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U.S. Could Be Alone in Strikes on Syria; Obama to Share Evidence; Crumbling Coalition on Military Strikes; D.C. Mayor Weighs "Living Wage" Bill; NFL Concussion Settlement; Hot, Stormy Labor Day Weekend; Holder: Washington, Colorado Pot Laws Can Stay

Aired August 30, 2013 - 09:00   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: A coalition crumbles and allies ditch America.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president is going to have to make his case.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do believe we have to do something.

COSTELLO: Will the U.S. go it alone?

Also, OD'ing on Tylenol? Eighty thousand Americans sent to the E.R. each year. Ahead what the company is doing about it.

Plus, settled.

JAMAL ANDERSON, FORMER NFL RUNNING BACK: I think it's a good day for thousands of football players who are dealing with different afflictions.

COSTELLO: Seven hundred million plus dollars. Compensation for concussions.

PETER KING, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED NFL WRITER: They're almost certainly going to be able to eliminate any future lawsuit.

COSTELLO: And you can have your pot and smoke it, too. The feds will now let states decide on pot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I love Seattle, Washington, rocks.

COSTELLO: Colorado, Washington.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They call it wake and bake. Somebody is fine, wake up every morning. Light up.

You're live in the CNN newsroom.


COSTELLO: More on the DOJ's pot decision a little later.

Good morning to you, I'm Carol Costello. First up, Syria. President Obama reaches out and U.S. allies back away. This morning an international coalition to support military strikes on Syria is crumbling. The most stinging rejection from Washington's closest ally.

Take a look at the cover of the "New York Daily News." Yes, the British aren't coming. British lawmakers voted against taking any part of any military action. Other allies like Germany and France are also gun shy, still haunted by the morass of the Iraq war.

And those concerns echo loudly in Congress where more than 160 lawmakers, both Republicans and Democrats, are demanding at least a full debate before any strikes are launched.

Last night, President Obama and top members of his cabinet spent 90 minutes trying to rally support among skeptical lawmakers.


CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY: The Congress, like in any democracy, is important to this process. Their views are critically important. There are many members of the Congress who are very experienced leaders. So it's important that we coordinate with the Congress, as we will continue to do. We reach out to get their thoughts on this issue. We will continue to do that.


COSTELLO: And the American public also wants some checks and balances. According to a new NBC News poll, 79 percent say congressional approval should be required before any military action is taken. That's compared to 16 percent who say such approval will not be necessary.

And in breaking news this morning, President Obama addresses that skeptical public today in a statement making the case for military action.

Senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta has more on that side of the story.

Good morning, Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. We can tell you right now that White House officials are saying the president has not made a decision about military action against Syria, but administration officials do say that the White House is expected to release that unclassified intelligence report on last week's chemical weapons attack.

That report should be similar to what was briefed to members of Congress last night indicating that top Syrian administration officials or regime officials were responsible for that poison gas attack outside of Damascus.

Now what we can tell you is that you mentioned what's happening overseas with several U.S. allies. Yes, the United States is, obviously, disappointed with that vote in British parliament and in response to that, senior U.S. officials are saying that the president may have to go it alone. That he may elect to take unilateral action against Syria.

One top U.S. official said to CNN, we care what the British think, we value the process, but we're going to make the decision that we need to make.

Now presumably a window of opportunity for the president to take some sort of action opens up this weekend when U.N. weapons inspectors are scheduled to leave Syria on Saturday and so we're waiting to find out about that.

And, Carol, getting back to this whole issue of international cooperation, it should be noted this morning that the president of France did tell a French newspaper overnight here in the United States, but earlier today in France that he would be willing to support a military mission in Syria. No word as to how that support would take shape -- Carol.


COSTELLO: Yes. Would it be in words or actions? We don't know.

Jim Acosta --

ACOSTA: Good question. Yes.

COSTELLO: Live at the White House this morning.

Now let's turn to Capitol Hill and the uphill battle facing the president there.

Our chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash, she joins us from our Washington bureau with that side of the story.

