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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

FAA to Close Towers; President Obama in Middle East; Interview with Frederick, MD, Mayor; Israel's Apology to Turkey; L.A. Mayor Takes Center Stage; Jeb Bush on Brother's Art

Aired March 22, 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: If there is a group of workers you don't want disgruntled, it might be the ones responsible for landing your planes.

I'm Jake Tapper. And this is THE LEAD.

The national lead, the forced spending cuts come down hard on air traffic control towers from coast to coast, 149 of them in all. How will this affect your travel and your safety in the skies?

The world lead, President Obama plays couples therapist between world powers, nudging Israel to pick up the phone and say sorry for an international incident.

Also in national news, last March was the warmest on record. We didn't know how good we had it. Another nor'easter on the way as winter overstays its welcome.

Good afternoon. We're following news that broke just a short time ago that could seriously affect everything from travel to disaster readiness. The Federal Aviation Administration announced it's closing 149 regional airport control towers due to those forced spending cuts that went into effect at the beginning of the month, the so-called sequester.

Florida, Texas and California are the states with most closures. These closures could have a major impact on you. The tower at the Ramona Airport in San Diego County, California, is on the list. Ramona serves as a firefighting air base, the place where plane tankers like the one shown in this file video can fuel up to fight wildfires ravaging Southern California.

Administrators say there is no other airport in the area equipped to handle the job. Also on the list, a tower that opened less than a year ago in Frederick, Maryland, using $5 million of federal stimulus money. Frederick is one of those small airports that in many ways really isn't small at all. It handles 130,000 takeoffs and landings every year.

Joining us now from two separate coasts are two officials who are very concerned about the pair of airports we just mentioned. Randy McClement is mayor of Frederick, Maryland, and on the phone, Dianne Jacob, the San Diego County supervisor, who is on the phone, as I mentioned. Mayor McClement, thanks for joining us.

First of all, it's a little bit odd. Your airport was built, thanks to 2009 stimulus funds and now it is closing thanks to the central government as well. This must be unusual for the citizens of Frederick.

RANDY MCCLEMENT, MAYOR OF FREDERICK, MARYLAND: Yes, it quite is.

We were quite elated the fact that we had the air funds and got the tower built, and then, like you said, just a hair over a year late, now we're fighting to keep it open.

TAPPER: Mayor, just to stay with you, there are a lot of Americans who think Washington does need to cut spending and obviously this will mean some pain. You're in Frederick, Maryland. There is BWI Airport nearby. There is Dulles Airport not tremendously far. There is Reagan National Airport. Why does there need to be an airport in Frederick, Maryland?

MCCLEMENT: Well, one of the reasons that we have an airport is for economic growth.

We have a number of corporate entities that fly into our airport and then head down to D.C. The tower provided an extra level of safety to allow those corporate jets to come in. Without the tower, we're going to probably start seeing a decrease in that jet activity and that's how our airport makes revenue, is the sale of fuel.

TAPPER: Dianne, your airport is key to the aerial firefighting aircrafts that protect 1.7 million acres of land susceptible to fire. Without the control tower, can this firefighting continue?

DIANNE JACOB, SAN DIEGO COUNTY SUPERVISOR: Well, the firefighters will stay, but the problem is you got an airport, an airport that in 1995 there was a midair collision between two U.S. Forest Service planes that killed three people.

That was the motivation by building the tower, and getting the tower staffed by the FAA. This is a foolish, foolish move by the FAA and the federal government. And it is a great example of how the feds can't get their budget act together. This is a public safety issue. This puts at risk the citizens, over three million people in the region that depend on the Ramona Airport for their safety in the event of a wildfire or any other kind of disaster.

We have had some big ones, 2003, 2007. What the feds are doing, because they cannot put -- are not able to put public safety first and protect the people by closing these airport towers is a disaster in the making.

TAPPER: Mayor, the FAA said that they will work with local governments to mitigate the impact. Have you heard from the FAA and how concerned are you about the effects to the citizens of your town?

MCCLEMENT: No, I haven't heard directly from the FAA yet. We sent out letters to our congressional representatives and to the FAA and said, look, we understand there is a budget crisis here and we're willing to work with them, maybe cut back on the hours to provide safety and safe air travel here in our area.

And another concern we have that doesn't directly affects our citizens, but affects the area, all the towered airports, with the exception of BWI, are going to be closing. That will put an extra burden upon the tower people at BWI. We are the second largest municipality airport in the state of Maryland behind BWI.

The amount of extra pressure being put on that airport without these general aviation airports like Frederick is a concern to us.

TAPPER: All right. Mayor Randy McClement and Dianne Jacob in San Diego, thanks so much for joining us.

Those are just two of the affected airports. There are 147 others throughout the country that will also have to power down starting on April 7.

