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American Morning

Mortgage Rescue: New Plan for Homeowners; Potomac Primary: Clinton Under Pressure; Drugs in Baseball: John Rocker's Comments About Steroids in Baseball; Surviving Without BlackBerry

Aired February 12, 2008 - 06:00   ET


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you, I'm John Roberts. We begin today with breaking news on your financial security" today. The Bush administration is expected to announce a new plan to buy homeowners more time.
KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: That's right. Six of the nation's biggest banks and lenders are on board, and the deal this time goes way beyond some of those risky subprime mortgages. In fact, our senior business correspondent, Ali Velshi, is here. He's been checking out the plan this morning. How does it help?

ALI VELSHI, CNN SENIOR BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, this goes further than the plan that was introduced last year called the Hope Now plan. This is called Project Lifeline. We're expecting it to be announced this morning around 11:00 Eastern Time. Here's what it's going to do.

It's designed to help people who are seriously overdue with their mortgage payments. It is going to put a freeze on people whose mortgages are more than 90 days past due. It's going to suspend the foreclosure activity. Now, foreclosures, by the way, is everything from the filing all the way to the repossession of the house. It's going to suspend foreclosure activity for 30 days to give lenders and borrowers time to work out better terms.

The banks involved are the same six banks that were involved in the Hope Now alliance -- Bank of America, Citigroup, Countrywide, JP Morgan Chase, Washington Mutual and Wells Fargo. The expectation now is that the administration has got to do something that helps more people get out of this housing turmoil. We have not seen housing prices increase. In fact, there is speculation that housing prices will decrease as much in 2008, if not more than they did in 2007. So there is no hope for people who are underwater, whose mortgages are bigger than the size of their home. So this is an effort to sort of say, let's try and do this.

Hillary Clinton has been championing a similar plan where she was calling for longer freezes on the mortgage rates, but there's some sense that a freeze on mortgage rates might be what is necessary to force people, and I mean this in a good way, force people to talk to their banks because the banks would rather work out terms or at least this is what the administration says...

CHETRY: Right.

VELSHI: ... than end up as holders of a whole lot of houses that are not easily sold.

CHETRY: Is this a bailout, basically?

VELSHI: Well, it's certainly, you know, further down that road. The interesting thing about this one as opposed to the plan that was unveiled last year by the White House is this one deals with everybody who is seriously delinquent. You don't have to fall into the categories. If you remember last time, there are four or five categories that you had to -- criteria that you had to meet in order to qualify for assistance from the federal government. In this particular case, if you are 90 days past due and in trouble you will get more help. So it's broader. It will probably help a greater swathe of people.

ROBERTS: What about this idea, though, that freezing interest rates is like squeezing a water-filled balloon? That you put pressure here to keep rates down, they pop up and they inflate somewhere else.

VELSHI: Interest rates are determined by the market. So, artificial things that you do with interest rates like freezing them can be very, very damaging long-term, which is probably why they're going for this 30-day freeze, to try and get people time instead of force them to say, sit with your bank. Work something out.

But you're absolutely right. We are in a market where interest rates are determined. That's why I go to the Chicago Board of Trade whenever there's a Federal Reserve interest rate cuts because that's where interest rates are set. The government doesn't set them, so that's a very interesting point. You can't meddle with this too much otherwise it will come out somewhere else.

ROBERTS: I thought you were going for the hotdogs.

VELSHI: That, too.

ROBERTS: Ali, thanks.

VELSHI: You bet.

ROBERTS: Well, this could be a defining day for both parties in the presidential race. Voters heading to the polls today in Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Virginia for the so-called Potomac Primary. The Democrats will be splitting 168 total delegates in the three states. Barack Obama is coming off of victories in four states this weekend sending up warning flags over at Hillary Clinton's campaign.

And the Republicans will divvy up 113 total delegates. Republican John McCain is under pressure from the surprising surge by Mike Huckabee. The polls have just opened in Virginia. That's a live picture there from Alexandria. Not a lot of people go in just yet, but you do see a couple of souls walking out of the building there.

Obama and Clinton have put in a lot of time there. The voter turnout is expected to be record-breaking. What would a clean sweep today mean for Obama, and where would it lead the Clinton campaign? Joining me now from our Washington Bureau, CNN political analyst John Dickerson of "Slate" magazine. She got her clock cleaned over the weekend, John, even in Maine where she was favored to win. If he runs the table today, what kind of shape does that leave her in?

JOHN DICKERSON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it leaves her in bad shape because if he does well today, there are a couple more contests but it's really three weeks until the contest where she thinks she'll do well. That's a long time in politics. In fact, it's so long perhaps she might be able to bounce back. But there's lots of talk about whether her candidacy is really in a kind of a freefall. And so, she'll be in trouble if she takes more losses as she's expected today. The challenge for her then will be to change the story, bring up some other kind of conversation that she can be on the winning side of.

ROBERTS: You wrote on today, John, that there is reason for her to hope. What reason is there to hope?

DICKERSON: Well, she has a floor. There are parts of her coalition that have been relatively durable. She does well among white women, among older voters, among Latinos and among downscale voters. And so, we'll look for signs in today's results to see if she can hold on to those constituencies. The reason that's reason for her to hope is that perhaps those constituencies will be with her in these March 4th primaries. That seems an age from now, but she'll hope to be able to keep that strength regardless of how well Obama does today.

