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THE SITUATION ROOM
Same-Sex Marriage Reaches Supreme Court; Quicker Trigger on North Korea; Big Money, Big Names Push Gun Control; Obama Wants Quick Action on Immigration
Aired March 25, 2013 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KATE BOLDUAN, HOST: Thanks so much, Jake.
Happening now, a quicker trigger on North Korea. The U.S. military gets new rules for responding to attacks.
And a world famous comic and the world's richest mayor raise the stakes in the battle over gun control.
And she's quick to criticize when it comes to spending, but now, Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann's campaign faces an ethics investigation.
Wolf Blitzer is off today.
I'm Kate Bolduan.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We begin at the Pentagon this evening, which is giving U.S. troops a quicker trigger in responding to violent provocations from North Korea.
With tensions already very high, does this raise the risk for Americans?
A very important question.
CNN's Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, has all the details on this evening -- so, Chris, what are the details of this agreement between the U.S. and South Korea?
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kate, the bottom line, what this does is it formalizes that the U.S. and South Korea are going to have a joint response to North Korean provocations. So that means that the U.S. will be involved right from the get go, even short of all-out war.
LAWRENCE (voice-over): North Korea is suspected of torpedoing a South Korean warship in 2010, killing 46 sailors. They also shelled a border island and killed civilians. Now, because of a new agreement with South Korea, similar attacks could bring the U.S. military and nearly 30,000 Americans into the fight. RICHARD BUSH, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: It's lowering the bar in that it raises the possibility of a new kind of conflict on the Korean Peninsula.
LAWRENCE: New meaning a limited, localized fight. The U.S. has always been obligated to help South Korea in an all-out war. But this agreement formalizes a joint response to even small scale attacks. A Defense official says examples include the North sending ships into South Korean waters, flying fighter jets into restricted airspace or shelling those islands, like it did three years ago.
The official says South Korea would still conduct any initial response.
BUSH: The problem comes if North Korea then retaliates in turn and you have a spiral of escalation. There is the possibility, hypothetically, that things could get so serious, that we would become involved.
LAWRENCE: Retired General Walter Sharp commanded U.S. Forces Korea when the talks started on this new agreement.
GEN. WALTER "SKIP" SHARP (RET.), FORMER COMMANDER, U.S. FORCES KOREA: There's been, you know, a lot of work done between the Republican of Korea and the United States on provocation responses, what should we do if North Korea does another kinetic attack?
LAWRENCE: Sharp says there has been intense planning for the right response to North Korea's next provocation.
SHARP: That holds something at risk for Kim Jong Un so that he'll think twice before doing another attack.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
LAWRENCE: In fact, North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-Un, recently threatened to wipe out some South Korean military units on another border island. A Defense official I spoke with says, look, they normally don't even talk about agreements like this. The fact that they are should be taken as a direct message to North Korea -- Kate.
BOLDUAN: We sure hope it acts as a deterrent, because you know that's exactly what they're hoping it is.
Chris Lawrence at the Pentagon.
Thanks so much, Chris.
Now to the fight over gun control, which is raging here in Washington, as well as outside the nation's capital. Both sides are pulling out all the stops. On the one hand, a world famous comedian and the world's richest mayor; on the other, one of America's most powerful lobbies, which is now being criticized for making its pitch even to residents of a town hit so hard by a recent school massacre.
CNN's Tom Foreman has been look this -- Tom, it goes without saying that passions are so high on this issue. They have always been.
But what is the latest?
They are really going all out here.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they really are. What you're seeing right now is big money and big names and big political power really pushing to get something done here. But that's, in part, because many of them are fearing that gun control legislation, which they thought might easily pass a couple of months ago, now seems in jeopardy.
FOREMAN (voice-over): Comedian Jim Carrey is now on the Web site, Funny or Die, ridiculing the late actor, Charlton Heston, a strong gun rights supporter and National Rifle Association official.
FOREMAN: While on a more serious front, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is storming after the issue, going on NBC's "Meet the Press" to point out that polls favor gun law reform.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "MEET THE PRESS," COURTESY NBC)
MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, NEW YORK: I don't think there's ever been an issue where the public has spoken so clearly, where Congress hasn't eventually understood and done the right thing.
