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Winter Storm Impacts 38M Across South, 1,000 Flights Cancelled Today; Soon: Blinken Meets with Palestinian Authority President Abbas; 3 Fired from Memphis Fires Department, 2 More Officers Placed on Leave. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired January 31, 2023 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Right now on EARLY START, going nowhere. Almost 1,000 flights canceled as freezing rain pelts airports and roads from Texas to West Virginia.

Plus, more fallout from the Memphis beating. Seven police officers off the job, three fired from the fire department.

And mission to the Middle East. Secretary of State Blinken minutes away from meeting with Abbas after his sit-down with Prime Minister Netanyahu.


Good morning. Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. I'm Christine Romans.

We begin with a major winter storm across the southern U.S. Overnight, Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders declaring a state of emergency and activating the National Guard as severe weather moves across the state. Sleet, freezing rain, bitter cold temperatures impacting some 38 million people from Texas to West Virginia. A winter storm warning is in effect for a large portion of Texas including Dallas/Ft. Worth.

Schools in the area are closed due to the dangerous conditions. According to Flight Aware, nearly 1,000 flights have already been canceled today.

Let's get to meteorologist Chad Myers, who is seeing the worst of the winter storm -- Chad.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Right now, just south of Memphis, maybe up toward Cincinnati, northern Kentucky, but that's really not the story from what happened last night, and the overnight hours for Arkansas and also into Texas. Let's show you what's going on right now.

This is Dallas, Texas. Those roads are not supposed to be orange nor red nor should they say road closed. This is what is going on in there is at this hour. I'd say population-wise, this is the worst that you will see. But probably travel-wise that would be parts of Arkansas, especially the Ozarks, you get some hills there and you get an half an inch of ice on any of those roadways and you are going nowhere.

So, third of an inch of ice in Greenwood, Luckenbach, Texas, a quarter of an inch here in Texas.

Here is the rest of the weather for the rest of the day, that will slide to the Northeast, but that is only the first round of three that will be coming for Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas as we move you ahead, this is the forecast radar. Moving you ahead to this morning, rain develops again in Dallas, Rain and 29, that is not a good combination no matter where you are. Same story into parts of Arkansas, all the way down possibly into the northern sections of Louisiana.

Again, across parts of Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama. It is ice. This is not 3 inches of snow, which would be easy. This is a quarter of an inch or even an eighth of an inch of ice on the roadways. Some of it will be sleet.

That is a little better than freezing rain. The difference is sleet comes down and you hear it. Freezing rain comes down as rain and freezes when you it hits the ground. That is the worst. And wet ice is the worst thing that you could possibly try to dry on that about this is an ice event. And that is why we have 1,000 or so flights canceled.

And even though you may be leaving from New York going to L.A., it doesn't mean that your flight came from Dallas and got to you. You may not have a plane. Check ahead today.

ROMANS: Yeah, absolutely. Check the apps.

All right. Nice to see you. Thanks, Chad.

MYERS: Good to see you too.

ROMANS: All right. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is about to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank. Blinken hopes to tile back rising tensions between Israelis and Palestinians after days of some of the worst bloodshed on years.

On Monday, Blinken met with Benjamin Netanyahu and reaffirmed the need for a two state solution.


ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: We continue to believe that the best way to achieve it is preserving and realizing two states. As I said, anything that moves us away from that vision is, in our judgment, detrimental to Israel's long term security and long term identity as a Jewish and democratic state.


ROMANS: CNN's Nic Robertson is live in Ramallah.

Nic, what can we expect from this meeting with the Palestinian leadership? I would assume issue number one is dialing back the tensions. NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yeah, absolutely.

And the question, of course, how to dial back the tensions. One of the ways to improve relations between Palestinians and Israelis, Secretary Blinken is likely to say to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is restart your security cooperation with Israel, vital to both sides. It helps keep the sort of political temperature down, if you will.

But look, it is raining here today, claps of thunder. So it sets a mood, expectations not particularly high.


What we're hearing is likely expectations from the Palestinian side and the things that they will put to Secretary Blinken. Please tell Israelis not to expand settlements, that is a major concern here, and also tell Israelis to stop their incursions into some of the cities here. That incursion into Jenin, Israelis going after a terror suspect, nine Palestinians ended up being killed. That sort of thing is what Blinken is likely to hit. But talking to the people on the streets here, this all-important issue of a two state solution, people will say yes, we want that, we hope it is there, but we really are beginning to wonder if it is possible.

