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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Chemical Weapons in Syria?; Interview With Florida Senator Marco Rubio; Interview With White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough; March is About to Get Mad; Jordan's Warning to the U.S.; Interview With Senator Marco Rubio; What Happened To Just Making Music?

Aired March 19, 2013 - 16:00   ET

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


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: A two-year-long war may have just reached a new level of frightening.

I'm Jake Tapper and this is THE LEAD.

The world lead: President Obama warned Syria that using chemical weapons would cross his red line. So, what will he do now that one may have been fired? I will ask his new chief of staff.

The politics lead. Senator Marco Rubio joins me on the same day that his idea for a pathway to citizenship gets a boost from a potential 2016 rival.

The sports lead. He went 50 for 50 in his state-by-state elections for the 2012 election. Just imagine what numbers guru Nate Silver can do for your March madness bracket.

The world lead, 70,000 people have already been killed in Syria's two-year-long civil war, but now reports that forces have started using the kind of artillery that could kill that number of people in just a matter of days. I'm referring of course to chemical weapons.

Even if it's true -- and as of now these reports are unconfirmed -- it is not clear who fired them. Each side blames the other.

I want to bring in our Nick Paton Walsh standing by live in Beirut, Lebanon.

Nick, the Syrian government says the rebels killed 25 people with a chemical missile. The rebels say government forces chemically bombed a town in eastern Damascus. Help us out here. Who is telling the truth?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It still isn't really clear, Jake.

We don't have confirmation that chemical weapons were used, but there are two separate incidents, one in the north near the city of Aleppo, which the regime says it was hit by a chemical weapon fired by rebels and the Russian government backing that up, one activist telling me actually this seems to have landed between rebel and regime lines and may have hit civilians in the regime area and regime troops, too.

Another instance near Damascus to its east in which rebels do appear to have been hit by some kind of suffocating gas. Not clear what it was, but certainly the logic test suggests rebels aren't going to be bombing themselves with these weapons and we do know that the regime have a large stockpile of them -- Jake.

TAPPER: Nick, is there a faction within the opposition that could obtain chemical weapons? Is it even possible?

WALSH: That's always been the real fear as we have heard about radicalization, the fractious nature of the rebel movement.

But, to be honest, that hasn't happened. If it were the case -- and that's what the regime is suggesting -- that would be a whole big affair, because the heavily guarded stockpiles the whole world has been worried about falling into the wrong hands would have in that case have been breached and that gives the regime a whole new other problem.

That really is what the world is most worried about, but it seems in this case if weapons were used, it may have been by the regime -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Nick Paton Walsh, stay safe.

What is the president going to do about it?

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough joins me now to talk about this.

Denis, first of all, welcome to THE LEAD.

DENIS MCDONOUGH, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Thanks for having me, Jake.

TAPPER: Obviously, this is a very potentially serious development. Listen to what President Obama said about Syria just last year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: And just a few minutes ago, Senators McCain and Graham, Republicans in the Senate, issued a statement saying: "If today's reports are substantiated, the president's red line has been crossed. And we'd urge him to take immediate action to impose the consequences he has promised."

I know that it's not substantiated yet, but where are we in the process and what if they did use chemical weapons?

MCDONOUGH: Well, Jake, we take all of these reports very, very seriously. As you heard in the president's voice just now and you saw in his presentation to the White House press corps and to the world, we are going to be very clear to the Syrian regime, as we have been throughout, and to all the Syrian supporters throughout the world, and then obviously to our partners in the region, that if this is substantiated, obviously it does suggest, as the president just said, that this is a game changer.

And we will act accordingly. So, you asked, what if? I'm not going to get into hypotheticals on that, Jake, but this is something we take very, very seriously. We had teams up working on this overnight, as you might suspect, and we will continue to trace this.

TAPPER: Is there any inkling as to whether or not it's true? Are you leaning one way or the other? We're getting conflicting reports obviously from abroad.

MCDONOUGH: Well, we have heard some of the same reports. I'm not going to get into intelligence on your show today, Jake, but we are taking it very seriously.

TAPPER: I want you to watch something else about a different rogue regime, North Korea. This is just the latest propaganda out of North Korea showing the United States going up in flames.

Obviously, the North Korean leaders and government's histrionics aside, there are very smart people in the national security community that you know who think that there is a greater than 50 percent chance that there will be a military conflict between North and South Korea soon enough. I'm wondering if you share that view that it's a more than 50 percent chance and what the U.S. is prepared to do about it.

MCDONOUGH: Well, we don't get in a -- we're not in a game of probabilities, Jake.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: I remember the -- not in the OBL timeline. We heard about a whole bunch of probabilities.

MCDONOUGH: Well, not from the president of the United States.

TAPPER: OK.

MCDONOUGH: The president has to be right 100 percent of the time.

