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"I Will Speak Until I Can No Longer Speak"; What Happened To Washington Snow?; Bush 41 and Clinton 42; No Drinking at the U.N.

Aired March 6, 2013 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, a U.S. senator takes a stand on principle, stands up for hours, speaking out on the possible use of drone strikes against American citizens on American soil.

The storm that fizzled -- Washington shuts down ahead of heavy snow sweeping across the country.

But guess what?

The nation's capital gets mainly rain.

And United Nations delegates drinking on the job, including a drunken rampage. Now, an American diplomat tells his counterparts to sober up.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

It's sort of like a movie moment version of Washington, an old- fashioned filibuster, not just the threat of nonstop speaking, but a member of the United States Senate actually refusing to yield the floor.

For more than five hours today, Senator Rand Paul has been doing just that, with the help of some fellow Republicans and at least one Democrat.

The issue -- the possibility that drones could be used against American citizens on U.S. soil.

Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: I will speak until I can no longer speak. I will speak as long as it takes, until the alarm has sounded from coast to coast, that our Constitution is important. I will speak today until the president responds and says, no, we won't kill Americans in cafes. No, we won't kill you at home in your bed at night. No, we won't drop bombs on restaurants.

Is that so hard?

We can't have our rights guaranteed by the intentions of our politicians.

Nobody's questioning the authority of the president to repel an invasion. But I am questioning the authority of the president to kill non-combatants.

If you don't have the right to be secure in your person, you don't have any other rights. No president from no party gets to be judge, jury and executioner.

It's not enough to say, I haven't done it yet, I don't intend to kill anybody, but I might.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, let's find out what's going on and what's behind all of this.

Our chief Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is up on Capitol Hill.

A long time since we actually saw a filibuster unfold, with senators actually not stop -- nonstop speaking.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, Rand Paul started at 11:47 a.m. Eastern, to be precise. So it has been more than five hours that he has been on the floor.

He spoke without any help for three hours straight. And then he did get some assistance from other Republican senators and a Democratic senator, Ron Wyden. And that is one of the things that makes this so interesting, and that this is not a knee-jerk, partisan event going on here. This is, as you just played, Rand Paul talking over and over again about a very specific issue that he is concerned about, which is the U.S. using drones in America to target American citizens.

And it's important to note that Senator Paul has said he actually voted for Chuck Hagel, one of the president's most controversial nominees for Defense secretary -- he crossed party lines to do that -- and John Kerry, as well. It hasn't all been, though, very serious.

I want you to listen to one moment of levity that I think everybody is going to get.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: I know you've been here for a while. Keep some water nearby handy. Trust me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Now, as I said, Wolf, this has really stuck to the issue at hand. Some of the old-fashioned filibusters that we've heard about or read about or even seen has led to senators singing songs, reading recipes, wasting time in order to keep the floor and keep going.

That's not happening in this case. We are not going to see, though, a vote on Brennan tonight. It will not be at least until tomorrow. And that was just decided moments before I came on with you.

BLITZER: Senator Paul making his point dramatically, indeed -- Dana, don't go too far away. I've got more to discuss.

All the outrage began after the attorney general of the United States, Eric Holder, alluded to the possibility -- the possibility -- that drones could be used to kill Americans in the United States on U.S. soil.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, is picking up from there -- Chris, give us a little background.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, basically these senators are arguing that what is just hypothetical today may not be so tomorrow. And now it looks like President Obama himself is going to have to come out publicly and explain how a president could use this deadly power.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE (voice-over): Senators are demanding to know when it's OK for the government to target and kill Americans on U.S. soil.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: Do you have abundant evidence he's a terrorist, he was involved in terrorist plots?

LAWRENCE: But what if at that moment...

CRUZ: He's not pointing a bazooka at the Pentagon, he is sitting in a cafe.

LAWRENCE: It's happened overseas, when the U.S. took out American al Qaeda member, Anwar al-Awlaki, in Yemen.

Could the president legally kill a hypothetical American terrorist on U.S. soil?

ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Sitting at the cafe not doing anything imminently, the use of lethal force would not be appropriate.

LAWRENCE: But it's that kind of vague explanation that kept senators grilling Attorney General Eric Holder and prompted this Tweet from Marco Rubio. "Why is it not so hard for POTUS to just say no, it is not constitutional to kill a citizen who is not an imminent threat with a drone on U.S. soil?

HOLDER: Let me be clear, translate my "appropriate" to "no." I thought I was saying no.

