Return to Transcripts main page


Obama Wraps Up Charm Offensive On Hill; Another Fight Brewing Over Cabinet Pick? Big GOP Names Take the Stage; Supreme Court Justice Weighs in on Sequester; Michelle Obama in Vogue Again; Senator Spar Over Assault Weapons Ban

Aired March 14, 2013 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM, happening now lawmakers trade bruising punches over the controversial push to ban assault style weapons. I'll speak exclusively with the senator right in the middle of this battle, Diane Feinstein.

Veteran Democratic strategist, Paul Begala, gets booed, booed, at a prominent conservative conference under way right now here in Washington. Paul will join us live this hour.

And "Vogue" magazine takes us inside the Obama marriage. We have the scoop.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.


SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, (D) JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I'm not a sixth grader. Senator, I've been on this committee for 20 years. I was a mayor for nine years. I walked in. I saw people shot. I've studied the constitution myself. I am reasonably well-educated. And I thank you for the lecture.


BLITZER: All right. So, there you have it. The gun debate here in Washington gets emotional and gets very personal on this day. Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee winning a bruising victory today in their battle to ban military-style assault weapons, but is the president putting everything he has behind this effort? Our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, is over at the White House. He's got new information -- Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, gun control advocates did score a major win today in their efforts for a new ban on assault-style weapons, but the real question here at the White House is whether the president will put a big push behind that bill to get it over the finish line.


ACOSTA (voice-over): On the three-month anniversary of the Newtown tragedy, efforts to pass new gun control measures cleared a major hurdle when the Senate Judiciary Committee voted along party lines to approve a new ban on assault-style weapons.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The bill will be reported to the floor.

ACOSTA: But not until after some major fireworks.

SEN. TED CRUZ, (R) TEXAS: It seems to me that all of us should begin as our foundational document with the constitution.

FEINSTEIN: I'm not a sixth grader. Senator, I've been on this committee for 20 years. In Sandy Hook, youngsters were dismembered.

ACOSTA: That may explain why the ban's chief backer, Senator Dianne Feinstein, is calling for backup. Noting the big push, former president, Bill Clinton, gave a similar ban nearly 20 years ago. Feinstein told "The Hill" newspaper earlier this week, "I would certainly welcome Obama taking a leaf out of Clinton's book and really engaging. I think that would make a difference. He's got a bully pulpit that none of us."

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They had their entire lives ahead of them, birthdays, graduations, weddings.

ACOSTA: Despite President Obama's emotional response to Sandy Hook where an AR-15 was used to commit mass murder --

OBAMA: It was a great conversation.


ACOSTA: And his charm offensive on Capitol Hill that's in part on gun control, Democrats doubt they have the 60 votes needed to break an expected GOP filibuster on an assault-style weapon ban.

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE, (D) RHODE ISLAND: It's pretty clear that the assault weapons ban has become -- the other party has become locked in against that. And so, I don't see us getting 60 votes.

ACOSTA: White House press secretary, Jay Carney, stressed the president still supports such a ban, but he declined to say how far Mr. Obama is willing to go.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president understands that these are tough issues. If they weren't, they would have been done.

ACOSTA: That may leave it up to gun control advocates from Newtown like those who rode bicycles to Washington this week to keep the pressure on Congress.

MONTE FRANK, SANDY HOOK CYCLISTS: We hope that all of our nation's elected representatives will step forward with the moral courage and commitment needed to tackle the grave issue of gun violence that confronts us.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA (on-camera): Now, the president did release a statement in response to the Senate Judiciary Committee's passage of that bill that would reinstate the assault weapons-style ban and it goes in part, "These weapons of war when combined with high capacity magazines have one purpose to inflict maximum damage as quickly as possible," the president says. "They are designed for the battlefield and they have no place on our streets, in our schools, or threatening our law enforcement officers."

But Wolf, that may not be the full throated endorsement of that legislation that Senator Feinstein and other supporters of this legislation would like to see. That is in part because of the conventional wisdom here in Washington and up on Capitol Hill that really it's the universal background checks that have the best chance of getting passed -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And so, there's no doubt that even if all of this were to pass the full Senate, once it goes to the House of Representatives, where the Republicans are the majority, a lot of this would be dead, right?

ACOSTA: That's right. It may not even get called up over in the House, because it is controlled by Republicans, and so, at this point, perhaps, both sides are bowing to some political reality on this issue, Wolf.

BLITZER: Political reality, very important. All right. Thanks very much, Jim.

