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Interview with Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter; Winter Storm; Cable Merger; Biden, Biden Everywhere; Obamacare Sign-Ups Jump to 3.3 Million

Aired February 13, 2014 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good afternoon. I come to you today from high atop the icy fortress of solitude that is Washington, D.C. I'm Jake Tapper. And this is THE LEAD.

The national lead, how can it still be coming down? The Northeast frozen shut by the very same storm that is keeping the South paralyzed in its wake. In the middle of a bad winter, this storm may be the baddest of all -- where it is worst and where it is headed next.

Also, icy runways, no visibility, more than 6,000 flights canceled throughout the country on the eve of a holiday weekend. Can the airlines possibly get back on schedule before you have to fly?

And the money lead. They're both criticized as companies where customer service goes to die. Now Comcast and Time Warner Cable, the largest and second largest cable providers respectively, want to combine into one giant cable provider. What that will mean for your bill and your frustration level?

Good afternoon, everyone. I am Jake Tapper.

And we begin with the national lead. Much like the Beatles' final performance, we are doing it from the roof today, though we are not singing "Good Day Sunshine." We are high above the nation's capital, which is like one giant ice sculpture, like pretty much every city and town up and down the East Coast today.

The brunt of this incredible storm is smacking Boston right now as the snow in the region begins to change into a nasty mix of rain and sleet. Going outside in this is like getting a Slurpee dumped on your head. Here's the view from space from a few hours ago courtesy of our friends at NASA.

This is the reason planes are not going anywhere. More than 6,000 flights canceled so far today. Here in Washington, D.C., in Philadelphia, in New York City, it's not over yet. Precipitation has turned into stinging pellets of rain in many of those areas, including right here, this area on my face.

But it will likely turn back into snow in the next few hours, as the tail section of the storm moves through. At least 11 deaths are being blamed on this massive storm. And right now, at least 700,000 customers are without power from Louisiana up through Connecticut. New York City has been attempting to go about business as usual all day, the city schools kept open. Crews have been aggressively clearing off the roads and the five boroughs, perhaps too aggressively. Police say a snow removal vehicle struck and killed a woman in Brooklyn today.

Let's go live to our Alison Kosik standing by on the scene.

Alison, what do we know about this horrible accident?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, it really is horrible, I mean, truly heartbreaking to hear this story.

What happened around 10:30 this morning, 36-year-old Min Lin was in this grocery parking lot with her husband and a snowplow backed into her, killing her. She was rushed to the hospital, where she arrived dead on arrival, but her son -- her son was actually born.

He was almost full-term. She was pregnant. He was born six pounds, six ounces at a nearby hospital. Tragic, tragic. Just showing you all these snowplows running around. You can't be too careful because not all of them necessarily let you know when they are coming -- Jake.

TAPPER: Alison Kosik, thanks.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio held a presser earlier to give an update on the roads and the weather, but all he got really were questions about why the schools had been kept open. Well, here's the mayor's defense.


BILL DE BLASIO (D), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: We -- unlike certain other cities in this country, we don't shut down in the face of some adversity. Based on the information we had, it was abundantly clear we were not going to have the kind of overwhelming snow that would make it impossible for kids to get to school.


TAPPER: Unlike some cities in the country.

Did the New York mayor just take a swipe at Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, other cities? If I weren't freezing, I would be offended.

But did the mayor make the right decision?

Let's bring in Gale Brewer. She's the Manhattan Borough president.

Gale, thanks for being here.

Do you think New York schools should have been open today?

GALE BREWER, MANHATTAN BOROUGH PRESIDENT: Well, it's a rock and a hard place for the mayor's decision. It made last night. The temperatures were supposed to be warmer.

The attendance is very low. I have talked to all of the superintendents in Manhattan and the attendance is low. Parents who wanted to keep their kids at home did. Those who had to work, however, brought their kids to school.

