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New Message from Detained American; Record Low Approval for Congress; Obamacare Deadline Relaxed; Pope's First Christmas Message

Aired December 26, 2013 - 08:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: What you just have to say.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What she's going to say when you take this beard off.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Probably just bawl our eyes out.

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo, Kate Bolduan and Michaela Pereira.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. And welcome back to NEW DAY. It's Thursday, December 26th, 8:00 in the East.

First up this morning, an American detained by al Qaeda is making a fresh push for the president to help secure his release. Warren Weinstein was kidnapped in August 2011 working as a contractor in Pakistan. Well, now he says he feels forgotten and his health is starting to deteriorate and it shows.

Hoping to see his family again, He says his captors have a proposal on the table and wants American officials to take it seriously.

Let's get straight over to CNN's Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr with much more on this.

Good morning, Barbara.


This video made by 72-year-old -- in which 72-year-old Warren Weinstein certainly is the latest proof of life video. Good news for his family at least to see him, but he looks to be in pretty rough shape.

He says he feels abandoned and forgotten. He makes a plea for assistance to get him out of there. This is a man who clearly feels the mark of time.

Have a listen.


WARREN WEINSTEIN, KIDNAPPED AMERICAN CONTRACTOR: I'm also appealing to you as someone who has served his country who now needs his country to help him. I hope and I pray to God that you as leader of the United States along with your administration will feel an adequate level of responsibility toward me to work for my release.


STARR: So he makes this direct appeal to President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, the American public, to do something to get him out of there. He was essentially kidnapped in August of 2011 from his home in Pakistan when militants broke in, overpowered his security guards and took him.

Later, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the head of al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for this kidnapping and al Qaeda claims to hold him. They have said what they want in return for his release is a release of al Qaeda prisoners. The U.S., of course, maintains its position. It doesn't negotiate -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Barbara, as we've been talking about, you can clearly see the change in his appearance from the other photos and video that we have of him. What does he say about his current physical state? Because there's a really remarkable deterioration it looks like.

STARR: There certainly is. It's heartbreaking to look at.

On this 13-minute video he talks about that and he says he's suffering from acute problems, acute asthma, heart disease, that he has a heart condition, and he says he's suffering from massive anxiety from being separated from his family, not knowing what has happened to them, and not knowing what will happen to him.

He -- you know, obviously this is a man who wants his freedom and he is making another desperate plea for it -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: He is. Thank you so much, Barbara, for that update. We'll follow.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: We have new poll numbers for you this morning, but the sentiment isn't really that new. It's a new CNN/ORC showing that 2/3 of the country calls this the worst Congress ever.

Chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash is here with the numbers for us and the reaction from some miffed lawmakers.



2013 has been Congress's least productive year in modern history. Lawmakers get that and they hear complaints from constituents all the time. Believe it or not, though, there are some in the middle actively trying to make things better.

(voice-over): Freshmen Angus King and Joe Donnelly just wrapped up their first year in the Senate. Their take on the institution is telling. SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: It's still pretty bad that we haven't been able to get more done.

SEN. JOE DONNELLY (D), INDIANA: The more cooperation we can get, the better off we'll be.

BASH: A new CNN/ORC poll shows 67 percent, 2/3 of the country, call this the worst congress of their lifetime and nearly three-quarters of those people, 74 percent, have lived a long life, they're 50 and older. Seventy-three percent say Congress has done nothing to address the country's problems.

(on camera): The public approval of Congress is still pretty low. Does that surprise you?

DONNELLY: No, because what we see every day on television is deadlock, and fights and screaming. What you don't see every day is large groups of both Democrats and Republicans coming together saying, how can we work through this process?

BASH (voice-over): One thing that is bipartisan, the blame, the public doesn't trust either party. Fifty-two percent say policies of Democratic congressional leaders will move the country in the wrong direction. Republican leaders fare only slightly worse, at 54 percent saying the GOP will move the country in the wrong direction.

Moderate Republican Susan Collins spent the year organizing bipartisan discussion to solve big problems. She wants Americans to have hope for 2014.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I hope that the American people will realize that there's some of us who are trying to build bridges and bring people together and solve problems.

BASH (on camera): Congress did leave for the year on a higher note than when it started, passing a bipartisan budget through the House and Senate. Several senators told me they had people coming up to them all over their states thanking them for being reasonable.

