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Coverage: Obama Talks Truck Fuel Efficiency; Doctor Makes House Calls to Homeless

Aired February 18, 2014 - 11:30   ET


RANA FAROOHAR, TIME ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR: 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.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We're keeping our eye on the president and this speech, 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.


BERMAN: All right. Welcome back, everyone. There is the president, Upper Marlboro, Maryland, talking about energy, greenhouse emissions, and also fuel efficiency standards. Let's listen to what he says.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We want to thank Safeway for having us here today at this busy distribution center, where delivery trucks get everything from Doritos to diapers where they need to go.

And by the way, I have a little soft spot for Safeway in my heart, because some of you know I went to high school in Hawaii. And I was living with my grandparents. Our main grocery store was Safeway; it was right down the way. And so my grandmother would send me out to go shopping at Safeway. And everybody there always treated me very well. So I very much appreciate the good work you guys do.

And I want to thank all the workers and business people and labor leaders and environmental leaders who are here today as we take another big step to grow our economy and reduce America's dependence on foreign oil.

In my State of the Union address, I said that this would be a year of action. So over the past few weeks, I've acted to require federal contractors to pay their employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour, because we believe in a higher minimum wage.

I've ordered an across-the-board reform of job training programs so we can train workers with the skills that employers actually need and match them to the good jobs that are out there right now needing to be filled. I directed the treasury secretary to create something we're calling my RA, a new way to help working Americans start saving for retirement. And we've brought together business leaders who have committed to helping more unemployed Americans find work, no matter how long they've been looking.

So the point is, I'm eager to work with Congress wherever I can. But whenever I connect on my own, to expand opportunity for more Americans and help build our middle class, I'm going to do that.

And all of you, I think, understand that, although the economy has been doing better, we have spent the past five years fighting our way back from the worst recession of our lifetimes.

Now, the economy is growing. Our businesses have created over 8.5 million new jobs over the past four years. The unemployment rate is actually the lowest it's been in over five years.

But the trends, the long-term trends that have hurt middle-class families for decades, have continued. Folks at the top are doing better than ever before. Average wages and incomes have barely budged. Too many Americans are working harder than ever just to keep up.

So our job is to not only get the economy growing but also to reverse these trends and make sure that everybody can succeed. We've got to build an economy that works for everybody, not just the fortunate few. Opportunity for all. That's the essence of America. No matter who you are, no matter where you come from, no matter how you start out, if you're willing to work hard and take responsibility, you can succeed. So I've laid out an opportunity agenda to help us do that.

Part one is create more new jobs that pay good wages. Jobs in manufacturing, energy, exports, innovation.

Part two, we've got to train folks with the skills they need to fill those jobs.

Part three, we've got to guarantee every child access to a world-class education.

Part four is making sure that the economy rewards hard work. With equal pay for equal work and wages you can live on. Savings you can retire on. Health insurance you can count on, that's there when you need it.

Now, there are very few factors that are helping grow our economy more, bringing more good jobs back to America, than our commitment to American manufacturing and American energy. That's why we're here today.

Five years ago, we set out to break our dependence on foreign oil. Today, America is closer to energy independence than we've been in decades. For the first time in nearly 20 years, America produces more oil here at home than we buy from other countries. All levels of dangerous carbon pollution that contributes to climate change has gone down even as our production has gone up.

And one of the reasons why is because we dedicated ourselves to manufacturing new cars and new trucks that go farther on a gallon of gas. That saves families money. It cuts down harmful pollution, and it creates new advances in American technology.

So for decades, the fuel efficiency standards of our cars and trucks were stuck in neutral, even as other kinds of technology leapt forward. And that left families and businesses and our economy vulnerable to fluctuations in oil prices. Every time oil prices shot up, the economy got hurt. Our automakers were in danger of being left in the dust by foreign automakers. Carbon pollution was going unchecked, which was having severe impacts on our weather.

