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Interview with Former President Jimmy Carter; Positive Jobs Report; Deep Freeze; Team USA in World Cup "Group of Death"

Aired December 6, 2013 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: "Who touched the thermostat?" the nation's thrifty dads cry out, as cold grips the U.S.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The national lead, below-zero temperatures? Great. A potentially catastrophic ice storm? Wonderful. This is the perfect weekend to stay inside, assuming you will still have electricity.

The money lead. The closing bell rang just seconds ago on Wall Street as a new jobs report exceeded expectations, has the economy finally, finally taken off?

And the world lead. Former President Jimmy Carter joins us to eulogize Nelson Mandela. The South African freedom fighter has been canonized for his accomplishments. But did you realize the U.S. had him on a terrorist watch list until 2008?

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We will begin with the national lead.

It's like most of the country is living inside a flu medicine commercial right now. Brutally cold weather has descended upon most of the nation, bringing a deadly ice storm sweeping from Texas to New York. Nearly 2,000 flights have been canceled, many of them going to or from the Dallas-Ft. Worth airport. It's colder in Dallas right now than it is in Anchorage, Alaska.

Authorities fear that no amount of shoveling or salting will make the streets safe enough for the Dallas Marathon or holiday parade, so officials decided to cancel both of those events this weekend. At least four deaths are blamed on this massive storm, two of them in Oklahoma, where the roads are like skating rinks. Highway patrol officers there have responded to more than 100 weather-related crashes just since yesterday morning.

There are fears that this ice storm could be catastrophic in Arkansas and Tennessee. Ice is coating Memphis, where road crews have 4,000 tons of sand ready to go. About 5,000 people have lost power there, but that's just a fraction. Many of you could end up wearing a parka inside your own home to stay warm.

We have our team standing by, Ted Rowlands in Memphis, Ed Lavandera in Dallas, where it was almost 80 degrees two days ago, and meteorologist Jennifer Gray in the CNN severe Weather Center.

Ted, let's start with you. How bad is it in Memphis right now?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, we are getting that mix of rain, sleet and snow, ice basically, and you mentioned it. It is coating everything here in Memphis.

Things are worse in Arkansas, where we were earlier today. We drove about 40 miles from where we are now in Memphis into Arkansas, and they have been getting hammered throughout the day. And it was rough- going on the highways, people taking it very slow. We saw people that had skidded out on the side of the road, and we saw the power lines situation, people have lost power there, 5,000 you mentioned in Memphis, more in Arkansas.

Ice is coating everything there. It is a nasty storm and they believe it's going to get worse before it gets better. Before it came, of course, to Memphis, it hammered much of Texas.

Ed Lavandera is in Dallas tonight and picks it up from here -- Ed.


Well, here in the Dallas-North Texas area, the rain and freezing rain and sleet has stopped falling, but that does not mean we are in the clear by any means. Roadways and highways are still an absolute mess. I have spent a great deal of the day driving along those roads today, very slushy.

The Department of Public Safety here in Texas tells us that Interstate 35 on the bridge between Texas and Oklahoma, that that bridge has been closed down, impassable, and there's a two-and-a-half-mile backup along the interstate on the Texas side, so that's the situation we're monitoring at this point.

And because of all this, major events into the weekend have been canceled, as Jake mentioned. The marathon which was supposed to be run on Sunday has been canceled. A big holiday parade in downtown Dallas for Saturday has been canceled. So we're really feeling the effects of this. And 80 percent of the flights from Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport have been canceled over the next day or so, so this is really a treacherous situation and the problem now here is that temperatures won't get above freezing for several days, and there might be another wave of rain or freezing rain that comes our direction, so it will be a much more complicated weekend.


TAPPER: Turning now to the money lead, where we have some better news for you.

Unemployment is at the lowest level of five years, dropping from 7.3 percent to 7 percent in November. The U.S. economy exceeded expectations by adding more than 200,000 jobs. And the stock market responded by having its best day all week by far.

