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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Religious Freedom or License to Discriminate?; Is Religion Under Attack in Arizona?; Untangling The Spin On Proposed Defense Cuts; Medical Mystery: California Children Paralyzed By Polio-Like Illness

Aired February 25, 2014 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. Tonight new calls to stop the bill that some say protects religious freedom, others call a license to discriminate, in the state of Arizona. Two former Republican presidential candidates weigh in on opposite sides. Supporters of the bill are avoiding us. So are the special interest groups who admit that they wrote the bill but they won't come on this program to defend it. A big night, though.

Also tonight a 360 exclusive this, young boy is at the center of a medical mystery. His battle with a crippling disease and the race to identify the bug that is causing it and spreading fear throughout the most populated state in the country.

Also tonight, is Amanda Knox's ex-boyfriend turning on her? What he's saying she did shortly after the murder they were both convicted of is raising some eyebrows tonight.

We begin, though, with the growing backlash to Arizona SB-1062 bill. Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney now joining the calls against it. Quote, "@GovBrewery," he tweets today. "Veto of SB-1026 is right."

He's against it, so are both U.S. senators from the state, John McCain and deeply conservative Senator Jeff Flake. So are big corporations Intel, Marriott, Delta, American Airlines, AT&T and Apple, which do business in the state. With the Super Bowl coming to Phoenix next year, Governor Brewer also has the NFL to worry about.

Local business leaders are calling for the veto, so are the crowds outside the state capitol where Miguel Marquez joins us with the latest.

So is there a feeling, Miguel, that the business interests that seem to be lining up against the bill, that they are having a big influence?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is probably having the biggest influence on this. They have heard -- the governor has heard from every business group, every business in this state especially the big businesses. The biggest concern for them is that the uncertainty that this bill inserts into their workforce, saying that employees who have a deep religious belief, they believe could possibly sue their own employer for offering health care plans that offer things like abortion services or any sort of reproductive services.

So the business community really going after this thing, applying an enormous amount of pressure on the governor -- Anderson.

COOPER: And Governor Brewer is now back in her state. She was attending a governor's conference. Any idea when she's actually going to make a decision?

MARQUEZ: It sounds very likely that tomorrow she will take the day in order to talk to legislators, to talk to business leaders, to talk to the gay groups, to talk to those who are supporting SB-1062 so they could get the full breadth of everything that's happened while she's been gone in Washington.

And then we expect that on Thursday she will come up with a veto of this, is everything we are hearing. And she will take that opportunity in order to talk about the things that have been said about Arizona during this debate nationwide -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Miguel Marquez, appreciate it.

And ever since this erupted into a national controversy, supporters of the bill have been somewhat reluctant to come on the program to defend it. Last night, though, one supporter did and we appreciate that. Republican State Senator Al Melvin came to the program. Here's some of what we talked about.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: I'm just saying, but if somebody -- if somebody is fired, a boss doesn't like some guy on their staff or a woman on their staff because they're gay or lesbian and they're fired for that, which is legal because there's no protection against sexual orientation, is that discrimination?

AL MELVIN (R), ARIZONA SENATE: You know, you're trying to distort a religious freedom bill and --

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Sir, you're running for governor of the state of Arizona. You're running for governor of the state of Arizona.

MELVIN: I am, sir. Yes, I am.

COOPER: You're going to be governor of gay and lesbian people.

MELVIN: Yes, sir.

COOPER: And you can't even go on the record and say if a gay and lesbian person is fired simply for being gay or lesbian, that's discrimination? You can't even make that leap and just say, yes, that would be discrimination?

MELVIN: I -- I don't know of any case like you just cited, sir. COOPER: I want to give you one more opportunity because I think this is going to come back on you. If somebody anywhere in America is fired because they're gay or lesbian, and that's the reason they're fired, just because somebody doesn't like them, and it's legal in that state, is that discrimination?

MELVIN: I'm against all discrimination and I want maximum religious freedom, sir.

COOPER: So, OK, that's -- you can't answer that question then. I gave you the opportunity --

MELVIN: That's my answer to you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: His response wasn't really an answer. He's always welcome back on the program, though. However, his colleagues have been somewhat, as I said, more reluctant. So we sent 360's Randi Kaye to Phoenix.

Randi, what have you found out there?

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, it's certainly been a challenge trying to get anybody to talk to us here at the state capitol. There has been so much backlash as you can tell here by the protesters. So nobody wants to touch this thing. But take a look at what happened today when I tried to get some lawmakers to talk to me about SB-1062.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No comment right now. We're waiting for the governor. Thank you.

KAYE: We came all the way from New York, though, to try and see why you voted the way you voted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have great weather and bring everybody from New York that you want to. We have great weather and spring baseball is almost here. So you're welcome to be here as long as you want.

