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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Breaking the Pledge?; Face to Face; Hero Mayor Found Dead;

Aired November 27, 2012 - 05:00   ET

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


DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN ANCHOR: Will they break the pledge? Some Republicans now seem open to the idea of raising taxes in the face of the fiscal cliff.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Courageous until the end. A former mayor in Mexico who fearlessly stood up to the drug cartels found murdered.

FEYERICK: And face-to-face behind closed doors today. U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice takes on one of her sharpest critics, Senator John McCain, over her actions after the Benghazi attack.

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Deborah Feyerick, in for John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: Really nice to have you.

FEYERICK: I'm so glad to be here.

SAMBOLIN: I'm Zoraida Sambolin. It's 5:00 a.m. in the East.

So, let's get started here.

First, Congress back to work, and back to bickering. In just under 35 days, America hits the fiscal cliff. That triggers severe spending cuts and tax hikes. Several top Republicans are now defying party politics and signaling a willingness to consider increasing tax revenues to get a budget deal done.

But when the lame duck session or Senate got back in session yesterday, it sure sounded like the same old broken record.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID, (D-NV) SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: The Senate has spoken. President Obama has spoken. He's promising he will not sign any bill that mortgages our future to pay for handouts to the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. I only hope House Republicans have been listening.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R-KY) SENATE MINORITY LEADER: We've been responsible, even as we've remained firm on this point. No tax increases now for promised spending cuts that won't materialize later.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SAMBOLIN: CNN political director Mark Preston is live from Washington this morning.

Very nice to se you, Mark.

So the House is back in session today, and so far, there are no talks scheduled between top Republicans and the president, we understand.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: No, that's true, Zoraida. In fact, we haven't seen the congressional leadership and President Obama meet since November 16th. Now, there were staff discussions over the Thanksgiving holiday. They don't seem to be as productive as some people had hoped. As you said, we are now 35 days until the fiscal cliff.

What we do know, though, is that President Obama did reach out to House Speaker John Boehner, he is the Republican, and the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the Democrat, over the weekend, perhaps to try to jump-start the talks. As of now, as the House of Representatives comes back today, as the Senate came back yesterday, we're still very much in limbo on the fiscal cliff.

SAMBOLIN: Well, here's something else we know. Some major Republicans have come out and they say that they don't feel bound by the Americans for Tax Reform pledge. Most recently, we saw House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

So, do you believe more Republicans will stick by this?

PRESTON: Well, what we're finding out right now Zoraida is that there's a little bit of coming to Jesus moment about how to fix the fiscal cliff. For Republicans perhaps it is going to be higher taxes. For Democrats, there's going to have to be some changes to entitlement reform.

But Grover Norquist has been really the person pushing this no tax pledge, has been on our airwaves. He's been talking a lot about it.

In fact, let's hear what he had to say about Republicans who might break the pledge.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GROVER NORQUIST, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN FOR TAX REFORM: No pledge taker has voted for a tax increase. They've had some people discussing impure thoughts on national television.

The pledge is not for life. But everybody who signed the pledge, including Peter King, who tried to weasel out of it -- shame on him as "The New York Sun" said today. I hope his wife understands that commitments last a little longer than two years or something.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: And Zoraida, there you have Grover Norquist, of course, from the Americans for Tax Reform throwing out some pretty strong political hyperbole. But the fact of the matter is, as you said, fiscal cliff, 35 days away. And as we've heard from a lot of economists, if Congress can't fix this, then we're in a lot of trouble. We can be heading back into recession.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Mark Preston live in Washington, D.C. -- thank you for that.

So even if Democrats and Republicans get a spending deal done in time to steer clear of the fiscal cliff, Derek Thompson says it won't necessarily cure the economy. The senior editor of "The Atlantic" joins us live in the next half hour. He has an interesting perspective and solution here.

FEYERICK: Yes, it's interesting to hear.

Well, Ambassador Susan Rice heads to Capitol Hill this morning to mend fences with three Republican senators. She angered John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte with her initial comments made on several TV networks that played down the role of terrorists in the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.

Rice maintains she made it clear the intelligence information she had at the time was preliminary. Senators have threatened to block her nomination if President Obama chooses her to be his next secretary of state.

SAMBOLIN: And the Obama administration's overall response to the Benghazi attack does not get high marks from Americans. The results of a new CNN/ORC poll just out this morning shows a majority of those questioned, 54 percent, say they are dissatisfied with the administration's handling of the attack.

FEYERICK: And the body of Yasser Arafat was exhumed this morning from a mausoleum in the West Bank. A team of international scientists will analyze tissue samples to determine if the former Palestinian leader was poisoned to death in 2004, with a radioactive substance called polonium. The actual cause of Arafat's death has never been determined.

SAMBOLIN: The Egyptian people taking to the streets to mourn the death of a 16-year-old activist, and to voice their opposition to President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. This iReport showing protesters as they carried the teenager's casket through Tahrir Square to a cemetery. Morsi declared Egypt's court cannot overturn decisions that he has made since coming into office in June. Over one the next six months, one opponent says it can only lead to a dictatorship.

Morsi insists that he is trying to protect Egypt's fragile Arab Spring revolution, not accumulate unchecked power.

FEYERICK: And if you're traveling through the Northeast today -- well, you might be dealing with a little bit of snow. Meteorologist Alexandra Steele is in for Rob Marciano today.

What are we looking at, Alexandra?

ALEXANDRA STEELE, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hey, good morning to you guys.

FEYERICK: Good morning.

STEELE: Yes, we are seeing snow, even in New York City. All the big cities -- Boston, New York, Philadelphia, a little snow. Not much in the way of accumulation, really along the big cities and the 95 corridor, but still you'll see it come down, kind of get new the Christmas spirit.

We do have winter weather advisories and we will see accumulations. I want to show you where. Here's the radar. Of course, the white delineating where the snow potentially is falling. Some of it called virga. It starts as snow in the atmosphere but the atmosphere is dry, so it dissipates. So we don't see it at the surface.

But what that does is moisten the atmosphere enough to finally deliver some snow. And that's what we will see. This is the heart of it.

You can see Scranton, Pennsylvania, southeastern Pennsylvania, northwestern New Jersey, that's where we're going to get into the snow. Morristown, New Jersey, for example.

But, with this line, a lot of energy with it. You could see some severe weather. Look at Birmingham, down toward Montgomery, it is all heading eastward. Atlanta, Georgia, will be slow go. No question this afternoon at the airport. Things will really slow down.

Jackson all the way down to the Gulf Coast, New Orleans, waiting, looking, watching the skies, darken and those clouds lower as they head toward you.

So here's the big picture, the purple is where we are seeing winter weather advisories, one to three inches. And you can see right here northwest New Jersey, southeastern Pennsylvania, that's where really the snow will be, one to three inches, potentially a stripe of two to four. As we watch it move across -- really just a one-day affair. It will be done by tomorrow morning.

So there it goes. Snow for today, you guys.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Alexandra Steele, thank you.

STEELE: Yes.

SAMBOLIN: Seven minutes past the hour.

She was a hero who had actually cheated death before. A brave former mayor in Mexico who famously stood up to drug cartels, she was found dead. Her story coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FEYERICK: Well, a story of bravery and fearlessness this morning. The blood-soaked drug trafficking wars of Mexico. The former mayor of a small town west of Mexico City stood up to violent drug traffickers and paid with her life.

Thirty-six-year-old Maria Santos Gorrostieta had already survived two assassination attempts and witnessed the murder of her husband. Two weeks ago while driving with her daughter, she was ambushed and abducted. "The Daily Mail" reports she begged her assailants to leave her child alone as she was dragged away. Her battered body was found days later along the side of a road.

We have more on the story from Rafael Romo, CNN's senior Latin American affairs editor.

Rafael, good morning.

RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SENIOR LATIN AMERICAN AFFAIRS EDITOR: Good morning, Deb.

Mexico officials say when the mayor was found, her hands were tied behind her back. The body also showed signs of a severe blow to the back of her head. Maria Santos Gorrostieta was the mayor of the small community of Tiquicheo, in the western Mexican state of Michoacan, from 2008 to 2011.

This was the third time -- the third time -- she was a victim of attack. She was first attacked in October of 2009 as she was travelling with her husband. A group of armed men started shooting at them and her husband, Jose Sanchez Chavez, died at the scene.

The mother of three would be attacked only three months later in January of 2010, by re-emerged once again as a survivor. After the second attack, Santos Gorrostieta showed Mexican media her injuries and told the people of her town she was more determined than ever to work hard to improve conditions there. Only two weeks ago, she was kidnapped in front of her daughter, as she was driving her to school in the morning. According to a report from "El Universal", a Mexican newspaper.

She was kidnapped on a busy street as terrified onlookers watched the scene unfold. The newspaper said she asked her captors not to harm her young child, who stayed behind crying hysterically. Her body was found four days later.

She switched political parties last year, Deb, but Mexican officials ruled out a political motive. Also, at least two drug cartels are active around the state of Michoacan, but no one has claimed responsibility for her violent death -- Deb.

FEYERICK: You know, what's incredible is you would definitely think that she would have some sort of security around her. The BBC reported two dozen mayors have been killed in Mexico since the recent drug war began six years ago.

Is there any sign the violence is easing up? Or is it getting worse? And what are officials doing about it?

ROMO: Well, the good news is that violence seems to be stabilizing in some of the worst states hit by the violence. I'm talking about the border states. But where she died, the state of Michoacan, is in western Mexico, and it has been the scene of a turf war by two powerful Mexican drug cartels, and that's the reason why you see the violence there.

Now, again, with violence stabilizing, the fact still remains, as you mentioned, more than two dozen mayors have been killed in the last two years, Deb.

FEYERICK: CNN is also reporting that a beauty queen was killed in a shoot-out between Mexican military troops and suspected criminals, happened in an area that was well-known for drug violence. What do you know about that?

ROMO: That's exactly right. You're talking about the Mexican state of Sinaloa. Many people know that Sinaloa is also the name of a powerful drug cartel. And this image here, that is Maria Susana Flores. She was only 20 years old when she was killed this weekend in a shoot-out between Mexican military and hit men.

Now we don't really know the circumstances surrounding her death. We only know, according to Mexican officials, what they say, is that she was with the men who attacked the Mexican military and she ended up getting caught in the middle of the crossfire. And really don't know if she was involved with these men, or whether she was there some sort -- some sort of kidnapping.

FEYERICK: All right. Rafael Romo, thank you so much. Just so tragic. People trying to live their lives and getting in so much violence and crossfire.

Thanks so much. We appreciate it.

ROMO: Thank you.

SAMBOLIN: Horrific story.

FEYERICK: Tragic.

SAMBOLIN: Fifteen minutes past the hour. It's time for your top stories now.

With 35 days left until we reach that fiscal cliff, the House returns for its lame duck session today. And even though several top Republicans say they're willing to break their no-tax vows to get a spending plan passed in time, there are still no scheduled talks with the White House.

FEYERICK: And a Cleveland mother is now under arrest after her 3- year-old son's body was found wrapped in a plastic bag at a local waste treatment plant.

SAMBOLIN: Oh my goodness.

FEYERICK: Police say 20-year-old Camellia Terry (ph) reported her son Emiliano (ph) missing Sunday. An autopsy is scheduled for today. Camellia Terry has two other children, and they have both been placed in the care of state child services.

SAMBOLIN: Saudi Arabia is now taking some heat from human rights activists over an electronic monitoring system that tracks the whereabouts of Saudi women when they travel abroad. Under Saudi law, all women, regardless of age, must have a male guardian.

When Saudi women travel, text messages are sent to their guardians, even if those men have not requested such notification.

FEYERICK: Big brother watching a little bit, would seem?

And Rick Santorum sounds like he may be thinking about another run for the White House. The former senator and presidential candidate telling CNN's Piers Morgan all options are on the table.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM, (R) FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm open to that possibility, but I -- we're a long way -- I'm focused right now on trying to stay involved in the fray and make sure that we do the right thing up on Capitol Hill right now. And also, that this debate in the Republican Party about what the future of the party and where we're going to go, that we're going to be very active and engaged to make sure we stick to America's founding principles.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FEYERICK: Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich hasn't ruled out another bid for the presidency, either. He says he would consider running in 2016, such a long time away, if the GOP makes big changes.

SAMBOLIN: Right around the corner.

FEYERICK: Right around the corner.

SAMBOLIN: And Jill Kelley is no longer honorary consul to South Korea. The Florida socialite in the middle of the David Petraeus sex scandal has been stripped of that title after just three months. South Korea's deputy foreign minister is accusing her of trying to use the post for personal gain.

FEYERICK: And it is 5:17 in the morning. Time for "Early Read", your local news that's making national headlines.

First, a story in the central Illinois "Pantagraph", where a tied Dewitt County race is decided or was decided -- yes, you saw it, by a coin toss. And the winner -- well he's not happy about it. George Wissmiller says he didn't want to win by gambling so he's refusing to take the nominal pay he gets for the job.

The defeated incumbent, guess what? He's not happy about it, either. He's looking into a recount.

SAMBOLIN: Well, smoke on the water from Hawaii's "Star Advertiser". We bring you this. For the first time in about a year, lava from Hawaii's Kilauea volcano has reached the ocean. Look at these really cool pictures for you. A local station reported some sightseers to the area to get a closer look. The guides, they warn against this, folks, saying a lava shelf may collapse. The last time someone died in a collapse and that was reportedly back in 1993. You've got to be really careful there. It's very cool to watch from a distance.

FEYERICK: Exactly.

SAMBOLIN: For an expanded look at all of our top stories, head to our blog CNN.com/EarlyStart.

FEYERICK: And coming up, the biggest hits of Cyber Monday -- the low tech and high tech products that topped them all.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Good morning to you. Welcome back. Five-twenty-two.

Christine Romans is minding our business this morning.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good Tuesday morning, everybody.

U.S. stock futures are up right now. We've got key reports today on durable goods orders, home prices, consumer confidence. There will be a big focus this week on the American economy and how it's healing.

European markets are higher this morning after officials agreed on bailout terms for Greece late last night. And new this morning, a warning on the fiscal cliff, and a downgrade on expectations for U.S. economic growth. The OECD says it expects the U.S. economy to grow at a rate of 2.2 percent this year. That's lower than previously expected.

And on fiscal cliff negotiations, this is what the OECD said, quote, "Decisive policy action is needed to ensure that stalemate over fiscal policy in the United States and continuing euro area instability do not plunge the world back into recession."

And, here in Sandy land, many people have been in the dark for days, some for weeks, after superstorm Sandy. And some are now getting power bills that show normal usage. The Long Island Power Authority is assuring customers -- don't worry, the next actual meter reading will reflect how much you've used, and they'll adjust your bill.

But I'm telling you, there are some LIPA customers right now who are outraged. After all they've been through --

SAMBOLIN: As well they should be.

ROMANS: -- they are getting electricity bills reflecting normal usage, and for many of them it's been days, some of them it's been weeks with no power.

And to bring you up to speed on Cyber Monday. What's your best guess on what people were out there buying?

SAMBOLIN: I would have thought Apple products?

FEYERICK: Yes. It had to be electronics.

ROMANS: A lot of question about electronics. Monday sales up 28 percent from last year. This is according to the IBM benchmark survey. And Experian Marketing Services says the most searched-for items were Amazon's Kindle and Kindle fire, uggs, iPads, the iPod touch, LEGOs, and the Wii.

FEYERICK: Well, I like the LEGOs. I mean, it's making a comeback. Maybe children will actually do a thing besides touching screens with their hands, like putting things together.

SAMBOLIN: That's a very good point. At the end of the day, I just want to know, is it because of the deals, right?

ROMANS: It's because of the deals, you're right. I think that shows you America's priority, too.

SAMBOLIN: Yes.

ROMANS: Electronics and some LEGOs.

SAMBOLIN: I want to know where people are getting those Apple products on sale. Share that with me.

ROMANS: I think a lot of them are searching for the products because they're interested in buying them but they're not necessarily getting them on sale.

FEYERICK: That's interesting. OK, sort of advanced recon.

ROMANS: Yes, they're doing their recon.

SAMBOLIN: Thanks, Christine.

Twenty-four minutes past the hour.

More than five years after her death, Anna Nicole Smith's modeling legacy actually lives on. Coming up, see her young daughter in a starring role.

And if you are leaving the house right now, you can watch us any time. We're on your desktop, on your mobile phone. Just go to CNN.com/TV.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Thirty-five days and counting, until the fiscal cliff. There are signs of compromise from the GOP.

FEYERICK: And cold, wet weather heads into the Northeast. Some areas expect to see a few inches of snow.

SAMBOLIN: Biting the hand that feeds. One of Hollywood's highest paid teens publicly rips the show that has made him super rich. I can't wait to share that story with you.

Welcome back to EARLY START. Happy to have you this morning. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

FEYERICK: And I'm Deborah Feyerick, in for John Berman.

It is now 29 minutes past the hour.

Well, five weeks until we hit the fiscal cliff, and one by one, top Republicans are stepping up to say they're ready to break their no-tax pledge and to get a spending plan passed -- something that's not sitting too well with the man they made that pledge to, conservative lobbyist Grover Norquist.

Listen to Norquist getting personal and lashing out at Republicans on CNN's "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NORQUIST: The pledge is not for life. But everybody who signed the pledge, including Peter King, who tried to weasel out of it -- shame on him, as "The New York Sun" said today. I hope his wife understands that commitments last a little longer than two years or something.

But you don't tell the bank, oh the mortgage, wasn't that a long time ago? If you make a commitment, you keep it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FEYERICK: CNN political director Mark Preston joins us live from Washington.

And, boy, Mark, I just have so many questions. We were saying it's five weeks until we hit the fiscal cliff, or as I like to call it, the New Year. We're looking at various compromises potentially, people now talking about Simpson-Bowles, a place we were at two years ago.

Is there a possibility of compromise now that we're this close to crunch time?

PRESTON: Well, the good thing, Deb, is that two thirds of the American public, according to a new CNN poll, said that they are demanding compromise, and that Republicans and Democrats do come together.