There is hot lunch. And there is the -- there are teachers there. But I think it's a rock in the hard place to make the decision. It's really hard for pedestrians right now, with a lot of slush at every crosswalk. The roads are clear, but the slush and the pedestrian movement is very challenging.

TAPPER: Gale, Al Roker from NBC, he got into something of a spat with the mayor about the school closings.

He tweeted: "I knew this a.m. the mayor's office New York City schools would close schools. Talk about a bad prediction. Long-range de Blasio forecast, one term."

Here's what the mayor said in response to Mr. Roker.


DE BLASIO: I respect Al Roker a lot, watched him on for many, many years. It's a different thing to run a city than to give the weather on TV.


TAPPER: Ouch. al Roker responded this way. "Mr. Mayor, I could never run Nyc, but I know when it's time to keep kids home from school. Roker says, "The forecasts were right. This was putting kids' safety at risk."

What do you think? In retrospect, is al Roker correct?

BREWER: Well, I know Al Roker. I know his wife and they're a wonderful family.

I do think every parent could make a decision today. I don't think there was a lot of learning going on in the schools. And I think that if you wanted to keep your parent -- your child home, you could. But for those parents who had to work and for those kids who had to go to school because there wasn't anybody at home, it's a safe place.

So I do think that safety has a double-edged sword. If you feel it's unsafe to walk your kids to school, I agree. Stay home. But if you have to go to work, because otherwise you don't make the rent, it makes sense to have your kids in a safe place. It's a rock and a hard place.

TAPPER: The mayor also said the city is open for business today. You're there. Are people out? Are they going to stores or are most people huddled up inside?

BREWER: Well, there is very little traffic in terms of cars on the streets, but there is tons of pedestrians walking around.

The persons I worry about the most are the seniors. They do stay home. Seniors know that they could fall and hurt themselves and don't want to do that. Manhattan has many, many thousands of seniors. There has been a lot of calls, 165,000 calls to 311 as of 1:00, 700 about heat and hot water.

I really worry about heat and hot water complaints, and about 1,000 regarding snow and ice. I think our fear now is the ice. It could really freeze up.

TAPPER: Are the roads icy right now?

BREWER: The roads aren't icy, but the sidewalks are icy, and the fact is, if it freezes up tonight, sidewalks, black ice, and the crossings will be absolutely frozen. And it's really, really windy.

TAPPER: We can hear the wind.


BREWER: It's a little scary in terms -- yes, it's really frightening in terms of wind and ice. That's our main fear in New York City.

TAPPER: Gale Brewer, once again, I will tell you, please go get a hot chocolate on CNN. We thank you for your time.

When we come back: record-breaking snow totals for many areas of the East Coast and the storm is not done yet. We will check in on the power outages and travel delays.

Plus, an Olympian shamed by her own country after topless photographs of her showed up online just as she was about to compete. Now her supporters are stripping down to back her up. Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

I'm coming to you from my makeshift snow fort atop the city of Washington, D.C., where we're expecting even more snow as the tail end of this brutal weather pattern moves through in the coming hours.

The rain is also coming down in my beloved home town of Philadelphia, where our Margaret Conley is standing by live for us.

Margaret, what is where you are? You're in Abington, I believe?

MARGARET CONLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Abington outside of Philadelphia.

And we just spoke with PECO, which is one of the big power companies here. They said they are starting to see scattered power outages. And that is not good news for this town especially that was in a complete blackout last week. Now, the snow has turned to rain. We are expecting about 14 to 18 inches of snow in this area. We're about eight or nine inches now.

We spoke with the commissioner of Montgomery County, Josh Shapiro, and here's more on what he had to say.


JOSH SHAPIRO, MONTGOMERY COUNTY CHAIR: We get about 2,400 calls to our 911 center each day. We got nearly 8,000 calls from the storm last week. By comparison during Sandy, about 6,500 calls at the height.

We saw more damage, more power outage in this storm than during Sandy. Obviously, Sandy was a significant event, but so is this ice storm followed by the wallop that we got with this snow.