KAYE: Representative, I hear you're the man who gives great quotes. I know you have to caucus -- no, you're not because we're going to caucus, too. We're going to be in there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. No, no. Look.

KAYE: What can I --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hold on.

KAYE: So give me 30 seconds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My 1:00 is here. I'm very, very late.

KAYE: Thirty -- 30 seconds. Tell me -- just tell me why you -- please, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll catch you on my way out.

KAYE: Can I ask you why you support it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No thanks.

KAYE: What do you make of all the attention it's getting?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think there's a lot of misunderstanding.

KAYE: Do you want to explain, set the record straight?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't. But I appreciate you offering.

KAYE: You have nothing to say at all, sir?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: So it's interesting how no one really wants to talk about people who are in support. I understand you were able to grab a minute with Senator Steve Yarbrough who authored the bill. What did he say?

KAYE: We tracked him down and we asked him if he had any plans to try and talk with Governor Brewer or meet with Governor Brewer before she made her decision. And this is what he told me.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KAYE: The indications that we're getting is that the governor may very well veto this. Is there anything you want to say to the governor?

STEVE YARBROUGH (R), ARIZONA STATE SENATOR: Well, the governor, I consider a dear friend of mine. I will take the opportunity to communicate with the governor when she gets home. And I'll try to persuade her to sign the bill.

KAYE: What will you tell her?

YARBROUGH: Well, I will tell her basically what the bill does, what the bill doesn't do, and that it has been extraordinarily distorted as to, you know, the whole struggle that it's been made up to be when it's really not about that at all. Will I be successful? Who knows?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAYE: And, Anderson, the senator also told me that he doesn't expect Governor Brewer to wait until Friday or Saturday to make her decision. He thinks that she'll make that decision pretty quickly after meeting with him. That, he said, could come as early as tomorrow.

But, Anderson, I want to share with you one more exchange that I had earlier today with Representative Sonny Borrelli. We finally were able to talk after he stopped speed walking. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KAYE: You already declined an answer, I haven't even asked you a question. Can you tell me why we need SB-1062 here in Arizona?

SONNY BORRELLI (R), ARIZONA STATE HOUSE: It strengthens existing laws.

KAYE: Can you stop for one second so we're not out of breath?

BORRELLI: No. I'm really busy.

KAYE: Can we just ask you -- really, just one quick question? Why -- just a straight answer on why you need it here. What does it change?

BORRELLI: You know, that sword swings both ways. OK. What about this scenario? You have a gay person that owns a printing shop. OK? And somebody from the West Borough Baptist Church comes in there and demands that they print sign -- obviously the printer doesn't agree with.

Should that group, that religious group, demand that that print shop print that thing? Does not the business owner have a right to say, get out, I'm not going to print that, it's offensive?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAYE: And with that he hustled right back inside the back entrance of the capitol building -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Randi, appreciate it. Thanks very much.

Let's dig deeper now on the legal question that the State Congressman Borrelli raised at the end of that interview. It's an interesting question.

Joining us once again New York University Law Professor Kenji Yoshino.

So what about that? The congressman said a West Borough Baptist Church goes to a gay-owned business in Arizona, demands that they print up some leaflets for a demonstration.

KENJI YOSHINO, NYU LAW PROFESSOR: Yes. So what's interesting about that is that, you know, first of all, it's the gay printer who's holding himself out to the public sphere. The presumption is that he would actually have to print those leaflets. And if not because religion is a protected group there could be a religious claim brought against him for discrimination.

The -- a symmetry there is that gay people are not a protected group in Arizona and so they can be refused even now, without 1062 passing, from any kind of discrimination by the religious printer so --

COOPER: Also in that analogy, the gay group is not a religious group so they can't argue -- if this law passed they couldn't argue on religious grounds that they wouldn't print up this stuff for the West Borough Baptist Church.

YOSHINO: Exactly right. So what's really striking about this is that nobody -- except for at the very end I thought it was really telling that he used the example of gay people because nobody is willing, either tonight or, you know, in your prior interviews, to say the word gay in defending bill. So you had an entire interview where he used to tap dance around the word gay.

If you actually go to Yarbrough, and you ask him why he proposed the bill, earlier on before this whole melee broke out, he was very, very upfront about saying it was the situation in New Mexico where a photographer was forced to take photographs of same-sex couples' commitment ceremony or wedding.

COOPER: Right. She was sued because she wouldn't in New Mexico --

YOSHINO: Exactly.

COOPER: Which violates the state statutes in New Mexico protecting discrimination against people based on sexual orientation. But you're right. Early on a lot of lawmakers were pointing to that what happened in New Mexico as the reason. You don't hear people now pointing to that anymore.

