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Senate Democrats Pass "Nuclear Option"; Obama Backs Democrats' "Nuclear Option"; Ayatollah's Threats Add Tension to Nuke Talks; Last Minute Hitch Threatens Afghan Deal; New Doubts about Trayvon Martin Killing; Van Damme's Epic Split Goes Viral

Aired November 21, 2013 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Shocking new remarks from Iran's Supreme Leader.

Do his words threaten a proposed international deal to slow Iran's nuclear program?

And George Zimmerman's estranged wife now says she has doubts about what really happened the night Trayvon Martin was killed.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


It's the equivalent of a legislative mushroom cloud now rising over the Capitol. Senate Democrats today finally triggered the so- called "nuclear option," ramming through a rule change that lets them easily break Republican filibusters. That will ease the path for the president's nominees, repeatedly blocked by GOP stalling tactics.

But Republicans are furious. They say this will come back to haunt Democrats when the balance of power changes.

We have full coverage of this landmark historic move today.

Brianna Keilar is standing by over at the White House.

But let's begin with our chief Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, for years, just the threat of this major rules change known as the "nuclear option" was enough to force the parties to compromise because the alternative was thought to be mutually assured destruction.

But now the Democrats have launched and Republicans are all but threatening to retaliate.


BASH (voice-over): It's an historic change Democrats say will help fix a broken system.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: It's time to change the Senate before this institution becomes obsolete.

BASH: Republicans argue it will make Washington gridlock worse.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: It puts a chill on the entire United States Senate.

BASH: Senate Democrats voted to lower the threshold to break a filibuster from 60 votes to 51 votes, a simple majority. It strips the minority party's ability to block a president's nominees.

It's called the "nuclear option" for good reason. Just a few years ago, even Democratic leader Harry Reid said he wouldn't do it, saying it would be...

REID: A black chapter in the history of the Senate.

BASH: So what about now?

(on camera): Why isn't this a black chapter in the history of the Senate?

REID: Well, because things have changed dramatically since 2005. Dramatically. For the last four-and-a-half years, they have done everything they can to deny the fact that Obama was elected and then re-elected.

BASH (voice-over): Translation -- GOP obstruction is unprecedented.

To back that up, Democrats point to statistics from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. In the history of the country, there have been 168 filibusters of presidential nominees. About half, 82, happened during the Obama administration.

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER (R), TENNESSEE: In summary, this is a power grab.

BASH: Angry Republicans don't necessarily dispute the Democrats' statistics about nominees they have blocked. Instead, they point to how many judges they have confirmed -- 215, and rejected five.

And when it comes to the fight that Democrats called the last straw, over vacancies in the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, the Republican leader argues Democrats are manufacturing a crisis to distract from the ObamaCare debacle.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: A fake fight over judges that aren't even needed.


BASH: Now Democrats say they get that this benefits them now that they're in the majority. But certainly, the tables will be turned the day that they lose that majority status. But they essentially shrug their shoulders and say that this is a risk they're willing to take because, in the words of one senior Democrat, the other option is continued obstruction -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What a day it is.

All right, Dana, stand by.

President Obama also backed the Senate Democrats' "nuclear option," accusing Republicans of this -- what he called an unprecedented pattern of obstruction.

Let's go live to our senior White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar.

So the president came into the Briefing Room and he made a very strong statement.


And he indicated -- and we've heard from White House officials -- that he is very frustrated, and has been for some time, by being unable to fulfill these positions in his cabinet -- not cabinet, in his administration, and these court vacancies. And that by the numbers, he's had more of these appointments blocked by the opposing party than any other president.

Here's how he explained it.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's not what our founders envisioned. A deliberate and determined effort to obstruct everything, no matter what the merits, just to refight the results of an election is not normal. And for the sake of future generations, we can't let it become normal.

The vote today, I think, is an indication that a majority of senators believe, as I believe, that enough is enough.


KEILAR: And the last few weeks were really, it appears, the breaking point -- three appointments by President Obama to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, which, because of the important federal matters that it handles, is considered second only to the Supreme Court in importance.

So that was really the breaking point and this drama really, I will say, Wolf, also does create a distraction, which the administration, of course, welcomes from the ObamaCare rollout, which has been dragging down President Obama's approvals to record lows in some polls.

BLITZER: The president had a different perspective, Brianna, when he was a United States senator, right?

KEILAR: Yes, that's right. It's always interesting to have a president, who has a record in the Senate when they get into fights with Congress. And the president does on this specific case.

In 2005, he took to the Senate floor and spoke out against the "nuclear option."

Here's how he explained why the minority party should have the option of this tool of the filibuster.


OBAMA: If the right of free and open debate is taken away from the minority party and the millions of Americans who ask us to be their voice, I fear that the already partisan atmosphere in Washington will be poisoned to the point where no one will be able to agree on anything. That doesn't serve anyone's best interests. And it certainly isn't what the patriots who founded this democracy had in mind.

We owe the people who sent us here more than that. We owe them much more.


KEILAR: Now, that may seem hypocritical to some people watching the change over the years, Wolf. But White House officials insist in this case, that it's different, that this ballooning opposition that you've seen over the years really tips the scale in favor of the "nuclear option."

And I will say one other important question here that is, at this point, still unanswered.

Does the president see this as a temporary fix or a permanent solution?

I asked White House spokesman Josh Earnest that at the briefing today and he wouldn't say -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Brianna, thanks very much.

So will the Democrats' "nuclear option" fix a broken Senate or lay waste to two centuries of tradition in the Senate?

Let's discuss what's going on.

Joining us, our CNN senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin; our CNN chief political analyst, Gloria Borger; along with BuzzFeed Washington bureau chief, John Stanton -- Jeff, you think this may be, with the exception of the Affordable Care Act, one of the most important lasting legacies of President Obama, what happened today.


JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The district of Columbia -- the DC Circuit is the second most important court in the country. President Obama has nominated five people to that court. Four of them have been filibustered.

As a result of today's decision, three of those four will be confirmed. That is the farm team for the Supreme Court. That's where Democratic presidents get their nominees to the Supreme Court, often.

This is the court that weighs whether most federal laws are Constitutional. Obama will be able to put his stamp on this court as a result of today's decision and those judges on this court and around the country will serve for decades after President Obama leaves office.

So this is an enormously important vote, especially at a time when Congress isn't passing any laws anyway. So judicial confirmations is about all they do.

BLITZER: Yes. And it's not just judicial confirmations that he's going to only need 51 votes for confirmation, but all executive branch nominations, with the exception of Supreme Court justices -- Gloria, this is a huge political moment right now...


BLITZER: -- because there's already been a poisonous atmosphere up on Capitol Hill. And so many people now believe it's only going to get worse.

BORGER: Right. I think the partisanship -- I mean we didn't believe this could occur, but the partisanship is going to increase exponentially, because Republicans will now say, OK, we might filibuster everything else. It's clear that the Democrats decided -- and I think the base of the party was quite involved in this, Wolf. I think the base of the party said we need to get these nominees through. This is part of the presidential legacy.

So they understand they're going to get a payoff up front.

But what comes down the road is another question.

I also think that today increased the stakes of the 2014 midterm elections, because now you're going to have both bases really activated on this particular issue of judicial nominees. And it's going to get out the Democratic base. It's going to get out the Republican base.

And so I think the control of the Senate now becomes more important, if that's possible.

BLITZER: Yes. The Republicans, John, they were already pretty energized because of the Affordable Care Act, ObamaCare. But this will further energize that Republican base, looking forward to that midterm election next year.

I assume you agree.

JOHN STANTON, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, BUZZFEED: Oh, absolutely. And I think, you know, if you look historically, judicial nominations have always been a major issue for the Republican base. You know, during the Clinton administration and during the Bush administration, you know, this notion of judicial activism was very much a thing the Republicans were able to use to turn out their people.

And it's interesting to see Democrats, over the last few years, starting to pick up that same issue on their side, and their base now becoming similarly interested in the judiciary, where, for a long time, they -- except for on abortion, you didn't see a lot of interest in that. And now I think both sides are going to be fighting much harder on this.

BORGER: You know, here's a number to keep in mind. And it's a number Republicans keep using, but 33 Democratic senators have never served in the minority. So the feeling is they're not going to know what it's like when the table is turned on them and when they've got to abide by this rule.

BLITZER: You know, I want to play these clips because, as we've been pointing out, there's a lot of hypocrisy going on in Washington these days, not to be so sur -- not to be a big surprise.

Here's Harry Reid, speaking in 2008 on this very sensitive issue.

And here's -- and we'll follow that with Mitch McConnell speaking on the "nuclear option" in 2005.

Listen to this.


REID: As long as I am the leader, the answer is no. I don't -- I think we should just forget that. That is a black chapter in the history of the Senate. I hope we never, ever get to that again, because I really do believe it will ruin our country.



MCCONNELL: The current Senate majority intends to do what the majority in the Senate has often done, to reform Senate procedure by a simple majority vote. Despite the incredulous protestations of our Democratic colleagues, the Senate has repeatedly adjusted its rules as circumstances dictate.


BLITZER: All right, so you heard.

Let me bring John back in and get your reaction to that.

You heard Harry Reid say this will ruin our country, to invoke the "nuclear option," which is exactly what he did today, invoked the "nuclear option." And you heard Mitch McConnell say get rid of that 60 vote requirement, 51, a simple majority, is what is necessary, which is what he hates today.

So what's your reaction? STANTON: There is a certain amount of hypocrisy, I think to it, although, you know, when Harry Reid says that things have changed, he's right. They have changed over the last eight years.

And this is symptomatic of a broader problem in Washington, which I thought there is no appetite anymore for bipartisanship. The number of people that are inclined toward that in both parties has dwindled significantly. You know, for every farm bill vote, you know, or end of vote in the Senate, there are dozens of other bills that have no traction at all because neither side is at all interested in working together.

And I think that this is part of this bigger problem that is going on right now in Washington.

BLITZER: You know, Jeffrey, this is going to enable, though, the president, over the next three years, assuming the Democrats retain the majority in the Senate after 2014, to have a lot of lifetime appointments on critically important courts out there for a -- he's going to get those approved with 51 votes, no longer 60 required.

TOOBIN: Absolutely. I mean this is the -- potentially, the biggest legacy that Barack Obama could have in his second term. The House of Representatives is not passing anything that Barack Obama is proposing. So he's not going to pass bills.

But he can nominate judges. He can fill administrative agencies. And now, he only needs 50 votes to do it.

Can they keep control of the Senate?

This is a vote of confidence of the Democratic majority that they're going to keep their majority.

But they're also saying, you know what, if we lose, we lose. The Senate has to function by majority rule, not a 60 percent rule. And if we lose, we'll have to live with that.

BORGER: You know, and the president today, when he came out, essentially said what he was saying during the whole shutdown argument and the defund ObamaCare argument. He said that you shouldn't want to refight the results of an election.

So what the president said is, look, we had this election. You elected me. We passed ObamaCare. And, of course, you want me to appoint judges. That's why you elected me. That's what I intend to do.

BLITZER: All right, Gloria, thank you.

Jeffrey, thanks.

John Stanton, thanks to you, as well.

Up next, Republican Senator John McCain warns that Democrats will pay a very heavy price for triggering this "nuclear option." He'll join us, by the way, in our next hour.

Tweet us your questions using the hash tag sitroom.

And our new poll just in to THE SITUATION ROOM shows what Americans think about a proposed nuclear deal with Iran. There could be some stunning comments coming out as a result of what's going on, including from Iran's Supreme Leader. You're going to hear what he has to say.

And Shelley Zimmerman has new doubts about what really happened the night her estranged husband shot and killed Trayvon Martin.


BLITZER: Let's get back to our top story for a moment. Senate Democrats have ended decades of tradition, imposed what they call the nuclear option that allows them to break Republican filibusters with a simple majority vote, making it easier to end a blockade on the president's nominees. But Republicans accused Democrats of breaking the rules and they warn that one day, the shoe will be on the other foot.

Just ahead at the top of the hour, Senator John McCain will be my guest here in the SITUATION ROOM. Lots to discuss with him.

Other news we're following, the United States and other world powers are trying to take a real nuclear option out of the hands of Iran, moving closer to a deal aimed at slowing its nuclear program. Our latest poll, by the way, just in to the SITUATION ROOM, shows America strongly favors a deal with Iran. We'll get to that in a moment.

But stunning new remarks by Iran's supreme leader raising new concerns. In a televised speech, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called Israel and I'm quoting him now, "a rabid dog" and vowed that Iran won't step back from its nuclear rights as a crowd chanted death to America.

CNN's chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is covering the negotiations in Geneva. He's joining us now. So, Jim, how are the ayatollah's comments playing in the midst of this sensitive moment in these negotiations?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, it's a problem. From the start of these talks, American diplomats, western diplomats, have talked about how Iran's tone had changed. It's become serious, constructive, even friendly. This, of course, stands in sharp contrast to that.

