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Feds Expand Same-Sex Marriage Recognition; Fiancee: Shooter Said "I Hate That Thug Music"; Syrians Evacuate, Aid Arrives Amid Gunfire; Bode Miller Places Eight In Downhill Skiing; Search For Missing American In Mexico; Poll: Confidence In Economy Still Weak; Who Is Middle Class In America?

Aired February 9, 2014 - 14:30   ET


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Martin Savidge. These stories topping the news this hour, it is a major milestone for gay rights, that's infuriating some conservatives. The Justice Department's decision to recognize same-sex marriage has had backlash just ahead.

It's one of the busiest days of the winter games, eight gold medals up for grabs. We'll tell you who grabbed them and which front-runner didn't quite make it.

And missing in Mexico, an American man takes an adventure south of the border then vanishes after sending an ominous text, that baffling case this hour.

Hello, everyone. I'm Martin Savidge. Good to be with you. Starting tomorrow, same sex marriage will get new recognition under federal law even in states where it isn't legal. Attorney General Eric Holder made that announcement at the Human Right Campaign gala last night.

Now if a couple gets legally married and they live in a state where same-sex marriage is not legal, they will get the same rights in federal legal matters. It affects things like bankruptcy filings, federal prison visits and the legal right to refuse to testify against your spouse. Holder compared the move to another major civil rights milestone.


ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Just as was true during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the stakes involved in this generation's struggle for LGTB equality could not be higher. Then, as now, nothing less than our country's founding commitment to the notion of equal protection under the law was at stake. So the justice department's role in confronting discrimination must be as aggressive today as it was in Robert Kennedy's time.


SAVIDGE: Same-sex marriage opponents are furious. They say this step undermines state's authority. I'm joined by criminal defense and constitutional attorney, Page Pate, let me welcome you first of all.

PAGE PATE, CONSTITUTIONAL ATTORNEY: Thank you. Great to be here. SAVIDGE: What's the impact going to be? How significant is this?

PATE: Well, I think the message is very significant. I think the practical impact though is fairly insignificant. This is only going to apply in federal court or something that the Department of Justice has jurisdiction over, like the Bureau of Prisons. It is not going to affect proceedings in state court. It is not going to affect the type of benefits or rights as contractor that I think a lot of people wanted. So the message is important, but the practical impact I don't think is that significant.

SAVIDGE: And when we talk about possible push back that might come especially from some states, what would you expect it?

PATE: Well, certainly states those states that have passed constitutional amendments like Georgia, which do not recognize same- sex marriages. I think we may also see something from within the Justice Department. The National Association of Assistant United State Attorneys has recently pushed back against the Eric Holder proposals to change the sentencing laws, do away with mandatory sentence at least not push it as much. So we may see some internal dispute over this particular proposal.

SAVIDGE: Why now? Why do you think this particular action was taken right here?

PATE: Well, legally it's significant because last year the United States Supreme Court in the Windsor case finally held that it is unconstitutional to not recognize same-sex marriages for purposes of federal benefits. So the Department of Justice and other parts of the administration, now they have a green light to go ahead and say, look, we can't wait on Congress necessarily to do everything, but we can do what's within our power to at least change things that we have control over.

SAVIDGE: OK. Page Pate, appreciate the insight very much. Thank you.

Major reversal and a big apology now coming from AOL CEO Tim Armstrong, you remember this one last week when he talked about how two of his employees distressed babies cost that company a lot of money. He cited those babies and the cost of Obamacare as the reason that he made changes to workers retirement plans. Well, as you might expect, now he's apologizing and he is reversing the changes to the 401(k) plans.

Now to this dramatic testimony in the so-called loud music murder trial, the trial will resume tomorrow morning. Michael Dunn is accused of opening fire into an SUV full of teens after arguing with one of them for playing loud music. The 17-year-old Jordan Davis was shot and killed.

