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Interview with Senator Al Franken; Wild Fires Continue to Burn in Southern California; New Case of MERS in the U.S.; Learning About the Spread of MERS; Inside Potential Candidates for 2016

Aired May 19, 2014 - 07:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: And in terms of that bill, let me show you, Chris. We've run the numbers. This is what it looks like and this is what it's projected to look like in terms of your TV, premium TV monthly rates. They have been running much faster than inflation. No question here that those bills, as we use more stuff and bundle more stuff from these big new companies, those bills will keep rising, Chris.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: It's good for you as long as want to pay more. More choice, but with less choices. It doesn't make any sense.

Let's get some reaction to this AT&T announcement we're joined by basically the perfect guest, Senator Al Franken, the Democrat from Minnesota. He's been vocal about his opposition to other media mergers. Senator, it is good to have you because you have really been out in front of this, because it's about what will the future will be. How this plays first our first screen and then the computer screen and then the handheld screen, what does this mean for our use of the Internet, who wins and loses. What do you see when you look at this merger?

SEN. AL FRANKEN, (D) MINNESOTA: Well, I'm very skeptical. I'd like to see some hearings on this. I think Christine was exactly right, that this usually leads to higher fees for consumers and less choices, usually. We need to keep as much competition -- let's face it, this is going exactly the wrong direction.

You know, during the Comcast/Time Warner cable, not Time Warner, Time Warner cable hearings, Comcast said, well, this is going to create more competition. And all of these big companies -- there's going to be a dog fight. And you know, they're just buying each other. And the fewer players there are in the space I believe the worse it is for consumers. And my constituents in Minnesota will be paying more for cable. This is a bad trend. And you're right, it has implications on sorts of things like net neutrality.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: I want to talk about net neutrality. It's something that you care passionately about. On this merger, you fought the Comcast/Time Warner cable merger. You were against that. is this inevitable, though?


BOLDUAN: Then what needs to happen. What can you do to stop it?

FRANKEN: Well, as a senator I can make comments to, and we can have hearings. And we did that on Comcast/Time Warner. But it's ultimately up to the FCC and the Department of Justice.

CUOMO: I mean, look, we've seen it before in history, when the railroad were doing this, back in the days when the guys with the names of the banks were doing this, you created the antitrust properties of how businesses can get and how much they can control the marketplace, especially and almost primarily when it impacts on the ability of the consumer to get more for less. And it seems like in both of these cases the future is looking like we pay more when the businesses grow. But you can effectively stop business from growing?

FRANKEN: It's not about stopping business from growing. Look at the Internet has just exploded, and it's exploded with competition and with net neutrality, which we're going to talk about in a moment. There is a proper role for the Department of Justice to look at this as an antitrust matter and for the FCC to look at this and ask, is it in the public interest. And I say, no, it isn't in the public interest and, yes, this is a violation of antitrust.

CUOMO: If you roll it into net neutrality, and how does the concept transfer? Net neutrality is about the field of fair play on the Internet.

FRANKEN: Net neutrality is that all content travels at the same speed.

CUOMO: It should.

FRANKEN: Neutral. Well, and it has. It has from the beginning. People should understand this, that net neutrality is not something new. It's the way it's always been. And we've had this tremendous innovation in the Internet and growth in the Internet. We've had tremendous growth. We net neutrality. And not just with it but because of it.

I'll give you a perfect example. Before YouTube, there was something called Google video. And Google video wasn't very good. So these guys developed YouTube above a pizzeria in San Mateo, California. Now, because the data from the -- from YouTube traveled as fast as Google video, people were allowed to sample it and said, I like this better. And that's what the whole reason we've had -- why this neutrality, this net neutrality has created such innovation in the space.

Now what's happened is, last week, the FCC voted for a preliminary rule saying that we're going to create a fast lane, that we're going to allow a fast lane and a slow lane. And this means deep-pocketed corporations are going to be able to get their content going fast like Google would have before YouTube.

BOLDUAN: How much faster? What are we talking about here?

FRANKEN: The FCC itself has said if you allow a fast lane in other times they've spoken that it will be faster, people will go to that, and that the slower lanes will allowed to essentially be generated.

BOLDUAN: What do you care so much about this issue? I'm sure you've gotten this question before, when the job landscape is not where anyone wants it to be, when Congress is fighting about everything and some would argue doing so long about it fighting most of the time, why should voters, consumers care about net neutrality?

FRANKEN: Well, it's the free speech issue of our time. A viewer can do a blog about what I'm saying right now, it will travel at the same speed that "The New York Times" will travel or FOX News will travel. So this is essential for free speech. And if you have just a few and fewer and fewer big corporations with the same kind of interests controlling the space, we've got a big First Amendment problem. We've got a big free speech problem and a big democracy problem. Also, it is about paying more. It is about the consumer --

BOLDUAN: Is it debatable?

FRANKEN: Yes, it's going to be pay to play if you get in the fast lane. So you're going to see the big players, the big corporations, deep-pocketed corporations controlling information. And you'll see less innovation. And it will be bad for very small -- it will be bad for small business. So if you're the local hardware store and you want to get your, you know, people to see your advertising on the Internet, they won't see as fast as Ace Hardware.

CUOMO: Yes. It's a real issue.

FRANKEN: It goes to growth, economic growth. It goes to innovation, which is about growth and jobs. And it goes to free speech.

CUOMO: That's huge.

FRANKEN: What a discussion to be having especially on the heels of the news of this merger.

CUOMO: We'll follow it. Senator Franken. It's great to have you today. We got lucky on the timing of it.

FRANKEN: Thanks for calling me.

CUOMO: For this, you've been outspoken on it. It's good to have you here.

BOLDUAN: It's a high bar.

FRANKEN: It's a high bar, yes, it could have been Tom Wheeler, the chairman of the FCC, but I'm better than him.

CUOMO: There's no question. Today, you're perfect.


BOLDUAN: Great to see you, senator, thanks so much.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: All right, let's take a look at more of your headlines at this hour. For the third time, Russia said it's pulling its troops back from the Ukrainian border. NATO once again saying, though, there's no evidence of any change on the ground. More than 40,000 soldiers have amassed along the border. The Kremlin says, though, troops will head back to their bases.

South Korea's president is planning to dismantle the coast guard, her response to the ferry accident that left hundreds of high school students dead. Through tears Park Geun-hye apologized for the third time, saying the coast guard failed in its duties to rescue everyone on board. She has now proposed building a monument to those victims.

Singer Jerry Vale has died. The crooner had a prolific music career recording more than 50 albums, all full of love songs, including the hit "Have You Looked into Your Heart?" and "Pretend You Don't See Her." He and his music were featured in several Martin Scorsese films, including "Goodfellas." Vale had been in declining health after suffering a stroke. He was 83 years old.

Firefighters are making gains in those huge wildfires that are raging in California. Several blazes chewed a destructive path through the state. California is not out of the woods just yet. Meteorologist Indra Petersons is there ins Escondido just north of San Diego where crews are preparing for a long wildfire season. You and I have covered this story for a long time. It's not often we're talking about it in May.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It's so hard to be talking about this early. We're actually coming to you in a place called Harmony Grove. This is a spiritual community center that celebrated its 117th anniversary just a week ago on Wednesday. They were evacuated with only about an hour's amount of time to gather their belongings. And then they had a wait, a long wait, until that Saturday or Sunday, until they were able to return to this, 25 out of the 30 of the structures that were here completely lost, down to the ground. It's very hard to see what's even left, maybe this was a garage door that was here. You take a look farther to the east, and you can actually see, all you have left are several mailboxes. And unfortunately this is the sight all across southern California from just devastating wildfires in the last week.


PETERSONS: Erupting one right after another, San Diego plagued by dozens of wildfires, speculation of arson on the rise.

RICHARD CORDOVA, CAL FIRE CAPTAIN: The way Cal Fire operates, while firefighters are on the fire, our own law enforcement comes in and does an extensive investigation.

PETERSONS: Three men are now in custody, two teens 19-year-old, Isaiah Silva and a 17-year-old arrested after police say witnesses reported seeing two people set small fires in Escondido. In Oceanside, one 57-year-old man now charged for setting off a smaller 100-acre fire pleading not guilty facing up to seven years in prison.

All arrests unrelated to the eight major blazes, reducing more than 40 homes to ashes, part of a week-long battle in San Diego county with over 25,000 acres burned. Thousands of evacuees returning to what looks like a war zone, the nightmare still fresh in their mind.

VALERIE CHABUX, EVACUEE, SAN MARCOS: Right as we finished packing our suitcases, we heard a helicopter overhead said saying "get out, get out now." You could see a plume of flames coming down the corridor.

PETERSONS: Harmony Grove, a small community in Escondido once filled with over 30 homes is now leveled by the flame.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have my dog and my family and my friends and that's what's important.

PETERSONS: The blaze is nearly contained after thousands of firefighters and the military banded together. One firefighter showing his crew exhausted in San Marcos as thousands expressed their gratitude.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The crews did a lot of hard work. Those of us in the fire service are very concerned, and we're very prepared to try to deal with any fire that breaks up.


PETERSONS: Here's the good news. We're starting to see a low- pressure system just to the north of California. Over the last several days, we've already seen the marine layer turn. The humidity come up, temperatures go down. Even the chance for humidity is possible this week. So no fire danger is left in Southern California, but that's not to say it doesn't exist. It just means that fire danger has now shifted farther to the east. In places like Arizona or New Mexico today, do you have the red flag warnings and that heightened fire danger.

