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CNN NEWSROOM

Obama Speaks About Taxes; Rice Faces Continuing Backlash; Protests Continue in Cairo

Aired November 28, 2012 - 12:00   ET

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


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to NEWSROOM INTERNATIONAL. I'm Suzanne Malveaux. We're taking you around the world in 60 minutes. Here's what's going on right now.

In Syria today, two car bombs exploded in the town near Damascus. The number of people killed and wounded, it is high, it is rising. At least 45 people, mostly civilians, are reported dead. About more than 100 injured. The bombs went off in a town known as a refuge for people forced from their homes by this civil war in Syria.

They weren't the only explosions around the capital city today. Two bombs went off at the same time in a residential neighborhood in Damascus. We don't know yet how many people are hurt or who is claiming responsibility.

This is the wreckage of a Syrian air force jet crashed and burning not far from Aleppo. Now, rebel fighters claim they shot it down yesterday and captured one of the pilots. Now this is amateur film. A CNN crew, however, was just on the scene of this crash that you're seeing here.

Rebels also say they shot down a government helicopter yesterday. That too captured on video. Take a look. An opposition group posted its FaceBook page that the Free Syrian Army brought down the helicopter with an anti aircraft weapon. We don't know what happened to the people who were actually on board that helicopter.

We want to go straight to Washington, to listen to the President. He's now making a statement with middle class families talking about the importance of reaching a deal and not going over the so-called fiscal cliff. Let's listen in.

(BEGIN LIVE FEED)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It would be good for our children's future. And I believe that both parties can agree on a framework that does that in the coming weeks. In fact, my hope is to get this done before Christmas.

But the place where we already have, in theory at least, complete agreement, right now, is on middle class taxes. And as I've said before, we've got two choices. If Congress does nothing, every family in America will see their taxes automatically go up at the beginning of next year. Starting January 1st, every family in America will see their taxes go up. A typical middle class family of four would see its income taxes go up by $2,200. That's $2,200 out of people's pockets. That means less money for buying grocery, less money for filling prescriptions, less money for buying diapers. It means a tougher choice between paying the rent and paying tuition. And middle class families just can't afford that right now.

By the way, businesses can't afford it either. Yesterday I sat down with some small business owners who stressed this point. Economists predict that if taxes go up on the middle class next year, consumers will spend nearly $200 billion less on things like cars and clothes and furniture. And that obviously means fewer customers. That cuts into business profits. That makes businesses less likely to invest and higher, which means fewer jobs. And that can drag our entire economy down.

Now, the good news is, there's a better option. Right now, as we speak, Congress can pass a law that would prevent a tax hike on the first $250,000 of everybody's income. Everybody's. And that means that 98 percent of Americans and 97 percent of small businesses wouldn't see their income taxes go up by a single dime. Ninety-eight percent of Americans, 97 percent of small businesses would not see their income taxes go up by a single dime. Even the wealthiest Americans would still get a tax cut on the first $250,000 of their income. So it's not like folks who make more than 250 aren't getting a tax break, too. They're getting a tax break on the first 250, just like everybody else.

Families and small businesses would, therefore, be able to enjoy some peace of mind heading into Christmas and heading into the new year. And it would give us more time than next year to work together on a comprehensive plan to bring down our deficits, to streamline our tax system, to do it in a balanced way, including asking the wealthiest Americans to pay a little more so that we can still invest in things like education and training and science and research.

Now, I know some of this may sound familiar to you because we talked a lot about this during the campaign. This shouldn't be a surprise to anybody. This was a major debate in the presidential campaign and in congressional campaigns all across the country. And a clear majority of Americans, not just Democrats, but also a lot of Republicans and a lot of Independents, agreed we should have a balanced approach to deficit reduction that doesn't hurt the economy and doesn't hurt middle class families.

And I'm glad to see, if you've been reading the papers lately, that more and more Republicans in Congress seem to be agreeing with this idea that we should have a balanced approach. So if both parties agree we should not raise taxes on middle class families, let's begin our work with where we agree. The Senate's already passed a bill that keeps income taxes from going up on middle class families. Democrats in the House are ready to vote for that same bill today. And if we can get a few House Republicans to agree as well, I'll sign this bill as soon as Congress sends it my way. I've got to repeat, I've got a pen. I'm ready to sign it. So -- and so my point here today is to say, let's approach this problem with the middle class in mind. The folks who are behind me and the millions of people all across the country who they represent. You know, the American people are watching what we do. Middle class families, folks who are working hard to get into the middle class, they're watching what we do right now. If there's one thing that I've learned, when the American people speak loudly enough, lo and behold Congress listens.

