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Snowstorm Blame Game Intensifies; Obama Takes His Message to Wisconsin; GOP Governor Meets Obama But Democrat Doesn't; State of the Union Speech; Jeb Bush Talks About Mom and 2016; Presidential Race; Extra Security

Aired January 30, 2014 - 13:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, Atlanta digs out and the blame game heats up. Who's responsible for the chaos created by two inches of snow and ice?

Also right now, keeping the Super Bowl safe. Why the biggest security challenge may lie miles away from where the game will be held.

And right now, Jeb Bush talks about running for president in 2016. And about why he says his mother needs to think more before she speaks.

Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington. Icy roads and heated exchanges today in Atlanta. The Mayor, Kasim Reed, and the Georgia governor, Nathan Deal, they are going on the offensive. They are pushing back hard on claims they seriously mishandled this week's storm. A couple inches of snow created icy conditions and absolute gridlock on side streets and highways. Thousands and thousands of drivers were stranded in their cars, some for days, for two days in fact, everyone has been rescued off those roads.

And the ice is expected to melt today. But the blame game is intensifying. Outraged residents are demanding answers and so are journalists. Here's the front page of today's "Atlanta Journal- Constitution" asking, quote, "How did this happen?" But the mayor, Kasim Reed, is taking exception to much of the news media coverage. Here he is talking on NBC's "Today Show" earlier in the day.


KASIM REED (D), MAYOR, ATLANTA: In the city of Atlanta, we have the state, we have myself and we have the school system which are all separate. And in the city of Atlanta, we started our snow treatment at 9:00 a.m. after getting our weather cast between 4:00 and 5:00. And almost every photo that you just showed is not in the city of Atlanta. In fact, within 24 hours the roads in the city of Atlanta were more than 80 percent passable. So, I just reviewed your report and it focused almost exclusively on our city's highways which the city does not have jurisdiction for. And most of those simply were not in the city of Atlanta.


BLITZER: Georgia Governor Deal also took to the air waves appearing on "Fox News" today. Here's what he had to say about the state's response to the storm.


GOV. NATHAN DEAL (R), GEORGIA: The real snow started about noon and a little after that. At about 12:15, our signals on our interstates was that all the roads were green, that is they were free and ready to move. Within about 15 minutes, it had gone to almost completely red. So, the congestion on our interstates occurred within a very short period of time.


BLITZER: By the way, we invited Governor Deal here to CNN to get his side of the story. He hasn't responded to our requests but he has scheduled a news conference at the bottom of the hour. We'll bring that to you when it happens.

Joining us now live from Baton Rouge, Russell Honore, the retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General, who led the task force dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. General, thanks very much for joining us.

LT. GEN. RUSSEL HONORE, U.S. ARMY: Good afternoon, Wolf.

BLITZER: So, what's your reaction to the way the city and state leaders handled two inches of snow and some ice?

HONORE: Well, we got our nation's ninth largest city come to gridlock. We got babies being born on the side of the road. We got kids sent to school, arrived there at 8:00, and two hours later, they're trying to send them home. I think they failed. And until they admit that, they will not move toward a road of fixing this. The big problem in Atlanta is you've got a decentralize government that control 5 million people. And it doesn't work. It's never worked. And this is another example of why the mayor of Atlanta need to be and have the powers like the mayor of New York does. And the state of Georgia is going to have to make that happen.

BLITZER: What do you say to the mayor who says, you know, he can't control the interstates. Even though, you know, you've spent a lot of time in Atlanta, so have I, a lot of those interstates go right through the city of Atlanta. He says that's the state's responsibility, not his.

HONORE: Well, again, I do think they need to have a joint headquarters, the state and the city of Atlanta, and make those decisions collectively together. After the storm, they -- it did the right thing. But they should have been active 24 hours ahead of that storm when you're dealing with a crossroads for transportation to include the Atlanta airport and the three interstates that come through Atlanta. You cannot separate those interstates from the city. That's why they've got a mid-19th century government that's not serving a 21st century city. And they need to move on. They screwed up, admit it, fix it and be ready for next week if you get another storm. BLITZER: Good advice, general. One of the problems though, as you well know, is that almost everyone in Atlanta seems to commute by car. There isn't a whole lot of rail service, metro service, if you will. That -- and everybody tried to get out of town exactly at the same time, that caused that gridlock and those disastrous images we're showing our viewers right now.

HONORE: You're right. You got a world class city, again, with an inadequate public transportation system that is not serving the people. Every week statistics show about 700 people move to Atlanta. It's a place people want to come to work. It's still growing. And it's -- it has a dysfunctional old style of government that need to change. That major need to control everything inside the beltway just like it does in New York. Now, do they always make the right decision? No. But right now, he's set up for failure in the city of Atlanta. When people come there, they ought to have some sense of security that they're going to leave pending weather conditions. But the decisions have to be made early on. Close the schools, only central people on the road. They did not control those businesses, but the mayor and the governor they control those roads. And they can just tell people the roads are closed and you can't get on them.

