CNN CNN


 

Return to Transcripts main page

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With Newtown Father; Netflix Soars; Obama Goes It Alone; Reports: Barbara Walters Retiring

Aired March 28, 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: Once upon a time, I cursed them for renting me scratched-up DVDs, but now Netflix is leading the charge on Wall Street.

I'm Jake Tapper and this is THE LEAD.

The Money Lead, breaking news on a record-breaking day for the S&P. Stocks get a big boost, with Netflix leading the way. The national lead, it's unclear if his emotional plea to Congress did anything to turn the tide in the gun control fight, but now the father of a Newtown shooting victim takes his case to the Oval Office. The Pop Culture Lead, sex, dragons, and above all, the struggle for power. HBO's "Game of Thrones" is back. The quest continues Sunday night, and who better for a preview than one of the guys who is bringing this fantasy world into your living room?

We begin with breaking news on Wall Street. It's our Money Lead. It's been five years, five months, and 19 days since the last time the S&P 500 hit its peak, not that anyone is counting. Today, it nudged just above its highest closing point ever. And if you own Netflix stock, dinner is on you tonight, my friend.

Alison Kosik joins us live from the New York Stock Exchange.

Alison, it looks like the markets are firing on all cylinders.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, the economy may not be firing on all cylinders, but the market certainly is. You look at the Dow. Starting a few weeks ago, it's been hitting record high after record high.

Today it was the S&P 500's turn to make history. Look at the S&P 500. It broke through that 1565 level, the all-time high set in October 2007. It hit that and it blew past it today. This is a big day, because it is the last day of the first quarter. I will tell you what. What a stellar quarter it's been. Look at the Dow. It's up 11 percent since the beginning of the year. The Nasdaq is higher. The S&P 500 is up 10 percent.

You know, this market really seems to be riding a nice wave. Even when there is bad news to turn the market around the market has actually shrugged it off. So for now, the path of least resistance seems to be upward. Helping stocks in the first quarter, definitely Netflix. If you own Netflix, you're doing pretty well. Shares have more than doubled in value since the beginning of the year. Shares are up 105 percent, taking into account today's close. Plus, analysts are getting more and more optimistic about the company's growth prospects -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Alison, thank you.

Netflix's financial success is largely credited to its new business model. And, no, it's not Qwikster. Remember Qwikster? That's just a vague memory of the old Netflix. But the new Netflix drops 100 million bucks to create the TV show "House of Cards." And they're ready for more. They just announced a new show from the creators of "Matrix" and "Babylon 5." It's called "Sense8."

Is Netflix the new must-see TV or must-see laptop or must-see smartphone?

Joining me now from San Francisco is Peter Rubin, who covers pop culture and entertainment for "Wired" magazine and their new cover talks about the new age of television.

Peter, thanks for joining us. I guess the big question, of course, is Netflix the new HBO?

PETER RUBIN, "WIRED": They're certainly going in that direction.

I think there are a few contenders for the crown. But when you consider what Netflix did with "House of Cards" and then throwing money at the Wachowski siblings to make a new show, it certainly looks like they're making a play.

TAPPER: And who are they competing with?

RUBIN: Well, you have got a lot of streaming services that are doing original programming for the first time.

Amazon, who has instant video, of course, has green-lit a number of pilots for comedies and for children's shows and then you have got services like Crackle that are doing original programming for the first time, but Netflix really sees itself as moving into a space that's been dominated by pay cable, premium cable, if you will, HBO. Showtime has moved into that space big time with "Homeland."

But what they did with "House of Cards" everyone hollered they were spending a hundred million dollars to make this show, but with David Fincher directing, you know, Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright were both incredible. This is going to be the first year where we will see at least Emmy nominations for lead actor and lead actress in a drama that don't come from broadcast or cable television. I wouldn't be surprised if we had at least one victory.

The hundred million dollars they put forth into "House of Cards" is really an investment. It's really an investment in this project that they will get, the talent they will get down the road from this. The $300 million that they're spending on content over the next three years for original programming is a drop in the bucket. That's 5 percent of the $6 billion budget that they set aside for all their video. So 5 percent of that going to original programming television is really not that big of a gamble for them.

TAPPER: All right. Peter Rubin "Wired" magazine, thanks so much.

It might be time for Mark Zuckerberg to unfriend Uncle Sam. The Facebook CEO is expected to owe the IRS more than a billion dollars in taxes for 2012. The momentous bill stems from his decision to exercise a stock option and buy more than 60 million Facebook shares when the site went public. Even though we don't know exactly what he will owe, it is known that the IRS will treat his stock options as income, which translates to roughly $2 billion.