Just ahead, later this hour, Senator Feinstein will be my guest right here in the SITUATION ROOM. We'll go over that exchange she had with Senator Ted Cruz.

Three days, four visits with Republicans and Democrats in both Houses of Congress. President Obama wrapping up that so-called charm offensive on Capitol Hill just a little while ago. So, what if anything did he accomplish? Our chief Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is up on Capitol Hill. She's got more. First of all, Dana, who exactly did the president meet with on this day?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He met with Senate Republicans, Wolf, and House Democrats. Let's start with Senate Republicans, obviously, potentially, the more interesting of those conversations. Lots of surprisingly positive feedback from Senate Republicans. I don't think I'm Pollyanna about this. I think it was genuine for most of these Republican senators.

Even conservatives like Ted Cruz said he found common ground on an issue of corporate taxes. He obviously doesn't have a political reason to say that about the president. And the takeaway from senators is the reason why they felt so positive is, first of all, just because they said that they felt that they got a chance to talk, that the president listened, he let about a dozen Republican senators ask questions and the two general themes of those questions, I'm told, are, one, entitlements. The fact that they want the president to really work hard on convincing Democrats, convincing Democrats to come their way or at least to come towards a little bit of compromise. And in order to do that, I was told by several Republican senators that they told him, please try to give your fellow Democrats cover.

How? By going to the American people. By using the bully pulpit, using the megaphone he has. In fact, that is one of the questions I'm told by Rob Portman, a senator from Ohio, that he asked the president. Here was what he said the president's answer was.


SEN. ROB PORTMAN, (R) OHIO: Well, I asked the president if he was willing to not just get engaged by talking to us but talking to the American people.

He said yes, essentially. He understands that's part of the challenge. The concern I continue to have is the fact that the president's not providing the kind of political cover to Democrats to really engage in a serious discussion on how do you get the entitlement reforms in place to save those programs.


BASH: Now, Wolf, he went across the Capitol from there to have that serious discussion with House Democrats, and he had the problem really effectively smack him right in the face because we are told he heard from many House Democrats that they are very concerned that the White House is going to go too far in compromising on entitlements especially Medicare and other issues surrounding those programs that most Democrats hold so dear and are very reluctant to change even in the name of deficit reduction.

BLITZER: You were up on the Hill, Dana, all week. Did the president's outreach to the Republicans and Democrats, but specifically, to the Republicans, did it make a difference?

BASH: You know, in a word, yes. Did it break new ground in terms of coming together on these big policy differences that divide them? No. But the -- what I've heard from Democrats and Republicans, mostly Republicans, is that the idea that they could be heard, that they could have conversations with the president, and that they could hear directly from them, their policy positions, not from their staff, not from sound bites on television or quotes in the newspaper, is something that is invaluable.

And that is something that they hope will form a basis going forward because it's something that they haven't had before. Although, I will caution, one House Republican put it this way. If we are thinking that this is going to be the beginning of a great relationship, it's kind of like thinking that if you get in a fight with your wife, you send her flowers, that's going to be the end of the fight. Not going to happen.

BLITZER: All right. Good point. Thanks, Dana. Thanks very much. Let's dig a little bit deeper right now with our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, our chief political correspondent, Candy Crowley.


BLITZER: Are we any closer to a deal?

BORGER: I don't think we are. I think everyone's listening, which I think is a step forward. But, I think the president's problem when you come right down to it, and Dana alluded to this, is his own party. I mean, he met with Democrats who don't want to move on entitlements and the decision, I think, the president has to make in terms of his legacy and whether or not he feels like he can get a grand bargain is, how much is he willing to take on his own base?

Because those are the people who got him re-elected and is he willing to take on his own base so he can get over this fiscal speed bump and on to the legacy items that he really wants to pursue?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Because we've spent so much time talking about tax hikes that what's been hidden in all of this is that entitlement reform is a huge problem for the president, as Gloria said, as Dana alluded too, and the question is how do you define cuts?

And so, what the White House wrestles with now is, can you get any more out of providers? Which is a lot safer than raising the eligibility age, so can you take more out of hospitals? Can you take more out of doctors' pay? I mean, there is a way to finesse this, but there is real concern that you can't finesse it enough in -- I mean, there's only so much you can take from doctors before they say, hey, I'm done with Medicare.

BORGER: And, I spoke with the Senate Democrat this week who said to me exactly that. You're going to have to take a look at beneficiaries of Medicare and not just the hospitals and the doctors, which is the way the Democrats would --

CROWLEY: And Nancy Pelosi has said, like, absolutely. She said, look, you know, I can't remember exactly what she called it. She said it's a joke to raise the age of Medicare. That doesn't solve anything. And he's got letters from progressives, so he is, you know, that's already started and only will continue to rise in terms of headlines.

