter, as far as you know?
LAWRENCE: No, Wolf. And you know, as I read the attorney general's letter, it specifically says the U.S. government has not carried out drone strikes in the United States and has no plans on doing so.
It further says that as the Attorney General Eric Holder says that he would have to examine the particular facts according to whatever particular circumstance came up, he would have to look at them individually and then advise the president specifically on his legal authority in that case.
Again, he made a point of saying Senator Rand Paul's question was hypothetical, is hypothetical at this time, but at some point down the road in the future, this may not be a hypothetical question -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Chris, hold on a moment. We have some breaking news.
All right, Venezuelan television is now reporting that Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela is dead. The news just reported moments ago on Venezuelan television. He has been very, very ill over these past several months, underwent surgery in Cuba before returning to Caracas, the Venezuelan capital.
All day there have been news conferences aired on Venezuelan television including from the vice president saying how gravely ill he was and that he was in the worse condition since his surgery in Cuba, but now Venezuelan television is reporting that the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, has passed away.
This is something that so many people, not only in Venezuela but throughout Central America, Latin America indeed here in the United States, around the world have been looking -- have been fully expecting, given how gravely ill he is.
But there is also some very, very peculiar ramifications that were reported today by the vice president of Venezuela. One, an allegation that, quote, "foreign enemies of Venezuela were involved in poisoning, if you will, Hugo Chavez, infecting him severely, leading to his cancer and his now, as we know, death."
Also today, two American diplomatic personnel, two U.S. military attaches in Caracas at the U.S. Embassy in Venezuela were expelled from the Venezuelan government for what they claim was inappropriate coordination activities with various elements of the Venezuelan army.
So that is the news right now. Hugo Chavez is dead. Juan Carlos Lopez of CNN Espanol is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. This is going to be a huge, huge development because Hugo Chavez was no influential obviously in Venezuela throughout the region, so controversial, especially because of his ties not only with Cuba and the Castro brothers, but also with Iran and the president there, Ahmadinejad.
JUAN CARLOS LOPEZ, CNN ESPANOL CORRESPONDENT: In a very intense relation, Wolf, with the United States. President Chavez had sought out to create a new axis in the region to drive power away from the United States.
According to Vice President Maduro he died at 4:25 today, about 22 minutes ago, and he had been very ill. He had been transported back to Venezuela. The last thing he said this morning, you were talking about the press conference where they talk about expelling the two military attaches and the whole issue with his disease.
Obviously you could see they were very somber. You could see in their faces and sources were telling us that this was probably the first step or method to tell Venezuelans what was going on. There will be a presidential transition.
The Constitution obligates the government to call for a new election. We'll see what's going to happen. The country is very divided. Many believed that the opposition could gain control, but it's still not clear. The government still has support in Venezuela.
BLITZER: The opposition to the government of Hugo Chavez, which seems to be gaining some significant strength right now, right?
LOPEZ: That's the question. The town to see if they will be able to convince Venezuelans, especially the poor segments of the country, to vote for them. It was a very close election with the president. If you look at the numbers, it's not that close.
So the question is, will they have enough time and will the government with it is programs and everything they have been saying be able to convince people to elect Nicolas Maduro who President Chavez asked while living the Venezuelans to vote for.