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Arizona Governor Vetoes Anti-Gay Bill; Smoke in the Cabin; Extreme Weather; Warning for Afghanistan

Aired February 27, 2014 - 05:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Veto. Arizona's governor blocks a controversial religious rights bill that many called antigay. What she had to say overnight.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Severe, terrible weather across the country, violent storms tearing down trees in the West, temperatures plunge in the East. In the Midwest, rivers have become blocks of ice.

Indra Petersons tracking the worst from coast to coast for us.

BERMAN: And breaking news this morning. Panic on board a Delta Airlines flight when smoke fills the cabin. People unable to breathe, passengers told to evacuate and leave everything behind.

ROMANS: Wow. Terrifying.

BERMAN: Good morning, everyone. Good to see you today. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It's Thursday, February 27th. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

Let's begin this morning in Arizona, where opponents of a so-called "Religious Freedom Bill" overjoyed this morning. Governor Jan brewer has vetoed the measure that would have allowed businesses to deny service to gays and others, to deny service to their own customers based on religious grounds.

Brewer says the bill could have produced, quote, "unintended negative consequences." Let's get more this morning from CNN's Miguel Marquez.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, Christine, calls for veto and protests turned into celebration here at the Arizona capitol. They even produced signs very quickly for, "Thank you, Governor Brewer," and they were chanting "Thank you, Jan," just after she vetoed SB-1062. This is the bill that the governor came out and said very strongly, in a strong statement to say that this bill was too broadly written and there was no reason for it to be law in Arizona, and therefore, she was not going to sign it.

She heard from legislators and from businesspeople all day long about this bill. One thing in particular that she heard from legislators is that she felt it had been rushed through both the House and the Senate here. For now, this bill is dead. The people here are celebrating. And people who support SB-1062, though, say that they will come back and try again -- John, Christine.


BERMAN: They faced a lot of pressure.

Our thanks to Miguel Marquez.

The NFL said they would move the Super Bowl, at least look into it, had they not vetoed that law in Arizona.

All right, we have some breaking news for you. A scare for passengers on board a Delta connection flight from Los Angeles to Oakland. These passengers were quickly evacuated after landing overnight when the smell of smoke filled the cabin. You can hear that right there. "We cannot breathe back here. Go."

Here's what one of the passengers had to say about it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: By the time we got to the gate, the cabin started filling up. Smelled like burnt rubber. And the pilots just immediately put the plane to a stop, just really came to a jolting stop, and the flight attendants were telling everybody to get off, get off the plane, get off the plane. Leave your stuff behind, get off the plane.


BERMAN: Dramatic situation. All the passengers and crew were able to depart the plane without injuries. You can see they're leaving right there. Right now, authorities are trying to determine the source of that smell.

Now to the brutal news that so many of you are waking up to right now -- the big, bad, awful cold. Look at that. Temperatures plunging to record lows. Look at that 30 below up there!

This is the Midwest and the Northeast. Also, there's also another potential major winter storm brewing for the weekend.

And then there's this, there's a huge weather story brewing out West -- the drought-plagued region out there finally getting what they so desperately need, rain. They're getting lots of rain. In fact, maybe too much rain.

Indra Petersons is here with the forecast.

A lot going on, Indra.


Yes, unfortunately, this cold will not go anywhere. Let's talk about what it feels like again this morning, today even rougher than it was yesterday. We're talking about those temperatures. Currently, Pittsburgh feels like 16 -- or is 16, Chicago 10.

The feels like you're going to notice. It feels a lot worse than this. We're talking about Duluth almost feeling like 40 below this morning.

Those are dangerous temperatures. We're actually seeing those windchill advisories spread a little bit farther to the east as once again that colder air is progressing even farther to the East. And you're going to see this when you look at departures for the afternoon highs.

So, how much below normal we are for this time of year. Chicago 31 below normal for this time of year, only 10 degrees by the afternoon, New York City looking for 32.

Going into tomorrow, look at that difference. You're seeing the cold air spread even farther, so New York City goes down to the 20s, a good 20 below where they should be. Notice the South also seeing temperatures below normal.

As you go towards the actual weekend and the South recovers, we still talk about this very cold air as another reinforcing segment of cold air makes its way through. So, the Upper Midwest again, talking 20, 30 below average, definitely not what you want to hear going into the weekend.

Now, there are several stories out there. Of course, you have this frigid cold air in the East, but out West we've been talking about how dry it's been, but this weekend they'll be talking about chances of rain. Currently raining right now, but what is expected by Friday into Saturday, we are talking about the heaviest rain they have seen in three years, guys. Even the threat for severe weather and tornadoes, sounds like a good thing. Of course, now, the rain does, but flooding potential will be high, especially in burned area.

BERMAN: Indra, can the ground handle it when they've had so much drought out there? Can the ground handle torrential downpours?

PETERSONS: That's exactly the point -- not at all, and especially the burned areas on top of it. It's a double whammy. It's a huge concern. You want rain, but you don't want not all at once like this.

BERMAN: All right. Thanks so much, Indra.

All right. This morning, we are learning the Obama administration wants to hang on to phone records that the National Security Agency collected on millions of Americans. Those records are supposed to be destroyed after five years, but the Justice Department says they need to be preserved. Why? Because of civil lawsuits over the surveillance program. The information could end up as evidence at a trial. The court is expected to approve this request, but it might want the NSA to agree not to access the material for intelligence-gathering.

ROMANS: This morning, new word about the possible consequences between the deep freeze and U.S./Afghan relations. The government -- the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff telling the "Associated Press" what could happen if Afghanistan doesn't sign a security pact with the U.S.

Army General Martin Dempsey says it's hurting the morale of Afghan soldiers, and he's afraid some could end up siding with the Taliban.

President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign the agreement. President Obama wants the Pentagon to speed up plans to pull all the U.S. troops, but he's hoping Karzai's replacement will sign the pact. The election is this spring -- a very tense situation between these two countries.

BERMAN: To say the least.

All right, we have nuclear news this morning. Secretary of State John Kerry says military action should be a last resort in the effort to get Iran to abandon its nuclear activities. The secretary says the U.S. has an obligation to pursue negotiations with Tehran first. Iran struck a preliminary agreement with six world powers, including the United States, to halt its most sensitive nuclear operations, getting relief from some economic sanctions in return.

President Obama has said that all options are on the table regarding Iran's nuclear program.

ROMANS: In Syria this morning, Hezbollah fighters are said to be taking the lead against rebels in Syria's 3-year-old civil war. Hezbollah in tandem with regime forces prevented a rebel takeover of Damascus. Nearly 200 rebel soldiers have been killed in this ongoing battle in a region just east of the capital.

BERMAN: A bill aimed at taking the prosecution of sex assaults and other crimes out of the hands of military commanders is expected to come up for a Senate vote in the next few weeks.

On Wednesday, lawmakers heard from victims who said they felt abandoned by their superiors and then attempted suicide. The Army, meanwhile, says it has removed nearly 600 soldiers from positions of trust as rape counselors, recruiters and drill sergeants because of infractions ranging from sex assault to child abuse to drunk driving.

ROMANS: All right, it's a banner day for Tea Party Patriots. They'll mark the fifth anniversary of the political movement with an event in the nation's capitol. Speakers will include some prominent conservatives, such as Senators Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.

Tea Party officials say they'll reflect on how the movement was formed, its significant successes and the political road ahead. BERMAN: Just five years old. Think about it, think of the impact they've had in that time.

ROMANS: And the timing, right when the stock market hit that terrible low, right when the stimulus was passed.

BERMAN: Housing crisis.

ROMANS: All the things happening right then five years ago that were sort of the crucible, I think, for the Tea Party movement.

BERMAN: Eight minutes after the hour right now.

And we have huge news this morning about what you eat. The White House set to unveil new food nutrition labels today. This is a very big deal. First Lady Michelle Obama will make the announcement as part of a week-long fourth anniversary celebration of her Let's Move Campaign to combat obesity.

It's not known exactly what the changes will be, but it is expected that calories will be more prominently displayed, and this is the really big deal --


BERMAN: -- serving sizes will be more accurate to what consumers are actually eating. So, you know that bottle of soda will be one serving instead of 2 1/2. Things like that.

ROMANS: Right.

BERMAN: This is the first update to food nutrition labels in more than two decades.

ROMANS: And there have been some who have been hoping that these nutrition labels will tell you how many teaspoons of sugar, for example, are in a product, not how many grams, since you have no idea what that means, really, you know?

BERMAN: Yes, I didn't know there would be that. There may be a line for added sugar, which is another big deal --

ROMANS: Right.

BERMAN: -- for food label.

ROMANS: All right. Janet Yellen back in the hot seat and her testimony on Capitol Hill could jolt the stock market today. She speaks to a senate committee later this morning. And, you know, the last time she was on the Hill, it was the first time on the Hill as a Fed chief, two weeks ago.

This is how investors responded: the Dow popped nearly 200 points, briefly topped 16,000 the last time she appeared.

Yellen plans to keep the Fed's market-friendly policies in place, so that's low interest rates and a low withdrawal of stimulus from the economy. But it's been two weeks, you know, since she last appeared, and the economic data hasn't been all that great. So, Wall Street wants to know if her outlook has changed.

For now, stock futures slightly lower. Overseas markets right now, Berman, they're mixed.

BERMAN: All right, we have breaking news this morning in Ukraine, something we're watching very, very closely. Gunmen taking over a parliament building, raising a Russian flag. Could this lead to a standoff with Russia?

The people there are being warned to stay off the streets. We're live with the very latest.

ROMANS: And Justin Bieber stumbling his way through a sobriety test. Oh, yes, you can watch it on video. We've got it for you, next.


ROMANS: We're following breaking news this morning from Ukraine. Gunmen storming the parliament in the Ukraine southern Crimea region. Some 50 armed gunmen are said to be occupying two buildings and they have raised a Russian flag.

Now, this comes as Ukraine's lawmakers meet to vote in a new government following the removal of the President Viktor Yanukovych.

CNN's Phil Black is live in Kiev for us.

Phil, what are you hearing? The tensions here between -- between people in this country who are still very torn about its future. What's happening?

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Christine, and this is the strongest example of that so far. Clearly, it's very fluid. We could show you live pictures from just outside the Ukrainian parliament building, where earlier this morning, around 50, we believe, armed men stormed that building, taking control. People who saw them arrive say they were carrying automatic weapons, rocket- propelled grenades.

Clearly, they don't look like they want to give it back, give it up easily, and local political leaders are telling us that they're trying to negotiate with these men and they're refusing to do so. They are not recognizing the authority of those local leaders.

So, at the moment, authorities have set up a perimeter around the building. They are saying they will not use force to try and retake it at this time. They are trying to keep the situation calm, but it is a direct challenge to the authority of the new government here in Ukraine.

And in addition to all of this, there remains the question, what will Russia do? The Ukrainian acting president has warned Russian forces, who have a naval base, a leased naval base in this southern region of Ukraine, not to leave the base. And if they do, if they move beyond the perimeter of their grounds, then that will be interpreted as an act of aggression.

So, clearly, the situation is very tense today here in Kiev, a new government will be voted on by parliament and interim government. It now has a new crisis to deal with on top of the political and economic problems that this country has, Christine.

ROMANS: Economic problems. The world is watching and talking about how the IMF, the E.U., the U.S. and, potentially Russia, can try to help fill that $35 billion gap the country needs to fill.

Phil Black, thank you.

BERMAN: Think about what Phil's saying -- there's a Russian military base, a huge naval base in the area where the Ukraine now is trying to maintain control with Russian troops stationed right there. A very, very tense situation.

Other news here in the United States. A defiant Chris Christie says he will not let the hysteria over the New Jersey bridgegate scandal distract him from what he calls his real job or his second-term agenda. The governor has denied knowing anything about the politically motivated lane closings at the George Washington Bridge.

In a radio interview Wednesday, Christie was asked about the impact of the state legislature's investigation.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Of course it distracts, but it doesn't prevent us from doing our job. I mean, sure, because if you spent any amount of time on it during any day, that's time that you otherwise would be spending on something else. So, of course, to some extent, but it's an important thing to have to look into and get to the bottom of, and as I've said before, we'll spend the time that we need to spend on it, on appropriate investigations, and then when we have all the information we need, we'll put it out to the public.


BERMAN: Governor Christie acknowledged that his approval numbers have dropped considerably, but he says they're still better than most governors across the country.

ROMANS: All right, we're getting a feel for what a Hillary Clinton presidential campaign might look like and sound like. The former first lady delivering a big speech last night at the University of Miami. Her message: equality and inclusion.

She says the full participation of anyone, including women, poor, young people and disadvantaged, it's the only way to get America turned around. And the crowd, obviously, very warm welcome she got at the University of Miami.

BERMAN: Wow! Look at that right there.

Officials in Texas say they will appeal a federal judge's ruling striking down the state's ban on same-sex marriage. The judge says the Texas law has no purpose but to demean gays and lesbians. Texas is the largest state to have its marriage ban overturned, like others in Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia, the judge stayed his ruling pending appeals.

Governor Rick Perry has vowed to continue the fight for Texans to self-determine their state marriage laws.

ROMANS: All right. New security plans at the Boston marathon after last year's terror attack that killed three and wounded hundreds more. Runners are no longer allowed to wear costumes that cover their faces. Backpacks for carrying water forbidden. And bags banned on buses carrying the runners.

In addition, more exits will be made near the finish line. The new rules were announced Wednesday. The race is April 21st. I can't believe it's been a year.

BERMAN: A federal appeals court ordered the anti-Muslim video pulled from YouTube. This is in response to an lawsuit by an actress in the film. You will remember this film, the innocence of Muslims that ignited riots across the Middle East and left more than 50 people dead.

Cindy Garcia says her voice was dubbed over by an insult against the Prophet Muhammad. She started getting death threats and ruled a copyright suit. On Wednesday, the court ruled that Garcia has a right to protect herself from deception and physical harm.

ROMANS: All right. In Connecticut, state and local law enforcement scheduled to testify Friday in connection with the 2012 sandy hook elementary school massacre. 20 first graders and 6 school staffers shot to death by a lone gunman. A 16-member advisory panel has been charged by the governor with making specific recommendations on school safety, mental health and gun violence prevention.

BERMAN: All right, it is 18 minutes after the hour right now, and we have some new video to show you this morning.

ROMANS: Oh, my.

BERMAN: It's of Justin Bieber, all right? Take a look at this.

Police in Georgia found marijuana and drug paraphernalia while searching Justin Bieber's limousine after they arrested a bodyguard for allegedly stealing a photographer's camera.

Now, all this happening as video of police testing Mr. Bieber's sobriety was released. This test came after his DUI arrest in Miami last month. Not moving very quickly, Justin Bieber there.

ROMANS: It's the shoes. Those big, red shoes make it hard to walk --

BERMAN: It is hard to walk in clown shoes. Obviously, a bit of trouble walking the walk. And the police say he failed a series of tests, including horizontal gaze, walk and turn and finger to the nose. In his defense, those are all very challenging.

ROMANS: They're almost like those Dutch wooden shoes, right? What are they? I don't know. We'll get to the bottom of it.

All right. Incredibly intense moments on the basketball court, two games both giving us heart-stopping, last-second shots!

Joe Carter breaks down what you missed while you were sleeping.

BERMAN: I can't wait to see that.


BERMAN: All right. Welcome back, everyone.

Not one, but two college basketball games decided in overtime with last-second shots. Oh, my gosh, I can't wait because I had this league, but I had to see this.

Joe Carter, show us the video in the "Bleacher Report."

JOE CARTER, BLEACHER REPORT: John, I love you, man. Thank you, for selling it for me.

You know, the tournament, by the way, guys, starts in about 2 1/2 weeks for those that are wondering, you know, when it's time to start buzzing about college basketball, but this kind of quenches our thirst, if you will. The first great finish came in the Michigan/Purdue game.

In overtime, Michigan star player Glenn Robinson III gets the buzzer- beater to fall. Michigan would win 77-76.

Now, on the same floor 20 years ago, his father was the man at Purdue. There's certainly some poetic element to this for what his son did on this famous father's old court. The win, by the way, keeps Michigan in first place in the big ten.

Now, the second great finish came between two instate rivals, UNC/NC State. By the way, these two schools hate each other. In overtime, the Tar Heels' Marcus Paige drops a last-second layup. UNC trailed for most of this game but came back to win in thrilling fashion, 85- 84. The Tar Heels started the season really slow, but they're now one of the hottest team in the country. They've won 10 games in a row.

Well, according to a CBS Sports report, Jonathan Martin's agent met with the dolphins at the NFL combine. Dolphin officials expressed interest in keeping Martin, but Martin's agent says his client is not comfortable returning to Miami. Martin's former teammate at Stanford and now Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, he was asked in an interview if he'd like Martin on his Indianapolis team. Luck said he'd be in favor of it 100 percent and that Martin's a great man.

Hey, trending this morning on, you know, we know that NFL teams ask a lot of questions to draft prospects during the interview process at the NFL combine, but here's a new one. What team do you choose when you play Madden, the football video game?

Now, these questions can sometimes border the, dare I say, creepy zone. Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles said that several teams asked him about his now Internet-famous girlfriend. They wanted to know if she would be around if team officials visited him in Florida and if she'd, quote, "Be there for dinner and stuff like that."

Now, we know a few weeks ago, well, I should say probably a month or so ago, Bortles' coach at Central Florida said that his girlfriend, Bortles, was worth 6 million Googles, and that's about how many Googles you'll find, or at least views you'll find when you Google Bortles' girlfriend. You don't even have to put in her name. You just have to put in "Bortles girlfriend." that's how popular she's become on the Internet, guys.

BERMAN: That's a pretty creepy question.

CARTER: Pretty creepy.

ROMANS: What team are you when you play Madden?

CARTER: Denver Broncos.

ROMANS: What about you?

CARTER: All day.

BERMAN: If it's not an Atari 2600, I don't know how to play.

CARTER: If it's not pong, John's out.

BERMAN: I'm out.

All right, Joe. Great to see you this morning. Thanks so much.

CARTER: Good to see you, too.

BERMAN: All right. We do have some breaking news this morning. A Delta Airlines flight fills with smoke, passengers evacuated. We're going to have that story and all the top headlines, right after the break.