ROBERTS: In some ways, she has adopted to Rudy Giuliani campaign idea which is, she's going to try to make Texas and Ohio her firewall. A Democratic delegate quoted in the "New York Times," a superdelegate, by the way, quoted in the "New York Times" says, "She has to win both Ohio and Texas comfortably or she's out. The campaign is starting to come to terms with that." If she can't comfortably win Texas and Ohio, John, is it all but over for her?

DICKERSON: Well, unlike Rudy Giuliani, she's actually won something and she has won big states. California is an impressive state to win, so Giuliani had huge disastrous losses before his firewall state. So, she's in trouble but she's not as bad off as he was. She does have to win Ohio and Texas. All the marbles are on that. And even though you can work it out if she loses those states in a way that she might somehow come back, she would be in really, really bad shape if she lost Ohio and Texas.

ROBERTS: What about John McCain? He lost two out of three over the weekend. What kind of performance does he need to put in today to maintain the status as front-runner?

DICKERSON: He needs to do well today. He needs to win by big margins. He's getting lots and lots of endorsements now. He needs to get the endorsements of voters again.

ROBERTS: That's always the toughest endorsement to get. Isn't it?

DICKERSON: That's right and especially when Mike Huckabee keeps bouncing along and surviving. I think the McCain campaign likes Huckabee, actually, likes him now to go into retirement.

ROBERTS: I think so. Huckabee seems to have found a pocketful of miracles. John Dickerson in Washington for us this morning. John, thanks very much.

DICKERSON: Thanks, John.


CHETRY: Speaking of the GOP side, Senator McCain is trying to lock up today's three primaries in Maryland, D.C. and Virginia by proving that he can rally support from conservatives. His campaign announcing endorsements from former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, as well as evangelical leader Gary Bauer. Bauer praised McCain for his anti- abortion stance, saying he hopes to help party conservatives rally behind the front-runner.

Meantime, McCain has turned down nearly $6 million of government money known as matching funds for his primary campaign. The Federal Election Commission says McCain requested public funds last summer. It was to keep his cash-strapped campaign alive. Now, though, with his front-runner status, he's decided against taking that money which means he can take in and spend more if he makes it to the general election.

And Mike Huckabee says he is staying in the Republican race until the very end. The former Arkansas governor ignoring calls to drop out from McCain supporters, saying that he will not leave until someone has the majority of delegates.


MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: An interesting thing has been happening since last week. The National Media tried to say, well, the election is over, and the nomination is all secured. Someone forgot to tell me that because I decided that until somebody gets 1,191 delegates, by the rules that have been designed by the very party bosses who now want to shut it down, they said that's what it took to win. Ladies and gentlemen, until somebody gets that, we are in this race for you and for every other conservative American who wants a choice.


CHETRY: Huckabee says he will bow out if McCain gets the needed majority of delegates and that may not happen until the Pennsylvania primary which is April 22nd.

Reminder -- we'll have full coverage from the best political team on TV as voting gets under way. We're going to be getting a live report on the GOP race 6:30 Eastern from Mary Snow in Virginia. Also coming up at the top of the next hour, a live report from Suzanne Malveaux. She's with the Clinton campaign in Texas.

Meanwhile, Alina Cho joins us now with some of the other stories making news this morning. I was going to send you a BlackBerry yesterday about the BlackBerry outage.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I mean, you know, -- I thought it was just CNN. I thought it was just a CNN problem, a company problem. I mean, it's happened before but it was much wider than that, guys. Good morning, everybody.

If you're one of the millions of Americans addicted to your BlackBerry, you can breathe a lot easier this morning. Service has been restored across the U.S. and Canada, after a massive outage that lasted about three hours yesterday felt like a lifetime. About eight million users were affected. BlackBerry maker, Research in Motion, issued a brief e-mail statement after the outage confirming the problem and apologizing for the inconvenience. But there was no explanation on why it happened, still no explanation. Thankfully phone service was not affected. The last major BlackBerry outage was back in April when a minor software upgrade crashed the system.

The Justice Department is announcing major arrests in two separate spy cases, both involving the sale of U.S. military secrets. The Feds say the arrests were carried out in Virginia, Louisiana and southern California, and were not related. Four men have been charged with spying on the United States for the Chinese government.


KENNETH WAINSTEIN, ASST. ATTORNEY GENERAL: The threat is very simple. It's a threat to our national security and to our economic position in the world, a threat that is posed by the relentless efforts of foreign intelligence services to penetrate our security services and steal our most sensitive military technology and information.


CHO: One of the suspects could face 100 years behind bars. Prosecutors say the Chinese native spied out of a love for the motherland, not a desire to get rich.

A surprise ruling by a Federal judge involving the disappearance of some controversial White House e-mail. A private citizens group will look into the White House e-mail practices. The group claims more than 10 million e-mails were improperly destroyed and has called for a criminal investigation. The White House denies that happened. The e-mail problems were first revealed more than two years ago in the CIA leak probe.

