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THE SITUATION ROOM
New Pope Takes Name of Francis; Kim's New Threats; Differences May Be Too Wide
Aired March 13, 2013 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Can you tell me what was your first reaction to the name when you heard he had taken the name Pope Francis, what first went through your mind?
FATHER THOMAS ROSICA: Everything. Francis of Assisi and this pope, they're kindred spirits. Francis of Assisi is the patron of Italy and the universal saint and someone who reached out between all kinds of lines and divisions, someone who turned his back on the wealth of his family and the lifestyle he had and bonded with lepers and the poor.
Here this is pope known for his care for AIDS patients and people who are very sick. Who is known for his concern with single mothers whose babies were refused to be baptized by priests in his diocese and he scolded those priests last year and said how can you turn these people away when they belong to us?
Here is a pope that is going to come in and look at the situation and say get back to basics. This is about the gospel. This is about what we are at our best. We're called to be saints. I just said wow.
He is going to build on the beautiful teaching of Benedict and the outreach of John Paul II and the smile of John Paul first and on that magnanimous heart of John 23. There's a big continuity that's unfolding before us.
CUOMO: So what comes before Pope Francis now?
What is due tonight, tomorrow?
What do we know?
ROSICA: Right now, we found out -- And this is -- this is the facts. They're having dinner. And they're having a celebratory dinner, probably break some of the Lenten rules for frugal food of Santa Marta. And he announced in his address that he wants to pay a special visit to the Blessed Mother. So the first thing he's going to do tomorrow morning, there will be a very private primatisimat (ph), we were told, a visit to St. Mary Major Church, where he will kneel before the Blessed Mother and pray. And tomorrow afternoon at 5:00, he will celebrate mass in the Sistine Chapel, which brings to a conclusion the conclave. They'll probably have another celebration tomorrow evening. And on Saturday, he's going to meet with all of the journalists and all of the media that's been covering these great events here in the Audience Hall. He himself asked for it. In fact, the other day when he saw me, Monday morning, he was walking over to the congregation meetings and he was on the Viaconciliation (ph). And he said, "Come here." He said, "Thank you for working with my confer (ph), Father Lombardi. He's a great man."
And I told Father Lombardi earlier and Father Lombardi said, "No, no, no, no."
CUOMO: That's good job security, to have that now, though.
CUOMO: Let me ask you, is -- was -- is it true, was there communication tonight between Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus?
ROSICA: Right after he was elected, he phoned Castel Gandolfo and spoke on the phone to Pope Benedict.
CUOMO: And do we know anything about that conversation?
ROSICA: It was not taped, at least I don't think.
ROSICA: We also know that the installation of his ministry, the inauguration of his (INAUDIBLE) ministry will be at 9:30 in the morning on March the, 19th, the Feast of St. Joseph, in St. Peter's Square.
CUOMO: And why is that important?
ROSICA: St. Joseph is the patron of the Universal Church. There's a great connection with St. Joseph St. Joseph and St. Francesco now and St. Francis. But it's one of the principal feasts of saints in the church. And what a wonderful day to have it. You're not required to have this only on a Sunday. And this is a solemnity in the middle of Lent. And it's also just before Holy Week.
CUOMO: One other thing. We know that one appointment that, in a way, is already in the -- the new Holy Father's calendar is for World Youth Day in Rio. The first Latin American pope going to Latin America for World Youth Day.
What do you expect that's going to be like?
ROSICA: It will be a short flight for him, because I've flown to San Paolo and then to Buenos Aires, so it's a few hours. And it will be a -- the Latin Americans are -- are delighted. We heard stories already of cafes and coffee shops and restaurants where people fell to their knees -- and they're showing this on television now on different networks -- when they heard this.
CUOMO: This is going to be a real adjustment. Obviously, becoming pope is just a huge, unfathomable enterprise to take on. But for this man, so simple, who took the bus, who makes his own meals, who really pushed away any type of trapping of power, what do you think it will be like for him?
You knew Bergoglio. You know the pope.
ROSICA: The church needs this witness right now, especially after these -- some of us have strayed from this. We lost the spirit, at times. We got caught up in a lot of external things, at times. And it's -- every now and then, the Lord sends holy people along to call us back to the roots.
And I think many of us in the church will be rejoicing. This is a wonderful gift during Lent.
CUOMO: Is this the man who can step forward and say, I'm going to take the reins of this church?
We will not see what we've seen with the abuse scandal anymore?
I can do things like that?
Is he that type of man?
ROSICA: He has the wisdom, as a Jesuit, to gather around him a team of people that will do what he's not able to do. He's very collaborative. When he was provincial in the Society of Jesus in Argentina -- he's on a number of congregations and departments here at the Vatican. He is by no means a stranger. And he's able to assess things very carefully and to make decisions.
So it's not the pope that has to do all of this, but it's the wisdom of the pope to choose the people with him. And I think he's -- he will teach us how to lead and how to shepherd.
CUOMO: Wolf, do you have any questions for Father Rosica?
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: I'm very interested in why he thinks that this time around, Pope Francis I was -- was elected. Last time, he wasn't.
What happened between then and now?
CUOMO: OK. I'll ask, Wolf.
CUOMO: Oh, did you get it, Father?
He got it.
ROSICA: That's a very good question.
Well, you know, there's -- there's the human factor in this. There was a strong degree of support for Cardinal Ratzinger in 2005. Cardinal Ratzinger had distinguished himself very much at the congregation meetings before the conclave in 2005. If anyone knew the inside of the curia and the challenges facing the church at that time, it was Cardinal Ratzinger. And he was an inspired choice.
And I don't know about the votes the last time. Those are stories in the papers and leaks or whatever you want to call them. That's not what's important.
Pope Benedict was the great gift for the church at this point moment in history. He paved the way so that we can have Pope Francis.
BLITZER: What do you think, Reverend, the most important thing he can do right now to start off his tenure as Pope Francis I?
What's the message he needs to send out in the immediate days ahead?
ROSICA: He sent it out tonight from the balcony. He asked people to pray over him. He invited people to pray with gratitude for Pope Benedict, very simple prayers, the Our Father and the Hail Mary. Then he had a conversation with people. It was reminiscent of several other scenes I've seen from that logia in the past years. And it kind of brought us back to what this is all about. It's about being a pastor and a shepherd. And he's told us already how he's going to operate. Now we'll watch the story unfold.
BLITZER: We certainly will.
Were you surprised personally, Father?
ROSICA: Yes, I was very surprised. Many people have said he doesn't have a chance. He's 77 years old, just a year younger than Pope Benedict. Surprised only by that.
But deep down inside, as soon as I heard the name, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, oh, this is a lesson for church. Every crisis the church faces is ultimately a crisis of holiness. And the only thing that can burn away the chaff and call us back to the beginning is somebody who is in touch with holiness and the gospel.
So in that sense, I'm very grateful.
BLITZER: And the tradition is -- and correct me if I'm wrong, Father -- that this is the man that the Lord wanted. And the 115 Cardinals if you will, they came around and recognized that.
ROSICA: That's exactly right. The Lord and the church, this consensus, and people knew who Cardinal Bergoglio was. His fame of simplicity went before him.
BLITZER: It's a major, major challenge right now.
And what do you make of the fact that one of the first things he did was call his predecessor to just touch base with him, if you will?
That's a nice gesture.
ROSICA: I probably would have done the same thing. Celestine didn't leave us any plans on who we should call when you step down or the successor to Celestine. . So I think Pope Francis is leaving a good playbook for us.
BLITZER: We're just getting word, Father, that the vice president, Joe Biden, himself a Catholic, he will represent the United States in the coming days. He'll be going over to Rome for this historic moment.
I think that's pretty significant, don't you?
ROSICA: It's very significant. Many heads of state have been letting us know their desire to come. The Holy See never invites people to come to this, but they inform governments that we have a new leader. But I think many, many people will be coming. And I'm sure there will be many people from Latin America, from South America coming, as well.
BLITZER: Would it have been more appropriate, if you say heads of state, heads of government, are coming, for the president himself to come to Rome?
ROSICA: It's not up to me to comment on anything like that. We're just grateful people are coming. And those who are coming know who they're coming to see.
BLITZER: And walk us through the process between now and then, because it's going to be a fast-moving -- it's pretty choreographed, pretty scripted by tradition, isn't it?
ROSICA: You're right that there are certain things scripted by tradition. But I think we also have a pope who showed us tonight that that tradition is not necessarily going to hold him down. He probably upset some people tonight by not following the formula. He won over millions of others by doing what he did.
There's a beautiful ceremony of the inauguration of ministry that's prepared. That will be next week. He'll give The Angeles (ph) on Sunday from the window of the Apostolic Palace. He'll take possession of his house at some point. So he's got to get used to some things.
One thing I know is, he's probably not going to use the second half of that ticket to go back home to Buenos Aires.
BLITZER: Right. He's not going to be around Argentina as much as he -- he probably -- he certainly would have been had he not been selected pope, Chris, you're there with John Allen.
Go ahead, speak to Father Rosica and ask him a few more questions.
CUOMO: Well, Father, thank you so much for joining us.
So just something that we can get straight here for the -- this is such a huge part of uniting the old world and the new world...
ROSICA: Can I take this off?
CUOMO: No, keep it in case Wolf wants to come back here.
ALLEN: You're not going anywhere.
ROSICA: Oh, OK.
ALLEN: You're too valuable.
CUOMO: Uniting the New World and Old World, obviously, is so powerful here.
Does -- how is the pope's English?
Do you think he'll be able to come to the States and communicate effectively?
ROSICA: He'll communicate. I mean he'll communicate in Spanish with a big part of the United States.
ROSICA: I really -- I've only spoken to him in Italian or Spanish. So I'm -- I know he speaks English. I know he does. I don't know the quality of the English.
You know, one point, you know, with a figure like that, it doesn't matter. It kind of just radiates.
CUOMO: Can you remember any other time since you've been involved with the church that you've had so many firsts and so many different symbols of potential change within the Catholic Church?
I mean, you know them all. You know everything that Pope Francis represents that's unique and novel.
ROSICA: Do I know of any other time like this?
CUOMO: Right, so many things that were new and different at once?
ROSICA: The election of John Paul II reminded me of this, you know.
ALLEN: And you know what's interesting, you were talking about how he pushed away Monsignor Marie (ph), the master of ceremonies.
Do you remember, in 1979, John Paul II did exactly the same thing?
ROSICA: I was watching a replay here of a couple of things.
ALLEN: It was Archbishop Noway (ph), of course.
CUOMO: Yes. ALLEN: And John Paul II was the first to do anything other than deliver the blessing. He gave the sort of impromptu remarks. And Archbishop Noway (ph) tried to pull him away and he sort of gently slapped his hand away.
ROSICA: No, I remember it very well.
ALLEN: And that was our first hint, this is a pope who's going to break the mold.
Did you draw the same impression from the way that Pope Francis comported himself tonight?
ROSICA: Now, I am speaking as a Vatican spokesperson.
ROSICA: So I want to be very delicate in how I describe this. I was very pleased to see the pope took charge. And he was trying to connect with the people. That's what popes are supposed to do.
CUOMO: Now, people who watch tonight, they're from all over the world, literally 1.2 billion people. They're looking for leadership, perhaps more than at any other time in so many of their lives. As we were looking at the people tonight, all the kids on their parents shoulders.
What church will they inherit?
What do you say to those who look and say, oh, I've heard about him, this is interesting, but he's a -- he's still a conservative. He's a traditionalist. He won't really change anything.
What is the message to them?
ROSICA: The vast majority of people who ran to St. Peter's Square tonight in this really awful weather -- I almost got killed coming here tonight...
ROSICA: -- the vast majority of people who came did not come to see somebody who was conservative or liberal or who had this agenda or that platform. They came because the people from Rome have a bishop. The rest of the people knew they came to see a pope. I don't think it matters who appears on the balcony for the people that are here, because they're into this. This is their story.
For the rest of us watching from throughout the world, I would love to have been in South America tonight, in Buenos Aires or Nicaragua or other countries. What this means for them, we have no idea. They may have run to St. Peter's Square tonight.
In Argentina, they were falling on their knees. In Brazil, we were told people falling on their knees, not running, falling on their knees and giving thanks, because finally this -- the papacy has taken someone from another part of the world. And the pope even said it tonight. He had a beautiful line, too. "They came to the furthest ends of the Earth to get somebody to bring him to Rome to be their bishop."
And it was a really lovely, human way of analyzing it.
CUOMO: And having known him now, what does it mean to you to have known the man as well as you did who is now pope?
ROSICA: We have just elected a pastor that's a great shepherd. We're going to have to get used to this.
ALLEN: Now, of course, we have one cardinal who stepped out of the conclave as pope. That means there's 114 who are going back to being cardinals.
You, of course, are particularly close to one of the cardinals who is prominently mentioned as a possible pope. I'm talking about Cardinal Mark Willette from Canada.
Do you think he's feeling any disappointment or is -- do you think the overwhelming sensation he may be feeling right now is not only gratitude for the Holy Father, but relief, in a way, for himself?
ROSICA: I've talk to most of the so-called frontrunners of this. I worked with some of them. And I think they're probably pouring an extra glass tonight out of relief. I really believe a lot of them wanted to go back home to their dioceses for Holy Week. And Cardinal Willette is doing a superb job. To have a pope like Pope Francis, who has a person like Cardinal Willette in such a key position, that's a great burden off the pope's shoulders.
Pope Francis has an extremely competent, holy man, in the person of Cardinal Willette, to oversee the appointment of shepherds throughout the world.
I think both are thanking God.
CUOMO: Father Rosica, congratulations.
Thank you so much for joining us.
ROSICA: Thank you.
CUOMO: I appreciate it -- Wolf.
--- -- and before we let Father Rosica go, I want to ask one more question, Father Rosica. You've been very generous with your time. And for our viewers here in the United States or around the world, father, who are just tuning in, give us some perspective on the selection of his name, Pope Francis. Pope Francis I. What's your interpretation of that? ROSICA: Pope Francis, Cardinal Bergoglio, had a special place in his heart and his ministry for the poor, for the disenfranchised, for those living on the fringes, for those living in situations of injustice, and he not only wrote about them and preached about them, he bonded and connected with them. He walked with them and he was very stern to those who didn't take care of them.
So, he's a kindred spirit with this great Saint Francis of Assisi. Who doesn't know Francis of Assisi? Francis who abandoned everything from wealth and prestige and who became poor himself and there is the myth and lure around Francis because also the truth about Francis. Francis of Assisi operated by the rules of the court.
By this, I mean, in a courtly life, there was one king and a hundred courtiers. Francis of Assisi was the courtier treating everybody else like kings. And Francis' story continues today in the lives of Franciscans and Catholics (ph) and (INAUDIBLE). And these are wonderful men, the brown robes, and they have a special place in the world to remind us of the poor. Francis, Lord make me an instrument of your peace, the pentacle of a son.
Francis of Assisi is a great, great figure in the church but known most especially for connecting with his fellow Christians but many people outside the Christian family, the Christian household. So, I think cardinal Bergoglio has given us -- and he'll explain this. He told us he's going to explain in the next few days and I'm sure with the meeting with journalists on Saturday, we'll get some insight as to why he chose the name of Francis.
BLITZER: It is a pretty impressive and shattering moment as our own John Allen said. I think few people would have anticipated the name Francis. Is that correct, father?
ROSICA: I think so. This is the first time we have a Pope Francis. Father Lombardi just told us that he was pretty surprised.
BLITZER: And you were probably pretty surprised as well. I know John Allen and everyone else who has studied this very closely has been very surprised as well and we're looking forward to Pope Francis' explanation when he meets with journalists if not sooner. Father Rosica, thanks so much for your help and appreciating what's going on. We're really thankful to you.
ROSICA: Thank you very much.
BLITZER: We're going to have much more on this historic day. We're standing by. We're getting more reaction from all over the world. There is a new pope. We'll take a quick break. Our special coverage will continue right after this.
BLITZER: We're continuing our special coverage of this historic day coming out of the Vatican, the Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio is now Pope Francis. It is official. He is now the pope. Ben Wedeman is on the scene for us. He was in the crowd there at the Vatican when we learned who the new pope was. It must have been an electric moment, Ben, for all the folks there.
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It was really incredible, wolf, because we came running up this road to St. Peter's Square once that white smoke appeared and there was a real sense of excitement and anticipation and relief at the same time because everybody knew there was a pope, but nobody knew who that was so we were in the square among thousands and thousands of people and just waiting and waiting, and finally, when the name was announced, there was a moment of confusion because a lot of people had not heard of him.
And so, there was a lot of looking around at one another, but when Pope Francis came out on the balcony, he seems really radiated a certain confidence, a certain comforting air about him. And people, when they heard him speak, you could tell that he had a very good -- he made a very good first impression, and people were quite happy, and it didn't go along national lines.
I spoke to Americans, I spokes to Argentinians, Mexicans, Filipinos, everybody very relieved. And I think it's important when, you know, we're looking at the stories. Oftentimes, as journalists, we've got, you know, lists and names on the wall of all the candidates, but I think for most of the people in the square, what they wanted to hear was "Habemus Papam," "we have a pope."
And so, there was that great sense of relief when they saw the white smoke and joy when they saw Pope Francis come out on the balcony and salute them -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Because as you know, Ben, it was about an hour or so between the time that we first saw the white smoke, meaning, there is a new pope, and the time he actually appeared on the balcony. What was it like in the crowd during that hour?
