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THE SITUATION ROOM
Obama to Announce Immigration Order Tonight; Dan Pfeiffer Interview; CIA Weighs Reorganization Amid New Threats; Clock Ticking on Iran Nuclear Deal; North Korea Threatens More Nuclear Tests; Death Toll Rising After Massive Snowstorm
Aired November 20, 2014 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now, breaking news.
Executive order -- President Obama about to announce action on immigration and issues sparking passions across the court and a political battle here at home.
Fighting ISIS at home -- while British. Authorities say they've foiled an alleged plot for a public beheading, does the CIA need to reinvent itself to handle the rapidly growing terror threat?
North Korea a nuclear threat -- after a humiliating defeat at the United Nations, the communist regime is now rattling a very dangerous saber.
And snow disaster -- it's seven feet deep and more is falling. We're going to take you out with emergency crews who are making extraordinary efforts to save lives.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Let's get right to the breaking news. President Obama goes before the nation to announce that he's going in alone on immigration reform. Just three hours from now, he'll unveil an executive order which could allow millions of people to remain in the United States legally. Republicans are vowing to fight the president at every turn, saying he's overstepping his authority. But Democrats say presidents from both parties have been doing this for generations.
We have full coverage of all of this and the other major stories of the day. Our senior -- the senior adviser to the president, Dan Pfeiffer, he's standing by over at the White House, along with our correspondents, our analysts and newsmakers.
Let's being with our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
He's got the very latest -- Jim.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, sources familiar with the executive action the president will announce tonight say it won't go as far as many immigration reform activists wanted, but sweeping changes to the nation's immigration system are coming and they're setting off a new showdown with Congress.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Huddled in the Oval Office with speechwriters and at a White House event earlier today, President Obama was honing his immigration pitch for tonight, that welcoming newcomers is as American as apple pie.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We welcome people from all around the world who have that same striving spirit. We're not defined by tribe or bloodlines.
ACOSTA: After years of pressure from immigration reform advocates, the president is poised to take executive action, offering leniency for roughly five million undocumented immigrants. The expected plan, parents of children who are U.S. citizens or legal residents and have lived in the country for five years won't be deported. Also allowed to stay, children who are brought to the country illegally, so-called Dreamers. Plus, a new enforcement focus on deporting high priority criminals, like gang members and terror suspects, instead of breaking apart undocumented families.
MARIA CARDONA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: They have been living in the shadows, many of them, with split families, with the fear of deportation, with the fear that mothers will be separated from their babies, that babies will be ripped from the arms of their mothers.
ACOSTA: One setback for Latino groups, parents of Dreamers are not covered.
Still, Republicans complain it's just the latest example of presidential overreach.
GOV. SCOTT WALKER (R), WISCONSIN: I think this president, it goes beyond immigration. I just think it's cynical. He looked at the fact that the American people, as Bobby (ph) alluded to, soundly rejected the policies of this president. And he desperately -- and his political team desperately wants to get the topic changed from the issues we get elected on.
ACOSTA: The White House insists the president's actions are legal.
DAVID SIMAS, WHITE HOUSE POLITICAL DIRECTOR: What you're going to hear tonight are very limited actions fully within his existing authority similar to those types of actions that have been taken by every single president, Democrat and Republican, since Dwight Eisenhower.
ACOSTA: That's despite the fact that the president has said repeatedly in the past dramatically reducing deportations was not within his authority.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM FEBRUARY 14, 2013)
OBAMA: The problem is, is that, you know, I'm the president of the United States, I'm not the emperor of the United States. My job is to execute laws that are passed.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
ACOSTA: Now, after his address to the American people tonight, the president will take his immigration plan on the road for a speech in Las Vegas tonight.
The White House says the president still welcomes Congressional action on immigration, but after tonight, aides concede it's not likely any time soon -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jim Acosta over at the White House.
Republican lawmakers are warning they'll fight tooth and nail against the president's executive order on immigration.
But would they dare to force another government shutdown?
Let's turn to our chief Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.
She's got the latest on this front -- Dana.
DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, even Republicans who want legal status for most undocumented immigrants agree with the president that the House is not likely to do it, are thinking and saying that the president is making a terrible mistake here. They're walking around the halls of Congress shaking their heads, wondering if the president forgot there was an election a little more than two weeks ago that rejected hits party and, many Republicans believe, to a large extent, the president himself.
BASH (voice-over): The Republican who will soon run the Senate with a blistering speech ahead of the president's immigration address.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY: I think the president will come to regret the chapter history writes if he does move forward.
BASH: Mitch McConnell promised a swift response when Republicans take over in January.
MCCONNELL: Make no mistake, when the newly elected representatives of the people take their seats, they will act.
BASH: How Republicans will act is unclear. Since GOP sources admit there are no great options to beating back the president's executive action allowing some five million undocumented immigrants to stay legally. Congress' best tool is the power of the purse -- funding the government. But most GOP lawmakers want to avoid a government shutdown, even conservatives like Mo Brooks, who was high-fiving colleagues after last year's shutdown.
REP. MO BROOKS (R), ALABAMA: I don't think we should engage in a government shutdown.
BASH: Still, multiple GOP lawmakers tell CNN they are considering cutting off immigration funding without shutting down the government.
The problem is, immigration agencies get their money from Customs fees, not Congress.
Other ideas -- suing the president in court for executive overreach and censuring him in Congress.
REP. STEVE KING (R), IOWA: He will tear Article One of this "Constitution" out of this document. He could probably fold it one time, tuck it into his shirt pocket and say, I'm also the legislative branch of government.
BASH: Some, like would-be presidential candidate, Ted Cruz, want to block the president's nominees. He quoted the roman philosopher Cicero.
SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: When, President Obama, do you mean to cease abusing our patience?
How long is that madness of yours still to mock us?
BASH: Rand Paul, another likely White House hopeful, Tweeted pictures of a president who thinks he is king, starter pack. Sarcasm aside, Tom Coburn, a Republican the president had called a friend, warned about violence.
SEN. TOM COBURN (R), OKLAHOMA: The country is going to go nuts, because they're going to see it as a move outside of the authority of the president. Hopefully, not, but you could see instances of anarchy.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
BASH: And I've talked to other Republican lawmakers who are concerned about the same thing, backlash like the kind we saw this summer around the border crisis in communities like Marietta, California -- and, Wolf, separately, you know, we've talked about the various options for Republicans. One thing we're not hearing about is the I word, impeachment. That seems to be really very much off the table.
BLITZER: Yes. OK.
Well, thank you very much, Dana, for that report.
The battle lines, obviously, as you just see, are being drawn. But the president is pushing forward. So where is all of this headed?
Joining us now is Dan Pfeiffer.
He's the senior adviser to the president for strategy and communication, among other issues.
Dan, thanks very much for joining us.
I know the president, when he was a senator, since he became president, he's still been sort of friendly with Senator Coburn of Oklahoma. Senator Coburn, you heard in Dana's report, warning of anarchy and violence if the president goes forward with this executive order.
What's your reaction to that?
DAN PFEIFFER, SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, Wolf, this is not a theoretical issue here. We know that those things didn't happen when Presidents Reagan, President Bush and presidents from both parties for years have taken similar actions that are clearly within their well-established legal authority. It's an important step that the president is going to -- is taking. He's going to make our immigration system more accountable. He's going to make our have allow us to refocus more resources at the border on people who've recently crossed the border. And it streamlines some of our legal immigration processes so that we can boost the economy and make -- make a more commonsense system.
And all the president said was this is just a first step. And then Congress can then come in and finish the job, because that's what we really need.
BLITZER: You've heard -- and you heard it in Jim Acosta's report -- the president himself, over the past six years, repeatedly said he can't take these kinds of measures unilaterally because he's the president of the United States, he's not the emperor of the United States.
So why has he changed his mind?
PFEIFFER: Well, Wolf, he hasn't changed his mind.
What he did is he asked the attorney general to look at what authorities that he had that he can do. And they came back with a set of recommendations that came from the secretary of Homeland Security. And that's what we're going to put in place.
This is well-established presidential authority. It is something, as I mentioned before, that Presidents Reagan and President Bush, presidents of both parties have done for many, many years.
BLITZER: What about that remark, though, about saying he's not an emperor?
PFEIFFER: Well, he cannot -- he cannot, just by fiat, put the entire Senate immigration bill into law. He does not have that authority.
But he does have the authority to take a series of common sense first steps. And that's what he's doing now.
BLITZER: All right, I want you to stand by for a moment, Dan, because we have more questions to ask on what's going on. We want to continue to preview what the president is going to be saying later tonight. Much more with Dan Pfeiffer over at the White House right after this.
BLITZER: As President Obama gets ready to go public tonight with his executive order on immigration reform, we're back with the president's senior advisor, Dan Pfeiffer.
Dan, the estimate is there are about 11 million undocumented people living in the United States. The president tonight will offer 5 million of them some opportunity to have at least a temporary legal status. Is that right?
DAN PFEIFFER, SENIOR OBAMA ADVISOR: Well, I don't want to get too far ahead of the details of the president's speech. That's never good for him when you're a White House staffer. But the plan that the president is going to put before us is going to have three major elements. One is refocusing our -- to sort of up our efforts on securing the border. The second is going to make it so that we're prioritizing the deportation of felons, not families. And the third is going to be streamlining our immigration system so we can do more to boost our economy and have a more rational system here.
So that will be the outlines of the plan. You'll certainly get more details sooner, rather than later, Wolf.
BLITZER: We're talking millions -- millions of people, maybe 3 million, 4 million, 5 million, right?
PFEIFFER: There have been a lot of guesstimates out there. I don't want to get ahead of it, but it will be -- I think you're going to be surprised with what you hear tonight.
BLITZER: Will these millions, or at least some of the millions, be eligible for federal benefits, welfare, for example, health care? Will they be eligible for federal benefits?
PFEIFFER: No, Wolf. I think you have to -- if we look back to what we call the DACA program, the program that was set up a few years ago for the children who were brought here through no fault of their own, any program that the president announces tonight will be similar to that. In that program, no federal benefits were available.
BLITZER: So there aren't going to be welfare reform or anything like that?
PFEIFFER: No, sir.
BLITZER: What about the parents of those 600,000 DREAMers, as they're called? The president a few years ago, as you point out, signed an executive order allowing them to stay temporarily with some sort of legal status in the United States? Will their parents be eligible to stay with them or will they be ripped apart, these families?
Well, Wolf, like I said, I'm not going to get too far ahead of the president's remarks tonight but the goal, one of the focuses we're doing here is to take the limited resources that we have and direct them towards -- so that deportation is focused on felons, not families, so the people are here but they are background checked, and so they pay taxes and come out of the shadows and are held accountable. And so that will be the outlines of the plan.
You'll -- tonight you'll get a better sense of the sorts of people who will be included in that plan. And there will be a process to go through where people, as I said, will apply and pass a background check and pay their fair share of taxes to be able to stay here temporarily without fear of deportation.
BLITZER: Well, I just want to be precise. The parents of these DREAMers, as they're called, will they be allowed to come out of the shadows?
PFEIFFER: Wolf, as I said, we're going to roll out sooner rather than later all the details of the plan. I know I'm on your show before that happens, which is the price of doing business. But there will be -- we will put those details out. And certainly there will be groups of folks who, like the ones you're talking about, some of whom will be able to meet the criteria set out for tonight.
BLITZER: Is there an estimate: will you be releasing -- You don't have to tell me right now, but will you be releasing an estimate of the cost, how much all of these new arrangements will end up costing taxpayers?
PFEIFFER: Not tonight but, Wolf, we will be, as you recognize, having people who are in this country and working and not currently paying taxes living in the shadow, put in a position where they can pay taxes. That's obviously a benefit to the economy.
BLITZER: Because as you know, some Republicans already suggesting if you go ahead with this, they're not going to fund whatever it costs. You've heard that suggestion from a lot of Republicans up on Capitol Hill.
PFEIFFER: I have, Wolf. And, look, the -- they will -- Republicans are going to have to make a decision about whether they want to repeat the mistakes of last year and try to shut down the government over this issue. I think that would be a mistake for the country. I think what we should do is come together and try to work on a path forward to pass comprehensive immigration so we can finish the job that the president is starting tonight.
BLITZER: The president always was reluctant to do this by executive order, knowing that new president -- let's say two years from now there's a Republican president. That president on day one could sign another executive order reversing all of this. And now you're hearing some concern, some Republicans saying a lot of Hispanics, for example, are not going to want to come out of the shadows, give their names, their addresses and everything, go public, if you will, fearing two years from now they could be -- the decision could be reversed, and these people could be kicked out.
PFEIFER: Well, Wolf, you're certainly correct. The president's strong preference here is to reform our immigration system through legislative action, bipartisan legislative action. That's the right way to do it. That option is not available right now, because after -- after the Senate passed a bill with 68 votes, bipartisan bill, speaker, although promising he would do immigration reform, did not do so for nearly two years. And so the president's left with only one choice, which is to act.
He's doing it by executive action, and as you point out, it will be up to another -- the next president to continue that. I think we did see, with the DACA program, which was done in 2012 before the presidential election, that people came out and were willing to participate in that program without knowing what the results of the next election would be.
BLITZER: So you would encourage all of those people, Hispanics and others, who may not have documentation to come out, to go public, give their names, their addresses and everything in the aftermath of this executive order and not worry about what could happen two years from now?
PFEIFFER: Right. What folks should do, as we did with the previous program is come forward, apply, pass a background check, pay taxes, and you will be held accountable for the act of having come here illegally originally. But then you'll be allowed here to stay and work and come out of the shadows. And that's the right thing, and there's a record of success here on -- from the previous program.
BLITZER: A lot of Republicans have said look what happened two weeks ago in the elections. The Republicans did very well. They got the majority -- they expanded the majority in the House. They got the majority in the Senate. And they say why couldn't the president have waited to deal with the new Congress and deal in a bipartisan way on this sensitive issue?
PFEIFFER: We've been trying to work with the Republicans in a bipartisan way for a very long time, and the president has shown tremendous patience with the speaker, who has promised time and again he would bring immigration reform. And they did not take a single step, over two years, to try to fix even a small part of our immigration system.
And frankly, Wolf, this is about people. You know, this president gets letters every week. He sees people as he travels the country who are members of our community who -- who are part of the fabric of the community who are living under the fear of deportation, families being split up. Every day the president waits to act is a days when those people are not -- are not able to give relief and solve the problem. And so we can't wait forever for the Republicans, but they should not use this as an excuse not to pass immigration reform, if that's truly what they believe is in the best interests of this country.
BLITZER: And remind us why the president didn't do immigration reform in the first two years of his administration when there was a decisive Democratic majority in the House and the Senate?
PFEIFFER: Well, we did not have, at the time, the sufficient support, because immigration reform is not something that -- you know, over the years it's been a unanimous issue within the Democratic Party. We would have needed 60 votes to do it. That was not available to us.
The president campaigned on it in 2012. He promised to do it as soon as he was re-elected, put a bill to work in the Senate, bipartisan bill in the Senate, Senator McCain, Senator Rubio, senators Durbin (ph) and Schumer, others, to get it passed. But then the House, even though there's a bipartisan majority who could have passed it, if speaker Boehner had just brought the bill up, refused to act, essentially putting it in -- putting the bill in their pocket and vetoing it, essentially, to keep that action from happening.
BLITZER: But the first two years of his administration, Nancy Pelosi was the speaker. She would have allowed a roll call to take place.
PFEIFFER: Absolutely. But look, we worked closely with the Democrats in the Senate and the House, and that -- and that action was not available to us in the first two years.
BLITZER: A lot of people are looking back and saying you would have had the votes if you would have come up with a plan. There would have been enough Republicans joining with the Democrats for comprehensive immigration reform if you would have had the likes of John McCain and some others (UNINTELLIGIBLE), on comprehensive immigration reform.
Let me get your thoughts on what seems to be a snub by the four broadcast networks -- ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX broadcast, not FOX news, FOX broadcast -- not to air the president's primetime address to the nation tonight. Is that a slap? What do you think about that?
PFEIFFER: No. We're very pleased to have good, conscientious networks like CNN covering us tonight. But at this point I understand. This is 2014. You have to take a different approach to communications.
We picked the time and place of this address knowing that it was unlikely the networks would break away from the dramas and comedies they were showing in sweeps week, because this is a time when important cable networks like yours but also people would be most likely be watching on their laptops, their smartphones and their tablets. That's how we think about communications. When will people gather and watch something not just on television but on their mobile device?
BLITZER: So you don't really care that the four networks won't be airing it? Is that what you said?
PFEIFFER: Well, look, the more the merrier. Every event we do would be better off if all the networks rolled out coverage of it. That would be wonderful. We don't expect that.
We have a lot of ways to get our message out. For example, the preview video the president taped for Facebook was viewed by more -- by 3.5 million people in the last 24 hours here. So this is 2014. We're in the digital age, and we have a lot of strategies to get our message out.
BLITZER: We know you're happy that Univision is going to be airing the president's address live tonight. They're going to take a break from the Latin Grammys, which are obviously very, very popular. Was that a factor in your decision?
PFEIFFER: Well, I mean, I don't know if it's a factor or a happy coincidence, but we're very grateful that Univision is deciding to do that, as we're grateful that CNN is broadcasting it, FOX, MSNBC, others.
BLITZER: Yes, you're going to be getting a lot of viewers, at least on the cable networks, including ours, 8 p.m. Eastern.
Quick question before I let you go on a totally unrelated matter. We've now learned today that a major mistake was uncovered in the Obamacare enrollment numbers. Originally, you reported 7.1 million enrolled when, in fact, 6.7 enrolled; 400,000 people did not enroll. What happened here?
PFEIFFER: Well, secretary Burwell, who is a great, very professional public servant, addressed this earlier today said it was a mistake, and she was taking steps to make sure it never happened again.
BLITZER: What was the mistake?
PFEIFFER: Numbers were counted that shouldn't have been counted. It was unintentional. And Secretary Burwell took responsibility for it, promised to make sure it never happens again. As someone who has worked closely with Sylvia over the years, I know that that mistake will never happen again.
BLITZER: Sylvia Burwell is the secretary of health and human services. Dan Pfeiffer, we'll look forward to hearing the president of the United States tonight, a major address on immigration reform. We, of course, will have live coverage here on CNN. Thanks very much for joining us.
PFEIFFER: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Coming up, an alleged plot inspired by ISIS to carry out a public beheading in London. Is the U.S. intelligence up to the task of preventing something like that in this country?
And North Korea making an ominous new nuclear threat after a humiliating setback at the United Nations.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: A shocking plot to behead a member of the public prosecutor told a London court today that that was the alleged plan of three British men said to have been inspired by a speech from ISIS.
It comes as global intelligence agencies are scrambling to stay ahead of a rapidly growing terror threat.
Here in the United States, the CIA, which has seen both successes and failures is now face serious challenges on a number of fronts and is now looking into reorganizing itself.
Our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto is joining us now.
Jim, first of all, what do we know about this alleged beheading plot?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this really was a horrific plot. British prosecutors say that the three men, all British citizens, planned to decapitate someone, shows them randomly in public, using knives. Much as we've seen ISIS do with Americans James Foley, most recently Peter Kassig.
This attack timed for Remembrance Day, this is Veterans Day in the UK, and was imminent say UK authorities when the men were arrested earlier this month. And this plot, as you know, highlights the homegrown lone wolf-style of attacks we've talked about a number of times, Wolf, which is a real concern, attacks inspired by ISIS here in the U.S. homeland as well.
BLITZER: With threats like these from ISIS growing, the CIA, I understand, now considering what is being described as a sweeping reorganization to try to handle all the current national and security crises. What have you learned?
SCIUTTO: That's exactly right. ISIS is just one of numerous threats the CIA is following now, more at any one time than many intelligent officials can recall. A cyber threat from Russia and China, concern about nuclear weapons in North Korea, the familiar terror threat in Afghanistan and Pakistan, al Qaeda, and you have al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Yemen, dedicated to attacking Americans on U.S. soil. ISIS of course in Syria and Iraq. And Russia's threats in Ukraine.
All of this together, in effect, overwhelming to some degree the CIA's abilities here. So here's what came from an internal communication from CIA director John Brennan to all CIA employees. It read, "World events over the past several months have highlighted the ever growing number and complexity," he said, "of the security challenges facing our nation."
He went on to say, "I've become increasingly convinced that the time has come to take a fresh look at how we as an agency are organized."
So here you have the director of the CIA saying that he's convinced the CIA needs to make changes to take care of the many challenges it's facing. So what kind of changes are they talking about, today, traditionally, you have this separation. The intelligence director, which analyzes the intelligence separated from the clandestine services, this is basically, you know, the part of the CIA that sends out the spies. They're separated.
An idea under consideration would be to bring them together, the analysts and the spies, on a regional basis, those studying North Korea, Ukraine, Iraq and Syria, so that they are in the same place. That, of course, has its own dangers because a lot of those threats, if you're talking about the cyber threat, for instance, that transcends one country, Russia, China, France even, so that's an issue.
I am told by intelligence officials it is early. None of these proposals are formal at this point but it is something they're taking very seriously.
BLITZER: They certainly are. Stand by for a moment because we're following another major international order. The Secretary of State John Kerry, he's just arrived in Vienna, Austria for the final round of negotiations with Iran over that country's nuclear program. United States, Iran, five world powers, they've just -- they only have four more days to try to reach an agreement.
Our senior international correspondent Nic Robertson is joining us now from Vienna.
What's the sense over there, Nic? What are you hearing?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tough is the word that we're hearing. You have the deputy Russian foreign minister saying that the talks are being held in a tense situation. The Russians went to bilateral meetings with the Iranians. You had the British foreign secretary saying that he's not sure that a deal can be done by Monday, that there might have to be a sort of -- an extension made to the deadline of the 24th.
So the atmosphere here is -- and the mood behind the scenes is, there's a willingness but the question is, is Iran able to make the compromises on the key issues, the one it feels the most pain on the U.N. sanctions, the banking sanctions, the economic sanctions facing the country.
Can it make key compromises there? That's a very open question and that's contributing to the tough atmosphere right now -- Wolf.
BLITZER: The secretary of state, as you know, he said today he's hopeful a deal between Iran and the six world powers including the U.S. can be reached but he also made it clear what Iran needs to bring to the table. Listen to the secretary.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: Yes, we do want to get an agreement but it's not just any agreement. It has to be an agreement that works, that achieves the goal of guaranteeing that the pathways to a bomb will not and cannot be used. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. So you're there. Are there real concerns that this deal might not get hammered out in the next four days? Maybe vote for another extension, another three, four-month extension? Is that what you're hearing?
ROBERTSON: Weeks or months possibly on the extension. But, you know, to be clear here, from the State Department, we are not hearing them. They are not talking about an extension. They are talking right now that they want to get this deal done. It's other nations that are talking about the possibility of an extension. The Russians indicating that, you know, there essentially needs to be some sort of compromise if this is going to happen, but, of course, Iran is the country here that everyone is looking to for compromise.
What Secretary of State John Kerry said before he left Paris today on his way to Vienna was that he was noting that all of those six major powers, including Russia, that sometimes are out of step on other issues, very much in step on this issue and that is what we're hearing, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right.
ROBERTSON: Tough negotiations.
BLITZER: Stand by, I want to go back to Jim Sciutto.
Jim, you're getting some breaking news. What are you learning?
SCIUTTO: This is really alarming. And we were just speaking about the cyber threat to the U.S. that the CIA is concerned about. You had alarming comments from the head of the National Security Agency today, that is Admiral Michael Rogers, saying that China and probably one or two other countries, in his words, has the capacity to shut down the nation's power grid and other critical systems.
He said it enables you to shut down very segmented, very tailored parts of our infrastructure to forestall the ability to provide that service to us as citizens.
