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Obama & GOP Clash; Supreme Court Meets; Anger Erupts At Sandy Meeting; Pentagon Protocols For Killer Robots

Aired November 30, 2012 - 14:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: And excited for you. So, you know, the family grows. It's just great.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Fred and John, congratulations. We're next, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: All right. Take it away, Don.

LEMON: Thank you. Thank you.

Hello, everyone. I'm Don Lemon. I'm going to keep you in the loop. Any minute now, I want to tell you, that we could get a statement from the nation's highest court on whether the justices will consider cases concerning same sex marriage. This is a big deal. We're waiting for word.

But first this, the fiscal cliff. The talks hit a huge road bump. Zingers and verbal jabs are flying while actual talks are at a standstill. President Obama says Republicans must agree to preserve a middle class tax cut as the first part of any deal. And he linked Republicans to scrooge today while touring a Pennsylvania toy factory. Listen.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If Congress does nothing, every family in America will see their income taxes automatically go up on January 1st. Every family, everybody here, you'll see your taxes go up on January 1st. I mean, I'm assuming that doesn't sound too good to you. That's sort of like the lump of coal you get for Christmas. That's a Scrooge Christmas.


LEMON: And that's pretty Scrooge-y, right? Well, President Obama's proposal calls for $1.6 trillion in new tax revenue, $50 billion for new stimulus spending and about $400 billion in entitlement cuts. Republicans say the president's proposal's nothing but a political stunt. Here's Boehner.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The White House spends three weeks trying to develop a proposal and they send one up here that calls for $1.6 trillion in new taxes, calls for a little -- not even $400 billion in cuts, and they want to have this extra spending that's actually greater than the amount they're willing to cut. I mean it's -- it was not a serious proposal. And so right now we're almost nowhere.



REP. ERIC CANTOR (R), MAJORITY WHIP: What we will do is continue to take this as a serious matter. This is not a game. We're not interested in playing rope-a-dope. We're interested in trying to solve the problem for the American people so that we don't see taxes go up on anybody, so that we can engage in tax reform, get this economy going again. We're not playing a game. We're being serious. That offer yesterday was simply not serious.


LEMON: Oh, boy. Scrooge. Rope-a-dope. Where does that leave us now after months of hearing about the fiscal cliff? There are no signs of a compromise plan yet. Chief White House correspondent Jessica Yellin here now.

Jessica, what happened to all this, hey, I'm willing to work together, let's compromise, let's do what the American people want. We've got a couple of days here before we go on vacation. What happened?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I don't know. Maybe it's always darkest before the dawn? That's the most optimistic way to look at it, I guess.

Look, the White House looks at it this way -- or Democrats are at least, they've been frustrated that they argue that Republicans have not come to the table with specifics on how they would raise taxes. The president, as you know, campaigned on this, pledge to raise taxes on the upper income, and they want to hear what Republicans are willing to do on that. So they said, since the Republicans weren't giving specifics, OK, the White House went up there and delivered an opening position. It was not written down on paper. It was not sort of a formal offer. Here's what we want. It was a starting position for negotiations. And it obviously blew up. The Republicans hate it. But their position is, OK, guys, you don't like it, come back at us with something you like better.

LEMON: OK. So you said that it was written down on paper.

YELLIN: It was not.

LEMON: It was not written down on paper?

YELLIN: No, no, no. There was no actual offer. It was a conversation about, here's where we stand. This is what the White House would like. And they presented that. By the way, the Republicans have presented to the White House what they would like and they have said they want no tax rate increases. They want no -- they weren't specific about how much money they want out of taxes. Both sides are sort of being locked into their old positions, Don.


YELLIN: And it was meant to sort of prod and jump-start a conversation on details.

LEMON: OK. All right. Let me work through this. What about a face-to- face meeting? Has the White House made any specific plans on a face- to-face meeting on this fiscal cliff, President Obama, Republican congressional leaders, talking in the same room, anybody?