LAWRENCE: But in a letter to Senator Rand Paul released this week, Holder left open the option of an extraordinary circumstance, where it may be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution for the president to authorize the military to use lethal force within the United States.

Holder explained that the target would have to pose an imminent threat, like the attacks on 9/11.

STEPHEN VLADECK, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL: I don't think anyone would doubt that the military could use lethal force, even against a U.S. citizen, if it was to stop an immediate, imminent terrorist attack.

LAWRENCE: But legal scholars argue it's the secrecy of the drone program that raises concern over its use on U.S. soil.

VLADECK: Once we see the rationale, that we can decide whether, in fact, the government is acting legally or not.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BLITZER: Now Dana mentioned that this fight is not coming down down partisan lines. And she's right. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham basically supporting the administration's power on this matter, saying that the administration does need to use drones, that it should retain that power do protect the homeland. And Attorney General Eric Holder indicated that President Obama himself will very soon come out and explain more fully the administration's policy on the use of drones -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I'm anxious to hear that explanation.

Thanks very much, Chris Lawrence over at the Pentagon.

The classic filibuster was by the passionate principled character played by Jimmy Stewart in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."

Remember this?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON," COURTESY COLUMBIA PICTURES)

JIMMY STEWART: I had some pretty good coaching last night. And I find that if I yield only for a question or a point of order or a personal privilege, that I can hold this floor up until doomsday.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: I remember that film. I loved that film.

Let's discuss what's going on.

Our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, is here.

Our chief national correspondent, John King, is joining us from Boston.

Senator Rand Paul might be flattered by the com -- by the comparison, Gloria.

But what's really behind what's going on right now?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, you heard Rand Paul earlier. He believes that he is debating a very important constitutional issue, that is what he considers to be illegal government overreach. And I think, Wolf, you can actually make the case that this is a result of the administration's earlier reasoning that it didn't need to be more transparent about the question of drones, which came up at John Brennan's confirmation hearing to run the CIA, and that transparency is an issue here on the Democratic side of the aisle, as well.

So I think you see this odd confluence where you've got -- where you've got a Rand Paul and a Ron Wyden of Oregon, a liberal Democrat, on the same side of an issue.

BLITZER: It's interesting, John, because the attorney general, Eric Holder, he said it would be an extraordinary circumstance that the president would order, in effect, the assassination of an American citizen on U.S. soil. The U.S. has done that with Anwar al-Awlaki, for example, a U.S. citizen who was targeted for assassination in Yemen. But I suppose it's different to do that in the United States, without so-called due process.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It would be remarkably different, obviously. He's not on a battlefield, if you will. At least Yemen was known and the Anwar Awlaki killing is still debatable.

And, again, Gloria is right, you have -- you know, you have libertarian types who question the president's power like a Rand Paul. You also have the ACLU, that says that was a broad overreach of presidential power.

But, Wolf, there's that specific issue. And Eric Holder is trying to say it would be the tiniest of possibilities, but he's trying to leave that little bit of wriggle room. And that's why Rand Paul is waging this filibuster.

But this is a debate that goes all the way back, really, to 9/11. In the media days after 9/11, when you had The Patriot Act, when you had a broad expansion of presidential power -- it actually, you could say, goes back to the beginning part of Republican and the whole War Powers Act and how much power does a commander-in-chief have.

But it's interesting in the Senate that Senator Barack Obama often criticized the Bush administration and efforts by then Vice President Dick Cheney to, if you will, expand the power of the presidency.

Well, that's just what this president is trying to do now, trying to say that I don't think it would happen, but I'm not going to absolutely say it would not happen. And now the administration, part of this, also, is a hangover from both Republicans and Democrats think they didn't do enough tough oversight of the Bush administration during the Iraq War and they're getting around to these questions, specifically, about drones...

BORGER: And The Patriot Act Paul...

KING: -- in this administration.

BORGER: -- it really comes down to a basic mistrust of government. I mean, if you...

KING: Right.

BORGER: -- look at Eric Holder's letter, he says, "The question you have posed is entirely hypothetical, unlikely to occur and one we hope no president will ever have to confront."

But because he refused to completely close the door, because there are always extraordinary circumstances, if you don't trust the government to do the right thing and you don't think there's enough oversight, then you're going to be on the floor filibustering.

BLITZER: Guys, hold on for a moment, because I want to get to another story we're with watching, a story unfolding right here in Washington.

The president reaching out to rank and file senators, Republicans, tonight. He's invited 11 Republican senators to dinner this evening at a hotel only a few blocks away from the White House.

