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Death Toll Soars As Capital becomes Combat Zone; Ted Cruz On Ted Nugent; Interview with Rick Perry

Aired February 20, 2014 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Jake, thank you.

Happening now, war on the streets. A brief truce crumbles and pitch battles lead to hundreds of casualties in the heart of the Ukraine's capital. We'll take you there live.

New details on the ominous threat that's triggered warnings to airlines and airports boosting security. Why al Qaeda's master bomb maker may be involved?

And special one-on-one interviews with the Texas governor, Rick Perry, and Senator Ted Cruz. Why do these two top Republicans -- what do they have to say about some of the vicious slurs made by the rocker, Ted Nugent?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Firebombs, snipers, grenades, and a growing body count. A capital city turning into a combat zone. Protesters say 100 people were killed today in Kiev after a tentative truce quickly fell apart. Ukraine's government accusing the opposition of trying to stage a coup and say police officers are being held hostage. Ukraine sits at the crucial crossroads in Europe. A tug of war between east and west making the stakes there enormously high.

We must caution you, some of the pictures you're about to see are very graphic. Let's go straight to CNN senior international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh. He's joining us live from Kiev with the very latest -- Nick.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as the protesters behind me grow in numbers, somber in the atmosphere, we heard a lot of orthodox, massive prayers being said for the loss of nearly 100 people, according to opposition activists in the gastly (ph) bloodshed. This morning, we are possibly seeing maybe the beginning of a solution.

The Polish president who's here with the French, German, and Dutch foreign ministers have been in the series of meetings with opposition leaders and the Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych. And then talking about a road map of some description that may bring elections forward to this year, that may perhaps result in a new cabinet government in the next ten days and could perhaps also see a change in the constitution, a weakening of presidential power (ph).

That's what the people have come here to try and seek peace as saying the president signed on to. We've not really heard from him at all apart from messages, apparently, he's given to other diplomats as well. What we have heard from the government here, a very worrying messages from both the police and the military.

The police say you've taken 67 of our men hostage with no evidence to that effect or details, but that's what they say, and therefore, we're going the right to our officers to carry weapons to defend themselves and their families.

The military who stayed out of this notably until now and whose chief of the army was replaced just yesterday by Viktor Yanukovych. They've issued a statement saying they reserve the right to use arms and they will do so to prevent the country falling apart into a civil war. Right now, though, the police are pretty far away from the field of view of anybody here. Very heavily reinforced barricades.

We just took a walk through the streets down there and almost remarkable scene of organization, almost (INAUDIBLE) amongst the protesters erecting barricades, fermenting (ph) their position here. Last night, we saw fireworks fired at the police and anger tonight. They're being fired in the sky. Though, we are a long way off, Wolf, from any kind of solution.

And remember, I stood here just yesterday talking about how a truce could have been in the air. This morning, we saw absolutely horrifying scenes of live fire being used in the streets here, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. Hundred people killed and hundreds more injured. We're told, by the way, from sources that the vice president of the United States, Joe Biden, who seems to be the point man in handling the Ukraine crisis right now, he just got off the phone with the president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych. We don't have a read-out yet on that conversation, but you're there on the ground. How much influence does the U.S. really have on what's happening on the streets of Kiev?

WALSH: They have the capacity to make a fuss to, perhaps, embarrass the Ukrainian government here and maybe put Putin in the sense of slight awkwardness, but back in them to. Remember, the U.S./Moscow relationship kind of in tatters at the moment. Obama didn't even go to the Sochi opening of the games. So, that's probably not the key thing.

They can say things that will rally the crowds here behind to make them feel they have international support, but it's just so different 10 years ago when the Orange Revolution took the first -- the last messages (ph) of authoritarianism and posed Soviet power out of their jobs and ushered in what many thought would be a pro-western era, then the bush Administration was pushing hard for change.

Now the U.S. very much (INAUDIBLE). The EU just really getting their game on to try and exact influence here. They've been taking kind of a back seat during the last few months of crisis. They're not pushing that hard because they simply haven't got (ph) the money to match what the Russians are offering to bail out the Ukrainian economy here. It will be interesting to see quite what this foreign pressure has done.

I suspect many around Yanukovych are wondering what his next game plan is, what his next steps could be. We've seen the mayor of Kiev say I'm leaving the bullying (ph) party. I'm going to run the city by myself away from the president. That's a very clear sign of the top of the Ukrainian administration here, and yesterday, Yanukovych replaced the army chief. So, there's clearly problems in his inner circle. The question is, is he leaving or is he trying to fight this out? Wolf.

BLITZER: Nick Paton Walsh, we'll get back to you. Thank you very much.

The White House says it's outraged by the images of Ukrainian security forces firing on protesters and the United States is joining European nations to Russia with some new sanctions. But what will Russia do in the face of all of this? Joining us now is Fareed Zakaria. He's the host of CNNs "Fareed Zakaria: GPS."

At what point, if there is such a point, do you envision assuming the violence escalates, the demonstrators seem to be getting some groove, if you will, the upper hand, at what point would Putin send Russian troops into Ukraine, Fareed?

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST, FAREED ZAKARIA: GPS: Oh, I think that would be a complete disaster and I think Putin knows it. What he's trying to do is exert his control and his influence with very large offers of money. I mean, remember, Putin has up to this point offered $17 billion. When you think about, you know, a country the size of the Ukraine, that's an awful lot of money.

I think he knows that if he would have sent Russian troops into the Ukraine, it would mean the end in some ways of Russia influence in the Ukraine. Already, there's a great danger that Putin may have overplayed his hand. You know, imagine what the Ukrainians are thinking right now about the way in which the Russian government is supporting the president in his crackdown and you point out 100 dead, hundreds and hundreds more wounded.

BLITZER: The president of the United States, President Obama, as you know, he's warned of, quote, "consequences of people step over the line." His critics are saying that's an empty threat, if you will. The U.S., the Obama administration, has made similar threats in Syria, red lines, for example, didn't follow through when the red line was violated. Is this a hollow threat?

ZAKARIA: It isn't a completely hallow threat, because I think there are things that can be done. Remember, Ukraine is not Syria. They think of themselves, at least in some ways, as European. They want to be part of the modern world. They don't want to be a pariah state.

And if you were to talk about how officials, members of the military or police who would have taken part in this crackdown would be held personally responsible if we threaten that they were to be put on some kind of a war crimes list, I think that would have a very powerful effect. No Ukrainian general will want to be declared a war criminal.

So, I think in that sense, they have leverage. Look, we're not going to send troops into Ukraine. The Europeans aren't going to send troops into Ukraine. Sanctions are a mixed bag because you would drive the Ukrainians closer to the Russians. There would be no U.N. sanctions since the Russians and the Chinese would not agree. So, you have a limited capacity here.

The crucial question is still -- is going to be what the Ukrainian army does because there are signs, as Nick was saying, that the police and army are getting involved, and if that happens, then we cross a bridge which gets us into a civil war.

BLITZER: It sort of reminds me a little bit potentially at least, if the Ukrainian government doesn't have the support of the military, yesterday, they replaced the commander of the Ukrainian commander suggesting, as you and Nick have been pointing out, some instability. If the military there is unwilling to start fighting and killing fellow Ukrainians, what happened in Egypt, to Mubarak potentially, could happen in Ukraine.

ZAKARIA: You're exactly right, Wolf. The Ukrainian militaries are (INAUDIBLE) military like the Egyptian wants. So, it comes from the people and probably reflects the same divisions. The one interesting fact is the Ukrainian military tends to serve in the areas that they are drawn from, which means, for example, in cities like Lviv and Kiev, which are centers of opposition.

The military, the soldiers are probably a lot like the people in Kiev. That is to say, very anti-government, very anti-Yanukovych. So, they are probably extremely reluctant to fire on protesters and that might be what has been holding back the president because he knows that the troops in Kiev are probably like the people in Kiev, mostly with the opposition. Remember, Yanukovych, the president, lost the 2004 election in Kiev, 75-25.

BLITZER: Fareed Zakaria, as usual, thanks for that analysis. And don't miss Fareed's program every Sunday morning, "Fareed Zakaria: GPS," 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. eastern right here on CNN.

Up next, new details on the disturbing new threat that has airlines and airports on alert and what role al Qaeda's master bomb maker may be playing.

Plus, I'll go one-on-one with the Texas governor, Rick Perry. He's here in Washington. What does he think of the ambitious (ph) slurs by the rocker, Ted Nugent, who's been a favorite on the Republican campaign trail in Texas and elsewhere? Stay with us.


BLITZER: Getting new information into the SITUATION ROOM right now about the shoe bomb threat that's triggered warnings to airlines and increased security at airports around the world. There appears to be now an ominous link to al Qaeda. Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, has got some new information. What are you learning, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, maybe a bit of a mixed intelligence picture. Let's start with secretary of homeland security, Jay Johnson, who has just said that the warning to the airlines was routine and that shoe bomb threats have been out there for years. But some other parts of the government may disagree.


STARR (voice-over): A U.S. official says it's a credible threat tied to al Qaeda which has never given up its intent to attack the U.S. again. There is no specific target, but the assessment is al Qaeda will try to place a shoe bomb on an airplane bound for the U.S. One suspect, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, headquartered in Yemen.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Al Qaeda and Yemen have a master bomb-maker, Ibrahim al-Asiri in their rank (ph). So, he's still at large. This is the guy who was responsible for several attempts on U.S. aviation in the last few years. He's in genius making bombs. He's constantly trying to come out with new ways to get passed airport security.

STARR: While some in the administration describe the threat as aspirational, a desire to attack, this U.S. official tells CNN the TSA would not have taken the steps to warn the airlines, unless, the threat was real. The official telling CNN, "this threat may represent a renewed effort by al Qaeda. This is not just some flip comment on the part of a bad guy." One big worry, al Qaeda may have developed some new type of hard to detect bomb that can be hidden in shoes.

Screening technology couldn't detect the explosives and the bomb might have little or no metal content. U.S. officials also confirmed there are a small number of American citizens in Yemen with al Qaeda. With American passports, they could readily re-enter the U.S.


STARR (on-camera): Now, fundamentally, U.S. officials are holding their cards very close to their vests about what is really going on here, offering very little detail. But it does come as there's growing concern about Americans overseas fighting with al Qaeda in places like Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, and Syria -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr, thanks very much.

There's some more breaking news coming into the SITUATION ROOM right now. The National Weather Service has just issued a tornado warning from Memphis, Tennessee. Let's go straight to our meteorologist, Chad Myers. He's standing by at the CNN Weather Center. So, what is the very latest, Chad? CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It's going to be a bumpy afternoon and night for a lot of people all the way from south to Chicago right on down to the Gulf Coast. There's Memphis, Tennessee, right there. The big, red box, the watch box, which means something is going on, but the warning box right here, moving into Memphis, it's about ten miles to the southwest of Memphis proper, but this cell right there is rotating.

It will move into Memphis in the next 15 minutes, maybe even a little bit less. Now, even if you don't get a tornado where you are and it's likely that you don't because this one is fairly small, there is a large line of wind coming with the system as well. Those winds could be 60 to 70 miles per hour so you need to get inside and get the pets inside and stay inside. A tornado warning for Memphis, Tennessee, right now, Wolf.

BLITZER: Isn't this a little early in the tornado season?

MYERS: It is. I mean, we get tornadoes every month of the year, but the ones in the wintery season are usually into Southern Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama or Georgia. These are a little bit farther to the north, but we have warm air at 70 something degrees here in Atlanta and it's snowing in Des Moines and that's a clash of warm and cold and that right there is where the warm and cold is clashing right now.

BLITZER: I know you're going to monitor the situation in Memphis and elsewhere for us. We'll check back with you, Chad. Thank you.

Coming up, an exclusive interview with Republican senator, Ted Cruz, of Texas. He speaks his mind on global warming and the incendiary comments by the rocker, Ted Nugent.

Also, I'll go one-on-one with the Texas governor, Rick Perry. He's here in the SITUATION ROOM -- he's walking into the SITUATION ROOM right now. Governor, welcome. We've got a lot to talk about, including whether or not you want to be president of the United States. What do you think of all the commotion with Ted Nugent in your state? Stand by. We'll discuss that and a lot more in a moment.


BLITZER: Happening now, one-on-one with Rick Perry. The Texas governor is here in the SITUATION ROOM live. There he is. I'll ask him what he thinks of Ted Nugent's vile comments against President Obama and whether Republicans in his state should be keeping their distance.

Plus, weathering the storm. The New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, talks Sandy in his first town hall meeting since the bridge scandal broke, but did he manage to avoid the political storm hanging over his head?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.

(MUSIC PLAYING) BLITZER: Senator Ted Cruz may be most outspoken member of the United States Senate right now, and the Texas Republican has been speaking his mind to our chief Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, in an exclusive interview in Texas. They spoke about Greg Abbott. He's the Republican candidate for governor. He's taking some serious heat for appearing with Ted Nugent who recently had some vile things to say about President Obama.


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Because we're here in Texas, I want to play you something for you that has been playing all over the airwaves pretty much everywhere nationally and even internationally.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A communist-raised, communist-educated, communist-nurtured subhuman mongrel, like the Acorn community organizer gangster, Barack Hussein Obama.

BASH: As you know, that's Ted Nugent, and he is campaigning here with the leading Republican candidate to be your next governor. Is that appropriate for them to campaign together?

SEN. TED CRUZ, (R) TEXAS: Look, I had not seen that video until you just played it.

BASH: What do you think of it?

CRUZ: You know, I think it is a little curious that to be questioning political folks about rock stars. I've got to tell you, listen, I'm not cool enough to hang out with any rock stars. Jay-Z doesn't come over at my house. I don't hang out with Ted Nugent.

BASH: Jay-Z doesn't call the president a subhuman mongrel. This --

CRUZ: I would be willing to bet that the president's Hollywood friends have said some pretty extreme things.

BASH: The reason why I played that for you and the reason why it's an issue is because this week, you're in Texas, as I mentioned. He was invited to campaign with the man who may be your next governor in your party.

CRUZ: Look, those sentiments there, of course, I don't agree with them. You've never heard me say such a thing and nor would I. You know, I will note, there's a reason Ted Nugent -- people listen to him which is that he has been fighting passionately for Second Amendment rights.

BASH: Would you campaign with Ted Nugent?

CRUZ: You know, I haven't yet, and I'm going to avoid engaging in hypotheticals.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: And joining us now is the Republican governor of Texas, the former Republican presidential candidate, Rick Perry. Welcome to Washington, governor.

GOV. RICK PERRY, (R) TEXAS: Wolf, it's good to be with you.

BLITZER: So, what do you think about this huge uproar that has developed? These words that Nugent said are -- you have to admit, they are vile, right?

PERRY: They're pretty tough words.


PERRY: I wouldn't have used those words.

BLITZER: I know you wouldn't, but these are -- to call the president of the United States a subhuman mongrel, that is disgusting.

PERRY: That's pretty tough words.

BLITZER: That's disgusting. You can say it's disgusting.

PERRY: We agree that that is not appropriate language to use for the president of the United States.

BLITZER: So, the man who wants to succeed you, Greg Abbott, he went out there after these words were uttered and he embraced them. They were out there campaigning together. Is that appropriate?

PERRY: Yes. Listen, I'm not going to get into this side of whether it's inappropriate or not. There are people who say things all the time. I mean, the idea that ted Nugent has said something that's outrageous shouldn't surprise anybody. He's been saying outrageous things --

BLITZER: But not like this.


BLITZER: This is beyond the pale.

PERRY: Listen, he shouldn't have said that about the president of the United States. We need to be focusing on the things that people really care about, though. And I will suggest to you that the job situation in Texas and what a Republican leadership has done there and Greg Abbott will continue to do is what people really care about.

A comment by someone who has come in and endorsed him in the campaign, I will suggest to you is not what this campaign is going to hinge upon. It's going to be on Wendy Davis' very liberal record that is out of line, out --

BLITZER: But politically speaking --

PERRY: -- people of the state of Texas. BLITZER: -- if he goes out there and campaigns throughout this -- the months leading up to the election with Ted Nugent, that would be idiotic, from Greg Abbott's point of view.

PERRY: He had one event there. And I think -- I'll be real honest with you, I think that this will be a news story or two and then we will get back to be in focused on what the people in the state of Texas really care about and that is, how are you going to make sure that my children have a good future, that I have a job, that we continue to have the energy industry that's creating a lot of jobs. That's what Greg Abbott is all about and that's what he's going to be --

BLITZER: You campaigned with Ted Nugent when you were running for elected office?

PERRY: I did.

BLITZER: But he hadn't said ridiculous seeing (ph) things like this then?

PERRY: Ted has said some pretty outrageous things.

BLITZER: So, you don't have a problem with that?

PERRY: I got a problem calling the president a mongrel --

BLITZER: Subhuman mongrel.

PERRY: Yes. I do have a problem with that. That is an inappropriate thing to say. And, you know -- but again, people were saying that all the time.

BLITZER: If you were to run for president --


PERRY: Let me ask you something, Wolf. You think Bill Meyer has ever said --


PERRY: And did we see your program focusing in on that?

