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Rand Paul Gets What He Wanted; Reaching Out To Republicans

Aired March 7, 2013 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And you're in the SITUATION ROOM. Happening now.

After Rand Paul's 13-hour filibuster, the Obama administration gives him the answer he wanted about the domestic use of drones, but the U.S. is still trying to figure out how far it can go in attacking militants abroad.

President Obama dining and dealing with Republicans. I'll ask the White House press secretary, Jay Carney, about the new strategy that seems to be emerging. And I'll ask Republican senator, Bob Corker, if it will work.

Plus, the state department delays a high profile award to a woman's rights activists after anti-Semitic and anti-American comments come to life.

And we're also awaiting a news conference this hour on the deadly lion attack. It's due any moment. We'll have it for you. Stand by for that.

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: His feet may be sore, but Sen. Rand Paul got what he wanted today, a note from the Obama administration, addressing his concerns about possible drone attacks on non-combatant Americans. That was enough to let a vote to go ahead on the nomination of John Brennan to run the CIA, and he's just been confirmed by an overwhelming margin.

This all follows yesterday's dramatic 13-hour filibuster by Senator Rand Paul which drew some fire from some fellow GOP senators. Our chief Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is up on Capitol Hill. Dana, you had a chance to catch up a few times today with Senator Paul, including when he actually got the answer he wanted?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. The White House press secretary read this letter from the podium at the White House briefing before the senator even got it. It was addressed to him, answering his question. As soon as he did, though, he was quick to end the drama that took on a life of its own.


BASH (voice-over): CNN was there when Rand Paul first saw attorney general, Eric Holder's, short three-line letter answering Paul's question, does the president have authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil? The answer to that question is no, said Holder. Minutes later, Paul came on CNN, declared victory and filibuster over.

SEN. RAND PAUL, (R) KENTUCKY: I'm quite happy with the answer. And, I'm disappointed that it took a month and a half and a root canal to get it, but we did get the answer. And that's what I've been asking all along, and it really is what the Senate should be about, advising consent and find out what policies are.

BASH (on-camera): So, just to be clear, you're announcing right here on CNN that you are going to let John Brennan's nomination now go through? Maybe they can even hold a vote today?

PAUL: Yes. We'll hold it as soon as people want to.

BASH (voice-over): Voting began within the hour.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The nomination is confirmed.

BASH: And John Brennan was confirmed CIA director, a remarkably fast ending to a dramatic 28 hours in the Senate.

PAUL: I rise today to begin to filibuster John Brennan's nomination for the CIA.

BASH: Rand Paul's filibuster surprised even his own GOP leaders.

(on-camera) Did they know you were going to do this?

PAUL: No. And in fact, we didn't know we were going to do it that day.

BASH (voice-over): For nearly 13 hours Wednesday, Paul stood on the Senate floor, demanding to know whether the president thinks he can use drones to kill Americans on American soil, even using about whether Jane Fonda would have been targeted for mounting a North Vietnamese tank.

PAUL: I'm not a great fan of Jane Fonda. I'm really not so interested in putting her on a drone kill list either.

My feet were hurting by the end of the day. You can't leave the floor and you can't sit down.

BASH: He stopped talking after midnight, only because nature was calling.

PAUL: Twelve hours is a long time not to go to the restroom.

BASH: But as the evening wore on, Paul did start getting help from colleagues. Ironically, an old-fashion filibuster was fueled by modern technology. Twitter blowing up with conservatives demanding other senators come to his assistance.

MITCH MCCONNELL, (R) SENATE MINORITY LEADER: Let me thank him for his courage and conviction.


BASH (on-camera): And Senator McConnell, of course, is somebody who is up for re-election next year, and he showed up, Wolf, at 11:00 p.m. last night to say that to Senator Paul. But the issue certainly is dividing Republicans big time. You saw John McCain and Lindsey Graham and others go to the Senate floor today, really lashed out at Senator Paul for holding this filibuster, because they feel that he's simply wrong on this issue.

They think that this is actually an area where the president is doing right using drones, from their perspective, to make Americans safer. But of course, this is one of those issues where there are a very strange bedfellows because liberals agree with Rand Paul.

BLITZER: As you know, a lot of liberals --

BASH: Exactly.

