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Bracing for a Hard Freeze; Leno Bumped From Prime Time; Wacky Winter Weather; Banks Pay Bonuses; Harry Reid's Apology

Aired January 10, 2010 - 16:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Here in the CNN NEWSROOM where the news unfolds live this Sunday, January 10th. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

It is a weather story with an economic twist. Frigid temperatures could soon be taking a toll on your wallet no matter where you live as the nation struggles to recover from the snow and the ice from Arctic storm. Florida farmers are bracing for a possible devastating freeze tonight. It could endanger the state's $9 billion citrus crop.

The farmers' success or failure could affect you for months to come. Florida produces nearly all the fresh fruit and vegetables you buy at the grocery stores and restaurants during the winter months. So let's go now to CNN's Martin Savidge who is in Fort Lauderdale where it is still very cold. You got a big old gauger right there of the temperature. It is very windy at the beach.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is, Fredricka. Look at me. I'm standing on the beach in south Florida but dressed as if I'm in Cleveland, Ohio. And the temperature right now shows us at 42 degrees, and that is the heat of the day, doesn't take into account there is a strong wind. There actually is a windchill down here. And the temperature is only going to go downhill for the remainder of the day.

You mentioned the impact on agriculture. That is, of course, a great concern down here in the state of Florida, particularly the citrus industry and the reports are that there has been significant damage. Most of the damage taking place from the north in the growing areas, it is still spotty. In other words, some parts of groves were heavily damaged by frost. Other parts apparently untouched. It is going to take them weeks to analyze how much damage, significant is the word they used. Not catastrophic. However, it is going to be even colder tonight.

Then on top of that, everybody else trying to stay warm. The tourists that are coming into south Florida, many of them thought they were getting away from the cold weather. Leaving it from the northern climbs where they came only to find out the cold chased them all the way down here. We ran into a couple from Twin Lakes, Wisconsin. And that is Lisa and her husband. They are talking about saying yes, it is colder back home. But you know what? Just barely. Here is what they had to say.


LISA GREGG, VISITING FLORIDA: Palm trees is the only reason I know I'm actually here and the ocean.

BRIAN GREGG, VISITING FLORIDA: Yes. We have been here a number of times. And usually you get to Florida and you wait for that sunshine buzz through and it's all warm. We're not getting it this time.


SAVIDGE: Good news for Lisa and Brian is they are going on a cruise. They might get away from it all. And now we are going to show you these final pictures here as the wind really blows. This is early this morning at Ft. Lauderdale Beach when the wind chill was about 19 degrees and surfers were out there taking advantage of the waves that were being pushed by the wind.

Water temperature, we should point out is about 69, 70 degrees. It's a lot warmer in than it is out. But honestly, what would their mothers say? My goodness. It is going to be much colder tonight and, of course, very anxious hours out there on the citrus groves. Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And so what about for those at home there in south Florida, central Florida? Power situation, furnaces, lack thereof, how are people staying warm in their homes?

SAVIDGE: Well, the biggest way people heat their homes down out here is by electricity and there they have set an absolute all-time new record here in south Florida. You might think that most of the electricity is used in the summertime with the air conditioning and the heat.

However, due to the fact that most of the heaters in homes are so inefficient they actually broke, shattered we should say, all-time record last night because of the cold. That record may not last long. Tonight is going to be even colder. They are managing to deal with the heat or the cold, I should say. The problem is how long it has gone on. You don't call it a cold snap anymore. This is a cold spell and it has gone on for almost a week.

WHITFIELD: Nasty frigid stuff. All right. Thanks so much. Martin SAVIDGE there in a very chilly beach there in Ft. Lauderdale. Appreciate that.

Jacqui Jeras in the severe weather center. So it's going to be very cold or colder as Martin was saying there in some parts of south Florida. How bad is it?

JACQUI JERAS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It is bad. We're not going to get below freezing. We don't think in places like Miami or Ft. Lauderdale. Miami had a record low this morning of 35 degrees. That was a tie. The coldest temperature ever in Miami was 30 degrees and that's happened multiple times. So the good news is, extreme south Florida, we don't think we are going to get there. There's 48 for your temperature in Miami. 44 in Orlando. 43 in Jacksonville.

So temperatures, you know, OK at this hour. Now, what can we expect as we head into tonight? Well, that Arctic air is going to continue to stay in place. Winds are going to be a little gusty. So it is going to be feeling like teens in central Florida and 20s and 30s in south and central Florida. Overnight tonight, we are going to be down 25, 26 degrees over there in Tampa.

