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GOP Senator Now Backs Gay Marriage; More Troubles for Carnival Ships; FBI Grills Suspect in Benghazi Attack; Interview with Al Cardenas; Conservative Conference No to Gay Groups?; Dow on a Hot Streak; New Samsung Phone Tracks Eye Motion

Aired March 15, 2013 - 09:00   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now in the NEWSROOM. A gay marriage stunner.


SEN. ROB PORTMAN (R), OHIO: I'm announcing today a change of heart.


COSTELLO: Staunch Ohio conservative Rob Portman, a dramatic reversal, now backing same-sex marriage after his own son comes out.


PORTMAN: I now believe that people ought to have the right to get married.


COSTELLO: Politics getting very personal. Also, knife fight.


TONY PISTOL, TSA ADMINISTRATOR: The small pocket knife is simply not going to result in a catastrophic failure of an aircraft.

COSTELLO: The TSA chief outspoken and outfront defending his knife rule. Air marshals calling it insane. We'll talk to one live.

Plus a really smart smartphone. The new Samsung Galaxy.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're here at Radio City Music Hall for the launch of that, the Samsung Galaxy's S4 phone.


COSTELLO: The headline? This thing can track your eye movements on its screen.

And March Madness, "Star Wars" style.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome. This is madness.


COSTELLO: Darth Vader, Hans Solo, C3P0. Get out your brackets. Who's your fave?


HARRISON FORD, ACTOR: I have a really bad feeling about this.


COSTELLO: You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

And good morning to you. Happy Friday. I'm Carol Costello. We begin -- we begin with a CNN exclusive on a change of heart. A stunning change in position. Conservative senator Rob Portman now says he's dropping his hardlined opposition to same-sex marriage because one of his own sons is gay.

It's a deeply personal decision by a very public standard bearer of the Republican Party. Portman, you may remember, was frontrunner to be Mitt Romney's running mate and campaigned tirelessly for him, even after being passed over. He shares his story exclusively with Dana Bash.


PORTMAN: I'm announcing today a change of heart on an issue that a lot of people feel strongly about. It has to do with gay couples' opportunity to marry. I've come to the conclusion for me, personally, I think this is something that we should allow people to do, to get married, to have the joy and the stability of marriage that I have had for over 26 years. I want all three of my kids to have it, including our son who is gay.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): That unexpected revelation came from Portman's 21-year-old son, Will, two years ago.

PORTMAN: My son came to Jane, my wife and I, told us that he was gay. And that it was not a choice, and that, you know, he -- that's just part of who he is, and he'd been that way ever since he can remember.

BASH (on camera): What was your reaction when he told you?

PORTMAN: Love, support, you know, 110 percent.

BASH: Surprise?

PORTMAN: Surprise, yes.


BASH: You had no idea?

PORTMAN: No idea. Yes. And, you know, again that launched a process of rethinking the issue.

BASH (voice-over): Until now, all of this was secret to most, but not everyone.

(On camera): You were vetted to be a vice presidential candidate. Did you tell Mitt Romney that your son was gay?

PORTMAN: Yes, of course.

BASH: And -- how did he react?

PORTMAN: I told Mitt Romney everything.


You know, that process is intrusive would be one way to put it. But, no -- yes, I told him everything.

BASH: Do you think that was a deal breaker?

PORTMAN: No. No, I really don't.

BASH: How can you be sure?

PORTMAN: Well, because, you know, he told me.

BASH (voice-over): Portman was never outspoken on gay marriage, but he consistently voted against it. Supporting a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, the Defense of Marriage Act, and a bill prohibiting gay couples in Washington, D.C. from adopting children.

(On camera): And what do you say to a gay constituent in Ohio who says, I'm so glad that he changed his position, but why did it take him learning that he has a gay son? Why didn't he as my representative care about my rights before that?

PORTMAN: Well, I would say that, you know, I've had a change of heart based on a personal experience. That's certainly true. I'm on the Budget Committee, the Finance Committee for a reason. Those have always been my primary issues and my focus. So now it's different. You know, I -- I hadn't expected to be in this position. But I do think, you know, having spent a lot of time thinking about it and working through this issue personally, that, you know, this is -- this is where I am for reasons that are consistent with my political philosophy, including family values, including being a conservative who believes the family is a building block of society. So I'm comfortable there now.