Our Tom Foreman is standing by to explain the impact this might have on you -- Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Jake, they are absolutely right when they say it is a safety matter here because there are really communities all over this country that have small airports like that and all day long they handle thousands of planes that come in and out. They track their movements as they come in.

They keep track of what is going on, on the runway. Are there animals on the runway, vehicles on the runway, have other planes cleared, all sorts of things going on here. But -- and this is an important thing to bear in mind -- if you take these airports away, air towers away, if they are gone, the airport is still there, is this plane flying blind? No. It is not because exactly what the mayor was alluding to. Other airports will then be in charge of tracking or communicating with this plane in most cases.

There are redundancies here to keep track of the plane. It isn't like the planes will just be drifting all over the country with no one watching them, Jake. There will be people watching them, but the mayor is correct it puts more weight, more burden upon the other facilities to pick up that extra load -- Jake.

TAPPER: Tom Foreman in the virtual room.

Spring is here, but you may have to take the calendar's word for it -- this weekend, forecasters showing more snow for the nation's midsection, possibly building to a nor'easter by Monday.

Probably like you, I am more than ready to banish our family snow shovels to the basement, but nature just is not cooperating.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER (voice-over): March came in like a lion. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The snow is still piled high as tall as I am.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Twelve to 18 inches of snowfall. Don't forget to add in gusty winds.

TAPPER: But it will not stop roaring.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Seriously snowy.

TAPPER: Just when spring should have brought relief came more than a foot of snow in parts of the Northeast and hail coming down like a meteor shower in Texas. But climate change may not be to blame, says CNN meteorologist Chad Myers.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It is a simple matter of jet stream. Last year, the jet came from Texas all the way up into Montreal. That allowed very hot air into the East. Temperatures were in the 80s. This year, the jet is going the opposite way. Temperatures are in the 30s. Literally some spots across the East Coast are 50 degrees colder today than the same day of the year last year.

TAPPER: But what about the rest of the terrible weather we have seen in recent months beginning with superstorm Sandy and blizzards after blizzards? For some politicians, the frequent cold snaps are a proof that climate change is a myth.

REP. STEVE SCALISE (R), LOUISIANA: Just last week, a hearing on Capitol Hill on global warming was canceled because of snow in Washington, D.C. You can't make this stuff up.

TAPPER: But scientists say that misses the point. Climate change is not just about ever-climbing temperatures, they say. It's about an overall disruption in weather patterns. And the director of the National Weather Service recently told "USA Today" we better get used to it.

LOUIS UCCELLINI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE: With the rising sea levels, we're really worried about there perhaps being a new norm for the impact of these types of events.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is no shadow to see. An early spring.

TAPPER: Spring was supposed to come early, according to Punxsutawney Phil.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Phil is always accurate.

TAPPER: Now an Ohio a prosecutor jokes he is indicting the groundhog for getting our hopes up.

MIKE GMOSER, PROSECUTOR: I woke up this morning and the wind was blowing. The snow was flying. And the temperatures were falling. And I said, Punxsutawney, you let us down.

(END VIDEOTAPE) TAPPER: Where is Bill Murray when you need him? The National Weather Service predicts above-normal temperatures for spring when it finally does decide to join us. And then you can look forward to one of the worst allergy seasons ever according to experts.

Coming up, President Obama meets with the king of Jordan. He showed up a little late.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good to see you this morning.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Those dreaded storms. On the last day of the president's Mideast tour, there has been figurative, as well as literal dust kicked up. And that's our world lead, and it's next.

Plus, Barack Obama's predecessor is out of the spotlight, but George W. Bush is still making headlines for his new hobby, and his brother Jeb is impressed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEB BUSH (R), FORMER FLORIDA GOVERNOR: I will just admit that this was a surprise to me when I found this out about a year ago. And he's doing it with a vengeance.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: The world lead, President Obama might have sounded a little prickly to some on the latest leg of his Mideast trip. The president is in Jordan right now. He recently took questions, some of which he seemed to not particularly like about the crisis in neighboring Syria and why the U.S. government has not intervened on the ground.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think that what your question may be suggesting is, why haven't we simply gone in militarily?

And, you know, I think it's fair to say that the United States often finds itself in a situation where, if it goes in militarily, then it is criticized for going in militarily, and if it doesn't go in militarily, then people say, why aren't you doing something militarily?

And, you know, my response at this stage is to make sure that what we do contributes to bringing an end to the bloodshed as quickly as possible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: The president promised it's just a question of time before Assad goes.

Jessica Yellin is live from Amman, Jordan , where that press conference just wrapped.

