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Hagel Receives Enough Votes From Senate; "N.Y. Mayor Will Never Control This Election"; GOP Weighs Giving President Obama Flexibility; 72 the New 30?; Obama's Fighting Words Over Budget; Top Republicans Backing Gay marriage; John Kerry Starts International Tour As Secretary Of State

Aired February 26, 2013 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: And you're in the SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, bipartisan bickering over the forced budget cuts hitting a new low.

Republicans are deeply divided. One warning how House speaker, John Boehner could even lose his job if he does something.

Also, a crippling Midwest blizzard blasting away snowfall records going back 100 years.

And is this the new face of middle age? Jane Fonda now in her 70s wowed the Oscars, and now, some researchers re saying 72 is the new 30.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: But we begin with Chuck Hagel. He is now going to be the nation's defense secretary. The senate has just voted to approve his nomination. He has been confirmed. Dana Bash is up on Capitol Hill. Barbara Starr is over at the Pentagon. Dana, what was the final roll call?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We actually don't have it yet, Wolf. They are finalizing it. If you take a look at the Senate floor, you can still see them milling about, but we do know because our Lisa Desjardins (ph) is in the chamber that she has counted 51 votes, simple majority needed for Chuck Hagel to be confirmed as the next defense secretary.

We also know just listening to the votes as they come up that he's gotten at least four yes votes from his former Republican colleagues. That's not a lot, but maybe more than some may have anticipated given the deep partisan divide over his nomination. So far, this may surprise people as well. Rand Paul, one of the most conservative senators, he voted yes.

Thad Cochran who said so before that he would, Richard Shelby of Alabama and Mike Johanns as well. We're still listening to see if others will, because they said this vote is still open. But what this does is put this very bruising battle for Chuck Hagel behind him, but obviously, as Barbara will tell you, starts at a whole new chapter of very, very tough go of it at the Pentagon for his job there.

But also, with regard to the way, he's going to have to relate to members of Congress, especially with these forced spending cuts coming on Friday.

BLITZER: Yes. We're going to get more on that in a moment. Dana, don't go too far away. Barbara, any word yet on where he will be sworn in, when he will be sworn in, when he technically officially begins his job as defense secretary?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we are told the plan is Chuck Hagel will come here to the Pentagon first thing tomorrow morning, will walk up the steps to the secretary of defense's office on the third floor, and will be sworn in at that time. It is always around here a private ceremony by tradition.

We may get a photograph of it. But I think it's worth pausing for one minute, and this will be a moment of history to reflect upon. When Chuck Hagel setting partisan politics aside walks up the steps of the Pentagon tomorrow morning, this is a man who is a very honored combat veteran of Vietnam. This man will walk in as secretary of defense still with shrapnel from fire fights in Vietnam in his chest.

This is no small matter. This is a man who is widely respected for his service to the country as is, of course, Senator John McCain, John Kerry now the secretary of state. This is the Vietnam generation. And for so many of those veterans, this will be a moment for them to pause and reflect. For Chuck Hagel, he always recalls his Vietnam service, but he always says he's living in the present. He's going to move ahead.

BLITZER: Let's see how that moving ahead goes forward. Barbara, thanks very much.

The forced budget cuts are getting closer and closer now that the language at the same time is getting nastier and nastier, especially up on Capitol Hill. With each passing hour, it's looking increasingly likely that $85 billion in spending cuts will come into effect by this Friday over the next seven months.

Let's go back to Dana. She's got the latest on this story. What is the latest, Dana, if there is any new development?

BASH: Well, very interesting. And I talked to Republican congressmen today who said his constituents are suffering from what he called drama fatigue from Washington lurching from one crisis to another. That's part of the reason you're not seeing 11th hour talks right now to avert these forced spending cuts. Another reason, well, watch and listen. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): It has come to this.

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

BASH: The speaker of the House who grew up in his father's bar versus the Senate majority leader whose mother made ends meet doing laundry for brothels in Nevada.

SEN. HARRY REID, (D) MAJORITY LEADER: I was raised in a little town that had 13 brothels in it, so I'm used to some pretty salty language. I think he should understand who is sitting on their posterior. We're doing our best here to pass something. The speaker is doing nothing to try to pass anything over there.

BASH: That off color verbal volley took the blame game to a new rather low level as Democrats and Republicans conceded forced spending cuts they created in 2011 with no intention of actually kicking in now almost certainly will starting Friday.