BASH: You know, a cynic might look at this and say he's a politician, why is he doing this now, when he found out two years ago?

PORTMAN: Look, two things. One is I'm comfortable with the position. And it took me a while to, you know, rethink things and to get to this position.

BASH (voice-over): The second reason? The Supreme Court which will soon hear a pair of gay marriage cases and Portman expected that to generate some questions about his position.

PORTMAN: And I thought it was the right time to let folks know where I -- where I stand so there was no confusion, so I would be clear about it.


COSTELLO: Dana Bash now joins us from Washington.

Dana, will Portman turn this personal decision into a political one?

BASH: Well, obviously, you know, he is a politician, so everything that he does is political. But I asked him if he's going to become an activist, not just speak out and say that he's changing his position, but really push his colleagues, get out there like others, Ken Mehlman, for example, the former RNC chair, is openly gay now, he is very, very active.

Senator Portman said probably not. He said that he's made his position known, but he still wants to focus on the issues that brought him into public service, which is -- they are economic issues, that really is his expertise and his focus. That will stay the same.

COSTELLO: I understand his son tweeted about this, this morning. What did he tweet?

BASH: He said that he's very proud of his father. It was a pretty simple, pretty straightforward tweet that he sent out and, you know, it was very clear. There you see it. "I'm especially proud of my dad today."

Very clear from talking to Senator Portman, who I'm not sure if you can tell, but he was very uncomfortable doing this interview, not because he didn't want to talk about his son. He was clearly saying that he's very proud of his son as well, but because his sensibilities just don't lend themselves to that.

I mean, you know, Carol, you're from -- you're from Ohio. You know the Midwestern sensibilities, especially conservatives there, they don't like to talk about personal issues like this especially in such a public way.

COSTELLO: Yes. Well, it was a great interview. Dana Bash.

BASH: Thanks, Carol.

COSTELLO: You're live from Capitol Hill. Thank you so much.

More rough waters for Carnival Cruise lines as a third Carnival cruise ship this week has technical difficulties. Right now the Carnival Legend is having trouble with its propulsion system. It's cut out a stop and it's limping now back to Tampa, Florida. Carnival says all safety and hotel functions are working normally, though.

Then there's Carnival Dream which lost power Wednesday while in port in St. Maarten. The toilets stopped working and passengers tell CNN toilets also overflowed.

Starting today Carnival is flying the 4,000 passengers on board that ship back to Florida. The first passengers are due to arrive this afternoon. But not everyone is getting home quickly.

Greg Stark is on the Carnival Dream in St. Maarten.

Good morning, Greg.


COSTELLO: Good morning.


You don't sound happy. What are conditions like right now?

STARK: Actually, conditions are pretty good right now. They -- they have been, you know, trying to cater to, you know, the situation. Last night, they actually flew in a singer last night to do a concert. It was Jon Secada came on board and did a concert for everybody that was on here. So the conditions are pretty good as of now. They are, you know, coordinating to get everybody out today and tomorrow I believe. Not everybody has flight times as of yet.

COSTELLO: How about you?

STARK: I don't have a flight time as of yet. So I assume it will probably be tomorrow. But they are doing the first groups this morning. And seems like it was pretty organized from what I was able to tell.

COSTELLO: Well, that's pretty good. So will you ever take another Carnival cruise?

STARK: Probably not any time in the near future, if ever.

COSTELLO: All right.


Greg Stark.

STARK: Especially with my -- definitely not with my two kids.

COSTELLO: Yes. I hear them in the background. They're probably a little bored by now.

Greg Stark, thank you so much for talking with us this morning.

Also this morning, there is new hope for a breakthrough on this deadly consulate attack in Libya. Four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, were killed when gunmen attacked the compound in Benghazi last September.

So far there's been little progress in the investigation until now. Sources tell CNN Libya has detained this man and even allowed the FBI to question him face to face.

