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Feds Extend Benefits to All Same Sex-Sex Spouses; Olympic Medals for Team USA

Aired February 9, 2014 - 07:00   ET


VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: America's top lawyer makes a new promise to same-sex couples in America, expanding equality, regardless of where they live.

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: A huge disappointment for an Olympic darling. American fans, you're not going to like this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I remember Paul was sitting, drinking, and John came up behind him with a pillow and hits him in the back of the head.


BLACKWELL: Fifty years ago today, the Fab Four launched an American obsession when they appeared on "The Ed Sullivan Show." One of the most famous photographers in the world shares his memory and his pictures of the Beatles.

PAUL: So, what's on the menu this morning? We were all set, so we're ready to bring you all the information you need to know for your day. I'm Christi Paul.

BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell. It's 7:00 here on the East Coast, 4:00 out West. This is NEW DAY SUNDAY and we're starting this morning with -- and I don't think it's overstating it to say groundbreaking -- new information, a new decision from the Department of Justice affecting millions of same-sex couples in every state in the Union.

PAUL: Attorney General Eric Holder had announced that starting tomorrow, the federal government is going to recognize same-sex marriages as equal to traditional marriages in all federal legal matters.


HOLDER: On Monday, I will issue a new policy memorandum that will, for the first time in history, formally instruct all Justice Department employees to give lawful, same-sex marriages full and equal recognition to the greatest extent possible, under the law.


BLACKWELL: Erin McPike joins us now from Washington. Let's talk about the significance of this, because it doesn't change state law, but it does change how the federal government views same-sex couples.

ERIN MCPIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Victor and Christi, it's significant, as you say, because Holder is taking the federal government to its farthest point yet, to recognize same-sex marriage in this country, and he had a receptive audience at the Waldorf in New Year last night. It was the annual gala for the Human Rights Campaign. So, he previewed the new policy the Justice Department will announce Monday to expand rights, at least in federal legal matters to married same-sex couples. And this is even in states where gay marriage is not legal.

And the Obama administration in has pushed to recognize same-sex marriage and gay rights in a way that's really shaping Holder's legacy. In his remarks, Holder made the case that this is personal to him and this is a pivotal moment in America's history.


HOLDER: Just as what's true during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the stakes involved in this generation's struggle for LBGT equality could not be higher. Then, as now, nothing less than our country's founding commitment to the notion of equal protection under the law was at stake. So, the Justice Department's role in confronting discrimination must be as aggressive today as it was in Robert Kennedy's time.


MCPIKE: So let's run through some of the changes. They'll allow married same-sex individuals in all states to decline to give testimony in federal cases that could incriminate a spouse, file for bankruptcy with that spouse as a couple, have full visitation rights to see a spouse in federal prison, and collect benefits from federal programs like the September 11th victims' compensation fund, and the public safety officers benefits program.

And it also points out that it will apply to couples in the 34 states, as we've been talking about, that have not legalized gay marriage. But we should know that the number of states that have done so has actually doubled in the past two years to 16, and that number will be 17 in June, when a new Illinois law goes into effect. So, in other words, this really could impact millions of people.

Also, the president of the Human Rights Campaign responded by saying, Holder, quote, "continues to show incredible leadership" and also that this move cements his place in history alongside Robert F. Kennedy, another attorney general who crusaded for civil rights -- Christi and Victor.

PAUL: All righty. Erin McPike in Washington for us -- thank you, Erin. So, Holder's announcement already has opponents of same-sex marriage howling. They're calling it an attempt by the Obama administration to undermine states' rights.

BLACKWELL: Yes, joining us now to talk about this, Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University.

Jonathan, thank you.

And you know, these are federal benefits we're talking about. We've heard from the National Organization for Marriage, Brian Brown, says that this is an attempt to undermine the authority and sovereignty of states to make the decisions about marriage.

Does this infringe upon states' rights?

JONATHAN TURLEY, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: I don't think it is as much of an infringement as has been suggested. The president has been, legitimately, in my view, criticized for exceeding his authority, particularly with regard to Congress. I don't think this is such a case.

Basically, he's using his authority as president to say that he is going to ensure, in this case, through the Justice Department, that there's a recognition of these marriages that have been certified in these states. He gives full faith and credit to them. This is going to affect about 1,100 regulations.

