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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Oscar Night in America; "Life Threatening Blizzard" Conditions; White House: What Will Be Cut?; Pope Benedict's Final Days; Kerry's First Trip as Secretary of State

Aired February 25, 2013 - 05:00   ET

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


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Oscars big winner. "Argo" takes home Best Picture.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Blizzard warning. Some states barely digging out, brace for another round of potentially life-threatening conditions.

ROMANS: The pope's final blessing. Pope Benedict in his final days leave in a Catholic Church amid reports now of a corruption scandal.

Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans this Monday morning for you.

BERMAN: Good to see you, everyone. I'm John Berman. Zoraida Sambolin is off today. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

And let's start with Hollywood's night of night. You know, I just took off my tuxedo. It was the 85th Oscars, celebrated music and film. And there was plenty of it from beginning to end. And Seth MacFarlane can really sing. He really can.

And as for the awards himself, no one film dominated. And the Iran hostage thriller, "Argo" came away the big winner, giving its director Ben Affleck the last laugh, albeit a bit of a long, grumbling laugh.

CNN's Nischelle Turner has been up just about all night is live in Hollywood for us. Good morning, good evening, good whatever it is for you, Nischelle. Good to see you.

NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: First of all, can we take the just off of there, John Berman? Can we just say CNN's Nischelle Turner has been up all night? Because that would be the truth. Are we in the truth-telling business?

BERMAN: Still, you look great. Good to see you this morning.

TURNER: OK. Thank you very much.

Yes. It's been a great night here in Hollywood. They call it Hollywood's biggest night. And it definitely has been Hollywood's biggest night.

You know, the 85th Oscars was supposed to be a return to Hollywood glamour, return to the Oscars of the past that everyone loved, all the big production numbers. The musical acts. If that is what you love, that is what you saw.

Let's take a look at that.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: And now, for the moment we have all been waiting for --

TURNER (voice-over): First Lady Michelle Obama gave the Oscars a jolt of excitement and a huge surprise, when she appeared from the White House to announce the night's biggest prize, Best Picture.

OBAMA: And the Oscar goes to "Argo."

TURNER: It was an especially sweet victory for Ben Affleck, who wasn't even nominated for directing the Iranian hostage thriller.

BEN AFFLECK, ACTOR/DIRECTOR: I thank everyone in the movie, on the movie, worked in the movie, did anything with this movie.

TURNER: "Life of Pi", based on the best-selling novel, about a boy adrift at sea with a tiger, won the most Oscars, four, including Best Director for Ang Lee.

ANG LEE, DIRECTOR, "LIFE OF PI": Thank you, Academy. Xie xie. Namaste.

TURNER: He played one of the greatest presidents in history. And "Lincoln's" leading man, Daniel Day-Lewis, made history of his own, becoming the first male actor to win three Oscars.

DAY DAY-LEWIS, ACTOR: I'm just so grateful to the Academy for this beautiful honor.

TURNER: She took a tumble heading to the stage. But everyone else was on their feet when "Silver Linings Playbook's" Jennifer Lawrence won for Best Actress.

JENNIFER LAWRENCE, ACTRESS: You guys are just standing up because you feel bad that I fell, and that's really embarrassing.

SETH MACFARLANE, OSCAR HOST: And the quest to make Tommy Lee Jones laugh begins now.

TURNER: Host Seth MacFarlane struck a cheeky tone from the beginning, skewering stars and poking fun at himself during the visit from Captain Kirk.

MACFARLANE: Seth MacFarlane, worst Oscar host? It's that bad?

TURNER: Music was the theme of the night. And the show posted full- throated performances from the cast of "Chicago," "Dream Girls" and "Les Miserables." And music was a memorable part of Oscar's 50th anniversary tribute to James Bond. Shirley Bassey got a standing ovation after belting out "Goldfinger".

While chart-topper, Adele, sang the latest 007 theme, "Skyfall," which won the Oscar for best song.

Barbra Streisand returned to the Oscar stage to sing "Memories." And indeed, the night's biggest winner remembered his last time earning Oscar gold.

AFFLECK: I was here 15 years ago or something. And I went out. You know, I never thought that I would be back here. And I am.

And it doesn't matter how you get knocked down in life, because that's going to happen. All that matters is you're going to get up.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TURNER: That was one of my favorite moments of the night, most definitely, when Ben Affleck got up there. I mean, you would think maybe he would have prepared himself for that win because "Argo" did go into last night with such of a momentum swing that it's gotten throughout this award season. But you know what, John? He seemed just flustered and happy and all here, there and everywhere. And you love those type of moments on the Oscars.

Now, by the way, we're here at the famed Roosevelt Hotel here in Hollywood. And there's a bar right over to my shoulder here. It's called the Library. It's only 2:00 a.m. here.

So, there's people that are still partying tonight. And I can hear them. Who knows? They may just make a cameo walking behind us here this morning. It is one of those types of nights.

I don't know if you had any favorite moments. But I did have a couple. Did you have a favorite moment?

BERMAN: I love the music. I'm a big fan of the musicals and music. I thought Catherine Zeta-Jones was killer in the "All That Jazz" number.

TURNER: Oh, yes. She was. You know, I talked to her at the Governor's Ball last night. And she told me that it was a rush being back on stage. And her husband, Michael Douglas, he was giving her that look and he said, you know what? That was a very sexy number. And everyone around him, he told me, kept saying, Good Lord, your wife is sexy.

So, it might be a good night in the Douglas household last night. One of my favorite moments, and it was a little crass, was they played the "Jaws" music when we were going too long. We are saying, wrap it up, guys. Wrap it, guys. Wrap it up.

And I thought it was funny. And I thought it was a way to let everybody know, you're almost done. But I did think maybe it went a step too far, when they cut that poor fella off there, who was trying to give his speech.

And I'm getting the wrap now. So, they're about to start playing the "Jaws" music.

BERMAN: That's right. Exactly. I hear the "Jaws" producer upstairs.

Nischelle Turner, thanks so much. It was an edgier Oscars for sure. It is great to see you this morning. Good for you, staying up all night. And we'll see you again after no sleep in just a few minutes. So, we'll be back. Thanks, Michelle.

ROMANS: All right. We're also following another big story this morning. Call it a severe weather sequel. Just days after a powerful winter blast blanketed the Plains States with record snow, right now, a crippling winter storm bearing down on the same very region. Bringing with it, what the National Weather Service is calling life- threatening blizzard conditions.

The National Weather Service has issued urgent winter warnings for western and northern Oklahoma. Kansas City is also expecting nine to 15 inches of snow tonight into Tuesday. The same system just left a blanket of white over much of Colorado, cancelling hundreds of flights out of Denver International on Sunday.

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback is calling for drivers to stay off the road in his state again. And he has worries this storm has the potential to be more dangerous in the last week.

Jennifer Delgado live for us now at the CNN weather center. Jennifer, how bad is it this morning?

JENNIFER DELGADO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hi, Christine.

You know, it seems like we always are talking about some type of winter storm. You're right. We are talking about dangerous conditions setting up. You see the blizzard warning in place across parts of Kansas, Texas, New Mexico, as well as Missouri.

Now, we're going to see those winds really picking up as we go later into the afternoon and the evening hours. And that means visibility is really going to be down. Now, overall, we have about 17 states that are under some type of winter weather warning advisory. And it is going to be a bad one out there.

Look what's happening right now. We already are seeing storms moving through central Texas, as well as that snow working through, in these locations. A foot or more for Kansas City, a foot of snowfall for you. Interstate 70's going to be a mess. Chicago, you're going to see roughly about five inches of snowfall. And that's welcome news because you're really low on the precipitation.

Down to the South. Notice we have a severe thunderstorm watch in place for parts of Louisiana, that includes New Orleans. That's in place until 8:00 a.m.

And look at the lightning out there. All this rain is going to be coming down. We are talking about a flood threat for today, tomorrow. We're talking two to four inches. In addition to that, severe weather for parts of the gulf.

You can see from Louisiana, Texas, all the way over to the panhandle of Florida. That means, we could still see some storms, producing isolated tornadoes, as well as damaging winds. It's never an easy weather day. It's like a weather buffet.

ROMANS: A weather buffet.

BERMAN: Yes, a bad weather buffet.

DELGADO: It is. It makes you sick.

ROMANS: Right.

BERMAN: So, the White House is getting specific about the programs that would take a hit if the forced spending cuts known in Washington as the sequester, go into effect on Friday, just this Friday, days away.

Food safety inspections, mental health treatments, vaccines and early education programs the White House says are all at risk. The FAA would have to furlough nearly all of its employees, causing a major disruption in air travel. And defense cuts would stall maintenance on Navy ships. It's a mess, says the White House.

And Education Secretary Arne Duncan appeared Sunday on CBS.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARNE DUNCAN, SECRETARY OF EDUCATION: We don't have any ability with dumb cuts like this to figure out what the right thing to do is. It just means a lot more children will not get the kinds of services and opportunities they need. In as many as 40,000 teachers could lose their jobs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Now, some Republicans say the Obama administration is crafting a doomsday scenario, to force Republicans to accepting a deal that includes more tax increases for the wealthy. And Republican leaders say those increases are simply unacceptable.

ROMANS: Pope Benedict has just three more days as leader of the Catholic Church. On Sunday, the pontiff delivered his final public prayer ceremony before a packed St. Peter's Square in Vatican City. Citing his advanced age, he's 85, Pope Benedict will officially step down at 8:00 p.m. on Thursday.

Pope Benedict resigns amid rumors of a brewing sex scandal reported by Italian media involving gay priests being blackmailed by male prostitutes, a charge the Vatican has flatly denied.

BERMAN: You know, speaking of succession, the end of the Castro era in Cuba officially now in sight. Cuban President Raul Castro says he plans on stepping down in 2018, which is the end of his second term. Fidel Castro's 81-year-old brother made the announcement Sunday, shortly after the country's national assembly elected him to a second five-year term.

Now, as for a possible successor? Raul Castro says Cuba's first vice president, 52-year-old Miguel Diaz-Canel, is part of a new generation that will provide the future leadership of that country.

ROMANS: High school administrators in Grand Forks, North Dakota, are investigating a rather shocking incident. Three students from Red River showed up for a state hockey tournament on Friday wearing Ku Klux Klan-style hoods.

A photo of the three was posted to Twitter, generated a lot of outrage. School officials say they have identified the students and contacted their parents. They say they're disappointed in the students' behavior. And that appropriate action will be taken.

BERMAN: Crazy. Simply crazy.

ROMANS: Stupid.

BERMAN: All right. One of the country's biggest fans of "Argo," Secretary of State John Kerry, makes his first trip overseas as America's top diplomat. How will his approach different from Hillary Clinton? We will go live from London.

ROMANS: And Danica Patrick at Daytona, even though she didn't win the race, she still made history. We've got the highlights for you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone. Secretary of State John Kerry is in London this morning -- the first leg of his first trip as the nation's new chief diplomat. He'll visit nine countries over the next 11 days, traveling to Europe's key capitals and to Turkey, finally to the Middle East. A short time ago, he met with Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron. He'll also sit down with the British Foreign Secretary William Hague.

Our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty, is traveling with Secretary Kerry and she joins us live from London. Good morning, Jill.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning, John.

Well, this is where it began this morning, the famous 10 Downing Street. Prime Minister Cameron offering Secretary of State John Kerry a traditional English breakfast, and that was designed to fortify him for this very long trip.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DOUGHERTY (voice-over): Just days before his first international trip as secretary of state, John Kerry made the case to an American audience, why the stakes for U.S. global engagement are so high. JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: Today's global world, there is no longer anything foreign about foreign policy. More than ever before, the decisions that we make from the safety of our shores don't just ripple outward. They also create a current, right here, in America.

DOUGHERTY: Former high-level diplomats say the eyes of the world will be on Kerry and where he flies.

NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: First trips by an American secretary of state overseas are watched very closely. There's a lot of symbolism attached to them. People look for clues as to which region is most important to the United States.

DOUGHERTY: His predecessor, Hillary Clinton, headed east for her first trip. Part of the Obama administration's pivot to Asia. Kerry's 11-day trip takes him to nine countries -- England, Germany, France, Italy, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

In Europe, he reassures America's traditional allies. He also needs European support in the ongoing dispute over Iran's nuclear ambitions and for any next steps to help the Syrian opposition. Already, the opposition coalition, angry over not getting the military arms they want, is refusing to attend a meeting in Rome where they were scheduled to talk with Secretary Kerry.

One wild card on this trip: Egypt. Anti-government protests continue, as its economy struggles. But the State Department says, don't expect Kerry to chart any new policy on this trip.

VICTORIA NULAND, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: He's characterizing this first trip more broadly, as a listening tour.

DOUGHERTY: John Kerry follows in the footsteps of Hillary Clinton, who had sky-high popularity around the world.

MADELINE ALBRIGHT, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Nobody's the rock star Hillary Clinton is.

DOUGHERTY: But Kerry, who is a boy, lived in Berlin, brings his own credentials. As chairman of the Foreign Senate Relations Committee, he got to know many world leaders. He served as Barack Obama's personal envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright says despite Clinton's global following, Kerry is ready the take the lead as America's top diplomat.

ALBRIGHT: I've known him a very, very long time. And someone who comes from being chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, he's clearly dealt with all the issues and understands their background, their depth.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DOUGHERTY: And so, it is billed as a listening trip. And that means, to be diplomatically safe. Not to break any new ground. Not to make any mistakes. But hatching plots -- or hatching plans in Washington is one thing.

But the reality on the ground in the Middle East, in Syria, is certainly another, John.

BERMAN: Jill, I think it will be months if not years before John Kerry is not compared to his immediate predecessor, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But are there any differences yet? And do you predict any differences in their styles going ahead?

DOUGHERTY: You know, I think one thing is the politician. That was one thing that Secretary Clinton used very much to her advantage, making the case to other world leaders. You know, you can be a statesman. You can rise above it. And that political sense, also John Kerry has. So, there may be something kind of similar in them.

But they're different in emotional and temperamental differences. And that will be interesting to watch on the ground, too. I mean, John Kerry doesn't have anything at this point to prove. There is no 2016 for him. So, it might be legacy, determining how he handles things.

BERMAN: That's an interesting distinction.

All right. Jill Dougherty, live for us right in 10 Downing Street in London -- nice to see you this morning.

DOUGHERTY: OK.

ROMANS: All right. Nineteen minutes past the hour. Time to get you up to speed on today's top stories.

The pre-Oscar favorite delivered last night, Ben Affleck's film "Argo" winning Best Picture in an Oscar first. The award was presented by Michelle Obama from the White House.

It was a big night as well for "Life of Pi." It won the most Oscars, four, that included a Best Director win for Ang Lee.

Afghanistan's president says U.S. Special Forces might have harassed, tortured and even murdered innocent people west of Kabul. Now, Hamid Karzai is ordering those elite units to leave from Wardak province in two weeks. Karzai says the actions are stirring up public hatred and resentment. The U.S. military says it is investigating those claims.

BERMAN: Olympic-hero-turned-accused-killer Oscar Pistorius checks in at a police station in Pretoria in South Africa this morning. You know, he has to show up every Monday and Friday, one of his requirements of being released on bail last Friday. Pistorius is charged with murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp at this home on Valentine's Day morning. He, of course, claims he believed he was shooting at a burglar.

So, coming up, it is coming now. Forced spending cuts, we'll talk about their impact on you and your state. ROMANS: Right. The White House has released details about which states will be hit the hardest. What services will be cut, how many jobs will be lost state by state when these cuts kick in.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: We're minding your business this morning. Stocks are coming off their worst week of the year. Some of that nervousness does seem to be lingering today. Stock futures are mixed.

As for the economy, it's all about those forced spending cuts that will kick in on Friday. And now, the White House is detailing exactly what they might look like for you. So --

ROMANS: And don't forget, this is a big political move by the White House to try to really highlight to everyone how this is going to feel and how you're going to feel and to pressure Republicans to try to do some deal.

Now, some are calling this a doomsday scenario. It's meant to pressure Republicans into accepting a deal with higher taxes on the wealthy. The White House spelling it out, explained black and white what $85 billion in reduction in spending means for the states.

Big cuts for the District of Columbia, 13,000 civilian Department of Defense workers would be furloughed. That's in addition to thousands more federal workers. Head Start, that's the child development program for low-income families, would be cut for about 200 kids.

In New Jersey, 1,500 fewer students would get financial assistance for college. Think of the beaches, there would be $5 million in cuts and funding to make sure the water is clean.

Let's go to California. Some Navy ships in San Diego wouldn't be repaired. Delaying repairs there.

One common theme for all the states, education cuts. Education Secretary Arne Duncan was on CBS "Face the Nation".

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DUNCAN: We don't have any ability with dumb cuts like this to figure out what the right thing to do is. It just means a lot more children will not get the kinds of services and opportunities they need, and as many as 40,000 teachers could lose their jobs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: OK. So Republicans see these last-minute press releases as a waste of time. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell says, quote, "There are smarter ways to reduce the size of government. And with the national debt over $16 trillion, it's time for the White House to stop spending all the time campaigning and start finding smarter ways to reduce the deficit," end quote.

Regardless, analysts say chances are slim that Congress will avert the cuts before Friday.

And, of course, the whole point here is the White House is casting this as people -- everyday people are going to lose services and there will be job cuts. But the Republicans want to protect companies and rich people from having to pay higher taxes.

BERMAN: And, of course, the Republicans say is all the Democrats want is higher taxes.

ROMANS: Exactly. So there we are, exactly where we started in 2011.

BERMAN: It is a great situation, folks. But stay with us. We'll keep you abreast of all of the developments, if there are any developments, sadly.

Twenty-six minutes after the hour right now. And the winter hits keep on coming in some parts of the country. Coming up, look at another storm dumping tons of snow on the Central Plains. We'll tell you where it's going next.

And if you're leaving the house right now, you can watch us on your desktop and your mobile phone. Just go to CNN.com/TV.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)