Return to Transcripts main page


President Obama Speaks With GOP Leaders; Long Space Mission

Aired November 26, 2012 - 15:00   ET


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour, I'm Brooke Baldwin. I want to begin with the fiscal cliff. Because other news here, you have Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss, a two-term conservative from the red state south, but just this past weekend, the Tea Party nation website labeled him, I'm quoting, worthless and a liar.

What did he say to deserve these words? He said he's willing to break the no tax pledge that he made when he first ran for office. And guess what? Now he has company. Fellow Republican Senators Lindsey Graham and Bob Corker say that under the right circumstances, they too are willing to break ranks.

What is the Republican world coming to? John Avlon, I want to go straight to you, CNN contributor, writer for "Daily Beast, Newsweek." I want to get your reaction to the news we heard from Jay Carney, we now know the president has spoken by phone over the weekend with Boehner and McConnell. Might this be progress?

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, it might be progress. And that's a good thing.

Look, you got to have these three leaders talking civilly, constructively, about a balanced bipartisan plan. That's the only way the country doesn't go over the fiscal cliff. And that's in no one's interest. Everybody agrees on that.

It is really good news that the president is working constructively with the Republican leaders in Congress, as well as Democratic leaders to find the common ground. It exists. We know the broad outlines. But it takes people in a room reasoning together and it is a sign of progress, and it's welcome news for everybody.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Possibly progress. What did you call it? Common sense, you know, in your piece, right, that the fact that you had these three guys, potentially willing here, to break this pledge. It is not just a pledge against new taxes, John Avlon, or tax hikes. It is against any and all new revenue, correct?

AVLON: Right. That's the problem and that's the point. Most folks would agree at home no congressman should take a pledge except the Pledge of Allegiance.

The problem is this straitjacket that has been self-imposed by folks on the Republican side of the aisle because of a conservative activist to say that we can't even raise revenue. I mean, the sweet spot in these negotiations, Brooke, has always been the distinction between tax rates and tax revenues. Republicans will oppose raising tax rates.

But some reasonable Republicans might agree to raising tax revenue to pay down the deficit and the debt if it is paired by spending cuts and entitlement reform. That's the outline of a grand bargain. Everyone knows it.

BALDWIN: But Grover Norquist says, that breaks ranks with your party, that breaks ranks with my pledge and then, you know, he talks about potential consequences when you do that, John, right? It is a primary challenge. You can hear the ads now. Bob Corker broke his promise. But if these guys are potentially willing to do that, what's different today than, I don't know, two years ago?

AVLON: What is different is that people don't fear the Grover. That's a good thing. Start playing your Deep Purple in the background.

There is no reason to fear a self-appointed activist on this front. Republicans and Democrats in Congress are desperately afraid of primary challenges. They should be because of the rigged system of redistricting. That's the only reason many of them have a shot at actually losing their jobs, because we don't have general election -- competitive general elections.

But the reality is more and more Republicans after this election are declaring their independence from the pledge and from activists and saying we got to get serious about the business of governing, in the national interests, and put all the special interests aside, on both sides. That's essentially getting a deal done.

BALDWIN: And the fact you have two of the top Republican senators flirting to break with Grover Norquist and consider raising rates on the wealthy, they both face reelection in 2014, Saxby Chambliss and Lindsey Graham. I find that interesting. You find that interesting?

AVLON: It is interesting, the fact they're from the South as well. Georgia, where you're talking from, Saxby Chambliss, South Carolina, Lindsey Graham, where my folks live, that's why these two stands are profiles in courage.

Bob Corker just got reelected to six years. But it takes real courage for some folks who are coming up in the next cycle to do this. But that's why they call it profiles in courage. It is a tradition we haven't seen a lot. It requires standing up for what you think is right and putting the special interests and the potential short-term electoral consequences aside. That's why we elect the guys. It is great to see.

BALDWIN: That's what Bob Corker wrote about, what, in his op-ed in "The Post, "The Washington Post," political courage.

But let me quote you, John Avlon, because you call this an ironic problem for the Republican Party. "Tea Party congressmen rose to power on a promise to deal with deficits and debt. Putting anti-tax absolutism ahead of that goal may play well with special interests," to your point you were making a second ago, "but it undercuts the ability to govern in the national interest."

So their own pledge here isn't getting in the way of their goals? We talked about how post-election Republicans needed a little soul searching, and is this the beginning of that?

AVLON: Yes, I believe it is.

This is so important because we can square the circle. The whole Tea Party movement began as a principled protest against deficits and debt, people saying it was generational theft. The problem is if you start elevating the anti-tax pledge, that anti-tax absolutism, ahead of making a deal on deficit and the debt, you're not going to get anywhere.

The only way you pay it down the deficit and the debt is if you agree we have to raise revenues. They can be directed. Question, you can make an argument that the Tea Party movement should get behind a grand bargain, a deficit and a debt deal, if they're serious about what they see and what they said was an existential threat to our country.

We can find common ground on this. That's the hopeful thing. WE just need to disenthrall ourselves from the extreme voices who choked off reasonable debate in Washington.

BALDWIN: Don't fear the Grover. Best quote of the day. John Avlon, always a pleasure, friend. Thank you so much for coming on.

AVLON: Thanks, Brooke.

BALDWIN: The looming fiscal cliff you're hearing so much about really is one reason Republicans are having a change of heart on this whole no tax pledge. The term fiscal cliff evokes some scary imagery, but it is not so much a cliff as it is a set of stairs with the spending cuts and tax hikes getting more painful with each and every step.

Christine Romans explains.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: When you look at the fiscal cliff from far away, it looks like a vertical drop. But get a bit closer and it looks like a staircase, right?

Let's start with the first stair, the debt ceiling. That's how this all began, remember. The debt ceiling is the total amount the U.S. government can borrow to meet its existing obligations. We hit it at the end of 2012, though default can be avoided into 2013, through what the Treasury Department terms extraordinary measures.

In the summer of 2011, House Republicans refused to raise the debt ceiling without an agreement to cut government spending. The result was a debacle, a downgrade of U.S. credit for the first time in history and the formation of a committee to solve the problem later and thus the threat of the fiscal cliff is born.

Without a new deal on January 1, tax hikes, they kick in, $661 billion for next year alone. Those include the expiration of the so-called Bush tax cuts, an end to the payroll tax holiday and an expansion to the Alternative Minimum Tax or AMT for high income earners.

Americans will start to feel those when the first paychecks of the new year arrive. The third step is called the sequester, which kicks in January 2. Those cuts amount to $78 billion next year. Some companies with government contracts have already pulled back on hiring. Some have slowed work, though most Americans won't truly feel the effects of the sequester, the spending cuts, until the middle of next year.

We're talking layoffs for private secretary and government employees and cutbacks in the services Americans rely on. That's the timeline. It doesn't happen all at once, but even if the threat of the fiscal cliff is flirting with disaster during a fragile economic recovery.


BALDWIN: Christine Romans, thank you.

To infinity and beyond for a long time. NASA announcing today plans for the longest mission to the International Space Station, and you will probably recognize the astronaut going, but the question we're asking is, gosh, being in space that long, what will that do to your body?


It is going to be the longest mission ever to the International Space Station. You have astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko. They're the two picks to blast off in spring of 2015, stay in space for an entire year and not come home until spring of 2016.

If the guy on the left, you are correct. Scott Kelly is the identical twin brother of astronaut and space shuttle commander Mark Kelly, who you probably also know is the husband of former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords.

But let's talk about the big trip to space, shall we.

Leroy Chiao knows what it is like to live on board the International Space Station. He's a veteran of four space missions, including the ISS. He has spent more than 229 days in space.

Leroy, nice to see you. I guess 229 will pale in comparison to these guys' 365. What the heck is that like?

LEROY CHIAO, FORMER NASA ASTRONAUT: Well, a long duration flight is a lot different than a short duration shuttle flight. So, I was up there for six-and-a-half months during my ISS stay. These guys are going to be up there twice as long. I can tell you it is going to be tough.

BALDWIN: You have to elaborate, Leroy. When you say tough, what does that do what does it do to your body, physically? Do you have a headache coming home? Do you have to be really in shape in order to do it? How does it work?

CHIAO: Well, actually, on the ISS we exercise two hours a day for exactly that reason. If you didn't exercise up in space during the long duration flight, it is pretty much like -- it would be like laying in bed here on the Earth. So, imagine laying in bed for the course of several months, six months, even a year, you probably wouldn't be able to get up and even walk.

But if you got out of bed and exercised two hours a day, then you probably would be in pretty good shape, because if you didn't, your cardiovascular system would quickly fall out of shape, your bones would start demineralizing, you start losing muscle mass.

And, you know, also the other thing you can't mitigate through exercise is the radiation effects. And some of these other things we're seeing, the vision changes caused -- looks like it is caused by elevated intracranial pressure. Other effects that we hadn't anticipated also come into play.

So it is a tough environment for the human body. And these are the biomedical questions that have to be answered and solved, countermeasures developed, before we can talk about sending crews for a long duration away from the Earth, outside of the Van Allen belts, whether it's to an asteroid, to the moon even or on to Mars.

BALDWIN: And that's why they're doing this.

CHIAO: This is part of answering those questions.

BALDWIN: Right. This is anticipation perhaps like the next steps before we get boots on Mars hopefully in our lifetime. How do you train for this? How do you train to be in space for a year?

CHIAO: It is something you have to wrap your minds around about, you know, being in space for that long.

When I was training for this my six-and-a-half month flight, I had only flown three short duration two-week shuttle missions prior to that, but I had a long time to think about it. The training flow for your first flight is about 3.5 years. And, by the way, I know Mikhail Kornienko very well. He and I trained together on a backup crew back about 11 years ago.


BALDWIN: Do you wish it was you with him, Leroy? Do you wish you were up there?


CHIAO: I training with him, but we didn't actually get to fly together. But he's a good friend, dear friend and it is going to be a great adventure for him.

But you have a long time to kind of think about it. Both of these guys, Scott and Mikhail, have already been through a six-month flight and so they know what it is like. And so they just kind of have to, you know, kind of get into the mind-set of doubling that.

BALDWIN: So I'm looking at Chad Myers, this is our weatherman/fellow space geek, because I'm just going to call him out on this. We were talking earlier about this and he said 365, whatever. That doesn't even break a record. Am I right?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: That is correct; 438 is the record.

CHIAO: You're right. The record was actually set by Valeriy Polyakov. I forget the exact number, but it's over 400 days he spent in space continuously, really quite an amazing feat.

So the human body can do it, as we have seen. I believe there are four Russians that have already spent over one year on a space mission. This won't be a first in that respect. But it doesn't mean it is easy.

MYERS: Leroy, for the vertically challenged here standing on the set, I hear you get taller the longer you're in space.


CHIAO: Actually, what happens is even on a short duration mission of two weeks, your spine will relax and you actually will grow about one- and-a-half inches before. Before you get too excited, within an hour or so of being back on the Earth, you're pretty much back to your original height.

BALDWIN: Sorry, Chad.


MYERS: A moment in time.

BALDWIN: It is fascinating. Leroy, thank you very much. Leroy Chiao, it's a pleasure talking to you, and, you, Chad Myers as well. Thank you very much.

CHIAO: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Shoppers spent a record amount on Black Friday. But will the buying blitz spill over into Cyber Monday? What many think the online shopping day, really that it is a dying trend.

Plus, moments ago, the White House weighing in on what the sales mean really for the overall economy. Don't miss that.


BALDWIN: Israel, a country in the midst of a fragile cease-fire with Hamas, and now also its own political upheaval because longtime Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak making a surprise announcement. He is quitting. He says he wants to spend more time with his family and make room for new political figures. Here he was.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) EHUD BARAK, ISRAELI DEFENSE MINISTER (through translator): I feel it is important that other people should take leading positions in Israel. Changes in the positions of power is a good thing. There are many ways to contribute to society and the country, and not necessarily through politics.


BALDWIN: Barak says he will see out the rest of his term, staying on as defense minister until a new cabinet is formed next January. Barak played really a key role as a key opponent to Iran's nuclear program.

BALDWIN: You may not recognize this name, but Jose "Joe" Luis Saenz is accused of some pretty horrendous crimes. And now Saenz is finally behind bars after eluding arrest since 1998.

He's the suspect in four murders, in Los Angeles, and, in fact, he made it to the FBI's 10 most wanted list. He was nabbed Thanksgiving Day in Guadalajara, Mexico. That arrest was such a big deal, that a couple of hours ago federal authorities held a news conference. Here they were.


BILL LEWIS, FBI: Catching a top 10 fugitive in the FBI is a big deal. That's something that all of our FBI agents aspire to do, so for the folks back behind me, to have the opportunity to be involved in that, is really a big thing and I told them I wanted them to share in this press conference.


BALDWIN: We mentioned the horrendous crimes. One of the crimes he's accused of, kidnapping, raping and murdering his own child's mother. The FBI says she threatened to turn him in for two murders he's accused of committing back in 1998. The feds say his latest job is as a hired gun for the drug cartels.

Today is supposed to be the heaviest online shopping day of the year. Cyber Monday. I'm sure you're not taking any bit of your workday to do that, are you?

Industry analyst comScore projects online retailers will see $1.5 billion in sales before it ends, exceeding last year's figures. All of this though of course is good news for the U.S. economy, as President Obama's chief economic adviser explained moments ago.


ALAN KRUEGER, CHAIRMAN, WHITE HOUSE COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS: Retail spending is extremely important for the economy. As you mentioned, consumption accounts for 70 percent of our gross domestic product.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BALDWIN: Some insiders also say Cyber Monday is losing its luster since many deals offered today have been available all weekend long, as more and more shoppers are going online with their phones or tablets as they shop inside to stores.

Just into us here to CNN, news on New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

Paul Steinhauser, let me go to you live in Washington. What's the news?

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: The news is he just filed papers, Brooke, to seek reelection.

Remember, next year, 2013, only two states hold gubernatorial contests, Virginia and New Jersey. Today, Chris Christie signed the papers. Basically, it's a formality, allows him to set up a campaign structure.

Most people thought, yes, he would run for reelection, but it wasn't a guarantee. Now it is. He's running for reelection. Chris Christie, a very popular person among Republicans. And you saw a lot of him in the last year as a top surrogate for Mitt Romney.

His decision was delayed a little bit because of superstorm Sandy, and even he admitted to reporters about two weeks ago that because of the destruction from Sandy to his state, he had to push back any thoughts of reelection in politics. But he made that decision.

His approval rating...


BALDWIN: It has been huge.

STEINHAUSER: Yes, his response to Sandy has definitely helped his approval rating. According to a poll from Fairleigh Dickinson University, it was good, it was 56 percent before the storm. Now a new poll out today says it is at 78 percent.

A lot of that comes from Democrats, their approval of him on the rise.

BALDWIN: There he is, pictures in his iconic fleece jacket. He was pretty funny though the other weekend on "SNL."


BALDWIN: Paul Steinhauser, thank you.

A global meeting on climate change under way now. It is getting new attention after -- speaking of Sandy -- after the superstorm hit. Coming up next, Chad Myers is back. He will break down the science here, what we all should really be looking for.

Plus, speaking of Sandy, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg just releasing his damage estimates. The number is eye-popping.


BALDWIN: On the streets of Egypt today, scenes playing out just like this one. You see these people racing, smoke, clashes over president Mohamed Morsi's decision to grant himself sweeping new powers.

Here's the thing right now. Behind closed doors, Morsi has met with Egypt's top judges to explain this move. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton actually met with him just last week before this happened here. And today the State Department said this, let me read it for you. "We did not have any forewarning of this decree, including when she was there," she being Hillary Clinton.

Let me bring in CNN's Jill Dougherty who is at the State Department for us today.

And, Jill, Morsi says the changes are temporary, but is the U.S. worried at all this may be paving the way for another dictatorship in Egypt?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, there certainly was concern, there's no question, Brooke. In fact, one of the concerns that the United States had and the international community also had concerns, but one that the U.S. had was would there be violence, would competing factions, you know, take to the streets and there could be physical violence?

Now, this morning, Secretary Clinton did call the foreign minister of Egypt, Mr. Amr, and tried to get some clarification. They discussed this, not only this political issue of President Morsi, but also the issue of Gaza, where he played a very important role, and that is why Secretary Clinton was in that region, just last week.

But the there is concern and let's listen to what the spokesperson for the State Department, Victoria Nuland, had to say about it.


VICTORIA NULAND, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: It is a very murky, uncertain period in terms of the legal and constitutional underpinnings, which makes it all the more important that the process proceed on the basis of democratic dialogue and consultation.


DOUGHERTY: So, if it is murky, they are watching it very, very closely. In fact, one thing that Victoria Nuland said was the right people are talking to each other. That's good news. They want this to happen, number one, peacefully, and number two, democratically.

And, you know, Brooke, on another issue, that funding, the IMF, of course, just reached an agreement with Egypt on some badly needed -- funds that they needed, and there is a question also here in the United States, Congress perhaps trying to maybe pool some of the funding that the United States provides.

(CROSSTALK) BALDWIN: I was wondering. We gave them quite a bit of money. That absolutely could change, could it not, contingent upon whether or not this recent power grab is deemed to be unconstitutional.

DOUGHERTY: It could. And that's a very good point, so the State Department also is looking at that.

You know, they do support -- they did support the IMF funding, and they do support congressional funding if everything turns out democratically. So I think you would have to say, as this goes on, if it turns out to be temporary, temporary in the sense that they have to write a constitution, and until that is done, that is what we're calling the temporary, but once the constitution is there, the hope is by the United States that it will have protections and not any concentration of power in any one person's hands.

BALDWIN: OK. Jill Dougherty, thank you very much, in Washington for us.

Another U.N. conference on climate change kicked off today. The host of the conference is the oil-rich emirate Qatar, ironic, some say, since fossil fuel emissions are blamed by near consensus for the rise in average temperatures all across the globe and the ensuing ice melt, plus other ramifications, perhaps even the late season Hurricane Sandy.

Chad Myers with me again now on the alarming signs that the pace of global warming is increasing.

MYERS: Certainly, the pace of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is still accelerating.

A brand-new record, 2011, not one we want to set, but we now have more parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than we ever have had in the past. Back before we started burning these fossil fuels, somewhere about 280 million parts per million. Now it's accelerating, just going up at 390.9.

The more carbon dioxide is in the air, the more the air heats up, them ore it is kept in the air, like a greenhouse, like rolling your windows up in the summertime. Your car is a lot hotter because the windows are up. It's almost like taking those windows and rolling them up on the atmosphere. The carbon dioxide holds the heat to the surface.

They want to know, are we at a tipping point? Are we at a tipping point where the permafrost melts up in the Yukon, up in Canada, and that methane comes out? Are we at a tipping point where all the ice will melt up in the Arctic and the polar bears will literally have no place to run except back to somewhere on land where there still might be some ice?

We have had Sandy, a late season hurricane, don't get me wrong. Sandy would have occurred whether there is global warming, carbon dioxide or not. It would have still...


BALDWIN: Yes, because I can just hear the people thinking, come on, that doesn't necessarily have to be caused by that.

MYERS: Hurricane Sandy started south of Cuba, south of Jamaica, where the waters are warm all the time.

Sandy was going to be a storm. But when Sandy got up into the cooler waters, which weren't too cool this year, they were one to two degrees warmer than they should have been, Sandy didn't really slow down and Sandy made a big impact for the Northeast.

We're now losing trees at an alarming rate in the west because of these pine beetles that aren't being killed in the winter because it is not cold enough to freeze them out of the trees.

BALDWIN: Because they're not going away.

MYERS: It's just one thing after another. And we're on this roller coaster and we need to -- we need to get off. We literally do.

Now we have 7 billion people in the world trying to drive cars or scooters, not 3 billion like we had just 40, 50 years ago. It is an alarming rate.

We know we're doing things. We are really trying. We are recycling. We're driving better cars, but if we're driving better cars, but, yet, there is twice as many of them --

BALDWIN: Is that really making a difference.

MYERS: -- we're not going in the right direction.

BALDWIN: We'll see what happens from the C1 conference.

MYERS: We hope.

BALDWIN: We keep hearing a lot, a lot more, I feel like recently, politically, in terms of climate change and global warming.

Chad, thank you. Appreciate it.

If you are suspected of a crime, can investigators actually use your cell phone as evidence? Judges, they're actually all over the map on this one and Congress is getting ready to consider changes to a big time privacy act.

If you a cell phone you, need to watch. Sunny Hostin, "On the Case," she's next.