Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Forced Spending Cuts; Hot Air Balloon Crashes; New Details About Pope's Retirement; Hoops Diplomacy with North Korea; 19 Killed In Hot Air Balloon Disaster; Passengers, Crew Plummeted To Ground; Hagel Receives Enough Votes From Senate; Alarming New Breast Cancer Study; Study Backs Mediterranean Diet

Aired February 26, 2013 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now,: record snowfall collapsing roofs and tens of thousands of people without power. How much longer will this blizzard, this storm be a threat?

Also, in a few minutes, the U.S. Senate expected to vote on Chuck Hagel, President Obama's controversial nominee for defense secretary. We will bring to it live.

And more on what's going on in Egypt right now. A hot air balloon carrying lots of tourists explodes and plummets to the ground. We're finding out how this could happen. We're going live to Egypt.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We begin with the huge winter storm the National Weather Service is now calling historic. Cities like Amarillo, Texas, Wichita, Kansas, have broken snowfall records. In all, some 45 million in 21 states are being affected one way or another. The storm is blamed for at least three deaths.

Look at this. It's even dangerous after the storm blows away. In Kansas City, the heavy wet snow is causing roofs to collapse. Nobody was hurt in this building. But the snow is also bringing down tree limbs on to power lines.

Our own George Howell is joining us from Kansas City, Missouri, right now, where thousands of people are reported without power.

George, what's going on?

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, look, this is par for the course here in the Midwest. This is the second time in a week that this region has been hit by a big winter storm.

And, as you mentioned, it has proven to be a deadly storm, killing thee people. And we see as crews try to clear these roads, unfortunately more snow, Wolf, is in the forecast here.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL (voice-over): Snowplows hit the streets of Kansas City Tuesday to wage war against Mother Nature. This city on the Kansas/Missouri border could see up to a foot of snow from the massive blizzard before it ends.

Lindsey Hughes spent much of his day shoveling.

LINDSEY HUGHES, MISSOURI RESIDENT: This is heavy and it's wet and we're just trying to get it up.

HOWELL: The heavy wet snow has made getting around difficult, whether it's behind the wheel or on foot.

(on camera): Most of these major interstate highways are passable through Missouri and Kansas and it's mainly because of these snowplow teams. They have been going through the night to make sure drivers are safe on the roads and we have seen very few drivers out here, most of the people going at a snail's pace, though we did see several accidents along the way, drivers who may have been going too fast and ultimately lost control.

(voice-over): Falling branches wreaked havoc on the power system and look what happened to a building's roof in Belton, Missouri, when cameras rolled. Elsewhere in Kansas, a 100-year record in Wichita is no more. That area has now seen 21 inches of snow for February, taking down the old mark in just six days.

The huge snowstorm has started to ease up in the Texas Panhandle now making its way northeast. Check out these amazing images shot by a CNN iReporter just outside Amarillo Monday. Parts of the Texas Panhandle saw 19 inches of snow Monday, forcing out the tow trucks in whiteout conditions. And from the ground to the air, no snow, but plenty of wind was on hand to whip around planes at the San Antonio International Airport.

Gusts hit more than 54 miles per hour at the airport. Fortunately, no injuries were reported. Back in Kansas City, people just want a break from all the snowfall.

HUGHES: It's been a long, what, seven days, 10 days, something like that. So, I'm ready to go home.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOWELL: So, Wolf, the worst of it has hit us here in Kansas City, Missouri, and the system don't track to the north and the northeast up towards Chicago, Michigan and Canada and we also know that the storm is weakening, according to our meteorologists -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Doesn't look like much traffic behind you, George. Are people pretty much still hunkered down in Kansas City?

HOWELL: You don't find too many people on the roads. A lot of people are heeding that warning to stay inside. But I can tell you the roads, the highways are passable. A lot of the side streets, they are clear as well because of the snowplows that have been going through.

But the concern here, Wolf, is as we see the snow melt, as we see water turn to ice tonight when temperatures drop, that the commute in the morning could be an icy mess -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Could be indeed. All right, George, thank you.