The ayatollah calling Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, the rabid dog of the region, saying we will, quote, "slap our opponents in the face in a way that they won't forget." Now, we know that some of this, a lot of this is meant for a domestic audience, but really, a sense from American and western diplomats here that this goes too far.

Here's what Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said on "New Day" this morning.


SAMANTHA POWER, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: Let me obviously condemn the comments of the ayatollah which are abhorrent. What I will say is that we have decades of mistrust partly on the basis of comments like this, partly on the basis of the continued steady progress toward a nuclear weapon.


SCIUTTO: Now, you talk to diplomats here. They say, listen, we have our work to do. We're working on the nuclear deal. They're trying to shut that out, but listen, they have got to sell this deal at home. American diplomats have to sell this at home where there is opposition. So, those comments make it more difficult.

BLITZER: They certainly do. You know, there's a new CNN/ORC poll that's just out that shows support for a potential Iran nuclear deal, 56 percent according to this poll would favor such a deal, 39 percent oppose it. How close are they? How much progress do they seem to be making, because the indications going into this new round of talks in Geneva was it could be any day, maybe as soon as this weekend.

SCIUTTO: It's possible, certainly. You talk to the Iranian delegation. They said this morning that some trust had been restored in the talks. You speak to the Americans. They say the talks were serious, constructive, that they moved the ball forward, but also, that they still have to narrow some differences here. I spoke to a member of the Iranian delegation just a few minutes ago as he was leaving and he looked at me and said, you know, it was tough today.

They're getting down to the brass tacks, the details of these issues, and that's really the toughest part of the negotiations.

BLITZER: You know, one interesting note, we just got a statement, Jim, and I'll read it to our viewers because it's a bipartisan statement. Senator John McCain is going to be joining us later.

Among others, including Bob Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, they've just issued a statement saying "A nuclear weapons capable Iran presents a grave threat to the national security of the United States and its allies, and we are committed to preventing Iran from acquiring this capability. We will work together to reconcile Democratic and Republican proposals over the coming weeks and to pass bipartisan Iran sanctions legislation as soon as possible."

It's significant because if the Senate, if Congress were to go ahead and strengthen sanctions at this time, intensify those sanctions, the administration believes that could be a deal killer as far as a nuclear arrangement with Iran.

SCIUTTO: Absolutely. Administration officials tell me, they say listen, this threatens our good faith in these negotiations, not only for the Americans with the Iranians but even the American side with its European partners, that if new sanctions are added, that would threaten their good faith. But it's one reason they feel they really have some time pressure here because they believe they can head off those sanctions until the next legislative session next year.

So, they feel these two weeks are really crucial and that's why they feel in many ways they're under the gun. No guarantee they're going to make a deal, but it is a pressure point for them.

BLITZER: Yes. These members of Congress want to increase the sanctions, increase the pressure, whereas the administration if it goes along with this deal, would ease some of those sanctions, at least for the next six months or so during this interim period to test Iranian intentions. All right. Jim Sciutto is in Geneva will get us the latest as it comes in.

John McCain, by the way, will be joining us live in the next hour here in the SITUATION ROOM.

There may be a last minute hitch in the security deal that would keep thousands of U.S. troops in Afghanistan for many years to come. It's now in the hands of the Afghan tribal elders, but the president, Hamid Karzai, is suddenly stonewalling. Our foreign affairs reporter, Elise Labott, is here. She's joining us with more.

What is the very latest, because we assumed they had virtually worked out a deal that would allow thousands of U.S. troops to stay in Afghanistan maybe for as long as a decade, even though they were all supposed to be gone by the end of next year.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: That's right. Well, President Karzai said he would sign this agreement that was reached in the last couple days if this Loya Jirga approved it. And now, he's saying, well, I'm going to wait until after the Afghan election and that's something that is coming in April and that's something that the United States, the white house, saying that they just can't accept because they need to make a lot of plans, Wolf.

If they're going to take all the U.S. troops out by the end of the year, they need to do that. They need to work with their allies, and frankly, they just don't want this to be part of the Afghan election. What if President Karzai's successor comes in wants to renegotiate the whole thing?

BLITZER: So, let's say they get a deal. Would it keep literally thousands of American troops in Afghanistan, maybe 5,000, 10,000, maybe 15,000, some NATO troops as well, for another ten years until 2024 at a cost of billions of dollars to U.S. taxpayers every year? Is that the deal the administration is considering?

