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Pope Embraces Disabled Boy; Kevin Ware: "A Minor Setback"; NRA's Plan to Protect Schools; Gun Debate Exposes Differences in U.S.; Wounded Warriors Take Soldier Ride; New York State Senator and Others Arrested

Aired April 2, 2013 - 10:30   ET



CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for being with me today. If this story does not move you, I don't know what will. Wolf Blitzer spoke to the mother of a disabled boy whose embrace with Pope Francis on Easter captured the heart of millions. Check it out.


WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S "THE SITUATION ROOM": It's not every day, Christiana, that someone's son gets kissed by the pope. What was that moment like for you and for Dominic especially for Dominic?

CHRISTIANA GONDREAU, SON, DOMINIC, KISSED BY POPE FRANCIS: You know, it was really moving, and he was -- it was really moving. Dominic is a people person, but I think he understood that that was exceptionally special. I think you can see that in the pictures and in the video.

Because he broke out in a huge smile and wrapped his arm around the pope, which was very moving as a mother and for my family to see that. It was a very beautiful moment. Even for the people around because there was not a dry eye around us. It was really, really moving.

BLITZER: We saw his arm around him, and we did see that huge, big, beautiful smile come from Dominic's face. That was very, very powerful. Did you have any idea that that might happen when you went there yesterday?

GONDREAU: No. Actually, I didn't even know if we were going to get seating because we left a lot later than we expected. I have four other children, and so when we got to the campus it was packed. Really at my older children's bidding, we sent my husband out scouting to see if we could get in.

And we found the entrance, and then were told we had to be separated. That only one person could go in. And normally it would have been my husband, but for whatever reason that time he said, "Why don't you go in." So I went in. Not in a million years really did I expect to end the Easter Sunday mass with a kiss from the Pope. It was very beautiful.

BLITZER: It was very beautiful. You know, I read a really lovely article that your husband, Paul, wrote. He's a professor of theology at Providence College. In that article, he says, a woman in the Square was so moved by the embrace that she said, and I'm quoting now, "Your son is here to show people how to love."

What does that mean to you?

GONDREAU: You know, actually, this past month that's exactly what I've been thinking about. Trying to understand -- trying to understand what Dominic's role is in this world. And you don't ever plan to have a special child like Dominic, but he has moved so many people that I was in that place thinking what is he here for? And that is what I had come to realize.

And for her to actually verbally say it out, she literally sort of yelled it out to me after -- after he got kissed by the Pope. It was just -- it was exceptionally moving and exceptionally touching to get that so completely reaffirmed. Because he -- Dominic really is, he really is a beautiful child. And -- and if you ever get caught by the gaze in his eyes, that's it. You're a goner.


COSTELLO: I can certainly understand that. That's terrific.

Another mother talking about her son this morning. Louisville player Kevin Ware, the guard, shattered his leg in Sunday's NCAA game before being wheeled off the court during that game with Duke. And he called on his teammates to win the game. He was inspirational. Louisville, of course, did they advance to the final four.

Whereas mom, she's not surprised. She believes in her son.


LISA JUNIOR, KEVIN WARE'S MOTHER: He's not so much focusing on what happened, but he's focusing on (INAUDIBLE). He still wants to be there to support his team. And he's in great spirits. Oh, my God, you know -- just devastated that I couldn't be there. So I had to wait for, you know, an update as to how he was doing, where he was going, what actually happened, what's going to take place now. And the team was very responsive, very quickly, you know.

They pretty much updated us all and assured us that he was getting the best care. And that he would be fine. And I had no doubt.

He didn't say hello. He didn't say anything. All he said was, "I need you to calm down," and he kept saying that. And then him saying that it made me do that. I mean he knew that I would be devastated about what happened and not being able it help him in any way. But he was OK, and him being OK helped me be OK.


COSTELLO: Ware is expected to leave an Indianapolis hospital later today, two days after surgery. He plans to be on the bench when Louisville takes on Wichita State on Saturday right here in Atlanta. A nation at odds on the gun control debate. Now the NRA is poised to jump back into the public discussion unveiling its proposal to put an armed guard in every school in America. We'll talk about its plan next.


COSTELLO: In a few minutes, the NRA will roll out its plan to put armed guards in every public school in America. For months the NRA has been working on what it calls the National School Shield Program. Presumably included in that plan how to pay for it and it will also include legislative ideas for Congress.

