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Holy Smoke Black this Morning; Battle of the Budget Plans; Valerie Harper on Life and Death.

Aired March 13, 2013 - 11:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: We're about 30 minutes right now into the afternoon session of the conclave to choose a new pope. The cardinals are running kind of ahead of schedule this morning, so really, we are on smoke watch right now.

CNN's Chris Cuomo has his eyes on that chimney, his eyes on the sky, in Rome where it's been frankly fairly rainy.

I don't know how it is right now, Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: We're choosing to interpret it as influence from above, John. We're just leaving it at that, especially during this particular vote. We believe right now the cardinals should be about halfway through their first vote of the afternoon session. This would be their fourth overall ballot. We're going to be very carefully looking at the chimney for two reasons. One, this is the ballot that brought Benedict in the last conclave and if there is any smoke, in the next hour, it will have to be white because they only burn ballots that are -- after two, after two votes if they're unsuccessful. The only way to burn it right now would be to burn it if it is successful, white smoke, new pope. That's another reason to pay attention right now.

I want to bring in Father Edward Beck, CNN contributor, a passionist priest.

Good to have you as always.


CUOMO: I learned a couple of things. I had a chance to report, and it's interesting, we've been talking about the level of politicking, if any, certainly not during the conclave itself, it's more of a ceremony. They use their meal time efficiently, nighttime efficiently. Here's an interesting observation given to me by a retired cardinal today. The cardinals whose names are in the voting, they actually get approached by other cardinals and talked to. Imagine the line you have to walk if you are someone being voted on, given everything you've told us, father, about how you can't seem to be ambitious, but they're being approached and asked, what do you think about this? What do you think about that? How does that add to the analysis of what's going on in there. BECK: Obviously, they want to get to know each other better so they have to ask those questions if they haven't been reported publicly. I think it's normal conversation about people who do not get to see each other all the time, especially the foreign cardinals coming in. Those in Rome get to know each other. Sometimes these guys have never talked to each other face to face.

CUOMO: Right. I think one of the benefits of the insight from this retired cardinal. He was there when Ratzinger, then cardinal, was becoming Benedict, and as his name was closer to 77 he was being approached.

BECK: Right.

CUOMO: He had to balance -- he said you could see that he stepped back from the process a little bit, but also had to engage people who wanted to talk to him.

BECK: From what I've heard, yes, they don't want to seem again this is something they necessarily desire. It's God's will, God's will, I will accept this. You don't want to -- I don't think really Cardinal Ratzinger wanted it. From all reports he was saying, please, not me. Would you be willing to take it? Is this something you could step up and do?

CUOMO: I was asking him, does it get a little heated. In a conclave where there's so many big issues involved do the cardinals get a little amped up, a little energetic in this, and he said no and here's why. If you were to come at somebody else, putting aside that we're prayerful men, this is s religious and all that, if you come to me and say, why don't you want my guy, why don't you want whatever the cardinal is, not to be so, you know, so colloquial about it, all you're doing is sending a signal that cardinal wants to be pope. Again, it's like this magic, this magic thing that if they want it, they're automatically removed and that's a big reason why they keep it genteel.

BECK: Publicly, it's in a bad form but discussions do go on. They get together and say let's talk to this person together and feel him out. That stuff does occur.

CUOMO: Certainly, we heard the general congregations that country cardinals were meeting, that similar language groups were meeting and it was a little unusual, that members thought it was odd that this was going on, that they thought it would be more cohesive and it lent to the idea that there was a lot of energy for change and that things needed to be discussed here. And when we look at that, and we look at who we've been talking about, even the mere suggestion of an American pope and that is a legitimate part of the dialog we're told this time, Dolan, from New York -- hold on a second. On top of the chimney, a bird. We went from smoke watch to bird watch.


Ordinarily, something that would be completely not worthy of mention, not on this one. It is not a dove. It is like a seagull or something like that on top of the chimney.

BECK: Better watch out. He's going to get his feathers ruffled pretty soon.

CUOMO: Maybe he knows something about the smoke we don't. This bird brazenly on top of the chimney, obviously, protesting that there will be no smoke. I don't know if that's any kind of indication. But worthy of note because we stare at that chimney for hours here because we're trying to just wait, obviously, for something to come out of it. A little moment of levity there.

Back to what actually matters, which is, Dolan from New York, O'Malley from Boston, why not more energy toward Cardinal Donald Worrell from Washington, D.C.? I was told again by this cardinal today, he's the one to look at from America. He is the mix of gravitas, of holiness, and of standing up at his own risk, during the sex abuse scandal and wanting to take steps that were not being taken overall at that time. Why not more about him?

BECK: Again, this is a very admiral man. If I could give you what I have been told, putting it in clerical terms, he's not as sexy. With Cardinal O'Malley, you have a man who's a Franciscan who wears a brown hat --


CUOMO: Father Edward Beck, did you offer up as the reason why he is not a great papal candidate, he is not a sexy candidate.