I want to bring in our Zain Asher at the New York Stock Exchange, where the closing bell rang moments ago.

Zain, the market had not been having a good week until today.

ZAIN ASHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, not at all. Quite the turnaround indeed.

Those job numbers did come in as a surprise, but even more surprising I think was the market reaction. We are finally starting to see a situation where good news does actually mean good news. The U.S. economy is getting stronger and traders certainly want in on that. I have been downstairs. I have been talking to traders all day. Here's what they're telling me.

They are telling me they have finally accepted the fact that tapering is an inevitability. They know it will happen, but they don't expect it will happen for a good few months. Now, here's why. Yes, we got a strong jobs report. However, consumer spending is still problematic. They don't expect fourth-quarter GDP to be particularly strong, and they don't expect tapering to really begin until budget negotiations are firmly in the rear view mirror.

They want to see certainty on Capitol Hill, of course. But also, they want to see consistency. Jake, you know, it's fine if you have one or two months of 200,000 job gains, but you want to see consistency. I think the main focus for everyone downstairs was the unemployment rate. That coming as low as 7 percent, the Fed has said they want to see it at 6.5 percent. It's going to be interesting to see whether the rally continues or whether we will start to see some profit-taking in the next couple weeks -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Zain Asher, thank you so much.

While jobs are coming back, they're not necessarily the high-paying ones. Almost one million of the jobs created this year are in sectors such as retail, hospitality, temp work.

So the big question, is our economy on its way back or are we creating a new reality of low wages for more and more Americans?

I want to bring in Jim Tankersley, economic policy correspondent for "The Washington Post." If people don't recognize you, the last time you were here, you did not have this beard that your child has suggested you get.

JIM TANKERSLEY, "THE WASHINGTON POST": It was -- look, it was an important thing that started with Halloween and it just kept going.

TAPPER: It's the holiday season.

TANKERSLEY: It's the holiday season.

TAPPER: And you live to give. I appreciate that.


TAPPER: So more than 200,000 jobs added, dropping unemployment rate, but these jobs are not the highest-paying ones. What are we to make of this?

TANKERSLEY: Well, right now, what we're to make of it is we still have a fairly what we call loose labor market. There is just still high unemployment. It's coming down, but right now there's not a lot of pressure in the economy with a lot of people -- there's not more jobs than people for it, and when you have that, once you get to a point where the unemployment rates come down, then you will have incomes going up and these jobs will start to pay better.

But right now, so long as there's still 11 million people looking for work and not being able to find it, we are going to have no pressure upwards on wages.

TAPPER: Are the middle-class jobs that this country has lost, are they ever coming back?

TANKERSLEY: That's a great question.

We went through the last decade. We were promised by the forecasts 15 million jobs that never appeared, and those were supposed to be good- paying jobs that didn't come. And so now we have to wonder with this recovery not producing a lot of great good-paying jobs, the manufacturing jobs, for example, that the administration has been promising are back, but not nearly to the degree they have promised.

So we have to ask will we get to a point any time soon where we see good-paying family wage jobs be the norm, not the exception?

TAPPER: I don't want to be too negative about this because obviously if you're unemployed, if you have a lower-wage-paying job, that's better than nothing. And you are able to afford rent.

But, you know, President Obama always talks about wanting to grow the economy from the middle class out, not from the top down. When you look at this jobs report, are there other weaknesses that you see?

TANKERSLEY: I just think that in general, the big weakness here is we still don't have enough jobs; 200,000 is a great number, but, realistically, at this point in this recovery, we need to start worrying about is that going to be a high watermark as opposed to a step up to like 300,000, 400,000 a month, which is what would really again create the kind of pressure upward that we're just getting everybody a raise, basically.

TAPPER: All right, Jim Tankersley from "The Washington Post," thank you so much. We appreciate it. You look very sharp. I appreciate the beard as well.

TANKERSLEY: I appreciate it. You should try it.


TAPPER: Coming up on THE LEAD: He was in the Oval Office while Nelson Mandela sat in a prison cell. Coming up next, we have former President Jimmy Carter, who will share his memories of the South African leader with you and me. Plus, you might think partisan politics couldn't taint the legacy of an international icon. You might think that. You would be wrong -- how both sides are comparing Mandela's fight against apartheid to things that help their political cause.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

He showed the world the true meaning of resilience, and during 27 years as a prisoner in his native South Africa, emerging from that torment to become his country's first black president, leading his people out of the ugliness that was apartheid.

We are today remembering the remarkable life of Nelson Mandela, who died yesterday at the age of 95. Mandela could count several U.S. presidents among his many admirers. Every living former president joined President Obama in expressing his sadness at Mandela's passing and exalting his many accomplishments.

Jimmy Carter considered Mandela a personal friend. In 2007, Carter joined a group of elder statesmen brought together by Mandela to strive for solutions to the world's biggest problems.

Joining me now on the phone is former President Jimmy Carter.

Mr. President, thanks for -- thanks for joining us.

What are you going to miss most about this great man?

JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I've had a long period of years as a very close friend of Nelson Mandela.

I knew him first -- the first time he ever left South Africa, he visited Addis Ababa for a meeting of the countries in Africa. And I happened to be there and met him and his wife then, Winnie.

And since then, he's helped me with many projects that the Carter Center carries on. And about six years ago, Nelson and others formed a group called The Elders, of which I'm still a member, and so is his wife, Graca Machel.

And so, Nelson Mandela has been kind of an inspiration to us, as we put together this group of former leaders in the world that no longer hold office. And the last, I think, the last public meeting he had was with the other members of The Elders, along with him.

So Nelson has meant a lot to me, obviously, when still in prison as an inspiration of a courageous and an embattled and abused person who didn't want to fight back and -- and, uh, and continue with violence. He's just a -- a very close personal friend whom I've known for many events.

He used to come over here and go with me to give an annual human rights award. And, by the way, I remember that the first time I met Nelson, as I mentioned, at Addis Ababa, the first thing he did was congratulate me on my daughter Amy, who had been arrested three times in college for demonstrating against apartheid in South Africa.

So, we had a -- we got off to a good start. And we maintained our friendship right up until the end of his life.

TAPPER: He was obviously a very controversial figure, considered a terrorist by the U.S. government in the past, labeled one, because of waging armed resistance against the apartheid government.


TAPPER: Some called him a communist. He has praised people who are probably, in many ways, not deserving of praise, such as Fidel Castro.

How do you reconcile the things that are not so great from his past with the unbelievable icon and the man he became?

CARTER: Well, I think there's the things for which he was abused didn't show that he was not great, because I think three years ago, as a matter of fact, he was still on the terrorist list --

TAPPER: Right.

CARTER: -- by the United States, and they only removed him two Junes ago. So that doesn't prove that there's anything wrong with him. It's just a matter of the United States making a mistake in declaring him and all the members of the -- of African National Congress as terrorists.

And we -- the United States does the same thing with other people around the world still.

But anyway, I do know of anything that would be derogatory that you could say about Nelson Mandela, although he did some very controversial things. As you may know, I tried every way I could, when I was president, to get an end to apartheid. But then when President Reagan came into office, he really undid the things that we did and tried to preserve the apartheid government.

So, the United States government's policies have changed back and forth and other nations have looked upon Nelson Mandela and his -- and his organization in different capacities.

But I think what he's done has been right in wanting freedom and then after he was finally released from 27 years of imprisonment, his attitude was one of forgiveness and reconciliation and building a better nation for his people.

TAPPER: That's the thing about him that I found the most fascinating, is his ability to forgive, having his jailers at his inauguration, insisting that the staff at the capital did not change, even though many of them had been part of an apartheid oppressive racist system.

Having known him, where did that strength come from?

I think a lot of us are not willing to forgive people for far, far less. (LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: How was he able to do that?

CARTER: You know, I don't know -- I didn't know him before he went into prison, obviously. That was before my time in politics or government. But -- but I presume that all the time he was in prison, his attitude then, even, was to resolve differences with the apartheid oppressors in a peaceful way and not by resorting to violence or revolution or armed resistance.

So, it may be that this was a part of his character from the very beginning, of which -- with which I'm not familiar.

But there's no doubt that ever since he's been in public -- in the public eye, he's been almost absolutely undeviating in his ability to forgive people who had hurt -- hurt him personally and hurt his people that he loved. And, that was a Nelson Mandela that I knew, all the many, many times that I have been with him.

And so I'm very grateful for that.

I remember once, by the way, when I went to visit Nelson in his home, my grandson, his name is Jason Carter, was in the Peace Corps in South Africa. And, Jason heard that I was going to -- going to meet Nelson Mandela. So, Jason called me on the phone -- and he calls me papa. He said, "Papa, let me go with you to meet Nelson Mandela, because I always wanted to meet someone who went to prison before they were in public office."

So -- so because of that humorous remark, I took Jason to meet with me. And at the time, when I was -- I had about a half an hour's worth of really important things I wanted to discuss with Nelson Mandela. And since Jason spoke Zulu fluently, and that was Nelson Mandela's local language, home language, they spent that whole half an hour talking to each other in Zulu and -- and pretty well-ignored me, the former president of the United States.


CARTER: So we've had some good times with Nelson and also, obviously, as recently, some sad times, as he went into isolation and suffered so long.

His wife, by the way, is one of our heroes. She's also a member of The Elders. And she's been very active. She's a hero for women and women's rights around the world. And she's now working on the next Millennium Goals for the United Nations, to be put into effect after the year 2015.

TAPPER: Former President Jimmy Carter, thank you so much with -- for the generosity for your time and talking to us today.

CARTER: I've enjoyed talking to you. Thank you.

TAPPER: President Obama and the first lady will travel to South Africa for Nelson Mandela's memorial next week. We have just confirmed that former President George W. Bush and Laura Bush will make the trip with them on Air Force One.

Coming up on THE LEAD, a terrifying scene as passengers on this plane watch their drama on live TV from their seats. What they're saying about the experience.

Plus, it's one of the biggest sporting events in the world. Now, the U.S. must survive the so-called group of death to win.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

In world news, typically the best part of a long flight is knowing that you're about to land -- unless your landing looks like this.

Check out this heart-stopping video from the U.K. It shows an Emirates plane blowing sideways as it approaches the runway. The Boeing 777 hit some rough weather on the end of its journey from Dubai to Birmingham, England. The pilot tried to land twice before giving up and landing 100 miles away in London.

To make matters worse, passengers were able to watch the landing drama play out on in-flight monitors. After the flight, one passenger summed up his experience on Twitter in three simple words, "Never flying again."

It was a long shot that Team USA would go the distance in next year's World Cup and that was before we all knew who they would end up playing. The World Cup groupings were revealed today. As luck would have it, America's team was in the so-called "Group of Death". That means the men's team will have to beat tough opponents like Ghana, Germany and Portugal to advance. Yes, Portugal, the team that just so happens to have one of the best players in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo.

On the bright side, the U.S. will get to rack up about 9,000 frequent flyer miles during their trip to Brazil for the game. So, that's something. The bright side.

Let's check in with our political panel in the green room.

Ana Navarro, people have been accidentally posting pictures of Morgan Freeman online instead of Nelson Mandela after the news of Mandela's death. Now, Freeman, it's true he played him in a 2009 movie "Invictus", but that's very disappointing.

When you, when the untimely and horrific event happens of your passing, who would you like people to accidentally confuse you for and send out that photo?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, Jake, if I lose weight in some places and gain it in others, I want to be confused for Sofia Vergara.


TAPPER: You're always -- you're always shooting for the top.

Politics lead coming up next.