There is rain somewhere in the country. Again, we're talking about the Pacific Northwest but also the upper Midwest and the northern plains, we're starting to a cold front make its way through, say one or two inches spreading to the northeast by the middle of the week.

Temperature-wise, it's going to be on the cool side. Maybe hot and muggy for a little bit, but northeast is going to feel good there, 60s and 70s. But if you're in the south, temperatures going up. Meanwhile finally here on the west coast where we need it, the relief is here. Temperatures back to where they should be. No longer are we talking temperatures 25 degrees above the record. That is what we were dealing with a week ago a week, Chris and Kate.

BOLDUAN: Indra, thank you for the update. Good to know they're getting at least some bit of a break.

Coming up next on NEW DAY NEW DAY, new urgency over the spread of MERS after an Illinois man gets sick after just a meeting and a handshake. What you need to know ahead.

CUOMO: And is there concern among the Democrats? One prominent Democratic governor telling CNN he's worried about Hillary Clinton's presidential bid. Find out with on INSIDE POLITICS.


BOLDUAN: Welcome back to NEW DAY. This morning, a new fears about the deadly MERS virus now that a man from Illinois has contracted the illness on U.S. soil through a meeting and a handshake. It's the first time that's happened and it's leading, of course, to new worries over just how easily this virus can be transmitted and what this means going forward.

Here to talk about it, let's bring in Dr. William Schaffner. He's the chairman of the Department of Preventive Medicine at Vanderbilt Medical Center. Doctor, once again, thank you for being here.


BOLDUAN: Good morning. So this latest case, it's very interesting. This man contracted MERS through two meetings, 40 minutes long, you could say. That's what they're describing it as. They're within six feet of each other, and through a handshake. And I was thinking about it, and it seems like -- I come in contact with dozens of people every day and so does everyone else in the workplace with something like that. It seems requiring less of that close contact than had been originally had been thought. Does this surprise you?

SCHAFFNER: Well, it surprised us somewhat. You know, we knew this virus could be transmitted through prolonged contact within families. This is a little bit more, shall we say, casual. But they were two 45 minutes; they were within six feet of each other. We call that within the same breathing zone of someone.

So public health is doing exactly the right thing. They're testing everyone. They're defining just how this virus can spread. But, at the moment, I don't think there's any need for panic because there hasn't been any need for evidence that there's sustained transmission over time. But we're watching this and the CDC is doing a good job.

BOLDUAN: When you talk about sustained transmission over time, I love -- what does that mean in practical terms? Because we know that they're trying to get in contact with everyone that now this man has been in contact with in that kind of 14-day incubation period that he could -- before he had been showing signs of symptoms. But they also wonder if now do we expect that it will be spreading further on U.S. soil?

SCHAFFNER: Yes, surely. And that's what they're looking at. But let's contrast MERS and its spread, what we know of it now, with influenza, which we know can spread easily from person to person to person and we have large outbreaks. There's no evidence that MERS spreads that rapidly in a sustained fashion at the present time. But we all need to stay tuned as the investigative work goes on.

BOLDUAN: You do wonder if the virus itself is changing, if you will. Because this latest case, he seems to have shown much less severe symptoms than we've seen in previous cases. Because they say it was deadly in a third of the cases that people -- a third of the cases have proven fatal. But this man only showed mild cold-like symptoms.

SCHAFFNER: Yes, so there's reassurance there, too. From the Middle East, the studies there, we've known that there are people who have had no symptoms, mild symptoms, but most of them very severe symptoms. So we'll see what the spectrum of illness is and that's in part why these investigations are ongoing.

For the most part, transmission occurs when people are very, very ill. For example, in the setting of health care, where health care workers, of course, use infection control precautions in order to prevent their getting sick. And that enables them to provide good health care in a safe fashion.

BOLDUAN: So then, Doctor, what are the factors that would go into determining whether the virus is something that looks like mild cold- like symptoms or a virus that becomes fatal?

SCHAFFNER: Well, for many infectious diseases, the infectious agent can produce a variety of symptoms, and it depends a little bit on the host. If you're older, if you have underlying illnesses, you're more likely to get a severe case than if you're young and you're strong.

And you also asked about the virus itself. At the moment, there's no evidence that the virus has changed in any way. So it's not mutating to a more rapidly transmissible fashion -- at the moment. But we are watching that very closely.

BOLDUAN: How quickly can that change? Because the CDC, as it stands now, the guidelines, it maintains that this virus is not easy to pass on. Kind of how we all had originally -- it had all been originally been described to everyone what MERS was. It seems there's more to MERS than maybe we had originally thought. Do you think those guidelines need to be reconsidered?

SCHAFFNER: Well, the guidelines are being looked at very carefully, and I think what we hear is exactly what we ought to be doing: Observe care but not panic for sure.

This is an emerging infection. And in every instance where we have a new infection, ongoing studies are necessary to help us define exactly how transmissible the virus is and whether -- whether it will make everyone very sick. So all of us need to stay tuned and just watch what's going on.

BOLDUAN: Stay tuned. Anytime, though, I'll tell you, as I think I'm battling a cold right now, anytime you hear about a new emerging infection, it is something that does raise your eyebrows and get your attention. Dr. William Schaffner, it's always great to see you. Thank you so much.

SCHAFFNER: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Of course. Chris?

CUOMO: All right, coming up on NEW DAY. How did this happen? Mario Hernandez served his country in the military, Vietnam, and a then a federal employee, a prison guard. But after half a century, found out he's not actually a citizen. He's going to join us live.

And then, the price of popularity. Democrats worry that their best hope, Hillary Clinton, is getting too much heat too soon. The ghost of 2008 is conjured on Inside Politics.


PEREIRA: Welcome back to NEW DAY. Here's a look at your headlines. A huge deal that could shake up the world of TV -- AT&T and DirecTV set to join forces. The price tag, $50 billion. AT&T says it can offer better content on more platforms to DirecTV's 20 million customers, but red flags are already being raised about overconsolidation in the industry.

To Turkey, where four people have now been arrested in connection with the deadliest mining disaster in that nation's history. The Soma mines operating manager, the security chief, and two engineers all taken into custody Sunday. Recovery efforts at the mine are now over. Government officials say 301 miners perished in last week's fire. Investigators are still trying to narrow down a cause.

A new kidnapping threat against schoolchildren in Nigeria. The Boko Haram terror organization is now apparently targeting an all-boys secondary school. Nigerian police have now been ordered to beef up security of all boarding schools in the area. Meanwhile, the search for more than 200 schoolgirls abducted last month is so far coming up empty.

The more time that passes, the more concerning it is.

CUOMO: Absolutely. Especially when there are more targets going forward. They have to find an answer to security there. Thanks for that, Mick.

You know what it's time for? Time for Inside Politics on NEW DAY with John King. Boy, you've got some really hot topics today, my brother. Happy Monday.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST, "INSIDE POLITICS": Sometimes, it's harder to Monday; not today. We've got a lot to talk about so you guys take the rest of the day off. We'll just get -- we're going to go inside politics. Back to you guys in just a few minutes.

With me this morning to share their reporting and their insights, Robert Costa of "The Washington Post", Jonathan Martin of "The New York Times." Let's start with 2016, the inevitability of Hillary Clinton. Our Candy Crowley has the Massachusetts governor, Deval Patrick, in the chair, asked this question.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN HOST, "STATE OF THE UNION": When you look at 2016, is this Hillary all the way, do you think?

GOV. DEVAL PATRICK (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Well, I don't know. I guess I worry a little bit. She's an enormously capable candidate and leader. But I do worry about the inevitability thing, because I think it's -- I think it's off-putting to the average voter. I think that was an element of her campaign the last time. And I would just -- as a enthusiastic Democrat, I just hope that the people around her pay attention to that this time around.


KING: What's he trying to say there, Jonathan? I saw him a couple weeks ago, he said, "I'm not running. My wife says go into private sector for a while." There's speculation maybe he could be talked out of it. What's he trying to say there?

JONATHAN MARTIN, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I don't think he's running, but he does sound quite a bit like his former consultant, David Axelrod, there, who I think would make similar points.

Look, I think that he's expressing concerns of a lot of Democrats who do not want a coronation, who want to see her actually come up with a more compelling message than, "It's my turn/I am ready for this." And I think also he wants to make sure she does not repeat the mistakes of 2008.

KING: It's really my turn, is that what she's going to be running on this time around, is that it?

ROBERT COSTA, "THE WASHINGTON POST": When is some Democrat going to step into the areana here? There's a major opening for a Democrat to be the Hillary rival, to run against former Secretary Clinton. When is Andrew Cuomo? Where is Elizabeth Warren? Is it just going to be Bernie Sanders on the side on the left complaining about Hillary Clinton's candidacy? I just don't see any energy from Governor Patrick or other Democrats to really step in the ring.

KING: We'll watch that as we go forward.

Let's look at another -- this is the other side, somebody we know wants to step into the ring. We've been wondering whether the Bridgegate scandal would force him out or how big of a cloud it would be. More and more recent days, Chris Christie reasserting himself in the national conversation among Republicans. Listen to him here talking about how a commander in chief is defined by how America stands in the world and how he doesn't think much of the current president.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: What's happened now in our country and in America's role around the world, in my opinion, of the last five years has been that missing element. No one understands any longer who America stands with or against. No one really understands exactly what we'll stand for and what we are willing to sacrifice to stand up for it.