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THE SITUATION ROOM
Putting Guns in the Schools; Interview with Asa Hutchinson; No Purple Hearts For Fort Hood Victims; Background Check; GOP's Sen. Kirk Backs Same-Sex Marriage; Contest to Stop Robocalls
Aired April 2, 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 HOST: Jake, thanks very much.
Happening now, put guns in the schools to stop school shootings -- that's the controversial finding of an NRA-backed task force on school security. And we'll talk about it with its director, the former congressman, Asa Hutchinson.
Also, the Army decides against awarding Purple Hearts to the victims of the Fort Hood shooter. Former presidential candidate, Newt Gingrich, he is outraged. He's standing by.
Live this hour to discuss, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
And the phone rings during dinner and you pick it up only to hear an annoying recorded sales pitch. Now winners of a government contest may have found ways to stop those robo-calls.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
While outrage swept the nation after the Newtown, Connecticut school shootings, the NRA kept a low profile in the immediate days afterwards. But now, as the urgency to act on gun violence has seemingly faded and Congressional efforts have floundered, an NRA task force has outlined its plan for school safety.
CNN national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, is coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
You've been following what's going on. A pretty extensive plan.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN POLITICAL NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's important to note, when the NRA set up and paid for this task force, after the tragedy at Newtown, to come up with recommendations to prevent future school shootings, its initial proposal was more armed security to protect students. Now that the work of the task force is complete -- and here it is right here -- that plan hasn't changed.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA (voice-over): The plan from the NRA's task force on preventing school shootings appears to be simple -- more guns and no new gun control.
ASA HUTCHINSON, DIRECTOR, NRA-BACKED TASK FORCE: The presence of an armed security personnel in a school adds a layer of security and diminishes response time.
ACOSTA: Among its main recommendations, at least one armed guard or employee, like a teacher, per school, and an NRA program to train school personnel to use firearms. There is both a show of force as the task force released its findings surrounded by more than a dozen security guards.
HUTCHINSON: And if you go into a mall, there's security. And so there's security here at the National Press Club.
ACOSTA: And a show of support from the father of one of the children killed in the mass shooting at Newtown.
MARK MATTIOLI, FATHER OF NEWTOWN VICTIM: This is recommendations for solutions, real solutions that will make our kids safer.
ACOSTA: But there were holes in the NRA's report, such as no cost estimates for the armed personnel. Task force leader and former Republican Congressman, Asa Hutchinson, insisted while his group's findings were not influenced by the NRA, it didn't look at gun control measures pending before Congress, not even universal background checks, something supported by 90 percent of Americans, according to a recent CBS News poll -- a level of support far and above the backing for armed guards in schools.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you're independent of the NRA, why not -- why did you not consider that piece of the puzzle?
HUTCHINSON: Because our focus is on school safety and making our schools a safer environment.
ACOSTA: With the NRA digging in its heels, the White House says President Obama will keep pushing.
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He believes that that passion, that urgency still exists around the country and it still exists, you know, if not in full, then, in part, in Washington.
ACOSTA: Translation, as one top gun control advocate on Capitol Hill put it, the longer it takes, the harder it gets in Congress.
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: We can argue this and argue that and be distracted by this and that and be distracted by that and do nothing, do absolutely nothing. And I think we need to be careful with that.
(END VIDEO TAPE) ACOSTA: A leader of one gun control advocacy group called the NRA's event, quote, "ironic and hypocritical," noting the gun lobby opposes universal background checks, but supports them for school security guards.
As for President Obama, he'll be campaigning for new restrictions on firearms at events in Colorado tomorrow and Connecticut next week. He goes to the scene of the shooting at that movie theater in Aurora, Colorado tomorrow -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It seems like an uphill struggle for the president and his supporters on this issue. But clearly, he's not giving up.
ACOSTA: That's right. He's not giving up, because this would be a major political defeat for the president, were this to go down. I mean one thing that we have heard throughout this process over the last several months is something called the Newtown effect. And that effect was much stronger in the days and weeks after that tragedy. But it has obviously faded since then and the White House seems to acknowledge that, and members of Congress. They know the longer this takes, the harder it gets.
BLITZER: Jim Acosta reporting for us.
Thanks very much.
ACOSTA: You bet.
BLITZER: Joining us now, former Congressman Asa Hutchinson.
He's the director of the National School Shield task force that was established by the National Rifle Association.
Mr. Hutchinson, thanks very much for coming in.
HUTCHINSON: Good to be with you, Wolf.