One told me that first, he thought it was a nice compliment but then realized that's a pretty low bar -- Chris and Kate.


BOLDUAN: All right. Dana, thank you so much.

Now to new developments on the rollout of Obamacare. People who couldn't meet the signup deadline because of Web site issues are being offered a bit of a Christmas gift, more time. The Obama administration saying many may still be able to get coverage that starts January 1st.

Let's get the latest from Athena Jones. He's live in Honolulu where the president is vacationing this morning.

Good morning, Athena. ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Kate.

Now, there's been some confusion about this accommodation the administration is offering to people. This is their attempt to calm the fears of folks who were trying to sign up, scrambling to signup to get on to meet that deadline, Tuesday night's midnight deadline for coverage, I should say, starting January 1st because of the heavy traffic officials pointed to record numbers on on Monday, you could have electronic waits in line on that site. Also long waits on the telephone.

And so, they're saying as long as you made your best effort to start the enrollment process before that Tuesday midnight deadline, they may be able to help you get coverage starting January 1st. And "may" is, of course, a key word there. So, it's not a new deadline, but they say, if you talk to a customer service representative, as long as you started before the end of the day on Tuesday, you may be able to be helped by this. They're reminding folks even if you didn't meet that deadline on Tuesday, if you start now you can still choose a plan, sign up for coverage in time to get coverage starting February 1st.

So it's a little bit of confusion, but, of course, confusion abounds when it comes to the Obamacare and these deadlines -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: That's a very good point. That struggle to get people signed up and increases for enrollment, that will continue.

But let's take a moment for the president taking part in a presidential Christmas tradition. Something that is important for him to take a moment to do and honor while in Hawaii.

Tell us a little bit about that.

JONES: That's right. The president is it staying in a rental home not far from a Marine base in Kaneohe Bay. And so, it's not uncommon for him to go to the base to work out or play golf, but each year in something that's become a Christmas tradition, he goes and meets with troops there.

This year, it was 580 people, not just Marines, some from the Navy, the Army, the Air Force, people stationed all across the island of Oahu were invited to come if they wanted to. A lot of people pose for pictures with president. And he and the first lady thanked the troops for their service.

So, that's something he's begun doing every Christmas here -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Athena, thank you so much.

CUOMO: So, when it comes to Christmas, turns out Santa is a much better delivery system than UPS and FedEx combined. Why? Thousands of people missed out on their presents because gifts weren't delivered in time, period.

Nick Valencia is at the CNN Center in Atlanta with the latest. What do we know? NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Chris, they could have used Santa. Thousands of you are still waiting at your front doors and looking out your front window for your UPS driver to finally deliver those Christmas gifts that never arrived under your Christmas tree.

The company is apologizing to scores of angry customers but they say it's not all their fault.


VALENCIA (voice-over): UPS trucks are back out in full force this morning trying to deliver packages that were supposed to be delivered by Christmas morning.

JULIE STRACHAN, UPS CUSTOMER: I waited around for hours and hours for it to show up and it never did.

VALENCIA: Thousands of gifts not delivered on time, waiting in UPS warehouses to be shipped. UPS says they've already delivered an estimated 132 million packages in the last week alone, blaming the backlog on an unprecedented surge in online sales and bad weather.

UPS released a statement saying in part, "The volume of air packages in our system exceeded the capacity of our network, immediately preceding Christmas. Some shipments were delayed." But many are still unhappy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are still blaming it on ice storm, which was 2 1/2 weeks ago. It's terribly disappointing because we ordered these things on December 1st.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got to the frontline after waiting for about an hour and they said it hasn't been processed yet.

VALENCIA: Disappointed customers stormed online customer support, tweeting, "Got same message, still waiting for a response from this morning, along with my granddaughter's Christmas gift."

And, "Busy during December? Who would have thought it? #bunchofclowns."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How are you doing today?

VALENCIA: UPS isn't the only delivery company experiencing delays, people lined up at this FedEx shipment center in Oregon on Christmas Day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They left me a note and thank God they're open so I can go to my parents and give my mom her gift.

VALENCIA: Meanwhile, UPS says they expect the vast majority of packages to be delivered today.


VALENCIA: UPS and FedEx not the only ones in trouble with their customers. Online companies who rely heavily on UPS's services also making amends. For instance,, they say they're going to refund shipping costs and also give out gift cards to make up for their blunder -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: All right. Nick, thank you so much.