You know, some of you may remember that a year ago, during our last big fight to protect middle class families, tens of thousands of working Americans called and tweeted and e-mailed their representatives asking them to do the right thing. And, sure enough, it worked. The same thing happened earlier this year when college students across the country stood up and demanded that Congress keep rates low on their student loans. Congress got the message loud and clear and they made sure that interest rates on student loans did not go up.

So the lesson is that when enough people get involved, we have a pretty good track record of actually making Congress work. And that's important because this is our biggest challenge yet and it's one that we can only meet together. So in the interest of making sure that everybody makes their voices heard, last week we asked people to tell us what would a $2,000 tax hike mean to them. Some families told us it would make it more difficult for them to send their kids to college. Others said it would make it tougher for them to cover the costs of prescription drugs. Some said it would make it tough for them to make their mortgage.

Lynn Lyon (ph) who's here from Newport News -- where's Lynn? There she is. She just wants to see some cooperation in Washington. She wrote, "let's show the rest of the world that we're adults and living in a democracy we can solve our problems by working together." So that's what this debate's all about and that's why it's so important that as many Americans as possible send a message that we need to keep moving forward.

So, today, I'm asking Congress to listen to the people who sent us here to serve. I'm asking Americans all across the country to make your voice heard. Tell members of Congress what a $2,000 tax hike would mean to you. Call your members of Congress. Write them an e- mail. Post it on their FaceBook walls. You can tweet it using the #my2k. Not Y2K, my2k. We figured that would make it a little easy to remember.

And I want to assure the American people, I'm doing my part. I'm sitting down with CEOs. I'm sitting down with labor leaders. I'm talking to leaders in Congress. You know, I -- I am ready and able and willing and excited to go ahead and get this issue resolved in a bipartisan fashion so that American families, American businesses have some certainty going into next year. And we can do it in a balanced and fair way. But our first job is to make sure that taxes on middle class families don't go up.

And since we all theoretically agree on that, we should go ahead and get that done. If we get that done, a lot of the other stuff is going to be a lot easier. So in light of just sort of spreading this message, I'm going to be visiting Pennsylvania on Friday to talk with folks at a small business there that are trying to make sure that they're filling their Christmas orders. And I'll go anywhere and I'll do whatever it takes to get this done. It's too important for Washington to screw this up.

Now is the time for us to work on what we all agreed to, which is let's keep middle class taxes low. That's what our economy needs. That's what the American people deserves. And if we get this part of it right, than a lot of the other issues surrounding deficit reduction in a fair and balanced and responsible way are going to be a whole lot easier. And if we get this wrong, the economy is going to go south. It's going to be much more difficult for us to balance our budgets and deal with our deficits because, if the Economy's not strong, that means more money's going out and things like unemployment insurance and less money is coming in, in terms of tax receipts, and it just actually makes our deficit worse.

So we really need to get this right. I can only do it with the help of the American people. So tweet -- what was that again? My2k. Tweet using the #my2k. Or e-mail. You know, post it on a member of Congress' Facebook wall. Do what it takes to communicate a sense of urgency. We don't have a lot of time here. We've got a few weeks to get this thing done. We could get it done tomorrow.

Now, optimistically I don't think we're going to get it done tomorrow. But I tell you, if everybody here goes out of their way to make their voices heard and spread the word to your friends and your family, your co-workers, your neighbors, then I am confident we will get it done. And we will put America on the right track, not just for next year, but for many years to come.

All right? Thank you very much, everybody.

(END LIVE FEED)

MALVEAUX: All right. The President there wrapping up, obviously, his campaign using social media to make his point. He's negotiating, trying to make sure that the nation does not go off the fiscal cliff, so-called fiscal cliff. But he's negotiating, talking with Republicans behind closed doors, but obviously making his case to the public, very much putting pressure on those members of Congress to do it his way as well. So we're going to have more on that.

We're also following another story. This is the backlash on Capitol Hill. This is criticism of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice. It is now heating up as she meets with more Republicans and faces more questions. We're going to have a live report up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice faces more backlash over the September 11 terror attacks in Benghazi, Libya.

Now, Rice returned to the Hill to meet with two more Republican critics. One of them, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, says she's still troubled about how all of the events unfolded.

I want to bring in Dana Bash because, Dana, I was really -- it was surprising, actually, when we heard Senator Collins come out to the microphones because this is a moderate. This is someone who Susan Rice perhaps might have had a friend or an ally and really she was very, very hard on her in terms of the explanation. What happened in that meeting?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, according to Senator Susan Collins, she didn't get the answers that she was looking for. She said she still has a lot of unanswered questions.

But you're absolutely right, Suzanne, it's really important to underscore how significant Senator Susan Collins is in this potential process. We should underscore "potential" because Susan Riche isn't nominated for Secretary of State yet. Nobody is.

But she is widely considered to be a leading contender and there's no question that's a big part of the reason why she's been coming up in a really unusual way, frankly, making the rounds and trying to effectively lobby senators that she didn't do anything that wrong even before she's nominated.

But the reason why Susan Collins is so important is, as you said, she's a moderate Republican, one of the few remaining moderate Republicans left. If Susan Rice is nominated to be Secretary of State and other Republicans make good on their pledge to block her and there would be 60 voted needed to pass -- or to clear the nomination, Susan Collins would be a critical voice. The fact that she says she's still troubled is bad, bad news. In fact, I asked about how she would vote right now if she were to vote now. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS, (R) ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Need to have additional information before I could support her nomination.

She's not been posted yet. Our Homeland Security Committee investigation is ongoing. There are many different players in this and there's much yet to be learned. So, I think it would be premature for me to reach that judgment now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Now, Suzanne, you know. You've covered the White House, White Houses of both parties and you know that there's this kind of dance that goes on and there's no question that part of the dance that is going on now is a little bit of testing the waters to see if it would be even plausible for Susan Rice to be nominated and approved.

And the fact that Senator Collins, this moderate from Maine, who, by the way, introduced Susan Rice when she was nominated to be U.S. ambassador to the U.N. three years ago, that is not a good sign.

And the one thing that I should underscore is that Susan Collins said that one of the reasons she's troubled is because that she played what was essentially a political role at the height of a contentious presidential election. So, there you have it.

MALVEAUX: And, Dana, real quickly here, what does she want to know from Ambassador Rice? Is there something specific that she didn't get, part of an explanation that she needs to know in order to resolve this?

BASH: Well, she has lots of questions, but she did introduce kind of a new wrinkle into the whole question about Susan Rice's qualifications, or experience is probably the better way to put it, and that wrinkle is that, back in 1998, the bombings of the U.S. embassies across Africa, Susan Rice at the time was assistant Secretary of State for Africa.

So, what Senator Collins said she was asking is whether or not she was part of the team that denied those embassies who apparently were begging at the time for more security, denied them more security. What Senator Collins said is that Ambassador Rice said that she'd have to go back and refresh her memory. It was obviously a lot of years ago to -- her role in that process.

That's a new wrinkle here. We've heard a lot about Benghazi and the current history, but not going back all of those years.

MALVEAUX: All right, Dana, thank you so much.

I want to focus on that, what Senator Collins talked about and what Dana had just mentioned here and it really goes to Susan Rice's readiness, given that she was the assistant secretary for African affairs during the bombing of these two U.S. embassies in East Africa. It happened back in 1998.

I want to bring our national security analyst, Peter Bergen, in to join the conversation here. Tell us, first of all, remind our viewers the significance of these bombings that took place and then what was Rice's role?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, two embassies in Africa were bombed by al Qaeda almost simultaneously in Kenya and Tanzania, killing more than 200 people.

Twelve Americans died, many Africans and, you know, Senator Collins is certainly correct that, at the time, the ambassador to Kenya requested additional security at -- or better security at the embassy because the embassy, at that time in Kenya, was at a very busy intersection and was not well-defended against car bombs and the like.

As a result of the attacks, the State Department produced new standards called the Inman Standards, which basically meant that any new embassy had to be moved back from major intersections or roads. And, so, you know, Collins is certainly right that this request was made. Now, did Susan Rice not respond to that? I don't think we know the answer to that.

Was it even Susan Rice's responsibility? Usually this is handled by the diplomatic security bureau at State which is in charge of these issues. And, so, the fact that she was in charge of Africa at the time at the State Department may not have much bearing on this issue.

And, you know, obviously she's not responsible for the security at the Benghazi consulate as ambassador to the U.N. So, we don't really know the facts of the matter and it's a tiny bit of a red herring, I think.

MALVEAUX: Yeah, I wanted to ask you that because is there a legitimate concern that Senator Collins has when she says the United States did not learn from the lessons of the '98 bombings and here we are in Benghazi and we see that they are jumping up and down asking for help, they don't have enough security?

Why didn't we learn those lessons from '98 and then she puts Susan Rice in that position in '98? Is that a leap here to actually involve Rice in that kind of comparison with Benghazi?

BERGEN: I think, Suzanne, it's a little bit of a leap. Again, we don't know the facts about what her involvement was in -- or lack of involvement in the '98 requests for additional security measures at the embassy in Kenya.

But the fact is that the consulate in Benghazi was not an embassy of any typical kind. In fact, it really looks like a CIA listening station. The kind of security arrangements that were in place obviously were inadequate, but it wasn't an embassy. I mean, you know, when you build an embassy, it's a -- there's a whole very formal process about the kinds of materials you use and the setback from the street and the kinds of security measures in place.

Benghazi, you know, didn't rise to that and, as a sort of -- so, I -- you know, there's sort of apples and oranges. But the fact is she's introduced a new kind of line of criticism against Ambassador Rice.

MALVEAUX: Do you think it's relevant, Peter -- do you think it's relevant the question that Susan Collins is now raising as part of, let's say that the President did say, I want Susan Rice as my Secretary of State, they have the process, they go before and the senators consider her, do you think it's legitimate, this issue that she's brought up now?

BERGEN: Well, A, it was 14 years ago and, B, al Qaeda was really -- unfortunately wasn't really deemed to be a significant threat in that time period and, C, it's not even clear that she, you know, was in any way responsible for the lack of, you know, movement on the ambassador's request for security.

These things will come out in more detail, obviously, in the next few days.

MALVEAUX: OK.

BERGEN: But, you know, let us see.

MALVEAUX: All right. Peter Bergen, thank you so much. Appreciate your analysis, as always.

There are no signs that he is going to back down, despite the fact that protesters have filled the streets now for days. The Egyptian president seems set on keeping the extended powers that he granted himself. We're getting a live report from Cairo.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Protesters tear-gassed in Egypt's Tahrir Square. That happened this morning.

They insist they are going to stay in the square until President Mohamed Morsi gives back some of the sweeping powers that he seized himself six days ago. The issue has divided Egypt between Islamists who support the president and liberals and moderates who feel that he's trying to push the country from the edge of democracy now back into dictatorship. President Morsi has said his new powers will remain only in place until this new constitution is finalized. Looks like that could happen soon.

I want to bring in our Reza Sayah. He's joining us from Cairo overlooking Tahrir Square. First of all, give us a sense of what is taking place on the streets there and how people feel about where they are in this.

REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, protesters are still here. I'd say a few thousand are remaining here in Tahrir Square, nowhere near the numbers of the 1-million-man demonstration last night.

But we have a whole bunch of other collision courses taking shape, Suzanne, that could further complicate political crisis and here's why. President Morsi wants his new constitution drafted as soon as possible. He says that's the best way to move democracy forward and form a parliament. A 100-member panel has been assigned to write this new constitution, but there's been a whole lot of problems and conflict. The panel is dominated by supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamists.

Many liberal members have quit in protest. Some have ...

MALVEAUX: Reza, I'm sorry. We're going to have to interrupt. We've got some breaking news.

Want to go back to Washington. Senator Bob Corker, Republican from Tennessee reacting to Susan Rice's statements. Let's listen in.

(BEGIN LIVE FEED)

SEN. BOB CORKER, (R) FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: I've had a very good relationship with and I very much have appreciated the transparency and the types of conversations the we've had from day one. I know that she has her portion of the investigation under way and I know there are others that are happening and that's something that we'll set aside, we'll continue to pursue until we fully understand what is happening.

But, again, I have found no heroes here in Washington. I'm very disappointed in the entire apparatus here. I spent time on the ground with our station chief, our chief CIA operative in Libya and I was very aware exactly what he had shared with intelligence individuals here and I talked to our charges on the ground who was left there after our ambassador was killed and the type of information that's transmitted both here, internally, but also externally to the public, to me is greatly disappointing when all you have to do is talk with an individual on the ground to know what is happening.

So, again, I'm going to put that aside for a moment. I know that the reason this has caught such a -- you know, this has caused such interest by all is that there's a potential for nominations and some of the people that, you know, have been a part of what was disappointing regarding Benghazi have been mentioned.