BLITZER: Yes, we did.

PERRY: Good for you.


BLITZER: When Democrats say sick, obnoxious things, we report that as well. We're not shy about that. Let me ask, Sarah Palin, she, yesterday wrote, "check the box for another good conservative Greg Abbott for governor of Texas. If he's good enough for Ted Nugent, he is good enough for me." That's Sarah Palin. PERRY: That's Sarah's sentiment (ph). That doesn't surprise me. That's Sarah's sentiment. Again, I think the people of the state of Texas -- you've got to remember, this is an election for the governorship of the state of the Texas. It's not a national election.

BLITZER: That's a pretty important job, being governor of Texas.

PERRY: It is, indeed.

BLITZER: That's a lot of responsibility. And you set an example to everyone in Texas, indeed, around the nation. When you're governor, who appears with you after these kinds of comments? Unless, you know, Nugent were to formally apologize.

PERRY: And he may do that.

BLITZER: If he were to do that --

PERRY: he may do that.

BLITZER: -- and then people make mistakes, if he were to say, you know, these words were awful, I condemn them. I shouldn't have said them. I would like to hear him say that.

PERRY: I will put that responsibility on him to address that.

BLITZER: So, let me just -- I want to move on. But unless he does that, would you be willing to appear on the campaign trail with him if you were ever again to run for any elected office?

PERRY: You know, again, Ted and I have been on the stage together. He is a proud and a strong defender of the constitution of the United States. We've all said things that we would like to reel back in. I suggest to you this is probably one of those for him. And he does that and I don't know, is that all things forgiven after he said that with you?

BLITZER: If he were to formally apologize and say what I just said, I think that would go a long way in maybe perhaps rehabilitating him.


PERRY: I'll -- I'll recommend that he do that then.

BLITZER: He was a good rocker in his day.

PERRY: Still is.


BLITZER: But he's -- he's gone way over the top on this. It just gets me a little agitated, as you can tell.

Let's talk about Governor Christie. What do you think? He came to Texas, he's chairman of the Republican Governors Association. You're the sitting governor of Texas. You didn't show up when he was there, why?

PERRY: When I go to New Jersey he didn't show up where I am.

BLITZER: So this is tit for tat?

PERRY: No, it's not tit for tat. It's like we have our own schedules and our own lives. And he came in to raise money for the RGA which I'm supportive of and we made our calls and what have you and we'll continue to. So I think there's way too much being made about, you didn't show up to an event he showed up with, and somehow you don't like each other? We're on the same team.

We have a goal of electing Republican governors. And the reason that's important for America is when you look at where the job creation has been created in this country, it is in those red states that are governed by Republican governors and Republican legislatures by and large. So we're on the same team, we're working together.

But let me tell you something, he's a competitor.

BLITZER: Yes. Of yours?

PERRY: And I'm going to -- I'm going to go and compete against him. I'm going to go against -- and compete against Rick Scott, I'm going to compete against Bobby Jindal, I'm going to compete against Nikki Haley.

I'm going to compete against Jerry Brown and Pat Quinn and those guys are a little easier to compete against because of the policies they put into place. So --

BLITZER: When you say a competitor, what does that -- I mean --

PERRY: Well, competitors --

BLITZER: For jobs, you mean?

PERRY: I'm a big believer in the 10th Amendment that the states are the laboratories of innovation that we ought to be working to promote tax policies --

BLITZER: But when I heard you say that Governor Christie is a competitor, I thought maybe for the Republican presidential nomination you were talking about that?

PERRY: Those that focus past 2014 are making a huge mistake. 2014 is where we need to focus. Lots of governors races, the United States Senate. I'm not looking past 2014. After November 6th, we can look into 2016.

BLITZER: Because you ran the last time. A lot of people think you're -- you know, you're not going to run again. You can't run again for governor.

PERRY: I can.


BLITZER: But you're not. But you decided not to.

PERRY: Not to.

BLITZER: So do you think you want to be president of the United States?

PERRY: I'll make that decision in about 18 months. We'll get the governorship of Texas over with. We're going to go out there and talk about red states versus blue states, which of these policies are working, why decentralization of government out of Washington, D.C., is the future of this country. That's what I'm going to be spending my time on.

BLITZER: Tell us if you were, that's the one -- a hypothetical, if you were to run for president of the United States and get the Republican presidential nomination, could you beat Hillary Clinton?

PERRY: I have no idea. That is so hypothetical. But here's what we do need to talk about in this country. How are we going to create jobs. Growth is how America is going to go forward. We have to have growth to create the wealth so that we have a military that can be ready to stand up to what is going on in the world.

We need to be sending a message to our foreign partners who have historically been our partners.


BLITZER: A couple of economic questions for you while I have you.

PERRY: That we are truly going to be there for them.

BLITZER: Should we raise the nation's minimum wage?

PERRY: No. Not at all. I think that is a job killer. And at a time when jobs are the real issue, the idea that government should be forcing small businessmen and women -- because what's going to happen, we know. There are going to be jobs that are lost. We ought to be --


BLITZER: But it would raise -- the CBO says 900,000 families would have --

PERRY: But that's not the issue.

BLITZER: Would be out of poverty.

PERRY: Are you willing to go tell people, say, hey, listen, we're going to allow these folks to move up a little and you're going to lose your job? I'm not.

BLITZER: What about extending unemployment benefits for long- term unemployed?

PERRY: No, I think -- I think --

BLITZER: Do you support that?

PERRY: No, sir. I think you have to -- we have to -- we have to get the spending under control in this country. That's the real issue. You know, that's what, you know, Ted Cruz -- although, you know, sometimes we don't always agree on tactics, his position on being a quarian voice about getting spending under control and we have to make hard decisions. We did that in the state of Texas. Governors have to do that.

And I think if you don't have people who are willing to stand up and say, you know what, we're going to make some hard decisions and we've got to get the spending under control.

BLITZER: What do you like about Obamacare?

PERRY: I think the idea of being able to have a move between states makes sense. We've been trying to do that for a long time. But the issue in, you know, finding one or two things about Obamacare that I like, it's that this thing is going to fail of its own weight, the idea that they are so missing the projections of how many people it's going to take to make it work.

Obamacare is going to fail. The president would be substantially farther ahead if he would just stand up and say, you know what, this is not working out like we thought it was going to. We are willing to go sit down with Congress and to find a solution and I'll suggest to you one of those solutions is this. You go back to the states and you say, governors, legislators, you best know how to deliver health care in your states. Here's a block grant --

BLITZER: I'll tell --

PERRY: -- for your states and then you're the ones that --


BLITZER: Here's one thing I suspect you do like, that if you do have a pre-existing condition you can still qualify for health insurance.

PERRY: Sure --

BLITZER: You like that part?

PERRY: That is an acceptable part of this. But the issue is, you can't pick and choose which one of these you like because they are forcing us to accept the entire premise of Obamacare. It is going to fail. The president knows it's going to fail. The Democrats know it's going to fail. And if he truly cares about a legacy, he would stand up and say, I've got 2 1/2 years left as the president of the United States. Let's work together to fix this so it truly can be something that will work. And I will suggest to you the way you fix it is to do away with it and allow the states to -- we were never asked. Governors were never asked to be a part of this and you cannot deliver health care or education policy or, for that matter, infrastructure policy in one size that fits all. California and Connecticut are different than Oklahoma.

BLITZER: Governor, I suspect that you and I will be seeing each other in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina.

PERRY: More than willing.

BLITZER: A whole bunch of good places.

PERRY: We will, indeed. Good to see you.

BLITZER: Thanks so much for coming in.

PERRY: Awesome.

BLITZER: You got a great state.

PERRY: Thank you, sir. We do indeed.

BLITZER: When we come back, we're monitoring a breaking news. Multiple tornado warnings right now across the southeast. We'll get an update. Chad Myers is standing by.


BLITZER: Let's get an update on the breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Multiple, yes, multiple tornado warnings issued across the country. Let's go straight to our meteorologist and studio weather expert Chad Myers. He's standing by at the CNN Weather Center.

What's the latest, Chad?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Cold air on this side, warm air on this side. Cold front right in the middle and that cold front kicking off severe weather tonight all the way from Illinois down to the Gulf Coast. This is the most dangerous storm on the map. Tornado warning right now for you in Carbondale, Illinois.

We don't have reports of it on the ground but with the rotation by this Doppler radar, I suspect there's either a funnel or a small tornado already on the ground headed your way in Carbondale, Illinois.

One more place, Shelbyville, Illinois, a smaller town, right along the lake up here, but the storm is just to your southwest, moving to the northeast.

Wolf, these are moving at 60 to 70 miles per hour. If you hear or see a storm coming, get inside and stay there, please. Get the pets and the kids inside. These are moving so quickly, they will be coming and they will be gone, but the whole problem is you cannot be out there looking at this. They can take over in an instant how quickly they are moving right now from the southwest to the northeast.

BLITZER: But these specific -- Chad, you say get inside. There's getting inside and getting inside. Where inside do those folks have to get if they suspect a tornado is on the way?

MYERS: That's right. If you have a storm with a tornado warning on it, and even if you don't, I need you away from windows. Windows will break and they -- don't open them. That's an old wife's tail. That's an old myth. Open the windows and tornado won't hit your house. It's not -- or will blow up your house.

Don't do it. Stay away from that glass. The glass will break and it will hurt you. Get inside your house to the middle if you can. Get as many walls between you and the outside of the house as possible because in the middle there's always one little room standing, especially in these storm tornadoes that we have here.

These are not F-5 tornadoes. These are small tornadoes but they can still cause damage, they still will break glass and they can still hurt you.

BLITZER: All right, Chad, we'll check back with you. Obviously we're concerned about the breaking news. The tornado warnings happening across that area. Thank you very much.

When we come back, the New Jersey governor Chris Christie, he talks Superstorm Sandy at his first town hall meeting since what's called bridgegate. Did he manage to avoid the political storm hanging over his head? That's coming up.


BLITZER: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie held his first town hall meeting today since the bridge scandal broke and for the most -- for most of the people there the focus remained on Superstorm Sandy, not the other political scandal hanging over his administration's head.

Let's bring in Chris Frates of CNN Investigations. He was monitoring what was going on and has details -- Chris.

CHRIS FRATES, CNN INVESTIGATIONS UNIT CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I'll tell you, you wouldn't have known that this was Chris Christie's first town hall meeting since bridgegate exploded all over New Jersey. There was not one question on that widening scandal.


FRATES (voice-over): In a town hit hard by Superstorm Sandy, traffic problems in Fort Lee seemed a world away from residents here.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: What's your name?


CHRISTIE: Nicole, OK. Nicole, how old are you? Three. Excellent. Do you have a question for me?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. May you -- may you fix my house? It's still broken.

CHRISTIE: Your house is still broken? We're going to try to see if we can help you get your home fixed, OK?

FRATES: And then there was this, Christie opening up on President Obama and Congress for refusing to help those with second homes trashed by the storm.

CHRISTIE: I went to the president personally. I said to him, secondary home owners need to be covered. We're talking about working class families in New Jersey. The president refused to include it in the bill he sent to Congress.

FRATES: The only sign of controversy was, well, a sign.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The process will be as follows.

FRATES: Back in Trenton, though, the state legislative committee investigating the George Washington Bridge lane closures is still trying to get documents from two former top Christie aides, filing papers in a New Jersey court.

The two aides, Bridget Kelly and Bill Stepien, argue that the committee's subpoenas violate their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. A top Christie appointee at the agency that oversees the bridge has apologized to motorists snarled in a traffic caused by the lane closures. And while Port Authority chairman David Samson he said he was sorry, he didn't take responsibility for the closures.

Fort Lee also released 2200 pages of documents requested by Christie's lawyer.


FRATES: Now, Wolf, today's town hall was the second time Christie fielded questions from the public. He did a call-in radio show earlier this month and again Jersey voters showed they don't care much about the controversies fueling the national political media. And that's a good sign for Christie as he continues to work to rebuild a brand that's been a little tarnished by scandal.

BLITZER: All right, fair point. Chris Frates, thanks very much.

Let's discuss with our chief political analyst Gloria Borger and our CNN political commentator Ryan Lizza. He's the Washington correspondent for the "New Yorker" magazine.

What do you make of this, Gloria? The fact that he wasn't asked about the bridge scandal.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I think people care about the recovery effort from Sandy. This is part of the governor's brand. He made a point of telling people there that he still spends 40 percent of his time on Sandy issues. That's 15 months after the storm. And he was masterful, I thought, during this town hall today because he was charming. He was responsive.

And he also reminded people that, while he's been doing his job, the feds, he's had some problems with the federal government. It's never kind of a bad thing to rap the federal government. And -- so he did all of that in a -- in a masterful way and acted as a governor should act which is to say I care about your problems and I'm dealing with them.

BLITZER: I don't know if Ryan can still hear me. If you can still hear me, Ryan, let's talk a little bit about this because Chris Christie, he, what, he raised about -- he's the new chairman of the Republican Governors Association. He raised about $7 million, $7 million in the month of January.

So what does it say to you? Is he on a rebound right now? Is this simply a national story or it's not much of a story at all what's going on with the bridge?

RYAN LIZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, look, I think it shows he's got some strength, still, right? He's not -- he's not politically dead. He has constituents that care about other things. He proved that today at this town hall. You know, these political events, you don't know exactly who shows up or how they -- how they get there, how the questions are screened. But obviously there are people -- whose homes have been devastated by a storm who care a whole lot more about that than about bridgegate.

And the fundraising numbers, as you point out, Wolf, are pretty still strong. And that means he still got a substantial segment of the donor class of the Republican Party that is sticking with him I think partly because there aren't a lot of alternatives.

But I wouldn't call this a comeback just yet. Remember, this is in a lot of ways out of his hands. Right? The Democrats in the legislature, I happen to be interviewing Loretta Weinberg today, one of the Democrats that's leading the investigation. And she -- I was saying, well, what's with the lull in this story? And she says, well, we're waiting for all these documents. We extended the deadlines on the subpoenas.

So he still has to fear that. He has to fear all of the information that the Democrats are gathering via subpoena. And that means that the story is not in his control even if he has politically a good day like today once in a while.

BORGER: You know, he's got to proceed on two different tracks, right, Wolf? I mean, you know, one of the tracks is that I'm the governor of the state of New Jersey. I can get things done, that's his brand. Sandy recovery.


BORGER: The second track is that he does have this congressional -- I mean, this state legislative committee investigating him. The Democrats are very aggressive on that committee. He's got two former staffers who are not cooperating with the committee. So he's still going to have to be talking about this at some point, just now he wants to just be the governor.

BLITZER: Ryan -- all three of us, we've covered politics for a long time. Let's say hypothetically at that town hall meeting today where he had been asked some specific question about bridgegate and he came out of it and said what a lot of politicians often do in a situation like this, there are multiple investigations under way. I'm not going to comment on this anymore. Let all the investigators do their work and let's move on to the issues that really affect the people of New Jersey. Next question.

What if he were to respond with an answer like that, Ryan? How would that be received?

LIZZA: But that really depends on the crowd. I think in a crowd like today where really the focus was on folks who are having trouble getting the assistance they need, this might not be the most important issue in the world. And rightfully so.

If he were to do a town hall, let's say, in Fort Lee or Teaneck or one of the areas near the George Washington Bridge, you know, frankly, they're more Democratic areas anyway, it might -- it might be a different story.

He has -- he did do the big press conference and answered questions for quite a while. There hasn't been a huge volume of new information since then, but there are still some important lingering questions and there's no doubt there are going to be more as these e- mails and other documents come out.

So I would say, the truth is we're at the beginning of this investigation. We aren't even at the middle yet, Wolf.

BORGER: You know, if you're a powerful governor and you're working to help people, you're using your power to help people as in Sandy recovery, that's one thing. The question for Chris Christie is was he abusing his power and hurting these people in the GW Bridge scandal?

LIZZA: Yes. Right.

BLITZER: Ryan, we've got to go -- we've got to go. Gloria, we've got to go, we're up against the clock.

LIZZA: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: But this story's not going away.

Coming up new information on the mysterious deaths of two former U.S. Navy SEALs aboard the container ship made famous by the hit film "Captain Phillips."

And carnage in Kiev. We have more on the shocking street battles unfolding and the new efforts to try to stop them.


BLITZER: Here's a look at some of the other stories we're working in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Police have identified two former U.S. Navy SEALs found dead on the "Maersk Alabama" container ship. A Seychelles government official says traces of narcotics and hypodermic needles were found with their bodies suggesting a drug overdose. The "Maersk" was targeted by Somali pirates in an attempted 2009 hijacking off the East African coast and is the inspiration for the hit film "Captain Phillips."

A huge surge on Wall Street today. The Dow gaining more than 92 points, closing just above 16,000, the S&P closing within 10 points of its all-time high. The NASDAQ also gained resuming a hot streak. The news comes despite the latest batch of weak economic numbers.

Happening now, breaking news, on the new shoe bomb alert, we have new details on a likely link to al Qaeda and fears that the terror network's master bombmaker is now at work.