BLITZER: Good advice from retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Russell Honore. Always good to have you here on CNN, General. Thanks very much.

A major operation is now underway in Atlanta to get the drivers back to their abandoned cars. Our George Howell is on the city streets. George, a huge undertaking, thousands of cars still littering the roads right there. How is the operation going?

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, good morning. So, you know, we spent some time -- rather good afternoon. We spent some time driving the roads to see, you know, what the situation is. And quite frankly, there are still thousands of cars. At last estimate, more than 2,000 cars that crews will have to basically deal with to get people back to those cars. I'm joined here now by Sergeant Ford. And I want you to tell me, first of all, how do you take on a case like this? I mean, it seems to be a monumental task to get that many people back to their cars.

SERGEANT FIRST CLASS ARCHER FORD, NATIONAL GUARD, GEORGIA: Not as monumental as you might think. You know, first, it takes the governor. And he requests us to come in and to assist GENA and other agencies within Georgia to help out. And they task our units who then come down and say, hey, we need this many people, this many vehicles to go out and do that. And we were able to come up with those numbers. And we came out here, and we are handling the volume just fine.

HOWELL: And quite frankly, I mean, watching you guys, it does seem to be a very smooth operation as far as people coming in. Can you talk to us about what happens later tonight? How long do people have to get to their vehicles?

FORD: The word I'm receiving is that we're going to continue this operation until about 5:00 this evening. Then at 9:00 tonight, GSP is going to start towing and removing those vehicles from the side of the road to try to minimize that safety hazard. There is word that we may continue this operation on through Saturday, possibly Sunday, but we haven't got a definitive answer on that yet.

HOWELL: Sergeant Ford, thanks for your time.

FORD: Sure.

HOWELL: The Georgia National Guard certainly not phased by this. But, again, a lot of cars that are out there. And, Wolf, what we understand at this point, 9:00 p.m. Eastern time here in the metro Atlanta area, that really is the latest that you want to have that car still out there. The best advice is to go to either of these two spots here in the area where the National Guard, the Georgia State Patrol, they're helping to reunite people with those cars. After 9:00 p.m. Eastern time, we understand that that is when private tow truck companies will come in and start towing cars. And there is a potential that people will have to pay for their cars if the car is towed away -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, that would be not good. All right, George Howell, thanks very much. Thanks to the National Guard of Georgia as well for all the important work they're doing.

Other stories we're following. On the road again. This is day two of President Obama's road trip. He's promoting issues he outlined during his State of the Union speech and stressing his promise to, quote, "go it alone if Congress doesn't act." The latest stop, Wisconsin at a GE plant in Waukesha last hour. He told workers the right kind of job training is essential to the economy.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Vice president Biden, a man who was raised on the value of hard work and is tenacious, is going to lead an across-the-board review of America's training programs. We've got -- we've got a -- we've got a lot of programs, but not all of them are doing what they should be doing to get people filled for jobs that exist right now. And we've got to move away from what my labor secretary, Tom Perez, calls train and pray. You know, you train workers first and then you hope they get a job.


BLITZER: a bit of political irony playing out during President Obama's visit to Wisconsin. The state's Republican governor, Scott Walker, met with the president. As soon as he arrived, he walked down the stairs, the governor was there. But governor walker's Democratic opponent, there's an election this year, did not. Walker greeted the president at the airport. You're about to see that greeting. He said he wanted to talk with the president about Wisconsin's significant propane shortage. There the president shaking hands with the governor.

On the other hand, Walker's Democratic challenger, there she is, Mary Burke, did not meet with the president. A spokesman saying Burke is busy. She's campaigning in western Wisconsin. Republicans say it's a sign of how unpopular President Obama is right now.

From Wisconsin, it's onto national for the president. He visits a high school to promote plans for new private-public partnership. But gun control will be front and center when he arrives in just a few hours. Our Senior White House Correspondent Brianna Keilar explains.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Obama is promoting his go-around Congress economic message from the State of the Union address. But as he pitches his plan, the issue of gun violence is following him to Nashville where he's scheduled to tout new public-private partnerships today at a high school reeling after a student was killed by gun violence Tuesday. A 17-year-old student is charged with killing his 15-year-old friend inside this apartment building. Witnesses told police that the shooter was playing with the gun when it discharged. Last year, gun control was front and center in Obama's state of the union.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The families of Newtown deserve a vote.

KEILAR: But after a failed vote in Congress to expand background checks, --

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The amendment is not agreed to.

KEILAR: Gun issues got just a mention in this year's State of the Union.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I intend to keep trying, with or without Congress, to help stop more tragedies from visiting innocent Americans in our movie theaters and shopping malls or schools like Sandy Hook.


BLITZER: That report from Brianna Keilar. The president, by the way, will address the school shooting incident in his national speech later this afternoon. And later today, the president will also sit down with CNN's Jake Tapper for his first interview after the State of the Union address. That interview will air tomorrow morning on "NEW DAY" 6:00 a.m. Eastern and also 4:00 p.m. Eastern on "THE LEAD."

Forget what my mother said, that's what Jeb Bush is now saying about the former first lady, Barbara Bush, and her advice on not running in 2016. So, does that mean the Florida governor, the former governor, is ready to declare? We'll have that and more when we come back.


BLITZER: President Obama spent part of his State of the Union Address talking about schools and the need for an overhaul of early education. Meanwhile, the former Florida governor, a possible, possible 2016 presidential candidate, talking about Jeb Bush, he went one step further, touring a charter school in southern Florida. While there he was asked about his 2016 plans.


JEB BUSH, FORMER FLORIDA GOVERNOR: I'm considering -- I'm going to think about it later. So I'm not -- I don't wake up each day saying, what am I going to do today to make this decision. I'm deferring the decision to the right time, which is later this year. And the decision will be based on, can I do it joyfully, because I think we need to have candidates lift our spirits. It's a pretty pessimistic country right now. And, is it right for my family? So I don't want to even think about that until the right time, and that's later on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And your mother said, he's qualified, but I hope he doesn't run.

BUSH: Yes. She promised me she wouldn't keep saying this, but she -- she's 89 years old and, if you have elderly parents or grandparents, you know that they speak their mind. There's not much stopping between thinking and speaking. But I love her.


BLITZER: I'm sure she loves him as well.

Chief political analyst Gloria Borger is here.

The fact that Barbara Bush said, I hope - you know, he is qualified but I hope he doesn't run, does that make it harder for him to decide to run, if he decides to run?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, it's a little awkward that a 60-year-old guy has to kind of say publicly, come on, mom, you know, stop. No, it doesn't make it any more difficult for him. Look, she's expressed it before. She clearly doesn't want to have to go through a campaign again. She's had a husband who did it. She's had another son who's been president and she - you know, she makes an interesting point which is, isn't there anybody other than the Clintons and the Bushes who can run for the presidency? So I think it's kind of embarrassing for him, but he handled it very well.

BLITZER: Yes. He's obviously a smart, talented person.

BORGER: And he's 60. It's not like he's 15, right?

BLITZER: All right, let's take a look at this new ABC News/"Washington Post" poll on Republican potential for 2016. Paul Ryan, you see with 20 percent. Jeb Bush, 18 percent. Chris Christie, 13 percent. Ted Cruz, 12. Rand Paul, 11 percent. So it's pretty tight right there. I think Christie's problems with the George Washington Bridge and scandals -


BLITZER: Hit -- he probably would have been higher if he wouldn't have had all those problems.

BORGER: Yes. I think he would have been higher. When you look at the internals of the poll, Wolf, he is doing less well with Democrats, less well with independent voters, which have really been his mainstay. But -- and while he's gone down a little bit with Republicans, Republicans still have more of a favorable opinion of Chris Christie than an unfavorable opinion of Chris Christie.

The Paul Ryan name is interesting to me there. He does have some name recognition. But he did do a budget deal, which conservatives, many conservatives, criticized. But he did manage to get something done in Congress. So he may be getting a little credit for that with independent voters. And, of course, you have Jeb Bush up there. Probably because Chris Christie has gone down, Jeb Bush has risen.

BLITZER: Yes, a lot of the establishment Republicans with the big money, they would like Jeb Bush to run. He's pretty popular.

BORGER: Right. And this is - and this is not good for Christie because this is the money primary time. When you're out there raising money, you've got to have people take a look at you and want to commit lots of money to you. So this could be a problem for him.

BLITZER: Let me just give you some perspective. At this point in the race for the 2008 Republican nomination, two years before the Iowa caucuses, New Hampshire, we --

BORGER: 2012, yes.

BLITZER: Yes, this was back in February 2006 - Giuliani was at -- oh, this is the - oh, there it is.

BORGER: Oh, there it is.

BLITZER: Giuliani was at 33 percent, McCain, 28 percent. McCain eventually got it. But George Allen, and Frist, Romney was only at 3 percent. That's back in 2006. So, you know, in 2010, though, in the race for the 2012 nominee, Romney was at 22, Palin was at 18, Huckabee, 17. So Romney did eventually get the nomination.

So sometimes the polls, at this point, are indicative. Other times, not so much.

BORGER: Yes, but, you know, Wolf, at this point it's about name recognition. People knew Rudy Giuliani, for example. He had been a famous mayor and they knew who he was. And in theory they thought, OK, this is the person who's going to have the most appeal to the general election. But the problem is, for every party is that you have to get through the primary season. And Rudy Giuliani made a big mistake, which was he kind of bypassed Iowa, New Hampshire, decided to start in Florida. And by the time Florida occurred, he was sort of out of the running. So it was a real - it was a real problem for him. So we can't make the mistake of this early on in the campaign saying, so and so is the big, big favorite unless, of course, it's Hillary Clinton, right?

BLITZER: And she is a huge favorite. The same "Washington Post" poll - BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: As you see, she's at 73 percent. Biden, everybody else -

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: Way, way -- she's up by, what, six times as much as anybody else.

BORGER: And she was up. Remember when she lost to Barack Obama. But the difference this time in that 73 percent, Wolf, is that she -- her support is much more broad. It's among women, it's among men, it's among old people, young people. So her support within the Democratic Party is so much stronger this time around than it was.

BLITZER: Yes. All right, Gloria, thanks very much.


BLITZER: It's three days until kickoff over at the Super Bowl. The players know what they have to do and so do the thousands whose job it is to protect the game and the fans. Up next, we'll take a closer look at what's being done right now to keep the stadium and the fans safe.


BLITZER: The job of securing the Super Bowl is even bigger this year. Besides protecting the stadium itself, that's in East Rutherford, New Jersey, there's also the NFL's Super Bowl street fair that's going on in Manhattan right now 10 miles away. Our Alexandra Field is there on Super Bowl Boulevard, as it's now called.

So how large, Alexandra, of an endeavor is this?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, this is really an ambition undertaking here. New York City is, of course, used to hosting large crowds. In this case, we're talking about a very large crowd in a very high profile area. Super Bowl Boulevard is expected to attract some 400,000 or 500,000 visitors. And it's all happening right here in Times Square, which is just one reason that securing this Super Bowl is really a job unlike any before.


ED HARTNETT, FORMER NYPD INTELLIGENCE COMMANDER: I would say, arguably, this is the biggest security challenge the city has ever faced.

FIELD (voice-over): Ed Hartnett, a former NYPD intelligence commander, has overseen some of the most high profile, high security moments in New York City's history. But he says the NYPD's latest mission, securing Super Bowl Boulevard, a 13-block stretch in the middle of Manhattan, could be even tougher. Hartnett thinks of it as New Year's Eve going on for days with all the same challenges. Those challenges magnified now, Hartnett says, following threats made on the Olympic games in Sochi. HARTNETT: If you recall, before 9/11, a lot of the so-called chatter was about a big event that would probably happen in Europe. And that's when the event clearly (ph) happened here. I think law enforcement officials are mindful of that.

FIELD: One hundred law enforcement agencies are bringing in manpower and resources to keep Super Bowl XLVIII safe. On Monday, the task force deployed officers to a New Jersey home less than 20 miles away from Metlife Stadium, where the game will be played. One man was arrested after a bomb squad found homemade explosive devices and guns. Officials say they found no link to terrorism or the Super Bowl.

FIELD (on camera): There's been a lot of planning. There's been a lot of preparation. But what's still keeping you up at night?


FIELD (voice-over): Lieutenant Colonel Ed Cetnar of the New Jersey State Police took us inside the Super Bowl's command center in a secret location where a vast network of cameras are monitored around the clock.

CETNAR: In my career, in 27 years, this is the largest event that the New Jersey State Police is undertaking. And the Super Bowl is -- it's not a holiday, but it's an American tradition that this is huge.

FIELD: Super Bowl XIVIII has its own unique challenges. There will be events in both New Jersey and New York. There are four nearby airports where air traffic will have to stop at times. Several event venues sit close to water. For that reason, authorities studied the 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai, which launched from the water.

CETNAR: And we've been looking at all our vulnerability sites and making sure that when the 80,000 folks come in to celebrate the Super Bowl, every contingency is covered.


FIELD: There is a heavy police presence out here, as you would expect. But the event has been kept very much open to the public. In fact, there are no restrictions on what kind of bags you can bring in, but those bags are subject to search if need.


BLITZER: All right, thanks very much. Alexandra Field reporting for us.

Let's get to the Olympics right now and more on the potential threats against the games there in Sochi. There's been an arrest in connection with the recent suicide attack in nearby Volgograd. Russian police have identified the two suicide bombers and arrested two suspected accomplices. They say they may be connected to the recent video threats against the upcoming winter games as well.

The blame game heating up in Atlanta right now, where thousands of drivers were stuck, some for two days, on icy roads. So what happened? Georgia's governor is about to hold a news conference. We'll bring that to you live. Stay with us.