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THE SITUATION ROOM
Olympic Terror Threat; Opening Gaffes
Aired February 7, 2014 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're also learning about other potential threats in Sochi that authorities are tracking right now, sources revealing to CNN some of the dangerous plots that might unfold.
Plus, opening gaffes, from a problem with the Olympic rings to a slew of empty seats. Can Russia keep the Winter Games on course?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
But let's begin with the breaking news. Officials in Turkey say they have an air pirate about custody after he tried to hijack a plane to the Olympic city of Sochi claiming he had a bomb on board. A hijacking alert went out. F-16 fighter jets scrambled. And, in the end, the plane landed safely. But for a while, there was concern that the threats of Olympic terror might be playing out.
Our senior international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh, is in Sochi. He has the latest information for us -- Nick.
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the real thing here was right in the middle of the opening ceremony of the Sochi Winter Games here, after all those days of heightened alert and fears about toothpaste bombers, that plane flying from the eastern industrial city of Kharkiv in Ukraine to Istanbul sent out a hijack signal.
That's what caused Turkish authorities to react quite so sharply. Now, there was a situation on board, clearly. A Ukrainian national, we're being told, suggested that there was a bomb in the baggage hold. Now, it's not clear if there was such a device. It seems like there wasn't or quite why he explained to them he thought he could detonate it.
But the command he made to pilots was, please divert this plane to Sochi. Now, of course, that given the climate we're in would have caused real fear. Istanbul is one of two places you can fly directly to Sochi to from. There were already concerns there about the potential for that toothpaste bomb threat.
Now, it appears pilots either fooled the man on board, making him think they were landing in Sochi. Either way, they actually landed in Istanbul. The plane whisked to a safe zone in the Sabiha Gokcen Airport in Istanbul, where security forces moved in, again checking the plane for devices. What we do know, Wolf, is it took a while, it seems -- we're not quite sure why -- for the passengers to begin to come off the plane. They were eventually off, 110 of them. And then we have this singular Ukrainian national. Special forces entering the plane and it appears he was likely injured, given he put up some type of arrest when they tried to take him.
It's not clear really quite what caused him to do this. Suggestions from Turkish officials that he wasn't drunk. He may have been on some other kind of substance. But it does seem to be perhaps not linked to Islamic extremism in the area, maybe more his own decision to misbehave on the aircraft -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I'm sure we will know more in the coming hours. Nick Paton Walsh in Sochi, thank you.
A potential terror attack may be the greatest threat in Sochi right now. But Russian officials facing other major challenges as well now that the Olympic Games are officially under way. Among other things, there was a glitch in the opening ceremony. Five figures that looked like snowflakes were supposed to turn into the Olympic rings, but one of them didn't. That certainly didn't help ease concerns that Russia isn't ready to host one of the world's biggest sporting events.
Our senior international correspondent, Ivan Watson, he is in Sochi with more on the opening ceremonies of the Winter Games.
Tell us how it unfolded, Ivan.
IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was quite a lavish ceremony, a real moment, I believe, of Russian pride.
You know, I was in a pretty humble cafe here in Sochi. And when the national anthem was sung in the stadium over my shoulder, the patrons and even the cooks and waitresses in the cafe, they all stood up, some of them, their eyes were moist, and they sang along and then applauded at the end of it.
This is the moment that the Russians, that the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, have been waiting for.
WATSON (voice-over): As the Sochi Olympics were officially opened today, the pomp and circumstance did little to veil questions still looming over the host city.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just how ready are things?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What's the security situation there?
WATSON: Thursday, the athletes put on their own show, flying, racing and speeding through in first competitions of the Games. This afternoon's opening ceremonies, the most high-profile event of the Games, was as spectacular as any. Just before the event, we caught up with Janet Napolitano, the former head of U.S. Homeland Security and leader of the U.S. delegation here. She told me the city and athletes who have come to compete are prepared.
JANET NAPOLITANO, FORMER U.S. HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Well, I think, from what I have seen so far, they're as ready as they're ever going to be. And the opening ceremony is going to happen tonight. And I'm very much looking forward to what the Russians are going to put on.
WATSON (on camera): How can you describe the morale of the U.S. athletes, Team USA? How are people looking right now?
NAPOLITANO: Well, I have to think, talking to the former Olympians that are on our delegation, that right now our athletes are in the zone or getting into the zone. They have been training and practicing for years. They have been hearing about Sochi for years. They're ready to go. They want to give their best performance, both for themselves and on behalf of the country. So I think they're really going to be top-notch.
WATSON (voice-over): Napolitano played down the negative press that's led up to the Games, including a barrage of unflattering tweets revealing Sochi's half-paved roads, unclean water and oddly aligned facilities.
(on camera): There's been all this controversy and a fair amount of criticism running up to today's opening. Has it been overblown, you feel? Are people giving the Russians too hard a time?
NAPOLITANO: Well, I think that, with respect to security and accommodations, those have been kind of the two major storylines I have seen, there have been concerns. They have been addressed. They are being addressed.
And, you know, the advice being given to people here is the same as we would give in the United States to any major sporting event, which is, you know, be careful, be mindful, know where your stuff is. You know, if you see unattended backpacks or the like, report that quickly. And from what I can tell within the Olympic circle, within Sochi itself, people are able to move around. Once you have your credential, you're good and you just get to go to the Games.
WATSON (voice-over): The diverse delegation led by Napolitano includes two openly gay athletes. The presence of skater Brian Boitano and hockey player Caitlin Cahow comes as a not-so-subtle protest against Russia's harsh anti-gay policies.
(on camera): And what about this concern? I mean, Ban Ki-Moon came out and repeated that there needs to be tolerance for the LGBT community. Is this a point that is important to bring home for these Sochi Olympics, tolerance to gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender?
NAPOLITANO: Well, I think the U.N. secretary-general said it yesterday. The president of the United States has said repeatedly we are a country that respects universal human values like freedom of expression and diversity and tolerance.
And athletes should be judged on their performance on the ski slopes, in the hockey rink, on the ice, and not on anything else. And I think that's the message of the United States. That's the message of the world for the Olympic Games.
WATSON: And that's a message that seems to be sent as well with your delegation?
NAPOLITANO: Well, as I mentioned, I think we don't have to send a message. We represent the United States. We have former Olympians. We have leaders of government. We have myself. I lead the nation's largest public -- or -- the nation's largest public research university, the University of California.
We have gold medalists and others who have been Olympians in the past, so it is a very diverse delegation. And our country is a very diverse country.
WATSON: And would you urge visitors to come to the Sochi Olympics right now, people who may have some questions based on some of the controversies and the criticisms running up to these Winter Games?
NAPOLITANO: Well, I think the focus should be on the Games and should be on the athletes. And I certainly wouldn't advise anyone to come if they hadn't already purchased their tickets.
WATSON: And, Wolf, we have seen very long lines of predominantly Russians lining up to buy tickets at some of the various ticket sales points that we have seen around Sochi, you know, hundreds of people waiting, in fact, in line.
And when that cauldron, that Olympic cauldron over my shoulder, when it was lit, there was a massive fireworks display here. And you could just hear Russians in the houses in this neighborhood cheering, whistling, again, a big moment of pride for this country, clearly -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Well, let's hope it goes smoothly and quietly with a lot of great athletes performing. All right, thanks very much, Ivan Watson in Sochi.
We're learning more about the potential Olympic terror threats, though, in addition to concerns about a toothpaste type of tube bomb, U.S. authorities also telling our Jim Sciutto they're particularly concerned about suicide attacks, as well as homemade bombs or IEDs against so-called softer targets.
Let's bring in terrorism expert Paul Cruickshank, former Congresswoman Jane Harman. She's an expert on security intelligence issues. She is president and CEO of the Wilson Center here in Washington. Paul, what are you hearing about these so-called terror threats against softer targets, not necessarily right inside the Olympic Village, but just outside?
PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, Wolf, there's a lot of concern that the terrorist groups in the Caucasus could launch attacks somewhere in Southern Russia, like they did in Volgograd in late December. There was a twin suicide bombing there, one against a railway station, one against a trolley bus.
Real concern that, rather than an attack at the very hard targets in Sochi, they could launch attacks somewhere in Southern Russia.
BLITZER: Jane Harman, you have seen all the reports of all the fears out there, the threats. Are we exaggerating? Are these overblown? Because U.S. intelligence officials have told me they're deeply concerned, and these are people who are not necessarily alarmists.
JANE HARMAN (D), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSWOMAN: Well, I think we're prepared.
