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CNN NEWSROOM

Bus Crash Killing 24 in South Africa; Another Carnival Ship In Trouble; Romney Speaks To Conservative Soon; Senator Reverses Gay Marriage Stance; New CNN Show Called "THE LEAD"; Live With White House's Jay Carney; 32-Year-Old Man Adopted; Interview with Jay Carney;

Aired March 15, 2013 - 13:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. Yes. No, we just got some news in from South Africa, our bureau in South Africa, 24 people, according to police, were killed in a bus crash. This is in the Western Cape Province. It was a double-decker bus. The driver also killed when he lost control of the vehicle as he was approaching a curve. There were 67 passengers, all part of a church group apparently, 24 people killed. We'll have more on that as we get it.

Meanwhile, that's it for me. Thanks for watching "AROUND THE WORLD." You're going to carry on however.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: That's right. We've got much more straight ahead. Thanks so much, Michael, and have a great weekend.

HOLMES: You too.

WHITFIELD: All right, welcome to the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Mitt Romney will be speaking this hour at the Conservative Political Action Conference. His first major speech since the presidential election. We're looking at live pictures right now outside of Washington, D.C. in Maryland.

So, would you also believe that there's trouble on another Carnival Cruise ship? Yes, the second day in a row.

And U.S. Senator Rob Portman makes a stunning about-face on same sex marriage after learning his son is gay.

This is the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Fredricka Whitfield in for Suzanne Malveaux.

Topping our news, it is day two at the Conservative Political Action Conference near Washington and some of the Republican Party's biggest stars are speaking. Congressman Paul Ryan talked about the federal budget and Donald Trump had a word or two about immigration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, THE TRUMP ORGANIZATION: When it comes to immigration, you know that the 11 million illegal's, even if given the right to vote, you know, you're going to have to do what's right, but the fact is 11 million people will be voting Democratic.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN, AND HOUSE BUDGET COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Historically, we've paid a little less than one-fifth of our income in taxes to the federal government each year but the government has spent a lot more so our budget matches spending with income.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: Again, Mitt Romney is to speak this hour, his first since losing the presidential race, and we'll go there live as he starts talking.

But first, let's bring in our Brianna Keilar who is at the conference in Maryland. So, Brianna, this is Romney's first speech, highly anticipated.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Highly anticipated, his first major speech, Fredricka, since his loss in November. We saw him give an interview recently to "Fox News" channel. But as you can imagine, it's very different, I think, sitting down one-on-one with someone versus being here in front of an auditorium of so many people, really could be thousands of people watching him here in National Harbor, Maryland. We're told by a source familiar with what he's going to say that his comments will be personal and that they will be forward looking. Obviously, his campaign weathered -- he and his campaign weathered a whole lot of criticism for the loss in November.

So, it will be really interesting to see how he deals with that because the theme of this whole conference even though we're seeing a little looking back with Mitt Romney being a speaker and Sarah Palin a speaker tomorrow, the whole idea of this is to start talking about conservatism and specifically the future of the Republican Party. So, we'll be looking to see what his comments are on that -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: And so, Brianna, you know, I wonder what the conventional wisdom is about Mitt Romney appearing there and speaking because he's already said that he's going back into private practice particularly with his son. But this would seem like another political move so which is it?

KEILAR: No, I don't think for him, personally, this has -- this is really a political move. At this point, we know that Mitt Romney is sort of out of politics, at this point. He has taken a job at his son, Tagg's, investment firm, Solamere. And really, he -- the son says it appears on his political career. So, I think that more than anything, this is going to be really interesting to kind of see what he gets into, how reflective he is, especially here before this audience where you remember he made a bit of a stumble last year at this conference talking about how he had been severely conservative.

So it'll be, I think, interesting to see exactly how much he kind of looks back. How reflective is he? Does he talk about some of his regrets? We know, in that interview recently, that he said those 47 percent comments -- well, he said he didn't articulate them the way he meant to. He said they were very damaging to his campaign. I think that's one of the things I'll be looking for is sort of just how much reflection there is. Is he sorry? Does he express any regrets for some of what happened during the course of his campaign?

