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Stomach Bug Cuts Cruise Short; Outrage Over Atlanta Snow Situation; Congressman Apologizes Following Threat to Reporter; Director of Intelligence Asks Snowden to Return Remaining Documents; Obama Honors Army Sergeant During SOTU

Aired January 29, 2014 - 13:30   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The Royal Caribbean "Explorer of the Seas" cut short its voyage because of a stomach bug. Nearly 700 passengers, crew members got pretty sick.

Senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, is in Bayonne, New Jersey, where the ship has accelerated its return.

Elizabeth, tell our viewers what happened here.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. What's going on now is that the ship is now returning to New Jersey. It's returning several days earlier than expected because more than 600 people have become ill. So, we're talking -- I hate to get graphic, Wolf, but I was just on the phone with a passenger and she said people were walking around, vomiting, walking around with vomit and diarrhea on their pajamas. She said it's just been a nightmare. Of course, people who were sick were told to stay in their cabins. The doctors came to them. They were given food and drink to stay hydrated. This passenger I talked to said she's so happy to be home. She is a little worried all these passengers are going to get off the ship and go to hotels and, perhaps, infect people there. We haven't gotten word from the CDC yet on how they plan on preventing that from happening -- Wolf?

BLITZER: We were told by the CDC about 3,000 passengers, 1100 crew members on board, 629 passengers and 54 crew workers got sick. And it sounds like gastroenteritis that this virus created. Is that what they're suggesting?

COHEN: Right. There's no question that it's a form of gastroenteritis, Wolf. The big question is, what caused it? There's actually been some delay in answering that question. Some samples were sent from the ship on Sunday. They were supposed to reach the CDC on Monday but, well, that hasn't happened yet. They're still not there. Part of it was a problem with the shipping. There were paperwork issues. Part of it was that the terrible weather in Atlanta delayed it even further. They still don't know what it is. Experts I talk to say they really are strongly suspicious of something called norovirus, a virus that's not uncommon on ships. Causes exactly the symptoms these folks have had. So, you know, no one will be surprised if it turns out to be norovirus. BLITZER: And it's spread pretty easily, right?

COHEN: It spreads very easily. What happens is someone goes to the bathroom. Maybe they don't know they're sick because they haven't gotten sick yet because butt they have the virus. They don't wash their hands, they touch a counter. Someone else touches the counter. They touch their mouth. They could get sick. It spreads that easily, spreads via person to person, spreads surface to surface.

BLITZER: Have the Royal Caribbean told you what's going to happen to these passengers, crew members when they get off the ship?

I think we've lost our connection with Elizabeth, unfortunately, once again.

You got the news. There it is. The Royal Caribbean cruise ship "Explorer of the Seas" now back in Bayonne, New Jersey, with about 4,000 passengers and crew members, about 700 of whom got pretty sick as a result of what they believe was this norovirus.

We're going to take a quick break. When we come back, we'll check in with Chad Myers. He's standing by in Atlanta with the latest on a pretty serious situation. A lot of folks still stuck on icy roads. Traffic problems enormous right now. A lot of young kids stuck in school buses and in schools. We'll have the very latest right after this.


BLITZER: Let's get back to our top story. A second weather-related death has been confirmed in Atlanta. People still trapped in their cars after ice and snow hit the region more than 24 hours ago. In Atlanta, this situation is especially bad. The trouble began when businesses and schools closed just when the snow started falling and that created absolute gridlock on the streets for miles and miles on major streets, on highways, stranded vehicles, including school buses filled with kids, who had no food, no bathrooms. People are outraged, understandably so, saying the city didn't prepare for the storm or respond fast enough to the gridlock.

Georgia's governor and Atlanta mayor reacted to that criticism today. Listen to this.


NATHAN DEAL, (D), GOVERNOR OF GEORGIA: I did not mean to imply that we didn't know something was coming. What I was referring to was that the national weather service had continually had their modeling showing that the city of Atlanta would not be the primary area where the storm would hit, that it would be south of Atlanta. You've already heard some of our agencies saying that based on that modeling, they had not brought in some of the resources earlier because they thought there were going to be other parts of the state more severely impacted than the metropolitan Atlanta area.

KASIM REED, (D), MAYOR OF ATLANTA: What I would say is that the eyes of the nation are on the state, so I'm not going to get into that blame game. But the crisis that we're going through is across the region. So, if you look at anybody's street in any community across the entire region, there's no one who's doing any better job than we're doing in the city of Atlanta.


BLITZER: A lot of people, unfortunately, though, don't agree.

Joining us on the phone from New Orleans right now, our meteorologist, Chad Myers.

Chad, who's to blame here?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Oh, Wolf, there's -- there's a lot of blame to go around. Just about everybody is to blame. For going to work, for going to school, for sending kids to the school in the first place and sending them home early. I couldn't even believe my 9-year- old was going to school. At 9:45, I got an e-mail saying we're closing school at noon. What was the point of that, really? What was the point of getting them to school and then sending them home in the snow and the ice and making someone drive through that and putting children and parents in danger just for school?

Here's the deal. Let me put this into perspective. If I, on any Monday afternoon, Tuesday afternoon, I ring a bell at 1:00, go, go get your food, get food, go home, there will be a three-hour traffic jam anyway. If there's rain that day, it will be a six-hour delay. Now with the snow and the crash, we are still seeing people now that have been on the roads officially 24 hours with their engines idling. It's why we always tell you to have gas in your car in case you have to use it for heat. You know, people laugh at us when we tell you, please put a winter survival kit in the trunk. They go, Atlanta? Why would we possibly need that? Because the pictures you see on your screen right now, that's why you need those survival blankets, the survival candle, flashlight, battery, battery charger for your cell phone, all of those things to keep yourself safe.

BLITZER: And a full tank of gas in order to keep the car warm, obviously, very important as well. I heard some -- I think the mayor there, the governor -- especially the governor blaming meteorologists for a bad forecast. Is that true?

MYERS: You know, the forecast called for 1 to 2 inches of snow. Officially, we had 2.6. Now, I understand that's greater than 2, but that's still a pretty good forecast. Six inches of snow didn't come down and bust the forecast. We were in the 2-point something here. The problem with the roads in Atlanta is that the lack of number of salt trucks we have in the city. You know, we're going to use a salt truck one time every 1,000 days. Why would you buy 500 salt trucks? There's less than 100 in Atlanta. Why would you buy more and use all of that taxpayer money and have these salt trucks sit around for 1,000 days before they're used again? The salt is not on the road. It doesn't get pretreated in time -- you know, when I grew up, you knew snow was coming -- we both grew up in Buffalo. You knew snow was coming, the streets turned white, Wolf, with salt before the snow even came down and turned it white again because it was pre-treated. With the lack of number of vehicles and lack of salt and the lack, really, of pre-treating here, this is what you get.

BLITZER: Because -- I'll tell you, all day here in Washington, Chad, you're right, both of us grew up in buffalo, New York, so we got used to a lot of snow. If you say to people, 2 inches, 2.6 inches of snow and look at the chaos, look at the disaster in and around Atlanta, it's hard for a lot of folks to understand how this could happen.

MYERS: Well, I really think people s should have stayed home. It started around noon. They all tried to get home at the same time. Clogged the road. Someone slid off the road, first wreck and chain reaction after that. There was no place to go after that. In your mind, can you do it? 1 to 2 inches, oh, no problem, I can make it through that. Yes, you probably can but the guy next to you can't. It's one thing after another that it all goes downhill. And there are still people, believe it or not, at this hour, they are still sitting on the roadways, trying to get home from the commute that they started yesterday around 1:00.


All right, Chad, thanks very much. Chad Myers reporting for us.

Other news we're following. A U.S. congressman apologizing for his truly shocking response to a question. He threatened to throw a reporter off a congressional balcony and break him in half. The story's coming up next.


BLITZER: A truly bizarre played out in front of the news camera in Washington last night. A congressman physically threatened a television reporter. Michael Grimm, of New York, a Republican Congressman, walked away from a local TV interview when the subject changed from the State of the Union address to a campaign finance issue that the issue did not want to talk about. Watch what happened when Grimm came back.


REP. MICHAEL GRIMM, (R), NEW YORK: Let me be clear to you, you ever do that to me again I'll throw you (EXPLETIVE DELETED) balcony.

MICHAEL SCOTTO, REPORTER: Why? I just wanted to talk to you. Why? Why?

GRIMM: I'm telling you (EXPLETIVE DELETED). No, no. You're not man enough. I'll break you in half. Like a boy.


BLITZER: "I will break you in half like a boy." That's the quote. Reporter Mike Scotto talked our own Chris Cuomo on "New Day" earlier this morning.


SCOTTO: We taped this segment basically as live. It was going to air as is. I asked him that question, and he said, I don't want to talk about it, and walked off. I turned back to the camera and explained why he left the interview. And I think it was during that time he got really infuriated and then came back to me once I had wrapped up, and then leaned over and said what he said, basically saying if I did something like that again, he was going to throw me over the balcony.


BLITZER: Athena Jones is up on Capitol Hill.

You saw the Congressman, Michael Grimm, today, Athena. What did he say?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I did. We know interviews can get contentious but it's not every day a politician threatens to throw a reporter off a balcony.

We caught up with Congressman Grimm outside his office after early morning votes. He apologized. He said sometimes he wears his emotions on his sleeve and what he did was wrong.

Let's take a listen.


GRIMM: It was an unfortunate incident that shouldn't have happened. You know, I'm sure my Italian mother is going to, you know, be yelling at me, saying you weren't raised that way. And she's right.


GRIMM: She's absolutely right.

The bottom line is, I overreacted and my emotions got the better of me. I lost my cool. And that shouldn't happen.


JONES: Grimm also told us he plans to have lunch with Scotto some time next week to put this behind them.

I also asked the Congressman if he thought it was inappropriate this reporter Scotto asked him about this Department of Justice investigation into Grimm's campaign finance practices from four years ago. Last night, he said to think it was not an appropriate question. He said it absolutely was. He said he hasn't yet spoken to the FBI or Justice Department about this probe -- Wolf?

BLITZER: What an incident that is.

Thanks very much, Athena, for that update.

The top U.S. intelligence official wants cooperation from the man who leaked American secrets to the news media. I'm talking about Edward Snowden, the NSA contractor. And the director of intelligence, James Clapper, made a personal appeal to Snowden on Capitol Hill.


JAMES CLAPPER, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Snowden claims he has won and that his mission is accomplished. If that is so, I call on him and accomplices to facilitate the return of the remaining stolen documents that have not been exposed to prevent even more damage to U.S. security.


BLITZER: The head of the Pentagon's intelligence agency also spoke to Senators today. He said the Snowden leaks will "cost American lives on future battlefields." That's a direct quote.

One more moment from the State of the Union. President Obama's tribute to a wounded warrior. That's next.


BLITZER: President Obama had the podium to himself in the State of the Union address, but when he was done, Republicans had their chance to weigh in on the speech. Congresswoman Kathy Rogers gave the official GOP response. And I had a chance to sit down with her a little while ago to get more of her thoughts starting with unemployment benefits.


BLITZER: Let's talk about the whole notion of increasing or at least extending unemployment benefits for about a million and a half people right there, at least a short-term extension that the president is calling for. Are you with him on that?

REP. KATHY MCMORRIS RODGERS, (R), WASHINGTON: Well, we have been looking at policies that will get people back to work. I think you are aware that the Senate is taking the lead on the unemployment insurance reform program and the way forward. There negotiations going on between the Republicans and the Democrats. We would like to see what they can come together on. And we will take a look at that. But the best response to long-term unemployment is to get people back to work. Get more jobs created in this country. Unfortunately, too many of the president's policies are making it harder for job creators, for those that are out there trying to start a business and grow a business those that are looking for work. When you consider we have seen higher health care and energy cost and record regulations and requirements coming out of this administration, that is making it harder to create jobs at the very time that our economy needs jobs.

BLITZER: You have a month to raise the debt ceiling. If you don't, America's credit worthiness and rating could go down once again. The president said he is not going to pay ransom to pay the bills that have been accumulating. Are ready to raise the debt ceiling without strings attached? . RODGERS: The president said he is not willing to negotiate. That is wrong by the president. For the president to say he is not willing to negotiate with Congress with elected officials -- Wolf, I represent nearly 700,000 people in eastern Washington. They are concerned about how to control spending that continues here in Washington, D.C. For the president to say he won't negotiate with me or the other 435 elected representatives in the House? I find that very concerning. This is representative democracy and the president needs to work with us. He needs to come up to Capitol Hill and talk through how we are going to get spending under control. When it comes to the debt ceiling, I want to see reforms attached to that because the current path is still unacceptable to me.


BLITZER: We go in-depth on several other key issues in the interview. You'll see the entire interview with the congresswoman later today in "The Situation Room" at 5:00 p.m. eastern. Lots of good stuff to discuss.

There was one thing all members of Congress could agree on in the State of the Union address. Their admiration for U.S. Army Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg, seated next to the first lady.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I first met Cory Remsburg, a proud Army ranger, at Omaha Beach on the 65th anniversary of D-Day. Along with some of his fellow rangers, he walked me through the program and the ceremony. He was a strong impressive young man and had an easy manner and sharp as a tack. We joked around and took pictures and I told him to stay in touch. A few months later on his tenth deployment, Cory was nearly killed by a massive roadside in Afghanistan. His comrades found him in a canal facedown, under water, shrapnel in his brain. For months, he lay in a coma. The next time I met him, in the hospital, he couldn't speak. He could barely move. Over the years, he has endured dozens of surgeries and procedures, hours of grueling rehab every day. Even so, Cory is still blind in one eye. Still struggles on his left side. But slowly, steadily, with the support of care givers like his dad and the community around him, Cory has grown stronger. Day by day, he learned to speak again and stand again and walk again. He is working towards the day when he can serve his country again.

"My recovery has not been easy," he says. Nothing in life that's worth anything is easy.

Cory is here tonight. And like the Army he loves, like the America he serves, Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg never gives up and he does not quit.



BLITZER: There was an amazing two-minute standing ovation. It was really, really an emotional moment, wrapping up the president's State of the Union address.

That's it for me. Thanks for watching. I'll be back 5:00 p.m. Eastern in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

NEWSROOM continues right now with Brooke Baldwin.