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Passionate Plea, Critical Week for Gun Control; "There Was No Keeping Her Down"; Beyonce and Jay-Z Vacation in Cuba; Obama Pushing for Tougher Gun Laws In Live Speech

Aired April 8, 2013 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, President Obama making what's expected to be a very emotional push for gun control this hour, not far from, the scene of the Newtown, Connecticut school massacre.

Also, the parents of a young American diplomat killed in Afghanistan talk to me this hour about how their daughter died doing what she loved so much.

Plus, why some members of Congress want Beyonce's vacation with Jay-Z investigated.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


It's hallowed ground, but it's also a rallying cry in the push for new gun control legislation. This hour, President Obama is not far from the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. He's meeting with families of some of the 26 students and teachers killed in that horrific mass shooting in December. And later this hour, the president will make what his aides are describing as an emotional push for stronger gun control laws, an issue that the U.S. Senate will take up in the coming days.

Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is here in THE SITUATION ROOM, getting ready to begin our coverage. This is a pivotal week as far as gun control initiatives and the Senate are concerned.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And when the president speaks, he's going to be introduced by the mother of a Sandy Hook victim who is helping -- who has helped to push through some of Connecticut's tough new gun safety laws. The president's press secretary called gun safety legislation a top White House priority and says for the president, this is an issue he just won't let up on.


YELLIN (voice-over): Calling gun safety legislation a top White House priority, the president's press secretary implored Congress to act on the memory of the Sandy Hook victims.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: For those families, and for everyone in that community, and for so many people across America, those memories will never fade. The pain will never go away.

YELLIN: Then the president headed to Hartford, Connecticut, where he will meet with families of those victims and highlight Connecticut's new gun safety laws, which require background checks for all gun sales, limit the size of ammunition magazines to no more than 10 rounds and expand the state's list of banned so-called assault weapons, among other measures.

It's the start of a week of events focused on pressing Congress to pass new gun safety legislation. Tomorrow, Vice President Biden and Attorney General Holder will address the issue at the White House. And on Wednesday, the first lady in Chicago, a city ravaged by gun violence.

This is the president's first trip back to Connecticut since the Sandy Hook memorial, when he vowed...

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In the coming weeks, I'll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this.

YELLIN: Four months have passed. In that time, only four states have passed new gun safety measures. Mr. Obama has signed 23 executive actions, but Congress has not moved.

Now some Republicans are vowing to block the most moderate gun safety measure, which would make background checks universal.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: Ninety percent of Americans believe we should do something. And I get a letter from a group of Republicans saying don't touch it, we don't want anything to do with it. That flies in the face of what 90 percent of Americans want.


YELLIN: Eleven families of the Newtown victims will be flying back to Washington, DC with the president on Air Force One. They plan to spend the next two days here in Washington lobbying members of the U.S. Senate -- both Republicans and Democrats -- to pass gun safety legislation. And they'll be doing it very publicly, talking to the media along the way, Wolf.

It's part of this ongoing pressure campaign to try to shame lawmakers into passing some sort of gun safety legislation.

BLITZER: We're going to continue this conversation right now.

Jessica, don't go too far away. You can't, you're sitting here.



GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't think so. BLITZER: -- Dana Bash is here. Gloria Borger is here, as well -- Dana, up on the Hill, two key senators, they're trying to get something done right now.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And, you know, CNN has learned that what is being discussed with the lead bipartisan negotiations are about expanding background checks.

But it falls short of the universal background checks that President Obama called for.

Pat Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, who has a very good rating with NRA; Joe Manchin, Democrat from West Virginia, also a very good rating; what they have been in discussions about over the past few days, I'm told from sources close to these talks, is expanding background checks, which is now required just at places where you can buy them, at stores, gun stores, to gun shows. So it would close the gun show loophole and also expand it to Internet sales.

What it would not do is expand it universally. So if you, Wolf Blitzer, wanted to sell me a gun, you know, sort of privately, you would not we would not need -- we would not need background checks.

BLITZER: So that loophole would still be there?

BASH: That loophole would still be there. What it does do -- what I'm told these discussions include are requiring the seller to keep a record. And that really has been the crux of what...

YELLIN: That's huge.

BASH: That's huge. And that has really been the crux of what the supporters of more gun control...

BLITZER: So if I sold you my -- my gun, I would have to keep a record that I sold it to Dana Bash?



BASH: It wouldn't go into a database. It wouldn't be a registration...

BLITZER: But I would have to keep it?

BASH: But you would have to keep it.

BORGER: But the big...