YOSHINO: Exactly. And with regard to, you know, we weren't on notice about this or this has been horribly distorted, you know, the legislative hearing is online. So I'd really encourage people to just go to -- just Google Arizona legislature and then you can type in SB- 1062 and then watch the proceedings. And time after time people are raising that this will have anti--gay consequences.

COOPER: So you're saying for lawmakers who say, well, I didn't know it was going to have this consequence, you're saying, if they had listened to actually the proceedings they would have known.

YOSHINO: Yes. This came up over and over again. And Democratic senator after Democratic senator took the floor and talked about the dilatory consequences this would have on gays and lesbians.

COOPER: I want to play one exchange that we had last night with Senator Al Melvin because it was interesting, he's running for governor of the state of Arizona, by the way, he says he cannot -- he knows of no example -- there is no discrimination in the state of Arizona, that, A, he could come up with no specific example of discrimination against religious beliefs or religious groups which is what this law is supposedly designed to protect.

But he also said that there's no discrimination at all in the state. Let's play this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MELVIN: With all due respect, sir, I don't know of anybody in Arizona that would discriminate against a fellow human being.

COOPER: Really, nobody? MELVIN: No Christian or no Jew that I know of.

COOPER: I know people in New York that would discriminate plenty.

MELVIN: Not that I know of.

COOPER: Really? There's nobody -- discrimination doesn't exist in Arizona?

MELVIN: Well, maybe you ought to move to Arizona, we're more people friendly here, apparently.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: It's incredible. No discrimination based on race, no discrimination based on disability, no discrimination based on gender, no discrimination based on sexual orientation. It sounds like an incredible place.

What do you make of that?

YOSHINO: Yes. It's like a paradise subtly disguised, right, Anderson?

(LAUGHTER)

YOSHINO: So I actually watched that exchange and he actually invited you afterwards, right, or I guess he did in that clip as well, to come take your bag and move to Arizona.

COOPER: And look, I like Arizona. It's a great state.

YOSHINO: Absolutely. As do I. It's a wonderful state. But yes, I thought, OK, this is not a theoretical question, it's an empirical question. So I actually went in and dug into the EOC data to see how many charges have been filed.

COOPER: EOC, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Sorry, yes.

COOPER: Yes. So there's hard data here about 2013. In 2013 there are over 3,000 discrimination complaints filed in Arizona.

COOPER: Wait. In just one year?

YOSHINO: Just in one year.

COOPER: Three thousand.

YOSHINO: Yes. And in New York there were slightly -- it was slightly higher in New York. But if you think about the fact that New York state has three times the population of Arizona, 6.5 and 19.5 million respectively, right, I think you should stay here, Anderson, rather than go to --

COOPER: Wow. Fascinating. Appreciate you doing the research on that. YOSHINO: Absolutely.

COOPER: Thanks very much. And great to have you on as always, Kenji Yoshino from NYU.

Whether it's the threat of losing business for the state, the condemnation of fellow Republicans, sincere personal regret or all of the above, as we mentioned a number of Arizona lawmakers are Republicans who voted for SB-1062, they're now saying they wish they voted against it. And they're going to tell the governor to vote against it.

Republican State Senator Steve Pierce is one of them. I spoke to him earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Senator, you now regret your vote for this bill. You plan to talk to Governor Brewer about it. Why do you regret your vote?

STEVE PIERCE (R), ARIZONA STATE SENATOR: It went through really quick. No one really had anything telling me don't do it. We -- several of us talked. We thought, you know, this isn't good. It's not good for the state. But no one had said anything. And we thought well, we'll just -- we'll vote for it. And had no idea it would be a reaction like this or we'd do what we've done. But we made a mistake.

And the good thing about it is now we know how to fix the mistake. And that's what we're trying to do.

COOPER: Well, I got to say it's rare for any person in public life, particularly political life, to say that they actually made a mistake and to be public about that. So I think that takes a certain amount of courage to actually come forward and to say look, I made a mistake. I regret this.

It's interesting your description of the process. I know one of your Republican colleagues who's also against the bill says that you were uncomfortable with the bill last week. What about it made you uncomfortable?

PIERCE: You know, it was, do we really need it? And you're getting into something when you get into religious freedom we're getting into something that's a pretty sticky wicket. And just what it would do and how it would do it could be interpreted different ways. And I didn't interpret it would be affecting everyone like it has. We just didn't do that.

And I thought, it was like Friday morning we started seeing all the e- mails and seeing everything show up on our desks and constituents calling and the businesses started calling. And that's when it really went viral and took off and took a life of its own. And it's too bad for Arizona.

It's -- I just hope the governor gets back here and that she vetoes it. She said last night she was going to do the right thing. COOPER: I saw some of the debate that occurred when the larger body was debating this. And there were a number of Democratic senators who were saying about the negative impact this would have on the gay community. Did you hear those arguments? What did you think of them at the time?