So, Jessica, the president said Assad would go, but he sounded perhaps a little annoyed about being asked how that might happen. Why was he seemingly annoyed?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, we counted, and this is the sixth time that the president or a member of his administration has said Assad must go just in the last month alone. But none of them has laid out a plan or a path for direct action by the United States to help remove Assad from power.

So, without any direct military intervention by the U.S. the president knows he is vulnerable to criticism. That he is standing by while a massacre is taking place and that's a particularly sharp and poignant charge when he is standing here in Jordan where they are providing refuge to some 7,000 Syrians who are fleeing for safety every day -- some 7,000 people crossing the border into Jordan from Syria each day because of the violence there, Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: And I believe the King Abdullah of Jordan said that the settlements of refugees now form something like the fifth largest town in Jordan. The big news also today, of course, Jessica, is Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu apologized to Turkey.

Tell us about this and why the White House is making such a big deal out of it.

YELLIN: Well, it's very important news strategically. It's also if I can light for a moment shocking news that Prime Minister Netanyahu apologized at all. I mean, this is a proud, proud man. There is just simply on the face of it a diplomatic coup that the president got Netanyahu to reverse course.

Israel and Turkey have been in a standoff. They are former allies and they have been deadlocked for the last three years since Israeli soldiers fired on Turkish activists headed to the Gaza Strip to deliver supplies. Nine activists died.

They froze relations between the two countries and this has stood in the way of all sorts of strategic alliances and efforts to build Mideast Peace, even potentially some arrangements to avert a nuclear Iran. So thawing those relations could open all sorts of channels for improved military efforts in this area and is very important to the U.S. and Israel, also to Turkey. So, a feather in the president's cap, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Jessica Yellin, safe travels on your way back to the White House.

YELLIN: Thanks.

TAPPER: It's the story of the charismatic politician, the heiress and the envelopes stuffed with cash. It sounds like a fun caper -- Elmore Leonard maybe or Carl Hyasin. But this political drama is real. And it's in French.

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy is under formal investigation. He's accused of accepting illegal campaign contributions from 90-year- old L'Oreal cosmetics heiress Lillian Bettencourt. French investigators say Sarkozy took advantage of the heiress and accepted envelopes full of money to fund his 2007 campaign. Sarkozy says it never happened.

There are more people on this planet with cell phones than there are those with access to clean toilets. That's just one of the reasons why this day is set aside every year to get people talking about the planet's water crisis. World Water Day started 20 years ago but it's picked up steam in recent months, thanks to a satirical campaign launched by actor Matt Damon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATT DAMON, ACTOR/ACTIVIST: Until everybody has access to clean water and sanitation I will not go to the bathroom. Yes.

REPORTER: What?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Damon's Strike With Me campaign uses humor and occasionally a few celebrity friends to raise awareness about the world's water problems. You can find out more about Damon's cause at strikewithme.org.

One footnote to yesterday's program. Georgetown University's Christine Fair, a guest participating in our report about U.S. drone strikes, said the U.S. was flying drones launched from Pakistan territory and was even building a new drone base there. Well, the Pakistani government was apparently watching and officials there strongly dispute that assertion. They wrote us saying, quote, "No drones are being launched from Pakistani territory and no CIA drone base is being constructed in Pakistan." And, of course, we thank them for watching.

"The Sports Lead": They eight presidents, 45-sometihng Nobel Prize winners and now, they have one Cinderella. Brackets were busting across the country last night after Harvard University pulled off their first NCAA tournament victory over number three seed New Mexico, a team many people had in the final four, including me. 2010 Harvard alum Jeremy Lin went bonkers on Twitter posting a selfie in his three- point goggles.

And if you needed proof that I am human, like I said, I, too, fell victim to Harvard smackdown of New Mexico. By the way, President Obama picked New Mexico, too. So we are in notable company.

I had New Mexico going to the Final Four. That, of course, is not going to happen.

But the real question is how am I faring against my CNN co-workers? The answer, I'm in the middle. But at least I'm beating John Berman by a lot. John Berman who, of course, went to Harvard.

You can check how my bracket is faring against my fellow CNN anchors at CNN.com/brackets.

Yankee fans won't be seeing the injured Alex Rodriguez for a while. Many are happy about that and Major League Baseball may be trying to keep him off the field for even longer. There are reports today that the league will file a lawsuit against people linked to the south Florida clinic at the center of the latest steroid scandal. The biogenesis clinic has been called the East Coast BALCO. Former MVPs Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun have been tied to it going after the clinic in court may be the only way for prosecutors to build a case for suspending the players without an actual positive drug test.

As our first week comes to a close, we want to hear from you. How's my driving? Let us know what you like, what you would change about THE LEAD. E-mail us at TheLead@CNN.com.

