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Reactions to the NRA Statements; Obama to Nominate Kerry as Secretary of State; House GOP Rejects Boehner's Plan B; Kerry Kennedy Fights for Gun Control

Aired December 21, 2012 - 13:00   ET



SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Suzanne Malveaux. In just minutes, the president is going to make what the White House is calling a personnel announcement. We have confirmed it is the formal nomination of Senator John Kerry to be the next secretary of state. Stay with CNN. You're going to see it live as it happens.

We're expecting that about 1:30 Eastern. Senator Kerry always on the short list to replace Hillary Clinton, but after Susan Rice removed herself from consideration last week, he removed up to the odds-on favorite. Kate Bolduan reports some of the fellow senators were already calling him Mr. Secretary.


JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): His Senate colleagues have joked about his ambition, what many regarded as the worst-kept secret in Washington. Even in recent Senate hearings, John Kerry already sounded like he was looking ahead to his future job and the anticipated battles over the State Department budget with Congress.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: That must change and in the next session of the Congress, I hope it will.

BOLDUAN: He wasn't the first choice. U.N. ambassador, Susan Rice, took herself out of the running after the Republican backlash.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: It was unjustified to give the scenario as presented by ambassador Rice.

BOLDUAN: Senator Kerry knows himself about being torpedoed by attacks, accused in his 2004 presidential run of lying about his military record in Vietnam.


GEORGE ELLIOTT: John Kerry had not been honest about what happened in Vietnam.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BOLDUAN: And criticized for his 1971 testimony opposing the Vietnam war.

KERRY: How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam?

BOLDUAN: Kerry was painted a flip-flopper and out of touch, unable to grasp the struggles of regular Americans. But candidate Kerry did put President Obama, then an unknown politician, on the national stage at the Democratic convention.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: John Kerry believes that in a dangerous world, war must be an option sometimes, but it should never be the first option.

BOLDUAN: Following the loss, Kerry immersed himself in foreign policy.

KERRY: We stand adjourned.

BOLDUAN: Now the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he's been an unofficial envoy for President Obama, helping ease tension with President Karzai in Afghanistan and helping mend strained relations in Pakistan after the killing of Osama Bin Laden.

KERRY: We are strategic partners with a common enemy in terrorism and extremism.

BOLDUAN: But Kerry is not totally in sync with Obama. He has supported limited intervention in Syria, something the president has resisted. Over his 30-year career, Kerry has built deep relationships with many foreign leaders.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are very few people in our country with greater experience over a longer period of time in foreign policy than senator Kerry.

BOLDUAN (on camera): Perhaps Kerry's biggest challenge to date is not his confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill, but rather following in Hillary Clinton's footsteps who has become one of the most popular officials in the Obama cabinet both here and abroad. Kate Bolduan, CNN, Washington.


MALVEAUX: Our Elise Labott joins us at the State Department. Elise, give us a sense of some of the real big issues, the big concerns that he's going to walk into if he is confirmed.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think, Suzanne, clearly the Middle East and all of the issues surrounding that. You have what's going on in Egypt with President Morsi and questions about his commitment to democracy, certainly the crisis in Syria and how the U.S. is going to A, get rid of president Bashar al Assad, and B, help stand up the Syrian people and help them recover once Assad is out. The crisis in Iran with its nuclear program and trying to get a deal this year, 2013 is seen as a real pivotal year in terms of having to deal with Iran's nuclear program. And then you have what's going on in Asia.

Just last week, you had North Korea testing that long-range missile, there are a lot of questions about what's going on with the leader there. And this whole U.S. pivot to Asia and trying to work more cooperatively with countries in the region to counter China. So certainly, senator Kerry, if he becomes the next secretary of state, will have a full plate.

MALVEAUX: What is he like in terms of his personality? I covered him in 2004 when he was running for president in George W. Bush, and he was widely panned as somebody who was not really able to relate or identify to everyday folks. But he has quite a reputation overseas and abroad.

LABOTT: Overseas and abroad, he has a reputation for really knowing his issues. This is a man, as Kate Bolduan said, has relationships with a lot of world leaders. It was senator John Kerry who convinced Afghan President Hamid Karzai to go for a runoff election when the Afghan presidential elections were in question. And I think he's going to be able to relate to leaders such as secretary Clinton did as a politician when these leaders are having problems compromising to say, listen, I'm in your seat, I know where you've been, I've run for office before and it's difficult. And I think that that will really serve him well.