And that's what we're going to -- our job is to prepare him so that he can be right 100 percent of the time. And so we're going to be prepared for any contingency from the North Koreans.

Obviously, the kind of antics and the kind of language that we have heard from them, to include what you have just shown on your show here, are the kinds of actions that don't connote strength, but rather connote some kind of weakness and frankly outlandish behavior.

So, we will be ready for that; we will be ready for other developments as well. That's why we work very closely with the Japanese, with the South Koreans, and frankly we saw just today a very positive development from Beijing where our secretary of treasury is currently meeting on issues like North Korea. You heard the Chinese say today that they pressed the North Koreans to make sure that their banks are not involved in kind of proliferation activity that we are very concerned about. So we take that as a mildly good step from our Chinese partners on this.

TAPPER: News from the Hill today, the Democrats in the Senate are saying that a ban on what are called assault weapons, these semiautomatic rifles, will not be part of the gun package that the Democrats in the Senate push through.

President Obama has spoken a lot about what he calls weapons of war and getting them off the streets. Is this a setback for that?

MCDONOUGH: No.

In fact, we will see what happens in terms of what bill actually comes to the floor. We think it is really important and a very good step that several of these measures were passed out of the Judiciary Committee last week, that the Senate has now dedicated time as soon as they come back from this next recess to address the gun issue.

And as the president said in his State of the Union, Jake, what we want is votes on each of these issues to include the assault weapons ban. We think that, frankly, the families that have lived through so much over the course of these last several months in Aurora, in Newtown, in Chicago...

TAPPER: But Harry Reid says he is not going to bring it up.

MCDONOUGH: No, he says it's not going to be in the base bill. And then there will be amendments I'm sure from Senator Feinstein, who has been a champion of this now over the course of decades because of her own experience in San Francisco and what she has seen frankly across this country.

So, we are going to work on this. We're going to find the votes, and it deserves a vote. Let's see if we can get it done.

TAPPER: One of the most controversial policy aspects of this administration has to do with drones. You have been part of a system first when you were with the National Security Council, but then now also, where these secret robot planes kill people, hopefully enemies of the United States, but there is little accountability, according to critics, little transparency, and little legal recourse for the victims who are innocent.

Would you be comfortable with the same situation that you have in place right now under a President Palin or a President Ryan?

MCDONOUGH: Well, here's what I -- you know, again, I'm not going to try and engage in hypotheticals.

But here's what I can tell you, Jake, is that the president of the United States will take every step he can to protect this country, and that is exactly what he's done. But there's also very important checks and balances in our system to allow for the kind of oversight from Congress so that the steps he takes are fully in keeping with the traditions of this country.

You have heard the president say time and again transparency and our values are part of what make us stronger. And so he's conducted these kinds of efforts in a way that he feels very strongly about, and, frankly, that I, as somebody who staffs him, feel live up to the great traditions of this country. And that is exactly what we will do.

TAPPER: You think there is enough accountability, transparency and legal recourse as it exists now?

MCDONOUGH: I think you heard it, what the president said in the State of the Union and has said since, that we are going to continue to work on this so that there is increasingly more transparency.

But I guarantee you that every step that we have taken to date has been fully in keeping with the traditions of this country, to include through congressional oversight. And we take that very seriously.

TAPPER: All right, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, thank you so much for coming to THE LEAD and for sharing your views and for taking the time to talk to us.

MCDONOUGH: Congratulations on the show, Jake. I think it's a great thing. So, thanks for having me.

TAPPER: Thank you, sir.

In other world news, she is the 15-year-old girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban just because she wanted all girls to go to school. And now Malala Yousafzai is defying her attackers in a way that must make their blood boil, by going back to school. Take that, Taliban.

The sky is falling -- well, not right now. But it could. Remember Russia? Congress calls in rocket scientists to try and stop it from happening here.

And our sports lead. Grab your pencils. Get your brackets, because statistics savant Nate Silver tells us his picks for the Final Four. And he might poke a little fun at mine.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Time for the national lead.

It's the 10th anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion in Iraq, a milestone Americans are observing with a mix of somber reflection and a lot of second-guessing. Take a look at the results of a new CNN/ORC poll which shows about 59 percent of Americans think it was a bad idea to send troops to Iraq.

More than half the country says there's been no clear winner; 18 percent say we lost the war. Those numbers are likely a reflection of the staggering financial and human toll of the conflict. Nearly 4,500 American service members have given their lives, to say nothing of the wounded or the Iraqis killed. The cost of the war is estimated at more than $1 trillion.

That estimate does not take into account the $490 billion in benefits many Iraq war vets are still waiting to get their hands on. Later this week, I will take a closer look at what is behind the backlog causing pain and frustration for thousands of military families.

Also leading nationally, it was only a training exercise. But seven American Marines met their deaths far away from the battlefield when a .60-millimeter round accidentally blew up inside a mortar tube at an Army depot in the Nevada desert. We don't yet know their names, but we do know that the military is putting certain lots of this ammunition out of use until it can figure out exactly what happened. A tragic loss of life.