Look at Miami. Expecting to see about 37 tonight. 15 in Atlanta. But take note. What's happening here across the upper midwest? In the plains states. We're looking at teens and 20s. So we are above the freezing mark and certainly looking a little bit better as a result of that.

High temperatures tomorrow are going to start to rebound. We got a very dry air mass. So when the air is really dry it can heat up and cool down very, very quickly. So we tend to get greater ranges in temperatures over a 24-hour period.

Sixty-one tomorrow in Miami. 53 degrees then into Tampa and look at those 20s and 30s and even 50s across the southern plains states for tomorrow. So that's some good news. Speaking of that dry air mass, take a look at the nation's radar picture. You are like what? That's radar? This is almost nothing going on. We have a little bit of a wintry mix in the upper midwest. But we are going to be tracking the system coming into the Pacific Northwest and we could see flooding conditions in the Olympics.

So that's going to be a story that we'll be watching into tomorrow. In the meantime, it's just going to stay cold. We got one more night to get through in South Florida before we start to see those temperatures begin to swing back up.

WHITFIELD: Wow. OK, brutally stuff. Stay pretty bundled up for a while then. Appreciate that. Jacqui Jeras.

All right. Well, some folks thought this might be a case for a cold shoulder but the president of the United States apparently has accepted Harry Reid's apology for racial remarks. But the Senate majority leader is not quite out of trouble yet. According to a new book, Reid said in 2008 that candidate Obama could be successful because of his, "light-skinned appearance and speaking patterns, with no Negro dialect."

Well, it was the buzz of Sunday talk shows today. Despite the apologies, the acceptance of the apologies. CNN's Kate Bolduan joins us now from Washington. Kate.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Fredricka. Well, despite calls for him to step down, it doesn't sound like Senator Reid plans to go anywhere any time soon. A statement from his spokesman just this afternoon says the majority leader will stay in his position and will continue to seek re-election. Reid's spokesman also firing back to Republican critics for, "looking to politicize the issue." But today Republicans are coming out strong. Senator John Cornyn and others calling on Reid to vacate his post. Cornyn called the majority leader's comments embarrassing and Republican Party chairman Michael Steele said the comments were racist and accused the Democratic Party in reacting to Reid's comments as following a double standard. Listen here.


MICHAEL STEELE, RNC CHAIRMAN: The thing about it that's interesting is that when Democrats get caught saying racist things, you know, an apology is enough. If that had been Mitch McConnell saying that about an African-American candidate for the president of the United States, trust me, this chairman and the DNC would be screaming for his head, very much as they were with Trent Lott.


BOLDUAN: Now, what Steele was talking about there, Trent Lott, a Republican and a former senate majority leader, was forced from his post in 2002 following comments. He eventually apologized for the country would be better off, he said, and in - if pro-segregation Strong Thurmond had won the presidential election decades earlier, but governor Tim Kaine, the head of the Democratic Party, he came out and argued that there are no similarities in the two situation and Kaine says the case is closed here following Reid's apology as we talked about and President Obama's acceptance of it. Listen here to him.


GOV. TIM KAINE, DNC CHAIRMAN: Senator Reid very appropriately immediately went out and apologized for comments that were insensitive. They were comments made in the context of him praising Senator Obama and supporting his candidacy for president but still they kind of reflect the thinking of a day gone by. The senator was wise to immediately apologized and the president talked very specifically about how he knows who Senator Reid is and he accepts the apology.

BOLDUAN: Well, conceding that Reid's comments were insensitive, the reality here, Fredricka, is Kaine and other Democrats today are really trying to pour some very cold water on this fire quickly. Reid is in a very tough re-election fight and the last thing Democrats want right now is to let anything shift the focus from getting health care reform finalized quickly.

WHITFIELD: We are going to talk more about that actually later on in the hour with our Paul Steinhauser when he joins us, too. Kate Bolduan, thanks so much. Appreciate that.

BOLDUAN: Of course.

WHITFIELD: Let's talk a little entertainment news. Kind of big entertainment news after days of rumors, NBC made it official today that it is pulling the plug on Jay Leno's prime time television show and relocating him to a familiar time slot. "The Jay Leno Show" will end February 12th, complaints about low ratings from affiliates.

And Leno is expected to go back to his old job hosting NBC's "Tonight Show" but that too is raising a few questions about the current "Tonight Show" host Conan O'Brien. So we thought we would ask Sharon Waxman, the editor-in-chief of to help explain all of this. She is in Los Angeles and she is going to help us sort all of this out.

OK. Very interesting stuff here. There were rumors that preceded all this. Now it is official by NBC. How in the world will Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien share the spotlight?

SHARON WAXMAN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THEWRAP.COM: We don't know yet if they will share the spotlight. Conan has yet to accept, they're negotiating and NBC's gone about this in the most ham-handed ways. I would like to just note this morning on a previous show on CNN where - you know, I mentioned that NBC did this to get out of fourth place.

And instead not only is it a failure as the strategy to get them out of fourth place but the way they have gone about trying to dial it back has just been a holy mess. So right now, what they have is all of the people who - all the talent that they want to keep. That's Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien and Jimmy Fallon, all feeling very bruised and in a way betrayed by the network and that had been telling Conan for years "The Tonight Show"" slot was his and then making this thing very public commitment to Jay Leno at 10:00 p.m. for two years starting last fall.

WHITFIELD: But you know, what's interesting here, you talk about, you know in bruising the talent and even NBC, too, being bruised but NBC could have said you know what, 10:00 not working. Jay Leno, bye-bye. Let's maintain the rest of the late-night line-up. But instead it is publicly admitting that we made a mistake with this 10:00 time slot. Let's try and save all the talent by possibly keeping them all together in a later-night line-up.

WAXMAN: Right. Let's not forget when they took Jay Leno off the air he was number one in the time slot. Conan is not doing nearly as well in that time slot as Jay Leno was. So obviously they are trying to have their cake and eat it too. They are trying to say OK, well, we made a mistake. Let's go back to when it was when we all were doing better in the late-night ratings and we are just going to tweak it a little bit.

But the question is can you really put, you know, the stuffing - now the stuffing is out of the pillow. Can you put it back in basically? I mean, Jay Leno may go back to 11:30. But we don't know if Conan is going to want to stay and you know, it's doesn't feel like it is going to be a done deal.

WHITFIELD: So I wonder if there is a way to explain the logic, if there is such a logic that NBC would so kindly kind of air all this as opposed to kind of try to sweep it under the rug by hoping it would just go away? Instead, it is airing all of the laundry.

WAXMAN: Well, that's certainly not by choice. What happened today is that Jeff Gasman, the head of entertainment at NBC went before a roomful of television critics for a pre-scheduled news conference which they do twice a year. What happened last week was completely unplanned which was when all these started to leak on the internet and then they didn't deny it. They couldn't deny it.

And so he had to go and explain basically and announce what they were not prepared yet to announce which was they were taking Jay off the air at 10:00 and they had to confirm it and they had to admit that, you know, they did it in a very ham-handed way. It's kind of a mess right now.

WHITFIELD: And Leno even joked about it Thursday night when just hours after it started leaking on the internet, he joked about it as, you know, NBC - there were rumors that he would be canceled and how the history of NBC is known only through a number one show, would they remove you or reassign you, et cetera?

WAXMAN: Right.

WHITFIELD: Do you think the network asked him or encouraged him to joke about this so as to kind of upstage the rumors?

WAXMAN: No, I wouldn't have thought so. Because the one place that these poor beleaguered late night comics have to kind of let the tension out and to express the kind of treatment that they feel they are getting from their bosses. Conan did the same thing. Conan had some fun with it on, last, on Friday night.

And said essentially the same thing, which is basically how is he going to trust the people that he's working for and made some kind of joke about him and Jay Leno going into a pit with sharp sticks and whoever comes out first gets to leave NBC. So that doesn't speak a lot of love going in the direction of the upstairs executive suites at the moment.

WHITFIELD: Sharon Waxman,

WAXMAN: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: General David Petraeus talking about Yemen and what he says in an exclusive interview about sending U.S. troops there. Also, an earthquake shakes northern California. We'll show you the aftermath.


WHITFIELD: Despite fears of a growing Al Qaeda threat in Yemen, General David Petraeus says that there are no plans to send U.S. troops there. Petraeus, the head of the U.S. central command, appeared on CNN's "Amanpour" today. He says the U.S. will help Yemen with security assistance and economic aid.


GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, U.S. CENTCOM COMMANDER: The programs we submitted that were part of the budget that has since been approved, appropriations bill, has been signed by the president, would, in fact, more than double the security system. Last year it was somewhere around $70 million. Over the course of the fiscal year, it should be somewhere around $150 million or more. And the amount of economic aid increased as well.


WHITFIELD: Yemen is the home of this man, radical Muslim cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki. There are reports linking Al-Alwaki to the Christmas day attempted Northwest Airline bombing and the Ft. Hood massacre in November. Well, CNN's international security correspondent Paula Newton tracked down his father and got an exclusive interview. I talked with her just a short time ago about how eager the cleric's father was to talk.


PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (on camera): He wasn't willing to speak on camera. He spoke to us in an exclusive interview that he determined it had to be off camera. But some of the things that he said many will find quite controversial. But he said first and foremost, his son is not a member of Al Qaeda.

As to the question of Abdulmutallab, he said that he doesn't that his son was with him but he doesn't believe so. This is quite an anguished father, Fred. You could tell. And he's saying, look, this whole thing has been blown out of proportion. He does not deny that his son's views are controversial but he says that's completely different from actually being a member of Al Qaeda or carrying out separatists, pardon me, terrorist acts.

Now I want you to hear some of these quotes, Fred. You know he's saying...

"I am now afraid of what they will do with my son, he's not Osama Bin Laden, they want to make something out of him that he is not." He's adding, "I will do my best to convince my son to do this," he means surrender, "to come back but they are not giving me time, they want to kill one of their own citizens. This is a legal issue that needs to be answered by the United States."

You know, Fred, this man says that this is all blown out of proportion for the purpose of the Yemeni government and the American governments. He is not denying in terms of his connection to the Ft. Hood shootings, he is not denying that his son had e-mail exchanges with Major Hasan. He's saying that is completely different from encouraging him to carry out acts of terrorism.

He says "He has been wrongly accused, it's unbelievable. He lived his life in America. He's an American boy." His father claims. "My son would love to go back to America. He used to have a good life in America. He is now hiding in the mountains. He doesn't even have safe water to drink."

You know, Fred, he's saying that he's hiding in the mountains not with Al Qaeda but with his protected tribe in the south. Because missiles were raining down over the village. And he is saying look, what did you expect my son to do? He didn't want to put the rest of the village at risk and he certainly didn't want to lose his own life. Fred.

WHITFIELD: So he says his son is hiding in the mountains. Anwar al-Awlaki is in the mountains. Now is the father in contact with his son? And if so, what kind of dialogue is taking place? How is he encouraging his son or trying to convince his son to do the right thing?

NEWTON: He says he hasn't spoken to his son for several weeks and especially not since the missile attacks that happened in that area. But he says that he's endeavoring to get in contact with his son if he believes there is a way out for him and that he can find some way to come on some kind of accommodation with the Yemeni government and the American government. But it is a tough issue. You can tell the anguish with his family. At the same time, Yemeni and American officials claiming that he is with Al Qaeda. And that he needs to be found.

WHITFIELD: Paula Newton, thanks so much.


WHITFIELD: All right. In this country, perhaps you are planning to fly in or out of Cleveland today. You better call your airline first. We will tell you exactly what happened there.


WHITFIELD: A look at our top stories right now. A transformer explosion today. Knocked out power to much of Cleveland's Hopkins International Airport. It is now restored. But flights schedule for this afternoon and evening remain uncertain. Back up generators are providing electricity to the control tower and to other critical areas there.

And utility crews in northern California are hard at work today trying to restore electricity to thousands of homes after a strong earthquake there. The 6.5 magnitude quake hit yesterday afternoon near Eureka, California. Some 25,000 customers lost power. No serious injuries are reported. And there are no reports as far as - there are reports really of minor damage, nothing major. That's good.

All right. A hard freeze expected tonight in Florida could threaten the state's $9 billion citrus industry. The harvest is at its peak right now. And Florida produces three quarters of the U.S. orange crop, 40 percent of the world's orange juice supply. So pretty nasty stuff weather wise, particularly in the southeast and all of us are going to feel it in the pocket.

We're going to talk a little bit more about this weather phenomenon. Not just here in the United States but abroad as well. That's why we got the best meteorological minds here. Jacqui Jeras and Jenny Harrison. We're going to talk about exactly, what is the root of all of this. Why are we experiencing a strange winter? It's strange in some circles, particularly in the southeast right now.

JERAS: You know, it is colder than normal. It's winter. We get cold and it happens all the time. But what makes it so unusual is how long it has been lasting and just how much below normal we have been over such a large portion of the country. And we are going try to keep it as basic as I can and not get to science geeky on you here today. But basically it's all going to be attributed to what we call the Arctic oscillation.

And that is just kind of a fancy term that goes back to what happens up towards the Arctic Circle. Got a map that I want to show you and hopefully this will help explain it for you. We will start out by showing you at the poles this time of the year, it is dark. Remember here up in Alaska, it is dark 24 hours a day at this time.

So when it is dark, it is cold. And now that cold air gets bottled up to the north. We are in what we would call negative phase right now and what happens during a negative phase is that high pressure up there gets so strong, the polar jet becomes weak and allows all that Arctic air to plunge southward. So we start to see these intrusions of Arctic air on and off over a period. This has been going on really since early December. Believe it or not. Yes.