BORGER: -- I mean, the big question here is filibuster. And -- and the question is whether this would be enough to stop some Republicans from filibustering this gun legislation on the floor, essentially stopping a vote on gun legislation. BLITZER: Because if you have a filibuster, you need 60 votes.

BORGER: Exactly.

BLITZER: And there are 45 Republicans and there are a bunch of Democrats who might not vote for it. So that filibuster issue is significant.

BORGER: It is significant. It's significant for both parties. One, there are lots of Republicans who believe that it wouldn't be good for their party to filibuster something that a majority of the public agrees with. And second...

BASH: Ninety percent.

BORGER: -- and secondly -- that's right. And secondly, it wouldn't be good for Democrats if they couldn't stop this filibuster, because there are probably a half dozen or so Democrats who might -- who might go along with this because their seats will be in danger if they vote for gun control legislation.


YELLIN: One of the things you're going to see the president say -- and he's speaking shortly, I think, is he'll remind people that back when he gave that State of the Union Address and he rem -- said the families of Newtown deserve a vote, Gabby Giffords deserves a vote...

BORGER: Right.

YELLIN: -- all these members of Congress, Democrat and Republican, were applauding aggressively -- vigorously, enthusiastically. And he'll point out, look, if you're standing up to -- if you're blocking this from coming to a vote, you're not making good on that pledge you made implicitly by applauding back then.


BLITZER: Now, Gloria, you wrote an excellent column on

BORGER: Thank you.

BLITZER: -- as you always write. But you -- this White House strategy, this charm offensive, as we like to call it, the president inviting a bunch of Republican senators for a dinner this week for another dinner. I don't know where that dinner is going to take place, but I'm sure it will be a lovely dinner...

BORGER: My house is available.

BLITZER: And among other things...

BORGER: Yes. BLITZER: -- you write this, "This is not a strategy hatched by a bunch of Pollyannas at the White House. It is born of necessity and bred with an understanding of a public that has just about had it Washington."

BORGER: Well, the gun control legislation, the president is playing an outside game, as Jess points out. He's going directly to the American public with these Newtown families and saying don't forget. Outside game.

Inside game on the budget. Inside game on immigration reform. And it's because -- I talked to a senior administration official who said to me, when you're dealing with dysfunction, the best you can do is demonstrate that you're reasonable. And I think that is exactly what the president is trying to do, is be the grown up here. And it might work for him.

BASH: And -- yes. And I think that there's -- from the perspective of Capitol Hill, there's another reason, a tactical practical reason. And the president has mentioned this on occasion, which is that if he does the outside game on immigration and on economic issues, it's going to backfire.

BORGER: Right. It won't work.

BASH: It's going to be there -- there goes the president being partisan again. And it will make it difficult for centrists in either party to sign onto something because, you know, it will kind of be expected to be partisan if the president is part of it.

YELLIN: Well, he's also always been accused of playing only the outside game...

BORGER: That's right.

YELLIN: -- and never the inside game.

BASH: That's true.

YELLIN: So he has nothing to lose by trying to have dinner with them.


BORGER: Even if he fails...


YELLIN: It's better than it has been.

BORGER: -- he's tried.

YELLIN: And -- and...

BLITZER: But this is crunch week for the president. Not only the president, the vice president, the first lady. They're all going out there to make emotional appeals for gun control.

BORGER: That's right.

YELLIN: Tomorrow, you'll see the vice president, Biden, and Attorney General Holder speaking at the White House with law enforcement officials about how new gun laws would be helpful to local law enforcement in your community. And then I think you'll see a very emotional speech from the first lady in Chicago, which, as you know, is a city that's been devastated by gun violence, and her hometown, talk about how it's meaningful to her personally, Chicago.

BLITZER: The speech the president is about to deliver in Connecticut, Gloria, will that really have an impact, if it gets emotional, he speaks about meeting with these 26 families of those who were killed at the school?

BORGER: This is going to be a reminder to people not to forget what happened in Newtown. And I think it's going to have an impact because it can't help but have an impact. I mean every time you see those families, every time you're reminded of that horrible event, you think about guns and how devastating guns can be.

Now, is he going to convert people who believe that this is an infringement on their constitutional rights?

Probably not.

BASH: Right. And you see -- have seen the polls, in the past three, four months or so, since...

BORGER: Right.

BASH: -- since Sandy Hook, they have, you know, the support for new gun measures really skyrocketed. And it's waned since then. but one thing I will add with regard to this and, more broadly, getting a vote on filibuster, that is why it is so critical to have people who are so credible as gun supporters taking the lead on this, Pat Toomey, the Republican; Joe Manchin, the Democrat. If they really can come up with something that everybody...


