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President Obama's State of the Union Address; President Obama to Push for Fight Income Equality; 140 Million Now under Winter Advisories; Pete Seeger Dies; Officer Indicted in Ex-Football Player's Death; Officer Indicted in Ex-FAMU Player's Death; Obama Lays Out Go- It-Alone Approach

Aired January 28, 2014 - 09:00   ET


BOLDUAN: The arctic temperatures hitting half of the country. It is cold, folks. For that and more, let's turn to "NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello.

Hi, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: I think that's an understatement, Kate. Have a great day. Thanks so much.

NEWSROOM starts now.

Good morning. I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for joining me.

We begin this morning in Washington where tonight in his State of the Union speech, President Barack Obama will unveil his plan to fight what he says is a fundamental threat to the American dream -- income inequality. The solution? Boost the minimum wage for some of the nation's workers. And the president's push comes at a critical time in his tenure as 68 percent of Americans say the country is either worse off or in the same place since he took office.

That's according to a new NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll, which finds that just a third of Americans think things are better.

Our senior White House correspondent Brianna Keilar is at the White House this morning to tell us more about the president's State of the Union.

Good morning, Brianna.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Obama pushing forward in his bid to close the gap between rich and poor. He'll tell lawmakers tonight he's not waiting on them to raise the minimum wage. At least for Americans working on government projects.

His executive action will force any company signing a new contract with the feds to pay workers at least $10.10 an hour, almost $3 more than the current federal minimum wage. Janitors and construction workers all seeing a boost in pay according to the White House. It was just one vow from last year's State of the Union.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Raise the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour.

KEILAR: That didn't get traction in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Remember that passionate call for a vote on new gun laws?

OBAMA: The families of Newtown deserve a vote.

KEILAR: It failed. And the push for an immigration overhaul?

OBAMA: Now is the time to do it. Now is the time to get it done.

KEILAR: Stalled on Capitol Hill. Now Obama wants action. And with the clock ticking on his second term, he's ready to tell Congress to get on board or step aside.

OBAMA: I'm also going to act on my own if Congress is deadlocked.

KEILAR: Executive actions, rallying businesses, colleges, and local leaders to the cause and developing programs that don't require congressional approval, all part of Obama's plan to bypass Congress.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He's an American citizen. And it stands to reason that he might be frustrated with Congress since most American citizens are.


KEILAR: So what is not in the speech? That is also important. It turns out a lot of foreign policy, that's what's not in there despite the fact that there is a civil war raging in Syria. The situation in Iraq is unraveling, Carol.

But we do expect President Obama to address I'd say predominantly the situation in Iran with the message to Congress, which is no new sanctions while this new and temporary nuclear deal takes hold.

COSTELLO: All right, Brianna Keilar, thanks so much.

Want to go back to the minimum wage because the president is going to issue this executive order. Hiking the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour for federal contract workers. So what does this mean exactly for the economy, for the American worker?

We want to bring in CNN chief business correspondent Christine Romans to tell us.

Good morning, Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. This is going to matter for a few hundred thousand of these federal workers. And the small print is really important here. It's for new federal contract workers. New workers. There's going to be time for these contractors to, you know, readjust their bids and readjust their processes so they can absorb this cost, maybe even pass it on to the federal government. And that means you the taxpayer.

Here are -- here are the works that will most likely be affected and this is according to the White House. We're talking about kitchen and laundry workers on military bases, janitors at federal buildings, construction workers at government buildings.

And this is, Carol, where the president can try to reach out and do what he has promised for more than a year, to raise the wage for some of these low-wage workers, where he has the ability to do it. Not the federal legislation, the legislation to raise the minimum wage for everyone but here in this narrow slice that he has control of -- Carol.

COSTELLO: So 71 percent of Americans now favor raising the minimum wage for all workers.

Will the president's executive order sort of force Congress to act to raise the minimum wage or will it work in the opposite way?

ROMANS: And that's this huge debate happening this morning, Carol, among people who have been both for and against the minimum wage. They're trying to figure out if what the president is doing will help or hinder a more national movement legislation. Will he anger House Republicans who may have been willing to work with him on this and so now they won't?

Is it pay piecemeal method where now the White House can say well, he's made some progress on the minimum wage issue but then it just stops here and it doesn't spread to fast food workers, it doesn't spread to laundry workers, it doesn't spread to workers in the hotel industry -- more broadly across the country. Because those are where the larger number of these workers are.

So there's a great debate this morning about whether this is symbolic policy but very good politics for this president and how it will really play out for so many workers? It will help those workers at the White House who's talking about that broader group of minimum wage workers. They are still real struggling to get by -- Carol.

COSTELLO: All right, Christine Romans, thanks so much.

And stay tuned to CNN for the most complete coverage and analysis of the president's State of the Union address. Our coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. Eastern tonight.

For tens of millions of people, a month of brutal cold is about to get worse.

Oh, my god. Looks like the frozen tundra. That's in Iowa. An arctic blast is plunging some areas into the coldest temperatures of the year. So much for that sinister polar vortex a couple of weeks ago. This new frigid cold is downright dangerous so school systems are shutting down today from Minneapolis to Mississippi and all across the deep south. But the big concern is the winter storm threatening to dump snow and ice from the Gulf Coast all the way to the Carolina coast.

It could be the biggest wallop to the region in years. Louisiana has declared a state of emergency. And with ice in the forecast, many states are warning that there could be widespread power outages.

CNN meteorologist Chad Myers is in chilly New Orleans.

Good morning.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Carol. And those power outages why the trolleys, the streetcars are not working because they're afraid that if the power goes out, all of a sudden those streetcars are going to get stuck in place and not be able to move. There are buses driving up and down along the tracks today. But that's really -- this is a microcosm of what's happening all the way from Texas to Georgia on up into the Carolinas. Big ice going to come down here, at least a half an inch of ice coating all of these beautiful palm trees.

Probably some of these palm trees, at least some of the palms will be on the ground later today as one-half inch of ice coats everything here. We are now temperatures going down above 35. And that will eventually start to begin to freeze up as we get down to 32. It's going to rain all day today. And that rain will condensate -- will condense on everything, freeze and bring down these power lines and these tree limbs.

And so Louisiana is going to be a mess. We also know that this is going to be a mess from Houston all the way across I-10 and then on up even toward Georgia and into Atlanta. We'll see a couple of inches of snow. And I know in Minneapolis, a couple of inches of snow sounds like a Saturday. But for Atlanta it is a devastating two inches of snow. That will literally shut down the city.

And we'll get more now than that through the Carolinas, some spots picking up 12 inches of snow where I'm sure there are palm trees as well. Myrtle Beach, Wilmington on up toward the Cape Hatteras. It will be the coldest air so far. We knew this had to happen at some point. The air was always cold. At the East Coast, the eastern half of the country has been cold all year. Finally now we have moisture coming over the top of this cold air. And here's our ice storm right today.

COSTELLO: How nice. We all get to share.

Chad Myers, live in New Orleans this morning.

Millions of Americans are watching the temperatures fall and their heating cost soar. Officials in 33 states have taken emergency action to deal with the shortage of propane. About 12 million households rely on the gas to stay warm. And Iowa's governor has even asked President Barack Obama to loosen regulations that restrict its distribution. The cost of natural gas is also hitting record highs. Cold weather is also straining the nation's supply of heating oil. Crises have seen their biggest jump in years and this cold snap could nudge them even higher.

America is remembering a musical icon today. Legendary folk singer Pete Seeger has died.

His career spanned more than 70 years, including this performance at President Obama's first inauguration. Seeger's grandson says he died of natural causes at a New York hospital. His best known for hits like "Turn, Turn, Turn," "If I Had a Hammer", and "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?"

Seeger was also known, not just as much for his activism, he was a longtime supporter of the labor movement and he's even credited with popularizing the civil rights anthem "We Shall Overcome." Pete Seeger was 94.


COSTELLO: A renewed sense of hope this morning for the family of a former Florida A&M football player shot to death by police. After the first grand jury decided against indicting the Charlotte, North Carolina, police officer who killed Jonathan Ferrell, a second grand jury has reversed course, returning an indictment. Ferrell who had been in a car crash was shot and killed this September while he was trying to get help.

CNN legal correspondent Jean Casarez live in New York with more on this story.

Good morning, Jean.

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN LEGAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. You know, this is very unusual to go to two grand juries. And the defense is saying there's a constitutional violation here. The first grand jury said yes, we will agree and we will recommend an indictment but not on the top charge of voluntary manslaughter. Prosecutor then got permission from a judge. Defense tried to block it but they couldn't. Went to a second grand jury. And that grand jury recommended voluntary manslaughter charge.

But the fact is this was an innocent man. He was not armed. He was trying to get help after an auto accident. His family is saying this is the first step towards justice.


CASAREZ (voice-over): Charlotte Police Officer Randall Kerrick indicted Monday by a second grand jury charged with voluntary manslaughter in the shooting death of former Florida A&M football player Jonathan Ferrell.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's a guy breaking in my front door.

UNIDENTIFIED 911 OPERATOR: There's a guy breaking in your front door.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. He's trying to kick it down.

CASAREZ: It was September 14th, Ferrell came to this house after his car ran off the road into these woods. After climbing out of the wrecked car, investigators believe he banged on the door in an apparent plea for help. The woman inside, home alone with her infant child, called police fearing for her safety.

CALLER: He's in the front yard yelling. Oh my God, please.

CASAREZ: Three officers responded. When Ferrell approached them unarmed one of the officers tried to subdue him with a taser without success.

Officer Kerrick fired 12 shots hitting Ferrell 10 times, killing him instantly.

Officer Kerrick told investigators that the suspect assaulted him by unknown means. He had apparent minor injuries but refused treatment.

Charlotte police called the shooting "excessive". Less than 20 hours later, he was charged with felony voluntary manslaughter.

The first grand jury declined to indict Kerrick on those charges last week. The number of jurors present was in question.

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: What we don't know is how many precisely of the 18 showed up to actually hear the case. The prosecutor says there weren't enough. The defense says that's ridiculous.

CASAREZ: On Monday, a judge ruled the state attorney general could re-file the case. Prosecutors presented the same charge to a different grand jury that returned an indictment.

The defense vehemently disagrees saying, quote, "The true outrage of this community should be at the attorney general's complete disregard of the original findings of our first grand jury."

CALLAN: The defense in this case is saying these citizens did exactly what they were supposed to do by rejecting the prosecutor's case. That argument will certainly be heard throughout the case.


CASAREZ: Now, we don't know exactly how many jurors were present in the grand jury. The first grand jury, because it is secret. But according to North Carolina law, they have to have at least 12, maximum is 18.

So, Carol, I think one of the questions here is, will the defense now file an interlocutory appeal better the case gets going to say this man should not be charged? If the case continues, though, Carol, this will be the state of the mind of the police officer. We don't know what the defense will be. But the language they've use sod far looks like a classic self-defense case.

COSTELLO: Well, I was going to ask you about -- so, the police officer said the man attacked him in an unknown manner. What does that mean?

CASAREZ: That's a very good question. What did it mean to the police officer at the time?

I mean, let's look at it for a second. This was believed to be a burglar call. A woman was hysterical inside her home. We learned this man said this man is trying to beat my door down. She said she was trying to find her husband's gun.

So, when police arrived on the scene, that's the state of the mind they had. But also, 12 shots, 10 went in the man merely asking for help.

The jury will look at all of that to determine the state of mind of the police officer. Was it reasonable under the circumstances if someone else had been in his shoes?

COSTELLO: Jean Casarez, thanks so much.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM: a high stake speech for President Barack Obama as he looks to push ahead to a second term. He says he'll go around Congress if he has to.

I'll talk to one of the president's key aides next.


COSTELLO: President Barack Obama will go in alone. If Congress doesn't act, he will and he has. By the time the president delivers his State of the Union, an executive order will raise the minimum wage for federal contractor workers to $10.10. The first shot, so to speak, a strategy that may anger Republicans.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's the idea of the president saying I want to work with congress, but I do have a pan and a phone. I can do lots of things with the executive and administrative tools that are before me.

When you hear the president talk about that, what does it say to you?

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: It sounds vaguely like a threat. It also has a certain amount of arrogance in the sense that one of the fundamental principles of our country were the checks and balances that it wasn't supposed to be easy to pass legislation.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COSTELLO: White House director of communications Jennifer Palmieri joins me this morning. Welcome.


COSTELLO: Thanks for being here.

Senator Paul considers executive orders as threat, issuing an executive and announcing that State of the Union seems a little in your face. Was that intent?

PALMIERI: No, the intent is not -- it's clear that the American people want their leaders in Washington to take action. Their president is going to do that. He's going to do that on issues that we know they're particularly concerned about.

Things like creating jobs but not just creating jobs. Making sure they have good wages. People have the skills to get these jobs -- things like that.

And, you know, this is not any kind of threat. I mean, the point is, he's the president of the whole country. He's not just president of Congress.

There's a lot he can do to advance opportunities particularly for middle class people. That's what he's going to do. He's going to work with Congress where he can and he's going to take action in areas where he can.

COSTELLO: Well, let me -- let me just interrupt for a second. So, the president has said he wants to work with Congress, yet he's issuing an executive order, you know, right off the bat in his State of the Union.

So, some might say this isn't the way to a good working relationship.

PALMIERI: Right. Well, he did propose minimum wage increase in last year's State of the Union. It's something some states acted on. The Congress didn't.

And what he's taking action today that achieves this for a small number, relatively small number of Americans. And using it as an example of how this could work, what this would look like. We hope that encourages Congress to pass for everyone.

COSTELLO: I was going to ask you that. Is it the president's hope that this will push Congress in that direction to push minimum wage for all Americans?

PALMIERI: Yes. He is saying here's some he can do, we would like Congress to take care of the rest of the job. It will help some people. We think it helps advance the debate. We sort of argue (ph) these issue s and talk about why it's important, why we actually think it's a good deal for federal government to pay workers better, because you got the studies show you get less turnover, you get better work out of them.

So, we see this as a way to advocating increased legislation, as well as helping people where he can. He is going to work with Congress where he can. But if he sees the opportunity to advance opportunity or make people's lives better, with all do authority that he has, he's certainly going to do that, and he's going to work with the private sector in American businesses to do the same.

COSTELLO: You know, I ask these questions because Americans are pessimistic.


COSTELLO: An NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll shows 68 percent say the country is either stagnant or worse since President Barack Obama took office. Most use words like divided, deteriorating. What will the president say to lift people up?

PALMIERI: I think there are reasons to be hopeful in terms of how the economy is doing. There have been 8 million jobs that have been created since 2010. Unemployment rate is down for the first time. We're producing more than we're importing, and manufacturing is up.

But middle class families are not feeling that opportunity. And he's going to discuss the issues that we know are really concerned about things like education, retirement, skills, and creating jobs. He will -- he's going to work with Congress but also going to have for the American people, specific actions he's going to take now.

We think it's that kind of progress where you're actually able to not just talk about something but do it that the American people are looking for and they'll hear from him tonight.

COSTELLO: Jennifer Palmieri, communications director for the White House, thanks so much for being with me this morning.

PALMIERI: Thanks, Carol.

COSTELLO: Stay tuned to CNN for the most complete coverage and analysis of the president's State of the Union. Our coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. Eastern tonight.


COSTELLO: Good morning. I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for joining me.

Stories we're watching right now in the NEWSROOM, or just moments -- there is the opening bell. It's just ringing.

It was a big day for Apple yesterday actually.