Let's get some details from our chief Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, who's still with us -- Dana, any chance something really significant, potentially, could come out of this dinner, other than a great meal and maybe a little good wine?

BASH: I think -- let's hope, for their sakes, that they at least get that. I would not hold my breath that there is going to be any announcement, large or small, out of this dinner.

But, Wolf, that's not the point. The point is for the president and senators from the other side of the aisle to establish a baseline understanding of one another at a human level, which simply does not exist right now. And that is really the core of the problem. You talk to people all across Washington that you've seen the past several years, that there has been a breakdown of basic fundamental relationships that can allow them to get to the next level and make a deal on key issues.

In fact, that's a point that Senator Lindsey Graham, who is going tonight and helped the president arrange this dinner, made earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: It's sad that it makes news. If Ronald Reagan had dinner with members of the Senate or Bill Clinton, I don't think anybody would have written it -- you'd have a hard time getting your editors to report it. The fact that there is a lot of interest in a dinner between the president and a handful of Republican senators is a pretty good statement about where we're at as a nation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Now, if you take a closer look at this list that Senator Graham helped put together, I think what is most interesting is that the president is not going to be sitting with some -- or the few, I should say -- remaining moderate Republicans. They're some of the most conservative Tea Party-backed Republicans who are going to be breaking bread with him tonight -- Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.

And both of them actually spoke to the president, at least Senator Toomey, I know for sure, spoke to the president today. The president reached out to them to sort of give them a little bit of a preview of what to expect tonight, maybe the -- to grease the skids.

And he said that he is going to try to get to know the president, but is going to talk about some of the key issues from his perspective economically that he wants to get through to the president, especially tax reform.

BLITZER: I'd love to have been a fly on the wall in that dinner tonight.

We'll see what happens -- Dana, thanks very much.

Gloria, you wrote a column today, among other things, on CNN.com. You wrote, "Recently, a senior administration official told me, there's this myth in Washington that somehow, if we all sat down around a table, Republicans would miraculously be more willing to work with us. That's ridiculous, he clearly thought, just absurd."

So why has the White House, at least on this day, apparently changed course?

BORGER: Because they have nothing to lose at this point. The sequester fight over the forced spending cuts, there was a poll, a "Washington Post"/ABC News poll today, which showed that by a two to one margin generally, people support the cuts. They don't think it's Armageddon.

The president's popularity has suffered as a result of this.

So, Wolf, they have nothing to lose. Even if they show that it doesn't work, that they're not all going to get together, they've still at least made the effort, which is what the public wants them to do.

BLITZER: What's your take, John, on this?

You've been watching White Houses and Congress discuss, deal with these kinds of issues for a long time. KING: Well, I think, in a word, it's pathetic that it's taken four years and a month to get to this point. And I don't -- that's not just blaming the president, that's blaming all of them. There's this bipartisan trust deficit in Washington.

So he'll sit down with the Senate tonight. No, they're not going to come away with a deal to end the sequester and fund the budget and pass gun control and deal with immigration reform. But maybe they get to know each other a little bit better. And when they get into the nitty-gritty of those fights down the road, the Republicans will understand the president a little better, and the president will understand the Republicans a little better, and they'll have at least some basic personal baseline.

And the question is, Wolf, does he follow it up?

He is going to the Hill next week to talk to both the Senate and the House Republicans. He's done that in the past.

The question is, this is a second term president, who may think he's right on the sequester, but every day wasted on that fight is a day where he's not building on other issues that he'd like to get done in the second term.

And the political reality is, unless there's a huge swing in 2014, that's a long ways away.

Does he really want to wait for another election to decide to get things done?

In the meantime, between now and then, to get anything done, he has to deal with the House Republican majority and the significant...

BORGER: And there isn't...

KING: -- Senate Republican Caucus.

And so why not get to know each other?

It's ridiculous it's taken so long.

BORGER: Right. And there is an opening here, by the way, if they can get past these the forced spending cuts, as you look toward the summer, Lindsey Graham has talked about a so-called grand bargain. The president has done that.

KING: Right.

BORGER: John Boehner has done that. If he can talk to some of these conservatives and figure out what they might agree to in terms of entitlement cuts and maybe even tax reform, then maybe he would enhance his legacy, as opposed to endangering it.

BLITZER: I know the dinner is going to be delicious tonight. Let's hope the outcome of all of this is productive.

Guys, thanks very much.

KING: But we have been sequestered from the dinner tonight, unfortunately.

BLITZER: Yes, that's correct.

BORGER: All right, let's all go out ourselves. OK.

