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Israel on the Brink of War?; Avoiding the Fiscal Cliff; In the Hot Seat: Petraeus Testifies Today On Benghazi

Aired November 16, 2012 - 05:00   ET


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: No let up despite talk of a ceasefire. Bombs rain down on Gaza. Rockets crash into Israel. Now, global fears of a full-scale ground war.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Terror at a Texas parade. An 80-car train slams into a parade float full of wounded vets. Now everyone wants to know why.

SAMBOLIN: And David Petraeus on the hot seat. The now ex-CIA chief heads to Capitol Hill this morning with members of Congress demanding answers.

BERMAN: Good morning. And welcome to EARLY START, everyone. Happy Friday. Glad to see you. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: We all made it. Nice to have you with us. I'm Zoraida Sambolin. It is 5:00 in the East.

BERMAN: Up first, edging closer ever more to a full-scale with Hamas.

SAMBOLIN: The violence in Gaza escalating overnight. The Israelis pounding more than 300 terror targets with airstrikes and heavy artillery. While Palestinian militants continue to launch rockets into Israel territory with Tel Aviv being targeted -- all while Israel calls up thousands of reservists in preparation for war.

BERMAN: Ben Wedeman is in Jerusalem this morning. He joins us now by phone.

And, Ben, there was talk this morning that Israel will hold up on their air assault while Egypt's prime minister paid a visit to Gaza. How is that going so far?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, it was originally planned that it would be a three-hour ceasefire while Hisham Kandil, the Egyptian prime minister, was making this visit to Gaza.

But according to our sources on the ground in Gaza, it doesn't appear that either side significantly reduced their level of military activity in Gaza. Certainly before the sun came up there was an intense air attack on Gaza itself. It may have been lessened somewhat in the morning while the Egyptian prime minister was touring Gaza. But the expectation is, after he's gone, it's going to get back to the same pace than it was before his visit.

BERMAN: So, Ben, there are elections coming up not too long from now in Israel. And Palestinians lawmakers there are actually saying that that may be part of the impetus for Israel to be taking action.

WEDEMAN: Certainly this is what you hear oftentimes. It was the same case in the 2008, 2009 Israeli offensive against Gaza. They say that the Israeli politicians, Israeli leaders are motivated by a desire to show that they're strong on Hamas. In fact, we spoke to one Palestinian lawmaker Mustafa Barghouti who stressed the point that really this is all about politics.

BERMAN: And, Ben, of course, one of the big concerns right now --


DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI, SECRETARY GENERAL OF THE PALESTINIAN NATIONAL INITIATIVE: This whole escalation was initiated by Israel. There was a ceasefire. There was a truce, which was violated by Israel several times. Unfortunately, we all don't want to have any innocent person hit or hurt, but it seems that Mr. Prime -- Mr. Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, decided to use Israeli and Palestinian blood for his election campaign.


WEDEMAN: And certainly because there are elections planned for January of next year here in Israel, it's widely expected that Prime Minister Netanyahu will be re-elected for another term. But this is the connection many Palestinians are making.

BERMAN: This is a delicate situation, Ben, obviously all over the region, particularly for the new government in Egypt. I understand there will be big demonstrations in Cairo today.

What are the chances -- what are the risks right now of Egypt being drawn in further to this conflict?

WEDEMAN: The chances are actually fairly small. Egypt has enough problems with it is with fighting militants in the Sinai Peninsula, which is right next to Gaza. Egypt still says it will respect the Camp David Peace Accord signed with Israel back in the late 1970s. Obviously, we can expect Egyptian politicians and leaders to make as much political hay as possible over this Gaza violence, but it's highly unlikely that Egypt has really the wherewithal or the desire to get sucked into that conflict.

And I know from speaking to many Egyptians, they don't have an appetite for it. They may sympathize with the people of Gaza, but that sympathy does not extend to an eagerness or willingness to engage or become involved militarily in that conflict.

BERMAN: All right. Ben Wedeman in Jerusalem this morning following the ongoing developments there for us this morning -- thanks, Ben.

And coming up later, Soledad will be speaking to Israel's deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon. That will be in our 7:00 hour of "STARTING POINT". Be sure to watch.

SAMBOLIN: And here at home, President Obama will have the four top leaders of Congress over to the White House today to begin talks on avoiding the fiscal cliff, which could plunge the U.S. economy back into a recession. Both sides say there is room for compromise, but at the same time, it appears Democrats and Republicans may have dug in on their long-held positions concerning tax hikes and spending cuts.

Jill Dougherty is in our Washington bureau.

Good morning to you.


SAMBOLIN: Jill, both sides have said they are optimistic about a deal here. But they're also not budging on some key issues.

DOUGHERTY: Yes. I mean, there is some room around the edges, but essentially, and this is the opening gambit, of course, at this important meeting. They're both talking about taxes. The President saying -- and revenue -- the President saying that he wants more revenue from the wealthiest Americans and the Republicans and especially Mitch McConnell, who's the Senate Minority Leader, he's taking a tougher stand I think than even Boehner.

Let's listen to both of those positions.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R-KY) SENATE MINORITY LEADER: Let's be clear: an opening bid of $1.6 trillion in new taxes just isn't serious. It's more than Simpson-Bowles or any other bipartisan commission has called for. It's been unanimously rejected in the House and Senate. It's twice as much as the White House seemed ready to agree to during last summer's debt ceiling talks, and looked at in the context of the spending cuts yet to be enacted from this president's other proposals.

It amounts to about 20 cents in cuts for every new dollar in tax hikes. In other words, no cuts at all. It's a joke. A joke.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We right away say 98 percent of Americans are not going to see their taxes go up, 97 percent of small businesses are not going to see their taxes go up. If we get that in place, we are actually removing half of the fiscal cliff. Half of the danger to our economy is removed by that single step.


DOUGHERTY: OK. So is it a joke, or as the Democrats would say, the math isn't adding up?

Let's look at the issue of deficit reduction. The Democrats say, the loop -- let's say if you cut loopholes or you cut deductions as Republicans are saying, that doesn't add up. But the Republicans are saying Mr. Obama does not have any mandate to raise taxes.

And here we are -- I think you'd have to say, Zoraida and John, you've got the tone now. Both looking at the President, how is he going to open up, looking toward more compromise, or digging in the heels, trying to parlay his re-election into something that can really push the Republicans to do something that they want.

SAMBOLIN: Jill, one more thing I want to talk about. It's those tax cuts. We know the President wants to put a bill up to vote that would extend the tax cuts for families earning $250,000 or less.

Do you expect that Speaker Boehner is going to go for that?

DOUGHERTY: Well, probably not initially. They would, of course, want the tax cuts just to continue, but there could be some type of room after all that $250,000 for a family some might consider low definition of who is rich in America. And there might be more flexibility in terms of pushing that to a higher number.

But that, of course, you're not going to get that in this initial discussion probably, but that is a possibility later on.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Jill Dougherty, live in our Washington bureau -- thank you.

BERMAN: Eight minutes after the hour. A parade honoring veterans goes horribly wrong in Midland, Texas. At least four people were killed when a train slammed into a float packed with veterans and their spouses yesterday. More than a dozen other people were rushed to the hospital.

The circumstances that led to the crash are unclear. Union Pacific says the tracks lights and crossing gates were working and the train sounded its horn before the crash.

The commander-in-chief as consoler-in-chief. President Obama toured Hurricane Sandy devastation in New York yesterday, flying over ravaged neighborhoods in Queens, comforting devastated homeowners in the streets on Staten Island and reassuring them that they will come back and that he will also be back.


OBAMA: I came up here right after the storm, was on the Jersey side, and I had promised to everybody that I was speaking on behalf of the country when I said we are going to be here until the rebuilding is complete. And I meant it. So I'm going to come back today, but I'm also going to be coming back in the future to make sure that we have followed through on that commitment.


BERMAN: The recovery from Sandy now has a point person. President Obama named Shaun Donovan, a New Yorker, who is the Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, as the go-to guy.

SAMBOLIN: It is nine minutes past the hour.

Informative but not necessarily conclusive -- that's how Senate and House lawmakers describe real time video and testimony about the attack on the consulate in Benghazi. Senators say the video combines surveillance and drone footage. And a source familiar with the House committee hearing said the video includes shots of Ambassador Christopher Stevens being dragged out of the building. He and three other Americans died in the September attack.

And some of the Obama administration's sharpest critics on Benghazi actually skipped the briefing, including most of the Republican members of the Senate committee that were investigating the attack, among them, Senator John McCain. When one of our producers questioned him about it yesterday, he got very testy. Listen.


TED BARRETT, CNN PRODUCER: Senator McCain, listen, I understand that you did miss this briefing yesterday --

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: I have no more comment, I have no comments about my schedule and I'm not going to comment on how I spend my time with the media.

BARRETT: Is there --

MCCAIN: I will not -- have no further comment.

BARRETT: Is there a legitimate feeling that you're complaining about wanting more --

MCCAIN: I have no further comment. I have no further comment. I have no further comment.

BARRETT: Why can't you comment about that?

MCCAIN: How many times do I have to comment?

BARRETT: Why can't you comment about that?

MCCAIN: Because I have the right as a senator to have no comment. And who the hell are you to tell me whether I can or not?


SAMBOLIN: Wow. And later, a more cheerful McCain explained what happened to our Piers Morgan.


MCCAIN: It was a scheduling error. I can assure you I got all the information and in future hearings, including one tomorrow morning with General Petraeus.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN: You can tell there that McCain was a little sorry he went off as he did. Our producer was Ted Barrett, one of the best producers and reporters in Capitol Hill. Those questions were not at all inappropriate, not one bit.

SAMBOLIN: No, absolutely. Absolutely.

BERMAN: Eleven minutes after the hour right now. That hearing that McCain was referring to happens just a few hours from now when David Petraeus testifies before the House Intelligence Committee. Will he shed new light into what really happened in Benghazi?

We'll take you live to Washington, next.


BERMAN: Former CIA Director David Petraeus is about to testify before a House Intelligence Committee. The closed-door hearing is set for 7:30 Eastern this morning. That's one week after stepping down as director of CIA.

Now, Petraeus will be asked what he knows about the September 11th attack on the American consulate in Benghazi. All the while, the CIA announces it's launching an investigating into Petraeus' conduct while he was still in charge of the agency.

Senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash, who never sleeps, is live from Washington this morning.

And, Dana, a source close to Petraeus says he plans to clear up what he calls a lot of misrepresentations about what he told Congress initially. What does that mean he's going to say?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, our Barbara Starr did some excellent reporting, talking to a source, that source close to Petraeus. They said he really plans to tell lawmakers that he knew almost immediately that Ansar al-Sharia, which is a loosely connected radical Islamist group, that they were involved. But, at the same time, he got a stream of intelligence, including about 20 distinct reports, also emerge -- indicating that that was -- that it was all based on fear over anti-Islamic video, which, of course, we heard initially from the administration.

Now, I can tell you I spoke to lawmakers on the Intelligence Committee yesterday who are still frankly annoyed as what one described as Petraeus' weak presentation to the House Intelligence Committee in the days after the September 11th attacks.

BERMAN: So could these differences in the intelligence explanations, could they explain the inconsistencies in the administration's response? And I guess the question is, you know, it seems pretty contentious on the Hill, based on what I've been seeing you report. Will this satisfy the critics?

BASH: You know, unclear. One thing that I -- became clear, especially after talking to lawmakers after yesterday's intelligence briefings, which went on all day long, is it's sort of a political Rorschach test. Republicans came out saying that they believe that what they heard makes clear that the administration was not telling the full story and Democrats came out saying that they got the answers that show the administration was giving the best information that they had based on the intelligence.

But you mentioned the critics. Listen to what John McCain is -- who's the leading critic -- has been saying.


MCCAIN: I think it's been very clear now for quite a long time that there was no demonstration. That, of course, was the key element in what Ambassador Rice was saying and what the President was saying. There was not any demonstrations. And I didn't have to have any secret briefing to know that. That's public knowledge.

And so, it knocks all this story about the President not knowing and who was responsible and all that.


BASH: Now, the one thing these lawmakers can get from David Petraeus they perhaps couldn't get from others is details about what happened from the ground. He was on a trip to Tripoli and elsewhere in Libya shortly before he resigned. And that's what intelligence committee members really want to hear from him, about what he learned while he was there, what that trip report says.

BERMAN: All right. Dana Bash in Washington -- thanks for being there for us this morning.

It is now 17 minutes after the hour. Time for "Early Reads", your local news making national headlines.

And we're going to start with new details about General Petraeus, the mistress. New reporting from "The Washington Post" shedding light on Paula Broadwell's path from homecoming queen through Harvard University to the general's biographer.

