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Ice Storm Hits South; Obama Issues Executive Order To Increase Minimum Wage

Aired February 12, 2014 - 14:00   ET


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, thank you very much.

I'm Don Lemon live from Washington. Thank you so much for joining us.

Big news happening here and we're going to start at the White House today where President Obama is about to sign an order to raise the minimum wage paid to federal contract workers. You remember during the State of the Union the president promised, he says, I have a pin and I have a phone and I'm going to use it, meaning he's going to use that pen to sign an executive order. He's going to raise the minimum wage from $7.75 an hour to $10.10 an hour. On the left of your screen you see there the president -- the room getting ready for the president. He'll be out at any moment. We're going to discuss that, talk about it with our political analyst, Gloria Borger, in just a moment.

But first, we're going to get to the weather because millions of southerners, especially Georgia and the Carolinas, crippling ice storm really seizing their roads, grounding flights, bringing down trees, knocking out power to more than a quarter million customers all across the southeast. Already at least five traffic-related deaths are blamed on this massive storm. And if you are in the affected areas and you're able to watch us, now is really the time to hunker down and really, as the emergency services folks have been warning, you need to stay off the roads. Travel will be very difficult, if not impossible.


GOV. NATHAN DEAL (R), GEORGIA: We have a huge part of our state that is under a declaration. Some 91 counties now that extends well down into south Georgia. So everybody at the local level is working to make sure they're using their resources appropriately. The public is cooperating by staying off the roads. And we're just going to make the best of it and we're going to come through it.


LEMON: You remember the last time, right? So everyone, this time, desperate not to see a repeat of this. Look at that. It looks like Armageddon when a mass exodus from Atlanta caused apocalyptic scenes. People trapped on icy highways for more than 10 hours at a time. Many eventually abandoning their cars.

This headline on this ice encrusted newspaper says it all, "Atlanta bracing for the worst," right on top of the "Atlanta Journal Constitution."

And we have correspondents all across the region covering the widespread impact of these major storms. Our George out on the roads in iced over Atlanta. David Mattingly is in Charlotte, North Carolina, where they're expecting up to 10 inches of snow and sleet, and our meteorologist, Mr. Chad Myers, outside the CNN Center in Atlanta.

George, I'm going to start with you out on the roads. How are the roads looking?

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The roads are looking pretty good right now, Don. Keep in mind, it's slush that has been building up. But that slush is starting to freeze.

I want to go ahead and show you the road here that we're getting on right now here by the connector in downtown Atlanta. And you can see there's plenty of slush on the roads that is freezing. We understand that more freezing rain is coming into the area. That is a big concern because if people do choose to get out here, it's very easy to lose traction. Don, we've already seen several people, you know, lose control, spin out on the road. You have to go pretty slow and steady and you have to be sure to follow these areas that have been sanded. Officials have been doing that throughout the day.

The other thing, Don, and you mentioned this, as this ice and snow builds up, it gets on those power lines, gets on those trees. And when that happens, there's worry about the power lines coming down. We know tens of thousands of people without - are without power and trees are coming down as well. So it's something we have to continue to monitor. This is a multiday event.

LEMON: Thank you. Stand by, George Howell.

David Mattingly, Charlotte, North Carolina, getting a lot more snow there, up to a foot we're hearing. Is the city ready for this?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're as ready as they can possibly be. They've been watching this storm for days now. They knew it was coming. They actually had salt trucks out pouring a salt solution on the roads for the last 48 hours so that what is falling will not be turning to ice. But you can see, there's so much snow that it is covering up all the roads here.

I mean take a look at downtown Charlotte. I mean this is a town that is emptying out really fast. The only thing we've see reliably running here have been some of the buses. Most people, if they did come into work at all, they came in very early in the day, but then they're headed out like around noon.

