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Egypt Rushes New Constitution; Palestinian Quest for Global Recognition; Boehner Talks Fiscal Cliff; Rice's Uphill Battle on Capitol Hill.

Aired November 29, 2012 - 11:30   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JACKIE CASTILLO, CNN.COM CORRESPONDENT: Because if it there's a kitchen, you can prepare some of your meals there.

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And to save, buy your wine at the grocery store. One suggestion, look for the bottles with the black rooster symbol. This means the wine is of higher quality.

I hope these tips help you plan a budget-friendly trip. They worked for me on my trip to Tuscany, and I'm sure they can work for you, no matter where you travel.

I'm Jackie Castillo with this week's "Travel Insider."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: A special assembly in Egypt is rushing a vote on a final draft of a new constitution for that country all at the same time as protests are going on outside against the president of that country. And why is it that they're rushing this draft? Word is that the constitutional court has a plan to rule this weekend on whether to just dissolve that assembly completely. Some of the assembly members have walked out, saying they're angry. They're accusing Islamists of trying to impose their vision. President Morsi has faced some very, very tough criticism since he granted himself massive powers until a brand-new constitution is drafted. He declared last week that there is no court anywhere in that country that could overturn anything he decides. If the officials pass the draft today, though, it will go before Egyptians for a popular vote in 15 days. And if that is approved, President Morsi is going to lose a lot of those extended powers.

All of this as images like this play out, and these are not good for Egyptians and they are not good for Americans. The U.S. embassy in Cairo has been closed. Protesters are blocking the entrance, and the clashes are happening very, very close by. There is no indication at this time, however, that our embassy there is threatened. Stay tuned. We'll keep you posted to the developments in that country.

And also in the Middle East, we are seeing a rare moment of cooperation today between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. It's coming thousands of miles away from where they usually live. They're in New York, and both sides want their United Nations status elevated.

What does that mean? Does it really do anything for them? Basically, it's part of the Palestinian effort, going on for decades now, to be an official country. Equal in status with Israel, and the United States. And anybody else belonging to the U.N.

Just for some context here, though, the PLO has been a permanent observer. That's been their status since 1974. And that has given Palestinians the right to speak out and be heard at the assembly. But it doesn't give them a right to vote.

Richard Roth, who covers the U.N. extensively and is our CNN favorite on this topic, is there to really give a little more context as to what they wanted to and what kind of status it would give them and how far up in status it would actually elevate them.

Richard, tell us what it means.

RICHARD ROTH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: OK. First, just to clarify, Hamas, not really here with the Palestinians. The Palestinian President Abbas is in New York, met with the secretary general last night. Yes, this is, as usual with the U.N., words matter. Sometimes one letter in a document could be a time bomb. What we have here is the U.N. upgrading later today the status of the Palestinians here. They are in effect going to become sort of a state within a group of states. But really, as you mentioned, they won't have the right to vote. They're not going to be an official number, 194, of the United Nations rostrum of countries. But it does give them access to other U.N.- affiliated, other organizations, such as the International Criminal Court, where, if they wanted to, and as the Palestinian ambassador said, if Israeli behave itself, they won't do it, but they could go to the Hague to try to accuse Israel of war crimes. Israel says it could do the same against the Palestinians.

But there are a lot of people upset by this, think there are risks to the overall peace process which many people have said it's got to be two states, two groups talking to each other. It's a political win for Abbas once this vote happens, especially after Hamas was gathering a lot of support after the engagement with Israel a couple weeks ago -- Ashleigh?

BANFIELD: So interesting to see these two parties coming together in this effort, although not surprising, considering they both want the same thing. They want to be recognized.

But what's fascinate, and you alluded to this when you talked to the criminal court, et cetera, the U.S. and Britain are not the least bit pleased about this effort and they do oppose this. Give me some context.

ROTH: Right. Let's listen to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last night in Washington on her reasons for opposing this bid today by the Palestinians.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: No matter what happens at the United Nations, it will not produce the outcome that this government, this president, and, certainly, I strongly support. And the only way to get a lasting solution is to commence direct negotiations, and we need an environment conducive to that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROTH: The Palestinians say they were getting demands, Ashleigh, by Britain and other countries for concessions on what they were requesting. To be more specific, they wouldn't go to the ICC, the criminal court, in order to get these European votes. It's important for the Palestinians not to just get the, quote, "usual band of countries that support them no matter what here." They would like to get a sizeable number, including western countries. France will vote in favor, Spain and Portugal. But the U.K. will abstain. Germany will abstain. All they need is a simple majority here.

But the way forward, maybe it inches everyone closer to that two-state negotiating process, or it's just symbolic as others says. Netanyahu, of Israel, says this will not accomplish anything, will not hasten any type of peace agreement. They still haven't talked in months.

BANFIELD: And I'm sure it's not the least bit pleasing to the Palestinians to hear our secretary of state say we don't support it because we don't think it would work. And clearly, a lot of politics playing out there.

Richard Roth, keep an eye on it for us. Thank you, sir.

The vote starts, as Richard reported, later today, 3:00 p.m. eastern at the U.N. And we'll certainly have the results for you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: I want to take you live to Capitol Hill where House Speaker John Boehner is speaking live to the press. He has emerged from are a meeting with Timothy Geithner, treasury secretary, as well. Let's listen in to what he has to say.

(BEGIN LIVE FEED)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I met with Erskine Bowles and business leaders about averting the fiscal cliff and achieving the balanced approach the White House says it wants. I've made clear that we put real concessions on the line by putting revenues on the table right up front. Unfortunately, many Democrats continue to rule out sensible spending cuts that must be part of any significant agreement that will reduce our deficit. And Mr. Bowles himself said yesterday there is no serious discussion of spending cuts so far. And unless there is, there is a real danger of going off the fiscal cliff.

Listen, going off the fiscal cliff will hurt our economy and will cost American jobs. Republicans have taken action to avert the fiscal cliff by passing legislation to stop all the tax hikes, to replace the sequester, and pave the way for -- pave the way for tax reform and entitlement reform. And we're the only ones with a balanced plan to protect the economy, protect American jobs, and protect the middle class from the fiscal cliff. But without spending cuts and entitlement reforms, it's going to be impossible to address our country's debt crisis and get our economy going again and to create jobs.

So right now, all eyes are on the White House. The country doesn't need a victory lap. It needs leadership. It's time for the president, congressional Democrats, to tell the American people what spending cuts they're really willing to make.

With that, I'll take a few questions.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Speaker Boehner, why will you not tell Democrats what specific spending cuts you would like to see, especially within entitlements?

BOEHNER: It's been very clear over the last year-and-a-half. I've talked to the president about many of them. You can look at our budget where we outline very specific proposals that we passed in last year's budget and the budget from the year before. We know what the menu is. What we don't know is what the White House is willing to do to get serious about solving our debt crisis.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: So your 201 position still stands then? Are you still offering -- those talks from 2011? Is that still the basis here?

BOEHNER: I'm not going to get into the details, but it's very clear what kind of spending cuts need to occur. And we have no idea what the White House is willing to do.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: To this point, most public statements have been optimistic, confident, hopeful. We're all sensing a very different tone from you right now. Are you walking away from talks, have is things completely broken down, Mr. Speaker?

BOEHNER: No, no, no. Stop. I've got to tell you, I'm disappointed in where we are, and disappointed in what's happened over the last couple weeks. But going over the fiscal cliff is serious business. And I'm here seriously trying to resolve it. And I would hope the White House would get serious as well.

Paul?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE QUESTION) -- on meeting with Secretary Geithner or your phone call with President Obama last night. Could you tell us something about that phone call? BOEHNER: Well, we had a very nice conversation last night. It was direct and straight forward. But this assessment I give you today would be a product of both of those conversations.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: How much would you be open to the idea of discretionary spending cuts as part of a down payment to get to a longer-range solution on entitlements and tax reform?

BOEHNER: There are a lot of options on the table, including that one and --.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. Speaker, before the election, you were asked whether if it Obama won taxes would have to go up. And you sounded like you opposed that. Now you're acknowledging that they will.

BOEHNER: The day after the election, I came here and made it clear that Republicans would put revenue on the table as a way to begin to move the process to get this resolved.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Right. So my question is, what message do you have for people who look at the negotiating division, and believe that it's inevitable that you'll have to accept some compromise on tax rates?

BOEHNER: The revenue is on the table. But revenue was only on the table if there were serious spending cuts as part of this agreement. It has to be part of the agreement. We have a debt crisis! We're spending too much! And while we're willing to put revenue on the table, we have to recognize, it's the spending that's out of control.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. Speaker. Roughly, what size spending cuts do you think it would take to reach a deal on the fiscal cliff, and do you think that at least the promise of spending cuts has to be included in this level deal at this time?

BOEHNER: I don't think there's -- I don't think it's a productive for either side to lay out hard lines in terms of what the size of the spending cuts ought to be. There's clearly -- there are a lot of options on how you could get there. But the second part of your question was?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: My question is, do you think a promise of spending cuts has to be included in the deal that averts the fiscal cliff?

BOEHNER: Listen, there's a framework that we presented to the White House two weeks ago. The framework is -- has been agreed to in terms of really a down payment on the end of this year. That would include spending cuts and it would include revenue, setting up a process for entitlement reform next year, and tax reform next year. But this is way out of balance and not a recognition on the part of the White House about the serious spending problem that we have.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE QUESTION) -- going over the fiscal cliff, you called serious business, extending the lower tax rates -- (INAUDIBLE QUESTION)

BOEHNER: I'm going to do everything I can to avoid putting the American economy, the American people through the fiasco of going over the fiscal cliff.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Which is worse for the economy? (INAUDIBLE QUESTION) -- could you include a debt limit that is in the overall package (INAUDIBLE QUESTION)?

BOEHNER: As I told the president a couple weeks ago, there's a lot of things I've wanted in my life, but almost all of them had a price tag attached to them. And if we're going to talk about the debt limit in this, then we're -- there's going to be some price tag associated with it.

Last question.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Are you standing by your dollar for dollar -- the increase in the debt limit for cuts?

BOEHNER: I continue to believe that any increase in the debt limit has to be accompanied by spending reductions that meet or exceed it.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

(END LIVE FEED)

BANFIELD: Speaker Boehner speaking to the press outside of the offices on Capitol Hill. Not really yielding any information, though. The intransigence it seems on both sides continues.

But it definitely continues to sound like a campaign on both sides, as well. Just a couple highlights for you. The speaker saying the Democrats can't seem to come to any kind of decision on sensible spending cuts. He also highlighted that the agreements are seriously out of balance, in his opinion. That we have a serious spending problem in this country, as well that needs to be addressed. He also referred to his meeting earlier with the Clinton chief of staffers, Mr. Bowles, suggesting that we are only -- "we're the only ones with a balanced plan to protect the Americans from the fiscal cliff." I'm quoting the speaker here. "Right now, all eyes are on the White House. This country doesn't need a victory lap," he said. "It needs a leader."

Those are the words of the House speaker, but it doesn't seem to suggest that the conversation that he had with the president did much to the impasse.

More in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: You could say the past few days on Capitol Hill were a critical diplomatic mission for U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice. Arguably, the most important domestic diplomacy of her career perhaps. After two meetings over two days with these five key Republican Senators, the GOP, it seemed, were more unified against her in their opinion of Ms. Rice.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS, (R), MAINE: I continue to be troubled.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R), ARIZONA: We are significantly troubled.

SEN. KELLY AYOTTE, (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: I want to say that I'm more troubled today.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: And I'm more disturbed now than I was before.

SEN. BOB CORKER, (R), TENNESSEE: The whole issue of Benghazi has been, to me, a tawdry affair.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: It would be an understatement at this point to say Ms. Rice has become a lightning rod for Republican criticism and, with it, more political obstacles that could be in the way of any sort of nod she might get towards becoming secretary of state. That's if the ambassador is even nominated.

No one might understand the challenges of being the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations more than the man who was actually held that role, Governor Bill Richardson, formerly of New Mexico, served as the U.N. ambassador under President Clinton. Kind enough to joins us live in the studio today.

Thank you, Governor, Senator -- Governor and Ambassador, for joining me.

Just before we came back from break you happened to mention to me that you had a phone call from Ambassador Rice last week.

BILL RICHARDSON, (D), FORMER AMBASSADOR & FORMER NEW MEXICO GOVERNOR: Well, we spoke and I gave her some advice. I said, look, I know how those intelligence briefs are. You're briefed. You say what's in the paper. You did that. Stick by your guns. You've got a great record. If you're nominated, that's important for the country. Go to the Hill, talk to Senators. Don't hold back.

(CROSSTALK)

BANFIELD: So she did that yesterday, and they emerged -- and you heard that line, that seemed very similar, everyone being more troubled than they were before.

RICHARDSON: I think the problem is not what Ambassador Rice has done. It seems some of the intelligence reports were not as accurate as they should have been.

BANFIELD: OK. Good point. Good point. Because she was privy to two different sets of reports, classified, unclassified. I know you know this drill. But she went on TV only saying what was m unclassified reports, even though it was in direct opposition to what was in the -- how does that happen? Why wouldn't you just say, you know, I'm not comfortable going on TV and saying this, call someone else?

RICHARDSON: From what I understand and -- is that she was saying to the world on the news shows this is the information that I have. I think she is imminently qualified. The issue should be not on whether she read the right paper. The issue should be is she qualified? Here's a woman who is a Rhodes Scholar, assistant secretary for Africa under the Clinton administration. I worked with her on a lot of African issues. She was the leader at the U.N. Security on the sanctions of North Korea, on Libya. She's imminent --

(CROSSTALK)

RICHARDSON: She's close to the president.

BANFIELD: Look, I don't think many people there -- certainly, some people are contending her chops for the job of secretary of state. She's got a great resume. This doesn't answer the question of why you would take one set of documents that's classified and another that's unclassified when they don't agree with one another and only go on television and talk about one of them. Instead of saying to the president and the rest of the administration, I'm not your man, I don't want to be on record saying something I know might be different.

RICHARDSON: You know, Ashleigh, I think this is parsing things. I really think that she --

(CROSSTALK)

BANFIELD: But it's not according to Republicans. They want facts. They want answers to those questions.

RICHARDSON: She can't divulge classified information in a public hearing or in a news show. And I also disagree with the view that the secretary of state and U.N. ambassador shouldn't go on news shows. Their jobs are nonpolitical, but news shows, like what we're doing, is public information. The public needs to know. The Senate needs to know. I think this has gotten a little politicized --

(CROSSTALK)

RICHARDSON: But in the end, if the president wants her as secretary of state -- you know, tradition has been that the Senate gives any president who they want in this most important cabinet job.

BANFIELD: You need to call Speaker Boehner and say that his live news conference took the rest of our time away from our conversation.

(LAUGHTER)

Ambassador Richardson, than you for coming --

RICHARDSON: Thank you very much.

BANFIELD: -- for your conversation. Will you come back? RICHARDSON: I sure will.

BANFIELD: I don't think this is over.

I have to wrap it there, but I'm going to hand over the baton to my good friend, Suzanne Malveaux, with NEWSROOM INTERNATIONAL. Thanks for watching, everyone.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)