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Travel Delays; Obamacare a Failure?; U.S. Stands Ground in Challenge to China; Holiday Traveling Poses Challenges; NFL Fans Undaunted By Illness & Controversy; Al Gore Follows Bill Clinton's Lead, Again

Aired November 27, 2013 - 18:00   ET


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Jim Sciutto. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Here on the East Coast, many people are just getting off work and just beginning the cold, wet and stressful journey to their Thanksgiving destination. And we're learning about major delays at the nation's largest train station, all because of a broken-down train.

Let's go right to Alexandra Field is at Penn Station in New York.

What is happening there? A train blocking the tracks?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Jim, you just can see the mess of people behind me. This is what happens when every single train going to and leaving Penn State becomes delayed.

Here's what happened. It isn't just the regular holiday rush and it isn't just the regular rush hour rush. What happened here, we're told, is that a New Jersey transit train became disabled in a tunnel. There's just two tunnels connecting Penn Station and New Jersey. That meant one could not be used. The train has been moved off the track.

Inspectors have now taken a look at the track. We're told the second tunnel will open soon. But it wasn't soon enough to keep up with the pace of travel today. You again can see all the people behind me. Take a look at that big board up there. You can see those delays across the board.

Every single train here at Penn Station was delayed 30 to 50 minutes while the traffic slowed down. Again, though, a fix is on the way. The train has been moved. That tunnel is reopening, but it's going to take passengers a little while here to get back on track. People have tried to be patient. It was a pretty smooth day here at Penn Station.

The problem only started around 5:00. Earlier this morning, there were a few weather-related delays, but nothing to throw things too much off-schedule. There were some weather problems between New Haven and Boston, which slowed travelers down, but again a pretty smooth travel day until around 5:00. That's when this crowd built up. We're told that people should be getting on their way and getting back on schedule soon, Jim, we hope. SCIUTTO: Just when things were looking so good. Let's hope they're on their way soon. Thanks very much to Alexandra Field at Penn Station in New York.

And there are heavy winds that contributed to delays today at all three airports in the New York City area.

Margaret Conley is at La Guardia.

How bad is it there?

MARGARET CONLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim, things are better than expected here.

There have been a few cancellations, but most slights have been on time. You can see the flight board behind me. We're seeing more yellow, which means delays, but most of these delays are about 50 minutes or an hour, so things are running pretty efficiently here.

If you are still planning to come to the airport, check your airline and make sure that your flight is running on time. Jim, I know you're familiar with this airport. The place that is getting the most action is actually the New York sports bar over at terminal B. There's a line about a dozen people deep, but the airport, they are planning for the worst in terms of weather. They have stocked up on pillows and blankets in case people need to spend the night.

SCIUTTO: At least a place where you can kill the time there.

Thanks very much to Margaret Conley at La Guardia.


SCIUTTO: Let's get the big picture on holiday travel from another expert, Travelocity senior editor Courtney Scott.

Let's say you're out there, it's the last day, you're trying to get to Thanksgiving by tomorrow. Any advice for travelers who are running into these last-minute delays, a train at Penn Station, maybe some sleet turning to snow in the Northeast? What do you do if you run into trouble now?

COURTNEY SCOTT, TRAVELOCITY: Pack your patience. Luck has really been on our side today.

We have seen some great lightening up in delays across the country, but expect the unexpected. As we just as saw at Penn Station, you never know what's going to happen, and so really pack your patience and try to, you know, kill them with kindness. Please don't overreact to these kinds of situations. Everyone is doing their best to get you home to your family in time.

Most of us are coming home on Sunday. That is, you know, one of the other busiest travels days of this period. There are a couple tips that I have to really ease the stress of your Sunday return flight. SCIUTTO: OK, give me those tips, because it's going to be -- like you said, today, we think is busy, but Sunday is even busier.

SCOTT: Exactly.

So, first of all, before you even get to the airport, you want to check in online 24 hours in advance. That will not only ease up the stress at the airport, but it will prevent you from potentially being booked from flights. As we all know, flights can be overbooked during these heavy travel periods, so do that 24 hours in advance.

Once you arrive at TSA, don't be that guy at TSA. Be prepared. So, have your boarding pass in hand, have you I.D. out. Carry on luggage all the way. Don't check bags. Laptops should be out of the carry-on in its own container, and shoes off unless you're over under 12, over 75 years old, or in the military with the global entry program.

Keep those tips in mind to breeze through TSA and get to your gate. And then, you know, it may be a situation of hurry up and wait. We are asking people to get to the airports two hours in advance for domestic, and three hours for international. While you're there on Sunday, do some black Friday/Cyber Monday shopping. It's a great time to go online, and lock in some travel deals looking ahead to the Christmas season.