BASH: -- who supports this hopes will give political cover to those and get the 60 votes.

BLITZER: They're not going to come up with...

BORGER: Including the Newtown parents.

BLITZER: -- they're not going to come up with anything on the assault type weapons.


BLITZER: They're not going to come up with anything on the magazines. BORGER: No.

BLITZER: They might come up with some compromise on background checks. We'll see if that gets done.

BORGER: But, Wolf...

YELLIN: Something?



YELLIN: If they get anything...

BLITZER: They've got to come up with something, otherwise that would be a huge...

YELLIN: -- it's short of what they expected right after Newtown.

BLITZER: -- a huge political setback for the president, given all the effort he's made...

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: Guys, thanks very much.

Don't go too far away, because we'll stand by for the president.

He's getting ready to speak in Connecticut.

Other news we're following, the death of a towering and historic woman -- how Margaret Thatcher made and shaped history. CNN's Christiane Amanpour is standing by. We'll take a closer look at Britain's Iron Lady.

Plus, a young American diplomat, only 25 years old, killed delivering books to children in Afghanistan. Her parents talk to me about the inspiration she leaves behind.


BLITZER: Britain's parliament is cutting its recess short so lawmakers can pay tribute to Margaret Thatcher, who died at London's Ritz Hotel after suffering a stroke today. She was 87 years old. The grocer's daughter, who became Britain's first female prime minister, made and shaped history far beyond the United Kingdom. She steered her country through social and economic turbulence, famously won the Falklands war with Argentina, and challenged communism with her friend, President Ronald Reagan.

All of that, and her unflinching conservative principles, cemented her nickname the Iron Lady.

Thatcher spoke about her seat at the front of history with CNN's Larry King back in 1993. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "LARRY KING LIVE," NOVEMBER 3, 1993)

LARRY KING, HOST: Would you say that it was worth it, all the ups, all the downs, the travails?

Was it worth it?

MARGARET THATCHER, FORMER BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Of course, every minute of the time. It was the most fascinating time of my life. They were gripping, yes. We sorted out the economy. People came to have a higher standard of living, a real enterprise economy. We then saw the end of the Cold War. We had all the suddenness of the things like the Falklands and then the Gulf. Then I had a sudden telephone call from Ronald Reagan, what about the Libyan raid?

Could his bases be used?

They were fascinating -- event after event after event.


BLITZER: Let's get some more now with our chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour. Her legacy, Christiane, female head of government in England, in Britain, how much of an impact did she have globally?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, you saw how she was answering Larry King. You could see how she relished this chance to be in public service and how she relished taking on the tough issues, and that is really what she was known for. She not just had a front row at history, she made history. She was the first female elected leader of a Democratic western state.

She was able to break that glass ceiling, and she was really able to show the world what leadership was all about at that particular time. She explained some of what she did domestically. Of course, domestically, in Great Britain, her legacy is quite mixed. Obviously, people believe those who are her supporters that she was a revolutionary figure, that she empowered the middle class, that she really fought hard for the capitalist system.

Some would say it was at the expense of society, at the expense of community. Once she famously said, there is no such thing as society. But on the whole, her supporters will say that the positive ledger was much greater than the negative. And of course, in foreign policy, it was one amazing fete after the other. She became a world global respected leader after she decided to take on Argentina in 1982 which should invaded -- or rather tried to retake the Falkland Islands.

She said, no, I'm going and I'm going to stand up for freedom, for liberty of the people who live there, and she took them back for Britain. She was very disappointed that she didn't get the overt support that she wanted from the United States despite her really close relationship with Ronald Reagan. She didn't get that kind of close support that she wanted. Yet, when it came to breaking down communism, it was Margaret Thatcher who was the indispensable bridge between Mikhail Gorbachev, the soon to be soviet leader and Ronald Reagan. And, even Henry Kissinger credits Margaret Thatcher with having seen the opportunity of be able to work with a new kind of soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, even before he was able to. The master of real politic and pragmatic foreign policy.

BLITZER: And I remember after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait back in august of 1990 and Christiane, you were there. You remember as well when she had that famous phone call with then-President George H.W. Bush. He wasn't exactly sure what the U.S. should do. She said to him, she writes about it in her memoirs, it was reported at that time, "George, this is no time to go wobbly" in the days immediately followed.

And of course, we all know what happened. The U.S. launched "Operation Desert Shield," deployed half a million troops to the gulf, and then "Operation Desert Storm" six weeks of ground and air warfare, and the rest is history. Christiane is going to be joining us in our next hour when we go in depth on the crisis in North Korea, another crisis unfolding right now. Christiane, thanks very much.

AMANPOUR: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Nancy Reagan says Margaret thatcher and her husband were soul mates. She's going to be speaking with our own Anderson Cooper later tonight on "AC 360" at 8:00 p.m. eastern. You'll want to see that interview.

She's the first American diplomat killed since the Benghazi attack, a young woman, only 25 years old, slain while delivering books to children in Afghanistan. My emotional interview with her parents, that's next.

Plus, when does a vacation get calls for a federal investigation? When Beyonce and Jay-Z go to Cuba.


BLITZER: Happening now, an American diplomat's life cut terribly short just as it was beginning in Afghanistan. I'll speak with the parents of 25-year-old Anne Smedinghoff about her service to this country. That's coming up.

Beyonce and Jay-Z ignite controversy here in the United States after a vacation in communist Cuba. Now, two U.S. lawmakers are demanding answers.

And he's the newest member of the CNN family, the world renowned chef, Anthony Bourdain. He's here with a preview of his brand-new show on CNN.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: She was just 25 years old, a young American diplomat serving in Afghanistan, struck down in the words of her parents -- and I'm quoting now -- "doing what she loved." United States today mourning the loss and remembering the service of Anne Smedinghoff. Our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty, has the very latest on her death.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Anne Smedinghoff's life was brief, but she lived it with a purpose. And today, her family, friends, and colleagues are drawing inspiration from that.


DOUGHERTY (voice-over): Her parents say Anne Smedinghoff was a natural for the foreign service. A modern diplomat, the kind that wears a helmet and a flack jacket, volunteering for dangerous assignments, convinced her parents tell CNN there was a lot of good she could do in the world.

MARY BETH SMEDINGHOFF, MOTHER OF ANNE SMEDINGHOFF: We would somewhat joke with her sometimes about how we just wanted to, you know, see her safe within the walls of the embassy compound, but that was not who Anne was.

DOUGHERTY: In Afghanistan, the 25-year-old foreign service officer worked with women's groups and schools. A soccer player back home, she helped organize a women's soccer team. This past weekend, as she brought books to Afghan schoolchildren, a suicide bomber smashed into her convoy, killing her and four other Americans, three members of the military and a civilian employed by the Department of Defense.

Secretary of state, John Kerry, got the news just before leaving on an international trip. In an emotional tribute Sunday, he recalled meeting Smedinghoff less than two weeks ago when he visited the U.S. embassy in Kabul.

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: Anne was everything that is right about our foreign service. She was smart and capable, committed to our country.

DOUGHERTY: In her hometown of River Forest, Illinois, neighbors posted flags along the street. And her state department colleagues took heart from her legacy.

KERRY: Where others seek to destroy, we intend to show a stronger determination in order to brighten our shared future. That was Anne's mission, and it will be ours every single day from this morning through the next.


DOUGHERTY (on-camera): Anne Smedinghoff is the first American diplomat to be killed since the attack in Benghazi. And Secretary Kerry said her death is an example of the continuing risks diplomats face -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And Thomas and Mary Beth Smedinghoff are joining us now. Their daughter, Anne, was killed in Afghanistan. Our hearts go out to both of you. Really, really what a tragic loss. Tell us a little bit something off the top. And Thomas, I'll start with you about your beautiful, wonderful daughter.

THOMAS SMEDINGHOFF, DAUGHTER KILLED IN AFGHANISTAN: She was a woman who loved life, who was adventuresome, really wanted to make a difference in the world, and really found a perfect fit in her work in the foreign service.

BLITZER: She was only 25 years old, Mary Beth. When did she decide she wanted to become an American diplomat?

MARY BETH SMEDINGHOFF: You know, I think she has always been interested in the world and in going, seeing what it had to offer, probably from her high school time on for sure, but she always loved to travel and see new things, you know, also be a positive force for good where she was.

BLITZER: And she certainly was. Thomas, when she told you that she wanted to volunteer for diplomatic service at the U.S. embassy in Afghanistan, what was your immediate reaction?

THOMAS SMEDINGHOFF: Well, I wasn't surprised. That's Anne. And that's the kind of thing she wanted to do. You're always a little nervous, but you know, you want your children to follow their dreams, to do what they find -- what they can be passionate about, what they think is important, and this was certainly the case for Anne. So, while you're always nervous, we fully supported her in her decision to go to Afghanistan.

BLITZER: I know the secretary of state, John Kerry, met her when he was recently in Afghanistan. And after your tragic loss, all of our tragic loss, the secretary of state said this.


