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New Day

One on One Interview With President Barack Obama; Bookkeeper Talks Down Gunman

Aired August 23, 2013 - 06:00   ET


MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: And we have an incredible story of survival, a 51-year-old Florida fisherman thrown from his boat in stormy weather. He then spends the next 24 hours in the water, treading water 7 miles from the shore with no life vest. You'll find out how he managed to survive being stranded at sea.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: That is an amazing story.

Up first though, the exclusive interview, the commander in chief has a lot on his plate these days. We caught up with him in Syracuse, New York Thursday. We started with his college affordability plan, but he addressed major challenges abroad as well. We're going to bring in a distinguished panel of CNN correspondents to break down what the president tell us in the interview. But first let's start with our conversation with President Barack Obama.


CUOMO: Let's begin why you are here in Syracuse? Why are you doing this particular bus tour, what do you believe you can do to help lower the costs of college and give families who are struggling a chance to afford an education?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Couple things we're going to do. Number one, we want to create a new system of ratings for colleges so that parents and students know what schools graduate kids on time, good value for the money, lead to good jobs. The second thing we want to do is work with colleges who are doing some interesting things to figure out how do you reduce costs? Can you help young people graduate a little faster? And the third thing we want to do is to build on something we've already done which is to try to help students manage their debt. We've got a program right now where you never have to pay more than 10 percent of your income.

CUOMO: There's no question that the key to it is cost. The numbers, income 16 percent, college education costs going up by well over 200 percent, how do you make them stop, when they hold all the cards?

OBAMA: Well, when you look at public colleges and universities, part of what's happened is, state legislatures have dropped their support and so the universities, rather than thinking about how do we save money and do more with less, they just pass on automatically those costs to students. And we've got to put some pressure on state legislatures, if you are serious about training a great workforce in your state then you've got to invest in state universities and colleges and not just invest in prisons, which is part of what we did over a long period of time.

Now, one last element to it, once we develop the rating systems, part of what we're going to argue to Congress is that we should tie in some way the way federal financial aid flows to schools that are doing really well on this and not so much schools that aren't. If a school has a higher default rate than is does a graduation rate, we should give them a chance to improve, but ultimately we don't want kids saddled with debt. We want them to get a degree and a job.

CUOMO: You say this matters the most, this is the new reality for our economy is what you know.

OBAMA: Exactly.

CUOMO: You then tie it to the treasury rate. You make sure that students are going to borrow at a rate at a rate much higher than banks get because our government is effectively allowing banks to loan money to whomever they want and borrow themselves at about zero percent. Why not make it like the home mortgage and get the rates lower so the students don't pay more than banks or homeowners?

OBAMA: Chris, actually right now because of the deal that was cut they're not borrowing at a higher rate than your mortgage. That had happened because Congress hadn't acted.

CUOMO: Right.

OBAMA: They hadn't done anything. The key to understand the student interest rate has to stay low. If you're borrowing $100,000 and you're a teacher making 35, whether the interest rate is 3.5 percent or the interest is at 6 percent --

CUOMO: You're under water.

OBAMA: You're going to be under water. So what we need to do is to figure out how can you come out with less debt in the first place and keep those interest rates low, and that is achievable but to do that, everybody's going to have to work together.

CUOMO: Families certainly need to help. Let me ask you about some of the emerging situations. Most recently Syria, you've seen the images. You know the situation very well. Do you believe at this point you need investigate in order to say what seems obvious, which is that the U.S. needs to do more?

OBAMA: Well, we are right now gathering information about this particular event, but I can say that unlike some of the evidence we were trying to get earlier that led to a U.N. investigator going into Syria, what we've seen indicates clearly this is a big event, of grave concern, and we are already in communications with the entire international community. We're moving through the U.N. to try to prompt better action from them, and we've called on the Syrian government to allow an investigation of the site because U.N. inspectors are on the ground now. We don't expect cooperation given their past history and what I do believe is that although the situation in Syria is very difficult and the notion that the U.S. can somehow solve what is a sectarian complex problem inside of Syria, sometimes it is overstated.

CUOMO: But delay can be deadly, right, Mr. President?

OBAMA: There is no doubt that when you start seeing chemical weapons used on a large scale and, again, we're still gathering information about this particular event, but it is very troublesome.

CUOMO: There's strong proof they used them already in the past.

OBAMA: That starts getting to some core national interests that the United States has both in terms of us making sure that weapons of mass destruction are not proliferating, as well as needing to protect our allies, our bases in the region. This is something that is going to require America's attention, hopefully the entire international community's attention.

CUOMO: Senator McCain came on NEW DAY very strong on this. He believes that the U.S.' credibility in the region has been hurt, that a situation like Syria, that he believes, there's been delay, and it has led to a boldness by the regime there, that in Egypt that what many believe is a coup wasn't called a coup that led to the problems that we're seeing there now. Do you think that's fair criticism?

OBAMA: You know, I am sympathetic to Senator McCain's passion for helping people work through what is an extraordinarily difficult and heart-breaking situation, but what I think the American people also expect me to do as president is to think through what we do from the perspective what is in our long-term national interest. Sometimes what we've seen is folks will call for immediate action, jumping into stuff that does not turn out well, gets us mired in very difficult situations, can result in us being drawn in to very expensive, difficult, costly interventions that actually breed more resentment in the region. We have to think through strategically what is in our long-term national interests even as we work cooperatively internationally to put pressure on those who would kill innocent civilians.

CUOMO: The red line comment you made was about a year ago this week. We know there are things that should qualify for crossing that red line.

OBAMA: Chris, I've got to say this. When we take action -- let's just take the example of Syria. There are rules of international law, and you know, if the U.S. goes in and attacks another country without a U.N. mandate and without clear evidence that can be presented then there are questions whether international law supports it, do we have the coalition to make it work and you know, those are considerations that we have to take into account.

CUOMO: You don't believe we've seen enough?

OBAMA: Keep in mind, Chris, we've still got a war going on in Afghanistan. We're still spending tens of billions of dollars in Afghanistan. I will be ending that war by the end of 2014, but every time I go to Walter Reed and visit wounded troops and every time I sign a letter for a casualty of that war I'm reminded that there are costs, and we have to take those into account as we try to work within an international framework to do everything we can to see Assad ousted, somebody who has lost credibility, and to try to restore a sense of a democratic process, and stability inside of Egypt.

CUOMO: Doesn't have to be military of course. I take your point, Mr. President. When you look at Egypt it's an example of that. Senator McConnell is saying I think it's time to vote on the aid and whether or not you give it.

OBAMA: Right.

CUOMO: That's a non-military measure that could make a difference.

OBAMA: My sense is with Egypt is that the aid itself may not reverse what the interim government does, but I think what most Americans would say is that we have to be very careful about being seen as aiding and abetting actions that we think run contrary to our values. So what we're doing right now is doing a full evaluation of the U.S. and Egyptian relationship. We care deeply about the Egyptian people.

There was a space right after Mr. Morsy was removed in which we did heavy and diplomatic work to try to encourage the military to move to a path of reconciliation. They did not take that opportunity. It was worth it for us to try that, despite folks who wanted more immediate black and white action or statements. Ultimately what we wanted was a good outcome.

CUOMO: Is there a shorter time frame in terms of what the U.S. can use as a period of decision in Egypt?


CUOMO: It's a more abbreviated time frame now?



CUOMO: All right, we're going to have more with the president ahead, he's going to talk about the budget battle, the Republican Party, the surveillance programs. But first let's go through what the president just said because they're important issues and we have key reporters with us this morning, Arwa Damon is senior international correspondent joining us from Beirut, Jim Acosta, of course, CNN senior White House correspondent traveling with the president from Bingham to New York. Thank you both for being with us. Appreciate it.

Arwa, let's start with you. I think the most important thing suspect last thing we heard, the timetable, that it's shortened now. What do you think about the statements made on Syria and Egypt, what will be the impact?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think at the very least there's this acknowledgment finally by President Obama that time is of the essence. The key critical issue has been Syria's inability to take concrete action for a number of reasons that, yes, are understandable, but one could also argue if the U.S. was able to read the situation in the Middle East and Syria, we wouldn't be where we are.

It is well-known al Qaeda thrive rife in a vacuum and that is what was created inside Syria. Assad regime played this game because it is at the end of the day a political deadly game. The Assad regime played it very well. The U.S. has consistently failed to act in a way that is going to dial back the various impacts that the Syrian conflict is going to be having on the region. America at this point cannot afford to continue to watch from the side lines.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Jim, I want to bring you back to the issue where the president, you're traveling with the president, he's taking this two-day bus tour to talk about trying to make college more affordable for Americans. I think everyone would agree that is something families across the country want, but in talking about this, he acknowledges that he needs congress to make some changes here. He also knows the president that his relationship with Congress is not a good one, so why do you think the president thinks it's going to be different this time around on this issue?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Kate, I'm not sure they think it is going to be different this time around. You heard Republicans on Capitol Hill saying they don't like this plan coming from the president. Marco Rubio was one who instantly fired off an e- mail saying we don't need a college rating system coming from the federal government. Getting back to what Arwa was saying about Syria and Egypt, I think what you heard in that interview with Chris is very important, that there is this indication coming from the White House that perhaps the window is closing on the Syrian government in terms of what the president might do.

And it sounds like he wants to line up three things, he wants clear evidence chemical weapons were used and a U.N. mandate and a coalition. If he gets those you get the impression the president is closer to making a decision.

CUOMO: Jim, picking up on your point, it is easy to point the finger at the U.S. the president made that point himself, everybody expects us to do the most because we are more capable than others, but is there something to the notion that it can't be the U.S. going alone. It does have to be coalition based, otherwise you run into problems of imperial behavior.

ACOSTA: Right.

CUOMO: How does that play in Congress in terms of negotiating what we do versus what the larger we, the U.S. versus the coalition?

ACOSTA: Chris, I thought there was a very interesting moment in your interview when the president said there are folks who want to jump in and maybe not worry about the consequences later. Those aren't exactly his words but essentially that's what he said. There's almost a thought bubble coming out of his head that showed Lindsey Graham and John McCain, who have been urging the president to do a lot more lately. He didn't called them out. He didn't basically criticize them personally, but he made it clear this not a president who is going to have sort of an interventionist attitude when it comes to the Middle East.

And the president said we've got another war happening in Afghanistan right now. Chris, you brought up the fact that he made this red line comment about a year ago and ever since then people have been asking and to Arwa's point does this red line make a huge difference in the grand scheme of things, but you do get the sense from the president from looking at those images in Syria that perhaps what's happened this week, and he's said this before t is a bit of a game changer for this White House and for this administration.

You know, we heard from a senior defense official yesterday, Chris and Kate, who said the president is now, that the military is now revising their options for dealing with Syria. So it does sound like the tone has changed, Chris and Kate.

CUOMO: All right.

Obviously, when we see the images from the ground in Egypt and especially in Syria, it pushes the need to make it stop. But as the president was trying to point out, the idea of just jumping into military action, there's a lot that goes on with that.

For now, Arwa and Jim, thank you very much for joining us. Appreciate the input this morning.

We're going to have more with the president. We're going to talk to him about that brave school clerk, Antoinette Tuff. She's on all of our minds. She got to speak to the president about how she stopped this gunman, surely saving lives.

You think it's impressive being the president? Well remember, this man has teenaged daughters, something else we talked to him about and it's the human side of what's going on in the president's life, it's very interesting.

And then, of course, he's going to talk about home grown issues, how does he get Congress to work on something like college affordability, on the budget process, what's going to happen when they come back. And a big issue in everybody's mind, the NSA scandal, the surveillance programs and his defense of them.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: And do people have confidence in their government because of the information coming to light because of the surveillance programs.

We'll get to that but there is a lot of news developing at this very hour. So, let's get straight to Michaela for the latest.

PEREIRA: All right. Let's get to the headlines right now.

State of emergency declared in California after the Rim Fire more than triples in size. That massive spreading fire near Yosemite has now scorched more than 63,000 acre, shut down businesses and forced tourists to clear out. This is what the fire fight looks from the air. This is a C-130 dropping fire retardant and Phos-Chek on the inferno. Containment decreased from 5 percent Wednesday to just 1 percent Thursday night.

Army Private Bradley Manning wants to live as a woman and be called Chelsea Manning in prison. His attorney is promising to win the convicted the leaker the right to undergo proper medical treatment behind bars. Military officials say Manning will receive mental health counseling at Leavenworth but the Army does not provide hormone therapy for gender identity disorder.

In Spokane, Washington, police are looking for two teenage suspects who they say beat a World War II veteran to death. Look at these surveillance pictures. Investigators say these are the suspects, people who knew 89-year-old Delbert Belton are in disbelief. They say he survived getting shot at while serving in Okinawa during the war only to be savagely beaten to death here at home.

Embattled San Diego Mayor Bob Filner could resign today over accusations of sexual harassment. This afternoon, the San Diego City Council will consider a proposal reached after three days of mediation between Filner and city officials. CNN affiliate KGTV says if they approve the deal, Filner is out. On Thursday, an aide to city council member Scott Sherman posted Twitter pictures and a YouTube video of Filner moving boxes out of his office.

Another embarrassing glitch in Wall Street. NASDAQ officials blaming a faulty data link for a three-hour crash that halted trading Thursday. America's second largest stock market out of commission starting just afternoon. Investors were finally able to buy and sell tech stocks for the final 35 minutes of the session. NASDAQ officials say the problem has since been fixed.

And you might have wondered or maybe you haven't, how exactly does Ben Affleck look in a cape and cowl? We are going to find out, my friends. The Academy Award winner has just been cast as Batman, in the sequel to this summer's hit, "Man of Steel".

This announcement is getting all sorts of feedback on Twitter. Some do not think that Ben is the best choice. The top trending topic is #betterbatmanthanbenaffleck. And some of the pics, Steve Buscemi, Judy Dench.

BOLDUAN: That would be amazing.

PEREIRA: And the leg from "The Christmas Story."

BOLDUAN: Oh, the leg lamp? That would be a pretty mean Batman.

CUOMO: Wow, I can't believe. So, you're telling me that Twitter has a lot of people being nasty about this subject.

PEREIRA: This was our breaking news.

BOLDUAN: Do you sense the sarcasm in his voice this morning? Thanks, Michaela.

PEREIRA: You're welcome.

BOLDUAN: Let's get straight to Indra Petersons, keeping track of the latest forecast on this fine Friday.

Hi, Indra.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, not too bad. You guys like the thunderstorms yesterday? I loved it.

But the thunderstorms are moving out of the area, which is good news for pretty much everyone else that doesn't like the rain. We're talking about that the cold front making its way through the mid- Atlantic and eventually into the Southeast today.

So, about another day of rain in the area, but it's all clearing out, going to be gorgeous for the weekend, not only the Northeast but improving conditions into the Southeast where they saw so much rain. I want to point, they're still going to get the scattered showers another day or so, but the pattern is changing. This is the key -- dome of high pressure building in, which means to everyone else drying out. Much improvement in the Southeast, but also in the Northeast, going to be gorgeous.

Look at these temperatures below normal, even 70s as we go through an entire weekend, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, looks good. I'll take it. Send it my way.

Here we go -- here's what it looks like on the West Coast, a lot of the moisture staying north of the fire zones themselves, and Southeast of the fire zone. So, not really where we want to see that relief around Yosemite. And the other way to look at it, of course, is the humidity numbers, very low in the area -- Yosemite only seeing teens. So, 17 percent humidity.

The big change in the Southwest, will be a lot of tropical moisture kind of moving in. We have a tropical depression out there and eventually all that moisture similar to what we saw in the Southeast this week we're going to start seeing in the Southwest, all that tropical moisture moving into the four corners, heavy flooding concerns.

BOLDUAN: All right. We'll watch it. Thanks, Indra.

CUOMO: All right. We're going to take a break here on NEW DAY. When we come back, we'll have more with the president. The commander-in- chief on why Americans should trust government surveillance programs. He also talks about what it's like to raise two daughters and their new dog he's talking about.

But he also had a special phone call with somebody who is now a big hero in our country.

BOLDUAN: A very special phone call you really only see here on CNN.

Plus, a school bookkeeper in Georgia becomes a national hero overnight. Antoinette Tuff gets to meet the 911 operator who helped her disarm a dangerous gunman. You want to see this introduction.


BOLDUAN: Welcome back to NEW DAY.

An emotional reunion only on CNN, stemming from the Georgia school shooting. Just look at those two meeting for the first time. Antoinette Tuff has become a national hero for her remarkable bravery talking the gunman into surrendering on that dramatic 911 call at a Georgia school.

Thursday, she got a chance to meet the dispatcher who stayed with her on the line through the entire ordeal.

Martin Savidge is at the CNN Center in Atlanta with more on this.

Good morning, Martin.


Yes, just if you thought that maybe you had seen everything this story had to offer, you would feel all of the emotion, you had seen all of the power, you should have been watching Anderson Cooper last night because it just became even more amazing. If you saw it, it's worth a second look. If you missed it, you're in luck because here it is again.


SAVIDGE (voice-over): It was an amazing moment only on CNN. For the first time, Antoinette Tuff, the coolest, calmest hero you've ever heard, meets the 911 operator who had been the other voice at the end of that emergency call.



SAVIDGE: Kendra McCray said, like everyone else, she was in awe of Tuff.

KENDRA MCCRAY, 911 OPERATOR: She is a true hero.

SAVIDGE: The two women recalling for Anderson Cooper the horror of that day.

MCCRAY: When she said he's right here at the door, and it's like I can see him through just her words.

SAVIDGE: But their fear was never evident in the 911 call that has riveted America.


ANTOINETTE TUFF, ELEMENTARY SCHOOL HERO: Ooh, he just went outside and started shooting. SAVIDGE: Tuff revealed the man's first shot was into the floor, just a few feet away.

TUFF: He actually took the shot to allow me and the other person that was in there to know that this was not a game and that he was not playing. And that this was serious.

SAVIDGE: She also knew the lives of 800 students hung in the balance.

TUFF: You start seeing all this movement and he actually went to that door with the gun drawn to start shooting. And the media person was there and he looked him dead in his face and started drawing his gun up.

So, I started talking to him. I said come back in. Stay in here with me. Don't go anywhere. Stay in here.

SAVIDGE: And so began one of the most frightening and fascinating negotiations ever recorded.

TUFF: He said to tell them to back off. He don't want the kids. He wants the police. So, back off.

SAVIDGE: The scariest moment Tuff says was watching the man methodically load the gun.

TUFF: He had bullets everywhere on top of magazines. So, I knew when he made the last call that he was going to go because he loaded up to go.

SAVIDGE: Yet instead of feeling fear or anger, Tuff says she felt compassion, recalling her own personal heart breaks, even contemplating suicide.

TUFF: I had been in that devastating moment when all of the things happened to me. So, I knew that that could have been my story.

SAVIDGE: Just before her CNN interview, Tuff got another surprise, ironically, over the phone, from the president of the United States.

TUFF: He just wanted to let me know that him and his wife and his family was very proud of what I had did and everybody wanted to thank me.

SAVIDGE: Tuff gives all credit to her faith, believing her role was part of a heavenly plan.

TUFF: I feel like I helped somebody in need, that God was able to use me. It was an honor to be able to be used.


SAVIDGE: You know, two very remarkable women who relied on faith, they relied on each other and they became together the perfect counterweight to hate -- Chris and Kate.

BOLDUAN: Perfect way of saying it, Martin, thank you so much. What a dynamic duo in those two women.

CUOMO: Absolutely. And, you know, Martin's right, you can't get enough of it because it's a situation we just see so rarely, somebody stepping up in that situation.

BOLDUAN: It ends well because of people who are put in extraordinary situations.

CUOMO: I tell you who was impressed about it. We're going to take a break here on NEW DAY, but the president.

When we come back, we'll have more on our interview with the president. He talks about Antoinette Tuff. He also takes on big issues here at home -- NSA surveillance, working with Congress, and he opens up on a personal side a little bit. He fills us in about what it's like to raise the two daughters that he has as they're getting older.

BOLDUAN: The poor thing. I don't have kids but I can say that.

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