BLITZER: -- liberals going out of their way to praise Sen. Rand Paul. Something that only a few hours earlier where he would have been stand (ph) here, but they're really saying nice things about him.

BASH: They are. And you know, this is one of those issues. You know this very well, Wolf, where the far right and the far left sometimes meet in the middle and on civil liberties, that is very much the case. And it is an issue that divides Republicans because, as you saw today, you have hawkish Republicans like John McCain, standing up for the use of drones and lashing out against Rand Paul and him, you know, getting some support among the conservative base.

It has -- it's certainly not clear cut which is why it was a little bit questionable when some of the more senior members of the Senate went to the Senate floor and you actually heard Lindsey Graham said, I don't remember you questioning George Bush when he used drones.

BLITZER: Interesting. All right. Dana, thanks very much. Good work today, by the way, getting all that information from Sen. Paul.

Now, that the speeches have stopped, the smoke is clear, what was Rand Paul up to? Why did he take so much heat from some fellow Republicans? Our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, is here in the SITUATION ROOM. Was the filibuster just a constitutional issue, a principle for the senator?

GLORIA BORGER, CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: It was partly about the constitution, sure, but it wasn't only about the constitution, Wolf. I really think there was a larger issue if you take a step back, and on that, John McCain might agree with Rand Paul because it's really the issue of transparency. We have a new kind of warfare here, this drone warfare. And people on both sides of the aisle want to list (ph) avail a little bit on who makes the decisions to drop these drones both, you know, abroad, and potentially, of course, here. How do they make these decisions and should there be some kind of an oversight court as Senator Feinstein has proposed to take a look at these decisions and when we make mistakes, what should we do about informing the public about our mistakes.

So, these are all issues that have to be addressed and that are -- were secondary to this filibuster, but are really going to come on the front burner (ph)? The president and the attorney general have both said that the president is going to address this, and I believe now it's going to happen in the near future.

BLITZER: I'm sure it will. Listen to Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina.


LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: To my Republican colleagues, I don't remember any of you come and down here, suggesting that President Bush was going to kill anybody with a drone, you know? I don't even remember the harsher critics of President Bush on the Democratic side. They had a drone program back then. So, what is it? All of a sudden, that this drone program has gotten every Republican so spun up.


BLITZER: He and John McCain, they're really, really not very happy with Senator Rand Paul and those who supported Senator Paul.

BORGER: Is Lindsey Graham suggesting there's politics going on here? Because I think that's what I heard from him and, of course, there is and what Lindsey Graham is saying is that if you want to have a referendum on the drone program, let's have a referendum on the drone program because I'm for it and so are 80 percent of the American people.

So, he is saying that Rand Paul was just raising a bogus issue. John McCain called it ridiculous. They don't believe there's a constitutional issue here, but they do agree on is that there needs to be some kind of oversight, maybe by the Congressional Intelligence Committees, maybe by a judicial panel of how and when we use these drones.

BLITZER: Gloria, thanks very much for coming in. I think there's no doubt Rand Paul helped himself politically, established himself as a very, very credible senator. Thank you.

As lawmakers wrangle over what-if scenarios involving drone attacks at home, the Obama administration is looking into whether they can legally carry out more aerial hits abroad against terrorist with no real ties to the 9/11 attacks or to al Qaeda. CNN Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, has got some details for us. Explain what's going on here, Barbara. BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you've just been talking about, the constitutional question about using drones in the United States may be one thing, but now, a serious look at the reviews of the laws about how and when the U.S. can target using drones and other forces overseas.


STARR (voice-over): Just outside Damascus, a military convoy is blown up by 50 roadside bombs. The Syrian-based al Qaeda affiliate, the al Nusra front, took responsibility for this attack. Now, the growing strength of extremist groups across the Middle East and Africa has led the Obama administration to begin a classified review of just who it can go after under its targeted killing program.

The issue, the current Congressional authorization to use military force allows the president to use all necessary and appropriate force against any persons or organizations involved in planning or carrying out the September 11th attacks. It's been interpreted to include al Qaeda affiliates.

ROBERT CHESNEY, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS: The problem that's emerging today is you're beginning to encounter groups that don't even have that sort of first direct linkage to the core al Qaeda network.

STARR: The head of the U.S. special operations command says it's got much more complicated.

