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Interview With Georgia Governor Nathan Deal; Interview With Bill Maher; Winter Storm; Drama for GOP Over Debt Deal; Massive Traffic Jam in North Carolina

Aired February 12, 2014 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Skiing, snowboarding, luge. I'm not talking about Winter Olympics. I'm talking about how I might have to get home tonight.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The national lead. Mid-Atlantic, you're next. The snow, sleet, and ice that shut down the South from Texas all the way to North Carolina is climbing up the East Coast. If misery loves company, then there's going to be a lot of love to go around.

The world lead. Why now, after all this time? Why did a video surface three weeks ago proving that the only known American POW is still alive, after we heard nothing for three years? Well, The Daily Beast's Josh Rogin says he knows why, and he's here to break the story on THE LEAD.

And the pop culture lead. New rule, whenever Bill Maher launches a campaign to mess with Congress, he must stop by THE LEAD to explain it for rest of us. The comedian and host of HBO's "Real Time" joins us this hour to discuss his plan to unseat some as of now unsuspecting member of Congress.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We're going to begin with the national lead. Did you hear that the Sochi Games are having trouble keeping enough snow around? Well, they are welcome to ours. This is what the roads look like right now in Raleigh, North Carolina, a massive traffic jam. In the coming hours, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York City, probably Boston, too, pretty much every major city in the Northeast is in the bullseye as this deadly winter storm that has closed the South for business barrels on.

At least five deaths are being blamed on the storm after it scraped through Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. It's far from over in Georgia, where Atlanta looks like a big-scale glass menagerie, everything coated in ice.

Here's a comparison in Atlanta for you, today on the left, two weeks ago on the right. Big difference. We will talk to Georgia Governor Nathan Deal in moment about whether the city and state learn their lessons about listening to weather forecasts. Store shelves are picked clean in the Southeast. At least 420,000 customers have already lost power. Throughout the country, more than 3,200 flights are canceled. And we're only really in the middle of this.

CNN meteorologist Jennifer Gray is standing by in Decatur right next door to Atlanta. Ed Lavandera is braving the treacherous roads in Atlanta right now. And meteorologist Chad Myers is in the CNN Severe Weather Center.

Let's start with Jennifer.

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, Jake, we have seen the ice come down since about 5:00 this morning. It has been sleeting. We have seen periods of freezing rain. We have also seen a couple of snowflakes here in Decatur, but that ice is what is the concern.

Decatur is an older neighborhood. We have got the older trees. It's notorious for those branches to come down and for people to lose power here. Luckily, most people here in Decatur still have power, but this is the concern. Look at this branch. And you can see the ice accumulating on the branches. This is what we're seeing all over town. And this is just a tiny one.

Imagine those big older trees behind me and even those power lines. It only takes about half an inch of ice to add 500 pounds of pressure to those lines and then they just snap. You lose power. And so that's the concern. We have a good 12 more hours of this, Jake, as we go through the next overnight hours into tomorrow morning, where it's expected to change into snow. Could see three inches of snow by tomorrow morning.

I'm going to turn things over the my colleague Ed Lavandera. He's in Atlanta.

How are things for you, Ed?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we have made our way east of Atlanta near Decatur, and we have come across this neighborhood where you see Georgia and power crews have come by and they have shut down this road as they have started clearing up the roadways here.

We found this crew that is working on clearing power lines -- or from these trees that have collapsed. And, as you see, the crews work here and I will head over this way as well. And you see these crews, they are really working as hard as they can to make sure that that ice doesn't collect on those power lines.

And as we have driven around these neighborhoods, the roads very slick. The good news, not a lot of people on the roadways. But the fact of the matter is that that ice is collecting on these power lines. And as we have driven around these neighborhoods, we have seen pockets of neighborhoods that have just been completely without power. That's what they're going to be dealing with here throughout the rest of the day and into tonight.


TAPPER: So, how prepared is Georgia this time around?

And joining me now is the governor of Georgia, Nathan Deal.

Governor Deal, thanks so much for joining us.

Last time your state got hit by a big winter storm, I don't think I need to tell you it was a disaster. Can Georgians trust you, your administration, and the city of Atlanta to do better this time around?

GOV. NATHAN DEAL (R), GEORGIA: Well, we have already demonstrated that we're making all the necessary preparations for the storm that is already on top of us in some parts of the state, and that will intensify as the day goes along. We are prepared.

We think we're ready to do everything that is possible with the resources that are available to keep Georgians safe. The biggest thing is Georgians are cooperating. They are staying at home. They are avoiding getting on the roadways. And that's been a big help to everybody.

TAPPER: What are your biggest concerns right now? Is it power outages, icy roads, people not having a warm place to go?

DEAL: Well, we're trying to address all of those issues. Ice is the biggest danger. And right now, we are seeing sleet and freezing rain that is going to intensify, and it's going to move apparently in an easterly and southerly direction in our state. Augusta, Georgia, over on the border, next to South Carolina is one of the areas it's going to hit pretty hard.

But we are making sure that we have resources available. We have 11 state parks that have facilities to house people if necessary. We have National Guard armories that are already being prepared and are available. We have food supplies and water resources from the federal government that we can call on if necessary.

We have the National Guard engaged to assist, as well as to distribute those kinds of supplies. The National Guard, working with our Georgia Emergency Management Agency, which is coordinating all of our efforts, as well as our state patrol, who are providing the safety and security on the roadways.

We think we have a great team and they're performing admirably.

TAPPER: Governor, forecasters have called this storm historic proportions, said it's potentially catastrophic. So far, has it lived up to the hype?

DEAL: Well, it is certainly getting there. As we see more and more people lose power, that is one of those conveniences that we have all become accustomed to, and we want to make sure that it's restored as quickly as possible.

That is the responsibility of the individual power companies. And they have also brought in resources and personnel from outside of our state, and they're going to be responding as quickly as they can. There again, it's important for people to stay out of their way, stay away from any downed power lines, allow these people to do their job and they will get your power on just as quickly as they possibly can.

TAPPER: What is the general advice for people if they do lose people, especially in the middle of the night? Should they hunker down and use blankets or should they seek refuge elsewhere?

DEAL: Well, all of those options.

We expect people to use their own good judgment, and Georgians have a great abundance of that. We think they will make the smartest choice that is available to them and they think is practical.

For older people and those in nursing homes, we are already working cooperatively to make sure that if their power goes up that they have backup generators, so those that are in nursing homes will not be in jeopardy there. But it's going to be a variety of responses.

We don't think that the duration of this will be all that terribly long, but it will probably be well into Friday, maybe even Saturday before some of the ice and the snow has actually all melted.

TAPPER: Governor Deal, thanks for taking the time. We will all be thinking and praying for you down there.

DEAL: Thank you very much, Jake.

TAPPER: We're going to back to that traffic jam we were watching in Raleigh earlier in the show, Raleigh, North Carolina, and listen to WRAL.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- made it into the building. Jeff, I know you were kind of stuck out in this as well. You have got an update on the basketball game for us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we do. We just heard from the University of North Carolina that says the Duke --

TAPPER: Obviously, they dipped out of the weather coverage that we wanted to listen to.

We will continue to follow this massive storm as it heads up the East Coast, including North Carolina, where cars are barely crawling on the highway.

Plus, an internal battle for everyone to see, as Republicans band together against one of their own on the Senate floor. Will there be payback?

Coming up.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. The politics lead now, some fascinating political news today. He vowed to fight again, but did he mean to fight against his own party? Senator Ted Cruz's threat to filibuster the clean debt deal that just passed the Senate has suddenly put members of his own party in a very uncomfortable position.

Joining me now with more to talk about it, Peter Baker, White House correspondent for "The New York Times," Carol Lee, White House correspondent for "The Wall Street Journal," and CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger.

So, Gloria, the House passes a clean debt deal. It goes to the Senate. The Senate was all set to pass it with just 50 votes, Democrats --


TAPPER: All Democrats. Then what happens?

BORGER: Then enter Senator Ted Cruz, who was not Mr. Congeniality today among Republicans, saying, you know what? I'm going to threaten to filibuster this, which means you need 10 more votes.

TAPPER: Sixty votes.

BORGER: You need 60 votes, which means -- meant that five Republicans -- they needed to find five Republicans to walk the plank. So, he was forcing members of his own party to take a politically perilous vote to raise the debt ceiling without commensurate spending cuts and he forced members of his own party to do that, so they're not happy with him.

On the procedural vote, he even forced Senator Mitch McConnell and Senator John Cornyn, both of whom are in tough primary fights on the procedural fight, to vote raising for the debt limit, although later they were able to reverse their vote. But still --

TAPPER: No Republican actually voted in the senate to raise the debt ceiling but they voted to allow it to proceed.

What does this do for the Tea Party Republicans running against John Cornyn of Texas and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky?

CAROL LEE, WALL STREET JOURNAL: It gives them ammunition. I mean, no one -- try to explain what you just explained to the average voter. No one actually voted for the debt limit but voted for closure.

TAPPER: Sound like John Kerry in 2004.

LEE: Exactly.


BORGER: Right.

LEE: I voted for it before I voted against it. So, it gives plenty ammunition to those and puts them all in a very tough spot.

TAPPER: And why would he do this? For the principle of the thing?

PETER BAKER, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK TIMES: I mean, look, you know, on the one hand, if you actually believe that this is a bad thing do, you want to be willing to take on your own party, not just the other party. A lot of people in Washington oppose something only when it's the other party doing it. Ted Cruz has -- he's standing on what he believes to be principle.

On the other hand, as Gloria said, he's made a lot of enemies today. It's not going to serve him well in the next few to months and years.

BORGER: You know, Ted Cruz was at the center of the government shutdown, which didn't go so well for Republicans. And the Republicans who learned that lesson are looking at Ted Cruz today and going, oh my God, didn't you learn the lesson of the government shutdown? If we didn't raise the debt ceiling, we would default and guess who will get blamed? We would, and the public wouldn't like it. But, obviously, Ted Cruz has a different interpretation.

TAPPER: I do have -- let me play devil's advocate for a second, as I forced Peter to do, which is there is this kabuki, there is the charade.

OK, bring the clean debt ceiling over and just Democrats will vote for it and the rest of us Republicans won't. We'll vote against it. And then, Ted Cruz says but that's not what you actually think. You actually want it. You actually support it. And 12 Republicans have to vote for the procedural vote to support it.

In a way -- again, I'm playing devil's advocate here -- in a way, what he did was very principled.

LEE: Well, it also -- principled in the sense it plays better outside of Washington where people are really frustrated with Washington and people see that kind of kabuki that's going on. And so, somebody who's willing to stand up and say this is what I think and actually get behind it has probably appeal outside of Washington because it goes against that insider game that frustrates people about Washington.

BAKER: He's also last man standing as Republicans conduct this sort of organized retreat from showdowns since the government shut down John Boehner's retreated, Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz can say I'm the only guy left who stands.

BORGER: It's his plan. It's about him.

BAKER: He goes in 2016, he's got something to say.

TAPPER: Speaking of 2016 brand, Rand Paul, senator from Kentucky, Republican, with a libertarian side to him, he today brought suit against the Obama administration for the National Security Agency's data collection program. Here he is earlier today.


SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: On behalf of myself, FreedomWorks, and everyone in America that has a phone, we are filing suit against the president of the United States in defense of the Fourth Amendment.


TAPPER: Now, he is filing lawsuit against Obama and Obama's National Security Agency director, et cetera. But this is also a program that Republicans support. It's a program that metadata I believe began under George W. Bush.

So, this is his brand, too, but this is also something that's going to ruffle feathers, I think.

LEE: Yes, it exposes more divisions within the Republican Party. It's in that same vein as what Ted Cruz is doing on the debt ceiling and it's also in that same vein of what Ted Cruz is doing in that it's geared towards 2016 and the fight he's taking on in terms of the NSA is something that appeals to a constituency that he's looking to stake out in the 2016 election.

TAPPER: Although, Peter, there are a lot of people on the left who agree with Rand Paul on this, who believe that the metadata collection should stop and the record should be erased. I would not be surprised if we saw some -- well, I guess I'd be surprised if I saw Democratic lawmakers but I wouldn't surprised if say -- and I'm just making this up, Glenn Greenwald joined the suit. I mean, that wouldn't surprise me.

BAKER: I mean, you do have an alliance of sorts in this kind of issue. ACLU, civil liberties type folks and the Rand Paul libertarians. It crosses different party lines. And they're against the senator, the Dianne Feinstein, centrist Democrat, you know, Mike Rogers, you know, Republican National Security hawk wings of their party.

So, it's kind of an interesting and unusual alignment in an era we've been so polarized along party lines.

BORGER: So, guess who Rand Paul had lunch with today? The attorney general of the United States, Eric Holder.

TAPPER: Oh, he did?

BORGER: Yes, he did. So the day that he sues him -- sues the government, they're actually deciding to have lunch because there are issues they -- speaking of just for agreeing with each other, there are issues they actually agree on.

TAPPER: Oh, mandatory minimums.

BORGER: And disenfranchisement of felons, et cetera, et cetera.

So, he -- you know, he was having lunch with the attorney general this afternoon and suing him in the morning. LEE: This is Washington.


TAPPER: We're going to be talking a lot about Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, and what they did today, a little possibly to do with 2016.

Carol, Peter, Gloria, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate.

When we come back, we are still following the massive storm and we'll have more on that, ahead.

Plus, he's the only known American prisoner of war and until recently, nobody knew if he was still alive. So, why did the Taliban make this secret video and give it to the U.S. military? Well, one reporter says he knows why. He'll join me next.

And later, an unbelievable ending to the closest gold medal downhill race in Olympic history. Stay with us. Our sports lead is also ahead.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

We're continuing our national lead right now. We're following some breaking news out of the Raleigh, North Carolina, where that deadly snowstorm is causing a major rush hour of traffic jam. At least five deaths have been blamed on the storm, at least 420,000 customers have lost power just in the Southeast. People are abandoning their cars in the Raleigh area as conditions become impassable. It evokes images, of course, of the debacle in Atlanta two weeks ago.

Over the next several hours and into tomorrow, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York City, Boston, all in the path of the storm.

Let's go to Dan Howe, assistant city manager of Raleigh. He's on the phone. Dan, what is going on in the research triangle there?

DAN HOWE, ASST. CITY MANAGER, RALEIGH, NC (via telephone): Well, we had -- you know, everybody knew the storm was coming, and we had warned people to stay home. Luckily, the schools were all closed today.

But the weather was really pretty good this morning. It was cold but clear. There was nothing on the roads, so a lot of people came to work. Right about noontime, about 12:15, the snow started with a fury, and it snowed extremely hard for the first hour.

Everybody who was at work decided they were going to go home at that point, so they all ended up on the roads at the same time. Because the temperature here is in the low to mid-20s right now, I think we're about 23 the last time I checked, we've got a windchill of about 12 degrees, the salt and brine that were put on the streets well in advance really are not being very effective most of the streets are covered right now and it's making travel really difficult. There are a number of roads that are pretty clogged out there. A lot of traffic is moving but very slowly.

And some people have given up and decided that they weren't going to try and stick it out and they're looking for shelter close to where their cars were. The city has full crews out right now, as does North Carolina Department of Transportation. But unfortunately some of our own trucks are stuck in the same traffic jams that a lot of other people are and they're having a hard time getting to the roads that need to be cleared.

TAPPER: Dan, what is your advice to the motorists who are stuck in this massive traffic jam in the Raleigh/Durham area? Should they stay in their cars and continue trying to get home, or is it a better bet as you see some of them have already done, to abandon their cars on the side of the road and hope to seek shelter nearby?

HOWE: Well, it's hard to give blanket advice to anybody. If it appears that there is -- they're going to be there for hours and there's someplace nearby where you can get shelter, that appears to be safe, I would certainly encourage people to do that.

In general, though, I feel like the traffic will break loose at some point in time. Unfortunately, the conditions are worsening as the snow has turned to sleet right now and it's certainly not getting any better and probably will not be getting any better for a long time. So, it is a very dangerous situation out there. We certainly do not encourage people to take risks.

There are -- many public buildings, fire stations, other public buildings are open. And if you do need help, those are the places to go.

TAPPER: And I assume the advice is, do not get on the road right now. If you need to go somewhere, do not drive. If there's public transportation working, then try to do that or try to stay where you are. Is that right?

HOWE: I would absolutely say stay where you are. Our own busses are not running at this time. They got caught in traffic jams. We had a couple of buses that slid off the side of the road and so we have ceased our public transportation system now for a period of time.

So, I would encourage everybody who is in a warm, safe place to just stay there. There's really no reason to be out on the roads at this point in time and you're certainly are going to be putting yourself and others at risk if you do get out in a vehicle in these kind of conditions.

TAPPER: And you are saying, Dan, that you learn, you saw the lesson of what happened in Atlanta. You told people, the city told people, do not go to work today. They did anyway.

HOWE: Well, yes. I mean, you know, this being the country that it is, we can't stop people from doing what they want to do. And we had plenty of warning. We were as well-prepared as you can be in the South for an event like this. It was kind of the perfect storm of sort of low temperatures and instant heavy snow and everybody trying to get on the roads at the same time.

Ironically, this happened to us a few years back. It was a lesson that might have been valuable for Atlanta and other Southern states where we had the same thing happen a few years ago. The problem was then that schools let out all at once and made the situation even worse.

We've learned from that. The schools were closed today. But, you know, you just can't keep people from getting out on the roads when they feel like they're ready to go home. And as soon as it started snowing, everybody decided -- well, maybe I better go home.

TAPPER: As has been said, those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it. Dan Howe, assistant city manager for the city of Raleigh, North Carolina. Thank you for joining us. Stay safe and best of luck to the citizens of your area.

HOWE: Thank you very much.