BLITZER: All right, we're just getting this into THE SITUATION ROOM.

CNN has confirmed that Mitt Romney will now return to the private sector. He'll be joining his eldest son, Tagg's, investment firm. A source with knowledge in the SITUATION confirms to CNN that the Republican presidential nominee will serve as the chairman of the firm's executive committee advising on matters of private equity.

He's had his office space over that firm's Boston's office since the November elections, but now, Mitt Romney will be back in the world of private equity. He's done really well in that over the years. I assume, he'll do well down the road as well.

Coming up, preparations are under way at the Vatican for the secret vote to pick the next pope. We're going to get an insider's look at the process from the former archbishop of the Washington D.C. area, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. He's in Rome.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Brian Todd on the National Mall. Take a look behind at the Capitol. We've got more paddles that snowdrifts here in Washington, but this winter storm did slam other areas in this region. We'll have that story for you just ahead.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The nation's capital area went into snow emergency mode today. Hundreds of thousands of federal workers here in the region were told stay home. But while some places outside of Washington, D.C. were hit pretty hard, Washington, itself, got a whole lot of rain. It got wet, a little wind, not much more.

Brian Todd is out and about. He's on the National Mall right now. Brian, it passed over us. Maybe we'll get some snow eventually. It hit us some other areas, though, pretty hard.

TODD: It did, Wolf, and maybe we will get it eventually, not sure when. You can see behind me, virtually, no accumulation inside Washington, D.C. A lot of rain, some freezing rain. There was some heavy snow. None of it stuck. But as you mentioned, some other areas not too far from here did get his pretty hard by the snow.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) TODD (voice-over): Snow plows working overtime in Virginia. A jackknifed trailer truck about 40 miles outside Washington, a casualty of a snowstorm that crept from the Midwest toward the nation's capital. That accident and power outages in Virginia that struck tens of thousands of customers signaled a warning to officials in Washington who remembered a previous snow called snowmaggedon.

January 26, 2011, a heavy dump of snow went midday stranded thousands of motorists as they commuted home. Many abandoned their vehicles. The warning this time --

MAYOR VINCENT GRAY, WASHINGTON: The best thing that people and the city can do is to stay off the streets.

TODD: The federal government technically closed. We found some agencies locked up completely. Elsewhere, we were met by security guards who told us no one was working, but it didn't mean a complete shutdown.

(on-camera) Capitol Hill is fully operational. We're told that hearings are going on in Congress today. And here at one of the government's biggest agencies, the Department of Health and Human Services, it is operational at least partially. We can walk through the front door, talk to some security guards in here.

We're told that the office of the secretary is fully operational as it is 24/7. Otherwise, some people here have trickled into work, but we're told that many are working from home.

(voice-over): A top health and human services official told us the secretary's up center remain up and running to make sure hospitals in the snow affected areas were functional and EMS crews could move around.

(on-camera) Part of what's got local and federal officials jumpy about this storm is the uncertainty, uncertainty because here, you can see on the D.C. side, really no accumulation. But we also went just across the river to Arlington Cemetery where we saw some snow had stuck.

(voice-over) At Arlington, the bad weather didn't prevent funerals from being held on schedule. One federal official told us some 300,000 people work for the federal government in the Washington area and more than a third of those people would work on a day like today, through telework and using Blackberries and laptops.

(on-camera) And a snow fall doesn't mean you can't have the tourist experience in Washington. This government agency looks like it's opened and fully functional. The air and space museum of the Smithsonian Institution open and a popular destination today, you can see in here, lots of people inside.

(voice-over) Despite the left and overwhelming snowfall inside the city, the mayor says this about closing the government.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd rather err on the side of caution than to put people potentially at harm's way.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: And with this now turning into more of a rain event inside Washington, the city will now turn its attention, the mayor says, to potential flooding in this area. So, we'll see how that develops in the days ahead, Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thank you. So, after all of the dire predictions, Washington, as you see, has largely been spared at least for now from this snow. Let's get the latest forecast from our meteorologist, Alexandra Steele. She's over at the CNN Weather Center. What's the latest?

ALEXANDRA STEELE, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hi, Wolf. Let me show you this map. OK. Here's Washington within the beltway, and we know what happened at Reagan National point to Dulles 3.3. Five miles west of Washington, they had six inches of snow. Twenty-five miles west of Washington, they had a foot plus.

So, you can see from Chantilly and Burke and all these places, Fairfax, just very close to Washington, and, you know, just because the mall downtown didn't get snow doesn't mean Washington wasn't impacted. It certainly was, because those people that live in Washington certainly have to come in to the mall area to work.

