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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Protests in Cairo, Egypt, Continue; President Obama Invites Mitt Romney to White House; Two Winning Tickets Sold for Powerball Jackpot; Fiscal Cliff Negotiations Continue; Interview with Senator John Barrasso

Aired November 29, 2012 - 07:00   ET

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


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Soledad is off today. And our "Starting Point" here, the negotiator. The president sending his chief negotiator, Timothy Geithner, to Capitol Hill this morning, of course in hopes of getting the fiscal cliff deal done before everyone's taxes go up.

BERMAN: So, consolation lunch? President Obama invites Mitt Romney to the White House today after a blistering campaign. Everyone is buzzing about it. Could Obama be offering him a job?

BALDWIN: And apparently, Berman didn't win --

(LAUGHTER)

BALDWIN: But congratulations to someone. You just won the GDP of a small nation, not just one but two winning tickets in last night's record Powerball drawing. We will tell you where.

BERMAN: And if they will be my best friend soon. We have a packed show ahead, Senator John Barrasso, Congressman Adam Schiff, Pastor Rick Warren, Congressman Tom Cole, Congress couple Connie Mack and Mary Bono Mack, and bobsledder Steven Holcomb.

BALDWIN: We have so many people coming up the next two hours. It is Thursday, November 29. STARTING POINT begins right now.

BERMAN: Good morning, everyone. Our starting point this morning, developments happening now in Cairo. The U.S. embassy there is closed. No one is being allowed in or out as we speak.

BALDWIN: Embassy officials say protesters are blocking the entrance and clashes are happening near nearby. Seza sayah is nearby for us. Reza, what's happening?

REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We want to point out there is absolutely no indication the protesters are targeting the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. Even so, embassy officials have shut down the embassy as a precaution. These are protesters who clashed with police. These are the trouble-making elements, the teenagers, the young men, the 20-somethings who for the past four days have continued to throw rocks, debris, Molotov cocktails at police. Police have responded by firing teargas, stun grenades. Some of the police officers have been throwing rocks as well.

And some of the clashes have been inching toward the assembly, which is a couple of blocks from Tahrir Square. Four hours ago the embassy shut its doors, saying no one would come in or leave until further notice. More demonstrations scheduled in the days ahead in Tahrir Square. The embassy announcing that services for American citizens in Cairo will be canceled until further notice.

BALDWIN: Reza, quickly, this is all over President Morsi's power grab. What about a potential constitution here?

SAYAH: Another important day today. The constitutional assembly in Egypt at this hour is drafting Egypt's all important new constitution. This is going to be the cornerstone of Egypt's democratic transition and it's one of the reasons why President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood have been locking horns with opposition factions. This was a hundred member panel assigned to draft this constitution. There's been conflict. It is dominated by Islamists. Liberal members have quit in protest. Some have sued to disband the panel and start again.

You will recall one of Mr. Morsi's decrees said no one will disband this constitutional assembly. Not even the judiciary. They believe it needs to be drafted to get the democratic process going. And that's why opposition factions are very upset. We'll look for more conflict later today.

BALDWIN: Reza Sayah in Cairo, thank you.

BERMAN: The other big news this morning, in Washington the White House trying to kick start fiscal cliff talks. Just 33 days. Remain to stave off massive tax hikes and spending cuts. And keep in mind, Congress breaks for the holidays in 15 days.

BALDWIN: Treasury secretary Tim Geithner is going to try to get the talks moving today. He'll meet with congressional leaders on Capitol Hill. Let's go to White House correspondent Dan Lothian live for us this morning in Washington. Dan, tell us should Americans be hopeful something will be done in 15 days? That's before Congress goes on vacation.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Let's remind a little bit. Remember, it was a little over week ago when President Obama met with congressional leaders before he went overseas. There was a sense of optimism that they could get something done. Now it appears the two sides are still very far apart.

So that's why you see the president pushing this tax extension for middle class Americans, the president believing this is not necessarily the answer, the comprehensive answer, but it's part of the solution. So he's been meeting with small business owners at the White House, with big-time CEOs as well. Yesterday had middle class Americans who expressed how they would be impacted by taxes going up to the tune of $2,200 if the middle class tax extension is not done for them. The president believing that upper income Americans need to pay more. Republicans pushing back on that, but nonetheless the president sounded optimistic.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A clear majority of Americans, not just Democrats, but also a lot of Republicans and a lot of independents agree we should have a balanced approach to deficit reduction that doesn't hurt the economy and doesn't hurt middle class families. If both parties agree we should not raise taxes on middle class families, let's begin our work with where we agree.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LOTHIAN: Americans are very concerned but divided over the best solution to avoid the fiscal cliff. Take a look at an ABC News- "Washington Post" poll that shows 60 percent of Americans support upper income Americans having their taxes raised. 37 percent oppose it. On issue of reducing deductions, 44 percent support that, 49 percent oppose it. Much like lawmakers they realize there is a big problem that needs to be fixed but divided on how to fix it.

BERMAN: In addition to the goings on in the capitol there is an awfully big lunch at the White House today. Governor Romney coming by for a bite to eat. A lot of speculation about what might be discussed at the meal and the possibility of maybe future job?

(LAUGHTER)

LOTHIAN: Jay Carney pushed back on that yesterday. The president said there was no suggestion here that he had a special assignment for him. The president invited Mitt Romney to come to the White House because he wanted to talk about moving the country forward. The president pointed out that out there on the campaign trail Mitt Romney had good ideas, and he wanted to talk to him about that. Not necessarily partisan ideas but ideas like job creation for the middle class. The president pointed to Mitt Romney and how he helped turn the Olympics around and pointed out perhaps this could help in the government to streamline agencies to make it more user-friendly.

So it will be a different tone from the campaign trail, talking about moving the country forward. At this point, no suggestion that the president plans to hand him any kind of job offer.

BERMAN: It is a private lunch. No cameras inside. We'll never know what goes on in there. Dan Lothian at the White House, thank you so much.

BALDWIN: We are all here today. We didn't win. But two ticket holders have defied the ridiculous odds. They will split the $588 million Powerball jackpot.

BERMAN: One winning ticket was sold in Arizona, the other in Missouri, way too far away from here. The winning numbers are five, 16, 22, 23, 29 and the Powerball of six.

BALDWIN: You sound like you have done it before.

BERMAN: I have done it way too much, losing every time. Another loser joins us right now, Victor Blackwell just outside of Atlanta. Victor, the caviar dreams are over for all of us.

BALDWIN: Dashed.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It's back to hot dogs and canned tuna for most of us because those two people in Arizona and Missouri split the $580 million, the cash payout, $385 million. I'm here in Mapleton, Georgia. They are in Arizona and Missouri. I'm here because this gas station was one of the busiest places to buy a ticket. They sold a $116 million winner not too long ago. That's why people came here.

We know at the peak 130,000 tickets were sold across the 42 Powerball states, the Virgin Islands and D.C. per minute. People went against the unbelievable odds of one in 175 million. We know this is going to happen more often as part of a strategy by Powerball, the huge jackpots. They doubled the cost of a ticket from $1 to $2 and doubled the starting jackpot from $20 million to $40 million. And the average winning jackpot goes from $141 million to $255 million. But again, those odds, one in 175 million puts you somewhere between walking township a random woman in the country and guessing her name correctly and a being killed by a random falling coconut. So there is room there for a winner or two.

BERMAN: Watch out for the coconuts. Victor Blackwell, according to you we'll all have more losses in our future. Thanks, Victor.

(LAUGHTER)

BALDWIN: Thanks for starting our morning like that, Victor.

BERMAN: It's a big day at the United Nations as well a big day for Palestinians. They are asking members of the General Assembly to approve a resolution to upgrade their status from permanent observer to nonmember state. A vote is scheduled for this afternoon and is expected to pass.

BALDWIN: Keep in mind the United States and Israel are both vehemently opposed to the resolution. Let's go to CNN foreign affairs reporter Elise Labott live in Washington. Elise, good morning.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Brooke.

Israel, as you said, is very opposed to the move. The U.S. knows this move went give the Palestinians what they want, which is a state. This vote is largely symbolic. It will have no effect on Palestinian sovereignty or borders. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in the region last week and met with President Abbas and tried to assure him not to go ahead with the move. Let's listen to what she told reporters yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) HILLARY CLINTON, U.S. 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. We have urged both parties to refrain from actions that might in any way make a return to meaningful negotiations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LABOTT: Now, Brooke, President Abbas promised to return to negotiations after the vote. But with Israel so opposed to the move it doesn't seem likely. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put out a statement slamming this resolution calling it one-sided saying it doesn't take into account Israel's security interests and it pushes the peace process back.

Israel is threatening to withhold a $100 million a month in tax revenues from the Palestinians, further restrict movement of Palestinian officials, and there is about 500 million in U.S. economic and security aid at stake. Congress withheld aid last year when they joined UNESCO. That's gone through. This could certainly trigger a cut from aid in Washington leaving the Palestinians in dire straits, maybe lead to the collapse of the Palestinian authority and renewed violence in the region. So this only strengthen it is happened of Hamas who was riding high after the Gaza ceasefire last week.

BALDWIN: We'll see what happens with that today. Elise, thank you.

It's 12 minutes past the hour, checking other stories. Susan Rice still struggling to find support from the other side of the aisle here. She made a second visit to Capitol Hill claiming once again her comments in the after math of the Benghazi consulate attack were based on intelligence reports. She said there was no intent to mislead anyone. But Maine's moderate Republican senator Susan Collins isn't sold on that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS, (R) MAINE: I continue to be troubled by the fact that the U.N. ambassador decided to play what was essentially a political role at the height of the contentious presidential election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Rice is considered a leading candidate to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state.

BERMAN: The state of Texas is moving to seize a ranch owned by FLDS, a Mormon sect that believes in polygamy. Warren Jeffs, its leader, is serving a life sentence in Texas for sexually assaulting two under aged girls. State officials say dozens of children were molested on the property.

BALDWIN: While you were sleeping Lindsay Lohan arrested again. She's in custody now with the New York police department. They took her after some kind of oh fight around 4:00 this morning at a club in New York City. She has been charged with misdemeanor assault, with reports saying she reportedly hit a woman. Lohan was also arrested in September at another club in New York for allegedly hitting someone with her car and not stopping, but she didn't face charges for that.

BERMAN: One problem after another.

Christine Romans here with today's big business news.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. U.S. stock futures were up this morning, world markets are up, commodities up after comments made by President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, both expressing optimism on fiscal cliff negotiations in the Washington. In a new report from the Congressional Budget Office it says more than half a trillion has been spent on jobless benefits over the past five years, $520 billion in jobless benefits in five years. Also part of the fiscal debate, whether to extend the deadline to file for additional unemployment benefits beyond the end of the year.

And spending on food stamps is rising. Nearly 15 million households received food stamps in 2011, up 10 percent from the year before according to new data from the census bureau. It shows you the far reach of the government right now in the safety net in supporting American families. All of that at the core of the debate of what's happening with the fiscal cliff.

OK, $7 coffee, Starbucks thinks you will pay. Coffee connoisseurs can pay $7 for a grande cup of Costa Rica Fincapalamara. It's called Mucho Deniro, the world's most expensive blend. It's cultivated from a Central American bean known as geisha. The coffee is extremely difficult to produce. The same America who spends $7 on lottery tickets you know you won't win, $7 for a cup of coffee You can actually drink. Would you?

BALDWIN: To be honest, once I would.

BERMAN: Sucker. It's $7 coffee. You need music or television or something.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Yes. It's like the $5 shake in "Pulp Fiction." It better be a mighty good cup of coffee.

A new report says President Obama is being flexible with top tax rates as negotiations intensify. Will that help Republicans agree to a deal? We'll be talking to Republican from Wyoming Senator John Barrasso coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: So just 33 days until we hit the disastrous combination of tax rate increases and spending cuts now known as the fiscal cliff.

BALDWIN: President Obama is sending Tim Geithner to the hill today to meet with multiple Congressional leaders. I want to bring in Senator John Barrasso, Republican from Wyoming. Senator Barrasso, good to see you. Good morning.

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO, (R) WYOMING: Thanks for having me.

BALDWIN: Let's begin with something that's been reported on by the wall street journal, which is something we heard a couple days ago. The fact that the president now appears to be flexible when it comes to the top two percent, quote, "President Obama signaled he wouldn't insist tax rates on upper income Americans rise to Clinton era peaks as part of a deficit reduction deal." The White House's flexibility first described by democrat Erskine Bowles after meetings with Mr. Obama and others confirmed by administration officials could envision tax rates increase from their current levels but less than Clinton era levels. Would you agree to a deal, senator? Call it in the middle, 37 percent.

BARRASSO: Well, the problem with all of that is raising those tax rates on those folks really doesn't address the major problem, which is the spending that's going on.

BALDWIN: Let me stop you there. I understand. Forgive me for interrupting you. I know you want to talk about spending. On the top two percent, would you agree to a deal in the middle say taxing at 37 percent?

BARRASSO: I don't think it's a good idea to raise taxes on anybody at times like this. But it only would fund the government for less than seven days. So it's not a solution. The markets need a credible signal that we are serious at dealing with the issue of our major debt and our problem of spending.

Taxes is such a very small part of it that unless we deal with Medicare and Social Security, which are the two big tidal waves coming at us, and now the president's health care law, until we deal with that, there is no way to get our financial house back in order. So I agree with the president. We need to focus on jobs, growth and get more people working. That's the way to increase revenue.

BALDWIN: The president talks about spending cuts, and perhaps that's where you can see eye to eye with him. Then you have the American public. Let me point to this ABC News, Washington Post poll. The question was about raising taxes on incomes over $250,000 per year. You can see the numbers, 60 percent support which is in contrast with what the majority of your party is saying. Are Americans wrong?

BARRASSO: Well, the American people know their mind. They say let's tax somebody else. My concern is if those taxes are going to small businesses creating jobs, we need to bet more people working. The other poll said people believe if they send more in taxes the government will spend it, much of it will be wasted, and the dollar figures are so large it's hard to fathom the debt we have. It's $16 trillion. It's an incredible amount. We have added another trillion dollars in just the last year. We need to get spending under control.

BERMAN: Senator, you're talking about the importance to business tax rates. One guy who presumably knows something about business is the Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein. He met with President Obama yesterday. Then he went to talk with Wolf Blitzer who asked if he would support the president's plan of bringing the rates back up on the wealthiest Americans. Let's listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LLOYD BLANKFEIN, CEO, GOLDMAN SACHS: If that's what it took to make the math work I wouldn't preclude that. Of course we would have to do that if the numbers drive that way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So here is one of the biggest guys in finance on the planet saying maybe a tax rate increase should be part of a deal. Can't it be part of a deal? Not the whole deal but part of it?

BARRASSO: I met with a number of the same business leaders that met with the president yesterday. We did take a look at the entire picture of the spending cuts, dealing with Medicare, dealing Social Security, dealing with the issue of tax revenue. You need to have all of these things on the table if you're going to get a solution that sends a credible signal to the markets not just here but around the world that we are seriously dealing with our debt. But unless you focus on the big drivers which are the entitlements with it coming baby boom generation hitting Social Security and Medicare age we can't solve the problems with raising taxes.

BALDWIN: Senator Barrasso, I want to get you on the record. We are talking to Congressman Cole later this morning, a Republican from Oklahoma, made news yesterday, hailed as a hero among Democrats, maybe not so much as members of the party suggesting to his own caucus to extend the Bush era tax cuts for 98 percent. Let's get the deal done and perhaps later negotiate what will happen to the top two percent. Speaker Boehner threw cold water on that. What's your reaction?

BARRASSO: They are talking about a bill that already passed the Senate. I voted against it because I don't think we should raise taxes on anybody at times like these. With the unemployment so high, people looking for work --

BALDWIN: So no giving an inch on that tax point, senator?

BARRASSO: I don't think we should be raising taxes on anybody in times like these.

BERMAN: You and Ambassador Susan Rice was on Capitol Hill. She met with senators. It didn't appear to go as well as she hoped, at least. You have been On the Record saying you would oppose her nomination as secretary of state. Do you still feel that way?

BARRASSO: I do. I believe she disqualified herself as secretary of state by going on five Sunday shows and giving bad information to the American people. As secretary of state we need somebody who has sound judgment -- she just parroted information she was given. A secretary of state needs to have sound judgment, ask tough questions, and should not be willing to just read talking points. You need to be thoughtful and ask the tough questions before speaking. She just didn't do that. BALDWIN: OK, senator.

BARRASSO: To me, that disqualified her.

BALDWIN: Senator John Barrasso live on the Hill. We appreciate it.

BARRASSO: Thank you.

BERMAN: Ahead on STARTING POINT, can the U.S. permanently close Guantanamo Bay? A new report says yes. Is that a dangerous move?

BERMAN: Is criticism of U.N. Susan Rice unfounded? Congressman Adam Schiff says we are losing sight of the whole objective in this whole investigation. He explains why coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT everyone. Some of the top stories this morning.