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New York Braces for 15 Inches of Snow; Mayor de Blasio Criticized for Keeping Schools Open; Obamacare Sign-ups Reach 3.3. Million; $45 Billion Cable Merger Deal; Rand Paul Suing President Obama over NSA Spying

Aired February 13, 2014 - 13:30   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Let's get back to our top story, the breaking news. The northeast getting hit by a very dangerous winter storm right now. It's nothing more than a foot of snow in some areas creating huge travel headaches across the region. More than 6,000 flights have been canceled already today. And that's on top of thousands of flights canceled yesterday when this storm was hammering the southeast.

More than 700,000 homes and businesses, they are without power right now. And at least 10 deaths are blamed on this massive, massive storm.

New York City is getting hit with the biggest snowfall of the season in the greater New York City area.

Don Lemon is right in the middle of it all.

Don, New York is obviously a city of, what, eight million people? So there's a lot at stake when this much snow, this kind of snowstorm, reaches the metropolitan area.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: A lot of people affected by this, Wolf. And the issue is, you know, we've seen a lot of snowfall lately. A lot of ice. And then it gets piled up here and people can't really get to where they're going or it's very difficult.

Look at that. I mean, this is a mountain of ice and snow. And people getting around. Some people -- where are you from again? This guy just walked by our live shot.

Where are you from?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm from England.

LEMON: What -- are you nuts?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no I'm maddogs in England go out in the winter snow.

LEMON: Yes. Well, good luck. Take the snow back to England with you. So you can see that guy is running around out here. But people are -- you know, some of the tourists who are out and about, they're fine, but people are having to get to where they're going, they're working, they're commuting, it's a little bit tough.

Wolf, I want to show you this is what we're dealing with because it was really fluffy this morning, right? All right. So this is a crosswalk right here at Columbus Circle. You can see it's very slushy. Very slushy. But check this out. Getting over these mounds and then this stuff becomes really deep. These are up to -- look, she's just got get to do this again. It's --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi. Yes, it's crazy. I don't know. I'm not from New York, but it's crazy.

LEMON: All right. Good luck. All right. Watch your -- watch your thing there. Grab your belt. There you go.

So look, so getting into a taxi is really tough, but look at this. See what people are dealing with? Look at her. Is that nuts? Are you all right?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, fine. My socks are all wet now.

LEMON: Yes. Yes. So this is what -- look at this, Wolf. These are up to my calf here. And that's what you're going to have to deal with if you want to get around New York City. Not just on this corner but pretty much every single corner. And again, it's wet now, it's going to become snow a little bit later on, but then it's going to ice over.

Show him the temperature, 36 now, but when that temperature starts to go back down, this is really going to become a problem -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. People should stay off the roads obviously.

Don, hold on for a moment. I'm going to come back to you in a minute but the mayor -- the new mayor of New York City, Bill De Blasio, he's getting some serious heat for keeping the schools in those five boroughs open today.

Deborah Feyerick is joining us from our New York bureau.

Teachers, parents, state lawmakers, some of them are very critical of the mayor's decision saying it wasn't the right call, Deb, to keep the schools open during such a severe snowstorm.

What's the mayor's response?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's exactly right. And he is getting some very serious heat on what is a very cold and treacherous day trying to get around the city. But earlier he did defend his decision explaining why he chose to keep the New York City public schools open.


MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO, NEW YORK: Based on our knowledge of what sanitation can do overnight, we were convinced that kids could get to school this morning. And we always emphasize in making these decisions when you think about 1.1 million kids, so many families depend on their schools as a place for their kids to be during the day, a safe place, a place where they not only are taught but they get nutrition and they are safe from the elements.

So many families have to go to work, the members of these families have to go to work, they do not have a choice, and they need a safe option for their kids.


FEYERICK: Now it also didn't help that the mayor's new schools chancellor standing right by his side actually once the snow had stopped called it a beautiful day. And that drew instant criticism as well because there's been so much conflicting information.

The New York governor said that it's a state of emergency, people should stay home. The mayor telling people don't go on the streets, drivers should not be driving, but he did say take public transportation. But a lot of people said, look, we can't get to the public transportation because the streets aren't plowed, it's difficult to get there. A lot of teachers live outside of the city.

