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Deep Freeze; Hillary Shadow Campaign?; Interview With U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez; Cheney Drops Senate Bid; Hillary Clinton's Shadow Campaign

Aired January 6, 2014 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Polar vortex? Sounds like a device Mr. Freeze is planning to use on Gotham City.

Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The national league, it has not been this cold in decades in many parts of the country. How cold? Well, temperatures in half the continental U.S. could drop below zero. Is there any relief in sight?

And the politics lead. Yeah, yeah, yeah, she's made no official decision about 2016 yet. No official decision. But given the level of planning and organization, is an intense shadow campaign to elect Hillary Clinton already under way?

And also in national news, we will go to Vegas, baby, Vegas, for the start of the Consumer Electronics Show, where what's cutting-edge today will be in your living room or garage tomorrow.

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

We will begin with the national lead. Look, it's cold out there, and not just in the it's January, of course it's cold kind of way, historically cold, the kind of cold people will look back upon in the future and say, yes, it is freezing, but at least it's not as bad as the winter of 2014.

Now, the reason? A polar vortex. About half the country could see temperatures below freezing within the next 48 hours, coldest in 20 years in many places. So what exactly is a polar vortex? Well, it's been described as an arctic hurricane or cyclone, a swirling mass of frigid air.

So, break out the Gore-Tex coats if you got them, or better yet stay inside. Right now, the polar vortex is moving south and quickly dropping temperatures to dangerous levels from Maine all the way through Alabama. High temperatures in parts of the Midwest won't even get up to zero today. The city of Minneapolis has issued a -- quote -- "particularly dangerous situation warning," which is usually only used for events such as tornadoes.

In Chicago, the temperature was at one point colder than it is at the South Pole. And if all of this has you checking Travelocity for flights to Key West, which has temperatures in the 80s today, well, be aware. Cold air is crippling air travel with more than 3,600 flights canceled so far just today.

CNN has correspondents braving the polar vortex all over the country. Stephanie Elam is standing by live for us in Minneapolis. Ted Rowlands is in Chicago, which the National Weather Service has deemed Chiberia on Twitter today. And Chad Myers is in the CNN Severe Weather Center with the forecast.

First to you, Stephanie. You look so happy out there.


It's bad when people who live in Minneapolis are sending you tweets saying, good luck out there, I'm not going outside. That's how cold it is outside. Even the people who are used to the cold do not want to come outside. It's sold cold that when you take a first breath, after being inside, you can feel it freeze through your nose.

It was making me cough early on. And because it's so drastically and dangerously cold here, police are -- city officials are making sure that they are out patrolling looking for anyone who may need assistance, looking for elderly, checking animals as well and, if they see someone, taking them to the hospital or taking them to a shelter.

That's what their priority is now. They say crime goes down tremendously in these situations. They do see an uptick in domestic issues because people are staying inside, but overall they are focusing on that. It's so cold here they closed down the schools, something that just does not happen. The last time the schools were closed was in 1997.

They are closing them down because they don't want children to be out even waiting for the bus stop. Just in five minutes exposed to this sort of cold, your skin could freeze. So, they are taking serious precautions here. As you can see, it's still very cold and it's the middle of the day.

It was negative 25 when we looked at 5:00 in the morning earlier today. And that's without the windchill.

Now, for another place that's doing its own little chilly dance, and maybe also correspondent Ted Rowlands as well, he is in Chicago.

Hi, Ted.


Same deal down here. It's absolutely freezing. Check out the Chicago River with the ominous mist coming across it. And more importantly, look at the Michigan Avenue Bridge. Normally, this time of day on a Tuesday -- or on a Monday after a holiday, this bridge would be packed with pedestrians. Michigan Avenue would be packed as well.

But a lot of people have been told to stay home. Chicago public schools will be off tomorrow along with the suburban schools here in the Chicago area. It's minus 12 degrees. But when you look at the flags, you add the windchill and that gets it down to around minus 40 degrees. I can tell you, it feels like minus 40 degrees.


TAPPER: And a special thanks to Stephanie Elam and Ted Rowlands. My God is it difficult to do that in the cold and also look as though you're enjoying it.

As we mentioned, the cold weather has put a freeze on air travel in the U.S. You're looking at long, long delays, if you're lucky enough to have a flight that hasn't been canceled yet.

Let's go to CNN aviation correspondent Rene Marsh, who is tracking all of this.

Rene, a lot of frustrated travelers around the country right now.

RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You said it, absolutely right, Jake.

And you know what? All because of what we just saw on our screens there with Stephanie as well as Ted. So JetBlue, at this hour, we can tell you they are reducing operations as we speak. And in just one hour, they will completely shut down operations in New York, New Jersey and Boston airports.

