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U.S. Embassy in Cairo Closed; Interview with Congressman Phil Gingrey; Obama and Romney Breaking Bread; Thirty-Three Days Until The Fiscal Cliff

Aired November 29, 2012 - 06:30   ET


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: The president's point man, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, sent to Capitol Hill for fiscal cliffs talks today.

Tickets to riches. We have an idea where two of the Powerball winners bought tickets.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Fashion statement. The always avant- garde Yoko Ono may have outdone herself with a new clothing line aimed at men. Wait until you see. If you love her music, you'll love her fashion.

SAMBOLIN: I saw a little preview. Interesting, I would say.

Welcome back to EARLY START. Happy you're with us this morning. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. I'm in for John this morning. It's 30 minutes past the hour.

SAMBOLIN: And first happening right now in Egypt, the U.S. embassy in Cairo is closed. No one is being allowed in or out of the embassy right now. Embassy officials say the entrance is blocked by hundreds of protesters that are clashing nearby. The clashes are not threatening.

So, I want to repeat that. They are not threatening the U.S. embassy in Cairo. It is just closed right now. That's what they are telling us.

The clashes are coming from massive demonstrations against President Morsy that have threatened the young, new government after a decree last week that extended his powers to a very uneasy level for many Egyptians.

So, just -- they're saying to be cautious, you cannot get in or out of the U.S. embassy in Cairo right now.

ROMANS: All right. The fiscal cliff in this country is just 33 days away. Your tax rates, retirement programs, the way your state is run, all on the table. Yesterday, the White House announced that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and top congressional negotiator Rob Nabors will go to Capitol Hill for meetings. But just how close are both sides to compromising and reaching a deal? And will the U.S. have to face the cliff head on?

Congressman Phil Gingrey is a Republican from Georgia. He was just named the vice chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee. And he's the chairman of the Republican Doctors Caucus.

Good morning, sir.

REP. PHIL GINGREY, (R) GEORGIA: Good morning, Christine.

ROMANS: You know, congressman, your colleague, Congressman Tom Cole, the latest Republican to signal a willingness to cut a deal that cuts taxes for almost all Americans but not the richest. Here's what he said last night to Wolf last night.


REP. TOM COLE, (R) OKLAHOMA: If we agree that taxes shouldn't go up on 98 percent of the people, shouldn't we take that now and get it set aside, make sure they know their taxes aren't going up. I think they'll actually listen to us, and we'll win the argument on the other areas.

But, you know, putting people at risk when we agree their taxes shouldn't go up, is something in my opinion we shouldn't do.


ROMANS: And that was after Speaker Boehner dismissed that idea.

Sir, do you think that colleague, Congressman Cole, is wrong?

GINGREY: Well, Tom is my colleague, my friend, my classmate, a great member. And, you know, I just think that -- I have less confidence that in 2013 that we would be able to get those marginal rates back down on the top 2 percent, those that pay 37 percent of all taxes. And I just don't have that confidence.

But -- but Tom is a very cerebral member. And I don't question his judgment. But I'm certainly not going to break the pledge that I've made in regard to not raising taxes.

ROMANS: You won't break that pledge that you made. I mean, there are others of your colleagues who are saying, look, we don't want to appear inflexible. We know -- we want the deal, we want the best deal we can get right now.

You're going to stick with your pledge. You will not accept a deal that raises -- if Speaker Boehner comes to you with a deal that raises revenue either by cutting deductions and loopholes or by raising rates, you won't do it?

GINGREY: No, wait a minute. There are three R's here. Kind of like reading, writing and arithmetic. We are talking about raising revenue. ROMANS: Yes.

GINGREY: We're talking about reforming the tax code, and the other R would be raising tax rates. That's the only thing I say that I absolutely will not do.

Two hundred and fifty-eight members of Congress, Republicans all, have taken the pledge. And only six are waffling. So, I think we're standing pretty strong on that point.

ROMANS: You know, it's a pledge -- do you think that's a pledge with Grover Norquist, is that a pledge with your constituents? I mean, there are others saying they have room around the pledge.

GINGREY: Well, that's a great question you just asked me. Is that a pledge to my constituents? Absolutely. In 2002 -- and I was running in a tough primary and those folks back in Marietta, Georgia, said, Phil, are you going to take the pledge, the Grover Norquist, Americans for Tax Reform pledge? And I said, yes, I will take that pledge.

Many would have voted for my opponent, he or she. So, that pledge, I honor that because it's a pledge to my constituents. Absolutely.

ROMANS: All right. So, you say your constituents don't want you to raise taxes on the rich. But let me show you what an ABC/"Washington Post" poll shows. It shows that 60 percent would accept -- would support raise taxes on incomes over $250,000 a year. Thirty-seven percent would oppose.

You won't sign a deal that raises taxes on the rich?

GINGREY: Well, I understand that their perception. I certainly I do. And I've had constituents that take that position as well.

But, you know, I'm sent to Congress to represent 700,000 people in my northwest Georgia district. And they send me because they trust my judgment. They think I have the facts that maybe in many cases they don't.

And we know that lowering taxes, keeping taxes low stimulates jobs and jobs stimulates revenue. We're not going to get there this fiscal cliff you're talking about by raising taxes on the top 2 percent. I mean, what would that do -- fund the government for eight days?

We are facing a fiscal Grand Canyon --


GINGREY: -- if we don't reform Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

ROMANS: So, would you -- so, look, you talk about raising taxes. But those were temporary tax cuts. Those Bush tax cuts were extended a couple of times. Those were temporary tax cuts.

I mean, couldn't you live with allowing temporary tax cuts for the richest to go away, keeping them for the middle class and then getting some of that entitlement reform that you want? Wouldn't -- could you live with that?

GINGREY: You know, Christine, you make the point. From a political perspective, the optics of that, you know, might look good. And maybe the Democrats feel they have an advantage politically.

But we Republicans, we conservative Republicans, fiscal conservative Republicans, feel that we are right on this, that we can't allow because of politics to waffle or waver on something that we know will get this country back on the right track, will stimulate the economy. The darn stimulus sure didn't, $850 billion.

So we know that lower, broader reform tax code and more people working, that's what it's going to take to finally lower the deficit and get this debt down below $16 trillion. Can you believe it?

ROMANS: All right. I know. And we'll be talking about the debt ceiling again very soon. Congressman Phil Gingrey, Republican from Georgia, thank you, sir.

GINGREY: Thank you very much.

SAMBOLIN: Thirty-six minutes past the hour.

It is not the way that he hoped that he would get there, but Mitt Romney is on his way to the White House today. He's having a private lunch with the president -- a show of bipartisanship at a time when the two parties are banging heads over the fiscal cliff -- if you just listened to that last interview.

There's also a lot of buzz about a potential role for Romney on the Obama team but the president's spokesman isn't letting on if he knows.


REPORTER: Is Governor Romney here tomorrow in some kind of cabinet- level position? Some kind of audition?




SAMBOLIN: White House correspondent Dan Lothian is live from Washington this morning.

I don't know. Do you know anything more about this lunch?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the president also has suggested that this was not about some particular assignment that he might have for Mitt Romney, but rather a chance for both these men to sit down and talk about moving the country forward.

You know, you look back. It wasn't long ago that both candidates were going at each other, the president attacking Mitt Romney for his time at Bain Capital, for sending jobs overseas. Remember the 47 percent. And then Mitt Romney was attacking the president's policies, saying that they essentially put the country in reverse.

Well, I expect there will be a much different tone today when these men sit down for lunch. The president says that there were some things that Mitt Romney said out there on the campaign trail that were not partisan but rather smart ideas. He wants to talk to him about job creation for the middle class. Also thinks that Mitt Romney did a good job working with the Olympics, and turning things around and some of that might be good for the federal government, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: You know what? I want to remind folks that Romney, in a private conversation with donors shortly after the election, remember what he said. He blamed his loss in part on the president promising gifts to Democratic constituents like minorities and students. I suspect that won't be a topic of conversation today.

So, let's switch gears. Senator Susan Collins has joined the chorus of Republicans voicing reservations about a possible Secretary of State nomination for U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice. She's a moderate. Interestingly, in her statement, she voiced support for Democratic Senator John Kerry as perhaps an alternative.

Let's listen to what she said.


SEN. SUSAN COLLINS, (R) MAINE: I think John Kerry would be an excellent appointment and would be easily confirmed by his colleagues.


SAMBOLIN: How much self-interest is at play here? If Kerry were to get that job, Republicans would then pick up his Senate seat, right?

LOTHIAN: That's right. Democrats say that in all of this, Republicans have been playing politics. But you're right. There is the scenario where, of course, Scott Brown who picked up the Kennedy senate seat then lost it in the most recent election to Elizabeth Warren.

So, the scenario is if John Kerry then gives up his seat to become the Secretary of State that Scott Brown then has the possibility of regaining a Senate seat.

Again, you know, this is -- it's great talk here in Washington, a lot of peculation. But ultimately we are looking here is sort of just a lot of scenarios because the president has not yet named anyone, has not made a nomination. We're talking about people on the short list.

And so, until the president names someone, then all these pieces can't come into play.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, but lots of speculation until then.

Dan Lothian, live in Washington for us. Thank you. Nice to see you this morning.

LOTHIAN: Good to see you.

ROMAN: All right. You want to retire rich? You better check your 401(k) balance and not your Powerball ticket, because unless you live in Arizona or Missouri, you didn't win. Two tickets one bought in each state matched all six numbers. That means they'll split a record Powerball jackpot of $588 million and the rest of us will have to go back to saving for retirement again.

The winning numbers: 5, 16, 22, 23, 29 and the Powerball number is 6.

SAMBOLIN: The state of Texas has asked a judge for permission to seize a large secluded ranch owned by FLDS, a fundamentalist, radical Mormon sect that believes in polygamy. Its leader, you're familiar with, Warren Jeffs, is serving a life sentence in Texas for sexually assaulting two underage girls. State officials say dozens of children were molested on that property.

ROMANS: OK. It's one of the most unique celebrities of our time. With that in mind, check out the new fashion line for men by the one and only Yoko Ono. The inspiration behind her masterpieces coming up.


ROMANS: All right. John Berman and Brooke Baldwin are in for Soledad this morning. John is with us right now to tell us what's up on the show?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, guys.

We're talking about the one Republican who's really in the middle of the fiscal cliff discussions, really in the center of the firestorm right now, Tom Cole. He says extend the Bush tax cuts for 98 percent of Americans and deal with the 2 percent later. We'll be talking, as I said, to Republican Tom Cole, what it feels like to be now in the middle of the firestorm.

Also, the husband and wife team who both lost their bids for re- election this year. We're going to talk to Congressman Connie Mack and Congresswoman Mary Bono-Mack. How they're using their last few weeks in office to try to get things done. Imagine that.

Plus, it's been a best-seller for a decade now. Pastor Rick Warren out with a new edition of "The Purpose Driven Life."


BERMAN: He's going to join us this morning. A lot to talk about there. That should be fascinating.

And nothing more interesting than this. America's top bobsledder who kept a big, big secret. Steve Holcomb, at the height of his career, he was going blind.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, my goodness! BERMAN: This is an incredible story of how he continued to race and ultimately won at Olympic gold. Wait until you hear the story.

SAMBOLIN: I'm looking forward to that.

BERMAN: We've got a lot more than that coming up on "STARTING POINT". Stay late and watch.

SAMBOLIN: We've got it. Well, hang out in our office.


SAMBOLIN: Thank you so much, John. Appreciate it.

So, the threat of flooding still plagues the west coast this morning. Meteorologist, Rob Marciano has more for us. Good morning.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, guys. Rain and wind, high elevation snow not only yesterday, but today, really the next several days going forward right through the weekend. Seventy-one- mile-an-hour wind yesterday gusting at Redding, California. Some of the higher peaks as similar numbers, and we'll continue to see the winds pepper not only in California but Oregon as well.

They're all spiraling around. Really, it's just sitting up here and pieces of moisture are going to be making their way into California and Oregon as time goes on. Fifty, 60-mile-an-hour winds continue to pepper the coastline. At the higher peaks of the Sierras, you'll see maybe even higher numbers than that.

Here's what our computer model say, tremendous amount of rain over the next five or so days, eight to ten inches plus 10 to 20 inches in the mountains. You go east to the mountains, plains up to the northeast, probably a snow showers across the Great Lakes, but other than that, it's a beautiful morning. It should be a good-looking day east of the Mississippi. Enjoy.

ROMANS: All right. Thanks, Rob.

SAMBOLIN: Forty-six minutes past the hour. Let's get you up to date on this morning's top stories.


SAMBOLIN (voice-over): President Obama and Mitt Romney planning a private lunch at the White House today. It's expected they will be talking about the fiscal cliff. There's also a lot of growing speculation there may be a role for Romney in the Obama administration.

ROMANS (voice-over): Dozens of New York public schools victimized by looters in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy. The city reports 30 schools were targeted including one in the Rockaway Beach, Queens where nearly a hundred iPads and iMacs were stolen.

SAMBOLIN: Terrible. ROMANS: Education officials say the looting losses are not covered by insurance.

SAMBOLIN: Clothes as eccentric as her music. Yoko Ono debuting a new fashion line inspired by sketches that she drew back in 1969 for her and John Lennon's wedding. Ono says the drawing were designed to celebrate Lennon's hot bod. It includes pants with handprints on the --


SAMBOLIN: -- tank tops with nipple cutouts, buttless pants which we are not going to show you, folks. Really. Interesting.

ROMANS: Two words I never thought Zoraida Sambolin say in television, buttless pants.



ROMANS (on-camera): All right. With a little more than four weeks to go until the fiscal cliff, President Obama has dispatched one of his top money men to try to cut a deal with lawmakers. We're talking about that coming up.


SAMBOLIN (on-camera): Welcome back to EARLY START. Fifty-one minutes past the hour. Thirty-three days until the fiscal cliff, and while politicians try to sell their plans, the first big negotiations get underway today with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner heading to Capitol Hill for separate meetings with Congressional leaders.

Both the president and Speaker Boehner made optimistic predictions yesterday.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My hope is to get this done before Christmas. 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.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R-OH) SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I'm optimistic that we can continue to work together to avert this crisis sooner rather than later.


SAMBOLIN: Everybody's optimistic, but just what will both sides give and what will it cost those politicians? Erick Erickson is the CNN contributor who's editor-in-chief of Very nice to have you with us this morning. Thank you.

So, Congressman Tom Cole was on "AC 360" last night. And you know, he's also gotten some criticism for saying that he would accept revenue increases in exchange for a compromise. Here's what he said about the Bush era taxes.


REP. TOM COLE, (R) OKLAHOMA: I want to make all of them permanent, quite frankly. So, this is really a debate about political tactics. It's not a difference over political theology. In the end, all Republicans want to make sure that we don't increase taxes. That's where we differ with the Democrats.

But, if there's a place we can, again, get 80 percent of the Bush tax cuts for 98 percent of the American people made permanent, I think we should do that, and then I think we should continue to fight for the rest.


SAMBOLIN: Erick, Speaker Boehner said that he disagreed with Cole. Is this a debate about political tactics?

ERICK ERICKSON, EDITOR IN CHIEF, REDSTATE.COM: To a degree, I think it is. I mean, I don't think the Republicans really know where their negotiating position is right now which is one reason you're hearing Republicans like John Thune say kick the can down the road six months and do a grand plan and why the Democrats are saying do it now.

The Republicans haven't found their footing after the election. But at the same time, the bigger problem is spending. And, no one really wants to talk about spending. What the fiscal cliff is is a bipartisan compromise that they now don't want to go forward with that would do some pretty draconian cuts in the budget that they never really wanted to do in the first place.

And I think it's kind of foolish to think that Congress is going to come up with a plan to fix things when Congress designed the plan that they're now trying to fix.

SAMBOLIN: Erick, some Democrats are saying that entitlements can be on the table but should deal with long-term reform afterwards. Here's what Senator Dick Durbin said on yesterday's "Starting Point."


SEN. DICK DURBIN, (D) ILLINOIS: Entitlements need to be part of a long-term strategy but do it in a thoughtful way. We're down to four weeks here. I don't want to see in the future of Medicare major changes decided in the heat of the moment here. Let's get through this fiscal cliff. Let's find a way to avert it, but let's, at the end of the day, take Medicare and treat it as the important program it is for so many millions of Americans.


SAMBOLIN: So, Erick, if we do get a deal, how much kicking of the can down the road do you think that that deal will include? ERICKSON: Oh, I think it's going to include significant kicking the can down the road, which is one reason I think they're probably going to kick the entire deal down the road and deal with everything together. But there's other way that it's not going to happen, and we know it's not going to happen from history.

We've had 18 of these since 1981. Every time or at least more than half of the time, they said they needed a deal with Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security. Now, we've got the Affordable Care Act in the mix as well, which is going to cause problems, and they never actually want to deal with those things. Meanwhile, the debt has gone up to $16 trillion.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Erick Erickson, thanks for joining us this morning. We appreciate it.

And 33 days until the fiscal cliff, we just keep on talking about this, don't we? And while politicians try to sell their plans of first big negotiations get under way today with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner heading to Capitol Hill for separate meetings with Congressional leaders. We're going to have much more on "Starting Point" as well this morning.

ROMANS: That's right. And we're going to have "Best Advice" before we go, too. So, don't go away.


SAMBOLIN: We wrap it up as always with "Best Advice."

ROMANS: And today, we're hearing from lawyer and New York politician, Ann Margret Carrozza.


ANN MARGRET CARROZZA, LAWYER: The best advice I've received is to learn a little bit about money. Learn how to enjoy your money, learn how to save your money, learn how to use your money to help other people, learn how to protect your money from taxes and long-term care costs, and just become better educated about it.

It really fulfills a lot of self-worth issues when we learn how to take care of ourselves, take care of our families, and take care of society at large with money.


ROMANS: I love this, especially the world is going crazy about, you know, lotteries and in America where the only way to get rich is to play the lottery just breaks my heart. That's how you get rich.

SAMBOLIN: And she covered it all. Really good advice. That's EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. "STARTING POINT" with John Berman and Brooke Baldwin starts right now.