Well, the writers strike could officially end today and the writers could be back at work as early as tomorrow. Members of the Writers Guild of America are expected to vote in favor of ending the three-month-old strike. And with the writers back at work, that means your favorite show, the least the comedies, could be back on the air in about four to six weeks.

Time to stock up on those Forever stamps. The U.S. Postal Service is raising the price of a first class stamp a penny from 41 cents to 42 cents. The increase will take effect in May, but the Forever stamp, of course, will always work. If you're mailing priority or express mail, those prices will go up, too, but those details will be announced later.

And for the first time in nearly 70 years, the beagle is king this morning. This is Uno, the one in the front there, the winner of the hound group at the Westminster Dog Show. It's the first time, by the way, a beagle has won the hound group since 1939. Uno now heads to the finals, the final seven, and a chance at Best in Show. That's tonight. No beagle has ever won that top dog honor.

CHETRY: And, of course, we're not highlighting this because our producer, Brian, has two beagles.


CHO: No, not at all.

CHETRY: It couldn't be. Why at all?

CHO: Not at all.

CHETRY: Very cute.

ROBERTS: Actually, it's a very good-looking beagle.

CHETRY: It is. He's all yours.

CHO: Three years -- yes. Three years old, 15 pounds.

ROBERTS: Alina, thanks very much.

CHO: You bet.

ROBERTS: Eleven minutes after the hour now. A deep freeze across parts of the northeast. Two feet of snow came down in upstate New York. Sorry, Kiran. Nothing in Manhattan. Police outside Rochester say there was a car stuck on the side of the road every 30 feet. Other cars and trucks were buried before you can even put them in drive. Wind chills were below zero across the region yesterday.

Rob Marciano at our weather desk tracking extreme weather this morning. And are we getting some relief today, Rob?

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: In spots. But in other spots, it's even worse. With an ice storm rolling across much of the Tennessee and Ohio Valleys, it's kind of getting ugly down here south and west. Let's take a look at where the watches and warnings are posted for this ice storm.

The red counties are winter storm warnings, and that's where you're seeing significant ice accumulation on top of what has already been some significant snow. We got some video out of Kentucky. There are 8,000 people who are without power at this point, and I suspect that that number will increase as we go on through time. Four inches of snow falling in this city, in Louisville, and now they're getting hammered with freezing rain, so not a good combination whatsoever. The bitterly cold air obviously in place from what everybody has been experiencing north and eastern third of the country, and now the moisture moving into the area. So the pinks -- that's where the nasty stuff is. That includes Cincinnati, back through Louisville, even in through Evansville and Indiana.

And look at this bright return. This is all -- this is rain but you get a sense for just how heavy that rain is, moving into that bitterly cold air. So we have more ice accumulation expected in the areas that already has seen -- they got it all overnight. So the town of Louisville and some of the surrounding areas shut down with schools closing and people just hunkering down.

Meanwhile, down to the south, we have some strong thunderstorms that are rolling through Little Rock, Arkansas. We just had a good line move through Dallas, Texas. You will be clearing out a big day as we go on through the next few hours.

Still bitterly cold across the northeast. Temps in the single digits and teens, but the track of the storm is going to bring it this way which means that New York City, for the most part, will be on the warm side of the storm, and that means that you have to live north and west really to get into the wintry type of precipitation. So it looks like New York City at least, you know, compared to everybody else, John, you'll be relatively spared. Most folks are enjoying some wintry weather this second week of February.

ROBERTS: The smile that Kiran had on her face just disappeared, Rob.

CHETRY: No, we want snow, Rob. Two to four inches, right? That's what we're looking at? Possibly two to four --

MARCIANO: You'll get a few inches and then it's going to turn to rain. So, you know --

ROBERTS: A little quickly.

MARCIANO: Yes. Get out there and enjoy it quickly.

CHETRY: All right. Thanks, Rob.

MARCIANO: All right.

CHETRY: Well, still ahead, living to 100? Apparently, it's easier than you think. Why researchers say that even with disease you can reach the century mark. Do you want to? How's the quality of life? Are we making improvements? We're going to have more on that story coming up.

Also, former baseball pitcher John Rocker's shocking charge that the league told him how to use steroids.


JOHN ROCKER, FORMER MAJOR LEAGUE PLAYER: If you take one kind of steroid you don't triple stack them and take them 10 months out of the year like Lyle Alzado did. You know, he was dead by the time he was 44 years old. If you do it responsibly, it's not going to hurt you.


CHETRY: Those are the claims that he's making, the advice that he got when he was a major league pitcher. He says even Bud Selig was in on it. Well, is it just outrageous talk or is it more ammunition for a government committee? We're going to take a look in our "Legal Brief" next on AMERICAN MORNING.


CHETRY: Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING. There are new accusations coming to light about steroids in baseball, just as pitcher Roger Clemens and his former trainer get ready to testify to before Congress. Now, former pitcher, John Rocker, no stranger to controversy, says that he failed the drug test in 2000. He says that Commissioner Bud Selig knew about it and did nothing, and that he also got advice on how to use steroids from people within Major League Baseball.

Rocker's comments came just a day before Roger Clemens is expected to testify before Congress. We're also learning that admitted HGH, human growth hormone user, Andy Pettitte, is sitting this one out, meaning he is not going to be testifying. So a lot going on with the steroid scandal.