President Obama took his bully pulpit to Norfolk, Virginia, where the White House says across the board cuts will force the navy to cancel maintenance of 11 ships.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That hurts this community. Because of these automatic cuts, about 90,000 Virginians who work for the department of defense would be forced to take unpaid leave from their jobs.

BASH: Then rapid fire warnings of other real world effects from forced spending cuts.

OBAMA: More than 2,000 college students would lose their financial aid, delays in airports across the country. Tens of thousands of parents will have to scramble to find child care for their kids.

BASH: Republicans now argue consequences from the country's debt would be worse than $85 billion in spending cuts, and they likened the president to chicken little (ph).

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO, (R) WYOMING: -- saying that the sky is falling all in an effort to try to scare Congress and scare the American people into doing what he wants which is raising taxes.

BASH: That speaks to the heart of the divide. Republicans say no new taxes in any deal to prevent indiscriminate cuts. Democrats want tax increases and spending cuts. It's philosophical and, on this, insurmountable.

REID: Until there's some agreement on revenue, I believe, we should just go ahead with the sequester.


BASH (on-camera): Now, the Senate Republican leader and some other Republicans say that they like the idea of trying to give the president more flexibility, the issue being now that it is completely arbitrary and nothing can be changed with regard to how these cuts are going to go forward, and perhaps, that can be alleviated if the president has the ability chance to change those cuts around.

The problem that Republicans have is that there's a divide inside the GOP over whether that's the right way to go. The other problem, Wolf, is that the White House sees it and they say, uh-uh, we do not want to have the political ownership of these cuts.

BLITZER: When Harry Reid speaks of revenue, he means tax revenue, additional tax revenue coming in. He says that's the big stumbling block, unless, Republicans are willing to agree, Dana, to raise taxes in effect, not by raising tax rates, but eliminating loopholes or deductions or whatever. There's not going to be a deal. That's what's going on right now, right?

BASH: That's exactly what's going on. I mean, it really is the classic philosophical divide between these two parties. Republicans are saying we simply will not go for what the president and Democrats want which is raising revenue, as you said, raising some taxes by closing loopholes and doing other things.

And, Democrats are saying we're not even talking about a deal, unless, that is on the table to try to cut back on some of those -- those spending cuts that they think will be so devastating.

BLITZER: Getting back, Dana, to the other story you're working on, the Senate confirmation of Chuck Hagel to be the defense secretary, the final vote 58-41, 58 in favor confirmation, 41 opposed. We know there are 55 Democrats, two of them independents who caucus with the Democrats. I don't know if all of them showed up, but 58-41.

It looks like it's almost strictly along party lines if you take a look at 55-45 the makeup between the Democrats and the Republicans in the Senate. You're not surprised by this, are you, Dana?

BASH: No. I should say that a couple of the Democrats earlier in the day were absent. So, it looks like they are handful maybe five -- four or five Republicans who crossed party lines. It isn't surprising. The vote earlier today to stop the Republican filibuster to allow this to go forward, 18 Republicans crossed party lines to allow that, but as we discussed, that's a far different kind of vote for actually confirming somebody to be the defense secretary or anything.

That's a very different kind of vote. And it isn't surprising given the real backlash that we saw from, again, we should underscore this Chuck Hagel's former Republican colleagues. He is a former Republican senator and what we have seen over the past several weeks with his nomination the way that Republicans have tried to torpedo it is almost unprecedented. BLITZER: All right. Dana, thanks very, very much.

Let's dig a little bit deeper now on those forced budget cut and the Republican divide that seems to be emerging. Some say cut a deal to avoid the devastating damage. Listen to what Senator Lindsey Graham told me here in THE SITUATION ROOM yesterday.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: Now is the time to grow up. Both parties need to grow up. We need to find a chance to do the big dip.


BLITZER: Other republicans see great consequences if the House speaker, John Boehner, agrees to raise taxes to avoid those forced budget cuts.


SEN. RON JOHNSON, (R) WISCONSIN: I don't quite honestly believe that Speaker Boehner would be speaker if that happens. I think he would lose his speakership.


BLITZER: Let's get a little bit more now with our chief national correspondent, John King. What Lindsey Graham was suggesting a grand bargain, if you will, deal with major tax reform eliminating loopholes, deductions, if you will, maybe lowering some rates, but at the same time, entitlement reform, major reform in Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid, for example.