FOREMAN: Bloomberg is pumping $12 million from his own fortune into ads in 13 states, pushing senators to make background checks on all gun sales the law. National Rifle Association boss Wayne LaPierre is hitting back hard, pointing out the mayor's recently failed plan to limit sugary sodas for voters in his own city.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "MEET THE PRESS," COURTESY NBC)
WAYNE LAPIERRE, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: They don't want him telling them what food to eat. They sure don't him telling them what self-defense firearms to own. And he can't buy America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: But the assaults on the gun lobby are coming from many fronts. In Newtown, Connecticut, where that school massacre took place, some families are complaining they've received NRA robo-calls like this one posted on the Huffington Post Web site.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, COURTESY
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your state senator, Art Linares, will play a key role in determining whether the Connecticut General Assembly will pass legislation restricting your gun rights. (END AUDIO CLIP)
FOREMAN: And President Obama is weighing in too, using his weekly radio address to push a ban on assault weapons, a limit on the size of ammunition magazines and stepped up background checks.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They're supported by a majority of the American people. And I urge the Senate and the House to give each of them a vote.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
FOREMAN: Still, the chief reason we're seeing so much activity right now is that gun control measures appear to be in legislative trouble. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has frankly admitted he does not have the votes for a assault weapons ban right now and support for other legislation also appears shaky -- Kate.
BOLDUAN: But it has been, really, only three months since the Newtown massacre. And there was so much political support and really a rallying cry after that for stricter gun control measures.
Why does it -- why does the political support seem so shaky right now, I guess is the question?
FOREMAN: Well, there are two reasons. One is that time has passed since then.
FOREMAN: And the polls have eroded somewhat. They're still generally in favor of the gun control people, depending on which poll you look at, but they're not as strongly in favor as before.
And, also, there's the issue of purple states. The simple truth is there are lawmakers out there who come from states where support is not nearly as strong as it is in other places. And they don't want to lose their jobs next year by making a stand on this issue right now, particularly on the more controversial parts.
BOLDUAN: And they have to listen to the voters who put them in office, as well.
FOREMAN: We'll see how it goes.
BOLDUAN: Tom Foreman, thanks so much.
To the White House now, where President Obama is using the swearing-in of new citizens to press for quick action on immigration reform.
Let's turn to CNN White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar, for more on this -- so, Brianna, what's the latest?
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Kate.
Well, 28 people became U.S. citizens here at the White House today. That included many members of the active military, many active members of the military, I should say. And President Obama used this as a backdrop to yet again push for Congress to act.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: The time has come for a comprehensive, sensible immigration reform. We are making progress, but we've got to finish the job. Because this issue is not new. Everyone pretty much knows what's broken. Everybody knows how to fix it. We've just got, at this point, to work up the political courage to do what's required to be done.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: This comes on the heels of progress on a bipartisan immigration reform bill. On Capitol Hill, the bipartisan Democratic and Republican senators, the gang of eight, there's a so-called gang of eight, they have gotten quite far, Kate, on their negotiations so far on the path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. They're working out details on that. But that's pretty much worked out. The parameters for securing the border are pretty worked out.
Now, a guest worker program that would allow non-US citizens to work legally in the U.S., that is still to be determined. But the White House says, Kate, that they're pretty encouraged by what they're seeing up there on the Hill.
BOLDUAN: And you hear them sounding encouraged, as you just said.
But the question is, do they see progress?
So when are we going to see movement?
When do you expect the Senate to take up an issue, and the House, as well?
KEILAR: Well, we're expecting this to heat up pretty quickly. We heard from Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer, who is a member of that gang of eight. He said he's expecting a deal in that group by the end of the weekend. He says legislation is being written and he's expecting that the Senate Judiciary Committee is going to take up the bill, start going through that process called the markup, where they sort of go through line by line, Kate, in that bill.
The question really here is the House, because whatever would pass the Senate, which is Democratic-led, is unlikely to get a ton of Republican support in the House.
So the question is, would House Speaker John Boehner go ahead and put something on the floor that wouldn't get all of that Republican support?
That's still to be seen -- Kate.
BOLDUAN: We'll be seeing another busy session ahead once Congress gets back into town. Brianna Keilar, thanks so much, from the White House briefing.
Secretary of State John Kerry hit the ground running and sure has not stopped since. He made a surprise visit to Afghanistan today and met the -- and met with President Hamid Karzai, as a U.S.-run prison was handed over to the Afghans.
Over the weekend, Kerry was in Iraq looking for help in stopping Iranian arms shipment to Syria.
And before that, he joined President Obama on a trip to Israel, the West Bank and Jordan.
Up next, Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann is quick to criticize spending by political rivals, but now her own campaign faces an ethics investigation.
Also, after featuring an anti-American memorial in Vietnam during "The Amazing Race," CBS is apologizing to American veterans.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BOLDUAN: Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann has been an outspoken critic of government spending, but now her own recent presidential campaign is the focus of a Congressional ethics investigation.