WHITFIELD: OK. And, of course, when he comes out, of course we'll go to his comments live. Brianna Keilar, thanks so much, at National Harbor, Maryland at the CPAC convention.

In the meantime, a Republican U.S. Senator who voted against same sex marriage says he's had a change of heart. Why? Because he learned his son is gay. You may remember Ohio Senator Rob Portman was on the short list to being Mitt Romney's running mate.

Portman's office actually called our Dana Bash exclusively to tell her about it, and Dana Bash joining us now from Washington. So, how did the conference go?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Very interesting, Fredricka. First of all, just the idea that the -- Senator Portman was going to come out and talk about something so personal and then, obviously, so difficult for a conservative politically to say that he was going to change his position on gay marriage. I have to tell you that he is somebody who is very press savvy and he was very nervous. He clearly was uncomfortable for a lot of reasons, I think mostly because he was a dad and wanted to do right by his son.

But he -- I think one of the most fascinating parts of the conversation, we spoke for almost 30 minutes, was when he told me about the conversation he had with his son when his son first told him that he was gay.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. ROB PORTMAN (R), OHIO: My son is very close to me and to my wife and he had worked on the campaign, so we got even closer during the campaign. And he came to me as a, you know, college freshman, and said, you know, after the campaign was over after I was already elected to the Senate, that, you know, he wanted to tell us that there was something about him we didn't know as well as we thought we knew him. And it hasn't, of course, changed our view at all of him.

BASH: What was your reaction when he told you?

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

BASH: Surprised?

PORTMAN: Surprised, yes.

BASH: You had no idea?

PORTMAN: No idea, yes. And, you know, again, that launched a process of rethinking the issue. And talking to him, you know, I also have gay friends and gay neighbors as most people do. And, you know, just going through this rethinking of it, you know, led me to do a lot of reading. And, again, some time with folks who I respect who -- my own pastor and other religious leaders and just thinking about it, and, you know, I've come to the conclusion that for me, personally, I think this is something that we should allow people to do, to get married and to have the joy and the stability of marriage that I've had for over 26 years. I want all three of my kids to have it, including our son who is gay.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: And, you know, one of the questions that I had is what he would say to a gay constituent in Ohio who says this is great that he has sort of come our way on this issue, but where was he before he knew that his own son was gay? What about my rights no matter what Senator Portman's personal family issues are? And he said, you know what? You're -- I probably should have thought about this issue before.

The one thing that's interesting about him is that he has voted consistently against gay marriage and all other issues relating to that, but he hasn't talked about it much. He's not one of those people who is very outspoken against gay rights' issues. He's much more of a fiscal conservative. And, Fredricka, he said that he is going to stay that way. That's what brought him into public life, brought him into politics, his focus on the economy. He calls himself an economic wonk and he's going to stay that way even though he's, obviously, made a very political public splash with this reversal.

WHITFIELD: And, Dana, what about the timing? Why now did he want to reveal his thoughts about this and his conversation with his son and reveals very personal details?

BASH: It's a great question because his son told him that -- told his parents that he was gay two years ago when he was a freshman in college, now he's a junior in college. And I asked that. And his answer was that it took him, the senator, a while to get to this place where -- he, of course, understood his son and loved his son from the beginning, but in terms of this policy issue, get to this place where he feels comfortable reversing himself.

He said he spent a lot of time talking to his pastor, even re-read Leviticus in the Old Testament which many Christian conservatives look at as the place that they say should oppose homosexuality. And so, he thought -- he finally got to that place which I think a lot of people can relate to because you see this around the country. But the other thing you said is that there are going to be a pair of Supreme Court hearing -- cases before the Supreme Court in the next couple of weeks and he does hope they ask about it.

