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THE SITUATION ROOM
Rand Paul Filibusters Brennan Nomination; Interview With Kansas Senator Pat Roberts; President's Surprise Dinner Date; Analysis Of Obama's Dinner Outreach; Pocket Knives On Planes; Venezuelans Fill Streets For Hugo Chavez; Ballet Dancer Behind Vicious Attack
Aired March 6, 2013 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: a powerful winter storm walloping the Mid-Atlantic, causing some huge power outages and prompting a state of emergency.
President Obama has a surprise dinner date tonight with Republican senators.
Plus, knives on airplanes -- there's outrage, as the TSA considers relaxing its rules.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
All that coming up.
But we begin this hour with a new Wall Street high, the Dow reaching a record level for the second day in a row in a rally fueled by positive economic news.
(STOCK MARKET UPDATE)
BLITZER: Severe winter storm.
The storm that brought record show to Chicago is now blanketing some Mid-Atlantic states, where millions of people could see their biggest snowfall of the season, almost three feet in some areas. At one point, more than 250,000 homes and businesses lost power and class was canceled for almost one million students.
Right now, Virginia is taking the brunt of the storm, and driving on the state's roads has become treacherous. The governor has declared a state of emergency and also has activated National Guard troops.
CNN's Joe Johns is in Winchester, Virginia, for us, not far away from Washington.
Joe, tell us what you're seeing there.
JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, quite frankly, the weather has calmed down a lot here in the Shenandoah Valley since this morning.
Now the big concerns are about potential flooding and power outages.
JOHNS (voice-over): Thick, heavy, wet snow, beautiful to look at, but hard to deal with, brought a late winter discomfort to almost everyone in its past -- in the Pittsburgh area.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's beautiful out here. The snow is heavy. It's like mashed potatoes.
JOHNS: In parts of Virginia where the snow felt the heaviest, it also meant trouble for electrical wires and the tree limbs closest to them. With tens of thousands of people without power across Virginia, the governor declared a state of emergency, though officials on the ground realize that the situation could have been much worse.
On the roads, work started well before the first flakes fell. Late into the night at the salt piles in Virginia, thousands of trucks loaded up to treat the streets, often with marginal success, luckily not much traffic to deal with. Transportation officials had asked everyone who could to stay off the roads.
ED CARTER, VIRGINIA DOT: If you have to get on the road, use extreme caution, drive slower than you normally would.
JOHNS: The warnings were heeded and by noon about a foot of snow had fallen in the Shenandoah Valley. Transportation officials were saying main roads were generally passable, but some secondary roads were not. In the city of Winchester, which had been viewed as ground zero for the storm, the city manager was speculating that it could have been a lot worse.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it's going real well, to be honest with you. We have had a lot of snowfall, but so far the accumulation has only been about six inches here in the city.
JOHNS: The few shopkeepers who brother to open their doors this day reported almost no customer traffic.
(on camera): Easy day at work?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, pretty much.
JOHNS: Back now live here in Winchester, Virginia, now where it's just starting to rain a bit. More than 200,000 people said that they were without power here in Virginia today. That number could go up this evening before it goes down -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Joe. Thank you.
You can certainly feel the effects of the storm on the ground and in the air. This is the current air traffic on-flight tracker. Delays are standard fare, at least on this day. But you don't see all of the flights canceled because of the storm, more than 1,600. CNN's Erin McPike is over at Dulles Airport right outside of Washington, D.C.
What's it like over there, Erin?
ERIN MCPIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you know, we have had a couple of sweeper snow seasons around here, but this storm lived up to some of its hype at least west of Washington.
MCPIKE (voice-over): With mound of slushy, wet snow and heavy gusts of wind, you might think Dulles International Airport would shut down for the day, but they are ready.
(on camera): You don't think you're rusty because there hasn't been much snow the last two years?
CHRISTOPHER BROWNE, AIRPORT MANAGER: No, because you still practice. You have to practice.
MCPIKE (voice-over): Here in the operations center, this team, lead by airport manager Christopher Browne, decides when each of the airport's four runways open and close. They keep the airlines updated on conditions so the carriers can decide whether they should cancel their flights.
(on camera): Does this look bad to you?
