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Snow and Ice in Georgia; South Carolina State of Emergency; Graco Recall; Alabama Snow; French President Honored at the State Dinner; Paul to Sue Obama Administration over NSA

Aired February 12, 2014 - 09:30   ET


RACHEL NICHOLS, CNN SPORTS: And Shani is trying to do something that nobody has ever done in speed skating, win an Olympic gold in three straight games. Not even the great Eric Heiden pulled that off. And he knows there is a big target on his back. In fact, one of his main rivals, a Kazic (ph) named Denis Kuzin, beat him in a lower level race last year and the state government there just gave him a two bedroom apartment. Kuzin joked that if he beat Davis today, they'd probably give him the whole country of Kazakhstan.

Now, I don't know if -- Davis is from Chicago. I don't know if the mayor of Chicago is going to be giving him any real estate, but Davis says he definitely wants the medal anyway. In fact, he's competing in the 1,000 just in a few minutes from now and then he's later going to be competing in the 1,500. And he joked, hey, he goes, I've got two hands. I could come away with two medals. He said, that would be just fine with me.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Awesome. Rachel Nichols, thanks so much.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, snow falls and tensions rise. Thousands now without power. George Howell is in Atlanta for what threatens to be one catastrophic winter storm.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The sleet continues to come down, but the good news out here, hardly anyone is on the roads and many of the highways have been salted and sanded. We'll show you what we're finding here as the CNN NEWSROOM rolls along.


COSTELLO: Good morning. I'm Carol Costello. Thanks so much for joining me.

Markets are trying for a fifth straight day of gains this morning. This will be Wall Street's first five day winning streak this year. Markets may be pushed to a higher open today on news that the White House voted to raise the debt ceiling. Actually the House of Representatives voted to raise the debt ceiling. And that new Fed Chief Janet Yellen has no plans to change currents monetary policy.

Back to the weather now. Snow and freezing rain has been falling all morning long in parts of the southeast. Streets are now covered in ice and officials are urging people to stay home so emergency crews can clear the roads. And just this bit of info before we get to you, George Howell who's in Atlanta, it is 29 degrees right now in Atlanta, Georgia, and look at what it is in Sochi, Russia, where the Winter Olympics are being held. Look, there's a man jogging in shorts. It's 59 degrees. This seems unreal, George.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What's happening, Carol? Why is that? Look, it's pretty cold here in Atlanta right now and we are seeing very, very few people on the roads. William, if we can switch over to show this camera that we have on Interstate 85. You can see that the people who are on the roads right now, they're all really going at a snail's pace. And that's the best way to handle this if you're traveling through the city right now.

Carol, the good news is, officials did get out ahead of this. The warnings were put out to people to stay home. People did that. We're talking about what should be the, you know, aftermath of rush hour traffic. You'd expect a lot of people on the roads. That's not the case today.

And here's the other thing. So there is snow to the north of us in the counties to the north. There is a concern about ice to the south of us. Sleet here coming down in the city of Atlanta, where we are. And as the ice and as the snow compile upon itself, on the -- when we get on the overpasses, you talk about, you know, slick spots, when you talk about the power lines, could bring power lines down, and also on trees, these older trees, many residents are concerned that trees could fall.

So it's a multiday event. We're watching it as it plays out. We're just in the beginning of it. And, you know, people are just following the warnings as best they can.

COSTELLO: Yes, because you're right, the worst is yet to come. George Howell driving around Atlanta this morning.

The governor of South Carolina has also declared a state of emergency. And right now, 2,000 road workers are out and about rushing to treat the roads before the worst of the storm hits there. At least 2,500 people have already lost power, thousands more could soon be in the dark. Joining me now on the phone is Derrec Becker from South Carolina's Emergency Management Division.

Good morning.


COSTELLO: So, how's your day been so far?

BECKER: Long. It started Monday. The concern for us right now is the ice and snow that is falling right now in South Carolina. And the biggest questions we have are, how long is it going to stay, how much are we going to get, and just how cold will it remain throughout the week?

COSTELLO: Are people cooperating?

BECKER: We're looking at our statewide traffic system right now and we're seeing a lot of empty roads. And that's exactly what we want to see. This situation is too - there are too many variables associated with this winter storm. So the best thing people can do right now in South Carolina is to stay home and stay warm.

BECKER: Derrec Becker from the South Carolina Emergency Management Division. Thanks so much for joining me.

BECKER: Thank you.

COSTELLO: Still to come in the NEWSROOM, toddlers stuck in their car seats. Parents cutting out those kids with scissors. Christine Romans is here to tell us about a popular car seat that's being recalled.