BLITZER: He could have some serious problems with Democratic base as well if he goes too far. Candy, this political -- this Conservative Political Action Conference now under way. They're hearing from some rising stars in the Republican Party, including Marco Rubio, Rand Paul. Listen to this.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO, (R) FLORIDA: Just because we believe that life, all life, all human life, is worthy of protection at every stage of its development does not make you a chauvinist.


SEN. RAND PAUL, (R) KENTUCKY: I will stand for our prosperity and our freedom, and I ask everyone who values liberty to stand with me.



BLITZER: They are two rising stars, these two senators.

CROWLEY: They are. I thought the contrast in the speeches was amazing. You have one of these rising stars way, way much further down the road to wanting to run for president. All Rand Paul's speech lacked was, and I'd like to say that I am a candidate for president of the United States. He started out -- he didn't, but he started out saying I have a message for the president.

Well, you've got every conservative listening there because they really feel that the message has not been carried by some of the folks up on Capitol Hill, particularly, the leadership. So, his was very much 2016 speech. And obviously, Marco Rubio, a lot more conservatives, more about we like the middle class. It was just an extension of his response speech to "State of the Union."

BORGER: The whole question I have about CPAC is, I mean, I recall the Ronald Reagan big tent Republican Party. That was when Republicans were winning presidential elections. This is like the TP. It's not the big ten. You have disinvited Chris Christie, Bob McDonald, governor of Virginia, popular in the state of Virginia not invited. Donald Trump invited, but Chris Christie not invited.

Jeb Bush said, you know what? You don't put me on that straw poll. I'm not interested in going up against all these fellows because it's a little bit too worldly. If the Republican Party wants to learn the lesson of the last election, listening to Ronald Reagan and expanding the tent might be a good idea. And this group has not done it.

BLITZER: In our next hour, we're going to be speaking with Eric Cantor, the House Majority leader. He's got a lot of strong views on this whole charm offensive that the president - Gloria, thanks very much. Candy, congratulations tonight. We're all going to a wonderful dinner here in Washington.

You will be receiving the First Amendment award from the Radio, TV, Digital Correspondents Association as we like to call it. Congratulations.

CROWLEY: Thank you.

BLITZER: News Directors Association.

CROWLEY: Right. Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Did I say it right? CROWLEY: You did. You got it. Just use the letters. It's Washington. Do an acronym.


CROWLEY: There you go.

BLITZER: A lovely dinner. Black tie optional.

CROWLEY: You don't have to wear a black tie. Just come.

BORGER: I will.

CROWLEY: Yes. You're in.

BLITZER: Thanks. Congratulations. Well-deserved.

CROWLEY: Thanks.

BORGER: Congratulations.

BLITZER: Reports that a new cabinet nominee announcement is just around the corner. Coming up, why some conservatives are already lining up in arms about the civil rights lawyer they say is partisan and why they call the justice department, and I'm quoting now, "a rat's nest" when he worked there.

Also, a terrifying fall from the sky. We're going to hear from the skydiver who lost control and plummeted to the ground. He's OK.


BLITZER: Another cabinet pick announcement appearing to be coming very, very soon, and so does another major fight up on Capitol Hill. The civil rights lawyer, Thomas Perez, is widely reported to be President Obama's nominee for labor secretary, but conservatives already are going after him for allegedly being a polarizing figure while working over the justice department.

Lisa Sylvester is walking into the SITUATION ROOM right now. She's got more on Perez's past. What are you finding out?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Thomas Perez has a full resume of experience. He's a Harvard-educated lawyer. He has headed the state of Maryland's labor department, and he's worked in a leadership role at the justice department. So, it's not surprising at all that his name has come up for labor secretary. But does that make him a shoe-in? Well, not quite.


SYLVESTER (voice-over): Thomas Perez heads the justice department's civil rights division. He's the man behind the federal investigation into the Trayvon Martin shooting. His office has called for the prosecution of those who bully gays and lesbians. And under his watch, the division has stepped up the investigation of police and sheriffs' department including Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona.

Depending on who you ask, Perez is either a fierce defender of civil rights or a partisan operative. If he's nominated to be the new labor secretary, there will likely be pushback from Republicans. Representative Frank Wolf chairs the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee. He blames Perez for leading a dysfunctional division.

