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Deadly Mail Bomb; Winter Storm; Senate Passes Debt Ceiling Bill

Aired February 12, 2014 - 15:00   ET


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Nearly half-a-million people are without power right now, and the storm is slamming the Southeast. We're going to talk about that.

Do we want to go to Dana before we go -- continue on with this weather?

Dana Bash, what do you know?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The Senate has just approved raising the debt ceiling by a pretty substantial majority, supermajority, actually, to be precise, 67 votes yes.

But as you were talking about earlier, this came after an hour of high drama. The backstory here is that the Republican leadership never wanted to have any kind of trauma here in the Senate, just like they didn't want to have it in the House.

They preferred to have this vote go through with a simple majority with Democrats voting yes and allowing Republicans to do what was politically right for them and vote no. That didn't happen because Ted Cruz demanded that it was a 60-vote filibuster threshold.

So, what happened was Republicans had to find five votes. If there are 55 Democrats, they needed to find at least five votes from Republicans to get that 60-vote threshold. What you saw for the last hour, Don, was kind of scrambling around trying to figuring out where those votes are. We don't exactly know how many Democrats, if any Democrats voted no, but what we do know the way this played out was Republicans who didn't want to vote yes, including Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn, the top two Republicans.

Don, they had a dramatic moment where it looked unclear whether this was going to pass or not, walked down to the front and raise their hands, aye, together, effectively taking the plunge knowing that they both have primary challenges back home and this will be very, very hard for them to explain back home. But they did it because they're Republican leaders.

Then right before we got the final vote, you had other Republicans who are perhaps a bit safer and more comfortable where they are. John McCain and Jeff Flake from Arizona, John Thune as well and others coming out, our Ted Barrett report, of the Republican cloakroom, all switching their votes to yes to give this a supermajority 67-vote threshold. There are lots of reasons politically why this likely happened. The primary one is to make it look less bad for maybe just a handful of Republicans to just vote yes on this, but big picture, what you saw here is exactly what Republicans didn't want.

They didn't want to force their members to vote yes on what they describe as giving the president more ability to borrow money and it is exactly what they are opposed to. But they had no choice, because Ted Cruz, who has rankled his fellow Republicans before, did it again just now.

LEMON: He has done it again and there will be more to follow. Our Dana Bash in Washington on Capitol Hill now following that developing story on the debt ceiling, Dana, we will get back to you when there's more information on that.

We want to move on to the weather. It's the top of the hour. Want to give you your headlines. The weather is crippling parts of this country right now. Nearly half-a-million people are without power and as an ice storm is slamming the Southeast. The storm is crippling roads in Georgia and the Carolinas, grounding flights. It's bringing down trees and it's knocking power to some 420,000 people, and the numbers will keep climbing as it moves across the country and as it moves north.

Already, at least five classic-related deaths are blamed on this massive storm. Emergency services are warning travel will be very difficult right now, if not impossible.

You are looking at these new pictures of traffic moving very slowly in Fayetteville. That's in North Carolina, of course, and as we get reports that hundreds of cars are stranded on icy roads there. Look at the creeping traffic.

And in Atlanta, though, the roads are desolate. Gosh, it really does look like "The Walking Dead." My goodness. The pictures that you're looking at rarely seen in one of the most congested cities in the U.S. This is Atlanta right now on the left, nothing. And the one on the right was Atlanta just a few weeks ago, just two weeks ago, everyone there desperate not to see the repeat of this, when a mass exodus from Atlanta caused apocalyptic scenes, people trapped on icy highways for more than 10 hours, many eventually abandoning their cars.

Our Ed Lavandera is out on the roads in iced-over Atlanta. There he is on the left of your screen. And our Chad Myers, our meteorologist, standing right outside the CNN Center, which is located dead center downtown Atlanta.

We are going to start with Ed, though.

Ed, how are the roads looking now?


Well, we are headed east along Interstate 20 just outside of downtown Atlanta. What is really fascinating is that I can only imagine what this place, what it must have been like two weeks ago when the interstates were full with cars, roadways were full of cars, and it's really quite a difference when you take a look at the roadways now and you see that there is just a handful of people.

We have pulled over to the side of the road to kind of clear up the shot there so that we can give you the best picture. In fact, I was just watching a guy slipping and siding down the interstate as we're sitting here and kind of cleaning off the windshield wipers and getting ready to try to move further along down the road.

But this must have been incredibly treacherous. Much easier to drive on when you are the only car or one of the few cars on the roadway. So, it's a very good sign that there are not people out and about today, Don.

LEMON: Ed Lavandera.


LEMON: More on this breaking news coming right up, but, first, this:

We are "On the Case" right now. Law enforcement say a note was attached to a mail bomb that killed a retired lawyer in Tennessee. Federal investigators swarmed a quaint neighborhood street in Lebanon, Tennessee. The mail bomb killed John Setzer and critically wounded his wife on Monday. The FBI and the ATF, the U.S. postal inspectors and local police have not revealed any motives.

His friends say Setzer once practiced bankruptcy law. His wife, Marion, is at now at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.


KEN CALDWELL, FRIEND OF VICTIM: They were true Christians and honorable people that I would trust to the end of the earth. It doesn't make sense at all. When I have heard it said that it was targeted, I thought, well, they must have targeted the wrong person.


LEMON: Justice correspondent Evan Perez joins me now.

So, tell us about this note, Evan.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, we don't know what exactly the note said.

We know from sources that they found this note inside the house. One of the things they are doing today is they're going through and they're cataloging all -- everything that was found in there to determine whether or not perhaps there is a label attached to the package or perhaps a package that came in a few days earlier. They want to make sure they know what exactly was attached to this package that contained this bomb today, or, rather, on Monday.

The investigators are still going through the scene. One of the things that they are trying to figure out is how the package got there. Was it something that was delivered by the Postal Service by some mail carriers or was it just delivered and put in the mailbox by someone who was trying to harm this couple?

LEMON: And what do we know about this couple?

PEREZ: As the neighbors have described, these are people who nobody really thinks that anyone was trying to harm.

The investigators today are also trying to figure out whether there is any disputes, perhaps any legal disputes that came from the lawyer's background. They are trying to interview people who knew them to try to see if there's any reason for anybody to target them. That's one of the big mysteries right here, is he's a retiree. He's 74 years old. So, it's really a big open question as to why this was done, Don.

LEMON: All right, Evan Perez, thank you very much. We appreciate it. As we get more information, we will continue to report on that.

More breaking news right now to report to you out of Syria. CNN has learned that 11 percent of its chemical weapons have now been shipped out of the country. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons tells us that this shipment is more than the last, which was only 4 percent. However, Syria is still behind the eight ball. It could have removed all of the chemicals last week. The deadline set by the Geneva agreement was for February 15.

What is more daring? Being the motorcyclist who risked dying while shooting this ridiculous video or posting it to a police Web site and taunting officers with the phrase catch me if you can? Police on the manhunt now to catch the person who did both.

Plus, a lawsuit filed against President Obama, the person suing, Senator Rand Paul, next, why the Kentucky Republican is targeting the White House. And could President Obama really be in legal trouble?


LEMON: Well, he led New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and now former Mayor Ray Nagin could be headed to prison. He has just been found guilty on 20 of 21 charges of federal corruption.

Prosecutors say Nagin took more than $200,000 in bribes. The jury did acquit him on one of the bribery counts. Nagin served two terms as mayor and left the office back in 2010. There's no immediate reaction from Nagin, who has insisted on his innocence. We will follow up.

And we promised you we would talk about this, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky leading a class-action lawsuit filed against President Barack Obama about NSA data collection.

Here he is, Rand Paul, announcing the suit in Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: There is a huge and growing swell of protest in this country of people who are outraged that their records would be taken without suspicion, without a judge's warrant, and without individualization.

This, we believe, will be a historic lawsuit. We think it may well be the largest class-action lawsuit ever filed on behalf of the Bill of Rights.


LEMON: So it's kind of a two-pronged story.

You got the legal and you have got the constitutional, those two angles. But you also have the Rand Paul story. The rising Republican star has been commanding headlines for two weeks now. He's of course the son of Ron Paul, the former member of Congress and perennial presidential candidate. Now Rand Paul is thinking of launching a run at the White House himself. He's a Republican who leans libertarian and he has an op-ed explaining his lawsuit today at So, make sure you check that out.

