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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Winter Storms Hit U.S. Midwest; Airports Cancel Flights Due to Storms; U.S. Stock Market Reaching Record Highs

Aired March 6, 2013 - 07:00   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Welcome, everybody. Our "Starting Point" this morning, a major winter storm is slamming the east coast, dumped a record snow in the Midwest. Now, here's a live look at flakes that are starting to fall in the nation's capital. We'll take a look this morning at the damage that's already been caused and tell you who can expect to get hit next.

Plus, the CDC sounding the alarm about a superbug that's nearly untreatable and it's spreading. Are you at risk? We'll have a live report this morning with what you need to know.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Stock futures are climbing this morning after the Dow finally reached an all-time high. Will we see another record at today's closing bell?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And you can't wear your shoes going through security, but you can now bring a small knife onto planes. The new TSA rules that have a lot of people scratching their heads this morning.

And this, did the Duchess of Cambridge let it slip if she's having a boy or a girl? The royal family might want to start buying pink.

O'BRIEN: Oh, it could be a girl. It's Wednesday, March 6th, And STARTING POINT begins right now.

Welcome, everybody. Happening right now, a vicious winter storm is bearing down on the nation's capital. The heart of D.C. is expected to see four to eight inches of snow. Surrounding areas though could get 20 inches of snow. A severe weather warning is in effect for the region. D.C. area schools are closed, federal offices also closed. Right now nearly 30,000 customers are already without power across eight states and D.C. Five major airlines have canceled more than 1,000 flights today because of the storm. That's expected to dump more snow in D.C. than they have seen in years.

We've got the storm covered from all sides. Joe Johns is live for us in Winchester, Virginia. Karen Maginnis is in the severe weather center for this morning. And Shannon Travis is live at Washington Dulles International. Joe, let's begin with you. Obviously a travel nightmare for folks. How is it looking besides nice and beautiful and snowy behind you?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it certainly is beautiful. I mean just amazing here, quite frankly. We are right on the edge of the Shenandoah Valley, and for authorities, as you said, a travel nightmare. There are thousands of sand and salt trucks out at this hour working overtime to try to deal with the situation.

Authorities are telling motorists if you can stay home. If you can't, be very careful on the roads. This is a very thick, wet snow that melts as it touches your clothes. People have been dealing with this all over the country since yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: It's already breaking records and it's not over yet. The massive deadly storm started its march in the upper plains. Parts of North Dakota had over a foot of snow. Ditto in Minnesota, where wrecks littered the highways. When traffic did move, it moved slowly.

Then on to Wisconsin and more treacherous roads. A semi fell into the red cedar river, killing the driver and closing part of the interstate for hours. In Chicago, the afternoon commute was an icy, snowy mess.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It doesn't make for good driving but at the same time it's beautiful out, the snow, the quiet.

JOHNS: The 10 inches of snow at O'Hare airport set a record for most snowfall on that date. More than 1,000 flights in and out of Chicago were cancelled. Overnight the snow started piling up in Indiana.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was scary. It just felt like I was on ice and it was just really slippery.

JOHNS: And Ohio. But amid the misery, there is a bright side.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's pretty sweet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It feels like being on a mattress or a cloud.

JOHNS: Now, that big monstrous cloud is bearing down on Virginia, has Washington in its sights, and it's still far from being over.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have to get on the road, use extreme caution. Drive slower than you normally would.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: So the good news, of course, as I said about the snow is the ability to make a snowman. Our producer, Larry Shaughnessy, who right now is holding a snowball and about to hit me with it, has made this snow man -- well, as you can see, it's not very good.

O'BRIEN: Yes, but it's early yet. You have time. Tell him to keep working on it. It's a nice little mini snowman. I'm sure in just a few hours you'll be able to make a big massive snowman. Joe Johns, thanks.

Airports around the country, no shocker here, feeling the pain with more than 1,000 flights cancelled due to the storm. And 650 of those flights were from united airlines. U.S. airways had to ground 350 flights, 20 American airlines flights were nixed due to the storm. Let's get right to Shannon Travis. He's live at Washington Dulles airport. How's it looking where you are today?

SHANNON TRAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a bit of a ghost town here, Soledad, although we want to tell our viewers the airport is open. We've heard a few jets take off here and there for a lot of the morning. Mostly the sound that we're hearing are these big snow plows coming in salting the roads and moving the snow out of the way.

In terms of those flight cancellations that you just mentioned, again, over a thousand. You mentioned united and U.S. air, I'll just rattle off a few more. American airlines for today cancelled 20, 360 cancelled yesterday. Delta, we're still waiting on word from them for flight cancellations for today, and Southwest, no major ones. One person that's hoping that he can find some rest here at the airport, because his flight was cancelled, was a man that we spoke with earlier on his way to a much sunnier place. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRAVIS: What are you going to do?