He says if you do that, then maybe there could be a deal, but obviously, that's not going to be done between now and Friday.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And that's why the Republican leadership and some of its colleagues while he has the right to have that opinion, they wish he would just be quiet. Let's deal with the issue before us right now, which is that sequester or the forced budget cuts.

You heard Senator Johnson there saying if the speaker agrees to tax increases to deal with the sequester, he'd lose his job. A lot of Republicans are shrugging at that one because the speaker has been crystal clear. He's not going to do that. So, you have some people speaking that might confuse people and make it suggests that there's a lot more infighting among the Republicans than there really is.

No question they could communicate better, but they are pretty unified on the basic question which is they say no tax increases for this point, the $85 billion. And that's what makes this so interesting. The Republicans are digging in because they know what the president is asking to do, Wolf, is essentially go to their holy grail, tax increases. They just raised taxes about seven weeks ago as part of the fiscal cliff deal. The president wants those loopholes closed. Now, a lot of people watch might say, what's so unpopular about that? However, then you still get back to the bigger questions Lindsey Graham is talking about. Even if they figure something out for the sequester, doesn't look back they will by Friday, then you go back to the bigger deficit reduction where the president would be asking for more tax increases.

So, the Republicans have already raised taxes one. If they do get a grand bargain whether it's months from now or year from now, that might be twice. You can bet the ranch. They're not going to do it a third time.

BLITZER: You know, the whole point, though, that some Republicans are now saying and even in these final days, you know what Mr. President, you don't like these $85 billion in mandatory across the board spending cuts, we'll give you flexibility.

Just come up with $85 billion price tag or number, but you have the flexibility to decide where those cuts should take place. The president saying not so fast. He's not interested.

KING: Because then on stand a note (ph), he would own them. Then the White House or the cabinet agencies would be making the decisions on what get cut and what doesn't. Now, some Republicans are worried that the administration would use that to cut programs that Republicans tend to like and to not cut programs the Democrats tend to like.

But what the Republicans think it would force the president, would give the president what he wants. He says this is a meat cleaver. This is across the board. It's indiscriminate. It would give the president the flexibility and what the Republicans say is it would prove that you can cut this spending which remember is still a growth in spending.

The federal government even with this 85 billion will spend more this year than last year. But the Republicans say it would prove you can cut the spending without devastating consequences. The president says this may have been my idea to begin with, but we all signed on to it and we're all going to be the table to get out of it.

BLITZER: So, just blame (ph) me for this. People aren't happy with these cuts. All right. John, thanks very much.

We have a significant debate coming up in our next hour right here in the SITUATION ROOM. Steve Moore of the "wall Street Journal" goes up against veteran Wall Street financier, Steve Rattner, the former Obama administration's auto czar. A good debate on these forced spending cuts here in the SITUATION ROOM in the next hour.

The New York City mayor dabbling in Illinois politics. Why Michael Bloomberg is dumping millions of dollars into a Congressional race hundreds of miles from home. And, are conservatives snubbing New Jersey governor, Chris Christie? we have details of an invitation that apparently never came.


BLITZER: The monstrous winter storm that's blasted much of the Midwest is barreling eastward right now. The blizzard has dumped some record amounts of snow in parts of the region, shut down power to tens of thousands, brought travel to a crawl and even has proven deadly. Our national correspondent, Jason Carroll, is joining us from Peoria, Illinois right now. So, is it still packing much of a punch, Jason?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's still snowing here, Wolf. We've had a light snow here now for about the better part of an hour or two. If you look straight across the Illinois River, you can see visibility is just at about foggy at its best. The problem that we've been seeing out here in the streets are mounds of snow like this. It's an indication that the people here are still trying to get over the last storm that blew through here.


CARROLL (voice-over): Blinding blizzard conditions near white out closed highways in several states, blowing and drifting snow combined with wind gusts up to 60 miles per hour made for treacherous driving. In Amarillo, people stepped out into this. The storm dumped 19 inches of snow Monday breaking a one day snowfall record that stood for more than a century.

Many here already weary from the last snowstorm which hit the Southern Plains a week ago. The warnings this time all too familiar. Texas under a state of emergency, so too, is Kansas.