And since Zuckerberg's tax rate is close to 50 percent, well, do the math. It's that time of the year when fears about bingeing have parents cringing. Spring break is upon us. Beaches will be packed for the next few weeks in places like Florida, Texas, California. I still recall Salt-N-Pepa jams from Daytona Beach 1988, but it turns out invading a college and even high school students and their myriad cash dollars do not always translate to a big boom for beach towns.

THE LEAD's Erin McPike is here to break down a study of the so-called spring break effect -- Erin.

ERIN MCPIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Watery beer and crumbly Chex Mix, do you think there is much markup in that, Jake?

TAPPER: I would think there would be a lot of markup.

MCPIKE: No. It's not like fine wine and lobster tail that go to the deep pockets in these big resort towns. And you can bet that those resort towns bring in a lot more money than traditional spring break destinations.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MCPIKE (voice-over): Spring break, it's been celebrated on MTV, captured on "Girls Gone Wild," immortalized by Van Halen. A study detailed in "The Atlantic" by Derek Thompson traces the ritual of spring breaking back to ancient Greece. There's always been drinking, dancing, general revelry, but not a whole lot of luxury.

DEREK THOMPSON, "THE ATLANTIC": Basically, the Greeks would do something not so dissimilar from today's college students. They would gather, they would sing, they would dance. They would actually have drinking competitions. They'd drink with wine, with cheap wine. We now drink with cheaper beer. And they used terra-cotta pots, while we use red, plastic cups.

But essentially it was the exact same.

MCPIKE: In this century you would think the booze-fueled debauchery would bring in big bucks to the towns where college students go when they put aside their books for a week of fun and sun. But you would be wrong. THOMPSON: Between 40 percent and 50 percent of students go en masse on spring break and they spend about $1 billion in Florida and Texas alone. You would think that this would be an amazing local stimulus to these economies but, in fact, it's not. What is really happening is that these poor, indebted students are being cheap, as we should expect them to be. They're buying the cheapest hotels in the area. They're buying cheap Doritos and cheap beer and they're bringing them to the beach and they're actually not spending a lot of money at these beach towns.

MCPIKE: Take Panama City, long a destination for eager spring breakers and the source for plenty of spring break financial data. Tax revenue may increase during the college boom, but it's negligible. A 2004 study showed that six straight weeks of spring break brought in $170 million to the local economy, but that the sales tax revenues collected in the month of March were among the lowest of the year.

Other beaches in Florida see more action. And the travel promotion site Orbitz listed the 10 most popular spring break destinations. Half are in the Sunshine State. Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado says having spring breakers in his city is a bit of a mixed bag.

TOMAS REGALADO, MAYOR OF MIAMI, FLORIDA: The good news is that business in downtown was thriving. And they were very happy. The bad news was the traffic, the gridlock in traffic, and, of course, people in offices and residents of downtown that were complaining about the noise and the traffic and the kids roaming around at 2:00 a.m. and 3:00 a.m. in the morning.

MCPIKE: But even if spring break doesn't really boost a city's bottom line, Hollywood has found a way to cash in. A new movie aptly titled "Spring Breakers" captures the phenomenon. Spring breakers may be low on inhibitions, but in the end they're also low on cash.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MCPIKE: And the big spike, if not in taxes or revenue, Jake, is crime because college kids get arrested and injured.

TAPPER: Now, this is why a lot of towns that were spring break destinations when an old man like me was young are no longer because they have created ordinances to chase these people out. They don't want them.

MCPIKE: That's exactly right.

And also a lot of travel sites, the reasons why some of these towns aren't making money is because these travel sites direct families where to go instead if they want to avoid the big college crowds.

TAPPER: All right. Erin McPike, thank you so much.

Coming up in our national lead, his son Jesse was killed in Newtown. Now Neil Heslin is sitting down with the president today. But will he ever see any real action to prevent future Sandy Hooks? And just weeks ago, Barbara Walters said she is not going anywhere, but now a new report in "The New York Times" says she is calling it quits. What changed? Our pop lead is ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: In our national lead, a troubled kid with a bedroom full of weapons. We're learning shocking details about Newtown shooter Adam Lanza's last days, how he shot his own mother in the forehead, before going on a rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School, killing 26 innocent people, including 20 small children, all of this according to search warrants of Lanza's home unsealed for the first time today.

Lanza reportedly had a gun safe in his room, along with a shoe box full of ammunition and more than 1,600 unspent rounds. Investigators found samurai swords, knives, a revolver, a virtual arsenal. All of this coming to light on the same day the president is accusing the nation of forgetting about Newtown.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The notion that two months or three months after something as horrific as what happened in Newtown happens, and we have moved on to other things, that's not who we are. Shame on us if we have forgotten. I haven't forgotten those kids. Shame on us if we have forgotten them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: One man who will never forget that day, Neil Heslin, father of Sandy Hook victim Jesse Lewis. He's part of the new ad campaign out today by Mayor Bloomberg's group Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

Neil Heslin joins me now.

First of all, sir, let me just say I am -- my deepest condolences for your loss. I know so many people who to this day are so touched by it and so sad. And I know there is nothing we can say to make you feel better, but please know that you're not alone.

NEIL HESLIN, FATHER OF SHOOTING VICTIM: Thank you.

TAPPER: I guess, first of all, I want to know, what did President Obama tell you today? You and some of the other parents met with him in the Oval Office.

HESLIN: Well, that he is still committed to pushing for change and stronger gun regulations and bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and background checks.

TAPPER: I want to show you this poll.

President Obama expressed concern today that the nation is moving on. And this poll from CBS News, gun control laws should be more strict or less strict, there's been a slip in individuals who think that they should be more strict. Are you concerned that the American people are forgetting about this tragedy?

HESLIN: I don't believe they're forgetting about it. I don't think it's -- people have forgotten about it.

TAPPER: There was originally, after the tragedy, the White House talked about the need to approach this holistically in a whole range of areas -- gun control but also addressing mental illness, addressing violence in the culture. I haven't really seen much discussed in terms of violence in the culture or mental illness.

And I'm not trying to distract from your push for gun control, but are you also concerned about these other areas?

HESLIN: I believe they are all areas that need to be addressed -- the mental health area, school safety, along with gun control issues.

TAPPER: You gave some testimony to Connecticut lawmakers a couple months ago. You asked if anybody could give you a reason why high capacity clips in certain types of guns should not be banned and somebody shouted back the Second Amendment.

What do you say to people who think that a push for gun control violates the Second Amendment of the Constitution?

HESLIN: Well, it clearly doesn't violate the Second Amendment. I'm in favor of the Second Amendment. It's about weapons of war that don't belong on the streets. They don't belong in our schools.

It's just absurd a weapon of that nature was brought into an elementary school and killed 20 young children and six educator, my son being one of them. It's something no parent should have to go through.

TAPPER: Tell us about Jesse.

HESLIN: Jesse was 6 1/2 years old. He loved everything about life. He loved school. He looked forward to going to school at Sandy Hook Elementary School. We loved his teacher, Miss Soto.

He loved horses, animals. There wasn't anything he really didn't enjoy in life. His main goal was to have fun and enjoy life.

TAPPER: And what do you want people who are watching the show to do in Jesse's name?

HESLIN: Well, I'd like people to stand up and tell their congressmen what to do and what changes need to happen.

Push for a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines, better background checks. Mental health is a big issue. It's complicated.

And I think better school safety is definitely something that needs to be addressed. You know, we have schools that have the most precious thing in the world -- our children -- in them. And I thought Sandy Hook Elementary was a secure school by standards. You had to be buzzed in.

Who would ever think somebody would shoot their way into an elementary school? I never thought it would happen in Sandy Hook. I couldn't even begin to imagine it.

TAPPER: All right. Neil Heslin our thoughts are with you, father of Jesse Lewis. Thank you.

HESLIN: Thank you.

TAPPER: We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK,)

TAPPER: Welcome back to "The Lead." In national news, President Obama goes it alone. The president has been turning down the advice of nearly all his closest advisers. We're talking about Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, and his top military commanders.

We're talking about Syria. Last summer, all the president's top advisers wanted him to further involve the U.S. in the civil war in Syria by arming the rebels. President Obama said no.

Josh Rogin from "Foreign Policy" magazine joins me now.

Josh, you have a new article breaking online right now. Now, you're telling us that just last month the president's National Security Council recommended that the U.S. give the rebels body armor and night vision goggles and other nonlethal military assistance and the president effectively denied that recommendation as well? What's going on?

JOSH ROGIN, SENIOR STAFF WRITER, FOREIGN POLICY: That's right. We were able to confirm in February, just before John Kerry went to meet the Friends of Syria and the Syrian opposition, all of the members of the National Security Council, all of the departments that work on Syria, came together and recommended to Obama that he should give the rebels night vision goggles, body armor, things that can't kill people but could help them fight the Assad regime.

The White House didn't reject the recommendation, but they didn't accept it either. And it still sits on the president's desk un-acted on.

This is seen by experts, lawmakers, and people in the Syrian opposition, as a rejection.

TAPPER: It's in effect (ph) a rejection.

ROGIN: It's a de facto rejection, for sure. This means that the things that the Syrian opposition is asking for, the things they say they need, the U.S. is still unwilling to provide as of today.

TAPPER: And why is this? Is this second-term Obama mindful of his legacy, hesitant to involve the U.S. in any more foreign wars? ROGIN: Well, there are two basic things going on here. The White House has always wanted to avoid involvement in costly and bloody U.S. interventions in the Middle East. It's been a hallmark of Obama's candidacy and presidency since the very beginning.

The other thing that's going on here is the White House is committed to seeking a political solution to the Syria crisis that's negotiated between the opposition and the regime. They feel like adding arms and helping them fight militarily will only fuel the fire and will make a negotiated political solution more difficult.

Now, what the opposition says is that political solution is not possible anyway. Meanwhile people are dying and they need the means to defend themselves.

TAPPER: And how much of a pushback was there from his advisers, President Obama says, no. They come back. They say, OK. Not arming them but providing night vision goggles he says no again. Is this intense? Is it a squabble?

ROGIN: My sources inside the administration tell me over and over again that there is a growing frustration throughout the bureaucracy about the White House's reluctance to go past basic humanitarian aid for the Syrian rebels. That frustration is also felt by the Syrian Opposition Coalition, a group that was set up by the United States, which has now publicly come out and accused the United States of conspiring to help the regime.

Of course, that's not true but it's the perception that people both in Washington and around the world get when the request for aid and the request for arms and the request for protection go unanswered by this administration.

TAPPER: And some of the rebels we know do have ties to al Qaeda. I'm not saying all of them. But some of them do. And some of the weapons supplied to them from other countries from Gulf Coast countries, from Gulf countries have fallen into their hands. Is it possible this is a concern of the president's? He doesn't want to end up helping al Qaeda?

ROGIN: What the administration always said is that they fear that the arms would go into the wrong hands. What has happened in the vacuum of America providing these weapons is that other countries have filled the void and there is less visibility, less transparency into what's happening. The rise of al Nusra, which is a foreign terrorist organization according to the State Department and their supply by Gulf States like Qatar and Saudi Arabia has only made the conflict more intractable and as the U.S. stayed out of the fight other countries, including foreign terrorist groups, are going to fill the void.

TAPPER: All right. Thanks so much for the big scoop.

ROGIN: Thank you.

TAPPER: Appreciate it. "The Pop Lead", she is the first lady of broadcast journalism, my friend and former colleague Barbara Walters from ABC News. We're just learning this afternoon that her storied career is likely coming to an end soon. "The New York Times" says she plans to retire next spring.

Barbara was the first female co-host of the "Today" show, the first woman co-anchor on network evening news. She was an inspiration to colleagues not just women journalists but male journalists as well, including myself/

And she has continued to land huge interviews with newsmakers and world leaders into her 80s, including one with Syrian President Bashir al Assad as the Arab spring was erupting around him. There are also of course her interviews with presidents and the White House intern named Monica Lewinsky, which drew about 74 million viewers.

Here to talk more about it, Jack Mirkinson from "The Huffington Post." Jack, why now?

JACK MIRKINSON, THE HUFFINGTON POST: I think that she is almost 84 years old. She's been on television for over 50 years. She's had a couple recent health scares. I think she is probably just deciding that it's time to step down.

You know, she's had a legendary career. She's going on her own terms. There's going to be a year of special tributes to her.

And so, I think she is just -- has just decided this is the right moment.

TAPPER: It is hard to imagine anyone precisely filling her shoes. What kind of hole does this leave in network television and, perhaps, more importantly, what kind of hole does it leave on the set of "The View?"

MIRKINSON: I think it leaves a big hole. She is about as iconic and legendary a figure in television news as you can imagine. She's done everything. She's gotten just about every major scoop and every major interview that people would want.

She's been a trail blazer for women. And so you can't really replace that at all. She is one of a kind.

I think on "The View", there is a more sort of immediate problem because Joy Behar is leaving. Elizabeth Hasselbeck, there are a lot questions about when she'll be leaving. And so then, when Barbara Walters leaves, it's going to be in May of 2014, that leaves "The View" with two to three different hosts in a very short span. So, that's a lot of turnover for one show.

TAPPER: And a big legacy for Barbara Walters, thank you so much.

Let's check in right now with our political panel in the green room. A lot on the menu today. They'll join me to talk about John McCain live-tweeting a border jumping, Mitt Romney's love of grocery shopping, and the president who says time is running out for gun control.

That's ahead on THE LEAD.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back. I'm Jake Tapper. Now the "World Lead," an American pastor saying he endured six months of beating in an Iranian prison. His wife pleading with the U.S. to do something before he dies in there. She'll join us with her message.

Also the "Sports Lead," quick. Somebody throw a challenge flag. The NFL is reportedly downplaying a link between hard hits and a brain disease discovered in dozens of former players.

Then of course the "Pop Lead," game on, boy, would this be one heck of a theme dinner party on Sunday night. "Game of Thrones" comes back for season three and I sit down with one of the guys behind the adventure.

First our "World Lead," a man in prison who may feel as if he's forgotten, but he has not been forgotten by his friends and family. Hopefully, he's also not been forgotten by his government.

Pastor Saeed Abedini, an Iranian born man who is a U.S. citizen has been sitting in an Iranian prison since September. His crime, his faith.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER (voice-over): Saeed Abedini is a man who was transformed by his Christian faith and imprisoned for it. Now the U.S. government is calling on Iran to release him immediately.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Not long after I became a believer that one night a voice woke me up and said, Saeed, I am coming back soon. Go preach my gospel.

TAPPER: Abedini had been living for years in Boise, Idaho with his wife and children working as a pastor. Before he came to America, he had run a series of underground churches in Iran to the objections of the government there.

He went back to Iran, he says, to work on an orphanage only to find himself arrested last summer by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Abedeni was convicted for preaching Christianity and sentenced to eight years in prison.

In a letter to his wife he said he had been beaten. Now his plight has gone viral with online petitions calling for his release and his wife has become his voice.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: While Saeed does not have a voice to sing to his children, we each have a voice for his freedom.

(END VIDEOTAPE) TAPPER: Joining me now from Idaho is Naghmeh Abedini, the wife of Pastor Saeed Abedini. They are being represented by the American Center for Law and Justice and its executive director, Jordan Sekulow, joins me here in Washington.

Both of you thank you for being here. Naghmeh, your husband has been in this Iranian prison now for six months. He is serving an eight- year sentence. How did this happen?

NAGHMEH ABEDINI, WIFE OF JAILED PASTOR: Well, he's been back 10 times since 2009 working on an orphanage that was government approved and he was working with the government officials on it. And this time around they decided to arrest him.

It was a -- quite a bit of a surprise for us that they did arrest him. They've been cracking down on Christianity more with the revolutionary guard getting involved in the last few months.

TAPPER: What, specifically, have they charged him with?

ABEDINI: Christian gatherings and they are saying that it is a threat to the national security.

TAPPER: When was the last time you saw him or spoke to him?

ABEDINI: Last time I saw him I dropped him off at the airport in June, June 22nd, and he was supposed to be back by the end of July. And last time I spoke to him I had a few, since his arrest there were a few phone calls they allowed him to make from the prison.

Last time was -- the last time I was allowed by the government to speak to him was January 9th. It was only a few minutes and he was mainly talking to the kids and telling them how much he loved them and how much he was proud of them. So it was January 9th.

TAPPER: How are your children doing?

ABEDINI: They're struggling. They are -- it is the reality of our life, an everyday reality we're facing. It's over 180 days that he's been gone and actually he's been in prison, but even more than that that he has been gone. In June it will be a year and they miss him terribly. They cry. They ask for him. They're struggling every day.

TAPPER: Jordan, where are you in terms of working to get him free?

JORDAN SEKULOW, AMERICAN CENTER FOR LAW AND JUSTICE: Sure. We hit a major milestone last week when we got the Secretary of State John Kerry to issue a statement directly calling for Saeed's release followed by -- just the day before that the ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Council from the United States also called for Saeed to be released.

The first two really high level officials, people who weren't just responding to questions for the administration, who put these statements on the record, which was very important for the world to know and for Iran. TAPPER: Naghmeh, he has been writing you letters. I want to read one that you received a few days ago. Maybe you ask what is the secret of being so happy in such a hard situation, forgiveness and a change of attitude. When we forgive, we become free and we become messengers of peace and reconciliation and goodness.

He also talks about not receiving medical treatment for the internal bleeding that he's suffered from beatings. Are you concerned he will not survive his prison sentence?

ABEDINI: Yes, very much. Every day is a survival battle. That's why we've been fighting to get him out as soon as possible. He's already been there long enough. Over 180 days he's been in that prison, over six months and every day counts, every day that we're able to get the word out and speak out for Saeed and get him back to the U.S. and to our family.

TAPPER: You testified at a congressional hearing not long ago and no one from the state department came. Has the State Department been dragging its heels?

ABEDINI: Well, since that hearing, I've noticed more action. They've promised to do more even though I'm still not sure exactly what's being done with the diplomatic efforts, but they did promise that they would do more.

It was really great news for Secretary Kerry to speak out. His statement was very strong and it was very encouraging to get that statement from him. And whatever we are able to do I'm not sure our scope of what our government can do or through other governments, but I'm hoping that every action is being taken to get Saeed out of that prison before he loses his life there.

TAPPER: Naghmeh Abedini, Jordan Sekulow, thank you so much for sharing your story. We wish you the best of luck in your case.

In other world news, he has preached good will, humility, and service and is leading by example, but the pope went to jail today. Calm down. He went to jail to wash the feet of young prisoners, many of them Muslims and atheists on this Holy Thursday.

It's a twist on the tradition. Previous popes have chosen to wash the feet of other priests inside a roman basilica, but that doesn't square with the new pope's no frills style.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER (voice-over): Call it pope and change. Today in Rome instead of delivering mass to a packed cathedral, new Pope Francis went to prison. There he washed the feet of 12 out of nearly 50 inmates of a juvenile detention center commemorating the act of Jesus washing his disciples' feet.

The images today intended to signal how Francis is mixing things up at the Vatican by putting the poor front and center and by pursuing more modest trappings. He kicked off holy week by riding through St. Peter's Square on Palm Sunday in a pope mobile without bullet proof glass.

Popping out to greet the faithful and kiss seemingly every baby in sight. His sermons, simple and to the point, a departure from his, shall we say, more verbose predecessor, Benedict XVI.

MONSIGNOR KEVIN W. IRWIN, CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY OF AMERICA: He has a pastor's heart. In that sense he is probably more of a journeyman than he is a highly accomplished scholar. In the process we'll all get onboard with the journeyman. They make the world work.

TAPPER: Monsignor Kevin Irwin is a theology professor at the Catholic University of America and says the changes are adding up. Papal limo? No. Francis is still riding the bus. Handmade red leather shoes? Those are gone, too.

And Tuesday, Francis said no thanks to the palatial papal apartment, sticking instead to a small suite at the Vatican guest residence. Fitting for a pope who said his papacy would put the poor first.

IRWIN: At the same time I think there is a level of concern about the morally spiritual impoverishment we might experience even in the developed countries. Those are both things on his radar screen but clearly, the economically poor will be advantaged in this papacy.

TAPPER: These shifts in tone are not the end. Irwin says the new pope is poised to shake up the Vatican establishment.

IRWIN: During Easter, we all pray hard and devote ourselves to the Lord but after that act two is going to be the personnel changes he makes. I have a suspicion this is a very decisive man who will make those changes and want them to be for the best of the church but he'll do them fairly quickly.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Record crowds are expected again in Rome on Sunday for Easter services at the Vatican. We've also learned that Pope Francis will be traveling to Brazil for World Youth Day so if you thought the crowds at the Vatican were big. Just wait for the madness in July when the first Latin-American pope touches down in South America.

Arizona Senator John McCain watched a woman jump the border fence and he live tweeted the whole thing. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: The "Politics Lead," it's a fine line on the border. A new Pew Research poll shows Americans are OK with undocumented immigrants being allowed to stay, but only 43 percent support a path to citizenship.

Here to talk about it and other issues, CNN contributor and columnist for the "New York Times" Charles Blow, columnist for "The Washington Post" Emily Heil and columnist and senior contributor to the "Daily Caller," Matt Lewis. OK, first of all, let me just sat this scene with John McCain at the border tweeting that somebody, a woman has jumped the border, is one of the oddest things that happened in a long time. More importantly, can immigration reform actually happen?

EMILY HEIL, "IN THE LOOP" COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON POST": It's a really tough question and it has to do with so many things. It's a tough question to deal with, just the mechanics, the path to citizenship, the guest worker program and that is not even getting to the politics of it.

When you're talking about a House that is as conservative as this House is and a president that wants what he wants? That is a very tough kind of political bridge to cross.

TAPPER: Charles, you're not a big fan of the House Republicans. Do you think that they are willing to pass anything?

CHARLES BLOW, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I mean, you've seen some rumblings. You see more people saying, kind of saying they will do something along these lines. The question is, what you were discussing before, which is in the details. How do you actually do this?

I think when you get down to the actual details of it, it becomes a problem for a lot of people particularly because this is the House. So I'm not really -- if I'm not in a district on the border, not in a district as heavily Hispanic, then it really doesn't have anything to do with me. That's the way they see it.