BLITZER: You want -- your mission was to try to protect kids at schools. One of the proposals not included in your mission is one widely supported by the American government -- by the American public, I should say -- universal background checks.
Wouldn't that help protect kids, if there were universal background checks?
HUTCHINSON: Well, we don't know. I mean, obviously, we think it's important to make sure that firearms do not get in the hands of people who are criminals, convicted felons or adjudicated as mentally ill.
BLITZER: Isn't that a good way to check that out, is if there's background checks?
HUTCHINSON: Well, that's the purpose of background checks. And one of the issues is making sure there's enough information in the system. But the point being, that is a fair debate that's ongoing. Our mandate was to deal with the issue of inside the four walls of the classroom, the school property, for safety, because you can have your background checks, you can have all kinds of side issues or gun control will not make a difference for the safety in the classroom, because you've always got vulnerabilities there.
BLITZER: But if fewer people get access to those guns because of more thorough background checks, that would protect kids.
HUTCHINSON: Well, that's a -- that's a debatable point, first of all.
BLITZER: But why is it debatable if it's -- if you make it more difficult for mentally ill people, for criminals, for drug dealers, people who are convicted felons?
They can go to a private dealer, if you will, or a gun show and buy a weapon that can kill without any background checks.
HUTCHINSON: We're concerned about bad guys getting guns and they get guns from a whole host of places.
BLITZER: But shouldn't it be made...
HUTCHINSON: You can pass all the laws...
BLITZER: -- more difficult?
Shouldn't it be made more difficult, though?
HUTCHINSON: You can pass all the laws that you want to and you're still going to have challenges for security in the schools. And that's where we came back to safety. My mandate is to deal with the school safety issues, access controls, perimeters, locking doors, surveillance, all of these things beyond even armed security in the school. Those are the things that we looked at.
BLITZER: Because a lot of those proposals are common sense. And they make sense. And all of us were horrified at what happened in Newtown, Connecticut.
I'll put one poll up on the screen, a CBS poll, a federal law requiring background checks on all potential gun buyers. Ninety percent of the American public favor that. Only 8 percent oppose that.
What say you?
HUTCHINSON: If Congress decides that we ought to expand background checks, that is a decision that they will make.
On my task force...
BLITZER: (INAUDIBLE) that be a good idea, do you think? HUTCHINSON: -- on my task force -- on my task force, we had varied opinions on that issue, but it was not the focus of our task force. And so it's -- it's -- if you're looking at my personal opinion on background checks, I hope Congress can look at a way to do better in having good records in the NICS system, or the system that does the background checks, so that we actually have information as to who's been adjudicated mentally ill, that we can have information, better information, on convicted felons and that we make sure that when someone purchases a firearm, that it's going to someone qualified to own it. We're all for that.
As to how they work out...
BLITZER: So what I hear you saying is that you're open to expanding background checks...
BLITZER: -- personally.
HUTCHINSON: Yes. Absolutely. I'm open to expanding background checks if you can do it within a way that does not infringe upon an individual and make it hard for an individual to transfer to a friend or a neighbor, somebody that, here in Montana, and have a casual sale. We don't want to infringe upon those rights, either.
And so I'm more focused on the safety and protecting the kids in the school. I think our initiative will do that more than going down this path of passing stricter laws that somehow we pat ourselves on the back and think we've done something for safety when we haven't.
BLITZER: At the Sandy Hook Elementary School, when I was there in the immediate aftermath, Adam Lanza went in there with a high capacity weapon and he killed 26 people, 20 first graders, six educators, within 300 seconds, because he had that high capacity magazine.
Should something be done to protect kids to limit those kinds of magazines?
HUTCHINSON: No. I don't think that there's any benefit from limitations on firearms and ammunition. I think the challenge is to people who have those. And that's, again, one reason that you can look at proper background checks. But you also look at Sandy Hook -- and I was delighted that Mark Mattioli joined me, a parent who lost James at that tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. He was with us today, saying I applaud you for doing something about school safety.
And Sandy Hook parents, they wanted to make sure when this was over with that -- that they did have an armed presence in the school, so that the parents would know that children are being protected.
BLITZER: I just want to be precise.
So while you're open to some changes on background checks, you're not open, personally, to some changes on magazines?
HUTCHINSON: Well, I'm stating my personal views on that.
BLITZER: Your personal views, yes.
