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Thirty-Four Days Until The Fiscal Cliff; Rice Back On The Hill; Four Servicewomen Suing For Right to Combat; Record Powerball Lottery Tonight; "The Hobbit" Premieres in New Zealand

Aired November 28, 2012 - 05:30   ET


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Trying again. U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice gets another shot at soothing unhappy Republican lawmakers unhappy with her comments in the wake of the Benghazi attack.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The right to fight. Female troops suing the Pentagon to try to get into combat.

SAMBOLIN: And have you heard about the Powerball fever? It could be your last chance today to get tickets to one of the largest jackpots ever.

Welcome back to EARLY START. We are dreaming about how we would spend the money. And Christine Romans is going to give you some great advice on what to do if you win.


SAMBOLIN: Thanks for being with us this morning. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans in for John Berman. It's just half past the hour right now. It was a good plan in theory. America's U.N. ambassador, Susan Rice, asking for a face-to-face meeting with her harshest Republican critics, senators who threaten to block her possible nomination as Secretary of State because of her public comments in the aftermath of the Benghazi conflict attack.

Rice was hoping to placate her critics, but the meeting appears to have made things worse. CNN senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, from Washington all unfold.


DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The way these grim-faced GOP senators tell it, Susan Rice's attempt to calm their criticism backfired.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: We are significantly troubled by many of the answers that we got and some that we didn't get. I'm more disturbed now than I was before.

SEN. KELLY AYOTTE, (R) NEW HAMPSHIRE: The information given to the American people was wrong. In fact, Ambassador Rice said today, absolutely, it was wrong.

BASH: Rice requested to meet with her chief Republican critics and ordered to explain why five days after the September Benghazi attack that killed four Americans she went on Sunday talk shows suggesting it was sparked by a spontaneous protest.

Accompanied by acting CIA director, Michael Morell, Rice explained she was using these unclassified talking points which were stripped of references to al Qaeda, still classified by the intelligence community. So, Rice used the word extremist.

SUSAN RICE, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UNITED NATIONS: Extremist elements came to the consulate as this was unfolding.

BASH: A source inside the meeting tells CNN rice admitted to GOP senators she was aware of classified information suggesting al Qaeda was behind the attack, and yet, GOP senators point out she still said this publicly.

RICE: We have decimated al Qaeda.

BASH: CNN is also told Rice tried to clarify to GOP senators that what she meant was al Qaeda's poor leadership had been decimated, but GOP senators argue it's proof Rice was putting pre-election spin before national security.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: It was unjustified to give the scenario as presented by Ambassador Rice and President Obama three weeks before an election.

BASH: Ambassador Rice, what do you say to Republicans who say your comments were politically motivated?

Rice did not answer our question. She did release a statement, admitting her talking points, quote, "were incorrect in a key respect. There was no protest or demonstration in Benghazi. Well, we certainly wish we had had perfect information just days after the terrorist attack, as is often the case, the intelligence assessment has evolved. We stressed that neither I nor anyone else in the administration intended to mislead the American people at any stage in this process." And the White House had this to say.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The focus on some might say obsession on comments made on Sunday shows seems, to me, and to many, to be misplaced.

BASH: GOP senators also complained Rice neglected to ask key questions before telling the public what turned out to be wrong information.

AYOTTE: That's troubling to me as well. Why she wouldn't have asked? I'm the person that doesn't know anything about this, I'm going on every single show.

BASH (on-camera): Rice's supporters argue Republicans are the ones who politicizing the Benghazi attack by continuing to go after Rice. In fact, the Senate Homeland Security chair, Joe Lieberman, came out of a separate meeting with Rice saying that he's satisfied she did nothing wrong and she is qualified to be Secretary of State if the president nominates her.

Unfortunately for Rice, Lieberman won't get to vote because he's retiring at the end of the year.

Dana Bash, CNN, Capitol Hill.


SAMBOLIN: Our thanks to Dana for that.

The Justice Department and the House Oversight Committee are in talks to settle a lawsuit over Fast and Furious, That was the government's controversial operation where guns were tracked across the border into the hands of Mexican drug cartels. Guns linked to the program were found at the site where a U.S. border patrol agent was killed.

The two sides have been fighting over certain documents that the Obama administration has refused to give Congress citing executive privilege.

ROMANS: Four American servicewomen are suing the Pentagon hoping to force the military to drop its policy that excludes them from thousands of ground combat positions. All four women are veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Two have been awarded the Purple Heart. They main the combat exclusion rule is discriminatory.


CAPT. ZOE BEDELL, MARINE RESERVES: The policy limits my future in the Marine Corps. I would be assigned to positions based on my gender rather than on my qualifications or my accomplishments. This didn't make sense for me personally or professionally, and it, frankly, doesn't make sense for the military.


ROMANS: She also says the exclusion policy creates a dangerous set of rules and prevents commanders from deciding the best way to fight.

So, what would you do with $500 million? That's tonight's record- shattering Powerball jackpot. It's expected to climb even higher. Millions of Americans in 42 states are trying to parlay $2 into half a billion. Alison Kosik is talking to them. She's live from Times Square this morning.

Alison, what's happening there? I mean, 60 percent of ticket sales are expected to be made today. We know the odds are pretty slim.


ROMANS: But people are still going for it.

KOSIK: Yes. They are still going for it. You know, you talk about the odds, the odds are really slim. I mean, 175 million to one, that is really the likelihood that you'll even win this thing, but what the heck. Everybody is trying anyway. The jackpot, $500 million for the Powerball game, is only expected to grow as the buzz continues about this huge jackpot.

While more and more, you know, continue putting money in and buying tickets. You know, what's interesting is that this jackpot, it's been rolling over since October 6th. There hasn't been a winner for this game. It's rolled over 17 -- 16 times, actually, and the likelihood of it rolling over again is getting slim.

There's a five percent chance it will roll over again. So, of course, there goes even more incentive to buy tickets. But here's the thing, $500 million, Christine, you don't get that. You probably wind up with about $324 million. You know, what can you do with that? I don't know. What can you do with it?

ROMANS: $324 million, oh, my goodness. OK. You've been talking to people there who are buying tickets, what do -- why do they do it when the chances of winning are so slim? I mean, we spend so much more time talking about buying a lottery ticket than like planning for retirement. I know I sound like a total square, but that's the truth.

Your chances are so slim. You're buying a little piece of aspiration, I guess, and maybe it's a little bit of take this job and shove it.

KOSIK: Exactly.


KOSIK: Exactly. That, too, we can all dream, right? And it is sort of like the ad for the lotto says, you know, you have to be in it to win it. And if you want to dream, you got to try, right? And the odds really are slim. I mean, you've better odds at being struck by lightning, of dying from a bee sting or getting bitten by a shark.

One person I talked to who walked in today to buy a ticket said, you know what? I'm going to be giving half my money away if I win this thing to the IRS, so I'm going to buy a ticket anyway.


ROMANS: The record jackpot, too, because --


EDGAR RUIZ, BOUGHT POWERBALL TICKET: I would say the IRS always wins, they always get half. No matter who wins, they always win.

KOSIK: But your odds of winning are very slim.

RUIZ: I know. I think it's one out of a million, but it will be less if I don't play.



KOSIK: See, exactly. If I don't -- if he doesn't play -- and so I listened to him. Christine, if you're wondering, I've got the winning lotto ticket here, the winning Powerball ticket right here. So, I'm in it and I'm going to win it. At least, I hope I will.


ROMANS: We know the jackpot as a record, you say, because of those rollovers, too but there were some changes made to the Powerball game. What about that?

KOSIK: Yes. Remember the slogan, you got to have a dream and a dollar to go ahead and sort of enter this thing and really win? Well, now it's more like a dream and $2, because what the lotto commission essentially did was, you know, double the price because the effort was to try to increase revenue.

And that's essentially what's happened here because as these Powerball tickets have increased in price, you've seen these jackpots also just really balloon. And that, of course, once again increases the buzz to get everybody to continue buying it and it really grows these jackpots and make everybody that much more interested to go ahead and buy these tickets.

You know, you look at some of the figures and it's really helped certainly the lotto effort. Revenue has certainly grown, at least, 35 percent this year compared to last -- Christine.

ROMANS: Alison Kosik, $2 and a dream.


ROMANS: Thanks, Alison.

SAMBOLIN: So, we were sitting here talking about the lottery, and perhaps, winning, and you take this incredibly seriously. Christine Romans actually has a plan for you in case you win it. And in case you win it, what would you do?

ROMANS: We got to move to a state that doesn't have state income tax. You right away have to talk to a trust lawyer and get a trust immediately so you can figure out how to keep some of that money off limits and make sure it doesn't corrupt your children. You know, you got to think about growing the money, not spending the money. You know, Americans, we think, how would I spend all that money?

No, no, no. How would you grow all that money, because the idea with money like that, I mean, you can fund generations of your family, right, if you don't just go out and spend it on dumb stuff. And a lot of people after they win the lottery, they got nothing in the end. Zoraida, they end up broke.

SAMBOLIN: You know, there are some people who've won a lot of money and they have nothing to show for it.

ROMANS: It's just like --


SAMBOLIN: I just was really surprised with, you know, us constantly talking about, what are your real chances and you have a real plan, lady.


ROMANS: Oh, yes. I know a lottery winner who would not let me do a story about him. First thing he did was set on this (ph) island in Florida, second thing, bought a house in Florida before he told anybody that he won and set up a trust so that none of his family could get a hold of the money only when it was time.

And then, he went out and bought everybody a John Deere lawnmower and --


ROMANS: -- and said, don't ever ask me for money. I took care of you, leave me alone.

SAMBOLIN: Love that. All right. Well, thank you for sharing it. I appreciate it.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

SAMBOLIN: So, when I win, I have a plan.


SAMBOLIN: I bet you will.

Thirty-nine minutes past the hour here. Facing the fiscal cliff, President Obama courts some of the biggest CEOs on Wall Street today. Yesterday, he reached out to some of the smallest business owners on Main Street. We're going to talk to one of them coming up.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. It is 43 minutes past the hour. Thirty-four days until the United States faces a fiscal cliff and politicians in Washington are trying to inch closer to a compromise to avoid the tax increases and spending cuts due to take effect January 1st.

This afternoon, President Obama will meet with CEOs of several large companies like Home Depot, Coca-Cola, Yahoo!. They will be discussing ways to avoid going over the fiscal cliff, but this follows a meeting yesterday with small business owners who both sides say are critical to the economic recovery.

Karen Mills of the Small Business Administration said the owners told the president they need a deal soon.


KAREN MILLS, ADMINISTRATOR, SMALL BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION: They had one message for the president, which is they need certainty. Please get this deal done as soon as possible. They very much want consumers out there knowing that they are going to have money in their pockets to spend.

That's why it's so important that we pass the tax cuts, the extension of the tax cuts for 98 percent of consumers, 97 percent of all small businesses.


SAMBOLIN: Lisa Goodbee was at that meeting. She is the president of Goodbee and Associated Incorporated and engineering firm in Colorado. And she's also a member of the Small Business Majority Network Council. Karen, thank you so much for taking some time to spend with us this morning. We appreciate it.

So, in that clip that we just played right now, do you agree with that sentiment that passing tax cuts for most small businesses and consumers is actually imperative to the economy?

LISA GOODBEE, PRESIDENT, GOODBEE & ASSOCIATES, INC.: Absolutely. That was one of the things that was the biggest discussion item yesterday.

A group of small business owners, really everybody in the room was under consensus that extension of the middle class tax cuts was important, mostly for removing the uncertainty that the business community feels right now in terms of making sure that consumers have money in their pockets, making sure that business owners are confident in doing what they need to do in making the business decisions that are important to them.

So, yes, it was loud and clear yesterday, both from the president and from the business community that this was a deal that needed to be done.

SAMBOLIN: So, we've seen a lot of disagreements here between Republicans and Democrats on the issue of raising the tax rates, cutting from entitlements. Are you worried what will happen if we do fall off the fiscal cliff? I'm curious as to how it would affect your business, in particular.

GOODBEE: Some of the issues that are a concern for me in terms of the fiscal cliff, primarily are the transportation funding. I'm a civil engineer working out of Denver, a small business. Any cuts to transportation funding would significantly impact my business. And on a personal level, absolutely, I feel like we do fall in the higher tax bracket as did a lot of the small business owners.

And we feel like it's still the right thing to do to make sure that everybody pays their fair share and that a deal is made so that it's equitable across the board. It's too important. The fiscal cliff will affect not only the national community but Colorado economics, and of course, my business.

SAMBOLIN: And if you talk to me about the people that were in the room and the sentiment that was expressed to the president, I'm curious as to how many people, and if there were some solutions, some real solutions that were put on the table.

GOODBEE: It was interesting. We went around the room, the president went around to every business owner, shook their hand, discussed a little bit about their perspective and how the fiscal cliff was going to affect their business personally. I think a lot of business owners were really reaching out to make sure he understood that the decisions that he was making right now really did affect their world.

It's not just something that you read about in the paper. In terms of solutions, there was a lot of things that were bantered about. Nothing really concrete. I think, more than anything, the empowering thing for me was it was a chance for him to listen to us. And he really was listening more than talking, which was a surprise, I think, to a lot of us small business owners.

And it was really just an empowering session that made you feel like as a small business owner you had a say in the production of what's going on. So, it was a great experience.

SAMBOLIN: And at the end of the day, Lisa, what is it that you would like to see happen?

GOODBEE: I definitely would like to see the fiscal cliff voided and a deal cut sooner rather than later. I think it's particularly important that there were a lot of businesses in the room that are involved in retail.

And it became clear that it was important to them that there was some sort of assurance before the holidays that people were going to have money in their pockets and that there was going to be a positive environment for folks to start spending their money and for all us businesses to succeed. So, I came away feeling really good about it.

SAMBOLIN: Well, I'm happy to hear that, Lisa. Thank you so much for spending some time with us this morning. Lisa Goodbee, president of Goodbee and Associates Incorporated. And I apologize. I think I called you Karen earlier. So please forgive me for that. Thanks for waking up early. Christine, back to you.

GOODBEE: Thank you.

ROMANS: Thanks, Zoraida.

It's cold, it's wet, it's snowy. The northeast blasted with some good old-fashioned winter weather. And now, it's the west coast's turn to get smacked with heavy rains. Your weather forecast is coming up.


ROMANS: About eight minutes till the top of the hour. Here are your top stories. Millions of Americans are trying to turn two bucks into half a billion dollar this morning. Tonight's Powerball jackpot $500 million is expected to climb a lot higher before the numbers are finally drawn. This is the second largest jackpot in lottery history and a record for the 42-state Powerball game.

The cash payout for a single winning ticket now stands at $324 million. Your chances of winning are one in 175 million.

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): I'm taking the chance.

ROMANS: Go for it.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Ambassador Susan Rice returns to Capitol Hill today after failing to satisfy key Republican senators with her explanation about the Benghazi consulate attack. Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Kelly Ayotte say they're more troubled now than before their meeting with Rice and indicated they'll still oppose her possible nomination as Secretary of State.

Four gay men are suing a gay conversion therapy group that promised to make them straight. They say a New Jersey group called Jonah, which claims being gay is a reversible mental disorder is fraudulent. One of the plaintiffs appeared on "AC 360" last night. He talked about the harm that the therapy has caused him.

He was joined by the deputy legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center which filed the suit.


MICHAEL FERGUSON, PLAINTIFF: Well, there's definitely this insidious trauma that is inflicted on a person when the repeated message is that there's something inside of you that's broken, and that if you try hard enough, you can fix it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we feel very strongly that we will win because Jonah's services are based on complete lies.


SAMBOLIN: CNN has called and e-mailed Jonah representatives for comment, but they have not responded.

ROMANS: Black ice and snow causing trouble after yesterday's storm in the northeast. Now, new storms are rolling into the northwest this morning. Alexandra Steele up early for us in the Extreme Weather Center. Good morning.

ALEXANDRA STEELE, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hey, good morning. All right. From black ice to a pineapple express, right? It sounds a little ice creamy this morning. Hi, everyone. Good morning. So, two storms, one that's exiting and one that's incoming. So, here's the exiting one. Of course, this was the rain and snow that moved out of the northeast. I told you it would be a one-day affair, one-day quick-hitter, and it was. West Milford, New Jersey, six inches, Sunbury, Pennsylvania three, 2.5 inches in Millbrook, New York. That's in the Hudson Valley of New York. And actually, that is where the black ice is. Southern Connecticut, northeastern New Jersey, and on the Hudson Valley, that's where we are seeing black ice and those elevated roads this morning.

Now to the pineapple express equation, part of the equation. What we've got is coming into the west. What it is? The pineapple express is moisture coming all the way from the Hawaiian Islands to the west coast. Now, today, we're going to see it all the way through Thursday, Friday and into the weekend.

By Friday, Northern California, Southern Oregon, four to eight inches of rain, potentially, by Sunday, 10 to 12 inches of rain. So, really a barrage of moisture, landslides, mudslides, and feet of snow from the sierra to the bitter roots. Big picture today, of course, it's the coast, but lots of the country, guys, dry and pretty comfortable in the upper Midwest down to Dallas, Texas.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Alexandra Steele, thank you.


SAMBOLIN: All right. All pointy ears down under, all the hype surrounding the star-studded "Hobbit" world premier in New Zealand headed your way.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. It is 58 minutes past the hour. They came out in ears, homemade hobbit feet, sounds attractive, doesn't it? For the world premier of "The Hobbit," an unexpected journey in Wellington, New Zealand.

ROMANS: Reporter Matt McLean of TV New Zealand was on-hand for the festivities.


MATT MCLEAN, REPORTER, TV NEW ZEALAND (voice-over): This has been the (INAUDIBLE) for New Zealand. Around 100,000 fans line on the streets of New Zealand's capital, Wellington to catch a glimpse of their favorite "Hobbit" stars. The international stars of the film arrived in New Zealand for the world premier which took place in the capital, Wellington.

This has been a huge production for New Zealand and is a huge economic boost for the country as well. An entire marketing campaign for tourism New Zealanders is built around these films and it's certainly vital that the production of those movies is made here in New Zealand. Fans camped out about 24 hours before the broadcast of the world premier of that movie.

Many came from around the world to catch a glimpse of their favorite stars, and the party is in full swing the day of the world premier. (END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: Hundred thousand people.

SAMBOLIN: I know. That's a lot of folks. "The Hobbit" will have its U.S. premier next week here in New York. It will be in theaters December 14th. You going to see it?



ROMANS: I got a long list before that one.

SAMBOLIN: All right. EARLY START continues right now.