That's why after taking office, my the administration worked with automakers, autoworkers, environmental advocates and states across the country. And we put -- we set in motion the first-ever national policy aimed at both increasing gas mileage and decreasing greenhouse gas pollution for all new cars and trucks sold in the United States.

And as our automakers retooled and prepared to start making the world's best cars again, we aimed to raise fuel economy standards to 35.5 miles per gallon for a new vehicle by 2016. Yes! Wow! That was an increase of more than 8 miles per gallon over what cars had averaged at the time. And what we were clear about was, if you set a rule, if you set a clear goal, we would give our companies the certainty that they needed to innovate and out-build the rest of the world. They could figure it out if they had a goal that they were trying to reach.

And thanks to their ingenuity and our work, we're going to meet that goal. Two years later, we've already seen enormous progress. We're building on that progress by setting an even more ambitious target. We are going to double the distance our cars and light trucks can go on a gallon of gas by 2025. We're going to double it. That means -- that's big news. Because what it means is you've got to fill up every two weeks instead of every week. And that saves the typical family more than $8,000 at the pump over time. I'm assuming you can use $8,000 that you're not paying at the gas station. And in the process, it cuts American oil consumption by 12 billion barrels.

So we let the automakers decide how they were going to do it. We set the goal and we said, go figure it out. And they invested in innovative and cost-effective technologies. Some are already making cars that beat the target of nearly 55 miles per gallon. They've got plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles. They're taking advantage of the investments that the recovery act made in American advances in battery technology. So cars are getting better, and they're getting more fuel-efficient all the time.

For anybody who said this couldn't be done, or that it would hurt the American auto industry, the American auto industry sold more cars last year than any time since 2007.

And since we stepped in to help our automakers retool -- since we stepped -- stepped in to help the automakers retool, the American auto industry has created almost 425,000 new jobs. So we raised fuel efficiency, helped consumers, helped improve air quality.

And we're making better cars than ever, and the automakers are hiring folks again for good jobs all across the country. More plants are running -- more plants are running at full capacity. Some are even running three shifts, 24 hours a day, churning out some of the most high-tech, fuel-efficient, high-performance cars in the world. And that's a story of American ingenuity, American grit. And everybody has a right to be proud of it.

But today, we're taking the next step. Heavy-duty trucks account for just 4 percent of all the vehicles on the highway. I know when you're driving sometimes, it feels like it is more. But there are only 4 percent of all the vehicles. They're responsible for about 20 percent of carbon pollution in the transportation sector. Trucks like these are responsible for about 20 percent of our on-road fuel consumption.

And because they haul about 70 percent of all domestic freight, 70 percent of the stuff we use, everything from flat-screen TVs to diapers to produce to you name it, every mile that we gain in fuel efficiency is worth thousands of dollars in savings every year. So that's why we are investing in research to get more fuel economy gains.

And thanks to a partnership between industry and my administration, the truck behind me was able to achieve a 75 percent improvement in fuel economy over the last year. Seventy-five percent. That's why I call this super truck. It's impressive. This one right here, as well. I mean, these are -- first of all, they're really big. But you can see how they've redesigned the truck in order for us to save fuel economy.

Improving gas mileage for these trucks are going to drive down our oil imports even further. That reduces carbon pollution even more, cuts down on businesses' fuel costs, which should pay off in lower prices for consumers. So it's not just a win/win. It's a win/win/win. You've got three wins. In 2011, we set new standards for medium and heavy-duty trucks to take effect this year and last until 2018. Three weeks ago, in my State of the Union address, I said, we'd build on that success.

Today, I'm directing the secretary of transportation, Anthony Foxx, right here, the former mayor of Charlotte, and Gina McCarthy, the administrator of the EPA, two outstanding public servants -- they are charged, their goal is to develop fuel economy standards for heavy- duty trucks that will take us well into the next decade, just like our cars. They're going to partner with manufacturers and autoworkers and states and other stakeholders, truckers, to come up with a proposal by March of next year, and they'll complete the rule a year after that.