SCIUTTO: Yes, good way to use the time. Buy for the next holiday. Maybe even buy your travel for the next holiday because it's only a month to go before Christmastime? Any advice as we get closer to the Christmas holidays?

SCOTT: Yes. well, airfare is up 7.5 percent. It's only up 2.5 percent internationally, so maybe this is the year to spend your Christmas abroad.

Our Travelocity Christmas barometer is showing that airfares are only going to increase as we get closer to the holiday, so use that Cyber Monday/Black Friday flash sale to lock in travel vacation and bookings.

SCIUTTO: So, Courtney, just one thing. We had our CNN correspondents racing from New York to Washington, planes, trains, automobiles. As you know, the planes won in this case. What's your recommendation? What do you think is the fastest, most cost-efficient way to travel during the holidays?

SCOTT: Well, I had my money on the train. I really thought that was going to be the best of the three options, but we got lucky today with air travel. I think in general we really don't know what's going to happen on Sunday, so it's just important to pack your patience, be patient, and plan ahead, leave lots of extra time for you and your family to get home.

SCIUTTO: And maybe shop during that time when you're delayed. Thanks very much to Courtney Scott from Travelocity. Still ahead, is the president's signature accomplishments a failure? Americans are making judgments about Obamacare. Stand by for our new CNN poll.

And after U.S. warplanes defy China, tensions soar, and JFK's daughter gets involved in some very difficult diplomacy.


SCIUTTO: A new and significant setback today for Obamacare, with the big deadline to improve the Web site just days away.

We're going to go now to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, another big delay? Tell us what's happening.


Jim, the administration revealed this latest Obamacare setback just as the president was about to pardon the Thanksgiving turkey over here at the White House. So, Republicans pounced right away, as you might imagine, accused the White House of dumping bad news right before the holiday.

Earlier today, officials at HHS announced they're delaying the online enrollment feature on for small businesses for one year. What that means is that those companies would now have to buy insurance for their employees offline, through insurers directly or through insurance agents.

Officials had hoped to get this portion of working this month. As a matter of fact, several officials said as much publicly to reporters and up on Capitol Hill, but now that is not going to happen. But officials caution that small businesses with fewer than 50 employees aren't required to purchase insurance under the law. The law just makes that enrollment available.

As you might imagine, Jim, other Republicans criticized this throughout the day. House Speaker John Boehner seized on the news and said the president should use this opportunity to the delay the implementation of the entire law until all the bugs are worked out. Of course that is not going to happen.

SCIUTTO: The administration under pressure here. There's deadline on November 30 for the Web site to be available to the vast majority of users. Are they going to meet that deadline, meet that goal?

ACOSTA: They say yes, but they are offering a note of caution here. They want the Web site will be working for, as you put it, the vast majority of users this weekend, but as much as the country is focused on traffic on the highways, the Obama administration is worried about the flow of people onto the Web site this weekend.

Earlier this week, a senior White House official did confirm that the administration met with allied groups, friendly groups to the White House to urge them not to drive traffic to the Web site for a week. Officials say they want to see what the demand will be like, because at this point they just don't know what it's going to be. They're urging consumers to avoid the site's peak time. That's about 2:00 in the afternoon.

Instead, they're saying use in the mornings and in the evenings and on weekend. They're not out of the woods yet -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Not exactly vote of confidence. Thanks very much, Jim Acosta, at the White House.

We're going to talk more about Obamacare now with our guests, CNN political commentator Alex Castellanos here in D.C. with me, and in New York, Marc Lamont Hill, also CNN political commentator.

Start with you, Alex, if I can. You heard Jim Acosta's report about a delay with small businesses. We had a report earlier today talking about there being an issue with the back end, that many people who use the Web site can plug in their information, but that might not get to the insurers.

How big a problem now for the administration and will they be able to turn this around?


Business, small businesses have been planning on starting to sign up for this thing. And now it's delayed a year. Imagine the cost to the economy and to these small businesses. They have been having meetings with accountants and attorneys and trying to figure out how to do this.

And now that uncertainty continues for another year. If the president was pardoning turkeys today, he should have pardoned Obamacare. It didn't go well.

SCIUTTO: Marc, I got to give you a chance in New York to comment on that. I imagine you have a different point of view, Marc?


Again, I think it's way too early, you know, to think about Obamacare as a failed project. Obviously, there's no excuse for the launch, there's no excuse for the bumps in the road that we have seen so far, but as a practical matter, even the small business thing that we saw today isn't something that's insurmountable. People can still sign up through private agents. They can go through private insurers.

And they can still file for tax credits. They just can't do it in advance. Ultimately, small businesses will be fine, and ultimately everyone will be fine. But this is really an issue of public relations right now. The Obama administration is looking worse and worse. At a time when they said the Web site is getting cleaned up, this shop thing is becoming a major crisis, a major fire they have to put out.

SCIUTTO: Hold that thought. It's interesting you mentioned public relations, because we have a new CNN/ORC poll today which gives a glimmer of hope for the administration on Obamacare.

Only 8 percent of respondents said the site was a success, but 53 percent said it's too soon to tell. They seem to be, the American people seem to be giving the Obama administration more time than the GOP is. Do you think the GOP is jumping to conclusions too soon?

CASTELLANOS: Well, I think, of course we're going to see how this rolls out and how this is implemented over the next year, probably two or three years.

So, yes, we should reserve a little bit of judgment, but, you know, one of the thing you learn in politics for a long time is how to look at surveys and numbers. And imagine, for example, Jim, that I have sent 100 people to a restaurant; 50 of them get a great meal. They're happy, they leave, but the other 50 think they got food poisoning or might.

Which do you think has more political impact? The nation is a little divided and a little uncertain now, but there is a core problem spreading through the Obama presidency here. This has brought down his honesty numbers, the how much he's trusted numbers.

This has lowered how Democrats are regarded, the Democratic generic ballot, would I vote Democrat or Republican. This is rippling throughout the bloodstream of the Obama administration and the Democratic Party and really all of Washington. Next election, in large part because of Obamacare, is going to be the old ways of doing things in Washington have to change.


HILL: I'm glad you added that caveat all of Washington, because really people aren't happy with anyone.

Republicans a month ago were being told that they were not going to have any shot in 2014 because of the government shutdown. Unlike a restaurant where you never go back when you get food poisoning, in a circumstance look this, with such short memories, in a month or six months, if the site is functional, if people are enjoying the benefits of Obamacare, I suspect those numbers go right back up and people will be just fine.


SCIUTTO: If I can, just to add to the debate, because there's another point from the poll that might inform how the public is seeing this.

And 40 percent favor Obamacare, and 41 percent oppose for being too liberate, but another 14 percent oppose it, but because it's not liberal enough. They want in effect more aggressive care here. Does that change your view of how the public views this?

CASTELLANOS: Well, in my experience, when you see numbers like that in a survey, yes, the president has a core of support there that would like single-payer is what that says.

But also that 40-some percent that thinks it's too liberal, if you make it even more liberal, that 40-something percent grows. And if you go into elections with a mid-40s strong negative kind of a little cancerous bump under your skin like that, it is almost impossible to do well in an election cycle.

But one thing that Marc said about Obamacare recovering and coming back up, Jim, there are searing moments in American culture and politics that stick with you. They're the Watergates. They're the -- they can be positive -- Katrinas -- or they can be positive, 9/11. George Bush stood on a pile of rubble and it helped him. This is Obama's pile of rubble. It's a negative. This one lasts.


SCIUTTO: Strong words.

Marc, before -- and I'm going to give you a chance to comment on this, because we have a sound bite we want to play from the president that happened last night in Los Angeles speaking at DreamWorks. Have a listen to this. I want to hear both of your reactions.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As I was getting a tour of DreamWorks, I didn't ask, but just looking at faces, I could tell there were some folks who are here not because they were born here, but because they want to be here. And they bring extraordinary talents to the United States.


SCIUTTO: Marc, do you hear anything in that that causes concern for you?

HILL: Well, first, I think -- I knew what the president was attempting to say, but he should be very careful saying, looking at people's faces, I could tell some weren't born here.

You can't look at someone's face and tell if they were born here. You can't look at someone's face and tell whether they're a Mexican- American first generation or third generation or whether they came yesterday. you just can't tell.

What the president, however inartfully, was attempting to say is that this country is diverse and diverse because we have always been, as he said, a magnet from the outside world from other countries. And what we need to do to keep the American economy booming, to keep diverse ideas and diverse culture here is to encourage immigration. He's simply starting his stump speech for immigration reform. This probably isn't the best day to do it, because he doesn't have the most political capital, but that's what he was attempting to do.


SCIUTTO: Alex, you're smiling. You have a different view.

CASTELLANOS: Oh, you know what? I think we should give the president the benefit of the doubt. I think Marc is exactly right here.

He was trying to say it's a great country where people want to come and everybody is welcome. I'm glad he could -- I'm a Cuban, so I'm glad he can look at my face and tell that I'm not from here. I look at his face sometimes and I wonder the same thing.

SCIUTTO: All right.

CASTELLANOS: Just a joke, Marc. Just a joke.


SCIUTTO: Thanks very much to have both of you here, Alex Castellanos here In D.C. with us, Marc Lamont Hill in New York.

Ahead, we will discuss Ambassador Caroline Kennedy's role in a new face-off between the U.S. and China. Will rising tensions lead to a full-fledged and dangerous confrontation?

And they dashed out of our New York bureau at noon. Now they're joining us live here in Washington. Stand by for the best and worst of their great Thanksgiving travel race.


SCIUTTO: The United States is standing its ground in a direct challenge to China. And that's raising tensions in the region right now.

Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is here.

Barbara, what is the latest?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, I know you have been watching all of this unfold. And an important new voice in U.S. foreign policy is now weighing in.


STARR (voice-over): Caroline Kennedy, just days on the job as the new U.S. ambassador to Japan, front and center in the U.S. confrontation with China after it extended military control into what the U.S. says is international airspace.

CAROLINE KENNEDY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO JAPAN: With their announcement of an East China Sea air defense identification zone, undermines security and constitute an attempt to change the status quo in the East China Sea.

STARR: China declared it now controls a vast portion of the airspace over the East China Sea and remote islands that both China and Japan claim, ground zero in this high-stakes tension, China demanding for the first time that aircraft flying through the zone file flight plans and maintain two-way radio contact.

KENNEDY: This only serves to increase tensions in the region.

STARR: Vice President Joe Biden will visit China, Japan and South Korea next week on a planned trip.

A senior administration official says the vice president will -- quote -- "seek clarity" regarding the Chinese intentions.

There are worries China, if not bracing for confrontation, is still dangerously raising tension.

VICTOR CHA, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL MEMBER: I don't think we're headed for conflict in the near term, but it is the sort of setting of preconditions that could eventually lead to some sort of military miscalculation or accident among the sides and then create a real crisis.

STARR: China has vowed to take emergency measures to respond to aircraft that do not cooperate with its new rules. The U.S. military quickly challenged all of that, flying two B-52 unarmed bombers through the zone.

A U.S. officials tells CNN the flight was, in part, aimed at showing that the U.S. military can strike targets in the region. The Pentagon did not tell China in advance of the flight, but kept watch to see if China scrambled jets. It did not. The Chinese also kept watch.

LIU JIEYI, CHINESE AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Well, it's indeed the right of every country to defend its airspace and also to make sure that its territorial integrity, its sovereignty are safeguarded. This is a normal arrangement.


STARR: Now, the U.S. military has reason to worry about an incident escalating.

Back in 2001, a U.S. Navy aircraft collided with a Chinese jet. And That Navy plane then crash-landed into China. The 24-man crew on board the Navy plane was held by the Chinese for 11 days before they were released.

So, Jim, good reason -- bad feelings and history, good reason to potentially worry about this.

SCIUTTO: Tense moments then, tense moments now. Thanks very much to Barbara Starr.

We're going to bring you now the former U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, also CNN military analyst Spider Marks, former major general, also former intel officer in Asia.

I'm going to ask you first, Ambassador Huntsman, if I can, how quickly could this lead to miscalculation? You have got a lot of military assets close together there, chance for misinterpretation of a move could lead to something bigger.

JON HUNTSMAN, FORMER AMBASSADOR TO CHINA: Jim, this is a very difficult, tense and complicated situation. And that's the biggest challenge of all. Not that there is a war of words, but you have several countries in the region, all of whom are on surveillance missions, either on the high seas or in the air. And the possibility of a miscalculation is very real.

And the problem is you escalate the tension, and there's no real plan to de-escalate. And we saw that before, as was pointed out, in April of 2001, with the downing of the EP-3 spy plane. It was very difficult to de-escalate.

And we just don't have the kinds of plans that would allow us to de-escalate. And with Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan, Russia, the United States, all sort of snooping around in the area, it becomes a very crowded flight zone and maritime zone. And therefore, the possibility for miscalculation is very real.

SCIUTTO: General Marks, did the U.S. do the right thing, fly in those B-52 over air space?

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, U.S. ARMY: They absolutely did. If the United States had not challenged this unilateral declaration of a change of the ADIZ, a new standard would have been set. China would have declared a form of success. The United States had to challenge it, and I think they challenged it very, very well.

The B-52, albeit a very capable aircraft, was not armed. It's not going to penetrate into Chinese beyond that -- it's not going to penetrate into the Chinese mainland.

But I think it's very, very important. We have always had a large military presence in the region, so the escalation certainly -- the possibility of an escalation is always present. But we've this dance, and we've handled it very well. And Ambassador, you've been a part of that very intimately. We've done -- we've been able to do this dance pretty effectively.

This was an act on the part of the Chinese clearly to be provocative. What does the U.S. pivot to Asia mean? I would argue we've never un-pivoted, if that's an appropriate term, from Asia. It's always been the decade of China. It's always had a very clear focus for the United States to be there, to assert ourselves, and to really galvanize and really put some markers down.

SCIUTTO: So what was China trying to accomplish here? You've been through tough moments with the Chinese during your term.

HUNTSMAN: Well, they're trying to de-legitimatize Japan's claim to the Senkaku or the Diaoyu Islands. It's the same thing they're trying to do with Scarborough Reef, with the Philippines, the same thing they're trying to do in the South China Sea with Vietnam and several other claimants.

And they're also trying to drive a wedge, quite frankly, Jim, between the U.S. and Japan, with respect to their security alliance. And therefore, we have to be particularly vigilant in terms of close consultation with Japan. I noticed the sound bites coming out of Tokyo were very carefully coordinated with Washington.

And the general is absolutely right. That rapid response to the air defense identification zone established by China, through a freedom of navigation maneuver, was absolutely the right thing to do. If we had allowed any blue sky to prevail there, it could have been real trouble in terms of the Chinese further claiming that as theirs and scaring the neighborhood.

SCIUTTO: Well, Defense Secretary Hagel made a point of reminding people that the U.S. defense treaty, mutual defense treaty which covers these islands, in effect, if there was a confrontation, the U.S. would be obligated to take part. That's a big deal.

MARKS: Well, Jim, when you look at what the Chinese did, they literally cut a piece out of the Japanese ADIZ, the acknowledged and recognized ADIZ. So that clearly was very, very confrontational on their part. They knew exactly what they were doing.

And then the backdrop of all of this is we're in an austere budget period. We're talking about sequester. The United States military is trying to figure out what it's going to look like, specifically in that part of the world. What are the Marines going to do in Okinawa? What's the future of Guam? What's our presence in Japan? How is that relationship going? So clearly, this made perfect sense for the Chinese to focus on the islands.

HUNTSMAN: And then the backdrop in the Asia Pacific region is also a very interesting one. Because you're seeing the rise of new leaders in northeast Asia. You have Xi Jinping in China, who's only been in office now a year, just finishing his formal transition into power.

In Japan, you have Shinzo Abe, while it's his second tour as prime minister, he's pretty much brand-new. You've got a new president in South Korea, the daughter of Pak Chung-hee. You've got a new leader in North Korea.

So the whole region, sensitive as it is because of the geographic and sovereignty disputes, sensitive because of history and how it's played out in recent years, is going to be a very interesting place to keep your eye on in the months and years ahead. And the United States is going to have to establish its presence in the region, to be forthright in terms of its support for our alliances, to speak clearly, and to make sure we're consistent in all that we do. SCIUTTO: Vice President Biden, is it good timing or bad? It turns out he's going to be in China next week. I remember on a previous visit when there had been some close fly-bys, he actually brought photographs from U.S. planes, showing how close Chinese fighters got, within ten feet of the wing, just to show the danger of this, you know, snowballing into something worse.

What do you think his message is going to be when he visits the Chinese next week?

MARKS: It's going to be hopefully a voice of calm, but also one of resolute focus in terms of what the United States interest is in that region. Clearly, as the ambassador laid out, there are fissures, and there are opportunities. We should view this as an opportunity for the United States to make sure it's crystal clear, we are here to stay. We always have been. We're not going anywhere.

SCIUTTO: Ambassador Huntsman, last word. What would you say if you were in that room?

HUNTSMAN: Well, it's always going to be an attempt to shore up and talk about those areas we have in common, our mutual interests, and also at the same time, talking about our interests in the region that might diverge in how we're going to stand tall in protecting those.

And how our relationship with our allies in the region will be very, very important. In light of what's happened most recently, that kind of discussion will be extremely important. Because they will listen for the clarity of the words that are spoken. And this is not a time to equivocate.

SCIUTTO: No question. Fantastic to have you both on. Ambassador Jon Huntsman, Spider Marks, two experts on Asia, on a very important, very tense time in those relations.

Coming up ahead, as the NFL gears up for big holiday games, are fans concerned about a major controversy hanging over pro football?

And they made it through CNN's great race all the way home. Now they're live in THE SITUATION ROOM to talk about their holiday travels in a train, a plane and an automobile.


SCIUTTO: Here in THE SITUATION ROOM, we didn't want just to tell you about the holiday travel mess. We wanted our Correspondents to experience it firsthand, for better or worse, by a trip by plane, train and automobile. Standing by with CNN's Tom Foreman to talk about their journey from New York to D.C.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT; Here are our brave travelers, who did a fine job here, going from New York down here to D.C. It's a distance of about 227 miles if you drive it. And that is precisely what Brian Todd did, coming in with the slowest time of all, 5:15.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thank you, Tom. I appreciate that.

FOREMAN: Tell us a little bit about your trip if you can, Brian.

TODD: You know, this, even when it goes smoothly, the drive from New York to D.C. or vice versa can be tedious. It can be frustrating. It can be a lot of backups. So we decided to break it up a little bit by putting some video to Vine. That's the app where you can take little short videos, then post then on Twitter or wherever else. These are really short kind of just lighthearted moments, we shall say, from our tip. Take a listen.


TODD: One power bar, one Subway lemonade, two sticks of gum, two Rihanna songs, the great race home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Brian, I'm sorry. We just have to stop and use the bathroom.

TODD: Come on. Saddle up, boys, we've got to move. Let's go!


TODD: You've always got to take a bathroom break, right?

FOREMAN: It was like you were going to a fire. And you were saying "Must have helicopter."

TODD: I was so exasperated. These two had just kicked my butt getting here, and I couldn't take it anymore.

FOREMAN: That was the best tweet of the day.



FOREMAN: ... you had the most civil experience of the day. Didn't you? You took the train.

DESJARDINS: I think it's possible that Brian saved the most money, Nic had the fastest time, but I think that I might have had the best time than anyone.

FOREMAN: Four-31, 4:31 was your clock time, but when you say best time, you're talking about all this other stuff. You had a delay to begin with.

DESJARDINS: This was disappointing. This caused me a problem from the beginning.

FOREMAN: Fifteen minutes late.

DESJARDINS: You don't think of delays with Amtrak, but Amtrak was delayed today.

FOREMAN: And then you got on the train.


FOREMAN: Who are these people?

DESJARDINS: We actually had a team train. Everyone on my car kind of got fully involved in this experiment. This was one of the many couples I met. This was Shannon and Tim. They were delightful. They're on their way to Raleigh right now.

They just sent out their wedding invitations last night.

FOREMAN: No kidding.

DESJARDINS: And so this -- the whole car was full of people that I came to actually become close with. And in fact, this is my train car doing the wave, because they wanted -- they knew -- at this point we knew that Nic had beat us. And many people were very disappointed, but I said, c'mon, guys, you know, let's pull together.

FOREMAN: This guy looks like he wants nothing to do.

DESJARDINS: I did. I forced maybe one of them to do it. But I think the point was that, even though the train was much slower than I expected and this was the fastest version of the train, the Acela, that you could take, but I will say the seats were lovely. Wide seats. I had a full table. I had power outlets. I had Wi-Fi the whole time. Had a club car where I could get food, drink, whatever I wanted, and the company -- the company was delightful. It was really lovely.

FOREMAN: Very different experience from Brian and his band of merry men.

And Nic, you won on time, a little over three hours, actually, with us having you stop to do live shots, I bet you came in under three hours. Tell us a little bit about this experience that you had here.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this was coming out of New York. I thought Upper West Side. We just seemed to hit every red light that was coming. And I could see with the taxi driver, if you could just read the road, he was a nice guy, but I thought if you'd just read the road, go around the cars that were slowing up ahead of you.

And I was just -- the clock was ticking. The clock was ticking. Look here, 37, my flight 59, and I'm -- stuck at 123rd. There's no way. We got right next to the runway, and it was 12 minutes before the plane was due to go.

DESJARDINS: And that's a good moment for me. I was like, he's not going to make it. There's no way.

ROBERTSON: I wasn't, but I inside the car. I took my belt off inside the car. I undid my shoes inside the car. I ran in, and there was nobody at security. And then I ran down the hall. They were announcing my name. The door was shut. A couple of minutes before I got on. They pushed back with about a minute and a half ahead of time.

Take a listen to this. This was my moment of relief when I realized I'd made it.


ROBERTSON: I can't believe I made the plane. I can't believe I made the plane.


ROBERTSON: I can't believe it, and I don't think I can hear that enough times, either, but my heart is still racing. I mean, it was so stressful.

And then when we got off here, yes, the traffic was backed up. And I knew in theory I had time, but everyone knows the story of the tortoise and the hare. You get ahead of yourself. You think you're going to cruise in, and then we're in traffic. And what it was, was a little accident on the highway and got past that and...

FOREMAN: So all of you had some luck, some good, some bad.

DESJARDINS: Yes, that's true.

FOREMAN: But overall, even with the weather we talked about, not a big challenge. But I'd like to talk about one more thing here, which was the cost. Very quickly, Brian's trip today -- wrong sequence on Brian's trip. Let me go back to this if I can. Keep circling the trip madly.

Brian's trip today, look at that, gas and tolls, $120. Lisa's trip today, taxi and train, $279, a lot more expensive for that civil experience.

And, Nick, you got here fastest, but, folks, if you're watching the budget, you have to pay attention, it can add up fast, $500 there.

DESJARDINS: And we got these tickets in the last couple days. That's one reason, yes.

FOREMAN: All of our travelers doing a fabulous job here. But they made it for Thanksgiving. So, there you go.

DESJARDINS: One last note, happy Thanksgiving for my train companions. Tony and Carol, also I need to mention. They were wonderful.

ROBERTSON: The best day at work I've had in a long time. A lot of fun. And this is not smoke (ph) --

FOREMAN: There you go, Jim.

DESJARDINS: It feels a little good. Better now.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: We're glad to have them all back for Thanksgiving. All in time.

We're going to go back to Chad Myers in the CNN weather center in Atlanta for a quick update.

Give it us straight, Chad. Is it going to be a tough night?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It will be a tough night. I think everybody is going to be at least an hour delayed on airplanes. And roads are getting slow volumes there. Roads are getting icy, because now, the rain is turning over to snow. It's dark and it's getting cold.

Philadelphia just cleared its delay, saying, we're OK, we're in good shape, until I looked at the flight board here that you can get on your iPhone app or your iPad, and it just says delayed, delayed, delayed, delayed. So, I don't know where those delays are going, but obviously you're going to sit there for a while. Montreal just picked up a ground stop, which means if you're going to fly to Montreal, you have to sit there on the tarmac for a couple of minutes waiting for that clear up because It's snowing up there as well.

Snowing up into Maine now probably, all the way back down into New York City, and it's the snow changing over from the rain to the snow that's going to make some glaze on the roadways, probably the bridges first. There's not a lot of snow here, but there's enough that the roads are already wet when it gets below 32, we're all going to get some ice on the roadways, especially those puddles, it will be ice chunks by morning.

Right now, the wind is 38 miles per hour, the gusts in New York City, but the big story, the question is, will the balloons fly tomorrow? The gusts have to be less than 34 for snoopy to get up in the air with Woodstock, 31 now is the forecast. All day yesterday, the forecast was 34. We're going in the right direction. Maybe those balloons fly after all, Jim.

SCIUTTO: The parade wouldn't be the same without them. Thanks very much to Chad Myers.

Here's a quick look at some of the other top stories we're following today. Two records had investors celebrating on Wall Street. The Dow closed as an all-time high of 16,097, the S&P 500 also set a report, and the NASDAQ hilt its highest level in 13 years.

The world's new largest airline is one step closer to reality. A federal bankruptcy court is clearing the way for American Airlines and U.S. Airways to merge. It approved an antitrust settlement between the airlines and the Justice Department and dismissed a final objection by a passengers group. The merger is slated to take place December 9th.

O.J. Simpson loses his latest legal fight. A Nevada judge is upholding his conviction stemming from his attempt to reclaim some sports memorabilia. Simpson's lawyers were asking for a new trial, but the judge said, no, citing what she called overwhelming evidence against the former football star. He's serving a sentence of up to 33 years.

Talk about an all-star lineup. That's Prince William singing with Bon Jovi and Taylor Swift. The second in line to the throne joining the singing stars on state at a benefit for a charity to help the homeless.

And ahead, John Berman explains why something will be missing for a famous power couple on this Thanksgiving.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They've gone from Southern fried to Southern fennel. From serving up political red meat to serving up no meat. No fish, no dairy.



SCIUTTO: For many Americans, Thanksgiving is as much about football as turkey. Our new CNN polling shows Americans are divided on whether something needs to be done about a major and growing problem for the NFL, head injuries and concussions.

Our chief medical correspondent, is Dr. Sanjay Gupta, has done extensive reporting on that subject and he talked about the new polls with Andy Scholes of CNN Sports.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: We've been covering this issue for a long time, just concussions in sports. I do this from a neurosurgery perspective. What's interesting, it doesn't seem to affect the fans' love for the game. There was some polling data that showed about 60 percent of people, they don't view the NFL any less favorably.

As a sports reporter, what have you sensed? Has this affected how you report?

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: You know what? It seems like no matter what, the NFL is untouchable when it comes to these kind of scandals. This has been two of the worst PR years ever for the NFL between the concussion lawsuit, bounty-gate, two lockouts and Aaron Hernandez trial, yet the numbers are higher than ever when it comes to TV ratings. You know, 19 out of the top 20-watched programs this year have all been NFL games.

And it just goes to show that it seems like we're trained. No matter what happens outside the game of football or inside the game of football, we're still going to want to watch the game.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SCIUTTO: You can see more of Sanjay's interview this weekend. It airs Saturday at 4:30 p.m. Eastern, and Sunday morning at 7:30 a.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

Al Gore once tried to follow in Bill Clinton's footsteps and become president. Now, the former vice president is taking a cue from his ex-boss again. This time, it's not about power. It's about pork and beef and chicken.

CNN's John Berman explains.


BERMAN (voice-over): Bill Clinton, Al Gore, the 1992 Democratic ticket.

But 21 years later, you might say the Clinton/Gore theme song has gone from Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow" to "don't stop thinking about tofurkey."


BERMAN: They've gone from Southern fried to Southern fennel. From serving up political red meat to serving up no meat, no fish, no dairy.

The news now, according to "Forbes" magazine, Al Gore has joined his running mate, becoming a vegan a couple months ago.

WALTER SCHEIB, FORMER EXECUTIVE CHEF, THE WHITE HOUSE: It's like playing the piano and deciding, I'm only going to use the white keys, not the black and white keys. It does take a little time to get used it.

BERMAN: Walter Scheib served as White House chef for 11 years. Cooking meals for President Clinton back when he and his VP had broader dietary ranges.

SCHEIB: President Clinton a little bit more diverse in his dining, that's sort of a euphemism, saying he ate pretty much everything in his diet, probably not the best.

BERMAN: President Clinton described his updated diet to Dr. Sanjay Gupta in 2011.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT: I like the stuff I eat. I like the vegetables, the fruits, the beans, the stuff I eat now, I like.

BERMAN: But the vegan lifestyle isn't as new to the Clinton/Gore ticket as you might think.

SCHEIB: Chelsea Clinton became a vegan or pretty close to a vegan. She'll tell you that she didn't, but I was there her and she was actually a vegan by the time she reached her senior year of high school. She came down and worked in our kitchens at the White House the summer of her senior year for a couple of weeks.

BERMAN: It is a far cry from the fast food and short shorts that were such an indelible presence on her father's campaign in 1992. Actually, maybe it makes the shorts short thing a little better now. But we digress.

In this week of gleeful national gluttony, it is important to note that our high-level leadership has, for the most part, adopted high-level nutrition.

JIMMY KIMMEL, COMEDIAN: They say diplomacy is a matter of carrots and sticks and since Mrs. Obama got to the White House, so is dinner.

SCHEIB: Food at the White House didn't delineate along political lines. It delineated very much along gender lines.

BERMAN: Sure, he might sneak into five guys for a burger every once in a while, but it does seem President Obama is mostly toeing the line. George W. Bush, with all his working out always seemed fit. The only food that gave him trouble, the pretzel that he choked on.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: When you're eating pretzels, chew before you swallow.

BERMAN: The menu on the White House has always been a bit fickle. George H.W. Bush hated broccoli. Ronald Reagan loved his jelly beans. Jimmy Carter was a peanut farmer.

SCHEIB: We try to keep them on the straight and narrow in terms of a healthy diet, but he is the president and he kind of eats what he chooses to eat.

BERMAN: So as President Obama gets deeper into his second term with sagging approval ratings, maybe he should consider the Clinton vegan path. It may not help with actual human voters, but other constituencies, they'll love it.


BERMAN: John Berman, CNN, New York.


SCIUTTO: That is one high-powered diet.

Remember, you can follow us and what's going on in THE SITUATION ROOM on Twitter. Just tweet me @jimsciutto. Tweet the show @CNNsitroom.

From all of us here at SITUATION ROOM, including Wolf Blitzer, we'd love to wish you a very happy Thanksgiving and to all of our Jewish viewers, a happy Hanukkah. It's the first time the two holidays have overlapped since 1888. You're watching now down at the White House as the White House menorah was lit earlier tonight. It's the largest in the world. And with that picture, with that thought, we're going to pass you on to "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT."