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CNN NEWSROOM

New Storm Hammers 120 Million Americans; Brutal Winter Takes an Economic Toll; CVS Will Stop Selling Tobacco Products; Navy Investigating Creating ON Nuclear Exams; White House Fires Back At Obamacare Jobs Report; Bombing Suspect Killed In Police Shootout; Several Athletes Hurt On Slopestyle Course

Aired February 5, 2014 - 10:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Carol Costello. Thanks so much for joining me. For 120 million Americans, it is deja vu all over again. Since Thanksgiving, this is the seventh storm to plow across the northeast and New England. Boston, facing up to a foot of cold, wet snow. Look at what it looks like there now. The dogs are having fun. The schools are closed and the roads are treacherous.

At least one person died on the Pennsylvania turnpike when a tractor- trailer plunged through a barrier and into oncoming traffic. Around the northeast, some 420,000 homes and businesses are without power, 2,100 flights are already canceled today. That number is sure to grow as the snow continues to pile up.

In fact, just minutes ago, we learned that the snow has left two Delta commuter planes stuck on the taxi way at Detroit's Metro Airport. No injuries reported. One left the runway. The other clipped a snow bank with its wing, similar to what happened here. The engine of this Southwest plane hit a snow bank and bogged down as the plane was trying to taxi at Kansas City International Airport.

So let's get the latest on this developing story. Chad Myers is in New York Central Park where they are going to get walloped again. Good morning.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Carol. You know, it is getting better here. It is still very cold. I had one ironic little thing just happen about 10 minutes ago. NYPD came up, knocked on our truck and said, can we borrow your shovel. I went, really? We have to dig out one of our cars. That is heavy stuff.

I mean, literally, one scoop, that's at least 15 pounds of slop right there. That's the problem. We had snow overnight that changed to sleet and then it changed to rain. Now, it is 32 degrees and raining. So everything is getting heavier and heavier and heavier. It is not going to get a lot better tonight because it is going to go back down below 32 and all of this is going to freeze to one big ice chunk.

Here is what the radar looks like right now. It is snowing all the way from New England all the way back to Buffalo. It is snowing farther west than that all the way back into Detroit, obviously, those two planes that you just talk about. Back into Windsor seeing some snow and then the pink. The pink is the frozen, either sleet, rain, freezing rain or something all mixed together.

Sleet is like a hail pellet. Hail goes up and freezes into the sky. Sleet falls and freezes on the way down. That's the difference between highly and sleet. Although they are both very slippery if you get enough. Down to the south of there, all rain. To the north, up toward Boston, that's where the snow is still heavy, the Berkshires, still heavy.

All the way from Connecticut and off into the cape, still heavy snow coming down right now and in some spots, a total accumulation map will pick up 1 foot of snow. The next map is farther to the south. It is the ice issue, at least 0.75 of an inch of ice in some spots.

Last I heard, almost 1/2 million people without power from Maryland to New York and New Jersey, because of the power lines being weighed down by the ice. The ice has been falling all night long. It is getting heavy. The trees are getting heavy. It wants to bring the power lines down. It is going to take some time to get the power lines back up -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Chad Myers, many thanks. We were hoping to go to Ted Rowlands, but as a sign of how nasty the weather is in Chicago, Ted is bogged down in a nightmare morning commute. He is stuck in traffic. So here is Ted's report on the brutal winter.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Out of business because of a broken water pipe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The water just all over the place.

ROWLANDS: It is hard to imagine anyone more upset about this winter than the owner of Rosal's Italian Cocina in Chicago's Little Italy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was literally crying when I spoke to him on the phone.

ROWLANDS: The harsh unrelenting snow and freezing temperatures have forced cities across the country to shell out thousands in overtime pay to plow streets. Now, many areas are running low on road salt forcing crews to cut back or pay three times the regular price for the other white stuff now in short supply.

TOM BRIER, GENERAL MANAGER, ICE MELT CHICAGO: Prices have skyrocketed because of the lack of supply.

ROWLANDS: Several industries are feeling the effect of this winter. Airlines have lost an estimated quarter of a billion dollars according to analysts, poor auto sales in the Midwest, south and east are being blamed on the weather along with some lower retail sales. Even restaurants without broken water pipes are getting hit. At Giromena in Chicago's Greek town, the owner says his business goes way down during heavy snow or freezing cold.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I might say about a 40 percent decrease in my carry-out sales.

And we deliver so an increase overall of 25 percent.

ROWLANDS: Consumers are also feeling the effects.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You hit the pothole and the wheat bottoms out and you get a nice dent in the wheel like that.

ROWLANDS: Business at Ashland tire and auto in Chicago has never been better.

(on camera): Good for you guys, but we feel bad for some of the customers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely, customers are humans too.

ROWLANDS: They are expected to be closed for at least another month because of water damage. Meanwhile, we all have still at least another month of winter.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: And we'll check in with Ted in Chicago when he gets to our truck because he is still stuck in traffic.

CVS is kicking the habit. The pharmacy chain has announced that it is ditching tobacco sales starting in October. CVS customers will no longer be able to buy cigarettes, chewing tobacco or any product that contains tobacco. The company's CEO explained his decision on CVS.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY MERLO, PRESIDENT AND CEO, CVS: We had a lot of discussions among our management team and everybody came to the right decision that it is a real contradiction to talk about all the things that we are doing to help people on their path to better health and at the same time sell tobacco products.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: Christine Romans, live in New York with more on this story. The question is, will other stores follow suit?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and that CEO he is saying this product right here is inconsistent with what they are trying to do, which is to sell health care products to their customers? I mean, that's the big part of their market.

This is worth $2 billion. They are walking away from every year. They could do lucrative deals with hospitals and other health care companies as they team up to have these mini-clinics in their CVS pharmacies to do blood pressure and blood sugar monitoring and weight monitoring and all these other things, wellness is a big market.

This is CVS that is going full bore on the wellness part and stepping away from the tobacco part of it. It is getting the attention of health care experts and the first lady of the United States, she just tweeted thanks at CVS extra. Now, we can all breathe a little easier and our families a little healthier.

So earlier a statement from the White House, saying this was the right move specifically name the company CEO and its board member saying way to go, CVS, that from the president of the United States, a former smoker.

Now look, giving up the $2 billion a year in sales, how smart is that? Well, wellness is where things are going. Look, Carol, in 1965, 42 percent of Americans smoked. It was really common. Today, it is 19 percent and it is pretty static there at 19 percent, but 1 in 5 Americans smoke. The growth for companies like CVS is not in tobacco -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Christine Romans, reporting live from New York, thanks so much.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

COSTELLO: Still to come, the battle over Obamacare rages on. This time, critics say they have proof the law kills jobs. CNN looked at the report and found otherwise. The details straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: Checking our top stories at 11 minutes past the hour. The Navy is investigating whether sailors cheated on tests in using nuclear reactors back in 2010. About 30 people have lost their authority to perform certain duties as a result of that investigation. This is the third time in three weeks the military has addressed charges of cheating on exams.

Bill Nye, the science guy went head to head with creationist, Ken Ham, in a public debate on evolution. CNN's Tom Foreman moderated that debate at the Creation Museum in Kentucky. Ham believes in the literal interpretation of the bible, including stories about Noah's arc and Nye took him on.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEN HAM, CEO, ANSWERS IN GENESIS: It is important to take the bible as a whole, interpreting scripture for scripture. If it really is the word of god, there is not going to be any contradiction, which there is not.

BILL NYE, THE SCIENCE GUY: Well, it sounds to me that there are certain parts of this document, the bible, that you embrace literally and other parts you consider poetry.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: Well, it is online if you want to see more. A recent survey shows one-third of Americans don't believe in evolution, 60 percent do believe in science. George Zimmerman is busy preparing for a celebrity boxing match. We now know who his opponent will be Rapper, DMX. The fight promoter said he received 15,000 e-mails from people asking for a chance to enter the ring with Zimmerman. The faceoff for three rounds. We expect to find out the location and date of the bout something next week.

In Washington, a new CBO report on the impact of Obamacare is a hot political topic this morning. Republicans pounced on it as part of their pushback on the new law. But the White House says not so fast. Obamacare will actually give more people the freedom to change jobs or reduce the hours they work without losing their health coverage. Republicans say it is going to cost America 2 million jobs.

Joining me now is CNN political director, Mark Preston. Pars this out for us, Mark.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I got to tell you it is very confusing, Carol. In many ways, that is good for both political parties. We see the Republicans are trying to seize upon this and say, this is exactly why they didn't want to see Obamacare put into place. This is going to create massive job losses.

We are seeing the White House and Democrats push back as well. That is a misinterpretation of what they are saying. They might be able to reduce their hours. People might not have to work. They might have to retire to have health care. This is a very confusing issue.

It is something we will be talking about throughout the day and trying to explain it to our viewers. Bottom line, a political hot topic. We know the Republican Party has said this will be their number one issue heading into November, another stage in the political fight.

COSTELLO: Another big 2014 issue, income inequality. We have a brand new CNN poll out this morning that shows 66 percent of Americans say the government should work to reduce the income gap between the rich and the poor. When asked about how Democrat and republican policies affect the rich and poor. A majority say Republican policies favor the rich, compared to 30 percent who say the same for Democrats. On the surface, this appears to be bad news for the GOP but, as with everything, it is not that simple, is it?

PRESTON: It is not that simple, especially when we talk about the mid-term elections. When we talk on a national level, it is good for the Democratic Party.

We don't talk about winning elections on a national level. We talk about it by Congressional district or by state. If you are to look at the map heading into 2014, it is not very favorable for Democrats. They are on the verge of losing the U.S. Senate right now.

Republicans need a pickup of six seats. In the south, democrats don't do very well as well as throughout the Midwest. In the House of Representatives, pretty much a lost cause for the Democrats to take back. They would need to win 18 seats. When you talk about this issue and you look at the seats they would need to win, it is not something that is going to play very well.

That's why we are seeing Bill Clinton and Barack Obama meeting with Senate Democrats today talking election strategy and trying to figure out, how do they hold on to the Senate and try to take back the House?

COSTELLO: Thanks for your insight. We appreciate it.

Still to come, Olympic champion, Shaun White, pulls out of an event at the Sochi games. Why the move, Joe Carter?

JOE CARTER, SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Well, he has pulled out of the slope style event because he says it is too intimidating. He has made millions of dollars in extreme sports, but thinks this Olympic course is just too dangerous. We are going to talk about it after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: Just days before the start of the Winter Olympics, the suspected mastermind of the bombings in Russia has been killed in a police shootout. The December bombings killed 34 people and left 100 others injured. Russian state media say the shootout happened in Northern Dagestan during a police raid on a house.

The U.S. counter terrorism chief says officials are tracking specific threats linked to Sochi. They have varying degrees of credibility. Two U.S. warships are in the Black Sea on standby. The C-17 aircraft with medical personnel on board will be ready to fly into Sochi if needed to evacuate Americans.

The Olympic flame arrived in Sochi a short time ago. Opening ceremony set for Friday. Events get underway tomorrow in figure skating, freestyle skiing and snowboarding. Speaking of snowboarding, Shaun White is one of the most popular American athletes at the Sochi games. Fans have been concerned about reports of a wrist injury. He put those fears to rest in a news conference today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHAUN WHITE, 2-TIME OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST: I'm feeling healthy I think it was blown out of proportion a little bit about my wrist the other day. I definitely jammed it, but in snowboarding you get bumps and bruises. It was the ankle, the shoulder. They kind of come and go, which is nice. It wasn't something serious.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: Well, Shaun White may have buried the lead, Joe Carter, because he is going to pull out of one event.

CARTER: He is pulling out of the slope style event. He is only competing Olympic events, half pipe and slope style. Now slope style was a brand new event to the Olympics. This is a very big event in "x" games, an event that Shaun White in the early 2000s owned. He won this event several time. Basically what it is as you get points based on tricks, big airs. The course is filled with rails, quarter pipes and intimidating jumps. Shaun White, the reason he jammed his wrist is because he crashed during a practice run on Tuesday. Now this particular course is not just White. We had a snowboarder from Norway broke his collarbone. Another from Finland was taken off on a stretcher. A top rider from Canada called the jumps on this course obnoxiously tall.

Now the officials say they are currently modifying the course to make it much safer. Shaun White, the potential risk for injury was too much for him so his decision to withdraw from the event, clearly a difficult one for him because he knows how much effort was put into putting together this first time event. With this comes some backlash.

Some of his competitors hammering Shaun white for pulling out one day before the event is supposed to start tomorrow. Sebastian Toutant is going to compete. He said, it is easy to pull out when you think you can't win. Max Parrot said, Shaun knows he won't be able to compete. He is going to try to be the first American male to win a gold medal.

This event does not have an alternate rider. The Americans will only have three riders instead of four. Officials concerned about the crashes and injuries. Some have said that they have overcompensated for the temperatures. They have added too much snow because they thought the temperatures would be warmer and the snow is not melts as fast as they were expecting is.

COSTELLO: Joe Carter, many thanks to you.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, four people now in police custody believed to be connected with the drugs found in Philip Seymour Hoffmann's apartment. We'll have a report next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: Good morning. I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for joining me.

Checking our top stories at 27 minutes past the hour, New York's governor has declared a state of emergency as another gigantic winter storm pounds the state with snow and ice. In Philadelphia, nearly a third of the city's population is without power due to this latest winter storm. Officials expect that number to grow as the storm continues.

Snow and ice on much of the country stretching from Wyoming to Maine. It is the seventh storm to push through the northeast. Today, parts of the northeast could see 12 inches of snow. The Boston area is getting buried under a pile of wet, heavy snow. It could stack up at the rate of an inch or two an hour.

In Philadelphia, as I said, nearly 500,000 people are without power due to the storm. Officials expect that number to grow as the storm continues to push through the country.

A new report from the united nations is demanding the Vatican take action against child abuse. They are urging the Catholic Church to remove all suspected abuseers and amend church law so the violation of children will be considered a crime.

The number of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan is dropping. "The Washington Post" is out with a controversial reason why. They claim the Pakistani government asked the U.S. to stop the strikes while officials pursued peace talks with the Taliban. Today, White House officials tell CNN that is absolutely not true. Jim Acosta is live at the White House with the story. Tell us more, Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. That's right. There is no question there has been a reduction in drone strikes used in Pakistan since last December and that "Washington Post" article that you mentioned, Carol, suggests that one of the reasons might be or that is, is because the Pakistani government has gone to the White House and said, we would like to see that use of drone strikes reduced as the Pakistani government starts to meet with the Taliban for peace talks.

The White House is saying, that is just not the case.