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Plane Experiences Severe Turbulence, Drops; Obama Admin Trying to Swap Gitmo Prisoners for Captured U.S. Soldier; Texas Republican Asks Ted Nugent to Campaign With Him; Bob Costas Back at the Olympics: Obama to Give Speech Targeting Truck Emissions

Aired February 18, 2014 - 11:00   ET


MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN CO-ANCHOR: Taking yet another hit, a winter storm is slamming parts of the Midwest and it doesn't look like it's going to get better any time soon.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN CO-ANCHOR: Plus, should the Obama administration negotiate with terrorists? The government reportedly wants to win freedom for an American prisoner of war by handing over five Taliban militants from Guantanamo bay.

PEREIRA: And why on earth would anyone want to spend a freezing, cold night sleeping outside in a doghouse? To make a very important point.

Hello and good morning. I'm Michaela Pereira.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. Those stories and more right now @ THIS HOUR. And @ THIS HOUR, we've been watching it all morning, another winter storm --

PEREIRA: Make it stop, John.

BERMAN: -- this could bring almost a foot of snow to parts of the northeast today and tomorrow.

These are the nasty conditions that drivers near Cleveland had to deal with this morning. Several inches fell overnight, and, now, the area is dealing with wind gusts of up to 40-miles-an-hour.

PEREIRA: And if that wasn't enough, passengers say it was like nothing they have ever experienced. And did weather play a part in this? We don't know.

But the plane suddenly dropped and started shaking violently as their flight from Denver to Billings, Montana, hit severe and sudden turbulence.

One passenger says, everybody on board were terrified.


BILL DAHLIN, PASSENGER: There was a lot of screaming and a lot of hollering.


PEREIRA: Another passenger actually hit the ceiling so hard that she cracked the panel that was above her head.

Five people in total went to the hospital, some crew, some passengers on board the plane.

Right now, we are told United Airlines is investigating.

BERMAN: Young people are -- @ THIS HOUR, protesters back on the streets of Venezuela's capital, young people are expressing their outrage over that country's slumping economy and rising crime.

At least four protesters have died in the last few days.

The State Department denying that the U.S. is helping to stir up these demonstrations.

PEREIRA: President Obama, making a big move this hour to cut down on greenhouse-gas pollution, he's targeting emissions from medium- and heavy-duty trucks.

We are showing you a live image from where he is expected to speak today. The president is going to call for new fuel-efficiency standards.

And you know what? He is not waiting around for Congress to get on board. He is going it alone.

We will bring you his speech when it happens live from there in Maryland, coming up.

BERMAN: Meanwhile, a prisoner swap between the U.S. and Taliban is reportedly on the table.

Now, this was first reported by The Daily Beast, picked up by "The Washington Post" today. It says the Obama administration is trying to trade five Guantanamo Bay prisoners for U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl.

PEREIRA: Bergdahl was captured in Afghanistan back in June of 2009. At the time, he was just 23-years-old.

Now, authorities believe he is being held in Pakistan by the Haqqani network.

Joining us from Washington, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army Van Hipp, and on the phone, CNN military analyst retired Major General James "Spider" Marks. Thanks so much to both of you for joining us.

First, Van, let's talk to you. Should the U.S. negotiate with the Taliban to bring our soldier home despite a longstanding policy we have had to not negotiate with terrorists?

VAN HIPP, CHAIRMAN, AMERICAN DEFENSE INTERNATIONAL, INC.: We should be working night and day to bring our people back home. Never leave a soldier behind.

But negotiating with the terrorists and trying to strike a deal with the Taliban is the wrong way to go about it.

When we've done this before, it has come back to bite us. Don't forget that the current chief of operations for the Taliban in the southern part of Afghanistan, who has caused us all kind of problems the last few years, Mullah Abdullah Zakir is a former Gitmo prisoner that we released back to the battlefield, and it has come back to bite us.

This is the wrong way to go about it.

BERMAN: John McCain -- this has been going on for a few years, and John McCain has called these prisoners in Guantanamo some of the worst murderers in the world. They have been targeting Americans.