This snow started falling pretty hard around that time, about an inch an hour. But the ice isn't even here yet. They're expecting a mix of snow and ice up around Charlotte. We're short of the dividing line. South of here, expecting to get a lot of ice, which means a lot of power lines down, a lot of people without power. Everybody here watching what's happened in Georgia knowing that that is coming to them right now. The governor here had some very plain words, some plain talk for people here, saying, you need to be prepared, you need to stay inside, you need to take responsibility for your safety because going out in this is going to cause problems and people are going to get hurt.

For now, this is just snow. You can make some really good snowballs with it, but the fun is not going to last very long at all because when that ice gets here, that's a game changer, that's when it gets really, really dangerous.


LEMON: David, you set me up just perfectly for my next question, because we looked at Atlanta, the roads there, I mean it is a ghost town and, you know, that's exactly what emergency officials, the governor, the mayor, you know, the mayor of Atlanta, the governor of Georgia, they want people to stay off the roads. But the question is, where you are, it seems to be powdery right now. Ice is expected. I'm seeing busses behind you. I'm also seeing people. Are they heeding the warnings?

MATTINGLY: Well, right, ice is expected. Yes, people are heeding the warnings. So, some people who did come to work today only came in till about noon. We saw a lot of them heading out after that.

But something about putting that salt solution on the roads so early before the snow even got here, this is what it's doing. Look, you have the snow falling, but what's under it isn't freezing. So officials here were determined to be very proactive so that when they do get the plows out and start coming to clear the roads, they'll be able to clear it all the way down to the pavement and not hit ice down there.

LEMON: Right off, yes.

MATTINGLY: So, so far it seems to be working. But we're just a couple of hours in to what's supposed to be a 48 hour problem here.


MATTING: They're not going to start digging out until this weekend when the temperatures start to go up.

LEMON: Oh, boy, and that's going to be a while, so a couple of days away. David Mattingly, stand by as well.

We've got David. We've got George. And now we're going to Chad Myers, who can tell us officially about the weather.

So, Chad, listen, you're outside the CNN Center.


LEMON: The precipitation or precip, as you call it, has slowed, but isn't it expected to start up again soon?

MYERS: Yes, we had a little dry slot that came through, which was just a little batch of dry air that got sucked up around the storm. That slowed the precip down a little bit, but the hail balls, or we call them sleet balls, are still bouncing off my coat right now. That's the good news, Don. We want this type of already frozen on the way down type of precip. It's a raindrop up there, but if it falls down through the atmosphere and stays a raindrop, that's freezing rain. It freezes when it gets here. If it freezes on the way down, it will bounce off you, it will bounce off the trees and the trees will not get weighed down.

Now, it's still going to make the roadways slick because the roads are slick. There's a good inch of ice here, all the way through here. You can see where the chains now have kind of dug this up, the police going by with chains.

LEMON: Don't fall, Chad.

MYERS: Yes, I'm not going to fall. We're OK.

Hey, Don, you know where I am?

LEMON: I can't see - oh, yes, you're right across from - there's the Omni (ph). You're on the back side of the building.

MYERS: I am - I am exactly where you stood years ago when the tornado hit this building.

LEMON: Yes. Yes.

MYERS: The exact same spot where all the glass fell off of our building, you were standing right here, and now I'm standing in a snowstorm or an ice storm. Same place.

LEMON: I thought you were on the side of - you know, where the bridge goes over the Omni (ph). But I -


LEMON: Now I see where you're standing. You're out on -- is that Marietta right there, that -

MYERS: Yes, it is Marietta, yes. Exactly. The park is right there.

LEMON: Yes. All right, Chad, listen, stand by because we're going to get back to you, we're going to get back to George and David as well. This weather really wreaking havoc on the south and we're going to get it up here, up north, pretty soon. So, stay tuned.

President Barack Obama getting ready to announce an increase in the minimum wage and he's going to do it by executive order. You see the room. They're waiting now. As soon as the president comes out, we'll get to him soonest.