Here in Washington, he is seen as someone who is very confident, very on top of his brief, but also someone who likes to control issues when he's really interested in an issue such as the Middle East. He's someone who's -- drills down and really tries to command things. When you're going to be running an agency of 10s of thousands of people, senator Kerry, if he becomes secretary, will really have to delegate and reach out to the expertise in the building. So, I think that's a big question if he comes over here.

MALVEAUX: All right, Elise Labott. Thank you, Elise.

I want to bring in Dana Bash on the Hill there. Dana, give us a little bit about the back story here. I know there was a little bit of back and forth because everyone was looking at Susan Rice, and then you have senator Kerry.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. It was -- I think you and I have talked about this. It was a little bit awkward for a while here in the halls of the Senate because the big question was whether or not Susan Rice could even get through and she would have to get through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and John Kerry is the chairman of that committee. And so, people, like me, were going up to John Kerry asking, can Susan Rice actually get through? When -- what do you think about it? And it was very awkward and he would look at us like, are you really asking me that question because it was an open secret that he wanted this job very, very badly.

And even over the past week as we, at least Labott reported I think last weekend even, that John Kerry was going to get the nod. We've been waiting and waiting and waiting for it to officially happen. Pretty much every day I would pass him in the hall or in the elevator saying, congratulations, question mark? And he would say, not yet, I haven't heard yet. So, there's definitely been an interesting hurry up and wait game when it comes to senator Kerry.

MALVEAUX: Yes. All right. I don't know if we're hurry up and waiting here for the fiscal cliff thing, but let's talk about that because we saw -- and you spoke with speaker John Boehner earlier today, the Plan B basically never made it to the House floor. You've got 10 days and counting before we could potentially face these big tax hikes and these spending cuts. Where do things stand right now?

BASH: You know, they're really, really in limbo. Just moments ago, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, came out for the first time on the Senate floor and he really chastised the speaker for wasting a week what he has called a fruitless political stunt. It really was absolutely stunning to see what happened in the House that this -- what was supposed to be a show vote, a political show vote, never got off the ground because the speaker couldn't line up his own -- his own members.

But what is going to happen now? I actually just talked to a senior Democratic source who said that for all intents and purposes, the action is probably going to start in the Senate now. And they're actually talking about three possible scenarios, which I'll lay out very quickly. One is just to go off the cliff, because the thinking, among some Democrats, is that when the new Congress is sworn in January third, they'll have a stronger handle, they'll have more seats in the Senate and the House, and they'll be able to maybe do something very quickly.

Yes, the markets will probably not react well for that day or two when they're -- when they're -- when they're in, but maybe they could do that. And the second and third scenarios have to do with doing something next week. One is maybe what they call fallback position, take the tax increases for everybody making more than $250,000 and add a few other important tax issues to that. That's only if they can get Republican votes.

MALVEAUX: All right.

BASH: And then, the other is maybe taking what the president last offered speaker Boehner, the package he last offered which was roughly $2 trillion toward debt relief, and see if they can get enough Republicans on that. But I am told that senator Reid does not want to do anything in this Congress that is not going to pass the House, because he doesn't want Democrats to take the vote that's going to go nowhere.

MALVEAUX: All right. We'll be watching closely. Dana, thank you.

The gun control debate is also intensifying one week after the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. The killing of 20 innocent children putting the issue back on the national agenda. Just about an hour ago, we heard from the National Rifle Association. The executive director, Wayne LaPierre, called for putting armed police in every school. He also lashed out against the media, violent video games and the lack of prosecutions of violent criminals. He said more gun laws are not the answer.


WAYNE LAPIERRE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NRA: The only way, the only way to stop a monster from killing our kids is to be personally involved and invested in a plan of absolute protection. The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.


MALVEAUX: The gun debate very personal for my next guest. Her uncle was shot and killed when she was four years old. And when she was eight, a man with a gun killed her father. We are talking about Kerry Kennedy the daughter of Robert F. Kennedy and the niece of President John F. Kennedy. She's joining us next to talk about gun violence in this country.

The gun debate very personal for my next guest. Her uncle was shot and killed when she was 4 years old and when she was eight, a man with a gun killed her father. We are talking about Kerry Kennedy the daughter of Robert F. Kennedy and the niece of John Kennedy. She's talking about gun violence


MALVEAUX: One big proponent of gun control, Kerry Kennedy lost both her uncle and father to assassinations, killings that changed the course of American history.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Kennedy has been assassinated. It's official now, the president is dead.