Hi, Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, 10 versions of popular Graco car seats, Carol, that the government says a child could get stuck in there in an emergency. I'm going to tell you what Graco is saying and what you need to do if you own one of these, right after the break.


COSTELLO: A warning for the parents of young children, Graco is recalling nearly 4 million child car seats because the little ones get stuck when the safety latch won't unbuckle. Some parents even say they had to cut their kids out of the seats. Our chief business correspondent Christine Romans is here with more details.

Good morning, Christine.


And the government, NITSA here, would actually like to recall even more of these seats, quite frankly, so there's a little bit of, I would say - I would say disagreement between Graco and the government about how many seats we're talking about here.

But let me tell you about some of these most popular brands. We're talking about Nautilus, Nautilus elite, the Sure Seat. A lot of these names you've probably heard of. The Cozy Climb, the Comfort Sport.

And here's what the government says, Carol. The government says that because the way the latch gets stuck, because of food and drink we think and just because of wear and tear, "it may be difficult to remove the child from the restraint, increasing the risk of injury in the event of a vehicle crash, fire or other emergency in which a prompt exit from the vehicle is required."

And there are parents who had actually complained to the government about this and said, look, you know, it was hard to get the kid out. If there were some kind of an emergency, what would we do here. Now, Graco is saying these 3.8 million, you can get a -- call and get a replacement set to fix - to replace this particular kind of buckle. But, Carol, it gets stuck down there because of food and debris and Graco has actually issued guidance before about how to clean the lock - the buckles there, but the government says, no, that's a foreseeable conclusion of using a car seat that it gets icky and sticky in there. They should have known about that.

COSTELLO: All right, Christine Romans, thanks for the warning.

In Alabama, some areas could get between six and 12 inches of snow by the time this storm end. Let's go to Alabama now. Tiffany Westry from CNN affiliate WIAT is in Anniston, Alabama.

What's it like there, Tiffany?

TIFFANY WESTRY, WIAT REPORTER: Well, we're actually in the city of Oxford, about five miles outside of Anniston, and the rain has finally slacked up here but quickly turned to a wintry mix. We are really starting to feel that cold air coming in from Georgia. And take a look, the wind is picking up. Those flags behind me hasn't been at rest for a few hours now.

Just as short as 18 miles farther east of here, we're getting reports from Cheaha State Park that it is closed because of icy conditions, ice on trees, downed power lines and power outages. Farther northeast of here, we are seeing icy roads develop in counties that are just on that Alabama/Georgia line. So we are really starting to see what's going on in Georgia, slowly creep up on his here in Alabama.

COSTELLO: A question for you. Were the people of Alabama watching when Atlanta had that, you know, terrible traffic jam in the last storm we had and were they planning with that in consideration?

WESTRY: They were watching then and they are watching now. Folks are really keeping an eye on what has been going on in Georgia. And we're taking lessons from what happened here just two weeks ago. The county sheriff here in Calhoun County is very well prepared. I interviewed him earlier this morning and he came here in a Humvee and they have several more of them to get to folks if they just happen to be on the road when the ice and snow heads our way.

COSTELLO: Keep warm. Tiffany Westry reporting live for us. Thank you so much.

WESTRY: Thank you.

COSTELLO: Still to come in the NEWSROOM it's one of the hottest tickets in Washington -- that would be the State Dinner. Jim Acosta is in Washington with more. Good morning, Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning Carol. The winter storm waited long enough for the White House to pull off a star-studded tribute to the French President, Francois Hollande. I'll have details in just a moment.


COSTELLO: Glitz, glamour and beauty in D.C. and they say Washington is Hollywood for ugly people. Not so. The First Lady dazzled in a blue Carolina Herrera dress, stunning right. It's liberty blue and it actually had sleeves. Mrs. Obama towered over the guest of honor at the state dinner, French President Francois Hollande.

Other notable guests Mary J. Blige who sang for her supper. Bradley Cooper came with his lady love. Julia Louis-Dreyfus came with her father. Stephen Colbert was there too. He got to sit next to Michelle Obama since President Hollande went stag.

Jim Acosta has more for you.


ACOSTA (voice over): For at least one night in Washington it was out with the gridlock and in with the glitz and glamour. As stars, Stephen Colbert, Bradley Cooper, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Mary J. Blige arrived at the White House to mix with Washington's own headliners at the state dinner honoring French President, Francois Hollande.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have now officially exhausted my French.

ACOSTA: And while President Obama's French only went so far, he made sure his toast to one of America's closest allies, wasn't lost in translation.

OBAMA: To our friend and partner, President Hollande, to all of our friends from France who are here today Vive l'France and God bless America and long live the alliance between our great nations.

