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THE SITUATION ROOM
Immigration Reform Deal In The Works; Gun Control Effort Loses Steam; Interview With Senator James Inhofe; Caroline Kennedy as Ambassador to Japan?; What GOP Voters Don't Like
Aired April 1, 2013 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Jake, thanks very much. Happening now, what seemed impossible just a little while ago is now on the fast- track in Congress. So, why are lawmakers suddenly working together on something that could change the law on who can become an American citizen?
Crude oil from Canada flowing in the streets of an Arkansas subdivision. Residents forced out of their homes. What will all this mean for the bitter debate over the Keystone Pipeline?
And a Washington suburb, get this, pays $1 million to build a bus stop. Riders say it doesn't even keep out the rain.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
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BLITZER: Right now, fundamental changes in the works here in Washington, change that will determine just who can become an American citizen. Small groups of lawmakers in both the Senate and the House, they have been working on comprehensive immigration reform, and they may introduce their plans when Congress returns from spring break.
Why is Congress suddenly cooperating on such a sensitive and important issue? Our chief Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is here in the SITUATION ROOM. She's taking a closer look at what's going on. This potentially could be historic.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It could be. And really the answer to why it's happening could be given with one figure, and that figure is 27 percent. That was Mitt Romney's record low among Latino voters in November's election. It's why Republicans are more willing than ever to get the divisive issue of illegal immigration off the table, but it's still very complex politically for the GOP.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have legislation.
BASH (voice-over): Bipartisan optimism about one of the most polarizing issues, immigration reform.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I think we've got a deal.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every major policy issue has been resolved.
BASH: Senate negotiators had already come together on some of the biggest flash points, a 13-year earned path to citizenship allowed only after specific border security measures are enacted and an employment verification system. The last piece of the complex puzzle is now in place. A low-skilled guest worker program that pleases big business, which wants more workers, and big labor, which wants to protect American jobs.
ANA AVENDANO, AFL-CIO: The beauty of this program is that it rises and falls with the economy. So, when the economy is booming, there will be more visas available for foreign workers, and when it's not, there won't be. And that's something that we've never seen in the United States before.
BASH: That's giving way to a tentative immigration agreement in relative warped speed, just four months of talks. Thanks to President Obama's unprecedented 71 percent win among Latinos. Exhibit A, Marco Rubio. He's a critical conservative member of the so-called Gang of 8 working on immigration reform.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO, (R) FLORIDA: There are 11 million human beings in this country today that are undocumented. That's not something that anyone is happy about.
BASH: But Rubio is also a rising GOP star who may be eyeing a presidential run where Republican primary voters are still reluctant to support what he's doing. A recent poll showed just 38 percent of Republicans support a path to citizenship for illegal works. It's one reason Rubio released a cautious statement saying reports of a bipartisan deal are, quote, "premature."
Sources familiar with the talks believe Rubio will ultimately support immigration reform but wants to signal a go-slow approach to conservatives traditionally wary of backroom deals. To lure other Republicans, CNN is told GOP groups in favor of immigration reform are gearing up to run more supportive ads like this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A modern economy needs modern immigration laws and Senator Graham gets that.
BASH (on-camera): But first things first. The deal still has to be turned into legislation, and that is happening as we speak. Aides to the eight senators involved are going to be working on it all week long, and their goal is to formally unveil the bipartisan immigration bill early next week, Wolf, when Congress returns from their Easter break.
But sources who I'm talking to say that we should expect this to go into the summer because of the fact that they understand that everybody out there, all of the constituencies, want to see a slower approach when it comes to studying this, when it comes to being able to amend this. That's the only way it will ultimately succeed.
BLITZER: So, there's no deal until there's a deal. And even if there's a deal, an approval in the Senate, that doesn't necessarily mean Republicans in the House of Representatives will go along with it.
BASH: Not at all. The good news, though, for people who have been working on this is that there is a proposal that has been going through a similar bipartisan group in the House and has some pretty conservative Republicans on that as well, but they have been going much slower. They much prefer to have the Senate go first.
BLITZER: Absolutely. All right. Dana, thanks very much.
This note, later this hour I'll speak about immigration, also about guns with Republican senator, James Inhofe. He's been visiting the U.S./Mexico border today in Texas. My interview with Senator Inhofe coming up.
Meanwhile, another fundamental question being hotly debated these days here in Washington, how we live as Americans a flurry of fatal shootings took place across the country Easter weekend. Near Miami, a four-year-old girl was shot dead while sitting in a parked car. In Ohio, a man was shot dead when he walked out of a church service.
In Washington State, three people were shot dead after a fight erupted outside a bar. All of this comes amid a push to control gun violence. So, how is that effort going? Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is here in THE SITUATION ROOM with an update on this sensitive issue. And it's pretty sensitive.
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it is. There's still strong resistance to any measures strengthening gun control laws in the country. The one bill that many Democrats were most optimistic about is actually a watered-down version of what they had hoped to pass right after the Sandy Hook shootings.
YELLIN (voice-over): On baseball's opening day, a quiet remembrance for the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let us all stand in a moment of silent prayer.
YELLIN: But it's all noise in Washington, D.C., where Congress has yet to act on democratic legislation intended to curb gun violence.
CAPT. MARK KELLY (RET.), AMERICANS FOR RESPONSIBLE SOLUTIONS: Any bill that does not include a universal background check is a mistake.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: This idea of private individuals transferring their weapons and having to go through a background check makes no sense.
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER, (D) NEW YORK: Each senator is going to have to make up his own or her own mind, and I respect that.
YELLIN: What happened to the fierce urgency of passing the president's gun safety legislation now? These Republicans have vowed to block a measure the administration considered most likely to pass. Introduced by Senator Harry Reid, it includes universal background checks for all gun purchases. Policy supported by 90 percent of Americans.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Shame on us if we've forgotten.
YELLIN: To keep pressure on lawmakers in Washington, the president will visit Colorado on Wednesday. He'll highlight a new background check law the state recently passed. Also this week --
WAYNE LAPIERRE, NRA: The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.
YELLIN: On Tuesday, the National Rifle Association plans to unveil its long-promised list of school safety recommendations. We're told it will include guidelines for training school security and proposals to allow armed guards on campus.
YELLIN (on-camera): And turning back to legislation here in Washington, expect a Senate gun safety bill, a vote on that, the week after next. Democrats are not certain that they have the 60 votes needed to overcome Republican opposition to that measure, Wolf.
BLITZER: Because there will be a filibuster, I suspect, even as far as back -- expanding background checks are concerned. So, here's the question, is it possible that the Democrats, the supporters of expanded gun control, will wind up with nothing?
YELLIN: Is it possible? It is possible. It would be devastating for the White House and for Democrats. At this point, what's happening is Democratic leadership is negotiating with Republicans to look for some kind of compromise that would get them over that 60-vote hurdle needed to overcome Republican opposition to the measure because it would be almost unthinkable at this point for the White House and for Democrats to get nothing on gun legislation.
Some kind of background check measure seems very likely and within reach, so they're really looking for that compromise.
BLITZER: Our chief national correspondent, John King, is here as well. Some of the critics, the president's critics, they're saying maybe he waited too long. Right after the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre there was a moment of opportunity he should have done it then instead of waiting three months.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Some will say that, but the president can offer legislation. He can propose ideas. He can't introduce it and move it through the halls of Congress. And Wolf, on this issue, the math is the math. Most Republicans are not going to be with the president and in the Senate, enough Democrats are not with the president on stricter gun controls.
But now, you do have a question, most people assume on this day, they will get some form of expanded background checks but people even say don't bet the ranch on that. Even that might not get through the Congress as for an assault weapons ban or magazine clip ban, forget about that right now. And on part of that is the Democrats.
Democrats up in 2014 don't want to do this right now. One thing that some people come up and say is the president should have called people into the White House and say, what can I get as opposed to give me this, this and this. Then he might have gotten a more robust background check that he might get in the end. But, they're debating tactics now. The math --
YELLIN: He loses either bay.
YELLIN: -- when he does it that way, they say, why didn't you put specifics on the table to begin with? And so, you know?
KING: And liberal would be mad he didn't push for the -- push for -- push the assault weapon's ban even though he's not going to get it. But on this one, this issue has not -- even despite these tragedies, not many people have changed hands, even not many people have said, I'm open to changing sides. The math is the math.
BLITZER: Let's move on to Hillary Clinton. All of a sudden, word she's about to give her first public speech since leaving the state department. Speculation on the front page of the "New York Times." What is she up to? What is she up to?
YELLIN: Well, there's a lot of excitement around Clinton always, former secretary of state. She did give one speech before to Vital Voices, a group that's very close to her heart, and she's trying to decide what she's going to do next. It's been 60 days since she left the state department, two months only.
There's about, what is it, 19 months until the midterm elections, so she does have a little bit of time to decide whether or not she's going to run for president. I think we should give her a little bit of space before we jump all over her.