TAPPER: And this guest worker program issue is not getting as much attention as it should. It really seems to be one of the big sticking points and in fact a lot of people say it's one of the reasons why it went down in 2007.

MATT LEWIS, SENIOR CONTRIBUTOR, "THE DAILY CALLER": Right. Well it's interesting because if you look, you know, the action has been on the Republican side. And then the Senate at least, you've got Marco Rubio and Rand Paul.

I mean, the two real rising stars on the Republican -- conservatives in the Senate who are open to immigration reform. But the guest worker program is very important to the business interests who fund Republican campaigns. If the Democrats take that out, that in itself could doom the bill.

TAPPER: President Obama is going to be going to Colorado, but today he accused opponents of gun control legislation to try and run out the clock.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I want to make sure every American is listening today. Less than a hundred days ago that happened and the entire country was shocked. The entire country pledged we would do something about it and this time it would be different.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Charles, I really took the president at his word after the Newtown shooting when he said that they were looking at this holistically, that it's not just gun control. They also want to talk about mental illness, violence in society.

I know that the president put out a list of recommendations, but, really, all the energy has been behind gun control. Don't you think the other things should be addressed, too?

BLOW: I think we have to look at it, but I don't think we should look at this -- I don't think we should say whatever we do now solves the problem. I believe that you have to continuously look at how guns are used in our society.

How they get into the hands of people, both the people who should have them, people who shouldn't have them, and that that is not just today and that is not just Newtown. That should be ongoing conversation about guns and it shouldn't be focused so much on mental illness.

I really chafe at that because the mentally ill are more likely to be the victims of violence than they are to be the perpetuators of violence. So we shift to that in order to not talk about guns.

TAPPER: Matt, what do you think? We're running out of time here. Can anything get through the House? Can any gun control legislation at all even if it's a compromise legislation in the Senate? Can anything get through the House?

LEWIS: I think it's possible. You know, President Obama gave that great speech at the "State of the Union." They deserve a vote. And Harry Reid, you know, not bringing up assault weapons. So I think the bigger problem is in the Senate with Democrats.

You've got these red state Democrats who are up for re-election in 2014 in places like Alaska and now South Dakota is going to be an open seat. So I'm not sure that anything grand could even pass the Senate let alone the House.

TAPPER: And very quickly, I'll let you have the last word. What is your prediction? Does anything substantive or significant get through the Senate and the House?

HEIL: Well, I think the president is right to worry about the loss of momentum. I think he is right that there is this moment in which we feel like, you know, there could be some sort of compromise, something driving that. And I think he is right to worry that moment might be slipping away.

TAPPER: All right, thank you, Charles, Emily, and Matt. Appreciate it. Wolf Blitzer, my neighbor, joins us from "THE SITUATION ROOM." Wolf, I've been launching a charm offensive against you since I became your neighbor. Is it working? WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S "THE SITUATION ROOM": The charm offensive is working. The president is continuing his charm offensive. He has called Senator Johnny Isakson, the Republican from Georgia and invited him to put together a list. Guess who is coming to dinner?

Eleven Republicans plus Johnny Isakson on April 10th, the day the president releases his budget. His charm offensive is continuing. We're going to speak to the Senator Isakson and ask him who is on the list and who is coming to dinner with the president. Jefferson Hotel, where do you think, BLT, steak, the palm? They're going to go to some place nice in Washington.

TAPPER: All right, well, I'll look forward to that in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

BLITZER: Maybe Cafe Milano.

TAPPER: Perhaps.

BLITZER: You like it very much, right?

TAPPER: I do like it. Winter is coming. If you know what meant you are probably one of the millions of Americans counting down the hours to Sunday's season premiere of "Game of Thrones" on HBO. Do you want hints on what is going to happen? My interview is coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Also in pop, forget what the calendar says. Winter is coming for "Game of Thrones" fans. Seasons three of HBO's hit series premieres this Sunday night and if you think the drama in that mythical other land had you under its spell before the show's co- creator says this season will leave you breathless.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When you play the game of thrones you win or you die.

TAPPER (voice-over): Truer words have never been spoken about the television show. If you have not yet seen "Game of Thrones," prepare to accept your fate.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bring me his head.

TAPPER: The team behind "Game of Thrones" has brought more than severed heads to HBO. Their series also delivered nearly 4 million pairs of eyes an episode last season. When it comes to the sprawling, intricately plotted series about the struggle for the fantasy kingdom, no one is safe. But I took my chances and dissected the drama with the series co-creator, David Benioff.

(on camera): What can fans expect this season? What do you have in store for them?