KERRY: When i was in Afghanistan, she was part of my team, and she was someone who worked hard and put her life on the line so that others could live a better life.


BLITZER: Mary Beth, have you spoken with the secretary?

MARY BETH SMEDINGHOFF: You know, Secretary Kerry was the one who called us to share the tragic news. And so, we have -- we spoke to him then, yes.

THOMAS SMEDINGHOFF: And I would add, he, in that call, specifically mentioned meeting Anne and how he was so impressed with her. And, you know, that's very comforting when he actually had, you know, personal contact with her and was able to say that.

BLITZER: Thomas, tell us about the last conversation you had with her.

THOMAS SMEDINGHOFF: We actually talked to Anne on Easter. We had actually a very long phone call with her Easter morning, and it was a very upbeat call. Secretary Kerry had just been there, and Anne was one of the people in charge of coordinating his visit. And she was all excited about the work that she'd been doing on that, was telling us all about it.

It was a very upbeat call, and, like I said, she was just aglow with, you know, the recent events and all the excitement surrounding it.

BLITZER: Mary Beth and Thomas Smedinghoff, our deepest, deepest condolences to you on the loss of your daughter, Anne. Thank you so much for sharing some thoughts on this day.



BLITZER: Sad, sad story, indeed.

When we come back, there's some anger over Beyonce and Jay-Z's romantic vacation in communist Cuba. Now, two Republican lawmakers want answers from the U.S. government.

Plus, parts unknown. The world renowned chef, the newest member of the CNN family, is here with a preview of his brand-new show, Anthony Bourdain is here.

Plus, the worsening crisis with North Korea. A special SITUATION ROOM report, that's coming up right at the top of the hour.


BLITZER: U.S. tensions with North Korea right now at a fever pitch. At the top of the hour, a SITUATION ROOM special report devoted to the crisis with North Korea. That's coming up 6:00 p.m. Eastern. Stick around for that.

BLITZER: He as a world-renowned chef, he's best-selling author and now, he's the newest member of the CNN family.


BLITZER: Good news here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Anthony Bourdain is joining us now. His brand-new show "Parts Unknown" premieres Sunday night right here on CNN.

Hey, Tony, thanks so much for doing this. Thanks so much for coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. It's a risky business, but you're willing to do it, aren't you?

ANTHONY BOURDAIN, CHEF/CNN HOST: I'm very, very excited about coming over to CNN and taking silly chances is part of the excitement.

BLITZER: Excellent. All right. Let's talk a little bit about Myanmar. You were there. You've got a great show coming up. I'm going to play a little clip. Let's watch together.


BOURDAIN: Take the fermented tea leaves, add cabbage, tomatoes, lots and lots of crunchy bits like toasted peanuts, season with lime and fish sauce.

This is absolutely delicious.


BOURDAIN: Oh, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, fantastic.

BOURDAIN: Simple. Delicious. Things not to be taken for granted if you've been in and out of the joint like this guy, Zarnie Ball (ph). Activist, astrologer and three-times convict.


BLITZER: I can't wait to see the whole show. Myanmar, it's been largely cut off from the world over the years. You got in there. What was it like?

BOURDAIN: It's big. It's incredibly beautiful. Began (ph), the temple complex, for instance, to see it -- I mean, imagine seeing Ankwar Wat (ph) or Machu Pichu for the first time. It's that extradordinarly beautiful. But I think the real excitement was so few Westerners have been allowed to see inside Burma -- Myanmar. That we were probably one of the first television crews to overtly film there.

And exciting as well was how open the people were with us, which is not something you see in countries that have really only -- that are so recently opening their doors and allowing press in. Two years ago, you would have gone to jail for talking to us in Myanmar. And yet people were remarkably open. Just about everyone we spoke to during the show had been in and out of prison for having an opinion.

BLITZER: In other words, you just go up to people and speak to them. You didn't need some government handler to authorize these kind of little Q&A sessions?

BOURDAIN: They certainly had to authorize us and get us permits to go in, but shockingly enough, we did not have a government minder following us around. And people, just random passersby in the street, didn't shy away from the camera the way they do in a lot of countries even many years after they open up. People seemed extraordinarily eager to talk to us. They were curious. And there's a sense that the whole country is kind of holding their breath to see what happens next.

BLITZER: It really is amazing when you think about that transformation over the past few years, how quickly it has unfolded.

For those of us who have been watching you for years on other channels, tell us what your new show here on CNN is going to be like. What is going to be different about it?

BOURDAIN: Well, I'll continue to travel the world on my stomach, meaning that's always going to be the way I get in, the way I look at the world, from the perspective from someone who's spent a lot of time cooking and eating.