YELLIN: No. Not that I know of at least. And I checked just a short time ago. Not that I know of.

But I've got to tell you, those things are not always productive.

LEMON: Right.

YELLIN: Things seem to get done a lot better at the staff level. The last time -- you know, the president spoke to Speaker Boehner Wednesday night and said, bottom line is, tax rates have -- you have to agree to let tax rates go up. The ball's in the Republicans' court to come back and offer a counterproposal. They're outraged because they want more spending cuts. So the White House is looking to see what they'll come back with on spending cuts and on tax rates, and we're all waiting on that now.

LEMON: OK. We don't -- for lack of a countdown clock, what is it, 13 days now or something? Thirteen days, I think.

YELLIN: Well, we have until the end of the year so --

LEMON: Before they go on vacation, though, yes. OK. Thank you, Jessica.

YELLIN: Well, they can stay in town. If they don't get it done, they've got to stay.

LEMON: All right. Oh, they'll get it done if they had to stay, trust me. All right, thank you very much.

What's next for the fiscal cliff debate? Republicans are furious and President Obama drawing a red line over middle class taxes. Want to bring in now Steven Moore, who's a senior economics writer with "The Wall Street Journal."

So, hello, sir.


LEMON: Let me show you -- let me show you. Here's his new book, by the way, on taxes and wealth in America. You wrote an opinion piece, Stephen, saying Democrats only want one thing, higher taxes. You say Democrats probably won't offer any serious spending cuts. Why do you think that? There's no compromise in sight here? MOORE: I just don't see it. You know, Don, I was thinking a couple of weeks ago they would certainly reach an agreement, we wouldn't fall off this fiscal cliff, that people's taxes weren't going to go up in January. But now I'm not so certain about that. I think that, as you look at these negotiations so far and, you know, look, I've been -- my sources are on the Republican side of the aisle, but what they're saying to me is, this president doesn't want to deal from us, he wants a surrender from us.

And what -- so far what's been offered, as Jessica said, has really been, you know, poison to the Republicans. And they're not going to agree to a deal that raises taxes by $4 for every dollar of spending cuts. I mean, last year the president at least offered some substantial spending cuts, much higher than right now.

And so I think they're gridlocked right now. I think it's kind of a tragedy, you know, because it would be pretty easy to just at least get through the beginning of this year by extending everything for say six months. But that's not where they're at right now.

LEMON: But, Stephen, you know how negotiations go.

MOORE: Sure.

LEMON: You offer the very minimal in the beginning and then you move.

MOORE: True.

LEMON: So, why isn't the GOP then unveiling a specific plan yet? I mean wouldn't that be the most direct way to counter the White House plan with specific numbers?

MOORE: Well, OK, look, first of all, I think that's an unfair charge. First of all, for the last, what is it, two or three years, the Republicans have passed the Paul Ryan budget, which is a very substantive budget plan about how to deal with this deficit. It's all there, you know, in black and white. Anybody can read that plan. It has entitlement cuts. It has, you know, cuts in various programs and so on. So they've been pretty specific about what they want. By the way, in the Senate, there's been no budget for three years under the Democrats.

LEMON: Stephen, no, here's the thing --

MOORE: But here's -- let me raise the other point. I think Jessica had it not exactly right when she said the Republicans haven't been specific about how they'd be willing to raise taxes. What Republicans are saying is, we're willing to put a cap on deductions of $30,000, $40,000, $50,000. They haven't been specific about what that number is going to be. But that is a way to reduce -- you know, to increase the taxes on wealthier taxpayers, as President Obama wants, but in a way that doesn't raise tax rates. And that seems to me to be a pretty big concession.

LEMON: OK. I give you that. But I'm just talking about negotiations.

MOORE: Right.

LEMON: If the American people had wanted Paul Ryan's plan, they would have voted for Paul Ryan. They didn't.

MOORE: That's true.