And because we all needed one more thing to worry about, Congress is taking a serious look at the threat of an asteroid strike big enough to wipe out a major city. A House committee met with rocket scientists -- yes, actual rocket scientists -- to figure out what needs to be done to protect the planet.

The hearing comes after last month's near miss with a large asteroid which happened the same day a meteor exploded over Russia.

The mayor of Kansas City was in the middle of a state of the city address when he got Kanyed by someone in the audience.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (EXPLETIVE DELETED)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Actually makes Kanye West look rather polite. As you can see, police didn't waste any time taking the guy down. Once he was removed from the stage, Mayor Sly James returned to the podium and said, calmly, "Well, that was unfortunate."

To the sports lead. Time is running out to get your NCAA picks in. The first tipoff is at 6:40 p.m. over on truTV, Liberty vs. North Carolina A&T. But if you have got a wastebasket full of crumpled-up brackets and a search party from work trying to account for your lost productivity, you're about to get help from a pro who runs

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: To "The Sports Lead". Time is running out to get your NCAA picks in. The first tip-off is at 6:40 p.m. over on truTV. Liberty versus North Carolina A&T.

But if you've got waste basket full of crumpled up brackets and a search party from work trying to account for your lost productivity, you're about to get help from a pro who runs "The New York Times" "538" blog. Nate Silver is his name. Fortune telling is his game.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER (voice-over): He's a celebrity statistician?

STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDIAN: Please welcome, Nate Silver!

TAPPER: That's right. Nate Silver is the "Good Will Hunting" of political prognostication. Having risen to prominence when he called the 2008 presidential election correctly in 49 out of 50 states. But last year, the pressure was on. "Politico" asked, "Would Nate Silver be a one-term celebrity?"

NATE SILVER, STATS GURU: We do have Obama as a favorite right now, with the chance he'll win by some margin.

TAPPER: Last year, after he predicted President Obama would win a second term, liberals started praying to Nate Silver when they went to bed at night. But conservatives clinging to what turned out to be a false belief in their own anachronistic polling made Silver their personal whipping boy.

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: This Nate Silver guy that the left is -- if it weren't for him, they'd be suicidal.

TAPPER: When Silver tweeted out an offer to bet $1,000 on an Obama win, he further antagonized the right but -- then the results rolled in.

WOLF BLITZER, CN ANCHOR: CNN projects that Barack Obama will be re-elected president of the United States.

TAPPER: Anyone who doubted Silver in his analytical model had to eat his words. He called the 2012 presidential results correctly in all 50 states.

JON STEWART, COMEDIAN: Don't you want to stand up and go, I am Nate Silver! Bow down to me!

TAPPER: His reputation secure, Silver put on his Carnac the Magnificent hat for other events, from the Oscars where he went four for six, to the Super Bowl where he even found the limits of his own prophetic powers.

But when it comes to the NCAA bracket, consider this: last year, Silver's March Madness forecast model showed Kentucky the favorite to win it all. And sure enough, 20 days later, the Wildcats were cutting down the nets at the Super Dome.

SILVER: It's not that complicated.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Joining us now is the myth, the legend, Nate Silver, of "The New York Times" "538" blog.

Nate, thanks so much for joining us.

SILVER: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: You know, you took a lot of heat during the campaign from conservatives especially, but at the end of the day, they might have helped your cause, your book spent 12 weeks on the "New York Times" best seller list.

SILVER: Yes. You get yourself out there in the debate and you're using numbers and statistics, and if people don't like the conclusions, you can become a target a little bit. But sports fans are actually more rational I think than political geeks, believe it or not. So, this is relatively fun for me compared to talking about the polls, the sequester or something like that.

TAPPER: All right. Well, let's get to it. Here we have your bracket and, specifically, we'll go to your final four. We have here Louisville, Gonzaga, Florida, and Indiana. Now, explain to me this super nerd methodology that arrived you at these four.

SILVER: So, mostly we're looking at different computer rankings which just account for who the team played during the regular season and how much did they win or lose by. So, not that complicated. But we also look at factors like injuries. For example, a team like Duke as getting healthier now late in the year will benefit versus how they were playing during the regular season. We look at travel distance as well. If you're Gonzaga playing in the west region, that means everyone else is going cross country to play and that can be a big edge like having home court advantage really in the tournament.

TAPPER: So I will say that -- I look at your picks here, Louisville, Gonzaga, Indiana, these are all number one seeds. It doesn't necessarily take a methodology for that.

SILVER: No. We're not -- I mean, so, the committee -- the sitting committee is getting better and better in my view at ranking the teams properly. The only non-number one we have is Florida as a number three, Kansas is a good team as well.