It's important to note what it does not do. It does not create marriages. It does not declare people married in states that don't recognize it. But if you're married in Massachusetts and go to Alabama, those prosecutors are going to recognize you as married. And that follows a fairly traditional approach towards giving full faith and credit to those types of marriage contracts.

PAUL: So, my question then is, is this decision vulnerable to, you know, state courts or to Congress, because I think a lot of people waking up are going, but Congress didn't vote on this. How did it happen? And you just kind of got into that. It was part of the president's executive order. But is it vulnerable to some sort of revision or modification?

TURLEY: You know, Christi, this is not, in my view, particularly vulnerable. I do think the president has overstepped his authority, in some other areas. I don't think this is quite as vulnerable. It's somewhat ironic, though, to hear Holder's words, because Holder actually opposed same-sex marriage for the first couple of years of the Obama administration. He opposed many of these very same benefits, and the administration still has refused to go all the way and to say that gay and lesbian couples are entitled to the same protections afforded to race.

So, his comparison to the civil rights movement is somewhat ironic for constitutional scholars, because when he says we're going to go the farthest we can, he actually hasn't. You know, he could actually prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, but he has not. And the president has never endorsed that view.

So, it's a somewhat mixed legacy that he seems to be intent now on correcting, which I think is a good thing. But in terms of challenging this, Christi, I think people are going to have a hard time. This falls really in the wheelhouse of the president. He's doing what other presidents have done in the past.

BLACKWELL: Let's pull that string you just mentioned for a moment, that this is not as far as the federal government could go and possibly creating, making same-sex marriages or those who are in same- sex marriages protected some other way, through hate crime legislation. What would that extra string be? And is this a signal that they're going this way? Because there's been an evolution over time.

TURLEY: Yes, and, Victor, I think you used the best word for it. It is an evolutionary process for this administration.

The president, as you know, in the first time, repeatedly declined to take a position on same-sex marriage in support of it. He really emerged at the end of his first term, beginning of the second term, in that regard.

But they still have this major issue that they have refused to resolve, which is, should sexual orientation be treated the same as race. And that's a step that they have not taken. That would produce very significant changes across the board. It would also raise very controversial issues in court.

And so, many gay and lesbian advocates are saying, you know, we really would like to see a policy that treats discrimination against our community the same as other communities. That is yet to be resolved by this administration. It's not clear where they stand on that.

BLACKWELL: Well, as we've both said, this has evolved over time and there are three years left in the Obama administration.

TURLEY: That's right.

BLACKWELL: George Washington University law professor, Jonathan Turley -- thank you.

PAUL: Thank you.

TURLEY: Thank you.

PAUL: All right. This morning, major upset at the Winter Olympics for a U.S. star. And I'm going to give you this quick spoiler alert here, because you're about to hear some results that have not yet been broadcast. So if you do not want to know them, turn your sound down for a moment. I don't want to blow it for you.

BLACKWELL: Yes, Bode Miller, he took a disappointing eighth place in the men's downhill skiing competition. He's a five-time Olympic medalist. People expected him to win the event after he had a fast time in his training run.

PAUL: Yes, well, alternatively this morning, another gold medal for the U.S., though. Jamie Anderson took gold in the women's slopestyle. She's the third American to medal so far. Sage Kotsenburg taking gold in men's slopestyle. We're dominating that sport obviously.

And Hannah Kearney took bronze in women's mogul.

BLACKWELL: So where's the U.S. in overall standings? Tied in third place. Norway here is leading the pack with five total medals.

PAUL: An incredible video here. Whatever you're doing, please take a moment and look at this. She's 15. That's all I want to say.

BLACKWELL: And you should sit down while you watch.

PAUL: Look, yes, please. Listen to the crowd.

This figure skater, what an incredible spin, it's 15-year-old Yulia Lipnitskaya of Russia, in a team figure skating competition. This is a new event here. Russia obviously in first place in that competition so far. I think she could just stand up and go, OK, I'm done now.

BLACKWELL: Yes, that's it. She could come out, do the spin, get off the ice, and she'd still be --

PAUL: And say, "You top that", to everybody.

BLACKWELL: Let's turn now to CNN's Rachel Nichols in Sochi with the latest.

Bode Miller, eighth place. Come on, Rachel. What happened?

RACHEL NICHOLS, CNN SPORTS: Yes, definitely a big disappointment. Bode's 36 years old. He had been trying to become the oldest alpine skier to ever even stand on a medal stand at an Olympic event. You know, 36, for all the elderly people out there, did not happen for him today. The downhill is his best event, and he has been near perfect in the training runs here, really expected to run away with this.

But the conditions were a little bit different this morning. It was a lot cloudier. He seemed a little thrown by that. Still had a pretty decent start. Had a great first split time, but he hit at least one gate, had a little bobble and another one.

And you could just see when he crossed the finish line, guys, he was crushed. He knew that he was not going to medal here. He put his hands on his knees, just slumped over and sat on his skis for a while. And when he spoke a few minutes -- later, he just seemed stunned. Like he really didn't know what happened.

Now, he does have a few more events here. He's got at least three more races and in one of them, he's the defending Olympic champion. So, he does have another chance to get that oldest skier title, but it's a big disappointment for him today.

PAUL: OK, so, Rachel, let me ask you about U.S. figure skater Ashley Wagner, because a lot of people, a lot of buzz out there about some photos. What do we know?

NICHOLS: Yes, well, you can see a couple of photos floating around the Internet. There's one where she looks really happy because she just performed a great short skate if that team event you were just talking about. And one after the scores were announced where she does not look very happy. And that photo is what's getting a lot of attention.

You guys remember, in the Summer Olympics, McKayla Maroney, the gymnast, where she had sort of a scowl on her face, and all around the Internet, it went, McKayla Maroney is not impressed, this could be the photo that echoes that at this Olympics. The background behind it, of course, is that Ashley Wagner was expected to be the American favorite here at the games, but she fell twice at the U.S. nationals, only made the team because the selection committee forced her on there. They knocked off another skater.

So she was expected to go in the other night and just redeem herself. It was a very difficult routine. She thought she skated very well and then the judging wasn't quite there. But I've got to tell you, despite that photo, she went later and put on her Twitter account, "I, period, belong, period, here, period."

She thinks that she has now proven herself. She feels good going into the individual competition and we expect to see a real fighter in the next few days.

PAUL: All righty. Rachel Nichols in Sochi, Russia, for us there -- thank you.

BLACKWELL: Thank you, Rachel.

PAUL: Appreciate it, Rachel.

BLACKWELL: This has a big story that really has been developing over some time, but it's gotten tragically worse over the last 24 hours. We're talking about Syria. Some pretty horrific days. But what happened to this aid convoy has the U.N. calling this weekend one in hell. We'll tell you what happened in this shattered city of Homs. That's coming up next.

PAUL: And listen to this. The promoter who wanted to put George Zimmerman in the boxing ring with rapper DMX says, nope, not going to happen now. Find out why he's calling it off.


BLACKWELL: One day after a humanitarian convoy came under a ferocious attack in Syria, aid workers will try again to good food and medicine to help the civilians there.

PAUL: Yes. I mean, this convoy came under fire as it was rolling into the war-torn city of Homs yesterday. Take a look at this.

Oh, my goodness. It was shelled, there was gunfire, the taken had to break away for safety.

Sam Dagher is the Middle East correspondent for the "Wall Street Journal". He is there and we talked to him minutes ago about the situation.


SAM DAGHER, WALL STREET JOURNAL (via telephone): I'm standing here now at the front line between the government health section of Homs and the rebel-held section, which is in the center of the city. What's going to happen today is the United Nations, along with the Syrians (INAUDIBLE), is going to try to take in food that they weren't able to take in yesterday, and it's going to pack in U.N. SUVs, armored SUVs, and it's going to try to take them in that way, because yesterday they tried to take them in in two big trucks -- I'm sorry, in four big trucks. And they were shot at and they were, you know, mortars were fired at them and snipers shot them.

So, today, they're coming in differently. And they seem to be determined. And they're going to try to evacuate those civilians, to leave the besieged area. This is an area that's been under siege for almost 18 months.

BLACKWELL: And, Sam, we know this has opinion going on for some time, but I'm reading your reporting for "The Journal". And you write that rebels insisted that four red crescent trucks go in. Damascus insisted only two trucks go in. I mean, was this specific incident started just because they couldn't agree on the number of trucks that would go in? It's got to be more than that.

DAGHER: No, no, no. Yesterday, four trucks tried to go in to deliver food, flour, medicine, and hygiene kits. And two made it in. Two big trucks made it in. And two others were shot at and had to retreat and didn't make it in.

So, what they're doing now is the same, the same trucks that didn't go in are going to be the same stuff, is going to be put into a bunch of SUVs that belong to the United Nations. These are armored SUVs and they're going to be taken that way in like different batches, basically, throughout the day.

PAUL: So, Sam, real quickly, one, was this, you know, team deliberately targeted? And two, do we know who's responsible, specifically?

DAGHER: Good question. Yes, it was, deliberately and consistently. I was just speaking this morning again with the head of the U.N. mission in Syria, (INAUDIBLE), and he said it was a deliberate targeting of this convoy, and it's a breach of international law.


PAUL: Sam Dagher there in Homs, Syria.

Syrian peace talks, by the way, scheduled to resume tomorrow in Geneva, and we'll be following that for you.

BLACKWELL: Of course.

Still to come, a change of heart for the man who wanted to put George Zimmerman in the ring against rapper DMX. Yesterday, right here on NEW DAY, he defended the fight. Today, he's calling it off.


PAUL: All right. Here's one way to spend a snow day. Meet snowbama.

A teacher in Connecticut, as you see there, built a frozen sculpture of the president this past week after an event where a storm slammed the region. It's a little freaky.


PAUL: This is not his first g go-around. A few years ago, he built a frozen dinosaur that got rave reviews from the neighbors. It is impressive.

BLACKWELL: I wonder, is that just spray paint? I don't know. You got to do something --

PAUL: It would stop you if you were walking or driving by.

BLACKWELL: Can I just say, I think people are tired of the snow. The brutal weather this winter has really beat up the country.

PAUL: I know it, but you're complaining like you've been in it for three months.

BLACKWELL: Three days is enough.

PAUL: And you know what, maybe more, maybe more coming, sadly.

BLACKWELL: Karen Maginnis, what do you know?

KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You had so much fun last time, didn't you?


MAGINNIS: Let's show you, what it looked like. Do you want a reminder?


MAGINNIS: This is our nightmare. All those cars stuck on the side of the interstate. This really was miserable.

We know some person who works here at CNN, it took them 24 hours to get home. But, no, we're not finished just yet. This next storm system is coming in fast. And it's coming in a little earlier than what we had anticipated. And all the way from northern sections of Arkansas and into Memphis, Tennessee, Oxford, Mississippi, Huntsville, Alabama. And you know what? Atlanta, Georgia, as well.

It could start out as freezing rain, maybe some sleet. Then it's going to change over to snowfall. But this is going to be moving fairly quickly. But with those temperatures staying cold, it's going to remain on the ground for a little bit longer.

So, watches and warnings out, freezing rain advisories, winter weather advisories, and winter storm watches. This is something that you really have to pay attention to.

Can we show really fast what they were doing in Chicago with the snow? They were carving it. It's the sixth annual snow carving convention there. Fabulous! These images, maybe you'll show them a little bit later, but they're just beautiful.

All right. Can you believe that? That they had 15 teams from around the world competing to carve the snow. Now, we wouldn't be doing that with two inches of snow in Atlanta, but they've had so much snow across the Midwest and the Great Lakes, that this actually was pretty spectacular, international people, and did this at the navy pier.

PAUL: That is gorgeous.

MAGINNIS: It's beautiful.

PAUL: All righty. Karen Maginnis, thank you so much.

Listen, we have a big recall we need to tell you about right now. It involves diseased animals and what you eat. We'll tell you more in a moment.

MAGINNIS: Also, mystery at sea. So many people are fascinated by this. A lot of skeptics, too. We've got you new information on the castaway who says he drifted in the Pacific for more than a year.


PAUL: Hope you're getting a little R&R this Sunday. I'm Christi Paul.