"Spider," nevertheless, you think it is a good idea to enter these discussions with the Taliban. Why?

MAJOR GENERAL JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, John, we have a history of being able to dance pretty effectively along the edges of the declaration which states that we won't negotiate with terrorists.

We have had communications with all forms of bad guys, to include the Taliban, in the past, and, certainly, the results have not always been what we would prefer.

But, in this particular case, I have to tell you what this administration is really posturing itself for is a complete departure from Afghanistan and having a presence in the region through which we could possibly get the soldier returned moving down the road.

But the clock is ticking. We are moving into a dead stop where the United States, if it has -- and, again, I have to underline, if it has -- any credibility at all in the region it is now quite questionable that we will be able to get this great young soldier back if we don't do something in the very near term.

PEREIRA: Van, I think it is clear that time is running out.

I know the Obama administration is desperately wanting to get him home before U.S. forces leave Afghanistan entirely this year.

We've seen evidence of -- the Taliban providing a video of him. He does not look like he is in good shape, but he is still alive.

Give us an idea of the other options that are available.

HIPP: If we go through with the Taliban prisoner swap right now, we are putting every American soldier deployed all over the world at risk.

We're sending a message to terrorist organizations all over the world that it's OK to capture an American soldier, that America will deal with you. That is the wrong message to send. I think we need to give the green light to the special ops and let them do their job, quietly and methodically, as they have done so well in the past.

And I'm encouraged by the fact that in the last month, we have intercepted this video ,and we were -- we didn't know anything over the last three years.

Our intel's getting better. I think we are getting closer to his actual location.

BERMAN: "Spider," I want to put you on the spot here, because, last week, you were on our show.

We were talking about the fact that the Afghan government was releasing prisoners, 65 prisoners.

You thought that was an awful idea. Yet now when it is the Obama administration, releasing prisoners in U.S. custody, it's a good idea?

Isn't that a double standard there?

MARKS: Of course, it is a double standard, John. This is not unusual nor should we be surprised by this.

Look, the United States has been holding these folks in Guantanamo for quite some time. They have gone through very, very specifically what the charges are, what their activities are.

If the United States figures and if our legal system figures that the release of these individuals will guarantee the release of a soldier, and that is into the details of how it can be done, it is an opportunity and an option that we should avail ourselves of. Absolutely, it's a double standard.

PEREIRA: OK, but there is one thing. Maybe I will put this to Van. This is not the first time that we have tried to negotiate with them to let us bring our soldier home.

Last time around, the Taliban broke off the negotiations in the talks. It makes one wonder how can you trust them, specially when we are on a time crunch. You want to get this young man home before our U.S. troops come home.

HIPP: If you go back and look what we did two years ago, that should be a red flag to us.

In the negotiations, we offered to release one or two just to make sure that they would not go back to the battlefield. Guess what? The Taliban completely cut off negotiations. That should tell you all you need to know.

When you negotiate with terrorists, when you release terrorist prisoners like this, all the studies are showing that at least 30 percent are going back to the battlefield.

We're finding out right now that you've got former Guantanamo prisoners working with Islamist rebels in Syria.

It's a tough situation the administration is in, but when you negotiate with terrorists and when you release terrorist prisoners, it will come back to bite you.

We need to learn the lesson of history and I'm afraid it puts American soldiers at increased risk all over the world.

BERMAN: Van Hipp, General "Spider" Marks, thanks for being with us. Really appreciate it.

And I like what "Spider" said right there. He said, Of course -

PEREIRA: It's a double standard.

BERMAN: -- it's a double standard.

Diplomacy, you know, is not an easy thing, not when there's an American soldier's life on the line.

PEREIRA: Bottom line, everybody agrees, we need to get him home. How they do it is the sensitive and difficult thing.

We are going to take a short break here. Talking about controversy, ahead @ THIS HOUR, rocker Ted Nugent, kicking up major controversy in the Texas governor's race.

We've got a live report for you, straight ahead.

BERMAN: Yeah, wait till you hear what he's been saying.


BERMAN: We have some live pictures to show you from Upper Marlboro in Maryland where President Obama is about to speak.