BECK: Sexy meaning -- let me translate what sexy means.

CUOMO: Please.

BECK: Cardinal O'Malley in his habit, Franciscan poverty, he sees something totally different from what the norm is. Cardinal Dolan, brash, slapping you on the back, the big image when he enters the room. It's a different persona. Cardinal Worrell is very sage, very reticent, kind, humble, quiet, not a great speaker, just not as effervescent perhaps. I think that's why he doesn't get the same attention as the other two do.

CUOMO: I've got you. John, we do know this. If you're going to have this pope send one message to the world, if that message is I came out against the sex abuse scandal and going to change things before you start hearing it spread to other continents can't think of a better message than that.

But we're here on chimney watch for you here. Back to you in New York.

BERMAN: That would be a tremendous message.

Chris Cuomo, Father Beck, thanks to you.

I should tell, you right now, we are watching the Sistine Chapel chimney. You can see it on the bottom of our screen. Watch it any time, all the time on There is a bird on top of it right now. We understand who has been sworn to secrecy.

For the second straight day, President Obama will spend his afternoon on Capitol Hill, this time meeting with Republicans.

A reminder to watch CNN's new show "The Lead" with Jake Tapper. It starts Monday afternoon at 4:00. I am looking forward to that.


BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone. We, of course, are watching the conclave very closely as we speak. 115 cardinals, they are in their fourth vote for pope right now. We have our eyes on the chimney on top of the Sistine Chapel looking for any signs of smoke. A few minutes ago there was actually a bird sitting atop the Sistine Chapel. We do not know what that means. Black smoke, white smoke, we know that what means. Birds, we're not so sure.

Meanwhile on Capitol Hill, the dueling budget plans that everyone is talking about. Former Republican vice presidential candidate, Paul Ryan, introduced his plan yesterday. Senate Democrats unveil their plan later today. In the middle with his own specific ideas, President Obama, he's expressing hope that a deal can be reached, but with this caveat.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But ultimately, it may be that the differences are just too wide. If their position is, we can't do any revenue or we can only do revenue if we gut Medicare or gut Social Security or gut Medicaid, if that's the position, then we're probably going to not be able to get a deal.


BERMAN: In what's being called a charm offensive, the president is making another trip to Capitol Hill this afternoon. This time he will be meeting with House Republicans.

Joined now by Wolf Blitzer to help us sort this whole thing out.

You know, is it fair to call what the president is doing a charm offensive? Is charm the right word? Is he really making any progress here, Wolf?

WOLF BLITZER, HOST, THE SITUATION ROOM: If you invite somebody out to dinner, you know, that could be a charm offensive as he did last week. He invited them over for lunch. Going up to the hill is pretty important as well. He's going to be meeting as you point out with the House Republicans today, the caucus, and he's in effect going into the lion's den.

On most of these budget-related issues there is a wide disagreement. Yes, Republicans are ready to eliminate some of the tax loopholes, some of those exemptions if you will, but they're not ready to see that there's more increased tax revenue as a result. In order to eliminate those loop loopholes, John, what they want to do is reduce tax rates, to make it revenue neutral. In other words, right now, the richest Americans, the highest income Americans pay 39.6 percent of their income into taxes.

The Republicans, Paul Ryan, the chairman of the Budget Committee and others, they want to reduce that to 25 percent. The White House and the Democrats say that's never going to happen, at least for the foreseeable future, at least until the economy dramatically were to shift and there would be economic growth, 4 percent, 5 percent, 6 percent a year as opposed to the anemic growth right now. It doesn't look good.

My own sense is it doesn't hurt to do this charm offensive, certainly doesn't hurt to engage in a discussion, and maybe, when all the dust settles, they can come up with some sort of compromise. They've got until really the end of July, early August. That's when the nation's debt ceiling has to be raised once again and if they don't do it by then, America's credit worthiness could be endangered once again, a reduction in America's credit rating. There's a lot to discuss.

BERMAN: You are a hopeful, hopeful man, Wolf Blitzer. Charm is always a good thing. We will see how far charm takes the president with the ideas so diametrically opposed.

You can join Wolf this afternoon as we go inside the TSA's secret store room, on "The Situation Room" today at 4:00 eastern time.

She, of course, came into our lives as a strong and independent Rhoda on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." Valerie Harper is showing us how to face the end of life gracefully and completely and with such courage.


BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone. We have news just in to CNN from upstate New York right now. Police are searching for a suspect following multiple shootings in Herkimer County, between Syracuse and Albany. Four are believed dead, two people believed shot and injured. Police right now searching for the suspect. This is according to the New York State Police right now. Again the location is Herkimer County, between Syracuse and Albany. We will bring you more news as it comes in.

