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CNN NEWSROOM

Obama Talks Education in Georgia; Compromise on Hagel in the Works; Disabled Carnival Ship Limping to Port; Legal Recourse for Cruise Ship Passengers; 18-Year-Old on Cruise Ship Relates Conditions.

Aired February 14, 2013 - 13:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Can you give us an idea -- Sandy has said a little bit about the ship, 14 stories, about 900 feet long, 46,000 horsepower. It is just being dragged very slowly. It's going to be a little while.

Do you know what Jay, I want you to hang with us. We'll get back to you in a little bit.

The president is speaking live at this event. We want to dip in and listen to what he's saying and we'll come back to you.

(BEGIN LIVE FEED)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And Michelle says hello.

(CHEERING)

OBAMA: She made me promise to get back in time for our date tonight.

(LAUGHTER)

That's important. That's important. I've already got a gift. Got the flowers.

(SHOUTING)

OBAMA: I was telling folks the flowers are a little easier, though, because I got this rose garden.

(LAUGHTER)

A lot of people.

(LAUGHTER)

You know, keeping flowers around.

I want to -- I want to acknowledge a few people who are here. First of all, Congressman Hank Johnson is here. There's Hank.

(CHEERING)

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: Your mayor, Jim Baskette is here.

(CHEERING)

OBAMA: Another mayor you may know, Kasim Reid, snuck in here.

(CHEERING)

(BOOS)

OBAMA: I want to acknowledge the Decatur School Board, who I had a chance to meet, and has helped to do so much great work around here.

(CHEERING)

OBAMA: Folks right here.

And, of course, I want to thank Mary for the wonderful introduction and for teaching me how to count earlier today.

(LAUGHTER)

You know, I've got to tell you, it was wonderful to be there. I want to thank all the teachers and the parents and the administrators, Decatur city schools, because behind every child who is doing great, there's a great teacher.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: And I'm proud of every single one of you for the work that you do here today.

Now, on Tuesday, I delivered my State of the Union address, and I laid out a plan for reigniting what I believe is the true engine of America's economic growth, and that is a thriving, growing, rising middle-class. And that also means ladders for people to get into the middle-class. And the plan I put forward says we need to make smart choices as a country, both to grow our economy, shrink our deficits in a balanced way, by cutting what we don't need but then investing in the things that we do need to make sure that everybody has a chance to get ahead in life.

What we need is to make America a magnet for new jobs by investing in manufacturing and energy and better roads and bridges and schools. We've got to make sure hard work's rewarded with a wage that you can live on and raise a family on. We need to make sure that we've got shared responsibility for giving every American the chance to earn the skills and education that they need for a really competitive global job market.

As I said on Tuesday night, that education has to start at the earliest possible age, and that's what you have realized here in Decatur.

(APPLAUSE) OBAMA: Study after study shows that the earlier a child begins learning the better he or she does down the road. But here's the thing, we are not doing enough to give all of our kids that chance. The kids we saw today, that I had a chance to spend time with in Mary's classroom, they're some of the lucky ones because fewer than three in 10 4-year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program. Most middle-class parents can't afford a few hundred bucks a week for private preschool. And for the poor children who need it the most, the lack of access to a great preschool education can have an impact on their entire lives. And we all pay a price for that.

And as I said, this is not speculation. Study after study shows the achievement gap starts off very young. Kids who -- when they go in to kindergarten, their first day, if they already have a lot fewer vocabulary words, they don't know their numbers and their shapes and have the capacity for focus, you know, they're going to be behind that first day. And it's very hard for them to catch up over time. And then at a certain point -- I'll bet a lot of teachers have seen this -- kids aren't stupid. When they're -- they know -- they know they're behind at a certain point, and then they start pulling back. And they act like they're disinterested in school because they're frustrated that they're not doing as well as they should, and then you may lose them. And that's why on Tuesday night I proposed working with states like Georgia to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America. Every child.

(APPLAUSE)

(END LIVE FEED)

MALVEAUX: The White House is scrambling to save the nomination of defense secretary nominee, Chuck Hagel.

Dana Bash is on Capitol Hill with the possibility of a compromise that they're working with Republicans.

Dana, give us the very latest.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There has been a mad scramble all day to figure out what is going to happen with Chuck Hagel, because the bottom line is, Democrats, the White House, they do not have 60 votes necessary to overcome the filibuster that Republicans have mounted.

We are told by sources in both parties that there are discussions under way, Suzanne, as we speak, trying to find some kind of compromise that will satisfy both sides of this -- of this issue. Meaning, what they're going to try to do potentially is delay the vote, which is scheduled right now, tomorrow morning -- delay the vote, perhaps until after the congressional recess -- that's going to happen all week next week -- in order to give Republicans more time that they're looking for to get more answers on things like Chuck Hagel's speeches and what money he made, in order to get the promise that there won't be a filibuster then. Meaning, it would just be a regular simple majority, 51-vote threshold. This is under way as we speak. Proposals going back and forth between Democratic and Republican leadership, Senators. So we're going to hopefully find out in short order whether or not this is going to happen.