ADM. WILLIAM MCRAVEN, COMMANDER, SPECIAL OPERATIONS COMMAND: You certainly cannot isolate a single organization, whether it's al Qaeda and Islamic (INAUDIBLE) Maghreb or (INAUDIBLE) and expect to be able to solve the problem either, you know, locally by going after that problem in a particular country or by individual entity.

STARR: Under the current law, using a drone to take out al Qaeda operatives in Yemen is allowed because that group is closely associated with al Qaeda element responsible for 9/11. But the main group (ph) for the attack against the U.S. compound in India, it isn't so clear. They have members associated with al Qaeda, but it's not the core mission of that group. Could the U.S. fire a drone over Libya under the current law?

CHESNEY: At a certain point, we must ask, why don't we have a fresh legislative look at this to talk about just where we think force should be and shouldn't be used.


STARR (on-camera): The bottom line, officials say, is they want to make sure the legal framework is solid if they want to go after some of these extremist groups which may not be directly tied to the al Qaeda of 9/11 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Good explanation, Barbara. Thanks for that reporting. North Korea, meanwhile, is threatening a nuclear attack against the United States and South Korea if the sanctions go into effect. I'm going to get reaction from the United States ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice. That's coming up here in the SITUATION ROOM in our next hour.

Up next, so what did Democrats think of President Obama's outreach, dramatic outreach, to Republicans? Candy Crowley speaking with the House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi. Candy is standing by.

And I'll ask the White House press secretary, Jay Carney, what's behind the president's change in strategy? My interview with him later this hour as well.


BLITZER: Getting back to that story, the son-in-law of Osama Bin Laden has been brought to New York City by the United States. He's being held. He's going to be arraigned in U.S. district court in New York tomorrow, literally, not that far away from the World Trade Centers. He has now been formally charged with conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals.

That's the formal charge. He'll be arraigned, as I say, tomorrow at U.S. district court in New York. The U.S. deciding to bring him to face these charges to New York City as opposed to Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. military facility in Cuba. Very interesting development. We're going to have much more on this story later. But conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals, that's the charge against the son-in-law of Osama Bin Laden.

Another news, there was a dinner with a dozen Republicans last night here in Washington. There was lunch today that included the GOP chairman of the House Budget Committee and more get-togethers are already on the calendar for next week. President Obama's clearly reaching out. So here's the question, will it pay off?

Let's discuss with our chief political correspondent, Candy Crowley. She's the anchor of CNN's "State of the Union." Candy, you had a chance to meet with Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House today. What does she think about all of this?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, she thinks that anything good that comes out of it is fine. She doubts seriously that, you know, after today, there'll suddenly be some big meeting of the minds over huge budget matters, but you know, there are sort of two ways you can go with this outreach by the president.

You can either say he really knows he's got to cherry pick some Republicans to get through some of the items he wants or he can look at it as setting it up for 2014 when the entire House and the third of the Senate will be up for re-election or for election of those seats and to be able to say, I tried.

I had dinner with them. I brought them to the oval office, but they still won't work with me. What I really need is a Democratic House. I put both those scenarios to Nancy Pelosi and asked her if she thought this was more political than it was aimed at getting a policy everyone could agree to. Here's what she said.


REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) MINORITY LEADER: All of us come here to get a job done for the American people, and certainly, that is the case with the president of the United States. He's been very bipartisan in his approach. So, I think that these meetings are not something to say, well, I'll do this with you now and I'll do that with him later.

I think it is, let's get some things done together to make elections less important. Let's come together for the benefit of the American people, first and foremost, that's our responsibility. So, if he can diffuse some of their opposition to some of these issues, bravo again, for the American people that we can get a job done (ph) -- that's far more important than what happens in an election.


CROWLEY: So, making elections less important. I'm not sure we'll see that day, but nonetheless, as you can see, she thinks the president is sincerely reaching out to try to get some things done.

BLITZER: Good interview. Much more coming up Sunday morning on "State of the Union."


BLITZER: Candy, thanks very much for that.

I want to go out to California right now. That news conference is about to begin. It's beginning, actually. This is Dale Anderson. He's the sanctuary founder, Cat Haven Sanctuary. Yesterday, a 350- pound African lion mauled a 24-year-old woman working there. Let's listen in.


