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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

U.S. Embassy In Cairo Closed; Sectarian Violence Flares In Iraq; Koren Rocket Launch Scrubbed; Pakistani Doctor On Hunger Strike; Government Report Says Gitmo Can Be Closed; Two Winning Tickets In Powerball Jackpot; Rick Warren's New Book

Aired November 29, 2012 - 07:30   ET

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


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everyone. Some of our top stories this morning, we are following developments happening right now in Cairo. The U.S. Embassy there is closed. No one is being allowed in or out until further notice.

Embassy officials say protesters are blocking the entrance and clashes are happening nearby. But there is no indication that the embassy is under any threat right now.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Now for a third straight day of violence in Iraq at least 32 people killed in series bombings there this morning. Three of the bombs went off in mostly Shiite communities and a suicide bomber hit a mostly Sunni town in Central Fallujah. Despite the recent spin of attacks, sectarian violence has dropped dramatically in Iraq since peaking between years 2005 and 2007.

BERMAN: South Korea's fourth attempt to put a satellite in orbit had to be scrubbed this morning. The launch of the rocket called off just minutes before lift-off because of an electronics problem. The South Koreans have been trying to develop a civilian space program since 2002.

BALDWIN: The Pakistani doctor who helped the CIA track down Osama Bin Laden and went to prison has now started a hunger strike in his jail cell. Dr. Shaquila Fredi began serving a 33-year sentence in May. He was jailed for allegedly having links to a banned militant group. Officials say he is protesting living conditions in the prison.

BERMAN: A new government report says the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay can be closed and the 166 detainees could be safely absorbed by U.S. prisons. The Government Accountability Office study points out at 373 inmates convicted of terrorism are already serving time in 98 U.S. facilities. It's costing America $114 million a year to operate Guantanamo Bay.

BALDWIN: The results are in. There are not just one but two winning Powerball ticket holders this morning. One of you in Missouri, another in Arizona, they will split the record $588 million Powerball jackpot. In case, this could be you. Let me read the numbers for you. You have 5, 16, 22, 23, 29, and the Powerball is 6.

BERMAN: Lucky you.

BALDWIN: Let us know.

BERMAN: All right, the NBA is expected to dish out fines and suspensions after a brawl last night in the Nets/Celtics game. It all started when Brooklyn's Chris Humphries fouled Boston's Kevin Garnett. That was mean. Enter Celtics guard Rondo. The small point guard rushes in here.

You can see him in the mess. He shoves Humphries triggering the brief melee. Look at that hard foul. He can't do that to Kevin Garnett. Rondo, Humphries and the Nets' Gerald Wallace all ejected from the contest.

It actually broke Rondo's consecutive assist game streak. He's done like 37 games in a row with more than 10 assists, which was approaching an NBA record.

BALDWIN: I wonder about everyone behind the whole melee.

BERMAN: It was a nasty fight. It shouldn't happen.

BALDWIN: So when Susan Rice met with Republican senators this week, it didn't exactly go very well. It seems like hearing from them lots more questions than answers. If anything her critics are digging in even harder against the idea of her becoming Secretary of State.

BERMAN: She hasn't been nominated yet.

BALDWIN: Keep that in mind.

BERMAN: We want to bring in Congressman Adam Schiff is a Democrat from California. He is also a senior member on the House Intelligence Committee. We're going to get to Susan Rice in Benghazi, but I want to start with the fiscal cliff.

It's 33 days away now, 15 days until you guys go on your Christmas break. So it's time to get to work here and I want to start with the news overnight. "Politico" reporting that there really are the parameters of some kind of a deal here.

In the "Wall Street Journal" it says this, that the President may have some flexibility on the issue of the tax rate increase. President Barack Obama signaled he wouldn't insist tax rates on upper income Americans rise to Clinton era peaks as part of the deficit reduction deal.

The White House's flexibility first described by Democrat Erskine Bowles after meetings with Mr. Obama and others and confirmed by administration officials could even envision tax rates increasing from current levels to less than Clinton era levels.

Would that satisfy you? If people making more than $250,000 a year had the rates increase not to 39.6 percent, but let's say 37 percent or 38 percent. Is that enough for you?

REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, you know, I would like to see the Bush tax cuts for the upper income go away completely. I think where you're going to find with many people, myself included we don't want to negotiate against ourselves at the moment.

But I do realize that there is going to have to be give and take. This is going to have to be a compromise. Neither party can do it alone. So there are going to be pieces of this, which I don't like. But frankly those tax rates during the Clinton years were pretty prosperous years.

I think the American people would be happy to go back to the prosperity we enjoyed then. They weren't a damper on the economy. I think it fair that we go back to those rates.

BERMAN: Congressman, I understand not wanting to negotiate with yourselves, but you have to negotiate with somebody here. So -- yes or no -- would you settle for something lower than 39.5 percent?

SCHIFF: You know, I don't want to say what my line would be frankly. But we are going to have to make compromises. You know, I think if the rates do come up whether they have to come up to precisely the way they were during the Clinton administration that something it can be a subject for negotiation.

BERMAN: For instance let me ask you specifically. Would you favor support if you need to lowering the eligibility rate for Medicare or raising it rather to 67 years?

SCHIFF: I don't think we should make structural changes to Medicare for the reason that Medicare isn't responsible for our current deficit and debts. Neither is Social Security. And I think we ought to fix the problem that got us into this hole.

You're right. Medicare and Social Security have some long-term fiscal challenges. They need to be dealt with. But I don't agree with connect connecting those to the deficit and debt problem that wasn't created by those programs.

BALDWIN: Congressman Schiff, this is Brooke Baldwin. I want to switch gears. As a senior member of the House Intelligence Committee, I want to talk to you about Benghazi. So you pin this op-ed in roll call this morning. Let me just quote part of what you said.

"There should be a laser-like focus on going after those responsible. But in the blur of partisan wrangling over these talking points, we seem to have lost sight of this vital objective. Instead some on Capitol Hill and elsewhere seem determined to go after another bright courageous diplomat and champion of Libyan democracy, Ambassador Susan Rice."

I want to talk about, you know, finding those responsible, right. So the FBI isn't saying much in terms of findings. From what I know there are, you know, zero arrests or we've heard zero about any of these arrests. What can you tell us about these perpetrators here?

SCHIFF: Well, I can tell you that we still have a lot of work to do. The intelligence community is pursuing all of these leads. There is nothing that I want more. I know this is true in the intelligence community to track down those responsible. I think it has been a tremendous distraction, frankly, from that central focus of the mission to go through all of these peripheral fights. We have a lot more work to do. We have some good insights into some of the folks that were present.

But you have to separate conflicting reports of those taking credit who are not involved with those who didn't take credit who were involved. We have a lot more work to do.

BALDWIN: There this one guy Ali Ani Al-Harzi, one name mentioned with regard to this investigation being held in his native Tunisia. Can you tell us if the FBI has finally talked to him?

SCHIFF: You know, I can't unfortunately go into that level of specifics. But I can tell you we are trying to turn over every stone, every leaf to make sure that we bring these people to justice.

If I can make one comment in rebuttal to your prior guest, I really think it is unfair and unjustified to go after the U.N. Ambassador for not asking deeper questions or probing the intelligence that was given to her by the CIA.

After all, let's not forget that the director of the CIA himself at the time as well as the director of National Intelligence, the top intelligence officials of the nation both believed that when she went on the talk shows, they believe it began as a protest.

Now they were wrong and the intelligence community was wrong. But I hardly think it's fair to suggest that the U.N. Ambassador had better intelligence somehow than the head of the CIA and the head of the -- director of National Intelligence.

BERMAN: For some reason though, Congressman, Susan Rice on Capitol Hill is having a hard time convincing Republican senators of that point you just made. Yesterday, she met with Susan Collins of Maine who is considered a moderate.

And after this meeting, Susan Collins actually said she would have a hard time supporting Susan Rice if she's nominated as Secretary of State. You know, to get her through as Secretary of State, you are going to need five Republican votes to get pass the filibuster at 60. If you don't have Susan Collins, who are you going to get?

SCHIFF: Well, you know, hopefully we would have Susan Collins if the President does nominate the Ambassador. Senator Collins has not said that she would oppose the nomination. She said that she wants more information.

But you know, I have to agree with the White House that there isn't likely to be a change in the facts here. The facts are these talking points were produce by the intelligence community.

They were amended by the intelligence community. They were flawed. They were relied upon by the Ambassador. That's basically it. I have to think this is unfortunately a continuation of the presidential campaign by other means. But the election has taken place. We should let that be, many of the same senators who spoke loudly of President Bush's right to appoint the cabinet of his choice to remember those positions and not apply a different standard to A Democratic president.

BERMAN: All right, Congressman Adam Schiff from California. Great to see you this morning. Thanks for coming in.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

SCHIFF: Thank you.

BERMAN: Ahead on STARTING POINT, GQ's list of the least influential people of the year is out this morning. Tops on the list, a very wealthy man whose name you're probably all too familiar with.

BALDWIN: Also ahead, totally separate here. His "Purpose Driven Life" has been a bestseller for 10 years. Now Pastor Rick Warren is releasing an update to his book. He joins us here with a peek at what's new in those pages coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everyone. For the second time an International Criminal Court has acquitted the former prime minister of Kosovo of war crimes. The charges stemmed from 1998 when he was an army commander fighting for independence from Serbia.

BALDWIN: I love this story this morning. This photo has gone viral online. Take a look showing a true hero, Officer Lawrence Deprimo kneeling down on a very, very cold night in New York last week to put a new pair of boots on a homeless man.

He is 25 years old. The officer apparently bought them after noticing the man was barefoot, talked to him for a little while. The photo has now been viewed more than 1.6 million times on Facebook. The officer says he keeps the receipt for the boots inside his police jacket to remind him that other people have it worse than he does.

BERMAN: Genuine moment of kindness. Not so kind. Talk about kicking a guy when he's down. GQ magazine has named Mitt Romney as the least influential person of 2012. It said nobody was inspired by him or voted for Romney enthusiastically. GQ did place its list under the title "Humor."

BALDWIN: Ahead this morning on STARTING POINT here. It's 44 minutes past the hour. He is known as one of America's most well known pastors. His hugely popular bestseller is getting a new update. Pastor Rick Warren is here this morning to talk to us about the new "Purpose Driven Life."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. It's been on the bestseller list now for a decade. Now "The Purpose Driven Life" is getting an update. BERMAN: Rick Warren, pastor of the Saddleback Church has just come out with a new edition of the book with the subtitle asking "What On Earth Am I Here For?" Sounds like a good question. Good morning, sir.

RICK WARREN, AUTHOR, "THE PURPOSE DRIVEN LIFE": Good to be with you.

BERMAN: So, you know, this book sold 32 million copies, roughly the population of Morocco. So why come out with a new version? What's new?

WARREN: Well, three things happened. First, the audience has changed. A girl who was 12 years old when the book came out is now 22. She needs to know her purpose. I really refocused the book for people in their 20s and 30s who may have ignored it 10 years ago.

I redesigned it for that. Secondly, new technology, we have all kinds of social media we didn't have 10 years ago. So rather than writing another book or making this book longer I added a QR code video introduction to every chapter.

And I added 30 minutes of additional audio teaching to every chapter and then the third thing is I learned a lot of things in the last 10 years. When you write a book that now over 60 million readers in America according to Gallup poll, that's 20 percent of America read it, I'm not exaggerating. I probably received half a million letters. And I still, 10 years later, get hundreds of letters a day.

BALDWIN: How many do you actually read?

WARREN: Not that many. But as I read them, the ones I read made me sympathetic to people's hurt. There's a lot of pain out there.

BALDWIN: Let me jump in because this is something -- what I would want to ask you. When you look at these, you site Gallup for one poll and Gallup numbers showing that Americans are becoming less religious from August, saying more Americans who were religious dropped 13 points. This is from 2005 until now.

WARREN: Yes.

BALDWIN: In fact, more people who are atheist rose, younger people with more diverse group of friends, could be seen as being more open. Is that a bad thing?

WARREN: Well, first place, there's no doubt that our culture is becoming more coarse and I think there's more rudeness and things like that. The actual number of atheists in America really hasn't changed since the 1950s. They're just more vocal.

Interesting, when you look at polls you have to ask, what was the question asked? For instance, that question, "Newsweek" came out with an article that said nine months ago, cover article that said the decline and death of Christian America. That was on the cover. This month, "Newsweek" dies. The church will keep going.

BALDWIN: How do you define your religion and 60 percent say religious, back in 2005, it was 73 so it has declined.

WARREN: I'm sure that's true.

BALDWIN: Does that bother you?

WARREN: Well, not really because some of those people -- the culture of Christianity is dying. True Christianity is not. A lot of people particularly in the south you go to business because it's good for your business. They weren't Christians in the first place.

You know, there was a question or result that came out and said Protestants have dropped precipitously in America. Of course, they have. Nobody uses that term anymore. It's like saying the number of pilgrims has dropped precipitously in America. It's not a term used anymore.

BALDWIN: Let me switch gears and talk politics. There's one other question, look, America almost -- we almost voted in a Mormon president.

WARREN: Yes.

BALDWIN: So what if America were to vote in an atheist president or a Muslim president, do you think that's going to happen?

WARREN: Could be.

BALDWIN: What would happen first?

WARREN: There was a significant difference in this election. Historically, since Jimmy Carter, America has voted presidents who claim to be, quote, "Born Again," whether they were liberal or conservative.

Every single president since Carter claimed to be, quote, "Born Again." This was the first election since Carter where neither candidate, neither President Obama nor Mitt Romney claimed to be a Born Again Christian. There was a choice there that was very different.

BALDWIN: How would you feel if a Muslim president were to be elected?

WARREN: Well, it depends on what his views are on politics. You're not voting for a pastor. You're voting for a president. When I go to a doctor I don't ask the guy, are you a Christian? I ask him, have you done this surgery before?

BERMAN: Quickly let me ask you this, you did the invocation for President Obama's inauguration in 2009. Any sense you're going to go back here in a few weeks?

WARREN: No, I'm sure I won't. It's good to rotate it and have other people do it. Many people don't know that four years earlier, I did an inauguration prayer for President Bush at the beginning of his inauguration, but nobody noticed it.

BERMAN: I do want to shift gears here again and talk a little bit about the coarseness in our culture a little bit.

WARREN: Yes.

BERMAN: Tyler Clemente at Rutgers University, the student who killed himself, very sad thing. His parents wrote that they left their Evangelical Church recently because they felt the beliefs on homosexuality estranged them from their son, which meant he could not come to this.

His mother said this. She said at this point, I think Jesus is more about reconciliation and love. He spoke more about divorce than homosexuality. You can be divorced and join a church more than you can be gay and join churches.

WARREN: Very good point. Jesus taught, as a Christian, I am not allowed to hate anybody. I'm not allowed to do that. In fact, I am commanded by Jesus Christ to love everyone, to show respect to everyone. There's a difference between acceptance and approval. God accepts me, accepts you unconditionally. He doesn't approve of everything we do.

BERMAN: Don't you think churches are responsible for some of the attitudes towards gays in America, the negative attitudes?

WARREN: Probably, yes. In fact, there are some people who are extremely violent or hateful and hate is never of God, never.

BALDWIN: Pastor Rick Warren, a pleasure.

WARREN: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Thank you so much.

Ahead this morning on STARTING POINT here, we're talking to a Republican lawmaker pushing for compromise on Capitol Hill, Congressman Tom Cole, who says stop worrying about the 2 percent, worry about that later.

BERMAN: And it is bound to spark a heated debate at bars, sports radio and this very table, Bonds, Clemens, names on the baseball hall of fame ballot. Should they get in?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Good morning. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. Soledad is off today. Our STARTING POINT, the negotiator. The President is sending his chief negotiator, Timothy Geithner, to Capitol Hill today in hopes of getting a fiscal cliff deal done before the holidays. We're talking to the Republican who may hold the key to a deal.

BALDWIN: And how about this today, not a debate, a lunch date, Mitt Romney on his way to the White House to talk with the President. What it could mean for his future, for your future and maybe a compromise in Washington. BERMAN: And just two tickets splitting half a billion dollars, Powerball winners in Missouri and Arizona. Are you holding the lucky numbers?

BALDWIN: We're not. We're here this morning. Maybe you are.