In fact talking to the young people here, an 18-year-old said, look, I don't see this, I don't see it happening. The one thing that they think can make a difference to help the Palestinians is international pressure and international recognition that they need support of their legitimacy, that they need help.

So in a way, Secretary Blinken's visit is an affirmation of that. But can he really change this ongoing increasingly tense dynamic, that is not clear.

ROMANS: All right. Nic Robertson for us, thank you so much.

To Memphis now and the fallout from the deadly police beating of Tyre Nichols. Two more police officers have been placed on leave. Three fire department personnel have been fired for not following policies and protocols.

We get more from CNN's Nick Valencia.


NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Seven Memphis police officers have now been relieved of duty in the Tyre Nichols investigation, including the officer wearing this body camera, identified by Memphis police as Officer Preston Hemphill. Hemphill can be seen firing his Taser at Nichols following the initial traffic stop on January 7th.

After Nichols takes off running with other officers chasing him, Hemphill is heard on his body camera saying --

PRESTON HEMPHILL, MEMPHIS POLICE OFFICER: I hope they stomp his ass. VALENCIA: A source confirms, Hemphill seen here, receiving a

certificate for 40 hours of skill training from the Memphis crisis intervention team was also a member of the now disbanded Scorpion unit, but he is not been charged like the five former officers now facing secondary murder.

Hemphill's lawyer says his client never went to the second scene where the beating occurred and that he is cooperating with the investigation.

Attorneys for Nichols family released a statement today saying in part that the news today from Memphis officials that Officer Preston Hemphill was reportedly relieved of duty weeks ago, but not yet terminated or charged, is extremely disappointing. Why is his identity, and the role he played in Tyre's death, just now coming to light?

According to a spokeswoman for the Shelby County D.A.'s office, all officers and first responders who were at the scene of Nichols's arrest are being looked at for possible charges.

STEVE MULROY, DISTRICT ATTORNEY FOR SHELBY COUNTY, TN: We are extraordinarily quick, within less than three weeks we went from the incident to a filing charges of against the five officers who are primarily responsible for the death of Tyre Nichols and who were on the scene. Now as to everybody else, it is going to take some time as we do that investigation. But I assure you, the investigation is ongoing.

VALENCIA: And the disturbing footage released Friday by the police, you can see Nichols being beaten with a baton. He is also punched and kicked, all the while, his hands remain restrained behind his back. In the video, you can see other officers standing around after the beating.


VALENCIA: His mother also reacting to the moment in the video were Nichols can be heard yelling for her.

ROWVAUGH WELLS, TYRE NICHOLS' MOTHER: As the mother, you want to be there protect your child. And, for me to hear he was calling my name, and I didn't hear him, or I wasn't there to protect him. It just hurts me to my core.

VALENCIA: Nick Valencia, CNN, Atlanta.


ROMANS: Nick, thank you for that.

President Biden plans to end COVID-19 emergency declarations on May 11th. This is in response to a pair of Republican measures before the House to end the COVID-19 national and public health emergencies. The White House says the advanced notice is designed to give states health care providers and hospitals enough time to adjust to the changes. And a new study finds students lost out on about 35 percent of a

normal school year's worth of learn during the COVID crisis. The study says learning deficits emerged early in the pandemic and persisted over time. Researchers examined data from 15 different countries.

All right. President Biden heads to New York City today, he will announce the second of two infrastructure funding projects to address train travel along the busy northeast corridor. Monday, the president was in Baltimore where a tunnel will be replaced thanks to the infrastructure bill.

CNN's Jasmine Wright live in Washington.

A bipartisan infrastructure bill we should note. The president ramping up travel touting the success ahead of his State of the Union.


JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right. And that continues today when President Biden really announces a mega grant while in New York to Amtrak so that they can complete the last section of their passenger rail train under the Hudson River.

Now, of course as you said, this will be the second time in just this week, it is only Tuesday, that we've seen the president touting infrastructure, him and his officials have really fanned out across the U.S. to talk about what they believe is one of the administration's greatest successes which is rebuilding America's crippling infrastructure system.