DAVID BENIOFF, SERIES CO-CREATOR, "GAMES OF THRONES": This is a big season of reversals and high drama and big dragons, bigger dragons.

TAPPER (voice-over): On Sunday, the hit show returns for season three with its flow chart worthy cast of characters, the Starks, the Lannisters, all of them jockeying for the iron clad throne.

For the uninitiated "Game of Thrones" is one of the most critically acclaimed and expensive shows on television exploring a medieval alternate universe where there is some magic and some make believe.

(on camera): That's what is interesting about the show is that it's not about the magic. It's about power.

BENIOFF: We always come back to power. I mean, it's about people who have power desperately trying to cling to it. People who don't have power trying to grab it and those on the fringes who are powerless, who are kind of innocent bystanders who get caught up.

TAPPER: There is a lot of sex in the show. On my flight out here, I was watching "Game of Thrones" on my iPad, and I had to turn to the woman next to me and say, if you see anything inappropriate on my iPad I'm not watching a dirty movie.

BENIOFF: I've had the same experience where I'm watching an episode that hasn't even been released yet on a laptop for editing on an airplane and realizing it's a pretty graphic scene and I find myself kind of hunching over the laptop so no one sitting near me --

TAPPER: That doesn't make it better probably for whoever is in the next seat.

BENIOFF: It probably doesn't. The books are quite sexual and graphic and in fact if we included everything from the books, we would be thrown in prison.

TAPPER (voice-over): Benioff has written novels. His first book "The 25th Hour" was made into a Spike Lee movie, his first big break. But his show "Game of Thrones" is based on the hugely popular series of novels by George R.R. Martin, five published so far and probably two more to go. Martin is still typing away.

(on camera): He has expressed concern that the series might overtake how fast he's writing these books.

BENIOFF: Yes.

TAPPER: So what are you going to do?

BENIOFF: We're hoping that, you know, George will get there in time because it's what's best for all of us obviously. We spent a week with him a few weeks ago in Santa Fe talking about how the series ends and, you know, and having these long, wonderful conversations about where all the characters are going. We want to know, even though some of the stuff won't happen for years to come, it is really important for us to know the direction of the story.

TAPPER (voice-over): The award-winning show is also the winner of this dubious distinction.

BENIOFF: We were the most illegally downloaded show in the world and one episode was illegally downloaded 4.8 million times. If we could just get 99 cents from each of those 4.8 million people how many more, all the scenes we wanted to have in season three that we couldn't have the extra scene with the dragons where we could have had one more, that big battle scene we probably could have afforded.

TAPPER: Of course, with its ever expanding cast of 27 regulars, there is not always a clear cut choice of whom to root for or root against.

(on camera): Whose the most evil character on the show?

BENIOFF: Joffrey.

TAPPER: Without question.

BENIOFF: I think so.

TAPPER: You immediately want to slap him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're talking to a king! And now I've struck a king. Did my hand --

BENIOFF: We worried about Jack walking into a bar somewhere and some drunk guy who hates Joffrey taking a swing at him for no reason.

TAPPER (voice-over): The secrets begin to unfurl once again Sunday night with some of the most shocking moments yet to come and even Benioff's biggest fan actress Amanda Peete has learned the hard way don't get too attached to any character.

(on camera): Your wife has confessed to you driving her crazy because she wants to know what's coming.

BENIOFF: Yes. She'll look over and she'll see a character get killed and she didn't know that character was going to get killed and she loses her mind.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: "Game of Thrones" even has its own death generator created by the web site "Vulture." It predicts how you would die if you were a character on the show. "Game of Thrones" is on HBO, which like CNN is part of the Time Warner family.

And now time for the "Sports Lead." It is hard to ignore the brain scans of dozens of dead players, but it looks like the NFL is still trying to distance itself from the problem of hard knocks and head trauma on the field.

According to the "New York Times," an NFL doctor asks that a mention of a degenerative brain disease known as CTE be removed from a memo to players because it still, quote, "is not fully understood."

But here is what we do know, 34 former NFL players have been diagnosed posthumously with the newly discovered disease, which doctors believe is triggered by repeated blows to the head. Just a couple weeks ago the NFL and GE announced a $60 million effort to detect and battle preventing brain injuries.

Tomorrow is the end of our second week. We want to hear from you. How is my driving? Let us know what you like. What do you think we need to work on? I'll read some of your thoughts the good and the bad tomorrow at the end of the show. E-mail us at "the lead@cnn.com."

That does it for THE LEAD today. I'll turn you over to my friend, Wolf Blitzer, who is standing by in "THE SITUATION ROOM" just a few feet away. Take it away, Wolf.