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Harry Reid Proposes Filibuster "Nuclear Option"; Christie Named Director of Republican Governor's Association; Photographer Remembers JFK Assassination.

Aired November 21, 2013 - 11:30   ET



ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to CNN. Coverage of breaking news at United States Senate. If you're not a fan of rules -- quite frankly, are any of us? Today is a set of rules that really, really matters. It matters how legislation is going to be accomplished in the coming days, months and years. It also matters as to how our Senators are going to get along, as if it was already something we didn't think was completely broken. A set of rule changes could trash relationships completely.

I want to get right out to our CNN's Dana Bash, standing live.

Dana, set the stage, if you could, for our viewers who may be joining us for the bottom of the hour. Our headline on the screen reads "Reid proposes filibuster nuclear option." Effectively, what does that mean?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That means what Harry Reid, Democratic leader in the Senate, majority leader, is pushing to do now is change the rules of the Senate to prevent Republicans from filibustering the president's nominees, both his executive branch nominees and most judicial nominees, except for supreme court nominees. And what that means is that he would want to change the threshold to overcome the filibuster from 60, which is what it now is, which makes Republicans at this point able to block a lot of things, move it down to 51, which would be a simple majority in the Senate. The reason it's called a nuclear option is because there is a lot of emphasis and reverence, frankly, of the minority. That's what makes it different from the House. The rules that the Senate tends to follow for decades.

What is happening as they speak on the Senate floor is some more monkey business, frankly. You're seeing Republicans trying to kind of work around and delay what looks like at this point could be the inevitable, which is the change of those rules. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, made a motion to adjourn the Senate until 5:00. Again, it's a delaying tactic because Democrats have 55 votes in the Senate. It takes a simple majority to do that. Republican sources tell us that they expect this to be defeated. This is just a kind of a move to make a point, delaying tactic until we see the rest of the afternoon evolve, unless there's some last-minute breakthrough, the rules of the Senate are expected to be changed by a simple majority vote. BANFIELD: Just fascinating stuff.

Dana Bash, stand by, if you would, for a moment. Keep your eyes on what's happening as well.

I want to bring in our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, who knows a thing or two about not only judicial nominees, the process of getting them actually passed through the passage and blockage of them and then how we ended up in this mess today.

My first question is the same kind of thing I bring up with my children, Jeff. That's this. When they don't like what's going on in the schoolyard, they sometimes try to change the rules and I tell them they can't. Why is it today that maybe they can? I kind of thought this was not constitutional, but I'm wrong.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST (voice-over): No. The Senate rules are up to the Senate. The constitution says nothing about filibusters. It says nothing about how the Senate conducts its internal business. For many years, the Senate has had a rule that says it takes 60 votes to cut off debate, to stop debate and come to a vote. Traditionally, almost everything in the Senate operates by a simple majority, 50. But in recent years, because things have become so contentious, first the Democrats and now the Republicans have insisted almost always on 60 votes for everything, including judicial confirmations. What today's vote means is that the standard for judicial confirmations will go back to 50, not 60 anymore. And what that will mean is that several of President Obama's judicial nominees who had been stalled will get through.

BANFIELD: What I've been hearing -- you'll have to correct me if I'm wrong. The Democrats, as perhaps a bone in the landscape of something that's really unpalatable is that this won't extend to Supreme Court nominees to which the Republicans have responded, oh, yeah? Wait until we're the majority, because it will. Am I wrong? Am I mistaken as to how this is characterized?

TOOBIN: I think you characterized it correctly. I don't think anyone knows how this would be interpreted for Supreme Court nominations. Remember, the Republicans are saying we're going to use this when we have a Republican Senate and Republican president, as I believe most people know, you don't have either of those right now. So it is really very much a hypothetical debate about what Republicans would do if they controlled both the presidency and the Senate. But they may have a point. This may come back to haunt Democrats if a Republican president appoints someone who wants to overturn Roe v. Wade, the Democrats may have a harder time stopping that person now. But for today, the issue is will Obama's nominees get through to the D.C. circuit and other courts, and the answer appears to be -- if things proceed as they appear to be proceeding, the answer to that appears to be yes.

BANFIELD: I have never been a politician on Capitol Hill. I don't intend to be a politician on Capitol Hill. From what I hear, memories are very long and egos can be very bruised.

I want to bring in John Avlon, our senior political analyst here at CNN.

So I keep hearing that partisanship could be at its very worst if the nuclear option is actually successful. To that I say, seriously, that was possible? I kind of thought we were at rock bottom.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yeah. You know, by pretty much any measure, things are as hyperpartisan as ever before. This nuclear option would exacerbate even the deep divisions that exist right now. What I think is important for context here is for folk it is realize that the Senate doesn't operate functionally with simple majority. The threshold is 60 not 51, the simple majority. This has been in place since 1917 when filibustering and cloture votes effectively began. In the last 12 years there have been 600. We've seen a dramatic ratcheting up of filibusters in the Senate. That is what is creating the context and the sense of frustration. There are nearly 100 judicial vacancies right now. As long as those stay open, you look at the increased risk of the filibuster and see the frustration that leads folks to say it's time for fundamental filibuster and that would absolutely destroy, even further the already fractured trust that exists between the two parties in Washington.

BANFIELD: If our viewers are wondering, what are you talking about, John Avlon? I've not seen one moment in the last couple of weeks of "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," nobody wearing diapers on the Senate floor or sneaking candy bars in their long dissertation. It's not always like that.

I'll explain why that is. Where are all these filibusters that are always such a problem? I thought Ted Cruz had nothing to do with this. Also what those guys are doing down in that well, what the conversations are like between these Senators, particularly the Democrats, and whether they'll be effective in this nuclear option in a moment.



BANFIELD: 42 minutes, all we've been talking about is this crisis on Capitol Hill. There's something else big today. At top of the hour, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will take over as head of the Republican Governor's Association. And that, my friends, is one coveted job that will give him a heck of a lot more national exposure. Maybe even give him a leg up, if he seeks the Republican nomination in 2016. But don't tell him that. Because he is downplaying that last part. At least he is on the record.


CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R), GOVERNOR OF NEW JERSEY: Everyone here is laser focused, Kelly, on 2014. No one even mentions anything else. Do the best job you can in 2014, Governor. That's it. Everyone has been wonderful.


BANFIELD: Standing live in Scottsdale, Arizona, Peter Hamby, where the GOP governors are holding their annual meeting.

I love when people say don't read into these things. All along, Chris Christie has been lobbying pretty hard for this job. Why shouldn't we read into that?

PETER HAMBY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Genuinely, he and his team do want to elect Republican governors next year in 2014. He did, as you say, lobby aggressively behind the scenes last year to get this job in 2014, both he and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal were making phone calls, whipping up votes to try to get this 2014 job. Christie came out on top. Why 2014? 36 governors races next year. As you mentioned, he will be traveling around the country, out of New Jersey, campaigning for tons of candidates throughout the country, in various states, including early presidential primary states like Iowa and South Carolina, where there are governor's races next year. And raising money from some of the Republican Party's top financial supporters. This is a great platform for him, if he does want to run for president in 2016. It elevates his profile. Mitt Romney and Rick Perry, who ran for president previously ran the RGA. As you mention, this is a great place for him -- Ashleigh?

BANFIELD: Great place. If you ask Mitt Romney or ask Rick Perry, it's not always a pipeline to the big office.

Peter Hamby, thank you. Always good to see you, my friend. Thank you for checking that out for us.

Big top stories we're following, Kennedy cousin, Michael Skakel, could get out of prison for the first time in 11 years and it could actually happen today. A hearing in Connecticut that's going on this hour, a judge could decide to set bond for Skakel and his family could actually meet bond. His conviction of murdering Martha Moxley you will remember, in big headlines, was over turned on the grounds that his representation was not what it should have been. And now it is possible he will face a new trial, or not. We'll keep an eye on that for you.

We're checking other top stories. A deal with Iran not to build nuclear weapons and it's a deal that could happen soon. That's the word from the United States diplomats meeting with allies and Iranian counterparts in Switzerland. Any possible deal could involve Iran capping its uranium enrichment activities and allowing inspectors to visit nuclear sites. In return, there would be an easing of those international sanctions that have been crippling to the country of Iran.

We have many more top stories that we're following as well. Also keeping our eye on Capitol Hill. Quick break. Right back after this.


BANFIELD: It was a today that changed America forever. 50 years ago tomorrow, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. And that city, Dallas, has spent decades trying to shake off the reputation of, quote, "that city that killed Kennedy," end quote. Tomorrow it's going to present a special celebration honoring the memory of Kennedy. The city has already begun paving over those X's where the president was shot.

Of the many images from the Kennedy assassination, perhaps none touched the hearts of a grieving nation than that photograph -- you know the one I'm referring to -- the little boy saluting the flag- draped coffin of his dad. That little boy was John-John, little John F. Kennedy Jr. That day, November 25, 1963, if you don't know this, it was his 3rd birthday. He's standing with his mom Jacqueline Kennedy, and his sister Caroline, and his Uncle Robert and Ed Card.