CNN contributor, John Avlon, broke this story for "The Daily Beast" and he's joining me now live from New York -- so, John, I want you to put this in context for our viewers a little bit.
You broke this story for "The Daily Beast."
Put this in context.
What is this investigation?
What is the investigation and what does it mean for Michelle Bachmann?
JOHN AVLON, SENIOR COLUMNIST, "THE DAILY BEAST": Absolutely, Kate.
Well, the Office of Congressional Ethics, which is an independent, nonpartisan group, is now looking into allegations of intentional campaign finance violations by Michelle Bachmann's presidential campaign.
Now, you remember, a year-and-a-half ago, she won the Iowa straw poll. She was riding high. And then, face plant came.
But now she has -- the legal questions keep piling up. There are now five separate investigations into alleged actions by members of her senior staff. And now, the Congressional Ethics Office is stepping in. So, this is serious, and they're going around the country interviewing former staffers, asking them about under the table payments and improper fund transfers.
So, this could get very serious. Right now, the focus is on what Michele Bachmann knew and when did she know it.
BOLDUAN: And Bachmann's attorney released a statement. We have -- the attorney really seems to be downplaying her role in this and the investigation. I'll put it up for our viewers. Her attorney, William McGinley, told us in a statement, "There are no allegations that the congresswoman engaged in any wrongdoing. We are constructively engaged with the office of Congressional Ethics."
That's the investigating committee that you're talking about and are confident that at the end of their review, the OCE board will conclude that Congresswoman Bachmann did not do anything inappropriate. So, what do you make of that?
AVLON: Well, Michele Bachmann's lawyering up, and lawyers speak in legalese. And what that says is trying to distance Michele Bachmann from the investigation, which is right now focused on two specific senior members of her campaign staff. That is true. The sources I've spoken to say the inquiry is focused on two senior members of the staff.
But, the key question, again, as always seems to be the case in political scandals, what did she know and when did she know it? Tone comes from the top of presidential campaigns, and there are a lot of troubling questions and is sort of litany of lawsuits that seems to be legacy of Michele Bachmann's presidential campaign.
BOLDUAN: And to be clear -- and this gets a little bit nitty-gritty for our viewers. The Office of Congressional Ethics is kind of the committee investigation before the committee investigation. It's separate from the House Ethics Committee. They'll make a recommendation if they think it's serious enough that the House Ethic Committee should really take a serious review of these allegations, right?
AVLON: That's right. But they are in the secondary stage now where they've decided it's serious enough to dispatch investigators around the country to speak to her former campaign staffers. So, we're beyond the preliminary stage. They're in the fact finding stage right now. And then, they refer it to the House Ethics Committee. This is similar to what happened to Charlie Rangel. There's a larger investigation by an independent body, then it gets report to the House Ethics Committee
BOLDUAN: And we know how long those investigations by the house ethics committee can drag on once they do if they do begin. John Avlon, great reporting. We'll obviously follow up on this very much. We'll see you soon.
So, coming up here in the SITUATION ROOM, it may be spring, but in many parts of the country, you probably cannot tell. Take a look at that. Next, details on a powerful storm packing a heavy, heavy dose of winter weather.
And then, there's this, a wild brawl on the NASCAR track. Just ahead, find out what's behind all that punching.
BOLDUAN: United Nations is withdrawing half of its roughly a 100 international staff members from Syria. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and many of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. Hey there, Lisa.
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Kate. Well, U.N. spokesman says this is being done solely for security reasons after a number of mortar shells rained down near Damascus hotel, housing U.N. staff. Most of these employees are being temporarily relocated to Beirut and Cairo. The move comes as violence rages across the region. A top rebel was wounded in the blast over the weekend, and dozens of new deaths are being reported just today.
And it was a sour day on Wall Street with stocks closing lower amid worries a bailout deal struck in Cyprus could set a precedent for other debt-strapped Euro Zone nations. The S&P 500, Dow Jones, the NASDAQ all ended down, crawling back from steeper losses. Cyprus struck a deal with European negotiators earlier today, which will mean big losses for account holders at its two biggest banks.
And it may be spring, but, oh, boy, many parts of the country, including right here in Washington, are getting a heavy dose of winter. A powerful storm is packing, in some cases, historic amounts of snow and blustery winds across the Midwest, mid-Atlantic, and southern states.
Winter storm warnings were posted today from Missouri to New Jersey down to North Carolina and Tennessee, prompting hundreds of flight cancellations and delays.