WHITFIELD: All right, Dana Bash, thanks so much, in Washington. And there's more to Dana's conversation with Senator Portman. You can catch it this afternoon on "THE SITUATION ROOM" starting at 4:00 Eastern time, hear why Portman says he sought advice from former vice president Dick Cheney about his son. That's 4:00 today, "THE SITUATION ROOM."

And another programming reminder to watch Chief Washington Correspondent Jake Tapper's new show called "THE LEAD," starting Monday 4:00 Eastern time right here on CNN. All right. Now, a P.R. disaster that just keeps growing for Carnival Cruise Lines. Yes, yet another Carnival ship is having problems now. This is the second one in just two days. This one is the Legend cruise ship. It's having technical issues that are affecting its speed. Because of that, a scheduled stop in Grand Cayman in the Caribbean, well, that's being scrapped. And the boat is now headed back to port in Tampa, Florida. This comes just a day after Carnival's Dream ship got stuck at port in St. Maarten. An emergency generator gave out causing a few bathrooms to overflow and elevators to stop working. Passengers are being given partial refunds and are being flown back to Florida now. Some actually left today, others are waiting to be flown out from St. Maarten. Chris Anders, who is a passenger and television news anchor from Memphis, is looking on the positive side of things. He was on that ship.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KRIS ANDERS, CARNIVAL DREAM PASSENGER: We're stuck in St. Maarten. I mean, and it's absolutely a beautiful day. We're overlooking gorgeous turquoise waters. We have full amenities. We have electricity. We have working toilets. We have hot food, running water. I mean, it's -- there's nothing wrong with the ship. And, in fact, I talked to some senior Carnival officials who flew in on board yesterday and they said, look, the ship is fine. The ship works fine. What it is it's the emergency backup system. All of their systems are operational, it's the emergency backup system that's having the problems. And they, for obviously reasons, didn't want to risk going out into the ocean without those emergency backup generators and systems not working properly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: And last month, a fire on board Carnival's Triumph stranded thousands of passengers at sea in horrible conditions for almost five days.

All right, here's what we're working on for this hour. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney joins me live to discuss the president's handling of forced spending cuts and his upcoming trip to Israel.

Plus, the stunning reversal -- oh, actually, we're going to tell you also about more of the stunning reversal of thought and opinion on gay marriage from Senator Portman.

And later, the adoption of a 32-year-old man that's got all of us talking and why it took so many years to happen.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: Addressing American dependence on fossil fuels, the sky high deficit and peace in the Middle East, all of that is on President Obama's plate this week and next week. Joining us from the White House, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney. Jay, good to see you.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Great to see you. Thanks for having me. WHITFIELD: So a very packed schedule for President Obama with a lot of critical issues to sort out. Let's begin with the talks that he's been having on Capitol Hill this week with Republican lawmakers. That charm offensive, as it's been called, to reach a deal on the deficit and the budget. So many overtures by the president to reach the other side, whether it be a lunch or dinner, yet there remains criticism that it's too little too late or he isn't being genuine or that he's aloof or even cool. What is the president saying about that kind of criticism?

CARNEY: Well, the president has enjoyed very much his meetings on Capitol Hill this week. He met with House Republicans, Senate Republicans, House and Senate Democrats, following up on a series of meetings and conversations he's been having over the last several weeks with lawmakers. And focusing especially on those Republicans who have expressed interest in finding common ground on a host of issues including our budget challenges.

And, you know, what he's looking for is, you know, agreement on the principle that if we go for a bigger deal to reduce our deficit, that we need to do it in a balanced way, the way the American people say they want it done. And that means additional spending cuts and savings from entitlement reforms, as the president has proposed, coupled with savings from tax reform by closing loopholes and special tax breaks for the well-off and well-connected and using the revenue generated from that to help pay down our deficit.

That's the way we should be doing it. That's the way the American people want it done, not just Democrats and independents but Republicans outside of Washington. And he's at least hopeful that engaging with Republicans on this issue with those who say they're interested in finding common ground, we might be able to produce a compromise. And that would be a good thing for the American economy and a good thing for the American middle class.