I assure you -- oh, there they are at the bottom of the screen, right there. There is President Obama.

He is very, very small; we're very, very big, which masks the dichotomy in importance between us here.

He is going to speak about some greenhouse-gas emissions standards. He's going to be talking about environmental regulations as his part of year of action plan to do things, sometimes without the approval of Congress.

As soon as he starts speaking, we will take you there, live.

PEREIRA: He is at a distribution center for Safeway, the grocery store chain. They've implemented some of these changes to their own fleet, so he felt that that was the place to speak about this.

We'll take you there live when it happens.

BERMAN: In the meantime, we're going to talk about a political showdown in Texas, outspoken musician and reality star Ted Nugent versus Texas Democrats.

Now, Ted Nugent was invited to go on the campaign trail with the Texas attorney general, a Republican who's running for governor, Greg Abbott.

PEREIRA: That invitation comes weeks after Nugent spouted some pretty controversial comments about the president. He called the president a "sub-human mongrel," among other things.

Joining us is our chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash and Christy Hoppe, the Austin bureau chief for "The Dallas Morning News." What a pleasure to have you.

So, guys, here is what Nugent said about the president last month. Let's just refresh your memories.


TED NUGENT, MUSICIAN: Obviously failed to galvanize and prod, if not shame, enough Americans to be ever-vigilant not to let a Chicago, communist-raised, communist-educated, communist-nurtured, sub-human mongrel like the ACORN community organizer gangster Barack Hussein Obama to weasel his way into the top office of authority in the United States of America.


PEREIRA: And he goes on to call for President Obama to be impeached.

Dana, I know you have had a chance to speak to some folks from Greg Abbot's camp. What are they saying now?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Michaela, oftentimes when campaigns make controversial decisions, they try to mask the reasons.

They are not doing that, at least according to the source I spoke to. They are fully admitting that Ted Nugent, despite or even because of the comments that he displayed, is a big draw among Republican primary voters in Texas.

And today marks the first day of early voting in Texas, so they invited him to campaign with Greg Abbott, and they think that it is going to pay off among Republican primary voters. The example I was given was they're doing this event at a very small restaurant in Denton, Texas. They had about 100 RSVPs before they invited Ted Nugent. It is 300 after they invited Ted Nugent.

They know it is controversial, the things he is saying -- not just that but many other things. But they say he is a draw and that's why they are doing it. Really, pretty candid. As cynical as it is, at least it is candid.

BERMAN: No, they aren't backing off at all. I have been watching the tweets that are coming from his campaign. Dave Carney (ph), key strategist, things like that. They're very, very proud of this. They are promoting it.

The Democrats in Texas, though, are jumping all over this. The Democratic Party chairman responded, "Texans deserve better than a statewide office holder and candidate running for governor who welcomes Ted Nugent and his repugnant comments."

Meanwhile, Abbott's people is defending it saying, "Nugent is a forceful advocate for individual liberty and constitutional rights, especially the Second Amendment cherished by Texans."

So Christy, is this about the Second Amendment or what here? And also let me ask you about the Democrats here because this is a very charged election right now. It looks like it's going to be Wendy Davis, a state senator, up against Greg Abbott, the attorney general. And gender issues very much at the center of this campaign.

CHRISTY HOPPE, AUSTIN BUREAU CHIEF, DALLAS MORNING NEWS: Right. There are two things you have to do to win high public office in Texas. And that's know how to lead a prayer and know how to shoot a gun, and Greg Abbott has done both. And he is underscoring his credentials there by inviting Ted Nugent.

The Democrats are jumping on things that Ted Nugent has said about women, calling them whores and other things I can't say on TV, and about elected officials. So they are also pointing to his early history of dating very young women and Greg Abbott has a cybercrimes unit that he has been very proud of that looks at sexual predators online. So they are trying to draw the parallels that Greg Abbott has made an unforced error here.

PEREIRA: Dana, I am curious how you think this is going to play on the long-term and also on a larger scale nationally with the GOP. Because by some accounts, you would think that the GOP is sort of struggling from a bit of an identity crisis about who they're appealing to and who is being made feel welcome within their party. This flies against all of that.