CONLEY: Now, when we talked to the commissioner, he also described this period right now as the calm between two storms.

So, during this lull -- Jake, I understand that you went to high school with the commissioner. We spent a lot of time talking about a lot of stories about you in high school that I look forward to confirming with you later.

But, in the meantime, here in Abington, we're waiting for more snow to come in tonight.

TAPPER: Yes, I would get a second source on those, Margaret. Thank you so much. We appreciate it.

Another two inches of snow and sleet are expected in the Philadelphia area tonight, on top of what has already been piling up.

So is the City of Brotherly Love prepared to deal with another round of what has already been some rough winter weather this past month?

Joining me now live is Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter.

Mr. Mayor, we already talked. You checked. My mom is fine.

So, let's go back to the bigger picture here.

Have these back-to-back storms, because they are back-to-back, have they crippled resources?

MICHAEL NUTTER (D), MAYOR OF PHILADELPHIA: No, Jake. And thank you. And I will check on mom again a little later on.

We're storm warriors here in Philadelphia. But, certainly, look, let's be honest, the back-to-back storms don't help. But they are what they are. And no one controls the weather. So, you just deal with it. We have got a great team, a great plan. We stay on top of it. And our folks just work until the work is done. So, we're -- we fight back because that's what we do. TAPPER: Now, we know the area suffered some serious power outages after last week's storm, and, for some people, for thousands of people in the Philadelphia area, the outage has lasted for days.

Are you expecting the outages to be just as bad this time around? Can crews do anything differently?

NUTTER: We're not seeing that at all, Jake, fortunately.

And, in the city, I believe it's less than 100. That was a couple hours ago. So, you know, PECO and their folks, they serve Philadelphia and the region. In this storm, they are doing a tremendous job. Last week's ice storm was on Wednesday. That was on top of six inches. The previous -- two days before that on Monday. So, you know, you start to get that cumulative effect.

But so far in the city, we're not seeing much in the way of downed trees and downed waters and the troops are out there. Our own forces, SEPTA is doing an incredible job trying to keep the system up and running and moving people around, as well as, of course, PECO. The state has been fantastic for us. PEMA, Pennsylvania Emergency Management Organization.

So, you know, we're a coordinated operation here and we've been fortunate. We take nothing for granted. We know that there's another round of snow coming this evening. It's going to start a lot earlier than originally predicted and last a little longer. We're still under a snow emergency as well as, of course, the winter weather advisory.

So, we're taking this very, very seriously. We're not out of the woods yet.

TAPPER: Any decisions on whether Philadelphia's schools and government offices will remain closed tomorrow?

NUTTER: We're making an announcement in about 45 minutes and certainly we want to get that information out. We coordinate with a lot of different parties. We talk about the school district, Catholic schools, the archdiocese, our court, the rest of the city government. And we'll be making the announcement in 45 minutes, about 5:00, as to what tomorrow looks like. But we also keep our citizens updated on what's happened today, what will happen tonight and what the morning is going to look like as well.

TAPPER: Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, thank you so much for joining us. And good luck.

NUTTER: Jake, thanks so much. Appreciate the coverage and get us up on the weather map there.

TAPPER: All right.

When we come back, runways covered in ice and snow and there's more bad weather to come. What it means for travel? Not just travel tonight but for this weekend as well. Plus, if you think you've been seeing a lot of Vice President Joe Biden recently -- well, it's because you have. Is he gearing up for his next act?


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD, live overlooking a snow-capped capitol, where I've been doing my part by stopping the sleet with my face.

Turning to the politics lead, Michael Kinsley once famously defined a gaffe as when a politician accidently tells the truth.

Perhaps no one knows that maxim better than Vice President Joe Biden. A Google search for Biden and gaffe turns up 499,000 results. Many in the media's focus on this misspeakings and, you know, to be fair, in at least one case, the vice president's accidental expression of support for same-sex marriage, well, that ended up impacting policy by forcing President Obama to expedite his similar policy.

But either way, focusing on his gaffes in many ways sells the vice president short. He has, after all, been entrusted with a great deal of responsibility by President Obama. America's second in command was just announced as one of the headliners for Seth Meyers' new late- night show which launches later this month.

And he seemed to be front row and center nearly at every event at D.C. this week. It's a scheduled befitting? I don't know. Maybe someone looking to run for office again?


TAPPER (voice-over): Yes, there he is, rubbing elbows at Tuesday's state dinner at the hospital, taking photos with "Veep" actress Julia- Louis Dreyfus. That morning, he was swearing in the first Iraq veteran into the Senate and remained front and center to welcome French President Francois Hollande to both the White House and the State Department.

Wednesday, he met with the king and crowned prince of Jordan. Later, he popped again in Florida, fundraising for congressional hopeful Alex Sink and making an unannounced diner stop to boot.

Vice president Joe Biden seems to be everywhere. He claims, hey, he just wants to be the best vice president he can be. But obviously the 2016 presidential race is starting to loom larger and the better the job he does now, the better his odds. Biden clearly seems to think that he must be moving, moving, moving, that if he runs, it will be on his eighth year record not on, say, his four-year record that ended a year ago.

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There may be reasons I don't run, but there's no obvious reason for me why I think I should not run.

TAPPER: The vice president says Hillary's decision will not impact his, but the latest poll shows Hillary Clinton enjoys greater favorability ratings by Biden by nearly 20 percentage points.

But that number only really matters if the Democratic favorite, Clinton, runs.

Conan O'Brien has already taken the liberty of producing Joe Biden's campaign ad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When he says he's not uninterested in seeking the presidency, it shouldn't be a no-brainer to refuse to disbelieve him.

TAPPER: And he's been visibly acted in the Obama administration.

BIDEN: The order in the Senate.

TAPPER: In charge of the stimulus, the Iraq policy, front and center on the response to Newtown.

BIDEN: It's critically important we act.

TAPPER: And by the president's side for major decisions, even if he advised against them, as he did for the bin Laden raid.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tonight, I've asked Vice President Biden --

TAPPER: At the State of the Union Address a few weeks ago, the president announced that the vice president would be focusing on the issues that voters care the most about -- jobs.

OBAMA: Train Americans with the skills employers need and match them to good jobs that need to be filled right now.

TAPPER: But Biden's more than 40 years in politics are often overshadowed by a history of misspeaking, shall we say, such as at this reception for the Irish prime minister.

BIDEN: Now for you who are not full Irish in this room, lubricating has a different meaning.

TAPPER: Comments like that have earned him frequent lampooning, such as this "SNL" skit.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no, no, Irish is I come over there and smack that dumb look on your face.

TAPPER: Despite that caricature, he is quick to assure the public, he is still very much in demand.

BIDEN: I've been invited to go into well over 120 races so far.

TAPPER: And had the weather not stopped his momentum, he would be hosting a House Democratic retreat tonight in Maryland as well.

(END VIDEOTAPE) TAPPER: And joining me now here on the slopes of Sochi for more on this, Washington bureau chief for "USA Today", Susan Page, and CNN political commentator and Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker", Ryan Lizza.

Let's start obviously with Joe Biden, the man of the week. Vice president told our Kate Bolduan that he would make a decision by next summer. He has said in the past that what Hillary Clinton decides to do will have no bearing on what he does. But I find that hard to believe.

SUSAN PAGE, USA TODAY: I think that is hard to believe. I think if Hillary Clinton runs, it's hard to see an opening for Joe Biden, even some of the president's top strategists from the last time around have gotten from behind Hillary Clinton. But even if she doesn't run, there's a whole group of contenders and would do so if she weren't in it.

TAPPER: Ryan, if Biden runs, what's the Biden constituency? I understand like Hillary Clinton is aspiring to Democratic women in particular but also the Clintons have a long relationship with the African-American community.


TAPPER: Who's a Biden voter?

LIZZA: That -- I think that's the biggest challenge for him. If you think about how Barack Obama was able to take out Hillary Clinton in 2008, obviously she had enormous support from the African-American community, one of the pillars in the Democratic primary, and he brought in new young voters, especially in Iowa. That's how he sort of changed the electorate there in Iowa.

Against Hillary Clinton, Biden doesn't have some natural constituency that he can steal from her, right? He's got a demographic issue and ideologically he's got an issue. Barack Obama in 2008 could say Hillary is old, I'm new, it's time for change. It was a very effective simple message.

Biden it's --

TAPPER: He's actually older than Hillary Clinton.

LIZZA: It would be like a Subway series. It's the same team, right? It's the same city. Same administration.

TAPPER: Right.

Susan, the one thing that without question Biden helped with was white ethnics. We saw that -- I remember being very skeptical that Obama was going to be able to do well in Pennsylvania because -- and ultimately Joe Biden from Scranton, not only did they win Pennsylvania over John McCain and obviously Mitt Romney as well, but Scranton, a city where a lot of people thought there's no way Scranton is going to go for an African-American, no way they're going to go for somebody as liberal as Barack Obama.

So, he -- there are some people who like him.

PAGE: Jake, there are lots of people who like him. Nobody doesn't like Joe Biden.

TAPPER: Right.

PAGE: But Hillary Clinton did well among white ethnic voters when she was running.

LIZZA: Remember, she's (INAUDIBLE) than Obama. That was her constituency.

PAGE: You know, I think that age is a problem. People after eight years of the same president are going to be looking for some changes. I think age is an issue that Hillary Clinton has to address. Joe Biden is 5 years older than Hillary Clinton. He will be 74, older than any president ever at the point of inauguration.

TAPPER: Even more than Ronald Reagan.

PAGE: Even older than Ronald Reagan. So, I think that's an issue that he would have to address as well.

TAPPER: Let's go to the Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act. Enrolment has jumped to 3.3 million, 1.1 million people signed up just last month. How's the White House doing right now? Where's Obamacare?

PAGE: Better. I mean, that horrible stumbling start, better.

TAPPER: Still below expectations.

PAGE: Maybe they will get to 6 million. That would look good. Just a million under what they have projected.

But several more steps to come. Do the plans work to people? Do they get health care that they like? Can they find a doctor they like?

So, a couple more steps to go on this whole implementation of Obamacare.

TAPPER: And, Ryan, there's a question of Sebelius, "The Hill" reports that she met her attended and events with Obama at least 18 times between October 27th, 2012, October 6th, 2013, at least seven instances which the two were scheduled to discuss health care law specifically, "The Hill" was reporting.


TAPPER: The question is, you know, as has been said, how bad did they know that the launch was going to be? Does this lend any fuel to the fire or do you think the scandalous part of Obamacare is behind us?

LIZZA: It's tough to know about whether the meetings tell you anything about whether Obama knew the Web site was not ready to go. I mean, on the one hand, the meetings make him seem more hands on, getting frequent updates from the person in charge. On the other hand, if they actually knew that the Web site was going to fail, it seems crazy that Obama would have been out there telling people to sign up. I mean, it seems that the errors were in not understand how the Web site wasn't ready.

TAPPER: What do you think of the latest delay that we announced, the White House announced really this week, we reported early this week -- another delay of the employer mandate for businesses between 50 and 99 employees?

PAGE: You know, I think this step, along with some others, has helped undermined any hope of getting immigration through this year. You hear Republicans saying, you know, here was the law and you're choosing not to enforce part of the law. How could we trust President Obama should enforce all the elements of an immigration package if we agree to one?

That may be an excuse, not a reason, but it's an excuse that Republicans can now use to not move ahead on that other issue.