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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Protests Continue in Egypt; Congress Signals Compromise on Fiscal Cliff; Doctors Make Controversial Recommendation Regarding Contraceptives for Minors

Aired November 26, 2012 - 07:00   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome, everybody, Our "Starting Point" this morning, the fight over the cliff intensifies. Remember that no tax hike pledge? New signs that the GOP may be starting to rebel from that. Maybe a compromise before the 35-day deadline passes as Congress gets back to work this morning.

Plus, a power grab in Egypt. Mohamed Morsi under fire for granting himself extraordinary powers. Will that affect ceasefire talks between Israel and Hamas? They're happening in Egypt today.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: And $59 billion! Retail records broken as Americans crowded stores for some competitive shopping over the weekend. And now, Cyber Monday is here. Will shoppers be in even more of a spending mood?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: You want to talk about money? A new Powerball jackpot. A new record in the cash payout. It's unreal.

O'BRIEN: A packed two hours ahead for you this morning. New Jersey Congressman Bill Pascrell will be joining us, Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, Jamie Rubin, former assistant secretary of state, Dr. Hanan Ashrawi with the Palestinian Liberation Organization will be our guest, Peter Billingsley from "A Christmas Story," and Grinell college hoops star Jack Taylor, remember him? Big game he had the other day. And the one and only Tony Bennett, Monday, November 26th.

Welcome, everybody, to STARTING POINT this morning. Is that a hint of compromise in the air on Capitol Hill? It's 35 days left till we reach the fiscal cliff. A couple of key Republicans are now suggesting that they're willing to forego their no tax pledge to try to get a budget deal done and avoid massive tax hikes, and spending cuts that will come in the new year.

A brand-new CNN/ORC poll shows that is, in fact, affecting the American people as 68 percent say they believe falling off the fiscal cliff could trigger major problems for the country, maybe even a crisis. Brings us to Dan Lothian at the White House this morning. Dan, good morning. Senate goes back to work this afternoon. The house will return tomorrow. What could really be done by lame duck congress?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, the hope is that there will be some kind of compromise here, because as you pointed out most Americans believe that if there is no agreement there really could be a crisis here. So you are seeing some softening from Republicans who took that no tax pledge back to 1986. First it was Saxby Chambliss. Now South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: When you're $16 trillion in debt, the only pledge we should be making to each other is to avoid the coming grief, and Republicans, Republicans should put revenue on the table, we're this far in debt, we don't generate enough revenue. I want to buy down debt and cut rates to create jobs. But I will violate the pledge, long story short, for the good of the country, only if Democrats will do entitlement reform.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LOTHIAN: And I think that's important what he said there, only if Democrats will do entitlements, as some Democrats have pushed back on that. They do not think that that should be on the table. As for Americans, they believe that there should be a balance between spending cuts and tax increases. About 67 percent, according to a new CNN/ORC poll say that, 29 percent say only spending cuts.

And who will get the blame if we don't reach some kind of agreement here? GOP clearly gets the brunt of the blame here -- 45 percent say the GOP, 34 percent say president Obama, 15 percent say both.

Now as Congress returns here to Washington, the White House coming out with a new report saying that if those Bush-era tax cuts are not extended to middle-class Americans, consumer spending over 2013 will drop by nearly $200 billion. This is an ongoing effort by this White House to help the middle class and to ensure that wealthy Americans pay a little bit more. Soledad?

O'BRIEN: Dan Lothian at the White House for us. Thank you, Dan.

A lot happening in the Middle East. Overnight we learn that Israel's defense minister, Ehud Barak is resigning his post. That's effective come January. That development comes as delegations for both Israel and Hamas meet in Cairo today. They're meeting with Egyptian officials to try to advance those cease-fire talks.

And Egypt's president Mohammed Morsi will meet today with judges to explain his edict barring them from overturning any decision that he makes or any laws that he imposes until a new parliament is formed. Reza Sayah is in Cairo this morning. Reza, lots to talk about. Let's start with Mohammed Morsi, please.

REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, Soledad. A few thousand protesters still here in south Tahrir Squares, especially those who camped out over the past several days, still seeing some clashes, most of them triggered by what seem to be teenagers and 20-somethings out here looking for trouble. We also saw our first fatality of the protest last night on Sunday in a northern city where a 15-year-old member of the Muslim Brotherhood youth movement was clubbed to death. At this point the brotherhood doesn't seem to be using that fatality as a rallying cry to shore up support.

But at the same time, it doesn't seem to be any indication that this conflict is coming to an end any time soon. The leaders of the opposition faction continue to demand Mr. Morsi to rescind his decrees. We just spoke to one of his senior advisers a couple of hours ago. He wants dialogue with the leading opposition factions. He didn't say anything about these decrees today. Today there are talks scheduled with the judges, but at this hour, no talks scheduled with the opposition factions. Tomorrow big protests on both sides. Both the opposing factions and Mr. Morsi the Muslim Brotherhood calling for 1 million man protests.

O'BRIEN: Interesting timing, of course, as they try to negotiate some kind of a peace treaty there or at least continuing relation of talks with the peace talks Reza Sayah for us, thanks, appreciate the update.

Holiday shoppers in full force through black Friday. Did you go shopping, Christine?

ROMANS: Heck no. Have you read my book, Soledad? Don't spend money you don't have.

O'BRIEN: It's 247, that's a record, 247 million?

ROMANS: It is a record number but it's stretched out over four days now. Now the days are Thursday through Sunday. Let me throw in cyber Monday, right, so it all comes together in huge, huge four-day frenzy of buying.

O'BRIEN: Total spending of what was the number, up some --

ROMANS: Then you she $59.1 billion, nearly 13 percent growth. But, from the another before you had about 16 percent growth. The industry is telling us that this was a really good weekend. Black Friday used to just be Friday after Thanksgiving when you would try to spend all this money. Now, it's on Thanksgiving, after, you know, after your turkey you can go online or go out and go shopping. Now they're hoping that today people will spend even more money online.

What people buy over the weekend. We know they spent on average $423 Soledad. Last year they spent $398. They spent a little more on average over the weekend. They bought clothing and accessories. That was the number one destination, toys. And then books, CDs, DVDs, video games, electronics another big category. That rose almost every year. Jewelry was 15.2 percent. As we know this is the worst time of the year, only Valentine's Day second for buying jewelry. But people did it anyway. And 32.6 percent --

O'BRIEN: You're a romance killer.

ROMANS: If you're going to get engaged you got to act now. That's what they say, right? Online sales, what's really interesting. For the first time ever on Friday online sales topped a billion. This has been this big shift. We're shopping longer over the thanksgiving holiday but we're also shopping online. Even on Thursday, you saw huge growth on actual thanksgiving, so between stirring the gravy and mashing the potatoes you could score some deals, in part because we're using technology much more to do our shopping now.

O'BRIEN: There was like 70 percent off and then 25 percent off of the 70 percent off.

ROMANS: And the deals were good, especially for certain kinds of electronics and the normal door busters if you get there. But remember that we're going to be seeing deals throughout the rest of the year, too. So now that the online factor is in there, you're going to be hearing a lot more about these sales.

Another question is, now through four days of buying, is this it for the holiday shopping? Are people done? And have we seen the big boost, and the retailers --

O'BRIEN: I haven't started.

ROMANS: You haven't?

BERMAN: Auction Wednesday and --

O'BRIEN: What's next?

ROMANS: All the sort of made-up branded name days.

O'BRIEN: I like it.

ROMANS: Because of technology.

O'BRIEN: I'm giving you my half cold cup of coffee if you'll read the news stories coming up.

BERMAN: Sounds like a good deal. Fire broke out at a garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, is now under control with no deaths reported. It happened just two days after another fire killed at least 120 workers. Authorities still do not know what caused the eight-story blaze Saturday night. The factory is owned by a company which manufactures products for Wal-Mart and other companies in the U.S. and Europe.

Police in Georgia say a suspected Wal-Mart shoplifter is dead after getting in a physical altercation with two employees and a security guard. Investigators say the man left the store with two DVD players. Employees and the security guard detained him, when police got there they say the employees were on top of the man, who was unresponsive, and bleeding from the nose and mouth. Wal-Mart is investigating.

Human error is to blame for a gas explosion that destroyed a strip club in Springfield, Massachusetts, last week. You see the explosion right there. At least 21 people were injured by the blast, including 12 firefighters and two police officers. According to the fire marshal's office, the utility workers inadvertently punctured a hole in a high pressure gas line while responding to reports of a gas smell nearby.

Another sign life is slowly returning to normal in New Jersey. Path trains in the Garden State and lower Manhattan are back in service this morning after super-storm Sandy swamped the system. You're seeing pictures there of the floodwater just gushing in. Millions of gallons of floodwater from the hurricane left the World Trade Center station submerged. It took nearly a month to pump it all out and fix the damage.

So if you like to play the lottery, you may want to stock up on tickets for Wednesday's record Powerball jackpot. With no grand prize winner, the jackpot is now up to $425 million. That may not be it. The number could go even higher depending on ticket sales over the next few days. The previous high for Powerball was $365 million. That was a ticket sold in 2006. You're just dreaming right now. Soledad is lost in her dreams.

O'BRIEN: I'm trying to decide would I call in and tell people I'm not coming in to work or would I just stay in bed and not bother.

ROMANS: What would you buy?

O'BRIEN: I wouldn't buy a thing. Actually, I'd fund a lot of programs. I'd send a lot of people to college. I don't need stuff.

BERMAN: She's better than me.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: You have everything. What do you mean?

BERMAN: I got a few things I could think of.

O'BRIEN: Please, please. All right moving ahead this morning, and still ahead on STARTING POINT, Congress -- will Congress come to a compromise, and avoid the fiscal cliff? Or will we just go right over? We're going to talk to Congressman Bill Pascrell who sits on the House Budget Committee.

And emergency contraception for teenagers, the controversial new recommendation from doctors this morning. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Welcome back, Minding your Business. U.S. stock futures pointing to a lower open. The stocks had a pretty good day Friday. The Dow, NASDAQ and S&P 500 all gained more than 1 percent. The Dow closing above 13,000 for the first time since the election. This week, the focus turns back to the U.S. economy. Now the fiscal cliff talks are looking more promising and the election is behind us. New reports this week on the housing market, manufacturing sector and consumer data. Also the second estimate for third quarter GDP comes out on Thursday. The broadest gauge of the health of the economy and economists think that number is going to show better growth than we saw, 2.8 percent down from 2.2 percent that they had thought earlier. The fiscal cliff being, you know, is something that really helped the stock market last week.

O'BRIEN: I would imagine.

ROMANS: Don't screw up.

O'BRIEN: Please, Congress, don't mess this up. Let's take a live look this morning at the capitol dome. That is in fact where Congress is back to work this week. The fiscal cliff staring them in the face, 35 days, we go right over that cliff or right down that slide or whatever the metaphor is we're using today. Politicians on both sides of the aisle are now signaling that they're willing to compromise. That includes Republicans who've been softening their stance on raising taxes. Senator Dick Durbin, Democrat from Illinois, weighed in on ABC's "This Week."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. DICK DURBIN, (D) ILLINOIS: From my side of the table, bring entitlement reform into the conversation. Social Security set aside. It doesn't add to the deficit. But when it comes to Medicare and Medicaid, protect the integrity of the program but give it solvency for more and more years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Congressman Bill Pascrell is a Democrat from New Jersey. Thank you for talking with us.

REP. BILL PASCRELL, (D) NEW JERSEY: Soledad, how are you this morning?

O'BRIEN: I'm really well, thank you. I've had many, many days off. What are the Democrats willing to give? You heard Dick Durbin there. Tick off for me and be specific, what are Democrats willing to give on in this negotiation?

PASCRELL: Well, I think the senator's absolutely correct, we need to compromise. There's no question about that. And we will not, however, in any way, shape or form, jeopardize the planned benefits for Social Security. I mean, that's kind of in stone in the American people. We changed Social Security over the years in order to meet the demands that the program insists upon. We will do that. But we'll do that in a bipartisan fashion.

O'BRIEN: OK, so compromise. Social security is off the table. Medicare, walk me through what are the changes here?

PASCRELL: We've already -- we have already cut benefits. We have already cut dollars for Medicare. But not benefits. And we will not compromise on the question of guaranteed benefits of Medicare.

O'BRIEN: What do you compromise on?

PASCRELL: We can change Medicare. As you well know, we save Medicare $750 billion -- million dollars, and that was because of the Medicare Advantage program, which was unfair for the rest of those of us who do not have Medicare Advantage. But there were no cutting. In fact, there's more benefits now in Medicare. We want to stay with a general budget. The math doesn't add up if you simply say we're going to do away with some of the deductions. In order to get the cuts that are necessary, in order to get the revenue that's necessary, we will have to raise some rates or else the math doesn't work at all.

O'BRIEN: Are you --

PASCRELL: I think the president's direction was absolutely correct during the campaign and after the campaign. You know politicians have a knack of changing things when the election is over, actually, and I think he stayed on course, to about $3 of cuts and a dollar for increase in revenue. And while I'll not say general protocol, I think that's the direction we should be going.

O'BRIEN: So are you open to limiting deductions versus raising taxes?

PASCRELL: Well, we may -- look, limit the deductions for those making over $250,000. We may limit those deductions for those making over $1 million. What the figure is, what the dollar figure is, is one thing. What the principle is, is another. And I think we'd be working to a compromise on the very question that you asked.

O'BRIEN: So let me ask you a question about the unions. Of course unions, big democratic supporters, the AFL-CIO spokesperson Jeff Houser said not a single day more of the Bush tax cuts for the two percent, protect Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid. Other unions have said listen we're going to put pressure on Congress to raise taxes on the wealthy, keep entitlements off the table. That sounds like a very non-compromising position, and with Democrats kind of caught in the middle, how do you do both of those things?

PASCRELL: Well, look, this is a starting point. When you're negotiating, we start negotiations the week before Thanksgiving. I thought that it was moving in a healthy direction. I see since then that some Republicans have said that they're willing to put revenue on the table. What kind of revenue they're talking about? That could be another question altogether, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: How tricky is this going to be for Republicans? You saw, and I'll play a little chunk of this, two prominent Republicans joined senator Saxby Chambliss in saying that they would be willing to potentially break that pledge, the Americans for tax reform pledge, Grover Norquist. Let's play a little bit of that for you.

PASCRELL: Sure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GRAHAM: When you're $16 trillion in debt, the only pledge we should be making to each other is to avoid the coming grief, and Republicans should put revenue on the table. I want to buy down debt and cut rates to create jobs, but I will violate the pledge, long story short, for the good of the country, only if Democrats will do entitlement reform.

REP. PETER KING, (R) NEW YORK: I agree entirely with Saxby Chambliss. A pledge you signed 20 years ago, 18 years ago is for that congress. For instance if I were in Congress in 1921, I would have signed a support of declaration of war against Japan. I'm not going to attack Japan today. The world has changed. (END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: So, ultimately, if both of them sound like they're saying listen we're willing to break that pledge. What will the impact be do you think if that happens, and does it cause the Democrats to compromise even more?

PASCRELL: The devil is in the details, as you well know. I'm glad that some of the Republicans, and there are a few moderates left, and thank god for that, they're willing to -- they do understand that the math doesn't just add up if you simply take revenue off the table. You can't do that. We're willing to put everything on the table. There are certain things we will not put on the table, which is Social Security. We will not reduce the benefits for Medicare. We will not support anything that goes in that direction. However, anything else other than that, we could talk about.

O'BRIEN: But you just - sir, you just said we're willing to put everything on the table and then what followed that was but not this, but not that, and but not this.

PASCRELL: But not Social Security. That was what the election was all about. Either you mean it or you don't mean it. And we meant it. There are other things that we should talk about. How much revenue? Well, what are the deductions situation?

For instance, I would not support a -- for New Jersey, for instance, if you took the mortgage deduction off -- mortgage interest off the table, or put it on the table. That would ruin our housing market altogether. We're a high tax state. We're one of the givers to the economy, the state of New Jersey. I couldn't accept that. I wouldn't be doing justice. So there are certain things that you put on the table. And while everything may be on the table, you negotiate it, and see what you can get back.

O'BRIEN: Congressman Bill Pascrell, Democrat from the state of New Jersey. Nice to talk to you, sir.

PASCRELL: Soledad, it's a pleasure.

O'BRIEN: Appreciate that.

We're going to be talking with Grover Norquist straight ahead this morning. He's going to respond to some of these high-ranking Republicans saying that they'd be willing to, to rip up, I guess, essentially that, that pledge. Ahead on STARTING POINT, we're also going to talk about some new recommendations from doctors, little controversial this morning. Should teenagers be given prescribed emergency contraception, even before they need it? Our STARTING POINT team is heading in to talk about that and much more. We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Our team this morning, we're talking to Chrystia Freeland, the author of "Plutocrats," and Kelly Anne Conway is with us. She's a Republican pollster. Nice to have you both with us. Roland Martin is going to be joining us --

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I'm coming!

O'BRIEN: There he is.

Let's talk about this what I think is kind of a controversial recommendation. It is the academy of -- American Academy of Pediatrics encouraging doctors to talk about emergency contraception with adolescent patients when they are discussing safe sex. They say doctors should have it on hand for those who need it right away and also be willing to write prescriptions for teenagers for future use.

The goal is to fight back against teenage pregnancy. The U.S. has one of the highest rates among developed countries, nearly 80 percent of teen pregnancies are unplanned.

So what do you think? Would you support having your teenage, I guess, daughter, walk around with a prescription from the doctor for emergency contraception?

KELLYANNE CONWAY, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER: No, because I'm always available by cell phone or e-mail. I think that these teenagers who can't go see an R-rated movie unless they're 17, can't get their ears pierced without a parent there, can't drive until a certain age, I mean the idea --

O'BRIEN: Don't end up with a baby at the end, though --

(CROSSTALK)

CHRYSTIA FREELAND, DIGITAL EDITOR, THOMSON REUTERS: Could actually have sex without a parent present, and indeed most teenagers prefer to have sex that way. So I would definitely like my kids to have that.

MARTIN: I have nine nieces and I have four nephews. And in terms of a doctor prescribing this and a parent not knowing, I have an issue with that. But I certainly believe, though, that doctors should have this conversation, because the mistake that we always make in this country, we leave to the parents, we assume the parent actually has that conversation. And too often they actually don't. And so you should have a medical professional having that kind of conversation.

CONWAY: A 13-year-old and an 18-year-old are not the same people, either. So when I read an article like this which is less than a page, first time I'm hearing about it, I want to know is it more narrowly prescribed? Who are we talking about here? Will the parents be involved? And also, you know, who defines what the emergency is?

MARTIN: Well, health side effects of a prescription is also a critical issue.

O'BRIEN: Except having also read this one-page article that say there are no health side effects.

MARTIN: Well I always hear that when it comes to prescriptions. O'BRIEN: On STARTING POINT, we're talking about a minister who is resigning as the fragile Middle East ceasefire -- will the latest developments put peace in jeopardy? We'll discuss that with Jamie Rubin, former assistant secretary of state under President Clinton. A lot to talk about there. We're back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)