You know, this is a remarkable public comment from the head of the NSA. He wouldn't make this -- this comment publicly unless they were truly concerned about it and it gets at, you know, that array of intelligence challenges that are now facing not just the CIA but the NSA, all the 15 intelligence agencies we have. And it's the kind of thing that -- it's not a new threat but I'll tell you, when I speak to intelligence officials, this is the one they often put at the top of their list.
BLITZER: And did the head of NSA, the National Security Agency, specifically cite China?
SCIUTTO: He cited China but not just China, probably one or two other countries.
BLITZER: He didn't say what other countries?
SCIUTTO: He didn't. If one were to guess, Russia might very well be in there. Russia has been seen the perpetrator behind other attacks on U.S.-sensitive systems in the past. He did not say but he did identify China directly. And this is something that we know happens not just against U.S. government critical infrastructure but also against private companies. You know, stealing private information for business gain.
BLITZER: Yes, that was a really, really alarming report over there. That would clearly be an act of war and the U.S. would retaliate.
SCIUTTO: An act of cyber war.
BLITZER: Yes. It certainly would. And they are deeply concerned about this, as you and I well know.
All right. We're going to get some more information on this. Do some reporting. Stand by for that.
Nic Robertson in Vienna, we'll get back to you as well.
Just ahead, North Korea now lashing out after a major defeat at the United Nations. Kim Jong-Un's regime is promising nuclear potential retaliation.
And the breaking news this hour, two more killed by that massive snowstorm in Upstate New York and there's more snow on the way.
BLITZER: North Korea is preparing to fire back after the United Nations slammed the country's human rights record. King Jong-Un's regime is vowing to conduct more nuclear tests.
Our global affairs correspondent Elise Labott is working the story for us.
What are you learning, Elise?
ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: Well, Wolf, it's a pretty dire warning from North Korea and it's even more frightening because the U.S. believes North Korea is making dangerous nuclear advances in its program.
LABOTT (voice-over): The regime of Kim Jong-Un threatening to launch a nuclear test in retaliation for what it called a hostile act from the West. This after the U.N. called for targeted sanctions and hauling the regime before the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. North Korea's ambassador blasted the vote as political provocation.
CHOE MYONG NAM, NORTH KOREAN U.N. REPRESENTATIVE: The outrageous and unreasonable human rights campaign staged by the United States and its followers is compelling us not to refrain any further from conducting nuclear tests.
LABOTT: Today, North Korea's state media said Pyongyang's, quote, "military deterrence would be beefed up limitlessly," to guard a U.S. military invasion.
REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: North Korea is not going to achieve anything from threats and provocations, which is only going to further isolate them from the international community.
LABOTT: Kim Jong-Un's government stung after a scathing U.N. report, alleging the use of murder, torture, slavery, sexual violence and mass starvation. Not the outcome North Korea wanted after releasing three American detainees and a month's long charm offensive to sway local opinion.
JEFF RATHKE, DIRECTOR OF PRESS RELATIONS, STATE DEPARTMENT: We support that final report and we especially support its calls for accountability.
LABOTT: New satellite images of its main nuclear facility suggest the regime is taking steps towards testing. The U.S. military believes North Korea is advancing its nuclear program but the skills to miniaturize a nuclear warhead on a long range missile with a launcher to deliver it.
The brinkmanship, perhaps a new effort to force the West to talk. Today Russia's foreign minister said Pyongyang is ready to jumpstart nuclear negotiations.
VICTOR CHA, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: They want to sit or stand toe-to-toe with the United States and be treated as a nuclear weapons state in which they can then have arms control negotiation with the United States.
They see talks as a way of their de-facto acceptance by the world that they are now a nuclear weapons state.
LABOTT: And the director of National Intelligence James Clapper who went to Pyongyang earlier this month to free American Kenneth Bae and Matthew Todd Miller said he did get the impression that North Korea may want to restart dialogue. U.S. officials, though, are clear they do not want to talk for the sake of talking. North Korea would have to take steps to curb its nuclear program. Clearly a nuclear test would be a step in the wrong direction -- Wolf.
BLITZER: That situation could be heating up. You'll stay on top of it for us.
Elise Labott, thank you.
Coming up, we have breaking news on that massive snowstorm with two more now confirmed dead.
Plus, we're about to get the details of President Obama's immigration plan as he prepares for tonight's address. We'll bring you the first look at the speech.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Two more people are dead after that massive winter storm clobbered the Buffalo, New York, area, bringing the total now to 10. Much of the rest of the country is suffering under freezing temperatures at the same time with more snow on the way.
CNN's Brian Todd is joining us now from Elma, New York, outside of Buffalo, with the latest.
It looks like it's pretty cold out there, Brian.
BRIAN TODD, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is, Wolf. And we'll give you an idea of the treacherous conditions out here. Take a look over here, this 18-wheeler just got stuck on this unplowed road. The driver has moved down here. There's a large tow truck that has just arrived on scene. I think he's turning around, the driver is asking him to pull him out.
You mentioned the death toll. The death toll now stands at 10 from this massive snowstorm. If it hadn't been for the heroism of first responders, some of whom we moved around with, it could have been a lot worse.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One, two, three --
TODD (voice-over): A dramatic, arduous rescue by stretcher.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll get you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll get you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There you go.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mission accomplished.
TODD: An elderly woman who felt endangered in her home is pulled out by firefighters.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These guys are miracle workers. They are.
TODD: A scene repeated throughout the Buffalo area. Volunteers from the Bellevue Fire Department, working with firefighters from other towns, are rescuing people by stretcher. Snowmobile. Any means necessary. They're volunteers, leaving their own homes, not sleeping for days, to save stranded, terrified residents.
(On camera): What is your biggest challenge trying to pull people out of this neighborhood? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The snow going up to the doors. We have to dig
pass to everything and getting the door is the hardest part because we're digging through seven, eight feet of snow.
TODD (voice-over): It took this team at least 30 minutes of digging just to get to this woman's door. Sometimes they have to plow roads to get to people.
(On camera): The fire unit we're with is trying to get into this trailer park area, but here's the problem, you've got plows trying to clear it for them and you got stranded vehicles blocking the road here. This is the problem throughout the Buffalo area.
(Voice-over): They evacuate nearly 200 elderly people from a nursing home, ahead of a possible roof collapse. Firefighters in this area have staged hundreds of rescues since the snow began early Tuesday. But it can be frustrating.
COMMISSIONER BOB HAVERNICK, BELLEVUE FIRE DEPARTMENT: It wears and tears on you when people don't listen to you. Just -- I don't even know why they call if they don't want to leave. I don't know why they're calling us.
TODD: Through it all, the firefighters persist. This fire chief's team came from about 200 miles away to help.
ASST. CHIEF TIM MCEVOY, NEWPORT FIRE DEPARTMENT: It means a lot to be able to come out and help these guys. We do it in our own community, back in (INAUDIBLE) County, and, you know, the brotherhood of the fire department goes a long ways.
TODD: It's a brotherhood that's going to have to remain strong throughout this area. When this snowstorm is over, in the next couple of days, the temperatures are expected to warm up all of this snow is going to start melting. Then rain is in the forecast. That means likely flooding and more rescues -- Wolf.
BLITZER: What about the strange snow patterns? We're seeing huge disparities, the south part of Buffalo, awful. The north part not so bad. It's almost like a tale of two cities.
What's going on?
TODD: It really is, Wolf. And it's very strange. You know, in the north areas of Buffalo, the northern area, today they just got a dusting of snow, maybe an inch or two. Down here in what they call the south towns, they got two or three feet. And it's still coming down in some areas not far from here. So it really is a disparity and these areas are fairly close together.
BLITZER: And we've just found out that the Buffalo Bills' game this Sunday against the New York Jets, supposed to be in Buffalo, that has now been postponed. It will be rescheduled by the NFL to another date. We're just getting that word in from the Buffalo Bills and the NFL.
Brian, thanks very much. Be careful over there. It's cold and snowy.
Coming up, we're getting details on what President Obama will say just about two hours or so from now when he takes the controversial step of ordering action unilaterally on immigration reform.
And with pressure arrests in Ferguson, Missouri and a grand jury decision expected any time now, the potential for violence has authorities on alert now around the country.