LEMON: So obviously they voted for compromise. And that's not happening. Wouldn't the most direct way, the best way would be a counteroffer of some sort with specifics?

MOORE: Well, you know, Don, I think they have done that. I'm not in the room, so I can't say, you know, what they're saying when they close the doors. And by the way, you know what I would love, Don, let's -- you know, you and I can both promote this idea. All of these negotiations should be in front of the C-Span cameras, in front of the CNN cameras. Every -- these should not be closed door negotiations. The American people should see what both sides are offering.

LEMON: But then it turns into theater, though, Stephen, when that happens.

MOORE: No, no -- well, look, but what happens now is, you know, everybody is -- somebody said this and nobody knows who's being really truthful about what's being offered. I think every -- I would shoot for transparency.


MOORE: I think this should all be in the sunlight. And you would have monster ratings, by the way. People would tune in.

LEMON: Yes. Well, we'll see about that. I'm for transparency, but not for grandstanding. You know that happens with them (ph). I mean you get a politician and cameras, I mean, come on. (INAUDIBLE) --

MOORE: That's true. But I will make this prediction to you. I think this is probably going to linger on for another couple of weeks. I wouldn't be surprised if you and I aren't having this conversation on December 23rd or, God forbid, December 24th. But I do think they're going to get this deal done before the end of the year.

LEMON: Yes. Happy holidays, huh?

MOORE: Yes, right.

LEMON: Thank you, Stephen Moore.

MOORE: Great to be with you, sir.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And we are extremely, extremely frustrated. This is what you need to understand. You -- we go from one to another. We go from FEMA to our homeowners. My homeowners insurance offered me $150. What can I do with that?


LEMON: Tempers and emotions hitting a high on Staten Island as folks there are still struggling to get back on their feet after Sandy. You're going to see what happened.

Plus, will the Supreme Court take up same sex marriage? We could get an answer very soon.


LEMON: Supporters and opponents of same sex marriage are anxiously watching the Supreme Court this afternoon. In the same month that voters in three states approved gay marriage, the justices are meeting to decide whether to take on the issue. They're looking at several cases. Our justice correspondent Joe Johns is here to help us go through the big ones now.

So, Joe, let's start with the Prop 8 issue, Proposition 8, which outlaws gay marriage in California. What happens if the court decides not to hear this one?

JOE JOHNS, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's tricky, Don, because, first of all, nothing is simple of the Supreme Court. It really depends on what the court does. The court could formally reject that case, which means the lower court ruling stands. So for Proposition 8, a federal appeals court has already ruled that the ban, which passed as a referendum, by the way, is unconstitutional. So the Supreme Court rejecting the case would basically make same sex marriage legal again in California. This is another big point, though. The Supreme Court could simply decide just to sit on the case, not hear it this term, not reject it either, and that basically would put the decision off to a later day. And then at that time, California would just sort of be stuck in a legal limbo until the court makes a decision.

LEMON: All right. So we'll just basically what you're saying we'll have to wait and see what happens on this one, right?


LEMON: So, several cases deal with DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, is what we're talking about. What's at the heart of those cases and how likely is it that the court will decide to hear one or more of these cases?

JOHNS: Right. Actually, most of the cases they're looking at -- there are 10 cases -- most of them revolve around the Defense of Marriage Act. And at bottom this all has to do with federal benefits and whether couples in states where same sex marriage is legal are eligible for benefits like tax breaks, Social Security pensions. And, of course, can have huge significant financial impact. The question, of course, is, what role should the government play when it comes to the issue of marriage, which throughout history has pretty much been regulated by the states. So the Supreme Court could look at this narrow question of federal power, or they could sort of broaden it out into the discriminatory effects of the law and so on. It's really up to them to determine the scope of the case. Most court watchers would say this is the most likely of all the legal challenges to be taken up, Don.

LEMON: Timeline for rulings and arguments here?

JOHNS: Well, if the court takes this up say today, we're probably looking at March before you actually see the case argued and very likely not a decision until June because that's sort of the way the things play out. It would probably be one of the last cases in the term to be decided, just like health care happened this past term.

LEMON: Regardless, isn't it -- it's -- I mean, it's amazing. I never thought in my lifetime that we would be covering this issue, having the Supreme Court possibly look at this particular issue. How far we have come.

JOHNS: It is amazing. And in a fairly quick time. And the question, frankly, is, whether the country's ready to some degree, because, you know, nine states have sort of signed on to the notion, but you have 41 other states that have laws that are sort of against.


JOHNS: So is the country ready?

LEMON: All right. Got to run, Joe. Thank you, though. Appreciate it.

You know, he won't show his face or even let anyone know his names, but a wealthy Missouri man has been giving away money to the victims of Superstorm Sandy. The Secret Santa has been showing up at disaster centers and emergency supply stores in New York and New Jersey. He's handing out 100 dollar bills. Still, this random act of kindness is little comfort for many of the people who are still suffering. A packed town hall meeting on Staten Island erupted into anger, most of it targeted at FEMA. WABC's Carolina Leid was there and she has more.


CAROLINA LEID, WABC REPORTER (voice-over): More than 700 people packed an (INAUDIBLE) auditorium for a town hall meeting for Superstorm Sandy victims on Staten Island. There was a time to discuss business and a chance to lay out their emotions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And we are extremely, extremely frustrated. This is what you need to understand. You -- we go from one to another. We go from FEMA to our homeowners. My homeowners insurance offered me $150. What can I do with that?

LEID: More than 100 people were left out in the lobby when the auditorium reached capacity.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know if I want to go in there now, after what I'm hearing from the people.

LEID: Borough President James Molinaro organized this meeting for FEMA representatives and other city officials to answer questions.

JAMES MOLINARO, STATEN ISLAND BOROUGH PRESIDENT: Whoa, whoa! Shhh! Shhh! You wanted me to get up. Do I have the right to speak? Do I have the right to speak?

LEID: Some questions were answered.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The outdoor air quality in New York City, based on our testing, is fine, OK? The quality of air --

LEID: While others took the opportunity to vent their frustrations.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's not safe for us to live there! The next storm that hits, everybody is going to be vulnerable.

LEID: And some just gave up and walked out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You think it's a joke? You really think it's a joke? Huh? You go home for the holidays. I don't. But you sit there with your (ph) smile. You know what, I wish it was election, because you would do better this year.


LEMON: Carolina Leid reporting. Folks there clearly upset, wanting to know where is FEMA and where is the money? Next hour, we're putting these questions to FEMA's coordinating director. Don't miss that.

And up next here on CNN, real life killer robots could be deployed on battlegrounds. Find out what the Pentagon is doing to prevent them from killing innocent people.

Plus, we're monitoring an explosion at a Social Security building in Arizona. Stay with us.


LEMON: We have a developing situation to tell you about. It is in Casa Grande, Arizona. Authorities are investigators a small explosion that blackened the back entrance to the Social Security office. Casa Grande is about 15 miles south of Phoenix. The fire marshal says no one was injured or killed. The building was evacuated. Damage, minimal. Because the explosion happened at a federal building, ATF is, of course, investigating. Also according to the fire marshal there, there may be a suspect in custody. We'll continue to check on that one.

The kindness of one stranger is making huge waves on the Internet. And the stranger is a New York City policeman. A tourist snapped this photo of 25-year-old Officer Larry DePrimo as he helped a homeless man put on a new pair of boots that the officer had just paid for. The NYPD then posted the picture on its FaceBook page and now the snapshot has more than half a million likes and has been shared more than 188,000 times. Officer DePrimo spoke with our Brooke Baldwin this morning about why he stopped to help.


OFFICER LARRY DEPRIMO, GOOD SAMARITAN POLICEMAN: It was extremely cold out and this gentleman didn't even have a pair of socks on. And you could see the blisters from, like, 10, 15 feet away. BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN: How bad were they?

DEPRIMO: Probably about the size of my palm. And just, you know, I don't know how he wasn't in pain, but he wasn't bothering anybody, just walking, you know, he had his own agenda and just very -- he was a gentleman when I had spoken to him. And I knew I had to help him.

He was extremely thankful. He had a smile from ear to ear, which is something, you know, I'll never forget. And he said, you know, thank you, officer. He's like, God bless you and be safe out there. And he just kept on going on his way. I asked him for -- you know, if he wanted to get a cup of coffee and food, but he -- you know, he didn't want to and he just kept on going.


LEMON: As you heard, Officer DePrimo say the man thanked him and said God bless. The officer says, though, many of his colleagues do similar acts routinely.

To Egypt now, where protesters again today filled Cairo's Tahrir Square. They're angry over what they see as the new Egyptian president's power grab. That anger intensifying now after a mostly Islamist assembly rushed to pass a draft constitution early this morning. The document will be presented to President Mohamed Morsi tomorrow for his signature. Egyptians will vote on the draft in two weeks.

Wow. In Syria, as the Internet goes dark, is the U.S. closer to arming the rebels and is time running out for Bashar al Assad? Jim Clancy is next.


LEMON: One of the problems Bashar al Assad has had in Syria is in his troops deserting him out of sympathy with the rebellion. But what if the Syrian government had an army of killer robots, like the terminator, so famously played by Arnold Schwarzenegger? It's not as farfetched as it may sound. And as CNN's Chris Lawrence reports now, it's an issue the Pentagon is grappling with.


CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Behind every hell fire missile, there's an actual human being. Someone back at base remotely pulling the trigger. But the Pentagon is preparing for the day when robots are capable of killing on their own.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, ACTOR: The machines, they're starting to take over!

LAWRENCE: It congers up images of the terminator.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, ACTOR: Mr. Chairman, I need to make myself very clear. If we uplink now, Skynet will be in control of your military.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, ACTOR: But you'll be in control of Skynet, right? LAWRENCE: The Pentagon just issued its first directive on autonomous weapons, effectively forbidding the development of lethal weapons with no human control, to minimize failures that could lead to unintended engagements.

DAVE OCHMANEK, DEPUTY ASST. DEFENSE SECRETARY: That's a sterile term for meaning harming innocents, killing the wrong target.

LAWRENCE: The Pentagon's Dave Ochmanek admits these weapons are still 20, 30 years away.

LAWRENCE (on camera): That technology doesn't exist yet, so why now?

OCHMANEK: The thought was, technology is dynamic and we'd like to get out ahead of it.

LAWRENCE (voice-over): Just this week, the Navy tested its next generation drone, which could carry bombs and land on an aircraft carrier with hardly any human control. The directive only applies to lethal systems. It still allows the military to develop autonomous spy planes.

OCHMANEK: As we begin to approach the possibility of having machines select and engage targets, we want to be very careful not to cross that line without high level policy review.

LAWRENCE: Human Rights Watch applauds the Pentagon's move.

BONNIE DOCHERTY, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: We do not believe it solves the problem, however.

LAWRENCE: So the group is calling for governments to ban autonomous weapons outright. Bonnie Docherty points to Syria and wonders what killer robots could do in a conflict like that.

DOCHERTY: Because the weapons are emotionless, they could actually serve as a perfect tool for a dictator who would not have to worry about the danger of a human soldier turning on him if fired -- if ordered to fire on his own civilians. A robot would not do that.

LAWRENCE (on camera): I mean when you're talking about a weapon that doesn't have the capacity to feel any compassion for its victims, it opens up all kinds of ethical questions that the Pentagon and really militaries around the world are going to have to grapple with over the next 20 years. Chris Lawrence, CNN, the Pentagon.