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President Obama in Boston; Explosion Rocks Texas; Interview with Senators John McCain and Chuck Schumer

Aired April 18, 2013 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: We're one hour away from a scheduled FBI press conference with the latest on the investigation here in Boston.

I'm Jake Tapper, and this is THE LEAD.

Words of solace for the victims, for the survivors, for the first-responders. President Obama joined by the first lady consoling the city of Boston in its darkest hour.

In Texas, entire blocks leveled, part of a small town reduced to smoldering rubble in a devastating chemical explosion. As many as 15 dead, more than 160 hurt, several still missing, and no one is sure exactly what caused it.

And finding comfort in our national pastime. Boston's beloved Red Sox wrapping up a stint on the road tonight and getting ready to return for their first home game since the attack. The intense sports rivalry between Boston and other cities giving way to a spirit of solidarity.

Good afternoon. We're coming to you live from Boston, where President Obama and the first lady have been visiting victims of the terrorist attack here. Earlier they attended an interfaith service called Heal Our City at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, one of the city's revered churches.

The president offered prayer and condolences to the people who are still so shaken by the terrorist attacks at the Boston Marathon on Monday. In a moving speech, the president used the marathon as a metaphor for struggle, endurance, and ultimately, triumph over evil.


TAPPER (voice-over): Comfort for a grieving city.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Like you, Michelle and I have walked these streets. Like you, we know these neighborhoods. And like you, in this moment of grief, we join you in saying, Boston, you're my home.

TAPPER: President Obama delivering soaring oratory with the first lady looking on from the first row, attempting to calm nerves after what will be remembered as one of the worst moments of his presidency -- part eulogy, part sermon, part rallying cry.

OBAMA: If they sought to intimidate us, to terrorize us, to shake us from those values that Deval described, the values make us who we are as Americans, well, it should be pretty clear by now that they picked the wrong city to do it. Not here in Boston.


TAPPER: The crowd began lining up at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross just a mile away from the bombing site hours before the service stretching for blocks beyond the church, many more than could possibly fit inside the 2,000-capacity building.

Those who found a seat listened as the president memorialized the three people killed in this terrorist attack, 29-year-old Krystle Campbell, 23-year-old Chinese graduate student Lingzi Lu. The president became especially choked up when talking about 8-year-old Martin Richard.

OBAMA: Forever expressing a wish he made on a blue poster board, "No more hurting people. Peace."

TAPPER: The president as consoler-in-chief, a role he has found himself in all too often, after Tucson, after Aurora, after Hurricane Sandy, more recently after Newtown.

As with those other terrible events, now is the time for coming together, the service uniting religious leaders and people of all different faiths in one common prayer.

SEAN O'MALLEY, BOSTON ARCHBISHOP: To repair our broken world, we cannot do it as a collection of individuals. We can only do it together.


TAPPER: As we mentioned before, immediately following the service, both the president and first lady Michelle Obama stopped at hospitals to visit with the wounded and their families.

For many, the key to healing from the attack will come only after justice is served. In less than an hour, we are expecting a briefing from the FBI and hopefully new details in the manhunt for whomever did this.

But we already know this. Agencies were trying to track down two men who were near the finish line using images that haven't been released to the public. But a source who receives regular intelligence briefings on the investigation now tells CNN that those men are no longer of high interest.

I'm joined now by CNN national correspondent Deborah Feyerick.

Deb, I guess we know why the investigators never released the images. It now seems as though these individuals aren't as of interest? DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They have been lowered down on the list.

One thing that is very interesting is the way these pictures were disseminated. These were sort of given to members of the intelligence community and then it was almost as if they went viral almost instantly. People were getting the photographs from sources they never would have gotten them from before. That surprised them.

Why were the pictures being sort of handed out, given this way? Once it went viral, it was hard to contain. CNN has reached out to friends of one of the young men. They were of particular interest to law enforcement investigators because of where they were standing. They were by the finish line. They had arrived early and they had stayed throughout the course of the race.

They were also carrying backpacks. One of them had a backpack, another a duffel bag that just didn't look right. It was the bulges on the backpack. Investigators were looking at frame by frame by frame to see what doesn't look right. These two men sort of fit that definition, that description.

So absent context, they basically had to look at the normal and say there is something not normal, there is something abnormal about this. Anyway, they ultimately ruled them out. But investigators have a lot of pictures they're analyzing right now. There are other people that are on the radar. Now they have got to find them and they have got to either rule them out or they have got to raise them in terms of priority on the list.

They're looking at surveillance. We are told they're looking at surveillance cameras that were along the route up to a week before and two weeks before so they can see who was traveling, who was looking for locations, possibly scouting those locations. This is going to be an intensive investigation.

TAPPER: Right. We know from looking at the photos ourselves there is no shortage of individuals who were there with black backpacks. What are you expecting at this 5:00 p.m. press conference?

FEYERICK: It's very, very interesting because we got a memo from headquarters saying there's going to be a 5:00 press conference.

But then when I sort of circled back to the folks who are here on the ground in Boston everyone kept using the word tentatively, tentatively, because I think they don't want to get burned again.


FEYERICK: They don't want to be made to seem like they're going to have a press conference and then pull back and people read into it.

We don't know. They may say actually we don't have anything, but here is an update. I think the investigators want to keep people in the loop and keep them organized, but at the same time they just may not have a lot that they can tell because all of this is part of the criminal investigation. All of it will be brought forth for a trial in the event there is a trial.

TAPPER: Deb Feyerick, thank you so much. We will come back to you soon.

President Obama said for millions of us what happened on Monday in Boston is personal. And you can bet it was personal for my next guest, the president and CEO of the Boston Red Sox, Larry Lucchino.

Thank you so much for joining us.

He attended the interfaith service where the president spoke. And he joins me now.

Mr. Lucchino, first of all, your thoughts on what the president had to say today.

LARRY LUCCHINO, PRESIDENT AND CEO, BOSTON RED SOX: The president was pitch-perfect.

He was presidential and inspiring. He was -- he showed a familiarity with what was happening here locally. He inspired everyone I think to behave as well as we can in the days going forward with as much inspiration as possible from the good works done by the people in Boston.

TAPPER: Now, I hate to bring up a sore subject, but tomorrow night you have a game.


TAPPER: This will be the first game since -- here in Boston since the attack. Are you taking extra precautions? What are your concerns?


First of all, we think it's important. Baseball can play a role as the Bruins and hockey did last night in helping the community heal, helping it come together, expressing some of the sentiments that we all share and feel. The mayor did that today so well as he demonstrated kind of resilience of his own as he spoke about Boston's resilience.

And tomorrow night is an opportunity for Boston to come together and for us to pay a low-key tribute to the people who behaved so bravely and to show support for the victims.

TAPPER: What, specifically, do you have in mind for tomorrow?

LUCCHINO: Well, it will basically just be a low-key, not pageantry at all, but rather just a low-key tribute of appreciation for the way people have behaved, the first-responders, the volunteers, the doctors, the nurses, the blood donors, all of those folks, and an effort to show to the world some of the resilience that the mayor talked so eloquently about today that Bostonians will come together and this is the wrong city to... (CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: To mess with.

And I assume some added security?


We -- certainly public safety has always been a major concern of ours, but in the last several days, we have taken steps to increase it. We asked our fans to come to the game a little bit earlier just because there will be some extra precautions and extra personnel at the ballpark for tomorrow. But that's the highest priority for us always.

TAPPER: Now, I have to confess, I'm a Phillies fan.

LUCCHINO: It's OK. It's the other league.

TAPPER: I hate the Red Sox and the I hate the Yankees, although we're all Red Sox fans today.

LUCCHINO: Thank you.

