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Paralyzing Storm Cripples South; Children Stranded In Schools; A Year Of Action; Obama: 2014 A Year of Action

Aired January 29, 2014 - 06:00   ET



CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Going it alone, President Obama calling for a year of action in his State of the Union address threatening to bypass Congress if necessary.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: America does not stand still, and neither will I.

CUOMO: But did his proposals go far enough for the American people. And the most emotional moment of the night, who is the army ranger who brought the entire chamber to their feet in a rousing standing ovation. We have the story behind a hero. Your NEW DAY starts right now.


CUOMO: Good morning. Welcome to NEW DAY. It's Wednesday, January 29th. It's 6:00 in the east. I'm Chris Cuomo coming to you live from Capitol Hill where President Obama delivered his fifth "State Of The Union" address last night and maybe facing a political storm as a result. But the big story this morning is the actual storm, the ice storm that is devastating the south -- Kate.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: It's pretty amazing. Of course, Chris, I'm here in New York following that major breaking news for all of you this morning. From Alabama to the Carolinas, it's been a night of really unimaginable chaos. A crippling winter storm gridlocking city after city after city, thousands of people stuck in cars for ours with traffic at a complete standstill.

It's been a horrifying 18 hours for parents in Atlanta where conditions there turned so treacherous so fast it left dozens of students stranded on school buses through the night. Hundreds of other kids were forced to spend all day and night in their classrooms at their schools. People have been abandoning their cars on those icy Atlanta roads.

We're close to 1,000 accidents have reported and of course, we are tracking to see how many more will be coming. Right now the snow is hitting hard in the mid-Atlantic. It could see close to a foot of snow. When the weather turns extreme, you know, you can count on us to have it covered for you. We begin in Atlanta this morning with Carol Costello. Carol, I venture to guess you haven't seen anything like this since you moved to Atlanta.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: No. I lived through two blizzards in Baltimore just a few years ago. I've never experienced anything like this. It is unconscionable what happened here in Atlanta. People stuck in their cars for 10 or 12 hours. People running out of gas and having to abandon their cars. One woman gave birth inside her car on I-285. And the politicians, well, they're all saying, it isn't my fault.


COSTELLO (voice-over): Thousands of drivers stranded on gridlocked highways paralyzing the metro area. Children stuck on their school buses well past midnight.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I was super scared. I was like, if I don't get home to my parents, I'm going to freak out.

COSTELLO: Other students unable to make it home at all, waking up at their classrooms this morning after sleek road conditions forced some schools to cancel bus service.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One of the children had a cell phone so they kept calling me and saying, we stopped again, we slipped again. We are hitting trees. We just ran a red light.

COSTELLO: With more than 900 accidents reported and over 100 injuries, some desperate commuters decided to abandon their cars and seek shelter. Others some who reports spending over 10 hours on the road turned to social media for help, "Nine months pregnant, haven't eaten since 10:00 a.m. yesterday. My car is out of gas and I'm starting to get cold, dehydrated and hungry. Please help.

Anxious residents seek help for their loved ones, "I have a friend whose truck has been hit by six cars. She has two kids in the car and trying to get two more at daycare. The 911 is busy, any suggestions?" The city in a state of emergency leaving many asking why wasn't the city more prepared? Facing mounting criticism, Governor Nathan Deal blamed a faulty weather forecast in a presser late last night.

GOVERNOR NATHAN DEAL (R), GEORGIA: I wish it was something we could just wave a magic wand, but that's not possible. We have to deal with the reality and I think all these folks that are here are doing their very best.


COSTELLO: OK, so the governor said he blamed it on a faulty weather forecast. Well, I went to the CNN Weather Center and asked our meteorologists. They predicted the storm down to the minute, Kate Bolduan. That's just an excuse. Other people are wondering why schools weren't canceled in the morning. I mean, last week they canceled schools because it was too cold in Atlanta. Yesterday, they didn't cancel schools at all. Other people wonder why they didn't start salting the roads before the snow started falling and the traffic jams starting forming because once the traffic jams are there, the salt trucks can't get through the traffic jam.

Lots of questions to answer this morning from our politicians and we're going to be posing those questions to Atlanta's politicians to the state of Georgia's politicians all day today.

BOLDUAN: As well we should, Carol, especially when we know folks are still stuck in traffic jams as we speak. The governor talks about a magic wand. We all hope there was a magic wand that could get us out of this mess. Carol, thank you so very much for Atlanta.

So this storm struck with devastating speed as we can now tell. People were forced to sleep in cafes as you see and stores when the conditions went from clear to chaotic in really just a matter of hours. Parts of Virginia and the Carolinas could be digging out of 10 inches of snow or more when this system finally clears out.

Let's continue our coverage with CNN's Martin Savidge joining us from a very frigid, usually frigid North Carolina -- Martin.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Kate. Situation here in the Carolinas, least North Carolina, a little better than they anticipated and a lot of better off than they down there in Atlanta for two reasons. Number one, the air turned drier last night and two, it's the timing of when the storm hit here, didn't hit until last night. That gave people plenty of time to get off the streets, get home, get the kids from school and be ready.

And ready is the one thing they were in North Carolina. It should be pointed out, they were doing the salting of the streets and getting ready for this storm starting on Monday. Some 72 hours ahead of when it hit even on Sunday, they were planning for this. So they had pre- salted the streets. The people had been told to stock up. They knew the snow was coming.

Turns out they didn't get as much snow as they feared, but everything was shut down yesterday, certainly no school today anywhere in the region. Even Fort Brag, which is probably the largest well known military base in this area, it is shutdown except of course for any personnel that are essential to the nation's defense, Kate.

So right now, we're under a winter storm warning. Snow's not falling currently. Temperature is in the 20. It feels like single digits, not going to get above freezing at all, very unusual for here -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: The big thaw out, the great dig out, whatever you want to call it. That begins today. Martin, thank you very much from North Carolina for us this morning.

As we mentioned, hundreds of children and teachers have been stuck inside their schools because of this storm. Joining us now is Ann Tillman, the principal of Grantswood Community School in Irondale, Alabama. There are about 15 students as we understand it and nine staffers were still inside the school after spending the night there.

Principal Tillman, thank you so much for waking up or staying up to speak with us this morning.

ANN TILLMAN, PRINCIPAL, GRANTSWOOD COMMUNITY SCHOOL (via telephone): Good morning. You're welcome.

BOLDUAN: Of course, so what is the status? You're still at the school with these students. How are things going?

TILLMAN: Things couldn't be better considering the circumstances. They're all sleeping in the gym. They had -- a really fun time yesterday. They saw this as an adventure. The staff is awesome, but they do what they do every day. They certainly come to school every day and put the kids first and yesterday was no different. It just continued a little longer than we had planned.

BOLDUAN: I would guess so. If the kids are calling this an adventure that's in large parts to you guys. How have you been keeping them busy? How have you been keeping them busy since they've been stuck in the school since early yesterday morning?

TILLMAN: Well, we are a K2 school so our oldest child here is 7. So they have a lot of energy. So we kept them in the gym. We have a Wii that we project on the large screen and they play Wii games and get to burn off energy in the gym. We play movies to calm them down when they need to. We have a fully stocked lunchroom.

So we have snacks and we had lasagna and salad for dinner last night. The teachers will take them into classrooms and do quieter activities with them when needed. So we just do what we do every day. We just did it around the clock.

BOLDUAN: As I understand it, school was dismissed around 10:30 yesterday. Would you say -- were folks caught off guard by this or did it just come faster than anyone expected?

TILLMAN: No. We were totally caught off guard. The meteorologist in our area predicted a light dusting for the Birmingham area so all the accumulation was to occur far south of us. So at about -- when we were dismissing at 10:30, it didn't seem to me like there would be a problem to get the kids home in plenty of time. But it happened so fast that by the time they left my school and went to the school -- the feeder school, the buses couldn't go past that school. That's how fast it happened and we're probably 5 miles apart.

BOLDUAN: My goodness, well, hopefully when the sun comes up, you'll be able to get those students back to their families. And also you'll be able to get home and get a good night sleep. That's a school day you'll never soon forget that's for sure. Principal Tillman, thank you so much.

TILLMAN: You're welcome.

BOLDUAN: Of course, my goodness, a long night for her. Let's get straight over to Indra Petersons now to get a check of the weather. So where things stand right now, Indra? What should officials known about all this?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Unfortunately, Kate, the news was all there. The forecast was there. I mean, take a look at the totals here. They just talked about several inches. Notice in Alabama they only got 2 inches. The concern was no one really knew whether or not they are going to get a lot of icing or snow or a combination.

But really the bigger story is they're just not used to these kinds of conditions this far south. Yes, there's places in Georgia that saw about 3-1/2 inches. It's really the combination of the icing and the snow. Notice about a half on inch of icing was seen in the Carolinas. That's enough to take power lines down. What happened?

We knew this was here. It's the same bulls eye dome of high pressure that has been there really for the last several days. The same one that brought all that cold air in the upper Midwest, that now combined that cold air with all that moisture around the gulf and that's the reason they started to see all these problems last night. That cold front moved through. It is still there today.

So yes, the next several hours, things has really started to clear up farther closer to the gulf, but around Virginia Beach, still another 5 inches of snow is still going to be possible. But here's the concern, yes, it will look like the storm is moving out this morning. It will look like things are melting.

Don't forget that cold air is still in place. So things could still re-freeze. People are going to think the concern is gone. They could get trapped again today -- to be aware and understand what's going on --

BOLDUAN: A little bit of ice, you know, any little bit --

PETERSONS: All it takes.

BOLDUAN: Indra, thank you. Got a busy day ahead of us. All right, we're obviously going to stay on top of this storm that is hitting a lot of the country. Let's get back down to Washington with Chris for all the big story this morning -- Chris.

CUOMO: All right, we are following the reaction to President Obama's state of the union address. Terming this is political storm isn't just a segue way of the ice storm it is a reality. He issued more challenges than proposals last night. You could argue the president called for a year of action, but the speech was more about how he will move forward.

That's what it was really about, even more than what he wants to get done. The president making it perfectly clear he's prepared to sidestep a gridlock Congress to get things done. Tough talk or cementing the resistance to his agenda, that's the pressing question this morning. CNN's Brianna Keilar live in Washington looking at all of it for us -- Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Chris. And President Obama will continue pushing this message today. He'll go to Maryland where he'll be at a Costco really trying to raise awareness about something that company has done for its employees, raise the minimum wage, which is something he announced last night he will do for employees of new federal contract projects and what he is pressuring Congress to do for all American workers.


KEILAR (voice-over): For over an hour, more than 7,000 words, President Obama telling his biggest audience of the year he's not waiting on Congress to start his year of action.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that's what I'm going to do.

KEILAR: Obama wants to combat inequality using new executive orders on education, jobs and energy that don't require congressional approval. He's raising the minimum wage for new federal contract workers and encouraged private sector businesses to pay their employees more too.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Say yes. Give America a raise. Give them a raise.

KEILAR: Despite praising House Speaker John Boehner's life story --

PRESIDENT OBAMA: The son of a bar keeper, the speaker of the House.

KEILAR: -- there wasn't much that Republicans seemed to like.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I believe that when women succeed, America succeeds. Congress needs to restore the unemployment insurance you just let expire for 1.6 million people.

KEILAR: Most decisive, the president's signature legislative achievement. Obama made clear he's not interested in rehashing the health care fight.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I do not expect to convince my Republican friends on the merits of this law, but I know that the American people are not interested in refighting old battles.

KEILAR: Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers taking the opposite view in the official Republican response.

REPRESENTATIVE CATHY MCMORRIS RODGERS (R), WASHINGTON: Republicans believe health care choices should be yours not the governments.

KEILAR: She was just one Republican offering her take.

SENATOR MIKE LEE (R), UTAH: The president's lofty rhetoric ignored the fact that his administration continues to leave poor and middle class families further behind.

SENATOR TED CRUZ: He doesn't try to work with Congress.

SENATOR RAND PAUL: I didn't hear anything new from the president. KEILAR: The issues may have divided the House chamber, but the most powerful poignant moment came late in the might and brought Democrats and Republicans to their feet. Army Ranger Cory Remsburg, wounded by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan, was partially paralyzed and blind in one eye honored for his service and his resilience.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Like the Army he loves, like the America he serves, Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg never gives up, and he does not quit.



KEILAR: Remsburg wounded on his tenth deployment if you can imagine that. It really was the emotional moment of the night.

And, Chris, President Obama will be in Maryland today. He'll also be in Wisconsin and Tennessee. Four stops in a two-day road trip to sell his message from the State of the Union in this key midterm election year.

CUOMO: Well, Brianna, that's the big part of the analysis, right? He needs the people behind him to push through the way he wants to get things done. Otherwise, he may be facing worse gridlock than ever. We're going to tell you more about the story behind that Sergeant Remsburg you just saw there, a phenomenal story of heroism. We'll give that to you later today, as well as the analysis.

Of course, the speech was big from President Obama. But you've got to see all the reactions, from the Speaker John Boehner behind him, what are the prospects going forward. We'll break it down to you.

A lot of tough questions for the president. And this Friday, one of our best will be getting answers for you. CNN anchor Jake Tapper sits down exclusively with President Obama. It will air this Friday morning on NEW DAY and then, of course, on Jake's show, "THE LEAD" at 4:00 p.m.

All right? So, that's all from Washington right now. We'll be back here for sure.

But let's get to John Berman, in for Michaela in New York right now. A lot of other news to tell you about -- John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks so much, Chris.

Making news this morning, Attorney General Eric Holder expected to get grilled today on Capitol Hill. The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to question Holder on how his agency plans to implement President Obama's NSA changes. The president has said he wants surveillance to be more transparent without tracking and storing American's phone and internet data in bulk.

The cheating scandal involving air force nuclear weapons officers has reportedly doubled in size. The military officials now tell CNN that roughly 70 service members either cheated on proficiency exams last summer or turned a blind eye to others cheating. The Air Force acknowledges that the number of officers under investigation has grown but declined to offer other specifics.

A teenager is in the hospital after being shot by police in Hawaii after they say he slashed one officer and punched two others. The 17- year-old showed up at a Honolulu high school where officials say he was recognized as a runaway. He alleged lunged at the police when they came to take him into custody. The teen had been a student at the school but was not registered there this semester.

New allegations this morning against New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. "The Star Ledger" reports that Christie used $6 million for hurricane relief for a senior center in a town whose Democratic mayor later endorsed him. The project was planned years before Sandy struck and the town was not one of those hardest hit. Christie administration officials insist the center will help those displaced by the storm.

So, you may have been one of the eagle eye viewers who tuned into the State of the Union and noticed this. Jill Biden's arm in a sling. Well, the White House now says that Vice President Joe Biden's wife broke her left wrist in a bad fall last week. And during last night's speech, her arm was in a camouflage colored cast covered by that, is that a shawl or a pashmina, one or the other there?

BOLDUAN: I think they can be synonymous here and a beautiful shawl or pashmina at that.

BERMAN: It is. I think, you know, the accessories there are quite lovely. And you can see the arm there in the sling and the cast. She's expected to keep that cast on for about six weeks. We wish her a speedy recovery.

BOLDUAN: We absolutely do. She makes a broken wrist look good.

BERMAN: Absolutely.

BOLDUAN: All right. We're going to take a break. But coming up next here on NEW DAY, we're going to talk to an emergency official in Georgia about this monster storm that has really crippled cities. How did they get caught so off guard?

CUOMO: Speaking of off guard, I need John Berman to explain to me what a pashmina is. That would be first point of analysis here down in the nation's capital. Of course, we'll be taking on the president's State of the Union Address.

Is the big message of the day how he's going to get it done? It's going to work for or against him. And did you see this video? A congressman caught on camera threatening a reporter. That's the reporter, here comes the congressman. What did he say to him? What did he threaten him about? We have the reporter here this morning to tell you the full story.


President Obama came out strong in his State of the Union address, calling 2014 a year of action. He sent a clear message to Congress that he will move forward with or without their help. The question is, does that help or hurt him?

Joining us now to figure it out, CNN political commentator and Republican strategist, Mr. Kevin Madden, as well as former deputy White House press secretary for President Obama, Bill Burton, also co- founded the super PAC Priorities USA Action, and is the managing director of the Global Strategy Group.

Bill, I cannot have you on this show with all these titles.

BILL BURTON, GLOBAL STRATEGY GROUP: I know. It gets a little cumbersome.

CUOMO: You are too relevant. You are too involved. Please try to limit your actions going forward.

So, now, to punish you, I'm going to ask with Kevin. Kevin, when you heard the speech last night, what was your general take about what the president was putting out there specifically with how he intends to get things done?

KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, my first take was this is about as confident a president as you've seen since the night of his reelection. I think he had a very rough 2013, and I think he came in wanting to seize the optimistic high ground during the speech. I think in large part, he did that.

But in the end, I think this was -- this was a speech that was very much a laundry list. And I think while it changed some of the atmospherics on Capitol Hill in the short term, I still think the long terms are going to drive 2014, Obamacare and a lot of the differences that members of Congress have, I think it's going to be very hard to overcome. I don't think this speech will change any of those long- term trends.

CUOMO: And may exacerbate, Bill. Because it wasn't about what, it was about how, OK? I'm going to do it myself. You better get up. He was taking a lot of shots at Congress, even more than usual, I thought, last night.

What's the play here on this side?

BURTON: I think it was more than usual. But Napoleon said, a leader is a dealer in hope. That's what he was talking about with the president last night.

When it came to the economy, when it came to foreign policy, when it came to climate, and all of these things, the president says there is a positive way forward, but this is a moment of action. That's where the American people are right now, they want a president, they want a Congress who are going to act, to move our country in a place where we're moving forward and we're making progress.

And I think the statement that he was making last night was one to Congress and saying, if you won't act, I will.

CUOMO: Our immediate action poll last night was, you know, the instant reaction, it's under 10 percent, the percentage of people think it's very likely the president can get done what he wants to get done. I don't think that's jaundiced in cynicism. I think it's -- you're threatening. You're not reaching out your hand. Why will they work with you?

BURTON: Well, I don't know about that. I think the American people have watched how congress and Washington have worked over the last couple years. They're so sick of it and they're so cynical about what can get done in Washington.

But the president actually can do some real tangible things. When you saw him raised the minimum wage for federal workers, that is a real thing that people can get their arms around, that have a real impact on the economy.

So, yes, people are cynical about what's happening in Washington, but the president's saying there's another way, and I'm going to take it.

CUOMO: And, Kevin, they blame you, right?


CUOMO: You personally. I've seen your name in all the research.

The president's numbers are not great, but Congress much lower, the Republican aspect of Congress even lower than that. Is the onus on you guys to step up and show you'll work with him, not as much influence as I'm putting on the president himself?

MADDEN: Well, I think that's where the presidency is unique here, and I think where that is where the president really hasn't reached up to -- hasn't met the public's expectations. I agree with Bill in the sense that people are very cynical. They do look at Congress right now and they have a very low approval rating of just Washington as an institution.

But that's where the president's role is unique in bringing people together, and building the kind of coalitions that you need, building the kind of consensus that you need up on Capitol Hill.

So, the confrontational approach that the president has taken I still think is going to be judged harshly by the public, inside that lens of that dynamic. And so, he hasn't done as much to bring people together.

CUOMO: I always watch Boehner's face. He's got no poker face, OK? I did like that he was celebrated last night because it shows he may have more juice now in terms of brokering deals within his own caucus.

But how do you break your culture of conflict? There's no question that Republicans -- I had Steve King here -- yes, I know, he Republicans an extreme. But King said, I'm here to resist. I'm here to resist. You can't put that on the president anymore.

How do you break that culture?

MADDEN: I think that there is an element there where the president has in rhetoric reached out, but the practice of it, the almost need for an incestuous relationship with congress hasn't been there. So, why do you see gestures like you saw last night when he mentioned Speaker Boehner. Is there going to be the day to day -- know the need for the minute to minute, hour by hour working with Congress? I think that still remain to be seen. We haven't seen it yet.

CUOMO: And, Bill, you know, it is not on the president that he doesn't like him, he doesn't want to work with him, he avoids it.

Last night, I did not see it as a conciliatory. I saw him as making challenges, being strong, yes. Confident, yes. But always a little dig, always a little dig.

How does he open the fist, reach out the hand and make this work with these people?

BURTON: I think what you saw the president do was be honest about what's happening in Washington. Republicans are standing in the way of the progress. And so, the president has to tell the truth and it comes off confrontational or sounds like he's being critical of how Republicans are being in Washington. So be it.

But that's the situation he was dealt. And that's the environment that he's in right now. So he's got awesome staff. He just hired a new legislative director in the White House, Katie Beirne Fallon and she's terrific. She's got relationships on Capitol Hill. And I think you're going to see the president continue to reach out.

And I don't buy that he hasn't reached out. He has. It's just that the outreach has been met with complete intransigence and Republicans scared of Tea Party challenges from the right that they can't -- they don't feel like they can work with the president.

All they want to do, all they're politically capable of doing is trying to stop progress.

CUOMO: Kevin is giving the same face that Boehner gave last night. We've got to hold on there, Bill. Thank you very much.

BURTON: Good to see you.

MADDEN: Great to be with you always.

CUOMO: Always a pleasure.

A lot of questions going forward, that's why the interview this Friday, which are so important.

We're going to take a break here now on NEW DAY. When we come back, listen to this, a New York congressman threatening physical harm to a reporter just moments after the State of the Union address. All caught on tape.

We're going to talk to the brave news man who stood the storm. A lawmaker who literally said, I'll break you in half, Kate. It sounds like something you'd say to me.

BOLDUAN: Yes, but that's only in the privacy of the CNN studio.

We're also -- also coming up, we're going to continue the coverage on the devastating deep freeze causing chaos in the South. Hundreds of people stranded. We're going to talk to an emergency management official about how they got caught off guard, and what's they're doing now to handle it.