WHITFIELD: Are there any indicators at this juncture that there are some come grounds being found?

CARNEY: Well, again, I think you saw prior to the president's dinner with the group of Republican senators, that a handful of senators were on the record, Republicans, saying they would be willing to consider a balanced approach, consider revenue from tax reform coupled with, you know, a savings generated with entitlement reform and that's essentially the president's position and what he's put forward in his proposal.

We'll see. The gap is wide. We saw with theHhouse Republican budget proposal presented this week by Chairman Paul Ryan that there are -- there's a huge chasm in terms of at least the president's view and the view of a lot of folks in the country and also in the Senate versus the House Republican view, which is basically to have all the burden of deficit reduction be borne by senior citizens, by voucherizing Medicare, by families that depend on assistance for education and assistance for helping their elderly parents and nursing homes, basically ask all of those folks to pay for deficit reduction while giving a $5.7 trillion tax cut most of which goes to the wealthy. I mean, not only does the president think that's a bad idea, the American public overwhelmingly thinks it's a bad idea. And the American public thought it was a bad idea last year when the Republicans campaigned on it and were defeated in the polls on November 6th.

WHITFIELD: All right. Both domestic issues and international affairs on the president's plate. He's off to Israel next week. His first trip there as president. You've already said he'll not present any new Middle East peace initiatives, so what is the primary objective?

CARNEY: Well, he very much looks forward to his visit to Israel to the West Bank where he'll meet with Palestinian leaders and to Jordan where he'll meet with the King. And in each case he'll be also engaging with Israelis and Palestinians and Jordanians because he needs to talk to the leaders about the issues that confront them and that includes regional issues like the challenge and threat imposed by Iran, and the situation in Syria, as well as the need for the Palestinians and Israelis to take steps towards peace. Steps that would hopefully lead to a re-engagement of direct negotiations over the issues that divide them.

You know, this is an important trip. And it's true there's no new peace proposal here because our position, the president's position has been that the sides need to come together in direct negotiation to resolve the differences that divide them. And we're going to continue to press that case.

WHITFIELD: And also in the region you mentioned Syria, a senior rebel spokesman is telling us that about 300 rebel fighters have just completed training in Jordan from U.S. military and contractors in -- with the use of weapons like antitank, antiaircraft and other systems, the U.S. has been stressing non-lethal aid. So is this training a step forward in the work with the rebel groups? Where is this leading?

CARNEY: Well, we do not provide lethal aid to the Syrian opposition but we do provide assistance that has continually ramped up. And we've been talking about that. And we're constantly reviewing our assistance programs to the Syrian people through humanitarian aid and to the Syrian opposition. You know, we are doing everything we can with our international partners to help bring about a post-Assad Syria.

Assad has the blood of his own people on his hands. He is in no way can be a part of Syria's future. And the Syrian people have spoken on that issue. And the Syrian opposition has gained traction. And, you know, we are working for a day with the Syrian people and with our partners when the Syrian people get to decide their future, a more Democratic, more prosperous future. This is a difficult challenge and we constantly review our approach to Syria to make sure we're doing the right thing to help bring about a better future for those people.

WHITFIELD: White House Spokesman Jay Carney, thanks so much.

CARNEY: Thank you. I appreciate it. WHITFIELD: The mystery continues for this Louisiana teacher who vanished without a trace after a night out with friends. A live report from New Orleans next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: Two high school football players are on trial for rape in Ohio. They're charged with raping a female classmate who was too drunk to say no. A teenager testified today that one of the accused boys recorded the sexual assault with a cell phone. Prosecutors say the football players took advantage of the girl during a night of heavy drinking. Defense lawyers say any sexual activity was consensual and the teens didn't commit a crime. There was no jury in this trial, just a judge. And a verdict could come this weekend.

And it's been almost two weeks since Terrilynn Monette joined friends at a New Orleans bar to celebrate her nomination as teacher of the year. Well, police say she told friends that she was going to sleep in her car before driving home because she had been drinking. Well, she has not been seen since.