AMERICAN MORNING legal analyst Sunny Hostin joins us now with more. Thanks for being with us. Now, John Rocker's words were not testimony at this point. This was actually a radio interview. But let's listen to a little snippet of what he told an Atlanta sports talk radio.



ROCKER: Bud Selig knew in the year 2000, John Rocker was taking the juice, didn't do anything about it. So right now, the Mitchell Report and what Roger Clemens is doing and all that kind of stuff, in Bud Selig's interpretation is to re-establish the integrity of the game. I'm concerned about the health of my players. No, you're not. You're concerned about getting people off your [bleep]. Excuse me if I keep using that language.


CHETRY: Now, Rocker's claiming that the commissioner of baseball went all the way up that high, that he knew about it as well. What does that mean legally for baseball and for Bud Selig?

HOSTIN: You know, baseball is in trouble. But the bottom line is, I think many people have said many players have come out and said, Kiran, we were using these drugs. People knew we were using these drugs. We were under extreme pressure to deliver, to do these sort of super human feats on the field. And so, I don't -- I don't think we should dismiss the fact that that may, in fact, be true. That they were using steroids and everyone knew about it because back then, you weren't even tested for this kind of thing.

CHETRY: Right.

HOSTIN: And so, you know, in terms of liability, I'm not sure that the players are going to have liability. I'm not sure that the commissioner is going to have liability. But certainly, I don't think we can just dismiss out of hand that this type of thing was happening and that people knew.

CHETRY: When people make comments like the ones that John Rocker has made. And he's actually contradicting himself, because a year ago when he did another interview, I believe, it was for ESPN Radio, he said that it was maybe a small amount of people using steroids in baseball. But when he makes these types of comments, does that then clear the way for these to be investigated further? I mean, those comments aren't going to be played in the courtroom, are they? Or in a Congressional hearing?

HOSTIN: Well, you know, they are his comments and let's say if he were to be made a defendant, those are comments that a defendant made. And so, that type of thing would come in. So, again, those comments wouldn't be just dismissed out of hand. He has impeached himself really and contradicted himself over and over and over again. But no one stepped forward when this first started happening, Kiran, and said, yes, I, you know, absolutely used steroids.

But I think what's interesting is that Roger Clemens really fell on his horse. He said I never used it. And now, we're hearing that Pettitte is saying, you know, I used them, and Pettitte and Clemens are very good friends and now Pettitte is not testifying.

CHETRY: So they're zeroing in on Roger Clemens.

HOSTIN: They are.

CHETRY: Why are they doing that when it seems to be so widespread and there are many others coming forward saying that steroids were a major part of baseball?

HOSTIN: He's got the huge name recognition. He's famous, popular and I think the bottom line is again, he is one of the only people that came out and said this is a lie. The Mitchell Report is wrong. The trainer is wrong. I never did it. And when you come out and you have that kind of statement, you have to expect that other people that have said something different are now going to say that's not true, and so I can't wait for this. This is going to be the steroid showdown as far as I'm concerned.

CHETRY: All right. We'll be watching. Sunny, thanks for being with us.

HOSTIN: Thank you.


ROBERTS: Twenty-one minutes after the hour. It's not immortality but it's getting closer. Why researchers say it is easier than ever to live to be 100. That's coming up.

And BlackBerry users across the U.S. panicking after service went down again yesterday. We'll tell you what the devices maker is saying and have tips on what to do if an outage happens again. Our Veronica de la Cruz joins us with that coming up next on AMERICAN MORNING.


ROBERTS: Twenty-four minutes after the hour, and it's "Hot Shots" time now.

A water rescue off of the coast of northeastern Australia. A yacht ended up on rocks overnight after a ride on rough waters. Rescue crews came down from the sky and pulled 32 passengers and crew members to safety. Despite a real rough crash, emergency workers say no one was injured.

And if you've got a "Hot Shot," send it to us. Head to our Web site at and follow the "Hot Shot" link. And remember, yesterday's "Hot Shot"? The fireball that came flying down the racetrack in Pomona, California.

Two-time defending Funny Car champion, Tony Pedregon, was inside of it and suffered second-degree burns to his hands. It turns out that his pregnant wife was watching as all of this happened. We're going to talk to both of them and show off Tony's singed racing suit. That's coming up at our 8:00 hour here on AMERICAN MORNING.

CHETRY: That suit really probably saved his life and he was still burned through it. So, it will be amazing talking about that.

We also have some news for your health this morning and a possible explanation for why more men play video games than women. Researchers at Stanford University say that games trigger the reward and addiction part of the brain that's more intense in males than females. A poll showing 40 percent of Americans play video games with young men, two to three times more likely to get hooked.

Tell that to my sorority sisters when Sonic the Hedgehog came out in college. I barely graduated.

ROBERTS: Another example that men are real easy.

CHETRY: The reward and addiction part of the brain, it's much, much bigger.

And new research from Boston University says living to 100 is much easier now, even for people with chronic diseases. Researchers say that it could be thanks to aggressively treating conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease, rather than assuming that old people or older people will not benefit from treatment. We're going to be talking with Dr. Sanjay Gupta at the top of the hour.