PIERCE: You know, in the debate, yes, I heard all that. But in the debate you hear arguments every day about this one's wrong, that one's wrong. And I believed that kind of fed into my position. That now when I look back on it, you know, they were right in what they were saying. I have friends in the Democratic caucus that were -- they were warning me. But, you know, that was only the Democratic caucus was saying something. No one came to me beforehand.

COOPER: So you actually believe, looking at it now, that it would discriminate against some people in Arizona.

PIERCE: It has that ability, yes, it could be. I've talked with a lot of people about it and they're going, well, what about going in the restaurant, what about doing this. Well, the way it was described originally was, you know, it's like no shirt, no shoes, no service in a restaurant. Well, it could be interpreted differently. And it's too vague. And to saying, you know, who's going to affect, I can see now where people are concerned about it.

COOPER: Well, we'll know certainly by the end of the week.

Senator Pierce, I really appreciate your time. And it's good talking to you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, let us know what you think. You can follow me on Twitter @andersoncooper, tweet us using #ac360.

Coming up next tonight, former presidential candidate Herman Cain weighs in on the bill and our interview with the supporter of it. He was not happy with our interview, I should point that out.

Also religious argument against the bill and later former Vice President Cheney's incendiary accusation about cuts in the Defense budget that President Obama cares more about handing out food stamps than supporting the troops. We'll get to the truth about the cuts and true politics behind the controversy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: "Keeping Them Honest" now in something you may have noticed about SB-1062. But the people behind it don't seem to want to talk about.

Our curiosity was first piqued by what Senator Al Melvin and others said in defense of the bill, talking points that sounded as though like they were kind of all coming from the same page. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MELVIN: This is not a discrimination bill. This is a religious freedom bill.

KELLIE FIEDOREK, ALLIANCE DEFENDING FREEDOM: This bill is advocating for basic freedom.

DOUG NAPIER, SENIOR COUNSEL, ALLIANCE DEFENDING FREEDOM: It's a very narrowly tailored bill to protect people's religious freedoms.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: There is a kind of talking point quality to those words. It goes far beyond that, though. It extends to the language in similar legislation on the table in states across the country.

Here's the meat of 1062 in Arizona. Quote, "Exercise of religion means the practice of -- or observance of religion, including the ability to act or refusal to act in a manner substantially motivated by a religious belief whether or not the exercise is compulsory or central to a larger system of religious belief."

That's the actual wording, as I said, in Arizona. Now here is HB-376 in Ohio. Quote, "Exercise of religion means the practice or observance of religion. Exercise of religion includes but is not limited to the ability to act or the refusal to act in a manner that is substantially motivated by one's sincerely held religious belief, whether or not the exercise is compulsory or central to a larger system of religious belief."

It's almost identical language. And that's no accident. SB-1062 and HB-376 and legislation in other states, they all share the same legal genetic code, traceable back to a number of Christian conservative special interest groups. In the case of 1062, an outfit called the Center for Arizona Policy and another called the Alliance Defending Freedom. They didn't just push for the bill they also helped write the bill.

That's what representatives from both organizations tell us. Neither organization, though, would actually come on the program which is kind of hard to understand why. It's not like they're keeping it a secret.

During the testimony surrounding 1062, an ADF representative was perfectly open about his organization's push for similar bills, Religious Freedom Restorations Acts, they're called, or RFRAs, nationwide.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH LA RUE, LEGAL COUNSEL, ALLIANCE DEFENDING FREEDOM: We have been heavily involved with both federal and state RFRA. We provide testimony across the nation to states that are considering RFRA or considering amending RFRA such as Arizona is considering with Senate bill --

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: So "Keeping Them Honest," there's nothing illegal or improper about advocating a position. I mean, everybody does that or providing legal guidance and advice or even ghost-writing services to lawmakers who might have -- not have the expertise or the experience in actually crafting legislation that will stand up to legal scrutiny. The question is, why keep it a secret? That's the thing we can't quite understand.

More now on the fallout from my conversation last night with Arizona state senator and Republican candidate for governor, Al Melvin. We got into religious basis behind the bill. Former presidential candidate Herman Cain must have seen the interview because today he linked to it on his Facebook page with this, quote, Anderson Cooper is either completely ignorant about this man's bill and about the teachings of Jesus or he is just plain lying. What a disgraceful rant this is."

As for calling it a rant, the entire interview is online at AC360.com. Unedited, you can go there, you can judge for yourself. As for the role of religion in all this, there are obviously a lot of different interpretations to the bible, many different perspectives.

Tonight we're joined by a leading cleric in the state of Arizona, the most Reverend Troy Mendez, dean of the Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Phoenix.