KING: We're having withdrawals.
BLITZER: It's not as if she doesn't have good name recognition already.
KING: She's fine. She's fine. It's how this affects potentially affects other Democrats. Look, I talked to a couple of people today who know her well. They say these speeches this week is about where she's in her life and where she's been in her life, not about where she's going potentially in the next chapter.
She wants to talk about supporting women as she has both economically, politically and the like, and she wants to salute her longtime chief of staff and good friend. She's not going to give us any clues because I don't think she's spending a lot of time thinking about it just yet.
The only issue is, if you're Wolf Blitzer or Jessica Yellin and you're thinking about running in 2016 or you're Marin O'Malley or Andrew Cuomo or John Hickenlooper, you're calling people and you're trying to sign up activists.
And a lot of them are using this some legitimately and some as an excuse, I have to wait for Hillary. I'm not going to make a decision until then. So, it does freeze some of the other people, but it's kind of silly season. It's early.
YELLIN: Or Kirsten Gillibrand (INAUDIBLE), the two of the women who are sitting on the sidelines waiting to see if another woman is going to get in --
BLITZER: Jim Rutenburg of the "New York Times," he made the point --
YELLIN: Is he running?
BLITZER: No, he's not running, but he wrote, he said the question hovers over Hillary Clinton's every move and has frozen in place the very early, but for some potential candidates, very important presidential maneuvering on the Democratic side. Until she makes up her mind, John, a lot of these Democrats, whether the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, or others, they're really sort of paralyzed, right?
KING: Yes and no. You have to at least make the phone calls. You have to try to set up the fundraising team. And you have to take a lot of nos or at least no, not knows. Remember when Mark Warner, the now senator of Virginia, former governor of Virginia, went through this in 2007-2008, a credible candidate realized with Obama, Clinton, at that point, John Edwards, there was no oxygen in the room, but he did all the leg work before he came to that position.
They can't -- They can't wait to make the calls and try, but they're going to get a lot of can't talk to you right now, I'm waiting for Hillary.
YELLIN: And the people who are close to Hillary that I talk are avow. They insist she truly is truly undecided. She is exhausted and spent and is really focused on right now and not, you know, 33 months from now.
BLITZER: She's going to be doing some speaking. She's going to write a book about her four years at the state department, then she'll make up her mind. It will also depend not only politically but also on her health. Remember, she's going to be 69 in 2016. She did have a head injury. So, let's hope she's fine as far as her health is concerned because that will be a big factor.
YELLIN: Everyone says she's in good shape, but it's a good question. And you know what, she has longer than anyone. She can wait the longest.
BLITZER: Right. Hey, guys, thanks very much.
Up next, crude oil from Canada flowing through the streets of an Arkansas neighborhood. A terrible accident that could have consequences for the White House.
And coming up, a million dollars, yes, $1 million, for a bus stop. And riders say it doesn't even keep out the wind or the rain.
BLITZER: An urgent cleanup operation now under way after a ruptured pipeline spilled thousands of barrels of Canadian crude oil into an Arkansas suburb this weekend. There are more than 160,000 miles of pipelines crisscrossing the United States, carrying oil, gasoline, other hazardous liquids.
Another two million miles of pipelines carrying natural gas. So, what's the impact for the hotly debated Keystone XL Pipeline that would carry the same kind of oil that spilled in Arkansas. Lisa Sylvester is coming into the SITUATION ROOM. She's been looking at this story for us. And what is going on?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I can tell you that until this pipeline ruptured, many of the folks who lived there said they did not even know there was an oil pipeline near their neighborhood. We don't know the cause of the breach yet, but it is raising questions about whether the White House should move forward on another controversial new pipeline.
SYLVESTER (voice-over): Crude oil spewed out of the ExxonMobil pipeline coiling its way through a suburban neighborhood in May Flower, Arkansas. Some of it ending up at a nearby creek. But work crews were able to stop the oil from reaching Lake Conway, a popular fishing spot. But even after an around-the-clock scene of effort, a thick tar remained on residential streets. Twenty-two homes were evacuated.
CHRIS HARRELL, RESIDENT: When I got here, you could have canoed down the street there was so much oil running down through there. It was a mess. And even after they shut it off somewhere upstream, if you will, there was still a lot of oil flowing down the street.
SYLVESTER: The Environmental Protection Agency has categorized this breach as a major spill. The Pegasus Pipeline can carry more than 90,000 barrels of heavy crude oil per day from Illinois to Texas. Exxon did not put a hard estimate on the number of barrels of oils that spilled except to say it was a few thousand. The cause of the pipeline rupture is still under investigation.
KAREN TYRONE, EXXON MOBILE PIPELINE COMPANY: We are working as rapidly as possible to get this cleaned up and to get people's lives back to normal. We will allow people in when the state agrees that it is safe and appropriate for people to come back and occupy their homes again.
SYLVESTER: There are 160,000 miles of pipeline crisscrossing the United States. The Arkansas oil spill comes as President Obama is weighing whether to approve a new Keystone XL Pipeline, 1,700 miles of pipeline carrying 700,000 barrels of crude a day stretching through the country's heartland. The Keystone Pipeline carries a dense Canadian tar sands oil. Critics say this lower quality oil can corrode over time.
MAURA COWLEY, ENERGY ACTION COALITION: Keystone XL is a dirty and dangerous pipeline that's literally going to cut our country in half carrying a very dangerous fuel and it will cause runaway climate change.
SYLVESTER: Keystone proponents, however, say it would lessen U.S. dependence on oil from the Middle East, and they argue transporting oil by pipeline is far safer than by road or rail.
NICK LORIS, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: It would be equipped with 16,000 sensors that would monitor the flow of the oil so they knew if there was any abnormal activity it would shut down quickly. Not to mention that they studied all of the other risks to wildlife and vegetation and concluded this pipeline would be safe.
SYLVESTER: For the families in Arkansas, that debate might seem like a million miles away. The most immediate question on their mind? When can they return home.
SYLVESTER (on-camera): And authorities are monitoring air quality 24 hours a day now. Environmental Protection Agency is also on the scene, and you can tell why when you see these pictures. It is clear that it is going to be a while before some of those folks can return home. Exxon is putting residents up in their hotel and they are also boarding their pets. But boy, oh, boy, just looking at those pictures, Wolf, what a mess.
BLITZER: Yes. This pipeline in Arkansas was pretty old, right?
SYLVESTER: Yes. It's about 40 years old. And you know, this is part of the whole debate where do we go in terms of adding more pipeline over the years. And President Obama, it's up to him to make the decision now on Keystone.
BLITZER: Yes. The proponents of Keystone say this would be a brand-new, highly efficient pipeline, state-of-the-art, safety procedures as opposed to these old ones that might have some problems.
SYLVESTER: Well, and that's part of the whole argument, too, is that they said as the alternative, if you're going to transport it by road or transport it by rail, that this is actually a safer. But, again, environmentalists, very much oppose to Keystone.
BLITZER: Let's see what the president of the United States, he will make this decision fairly soon. Thanks very much.
Coming up, if you thought a new gun control law would be a tough sell, you were right. But you might be surprised at where some GOP senators are drawing the line.
And a hit reality show suffers a blow, leaving fans wondering what happened? Stay with us. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: The Obama administration isn't taking any chances with North Korea right now after weeks of threats from Pyongyang. Lisa Sylvester is back. she's monitoring that and some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. This tension on the Korean Peninsula is getting more intense.
SYLVESTER: Yes. Potentially, a very serious situation, Wolf. The U.S. is moving a warship and a sea-based radar platform to the waters near North Korea. The new deployments will help the U.S. keep tabs on the north especially if it tries to launch another missile. CNN has learned more deployments by the U.S. navy are possible. Pyongyang has been threatening to go on the offense for weeks. We will have much more on this important story in the next hour in the SITUATION ROOM.
Prosecutors will seek the death penalty for James Holmes. He faces 166 counts of murder and attempted murder for the shootings at a theater in Aurora, Colorado. Twelve people were killed. The trial won't begin for almost a year as the judge delayed a start until February 3rd. The Colorado has only executed one person since 1976, although, three people are now on death row.
And one of the stars of MTV's reality television show "Buck Wild" has died. Shane Gandy (ph) was found dead along with two other people in West Virginia. MTV is reporting that his uncle was another victim while the identity of the third is unknown. The three bodies were found in a truck on a dirt road. Authorities say they do not suspect foul play.
And, there is a new president in the running to win the hearts of baseball fans in Washington. William Howard Taft, or Bill, became the fifth person to join the fourth inning race at Nationals home games. Bill has a close connection to baseball. Taft is credited with starting the tradition of the ceremonial first pitch.
I was reading up on this. I think he'll inspire a lot of love and sell a lot of new merchandise.
BLITZER: Nice touch. I'm so happy. My Washington Nationals won their home opener. Your Washington Nationals, I hope, as well.
