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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Gas Prices Continue to Climb; The Politics Of Immigration Reform; Man Slaps Child on Delta Flight; Meteor Impacts Russian Communities; President Obama, Tiger Woods Go Golfing

Aired February 18, 2013 - 05:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: No relief. Gas prices up again, climbing now for more than a month straight.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: And new this morning, the man accused of slapping someone else's cranky toddler on an airplane hears from his bosses.

BERMAN: Yes, you can't do that.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, bad idea.

BERMAN: All right. Leaked to the public, President Obama's plan to give undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship.

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

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. Nice to have you with us. It is Monday morning. Presidents Day. Do you say Happy Presidents Day?

BERMAN: Absolutely.

SAMBOLIN: Happy Presidents Day.

BERMAN: What do you give the president on Presidents Day?

SAMBOLIN: Twenty-nine minutes past the hour.

So, just moments ago, we learned gas prices went up for a 32nd straight day. The national average for a gallon of regular is now $3.73. And all this is happening in the dead of winter, a time when many of us are dealing with staggering home heating bills and shrinking paychecks from payroll tax cuts that expired last month.

Zain Asher is at a gas station in Manhattan.

And you've been talking to a few of the New York cabbies who are probably complaining this morning, I suspect.

ZAIN ASHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Zoraida. Yes, they certainly are. They're literally watching their wages, essentially, evaporate right before their eyes as gas prices continue to rise. Let me just let you know that we are at a gas station on 10th Avenue. Gas prices here, regular, $4.15, premium, $4.45. And the bad news is that we are expecting gas prices to rise further still.

Let me just show you the numbers in terms of what gas prices look like over the rest of the country. The average price of gas right now in the U.S., $3.73 a gallon, as you mentioned, Zoraida. But there are places, there are some states where gas prices are even higher than that. Places like Hawaii, California, the most expensive place to buy gas right now is in Hawaii. Over there, gas prices, $4.28 a gallon.

And, we're pretty envious of everyone in Wyoming. That's a cheaper place to buy gas, $3.17. And as you mentioned, Americans, especially in this part of the country where it's freezing cold, dealing with higher heating bills and tax increases which leading to lower wages, of course. And I did speak to some taxi drivers here, as I mentioned.

A lot of them saying they are definitely upset as they watch gas prices continue to rise. Some of them spending upwards of $60 a day on gasoline alone. Take a listen to what one guy told me.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have to support the family. And, nowadays, it's pretty expensive. I pay $40 for the gas and I have to take myself and $200 to pay for the taxi, almost with the gas. So, I take hardly like, you know, sometimes $60 or $70. I work 12 hours. So, it's not enough.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ASHER: And an interesting statistic I want to mention, Zoraida, is that according to the EIA, the average American spent $3,000 on gasoline in 2012, representing four percent of the typical American income which is the highest percentage of American income spent on gasoline in the last 30 years -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Well, that's depressing. And it's only going up. So what's pushing the prices up?

ASHER: Well, Zoraida, essentially, crude oil prices as the economy show signs of recovery as the housing market also shows signs of recovery. You're going to see demand for crude oil essentially going up. That's also pushing prices up. Also refineries that are closing down. Now, typically, this time of year, refineries will close down for maintenance temporarily.

But you're also seeing some refineries close down permanently because they're losing money. That essentially constricts supply and that also will push prices of gasoline up -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Zain Asher reporting live. Go get warmed up. Thank you.

BERMAN: We have some big developments this morning in the battle over immigration reform. Republicans bluntly telling the Obama administration that they will fight any attempt by the White House to impose reforms without bipartisan input, and they have expressed anger of the details of the president's draft proposal have been leaked publicly.

We have more now from CNN's Athena Jones who's in Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): While President Obama played golf with Tiger Woods at a private club in Florida, his new chief of staff defended the White House against charges it's trying to sabotage Congressional efforts to reach a deal on immigration by drafting its own bill without consulting Republicans.