If not, Suzanne, if they can't come to some kind of agreement, there probably will be a vote tomorrow morning. And as of now, they simply -- the Democrats and the White House simply do not have the votes, the 60 votes needed to overcome the filibuster, so it will fail, and then it will be a big question mark as to what happens next.

MALVEAUX: All right. Dana, bring us the very latest as soon as we know what -- whether or not they can actually work out a deal behind the scenes.

Obviously, the vice president working the phones as well as various members of Congress trying to figure out whether or not they can save his nominee.

We're also watching, of course, a very important story. This is a CNN exclusive video that you're seeing here. This is the ship. This is Carnival "Triumph" making its way to the port in Mobile, Alabama. It is a very slow and arduous trip for those passengers. More than 4,000 on board, who have essentially been without power for five days after a fire broke out on that ship. Tugboats that are pulling it in, painfully show, four miles an hour, we're told. At least seven to 10 hours away from reaching shore.

We're going to have more on that story, the passengers who are on board the ship as well as the loved ones who are eagerly waiting their arrival.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Following, of course, the cruise line. This is Carnival "Triumph" that is making its way to shore.

I want to bring in our Chad Myers to talk about what -- you and I were discussing this before. We've seen pictures of four tugboats, one that is pulling the ship, two that are turning it or steering it, and one that is offering supplies. And you say that there's actually a -- they missed their mark when it comes to the channel. Can you explain why it's -- what actually happened?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: If they didn't have bad luck, they'd have no luck at all. I think there's a song.

They -- for the most part, the last 36 hours, had been facing brutal headwinds blowing offshore with only a 5,000 horsepower tugboat trying to move this. They're also facing significant currents coming in from the west, currents that have actually blown the "Triumph" a little bit off course over to here. They are now having to turn the "Triumph" all the way back off and go to the west in order to get it lined up to get in this channel.

And we know that because -- I go here -- this is our shot from Dauphin Island. Dauphin Island looking at the cruise ship. By this point, the cruise ship should be pointed right at our camera. It's not pointed at our camera because it isn't lined up with the markers yet. You have to have red on the right and you have to have green on the left. And it's still another 40 miles for them to go.

This channel is only 400 meters wide, so 400 yards, four football fields. Well, "Triumph" is three football fields long. You have to go down the middle and you have to be going straight down the middle and then, to make this turn to the left, as you miss Ft. Morgan, make a turn to the right to get into the mobile channel. Head up here, keep the nuns on your right. They're red right returning. Turn the boat to the left a little bit here. Miss Sand Island and go right up here into Mobile Bay. And that's what they're facing now. This current has pushed them off-course. They're only making one mile per hour going against this current, trying to get it into the right-hand turn that they have to make.

Trouble. Just tough for those people.

MALVEAUX: So, you're saying they're going one mile per hour, one?

MYERS: One. Because --

MALVEAUX: Is that right? It's that slow?

MYERS: They were moving about four. And then the current is probably moving two or three, so that current, they're just pushing up against this current, trying to get this boat lined up so that they can make that turn to get it lined up and go down into the channel.

They're going to have to be very careful with this current as they're in the channel because it's going to be also on their portside, trying to push them off course into the right hand nuns. The red nuns over here. The red markers on the right side of the channel. So, they'll have tugboats on the right side of this ship, on the starboard side, trying to keep it going and drifting off. There's a lot of windage. This boat will want to drift in the current and the wind as well.

It's tough for these people. They're still close yet they are 10 hours away.

MALVEAUX: I want to bring in Jay Herring, a former officer with Carnival cruise lines.

Jay, you know this cruise ship front and back. You were actually on this cruise ship from time to time. How long is it going to take now that Chad said it's going one mile per hour? What's a realistic assessment of how -- the time, how this ship is going to land?

JAY HERRING, FORMER OFFICER, CARNIVAL CRUISE LINES & AUTHOR: Yes, we could easily look at another eight to 10 hours, one mile an hour. Geez, that just takes forever.

You know, you talk about windage. I've been on a different ship where we were out in the middle of the ocean and we took 50-mile-an-hour wind broadside and caused the ship to lean -- list 18 degrees.

MALVEAUX: Wow.

HERRING: And, yes, it sent deck chairs bouncing across the deck and landing into the ocean.

MALVEAUX: What's your biggest concern when you look at this and you realize that the passengers probably can see land by now, and yet, really, they are probably so restless that they're going to be on that ship for that much longer? If you're aboard and you're one of those officers, are you trying to calm people down? Do you think there's a sense of relief now or a sense that people might get even more agitated?

HERRING: Yes. A lot of the crew are probably trying to avoid the passenger areas, you know, especially the crew that are not normally passenger facing, because the second you step out into a corridor with a white uniform on, you're going to get accosted by people asking you millions of questions, when are we going to be back there, how far are we, what's our rate of speed.

MALVEAUX: What would you do if you were aboard the "Triumph" now? How would you be behaving? How would you reassure people and make sure that it's not -- the conditions don't get worse?

HERRING: You know, I think probably the best thing they could do is just over communicate the situation. I mean, we've seen questions as, you know, people have said, well, why haven't they transferred to a different ship, why haven't we launched, you know, the lifeboats. And the main reason is for passenger safety. For them to try to do an operation like that would really put the passengers at risk.

MALVEAUX: All right. Jay, thank you very much.

And we're going to talk to an attorney who represents passengers who have dealt with this kind of thing before. This is Jack Hickey.

Want to take a quick break. And we're going to talk to him about what kind of legal recourse they have after this hellish ordeal.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Following the breaking news, there you see it. It is Carnival "Triumph" making its way on shore. Painfully show. More than 4,000 people on board. A ship that has essentially been dead for five days now, or at least until Sunday, as they try to pull it in. Now traveling about one mile per hour, which would mean that it's hours and hours away from shore, despite the fact that passengers now can actually see land, which might be a little bit frustrating, but also encouraging.

Want to bring in two folks who know this ship and know the deal very well. Of course, Jack Herring, he's a former senior offer with Carnival Cruise Lines. He's sailed on that very ship, on the "Triumph." Also want to bring in Jack Hickey. He's an attorney. He's represented a lot of folks who have problems on cruise ships.

First of all, I want to go to you, Jay.

Let's continue the conversation. A lot of people looking at this thinking, why can't you get the passengers off the ship. Why do they even have to stay until the very end, until they reach that port? Why can't you start, if you've got tugboats all around, plucking people off the ship, particularly those who are the most miserable?

HERRING: Yes. So, imagine the onboard ferry on the ship is this tiny little boat. And we saw your guys out there in the pilot boats, they're bobbing up and down next to a cruise ship that's stationary. Now you have to put a gangway between those two and put young children, elderly, and try to get them across. It's very dangerous.

MALVEAUX: Is it just too dangerous? I mean, the ship is moving rather slowly.

HERRING: It is. And at the same time, the sea conditions can change rapidly. So, you can go from one to two-foot rapidly. You can go to one to two feet and imagine it pulls away from the ship and people fall into the water and you get crushed and they can get swept away it. It would be absolutely a very dangerous situation to do something like that.

MALVEAUX: Jack, I want to bring you in. So far, we've heard from Carnival officials and here's what they are offering folks who are on board this ship. You get $500, a free flight home and a full refund for the trip and credit for another cruise. So far we heard people not excited about getting on board another ship. Do they have a case here?

JACK HICKEY, MARITIME LAW ATTORNEY: Yes, they do. I think they do have a case. Their legal liability is all governed by the maritime law and the cruise ticket. To bring a lawsuit against Carnival for mental anguish only, right, you need two things. One is negligence, and the other is actual exposure to actual physical injury. I think you have both here. You have negligence. Four days at sea and sewage everywhere. Why are there not back-up generators on the ship? That's the one thing. Then, exposure to physical injury, with raw sewage you have hepatitis A and the prospect of encephalitis, because of mosquitoes that love polluted waters and things. I think that is actual physical injury. These people have been exposed to that, and it's horrible conditions. This is like nothing we have seen in prior driftings of ships and prior ship fires. I think they do have recourse, and it's to sue Carnival in Miami, Florida, where the ticket requires.

MALVEAUX: Hack, How is it different than if you were on a plane, on an airline? Obviously, the regulations where you are sitting on the tarmac for a certain amount of time, and by the time that expires, they have to bring you back to the airport or, if you are out there, you certainly are compensated. Is there something similar like that for a ship, if you are aboard?

HINKEY: No. There is not really something comparable to that. Because when you are on the tarmac and in an airplane -- first of all, two things. First of all, the FAA regulations apply and certain treaties apply on an airplane. OK. That's all legal mumbo jumbo. When you are on an airplane for a couple of hours, that's different from being stranded for four days and being exposed to sewage, because that's what we are hearing. We don't have all of the facts now. But we have passengers who are pretty much a uniform complaint. It's not one or two people talking about sewage. I mean, it's pretty much everybody is saying, man, the stench of sewage is everywhere. We have to sleep in tents on the deck. This is really something completely and fundamentally different from waiting on the tarmac for a couple of hours. I would not put this in that same category.

MALVEAUX: Jay, I want to bring you in there.

Is -- Jay, hold on for a minute, if you will. I believe we have Brianna Adkins, who is aboard the ship right now who can talk to us.

Brianna, can you hear us?

All right. We are going to try to get her back on the line. I think the phone line dropped.

But, Jay, is there a back-up system on that ship? Jack was saying, look, uniformly, we've heard from all the passengers who are having a tough time. Is there a back-up generator system and is there a back- up system in place for if the toilets are not working, that kind of thing?

HERRING: Yes. The "Triumph" is normally powered by six diesel electric generators. Each one is the size of a bus. 80 percent of the electricity used on board goes towards propulsion. So if you take them away, even if you have a back-up generator, you will only provide lighting in limited areas. You are certainly not going to be able to provide ventilation for a vessel the size of three football fields.

MALVEAUX: Why was it they weren't able to get the generator to the ship earlier? We saw the drop that happened late yesterday. Couldn't they have done that earlier?

HERRING: They may have. There could have been winds. Who knows? Again, it would be like a Band-Aid on a gashing wound. It might have been a little relief, but, again, there's no way to drop a back-up generator for propulsion. You look at the toilets. Those require a vacuum system to provide suction for the toilets. There are 1,000- plus toilets on the Triumph. That requires a massive amount of electricity. It would be too much for a back-up generator.

MALVEAUX: Jay, Jack, stay with us. I know we keep talking about the toilet situation, but people are curious what's going on. It's a very important thing.

Martin Savidge is onshore with folks who are waiting very anxiously for loved ones.

Martin, who do you have with you?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Suzanne. I'm here with Mike Pidilla. His wife, Carrie (ph), is on board ship. We are looking at the imagery that CNN has been put out there. This is the first chance Mike had to see the vessel and the helicopters aerials flying over and the side picture showing it from shore. So of course, that's of a lot of interest when you have a loved one on board. Mike, let me ask you, while you look at it, how is your wife doing? You talked to her today, right?

MIKE PIDILLA, WIFE IS CRUISE SHIP PASSENGER: Yes. I talked to her twice. As expected, she is doing great. High spirits, and said they are doing fine. And her and her crew are doing great. They are playing cards and they've met a lot of great people. She shared a birthday with somebody on the boat. It's good. All good. It's all good.

SAVIDGE: What's your feelings now? She can see shore. She knows that you are here and she probably can't wait to get to the boat.

PIDILLA: Probably more get to shore than see me, but she can see shore and said she knows it's going to be a lot longer now that they can see the shore because they have to keep the ship in a certain spot. She realizes that it's still going to be an eight to 10-hour trip in. But the weather is good right now and they're going really slow and there is a good breeze, and her and her group are having a good time.

SAVIDGE: Has she described conditions as horrific as others, or what is her experience?

PIDILLA: You know -- no. You have to know my wife a little bit to -- she is not going to let it get her down. She didn't say it was as bad as the reports we have heard. She said it was rough the first 20 hours after the fire. Once they got some juice going back into the engine and the toilets came back online, she said it was fine. She said it was great.

SAVIDGE: All right.

Mike Pidilla has been talking to us.

Yes, Suzanne, go ahead.

MALVEAUX: Yes, thanks, Martin.

I think we have Brianna on the phone. She's aboard the ship. She's 18 years old.

Brianna, can hear us?

BRIANNA ADKINS, PASSENGER ON CRUISE SHIP: Yes, ma'am.

MALVEAUX: How are you doing?

ADKINS: We are good. OK.

MALVEAUX: Where are you on the ship?

ADKINS: I'm on the putt-putt golf thing.

MALVEAUX: Who are you with? Family or friends?

ADKINS: I'm with my aunt and my cousin.

MALVEAUX: How are you guys doing? Tell me what you are going through now.

ADKINS: We just had to -- I mean we had to sleep in the hall ways because it's too hot -- we had an inside cabin and it was pitch dark. You can't see anything. We had to sleep inside and sleep with the door open to get lights. We slept outside on the nights because it was too hot.

The restrooms only work at certain times. You don't know when they won't work. You stand in line for hours to get food. It's not -- we're making it.

MALVEAUX: Have you eaten today, Brianna?

ADKINS: No. I ate an orange this morning.

MALVEAUX: Is there still food on board? I understand they said they had delivered food. And now there was a generator so at least the heat was back? Have things improved at all in the last six or ten hours?

ADKINS: I don't know. I don't think we had heat. I don't think they had heat in there. I came from in there and they didn't have it on. It's cold today, but it has been hot the rest of the days. That's why we had to sleep in the hall ways. There has been no air to the inside cabins. But I don't think there is heat on.

MALVEAUX: Seeing the shore, can you see land?

ADKINS: I don't think so. But I don't want to move because I'm going to lose service.

MALVEAUX: All right. We just lost Brianna. We will try to get her back, of course.

We want to continue our ongoing breaking news and coverage.

Brooke Baldwin will take it from here.