HUTCHINSON: I don't believe that further gun control restrictions are the answer to our challenge of violence in our society. I think the answer is, particularly when it comes to schools, to having better investment and safety. I wish Mayor Bloomberg would take his tens of millions of dollars that he's advocating in a campaign for gun control and put that money into school safety programs. I think you would make a real difference for our children's future.
BLITZER: Asa Hutchinson, a former U.S. Congressman, former DEA administrator. You've got a good resume, undersecretary of Homeland Security.
Thanks very much for coming in.
HUTCHINSON: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Up next, despite all the president's efforts, he looks unlikely to get all the gun control measures he wants.
Our own John King is standing by. We'll discuss what's going on.
And coming up also, no medals for victims of the Fort Hood massacre. Newt Gingrich -- he's here in THE SITUATION ROOM, as well, to tell us why he's so angry at the Pentagon for this decision.
BLITZER: You just heard my interview with Asa Hutchinson, whose NRA task force calls for training school personnel to carry guns.
So is that the best way to keep school kids safe?
Our chief national correspondent, John King, is here.
I was a little surprised, I don't know about you, John, to hear him say personally would support expanding background checks, knowing that the NRA doesn't support expanding background checks.
JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And we should applaud his candor for that. You had to be persistent to get to that point. He was trying to dodge the question a little bit until you asked him directly.
But remember, Wolf, it was just a few years back when Wayne Lapierre, the executive director of the NRA testified before congress. He said the NRA, the organization supported expanded background checks.
That was after Virginia Tech. That was when you had a Republican, George W. Bush in the White House and the NRA went on the record and say it would support expanded background checks. Now, the NRA says no. It says it has nothing to do with the fact that there's a Democratic president at the White House. It says that the system hasn't worked as it's been implemented.
They view it more as a database, Big Brother, keeping track of, you know, law-abiding gun owners, and they say there are kinks in the system and you can improve what we have without expanding it. So, it's an interesting question. It is the most likely thing the president wants that will be passed. Maybe not universal background checks but more robust background checks.
I recently talked to David Keen who's now the NRA president and I asked him if Republicans who support background checks were on the ballot in 2014, will you punish them? And he answered with one word. He said yes. We'll see if that changes.
BLITZER: And you know, the president, he's going to be out in Colorado tomorrow. Next week, he's going back to Connecticut. He's still pushing for something a little bit more robust than what's likely to pass if anything is going to pass the Congress.
KING: And, at the moment, many people will say the president seems to be wasting his time because he's not changing the math. Not changing the math and the conservative Republican controlled House, but most importantly, not controlling the math, changing the math in the short term in the Democratic controlled Senate. Wolf, you've got a half dozen, maybe close to 10 or 12 Democrats up in 2014 who are worried about this issue.
BLITZER: In the Senate.
KING: In the Senate. Who are from gun rights states, who know the potency of the NRA. They don't know if this new campaign by Mayor Bloomberg is going to move the numbers as much. Our own polling shows that the urgency after Newtown has dropped. Support for gun restrictions has dropped some in recent months. So, there are a lot of skittish Democrats.
They're the biggest obstacle to the president right now. Even if he could get them, he would still have some Republicans to convince. But in a way, you can't fault the president for keeping up his campaigning if he truly believes in this, because on this and other issues, he needs to prove to his own base he'll continue to fight even when the numbers aren't there.
BLITZER: If 90 percent of the American public supports universal background checks, eight percent oppose it. Why is it so difficult to get that through Congress?
KING: Welcome to special interest politics and welcome -- this is an issue, much of what we talked about as a Democrat, Republican, partisan polarization. When it comes to guns, it's more regional and it's more cultural. You were talking to Asa Hutchinson (ph). He's from Arkansas. You know, there are people in Arkansas who might agree with having armed guards at school while Mayor Bloomberg in New York would be saying, hey, that's crazy. But some of this is a partisan breakdown. Some of it is these people who, right now, say they won't go for expanded background check. They don't feel like it would hurt them back home politically. They don't feel that they will lose because of that one issue. I do think, though, that is because of that polling, because the president will keep at this.
He'll keep asking for the assault weapons ban. He'll keep asking for the big magazine clips to be banned. He's most unlikely to get either one of those, but if he keeps out there on the background checks, Eric Cantor, the majority leader in the House, the Republican House supported the Virginia law.
It's not universal, but it's more robust than we have now. That is most likely where we're going, but the president still has to worry about some democrats in the Senate and the possibility of a Republican led filibuster.
BLITZER: Asa Hutchinson, former congressman from Arkansas, I think he's going to run for governor of Arkansas next year. He's got a pretty good shot probably of getting elected.