Coming up in our "Money Lead", selling pot is not just a side business for entrepreneurial high school students. It's now a booming industry for cash hungry investors. And you'll never believe how much money we're talking about.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: It's time for our "Buried Lead" -- that's a story we think should be getting more attention than it is right now. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has been in the national spotlight for years but may never have been more under fire than last September when he chaired the Democratic National Convention and was tapped by the president to fix a political firestorm.

Republicans were belittling the Democratic Party platform for not including a mention of "God" or for not stating that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: By them having pulled it out of their platform that the party that Barack Obama is leading is increasingly out of touch with the average American.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: I recently sat down with the L.A. mayor for an exit interview. He leaves office this summer. He gave me exclusive behind the scenes details starting with a very unhappy White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MAYOR ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA (D), LOS ANGELES, CA: I got a call, said that the president was absolutely livid. The president wanted it back in immediately. My response to that was, great. But we ought to whip it. We ought to go to every single delegation and make sure the people know what we're doing. Folks didn't want to do that.

TAPPER: They didn't want to what?

VILLARAIGOSA: They didn't want to whip it. I used to be speaker of the California state assembly. I know how to do these things. So I had to go up there and do what I did.

TAPPER (voice-over): What he did was lead an awkward set of voice votes to try to amend the platform. It took three tries and many present thought there was no way that two-thirds of the delegates were in favor of his motion.

VILLARAIGOSA: The opinion of the chair, two-thirds have voted in the affirmative. The motion is adopted.

I banged the gavel for God and Jerusalem and I'm proud that I did.

TAPPER: Term limits are pushing Villaraigosa out as mayor of Los Angeles. Some of his supporters were hoping the loyal Obama backer would be rewarded with a position in the administration. But so far, nada.

VILLARAIGOSA: We talked early on, but what I've said is I want to finish my job. I only have a few weeks left as you said. I think a hundred and some odd days. And I've got a lot of work to do.

TAPPER (on camera): But if he called you?

VILLARAIGOSA: Once again --

TAPPER: Hey, Tony.

VILLARAIGOSA: When they call, when the president calls, you take the call.

TAPPER (voice-over): The grandson of a Mexican immigrant, Villaraigosa has put himself in the middle of the debate over the hot issue of immigration reform.

VILLARAIGOSA: No human being is illegal. No human being should be illegal.

TAPPER (on camera): This is one of the areas of real debate whether or not the 11 million who are here illegally should be given a pathway to citizenship or if they should just be given a pathway to some sort of legal status.

VILLARAIGOSA: We ought to give them a pathway. I don't think anything calling itself comprehensive immigration reform will pass if it doesn't provide a pathway to citizenship. It should be earned. No question about it.

TAPPER: You live in a media empire in California. And your personal life has been the subject of much coverage. There is a picture of you and Charlie Sheen. Does that make it difficult to do your job?

VILLARAIGOSA: I'm mayor of L.A. L.A. is Hollywood. And, you know, celebrity is something that, kind of, is part of the L.A. culture. It is what it is.

Does it make it more difficult? I am single after all, from time to time. But look, I love my job. I'm not complaining. It's been a good run to the city I love. I couldn't be prouder to have been mayor and to have been given this opportunity.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: And while the mayor was coy about a future in Washington, after his term expires in June, he has not been shy about a possible run for governor of California in 2014.

Landscapes, dogs, and the classic fruit in a bowl -- those are all among a list of newly released paintings created by former President George W. Bush. The paintings were taken from the Bush family's hacked e-mail account. Since they came from a hacker, CNN has decided not to show them.

But we did get our hands on this work of art courtesy of the office of the former president. It's a painting of the former family dog Barney. May he rest in peace.

As it turns out Barney is not the only four-legged news for the former president. Here's what Jeb Bush recently told me about his older brother's penchant for painting.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: What's up with those paintings? Has he done any of you?

JEB BUSH (R), FORMER FLORIDA GOVERNOR: I haven't -- we have two cats Michael and Angelo. He really loves to paint dogs. So I'm -- but he's gotten better. He is really actually pretty good at it.

TAPPER: The Barney painting is great.

BUSH: He is like the most focused, disciplined guy to imagine being a former president and not having an opinion on anything over the last four years, really? I mean, to have that discipline, to be respectful of the president that hasn't been as respectful of him as he should have been? Man. I could have never done that.

Or to, you know, everything he sets his mind to he does -- he wants to be good at. And he's actually become a pretty good painter.

TAPPER: He is good.

BUSH: I'll just admit this was a surprise to me when I found this out about a year ago and he's doing it with a vengeance. So if you've got a dog, I'm sure, based on your past relationship, he would love to paint him.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEOTAPE) TAPPER: He was being sarcastic there just to point that out. Just how much does the former president like painting dogs? His art teacher recently told an Atlanta TV station he's painted more than 50 since he took up the hobby.