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Making the Case for Action in Syria; NASCAR Driver Smacked; Freshman Quarterback Dazzles in Debut; Federer Ousted at U.S. Open

Aired September 3, 2013 - 05:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The very latest on the crisis in Syria. New developments in big meetings at the White House in just hours as the president pushes for a strike against the regime that he says slaughtered its own people.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She's a principal of school kids. And to commit murder, what are the kids going to think?


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: An elementary school in shock. The principal in court today, accused of killing her husband.

BERMAN: And making all the rest of the men around the world look bad. The marriage proposal that really, truly, absolutely tops all others. Taking marriage proposals to new heights.

SAMBOLIN: How sweet. Brings tears to my eyes. Stay tuned for that, folks.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. About 30 minutes after the hour right now.

SAMBOLIN: So, the very latest now on the crisis in Syria. What the U.N. is now calling a disgraceful humanitarian calamity. The Obama administration is shifting into high gear with its new push here to win Congressional support for taking military action against the Assad regime. The president meeting just a few hours from now with House Speaker John Boehner and Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi.

Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary, Chuck Hagel, head to the Senate to make their case before the Foreign Relations Committee. That, a day after the president met with Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham. McCain saying afterwards he did support a limited strike on Syria, but only if more was done to arm the rebels there.

BERMAN: And there are increasing calls in France this morning for the parliament there to vote on approving military action in Syria. Now, the France says declassified some intelligence showing that the regime was behind the deadly chemical weapons attacks. But, in Syria, President Bashar Assad told a French newspaper the U.S. and France have no real proof his forces had committed the atrocity.

He called the Middle East a powder keg and warned if western forces attack Syria, it could lead to a regional war. The military there has reportedly begun moving soldiers and urging evacuations near Damascus. The U.N., meanwhile, now says more than two million people have been displaced by the fighting in Syria, an eight-fold increase over the last 12 months. The United Nations top human rights official is calling what's happening in Syria the great tragedy of this century.

SAMBOLIN: And as Dana Bash tells us, despite their best effort, the administration may face an uphill battle convincing lawmakers a military strike is the right thing to do.


DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Multiple Congressional sources tell CNN that on a flurry of Syria conference calls, John Kerry is the administration's most passionate advocate for military action. That Kerry knows full well how dicey authorizing war is for lawmakers.

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: I actually did vote for the use of (INAUDIBLE) before I voted against it.

BASH: Then Senator Kerry's vote for the Iraq war and later its funding complicated his 2004 presidential run. And he's not the only cautionary tale.

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: That if left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare.

BASH: Hillary Clinton's support for Iraq turned out to be her undoing in 2008 against anti-war, Barack Obama. The lawmakers weighing action now insist their decisions will not be political, carrying Clinton's experiences serve as haunting example that what may seem right now may look wrong in hindsight.

REP. JAMES HIMES, (D) CONNECTICUT: A lot of memories over another time when a president came and said or at least the president's people came and said that this was a slam-dunk intelligence, and of course, that was not, I think, an episode that most members would ever want to repeat.

BASH: CNN is told on an administration conference call, one House Democrat accused them of, quote, "historical amnesia, forgetting the lessons of Iraq and Vietnam." Kerry shot back he has a case for attacking Syria, quote, "beyond a reasonable doubt." But, there are other reasons some lawmakers in both parties are highly skeptical about authorizing force in Syria.

REP. JANICE HAHN, (D) CALIFORNIA: All we know (ph), the chemical weapons have been used in other instances and we did not take military action. I am hoping to find an answer to the question, is there another way to hold Assad accountable?

BASH: Some don't see the need to defy opposition from their own constituents.

REP. MICHAEL BURGESS, (R) TEXAS: Certainly, the mood at the district I represent is do not do this.

BASH: To get enough yes' to pass, one thing is clear, this legislation the White House sent Congress Saturday night is too broad.

REP. GERRY CONNOLLY, (D) VIRGINIA: I think we're going to need to take a good, hard look at the wording to make sure it is limited.

BASH: Democratic sources say plans are under way to make changes, limited timeframe for military strikes and make crystal clear, no boots on the ground.

(on-camera): I'm told on that conference call with House Democrats, Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi made a strong case for military action in Syria. Still, House Democratic leadership sources say they have no intention of overtly twisting arms to get support, but they will be counting heads, trying to help the White House figure out exactly who is a yes, a no, and a maybe so they know exactly where this critical vote stands, heading into it next week. Dana Bash, CNN, Capitol Hill.


BERMAN: Really huge counting operation under way, and I should say even checking with, we have the latest vote counts as far as CNN is tracking and always posted there.

Thirty-five minutes after the hour. A shocking story now from Bakersfield, California where a popular elementary school principal is facing charges that she killed her husband. Leslie Chance (ph) is due in court today. Her husband's body was found early Sunday, dead from multiple gunshot wounds. Police are not discussing a motive, but the school district says that principal was thought highly of.


KEN CHICHESTER, ASSISTANT SUPERINTENDENT, GREENFIELD UNION SCHOOL DISTRICT: Well liked, as far as I know. No complaints. Hard working. Pretty quiet. Well respected. Professional. It's very hard to believe. Several of the people I talked to, their first response was they got the wrong person this time. It is out of character and very hard to believe.


BERMAN: Police say they do believe that Chance abandoned her husband's car about 20 miles away. His body was found dumped in an (INAUDIBLE).

SAMBOLIN: All right. The results of an independent autopsy will be released today by the family of Kendrick Johnson (ph). His the 17- year-old whose body was found inside a rolled up wrestling mat in January at his high school in Valdosta, Georgia. The first autopsy conducted by the Georgia bureau of investigation found that Johnson died from asphyxiation and that his death was an accident, but Johnson family believes he was murdered.

BERMAN: Police in New York City say they aren't getting as much help as they hoped trying to find the killer of a one-year-old boy. The toddler was shot in his stroller as his parents crossed the street in Brooklyn Sunday night. Now, police say the boy's father is not answering questions. He reportedly has a long rap sheet and the bullets may have been meant for him.


BERMAN: Local activists say they're trying to identify the gunman and get him to police.

SAMBOLIN: Near Miami, there are still questions this morning about a lightning strike that killed one man and left two others injured. It happened in a semirural part of Dade County. Witnesses say the three men were pressure washing a tractor trailer when a major storm rolled through. They tried to hide under the truck, but the energy from the storm got to them.


JANET SUAREZ, OWNS PROPERTY: They don't know what happened. To them, they have no idea what happened. They recognized this before they were taken, but they don't know what happened.

DET. ROBIN PINKARD, MIAMI-DADE POLICE: We're still investigating on whether the individuals were directly struck by the lightning or the lightning struck the ground nearby.


SAMBOLIN: Wow. All right. So, the two survivors are said to have suffered severe burns, but they are expected to recover.

BERMAN: A very big step forward in the fight against that massive stubborn blaze near Yosemite National Park. Officials now say the fire is 70 percent contained. That is 25 percent more than where it was this time yesterday. It does continue to grow. Now up to, wow, 368 square miles. And crews warn there is plenty of dry timber and high winds that continue to feed the blaze there.

SAMBOLIN: Are they going to get a break, Indra?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. I mean, this is the one place that we're having a good news. More moisture going into the area and it's always a good thing when you want those humidity values up. A lot of vapor satellite actually shows you all that moisture kind of feeding into the region.

Just keep in mind, I say it all the time, the fire creates its own wind. So, we're going to be watching for that as well. And every time you have that thunderstorm threat, you have the threat for more dry lightning, sparking more fires as well. So, that will be concern there. But otherwise, you want the moisture. That's a good thing as we go forward into the week. It looks like it will be warming up and drying out.

So, a little bit of that mixed bag again. We're going to be looking at again as the rain to the northeast. Here's what it looked like yesterday. It's such a hard Labor Day for so many people. Heavy rain in Philly, even Rhode Islands. Several inches of rain fell, causing flooding. You can see much calmer (ph) currently. This is that current radar out there.

And it kind of looks like it's gone but it's not exactly the case just yet. As long as you still have the cold front in place, you're still going to have some pop-up showers. Yes, it's only going to get better as the day continues on. But either way, you still have to get through pretty much the rest of the morning.

Now, the tail end of that cold front, that's sagging into the south. So, here we go again. While it exits off to the mid-Atlantic and northeast, it stalls (ph) out. It moves just a little bit slower into the southeast. So, more rain expected. Really, all the way even to the end of the week. That is Friday. The cold front is still in place. Can you imagine like the allergy season right now in the southeast with all the rain? Not a good place --


SAMBOLIN: All right. Thank you, Indra.


SAMBOLIN: All right. So, more than a decade after construction started, the new San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge is finally open. A live look now at the bridge. Ooh. Early. This Tuesday morning, that's beautiful. Work on that span began back in 2002 to replace part of the existing bridge amid worries it could not with stand a major earthquake.

In fact, part of the Bay Bridge did collapse after a big quake in 1989. This new bridge is designed to last at least 150 years, and it should hold up against a major earthquake.

BERMAN: That's nice to hear.

SAMBOLIN: Let's hope so.

BERMAN: Let's hope so. All right. In Utah, one man found a unique way to pop the question. He did it while sky diving. Adam Freis had his family put a big banner, you see it there on the ground, below the drop zone. That's the right place for his girlfriend to see it. As she was landing, he was ready, coming down first to grab a ring from his father and be on one knee right after she arrived. She was surprised. You knew how much she loved the idea of this. She'd been hoping it would happen this way.


KENZIE BOUHWEYS, GIRLFRIEND: I hoped with everything I had that it would. He said his family wasn't going to be here. They wouldn't miss this.

ADAM FREIS, BOYFRIEND: I've always wanted to go skydiving ever since I was a kid and saw pictures and videos of it. And, I've actually always wanted to propose sky diving.


BERMAN: Lucky he found a woman to skydive with that he could propose to. A nice confluence of events there.

SAMBOLIN: I am a little confused. She was expecting for him to propose on the day that they went skydiving?

BERMAN: My experience with this is they're always expecting it.



BERMAN: My understanding. You tell me.

SAMBOLIN: No, they are not always expecting it.

BERMAN: Always expecting it's going to happen. The couple has been together since May. They plan to get married in November.

SAMBOLIN: Congratulations. Hopefully --

BERMAN: Best of luck to you. Best of luck. We're very happy for you.


BERMAN: Coming up here --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was in disbelief. She hit me as hard as she could.


BERMAN: The slap heard (ph) round the sports world. NASCAR driver Max Papis explains what happened. The drama behind this attempt.


BERMAN: We are hearing this morning from a NASCAR driver, the victim of the smack heard round the world as the entire racing world abuzz. It happened Sunday after a race in Ontario, Canada. There you see it. Max Papis, the recipient of that open palm slap. Can't see it enough. The perpetrator, the one behind that hand there, Kelly Heaphy, the girlfriend of another driver, Mike Skeen.

Now, Papis and Skeen had words and angry gestures on the track. Both rest (ph) the final lap before that race ended. That led to the testy confrontation on pit row.


MAX PAPIS, NASCAR DRIVER: I'm kind of turning away and bang! I mean, it was like a -- I was in disbelief. She hit me as hard as she could. And I couldn't really understand what she wanted. I don't hit back a lady. I don't do stuff like that. I think a situation like that, a situation like that was to turn back and leave.


SAMBOLIN: No. She was standing up for her man.

BERMAN: Standing by her man.


BERMAN: With that big slap. Papis said the hit was so hard that he can't eat properly now.

Mike Skeen, the other driver, says it was all Papis' fault that he grabbed the girlfriend, Kelly Heaphy, and escalated the situation. For now, Papis, the driver you just heard from there, says he has no plans to press charges.

SAMBOLIN: That was one heck of a slap. I mean, she really meant it --



BERMAN: But open -- everyone says like open palm is like as if slapping is somehow better than punching?

SAMBOLIN: It's better?

BERMAN: I don't know. There's a big -- it's a big deal that it was a slap and not a punch. I think it was --

SAMBOLIN: Well, you know, I --


BERMAN: That was more like a push.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR, "NEW DAY": You guys have no idea we're sitting here watching you. And Chris here, he goes, I've been slapped much harder than that.


SAMBOLIN: Do tell, Chris. Do tell.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR, "NEW DAY": When we come back --

BOLDUAN: That's nighttime TV, not morning TV.



CUOMO: Kate and Mickey smack me around harder just to wake me up in the morning.

BOLDUAN: Well, I mean, you do need to do a lot to get this big blob going.

CUOMO: I'm happy he backed off the dislocated jaw thing.

SAMBOLIN: I know. This is what we were talking about earlier. Did she really dislocate his jaw?

CUOMO: You know, I have to say, yesterday, you know, I was having a little bit of fun with this on the show, and a lot of people were saying, hey, you know, if a man did this to a woman, you wouldn't be joking about it. And I say, yes, that's right, I wouldn't. But I don't see it as a sexist thing.

I just see it as -- she obviously didn't hurt him, you know? I mean, other than his comment about the jaw.


It's wrong to hit, but really, is that like the PC police that, you know, I'm supposed -- you're supposed to treat all smacks --

BOLDUAN: You know, I do not take kindly when anyone --

CUOMO: When I smack you in the face?

BOLDUAN: When you smack me in the face or when there is sexist remarks made. I didn't think --

CUOMO: I mean, you know?

BOLDUAN: But on that note, I will smack you so you can give it --

CUOMO: All hitting this wrong. You should hit me as often as possible.

BOLDUAN: I will. Thank you for the invitation.

CUOMO: All right. We're not hitting each other. We're going to be talking about very serious things on the show this morning. We all know what's going on with Syria. We all know that the president is pressing his case, but what is it coming down to and what do we know about the merits of this situation? We're going to have two senators on today who have very big ideas about what should happen and why. And they could very well influence the outcome of any approval vote that happens in Congress. So, we're going to talk to them and get their ideas for you this morning.

BOLDUAN: Yes. And then, we're also going to be talking to the woman of the hour. I will say the woman of the day, the week, and maybe the year. Diana Nyad, a 64-year-old, achieved her really lifelong dream, becoming the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a protective cage. It was her fifth attempt. Some would say how did she even get to trying it five times, would you not give up before then?

Well, we're going to talk to her live this morning about her incredible feet (ph), and hopefully, her very good night sleep last night.



BERMAN: After swimming 100 miles in two days.


CUOMO: -- she was only in the hospital for a few hours for a checkup. And that's a story that it's nice to focus on the fact that not just that a swimmer did this, but that a woman did this I think was a great feet (ph).

BOLDUAN: You're trying to make up ground.

CUOMO: No. She'd been trying to own this since for the 1970s.


BERMAN: All right. Guys, thank you so much. We will back to you in a little bit. And we will be right back here, potentially.


BERMAN: The NFL still two days now, that's the official count. Two days left before the official start of the season while we wait for the pros. College kids, they took center stage Monday night. Florida State and Pittsburgh, they squared off. And Seminole's freshman quarterback, Jameis Winston, he stole the show.

SAMBOLIN: Andy Scholes is here with this morning's "Bleacher Report." Good morning.

ANDY SCHOLES, BLEACHER REPORT: Hey, good morning, guys. Well, if you don't know the name, Jameis Winston yet, you soon will. A few years ago, he was the number one high school quarterback in the country. He passed up playing pro-ball for the Texas Rangers and go to Florida State to play both football and baseball. And last night, in his college debut, he was absolutely amazing. Eighteen-year-old quarterback threw four touchdowns and ran for another. Winston completed a ridiculous 25 of his 27 passes. Florida State, they won the game easily, 41-13. If Winston keeps this up, he will definitely find himself in Heisman Trophy conversation.

Well, arguably, the greatest men's tennis player ever is now out at the U.S. Open. Roger Federer was ousted by Spaniard Tommy Robredo straight set. He was 10-0 against Robredo coming into this match. Now, Federer just didn't look like the Federer of all. He committed 43 unforced errors. This was the first time in a decade Federer failed to get pass around 16 at the U.S. Open.

Well, Tiger Woods, the most lasting memory from the Deutsche Bank Championship will most likely not be playing (ph), but the time he got to spend with his daughter. Six-year-old Sam followed dad during the final round wearing a matching outfit. Now, tiger had another rough day out on the course. He ended up tied for 65th. Sweden's Henrik Stenson won the tournament.

Well, number one in the line-up section on today is from the Coleman-Walker (ph) High School football game in Alabama. A brawl breaks out after the game. But get this, it's between two coaches. Coleman's defensive coordinator, Matt Hopper, and Walker head coach, John Holliday, got into it. They had to be separated by their own players and police.

Now, Hopper, who got the worst of the fight, will not be disciplined by Coleman. Holliday, however, is on administrative leave while his school investigates the fight. Now, guys, these two are supposed to be leaders of young men. I'm not sure that's the best example to be setting.

BERMAN: No. I hate to see that. That's an awful thing to see. Let's go to some good, the Jameis Winston thing. 25 for 27 you said. What a game.

SCHOLES: Almost perfect.

BERMAN: Unbelievable.

SCHOLES: Unbelievable.

BERMAN: I have a feeling you're going to hear more about him as you said, Andy Scholes.

SAMBOLIN: No kidding.


SAMBOLIN: All right. We'll be right back.


BERMAN: We have a great deal more to tell you, but you will have to follow us on Twitter to find out what it is because --

SAMBOLIN: We're done.


BERMAN: That's all for EARLY START today. That's it. Ain't no more.

SAMBOLIN: Take it away, Chris and Kate.

BOLDUAN: What more should we say other than thanks, guys. We'll see you a little later.

CUOMO: All right. It's almost the top of the hour. That means here on "NEW DAY," it's time for your top news.