ACOSTA: The high profile dinner kept off two days of diplomacy smoothing over such thorny issues as NSA surveillance overseas. A practice the President acknowledge as widespread.

OBAMA: There is no country where we have a no spy agreement.

ACOSTA: At the leaders joint news conference, Mr. Obama warned companies against following the lead of a group of French corporate executives who tried to do business in Iran even as the world is trying to reign in the country's nuclear program.

OBAMA: They do so at their own peril right now because we will come down on them like a ton of bricks.

ACOSTA: Both presidents expressed frustration over the bloody war in Syria but agreed there is no military solution, at least not for now. With the two leaders getting along famously, one French reporter asked Mr. Obama if France could replace Great Britain as America's closest ally.

OBAMA: First of all, I have two daughters and they are both gorgeous and wonderful and I would never choose between them. And that's how I feel about my outstanding European partners. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: And speaking of partners, it's no secret that the newly single Hollande went stag to last night's state dinner as you mentioned Carol he was seated right between the President and Mrs. Obama but there is one other likely change because of Hollande's status, there was no dancing at last night's state dinner.

As for one other seating arrangement we should note Vice President Joe Biden, seated next to Julia Louis-Dreyfus -- of course the star of "Veep".


ACOSTA: She plays the vice president on TV. So a je ne sais quoi quality to last night's affair.

COSTELLO: I love that. Jim Acosta reporting live from the White House. Thank you.

ACOSTA: You bet.

COSTELLO: Still to come in the NEWSROOM, Senator Rand Paul taking aim at President Obama, filing a lawsuit over the NSA. Why he says the American people will win the battle over privacy.


COSTELLO: Senator Rand Paul is on a roll calling Bill Clinton a predator, not worthy of female support and now his political action committee is suing the Obama administration over NSA surveillance. Rand, long critical of U.S. surveillance programs, says the National Security Agency infringes on American civil liberties, in short it violates the constitution.

Our chief Washington correspondent and host of "THE LEAD", Jake Tapper, is here to tell us more. Good morning, Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Good morning. Well that's right. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, a Republican who is thought to be seriously entertaining hopes of running for president in 2016. This morning at 11:00 a.m. Eastern we'll got to a federal court house. He'll be there with somebody from Freedom Works and also the former attorney general of Virginia Ken Cuccinelli who lost the governor's race. He will be representing Rand Paul and he will file a class action lawsuit against the Obama administration, including the director of the National Security Agency, General Alexander asking them to halt the meta data collection program.

He says he is doing this on behalf of all Americans who might be affected. He wants the collections stopped and any storage of the records to be erased.

And if I can quote form the lawsuit he also says the plaintiffs and class members seek a declaration that the mass associational tracking program is unconstitutional. They seek an injunction forbidding the government from continuing the program and in order for the defendants to purge from its data bases all of the telephone meta data related to the communications of plaintiffs and class members -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Does the suit have any chance at winning?

TAPPER: I don't know if it has a chance of winning. Obviously a lot of these cases have been adjudicated and the justice system has generally fallen on the side of the administration. But it seems likely that this case and those like it will continue to go up the judicial ladder until it reaches the U.S. Supreme court.

COSTELLO: Jake Tapper, thanks for stopping by. We appreciate it.

TAPPER: Thank you.

COSTELLO: Next hour of CNN NEWSROOM starts now.

Good morning. I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for joining me.

We are following two major stories this morning, both unfolding right now. At any moment, closing arguments will get underway in the so- called "Loud Music Murder Trial". A Florida man faces life in prison for shooting into a car full of teenagers. Those teenagers have been blaring loud rap music.

But we have to begin with weather this morning because For millions of Americans, specially in the south, a brutal mix of ice and snow is sweeping in bolstered by words just as chilling -- historic, catastrophic and very unpredictable. This screaming headline you are about to see speaks volumes, "Bracing for the Worst".

Minutes ago, we learned that more than 93,000 homes and businesses are without power across the southeast -- 73,000 in Georgia alone. Even with an army of utility crews ready to scramble, power outages could last for days and days and the numbers are certain to grow. State's governor warns Georgians that this storm is deadly serious.


GOV. NATHAN DEAL, GEORGIA: I would simply say to them, we're not kidding. We are not just crying "wolf". It is serious business. It is something that the greatest cooperation we can receive from the public will be our best asset.


COSTELLO: CNN is covering the storm like no other network can. Indra Petersons is tracking the storm from CNN's weather center. David Mattingly is in Charlotte North Carolina. George Howell is driving around outside of Atlanta.

But we begin in one of Atlanta's oldest neighborhoods with Nick Valencia.