Here to talk about that and more John Avlon, a CNN Contributor and senior political columnist for the "Daily Beast" and Amy Kremer, chairwoman of the Tea Party Express. Welcome to both of you.



COSTELLO: So should we expect anything unexpected from the NRA later morning, John?

AVLON: I think we're probably going to get rick rolled again. Look you know the NRA has been pretty clear in the wake of the Newtown shooting that they want as little to do with reasonable restrictions as possible. Now that is their brief. That is their special interest. But it's actually a departure from the NRA has been in the past when they supported gun-free school zones, when they supported some background checks.

So no I'm not expecting anything new except arming more teachers and guards in schools. It didn't work in Columbine but that reality check might not matter.

COSTELLO: Amy, it seems that everybody's firmly in their camp on this issue. The NRA's plan will be unveiled at the town of Nelson, Georgia, passes a law requiring everybody in that town to own a gun. And Connecticut lawmakers, they're poised to pass some of the most restrictive gun laws in the nation.

What does that say to you, Amy?

KREMER: Well I think everybody is in their camp. And I don't expect anything unusual from the NRA today. They told us what they wanted to do in December and that's exactly what they're going do.

But look Carol I mean, we've seen this, and I think Wayne LaPierre said himself that, you know, what stops a bad man with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

And we saw it in Newtown, there was a shooting here in Atlanta in December after Newtown. And again it was an armed guard that went in. So I think that it's a good plan and it doesn't infringe on our Constitutional rights. And if it doesn't infringe upon our Constitutional rights, then why not support it?

The bottom is that you can pass all the laws you want to about gun you know about legislation dealing with gun control, but criminals don't obey laws. They're going to get the guns regardless.

And so I don't know what we're going to do to stop that.

AVLON: Yes I do, actually. There are plenty of proposals on what you can do. One thing you could do is crack down on gun trafficking. One thing you can do is universal background checks, which 89 percent of Republicans support. There are things we can do. We can reason together, reasonable restrictions Justice Scalia made clear in the Heller decision it's absolutely constitutional with the purview of the Constitution.

We have regressed on this issue. Ronald Reagan supported an assault weapons ban. So this issue we have regressed as a country in the debate. The idea that we can't do anything is a fiction.

COSTELLO: Well let's talk about the regression. Because we have regressed on the issue. There seems to be no compromise at all. I mean you're either -- and it seems to be rural against urban America, right?

AVLON: That's right.

KREMER: In more rural places --

AVLON: That's a great point.

COSTELLO: They're not for gun control of any kind. And in urban places, they are. The two sides just simply can't understand the other. When did that happen, Amy?

KREMER: Well this is the thing. Here we are after Newtown, and I remember, you know, doing press. And we talked about that we needed to talk more about the mental health issue. But now here we are back again talking about, you know, legislation for gun control.

I mean, we need to talk about other things. We have a constitutional right to bear arms and that's why you've seen these senators, it started out with three that were going to filibuster the legislation. Now two more -- two more United States Senators have said that they will join the filibuster, and they have the support of their constituents in their states.

COSTELLO: Although -- although, Mark Kelly would disagree with you and the senators that Amy's talking about -- Ted Cruz, Rand Paul.


COSTELLO: And Mike Lee -- let's listen to what Mark Kelly said he's the husband of the former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords about that filibuster issue. Let' listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MARK KELLY, GUN CONTROL ADVODATE: It certainly is doable. And you know to the senators that are planning on filibustering the bill, they should recognize that, for instance, like Senator Rubio in Florida, 94 percent of his constituents support a universal background check. In Kentucky, you know, where Rand Paul is a senator, it's over 80 percent.

So you know, I think when -- when members of Congress don't listen to their constituents, ultimately there are consequences for that.


COSTELLO: So John, if what Mark says is true, what are they going to filibuster?

AVLON: I think it's -- there's a good reaction to Rand Paul's I think heroic filibuster regarding drones earlier. And they are trying to run the same play but there is a huge risk of backlash for exactly the reason that Mark Kelly said. This is something -- universal background checks is something that 89 percent of Republicans support. And the idea that it is tantamount to an assault on the Second Amendment is simply fear mongering. It is nothing more than that. It is absolutely within the purview of reasonable restrictions and a debate we can and should have as a country.

So simply trying to say that every single reasonable restriction which Justice Scalia said is a part of the debate we can have with the country consistent with the Second Amendment is itself an assault on the Second Amendment, it doesn't pass the truth test. And there will be a backlash.