But, Florida's team I think has been a little bit overlooked. They lost a lot of close games. Don't hold that against them. But in the long run usually, games that you lose by two points, it comes down to a bad bounce, a matter of luck. So, Florida might be the one dark horse contender here that, you know, could beat a number one seed and make it to the Final Four, win the tournament for that matter as well. TAPPER: So, let's go to my picks now. I have in the Final Four -- Michigan State, New Mexico, Miami, who I picked to win the whole thing, and Kansas. According to you the only one of these four that makes any sense is Kansas. Explain --

SILVER: My personal bias here. I'm from East Lansing, Michigan. So, I would -- I would not critique you for your pick of Michigan State, absolutely not.

I do think that Miami is a little bit maybe over rated. They're ranked pretty high in the polls. They took some bad losses earlier in the year. They had some big wins, but are they consistent enough to win six games? The computer rankings say probably should be number three or four seed and not a number two.

So, I might really accept the Michigan State pick, but debate you on Miami.

TAPPER: So last question for you, Nate, because we've heralded all your successes. Of course, I have to bring up as a journalist a failure of yours and that was your pick for the Super Bowl, Patriots versus Seahawks.

Is football a weakness of yours, do you think?

SILVER: Look, I mean, sports in general, you can predict things to a certain degree of precision but there is a reason why they play the games. If you're a bettor in Las Vegas, you're trying to get it right a little more than half the time, maybe 55 percent of the time if you beat the odds, then you'll make money in the long run. But you'll definitely get a lot of things wrong and be humbled quite often if you are a sports fan. That makes it a lot of fun I think.

TAPPER: All right. I'm sure you informed a lot of office bettors with this bracket. Thanks for joining us today.

SILVER: Thank you.

TAPPER: It's only my second day on the job and it turns out I could be doing this until the day I die.

What am I talking about? Well, listen to the latest report that says Americans are afraid to retire. We'll tell you more about it. Stick around for our "Money Lead".

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Now to "The Buried Lead". It's a story we think isn't getting enough play.

President Obama is racking up the air miles on his first trip to the Holy Land as commander-in-chief and, sure, everyone is talking about that. But what they're not talking about s the fact that the president will also be visiting the country of Jordan. Word that country's leader, King Abdullah, will have a pretty stark warning to the president. I want to bring in Jeffrey Goldberg, who is breaking this story in "The Atlantic" magazine to talk about why this is so significant.

Jeff, your article is titled "Monarch in the Middle", about Jordan's King Abdullah. He warned you of a Muslim Brotherhood Crescent rising over the Middle East. Explain what he meant by that and the reaction in the region to this new magazine article.

JEFFREY GOLDBERG, THE ATLANTIC: Well, you know, he's a lonely guy these days. He's part of a dwindling group of Arab leaders. He -- you know, he was allies with the president of Tunisia, the president of Egypt, Mubarak. These guys are gone. What's replacing them are more Muslim Brotherhood, more religious fundamentalists, regimes.

He is a secular-oriented modernizer and he looks at President Morsi in Egypt and he sees a threat to his vision of pro-Western, religiously plural kind of Middle East. He looks at the prime minister of Turkey and sees essentially a wolf in sheep's clothing as he would say, someone who s trying to impose Islamist ideas but slowly and sort of surreptitiously.

So, what he is saying is to Americans, you guys should pay attention, because these guys are taking over and they are as much of a threat to modernity and to the West and to progressive Arabs as Iran is.

TAPPER: That's stunning.

Abdullah also told you he thinks it might already be too late for a two-state solution between the Israelis and Palestinians. Why?

GOLDBERG: Well, you. His argument is he's one of the leading advocates for a two-state solution. That's obviously a big part of the agenda for President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu, as well as with President Obama and the Palestinian leadership.

The king who wants this very much, it's in his own best interests believes that Israeli settlements have moved so far into the West Bank, which would be of course the base of a Palestinian state, that so many settlers have moved so deep into the territory that it's going to be impossible soon to separate these two sides.

And what he says is if you don't have the ability to disentangle the Israelis from the Palestinians what you're going to be left with is a single unitary state with two groups of people who absolutely hate each other. He thinks it is a formula for endless violence and sorrow and so, he is pushing very hard, the moderate Palestinians to come back to the table and he's pushing even harder to get the Israelis to focus on this, what he sees as an existential problem not only for the Israelis but for the Palestinians and the Jordanians as well.

TAPPER: All right. Jeffrey Goldberg in Jerusalem and Israel with a remarkable story in "The Atlantic", thanks for joining us. Are you finding that you're getting some lingering looks in yoga class lately? Well, it might be because everyone can see right through your pants. One of the country's largest fitness retailers had to pull a recall and there are bigger implications than just that embarrassment. Our "Money Lead" is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

The Money Lead. Not to sound like a Prudential commercial here or anything, but will you have enough money when you retire? For nearly half of Americans, the answer is no.

The Politics Lead: Jeb Bush seemed to imply that Marco Rubio may have flip flopped on the pathway to citizenship issue. I'll get the senator to respond to his fellow Floridian.

And the Pop Culture Lead. He has a new album, but it's been six long years since he brought sexy back. Is music still Justin Timberlake's first love?

But now for the Money Lead. Still no signs that Wall Street is freaking out over a financial crisis unfolding overseas. Stocks ended mixed after government leaders for the Mediterranean island of Cyprus rejected a controversial bailout plan. But even with the markets hanging tough, it brings little comfort to a lot of Americans who worry their 401(k)s will be chump change by the time they reach their golden years.

THE LEAD's Erin McPike is here to tell us about a gloomy new report on the state of retirement savings. Why you gotta - why you gotta harsh on my buzz?

ERIN MCPIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I don't know. You know, the recent headlines about the economy as we've talked about have been pretty good, but the lingering effect of the great recession is that a lot of Americans have had to dip into their savings to get by. And, of course, that could be a problem in the years to come for many Americans.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ERIN MCPIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They're supposed to be the golden years. But a new report says retirement like this is way out of reach for most Americans who just aren't stocking away enough. Even with markets near record highs, the confidence workers have in their retirement is low. The Employee Benefit Research Institute found that 49 percent of Americans aren't sure they'll be able to retire comfortably, and they're not doing much about it.

NEIL IRWIN, "THE WASHINGTON POST": It's one of the scariest things is that it is not just that people don't have a lot of retirement savings. It's they don't know what they need. They don't know what they don't have. So, you know, what you would like to see is more people really sitting down with an adviser, doing some hard math. Instead, people seem to be crossing their fingers and hoping it'll all work out. And that is a very dangerous thing.

MCPIKE: The result, says economics editor Neil Irwin, will be a family crisis as much as a financial one.

IRWIN: This is going to be slow moving. This is going to be people hitting their 60s, hitting their 70s, and realizing they don't have the money they thought they did. They don't have the savings they need to support the standard of living they're accustomed to. That'll be very damaging.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MCPIKE: Okay. So, Jake, here's the rub. A big driver of this study and the problems here are that Americans are living a lot longer. So --

TAPPER: That's great!

MCPIKE: You would think so. But we need a lot more money now to pay for many, many more rounds of golf or trips overseas or Broadway tickets. Something like that.

TAPPER: Ugh, always bringing bad news.

Well, let's continue this conversation. Here to talk more about this, Jim Tankersley, economic reporter for "The Washington Post" and Sudeep Reddy from the "Wall Street Journal." Guys, level with me here. Are we better off dead than retired? Give me some good news here.

SUDEEP REDDY, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": The good news is we're coming through a lot of pain and, hopefully, we're at the end of this. We've gone through a terrible recession. Most people have been treading water for five or six years. Haven't really seen that much improvement. If the economy continues to improve, then there is some hope on the horizon that maybe things won't be that bad five years from now.

But it still means people are going to delay retirement. A lot of people are just going to have to wait longer and stay on the job longer.

TAPPER: That's grand. Jim?

JIM TANKERSLEY, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, I'm not usually one for good news, but I'll give you some here. People's housing values are going back up. When your home is worth more, then that starts to be the nest egg that a lot of people thought it was going to be. Maybe not as big of one, but the idea that you can retire by selling your house and downsizing still remains very prevalent in a lot of Americans' minds and down the road -- not tomorrow, maybe not even a decade from now -- but down the road that might be true again. TAPPER: All right. Well, the markets are as high as they are right now. The big question would be, shouldn't our 401(k)s be rising with the market? Why are they not? Or are they?

REDDY: They've come back a lot.

TAPPER: But they're not quite where they were.

REDDY: They're not quite there where they were. And for most of us, if you've been watching since 2000, you've seen a lot of ups and downs due to crises. And we may be facing another potential one now because of Europe.

But what we find is that after a while you come out of this, and hopefully we'll be on a clearer path afterward. But it's just been riding a lot of choppy waters, and we have to ride out those waters.

TAPPER: Jim, look at this polling I want to show you. According to CNN, 69 percent of Americans still think the economy is in the toilet. It's not. Right? I mean, it's not in the toilet.

TANKERSLEY: Right.

TAPPER: We're doing much better. Why are the American people so convinced that things are horrible?

TANKERSLEY: First off, because they're not getting ahead. Median incomes today are basically the same that they were in 1989. So, this is the sign -- when you adjust for inflation - this is a sign that most people aren't feeling the sort of wind from the economy getting better.

Now, again, I think you'll start seeing people feel better as their home values continue to go up and up because that is something that tends to be correlated with people feeling better about the economy. But right now, we have 12 million people who want to work and can't find a job. We have stagnating wages in the middle. This is not an economy that feels like it's getting a lot better for most people.

TAPPER: I also want to talk to you about this interesting story about Lululemon, the yoga pants. Lululemon is big company, just pulled a bunch of theirs off the shelf saying they were too see-through. Now, I obviously don't let anybody I know leave the house or come into the office wearing them one way or the other, but on the news of the recall more importantly, the company stock took a big, big hit.

Investors love this company. How big a deal is this story to the markets?

REDDY: It's certainly not going to be huge for the overall market, but this has got to be a nightmare scenario for any CEO to deal with because you've seen this meteoric rise in a company like this. There's been a cult around this product. Everybody loves it. They're rushing toward it. And if you find that you haven't controlled either your suppliers enough or your quality enough and you have a problem like this, you really only get one chance to fix something like it. And they've been dealing with this for the past year, and that actually creates a big problem for them down the road.

TAPPER: A recall of yoga pants? I mean, that seems a little extreme, right? It's not as if it will cause death or dismemberment.

TANKERSLEY: Well, let's hope, right?

(LAUGHER)

TANKERSLEY: But on the other hand, it is kind of good economic news that we can focus on yoga pants, right? We're not talking about absolute devastation in the economy. When we've gotten to the point where yoga pants are a big problem, maybe we are getting better.

TAPPER: All right. Jim Tankersley from "The Washington Post" and Sudeep Reddy from the "Wall Street Journal." Thank you very much for being here.

Lululemon had to dump $20 million worth of yoga pants because they were seethrough, and today's hash tag, you're it. Let's come up with a slogan for all those too sheer Lululemon pants. Here's mine. "Come for the fitness. Stay for the HR complaint" - let me do that again. HR complaint.

Send us your idea, your suggestion. Tweet us @theleadCNN. Use the hash tag lulu slogan.

Also, you've been waiting six years for it. Now Justin Timberlake's new album is here. Oh, you're not that excited about it? Well, neither is Marco Rubio. My interview with the Republican senator is next. We'll talk immigration, foreign policy, and jams in the Politics Lead.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: The Politics Lead. Republican leaders in Congress looking for momentum on immigration reform got a boost from senator and Tea Party fave Rand Paul. Paul spoke this morning at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, setting a tone that reminded some of President George W. Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: I think the conversation needs to start by acknowledging that we aren't going to deport 12 million illegal immigrants.

(APPLAUSE)

PAUL: If you wish to work, if you wish to live and work in America, then we will find a place for you.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: And joining us right now for reaction to this and other news of the day, of course, is Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida. Senator, thanks for joining us. And what is your reaction to Rand Paul's announcement today? How important is this to the cause of immigration reform?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Well, first, thanks for having me on. I wish I would have been on yesterday. I could have been the answer to a trivia question one day.

But anyway, on the -- Senator Paul's speech today, it is a very good development. Look, there is a growing consensus that something needs to be done about immigration, but it needs to be done in a way that is responsible. In essence, we need to do three things. Number one, we have to reform our legal immigration system. It needs to be modernized.

Number two, we have to enforce our laws and improve the way they're enforced.

And number 3 is we're going to have to figure out a way to deal with the people here illegally in a way that is compassionate but also responsible. That means we're not going to deport 12 million people like Rand Paul said today. We're also not going to give blanket amnesty or special pathway to citizenship because that would be unfair to the people have done it the right way. And so, finding that right balance is what we've been trying to work on and continue to work on. And I hope we'll have something soon so we can begin to discuss it with our colleagues.

TAPPER: Your fellow Florida Republican Jeb Bush a few weeks ago when he unveiled his book had -- I don't want to call it a stumble, but it was a question about whether or not he supported a path to citizenship. He didn't seem to in the book, although he had previously said that he did support a path to citizenship.

This obviously is a big sticking point with conservatives especially. Jeb Bush told "The Washington Post" during that book tour that while he was working on the book, you were not for a path to citizenship. Can you explain to us your evolution on this issue?

RUBIO: Well, yes. Actually what I've never been for is a special pathway to citizenship. Let me just remind everybody there is no such thing as a path to citizenship. You can't go from being an immigrant to a citizen. You have to go to get a green card first.

What efforts (ph) in the past has done is they've awarded people green cards. It's basically says if you've been here for x number of years, we'll give you a green card. And then once you get a green card, in three to five years, you can apply for citizenship in three to five years.

I'm not saying we should do that. On the contrary, I'm saying that all we do is we allow people to earn, to basically apply for and if they qualify, receive a legal status. And then at some point in the future, when some time has elapsed and the security measures are in place, then the only thing people would get is the opportunity to apply for a green card. We wouldn't award one, either. And then if they were to receive the green card, then of course they can apply for citizenship at some point in the future after that.

That's been my position. It's not to have a special pathway to green card citizenship or anything else because it is unfair to the people that are doing the right way and it would incentivize illegal immigration in the future. That's been my position all along. We're not going do special pathways that discourage people from doing it the right way.