But now the world has become a much bigger place in that I can go to Myanmar, I can go to Congo, Libya, shoot in areas that would have been impossible with another network. We can tighten our focus to tell stories from one person's point of view or expand that to take a look at a bigger picture.

I mean, I'll continue to be sort of, I hope, enjoyably schizophrenic from week to week, but I think that the variety and scope of the stories we tell and the places we tell them from, you'll see some big changes.

BLITZER: So Congo, Libya, Myanmar. Where else are you headed?

BOURDAIN: Well, we just shot a show in Granada in Spain, which was not -- I won't be getting hazard pay for that one for sure. So, we'll be doing a very food-centric shows in France. We did a show in L.A. I'm very proud of. Maybe the most overphotographed location on earth, but we're looking at it from the point of view of Korean- Americans and treating L.A. as if no one exists in L.A. but Korean- Americans. So that should make for an interesting perspective.

BLITZER: What about North Korea? That sounds like a place perfect for Anthony Bourdain to visit.

BOURDAIN: I have kind of low expectations for food scenes there, but I think it's inevitable. I'll certainly be taking a look at it. If I can get in and if there's any expectation of a story to tell and a few meals to have, yes, I'd love to go.

BLITZER: I was there a little bit more than two years ago, spent six days in Pyongyang. And obviously they treated me well. The food, by the way, was excellent. But then again this is not the normal kind of cuisine average North Koreans eat. I was a VIP guest, if you will, so they fed all of us who were there together with the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Bill Richardson, and his delegation. They fed all of us very well.

Let me read a quote to you. This was in "The Hollywood Reporter" back in August. And I'm going to put it up on the screen. You said you don't want to barbecue in THE SITUATION ROOM with me and said, "I mean, I'm not going to barbecue in THE SITUATION ROOM with Wolf Blitzer and talk about the election results. I'm going to stay within my area of presumed expertise or experience."

You know, we do a lot of grilling here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: You know that, don't you?

BOURDAIN: You know, that -- I just want to put -- it's on my bucket list, Wolf. I would love to barbecue in THE SITUATION ROOM. But I don't think I'll be talking about election results or foreign policy while I'm at it.

BLITZER: We would have a lot of fun. Come to Washington. They have delicious food, by the way, here in the nation's capital. Some excellent restaurants. I'll take this opportunity to invite you as my guest. Then you can do a little commentary if you want. Maybe you don't want to. But the food in Washington is very good.

BOURDAIN: I'd love to.

BLITZER: Hey, we're looking forward to the new show. It premieres Sunday night, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN. Anthony Bourdain, a huge, huge talent. And we're thrilled you're joining our CNN family. Thanks so much.

BOURDAIN: Thank you.


BLITZER: When we come back, a wedding anniversary celebration steeped in controversy. Just ahead, why two Republican lawmakers want answers about Beyonce and Jay-Z's trip to Cuba.

And we're just minutes away from what's expected to be an emotional push for gun control from the president of the United States. He's in Connecticut right now. When it happens, we'll go there live.


BLITZER: Pictures of pop stars Beyonce and her husband Jay-Z vacationing in communist Cuba is stirring some controversy here this the United States. Now two Republican lawmakers are demanding to know how they got there. Our national political correspondent Jim Acosta is walking into THE SITUATION ROOM. He has some answers for us. What are you learning?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I wish we had all the answers. We don't know exactly how they got there. But Wolf, it's important to note that Cuba for years was the forbidden fruit for American travelers. But more Americans are getting a chance to taste that fruit. As Beyonce's trip to the island just demonstrated, it's becoming so easy even one of the world's biggest pop stars can do it.


ACOSTA: When pop star Beyonce and husband Jay-Z celebrated their wedding anniversary by roaming the streets of old Havana last week, they made waves all the way back in Miami where Cuban-American politicians went ballistic. Two GOP Congress members fired off a letter to the Treasury Department, questioning whether the couple violated restrictions on U.S. travel to the island. "These restrictions are in place," they wrote, "because the Cuban dictatorship is one of four U.S.-designated state sponsors of terrorism with one of the world's most egregious human rights records."

But Reuters news service reports Beyonce's vacation was licensed as a cultural exchange. Just the kind of trip the president had in mind when he opened up travel to Cuba two years ago.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It is certainly the case that under this administration, we have eased the ability to travel to Cuba for those purposes.

ACOSTA: That has sent thousands of Americans to tour providers that are licensed to arrange cultural trips to Cuba.

TOM POPPER, INSIGHT CUBA: The thing that makes people so fascinated when they travel to Cuba is how warm and friendly the people are to Americans. And I think this portends a great future between the two countries.

ACOSTA: Relaxed travel restrictions have also allowed more Cuban- Americans to visit relatives on the island as this reporter found while on assignment in Cuba four years ago. But because of the half century-old embargo on Cuba, Americans still have to ask the government for permission first, despite bipartisan objections in Congress. GOP senator Jeff Flake tweeted, "So, Beyonce and Jay-Z are in Cuba? Fine by me. Every American should have the right to travel there.

House Democrat Kathy Castor is also a critic.

ACOSTA: GOP Senator Jeff Flake tweeted, "So Beyonce and Jay-Z are in Cuba? Fine by me. Every American should have the right to travel there." House Democrat Kathy Castor is also a critic.

REP. KATHY CASTOR (D), FLORIDA: I think it's time to try something different. And end the embargo and lift these travel restrictions.

ACOSTA: But conservative Cuban-Americans say travel to Cuba only props up the Castro government which is still holding an American Allen Gross in prison. Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez just visited the U.S. where she said people on the island lack basic freedoms.

"Fear, fear, fear," she told the crowd in Miami last week. "It gets to a point where they can't instill any more fear in you."


ACOSTA: It's estimated that thousands of Americans travel to Cuba every year but an exact number is hard to come by. The Treasury Department which grants these licenses for travel to Cuba still won't reveal exactly how many Americans are going to the island. And we should point out a prominent Cuban-American politician Marco Rubio tweeted out his note of protest to Jay-Z earlier today, referring to Jay-Z's song "99 Problems." He tweeted with the hash tag 99 problems and dictators are one.

So the Cuban-American community, at least the conservative community, Wolf, not very pleased with Beyonce's trip down there.

BLITZER: The administration, the Treasury Department, should presumably be giving some answers to these two U.S. lawmakers on how this whole trip was approved and all of that, right?

ACOSTA: That's right. I checked in with Ileana Ros-Lehtinen office. They said as of right now they have not received any word from the Treasury Department so they're not exactly sure where that one report is coming out that this trip was licensed.

But, Wolf, I was on the phone earlier this afternoon with a company that arranges these trips. It is very easy to do this now. People just don't understand this. You go to a tour operator like the one we talked to earlier today, fill out the paperwork. They'll fill out the paperwork for you in many cases. All you have to do is pledge to visit the cultural and educational sites during your trip, and you can go. You're in.

BLITZER: Let me shift gears with you quickly and talk about guns right now. This could be a critically important week as far as background checks, expanding background checks legislation in the Senate. It may get passed, it may not get passed. The president speaking in Connecticut, getting ready right now to speak out on this specific issue. What are you hearing right now, Jim? Because you follow this pretty closely.

ACOSTA: Well, I just had a chance on Friday to catch up with Mary Landrieu. She is one of the remaining undecided Democrats in the Senate on this issue of background checks. And even though she voted to close the gun show loophole back in 1999 she told me on Friday she's still undecided on this issue of background checks. And the reason is because of reelection pressure. She, along with a handful of other Democrats, are essentially endangered in many of these red states, and that is part of the problem for the president right now.

Not only is he dealing with entrenched Republicans who were threatening to filibuster this legislation, he's dealing with Democrats who may not join in with Harry Reid to break a potential filibuster. So lots of problems for the president.

But I have to wonder, Wolf, and we're going to see the president carry out what would be a very dramatic political moment in that he's going to be meeting with family members of --


BLITZER: He's just wrapped up meeting with the family members.


BLITZER: In fact, he's speaking right now. I want to listen in. ACOSTA: All right.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Inherited their talents by singing before she could talk. So every family in this state was shaken by the tragedy of that morning. Every family in this country was shaken. We hugged our kids more tightly. We asked, what could we do as a society to help prevent a tragedy like that from happening again. And as a society, we decided that we have to change, we must. We must change.


I noticed that Nicole and others refer to that day as 12/14. For these families, it was a day that changed everything. And I know many of you in Newtown wondered if the rest of us would live up to the promise we made in those dark days, if we'd change, too, or if once the television trucks left, once the candles flickered out, once the teddy bears were gathered up together that the country would somehow move on to other things.

Over the weekend I heard Francine Wheeler, who lost her son Ben that day, say that the four months since the tragedy might feel like a brief moment for some, but for her it feels like it's been years since she saw Ben. And she's determined not to let what happened that day just fade away.

We're not going anywhere, she said. We are here. We are going to be here. And I know that she speaks for everybody in Newtown. Everybody who was impacted.