So, it was impacted. And we did have 20-inch snowfalls in Fishersville, Virginia, 20, in Warren County, Warren County, Albemarle County, Charlottesville, almost ten inches. So, there was snow. The problem was the rain-snow line. Temperatures all day have been at 35, 36, 37 degrees and with temperatures like that, it's just not going to snow. Higher up in the atmosphere, it was snow and it just came down into that warmer air.

Washington right now is at 40 degrees. No snow is happening. So, it is all rain now. The storm system will move and winds and flooding will be an issue, coastal flooding. You can see some of these gusts right now. In Dover, Delaware, 40 mile-per-hour wind gusts. So, this storm will move out of Washington.

Boston is where we'll have its set sight on next. We're going to see it in Boston with snow and with 40 mile-per-hour winds tomorrow and coastal concerns, battering waves, and coastal flooding will be the issue then.

BLITZER: Alexandra, thanks very much for that forecast. Appreciate it.

Coming up, a political odd couple doing good around the world. Surprising new details revealed in the unlikely friendship between former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. We've got the news, and you're in the SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Disturbing story coming in from California. Police in Fresno County say one person is dead from a lion attack. It happened at a place called Cat Haven in the town of Dunlap. That's about 30 miles from Fresno. Cat Haven is a park for large cats. On its website, the park says it offers guided tours of some of the rarest cats in the world.

It also has a video of one of the lions appearing on the daytime talk show, "Ellen." Fresno police did not say if the lion has been killed. We just called Cat Haven, by the way, but no one answered that number. We're trying to get more information. We'll share it with you as it comes in.

Other news, the number of refugees displaced in the Syrian civil war is now reaching one million people. Kate's back. She's monitoring that and some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. A million refugees.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Can you believe that number, Wolf? It really is astounding. That is the number now being reported by the U.N. refugee agency nearly two years since the bloody war began. It represents about five percent of Syria's total population. U.N. high commissioner says the country is spiraling toward a full- scale disaster with 14,000 people spilling across the border -- 1,400 people spilling across the border daily.

And take a look at this from Sicily. An extraordinary fiery explosion from Mount Etna. Just take a look a that video. Europe's highest active volcano is Mount Etna. The activity is part of a string of recent eruptions there. Experts say people living in the area are not in any danger despite the glowing fragments of lava covers the roads. Sure is some amazing video, though.

A very sad story. Actress Valerie Harper has revealed to "People" magazine that she is suffering from terminal brain cancer and may have as little as three months left to live. The beloved television icon is best known for her role as Rhoda Morganstern on the Mary Tyler Moore Show, and of course the spin-off, Rhoda. The show was so popular, 50 million people, if you can believe it - 50 million viewers -- tuned in for the famous wedding episode. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VALARIE HARPER, ACTRESS (acting): Can you believe I took the subway? The subway, Mary? There was this one weirdo who tried to write graffiti on me.

Well, listen here. Apparently the dress is shot.

MARY TYLER MOORE, ACTRESS (acting): No, it's not.

HARPER: I'll never be able to wear it again!

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Harper, who battled lung cancer back in 2009 says she doesn't think of dying but rather being here now. Valerie Harper is 73 years old. Such a sad story, but such an amazing career, and she's fighting a good fight.

BLITZER: I remember those shows. It brings back a lot of memories.

BOLDUAN: For so many people.

BLITZER: Our wishes are with her during this struggle. She's a great lady. Thank you.

Up next, the former congresswoman Gabby Giffords returns to the scene of her shooting to push for tougher gun control. So, here's the question: is Congress ready to act? I'll ask a key U.S. senator when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: An emotional moment in the growing push for tougher gun control across the country. Former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly returning to the place where she was shot in the head two years ago and urging the senators to support background check legislation.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK KELLY, HUSBAND OF GABBY GIFFORDS: Well, Gabby has a message for not only Senator Flake and Senator McCain, but all members of Congress. I'm going to turn the podium over to my wonderful wife, Gabby Giffords.

(APPLAUSE)

GABRIELLE GIFFORDS, FORMER CONGRESSWOMAN: Be bold, be courageous. Please support background checks. Thank you very much.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And Senator Joe Manchin, the Democrat from West Virginia is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. That's very moving whenever we see that, the recovery that she's made.

So, here's the question, Senator. Are you going to be bold in terms of dealing with this issue of background checks?

