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House Leaders Outline Immigration Plan; Obama Encouraged About Immigration; Rodman Opens Up from Rehab; Rodman Interview; Security Scare at Hotels

Aired January 31, 2014 - 13:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, not going it alone. President Obama signals he's willing to work with the Republicans on immigration reform. CNN has the exclusive interview.

Also right now, new questions about Amanda Knox's future. What are the rules of extradition and what price could the U.S. pay if it doesn't send her back to Italy?

And right now, Dennis Rodman changes his tune. He said he'd do anything to help the American captive, Kenneth Bae. He'd even trade places.

Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington. It's a main sticking point in the effort to pass comprehensive immigration reform. What to do about the 11 million undocumented workers already living in the United States. House Republican leaders have unveiled their outline for the immigration bill, but it does not include an immediate path to citizenship for people in the country illegally.

Immigration was one of the issues President Obama discussed in an exclusive interview with our own Jake Tapper. Jake is here with us right now. Jake, excellent work, as usual. This whole issue of a path to citizenship, is it a make-or-break issue for the president?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR, "THE LEAD": Well, it's a make-or-break issue for a lot of immigration reform advocates, people on the left who want a clear path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented workers in this country. But Republicans, in this House especially, have made it clear that that's a non-starter. So, that was the question for the president, would he be willing to sign a bill that does not include a path to citizenship, instead including some other legal status or would he veto it? Here's what he said.


(on camera): Let's talk about areas where you might be able to make some progress.


TAPPER: I know that a pathway to citizenship and immigration reform is very important to you and it's very point to Democrats and others. It's possible that you might be able to get an immigration reform bill on your desk --


TAPPER: -- that has legal status for the millions of undocumented workers in this country but not citizenship. Would you veto that?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, you know, I'm not going to prejudge what gets to my desk.

TAPPER: Right, but (INAUDIBLE) principle?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I think the principle that we don't want two classes of people in America is a principle that a lot of people agree with, not just me and not just Democrats. But I am encouraged by what Speaker Boehner has said. Obviously, I was encouraged by the bipartisan bill that passed out of the Senate. I genuinely believe that Speaker Boehner and a number of House Republicans, folks like Paul Ryan, really do want to get a serious immigration reform bill done.

If the speaker proposes something that says right away folks aren't being deported, families aren't being separated, we're able to track top young students to provide the skills or start businesses here and then there's a regular process of citizenship, I'm not sure how wide the divide ends up being. That's why I don't want to prejudge it.

TAPPER: I just wonder if you see this all -- this at all in terms of especially the pathway to citizenship in the way that you seemed to when we were -- when you were passing health care reform and I was covering it, the public option. In other words, it would be a great, in your view, if you could do it. It's not going to happen and there might be some expectation setting you have to do because I -- having reported on this, I don't think House Republicans can pass anything that has a pathway to citizenship.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, here's the good news though. Number one, there is a desire to get it done, there, particularly in this Congress is a huge business because they haven't gotten a lot done over the last couple of years out of the House Republican caucus. They've been willing to say what they're against, not so much what they're for. The fact that they're for something I think is progress.

I do know that for a lot of families, the fear of deportation is one of the biggest concerns that they've got. And that's why we took executive actions given my prosecutorial discretion to make sure we're not deporting kids who grew up here and are Americans, for all practical purposes. But we need to get that codified. And the question is, is there more we can do in this legislation that gets both Democratic and Republican but solves these broader problems including strengthening borders and making sure that we have a legal immigration system that works better than it currently does.


TAPPER (live): So, Wolf, I think it's fair to say that there are a lot of people on the left, progressive pushing -- progressives pushing for immigration reform who were disappointed by the president's answer. I gave him several opportunities to say that he would veto anything that didn't contain a path to citizenship, any legislation. He did not take it. He said that there needed to be a principle in the bill that we're not creating two classes of people.

And he also said that if the Republicans present something that where there's a regular process of citizenship, that would be acceptable to him, of course, through a lot of immigration reform advocates who want -- for want of a better term, a special path to citizenship, a distinct path to citizenship, so individuals who have been in this country for years are able to pursue citizenship and not just get in the back of the line. And I think that that willingness to work with the Republicans on this issue might rub a lot of them the wrong way. Although, on the other hand, Wolf, it might mean that there's actually legislation that is able to be passed.

BLITZER: And I know the president wants to speak with illegal immigrants directly, not necessarily the organizations that are pushing hard for this pathway to citizenship, to try to get a direct sense of where they stand on this notion of at least getting some legal status in the United States so that they can work, they can travel, they don't have to be afraid of deportation.