And Newtown, we want you to know that we're here with you. We will not walk away from the promises we've made. We are determined as ever to do what must be done. In fact, I'm here to ask you to help me show that we can get it done.

We're not forgetting.


We can't forget. Your family is still grieving as most of us can't comprehend, but so many of you have used that grief to make a difference. Not just to honor your own children, but to protect the lives of all of our children. So many of you have mobilized and organized and petitioned your elected officials with love and logic, as Nicole put it. As citizens determined to right something gone wrong.

And last week here in Connecticut, your elected leaders responded. The Connecticut legislature, led by many of the legislators here today, passed new measures to protect more of our children and our communities from gun violence. And Governor Malloy signed that legislation into law.


So I want to be clear. You, the families of Newtown, people across Connecticut, you helped to make that happen. Your voices, your determination, made that happen. Obviously, the elected leaders did an extraordinary job moving it forward, but it couldn't have happened if they weren't hearing from people in their respective districts. People all across the state. That's the power of your voice.

And, by the way, Connecticut is not alone. In the past few months, New York, Colorado, Maryland, have all passed new commonsense gun safety reforms, as well.


These are all states that share an awful familiarity with gun violence, whether it's the horror of mass killings or street crime that's too common in too many neighborhoods. All of these states also share a strong tradition of hunting and sports shooting and gun ownership. It's been a part of the fabric of people's lives for generations, and every single one of those states, including here in Connecticut, decided that, yes, we can protect more of our citizens from gun violence while still protecting our Second Amendment rights.

Those two things don't contradict each other. We can pass commonsense laws.


And protect our kids and protect our rights. So, Connecticut has shown the way. And now is the time for Congress to do the same.


Now's the time for Congress to do the same this week, is the time for Congress to do the same.


Now, back in January, just a few months after the tragedy in Newtown, I announced a series of executive actions to reduce gun violence and keep our kids safe. And I put forward commonsense proposals, much like those that passed here in Connecticut, for Congress to consider.

And you'll remember in my State of the Union address, I urged Congress to give those proposals a vote. That moment is now. As soon as this week, Congress will begin debating these commonsense proposals to reduce gun violence.

Your senators, Dick Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, they are here.


Your representatives, John Larson, Rosa DeLauro, Elizabeth Esty, Jim Himes, Joe Courtney, they are all pushing to pass this legislation.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE) But much of Congress is going to -- going to only act if they hear from you, the American people. So, here's what we have to do. I appreciate that.


Here's what we've got to do. We have to tell Congress it's time to acquire a background check for anyone who wants to buy a gun so that people who are dangerous to themselves and others cannot get their hands on a gun. Let's make that happen.


We have to tell Congress it's time to crack down on gun trafficking so that folks will think twice before buying a gun as part of the scheme to arm someone who won't pass a background check. Let's get that done. We have to tell Congress it's time to restore the ban on military-style assault weapons and a 10-round limit on magazines to make it harder for a gunman to fire 154 bullets into his victims in less than five minutes. Let's put that to a vote.


We have to tell Congress it's time to strengthen school safety and help people struggling with mental health problems get the treatment they need before it's too late. Let's do that for our kids and for our communities.


Now I know that some of these proposals inspire more debate than others, but each of them has the support of the majority of the American people. All of them are common sense. All of them deserve a vote.


All of them deserve a vote.

Consider background checks. Over the past 20 years, background checks have kept more than two million dangerous people from getting their hands on a gun. Now a group of police officers in Colorado told me last week that thanks to background checks, they've been able to stop convicted murders, folks under restraining orders, for committing violent domestic abuse from buying a gun.

In some cases, they've actually arrested the person as they were coming to purchase the gun. So we know that background checks can work, but the problem is, loopholes in the current law let so many people avoid background checks altogether. That's not safe. It doesn't make sense. If you're a law-abiding citizen and you go through a background check to buy a gun, wouldn't you expect other people to play by the same rules?

If you're a law-abiding gun seller, wouldn't you want to know you're not selling your gun to someone who's likely to commit a crime? Shouldn't we make it harder, not easier, for somebody who's convicted of domestic abuse to get his hands on a gun?


It turns out 90 percent of Americans think so. Ninety percent of Americans support universal background checks. Think about that. How often do 90 percent of Americans agree on anything?


And yet 90 percent agree on this. Republicans, Democrats, folks who own guns, folks who don't own guns. Eighty percent of Republicans, more than 80 percent of gun owners, more than 70 percent of NRA households. It is common sense.

BLITZER: All right, so there he is, the president of the United States making a pitch for deeper background checks for all gun sales in the United States. Extensive coverage coming up later tonight right here on CNN.