GOV. SAM BROWNBACK: We're very concerned about this storm. We believe it may be worse than the last one.

CARROLL: A motorist killed as a result of the storm. In Missouri, Kansas City's mayor urging people to stay inside.

MAYOR SLY JAMES, KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI: We need our Kansas City citizens to take this seriously and to spread the word and to be off the roads as much as possible.

CARROLL: In Oklahoma, a roof caved in killing one inside.

VOICE OF MATT LEHENBAUER, WOODWARD COUNTY EMERGENCY MANAGER: We did have that collapse, and one individual was found dead at the scene there.

CARROLL: Most of the trouble was on the roads. Motorists some stranded for hours as emergency crews tried to reach them, but this is the Midwest and people here have seen and measured much worse.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we are approaching 6 1/2 to seven inches of snow. (END VIDEOTAPE)

CARROLL (on-camera): 6 1/2 to seven inches, not expecting that much here in Peoria. But actually, Wolf, some farmers in the state of Kansas were actually looking forward to the snow, they needed the moisture. They hit the ground, but that's very small consolation to the many people who ended up getting stuck out on the roads -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Jason thank you. Jason is in Peoria.

Meanwhile, other news we're following, including a special election today in Illinois. House seat, a Congressional House seat is drawing attention and a lot of money from the mayor of New York City. Michael Bloomberg is flexing his financial muscle in the race where gun control, all of a sudden, has become a top issue.

Our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, is joining us right now. So, why is Michael Bloomberg so anxious to get involved in this special election for a Congressional seat?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you've heard the pro-democracy slogan one-man/one-vote. Well, what's happening in this special Congressional race in Illinois might be described as one mayor/one district.


ACOSTA (voice-over): In the Chicago area where street violence is raging, it's no surprise gun control could be the decisive issue in the Democratic primary for Congressional seat that's up for grabs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Watch out for Debbie Halvorson. When she was in Congress before, Halvorson got an A from the NRA.

ACOSTA: What's surprising is that the man who's pushing the issue more than anybody else isn't even from Illinois. New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg's Super PAC has dumped more than $2 million into the race, airing ads slamming contender, Debbie Halvorson's A rating with the National Rifle Association in favor of her rival, Robin Kelly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kelly will join President Obama to take on the NRA.

ACOSTA: Because it's a special election to replace Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. who resigned abruptly last November, the candidates have had only a few months to campaign. Halvorson, a former congresswoman, says Bloomberg's money has made her the underdog.

DEBBIE HALVORSON, (D) CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: The first thing they tell me is we're with you. We are sick and tired of seeing those commercials. A mayor from New York will never control this election. We don't want someone sticking their nose into Illinois politics.

ACOSTA: But the pro-gun control mayor argues he's putting his millions to good use. MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, NEW YORK: And the public, I think, should stand up. I'm part of the public. I happen to have some money, and I'm -- that's what I'm going to do with my money is try to get us some sensible gun laws.

ACOSTA: With Chicago still reeling from the high-profile murder of teenager, Hadiya Pendleton (ph) whose parents attended the "State of the Union" speech, Bloomberg's handpicked candidate has her own ads, pledging to support new firearms restrictions.

ROBIN KELLY, REPRESENTATIVE NOMINEE: It's heartbreaking. There are kids dying every day. As a mother, you think, what if that was my child.

ACOSTA: But no matter the issue, Kathy Kiely with the campaign watchdog group, The Sunlight Foundation, says Bloomberg's meddling in Illinois is just another reminder of how Super PACs can play king maker in tiny races.

KATHY KIELY, SUNLIGHT FOUNDATION: What it tells you is that somebody with a lot of money can tip the balance in a race. It looks like he will determine the next member of Congress for the Chicago district.

ACOSTA: He's going to be picking the next member of Congress?

KIELY: That's the way it looks.


ACOSTA (on-camera): But the polls are still open, and they have to count the votes in Illinois and there's one other big Election Day factor in that race. The snow could affect the turnout. You can look at that right now, this live picture of Chicago. There's still some snow coming down. We'll have to find out whether the snow affects this race as much as the blizzard of money that's going into these ads from Mayor Bloomberg, Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, the hardy (ph) folks in Chicago. That doesn't look like a whole lot of snow to me. Those people are used to winter.

ACOSTA: I think they can do it.

BLITZER: I think the folks in Chicago can deal with it. Thanks very much.

By the way, we're going to be speaking here in the SITUATION ROOM tomorrow with Reverend Jesse Jackson. This is his son's district, as you know, where the special election is taking place. Reverend Jesse Jackson will join us here in the SITUATION ROOM tomorrow, a special interview with him coming up.

Also coming up here today, we're not getting any younger or are we? A new study is sure to put a spring back in your step especially if you're over 70. What's going on? We'll tell you.


BLITZER: A popular tourist attraction takes a disastrous turn. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. Lisa, what happened?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, state-run media in Egypt say gas is to blame for today's deadly hot air explosion over Luxor. In this video shot from another balloon, the ill-fated craft is seen exploding on its descent and plummeting. Oh, wow. You see it there. A thousand feet. Nineteen people, an Egyptian and 18 (ph) tourists died. An Egyptian pilot and a Britain are hospitalized.

The governor of Luxor province has grounded all hot air balloons until further notice.

And in Boston, the Fung Wah Bus Company has pulled almost its entire fleet of buses 21 out of 28 from the road. According to the "Boston Globe," the decision was made after state inspectors discovered structural cracks in several of the company's buses. Fung Wah is using charter buses and reduced schedule to make its regular runs between Boston and New York.

And good news here. Recovery in the Housing market appears to be picking up. And S&P Case Shiller reports those prices rose at an annual rate of 7.3 percent in 2012 and the census bureau says new home sales rocketed more than 15 percent from December to January. Lower mortgage rates, tighter supply, and a stronger economy are credited with fueling that upswing.

OK. So, Hawaii probably conjures up thoughts of a warm tropical beaches, those swaying palm trees. Certainly not snowcapped mountains. Well, Hawaii got a burst of winter weather over the weekend. Several inches of snow blanketed the Mauna Kea volcano on the big island. It's not expected to stay very long, though.

Rain and high winds followed the snow and the temperatures are on the rise. But what a gorgeous sight. A lot of people don't realize you can actually go skiing in Hawaii. It is such thing. It's on the big island. Big island has just about every climate on the globe exist. There are desert --

BLITZER: You lived in Hawaii for a while, right?

SYLVESTER: I went to high school on the big island. So, a shout out to my high school, the Hawaii Preparatory Academy.

BLITZER: Say the name of that state correctly so our viewers really understand how are you supposed to say it?

SYLVESTER: Well, some people say Hawaii, but if you're there, a lot of them will say Havai (ph). So --

BLITZER: Really?

SYLVESTER: Havai (ph).

BLITZER: So, how do you say it?

SYLVESTER: I say it depending on the company I'm keeping, but usually, I say Hawaii.

BLITZER: Hawaii.


BLITZER: That's what I will say.

SYLVESTER: So, love it. Love it.

BLITZER: It's a beautiful state, but I didn't know there was snow there.

SYLVESTER: Yes. A lot of family there, but the big island is a wonderful place to visit. So, just a plug for the island.

BLITZER: See the smiling --


BLITZER: Thank you, Lisa.

Up next, some Republicans go on the record over the hot issue of same-sex marriage. They're now backing it. They're urging the United States Supreme Court to do the same. So, what's going on? Our "Strategy Session," that's next.


BLITZER: Top Republicans backing gay marriage just weeks before the United States Supreme Court takes up the hot button issue. At least 75 high-profile GOP members have signed what's called a friend of the court brief, urging the nine justices to rule in favor of same- sex marriage. The signers include some close advisors to former president George W. Bush, some former governors, two members of Congress and our own CNN contributor, Republican strategist Ana Navarro, who is also joining us now along with Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor Donna Brazile.

So, what's going on among these Republican?. A lot of them not necessarily known as supporters of gay marriage. Why are they now coming out signing this letter?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think it was a personal choice. You know, we're very respectful of the process and of the court. I think everybody who is on there is on there because of a personal choice because of personal feelings.

This is an evolving issue. It's one that's very personal, complex, emotional. For me it's very simple, Wolf. I cannot look into my friends' eyes and say to a friend of mine they are entitled to less rights than I am, they are less equal than I am. This is not for me about politics; it's about human rights. And I think everybody has their own reasons to do it. For the most part, it's been a personal journey for everybody.

BLITZER: You know, the end of March, the arguments will be made, the oral arguments will be made before the Supreme Court by the end of June. We expect a decision on whether or not the country is going to go along with this from the federal perspective.

