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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Most Favor Tax Hikes And Spending Cuts; McConnell: Talks Already At Impasse; Back To Work On Fiscal Cliff; Ambassador Susan Rice Heads To Capitol Hill; "Fast And Furious" Hearing; Pre-Trial Hearing In Wikileaks Case; "I Don't Know Where We Are"; Santorum "Open" To Running Again; Fearlessness In The Face Of Danger; Mexican Beauty Queen Killed In Shootout; Danica Patrick Revs Up Video Game

Aired November 27, 2012 - 07:30   ET

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


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. The consequences of failure are dire. The hope of cooperation is fragile. Congress back from holiday break and it must do something before the end of the year or we'll go off this thing called the fiscal cliff, raising tax rates and triggering big spending cuts. It could cause a recession.

A new CNN/ORC poll shows a whopping 67 percent of Americans think that any budget deal must have both spending cuts and tax increases. Let's bring in Maryland Democratic Congressman Chris Van Hollen.

He was a member of the deficit reduction super committee, and he has covered this territory for the past year. Here we are again. Good morning, sir.

REPRESENTATIVE CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), MARYLAND: Good morning, Christine. Great to be with you and John.

ROMANS: So we have spent so much time talking about Grover Norquist and the tax pledges from some of the Republicans on the right, their promises to not raise taxes and where they might be budging on that.

I want to talk to you about the spending part of this -- of this -- of this balanced approach because conservatives are saying that you guys do not have a serious commitment to cutting spending.

That all this talk about taxes is -- is distracting from the fact that Democrats don't have a serious, serious plan for cutting spending. So tell me what's a serious plan? Are you willing to cut spending and how?

HOLLEN: Yes, yes we are, Christine. In fact, if you look at the President's budget it takes exactly that balanced approach that people are calling for. It has additional revenue, by asking high income earners to pay more, to reduce the deficit.

But it also includes spending cuts. So, we did a trillion dollars in spending cuts as part of the Budget Control Act over the next 10 years and we're going to have to continue to implement that. So that's part of the plan. Secondly the President's budget actually contains more health care savings than the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles Commission does. He does it in a number of ways. For example he asked pharmaceutical companies to pay higher rebates to drugs for people who are on Medicare and Medicaid.

He reforms the Medigap wraparound insurance plan. Right now Medicare is essentially indirectly subsidizing those plans. So the President actually has substantial savings, not only in health care, but in many other areas. For example, he eliminates a lot of the excessive agriculture subsidies. So the President's plan does have that balance of cuts, and revenue.

ROMANS: It's interesting that you bring up health care because, you know, Eric Cantor, something we heard from Speaker Boehner recently. I mean, he would like Obamacare to be back on the table. I mean, Democrats say, look, this is how we squeezed out -- we squeezed money from Medicare. But the Republicans are saying no put that back on the table. This is what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPRESENTATIVE ERIC CANTOR (R), MAJORITY LEADER: If the President is serious about joining us and fixing the problem, he ought to be putting Obamacare on the table. There's no question in my mind, that is the largest expansion of government programs --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you say at the moment that that's being talked about?

CANTOR: All I can say is the President has got to get serious --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: When I hear stuff like that I think you guys are still on completely different planets at the moment, Democrats and Republicans, on how to fix this.

HOLLEN: Well, that's right. I mean, that's sort of taking these talks into reverse right now. Look, the CNN poll that was conducted showed that 70 percent of the American people recognize that congressional Republicans need to do more to cooperate with the President.

They know before the election they did not do that. Now, we've all got to work together to get this done. With respect to Obamacare, the Congressional Budget Office, the nonpartisan entity, shows that actually over the next 10 years it reduces the deficit, and over the next 20-year period it reduces it by even more.

So if you want to reverse Obamacare, you also are reversing the important savings that were part of Obama care. We achieve many of those savings by ending the overpayments to some of the private insurance companies within Medicare.

ROMANS: But we don't have health care costs under control. And that still is -- Obamacare did not address the rising cost of health care. Frankly, some say wasn't even meant to. It was about access to health care. We can -- we can -- we can fight that battle all over again.

But, bottom line, I think, is that, you know, Mitch McConnell and others have said that, you know, they're the ones who are bending. They're not seeing the bending from the Democrats. Let's listen to McConnell for a second here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MINORITY LEADER: Republicans have stepped out of our comfort zone, we've been clear about what we'll do and what we won't, and yet we remain at an impasse. Leading us to ask, why? Because a vocal minority on the hard left continues to argue to leaders of their party from the President on down that Democrats in Washington should do absolutely nothing about short-term or long-term spending problems.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: They don't think you got entitlements seriously on the table. I know you outlined some of the things the President proposed through Obamacare. What other kinds of cost savings, changes, are you going to wring out of Medicare and Medicaid, and is Social Security absolutely off the table?

HOLLEN: Social Security, Social Security is not part of the debt deficit problem. We've always said we can look at Social Security on its own terms to try and strengthen it. But we're not going to raid Social Security to pay down other parts of the deficit.

With respect to Medicare and spending cuts, it's really interesting to hear Senator McConnell say this because he knows that we adopted over a trillion dollars in cuts over the next 10 years. He also knows that the Congressional Budget Office said that Obama are would reduce the deficit.

We can build on the kind of reforms that were in the Affordable Care Act. The Affordable Care Act did actually begin to reduce the cost curve in health care by modernizing the system to say we're going to reward the value of care that providers pay, that doctors and hospitals provide, not simply the volume.

We need to move away from the fee for service system. What we do not want to do is the Republican definition of reform, which doesn't reduce costs, but simply shifts rising health care costs onto the backs of seniors. That's what their voucher plan today.

That's what their other proposals do. So let's reduce health care costs. Let's do it in the overall health care system, Medicare and the other parts of the health care system, but let's not just transfer those costs. That's not solving the problem. That's not real reform.

We need to take the balanced mixed approach. The President actually has put that plan on the table. It would be useful if our Republican colleague Mitch McConnell would actually show the American people what they're talking about.

You can see the President's plan. It's on the internet. It's been submitted to Congress. Let's see what his plan is.

ROMANS: It sounds like you guys still have a lot of talking to do.

HOLLEN: We do.

ROMANS: And you know, 34 days left.

HOLLEN: We do, but I'm still very hopeful we'll get there.

ROMANS: Let me ask you something quickly about something dominating a lot of attention, too, Susan Rice, the U.N. Ambassador, will be heading to Capitol Hill today. She's going to meet with three, with three Republican critics who've been concerned about her response, her public response to the Benghazi attack which, of course, resulted in the four Americans killed.

And we know that, you know, how the Obama administration has handled the Benghazi attack, one of our surveys shows that 54 percent of Americans are dissatisfied with that response from the administration, a wide margin of people think that it hasn't been handled well by this administration. Shouldn't someone in the administration have to pay for -- for what happened there?

HOLLEN: Well, Christine, as you know there are two pieces to the Benghazi issue. One is finding out whether there was insufficient security at the consulate, at the mission in Benghazi going forward. And there's a high level group of people investigating that.

And out of that will come whatever accountability and repercussions. But then there's the separate issue, and this is sort of the cooked up conspiracy theory from a lot of Republicans. And as the facts have come out that conspiracy theory has been shown to be exactly that, just a made up idea.

This notion that the administration, the Obama administration through Susan Rice, was trying to change, change the facts when, in fact, what we now know is she was simply providing the information that had been the consensus position of the intelligence community, the CIA and others in the intelligence community.

And it's now well established that the White House had nothing to do with changing that evaluation and assessment so she was reporting on the information available through the intelligence agencies, and it's just not fair to hold her responsible for misinformation when she didn't have any other facts that -- to go on at the time.

ROMANS: Congressman Chris Van Hollen from Maryland. Thanks for joining us today.

HOLLEN: Thank you.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: It's 38 minutes after the hour right now. We're going to bring you up to speed on some other top stories this morning. A lawsuit filed by a House committee against Attorney General Eric Holder in the "Fast and Furious" case will be heard in court this morning.

Republican lawmakers are trying to force Holder to turn over documents from the failed gun trafficking operation. Some of the weapons linked to the program were found at the murder scene of a border patrol agent. You'll remember that. The White House is invoking executive privilege to keep the documents under wraps.

ROMANS: A pre-trial hearing begins today for Wikileaks suspect U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning. Manning himself may take the stand as early as tomorrow. His attorneys plan to use various jail mistreatment claims while he was at the Marine Corps brig in Quantico to try to get his case thrown out.

He's accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents, which ended up on the Wikileaks web site. Wikileaks has never confirmed Manning was their source.

BERMAN: Just released 911 tapes revealing more about the chaos and carnage during last week's Thanksgiving Day pileup on Interstate 10 in Texas. Foggy conditions caused about 140 cars and trucks to collide. Listen to two of the crash victims crying out for help.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (via telephone): They have a major accident over the interstate. Cars and 18 wheelers and everything, I don't know where we are, the fog is thick.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please get on I-10.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ma'am, we've got it coming, OK.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're still hitting me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, Ma'am. We've got them coming.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Another collision --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ma'am, ma'am, they en route OK?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Tough to hear. Two people were killed in the pileup, 90 others had to be rushed to area hospitals.

ROMANS: A dangerous scene in downtown Sydney, Australia. The cabin of a giant crane at a construction site burst into flames and the top part collapsed onto a nearby rooftop. Incredibly nobody was hurt.

The "Sydney Morning Harold" reports that the operator of the crane, Lendly's was also the operator of the crane that collapsed in New York a few weeks ago.

BERMAN: Really, that's interesting. Rick Santorum dropping hints he may be thinking about another run for the White House. The former senator and presidential candidate told Piers Morgan he's keeping all of his options open.

(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, on trying to -- to stay involved with 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)

BERMAN: Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich hasn't ruled out another bid for the presidency either. He said he'd consider running in 2016 if the GOP makes big changes.

ROMANS: All right, ahead on STARTING POINT, she defied the drug cartels and she paid for it with her life. Now one mayor's courage is being celebrated in Mexico. Her story next in a live report.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: We have a story of bravery this morning amidst the violence of Mexico's drug cartels. The former mayor of a small town west of Mexico City stood up to drug traffickers and paid with her life.

ROMANS: Maria Santos Gorrostieta had already survived two assassination attempts, but two weeks ago, she was ambushed and abducted while driving with her daughter. Her body was found days later.

CNN's senior Latin American affairs editor, Rafael Romo, is following this story for us. It's really tough one, Rafael.

RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SENIOR LATIN AMERICAN AFFAIRS EDITOR: That's right, Christine, John. She was kidnapped on a busy street during the morning rush hour as terrified onlookers watched the scene unfold. Maria Santos Gorrostieta was driving her young daughter to school as they were stopped.

The 36-year-old former mayor was taken away by force, as her daughter cried hysterically. Mexican officials say when the mayor's body was found four days later, 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 who was also a medical doctor was the mayor of the small community of Tiquicheo in the western Mexican state of (inaudible) from 2008 to 2011. This was the third time, the third time she was a victim of an attack.

During the first attack in 2009 her husband was shot and killed, but she survived serious gunshot wounds. After her second attack in January of 2010, she was defiant.

She said, I will rise up again as many times as God allows me to so that I can keep on seeking, fighting for and working out plans, projects and actions for the benefit of people, especially those most in need. She is survived by her three children and her second husband -- Christine.

ROMANS: CNN also reporting a beauty queen was killed in a shoot-out between Mexican military and suspected criminals. It also happened in an area well known for drug violence. What can you tell us about that?

ROMO: That's right, Christine. This happened in the Mexican state of Michoacan. Some of our viewers may be familiar with this state because it's the state that is home to a very powerful Mexican drug cartel.

Now this woman here, by the name of Maria Susanna Flores Gamez, she was 20 years old, was Miss Sinaloa 2012. She was caught in the cross fire during a shoot-out between the Mexican military and members of an armed group.

Now we don't really know, and Mexican officials are not saying at this point, whether she just happened to be there, or whether she was involved in some shape or manner with this group, but in any case, a very, very tragic end to a woman who had a very promising career -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Rafael Romo, thank you. Such a tough story.

BERMAN: Awful story.

ROMANS: The cycle of the money, the drugs, the guns, the money, the drugs, the guns. You know, this is not just a Mexico story. This is a story -- this is our neighbor. We are their largest trading partner. It's a real serious situation.

BERMAN: So up next, we're going to shift gears literally and figuratively. Danica Patrick, she's taking her "A" game from the racetrack to Sonic's World. How you can play as this famous NASCAR driver in a new video game, Danica Patrick live with us coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Danica Patrick, a record-setting female Indy Car racer, just completed her first full season in NASCAR, finishing tenth in the final nationwide standings.

BERMAN: And now she's driving into a new video game in Sega's new Sonic and All Stars racing transformed video game, you can play as Danica Patrick, zooming across land, air and water. Check it out. You had a quick glimpse of the virtual Danica Patrick. We have the very real thing right here in the studio with us, Danica Patrick, of course, the paid spokesperson for Sega.

Before we talk about the game, let's talk about the NASCAR season because you did finish tenth in the nationwide series. That is the highest finish ever by a woman obviously. You know, how does it feel and what do you learned this season?

DANICA PATRICK, NASCAR SPRINT AND NATIONWIDE SERIES DRIVER: I found out that that was the highest woman's finish in the championship. That's kind of usually how it goes for me as I find out after things happen. I have high expectations.

I would have loved to have been in the top five in the championship, but it just didn't really work out like that. I guess, as a driver, as a competitor, I always want more. So I hear that and I'm like, yes, OK, so nine other people beat me.

But it was a decent first year. We had some good successes along the way. We had some bad luck along the way, but I'm, you know, much more prepared for the full Sprint Cup series next year for sure.

ROMANS: What are you learning first full year, first full season NASCAR, what have you learned? Like how are you -- better different or better driver?

PATRICK: Definitely learning the tracks just overall getting more comfortable so that going out and driving the car is the easy part and then you can really start feeling all the little tiny things that are happening with it and how it's reacting to the track and, you know, what kind of changes you need to make it better.

So that's the kind of stuff that I'm learning, how the car changes over the race, where the track changes, what lines you need to take based upon what part of the race it is. Yes, there's a lot to learn.

ROMANS: I guess, we'll never do that, but we will do something like play a video game and be Danica Patrick.

BERMAN: Help me practice for the real thing.

PATRICK: Well, given the fact that we're not in the air or water, I'm not sure that all of it does, but --

BERMAN: Unless something goes really, really wrong, right?

PATRICK: More than anything. It's the holiday season so it's time to have a little fun. This is definitely a really fun game. It's fairly straightforward to play. If I can play it, anyone can play it.

You can play a four-person game. So it's like good for family. And it's cool as an athlete to be able to have yourself as being a player in a game like that, that's such an iconic brand for games.

ROMANS: I was surprised that women make up such a large percentage of games. They're almost half of console PC game users. I would not have thought it was that high. I would have -- first glance, I would have thought it's so great in this game because it's going to lure in women. Women are already there.

PATRICK: I guess they know their stats. That's where I come in. But that's really cool. That's cool to know I didn't -- I had no idea either. You would think more men play the game. But then again, you know, NASCAR fans are almost half women.

So you know, -- at least 40 percent, I think. I could be totally wrong, but I feel like I heard that. So, yes, forget the gender thing. It's just going out the window these days.

BERMAN: So let's talk about Go Daddy and Super Bowl. There were some rumors that maybe you and Go Daddy would part ways, but you're still there?

PATRICK: Absolutely. Yes, that was a weird situation. That was never the case, definitely my primary sponsor and will be for years to come. And there's an article that came out that just didn't come out right.

So we quickly sort of fixed that and just a few weeks ago, I was racing in Phoenix and we were at Go Daddy's headquarters in Scottsdale and announced that Bob Parsons from Go Daddy announced that I'll be in both Super Bowl commercials. So that's pretty cool.

BERMAN: Any previews?

PATRICK: I don't -- I have no idea. I don't even know what days we're shooting.

ROMANS: Super secret, a veil of secrecy. All right, Danica Patrick, nice to see you.

PATRICK: Thank you so much.

BERMAN: Thanks for coming in.

ROMANS: Now you, too, can drive like Danica Patrick.

All right, can Democrats and Republicans find some common ground to get a spending deal done? We're going to ask Utah Senator Mike Lee who says there's a fiscal avalanche on the other side of the fast- approaching fiscal cliff.

BERMAN: Yes, it's not just a cliff, but an avalanche. Meanwhile, he is the half in the hit series "Two and A Half Men." So why is young star Angus T. Jones telling viewers to stop watching his show right now?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Good morning. Welcome back. I'm Christine Romans.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. Soledad is off today. Our STARTING POINT, working for a deal. If lawmakers don't reach a compromise on the fiscal cliff, will it turn into a fiscal avalanche? That's what Utah Senator Mike Lee says and he is going to join us live.

ROMANS: And a snowy mess in parts of the northeast, what you need to know about the winter storm headed this had way.

BERMAN: And she is the star of the smash series "Pretty Little Liars," actress Lucy Hale is here, talking about the secrets of her show and her upcoming album.

ROMANS: It is Tuesday, November 27th. STARTING POINT begins right now.

BERMAN: Good morning, everyone. We have an all-star team here with us this morning. Ron Brownstein, CNN senior political analyst and editorial director of the "National Journal." Will Cain is here.