KING: The technology advancements make it hard to argue against the background checks.
BLITZER: Yes. All right. John, thanks very much.
When we come back, a surprising new update in college basketball player, Kevin Ware's condition just two days after suffering a really gruesome injury.
Plus, the Pentagon fighting a push to award the prestigious Purple Heart to victims of the Fort Hood massacre. Former presidential candidate, Newt Gingrich, he is outraged. He's here live in the SITUATION ROOM. We'll discuss.
BLITZER: Angry mobs are storming newspaper buildings right in the heart of Baghdad. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. What's going on, Lisa?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, at least six people were injured as equipment was being stashed, workers being beat up, and files stolen. One person was even tossed off a roof. Investigators say the string of assaults which unfolded simultaneously yesterday stemmed from outrage over a story viewed as being critical toward a Shiite cleric. A spokesman for the cleric says his office had nothing to do with the attacks and condemned them.
Following up now on a story that we reported on yesterday. The Arkansas attorney general is opening an investigation into what caused last week's massive oil pipeline leak which sent thousands of barrels of heavy crude oil leaking into the city of May Flower. About two dozen homes have been evacuated at least for another several days. A wildlife rehabilitation operation is under way on site treating those animals that have been affected.
And remember this woman, the so-called New Jersey tan mom accused of child endangerment after allegedly taking her five-year-old daughter to a tanning facility? The case had inspired. A new law signed by Governor Chris Christie prohibiting minors under the age of 17 from using commercial tanning beds in the state and banning those under 14 from any spray tanning procedures. California and Vermont also banned indoor tanning by minors.
College basketball player, Kevin Ware, has been released from an Indianapolis Hospital and is back in Louisville after that gruesome leg break scene by millions on television at Sunday's NCAA tournament game against Duke. Ware underwent a two-hour surgery to repair the break. He tweeted this picture saying, "Back to my brothers I go."
Louisville, of course, made it to the final four after beating Duke Sunday and plays Wichita State Saturday in Atlanta. And who could forget those images of that leg break. So painful to watch that video.
BLITZER: Yes. But I'm really happy he's beginning the long road to recovery. We wish him obviously only the best.
SYLVESTER: And best for him team as well, Wolf.
BLITZER: We wish all four of those teams the best. Thanks very much.
Up next, the Pentagon won't give Purple Hearts to the victims of the Fort Hood massacre. Newt Gingrich is here in the SITUATION ROOM. He's going to tell us why he's so outraged about this decision.
And the former presidential candidate, he'll also talk about a potential future presidential candidate as Hillary Clinton's now returning to the spotlight.
BLITZER: Happening now, Congress pushing to award Purple Hearts to the victims of the Fort Hood Massacre. So, why is the Pentagon pushing back?
Hillary Clinton re-emerging after months out of the spotlight. Is she setting the stage for a potential presidential run?
As North Korea ramps up its threats against the United States, is it time for President Obama to pick up the phone and call its leader? Newt Gingrich is here. He's weighing in on all of that and much more.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.
The victims of the mass shooting at Fort Hood, Texas were honored as if they fell on combat. Rifle sticking up out of empty boots with helmets placed on top, but the U.S. army has decided not to award Purple Hearts to the dead and wounded in that incident, and that has families and some lawmakers outrage. CNN Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, is looking into this story for us. Chris, what's going on?
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, some people feel that, you know, calling this attack workplace violence is a real insult to the victims here. They want these victims to be treated with the same sort of combat status as those men and women who were here in the Pentagon, who were hurt and wounded when the terrorists attacked on September 11.
LAWRENCE: It's a small pin, but the fight to award it has big implications for how the U.S. defines an act of terrorism.
PVT. JOSEPH FOSTER, FT. HOOD VICTIM: as we've seen, anything is possible. We are at war.
LAWRENCE: Some in Congress want to award the Purple Heart to victims of the Fort Hood shooting in 2009. The wounded soldiers and the 12 troops killed, including a teenage private and a pregnant soldier heading home for maternity leave. The Pentagon is pushing back.
(on-camera) What is the rationale for opposing this legislation?
GEORGE LITTLE, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: We're simply saying, Chris, that our position into the state has not changed. Look, this is a matter that's pending before a court. I'm simply not going to get into it.
