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Carnival Cruise Ship Getting Towed; Obama Delivers State Of The Union Tonight; Obama to Announce Drawdown of 34,000 Troops; North Korean Missile Test, Troubling for International Leaders; Interview with Douglas Brinkley, Presidential Historian

Aired February 12, 2013 - 13:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: This is CNN NEWSROOM. I am Suzanne Malveaux. More than 4,000 people now stuck on a Carnival Cruise ship. Some passengers saying the conditions absolutely gross. Sewage filling the hallways, all of the people stuck, not much food, water. Not many working toilets after -- as well. The ship is finally now on the move, we understand. Tugboats towing it to Mobile, Alabama. It was originally headed to a port in Progreso, Mexico but strong currents pushed it 90 miles north. The Coast Guard cutter, the Vigorous, is now escorting the ship. They've got the ships -- we've got the ship's commander, Gregory Magee Jr. He's on the phone with us now. Commander Magee, thank you for joining us here. First of all, when did you arrive to the cruise ship? When did you actually get there?

GREGORY MAGEE JR., SHIP COMMANDER, CUTTER, COAST GUARD: We got on scene around 11:00 p.m. Sunday evening.

MALVEAUX: 11:00 p.m. on Sunday evening. When you got there, what did you see? What was the condition of the passengers?

MAGEE: We did not go on board the vessel when we got there. It was at night. The vessel was lit pretty similarly to a regular cruise ship lighting at night. We knew they were on emergency power and we were able to discuss the situation with the master of the vessel.

MALVEAUX: So, you are simply pulling the cruiser at this point, is that right?

MAGEE: We are not towing the ship. We have two commercial tugs that are on scene conducting the tow right now.

MALVEAUX: And is there anybody who has been able to get on board the cruise ship to assess how these passengers are doing?

MAGEE: Well, right now, we have not had anyone other than Carnival employees and the safety and comfort of their passengers is Carnival's responsibility. We've been on scene monitoring the situation and providing assistance, if necessary. But we have not gone on board the vessel.

MALVEAUX: OK. So, what is your understanding, then, from those you've spoken to about the situation on the scene and the conditions of the passengers, because we've been talking to folks and they say it's really pretty dismal, at this point, that people are literally vomiting because of the odor on the ship. That the toilets aren't working and they have people fighting over food. Do you have any sense, anybody who's communicated to you how those folks are doing on board that cruise ship?

MAGEE: We have not communicated with anyone on board the cruise ship other than the master of the -- of the Triumph. And so, when we've driven by with a small boat, we've seen people out on deck, out on the balconies. We have not been able to assess their level of comfort on board. We have determined right now that's the safest place for them to be to get them to the next port.

MALVEAUX: And where is the next port? Where are you headed?

MAGEE: Right now, we're headed to Mobile, Alabama. The original plan, as you mentioned, was to go to Progreso, Mexico. But at the time, the current had pushed the ship about 70 miles to the north and those same currents are helping us to get to Mobile faster than we would be able to get to Progreso.

MALVEAUX: Commander, how long do you think it will take before you actually get there to Mobile where people are waiting for their loved ones?

MAGEE: Right now, my job will be to get them as close to port as possible. I will then turn it over to a local Coast Guard unit in Mobile, Alabama. They will get people pier side and customs and border protection will go through quick entry procedures and then passengers will be free to leave. And that will be all up to Carnival.

MALVEAUX: OK. So, commander, again, can you -- what is the timetable here? There are a lot of people who are very anxious to get to these people on board. When do you think this is going to be able to arrive in Mobile, Alabama?

MAGEE: Right now, they're making between five and eight miles per hour during the tow. The tow is a complex one. Subject to the winds and current, the triumph itself has a lot of sail area. But the tugs on scene are doing a great job of keeping it moving north. We're hoping around the late afternoon, early evening of the 13th. But worst-case scenario, if we had a big change in the winds or the sea state, it could be the morning of the 14th.

MALVEAUX: OK. So, that's either Thursday or Friday, is that right? Late Thursday, early Friday?

