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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Winter Weather Detailed; Priest Killed in California; GOP Duck Flap

Aired January 3, 2014 - 16:00   ET

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


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Tens of millions of Americans affected by the blizzard. If you're snowed in, I hope you have more than stale candy canes in your cupboard.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The national lead. It is a great day to be out there hurling snowballs, if you can feel your fingers inside your gloves. One giant snow day for as much as a third of the country, but will we get any relief from this bitter cold?

Also in national news, police let a man go and now they say he killed a beloved California priest just hours later. Why was this member of the clergy targeted? We will ask one of the people who knew him best.

And the politics lead. His indefinite suspension lasted a very definite nine days, but could the uproar over remarks on gays and race by "Duck Dynasty"'s patriarch spell trouble in some ways for Republicans for a lot longer than nine days?

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

We will begin with the national lead.

Perhaps Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy said it best. Don't accept any dares to put your tongue on a flagpole today. Temperatures across a wide swathe of the country is only fit for penguins, a bitterly cold day, with highs in the teens in part of the Northeast following a massive snowstorm that affected as many as 100 million Americans.

It looks like the end of "The Shining," the movie "The Shining" out there. Remember that snow-covered maze? Well, anyway, if you're snowbound, please keep in mind that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

Air travel, it is crippled right now, with more than 2,500 flights canceled today on top of the 2,600 that were canceled yesterday. Take a look at this. It's the first plane to land at New York's JFK Airport after it reopened this morning. How would you like to look out your passenger window and see that runway coming up at you? The severe cold extends throughout -- through the Midwest. Check out this picture from NASA showing the ice forming over Lake Erie. It's like a giant rink.

Boston saw some of the worst of the storm, with anywhere from 10 to 18 inches of snow in parts and temperatures that could drop as low as six degrees by tonight. It's a town accustomed to the cold, of course, but the people there have to be pretty thankful that their Patriots have this icy weekend off.

Our Margaret Conley is standing by live in Boston.

Margaret, a lot of shovel work to be done there today.

MARGARET CONLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake. There has been up to two feet of snow in parts of Massachusetts. You can see all the way down the street people are shoveling bit by bit, slowly, and it is also freezing cold.

There's a wind chill factor, wind chill advisory until 9:00 a.m. tomorrow morning.

We are with Katie (ph) and Jared (ph), who have also been shoveling.

What a pain this is to have to keep doing this all day yesterday and today, right, Katie?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It gets a little tiring, especially in the cold.

CONLEY: And you guys didn't even have a car last year, but you still had to shovel? Tell us about that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. We just helped out one of our neighbors last year. And it was much worse than this, much more of a blizzard. So, last night was really bad, so...

CONLEY: And it's part of the culture, too. Like once you shovel out your spot, it's yours, right? No one else can take claim to it? Tell us about that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, yes, especially in Southie, it's a big deal. Everyone has their space savers and you better respect it or you might come back to find your tires aren't exactly inflated anymore.

CONLEY: All right.

And, Jake, the good news here that the airports seem to be up and running again, flights seem to be on time. We have seen flights take off and land from Logan -- Jake.

TAPPER: Margaret Conley in Boston, stay warm. You can see the bitter cold. She's putting a good face on there.

In New York City, the snow and ice presented the first major challenge for newly sworn in Mayor Bill de Blasio. The mayor himself was spotted this morning working a snow shovel.

Let's bring in Gale Brewer. She's the Manhattan Borough president.

Hi, Gale. How you doing?

When was the last time you remember it being so cold in New York City? GALE BREWER, PRESIDENT, MANHATTAN BOROUGH: It's been a very long time. I don't even know exactly when, because the last snowstorms weren't as cold. It's really the wind and the cold that's the challenge today.

TAPPER: We appreciate you standing out in that cold to talk to us. Tell us what road and street conditions are like in the city right now.

BREWER: The street conditions are pretty good.

I talked to all community boards from one end of Manhattan to the other, and the streets are shoveled. At 8:00 this morning, laborers started shoveling the curb cuts and the bus stops, which are very important for Manhattan. But our problem with the cold is the lack of heat and hot water in some of the buildings. That's an issue.

And we have about 2,000 complaints that came in to the Happened, the housing agency, and maybe, you know, 400 buildings in Manhattan right now that have heat and hot water complaints. And that's a lot.