And serious fireworks on the NASCAR track at Sunday's Auto Club 400 in California. First, a dramatic wreck involving rivals, Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin. Hamlin's car crashed hard, but he's said to be OK. And then, this. More trouble for Logano when another rival, Tony Stewart, came after him, punches were thrown and the two had to be separated.
Stewart was, apparently, angry about a maneuver on the track, he said. I don't think that we see that every day. I mean --
BOLDUAN: I was going to say, I know less about NASCAR than most --
BOLDUAN: -- but I just don't think that's supposed to happen.
SYLVESTER: Yes. You see sometimes brawls in other sports, I'm thinking like hockey, but, not so much on the race -- usually they're in the cars. That's the reason why.
BOLDUAN: Isn't that sport dangerous enough? Do you also have to be worried about somebody attacking (ph) you on the track?
BOLDUAN: Anyway, keep it clean, people. Lisa, thanks so much. Much more ahead in the SITUATION ROOM, including this, a cousin of Chief Justice John Roberts will be a very interested observer when the Supreme Court takes up same-sex marriage. This week, we'll tell you why.
Also, contestants in "The Amazing Race" looked for clues near the wreckage of a downed U.S. bomber in Hanoi. Now, CBS is apologizing to American Veterans. That's coming up.
BOLDUAN: You're in the SITUATION ROOM. Happening now -- the lesbian cousin of Chief Justice John Roberts gets a rare chance to see history in the making when a landmark battle over same-sex marriage reaches the Supreme Court.
And Senator John McCain tweets about a controversial episode of the hit TV show "The Amazing Race" filmed in Vietnam.
And he's one iconic designer who has never designed for first lady, Michelle Obama. What Oscar De La Renta is now saying about a relationship that, quote, "started off poorly."
Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Kate Bolduan. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: It is a huge week for anyone with a stake on either side of the same-sex marriage debate. And a lesbian cousin of Chief Justice John Roberts seen here, as we're showing you, on our Facebook pages. Among those who will be watching closely as the Supreme Court hears arguments on two major cases. CNN crime and justice correspondent, Joe Johns, has details.
JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They're waiting to witness history.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As a gay American, I think it's very important to be a part of history.
JOHNS: Scores of people standing in line since last Thursday, dealing with snow from Sunday to Monday, all in hopes of grabbing one of 250 or so seats available for the general public when the Supreme Court takes up same-sex marriage this week.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It takes dedication to be out here.
JOHNS: Also expected in the audience on Wednesday as a guest of the court, Jean Podrasky of San Francisco and her partner. Podrasky is a lesbian cousin of Chief Justice John Roberts. In a statement she said, quote, "I feel confident that John is wise enough to see that society is becoming more accepting of the humanity of same-sex couples and the simple truth that we deserve to be treated with dignity, respect, and equality under the law."
How much Roberts' personal relationships might affect his decision on same-sex marriage is an open question. Paul Smith has some insight. He's an openly gay attorney who argued one of the landmark cases involving gay rights, striking down laws banning sexual relations between same-sex couples. Before that, he was also a clerk for Justice Lewis Powell.
PAUL SMITH, CIVIL LIBERTIES LEGAL EXPERT: I think it has some impact on people to know family members and friends who are out and gay and happy and functioning in society. On the other hand, it's not by any means going to be a good predictor.
JOHNS: We'll find out starting Tuesday when the court hears the challenge to Proposition 8, California's same-sex marriage ban. That challenge is brought by California couples, including Jeff Zarrillo and Paul Katani who say they have a right to marry just like heterosexual couples, and that the state's domestic partnership laws aren't good enough.
JEFF ZARRILLO, PLAINTIFF IN PROP 8 CASE: The term "marriage" is important. It has global recognition. No one celebrates a domestic partnership-versary. They celebrate an anniversary of marriage.
JOHNS: On Wednesday, the court will hear the challenge to the federal defense of marriage act.
BOLDUAN: That was Joe Johns reporting.
And we'll tell you a strange legal alliance will argue tomorrow that California's Proposition 8 one of the cases before the court, will argue it is unconstitutional, former Bush solicitor general Ted Olsen a conservative is teaming up with high-profile liberal lawyer David Boies.
CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger has been talking to both of these men.
Gloria, I find this fascinating, this relationship and how it's evolved over time.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: It is.
BOLDUAN: How did it come together?
BORGER: Well, the way the whole case has evolved is sort of a script that could have been written in Hollywood.
BOLDUAN: You are absolutely right.