MIKE KNECHT, SNOW PLOW OPERATOR: I have seen it a lot worse.
MCPIKE (voice-over): I rode along with Mike Knecht as he plowed the taxiways and runways. He plows nonstop and a relief team swaps in every six hours.
(on camera): How many times will you be out doing just this?
KNECHT: They want to keep it down to about an inch to an inch- and-a-half of snow. It's continuous.
MCPIKE (voice-over): Despite the constant snow removal, major airlines canceled more than 1,600 flights in preparation for this storm.
BROWNE: It's very hard to run full schedule and get all of your passengers with reservations on to the right aircraft throughout a day like today.
MCPIKE: Airlines have learned over the past few years it's usually better for their customers and their bottom lines to not fly through a storm, but some planes still are coming in and out of Dulles.
DANA PITTS, DULLES AIRPORT: Many of our internationals have elected, since they usually have one flight a day, to try and operate and get their aircraft in and out of here today. MCPIKE: Like this one leaving for Ethiopia.
BROWNE: Now, Wolf, it's just really raining here right now and the operations team tells us that things are starting to get back to normal and they expect a pretty full operating schedule tomorrow, Wolf.
BLITZER: Good news. Good to hear at of Dulles Airport. Erin, thank you.
Meanwhile, a rare event here in Washington in the United States Senate. Take a look at this. You're watching live pictures of a talking, yes, a talking filibuster, Republicans and Democrats. That's Democratic Senator Ron Wyden talking right now. They are holding up the nomination for John Brennan to become the CIA director.
Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky started it all about 4.5 hours ago. It's been nonstop talk ever since. A couple of other Republican senators and Ron Wyden, the Democratic senator, they are helping Rand Paul out. It's difficult to speak without stopping for all these hours. All are objecting to the written remarks by United States Attorney General Eric Holder who said a drone strike on American soil against an American citizen could be possible, possible under extraordinary circumstances.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: I rise today to begin to filibuster John Brennan's nomination for the CIA. I will speak until I no longer can speak. I will speak as long as it takes until the alarm has sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that your rights to trial by jury are precious and that no American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Strong words from Senator Rand Paul. He's also tweeting about all of this taking a cue from the snowstorm here in the D.C. area. He's using the hashtag filiblizzard on Twitter. We will have much more on this story coming up later here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Also, this important note to our viewers -- Senator Rand Paul will be a special guest on "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" tonight 7:00 p.m. Eastern right after THE SITUATION ROOM.
Lots of people would like to be a fly on the wall at a dinner later tonight here in Washington, an early evening dinner, President Obama sitting down with a group of Republican senators at a posh D.C. hotel. Will political drama be on the menu? I suppose it will.
Plus, those White House tours so popular with the American people, guess what, they have been canceled because of the forced spending cuts and the anger is obvious.
BLITZER: It's one of the great things about the United States, an open invitation to American citizens to visit the most important building in the country. We're talking about the White House, but not anymore. The White House has now canceled all tours effective this weekend, saying those forced spending cuts left them no choice.
Still, it has a lot of people crying foul, including Republican Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, who's joining us now from Capitol Hill.
Senator, thanks very much for coming in.
SEN. PAT ROBERTS (R), KANSAS: Hi, Wolf.
BLITZER: What is wrong with saving taxpayer money by shutting those tours of the White House?
ROBERTS: Not a darn thing, except it isn't going to save any money.
It's the politics of perception. It lowers debate to a new lower level. I can tell you on the Senate floor, both Democrats and Republicans were shaking their heads saying, where does this end? We had the meat inspectors there for a while that were going to shut down all the packing plants and the sale barns and ranchers could not figure out when to sell their cows.
And we have at the same time with the Department of Agriculture two different conferences that could have been shut down. I would advise the president basically stay home for a while, don't go around the country campaigning. Don't go golfing with two big airplanes. I think then you could save enough money with the Secret Service detail.
And, by the way, when I go to the White House -- and I don't go often. Used to, but not now. But, any rate, when I go, a lot of Marines standing there. If you got Marines, you're fine in terms of security.
How does telling a Kansas high school group that they can't visit their White House -- this isn't the president's White House -- that they are going to close the doors for several months and they don't even know what the sequester is going to do to the Secret Service? I really question that. It's just the politics of perception.
