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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Powerball Winners Come Forward; U.N. Recognizes Palestinian as a State; Fiscal Cliff Negotiations May have Stalled; Statue of Liberty Undamaged by Super-storm Sandy; Interview with Steny Hoyer

Aired November 30, 2012 - 07:00   ET

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


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, I'm Brooke Baldwin.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman. Soledad is off today. Our STARTING POINT: fiscal split. A top Republican literally laughing in the face of the White House plan, saying it's big on taxes, big on cuts. Is there any hope now of a deal before these taxes shoot up?

BALDWIN: Also this morning, dancing in the West Bank? Condemnation from Israel and the U.S. as the U.N. General Assembly now votes to recognize a Palestinian state. Is this the right path toward peace?

BERMAN: Fortune and glory. One of the winners of the record Powerball jackpot is out. And the other may not be a mystery any more.

BALDWIN: Plus, battered but not broken, an exclusive look here at Lady Liberty after Superstorm Sandy.

BERMAN: We have a packed show ahead. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, Harvard economics professor Ken Rogoff, Russell Simmons, former presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, and good Samaritan, the awesome officer, Larry DePrimo.

BALDWIN: Gave the boots to the homeless man. We're going to get the whole back story there. It is Friday, November 30th. TGIF to you and you as well. STARTING POINT begins right now.

Your STARTING POINT here, your elected officials trading insults, playing the blame game here as the clock is winding down on the fiscal cliff. Keep in mind time is a-wasting. In 32 days now tax rates soar, spending gets slashed. Oh, and don't forget, Congress, yes, they get to take a break for the holidays in 14 days -- a recipe for recession.

BERMAN: So here is what you need to know. The president is pitching a plan that calls for $1.6 trillion in tax heights and $50 billion in new infrastructure spending. He'll head to a manufacturing plant in Pennsylvania to push all this. And it's clear Republicans aren't buying in. Listen to House Speaker John Boehner's reaction.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R) HOUSE SPEAKER: Despite the claims that the president supports a balanced approach, the Democrats have yet to get serious about real spending cuts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: It didn't take very long for Democrats to hit back at Speaker Boehner. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid got up, a little personal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HARRY REID, (D-NV) SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: I don't understand his brain, so you should ask him.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: I don't understand his brain. Athena Jones, let's go to Washington this morning. Wow, just when we thought they were getting closer seems like they're even farther apart this morning.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, the nice talk from right after the election is all gone. One of the big sticking points is something you just mentioned which is this whole idea of taxes. Republicans and Democrats continue to disagree over how to raise tax revenue. Should they end the Bush tax cuts for the very wealthy as Democrats want to do? Should they close loopholes, cap deductions, raise the taxes on capital gains and dividends or some combination of all of those?

There's even disagreement right now on just how much money -- how much in revenue they should be trying to raise. That $1.6 trillion figure Republicans say it's a lot bigger than what had been being discussed prior to that. So let's listen to what the Majority Leader Harry Reid had to say to try to explain the Democrats' position on all this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REID Ready to protect middle-class families from the fiscal cliff that they're facing by freezing the tax rates for the first $250,000 of all Americans' income and letting the rates go up to the same level they were during the Clinton administration. Republicans know where we stand. We've said it. We've said it. We've said it so many times. The president's said the same thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JONES: And Senator Reid is correct, the president has been talking about this idea of raising taxes for the wealthiest among us all during the campaign and even longer.

Now, Republicans say that you know there's been way too much focus on this whole tax issue or on the tax side of things. There needs to be a lot more emphasis on spending cuts. Let's listen to what house speaker John Boehner had to say about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BOEHNER: 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JONES: Now, Republicans believe that the cuts on the table, $400 million, and so far unspecified cuts, I should say, to entitlement programs like Medicare, that's what's on the table from the White House. They believe that's not enough. They want to see the cuts go much further. Democrats say, hey, you asked for cuts you want to see. Here are some, why don't you give us a number, as well. So that's where we stand right now.

I've got to tell you that you've got to believe that some of this is posturing. You know, part of the message war. It's not uncommon to see these deals seem to fall apart before they get put all back together again. But certainly time is running out.

BERMAN: Time is a-wasting here. You mentioned John Boehner criticized the president for what he called a victory lap. The president is launching a road show today. He's going to Pennsylvania to make his case for his version of resolving the fiscal cliff. What does he intend to say and how does he intend to sell it?

JONES: He's going to Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. He's going to a toy-maker to try to drive home this idea of pushing for cuts for the middle class. There's already a Senate tax Bill that would preserve the tax cuts for the middle-class, something that he believes everyone agrees on. Certainly Republicans agree that taxes on middle-class shouldn't go up either. They just don't want to see them go up on anyone.

So he's visiting a toymaker that he says relies on middle-class families, who could be hit hard by a tax break. I suspect we'll hear a lot of the same language we've been hearing from him on the campaign trail.