BORGER: Because in many ways it actually was written in Hollywood.
BORGER (voice-over): It was November 2008. Barack Obama had just won the White House.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's nothing civil about a man marrying another man!
BORGER: But Proposition 8 passed, taking away the right for gays and lesbians to marry in California.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: California has made it very clear.
ROB REINER, DIRECTOR: We're sitting there, you know, kind of licking the wounds and saying, what do we do now, you know? And serendipitously, a friend of my wife's came by the table and she says, I think you would be very interested to find out that you might find an ally in Ted Olsen on your issue.
BORGER: That's the Ted Olsen, the conservative legal icon.
That stunned you, right?
REINER: Yes. It more than stunned me. It stunned me, but I said, if this is true, this is the home run of all time. I mean, the idea that Ted Olsen, this arch conservative, the solicitor general for George Bush who had argued Bush V. Gore and basically put me in bed for a couple of days. I was so depressed after Bush V. Gore was interested in gay rights, I thought, let's check it out.
BORGER: But didn't you have any doubts about Ted Olsen?
REINER: You know, they say that politics makes strange bedfellows. Well, you don't have a stranger bedfellow than me and Ted Olsen.
CHAD GRIFFIN, GAY RIGHTS ACTIVIST: I was skeptical, absolutely.
BORGER: Gay rights activist Chad Griffin was at lunch with Reiner that day and volunteered to make that first call to Olsen to check him out.
GRIFFIN: Much to my surprise, it was an issue that he had clearly thought a lot about. But the moment I hung up the phone I realized that there was a chance I was talking to someone who overnight could become the most important, significant advocate for marriage equality that this movement has ever seen.
BORGER: And, Kate, you know, after that, Ted Olsen decided to take the case. Then he picked up the phone and he called David Boies, the liberal lawyer who may have defeated in Bush V. Gore with whom he had become really good friends after that court case and said to him, David, will you argue alongside, with me on this case? And it took him about a nanosecond for him to say, sure, I'm on board, and now the two of them have really taken this for the past few years all the way up to the Supreme Court. They've won in the courts in California. BOLDUAN: Right.
BORGER: And now they're defending their case.
BOLDUAN: And, you know, people might find it strange that these two men could come together, but I've heard over and over again that people who argue on opposite sides of a case before the Supreme Court, they disagree with each other on the legal issue, but they absolutely respect each other because they're the only two people who know how hard it is.
BORGER: Well, that's interesting, Kate, because that's exactly what David Boies said. He said, during Bush V. Gore, my family got sick of me, everybody is sick of me because all I can think about, these lawyers as you know, have this tunnel vision. And he said the only person who understood what I had been going through was Ted Olsen.
BOLDUAN: And Ted Olsen has taken a lot of heat.
BORGER: He has.
BOLDUAN: From conservatives for, I mean, not surprisingly, amongst conservatives. What was his reaction been to the criticism that he's faced?
BORGER: He's been ostracized to bed, although less and less as he keeps winning in the courts in California. And his point is, look, this is a constitutional issue, this isn't a Democratic/Republican, Liberal/conservative. They believe gays and lesbians should be allowed the right to marry because it's guaranteed in the equal protection clause of the constitution, period no matter how many states have voted to ban it. And that's the case he'll be making tomorrow.
BOLDUAN: And we've been obviously tracking public opinion polls on this issue for years.
BOLDUAN: And right now there's more public support nationally for same-sex marriage than ever before. How do you think that, public opinion, can affect these arguments?
BORGER: Well, again, you spoke earlier about how having a member of your family or a friend or someone you know who is gay can affect you. Well, public opinion polls can do the same thing, even to the sitting Supreme Court justices. More than half of the country now supports same-sex marriage, but -- so when you talk to the lawyers who are opposing Olsen and Boies and are against same-sex marriage, they say, you know what, public opinion is shifting. Nine states plus the District of Columbia now allows gay marriage. That's why the Supreme Court ought to let it play out in the states and not shove this decision down people's throats.
On the other side, David Boies and Ted Olsen say, if the court decides in our favor, maybe they will think it's not such a cataclysm if they decide in our favor and that they won't be doing too much of a heavy lift here. So, you know, each side makes the argument that this could affect them positively.
BOLDUAN: Each side is very good at making their arguments.
BORGER: They are lawyers. That's what they are.
BOLDUAN: And it is very unclear at the moment exactly how the Supreme Court will thread that needle. But, nonetheless, a very important day.
BORGER: And there are lots of ways to thread the needle.
BOLDUAN: Many ways. Many ways. And we will be watching it all tomorrow. Great piece. I'm looking forward to your special coming up on this.
BORGER: Saturday night 7:30.
BOLDUAN: All right. We will be watching, Gloria. Thanks so much.
On this issue still, Democratic senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri announced her support for same-sex marriage today joining high profile names on both sides of the aisle who have endorse the rights for gays couples legally to wed. She wrote on her Tumblr page the following. I have come to the conclusion to write that our government should not limit the right to marry based on who you love.
Still ahead, outrage over an episode of "the Amazing Race" filmed near the wreckage of an American b-52 bomber. When we come back, one of the survivors of that crash explains why.
And he is one iconic name not in the first lady's closet. So does Oscar de la Renta have a case of sour grapes? Find out now what he's saying about Michelle Obama's fashion.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a double u-turn where two teams have the opportunity to slow down two other teams, forcing them to perform both sides of the detour. In this case, any team that u-turns another will remain anonymous.
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BOLDUAN: Outrage over an episode of the hit TV show "the Amazing Race" filmed near the wreckage of an American b-52 bomber in Vietnam. Our Brian Todd spoke with one of the men on that plane when it was shot down, and he's joining me now in the SITUATION ROOM.
Brian, so what did he tell you? This is fascinating that you were able to get in touch with him.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is, Kate. This is a very compelling story. He was a tail gunner aboard that same b-52 depicted in the show, the wreckage of Jim Cook's plane was shown and many believed trivialized by CBS in that recent episode of "the Amazing Race." This is called to attention the wounds suffered by that generation of veterans, wounds that for many still haven't been healed.
TODD (voice-over): With suspense on music, the popular CBS show "the Amazing Race" has contestants chasing clues around Hanoi, Vietnam. At one point, they're guided to a marker.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Here?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wait, wait, wait. Oh, there's the u-turn board.
TODD: On screen there's text, b-52 memorial. It is the wreckage of a plane, all in the name of fun TV gamesmanship, right? Not to Jim Cook. That memorial in Hanoi glorifies the downing of his plane, an American b-52 bomber that was shot down in Hanoi the day after Christmas 1972.
Two of Cook's crew mates were killed. Cook was the only one who didn't eject. He was blown out the back on impact, had both legs shattered below the knee, a broken back, shoulder and elbow, spent a month and a half at the notorious North Vietnamese prison the Hanoi Hilton. He says this is a picture of him in a motorcycle sidecar being taken to the prison. He tells us he didn't see the episode of "the Amazing Race," didn't even know about the memorial in Hanoi. But he says this --
JIM COOK, VETERAN: Really it's kind of in poor taste, to me, the fact that lives were lost in that aircraft coming down. Other crew members sustained injuries, were incarcerated, and the fact that there are other prominent locations in the city that they could have used for the race.
TODD: Vietnam veterans groups were outraged when CBS aired that episode of 'the Amazing Race" on March 17th. A letter from the commander of the group Veterans of Foreign Wars to CBS president, Les Moonves, said CBS reopened an old wound. The network has offered a full apology. Just before its latest broadcast of the show Sunday night, running a billboard saying parts of the episode were insensitive to a group very important to us our nation's veterans.
CBS points out it's done a lot of work on behalf of veterans. Joe Davis, spokesman for the veterans of foreign wars, says he doesn't believe the show's producers have much of an institutional knowledge of Vietnam.
JOE DAVIS, VIETNAM OF FOREIGN WARS: So the history of Vietnam for us is ten years pretty much of pain and a lot of frustration and a lot of anger of not being able to get the job done as the military knew how to do the job. I don't think the producer saw it that way. I think the producer saw this as, hey, it look at this. It's an old downed b- 52. (END VIDEOTAPE)
TODD: I called and e-mailed various spokesmen for CBS asking about that. Was it a case that the producers possibly of a younger generation simply didn't know the significance of that memorial? Did they know and just not think it would offend anyone? A spokesman said they wouldn't have any further comment beyond the apology - Kate.
BOLDUAN: The veterans groups, most of them anyway, including veterans like well-known veterans John McCain, they seem satisfied with the apology that they have received from CBS, right?
TODD: They do. At least two veterans groups and senator McCain does. The VFW sent a letter back to CBS thanking them for the apology. The American legion sent out a letter saying it applauds CBS for doing that. And you mentioned John McCain, who we also know was shot down over Hanoi, also spent time at the Hanoi Hilton where Jim Cook was, he tweeted today saying CBS did the right thing by apologizing. We all make mistakes. The issue is closed.