Let's -- Jake, hold on for a moment. Dana Bash is with us, our Chief Congressional Correspondent. Dana, explain where the Republican leadership in Congress is right now because even though they're open to a pathway to citizenship, I understand for the so-called dreamers, the children of these illegal immigrants, they're not readily accepted yet for the parents, for the adults, but there is a way that eventually they -- from a legal status, they can move on for citizenship, by what, going to the end of the line.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. So, here is what the House Republican leadership laid out to their rank in file yesterday at a retreat. And I was there in Cambridge, Maryland. It is, as Jake was reporting with the president, legal status, not a path to citizenship as the Senate -- as the Senate passed last year. But it also doesn't preclude citizenship for people who get legal status and are eligible through the existing channels. For example, if somebody has legal status right now, they are eligible for citizenship because of family relations, because of employment. Those would be possible ultimately so that's what we're talking about here in terms of this substance.

But -- I'm going to give you the big but here. When it comes to process and politics, that's the big open question. On process, House Republicans have said and the House speaker has said publicly, I want to do this. I don't care that it's an election year. I want to start moving this now. I'm told that in this meeting that they had, you sort of heard the -- what you would expect. You had a lot of people who said that they don't think the policy of this is the right way to go, even if it's just legal status. But you also heard some -- apparently some Republicans who want immigration reform, who don't think it is the right thing to do this year, an election year. So, the reality check that I'm going to give to you, based on our reporting at this retreat yesterday, is that I wouldn't hold my breath that you're going to see this legislation move this election year because the focus politically for Republicans is on getting out their base this midterm election year. They understand broadly in a national election, which is 2016, they're going have to reach out to Hispanics, so it would not surprise me if it gets punted to next year.

BLITZER: It does -- Jake, it does impress, though, that the president and Boehner, they both are indicating they would like to reach a deal. There's a pathway to a compromise, if you will, Jake, but it's not there yet.

TAPPER: It isn't there yet. But I do have to say that President Obama, even though he is on this tour and his State of the Union message was one of he's willing to go it alone and Republicans are complaining about him subverting the constitution and pursuing an imperial presidency. At the end of the day on this issue, he showed a willingness to, it depends on your perspective, I suppose, compromise, cave, if you're an immigration reform advocate on the left, and work with Republicans. I did not know that he was going to be willing to not draw a line in the sand.

BASH: Yes.

TAPPER: Politically, I think it's probably wise in terms of getting something passed. But in terms of principle of pursuing immigration reform and having a path to citizenship, there are those on the president's -- in the president's base who are very disappointed that he did not draw that line in the sand -- Wolf.

BASH: And that's just -- quickly, Wolf, speaks to an important thing that we shouldn't forget here which is that the president is reaching out. House speaker Boehner and many of his rank-and-file Republicans are reaching out. The second they -- the Republicans formally put out their principles that we reported on yesterday that I just described, you had Democrats in the Senate, Chuck Schumer and others who -- for whom this was clearly no surprise, it was kind of precooked. They immediately put out a statement saying that we welcome this. This is a different tone that we've seen for the past three years since the Republicans have been in charge of the House and that is worth noting.

BLITZER: It certainly is.

TAPPER: One other thing though, Wolf, if I could just say.

BLITZER: Go ahead.

TAPPER: One thing that -- when I interviewed Paul Ryan who is really leading the charge in many ways on this issue within the House Republican caucus along with some other members as well. One thing that he expressed concern about is Republicans who are concerned about the president's taking executive action, not so much with what he's been doing this week, but with other things he's done in the past, especially with regards to the health care law provisions that he's delayed, provisions that have been waived. They have expressed concern that immigration reform cannot be subject to the whims of the -- this president or any president when it comes to what to enforce, especially when it comes to the border and border control issues which are very important, of course, for conservatives. So, that's something you should expect to hear a lot more in the coming months, if they are working toward something here.

BASH: Exactly.

BLITZER: Dana, you know, very quickly. We -- the president has drawn a line in the sand as far as making concessions on raising the nation's debt ceiling --

BASH: yes.

BLITZER: -- at the end of this month, at the end of February or the beginning of March saying the U.S. -- the administration is not going to pay ransom to do what the country needs to do, make sure the country doesn't neglect its international commitment, --

BASH: Yes.

BLITZER: -- its national debt, if you will. But you're getting some new information on what the Republican position is.