LABOTT: Well, this agreement goes hand in hand with a strategic partnership with the Afghan government which ends in 2024. So, this partnership, this security agreement that we're talking about was really weirdly worded and kind of goes with that. But the administration is saying they have absolutely no scenario where they can see that U.S. troops are staying there through 2024.

They just can't envision it. But that said, it's really going to depend on when the Afghan troops are ready to take on full rein for their security.

BLITZER: The president did write a letter to Hamid Karzai today. There was no apology in that letter. Susan Rice said there wouldn't be an apology. There was no apology in that letter when she joined us, the president's national security advisor. Thanks very much, Elise, for that update.

Coming up, so, how dangerous is the nuclear option unleashed by Senate Democrats today? We're going to talk about it. The "Crossfire" hosts, Newt Gingrich and Stephanie Cutter, they're here. Also, Frank Bruni of the "New York Times" is here as well.

And President Obama's stunning new poll numbers. Guess what? Our brand new poll is out. He's got the lowest approval numbers since he took office.


BLITZER: We have our new CNN/ORC poll numbers that are just coming in. They paint a pretty grim picture for President Obama.

Let's discuss what's going on. Our "CROSSFIRE" co-hosts are joining us, the former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the former Obama campaign official, White House official, Stephanie Cutter, along with the "New York Times" columnist, Frank Bruni.

Let me get your quick reaction, Frank, first before I go to our "CROSSFIRE" co-hosts. Here's the new numbers in this new CNN/ORC poll.

How is President Obama handling his job as president? 41 percent approve, 56 percent disapprove. And if you take a look at the trend since May, it's gone down, 53 percent approved of the job he was doing back in May, went down to 45, 44 percent, now 41 percent. Other polls show it a bit lower but within the margin of error.

He's got a big problem here, Frank, doesn't he?

FRANK BRUNI, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes, he's got a terrible problem. He's got a terrible -- he's got terrible approval ratings. This is -- this is nothing new. This has been going this way for a couple of months. It raises big questions about how much he's going to be able to do in his second term. And I don't think we can divorce these poll numbers we're talking about from the nuclear option thing that happened today.

He's looking at a second term in which there are big questions about what he can get done and what Harry Reid has done in the Senate right now is clear a path for him at least to do some stuff along those lines.

BLITZER: He's going to get some stuff done, Mr. Speaker, Newt, he's going to get some stuff done now. He's going to get a lot of appointments confirmed because he only needs 51 votes, the Democrats have 55 majority to 45 Republicans in the Senate. So Frank's right. He's going to -- he's going to get something accomplished.

NEWT GINGRICH, HOST, CNN'S CROSSFIRE: There's no question that in terms of increasing the power of the president, this is a very important moment. And if you watch the president today, he didn't start by talking about judges. He started by talking about everything else. So you have to assume this is the beginning of the end of the filibuster and in a sense, this is the beginning of the end of the Senate --


BLITZER: Because right now the filibuster only deals with executive branch and judicial branch nominees. Doesn't deal with legislation. But what are you saying?

GINGRICH: Right but almost nothing -- almost nothing in his statement dealt with nominations. He started talking about all the things he wanted to get through and that suggested to me this is the beginning of --

BLITZER: Is Harry Reid going to do that? He's going to expand and eliminate the filibuster on everything?

STEPHANIE CUTTER, HOST, CNN'S CROSSFIRE: Well, Wolf, who knows? But there are important facts here that we're ignoring. The reason why today happened is because the Republican minority in the Senate, of all of the filibusters in the history of the Senate, almost half of them have happened under this Republican minority, over the past five years since the president has come into office.

And that's an abuse of power. And I think that it's unfortunate it came to this. You know, nobody wanted this to happen. I am a firm believer in the power of the Senate as the cooling saucer and the importance of the filibuster in ensuring that we're making the right policy decisions but what Republicans have done here is egregious.

BLITZER: But what does it say, Stephanie, about the president of the United States, he came into office saying there would be a new Washington, there would be bipartisan cooperation, we would work together.

CUTTER: It means that he doesn't have any partners for it.

BLITZER: And this was -- you know, something he strongly, when he was a senator, you know, he --

CUTTER: Well, I agree. In fact, I worked on the campaign to avert the nuclear option back in 2005 of which he was speaking about. And things were different back then. Yes, there was the use of the filibuster but nothing like what you're seeing right now. It is basically -- put a stop to the president's ability to fill judicial nominations which is a constitutional --

BLITZER: I'll bring frank in a second but go ahead, Newt.

GINGRICH: OK, I think Stephanie has a point. But truth was, the Democrats are doing the same thing to Bush.

CUTTER: Not at this level.

GINGRICH: And you could argue -- but it's pretty egregious against Bush also. And the fact is, we're going to have all this minority -- but the key thing is this. The Senate as an institution, has been profoundly changed, I don't think it will ever go back, and once you start down the road of unraveling the filibuster, you have eliminated what Stephanie correctly referred to, the cooling saucer of the founding fathers wanted it to be.

CUTTER: And, Wolf, remember last time that we averted the nuclear option because Democrats and -- and Republicans came together and Democrats agreed to take some what we would consider to be some pretty bad judges --

BLITZER: We are -- let me let Frank get into this.

Frank, who's to blame here for this? Because a lot of folks think, you know, the Democrats, they could be in the minority one of these days and they will -- they will potentially rue this day today.

BRUNI: Well, I mean, you say they could be in the minority some day. Gloria said earlier in the show something that made my ears perk up and I thought really important and interesting which is this takes the 2014 midterms and makes what were going to be fascinating and hugely important midterms all the more fascinating and important.

The fight for control of the Senate in the midterms just got much more intense because with these new rules and with the precedent that's been established, the value of being the majority party just got all that much bigger.

BLITZER: You know, Stephanie, listen to the president. When he was a junior senator from Illinois in 2005.

CUTTER: I know what he said.

BLITZER: He sounded 180 degrees different on the nuclear option than he sounded today. I'll play this clip.

CUTTER: I remember it.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: If the right of free and open debate is taken away from the minority party, and the millions of Americans who ask us to be their voice, I fear that the already partisan atmosphere in Washington will be poisoned to the point where no one will be able to agree on anything.


BLITZER: And so was he right then or is he right today?

CUTTER: Well, you know what?

BLITZER: He's saying exactly the opposite today than he said then.

CUTTER: What he was predicting actually happened. That the atmosphere in the Senate is so poisoned because of the minority party that absolutely nothing is getting done. It has ground to a halt.

Republicans have taken this to a whole new level. Now, I -- my, you know, guess is that nobody would want to take the vote they took today.

BLITZER: Let me let Newt respond to that.


GINGRICH: That is interesting.

CUTTER: But Republicans, half of the filibusters in the history of the Senate are under this minority right now.

GINGRICH: But people want to understand why the atmosphere has been so poisoned, part of it is the relentless need of Democrats to explain that it's always the Republicans. Republicans --

CUTTER: Do you think it has anything to do with Republicans?

GINGRICH: It has to do with both parties. Republicans -- the terms of hypocrisy, the Republicans were going to exercise the option when it was in their advantage and it was averted by a compromise. Now they are against the very thing they were going to do.

I just think we have seen for the last 10 or 12 years the Senate on a bipartisan basis has decayed. The interesting side note --

BLITZER: Well, let me -- let me just do a dissent and I'll let Frank respond then I'll let Stephanie get into this.

You know, when you say nothing is being done, Frank, in the Senate -- you didn't say this, Stephanie said it. Look, the Senate passed comprehensive immigration reform, bipartisan, they sent it to the House where it sits right now. They passed legislation to make sure that gays and lesbians, transgenders, do not have discrimination. They passed that, sent it over. They have been doing stuff in the Senate. It hasn't simply been stalemate.

BRUNI: Well, you raised a great point. The Senate has gotten some things done. Washington doesn't get much done because a lot of the things you're talking about in the Senate --

BLITZER: But the Senate, that's what I was saying. To say that the Senate has been just terrible, that's not true.

BRUNI: Well, that's why this is particularly sad, because the Senate we've often held up as something that at least gives us a ray of hope when we look at the House, and what happened today says that in the Senate, the mood is no, we can't get along.

You know, this feels to me almost inevitable. We are all acting with great shock and outrage or concern today, but I mean, we had debt ceiling brinksmanship like we've never seen before, we are coming off of a federal shutdown. In some ways when this happened today, I thought well, this is the logical conclusion to all of that.


BLITZER: Let me let Stephanie respond, because the Senate -- they've been doing stuff on foreign policy, even now you have Senator Rand Paul, Senator Ted Cruz, working with Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand to get some new rules to fight sexual assault --

CUTTER: And I hope that gets done.

BLITZER: -- in the military.

CUTTER: Right.

BLITZER: So to say that nothing is being done in the Senate --

CUTTER: Well --

BLITZER: You want to revise and amend that comment?

CUTTER: Well, Wolf, today's rule change was about nominations and look, the head of the Consumer Financial Product Bureau, the nominee for that, sat there for two years because the Republican minority was blocking him. Republican minority is refusing to let the president have any nominations --

BLITZER: But when the Democrats were in the minority they block nominees, too.

CUTTER: Let me finish.

BLITZER: Including the president, he voted to block a nomination.

CUTTER: Let me finish. Back to my point. Yes, the filibuster is used by both parties. Both parties are hypocrites on it. But the point here is that Republicans have taken it to a new level. Half of all filibusters in the history of the Senate have happened under this Republican Senate. That's an important point. And those numbers is ever so high.

BLITZER: Go ahead. Very quickly.

GINGRICH: Some of it is absolute baloney because some of those filibusters were for one day deliberately lodged stated (INAUDIBLE).

CUTTER: The use of the filibuster.

GINGRICH: I mean, fill the whole thing. But here's the interesting thing.

CUTTER: Blocked or filibustered.

GINGRICH: Every Democratic senator in a marginal race next year just walked the plank except Mark Warner. Every one of them just gave a vote --

BLITZER: All right. Hold on one second. I want Frank to respond.


CUTTER: The break-off is the problem for Republicans.

BLITZER: I'm going to put a picture up on the screen, Frank. This is the speaker of the House, John Boehner. He went to his computer today to sign up for the Affordable Care Act because he's got to get health insurance. There he is. And he sends out a note, he says earlier this afternoon I sat down to try and enroll in the D.C. exchange under the president's health care law, like many Americans.

"My experience was pretty frustrating. After putting in my personal information, I received an error message. I was able to work past that, but when I went to actually sign up for coverage, I got this. Internal server error screen."

All right. So give me your quick reaction, Frank.

BRUNI: Well, I mean, that's what a lot of Americans are experiencing and the Republicans are riding this very, very hard. And you know, the Obamacare rollout has been disastrous and it's still hard to believe that something this important and this much a part of his legacy and this important to the administration got handled this way, and what John Boehner is doing is what we know all Republicans are doing right now, and there's a great front page story in the "Times" today about it.

They are using this and riding this for all it's worth looking ahead to the 2014 midterms which, as I said, are going to be really, really interesting.

BLITZER: That was a very good article in the "New York Times" front page today.

Frank Bruni is a columnist for the "New York Times."

BRUNI: Got to get it home at some point.

BLITZER: Thanks very much. Newt, Stephanie, guys, thanks to you as well.

By the way, Newt and Stephanie will be back less than an hour from now with an in-depth look at this nuclear option along with senators who voted both for and against it. That's coming up on CNN's "CROSSFIRE" at 6:30 p.m. Eastern. Up next George Zimmerman's estranged wife speaks out. She says she has new doubts about what really happened the night Trayvon Martin was killed.


BLITZER: George Zimmerman's estranged wife Shellie Zimmerman spoke out about her soon-to-be former husband in an interview with Katie Couric just a little while ago. Listen to what she is now saying.


KATIE COURIC, "KATIE": I think when people hear of all these incidents following the trial it does cast further doubt on his actions that night.


COURIC: Do you feel that way?


COURIC: Does it cast further doubt for you?

ZIMMERMAN: Further doubt, yes, absolutely.

COURIC: But yet?

ZIMMERMAN: It casts a lot of doubt, like you said, because like I have said, I don't know the person that I've been married to so, of course, I'm going to have questions and doubts but I wasn't there that night.


BLITZER: Let's bring in Sunny Hostin, our legal analyst, and Jeffrey Toobin, our senior legal analyst.

Sunny, first to you. When you hear Shellie Zimmerman say that, she now has doubts about -- she was by his side throughout that entire trial, during that entire process, but now she has doubts. That's pretty significant.

SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I really think it is, and I mean, this isn't the first time she's said this. She's said before that she doesn't know or understand the man that she's been married to for the past seven years. But I think everyone has questions now about George Zimmerman, given his behavior since his acquittal.