(WEATHER UPDATE)

BLITZER: Jason Carroll, by the way, is in Peoria. We will speak with him. We will get a live report in our next hour.

Don't forget, you can always get the latest forecast, radar images on CNN.com/weather or on your CNN smartphone app.

Now we turn to the name-calling and the political spinning that's monopolizing official Washington today. We're only three days away from those forced budget cuts everyone is warning will be a disaster for regular people's lives and for the U.S. economy.

But even though President Obama insists he isn't trying to play the blame game. He is in full campaign mode right now.

Let's bring in our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, with the latest.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.

The president was trying to drive home the impact these forced spending cuts would have by visiting one of the places that might feel them most quickly, a shipyard in Virginia. While he was there, he insisted that jobs and the economy are on the line, basically because House Republicans are simply too stubborn to negotiate. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But I just have to be honest with you. There are too many Republicans in Congress right now who refuse to compromise even an inch when it comes to closing tax loopholes and special interest tax breaks. And that's what's holding things up right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: Wolf, as you know, the president wants a combination of both tax increases, as well as spending cuts, to help avoid this trigger that's going to happen at the end of the week, but in his comments, he said his door is open and he's willing to negotiate.

But in his larger speech, he really did sound like a man who was ready for battle, rather than getting ready for peace -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Any sign of a deal, perhaps, initiative coming from Congress as far as the White House is concerned, Jessica?

YELLIN: A big N-O.

And Wolf, talk about the blame game. It was in full swing on Capitol Hill today, with House Republican leader Speaker Boehner using some language we would have to call rated PG-13 against the Senate and then the Senate Democratic leader firing back. Listen to this exchange.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We have moved the bill in the House twice. We should not have to move a third bill before the Senate gets off their ass and begins to do something.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: You heard that word. Apparently we don't have the sound bite from Majority Leader Harry Reid, but I will tell you he said he grew up in a town filled with brothels. You know he's from Nevada, near Las Vegas area, and so he's used to -- quote -- "salty language," and so this didn't offend him, but he said, Wolf, that the speaker should know who is sitting on their -- quote -- "posterior."

If this is the language they are using before the cuts have gone into effect, this might be a more exciting story to cover than we thought -- Wolf.

BLITZER: How effective has the president been in delivering this hard-hitting message basically totally blaming the Republicans for refusing to compromise?

YELLIN: Well, the goal here is to make this really feel, make Americans realize how much this will hit home and how much the budget cuts will impact their own pocketbook.

The latest polling shows that's had mixed results. Right now 60, 6-0 percent of Americans believe that these forced spending cuts will hurt the overall economy, have a major impact. But only 30 percent think it will have a major impact on their own personal finances.

And politicians, insiders, both Democrats and Republicans tell me they think more Americans have to really feel it in the pocketbook before Democrats and Republicans come together to cut a deal -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Now, we know the president did reach out to two leading Senate Republicans, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, invited them to come over to the White House today, ostensibly to discuss comprehensive immigration reform.

But, yesterday, Lindsey Graham told us right here in THE SITUATION ROOM he is going to talk about the sequester, these forced budget cuts as well. What's going on, on that front. Has that meeting yet taken place?

YELLIN: That meeting was scheduled to take start about a half-an-hour ago. And we have not gotten an update on its progress, but we were told by the White House that the meeting could cover a range of topics so that could include immigration, these budget cuts, and perhaps other topics that have come up on Capitol Hill recently, who knows, maybe foreign affairs and other issues.

So presumably it's going on right now and I will give you a readout as soon as we have it. BLITZER: Let us know if these senators go to the stakeout at the West Wing over there and speak to reporters. Brief us on what happened. I'm curious to see how much of an effort there was made by the president and these two Republican senators to work out a deal, perhaps at least start a negotiation during these final three days to avert these forced spending cuts.

(CROSSTALK)

YELLIN: We were told when the president called John McCain, Senator McCain last week, that's when the idea of this meeting came up and so the president invited them over. So we have criticized the president a lot for not doing outreach and having meetings. Here's an instance where he did do follow-up, did invite them over, and the meeting is happening now. So we will see if there's progress.

BLITZER: Let's see if the president follows up and invites the House, the senator Republican leader, over to the White House. That would be much more important, clearly. We will watch for that as well. Thanks very much, Jessica Yellin, over at the White House.

Just two days before Pope Benedict leaves the papacy, we're finding out much more about his future, including what he will be called. Our own Christiane Amanpour is standing by live in Rome.

And if Chuck Hagel gets confirmed this hour, what will his first few days at the Pentagon look like? There's new information coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Today, Vatican officials revealed new details about what happens after the pope's resignation takes effect the day after tomorrow. He'll keep the name Benedict XVI, still addressed as "His Holiness" and have the title -- the official title "Pope Emeritus".

Benedict won't wear his fisherman's ring anymore. It will be destroyed, which is the same thing that happens when a pope dies. The ring is a symbol of the papacy and a reminder of St. Peter who was a fisherman.

Also, Benedict will continue to wear white but will stop wearing his red shoes. Instead, he'll switch to a pair of brown shoes he received during a trip to Mexico.

Rome, meanwhile, is filling up with pilgrims, as well as church leaders. The next two days will be filled with very elaborate, goodbye ceremonies for this pope.

Our chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour is joining us from Rome right now.

Christiane, walk us through, what can we expect over the next 48 hours?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I will tell you I'm right now standing just outside St. Peter's Square. You can see it's pretty empty except for pedestrians. But precisely 12 hours from now, it is going to be packed.

But that is going to be the pope's final pomp and circumstance, his final general audience. He will do it in St. Peter's Square. He will go around St. Peter's Square in that pope mobile and they expect tens of thousands of pilgrims to be there for that.

So, we'll have all of that live on CNN.

And as I say, this is his final official public audience. And then the next day he prepares to leave.

Today, we're told that he has spent the day in prayer, that he spent the day receiving good wishes from leaders around the world and packing up. Because 8:00 p.m. Thursday, Rome time, his papacy ends and we go into what's known as "sede vacante", the empty seat, and only after that will the cardinals be called to start to meet and then they'll probably have their first formal meeting on Monday and only after Monday will we know when they call an convene the conclave to elect the new pope, Wolf.

BLITZER: And then once they convene that conclave, a week, two weeks, we have no idea how long it takes until we see that white smoke, meaning there's a new pope.

AMANPOUR: That's exactly right. Look, I was standing in precisely the same place back in 2005, eight years ago when Pope John Paul II died and we went into the conclave which finally produced Pope Benedict XVI. That took a week and several false starts.

When they can't come to a consensus you have the black smoke emanating from that special chimney in St. Peter's. And then finally, there was white smoke, and then you don't even know who it is until the archbishop deacon, the cardinal deacon, comes to the window and announces a new pope and only after that the new pope comes to the window and is greeted.

But that was still at least two weeks away. At least tweaks away from that being finalized.

BLITZER: Is the Italian media still all over the scandals that are going on involving sex and intrigue, all that stuff that we've seen in those Rome newspapers over the past few days, or have they moved on?

AMANPOUR: Well, they pretty much moved on. That, of course, was a big story over the weekend and into Monday, the beginning of this week. As you can imagine it drove the Vatican mad. They were really angry, angry with the press for writing about it, angry for people picking it up and running with it.

But the fact is that, you know, we had to due diligence and everybody reported about it. I spoke to a very plugged in, one of the best Italian reporters at work today who has really been watching the Vatican for 20 years, he's written a signature book on the papacy of Benedict XVI. And on that particular scandal he said, he believed that it wasn't the case.

However, because of this "Vatileak" scandal where the pope's butler came out and made allegations about financial corruption, about other misdeeds inside the Vatican, because of that, three cardinals were charged with investigating alleged misdeeds. They yesterday handed the results of their investigation to the pope. And he will hand it on to his successor. It's not yet public -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Christiane, we'll be watching what happens over the next few days. Christiane will be on the scene. She'll join us, of course, tomorrow here on THE SITUATION ROOM as well. Thank you.

This important programming note for our viewers tonight on "ANDERSON COOPER 360": a cardinal involved in a major sex abuse scandal gets to help select the next pope. So how can that possibly happen? "A.C. 360" will investigate. That is tonight, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

A historic moment, I should say, a historic moment is unfolding right now in North Korea. An American is expected to meet with the country's new leader Kim Jong Un for the first time. He's not a diplomat. He's not a lawmaker. He's a basketball player and you might not believe who it is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Wall Street had a lousy day Monday, the worst of the year. So, did investors do any better today?

Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

How did we do?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, investors are smiling today for a change. The Dow bounced back in a big way, closing up almost 116 points. The NASDAQ and S&P 500 were also up. Wall Street might have taken note of head chief Ben Bernanke's comments. He defended the Fed's stimulus policies but also warned the looming forced budget cuts could slow the already sluggish U.S. economy.

And Jack Lew is one step closer to becoming treasury secretary. He's nomination sailed through the Senate Finance Committee today and he's now a full Senate vote away from confirmation. That is expected to happen as early as tomorrow.

In other news, Oscar Pistorius held a private memorial service for girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp tonight. It's been more than a week since he was charged with killing her. The Pistorius family revealed plans for the memorial after news about it leaked to the South African media. A statement released by his family said the service was his own idea as Pistorius mourns his late girlfriend. He said he shot her by accident because he thought she was an intruder.

And a historic moment in North Korea today. Believe it or not, yes, that is Dennis Rodman. He arrived there for a visit, along with the Harlem Globetrotters. And get this -- Dennis Rodman might become the first American to visit with North Korea's new leader Kim Jong Un.

They are even letting him send tweets like this one, quote, "I'm not a politician, Kim Jong Un and the North Korean people are basketball fans. I love everyone. Period. End of story."

So pretty interesting. There's Dennis Rodman, Wolf.

BLITZER: Can you believe Dennis Rodman is in Pyongyang, together with the Harlem Globetrotters. We should say a lot of Americans, obviously, in the Harlem Globetrotters.

They love basketball in North Korea. I was there two years ago, a little bit more than two years ago, and I could see even when I was there speaking to North Koreans and one of the North Korean officials who greeted him there at the airport in Pyongyang was one of my greeters when I arrived there as well. But they love basketball.

And you know what? When Madeline Albright, as secretary of state went to Pyongyang during the Clinton administration one of the gifts she presented Kim Jong Un's father, Kim Jong Il, there you see them right there when she was in Pyongyang, she brought a basketball signed by Michael Jordan to North Korea.

And that basketball by all accounts I heard it when I was there and a lot of North Koreans have pointed it out, they venerate, that they love Michael Jordan in North Korea. That, obviously, Dennis Rodman and the Harlem Globetrotters, they love basketball.

And I think Kim Jong Il, the father, really loved it. So, the son obviously loves it as well.

So there is a certain logic to why Dennis Rodman and the Harlem Globetrotters are in Pyongyang right now.

SYLVESTER: You know what I bet anything too is that they're going to get a basketball and they're going to have all of those players sign so the same way they have the Michael Jordan basketball, they'll probably have those Globetrotters, the Harlem Globetrotters basketball side-by-side.

But that's a good point. I've never even realized that they were such big basketball fans.

BLITZER: Kim Jong Il, now the dead father, he loved that basketball. Madeline Albright, I invited Madeline Albright to come on the show today. Unfortunately, she couldn't talk about when she presented that basketball to Kim Jong Il.

But Kim Jong Un now has Dennis Rodman in Pyongyang.

SYLVESTER: Nice a moment. BLITZER: Very cool.

We're keeping a close eye on Capitol Hill right now. Any minute now, the U.S. Senate should begin voting on President Obama's controversial nomination of Chuck Hagel to be defense secretary. We'll go there live right after the break.