And it brings us to this morning's "Quick Vote" question. Would you want to live past 100? Cast your vote, We'll have the first tally of your votes later on this hour. Some disagreement here on the set.

ROBERTS: Would you want to live that long?

CHETRY: Absolutely.

ROBERTS: I'm afraid that the money would run out long before the years did. So --

CHETRY: We'll put a fund together for you, John. We want you around.

ROBERTS: I won't live past 100.

Hey, they're back up and running today. The BlackBerry users like all of us here at CNN are still trying to get over yesterday's massive outage. What did we ever do before these things?

Veronica de la Cruz here now with more. So what happened?

VERONICA DE LA CRUZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What did we ever do before this thing?

ROBERTS: I don't know. I used to ask what did we do before fax machines.

DE LA CRUZ: Well, you know, crackberry addicts -- are you one?

ROBERTS: I'm not an addict.


ROBERTS: This is necessary for work.

DE LA CRUZ: OK. No set program for John. But, you know, all the crackberry addicts said they're having a difficult time, Research in Motion or RIM, the company that makes these devices. Let's take a look at the Web site.

There was nothing on the Web site that explained why the service was out for a number of hours in North America. RIM has been notably slow after past outages to offer a piece of explanation, and we have tried unsuccessfully to get in touch with them this morning but so far nothing. I do want to mention that problems have been rare in the device's nine-year history. The last one happened last April. I think it's happened about twice in the past year, but it doesn't stop people from practically freaking out when these things do occur, and this morning many people are demanding answers from RIM. Others, however, are looking at the lighter side of things.

One blogger on, a tech blog had this to way, "Quick, call a meeting. People will pay attention for lack of anything else to do," which is so true. I mean, how many meetings do you sit, every single one has a BlackBerry.

ROBERTS: Sure. There are probably a few couples sat there and actually look at each other having dinner, right?

DE LA CRUZ: There are some ways, however, to work around a BlackBerry outage. The next time it happens, a lot of people don't know this, but you can send something called PIN to PIN messages. Each BlackBerry has an eight-digit I.D. number. You can go to options in your phone to find yours. And when you compose a message, you can enter a PIN number where you would normally put an e-mail address. Pin the PIN messages. Yesterday, we're not affected.

CHETRY: You know what the problem is with that, though? John told me you can tell if someone's read. You can tell me when it's been received...


CHETRY: You can have their PIN.

ROBERTS: Why is that a problem?

CHETRY: Because sometimes you just don't necessarily want to write back to someone right away, and you know you've read the message and you haven't written back.

DE LA CRUZ: And it's not secure. You can hack into PIN messaging, so you don't want to do it all.

ROBERTS: You can also text message, too, right?

DE LA CRUZ: You can text message if you have a phone. Not everybody's BlackBerry is their phone, so something you got to think about. I don't know. I was OK. It was actually -- it was kind of nice to have that peace and quiet for a couple hours, you know.

CHETRY: Yes, until they all come flooding in when the service is finally back up.


CHETRY: Looking at ding, ding, ding.

DE LA CRUZ: Exactly.

ROBERTS: Veronica, thank you so much.

DE LA CRUZ: Are you OK?

ROBERTS: Yes, I'm fine.

CHETRY: It's back and running. He's all good.

ROBERTS: I think I'm over it.

CHETRY: Still ahead, Michelle Obama tells Larry King how she feels about campaign attacks on her husband.


LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": There had to be days when you were a little ticked?

MICHELLE OBAMA, BARACK OBAMA'S WIFE: Of course, that's my husband. I love him. I don't want anybody to say anything bad about him.


CHETRY: More of Michelle Obama's candid thoughts about her husband and Hillary Clinton coming up.

And also like a scene from a movie, masked gunmen stealing pieces of art worth millions of dollars. How did they do it? Who's behind it? We got a live report on that and the rest of the day's top stories on AMERICAN MORNING.


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. It's Tuesday the 12th of February. Thanks for joining us on this AMERICAN MORNING. I'm John Roberts.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Kiran Chetry. And a big day ahead at least in what's known as the Potomac primary going on Maryland, Virginia and D.C. this morning.

ROBERTS: Not quite a Super Tuesday but certainly an important Tuesday. Call it the Potomac primary, the Beltway primary, whatever you want, two states and the District of Columbia voting today. Democrats are watching to see if Barack Obama can continue his string of victories and if Hillary Clinton can get her campaign back on track. 168 democratic delegates up for grabs today; 83 in Virginia, 70 in Maryland, 50 in the District of Columbia.

Hillary Clinton is campaigning in Texas this evening. Clinton advisers see Texas and Ohio as their firewall. That's coming up March the 4th. If Obama continues his winning streak they're going to need big wins there to offset that momentum. Senator Clinton is shrugging off talk of panic in her campaign. She spoke to WJLA TV and to Politico in Washington.


SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're winning the states that we have to win, the big states that are really going to determine whether democrats win. I have something in common with my husband. He never carried caucuses either. He lost all of the ones that I've lost.


ROBERTS: Looking ahead to a national campaign, if John McCain represents the republicans and Barack Obama becomes the democratic nominee, the latest Associated Press poll shows that Obama would edge McCain 48 percent to 42 percent. Obama heads to Madison, Wisconsin this evening, a state where polls show he is gaining strength that primary just one week away.

And Michelle Obama was on "LARRY KING LIVE" last night talking about her husband and his run for the white house. Larry asked her what she thought about the fierce battle under way with Hillary Clinton.


MICHELLE OBAMA, WIFE OF PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think she and Barack, as he says all the time, were good friends and colleagues before this race, and they'll be afterwards. I think, you know, the job that we all have as democrats is to come out of this thing united and ready to work towards a common purpose.

LARRY KING, HOST: There had to be days where you were a little ticked?

OBAMA: Of course, that's my husband. I love him. I don't want anybody to say anything bad about him but I would also, you know, be foolish to think that you would enter a race where you wouldn't hear somebody being critical of your husband. So I try not to take it personally.


ROBERTS: Tonight, Larry will be on a little bit later following our coverage of the Potomac primaries. That starts here on CNN at 8:00 eastern time. You can see Larry live at midnight eastern. Kiran?

CHETRY: The polls are already open at least in Virginia. People are voting right now. They opened at 6:00 Eastern Time. Polls open in Maryland and Washington, D.C. at 7:00 Eastern Time so just about 25 minutes from now and for the republicans, there are 113 delegates at stake; 60 in Virginia, 37 in Maryland, and 16 in D.C. Senator John McCain trying to reassure the doubters as well this morning.

Mary Snow is live in Alexandria, Virginia, with more on the republican race this morning. Hey, Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Kiran. We're at the Bryant Center in Alexandria. We are seeing a steady stream of people coming in to this polling place to vote. Senator John McCain, as you just mentioned, is hoping that victories here will help put him closer to the republican nomination, while Mike Huckabee is hoping to score an upset.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm very proud to have your support. SNOW: He won endorsements from former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and evangelical leader, Gary Bauer. Still, Senator John McCain could use a strong showing in today's Potomac primaries especially after losing two contests over the weekend.

MCCAIN: I hope that we'll do well here.

SNOW: But he didn't do well in Kansas, losing big to Mike Huckabee. He also lost in Louisiana. McCain did win Washington State by a narrow margin. That result is being challenged by the Huckabee camp which claims it was called too early. If McCain is worried, he isn't showing it.

MCCAIN: We're doing fine. We have some close to 800 delegates and the last time I checked Governor Huckabee has very few so I think I'm pretty happy with the situation that we're in.

SNOW: But McCain's losses are a signal some conservatives are not happy with him. Huckabee hopes it continues in Virginia.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think our victories in Kansas and Louisiana have shown them that this race is not over.

SNOW: Huckabee says he's staying in the race and that conservatives need a choice.

HUCKABEE: The reason that it is a dangerous direction for to us go when we no longer define life and we can't define marriage as being between a man and a woman.


SNOW: Now Virginia has a sizable evangelical population. Mike Huckabee is hoping evangelical also turn out for him but this is a state with a strong military population and of course, Senator John McCain is counting on those voters to turn out for him. Kiran?

CHETRY: All right. Mary Snow this morning in Alexandria, Virginia, where the polls opened 35 minutes ago, thanks, Mary. We're also going to have full coverage of the results. It all gets underway tonight at 8:00 in the CNN Election Center with the best political team on television.

ROBERTS: New this morning, a new plan to help people struggling with all home loans, not just sub prime mortgages. The Treasury Department and the Department of Housing and Urban Development are announcing Project Lifeline. It will allow homeowners whose payments are overdue to suspend foreclosures for 30 days while lenders try to create more affordable terms for them. It applies to homeowners who are late with their payments by 90 days or more. It involves the country's largest lenders including Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo and others. Those lenders are already involved in a plan aimed solely at sub prime mortgages. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson had been pushing to expand the plan to all home loans.

Firefighters in Georgia are still on the scene this morning of the deadly sugar refinery explosion near Savannah. Thermal imagining cameras found that there is as much as 10 or 12 feet deep worth of fire in some spots, making it hard to search for two workers still missing. Six workers died in the explosion and fire there.

Russia's defense ministry this morning says there was no flight violation when its bomber jet buzzed a U.S. aircraft carrier over the weekend. The jet flew twice over the USS Nimitz in the western Pacific at a low altitude about 2,000 feet off the deck. Russia's defense ministry says the flights are standard for air force training.

The International Space Station a little bit bigger this morning. Astronauts spent eight hours outside the station on Monday installing the new Columbus laboratory. The $2 billion lab is the biggest contribution to the station by the European space agency, and adds 2,600 cubic feet to the station and doubles its research output. That's about the size of the average New York apartment and just about the same price, too.

Free wireless Internet service coming to Starbucks. On a limited basis, anyone who uses a Starbucks card can get free Wi-Fi for two hours a day. It's part of a new deal between Starbucks and AT&T. Starbucks is ending its deal with T-Mobile which had been the chain's Wi-Fi provider since it introduced the program six years ago.

CHETRY: Another thing Starbucks is doing that may throw people for a loop. On February 26th, they'll be shutting down all of their stores for three hours to retrain their baristas so there's going to be a lot of people with Starbucks withdrawal banging on the floor.

ROBERTS: With the Blackberry.

CHETRY: With their faces against the door. Just plan ahead.

39 minutes past the hour. A lot of people digging their cars out to get to work this morning. Two feet of snow came down in parts of upstate New York. It's something they're used to in upstate New York but it certainly still doesn't make it easier. It's the battle with Mother Nature and oftentimes she wins. Cars stranded in snow banks along the highways and the storm heading east right now. Our Rob Marciano is tracking extreme weather for us. He joins us this morning. Hey Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hi Kiran, also tracking the attack of the killer stethoscope here. I want to show you the cold and flu report. This is not a political map although if it was, it looks like the republicans would win. Red is not good in this case, widespread reports of flu. According to the CDC, we are at the peak of flu season right now and I'm feeling it, too. So I hope you're feeling OK today.

Let's get to the weather. We have a significant ice storm that's rolling across the Ohio River valley so it will spread snow across parts of the northern great lakes but the Tennessee and Ohio River valley really in the pink, that's the nasty stuff, even a slight risk of seeing severe thunderstorms across the south. We've had a pretty good line of thunderstorms rolling through Dallas, Texas, earlier. They're driving south and east towards Tyler, and up towards Little Rock you had some rough weather as well, tremendous amount of moisture with these storms. You see the bright reflectivity. There's definitely some heavy rain and it's heading into colder air right about where Louisville is. We've had significant icing already on top of four inches of snow and heavy rain falling into the slim layer of cold air and that's freezing on contact, so Louisville and some other towns in Kentucky shutting down for now. 11 degrees currently in Albany. It's 6 degrees in Buffalo and 12 in Cleveland. So you would you think with the moisture heading into this cold air there we've got problems as well so winter storm warnings up for a good chunk of the northeast but it looks like the i-95 corridor will start off as snow, sleet, freezing rain it should change to all rain by the time tomorrow rolls around. John and Kiran, back to you.

ROBERTS: Thanks so much.

Van Gogh, Monet, works of art worth more than $160 million disappeared and so did the thieves. Today, whether you can help find them.

Drawings depicted the prophet Mohammed throughout the Muslim world, now there are protests to kill one of the cartoonists, ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


ROBERTS: Coming up on 15 minutes to the top of the hour, Ali Velshi here now "Minding Your Business" and if you're looking for a lifeline because of your mortgage woes, we may have found one today.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, it's a little bit more of a lifeline than the last mortgage proposal that was put out by the federal government. We're expecting an announcement by President Bush or possibly Henry Paulson, treasury secretary, and the housing secretary this morning, to talk about a new plan that is going to freeze foreclosures, put a hold on foreclosures. Let me tell you how it works. It's going to allow people who are 90 days or more past due on their mortgages to suspend the activity that the bank is taking to get their money. It's going to give the bank and the lenders a little bit of time to work out better terms.

It involves the same six major banks involved in the Hope Now Alliance. Those are the banks involved in the previous plan last year. It will probably expand beyond the these banks, Bank of America, Citigroup, Countrywide Financial, JPMorgan, Chase, Washington Mutual and Wells Fargo. This is a plan that is somewhat similar to what Hillary Clinton had been calling for, a freeze on foreclosures. There are two things now. We don't want to confuse them. There's a freeze on mortgage rates and APRs, which was announced in the previous plan, and this is a freeze on foreclosure activity, banks moving in to get their money. The idea here is to encourage homeowners who are in trouble to talk to their banks and work out some sort of a refinancing or repayment plan. The government's been under some pressure to do this because the last plan, while it helped some people, had some very specific criteria so a broad swathe of people in trouble with their mortgages didn't qualify. ROBERTS: And this goes beyond the sub prime mortgage?

VELSHI: Yes. In fact, you don't have to be sub prime. You just have to be in trouble with your mortgage and more than 90 days post due to be able to qualify for this. So this may be of more help than the last plan was. We're looking forward to seeing the details of this later this morning but that's the gist that we're getting.

ROBERTS: OK. Well, you're the detail guy. So we'll see you back in a while.

VELSHI: Very good.

ROBERTS: Ali, thanks. Kiran?

CHETRY: Baby boomers are starting to collect social security. Kathy Casey Kershling was born January 1st, 1946, one second after midnight, so it makes her the first baby boomer officially. She's a retired teacher who applied for retirement benefits online and she will be the first boomer to collect social security at a ceremony this morning in Vero Beach, Florida.

Thousands of legal immigrants can skip the FBI background checks, still get their green cards. We'll tell you why the government is relaxing its policy for becoming a permanent U.S. resident.

And also they are calling it one of the most audacious art robberies of all time. Millions of masterpieces stolen at gunpoint. Who is behind this? We'll take a look on AMERICAN MORNING.


ROBERTS: Ten minutes to the top of the hour. And if you're just joining us, here's a look at what's making headlines this morning. The U.S. government is making it easier for legal immigrants to get their green cards. The federal government will issue green cards to some 47,000 immigrants who have passed a fingerprint check but are still waiting more than six months for name check clearance from the FBI. The change is designed to ease a huge backlog of applicants for permanent residency in the United States but some critics say it creates a national security loophole that could be exploited.

If you're planning a trip to Europe, be prepared to get fingerprinted. "The Washington Post" reporting this morning that the European Union will propose all foreign travelers entering and leaving Europe be fingerprinted. The U.S. and Japan already require all foreigners to be fingerprinted and photographed before entering the country. Now European security officials want to follow suit. It's part of an effort on both sides of the Atlantic to share electronic data for security purposes.

Iran's president as defiant as ever during his speech to mark the 29th anniversary of the Islamic revolution. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says Tehran will continue nuclear development program despite international pressure to shut it down. He also announced plans to launch more research rockets into space in the next few months. Danish police have made several arrests in the connection for the plot to kill a cartoonist who drew the prophet Mohammad. A Danish newspaper first published the Mohammad drawings in 2005. They created an uproar in the Islamic world. The Islamic world generally opposes any depiction of the prophet. No word on how many suspects were arrested. The cartoonist has been living under police protection because of the alleged plot.

CHETRY: Well, Swiss police are asking for the public's health after masked gunmen pulled off one of the biggest art heists in European history. Four paintings including a Cezanne, Degas, a Van Gogh and a Monet, together worth more than $160 million, all taken.

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen is covering the story for us this morning from Berlin. Good morning, Frederik. Any leads?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well so far there are no leads, Kiran, but Swiss police say they are absolutely overwhelmed at how ruthless these art robbers were. And right now, all of Switzerland and all of Europe really is looking for these paintings and those who stole them.


PLEITGEN: Swiss police say the heist could be the work of a criminal gang from Eastern Europe, gone, four impressionist masterpieces worth more than $160 million. They took the paintings from this gallery in broad daylight. Police say the crooks knew exactly what they were after. "The burglars acted in a professional way," this Swiss police official says. "The whole robbery lasted only three minutes." Quick and brutal, three men with guns stormed the entrance to the museum and forced security personnel to the ground. Then they went straight to the exhibition room, ripped the masterpieces off the wall, took off in a car and disappeared. During the escape, some of the stolen paintings may have partially stuck out of the trunk, this policeman says. Experts wonder why it was so easy for the robbers to take the impressionist masterpieces. Like the blooming chestnut branches, Van Gogh painted this just weeks before he died and "The Boy In The Red Vest" worth almost $100 million alone. If the crooks do try to sell the paintings this man will likely know about it. Julian Radcliff tracks stolen art and knows how criminal gangs operate.

JULIAN RADCLIFF, THE ART LOSS REGISTER: If the police don't succeed in recovering these pictures in the next six or nine months, they may well be offered for sale in 10 or 15 years time, having been used in the underworld as a form of currency in the meantime.

PLEITGEN: Just last week, two Picassos were taken from a gallery just miles away. Police say that may have been the work of the same criminal gang.


PLEITGEN: And, Kiran, there is a reward set out for any clues leading to the recovery of these paintings but I did talk to Swiss police earlier this morning and they said, aside from the fact that one of the guys who went into that gallery appeared to have an eastern European accent, they don't have very much else and are wondering where the paintings could be.

CHETRY: What happens in these types of situations, they go into private collections perhaps and the paintings are never heard or seen again?

PLEITGEN: Well that's a very good question. One thing that art experts are saying is that basically it's almost impossible for these guys to sell these paintings. All of Europe is after these paintings. Authorities are after them. The owners are after them. They'll be hiring private detectives to try and find these paintings and everybody knows what they look like. One thing that the thieves might try to do is blackmail the gallery and try to get ransom for them but certainly one thing that one expert told me is that if, by any chance, they do manage to sell these paintings, it will only be for a fraction of what they're actually worth, Kiran.

CHETRY: Frederik Pleitgen for us this morning in Berlin, thank you.

ROBERTS: Well for Mike Huckabee the republican presidential race isn't over until all the delegates are counted.


HUCKABEE: Ladies and gentlemen, until somebody gets that, we are in this race for you and for every other conservative American who wants a choice.


ROBERTS: The former Arkansas governor says he's not going anywhere, more on why he's sticking around coming up.

And bitter cold and covered in snow, the aftermath of one winter storm and looking out for the next one, that's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


ROBERTS: Beautiful sunrise there over New York City with some clouds in the air, cold though. "Sun Coming up over New York City" which was George Bush's theme song in 2004, Mike Huckabee is using it now.

CHETRY: It's a beautiful sunrise.

Polls open in just about a minute in Maryland, and D.C. They've been open for an hour in Virginia, which is known as the Potomac primary.

Well, 100 is the new 85 they say. New research from Boston University says that living in a century mark is actually much easier now even for people with chronic diseases. One researcher says it's due to aggressive treatment rather than the age approach that elderly wouldn't benefit from treatment. Dr. Sanjay Gupta has been studying living longer and better and he's going to be joining us at the top of the hour with more on this and it brought us to our "Quick Vote" question of the morning. Would you want to live past 100? Right now 61 percent say, 39 percent of you including John Roberts say no way because you're afraid you're going to run out of money. Cast your vote at We'll tally your votes throughout the morning but you're right. You plan for retirement and now you've got to keep throwing some more money because people are living longer across the board.

ROBERTS: Typically people plan for about 15, 20 years of retirement, not 30.

CHETRY: Exactly.