SYLVESTER: Yay! I know.
BLITZER: They did well against the Miami Marlins.
SYLVESTER: Yes. Something about today, opening day makes you want to like have a hot dog or something. A little hot dog, little popcorn, a little --
BLITZER: Stephen Strasburg was pitching great. Bryce Harper two homeruns. Very impressive.
SYLVESTER: Good stuff.
BLITZER: Let's hope it continues.
BLITZER: Thank you.
Other news we're following, a lot of the opposition to gun control is focused on the assault weapon ban, but some senators are balking at any restrictions, including even expanding background checks and they're willing to stop a bill, at least, try to, no matter what.
Also coming up, how much would you spend on what could be the fanciest bus stop in the world? One super stop outside Washington may have set the record. It's infuriating a lot of people. Your tax dollars at work right now.
BLITZER: Happening now, a million dollars. That's what you can buy in Arlington, Virginia, one bus stop. One bus stop. That's what it cost. We'll have details.
Caroline Kennedy's support for the president could lead to a prestigious position in the diplomatic corps.
And facing a crying child. The president shows off his parenting skills at the White House Easter Egg hunt. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
As momentum gathers for comprehensive immigration reform here in Washington, lawmakers are turning their attention to the border with Mexico. Four senators actually watched as a woman climbed the border fence in Arizona last week. And today, another key lawmaker has been visiting the border in Texas.
And Senator James Inhofe is joining us. He's the Republican from Oklahoma. Senator, I know you're right on the border now between Texas and Mexico. You've been studying border security in advance of comprehensive immigration reform. One of your Republican colleagues in the House, Steve King, says the U.S. should just build what he describes as a Great Wall of China along the U.S./Mexico border. Do you think that's necessary?
SEN. JAMES INHOFE (R), OKLAHOMA: No, it's not necessary. While there are places where fences actually work, a lot of places they don't work. Now, they've had tremendous success in the Arizona border, some 260 miles, I think it is, with fences. Some places don't work as well. Where I am now is closer to the Gulf. Down here, they have fences about half the distance.
That isn't the solution to the problem. You know, anytime there is a demand to get to the United States, a lot of it would be for benefits, a lot of it for food stamps and all the other things we have to offer, until that is corrected, I don't think we're ultimately going to be able to resolve the problem.
I know there's a Gang of 8, some four Democrats and four Republicans. My concern there is what they're doing on this what they call the path to legal immigration, the path to citizenship. And you know, I've been privileged, Wolf, to talk to maybe more of the naturalization ceremonies than anybody else has. And I look at these people who came over the legal way, the hard way, and I can tell you now that my heart bleeds every time I hear people talking about an easier way for illegals to become citizens.
BLITZER: Well, listen to Lindsey Graham. He's a Republican from South Carolina, one of the members of the so-called Gang of 8. He was on CNN's STATE OF THE UNION yesterday. Listen to this, Senator.
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SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I believe it will pass the house because it secures our borders, it controls who gets a job. As to the 11 million, they'll have a pathway to citizenship. But it will be earned, it will be long, and it will be hard. And I think it is fair.
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BLITZER: So if these four Republicans on this gang of 8, including Lindsey Graham and John McCain, Marco Rubio, Senator Flake from Arizona, if they're on board, would that be good enough for you?
INHOFE: Well, not necessarily, no. First of all, there are so many unknown things right now. There's no -- when they talk about a path to citizenship, they don't have any of the details. We now know that Pat Leahy wants it to go through his committee. It's going to have all of these amendments.
And so I would almost say to my good friends, the Republicans and Democrats, they don't know enough right now in terms of what they've put together. There are too many things, too many changes that could take place. There is no specific path to legal entry. And there's no specific path to citizenship. And there's not any answers in terms of the border. So it's a work in progress. That's -- I would -- a safe bet.
BLITZER: If you don't like it, will you filibuster?
INHOFE: No, I wouldn't. I wouldn't filibuster. This is not an issue I just -- you know, I'm into as much as they are. I just know that I am concerned about the citizenship. I am concerned about what is happening with those who have done it the legal way.
And I want to hear the answers to where are there going to be fences, where are there going to be detentions, what type of equipment? I'm the ranking member on Armed Services, I need to know what of our equipment is going to be necessary on any ultimate solution to the immigration problem.
I don't think we're there yet. I don't think that they have the specific answers. And for those who say that they do, they haven't gone through Pat Leahy's committee yet.
BLITZER: Speaking of filibuster, let's move on to guns and new gun control legislation that might be out there. You've indicated with a few other Republican senators you will filibuster new legislation.
But here is the key question. If that legislation only includes expanded background checks, doesn't deal with the magazines, doesn't deal with the assault-type weapons, would you still filibuster that?
INHOFE: Well, I can only speak for myself, Wolf. And the answer is, yes. Now we -- you might not have noticed, but at 5:00 in the morning last Friday, my amendment, the last amendment to the budget bill, it actually passed. We got 53 votes.
We now know in the Senate that we have 53 votes to stop any kind of effort for gun control. And also that affected the U.N. treaty on gun exchanges. And I think you're familiar with that.
So it did two things. It was pretty strong saying that we're not going to accept gun control in the United States Senate. We have 53 senators who say that right now. And as far as background checks are concerned, just look at it logically.
Anyone can get back -- you can get a weapon from someone who has a clean background all from $100 to get a weapon for you. And there is one fallacy that I see in every type of gun control. And that is there is this assumption that a criminal element somehow will obey that particular law.
And we know that is not going to be the case. I haven't seen one yet that will work. And, yes, I would be willing to filibuster.
BLITZER: A lot of your fellow Republicans, though, they're -- they look at the polls out there. There was a CBS News poll that came out the other day, asked, do you favor background checks on all potential gun buyers?
Ninety percent of the American public, according to this CBS News poll, said they favor it. Eight percent opposed it. You're under -- you're in the 8 percent. That's a small, small minority.
INHOFE: No. I do not believe I'm in the 8 percent. I can assure you I'm not in the 8 percent, certainly, in Oklahoma.
When they ask the question, do you want a background check? Sure, everybody can say yes. They don't stop and realize that the criminal element is going to be able to get guns anyway.
If you were to ask the question, now the criminal element can get guns in spite of a background check, are you still for a background check? How would they answer that, Wolf? I think they would answer it maybe 90 percent the other way.
BLITZER: But wouldn't it make it more difficult if all gun transactions required a background check? Because right now there are these huge loopholes, if you buy it at a gun show, or if you buy privately, you can -- anybody, any criminal could go out there and buy it.
INHOFE: You know, Wolf, I disagree with that. I think they can buy it anyway. The criminal element can have access to guns. And the law-abiding citizens, they're going to comply with the law.
And so, you know, I just don't believe that you can have a background check that's going to have a material diminishing effect on the availability of handguns or any other type of guns.
BLITZER: All right. A big battle coming up over...
INHOFE: This is my maybe narrow views, but I believe them.
BLITZER: I was saying, a big battle coming up over immigration reform and guns. I know you're going to be at the heart -- right in the center of both of these battles once you get back to Washington.
Senator Inhofe, safe travels back here to the nation's capital.
INHOFE: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Just ahead, your federal tax dollars helped build this million-dollar - million-dollar -- bus stop. You're going to find out who got your money, what you're getting in exchange.
Also coming up -- you're also going to find out who pops up behind this podium. An April 1st surprise at the White House.
BLITZER: Government spending may not get a whole lot more wasteful than this. Look at this, one bus stop - one bus stop -- $1 million. An eye-popping amount of money for something that usually costs a few thousand dollars at most. CNN's Rene Marsh is coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. She's got the latest on this bus stop that sounds a little bit like highway robbery. What's going on?
RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's a good way to put it. You know what? You ever wondered what a $1 million bus stop looks like? You probably have not because you probably didn't even know one existed.
But it does. You paid for it. I paid for it. The folks out there paid for it. And some call it government waste at its finest.
MARSH: A million-dollar home, million-dollar luxury car. Million-dollar bus stop?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's just outrageous.
MARSH: $1.1 million.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, OK. I'd rather have that in my pocket.
MARSH: Call this the mother of all bus stops. It cost taxpayers a busload of money. Located along busy Columbia Pike in Arlington, Virginia, and even if you don't live there, you paid for it. About $800,000 came from federal tax dollars in the form of grants.
They're saying $1 million for a bus stop. Do you understand that?
STEPHEN DEL GIUDICE, TRANSIT BUREAU CHIEF, ARLINGTON COUNTY, VIRGINIA: I understand that. We've heard that criticism, and we're going to be evaluating this stop and we'll look at ways that we might be able to save money on the future stops.
MARSH: So the million-dollar question is, how does a bus stop rack up such a high tab? The county says stainless steel, heated pavement, and heated seating. And you see this electronic board? It tells you when your next bus is coming. But not even some bus riders think it's money well spent.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is cute, but cute ain't warm, cute ain't dry.
MARSH: One transportation consultant wonders how the county could rack up such a bill during a time when cash-strapped federal and state governments are slashing budgets, jobs and overtime.
PETER ROUSSELOT, ARLINGTONIANS FOR SENSIBLE TRANSIT: The average person realizes that when you pay a million dollars for a bus stop that doesn't keep you out of the rain and wind, there's something wrong with the management.
MARSH: All right. Well, this bus stop has been up now just for 14 days, but the public outcry is so loud, plans to build 23 more are on hold. And the county says they're trying to figure out how to build the other bus stops at a cheaper price.
BLITZER: Just put up a little sign that says bus stop. You can do that pretty cheap. You don't need all of that fancy stuff, especially in a time of budget cutting the way we're going through right now. Federal -- $800,000 federal tax dollars for this silly bus stop?
MARSH: A lot of money, Wolf. And a lot of people not too happy about it at all.
BLITZER: Whoever did that should maybe be looking for some new work. That's ridiculous. All right. Thanks very much.
Her father was a president of the United States. Her uncles were senators. Her grandfather was an ambassador. And she's had cousins in Congress as well. Now Caroline Kennedy has been asked to serve her country as an ambassador. Our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty, is over at the state department looking at what's going on. Update our viewers.
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, press secretary over at the White House, Jay Carney, was asked about the Kennedy news, and all he would say is he has no personnel announcements to make. But, you know, another celebrity rumored for an ambassadorship was Anna Wintour. She's the editor-in- chief of American Vogue. But sources are now saying that she appears to be out of contention. Wolf?
BLITZER: A lot going on over here as far as diplomatic ambassadorial positions are concerned. Basically, in every administration, what, about a third of the major diplomatic posts are given to major political supporters, not career diplomats. Is that right?
DOUGHERTY: They are, and it's pretty contentious. You know, that's one of the questions, should it happen or shouldn't it?
DOUGHERTY (voice-over): In political circles, her family name is solid gold. Caroline Kennedy, the only living child of slain president, John F. Kennedy.
CAROLINE KENNEDY, DAUGHTER OF PRES. JOHN F. KENNEDY: I've never had a candidate who inspires me the way the people say that my father inspired them. But I do now, and his name is Barack Obama.
DOUGHERTY: She endorsed Barack Obama in 2008, was a national co- chairperson of his 2012 campaign. Now, according to a Democrat familiar with the discussions, he's asked her to serve as his ambassador to Japan.
The 55-year-old lawyer, mother of three, author of 10 books heads the Kennedy Presidential Library and is known for her privacy. But she's come close to running for office. Last month on CBS she was quizzed about becoming an ambassador.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you interested?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Japan? OK. All right.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you like Japan or Canada better?
I don't know. Which is closer to 57th Street where you are?
DOUGHERTY: Some career diplomats say political patronage is a bad idea.
SUSAN JOHNSON, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN FOREIGN SERVICE ASSOCIATION: The consistent and growing use of political patronage to appoint outsiders into our diplomatic service has seriously weakened our diplomatic service over time and is continuing to do so.
DOUGHERTY: And Johnson also says that, by the way, since 1980 almost 100 percent of the ambassadorships to Japan, U.S. ambassadorships, have been political appointees -- Wolf.
BLITZER: A lot of those countries they prefer to have a high- ranking political appointee as opposed to a career diplomat. They suspect that someone who was close to a president or a secretary of state will have greater influence in presenting their points of view. So there are advantages and disadvantages in this battle. I've been hearing about it for a long time going on. I suspect we'll be hearing about it a long time down the road.
Jill, thanks very much.
The White House had its own April Fools' Day joke today with a special message from not, from not the president but a president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBBIE NOVAK, "KID PRESIDENT": It looks like you were expecting somebody else. April Fools' on all of y'all. I'm kid president, and I hope everyone has an awesome day.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So that's kid president, the YouTube sensation. His viral videos have been seen millions of times. He stepped to the microphone in what the White House billed as a special message. He was also a guest at the White House Easter Egg Roll. At lot of fun. They're doing a lot of fun.
Coming up, you can't please everyone, that lesson especially applies to the GOP, which is having a lot of trouble making its members happy.
And a murder mystery in Texas where federal agents are now joining the hunt for whoever is killing prosecutors.
BLITZER: Get right to our strategy session, joining us our CNN contributor, the Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher, along with Republican strategist, Terry Holt.