DALE ANDERSON, FOUNDER, CAT HAVEN SANCTUARY: We've been incident-free for 16 years since we opened in 1998. We are cooperating fully with the sheriff's department in the investigation and hope we can determine exactly what happened. We cannot comment on the specifics of the incident, the safety protocols at this time due to the ongoing investigation.

We look forward to a time when we have more information to release and try to minimize some of the confusion out there. We want to caution the public about the information they're hearing and ask everyone to refrain from conclusions until the investigation is complete. And that's all we have to say right now. Again, our whole staff is -- it's devastating. And --


(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: A very, very sad time over there at the sanctuary, the Cat Haven Sanctuary. This was in Dunlap, California, not far from Fresno. That was Dale Anderson, the founder of this sanctuary. Obviously, he's distraught. Everyone feels so horrible about what happened, this 24-year-old woman, Dianna Hanson was mauled by this lion at this 100- acre Northern California facility.

Her father, by the way, will be Erin Burnett's special guest later tonight right after the SITUATION ROOM, 7:00 p.m. eastern. Much more on this tragedy coming up.

First dinner, then lunch. Coming up here in the SITUATION ROOM, I'll speak live with the White House press secretary, Jay Carney. I'll ask him, what's behind the new Obama charm offense?

Plus, so-called zombie cars that run the risk of starting themselves when you least expect. We have details of a major recall. That's coming up in the SITUATION ROOM.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A neuroscientist on the fast track to the future.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can see animals learning to communicate of all the animals just (INAUDIBLE). That's why we call a brain to brain interface. We'll have people that have the speech impairments because of strokes, tumors, or lesions on the brain. And this is a prototype of what could be a new way for these patients to communicate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Miguel Nicolelis on "The Next List" this Sunday, 2:30 eastern.



BLITZER: Senator Carl Levin has just announced that he will not seek re-election as senator from Michigan. He's up in 2014. "I have decided not to run for re-election in 2014." The senator just said in a statement. "This decision was extremely difficult because I love representing the people of Michigan and the United States Senate and fighting for the things that I believe are important to them."

He said he struggled with his wife, Barbara, on this important decision. In the end, here's what he said. He said, "We decided that I can best serve my state and nation by concentrating in the next two years on the challenging issues before us that I am in a position to help address. In other words, by doing my job without the distraction of campaigning for re-election."

Carl Levin, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, 78 years old, will not, will not be running for re-election next year in Michigan.

Other news we're following, Arkansas's republican-led House and the Senate have approved the most restrictive abortion bill in the country. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. What's the latest?

SYLVESTER: Wolf, the state's Democratic governor vetoed the bill which bans abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy saying it blatantly contradicts the U.S. constitution, but the House and Senate each voted to override that veto. Critics are promising to challenge the bill in federal court.

And the death of Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, could take a toll on Florida's real estate market for years. Miami was a haven for reach Venezuelans who wanted to escape Chavez's socialist economic policies. Well, now, some brokers are worried that Venezuelans may want to stay put for a while to see if the next round of elections produces a new business-friendly president. Hugo Chavez died Tuesday after a two-year battle with cancer.

And Subaru is recalling almost 50,000 vehicles with remote engine starters because they run the risk of starting themselves. The Japanese automaker issued a letter, indicating what could happen if the car takes on a life of its own, including a risk of carbon monoxide buildup. Subaru says the recall will begin next month, but owners can get the problem fix for free of charge.

It involves Legacy, Outback, and Impreza models from 2010 to 2013 and Crosstrek models from 2013. So, we are basically talking about the newer model cars here that are impacted, Wolf.

BLITZER: Important information for our viewers. Thank you very much, Lisa.

Up next, what's behind the president's new strategy of reaching out to Republicans? I'll speak live with the White House press secretary, Jay Carney.


BLITZER: President Obama seems to have gone from blaming Republicans to reaching out to Republicans. There was dinner last night, lunch today, more meetings next week. What's going on?

The White House press secretary Jay Carney is joining us now from the White House.

It looks like a change in strategy. Jay, what do you think?

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, it's a change in circumstances and, you know, a strategy that is borne out of that change and circumstances.

As you know, Wolf, for so long and for too long we've been governing in Washington from, you know, crisis to crisis, with, you know, deadlines beyond which we fall off cliffs or sequesters are imposed or debt ceilings are breached. Because of this unfortunate decision by Republicans to impose the sequester, not to buy it down, not to delay it, we are now living in the world of the sequester and there doesn't seem to be any indication from Republican leaders that they want to change that in the near future. But that does mean that we don't have an impending fiscal deadline to meet and there's a little room and time for constructive conversation about how we move forward in a bipartisan way to further reduce our deficit and do it in a balanced way and what the president has been trying to do is engage with lawmakers, Republican lawmakers who have shown some inclination towards or interest in compromise, along lines of balance.

You know, when we talk about further deficit reduction, we mean, you know, marrying entitlement reforms that produce savings with tax reform that produces savings and the combination would then, you know, help us achieve that $4 trillion goal of reducing our deficit over 10 years.

BLITZER: Here's what the House Speaker John Boehner who had his own little charm offensive going with the president back in 2011. They played golf, they tried to work out a deal, they didn't exactly work out a deal, as all of us know. But listen to what he said today.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: This week we've gone 180. Now he's going to -- after being in office now for four years, he's actually going to sit down and talk to members. I think it's a sign, a hopeful sign, and I'm hopeful that something will come out of it. But if the president continues to insist on tax hikes, I don't think we're going to get very far.


BLITZER: Well, the Republicans say they are willing to do tax reform. They are willing to do entitlement reform. They are not willing to increase tax revenues. In other words, if you eliminate loopholes or deductions or exemptions, at the same time you have to balance that by lowering tax rates so there isn't a net increase in tax revenue.

If they hold firm to that, what does that mean?

CARNEY: Well, the president believes and the American people support the simple proposition that we need to reduce our deficit in a balanced way and that means spending cuts and savings from entitlement reform as well as more revenues that come from tax reform. You know, what the speaker forgets to say in that is that only two months ago he supported tax reform, closing loopholes for special interests that he said would generate $1 trillion in revenue over 10 years. And that he could apply that to deficit reduction.

Two months later, he says he can't do that. And -- you know, we're only asking that he support the general proposition that he supported only two months ago. And I would just say that I know that leaders in the Republican Party are saying that, you know, we can't deal with revenues, no more revenues. But others within the Republican Party are echoing a consensus in the country, including a majority of Republicans in the country who believe that we should ask the wealthiest and the most well-connected to give up their special tax breaks and loopholes and, you know, exemptions and deductions in order to allow for deficit reduction that doesn't, you know, fall only to senior citizens and middle class families to bear the burden.

So, you know, the president is meeting with and talking to lawmakers who have expressed interest in that general proposition, that we can move forward with the president leading the way with Democrats making tough choices on entitlement reforms, and Republicans going along with the idea that we can reform our tax code in a way that contributes to the deficit reduction and doesn't ask that the burden all be borne by the most vulnerable Americans or middle class folks just trying to get by.

BLITZER: So do you think there can be what you call a commonsense caucus, Republicans, Democrats, that would not necessarily include the Republican leadership and specifically not just the speaker but someone like Paul Ryan who had lunch with the president today, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, the former Republican vice presidential nominee? How did that go?

CARNEY: Well, the lunch went very well and the president found it very constructive. The -- you know, the fact of the matter is, Wolf, there are differences. There's no question, and not just on broad principles but on specifics with some leaders and some members of the Republican Party in Congress. And as the president said in his inauguration, you know, we shouldn't expect that we need to resolve all of our differences before we can move forward and find some common ground and achieve some compromises on these key issues. And the president believes we can do that.

The -- you know, and we're not -- the leaders matter and we will continue to engage with the leaders, whether they are chairman or, you know, the speaker or the minority leader in the Senate but we're also talking to -- the president is also talking to those Republicans in the Senate and the House who have expressed interest in moving forward.

And let me say, it's not just about fiscal issues. We have seen some very positive bipartisan movement on immigration reform. This is a big ticket item and a priority of the president and it's something it used to have and has again bipartisan support, and that's progress. And the president will be talking about that when he visits the Republican conferences and Democratic caucuses on Capitol Hill next week.

Immigration reform, steps to reduce gun violence, you know, investments that help us become more energy independent and investments that help educate our children and make us competitive economically with the -- with the rest of the world.

BLITZER: Bottom line, the schmooze offensive will continue here in Washington. Let's hope it all works out in a good deal that will benefit the American people.

Jay Carney, thanks very much for coming in.

CARNEY: Wolf, thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Just ahead, what it was like when a dozen Republicans dined with the president last night. Senator Bob Corker, he was at that dinner at the Jefferson Hotel here in Washington. Hopefully he will take us inside the room, give a little flavor of what was going on. That's coming up next.


BLITZER: So what was it like when President Obama sat down last night for dinner with a dozen Republican senators? One of them is joining us now, Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee.

Senator, thanks for coming in.

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: Good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Take us a little bit behind the scenes. What was it like inside that room? I take it it was 2 1/2 hours of talking?

CORKER: Yes. It was -- look, it was a good dinner, Wolf, from the standpoint of 12 legislators and the chief executive officer of our country, talking about the biggest issue we face, which is the fiscal issue, and it was very frank, very sincere, very open, very broad ranging and, you know, it was a -- it was a great opportunity to see just what people's touch points were, meaning that, you know, when somebody would raise a point and somebody would disagree, the president maybe would talk about where he'd want to go, maybe somebody would push back and vice versa.

It was a really good way of sort of understanding how much commonality existed and then what items were bridged too far. So I thought it was really constructive to do that and I think set a good foundation for hopefully future discussions.

BLITZER: It sounds to me like the atmosphere, the collegiality was a lot better than you thought it would be.

CORKER: Well, look, I mean, you've got to -- you have to remember, most of us at the dinner had served with the president and the Senate. So it wasn't like it was something odd. We all -- you know, candidly there was a lot of joking around when it first began and then we got down to business and even there it was very respectful.

I think people -- I think the president probably walked away saying that it was one of the best meetings he had been involved in probably since he's been here and I think people on our side, the 12 senators that were there felt like there was a lot of sincerity and straightforwardness.

And again, it's a dinner, Wolf. And, you know, it's a long way from a dinner to solving our nation's biggest problem if it's easy to solve, we would have already done it. So it was a beginning and I think it laid a positive foundation and some trust. But we've got a lot of work to do and how we got there, I don't think we quite visualized.

BLITZER: It's a start. They say you've got to crawl before you walk, you walk before you run. CORKER: That's right.

BLITZER: This is going to take a while. Assuming it continued to move in the right direction, what -- how did it end, the dinner last night? What's the next step? Did you guys discuss what happens next?

CORKER: You know, Wolf, that was kind of -- you know, the president was coming in Tuesday to talk to Democrats, he's coming in Thursday to talk to our whole caucus. And I don't think that is fully visualized. Yesterday was more about talking about some grammars. It was not a negotiation.

But I don't think we yet know how to get there. I know one thing that if you look at our -- the history of our nation, the big issues have always been dealt with with presidential leadership and even though these were 12 Republicans sitting around the table, I think to a person they want to see that leadership here and that engagement and they -- I think all of us know that's what it's going to take for us to solve this problem.

And you know, again, there was a lot of back and forth regarding that. I don't know the path forward. What I do know, Wolf, is I think that -- I'll say I think that over the next four, five months we probably have the best environment possible to deal with the biggest issue, the big issue of a grand bargain around our fiscal issues.

If the environment is right, we're kind of moving forward on a CR right now. It looks like, you know, the House and Senate are actually functioning the way we're supposed to. There will be budgets after that. But my sense is moving towards the debt ceiling around that time frame, we have a good opportunity to do something really big for our country and I hope we'll take advantage of it.

BLITZER: That's supposed to happen around July when you have to raise the debt ceiling. So is that sort of a deadline that you've got to reach some sort of grand bargain, if you will, in dealing with entitlement reform, tax reform, coming up with some sort of big picture agreement?

CORKER: So, Wolf, there was never any discussions about a looming deadline. I think it was more just the reality of knowing that between now and around the first of August is probably the best opportunity for getting the deadlines, forget what may be coming up. It's just the environment that we're in. And I think everyone there would agree that that best time frame -- the best time frame to deal with this big issue is then.

So you're right. Entitlement reforms have to take place. I think all of us -- everyone knows that. How we get there, obviously there's some overlap and commonality, Wolf, and then there's some disagreement. And I think it's good to have a meeting like this where people understand what the boundaries for each other are and hopefully we can take advantage of that in some format.

Again, Wolf, I don't think anybody at this point knows the best way forward but laying a foundation of trust and discussion is certainly a good way to start.

BLITZER: Yes, I'm encouraged by it. I think it's a step in the right direction and I'm sure all of you guys, the 12 Republicans, were pretty happy the president picked up the tab for that delicious dinner at the same time. He was the host. He invited you. So he did -- maybe you'll invite him the next time and you'll pick up the tab.

CORKER: Well, look, you know, I don't think anybody was really sitting around thinking about who would pick up the tab but I assure you if they want to do it again, I will pick it up.

BLITZER: I know --

CORKER: If that's what it takes, OK?

BLITZER: You're a good man.

CORKER: Thanks a lot.

BLITZER: Indeed. And if you invite me, I'll be happy to just sit -- sit along the sidelines and watch to see what's going on.

CORKER: You know, I just have a feeling, as much as everyone loves you, Wolf, that maybe the conversation wouldn't have been quite as free flowing, I think.

BLITZER: I suspect you're right.


CORKER: But thank you.

BLITZER: Hey, thanks very much, Senator. Good to have you here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

CORKER: Thanks a lot.

BLITZER: Coming up, is there a growing Republican divide between the old and the new guards on Capitol Hill? What's going on? There's some deep divisions right now. We're going to talk about that in our strategy session.

Plus, the State Department forced to pull the plug on an honoree about to receive an award from First Lady Michelle Obama. What's the story behind this PR nightmare?


BLITZER: All right. Let's get right to our strategy session. Lots to discuss. Joining us, our two CNN contributors. The former Obama special adviser, Van Jones, and the former Bush White House press secretary, Ari Fleischer.

Van, when you hear all these Republicans saying all of a sudden nice things about the president following a dinner meeting at the Jefferson Hotel last night, do you as a -- as a strong Democrat start to get a little nervous?

VAN JONES, FORMER OBAMA SPECIAL ADVISER: You know, in a way, I do. But I was listening to Senator Corker I started feeling kind of optimistic. I mean, I -- first of all, in some ways, maybe by doing this -- by doing this reach-out, it takes away the last kind of objection to working with Obama. Because he really has put forward a number of attempted compromises in the past. They say, well, he never -- he never reaches out.

So now that's sort of gone. And maybe it lets the best of both sides come forward. I do get nervous when I think about this entitlement reform. Are they going to go after Medicare and Social Security? We can deal with that later. Today, I think is a good day for America. I was very encouraged hearing Senator Corker.

BLITZER: Do you think, Ari, that the Republicans potentially could blink as they did at the end of December, early January, when they finally went ahead and raised taxes, something they had vowed they wouldn't do? Would they do that again as part of a grand bargain?

ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER BUSH WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, it depends on what the definition of grand bargain is. I think if entitlements are put on the table and meaningful changes are made in entitlements to save the program, Medicare and Social Security, for the next generation, who won't get them the way seniors today are getting them, because they're going bankrupt, I can see some changes being made. I think carried interest and some other tax provisions could be put on the table.

You know, it takes the president turning what I call the era of ill will in Washington into an era of goodwill. And that's why the dinner last night makes so much sense. We need a lot more of that in Washington. It's the nitty-gritty of being the president who has to work with the legislature. He should do a lot more of it, and it should be reciprocated.

BLITZER: I know, Van, you liked Senator Rand Paul's decision to filibuster on those potential drone strikes to target U.S. citizens on U.S. soil. Now the White House, Eric Holder, the attorney general, has responded. Rand Paul is satisfied and John Brennan has now been confirmed as the CIA director.

Were you satisfied with the statement that was released by the attorney general?

JONES: Well, I think -- I think I'm satisfied it's the beginning of a conversation. First of all, you know, Rand Paul is somebody who a lot of people don't like a lot. His position on civil rights has been objected to. But on civil liberties, he was a hero yesterday. And I think you have to be willing to give the devil his due.

I think we should have a much more robust conversation about drone strikes and all these technologies, and especially when you talk about not just Americans being hurt, but even overseas, some civilians, children have been hurt by drone strikes. I thought it was good to see an honest filibuster. Not putting a poster on the door or slipping a letter under it. Nobody knows who's holding it up. He did it in an honest way. I think it's an important conversation. I think it's just starting, though. I hope this is not the end.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, Ari, you hear Van Jones say Rand Paul has been a hero as a result of what he did yesterday. John McCain and Lindsey Graham say he's ridiculous for what he did yesterday. There seems to be an emerging split among these Republicans in the Senate. What do you make of this?

FLEISCHER: Yes, I think Van also slipped in a reference to the devil in there, too, but we can ignore that for a moment.


Yes, you know, Wolf, it's true. There is a split in the Republican Party, there's a split in the Democratic Party. You know, Senator Dianne Feinstein, the Californian Democrat, was one of the most vociferous objectors to the president's drone program.

I support, like John McCain and Lindsey Graham do, a vigorous approach abroad, as President Bush and President Obama does, using drones to kill terrorists. I draw the line, like Rand Paul does, at home when it comes to defending the American people, we do not use the military on American soil, particularly against Americans.

And so I thought what Rand Paul did was a great welcome -- wake-up bell for the nation to focus a spotlight on a problem. That's something we should talk about. And one of the worst mistakes we made in the Bush administration was after September 11th, we were so worried about preventing the next attack, we did everything through executive power, instead of investing in Congress.

It took years to invest in Congress and to make things bipartisan and congressional. Drones now, too. This putting it on the table, debating it, taking it public is healthy for America. I salute Rand Paul for taking a stand and making it public for America.

BLITZER: Nice to see Ari Fleischer and Van Jones agreeing on this issue here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Guys, thanks for coming in.

JONES: The era -- the era of goodwill has begun.

BLITZER: I'm sure --

JONES: But hands off Social Security and Medicare.

BLITZER: I'm sure it won't last -- it won't last all that long, I am sure. But at least in this day, the era of goodwill is here.

Guys, thanks very much.

JONES: Thank you.

BLITZER: When we come back, controversy at the State Department just before the first lady was supposed to present this woman, take a look, with a distinguished award. You're going to find out why it didn't happen.


BLITZER: Just one day before the First Lady Michelle Obama and the Secretary of State John Kerry were set to present awards to women from around the world for putting their lives at risk in defense of women's rights, a big change of plans.

CNN's Erin McPike has details.


ERIN MCPIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Samira Ibrahim, the 26- year-old Egyptian woman pictured here said just yesterday her Twitter account was hacked. That six months ago, she personally didn't write, "Today is the anniversary of 9/11, may every day come with America burning," or this one, calling the Saudi ruling family dirtier than the Jews.

But those tweets and others are at the center of what has become a public relations fiasco for the State Department and the White House.

In 2011, Egyptian soldiers detained Ibrahim and subjected her to a virginity test that she said made her feel as though she had been raped. She spoke out and sued the Egyptian military. Her bravery got attention. Last year, "TIME" magazine named her to its list of the world's most influential people.

And this Friday, both First Lady Michelle Obama and the secretary of state were going to honor her and other women.

VICTORIA NULAND, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: We initially selected Miss Ibrahim because of the incredible bravery and courage she displayed at the time of the Tahrir Square protests.

MCPIKE: But the Holocaust Museum tells CNN they alerted the State Department to the tweets on Tuesday, which were anti-American and anti-Semitic.

Samuel Tadros broke the story in the "Weekly Standard". He said Ibrahim's views were known.

SAMUEL TADROS, HUDSON INSTITUTE: Many Egyptian activists have pointed out at the time when she tweeted those rather racist marks, writing to her that, Samira, those remarks are totally unacceptable, that this is anti-Semitism.

MCPIKE: Sensing a looming embarrassment, the State Department changed course Thursday.

NULAND: We as a department became aware very late in the process about Samira Ibrahim's alleged public comments. After careful consideration, we've decided that we should defer presenting this award this year so that we have a chance to look further into these statements.

MCPIKE: Tadros doesn't buy Ibrahim's claim this week of being hacked.

TADROS: It's a problem of vetting probably made by the U.S. embassy in Cairo.


MCPIKE: Wolf, there's still a ceremony tomorrow for the nine other women being honored, but Samira Ibrahim will be on her way back to Egypt -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Erin McPike, thank you.

And happening now, a new blow to al Qaeda. A member of the bin Laden family captured and now charged.