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Man Presumed Dead in Sinkhole; Congress Flees as Deadline Looms; Spending Cuts and Workers Furloughs; What Counts on Those College Apps; First Lady Teams with Top Athletes
Aired March 1, 2013 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now in the NEWSROOM.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Are you on your way home? I assume you're going home to New York? You guys to the airport? OK.
COSTELLO: Skipping town. As America faces a midnight deadline on spending cuts, our lawmakers run for the exits.
Also breaking overnight. A sinkhole 100 feet wide opens up under a man's bedroom.
A.J. HAMMER, HOST, HLN'S SHOWBIZ TONIGHT: And there are people who say you should apologize.
JOAN RIVERS, COMEDIAN: For what?
COSTELLO: And the holocaust joke no one is laughing at.
RIVERS: It's a joke. It's the way I remind people about the holocaust. I do it through humor.
COSTELLO: CNN, one-on-one with Joan Rivers. Has she gone too far this time?
And this. Shaking to new heights. The "Harlem Shake" at 30,000 feet. One pilot we talked to saying it's a plane, people. Not a dance hall. Now the FAA is investigating.
Let's get shaking. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.
Good morning to you. I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for being with us. We start this morning -- we start this morning with a nightmare story out of Brandon, Florida where 37-year-old Jeff Bush is now presumed dead after being swallowed by a sinkhole that opened up underneath a bedroom in his home.
Engineers lowered monitoring equipment into the sinkhole. Unfortunately, they detected no signs of life. Now the house appears fine but police say it could come down at any moment.
Bush's brother Jeremy broke down as he talked with Rob Munoz from CNN affiliate WFTS.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEREMY BUSH, VICTIM'S BROTHER: I heard a loud crash like a car coming through the house. And I heard my brother screaming. So I ran back there. And tried going inside his room but my old lady turned the light on and all I seen was this big hole, real big hole, and all I seen was his mattress and basically that was it. That's all I seen.
ROB MUNOZ, WFTS REPORTER: You tried jumping in after him?
BUSH: Yes, I jumped in the hole and was trying to dig him out. I couldn't find him. I -- I thought I could hear him holler for me to help him.
MUNOZ: And that's the last you saw of him? Did you see any last part of him before --
BUSH: I didn't see any part of him when I went in there. All I seen was his bed. I told my father-in-law we grab a shovel so I could start digging. And I just started digging and started digging and started digging. The cop showed up and pulled me out of the hole and told me the floor was still falling in.
MUNOZ: So you're still at risk as well.
MUNOZ: And now your entire family is out here in support. Why are you guys out -- why are you guys here in support?
BUSH: Just to keep closure, I guess. Make sure he's not dead and see if he is alive. I know in my heart, he's dead, but I just want to be here for him because I loved him because it was my brother, man.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COSTELLO: Five other people escaped including Jeremy from that home, including a 2-year-old child.
We are awaiting more information from the Hillsborough County Fire Department. They're holding a news conference later this morning. If we get any more info about this story, of course, we'll pass it along to you.
Now let's go to Washington where a few things are ever a given but we do know this. Next hour, President Obama meets with congressional leaders and it won't matter. They won't be able to stave off those forced spending cuts, because the only people who have the power to stop them have fled town.
Dana Bash explains.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BASH (voice-over): Lawmakers racing down the capital steps bolting out of town for a long weekend. This was before noon. A full day before the hammer comes down on forced budget cuts they voted for.
(On camera): Is there a concern that you all are going to leave town while these cuts kick in and you won't even be here?
REP. TIM GRIFFIN (R), ARKANSAS: Well, speaker and the leadership will be here and I'm a quick flight away. I go home every weekend to see my family.
BASH: You're on your way out. Are you on your way home?
REP. RICHARD HANNA (R), NEW YORK: Yes, ma'am.
BASH: So you're not going to be here in town when these cuts kick in?
HANNA: If they call me back I'll be back.
BASH: But what do you think about the idea that Congress and you all won't even be here when these cuts kick?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We got to go to the airport.
BASH: You got to go to the airport? OK.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COSTELLO: All right. John King joins us with the political back and forth. Christine Romans looks at the time frame of when each of us will actually feel the impact of those spending cuts. But first we want to touch base with Sean Spicer, he's the communications director for the Republican National Committee.
Good morning, Sean.
SEAN SPICER, COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, RNC: Hey, good morning, Carol.
COSTELLO: OK. OK. So Americans are really frustrated with Washington. They are not even paying much attention to this. Still, with Republicans controlling the House of Representatives, isn't that image of lawmakers fleeing Washington a PR debacle?
SPICER: I think it would be had the House not already passed twice a bill to replace the sequester.
COSTELLO: Come on, Sean. It would be?
SPICER: Other ways that it wouldn't have to --
COSTELLO: It would be?
SPICER: Carol, look, I -- you know, here's the thing. "Schoolhouse Rock" lays it out in the most simplest terms for anybody who doesn't get it. The Constitution says that the Congress has two Houses of government or two branches that -- that have to come together. The House twice passed a bill that said let's replace the sequester with more acceptable cuts to make sure that we get control of the spending but we do so in a more responsible way. The Senate has failed to act. At some point you can't dance alone. You have to have a partner. And the president and the Democratic controlled Senate haven't done anything.
COSTELLO: I get that you can't dance alone.
SPICER: They haven't put a plan in place.
COSTELLO: But doesn't the blame game --
SPICER: There's no budget in 1402 days --
COSTELLO: Doesn't the blame game get tiresome? Because that's not what American voters --
SPICER: It does. No, I -- hey, we're -- Carol, I absolutely share the frustration of the American people. I think what you're asking is spot on. But I think, at some point, when the House twice passes a bill and nobody takes it up, we can't go to conference with ourselves as Republicans. That doesn't work. We pass a bill in the House which they did twice. Then the Senate has done nothing.
COSTELLO: Which the House probably knows it goes nowhere.
SPICER: By law -- by the Constitution.
COSTELLO: It won't pass the Democratic controlled Senate.
SPICER: But --
COSTELLO: And not be signed by the president, so why bother?
SPICER: Right. The way the process works is one body passes there, the other body passes there, and then they go to conference. That's the law, that's the Constitution. So they did their job, the Senate then passes their version. They get together and say, OK, let's figure out how to get a conference bill done. They cannot conference with themselves until the Senate puts something on the table, there's nothing to discuss.
And I -- I understand the of the American people are saying, how is this happening. But when one person does their job, if the producer of a network puts the show together and the anchor doesn't sit down to air it, you can't blame the producer for the fact that it didn't get on the air. So -- and you're -- I mean, it's --
COSTELLO: Yes, except we get on the air every day. I just -- OK.
COSTELLO: Let's look into the future.
SPICER: And I think that if the Senate did their job we would have an answer.
COSTELLO: Let look into the future.
COSTELLO: Probably these forced spending will go into effect in 11:59:59 tonight, right? So what do you think --
COSTELLO: -- will happen next?
SPICER: Well, I think that first of all we're going to -- you know, it depends. Because we're talking about 2.3 percent of a $3.7 trillion, I think most Americans over the last several years is this economy has been extremely tough, have had to tighten their belts finding ways to save. So they're kind of looking at the government saying you've got to be kidding me. You guys have increased spending 14 percent the last few years and you can't find two to three cents of every dollar that you spent?
So I think if people do this right, yes, there maybe a couple of inconveniences, but the reality is is that there's plenty of money in Washington to make this happen in a more responsible way. I know that Senate Republicans have said, hey, let's let the president have a little more flexibility on how to spend it.
But Washington does not have a spending or a revenue problem. And I think if we really want to get serious and tackle the problems that America has, then we're going to look and say, OK, where can we really cut? Where are the inefficiencies? Where is the duplicity? Where's the waste? Let's get serious about this instead of just running around and having a bunch of gimmicks.
COSTELLO: All right Sean Spicer, thanks so much for joining us this morning.
SPICER: Thank you.
COSTELLO: In the next hour of NEWSROOM -- you're welcome. The Democrats' view. We'll have that next hour. We'll talk to Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida congresswoman and chair the Democratic National Committee.
So blame and buster and brinksmanship. Yes, the killer bees are alive and well in Washington. Here to pull back the curtain on some of the behind the scenes maneuvering, our chief national correspondent, John King.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol.
COSTELLO: OK. Good --
KING: I wish they were serious behind-the scenes maneuvering but it's mostly -- serious behind the scenes posturing.
COSTELLO: Exactly. So congressional leaders are going to meet with the president later this morning. No deal is expected. So what are they going to do? Just stand around and look at each other?
KING: Well, largely, though, I think they'll sit around, maybe enjoy some nice coffee at the White House and look at each other. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, has issued a statement even before the -- before the meeting saying, that, you know, he expects the president to ask for tax increases in this meeting, and he says there'll be no last-minute back room deal. And there will be no tax increases. So you might be saying that, why have the meeting?
I think --you know, John Spicer just made an important. That's the way government used to work. He's right. That's the way the government is supposed to work. But both parties are responsible for the total dysfunction.
It's been 16 years, Carol, since they did it that way. Since the House passed a budget, the Senate passed the budget and they want to what's called the conference committee. He's right about "Schoolhouse Rock." Unfortunately our own members of Congress in both parties have lost track of how they're supposed to do their job. And so they don't conference committees anymore. It would be wonderful if we could get back to that world but that's not where were are. And both parties are to blame.
I think, look, as we have this conversation on a Friday morning, we wasted the last week, right? The Republicans were making their case, the president was making his case separately. Not talking to each other. The president only called this meeting hours before the deadline. As soon as the meeting is over the president -- well, you know, within the couple of hours signed the paperwork necessary to implement these cuts. And then we'll see what happens in the first 72 hours and they'll pick this up next week sometime. But on this Friday morning, I think it's safe to say as Americans are frustrated with this that this week was wasted and largely they are all to blame.
COSTELLO: John King, thanks so much.
OK. So with the time running out, no deal in sight, every federal agency must now prepare for those forced spending cuts. Federal workers could be critically affected. Check out this new memo released Wednesday by the White House's Office of Management and Budget. It reads in part, wrote. "Agencies should identify the number of employees who will be furloughed, the length of expected furloughs, the timing of when furlough notices will be issued and the manner in which furloughs will be administered.
So Christine Romans is here to translate that into English.
Hi, Christine. So --
CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: It's bad.
COSTELLO: It's bad.
ROMANS: The English word for it is bad.
COSTELLO: Bad. So take us what will happen at 11:59:59 when these forced budget cuts probably will go into effect.
ROMANS: So it's not doomsday Armageddon tomorrow, right? This is something that will play out over months. And you're going to have to make the assumption that there's no backdoor deal that happens or some kind of retroactive fix to this.
So starting March 1st, you'll see those furlough notices go out. You have to give warning. That can start -- starting today. We do know the IRS has said they're not going to furlough workers until after the tax season. It won't affect your tax refund your tax filing. Then you go -- maybe those furloughs starts talking effect on the 26th.
The multiplier effect of government spending and government jobs is pretty big, right? So you've got people maybe, they still have their job. They're not going to work one day a week, at whatever department they work for but they're not going to buy a truck, they certainly aren't going to try to buy a new house.
So there are some concern about how unpredictable it is about what that would be like and then the 27th we've got another manufactured Washington crisis when government funding runs out, right? And then we're talking about potential government shutdown. So you have crisis after crisis, process in Washington that is just ugly and dysfunctional. It is not schoolhouse rock. And we will feel it. I'm not saying it's going to be doom's day tomorrow.
And look at the stock market. The stock market near record highs. So what Wall Street are telling us is they think there going to be some kind of retroactive fix here, or they think it's not going to hurt business so bad. But it will hurt people.
COSTELLO: Because it's the -- "Wall Street" is ignoring the government now. Why take them into account --
Two worlds. You've got dysfunctional Washington, you have business that's trying to -- you know, trying to see a slowing jobs growth. Trying to get people back out there spending money. Two totally different tracks going on.
COSTELLO: Christine Romans, thanks so much.
ROMANS: You're welcome.
COSTELLO: And with all the back and forth you're probably wondering exactly how those forced spending cuts will affect you, where you live.
Coming up the next hour of NEWSROOM, Tom Foreman will answer all of those kinds of questions. If you want to know how these spending questions will affect you go to Twitter.com/tomforemanCNN or use the hash tag @AskTomCNN.
Dennis Rodman is expected to leave North Korea later today but the former NBA star did take some time to enjoy a little bit of basketball with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. The two sat together courtside during a Harlem Globetrotter's game. At one point Rodman told Kim Jong-Un, you have a friend for life. Rodman is in North Korea while taping a documentary.
The "Harlem Shake" now has the attention of the FAA. A college group shot this dance video during a Frontier flight last month. Yes, they were up in the air. The flight crew went along with it. But now the FAA is looking into the incident saying it's trying to determine the circumstances of the videotaping and if it affected flight safety.
The world watched as Pope Benedict left the Vatican for the final time yesterday and it appears Stephen Colbert was watching as well.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE COLBERT REPORT": Folks, the world is now in unchartered theological territory. Because as of 8:00 p.m. Central Vatican Time, we are officially Pope-less. Yes. We have been disenpopinated (ph). We have undergone a Popendectomy (ph). Pope goes the weasel. His resignation, said his personal farewells, and as with all departing Popes, the Vatican raised his vestments to the raptors. Yes. (END VIDEO CLIP)
COSTELLO: I know Pope Benedict is laughing. He does have a sense of humor. The Pope actually will spend the rest of his life out of the public eye in a monastery inside the Vatican walls.
High school students worried about their GPAs? Should maybe just chill out. What does grade point average matter anyway? Maybe nothing. We'll talk with an admission's dean at a top university who says GPAs are meaningless.
COSTELLO: Eighteen minutes past the hour. Time to check our top stories.
A wildfire burning dangerously close to homes in southern California. It scorched 150 acres in riverside county near Los Angeles. Authorities have issued voluntary evacuation orders. One structure has been damaged but no injuries reported. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
A SpaceX rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, this hour, with something unique in its cargo hold. MTV reports the group 30 Seconds to Mars has put in the first copy of its new single. The song's title is appropriately "Up in the Air", 12,000 tons of experiment and equipment are also onboard that capsule, which is heading to the International Space Station.
General Motors hoping to make some green in the process and thinking to green in the process. "Bloomberg News" reports that G.M. will increase production of the Chevy Volt and other plug-in cars by 20 percent this year. The Chevy Volt had big sales gains last year, while the New Cadillac ELR could also boost plug-in profits with its higher sticker price.
Parents, get ready to be confused. Even more confused what it takes to get your kid into college. Valedictorian, a 4.0 grade point average? It may not matter. Putting an all-nighter to get that A plus? Get some sleep because it may not help you.
Joining me now Greg Roberts, dean of admissions at the University of Virginia
GREG ROBERTS, DEAN OF ADMISSION, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: Good morning.
COSTELLO: OK. Let's talk about the GPA.
Is it now meaningless? Why?
ROBERTS: You know, Carol, that's a confusing issue for families and parents. There's a big difference between a GPA and the grades. Schools are very interested in the grades. They are very interested in the student's performance in the classroom. We are very interested in the transcript and the rigor of their courses.
A GPA, on the other hand, is a calculation made by the high school. The problem is that these calculations lack consistency from one high school to the next. So that a number that's provided, this GPA number could mean something completely different from one high school to another even within the same community.
COSTELLO: OK. Give me an example of that. Are you talking about grade inflation? Are you talking about in the top high schools in the country the grade point average may be incredibly high because they have great teachers and it may be in a public school or in a rural area? What exactly are you talking about?
ROBERTS: Yes, there are many variables. Let me you give an example. You might have a student who goes to a high school where there is significant grade inflation and at that school, the grading scale my be 90 to a hundred for an A.
At that school, they give weight, significant weight for advanced courses. Maybe an initial 0.5 or 1 to every grade made in an honors course or an advanced course. At the school down the street, you have a tighter grading school, limited grade inflation. And so, when you look at that 4.1 GPA that the student submits a 4.1 could be the top student at school A, but school B, it could place a student in the 40th percentile in their class.
So, it's all about context and consistency. There is not a standard calculation or an equation that schools use and there is hundreds of thousands of high schools around the country so it causes a bit of confusion for the admission offices looking at purely at the GPA number.
COSTELLO: I'm confused myself.
OK. So, if you don't take great point average into consideration, although you kind of do, what is the most important thing that a kid must do to get into UVA, for example?
ROBERTS: Well, we do. We look at the grades, the grades and the courses. I would argue that that forms the backbone of the application. The student's performance in high school, in their courses, in their rigorous courses, really give us the best indicator of college success, so that transcript we are talking about is extremely important.
The concept of a GPA, a single number that's provided by a high school is what is confusing to students.
COSTELLO: What about the --
ROBERTS: So you can't compare one to the next.
COSTELLO: I mean, is your SAT or your ACT score more important than the grade point average you get in high school?
ROBERTS: No, the grades are. The grades reflect a four-year body of work where the SAT is a few hour exam on the weekend.
But what we look at are all the different variable, all the components of the application. Their essays could be very important, their recommendations. Their extra curricular involvement, their high school transcript, and what others say about them and what they say about themselves.
We are trying to get a glimpse of the student's life and try to learn a little bit more about what interests them and what type of credentials they bring to the university in a competitive applicant pool.
COSTELLO: OK. Thanks for talking about this morning, because many parents are listening to you with, you know, attention.
Thank you so much, Greg Roberts, dean of admissions for the University of Virginia.
ROBERTS: Absolutely. My pleasure.
COSTELLO: OK, straight A's -- you're welcome.
ROBERTS: Straight A's or no straight A's, this is our talk back question today. We want you to weigh in. So, the talk back question, how much should grades matter?
Facebook.com/carolCNN, Facebook.com/CarolCNN, or you can tweet me @carolCNN.
Michelle Obama teams up with top athletes like Colin Kaepernick to get kids moving. Wait until you hear about the picture the 49ers quarterback took with the first lady.
COSTELLO: Michelle Obama is getting an all-star assist in her push to get school kids more physically active. Serena Williams, Gabby Douglas and Colin Kaepernick teamed up with the first lady for an event in Chicago.
CNN's Rachel Nichols was there.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The first lady of the United States of America, Michelle Obama.
RACHEL NICHOLS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Michelle Obama set off flash bulbs once again this week, this time drawing some of the country's top athletes and a $50 million donation from Nike, as she rallied to get school kids physically active.
MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: My brother Craig and I had countless opportunities to be activity every single day. We plays freeze tag on the playground before school. I jumped Double Dutch, still can actually, at recess.
ARNE DUNCAN, SECRETARY OF EDUCATION: The biggest thing to me is we have to get our schools across the nation to understand that if we want our children to be really successful academically, it helps them to be physically active.
NICHOLS: According to the CDC, only 4 percent of elementary schools and 2 percent of high schools offer daily physical education classes.
SERENA WILLIAMS, PROFESSIONAL TENNIS PLAYER: Definitely shocking and almost upsetting, I would say, because, you know, growing up, I grew up in L.A. and there was P.E. It's what we had. It was a relief. We get out, we have fun.
Those numbers are really, I think, a crisis.
GABBY DOUGLAS, OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST: It's a problem these days when kids don't stay active. So everyone comes together, the athletes, the first lady. She is an amazing woman. She is pretty, she is smart. So doing this event with the first lady is definitely incredible.
NICHOLS (on camera): 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick is known more for his signature move of kissing the tattoos on his biceps than for hobnobbing with politicians. But he might have pulled off the move of the day in the green room before the event, when he got the first lady to try Kaepernick-ing herself, giving a kiss to each of her own biceps.
COLIN KAEPERNICK, 49ERS QUARTERBACK: Yes, I got her to take a picture with me Kaepernick-ing. I thought it was fitting since she's kind of a workout warrior, has the guns on her. So that might be my highlight for the year right now.
NICHOLS: Reporting for CNN from Chicago, I'm Rachel Nichols.
COSTELLO: She does have the guns on her, doesn't there? That was terrific.
Oh, by the way, I will be going to spring training over the weekend and next week. It's part of my vacation, yes, but I will be working. Tiger town is in Lakeland, Florida. I'll be interviewing Justin Verlander and Prince Fielder and I'm going to send you many, many fabulous pictures of my spring training experience and also, of course, excerpt from those interviews with those two great baseball players. So, be sure to join us next week with a sneak peek at spring training.
Oh, my. He is back! Mitt Romney is giving his first TV interview since he lost the election. He says it was a roller coaster ride, but ride is not over yet.
COSTELLO: Good morning. Thank you so much for being with me. I'm Carol Costello. At 30 minutes past the hour.
Stories we are watching right now in THE NEWSROOM. Those forced spending cuts, the deadline can could weigh on Wall Street today, as the markets get set for the opening bell. Stock futures pointing to a lower open just after the Dow posted two straight days of triple digit gains, and came within striking distance of its all-time closing record.
In just a half an hour, President Obama will sit down with the leaders of both the House and Senate. They will talk about those forced spending cuts which will take effect at the end of the day. CNN will have team coverage starting at 10:00 a.m. Eastern.
The pope's apartment. His home inside Vatican City now officially closed. The traditional Vatican seal covers the apartment along with the elevator used to reach it.