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Tornadoes Tear through South; Storm System Brings Snow and Ice; Biden Shows Strong Lead; Drew Brees Breaks Record; Hungarian Ambassador Raising Eyebrows. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired December 17, 2019 - 06:30   ET




ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: More than two dozen tornados tear through the deep south killing three people and leaving, as you can see on your screen, a path of destruction. The twisters damaged homes and snapped power lines. I mean look at this aftermath on your screen. There was a large church in Mississippi that was wiped off its foundation.

CNN's Nick Valencia is live in Guntown, Mississippi.

What are you seeing around you, Nick?


Those tornados, nearly 30 of them, ripping across a huge swath of the southeast, affecting states like Alabama, Louisiana, and here in Mississippi.

This is Guntown, Mississippi, a bedroom community as described by the mayor, about 2,500 residents. Most of them live here but work in nearby Tupelo. And you can see behind me, this is the subdivision that took the brunt of the damage from the tornado that came through here yesterday afternoon.

I mentioned they have 2,500 residents. And the mayor says they're lucky that more were not injured. Just two injuries. Those who were injured, a man and a woman were actually trying to take shelter as that tornado was ripping through here. They were knocked down by the wind. They've been treated and released.

The mayor credits a reverse weather system or weather alert system sent to landlines and cell phones to alert residents that a tornado was on its way.

Later this morning, you can see behind me here, a fire truck has just shown up. You've got police personnel making sure people don't enter this subdivision. When I spoke to the mayor earlier, he said emergency management officials with the county will be out assessing the damage. In fact, they said they had a church just entirely lifted off its foundation in addition to this subdivision that was hit. But they really don't know exactly what they're dealing with here until daylight comes. They're going to figure out if they need state or federal funding to fix what happened here yesterday.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Nick Valencia for us. Please keep us posted there as the light comes up.

Meanwhile, that storm system heading to the Northeast, bringing ice and snow.

CNN meteorologist Chad Myers joins us live with the forecast.

My boys have a three-hour delay this morning, Chad.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, and my son a two-hour delay in Zionsville.

Ice is the problem today across parts of Connecticut. Snow to the north of there into Massachusetts and upstate New York. But it's the ice that will cause the problem from Binghamton all the way to Province.

So this weather is brought to you by Jared, dare to be devoted.

Let's get to it.

That rain, snow, ice line, that's the big deal. State College northward, Scranton, ice. In the higher elevations, Lycoming (ph) Township, you are going to see significant icing on these very hilly roads. That's the problem today.


Take your time or don't even leave until well after the sun comes up.

It will be rain across the south today. No tornados. There were big tornados yesterday. There were tornados with at least 150 miles per hour winds. These were not your just small things. They were large and on the ground a very long time. Even tonight until 6:30. It's still snowing in Boston.

Finally pulls away later on tonight and things look a little bit better by tomorrow. Just some lake effect snow and some cooler wind. But if you're flying today, call the airline or look on your app because many of these planes will be late or even in some places canceled.

Alisyn and John.

CAMEROTA: I can't think of a better exasperated sigh than you just gave. I think you spoke for the nation with that sigh.


CAMEROTA: Chad, thank you very much. All right, so just days before a crucial presidential debate, it is

still unclear whether the candidates will show up. Why all seven Democrats say they might have to skip it, next.


CAMEROTA: A brand new Quinnipiac poll shows former Vice President Joe Biden expanding his overall lead over the Democratic field. Thirty percent of support among Democratic and independent voters. This is nationally. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are running neck in neck for second place with 17 and 16 percent.

Joining us now is Andrew Gillum, CNN political commentator and former Florida gubernatorial candidate.


Mayor, great to see you.


CAMEROTA: Are you -- have you been surprised by Joe Biden's steadiness in the polls here and that he's now at 30 percent?

GILLUM: I tell you, I think we learned the lesson after probably the first debate when he got taken on in the debate stage and came out, you know, as good if not better even after that. And that trend has kind of continued. Obviously for Joe Biden, this is a good poll.

Obviously, the one cautionary note is, it is a national poll and we've got Iowa and New Hampshire and Nevada and South Carolina to come before. And if you look back to 2004, John Kerry was not leading at this point. If you look at -- in Iowa. If you look back to 2008, Barack Obama wasn't leading at this point. That's not to say that the same will be true for Joe Biden, but it is to say that I think there is still room for, you know, a shift to take place over the next month or so.

BERMAN: There is a debate --


BERMAN: On Thursday night. It's on PBS. CNN is airing it as well. It could not come at a more important time, as far as I'm concerned. This is the last chance, I think, voters will get to see the candidates before the Christmas break. Coming out of New Year's they're going to be shot out of a cannon heading to Iowa and New Hampshire.