BASH: That's right. House Republicans just wrapped up their retreat and their last meeting was about how to deal with the debt ceiling. And it sounds as though, according to multiple sources, that the consensus is that they're at least going to try to get some concession for raising the debt ceiling. The most likely is to try to get rid of what's known as risk corridors which is effectively as part of Obama care, allowing the government to, for people who don't like this, bail out insurance companies who aren't -- who aren't getting their money back.

However, John Boehner knows this. He has said this publicly that that is something that ultimately the president won't accept. So, he is really trying to push his members to just get this over with, increase the debt ceiling and move on. You have a lot of people in his caucus who agree with that, but they're just -- it sounds like they're going through the motions to try to figure out how they get to that point.

The other concern is -- just of the political dynamics here that we were told about at this meeting, is that even if they want to try to extract a concession and they put that bill on the floor of the House, they might even get Republican support. It might not even pass. And the reason is because there may be enough Republicans who won't vote for any increase in the debt ceiling no matter what is attached to it. So, those are the kinds of things that they're grappling with.

But the key point here is that the House speaker does not want a fight on this. He has made it very clear to his members. He wants to get it done in some way, shape or form and move on.

BLITZER: And nobody wants a downgrading of the U.S. credit rating --

BASH: Exactly, that's why. BLITZER: -- once again right now. All right, Dana, thanks very much. Jake, thanks to you as well. Good work. Both of you doing excellent work.

By the way, Jake's full interview with President Obama will air later today. And it's a wide ranging interview on "THE LEAD" at 4:00 p.m. Eastern. You're going to want to watch it.

Dennis Rodman opens up to our own Chris Cuomo. You're going to hear what the former NBA star now says about his trip to North Korea and his friendship with Kim Jong-Un. The exclusive interview with Chris Cuomo. Chris is also standing by. That's when we come back.


BLITZER: The former NBA basketball star, Dennis Rodman, spoke candidly and exclusively about his battle with alcoholism, the fate of an American being held in North Korea, and his friendship with Kim Jong- un. The exclusive interview was with our own Chris Cuomo. Rodman said he doesn't view the North Korean leader as a dictator.


DENNIS RODMAN, FORMER NBA PLAYER: And I call him kid all the time. And I said, yes, he's - he's my friend. I look at him like that because he gave me the opportunity to at least come in, in the country, in North Korea, to bring a basketball team over there to show the world, to just show the world that we can actually get along, Americans and North Korea. I wasn't trying to look in the history book of what really went on back with his grandfather or his father. That wasn't my job.


RODMAN: Or him. It wasn't - it wasn't my job. It wasn't my job. I wasn't - that wasn't my assignment to go over to - hey, you know what, Kim Jong-un, can I come over here and ask you questions about why you're such a bad guy? That wasn't my job. Now we go into the political stage of this. that wasn't my job. And I said that from day one to today. I'm not an ambassador. I'm not, you know, a diplomat.


BLITZER: In an earlier interview with Chris, Rodman seemed to suggest he knew why the American, Kenneth Bae, is being held in North Korea. He said Bae must have done something to be sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. Today, Chris asked if he wanted to apologize to Bae's family.


RODMAN: Now, I don't even know the Bae family and I keep trying to tell you, I have sympathy to the fact that I don't want anyone to go in any country or anywhere in the world to be hostage for something maybe they did or did not do. You know, I'm not -- like I say, I'm not in government. I don't know what -- how that works. But little (ph) -- with the Bae family, you know, I -- like I said, I feel for them. I feel for them deeply. But I don't know if it was - let me say probably (ph) this. I would do anything - I would do anything literally -- this is - this is Dennis Rodman talking. If they said, we'll take Dennis Rodman and we'll let Kenneth Bae go, I say, you know what, I'd do that. Straight ahead. I'd do it. Take me.


BLITZER: Chris Cuomo is joining us now for a little bit more analysis of this truly amazing interview.

Chris, good work. We were all watching. I was riveted at 8:00 a.m. Eastern on "New Day" when you were doing this interview at that rehab clinic. And you spoke about his struggles with alcohol. Tell our viewers what he said.

CHRIS CUOMO, CO-HOST, CNN'S "NEW DAY": Yes, I mean, Wolf, that really was the motivation to go and speak to Dennis. Yes, there's a lot of wattage in him. He creates controversy. But unlike the North Korea situation where he clearly is suffering from a little bit of ignorance is bliss in terms of how he chooses to see the man he calls his friend and ignoring the situation. Of course he's not an ambassador or a politician, but there's still a responsibility in terms of how you depict this man.

But the issue of addiction, Wolf, you know, as you well know, it's something that's much more relatable to Americans and I felt that Dennis showcasing the journey of recovering, how difficult it is, speaks to what a lot of families and a lot of individuals understand. And he is suffering. He is sick. He is losing the battle right now. He's in a rehab facility, but he's not working the program. He says he hops around the 12 steps. Doesn't work like that, as anybody knows.