Dan Ferrell the man who took that iconic photograph said it was the saddest thing I've ever seen in my whole life. And he had to see it through that lens. At that time he was with the New York "Daily News" and that's the photograph, folks, on the cover of the "Daily News," front page news with the words "We carry on."

And Dan Ferrell joins me live right now from his home on Long Island, New York.

Mr. Ferrell, it's so great to be able to meet you, even this way. It's nice to know the person behind the iconic picture. I have one question for you, off the bat, did you know when you took that picture what you had taken?

DAN FERRELL, PHOTOGRAPHER: Well, I realized it was going to be part of history and, you know, I didn't realize it would be as famous as it is today. But I'm certainly glad I was able to do that.

BANFIELD: Is that the camera, just off to your -- to your left on the table beside you? Is that the camera you were actually using that day?

FERRELL: No, it's not. It's -- it just happens to be an old camera. It's an old speed graphic. It's not the camera that I used. The camera that I used was bought by the "Daily News" from the military. We brought it down to Washington that day and it was given to me to go try to make a different picture. And I went up to the church and that's where I got into a photo stand and I got this one picture of John saluting.

BANFIELD: I think I recall reading somewhere that the camera you were using was big and clunky, and then I found it remarkable you only had 12 exposures of film, those are the days when you didn't hold the button down and get 100 shots. But you really only did take one picture, you took one picture on that roll of 12 and this is the one?

FERRELL: Well, it was -- his hand went up very, very quickly and I got off one shot and it was all over. You know? Just -- it was just one quick picture. I did get -- I realize it was going to happen because Mrs. Kennedy actually said to him, salute, John. And he didn't salute at first. And then she told him again to salute and he did.

BANFIELD: And he did it.

FERRELL: I was looking through the lens, and I just knew that he was going to salute. BANFIELD: Can I ask you, Mr. Ferrell, the notion that you didn't get a Pulitzer for this, i think will blow a lot of people's minds but you were nominated for the Pulitzer. You were only beaten out by Bob Jackson because he had the image of the moment that Jack Ruby shot Oswald. But does that even matter at this point that you didn't get a Pulitzer for this?

FERRELL: No, it doesn't really matter. It would have been very nice for me and also for the daily news and for all of the people who were there covering the event, it would have been a great honor. But you know, that's the way it goes. That's life. He did have a remark --


BANFIELD: Go ahead.

FERRELL: He had a remarkable picture of Truby getting shot. But you know, the Kennedy picture, the little boy saluting with his family, it's going to live forever.

BANFIELD: It will. Without question, it will. It's wonderful to meet the man behind the lens I thank you for your terrific body of work, all 50 years of your work and this terrific picture as well.

Thank you, sir. Nice to meet you.

FERRELL: Thank you, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: Dan Ferrell joining us live from Long Island with the photograph in hand.

Coming up after the break, a very big plane lands at a very small airport. Turns out too small. Now this is one massive headache.


BANFIELD: So we're continuing to watch Capitol Hill for you. Before the break, before two breaks ago, I told you that it's a bit weird, isn't it, sense we haven't -- no, not the Dream Lifter yet. Hold on, go back to the Senate. Why is it there's all of this effort to block judicial nominees with filibusters. I haven't seen the filibusters. Turns out, there's something called the non-talking filibuster. It's a gentlemanly thing. You can do these. They don't have to be talking filibusters. They can be the procedural filibuster, so that's why you haven't seen them.

Other big news, the Dream Lifter, landing at wrong airport in Wichita, Kansas. That airport doesn't handle going 747s, doesn't have a control tower but the Dream Lifter to land 12 miles away and now it's expected to take off for its original destination today, though the runway isn't really long enough. That was a big problem. Seemed like it was going to be stuck there. Turns out they may be able to get that up and off the runway after all.

That's a lot of breaking news for you today. Hope you're still with me. If you're still with me, you should be there for the next show. AROUND THE WORLD starts right now.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has a new job. Taking over the reins of the Republican Governors Association. The question on everybody's mind, what are his plans for 2016?

HALA GORANI, CNN ANCHOR: Also this. Pulled off a plane in North Korea, the family of this 85-year-old American says, they've had no contact with him since and they are worried about his safety.

Also --


CONTROLLER: Gant 4241 heavy, confirm you know which airport you're at?

PILOT: Well -- we think we have a pretty good pulse.


HOLMES: Yeah, not really. This giant cargo plan ended up at the wrong airport. Now they are trying to figure out a way to get it back up in the air.

Welcome to AROUND THE WORLD, everybody. I'm Michael Holmes.

GORANI: And a very short runway. We'll have that for you. I'm Hala Gorani, in for Suzanne Malveaux.

First this hour, a major debate raging right now on Capitol Hill.