January 27th, 2014
09:55 AM ET

WH Adviser: Obama Prepared to Use Bully Pulpit

White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said President Barack Obama's plan to take more action in 2014-even without congressional approval-shouldn't be considered a threat to lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

"I don't think it's confrontational. It's 'Let's find areas to work together,'" he said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union." "There are some items right before Congress we can do together."

He mentioned immigration reform, extending unemployment benefits, patent reform and the farm bill as possible items that could be accomplished with bipartisan support.

But, Pfeiffer added, "the President is not going to tell the American people that he's going to wait for Congress."

"He's going to move forward in areas like job training, education, manufacturing, on his own to try to restore opportunity for American families," he told CNN's chief political correspondent Candy Crowley.

Previewing Obama’s upcoming State of the Union address on Tuesday, Pfeiffer sent an e-mail message to supporters Saturday that said Obama will lay out a “set of real, concrete, practical proposals.”

He reiterated Sunday that 2014 will be a "year of action" and the President "is going to look in every way he can, with his pen and his phone, to try to move the ball forward."

Pfeiffer agreed with the characterization that Obama will be using his bully pulpit more often this year.

"Absolutely, absolutely," he said. "We do that in big ways and some small ways. … We are putting an extra emphasis on it in 2014."

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, said on "State of the Union" that the White House's approach "sounds vaguely like a threat."

"I think it also has a certain amount of arrogance in the sense that one of the fundamental principles of our country were the checks and balances, that it wasn't supposed to be easy to pass legislation," Paul said.

"It's hard to convince people to get legislation through," Paul said. "It takes consensus. But that's what he needs to be doing is building consensus, and not taking his pen and creating law."

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January 27th, 2014
09:49 AM ET

Maryland Mall Shooting: Journal May Reveal Gunman's Motives

A journal discovered at Darion Marcus Aguilar's home may explain why the 19-year-old walked into a busy mall in Columbia, Maryland, on Saturday and killed two employees of a skateboard apparel shop before turning the shotgun on himself.

So far, law enforcement officials haven't determined a motive and aren't giving many details about the journal's contents. That's something people certainly will be talking about when the mall reopens for business at 1 p.m. ET Monday.

Police said Aguilar showed up at The Mall in Columbia in a taxi Saturday morning and stayed in a "generally confined area" before going to Zumiez, a shop that caters to skaters, on the second floor. There he fired six to nine shots, killing 21-year-old Brianna Benlolo and 25-year-old Tyler Johnson before shooting himself.

Police are trying to find out more about Aguilar. CNN affiliate WBALreported he was a quiet, tall, skinny skateboard enthusiast who graduated last year from Blake High School in Silver Spring. He had no criminal record and purchased the shotgun legally, WBAL said.

Aguilar had a backpack that contained two homemade bombs, police said. Both were disabled.

Howard County Police Chief Bill McMahon told reporters Sunday that in the journal, Aguilar "does express some general unhappiness with his life, but I really don't have any other information about that now."

But the journal had enough disturbing information to worry a Prince George's County police officer who saw it Saturday afternoon - before he knew Aguilar was the mall shooter, CNN affiliate WJLA said.

According to WJLA, the officer went to Aguilar's home in College Park to speak with his mother after a missing person report was filed. The officer read parts of the journal and was concerned for Aguilar's safety, the affiliate said.

The investigator traced his phone and discovered it was pinging at the Mall in Columbia, which had become a crime scene by that time, WJLA said. When the Prince George's officer delivered the information to the mall, Howard County police were able to identify Aguilar.

Aguilar also had a backpack that contained two homemade bombs, police said. Both were disabled.

McMahon said there was no known relationship between Aguilar and Benlolo, WBAL reported.

"I know there's a lot of interest in the motive for this, and I have as much interest in that as anybody," McMahon said Sunday.

McMahon identified Aguilar as the shooter Sunday.

Aguilar purchased the 12-gauge Mossberg shotgun in December, the chief said.

He added that police served a search-and-seizure warrant at the shooter's house and retrieved documents, computers and other potential evidence, including the journal.

On Saturday, a federal official briefed on the shooting told CNN that preliminary information suggested the gunman aimed only at the two victims, perhaps indicating it was an isolated situation and not a wider shooting spree.

Benlolo was an assistant manager at the store and had worked there since November 2012, according to her Facebook page.

Evelyn McDonald, her close friend, called the shooting shocking and a "complete tragedy."

"She was just full of energy. She was so nice and just an amazing artist and just an amazing person inside and out," McDonald told CNN.

Benlolo was the mother of a small boy.

"She loved her son. She loved being a mother," McDonald said.

Johnson had worked at the store for about three months, according to his Facebook page.

See more at CNN.com 

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January 27th, 2014
09:45 AM ET

Welcome to Sochi, the Security Games

A trip to the Winter Olympics in Sochi should be all about superhuman feats of skill or endurance on skis, skates or bobsleighs. But hearing the talk of U.S. security plans in the run-up to the Games in Russia next month, visitors may think they are entering a war zone.

Contingency plans for evacuating Americans in case of an attack are well in hand, it would seem.

The United States is moving to two warships into the Black Sea. If ordered, helicopters could be launched from there to Sochi, a U.S. official told CNN recently.

And if more capacity is needed, C-17 transport aircraft will be on standby in Germany and could be on the scene in about two hours.

That's in addition to U.S. precautions on Russian soil, where FBI agents are now arriving in Sochi to work with their Russian counterparts, according to Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee.

"New Day" asked a panel of people related to the Olympics if these security measures assuage their fears or not.

Sequocoria Mallory-Evans, mom of USA bobsled team member Aja Evans, says she will still go to the games and her daughter feels safe.  "We certainly don't portray any type of fear. I'm not afraid to go. I'm excited about going and I'm certainly encouraged that the United States has offered to lend a hand to Russia and Russia has really made this a top priority – security concerns and preparation."

But Kate Carcelen, wife of cross country skier Roberto Carcelen, says she will not go.

Carcelen says she originally wanted to bring her daughter to the games but the more the couple talked about security concerns, the more she could see it stressing out the Olympian.

She says, "There's a little bit of focus he'd like to have rather then wondering where we are. But primarily, I think it's what is happening in the region and the events that are going on there."

Her husband also says "The threat is real. The Olympics are built on the foundation of peace and freedom values. So this is kind of the perfect environment for terrorist groups to let their voices heard. So we feel like it's a little bit stressful. It was a really hard decision for us as a family not to come."

See his take: 

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January 27th, 2014
09:42 AM ET

Cold, Snow will Blast Southeast; Arctic Temps to Remain in Midwest

It's time to bundle up in the sunny South.

A wave of arctic air that settled over the Midwest and the Plains is expected to spread into the Southeast late Monday, bringing a chance of snow to several major cities by Tuesday.

In normally balmy New Orleans, there's a 30% chance of rain and sleet Monday night, a 70% chance of freezing rain Tuesday and an 80% chance of wintery mix Tuesday night, according to the National Weather Service.

Atlanta will see the mercury drop into the low 20s Monday and Tuesday nights with a 30 to 40% chance of snow Tuesday. In Montgomery, Alabama, there's a 40% chance of snow Tuesday.

Call it weather whiplash: Dallas will experience a dramatic 30-to-40 degree temperature plunge, going from around 80 on Sunday to the high 30s on Monday, reported CNN affiliate WFAA. No precipitation is expected. In New Orleans, the temperature will drop from around 60 on Monday to 30 on Monday night.

People in Washington, D.C., probably won't see snow, but they'll feel the cold. Temps will drop to 7 degrees Monday night with the wind chill telling you it's even colder, as in 8 degrees below zero. Tuesday will warm up only a little.

"Welcome to my world," the Midwest and Great Plains will say.

Much of the northern Plains, Midwest and Northeast will likely shiver through daytime high temperatures 10 to 30 degrees below normal through Wednesday, the National Weather Service said.

Chicago could see a high temperature of minus-5 degrees Fahrenheit on Monday and minus-3 on Tuesday, with wind chill values of around negative 30 degrees.

Getting behind the wheel of a vehicle could be very dicey.

In Wisconsin, the state department of transportation is urging people to avoid driving if possible. If they must drive, they should carry a fully charged cell phone, have at least half a tank of gasoline and tell somebody where they're going.

In Milwaukee, two motorists seconded that advice.

"It's going to be pure ice. It's all fluffy and light snow like this and it's going to melt down — going to be a mess," Gary Lukowitz told CNN affiliate WITI.

"Even though you see the streets are plowed and it's still slippery out there — still a lot of wet snow on the ground, still freezing and cars are still slipping around," Adam Bernstein said.

In South Dakota, officials said white-out conditions with zero to near zero visibility, icy roads and blowing and drifting snow are making safe travel almost impossible along the I-29 corridor and throughout most of the northeast and eastern part of the state.

They have closed Interstate 29 from the I-90 junction at Sioux Falls to Brookings because of blizzard conditions. I-29 was also closed from the South Dakota border to Canada in North Dakota.

Authorities in Minnesota are advising no travel in the southern and western parts of the state, where several roads are closed.

Whiteout conditions could also be found in Hazleton, Iowa, said CNN iReporter Danny Murphy. He shot a video of the very white weather.

"Rural areas around here are suffering from near whiteout and blizzard conditions causing for very hazardous travel," he said.

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