Return to Transcripts main page


Driver And Pregnant Woman Killed In Pennsylvania Bus Crash; CPAC Questions Softening Republican Stance On Certain Issues; Senator Portman Changes Views On Same-Sex Marriage; Pope Francis Gets Ready For First Sunday Mass As Pope; Samsung Unveils Galaxy S4; Invasion Of Roaches On Greyhound Bus

Aired March 16, 2013 - 16:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. A look at our top stories right now.


WHITFIELD (voice-over): Investigators are still searching for a New Orleans teacher -- or rather we'll get to that story in a minute.

This just taking place within the last couple of hours, a bus driver and a woman who was 6 months pregnant have been killed in a southern Pennsylvania bus crash.

The bus was carrying members of the Seton Hill University women's lacrosse team; 23 people were on board. They were all taken to a hospital. The bus veered off the road and then struck a guardrail. Investigators are still trying to figure out exactly what happened.


WHITFIELD: And now, two teenaged girls took the stand for the defense in the rape trial of two high school football stars in Steubenville, Ohio.


WHITFIELD (voice-over): The alleged rape of a 16-year-old girl happened last August during a full night of partying. One girl said the alleged victim was drunk and uncooperative during their night of partying in August.

An expert witness also testified for the defense, saying it appears the alleged victim had an alcohol-induced blackout the night of the alleged incident, but that she was also capable of engaging in voluntary decisions. The players insist they are innocent.


WHITFIELD: All right. We turn now to politics just outside Washington. Conservatives from around the country have been meeting at the annual CPAC meeting. They are hoping to find a way back to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. CNN Political Director Mark Preston has been at the conference all week long.

So, Mark, what was accomplished?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, you know, we have seen activists from all across the country come here to suburban Washington to talk about conservative principles and the way forward for the Republican Party.

And, Fred, what we have heard over the past couple of days is that they want to stand their ground.

There is a big discussion in the Republican Party right now. Should it moderate, should it maybe loosen up some of its ideology when it comes to issues such as same-sex marriage?

Over my right shoulder behind me right now is the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus. He's getting a polite welcome here. But the fact of the matter is, these social conservatives, these conservatives are not necessarily happy with the Republican establishment. Let's listen to what Sarah Palin said earlier today about Karl Rove.


SARAH PALIN, FORMER GOVERNOR OF ALASKA: The last thing we need is Washington, D.C., vetting our candidates.


PALIN: If these experts who keep losing elections, you keep getting rehired, raking in millions, if they feel that strongly about who gets to run in this party, then they should buck up or stay in the truck. Buck up and run. The architects can head on back to -- they can head on back to the great Lone Star State and put their name on some ballot.


PRESTON: And there you have Sarah Palin, not mentioning Karl Rove by name, but clearly speaking directly about him.

Conservatives are frustrated at Karl Rove because Karl Rove has talked about the party needing to elect candidates who can win in general elections. The folks here in this room are more interested in ideology. And they think that those are the type of candidates, really hard conservative candidates, are better candidates for them.

WHITFIELD: And so, Mark, I wonder was there any talk or discussion about those who were not invited, who others expected might be, like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who seems to have a lot of popularity, not just in his state but nationwide? Yet he was not on the list of intended guests.

PRESTON: Well, I got to tell you, it was certainly a lot of discussion before the CPAC conference started, the fact that Chris Christie was not asked to speak at this conference, nor was Bob McDonnell, who governs the state right across the river.

The fact of the matter is, though, the folks here are really focusing on the folks who came here to speak, (inaudible) like Marco Rubio, such as the likes of Ben Carson, who spoke earlier today, folks who they think have a conservative ideology that more matches what they believe in.

Now the fact of the matter is, though, Chris Christie in some ways probably benefited by not being here. He is up for re-election, he's expected to win reelection. But his whole type of politics has been not beholden to anyone, including the Republican Party and also the conservative side of the Republican Party.

So Chris Christie, while not here, probably benefited by not being at CPAC.

WHITFIELD: And then there was a straw poll vote. When is that likely to happen?

PRESTON: So we'll know that in a couple of hours, 23 names on the ballot, including Chris Christie. Big question is: does it really matter, the winner of the straw poll? Well, certainly, the -- we are interested in finding out who's going to win, but we don't really think it's going to matter in the 2016 presidential election, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Mark Preston, thanks so much. Appreciate that from CPAC conference there in Maryland.

All right, the Pentagon is taking nuclear threats from North Korea so seriously that it is ramping up missile defense on the West Coast.


WHITFIELD (voice-over): Reports say North Korea test-fired two short-range missiles into its waters this past week. U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says he wants to make it clear the U.S. stands firm against aggression. The Pentagon plans to spend a billion dollars to test and install 14 extra missile defenses.


