CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you. I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for joining us.
Checking our "Top Stories" at 30 minutes past the hour: There are new developments this morning in that horrifying nightclub fire in Brazil. We now learned police have arrested one of the club's owners and two members of the band that were using fireworks in the show. More than 230 people died in the inferno. Nearly half of them college students from a nearby campus.
New developments overnight in the royal phone prank scandal. The Australian radio show behind the call has been taken off the air permanently. Michael Christian and Mel Greig did a bad impersonation of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles and were patched through to the Royal hospital ward. The nurse who routed their call later committed suicide.
Several miles of the Mississippi River closed this morning after two tank barges loaded with crude oil hit a railroad bridge. It happened near the town of Vicksburg about 45 miles west of Jackson. One tank with 80,000 gallons of crude oil started leaking but the Coast Guard managed to stop the leak. And now trying to figure out how many gallons actually spilled into the river.
It's one of the key issues President Obama wants to tackle in his second term, immigration reform. Now it seems the President may be getting a little help from a group of bipartisan senators who will unveil their immigration proposal today. Here's how one of those senators, New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez, summed up the likelihood the legislation will pass.
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SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D), NEW YORK: First of all, Americans support it in poll after poll. Secondly, Latino voters expect it. Third, the Democrats want it. And fourth, the Republicans need it.
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COSTELLO: Joining me now is Congressman Steve Israel of New York, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Good morning. REP. STEVE ISRAEL (D), NEW YORK: Good morning, Carol.
COSTELLO: Is Menendez right?
ISRAEL: Yes, he is right. And look, we now have two of the three elements necessary to pass immigration reform. You've got a bipartisan group of senators, on the left and the right, who support immigration reform and will unveil their plan. You've got the President of the United States who will unveil his plan in Las Vegas tomorrow. Now all we need are House Republicans to come to the table and agree and compromise.
The question is this: Will those House Republicans who have always pandered to their Tea Party base to Tea Party extremism and intolerance once and for all stand up to the Tea Party and join Republicans and Democrats and the President in a solution to an immigration process that is broken and is dysfunctional?
COSTELLO: Well, you know, we're asking that question of our viewers today. You know, when you mentioned the Tea Party and how much power it actually does still have in the House of Representatives? In your mind, does it have power, because we don't hear much from those House members who are very supportive of the Tea Party?
ISRAEL: You know, we just had a vote on whether Democrats and Republicans and people of no party affiliation who saw their homes and businesses destroyed by Superstorm Sandy, whether they should get federal assistance to rebuild their homes and their small businesses, and only a couple of dozen of Republicans voted with Democrats to provide their assistance. Why? Because the Tea Party continues to exert its influence and its intolerance on the House Republican caucus.
Yesterday, Paul Ryan double downed and dug in on a Ryan budget that will cut Medicare on an accelerated timetable. They're actually intensifying the damage that they tried to do last year.
So to your question, is the Tea Party still influential? There are still too many Republican members of congress who will do what the Tea Party tells them to do who aren't interested in solutions but continue to be interested in pandering to this Tea Party base.
COSTELLO: You know, speaking of Paul Ryan, he was talking about the ongoing budget crisis in Washington and he said things would have been different had Hillary Clinton won. Let's listen.
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REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN: Look, if we had a Clinton presidency, if we had Erskine Bowles chief staff of the White House or President of the United States, I think we would have fixed this fiscal mess by now. That's not the kind of presidency we're dealing with right now.
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COSTELLO: He has a point about Erskine Bowles, right? ISRAEL: Well, I know it sounds like Paul Ryan has endorsed Hillary Clinton for president in 2016 although I don't know if she's running. Loo, the fact of the matter is this, you know it was -- the Republican Party is the Clinton presidency of the 1990s that actually shut down the government, so those Tea Party Republicans in this Congress who talk about fiscal cliffs and showdowns and shutdowns, they're getting their instructions from a playbook that House Republicans created in the Clinton presidency in the 1990s.
So I don't think Paul Ryan had a heck of a lot of credibility when he talks about a Clinton presidency being easy to work with considering that his forebears actually tried to shut down the government in a Clinton presidency in the 1990s.
COSTELLO: But -- but President Clinton did come up with a way to, you know, to solve the welfare problem in this country and many Republicans say that the Democratic Congress today doesn't have any ideas about how to bring poverty levels down in the United States or how to bring long-term unemployment down, either. In fact, they say you guys aren't even paying attention to that anymore.
ISRAEL: Well, obviously I fundamentally disagree. In fact, it's House Democrats who have taken the lead in protecting the growth of the middle class while Republicans are protecting oil company subsidies. We're the ones who protected tax cuts for the middle class. While Republicans are protecting tax subsidies to allow big corporations to outsource jobs overseas, we're the ones who protected small business in his country and protected investments in college education.
So you know, House Republicans -- and now this new Ryan budget that he's talking about it doubles down on what they tried to do last year -- they're now saying that they we're going -- they will accelerate and intensify cuts to Medicare beneficiaries. Instead of joining Democrats for real reform by negotiating, volume discounts on prescription drugs, they want to continue to accelerate and intensify a budget on the backs of seniors. And I think that's fundamentally wrong, and we're going to fight that.
COSTELLO: OK, so I'm going to -- I'd like you to predict something, because Paul Ryan says we're headed for a sequestration, the series of steep federal cuts, you know, to the Defense Department and to other government programs. He says it's going to happen. Is it?
ISRAEL: Well, it shouldn't happen. Again, we are willing to compromise. We have -- we have already supported $1 trillion in cuts to the budget and the Budget Control Act, House Democrats have. We are willing to continue to engage in common sense solutions and compromise. But when Paul Ryan goes on national television and says my way or no way, that there is going to be sequestration, there will be cuts to defense, there will be more cliffs and there will not be a willingness to talk about more revenues from those most able to pay, that doesn't bode well.
We need to get away from the -- you know, the sound bites and drawing lines in the sands, as I said before, doubling down and digging in and instead, find areas where we can compromise and we continue to invite -- I'll invite Paul again, meet us halfway. We'll be there for you. But don't draw lines in the sand and don't tell us it's going to be your way or there is going to be government shutdowns or sequestration.
COSTELLO: Congressman Steve Israel of New York. Thank you so much for being with us this morning.
ISRAEL: Thanks, Carol. Thank you.
COSTELLO: You're welcome.