JOHN ANDREWS, MEXICO BOUND STRANDED AT DULLES: I'm going to go get a hot breakfast and I'm going to eat some burritos.

TRAVIS: In honor of Mexico.

ANDREWS: That's right. And sit in a sun lamp, I guess.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TRAVIS: In honor of Mexico, Soledad, because that's where he was on his way to before he got stranded.

O'BRIEN: Shannon Travis for us, thanks, Shannon.

Let's get right to Karen Maginnis who's tracking the system for us this morning. Where's it going to hang out and where's it going to move on to?

KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You've said the key word, Soledad. It is going to be a slow mover even though it will push out across the mid-Atlantic and elongate and kind of stall out. That's why New York City, you're expecting that heavy, wet snow. Coastal flood warnings have been issued. But even up towards Boston, four to eight inches possible.

Now, the confidence of some of these forecasts is fairly low. That's because we don't know exactly what's going to happen with this low. Now, to the west of interstate 95, right around the metropolitan D.C. area, this is where we're looking at significant snowfall. Feel fairly confident 15 to 20 inches expected. Joe Johns, the elevation where he is, Winchester, their elevation is close to 1,000 feet, so 15 to 20 inches possible there with that rain-snow mix making its way up the eastern seaboard. This is an event that's going to take place all the way through Friday. Here's a view of the capitol. The snow really has picked up in the past hour or so. Winds are gusty. We'll see some of those wind gusts up around 50 miles an hour. Here you can see one report with gusts around 32, but that's only going to increase as the afternoon carries on. Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right, Karen, thanks for the update.

Ahead this morning, who can get Congress to move? Mother Nature might be the only person who can get Congress to move because the snowstorm moving into the nation's capital, of course. The house has decided to vote today on a plan that would continue funding the federal government through the ending of the fiscal year. The vote was originally scheduled for tomorrow but they're worried weather will knock that out.

All eyes on Wall Street looking to see if the market can make it two records in a row. The Dow closing yesterday just below 14,253, which is a new record high, breaks the old record from back in October of 2007, those glory days before everything went into the tank. Let's get right to our resident financial geniuses, Ali Velshi and Christine Romans.

ALI VELSHI, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: If we were geniuses, we would not be here in this hour of the morning. We'd be having our people call you from our yacht.

(LAUGHTER)

ROMANS: It's almost as if we erased all those bad days. No, it's a record, but it's 30 stocks. The Dow is 30 stocks. The S&P 500 probably more representative of what's in your 401.

VELSHI: Not a record, but your gain has been bigger. If you invested on March 9th, 2009, which turned out to be the bottom. Christine and I have opinion screaming we're going to find the bottom. It did happen to be then.

O'BRIEN: Thanks for the heads up.

VELSHI: But the Dow was 6,500. The gain on the S&P 500, which is bigger, 500 stocks, is actually greater and the gain of all stocks is actually bigger. So it's not limited. But I tell you the difference back then, everybody was celebrating. People were excited, it was a cool thing, the economy was feeling hot and the stock market reflected it. All I've heard for the last 24 hours is that's just the fat cats. This isn't for everybody.

O'BRIEN: And that's what you were saying about where you feel it in your 401(k).

ROMANS: Right, 53 percent of Americans are exposed to the stock market which means a lot of other people will be saying a record high in stocks, who cares, I need a job, I need a raise, my net income is down, I don't feel confident. Confidence is the missing ingredient is that companies haven't been turning -- the stock market is a reflection of how companies are doing. Companies haven't been turning all of this progress into new projects. They have been putting it in the bank. So we haven't seen corporate -- it's called corporate engagement. We haven't seen the corporate engagement yet.

VELSHI: A little exception. You said 53 percent of Americans are exposed to the stock market, but lots of us are exposed to the stock market because we work for companies that are doing that well. So that 30 however months of job growth we've seen, that's some benefit.

ROMANS: But it's been slower than you would normally see coming out of a recession.

VELSHI: So you see the stock market doing this.

O'BRIEN: You're like a married couple arguing about the stock market.

VELSHI: Jobs have been increasing but the stock market is increasing more. This is a chart, by the way. We're a little low tech.

O'BRIEN: I thought it was yoga.

VELSHI: There you go, that's better. That's actually a chart. That space at the end is what people are worried about. Jobs are not going up as much as the stock market is going up.

O'BRIEN: Why would that be a worry?

ROMANS: Because it used to be that when you had companies doing well, that was good for America.

O'BRIEN: So companies and people are not doing well together.

ROMANS: And will that number come back together? We'll have more stock market charades in the next hour.

O'BRIEN: Got it.

John Berman has a look at other stories this morning.

BERMAN: Thanks, Soledad. New this morning, the lead dancer of Russia's famed Bolshoi Ballet now in police custody for an alleged acid attack on the company's artistic director. Police say he ordered the attack. They say he and two others confessed on camera. The victim suffered severe burns to his face and neck. Authorities say hostile relations between the two Bolshoi figures may have led to the attack but the exact motive as of this moment is not known.

A group representing survivors of sexual abuse by priests has made a list of cardinals it says would be the worst papal candidates based on their handling of child sex abuse claims, this as the cardinals continue to consider who would be the next church leader. After two meetings on Monday and another yesterday, the cardinals took time for private talks and research. Two-thirds of electors either didn't live in Rome or come from far away and they need more time to get to know one another and potential contenders. The timing of the Conclave still not set.

The TSA is making big changes for air travelers. For the first time since the 9/11 attacks passengers will soon be allowed to carry small pocket knives and sporting equipment, also those small souvenir baseball bats. Starting April 25, knives with blades that are 2.36 inches or shorter and less than a half inch wide will be permitted on flights as long as the blade is not fixed or does not lock into place. Razor blades and box cutters are still banned.

This news catching everyone's attention -- is the royal secret out? The British newspapers buzzing this morning with speculation that Prince William's pregnant wife Catherine is expecting a girl. So according to the "Telegraph" the Duchess almost let the sex of her unborn infant slip when she was chatting with fans. One fan handed her a teddy bear and she replied "Thank you, I will keep that for my d --" We're only left to speculate.

O'BRIEN: Did you ever call in utero your baby, your son?

ROMANS: I called him my cost centers actually.

O'BRIEN: I never referred to children in utero as my daughter. I'd say baby, so I think that's weird. I don't know that she's revealing anything.

BERMAN: This just into CNN. We've learned that president Obama is inviting a group of Republicans to the White House for dinner tonight. This will be a group of so far unnamed senators. No doubt the sequestration and potential government shutdown coming up on March 27th. They will be on the menu with some scrumptious foot and organic vegetables from the garden.

O'BRIEN: Thanks, John. Still ahead on STARTING POINT this morning, what the death of the Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez means both politically and economically in both Venezuela and the United States. It could be an impact here for us financially. We'll take you live to Caracas coming up.

Then a drone attack taking place on American soil. It could happen. We'll have details right after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Thousands of Venezuelans are expected to line the streets this morning to see and pay tribute to the late leader, Hugo Chavez. His body will be taken from the hospital where he died to a military academy in Caracas.

The country has declared seven days of mourning, closed schools for the rest of the week, deployed the armed forces to keep the peace. Shasta Darlington is following developments for us this morning from Caracas.

Give me a sense of how Venezuelans are dealing with all of this.

SHASTA DARLINGTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Soledad, he's really -- Hugo Chavez has left a divided nation and you can really feel that today; as you mentioned, thousands of Venezuelans already taking to the street, preparing to see his body as it passes and others just coming to terms with the fact that this president, who's been around for 14 years, will no longer be here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DARLINGTON (voice-over): A tempestuous era in Venezuela's modern history, to his supporters, a golden era, and they took to the streets of Caracas to proclaim the revolution will continue, many in tears.

His mantle has been passed to Vice President Nicolas Maduro, who told the Venezuelan people, "We civilians and military assume his legacy, his challenges, his project."

Maduro, a former foreign minister and union leader and a speaker of the parliament, Diosdado Cabello, will try to carry the torch of the revolution, but neither has Chavez' wit and populist charm. A presidential election has to be held within 30 days, and most analysts expect Maduro to ride a wave of sympathy to victory.

The revolution is embedded in the military, the courts, the bureaucracy. Chavez had 14 years to see to that. The main opposition candidate is likely to be Enrique Capriles, who cut Chavez' margin of victory to 11 points in last October's election.

Whoever becomes the next leader of Venezuela has a host of problems to deal with: an economy battered by inefficient management and mercurial socialism; huge public payroll, rampant inflation, astronomical levels of violent crime; and then the question of how to continue leading a leftist front across Latin America through generous shipments of subsidized oil to allies like Cuba, Bolivia and Nicaragua.

For now the anti-U.S. rhetoric as florid as ever: "Our enemies have damaged our commander's health," with Maduro even accusing others of causing Chavez' cancer.

In a statement, the White House set the benchmark for warmer ties. As Venezuela begins a new chapter in its history, the United States remains committed to policies that promote democratic principles, the rule of law and respect for human rights, it said.

Any fresh start won't be helped by the expulsion of two U.S. diplomats in the hours before Chavez died, accused of plotting against the government, a charge immediately rejected by the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DARLINGTON: Now, President Barack Obama did not rise to that provocation. Instead, he said he'd like to build a new relationship with Venezuela, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Shasta Darlington for us this morning. Thank you, Shasta.

One of the most contentious issues on Capitol Hill is illegal immigration. Up next, we'll tell you how Jeb Bush angered both sides of the aisle talking about the pathway to citizenship. That story is up next. We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Our team this morning: Cameron Russell is back with us, she works as a model, also running a small company; we talked about that the last time.

Journalist Dan Baum is here. Fullan Martin's (ph) going to join us in just a few moments.

Another Bush could be bidding for the White House. That's not exactly a shocker. People for a long time have been talking about Jeb Bush and he's back in the spotlight over the national immigration debate.

The former Florida governor has just written a new book about overhauling the nation's immigration system; seems to be backing legal status for undocumented immigrants, but not a path to citizenship, which means, in essence, he's pissing off people on both sides of the aisle by doing that.

So when Bush began backtracking on his position, CNN's chief Washington correspondent, Jake Tapper, jumped into that conversation. Here's how that went.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEB BUSH, FORMER GOVERNOR OF FLORIDA: I have supported both, both a path to legalization or a path to citizenship with the underlying principle being that there should be no incentive for people to come illegally at the expense of coming legally. Today basically the only path to come to this country other than family reunification is to come illegally.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: So, I'm not sure that that's true. I think that the people who talked about overhauling our immigration system is sort of two- pronged. On one hand, you have to deal with a number of people who are in the country illegally, but also there's the number of H-1B visas that have been really challenging for those who have good work opportunities that are stuck all the way.

BERMAN: Oh, it's like Groundhog Day. I can't believe we're doing another Bush.

O'BRIEN: And so early. 2016.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: And what he's saying and are fascinating here, what happened was Jeb Bush's book went to press in December, before you had this bipartisan group of senators coming out with their immigration plan, that included Marco Rubio from Florida and included a path to citizenship there. So what happened was he was outflanked in a way on the policy on this and now he finds himself defending a position that is not in the forefront of the immigration debate, where Jeb Bush is used to being and that's why --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: There's two interesting things out of that.

Number one, the idea that we are talking about right now what really is positioning for 2016. Right? All of this is years out. And then also the changing position of the GOP on immigration is what makes this a very prickly situation.

BERMAN: An incredibly rapid change. We're talking like over weeks in this case.

O'BRIEN: Submit your proposal and by the time they printed it --

CAMERON RUSSELL, MODEL: But it's a crazy position for 2016 because obviously the Republicans lost because they lost the Hispanic vote. And how is he going to win that back with this type of policy?

O'BRIEN: Well, I think it's more complicated than that. I don't think it's only because they lost the Hispanic vote. I think there are plenty of Republicans who have come on our show who would say it's a very nuanced issue, as you say; it's been said many times. Lots of Republicans believe that Latinos are, what's the phrase, they are Republicans. They just don't know it yet.

DAN BAUM, JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) Republicans, right.

O'BRIEN: And, you know, I've had someone tell me that many, many times.

BAUM: I actually lost a bet on that. I actually lost a bet a long time ago, saying that by about now the Hispanics would be thought of as solidly Republican. I totally lost that bet.

O'BRIEN: What's interesting is I think that the idea of looking at the issues for Latinos is only immigration, which people often do is a mistake; t o look at any population which inherently is so diverse anyway, right, and then say immigration, our immigration position, plus you have the whole negativity in the conversation, I think, influenced voters as well.

BAUM: That's what I think he stepped in, because we're kind of in a trend of more tolerance toward gay marriage. We're kind of in a nicer period than -- this is speaking to the hate caucus of the GOP.

BERMAN: The question is, was it inadvertent or purposeful? That's the question here. Did he think he was leading on this issue?

O'BRIEN: It's fascinating that we'll be talking about this again from now until 2016.

BAUM: I'm glad you think it's fascinating.

O'BRIEN: I do. I'll leave you with one thing. My mom is Cuban and she's a naturalized citizen. Immigration is not an issue for her at all. And yet when she would get the negative rhetoric about immigration --

BAUM: It pushes her buttons.

O'BRIEN: -- it would push her buttons. The woman has no dog in the fight in that; it would absolutely send her over the edge. And I think that that had some reaction outside of just my mom and Cubans certainly.

All right. We got to take a break. Still ahead, could the president ever order a drone attack against an American on U.S. soil? We'll tell you why the attorney general, Eric Holder, is not ruling it out.

And then a rare and dangerous superbug is popping up at an alarming rate in hospitals across the country. Some doctors say it's a major threat. We'll take a look at that straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Take a look.