Dean Mendez, just as some people's faith are supporting this bill on religious grounds you're actually opposing the bill on religious grounds. Why?

REVEREND TROY MENDEZ, DEAN, TRINITY EPISCOPAL CATHEDRAL OF PHOENIX: Well, we feel that this bill actually flies directly in the face of our religion. One of our core values as Christians we believe is to love your neighbor as yourself. This bill is seeking to -- under a guise of religious freedom, it's seeking to give people license to discriminate. That doesn't love your neighbor as yourself.

COOPER: But why should somebody -- supporters of the bill say why should somebody of strong religious conviction be forced to interact or work for in a -- for somebody who they disagree with on religious grounds? Why should somebody of strong religious faith who is opposed to homosexuality have to interact or work with somebody who's gay or lesbian if they feel doing so goes against their faith?

MENDEZ: Well, we believe that we are to seek and serve Christ in all people, loving our neighbor as ourself. But what we're also supposed to do is to respect the dignity of every human being. We offer every single person we know, whether they are from our religion, a different religion, a different race, a different sexual orientation, we owe them our dignity and respect. We make that promise at the time that we're baptized and we need to live as fully into it as we can.

COOPER: I talked to a state senator who supports the bill last night who said that he believes that Christianity, religion, is under attack in the United States.

Do you believe in Arizona that Christianity is under attack? Do you see examples of that?

MENDEZ: I saw that interview, actually. And no, I do not see any evidence whatsoever that Christianity or any other religion for that matter is under attack. We are blessed in this country that since from 1783 when the First Amendment was enacted, we're blessed for the fact that we have freedom of religion written into our Bill of Rights and our Constitution.

This has been something that has been over 200 years implemented in this country. And to now have a knee-jerk reaction to write a new law ensuring religious freedom, I think it's a bit short-sighted because what we have currently works. And religion in this country thrives.

COOPER: And you're saying freedom of religion in the state of Arizona is already protected under existing laws, both federal and state.

MENDEZ: Absolutely. And the reality is that many people of many different faiths practice their religion freely here in the state of Arizona. There is no need for additional laws.

COOPER: What do you say to somebody who says well, look, why should a wedding photographer be sued because they don't want to be associated with a gay wedding? They don't want to be doing something that promotes a same-sex marriage based on their faith?

MENDEZ: The reality is, is that many people do business with many people whom they don't know all that well. But from a faith perspective, again, I go back to we are to proclaim God's love and to treat everyone with the utmost dignity and respect because if we can do that, we can recognize God in the presence of other people, even people we don't know. And we can see a presence of love within them.

COOPER: And yet the supporters say this isn't about discrimination, this is about stopping discrimination against people of faith. But you say clearly discrimination is at the core of this.

MENDEZ: I think that the intent of the law is to allow people to discriminate, yes, I do.

COOPER: And --

MENDEZ: That's why I'm opposed to it.

COOPER: Are you hopeful that Governor Brewer -- do you believe she will veto this?

MENDEZ: I am hopeful that Governor Brewer will veto SB-1062. And I would like to hope that other people who may have voted for it as legislators are now against it.

COOPER: Dean Troy Mendez, I appreciate your time, thank you.

MENDEZ: Thank you very much.

COOPER: Well, as always you can find more on the story and others at CNN.com. And again, if you want to check out that whole interview with the senator from last night that's at our Web site, AC360.com.

Tonight Dick Cheney rips into President Obama over proposed Defense cuts. He's not the only conservative voice blasting the plan. What do the numbers really show? True politics tonight.

Also, a mysterious polio-like illness that's striking kids in California leaving some paralyzed. Doctors are stumped, parents are obviously terrified. Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins me ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was on the road today visiting two military bases where he made his case for steep cuts to the Armed Forces. Now under the proposed budget, he unveiled yesterday, the Army would shrink to its lowest troop level in nearly 75 years. The A-10 Wart Hog fighter plane would also be retired.

Hagel says the country now needs a smaller modern military. His plans sparked pretty predictable war of words. Former Vice President Dick Cheney fired these shots.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: I've obviously not been a strong supporter of Barack Obama, but this really is over the top. It does enormous long term damage to our military. They act as though it's like highway spending. You can turn it on or off. The fact of the matter is he's having a huge impact on the ability for future presidents to respond to crises that might arise. He'd much rather spend the money on food stamps than on a strong military or support for our troops.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Over the last 24 hours, the alleged dangers the proposed cuts become a talk point on a lot of conservative blogs and television obviously.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALISYN CAMEROTA, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: And we start with a Fox News alert. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel plans to shrink the military to pre- World War II levels.

LT. COL. RALPH PETERS, U.S. ARMY (RETIRED): The administration is without question seriously compromising our security, our strategic flexibility.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I think these cuts are too draconian.