Guys, thanks very much for coming in. Republicans, they're going through a difficult period right now given the loss this time, this presidential election 2008, this Gallup poll, a couple of questions among Republican voters, self-identified Republican voters. Is the party inflexible, unwilling to compromise? Twenty-six percent of Republicans said they were or they don't stand up for positions, they give in too easily, 14 percent said they were.
They seem to be of two minds right now, a lot of people in the middle, though. What's going on?
TERRY HOLT, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, it's been a party out of power. It's been a while since they've held the White House and the Republicans are going through a very public discourse about the future of the party, and who the new leadership is going to be, but I think this question is a little bit contrived in a vacuum.
If you ask Republican voters about whether or not they should compromise on taxes and spending, I think a vast majority of them would say no, there's already too much taxes and too many -- too much spending. But on immigration I think that you'd see that with more dialogue that more Republicans would be ready for more compromise. I think it has a lot more to do with what the issue is than what that general framework is for the question.
CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: But as a brand, though, I mean, when you look at that poll more broadly, the number two issue open-endedly that people came up with after that poll was also looking out too much for the wealthy. So being branded as a party that's not flexible, not compromising, and a party that's not looking too much for the wealthy, is a brand problem for the -- if you're going to be a majority again.
And particularly, I think the tax fairness debate that we've been having over the last couple of month, I don't think their party has handled that tax fairness debate very well, and I think this is part of what -- was a predicate of this problem.
HOLT: Well, I would disagree with that, but I would say that the Republican Party has to get back to main street. Main street issues, talking about how problems on main street should be affected here on Washington, D.C., and for that, I do say that we are a party that needs to really grapple with some big issues before we're going to be competitive nationally.
BLITZER: The Democrats were out of power in the White House between 2000 and 2008 as you well know. So give them some advice --
Give them some advice. How do they improve their brand, improve their game so they have a shot of winning the presidency in 2016?
BELCHER: You know, in all fairness, taking my part, look, I was one of the Dean guys who came in when Dean -- when the grassroots sort of threw out these thousand people and said no, we're going to have Dean come in and come up with the ideal, let's say, strategy which most of the insiders as you know in Washington, insiders panned. But then afterwards --
HOLT: It was a great idea.
BELCHER: When it was successful they loved it, but I would argue that they do need some of that grassroots sort of -- and shaking up Republicans --
BLITZER: The Republicans?
BELCHER: The Republican Party, and shaking up -- and shaking up some of the establishment. I think there's too many people, too many consultants getting fat at the RNC and these other Republican institutions, not enough shakeup. When Democrats were out of power, the grassroots said no, we're going to shake it up. We're going to bring in new people?
BLITZER: You like that Reince Priebus proposal that he came out with a couple of weeks ago? How to re-brand the party, if you will?
HOLT: Well, I would say that this Republican National Committee is doing a great job, and -- and honestly -- no, they are. They've re-focused on the grassroots just like you've said and ultimately our biggest mistake in the last two big election cycles is we didn't take our ground game seriously, we didn't go out and recruit new people with energy to organize in a scientific and up-to-date way.
We took the ground game for granted. In fact, we thought the economy was going to beat Barack Obama in the last election and we let -- we let the (INAUDIBLE) fallow. We need to get back to the roots of the party, which are the grassroots of this country.
BELCHER: And really quickly, though, from -- also from a brand sort of policy standpoint, there is the issue of taxes coming -- bringing us back to the issue of taxes, that was once upon a time that the key pillar of the Republican brand. That has been undermined, I think, over the last couple of years, that was -- with national security in a way that has not sort of held your brand up in a major way.
BLITZER: Guys, thanks very much. Thanks, Terry. HOLT: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Cornell, good discussion.
When we come back, the threats from North Korea, they haven't gone unnoticed by the Pentagon. The military is ready to keep a close watch on North Korea and willing to put ships right now in harm's way.
BLITZER: The White House hosted the always fun and sometimes chaotic Easter Egg Roll today inviting 30,000 visitors to the annual event. The First Lady Michelle Obama stuck to her healthy eating message, cooking pasta with the weatherman Al Roker and Chef Ann Burrell.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: Come right out to the White House and cook. How many people believe that's going to happen?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The president showed a deft touch with kids, comforting one crying 5-year-old. He had less luck at basketball. He was shooting with some pros from the Washington Wizards and didn't get much better. In all, the president only hit two of his 22 shots, but who's counting? With the beautiful weather, no one seemed to mind, or at least no one other than the president himself.