COSTELLO: OK last word, Amy.

KREMER: Well I mean, I don't think there will be a backlash. Like I said, I think these senators have the support of their constituents and other Americans all across this country. It comes down to criminals do not respect laws. We already have background checks.

And I mean, Senator Feinstein has said if she could ban all guns she would at one point. This is ridiculous. Yes we need to protect our children when they're in school.


AVLON: Yes this is a ridiculous argument you're making, with all due respect too.

KREMER: We need to protect our children when they are in school. And you know what; it should be up to the schools and the parents if they want to have armed guards there. And the NRA is coming out with a plan today and I think we need to wait and see what's in the plan. Let them put it out there, and then let's debate it.

AVLON: Absolutely. All of the above.

COSTELLO: And we certainly will. John Avlon, Amy Kremer, thanks so much for taking part in our conversation this morning.

KREMER: Thanks.

COSTELLO: Claims of juror misconducts could derail Jodi Arias' murder trial. We've got all the details for you coming up.


COSTELLO: "Talk Back" question has to do with guns. Just heard our previous discussion. The question for you this morning, "Will America ever come together on guns?"

Here's what you think.

This from Jennifer, "Feels more like an Israeli/Palestinian issue to me. Both sides feel like they have capitulated too much already. It's hopeless. In the meantime, the body count keeps rising."

This from Flixking -- that's a tweet, "Come together on guns? Sure, right after civil rights, voter rights, abortion, economy, et cetera. America isn't together on anything."

This from Abraham, "America will never come together on guns. The U.S. republic is assured freedom by the force of arms. It's tyranny's counterbalance."

And this from Gregory, "Guns are like gay marriage, if you don't want one, don't get one. Stop trying to pass laws that take away rights from honest citizens."

Please keep the conversation going, or tweet me @CarolCNN.

At 45 minutes past the hour, time to check our top stories -- it could be several more days before some Arkansas families are allowed to go back to their homes as crews continue to clean up a big oil spill. Those families have been displaced since the pipeline ruptured in their neighborhood on Friday. It's left oil flowing through the streets and into their yards.

Jodi Arias' defense team is seeking a mistrial over juror misconduct in her murder trial. Her attorneys say Juror number five is, quote, "unfit to continue as a juror". The defense claims the female juror made comments in front of others during a sealed hearing last Thursday and say those comments make her impartial and unfit to continue.

After just two seasons at Florida Gulf Coast University, basketball coach Andy Enfield is heading to USC. His 15th seeded Eagles made that crazy sweet 16 run with a high-flying wide-open style and that certainly appealed to Southern Cal. They snapped up the 43-year-old coach. He'll go from making $157,000 a year to a six-figure -- a six- year deal, rather that's worth reportedly over $1 million a year.

A stretch of I-75 in South Florida reopened this morning after being closed twice in two days because of heavy smoke. The affected area was a 78-mile section of Alligator Alley. Smoke came from a brush fire in the big Cypress National Preserve.

Wounded veterans get to rehab outside the hospital and bond with their comrades, too. Coming up next, we'll talk with one of the organizers of Soldier Ride.


COSTELLO: You've probably heard of the Wounded Warrior Project helping vets in their recovery from battle wounds. But you may not know about the project's Soldier Ride. The ride takes place in cities around the country, actually around the world. One of the -- it's not a competition, it's just a race. And it's not a race either, it's just a bike ride.

It was just held in the Atlanta area last Saturday. Wounded vets not only get a day of physical activity but they get a chance to bond as well.

I talked with Nick Kraus from the Wounded Warrior Project about Soldier Ride.


COSTELLO: So I hear, Nick, that this whole idea about this ride and Wounded Warriors started in a bar over drinks.

NICK KRAUS, WOUNDED WARRIOR PROJECT: Yes. Yes, it did. Steve talked (INAUDIBLE) New York in 2003, we started talking about --

COSTELLO: So how did the conversation go? You're drinking a couple of beers? I mean what happened?

KRAUS: Well, we'd been doing concerts for some wounded warriors that we heard about on Long Island, we wanted to help out. We were doing a concert that wasn't signed very well. One of the bartenders Chris Carney said, well, why not ride a bicycle across the country. We had another beer and we agreed that he would do that.

We said we rode across, I was in a car, he was on his bicycle. But he set up a little booth that night at the concert that we did in (INAUDIBLE), and we collected a lot of money. I said, now you have to do it because I don't know how to return the money. And so he did.

And then along the way we met some wounded warriors in Colorado that heard about us, Keith Calhoun (ph) and Ryan Kelly (ph), one leg between them. They said, we want to ride with you. And they rode with us that day and we realized, wait, why is a bartender doing something called "Soldier Ride"?

And one thing led to another. They said, we want to ride all the way across the country with you next year. We said, this was a one-time thing. But how could you say no to these guys?

So the next year we set up a relay with them and Chris and other warriors joining the stops on the way. And it's become a great rehabilitative program now across the United States. COSTELLO: Well, let me ask you then. What appeals -- I mean disabilities of every kind right, with the wounded warriors --

KRAUS: Sure.

COSTELLO: -- what appeals to wounded warriors about this particular ride?

KRUAS: Well, basically we originally started modeling these trips after what we would do on vacation and then add the bicycle riding. Now, of course as we've grown as an organization with the help and things we need to keep in mind, you know, it's just a fun trip. Everybody gets to bond. And you -- you're able to do rehabilitative exercising without being in the hospital on a treadmill, for instance, or on a stand-up cycle. You can just go out and whatever it is we need, we have the adaptive equipment to fit that. So spinal injury, you're on a trike. If you're missing a limb, we have the adaptive equipment for it. If you have balance issues, anything we can overcome.

COSTELLO: And you were telling me before some of these wounded warriors haven't been out of the house in four years. I mean, this enables them to -- I mean it just boggles my mind, it makes me really sad.

KRAUS: Yes, well, you get some folks that definitely, you know, they've been through a very traumatic experience. And these are the invisible wounds. And so just getting them out over the course of a weekend to do something other than going to a doctor's visit or VA and to be with people that are in a similar situation, to acclimate, it's incredible.

And the impact -- I looked at the surveys, you know, blind surveys from people's experience on these trips and also some of our odysseys and other trips that we do, experiences that we offer in the programs, and it's just amazing. If you can get someone to sign up and do these events with us, the difference is unbelievable. Everything's at a high 90 percent in terms of people saying this has made a big impact on me.

COSTELLO: Not just physically, but I would assume emotionally, psychologically.

KRAUS: Almost more in those positions, yes because obviously the physical part's there, and we hope that they continue with their cycling. But over the course of a weekend, you can see it. You can see when they show up to the bike fitting. And by the time the trip's over, you know, high fiving people on the bus. The guy that wasn't talking the first day is giving someone a hard time. The impact is incredible.

COSTELLO: OK. So how can we donate? How can we help?

KRAUS: Well, go to our Web site, and you can find different ways to help or make a contribution and different ways support. There's something for everybody to do. COSTELLO: Nick Kraus, thank you so much for being with us today.

KRAUS: Thank you.


COSTELLO: And for running such a terrific program, too.

We want to get this bit of news to you before we take a break. In New York, a state senator is under arrest along with some other elected officials. The FBI says Malcolm Smith is a Democrat was offering bribes to Republican leaders in the hopes of getting on the GOP ballot for the upcoming mayor's race presumably in New York City.

CNN's Mary Snow joins us from New York. This is a strange story.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It certainly is, Carol. And a shocking one. We're about to hear from the U.S. Attorney in the southern district in just a few minutes. But he said in a statement that these federal corruption charges demonstrate a "show me the money culture" seems to pervade every level of New York's government.

As you mentioned, six officials arrested by FBI agents early this morning, including a prominent state lawmaker, state Democratic lawmaker named Malcolm Smith. He's a state senator. He had been at one time the president of the state senate. And in a 28-page complaint, he is accused of coming up with a game plan of trying to fix his way into the New York City's mayoral race next year as a Republican candidate.

This complaint alleges that there were promises of payoffs to other officials to try and secure a spot in exchange for using his influence as a state senator for a project in upstate New York. Now, these officials are expected in court later this afternoon. Smith's attorney told us that he steadfastly denies the allegations in this complaint -- Carol.

COSTELLO: All right. I'm going to let you go because I know you have to get into the courtroom to listen to the proceedings. Mary Snow, reporting live from New York City this morning. We'll be right back.


COSTELLO: I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for joining me today. Thanks for partaking in "Talk Back". I appreciate it.

CNN NEWSROOM continues right now.