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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Israeli-Gaza Conflict Escalates; Negotiations Continue Over Fiscal Cliff; Interview with Representative Barbara Lee; Chris Christie on SNL; Sirens Go Off in Gaza; Prepping for Holiday Travel

Aired November 19, 2012 - 08:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


REP. NAN HAYWORTH, (R) NEW YORK: Well, you know, results -- elections have consequences. It's been said many times. It's true. And, we look at the 2012 -- we look at what we pledged in 2010. And we really -- I was among the Republican candidates who said, look, we have to have fiscal responsibility for the sake of everyone, for the sake of every single American 100 percent.

That's always been my thing. So we voted in ways that we felt would advance a fiscally conservative agenda. I had a very ecumenical environmental profile because I am environmentally protective. I think that's important. The 2012 election told us that we're not going to get a Senate and a White House that align with that more restrained point of view about the fiscal cliff. So that changes the approach, obviously.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: We have to stop talking about 2012 for a second, because we have to talk about 2016. The race begins. The big name from the Republican Party made a stop in Iowa this weekend.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Iowa. Also, we're going to talk about this picture that's really heating up online. If you haven't seen it, here it is, the president and a star gymnast, not impressed.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT everyone. It has been a day of deadly violence in Gaza. An Israeli missile leveled a two-story home there killing 10 people including four children.

BALDWIN: The situation is now threatening to absolutely spiral out of control. You now have representatives of the two sides, they're now in Egypt today for cease-fire talks. But no direct negotiations are taking place. Hamas is publicly demanding this truce. They're calling on Israel to bring an immediate end to its long running military blockade of Gaza.

BERMAN: Frederik Pleitgen is live for us right now near the Gaza border on the Israeli side at a collection point for the Israeli military. What does that mean, Frederik?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You'll see right behind me, there's an assortment of armored vehicles collecting there. It looks to us as though that's still a very small collection point, still only a few vehicles there. If you look at the roads around here, we've been traveling them quite frequently right now, then you would have seen a lot of Israeli armor being brought in here, a lot of tanks being brought in here, armored vehicles as well.

There's a lot of convoys we're seeing on the road. I've been traveling the road here for the past couple of days. It really seems to be increased right now. We saw big columns of armored vehicles today as we were coming over here, a lot of trucks that had tanks on the back. It looks as though the military buildup here is in full swing. We have to go, John. We have a mortar that's about to land. There's an alarm for a mortar. I'm sorry, we have to get out of here.

BALDWIN: Go ahead.

BERMAN: That was Frederik Pleitgen. Just a few minutes ago Fred had to move. There was a threat of mortar attack and maybe even sniper attack. We're glad he's taking the appropriate measures now.

BALDWIN: When he had to move, we let him move, absolutely. We'll hopefully check back in with him as well. But some other top stories here as well this morning.

BERMAN: President Obama wrapping up his historic trip to Southeast Asia. He's in Cambodia now where he will attend a regional summit. He is the first sitting U.S. president to visit Cambodia, ditto, Myanmar. In a university speech overnight in Yangon, Myanmar, the president offered the country's new civilian government a hand of friendship as long as it continues to nurture democracy.

BALDWIN: Also this morning there's this new video we want to show you from this TV crew's camera. It just so happened to be rolling as this oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded in the distance. Hear them reacting to it. See the smoke there. Divers scouring the sea floor found the body of one man who worked on that platform. Another worker is still unaccounted for today and we're told at least 11 others were injured in this explosion which happened Friday. As for a cause, we still don't know yet.

BERMAN: It may be a little too early to talk about 2016, but Florida Senator Marco Rubio certainly looked like he was ready to hit the campaign trail during a visit to Iowa this weekend. Rubio appeared Saturday night at a fundraiser for Iowa Governor Terry Branstad. In his speech the Florida Senator discussed the future of the Republican party, tax reform, the national debt, energy and immigration policy. Just a coincidence that he's in Iowa.

BALDWIN: Now to this. Public displays of nudity could soon be banned in San Francisco because the public says they're fed up with men bearing it all in the Castro district. The city's Board of Supervisors meet tomorrow to consider the measure that would fine first offenders up to 100 bucks. A second public nudity violation would trigger a $20 fine. A third offense if you want to come back again, nice file video, would be $500 and you could go to jail for a year. Here's the thing, ladies. The measure contains exceptions for women who would like to bare their breasts in public. So there you go. BERMAN: All right, moving on. A new photo of president Obama and team USA gymnast Michaela Maroni has gone viral. They clearly are both not impressed. I love this. Maroni became an internet meme when she flashed her "non-impressed" face on the victory podium of the London Olympic after winning just the silver medal. She says President Obama specifically asked to see her now famous expression during the team's White House visit last week. How cool is that?

BALDWIN: That's a photo you keep for a lifetime.

And 43 days may seem like a lifetime.

BERMAN: Sorry, Ron Brownstein.

BALDWIN: Surprise, surprise! Popping up. That's our fun.

So let's talk about the president. Let's talk Washington. It's 43 days until the U.S. economy sails over the impending fiscal cliff, and really with little time to spare here leaders in Congress are finally getting serious, Meeting at the White House just this past Friday around this round table here. And they agree it was a step in the right direction.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R-OH) SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: To show our seriousness, we've put revenue on the table as long as it's accompanied by significant spending cuts.

SEN. HARRY REID, (D-NV) SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: We have the cornerstones of being able to work something out. We're both going to have to give up some of the things that we know are a problem.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: That sounds like a whole lot of optimism there. But, still, no details have been agreed upon, and other lawmakers on both sides are standing firm on some pretty familiar sticking points right here.

So joining us live now from California is Democratic Congresswoman and co-chair of the Out of Poverty caucus, Representative Barbara Lee. Representative, let me ask you there. We did hear from the congressional leaders. We did hear from the president on Friday. They sounded optimistic. They sounded like they were getting along. Is there reason for hope here? Do you think there will be a solution by the new year?

REP. BARBARA LEE, (D) CALIFORNIA: I think there's a lot of reason for hope. We have to be optimistic, because this really, quite frankly, is a human cliff. And as an example of why we have to be hopeful and why I'm saying it's a human cliff, many people don't realize, but as of December 28th, over 2 million people will be without unemployment compensation. That is extremely tragic.

What I don't want to see, though, in these negotiations, as low income people, senior citizens, I don't want to see the unemployed be part of a deal that could cut their benefits, because, of course, we know 60 percent of discretionary spending is in defense. And so as we move forward, we have to be optimistic but we also have to be realistic that we have to have the tax cuts that the president has wanted and talked about ending for those who make over $250,000, the millionaires and the billionaires.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Congresswoman, Ron Brownstein of the "National Journal." The president said the tax rates for those at the top have to go up. He has not said they have to go all the way back up to their level at the Clinton years. One possible compromise seems to be a smaller increase in tax rates coupled with some limit on deductions. Would that be acceptable to you or do you think tax rates for those at the top have to go all the way back to where they were under Bill Clinton?

LEE: Let's say that I believe that the tax cuts that President Bush enacted during his administration need to end. And that is the $250,000 and above. We are talking about tax cuts for 98 percent of the public. We're talking about tax cuts for middle income individuals, for low income individuals, the child tax credit. We're talking about tax cuts that affect 98 percent of the people. So however they work this out, I hope that we do not see the extension of tax cuts for those making over $250,000.

CHARLES BLOW, COLUMNIST, "NEW YORK TIMES": Congresswoman, this is Charles Blow. Are you open to the idea of entitlement reform as part of this deal personally?

LEE: Personally, when you talk about entitlement reform, what are you talking about? I'm open to looking at the Pentagon budget. When you see the waste, fraud and abuse that's in the Pentagon budget, we can't even at this point audit the Pentagon. I think we need to --

BLOW: I'm specifically talking about things like Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, the kinds of programs that people generally don't like to touch.

LEE: No. We should not touch that.

BLOW: Not at all?

LEE: First of all, for Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security, these are programs that people have worked for. These are programs also that address those who are low income and who are poor. I don't believe that low income individuals and the most vulnerable, and our seniors should be part of a deal. First of all, they're just living on the edge as we speak anyway. And so why should they have to bear the brunt of the cuts when we're talking about finding revenue to be able to really balance the budget, create a path toward deficit reduction, and really reignite the American dream for everyone. So I don't believe entitlement cuts that would affect the poor and seniors and low income individuals should really be on the table.

BERMAN: All right, Representative Barbara Lee, that's a pretty solid line you've drawn there, no reform or cuts or changes to any of the entitlements there. Thanks for joining us there. Great to see you. And we will be back with STARTING POINT in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: And welcome back here. Just about quarter until the top of the hour.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie decked out in his now I guess we could call it infamous blue fleece jacket popped up for a cameo this past weekend on "Saturday Night Live".

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) NEW JERSEY: And also I cannot thank the following. I do not thank any of the stupid mayors who ignored my evacuation orders, you're idiots. And when you ignore me, it makes you look like a real Seth Meyers.

SETH MEYERS, COMEDIAN: Oh come on.

CHRISTIE: I'm talking here.

MEYERS: All right.

CHRISTIE: I also do not want to thank the reporters that put themselves in danger. You know, by walking into the middle of a hurricane with their cameras. We don't need you to tell us there's a hurricane. We have windows.

And finally, I do not want to thank the people who are getting in screaming matches at gas stations over the long lines. Look, I get it. Screaming at people at gas stations is a New Jersey tradition. But you don't do it during a crisis. There'll be plenty of time for yelling when this is all over.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: He's pretty awesome, right?

BALDWIN: Pretty great. You guys watched that?

BROWNSTEIN: You know it's interesting. Because you at the convention, his speech was pretty widely panned. He seemed to be, like, definitely the star dimming. But this was -- this whole -- both -- both the reality and the humor, I mean both has been really a star turn for him on the response.

CHARLES BLOW: It's still about him.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, I understand. I understand that.

BERMAN: It's quite interesting and New Jersey is --

HAYWORTH: How are you going to be a New Jersey governor and Republican any other way?

BROWNSTEIN: All this has been a reminder of what people like about Chris Christie.

NAN HAYWORTH: Right, right.

BERMAN: Cory Booker who is the Mayor of Newark, a Democrat who has been eyeing the governor's race or maybe the senate race for some time actually he said he is going to delay his decision about whether to run for Governor now.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNSTEIN: Oh yes, yes.

BERMAN: -- for a little while. And I think he needs to assess the situation especially with the Governor looking as strong as he does.

BALDWIN: I have to tell you though, coming in from LaGuardia last night just driving over the bridges into the city and just appreciating what you all have been through, having been you know in Atlanta it's pretty -- it's pretty unreal. It's pretty unreal.

BERMAN: All right. Coming up next, we all know that holiday travel is crazy this week. But how do all those planes get to their spots on time -- if they get there on time?

Our Sandra Endo takes a look inside the airports like you have never seen before. That's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: All right. well, welcome back, everyone.

We've been talking all morning about the conflict that is raging right now in the Middle East between Israel and Hamas inside Gaza right now. And a little while ago we were talking to our reporter Frederik Pleitgen who was on the Israeli side of the border a few miles away from the border right now. And in the middle of this live shot he heard a warning siren. I think you're going see it coming up here. Let's listen for a second.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PLEITGEN: A lot of trucks that had tanks on the back. So it looks as though the military build up here is in full swing at the same time. All right, we have to go, John because we have a mortar that's about to land here. There's a -- there's an alarm for a mortar. We're going to get down. We'll be right back, I'm sorry we have to get out of here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: All right, you can see there obviously that Frederik heard an alarm, a siren that there were incoming mortar shells, incoming mortar fire.

BALDWIN: He had to leave understandably so. BERMAN: And Frederik got to safety. Right now he's with his crew. And we believe that they are safe and sound and we're glad that he ended live shot. We just want to give you an update on his well being.

BALDWIN: And now as you hear each and every year this Thanksgiving week is one of the busiest travel weeks for the entire year. So what does it take to make sure -- thanks Berman -- what does it take to make sure those packed flights get actually where they're going?

Sandra Endo has this inside look from George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANDRA ENDO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A lot is riding on people like Michael Baumgarten as more than 24 million travelers are expected to fly this Thanksgiving week. He's a technician for United Airlines.

MICHAEL BAUMGARTEN, UNITED TECHNICIAN: The airplanes just pulled into the gate. We do a routine walk-on inspection every time we --

ENDO: We went behind the scenes at Houston Intercontinental Airport to see what mechanics do before passengers board.

BAUMGARTEN: The walk-on inspection is -- is just that. You walk on and look at all the critical thing.

ENDO (on camera): So what are you checking for here?

BAUMGARTEN: Anything at all broken, leaking, worn out. If there's something wrong, in this case you'll know about it.

ENDO: Technicians get at least half an hour to check every plane that lands. They inspect the entire plane now to make sure everything's ok before the next flight.

(voice-over): United is anticipating a peak load of more than 600 flights through Houston the day before Thanksgiving. And passengers want them running safely and on time.

(on camera): A lot of times as a passenger, we hear, oh, your flight's not ready because of a maintenance issue. What does that mean for us?

BAUMGARTEN: If the airplane is not all safe and legal, it can't go.

ENDO (voice-over): The safety checks are inside and out. On United's new 787 Dreamliner technicians examine the electronics.

LARRY THOMPSON, UNITED MECHANICS SUPERVISOR: We're just going over some problems that we've got in the past. And talking about ways we can keep it from happening again in the future.

ENDO (voice-over): And every four years or so, every plane goes through a major safety overhaul. What are they working on here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a 757. They will completely open the airplane up, inspect everything. Replace a lot of components. Lubricate everything. Put it back together.

ENDO: Most mechanical problems are logged in-flight so base crews know what's wrong before the plane even lands. But it's not always a quick fix.

BAUMGARTEN: We do the best we can. They didn't build it in a day. We can't always fix it, you know, in just five minutes. But you always get them fixed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ENDO: And we're seeing travelers here come in waves. Right now it's a little lull. But two hours ago this place was packed. And you could see the ticketing agents very busy behind me. A lot of the airlines beefing up staffing to take care of the extra passenger load. And of course, the all too familiar sight at airports, people on their gadgets with their coffee, all waiting for their flights. And to get through security they're going to have to go through this entire hassle one more time. Because the Sunday after Thanksgiving is the busiest travel day of the year -- Brooke and John.

BALDWIN: Sandra Endo, thank you very much.

And before we let you go, here's what we've been covering.

This crisis unfolding the last couple of days in the Middle East. These are live pictures. I believe these are live pictures from -- yes, this is Gaza City. As you can see the destruction here many days later.

And I just want to pause. Because we've been listening. We've had reporters on the ground. Anderson Cooper and crew there on the ground for us in Gaza City reporting multiple rockets fired.

You can -- you can see the streets and the air. I'm just going to stop talking. Let's listen.

So as we continue to watch these live pictures, we've been talking all morning. And -- and I want our panel to feel free and weigh in.

We talked to Senator Mitchell, special envoy for the region some years ago. And he was telling us basically his fear is that it will get worse until it gets better.

BERMAN: I've been there for a couple of these conflicts and every time they seem to escalate past the point where you'd want them to stop. They always go the full measure. It always ends in sort of extreme violence. The question here is, is this time different? Is there something that will keep Israel from sending ground troops into Gaza? And what would that be?

BROWNSTEIN: And the larger question as you know, I mean, this occurred four years ago. You know, we did this four years ago. Is there anything out there, is there any solution that would even after the cease -- if there is a cease-fire, even after, that means we don't do this again in three or four years with the escalating cycle of attacks and reprisal.

HAYWORTH: Iran -- I think we always have to look at the relationship of the theocracy in Iran to its surrogates here, being Hamas or Hezbollah. And I've visited Israel. I've been to the northern border where clearly they have -- there are ways in which our ordinary peacekeeping -- the mechanisms we expect to help keep the peace, U.N. forces, cannot do all they are supposed to do. It's just they either aren't because they don't have the capabilities or they don't have the intention.

But this is never going to be resolved unless we address the theocracy.

BERMAN: You're looking again at pictures live from Gaza City right now. See some black smoke billowing. We heard sirens and explosions there.

And just a few minutes ago we should be perfectly clear there were also rockets and mortars going out of Gaza into Israel. One of our reporters on the Israeli side, Fred Pleitgen, had to take cover because he was hearing sirens from mortar shells coming in.

BLOW: There's the broader Middle East and whether or not that whole region becomes destabilized in some way is drawn into this kind of present conflict. Then there's the longer range things that Ron was talking about which how do we stop this as a cycle of things?

Getting to a cease-fire I think is important for this particular conflict. But, you know, Americans who have really, really strong interest in this issue, how do we move past this kind of constant cycling of violence and destruction and get to a point where we actually can talk seriously.

BALDWIN: 60 seconds here before we go, they're all talking. They're in Egypt right now. Both sides. They're not talking to one another. They're talking about this.

BROWNSTEIN: In this crisis though -- but there is a reminder, the drift. We've been several years without any meaningful Mideast peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians. This is a reminder that that is a not a cost-free option. Drift has cost in the sense of creating heightening tensions which come to this kind of flash point every few years.

BERMAN: But there is an interesting policy that has taken place over the last four years which is having an impact right now and that's the iron dome. The new missile defense system Israel has in place right now, largely seen as being successful. Protecting Israeli citizens in these cities from being hit by the incoming rockets. It may change Israel's negotiating stance and it may make them a little bit slower to move those ground troops into Gaza. HAYWORTH: We have to continue crippling sanctions the Congress pushed and the Obama administration has embraced against Iran. That's the real (INAUDIBLE).

BROWNSTEIN: Very telling. This is all occurring while the President is in Asia. Wants to rebalance American policy toward Asia but the Mideast keeps pulling you back.

BALDWIN: Want to thank our panel for being with us this morning. This is a story that we will continue talking about sadly, likely for the rest of the week. My thanks to you. My thanks to you for watching.

"CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello begins right now.