LAWRENCE: But CNN obtained the Pentagon position paper which does. In it, officials argue that awarding the Purple Heart would taint the case against the alleged shooter, Major Nidal Hasan, quote, "This provision will be viewed as setting the stage for a formal declaration that Major Hasan is a terrorist. Such a situation would fundamentally compromise the fairness and due process of the pending trial."
NEAL SHER, VICTIMS' ATTORNEY: That argument is total rubbish.
LAWRENCE: Neal Sher is an attorney for the victims. He says it's absurd to think that high ranking officers who make up the jury will be swayed by an award, and Sher argues Hasan is a terrorist.
SHER: As he was firing mercilessly on his victims, he was yelling "Allahu Akbar," "God Is Great.' He was getting advice from al-Awlaki who was, I believe, in Yemen.
LAWRENCE: Hasan corresponded with al Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki a dozen times in the months leading up to the incident. But the Pentagon will not call the shooting a terrorist attack.
(END VIDEOTAPE) LAWRENCE: And there is the rub. Because some would say, well look. Just let the Hasan trial finish, and after it's done, the Pentagon would be free to award the Purple Heart. But what the Pentagon is arguing is that this is not an international terrorist attack, and that is the criteria to get the Purple Heart or even be eligible.
So really, no matter what happens in this trial, Hasan would have to be found to be acting as a direct agent of al Qaeda for then these victims to be eligible for the Purple Heart, Wolf.
BLITZER: Which raises the question, Chris. If he was inspired by Anwar al-Awlaki, the al Qaeda operative who was later killed by a U.S. drone in Yemen, if he was inspired, he was coordinating if you will, some of the messages, if he was saying what he said when he was killing those individuals at Fort Hood, why isn't it a terrorist act? It looks like -- it has the feeling of a terrorist act.
LAWRENCE: To a lot of people it does. I mean, what he said, the fact that he was in contact, some of the motivations, the alleged motivations for this attack. For a lot of people, they say this is clearly motivated by terrorism, and he was clearly targeting some of the troops who were preparing to deploy over to Afghanistan.
But for some reason, the military in some parts of the Obama administration do not want to refer to it as such. That doesn't mean that the Army at some point when this does eventually go to court- martial and goes to trial, that the Army could not say that. That this isn't a closed book, so to speak. The Army could designate that at some point down the road in these court proceedings, and it could possibly open the door for this award down the line.
BLITZER: Chris Lawrence, over at the Pentagon, thanks very much.
Among those very outraged by the Pentagon's decision in this Fort Hood case is the former speaker of the House of Representatives, the former Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, who is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks very much, Mr. Speaker, for coming in.
Your blood is boiling. I've known you for a long time. You hear this, and you're very upset.
NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE & GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, look. Callista and I, as you know, made a movie on this called "America At Risk." There are two things that should just infuriate every American. This is such a sick situation. And it's sick for two different reasons.
The first the fact he's still not been tried. Somebody jumps up in a room, shoots I think it's 33 people altogether, kills most of them. He yells allahu akbar, has in his wallet "warrior of Allah." Is communicating with someone who is so dangerous, the president personally approves killing him. And we can't figure out - you know, World War II, we executed German spies in a matter of weeks. There is no question this man is guilty. None. Zero.
BLITZER: But he is innocent until he's proven guilty. He hasn't been proven guilty yet.
GINGRICH: Look, this is an act of treason against the United States.
BLITZER: But he's got to be proven guilty.
GINGRICH: So, prove it in a week. You bring in all the different witnesses, you say, did this guy shoot people?
BLITZER: There is a military court of justice. There's a system they go through.
GINGRICH: Right. And the current system is sick.
BLITZER: Hold on a second. Let me just read to you the Pentagon position paper Chris Lawrence mentioned. It says that if they were to do what you and so many others would like them to do, to declare this a terrorist act, it would undermine the prosecution of Major Nidal Hasan by materially and directly compromising Major Hasan's ability to receive a fair trial.
GINGRICH: Look, does anybody doubt he was in the room? Does anyone doubt he yelled allahu akbar? Does anyone doubt he shot all those people? We have a lawyer-driven system that is sick. And I use that word deliberately. This is a country which has to face certain problems.
We have two sicknesses here. An intellectual sickness in our national security system that doesn't want to admit this was an act of terrorism. The Army bent over backwards to pretend this was a workplace incident. This is not a workplace incident. There is no conceivable belief on the planet that this man happened to randomly snap. He had studied to do this. He had communicated with a man we later on killed who was also an American citizen. As I said, when somebody jumps up and yells allahu akbar, you probably know they don't belong to the local rotary club, and they're probably not complaining about the local garbage dump.
BLITZER: But you can complain about the system. You got to change the system you say is a bad system, the legal system. The military justice system, if you will. You got to change that.
But right now, the guys who are prosecuting him, the military JAG officers, they have to go according to the rules. And that is how they determine the rules exist.
GINGRICH: One of the ways you establish rules is the U.S. Congress passes laws. The Congress should pass a law that says if you are hurt by terrorism in the United States, it is an act of war and you get a Purple Heart. And the United States Congress ought to have serious hearings about how -- and this is even truer of our civilian system. I mean, I personally as a citizen am tired of being told that we will eventually some day maybe get around to trying somebody who you have every evidence possible is guilty. BLITZER: Well, judicial proceedings take time. All right. We'll continue this conversation. Other subjects to get to as well. Newt Gingrich is not going away. More of the interview coming up. I'll ask him also about Hillary Clinton. She is about to return to the public stage here in Washington over at the Kennedy Center tonight in a few hours.
Here is the question. Could she be getting warmed up for 2016? Also, just how seriously should the United States be taking the growing threats coming from North Korea's leader? Kim Jong-un -- I know the speaker has some thoughts on that as well.
BLITZER: Let's shift to some politics right now with the former speaker, Newt Gingrich. Do you think Hillary Clinton will run for president again?
GINGRICH: Probably. I mean, she is clearly the frontrunner of the Democratic Party. And she has this remarkable opportunity. She does one thing like tonight --
BLITZER: She'll be the Vital Voices event, which promotes women from around the world. It's a beautiful event. She goes there. She is one of the organizers of it. And she is going to be there with the vice president. Joe Biden is going to be there as well. Interesting that he showed.
GINGRICH: Well, look. Obviously he'd like to run. A lot of other candidates would like to run. But she has the unique luxury which Reagan had after '76 that she can go out about every six weeks, do one very high-profile event that feels good, and sustain a momentum while thinking things through, getting out of the Washington cycle, resting, getting ready. So I think if she wants to run, I think she is very formidible.
BLITZER: And you think she could win?
GINGRICH: Oh, yes.
BLITZER: Not just the nomination. I'm talking about the presidency.
GINGRICH: Remember, I was so sold on Hillary that I thought she'd be the nominee in 2008 up until I think mid-April. So I may not be a very good -- I've worked with her on health issues. I worked with her on national security. I think she is a very formidable, very intelligent person.
BLITZER: But you're not endorsing her.
GINGRICH: Oh, no, look. We'll try to beat her and we may be able to beat her if she's the nominee.
BLITZER: You are thinking about running again?
GINGRICH: No. No.
BLITZER: You're over that.
GINGRICH: I'm focusing on ideas.
BLITZER: Ideas are very important. Speaking of ideas, Kim Jong- un, this young leader -
GINGRICH: What a jump.
BLITZER: -- of North Korea. How do you think the Obama administration is handling all these threats coming from North Korea?
GINGRICH: Well, I think, you know -- again, I obviously have lots of complaints with the president about issues. But I think sending the B-2 bombers in a very public way, communicating unequivocally we stand by South Korea, I think so far they have been very balanced and very reasonable in their response.
Everyone needs to understand, nobody understands North Korea. The Chinese don't understand North Korea. The South Koreans don't understand North Korea. Presumably, we think he's doing this to consolidate his power inside the country. But it's a very isolated country. And we have no idea what they believe about the world.
BLITZER: What is so scary, though, and I've been to North Korea, is that one miscalculation, you've got a million North Korean troops just north of the DMZ. Seoul, huge city with millions - just, what, 30 miles below the DMZ -
GINGRICH: It's clearly within artillery range, and the devastation in the first hours of the war would be horrendous.
BLITZER: Does it make sense -- and I know we're all laughing about Dennis Rodman -- for the president to send a high-level envoy to reach out to call Kim Jong-un to try to ease this crisis right now?
GINGRICH: I think, I wouldn't do it at the presidential level but I do think it makes sense. I've talked to Franklin Graham, who's had -
BLITZER: He's been to North Korea several times.
GINGRICH: He has done a lot to help feed North Koreans who are starving. He believes there are lower level things -- and actually the basketball is one of the things that actually breaks through culturally. I mean, Dennis Rodman might not have been your first choice, but that trying to reach them on levels that aren't directly diplomatic and starting a conversation may be the right way to begin to get them beyond their current state.
BLITZER: Michael Jordan was their first choice. He wasn't willing to go, so they settled for Dennis Rodman.