BERMAN: What needs to happen for these candidates, or what are the dynamic you are looking for Thursday night?

GILLUM: Yes, well, first off, as we said before, I think Joe Biden, the attempt to sort of take him down with attacks really isn't necessarily the stride you want to strike. I think you want to go high. I think you want to be aspirational.

If you're Elizabeth Warren, I'm guessing you probably are going to entangle a little bit with Pete Buttigieg. You've seen some of the slippage that she has experienced kind of be to his benefit. He's obviously come under some additional scrutiny since the last time they won the debate. stage. But, still, I think there is something there between the two of them.

I will tell you, I am a little bit concerned about the fact that you're going to see not the most diverse stage that we have become accustomed to in the Democratic primary field. And in some ways we're a little bit sort of the -- we're being affected by our success. We saw a very diverse debate stage over the last year and now we'll see a stage that will almost be exclusively white, maybe with one exception.


GILLUM: That's right, with one exception. And the harm to that is I think there will be a constituency of people out there who have -- who have now been exposed to the diversity -- the rich diversity of our party and will now look at this stage and say, wait a minute, something's different here. What does it mean not to have a Booker or a Harris or a Castro, who I think has been particularly effective with some of his racial analysis, not on that stage? And I fear a little bit for what that might mean for the Democratic base.

CAMEROTA: Well, at the moment, if you ask black voters, they don't seem to -- I don't know if they seem to mind, but they certainly seem to be rallying around Joe Biden, 52 percent is their support for Joe Biden. So, you know, in terms of there being a void on the stage, maybe optically, but they seem to be very comfortable with (INAUDIBLE).

GILLUM: Well, again, Joe Biden continues to enjoy, I think, strong support amongst the African-American community. And it has been a resilient one. That isn't to say, particularly for that group of voters that are still hanging out there yet to be decided, that they aren't looking for certain elements, conversations, certain exchanges to take place on that debate stage to further cement them.

We're not going to get where we need to go unless we have an enthusiastic, riled up base of voters who are, you know, marching to the polls, quite frankly. And I think, you know, I want to see us do everything that we can to keep that enthusiasm level as high as we can.

BERMAN: So there's a labor dispute --


BERMAN: At this college where they're holding the debate. And right now all of the candidates who are going to be on the debate stage said -- say they won't cross the picket line.


BERMAN: What percentage chance in your mind, mayor, that this doesn't get resolved by Thursday night?

GILLUM: It better get resolved. I -- one, I don't -- I trust that each of the campaigns and the candidates are being sincere and honest, that they're not going to cross a picket line. That's a big deal for a party that embraces labor and organized labor so strongly.

I've got to imagine that between our debate host, those of us here, as well as the DNC, will have to work very vigorously to ensure that this comes to some kind of a resolve.

I expect that it will. And I'm also looking forward to, quite frankly, seeing the new dynamics that exist on this stage.

BERMAN: I mean it's a small stage.

GILLUM: It is a small stage.

BERMAN: Very different.

CAMEROTA: Well, tiny compared to what we're seeing (INAUDIBLE).

GILLUM: Which gives you -- a comparison, right? But it gives you a chance to pull back the layers a little bit. I mean I think no one's going to, you know, going to get a breath. You're going to have to basically show your endurance through this debate. Be prepared to answer tough questions. Be prepared for follow-ups. And I think it will be illuminating to those of us who are going to be watching that, it's a smaller stage, around, all right, what do these candidates really think beyond a sound bite.

CAMEROTA: Mayor Andrew Gillum, great to see you. Great to get your perspective. Thanks so much.

GILLUM: Merry Christmas. Happy holidays.

CAMEROTA: You too.

BERMAN: You too.

My wife made some Christmas cookies.

GILLUM: She did and they're delicious.

BERMAN: Make sure you take some of the way out.

CAMEROTA: They are so beautiful. We're going to get a shot of those Christmas cookies. They're gorgeous. Watch the PBS "News Hour"/"Politico" Democratic presidential debate live from Los Angeles on CNN and your local PBS station.


Coverage starts at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Thursday night.

BERMAN: All right, Drew Brees is a record breaker. What he's done more times than any other NFL quarterback in history. CAMEROTA: Really?

BERMAN: This -- it's actually true, but the guy I --


BERMAN: You know even the guy I like --

CAMEROTA: I know the guy you like.

BERMAN: He's like one pass behind at this point?


BERMAN: But that's OK.

Drew Brees, record holder. We'll tell you why, next.


BERMAN: This was an incredible race among probably three of the top five quarterbacks in the game of football in all of its history, but it was Drew Brees, not Tom Brady, that caught Peyton Manning for the most touchdown passes in NFL history.

Andy Scholes has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report."



You know, Drew Brees, hard not to root for, right? He's the perfect example of hard work paying off. You know, he's never been the biggest or fastest or had the strongest arm for a quarterback. Just six feet tall, but when it comes to heart and perseverance, hard to find somebody better than Brees.

It was the third quarter last night against the Colts where Brees finds Josh Hill right here for a touchdown. And with that score, Brees passing Peyton Manning for the most touchdowns in NFL history with 540. He got one more in the game, too, to get to 541.

Brees outstanding in this one. He completed 29 of his 30 passes, which is also an NFL record.


The 40-year-old clearly still at the top of his game. The Saints would win this one 34-7 in a -- on a special night in New Orleans.


DREW BREES, QUARTERBACK, NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: You know, like you don't really think about these things, especially when you first enter this league. And I can remember as a young player just -- was trying to become a starter someday maybe. Maybe make a little bit of an impact. And it's hard to believe, here we are, 19 years later, and having a chance to, you know, do some of these things. But these special moments are special because of the people that are on this journey.


SCHOLES: All right, Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow's acceptance speech has triggered more than $300,000 in donations to hungry children in southeast Ohio. The LSU quarterback held back tears during his big moment as he talked about the poverty in his hometown of Athens, Ohio. And those words inspired Athens resident Will Drabold (ph) to create a fundraiser for residents living under the poverty line there. He set a goal, guys, of $50,000. And as of a short time ago, donations have already topped $327,000, and they're still climbing. So pretty cool to see something so good come out of that speech.

BERMAN: That's fantastic.

CAMEROTA: And the power of the platform. I mean that is just remarkable that he's using his platform. You can use it however you want, you know, for good or bad, and he's using it and just -- I mean I'm sure it even surprised him how much he's been able to raise with that.

BERMAN: Yes. That's a great point.


CAMEROTA: Andy, thank you.

SCHOLES: Yes. All right.

CAMEROTA: OK, so President Trump's ambassador in Hungary is taking that relationship in a new direction, cozying up to the country's far right government and peddling conspiracy theories that link back to President Trump.

CNN's Clarissa Ward is live in London with more.

What have you learned, Clarissa?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, you know, what Ambassador David Cornstein may not be a household name in the U.S., but he's very good friends with some very important people, including the president, a friend of his for many decades, also Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer, who went to visit Cornstein in Budapest the week before last. But let me tell you, in Hungary, he is making some waves. A controversial character. Take a look.


WARD (voice over): It was an independence day to remember, hosted by one of President Trump's oldest friends, the U.S. Ambassador to Hungary David Cornstein.

Like the president, Cornstein enjoys putting on a show.

Singer Paul Anka was flown in to serenade the guest of honor, Hungary's far right authoritarian leader Viktor Orban.

DAVID B. CORNSTEIN, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO HUNGARY: And it is my distinct pleasure and my great honor to introduce my partner and my friend, the prime minister of Hungary, our guest of honor, Viktor Orban.

WARD: Four years ago, such a fawning display would have been unthinkable. But under President Trump, the U.S./Hungarian relationship is blossoming once again.

And that's in no small part due to the appointment of Ambassador David Cornstein, an 81-year-old jewelry magnet from New York City with no relevant political experience beyond a decade's old friendship with the president.

CORNSTEIN: I became a diplomat. Who the hell would have figured that? I became a diplomat.

WARD: Political appointees on both sides of the aisle are often inexperienced and sometimes ineffective, but Cornstein has a direct line of communication with the president. He was instrumental in arranging a White House visit for Orban despite protests from both parties.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Probably like me a little bit controversial, but that's OK. That's OK. You've done a good job.

WARD: One of Orban's many controversial moves has been to force the U.S. accredited graduate school, Central European University, founded and funded by George Soros, out of Hungary. CEU President Michael Ignatieff says that while Cornstein publicly vowed to help the university in its dispute, privately he quickly capitulated to Orban.

WARD (on camera): Why would he be unwilling to push for an issue that's so clearly in Americans interests?

MICHAEL IGNATIEFF, PRESIDENT, CENTRAL EUROPEAN UNIVERSITY (CEU): I don't understand, to tell you the truth. But somehow I think Mr. Cornstein began to think, huh, this is a liberal institution. I'm closer to a conservative like Orban than I am to the ideals of the institution. And what's disturbing about that is that shouldn't be the issue.

WARD (voice over): For the government here, his appointment has been a gift, bringing Hungary back into the U.S.' good books while appearing to demand no real concessions.

ZOLTAN KOVACS, SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INTERNATIONAL COMMUNICATION AND RELATIONS: For the past two years, since the coming of the new ambassador, we believe it's a new chapter we have opened. The previous chapter was a necessary burden with the kind of ideological debates and pressure that was coming from the Democrats and was basically derailing U.S.-Hungarian relationships. [06:55:09]

WARD: Cornstein's office declined a CNN request for an interview, citing the ambassador's busy schedule. But when by chance we bumped into him at a Budapest restaurant, he sat with us and let us ask a couple of questions on our cell phones.

WARD (on camera): What do you say to people who say that you're too friendly with Prime Minister Orban? What's your response to that?

CORNSTEIN: My response is the same as if you asked me about my relationship with my wife. We're married 50 years, and we have a good relationship, but we have our days where they're not so good and we disagree upon certain things. The same thing is true with the prime minister.

WARD: But that's a close relationship then?

CORNSTEIN: It's -- it's a good relationship where we have established the trust with each other and where I can tell him where I think he's making a mistake with what he's doing in a respectful manner.

WARD (voice over): Ambassador Cornstein soon asked us to stop recording, but off camera we asked him about his recent dinner here with Rudy Giuliani.

WARD (on camera): He would only say that the men are close personal friends, and that he hadn't even asked Giuliani about the purpose of his visit here.

Throughout the conversation, though, Cornstein seemed unfazed by criticism that has come his way. He told us simply, I report to one man only, and that is the president of the United States. And so far nobody has told me they don't like the results of what I'm doing.

WARD (voice over): Privately, though, some fear that the ambassador's actions undermine American interests here and that Trump's disregard for diplomatic norms could deal a blow that will last much longer than Cornstein's tenure and have repercussions far beyond Hungary.


CAMEROTA: Clarissa, really fascinating to hear this story. But political appointees, as we know, are often inexperienced. So how is this situation different?

WARD: And, you know, that's an important point, Alisyn, on both sides of the aisle. President Obama famously appointed a producer of the soap opera "The Bold and the Beautiful" to be his ambassador to Hungary. So this is nothing new. The difference is, that traditionally, even if an ambassador is a political appointee, is politically very inexperienced, they work closely with the diplomatic service, with the staff, with those career diplomats and work towards implementing U.S. policy and, you know, forwarding or fulfilling U.S. interests in those areas. With Cornstein what you see is, he's really cut from the same cloth as

his boss, President Trump. He believes that business savvy and acumen and the cultivating of personal relationships is ultimately much more important than diplomatic norms and protocols.

Alisyn. John.

CAMEROTA: Yes, great illustrations that you've brought us, Clarissa, thank you very much for all of that reporting.


BERMAN: All right, the late night comedy hosts, they seem set for this week in history when President Trump will almost certainly be impeached. That in your "Late Night Laughs."


STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT": Giuliani was recently in Ukraine meeting with disgraced prosecutors and trying to dig up more dirt on the Bidens. Rudy claims, we have found multiple crimes the Bidens have committed, extortion, bribery, and money laundering and, to back it up, he had a handwritten diagram titled bribery, parenthesis, crime. Oh, I'm sorry, that's his to-do list.

In an impeachment trial, the Senate is the jury. So it is their constitutional duty to be impartial. McConnell sees that just slightly differently.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Everything I do during this I'm coordinating with White House Counsel.

I'm going to coordinate with the president's lawyers so there won't be any difference between us on how to do this.

I'm going to take my cues from the -- from the president's lawyers.


COLBERT: How is that OK? That's like one of the jurors standing up at the beginning of a trial and saying, your honor, we think the defendant is a really good guy and we're going to be coordinating with him throughout the trial. We'd also like to give him his knife back. There you go, Jack, keep on ripping, brother.

Graham told a crowd this weekend, I have made up my mind, I'm not trying to pretend to be a fair juror here. Really? You should at least pretend.


CAMEROTA: He makes some interesting points.

BERMAN: Indeed. Again, comedy or just reading the news out loud. CAMEROTA: All right, more moderate Democrats are going on the record

in the final hours before impeachment, and NEW DAY continues right now.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today, House leaders plan to begin bringing the articles to the floor, setting up a historic final vote tomorrow.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When it came down to the articles of impeachment, there is no crime.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The White House and President Trump's top allies are concerned about a handful of Republican senators whose views on impeachment remain unclear.