Return to Transcripts main page


Deep South Frozen; State of the Union; Congressman's Threat

Aired January 29, 2014 - 05:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Crisis of ice. The Deep South frozen, 50 million people just going nowhere, waking up to snow and ice-covered roads.

Major cities at a complete standstill this morning. Thousands of drivers stranded on the roads. Children stuck at schools unable to get home. This is a mess.

We are live with the absolute chaos the storm is causing and what's coming next.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The key moments you missed from the State of the Union. Confrontation and emotion. This morning, we are live with how the president plans to get around this congress.

BERMAN: And talk about what you missed. The real drama happening after the speech, a congressman threatening to break a reporter in two, throw him off a balcony. This bizarre confrontation, it really happened, folks, and it was all caught on camera.

ROMANS: Not just throw off a balcony, throw off a -- balcony.

BERMAN: It was twice as bad.

ROMANS: It was tough.

All right. Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. It is Wednesday, January 29. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

And what a morning it is folks. We begin with this breaking news from the South. Snow and ice just paralyzing the region from Alabama to the Carolinas. The road so dangerous and icy, it's been near impossible to get around.

ROMANS: The worst hit is Georgia where many people spent all night, folks, all night, stranded in their cars in and around Atlanta. In fact, many people are sitting there right now including at least 50 students who were stuck on school bus us. There were nearly 1,000 accidents reported in the Atlanta area alone.

BERMAN: In Marietta, Georgia, hundreds of students and staffers are waking up inside their schools this morning after spending the night because the roads were just too dangerous to get them home. Schools throughout that region reports having to take these extraordinary measures to keep the children safe.


LEIGH COLBURN, PRINCIPAL, MARIETTA HIGH SCHOOL: They've been well- fed. We've had basketball games. They're about to watch a movie in the auditorium until about 11:00. And then girls will be sleeping in the band room. Boys will be sleeping in the media center.

Parents don't have to risk too much getting here to get them. This is -- they're well-supervised. It's a good facility. It's warm. There's lots for them. So, it could be far worse.


ROMANS: Thank goodness for America's educators who can fix a tough situation and make it fun.

CNN's Jason Evans is among those who spent all night trying to get home. He's now in hour 10 of his commute home. He joins us now on the phone.

Jason, where are you at this hour?

JASON EVANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, Christine, I'm in the middle of what's normally a 30-minute commute home. I still probably have about seven to eight miles to go. And, yeah, as you said, I'm in hour 10. It's a very dangerous situation out here on the roadways in Atlanta.

Very frustrating, basically people are just driving where they want. I mean, there's no semblance of getting into lanes or anything along those lines. And more than once, I've had to try and navigate around the car in front of me where the driver has just given up and just taken a nap.

ROMANS: Wow. So, what are you doing now -- obviously, you're talking to us right now. But are they moving? Have people just stopped and they're waiting to continue when it's daylight?

EVANS: It's very stop and go right now, Christine. I mean, here and there, you'll see emergency crews trying to get traffic moving. On a couple of occasions, you know, I've heard police trying to address people. Keep them out of the HOV lanes. So, crews can get in there.

But basically, I'm in the world's largest ice skating rink. I mean, there's -- a nightmare doesn't begin to describe it.

BERMAN: Just to recap here, Jason, you've been on the road for 10 hours trying to get home on a drive that normally takes you 30 minutes like you said, driving on an ice rink.

This storm, it was in the forecast. People knew it was coming. I suppose you've been talking to people on the roads as you've been stuck trying to get home.

Do you get the sense from everyone around you, including yourself here, that people have been prepared for what's been going on all night?

EVANS: No, not really. Like I said, I've had a degree of, quote/unquote, "downtime" to talk to my fellow travelers on the road. And everyone just seemed shell-shocked.

I talked to a gentleman who had just woken up from a nap, and he had his young son in the backseat. He told me, you know, he was from here. And he'd never seen anything like this. But to be honest, he was just thankful that he had his son with him. We're hearing the stories about children that have been trapped at the schools or still on school buses. So, no, I'm not really under the impression that people feel like they were completely prepared for this.

I think, you know, before I left for my massive commute home that was thought there was going to be like a dusting of snow. I don't think anybody saw this coming.

ROMANS: Oh, Jason Evans, we wish you well. Be careful. I'm sure there are people sliding around. I'm sure people are in a ditch. I'm sure there are fender benders galore. Thousands of accidents in the Atlanta alone overnight.

Jason Evans, thanks. And, you know, let us know when you make it.

BERMAN: I can't believe 10 hours. It's staggering, 10 hours.

ROMANS: You know, when you think of the cars jammed on there. Everyone left at the same time. Other people in Atlanta were saying yesterday about noon and 4:00, there were these two big rushes of people trying to get out. And it just choked all the roads.

BERMAN: That's crazy.

ROMANS: All right. In Virginia, a state of emergency has been declared in Norfolk, Chesapeake, Newport Beach, heavy snow following. Part of the state expected to get socked with up to a foot of snow in Virginia.

BERMAN: North Carolina also hit hard. We're going to take a look at now at the scene in Charlotte where snow made the roads awfully slick and led to dozens of accidents, including this one. This is an SUV crashing into a light rail train.

ROMANS: Take a look at this. This is a school bus that flipped over on snowy roads near Asheville. Yes, we're still talking about the Carolinas, boys and girls. The driver lost control after trying to get six students home after an early dismissal. One of those onboard suffered a broken ankle.


MICHAEL WAYCASTER, STUDENT: Real scary. The whole bus tipped over. I was sitting in the seat on the other side and just flew us to the other side.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN: We've been talking about this going on overnight and affecting millions of people. Icy roads and early school dismissals causing trouble in Tennessee as well. Some buses could not make it to school to pick up the kids. Others got stuck on the roads and that left the students there stranded. Just look at these pictures.

ROMANS: The arctic blast left driving treacherous in Mississippi, where January temperatures, in Mississippi it's not normally in the 50s this time of year. Snow-covered highways sent cars like this one in Jackson skidding right off the road.

BERMAN: We'll be showing you the road, but obviously, air flights canceled thousands of flights ahead of the storm and hundreds more grounded this morning, mostly in Atlanta, which, of course, is the world's busiest airport. The impact could resonate for days.

The domino effect across the country, if you're trying to fly anywhere today from anywhere, call your airline and make sure.

Indra Petersons has been tracking the storm.

You know, Indra, you've been telling us this was coming. This was in the forecast. But still, people are not ready for it.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I think it's just hard for people to fathom. They've lived in the South for years. They've never seen anything like this. Just several inches, that's the key. We weren't forecasting for foot on those places. I mean, look at what these cities saw. Atlanta saw about two inches, you get down to Charlotte, only about an inch of snow. That's all it takes in a place that you're not typically used to dealing with these types of conditions.

And it wasn't the only story. There was a lot of ice before it transitioned over to snow. And only a half of inch, that's all it takes to take down power lines. Unfortunately, many of these cities also dealing with some icings, places like outskirts of Georgia, and also South Carolina, saw five or even six inches of snow. So, that's a concern.

You can see, we're still dealing with this situation at this hour. So, there's all of that trouble yesterday evening. They're waking up this morning. They're still dealing with it and slowly making its way offshore.

So, it looks by the next hours, things should improve. But nonetheless, we're still talking about snow, even reaching here all the way up in the Northeast, very mild for us, we're used to snow. But again, still another five inches possible out towards Virginia Beach.

And it's not the only story. They're dealing with that cold weather as well. You could see those cold temperatures are not just in the Midwest or Northeast. This morning, look at that, talking about just teens as far south as Atlanta. You add in the windchill, they're dealing with single-digit temperatures. So, throughout the day, they're still going to have that concerns with those slick roads. Keep in mind, it will still warm up in the next several days. But you have that certain things can melt throughout the day and then refreeze again overnight. Again, if you're not used to those slick roadways, that's going to be the big concern for them today.

So, that's really -- I mean, that's the concern here. Yes, it warms up tomorrow but you've still got 24 hours to deal with that concern.

ROMANS: To get home. To get home from work.

BERMAN: All right. Thanks, Indra.

ROMANS: Thanks, Indra.

BERMAN: All right. The other big story this morning, Washington is bracing for the beginning of what President Obama is calling his year of action. The president laid the groundwork in the State of the Union address -- a speech filled with calls for some bipartisan change, but also promises that if Congress does not act, the president will.

Senior White House correspondent Brianna Keilar is live for us in Washington this morning.

Good morning, Brianna.


I mean, the fact is President Obama needs Congress if he's going to have any big legislative achievements like immigration. And he talked about that, but he also announced executive actions on things like education, energy, jobs and technology.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But America does not stand still and neither will I. So, wherever and whenever I can take steps, without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that's what I'm going to do.

In the coming weeks, I will issue an executive order requiring per contractors to pay their federally funded employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour.


KEILAR: So he's announcing here this increased minimum wage for employees, new federal contracts. We're talks, you know, tops, maybe a million Americans, probably less. So, it's pretty modest.

But part of the reason he was doing this was to put pressure on Congress to adopt an increase in the minimum wage for everyone. And also, John, he'll be visiting a Costco today in Maryland. Part of this was trying to put pressure on companies to go ahead and take it upon themselves to increase the minimum wage. He'll be highlighting that going on at Costco today, using it as an example.

BERMAN: You know, the speech wasn't chockfull of policy proposals. You highlighted really some of the few that were in it. The Republican response, not chockfull of policy proposals either. But like the State of the Union, sort of more thematic from Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

What did she have to say?

KEILAR: Yes, and it sort of struck me that the themes were sort of the same. You heard them reaching out to middle income Americans. And also something that I thought that stood out from the official Republican rebuttal from Cathy McMorris Rodgers this year, was that it was a sort of warmer appeal to American families. She was sitting on a couch.

A lot of times you'll have the Republican rebutting standing there. So, I think she was trying -- it almost created more of a living vibe in a way.

But there was something in there, while President Obama said in his State of the Union, basically, I don't want to be dealing with your attempts to repeal Obamacare anymore. He said there have been plenty of attempts at that. This message, which is going to play very large in this midterm election, was something that Cathy McMorris Rodgers certainly addressed.


REP. CATHY MCMORRIS RODGERS (R), WASHINGTON: No, we shouldn't go back to the things -- to the way things were. But this law is not working. Republicans believe health care choices should be yours, not the government's.


KEILAR: So, it wasn't exactly rancor, John. But they really didn't agree on the way they want to move forward.

But, you know, it is so early. I don't want to leave you sort of on there being any, I guess, partisanship here.

So, I want to tell you a little bit about the final moment of the president's speech which was emotional and was bipartisan. And it was when he pointed to Army Ranger Cory Remsburg who was wounded in Afghanistan by a roadside bomb on his tenth deployment there in Afghanistan. And he honored him for his resilience, for his service. And this is what brought all Democrats and all Republicans, everyone there in the House chamber, to their feet. It was really a very beautiful moment.

BERMAN: It really was, Brianna, I thought you could feel the sense of awe and wonderment from that room, as everyone from the president, the speaker, the first lady, everyone stared up at this one man. Almost, and said, we're not worthy to be with new the room. The sacrifices you have made are so many greater than any of us can almost ever imagine.

It was a very, very special moment.

Briana Keilar, great to have you with us this more than. You've worked about 25 hours out of the last 25. So, we appreciate it. Thanks so much.

KEILAR: Thanks, John.

BERMAN: Brianna did mention the word rancor.

And on that subject, the State of the Union was not even the main event in boxing terms. That might have come after -- thanks to a congressman from New York. Michael Grimm from Staten Island was talking to a reporter from New York 1, a news cable channel, about the State of the Union, when the reporter Michael Scotto asked Grimm about an ongoing campaign finance allegation.

So, Grimm got mad and you can see him walked off there. But it's what happened moments later that was just -- wow.


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

MICHAEL SCOTTO, NY1: Why, why, I just wanted to ask you?

GRIMM: If you ever do that to me again.

SCOTT: Why, why, it's a valid question.

GRIMM: No, no, you're not man enough, you're not man enough. I'll break you in half. Like a boy.


BERMAN: So, yes, I'll break you in half like a boy.

I'm not totally sure that I understand the meaning of that but I did fully understand it when he said "I'll throw you off the blanking balcony."

Congressman Grimm, in a statement, said he was annoyed, I guess we get that, that the reporter asked him about an investigation when he had only agreed to talk about the State of the Union. The congressman said he's sure he won't be the last member of Congress to tell off a reporter.

ROMANS: A lot of things are revealed here. Sometimes, members of Congress get angry when they decide what it is they're going to be asked. And we as reporters ask the top stories. And for his constituents, his campaign investigation is front and center, of course.

But that kind of reaction is rare to get on camera. It's a reaction sometimes reporters get in private, but to get it on camera is really --

BERMAN: We're going to break this news in two, like a boy.

ROMANS: And throw it off the balcony.

BERMAN: Breaking news overnight. The Supreme Court stopping an execution in the 11th hour. Why the high court decided to get involved overnight.

ROMANS: And we continue to follow this dangerous winter storm that brought the South to a standstill. Students stuck on their school bus for hours -- parents walking, walking miles to go get them and bring their children home. A dramatic reunion, next.


BERMAN: We're following the breaking news this morning from the South, where ice and snow continue to just cause ridiculous chaos from Alabama to the Carolinas. Atlanta really hit the worst by this -- the roads there, just a sheet of ice. It's like driving on a hockey rink, we've been told. Many spent the night in their cars for hours and hours, still there in some cases, unable to move, including at least 50 students on buses like these.

These images taken around 3:00 this morning.


BERMAN: These buses left the school more than 12 hours earlier. Others were lucky -- more lucky, I should say, finally getting home for a late-night reunion with grateful parents.


UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: I was so scared. I was like if I don't get home tonight, I'm going to freak out. Let my mom know where I am and my dad. It was crazy.

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: I was scared I wouldn't see my mom until like 7:00 a.m.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are so happy and we're so grateful to the bus driver. And we're just -- we're happy they're home.


ROMANS: How grateful we are for bus drivers, for teachers, for principals. All these people who are like making sure the kids are safe and happy.

BERMAN: And I think the cuteness can't transcend any other situation. Holy cow. Stay with us for the latest on this dangerous ice and snowstorm because this is still going on, folks. We'll keep updating you throughout the morning.

ROMANS: All right. On today's "Road Warriors", how do you get upgraded to a premium seat on your next flight? First, when you buy your ticket, look for the "Y" or "B" booking code. Those are more expensive, full fares, that those could make you eligible for a complementary upgrade.

You could also voluntarily give up your seat if the flight is over- book. The gate agent may be willing to give you a better seat for your next flight, along with a hefty voucher for future travel. Be sure you ask and drive a hard bargain.

And remember, timing matters. You're much more likely to be upgraded if you fly on a day that's not busy.

BERMAN: Upgrades are about the best thing ever.

ROMANS: I know, and very rare, in my personal travel experience.

BERMAN: Exactly.

Twenty minutes after the hour.

And coming up, media day circus. The press descends with five days to go before the New Jersey Super Bowl. Andy Scholes is here to tell us what they found out, who talked to them and who didn't. That's the "Bleacher Report", coming up next.


BERMAN: All right, despite what I might have said earlier, we're now just four days away from the Super Bowl. This is when the teams really get down to business.

But before they can practice, they've got to deal with the press and the craziness and the inanity of media day.

Andy Scholes is going to break down all that for us.

ANDY SCHOLES, BLEACHER REPORT: Hey, good morning, guys.

You know, this is the only day of the year where fans pay to watch the media do their thing, right? There was about 7,000 on hand yesterday. Usually he told this media event at a stadium, but this year, they're crammed inside the Prudential Center.

Now, you never know what you're going to get Super Bowl media day. Olympic gold medalist, Gabby Douglas, check this out, doing her thing. A little cartwheel there for the media on hand. Now, there were cheerleaders, people some costumes, tons and tons of media.

The biggest mum of the day award went to Peyton Manning. He answered questions for about an hour, including one that he's been hearing for years.


PEYTON MANNING, DENVER BRONCOS QUARTERBACK: I've been being asked about my legacy since I was 25 years old, which I'm not sure you can have a legacy when you're 25 years old or even 37. I thought you'd have to be like 70. This has been the second chapter of my career. It's an exciting chapter. I'm certainly excited to be back in the Super Bowl, you know, on behalf of the Denver Broncos.


SCHOLES: Most players enjoy the glitch and glamour of media day. But not Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch. He hid in a corner, only speaking with the media for about six minutes of the allotted hour when players were allowed to speak.

Now, NFL Network's Deion Sanders is trying to figure out why Lynch didn't want to participate?




SANDERS: You just don't want to talk?

LYNCH: I'm just about that action, boss.

SANDERS: You'd rather go get it. You just like to do it.

LYNCH: That's what it is. I ain't never seen no talking winning nothing.


ROMANS: That's awesome.

BERMAN: Yes, he's my hero.

SCHOLES: Just about that action, boss, made the line of the day.

All right. One of the top stories on live section of today, what do you do if you live in Seattle, your last name is Mann and you just had a baby. You, of course, give the baby the middle name 12th. Meet Sydney Lee 12th Mann. She's the cutest new Seahawks fan. And, of course, she's named after the loudest fan base in the NFL.

Guys, 12th Mann. So, she should definitely go to Texas A&M for college, too, right? To keep that going.

BERMAN: You're talking about loud fans. I'm sure the parents will have one loud fan over the next three months or so.


SCHOLES: They're getting a quiet Super Bowl.

ROMANS: Thanks, Andy.

All right. Stay with us. We're going to have the very latest on the ice storm that's left much of the South paralyzed. That's right after the break.