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Obama Huddles with Senate Democrats; Creating an AIDS-Free Generation; Another Storm Ravages the Northeast; CVS to Halt Tobacco Sales

Aired February 5, 2014 - 13:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, a snow and ice storm is slamming the Northeast, cancelling thousands of flights, leaving almost a million homes and businesses without power.

Also right now, a major drugstore chain plans to stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products. It could cost them $2 billion a year in revenue. So, why are they doing it and will other stores follow?

And right now the secretary of state, John Kerry, opening up about the Iran nuclear deal. CNN's Jake Tapper joins me with that exclusive interview.

Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Just two days after getting hit by a major snowstorm, the Northeast gets slammed once again. Tens of millions of people are in the storm zone right now, many of them with no power and no heat. Almost a million homes and businesses don't have electricity. That number is expected to grow as the snow and the ice continue to fall. The widespread power outages may last through the week. Roads are treacherous, thousands of flights already have been cancelled.

We have reporters across the storm zone. Let's start with CNN's Don Lemon in the hard-hit city of Boston. Don, the second major storm to hit the region this week. What are the folks there doing to keep safe?

DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They're trying in stride -- you know, this big snowstorm in stride. But, listen, I had that collar up, Wolf, because it's starting to ice right now. At first, it was really fluffy and now it's coming down as ice and it's really stinging. Like, people are trying to walk down the street. Just to show you, it was powdery and now it's really icy. I'm sure the photographer appreciated that.

But what they're doing, though, is they're trying to keep everybody off the roads. They're telling nonessential government employees to stay off the roads, telling everybody to stay at home. And pretty much these people are supposed to be at work, but they're hanging out with me. And we've been hanging out here for a little bit. This is Parker. Parker loves being out. And that person talking right there, this little person with hair is Kita. And Kita has been hanging out. Hey, Kita, how are you? Hey, baby, how are you? So, they have been hanging out in Christopher Columbus Park. What are you guys doing to try to mitigate this snow, so to speak?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, sitting at home working.



LEMON: This was not here, Deborah (ph), earlier right? Or Jodi (ph), right? This is Deborah.

JODI: It started overnight, yes.

LEMON: Are you surprised to get so much snow in one fall?

JODI: No, we often get this much snow.

LEMON: This is Boston. You -- right. Right. But a lot of people don't have power. So you're taking it in stride. But a lot of people don't have power. What do you think?

JODI: We're fine here in the city.


JODI: Yes, yes. Everything is getting cleared out. We're just enjoying the day.

LEMON: Yes. Yes. So, listen, they're trying to get it cleaned up. There's a bunch of snowplows that have been going around the area. If you can pan around a little bit, you can show them that the roads here are pretty clear and that's because the snowplows have been out. They have been salting. We've seen a lot of people out on bobcats. We've seen the tiny snowplows, the big ones out on the roads. And just now, our buddies are keeping us safe and we're having a good time out here for now. Right, Kita? Right, Kita? Are you going to talk to me? Say, hey, to Wolf Blitzer. Wolf, I'll throw it back to you in the studio.

BLITZER: Cute dogs. Don, you grew up -- you grew up in the south, so this is a whole new -- you live in New York now. But this is a whole new world for you, isn't it?

LEMON: It is. You know, I grew up -- I did grow up in the south. But I lived in -- there Kita is talking now. I lived in the Northeast for a long time. I actually went to school here. And, so, I kind of didn't -- you know, I got used to not having so much snow when I lived down in Atlanta. But in the -- I moved to Chicago a little bit ago. Not this much snow in Chicago but cold. But this is certainly out of the ordinary because this stuff came down fast, Wolf. When we started out this morning, it wasn't snowing. We got on the train earlier this morning and by the time I got here, just within a couple of hours, all of this snow was already on the ground. So, it came down pretty fast.

BLITZER: It looks nice. Have a good time with the snow. Enjoy it while you're up there. All right, Don, thank you.

New York also in the bulls-eye for this storm. Chad Myers is there on the scene for us. What's it like there, Chad?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You know, two storms over three days now. Twelve inches of snow on the ground, then we had sleet, then we had freezing rain. This is what a branch looks like from earlier. This is one-eighth of an inch of ice on the branch. All the branches around here look like this. All of these snow piles look like this, Wolf. It's going to get down to 20 degrees tonight. That whole snow pile is going to be one big ice chunk. If they don't get this out of here, this is going to be here until March.

Something else we're dealing with, too, is these big tall buildings. With the ice storm that we had this morning, these big, tall buildings are shedding sheets of ice at a time.

And the people down on the sidewalks are getting hit by these sheets of ice, so you need to be very careful walking around the city today and look above or maybe take a hard hat if you can or don't look up at all and stay inside.

Here is what the forecast looks like now for the next couple of hours. The snow is from Boston, where Don is, changing over a little bit to snow and sleet. And then back out toward the west all the way to Buffalo, it's still snowing. South of there, that pink -- that pink is the ice. That's the ice that's freezing rain and sleet all mixing together. And then south of there is all rain. But the snow is now moving off to the east.

So, the bull's eye for the more snow to come area is still around Boston. The ice area is south of there. We're still going to get a little more tonight. The problem is that we're going to be 32 right now but by morning, 23. Literally, everything that's liquid on the ground will be frozen tomorrow. All of these things that just look like a slushy pile will be ice chunks for the rest of, I think, at least two more weeks because we're not going to warm up at all. This is going to take 50 or 60 degrees to melt this ice. This is going to be treacherous to walk around the city for many weeks to come -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, so everybody has got to be really, really careful. What about air travel? How is the storm affecting air travel?

MYERS: Well, you're either delayed or cancelled. That's basically it because we have 2,700 cancellations right now nationwide. Eight hundred of those cancellations are right here in New York City, LaGuardia, JFK or Newark. So, you multiply that by, let's say, 100 seats per plane. That's 80,000 people or 80,000 seats that didn't take off today so that's an issue. And then, the other 4,800 delays that we're seeing across the country, some ranging two to three hours.

And then the problem is, they sit there and they'll tell you, yes, you're going to take off, you're going to take off, just wait, just wait, just wait. And you wait for three hours and then finally they cancel the plane, because there is no plane coming to the city, Even though you're in sunny Miami, your plane may be stuck somewhere in the north under a sheet of ice -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Chad. Chad, we'll stay in constant touch in you as well.

Other news we're following though. Right now, President Obama and the first lady, they are quick to praise CVS pharmacies for the company's decision today to stop selling tobacco. The drugstore chain said the new policy will take effect by October of this year. President Obama sent out a statement almost immediately that it said in part, quote, "I congratulate and thank the CEO of CVS Caremark, Larry Merlo, the board of directors and all who helped to make a choice that will have a profoundly positive impact on the health of the country."

And then, there was this tweet, just a little while ago, from the first lady, Michelle Obama, saying, "Thanks, CVS Extra. Now, we can all breathe a little easier and our families can live healthier." Casey Wian is joining us from the CVS store in Hollywood, California. Casey, $2 billion a year in annual tobacco sales. A lot of money. Walk us through what was behind the CVS decision?

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, according to Larry Merlot, the CVS President, he had a conference call with reporters this morning, he said that selling tobacco products goes against everything that CVS stands for. They say, as you mentioned, they're going to get rid of all of the tobacco products by October. And they're going to double down on the smoking cessation product part of their business. It's always been kind of a weird picture to walk into a CVS or any other drugstore and see tobacco products behind the cash register, then back by the pharmacy you see all these stop smoking products. So, they're going to concentrate on that part of the business.

In a formal statement, the company said that ending the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products at CVS pharmacy is the right thing for us to do for our customers and our company to help people on their path to better health. Put simply, the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose. Now, CVS also saying on that conference call this morning that they don't expect, by itself, their decision will result to a significant decline in smoking across the country. But they believe if other chains follow suit, that it could impact the number of people who smoke. Here's what a couple of the company's customers had to say to me this morning.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know if I agree, but I think it's a pretty noble thing. And I think there will be a lot of healthier people for it. I also think it'll probably drive the prices of cigarettes up. But hopefully everybody will say, I'll just quit and be healthy and cancer-free, and save their pretty little lungs.


WIAN: Why?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because, you realize how many smokers are in the U.S. It's fricking (ph) ridiculous. They have some of the best prices on cigarettes, so they're going to lose so many customers.

(END VIDEO CLIP) WIAN (live): Two groups obviously happy about this decision, The American Medical Association and The American Pharmacy Association. They have both been urging pharmacies to make a move like CVS did this morning for several years -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Casey Wian, at the CVS store out in California, thank you. And as you noted, a big question now is whether other retail chains will follow suit. Walgreens saying it's been evaluating tobacco products in its stores for a while.

Let's bring in our Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Sanjay, will the CVS decision have a measurable impact?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a tough thing to say overall. I think just in terms of the message and the -- and the lack of advertising when you walk into a pharmacy and reminding people that, you know, you come to a pharmacy to be healthy and shouldn't buy unhealthy products. I think that's a -- that's a significant impact.

But overall cigarette sales, and I think Casey may have mentioned this, about five percent of cigarette sales are bought in pharmacies. So, you know, in terms of absolute numbers, maybe not that much. I will point out that pharmacies have actually increase -- been increasing, in terms of cigarette sales, while other types of stores going down so that's going to be important as well.

But keep in mind, Wolf, about 19 percent of the country still smokes. Now, that's down from 42 percent back in 1965. But it's kind of come down to where it's going to come. It's sort of starting to plateau. So, these are all part of the strategies, you know, people are trying to think about to bring that number down even further.

BLITZER: CVS, as you know, Sanjay, saying it will instead focus on helping smokers quit. So, here's the question, because you've done a lot of good work on this, what actually works in getting people to kick that habit?

GUPTA: Yes, you know, we have done a lot of reporting on this. And it's interesting, I was talking to the head of the CDC, Tom Frieden, Dr. Frieden, the other day and he put out a couple of interesting facts and that is that most people who quit do quit cold turkey. Just an important little nugget to keep in the back of your mind. And he also pointed out that if someone is not pregnant that a medication -- an FDA-approved medication to help people quit could be a reasonably -- a first alternative for a lot of people. You go to the medications more quickly to try and help quit as well. So, I think more people have quit that wanted to quit than ever before. So, you know, there is a lot of success stories out there. But that cold turkey still seems to be something that is the most common.

BLITZER: And, you know, it's -- what's so disturbing, and I'm sure it is to you, as well. You see young people, teenagers, young people, smoking. They know this is an awful, awful habit to get into. Their lungs are clean, they're pure, and they're going to dirty up their lungs with cigarette smoke. But they do it. What can be done to at least convince a new generation of folks out there, young people especially, don't start.

GUPTA: Yes, it's such an important thing not to start, because it is such an addictive substance. You know, when you look at these reports, both here in the United States and around the world, the role of government seems to be an increasing one. Obviously, we talk about personal responsibility but the idea that the role of government in instituting some of these bans, like CVS is considering, Syntax is actually taxing the price of cigarettes. That appears to have a significant effect on younger people. They're more price-sensitive.

And then, really looking at the way that these advertising messages get across and how it's glamorized and really pulling back on that. It's -- there has been good news here, Wolf. I mean, the numbers have gone done down but they've started to just level off, so how to get them down further is the real goal.

I will point out one thing about the CVS decision as well and that is that there has been this drum beat to try and institute these bans across the country. So, you know, it's happened in some cities. CVS may be seeing some of the handwriting on the wall and saying, this is coming down so we're going to institute this ourselves before that happens. But nevertheless, it's still a very laudable move today.

BLITZER: And it's not just lung cancer is it, Sanjay, that you have to worry about if you become a smoker. There are a whole range of other illnesses that really could be aggravated by smoking.

GUPTA: Absolutely. And, you know, there is nothing redeeming about tobacco. You know, you -- we talk about fatty foods, for example. They are still food and probably deserve different treatment than tobacco. But cancer, as you mentioned, heart disease, you know, just about -- just every -- just about every chronic disease you can name can maybe have some link to smoking. So, it's the number one through 10 on top 10 things of things that people should stop doing today to improve their health.

BLITZER: Everybody says if you want to get healthy, first thing you do is quit smoking and then you can start dealing with other issues like a little exercise, eating the right food and other stuff like that. And nobody knows all this stuff better than Dr. Sanjay Gupta. All right, Sanjay, thanks very much.

GUPTA: You got it, Wolf. Any time.

BLITZER: President Obama is rallying right now with Senate Democrats. Can he calm their concerns about the botched Obamacare Web site rollout? His sagging poll numbers? And will the former president, Bill Clinton, be able to help? They're meeting over at Washington Nationals Park right now behind closed doors. We're going to talk about that and a lot more. Our Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger is standing by.


BLITZER: President Obama and Senate Democrats, they're meeting this hour here in Washington to talk strategy ahead of the midterm elections. The president heads to Washington National's ballpark to get the - to get their advice to have some consultations. He may be striking out, though, with some Democrats fighting to win re-election in November. The former president, Bill Clinton, is joining President Obama at the strategy session. It's all taking place behind closed doors. Together, they'll try to rally Democrats deeply worried about the botched rollout of the Obamacare website and the president's sagging poll numbers.

Let's bring in our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, watching all of this.

So, Bill Clinton knows something about dealing with a divided Congress with his base. What advice would you expect him to be giving to Democrats and the president?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, first of all, as we know, he's the explainer in chief, and he's the chief cheerleader for the Democratic Party. He knows what it's like to lose control of a House, which he did in 1994. He's going to tell the Democrats, I believe, to stick together. And he's going to tell them how to talk about their issues.

I mean, you know, there are problems, for example, you point out Obamacare. Democrats have a way -- have problems with it. But there are ways to differentiate yourself from the president on the rollout, for example, and still point out that people are covered for preexisting conditions. So nobody is really better at explaining to Democrats how they can handle these issues and talk to a Democratic constituency about it to win re-election. And besides, it's always fun to have Bill Clinton around to talk to, right, and to listen to?

BLITZER: You know, there are some issues that divide the Democrats, expanding trade authority for free trade area agreements, for example.

BORGER: Harry Reid, yes.

BLITZER: Approving the Keystone XL pipeline divides Democrats unilaterally, stopping a lot of deportations of illegal immigrants, the president's been doing that.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: That's dividing a lot of Democrats. So there are issues there in which the Democrats aren't on the same page.

BORGER: Right. You know there are -- there are a handful of red state senators up for re-election who are going to distance themselves from this president, not only because he's sort of in the 40 percent to 44 percent range in popularity, but also because a lot of these issues are not popular in his state, like the Keystone pipeline, for example.

Lots of red state senators want that to go through. Health care, another example, as you point out. Immigration, the nuances of what you do with that, another example.

But there are ways to differentiate yourself from this president without running towards the Republican Party. And I think that's, again, where Bill Clinton comes in handy, particularly for red state senators. Because don't forget, Bill Clinton knows those red states and -

BLITZER: He was the governor of Arkansas.

BORGER: Exactly.

BLITZER: And, you know, one of the reasons that he was successful in bridging some of these differences in this second term was because he basically irritated a lot of his own base, his Democratic base -

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: And made deals with Newt Gingrich and the Republican leadership in Congress.

BORGER: Exactly.

BLITZER: On welfare reform, for example, his liberal Democratic -- he hated that deal that he put together, but he was willing to do that to come up with a compromise.

BORGER: So he speaks from experience.

BLITZER: So I assume he's going to tell this president, you know what, meet the Republicans halfway, even if it means irritating some of your liberal base.

BORGER: Look, I think Bill Clinton speaks from experience. Remember, triangulation was the phrase during the Clinton years, where he knew how to play to each part of his party when he needed to do that. And I think the senators are going to be doing what Bill Clinton did very successfully, which is tack one way when it works for you and tack the other way when it doesn't work for you. There is nobody who was better at that than Bill Clinton. That's one of the reasons he became president of the United States.

BLITZER: Yes, let's see if the president listens to his advice, assuming that's the advice he's going to give him.

BORGER: Or the senators. But, don't forget, he's also going to be a cheerleader for health care reform. So he's going to help them learn how to talk about it.

BLITZER: Gloria, thanks very much.


BLITZER: A celebrity campaign for Congress. The singer, Clay Aiken, throwing his hat into the ring, ready to fight what looks like an uphill battle. We'll have an update for you on that when we come back.


BLITZER: The former "American Idol" runner-up, Clay Aiken, is a veteran of the big stage. Now he's trying to reach an even bigger stage, the United States Congress. He's running for the second district house seat in North Carolina.


CLAY AIKEN (D), NORTH CAROLINA U.S. HOUSE CANDIDATE: I'm not a politician. I don't ever want to be one. But I do want to help bring back, at least to my corner of North Carolina, the idea that someone can go to Washington to represent all the people, whether they voted for you or not. And maybe we can play a small part in igniting that change across the rest of our country. This is why I'm running for Congress.


BLITZER: Certainly has an uphill climb. The district is solidly Republican. President Obama lost there by double digits both times. And then there's his opponent, Congresswoman Renee Ellmers. This is what she said about her challenger, and I'm quoting her now. "Apparently his performing career isn't going so well and he's bored."

I'd say, let the games begin, but apparently they already have. So we'll see what happens on that front.

By the way, if you want to hear what Clay Aiken has to say about the Republican congresswoman, tune in 2:30 p.m. Eastern later today, a little while from now. That's when he'll be in the CNN NEWSROOM with our own Brooke Baldwin. Less than an hour from now. You're going to want to see Brooke's interview with Clay Aiken.

Now for a remarkable story about one woman's efforts on the AIDS frontlines. Elizabeth Glaser was the wife of an actor who played in "Starsky & Hutch" She contracted HIV through a blood transfusion during childbirth and unknowingly passed it on to her own children. After her daughter died, Glaser started a foundation. She passed away, but her foundation lives on. Here's Chris Cuomo with the story of how it's continuing to Impact Your World.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR & CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the face of hope. Faith was born HIV negative, even though her mother has the virus. She's the ultimate example of the goal of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, creating an aids-free generation.

NIGEL BARKER, CELEBRITY PHOTOGRAPHER: We have the research. We have the medication. People have to be educated around the world. We've got to get rid of the discrimination and the stigma that's associated with even getting tested.

CUOMO: Celebrity photographer Nigel Barker saw the success of the foundation's program when he visited Tanzania. Even in a nomadic tribe steeped in culture and tradition and reluctant to change.

BARKER: I spoke to the women who had been trained by the foundation in the ways of how to deliver a baby safely. If you can reach a group like this, you can treat children anywhere in the world.

CUOMO: And the foundation seems to be doing just that.

BARKER: Take, for example, Sub-Saharan Africa. Seven hundred babies are being born every day HIV positive. But, the good news is, when I first got started in 2008, I was saying, a thousand babies are being born every day HIV positive. And we're realizing a generation free is doable in our own lifetime.


BLITZER: Secretary of State John Kerry is wrapping up his first year as the nation's top diplomat and he's sitting down with CNN. Our own Jake Tapper asks the secretary whether the U.S. got, quote, "played" in that nuclear deal with Iran. The secretary's answer and Jake when we come back.