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Congressional Black Caucus Wants Issa Removed; Russia Accused of Sinking Ship, Trapping Vessels; Paralympics Games Overshadowed by Ukraine Crisis; Chris Christie Speaks at CPAC.

Aired March 6, 2014 - 11:30   ET


JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Marcia Fudge essentially read this resolution. It doesn't have to be enacted immediately. Bottom line, it's not likely to do far. The House of Representatives as you know sort of operates as a place that is generated by force. Republicans control the House of Representatives. The bottom line on this is that it's escalation in the House of Representatives over this fight, this spat, that occurred just yesterday in committee. And what is this about? The question of alleged IRS targeting of groups, including Tea Partiers, that has gone on and on and on. A question, of course, where investigations are going. The investigation continues on Capitol Hill. It's a real political hot spot.

And in just a little while, we're expecting to hear from Congressman Cummings who is going to a news conference on Capitol Hill, apparently to talk a little more about this. Probably the main question going back and forth between the top Democrat and top Republican in the House Oversight Committee is where are they headed? There is pressure on the Republicans to try to get the committee to hold Lerner, the woman at the center of all this, the focal point of the investigation into alleged IRS targeting. Some Democrats suggested Republicans want Lerner to invoke her right not to testify as she has so they can hold her in contempt. Some say if they really want her to testify, they grant immunity from prosecution, which is within their power.

All of this is a backdrop during the year of midterm elections. Whether Republicans will be able to hold this as a political issue and whether there will be anything coming out of investigations going on by the Department of Justice and others. A lot of people tell us probably not.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: That's the background on this from Joe Johns.

We just got the sound in from the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, calling for Darrell Issa to be thrown out. Let's listen to that.


REP. MARCIA FUDGE, (D), OHIO: Darrell violated the code of official conduct that states a member, delegate, resident commissioner, officer or employee of the House shall behave at all times in a manner that shall reflect on the House. Now therefore be it resolved the House of Representatives strongly condemns the offensive and disrespectful manner in which Chairman Darrell E. Issa conducted the hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on March 5th, 2014, during which he turned off the microphones of the ranking member while speaking and adjourned the hearing without a vote or unanimous agreement.


BERMAN: As Joe Johns pointed out, this didn't go anywhere but escalates tensions in the House of Representatives, especially after what happened yesterday.

I want to bring people up to speed on what happened yesterday. Show them the drama that unfolded in the committee hearing. Let's listen.


REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS, (D), MARYLAND: Mr. Chairman you cannot run a committee like this. You just cannot do this.


CUMMINGS: What's the big deal? May I ask my question?

REP. DARRELL ISSA, (R-CA), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: You're free to leave. We have adjourned. The gentleman may ask the question.


ISSA: We're adjourned. Close it down.


BERMAN: Joe, my question to you, at this point, is this just about the IRS situation, going on for some time? Or is this a sign of what's to come the rest of 2014? Are the battle lines drawn and this is what it's going to be until November?

JOHNS: Midterm location we are quite like that. I have to tell you, on the conservative side, there is a lot of suspicion about what happened with the alleged IRS targeting. On the left, on the Democratic side, they say this is -- they point out that some progressive groups are targeted as well. It wasn't just Tea Partiers apparently whose name got in the mix here.

One thing I have to tell you, when you saw the picture of Marcia Fudge of Ohio standing there reading that privileged resolution, the leadership on the Democratic side points out that was a large swath of the entire Democratic caucus standing with her. It wasn't just members of the Congressional Black Caucus, as you can see. This is a larger question of Democrats in the minority standing up and saying, don't run committees like that. We're looking sort of for a response now from the Republicans and House Speaker John Boehner.

BERMAN: That's exactly what I thought. You do not usually see that many people on the floor in the middle of the day for something that's not a huge vote.

Joe Johns, thank you so much.

BERMAN: Russia accused of sinking a ship to trap Ukrainian vessels. What's the strategy here and will this ignite the situation? That's next.


BERMAN: This just in @ THIS HOUR. U.S. Deputy national security advisor, Ben Rhodes, talking about the crisis in Ukraine, saying via Twitter, the proposed referendum in Crimea would violate Ukraine's constitution as well as its sovereignty and international law.

Ukrainian officials are upset Russia sank an old war ship, trapping seven Ukrainian ships. We have new video of that old wars warship partially submerge in the water.

We're joined by retired Naval General "Spider" Marks, CNN military analyst.

Spider, I don't know if this is blockade or act of war. It's provocative to sink a ship to block Ukrainian vessels. What's the tactic?

JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: This is to try and stop the use of forces. There are several things Russians could have done. Boarded the troop to take it over, sent them to the bottom or neutralized them by blocking access to the Black Sea. Those were the least of the options available to them. Russia clearly wants to make sure the Ukrainians do not have freedom of action and Russians contain that.

BERMAN: As bad as this look, it could have been worse?

MARKS: Absolutely. They would have demanded they board the ship. Compared to the location on the ground which you can isolate with forces and render it irrelevant by simply surrounding it and making sure they can't exercise function inside it. With the ship, it has freedom of movement, can do what it needs to do, go where it wants to go. You can limit and do that the way they did today.

BERMAN: The other big news in Crimea today. News there will be a referendum 10 days from now where the people vote whether they want to stay with Ukraine or become part of Russia. Ukraine says it's unconstitutional and doesn't count. United States saying they won't recognize hit and doesn't count. In you're eyes, how does that change the situation on the ground militarily?

MARKS: It doesn't change it militarily. It's provocative. That's like going to the voting booth with a gun to you're head and said vote for Tom. Guess who I'm going to vote for? For Tom. They've been occupied by the Russians. They own movement within Crimea. This is referendum going to declare what we anticipate. They're going to align themselves. There will be diplomatic. The referendum is a front to the Ukrainian people. Doesn't do anything to improve the situation. It's kind of a sham.

BERMAN: Spider Marks, thanks for being with us. Appreciate it.

MARKS: Thank you.

BERMAN: Ahead @ THIS HOUR, you saw the picture on your screen. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is about to speak at CPAC, conservative conference. He is expected to talk about what it means to be a conservative Republican in front of the crowd that hasn't always been welcoming to him. It's a big moment for Chris Christie.

The first Paralympics games are set to open. They're in danger of being overshadowed by the crisis in Ukraine. There's one team talking about a boycott. We'll talk about it when we come back.


BERMAN: We are waiting for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to speak at the conference in Washington. This is a big moment for him. He was though the invited to this conference last year. He's there this year. He needs the support in that room if he wants to go forward with whatever plans he might have to run for president in 2016. We'll get to that the minute it starts.

Meanwhile the Winter Paralympics start tomorrow in Sochi, Russia. Several countries, including U.S., Germany and U.K., have pulled observer delegations from the games. Athletes are there, but delegations are not. We are learning there may not be a full complement of teams at opening ceremony.

Joe Carter here to explain why Ukraine is threatening now to boycott -- Joe?

JOE CARTER, CNN SPORTS: Hi, John. Yeah, the team is using sport to make a political statement. They want Russia to pull troops out of their country. If they don't, the Ukrainian people will not participate. They told "CNN Sports" all athletes have arrived in Sochi. The delegation will hold a press conference sometime tomorrow to announce if the entire team or part of the team is going to boycott the games. The feeling here is that they can't be a part of games hosted by the same country in a conflict with their country. As you know, athletes have worked for years, dreamed for this moment. They're willing to give it up to stand up for their country.

If you looked back at the history of Paralympics, Ukraine has had success. In Torino in '06, Ukraine placed third with 25 medals. Of course their history in Sochi, John, remains in the balance.

BERMAN: It's such a tough call. As you know, Joe, so many athletes train their whole lives for this one event. It's tragic for them not to get to participate. Sometimes there are things much more important than sports. Now it's not just these Paralympics being affected now. I've seen other Ukrainian athletes for who this is having huge effect.

CARTER: Yeah. We saw an emotional Ukrainian soccer team yesterday against Team USA. This was scheduled to be played in Ukraine's capital city but had to be moved. All problems back home did not seem to affect their play at all. In front of the small but passionate flag waving crowd, Ukraine went on to beat the Americans 2-0 yesterday. Ukraine appeared to play inspired soccer, if you will, in the face of this international crisis gripping its country -- John?

BERMAN: Joe, I watched that whole game. I'm a huge U.S. men's national team fan. Part of many was rooting for Ukraine. They were inspired. Seemed like they were playing for more than just the meaningless game against the United States.

Joe Carter, great to see you. Appreciate it.

Ahead for us @ THIS HOUR, we are a waiting Chris Christie expected to speak any minute at the conference in Washington and expected to have pretty harsh words for media. How will that play in front of the crowd that has not always embraced him? We'll have that live in a moment.


BERMAN: Time now to "Impact Your World." One group is granting final wishes to terminally ill adults in America. And Priscilla Presley works with them and the Dream Foundation.

We followed her on some of her visits.


UNIDENTIFIED CNN CORRESPONDENT: Elvis fan, Reba Roberts was so thrilled when Priscilla Presley came to visit her, she broke into song.



UNIDENTIFIED CNN CORRESPONDENT: Presley is a Dream Foundation ambassador. The charity grants wishes to adults with terminal illnesses.


PRISCILLA PRESLEY, DREAM FOUNDATION AMBASSADOR: They request you would think would be crazy things, but they're not. They're simple. About getting back with your family, having a reunion.

UNIDENTIFIED CNN CORRESPONDENT: Like seeing your sister for the first time in four years. That was her wish.

REBA ROBERTS, GRANTED WISH: We hugged and hugged and hugged and hugged.


PRESLEY: Really when you stop and think of it you offer comfort, closure. They're not just recipients but the family members what they go through to try and grant that last wish when they really can't.

UNIDENTIFIED CNN CORRESPONDENT: According to the Dream Foundation, around 20,000 wishes have been fulfilled in the past two decades.

PRESLEY: To see this and the appreciation and the love it's really unmatched that you're doing something and able to help others. The impact is immeasurable.


BERMAN: "Impact Your World," so much heart there.

OK, we are waiting for conservative conference in Washington, CPAC. He's back at this meeting after getting the cold shoulder last year. He wasn't invited. That was a big deal. It's a big deal he is invited this year.

Our Dana Bash is there. She's always invited.

Dana, I think there are two obstacles Governor Chris Christie has here. Of course he has this rift he needs to heal with conservatives that really came up after Superstorm Sandy when he embraced President Obama. A lot of people saw that as betrayal. He has that issue with conservatives. And in a national sense in New Jersey he's got the Bridgegate scandal. And he's still climbing back from that. Today, in this room, what's the goal?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The goal is to -- sorry for the pun but to bridge the gap, the gap he has with conservatives. And he intends to do that according to Christie aides by talking about his record as a Republican in a blue state and how he has gotten things done. Look, he is somebody who is not afraid to come into crowds that aren't always friendly to him. And this is a crowd of conservative activists, a very important crowd of conservative activists who in the past have not been afraid to hit back at their speakers if they don't agree with them. John McCain got booed before this crowd back in 2008 after the whole immigration debate that divided the party. So that is going to be the fascinating thing to watch, not only what Chris Christie says, but how he is received by this crowd.

BERMAN: He is due up in just a few minutes.

Dana Bash, thank you for being there.

Stay with CNN -- oh, wait, here he comes. I think he's actually approaching the podium right now. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaking now in a very important speech to conservatives. Let's listen.





CHRISTIE: Thank you all very much. Good to be here. Good to be here. Thank you all for your warm welcome.

I want to start off with a story from New Jersey. A few years ago our pension fund and our public employee health benefit fund together was over $130 billion in debt. And we put together a plan to do the things that they should be doing here in Washington, D.C., on entitlements. Raise the retirement age and cost of living adjustments, more penalties for early retirement and more money being put into the system by the people who are actually benefitting from it. And after we proposed this, you can imagine, I was extraordinarily popular with the public employee unions. So we decided to do what we do in New Jersey, not to go to the Chamber of Commerce and have a lunch. I decided to go to the New Jersey Firefighters Convention.

Went to the firefighters convention and I was introduced and it was significantly a longer walk to the stage than it was up here. And that entire time I was being bathed in the love of the public employee unions. When I got up to the stage, the person running the convention said, governor, I'm sorry for the reception. I said, no, no, I came up to the podium like this. And I said, as they were booing the hell out of me, I said, come on, you can do better than that. Let's go. And they did.


And then I said to them, I had prepared remarks to make and I took them and I tore them up and threw it at the side of the stage. And I said here's the thing, I understand that you're angry. And I understand that you feel deceived. And I understand why you're booing. The only thing I don't understand is why you're booing the first person to ever come here and told you the truth.

The truth is that if we don't change these pensions, you're not going to collect them. That's the truth.


CHRISTIE: And the fact is that for each and every one of you, you may hate me now, but 10 years from now, after I've made the changes that need to be made and you're collecting your pension, you'll be looking for my address on the Internet to send me a thank you note for saving the retirement for you and your families. The amazing thing that happened was that after I was done with those remarks, and I ended, six minutes, seven minutes tops, I walked off the stage and two-thirds of the audience was cheering.

Here's the reason why and what I want to talk to you about this morning. We have to talk about what we're for and not what we're against.


CHRISTIE: And the reason for that is very, very simple. And it's exactly what I said to CPAC in Chicago in 2012. The reason we have to start talking about what we're for and not continuing to rail against what we're against is because of one simple reason: Our ideas are better than their ideas. And that --