VALENCIA: You bet.

BOLDUAN: So, if you didn't finish your holiday shopping and you can't blame it on FedEx or UPS, you may be in trouble with your family, but you may be in a little bit of luck at least when it comes to deals. The ever important post-Christmas shopping push is under way. Stores slashing prices even more than hopes of clearing shelves and boosting sales from this shortened holiday shopping season.

CNN's George Howell is covering that story from Chicago.

Good morning, again, George.


This is the day -- I should say, this is week, really, where customers have the edge. Stores are doing everything they can, offering discounts, 40 percent, 50 percent, 60 percent off, all to get you in the doors.


HOWELL (voice-over): Just when you thought the holiday shopping frenzy was over, the after-Christmas sales are on, and this year, it's expected to be bigger than ever.

Some stores like Wal-Mart and Kohl's open their doors as early as 5:00 a.m. to anxious shoppers, just hours after Christmas. According to Deal News, you'll get the best bang for your buck on clothing, brand name HD TVs and holiday treats and decor.

KATHY GRANNIS, SPOKESPERSON, NATIONAL RETAIL FEDERATION: The discounts will definitely be deep this week. But what you're getting are leftovers. You can guarantee that you'll see some 70 percent, 75 percent off discounts on wrapping paper and Christmas tree trinkets.

HOWELL: And the sales aren't just in stores. They're online, too.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're doing a lot of, a lot of online shopping.

HOWELL: Retailers like, Old Navy and Saks Fifth Avenue are amping up their day-after Christmas sales in hopes of cashing in on your holiday cheer.

GRANNIS: The week after Christmas can account for as much as 15 percent of what retailers see throughout the entire holiday season. If you add it all up, this final week is just as important for retailers as the week before is. HOWELL: Experts say the 26th is also a big day for gift card purchases with Target customers cashing in their stocking stuffers the most today.

GRANNIS: Gift cards for seven years in a row now have been the most requested gift item. We're expecting gift cards to bring in about $28 billion once they've all been redeemed.

HOWELL: And for those of you who may be lugging around that sack of returns, some advice from "Consumer Reports." Be sure to read the fine print on your receipts for the exact return window and to see if you can get an extension on holiday gifts. Also, be on the lookout for restocking fees and keep in mind that some items, like video games and movies, can't be returned once you've opened them.


HOWELL: So maybe you got something that you don't quite like and you want to return it or maybe you have a gift card that you want to cash in. Whatever the case, when you go out into the stores, Chris and Kate, this week, later in the week, that's when you can expect the better deals as stores do what they can to get that merchandise off the shelves.

CUOMO: All right, George.

BOLDUAN: I was going to say, they can start handing it out. I'm available.

CUOMO: That's right. Free always goes first.

BOLDUAN: Exactly what I'm saying.

Thanks, George.

HOWELL: Absolutely.

CUOMO: All right. Let's get to Pamela Brown, in for Michaela, has the top stories for you this morning -- Pamela.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm available as well, guys.

BOLDUAN: Exactly.

BROWN: Al right. Making news on this Thursday morning:

Hundreds of thousands still without power this Thursday morning days after an ice storm hit states from Michigan, all the way up to Maine. The problem: cold temperatures leaving ice on power lines and making it touch for crews to get electricity turned back on. Crews work through Christmas and hope to make some progress by this weekend.

More bluster from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. State media says he urged the country to bolster its military strength this week, saying a war could begin without prior notice. There's no clear sign any confrontation is on the horizon with South Korea, although, of course, relations have been frosty.

Egypt's military-backed interim government cracking down on the Muslim brotherhood, labeling it a terrorist organization, and saying members and those who provide financial support will be punished. The move hardens the deep divide between the two sides ahead of a referendum on a new constitution next month. The U.S. State Department is encouraging dialogue and political participation across the political spectrum.

Did hackers get more than just credit card numbers when they stole information from target? "Reuters" says the hackers also took card personal identification numbers, the PINs that help protect people from fraud. Target denies that, saying it has no reason to believe any PINs were stolen.

And you got to love this story. A New Jersey mother got the best Christmas gift she could ever ask for. Leslie Grugiano (ph) went up to get a gift from Santa, but first, she got a card from her son, Travis, who is serving in Afghanistan, and then once the tears started flowing, watch, there he is ditching the white beard and all is Travis himself.

He wasn't supposed to come home until March, but he got permission to -- oh, my gosh. There we go. He got permission to come home early.


BOLDUAN: She's reading the letter from a card --

BROWN: I know.

BOLDUAN: Even before she knew he was standing right behind him.

BROWN: Oh, my God! That was unbelievable.


CUOMO: You know, one of my kids said to me, because we do a lot of these, you know? And she's 10 and she said, why is she so sad? I said, she hasn't seen him. They don't know what's going on in their own loved ones. Not just the time, it's the uncertainty. And you know, you saw a quick over in her head, oh my God! That's why it's so powerful. Just the card meant everything to her, let alone to know that he's here.

BROWN (on-camera): No idea he's right behind -- oh God!

CUOMO: Because to her, he's still a baby, this giant man.

BOLDUAN (on-camera): Giant man behind her. That's so sweet.


BOLDUAN: Wonderful, wonderful.

CUOMO: They all work. They all work, because at the end of the day, they're just so desperate to know they're OK, you know?

BROWN: Yes. That's right.

CUOMO: Great stuff. Thank you, Pamela.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

BROWN: Thank you.

CUOMO: Little check of the weather. Get over to Mr. Chad Everett Myers in for Indra Petersons.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: People trying to get around the country today, a little bit of snow in the northeast, maybe even some light snow for effect here in New York City. We have 2,800 planes already in the sky. Now, the good news is the planes are not that big. So, that's why you can still see the sunshine, otherwise, we would have no global warming because you'd never see the sun.

Here you go. Exit 4, this is the southern tier expressway, 81, Binghamton. That's exactly what it looks like right now with that light snow coming down, and it will be light. This is not a big weather event for today with the light snow putting down an inch or two. Not like this. The UP in Michigan, Silver City, 16 inches of snow overnight. And there you go. One to two inches from Syracuse back to buffalo. The southern tier of Buffalo (INAUDIBLE) picking up only two to three inches and they can get two to three feet at a time.

So, we're going to see some airport delays in Boston, Minneapolis, Chicago, probably Detroit, some deicing, Raleigh. We have freezing rain in the Piedmont this morning and Southern California, some very gusty winds. So, there's what we have for the rest of the day. Airports doing fairly well.

The only one airport delay that we have right now, there's one in the country, it's Aspen because there are so many planes trying to get to Aspen this morning that they have 15 to 30-minute delays. How about that?

BOLDUAN: I'm going to say this. I say it for everyone here. We do not feel bad for you if you're being delayed on your flight into Aspen. OK? You'll get there while we're working.


BOLDUAN: Thanks, Chad.


CUOMO: Marinade on that as we go to the break.


CUOMO: Nice transition from that sentiment to Pope Francis. He was celebrating his first Christmas at the Vatican. What did he do to make it his own? Coming up, we'll give you a little taste of his message.

BOLDUAN: Something I obviously need to hear.


BOLDUAN: Also ahead on NEW DAY, a race against time on a Los Angeles street way (ph), a car bursts into flames with the driver still strapped in. It could have easily ended in tragedy if it had not been for a fearless officer in the right place at just the right time.


CUOMO: Another first for Pope Francis this week. He delivered his first Christmas message to a crowd of about 150,000 people in St. Peter's Square, millions worldwide as well. He spoke strongly for peace, in Syria, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic. He also reached out to the world's atheists. CNN religion commentator, Father Edward Beck joins us now. He's also the host of the Sunday mass. Merry Christmas again to you.


CUOMO: It's great to have you with us, father. So, this was different. This is about formality. There isn't as much extemporizing. So, what did you see in Pope Francis in terms of how he balanced the duties of the day with being singular to himself?

BECK: Well, of course, it's not surprising that on a day when Christians celebrate the birth of the prince of peace, he's going to address peace, which he did. The only time he went off script was when he included atheists. And he didn't say atheists. He said non- believers. So, some say maybe he meant also those who don't believe in Christ, other religious faiths, not just atheists.

But again, it's remarkable because this is a man who just used that small moment to once again reach out to somebody in a way that is unique. Remember, yesterday, I mean, you reported on it. We had two bombings in Baghdad targeting Christians, Catholic Church, Christian neighborhood. This morning, two hours ago, by the way, the update is he stood on the balcony again at St. Peters and gave his evangelist (ph).

And today is the feast of Saint Steven, the Martyr. And he said, Christians are still being martyred (ph). The violence in Baghdad. We have to put an end to the violence. Over and over again, he's addressing this as a primary issue.

BOLDUAN: And also, I want to talk about the non-believer comment because some don't follow the Christmas message, don't follow the pope so closely. It's not really going off script. He goes off script for one moment, that's not a big deal, but it is significant because it speaks to his style and the Francis effect as we've talked about in the past. How significant is it?

BECK: Well, Kate, remember, a few months ago, he gave an interview to an Italian journalist who said he was an agnostic. And the journalist said to Pope Francis during the interview, so what about me? What about people like me who don't believe like you do? And Francis looked at him and said, you know what, if it's according to your conscience, you need to follow it.

I bless you in believing what you believe if it's according to your conscience. And people don't know, but that really is catholic teaching. From Vatican 2, the Catholic Church's thought (ph), you need to act in accord with your informed (ph) conscience. And if it's goes against church law, church teaching, that's fine.

CUOMO: The stark contrast, I think, the more we study the pattern with this man, Pope Francis, is his non-judgmental nature. People don't expect it from the church. They don't like it from the church. And it stands in stark contrast here locally to what we're seeing with the evangelists. The movement of Christianity in this country is very hash and judgmental, right, wrong, good, bad, and let's focus on that, and he is a refreshing change from that.

Whether it leads to any changes within his own church, we don't know, but the message alone I think is what's grabbing people.

BECK: And I think it may lead to some changes within this church.

CUOMO: How? Well, look, positions are what they are. We hear it all the time.

BECK: I know, but he's already said with women, right? More than tokenism, I don't want just altar girls. I want women in decision- making positions in this church and he's going to make sure that it happens, he says. Women are very heartened by that. He's reached out to divorce and remarried people who are really struggling because they can't receive communion if they don't have an annulment.

He wants to meet with the bishops in October. His (INAUDIBLE), his gang of eight, as he's calling them. And he wants to look at, is there a way we can reach out to those who are alienated, not able to receive communion? Married priests is going to be another issue. Now, that came up in the interview as well. And he went on to say about celibacy probably is not going to change in the Catholic Church.

But the line from that interview was, it can change. For the first 1,000 years, priests were married in the Catholic Church. We have people right now, priests, in the Catholic Church with wives and families ministering next to celibate priests.

CUOMO: Because they transferred in from other Christian churches.

BECK: Exactly. But how do you think the celibate priest feels when he's told you can't get married, but yet, look, it's working. You have married priests who are doing it. So, it can change. That gives hope. That one line gives hope for many people.

BROWN: And of course, we've seen him sort of re-energize the faithful. And, obviously, one of his challenges is to bring in younger people to the church. We saw the huge crowd there, 150,000. Obviously, a reflection of his popularity as pope. Are we seeing attendance at other churches boosted because of his popularity?

BECK: I've certainly seen it. I helped out in two places, in midtown here and in Westchester. Numbers are definitely up. And people have come up to me after mass. And I said, I don't recognize you. I haven't seen you before. Pope Francis. They said, I'm here because of this Pope Francis. I once again feel --


CUOMO: He's being humble. It's the Beck effect.



CUOMO: It's the eyes. The splendid white hair, the angelic thing.



BECK: Can't get out of it. Merry Christmas.


BOLDUAN: Thanks, father.

BROWN: Thank you.


CUOMO: That's why I need faith, because I'm flawed.


BOLDUAN: You are a flawed man.


BOLDUAN: It's shocking because Father still wants to be Chris' friend after all of this.

BECK: Go figure.


CUOMO: He's drawn to people like me.


BOLDUAN: Exactly. Must heal, must help.

Coming up next on NEW DAY, they're calling it a Christmas miracle. The right people in the right place at the right time rescuing the driver. A driver of this car. You can't even see the car because it's in the middle of a fiery crash in the Los Angeles freeway and risking their own lives in the process.

CUOMO: Plus, an amazing Christmas present for victim of the Boston marathon bombing. She's standing on her own two feet now for the first time since that terrible day back in April. We have details for you you want to hear.