And so even though excused lateness -- lateness is going to be excused, absences are not. But it's very dangerous out there. The last time the mayor kept the schools open, only 44 percent of all the children showed up. Most of them were simply warehoused watching movies and just killing time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, but the mayor does make a good point. A lot of those kids, especially they come from poor neighborhoods, they're not going to get a good meal unless they're in school and have subsidized breakfast or lunch. That's a fair point that the mayor certainly makes.

Deb, thanks very much.

Let's go back to Don.

Don, Kelly Wallace is with you as well. And I know you're both getting serious reaction to the mayor's decision. Sort of controversial to keep the schools open.

Al Roker, as you know, he fired back at the mayor's claim that the forecasters predicted lighter snowfall, tweeting this, "How dare the New York City's Mayor's Office throw the National Weather Service under the school bus. Forecast was on time and on the money."

Kelly, let's continue this conversation. The mayor responded directly to Al Roker. What did he say?

KELLY WALLACE, CNN DIGITAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, Wolf, you know, he responded he said he respects Al Roker and said it takes a lot more. It's different to run a city than it is to talk about weather on TV. He said he respects meteorologist, but he said that the National Weather Service reaffirmed to the mayor's office that this was faster and heavier than expected and therefore they had to adjust. And after the storm had hit, as you noted, Al Roker responding to that saying, hey, don't throw, you know, the National Weather Service under the bus. This was expected. This was -- you know, the forecast was on the money and really taking issue with the mayor's call to keep the schools open.

LEMON: And, Wolf, you know, Kelly has been watching all this reaction on social media. Kelly's our digital correspondent. But there's also a Facebook page now that is saying impeach De Blasio because the kids want to go to school. Mostly that's -- one of our other on-air talent who I won't really talk about said his kid joined that Facebook page but mostly that's because of kids who do not want to be at school.

You have kids.


LEMON: You had to get up and take them to school this morning. But, I mean, quite honestly, Wolf, if you're a family, you're not off work today, you don't get a snow day just because it's snowing in New York City, and it's not a huge catastrophe, you want your kids to be in school.

WALLACE: You want your kids to be in school. And I think that's -- I think sometimes in these stories the most vocal people, right, might be sometimes the people with the means, the means to stay home from work or have someone watch the kids if they have to go to the office. What about the families who lose money if they don't go to work? Or don't have child care?

And so that's a bigger issue. Obviously safety is number one, but the decision was made, the trains, the buses were moving. We took -- you know, we got our kids to school, I said it's a little wacky out here, but we got them to school. It's a tough call. And a lot of people aren't happy, but I always think of the working families who don't really have a choice.


WALLACE: And that's often what we don't -- we don't pay attention to.

LEMON: And, Wolf, I've been speaking to a lot of people who say, listen, we've been dealing with winters like this forever. You know, one 60-year-old woman came by and said, I just want to be able to get on the bus. We've been dealing with this forever. A snowstorm cannot be an excuse for people not to go to work and kids not to go to school. That's what you have to do. We're New Yorkers. We're tough. Deal with it.

BLITZER: Here's the question, Don, and maybe Kelly knows, are these kids going to have trouble getting home later this afternoon from school? Given some of the problems as far as transportation is concerned.

LEMON: No, they're going to -- they may have trouble, but that's when it's going to be the warmest and there's going to be the least precipitation.

WALLACE: And also, Wolf, they did close all after-school activities. So a lot of public schools, schools around the city have after-school programs --

LEMON: Kids right there, look, walking around, getting around, no problem.

WALLACE: No problem.

LEMON: No problem. The buses -- the school buses are out on the roads this morning as I was walking my dog.

WALLACE: Exactly.

LEMON: So --

WALLACE: So they're giving people time for kids to get home after school.


BLITZER: All right. Guys, thanks very much. Kelly and Don, you guys get inside at some point and warm up a little bit.

Coming up later, a massive cable merger moving forward. It could mean a big change for what you potentially could have to pay to see me on basic cable TV. But up next, new numbers for Obamacare, you're going to find out how many more people have signed up, what it means politically.


BLITZER: Some encouraging news about the Obamacare enrollment. More than one million people have signed up for the insurance program under the health care exchanges in January alone. That brings the total sign-up so far to 3.3 million. These are figures released by the Obama administration.

The jump in enrollment is a significant shift following the disastrous rollout of the Obamacare Web site.

Our chief political analyst Gloria Borger is joining us.

So, Gloria, has the president overcome the crisis to a certain degree? Certainly a major -- has he turned the corner?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, I was speaking with a senior administration official about this, this morning asking that very question, Wolf. And I think the way they like to think of it is they started a mile-run and they kind of fell flat on their face in the first lap. And now they've picked up and they're going -- they're going full speed ahead.

What's important about these numbers, Wolf, is the demographics of it because 25 percent of those who signed up were 18 to 34. They're hoping that that number is going to increase because what you need to make this program a success is a mix of healthier younger people as well of -- as well those who are older and more at risk.

So they're hoping that first you see kind of sicker people enrolling who need the health care more, then you see the program looking more competent, looking more successful. They're hoping this will encourage more healthier younger people to enroll so they can get the kind of mix they need.

Because if they don't get that, Wolf, then insurance companies are going to take a look at this when they set their premiums next time around, and there could be sticker shock. So it's really important that you get the right demographics in this.

BLITZER: So if in the coming weeks and months the enrollment continues to grow, the problems with the Web site are resolved, does that put a major dent in the Republican efforts to make this --

BORGER: Well --

BLITZER: -- the major issue in the November midterm elections?

BORGER: Well, look, there -- there are a lot of ifs there. You know, the question is, what's the mix, do insurance premiums look like they're going to go up, how many enrollees do they have? You know, the Congressional Budget Office has said you need between six million and seven million by the spring in order to make this a success.

Will people who have enrolled actually start paying for their insurance? So there -- you know, there are all kinds of questions that are out there. So, look, I think the administration can start making its case saying look, it is starting to work. And by the way -- and this is their political argument, by the way, why would Republicans start telling people they're going to take away insurance that people now finally have?

They would argue that's a difficult argument to make. So I think it -- we really don't know the answer to that question yet, Wolf. It has to play out for a little bit.

BLITZER: Yes, we'll find out in November when people actually go and vote.


BLITZER: And see how it plays out.


BLITZER: All right, Gloria, thank you.

Senator Rand Paul is now being accused of plagiarism again.

Coming up, his NSA lawsuit under the microscope. Take a closer look at this new controversy. Also ahead, the cable merger that could change your TV viewing habits. But what will the Comcast-Time Warner Cable deal mean? Will it pass muster here in Washington?

Our own Jeffrey Toobin standing by to weigh in.


BLITZER: A major merger is in the works that could potentially change the cable TV landscape in this country. Comcast has a deal in place to buy Time Warner Cable for $45 billion.

Those are the two biggest cable companies in the United States would combine to reach 33 million American households. But the deal still needs approval from Washington.

Time Warner Cable, by the way, is not affiliated with the CNN parent company Time-Warner.

Our senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin is joining us now.

Let's talk a little bit about this. It still has to be approved, this deal. There are a lot of variables consumer protection, antitrust laws. What's your analysis?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's really -- it's a very complicated and interesting problem here because this will be an enormous company because Comcast is not only the biggest cable company with almost 30 percent of the market after this merger, but it's got Universal Pictures, the movie studio, and it's got all of NBC including our competitor MSNBC.

So the argument might be this is simply too big that a company with this much power across the media landscape is too big. Now Comcast's responds to all of that is Time Warner Cable and Comcast do not compete directly in any markets. So there is no loss of consumer choice and they are saying look, you have a lot of choices to get media in your house besides cable companies these days.

You can get it through a phone company, you can get it through satellite TV. So they're saying cable is not your only option. That's the argument.

BLITZER: I've noticed that there are some -- some people pointing to the fact that Tom Wheeler is the new head of the FCC, used to be the top lobbyist for the cable TV industry. So is that a possible conflict of interest?

TOOBIN: It will be interesting to see if he refuses himself because, you know, that was his previous job. But, you know, he's also head of the FCC. Everybody knew that when he was confirmed and this is by far the biggest subject on the FCC's plate. So he's going to have an interesting question about whether he has to recuse himself.

BLITZER: How's all this likely to play out on consumers who just want to pay their monthly cable bills and watch cable TV including us here on CNN?

TOOBIN: Well, you know, cable bills have been going up anyway. And so that's unlikely to go in the opposite direction. Comcast's big argument and all the PR they have put out since the merger is that we are the best company for service and we offer the most innovative technology. So we're going to be able to offer innovative technology to more and more people as a result of this.

Plus they say look, we are only -- only -- 30 percent or just under 30 percent of the national market. It's not like we dominated. So there will be plenty of consumer choice if we don't -- if we don't do a good job.

BLITZER: Well, it's going to take a while for this to play out here in Washington. We'll see what happens.

Thanks so much, Jeffrey Toobin, reporting for us.

Up next, Senator Rand Paul's NSA lawsuits are now coming under some increased scrutiny. We'll take a closer look.


BLITZER: Stocks are up today despite some negative economic news. Check it out. Up about 58 points right now. You're looking at live pictures coming in from the New York Stock Exchange.

The markets are higher even though retail sales did fall in January. Unemployment claims were higher than expected. Dow Jones right now is 16021, almost 22 points.

Senator Rand Paul is taking aim at the NSA surveillance program and suing President Obama and other high ranking U.S. officials. He's suing members of the administration over that surveillance program.

But as our Joe Johns has learned, there is some controversy brewing right now concerning the man who was picked to make the legal argument.


JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Senator Rand Paul's lawsuit joined by the Tea Party umbrella group Freedom Works is the latest legal effort to put the heat on President Obama and the National Security Agency over collection of telephone metadata. The numbers, dates and times of calls, but not the content.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: 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.

JOHNS: An unusual lawsuit that Paul hopes will gain public support. It goes after the president and the director of National Intelligence, of the NSA and the FBI on behalf of millions who've been customers, users and subscribers of phone service since 2006. Paul wants the federal courts to declare the metadata collection program unconstitutional, shut it down and order the government to purge the information from its systems. But the administration insists the program is legal.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It has been found to be lawful by multiple courts and it receives oversight from all three branches of government, including the Congress.

JOHNS: Is the lawsuit a good idea?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our information, I think it should be private.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The idea that anybody could be listening to my private life, that kind of -- you know, it's a little bit creepy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's just kind of a stunt to get attention. I doubt anything will actually come of the lawsuit.

JOHNS: There were already cases in the federal courts involving the same legal question. Whether the program violates your constitutional right.

STEVE VLADECK, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY WASHINGTON COLLEGE OF LAW: There's no question that the underlying legal question is going to have to be resolved by the federal courts sometime soon. It just doesn't seem like Senator Paul's suit is going to be the vehicle through which the courts do it.

JOHNS: Complicating the legal issues is a behind-the-scenes spat over the alleged hijacking of a prominent Washington attorney's work. Sources said conservative constitutional legal scholar Bruce Fein had worked on the lawsuit since December, but when it was released publicly, his name was not on the document and former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli who left office in January was featured as the lead lawyer.

When CNN asked Cuccinelli who authored the document, Cuccinelli said it was a legal team including Fein and that Fein would participate in the litigation. Fein told CNN he looks forward to working with the others with transparency and no ulterior motives.

Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.


BLITZER: Bruce Fein's wife who is also the spokesman for Bruce Fein was outraged in comments to the "Washington Post" saying that they basically hijacked the arguments that Bruce Fein made, didn't give him any credit.

We're going to get a lot more on this later today. I've got an interview coming up in "THE SITUATION ROOM." A live interview with the Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. We'll discuss that, we'll discuss some of these other issues related to this lawsuit against President Obama and other high ranking U.S. officials. That interview 5:00 p.m. Eastern in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. Once again, 5:00 p.m. Eastern in "THE SITUATION ROOM." You can follow what's going on behind the scenes. Follow me on Twitter @wolfblitzer.

NEWSROOM continues right now from snowy New York with Don Lemon.