These suicide bombers or whomever only have to be right once. We have to be right a hundred percent of the time; 100 percent is not achievable. We have prepositioned Department of Homeland Security, FBI and military folks in Sochi. We have naval warships in the Black Sea, which abuts Sochi, and we have others in the neighborhood in the Mediterranean.
And these are the right things to do. It's a hard message to hear. Part of the message has to be what Janet Napolitano just said, pride in our athletes, and the fact that the U.S. is, I think, likely to win a lot of golds. And that's a great statement for our country.
But it is a very dangerous world. Why Vladimir Putin would pick a place that, first of all, is warm, palm trees, but that second abuts the wild west of Russia, the North Caucasus, is -- it baffles me.
BLITZER: Well, it wasn't just Vladimir Putin. It was the International Olympic Committee. They approved it. They were the ones who selected Sochi.
HARMAN: That's right. But this -- this feels like a vanity project for Putin. And $50 billion has really been spent. There's presumably a lot of corruption. And there could be penetration by people, in addition to these black widows somewhere.
And a person prepared to take her or his life has a much easier time attacking than somebody who wants to survive.
BLITZER: Where are they most vulnerable, Paul? Because you have studied this for a long time. CRUICKSHANK: Well, often, it's the attacks you sort of least expect.
And with this toothpaste threat, well, the investigations right now are in France. And what the Russians were concerned about was that two Chechen women living in France might travel to Russia to launch suicide bombings there, not the sort of threat they might have perhaps expected, more expecting a threat perhaps from the Caucasus region.
But that's now being investigated by French authorities. They have not found any evidence at this point that those women were actually planning to launch attacks back in Russia.
BLITZER: Jane, you interviewed the homeland security secretary, Jeh Johnson, today over at the Wilson Center. And he really had something that was pretty alarming to me to say about terrorists returning potentially to the United States from Syria. Let me play a little clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEH JOHNSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: We know individuals from the U.S., Canada and Europe are traveling to Syria to fight in the conflict. At the same time, extremists are actively trying to recruit westerners, indoctrinate them and see them return to their home countries with their extremist mission.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That's pretty alarming stuff when you think about the thousands of folks that have gone to Syria either to simply fight the Bashar al-Assad regime or to be trained.
HARMAN: Well, no question about it. And some of those folks, by the way -- Syria is pretty close to Russia -- might try to go up through the Caucasus and attack at Sochi, too. Syria is the Afghanistan of 2014. It's a new training ground.
BLITZER: Is there anything the U.S. can do about this?
HARMAN: Well, we're trying. Our intelligence services are pretty good. And we're trying to find out about these folks and where they're going. If we're good at tracking where they are, we will find them before they return and cause us harm.
BLITZER: You want to weigh in, Paul, quickly on this?
CRUICKSHANK: Well, there's huge concern about Syria right now. There's an estimation of up to 2,000 Western Europeans who are fighting on Syria, many with al Qaeda-affiliated groups.
Well, the concern is they're getting trained there, they could return to Europe, and they could fly to the United States without a visa, so a lot of scrutiny about this right now, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right.
HARMAN: There's a visa waiver program and that allows people from Europe in certain cases to transit immediately to the U.S. without a visa. So if they get to Europe, they can get here and we really have to have, and we do have, best-in-class intelligence capability.
BLITZER: Former member of House Intelligence Committee and the Homeland Security Committee, Jane Harman, thanks very much. Paul Cruickshank, thanks to you as well.
Still ahead, tickets to the opening ceremony available at the last minute. What does it say about the Sochi Games? Are fans staying away?
And Secretary of State John Kerry's unique send-off for a member of Team USA, along with some advice for their stay in Sochi.
BLITZER: We certainly saw a lot of the typical spectacle during the opening ceremonies over at the Winter Games in Sochi. But, as our correspondents looked around, something seemed to be missing.
Nick Paton Walsh filed this report as the main event was just getting under way.
WALSH (voice-over): Not many Americans, not many international fans, not a lot of bustle ahead of the grand opening. These three American chaplains, regulars helping out at Winter Olympics, were tempted to buy tickets to the opening ceremony, amazingly still available this morning.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As many Americans, as normal, when we're here, and we're usually about one day prior to the opening ceremonies when we arrive. And I haven't interacted with a lot of English- speaking.
WALSH (on camera): People have got scared or...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm afraid so. It's unfortunate, but I'm afraid so.
BRIAN PETERS, TOUR OPERATOR: Speed skating, hockey.
WALSH (voice-over): In fact, one major U.S. tour operator was this morning trying to sell 1,000 tickets he'd got to sell to Americans who haven't come. Brian Peters says only about one-sixth of their clients are fans. Most are family members of athletes. Normally, it's the other way around.
PETERS: Demand is less than half of what we did in Vancouver. It's probably half of what I would have expected. We have had no shortage of tour clients who have booked full packages, bought their tickets, planned to come. After the bombings in Volgograd, they changed their mind. They have canceled.
WALSH: And, still, security looms large, without the right pass, no liquids inside the cordon, police showed me in their rule book. And those who had tickets, Russians, pretty angry. This ticket office not open yet to physically hand people the tickets they have already paid for.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ticket is still Soviet Union.
WALSH (on camera): In what way?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the way that there is a line for everything. Like, you -- there's an Internet, there's 3G, there's LT, but you still have to get your paper. You have to wait in line for hours.
WALSH (voice-over): The U.S. Embassy still expects thousands of Americans. Putin will hope for some of that to make this moment global, rather than local.
Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, Sochi.
BLITZER: And Rachel Nichols is joining us from Sochi right now.
Rachel, you were there at the opening ceremonies. How did it go? What were some of the highlights?
RACHEL NICHOLS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there was a slight glitch near the beginning. An electronic snowflake that was supposed to turn into an Olympic ring didn't quite make it there.
But really, after that, it was a very polished affair, nods to Russia's history, its contributions to literature, art, even a nod to the Soviet era, and at the end a fireworks display that honestly made the Super Bowl halftime show feel like a kid's birthday party. It was so grandiose.
But for all the big moments, Wolf, I got to say some of the sweetest moments were the little ones, the moment when Iran and Israel walked into the stadium, their delegations just feet apart from each other, really symbolizing the Olympic spirit of peace even in difficult times.
And then, with the Americans, skier Heidi Kloser, I don't know if you have been following her story. She tweeted out a picture of her on the way to the stadium tonight with an ice bag on her knee. That's because yesterday she was at practice for the downhill and tore up her ACL just during practice, the day before the Games even started.
Her dad said that on the ambulance on the way to the hospital, she looked at him, and, dad, am I even still an Olympian? Well, of course, she is. And she crutched her way in to the stadium tonight, walking with her teammates, really showing the Olympic grit and spirit that these Games are all about.
BLITZER: And there was also a little bit of controversy at the opening ceremonies, right?
NICHOLS: Yes, two moments, actually.
One was when the IOC president spoke, gave his address. He specifically mentioned diversity, and then went even further and said that he hopes that politicians take notice from the athletes present in the stadium and their ideals of tolerance.
Now, he didn't go any further, but we all have to assume this is a nod against Russia's anti-gay laws that have been so controversial. But then there was another controversial moment toward the end. The woman chosen to light the torch tonight, always a big subject of speculation, well, it was Irina Rodnina. She's a former Olympic skater, very decorated, but she's also currently a politician here in Russia.
And last year, she tweeted out a photo of President Obama that had been doctored to include a banana superimposed over it. It was, of course, very controversial, condemned far and wide. She never apologized for it. And the fact that she was selected to light the flame tonight echoed across, I would assume, the globe and back over to the White House. I'm sure they took notice, Wolf.
BLITZER: I'm sure they did. Was it pretty crowded? Were there empty seats? What was that like?
NICHOLS: Well, there were some empty seats there, which is unusual for an opening ceremony, but not the big wide patches of empty seats that we have seen at the venues so far.
So, it will be interesting over the next few days, opening ceremony always a hot ticket, seemed to be again tonight. But we will see over the events -- over the course of these events whether the locals embrace the Games, whether tourists actually do come here, or whether this is a mostly friends-and-family kind of Olympics.
BLITZER: We will see soon enough. Rachel, we will be watching every step of the way. Thanks so much.
As the Sochi Games got under way, President Obama sent a special video message to America's athletes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Hello, Team USA.
I just want to say, congratulations and good luck to everyone representing the red, white and blue at the Winter Olympics and Paralympic Games this year. We couldn't be prouder of you. And we can't wait to see what you accomplish in the next few weeks. We're also proud of everything you have done to get this far. So, on behalf of all your fans around the country, including everybody in the Obama family, good luck, and, go, Team USA.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And I will echo that.
The secretary of state, John Kerry, by the way, also did his part to cheer on Team USA. He dropped a ceremonial puck over at the Washington Capitals winning game against the Winnipeg Jets last night here in Washington.
The Cap's defenseman John Carlson is a member of the U.S. Olympic hockey team. Carlson and other players met with Kerry in the locker room before the game, gave the secretary a Capitals jersey. Carlson tells CNN Kerry told him to have a good time in Sochi and bring back the gold.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN CARLSON, U.S. OLYMPIC ATHLETE: It was fun. It was cool. It was, you know, something different than what we're used to. And he was excited to greet us and give us good luck and send us off. And, you know, it was a pretty cool moment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: As Carlson gets ready to head to Sochi on Sunday, he tells CNN he isn't worried about security.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CARLSON: I would go over there regardless of anything. It doesn't matter to me. I don't even pay attention to it anymore. You know, it's been a dream of mine to be a part of these Olympics. And nothing's going to stop me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Carlson also says he's bringing six family members to Sochi, and he sounds confident that they will also be safe. We hope to check in with him and his family while he's over at the Olympic Games for updates.
Just ahead, we will explain why a new jobs report could be good news, especially if you're already working and want to move up.
Also, a second chance to catch the best parts of Jay Leno's sometimes tearful, sometimes hilarious goodbyes to "The Tonight Show."
BLITZER: If you have a job, there's a growing chance you may be able to find a better one, but if you've been out of work for a long time, the job numbers released today present a challenge. The new jobs report shows the economy added 113,000 jobs in January. That's fewer than had been expected. The unemployment rate hit a five-year low, though, 6.6 percent because only -- only because some people who have been working -- who have been out of work for a long time are simply giving up looking for work.
In Michigan today President Obama put the best face he could on the new numbers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our unemployment rate is now the lowest it's been since before I was first elected. The companies -- companies across the country are saying they intend to hire even more folks in the months ahead. And that's why I believe this can be a breakthrough year for America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The job numbers not only impact the economy but certainly the 2014 midterm fight for Congress. Let's bring in our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.
Certainly all the news in this report was not good news for the president politically.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: No, you know, as he pointed out, the unemployment rate was down to 6.6 percent, the lowest it's been in the last five years.
But the problem he's got is that the economy actually added fewer jobs than anticipated, just over 100,000 jobs. People anticipated 180,000 jobs being added. And the question is: is this due to the weather or is this due to something larger?
And people are going to start looking, Wolf, at the Federal Reserve. We've had two bad reports kind of in a row about how many jobs have been added into the economy. They're going to start asking the questions about whether the Fed stopped the stimulus program too quickly and that that has had a bad impact on the economy.
So, you know, it's not all good news for the president. Everybody's going to look at next month to see whether this is a bad trend.
BLITZER: You know, the Senate couldn't pass legislation to extend the unemployment.
BLITZER: Unemployment benefits for long-term unemployed folks, more than 1.5 million people out there. They tried to get a three- month extension of this Unemployment.
BORGER: Three month.
BLITZER: They couldn't do it because of Republican opposition. So what happens now?
BORGER: Well, it failed by one vote. I'm sure Harry Reid is going to try and bring it up again. And what it does is takes this into the midterm election arena.
The Democrats are going to try and pass it and pass it and say that this is a bad thing, that people will -- that it would deter people from looking for work because they don't have anything to support themselves with.
The Republicans will make the same argument, saying the fact that they can remain on unemployment insurance means that they won't look for work.
So you know, the two parties completely disagree about this. The Democrats since last time, included what we call a "pay for" in it, meaning that the unemployment insurance was actually paid for. So they took away that Republican argument.
But we're going to keep having this same fight over and over again, which, Wolf, is why you hear the president also talking much more about income inequality. Because that really taps into this feeling that people have in this country that they're not benefiting from whatever economic recovery we might have out there, and part of that is the really -- the long-term unemployment that we have yet to deal with.
BLITZER: Because the Republicans are smelling not only can they hold onto their majority in the House, but they think they can even take the majority in the Senate.
BORGER: Right, and that affects everything they do. It even affects, for example, immigration reform. You know, we had the -- we had the House speaker say, you know, we're not going to do anything on immigration reform. And that's because a large group of conservative Republicans say, "Let's wait, see if we can take control of the Senate. Then we can get what we want on immigration. And we don't want to take away from our large issue in 2014, which, of course, is Obama care," which is what Republicans want to be talking about.
BLITZER: We'll be talking about all of this for a long time.
BLITZER: All right, Gloria, have a good weekend.
BORGER: You too.
BLITZER: Gloria mentioned the fight over immigration reform. In a minute we're going to dig deeper into the huge political implications of this week's about face by the House speaker, John Boehner.
We're also going to be taking you into the airport where the vice president called it a third-world airport. But is it really so bad? Stand by. But first, TV personality Star Jones puts on red to raise awareness about heart disease. Here's today's "Impact Your World."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Star Jones wears many hats: attorney, author, TV personality. But the one she takes most seriously is heart health advocate.
STAR JONES, TV PERSONALITY: Heart disease is not an old white guy's disease. Heart disease can affect any woman any time, any race, any size, any age.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A reality that slapped Jones in the face. After being morbidly obese for more than 20 years, she had gastric bypass surgery, changed her eating habits and started exercising. Eventually, she lost 160 pounds.
JONES: I thought I had accomplished everything I needed to on the health front, and then I got diagnosed with heart disease.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Even though Jones felt and looked great, she was getting light-headed, experienced shortness of breath and was exhausted.
JONES: Those are classic symptoms of heart disease, especially when it comes to women.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Symptoms some women may just chalk up to their busy lives.
JONES: Women don't take care of our health in the same way we take care of our families.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Something Jones vowed to change after she had open heart surgery.
JONES: I sort of wear my heart scar as a badge of honor, because it means I'm a survivor.
BLITZER: New talk of 2016 swirls around the vice president, Joe Biden. He continues to get hit for the controversial comments he's come to be -- come to be known for making.
This time he's in trouble with the mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, also a Democrat, for comparing LaGuardia Airport in New York City to a third-world country. CNN's Rene Marsh is over at LaGuardia. She's got the details for us -- Rene.
RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Well, you know, it is no secret that LaGuardia does need an upgrade. It has topped the list of America's worst airports. But you know the saying: It's not what you say, it is how you say it. And it seems like Joe Biden has done it yet again.
MARSH (voice-over): Vice President Biden, known more as a train man, is taking on airports, specifically New York's LaGuardia.
JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If I took you and blindfolded you and took you to LaGuardia Airport in New York, you must think "I must be in some third-world country." I'm not joking.
MARSH (on camera): We just boarded our flight. We're heading for LaGuardia Airport to see exactly what the vice president is talking about and find out what's going to be done about it.
(voice-over): Ken Paskar with Friends of LaGuardia Airport says Biden is right.
KEN PASKAR, FRIENDS OF LAGUARDIA AIRPORT: It's antiquated. The floors -- tile floors, as you can see, are filthy. They can never be cleaned properly. The moldings on the walls, just everything about it is just aesthetically ugly.
MARSH: Even New York's governor admits an upgrade is long overdue.
GOV. BILL DE BLASIO, NEW YORK: LaGuardia Airport is ranked as the worst airport in America.
MARSH: But in true Biden fashion, his latest comments have struck a nerve, intended to hammer home the need for investment in the country's infrastructure. The package his message was wrapped in was hard to receive, even for a fellow Democrat.
DE BLASIO: As a proud New Yorker, I didn't -- I didn't like that comment. And I think it was not the right way to talk about it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just blowing it out of proportion. I think he can just take it easy.
MARSH: The airport, built in 1939, has had some renovations, but most agree not enough has changed since then.
But when you look at other airports around the world, like Singapore, Beijing and the Netherlands, LaGuardia is not the only U.S. airport that doesn't stack up.
Adie Tomer with Brookings Institution says that many American airports need an overhaul.
ADIE TOMER, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: In general U.S. airports tend to rank low on customer satisfaction surveys versus their global counterparts. In some ways that makes sense. They've had lower investment levels compared to places like China, let's say, or Singapore.
(END VIDEOTAPE) MARSH: All right, so the question is, what's going to be done about it? Specifically here in LaGuardia?
Well, the Port Authority telling CNN that the plan is for a $3.6 billion investment to rebuild the central terminal where I am now. And they say that this will look like a world-class establishment -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Let's hope they can do that. Thanks very much, Rene. Rene Marsh reporting.
