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Cold Weather Snarls Traffic in Atlanta; President Delivers State of the Union Address; First Class Sergeant Gets Standing Ovation; Interview with Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Steve King

Aired January 29, 2014 - 07:00   ET


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Chaos in the south, the region pummeled by a once in a generation winter storm, ice, snow, and severe cold trapping young children in schools and on buses overnight and stranding drivers in monster gridlock, forcing them to abandon cars and even sleep in Home Depot stores.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Once I started sliding I couldn't control it.

BOLDUAN: Plus thousands of people stuck in airports as thousands of flights are canceled. When can people get out?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That car got hit, people stuck.

BOLDUAN: We have everything you need to know about this nightmare storm.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Year of action. President Obama promises a fight for the American people in the State of the Union address with or without congress.

BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that's what I'm going to do.


CUOMO: But as he promised to tackle income inequality and low wages, will the defiant approach work against him. We're breaking down the speech and finding out what viewers think.

You're NEW DAY starts right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo, Kate Bolduan, and Michaela Pereira.


CUOMO: Good morning. Welcome back to NEW DAY. It is Wednesday, January 29th, 7:00 in the east. I'm Chris Cuomo coming to you live from Capitol Hill. This of course is where President Obama delivered his State of the Union address, one that sparked a political storm to be sure, and we'll get into that. But the big story this morning is the real storm paralyzing the south, Kate. BOLDUAN: It absolutely is, Chris. We're here in New York of course following major breaking news this morning. As Chris mentioned, that widespread chaos that happened after a crippling winter storm left the deep south in very deep trouble. One of the areas of biggest concern is Atlanta where snow and ice made roads virtually impassable. See these school buses? The video was taken around 3:00 this morning when dozens of students were still stuck on buses on their way home for school. Other students had to spend the night in their schools, and hundreds are still stranded. Also traffic accidents reported in and around Atlanta with drivers trying to navigate roads that turned into skating rinks overnight. Millions are in the path of the storm as it churns north now over the Carolinas.

We have everything you need to know this morning. Let's start with Carol Costello live outside the CNN center in Atlanta. Once again, Carol, any change that you're seeing so far?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I see a couple cars now, so it's not quite the ghost town. Keep in mind, the storm -- and I do this because it was two inches of snow -- it started 18 hours ago. People are still stuck in traffic right now. Some of them have been stuck in traffic for five or six hours. Some of them have been stuck in their cars overnight. And if you ask the politicians, they'll say it's not my fault.


COSTELLO: Thousands of drivers stranded on gridlocked highways, children stuck on their school buses well past midnight.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 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 in their classrooms this morning after slick road conditions forced some schools to cancel bus service.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One of the children had a cellphone, and they kept calling me and saying, we stopped again, we slipped again, we're hitting trees.

COSTELLO: With more than 900 accidents reported and over 100 injuries, some desperate commuters decided to abandon their cars and seek shelter. Others spending 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. 911 is busy. Any suggestions?"

The city in the state of emergency, leaving many asking why wasn't the city more prepared? Facing mounting criticism, Governor Nathan Deal blamed the faulty weather forecast in a presser late last night.

GOV. NATHAN DEAL, GEORGIA: I wish we could 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: I don't know what weather report he was talking about. But the CNN meteorologists, including Indra Petersons, were right on with when that snow about to start to fall. That was around noon yesterday. Nobody around here saw any salt trucks preparing the streets for possible icing over. I'm sure the mayor will be asked that question all day long. And so far, he hasn't had a great answer for the citizens of Atlanta. He'll be on in the 9:00 a.m. hour of "NEWSROOM." I'll ask him that question myself, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Let's hope that they figure something out even before then, Carol. People are still stuck in their cars, stuck on buses, stuck everywhere. It makes no sense. We're going to make sense of it for them. Carol, thank you very much.

So Georgia isn't the only state seeing major problems. South Carolina was also caught off guard with weather troubles leading to bridge and road shutdowns. Alina Machado is in Charleston for us with this angle of the story. How's it looking now, Alina?

ALINA MACHADO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: OK, it's actually not looking too bad right now. We've seen primarily rain in this area. Right now we're seeing just very light sleet. There is a thin coating of ice on certain areas. You can see it here on this trash bin. You can also see some ice on this sign.