REP. FRANK WOLF, (R) VIRGINIA: The voting rights section should not be a partisan operation. It should be a nonpartisan, non-political. And it's turned into a really basically a rat's nest and they got to improve it.

SYLVESTER: And inspector general report only adds to that debate. The DOJ inspector general was looking into a 2008 case. It dates back to this incident outside of a polling place in Philadelphia. The justice department under the Bush administration brought a case alleging intimidation by members of the new Black Panther Party.

But after President Obama's election, the case was dropped against three out of four of the defendants. Critics accused the department's political leadership of being involved. The idea (ph) report out this week found that when Perez testified before the Civil Rights Commission on why the charges were dropped, he did not give the whole story.

Not because he was misleading the commissioners but because he didn't have complete information. The inspector general's office didn't find anything wrong with Perez's role in the new Black Panther case but did recognize a deep ideological polarization within the DOJ's voting rights unit under both the Obama and Bush administrations.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D) CALIFORNIA: So, it probably makes clear two things. One, this predates Mr. Perez heading the civil rights division, and two, the attorneys that were making the decisions there were the career attorneys.

SYLVESTER: Perez's defenders say he has been working hard to clean things up.

NANCY ZIRKIN, LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE ON CIVIL AND HUMAN RIGHTS: We believe Tom Perez has restored the integrity back to the entire division, including voting rights.


SYLVESTER (on-camera): And a reminder, Thomas Perez has not actually been nominated. The conservative blogs, though, they are already turning on him and President Obama is facing some pressure from minority groups to diversify his cabinet and to bring in more minorities.

But, his candidate, whoever it is, will still have to be confirmed by the Senate. So, we'll have to see at this point. I mean, again, his name is just being floated. We'll have to see if he actually is nominated, and then, we get to the confirmation battle. BLITZER: It could be a bruising confirmation battle. So far, the president is winning those confirmation battles. We'll see how he does in this one. Thanks very much.

Coming up, a well-known political insider speaking out at the most famous conservative conference now under way in Washington. He tells the audience to sit down and shut up. He'll join us live.

And you'll hear from a skydiver who took a terrifying fall when his chute tangled up.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The next 50 years, we need more food produced than the last 10,000 years combined. And it's staggering to think where is development (ph) come from? We're already pushing the limits on land. We're already seeing food shortages in some parts of the world. So, we need to really pick up the pace, I think, and really take it to the next level offshore and kind of open up new frontiers for farming.


BLITZER: Lisa is back with some other headlines right now -- Lisa.

SYLVESTER: Hi, Wolf. Honda is recalling 180,000 vehicles in the U.S. for a problem that can cause the cars to brake randomly when drivers aren't pressing the brake pedal. An electric system was damaged during manufacturing in some of the models. It involves 2005 Honda Pilot SUVs, 2005 Acura RLs, and 2006 Acura MDX SUVs. Honda dealers will install a new electrical part at no charge.

And good news. It was another banner day on Wall Street. The Dow set another record today closing at 14,539. It is, in case you're keeping track of this, the tenth straight day the Dow finished up, and that is the longest winning streak since 1996. The S&P 500 also had a big day closing two points shy of its all-time high.

Now, here's what's never supposed to happen when you are skydiving. This is Craig Stapleton who's made thousands of successful jumps free falling helplessly under a tangled chute. His reserve chute only made it worse and his partner could only watch from afar.


CRAIG STAPLETON, SKYDIVER: I completely lucked out. I mean, you know, God watches out for idiots and puppy dogs. And, he just let me live and walk away.


SYLVESTER: That is amazing. Stapleton landed in a vineyard with only a dislocated shoulder. And he says he's going to probably jump again the weekend after next. He's so calm about it. That's what strikes me, Wolf. He's so calm about it as he's talking about it like, well, I lived. I survived. I'm sorry, his heart must have been racing at that time. BLITZER: He's a lucky guy.

SYLVESTER: He is. I don't even understand the mechanics of it. How do you land? You don't have a parachute. You land. You live. You tell CNN about it.

BLITZER: This is why I don't sky dive.


BLITZER: I don't know about you, but I'm not a skydiver.

SYLVESTER: I'm not a skydiver either. Let's cross that off of my list. I'm not going to do that.

BLITZER: A liberal firebrand jumping into the GOP lion's den. What's really going on? What Democratic strategist, Paul Begala, is doing at the most well-known conservative conference in the country? There is some video of him today over at CPAC. Stand by.


BLITZER: One of the biggest most influential meetings of conservative minds, a place where both Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush spoke multiple times.

The Conservative Political Action Conference also known as CPAC going on right now outside Washington, D.C. in Maryland. But when you take a closer look at the list of the speakers one person stands out from the rest. We're not talking about Sarah Palin or Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, but the long-time, yes, the long-time Democratic strategist and CNN contributor Paul Begala. He was there today. Listen to this.


PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Dick Cheney, who said Ronald Reagan taught us deficits don't matter. As he was about everything Dick Cheney was wrong. He was wrong then and he's wrong now. Of course deficits matter. But any one of you who supported the Bush tax cuts, the Bush war in Iraq or the Bush prescription drug entitlement plan, has no business talking about debt.

Just sit down, shut up. Let the grown-ups handle it.


You're welcome.


BLITZER: Paul is here right now for our "Strategy Session" as is Republican strategist Alex Castellanos, also a CNN contributor, also an emcees at some of the CPAC events.

ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: Tomorrow night. BLITZER: Tomorrow night you're one of the emcees. All right. So what was it like? All of a sudden Chris Christie not invited. Paul Begala invited. Help me.

BEGALA: Well, it's their group. They have a right to invite who they choose. I was honored to attend. Honestly. But yes, there were booing when I said, I was trying to antagonize them. We were having a bit of fun. I was making a serious point about debt. But I have to say they were really gracious to me. Polite.

The booing was all in good -- fun and good spirit but at least they let me make my case. And I was happy to do it, I was proud to do it. I hope they had as good a time as I did.

BLITZER: Were you there? Did you hear him make his case?

CASTELLANOS: I didn't hear him but I was watching him intently on television explaining how he was more conservative on guns than a lot of the conservatives there.


BLITZER: You did say that.

BEGALA: I pointed out that I have the right-wing position on gun safety which is I'm for a waiting period before buying a gun like Ronald Reagan, I'm for banning assault weapons like George W. Bush. I'm for a universal background check like Wayne LaPierre. He just changed a few months ago but that has been the conservative position on gun safety. Now it's the Obama position. And now somehow that's too liberal for my --


BLITZER: How did they receive that?

BEGALA: Well, I think they're going give it prayerful consideration. Surely I won them all over to my side and I think they're now gong to be liberal. They're LPAC now.

CASTELLANOS: They were talking about coming to your house late tonight?

BEGALA: I bet they will.


BLITZER: Is there a lot of buzz over there why they didn't invite arguably one of the most popular Republican governors out there especially in a pretty Democratic state like New Jersey, Chris Christie?

CASTELLANOS: There is some buzz. And I think it was when Christie rode in the inaugural parade as the guy who got the most credit for helping to reelect Barack Obama. That probably limited his -- the affection with which he's held at CPAC. Look, it wasn't Christie just being governor. He embraced -- you understand the responsibilities he has as governor of that state. But he also has a responsibility as a leader of the Republican Party. He went way overboard. And besides that, you know, Chris Christie is no shortage of fans. He is his own biggest fan.

BLITZER: Chris Christie might not have been there but there are a lot of emerging Republican stars there, a lot of good conservatives. We got a little montage.


GROVER NORQUIST, AMERICANS FOR TAX REFORM PRESIDENT: Republican elected officials who vote for tax increases are rat heads in a Coke bottle.


They damage the brand for everybody else.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: I say not one penny more to countries that are burning our flag.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: We don't need a new idea. There is an idea. The idea is called America. And it still works.



BLITZER: What did you think? Those are three impressive guys, right?

BEGALA: Well, two impressive guys with all respect to Grover Norquist. He's a lobbyist.

BLITZER: You don't think he's impressive?

BEGALA: Well, he's never gotten a vote for anything.


BLITZER: Give him credit. He's been around for a long time.

BEGALA: Very powerful --

BLITZER: He's got a lot of Republicans who signed on to that pledge.

BEGALA: A very powerful lobbyist but when he says Republicans who raise taxes are like rats in a Coke bottle, Ronald Reagan raised taxes almost every -- I guess 11 times in the eight years he was president. So I don't think Grover even would call Ronald Reagan a rat. But those other two, we are watching, you know, the 2016 premise, but you know what struck me, I showed up, sadly I missed Congressman -- Senator Paul, but everybody was carrying signs. It said, "Stand with Rand." Professionally made signs. That tells me as a long-time operative that Rand Paul and his supporters were treating this like the first primary of 2016. They want him to win the straw poll they take at CPAC.

BLITZER: That will be Saturday night. His father used to win that straw poll pretty regularly.

CASTELLANOS: All the time. And look, Rand Paul represents a big hunk of the future of the Republican Party. The "leave me alone" coalition. If you are a real conservative, you don't want big government telling you what to do. Not just on economics. That's when you lock the door of your house at night and you go to sleep. So that is an important thing for the conservative movement and the Republican Party to include under our big umbrella and I think you're seeing the beginnings of that here.

Now I wish somebody like Marco Rubio had not expressed himself quite that way, saying we don't need new ideas. Freedom is always a new idea. It's always revolutionary. It certainly is new to Washington, which has done things the same old dumb top down way for, you know, a hundred years and has dug us into about about $16 trillion of debt.

BEGALA: But I'm curious about the sound bite that we played from Senator Paul. Was against foreign aid. And I think he's referring to Egypt.

BLITZER: He's talking about Egypt. He said on the show the other day.

BEGALA: He did. I saw it.

BLITZER: $250 million additional aid that John Kerry brought to Egypt.

BEGALA: Right.

BLITZER: To the Muslim Brotherhood led government.

BEGALA: Right.

BLITZER: In addition to the nearly $2 billion that the U.S. provides in military aid to Egypt every year.

BEGALA: Right.

BLITZER: That's what he was railing about.

BEGALA: Right. And I think that's a huge trap for the Republicans because America has got -- Secretary Kerry is exactly right. America has to engage. We have to build influence with that government. The worst thing that would be to pull back and it used to be, you know, the John McCain Republicans, both Presidents Bush, they wanted to engage in the world and now we're seeing at least the rise of a neo isolationist Republican movement in Senator Paul.


CASTELLANOS: There are a lot of Republicans who look at what we are doing on national defense and foreign policy and they see big government, growing big government, government out of control, a Defense Department, for example, that can't explain where any of the money is and hasn't been audited in 20 years. So yes, we ought to cut back some but I think we're going to --

BLITZER: All right.

CASTELLANOS: He doesn't represent the center of the Republican Party.

BLITZER: Hold on, guys, for a moment. We've got more to discuss. Don't go too far away.

Just ahead those -- battle over those forced budget cuts hits another level. Supreme Court justices in a rare move. They are now speaking out.

And later I'll speak live with Senator Dianne Feinstein about why she told a Senate colleague, and I'm quoting her now, "Senator, I'm not a sixth grader."


BLITZER: A stern warning on Capitol Hill today from none other than the United States Supreme Court. Two justices testifying saying the forced budget cuts in their words simply unsustainable.

Listen to Justice Anthony Kennedy.


JUSTICE ANTHONY KENNEDY, U.S. SUPREME COURT: The courts do not have the habit of creating crises in order to obtain public attention. But at some point if we start dismissing criminal prosecutions this is dangerous to the rule of law. Number one, in my view you're putting public safety at risk. Number two, you are undercutting the ability of a separate branch of the government to perform its functions.


BLITZER: We're back with Alex and Paul.

Paul, you're a lawyer. This is pretty -- how unusual is it that justices of the Supreme Court are telling Congress these forced budget cuts, spending cuts are bad?

BEGALA: Very. It's extraordinary. This sequester is extraordinary, though. And it is stupid. I mean, that's the word our president used. It is exactly right. It's stupid for our national defense, it's stupid for our education and investments and it's stupid for the courts.

The justices are right. You're right. They very rarely speak about these things. Once in a while they'll want, you know, frankly better -- bigger budgets, pay raises, things like that and they'll testify about the backlog but to say that criminal prosecutions will be dismissed because Congress can't get its act together, frankly the Republicans, and pass a proper budget is nuts.

CASTELLANOS: Oh, my. Chicken Little of the world is at it again. It is unusual for a Supreme Court justice to say that, you know, this is -- all these dire warnings. But it's not unusual for a member of the U.S. government to say oh, my gosh we can't do it with a penny less. Come on. You know, not even Judge Judy would do this. This is a little bit of fear-mongering.

He was actually talking in the extended remarks oh, my god, who's going to maintain the columns? What if our columns start crumbling? And it's not even a cut, it's a reduction in the rate of growth. This is -- you know, the people who want the money, who use the money All right not the ones we should trust to decide how much they should get.

BLITZER: We've got to leave it.


BLITZER: Unfortunately on that note. Guys, thanks very much.

Alex, Paul, you were in the lion's den today and you didn't --

BEGALA: Call me Daniel.


CASTELLANOS: Great for Paul to do. Great for CPAC.

BEGALA: It was. They were very nice.

CASTELLANOS: We need more of that in Washington.

BLITZER: Good to see you.


Thanks to both of you. Good luck emceeing tomorrow night.

Coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM the senator behind the push to ban those military assault style weapons. My exclusive interview with Senator Dianne Feinstein, that's coming up.

And the Obamas opening up now about their marriage, fashion, more in a new issue of "Vogue" magazine. Our own Alina Cho has the scoop.


BLITZER: Another fashion first for the First Lady Michelle Obama making the cover of "Vogue" magazine, not once but twice.

CNN's Alina Cho was the first reporter to sit down with the reporter behind the story.

Alina, tell our viewers what happened.

ALINA CHO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know what, Wolf? The first lady may be on the cover of "Vogue" but "Vogue" editor Jonathan Van Meter actually had 40 minutes with the couple, meaning the president, too. Over the years "Vogue" has profiled first lady after first lady but this is the first time the fashion magazine has ever put an American first lady on its cover twice.


CHO (voice-over): Second term, second cover. First Lady Michelle Obama in "Vogue" again.

JONATHAN VAN METER, "VOGUE" EDITOR: There is something so groundbreakingly modern about the Obamas. You know, they are the first black president and first lady. And you know Ana Winthrop of "Vogue" is crazy about them.

CHO: "Vogue's" powerful editor-in-chief is a massive Obama fundraiser, once rumored to be the next U.S. ambassador to the UK. So it's her friend, the first lady appearing on "Vogue's" April cover wearing a sleeveless dress by Reed Krakoff. Yes, that Reed Krakoff. The same designer Mrs. Obama chose for the inauguration.

Here she is in Michael Kors. But writer Jonathan Van Meter spoke to both of them, the first lady and the president.

VAN METER: Them as a couple. Their marriage, their children, how they live in the White House, how they deal with the bubble.

CHO: What struck him?

VAN METER: They're just so sweet with each other. There is a lot of affection and if there is anything married couple to whom the phrase, "they finish each other's sentences" applies it's them.

CHO: Of their marriage the president says, "I think it would be a mistake to think that my wife when I walk in the door is, hey, honey, how was your day? Let me give you a neck rub. I think it's much more. We're a team."

Of his clothes, she jokes, "This is the man who still boasts about this khaki pair of pants I've had since I was 20. And I'm like, you don't want to brag about that."

VAN METER: She very effortlessly tells a story that leads to a punch line that could crack you up. And what I loved is that sometimes she and I weren't finished laughing and he was done and ready to move on. The president. And she would sort of look at me and keep laughing with me. Like I just -- I just love that spirit in her, that jovial spirit that really surprised me.


CHO: Some really beautiful pictures. You know the president and first lady also pushed back on this whole notion that they're antisocial saying that 90 percent of their conversations are about their kids and when they do get a free moment they just want to spend it with them. The president actually said that Sasha and Malia, Wolf, want to spend less time with them these days and he joked, who knows? Maybe you'll see us out in the clubs. Doubt that's going to happen.

BLITZER: He's got a little bit of charm offensive going on right now.

CHO: And I'm going to guess, Wolf, that you don't own 20-year-old khaki pants in your closet.

BLITZER: I probably do. I must say.


Maybe even older. I don't know if I'd still wear them but I probably still have them.

All right, thanks, Alina. Thanks very much.

When we come back, the gun control debate gets ugly and personal. My exclusive interview with the senator right in the middle of the battle, Senator Dianne Feinstein. She's my guest. She's next.


SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: I'm not a sixth grader. Senator, I've been on this committee for 20 years. I was a mayor for nine years. I walked in and saw people shot. I study the Constitution myself. I'm reasonably well educated and I thank you for the lecture.



BLITZER: The Senate Judiciary Committee, they have passed that controversial bill banning assault style weapons, but not without some emotional fireworks. We've been telling you about them. Here's the exchange between the freshman Republican senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, and the sponsor of the legislation, the Democratic senator from California, Dianne Feinstein.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: It seems to me that all of us should begin as our foundational document with the Constitution. And the Second Amendment and the Bill of Rights provides that the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

FEINSTEIN: I'm not a 6th grader. Senator, I've been on this committee for 20 years. I was a mayor for nine years. I walked in, I saw people shot. I've looked at bodies that have been shot with these weapons. I've seen the bullets that implode. In Sandy Hook, youngsters were dismembered.

Look, there are other weapons. I've been up -- I'm not a lawyer, but after 20 years I've been up close and personal to the Constitution. I have great respect for it. This doesn't mean that weapons of war, and the Heller decision clearly points out three exceptions, two of which are pertinent here.