Senior international correspondent Nic Robertson is in London.

Nic, tell us about this man and the investigation.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the man in question is Faraj al-Shibli. He's been picked up within the last few days in Libya. And it's known that he was recently returning from a trip to Pakistan. Now this is a man who has a long history of jihadist connections, he was within a fighting group, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. In Libya they've tried to overthrow Gadhafi in the '90s.

And that has put many of his cohorts in touch with al Qaeda. Then it is believed that he has connections to al Qaeda in Yemen, al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula and possibly as well in Pakistan. So this is somebody who we don't know his involvement. We don't know if al Qaeda was involved in the -- in the attack on the consulate. We do know there are a lot of questions and a lot more information to come out and he may be key in providing some of those details -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Nic Robertson, reporting live for us this morning.

Also today, some of the biggest stars of the Republican Party will speak at CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference. This hour former vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan will speak, then NRA executive VP Wayne LaPierre, and later today, Rick Santorum will take the stage. Mitt Romney will also speak later this afternoon.

CPAC is the largest GOP gathering of its kind and an opportunity to refine the party's message.

Al Cardenas joins us now from National Harbor, Maryland. He's the chairman of the American Conservative Union and spoke at the conference yesterday.

Welcome, Al.

AL CARDENAS, CHAIRMAN, AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE UNION: Hey. Thank you, Carol. Great to be with you and great to have CNN on our coffers.

COSTELLO: Glad to have you. We're glad you're speaking with us this morning.

Al, some conservatives have talked about being more inclusive and yet gay Republican groups like GOProud aren't included in CPAC. As you know Rob Portman and Dick Cheney have now come out in favor of same- sex marriage. So will the GOP ever change position? Will CPAC ever change its position and allow gay Republicans to sit at the table?

CARDENAS: Well, look, there are a few ground rules here at CPAC. One, we discuss all of our serious subjects with civility. We love and respect each other, and we have had two panels yesterday, almost back to back. We had a panel hosted by our friends at the (INAUDIBLE) Enterprise Institute involving advocates of the gay movement talking about gay marriage and at the same time we had another panel that was arguing in favor for traditional marriage and values.

Ad so it was important. They were both --


COSTELLO: Were there gay people included in -- in those panel discussions?

CARDENAS: Of course. Of course. The executive director of Go Proud was in that panel. And so here at CPAC, we've had ample conversations on the issue. So that they -- and frankly there is a good, common denominator and glue in terms of our unity on fiscal issues. We allowed those who have various different views on social issues to participate. And actually there are a few differences on foreign policy and what our role in the world should be. And there are panels about that.

Look, CPAC is a great ground for discussion. We want 55 percent of the people who are here, under the age of 25, we want them fully informed and we want them to draw their own conclusions of what their beliefs are. And that's what this is all about.

COSTELLO: So were people attending CPAC receptive to a change in thinking about gay Americans in this country? Because if you look at the polls and Quinnipiac put out the latest one, only 23 percent of Republicans believe same-sex marriage should be.

CARDENAS: Well, look, every individual has to make up their own minds on the subject. I think -- I think the issue sometimes is played unfairly. I believe most people here are God-loving American who love their fellow men and women regardless of their sexual preferences. At the same time some are strong advocates of the traditional marriage that they firmly believe in, based on their spiritual and religious beliefs.

And there are those who -- there are three people. There are three types of people here. The second type are those who feel that way but think that the other folks should have an equal seat at the table and then there are folks who are very strong advocates, aggressive advocates for gay marriage.

COSTELLO: So will we see a day --

CARDENAS: But there are a lot of issues involving the gay community other than marriage.

COSTELLO: True. That's very true. Will we one day see at CPAC, maybe the next time around, a gay speaker speaking in a prominent place and having time to talk to the crowd there?

CARDENAS: Absolutely. We -- you know, that has happened in the past as well. We've had gay advocates, we've had gay speakers in the past, we had a gay advocate at the panel.