But I feel for him and I wish him well. And I was happy to give him this opportunity, which is unusual, Wolf, as you know. You don't usually talk to someone in the midst of rehab, although we've both done documentary work where you follow someone through it. However, his doctor and he felt he needed this as part of his healing process to get this off his chest. And I think the addiction is the most real thing that he's dealing with right now in terms of where his head is.

BLITZER: And he said - it was pretty amazing, he said, the reason he drinks is because he's bored. Is that -- I'm right, right?

CUOMO: Yes. He definitely says that. The question is, what does he mean? I'm not a psychologist. You know, we've had a lot of experience over the years covering addiction, recovery, the problems, the different manifestations. I think what's going on here is obviously it's not about partying. It's about masking. And not everybody drinks to abuse alcohol, of course, but he does. And it's not that he's bored. I think that when he is left alone with himself, when he is in those moments, there are things that he doesn't want to deal with, and that's where the booze comes in. That doesn't make him unusual. It makes him all too usual.

His denial of it right now is dangerous and I hope that today he did get things off his chest and it does allow him to clear the table, so to speak, to move forward in a more productive way. I'm not sure it will, though, Wolf. He was talking about wanting to do a press conference next week, leaving rehab, you know, getting back into this large self that he believes, you know, is his kind of - the kind of cult personality that he is. So, I think he's got some real work to do.

BLITZER: He also invited you to join him on his next trip to North Korea.


BLITZER: Are you going?

CUOMO: I would certainly accept the invitation. It would be better, I think, if you came with me. At least we have somebody there who knows the situation well and would be of more journalistic value.

BLITZER: No (ph).

CUOMO: Listen, obviously, Wolf, I would take the invitation in a second. There's zero chance of me being used by any type of propaganda machine there. I think it would be very important to get a journalist in there in a non-controlled environment. I don't know if it's possible. I understand his gesture and I was willing to accept it. We'll see where it leads, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. I was there three years ago and I would highly recommend it. It's an eye-opening experience. And I know you'd, as a journalist, you'd want to see it up close. You don't -- it's not every day someone gets to see what's going on in Pyongyang and some of the areas around the North Korean capital.

Excellent work, as usual, Chris. Thanks so much for doing this. Thanks for everything you do every morning. As a regular viewer of "New Day," I appreciate it.

CUOMO: High praise, Wolf. Have a great weekend. Thank you for the opportunity, sir.

BLITZER: Thank you. Chris Cuomo doing amazing work for us.

There's a story we're following right, a disturbing story, involving a security scare at several hotels near the site of the Super Bowl in New Jersey. Susan Candiotti is on the phone.

What's going on, Susan?


Well, it shows you the kind of thing that security officials are worried about, and at this time they're investigating this. Federal, state and local agencies tell us that, from our sources, that a white powdery substance was found at three hotels, three hotels, located near the Super Bowl at the site of East Rutherford, New Jersey. Obviously, they've got hazmat -- hazardous materials and bomb squads out there involved in checking into this. But apparently six letters are involved in this that were received in New Jersey and one in New York City. The one in New York City, evidently, went to and was addressed to former mayor -- New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and was sent to his midtown office. However, it never got to him. It was opened in the mail room. The letter containing a powdery substance of some kind and it didn't go any further than that. They called the authorities. They're checking it out.

The same goes for these additional letters that were found in New Jersey. At this time, no one is sounding an alarm, Wolf. At this time, they are doing what they normally do, they're responding to these. They are checking out the letters. They're obviously going to test this white powdery substance to see exactly what it is. And, of course, who sent these letters. And then we'll have more information.


BLITZER: How long will it take to determine if this white powdery substance is really dangerous or this is all simply someone's idea of a hoax?

CANDIOTTI: Well, you know, Wolf, as we've seen in the past, you're right, oftentimes these matters can be a hoax. And there is a test that the FBI and other hazardous materials teams are used to doing right on site that can give them an initial read on something. However, it oftentimes is not conclusive, so it's usually sent for additional testing, which can take a few days to thoroughly check out. But it's something they don't want to, of course, take any chances. As we've seen in many other cases in the past, they will examine this substance and see exactly what it is. And they certainly are looking at where these letters came from and who may have sent them.

BLITZER: Was the substance the same substance in the letter that was sent to the former New York City mayor, Rudy Giuliani, and the substance they found at these hotels near the site of the Super Bowl?

CANDIOTTI: They're not saying exactly other than a white powdery substance that they're concerned about. They're talking about six letters again in New Jersey, one to former Mayor Giuliani at his office. Of course he's now a private citizen. So we are not sure how similar they are as details are just now becoming available.

BLITZER: And in the letters that were sent, or at least that one letter that was sent to Giuliani, do we know if there was a threat in that letter, what it said, or any of the details of that letter?

CANDIOTTI: That's what we're still trying to pin down right now. Of course, that is something that you'd want to look at and see whether there was a threat. It would not be uncommon if that were the case, as we've seen many, many times in the past. We know through the anthrax scare that following the 9/11 attacks, it was quite prevalent. But we have often seen, over the years, Wolf, as you know, many instances of people trying to scare others by sending something that looks or appears to be like a substance that could be a chemical that could bring harm, such as anthrax, such as ricin. So -- but it's far, far too early to wonder or suggest that this might be the case here too. We'll have to wait a bit longer to see.

BLITZER: We're showing our viewers, Susan, the live picture courtesy of our affiliate News 12 New Jersey. I can see some vehicles in front of the hotel. I think it's a renaissance hotel not far away from the Super Bowl site. Describe what's going on. I guess they've got hazmat units on the scene. They're taking a look at this. They're - I assume they're interviewing employees and guests at that hotel?

CANDIOTTI: That would be the norm - the routine. We're still headed out there, so I don't have the return on the pictures that you are seeing right now, but that would be standard operating procedure to cordon off any area that they would be concerned about. So at this point we don't know, for example, in the hotels, were these letters discovering in the mail room there, how far did these letters get?

But, of course, they'd want to secure any particular scene that they think warrants that kind of attention. And, of course, interview the staff as to who touched it, who saw it, did you see anyone coming in with any kind of mail, look for delivery trucks where it might have been received. There's a lot of tracing back to see what would happen.

But you can imagine if you were staying at one of these hotels and you're attending the super Bowl, or for that matter are there for any other reason, it's unnerving to say the least.

BLITZER: To put it mildly. Hold on for a moment, Susan. Tom Fuentes, our law enforcement analyst, former assistant director of the FBI, is on the phone with us.

Tom, you've been listening to this - this news that's developing. And for our viewers just tuning in, they found six areas of some white powder, an unknown white powder, at these hotels near the site of the Super Bowl, and also in a separate letter sent to the former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. They found some white powdery substance as well. And hazmat units, others, they're going through, they're trying to determine if this is dangerous, is this is some sort of hoax, what's going on. Just walk us through how quickly that we should know whether this is a real threat or this is someone who thinks this is just a fun idea to make people a little crazy right now.

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST (via telephone): Well, unfortunately, Wolf, it might take a while to know if it's a real threat. I mean right now what they'll be doing is trying to isolate the material, safely remove it and prepare it to be transported so that it can be analyzed. But sometimes the analysis takes - it can even take several days depending on what type of material it is. So the only way that you could really expedite determining that it's safe is if they find out who put that there or if somebody claims credit for it as a hoax just to do it, just to get attention. But at this point, it's going to be a little bit of a while to see. And I'll be anxious to hear what the different laboratories say about how long it would take them to examine and verify the content.

BLITZER: So if a hazmat unit is on the scene -- and we're showing our viewers these live pictures coming in from this Renaissance Hotel that's not far away from the site of the Super Bowl. You saw the hazmat unit, the vehicles out front. I assume anyone who's going to get near that substance is going to be wearing protective gear.

FUENTES: Well, hopefully, you know, they're trained in how to deal with this kind of material. So they'll make themselves be dressed appropriately and safely in order to gather up the material and secure it. So, yes, you would expect -- that's why they call a hazmat team, because they're professionals at doing this and securing the material.

BLITZER: We're watching the breaking news here on CNN. I also want to welcome our viewers on CNN International, viewers not only here in the United States but around the world.

And just to recap what we know right now, there are six areas at these three hotels not far from the site of the Super Bowl in New Jersey, right outside of New York City, where they found some suspicious white powder. Separately, a separate letter was sent to the former mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani, now a private citizen. That letter was intercepted in the mail room. They found some white powdery -- suspicious powder in that letter as well.

So they're investigating that. We don't know if there's a connection for the powder sent to Rudy Giuliani and the powder in six separate incidents found at these three hotels not far from the site of the Super Bowl, which is Sunday night.

But, Tom, walk us through how law enforcement, local, state, federal law enforcement is going to have to deal with this.

FUENTES: Well, they're do the investigation to see if they can identify when the material arrived and how it arrived at the locations.