And so I -- you know, I mean, it's fine you want to lecture me on the Constitution, I appreciate it. Just know I've been here for a long time. I've passed on a number of bills. I've studied the Constitution myself. I am reasonably well educated. And I thank you for the lecture.

Incidentally, this does not prohibit -- you use the word prohibit. It exempts 2,271 weapons. Isn't that enough for the people in the United States?

CRUZ: Mr. Chairman --

FEINSTEIN: Do they need a bazooka?


BLITZER: All right. Senator Feinstein is joining us now from Capitol Hill.

Senator, clearly you were insulted by what Senator Cruz said. Walk us through your thinking.

FEINSTEIN: Well, I just felt patronized. I felt he was somewhat arrogant about it. And, you know, when you've come from where I've come from and what you've seen, and when you found a dead body and you put your finger in bullet holes, you really realize the impact of weapons. And then as you go up the technical ladder with these weapons, and they become more sophisticated, and more the product of a battlefield, and you've got these huge clips or drums of 100 bullets out there that people can buy.

When you see these weapons becoming attractive to grievance killers, people who take them into schools, into theaters, into malls, you wonder, does America really need these weapons? My answer to that is no. And so it's based on my experience. And I think -- well, the bottom line is, we passed the bill out of committee by a vote of 10-8. The president has issued a very strong statement in support of it.

BLITZER: Do you think he's doing enough, though?


FEINSTEIN: So at least --

BLITZER: Do you think he's doing enough behind the scenes to help you get this passed through the Senate?

FEINSTEIN: Well, I think it's now going to begin. I think it's now out of committee. Every Democrat voted for it. Hopefully we will have the debate before too long on the Senate floor. And we will see. It's going to be my intention to divide the question, so that hopefully I want to sit down with the leader. There will be two votes, one on the entire bill and one on the part that prohibits clips and ammunition feeding devices of more than 10 bullets.

BLITZER: Did you have a chance to speak to Senator Cruz after that public exchange?

FEINSTEIN: No, I needed to cool down.

BLITZER: Have you cooled down yet?

FEINSTEIN: I've cooled down.

BLITZER: So when you see him the next time, what will you say?

FEINSTEIN: Yes. Yes. Well, I did say, look, I'm sorry. But, you know, this is one thing that I feel very passionately about. And I appreciate the lecture, but -- that's all I'm going to say.

BLITZER: Senator, you know that you have a good chance of expanding background checks, probably less of a chance ultimately of getting those magazine clips reduced. Probably no chance given what's going on in the House of Representatives, maybe even in the Senate, of passing that military style assault weapons ban.

Are you willing to take what you can get, namely, background check expansion?

FEINSTEIN: Well, you know, every single member of the media has come out at me exactly the same way. You know, if this were something that maybe had 10 percent support out there, 15 percent, 20 percent, I would say you've got something. But every single public opinion poll has shown that a majority of Americans polled, every one of them, over 50 percent, and some of them close to 60 percent, want this bill passed.

So I have a hard time understanding, when you have police chiefs, when you have virtually every religious organization, you have the healthcare profession, we have teachers, we have moms, we have police, it's hard for me to understand how one special interest group, some assault weapon owners, and the gun organizations, and the gun manufacturers really rule the day. That's very hard for me to understand.

Again, I'd understand it if the people didn't want it. But the people do want it. So I hope the people make the connection now with their representatives. In the west, in the Midwest, in the south, and in the east. And say, yes, we agree with the polls. We want this bill.

BLITZER: Very quick question. We don't have a lot of time. You're the chair of the Intelligence Committee. There's a suspect now arrested, I take it, in Libya in connection with the -- Benghazi killings of the American ambassador and three others.


BLITZER: What can you tell us about this?

FEINSTEIN: I regret very much I can't tell you anything right now. This matter's classified. So I just can't comment on it. I'm sorry. I would like to.

BLITZER: All right. Well, maybe it will be declassified sooner rather than later. Then we will discuss it.


BLITZER: Senator Feinstein, always good to have you here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks very much for coming in.

FEINSTEIN: Thank you, Wolf.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, President Obama speaks out about Iran's nuclear threat and a possible timeline.

BLITZER: The TSA chief tells Congress they're worried about explosives, not small knives.

BOLDUAN: The House majority leader is here. Talking about President Obama's charm offensive.

BLITZER: And a new headache for Carnival. Toilet trouble on another cruise.

BOLDUAN: Plus a hidden highway death trap facing every driver when truck safety guard fail. I'm Kate Bolduan.

BLITZER: And I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM,