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THE SITUATION ROOM
Explosive Residue in Tamerlan's Home; Visa Crackdown Stemming from Boston Case; NRA Convention in Houston; Heightened Security for Kentucky Derby
Aired May 3, 2013 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Jake. Happening now, big flames are racing dangerously close to thousands of California homes. We'll get a live update from the fire zone.
Plus, new evidence that the bombs set off in Boston were truly homemade.
And, after Boston, the Kentucky derby fans will face new limits when they pack into Churchill downs tomorrow.
Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Jim Acosta. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.
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ACOSTA: We begin with a new discovery in the Boston terror investigation. Authorities now appear to have evidence that the bombs were made at Tamerlan Tsarnaev's apartment where he lived with his wife and young child. CNN national correspondent, Deb Feyerick is following new developments in the case. Hi, Deb.
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Jim. One of the reasons they believe that is because according to a source, I was being briefed on the investigation, forensic experts did find explosive residue on the kitchen table, as well as the kitchen sink and in bathtub of the home where Tamerlan Tsarnaev lived along with his wife, Katherine, and their young daughter.
And the brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, also spent a great deal of time at that apartment. Katherine Russell (ph) has been speaking to investigators all day. Clearly, if she was in the apartment, they want to know what she knows and whether she saw any of this activity that was going on, Jim.
ACOSTA: AND deb, what is the latest on what will happen to the dead body of Tamerlan Tsarnaev?
FEYERICK: Well, the body was removed from the medical examiner's office yesterday at about 5:00 in the afternoon. It was first taken to one funeral home about 40 miles south here at Boston, then it was taken to another funeral home and that's where it is in Worcester, Massachusetts. They are going to be the ones handling the burial. The body was claimed by his uncle. His uncle who lives in Maryland. The family is demanding an independent autopsy. They do not believe that the cause of death is as -- it will come out what to be. Remember, Tamerlan was both shot and also run over by (INAUDIBLE) by his body. But they want an independent autopsy to be performed on him. So, not clear when he'll be buried -- Jim.
ACOSTA: All right. Deb Feyerick in Boston for us. Thank you.
There's also new word that the federal government is about to revamp its system of allowing international students into the U.S. It comes just days after three friends of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were charged with a cover up. The Department of Homeland Security is beginning this new crackdown on foreign students to make sure their visas are valid. More from our crime and justice correspondent, Joe Johns. Sounds like a good idea, Joe.
JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Jim, this was bound to have a ripple effect just the fact that one of the men from Kazakhstan now charged with conspiracy in the alleged cover-up actually was able to get into the country on an expired student visa. But the government is making the case tonight that this change was already under consideration.
JOHNS (voice-over): A federal source tells CNN that the Department of Homeland Security has put in place a policy that requires customs officials to verify that foreign students have a valid visa before they're allowed to enter the United States.
The new policy is being viewed as a reaction to the Boston bombing case and the discovery that Azamat Tazhayakov, one of the students from Kazakhstan, now charged with trying to cover-up for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had been allowed to enter the United States in January without a valid student visa.
But the federal source says that the tightening on visa policy is part of a number of reforms that have been under development by the government for several months. The timing of the policy and the intense focus on foreign students generally is raising questions about whether people who come here from other countries will get singled out for special scrutiny because of what happened in Boston.
Supreme Court justice, Sonia Sotomayor, brought up the Boston bombing suspects on her own at a speaking engagement in Colorado. She was asked a question about racial profiling.
JUSTICE SONIA SOTOMAYOR, U.S. SUPREME COURT: If you've been following the news about the Boston bombing and about criticisms, whether they're justified or not, about following up on the activities of the two young men who were involved, is that profiling? Could be. Is it something that you just can't ignore? Maybe sometimes not. It's a fine line that society walks in trying to be fair.
JOHNS: And it's a potentially volatile issue as well. The discovery that one of the students charged in the cover up got into the U.S. on a visa that was invalid has already attracted attention on Capitol Hill and is expected to come up in future hearings.
JOHNS (on-camera): And it's not just about the crime, it's also about immigration reform that's being debated in the Congress. Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa offered a three-page letter to the secretary of Homeland Security, asking questions about the visa issues in Boston -- Jim.
ACOSTA: Sounds like the questions will continue.
JOHNS: Absolutely. We have lots of questions about how this policy actually is going to be implemented.
ACOSTA: All right. Very good. Joe Johns, thank you.
The spring forecast for America's economy is suddenly looking brighter after today's better than expected jobs report. Payrolls grew by 165,000 jobs last month and the unemployment rate fell to 7.5 percent. That's still not enough to make up for all the jobs lost during the financial crisis, but it's enough to ease the fears of economists and investors. CNNs Christine Romans shows us what's behind the numbers.
CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Jim, by now, you've seen the headline, and unemployment rate the lowest since 2008. Let's go within numbers and take a look at the trend, because that's what so important here. A lot of concerns about a spring slowdown, but this report put some of those concerns to rest, because in February, more than 300,000 jobs were created.
That's the best hiring we've seen for a month since the census in 2010. And if you strip away the census, it's the best that we've seen since 2005. Also, a stronger March than we thought, 138,000 and 165,000. Jim, that means, on average, over the past year, 173,000 jobs created each month. That is enough to lower the unemployment rate.
The important thing, though, is where are these jobs? Because some of the jobs that are coming back don't have the pay or the benefits of the jobs we lost. Let's look at retail jobs, 29,000 of those jobs created. Those, quite frankly, are not always the best paying jobs, but they do show a consumer that is resilient. Professional and business services, 73,000 jobs there, those tend to be higher paid jobs with benefits.
Also, wholesale trade employment, 29,000. That shows strength in the economy overall. When you see mining, construction and manufacturing, pretty much flat. Those show that we have some work to do. Bottom line here, 176,000 private sector jobs created. You lose public sector jobs. You come out on balance, 165,000 jobs here.
You need to see this trend continue and accelerate to truly show a healing market, but this is a labor market report better than many economists had expected -- Jim. ACOSTA: Christine, thank you.
Investors certainly seemed to like what they saw in the April jobs report. It was a record breaking day on Wall Street. All three stock indexes were up at the closing bell. At one point during the day, the Dow rose above 15,000, an all-time high and the S&P broke 1,600 for the first time. Let's bring in Alison Kosik at the New York Stock Exchange. It must have seen like Pamplona where you were today with -- running of the bulls. Was this all about the jobs report?
ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was. It's those jobs numbers, Jim, that got the bulls running today, and they didn't look back. You know, you want to see (ph) stocks pushed. The Dow passed at 15,000 level for the first time, while the S&P 500 crossed the 1,600 level for the first time ever. But, some traders still worry about this disconnect going on between what we're seeing in the market, the strength of the market, and the strength of the economy.
The jobs report, yes, it was good, but the fact remains that it wasn't great, because if you look at how the jobs numbers have been over the past year, an average of 173,000 jobs a month have been added. And what that means is that you look at March and April of this year, those job additions were actually below those average months.
But that didn't stop traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange from literally cheering when they saw the Dow touch 15,000 for the very first time in its 117-year history -- Jim.
ACOSTA: And Alison, all of the experts say we need to see something north of 300,000 jobs created every month for this unemployment rate to start really going down in a big way. Anything long-term we can read from this record breaking day on Wall Street today?
KOSIK: Well, as far as the job numbers go, yes. I mean, you really want to see the numbers into the 300,000 level to really put Americans back to work. You know, 11.7 million Americans are still out of work. As for stocks, many believe the trend is going to be higher, at least, as long as the Federal Reserve has its hand in the mix, because what the fed is doing is it's buying up $85 billion of mortgage backed securities, of treasuries every month.
That's pushing interest rates to record lows, and that's essentially making stocks the best game in town. It's pushing investors to invest in stocks. So, it's really what caused this stunning run-up for stocks overall that we've seen this year. You look just this year, we're not even at June yet. The Dow is already up 14 percent. The S&P 500 is up 13 percent. The NASDAQ is up 12 percent.
These are huge levels already. One trader says when he sees markets go up and up and up, it actually makes him nervous and he says that greed that's out there winds up (ph) preventing you from selling but he says it also makes it tougher to find a bargain, but it's not looking like investors had any trouble buying into the market today -- Jim.
ACOSTA: No. I think we can still see them sweeping up the confetti behind you. Alison Kosik, thank you very much.
ACOSTA: Coming up next, a huge gathering of gun rights activist with a Senate victory to celebrate. Will the NRA's opponents, though, crash the party?
And, a top California fire official is standing by to give us an update on the fire dangers in the Los Angeles area right now. That is coming up, next.
ACOSTA: Now to those wildfires as parts of the Los Angeles area look more like an inferno at this hour, fueled by low humidity and strong winds. The flames have already scorched 10,000 acres of land in Southern California. And right now, 4,000 homes are threatened across the area. Dozens of other buildings have been damaged and there doesn't appear to be any relief in sight.
Joining us on the phone right now is Chief Ken Pimlott with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Chief Pimlott, thank you very much for being on the line with us. We appreciate it. Tell us, you've been in close contact with the fire, chiefs. What's the latest you're hearing and how many homes are we looking at in terms of what's been lost?