WHITFIELD: All right. Pope Francis spent part of the day today talking with journalists in Rome, his first full media session since becoming pope Thursday. The inaugural papal mass takes place Tuesday in St. Peter's Square. And in a couple of minutes I will speak with our senior Vatican analyst and ask him how Pope Francis is already shaking things up at the Vatican.

And weather conditions appear to be improving around a massive wildfire in Colorado, but the flames are still a huge threat.

According to "The Denver Post," hundreds of homeowners have been evacuated in an area west of Fort Collins. More than a thousand acres have been charred. The flames are only about 5 percent contained. Investigators say the fire appears to have been accidentally set.

And he's a conservative who has been against same-sex marriage for years. So what changed his mind? An exclusive interview with the GOP senator who is bucking his own party over same-sex marriage, next.



WHITFIELD: A major reversal in the world of politics as a staunchly conservative senator who for years was against same-sex marriage has changed his mind -- and for a very personal reason. He talked about it exclusively with our chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka, it happens all over America, all the time, even in conservative homes. Sons and daughters come to their parents to reveal that they are gay. The difference here is this father is a U.S. senator with a megaphone and a vote to try to give his gay son more rights. He invited us into his office to tell us his dramatic news.


SEN. ROB PORTMAN (R), OHIO: -- the United States, Mitt Romney.

BASH (voice-over): You probably recognize Ohio Senator Rob Portman from his tireless campaigning for Mitt Romney, even on Romney's short list for vice president, he's been a leading Republican voice on the economy for four decades.

PORTMAN: We need to spur economic growth and create more jobs.

BASH (voice-over): Now the prominent conservative from Ohio will be known for something else: changing his hard-line position against gay marriage, which he revealed to CNN, and the very personal reason behind his reversal.

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 -- 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 have had for over 26 years.

I want all three of my kids to have it, including our son, who is gay.

BASH (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 (sic), 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 could remember.

BASH: 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 this was secret to most, but not everyone.

BASH: 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 what -- how did he react?

PORTMAN: I told Mitt Romney everything.


PORTMAN: 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. I mean --

BASH: How can you be sure?

PORTMAN: Well, because, you know, they 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.

BASH: 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 have 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 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 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: Well, two things: one is I'm comfortable with the position and took me a while to you know, to 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 stand so there was no confusion, so I would be clear about it.

BASH: Portman told me he spent a lot of time with his pastor and even went back to reread the passage in Leviticus in the Old Testament, which many Christians cite as the source for their opposition to homosexuality. And after a lot of soul searching, he said he decided that supporting the institution of marriage for everyone was paramount.

After we broke the news, Will Portman sent out a simple but powerful tweet. He said, "Especially proud of my dad today."


WHITFIELD: All right. Thank you so much, Dana Bash.

Pope Francis is getting ready for his first Sunday mass as pope. We'll go to Rome next and hear why the message tomorrow could set the tone for what kind of pope he is going to be.




WHITFIELD: Pope Francis spent part of the day today talking with journalists in Rome. Tomorrow he heads to the Vatican and that balcony, where he'll be leading his first Sunday mass as pope. I spoke with CNN's senior Vatican analyst, John Allen. I asked him how the pope's message tomorrow might set the tone for his papacy.


JOHN ALLEN, CNN SR. VATICAN ANALYST: Well, Fredricka, before we get accused of drinking the Kool-Aid, let's make a couple of points.

One is that what we've seen from the pope so far is mostly style rather than substance. The hard choices are still to come. And secondly, every new leader, including the pope, gets a honeymoon period. You know, the -- what we see of him now, we may look at him differently a month from now.

Those two things said, I think what we've seen so far, it would take a real cynic not to be terribly impressed with what the world has seen of Pope Francis. And I think that's likely to continue on Sunday. He is setting a tone for a humbler, simpler papacy, one less invested in the pomp and circumstance.

We heard him today say in a meeting with journalists here in the Vatican that he dreams of a poorer church that is on the side of the poor.

And I would expect him to continue that tone, not nearly in the mass he's going to celebrate Sunday morning, which is really a mass just for Vatican personnel and the Church of Santa Ana, which is kind of the parish church in the Vatican, but also in his first Angelis address, which is going to deliver to what is expected to be a vast crowd in St. Peter's Square at noontime here in Rome.

What we are seeing is a pope who is really shaking up established patterns of doing business in the Vatican and trying to return it to something much closer to the poorer roots of the church 2,000 years ago. Frankly, Fredricka, I think most people here feel that if the cardinals in that conclave rolled the dice a little bit, electing a complete outsider, in many ways, they have won the lottery.

WHITFIELD: So, John, you mentioned style on display. And we have seen that already from Pope Francis. He's demonstrated to be very humble, as you put it, you know, a very simple pope as he was a cardinal. By a lot of the pictures we've already seen, showing him pay his own bills, riding a bus instead of a limo. But how long before he embraces that opulence that comes with being a pope?