TAPPER: So this is Mayor de Blasio's first big crisis. What grade would you give him, the first big snow crisis he's had?

BREWER: In Manhattan, in terms of the snow plowing, I give him an A., because I have had no complaints from any of my community boards about the lack of snowplowing. It's all being plowed.

TAPPER: There's a good chance of course you know that it could drop below zero tonight. What help are you providing to people who may be homeless or those 2,000 you mentioned who may be without heat?

BREWER: Well, the issue there is that the 100 extra inspectors are on at the housing agency to go to the buildings and try to get the heat turned on.

That's what we're going to follow up on, is to, over the weekend, even talking to the housing agency, and where they have identified Manhattan buildings, we will go to them and try to work with the tenants to be sure that they're OK.

TAPPER: All right, Gale Brewer, go get some hot chocolate on us. Thank you so much.

BREWER: Thank you very much.

TAPPER: Even if you're the type who usually thinks snow-schmowe, your tune might change once you actually step outside and feel the bitter cold this storm system left behind.

We're talking windchills as low as minus 25 in places like Boston and in the Midwest a frigid minus 47. It should be a lot of fun making snow angels when your eyelids are frozen shut.

And joining us now to talk about this dangerously cold weather is CNN chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Sanjay, good to see you. What kinds of risks do people face when the temperatures drop as low as they're getting and as low as we will see them in parts of the Midwest and Northeast tonight?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the two big ones, as you might expect, are hypothermia and frostbite.

The thing about when you talk about these conditions is they can occur at varying temperatures and different people are going to be susceptible, but as a general rule of thumb, when you talk about some of the temperatures that we're talking about, negative 30 at that football game, for example, on Sunday with the windchill, in as little as 15 minutes, you can start to develop frostbite, so just an exposed part of the skin can develop that problem pretty quickly.

They talk about this idea of layering, loosely layering clothes to keep warm air trapped inside, wearing a hat, because 20 percent of your body heat is lost through your head, making sure you eat a big meal because eating actually helps generate heat, body heat, whereas drinking alcohol has the opposite effect. So there are some golden rules here. But point -- to your question, Jake, it can happen pretty quickly.

TAPPER: Just to be clear, though, you would recommend, if a patient came to you and said I got tickets to the Green Bay/49ers game on Sunday, and you would say don't go?

GUPTA: Well, I mean, I think I personally probably would not go to a game like that. I think it's going to be probably not that pleasant for people who are out there the entire time.

If you do go, look, dating back to the Ice Bowl, we didn't have very good material and very good technology to keep people warm. We can do that a lot better nowadays with Gore-Tex and various types of materials. But I would go inside a fair amount as well, get inside to the heated bathroom areas, outside of the windchill in particular every so often.

So, I'm not sure that I would go, but I think you can do it safely if you do go.

TAPPER: This time of year, of course, doesn't just bring weather concerns. We are also at the peak of flu season. The CDC is reporting a big jump in widespread flu activity in half the country. What does that mean? Should we be more concerned than normal?

GUPTA: I don't think so, Jake. And you may remember last year about this time, we were reporting on a much more aggressive flu season at this time. It was almost double the activity in some of these states.

You have got half the country reporting widespread flu activity and it's high in about 20 states. Again, it was almost double that last year. What I would say, and this is I think important, you remember we were talking about H1N1 quite a bit back in 2009, a novel virus, a virus that a lot of people had never been exposed to before. Well, now it's the predominant circulating virus. It's what's causing the flu in a lot of people. The way this works is you get a flu shot, you will get some protection, but for people out there who have never had a flu shot, they may have some immunity just from having been alive for so many years, but kids, especially young kids, may have never been exposed to H1N1 before.

If they haven't received a flu shot, they may be particularly susceptible to this. So I think what all that means is I think a flu shot especially in the young people is more important than it was in recent years past.

TAPPER: All right, not too late to get a flu shot. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thank you so much.

GUPTA: You got it, Jake. Thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up on THE LEAD: A priest is killed and the man police believe did it was in their custody just hours before the murder. How did it happen?

And the ripple effect from the controversial comments made by a star of "Duck Dynasty," well, that ripple effect keeps coming. We will explain in our politics lead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

In other national news, just hours before a beloved priest was beaten to death inside his church rectory, police say his killer was in their custody. Gary Lee Bullock was arrested in Eureka, California, yesterday and charged in the murder of Reverend Eric Freed. The motive for the murder still unclear, but police think it was a crime of opportunity.

Reverend Freed was found dead inside St. Bernard Parish Church on New Year's Day around 9:00 a. m. Police say there were clear signs a struggle took place. While they're still trying to piece together exactly what happened, police do know that the accused killer had a run-in with the law hours before the murder. Bullock had been arrested for public intoxication. He was moved from the jail to the hospital, where he had to be physically restrained, according to police, but they released him eight hours later.

He was then spotted hanging around St. Bernard Church, where police confronted him, but did not take him in. A short time later, someone matching Bullock's description was spotted around the church again. It was not long after that when parishioners found the reverend's body.

Reverend Freed is being remembered today as someone who dedicated his life to serving his community not only as a priest, but as a teacher at a local college.

And Stephen Cunha joins us now. He worked closely with the reverend at Humboldt University. And he joins us now live via Skype from Eureka.

Stephen, our condolences on the loss of your friend. You got to know Reverend Freed both personally and professionally. You say he had a unique ability to connect with people on a deeper level. What was it about Reverend Freed that drew people to him?

STEPHEN CUNHA, HUMBOLDT STATE UNIVERSITY: You know, he lived his values. The things he preached from the pulpit and in the classroom, he lived.

He was very concerned about social injustice, resolving great social inequalities, which we see here in our small community, where both the rich and the middle class and those that are less fortunate sort of all live together in the same community and share the same streets and the same stores and the same parks and often the same neighborhoods and schools.

And so he was one who was really concerned about these inequities. And he not only preached and taught about ways to resolve them, but also not prejudging people. And that was the real outstanding quality that he had. And I think it resonated with both the parish-goers and the students.

TAPPER: When it came to bridging those gaps between the wealthy, the middle class and the less fortunate in your small community of Eureka and his attempts to bring people together, how did he do that?

CUNHA: Well, it was largely through the power of persuasion and the things that he talked about from the pulpit and the classroom, and the idea that for those who were well-off and not struggling, to be open to those who were and to not prejudge them, and to think about their issues and try to work to make our institutions better to resolve some of these inequities.

And especially with young students, most of our students, it's a residential campus, most of them are in their 20s, to think about this going forward, that these issues are not going to go away in their lifetimes and they are going to -- you know, they are in a position to help resolve them as people I think that are well-educated and often on the top are.

TAPPER: Stephen, we know so little about the man accused of the Reverend Freed's murder. But based on what we do know, is he the kind of person that the Reverend Freed would go out of his way to try to help?

CUNHA: Well, I think he would have, yes. And certainly the way he ran his ministry and the way often that he allowed people who were downtrodden and perhaps not in a great space to use the facilities and the (INAUDIBLE) he might have very well invited them in. He did invite people in.

He realized I think that that was a double-edged sword. I talked to him about that once.

But I don't know anything else about this fellow, any more than you do. It's just a terrible, you know, unfortunate incident that happened.

TAPPER: When you say you talked to the Reverend Freed about it being a double-edged sword, allowing individuals from let's say rougher backgrounds in to his community, what was his response? Did you express concern? How did it come up?

CUNHA: Well, it came up one time during a conversation we actually had in this office and he was, you know, talking about the fact that he used his facilities to help people out at times when they really needed it. And he realized that there was sometimes a risk involved in that, but he had a way to monitor it and he also used I think the power of his personality to address some of those issues.

But, you know, that's an area that I really am not an expert on and he's deep thinking on that. But I know and others knew that he used his church facilities as a homeless shelter at times when it was really necessary.

TAPPER: It's a real tragedy. Our hearts go out to you and all of his friends and family.

Stephen Cunha, thank you so much.

CUNHA: OK. You're welcome.

TAPPER: A mother who vowed to do whatever it takes to keep doctors from pulling the plug on her little girl scored a small but significant victory. Just hours ago, the family of 13-year-old Jahi McMath reached an agreement with her hospital on how she can be moved. Jahi has been on a ventilator at children's hospital in Oakland since December 12th. She suffered cardiac arrest and was declared brain dead following a tonsillectomy and a procedure to remove sinus tissue.

The hospital and independent medical experts all agree that Jahi is medically dead. And today, the coroner issued a death certificate but her family still has hope and they want her moved to a different facility, where she can remain hooked to a breathing machine.

Under the new agreement with the family children's hospital said it would work with whatever facility the family finds, but the hospital won't perform any medical procedures to prepare Jahi's body for the transfer. The family says it can provide an outside doctor but the name of that doctor and Jahi's potential new long term care facility have not been released. A court ordered that Jahi be kept on the ventilator until January 7th.

Still ahead, the politics of "Duck Dynasty." Let's check in on our political panel in the green room.

"Duck Dynasty" just announced they are putting their name on a line of guns from Mossberg. The camo guns feature the Duck Commander logo and the tag line "faith, family, ducks." You can add the guns to your collection of "Duck Dynasty" licensed books, devotionals, pencils, holiday albums, Chia pets.

Olivier, any gear under your tree this Christmas? OLIVIER KNOX, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, YAHOO! NEWS: No, no "Duck Dynasty" gear. But I got all my presents from Brian from "Storage Wars."

TAPPER: Coming up, what the "Duck Dynasty" flap says about the politics of the GOP.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

In the politics lead, quack, quack. The cast of "Duck Dynasty" is back at work making duck calls and pulling pranks on each other, shooting their fifth season of the hit reality show for A&E. The cable network reinstated family patriarch Phil Robertson after suspending him, kind of, over comments he made to "G.Q." magazine suggesting that African Americans in the Deep South seemed happier to him before the civil rights era and arguing that homosexuality is a sin as his faith teaches.

On Thursday, we learned the family is now lending their name to a new brand of firearms. Listen to this pitch from Phil Robertson in the latest Mossberg ad which seems to be selling a vision of America as much as the guns.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PHIL ROBERTSON, DUCK DYNASTY: We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal and they have been endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. Those are rights that no government can take from you. To live, be free and pursue happiness.

You know what makes me happy, ladies and gentlemen? To blow a mallard drake's head smooth off.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: I recognize the first part of that but not the last part.

Robertson's cause was taken up by conservative Republicans from Senator Ted Cruz to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, speaking out on FOX News Channel.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: That's what's so great about America. You don't have to agree with everybody, but everybody's got a right to their opinion, especially a religious opinion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: But now that the dynasty clan is back in action, should we write off this whole thing as just another silly media flap? Well, one liberal columnist argues that the controversy is the most important political debate of the year, revealing a problem that haunts the Republican Party.

Here to help us take aim at the continuing political implications of this story is our panel. Republican strategist Kristen Soltis Anderson, Salon.com's political reporter Brian Beutler, who is the aforementioned columnist who wrote the "Duck Dynasty" column and chief Washington correspondent for Yahoo! News, Olivea Knox.

Brian, let's start with you. In your piece, you wrote, quote, "Phil Robertson's comments about gay and black people on social welfare and the way they pierce public consciousness explain more about our country's political culture than almost anything else that happened all year."

Unpack this for us.

BRIAN BEUTLER, POLITICAL REPORTER, SALON.COM: So, I actually want to start with something Senator Lindsey Graham said several months ago after the 2012 election which is that the country wasn't making enough angry white people to sustain the party in the form it took in Obama's first term -- President Obama's first term.

That means, you know, their policies needed to be reshaped and their public communications couldn't, you know, continue the same way they had in the four previous years.

Implicit in what he said was that the country -- that the party depended to a great extent on people who think and believe things that Phil Robertson believes in. So, it has to represent their views in certain ways, their policy views, their political views, how they think about the country culturally.

And unfortunately, for them, lots of things Phil Robertson said and believe and people like him say and believe don't fly in much of the country. So they have this tension where they need to represent the views of people like Phil Robertson without letting people like Phil Robertson sort of be a mouthpiece for their party. I believe that that problem is going to manifest itself over the next year, over the next two or three years as the party tries to reshape itself.

TAPPER: You're a Republican pollster. Is there any validity to what he's saying?

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, this isn't a new dynamic. You had Archie bunker Republicans going back to the '70s and then you have South Park Republicans throughout the 2000s. This idea there's a tension between what the party's brand should be and defensive political incorrectness has been there for decades.

The challenge for Republicans is there's this demographic issue of how much of the Archie Bunker votes is still there for them, and it's certainly shrinking. But this issue isn't just about conservative Republicans. NBC/"Esquire" did a survey back last fall of the new American center. It actually found about a third of people in that new American center are anxious about the changing demographics of America which is sort of a politically incorrect view to hold, that lots of people don't hold the views that Phil Robertson had to that extent of the really offensive things, but know that they may believe one or two things that if they were to go out and say them, they wouldn't want to get fired over it.

And I think that's what's caused a lot of these Republican folks to jump out. It's just another round of the whole -- the tension between Republicans having a politically incorrect segment of their party and wanting to fight against political correctness as a doctrine.

KNOX: I think it's a fascinating episode in the ongoing relationship between politicians and the media, too. Politicians are going to go where the eyeballs are. For a lot of them who may be eyeing a national run in 2016, what better way to get a springboard to national prominence, albeit for the flick of an eyelid than to latch on to this "Duck Dynasty" thing.

I mean, you know, Bobby Jindal gave the answer to the State of the Union some years ago but has kind of flown under the radar since. This is great for him. Politicians are going to do things like advertise on live sporting events because people don't DVR those and skip the ads. The president is going to refer to Big Bird after his disastrous first debate because entertainment outlets focused on the Big Bird comments from that first debate and millions of Americans get their information from those outlets.

TAPPER: But Brian is arguing that it's not just grabbing the issue of the day, you know, December had a lot of news holes, and it's not just that. You're saying that this is significant. And you also point out that a lot of these guys, Jindal, Cruz, they didn't embrace the comments. They didn't say I agree with the comments.

BEUTLER: Yes, what I would say about what Olivier just said, what was interesting about what Jindal and Cruz said is that, you know, politics, political media is obsessed with Sister Soulja moments, right, when a party leader or party figureheads, you know, look at the base of their party and say no, that's actually going too far. They had a real golden opportunity, the Republican Party, Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, had a real opportunity to do something like that, to say actually you know what, as much as we want people to have the right to say what they want in public forum, that goes too far. You don't necessarily get to keep your job if you, in the workplace, say things that are that passe or that, you know, out of step with the culture at large.

And I think that's the problem for them. They are going to have to find new and interesting ways sort of to like defend people who support their party without actually vouchsafing any of their views.

TAPPER: I want to ask you, Kristen, "Politico" had a piece earlier this week that talked about the divide in the Republican Party between -- on social issues between fund-raisers, the people who were behind the autopsy of the Republican Party a year ago or so, and others, and the base of the party. Frank Cannon from American Principles Project said this, quote, "The Manhattan and California zip codes where large numbers of these donors come from, Republican Party donors, don't behave politically or have the same views as Western Ohio. So there's a distortion of the political views by the donor class and by the consultant class."

Fair?

ANDERSON: I would say that if you did, took a random sample of Republican consultants, that the views are probably different than a random sample of Republican voters but I think that if you look broadly, I mean, there are some very clear trend lines on certain social issues, not all of them. I think sometimes they get unfairly lumped into one bucket.

That just show that -- I mean, America is changing very rapidly in a lot of ways. Demographically, in terms of our views of gay rights and because of those changes, the Republican Party is trying to figure out how to keep up. Some people are trying to figure it out, others are opposing it.

I think that in the end, everybody loves a winner and it's going to take a candidate who holds views that particularly on issues of gay rights that are more in the mainstream and really win that will get more and more people -- that will get more energy behind that side of the party.

TAPPER: Olivier, I want to give you the last word.

KNOX: Why, I thought the most interesting thing was actually the fact that they didn't embrace the content of the remarks. That suggests to me that tension, it suggests to me the Republican intraparty re- evaluation. I think it's something to watch going forward.

TAPPER: They said they have the right to say this, people shouldn't be discriminated against because of their religious views, but you didn't hear Bobby Jindal say, yes, absolutely African-Americans before the civil rights era were happier in the Deep South. He didn't say that. So, it's very interesting.

Provocative piece, thank you so much. Brian, Kristen, Olivier, thank you so much.