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Stuck on Atlanta's Snowy Roads; Obama: 2014 A Year Of Action; Congressman Threatens Reporter

Aired January 29, 2014 - 08:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hundreds still there at this hour. Ice and snow cause nearly 1,000 wrecks in one city alone and snarled traffic into a complete standstill in others.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They kept calling me and saying, "We're hitting trees. We just ran a red light."

BOLDUAN: Thousands of flights have been canceled. Business, schools, and government offices are closed. And the danger is not over yet. We'll tell you what's next for this rare storm.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Won't stand still. President Obama promising to tackle jobs and wages whether Congress likes it or not.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let's make this a year of action.

CUOMO: But will his executive action sit well with the American people? Or is he looking at another year of low approval ratings, Washington gridlock? We'll break down the State of the Union address.

Plus this. A congressman threatening a reporter on live TV. We talk to the reporter. Your NEW DAY continues right now.

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


CUOMO: Good morning. Welcome back to NEW DAY. It's Wednesday, January 29th, 8:00 in the east. I'm Chris Cuomo coming to you live from Capitol Hill, of course, where President Obama delivered his State of the Union address.

But the big story this morning, obviously, the ice storm that's just crippling the south. Let's get to Kate with that right away. Kate?

BOLDUAN: As the sun starts coming up, Chris, it seems it's getting worse and worse. We're following major breaking news for you this morning. The south just completely shut down, in the mayhem in the mid-Atlantic states. We're getting our first look at the chaos caused by that monstrous winter storm. This is -- I believe this is I-75 in Cobb County, Georgia. And these are the pictures -- these pictures are unbelievable. Let me take a look right now. We're taking a live look.

That's a major highway. And what are you seeing there? Nothing. A ghost town. This should be -- 8:00 in the morning should be kind of the middle of morning commute in Cobb County, Georgia. Folks completely deserted on this highway.

Another image that we saw earlier, pileup after pileup, and cars completely abandoned on the same highway, different location. Just take a look at this. You're seeing video from earlier. That's last evening's commute still stuck this morning.

It's been a horrible ordeal for hundreds of parents. Until this morning, many of their children were stranded on school buses all night long. Other kids were forced to spend all day and night in their schools. The snow and ice triggering the state of emergency in Virginia and the Carolinas where they could see up to 10 inches of snow or more by the time this system clears out.

CNN is the only place to be when extreme weather strikes. And this is one of those situations. We begin our coverage this hour in hard-hit Atlanta with Carol Costello. The more we see those aerial images, Carol, the more I'm worried about what's going to happen today.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the mayor is urging people to stay at home. And it seems like most people are kind of like agreeing that that would be the best idea.

But what happened in Atlanta overnight, and also this morning, is unconscionable. People are still stuck there on the highway. They've been stuck there ever since last night. And if you ask any politician, the governor, the mayor, anyone, they're pointing the finger in the other direction.


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 tonight 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 cell phone, so they kept calling me saying, "We stopped again. We slipped again. We're hitting trees. We just ran a red light."

COSTELLO: With over 900 accidents reported and over 100 injuries, some desperate commuters decided to abandon their cars and seek shelter. Others, some who report spending over ten 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 in daycare. 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.

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


COSTELLO (on-camera): OK, so, if you're wondering why two inches of snow crippled a major metropolitan city, I'll tell you why. They decided to close schools, businesses and government offices all at the same time. So everybody left, creating a huge traffic jam. You just heard Governor Deal say, "We misread the forecast," or, "the forecasts were wrong. So the salt crews weren't out in time."

By the time the salt crews got on the road, Kate, there was a traffic jam. They couldn't get through the mess to spread the salt or the sand. And there you have it, gridlock or 18 hours.

BOLDUAN: They got more than a mess on their hands. You well know that, Carol. And you're going to speak with him about that.

In a press release that Atlanta put out on Monday, they said, in that first line of the press release, "We're well prepared for the storm that's coming." They're going to have to answer for that, that's for sure.


BOLDUAN: Thanks, Carol.

Hundreds of children were stuck in schools overnight because of the storm, forced to sleep in gymnasiums.

Victor Blackwell is in College Park following that angle of the story. Do you have any good news for parents right now?

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The good news from Atlanta public schools IS they are now trying to work out how to get these kids back to their families. Not good enough, according to the parents who are tweeting and leaving Facebook messages on the APS sites.

There are still hundreds of students at schools in Atlanta, as young as elementary school students to high school students. They're waiting. Atlanta students have now delivered or taken home the 50 students who were on buses overnight.

But we know from a neighboring school district that up to 90 students were packed into ambulances at 6:00 a.m. this morning and taken to a grocery store where many of them are still waiting for their parents. School in Fulton County was dismissed. The classes dismissed at 1:45 Tuesday afternoon. At 6:00 a.m., those students are being loaded on to ambulances and taken to a grocery store.