A letter like this could influence some of those wavering members of the United States Supreme Court.

BRAZILE: I'm sure the court is split. It may influence Justice Kennedy. Who knows what other justices?

BLITZER: Maybe Justice Roberts.

BRAZILE: Maybe Justice Roberts. I wish it would influence all nine justices because there's no place for discrimination in our society. I'm proud of Ana. But of course, I would expect this of her. She is a champion to human rights for all people and human dignity.

But this is an issue, wolf, where public opinion has dramatically shifted in favor of same-sex marriage in nine states, including the District of Columbia as some form of marriage equality. It's time all 50 states have this.

NAVARRO: We have to be a party where you can co-exist. If you're a believer in equal rights and gay equality, and if you are not. That's the kind of big tent that we need to build as Republicans where we can all respect each other and where there is a party that embraces diversity of thought.

BLITZER: Because I looked at that list of 75 Republicans. .Jon Huntsman, a former governor of Utah, former Republican presidential candidate, a conservative and Mormon, he signed that letter as well. There were some other pretty significant name --

NAVARRO: My Congresswoman, my current Congresswoman who is currently serving, Ileana Ros-Leithen, signed that letter. And I can tell you she's got some very conservative constituents in places like Little Havana. It's worth noting that there's three Latino Republicans who signed that list. Alex Castellanos, Ileana and myself.

So, I think it talks about the diversity that there is within the party and within the thought. And that we can't afraid of being. You can be anything. That's what personal freedom is about and that's what the Republican party is about.

BLITZER: So many people's views on this have evolved. Including the president of the United States, Bill Clinton, Colin Powell, so many others. We'll see what happens.

BRAZILE: And now they're leading this campaign, and I hope Ana and others will continue to lead the way. BLITZER: What are you hearing, Ana? You're pretty well plugged in in Republican circles. Why wasn't the Republican governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, very popular guy as we all know, invited to this conservative political event that's going to be taking place in the coming days? CPAC, the conference here in Washington?

NAVARRO: Look, I think there's people who have some issues with them. Some people still lay some blame on him for the election results and for what happened --

BLITZER: Because he hugged the president.


NAVARRO: Look, CPAC is a conservative meeting for conservatives. And God knows, Wolf, conservatives have enough soul searching of their own to do. If you ask me, I tell you I think they did him a favor by not inviting him. His numbers are at 74 approval in New Jersey. I can tell you that not getting invited to CPAC might bump it up all the way to 80. I think they did him a great favor.

BLITZER: What do you think?

BRAZILE: Oh, I think it's bad not to be invited. But look, on the other hand, he is a conservative. Democrats see him as a conservative. This will clearly help him with independents in New Jersey. But to exclude a prominent member of your party at a time when your party is in the midst of soul searching trying to rebrand yourself, retool, reach out, I think is a huge mistake. But then I'm not a conservative. Ana is and she's going.

NAVARRO: The part I don't get is why make a big fuss about it? Why say, you know, we didn't invite him we're not going -- if you're not going invite him, just don't say anything. It's worth noting, though, to talk about how much has changed that just last year, he was one of the featured speakers at CPAC Chicago meeting.

BLITZER: Yes, all right. I want to move on to another subject that we're following. Right now campaign ad, a new one for Teddy Turner, the son of CNN founder Ted Turner. Teddy's a high school economics teacher in South Carolina. He's running in the Republican primary for an open House seat.

Also in the crowded Republican field, former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford who resigned after famously saying he was going hiking; instead flew to Argentina to see his mistress. So, here's the ad and what appears to be a swipe at Sanford.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've come a long way. I know I spent too much, but what's a few trillion? It was all for you. Without (ph). I'll keep my promises this time. It will be different. I'm sorry for all the mistakes I made. Sugar, just give me one more chance.

ANNOUNCER: Break up with career politicians. The right guy, Teddy Turner. Conservative Republican. Economics teacher. Not a politician.

TEDDY TURNER, GOP CANDIDATE: I'm Teddy Turner,k and I approve this message.


BLITZER: These kind of funny ads work in a special election like this?

NAVARRO: They sure get media. They get earned (ph) media, and they get attention. I'll tell you something, for not being a career politician, he sure learned pretty quick how to put out a whammy of an ad.

BLITZER: What do you think?