Listen, we don't invite people to the podium or exclude them based on their sexual preference. We have a set of values and that -- those set of values are explained here at the conference through our various speakers. But we don't exclude anyone from participating. We invite everyone regardless of their sexual preference to participate. There are a lot of gay activists who are here who registered and participate in CPAC --


COSTELLO: But they didn't have a -- they didn't have a prominent role on stage. They didn't have a prominent speaking role and a lot of people who had prominent speaking roles were actually anti-gay marriage. Not supportive of the gay community.

CARDENAS: Wait a minute. People are people. We don't -- you know, we don't select people on that basis. We select people based to their contributions to the country.

There isn't a conservative gay senator, member of Congress that I could have invited. There isn't a gay governor that adheres to conservative values we could invite. If there were, we'd probably consider that.

So, you can't say that the sexual preference ought to be the guiding light as to who gets up on the podium and speaks to our audience. The factors that guide who speaks to the audience are those who contributed to the conservative movement and the national stage.

COSTELLO: Al Cardenas, chairman of the American Conservative Union -- thank you so much for being with us this morning.

CARDENAS: Thanks, Carol.

COSTELLO: Opening bell less than 20 minutes away. The Dow will shoot for 11 straight days of gains, after a close of yesterday, the Dow up nearly 84 points.

Alison Kosik is at the New York Stock Exchange.

Good morning, Alison.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, please. I'll have another -- talking about the Dow going for number 11.

You know, we've been talking about the Dow going for these records pretty much for what, over a week now. Let's go ahead and turn our focus, though, to the S&P 500, because this really the focus of today.

That 1,563 number, the number, the magic number everybody is watching for, 1665. If the S&P hits the 1665 level, that would be the first time since October of 2007. That is a record-breaking level for the S&P 500.

And this is kind of a bigger deal than even the Dow, because you look at the S&P 500, it's a broader index. It makes up 500 stocks as opposed to the Dow's 30. So, it gives the better indication of the health of the market.

Also, most of the mutual funds, yes, they track the S&P 500. So, if you look your portfolio, you'll probably notice that uptick as well. So, that is really going to be the focus today, less on the Dow, even though we are watching for it to break yet another record number 11. But the S&P, that's really going to be the center today -- Carol.

COSTELLO: All right. Alison Kosik, reporting live from the New York Stock Exchange.

Samsung at it again. Coming up, telecommunications giant pulls out all the stops to show off its newest flag ship phone, this phone. You can control it by using your eyes only. No hands involved.

We'll be back.


COSTELLO: It felt more like Broadway than a board room. And it was all over a phone, but not just any phone. Samsung's new flagship device, the Galaxy S4.

The coolest feature, you can control your phone without even touching it. All you have to do is use your eyes.

Zain Asher in New York.

This is an unbelievable feature.

ZAIN ASHER, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Carol, absolutely unbelievable. And this was a device that really did aim to impress.

So, another feature that you can pause a video you are watching simply by looking away from it. If you stare at the phone, you can scroll up and down simply by looking (ph). It also tracks hand movements as well. So you can scroll through photos without even touching the phone, and you can answer calls by waving your hand over the phone, which kind of might be a little dangerous.

But the real wow factor actually came from the camera. So, let's say, for example, you're taking a picture of a loved one outside, and a stranger happens to be in the shot or walks fast the shot in the background, you can actually delete that person from the photograph. Absolutely crazy.

Also another thing -- I know -- also another thing, you can take a picture with a group of friends, and the person taking the picture you can actually be in the shot, too, Carol.

So, Carol, for example, let's say I'm taking a picture of you -- I know, I know. It's crazy. Let's say I'm taking a photograph of you for example, even though I'm the one taking the picture, I can actually be in the photograph with you. So, that basically using a front facing and a rear facing camera at the same time. Crazy.

There are also pictures with sound as well. I wanted to find out how Samsung came up with all that crazy ideas. They said they simply did it by asking the public.

Let's take a listen.


KEVIN PACKINGHAM, SAMSUNG CHIEF PRODUCT OFFICER: For the most part, it's hard for them to describe that because it's hard for the imagination to comprehend some of the things that we described in the presentation tonight. And so, for us, we spent a lot of time trying to dream up what we think we can do with the technology available, and as we described in some of the scenarios tonight, we try to think about what people are doing with their devices and incorporate the technology into those scenarios.