And, later, we'll also go live to Egypt and that site of that horrifying accident that brought down a hot air balloon.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Any minute now we expect the start of voting. You're looking at the Senate floor right there. They are about to vote on the confirmation of Chuck Hagel to be the nation's next defense secretary. There's Carl Levin, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services committee. Joe Manchin, the Democratic senator from West Virginia, presiding on this historic vote. It looks like Hagel has the votes to be confirmed to succeed Leon Panetta as the nation's defense secretary.

The bruising fight over his confirmation, though, could cause some serious problems when he takes over the Defense Department. Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. A lot of people are concerned, Barbara, as you well know he could be tainted because almost all of the Republicans will vote against this confirmation.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Wolf. We do expect, however, as you said within the coming hours, to have a new secretary of defense. But Chuck Hagel is about to plunge into that looming budget crisis, which his own military commander says now is one of their top worries.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: The Pentagon battle plan is ready for Chuck Hagel's first hours in office.

GEORGE LITTLE, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: There is too much work to be done, too many priorities on the table, too many issues to be addressed, too many threats looming for our national security to get bogged down in the recent past.

STARR: CNN has learned one of the first priorities is to meet with Defense Department civilians. Some 800,000 are facing furloughs under forced spending cuts. The new secretary's joint chiefs of staff says the potential $46 billion in cuts is a security nightmare. Hagel has little time to lobby Congress for change.

He also plans to travel overseas soon after taking over. The Pentagon knows Hagel needs to publicly show he's in charge after a lackluster performance at best during his confirmation hearing.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Name one person in your opinion who is intimidated by the Israeli lobby in the United States Senate?

CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY NOMINEE: Well, first --

GRAHAM: Name one.

HAGEL: I don't know.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good afternoon, everybody. Please have a seat.

STARR: The burden is on the secretary from the first day to show he isn't now damaged political goods for the president on Capitol Hill.

FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: He's got to go in there overprepared, very aggressive, and willing to take on the hard questions in a way he seemed reluctant to do during his confirmation process.

STARR: And so the Pentagon promises part of the Hagel plan is to work with his congressional opponents.

LITTLE: He is going to come in with a philosophy that he's is going to be a team player inside this building. And that will extend to the United States Congress.

STARR: But some remain unconvinced.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX), MINORITY WHIP: We should not be installing a defense secretary who obviously is not qualified for the job.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: Now many will tell you that what Hagel needs to do now, the minute he's confirmed, is to score some points on the board, if you will, Wolf. Not to show that he's a team player but to show Congress and his troops that he is fully in charge. Wolf?

BLITZER: Stand by for a moment, because I want to go to Dana Bash, our chief congressional correspondent. Dana, I take it the roll call has begun on the Senate floor?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. It just started a little more than a minute ago. Senators are still making their way to the floor. So, it might go longer than what it's supposed to be, 15 minute vote. What we're watching for, obviously, is to see if any of the 18 Republicans -- that's right, 18 Republicans after Chuck Hagel got so much criticism -- any of those voted to let this nomination go through, if they actually vote for his confirmation which is a very different vote. That's what we're watching for. Fifty-one is all that's needed. Straight up or down vote, and we'll tell you what happens when we get to it.

BLITZER: Doesn't look like any Democrats are going to vote against him, at least based on what I hear. So there are 55, if you add the two independents who caucus with the Democrats. So, this is basically a done deal.

BASH: Right.

BLITZER: Right now, now that they failed this filibuster, for all practical purposes, he's about to be confirmed.

BASH: That's exactly right. The issue is not whether the votes are there. He is expected to be confirmed. The question is more of a political one, and more of a question of, you know, how he does his job as Barbara was just talking about, given the fact that he has been so beaten and bruised politically here. Whether or not he will get some support from Republicans that could potentially determine the kind of relationship he has with Congress, which is very important for the defense secretary as Barbara was just talking about, especially with these cuts coming to the Defense Department.

BLITZER: Usually Barbara Starr, usually a defense secretary at least recently has been also unanimously confirmed by the Senate, maybe two or three people vote against the, but usually it's almost unanimous if you take a look at Bob Gates, for example, or William Cohen or Leon Panetta in recent times. This is going to be pretty extraordinary.

