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Clinton-Bush Friendship Transcends Partisanship; Chris Christie Inaugurated

Aired January 21, 2014 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now: second-term blues. Despite the standing ovation, the New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, takes his oath of office under a cloud of scandal. Can he turn his plummeting poll numbers around?

An ex-governor indicted, Virginia's Bob McDonnell and his wife now facing more than a dozen charges. And we're learning new details. What are the luxury gifts prosecutors say they accepted illegally?

And winter blast. Snow and frigid temperatures are gripping a huge portion of the Eastern U.S., paralyzing travel, and closing the federal government. How long will the weather emergency last?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

This was supposed to be a night of celebration for Chris Christie, but the storm clouds covering New Jersey and much of the Eastern United States canceled his inaugural festivities. And except for his reelection, there's little for the embattled governor to celebrate right now. Growing scandals have his poll numbers plunging as questions about his political future grow more pointed.

But today Governor Christie used his inaugural to try to hit the reset button and recapture some of his political mojo.

CNN's Jake Tapper was there.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you please join me in welcoming Governor Chris Christie and the Christie family?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: On the first day of his second term as New Jersey governor, Chris Christie faced two storms.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: It's only fitting that in this administration, with more hurricanes, snowstorms, flooding and disaster of the natural sort of any administration I can remember in my lifetime, that we begin the second term in the same way.


TAPPER: A snowstorm forced the cancellation of tonight's inaugural gala on historic Ellis Island and a continuing storm of controversies clouded what was supposed to be a day of celebration. Christie didn't talk today about scandals. Instead, the Republican governor in a state dominated by Democrats touted his bipartisan efforts.

CHRISTIE: As we saw in December regarding the DREAM Act, we can put the future of our state ahead of the partisans who would rather demonize than compromise.

TAPPER: Trying to contrast what he has been able to do in Trenton with the partisan rancor in the nation's capital.

CHRISTIE: We cannot fall victim to the attitude of Washington, D.C., the attitude that says, I am always right and you are always wrong.


CHRISTIE: So help me God.

TAPPER: As Christie was getting sworn in, New Jersey Democratic lawmakers announced they were combining two separate committees with subpoena powers that are investigating whether the governor's administration abused its power.

Still, as Christie arrived at his inauguration, he enjoyed a two-and- a-half-minute standing ovation. But the numbers that are troubling for the likely 2016 Republican presidential contender are these, another national poll today indicating that Christie's favorable ratings are taking a big hit.

Jake Tapper, CNN, Trenton, New Jersey.


BLITZER: He was another Republican governor seen as a potential White House contender in 2016, but now Bob McDonnell, who led Virginia for just one term, has been indicted along with his wife.

Our senior Washington correspondent, Joe Johns, is working the story for us.

Joe, what do we know about the charges against this Virginia couple?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's a 14-count indictment alleging what is essentially public corruption and wire fraud involving former Virginia Governor McDonnell and his wife, Maureen.

They are also charged with conspiracy to obtain property essentially through abuse of office. There are false statement charges in there and an obstruction of justice charge about Maureen McDonnell. It is all about the McDonnells' relationship with a CEO of a dietary supplement company named Jonnie Williams.

The meat of the case involves loans for tens of thousands of dollars and other things of value, including a shopping trip in New York City at Oscar de la Renta for a designer dress, also shopping at Louis Vuitton, Bergdorf Goodman, a $15,000 check described as a wedding gift apparently for one of the McDonnells' daughters, a Rolex watch with the words 71st governor of Virginia inscribed on the back, golfing trips. The list goes on and on of things the government asserts were given to the McDonnells allegedly in exchange for their help in promoting the company Star Scientific and the products.

The former governor, who just left office on January 11, issued a statement which said in part: "I regret accepting legal gifts and loans from Mr. Williams, all of which have been paid with interest, and I have apologized for my poor judgment." However, he repeats, "I did nothing illegal for Mr. Williams in exchange for what I believed was his personal generosity and friendship."

This indictment has been expected for a long time. Wolf, I can tell you the acting U.S. attorney in this case is a tough one. Dana Boente has been in on a number of high-profile cases, including the successful prosecution of former New Orleans Congressman William Jefferson, who is now serving a prison sentence for bribery.

BLITZER: These are serious charges. He's a former attorney general in Michigan, a former governor of the state of Virginia as well.

JOHNS: Absolutely. And that's certainly a big problem for him because there is always the question which has been raised so many times of willful blindness, knowing about a thing but turning the other way. So as this case progresses, that will be sure to come up.

BLITZER: Certainly will. Joe Johns reporting pretty disturbing information.

Now a story first reported on CNN, the Republican National Committee weighing a new push against abortion. Comes as tens of thousands of protesters opposed to abortion rights for women are gathering here in the nation's capital for their annual march on the U.S. Supreme Court.

CNN's Tom Foreman is joining us to explain what is going on.

Explain, Tom, to our viewers.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, these protesters may create the biggest noise as they march tomorrow, but the few Republicans gathering at a handful of meetings, some in private and some in public, they may make a difference.


FOREMAN (voice-over): Amid the growing blizzard, 168 members of the Republican National Committee will consider a plan being pushed by conservatives to tackle the stormy issue of abortion head on.

The resolution on Republican pro-life strategy would have GOP candidates aggressively confront Democratic challengers to see precisely where they stand on proposals to require spouses be notified before an abortion is performed, to provide sharper health warnings to women about the procedures and to require a waiting period before an abortion takes place.

On all of these and more, the author of the plan, Ellen Barrosse, believes public opinion runs strongly to the right.

ELLEN BARROSSE, ANTI-ABORTION ADVOCATE: Eighty percent of Americans believe that abortion should be illegal in the third trimester. Close to 80 percent believe that parents should be involved in their daughter's crisis pregnancy.

FOREMAN (on camera): You think that Republicans have real muscle here?

BARROSSE: I know the Republicans have real muscle here.

MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They brought us whole binders full of women.

FOREMAN (voice-over): In a broader sense, the effort is aimed at Democratic assistance that Republicans are waging a war on women, claims that have been bolstered by GOP missteps.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape that it is something that God intended to happen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.

FOREMAN: Undeniably, women have tilted left in many recent elections. But backers of this new measure are convinced if Democrats are forced to spell out exactly how far they want abortion rights to go, the Republican position might start looking more likable to women everywhere.


FOREMAN: So the Republicans are trying to thread the needle once again, seeing if they can remain in a large part of the conservative wing against abortion, but not seem to be so in such a way that it closes the door for all discussion of graduations along the way, although, Wolf, I have to say there are plenty of Democrats out there who will say you want to go that way, bring it on. They still think they have a winning issue with women on all of this -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Tom Foreman, thanks very much.

Still ahead, he's the man who forced her husband from the Oval Office after only one term. That makes Barbara Bush's public declaration of love for Bill Clinton all the more shocking, shall we say. We're going to talk about it with two women on opposite sides of the political aisle.

Plus, very dangerous winter weather out there hammering huge portions of the United States right now. We have details of the brutal conditions and the travel nightmare that it created.


BLITZER: They're words no one could have imagined hearing in 1992 when Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush were bitter political rivals. But two decades later, the two have developed a deep friendship. And it's as deep as it is unlikely.

The former first lady Barbara Bush says bluntly she loves Bill Clinton.

Our senior Washington correspondent, Joe Johns, is back with a little bit more on what is going on.

What is she saying, Joe?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is a strange but true story of how two towering political figures who once squared off for the highest office in the land have now settled into the deepest of friendships, not exactly the type of situation you would expect in the polarized world of American politics.


JOHNS (voice-over): In a candid interview on C-SPAN, a personal reflection from a former first lady.

BARBARA BUSH, FORMER FIRST LADY: I love Bill Clinton, maybe not his politics, but I love Bill Clinton.

FOREMAN: Barbara Bush revealing the deep feelings that have developed between her family and the former Democratic president.

BUSH: My husband, Bill Clinton, and I have become great friends. And Bill visits us every summer. And we don't agree politically, but we don't talk politics.

FOREMAN: A connection that may go almost as deep as it can get.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: People were beginning to joke that I was getting so close to the Bush family, I had become the black sheep son.

FOREMAN: Bill Clinton's biological father, William Jefferson Blythe, died in an automobile accident before the future president was even born.

BUSH: Bill's father wasn't around. And I think that he thinks of George a little bit like the father he didn't have. And he is very loving to him. And I really appreciate that.

FOREMAN: They have come a long way since Clinton beat George H.W. Bush in the 1992 election. It may have been the Bush's son, George W., who truly brought them together when he asked them to join forces to help the victims of the 2005 Asian tsunami.

But now there is a chance at least that another Bush could run for the White House, as their son and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush weighs his options, a run for the highest office that potentially could lead to a face-off with none other than Bill Clinton's wife, Hillary, though Mrs. Bush has expressed reservations.

BUSH: There are a lot of ways to serve, and being president is not the only one. And I would hope that someone else would run, although there is no question in my mind that Jeb is the best qualified person to run for president. But I hope he won't.


JOHNS: Jeb Bush's father by contrast says he would like to see his son run for president. It is not at all clear right now which way Jeb Bush himself is leaning.

BLITZER: It's a huge question mark, building if he were to run he would be a formidable candidate for sure. Joe, thanks very much.

Let's dig a little bit deeper right now with our CNN political commentators, the Democratic strategist Maria Cardona and the Republican strategist Ana Navarro.

BLITZER: Ana, you are close to Jeb Bush. First of all, what do you think about the special relationship between former President George H.W. Bush and former President Bill Clinton and their families?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think it is absolutely genuine and it's absolutely true. And I can tell you that I have witnessed it.

The last time I saw Bill Clinton, Wolf, and as you know my better half who is also a friend of Bill Clinton, Gene, owns a hotel where Jeb Bush is a tenant. And Bill Clinton was coming into the hotel. Jeb Bush was not in town. And I said to him, hey, Bill, your little brother is not in town, but he sends his regards. And he said to me he immediately knew who I was talking about. He knew I was talking about Jeb.

He said to me tell him that next week I'm stopping by Houston and I am going to see his mom and dad. He visits them regularly and I think absolutely he has a very special fondness for George Herbert Walker Bush and it is mutual.

BLITZER: Maria, you worked for Bill Clinton when he was president of the United States and you supported Hillary Clinton's run for the White House. What do you make of the unique relationship?

MARIA CARDONA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I actually think it should give us hope that after such partisan bickering that we can transcend that, because you're right.

They were at each other's throats during much of the Clinton presidency and afterward as well. But I think it also shows if you really get together and focus on something that is bigger than politics and that's bigger than yourself you can really come together. I think it was an amazing interview. I think Barbara Bush looks incredible. I thought it was very interesting how she straddled the question of Jeb Bush running by saying clearly she supports her son and that he would be the best one, but also under no uncertain terms saying that she does not want him to run.

But I think the special relationship should give us al hope that there is something bigger than politics and we can all transcend that. BLITZER: Ana, as someone who has watched Bill Clinton over all of these years going back to 1992, he is a unique politician. He does have the ability to sort of make everyone he gets in contact with feel so special because he makes them feel like he really knows them and likes them. That is just part of his talent as a politician.

But you know Jeb Bush well. And give me your thoughts. Do you think he will run for the Republican nomination?

NAVARRO: Wolf, I think he is a very disciplined guy. He has told me and has told others that he is going to sit down and think about this in the summer. You probably won't get a decision from him until November.

I think he is looking at it seriously. I think he needs to disentangle himself from some business deals he has got going on and all of the business commitments that he has got going on. But he has got time to do it. I think wait and see, because I think we will get a decision from Hillary and from Jeb some time in November. At this point, it almost sounds like it will be a family feud.

I thought it was very interesting in this Barbara Bush interview that she loves Bill Clinton. She didn't say she loves Hillary. But what was more interesting to me is that she also said in this same interview that she was also against her husband running for president and her other son George W. Bush running. I almost think it is a good omen for Jeb that his mom is against him running.

I think she is being a mom above everything else and doesn't want to see her son get entangled in what is right now the rough-and-tumble politics.

BLITZER: I'm sure Ana would like to see Jeb Bush run for that nomination.

NAVARRO: Oh, run, Jeb, run.

BLITZER: I know you like -- Maria, what about Hillary? Do you think she is going to run?

CARDONA: I hope she is going to run. But the same way that Ana talks about how Jeb is being very methodical about this, Hillary Clinton is really looking at this from all angles, as she should. She has the benefit of time, Wolf.

She doesn't really need to jump into this. You all have made many stories, done many stories about how there are so many infrastructures out there that are waiting for her to jump in. I think she has the luxury of time in a way that we haven't seen any candidate in the past. I think if it is her and Jeb, that will be an incredibly interesting campaign.

I think that Jeb Bush really would be a formidable candidate should he decide to run. I don't know Jeb the way that Ana does, but a lot of other Republicans that do know him don't seem to think he has the fire in the belly. But, again, a day is a lifetime in politics, so we will see.

BLITZER: We will see what both of them decide.

Let me move on to Wendy Davis. Ana, let me get your thoughts first and give them to me quickly because we don't have a lot of time. She is running for the Democratic nomination to be the next governor of Texas. She has now supposedly embellished a little bit of her biography. It's a story out there in Texas. What do you make of this?

NAVARRO: Look, I think accuracy is important these days in politics. I remember a couple of years ago when Marco Rubio got the dates wrong of when his parents had come to the United States from Cuba.

I remember when Paul Ryan couldn't remember his marathon running time, and that was a very big deal. But Wendy Davis can't remember her own biographical data and her own biographical information, when she got divorced. And she has embellished. That's the bottom line.

I think she's just learned a lesson. When you are running for high office like the governor of Texas is, do not embellish and say the truth, because you will get caught if you are saying lies and embellishing.


CARDONA: She has already said that she needs to be more careful in her language.

But come on. Clearly, I think the GOP is going after her as to whether she was divorced or separated at 19 or at 21 because I think they are afraid that her story is really resonating with women in Texas. There is no question that she struggled. She started working when she was 14. She was a single mom at 19 living in a trailer with her daughter. She put herself through Harvard.

She clearly has made herself a formidable candidate with a real life story that is really making women look at her and it is relevant to all of the voters that she is trying to reach. I think the fact that the GOP is trying to make a whole lot of this really I think speaks to the fact that they are afraid of her.

BLITZER: We would love to have her here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We have invited her to come back and talk about a little bit about this. She does have a pretty amazing story when you take a look at her background and the fact that she is a graduate of both Harvard Law School and not just Harvard.

Maria, thanks very much.

Ana, as usual, thanks to you. I know Ana is in New York, where it is snowing. She would rather be where she lives, in Miami, but that's another story.

Still ahead, millions of Americans are under winter storm warnings right now. Snow is piling up. Thousands of flights across the country have been canceled. Our severe weather expert, Chad Myers, he is out right in the middle of it. There he is right there. When we come back, you are going to hear what he has to say.


BLITZER: We're following breaking news, a major winter storm bringing heavy snow, frigid temperatures to large sections of the United States, the eastern Part especially.


BLITZER: We have two stories for you now about one of my favorite sports, basketball.

First, the first lady, Michelle Obama, shooting hoops with the Miami Heat. Members of the NBA championship team made a public service announcement with the first lady promoting her Let's Move campaign against obesity. The Heat visited the White House last week, where President Obama congratulated them for their back-to-back world championships, although the next day they did lose to my Washington Wizards here in Washington.

Finally, the billionaire Warren Buffett is betting $1 billion on this year's NCAA Tournament. Online lender Quicken Loans is offering a billion-dollar prize to the fan who submits a perfect bracket. And if there is one, that money will be paid out by Buffett's company, Berkshire Hathaway. Buffett isn't disclosing the premium Quicken Loans agreed to pay Berkshire to cover the potential payout. The odds are slim because, get this, there are more than nine million trillion ways to fill out the bracket.

Good luck. Big payout, a billion dollars.

Remember, you can always follow what is going on here in THE SITUATION ROOM on Twitter. Go ahead and tweet me @WolfBlitzer. Tweet the show @SITROOM. CROSSFIRE starts right now.