DENIS MCDONOUGH, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: We are doing exactly what we said we would do, which is we'll be prepared in the event that the bipartisan talks going on the Hill which, by the way, were very aggressively supporting. If those do not work out, then we'll have an option that will be ready to put out there.

JONES: The White House says its immigration bill is strictly a plan B if Congress doesn't act. But a draft of the bill obtained by "USA Today" drew fire from Republicans who support the White House needs. Sen. Marco Rubio called it half baked, seriously flawed, and dead on arrival. Rubio, like John McCain, is a key GOP negotiator.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: Leaks don't happen in Washington by accident. This raises the question that many of us continue to wonder about. Does the president really want a result or does he want another cardio (ph) to beat up Republicans so that he can get political advantage in the next election?

JONES: In the draft from "USA Today," the White House would let undocumented immigrants apply for a new kind of visa so they could legally live and work in the U.S. They could seek permanent residency within eight years if they pay back taxes and learn English, U.S. History and civics. The white house insists that's committed to working with Republicans and supporting what Congress does for now.

MCDONOUGH: And we're going to continue to work with Senator Rubio and others on these. But, he says it's dead on arrival if it's proposed. Well, let's make sure that it doesn't have to be proposed.

JONES: Congressional negotiators plan to unveil their draft legislation next month.

Athena Jones, CNN, Washington

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SAMBOLIN: Our thanks to Athena.

Thirty-four minutes past the hour. Police questioning two men in the death of a woman who was killed hours after her teenage sister attended a speech on gun violence by President Obama. Jenai McFarland (ph) was gunned down Friday night in the suburban town of North Chicago, Illinois.

The 18-year-old victim's mother says Jenai (ph) was out walking with friends and one of them may have been the intended target of the gunman. Hours before she died, McFarland's 14-year-old sister attended President Obama's address in Chicago.

BERMAN: Four letters written by John Lennon's killer to the cop who arrested him in 1983 are up for sale today. In the letters, Mark David Chapman tells Steven Spiro he hopes they can be friends and that he feels close to the officer ever since his arrest. But Steven Spiro tells CNN why David Chapman told him he killed the former Beatle back in 1980.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VOICE OF STEVEN SPIRO, GOT LETTERS FROM MARK DAVID CHAPMAN: I spent five hours with him after I arrested him. And he was telling me about all the phoniness in the world that all these rich people don't give to the certain charities that, you know, he would like. Three years after this guy killed John Lennon that he admits that he had a hit list.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Spiro claims Chapman's hit lists including Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Walter Cronkite, and actor, George C. Scott. Those names are not in Chapman's letters which are being sold for an asking price of $75,000.

SAMBOLIN: OK. This is a crazy story. A man accused of slapping a toddler onboard a Delta Airlines flight is out of a job this morning. Sixty-year-old Joe Hundley charged with assaulting a minor was initially suspended by his employer. But now the company says they have let him go.

According to court papers here, Jessica Bennett and her two-year-old son were sitting next to Hundley on a Minneapolis Atlanta, this was earlier this month. When the boy became fussy, Hundley allegedly used a racial slur and slapped that little boy in the face.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JESSICA BENNETT, BOY'S MOTHER: I could not believe that he would say something like that and -- to a baby or about a baby and then to hit him was just, I -- I felt like I was in another world. I was shaking.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Unbelievable. Bennett and her husband called the actions heinous and hateful. Hundley's attorney says he plans to plead not guilty to the assault charge.

BERMAN: A Southern California woman can finally honored the hero father that she never knew. Hyla Merin's father died in 1945 right before she was born. His World War II medals, including a purple heart and silver star, were discovered in a box in a West Hollywood apartment building laundry room four months ago. Sunday, they were handed over to Hyla.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROCCO DINOBLE, FOUND MISSING MEDALS: The fifth one I opened had all these letters in it and staring me in the face was a purple heart.

HYLA MERIN, MEDALS BELONGED TO FATHER SHE NEVER KNEW: Tears of joy and surprise and shock. But to me, it means, today, we are honoring his memory.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Merin's father was second lieutenant Heiman Markel (ph). She says the medals confirm for her what a great man he really was.

SAMBOLIN: Thirty-seven minutes past the hour. To the rest of the world, a fascinating sight, but to those up close, a really terrifying experience. More on this meteor impact on the people of one community coming up.

BERMAN: It was terrifying to me.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. No kidding. It makes me jump when I hear it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. This morning, people are still picking up the pieces after that massive meteor shot through the sky over Russia. That meteor triggered a blast that damaged buildings, blew out windows, and injured more than a thousand people, many of them children.

Phil Black is live this morning near Chelyabinsk, Russia at the lake where the meteor appeared to hit. And Phil, how are people doing today?

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, where I'm standing, people are curious, inquisitive because they're coming here to this frozen lake to get a look at a confirmed impact site of at least part of this meteor. The hole in the ice, although it started to freeze over again, is just behind me here. Over the weekend, Russian scientists have been combing this area.

They say they had found 53 confirmed meteorite fragments. They say the makeup of these fragments, they are small, but they say they are high in iron and consistent with meteorite that's have been found everywhere else around the world. So, the scientists are pretty sure. They know what came down here now.

But the time that that thing was streaking through the sky, the people of this region have no idea what was going on. They were terrified. Some of them are still very rattled, especially the children.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLACK (voice-over): This small Siberian village is usually a quiet place, one thousand people living just south of the city of Chelyabinsk. But on Friday morning, they, like everyone in the region, were shocked by what they saw, an intense light followed by a trail of smoke across the sky.

Kindergarten worker, (INAUDIBLE) says the 20 children who were in this room ran to the windows when they saw the light, but she felt something was wrong and moved them away. She says she was still facing the windows when the meteor's shockwave hit. As the windows blew in, flying glass cut Olga's face and hands. She said she didn't notice because she was worried about the children.

Most were safe but terrified, but one was bleeding heavily. Three- year-old Sasha suffered deep cuts to her head and face. Her mother, Lorina Ivanova (ph), ran to the kindergarten after she heard the blast. "I was shaking," she says. "I grabbed her and started to calm her down. "A lot of kids were crying, too."

Casina Zalcanet (ph) was also in the room that morning. She wasn't hurt physically by the blast, but her mother says she's traumatized. She's been too afraid to stand next to windows, and she keeps asking if the glass is going to break again. Katarina Galuza (ph) says she understands what the children of this village are feeling. She says the blast was so terrifying it rekindled her own childhood memories from the second world war.

Most of the visible damage, the buildings and people of this region, can be easily repaired. But the meteor's impact on some will take longer to heal.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLACK (on-camera): So, while some pieces have been found here on the surface, a mystery remains what now lies beneath the ice? The scientists are pretty sure that larger fragments of the meteor are sitting at the bottom of the lake. And divers went in over the last couple of days, they couldn't see anything. It's very filthy (ph) down there.

The visibility was very poor. So, scientists believe the best chances of finding remaining fragments will come with the spring when the snow and ice melt. They'll be able to access the lake more easily, not just here, but across this vast snow covered Siberian landscape because they're pretty sure other fragments from this made here made it to other section to this region as well -- John.

BERMAN: That will be so interesting to see. Such a fascinating, such a terrifying story. All right. Phil Black in Chelyabinsk, Russia. Thanks for being with us this morning.

SAMBOLIN: Forty-four minutes past the hour. Whiskey drinkers, toasting a change of heart from a big bourbon maker, all thanks to you, the customers. That story is coming up.

BERMAN: Plus, hungry rabbits, yes, folks. Hungry rabbits wreaking havoc at a major airport. How could something so cute cause so much trouble? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Forty-eight minutes past the hour. Let's get you up to date. Here's Christine Romans with our top stories.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning again.

We learned less than an hour ago that for 32 straight days now, gas prices are up, and the spike is happening at a terrible time for millions. The national average for a gallon of regular, $3.73 a gallon this morning. And, you know, folks over at gas buddies say you're going to see $4 a gallon in New York City area and also, potentially, Chicago earlier this year than we ever have before.

This comes at a time when we're struggling with high home heating bills and also shrinking pay checks since the payroll tax cuts expired last month.

A brazen jewelry heist at a posh Manhattan hotel. Two young men, get this, walked into the lobby of the Four Seasons at 2:00 Saturday morning, and while one of them spoke to staff members, the other pulled out a sledgehammer and smashed open a case filled with Jacob & Co. jewelry. The pair made off with more than 160,000 grand in watches and pendants just like that.

Chalk up another win for "Argo." Ben Affleck's film beating "Lincoln" again to take the Writer's Guild Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. It completes a sweep of the four major guild awards. Next up for "Argo," the Oscars. Also last night, "Zero Dark Thirty" won for Best Original Screenplay at the WGA Awards there.

OK. Don't water down the whiskey. Come on! Don't mess with my whiskey. That was the outcry from Maker's Mark bourbon lovers. And the distiller heard the message loud and clear. So, the company has abandoned its plans to water down its product.

SAMBOLIN: But how were they going to do this, anyway?

ROMANS: Well, the idea was to stretch the supply to meet rising global demands. That's what the company said. Thousands of Maker's Mark customers protested, and now, in fact --

SAMBOLIN: You won.

ROMANS: They won.

BERMAN: The long national nightmare is over.

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: Or Maker's --

SAMBOLIN: I was actually watching that story very closely.

(CROSSTALK)

ROMANS: Do you drink it? Is that your drink of choice?

SAMBOLIN: No, but I buy it. I don't drink it. My fiance drinks it. But at the end of the day, I wonder why are you doing this? And I thought maybe it was some sort of a ploy.

ROMANS: I wonder if it was a PR move as well.

BERMAN: It's a conspiracy.

(LAUGHTER)

SAMBOLIN: Yes. Indeed.

ROMANS: They say it tastes the same.

SAMBOLIN: And it's over.

BERMAN: Fifty minutes after the hour right now. From whiskey to orange juice, maybe together, farmers on edge today with plunging temperatures in the southeast. Jennifer Delgado is in the weather center in Atlanta right now. What kind of weather are we talking about down here, Jennifer?

JENNIFER DELGADO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You know, I don't know, but I think that sounds like a dangerous combination, mixing that with orange juice. We are talking -- yes, exactly. We are talking about cold temperatures out there once again, this time, in Florida. And now, this means this could threaten the citrus crop. Of course, we're worried about that.

Temperatures right now this morning are in the 20s, mid 20s in some part, but you can see for Gainesville as well as Jacksonville, 26 degrees. Now, we are looking at temperatures remaining very cold through about 9:00 a.m. and that's why we do have that hard freeze warning in place as well as the freeze warning, anywhere especially in the northern part of Florida as well as in Central Florida.

That's where we're going to be experiencing the coldest temperatures. Typically, it takes about four hours for temperatures below 26 to start to see some of those crops damaged. But, of course, this is home to so much of the orange juice around the world. Another area dealing with cold conditions and strong winds coming especially later in the day, up in the northern plains. In fact, we have a blizzard warning affecting parts of North Dakota as well as into northern parts of Minnesota.

And that means we're going to be looking at winds today gusting up to about 40 miles per hour. This is going to be blowing that snow. Right now, it looks fairly quiet, but it is going to be kicking in. And as we get through the day, we are going to see some of these locations picking up eight to ten inches of snowfall.

On a wider picture though, some rain through parts of the Midwest and that extends all the way down towards Texas quiet up in the northeast, but again, continues to be cold down in Florida. We'll send it back over to you, guys. BERMAN: All right. Jennifer, thanks very much. You know, 70 percent of the country's orange juice comes from Florida. So, when you see temperatures like that down there, you know --

SAMBOLIN: You're going to be paying more money.

BERMAN: It is a big deal.

SAMBOLIN: Yes.

BERMAN: All right. Fifty-two minutes after the hour right now. And President Obama finally getting to play a round of golf with Tiger Woods. It took four years to coordinate. They met at the president's inauguration back in 2009, and they vowed to play a round someday. One of the things that slowed it up, there's a little bit of a scandal for Tiger Woods right there.

SAMBOLIN: Yes.

BERMAN: He had a couple years where I don't think the president would be too happy to be seen with him playing golf, but now, it has happened even though the White House let zero pictures happen of the event. They would not let the White House press corps see it or photograph it, but rest assured, it did happen.

President Obama and Tiger Woods have played golf together along with Houston Astros owner, Jim Crane, and outgoing U.S. trade rep, Ron Kirk.

SAMBOLIN: And it caused quite a commotion in that area because a lot of private planes had to be escorted by F-16s because they kept on falling (ph) into that airspace. Imagine that, you're in your Little Cessna (ph) and two F-16 fighter jets on either side.

ROMANS: And the girls were in Aspen?

BERMAN: They're skiing.

SAMBOLIN: They were skiing. So, he had time off. Yes.

All right. 5:53 there in the East Coast. They're cute, they're cuddly, oh, and they are causing some costly damage at a major airport. What to do when the bunnies attack?

(LAUGHTER)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. Fifty-six minutes past the hour. We're taking a look at the top CNN Trends on the web this morning.

When bunny rabbits attack, hundreds of these critters are doing thousands of dollars worth of damage to parked cars. This is Denver International Airport. And it seems they really like to hide under warm engines and they love to chew on the ignition cables. Apparently, they're made some sort of soy product. So officials hope granulated coyote urine will get the rabbits out of their hair.

BERMAN: You're a big supporter of the granulated coyote urine.

SAMBOLIN: I absolutely and that's exactly what I would do. Get rid of them.

BERMAN: Fifty-seven minutes after the hour right now. Tell you about the rabbits, of course.

Sink a half-court shot and get a semester free tuition.

SAMBOLIN: Great, great story.

BERMAN: Gil Cheung, who's the head basketball coach at Canada's Brandon University, gave it a shot nothing but net. This is the tuition shootout. It's been a staple at Friday home games for Brandon's men's and women's for a while right now.

Last week, the athletic department decided to give entrants the option of having anyone in the building take the half-court shot for them, and instead of picking a player, one lucky student chose the coach. That was a very, very smart choice and a very good shot. And a semester free tuition. Well done.

SAMBOLIN: The coach said, "Pick me," and the kid did and look at that.

BERMAN: Smart move.

SAMBOLIN: All right. To check out our other top CNN Trends, head to CNN.com/Trends.

BERMAN: All right. So, there are plenty of big stories in the news over the last few weeks, which means lots of material for the late night comedians. So, you knew it as soon as it happened that "Saturday Night Live" would take Marco Rubio's watergate moment and run with it. But it was their Carnival cruise spoof that had people talking and laughing all weekend.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One of the helicopters flying above us dropped down a couple papers. So, we thought we'd catch you up on what you missed this week, all right?

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, hey, there is a God! There is a God. He has not abandoned us, OK? All right. Let's see what's in the news. The pope resigned. Oh, Lord.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wait. Hey. Here's something fun. North Korea successfully launched a nuclear -- no.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here we go. Here we go. I got one. Hey, you guys remember Oscar Pistorius? You remember that? The Olympic sprinter who run on blades?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, amazing story. So uplifting (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely. Well, it says here that -- no, no, no.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hey, this is interesting. OK. You guys think you might have it bad, but do you have it worse than 4,000 stranded on nightmare cruise. That is about us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's enough. Enough of the headlines!

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SAMBOLIN: EARLY START continues right now.