Now the operations will not be back at 100 percent until 3:00 p.m. tomorrow. And they are blaming weather, as well as new FAA rest rules. The new rules mandate 10 hours minimum rest period before flight. The airlines, specifically JetBlue, they say the restrictions are compounding the delays. The pilots union and the FAA says that they had more than two years to comply with this and to prepare.

But I want to talk about the ripple effects, because that's what a lot of people are experiencing right now. They are stuck in airports. And they may look out the window and they may say, look, the weather looks pretty good where I am. Why is my flight delayed?

Well, let's look a this particular scheduled flight path of one aircraft. It's supposed to go from New York to Houston, then up to Dulles in the Washington, D.C., area and to New Orleans. So we looked. Here in D.C., not too bad, New Orleans, not too bad. But you may be delayed because if that airplane by some chance runs into some problems in New York, it's not going to make it to Houston. That means it's not going to make it to you here in D.C. either.

So what you have a situation of is a delay here for these people. Eventually, the airlines will find another airplane and eventually you will get to your destination, but it may be hours later before you can actually get there. This is a ripple effect that we're talking about here.

So far today, we can tell you there have been nearly 5,000 delays and more than 3,600 cancellations. Compare that to a normal day, where you see about 200 cancellations, and usually airlines are about 84 percent on time. That gives you a little context.

TAPPER: Just brutal for everyone across the country. Thanks so much, Rene.

I want to turn to some other national news and a key vote later today on a bill to restore critical benefits for nearly 1.3 million unemployed Americans. Just two hours ago, the Senate returned from its holiday break to take it up.

The bill they are considering would extend long-term jobless benefits. These benefits were originally introduced after the banking crash of 2008 under then President George W. Bush and actually they already expired on December 28.

President Obama and many in the Democratic Party want to reinstate and extend unemployment insurance. But that was not included in the bipartisan deal that Congress passed before the end of the year.

Joining us now from the White House, Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez.

Secretary Perez, thanks so much for being on the show.

The director of the National Economic Council, Gene Sperling, says President Obama is calling lawmakers, nudging them to vote in favor of extension. What's the math for us right now? Fifty-five Democrats, one Republican, you need four Republicans. Are you any closer to getting there?

THOMAS PEREZ, U.S. SECRETARY OF LABOR: Well, I am not the person in charge of counting the votes right now, Jake, but what I can tell you is that extending unemployment benefits in a context like this has historically enjoyed bipartisan support.

President Bush signed laws into effect for emergency unemployment compensation five times. And it was done on a bipartisan fashion five times. Historically, that's been the case. And members have just gotten back from visiting their constituents.

And I know people are suffering, because I have met them. They have gone from emergency situations to catastrophe. People were supposed to get their checks today, and they are not in the mail because the program is not in existence right now. And I hope Congress will address that this week. And we are hopeful that they will.

TAPPER: Now, Secretary Perez, some prominent Republicans have indicated they are open to the extension, but they want some strings. Here's what Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, told ABC News.


SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: I have always said that I'm not opposed to unemployment insurance. I'm opposed to having it without paying for it. I do think, though, that the longer you have it, that it provides some disincentive to work.


TAPPER: So, I would like you to respond to both of those issues, Secretary Perez. PEREZ: Sure. Sure.

TAPPER: One, why not pay for it with cuts elsewhere or raising taxes elsewhere, some way to pay for it, and two, the discussion that some people believe it's a disincentive for job seekers.

PEREZ: Sure.

Let's take the first one. As I mentioned a few moments ago, when President Bush signed legislation five different times to extend benefits, there were no strings attached; 14 of the last 17 times that emergency unemployment compensation has been passed, there have been no strings attached whatsoever.

What this proposal now is to do it for three months and then during as -- during three-month period, we work on a longer-term solution to this issue. Right now, people are suffering.

As to the second point, the evidence simply doesn't support that. One of the requirements for the receipt of emergency unemployment benefits is that you must keep looking for a job. In fact, the evidence demonstrates that when you remove these benefits and people become even more detached from the labor market, that has a worsening effect, because they get even more discouraged.

So, I have spoken to many people who have been looking for work for so long. The last thing they want to do is sit home and watch television. They want a job. They want the dignity of work. They are not sitting at home because they are getting $200 or $300 a week. They can barely pay their rent.

They are making unconscionable choices between their rent and their medicine and their food. They want nothing more than to get back to work. And emergency unemployment compensation is anything but a disincentive. It's a requirement that they continue to work.

TAPPER: I understand that in the past, this was passed without cuts, but we're in a different situation. The deficit and the national debt is much, much higher -- or not the deficit, but the national debt is much, much higher than it's been in the past.

And Republicans control the House, and there are a number of Republicans who would vote for this if it was just paid for with cuts elsewhere. Why not at least try to meet them halfway, find some cuts that can be applied down the road and get this passed?

PEREZ: Well, we actually are in a different situation, Jake.

And the situation is this. Never in the history of taking up unemployment compensation, emergency unemployment compensation, has the long-term unemployment rate been this high. To put it differently, Congress has never failed to extend emergency unemployment compensation benefits when you have long-term unemployment of the nature and extent that we have now. The economy is making progress, 45 months in a row of private sector job creation, to the tune of eight million jobs. But our unemployment rate remains too high. The president would be the first to say it. When President Bush signed the law in 2007 or 2008, unemployment was 5.6 or 5.7 percent. The duration of unemployment was 17 weeks.

Now we have 36 weeks' average duration. Now is not the time to shut off this critical lifeline for so many people. And that's why this three-month proposal provides that opportunity to come up with a long- term fix. And if they are able to figure out a mechanism for funding it during that period, that would be great.

But, in the meantime, it's not called emergency compensation for nothing. For these 1.3 million would-be workers and their families, it's an absolute catastrophe right now. And we need to help them.

TAPPER: Secretary Perez, thank you so much. Good to have you on the show.

PEREZ: Always a pleasure.

TAPPER: Coming up on THE LEAD: it's not official but it sure feels like it's almost official. The political machine already in motion preparing for a Hillary Clinton run for president. Has her campaign essentially already started?

Plus, big bonuses for the little guys. The huge payouts some auto workers are reportedly getting this year.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. The politics lead now.

Sometimes, very rarely impossible things just happen. Liz Cheney upsetting Mike Enzi in the Wyoming Republican primary for Senate will not be one of them. In November, partisan poll showed Cheney trailing the incumbent by more than 50 points. She announced early this morning that she was dropping her bid for office, citing serious health issues in her immediate family.

After Cheney launched her run over the summer with a YouTube video, her campaign struggled most notably when she got in a verbal sparring match with her sister Mary over same-sex marriage, and it all played out one Facebook status at a time. In that initial video, Cheney called for a new generation of leaders to step up.

But did the daughter of the former vice president, a national security hawk of the bygone Bush administration ever stand a chance in the libertarian-leaning West?

Well, let's discuss it. Let's bring in our panel. CNN political commentator and Republican strategist Kevin Madden, associate editor of "The Hill", A.B. Stoddard, and host of CNN's "CROSSFIRE" and former Obama Whiter House official, Van Jones. Now, before we start, we caught up with Cheney's would-be opponent, Senator Enzi, Republican senator from Wyoming. Here's what he had to say about Liz Cheney's decision.


SEN. MIKE ENZI (R), WYOMING: Liz gave me a call and we had a brief conversation and I do believe that family comes first and I think respect her decision on that. She's in our prayers. She and her family are in our prayers.


TAPPER: Now, let's remove the family issue and today's announcement and discuss the basic dynamic. Liz Cheney was never probably going to be able to pull off the kind of race we saw of Ted Cruz or Mike Lee or others pull off.

"National Journal's" Joshua Kraushaar that her chief credential, her international experience meant her campaign was doomed from the outset. He writes, quote, "Cheney found that her calling card in public life as a spokesperson for a muscular, hawkish foreign policy just wasn't playing politically -- even in a Republican primary and deeply conservative field."

A.B., where do you see the Republican Party going when it comes to foreign policy?

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, THE HILL: Well, it's very divided right now. There's a new sort of neo-quasi-isolationist wing of the party led by Senator Rand Paul and others that meets with the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, in a new sort of unholy alliance making both parties nervous.

This is going to be a huge challenge -- this is going to be a huge challenge, I think, not in 2014 obviously, but in the next presidential cycle when Republicans are coming together to nominate someone to lead the ticket and take back the White House. It's very divided.

TAPPER: This is going to play out in the Democratic primaries, too.

VAN JONES, CNN HOST, CROSSFIRE: It will and I don't think it's an unholy alliance. I think it's a holy alliance for sanity in both parties. We don't want to be involved in dumb wars and wasting a lot of money in places where we can't make a difference when we've got huge problems here at home. So, I just take exception to the characterization.

STODDARD: Well, it drives the heads of the parties a little bit crazy.

JONES: Right. Fair enough.

TAPPER: Unholy in the views of the party stalwarts. Kevin, we see this debate playing out a little right now and we'll discuss had this later in the show with Jeff Goldberg when we're looking at what's going on in the Middle East and going on in Lebanon and Syria and Iraq, and you see John McCain criticizing the Obama White House for having let the troops leave Iraq and for not being more involved in Syria. And the basic response from the White House is if somebody wants to send U.S. troops to Iraq or Syria, they should just announce it.

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right, which is really not enough. It's not robust enough debate between the two parties about what is a very serious part of American foreign diplomacy and American military might around the globe.

What I think is also a challenge right now from Republican Party is when you look at the perspective 2016 candidates, there's nobody really at the top of the roster that has a developed foreign policy resume.

That's going to be -- I'll tell you the truth. That was something that obviously became very apparent in 2012 when I was working for Governor Romney when you're posting up against an incumbent president. That's a big challenge for your candidate. That's a big void for your candidate to fill. And I think a lot of people would say he didn't fill it as well as he should have.

So, that's something that 2016, are we always going to look to John McCain and Lindsey Graham to be the voice of foreign policy?

TAPPER: The Sunday show bookers will --


MADDEN: They will, right? But increasingly, 2016 perspective candidates are going to have to develop their resume on those issues.

TAPPER: A.B., you look like you wanted to say something.

STODDARD: No, I think it's interesting. I don't know where that development is going to go, because, (a), some of the junior senators and they just don't have the experience, but if you look at aid to Egypt, whether or not we have -- we continue in occupying wars, drone use, everything, they are divided all across the board.

MADDEN: And the closes we've seen this play out has been Chris Christie yelling at Rand Paul and Rand Paul yelling at Chris Christie.

And it wasn't exactly -- it wasn't exactly what I will call a substantive development --

TAPPER: No, and let's take it to the Democratic side for 2016, because in other political news, "Politico's" Maggie Haberman reports that while Hillary Clinton is busy deciding her political future, an entire shadow campaign is already making moves on behalf of the former senator and secretary of state. Haberman says it's not just Ready for Hillary either, that super PAC Ready for Hillary, but the Obama aligned super PAC Priorities USA Action is remaking itself as a Clinton world subsidiary.

Van, this looks like a full-fledged operation. Maggie Haberman reported in "Politico" that one of the things that's prevented Jim Messina, the Obama campaign manager from 2012, from going over to head this Priorities USA effort for Hillary is they don't want to upset Vice President Biden who is probably going to run, too.

JONES: Well, there's a lot that's going on here. But one of the things that is very interesting is that you do have the old establishment, the Clinton establishment, and now, the new establishment, the Obama establishment coming together. What they are not noticing is this move on the left. You have Governor Schweitzer starting to make move. People are still hungry for Elizabeth Warren to make a move.

I think you could actually consolidate the center of the party with Obama Clinton and still have a big left wing challenge.

MADDEN: All the while, Hillary Clinton is giving speeches to Goldman Sachs, right?

TAPPER: Right. That's interesting. That's one of the things that I thought was so interesting at the Bill de Blasio inaugural in New York City was --

JONES: That's why the Clintons were there. The Clintons they can read polls better than anybody alive. They know that progressive economic solutions are very popular right now. I mean, we're talking about minimum wage, we're talking about strengthening Social Security. Economic populism right now from the left is very popular, even all the way over to the Republican Party. The Clintons know that. Di Blasio represents something new and a resurgent left in the party.

MADDEN: I hope so.

JONES: So does Schweitzer.


MADDEN: I want to run against that contrast, to tell you the truth.

JONES: Well, look, when you've got somebody who says I'm willing to charge a thousand millionaires in New York City, enough money to put enough kids in pre-K, you want to run against that? Go right ahead.

TAPPER: Let me give A.B. the final word on this, just because we're facing this vote coming up in a few minutes on unemployment insurance. You heard Secretary Perez talk about -- he's not, he doesn't know how many votes they have.

Are Democrats going to lose this vote?

STODDARD: Yes, they're not going to -- they aren't going to get those Republicans until they find some pay-fors. So, until they find the money to actually cover this, the offsets, they aren't going to win. TAPPER: And that feeds into this because that's an issue that they want to talk about on the campaign trail, Democrats and unemployment insurance --

MADDEN: We will hear a lot about that in the next year.


Van, Kevin, A.B., thank you so much. Good to have you here, as always.

When we come back, the Super Bowl just a few weeks away. This year, it's not just football and the hot half time show. You'll also be able to do a little shopping through your TV remote. It's already nabbed a golden globe nomination and it's stirring Oscar buzz. But is the new film "Philomena" anti-Catholic? The movie star is here to respond to critics, ahead.