I mean, we were talking about now three women, not one, not two, but three women that are accusing him of domestic violence, including Shellie Zimmerman. And so, you know, when someone is exhibiting violent behavior, I think it certainly does call into question the fact that he was acquitted of violent behavior. BLITZER: Let me play another clip. Remember she's now the estranged wife. Jeffrey, listen to this. This is Shellie Zimmerman once again with Katie Couric.


ZIMMERMAN: I found out that he was lying about a lot of things, and he became like a pacing lion, very unpredictable. I -- every single day, it was like adrenaline going through my body, constantly not knowing what it was going to be like from day to day.


BLITZER: All right. Jeffrey, from a legal standpoint, does any of this matter?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, certainly the Trayvon Martin case is over. That can't be reopened. He can't be prosecuted for it. You know, what's frustrating about hearing this is if there was evidence that could have been relevant to the jury in the Trayvon Martin case, it would have been nice to hear it when it still mattered.

Her statement is sufficiently vague that it's hard to know whether it would be admissible evidence and, of course, she was his wife at that point, but still, if there was evidence about his temper, about things he said, about his temper, about his behavior on the night in question, it sure would have been good to hear it then instead of on a talk show.

BLITZER: Jeffrey Toobin, Sunny Hostin, thanks, guys, very much.

Just ahead, I will speak live with Senator John McCain. We will talk about Democrats triggering the so-called nuclear option on the Senate floor today.

And a huge change possibly in store for your future flights.


BLITZER: Here's a look at some of the other stories we're monitoring in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. A jumbo jet that mistakenly landed at the wrong airport in Kansas took off without incident from a runway far shorter than it normally requires.

The 747 Dreamlifter cargo plane was originally bound for McConnell Air Force Base, but it was going from New York's JFK but missed its mark by 12 miles.

These two people are dead and as many as 30 are believed to be trapped after the roof of a shopping mall collapsed in Latvia, the capital city of Riga. The mayor says it appears building materials stored on the roof are to blame.

Listen to this, the FCC will now consider a proposal which would allow airlines passengers to make cell phones calls while flying about 10,000 feet on some planes. Current FCC rules prohibit passengers from making cell phone calls citing potential interference with wireless networks on the ground.

Coming up, Senator John McCain warns that invoking the nuclear option will come at a huge price. He's joining us live. We'll discuss his anger.

Plus parodies inspired by this split seen around the world. CNN's Jeanne Moos is next.


BLITZER: Jean-Claude Van Damme's epic split is now going viral.

Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Jean-Claude Van Damme is a leg man, he especially admires his own.

JEAN-CLAUDE VAN DAMME, ACTOR: A pair of legs engineered to defy the laws of physics.

MOOS: And when he did one of his trademark splits stretching from one Volvo truck to another as the trucks went in reverse.

It got millions of views on YouTube, even if he was wearing an unseen safety harness. But now he's getting something more than views. Parodies. There's Toronto's mayor, Rob Ford, cracking up, folks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What you see is a buddy crafted to perfection.

MOOS: And all of visual effects studio called Artjail did was seamlessly swapped heads.

There are animated parodies. And even a parody celebrating stretchy pants. You can hear them creek. The most celebrated parody so far features actor Channing Tatum. He's doing a split between two food carts on the set of his latest movie.


MOOS: And bet you didn't know Nutella could do split.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At Nutella, we want you to know that we can never be spread too thin. Even between two semi trucks.

MOOS: That and his 10-year-old son dreamed up this one.

(On camera): OK. So maybe not all of those parody splits are what you'd call side-splitting. But somehow "Only Time," sung by Enya, makes almost anything seem sort of funny. There are plenty of Pratt falls. From skateboards and toy trucks. And chairs. The one split we haven't seen is split pants. A comedy duo from South Africa did their take on Van Damme's split, featuring characters' name Hippo and Croc driving the trucks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They can drive through?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to get some bacon.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Definitely going. I'll be back.

MOOS: And let's not forget the banana split.

The only way all of these parodies fit is in a split screen.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.



BLITZER: Happening now, radioactive reaction after Senate Democrats deploy the nuclear option.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MINORITY LEADER: This was nothing more than a power grab.

SEN. HARRY REID (D), MAJORITY LEADER: Gridlock, gridlock, gridlock.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Now there are no rules in the United States Senate.