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Protests Continue in Ukraine; Anti-Government Protests Erupt in Venezuela; CBO Releases Analysis of Effects of Raising Minimum Wage on U.S. Economy; Syrian Civil War Continues; Interview with Bill Richardson; Olympics Medal Update; A New Bush in Politics

Aired February 19, 2014 - 07:00   ET


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking overnight, an Australian missionary is the latest westerner detained in North Korea -- 75-year-old John Short (ph). He traveled there as part of a tour group. His wife confirms he was questioned at his hotel and taken into custody allegedly over some gospel passages he had. Well, the North Korea is officially atheist and sees organized religion as a threat to its leadership. The North is already holding Christian missionary Kenneth Bae.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: A cruise ship worker under arrest this morning accused of sexually assaulting a passenger and then trying to throw her overboard. The 31-year-old victim, a U.S. citizen, was rushed to the hospital by air ambulance. A room service attendant on the cruise has confessed. The man says he used his master key to enter her room to teach her a lesson for insulting him.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: The White House now at a cross roads over Syria as the civil war spirals into chaos. Officials say the accelerating crisis is now a national security threat. And with another round of failed peace talks, they're scrambling for a new strategy. Reportedly back on the table, increasing assistance to western backed rebels, even drone strikes, though those are seen as unlikely for now.

CUOMO: All of this comes as new video shows the Assad regime's use of banned cluster bombs in this civil war. According to Human Rights Watch, Syrian forces attacked rebel positions in northern Syria just last week. Cluster bombs are banned by more than 100 countries around the world.

BOLDUAN: Anti-government protests breaking out all over Ukraine, protesters holding off police in Kiev with burning barricades. Ukraine's president vowing to restore order by any means necessary despite a personal phone call from U.S. vice president Joe Biden urging restraint. Nick Paton Walsh is live for us in Kiev. We can see the smoke rising behind you. Nick, how's it looking now?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kate, no letup really in the tension here behind me. Those noises you're hearing are fireworks being fired by the protesters at police. It's hard to see given the mess down here exactly who's doing what to whom some of the time. Tear has is being used. The buildings continue to burn. Molotov cocktails are being used. No sign of a letup of the standoff here, growing tension as dusk approaches.

Most importantly, though, Kate, we are not seeing political moves to slow this down. The EU deeply critical of the government. The White House also suggesting they have a responsibility in calming things down, but talks last night between the president and the opposition really went nowhere. The president saying that leaders of the opposition should denounce radicals in this crowd. As night falls again here, Kate, we are concerned perhaps we'll see something like a repeat of last night's violence. Back to you, Chris.

CUOMO: Just to remind everybody, Nick says the sounds behind him aren't munitions but are fireworks being used by protesters, just to help you understand the situation there.

Also breaking this morning, tensions rising in Venezuela. The leader of the opposition is now behind bars. Thousands of angry protesters are in the streets demanding the Venezuelan president step down. Karl Penhaul joins us now from Caracas. Karl?

KARL PENHAUL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Harvard educated Leopoldo Lopez, one of the main opposition leaders, is now being charged with murder, with terrorism, and with arson in relation to these violent protests that are now completed about two weeks. He is due to appear in court just a short while from now, and the right wing opposition has once again put out a call for protesters to mass around the courthouse in a show of support for Leopoldo Lopez.

We're expecting tens of thousands of protesters out on the streets once again, and that could become a flash point with the government security forces. We too became victim to some of these rising tensions last night because as we were covering part the demonstrations, a group of armed men on motorcycles raced through, they came to a halt near where we were. The next thing I knew I was looking down the barrel of a nine millimeter pistol, and they stole all our gear. But back again, we are back on air and we will be taking a close eye on these protests later today. Back to you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: As always, Karl, I know you're very careful, but please be careful out there. Clearly an uncertain situation unfolding right behind you. Thank you so much.

There's also political turmoil turning deadly in Bangkok. Five people were killed and nearly a hundred wounded in protests against Thailand's prime minister. A police officer is among the dead. He was shot by protesters after police used tear gas to disburse the crowd. Demonstrators say the prime minister, who is facing corruption charges, is just a puppet for her brother, the former prime minister.

PEREIRA: All of this international chaos happening as President Obama heads to Mexico today for the so-called dubbed "three amigos" summit. He'll meet with leaders of Mexico and of Canada. Among the topics they'll discuss, free trade, border security, and the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which will bring oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is expected to pressure president Obama to approve that. CUOMO: Key talks in Vienna today on Iran's nuclear program. Iran is once again meeting with six western powers. They struck a six-month interim deal last fall suspending high level enrichment in exchange for billions in sanction relief. And a once unimaginable development, the U.S. and Iran in bilateral talks. The question is, what will come from them? CNN's Jim Sciutto has more from Washington.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Chris. Your relatively calm and normally combative relationship between the U.S. and Iran, negotiators in Vienna just finished their morning session, U.S. officials saying they are as likely to fail to reach agreement as they are to make a deal.

Still, the mood has been surprisingly upbeat. Iran's foreign minister took the unusual step of addressing the American public directly, Skyping with the American students at the University of Denver, which he himself attended in the 1980s. He said if we want to resolve this issue, the only way to resolve it is through negotiations.

Back in Tehran, Iran's most powerful leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, had a very different message, disparaging not just the talks but the very idea of negotiating with the U.S. He said even if a deal is reached the U.S. will find another excuse, quote, "to be hostile to Iran." U.S. officials continue to say that is just pandering to a domestic Iranian audience.

Key issues on the table, the number of centrifuges Iran will be allowed to maintain, also some nuclear facilities, whether they will be dismantled. Also another key issue is restoring trust. The U.S. insisting Iran must fess up to past lies in writing, admitting that they lied about their nuclear program in the past. That could be a sticking point. We're going to be watching as these talks expected to continue into tomorrow.

BOLDUAN: You do wonder how much real progress they can make. Thank you, Jim, so much.

Also this morning, both those for and against an increase in the minimum wage are finding something to take away from a report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The reports say raising the minimum wage would benefit millions of low wage workers but would put many others out of work. President Obama wants it raised in part of his pledge for income inequality. Let's get the very latest from CNN's Athena Jones who is live at the White House for us this morning. Good morning, Athena.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Kate. The CBO says that raising the minimum wage from $7:25 to $10.10 on hour would give more than 16 million low wage workers a raise, and another 8 million low wage workers who make just above the minimum wage could also see their salaries boosted because of the ripple effects. All told, this move would life 900,000 people out of poverty. That's what the CBO says.

On the flipside, the budget office estimates this move could cost half a million jobs. And Republicans have been seizing on that part of the report, saying it proves their argument that raising the minimum wage affects jobs and could damage the economy. White house economists disagree with that part of the CBO's analysis and they point to numerous other economic studies that suggest that raising the minimum wage would have little or no effect on employment. So the bottom line here is whether this report strengthens the case for raising the minimum wage really depends on where you sit. Michaela?

PEREIRA: All right, Athena, thank you so much for that.

This morning some good news and bad news on the weather front. The snow is over, and it's getting warmer. But temperatures are expected to rise to spring-like conditions in some parts. And that could mean serious flooding as all of that snow and ice melts. Indra Petersons is here. Just when we thought we had some good news, that's the downside of all that warm weather.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Exactly, it sounds so good, right? Look at these temperatures. Towards Dallas, almost near 80 today. But once you add these above normal temperatures and you combine that with several systems that will produce rain, making their way into the northeast and south, you are going to have the concern for flooding. So flood watches for Chicago out through tomorrow and upstate New York. Also think about ice jamming.

Now, here's the second problem here. We're talking about very cold air out towards Iowa and Minnesota tomorrow. This will be the big story. Already starting late evening tonight around Joplin, Missouri, we could have the threat of severe thunderstorms. Look how this expands in through Thursday, 300,000 of you looking for severe weather. That includes the threat of tornados in through and by Friday making its way into the mid-Atlantic into the southeast.

CUOMO: All right, Indra, thank you very much.

Speaking of how we're dealing with the weather, New Jersey is in a bit of a pickle or unable to pickle. I'll explain. The state is using a briny pickle juice mixture to clear ice off roads while it waits for a shipment of real rock salt. Jersey's salt is on a ship in Maine. It's being held up due to a nearly hundred-year old maritime law. The silver lining is pickle juice may be better for the environment. At least the environment will be better off.

BOLDUAN: A Wisconsin National Guard soldier suspended has been after posting controversial photos online. Terry Harrison posted this image of her and several soldiers as they stood around an empty casket draped in an American flag with a caption that read the following, "We put the fun in funeral." Harrison has been suspended indefinitely from the funeral honors detail pending an investigation.

CUOMO: Subpoenas in the Bridge-gate investigation are headed to court after two former aides to Chris Christie refused to cooperate. An attorney for one of them said the request for records is outside legal boundaries. Bridget Ann Kelly is also refusing to respond.

PEREIRA: An elderly nun will spend nearly three years in prison for breaking into a nuclear facility. And 84-year-old sister Megan Rice was sentenced Tuesday along with two other peace activists. They three were convicted of sabotage for vandalizing a Tennessee defense plant that was housing enriched uranium for nuclear bombs. They have all reserved the right to appeal.

Back down to the tense situation abroad in the Ukraine and Venezuela as deadly protests continue this morning. This as the president has been urged to respond to another international crisis, an ongoing crisis we've been following of course in Syria. Let's bring in Bill Richardson, the former Democratic governor of New Mexico, as well of course the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Mr. Ambassador, thank you so much for coming in. I want to get your take on all of this because there's a lot of help that is needed, I think.

Let's talk first about the Ukraine. Some folks at home might not have been following this, but this has been going on for months, only this week escalating to such a violent level. The question simply is, what can you do? What do you think the U.S. can do to try to influence this one way or the other?

BILL RICHARDSON, (D) FORMER NEW MEXICO GOVERNOR: Well, first of all, stand with the democratic forces with the opposition in the Ukraine, and we seem to be doing that.

Secondly, Kate, I think we need to push for some mediation, urge the two parties -- I saw that the former boxing champion Klitschko and the president had a meeting unsuccessful yesterday. Try to get both sides to at least stop the violence, find a political transition.

But if that doesn't work, I think you need mediation. The European Union, maybe the Russians be can be helpful, although they have been a big part of the problem because they don't want the Ukraine to move into the orbit of the European Union.

BOLDUAN: I want to actually talk about Russia in not just this conflict in just a second. But on the issue of what can the U.S. do. So the vice president spoke with the Ukrainian president, saying it's really the government's responsibility to deescalate the violence. We now have this morning EU leaders threatening sanctions. Beyond that, though, this is a sovereign country. Is there much more that the U.S. can do to step in?

RICHARDSON: Well, we are per received as leaders there. The Ukraine is a great country with great potential, energy, human resources. I think it's very important that we show that engagement. I think the vice president's call was important, standing behind democratic forces, but also urging the president not to have another bloody revolution like the velvet revolution that has been occurring consistently there. There really needs to move into a political democratic transition.

Russia is key. We've got to find a way -- maybe now that Russia has had successful Olympics, they can try to be more helpful on Ukraine and Syria, but they don't seem to want to do that.

BOLDUAN: I do want to talk to you about just that. You've got Russia being central in the conflict in Ukraine and Russia as central in the ongoing civil war in Syria. To this point, we know the Geneva talks have stalled. What we're seeing publicly and just finger pointing back and forth between Secretary Kerry and Russian officials, blaming the other side for not doing enough or too much I guess, if you will. Is that the best approach to try to get Russia to play along since we have assisted in making Russia central in trying to put this away?

RICHARDSON: Well, what has happened, Kate, is Russia refuses to put strong sanctions on Syria in the Security Council. Russia has not been helpful in these peace talks that Mr. Brahimi has tried to foster.

So the issue then becomes what do we do? There are a lot of bad options on the table. And I believe the next possible step would be for the United States to assist in some kind of humanitarian and lethal aid to the moderate opposition. That's about all we can do right now.

But at the same time, I think continuing diplomacy finding ways to weaken Assad who seems to be getting stronger. It's just a bad situation. But Russia has to be part of a solution. And hopefully now after their Olympics, they can look good and be more active in Syria, in the Ukraine, to stop some of this bloody violence that is just fanning all these fires around the world.

BOLDUAN: So at this point, of course, it seems that after three years of civil war in Syria, there are no good options. But do you think the Obama administration should be considering military options or at least taking a more public role, a more active role, in arming the rebels?

RICHARDSON: I don't think any kind of boots on the ground is going to make sense right now. Possibly assisting the rebels, that may be a limited option. It's not a great option.

But I think the president is very conscious. The American people don't want another entanglement like Iraq, like Afghanistan. And a president has to be very conscious of that.

However, this is a region of the world that affects American national security. It involves refugees. It involves our interests. It involves protecting Israel. I think we have to ensure that all means of diplomacy are exhausted, keep pushing these talks at the U.N., keep pushing mediation, a political transition that involves Assad eventually leaving.

Russia is key here. And I think this is where the president and President Putin need to arrive at some kind of mediation effort, at some kind of recognition that our interests are tied together in the Ukraine and in Syria.

BOLDUAN: After so much public posturing, though, on both sides, you wonder how they're going to be able to pull that off. But we will see. I agree with you. I think it is key.

It's great to see you. Thank you so much.

RICHARDSON: Thank you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Of course. Michaela?

PEREIRA: All right, let's take a look at what is in the papers this morning.

We start with "Miami Herald" reporting U.S. military's willing to allow some terror inmates at Guantanamo Bay to have family visits. There's one caveat: the international Red Cross has to find a Caribbean nation to host the relatives of those prisoners between day trips to the Cuban base. There are 155 detainees at Guantanamo. It's not clear how many of them would be allowed to have visitors.

To "The New York Times," the return of a former Clinton aide to the White House is said to reflect a changing U.S. role in the Mid East. Robert Malley was a key Mid East advisor to Bill Clinton back in 2000. He's since become something of a lightning rod in the region. For President Obama, Malley will help devise American foreign policy from Saudi Arabia to Iran.

And in "The Washington Post," homeland security wants to be able to track your every move, at least while you're driving. A new proposal would built a national license plate tracking system drawing on existing local records to create a massive centralized data base. Of course privacy advocates are raising alarms, but DHS says the data would only be used in criminal investigations. Chris?

CUOMO: All right. You ready for the morning spoiler alert? Big news out of Sochi. Ready?

OK. Gold for Team USA in the men's giant slalom. Ted Ligety redeeming himself after a rough run in last week's super combined, if you remember that. The win keeps hope alive for the U.S. -- listen to this -- to become the first nation to medal every day of the Olympics. Four more days to go.

BOLDUAN: And Team USA nabbed gold in men's ski halfpipe final Tuesday. David Wise landing some impressive slips on some slushy terrain. The 23-year-old took a tumble on one run, but his overall score still got him to the top of the podium. It's the sixth medal for the Americans in freestyle skiing in these Olympics.

CUOMO: As Rachel Nichols said, his tricks were so sick he still won.

The U.S. also showed some skill in the bobsled. Lauryn Williams and Elana Meyers got off to a record-setting start. They're in first place heading in today's gold medal competition. Williams not only is a bobsledding great, six months ago, she was in the summer games. She won medals in track and field in 2004 and 2012.

BOLDUAN: And another spoiler alert for you. An updated look now at the medal count with a big change at the top. The Americans and Russians are now tied with the overall lead at 21 medals apiece, thanks to Ligety's gold and two Russian medals now in snowboarding.

The Netherlands still with 20 medals dropped to third place. Norway and Canada remain in fourth and fifth. Four more medal events are on the schedule today. We'll see how it all changes.

CUOMO: They keep jumbling up at the top. But the U.S. is always there.

BOLDUAN: Yes, that's true and right.

Coming up next on NEW DAY, another George Bush running in another election. Can this candidate save the Republican party? We're going to tell you about him ahead.


BOLDUAN: Welcome back to NEW DAY.

He's a rising new political star with a not so new name. George P. Bush, son of former Florida governor Jeb Bush and a nephew and grandson of two former presidents, is mounting his first political campaign. Now many are calling him the future of the Republican party.

CNN's Ana Cabrera spoke with him. Take a look.


GEORGE P. BUSH, RUNNING FOR TEXAS LAND COMMISSIONER: Well, my friends and family call me George P., so feel free to call me P.


(voice-over): He comes from one of the most powerful families in American politics, the grandson of former President George H.W. Bush, nephew of George W., and son to former Florida Governor Jeb.

So just who is George P. Bush?

BUSH: I pledge allegiance --

CABRERA: The nation first caught a glimpse of a much younger George P. when he delivered the pledge of allegiance at the 1988 Republican national convention. He's helped campaign for his dad and uncle as a young man, but now George P. is officially a candidate.

He's running for Texas land commissioner, a rather low profile position outside of Texas, but a powerful job nonetheless.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know the Bush family, and I really like them. And maybe he'll be a chip off the old block.

CABRERA (on-camera): Do you hope he is?


CABRERA (voice-over): We caught up with George P. and his supporters at a campaign stop in Laredo, Texas, a small predominately Hispanic town on the U.S.-Mexico border, part of a cross-state campaign that began more than 15 months ago. The George P. bus has visited more than half the state's 254 counties, touting what he calls a pro-life, pro-gun, pro-energy independence platform.

(on-camera): Because you are a Bush, do you feel pigeonholed at all in terms of ideology? You have to, you know, follow in the footsteps, so to speak of, you know, your uncle, or your grandfather, or even your own father?

BUSH: To a certain extent, you know. But I've said from the first day of my campaign that I'm going to be a man of my own right.

CABRERA (voice-over): The 27-year-old former high school teacher, Afghanistan war vet, lawyer and business owner, hopes his experience, not just his name, will help him reach voters. One thing George P. has that other George Bushes haven't had is an inherent connection with a demographic that Republicans have found a hard to reach.

George P. is Hispanic. His mother, married to Jeb Bush, is from Mexico.

(on-camera): As far as the Republican party reaching out to those Hispanic voters, what needs to happen?

BUSH: We don't have to change our positions and our ideas as conservatives and as Republicans to win the Hispanic vote. We need to change our tactics. And I believe that as Republicans, it's incumbent not only upon the party but also elected officials and aspiring political candidates to spend time in the Hispanic community, not just show up a day before election.

CABRERA: Where do you stand on immigration?

BUSH: Well, I've always said that with respect to the issue of immigration, that we as Republicans have an opportunity to lead on the issue. But I keep talking about my vision for the future of Texas. And that's focusing on education, energy independence and veterans affairs.

CABRERA: So immigration isn't one of those areas you're wanting to dabble in right now?

BUSH: It is not.

(voice-over): Despite some reluctance to take on a heated national issue now, there's no doubt some in the Republican party see George P. as a rising star. He recently tweeted this picture after meeting with tea party favorite Rand Paul, talking about the future of the GOP and 2016. It's no secret George P.'s father could be eyeing the White House, a possibility that's gotten even more attention following a recent interview with former first lady Barbara Bush in which she said she hopes Jeb doesn't seek the presidency.

(on-camera): You're part of that family. Should he or will he run, do you think?

BUSH: Well, you know, I wish I had some confidential information to share with you this afternoon. But last time I did talk with him about it, which is a few weeks ago, is what he has said publicly, and that is that he will make his assessment after the midterm elections. He -- I believe that he has a voice in the conservative movement of our country.

CABRERA: Would he make a good president?

BUSH: I think he'd make a fantastic president.

(voice-over): Call to service, following the example set by his father, his uncle, grandfather and now a young father himself, George P. hopes to make his whole family proud as he embarks on his own political journey.


BODLUAN: And Ana's joining us now.

Ana, it was really interesting look at George P. Bush. Not a lot of people have had that introduction to him quite yet. So I'm sure he'll say folks are getting themselves. What does he say about his political future, his aspirations?

CABRERA: Of course he's not giving a lot away about that. But if you look at his resume, Kate, you know, he's been a teacher, he served in the military, he's owned a couple businesses, he has his law degree. It definitely gives you a sense that this may have been, at least in part, to set him up for a political run. And when I asked him about that specifically, all he will say is right now he is focused on becoming the best land commissioner Texas has ever had. But he says if that goes well, well then, who knows? Kate?

BOLDUAN: We'll see, as they always say. Ana, great to see you. Thanks.

CUOMO: Unlike most jobs, politics is always about what's next. It will be interesting. He's a charismatic guy. That's for sure.

Coming up on NEW DAY, calling someone a subhuman mongrel is offensive, right? Even worse to call the president that, right?

Well, that's what Ted Nugent did. So why is someone campaigning for governor for Texas and trotting him around? Arguably more troubling is Nugent actually helping Abbott in his run for governor. We'll discuss.