January 29th, 2014
10:51 AM ET

Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship Headed Home - With a Sickness Record

The ill-fated Royal Caribbean cruise ship returns home Wednesday, but with an ignoble mark on it.

Nearly 700 crew and passengers fell ill aboard the Explorer of the Seas, the highest number of sick people reported on any cruise ship in two decades, CDC data show.

At least 629 passengers and 54 cruise workers got sick, but not all at the same time.

According to publicly-available data by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that wins Explorer of the Seas the distinction of being the cruise ship with the highest number of sick people in 20 years.

The ship had 3,071 passengers and 1,165 crew members, according to the CDC.

Explorer of the Seas departed Cape Liberty on January 21 for what would have been a 10-day cruise.

Passengers and crew developed symptoms such as diarrhea and vomiting.

Are cruise ships floating petri dishes?

CDC officials boarded the ship in St. Thomas on Sunday to study the outbreak and the response on the voyage back to Cape Liberty.

The cause of the illness was not clear, though the symptoms are consistent with norovirus, the cruise line said.

Noroviruses spread easily and are a common cause of gastroenteritis, which produces vomiting and diarrhea.

"The number of reported new cases of gastrointestinal illness has dropped sharply after a spike in the first days of the cruise, and most guests who fell ill are up and about," the cruise line said Monday.

"The drop in new cases is encouraging. However, it is not unusual in an outbreak to still have smaller, secondary spikes. That is why, after discussions with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and our medical team, we decided the most prudent course for the health of our guests and crew was to bring the cruise home on Wednesday, two days earlier than planned."

The company said all passengers would get a 50% refund and a 50% credit for a future cruise.

Those passengers who were ordered quarantined to their rooms will get an additional credit of one future cruise day for each day in confinement, it said.

"Guests scheduled for the next cruise on Explorer of the Seas can be confident that all possible measures will have been taken to prevent further problems," it added.

This ship is scheduled to return to its Cape Liberty, New Jersey, port on Wednesday for sanitizing to ensure there are no traces of illness, the liner said in a statement.

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January 29th, 2014
10:02 AM ET

All of Congress Applauds for War Hero at State of the Union

It’s a partisan see-saw that marks when Democrats and Republicans stand and applause at a State of the Union address. Tax cuts – cue Republicans, raise the minimum wage – hurrah go the Democrats.

But on Tuesday night, an Army soldier with a heroic and remarkable story obliterated that custom, receiving arguably the most heartfelt expression of bipartisan gratitude any Congress could muster – a nearly two-minute standing ovation.

Sgt. First Class Cory Remsburg was seated beside first lady Michelle Obama as President Barack Obama heralded his sacrifice in Afghanistan.

During his final tour of duty in October 2009, Remsburg was severely injured by a roadside bomb in Kandahar, Afghanistan. The blast left him in a coma for three months. He was partially paralyzed and brain damaged.

Obama said Remsburg is blind in one eye and struggles with movement on his left side.

“Cory is here tonight,” Obama said as cameras fixed on the Army Ranger in his full-dress uniform.

“And like the Army he loves, like the America he serves, Sgt. First Class Cory Remsburg never gives up, and he does not quit. Cory!”

As those packing the House chamber jumped to their feet and erupted in applause, Remsburg stood and gave the crowd a thumbs up. Obama reciprocated by saluting him.

SEE THE STANDING OVATION: 

Obama first met the 30-year-old at the 65th anniversary of D-Day at Omaha Beach in 2009, before the roadside bomb blast.

“Along with some of his fellow Rangers, he walked me through the program, the ceremony – he was a strong, impressive young man, with an easy manner, sharp as a tack,” Obama said during the speech. “We joked around, and took pictures, and I told him to stay in touch.”

Obama again met Remsburg at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, as he lay in the hospital after the bomb blast nearly killed him.

“He couldn’t speak; could barely move,” Obama said. “Over the years, he’s endured dozens of surgeries and procedures, hours of grueling rehab every day.”

According to a lengthy profile of Remsburg in the New York Times, Obama met privately with the soldier in Phoenix in August 2013, where Remsberg “did something that neither Mr. Obama nor military doctors would once have predicted: he stood up and saluted his commander in chief.”

For his heroism, the Arizona native was awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.
During the speech, Obama used Remsburg’s story to convey the broader point that Washington can get things done, even though they may seem near impossible.

“My fellow Americans, men and women like Cory remind us that America has never come easy,” Obama said.

“Our freedom, our democracy, has never been easy. Sometimes we stumble; we make mistakes; we get frustrated or discouraged. … But if we work together; if we summon what is best in us the way Cory summoned the best in him, with our feet planted firmly in today but our eyes cast towards tomorrow – I know it’s within our reach.”

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January 29th, 2014
09:53 AM ET

New York Congressman Threatens to Throw Reporter Off Balcony

Rep. Michael Grimm, R-New York, defended his actions late Tuesday night after he physically threatened a NY1 News reporter at the Capitol.

“I verbally took the reporter to task and told him off, because I expect a certain level of professionalism and respect, especially when I go out of my way to do that reporter a favor,” Grimm said in a statement given to NY1, a CNN affiliate. 

“I doubt that I am the first member of Congress to tell off a reporter, and I am sure I won't be the last," he added.

It started when Grimm, who's under investigation by the Justice Department for illegal fundraising during his 2010 campaign, walked away from an on-camera interview about the State of the Union after the reporter, Michael Scotto, tried to ask him questions about the allegations.

"Alright, so Congressman Michael Grimm does not want to talk about the allegations concerning his campaign finances," Scotto said. "We wanted to get him on camera on that, but he, as you saw, refused to talk about that. Back to you."

With the camera still rolling, Grimm surges toward the reporter, who appears visibly surprised.

The second-term congressman, who's also a former Marine and former FBI agent, spoke aggressively to Scotto for about 20 seconds.

NY1 broadcast the confrontation, though it bleeped out the obscenities.

"Let me be clear to you: If you ever do that to me again, I'll throw you off this f***ing balcony," Grimm said.

Scotto replied that he was just trying to ask "a valid question."

"No, no. You're not man enough, you're not man enough. I'll break you in half, like a boy," Grimm replied.

First elected in 2010, Grimm represents Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn.

"I was extremely annoyed because I was doing NY1 a favor by rushing to do their interview first in lieu of several other requests," Grimm said in the statement. "The reporter knew that I was in a hurry and was only there to comment on the State of the Union, but insisted on taking a disrespectful and cheap shot at the end of the interview, because I did not have time to speak off-topic."

Scotto said he didn't expect much of a reaction to the question.

"I was surprised about his reaction," Scotto said Wednesday morning on CNN's New Day. "I'm a New York City reporter. I'm used to pushback but I never encountered anything like that"

Asked by CNN anchor Chris Cuomo if he thought the threat was real, Scotto said "I don't believe the substance of the threat at all. I'm not taking it personal. I just think he was angry by the fact that I asked that question and I think he was even more angry by the fact that I kind of explained to viewers why he was not going to answer that question."

Scotto added that there were no preconditions when he spoke to the Grimm before the interview started.

NY1 Political Director Bob Hardt also released a statement, calling the congressman's behavior "unacceptable."

"It is extremely disturbing when anyone threatens one of our reporters – let alone a U.S. Congressman. The NY1 family is certainly alarmed and disappointed by the behavior of Representative Grimm and demands a full apology from him. This behavior is unacceptable," reads the statement.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which has long been targeting Grimm over the allegations, was quick to push out the confrontation in an e-mail blast to reporters.

Grimm has been known to get testy with reporters in the past, including on CNN's "The Situation Room" last fall.

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January 29th, 2014
07:13 AM ET

"Morning Minute" with John Berman – January 29, 2014

Need to get today's top stories on-the-go? Watch John Berman's morning minute now!

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