WHITFIELD: And it is not over yet. I know you mentioned it is going to be, you know, a little less cold for the next couple of days. But here in the states we are seeing south Florida, as you see this deep freeze. But overseas, it is bad as well in Europe.

JENNY HARRISON, CNN INTERNATIONAL METEOROLOGIST: Well, this graph that Jacqui has got up here. What you have to understand is that this is obviously affecting all of the northern hemispheres. So it is not just the U.S. and of course, anybody traveling from here across to Europe or even across Asia, be prepared because it is not looking good out there at all. In fact, perhaps they can bring up - here is a look at this actually shows some of the last states that temperatures around the world were at their average.

Beijing and Seoul, 24th of December. You can flip it on and move across. I think we go to Europe next. If that map moves. Let's see. It does not - here we go. Across to Europe. Same date, December 26th, in London. 27th of December, Warsaw. And again you mentioned the U.S., even in Atlanta, the last time that we had an average December temperature, December 23rd. So it really is. It is affecting all of the northern hemisphere.

JERAS: Let's show you the phase a little bit. I got another map that helps you understand how we go in these positive and negative phases. And this is the strongest negative phase that we've had in 60 years. So if you take a look at these little blue bars. There you can see we start going down at the beginning of December, and look at how it just bottoms out off the charts.

Now, we are start going back up. So hopefully we are going to start to see this change and we are seeing that in our computer model forecast and it looks like we are going towards a warmer trend across the east and the upper mid east.

WHITFIELD: So we're talking about this phase, something we haven't seen in 60 years. Once we are over this hump then we can look forward to more blissful winters, you know, for decades to come. Is it cyclical like that?

HARRISON: Yes. Well, it is unpredictable. But yes. Let's hope we don't see something like this for as many years again. But, you know, it is weather. And Jacqui, that all these temperatures we talk about, the mean temperature. So you have all the temperatures put together and you take the temperatures -- there will be fluctuations in that. Temperatures above the average, below the average and to get to the average. So you know, it well could be if this lasts much longer which by the way in Europe and in Asia, there's no real sign of this cold spell breaking, probably will try to send you the next seven days. So you know, maybe some of the temperatures will start to change.


WHITFIELD: Traveling to any of those places or traveling here, you just better wear those layers for a while. Because it is here to stay at least for a week.

JERAS: It is. And that's the whole plan of mother nature. Trying to balance out the warm temperatures and the cold temperatures. That's why it heads on down towards the equator. Trying to warm up. But another reason, too, by the way, all the snow cover, we have so much snow cover over the U.S. and as that air comes down it tends to modify but the more snow you have, the less it is going to be able to modify.

WHITFIELD: All right. Jacqui Jeras, Jenny Harrison, thanks so much for giving us a much broader picture of our weather map. It is not just you at home but it's everywhere else as well. A little different spin in our chat room today. We should have called it the weather room today.

JERAS: Yes. I like it.

WHITFIELD: All right. We will be talking more about it over the next few days, I'm sure. At least seven days. Thanks a lot, ladies. Appreciate it.

All right. It has been a bad year for the U.S. auto industry. You knew that already. Didn't you? But Detroit is trying to put its best face on. We will tell you what the look for at the international auto show.


WHITFIELD: All right. So this is the time of year when banks and other financial institutions hand out bonuses. Reports say that some of the same firms that got taxpayer help, all to stay afloat; well they will be handing out bonuses. Averaging hundreds of thousands of dollars, the head of the White House Council of Economic Advisers spoke out on that very topic today on CNN's "State of the Union."


CHRISTINA ROMER, CHAIR, COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS: It does seem really ridiculous. We have had to take extraordinary actions to rescue the financial system. We always did it because that's what had to be done for the American people. No one wanted to bail out the banks just for the banks' sake. It is because we know that credit is the life blood of a modern economy and without it, families can't get loans to buy cars or send their kids to school and small businesses can't get loans.

So we know that the financial sector matters. But at the same time, right, we have had to take these extraordinary actions and you would certainly think that the financial institutions that are now doing a little bit better would have some sense. And this big bonuses season, of course, it is going to offend the American people. It offends me.


WHITFIELD: It is affecting your money in the business week ahead. The heads of some of the nation's biggest banks have some explaining to do. A congressional panel investigating the financial meltdown holds public hearings. It is calling on the CEOs of Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan, Chase, and Bank of America. They will be asked about the banks' role in creating the crises and how they became too big to fail.

And Detroit and the nation's auto industry look for boost this week. The North American International Auto Show opens tomorrow and 60 new vehicles premiere over nine days. Old school crone and horsepower lovers will find something of their liking. But downsized automakers are putting much of their hopes on new lines of small cars as well.

If gadgets are more your thing, you may want to check out the gizmos unveiled at the International Consumer Electronics Show. Everything from pocket radar guns to personal drones and 3-d television. The show is wrapping up this hour in Las Vegas and it gives consumers an idea exactly what's coming to store shelves. Businesses watch it for trends and technology that can shake up their industries as well.

Let's take a look at some of the political stories making news in the week ahead. CNN's deputy political director Paul Steinhauser joining us now from Washington. All right. Good to see you again, Paul. Let's talk about Harry Reid and we talked about the apologies and the choice of words. And the acceptance of the apologies but now apparently Harry Reid, he didn't have just that to worry about. What else?

PAUL STEINHAUSER, DEPUTY POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, he has a re- election to worry about. And you know Fred, even though Democrats are standing by him, this seems it will be more than a one-day story. First of all tomorrow Harry Reid has got an event in Nevada and you would expect reporters out there will be questioning him about this. So we may get Harry Reid's comments on TV cameras.

Also, Republicans even though the Senate is not in session we expect congressional Republicans to try to give the story legs. I spoke to Republican strategist about an hour ago and he said something very similar to that. One of the national tea party organizations has been targeting Harry Reid, they say they are going to go up tomorrow with an ad that says that the bottom should not reelect him next year.

You know Fred, he already had a tough reelection a brand-new poll out this weekend, in Nevada, says the same thing. It suggests that the majority of people out there don't have a favorable opinion of him. But he has a couple of things in his favor. He raised a lot of money for this reelection and as of now the Republicans are not unified when they are targeting him.

WHITFIELD: Is the expectation that his word choice might in any way impact that as well? The word choice we have been talking about in this recently published book.

STEINHAUSER: Yes this is probably the last thing he needs right now. Those parties standing by him is definitely a distraction for Harry Reid as the Senate majority leader gears up for what could be a tough re-election.

WHITFIELD: OK. Meantime, the U.S. Senate has apparently invited the father of the young man who was accused of trying to blow up that U.S. airline near Detroit. Do we know whether the father has accepted the invitation and do we know why the U.S. Senate wants to chat with him?

STEINHAUSER: I do not believe we know whether he's accepted yet and I know our congressional unit or some of the others here in the Washington Bureau are digging in on that and are trying to get an answer. Politically Fred this is tough for the administration because this story stays alive. Tomorrow -- next week, this week coming up in just a few days, some House members are going to get briefed on it and then the following week they are going to have this Senate hearing regardless of whether the father testifies or not. This is going to be a big story. So this story will have legs for a long time and that gives the opposition more time to bring up more questions about this administration and how they are handling terrorism.

WHITFIELD: OK. Quickly, also this week, president is going to be meeting with House Democrats, to talk about health care reform. What's he want to talk about? They have two versions to try to find some sort of compromise, house version, and Senate version, what will be the discussion?

STEINHAUSER: Yes, the president if trying to bring the two sides together. That may not be easy because these bills have some big differences. You saw the president meet with the top four Senate and House Democrats this past week and he meets with all the House Democrats this week. Trying to merge these two bills into one. You will see the White House take a big part in these negotiations, they would like to get a bill on the president's desk by the State of the Union and the clock is ticking. Fred. WHITFIELD: All right. Paul Steinhauser thanks so much from Washington. Appreciate that.

Two weeks after the failed attack on a Detroit-bound jet. There's agreement in Washington that the system failed. So should someone be held accountable? We will tell you what two Senators think.


WHITFIELD: A look at our top stories right now. Freeze warnings have Florida citrus farmers on alert in and in action from the northern Panhandle down to the south Florida coast, farm and nursery owners are preparing for potentially -- potential crop damaging temperatures overnight. Much of Florida is under a hard freeze warning.

And the New Year brings higher prices at the gas pump. According to the surveyor Lundberg the average price of a gallon of gas rose 14 cents in the last three weeks. It is now $2.74 for regular and that's the highest level in more than a year.

And two prominent Senators are calling on President Obama to do more in the wake of the failed Christmas Day attack on a Detroit-bound airliner. Arizona Republican John McCain and Connecticut independent Joe Lieberman want more accountability for intelligence failures. Both spoke on CNN's "State of the Union" today.

All right. He was the pioneering Civil Rights attorney who defended Malcolm X. Percy Sutton was the son of a slave that became a media mogul and a prominent New York politician and he is also credited with saving Harlem's renowned theater. We told you about his death the day after Christmas. He was 89. Now we are going to tell you about his life.


MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, NEW YORK: As we look at our flags still flying at half-staff, let us join in honoring and thanking a true Civil Rights pioneer and a legendary public servant and great New Yorker.

WHITFIELD (voice over): High praise from the mayor of New York. Remembering Civil Rights lawyer Percy Sutton. A man whose accomplishments include serving as a Tuskegee airman intelligence officer in World War II. His passion to fight for the rights of black Americans drove him to Brooklyn Law School and his legal firm represented more than 200 freedom marchers in the 1960s.

(UNIDENTIFIED MALE): Working with any great organization.

WHITFIELD: One of Sutton's influential and controversial clients was Malcolm X. Nation of Islam leader and human rights activist. Sutton remained the family's lawyer after Malcolm X's assassination in 1965.

AITALLAH SHABAZZ, DAUGHTER OF MALCOM X: Whether you knew him personally or intimately, whether you got to be loved by him, counseled by him, given guidance by him, instructed by him, that in this day and age someone that saw so much, it could have made many other choices, chose to stand nearby to be accessible to all of us.

WHITFIELD: Percy Sutton was also a New York State assemblyman. Later becoming Manhattan's longest serving borough president from 1966 to 1977. One of the highest ranking black officials in New York an inspiration.

ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I admired him, I respected him, and I worked for him. The opportunities that my generation has been given were paid for by the hard work and sacrifice of his. Without him, there would be no me.

(UNIDENTIFIED MALE): We were suffering all --

WHITFIELD: In 1971, Sutton started investing in media companies by purchasing New York's A.M. station WLIV. Making it the first black owned radio station in New York. For a time he owned New York's largest black newspaper, too, "Amsterdam News." But eventually came chairman of mediate conglomerate Intercity Broadcasting, which owned more than 18 national radio stations and cable franchises. And in 1981, Sutton bought and helped resuscitate the bankrupt Apollo Theater for $250,000. It was a landmark that launched the careers of artists like Ella Fitzgerald, James Brown, and the Jackson 5.

(UNIDENTIFIED MALE): You are better off just pay the debt but closing down your facilities because of what Apollo Theater means to this community and a number of people worldwide.

WHITFIELD: The Apollo Theater reopened in 1985 after Sutton invested more than $20 million in renovations and leading to the longtime syndicated program its show time at the Apollo. Just days ago, thousands filled Riverside Church in Manhattan to say good-bye. Congressman Charles Rangel said sudden impact was far reaching.

REP. CHARLES RANGEL, (D) NEW YORK: I was talk walking down 135th Street and a woman grabbed me with uncontrollable tears. I said, did you know Percy? She says no. But Percy knew me.

WHITFIELD: Percy Sutton's kindness touched many. And he was a man of several achievements but for those that knew him, the broadcasting pioneer, Tuskegee the airman and lawyer will always be remembered as Mr. Chairman.

Coming up, a CBS reporter who defied the odds and is using his experience to help others.


WHITFIELD: When you hear his award winning reporting it will come as a surprise to learn that CBS news correspondent in "60 Minutes" contributor Byron Pitts was once a chronic stutter and functionally illiterate. He talks about overcoming obstacles in his new memoir "Step Out on Nothing How Faith and Family Helped Me Conquer Life's Challenges." Byron Pitts joins me now from New York. Good to see you, Byron.

BYRON PITTS, AUTHOR, "STEP OUT ON NOTHING:" Hey, Fred. Good to see you.

WHITFIELD: Well this is a pretty extraordinary story. But who or what intervened to help pave the way so that you could become one of this country's best television journalists?

PITTS: Well, I think I have to give the credit primarily to my mother. This is a woman of great faith that never accepted some of the answers given from early on. Because of her faith and because of her optimism and her belief and hard work, I persevered. For all of my life my mother has worn a mustard seed around her neck encased in a clear plastic ball. It has been her reminder of the scripture of the book of Matthew that says if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can move mountains. It is with that kind of faith when therapists told my mother to give up on our child that I had these reading problems. One therapist suggested I was mentally retarded. She kept hanging in there with me, she kept encouraging me and found me the help that I needed.

WHITFIELD: Did she know in her heart of hearts that you were functionally illiterate? Did she think it was something else? Or was it that she felt like the labels that all these experts around her were giving her just wasn't right?

PITTS: Well, my mother certainly believes in the power of faith, the power of hard work. She thought that, you know, she raised her kids to be believed you can do anything in your life if you put your mind to it. So she thought if I had some issues she would find me the help and we would just keep working at it, it is some kids studied two or three hours a night my mother said well we will study three or four. It was force of her will and also I have to give credit to a number of teachers who wouldn't allow me to give up on myself and intervened and pushed me and who also encouraged me.

WHITFIELD: What happened, I guess, along the way until you were 12 that either teachers or people overlooked or someone didn't notice that you weren't able to read and write and at the rate of all of the other kids or the expectations at this age, how did you slip through the cracks?

PITTS: Well, I was a polite kid. I was quiet in class. You know, I'm not alone. It is estimated that there are 30 million adults in country who are functionally illiterate and many of them have the same story that I have. That I was pushed along in school. It wasn't until I started failing in math that they thought I had a problem. They came to realize that I couldn't read the directions. And then that's when they started giving me the help that I need.

WHITFIELD: And then fast forward, you are 20 years old, you are stuttering. At some point you make this transition to pursue broadcast journalism. How in the world did you do that?

PITTS: Well, you know, I was raised to believe to those who much has give and much is expected. With my mother's optimism this motion that there are no stumbling blocks in this life just stepping stones. So because of my early issues with literacy, I fell in love with words. One of the reasons I went into journalism is my love for words. When I first went to college I thought I might work in print journalism.

Because in part because of my stutter. Once I learned to manage my stutter and speak clearly I thought that maybe I can combine these two loves and this -- this love to be able on speak clearly now and this love for words to work in broadcast journalism.

WHITFIELD: It took a lot of courage to tell the story and share this story. Was there a significant amount of time where you had to ponder and think about do I want to reveal this publicly, or how might it be helpful if I do?

PITTS: Sure. Well, people who know me well have known this story for quite a while. But, Fred, you know with journalists oftentimes to tell important stories, you have to make yourself vulnerable. Colleagues work in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, make themselves vulnerable to tell an important story. Because of -- I know that literacy is an issue in our country; there are connections between poverty and literacy, crime and literacy. I thought that if I could shed some light on the issue of literacy in our country by telling my story, by making myself vulnerable, there's value with that. My wife and I, we sat down and put the book together and it has done well so far.

WHITFIELD: Fantastic. Congratulations, a very courageous story to tell. Byron Pitts, "Step Out on Nothing." Thanks so much.

PITTS: Thank you. See you down road.

WHITFIELD: Good to see you. We will be tuning in on "60 Minutes" and all the other CBS programs that Byron is all over.

One visitor says that it is like Disney World only flashier. Where do you find a city that celebrates winter with a festival of snow and ice?


WHITFIELD: Parts of Florida bracing for what could be a devastating night for farmers. The state's multibillion dollar citrus crop is facing a hard freeze. Citrus trees rarely survive temperatures in the mid 20s or even less for any substantial length of time. And temperatures are expected to plummet when the sun goes down this evening. Florida produces most of the nation's oranges and 40 percent of the world's orange juice crop, the freeze could mean higher prices for everyone.

And much of the northern hemisphere in fact is shivering as it endures one of the coldest winters in years. Not everyone is upset about that. The snow and cold are perfect if you are holding a spectacular ice festival like the one going on right now in Harbin, China.


WHITFIELD (voice over): China has been struggling with unusually bitter winter weather. But in northeast China, not far from Siberia, they are celebrating winter. The annual ice and snow festival in Harbin, China began with fireworks. The truly spectacular sights are the huge sculptures, castles made of ice, all glowing with colorful lights.

(UNIDENTIFIED MALE): I mean, it is very nice. I mean a lot of color. I compare it with Disney World but then a lot flashier.

WHITFIELD: The festival is based on a tradition. People used to plant burning candles in blocks of ice. Creating ice lanterns that help impenetrate the winter gloom. With electric lights substituting for candles there's no gloom in Harbin these days. You can take a fast ride down an ice slide. You can puzzle your way through an ice maze. And how is this for a photo? You can use something like this for next year's Christmas cards.

(UNIDENTIFIED MALE): It is absolutely fantastic. It is magical. Very pleased to be here.

WHITFIELD: Despite subzero temperatures, more than 50,000 people are expected to visit Harbin before the festival ends in February.


WHITFIELD: Wow. Is that not stunning? OK. I'm Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN Center in Atlanta. Randi Kaye will be here in about an hour from now to tell you why a former prisoner of war had to wait more than 40 years to get a purple heart.

She will also tell you about a woman that buys and sells stocks just based on her intuition. Before you laugh, wait until you hear how much money she's actually made. That's all straight ahead in the 6:00 Eastern hour of the NEWSROOM. Right now Fareed Zakaria and "GPS," and a talk with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.