And businesses that buy these types of trucks have sent a clear message to the nearly 30,000 workers who build them: "We want trucks that use less oil, save more money and cut pollution." So far, 23 companies have joined our National Clean Fleets Partnership to reduce their oil consumption or replace their old fleets of trucks with more fuel-efficient models, and collectively, they operate about 1 million commercial vehicles nationwide. So this is a lot of companies. And some are competitors. If rivals like PepsiCo and Coca-Cola or UPS and FedEx or AT&T and Verizon, if they can join together on this, then maybe Democrats and Republicans can do the same. Maybe Democrats and Republicans can get together.

So when you see these companies' new electric or natural-gas-powered delivery or garbage trucks, it's due to this partnership. And the reason we're here is because Safeway was an early leader on this issue. By improving the aerodynamics of its trucks, investing in larger trailers, more efficient tires, Safeway has improved its own fuel efficiency, and the results are so solid that Safeway now encourages all the companies it hires to ship its products to do the same.

So to help our businesses and manufacturers meet this new goal, we're offering new tax credits, both for companies that manufacture heavy- duty alternative fuel vehicles and those that build fuel infrastructures so that trucks running on biodiesel or natural gas or hybrid technology, they'll have more places to fill up.

Let me say this. The goal we're setting is ambitious. But these areas where ambition has worked out really well for us so far. Don't make small plans. Make big plans. And anybody who had dire predictions for the auto industry, said we couldn't do it, manufacturers couldn't bring jobs back to America. Every time they say that, they're proven wrong. Every time somebody says you can't grow the economy while bringing down pollution, it's turned out they've been wrong.

Anybody who says we can't compete when it comes to clean energy technologies like solar and wind, they've had to eat those words. You can't bet against American workers or American industry. You can't bet against America. Otherwise, you're going to lose money every time, because we know how to do this when we set broad, ambitious goals for ourselves.

So from day one, we've known we had to rebuild our economy and transition to a clean energy future, and we knew it wouldn't be easy or quick. We've got a lot of work to do on both counts.

But the economy has grown. We're creating jobs. We're generating more clean energy. We're cutting our dependence on foreign oil. We're pumping out less dangerous carbon pollution. If we keep going down this road, then we're going to have a future full of good-paying jobs. We've got assembly lines that are humming with the components of a clean energy age. We've got more of the best trucks and cars in the world designed and engineered and made in America. If we keep on going, we're going to leave a better future for our children.

And I'm proud of Safeway and all its workers for helping to show us the way. If it can be done here, it can be done all across the country. So congratulations to all of you.

Thank you and God bless you. God bless America.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: That was the president speaking in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, at a distribution center for a grocery chain, Safeway, a company that has worked with the EPA to make strides in improving the efficiency of their own truck fleet. And if you've traveled across America, you know there's a few Safeway trucks out there.

Speaking to Americans about, you know, our need for our own fuel efficiency in our own home and sort of using that as a back drop of the need to do more with those big trucks that he says accounts for about 4 percent of the trucks or the vehicles that are out there. But a big chunk of the greenhouse gas emission.

BERMAN: About 20 percent of those emissions. And the specific thing he did today doesn't sound that earth-shattering. He called on the EPA and the Transportation Department to come up with some new standards within the next year for these heavy trucks.

So, that, in and of itself, doesn't sound like a big deal. But I want to bring in Wolf Blitzer, Athena Jones and Rana Faroohar here. Because this is part of a much larger theme that is very important in the second term of the president's administration, Wolf. It's the president saying he's going to act where he can without Congress and the environment. Fuel efficiency is clearly one of those areas where he sees some possibilities.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, the -- It's important that he does, from his perspective, these kind of unilateral actions, these executive decisions without congressional legislation, without formal bills being passed by Congress and signed into law.