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: We're working, and very, very strongly and very much in a bipartisan manner, Wolf. And I think that what we're looking at is all the rights of people that have guns, people that really come from a gun culture, people that don't come from a gun culture. And I think we've got a good working group that's been moving very, very favorably forward.

BLITZER: So, walk me through where we stand right now in terms of expanding background checks. Because right now, private sales, you don't need a background check. You go to a gun - a - a gun show, you don't need a background check. If you're giving it away, you don't need background checks. Where do you want to tighten it up?

MANCHIN: First of all, let me just start that nobody is going to take anybody's guns away. And no one is going to take your Second Amendment rights away. That's not happening at all. We're not asking on any of those infringements. What we're saying is that if you buy a gun, transfer a gun, there should be a criminal and a mental background check.

And with that being said, that means at gun shows, that means online sales and individual transfers. We have exceptions in there. Those of us who come from gun culture understand that a member of our family probably gave us our first gun. And we hand it down to our children and grandchildren. They're all exempted. Going to someone's farm and hunting with them, exempted.

We've looked at all of the things that we do culturally, and that's not where our problems are. The problem is basically keeping the guns out of the hands of people who shouldn't have them.

BLITZER: And so do you have any Republicans who are ready to join you in terms of the way you want to expand the background checks?

MANCHIN: Right. Mark Kirk, you know, dear friend of mine. Mark and I been in the bipartisan from the first day --

BLITZER: From Illinois.

MANCHIN: From Illinois. So, Mark and I are working on this bill. And we've had - Chuck Schumer's been helping, tremendous input.

BLITZER: He's a Democrat.

MANCHIN: He's a Democrat. And we've been talking to Tom Coburn. Tom has been invaluable.

BLITZER: Is he on board?

MANCHIN: I can't speak for Tom. At the end will he be on board or not? Only Tom can say that. But let me just say that Tom Coburn has been invaluable. He comes from Oklahoma, gun culture. I come from gun culture. Everyone has a different constituent base that maybe if he would have a problem - right now, I'm very hopeful that we'll be able to move forward and Tom will be on. If he's not, it'll be because of something that maybe a constituent --

BLITZER: The executive director of the National Rifle Association - you have an A rating from the NRA. When it comes to background checks, he recently said this. I'll play the clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WAYNE LAPIERRE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NRA: This so-called universal background check that you're hearing all over the media and from President Obama and some of the other politicians in Washington is aimed at one thing. It's aimed at registering your guns. And when another tragic opportunity presents itself, that registry will be used to confiscate your gun.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: OK, Senator, respond to Wayne LaPierre.

MANCHIN: He must be talking about a different piece of legislation. And we've been working with NRA, and hopefully, they've understood where we're coming from. This - what we're doing bans any registry. This is not where we're going, and it's not where --

BLITZER: There won't be any permanent record.

MANCHIN: There is - no. No permanent records from the standpoint, exactly how we do it at FFL's (ph) right now. When you do it, they keep it on file, I think, for 20 years. But there's no registry. You can't have --

BLITZER: He says (ph) confiscating your guns --

MANCHIN: That's not going to happen.

BLITZER: So, who's he talking to at the NRA? Because he seems to be on a different page.

MANCHIN: There might be some other pieces of legislation that people have out there that would go down that path.

BLITZER: But yours is the main one, right?

MANCHIN: I think ours will end up being the main piece of legislation that makes sense --

BLITZER: Because it seems like the only one that has bipartisan hope of agreement.

MANCHIN: I agree with you. And we're working very hard - and I would hope that the NRA and everybody who has any fears or paranoia, it's not there. I would not be working on this legislation. I would not be --

BLITZER: Have you spoken to Wayne LaPierre about this?

MANCHIN: I have not recently spoken to Wayne. I spoke to him a long time ago. Been working with some of these people within his organization. And we've been transferring back and forth --

BLITZER: Because polls show the overwhelming majority of the American people, they want expanded background checks. Even the majority of NRA members want expanded background checks.

Let's ask about a couple of other things. Making it more difficult for these magazine, these huge magazine clips. Are you ready to deal with magazines?

MANCHIN: That's not in our legislation, and we're not ready to deal with it. Our legislation has a commission on mass violence. Everyone's looking at the guns, and sure, that's the end result of what happens. The bottom line is, how does someone get a gun? How does someone use or not use a gun properly?

Mass violence in our culture is something we have to address. We do that in this bill. We basically have people with expertise of guns - so if you're going to talk about a gun and you think a gun should be banned, you better know what the gun does or doesn't do.

BLITZER: So in terms of banning these huge magazines --

MANCHIN: That's not in this bill -

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: What about assault-type weapons?