Good morning, Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. Well, I am told that the administration did already declassified and released some of the information Jim was talking about. Two members of Congress who have been demanding consultation and input on the administration strategy on Syria and they also want evidence that the military action, if it is used, would be justified.


BASH (voice-over): CNN has told top Obama officials insisted to lawmakers on a Thursday night conference call they have no doubt Bashar Assad's regime in Syria was behind deadly chemical attacks there.

Secretaries of State, Defense and others backed that up by revealing to lawmakers that the U.S. intercepted communications from a high- level Syrian official which clearly indicates they were responsible for these weapons. That according to Congressman Eliot Engel who participated in the call.

The hour and a half long telephone briefing began minutes after Congress' counterparts in Great Britain, the British parliament --

JOHN BERCOW, BRITISH HOUSE OF COMMONS SPEAKER: The nos have it. The nos have it.

BASH: -- Struck at least a short-term blow to U.S. hopes of a coalition defeating a measure authorizing force against Syria.

Though Obama officials insisted no decisions have been made on military action against Syria, CNN is also told they privately made clear to lawmakers that chemical weapons in Syria is such a threat, the U.S. could engage with or without support from critical allies like Great Britain.

One key GOP senator Bob Corker emerged from briefings Thursday announcing support for what he called surgical proportional military strikes given the strong evidence of Assad regime's continued use of chemical warfare.

Democratic Senate Foreign Relations chair, Bob Menendez, reaffirmed his support, too, saying a decisive and consequential U.S. response is justified and warranted.

Others argued the president still has to come before Congress and the American people before he acts.

REP. RICK MCKEON (R), HOUSE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: It's up to the president to sell this to the American people and fast.


COSTELLO: All right, let's talk a little bit more about that, Dana. I want to ask you about the War Powers Act. And just to remind our viewers before we get into it, this act says the president has to consult with Congress within 48 hours of committing U.S. forces and the president cannot commit U.S. forces for more than 90 days without congressional approval.

So, Dana, if you look at what Obama wants to do in Syria, it appears he doesn't need congressional approval but maybe politically he does.

BASH: Right. Well, it's all an open question. First of all, it depends on what exactly they're going to do militarily if anything. But you're exactly right to ask two different questions. One is what the president needs to do legally, technically and what he needs to do politically practically to get support for any mission.

On a legal front with regard to the War Powers Act and what the president is required to do, remember, Carol, this was a huge unsettled debate when the Obama administration attacked Libya. Then the administration said they didn't need congressional authorization before the operation. They even blew off that 90-day deadline you just talked about in the War Powers Act and that, despite the fact that many Democrats were demanding it, it was surprising at the time for Obama who is a constitutional professor and as senator he argued for congressional authorization because military action. Now on the politics, it's very dicey, of course. Because military action in Syria is a big question mark with regard to public support. Despite the fact that you have about 100 plus lawmakers saying Congress must authorize any use of force. What could happen is the vote could very well end up looking like what we saw last night in the U.K., failing. And that could hurt the administration's efforts.

COSTELLO: Dana Bash reporting live from Washington this morning.

Let's take a look now at how international opinion is stacking up in regards to military strikes on Syria. Standing with the United States, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and France. On the right side, those opposing. They include Syria's most critical allies, Russia and China. Iran is also railing against the threats to its key regional ally.

The U.K., as we mentioned, will not take part in military action and Germany's foreign minister said at this point it's not even considering taking part.

At the bottom of the hour, assessing the military options. We'll talk to retired Army General about Spider Marks about what kind of action the Pentagon is considering.

Today, the mayor of Washington, D.C., could sign a controversial bill that would force large retailers to pay a minimum wage of $12.50 an hour. That's a 50 percent bump over the current minimum wage. If it happens, the world's largest retailer, Wal-Mart, says it will stop building three new stores near the city, and that could mean fewer jobs.

CNN business correspondent and anchor Christine Romans joins us now.

Good morning, Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS ANCHOR: Good morning, Carol. You know, D.C wants these big box retailers to pay more for D.C. workers, but what if the retailers walk and then there are no new jobs? No new groceries, no new shopping centers in a place where on the east side you've got 20 percent unemployment?

Look, there's been a seven-week delay over signing this bill. This bill that of course Wal-Mart and the other big box retailers to pay more. Here's what D.C. workers want. They want stores bigger than 75,000 square feet or stores that have a parent company with sales of $1 billion and more, they want $12.50 an hour. The current pay, as you pointed out, $8.25.

What's happening in D.C. and what we saw yesterday at those fast food franchises across the country, Carol, I think this could be the beginning of a movement, to try to align wages with the corporate profits of big business.

Now in D.C. supporters say you cannot live there on $8.25 an hour. That's the minimum wage there. You can't live there. The mayor, Mayor Gray, has said recently that in this living wage battle, that's being waged there, he sees many unanswered question about the bill's potential impact on the economy in the area.

So it's unclear whether he's going to sign this thing or he's going to veto it, Carol. But, quite, quite frankly you've got this battle, this debate between our jobs at $8.25. We want jobs, we need jobs. We need that economic activity or we don't want your jobs, if they don't pay enough.

COSTELLO: Well, Mayor Gray has, what? Ten days to decide. So we'll see.

ROMANS: Sure does.

COSTELLO: Christine Romans, thank you.

On the brink of a new season, the NFL strikes the deal with thousands of former players suffering from brain injuries sustained on the playing field. The agreement calls for the league to pay $765 million to settle a lawsuit. The money would go to help retired players while the league doesn't have to admit any liability of any kind.

Andy Scholes joins me now to parse this out for us.

A good thing, a bad thing, somewhere in the middle?

ANDY SCHOLES, BLEACHER REPORT: Yes, Carol, you know, it's a good thing. Even though the players -- some players may say they didn't get a fair shake in this deal, it's a good thing that it happened now because this thing could have been dragged out for years and years and years and by settling it now the NFL, they get this dark cloud that's been hanging over their head. That goes away.

And the players that really need this money. The players who have concussion-related injuries will get the help they need.


SCHOLES (voice-over): For years the NFL and its retired players have been at odds over how to address head injuries that may have occurred on the field. Thursday the sides reached a landmark agreement that would end the fighting and put money towards medical exams, injury compensation, legal fees and medical research.

Here's how the money will be allocated. $75 million for medical exams, $675 million in compensation for cognitive injuries, $10 million for research, plus legal fees and other expenses related to the lawsuit.

ANDERSON: I think it's a good day for thousands of football players who are dealing with different inflictions from playing the game of football.

SCHOLES: Numerous prominent players like Hall of Famer Tony Dorset, Super Bowl winning quarterback Jim McMahon, and the family of Junior Saeu, who committed suicide last year, are all involved in this case. A major part of this settlement centered around clearing the NFL from having to admit any liability or that brain-related injuries were caused by football. Many consider that a huge win for the NFL and its owners.

KING: They're almost certainly going to be able to eliminate any future lawsuits from former players about head injuries.

SCHOLES: While $765 million seems like a big number, some think the players could have done better considering last year alone the NFL had a revenue of $9.2 billion.

(On camera): And you also consider the potential risk that NFL had of going to trial on each of these individually complex claims. The potential exposure here was in the billions, I think, that's a conservative estimate.

(Voice-over): The agreement is now in the hands of U.S. District Judge Anita Brody who must approve this deal. Former players can still voice their opposition.


SCHOLES: Now all the players who have retired by the time the concussion settlement is approved will be eligible for compensation. But all retired players, whether they were involved in the lawsuit or not can take a baseline test. And those test results will be used to determine the amount of money they will receive from this settlement now and in the future.

And we're going to have much more on this agreement, Carol, later in the hour, of course, with former Atlanta Falcon running back Jamal Anderson.

COSTELLO: I think something that people don't think, it's great that there is this settlement, right? $765 million. But a lot of parents out there have little kids who want to play football and they're going to look at this settlement and say, see, there's proof positive that this is a dangerous game.

That means probably more little kids aren't going to be playing football and that's going to hurt the NFL in the long run.

SCHOLES: And -- the interesting thing about this is, the current players right now, they're not a part of this. So in the future if they come up with a brain-related injury, you know, they're -- they're basically saying the rules they're putting in place now in the NFL should help that go away. It'd be interesting to see what happens in the future.

COSTELLO: Yes. Andy Scholes, you're going to be back in a couple of minutes.


COSTELLO: Thanks so much.

A rainy start to the Labor Day weekend in Southern California. Clean- up crews are working to clear flooded streets and toppled trees after a strong storm dumped several inches of rain on Forest Falls. At one point the canyon's 1500 residents were not able to get in or out of their small community as mud and debris blocked the roads.

That's some scary stuff, Indra Petersons.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, when you talk about this, Carol, you're talking about six to seven feet of mud and it didn't take too much. All we had is one strong storm move over the area and that one call right over the mountains will be able to drop several inches of rain, a lot of rain in a short period of time, especially right over a canyon. What you're going to see is you're going to see that run off go right through the canyon and right down those hillsides. Unfortunately, that's what they saw yesterday in the area and today, still, more tropical moisture.

So, it's enhancing the amount of rainfall they could potentially get. We're still looking in the southwest today. So, another several inches are still possible anywhere in the region. So, that's something we're monitoring, more mudslides in burn areas, as well. One of things we talk about today, especially for Labor Day weekend, is a series of cold fronts.

Now, this is good news in the Midwest. It will bring temperatures down, but it also means rain over the holiday weekend. So, as you go into tomorrow, Ohio Valley get some rain and then take you Saturday into Sunday and start to see that system push into the mid-Atlantic and the northeast. Unfortunately, by Monday, the two will go together and see rain all over the Northeast, Carol.

So, I'm not making friends here.

COSTELLO: No, I was just invited to a cookout.

PETERSONS: There you go. Have a blast, inside.

COSTELLO: I'll bring an umbrella.

Thanks, Indra Petersons.


COSTELLO: No Friday would be complete without a story about the royal couple. This is big -- Kate and her skinny jeans out in public. The duchess of Cambridge made her first official appearance since her son was born last month. Catherine and her husband Prince William helped kick off the 131-mile ultra-marathon in Wales. That's where the royal family live.

Kate and William -- see, look relaxed. Don't they? They look relaxed and greeted the crowd. Prince George wasn't there, though. He did not join his parents. He had other appointments to keep back at home.


COSTELLO (voice-over): Still to come in the NEWSROOM: let it burn. Why firefighters are letting the flames tear through Yosemite on purpose.

Plus --


COSTELLO: Bob Filner, you're out of here.

San Diego, as of 5:00 tonight, you're getting a new mayor. Hand in your keys because the locks are going to be changed.

And, health alert. Tylenol's new effort to stop people from overdosing.

NEWSROOM is back after a break.


COSTELLO: Checking our top stories at 20 minutes past the hour.

People in three communities who fled the massive wildfire in and around Yosemite National Park can now return home. But 4,500 homes are still threatened. The Rim Fire is now the fifth largest fire in California's history. Outside of the park, nearly 5,000 firefighters are battling to put the Rim Fire out, but inside the park, "The L.A. Times" reports that officials are letting the fire burn out naturally unless it, of course, threatens lives or buildings.

The IRS will treat married same-sex couples exactly the same as married couples for tax purposes. Federal tax law will apply even if they limit a state that bans same-sex marriage. The move comes after the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act. Same-sex couples will now qualify for federal tax benefits and penalties and they can file an amended return to claim a refund for previous years.

Today is Bob Filner's last day as mayor of San Diego. His departure comes eight weeks after 18 women publicly accused him of sexual harassment. Some of them in just a few hours plan to hold a news conference to bid him adieu. Voters will choice Filner's replacement in November. For now, the city council president will serve as interim mayor.

Starting this weekend, Hawaii Airlines will offer adding iPad minis on all of its Boeing 767s. They're free to use in business class, but people in coach, yes, you'll have to pay a fee. Hawaiian Airlines says the first airline to replace devices with iPads and says they will be programmed with the newest TV shows and movies.

Watch as the governor of South Dakota jumps out of an airplane. It was Dennis Daugaard's very first skydive. The 60-year-old said he wasn't even nervous. According to news reports, the stunt was a payoff for a bet Daugaard agree to jump if a local Dairy Queen sold 32,000 blizzards during one day during a fund-raiser for children's hospital. It ended up selling more than 38,000. That looks pretty awesome.

In Washington state and Colorado, smoke 'em if you got 'em. The Obama administration says the voters have spoken.


COSTELLO: Pot smokers in Colorado and Washington state can breathe a little easier this morning.


COSTELLO: That was the happy scene in Seattle last December when a state law legalizing marijuana for personal use went into effect. A similar law was then passed in Colorado.

Now, the Justice Department says it will not challenge either one or take a hard line on medical marijuana. Pot will still be illegal under federal law, but now the feds will focus on violations like trafficking and distribution to children.

Bill Piper is director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates for drug policy reform. He joins me now from Washington.

Good morning.


COSTELLO: So, this is an unbelievable victory. You must be high on life this morning.

PIPER: So, it's definitely a good victory for both public safety and public health. You know, historic for a number of reasons.

COSTELLO: Oh, come on, you have to be really happy about this.

PIPER: Well, I'm definitely very excited. The administration is saying that not only can Colorado and Washington move forward with regulation but that other states can, as well. This really is a green light that states have nothing to lose and a lot to gain by ending the disastrous war on marijuana and bringing marijuana out of the underground into a regulated and taxed economy.

COSTELLO: So what this means, Bill, if you're smoking marijuana in Colorado, Washington state a federal agent, like somebody from the FBI, can't come along and arrest you or place you under arrest or fine you or anything?

PIPER: Yes, it's basically it's unlikely that they're going to, certainly not going to arrest people for marijuana use and what they're also saying is that Colorado and Washington want to treat marijuana like alcohol and regulate its distribution that that's basically OK, too. As long as they follow a few ground rules, such as prohibiting sales to minors, et cetera, which Colorado and Washington are already working on.


So, President Obama said recently we have bigger fish to fry than target recreational pot users. But he stopped short of any action to legalize.

So, read between the lines for us here. What does this mean down the road?

PIPER: Well, I think this is a game changer. You know, what's interesting is that in their announcement yesterday the Justice Department made a case that state legalization or regulation of marijuana furthers federal interest by bringing marijuana out of the underground and put it in a regulated market where you can reduce access by young people and where you can put organized crime out of business.

This is really the first time since the repeal of alcohol prohibition, that federal officials have started to say that legalizing a regulated drug might be better for health and safety than prohibiting it and criminalizing it.

So, I think this is the first step in what is probably going to be a series of steps of undoing the war on drugs. States are already leading the way, bipartisan bills in Congress and very clearly the Obama administration is being bold in this area.

COSTELLO: So, what would be the next big victory for you?

PIPER: Well, I think the next big victory is more states legalizing marijuana, certainly in 2014, definitely in 2016. The senate is having hearings on marijuana legalization in a few weeks. Support is growing in Congress among both Democrats and Republicans. And so, I think the next really big change is changing federal law. That's probably a few years away, but support is growing really quickly.

COSTELLO: Bill Piper with the drug policy alliance. Thanks so much for joining me this morning.

PIPER: Thank you.

COSTELLO: Other stories we're following: The top secret black budget for federal intelligence spending. It's now public for the first time ever because of NSA leaker Edward Snowden. "Washington Post" reports U.S. spy agencies will spend almost $53 billion this year, but according to never-before-seen documents, they're still failing to provide the president with critical information about national security threats.

The wife of rocker Ted Nugent was arrested at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport after security agents found a gun in her carry- on bag. Shemane Nugent was taken into custody. "Dallas Morning News" reports her lawyer said Nugent simply forgot the gun was in her bag, called it an honest mistake. He said she had a concealed handgun license.

There will soon to be a new warning on the caps of extra strength Tylenol bottles. It's part of the new push to try to prevent you from overdosing of the pain reliever.

CNN's Alison Kosik joins us with more on this story. Good morning, Alison.


What is this new Tylenol bottle is going to look like is it's going to have this new cap that's going to have a big, bright, red warning.