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Should TSA Agents Carry Guns?; Stephen King Demanding Apology From Governor; Pontiff Performs Miracles, Takes On Mafia. Aired 4:30- 5p ET

Aired March 23, 2015 - 16:30   ET



BERMAN: Welcome back to the lead. I'm John Berman, in for Jake Tapper today.

In our politics lead, the race for the White House in 2016 is officially official. There is an actual candidate running and not just thinking about it. Earlier today, Republican senator Ted Cruz announced he is all in, no exploring necessary for him.

CNN senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny joins us now live from Liberty University, the largest Christian university in the world, where Cruz spoke to a capacity crowd today.

And, Jeff, what was it like?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: John, he was unapologetic, unabashed and uncompromising. That's what Senator Cruz said Republicans must do to fight the party's establishment and win back the White House.


[16:35:06] ZELENY (voice-over): Finally, let the race begin. Senator Ted Cruz is the first Republican out of the gate.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: I believe in the power of millions of courageous conservatives rising up to reignite the promise of America. And that is why today I am announcing that I'm running for president of the United States.


ZELENY: With those words, Cruz jump-started the 2016 presidential race, officially making his lofty ambitions known. There was no hometown rally for this freshman Texas senator. He selected the Virginia campus of Liberty University, all for a picture-perfect backdrop of 10,000 evangelical students.

He made clear that liberty would be the soundtrack of his campaign, saying the word more than a dozen times.

CRUZ: How fragile liberty is. An assault on our religious liberty.

We will stand for liberty.

ZELENY: Cruz made his announcement on the fifth anniversary of the signing of Obamacare, a fitting date for a freshman senator who rose to the national spotlight with his role in the 2013 government shutdown. He made no apologies as he delivered his unabashed brand of conservatism.

CRUZ: Imagine in 2017 a new president signing legislation repealing every word of Obamacare.


ZELENY: Not everyone was sold on his message. A group of Rand Paul supporters said they were being used as props, because students were required to attend.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think it was right to do it at a university that's requiring convocation attendance.

ZELENY (on camera): Whether you plan to support him or not, what did you think of his message?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's a Christian man. He's definitely a nice guy. It's just that, for my personal beliefs, he's a little bit too much of a war hawk.

CRUZ: We, the people.

ZELENY (voice-over): After the speech, we caught up with Cruz and asked if he was ready for the marathon ahead in a Republican field with nearly a dozen candidates.

CRUZ: If every day is like this, I'm invigorated and inspired by young people ready to turn the country around.

ZELENY: Every day, of course, will not be like this. His Republican rivals plan to jump into the race next month.

For this day, though, Cruz and his family reveled in the moment. His wife, Heidi, is taking a leave of absence from her job at Goldman Sachs to spend time on the campaign trail with their two young daughters.

CRUZ: I am honored to stand with each and every one of you courageous conservatives, as we come together to reclaim the promise of America.


ZELENY: Now, Cruz is starting a 10-city fund-raising tour over the coming weeks. He hopes to raise about $40 million to $50 million this year. But he has to do more than raise money, John. He has to win over the skeptics inside his own party and there are so many of them out there.

BERMAN: Yes, I want to talk about that, Jeff. Jeff Zeleny for us at Liberty University, thanks so much for being with us.

And joining us now to talk about all this is Kevin Madden, CNN political commentator, former senior adviser for Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. Also here, Karen Finney, a Democratic strategist, former deputy press secretary for then first lady Hillary Clinton.

Thanks, guys, so much for joining us right now. I'm excited because somebody is actually running for president, not just exploring right now. But besides my excitement, what does Ted Cruz, Kevin, get out of this by being the first to jump in?

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, look, it's probably going to get a lot more crowded. This race will have a lot more candidates that are sort of running in that very conservative lane.

To be the first in, he has an opportunity to consolidate a lot of those conservative grassroots activists in places like Iowa and places like South Carolina, maybe even New Hampshire and Florida. And now he can start to raise the money and start to get the staff and the infrastructure that he needs, because he does start out as a long shot.

In order to really have some momentum right now, he has to be the first one in and really start the ball rolling.

BERMAN: He's getting a whole segment right here on THE LEAD. I'm not sure that the sixth or seventh guy in will get that kind of attention.


He needed kind of a breakout moment and this is the best way to do it. He did it where he had a built-in crowd of people who had to be there, a beautiful picture. And you could tell he is very good at the oratory. He was saying if every day is like this day. And it's not going to be, because part of being in the lead or being the first person out there means the scrutiny and can you answer tough questions?

All of this lovely rhetoric, OK, but how are you going to do that. When you take away Obamacare, what are you going to replace it with for the 16 million people who now have health insurance? We haven't heard anything like that. When you are talking to women, what is your answer to why you don't support equal pay or why you are anti- choice? He is going to have to answer beyond just the beautiful rhetoric.

MADDEN: Not only that, but inside the Republican primary, there are going to be so many candidates that see Ted Cruz as a main obstacle in their way of getting the nomination.

BERMAN: Let's talk about that.

First, let's show off the latest poll numbers right now. And you may get a sense of why Ted Cruz jumped in, because he's, what, at 4 percent right now down near the bottom of the list, seventh or eighth on the list right now. You can Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Rand Paul up at the top.

[16:40:10] How does he differentiate himself from people who are fighting for that part of the electorate, the part on the right, sort of libertarian, sort of Christian conservative? Because there are a whole lot of candidates there, everyone from Bush on down, Kevin, fighting for that same group.

MADDEN: That's the thing. You see all the other numbers, like Huckabee, Rand Paul, and Scott Walker. He wants to get all those voters.

He wants to give them the chance to vote for the most pure conservative in the race. That's where he's going to be. That's where he probably figures his best strategy to break out is, is to give everybody the opportunity to say you want to fight the status quo not only in Washington, but do you want to fight the status quo and the establishment inside our own party? I'm your chance to do that. I'm the champion for the most conservative values, the most conservative principles.

There is no mistake he did it at Liberty University, because he's trying to bring together not only some of these fiscal conservatives, but so many of the social and cultural conservatives that are key in places like Iowa and South Carolina.

FINNEY: But the flip side of that is he is a firebrand. That's how he built his brand. That's how he helped shut down the government with the support of the House, $24 billion. But do people see a president when they look at him?

That is part of his challenge. Can he be presidential? And particularly for the Republican Party, at a time when the party is supposed to be reaching out, Cruz out of the block has trouble with young voters. A majority of millennials support a path to citizenship. He does not. I mentioned women and Latinos. Latino Decisions did a very interesting poll. And 73 percent of Latinos said they are not sure they would vote for him.


BERMAN: And his father's Cuban.

FINNEY: And there's three blocs that again the Republican Party has said, hey, we need to reach out to. He doesn't -- he starts out at less than zero with very conservative positions.

BERMAN: He's a young guy. What, he's like 44 years old, right? Karen, let me ask you this. Is he running to win or he is running to run? FINNEY: I think he's probably running to raise his profile and

potentially to put some issues out on the table. I think he wants to further his brand as this firebrand conservative.

Again, he will have to show if he can be more of a leader, not just the sort of fire-throwing rhetoric. I think he also, though, may push the Republican primary farther to the right than they really want to go. If he becomes seen as the standard bearer for the Republican Party, that's not where the party has said it wants to go.

BERMAN: Kevin Madden, you are smiling. You have some experience being pushed perhaps further than you would want to go. Mitt Romney was accused of that in 2012, being pushed further to the right in the primary than he wanted to be for the general. You think there's a risk of that here?

MADDEN: I think there is potentially a risk. I think a lot of the candidates that will be running against Ted Cruz in the conservative subprimary, I they're all going to try to stay to his right. That could create a little bit more of a divisive primary.

But it also does offer an opportunity. If you are Jeb Bush, look, you need somebody to post up against. You need to be able to say to the electorate, the Republican electoral, there's unelectable and then there's me. I have an opportunity to bring the White House back into the Republican fold if you elect me. If we take a risk here with Ted Cruz, we may not. That may help him ultimately.

BERMAN: What's striking when you look at the people running is quite how many there are in the Republican field right now, accomplished people who have been in office for awhile or in senior positions. Not so much right now amongst the Democratic contenders, Karen.

"The Boston Globe" this weekend came out and said, hey, Elizabeth Warren, the senator for our home state, we want you to run. Get in the race, run against Hillary.


BERMAN: What do you make of that?

FINNEY: I make of that, look, Elizabeth Warren is very popular. I'm a Democrat that personally just in politics in general I think primaries are a good thing. I think Hillary Clinton would do perfectly well in any kind of primary with any kind of opponent.

I think, with Elizabeth Warren, though, she has definitely sparked some energy and interest, particularly when she talks about income inequality. Hillary Clinton talked about it today, but this has really been kind of Elizabeth Warren's kind of, that's been her message. The thing though that I think all of these sort of run, Warren, run, sort of efforts don't get is you have to really want it.

Running for president is a horrible, miserable, as Kevin will tell you, enterprise. (CROSSTALK)

FINNEY: You have to really want it. And she has been so clear that she doesn't want it. And I think she may know something about herself in terms of whether or not that that is something she would really want to do for the next year.

BERMAN: Karen Finney, Kevin Madden, thanks so both for being with us. I appreciate it.


BERMAN: Coming up for us, it took just seconds for a machete- wielding man to storm an airport security checkpoint and come within inches of a TSA agent. Now there is a new push to arm TSA agents with guns -- why some say this is a big mistake. That's next.

Plus, Stephen King, "Cujo," "The Shining," not happy with Maine's governor -- why the author wants him to -- quote -- "man up and apologize."

That's ahead.




BERMAN: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm John Berman in for Jake Tapper. In national news, a machete-wielding attacker at a U.S. airport is now reigniting the debate over whether TSA officers should have guns. This attack happened Friday night in New Orleans.

Police say 63-year-old Richard White charged at agents at security checkpoint. First, he sprayed wasp spray at workers, then he pulled out a machete and started swinging. The sheriff's deputy happened to be there and stopped White, shooting him three times, but could the TSA have reacted more quickly if officers were armed?

I want to bring in CNN's Rene Marsh. You know, Rene, this really does renew the arguments about what capabilities these TSA officers should have.

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION AND GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I mean, when you even look at the stats, last year alone, we know TSA seized more than 2,000 guns at checkpoints. This latest incident only highlights what can happen when those weapons are put to use. And now after this attack, the union representing TSA officers says the officers need guns to close what is a security gap at airports.



MARSH (voice-over): A TSA officer on a stretcher and the machete- wielding attacker face down and handcuffed, the weapon nearby, this about 40 seconds after 63-year-old Richard White stormed a security check point inside New Orleans Louis Armstrong International Airport Friday.

CARROLL RICHEL, TSA AGENT: This man was swinging very hard, very hard with that machete. If he would have made contact with anybody, it would have been terrible.

MARSH: That machete came within inches of TSA Officer Carol Richel. She says White sprayed officers and bystanders with wasp spray, then charged the checkpoint. Police say he was also armed with Molotov cocktails, smoke bombs and gas cylinders were found in his car.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I heard pop, I was like oh!

MARSH: A nearby law enforcement officer opened fire. White was struck three times and later died. His family says he suffered mental illness. The union representing TSA officers says the attack exposes vulnerabilities in airport security and wants some TSA officers to be armed with guns.

J. DAVID COX, NATIONAL PRESIDENT, AMERICAN FEDERAION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES: The employees that do the screening at airports now twice have become the victims and become the target of people that want to do harm.

MARSH: This man was charged in the deadly November 2013 shooting at Los Angeles' LAX Airport, where a TSA officer was shot dead at a security checkpoint. Following that incident, TSA recommended airports beef up police presence at checkpoints and ticket counters.

But the agency rejects arming its officers. Chad Wolf, a former TSA assistant administrator, calls it a bad idea and a distraction from screening for explosives and other threats.

CHAD WOLF, FORMER TSA ASSISTANT ADMINISTRATOR: Tacking that responsibility on to a TSA officer to do in addition to all their screening duties, all the duties they have to do at the checkpoint beyond that I think is sort of a recipe for disaster.


MARSH: Well, again, you just heard him there. He thinks it's a distraction, essentially, but then there is also the cost issue that a lot of people bring up. Who is going to pay for that?

I asked him what is the answer, then, and opponents of arming TSA officers, they say the answer is a higher police presence, law enforcement, and a faster response time when you have incidents like this.

BERMAN: Someone else with guns at the checkpoints. It's an interesting discussion and important debate to have. Rene Marsh, thanks so much. Coming up, he received an entire pizza as a gift and was mobbed

by a group of overly eager nuns, but for Pope Francis that was just the warm-up. Find out the miracle he performed that made the crowd weep. That's next.



BERMAN: We're back with the Money Lead. Legendary author, Stephen King is blasting the governor of Maine for insinuating that he doesn't pay his state taxes. King is demanding an apology after a radio broadcast by Governor Pau LePage.

The "Portland Press Herald" grabbed the screen shot of the transcript summarized. LePage said that King and others move away and end up in Florida where there is no income tax. King took that to mean that he left the state to avoid paying his bills. He tweeted the governor directly calling for an apology.

CNN checked the transcript today and there is no longer a mention of King. The author was born in Maine and owns two houses there. He also has a winter house in Florida, but when you are Stephen King and worth $400 million, you can do that.

Time now for the Buried Lead, his kisses have been known to make miracles. He gives mob bosses offers they can't refuse and he gets pizza delivered to his car even when he doesn't order one. He's the most interesting man in the world.

No, not him, talking about Pope Francis who, as you may have heard, has been on quite a bit of a roll.


BERMAN (voice-over): No matter what you did Saturday night, Pope Francis had a better weekend than you. No, really, I swear to -- I promise. Look at the greeting he got from nuns in Naples. The cardinal there joked they're going to eat him. No wonder he looked a little nervous.

Not so nervous, though, that he couldn't perform a miracle. A miracle not nailing 14 out of 16 in your March Madness pool, but perhaps the real thing, that vial is said to be filled with solidified blood of the patron saint of Naples.

But one kiss from Pope Francis and it was announced that half the contents liquefied. Yes, what some are calling a miracle and the pope was just warming up. The pontiff took the pope mobile on a spin through a bad neighborhood, Naples' most dangerous mafia territory.

His message, knock it off. The Catholic leader told roughly 7,000 onlookers we all have the potential to be corrupt and slip into criminality but it is time to end the tears of the mothers of Naples.

Telling off the mafia, performing miracles, you can work up quite an appetite so what does a hungry pope do? Get some lunch, to go. That's right, a hand-delivered personalized pizza from one of Naples' most dedicated chefs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I gave him the pizza and with a smile he said thank you. Giving a pizza you made with your own hands to the pope is very emotional.

BERMAN: I suppose you might say when the pontiff drives by and gets a free pizza pie, that's amore.


BERMAN: The pizza maker got the idea when he heard the pope say that he missed most about life outside the Vatican was being able to enjoy pizza in private.

That is all for us on THE LEAD today. I'm John Berman in for Jake. I turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM" -- Wolf.