ASHER: So, they're sort of trying to figure out what people want before people are necessarily even know what they want, which is something Apple is known to do.

The S4 features very impressive. But the question is, are they impressive enough to take down the iPhone 5? That is the big question. Watch his face (ph), Carol.

COSTELLO: I don't know. The eye movement thing and you don't have to touch your screen as much, which doesn't it doesn't get dirty as much I suppose. It's really a cool idea.

So, I guess the biggest question, how much does it cost?

ASHER: Well, you know, first of all, it's going to be out in April. But, in terms of price, they are being very secretive about it. They're saying it's going to be up to carriers. But they assume it's not going to be that different from the S3, which was around $200. So we shall see -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Zain Asher, thanks so much. We appreciate it. That's one cool phone.

Just ahead in THE NEWSROOM: a day after the TSA's chief defends a new knife policy, a former air marshal weighs in on allowing small knifes back in airplane cabins.


COSTELLO: The TSA doubles down on its controversial decision to allow small knifes back in airplane cabins. The agency's chief defending the change on Capitol Hill.


JOHN PISTOLE, TSA ADMINISTRATOR: The small pocket knife simply not going to result in a catastrophic failure of an aircraft. An improvised explosive device will. And we know from internal covert testing, searching for these items which will not blow up an aircraft can distract our security officers from focusing on the components of an IED.


COSTELLO: I'm joined by now former air marshal, Darelle Joiner.

Darelle, welcome.

DARELLE JOINER, FORMER AIR MARSHAL: Thank you so much, Carol. Good morning.

COSTELLO: Good morning. Thanks for being here.

The head of the Air Marshal Union said the policy is, quote, "insane."

What do you think?

JOINER: I agree with that, 100 percent.


JOINER: Well, I mean, I think that you are now allowing something that we once considered to be dangerous back on the airplane. It just doesn't make sense.

COSTELLO: Well, Mr. Pistole says, look, we've confiscated like hundreds of these pocket knifes. He can't think of one instance in which a person has put anyone in danger onboard a plane because they had a small pocket knife.

JOINER: OK. And I would agree with that. So, why do we want to change that? We should keep that record at 100 percent. We don't want to have any.

You know, I heard his testimony. He talked about it doesn't cause catastrophic failure to an aircraft, and I probably would agree with that. But just like an IED, it takes people to operate that.

So, now, we're going to enable the people that want to do us harm with a pocket knife. It just doesn't make sense.

COSTELLO: Also, I suspect, if someone pulled a pocket knife onboard a plane, the passengers would fight back. A bomb not so much because you really can't fight back -- fight back against something you can't see.

So, tell me how allowing these knifes onboard will endanger passengers more than bombs?

JOINER: Well, I'm not going to say it will endanger passengers more than bombs, but the keyword is, it's still dangerous. You don't want to put any type of danger on an airplane. It doesn't make sense. I mean, as an air marshal, we're focused on watching people, behavior and activity. So, now, you have to probably sit with someone who is going to play a pocket knife, clean their fingernails, cut a piece of paper. That's going to cause distractions, while we're still trying to focus and concentrated on the bigger picture.

COSTELLO: So you think Mr. Pistole will rescind his decision because not only is the air marshal's union speaking out against this new decision, but so are our flight attendants, so are flights, everybody it seems except the TSA?

JOINER: Well, you know, not only them and I'm sure the rest of law enforcement community around America. No one wants to ride on an aircraft and know that the people in the seats are possibly going to have pocket knives. So, I'm hopeful that he will. I'm hopeful that Congress will put the pressure -- need pressure to him so he can actually make a change in his decision. It just doesn't make sense.

COSTELLO: I know a bill has been introduced already. So, we'll see what happens.

Darelle Joiner, thank you so for being with us this morning.

JOINER: Thank you so much for having me.

Of course, we want to know how you feel about the TSA's rule change. So, the talkback question of the day: should the TSA walk-back its policy on knives?,, or tweet me @carolCNN.

We're back in a minute.