MAGEE: Wednesday-- late Wednesday, early Thursday.

MALVEAUX: OK, Wednesday and Thursday. Got my dates there. All right, thank you very much. We appreciate it, commander. We're going to be following very closely just how -- where that ship is moving and, of course, the conditions of the passengers who are on board. Finally on the move there, we know a lot of folks pretty upset, pretty anxious, about what is taking place. One woman actually on that ship says, of course, that the crew members, they're doing their best, right, to help. But it's pretty bad to be stuck on that ship.


ANN BARLOW (via telephone): There's sewage -- raw sewage, pretty bad. When you walk in the hallway, you have to cover your face. We don't have any masks for breathing. It's disgusting. It's the worst thing ever. (INAUDIBLE) everything is so horrible. And it was leaking by the window and in our bathroom. And it's in our carpet. It is coming through the bathroom, through the wall. Our carpet is soaked. We had to move all of our stuff out. Pulled our mattress off of our bed. We're sleeping on the third level on the deck outside, way out of the way.

Out of the 3,000 people, I would say 75 (ph) percent at least are outside, maybe more. There is no air-conditioning at all inside. And we are on the deck. (INAUDIBLE.) But people -- the only people that are really staying in their rooms are in the upper levels of the balconies (INAUDIBLE.) Otherwise, there's no way to stay in the room. The staff is doing a really good job as far as -- under control as far as keeping the food coming, drinks, trying the best they can. There's only food on the very top of the ship so that's kind of an inconvenience. (INAUDIBLE.) There's only really a couple of lines. It takes three and a half hours to get your food. Cold cuts, fruit, bread, boxed cereal, and water and sodas. And they just opened the bar to give people free beer and wine.

They said tonight we are supposed to have better food because four Carnival ships have stopped on their way and restocked our supplies but we're not sure about that. I think they're doing the best they can, as far as I know (ph), with letting us know what's going on. It's very delayed. So, it's just a lot of what ifs. There's a lot of speculation and rumors going around. And everybody is just trying to do the best they can.


MALVEAUX: I can only imagine what that is like to be on board that cruise ship under those conditions. And there -- you know, we've heard from a lot of folks, family members who had been on this ship. They have been tweeting about this ordeal all day. These are a couple of them. Clint76, tweeted this after hearing from his wife. He said, we don't have power at all and it means we cannot wash our hands, take a shower or even use the toilets. Dbogusch tweets, just talked to a co-worker who is on that cruise. She said there are very long lines for food and bathrooms. Some rooms running out of toilet paper. Wmiller86 tweeting here, my wife said it was pretty scary during the fire evacuation. She added that they were permitted back down into the cabins after a while, but it's so hot that you cannot even sleep down there. So, they had to set up a makeshift tent over deck loungers to sleep in.

And, of course, we're going to be monitoring all of this, the tweets and all the social media that's coming in from that ship. As soon as we get it, we'll be following.

And another story we're following, the president giving the State of the Union address tonight. We are told he's going to focus on the economy as well as the deadline for these across-the-board spending cuts that could happen. The president is going to build on some themes. Also, from the inaugural address, themes that he's hoping will define his legacy.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We believe that America's prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class.

MALVEAUX (voice-over): On inauguration day, President Obama laid out his ambitious vision for the next four years, from fighting climate change.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.

MALVEAUX: To reducing the deficit and saving safety net programs.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The commitments we make to each other through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security, these things do not sap our initiative, they strengthen us.

MALVEAUX: To immigration policy and gun control, the president set out a vision of a country with less inequality and more justice.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well in a growing many barely make it.

MALVEAUX: The president's top advisers say he spoke of broad themes that day but plans to put meat on the bones for the State of the Union address. Presidential historians say. Mr. Obama will work to define his legacy in the next four years.

KEN DUBERSTEIN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEFE OF STAFF: So, you have to figure out ways that you can accomplish things and go directionally in the -- in the way you're going, realizing that time is an enemy. Get as much done as you can but don't overreach.

MALVEAUX: It's a legacy the president partially fulfilled during his first term in office by passing the health care law extending health care coverage to millions of uninsured, enacting consumer protections and Wall Street reforms, coming out in support of gay marriage, protecting the middle class from income tax raises when the fiscal cliff hit and ending the war in Iraq with promises to end in Afghanistan. Of course, a big part of Mr. Obama's legacy is being the first African-American president. A legacy that some critics say should make him more sensitive to a problem that now affects most Americans, poverty. The latest census numbers show nearly half of all Americans are living in poverty or near poverty.

CORNEL WEST, RETIRED PROFESSOR, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: In the end, he has not had the kind of commitment that I think he ought to have, especially if he had the same commitment to poor people that he had to the investment bankers, then I think we'd be in better shape.

MALVEAUX: Dr. Martin Luther King's daughter, Reverend Bernice King, says the president and the nation needs to do even more to follow her father's vision.

REV. BERNICE KING: I'd like to see more emphasis placed on poverty in our nation and how do we really address our economy where all people can have an opportunity to thrive and to do their best.

MALVEAUX: If the president's inaugural speech tells us anything, his next four years may well be more focused on his fight for working class Americans.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We understand that outworn programs are inadequate to the needs of our time. So, we must harness new ideas and technology to remake our government, revamp our tax code, reform our schools and empower our citizens with the skills they need to work harder, learn more, reach higher.


MALVEAUX (live): Joining me now, White House Communications Director Jennifer Paulmieri. Good to see you, as always.


MALVEAUX: Yes. Tell us a little about what we expect to hear from the president. First of all, news that 34,000 U.S. troops will be home from Afghanistan by this time next year. Yes?

PAULMIERI: Yes, that's true. He will -- I won't get too far ahead of him. We have confirmed that he will be making that news, but beyond that, we'll let him speak to it.

MALVEAUX: All right. Well, what is the main -- the main gist tonight, Jen? Is there anything that might surprise folks?

PAULMIERI: I'm -- I don't want to raise expectations too high but I guess we have a -- we have a few surprises. You know, the president thinks that the most important question that's before the country right now is how to create more jobs that are good for the middle class, how do we build on the progress that we've made to help the economy? And so, he will lay out some initiatives that are -- that are designed to do that.

You know, as he talked about in his state -- excuse me, in his inaugural, he thinks that the middle class is the engine of economic growth, that in order to have sustained economic growth, you have to have a thriving middle class. And so, you'll see initiatives better designed to do that and create jobs in the areas of infrastructure, and education, and manufacturing, and energy.

So, you know, we're looking to answer the question in the State of the Union, what do we need to do to bring more jobs to our shores? What do we need to do to make sure that we have the skilled workforce we need for those jobs? And what do we need to do to make sure that Americans who work hard are able to make a decent living?

MALVEAUX: Jen, tell us a little bit about the guests that have been invited by the first lady and by the president.


MALVEAUX: We understand that there is -- it's fascinating almost because we're going to see this debate, this cultural debate play out there where you've got folks who have been victims of gun violence and those who are advocating for gun rights.

PAULMIERI: Well, you know, I guess that's what democracy is all about. But in the first lady's -- in her box, you'll see a representation of Americans that reflect the issues the president's going to talk about in his speech. So, we do have victims of gun violence, Hadiya Pendleton's parents will be in box, for example. We also have --

MALVEAUX: The girl who was slain in Chicago, yes.


MALVEAUX: The girl who was killed in Chicago.

PAULMIERI: That -- who had performed at the president's inaugural, her family will be here with other victims of gun violence. You'll see some people who have been working on immigration reform, people that have been working to help bring jobs back to the U.S., and companies that helped bring jobs back to the U.S. So, it'll reflect all of the priorities that are in his speech.

MALVEAUX: All right, Jen. We'll be watching. A lot of folks will be watching tonight. Thank you very much. We appreciate the preview. We are also going to --

PAULMIERI: My pleasure.

MALVEAUX: -- talk with presidential historian Douglas Brinkley about what he's going to listen for in the State of the Union speech and about what we can expect to hear from the president, coming up in about 15 minutes. We're going to take a quick break.


MALVEAUX: In his State of the Union speech tonight, the president will announce 34,000 U.S. troops will be home from Afghanistan by this time next year. Jake Tapper broke the news. And I talked to him last year about winding down the war in that country.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think it certainly ramps up the pressure on the leaders of Afghanistan, specifically the military leaders, the Afghan national army, the Afghan border patrol, these individuals will have fewer American troops to patrol with them, to lead them, that's I guess the purpose of it, is to ramp up the pressure to make sure that the Afghans are ready to take control for security of their own country.

When I was in Afghanistan in 2011 one of the big concerns from troops and officers there with whom I spoke was not so much whether or not the Afghan soldiers and security officials would be ready, but whether there was enough -- whether there was going to be enough logistical support, whether or not the non-sexy part of military operations, re- supplies, medivacs, making sure troops have enough food, water, ammunition, whether that was going to be up to speed. From what I understand that is still an area of concern though it's not spoken about all that much.


MALVEAUX: After the drawdown of 34,000 troops, senior administration officials say more reductions will continue throughout next year.

North Korea raising the stakes in its nuclear showdown with the rest of the world. North Korea announcing today it set off a new underground nuclear test. The state-run news agency says that it was more powerful than the two previous tests carried out in 2006 and 2009. World leaders, you can imagine, quick to condemn all of this, as well as the United Nations, U.S. ambassador Susan Rice.


SUSAN RICE, UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Countries around the world, including every member of the security council, agree that this test was an extremely regrettable act that further undermines international peace and security, as well as that of the region.


MALVEAUX: The latest nuclear test by North Korea, it is the first under the leader of Kim Jong-un. The first indication of the underground test came when seismologists detected a tremor in an area not known for earthquakes. Now the CIA and Pentagon are trying to learn much, much more about what happened in that test. Want to bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. What have we learned from this? Tell us what happened.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, as you said, right now the intelligence community, the military, has to figure out what they know, what they suspect happened. Think of this as CSI North Korea but not being able to go to the scene of the crime.

What they're looking at is that seismic activity and trying to work their way backwards as to what happened. They believe now that this was, of course, an underground nuclear test, possibly several kilotons. But they need to get better analysis, they need to get air sampling, see what is now released into the atmosphere, and try and assess from all of that what happened.

Once they know that, the next set of questions, the next part of the investigation, how did North Korea pull it off? Where did they get help? Did they get help? Did they have the technology, the engineering expertise, fabrication to really do this? And finally if they really did it, and it is a miniaturized test, as they claim, that's a huge concern that they might be able to put a nuclear device on the front end of a missile.

MALVEAUX: Explain that. Explain that to us. What does that mean miniaturized nuclear test?

STARR: This is the real key to a nuclear weapons program. If you can miniaturize a nuclear device, make it small enough to put on the front end of a missile and put that missile on a target, then of course that turns North Korea from a rogue state into an actual strategic threat in the region and possibly to the United States. They had a successful missile test in December. If they now have a successful miniaturization test and they can put the two of them together, that makes them a much more significant threat, as bad as the threat may already be.

MALVEAUX: Thank you for explaining that, Barbara.

President Obama will deliver his first State of the Union address of his second term tonight. How's it going to be different this time? We'll take a look.


MALVEAUX: Tonight the State of the Union address, the president's expected to announce further U.S. troop withdrawals from Afghanistan. A senior administration official says that 34,000 U.S. troops going to be home by this time next year, reducing the number of forces in the country by more than half. The president's also expected to talk about the economy, making the case for tax reform and economic equality.

Well last year during the State of the Union address the president said the word "job" 42 times. We ran the text of the speech, the word cloud, check it out. You can see the weight that jobs had in the speech. And let's check it out. What have we done over the past year? Two million jobs have been added to the U.S. economy, that is since the last State of the Union address. The unemployment rate, it has drifted down to 7.9 percent. That is from 10 percent at the peak and White House spokesman Jay Carney, he's explaining what all of this means.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The economy is poised to continue to grow, to continue to build on the progress we've made, to continue to build on the job creation that we've achieved over 6.1 million jobs created by our businesses over the past 35, 36 months.


MALVEAUX: All right. So that's the White House line. If you do a quick fact check, it is true, the private sector has been creating jobs for 35 months, 6.1 million new positions in that time but reality check is a little bit different here. We are down more than 3 million jobs since the recession began back in December of 2007.

Tonight's speech of course a chance for the president to get his agenda set for the second term. Tell us what he would like to accomplish.

Author and presidential historian Douglas Brinkley joining us. Douglas, good to se you. We'll be watching closely tonight what the president says. Inauguration day, his speech, he focused a lot on social issues. He talked about immigration, gun control, gay rights, as priorities for the second term. I know he's going to talk about the state of the economy tonight. How much control does he really have on the recovery?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, look, I mean this is - you're exactly right, the bookend to the inaugural speech and as you mentioned, the inaugural's all about social justice. And it framed Barack Obama in terms of being behind the women's rights movement, gay rights, civil rights. This is going to be the jobs State of the Union. We are now in March, by March 1, heading into a huge sequester situation, and the president's going to have to address that and he's going to have to explain where are the new jobs going to come from. It's a lot of 'we've made a lot of progress but we're not quite there yet' in that regard. And then the winding down of Afghanistan, as mentioned, will be connecting to the fact we'll have to do defense cuts to get our deficit under control.

MALVEAUX: The sequester situation, just want to tell our viewers, remind them, those are the huge automatic cuts that would take effect including the military if there's not a deal worked out with the deficit and the budget.

Explain to us, tonight, what kind of tone what are you watching for, the tone, body language, maybe even the olive branch he throws out to Republicans in terms of you know what the real message is going to be?

BRINKLEY: Well, since the television started covering the sSate of the Ynion since Harry Truman, these have become now spectacles. It's grand theater. Looking at the atmospherics. And the gun control issue will be brought in tonight. There's already reports of Gabby Giffords being there and Ted Nugent in the audience and the camera pans. Keep in mind when Jefferson did a State of the Union he would write it he wouldn't deliver it. FDR started the tradition of delivering it. But now you're going to find with TV, Barack Obama's talking to you, the viewer, not really to his colleagues in Washington.

MALVEAUX: Do you think he'll actually offer an olive branch to the Republicans?

BRINKLEY: The Republicans are going to be sitting on their hands most of the night. You'll hear them applaud loudly when troops are evoked and they'll be waiting for Marco Rubio to make his response. And that also gets highly watched. Rubio's on the cover of "Time" magazine as new hope for the GOP. Bobby Jindal had an opportunity to respond to Obama and blew it a couple of years ago. So a lot of people will be looking to see how Rubio does tonight. MALVEAUX: It's quite a spectacle, as always. When you look at those cutaways and see half of the room is standing and half of the room is sitting on their hands, kind of a strange situation. Have you ever seen it where you have this many representatives who represent a cultural issue like gun control, like Gabby Giffords, I know the parents of the young Chicago girl who was slain is a guest of the first lady, and of course the gun rights guys, Nugent included. Have you ever see anything like that play out in this kind of State of the Union audience before to this extent?

BRINKLEY: I've never seen it play out quite to this extent where you're having the most high-profile advocates on both sides of a tragedy, Newtown, which the president mentioned in his inaugural, and I believe he'll mention again tonight. He's trying to ratchet this up as urgent issue. But to see the panaways to people folk heroes in America on the other sides of the issue, is kind of a surreal thing to do and it tells you how the evolution of the States of the Union, how it's about messaging and media more than it is about the president reporting on the state of the nation to Congress.

MALVEAUX: I agree. Douglas, we'll be watching closely. Thanks for joining us, appreciate it. Not one but two Republicans as Douglas mentioned are going to give responses to the State of the Union address. Florida Senator Marco Rubio going to deliver the official GOP response to the president. Rubio is seen as a rising star for many in the party.