We need serious debate on the debt and the crisis. This is not a good example. It's silly.
BLITZER: Because what they are saying is they really have no choice, this meat cleaver, across-the-board cuts forcing everyone in the government, the executive branch and legislative branch to make these types of tough decisions. And continuing those tours of the White House was not seen apparently by the White House as all that important. ROBERTS: Well, apparently not. I would remind the president again that it belongs to the people. I would also remind everybody that the Capitol is open and that's a pretty important place to tour. That's like a museum, as well as a working place for the Congress.
My doors are open. I told the Kansas people, no charge. You can come in. We'll give you a tour of the Capitol. I'm not really cutting back any person that's actually going to do that. That's just an extra duty that we do.
I really questioned whether the Secret Service is in that bad of shape and I questioned the furlough and I questioned the numbers. We are not even through the continuing resolution that has just passed the House. We intend to give the president some authority there so that he can make some decisions or the secretaries.
I would simply add: just a few more golf trips or a few less golf trips and the Secret Service would have enough to provide security in regards to -- you know, to the tours. It just doesn't make sense.
BLITZER: Virtually, the whole federal government was told here in Washington, in the D.C. area today, Senator, it's a snow day. You don't have to show up for work even though so far -- and I was just looking outside, it was snowing a little bit --
ROBERTS: We have rainy day with no snow.
BLITZER: It's snowing a little bit.
ROBERTS: Yes, I know you're from buffalo. I'm from Kansas.
BLITZER: I know. Where I come from, this is considered a nice day.
ROBERTS: Hey, we keep it open. Right, exactly.
BLITZER: This is not to bad.
But, obviously, it's going to cost the taxpayers a lot of money. Nobody is doing serious work today but they are staying home.
ROBERTS: Well, we are doing serious work. We have a live filibuster in regards to the --
BLITZER: Do you support that filibuster?
ROBERTS: I support the right of members to stand up who think that they have not got equal answer in regards to the intelligence committee. A lot of that, obviously, is classified. But, yes, Senator Paul has some serious questions to ask, more especially about drones. I think they have a right to voice their opinions and to try to influence opinions.
BLITZER: You know, often, we -- no filibusters in the past, they rarely speak. This is an old school, kind of "Mr. Smith Comes to Washington" kind of filibuster where they are actually filibustering. They are talking, Senator Wyden, Senator Paul and others.
You used to be a leader in the Intelligence Committee. I'm curious, do you think the president of the United States has the authority to order a drone strike to kill an American citizen on U.S. soil?
ROBERTS: Well, he sure as heck needs to clarify it as opposed to the attorney general making a general statement and the language of all that is very unclear. That's up to the intelligence committee. I won't get in to that, in any detail, at least from the standpoint of what I know.
But I do have a lot of respect and a lot of confidence in Senator Chambliss from Georgia and Senator Feinstein from California. They have pressed a he pressed and pressed to get the White House to get a clarifying statement on the use of drones.
Once they get that, I think we'll be in better shape.
BLITZER: I'm wondering if you agree with Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. He was here in THE SITUATION ROOM the other day. He made it clear to me that in exchange for major entitlement reform -- Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid -- he would support what's called a grand bargain and include major tax reform that potentially could increase tax revenues, but you've got to have a big package deal. Would you go along with that?
ROBERTS: I don't know what the plan is. I don't know what the list is. I'm serving on the Finance Committee. All I want is to make sure that we get jurisdiction over any tax reform plan. We're having a hearing tomorrow.
Now, the president's on the air every other whipstitch blaming Republicans and say, we just want to eliminate these loopholes for the rich. Well, what are they? What are we talking about?
Now, he's been talking about on the campaign trail shutting down the oil and gas industry in Kansas, shutting down agriculture, shutting down lending institutions, et cetera, et cetera, all sorts of executive orders and, you know, regulations. In terms of tax reform and the loopholes, what are they? Where's the plan? Where's the list?
That's why --
BLITZER: Well, would you be willing to discuss -- would you be able to get into negotiations?
ROBERTS: I'm always ready to get into negotiations. I may have a very strong opinion on tax reform. I think you ought to have a light flashing at the back of the room and say, "do no harm." I know numbers are important but the policy is an important as well.