Avery Friedman is with us. Here is a law professor and civil rights attorney. And then there is Margaret Hoover, Republican consultant and CNN political commentator.

OK, here we go.

Avery, Fourth Amendment to the Constitution reads as follow. "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, their houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated. And no warrants shall issue except upon probable cause, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera."

Do you, Avery Friedman, see grounds for a lawsuit against the president here?

AVERY FRIEDMAN, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: Well, not against the president, Don.

That case has about as much chance of survival as Sonny Corleone in a toll booth. The reality is that there are a multitude of cases that are pending right now, class actions just like Rand Paul's that challenge Fourth Amendment unreasonable search and seizure grounds against the administration, the NSA.

As a matter of fact, two federal judges in the country at this point, a couple of months ago, one ruled that what NSA is doing may very well be unconstitutional. Another judge, Judge Pauley, a federal judge in New York, said it probably is constitutional.

This is not groundbreaking. Legally speaking, it's a legal redundancy.

LEMON: We're going to talk about the political aspects of this.

Margaret Hoover, I know you want to jump in, but more quick legal question to Avery Friedman. I promise I will let you jump in.

Senator Paul said his case -- you said Corleone in a tool booth of something. He says this case will probably end up being decided by the Supreme Court? True? Possible?

FRIEDMAN: No. It will be dismissed by the federal. The dismissal will be affirmed by the court of appeals and the Supreme Court won't touch it.


Margaret Hoover now, these are good times for Rand Paul. He has been out making headlines while Chris Christie, his possible presidential rival, sits mired in a scandal in New Jersey. Do you that Paul senses an opportunity here that he's trying to exploit?

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I don't know, Don. For be it for me to speculate.


HOOVER: Come on. Come on.

Look, one thing that is fascinating about this, Ted Cruz may have gone to Harvard Law School, but Rand Paul is smarter. The way he's doing this is brilliant political theater.

FRIEDMAN: Not legally.

HOOVER: Well, Alan Dershowitz actually disagrees with you and thinks the Supreme Court will be forced to decide on the constitutionality of the surveillance data because of Rand Paul.

There's varying legal opinions about that. Aside from that, politically there are two things that are worth looking at here. One, Rand Paul is forming new political coalitions that are totally unique on the Republican side of the aisle.

The conservative universe is actually built of a lot of different factions. And this lawsuit is marrying the Tea Party conservative base with the conservative libertarian Paulites that were his father's followers. That is a new coalition on the right and that could have real consequences for 2016.

Secondly, he is marrying it with the ACLU, civil libertarians on the left. These are totally new dynamics and fault lines in American politics that have real political consequences in addition --


LEMON: Here's my question for you, though. This seems a bit unusual and a bit extreme, just in my estimation. Am I wrong here?

And then also when he talks about the Bill Clinton thing, the way he's making headlines, is this going to be a turnoff for people who may see this as some sort of antics? HOOVER: Well, I think they're apples and oranges. Right?

The Clinton thing is very different than a real lawsuit in federal court about litigating the constitutionality of the Fourth Amendment, which actually has a lot of traction out there in the country. I don't think he's just being a bomb thrower. He's actually litigating and pushing forth a real policy issue, as he did with his filibuster frankly about drones and whether the president and the CIA director have the ability to hurt noncombatants on American soil or on foreign soil with drones.

These are substantive issues that Rand Paul is forcing to the front of our national discourse. That is frankly quite effective and frankly important.

LEMON: Yes. But sometimes it's the method. That's what I was asking you mostly about, the method.


FRIEDMAN: Certainly not the law, right.

HOOVER: This is not so personal, Don, though.

It's not like he's attacking the president here. He is also -- he's named Jim Comey in this, which is the FBI director, who was frankly a Bush appointee. This is not a partisan attack by any means.



LEMON: Thank you. I'm sorry, Avery.


LEMON: Avery Friedman, Margaret Hoover, thanks. Stay safe and warm.

HOOVER: Thanks, Don.

LEMON: Senator Paul will be live tonight with "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" 7:00 Eastern. Make sure you tune in, 7:00 Eastern "OUTFRONT" with Erin Burnett, Senator Rand Paul live.

As I mentioned, he has written an opinion piece on this topic on Make sure you check that out, -- opinion.

Next, check out the video. Someone actually posted it to a police department's Facebook page with a message for officers, catch me if you can. Now the search is on for the motorcycle driver who weaved in and out of traffic and then taunted police.


LEMON: The breaking news that we have been reporting here on CNN, the Senate has voted to raise the debt ceiling to March of 2015. The vote was 55-43. And it's important to know that Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, said no, voted no.

But the debt ceiling will be raised, because the president is expected to pass. It's going to his desk now that the Senate voted to raise the debt ceiling. Everybody -- well, not everyone, but Mitch McConnell is a notable as head of the Senate majority said no to this.

Also breaking news again from the -- Senate minority leader -- pardon me -- also, breaking news from the White House. We are just getting some enrollment numbers from Obamacare.

Brianna Keilar following this story for us from the White House.

A lot of breaking news from Washington today, Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, a lot of breaking news, and there are some big numbers here, Don, 3.3 million people enrolling in Obamacare plans.

This was since October 1, when people were first able to. Of course, this is down from what the initial expectation was, which has since been revised because there were those technical difficulties, but it does show you that here recently a lot of people have been enrolling, over a million in January.

There had been talk that perhaps there would be a falloff in January following that end-of-the-year deadline. It doesn't appear that that really happened. There was a third, you're seeing then, of the total enrollments since October happening in January. This is the second month where we have gotten the breakdown, which is so important, the demographic breakdown, which shows us if the law is working the way it's supposed to, which is young people who tend to be healthy are supposed to be signing up to offset people who need more health care, people tend to be older and therefore not quite as healthy, more expensive to insure.

The breakdown there is that 31 percent of those enrolled, we're told, are 34 and under. The goal initially which has been revised was for that to be 40 percent, certainly short of that, but what you will hear some analysts say is that maybe this isn't ideal, by they want more young people, but it's still good enough to have the law working as it's supposed to.

And you will remember last week, Don, the CBO said that while initially they were expecting seven million people would be enrolled by the end of March, which is the end of this six-month enrollment period, they have downgraded that expectation to $6 million, so a little more than halfway there with this number coming out from HHS today.

LEMON: Brianna Keilar standing out on the lawn of the White House, Brianna, thank you for that breaking news.

Meantime, police in San Antonio are desperate to find a speeding biker. They say he is putting other lives at risk, at risk, and taunting and daring police to catch him.

Here's CNN's Deborah Feyerick.


DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Take a look at this disturbing video shot by a motorcyclist wearing a helmet camera. You can see the cyclist weaving in and out of rush hour traffic in San Antonio. Officials say at speeds of more than 100 miles per hour.

SGT. JAVIER SALAZAR, SAN ANTONIO POLICE DEPARTMENT: Really, all of it would have taken was a split second for him to impact the lives of several people, possibly killing someone just by his very action.

FEYERICK: It caught the attention of the San Antonio Police Department when the video was posted on the police department's Facebook page with this daring caption, "catch me if you can." And now, the police department is acting on that dare.

WILLIAM MCMANUS, SAN ANTONIO POLICE CHIEF: We've got all his personal information. And, we will have our detectives and our officers out actively looking for him.

FEYERICK: Police believe the motorcyclist is Alberto Rodriguez, age, 27. He's also wanted for two outstanding felony warrants.

MCMANUS: If Mr. Rodriguez is watching, you might as well just turn yourself in because it's just a matter of time until we catch you.

FEYERICK: If caught, he would face a reckless driving charge, a possible fine of $200, and 30 days in jail. And in the cyber twist, the police department is using their same Facebook page to reach out to the public for any tips. This is not the first time that a reckless driving video has gone viral and caught the attention of authorities.

During the summer of 2013, a record was set for the fastest loop around Manhattan. The driver later posted it on YouTube. Police caught up with the driver and later charged him with reckless driving.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it just goes to show that, you know, you call negative attention to yourself on your social media Web pages and bad things can happen.

FEYERICK: Deborah Feyerick, CNN, New York.


LEMON: So, should the cops just ignore this guy?