The down side of all of these executive actions, of course, is that he can sign these executive orders unilaterally, taking these decisions. If there's a Republican, let's say, president of the United States who's elected in 2016, on day one or day two, that Republican president can sign another executive order, in effect rescinding these kinds of decisions.

If there's legislation that's passed, it's obviously much more difficult to rescind a bill that has become law, the law of the land. It's a lot easier to simply sign executive orders rescinding these kinds of decisions. That's why the president in the second term was reluctant to go ahead and undertake all these executive orders. In his second term, he's doing it a lot more frequently, especially in the face of this bitter division that has developed between the Republicans and the Democrats here in Washington.

PEREIRA: Well, and we all saw that and heard that jab at Congress. I think that got a few chuckles in the room.

Athena, let's bring you in. He also spoke about breaking dependence on foreign oil, and that's been an important point that the president has been making for some time.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's true. He has been making this argument, the importance of making sure that the U.S. can be as energy-independent as possible. He's been making that since his run, his first run, for the White House back during the campaign in 2007 and 2008. So that's a big part of this.

It's not just about reducing emissions. It's not just about fighting climate change. It's also about saving people money and then making sure the U.S. can produce as much of its own energy as possible.

And you heard in that speech a lot of focus on innovation. Other ways this could be good for the economy, good for the car industry. The groups that have come out already in support of the president's announcement today, groups like the NRDC, which is the National Resources Defense Council, are saying, "Look, when you introduce these new standards for whatever they are, vehicles, just regular cars on the road or also these heavier vehicles, you spur innovation in the industry. The president talked a bit about that, those Safeway trucks that were able to increase their efficiency.

And so that's all part of this, as well. Sort of another effect of these new standards to help the economy, help car makers innovate with these new vehicles -- Michaela.

PEREIRA: All right. Athena Jones, Wolf Blitzer, Rana Faroohar, thank you so much.

You know, it is interesting, though. Americans are dropping their support of more fuel-efficient autos, saying the government should not require it. In 2006, it was 44 percent that said the government is requiring. Last year, just 27 percent.

PEREIRA: Dropped substantially.

BERMAN: All right. We'll be right back.


PEREIRA: Making house calls to the homeless. That's how Dr. Jim Wither spends most of his days and nights.

BERMAN: And as Chris Cuomo shows us, he's taking his makeshift clinic idea worldwide.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For more than 20 years, Dr. Jim Withers has spent his days like this.

DR. JIM WITHERS, OPERATION SAFETY NET: You guys going to stay here or use the shelter?

CUOMO: Operation Safety Net is looking for patients.

WITHERS: Do you want a bottle of water?

We've seen people out here with all kinds of things that should never be on the street, catheters and tubes coming out of them.

Yo, Safety Net! CUOMO: Working in these conditions is rarely easy, but Dr. Jim Withers says turning his back on the homeless in Pittsburgh was never an option.

WITHERS: There were some times when I was kind of scared. I had a guy point a shotgun at me, and I had a guy threaten to cut my throat. But once you get to know people and they become real to you, it's hard to forget them.

I dropped you off some firewood.

CUOMO: On days like this, when temperatures are below freezing, the stakes are especially high.

WITHERS: When it gets below 15, somewhere in that range, everybody is at risk. So we do extra patrols.

Sometimes you sense when a person is giving up, and I found that that is a pretty strong predictor about who might not make it.

CUOMO: Withers says the payoff has been worth it. That's why he founded the Street Medicine Institute: to bring his vision to cities across the world.

WITHERS: I think there's just a sense that, if we weren't doing this, there would be no one there for them. And it gives an incredible amount of meaning to everyday work. I wouldn't give it up for anything.


PEREIRA: Simple and impactful. Thanks for joining us at @THIS HOUR.

BERMAN: "LEGAL VIEW" with Ashleigh Banfield starts right after this.