GINGRICH: The president is pretty close to Michael Jordan. Maybe he should ask him to go over. BLITZER: See if Michael Jordan can make peace. Who knows? Mr. Speaker, thanks for coming in.
GINGRICH: Good to be with you.
BLITZER: Coming up, another Republican senator endorsing same-sex marriage. What is behind his powerful statement? Stay with us.
BLITZER: All right. This just coming in. You heard Asa Hutchinson, the former Republican congressman from Arkansas who heads the NRA-backed task force on school safety, raise some eyebrows when he told me just a little while ago that he personally would support expanding background checks for gun purchases. Listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ASA HUTCHINSON, DIRECTOR, NRA-BACKED TASK FORCE: We make sure that when someone purchases a firearm that it's going to someone that's qualified to own it. We're all for that. As to how --
BLITZER: What I hear you're saying is that you're open to expanding background checks personally.
HUTCHINSON: Yes. Absolutely. I am open to expanding background checks if you can do it within in a way that does not infringe upon an individual.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. That is what Asa Hutchinson just said. We're just getting a statement in from a spokesman for the NRA saying that Asa Hutchinson was not speaking for the NRA. He meant expanding it to include more people into the National Instant Check System.
Asa Hutchinson, when he said he's for expanding background checks, he made it clear that those were his personal views, not speaking for the NRA. Just want to update you on that.
But let's discuss what's going on a little bit more. Ari Fleischer is joining us, the former Bush press secretary. Also Donna Brazile, the Democratic strategist. Both CNN contributors.
What do you make of this whole issue of expanding background checks? Ari, first to you.
ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER BUSH PRESS SECRETARY: Well, it all depends on the whens and the wheres and the hows. You know, if you're talking about a grandfather's right to give a rifle or a gun to his grandson, you want to do a background check on the family, I don't think anybody is going to go for that. If you're talking about some gun show loopholes that would allow for a broader check I think people are trying to figure out a way to be for that and it looks pretty good to do that.
But I think what he said is very subject to interpretation without knowing exactly what he was referring to. By what it would -- what it was he would personally support as an expansion. It's very hard to judge what he had on his mind.
BLITZER: And he certainly did make it clear that these were his personal views not speaking for the NRA.
It looks like the proponents of major gun control, Donna, are going to be in for a disappointment because some of the major proposals are going down.
DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Wolf, I wouldn't -- I wouldn't, you know, basically say that those proposals are going down. This is a major fight. The gun industry is very well financed. They're putting a lot of money out there right now to lobby against these commonsense, sensible gun proposals. So I wouldn't, you know, basically say that these proposals will go down.
There will be a debate. There will be a conversation. And let's hope that Harry Reid is able to corral a vote and not just pay attention to those five senators that would like to filibuster the whole thing.
BLITZER: All right. Let's move on to a dramatic endorsement of same-sex marriage, this one from a Senate Republican. Mark Kirk of Illinois becoming the second Republican senator to take that stand. A social moderate he recently made a dramatic return to Capitol Hill after spending a year recovering from a stroke.
And that helped prompt this powerful statement in which he says, and I'm quoting him now, "When I climbed the Capitol steps in January, I promised myself that I would return to the Senate with an open mind and greater respect for others. Same-sex couples should have the right to civil marriage. Our time on this earth is limited. I know that better than most. Life comes down to who you love and who loves you back. Government has no place in the middle."
Last month Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, another social conservative, announced his support for same-sex marriage, saying he was swayed on the issue by his gay son. Forty-eight of 55 Democratic senators have endorsed same-sex marriage.
Ari, do you think more Republicans are going to follow these other two Republican senators' lead?
FLEISCHER: Only slowly, Wolf. This is an issue that -- I got involved in this when I was working on that report for the Republican National Committee on the future of the Republican party. And one of the most interesting discoveries made was there is a real generational split among Republicans about issues involving gay marriage. You really have a large part of the base that is fundamentally opposed to it. And you have then a growing younger group of conservatives who are much more libertarian, much more laissez-faire. We're fine with it. They're open to it. They're OK. It doesn't matter to them. And that's going to be a split that will play itself out over time in Republican circles. I don't think in the immediate short term you're going to see a lot of switches other than for personal reasons, as Senator Portman did, or for Senator Kirk in this instance.
But, you know, it also does show that when it comes to what Republicans like to believe about themselves, and we say we're a big pent, it proves that we are a big tent. There is room in the Republican Party for viewpoints on both sides of this issue. And I think, frankly, the future is changing underneath Republican feet on the issue. But there is a generational split. And a split among Republicans.
BLITZER: There are at least seven -- I think there are seven Democratic senators, Donna, who still have not endorsed same-sex marriage. I'll put their names up on the screen so our viewers can see them and their pictures. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Bill Nelson of Florida, Tim Johnson of South Dakota.
What do you think? Are they going to start turning around pretty soon as well?
BRAZILE: We'll see, Wolf. Look, we've seen so much evolution on this issue. This is the first major civil rights issue where I've seen the public shift, you know, its own opinion over the last seven, eight years. Eight Democrats came onboard over the last seven days. Yesterday, Tom Harper -- Carper from Delaware, Mr. Casey from Pennsylvania two days ago. So we'll see how they will evolve over the next couple of days, weeks, months, years. We'll see.
BLITZER: Donna, Ari, guys, thanks very much for coming in.
At the top of the hour, if push comes to shove with North Korea, the biggest danger right now is not necessarily a nuclear conflict. We're going to show you what a war could look like.
Also coming up, how to stop those annoying robocalls. The government pays the public to come up with some ideas and it may, repeat, may have found an answer.
BLITZER: There are a few things a lot more annoying than that dinnertime phone call. You pick up the receiver, you hear a pause, a click and then a recorded sales pitch that starts something like this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hello, this is Rachel at Card Holder Services calling in reference to your current credit card account.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Now the government has come up with a new way to try to end those annoying calls by picking the brains of the American public.
CNN's Rene Marsh has got the details. What are you learning -- Rene?
RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: All right, Wolf. Well, we all know those calls can drive you crazy. Without fail, they come at the most inconvenient times. Robocalls, selling you something that you don't want. And many times, they're scams to rip you off. The problem just will not go away. So the Federal Trade Commission launched a contest looking for the best ideas to put an end to these calls.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hello, this is Rachel.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd be delighted if I never heard those pre- recorded voices again.
MARSH (voice-over): Ask anyone and they'll agree, life without that national nuisance we know as robocalls has a nice ring to it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you don't solicit then, why should they be calling you?
CHARLES HARDWOOD, FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION: It's illegal for companies to use any sort of pre-recorded device to place calls to consumers without expressed written authorization.
MARSH: But cutting off those illegal robocalls is a tough task.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are no problems currently with your account.
MARSH: Lucky that Long Island software developer Aaron Foss was up to the challenge.
AARON FOSS, SOFTWARE DEVELOPER: I like to think of it as a mute button for robocalls.
MARSH: He was one of nearly 800 people who entered the FTC's robocall contest, a search for the best new ideas on stopping the calls for good. Foss and one other challenger split the $50,000 prize.
(On camera): You have this great technology, pitch it to the FTC. Let's try it out.
FOSS: So you're the robocaller and I'm the family that has -- sitting down for dinner.
MARSH (voice-over): All calls are routed to a secondary line. That line we dubbed humans from robocallers. It hangs up on pre- recorded messages before the phone even rings. But allows real callers through. Acting as the robocaller, I dialed Foss' number.
FOSS: Hello, you are not a robocaller.
MARSH: Software analyzes calls and their frequency and when there's a red flag there's a test.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're a robocaller. Just enter the number 358. I'm sorry, that is incorrect. Your number has been blacklisted.
MARSH: Foss is now waiting for a company to come calling, ready to put his idea on the market. In the meantime --
(On camera): What do you want to say to the robocallers?
FOSS: Watch out, we're coming for you.
MARSH: All right. Well, the Federal Trade Commission says they get about 200,000 complaints about robocalls every month. The do-not- call registry, it only works to a certain extent. Legitimate telemarketers obey it, but robocalls, usually fraudulent, do not -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Good advice, Rene. Thanks very much.
Meanwhile, lots of star power on this day here in Washington. The first lady, Michelle Obama, getting a little star-struck herself welcoming Harrison Ford and the cast of the new film "42" to the White House.
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MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: I want to thank Harrison Ford. I wanted to say that for a while.
Harrison Ford. So you think you trip because I'm here? I'm tripping out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The film, slated to open next week, tells the ground- breaking story, life story of Jackie Robinson, the first African- American to play Major League Baseball. Also at the event, students from across the country. Mrs. Obama had a special message for them.
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OBAMA: You will be something great. Don't know what it is. I still don't know what I'm going to do with my life.
(END VIDEO CLIP)