Now, the overriding question here that many people have asked is why were students allowed to go into schools, why were classes held at all Tuesday? I've sent several tweets and e-mails. Finally, I got a response on the phone from a spokesperson from Atlanta Public Schools. The response was, "I'll have to get back to you own that."

Well, that's been the question for 18 hours. However, if you check the Atlanta Public Schools Twitter account, they are now starting to send out messages of thanks and congratulations and pats on the back for the work they have done.

But they still have not found a way to get the students back to their parents, hundreds of them in Atlanta waiting to get home. And hundreds in neighboring districts, as well, who also decided to open schools and hold classes on a day when there was obviously advance warning that this was going to be a significant event for Atlanta and the metro area, Kate.

BOLDUAN: They've got a lot of clean up to do. But the only people that really do deserve kudos right now are some of those teachers, principals and bus drivers who are trying to keep those kids safe while they're stranded.

Victor, thank you very much for that.

Let's get right to meteorologist Indra Petersons for the very latest. So where do things stand? This is not over, Indra.

INDRA PETERSONS, METEOROLOGIST: I mean, this is a big thing. It wasn't that it was this huge storm that brought heavy amounts of snow. The south was just not equipped to handle this kind of snow. They're not used to these kinds of systems.

And think about it. It's exactly what Carol was talking about. Everyone got on the road during the height of the storm, so they were not able to clear those roads.

So now what happens? You have snow on the ground. The cars themselves are melting that snow. It gets cold as people are going in sitting there into the evening hours. That froze. So now you have the icy conditions thanks to all that cold air that's still in place. Yes, we still have that system, making its way off shore, a little bit of snow still left in the forecast. The concern here is, again, it looks like in the Atlanta area, the system is over with. The temperatures warm up as we go throughout the day. But the people are still stranded, keep in mind. Or if they try to hit the roads again tonight, that's still going to freeze once again, just like it did last night when the temperatures dropped.

So we're still talking about that moisture freezing on the roads. Again, we do not want round two of this. People just need to be aware of the situation. By tomorrow, it definitely gets a lot warmer.

And one of the things that's so interesting -- I was talking to some of my colleagues in Atlanta. They were saying the cell phone networks, they were overloaded. That's where you get a lot of that traffic information. So people were looking at their phones, and it was saying the roads are green, they're yellow, it's OK to go on the roads. They found out that was four hours of old information. The roads were already gridlocked. They just didn't know.

BOLDUAN: There's going to be a lot of lessons learned in this one. But right now, it's important that folks stay off the roads. From what we see, this is not anything you want to mess with right now if you can. Thanks so much, Indra.

We're going to keep following this developing weather news here out of New York and in the deep south.

Let's get back to Chris in Washington with our other big story.

CUOMO: All right, Kate, the president calling for a year action is getting a big reaction. Of course, this happened at the State of the Union last night. The president is hitting the road the next two days with campaign-style speeches in four different states.

The president called for this year of action as part of the promise to bring about change. And it was really about how. He said I'll do it with or without the help of Congress.

Brianna Keilar is live at the White House with part of the reaction this morning. Brianna?


Well, that was one of his big announcements last night, that he's increasing the minimum wage for employees working on new federal contract projects.

But he'll be continuing that push today when he goes to Maryland, speaks at a Costco. He'll be highlighting the fact that that's a company that has been taking it upon themself to go ahead and increase this for workers, as he also presses Congress to do this 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.

BARACK OBAMA, 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.

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.

OBAMA: Say yes. Give America a raise.


Give them a raise.


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

OBAMA: The son of a barkeep, the speaker of the House.

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

OBAMA: I believe 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.

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.

REP. CATHY MCMORRIS RODGERS, (R)-WA: Republicans believe health care choices should be yours, not the government's.

KEILAR: She was just one Republican offering her take.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president's lofty rhetoric ignored the fact that his administration continues to lead poor and middle class families further behind.

SEN. TED CRUZ, (R)- TX: He doesn't try to work with Congress. He doesn't talk with Congress.

SEN. RAND PAUL, (R)-KY: 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 night and brought Democrats and Republicans to their feet. Army Ranger Cory Remsburg, wounded by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan, left partially paralyzed and blind in one eye, honored for his service and resilience.

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 (on-camera): Remsburg, Chris, was injured on his tenth, his tenth, deployment when he was in Afghanistan. And that was by far, the most emotional point in the speech.

CUOMO: And hopefully, his example of resilience and dedication filters through to all the people who are applauding him.

Brianna, thank you for the reporting this morning.

Let's bring in CNN "CROSSFIRE" host Newt Gingrich and Van Jones. Thank you, gentlemen, for being here.

Let's start with what really the headline was. The headline wasn't what, because we heard a lot of these things in 2012, 2013 from the president. It was how.

Executive orders, Newt, do you believe -- not so much this is a question whether the president can do it legally, but is this the right tactic?

NEWT GINGRICH, CNN "CROSSFIRE" HOST: Well, I think it was a foolish thing to do in the State of the Union. You know, Ronald Reagan had far more executive orders than Barack Obama's had. But he just did them. He didn't come up and say to the Congress, "I'll show you."

Frankly, if the president has that much authority, you have to wonder why after five years he didn't use it. As you saw last night with his grandstanding gesture on minimum wage, it only applies to new contracts. So it probably doesn't go into effect until 2015. The White House can't tell you how many people it will help. I mean, these kinds of things are nice PR gestures, but everybody who is a serious political leader shrugs them off and goes to the next topics.

CUOMO: So two things, one as a tactic, why does he think it's helpful? And two, is it just a gesture on minimum wage, or is it just a legitimate limitation on what he can do himself? VAN JONES, CNN "CROSSFIRE" HOST: Well, first of all, the minimum wage issue is very important. Everybody is doing that they can, given the fact that the tea party Republicans don't seem to want to pass something that's 70 percent Americans (ph) and most Republicans want done.

But I think something else important happened last night. The president did give the Republicans an opportunity to come together with him. Look at something like immigration which we haven't talked about a lot. On that issue, he was masterful. He didn't demagogue. He could have just beat the crap out of Republicans, you guys haven't done anything. He gave them the space. He teed it up. He also gave the shout out to Boehner.

He gave a shout out of Rubio. You're seeing some of the political skills he's been accused of not having by creating that space to his opposition. If they meet him halfway on that, that could be a big victory for the country. That speech I think was -- he handled that very well.

CUOMO: Fair point of progress?

GINGRICH: Yes. Look, I think the important thing for president to recognize is, if the country does well, the presidency does well. And I thought, frankly, the most serious thing from Obama's perspective last night was the number of Democrats up for re-election in the Senate who attacked the speech. I mean, there was more harsh rhetoric from Democrats than there was from Republicans --


GINGRICH: -- senators in the toughest states were all kind --

CUOMO: What does that mean to you?

GINGRICH: Well, it means to me that in their states, Obama's so unpopular that they rushed to the camera to attack him. That was a calculated -- when you see six or eight senators all saying, well, I'm really disappointed in the president's speech, that means that their campaign managers are saying to them, you need to distance yourself from President Obama. That, for the president is not a very good sign.

CUOMO: How do you see it?

JONES: Well, I think you can seek and over interpret that. There are definitely some senators that feel need to create some distance. That happens when a president gets down close to 40, you saw that happen with Bush. But I think that more importantly, this president teed up some stuff that all Democrats, and frankly, a lot of Republicans should rush toward.

The applause line on women, that thing scored off the charts. And I think that Republicans are still vulnerable on that. They get themselves (ph) right on that. The other thing that we saw, again, there is tremendous support in the Republican Party for doing something on the minimum wage. Not just something that's a token gesture.

I agree that's what the White House is doing, but there's really no reason in the world why the Republicans shouldn't meet him there. But the president did put some themes up that that I think are good for Democrats and Republicans.

CUOMO: Do we see legislation that passes both Houses on minimum wage, yes or no?

GINGRICH: Oh, I think we do. But I think we see attacks (ph) probably by the Republicans, stuff that creates jobs. The Republican's answer is going to be pretty straightforward. You don't have a job, the minimum wage doesn't help you. And so, I think what they'll do, they may take Keystone Pipeline, they may take 15 other things.

But I would expect the House Republicans to package a whole series of job creating things with minimum wage and say we actually want you to have work.

JONBES: Fair enough. Bit listen, even that is good, because you're saying that there's a way to come together. I think that Republicans overreacted yesterday. They heard about these executive orders. Oh, my God. He's going to be defiant. He's going to, you know, put the finger in our eye. He's going to rub our nose -- he's terrible. And he comes out and he's tough, but he's also gracious (ph).

And I think that Republicans can notice that there is an opportunity. Both parties now have really up into the American people. The president's in the toilet, the Republicans are in the toilet. There is a chance. I thought that moment last night when that guy was standing there, and you saw -- those Republicans and Democrats together, they didn't want to stop cheering.

They just wanted to hang on to that moment. I think the country's there. And so, I just hope that people do notice he did make some gestures last night. I hope the Republicans saw those gestures, let's come together.

GINGRICH: It might have been the longest applause I'd ever seen.

CUOMO: It is. It is. You know, a minute and 44 seconds, but I keep saying, its resonance was far greater than even its duration. Hopefully, the lawmakers there see in that man's face not just the dedication of fighting men and women but American families who are in need as well. I mean, that's really a metaphor. The need is great. Hopefully, they respond to it.

Newt, Van, thank you very much for the perspective as always.

Now, a lot of tough questions, you're hearing them teed up here. We need answers. And this Friday, CNN anchor, Jake Tapper, will sit down exclusively with President Obama and what will be his first interview after the state of the union address. And it will air this Friday morning on "New Day" and of course, Jake show, "The Lead" at 4:00 p.m. So, you're going to want to see that. Coming up now on NEW DAY, a congressman, boy, just when you think it can't get any uglier down here. He threatens to break a reporter, everybody loves reporters, and throw him over a balcony. And it's caught on tape. You'll hear both sides. What you will not hear is an apology. That actually happened.


CUOMO: Welcome back to NEW DAY. The most fiery words from last night didn't come from the president's podium. Take a look at what happened after the state of the union address, when New York congressman, Michael Grimm, physically threatened a local reporter.


MICHAEL SCOTTO, NY1 REPORTER: What? I just wanted to ask you --

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.

SCOTTO: Why? I just wanted to ask you.

GRIMM: If you ever do that to me again --

SCOTTO: 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.


CUOMO: "I'll break you in half like a boy." What would make a congressman say something like that? The journalist he said it to is Michael Scotto. He's from New York 1. Grimm clearly livid. Why? Well, Scotto asked him about an ongoing federal investigation into his campaign fundraising. He's been asked about it a lot. I actually spoke with Scotto earlier this morning. He's the reporter again and got his reaction and reliving of this congressman's bizarre outburst.


SCOTTO: I was surprised by his reaction. I asked that question at the very end of an interview about the state of the union address. I decided to throw in that question about the investigation because we had been waiting for hear from him on allegations that had surfaced just a couple of weeks ago, and I asked that question.

I really wasn't expecting much of a response. I thought maybe he'd say, you know, I don't want to talk about that or, you know, I've done nothing wrong, something to that extent, and then it kind of devolved into what he saw on television.

CUOMO: You seemed to sense something in his eyes when he was looking back at you? What did you see?

SCOTTO: Well, what happened, we taped the segment basically as live. It was going to air as is. And, I asked him that question and he said I don't want to talk about it and walked off so I didn't have to turn back to the camera and kind of explained as to 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 that if I did something like that again, he was going to throw me over the balcony. I mean, I'm a New York City reporter, I'm used to push back, but I had never encountered anything like that.

CUOMO: No. Right. I mean, look, you covered politics. It can get ugly. There's a lot of threats and things that go on. Do you believe the substance of the threat or these just angry words?

SCOTTO: No, I don't believe the substance of the threat at all. I mean, I'm not taking it personally. I just think he was angry by the fact that I asked that question and I think he was even more angry by the fact that I kind of explained to viewers why he was not going to answer that question. So, I'm not taking it personally. I'm not frightened by it. I think it's just, you know, it goes with the territory.

CUOMO: You know him, you've interviewed him a lot. You're a hard- nosed guy, everybody knows that. You don't pull any punches, but were you surprised by his lack of discretion coming back in front of a camera, whispering as if the mic's wouldn't pick it up? He should know better.

SCOTTO: Yes. I mean, that was surprising because he knew, I had told him that he were going to air this as is. So, he knew that this was essentially for all intents and purposes a live situation. And he knew that the camera was rolling. He knew that it was going back to New York 1. So, for him to come back and say that, I mean, it was surprising to me. He had to have known -- I mean, it's kind of P.R. 101 not to say anything like that in front of an open mic.


CUOMO: And good for Scotto for standing in there. He's doing his job as a reporter. We've reached out to the congressman to give him an opportunity to explain what's going on and say the right thing. Hopefully, put his past him before it becomes even more of a snowball effect here, Kate, because I have to tell you, this was unusual as we both know, even in an ugly game of politics, you just don't see things like this very often.

BOLDUAN: No. And we all know not to let it happen on camera if you're going to let it happen at all. Thanks so much, Chris.

We're going to all take a break here on NEW DAY. The south reeling from that devastating winter storm. Scores of school children stranded overnight classrooms and buses. We're going to be talking with one of Atlanta's top school officials about what went wrong here.

Also ahead, we're going to talk with the father and a doctor of a Texas teenager who decided to skydive on her 16th birthday. She wound up suffering a 3,500-foot fall. We're going talk about to them how she's doing this morning.


BOLDUAN: Welcome back to NEW DAY. They're calling it a storm for the ages, bringing despair to the Deep South. Atlanta is really at an absolute standstill this morning. Take a look at these images, icy, snow covered roads causing close to 1,000 traffic accidents. And look at I-75 right there, backed up with cars from last night's commute. That's video from this morning.

Five deaths from auto accidents are also being blamed on the storm in Alabama. And take a look at this, TV news crew, not covering the story, becoming the story, after skidding out of control on the ice into an SUV. And hundreds of children were stuck inside schools overnight because of the storm, forced to sleep in the school gymnasium.