TAPPER: But you have referred to the Yankees in the past as the evil empire, which I completely agree, I completely agree. But it must have meant something to you to have seen what the Yankees did in homage to this team, which the two of you have such a celebrated rivalry.

LUCCHINO: Yes. It meant a great deal to us, the banner that they hung alongside Yankee Stadium saying "United We Stand" with the Red Sox logo and the Yankee logo.

TAPPER: And singing "Sweet Caroline."

LUCCHINO: And singing "Sweet Caroline" in Yankee Stadium was almost surreal.

But a lot of other teams in baseball reached out in the same way and tried to express, send a tribute or their solidarity to us. Philadelphia had a sign that said "From One Tough City to Another."

TAPPER: Right.

LUCCHINO: There was "Sweet Caroline" sung in several ballparks around the country.

It is really important and it may not seem like much of a gesture to those folks, but to us here realizing that they care enough and think enough about us in Boston, it meant a great deal. I have tremendously fond feelings for my colleagues in baseball and particularly for the Yankees reaching out as they did.

TAPPER: Thank you so much. I wish you limited success this season, but continued success for you and then happiness for the city of Boston. Thank you so much, sir.


TAPPER: A nation already on edge from terror bombings and poison letters literally shaken again.

In less than a half-hour, we are expecting a press conference updating us on the emotion -- on the enormous destruction in a small West Texas town. An explosion few have seen outside a war zone happened last night at a fertilizer plant in the town of West, Texas. The blast was so strong it registered as an earthquake and was felt 50 miles away and it flattened homes in a five-block area.

Witnesses compared it to what they saw in the early nights of the Iraq war or perhaps even Oklahoma City. Police say between five and 15 people are dead. The number is almost sure to rise with more than 160 people suffering injuries, and with the closest major hospital to the town of fewer than 3,000 people about 25 miles away. But as we have seen so many times in these disasters, people ran into the danger zone as fast as they were running away.


GOV. RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: Last night was truly a nightmare scenario for that community. But as I said earlier, we're blessed in this state to have the best emergency management team in the country and they certainly were at their best last night along with the citizens.


TAPPER: Chief medical correspondent for CNN Dr. Sanjay Gupta is live in West, Texas.

Sanjay, thanks so much and good to see you.

The National Guard is monitoring the air quality around the blast area. What could happen to people who breathe in this chemical anhydrous ammonia?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: This is a very interesting and potentially dangerous chemical, and it's a nitrogen fertilizer, Jake.

Let me just tell you it's stored at high pressure and that is relevant because if it comes out of a tank, it can -- it's lighter than air, typically. In conditions like this, though, it can stay closer to the ground and cause what's known as an ammonia fog.

If it touches your skin, this anhydrous ammonia sort of immediately dehydrates your skin to the point where you can suffer burns. You heard probably, Jake, the initial rescue efforts people were having to wear respirators. If you breathe this in, it can be quite damaging to your upper airway and your lungs. That was the big concern obviously for the people who were in the area but also the first-responders. I will tell you, Jake, the state EPA has been conducting air quality exams pretty regularly and so far the news seems to be good with regard to that. It seems either because of the winds, the conditions overall, that air quality does not seem to be an issue. You do have the concerns still as you pointed out about the initial explosion, the primary blast, the secondary blast, some of the same things that we have been talking about in Boston, but also the fire and these flattened buildings that you mentioned.

By the way, if you're here, Jake, you will know that a four- to five-block radius that you just described, that is the town of West, Texas, small town, about 2,800 people,but the impact of this felt much further than just the town, the boundaries itself, Jake.

TAPPER: Sanjay, how do you treat exposure to this gas?

GUPTA: Typically, what you -- in a situation where you have a lot of this anhydrous ammonia around, the safety protocols are to have lots of fluid, a lot of water around as well, because if somebody gets it on their skin you have to start flushing it immediately, again because it is anhydrous, which means without water.

Just think that you sort of have to do the opposite, dehydrating the skin to the point of burns, so you have to give water. People who ingest it or inhale it, this stuff, they often end up in hospitals and have to be treated in a way that is known as symptomatically, meaning you treat them for their symptoms. If they're having difficulty breathing, they may need breathing machines. They often need to have a lot of fluids replaced.

There is no particular antidote for this sort of thing. You just have to sort of flush it out of the body, either off the body or out of the inside of the body as quickly as possible. But when you talk about these people that are in the hospital, Hillcrest Hospital, that may be what some of them are being treated for, but the majority, again, for these blast injuries.

I should just point out, again, Jake, because you're there in Boston there is one hospital here, 25 miles away, 237-bed hospital to try and treat most of these injuries. It is a very good trauma hospital. But where you are and where I was yesterday, nine hospitals to take care of the injured. So, it is a very different situation in terms of resources here as well, Jake.

TAPPER: Exactly.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta in West, Texas, thank you so much.

When we come back, can you find the Boston bombing suspect or suspects in these photographs? Well, investigators are poring through thousands of images. So are people online.

Plus, shame on you. That's what former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is saying to senators who voted against more stringent background checks for gun buyers. I'll ask Senators John McCain and Chuck Schumer for their reaction, coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We're waiting for two press conferences one in West, Texas, on the blast at the fertilizer plant and the other an FBI briefing on the Boston marathon bombings. I am here in Boston.

It's been a terrible, turbulent week in America as I don't need to tell you and while the country reels and grieves and prays, some big decisions were being made on Capitol Hill. Amid the chaos yesterday, the Senate voted down what would have been an historic extension to the country's gun laws.

Here is what former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords had to say about it in "The New York Times" this morning. Quote, "Some of the senators who voted no have also looked into my eyes as I talked about my experience being shot in the head at point blank range in suburban Tucson two years ago. These senators have heard from their constituents who, polls show, overwhelmingly favored expanding background checks. And still these senators decided to do nothing. Shame on them."

Senator John McCain of Arizona joins me now to talk about it.

Senator McCain, thanks for joining us. You were just one of six Republicans to vote yes in favor of extending background checks to gun shows and to Internet sales. Why do you think so many Republicans voted against it?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I don't know, Jake. You'll have to ask them. I've heard various statements about their concerns about the bill but I think you'll have to have them on to tell you that.

By the way, congratulations on your new program. I wish you every success, and congratulations.

TAPPER: Thank you, sir. I appreciate it.

Just one more beat on the gun vote yesterday. Did you -- tell me about the pressure you felt to vote against it. You're obviously somebody that has a record in favor of voting with gun groups in the past and yet you voted, you were in the minority of your party. Did you feel intense pressure to vote against it?

MCCAIN: No. Jake, I've been around here a long time. Honestly, I don't feel much pressure anymore. I just try to do what I think is right and, unfortunately, it's not always right.

TAPPER: Here, I want to play for you some sound from President Obama. He was very angry in the Rose Garden yesterday.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But instead of supporting this compromise, the gun lobby and its allies willfully lied about the bill.


TAPPER: Willfully lied about the bill. You know, Washington's an odd town as both you and I know. People don't often use the "L" word for some reason. They don't often accuse people of lying.

Were you surprised that President Obama said that? Is it true? Were gun groups lying about the bill?

MCCAIN: I'm not sure about that because, frankly, I didn't pay a great deal of attention. I'm very familiar with the issue, but I understand how the president felt very strongly. He was in Newtown. He feels the suffering of the families and I can certainly understand, given his point of view, why the president got somewhat emotional.

By the way, I'm joined by my friend Senator Schumer, that a lot of people may not remember back in the 18th century, Senator Schumer was the author of the Brady Bill, one of the first bills that brought gun control in.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Applied to bows and arrows.


TAPPER: Senator Schumer, thanks for joining us. We're glad you could make it.

SCHUMER: Hi, Jake.