Now, that is going to be a big topic that the president talks about in his high profile union speech next week February 7. And officials close to him say that these kind of events in Baltimore yesterday and New York today serve as a preview to show the American people that his administration is doing what they said that they would, implementing these successful policies that they were able to pass last year. Take a listen to him in Baltimore.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That is what this project and others like it across the country are all about. It is about making investments in American cities, towns, heartlands and rural America. It is about making things here in America again. It is about good jobs, about the dignity of work and about respect and self worth and it is about damn time we're doing it.


WRIGHT: So, that message of confidence from the president, we can expect to hear a part of that nix week in the next week in the State of the Union and also rebuilding of American economy, while also taking aim at Republicans for cutting social services but still his desire to work across the aisle.

Now, Christine, this is at the backdrop of two major things. First the president's handling of the classified documents and of course Republicans promised oversight of it, something that this White House is still grappling with. And then second of course is a major thing which is the expected announcement from the president to launch his re-election bid coming in the next few months -- Christine.

ROMANS: Jasmine Wright, in Washington for us, thanks, Jasmine.

Sad story here, Cindy Williams known for her role on the sitcom "Laverne & Shirley" has died.

Williams starred as Shirley Feeney along side the late Penny Marshall on the show about a pair of roommates that worked in a Milwaukee bottling factory in the '50s and '60s. The "Happy Days" spinoff ran from 1976 to 1983. It was one of the most popular shows on TV, live in re-runs forever. Her family says she died after a short illness. Cindy Williams was 75.

All right. Ahead, can President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy find common ground on raising the debt ceiling?

Plus, the mystery of the misses monkeys at the Dallas Zoo.

And CNN on the frontlines with drone pilots critical to the fight in eastern Ukraine.



ROMANS: House Speaker Kevin McCarthy preparing for his first face-to- face meeting with President Biden tomorrow to discuss raising the national debt limit to avoid a potentially devastating default. The White House is so far skeptical of McCarthy's position. He said he hopes to find common ground with the president.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I believe that there is a lot of places that we can find savings. And government is designed to find compromise. The president when he was vice president, he bragged about this.

So, no, we're not just going to raise the debt ceiling without finding ways that we can change our behavior. But I'd like to sit down, find common ground and put us on a path to balance so we don't harm the future generation of America and we make ourselves stronger.


ROMANS: Here is the message that President Biden says he is sending to McCarthy.


REPORTER: What is your message to Leader McCarthy -- Speaker McCarthy? What would be your message? JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Show me your budget, I'll show you mine.


ROMANS: Republicans have floated ideas like capping domestic spending at 2019 levels and bringing defense programs down to 2023 spending levels. Budget experts estimate that could save $1.7 trillion over the next decade.

And let's bring in Federal Reserve and economy reporter from the "New York Times", Jeanna Smialek.

Jeanna, this is -- look, when I talk to executives and CEOs, they're like, oh, they'll figure it out. The recent histrionics, they'll figure out. I'm not sure. We've already hit the debt ceiling. You have the Treasury Department with extraordinary measures.

What do you think happens here? House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and the president, what do they bring to the table of negotiations tomorrow?

JEANNA SMIALEK, FEDERAL RESERVE & ECONOMY REPORTER, NEW YORK TIMES: Yeah, I think it is an interesting question. We don't seem to have a lot of agreement within the Republicans. We don't seem to have much consensus over what they actually want. It is clear that Speaker McCarthy is planning on coming with some sort of plan, but it is also clear that that group of 20 critical Republicans who really challenged his speakership in the first place when he was being voted in as speaker are on the sidelines and it is not entirely clear what that will look like. Although it could involve pretty intensive budget cuts.

And so, you know, I think that there is a good chance to have sort of a period in which we're kind of moving the goalposts around what we actually want here. And given that the White House's position is very much that they would prefer not to negotiate this, that they would prefer to have a clean debt ceiling increase, I think that you have a real opportunity to set up for some strife.

ROMANS: So, you know, you also hear folks say, well, so no big deal, right? We'll avoid a default, they will pay the interest. But that is problematic, isn't it?


SMIALEK: Yeah, I think this is one of the most interesting parts of this. When you talk to business leaders or Wall Street, one of the reasons that they are so calm about this process is the prioritization plan will mean that, you know, debt in principal and interest on the debt will be paid back first. And so even if we breach those measures, even if we get that whether it is in June or July, it is okay because we won't default on the debt.