Dunn is claiming self-defense. He told police he heard threats and he saw a weapon. Investigators say they did not find a weapon inside the teen's vehicle. Yesterday, Dunn's fiancee took the stand. Her testimony could be seen as damaging to the defense's case. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did the defendant say anything about the music when he parked the car next to the red car?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What did the defendant say?

ROUER: I hate that thug music.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What did you hear?

ROUER: I heard pop, pop.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When you heard those noises, did you know what they were?

ROUER: No, I didn't.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you woke up, was the television on?

ROUER: Yes, it was.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you happen to see something on the news?

ROUER: Yes, I did.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At this point in time, did you learn that a teenager had been killed at the gas station?

ROUER: Yes, I did.


SAVIDGE: Dunn faces up to life in prison if convicted. I'll be down in Jacksonville covering that trial tomorrow.

In Syria, more than 600 women, children, elderly people evacuated amid explosions and gunfire. It happened in the city of Homs during what was supposed to be a three-day pause to allow humanitarian aid reach that city. Here you can see people as they are trying to make their way towards U.N. vehicles. Aid workers also managed to deliver food to some of the thousands that are trapped in the city, which has now been under siege since last year.

The battle for Olympic gold is heating up, but we've got a spoiler alert for you and if you don't want to know who the big winners are. I'll give you a second, turn your head, turn away for just a moment. Here we go. Team USA's Jamie Anderson captured the gold medal in the women's slopestyle event. Finland won silver and Great Britain took home the bronze.

Anderson tweeted, "Only with the love and support from the most amazing family, friends, family, community and sponsors, so much gratitude." After the big win she described her emotions during the run.


JAMIE ANDERSON, U.S. GOLD MEDALIST: I was one of the last riders to drop. It just felt so good to be able to do something that I knew I could do, and I believed it, but just having that passion and determination to really do what I'm capable of.


SAVIDGE: American Bode Miller was the overwhelming favorite for gold in the men's downhill ski final, but he didn't get any medals at all in that event. The five-time Olympic medal winner had a disappointing run today and he placed eighth. Austria won gold. Let's take a look where the medal count stands now, Norway on top with seven medals tying for second the U.S., Russia, Canada, and the Netherlands.

The search is on for an American who is missing in Mexico. One troubling fact, he was last seen in an area that was known for violent battles with drug cartels.


SAVIDGE: His last message sounded ominous. American, Harry Devert was on a motorcycle trip across Latin America waiting for a military escort through a dangerous part of Mexico and now his frantic mother waits in New York for word about her missing son. His last contact came on January 25 since then nothing. Here is Alexandra Field.


ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Harry Devert didn't have to dream of the day he quit his job and travel the world. He was doing it by age 32 from Venezuela to Vietnam, Columbia, the Philippines, funded by money he made by online trading, Devert had nearly checked off his "Bucket List."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's been an adventurer since he was a tiny kid. He'll tell me about fabulous people he met in small towns and villages throughout the world.

FIELD: But his greatest adventure had come to a grinding halt. He's missing in Perdido, in Mexico.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's dropped off the face of the earth it seems and that's not who he is. I can only think that he's hurt and needs us because there's no way he wouldn't have gotten word out to us.

FIELD: This weekend, his family tapped his Facebook page finding new clues. He was riding this motorcycle chasing butterflies in South Mexico, camping in Morello outside the JM Butterfly Bed and Breakfast. It was there he stumbled upon his next adventure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's in Mexico, a little place on the Pacific Ocean. You know what the Mexicans say about the Pacific?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They say it has no memory.

FIELD: He was told he was just hours from the beach made popular in the movie "Shaw Shank Redemption." Just got an hour and a half long military escort out of some area, it was too dangerous for me to be, he told his girlfriend by text on January 25th. Then later hopefully get a chance to talk to you tonight when I hopefully, finally arrive.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everybody says this is something out of a movie and that's how I feel. I don't -- I can't even wrap my brain around what is happening.

FIELD: Local Mexican officials told CNN they are aggressive searching for Devert in in a state, that area is among the most dangerous in Mexico, where kidnapping and murders have spiked dramatically since the beginning of the drug war.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He gave me the biggest, biggest hug and we both wept because who knew when I would be seeing him again. I keep thinking my life makes no sense without him in it.


SAVIDGE: Alexandra Field joins us now from New York with the very latest on the search. Alexandra, what else do we know about his travel plans? I mean, he seemed to be having the life and yet now he's vanished. Where was he going and what was next?

FIELD: Well, he was in Mexico. He had left the U.S. back in December. He was in Mexico. He had plans to meet his girlfriend in Guatemala at the end of this month, from there onto Brazil and then to South Pole. So he certainly had plans for an adventure lined up. But his family said that he was regularly in contact with them.

They expect that he would have remained in contact with them. That's why the U.S. State Department has gotten involved now. Officials here say that they are working with Mexican authorities who are searching for Devert, and the State Department says it's also using social media, going to Facebook and Twitter to try and get the word out there to see if anyone has seen him -- Martin.

SAVIDGE: All right, Alexandra, we should point out there's a "Help Find Harry" Facebook page as well if you know or see anything. Thank you very much.

Are times getting so tough that the middle class can't even afford to shop at Wal-Mart? In a minute, we'll hear an argument, but why that is exactly the case?


PETE SAMPRAS, TENNIS PLAYER: I was about winning majors. I created a lifestyle to create that. I felt, you know, I was very focused, very single minded for the individual sport. I felt like I needed to be a certain way as far as my personality. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On the grass courts of Wimbledon where you became famous for thumping people on the court, you didn't like grass.

SAMPRAS: Didn't like grass at all. People asked me about grass. When I first went over there, I hated Wimbledon. Excuse me, I hated the surface. I loved what it meant. The surface I was uncomfortable, didn't like the bad bounce. By '92, '93 came around, I felt comfortable. I was owner of the place for seven or eight years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you tell your kids?

SAMPRAS: I want them to be good kids. I'm not sure they are going to be into tennis. They are great kids. I love them. I want them to listen better. I want them to do their homework, don't give me a hard time and do what I say.



SAVIDGE: Call it January thaw. After a chilly month for job growth in December, things warmed up a little, underlining little, last month. The U.S. economy added 113,000. CNN political editor, Paul Steinhauser explains, Americans are still lukewarm on the prospects for the overall economy.

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: President Barack Obama is touting the jobs numbers.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Our unemployment rate is now the lowest it's been since before I was first elected.

STEINHAUSER (voice-over): But while saying we're moving in the right direction, the administration admits more needs to be done.

THOMAS PEREZ, LABOR SECRETARY: We're making progress in the economic recovery, but we're not moving fast enough. We need to pick up the pace.


STEINHAUSER: Republicans were quick to criticize the White House saying the jobs report proves the president's policies aren't working. The American people continue to ask where are the jobs and the president clearly has no answers, said House Speaker John Boehner. So what do you think about the economy?

Near two-thirds give the economy a thumb's down according to our latest CNN/ORC poll, but 36 percent of you rate current economic conditions as good, the highest percentage in six years. So who do you blame for the state of the economy? More of you continue to point fingers at former President George W. Bush and the Republicans than Mr. Obama and the Democrats, but that percentage is dropping and for the first time less than half say Bush is to blame.

SAVIDGE: Thank you, Paul. So confidence in the economy, a little bit soft, and President Obama says that the focus needs to be on creating middle class jobs to help us get back on our feet. But who are the middle class in America. Well, for that let's bring in Rick Newman. He is a columnist for Yahoo Finance and the author of the book "Rebounders." Let me ask you this, who is middle class in America? How do we define it? Is it an income thing? Is it the societal thing? Who is middle class?

RICK NEWMAN, COLUMNIST, YAHOO! FINANCE: I think it's both of those things, Martin. I mean, middle class, if you really want to try to define it is everybody in the middle of the income scale. That might be everybody from say 20 percent to 80 percentile in terms of incomes. But I think it's more important whether people consider themselves to be middle class.

We've seen from polls that the percentage of Americans who consider themselves to be middle class has been falling. There's a poll out recently that show only 44 percent of people now consider themselves to be in the middle class. That's down from something like 53 percent about six years ago.

At the same time, the percentage of people who consider themselves to be lower class has been going up by a lot. So this is how we are seeing when you hear the decline of middle class, a lot of it is that people just feel they really don't have the ability to get ahead anymore. They are worried about their kids who might end up worse off than them, rather than better off. When you hear about the decline of the middle class, that's what it is.

SAVIDGE: Yes. Well, let me ask you about an article that you wrote last week, hugely provocative title. You said Wal-Mart is getting too expensive for the middle class. What do you mean by that?

NEWMAN: Well, there is something curious going on with the economic data. We are seeing, for example, that spending is holding up pretty well. Retail sales were pretty strong. They rose by over 4 percent in 2013 and yet, at the same time, you are hearing all of these mid- market, big chains saying, you know, very disappointing results. That's Wal-Mart. That's JC Penney, Best Buy, Lowman's, the clothing chain, just liquidated recently, a lot of other stories even the Gap is struggling.

So you have to ask the question, who is spending this money? It's hard to tease this out, but when you look at (inaudible) -- what -- it seems to be happening is that upper income people, let's say people at the 80 percentile level or more are spending a lot of money. They are doing fine. The economy has recovered for them.

As you get closer to the middle, people are not spending money. It's really the people you might call lower middle class who seem to be threatened right now. They have lost a bit of income because food stamp benefits got cut back.

There is a payroll tax increases at the beginning of 2013, which hurt these people most of all. Recently, we've seen that Washington is not going to extend these jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed. This is where it hits. It hits at the lower middle income class. It's showing up in the earnings for companies like Wal-Mart.

SAVIDGE: All right, we have to leave it there. Rick Newman, thank you very much. Appreciate the article and the insights. Talk to you again.

How about this? Do you need a vacation maybe mixed in with a little history? How about a poe-tic adventure, actually poetic? Details next.


SAVIDGE: It may seem like winter will never end especially in Atlanta and other parts of the country. It has been cold. Look at the bright side. Spring is right around the corner so the calendar said. If you're planning a trip for spring break or looking to get away, you might want to consider Baltimore. Here is Carol Costello with this week's "Travel Insider."


CAROL COSTELLO, ANCHOR, CNN'S "NEWSROOM": I'm Carol Costello, and this is my city, Baltimore, Maryland. Most people come here to visit the Inner Harbor, the National Aquarium or Port McKinrey, but I prefer to show people the corkier side of Baltimore. Come on.

Welcome to Baltimore. It's kind of chilly in here and kind of eerie, frankly. Hi, Mr. Poe. He wrote some of his best masterpieces in this very house. This is one of the coolest features of the house. This was Edgar Allen Poe's laptop, if you will. This is a traveling writing table.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the oldest place he lived still in existence.

COSTELLO: He died in Baltimore, but it still remains a mystery to this day.


COSTELLO: Supposedly this is the very last place Edgar Alan Poe had a drink before he collapsed and later died. Word is he still haunts this place. My gosh, it is you.


COSTELLO: You portray Edgar Allan Poe in a lot of plays all around the country. When you walk the streets of Baltimore and you're in character, how does it feel?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Feels to me very mysterious and wonderful I think about what he saw. I certainly enjoy going around and thinking about this is what he saw.

COSTELLO: The bartender and the owner of this establishment say they see evidence of ghosts all the time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll have to come back more often.

COSTELLO: Of course, you must end your visit here. It's Edgar Allan Poe's grave. Take a look. You wouldn't have been the first.


SAVIDGE: There you have it. Just ahead in the NEWSROOM, new federal rights and protections that will affect same-sex marriage in every state, a big impact or more confusion? We'll have details coming up.