In the meantime, a quick break. We're back with more developing news right here on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) LEMON: We have some breaking news to tell you about right here on CNN. It involves a former mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, remember him during Katrina, that's when he came to prominence? Well, there was a corruption trial involving him going on down in New Orleans and, according to our affiliate, the verdict is guilty on 20 of 21 counts in his corruption trial. The claim was that he took bribes worth more than $500,000 in a string of alleged crimes that began before Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005 and continued during the recovery from a catastrophic storm. Again, Ray Nagin guilty in 20 of 21 counts in his corruption trial down in New Orleans. As soon as we get more information on that, we will bring it to you right here on CNN.

A lot of news for you happening on this Wednesday and some of the hottest stories in a flash. "Rapid Fire." Roll it.

First up, Toyota recalling more than two million vehicles because of a problem that may cause cars to stop suddenly. The recall includes several models including Prius vehicles made over the last four years. And we're told the fix includes a software update.


PAULA DEEN, CELEBRITY CHEF: I want y'all to just take a look. Look at all the butter in this kitchen.


LEMON: Paula Deen is making a comeback, y 'all. The southern chef getting at least $75 million from a private firm to launch a new company. And we're told Deen is looking for deals with TV networks and retailers. And, keep in mind, it has been about eight months since Deen lost many endorsement deals and her gig on The Food Network after she admitted to using a racial slur years ago.

It is no secret that President Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu haven't always seen eye to eye, but very soon they'll be face to face. The Israeli prime minister visiting the White House next month. On the agenda, Iran's nuclear program. Netanyahu, of course, very critical of the administration's interim deal with Tehran and the mere fact both sides are negotiating.

Joined by a prominent Tea Party leader, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky filed suit today against the president over NSA data collection. Paul says he's not against spying and not against looking at phone records, but he and his backers charged the NSA is violating citizen's rights against unreasonable search. And we're going to talk about that coming up here on CNN. So make sure you stay tuned.

I want to get back to the White House, where we told you the president is about to sign an order to raise the minimum wage paid to federal contract workers. The president doing as he promised during the State of the Union, using his power to act where Congress won't. Remember, he said, I've got a pen and I've got a phone and I'm going to do what I must do.

On the left, you're looking at the room where the president is going to sign. On the right, of course, you're looking at the State of the Union, which happened just a few weeks ago. In the middle, of course, is me.

The particular action goes to the widening wealth gap. And we did a poll just last week that found 66 percent support government action to narrow the widening difference in incomes. Gloria Borger is our chief political analyst, of course.

Good to see you, Gloria.


LEMON: Hope you're staying warm up here in D.C. We're getting that ice that's down in the south.

BORGER: Yes, we're waiting.

LEMON: We're waiting.

BORGER: We're waiting.

LEMON: So the president's going around a deeply unpopular Congress to enact this raise and most people seeming to support. Is there any political danger for him here?

BORGER: Look, the political danger in so far as there is any, quite honestly, is that he could poison the wells some more with Republican, but I would argue that well is already pretty bad. And there are some Republicans charging that this is an imperial presidency, when, in fact, other presidents have done exactly the same kind of thing.

I think what he's doing and what Democrats are pushing him to do, and this is a move really for the base of the party, is to lay down a marker for 2014 and say, we are the party that wants to help the middle class and raise the poor into the middle class. And this is one way for him to be able to do that with, as you point out, his pen.

LEMON: Yes. And as we - you know, the theme for Democrats, even especially the mayor of New York City, Bill De Blasio, income inequality, the president, Democrats, they've been talking about that.

This particular order, though, will raise the minimum wage for federal contract workers beginning next year from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour. That's a nice raise, but only about a quarter of a million workers will be affected.

BORGER: Well -

LEMON: I wonder if it's going to push the private employers to follow suit, Gloria.

BORGER: Well, probably not. I think that employers don't generally raise wages this broadly unless they're told that they have to. And there are some employers who make the case, particularly small businesses, that if they were forced to raise wages, they would have to lay off people. So I think that argument, that political argument, is going to continue.

But what you see happening here is not so much an emphasis on income inequality, although that is something the president has talked about an awful lot. But what you're going to see going into the mid-term elections is an emphasis on opportunity, because inequality has some bad connotations to it -

LEMON: Right.

BORGER: Because there are people who say, wait a minute, I worked hard for my money and don't portray me as a bad person just because I have some money. So what --

LEMON: Just because I've done well, I've worked hard for it, right?

BORGER: That's right. That's exactly it. So what the shift is going to be is to the sort of equality of opportunity. That you have to give people, wherever they are in the economic spectrum, an opportunity to get pulled up.

LEMON: And as you said, Gloria, of course you're always right and you're very smart, right. On the monitor right there it says "opportunity for all," "opportunity for all."

BORGER: Oh, well there you are. Indeed.

LEMON: Right? So you're exactly right.

BORGER: As if -- as if I had predicted that, right? Yes, no, that's the word. The word is opportunity. They're shifting. Yes.

LEMON: Yes. We got the two-minute warning while you were talking just a minute ago so we're going to -


LEMON: So I'm going to hang with you, Gloria -


LEMON: I want you to hang with me, I should say, until the president comes out.

Do they, at some point, the Democrats, the president, look at the language and say, hey, you know what, this - we're actually creating a divide and many people are not happy with this because of that?

BORGER: Yes. And - yes. You know, and they've got a - they've got a bunch of Republican senators up in red states for reelection. And four of those incumbents were in states that Mitt Romney won. And so I think the language is really important here. When you talk about opportunity, it's something Republicans and Democrats clearly agree on. When you talk about income and equality, not that it doesn't exist in this country, but when you talk about it, it has a connotation of pitting one group against the other.


BORGER: And I think that that's something that won't work well, particularly in red states.

LEMON: And the president, when he does announcements like this, he and other presidents who made announcements, they will have, you know, average Americans who will come out -


LEMON: And will be sort of standing in the background and he will tell the particular stories and then he'll talk about that. Here is the president of the United States. Gloria, we'll get back to you as soon as we hear from the president. Stand by.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Hello, everybody. Thank you. Thank you, guys. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much. Everybody have a seat. Have a seat.

Welcome to the White House, everybody.

CROWD: Thank you.

OBAMA: I know - I know you had to come here before you go buy some shovels and some salt. The - it sounds like we may get a little snow, but I very much appreciate everybody being here.

I want to thank, first and foremost, the workers who are with me here this afternoon. And I want to thank two champions for all hardworking Americans. We've got the secretary of labor, Tom Perez, who's in the house. Where's Tom? Right here. Tom's right here. I didn't know where he was. And we've got an outstanding congressman who's used to snow because he's from Minnesota, Congressman Keith Ellison.

Now, it's been just over two weeks since I delivered my State of the Union address and I said this year would be a year of action. And I meant it. Over the past 14 days, I've ordered an across the board reform of our job training programs, to train folk with the skills that employers need and then match them up with good jobs that are ready to be filled right now. I've directed the Treasury to create something we're calling My RA, sort of like an IRA, but it's My RA. And that's a new way for Americans to start saving for retirement. And you can start with as little as $25, $50 and start building up a little bit of a nest egg and get tax benefits for doing so.

You know, we've rallied the leaders of some of America's biggest high tech companies to help us make sure that all of our kids have access to high speed Internet and up-to-date technology in their classrooms so that they're learning the skills that they need for the new economy. We brought together business leaders who are committed to hiring more unemployed Americans, particular long term unemployed, who often times are discriminated against. You know, they're in a catch 22. They haven't had the job for a while and then the employer's not willing to look at their resume because they haven't had the job for a while

So the point is, I'm eager to work with Congress whenever I can find opportunities to expand opportunity for more families. But wherever I can act on my own, without Congress, by using my pen to take executive actions or picking up the phone and rallying folks around a common cause, that's what I'm going to do.

And so that brings me to the issue we're going to talk about today. After the worst economic crisis in generations, our economy has been growing for the past four years. And our businesses have created 8.5 million new jobs. Unemployment rate has come down. But while those at the top are doing better than ever, corporate profits have been high, the stock market has been high, average wages have barely budged. So you've got too many Americans who are working harder than ever before just to get by, but they can't seem to get ahead. They can't seem to make all the ends meet.