She first met General Petraeus at Harvard in 2007 when he came to speak there. "The Post" says she earned a master's degree from Harvard, but was asked to leave her doctoral program. Apparently, over time, she distorted some accomplishments at Washington and inflated some other credentials. The piece also says she's a relentless networker, driven and well-liked by most in Washington.

SAMBOLIN: And in "The Arizona Republic", the first medical marijuana dispensary has been approved to operate in the state of Arizona. Voters in 2010 approved the state's medical marijuana law which made it legal for patients to grown their own pot and to open dispensaries to sell it as well.

It's setting up a showdown with some Republicans, state and local officials, including the attorney general and the controversial sheriff, Joe Arpaio, who are warning people they can still be prosecuted. Why?

BERMAN: That guy is in the middle of everything.

SAMBOLIN: I know. But, you know, it's a federal crime. Yet, in states they're allowing people to grow it and sell it.

BERMAN: It's a great unanswered --

SAMBOLIN: So, showdown.

BERMAN: It's a great unanswered legal question everywhere right now.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, it is.

BERMAN: Nineteen minutes after the hour. For an expand look at all of our top stories, head to our blog,

SAMBOLIN: And if you think the fiscal cliff is just a Washington problem, wait until you hear how you might be affected. We're talking less money for every state. That is coming up next.


BERMAN: Minding your business this morning. Stocks are set for another drop today, but the decline hopefully will not be big. It will be the Dow's fifth drop in a row, however.

SAMBOLIN: So the big thing plaguing Wall Street these days, the fiscal cliff. And today, new details on how the inaction in Washington is going to trickle down to all of us. And you know who has the details.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: State houses across the country, you guys, are really looking at this math and they are concerned because federal grant -- federal money make up about one- third of state revenues.

Let me say that again. Money from Washington, D.C., your federal tax dollars, makes up about one-third of what states have to spend. Many of them, I think 19 states, are already facing budget deficits.

And now, on top of that, you have the potential for big cuts for the federal funding of the grants that these states get. There's no state in the Union, all 50 states get federal money. All of them are facing cuts starting January 1st if we go over the fiscal cliff.

Let me show you a little bit -- 18 percent of federal grants to states would be subject to the cuts, the sequester, that horrible word for a really stupid thing. Overall, $7.5 billion would vanish from state coffers at a time when they're already looking at billions of dollars in budget deficits.

And as you know, states are not like the federal government that they can just run red ink forever. They have to balance their budget. So, if they don't have the money, that means you're going to lose services. What kind of services? You're going to lose education services, probably all kinds of different services you're not thinking of, but you're going to see prices go up for a lot of things you use. Also, things like, you know, preschool, subsidized preschools, food for the needy, food stamps, stuff like that.

Let me show you the states that would take the biggest hit as a percentage of their revenue. Look, South Dakota -- 10.3 percent of its state revenues, of its federal grants are subject to sequestration. I mean, it has a big percentage of its money that comes from the federal government.

Illinois, Georgia, Texas, Tennessee -- these are the state where is the largest percentage of their state revenues are subject to the sequester. Again, a terrible word.

BERMAN: It sounds so menacing when you say it like that.

ROMANS: I know. I'd like to know the origination of that word. It's a pretty bad thing.

Look, everyone thinks they're going to find a solution to this. I'm not trying to be an alarmist. I'm just saying the reason we keep tells you this and talking about this every day is because this has real world consequences.

If 535 people can't get their acts together and figure out how to fix this in a right way, everyone is going to pay for it. That's something everyone wants to avoid.

SAMBOLIN: That's why when Warren Buffett said yesterday we wouldn't go into this recession -- yes, a lot of the lawmakers were like, wait a minute. It's really going to affect my state in a big way.

ROMANS: Tell that to somebody who's trying to get their kid in Head Start in Georgia, Texas, Tennessee.


ROMANS: I love you, Warren. I'm just saying.

BERMAN: All right. Thanks, Christine.

It is 25 minutes after the hour.

We want to go back to Gaza coming up. There are real fears there this morning that Israel could be mobilizing for a ground invasion. We'll go to the region, coming up next.


BERMAN: No backing down. Just more bombs. Is Israel gearing up now for a ground war in Gaza?

SAMBOLIN: Steering clear of the fiscal cliff. President Obama's drawn his line. Will Republicans draw theirs? Both sides face to face this morning at the White House.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Down that long road to recovery, we're going to see the real Barack Obama.


BERMAN: The President consoles some of the victims of Hurricane Sandy, but can he deliver on his promise to help? Big question there.

Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. Twenty-nine minutes past the hour.

BERMAN: Up first, President Obama and the top four congressional leaders will meet at the White House to begin talks again on the fiscal cliff and how to avoid going over it. That deadline now just 46 days away.

The President has said he won't extend tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. For republicans, that's a non-starter. Clearly, a lot of work to do. CNN's Jill Dougherty is following developments. She's in our Washington bureau.

And Jill, the President said he'd like to put up a bill right away to extend tax cuts for families earning less than $250,000, but that doesn't seem like it'll be a go for John Boehner, does it?

DOUGHERTY: No, at least at this point it doesn't, because after all, the Republicans want those tax cuts to continue. That's really the nub of it. And, how far they'll go, it's a very important meeting, because this is really it. This is where the President weighs in.

It's mano-a-mano at the White House, and they now really have to come up with something. But you know, the person who's taking a harder stance is Mitch McConnell. So, let's listen to what he says from the Senate side.


MCCONNELL: We don't happen to think the government needs more revenue. The government spends too much as it is. If Democrats are willing to reduce spending and strengthen entitlement programs, which we all know are on an unsustainable path that threatens our own long- term viability and the economic well-being of our children and grandchildren, then we'll be there. What we won't do is raise tax rates.


DOUGHERTY: OK. So, read the fine print. Raise tax rates. Now, there's a difference between raising tax rates and raising revenue, making people pay more by doing things which the Republicans have suggested like, you know, capping loopholes or capping deductions, reducing deductions and that type of thing.

So, there is some type of room. But right now, you know, you do have the sides going in a pretty hard position.

BERMAN: The President's also under some pressure from his left flank. You know, in the debt ceiling negotiations, a lot of people forget that he actually seemed willing to trim some entitlement programs. Both Senators Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi have opposed that idea in the past. And he says that the President can get them to budge?

DOUGHERTY: Yes. I mean, the President essentially, you know, wants what he calls balance. And either you increase revenue or you, you know, decrease the spending or you try to find some type of balance. And when he gets into these Democratic side, they don't want programs to be cut on the backs of, let's say, the recipients, middle class recipients. So, here's Nancy Pelosi and how she explains that.


REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D-CA) HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: Whatever adjustments would be made in Social Security should be there to strengthen Social Security, not to subsidize a tax cut for the wealthiest people in America and say that's how we balance the budget. The same thing with Medicaid and Medicare. But again, we have said we support a grand bargain.


DOUGHERTY: Grand bargain. So, right now, I think you'd have to say that the Democrats feel that after the election, they have some type of mandate. The Republicans, obviously, don't agree, but the Democrats want to strike while the iron is hot. And the President certainly wants to come to a deal as quickly as possible. Time really is running out.

BERMAN: Yes, it really is. All right. Jill Dougherty, thanks very much.

SAMBOLIN: Thirty-three minutes past the hour. Thousands of Israeli troops on the move at this hour. America's closest ally in the Middle East edging closer to a full-scale war. Three Israelis are dead, and for the first time since the Gulf War back in 1991, air raid sirens are sounding in Tel Aviv.

Palestinian militants in Gaza launching hundreds of rockets into Israeli's territory. Israel striking back from the air with attacks on over 300 terror targets as they call them. Ben Wedeman is in Jerusalem for us this morning. He's joining us on the phone. Ben, Israeli troops are mobilizing for a possible ground attack. We're reporting that yesterday. Where do things stand right now?

WEDEMAN (via telephone): But the latest is that the Israeli army has called up 16,000 reservists in possible preparation for a ground offensive. You remember during 2008, 2009 Gaza War, Israel sort of softened up targets in Gaza before actually sending troops inside. So, it takes time to mobilize those forces to get them ready. We're hearing that the roads in the Israel going in the direction of Gaza, there are a lot of tanks being moved, other material being moved to the area around the Gaza Strip. And certainly, if you listen to what Israeli officials say, they're definitely putting it that ground offensive is if not highly unlikely, a high probability. This is what one said.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hamas are the enemies of peace, not just the enemies of Israel, the enemies (ph) of peace, regional stability in the region, and to peace both internally on the Palestinian side and between Palestinians and Israel. So, we are targeting that military infrastructure so we will be able to sit down with good people on the other side for real, constructive talks.


WEDEMAN: And certainly, however, if you look at experience of Israel and Hamas over the last ten years, it has not been very successful at crippling the organization. So, the possibility of Palestinians and Israelis sitting down after this offensive is probably wishful thinking.

SAMBOLIN: So Ben, let's stay on Hamas. They were democratically elected by the Palestinians in 2006. Is Israel, in essence, trying to overthrow the government there?

WEDEMAN: Well, certainly what it's trying to do is cripple it, make it so it can barely function with its leaders. As we've heard statements from Israelis, officials basically saying any Hamas functionary or official had better stay in hiding over the next few days. But on the Palestinian side, for instance, I'm in Jerusalem.

We're expecting large demonstrations by Palestinians in support. Not necessarily of Hamas, because Hamas is suffered in terms of popularity in recent years, but it's more protests in solidarity with the people of Gaza, itself. I think if you go to Gaza and ask your average person on the street there whether they would vote Hamas back into power, they would probably say no. But the possibilities of elections at the moment down there are slim to none.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Ben Wedeman live in Jerusalem for us this morning. Thank you for that.

It is 36 minutes past the hour. Former CIA director David Petraeus says the timing of his resignation has nothing to do with the Congressional investigation into the deadly raid at Benghazi.


SAMBOLIN (voice-over): He also told HLN's Kyra Phillips in an off- camera interview, he has not spoken to mistress, Paula Broadwell, since news of their affair broke, and that he never passed on classified information to her either. In less than two hours, Petraeus will testify before the House and Senate Intelligence Committees that is happening behind close doors.

BERMAN (voice-over): BP has agreed to pay $4.5 billion and plead guilty to criminal misconduct in the Deepwater Horizon disaster. But U.S. attorney general, Eric Holder, said the deal doesn't end the criminal investigation into the worst ever offshore oil spill. The settlement includes a criminal fine of more than $1.25 billion, the largest in U.S. history.

The company faces a possibility of more fines in the civil trial, which is set to start next February.

SAMBOLIN: So, if you pop an energy drink to get a Pick-Me-Up, the FDA just posted some eye-opening injury information about three of the most popular ones, Rock Star Energy, Monster Energy, and Five-Hour Energy Shots. The records include 13 unreleased reports about Monster Energy, including five reports of deaths.

In 90 filings about Five-Hour Energy, including reports that suggest its possible involvement in 13 deaths. I'm posting this on Facebook for you so you have it easily accessible.


SAMBOLIN (on-camera): Thirty-eight minutes past the hour. President Obama tells Hurricane Sandy victims that he has got their backs. The question for the thousands of New Yorkers still without power this morning is, will the President keep his word?


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. It is 41 minutes past the hour.

Residents of storm-ravaged Staten Island getting some face time with President Obama. The President surveyed all the damage and visited with victims of Superstorm Sandy. This was all yesterday. He promised to stick with them until the rebuilding is complete. He said he would return.

Nearly three weeks after Sandy, thousands of New York households are still without power. And people who met President Obama yesterday on Staten Island, they're hoping it was more than just a photo op. CNN's Mary Snow spoke to one couple.


MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Nick Camerada's mission now is keeping the heat on in his family's Staten Island house, paying little notice as his community readied for a visit from the President to view the damage of one of Sandy's hardest hit areas. Camerada was more concerned with working on the boiler he was able to rig up just Wednesday to provide heat.

NICK CAMERADA, STATEN ISLAND RESIDENT: You put a generator into your bedroom with an electric oil heat. It's not enough heat to survive. It's -- you know, can I have left the house and went into a hotel? They wanted to give us something somewhere in Jersey. You can't walk away from your house.

SNOW: CNN first caught up with the Cameradas last week as Nick described his harrowing experience.

CAMERADA: I went through the most pain that I ever went through in my whole life from being electrocuted trying to get back into my house to watching all my possessions and my family practically almost dying.

SNOW: Since then, the Camaradas have been getting offers of help. To get through each day, they rely on friends and relatives who've been delivering gasoline for the generator. They plan to rebuild, but they say the $19,000 they've been told they can get in government aid won't be enough and feared the President wouldn't see how bad the damage really is.

CAMERADA: Everything's all cleaned up. The streets, you know, look pretty. It wasn't pretty like this. Up until the last two days, they cleaned up now because the President is coming down to see, you know, the progress that was made down here.

SNOW: As the President arrived, Nick and Diane decided to try and see if they could reach him. They stood in a small crowd waiting, and they were able to speak with the President.

OBAMA: My commitment to you is I'm going stay on it. I'm not going to be a stranger and suddenly forget all about it.

SNOW: Does it change anything for you?

CAMERADA: We're going to see.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I guess, we'll see.

CAMERADA: We're going to see down the road. I mean, down the road, there's always a road to recovery. And, you know, down that long road to recovery, we're going to see the real Barack Obama, you know, his true colors.

SNOW: With a little more hope, they head back to what's left of their home. Their home still has no electricity, and they learned of another potential setback. The gas lines may be shut down while repairs are made, leaving them in the cold once again.

Mary Snow, CNN, Staten Island, New York.


BERMAN: All right. Our thanks to Mary.

You have to take a look at this dramatic new video just released by the New York and New Jersey port authority. It shows the devastating flooding caused by Superstorm Sandy. What you're looking at here is video of two New Jersey path train stations completely under water. SAMBOLIN: Oh my goodness!

BERMAN: Just ah! My goodness. One is in Jersey City, the other in Hoboken. Service at both stations, as you can imagine, remains suspended nearly three weeks after the storm. Look at the water just pour in there. Nearly all the equipment for signaling and all the train equipment just completely damaged or destroyed.

SAMBOLIN: That's horrific.

BERMAN: It really is. Now, get this. There's an east coast storm brewing just in time for Thanksgiving travel.

SAMBOLIN: Say it ain't so.

BERMAN: No. Meteorologist, Alexandra Steele, joins us now from the CNN Weather Center. Who's going to be affected by this? Us?

ALEXANDRA STEELE, AMS METEOROLOGIST: No. This is the good news. You know, for the last four days or so, five days, we've been watching this potential east coast storm develop for the Thanksgiving week, but now, it looks like all computer models showing it's going to stay well offshore.

So, the only thing we'll do and deal with, maybe through the Carolinas, some winds and some onshore flow, but that is the good news. So, that looks like it's a non-player for next week. This is just an area of low pressure. It's a little bit of rain around just this morning hours. In Washington reporting cloudy sky. So, most of this is (INAUDIBLE) which is emanating from the sky but not hitting the ground.

The bigger story, though, really the toughest travel through this weekend and travel for Thanksgiving week will be here in the Pacific Northwest and on the west coast. All the way from Washington to California. Kind of a barrage of storms moving in. So, that's where the trickiest travel will be for the next five days or so.

Big picture today, you're dry in the northeast. Sunny and cool. Southeast, as well. Of course, there's the west with those storms beginning to come on in through today, through the weekend, and into next week. Temperature-wise, kind of right where we should be for the most part, maybe a degree or so cooler.

But, if you guys are into like me, like the meteor (ph) shower, after midnight tonight between about 2:00 and 3:00 in the morning, look toward the sky where this constellation Leo (ph) is. So, it looks as though they're emanating from the constellation, Leo. And because we have a new moon, it will be a pretty cool night to look up and see it.

BERMAN: That sounds awesome.

SAMBOLIN: Very nice.

BERMAN: Plus, we're up at that time anyway.



STEELE: Then you see it.

BERMAN: All right. Alexandra Steele, thank you so much.


BERMAN: Forty-six after the hour. Congressman Ron Paul bids a not- so-fond farewell to Washington after 36 long, long years. Hear his parting shot to both sides of the aisle coming up next.


BERMAN: Fifty minutes after the hour right now. A lot going on. Here's Christine Romans with the headlines.

ROMANS: Hi, guys. This morning, violence escalating between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza.


ROMANS (voice-over): (INAUDIBLE) hundreds of rockets into Israel overnight. The Israelis shelled hundreds of terror targets with artillery strikes. Three Israelis and 19 Palestinians have been killed, so far.

A parade honoring veterans goes terribly wrong in Midland, Texas. At least four people were killed when a train slammed into a float packed with veterans and their spouses yesterday. More than a dozen other people were rushed to the hospital.

In less than two hours, former CIA director David Petraeus is expected to testify behind closed doors about the deadly raid on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. He's expected to tell members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees that he knew almost immediately the attack was the work of a (INAUDIBLE) militia with members sympathetic to al Qaeda.

He's also expected to say he had no direct involvement in the talking points used by U.N. ambassador, Susan Rice in the days after the attack. Excuse me.

Texas Congressman Ron Paul gives what is likely his final speech in front of Congress in a 48-minute speech. The Republican, who leans libertarian, slammed both parties, saying they're leading the country in the wrong direction.


REP. RON PAUL, (R) TEXAS: The financial crisis is actually a moral crisis. Many are acknowledging that a financial crisis looms, but few understand it's in reality a moral crisis. It's the moral crisis that has allowed our liberties to be undermined and permits the exponential growth of illegal government power. (END VIDEO CLIP)


ROMANS (on-camera): Forty-eight minutes. Paul is stepping down from his seat in Congress at the end of the year. Maybe it's an understatement to say he leans libertarian.

BERMAN: They should let him into the Republican debates four years from now, just you know, grandfather him in.

ROMANS: Yes. Well, he had a win. When I was covering all those debates, the young people on college campuses who loved Ron Paul was amazing to me. I mean, the young -- the Paul group was always the most vocal and the most ardent, I would say.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Thank you, Christine.

It is 52 minutes past the hour. Up next, Kim Jong-Un versus Channing Tatum? The race is on. We'll explain.


BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone. It's 56 minutes after the hour. I'm John Berman. That's Zoraida Sambolin.

SAMBOLIN: Are you sure?


BERMAN: I'm positive about that. We're taking a look at the top CNN trends on the internet.

SAMBOLIN: This is something you should participate in. Pants on fire, the annual world's biggest liar competition under way in England.


JIM CAREY, ACTOR: Let me get this straight. That would mean that you lied about your age to make yourself older. But why would any woman want to do that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I changed it so I could get married.

CAREY: And the truth shall set you free!


SAMBOLIN: So that was a clip from the movie "Liar, Liar" where Jim Carey played a lawyer, fitting here, because lawyers and politicians are actually banned from the competition for having, quote, "an unfair advantage." Each contestant is given up to five minutes to weave the best fib in the contest, which responded in honor of a 19th century in landlord (ph) was who was reportedly legendary for slinging (ph) the bull. BERMAN: How do you like that? All right. Move over, people. "The Onion" has named its Sexiest Man Alive. And drum roll, please. It's Kim Jong-Un. Yes, the 29-year-old North Korean Supreme Leader has officially been named the newspaper's Sexiest Man Alive for 2012. You're looking at him a picture side-by-side with Channing Tatum who I think won the "People" magazine award.

"The Onion" says Kim, with his devastatingly handsome looks, round, boyish face, charm, and his strong, sturdy frame. They also say that young heartthrob is every woman's dream come true. Plus, he has a cuddly side.

SAMBOLIN: He does.

BERMAN: He has a cuddly side. He likes to cuddle.

To check out the other top CNN trends, head to our blog,

So, President Obama winning with gifts, an ode to Turkey Day, and the Petraeus scandal.

SAMBOLIN: It's all in this episode of "Late Night Laughs."


JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART": How on earth did Mitt Romney find out about the extraordinary bag of gifts that we got?


STEWART: There's something for everybody in this. What did Obama give us? Oh, bag of weed.


STEWART: That is nice. Food stamp cozy.


STEWART: Contraception variety pack.


JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": Thanksgiving just a week away, yes. And you know, Thanksgiving going to be a little different this year in Los Angeles. You know, since that proposition "B" passed last week, porn stars will now be required to wear condoms while stuffing the turkey.

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": Chris Christie loves thanksgiving. He calls it "The Show."

(LAUGHTER) LETTERMAN: And they have the Macy's big balloon parade. They have new balloons for the kids. They have elf on the shelf. That will be big. Who wants to stand in subzero weather and sleep looking at elf on the shelf.


LETTERMAN: All right. How about Papa Smurf, ladies and gentlemen? How about the shirtless FBI agent? That's a new balloon. He'll be there.

LENO: They are calling this the first national security scandal that involves the CIA, the FBI, the OMG, and the WTF.


BERMAN: All right. EARLY START continues right now.