BASH: It's such a great question, Michaela, because usually when you make a move like this, it is because you have a very tough primary campaign. That's not the case for Greg Abbott. His campaign aides fully admit that the biggest challenge is going to be against the Democrats. So why put themselves in a position to have the kinds of attacks like you just saw from the Democratic Party down there?

It really is a different kind of campaign. I remember and I think John was out there too covering John McCain, who, when it was uncovered that certain talk show host who was campaigning with him in Ohio had said some nasty things, he dropped him like a hot potato. And it's just a very different kind of approach to campaigning.

And if you ask the John McCain's of the world, the elder statesmen of the GOP, it is the problem that the Republican Party has. But in a place like Texas, and Cindy knows a lot more than I do, this is exactly what you do need particularly when you have got to get out the base, maybe not so much of an imperative in the Republican primary but it will be to get all those people out in the general election. PEREIRA: Well, ladies, I appreciate you both talking to us about this. There is obviously a lot more we could say. For now, we will say thank you to Dana Bash and Christy Hoppe. Thanks so much for joining us to talk about this.

I feel like it is not going to be the last we hear about it, not just in the twitosphere but also in some of the mainstream media as well.

BERMAN: Look, also, Ted Nugent knows how to get his name and face and statements out there.

PEREIRA: But using such race-baiting is really going to upset a lot of people.

BERMAN: You mean mongrel. Mongrel was the phrase there that I think is a loaded, loaded phrase.

All right, we are going to take a big shift here. We're going to talk about the Olympics, how the medals are stacking up in Sochi. Russia and the U.S. tied with 19 medals each, five gold. Norway right behind with 18 medals, 7 of them gold. Then the Dutch, the Netherlands; Canada is dominating the silver medals. You are great at second best with 8 silver medals, they have 16 total. Germany has the most golds with 8 and 15 total medals.

Wow, this is like a big math equation here.

PEREIRA: There's a lot of numbers. You okay with all that?

Bob Costas back in the Olympic broadcast booth. You've probably been watching. He missed almost a week because of a bad case of pink eye.

BERMAN: Yeah, Matt lauer, Meredith Vieira filled in for him. And here's what Costas said when he took the reins back.


BOB COSTAS, BROADCASTER: My thanks as well to all of you who expressed your concern. My apologies to everyone for the unavoidable but uncomfortable circumstance of a broadcaster's ill-timed affliction getting in the way, even for just a few moments for what we all came here for -- the Olympic games.


PEREIRA: Ill-timed affliction.

BERMAN: It had to be a really awful case of pink eye to miss the work that he missed. Costas still says he is not 100 percent.

PEREIRA: He had not missed a prime time Olympic broadcast since the Seoul Olympic Games back in 1988. Had to believe. It's great that he's got such a good bench he can call upon to help out. And I'm sure they chomped at the bit to go over there and help.

BERMAN: The iron man, but the eyes not made of iron. PEREIRA: Not so much.

BERMAN: All right. Ahead at this hour, President Obama goes it alone. Now he wants to talk about fuel efficiency standards for big trucks. He's not waiting around for Congress either.


PEREIRA: Well, the president is on the road today. President Obama is making a big move to cut down on greenhouse gas pollution. He's specifically targeting emissions from the medium and heavy-duty trucks. The president wants tighter fuel efficiency rules for all of these big vehicles, ones that weigh more than 8500 pounds. We're talking about anything from large pickup trucks, school buses to those huge 18-wheeler tractor trailers.

BERMAN: The president is about to call for new standards at a speech in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. Let's check in now with Wolf Blitzer and Athena Jones. Also joining us, Rana Foroohar, CNN's global economic analyst.

And Wolf, let me start with you here. Because environmental standards, climate change, battling these types of things is one of the key areas that the White House has been saying all along that the president can address in his so-called year of action.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And they say he can do this unilaterally through executive action without congressional authorization, without congressional approval. He's done this on several earlier occasions. He now says that in 2015, 2016, you put greater standards on fuel efficiency on these trucks and these school buses and all sorts of other larger vehicles, you're going to save in terms of gas -- greenhouse gas emissions, and that's going to be a significant advantage.