But clearly, there are a lot of Vietnam vets out there of McCain's generation, it's still very fresh for all of them.
BOLDUAN: Still very fresh from them. And I think a very good move by CBS to quickly apologize. John McCain puts it pretty well.
BOLDUAN: Great work. Thanks Brian, so much. Amazing story.
Still ahead, vice president Joe Biden says, quote, "there is no leadership in the GOP." So what about that so-called White House charm offensive we've seen so much recently?
Also, fashion icon Oscar de la Renta has some candid word for what he says is a relationship with the first lady that, quote, "started off poorly."
BOLDUAN: Some surprising comments about same-sex marriage from one of the leading voices, a leading voice, in the Republican Party.
Joining us now to talk about that and much, much more in our strategy session, two CNN contributors, Democratic strategist Paul Begala and Republican strategist Ana Navarro.
OK, first, guys, I want to start with these comments that really raised some eyebrows over the weekend. Republican strategist conservative Karl Rove saying some pretty surprising stuff about same- sex marriage on ABC's "This Week." Listen here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, HOST, ABC'S "THIS WEEK": Karl Rove, can you imagine in the next presidential campaign, a Republican candidate saying flat-out, I am for gay marriage?
KARL ROVE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I could.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: It cuts off that quickly because he quickly tries to make a left turn to kind of get off the subject, Ana. But, Ana, what do you make of this? I mean, you've made some news this weekend on our own show "STATE OF THE UNION" when you said on this issue the Genie isn't going back in the bottle. What do you think of -- that Karl Rove is acknowledging this?
ANA NAVARRO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I think it, like me, he might be optimistic that that's the case, that we don't have this play a large role in the primary.
But I've got to tell you, Kate, I think it might be possible that the question is no longer relevant. Nobody asks in a primary or in a political race anymore, are you for or against it interracial marriage? It's no longer a relevant question. And I think the shift on this one issue is growing, increasing the approval so exponentially that by the time 2016 may roll around it may not have the relevancy that we see it have right now.
I think the same thing is going to be true for immigration. The problem may be solved by the time 2016 rolls around. We may have a different Republican primary as far as topics than what we had this time in 2012. And that would be other things.
BOLDUAN: Paul, what do you think? I mean, do you -- do you agree with Ana? Do you think same-sex marriage is going to be a non-issue in the Republican primary come 2016?
PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I don't. First off, it is Ana's party, and I prefer her. She's probably more right than I am on these things, I'm just speculating. And if I'm going to watch a Republican strategist on a Sunday show, it's going to be Ana, on Candy Crowley's show, not Karl Rove on George's show.
BOLDUAN: Quit buttering her up. Answer the question.
BEGALA: I love George. No pal of mine. But yes, Candy's guest was way better, she won the booking war yesterday.
Here's the problem, in our latest poll, CNN poll, 53 percent of Americans overall support gay marriage, marriage equality. Only 25 percent of Republicans do. That kind of a gap is a huge problem for the Republican Party. Right? The vast majority of Americans support it but the vast majority of Republicans oppose it. And that's a wedge. You know, I -- so far, there's only one Republican in the Senate, Rob Portman, who like 15 minutes ago endorsed it in a heartfelt statement, and I admire that, but that's it.
One Republican in the United States Senate and that's it. The Republicans have got a long way to go on this and particularly people like Rove. Ana has never played a role in the kind of prejudice and bigotry that others in the Republican Party have pushed against gays, and that's something I admire about her. But there are others, Mr. Rove, who have shamelessly played the prejudice against gay Americans and now they sort of pretend like oh it'll all be over tomorrow I think fantasy.
BOLDUAN: Now, Ana, do you want to jump in?
NAVARRO: Well, you know, just to tell you how far this issue has gone, Ken Mehlman, who was part of that Bush campaign where gay marriage was a wedge issue, where it was a relevant issue, is now one of the lead voices in the Republican Party pushing for freedom to marry for equality.
I -- you know, and what I'm sensing in the Republican Party, and I talk to a lot of congressmen, I talk to a lot of senators, is that the tone and the way that we are talking about gay marriage has changed tremendously. I would tell you in the last six months, people know that it's no longer politically viable to go out and rant and rail against gay marriage.
People can still be opposed to it and that doesn't make them bigots. But they also understand that there is no standing right now, and there will be even less so in three years to go out and judge people. Be judgmental and righteous. There will always be one or two candidates running in a primary who go there, but they are not going to be viable, they're not going to be the Republican nominee.
BOLDUAN: Ana, do you think that this is an issue of -- you know there's so much soul searching going on within the Republican Party right now? Is this an issue of old guard versus new guard, or is this not an issue that is going to be split that way?
NAVARRO: I think it's generational for the entire nation, not just the Republican Party. And we have more older people, more older Republicans than the Democrats have. The Democrats have more young people. But one of the things Republicans understand is we want to attract more young people. So, you know, it's -- I think what you see in the Republican Party is a microcosm of what's going on in the nation as a whole.
And though the -- you know, it's true that the number of Republicans who approve of gay marriage right now is 25 percent, it's a lot higher than it was five years ago. And I assure you that in three years it's going to be higher still and it's going to be higher in the nation. So this issue is here, this issue has been decided. The political debate is over, folks. Read the memo in your inbox. It's time to get over it. The gay marriage issue is done with.
BOLDUAN: So, Paul, do you think if Republicans take this issue off the table, as Ana says, for 2016 is that a concern for Democrats then in terms of getting the votes?
BEGALA: No, it's great. It's look -- sure, I'm a Democrat, but I'm an American first. And I think our Constitution plainly requires each -- equal protection in the law which means that I as a straight guy ought to have the same right to get married as a gay guy, right? And I think that's more important. I want Republicans to embrace this. I want -- I hope they listen to Ana, I really do, but as an analyst, I have to point out, that the guy who came in second in the Republican nomination for presidency, Rick Santorum, compared gay people to something he called man on dog, which is just repulsive and bigoted.
BOLDUAN: All right. Well, we'll definitely have to follow up more on this issue. We're going to leave it there. Much more on this tomorrow as the Supreme Court takes up this issue, as well as the day after that.
Ana, Paul, great to see you. Thank you.
NAVARRO: Thank you.
BOLDUAN: When we come back, he's dressed a number of first ladies in his long career, but never Michelle Obama. What Oscar de la Renta is now saying about her relationship he thinks got off to a pretty poor start.
BOLDUAN: First Lady Michelle Obama is no stranger to fashion, so you might find it surprising that one of the most famous designers in the world, Oscar de la Renta, has never dressed her.
Our Lisa Sylvester has details.
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): What First Lady Michelle Obama wears is a statement in herself. Her arm-bearing dresses, her popular use of J. Crew everyday fashions and the dresses of up and coming designers.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Michelle Obama honestly inspires me more to work out my arms because she has such a great body.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She is a role model for a lot of women who look up to her.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. She's always dressed very classy.
SYLVESTER: But one iconic name that is not in the first lady's closet, Oscar de la Renta. His fashions have been worn by first ladies, including Nancy Reagan, Hillary Clinton, and Laura Bush. When he was asked in a fashion show in Mexico City over the weekend why Michelle Obama hasn't worn his work, he answered candidly, blaming himself for saying stupid things.
OSCAR DE LA RENTA, FASHION DESIGNER (Through Translator): A relation that started off poorly, well, I don't think will end any differently.
SYLVESTER: In 2009, Oscar de la Renta criticized Mrs. Obama for wearing a cardigan when she went to Buckingham Palace. He heeds on more criticism when she wore this dress by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen, a European designer, to a state dinner.
At the Weekend Fashion Show Oscar de la Renta did have high praise for the first lady, calling her an extraordinary woman and says she represents her country well. But just as quickly as he praised her, he also seemed to entangle himself in yards of controversy by suggesting the first lady wasn't quite the fashion trend setter everyone thinks, instead saying it's the everyday woman who sets the fashion tone.
DE LA RENTA (Through Translator): I've found that an anonymous woman walking down the street is the woman that influences fashion today, not a movie star, or a first lady, or another personality like that.
SYLVESTER: Celebrity stylist Robert Verdi dismisses Oscar de la Renta's comments saying this is a case of sour grapes. Verdi says Michelle Obama's fashion choices shows she is the average woman de la Renta speaks of.
ROBERT VERDI, FASHION EXPERT: Women on the street are inspiring, but only to the other women that pass them by and see them. Michelle Obama has a captive audience because she's in the media, we see photographs of her everywhere, we see her on the news every day. We get to actually see what she's wearing, take a peek in her closet.
SYLVESTER: And we reached out to Oscar de la Renta for comment. We also reached out to the first lady's office, and neither has gotten back to us, but the first lady has been asked in the past about some of the comments the designer has made and she has said women should just wear what they love. And of course, she would rather talk about something else a little more of substance like military families and getting kids to eat healthier -- Kate.