Washington's buzzing about this week's huge about-face from the speaker of the House. After seeming to open the door to finally passing comprehensive immigration reform, the speaker, John Boehner, seemed to slam it shut and blamed President Obama.
But as CNN's "INSIDE POLITICS" host John king explains on CNN.com, there's much more going on than meets the eye.
John King is joining us right now. John, you've got an excellent new article on CNN.com on immigration, "Whatever Happened to Immigration Reform?" Among other things, you write this. You write, "It appears testing that spirit of compromise will have to wait until 2015 or beyond. What changed in a week? Nothing, say key Boehner lieutenants."
So, what's going on? Everyone thought we were pretty close to a deal.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Everybody thought we were going to at least try. Speaker Boehner just a week ago, Wolf, said this thing has been a political hostage for 15 years immigration, let's try.
This week he says, whoa, and hits the pause button. What happened? His view hasn't changed. He thinks it's smart policy and smart politics to do big immigration changes including a path to legal status for the undocumented.
But in his conference in the House Republican caucus, there are a lot of members, number one, who say you make me vote for that legal status. Back home, conservatives say that's amnesty. I might get a primary challenge.
There are others who are in more competitive races come November to say if my conservative base doesn't turn out because I voted for amnesty or we passed what they consider amnesty, then I could lose my race.
So, the speaker got some pause there.
Then Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader on the Senate side, Wolf, said, we're not doing this again this year. We're not taking up immigration again. If the House did pass something, they would have to reconcile with the Senate. But remember, Mitch McConnell who on both days would be on the same page with John Boehner has a Tea Party challenge. You guys not want to touch.
BLITZER: Originally, the Senate passed the legislation, didn't go anywhere in the House. Is everything really for all practical purposes, everything important on hold this year?
KING: We can't answer that question definitively. There's a chance that Republicans will try to do some of the pieces of this, might they do more border control, might they do a guest worker program, might they try to deal with just what we called the dreamers, the younger illegal immigrants who were brought across the border through no fault of their own by their parents.
The Republicans, it's possible closer to the election might try to touch some of those. But the big question whether it's legal status or citizen for the 11.7 million or so, Republicans it looks like no way they will touch that this year. Speaker Boehner says the issue is trusting the president. Well, if the House Republicans don't trust the president now, do you think they're going to trust him more when they get closer to the election? No.
BLITZER: And they think -- if they put this on pause right now, the Republicans, they need a net gain of six to be the majority in the Senate. This will work effectively for them?
KING: That's their hope because they do understand -- what they're doing now is betting on the short term and not dealing with immigration reform this year. Helps them, does not anger the conservative base. We try to get turnout up on the key states come November.
The question is, you look at the 2016 presidential election, there is nobody who believes the Republicans can win a competitive election unless they improve their standing among Latinos. One way to do that is to start to deal with immigration.
So, what they are hoping is that they hit the pause button this year and then in 2015, they're hoping that they control the Senate so you'd have a Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the Republican hope and Speaker John Boehner and they come forward and say it's a Republican plan to get the legal status.
So, they're hoping, even if they take a short-term hit they can recover in 2015, but, you know, 2014 election is a long way off. Let's not get ahead of ourselves.
BLITZER: Yes. All right. John, we'll see you Sunday morning, 8:30 a.m. Eastern, on "INSIDE POLITICS".
KING: I'll give you a wake-up call.
BLITZER: Just ahead, it's the end of an era. Jay Leno hosting "The Tonight Show" for the very last time. We've got some highlights of his emotional show last night. Plus, a memorable joke he made at my expense.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAY LENO, COMEDIAN: How many saw the hologram? Oh, yes. It was a great idea. Apparently still haven't worked out all the kinks. I guess they had some sort of intergalactic glitch earlier in the day.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Intergalactic?
LENO: Yes. Show what happened the first time they did the hologram the first time.
BLITZER: Right now, I want you to watch what we're about to do because you've never seen like this on television.
LENO: Not quite sure what -- intergalactic --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Intergalactic glitch. Jay Leno making a little fun of me, CNN's election coverage back in 2008, our hologram.
Hard to believe Leno has been hosting NBC's "The Tonight Show" for 22 years. I remember well when Johnny Carson did an emotional farewell in his final. Last night, it was Jay Leno's turn.
CNN's Nischelle Turner has our story.
LENO: This has been the greatest 22 years of my life.
NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Choking back tears, Jay Leno took to the stage one last time Thursday night.
LENO: I don't like good-byes.
TURNER: Making it his second final appearance of the host of "The Tonight Show" after a 22-year run.
LENO: When I started hosting, marijuana was illegal and you can smoke cigarettes any place you wanted.
When I started host, Justin wasn't even born yet. That's why we call those the good ole days.
TURNER: Unlike his 2009 exit, this time around, Leno received a proper sendoff.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Jay, you've made a whole lot of jokes about me over the years, but do not worry, I'm not upset. On a totally unrelated note, I've decided to make you my new ambassador to Antarctica. Hope you got a warm coat, funny man. TURNER: He also got some not-so needed career advice from Matt Damon.
MATT DAMON, ACTOR: Hey, Jay (INAUDIBLE). Why don't you take all this newfound time and develop an interesting hobby like working on old cars? I absolutely love to do it. I think you might, too.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Actually, Jay does work on old cars. He's got a whole garage full of them.
DAMON: OK. Well, maybe Jay with your newfound time you could finally invite me over to your (EXPLETIVE DELETED) garage.
TURNER: And Tyler Perry.
TYLER PERRY, ACTOR: I think you need to reinvent yourself.
LENO: I don't know.
LENO: Please welcome my old friend, Billy Crystal!
TURNER: Leno inviting his very first guest back for the finale.
BILLY CRYSTAL, ACTOR: You were handed the baton by one of the old-time greats. Not an easy position to be in, but once it was in your grasp, you run the race. You America's nightlight.
TURNER: Bringing Jay's career as host of "The Tonight Show" full circle with an ensemble of all stars bidding Jay farewell like Kim Kardashian.
KIM KARDASHIAN (singing): So long, farewell, last night I told my folks. Now, I won't be the butt of Leno's joke.
TURNER: The queen of comedy, Carol Burnett graced the stage.
CAROL BURNETT (singing): So long, farewell, I'm here so what the hell. For your last show, I'll do the Tarzan yell --
TURNER: And Oprah Winfrey.
OPRAH WINFREY (singing): So long, farewell, you really raised the bar. If you were me, you'd buy them all a car.
TURNER: But it was this candid moment that makes last night's goodbye memorable.
LENO: I want to thank you, the audience. You folks have been just incredibly loyal. This is tricky. We wouldn't be on the air without you people. Secondly, this has been the greatest 22 years of my life.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) LENO: I am the luckiest guy in the world. I got to meet presidents, astronauts, movie stars. It's just been incredible. I got to work with lighting people who made me look better than I really am.
LENO: I got to work with audio people who made me sound better than I really do. And I got to work with producers and writers and just all kinds of talented people who make me look a lot smarter than I really am.
I'll tell you something, first year of the show, I lost my mom. Second year, I lost my dad, then my brother died. And after that, I was pretty much out of family. And the folks here became my family.
Consequently, when they went through rough times, I tried to be there for them.
And I'm really excited to for Jimmy Fallon. You know, it's funny to kind of be the old guy and sit back and see where the next generation takes this great institution and it really is -- it's been a great institution for 60 years. I'm so glad I got to be a part of it, but it really is time to go, hand it off to the next guy. It really is.
And in closing, I want to quote Johnny Carson who was the greatest guy to ever do this job. And he said, "I bid you all a heartfelt -- now that I brought the room down --
LENO: Hey, Garth, you got anything to liven this party up?
TURNER: Nischelle Turner, CNN, New York.
BLITZER: What a great run for Jay Leno. He's passing the baton to Jimmy Fallon. For that he will make his mark just as Jay did, as Johnny did.
"The Tonight Show" starring Jimmy Fallon debuts February 17th. Good luck to him as well. We will miss Jay.
Fifty years ago today, a British boy band took America by storm when it landed at New York's JFK airport for its first U.S. tour and ignited the musical invasion that we call Beatlemania.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, the Beatles.
(MUSIC) (END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Beatlemania changed music, fashion, everything else that really founded (ph) in the '60s. Multiple tributes are scheduled to mark the occasion. Be sure to watch our CNN special, "The Sixties: The British Invasion." That's Saturday night, tomorrow night, 10:00 p.m. Eastern. You will enjoy.
Remember, you can always follow what's going on here in THE SITUATION ROOM on Twitter. Tweet me @WolfBlitzer, tweet the show @CNNSitRoom.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.