WEDEMAN: It was -- everybody was very quiet. There wasn't a lot of noise. Occasionally, some people cheering, but it's this great sense of almost electrical anticipation awaiting for the news sort of that, sort of that flood of expectation that had been building up since the first conclave yesterday.
It had kind of burst forth when you saw all these people running up the road to St. Peter's Square, but in the square, itself, people were patient. They weren't sort of eager to -- they were just sort of savoring the moment in a sense. I think people really feel the history of the moment during that hour waiting to see to find out who the pope was. So, yes. It was an incredible sense of history that really flooded through St. Peter's Square -- Wolf.
BLITZER: The crowd also, Ben, mostly young people, older people. I saw a lot of young faces there.
WEDEMAN: It was a real mix. You know, there were young parents with their children, four, five years old. I spoke to one man who had put his -- an Italian who put his five-year-old son up on one of these small columns to make sure that he could see what was happening. He said it was his first time ever to come there and he wanted his son to see history in the making.
But you saw really all ages, and you saw lots of Italians, lots of tourists, lots of students who were here on a semester abroad. It was an incredible mix of people that really underscores in a sense the universal nature of the Catholic Church which has followers in almost every country -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Ben Wedeman watching the history unfold in Rome right now at the Vatican. Ben, thanks very much.
Let's get more reaction, reaction pouring in from around the world. Joining us on the phone right now is Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, former archbishop of Washington, D.C. Cardinal, thanks very much for coming in. What was your immediate reaction when you heard of this new pope?
CARDINAL THEODORE MCCARRICK, FORMER CARDINAL OF THE ARCHDIOCESE OF WASHINGTON (on the phone): It was an extraordinary joy. I think this will be wonderful for the church. this is a fine man, a man who brings so many talents and gifts to the role of vicar of Christ and who stands for something very, very special, and especially, he is from the Southern Hemisphere.
I've been hoping that we would move into the Southern Hemisphere, and especially, I think many of us had hoped, at some time soon, we would have a bishop, a pope who would come from Latin America. One- half of the Catholics in the world are from Latin-America. And so, this is a way that the cardinals have very graciously acknowledged that in choosing an extraordinary Latin-American to be the leader of the church, the vicar of Christ for the next years.
So, I think it was, for me, was a great moment. This is a wonderful man. I've had the privilege of meeting him in the past. I truly believe that he has so many gifts and that his choices of the name Francis which is also an extraordinary bolt of light for us indicates his tremendous love for the poor and his tremendous desire to work for peace.
All of these things that St. Francis was so enthusiastic about as well as his great love for the church.
BLITZER: I assume you know him fairly well, Cardinal McCarrick. You were among those voting the last time when Pope Benedict became the pope. There was word that this cardinal was, shall we say, the first runner-up at the time, but tell us a little bit more about now Pope Francis.
MCCARRICK: Well, I think, first of all, he's a very brilliant man. He was one of the great scholars of the Jesuits in Latin- America. And he's also a man who has the ability of leading. He had been the provincial of the Jesuits, the head of the Jesuit priests in that whole area of Argentina. So, he's a man who knows how to govern, who knows how to lead, and who knows how to work with all kinds of different personalities because that's what the church is all about.
So, I think he comes very equipped. He has languages. He has experience. He knows how to -- he knows how to judge people and how to pick people who would be really able to be helpful to him.
BLITZER: When you spoke with him, Cardinal McCarrick, what language did you speak to him in?
MCCARRICK: I usually speak to him in Spanish.
BLITZER: In Spanish. But does he speak English?
MCCARRICK: Yes, he does. Yes, he does. I think he prefers Spanish just like I prefer Spanish to Italian. But I think we all have a language. I believe he speaks -- he probably speaks a few other languages, too.
BLITZER: I know he speaks Italian, Spanish. I think he speaks German, because he studied in Germany, and now, you're telling us he speaks English. I suspect he probably speaks Portugese as well.
MCCARRICK: I wouldn't be surprised. When you're in Buenos Aires, you really need to speak Portuguese.
BLITZER: Were you surprised they picked someone 76 years old?
MCCARRICK: No. I guess, my thought originally was that because I did not -- his name was not in the list that, you, experts in the media, had built up for.
So, I thought that he might have a chance if there was -- if the leaders of the different groups, the stars, and they were wonderful stars, found themselves blocking each other and not being able to get through to a majority that they would go to a trusted and -- a trusted senior man who has a lot of -- who had their confidence and who had their admiration.
But when it went -- when it happened in the fifth voting, I thought, oh, they probably -- one of the leaders has probably been named -- been elected, because I thought for him to become chosen would have probably -- they would have needed maybe six or seven ballots. So, I was surprised by that.
BLITZER: A lot of people were surprised. Five ballots. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick is the former Archbishop of Washington. He would have been voting himself, but he's 82 years old and you have to be under 80 to participate in that conclave. Is that right, cardinal?
MCCARRICK: Exactly. And I'm not only 82. I'm going to be 83 -- if God willing in a few months.
BLITZER: God willing. And prematurely, we'll wish you a very, very happy birthday. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick is a good friend of all of us. Did a brilliant job here in Washington, D.C. Thanks so much, Cardinal McCarrick, for joining us.
MCCARRICK: Thank you, Wolf. God bless you and all the best.
BLITZER: Thank you so much for that. We'll continue our special coverage of this historic day at the Vatican. A new pope, Pope Francis. We'll also take a look at some of the other important news making headlines today. Stand by. Our special coverage continues right here in THE SITUATION ROOM right after this.
BLITZER: President Obama spent much of today on Capitol Hill speaking to Republicans in the House of Representatives.
Also talking about the pope. That's next.
BLITZER: Our chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash is up on Capitol Hill right now. The president spent much of the day there meeting with House Republicans. The president also offering his prayers and warm wishes to the new pope.
Dana, what was it like?
Unfortunately, I think we've lost our connections with Dana. We'll reconnect with Dana. She is going to update us on the president's day spent -- spent a lot of time meeting with House Republicans today. Talking about spending, taxes, other critical issues.
Dana, are you with us?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I am. Can you hear me, Wolf?
BLITZER: Now we hear you.
BASH: OK, good. Well, to answer your question, the timing couldn't have been more fascinating because it was about halfway through the president's meeting with House Republicans that we all saw the white smoke. And so when he came out, we asked him about that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, what about the new pope?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, are you upstaged by the new pope?
OBAMA: Well, I made the announcement we saw smoke, but I haven't actually seen the official announcement of name. So, we look forward to hearing about it and I'm sure it is going to be --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What about the White House tours? Will there be White House smoke here?
OBAMA: You're straining the analogy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How'd it go?
OBAMA: It was good. I enjoyed it. It was useful. Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: Now, when we heard about the pope we were - (INAUDIBLE) some of our colleagues were e-mailing with people in the room asking if people there knew about it. At the beginning, there was some hub- bub but then it turns out, Wolf, that the president was handed a note by his deputy chief of staff telling him the news. And then president announced it to House Republicans. Someone yelled out, "Does this mean White House tours" -- which of course have been canceled "are now open?". The president responded, "No, but Vatican tours are." Wolf?
BLITZER: But the main purpose of his visit to Capitol Hill clearly was to, in effect, go into the lion's den.
BLITZER: Meet with House Republicans. Make his case why they presumably are wrong as far as spending taxes are concerned and he and the Democrats are right.
BASH: That's right. He came into the room, we are told, to a standing ovation. That's right: House Republicans on their feet applauding for the president.
But beyond that, it was respectful, we're told cordial, affable. But they certainly got into it with the president on the big issue that divides them: philosophical differences over the budget, how to address and tackle the deficit. I'm told there wasn't a confrontational tone, but that the undercurrent in the questions that came from House Republicans to the president was that a lot of what he is doing, his focus is political. The idea that maybe his focus is more on getting Democrats back in the majority of the House than actually dealing with these issues.
And I'm told that at the very end he kind of made a little speech responding to that, saying that he is not focused on politics. Everything is not about the political imperative, that -- for example immigration. He said he wouldn't be focusing on that if it were because not all Democrats are benefiting from that politically. And also on entitlements, he made the case that entitlement reform is important and of course, as you know, Wolf, many Democrats do not think it is a good idea to mess with Medicare, for example, at all. So, those are some of the things we heard about.
Afterwards, Republicans, the leaders at least came out and said it was a good conversation. They're glad he came. It was only the second time that he addressed all House Republicans. But that they still have these differences, especially over Republicans saying we're not going to raise taxes, and the president saying we have to raise taxes if we want to deal with the debt and deficit.
BLITZER: Serious issues. The charm offensive by the president, continuing. Dana, thanks very much.
Let's dig a little deeper right now. Gloria Borger is joining us, our chief political analyst. Gloria, let me play a clip. This is John Boehner, the speaker of the House following this meeting with the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE SPEAKER: We know, however, there are very real differences between our two parties like issues -- jobs, balancing the budget and what do we do to get our economy moving again? Republicans want to balance the budget. The president doesn't. Republicans want to solve our long-term debt problem. The president doesn't. We want to unlock our energy resources to put more Americans back to work. The president doesn't.
But having said that, today was a good start. And I hope that these kinds of discussions can continue.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He says it's a good start. Doesn't sound like such a good start to me.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: No.
BLITZER: Maybe he has a different definition.
BORGER: Well it sounds like he is still in the middle of the campaign. I think -- look. The Republicans injure that room blaming the president for being too political. And John Boehner is out there saying that the president doesn't want to create jobs or reduce the deficit. Of course he does. They all want to do that.
The question is, as Dana points out earlier, how do you get there? And they there are at this moment where they all know what they have to do. It is just that each side has to be willing to get its political base angry. The president has to be willing to tell Democrats that we're going to do something on entitlements, and the Republicans have to be willing to do something on the tax side. And whether they all get together on tax reform remains to be seen.
But, you know, these kind of machinations going back and forth, you can have your dinners and all the rest, but John Boehner still came out and made a very political statement, I would argue. And they shouldn't criticize the president for being political if they do that.
BLITZER: I assume the president is going to be sort of political later tonight. BORGER: Sure.
BLITZER: He is going to be meeting with his supporters, this Organizing For Action, this new organization that was formed from his 2012 re-election campaign. He has invited them to come over to the White House. He wants them to go out there and not only raise money, but get out and campaign in effect for his legislative priorities.
BORGER: And again, there are a couple things I've heard about Organizing For Action. First of all from Republicans, what you hear is that the fundraising appeal is so strident that it is as if you were still in the middle of the re-election campaign. And they believe that it is more class warfare, that the Republicans don't care about the middle class or the poor in this country, just about the wealthy. So they say they're offended by that, and of course, the election is over.
When you talk to Democrats about it, they point to Bill Clinton, as one said to me and said, look. When he was fundraising, the money was going to the Democratic National Committee. And there are some Democrats who are a little concerned that this is more about President Obama's brand than it is about the Democratic Party. So, that is a discussion I'm sure they'll be having among themselves.
BLITZER: A sensitive issue that's come up in the past few days, the cancellation of the White House tours causing some commotion out there. Listen to the president what he told ABC, and then listen to his press secretary Jay Carney trying to explain.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have to say this was not a decision that went up to the White House, but what the Secret Service explained to us was that they're going to have to furlough some folks. What furloughs mean is that people lose a day of work and a day of pay.
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The White House runs the tours. We -- the tours are of the White House. The Secret Service staffs the tours. The Secret Service came to us with a decision that because of the sequester cuts, it would be in their view impossible to staff those tours.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So it makes it sound like this was a decision that the Secret Service made, but it affects the White House. I'm a little skeptical. I wonder, no one at the White House signed off on this decision?
BORGER: I agree with you, Wolf. It's clear somebody had to sign off on this decision, but the way the White House is portraying it is it is a matter of jobs. You don't want to lay off people who have families if you can at all avoid it, and that these are the people that would be giving the White House tours. We'll do some digging, try and get to the bottom of it, but I think it was a matter of furloughs.
BLITZER: The president does say he'd like to reinstate at least some tours for school kids coming to Washington. That would be important. It is good to see the White House obviously if you're growing up. Come to Washington with your school, go visit the White House if you can.
BORGER: Come over to CNN right?
BLITZER: Oh, I don't know if we got those facilities, but we'd love to see those school kids. Gloria, thanks very much.
BLITZER: Up next, troubling rhetoric from North Korea's leader. Is it ore than just talk? We're taking a closer look at the intention behind the threats.
BLITZER: To North Korea now where we're seeing fresh pictures of leader Kim Jong-Un meeting with his troops, urging them on with gruesome new threats. The big concern right now, will he try to make good on those threats?
Our foreign affairs correspondent Jill Daugherty has details.
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In North Korea war fever runs wild. The headstrong young leader Kim Jong-Un addresses his troops and issues a blood chilling threat. Throw all enemies into the cauldron, break their waists and crack their windpipes.
It was the same location he and his late father visited in November 2010, just two days before the North shelled an island killing four South Koreans.
JAMES CLAPPER, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I am very concerned about what they might do and they certainly if they so chose could initiate provocative action against the South.
DOUGHERTY: North Korea is threatening a preemptive nuclear strike not only on South Korea but on the United States, too. Prompting this answer to ABC News.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Can North Korea now make good on its threat to hit the United States?
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They probably can't but we don't like margin of error, right, when it comes to --
STEPHANOPOULOS: That close?
OBAMA: Well, and I don't think -- it's not that close. DOUGHERTY: But the U.S. still is trying to determine what North Korea is capable of. U.S. intelligence officials tell CNN they have not determined what kind of nuclear material the North used in its underground test a month ago and an international monitoring group with a vast array of monitoring devices also cannot make any conclusions.
DARYL KIMBALL, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ARMS CONTROL ASSOCIATION: It is helping him build up his domestic supports. He is revving up nationalist fervor around the nuclear test explosion. The bombastic rhetoric from Pyongyang is designed to create the impression that there is an enemy that's about to attack the North.
DOUGHERTY: And intelligence sources say they may never know exactly what was used in that bomb so for now they are taking the North Korean statements at face value that they do have a uranium enrichment program -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And clearly the president himself, as he indicated, is pretty concerned about this.
Jill, thanks very much.
When we come back just one week since President Obama started his new so-called charm offensive with the Republicans and he is already expressing some doubts about whether it's working. That is next.
BLITZER: So it may have been the most important day so far in President Obama's new outreach campaign on Capitol Hill. The president going into what we call the lion's den, to meet with some of his fiercest critics, House Republicans.
But just one week since this new so-called charm offensive started, the president is already expressing some doubts about the outcome.
Our national political correspondent Jim Acosta is over at the White House with the very latest -- Jim.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, besides that standing ovation he got from House Republicans, administration officials say the president also received some tough questions about his commitment to cutting the deficit. Those questions were prompted in part by his own comments about whether the debt is actually a crisis for the country.
OBAMA: Hi, guys. How are you?
ACOSTA (voice-over): Before President Obama even walked into his first meeting with Republicans on Capitol Hill he was expressing doubts about a new deal on the deficit.
OBAMA: Ultimately it may be that the differences are just too wide.
ACOSTA: But White House Press Secretary Jay Carney cautioned the president is not throwing in the towel just yet.
(On camera): Should he talk to the Republicans in the House and the Senate before making that assessment?
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I think you're -- isn't it a statement that is obvious. We're trying to find common ground. And the president believes there is common ground.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Some of that common ground may have gotten a little shaky after the president told ABC, "We don't have an immediate crisis in terms of debt."
No crisis? The national debt is approaching $17 trillion, nearly double what it was when Mr. Obama was running for president in 2008. A fiscal mess he blamed on President Bush.
OBAMA: Number 43 added $4 trillion by his lonesome. So we now have over $9 trillion of debt that we are going to have to pay back. That's irresponsible. It's unpatriotic.
ACOSTA (on camera): How is it not an immediate crisis?
CARNEY: Well, here's why this chart is here.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Carney then turned to a chart to show what would happen to the deficit under the president's plan before conceding --
CARNEY: It is a long-term debt challenge.
ACOSTA: The president's remarks sounded depressing. The White House veteran and CNN contributor, David Gergen.
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You have to wonder whether he was becoming philosophical, that's sort of -- he's just sort of resigned to the fact that he can't get much done. This is very early in a term for a president to sort of get discouraged.
ACOSTA: But there are signs the president is making adjustments and maybe some progress. He's raised the possibility of reopening the White House to tours to school children who've already made their plans for a visit. And even his harshest Republican critics say the charm offensive may be working.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: I thought that we had a very frank and candid exchange of ideas. And frankly, I think it was productive.
(END VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA: Administration officials are putting their best bid on the president's meeting with House Republicans saying he conveyed a message that he's no longer interested in campaign politics. Whether that applies to immigration reform or a grand bargain on the debt, the shorter version of that, Wolf, would be the president saying, help me help you -- Wolf.
BLITZER: The president is back at the White House getting ready for that meeting with his supporters, right?
ACOSTA: That is right. He's going to be talking to a hotel ballroom full of reporters here in Washington, D.C. with the group Organizing for Action. That is the post-election version of the Obama campaign. But we've been cautioned by administration officials, don't expect the president to come out and make a lot of feisty comments tonight aimed at Republicans. There's a sense here that he is also trying to lower the volume as well. It's something he also hopes to hear from House Republicans.
BLITZER: That would be smart. All right. Thanks very much, Jim Acosta.
Coming up, we're going back to the breaking news at the Vatican where the new Pope, Francis, has just been named. Plus what this historic news means for Catholics around the world.