BRAZILE: He should have used Barry White background music, probably could have gotten a little crossover votes. But -

NAVARRO: No, he should have done "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina."


BRAZILE: Oh, that would have been a good one. No, but, you know, it's a very competitive race. I think he's trying to establish himself as somebody who is not like his father, Mr. Turner, though I have no problems with his dad. I think his dad is a hero.

But this is a very interesting contest in a very conservative part of the country, and I'm looking forward to see if Mark Sanford can redeem himself and come back. So many politicians have come back after falling by the wayside. He might be just another politician.

NAVARRO: It's an effective ad. He's highlighting two things: one, Mark Sanford's past character flaws and two, that he's not a career politician.

BLITZER: This is the seat Tim Scott had who is now the United States senator from South Carolina. Guys, thanks very much.

Coming up, button-down John Kerry loosening up a bit on his first overseas trip as secretary of state. We have details in his town hall meeting in Berlin.


BLITZER: It's his first trip abroad as secretary of state. John Kerry is racking up some miles. Look at his itinerary. At least so far, London, Berlin, Paris. And then it's coming up, Rome and the Turkish capital, Ankara. Then he's off to Cairo, Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, finally Doha and Qatar.

And today we saw a sign of John Kerry not often seen. Our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty, is traveling with Secretary Kerry.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kerry, the secretary of state of the United States!

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: In a town hall-style meeting in Berlin, America's top diplomat, John Kerry, sporting a preppy pink tie, showed he can loosen up. At one point, the often buttoned up Kerry turned folksy in explaining America's right to free speech.

JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: In America, you have a right to be stupid. If you want to be. And you have a right to be disconnected to somebody else if you want to be. And we tolerate it.

DOUGHERTY: On his first trip overseas as secretary of state, Kerry seems intent on avoiding diplomatic disasters, especially in his first meeting with Russia.


DOUGHERTY: Like his predecessor's infamous misspelled reset button.

CLINTON: We worked hard to get the right Russian word. Do you think we got it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You got it wrong.

CLINTON: I got it wrong.


DOUGHERTY: Kerry's photo op of the Russian foreign minister was over in a minute. They seemed eager to get down to business. But when the cameras left, Kerry and Sergei Lavrov spent almost two hours together, nearly half of which was devoted to Syria.

Jill Dougherty, CNN, Paris.


BLITZER: Let's see if anything positive emerged from that meeting with Sergei Lavrov. We'll stay in touch with Jill Dougherty. She's traveling with the secretary of state.

Let's get back to our top story right now. Only three days left to see if those forced spending cuts, $85 billion, over the next seven months go into effect.

Our chief political analyst Gloria Borger has been talking to senior administration officials.

Is there any progress being made at all to avert those cuts between now and Friday? GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: It sure doesn't seem so, Wolf. The senior administration officials I spoke with seem completely dug in on this. They are not having meetings with the House speaker or the Republican leader in the Senate. They told me that they believe that politically everyone agrees with him on this, that this debate occurred during the 2012 election, that it was resolved, that people want a balanced approach, spending cuts and some tax increases.

And one senior official said to me, you know, the only thing we can think of is that Republicans can't figure out a way to get all of their people together which is why they are putting this focus on us.

So as you -- as you can hear, Wolf, there is no give on this at this point as we stare into that deadline.

BLITZER: Because the president says these are stupid ways to make cuts, it'll be very painful.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: Teachers, Head Start, certain Defense Department employees. Just a dumb way to do it across the board. So some Republicans are now saying, you know what, Mr. President, we'll give you flexibility.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: It's up to you to decide a smarter way to get rid of some waste, fraud and abuse, you come up with a plan, we'll support you and the White House says --

BORGER: Absolutely, unequivocally no. One senior administration official said that it would be, quote, "a cynical device," that it would be a complete sham. The Republican proposal that is. And one official put it to me this way. He said, you know, it's as if somebody says, OK, you have to cut off two of your fingers and we're going to give you a choice of which two of those fingers you want cut off. Not much of a choice.

And as you know, Wolf, there are also Republicans who object to that like Senator John McCain who say why would we give the president more authority to decide where these cuts go. Why should we abdicate in that sense. So from the -- from the administration's perspective an absolute complete nonstarter.

