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Fury of Winter's First Big Storm; Interview with Congressman Joseph Crowley of New York; American Wins Miss Universe Crown

Aired December 21, 2012 - 06:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: We're tracking this massive winter storm. Just ahead, we have the latest path of the storm. Where it is headed, next.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: It was not a good night for the fiscal cliff deal apparently. So while you're rocking around the Christmas tree next week, Congress will be up to their ears in fiscal cliff negotiations, we hope.

BERMAN: Miss USA was crowned Miss Universe this week. And one of her first stops since winning? CNN. Coming up live this hour.

SAMBOLIN: Are you just a little too excited about this, Berman?

BERMAN: Probably, I have to tune down a little bit. That was a little too much.

Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: I'm Zoraida Sambolin. It is 29 minutes past the hour. Nice to have you with us this morning.

Talk about a nightmare before Christmas. Winner's first major storm makes holiday travel dangerous, if not impossible, in the Upper Midwest.

Today, New England is expected to get slammed by the storm as well. At least seven traffic-related deaths in four states blamed on all of the severe weather. As the storm barreled through the Plains and into the Great Lakes, more than a foot of wet, heavy snow in parts of Iowa and Wisconsin fell. Hundreds of flights canceled at the height, of course, of holiday travel.

And check this out. Look at this. And listen to it. This is incredible. I have never seen anything like this. Power lines sparking and snapping and making that really creepy noise.

At the storm's worst, 400,000 power customers in the region had absolutely no electricity and that number was down to 133,000 by yesterday afternoon.

Meteorologist Rob Marciano tracking it all for us from the CNN Weather Center in Atlanta.

I was trying to check what the flight delays are at this stage of the game. Tennessee has more than an hour, JFK is showing delays, Kansas City, St. Louis, not sure what's happening in Chicago. What are we expecting today?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: More in the way of delays. JFK, it's ground stop because of the winds. The winds are gusting there over 40 miles an hour, at St. Louis, Kansas City, they are de-icing because they had their snow and cold yesterday, and the winds are blowing and the snow is blowing across parts of Chicago as well. Twenty-two degrees right now. Wind chills are easily in the teens across the Great Lakes, including parts of Ohio.

Sixty-seven-mile-an-hour wind gusts yesterday in St. Louis. And now, they have the cold, crossing 40-mile-an-hour wind gust as well, and then the snow. Here is your big pinwheel. The center of the storm pretty much right over Toledo, Ohio.

The backside, of course, the front side, there's a lot in the way of rainfall. But snows will be piling up. We don't have any blizzard warnings today, but that doesn't mean there won't be blizzard conditions at times.

Again, winds are gusting over 40 miles an hour, across parts of southern Michigan and also through parts of Ohio, wind chills in the teens, but that also drops visibilities and causes that snow to drift as well. Rainfall heavy right now across New York City metropolitan area, the brighter color is obviously indicating the heaviest amounts of rain, maybe a little bit of sleet mixed in across parts of Upstate New York. And, of course, the wind is going to be the bigger issue.

Huge swath of real estate going to endure potentially damaging winds today, from the Canadian border, all the way down to central Georgia, 40 to 50 mile an hour gusts. We had high wind watches and advisories all the way back through Chicago, where right now the winds across southern part of Lake Michigan are gusting over 50 miles an hour.

So, you can imagine the waves pounding right now the Indiana coastline. Here is what we expect for snowfall, again, it will file up mostly in the mountains and just down end of the Great Lakes, maybe up to a foot of snow. But I-95, this is going to be mostly a wind and rain event and that will make travel slow enough as it is.

Zoraida, back up to you.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Rob Marciano, live in Atlanta, thank you.

And a snow-packed start to the weekend in northeastern Ohio. The area is bracing for up to eight inches of snow. That's going to happen over the next 24 hours. But the major concern there, all of these high winds that Rob was talking about, 45 mile an hour gusts are possible.

Victor Blackwell is weathering the storm in Cleveland. How is it going there? VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We still have big, fat snowflakes blowing sideways, Zoraida. You know, I brought my ruler just in case there was accumulation this morning. But, so far, look, there isn't any. We have a few puddles here and this path is wet -- just a dusting across the ground.

But as you said, as Rob said, the major concern today is going to be the wind. We checked in with Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. So far, no major delays, no problems there.

We are waiting for an update from Chicago's Department of Aviation. You know, one of the busiest airports in the country is Chicago O'Hare. Midway is there as well. At about 7:30 this morning, they're going to give us an update on the situation there. So, of course, we'll bring that to our viewers.

But last night, there were between those two airports, 500 cancelations into and out of that airport and more than a quarter million passengers are expected to travel through that airport today.

Here in the city of Cleveland, the mayor says if it gets really bad, like it was in Wisconsin and Iowa, and in Illinois, they are ready. They have more than 50 plow trucks, more than 100 drivers ready to clear the roads and more than 22,000 tons of salt.

Now, at the end of today is the start of the school break for the students here to go up to the holiday break. So, you know, they'll be able to play into the snow. But for the people driving in this, not able to see more than six feet in front of the car, if it gets really bad, that is not good to start the holiday travel season, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: No, it can be really dangerous. But lots of people were dying to see the -- I hate to say that, because there have been some deaths here, but the kids are looking forward to it.

Hey, Victor, how did you think of getting a ruler on your way to the live shot? Really? You are going to measure the snow?

BLACKWELL: You know, I was thinking. There's no way to accurately say how much snow is on the ground. How can you do that? Get a ruler, 49 cents. Worthy investment.

SAMBOLIN: Brilliant move. We're going to check in with you and see how snow accumulation there. Thanks a lot, Victor. Appreciate it.

And, of course, you can stay with CNN. We're not getting too far away from the weather system. We'll continue to track the storm throughout the morning and throughout the day for you.

And as you heard Victor, he's going to check on all those flights, because there could be problems traveling.

BERMAN: I think every report who's ever done a weather live shot has brought a ruler to measure the snow. I have lost six of my wife's rulers.

SAMBOLIN: In Chicago, I have never taken a ruler with me, ever.

BERMAN: Must not get much accumulation there.

SAMBOLIN: Really? Gosh, I love it, though. We'll see exactly how much snow we get.

BERMAN: All right. We're also talking a lot about Washington right now, because there is a stunning turn of events in the battle over the fiscal cliff. House Republicans imploded over John Boehner's Plan B. It would have raised rates on people making more than $1 million if a deal couldn't be reached by the end of the year.

But this vote, it never even came and Boehner released a statement that said in part, "The House did not take up the tax measure today because it did not have sufficient support from our members to pass. Now, it's up to the president to work with Senator Reid on legislation to avert the fiscal cliff."

Then they went into recess for Christmas and went home. So, what now?

Let's bring in Congressman Joseph Crowley, a Democrat from New York.

And, Congressman, you're a Democrat, so you have a rare and I'm sure welcome opportunity to look at this from the outside as it was happening. What's your take on it?

REP. JOSEPH CROWLEY (D), NEW YORK: It's kind of bizarre, John. You know, we're still trying to figure out exactly what this all means, but it's really remarkable that the Republicans would leave town with such important issues like the economy of our country, whether a tax hike will be imposed on all of Americans. To me, it's just very irresponsible.

We were all expecting to hear a message from the speaker or majority leader that we would be working at least through Christmas Eve. And now, that's not the case.

But what I want to say is I think there is still time. Democrats are prepared to work, and come back here and get this thing done before the end of the year and before we go over the cliff.

BERMAN: Now, the speaker has kept his members on a short lease, saying he prepared to come back within 48 hours, if we do have any developments. It doesn't seem like it would happen before Christmas now, but maybe right after.

In his statement, he also said, he looks now to the president to work with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to work out some sort of a deal. This is what the Senate majority leader last night, he said, "It is now clear that to protect the middle class from the fiscal cliff, Speaker Boehner must allow a bill to pass with a combination of Democratic and Republican votes."

That was a statement from actually Harry Reid's spokesman overnight. But the message here is this, that to get something through the House now, you're going to need more than just Republican votes, you're going to need both Republican and Democratic votes.

Where is the sweet spot, do you think, Congressman, where you can get votes from both sides?

CROWLEY: Well, that's a great question. But in reality, they could not get a bill that would give millionaires a tax cut. So it really shows that from their prospective, they are in utter chaos.

It probably does mean at some point they have to come to reality in order to stop us from going over the fiscal cliff, that we'll have to work in a bipartisan way. I would suggest there's a bill that's ready at the desk, that the Senate has already passed in a bipartisan way, that we can take up. We can also examine, you know, the president's proposal.

BERMAN: Let's examine the president's proposal here, because he's offering something not completely popular with members of your own party. A lot of people on the left concerned that changing the CPI, the way that inflation is measured in some cases, particularly with Social Security, could lead to Social Security cuts -- things that are tantamount to Social Security cuts.

Let's listen to what the House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said about this.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: I've said to the members, express yourself. You know, speak out against, because I'm not thrilled with the president's proposal. I mean, it's what it is in order to save the day, but that doesn't mean we don't all identify with every aspect of it.

REPORTER: Do you consider that a benefit cut?

PELOSI: No, I don't. I consider it a strengthening. That's neither here nor there.


BERMAN: Congressman, can you vote for these changes?

CROWLEY: I don't like that aspect of -- what I'm told is in the president's plan. And as I think the speaker said, really it's a question of whether or not we actually allow ourselves to go over the cliff.

I think that we're looking at some very serious issues here. What I can tell you is that the failure of the Republicans to even sit at the table and negotiate with the president, I think is even worse.

So, look, we all understand that in a negotiation, we don't want to negotiate against ourselves, that you have some wins, you have some losses. I would prefer we didn't go down that path. I would prefer we do other things, but we'll wait and just see what the Republicans do, what weather they come back and negotiate with the president or not.

BERMAN: All right. Congressman Joseph Crowley, Democrat from New York, we have 11 days left, sir -- hope you can work something out. Thanks very much.

CROWLEY: So do we.

SAMBOLIN: Thirty-nine minutes past the hour. It seemed like the world would end before we named another Miss Universe. But, hey, we're still here, and this young woman from Rhode Island, well, she has the crown this morning. Miss USA, now Miss Universe, Olivia Culpo, joins us live right here on CNN.

Good morning.


BERMAN: All right. We have a lot going on this morning. An exciting morning ahead.

Soledad O'Brien joins us with a look at what's ahead on "STARTING POINT."

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, we're talking about Plan B. The Republicans couldn't get enough support to vote on Plan B and get it through. So, now what? We know the GOP and Democrats have to figure out some way to compromise together, don't they? Or we go off the cliff, right?

DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz will join us this morning. We're going to talk to her about what happens next.

And Newtown exactly one week later. We're going to talk about the next step forward for that community, as well as whether the tragedy is changing the tone of journalism. And are we finally having a serious debate about guns? And how much of the press be involved in that debate? Talk about that this morning.

And the saying goes -- a picture's worth 1,000 words. From Superstorm Sandy, to a celebration in Egypt, we'll show some of the stunning photos that tell the story of this past year. That and much more, at the top of the hour. We'll see you right at the top of the hour.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you, Soledad.

It is 43 minutes past the hour. For the first time, first time in 15 years, an American has brought home the Miss Universe crown.


ANNOUNCER: And Miss Universe 2012 is -- USA! Olivia Culpo is the winner, Miss Universe.


(END VIDEO CLIP) SAMBOLIN: Olivia Culpo, a self-described cellist nerd from Rhode Island won the Miss Universe contest Wednesday night in Las Vegas. She beat 88 other contestants. She was originally crowned Miss USA back in June. And she joins us now live from Vegas.

Congratulations to you, very proud of you.


SAMBOLIN: Fifteen years, that's quite an accomplishment there. So, as we were showing that, when he this first called out your name, what is going through your mind at that moment?

CULPO: I couldn't believe USA actually won the title. It has been since 1997. I kind of figured USA could never win this pageant, it was refreshing, and I'm really honored, excited for the year.

SAMBOLIN: And Olivia, beauty contests are oftentimes criticized for being superficial, why did you get involved?

CULPO: My parents actually were apprehensive at first, because they thought it was very superficial also. But I wanted to do it to work on my interview skills, to work on my stage performance. I was studying acting and communications in school so I was going back and forth between what I wanted to do in the future in terms of entertainment. And it just made sense. It wasn't anything superficial to me. It was just a way to practice my skills.

SAMBOLIN: So, I want to play your answer to the question part of the contest, because that's kind of a nerve-wracking moment. The judge, Ms. Universe 2010, asked you if there was something that you have done that you will never do again. Here's your answer.


CULPO: But something I've done I've regretted was probably be picking on my siblings growing up, because you appreciate them so much more as you grow older. You get closer with your family, but everybody fights with their siblings, right? So -- but I don't regret it.


SAMBOLIN: Regret it, don't regret it. How nervous were you leading up to that? And does that factor in as to how you answer that question? I would imagine yes.

CULPO: I was not nervous for my top five question. I'm never nervous, really, answering questions. I don't know why. For me, it's more about not falling on my face.

I was actually a little upset they didn't give me a more difficult question, because obviously everybody makes mistakes. Everybody does -- do things that they regret. So I wish that there was a little bit more controversy in the question.

SAMBOLIN: And you are a sophomore at Boston University. You're studying communications. What's next for you?

BERMAN: Terriers.

SAMBOLIN: I have a Boston guy sitting next to me. That's what you're hearing in the background.

CULPO: Oh, Terriers, yes, that's right. I think I'm just going to take the year, see what happens, probably go not back to Boston University, but I definitely want to finish my education. I just don't know where.

SAMBOLIN: And you come from a big Italian family. How are they responding to all of this?

CULPO: Oh gosh. They are so excited. I feel bad for whoever runs into them. I'm just going to apologize, because they will not stop talking about it.


SAMBOLIN: Well, congratulations to you, Olivia Culpo, Ms. Universe 2012. Miss USA 2012 as well. Thank you for joining us this morning.

CULPO: Thank you.

BERMAN: Ms. Rhode Island. So all of New England rejoices and joins in her victory.

SAMBOLIN: But she's not going back to Boston.

BERMAN: Congratulations to her.

All right. So, a bedrock part of our happy little morning CNN family is leaving us today. And Rob Marciano, if you thought you were going to slip out of here off without a fuss or a send-off, your forecast was way, way off. Stay with us, everyone.


BERMAN: So it may not be the apocalypse after all today, but it is the end of the world as we know it here on EARLY START.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, it is. It is Rob Marciano's last day at the network after nine years here at CNN. And so, of course, Rob, we're going to miss you desperately. Christine and I have been talking about it all morning.


SAMBOLIN: So, we put together a little tribute for the guy who's covered it all. Watch.


MARCIANO: All right. Right now, we're looking at rainfall across parts of South Carolina. Some of this heavy at times. We just came on the eastern flank of the storm, and it's a tornado that's drop out of the clouds.

Where there it is up close. Look at the levee. They blew up two nights ago. All that river is now flowing into, well, what was dry farmland.

Now, we can hear the exhaustion in your voice. We talked earlier just how devastating this is. Try to put it into words what you experienced this week?

That neglected middle child is a Category 4 beast at the moment with a distinct eye and a class features.

When you stand back and you look left, that's where the center of the storm is, and that's where it's been all day long. So, it has to be heading this way.

This hotel is literally coming apart. We are in the right front quadrant, which the worst part of the storm.

This canopy structure, which is coming apart with the wind of this storm.

I'd rather be out of here. Out in ten days.

This requires the touch of a surgeon trying to get these little tiny tar balls of the beach without taking a ton of sand. That's not easy.

Come on, guys. You got it.

I just went 20 yards. Not very stylish and I'm completely out of breath.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you feel extreme?

MARCIANO: I felt totally extreme.

Yes! I'll tell you the truth, he's my stunt double. Way to rip it up, kid. Now, give me my jacket back.


MARCIANO: We're about halfway through the charges. They've got -- the blow today, and they're pretty happy with success they've had.

Winds here blowing less than ten miles an hour, and this thing is moving incredibly fast.

There it is. These four shoots, where the fire retardant foam comes out.

Of course, the main objective for this southeast, the gathering weather information.

These special weather guys aren't the weather geeks I went to school with.


MARCIANO: Toasty in here.


MARCIANO: We got a little bit toasty here, so I took my jacket off and I forgot that my jacket has my microphone.

Speed record coming at you right now, baby. Let's do this. That was huge. Curling right over top of my head. It's riveting.

Full disclosure, I'm Eddie monster, but I'll take care of this right here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our in-house big foot expert is meteorologist Rob Marciano.

MARCIANO: I have size 13 feet. I think that's the only reason they asked me to do this story.

(SINGING) I feel pretty, I feel pretty.


MARCIANO: Working at a haunted house is an adrenaline rush, but now, it's time to get back for my day job.

Oh, that's true, baby.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: You know, Rob, every day at the end of the show, we ask the "Best Advice" anybody's ever received. We want to hear from you. What's the best advice you ever received, Rob?

MARCIANO: Don't ever dress up like a zombie. That's number one.


MARCIANO: No, you know, my dad always said, when he saw the interest I had in meteorology as a kid., ad he was a pilot that followed his dream, he said, "Follow your passion, and everything else will fall into place."

And with my new adventure coming, he's not really happy about the fact that I'm getting out of weather, so I'm hoping that Dad is not right again, but it's going to be a new adventure. But my adventure here at CNN has been just amazing, and you guys, my family here at CNN, truly close to my heart and has offered me so many opportunities and great professionals and people to work with. It's been an incredible ride, guys.

BERMAN: Rob, we are all incredibly proud of you, I have to say. But I also have to tell you this, that I have never seen people watch video so closely as it happens as when you're on TV here. It is like a force of nature.


BERMAN: The place shuts down.

SAMBOLIN: What did he say? What did he say?

BERMAN: I didn't hear what he said.

SAMBOLIN: And Rob Marciano is all wet again. That's what people do when they watch Rob in the hurricane.

MARCIANO: Thank you not for sending me into the blizzard.


MARCIANO: It's so much more comfortable here.

SAMBOLIN: I know you're going to miss all of that. I mean, seriously, right? We were watching just now, that's something that I don't know how you're going to live without.

MARCIANO: You know, there's plenty of storms in Hollywood to cover.


MARCIANO: Lots of disasters out there. You know, once the weather geek, always a weather geek. And you can do it as a hobby. And every time there's a big storm spinning up, I certainly will salivate, that part will never go away, but the ride in TV land will continue.

ROMANS: The one thing you don't know about Rob Marciano is he once -- you once worked on Wall Street, right?

MARCIANO: I did. I did. I felt stupid. I didn't know anything about Wall Street. So, I kind of dove in there for a few years and tried my luck as --

ROMANS: He's a man of reinvention, right? I mean, from wall street to meteorology, now, you know, the glamorous life in the sunshine.

BERMAN: He's going all Hollywood on us right now.

ROMANS: He sure is.

BERMAN: You know, we should show you what happens when you Google Rob Marciano.


SAMBOLIN: Oh, yes, yes.


BERMAN: There it is.

ROMANS: What about the photo shoot where he looks so dapper? That looks like very Wall Street. That one. yes.

MARCIANO: That's a hurricane or blizzard, I'm pretty sure. How do you like that hood. I mean, that's enough to hide many gremlin in there.


MARCIANO: Yes, those shots are embarrassing. Don't Google me or yourself for that matter. You never know what's --


MARCIANO: That's another piece of advice.

SAMBOLIN: That's probably the best advice I've ever received. Thank you very much, Rob. Rob, we're going to miss you terribly.

ROMANS: Thanks for everything, Rob.

BERMAN: And really, the best of luck, sir. You deserve all of it, so thanks very much.

MARCIANO: Thanks, guys.

BERMAN: That is all for EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. "STARTING POINT" with Soledad O'Brien starts right now.