MANCHIN: No --

BLITZER: Where do you stand on that?

MANCHIN: That's not going to pass. I do not support that.

BLITZER: So, you want one piece of legislation that will deal with background checks.

MANCHIN: Correct. This is what we have, and that's all we have put - that's all I've been working on, which is a criminal and mental background check. And also a commission on mass violence, which at the end will let us know exactly where our problem is and how we can correct them.

BLITZER: You've talked to people at the White House. Are they on board with you?

MANCHIN: I haven't directly talked to them on the White House on that. They might be going in a different direction, but the bottom line is is when we bring something together, when we bring people from both sides, people that have a culture of guns and people that come from a non-culture of guns and they're willing to work together, hopefully the White House and everybody else will listen.

BLITZER: Senator Manchin, thanks for coming in.

MANCHIN: Thanks for having me, Wolf. Appreciate it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Tonight, Piers Morgan will take a close look at the illegal gun sales out there and why the feds can't seem to stop them. PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT, 9:00 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN.

Up next, from fierce political rivals to the very best of friends. You're going to fine out what former president George H.W. Bush is revealing in some newly published letters about former president Bill Clinton.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It's a relationship that should make any politician here in Washington stop and take note. Two former presidents, one a Republican, George H. W. Bush, the Democrat who defeated him, Bill Clinton, now so close they almost seem like family.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEORGE H. W. BUSH, 41ST PRESIDENT: Thank you all.

BLITZER (voice-over): They were one-time rivals.

BUSH: My biggest problem with Governor Clinton is that he's on one side of the issue one day and on the other the other day, and we cannot let the White House turn into the waffle house.

BLITZER: Now best of friends. A political odd couple doing good around the world. Their relationship, the subject of several newly published letters by George H. W. Bush.

BILL CLINTON, 42ND PRESIDENT: May all the Democrats forgive me this close to the election. I love George Bush. I do.

BLITZER: "I so appreciated your words about our relationship, about our friendship," Bush wrote to Clinton after a 2006 award ceremony. "It was from your heart. I hope you know I feel the same way."

ANDREW CARD, FORMER BUSH CHIEF OF STAFF: They've become really great friends. In fact, almost like family. And that's part of a jealousy problem for the rest of the Bush kids. They think they've got this other brother named Bill Clinton.

BUSH: And until you've been on the ground and see it, it's hard to realize the scope of the challenge that lies ahead.

BLITZER: They first came together publicly after the 2005 tsunami in Southeast Asia and traveled extensively together over the years.

Here's what Bush wrote to close friend and former "TIME" magazine columnist, Huge Sidey, "Clinton is a fascinating character. He has opinions on everything, no matter what."

During that tsunami relief trip, Bush, like many others before him, would be confronted by Clinton's legendary problem staying on schedule.

"I had always heard that Bill Clinton had his own time, Clinton Standard Time. He does. I, on the other hand, am compulsively on time."

And two other attributes Bush immediately noticed, both Clinton's energy -- BUSH: You should have seen him going from town to town, country to country, Energizer Bunny here killed me but --

BLITZER: And love of talking. "I soon realized as the trip got under way, if we got in a bind for things to say or answers to be given to questions, it was reassuring to know that he was the man."

CARD: President Clinton is a phenomenal talker. So they were the perfect couple. Because President Clinton could talk and talk and talk and President Bush would listen and listen and listen, and be the straight person for the jokes.

BLITZER: But Bush, too, could try for a laugh from Clinton, writing to him after Clinton nodded off at a Martin Luther King Day sermon.

"I could indeed feel your pain," Bush wrote, invoking Clinton's famous catch phrase. "I have been there myself, more than once I might add, and it physically hurt as I tried to keep my eyes open."

Two political opposites. Now sharing the common bond of the presidency and friendship.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And the newly updated book of George H. W. Bush letters just released this week.

When we come back, stunning stories of diplomats drinking, one even going on a drunken rampage inside the United Nations. You're going to find out what one U.S. ambassador wants to do about it. That's next.

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BLITZER: All right. So you might be surprised to hear that drinking at work is something allowed inside one of the world's most powerful business centers. We're talking about the United Nations in New York. And it's something one U.S. diplomat now wants to stop.

Let's bring in our senior United Nations correspondent, Richard Roth. He's got the details.

What are those details, Richard?

RICHARD ROTH, CNN UNITED NATIONS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, U.N. meetings never usually begin with a happy hour sign outside, but one American diplomat has gone public with a major scolding about the drinking behavior of some of his colleagues.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROTH (voice-over): Put 193 countries, who all want something from each other in one place and you are bound to have some drinking. It can ease some tensions and perhaps lower barriers to agreement. In a rare rebuke to the world, a U.S. diplomat, Monday, in public, scolded fellow diplomats for drinking on the job.

JOSEPH TORSELLA, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N. FOR MANAGEMENT AND REFORM: As for the conduct of negotiations, Mr. Chairman, we make the modest proposal that the negotiating rooms should in future be an inebriation-free zone.

ROTH: There are stories of delegates even bringing in liquor to close-door negotiations on Christmastime U.N. budget talks which usually drag on way past midnight. The most famous U.N. drinking incident occurred more than two years ago overseas, when a United Nations Chinese undersecretary general for economic affairs went on a drunken rampage, telling his boss, the U.N. Secretary General, Ban Ki- Moon, "I know you never liked me, Mr. Secretary-General, well, I never liked you either." He later apologized.

(On camera): There are just a handful of establishments where diplomats can eat or drink, especially during years of renovation here at U.N. headquarters. So in those late-night negotiations, diplomats have had to look elsewhere for those special beverages.

COLUM LYNCH, WASHINGTON POST REPORTER: In the past, you know, the French have brought wine, the Canadians have brought Canadian whiskey, you know, the Russians, and this is a sort of current practice, they kind of crack open a bottle of vodka. The sort of dispute is to whether they crack it open before the negotiations or whether they do it afterwards, but there's -- you know, there's a sort of tradition of drinking.

ROTH (voice-over): Several diplomats denied seeing excessive drinking on the grounds.

MARK LYALL GRANT, BRITISH AMBASSADOR THE U.N.: Of course, in diplomacy, there are a lot of receptions. There is a lot of dinners. There are a lot of lunches that take place, and people may have a drink on those occasions. But in my experience, drink has never come into the question of negotiations.

VITALY CHURKIN, RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: My national response is there should be no drinking during business sessions. And I'm going to give very clear instructions to that effect on my delegation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What about after?

CHURKIN: After is a personal matter. We all have our private lives, don't we? Thank you very much.

ROTH: Behind the drinking is frustration that non-Western countries are not interested in reforming the organization at those late-night meetings.

TORSELLA: Let's save the champagne for toasting the successful end of the session.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROTH: A spokesman for the U.N. secretary general said it's up to the member countries to, in effect, police themselves.

Wolf, the U.S. diplomat, Joe Torsella, he's also been on the warpath about excessive business class travel by U.N. staffers overseas -- Wolf.

BLITZER: He's got a mission. That diplomat.

Thanks very much, Richard Roth, at the United Nations.

Just ahead, we're going to get the behind the scenes view of the secret meeting about to take place at the Vatican to choose the next Pope.

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BLITZER: Preparations are now underway at the Sistine Chapel for the secret election that will determine the next Pope. Nearly all of the 115 cardinals eligible to participate are now in Rome. The last one is scheduled to arrive tomorrow.

I spoke about that process a bit with the archbishop emeritus of Washington, D.C. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Cardinal McCarrick, you're over 82 years old, so you're over 80, you can't yourself vote to elect the next Pope, but take us a little bit behind the scenes where you are at the Vatican right now. What's going on? And what should we expect? A long conclave, a short conclave? What do you think?

CARDINAL MCCARRICK, ARCHBISHOP EMERITUS OF WASHINGTON, D.C.: Well, this is a guess, I think I'm not going to put money on it, but this is a guess. It seems to me, as one listens to the conversations of my brothers in the College of Cardinals who can vote, I think maybe we're talking about maybe a three to four-day conclave? The last one was only like a day and a half or two days.

I think there was an ideal and obvious candidate with Cardinal Ratzinger. He went in with a lot of support and after awhile it became rather clear that he was going to be elected, so that was a short conclave. Now there are -- there are many different people. There's no -- there's no leading candidate that's -- so outstanding that everybody says, oh, we're going to vote for him. So you're going to have a -- you're going to have men talking to each other and trying to figure out what is the best thing to do, to find the nature of the house, that election.

Last time, 40 percent of the cardinals voted for this year were also voted for eight years ago. So that there are some who know the drill, they know the experience, but 60 percent are new. So that's going to be a difference as we -- as we work it out. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And this note. Today's -- today's news conference scheduled by American cardinals, it was abruptly canceled. A spokeswoman saying the cardinals won't be doing any further interviews due to leak concerns.