VOICE OF CHIEF KEN PIMLOTT, DIRECTOR CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF FORESTRY AND FIRE PROTECTION: As you reported, we are right at about 10,000 acres, and 10 percent contained. And, approximately 15 homes have been lost. And again, as we -- as the fire progresses and as we ultimately, when it's contained, go in and immediately do damage assessment, we make, you know, final determinations on exactly what the losses are.
ACOSTA: And what's the next 24 hours going to look like? Do we expect things to start improving or might it get worse?
PIMLOTT: What we're looking at here in the 24 hours is a conversion from the offshore Santa Ana winds that we've been seeing for the last two days, returning to the normal onshore influence. And that will push the fire back on itself and has the potential to re-burn or burn in areas that have not previously had fires.
So, we're working very diligently to strengthen the control lines and prepare for that activity. We also anticipate some additional moisture that coastal influence (ph) comes which ultimately will help provide better humidity and better containment efforts -- influence so it's containment efforts.
ACOSTA: And what are the conditions like right now on the ground that are leading to these wildfires and how would you compare that to years past? Are you in an at-risk situation for more of this to develop as the days go on?
PIMLOTT: And that is the key this year. The vegetation conditions are in a place where we would normally be in June. We started seeing fire activity, significant fire activity towards the middle to end of April. And vegetation is at critically dry levels. All we need are winds, warm temperatures, and other fire -- potential for fire starts to drive this.
And remember, we're only on the third day of May, as we work our way through the heat of the summer, the vegetation is only going to be drier as the days get warmer. So, again, we anticipate the potential for these kinds of fires throughout California to the remainder of the summer.
ACOSTA: So, it can be a long summer for the folks in California, chief. What is Governor Brown saying at this point? Are you going to have enough equipment, enough people on the ground to make sure that you can keep these fires contained as they break out?
PIMLOTT: We've been in constant communication with the governor's office and the governor. As you know, California is no stranger to this kind of fire activity. We are well prepared. All of our resources are being staffed up to meet the threat. We work very closely with California National Guard for assets such as the mass or fixed wing C-130 air tankers as well as their helicopters.
Also working very close coordination with California Emergency Management Agency for access to local government resources. California is well-practiced at these kinds of fires and other disasters. And, the governor has set aside $200 million in emergency firefighting funds, budgeted specifically for this purpose. And so, we're prepared and ready to go.
ACOSTA: Chief Ken Pimlott, thank you very much for your time. We appreciate it and all the best to you guys there in California. Hope you can stay on top of this and get this thing turned around. Appreciate your time.
PIMLOTT: Thank you, Jim.
ACOSTA: All right. Coming up, a U.S. military plane crashes overseas. tHe latest on the horrifying scene coming up next. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.
ACOSTA: An American military refueling plane takes off and crashes in Kyrgyzstan. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories right now in the SITUATION ROOM. Lisa, what do you have?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Jim. Well, the emergency ministry reports three people were on board and the U.S. military says the status of the crew is unknown. They're assigned to a U.S. air base there that serves as a supply hub for American forces in Afghanistan. The cause of the crash is said to be under investigation.
There was a devastating hit that left Montreal Canadien star, Lars Eller, laying motionless and bleeding on the ice at the Eastern Conference quarterfinal match-up. The young hockey was struck hard by Ottawa Senators defensive man, Eric Gryba, as he was attempting to take a pass. The team says Eller was conscious and alert at the hospital. That's the good news. An NHL disciplinary hearing was scheduled for Gryba today.
And unbelievable video coming in from our affiliate, KENF, of a train derailment in Texas. The train was pulling these now zigzagged containers, which were reportedly empty. The train wasn't hauling (ph) any hazardous materials. No injuries are reported.
We are also getting a dramatic firsthand look inside Oscar winning actress, Reese Witherspoon's now infamous spat with the Georgia State trooper that ended in her arrest. Take a look here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ma'am, what did I just tell you to do?
REESE WITHERSPOON, ACTRESS: I'd like to know what's going on.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's under arrest.
WITHERSPOON: I'm a U.S. citizen. I'm allowed to stand on American ground --
WITHERSPOON: You're going to not arrest me. Are you kidding me? I'm an American citizen.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I told you to get in that car and stay in there, didn't I?
WITHERSPOON: This is beyond. This is beyond.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You fight with me, I promise you --
WITHERSPOON: This is harassing. You're harassing me as an American citizen. I have done nothing against the law.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Reese, can you please --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, you have. You didn't obey my --
WITHERSPOON: I have to obey your orders?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, you do.
WITHERSPOON: No, sir. I do not.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Reese. Reese.
WITHERSPOON: I've done absolutely nothing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Reese. Relax.
WITHERSPOON: I'm now being arrested and handcuffed?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
WITHERSPOON: Do you know my name, sir?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't need to know.
WITHERSPOON: You don't need to know my name?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not quite yet.
WITHERSPOON: Oh, really? OK. You're about to find out who I am.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not real worried. I done told you how things worked. You (INAUDIBLE) investigation. That's OK.
WITHERSPOON: Yes, sir. I do.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Guess what, -- it's called obstruction.
WITHERSPOON: I'm obstructing your justice?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
WITHERSPOON: I'm being anti-American?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Go sit down.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- it will be a lot easier on you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sorry. I absolutely had nothing to do with that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Take a seat for me.
WITHERSPOON: Yes, sir.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Understand me and understand me very well.
WITHERSPOON: Yes, sir.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have a job I have to do.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).
WITHERSPOON: Yes. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If i ask -- I asked you nicely to stay in your vehicle, did I not?
WITHERSPOON: Yes, sir.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why in God's holy name did you get out of there?
WITHERSPOON: I felt like you were obstructing justice?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How am I obstructing justice? Do you see that?
WITHERSPOON: Yes, sir.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am --
WITHERSPOON: Yes I'm an American citizen. I'm allowed to do whatever I want to do.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can't get out of that vehicle --
WITHERSPOON: I can say whatever I want to say.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that's exactly what you. You hindered my investigation.
WITHERSPOON: That's what you think. That's your prerogative.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's OK. It will all be in the report.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have anything on you that I need to know about?
WITHERSPOON: No, sir. I'm Reese Witherspoon. You're arresting me for obstruction of justice. It will be in the national news, I just want to let you know.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's fine. Why in God's holy name would you have got out of your car? You would have been able to drive.
WITHERSPOON: Because I wanted to talk you like a normal person we talk to a normal person.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I told you not to get out of the car.
WITHERSPOON: Absolutely. You told me not to get out of the car. Then I said to you, I disagree because --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's go ahead and take a seat for me.
WITHERSPOON: Yes, sir. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. It will be a lot easier on you, OK?
WITHERSPOON: This will be national news, I'm just letting you know.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's fine. Just take a seat.
WITHERSPOON: Yes, sir.
He's arresting me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I understand.
WITHERSPOON: What have I done? What did I do?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He told you to stop.
WITHERSPOON: To stop? I'm an American citizen. I can say whatever I want to. He does not have jurisdiction over the ground that he speaks on. He does not. I'm allowed to say anything I want to say.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He asked you to get in the car. All you should have done is let me get arrested.
WITHERSPOON: Arrested for what?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A DUI.
WITHERSPOON: And what did I get arrested for?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You wouldn't listen to what he said to do, and you kept getting out of the car. Now, you've turned it.
WITHERSPOON: Wait, I have threatened him and put him in a position that he feels vulnerable? Honestly, come on. Come on.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She hindered my investigation. She also --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You turned it really bad.
SYLVESTER: Wow. That went on -- well, Witherspoon, she publicly apologized this week and pleaded no contest to obstruction of justice with a $213 fine. Her husband pleaded guilty to DUI and got a year probation. At the end of that tape, you could hear that her husband, he was clearly telling her, you should be listening to what they're doing. He's her agent, too. So, I mean, he is --
ACOSTA: So, giving some career advice as well. I mean, two takeaways from that, Lisa. One is, you're always courteous to the police officers. You know, I'm not speaking from personal experience.
ACOSTA: But just saying, that's a good rule of thumb. And most of the time, they don't care who you are. SYLVESTER: Well, and the other thing is do what they tell you to do. I think that that -- I mean that's the obstruction of justice. He said go in the car, she didn't stay in the car. I mean, that's the problem there. But I had not watched that whole thing sort of play out as it did, but it actually went on for much longer than I thought it was.
I thought it was just like a minute long exchange, but they just kept going at it and at it. They were all very polite, though, they were all, you know, very polite about the whole thing. Just at the end of the day, she was arrested. She apologized. She was very, very embarrassed.
ACOSTA: That's one film clip she'd like to see go away. Lisa Sylvester, thank you very much.
Coming up, the National Rifle Association plans its next moves. After Newtown, what will gun rights activists accomplish at their convention this weekend?
And find out what you might have to give up if you're going to the Kentucky derby tomorrow.
Programing note, on the next "Parts Unknown," Anthony Bourdaine takes us on a tour of Canada with two of the funniest and most brilliant chefs of the great white north. It's an all-new Anthony Bourdaine "Parts Unknown Canada" this Sunday at 9:00 p.m. eastern and pacific only on CNN, and it's a great show, by the way. Check it out. We'll be right back.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The spotlight is back on the National Rifle Association and its fight against gun control legislation since the Newtown massacre. NRA members are gathering in Texas for their annual meeting, just weeks after they scored a big victory in the Senate.
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ACOSTA (voice-over): But some gun control advocates want to crash the party. Let's bring in our chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash.
And we're just noticing a few moments ago that Sarah Palin I think is speaking right now at this annual meeting. They're drawing in a lot of people to this event, but there may be some other fights to come on this front, Dana.
DANA BASH, SR. U.S. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There may be. You know, she is there, Palin is joining the bandwagon of a lot of the speakers that have started this, and that is they are bashing the president and we in the media as much as they are fighting for gun rights.
But the central theme is that the president and his allies are taking advantage of tragedy to squeeze the Second Amendment.
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BASH (voice-over): It's a packed house in Houston. An estimated 75,000 people expected at the NRA's convention. With gun control on Congress' agenda for the first time in more than a decade, the NRA leadership's Second Amendment rallying cry is as urgent as ever.
WAYNE LAPIERRE, PRESIDENT, NRA: We will never back away from our resolve to defend our rights and the rights of all law-abiding American gun owners.
BASH (voice-over): Wild applause for a GOP senator who helped defeat the vote to expand background checks. That NRA victory was proof it still has incredible clout.
In fact, before the Senate vote, former congresswoman Gabby Giffords and husband, Mark Kelly, told us about a meeting with a GOP senator who told them he supported expanding background checks but...
MARK KELLY, HUSBAND OF GABRIELLE GIFFORDS: And the next sentence says, "But I can't vote for any of that." It's tough.
GABRIELLE GIFFORDS, FORMER CONGRESSWOMAN: It's tough.
KELLY: It can be a tough issue, and that's because of the influence of the NRA.
BASH (voice-over): At the NRA convention now, Giffords and Kelly's gun control group is taking action, hoping rank-and-file NRA members are open to restrictions aimed at preventing gun violence. They're buying Web ads, targeting NRA convention-goers.
And Kelly wrote an op-ed in Houston's biggest newspaper.
"The NRA leadership's top priority is to make sure the corporations that make guns and ammunition continue to turn huge profits. Their top priority isn't you, the NRA member."
Other gun control groups are there, too. This ad by Mayors against Illegal Guns is on Houston TV.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Had there been a background check, my sister, Zena (ph), would still be with us right now. I'm an NRA member. I also believe in sensible gun laws.
BASH (voice-over): The NRA boasts that its clout comes more from its members than its money. But it's impossible to discount the lopsided campaign cash flowing from gun rights versus gun control groups.
Just look at this stark illustration from opensecrets.org. Gun rights groups gave nearly $528,000 to senators who voted no on expanding background checks. Gun control groups gave only $5,000 to senators who voted yes.
John McCain is one of a handful of senators who voted yes, despite getting big bucks from gun groups. Here's what he said about reviving the legislation.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZ.: All I can say is that -- I would say the chances are 50-50.
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BASH: Now in order to pass expanding background checks, supporters have to find five new Senate votes. I'm told that Senator Joe Manchin, who is the chief sponsor, plans to sit down with individual senators next week to figure out what changes he can make to do that.
Now I'm told that Manchin thinks key senators may be feeling enough pressure at home this week enough so that they may be willing to change a sentence or two, Jim, and what they would have to do is agree that they really needed this politically and be able to say, look, I did this, I got this, I got this win and saved faced politically. But it is still a big question mark whether that is going to happen.
ACOSTA: And that seems like a natural thing to do when you consider the week we just saw with Kelly Ayotte and Jeff Flake, both senators who felt the heat from their constituents after that vote on Manchin- Toomey. So we'll have to see what happens. But that's no assurance that anything is going to get passed even in the Senate.
BASH: Oh, not at all. I mean, I talked to Democratic aides who run the Senate, and they say that the only way that they are going to bring this up is if they have that guaranteed 60 votes. And we are so far from that.
BASH: If ever.
And our chief political correspondent, Candy Crowley, and host of the "STATE OF THE UNION" joins us now. And, I mean, Candy, what about this? What is the benefit to the White House, to Democrats, to try to keep this fight alive, to go back to it?
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN HOST: Well, let's set aside that they want it and look at just the pure politics of it in 2014. If they cannot get it, this is -- and similar to with immigration, which now seems to be in a little bit more trouble than it was to begin with. They may still get it; they may not.
Nonetheless, the issue is 90 percent of Americans believe the same thing, support the position of having expanded background checks.
It is a passionate issue. It really enflames people. What better thing to run on than that?
And the president (inaudible) if only I had a slightly more Democratic Senate and if only we could retake the House.
So it works either way. Yes, they want it, but it certainly works as a great campaign issue. But I think Republicans will tell you so will ObamaCare. So I think we have seen the tables set pretty much for 2014.
ACOSTA: And if you talk to operatives this week, all this week, they point to all of this polling that's out there that seems to suggest that Democrats who voted against this may be taking a hit. Democrats who voted for it are doing better, Mary Landrieu being one of those down in Louisiana. And so we're back to looking at polling on all of this --
CROWLEY: And back to looking at regions, because in the end, this was regional. I mean, yes, it was partisan in the sense that, what, four Republicans voted for it, I think, and four Democrats voted against it.
But nonetheless, it had to do with region. And it is -- and I think we see that more and more when you watch the NRA or anyplace else. There are pockets, and that's why it's such a difficult run in the House, because they're not running statewide. They're running in their districts, which can be very, very anti-any more gun control.
ACOSTA: And you mentioned immigration; what about immigration? We saw Marco Rubio was on the cover of "The National Review," not a very flattering cover. He's been taking a lot of heat from conservatives.
Could the Boston bombing and that case have an impact? I mean, we've heard people say yes, it should be taken into consideration.
But would it really have an impact on such a big piece of legislation?
CROWLEY: I certainly am hearing -- I mean, even if you don't see the connection, the Gang of Eight will tell you, as I'm sure they've told Dana, they will say, listen, we take care of that. We're going to know through this reform system who is in this country, when they're supposed to leave the country, et cetera.
But if you were against immigration reform to begin with, it's another arrow in your quiver saying, wait a second, wait a second, what about this guy and this -- we've got to fix what we've got before we toss it.
ACOSTA: And of course, Dana, all of this has to go through the House, which was the problem a lot of senators were saying privately with gun control.
BASH: Oh, absolutely. And but when you -- (inaudible) both of these have to start in the Senate. And that's still the first big hurdle. I mean, when you're talking about immigration, you're absolutely right. On the whole question of illegal immigration, this is not an issue. The whole Boston issue is not an issue. A does not equal B.
But you talk to everybody who is so desperate to kill this immigration reform bill, they will take anything that they can get, and this is a big headline, the Boston bombing that they're trying to use.
ACOSTA: All right. Dana Bash, Candy Crowley, we'll see you on Sunday. Thank you very much.
Candy will be joined by a panel of experts to talk about the Boston bombing and self-radicalization. That's on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION" this Sunday at 9:00 am, noon Eastern.
Just ahead, a new measure of support for Joe Biden if he runs for president. But he still has a Hillary Clinton problem.
ACOSTA: OK. It's a big day for the NRA. So let's talk about the future of the NRA and its annual meeting that's under way right now in Texas.
Joining us in our strategy session, two CNN analysts, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and "New York Times" op-ed columnist Ross Douthat.
And Ross, let me start with you. The new incoming president of the NRA, Jim Porter, there's some video circulating of some comments that he made last year about President Obama. Let's play that and let's get your take on that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIM PORTER, PRESIDENT-ELECT, NRA: I get so sick and tired of all these people with this fake president that we got, who want to say, well, you know, he hasn't done anything bad for gun owners. I say let me tell you something bad that he's done. His entire administration is anti-gun, anti-freedom, anti-Second Amendment.
The NRA, I can assure you, has dug in, and we're whipping their ass everywhere we can go, right and left, up and down.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Ross Douthat, doesn't sound like the NRA will be toning things down with Mr. Porter.
ROSS DOUTHAT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Mostly I like the -- I think it's a barbecue behind him in that video. I think we need some of that, a little smoke coming up.
This is -- look, this is the problem in a way with being a really successful interest group, right? I mean, the NRA is one of the most successful interest groups in the country. It's probably -- public opinion has probably shifted in its direction overall over the last 20 years.
But that makes it harder to actually mobilize gun owners, and especially after what was pretty much a big victory for the NRA in the Senate recently.
What do you say to convince people that their guns are under threat? You ratchet up the rhetoric. And so that's -- in a weird way, the success of the NRA means it's not surprising that the rhetoric gets more and more heated, because interest groups depend on convincing their members that there's a threat around the corner. But ultimately, they're winning. Right?
ACOSTA: And, Donna, they are winning and they have been winning. But one thing that we did see this week is sort of see the gun control advocates take a page out of the NRA's playbook. They've been very aggressive, going to these town hall meetings.
We saw the family member of one Newtown victim showing up at Kelly Ayotte's town hall up in New Hampshire. What are the chances -- because we've heard Candy Crowley and Dana Bash talk about this in the previous segment, that gun control could make a comeback?
DONNA BRAZILE, VICE CHAIRWOMAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Well, first of all, I don't think they're winning. They won round one, because of course, with the threat of a filibuster, the inability to get perhaps five senators to change their votes, perhaps right now it's not going to move any time soon.
But I don't think this issue is going to go away. Simply put, the American people are sick and tired of interest groups, whether they are right or wrong, Left or Right, controlling the politics in their city.
So I do believe that we're going to see another debate in the House, in the Senate, on gun safety laws. I want to say something about his pants. I think the reason we saw all that smoke and fire, because he was lying. Lying about the president, pants on fire, we've heard that. Lying about the President Obama and Vice President Biden.
They have not done anything to hurt the Second Amendment. They have not taken guns from ordinary citizens. They have not diluted the protections that gun owners currently have. All they're trying to do is have simple background checks so that people who are criminals and others who should not possess these weapons should not be able to have them.
ACOSTA: And speaking of fire, let's check out what Senator Ted Cruz said earlier today at the NRA's annual meeting.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: I would like to invite the vice president, if he believes the answer to violent crime is not prosecuting felons and fugitives, not prosecuting gun crimes but going after the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens, I would like to invite the vice president to engage in an hour-long conversation and debate. How do we stop crime?
ACOSTA: And we'll be happy to host that right here on CNN.
ACOSTA: You know, we'll do it tonight, you know, if --
DOUTHAT: Al Gore, Ross Perot and now Joe Biden and Ted Cruz.
ACOSTA: Ross, who would win that debate?
DOUTHAT: Oh, I mean, on points? I think Ted Cruz would win it. On sort of bluster and charm, I think Joe Biden would win it, right? I mean, I think the interesting thing with Cruz is that he's simultaneously sort of making a name for himself as a national conservative figure and antagonizing an awful lot of people in Republican Washington.
Obviously from his point of view that's not a bad thing since he's trying to sort of brand himself as an outsider. But it's --
ACOSTA: Maybe run for president.
DOUTHAT: And maybe run for president. I mean, I think this is the interesting thing that's sort of the career of Barack Obama has created a landscape where lots and lots of sort of talented first-term senators come to Washington and think, well, you know, it worked for Obama. I can run for president very quickly, too. And I think Cruz, I'm quite confident Ted Cruz wants to run for president.
ACOSTA: And Donna, should Joe Biden take that challenge?
BRAZILE: No. What Joe Biden should say, you know what? It's important to have a debate in the Senate. Don't filibuster these important pieces of legislation, policy. Go out and debate your colleagues in the United States Senate. Joe Biden would also say malarkey in terms of some of the things --
DOUTHAT: You've heard that word before.
ACOSTA: A few times.
BRAZILE: Of course. He would say it a few times and then he would laugh, you know, you know, about Ted Cruz wanting to debate Joe Biden.
ACOSTA: Very quickly, I want to get your take on this because there were some polls that came out earlier this week. We probably don't have really have time to show them. But you know, everybody knows what these polls show.
If Hillary Clinton is in the Democratic field, obviously Hillary Clinton is the runaway favorite. But if you -- Hillary Clinton aside, if she decides not to run, Joe Biden way out in front there.
Donna, what advice would you give the vice president right now?
BRAZILE: Just bide your time and just be patient. Look, we have 1,099 days until the Iowa caucuses, 1,453 days until the general election. There's a lot of time there. Joe Biden is a strong public servant. Of course, Hillary Clinton is fabulous, fantastic. Deval Patrick, Martin O'Malley --
DOUTHAT: They're all great.
BRAZILE: All of them are great.
BRAZILE: And you know, I can throw in --
ACOSTA: Which one are you rooting for, Ross? That's a -- maybe that's a better question.
DOUTHAT: I go for theater, for pure political theater, I think every conservative, every moderate and every liberal in America has to root for Joe Biden as the Democratic nominee. Right?
ACOSTA: All right. Ross, Donna, thank you very much for your time. We appreciate it.
BRAZILE: Can I say malarkey again?
ACOSTA: You can say malarkey.
BRAZILE: My Irishness is coming out.
ACOSTA: Say it as much as you would like, Donna.
BRAZILE: All right.
ACOSTA: Thank you.
All right. Well, coming out, we're tracing the early warnings about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, how he landed on a watch list but then dropped off the radar. We'll be right back.
ACOSTA: We know the federal authorities had Tamerlan Tsarnaev on their radar before the Boston bombings. He even wound up on a watch list. But it gets confusing after that. How did he fall through the cracks? CNN's Tom Foreman has been looking into that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A curious trip to Russia, loud confrontations at a mosque, visits to radical websites and behavior that made even relatives disapprove.
RUSLAN TSARNI, SUSPECTS' UNCLE: What I think what's behind it, being losers.
FOREMAN (voice-over): Just some of that was enough to have Tamerlan Tsarnaev on at least one government watch list well before the Boston bombings.
Rick Nelson is an expert on these government databases.
So why didn't the watch list prevent this?
RICK NELSON, GOVERNMENT DATABASE EXPERT: It's difficult for the watch list in and of itself to stop an attack. The watch list is just data. It's information.
FOREMAN (voice-over): There are many watch lists in government agencies, from the Border Patrol to the FBI to the CIA. And the names of both the older Tsarnaev brother and his mother were on one called the Terrorist Identity's Datamart Environment, or TIDE, a low-level list of about 700,000 names, something akin to a first line of defense.
There is no active surveillance of people on TIDE. Their names are kept in case they show up in connection with more serious threats. Then they may be bumped up to the no-fly or selectees list where their movements would be scrutinized much more closely, just in case an attack is in the works. But --
YUSUFI VALI, ISLAMIC SOCIETY OF BOSTON: With these particular suspects, you know, there was -- there's nothing that they did that, you know, suggested that they were going to do something like this.
FOREMAN (voice-over): That is the problem. Lone wolves like Eric Rudolph and the Unabomber evaded capture for years because they did not interact enough with others to reveal their plans.
NELSON: At the end of the day, it's very difficult, because with many of these individuals, we don't know when they're going to cross the line from rhetoric to violent action.
FOREMAN: Security experts argue watch lists can still be enormously valuable to investigators tracking terror networks after an attack. But the fact that the Boston bombings allegedly were the work of someone already on a list is now in itself being looked at very hard -- Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: When we come back, a major sporting event weeks after the Boston Marathon attacks, what are security officials planning to do differently at the Kentucky Derby?
And as a programming note, on the next "PARTS UNKNOWN," Anthony Bourdain takes us to Canada with two of the funniest and brilliant chefs of that country. It's an all-new Anthony Bourdain "PARTS UNKNOWN" in Canada, Sunday, 9:00 pm Eastern and Pacific.
ACOSTA: Security officials aren't taking any chances at tomorrow's Kentucky Derby when it comes to keeping more than 100,000 people safe just weeks after the Boston terror attacks. Here's CNN's Pamela Brown.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, more than 100,000 racing fans poured into Churchill Downs today for the Kentucky Oaks. It's a big race leading up to the Derby tomorrow. In some ways it's a test for these new security measures put into place in the wake of the Boston bombings.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN (voice-over): The Kentucky Derby weekend is usually all about the big hats and the mint juleps and, of course, the horse races. But nearly three weeks after this sporting event ended in tragedy, folks here are thinking about more than just waging their bets.
BROWN: Is what happened in Boston on your mind today?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. It definitely is on my mind, just for the fact that it's such a large crowd. And you just never know how people's intentions are.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely. Me and my buddy, when we were coming, we're coming from Chicago. And we were both talking today about how are you scared at all about it? And obviously it's on the forefront of his mind, on the forefront of my mind coming in today.
BROWN (voice-over): Security has been tight at the Derby since 9/11. But now officials are cracking down even more.
KEVIN FLAHERTY, PRESIDENT, CHURCHILL DOWNS: The first thing you do after an event like that is you just get everybody back together and you say, what's the plan? Do we need to make any adjustments?
BROWN (voice-over): Among those adjustments, a ban on coolers, cans, even large purses which came as a surprise to some. One hundred additional officers from federal, state and local agencies were brought in to conduct more thorough searches on the estimated 150,000 spectators pouring into Churchill Downs.
Most racing fans are taking the increased safety measures in stride.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was happy to hear that they had increased security. It means, you know, less makeup and goodies we can bring in, but it's worth it to just be more comfortable, and to know that we're all going to look after each other today.
BROWN (voice-over): But one change had some women racing to the store. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Inaudible) we had to shop for different size purses here.
BROWN: I heard the department stores had a ruler on the counter.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Every store you went in, there was a ruler.
BROWN: As a Kentucky native, who grew up going to the Derby, I can personally attest that the purse size limit is a bit of a big deal, especially for those women who've spent months coordinating their outfits in advance of this big weekend. But authorities are asking racing fans to be understanding, patient and, of course, to report anything suspicious, Jim.
ACOSTA: Thanks, Pamela.