MALVEAUX: Kerry Kennedy writes in a new op ed, I was four years old when we lost my uncle, John F. Kennedy, to a man with a gun. I was eight years old when we lost my father, Robert Kennedy, to the same way. I can't begin to know what these days have been like for the families of Newtown. But I know that for the loved ones left behind, some wounds may be healed by time, but there are others for which there is no cure but to take action.

Kerry Kennedy, joining us from New York. Kerry, thank you very much for being here. There was a moments of silence throughout the country and of, obviously, a lot of people who are grieving today and will continue to grieve. What can you say to the friends and to the families of those victims in Connecticut? I'm sure you understand, more than anybody, what they must be suffering and going through.

KERRY KENNEDY, CHAIRWOMAN, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL USA LEADERSHIP COUNCIL: To the people who -- to the family members, I would say my heart and my prayers are with you, and I can't imagine the pain that you're suffering right now. And I think, for the rest of the country who is looking at this, I would say, this is a moment of terrible horror and sit with it, think about this. You know, this is walking through the mouth of hell and whenever we have that, it's a time for discernment. Let's gain the wisdom that it has to teach us about who we are as a people and as a country.

MALVEAUX: Kerry, how do people get through what you call that hell?

KENNEDY: Well, I think, again, really trying to think about what the lessons learned are and not -- and for our family, of course, prayer was extremely important and still is, but I think also taking action, not feeling like you are only a victim, but creating change.

And that can be advocating for legislative change. We need to pass the assault weapons ban again. We need to restrict those high- capacity magazines. We need to address the mental health issues in the United States.

But I think there are things that we can do at home, ordinary people can do every day.

So for instance, I'm a mother. When a child is going have a play date, feel comfortable about saying is there a parent -- will their parent be home? Do you have guns? If you do have a gun, is it locked up and is it locked up in a place that's separate from the ammunition? And is that locked up as well?

MALVEAUX: Kerry, it was interesting. We heard from the head of the NRA, who was essentially saying that he believes there should be an armed official, a police officer in every school in this country.

I want to play a little bit of that for you and then ask you to respond.


WAYNE LAPIERRE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NRA: The only way -- the only way to stop a monster from killing our kids is to be personally involved and invested in a plan of absolute protection. The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.


MALVEAUX: What do you think of his solution to this problem?

KENNEDY: Well, I think it's frankly silly. First of all, that would cost billions of dollars and then we would also have to put an armed guard at every place of worship and every manufacturing plant and every movie theater and every place else, where people have used the assault weapons to gun down our family, our friends, our communities.

So I think, really, if we're serious about creating change, we have to go back to that legislative solution and stop the assault weapons and stop those high-capacity magazines from getting into the hands of the wrong people.

MALVEAUX: You know more than anybody, because of the assassinations of your relatives, that gun violence is an issue and a problem back in the late '60s. It is now even worse.

Is this more of a culture of violence that is changing things, that is making it more dangerous for Americans, not those who are targeted leaders of our country but just these innocent children?

KENNEDY: Yes. There have been a million people who have been killed by guns in the United States since my father and Martin Luther King were killed. And if you look at the 23 wealthiest countries, 87 percent of the kids who have been killed by guns have been killed in the United States. Those are American children.

So we have to really think about how we are acting as a nation. Now I used to be a gun owner, and I made sure that I kept my gun separate from the ammunition and that they were locked up. And I think that that's an important thing that all of us can do.

But this is not about rifles that our -- that families are using to go hunting and, you know, participate in that American tradition. We're talking about assault weapons, which are only really good for shooting people.

MALVEAUX: Kerry, you used to be a gun owner. Are you still a gun owner today or did you -- ?

KENNEDY: No. You know what? I got rid of our gun because I didn't want it to be near my children. I just have seen too many tragedies that have taken place in our country, but I understand that that's not the solution for everyone.

MALVEAUX: And Kerry, finally, is there anything you'd like to say to those in Connecticut who have lost a loved one?

KENNEDY: I would just say my heart -- my heart is with you and I think our whole nation is with you today and in these very, very difficult times.

MALVEAUX: All right. Kerry Kennedy, thank you so much. We appreciate that and, of course, the legacy of your family, as well. Thank you.

He was a Vietnam veteran, a senator and now he could be our next Secretary of State. We are waiting to hear John Kerry's nomination from the president. We're going to bring it to you live as soon as it happens.


MALVEAUX: Joining me by phone to talk about the NRA's reaction to last Friday's massacre, former FBI Assistant Director Tom Fuentes -- and, Tom, today the executive vice president of the NRA urging Congress now to put armed officers in every school in the country. That is his solution. Here's what he is suggesting.


LAPIERRE: The budgets -- and you all know this, everyone in the country knows this -- of our local police departments are strained. And the resources are severely limited, but their dedication and courage is second to none, and they can be deployed right now. I call on Congress today to act immediately to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every single school in this nation.


MALVEAUX: All right, Tom, I understand you're actually calling from Virginia Tech for your daughter's graduation and, ironically, or maybe even appropriately, that is the place of the worst school shooting in American history, where 32 people died.

Do you think the NRA's solution of arming these schools would be helpful?

TOM FUENTES, FORMER ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, FBI: Well, I don't think you could do it, Suzanne. I think as a practical matter it's just not doable.

First of all, you have 100,000 schools in this country. Here where I am at, Virginia Tech, I'm 100 yards from where my other daughter was when the first shooting happened five and a half years ago and it was right down the hall in her same dorm where the first two people were killed.

So I look around this campus and there's probably 50 buildings. So are we going to put 50 police officers, one in each building, and is that enough?

We have 100,000 institutions but multiply that by the number of buildings, if you're talking high schools, you've got kids outside on the football practice thing or the tennis courts or the baseball diamond or in the gymnasium.

You have how many doors on a good-sized high school? Would you be able to guard every door? Because they can certainly wait till somebody comes out one of the other doors and go in.

And the second -- another thing with that is that if you put an armed guard in, let's say, in an elementary school or a nursery or a preschool, they're going to need to be as well-armed as the monster with the assault rifle, as the NRA says.

That doesn't mean going up against them with a pistol. That's going to be mission impossible. It would be a suicide mission.

But now we're going to have armed personnel walking around in our elementary and nursery schools, carrying long weapons, carrying their own assault rifles because, you know, so that -- so that those officers can be at least equally armed with the -- with the bad guys?

So I think the argument of trying to do that is just not practical. I've been a firearms instructor, as a police officer and an agent .

I've been a SWAT team member; I've been a tactical commander in the FBI. I know what it takes to train people, equip them, the amount of practice and training that would be required. I would just not be feasible, and especially in the last couple of years, it took a stimulus just to keep enough police officers and teachers from getting laid off.

MALVEAUX: All right. Tom Fuentes, thank you very much. We appreciate your perspective there.

We are still waiting for President Obama to come out, formally nominate Senator John Kerry for his secretary of state. We're going to bring that to you live as soon as it happens.


MALVEAUX: In just a couple of minutes we are watching here President Obama going to be formally nominating his former Senate colleague, actually, John Kerry, to be the next U.S. secretary of state.

While we wait for that I want to bring in my colleague, Wolf Blitzer, from "THE SITUATION ROOM." And later we'll be talking to our foreign affairs reporter, Elise Labott.

Wolf, as we wait here and watch what is going to be taking place in the Roosevelt Room, I understand, maybe a couple of minutes later than expected, we know he is going to go before the Senate and it's pretty clear that he stands a pretty good chance of being confirmed.

Does he have any detractors, do you think?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": There probably will be a few, you know, people who remember all those negative swift boat advertising that came in the 2004 campaign. He might get a few, but I think he'll be overwhelmingly confirmed.

And that really was set -- the tone was set the other day when Senator John McCain, who's friendly with Senator Kerry, started calling him Mr. Secretary and everybody was laughing, having a good time.

Senator McCain had made it very clear he was not going to -- he was not very happy with Susan Rice potentially becoming the next secretary of state -- the U.S. Ambassador to the united nations. And that would have been a furious and very tumultuous confirmation process.

But I think the colleagues of Senator Kerry will basically let him go through. There will be a few tough questions. There are some issues will be raised, but I have no doubt that he's going to be confirmed overwhelmingly, first by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which he still chairs, and then by the full Senate.

MALVEAUX: And Wolf, back in 2004, I covered John Kerry and John Edwards when they were, of course, running against George W. Bush.

One of the things that the opponents were able to do pretty effectively is to put a caricature to him, if you will, with the swift boat ads and the -- kind of the flip-flopping here.