ALLEN: Well, look, I mean, there is a lot of unfinished business waiting for him on his desk. Obviously he is going to have to face the child sexual abuse scandals that have been such a cancer for the Catholic Church over the better part of the last decade. He's got to face accusations of financial shenanigans, corruption and cronyism in the Vatican, and on and on.

There is a whole laundry list of challenges that he's got to pick up. And eventually this style has to give way to substance.

Now, Fredricka, one interesting thing is that we did get the first hint that there may be some teeth to the idea of Pope Francis as a reformer today.

It is customary for a new pope to immediately reconfirm all the heads of Vatican offices who technically lose their job when a papacy ends. Typically, the new pope immediately reconfirms them. And that's sort of a signal that business as usual is going to continue.

What Pope Francis did today is put out a statement, saying you can keep your jobs for now. But he's not definitively reconfirming anyone. He says he wants to take a little bit of time to think about this. And I will tell you, Fredricka, from an insider point of view, that was a minor earthquake, because it was a clear signal that some real change may not be very long in arriving.

WHITFIELD: John Allen, thanks so much, from Rome.

ALLEN: Thanks, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Samsung is hoping its new smartphone will take a bite out of the Apple market. We have got details on the hottest new gadget to hit the market.


WHITFIELD (voice-over): And speaking of new, a reminder to watch CNN's new show "The Lead with Jake Tapper." It starts Monday afternoon, 4 o'clock Eastern time.


WHITFIELD: Samsung has unveiled its latest weapon in the battle to overtake Apple as their top seller of smartphones -- the Galaxy S4. It includes new features that are similar to some tablets. Technology analyst Mark Saltzman was in New York for the big reveal and has the latest on this phone's possible impact.


MARK SALTSMAN, TECHNICAL EXPERT: Hi, Fredricka. You know, there is a lot at stake here for Samsung. You know, they overtook Apple last fall as the number one smartphone maker in the world, only for Apple to rally back with the iPhone 5 launch, regaining that crown, that title towards the end of the year. So you know, this launch of the Galaxy S4 is critical, not just for this market but worldwide.

From a hardware perspective, the Galaxy S4 is more evolutionary than revolutionary. As you would expect with every new smartphone launch, it's thinner, lighter, faster, a better battery and a nicer screen.

And the screen, I think, is the big story on the hardware front. Now it's 5 inches. So the trend is moving bigger, great for entertainment, consuming media, things like messaging, reading e- books, watching video and playing games. And then the cameras also, they -- Samsung made a big deal about it, 13 megapixel outward-facing camera and a 2 megapixel video camera for chatting.

So you know, the hardware is impressive. However, I think, really, the story here is software.

The software of the Galaxy S4 is where I think, you know, most people are going to be excited about. Some of the highlights of what you can expect with this new smartphone when it comes out next month, the ability, for example, to tilt to scroll. So imagine you are reading a long website. The phone is looking at your eyes and it knows you are reading a website. So you can slightly tilt the phone up and down to scroll through text, which is very convenient. There is the sensors built in, where you can hover your finger just above the screen in order to access information.

So imagine you're looking at a bunch of emails, just the subject line. You don't want to open them to read what it's about. You just hover your finger and it gives you a preview of what that e-mail is all about.

There are smarter cameras. You can remove people in photos if they photobomb you behind a picture. There is the S translator. So you can speak one language and it will repeat it to -- in another language. Maybe you're traveling and you don't speak the native language there. So there's all these features built into the phone. There were dozens and dozens of them unveiled on Thursday, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: OK. Mark Saltzman, very impressive stuff. Thanks so much for bringing that to us.

All right. A real life horror movie for some Greyhound bus riders. They say about 15 minutes into their trip from Atlantic City to New York City -- you not going to believe what started crawling around. Not just one or two roaches but dozens. In fact, hundreds, thousands, they say.

One eyewitness said that they were simply crawling everywhere, on the seats, up the windows, on the passengers themselves. Oh, my goodness. The problem got so bad the bus actually stopped and passengers got out and of course they got on another bus for the rest of the ride.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sat down, roaches started crawling up on our clothes, falling out of the ceiling, everything.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There were like a thousand roaches. When I say infested, I mean infested.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The man had roaches on his coat. The lady had a roach on her hat. It was just terrible.


WHITFIELD: Oh, no. Oh, boy. I bet there was a lot of screaming on the bus. A Greyhound spokesman said the passengers received refunds and they have launched an investigation.

All right. That's going to do it for me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Much more of the CNN "NEWSROOM" continues at the top of the hour with Don Lemon. Right now, keep it here for SANJAY GUPTA, M.D.