BLITZER: What about the idea Lindsey Graham had here on THE SITUATION ROOM yesterday? A grand bargain.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: We'll deal with more tax revenue, we'll eliminate loopholes, deductions, we'll lower some rates, tax reform in exchange for entitlement reform, Social Security --

BORGER: You know, and -- BLITZER: -- Medicare reform. Let's do a big deal and then we'll get to the bottom.

BORGER: As you know, Lindsey Graham was over at the White House today and I guarantee you that that question was probably posed by the president of the United States to --

BLITZER: Is the president open to that?

BORGER: To Lindsey Graham. It's hard to say at this point because you have to get through this problem before you can get to the grand bargain. But from the White House perspective you know they believe they put a plan on the table. They put a serious deal on the table. And when you say to them OK, how do you get past this -- this issue we have with March 1, there is a possibility of some kind of a short-term kind of deal like a credit card down payment, but, again, I think the administration would insist that it have some revenue component and that's a nonstarter for Republicans.

And then, of course, Wolf, what everybody is talking about is this question of, do you find some way to deal with all l of this on March 27th when we have this impending potential government shutdown and when you look at that, is there a way to maybe get all of this done together?

BLITZER: You see how much pain there is out there between now and --

BORGER: That's right. And the question is whether the public is just going to blame everybody -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. As I'm sure they will.


BLITZER: OK. Thanks so much, Gloria. Just back from a briefing with senior administration officials.

When we come back, longevity. Researchers did the math. We're going to tell you what age is the new 30.


BLITZER: All right. Check this out. This is Jesse James, the outlaw, about 30 -- 30, in the mid-1800s. This is Chuck Norris, 72, living now, this day and age, hard to believe, but a new study says these two people have the same odds of dying.

CNN's Mary Snow is joining us now from New York.

Some were saying 72 really is the new 30, Mary. What's going on?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, a researcher in Germany came up with that benchmark, and he says he did it so that people could understand just how much mortality rates have improved.


SNOW (voice-over): She's 75, but Jane Fonda looks decades younger. Mid-life is not the first word that comes to mind when describing 40-something Halle Berry. Hollywood's women continue to get the upper hand over Father Time, while the rest of us might not look as good as we age. Research suggests 72 is the new 30.

OSKAR BURGER, MAX PLANCK INSTITUTE FOR DEMOGRAPHIC RESEARCH: When I say 72 is the new 30, I just mean that the mortality that was once typical of a 30-year-old, that was typical of most of the 30- year-olds did not live, is now more typical of somebody who's in their 70s. And so mortality has changed a lot.

SNOW: That long life improvement occurred mostly in the last 100 years, says a study done at Germany's Max Plank Institute for Demographic Research. Bottom line, it finds before 1900, the odds of dying at age 30 are the same as the odds of dying at 72 today. Mostly because of better healthcare and improved living conditions.

One researcher not involved in that study isn't surprised people are living longer. But not all the news is good.

JENNIFER KARAS MONTEZ, ROBERT WOOD JOHNSON FOUNDATION, SCHOLAR AT HARVARD UNIVERSITY: Life expectancy for women has taken on a very peculiar pattern.

SNOW: Sociologist Jennifer Karas Montez has spent years trying to find out why some women in the U.S. are losing ground when it comes to life expectancies.

MONTEZ: What's happening to women is that the low-educated women, especially those without a high school education, have seen declines in their life expectancy, which is really quite shocking.

SNOW: Exactly why is unclear. Her study suggests trends in smoking play a role as well as employment. She says the stagnation in the labor market is taking a mental and physical toll on those less educated women. Overall, the trend is positive, but just how much longer life will keep extending is as elusive as the fountain of youth.


SNOW: Now the sociologists that we spoke with here in the U.S. said, bottom line, the well off are living longer in the U.S. On average, women, she says, have a life expectancy of 80 years ago old, and for men it's 75 on average -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting stuff. All right, thanks very much, Mary Snow, reporting from New York.

Just ahead a family on board a sinking boat makes a desperate call for help, but question, was it all a hoax?


BLITZER: Let's take a close look at some of this hour's "Hot Shots."

In India, a passenger boards a train from the track. In central Germany, a tree hovers over a rooftop as it's transported by a helicopter after being cut down. In Thailand a ranger rows a boat carrying a woman and children in the rain. And in Belarus, two swans swim in a river.

"Hot Shots," pictures coming in from around the world.