STARR: I think that's absolutely right, Wolf. What are we talking about here? Maybe some 15 Republicans recently signing a letter, I believe, that's the number saying that they were worried about that very point. This Pentagon has a long history, as you know, of essentially being bipartisan, that the priority is always the country's national security.

That's kind of a different -- there's a change in atmosphere now. We have seen the Republicans move to hold up several nominations. John Brennan for CIA, Chuck Hagel, questions that they have raised about the attack in Benghazi, Libya. Questions about access to information from the White House. A lot of questions for Chuck Hagel about his position on everything from Israel to Iran. So, a lot of Republicans have really been making the political point that they want to exert what political muscle they have. Now the burden is on Hagel here. Can he deal with that? If they keep coming after him, how will he deal with that? He had a lot of problems during that confirmation hearing. He has to show a very different face now.

BLITZER: Yes, he's got have a major challenge ahead of him. We'll see how many Republicans vote to confirm. We'll see if any Democrats reject that confirmation. Dana, as soon as that roll call is done, let us know when the roll call is done and we'll have you back here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks guys very much.

Today was a hard one, a very hard one for the parents of Trayvon Martin. Coming up, my interview with his father, questions about the calls of justice for their son.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's been exactly one year since George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin. The incident ended Martin's life, destroyed Zimmerman's, and forever made both of them symbols. Zimmerman's supporters defend the law he invoked, the infamous Stand Your Ground statute, while critics see the shooting as the worst kind of vigilante justice.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And Tracey Martin, Trayvon Martin's father is joining us now from New York, along with Natalie Jackson. She's an attorney for the Trayvon Martin family. To both of you, thanks so much for joining us. Once again, our deepest, deepest condolences to what happened to your son.

Tracey, let me start with you. What's it like on this first anniversary? What your and your family going through?

TRACEY MARTIN, TRAYVON MARTIN'S FATHER: Today is actually a day of sorrow for me and my family. As today marks the one year anniversary that Trayvon was taken away from us. But we as a family even though we're hurt, we know that we must continue to move forward and try to pursue justice for Trayvon.

BLITZER: And we know, Natalie, let me bring you into this conversation, that in April at some point, they could rule, there could be a court ruling saying the Stand Your Ground law in Florida applies in this case. Could that possibly throw out the entire case, the criminal case against George Zimmerman?

NATALIE JACKSON, TRAYVON MARTIN'S MOTHER: Yes, Wolf, that's exactly what would happen. In Florida, if you win your Stand Your Ground hearing then that means there's no criminal prosecution nor a chance for a civil -- any civil remedy.

BLITZER You couldn't even separately go down the road and file a civil case against George Zimmerman?

JACKSON: That's correct. If he wins the Stand Your Ground hearing. Immunity hearing.

BLITZER: You're an attorney from Orlando. What's your assessment? How does that prospect look? Is it realistic?

JACKSON: From my perspective, it's not realistic. We had, from the beginning, I think, the protests and outcry was the fact that George Zimmerman had not been arrested. Based on the fact that our legal team and many other legal advisors didn't believe Stand Your Ground applied to George Zimmerman in his situation. We had the authors of the bill and the legislation of Florida who came out and said that this legislation did not apply to George Zimmerman simply because he followed Trayvon Martin.

BLITZER: So assuming it doesn't apply, then the actual trial would begin when?

JACKSON: It will begin in June.

BLITZER: So it would begin very, very soon. Are you guys ready? JACKSON: Well, we're not prosecuting it. But I do believe the prosecution is ready. I believe they have everything. The defense has asked for a continuance. Their last continuance request was denied. They could possibly still get another continuance, but right now the trial is set for June.

BLITZER: Tracey, what your hoping the country will learn from the experience, the awful experience that you've gone through with the loss of your son?

MARTIN: Well basically, we hope the country learns that in any type of killing or shooting when you have an unarmed teen, whether he be white, black, Hispanic, it doesn't matter. When you have a dead child on the ground and an individual who was told to not pursue the child, there needs be some type of ramifications. I mean, there should have been an arrest at that point. And what America needs to learn is that all children lives are of equal value, and we can't place value higher on one ethnic group more than the other.

BLITZER: All people are the same. There's no doubt about that.

MARTIN: Exactly.

BLITZER: And Tracey, I know this is a painful subject but I want our viewers to know something additional about your son, Trayvon. What do you miss most about him?

MARTIN: I Just miss -- I miss everything about him. Nothing in particular. He was like my best friend. I missed the times we shared going to the ballpark, just spending time with each other, being around each other. And just to have his life cut short, it means -- it's hurtful.

Here it is, it's February. and we're supposed to be preparing for his graduation and his prom coming in June. And we're preparing for a trial, a murder trial. So it's very hurtful not to have him here. And every day just missing his smile, just missing him saying I love you. Just missing me telling him that I love him. I miss that.

BLITZER: Our deepest condolences to you, Tracey, and your entire family. And Natalie thanks to you as well for joining us. I'm sure we will continue this conversation.

JACKSON: Thank you, Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And this important programming note. Later tonight on "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT," we'll hear the other side of this case. Piers will speak with Mark O'Mara. He is the defense attorney for George Zimmerman. "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT," 9:00 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN.

Chuck Hagel, the confirmation vote is now under way. The roll call continuing on the floor of the United States Senate, little doubt he will be confirmed. We're anxious to see though, what the vote will be, how many Republicans will vote to confirm him? Will any Democrats vote to reject this nomination? Stand by. That final tally should be known very soon.

Also other news, a hot air balloon accident in Egypt killing 19 people. When we come back we'll take a close look at what could have caused the explosion that brought down the balloon.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLIZTER: Egyptian authorities are investigating right now a real calamity, 19 people have died in the world's deadliest hot air balloon accident in at least two decades. Our own Reza Sayah is now in Luxor, in Egypt where the crash happened.

Reza, first of all, tell us what you can -- what do we know? What happened?

REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're learning more about this hot air balloon crash and the details that are emerging, Wolf, are absolutely chilling. Based on what we've learned at least at one point most of these tourists on this hot air balloon they knew they were going to die, but there was very little they could do.

They were aboard this hot air balloon. It was descending rapidly. It was on fire, they had split second whether to jump out or to stay in. These new details emerging at a press conference here in Luxor earlier this evening, government officials say this hot air balloon was about 12 feet away from landing in safety.

But something went terribly wrong, landing cable crashed into a gas tube, there was a fire, the balloon started ascending again. That's when they had to make a decision. Few people jumped out of the balloon. Most stayed on. The balloon eventually disintegrating high above and falling back to the ground.

Nineteen people killed. Among them nine Hongkong nationals, two British citizens, Japanese citizens part of the victims as well. The lone survivors, Wolf, are the Egyptian pilot and a British citizen.

BLITZER: So there were 21 people on board, two survivors. I take it they were the ones who jumped out, right?

SAYAH: It is very likely that they were the ones who jumped out first. They are suffering from severe burns. The rest, according to investigators suffered broken bones, head damage, those are the ones, unfortunately, who decided to stay on board, Wolf.

BLITZER: There is apparently some conflicting reports on this company's safety record in Luxor, which is a major tourism destination. What have you heard about that?

SAYAH: There are some reports that the company that owned this hot air balloon, Sky Cruise, did not properly register with authorities after the 2011 revolution, but government officials earlier today said it's too early to say whether this was human error or a freak accident.

The challenge now for Egyptian officials is to reassure people that hot air balloons are not dangerous and the statistics show that it is a safe activity, based on our research this was the first fatal accident of a hot air balloon ever here in Egypt.

Again officials here have to reassure people to come back and save what is already an ailing tourism industry here in Egypt.

BLITZER: Tourism in Egypt is crumbling right now. This will only make matters worse for what was a significant source of foreign income for the Egyptian economy. Reza Sayah is in Luxor for us. Reza, thanks very much.

There's a scary new study about breast cancer that's just come out. Our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta standing by to join us live. He has details about why it's being diagnosed in more younger women.

In the next hour of THE SITUATION ROOM, John Kerry loosens up on his first trip as the nation's secretary of state.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: All right, Chuck Hagel will now become the next secretary of defense. His confirmation has just been approved. There were roll call vote on the Senate floor. There see it. We don't have the final tally, but he has more than 51 votes so he'll be the successor to Leon Panetta as the next secretary of defense. Much more on this story coming up later.

Other news we're following, cases of advanced breast cancer in younger women are on the rise. That alarming headline was just published in the "Journal of American Medical Association."

Our chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is joining us from New York right now with the latest. Sanjay, tell us exactly what this study found. It sounds pretty disturbing.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I think it is alarming for sure mainly because you look for trends in medicine and between 1976 and 2009, what they noticed was the number of women who had, what is called metastatic breast cancer. A cancer that has spread throughout the body was increasing steadily.

At a small number, about 2 percent a year, but steadily increasing in women who are age 25 to 39. So we see these numbers increasing a real trend. The numbers still pretty small. Back in the '70s you may have had 250 women who had this sort of metastatic breast cancer who were also under the age of 40.

And now the number is closer to 850. So it's not a huge absolute number but, again, in medicine you try to figure out there's a trend why is it happening and can anything be done about it. That's the big headline here -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So should women under the age of 40 start thinking about regular mammograms? I know there's been a lot of debate on this in the medical community.

GUPTA: Well, we ask the same question and it's a good question. The answer seems to be no, not now. There doesn't seem to be enough evidence still that they should lower the age at which women start receiving mammograms. That's going to be tough to hear obviously for some women who say my chance of having metastatic or spread breast cancer is higher than it was 25 years ago why not?

It's because the numbers are still small. Could it be in part that the numbers are rising because we've gotten better at detecting some of these things at different stages so, we don't have enough evidence yet to recommend that, Wolf. Look you're absolutely right. It remains a controversial area, the screening for breast cancer specifically and I'm sure people will look that study as part of that.

BLITZER: Let me shift to another medical story. The Mediterranean diet as it's called. We heard a study yesterday in the "New England Journal of Medicine" suggesting it could save a lot of lives, prevent heart attacks, strokes. There's been some criticism though today as a result of this report. What's going on here?

GUPTA: Well, let me put to it you like this. I think the Mediterranean diet could be a very good diet. It's a diet high in olive oil and nuts, the kind of food people eat in the Mediterranean. The problem with the study was this, Wolf. It sounded as if they were comparing a Mediterranean diet to a low-fat diet.

But when you start to look at that study more specifically what you find is that the people who were supposed to be on a low-fat diet, they weren't on a low-fat diet. They were told to eliminate or reduce fat from their diet, but they couldn't do that or they didn't do that.

So, for example, you take a guy like Dr. Dean Ornish, for example, who recommends that people eat less than 10 percent of their calories from fat, in this group it was about 37 percent so almost four times as much fat in their diet.

So it wasn't, you know, comparing what they thought they were comparing. I think the headline here more, Wolf, is that people who were told to go on a low-fat diet, they couldn't stick with it. They had a hard time sticking with it. It was a tough study to compare here.

BLITZER: So basically what I hear you saying a Mediterranean diet is good as long as you just use the low-fat part of that Mediterranean diet is that what I'm hearing?

GUPTA: Well, if the question was this, is a Mediterranean diet better than a low-fat diet at reducing heart disease, reducing stroke we don't know the answer to that still. Despite all the headlines that you read yesterday we don't know the answer to that.

Because there was no -- there weren't people in the study who were actually eating a true low-fat diet. I think, you know, what you're saying is generally correct that there are some things common between the various advocates of these diets.

One being lowering fat overall, you can add good kinds of fat, for example, olive oil has a particular kind of fat that's better than the type of fat you find in certain meats and also increasing the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet. That's something that both diet seemed to recommend. But again, if you're saying, hey, which is better, low-fat, Mediterranean, we still don't have the answer to that question.

BLITZER: I like the Mediterranean diet because you can have a glass of wine as part of that diet.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: It sounds a lot friendlier to me. Sanjay, thanks very much.

GUPTA: You got it, Wolf.