LT. COL. OLIVER NORTH, U.S. MARINE CORPS (RETIRED): I think the budget terrible.

PETE HEGSETH, CEO, CONCERNED VETERANS FOR AMERICA: They don't want to get entangled in another war, which no one wants, but guess what, we don't get to predict what the next battlefield will look like.

REPRESENTATIVE BUCK MCKEON (R), CALIFORNIA: What the president has tried to do, the budgets that they send up to us is lay this all on the backs of our military.

ERIC SHAWN, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Officials maintain that it is needed, but could our country's security be compromised?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, all this may sound familiar. Mitt Romney made the same arguments during his presidential campaign slamming President Obama's position on the trail and in debates as well.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This in my view is the highest responsibility of the president of the United States, which is to maintain the safety of the American people. And I will not cut our military budget by $1 trillion, which is the combination of the budget cuts that the president has as well as a sequestration cuts. That in my view is making our future less certain and less secure.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I think Governor Romney maybe hasn't spent enough time looking at how our military works. You mentioned the Navy, for example. We have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets because the nature of our military has changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers where planes land on them.

We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines. So the question is not a game of battle ship where we're counting ships, it's what are our capabilities.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: So the question is what's really going on? What are the numbers actually show? CNN's chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto is here. Let's cut through the noise, the politics and spin. What are we talking about in terms of cuts to the military? Break it down.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: You look at the numbers. The current budget is basically halfway between what the Pentagon wanted and the more draconian cuts that came during sequestration. The real headline number is reducing the size of the Army from a peak during those two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq from 570,000 to 450,000.

You are cutting a 40-year-old attack jet, the Wart Hog, which is basically designed to attack soviet tanks, but you are also cutting benefits such as housing allowances for soldiers, subsidies to stores on military bases. Some of these are politically sensitive things. But as always the military is trying to make a balance of priorities with the numbers that they've been given. COOPER: So in terms of the cuts, obviously the things like housing allowance, that's going to affect the livelihood, the lifestyle of soldiers, which is obviously an incredibly important thing and marines and sailors and others. In terms of the danger, could these cuts endanger Americans both at home and abroad? Is there truth to that?

SCIUTTO: Well, this is the question. I've talked to senior military officials who question the cuts, but certainly in less caustic terms than the vice president. I spoke to one senior official in the army, who was uncomfortable with a fighting force of 450,000. Wanted a figure closer to 480,000. That's not a dramatic difference, but they talk about challenges to readiness and training.

The whole debate about whether you can fight two wars simultaneously or fight within and hold the other to win that one. As for safety, though, when you speak to administration officials they push back very hard. Listen to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel today how he pushed back on this question.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHUCK HAGEL, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I as secretary of defense couldn't recommend to the president any option nor would any president make a decision to send anyone to war if there was any doubt that our men and women were not ready. We would fail you, we would fail our country. I can't do that. I won't do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON: But this does make fighting two wars simultaneously very, very difficult, if not impossible, right?

SCIUTTO: Well, here's what the administration will say. Their argument is this is the first budget in more than a decade with the country not on a war footing, right? Where we pulled out of Iraq, we were drawing down dramatically in Afghanistan. And that requires a less giant military.

But for sure it's got to affect capability over time. I mean, the other big challenge that the military has is the same challenge that every government institution and company has, it's got an aging personnel and that's costly. As someone in the Army told me today, 43 percent of the military budget goes to personnel.

By 20 without changes it will be 68 percent. That's a lot of retiring, aging, injured soldiers and Marines and sailors. And what they'll say is listen we got to find some space in there. We have to cut both sides, right? Because otherwise the military will have to cut even more capability.

They're struggling with this. They know it's going to change their capability, but I can't say honestly I've talked to any military official who tells me that my life or your life is going to be in danger as a result of this. But they do say less capability. The question is how much less. This is really the start of a budget debate. This is really an opening gambit in a budget battle here so we are going to see those numbers change overtime.

COOPER: The other question does it put the lives of our troops in greater jeopardy if they're no longer have the same kind of backup, the same kind of support structure that they have over the last ten years or so. And again that's part of the argument.

SCIUTTO: Absolutely. No question. That's where folks like Chuck Hagel will say there's no way we're going to endanger the lives of troops, equipment, forced protection, that kind of thing overseas.

COOPER: All right, Jim Sciutto, appreciate the update. Just ahead, a little boy's battle to recover from the mysterious illness that's paralyzing some kids in California.

Plus, is Amanda Knox's former boyfriend having a change of heart about her innocence, a new twist in the case.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back. Tonight, a medical mystery, it's got doctor stumped. A polio-like illness has infected as many as 20 kids in California, all within the last 18 months according to a Stanford researcher. Five confirmed cases were vaccinated against polio, which only adds to the concern.