Other news, Actress Valerie Harper is not backing down from her recent cancer diagnosis, despite the fact that it is terminal. She tells our Piers Morgan it's giving her more reason to embrace life and her loved ones.


VALERIE HARPER, ACTRESS: My life is the same. I'm exercising, I'm walking, I'm doing book tours. I'm just living my life with the help of Dr. Natally (ph) and their team and Dr. Ruddnick (ph). And I'm just doing one foot in front of the other and I feel much better knowing, and I decided, gee, if this news comes out it's going to be horrifying.

By the way, my neighbors immediately called the House, or sent notes, can we bring casseroles? Can I cook for you? I thought, yes. And I thought, they think I'm in a wheelchair or laying with tubes. Maybe now, while I can still talk, and communicate, and express, we're all terminal, every single one of us. None of us are getting out of this alive, and we don't like to look at death, and I don't ask people to do that, but I ask them to accept that death is inevitable. And then leave it alone. Live the moment.

PIERS MORGAN, HOST, PIERS MORGAN: I've never seen anyone --


HARPER: And tell people --


MORGAN: I've never seen anybody who, you know, I've known some people in my life who have been diagnosed with a terminal condition and, you know, to most people it would be the single most people it would be the single most crushing thing that ever happened to them. You've reacted in this extraordinarily positive way, which I think is really inspired people. And they're all asking the same thing. Where do you feel you get the strength to be like this?

HARPER: Well, first of all, I'm almost 74. And I have had a magnificent run, the most wonderful husband in the world for 34 years, a great career. And finally after all these years of wanting to be a little stage actress, I got a Tony nomination in 2010. At 70 years old, what could be better? But I really looked at my life as blessed. Sure, I've had challenges and terrible things happen and loss of dear people and all that. But I really think that if we had left here and resistance thing to death, life would be happier.

MORGAN: It's extraordinary also to me to be interviewing somebody who knows that they have a very short period of time to live. I can't remember doing that before. I was curious before the break and I'm now about -- how do you feel about the time you have left? Are there things that you really want to achieve? Do you have one of these famous bucket lists now that you think I've got to do this before?

HARPER: I have been doing that the last few years without knowing I was ill. People invite me to lunch I go, listen, you're 71, go to lunch. Take the day. Do that. Really. It's interesting because I was doing it and I'm kind of in that mode.

And the interesting thing, too, is that people need to get this early testing is so important. There's a huge amount of people, women who are getting lung cancer who never smoked or people that stopped smoking 20 years ago as doctor, it's such a sin it hits them 20 years later. I want to get that message out. That's something I can do.

I can also say -- tell people to just keep your chin up and don't go to the funeral, mine or yours or your loved ones, until the day of the funeral. Because then you miss the life that you have left. So I really feel this is kind of an opportunity and also, a responsibility.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BERMAN: Amazing. What inspiration.

Tonight, Piers speaks with former house speaker and former presidential candidate, Newt Gingrich. Could Gingrich be the next "Apprentice"? That's live tonight at 9:00 eastern time.


BERMAN: Welcome back everyone. You're looking at live pictures at the Vatican right now. I think we're all having rising levels of anticipation. The intrigue is growing or getting to those key minutes right now where it is possible we could see some smoke rising indicating a decision on the pope. Stay with us for that.

Meanwhile, some other news. It was the last thing that the 41st president ever expected to see.




BERMAN: That is George H.W. Bush surprised by a flash mob at Texas A&M University. Students rewrote the lyrics from "Boot Scoot and Boogie." He did seem to get a kick out of it.

Other news, in New Orleans, a deepening mystery over the disappearance of an elementary teacher. Terry Lynn Monette (ph) was nominated as teacher of the year and celebrating almost two weeks ago. She was seen about 4:00 a.m. on March 2nd speaking with a man in this bar parking lot. Her mother talked with CNN earlier, saying she believes her daughter was abducted. Also missing is her 2012 black Honda Accord. Anyone with information on this should contact the New Orleans police immediately.

About 30 miles south of New Orleans two members of a tug boat crew rushed to the hospital when their oil barge struck a natural gas pipeline. Flames shot up about 1,000 feet into the air. The Coast Guard is letting the flaming tug barge and pipeline burn themselves out.

H&R Block -- a glitch from H&R Block is delaying about 600,000 tax refunds. That delay could be up to six weeks. You are affected if you claimed education credits using form 8863. Block says you're OK if you filed after February 22nd. The problem's fixed. It's now working with the IRS to get people their money back as soon as possible.

Stay with us right now. We will have more information from the Vatican. We're watching it all day. We'll be right back.


BERMAN: Welcome back. You are looking at live pictures right now of the chimney over the Sistine Chapel. We are entering a key time period where it is possible we could see some smoke. Please stay with us. The whole world is watching, which is why it's perfect that we'll now go to AROUND THE WORLD with Fredricka Whitfield and Michael Holmes. It starts right now.