But if you actually talk to experts who looked at that prioritization plan in the past, they say three things. A, the White House doesn't have much political incentive to go for it, B, we're not sure that it would work and we can do it, and C, we're not sure that it is legal. And obviously that could be a real problem. There are people who are saying that they would sue the government if they don't get paid.

And so, for those reason, people are skeptical that it would work in a crunch.

ROMANS: And just the message that it sends. You know, saying you'll get it next year but not this year. These are the hard choices that you have to make if you don't raise the debt ceiling, right?

SMIALEK: Absolutely, and the politics of that are just sort of unbearable from the White House's perspective. I think this is why the sources say it is unlikely that the president would want to go for this. How do you message, yes, we are not paying back military salaries but we are paying back Chinese holders of treasury bonds. You know, just very difficult thing to talk about.

ROMANS: I also think some of the very vocal minority who have Speaker McCarthy's ear of the Republican Party who want big cuts, you know, you have to turn around and sell that as you are asking your constituents to actually make sacrifices. That is what spending cuts are. Spending cuts are sacrifices for the American people. I don't know, maybe when the politics of that sinks in, that mood changes.

Quick question about the Fed. Two-day meeting starts today. What are you expecting? I mean, I'm hearing mostly a quarter point hike is what people are thinking.

SMIALEK: Yeah. Quarter point is completely priced in the markets, so it would be a really big surprise if they went more than that. Fed typically doesn't want to surprise markets, you know, creates disorder. So I think the real news will be what they say about what comes next and it is pretty open field there. We've had a lot of disagreement among members of the committee. And so I think a lot of eyes will be on Chair Powell's 2:30 press conference tomorrow.

ROMANS: All right. Jeanna Smialek, it's nice to see you. Thanks so much.

SMIALEK: Thank you.

ROMANS: All right. Quick hits across America right now.

Ten people shot in what police say was a targeted attack in a Lakeland, Florida neighborhood. Police are searching for suspects who fled in a blue Nissan.

The 6-year-old who shot his first grade teacher was allegedly seen choking a teacher in kindergarten. The teachers union says they are investigating.

And officials at the Dallas Zoo say an animal habitat was intentionally compromised and two Emperor Tamarin monkeys are missing and were likely stolen. This is the fourth incident of habitats of the zoo being tampered with.

Coming up, a new sign that Brazil's former president doesn't plan on going back home anytime soon.

And next, CNN is on the ground for the firsthand look at the scars of Russia's war.


FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This village like many was heavily damaged when the Ukrainians moved here in fall.




ROMANS: All right. The U.S. will not be providing F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine despite renewed pleas from Kyiv for planes and missile systems.


REPORTER: Will the United States provide F-16s to Ukraine?



ROMANS: Meanwhile Russia and Ukrainian forces are battling in the east for control of key cities as Moscow reinforces its defensive lines with heavy weapons and long range artillery.

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen has more from the front.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): Ukraine's retire eastern front is now heating up. This as Russian infantry -- in the massive firefight and force near the town of Kreminna. Close by, where creeping through the same forest were the Ukrainian frontline drone unit called Dnipro 1, that scouts out Russian positions and directs Ukrainian fire.

Drone operator Ruslan says working in the forests is extremely dangerous.

RUSLAN, DRONE OPERATOR: Full time work in tanks, a lot of artillery from different directions, from east and from north.

PLEITGEN: But the team is often able to spot attempted Russian advances. Here, Russian infantry are moving through the thick woodland and this tank leaves cover and opens fire towards Ukrainian positions.

The Ukrainians liberated towns and villages in this area last autumn, but the scars of battle are visible everywhere.

This village, like many of the ones in this area, was heavily damaged when the Ukrainians moved in here in fall. For a while, it was quiet but now all of that is changing, the fighting is coming back and it is heavier than ever before.

The few people remaining, those too poor or too old to flee.

I asked Valentina if it is not too dangerous to stay here.

Yes, it is dangerous, she says, but what can we do? Of course, it's dangerous. But we endure, sometimes we hide, but now, it's too cold in the basements.

The Russians have massively beefed up their forces around Kreminna. They believe they have to prevent the Ukrainians breaking through here to sustain their own offensive against Bakhmut and are now also launching their own tax near Vuhledar further south.