And that's been true since long before the recession hit. We've got to reverse those trends. We've got to build an economy that works for everybody, not just the fortunate few. And we've got to restore opportunity for everybody so that no matter who you are and no matter how you started out and no matter what you look like and no matter what your last name is, you can get ahead in America if you're willing to work hard and take responsibility for your life. All right.

So the opportunity agenda I've laid out is going to help us do just that. Part one of this agenda is more new jobs that pay a good wage. Jobs in manufacturing and exports and energy and innovation. Part two, we've got to train the folks with the skills to fill those jobs. Part three, you've got to make sure every child gets a world class education. And part four, we've got to make sure that the economy rewards hard work for every American.

Making hard work pay off with economic security and the decent wages and benefits is what we're about here today. It means making sure women earn equal pay for equal work. It means making sure workers have the chance to save for a dignified retirement. It means access to affordable health insurance that gives you the freedom to change jobs or be your own boss and the peace of mind that it will be there for you when you get sick and you need it most.

So if you know anybody who doesn't have health insurance right now, send them to The website's working. Sign them up. You can get health care for less than your cell phone bill for a lot of folks.

But it also means that in the wealthiest nation on earth, nobody who works full time should have to live in poverty. Nobody. Not here in America.

Now, it was one year ago today - one year ago today that I first asked Congress to raise the federal minimum wage. A federal minimum wage that in real terms is worth about 20 percent less than it was when Ronald Reagan took office. Twenty percent less. A fifth less.

So this afternoon, I've invited some of the folks who would see a raise if we raised that federal minimum wage. They happen to join me here at the White House. And like most workers in their situation, they're not teenagers. They look like teenagers. Some of them are very young looking. But they're not teenagers taking on their first job. They're adults. Average age is 35 years old. The majority of lower wage jobs are held by women. Many of them have children that they're supporting. These are Americans who work full time, often to support a family, and if the minimum wage had kept pace with our economic productivity, they'd already be getting paid well over $10 an hour. Instead, the minimum wage is still just $7.25.

And when Congress refuses to raise it, it loses value because there's a little bit of inflation, everything else starts costing a little bit more, even though inflation's been pretty low, it's still costing a little bit more each year. That means each dollar isn't going as far and they've got a little bit less. So over the past year, the failure of Congress to act was the equivalent of a $200 pay cut for these folks for a typical minimum wageworker. That's a month worth of groceries, maybe two months' worth of electricity. It makes a big difference for a lot of families.

Now, the good news is that, in the year since I first asked Congress to raise the minimum wage, six states went ahead and passed laws to raise theirs. We appreciate that. We've got more states and cities and counties that are taking steps to raise their minimum wage as we speak. And, you know, a lot of companies are doing it too. Not out of charity, but because they've discovered it's good business.

Two weeks ago I visited a Costco store in Maryland. Now, Costco is a very profitable company. Its stock has done great. It's expanded all over the place. But their philosophy is, higher wages are a smart way to boost productivity and reduce turnover. If employees are happy and feel like the company is invested in them, then they're going to do more for the company. They're going to go above and beyond.

And, you know, when I was over at the Costco store, I was meeting folks who had started off as -- at the cash register and, you know, now are in supervisory position and have been there for 20 years and you can see the kind of pride that they had in the company because the company cared about them.

I even received a letter the next day from a woman who saw my visit on TV. She decided to apply for a job at Costco. She said, let me apply for a job at Costco. They look like they do a good job.

So across the country, owners of small and large businesses are recognizing that fair wages and higher profits go hand in hand. It's good for the bottom line. And as America's chief executive, I agree. So while Congress decides what it's going to do, and I hope this year and I'm going to work this year and urge this year that they actually pass a law. Today, I'm going to do what I can to help raise working Americans' wages.

So today I'm issuing an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay their employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour.