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Holiday Travel Alert; Birth Control Showdown

Aired November 26, 2013 - 18:00   ET



JIM ACOSTA, CNN GUEST HOST: Happening now, buckle up for delays. Stand by for up-to-the minute reports on a deadly winter storm in the holiday travel mess that's getting worse by the hour.

Plus, define China. The United States unleashes B-52 bombers into a disputed defense zone. Now we're learning that a Chinese aircraft carrier is on the move.

And birth control showdown. Could you lose your insurance coverage for contraception because of your boss' religion?

Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm Jim Acosta. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

It's a messy, stressful and dangerous holiday nightmare. And if you haven't started your Thanksgiving travel yet, beware. Some of the worst weather is yet to come. A blast of snow and arctic wind is moving into the Northeast as Americans gear up for the busiest travel day of the year tomorrow.

Look for many more flight delays and cancellations affecting major airports. You may be watching us at one of those airports right now. In all, 100 million people could feel the impact of this storm before the holiday weekend is over. We have team coverage on the roads and in snow and at the airports and in our Weather Center.

We begin with CNN's George Howell in Buffalo, New York -- George.


So a light dusting coming down here in Buffalo, New York. But this is just the beginning. They're expecting here in the city anywhere from four to six inches of snow and in what they call the south towns and also the outer tier and Northwestern Pennsylvania. They're expecting anywhere from six to eight inches, even a foot of snow in this area. But, again, this is all playing out right around Wednesday, the worst of it tonight, one of the busiest, if not the busiest travel day of the year, but here in Buffalo, they deal with snow like Miami deals with sun.

They know what to do. We talked to city officials about their snow plan. It involves a lot of plows and a lot of salt. Take a look.


STEVEN STEPNIAK, BUFFALO PUBLIC WORKS COMMISSIONER: This salt here, there's roughly 2,500 ton here. This can cover the city for, like, two days in a bad event. We always keep salt in reserve. We go through salt as needed. We have electronic spreaders that tell us how much we can be throwing at that time and how much we need to throw based on temperatures and conditions.

HOWELL: What's your biggest worry with this event coming here into Buffalo?

STEPNIAK: Well, we just want to make sure that people slow down, they allow themselves ample time to travel, because we know it's a big travel time.


HOWELL: So, you know, there's no snow story like no snow in the story, but given the next 12 hours, Jim, we do expect that situation to change here.

ACOSTA: OK, George, snow in Buffalo, not a huge development, but of course we want people there to be careful there. George Howell, thank you so much.

Of course, the rest of the country, and especially here in the Northeast, things may get dicey. One-third of the country lives in the Northeast. The nation's capital is among the big cities bracing for a weather wallop.

CNN's Tory Dunnan is at Freedom Plaza here in Washington.

Tory, I grew up in this area. This area does not handle this kind of weather very well, especially around the holidays. What are you seeing?

TORY DUNNAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I grew up here too. And everything shuts down. Everyone freaks out.

The hope in D.C. is that it sticks to rain, because that's what we're seeing right now. We are seeing the rain come down, some of the slick roadways and just some traffic tie-ups. This is going to be a frustrating few days for drivers, because normally they might say let's just hit the roadway, skip all this airline travel and it will be easy. It is dangerous out there.

This whole system is already responsible for more than 100 car crashes. And I want to put this into perspective for you, because AAA has released numbers. And they say more than 90 percent of Thanksgiving travelers are drivers. Even beyond that, they say they are already expecting those drivers are going to need help with roadside assistance, saying that probably than 320,000 drivers will be calling for help.

They expect that number to go up. So, Jim, it's going to be a dicey situation over the next few days. They do still think that tomorrow is going to be the busiest travel day for those drivers, but maybe up in New England they might wait a day or stay home. But hopefully, Jim, if you're there and you're eating turkey with your grandmother, you will forget any of this ever happened.

ACOSTA: All right, mom, I'm on the way. Don't worry. This won't get in the way of our travel plans in our household.

Thank you very much, Tory, and stay dry. We appreciate it.

Every big airline has a major hub in the path of this treacherous holiday storm.

CNN's Martin Savidge is at the world's busiest airport, Hartsfield- Jackson International, in Atlanta.

Martin, it's the world's busiest. Is it also the world's most stressed out right now?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know Hollywood? It's starting. You can feel the stress levels are starting to climb a bit.

Good evening, Jim. Yes, as a matter of fact, when I spoke to you earlier today, things were a little better. They have had heavy rain throughout the day here. The system seems to have been handling it fairly well, but it's started to shift now. This board doesn't necessarily tell it all and it certainly doesn't tell it all for most of the airlines, but for Delta it does.

It was pretty much on time all day, but as the afternoon and as now as we turn to the evening it's gotten more and more with delays. The delays aren't huge. Delta says they're maybe about 15 to maybe 30 minutes. They're actually a number of flights that are delayed a lot longer than that.

But they say, all in all, they're actually handling things very well. The problem is, it's not just this airport. There are others that feed in here and then this one feeds off to somewhere else. And any delay in that system, well, that's how you get the delays on the board here.

Today was a relatively easy day. Tomorrow, traffic ramps up. By the end of this week, in other words, the holiday, 1.8 million passengers expected to pass through here. Unfortunately, it's looking like it won't be a problem-free journey -- Jim.

ACOSTA: And, Martin, I can see those eyes peering up at the screens behind you. My guess is that that crowd is going to get larger as the next couple of days move on.

Martin Savidge at Hartsfield, thank you very much, Martin. We appreciate it.

SAVIDGE: That's the TV they want.

ACOSTA: That's right. That's right.


ACOSTA: All right, thanks, Martin.


ACOSTA: Still ahead: a top Hollywood producer behind the film "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" and many others admitting to a secret life as a spy.

And is China getting ready to respond to a challenge by U.S. warplanes? It's a sensitive situation unfolding right now.


ACOSTA: We're learning that China's only aircraft carrier is on the move after a direct challenge by the United States. Two U.S. warplanes flew over the East China Sea in a disputed area that China's claiming as an air defense zone. Beijing also is involved in territorial disputes in the South China Sea, where that aircraft carrier is heading.

Let's bring in our CNN Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

Barbara, this sounds serious. What's going on here?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, China certainly flexing its muscle with its military and its navy.

It was over the weekend that the Chinese declared this air exclusion zone and said any military flights entering it had to file flight plans and declare their intentions with Beijing. The U.S. said no thank you, we won't be doing that, because it's international airspace by U.S. rules.

Let's take a look at what really happened on Monday. Two B-52 aircraft flew their flight path from Guam, their home base, and flew to the East China Sea. They flew right through the air zone. They did not declare a flight plan or any of their intentions, then spent about an hour in that region, turned around and flew back to Guam without incident.

The U.S. says it was a training mission and that they do this all the time. And they see no reason to obey these new, what they view, Chinese demands. Both sides talked about it over the weekend, the U.S. pressing the Chinese, even with this disagreement with Japan over the territories, over the islands in the region, not to cause more problems in this very, very sensitive area -- Jim.

ACOSTA: A potential confrontation in the making. Barbara Starr, we know you will stay on top of it. Thank you.

A bombshell confession from a top Hollywood producer who's worked with some of the biggest names in entertainment. While he was making hit movies, he also had a secret occupation as a spy.

CNN entertainment correspondent Nischelle Turner is in New York with the details. Nischelle, what do we know about this? This sounds like a movie.


This is the first time that Arnon Milchan has spoken publicly about these revelations. And you said it. This story sounds like one of the plot lines of the movies that he produces.


TURNER (voice-over): Justin Timberlake, Vince Vaughn, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, just a few of the stars Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan has rubbed shoulders with.

But it's his story that should be made into a movie. The Israeli-born businessman between hits like "12 Years a Slave," "Pretty Woman" and "Fight Club" says he spent years as an Israeli secret agent and arms dealer. In a stunning interview that aired Monday on an Israeli investigative program, Milchan detailed how he was recruited in the 1960s to Israel's Bureau of Scientific Relations, where he helped gather technology to further Israel's still unacknowledged nuclear program, saying -- quote -- "I did it for my country, and I'm proud of it."

Milchan moved to Hollywood in the 1970s, but he suggested his efforts on behalf of the Israeli government didn't end completely. Milchan indicated other big Hollywood players were also involved, saying -- quote -- "When I came to Hollywood, I detached myself completely from my physical activities to dedicate myself to what I really wanted, filmmaking. But sometimes it gets mixed up."

The 68-year-old Milchan owns New Regency Films and has produced more than 120 movies, working closely with directors such as Martin Scorsese and Oliver Stone. He forged an especially close relationship with actor Robert De Niro, who was also featured in the Israeli television program.

ROBERT DE NIRO, ACTOR: I did ask him once. We spoke about something. And he told me that he was an Israeli and that he, of course, would do these things for his country.

TURNER: In a story that seems reminiscent to last year's Oscar- winning true-to-life film "Argo" that depicted the CIA-Hollywood collaboration to rescue U.S. diplomats stuck in Iran, it's a safe bet Hollywood execs will be fighting to bring this story to the big screen too.


TURNER: Now, we reached out to Milchan today for comment, Jim, but we were told he is traveling in Europe and unavailable.

I have been covering all things Hollywood for a while, Jim, and not much surprises me that goes on there these days, but this, this is a wow story. ACOSTA: This is. And it's too bad he's unavailable. When he's available, he should come out on THE SITUATION ROOM and tell his story to Wolf Blitzer.


TURNER: I love it. Put it out there, baby. We will get him.

ACOSTA: Sounds good. All right, Nischelle, thank you so much.

TURNER: All right.

ACOSTA: Just ahead,birth control vs. religion. The Supreme Court takes on a new case that could cause big problems for some women and for President Obama.


ACOSTA: All right, new problems for the president.

Brand-new CNN polling shows Democrats are losing their edge over Republicans with the midterm election year right around the corner.

At the same time, the Supreme Court has agreed to decide if a company can refuse to provide insurance coverage for birth control if employers say that violates their religious beliefs. It's all part of the Obamacare backlash.

We're joined by our CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger, CNN political commentators Cornell Belcher, who is a Democratic strategist, and Kevin Madden, who is a former strategist for Governor Mitt Romney.

Gloria, let's start with this development with Obamacare. We obviously know the Supreme Court is not taking the entire case again, and it's this issue of contraception. What do you think is going to happen politically for the president and Republicans?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Sort of it's a little deja vu. You remember something called -- and you might remember this, Kevin -- the war against women? Do you remember that? Because that's going to come back.

And, you know, the White House has already put out a statement saying that health care decisions should be between a woman and her doctor. And you will remember, I don't have to remind you, sorry to keep picking on you, but that the president beat Mitt Romney with women by 11 points, with young women, 2-1.

ACOSTA: Was it because of contraception?

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Look, I have no doubt Gloria's right. And I think that Cornell will affirm this for us that Democrats are going to try and use this again as an effort to again drum up this fake war on women they used in the 2012 campaign.


MADDEN: But Obamacare, this is an issue that, again, I think is now going to be -- it's shifted. Obamacare is more about -- with voters, it's more about what the government promised them about this law and how it would affect them and how none of that has been true, and I think right now the lens through this issue which will be fought with is employers.

So many employers are being affected by this law negatively and so many of their employees are being affected by this law negatively. And that will be the bigger political problem.


Here's the problem for Republicans. No woman should have her health care decisions dictated by her boss. That is just fundamental. Democrats do win when they drive a gender gap. And guess what? This is another issue that gives Democrats an opportunity to drive a gender gap because you know what? And 90 percent of women, they have taken contraception at one point in their life.

This is not a fringe issue. This is a central health care issue for millions and millions of American women and the Republicans are on the wrong side of it.

ACOSTA: The last thing the president needs -- and we will move on here -- is Obamacare at the Supreme Court. I will just leave it at that.


BELCHER: Well, we have had a pretty good outcome with Obamacare at the Supreme Court.

ACOSTA: It was a close one.


MADDEN: If we're talking about Obamacare all next year, that's good.

ACOSTA: Good point.


ACOSTA: Now, let's talk about this new CNN poll that came out today, because I thought this was quite striking.

You remember the government shutdown and what happened to Republicans then. Registered voters' choice for Congress back in October, 50 percent for Democrat, 42 percent for Republicans. That has now flipped. It is now Republicans who have the edge in this question with voters.

And, Gloria, how tables have turned, how fortunes have been reversed.

BORGER: You're up, you're down. You're up, you're down. ACOSTA: The tidal nature of politics?

BORGER: Right.

After the shutdown, the Republicans were losing on this, what we call the generic ballot. Now it's -- look, the public is fickle because they don't like anybody. OK? There is no brand loyalty anymore, Democrat, Republican.

They're just like looking at Washington and saying, get your job done. So, the Democrats, if the rollout of Obamacare was a disaster, OK, it's your problem. If the shutdown was a disaster for Republicans, it's your problem. They're kind of like show me what you can do and they don't like what they see.

ACOSTA: And, Kevin, can you hang on to this edge? The Obamacare issue has been the gift that keeps on giving. Will it continue to give for another 12 months?

MADDEN: The shutdown definitely changed the atmospherics. But I think the long-term negative effects of Obamacare is what's going affecting the electoral right now.

Obamacare, before its implementation, before October 1, was like a 47- 41 percent issue, where 47 percent of the people were against it and 41 percent were for it. But you could say it was competitive. Now it's shifted to like a 60-40 issue, because people are actually seeing it implemented. And the most mobile part of the electorate, which was a little bit more fickle, they have actually swung in a big way against Democrats.


ACOSTA: But, Cornell, I have talked to administration officials who really feel like once they get the Web sites, if and when they get the Web site fixed, that a lot of this is going to go by the wayside. Are you hanging your hopes on that?

BELCHER: Here's a couple problems with this.

First of all, it's sort of the context of this. Look, I think Kevin will agree with me. Any sort of generic advantage a year out means nothing, because a year in politics is forever. And you will remember a year out, most of you all said that Dems were going to lose the Senate and in fact we did not.

But here's the problem for Republicans. "The Washington Post" headlines this past Sunday was a problem for Republicans. It said in rural Kentucky, the health care debate takes a back seat as rural Kentuckians line up to get health care.

Look, when you have millions of Americans who have never had the opportunity to get health care before in their lives, especially in rural parts of this country, red states, red areas of this country getting the opportunity to see what health care, what Obamacare is up close and personal, it's going to change the dynamics of this conversation.

I don't think Democrats are going to be running from this fight next November. They're going to be running toward this fight in November.

BORGER: If you also dig into our poll, what it shows is that the Democrats have actually kept their base, that that has not shifted.


BELCHER: We're down seven points among moderates in October, which is a group that Republicans have struggled with in the past.


BORGER: And that's the whole point.


ACOSTA: But, Kevin, what happens if Obamacare starts working?


MADDEN: Well, I don't believe it's going to start working.


MADDEN: The Web site is not the problem. A Web site is not the problem.

This is a problem where you're taking, rearranging one-sixth of the American economy and applying a federal standard in a way that really does hurt people's insurance. This is going to be a very big problem for them. And I think some of the mile posts that are coming up, like how it affects smaller employers, how it affects people's -- the rates next year, that's an even bigger problem for Democrats.

ACOSTA: All right, I got to let it stand there.

Thank you, guys, Gloria, Cornell, Kevin.


ACOSTA: Not tonight. All right.


ACOSTA: Happy Thanksgiving.

MADDEN: Thank you.

ACOSTA: Good seeing you guys. All right.

And thanks for joining us tonight.