He says he can do it right away. He's going to make the announcement at a Safeway distribution center right outside Washington, D.C. Safeway itself, the White House says, has been involved in more fuel- efficient trucks and that's why he decided to make the announcement out there.

PEREIRA: Athena, let's bring you into the conversation. As you heard Wolf just say, plans to do this without Congress in this year of action, taking action on things that don't require this congressional approval.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And this is an example of one of those things. There has been a lot of talk recently, it doesn't really die out, about whether climate change is real. The president said in his State of the Union address, that climate change is a fact. And so this is one of many ways that the administration is attempting to help battle, to help tackle the challenge of climate change.

These rules, though, are the next phase of an effort that began back in 2010, 2011. 2011 is when the administration first announced these new standards for trucks. And so this is -- those were for models 2014-2018. This next phase will be for truck models from 2018 and beyond.

So this again is one of those examples of the kinds of things that they say the president can do without congressional action. They want to show that the president is doing everything that he can without the help of Congress, because we know it has been pretty difficult getting a lot of things through Congress.

BERMAN: Rana, the Clean Air Act of 1970, the White House says, makes it clear that the president can do this without the help of Congress. He can instruct the EPA to set standards for emissions and also for mileage in cars and trucks. What is the industry saying about this? I know the White House says they will work with the industry over the next few years to set these standards, but car and truck manufacturers, are they concerned?

RANA FOROOHAR, TIME ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR: They are concerned. But this is something that business has been preparing for for a long time in this country. Actually, in some ways, longer than government.

Major manufacturers of all stripes have been preparing not only for emission standards but for the day when there might be a carbon tax, for example. This is something companies think a lot about. Emission standards are already prevalent in places like Europe so if you're a global company, you're already thinking about these things. You probably already have certain protocols in place.

That said, I think that he's going to get some push back not only from industry but perhaps also from environmentalists. This is good news for them, but we have to remember that the administration has an all of the above energy strategy. That means that fracking is something they're in support of, all kind of fossil fuel usages, at the same time they're trying to combat emissions. So I think it's going to be a mixed bag of reaction from environmentalists.

PEREIRA: Well, it's interesting, so I was thinking about what are the numbers here? The heavy duty trucks account for 4 percent of registered vehicles on the roads here in the states. But what's interesting is they account for 25 percent of road fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions coming from the transportation sector. That's a -- when you think about that and when you see all of these vehicles on the road, it makes sense that they're making this a focus.

Wolf, I can -- I think a lot of people can understand the push is, but I think there are going to be people that say, why now, why make this push now?

BLITZER: Well, my own sense is -- and I could be wrong on this, wouldn't be the first time -- my own sense is that the president is making a major push on all of these environmental related issues through executive action because he might be gearing up to approve the Keystone Pipeline, which has been very controversial with environmentalists. Recently, there was a State Department, a report that came out indicating that it wouldn't necessarily have a negative impact on the environment. A lot of environmentalists are very unhappy with this pipeline going from Canada through the United States to the Gulf of Mexico. My own sense is the president is pushing a lot of these other environmental issues right now to sort of help him if he decides to go ahead and authorize, approve the Keystone Pipeline in June or July. You say, why now? Because I think he has to make a decision coming up fairly soon. That might help him with some of the base, if you will, of the Democratic Party, who are adamantly opposed to this Keystone Pipeline, although it does have a lot of support. Rana can tell you it's a huge issue out there.

BERMAN: Wolf, in my experience, you're never wrong. Just so you know. I do think Keystone is a big part of this.

BLITZER: It's just a poltiical gut instinct that I have watching politicians for a long time.

FOROOHAR: I think you're absolutely right. And I think that goes to the point that, really, the president is pushing a lot of strategies that aren't necessarily environmentally friendly but are probably a good thing for energy independence, which the administration has made a big priority.

BERMAN: All right, we're keeping our eye on the president on this speech in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. We think he will be taking the podium any minute now. We're going to bring our panel back right after the break.