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Obama To Raise Minimum Wage For Fed Workers; Discovery Of A Lifetime; Hat Couture

Aired January 28, 2014 - 07:30   ET


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Coming up here on NEW DAY, the president is dropping the hammer on the minimum wage passing an increase himself through executive order. What other surprises are in store in we'll tell you.


CUOMO: Welcome back to NEW DAY where we're counting down to the state of the union. President Obama is expected to focus on income inequality. Not the first time he's done that, emphasizing the growing gap between rich and poor. But this maybe his last best chance to get something done about it.

We hear news, this morning's executive order that he is going to raise the minimum wage himself at least for some federal contractors. What will this mean, will it help, well, it hurt, let's bring in John King. You know him. He is CNN's chief national correspondent. John, great to be with you face to face, unusual for us.


CUOMO: Well, what do you think? This move here from the White House will push, will provide incentive for Republicans to come along, does it do that or do you think it's a slap in the face.

KING: It's both in the sense that the president has two challenges tonight. He's mindful of what happened in 2013. If you go back and read last year's speech, the priorities of the president, he got zero. He didn't get gun control, didn't get the jobs program on the infrastructure bank he wanted, didn't get immigration reform. The terrain is even more difficult this year because it's an election year. He has a half dozen or so Senate Democrats on the ballots who don't want to vote for much of what the president wants.

So you do some things with executive action and that is a poke in the eye in the sense that you'll hear Republicans says, wait a minute, the legislative branch should be respected. You should pass that through the legislative branch. That's the president's way of saying, I understand I'm not going to get much of this passed so I'm going to do what I can with executive. I'll believe it when I see it.

Can they actually get a bill to the president's desk? It's a big challenge for the president. He's at a relatively low point in the polls. Can he rise above that at a time when even some democrats say the Obama presidency is over? CUOMO: Well, you know, I didn't even get to immigration with Steve King because of his resistance to the notion that President Obama, the president of the United States, should be using executive orders. He was saying it's a constitutional abuse of power. I don't think there's much basis for saying it's a violation. There's this outward contempt of the man even though he is the president of United States. Am I overstating?

KING: No, you're not. There is contempt especially among that sliver of the Republican base Tea Party, ultra conservative base. And again, that shows number one, the mood that greets the president when he delivers his speech tonight, but number two, it also shows you while Speaker Boehner has done a must better job since the government, he has problems too. That's why I brought up the immigration issue.

If John Boehner tries to begin immigration bill to the floor, what happens to Steve King, members of the Tea Party? Most Republicans don't want to do anything except criticize Obamacare, pass the basic expanding bills and get to the election because they think this is such a good year for them.

Speaker Boehner does want to do some things because he is a governing conservative. He believes in legislation so we'll see. One of the president's great opportunities is if the Republican tensions blow up again as they did during the shutdown debate. That would help the president. John Boehner is trying to manage that.

CUOMO: It's very interesting climate because his numbers are kind of low, but they are not as low as Congress. You have the American people saying they want action on things like the minimum wage. So he goes into this moment tonight, what does he have to do? Does he have to just hope that the people feel that he's on their side and that there's some momentum that helps him, you know, get back in the game?

KING: It's a great test. You just saw some of this in New York City where there are a lot of Democrats that believe that populism is the right way to go. But can you sell what Bill De Blasio sold in New York City, which is a lot of what the president is going to talk about, rich versus poor, two Americas, income inequality. Can you sell that outside of New York? Can you sell that when you have Mary Landreau on the ballot he's a Democrat seeking re-election, Mark Pry seeking re-election. I don't remember Arkansas, we could go on and on and on.

CUOMO: It will be interesting though, as we saw when people went back home about the shutdown. How they got, you know, taken to test by real politics of dividing the pie is easier than the real problem of making more pie, isn't it?

KING: It is, but the pie is automatically divided in an election year. You look at a country where we have maybe 40 to 50 and that number will be smaller by Election Day, competitive House districts. There are 435 House districts. What does it say about our democracy that 30 or 40 of them will be competitive come election day so the president is fighting that terrain? There are a dozen Senate races and the Democrats are on defense. So the political pie is divided and so as the president tries to sell the country, he has a majority House caucus that say House Republicans who say no to almost everything the president says, but he also has a handful of Democrats who want to restrict Obamacare. So it's a huge complication for the president.

CUOMO: It will be interesting though. As we saw people got home when they got taken to task by real voters, it's easy to make it sound for politicians like the beginning and end of economic movement it's all taxes because it's easy for them to stake out. The Democrats want to tax more in one area. Republicans want to tax less. But it's all about who can make more pie, who can make more jobs, who can bring businesses back.

I don't know if we are going to hear about it. You know, we heard a lot about it from the president the last time he talked about income inequality with business hub and such. We'll have to see what's on the table. It will also be interesting to hear what comes in the response in terms of how do we make more business.

KING: And the Republicans sending out for the lead response. There are several Republican responses, again, proof of the fractures in the Republican Party, but a mother of three for the lead response, that's part of an image makeover. But the president's biggest challenge, Chris, is convincing people that government can do good. He is a progressive. He believes in the power of government to deal with things like income inequality, to deal with things like holes in the economy.

However, not just his fault, but if you go through last year because of the government shutdown, because of the low approval ratings for himself, and even lower for Congress, people don't like the banks, just not a lot of faith in government right now. He says he wants to use the leverage of government to do this, even the people who agree with him don't think it will happen. I don't trust the government.

CUOMO: It's a challenge of leadership. John, thank you very much. Appreciate it. All right, Michaela, back to you.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: All right, thanks so much. We'll have very much more coming up with a preview of the state of the union address.

Next up on NEW DAY, right now, though, a discovery of biblical proportions, a 4,000-year-old tablet. It very well may be the blue print for Noah's ark. What the tablet reveals about the bible story next.


PEREIRA: Welcome back to NEW DAY. When you think of Noah's ark you probably imagine an impossibly large wooden boat carrying two of each animal on earth and apocalyptic flood. Recently though, a translated 4,000-year-old clay tablet has revealed stunning new details about the tale of Noah including a blue print for building a large round boat. It is all the subject of a new book, "The Ark Before Noah" decoding the story of the flood.

Joining us now is Irving Finkel, the author of the book, the translator of that tablet. He also happens to be the curator at the British Museum in London where that table is on display. Doctor, what is pleasure to have you here to talk about this translation you discovered.

DR. IRVING FINKEL, AUTHOR, "THE ARK BEFORE NOAH": Well, I'm very glad to be here. I brought with me to show first a replica of this tablet. It's not the real thing, but this is a life size exact replica. It was brought to me in the British Museum by a member of the public in 1985 or something. I'd never seen it before. I look at and I read the first line straight away and I knew it was part of the Babylonian flood story.

But then the man took it away from the museum. He took it home and I didn't see it again for quite a long time. But when he brought it in again and let me have a proper look at it, I was able to decipher the whole thing and it was full of amazing new material.

PEREIRA: I know you studied this ancient text, one of the earliest forms of writing for years and years and years. You've dedicated your life to it --

FINKEL: That's right.

PEREIRA: How long did it take you to translate this text?

FINKEL: When I finally got it in my hands, I could read most of it within a few days. But the fact is that the surface is damage. Some of the signs are very difficult so I had to go back to it and go back to it. Every time I had a bright idea, a little bit would come out. And eventually, I think I got as much out of it as in humanely possible.

PEREIRA: OK, now, one of the most startling discoveries you made from this translation is that the plans for the ark showed that it was to be built round? This is such a departure from the classic stories we've grown up with.

FINKEL: It's a funny thing because anyone who's read their bible knows that Noah's ark was kind of an oblong shaped craft and anybody who ever crew up in any kind of normal house and . It is a boat with a high front and a high stern with a little house in the middle. Everybody knows both of those images. And I don't think anybody ever had the idea that the ark in its original form, so to speak, had been a round vessel.

So when I first read this, I was astonished. But you see to start to think about it, it makes a lot of sense. It's a traditional kind of boat you often find on rivers round the world. And the ancient Babylonians had them. What was this boat like, it must have been a circle but an absolute gigantic one.

You know it's a round vessel from above, but it's shaped like this. It will float always. It will never sink. That's all that the ark had to do was to Bob around safely like a life boat with all the animals inside until the waters went away again.

PEREIRA: Obviously. We know the turmoil that is going on and has been going on for some time in Iraq. I mean, your concern that discovery such this. As you said, it was a life boat. Now what's interesting, even though you translated this text, you say that you're 107% sure that this ark never existed. Why is that?

FINKEL: Well, that's true. But the fact, he is the British museum where I work. We have about 130,000 pieces of measurements are very clear. It was about half the size of an English football field. The point is that this -- this is mythological. We're talking about. It's not a blue print for reality. It's a mythological story where one of the poets went to the effort of creating a story about a gigantic boat.

Ancient Iraq, there certainly were very destructive floods. There was a tsunami which went across the whole landscape. And I think that for the survivors, the memory of this great thing which -- great thing that really happened never disappeared from their minds. It's that in the background, which then led, I think to the mythological story.

FINKEL: Obviously, we know the turmoil that's going on and has been going on for some time in Iraq. I imagine your concern that is discovery such as this are going to be more rare and harder to get access to.

PEREIRA: That's true. In the British Museum where I work we have about 130,000 pieces of clay with writing on them. The excavations found a huge quantity. We have lots and lots of tablets still to be read.

FINKEL: You've got your work cut out for you.

PEREIRA: You're right. You have to live for 500 years yourself in order to do the job properly.

Coming up next on NEW DAY, I could talk to you about this all day. I'm sure the biblical community will have things to say about themselves, some new discoveries being made.

I would love to get the doctor's take on our next story after the break. Coming up next on NEW DAY, was Pharrell Williams taking a fashion tip from smoky the bear? It's a hit online now, even getting its own twitter account. You ponder, we'll discuss.


BOLDUAN: Welcome back to NEW DAY. If you watched the Grammys, you saw the hat. Ferrell Williams may have won four awards for music. That's nothing. The hat stole the show. It's taken on a life and Twitter account of its own. Here is Jeannie Moos.


JEANNIE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You would think Pharrell Williams had two heads by the fuss everyone made over his hat pointing out the similarity to Smokey the bear, making Canadian Mounty comparisons. The color host of the talk paid homage to the trying to imitate it. When is the last time you saw a hat get enthusiastic applause? Close second in the winner department was Arby's for the hat joke heard around the world. Can we have our hat back?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He responded saying, y'all trying to start a roast beef.

MOOS: Ferrell thought the Arbi's roast beef joke was well done. It's cool. Thank you. I appreciate it.

MOOS: His hat has its own Twitter account gave a shout out to the hats worn and bragged I'm definitely more responsible by Madonna's grill biting commentary for a hat.

MOOS: The Buzzfeed speculated on what might be hiding under his hat. A dancing baby, Justin Bieber's yellow Lamborghini -- one critic tweeted the hat looked like a big toe. Well at least this is a design per big toe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's Vivianne Westwood, a Buffalo hat.

MOOS: Featured in the video, Buffalo gals, considered classic hip hop. The hat dosy dude up the run way in the '82-83 fall collection. Bored with your old hat, you too can own the exact hat he wore to the Grammys for a mere $157. They call it the mountain hat on west world end's web site known as the Jelly Mold hat. Even daft punk's helmets couldn't compete with his hat that inspired Harris to tweet, only Williams can prevent forest fires -- Jeannie Moos, CNN, New York.


PEREIRA: They can hate all they want. He looked good.

BOLDUAN: He can wear whatever he wants winning that big of an award. I was trying to think of another example. That's a weird big toe.

Coming up next on NEW DAY, he spent a decade behind bars for a murder he didn't commit. Find out why he's now fighting for Knox as a jury decides her fate once again.

CUOMO: Plus Barack Obama's defining moment. In just hours, steps from here, the president will deliver his most important state of the union, one of the most important speeches me may have ever given. Stakes are so high. This could be the last best chance to get something done. He's already going rogue. We'll tell you about it.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It feels like winter has been forever.


BOLDUAN: Happening now, the worst winter storm in decades pounding the south at this hour. State of emergency declared. Ice and snow set to cripple communities as the deep freeze misery reaches new lows.

CUOMO: Breaking this morning, the president announced the plan to raise the minimum wage for many and doing it going around Congress. We're live in Washington and press the White House for answers this hour.