TAPPER: I want to talk to the two of you obviously about immigration reform, but before we turn to that subject, why do you think the gun bill went down? Why do you think so many Republicans and a handful of Democrats voted against it? Was a principled vote against it or were they afraid of losing re-election?

SCHUMER: Well, you know, I think that there is something in between and that is representing the people of your state. Unfortunately, in many, many states, the more rural states, some of the gun organizations have made people afraid of any gun legislation as they claim each one will lead to the taking away of your gun.

It so happens the background checks would not affect law-abiding gun owners. I believe in the Second Amendment. I think there is a right to bear arms and I don't think liberals are right when they say it only applies to militias. And I was saying that before the Heller amendment.

But on the other hand, this bill only affects people who are felons, who are adjudicated mentally ill, who are spousal abusers. If you're a law-abiding gun owner, this isn't going to interfere with your rights. But some of these gun organizations, the NRA, in particular, they can't win on the merits of the arguments so they scare people and that's what they've done here.

Having said that, if you represent one of these rural states, they think if you vote for this, it's going to end up taking away your gun.

TAPPER: OK. I want to turn to immigration reform because it is obviously why we booked the two of you.

A big part of the immigration bill that you and the other members of the gang of eight unveiled yesterday is about border security. Some people are very skeptical that this actually would beef up border security in any substantive way, Senator Schumer. Do you -- can you understand why they're skeptical? There have been so many promises in the past about securing the border that have not come through.

SCHUMER: Well, I -- you know, John has convinced me we need to do more on the border. Let me give you one statistic. He and I actually passed legislation about three years ago that added a billion dollars to the border. And in many places, particularly the very busy Tucson sector, the effectiveness rate was 68 percent. After that billion dollars it went up to 82 percent.

So we believe if we do more of the same things there, we can get it. What John showed me when we visited the border, how much they need equipment. They don't have enough drones. They don't have enough aircraft.

You know, you can't cover the border with just fence and personnel. A lot of it is rugged. It's desolate. But if you have in the air, you can watch anyone who crosses the border and catch them 50 or 75 miles inland.

So, we can do better on the border and the American people are demanding it. My view is that most Americans will be for a fair, balanced, common sense approach to legal immigration and the 11 million living in the shadows, but only if they believe that we'll secure the border and not have a third wave of illegal immigration.

So I'm willing to do that and I think most of my colleagues on the Democratic side are willing to do that even those of us far from border states, Southern border states.

TAPPER: Senator McCain, I'll let you have the last word. Two quick questions.

One is anecdotally I've heard there are people who are making their way across the border illegally doing so because they hope that they will be able to become citizens because of this immigration reform bill. Have you heard those stories from Arizona or elsewhere? And, lastly, can you deliver 60 votes to make this bill happen?

MCCAIN: I believe we can. I can answer your second question. I believe we can.

As far as the increased crossing of the border, I think part of it has to do with the economy. Part of it has to do with sequestration. Anyone who came after December 31st, 2011, will not be eligible for this legalized status and eventual path to citizenship.

I want to thank Chuck Schumer for coming to the border and seeing it and seeing the immensity of the problem. And, frankly, being an advocate for Arizona and border control. People are skeptical, Jake, because we promised them so many times that we would control the border.

Now, we have made improvements as Chuck just said. But we're a long way from there and the drugs are still flowing, too, which is another issue that we're going to have to face as a nation as well because there is still a big demand for them as you know.

TAPPER: All right. Senators McCain and Senator Schumer, thank you so much. We'll have you back on THE LEAD to talk more about this. We appreciate your time.

We're still waiting for the FBI press conference at 5:00 p.m. Eastern. That's when we expect to learn more on the investigation into Monday's terrorist attacks here in Boston, coming up at 5:00 p.m. Eastern.

Plus, I'll be joined soon by two doctors who became heroes on Monday. One who had witnessed similar horrors in Iraq.