Now these icy conditions are very one usual for this area. Keep in mind this area usually prepares for hurricanes. So having to deal with salt trucks is a different thing. They're more used to dealing with putting up shutters, for example. Really, this caused some headaches here. Several bridges, as you mentioned, have been shut down. And that's a significant thing because Charleston's access to other areas is through those bridges. Downtown Charleston is a ghost town and likely will stay this way through much of the day. But when you really look at other parts of the country, specifically in Atlanta and Alabama and even North Carolina where they've seen several inches of snow, this isn't too bad.

BOLDUAN: Alina, thank you very much. We'll check back in with you.

So can you imagine being trapped in your car for hours when your commute really should have only lasted a few minutes? Atlanta interstates became parking lots. Some drivers say a 10 minute commute took six hours, and that's at the very at least. Victor Blackwell is following that angle of the story for us. Victor, we're not talking inconvenience. We're talking this is dangerous.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kate, very dangerous. And we have an update we just got from the Georgia department of transportation that just after 6:00 this morning, ambulances were guided to four school buses trapped on interstate 285 here. DOT estimates that about 90 students were on those school buses overnight. They were loaded onto ambulances. We're still trying to confirm where those students were taken. But Atlanta public school system those buses were not there, so we're going to find out where these students were.

But consider that schools were dismissed and classes were suspended at 1:30 on Tuesday. We have the latest from APS that this morning they were still working to get the last few students home or on those buses from when school was dismissed yesterday, now down to just one child trying to get him home.

So we know that the roads have been packed. They are in some areas still packed. Jackknifed tractor trailers stuck on the ice. Highway emergency response vehicles are trying to drag those trucks out of the way to help people get home. But, yes, there are people that have been stuck in their vehicles overnight.

Also I want to tell you one more thing about the schools -- hundreds of students were told to shelter in place late last evening. We know that in nine area schools, several hundred students were held there. They were working close to midnight to try to get food to students, so a very desperate situation. But they are working throughout the morning, especially to get the students home. We know that schools in this area and most districts, if not all, will be closed today, Kate.

BOLDUAN: And that's the only thing that's not a surprise in the situation, that many schools will be closed again today. Thank you so much Victor. We'll check back in with you as well.

So after leaving the south covered in ice, the weather is headed north where it's dumping snow now on the Carolinas. Snow began Tuesday ahead of evening commute. Some areas could see a foot by the time it's over. Let's get now to Martin Savidge, who is in a very unusually snowy Fayetteville, North Carolina this morning.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Kate. It actually looks like I might be in New Hampshire up instead of the south as I am. The good news for North Carolina, not as bad as they feared, and they're certainly doing a lot better than they are in Atlanta, Georgia, for a couple of reasons.

First and foremost, the timing of this storm. Up here, it didn't hit until much later in the day. Actually overnight is when things really turned bad. That meant that folks were able to get home from work. They didn't have the school bus issue, and then on top of that, everybody was safe and sound at home.

The other factor, drier air. By the time the storm got here, didn't have much moisture. It turns out they didn't get as much freezing rain, didn't get as much sleet, and above all, didn't get as much snow. They had predicted five to seven inches here in Fayetteville. It turns out they got about three inches now and it looks like we are through the worst of it. Temperatures not going to get above freezing today. Everything around here is closed, government offices, even Ft. Brag, except for those exceptional personnel for the nation's defense, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Martin, thank you very much. So as we can tell now, the storm seemed to take many by surprise, both how quickly it hit and the mark that it left behind. So many people left out in the cold they literally slept in aisles at grocery stores, department stores, anywhere they could find a spot to call their own for at least a few hours. Meteorologist Indra Petersons is joining us now. It's kind of -- I feel like we need a better explanation of how this happened.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Right. I think the biggest thing is people don't understand what they need to do when a snowstorm comes. If you're in the northeast, you know you never want to be out during the height of the storm. The forecast was there. in fact, the timing was right on. They decided not to cancel the schools. Now what happens? It starts snowing right when it should have. People panic. We're going to let the kids out early. All the parents get off work, they're trying to pick up their kids. During the height of the storm, everyone is on the roads.

You can talk about clearing the roads. It's kind of hard to do. If you know Atlanta, it's completely congested. There's no way to clear those roads if everyone is out during the time of the height of the storm. It's only two inches guys. If they had waited and stuck with the original plan, potentially everything could have been cleared. The roads would have cleared, they would have been able to pick everyone up and go back home. This wasn't a long-lived storm.

BOLDUAN: So what did the model show?

PETERSONS: Two days ago, we had this exact same map up here. It was moving so far south, it intersects with the moisture off the gulf, and that was just enough to bring just several inches of snow. Atlanta only got two inches of snow. That's exactly what they got. It's spot on, the timing spot on.

BOLDUAN: I think bears a need for better explanation. We're going to seek it throughout the show. Is one of the elements inexperienced drivers in these conditions, is it fewer resources because we're talking about the deep south where this is so unusual? A lot of questions today, especially when the forecast was there.

PETERSONS: I think the biggest thing is just knowing when not to be out in the height of the storm.

BOLDUAN: Indra, thank you so much.

All right, let's get back to Washington and Chris.

CUOMO: All right, Kate, new this morning, President Obama hits the road, taking his State of the Union message directly to the people. The president rolled out his 2014 to-do list, calling out Congress and warning if they don't act, he will.

So right after the speech was being given, a snap CNN/ORC poll of those who watched the speech and therefore were going to be heavily weighted Democratic, that poll found 44 percent reacted very positively. It's actually the lowest number in the last four years. CNN's Suzanne Malveaux was with a focus group in Des Moines. That's a very important place coming into the elections, joining us now. Great to have you, Suzanne. What was their reaction? SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris, as you can imagine, they were quite engaged. They love their politics. They are very passionate about the president either way. This is a place that put Barack Obama on the map. You've got the Republican governor up for a sixth term. If it gets it, could actually make history as the longest serving governor.

You also have Democratic Senator Tom Harkin who is retiring, and Republicans looking at that seat as a potential opening to take that seat and potentially take control of the Senate. So for all those reasons a lot of people focusing on Iowa.

So last night, the voters laughed at the jokes of the president. They were amused at the antics in the chamber, as we all were. But one thing was very clear here, Chris. This was supposed to be the year of action. That is what everybody wants. They want to see some action.


MALVEAUX: The highest moment of the night for President Obama with Democratic voters came when he argued for equal pay for women.

BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But today, women make up about half our workforce. But they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong. It is time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a "Madmen" episode.

ERIN VALERIO-GARSON, DEMOCRAT: I work just as hard. I'm a full-time mom on top of it, and I think that I have earned the right as a person who is a citizen of this country to get equal pay.

MALVEAUX: The president's message even touched Republican voter Carolyn Hamilton who's been out of work for a year and a half.

CAROLYN HAMILTON, REPUBLICAN: I feel like I'm being passed up by the younger generation and stuff too. I'm having a hard time figuring out what I'm going to do or where I'm going to get that job.

MALVEAUX: The big low point for the president, especially among Republicans, came when he talked about Obamacare.

OBAMA: For decades few things exposed hard working families to economic hardship more than a broken health care system. And in case you haven't heard, we're in the process of fixing that. Now I do not expect to convince my Republican friends on the merits of this law. But let's not have another 40-something votes to repeal a law that's already helping millions of Americans like Amanda.


MALVEAUX: For some voters, trusting Obama to get it right was a stretch.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He could just be saying things to appease us. It's hard to tell.

MALVEAUX: For independents, the key moment was when the president vowed to issue an executive order to raise the minimum wage.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In the coming weeks, I will issue an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay their federally funded employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour. Because if you cook --


-- our troop's meals or wash their dishes, you should not have to live in poverty.

CRAIG BELL, INDEPENDENT: I still didn't hear anything enough about how that they're going to raise the revenue. I didn't hear anything corporations paying for taxes.

MALVEAUX: Despite the president's setbacks, many voters still don't want him to give up on working with Congress.

OBAMA: 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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd like to see him go down to Congress and show true leadership by building bridges.

WENDELL STRONG, REPUBLICAN: Congress needs to get their act together and realize it's time to work for the people, not what they want to do. Put aside personal issues and realize they're elected by the people.


MALVEAUX (on-camera): So, Chris, of course you're hearing really a wide variety of opinions there. But they want the president and Congress to work together to get some things done.

And it was also kind of an extraordinary moment that happened last night. This is one of those opportunities that you have at the State of the Union addresses to bring the country together. There was a two-minute standing ovation for one of the guests.

This was for Sergeant First Class Cory Rembsurg. He had been injured in a road-side bomb in Afghanistan. This was his tenth tour of duty, Chris. So when the president honored him and recognized him, as you can imagine, everybody just leapt to their feet, got up and really gave him a rousing applause. This was a moment where they said, "Look, you know, no matter what your politics are, we appreciate your service to the country." That was really one of the stand out moments as well, Chris.

CUOMO: You know, Suzanne, it's really important that you point that out. We're going to talk more about the sergeant and his story. But I think as a moment, it deserves the time because his heroism is obvious. But you know, there were only a few sentences dedicated to Afghanistan last night, even though it was the biggest round of applause the president received all night, not just the sergeant, but the idea of getting out of that war.

So what is that plan going to mean going forward? It's really something that gets ignored, worthy of discussion. We'll use the sergeant's story to kind of channel that, one of our points of our analysis. There are going to be a lot of hard questions here.

Our thanks to Suzanne for laying out some of those questions for us now. And we're going to get to more of them this morning. And even more importantly, this Friday, the questions that face the president are going to get answers from one of our best, CNN anchor Jake Tapper.

He's going to sit down exclusively with President Obama in his first interview since the State of the Union address. It will air this Friday morning on NEW DAY and of course on Jake's show, "THE LEAD" at 4:00 p.m.

Now also in a moment, we're going to be talking with DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Republican Congressman Steve King to give their dueling perspectives on what needs to happen and what will happen coming off of this speech.


BOLDUAN: A lot of talk about there as well.

But we're going to take a quick break here on NEW DAY.

Dealing with the fallout from that nasty winter storm, and not over yet. We'll talk to the mayor of the hard-hit Birmingham, Alabama. Were they caught off guard? And what are they doing now to handle this emergency?


CUOMO: All right. Welcome back to NEW DAY.

We are live on Capitol Hill. President Obama fired more than a few shots across the bow (ph) of Congress with the State of the Union address daring lawmakers, basically, to act and warning them what will happen if they do not. So what was the impact of those words?

Let's talk to both sides. Republican Congressman from Iowa Mr. Steve King and DNC Chairwoman Congressman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Thanks to both of you for being here.

Representative, we had you here just yesterday. You were saying forget about what I agree with the president, what does he agree with me on? And now, let's assume he is at the top of the food chain here. And he gave his message last night. It is for you to decide whether or not to follow. Is there anything you heard last night that will enable you to reach across and try to get something done for American families? REP. STEVE KING, (R)- IOWA: It's awfully hard to find. It really was. But I thought that unifying moment when he honored Sergeant Cory, when -- that was the longest standing ovation I remember in a State of the Union address. You could feel it, the emotion in the room had to go all the way to the ceiling and on outside the Capitol building. That did unify us in support of the sacrifice of our warriors, wounded and not, those that we've lost and those that are serving today. I had that sense. And then when the first lady walked in, you could also feel there's a warmth for the first lady.

We just disagree philosophically. And his major agenda is going to be something that divides Republicans and Democrats. I thought the speech would be designed to do that, and I think it did do that.

CUOMO: Do you agree -- forget about that. What am I asking you that for? That's going to go nowhere. He came forward and said, "I'm going to do things myself." Does that make you think, well, we better work with him then? Or does it make you think, well, if he wants to dig in, I'll dig in?

KING: Well, he's done that in the past. There are a number of places where the president has just issued an order or done a press conference or a third-tier notice on a U.S. Treasury Department website that changed -- the effective changing law. So we understood he was going to do that. And, of course, I stand up and defend the Constitution. And we talked about that yesterday.

But I think one thing to think about is if a Republican president, presidential candidate decided to campaign for the election in 2016 and say, "Wherever and whenever I can, I'm going to use my executive authority to override Congress or ignore Congress; I will stretch the limits beyond the design of the Constitution," that would be appalling to Democrats.

So I think we should join together and go back and take a look at the constitutional limitations of the article two of our Constitution. And this president, if he overreaches, I think it will be a big issue in the election in 2014 and '16 (ph).

CUOMO: Congresswoman, putting the constitutionality aside, just in as much as the president can probably do what he's doing, at least with respect to the wages so far, as a tactic, though, why do you believe that this is the right way to get Washington moving again as Democrats?

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ, (D)-FL: Well, first of all, to back up for a second, I thought the speech was hopeful and resolute and clear, particularly on the president's goals as congressional Democrats share them on moving our economy forward; on focusing on making sure that everyone has an opportunity to reach the middle class; on making sure that the bread and butter issues of keeping a roof over your head; and making sure that you can make ends meet and that if you work hard and play by the rules, you can make it if you try hard here. Those are issues that should resonate with everybody and are completely -- completely transcend partisan politics. What the president said, though, is "Look, I've been president for five years." And he's consistently reached across the aisle, outstretched his hand. He said, "Look, I am willing to work with anyone, Republican, Democrat who has a good idea, and I want to sit down and find common ground, but I am not going to wait for intransigent Republicans who simply want to throw obstacles in the path of progress."

And that's a totally reasonable approach and within the boundaries of his executive authority. He said, "I want to work with Republicans. But if you continue to want to be obstacles in the path of progress, then I'm going to move forward, particularly on making sure that we can continue to get our economy moving."

CUOMO: It's a little bit of metaphor we're having here. Democrat, Republican, you're sitting next to each other, but you only talk to me. You could be miles apart. You know --

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Steve and I talk to each overall the time.

KING: And we are friends. We really are.


CUOMO: And you know what? That's something that needs, I think, to be brought out. I think that the discussion really needs to be more between the two sides here. Because you represent, you know, one pole of your party very well. You are in one pole as well. How do you two look at each other and think about how do you figure out how to move forward together? Because you both say you care about the same things, but you don't want to work on it together.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: You know, actually, although Steve and I have not sat down together and tried to hammer out what we could find agreement on, it does start with trust. It does start with building a relationship. And there needs to be more of that. I know that's why Congressman Dan Webster and I -- who's a Republican from Florida -- host a bipartisan dinner on a regular basis.

CUOMO: But that's the important kind of thing, isn't it?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: You gotta build trust.

CUOMO: I mean, you gotta give -- you guys have to get past the straight ideological differences because they're not going to change.

KING: There's another way this works, too. And that is that you have the whole political spectrum represented in the United States House of Representatives from the left and to the right. And the decisions get done in the middle.

So there's a time that we find ourselves, in a friendly way, pulling in opposite directions. But that helps identify the disagreements, and that helps the people that are more likely to be the first ones in the middle to shake hands and start talking and broaden that out. So I think that the negotiations start in the middle and then they work both directions. We've seen a good number of bipartisan pieces of legislation pass out of this Congress. It wasn't necessary because Debbie led on one side and I on the other side. We helped the others identify how they could agree.

CUOMO: Is there any chance that you think that that can be built on going into this year? Can it be a year of action?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, it has to be a year of action. I mean ,we have to make sure that we can kick this economy into a more robust recovery. We have every opportunity to do that.

There are simple common sense things that we should do that the overwhelming majority of Americans support, making sure that we embarrass a minimum wage so that no one, like the president said last night, has to live in poverty while holding down a job; making sure that, at a minimum, if we ever go through another economic crisis that people don't have to worry about whether they can remain in their homes; making sure that the bread and butter issues like, for women to make sure that if they have a job, that they don't have to choose between caring for their families and keeping their job.

CUOMO: You share those goals.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Those are the basics.

CUOMO: You share those goals. The question is can you work together to figure out how to secure those families? The face of that sergeant is the face of dedication of the fighting men and women. But it's also the face as a metaphor of the families who are fighting for their own out there every day. And I know you know the needs are great. The question is, can you provide?

KING: I think there's more polarization in the Congress than Debbie's just described, though. And I'd ask people if you want to understand the forces of nature that exist in Congress, watch the video of the members of Congress and who stood and who didn't when each of these topics came up. That'll pretty much tell you. That's more instructive than the words of the president --


CUOMO: I studied Boehner's face, you know, as if it were assignment.

Listen, we have to leave it here for right now. I hope we have this discussion going forward. As you know, we're always here for you guys to reach out and forward this discussion and come at you when we have to.

But Congresswoman, Congressman, thank you very much for taking the opportunity.

WASSERMAN SCHULZ: Thank you, Chris.

KING: Thank you. CUOMO: I hope you guys can be as close as you are right now.


CUOMO: Very good. Very Christian.

All right. So we're talking about the standing ovation at the beginning of this -- Judeo-Christian ethic, Judeo-Christian ethic. We want to turn back to that now. Why? Because it was so powerful. It was so resonant on so many different levels.

We're of course talking about this young man, Army rangers, Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg, ten deployments to Afghanistan, one of the hardest fighting fields ever in history.

He was nearly killed in 2009 when a road-side bomb went off. He received the night's longest standing ovation, and of course it was well-deserved. It was clocked at a minute and 44 seconds, but its impact went far beyond its duration.

Barbara Starr joins us from the Pentagon with more. Barbara, this was a moment worthy of pulling it back not just because of the emotion involved, but because of the metaphor of what this man represents, true?

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Chris. Good morning.

You know, for the families of the fallen, for those who have been wounded, the war is always with them. And it was a very poignant reminder for the entire country last night.


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

STARR (voice-over): Perhaps the loudest applause delivered during the State of the Union went not to the president, but to this man.