The illness whatever it is causes weakness in limbs, has left some kids paralyzed. One family has taken their story public to try to get the word out and help other. CNN's Stephanie Elam joins me now. How did this all get started?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, it all started very quickly in September of 2012. Both this little boy who was 8 years old at the time and his older brother got sick with a respiratory infection. It seemed like a regular cold they thought. But it was different. Take a listen to what they had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MURUHATHASAN YOGATHASAN, VICTIM'S FATHER: This happened on Friday when he came back from school. Thursday night he went for karate, no problem. Symptoms with the flu and everything. Coming back Friday saying he couldn't raise the arm. He had a little bit of this. Saturday he lost everything. That's when he got -- we took him to the hospital.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ELAM: And right after that they immediately took him to the hospital. He was in the ICU for several days. They were trying to figure out what was wrong. They found out there was some inflammation around his spinal cord. But it was a very, very quick turn of events. A very active boy playing sports when this all happened -- Anderson.

COOPER: His whole left arm was paralyzed. Parents say he's making progress. How has he done that? ELAM: His parents believe they have been really progressive on attacking this right away. By doing that this means a lot of physical therapy. So they are busy. He is constantly working on it. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ELAM: What do you do during those three to four hours?

VIKASH MURUHATHASAN, BOY WITH MYSTERIOUS POLIO-LIKE ILLNESS: I do a lot of fine motor skills. I go into the water every day. I work on the floor trying to lift up and down.

ELAM: What do you do in the water?

MURUHATHASAN: Since most of the gravity is taken off I try to get lift like from down all the way up and from side. And I go with the physical therapist like three times a week. And that's what I do for about an hour.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ELAM: And that is really remarkable because he could not move his arm at all from his shoulder to his fingerer tips. His parents saying that it really started in his shoulders, went down to the finger tips and it's working its way back coming back and getting better. That's what's giving them hope.

COOPER: Brave little boy. This illness has only hit the news the last couple of days. This family has been dealing with this for more than a year?

ELAM: For more than a year. Talking about September 2012. The thing about it is they didn't really get this diagnosis it was probably this mystery illness until recently because before they thought it was an autoimmune illness, which they now believe it is not. But what they are really concerned about is that the message out in the media for the last couple of days is that there is no hope. And they say they have hope and that's what's important to them.

COOPER: All right, Stephanie, appreciate the update. Thanks very much. Joining me now is chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. You heard the boy describe what happened to him. Are those symptoms common for the kids who seem to have this polio-like illness?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, it's worth pointing out that the vast majority of people who get an infection like this don't develop any symptoms at all. They don't develop any weakness or any of the sort of cold-like symptoms you just heard described there.

But a small percentage do get this sort of weakness and it usually comes on pretty suddenly. It can be a single limited time or it can be much more, you know, systemic, much more the whole body. What is interesting to see, what Stephanie just mentioned there as well, even with polio there were certain groups of people who did get better, they improved over time.

It's been about a year and a half now I think since some of the first cases. See how that goes over the next several months, a year or so. See if there's gradual, continued improvement.

COOPER: So what could this be? I know two of the patients have tested positive for something called an enterovirus 68?

GUPTA: That's right. So two of the patients who got to the hospital pretty early got tested early did find this enterovirus 68. This is the type of virus, polio is caused by a type of virus. They're very similar viruses. They come from a similar family of viruses. What happens with this type of virus is that it gets into the body and then in particularly severe cases it can start to surround the spinal cord and cause the symptoms again that you just heard there.

Again, it's rare. There's not concern that it's spreading from person-to-person. We've been following this for 18 months. It doesn't seem to be going within families, even, so the idea it's contagious doesn't seem to be there. But it does seem to be some sort of virus. They've only been able to find anytime two patients so far.

COOPER: And there's no vaccine for this kind of virus. What kind of treatments are there?

GUPTA: There's not a vaccine. There's a vaccine for polio as you know, but not for this particular virus. If it was more common, more cases they may develop a vaccine for it. As far as treatments go, unlike a bacterial infection for, which you can take an antibiotics there isn't a specific anti-viral for this enterovirus 68.

So typically what you do is you treat patients for the symptoms that they have. So if they've developed, you know, the upper respiratory cold-like symptoms you treat them for that. If they develop weakness you do the physical therapy as you just heard there.

You can get some pretty good results. It takes time. Sometimes the weakness will come and go, but the physical therapy can help in certain situations.

COOPER: Obviously, I don't want to freak out parents. There is what 20 or so cases, five confirmed, what's the message for parents on this? What should they watch out for?

GUPTA: You know, it's interesting. Part of the reason this got back in the news again this is going to be presented at a conference. One of the things they're trying to do is first of all get a message to doctors and parents, but look, if you've seen something like this in your own community away from California, go to the hospital, get it checked out.

Maybe you'll find this particular virus and be able to start confirming these cases. But I think for other parents out there, if your child seems to have weakness that's just unusual, unexpected, one girl they were describing had weakness of her hand grip. That sort of thing you need to go get that checked out. You wouldn't blow that sort of thing off any way but certainly not in this case.

COOPER: All right, Sanjay, appreciate the update. Thanks.

Up next tonight, Amanda Knox's ex-boyfriend and co-defendant has he really started doubting her innocence or trying to help his own case in Italy?

Also ahead are shockers, suspicions the legendary Al Liston's heavyweight bout was rigged. Some allegations about that. We'll look into it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: In Crime and Punishment tonight, a new twist that seemingly never ending, Amanda Knox and her former boyfriend were convicted of murder. Set free in 2011 after an appeals judge determined the evidence was questionable. The couple has always presented a united front. But now as they face a new trial, Sollecito says he does have lingering questions about Knox's behavior. Deborah Feyerick reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): February 11, 2014, weeks after an Italian court found her guilty for a second time. Amanda Knox held a sign in Italian saying "we are innocent." All along, Knox's boyfriend at the time. Rafael Sollecito, has defended Amanda saying neither of them had anything to do with the death of Meredith Kircher. Recently though as he faces the prospect of prison once again, signs he could be distancing himself a bit. In a recent interview on ac 360, he had this to say.

RAFFAELE SOLLECITO, AMANDA KNOX'S FORMER BOYFRIEND: There's nothing against me and nothing very strong against Amanda. And in my case, I really did nothing wrong. And I don't want to pay for someone else's behavior.

FEYERICK: And now a new interview on Italian TV where Sollecito admits he has questions about Knox's behavior the morning Kircher was found stabbed to death in the apartment the two girls shared. He and Knox had spent the night together at his apartment. Knox left to shower at home.

When she returned, Sollecito now says she appeared very agitated, telling him it appeared someone had broken into the apartment and also that she had found blood in the bathroom. Rather than call police, Knox showered and went back to her boyfriend's. Sollecito in that interview on Italian TV and played on NBC News now suggests it was odd.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Certainly I asked her questions, Sollecito says. Why did you take a shower? Why did she spend so much time there? T he reporter later asks, what answers do you give yourself? And Sollecito responds, I don't have answers.

FEYERICK: At the time, the two had been dating about a week. Amanda Knox is downplaying any suggestion her ex-boyfriend is distancing himself from her. She posted on her blog a recent e-mail exchange received from Sollecito where he writes quote, "I don't want to be punished for nor have to continue to justify those things that regard you and not me. Obviously the evidence demonstrates both of our innocence, but it seems that for the judges and the people this objectivity is of no importance."

Knox describes Sollecito as a scapegoat used by Italian prosecutors. Quote, "The only reason he's been dragged into this is because he happens to be my alibi." Also quote, "He is collateral damage in the unreasonable, irresponsible and unrelenting scapegoating of the prosecution's grotesque caricature that is foxy knoxy."

Late today, Sollecito's attorney gave us this statement. Saying "it's imperative that the Italian courts consider Raffaello's case separate from Amanda's case. By necessity he has to distance himself and his case from Amanda and her case. Sollecito and Knox are both appealing the new convictions, which carry sentences of 25 and 28 years respectively.

Another man, drifter and drug dealer Rudy Gaday from the Ivory Coast, is currently serving 16 years for killing Kircher. He admitted having sex with the young woman but said someone else killed her while he was in the bathroom. Italy's Supreme Court will hear the case in early 2014. Deborah Feyerick, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: There is a lot more happening tonight. Susan Hendricks has a 360 Bulletin -- Susan.

SUSAN HENDRICKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, drug king pin, Joaquin Guzman, which is face charges in Mexico before any possibility of extradition to the United States. That's according to Mexico's ambassador to the U.S. The boss of the Sinaloa cartel was captured in a raid on Saturday.

A South African judge ruled that cameras will be allowed in the murder trial of Oscar Pistorius, which begins next week. He's accused of murdering his girlfriend just over a year ago.

Was the victory by Cassius Clay now known as Muhammad Ali over Sonny Liston 50 years ago today really the upset that it seems? Well, "The Washington Times" reports that 40 year old document obtained show the FBI suspect the flight may have been fixed by someone with ties to the mob and also Sonny Liston.

COOPER: Well, more on that, no doubt ahead. Susan Hendricks, thanks very much. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: We ran out of time for RidicuList.

That does it for us. We'll see you again one hour from now at 10 PM Eastern for another 360. Thanks for watching.

Piers Morgan Live starts now.