Yes, we want to do that. Max Baucus, the chairman, Orrin Hatch as the ranking member, give it to the committee that knows how to do this, instead of talking about it on the campaign trail and then coming up with no list or no plan.
And also, oh, by the way, we're going to shutter the doors to any high school group or any other group that wants to come to the White House. What's that all about? It just lowers the level of the debate that we must have to solve our debt and our -- well, debt and our deficit crisis.
BLITZER: Senator Roberts, thanks for coming back to THE SITUATION ROOM. Appreciate it.
ROBERTS: You bet. Ask me back.
BLITZER: I will.
College isn't supposed to be only for the rich but we're getting new numbers that suggest otherwise. Coming up, what's behind the staggering cost of college tuition, including at state universities.
BLITZER: Twenty United Nations peacekeepers are being detained in Syria right now.
Kate Bolduan is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
Kate, what happened?
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, a lot going on today, Wolf.
Syrian rebels detained them, as Wolf was mentioning, in a village near the Israeli occupied Golan Heights. The rebels say intense fighting has been raging there and for days and the peacekeepers shouldn't have been there.
The rebels suspect the U.N. officials of trying to aid the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Though the U.N. says it was, quote, "a regular supply mission."
If it feels like college is more expensive than ever, that may be because it is. A new report out shows the average tuition jumped more than 8 percent last year. That's due in part to a record drop in state funding for public universities which is down 9 percent per student. In the state of Georgia alone, students are now paying 77 percent more than in 2007.
It's getting much more expensive.
And a week after Yahoo! stopped allowing employees to work from home, Best Buy is following suit. Best Buy's new rules are not quite as strict. The 4,000 employees who took advantage of the work-from- home program can still do it with manager approval. They used to have the freedom to make that decision on their own. None of this applies though to store employees who obviously need to be there in the store to work.
And it's not every day you see a crane collapse on video. Take a look at this.
BOLDUAN: Witnesses say A crane in Oregon got caught on power lines and when the operator tried to untangle it, it gave way and the whole structure came tumbling down, as you see. Very, very scary scene.
But, Wolf, unfortunately but no reports of injury and oddly enough, no one even lost power.
BLITZER: Yes, lucky indeed. That's pretty amazing video.
BOLDUAN: Never a good idea to put a crane in power lines.
BLITZER: Thank you.
BOLDUAN: No problem.
BLITZER: Sometimes the most productive meetings don't necessarily happen at work but rather over a few drinks and a good meal. Coming up, we're taking a closer look at what President Obama hopes to accomplish. He's going to a fancy dinner at a local hotel with a group of people who almost never have anything nice to say about him.
A bunch of Republican senators, they're going to have dinner and drinks later tonight right here in Washington.
BLITZER: A group of Republican senators is sitting down to dinner tonight at a posh Washington, D.C., hotel. But what's really grabbing everyone's attention is their host, the president of the United States, who's been criticized for failing to reach out to lawmakers across the aisle.
Our national political correspondent Jim Acosta is joining us now from the White House.
So, what's going on, Jim?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, with a flurry of new poll numbers showing the president is taking some hits in this latest budget standoff, he's looking to warm up the political climate here in Washington. But the question is whether this is just a break from the big chill. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ACOSTA (voice-over): On a cold winter day dubbed "snow-quester", President Obama is hitting the defrost button when it comes to his chilly relations with Republicans in Congress. After both sides failed to work out a deal from those forced budget cuts from kicking in, the president decided to invite nearly a dozen GOP senators, including some of his toughest critics, to dinner at a D.C. hotel.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I think he's doing the right thing. We need to stop the campaign. The election is over.
ACOSTA: One of the senators on the list, Republican Ron Johnson, says it's a step in the right direction.
SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: Hopefully what I'm going to hear out of the president is a serious sense of purpose, finally acknowledging we've got to look at the entire budget. We've got to take a look at Social Security, we've got to look at Medicare.
ACOSTA: A White House official tells CNN that the president hopes to revive talks for a grand bargain on the deficit. "Yes, but we are not naive about the possibilities here," the official said. "These are just conversations. Getting from there to a deal is hard."
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The majority of the American people agree with me.