TAPPER: Senator, you and Senator Casey, Democrat of Pennsylvania today introduced legislation proposing more aid to the Syrian rebels than is already being provided. It does not include weapons but it does include ammunition. Where does it end for you? How far are you willing to take U.S. involvement in the civil war and in addition, are you not concerned that there are al Qaeda ties to some of the rebel groups?

RUBIO: Well, let me answer the first part of the question then the second part. The first part of the question is how far are we willing to go? I'm willing to go as far as our national interests are concerned. In essence why do we get involved in anything around the world?

It's because it is in America's best interests. It is in America's best interests for Assad to fall. Because if Assad falls it takes away a major sponsor of terrorism, it takes away a major ally of Iran's sponsorship of terrorism around the world. And so that is why it is important for Assad to fall.

As far as the rebels are concerned, I am concerned about people that have links to al Qaeda. And that is exactly why I think we need to be involved because there is a group of rebels that do not have links to al Qaeda and there is a group that does.

I want to make sure the best organized, the best funded, the best equipped group are the ones that don't have links to al Qaeda. I want them to be the guys that take over when Assad falls as he eventually will.

What I don't want to see happen is that the people with all the guns and all the training are the bad guys, are the al Qaeda affiliates. And that's, unfortunately, what I think could happen if countries like ourselves don't get involved in some way to be helpful to the people that are not linked to al Qaeda.

TAPPER: But no weapons, you would not give weapons?

RUBIO: Well, actually the rebels have -- I mean, they want every weapon they can get their hands on, but they actually have a lot of weapons now and there are plenty of people who are providing weapons.

What I've said in the past is that what they run critically short on is ammunition. That is something we came across in our recent visits to the region and meeting with different people that are working with the rebels.

What they really need is ammunition and what they really need is the ability to pay the soldiers so they can stay loyal to the rebel organization, the non al Qaeda rebel organizations like the Free Syrian Army, etcetera.

These are the -- this is what they need more of. The weapons, they're already getting and there are other countries that are interested in selling them weapons as well.

TAPPER: Before I let you go, we cover pop culture on the show in addition to issues such as Syria and immigration reform. I know you talk a lot about your love of Tupac. Justin Timberlake is introducing an album today. And I want to know even though he has Jay-Z on the album with him, is that hardcore enough for you?

RUBIO: No. No. Listen, he is a talented performer but not -- he is not on my iPod. But you know, nothing against him. He is very popular. Just not one of the guys I listen to.

TAPPER: Not hardcore enough for Senator Marco Rubio.

RUBIO: Justin Timberlake? No.

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: Thank you.

Do you get the feeling some of the candidates in today's primary race for a South Carolina House seat are trying to out random each other? We have ex-governor Mark Sanford of the infamous rendezvous with his Argentina mistress.

Then there's Elizabeth Colbert Bush, the sister of pretend political pundit Steven Colbert and let's not forget Teddy Turner, the son of media mogul Ted Turner, who know the guy who started the network you're watching right now.

The winner of next month's general election will fill a vacancy left by Tim Scott who was appointed to the Senate in January. America's symbol will be open for America's birthday. Hurricane Sandy forced the Statue of Liberty to close, but we've just gotten word she will reopen by the 4th of July.

She was not damaged by the storm, but power was knocked out on Liberty Island along with backup generators and the dock for ferrying visitors was wiped out. Somewhere Mike Bloomberg is saying, I told you so.

A study released within the hour might make you want to put down your big gulp surely. Researchers say sugar sweetened sodas, sports drinks and fruit drinks might be to blame for more than 180,000 deaths around the world every year.

A lot of those deaths are in low and middle income countries. The findings were released at an American Heart Association Conference. Wolf Blitzer is -- was in "THE SITUATION ROOM," but he is no longer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

There was a review of my first show that likened you to a wacky sitcom neighbor wandering on to my set.

WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S "THE SITUATION ROOM": I didn't see that review. Who wrote that?

TAPPER: It was Brian Lowry of "Variety." You, to me, are a big improvement from like Mr. Roper.

BLITZER: I hope. I thought the first show was terrific and the second show is excellent as well. You got to keep up the good work.

TAPPER: You have Rand Paul, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky.

BLITZER: He'll be joining us right at the top of the hour. I want to be precise. Does he really support a pathway to citizenship or just legalization for those 12 million illegal immigrants he's talking about?

There seems to be a little confusion. So we're going to try to clarify that. We also have Senator Dianne Feinstein joining us. She is very upset as you can imagine.

TAPPER: Yes.

BLITZER: About this assault weapons ban not being included in the main legislation that Senator Harry Reid will put on the Senate floor.

TAPPER: You heard McDonough, the White House chief of staff, say that was not necessarily an upset for the cause of banning these guns.

BLITZER: Yes, I heard him. I heard that.

TAPPER: An interesting interpretation.

BLITZER: That is correct. I'm sure she's pretty upset. We'll ask her about that, but she is also joining the chair of House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers, both together, we'll talk about Syria and North Korea. We have good stuff coming up in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Not on "THE SITUATION ROOM."

TAPPER: No.

BLITZER: In "THE SITUATION ROOM."

TAPPER: Within the situation room.

BLITZER: That is correct.

TAPPER: Happening now.

BLITZER: Are you having fun?

TAPPER: I'm having a lot of fun. BLITZER: That's good.

TAPPER: Especially when you drop by my wacky neighbor. With his hosting gigs, movie roles and job as a creative director for a beer company we should feel lucky that Justin Timberlake found a few minutes to record an album, multi-tasking musicians pushing their mugs more than their melodies. That is our "Pop Culture Lead," and that's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: In the "Pop Lead," Justin Timberlake is back to making music. Imagine that. His first new album in six years drops today. That's what the kids say, drops. Timberlake spent his hiatus dabbling in just about everything, which seems to be the trend among artists nowadays.

While they're not the first to pull double duty certainly can't be the only fan of Elvis movies. Hollywood success is often not enough. Today's talent is in the business of building brands and then building empires.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER (voice-over): Justin Timberlake is just about everywhere. "Saturday Night Live," movies like "The Social Network."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A million dollars isn't cool. You know what's cool?

TAPPER: The cover of "People" magazine with his new Hollywood bride. Where Timberlake hasn't been until recently is inside a recording studio, something he laughed off on "SNL."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When are you going to make some more music?

JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE: All right, you know what? That's it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm trying to take this seriously.

TAPPER: The "New York Times" music critic speculates that Timberlake only recorded his latest album "The 20/20 Experience" to fulfill his contract with RCA. That's right, a musician who doesn't seem to want to make music.

Timberlake and his fellow pop brethren are all multi tasking millionaires these days. What remains unclear is whether it's the music propping up their side jobs or the other way around.

Take Beyonce. The superstar sells records, yes, and her live shows bring in some serious cash, but are you ready for this? A big chunk of her reported $300 million net worth comes from her endorsement deals -- Pepsi, L'Oreal.

And husband's Jay-Z's hustle? Business buy-ins. Jay-Z's reported half a billion dollar fortune was made mostly on his Roca Wear clothing line and his new investment in the Brooklyn Nets seems likely to pay dividends powered by the courtside dazzle he and his bride are happy to provide. And I'm telling you.

From Grammy winner/Weight Watcher Jennifer Hudson to Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj who landed TV gigs on "American Idol" it seems few of today's top recording artists rely on their music alone or even mostly.

They seem to be riding a wave of their brand, which might explain why Timberlake's new album which isn't exactly getting a warm reception from critics is still expected to debut at number one.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Although as we know Marco Rubio, the senator from Florida, will not be among those downloading it on iTunes.

In other pop culture news first HBO and Showtime then Netflix and now even the user driven web site "Read It" is getting into the original programming game. I called it read it, but I actually meant to say "Reddit."

The series "Explain Like I'm Five" will feature two actors breaking down a wide range of topics to kids. And for those of you who have no idea what "Reddit" is. Allow me explain like I'm five. It is a web site that is a magic screen on the computer where users submit different topics for other people to weigh in on.

Quick, name the last funny Eddie Murphy movie and don't count the donkey wonk. Right, well, that's the problem. I would say Bowfinger. I looked it up on IMDB and that was 1999. So that might be why Murphy is reviving one of his all-time roles, Axel Foley, for a "Beverly Hills Cop" reboot on CBS.

This picture was tweeted from the set of Murphy with Brandon T. Jackson who is playing Aaron Foley, his son. It's been a while. Eddie, where's the lions letterman jacket? Actually we're told no fear. They dug it up in wardrobe.

In Rio de Janeiro watch this incredible early morning flight through the city without an airplane. Two daredevils in wing suits pulled off the stunt last month while most of the city was asleep. One of the fearless flyers slipped between two skyscrapers. Needless to say, do not try this at home. Remember this hit song?

Sad news out of the Motown world, Bobby Smith, the lead singer of the legendary "Spinners" group has died. The group had hits including "It's A Shame" and "Could It Be I'm Falling In Love." Smith had lung cancer. He was 76.

Hashtag, "youreit," we asked you earlier to come up with a slogan for the see through yoga pants Lulu Lemon had to unload. May I present your best efforts. We did a two part tweet, Lulu Lemon pants you can still run, but you can't hide.

And at got to love the drake tweeted these new pants are namastasty. That wraps up -- that's horrible. That wraps up our second show ever. Join us tomorrow at 4:00 p.m. Eastern when House Speaker John Boehner will be our guest.

Wolf Blitzer, he is standing by in "THE SITUATION ROOM" and is happening now. Take it away, Wolf.