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Avoiding the Fiscal Cliff; President Obama Meets With Mexican President-Elect

Aired November 27, 2012 - 15:00   ET


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour here, good to be with you. I'm Brooke Baldwin. It is not an election. We just had one of those of course here. But it is an outbreak of election style tactics in the brewing Washington battle over the fiscal cliff.

President Obama is launching a new PR effort, a campaign if you will, starting with a meeting today, the White House, small business owners. Tomorrow he hosts a group of middle class Americans who would take a hit if those fiscal cliff tax hikes take effect. And on Friday, he heads to Pennsylvania, small toy factory in fact, to highlight the role middle class consumers play in this holiday shopping season.

Back in Washington, Republicans, they don't like it. They say they want to see the White House leadership and not a return to the campaign trail. But the White House spokesman insists the president is promoting a serious plan. Here he was.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Here is a fact. The President has on the table a proposal that reduces the deficit by $4 trillion, that does so in a balanced way, that includes substantial cuts to discretionary non-defense spending, over a trillion dollars, that includes revenue and includes $340 billion in savings from our health care entitlement programs.


BALDWIN: Joining me now from New York, Rick Newman, chief business correspondent for "U.S. News & World Report." We like to call him our go-to explainer in chief.

Rick, good to see you.


BALDWIN: Hate to beat a dead horse here, but you have been writing about the Republicans beginning to abandon their no tax pledge. The question is: how important is this? Because we're really only talking about this teeny tiny handful of Republicans here. Do you think this is the beginning of a wave?

NEWMAN: We need something like 100 Republicans or more for something like this to get through the House. But when you start to see some prominent Republicans who have leadership positions such as Lindsey Graham and Bob Corker in the Senate and Peter King in the House, they haven't said overall now we have changed our tune, we're totally in favor of raising taxes -- what they have said is, OK, maybe we will budge on tax increases of some form in exchange for some cuts to entitlements and things like that.

So that's clearly a major difference in their stance. There is going to be a lot of tough negotiating that goes on here. There's no question about it. But the thing that has changed is the Republicans are beginning to signal that they will accept tax increases as part of some kind of deal to solve this fiscal cliff problem and start dealing with the $16 trillion debt.

BALDWIN: So you brought up some of the names. Where do you see the Republican Party right now? Are they beginning to line up behind the Bob Corkers and the Saxby Chambliss and Lindsey Graham willing to talk about new taxes on the wealthy, or is the party still, like, say, Rand Paul? I talked to him just a short time ago. Take a listen.


SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: Raise taxes when we're still spending $300,000 a year on robotic squirrels to watch rattlesnakes attack a robotic squirrel that doesn't wag its tail to see whether or not the rattlesnake will still attack the robot squirrel, $300,000, $2 million spent on how we can convince Chinese prostitutes not to drink so much on the job.


BALDWIN: I mean, I jumped in because I can just -- right? I can hear everyone sort of shaking their heads and thinking that is a total waste. But is that the mind-set of most Republicans?

NEWMAN: I think the robotic squirrel is going to be a big item on some holiday shopping lists this year.

BALDWIN: Oh, brother.

NEWMAN: I can see Republicans basically splitting into two groups. I think there will be one group that regretfully supports some tax hikes, probably because these will be Republicans who have safe seats and they can afford to do it.

They're not likely to get kicked out of Congress in the next election by doing so. I think the other group of Republicans will continue to take a hard line against any tax increases for two reasons. Some of them truly believe that we simply shouldn't raise taxes and this whole problem should be solved by cutting spending. And others are going to be in tight races in the midterms coming up in 2014, and they can't really afford to take that stance.

So the Republicans in safer seats I think are going to provide some cover for other Republicans who will continue to oppose this. But we don't need all Republicans. We need a majority in the House.


BALDWIN: You're absolutely right. Look, you know, we're all getting this refresher course on Grover Norquist, although I was talking to John Avlon of The Daily Beast and "Newsweek" yesterday and he said don't -- message to Republicans, don't fear the Grover.

But we know Norquist is a lobbyist. For years, he prevailed upon Republicans not signing -- not raising taxes by signing this pledge, in fact, no revenues whatsoever. Moments ago, Democrat Chuck Schumer was on the Senate floor essentially bidding Grover Norquist good riddance. Watch this.


SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Grover Norquist has had a good run. It has lasted far longer than 15 minutes, but his stringent views make him an outlier now. It is not unlike what happened to his longtime friend Ralph Reed who steered the Republican Party too far right on social issues in the '90s and is hardly heard from anymore.


BALDWIN: Is he, Rick, spiking the football maybe on the five yard line? Is this a little too premature to be writing off Grover Norquist here and the no new tax movement in the Republican Party?

NEWMAN: Yes, I think it is too premature.

Grover Norquist has become a convenient boogeyman, merely because we have maybe hit a tipping point on tax increases and voters are starting to accept the idea that taxes have to go up a little bit on some people. We have got a long way to go, though.

We still are going to have to start talking about tax increases on the middle class at some point. That is going to be an entirely different battle. But the magnitude of the problem really is going to require increases on the middle class or spending cuts that are really deep.

This whole idea that a little bit of tax increases is going to solve this problem, this is step one out of maybe 100 steps. There is a long way to go and this is going to be a battle.

BALDWIN: Well, let's also not forget that we have the President. He is talking about shrinking the size of government. Perhaps -- let me get -- it's $4 trillion, perhaps $4 trillion over the next decade. That has to be tough, right? Is there a way to produce a soft landing here that won't hurt Americans, won't hurt the economy?

NEWMAN: Everybody wants to know how can we do this while putting the pain on somebody else?


NEWMAN: And we're going to start doing that, I think, in 2013. But that's just simply not going to solve the problem. Every credible plan, bipartisan plan that explains how you have to do this calls for tax increases, such as a 15 cent per gallon hike in the gasoline tax.

That was in the Bowles-Simpson report. Moderate increases in tax rates or fewer deductions for virtually all taxpayers. This is not something we can solve simply by minor tax increases on a few Americans. This is a start. But if it is going to really make a difference it is going to have to affect most Americans, and that's how we will know this is a serious effort to deal with the $16 trillion debt.

BALDWIN: Rick Newman, thank you.

NEWMAN: Thanks, Brooke.

BALDWIN: This hour, Mexico's President-Elect sits down with the President of the United States at the White House. And at the top of that agenda, the possibility to deepen economic ties between the two countries.

Let's go to the White House, to our correspondent there, Dan Lothian.

Dan, the meeting happening, we know, this hour. What is to come of it?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, you know, for so long the relationship between the United States and Mexico has focused on immigration, on issues of fighting the drug war.

But this new president-elect Pena Nieto wants to really sort of broaden that, and talk more and focus more on economic ties between the two countries, as you know, billions of dollars between Mexico and the United States when it comes to imports and exports.

They also see -- the Mexicans see more potential for business ties with the U.S., when it comes to trade, when it comes to manufacturing, when it comes to energy investment, some of the same things that we have heard President Obama talk about.

But we also can't forget the issue of immigration because a lot of the work force here in this country comes from Mexico, and then there is the issue of what do you do about illegal immigrants in this country? It was something the President said he had wanted to tackle in his first term and he did not. He's promising to do in his second term. We heard from White House spokesman Jay Carney saying yesterday that the President senses a real opportunity here to move forward, that he believes that comprehensive immigration reform is achievable.

So this is a longstanding relationship between the two countries, focusing on a whole host of issues, but the Mexicans hoping that it can focus more on economic issues than it has in the past.

BALDWIN: OK, so economic issues, comprehensive immigration reform, though I are have to ask you about the issue in terms of fighting drug cartels. Dan, how will president-elect Pena Nieto be different in his approach?

LOTHIAN: That's right. You make a very important point there, because Felipe Calderon for much of his six years in power there in Mexico had really focused on going after those drug cartels, and, in fact, the U.S. had helped financially providing about $1.6 billion in aid to Mexico in the fight against these drug lords.

From this president-elect, he's talked a lot about going after drug violence, but really hasn't laid out a lot of specifics. So I think it remains to be seen exactly how he plans to tackle that issue. It is still important for the Mexicans, still important from this side of the border as well. You will see some kind of effort in fighting the drug problem, but really the focus that they want to see is more towards economic issues.

BALDWIN: OK. Dan Lothian at the White House. Appreciate it, Dan.

Coming up next, Susan Rice comes face to face with the Republicans who have been bashing her for weeks. Find out what happened behind closed doors today and why those senators say they now have more questions now than before.

Plus, it is a debate you're about to hear over and over. Question, should children suffering from cancer be allowed to use medicinal marijuana? Think on it. Dr. Sanjay Gupta tells me whether in fact it is a good idea next.


BALDWIN: U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice -- excuse me -- U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, she went to Capitol Hill this morning really in an effort to calm the furor over the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya.

Her effort, though, it backfired. The ambassador met with her chief critics. You have them here, Republican Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Kelly Ayotte. They have been critical of Rice's initial explanation on the Sunday talk shows of what was behind the September attack that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. Here is Senator Lindsey Graham's reaction after that meeting.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Bottom line, I'm more disturbed now than I was before that the 16 September explanation about how four Americans died in Benghazi, Libya, by Ambassador Rice, I think does not do justice to the reality at the time, and in hindsight clearly was completely wrong.

But here's the key. In real time, it was a statement disconnected from reality.


BALDWIN: Dana Bash, let me bring you in, our senior congressional correspondent.

You were there among the reporters and producers there as we saw the three senators. Prior to today's closed-door meeting, it sounded like the three were softening, right, their criticism of the ambassador. What happened in that meeting to change their minds?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I talked to some of the senators who were in that meeting and basically they said publicly right at that stakeout that they believe that that she didn't answer some of the questions, and some of the questions that they had she did answer made them more upset.

One of the key issues for these senators, they say, was not just that she said that in a couple of interviews that it was a spontaneous demonstration, what she now admits on the record was incorrect and she -- because she was getting incorrect information from the intelligence community, but that she knew in a classified way, but she admitted, I'm told in this meeting today that al Qaeda may have been behind the attack, and yet she went on and at least in one interview to say that the Obama administration has decimated al Qaeda.

What I'm told she told senators in this meeting is that she regrets not saying that -- what she really meant, which is that the core leadership of al Qaeda was decimated. Why does this matter? Because that is really -- that goes to the heart of the Republican criticism that she was political, that her comments were politically motivated...

BALDWIN: So what is she saying?

BASH: ... because it benefited the President to say al Qaeda was decimated and not to bring them back up.

What she says, I will give you -- I will read part of her statement she put out on the classified talking points she used.

She said they were -- quote -- "incorrect in a key aspect. There was no protest or demonstration in Benghazi. While we certainly wish that we had had perfect information just days after the terrorist attack, as is often the case, the intelligence assessment has evolved. We stress that neither I nor anyone else in the administration intended to mislead the American people at any stage in this process" -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Dana, I'm told Senator Lieberman just made news on the Hill. What did he say just now?

BASH: Very interesting.

Senator -- excuse me -- Susan Rice came back for another meeting this afternoon that just wrapped up with Senator Joe Lieberman because he is the chair of the Homeland Security Committee. He came out and, you're right, had a very different take. He just told reporters moments ago that he believes that she is qualified to be secretary of state or anything else if the President chooses to nominate her and that he didn't hear anything in the private classified meeting he just had moments ago to make him think otherwise, a very different take than Senators Graham and McCain and Ayotte.

And just to give you an interesting subplot here, Joe Lieberman and McCain and Graham, it used to be impossible to find daylight between the three of them. They were the three amigos. They almost never disagreed on anything when it comes to policy. During the campaign, the Presidential campaign, McCain's aides used to say to make him happy they would give him cookies and Joe Lieberman.


BASH: I'm serious. But in this particular case, they do have a difference. The bad news for Susan Rice is that Joe Lieberman won't be here next time if she does come up for a vote because he's retiring.

BALDWIN: That's right. Says he's done. Dana Bash, thank you. And thanks for the color and the cookies and Joe Lieberman. That was fun.

Question: Would you let a first- or second-grader or really any child use medical marijuana? An Oregon mother says yes, and is allowing her 7-year-old to have the drug to cope with pain from leukemia. But is it safe? Dr. Sanjay Gupta weighs in on that next.


BALDWIN: Parents, if your child was suffering from a serious illness, would you let him or her use medical marijuana? One mother says yes. She's in Oregon. She's allowing her 7-year-old to have the drug to cope with the pain from leukemia, but is it really safe?

Dr. Sanjay Gupta weighs in -- Sanjay.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, the issue of safety is the first one that comes up often in these discussions. And let me just preface by saying doing the studies that need to be done are difficult in this country, because marijuana is illegal. So it is difficult to do for that reason and also because these are children we're talking about specifically.

But there have been studies from other countries and including one from the Netherlands looking specifically at adolescents vs. adults. And what they basically concluded was that people who started taking marijuana earlier on in life did have some -- more likely to have some long-term impact.

They specifically found that by age 38, those people had a drop of about eight I.Q. points as compared to the general population. That's a lot, not that much depending on your perspective. But with adults they found that if you started adolescence, that you were unlikely to have really any long-term impact.

With the Mykayla specifically, she has a treatable form of leukemia. The understanding is that she's taking the medical marijuana to try and alleviate some of the symptoms such as nausea from the chemotherapy, such as some of the pain that is associated with all this. And marijuana can be effective. There have been studies looking at its nausea for some time. Also it's particularly good at treating a neuropathic type of pain, that pins and needles sort of sensation that people get in terms of pain. There are other options. And that's something that doctors are always going to bring up. Zofran, for example, to treat nausea. Marinol, which is an FDA-approved sort of pill form of TCH. That's the active ingredient in marijuana.

These are questions that are going to come up again and again. Mykayla is not the only one, Brooke -- 51 other children are on the marijuana registry for medicinal purposes in Oregon. So there's 52 children total out of 2,200 people. So this is an issue that is going to come up again and again. And 18 states now, Brooke, as you know, now legal medicinal marijuana, two more for recreational purposes.

We will hear more and more about this in the weeks and months to come. Hopefully, we will get to talk about it again -- Brooke, back to you.


BALDWIN: Sanjay, thank you so much.

As mayor, she stood up to drug lords and thugs in this small Mexican town. Now one woman that many hail as a hero is found dead, abducted as she was driving her daughter to school. The effort to bring her killers to justice next.


BALDWIN: As President Obama and Mexico's President-Elect meet this hour, I want to tell you about a tragic end to really a courageous stand against one of Mexico's murderous drug cartels; 36-year-old Maria Santos Gorrostieta was hailed as a true heroine after being the mayor of a small town despite death threat after death threat.

Twice, they tried to assassinate her, leaving her terribly injured, killed her husband, but on the third attempt the assassins won. She was pulled from her minivan while driving her daughter to school. She was tortured. She was beaten to death and her body left in a ditch. Reportedly she begged her killers to spare the life of her child.

CNN's senior Latin affairs editor, Rafael Romo, is here.

I just can't believe they went after her a third time here. She stepped down from her post, what, a year ago? So, why was she still a target?


There are two possibilities that are authorities are looking into. One, she changed political parties right before running for a higher office. That was last year after she stepped down as mayor. And number two, according to some reports in Mexican media, her husband might have been involved in drug trafficking at some point in his life. Again, that's not confirmed by CNN. That's what Mexican media reports are saying. So right now, many open questions about this case and nobody has really pinpointed the actual reason why she was targeted.

BALDWIN: What about her daughter?

ROMO: She's doing fine...

BALDWIN: She was left in the van?

ROMO: ... considering what happened to her. This happened -- that's the most tragic thing about this whole thing. It was 8:30 in the morning. This is in the capital city of Morelia, not in the town where she was from.

She got intercepted by a group of armed men. She got taken away while her young daughter was witnessing all of this, and according to some reports crying hysterically.

BALDWIN: How old?

ROMO: She was no more than 10 years old. We don't have the exact age.


ROMO: But you can imagine the kind of psychological trauma that that can inflict on a child that young.

BALDWIN: Can't imagine. We know that, what, in last two years, what was the number -- two dozen mayors have been killed in the last six years, all because of drug violence. The question would be, why isn't more being done?

ROMO: Well, the reality is that if you look at Mexico, it is a mixed picture when it comes to what drug cartels have been able to do in terms of targeting public officials, elected officials. For example, in the north, the Mexican government saturated border states, sending tens of thousands of military soldiers and federal police, and the violence has gone down considerably.

But you have other places like the state of Guerrero, the state of Michoacan, where this murder happened, and you have seen the violence spiked. And this state of Michoacan specifically is the scene of a turf war between two very powerful drug cartels. And it might have explained what happened to this mayor.

BALDWIN: Awful. Rafael Romo, thank you.

Now, life on Mars? It is the stuff in sci-fi movies for now. Could this really be a reality in our lifetime? One billionaire seems to think it can. Elon Musk, you have heard the name. He's the CEO of that spaceflight company Space X, last month, launched the very first commercial cargo flight to the ISS, the International Space Station, and now the man behind that mission -- that was that liftoff back the beginning of October. Now Elon Musk says he wants to colonize the Red Planet.

Chad Myers is here.

And, Chad, Elon Musk got a pretty specific plan here.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: He built electric cars, he founded PayPal, he has got a lot of money. He has a plan to put 80,000 people on the Red Planet, not immediately. The first group would be 10. They would have to do a lot of work. They would have to build the dome, they would have to get the water from the capsule into the dome, make carbon dioxide so that things would grow, figure out how to make fertilizer, methane and then eventually oxygen and then shuttle people back and forth, 80,000.

That's what he's thinking because by then there will be eight billion people. He thinks one out of every 100,000 would want to go, maybe the first manned mission in a decade, maybe two decades from now.

BALDWIN: I was wondering the time frame.

MYERS: Yes, a ticket to Mars, a half a million dollars. We haven't talked to him directly, but I don't know if that's a round-trip ticket.

BALDWIN: What, you're just going to go and just go and hang out forever on Mars. Is that what potentially the plan is?

MYERS: I think that's the plan.

BALDWIN: Would you do it?


BALDWIN: I maybe would go. It takes, like, what, NASA says eight months to get there. I would say hello and OK, thanks, it's been fun. Take me back to...


MYERS: The golf courses are really expensive on Mars.

BALDWIN: Right. Right. Very funny, Chad.

All right, Chad, thank you very much for the latest on a potential Mars colony.


BALDWIN: Coming up next, some fantastic news here on the economy, including home prices and how Americans feel about the future, but the problem is, Congress may be putting a damper, of course, on all of that.

Ali Velshi is about to give his take on what the fiscal cliff means to you. Don't miss it. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)