ACOSTA: After weeks of campaign-style events blaming Republicans for budget gridlock, the White House acknowledges it's a changed approach, one that started over the weekend when the president began calling lawmakers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is this a charm offensive?
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president is engaging with lawmakers of both parties and will continue to do so.
ACOSTA: A far cry from just last week when on the same day that the automatic cuts went into effect, the president dismissed the notion he should be altering his tactics.
OBAMA: Well, Julie, give me an example of what I might do.
ACOSTA: The White House argues that the president has tried a grand bargain before only to be rebuffed by House GOP leaders. Both sides remain dug in with some Republican senators noting that multiple independent fact-checkers have skewered the Obama administration for making repeated false statements about the impacts of the automatic cuts.
SEN. JOHN CORYN (R), TEXAS: While the president has been out there playing Chicken Little, members of Congress have been waiting for the White House to send over its budgets.
ACOSTA: Democrats insist the GOP is still obstructing the president's nominees, whether it's to the courts or the CIA. No wonder both sides have doubts that breaking bread can fix a broken government.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But for anyone to think that this is going lead to some sort of kumbaya or sort of Jesus moment, they've got another thing coming.
ACOSTA: But they are still going to try, not just at dinner tonight but also next week. That's when the president goes up to Capitol Hill to meet with lawmakers in both the House and the Senate. It's something that he has not done in years. And Wolf, getting back to this dinner tonight, here's a menu from the restaurant where they will be sitting down and breaking bread. There's an $85 fixed price menu. Get this, Wolf, for $1,776, you can have the 1776 meal, a very Washington-esque sort of offering. But my guess is, Wolf, they won't be taking that one tonight.
BLITZER: Do we know who is picking up the tab? Everybody paying for themselves, or is there a host here? What's going on?
ACOSTA: Well, the president is the host. He invited these lawmakers out to dinner tonight. But we've asked the White House; no word on who is picking up the tab.
BLITZER: If you find out, let us know.
Let's discuss a little bit in our Strategy Session. Joining us now, the former Obama special adviser, CNN contributor, Van Jones. And the Republican strategist, Ana Navarro. She's also a CNN contributor.
Quick thought from both of you, Van. First to you. I think this could probably help to at least establish a dialogue, but some think it could actually hurt. What do you think?
VAN JONES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I don't think it could hurt at all. This president has already put on the table that he wants to have a grand bargain. Some people in the party, including myself, are concerned about the grand bargain going too far in the direction of the Republicans. And so, I think this only helps him. I think it's important that he shows that he's willing to do this kind of thing.
And I think it's up to the Republicans to show up and listen to him. They keep saying that he hasn't put Medicare on the table. To my horror, he has put it on the table. Maybe they'll hear it from him directly since they can't seem to get it from television.
BLITZER: I think it's a nice gesture, Ana, don't you think?
ANA NAVARRO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I do. I think it is necessary. I think it's astounding that it's happening not until now. And I do disagree with Van, though. I don't think the Republicans are there to listen to the president. I think they are both there to have a dialogue. That's what they need. Whenever you hear about a relationship going wrong, and certainly this one is, the best thing you can do is communicate. And I think it is refreshing and good to see our two branches of government actually having a discussion and breaking bread. I recommend to President Obama that he have a lot of good liquor in store and make sure they wet their whistle.
BLITZER: I hope they have a good glass of wine at least.
All right. Let's talk a little bit about this new book that is coming out on Roger Ailes, the head of Fox News. Zev Chafets has been writing this book. An excerpt has now been released in "Vanity Fair." The book doesn't come out for a while.
But Roger Ailes, who's always outspoken, he's got some blunt words about the president. I'll put it up on the screen, for example. He says this: "Obama's the one who never worked a day in his life. He never earned a penny that wasn't public money. How many fundraisers does he attend every week? How often does he play basketball and golf? I wish I had that kind of time. He's lazy, but the media won't report that."
Let me let both of you weigh in on those strong words from Roger. Van, first to you.
JONES: Well, I mean, this is the kind of stuff that is really disgusting at the end of the day. First of all, Barack Obama's hair is white. He looks like the black Santa Claus who shaved his beard off. I mean, you don't go from looking like Tiger Woods to looking like Morgan Freeman in three years if you're not working hard. There's a racial charge here that some people find offensive.
Listen, if he's lazy from golfing 104 rounds of golf, Boehner is four times lazier because Boehner says that he golfs 100 rounds every year. But nobody calls Boehner lazy. He hasn't left D.C. - he's only left D.C. ten weeks in his first term. Bush was gone four months a year. Nobody called him lazy.
So, this is the kind of stuff I think that really brings back into the mud. I hope tonight when they get together, the Republicans and the president, they can starting bringing us out of this kind of nasty commentary that is going on right now.
BLITZER: In this article by Zev Chaftes in "Vanity Fair," Ana, he also -- Roger Ailes has some strong words about Joe Biden, among other things saying, "I have a soft spot for Joe Biden. I like him. But he's dumb as an ashtray."
Wow. Dumb as an ashtray. That's I know Joe Biden. He is not dumb. Certainly not dumb as an ashtray. He's a very intelligent guy.
NAVARRO: Well, listen, we're taking excerpts out of a three-page article. I will tell you that I am happy that he used nicer words about you, Wolf, in this book than he did of either of these two gentlemen. But he was also equally harsh on Newt Gingrich, for example, who was his own contributor and on his boss' son-in-law, Rupert Murdoch's son-in-law. So, I think you're dealing with somebody who is unfiltered, who is refreshingly, politically incorrect to be in politics. I think it's going to be an interesting book. It gives you a good behind-the- scenes look at media and at some of the political world. And parts of it I found endearing.
Why is he doing this? I don't know Roger Ailes, but it was somewhat endearing to me that he as a 72-year-old guy who is looking at his mortality wants to leave something for his 10-year-old son, who he regrets he won't get to see grow into a man. So, I think we've got to read the whole book. It seems like an interesting one.
BLITZER: Yes, it seems like a fascinating book, based on this article. He does say I'm a good journalist. I thank Roger Ailes for that. He got one thing wrong, though --
NAVARRO: He is an equal opportunity critiquer.
BLITZER: Certainly! He's blunt and a very, very smart guy. He's done an amazing job over at Fox News. No one can deny that. He did get one thing wrong. He said I wear a 42 short as far as my suit is concerned. It's a 42 regular. Just want to be precise on that. But he is a very smart guy.
Quick thought from --
NAVARRO: And good-looking suits they are, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thank you.
JONES: Very, very nice suits.
BLITZER: Thank you. Quick thought from you, Ana, first, and then Van. What's going on with CPAC, this Conservative Political Action Conference? They invite Donald Trump, but they don't invite Chris Christie? What's -- what am I missing here, Ana?
NAVARRO: I think you're missing the marketing part of it. They are putting on a heck of a show. Just on my way over here, I was talking to the head of CPAC and he told me that when they announced Donald Trump, they had the second largest spike in sales of tickets than they did in the entire conference. And they are on track to have the largest attendance on record. They are on track right now to match last year, which was a presidential year, which is traditionally a much larger conference. They've had to move to a bigger hotel.
Are they the Republican Party? No, Wolf. They are a private organization, conservatives, (INAUDIBLE) conservatives. You get to invite to your house whomever you want. Would it be the people I invite? No. But you know what? They are good showmen. They are entertaining.
BLITZER: Van, Ana makes a good point. Anna makes an excellent point. Donald Trumps draws a lot of people in.
JONES: I love it. I hope that every Republican event and conservative event from now on has him front and center.
I don't understand what the conservative movement is doing. Every day you hear them saying they are going to re-brand, they're going to go in a different direction, they're going to reach out, they're going to include immigrants, they're going to get better. And then literally before the day is out, there's something like this, where now that they are going to have Donald Trump, who does -- maybe it's penny wise and pound foolish. You might get a little bit more attention in the short-term. But is it the kind of attention the conservative movement needs to have someone like this that has offended so many people? I love that Donald Trump is once again becoming the spokesperson for this Republican Party and the conservative movement. But I don't think it's good for the Republicans.
BLITZER: Van, Ana -
NAVARRO: You can't confuse CPAC and Republican Party. They are two different things, guys.
BLITZER: We're going to be watching. I will say this, though, and I'll leave it on this note. If they would have invited Chris Christie, he would have been a big draw at the same time. But you know what? There's always next year. We'll see what happens then.
Knives on airplanes. The TSA is thinking about allowing some pocket knives, other banned items back on board. Coming up, we're going to hear from a critic who says it's a very dangerous idea.
BLITZER: Anyone who flies here in the United States knows the routine. Taking off your shoes, belts, jackets, hats at airport security. Frequent flyers know the laundry list of forbidden items. So, you can understand the shock that the TSA is thinking about allowing pocket knives back on board. CNN's David Mattingly is joining us now from the airport out in Atlanta.
David, a lot of people are upset about this. What's going on?
DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the knives we're talking about are not all that big. This is an example of one, just the typical pocket knife. The blades they're going to allow will be just a little more than two inches in length and just less than a half inch in width. So, not very big.
But this and other items that they intend to allow is enough for some very large groups to be arguing that TSA may be forgetting about passenger safety.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): You will still have to remove your shoes. If you're carrying a bottle of water, forget it. But a hockey stick will be okay. So will a small pocket knife. TSA's changes to what you soon will be able to carry through security and on to an airplane already find stiff resistance.
KAREN JAMES, FLIGHT ATTENDANT: If some type of argument could escalate, guess what? Someone pulls out a knife, then I'm here. I have to defend myself and make sure all the other passengers are safe.
MATTINGLY: The decision includes allowing ski poles, pool cubes, even golf clubs. A TSA spokesman tells CNN these items "don't pose a catastrophic threat to the operation of the aircraft." Pending changes announced Tuesday TSA says allow officers to better focus on high-risk threats like explosives, but travelers have their own ideas. This family is on their way home to Chicago from Disneyland.
TERRY SHORRIS, AIR TRAVELER: I'd actually prefer if they would change the rules on the liquids because I've lost too many things. In fact, on the way here, I had a jar of peanut butter. I had no idea that that counted as a liquid and a gel. I'd rather see them change the rules on that than the small knifes and golf clubs.
MATTINGLY: This man carries a pocket knife all the time except when he is flying.
KORY DEIDLER, AIR TRAVELER: I would prefer that they stay (inaudible).
MATTINGLY: This couple, however, isn't worried.
BETH HENSON, AIR TRAVELER: I guess, I want one of the stewardess to carry a knife.
BRAD HENSON, AIR TRAVELER: I know we have marshals on the planes to protect us.
MATTINGLY: The Flight Attendant Union Coalition says the change will further endanger the lives of all flight attendants and the passengers. The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association agrees calling the decision dangerous and ill-advised.
MATTINGLY: And these two groups will be challenging the TSA's proposed new rule changes. They have a little over a month to do it -- Wolf.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The box cutters, they obviously will not be allowed under any circumstances, right?
MATTINGLY: That's right. No box cutters and larger knifes like this one. This particular knife, it looks in place so that the blade doesn't move, very different from a pocket knife. This also will not be allowed but those smaller knives and that sports equipment is enough to generate quite a bit of criticism about the TSA's plans -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It doesn't take effect for at least 45 days or something like that? Is that right? MATTINGLY: It's going to be the end of next month. Plenty of time for these groups to muster whatever political power they might have to focus on the TSA and make a fight out of this.
BLITZER: All right, David, thanks very much. David Mattingly in Atlanta for us. We're going to have much more on this story generating lots of interest across the country. That's coming up in our 6:00 p.m. Eastern hour of THE SITUATION ROOM.
The president of the flight attendants union will join us along with the former vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. They both have strong views on this subject.
Millions are mourning but others are celebrating the death of Hugo Chavez, revealing a deep divide in Venezuela. We're going there live. That's next.
BLITZER: Hugo Chavez gave us everything. That's what one mourner said on Venezuelan TV today as thousands of people line the streets to grieve the country's long time president. Others however remember Chavez as a tyrant, a corrupt man who supported brutal regimes in Libya, Iran, Syria, and elsewhere.
CNN's Shasta Darlington is joining us now from Caracas. So what's the mood now on this day after, Shasta?
SHASTA DARLINGTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this has really been a day of mourning. They were just thousands and thousands of people in the street wearing that red shirt and a baseball cap. That's kind of become the unofficial uniform for Chavez socialist revolution.
And there were plenty of people crying or even silently marching, but there were also a lot of people celebrating. But what they were celebrating was his life, the life of this man that they felt changed Venezuela forever, that they say reduced poverty, gave them education and food.
So you saw people who were mourners, waving flags and chanting slogans. There is a convoy of more than a hundred motorcycles that went by honking their horns. Almost like it was a football game, but just a lot of very raw emotion here today, Wolf.
The opposition we haven't heard a lot of today. They are laying low. This is really a time for the people who supported Chavez to get this out of their system, to come to terms with the man who was the president for 14 years is no longer here -- Wolf.
BLITZER: So what happens next in the coming days and weeks, Shasta? Who takes charge? When will the elections take place?
DARLINGTON: The elections have to take place in the next 30 days and we've already seen a bit of a campaign mood here with the Vice President Nicola Nicolas Maduro. He was the man hand-picked by Chavez himself to take over if he couldn't resume presidential duties.
And he's already stepped up the rhetoric. We've been talking about this. The anti-American rhetoric accusing the United States of a number of bizarre things, not only accusing the United States of trying to intervene in politics, but even implicating that foreign enemies could be behind Chavez's illness, his cancer.
So we've seen a lot of that rhetoric. On the other hand, what we will most likely see is the opposition leader running against him in the elections and if polls have it right, this will be won by Maduro. He will benefit from that sympathy vote and a lot of people here in Venezuela have benefited from this oil-backed socialist policy -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Do you know, Shasta, if those two Americans who were expelled from the U.S. embassy in Caracas, have they actually left the country already?
DARLINGTON: Well, Wolf, one of them was not in the country when he was expelled. He was in the United States. The other man was given 24 hours. We have every reason to believe he followed through on that.
We should point out that the U.S. State Department said that the whole business was not true. They denied all of it and to analysts it sounded more like trying to fire up the bases ahead of a much more important announcement, which was Chavez's death, which we know came an hour or two after the other announcement -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It sounded to me like the vice president, the acting president right now is already trying to campaign in this election, one of the reasons why he was making those accusations against so- called foreign enemies of Venezuela being behind the poisoning of Chavez and the expulsion of those two Americans.
All right, Shasta, thanks very much for the reporting. We'll stay in close touch. The funeral is supposed to take place, by the way, on Friday.
A vicious attack involving a famous ballet troop. Why a Russian ballet dancer says he's responsible for the sulphuric acid that was tossed at his director's face.
BLITZER: One of the world's oldest ballet troops is now caught up in an acid attack scandal. CNN's Phil Black is following the story for us from Moscow.
PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, suspicion has always focused on Bolshoi Ballet itself and the likelihood that it was from someone who works there was responsible. But it was still a huge surprised when one of the company's leading dancers confessed he planned the whole thing.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BLACK (voice-over): This video released by Russian police shows, Pavel Dmitrichenko, a leading dancer with one of the world's greatest ballet companies. He says, I'm suspected of organizing the acid attack on the artistic director of Bolshoi Theater. He's then asked if he did it and he confesses.
I organized this attack, but not the extent that it happened, he says. This is the result of what happened. His head wrapped in bandages on the night sulphuric acid was thrown on his face outside his home. It is a shocking contrast to the beauty and grace of the art form both men have dedicated their lives to.
The theatre is known as a house of intrigue, rivalries and jealous sees who work here. Professional differences have never before come to anything like this. Police say the two men had a hostile working relationship but have not offered any details of the specific motive.
He performed in the title role in last year's production of "Ivan, The Terrible," the story of a Russian czar with a violent reputation. Police say he directed two other men to carry out the attack and they've also confessed.
One threw the acid, the other was a driver. Receiving treatment in Germany, he doesn't know how much of his eyesight will come back. He's confident he'll return as the artistic director just as he was always sure it was a colleague, a ballet dancer who used violence to try to drive him out of that job.
BLACK: There's a lot of public speculation here about precisely what the motive was and the most popular theories revolve around the dancer's alleged frustration with the slow progress of his career perhaps his girlfriend's career. She's a dancer at the Bolshoi as well -- Wolf.