BERMAN: All right Athena, thank you so much. The president going to a toy factory, the fiscal cliff debate could steal Christmas, pretty obvious there.

The White House releasing this photo of Mitt Romney and president Obama shaking hands during yesterday's private lunch meeting.

BALDWIN: So there was a photo after all.

BERMAN: Released and taken by the White House. The former rivals promised to stay in touch after spending an hour discussing ideas for keeping America competitive. They dined on turkey chili and chicken salad. A source tells CNN there was no talk of a possible role for Romney in the Obama administration.

BALDWIN: The Supreme Court may decide as early as today if it will tackle same-sex marriage. The justices will consider requests to review cases that challenge DOMA, an acronym for the Defense of Marriage Act, as a violation of the constitution's equal protection marriage. Also on the table potentially, they're considering a challenge to Prop 8. That is California's ban on same-sex marriage which voters narrowly approved back in 2008.

BERMAN: This is a huge move by the court today to find out what they're going to do.

An update on the health of former president George H.W. Bush. He's in stable condition at a Houston hospital. He was admitted a week ago and is being treated for bronchitis. His office says the former president is expected to be released in the next few days. The former president is 88 years old. He is now our oldest living former president.

BALDWIN: Major question this morning, about the stalled Middle East peace process. So what happens now? The Palestinian Authority they did receive a giant endorsement yesterday when the United Nations general assembly voted to upgrade its status to non-member state.

BERMAN: But the United States and Israel strongly, strongly oppose this resolution, claiming the unilateral move is no substitute for direct negotiations with Israel. CNN foreign affairs reporter Elise Labott has more on this developing story in Washington at the United Nations and the Middle East. Good morning, Elise.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. As you said, the vote is really a global endorsement of the establishment of a Palestinian state. And it gives the Palestinians a bit of hope and a bit of dignity after so many decades of occupation that a state is actually possible. Let's take a listen to what Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said after the vote yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAHMOUD ABBAS, PALESTINIAN PRESIDENT: We did not come here seeking to legitimize a state established years ago, and that is Israel. Rather, we came to affirm the legitimacy of a state that must now achieve its independence, and that is Palestine.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LABOTT: But the U.S. is calling it an empty gesture because it doesn't really give the Palestinians what they want. Anything on the ground isn't likely to change soon. So let's take a listen to what U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said. She spoke a little bit about this when explaining why the U.S. voted against this measure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SUSAN RICE, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: The United States agrees, strongly, today's grand pronouncement will soon fade and the Palestinian people will wake up tomorrow and find that little about their lives has changed.

(END VIDEO CLIP) LABOTT: So everyone's looking to see what President Abbas does now. He says we'll go straight to negotiations. But what the U.S. is worried about is that the Palestinians now have more tools to challenge Israel on the international stage. For instance, they could go to the criminal court over the occupation, including settlement activities and this is going to further marginalize Israel. Israel's threatened to withhold tax revenue and impose further restrictions on Palestinian officials. And Congress is threatening to withhold, as well. The U.S. fear this could be more violence, and putting a lot of pressure on the parties to get back to the table and hammer out a deal. It doesn't look good right now.

BERMAN: Elise Labott for us in Washington. Thanks for being with us this morning.

Other news, surveillance video may answer the $224 million question. The question, who bought the winning Powerball ticket in Arizona? People at this Maryland gas station say the man you see in yellow walked in to check his ticket, and started freaking out. Pretty natural response. They say he told them he bought the ticket in Arizona.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He said is this the right numbers? I said, yes, that's the numbers, you got them all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You had the ticket in your hand?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I should have ran, shouldn't I?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: The confirmed winner in Missouri, 52-year-old Mark Hill, bought his winning ticket at this convenience store. Local media reporting he shared the news on Facebook with a post that read "We are truly blessed, we were lucky winners of the Powerball." "Blessed" is a nice way to put it.

BALDWIN: I would have been doing a dance, he seemed pretty calm and measured and excited, but hello. That's a lot of money, seriously.

She took the words of what she had to offer and lady Liberty is still standing. The super-storm did set back the reintroduction to the masses.

BERMAN: So our Zoraida Sambolin went to Liberty Island a month ago to take a look at her stunning touchup job. And yesterday, she went back for an exclusive look after the storm.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: One month after super-storm Sandy's wrath, Lady Liberty stands tall in New York harbor. But the beacon of light is littered with debris, bricks ripped up from the ground, a boat washed up onshore at nearby Ellis Island, all the result of Sandy.

So she survived?

DAVE LUCHSINGER, SUPERINTENDENT, STATUE OF LIBERTY: Yep, standing there proud and defiant.

SAMBOLIN: While the statue itself is intact the grounds suffered enough damage to force the closure of the park to the public indefinitely. The National Park Service is now in the midst of a massive cleanup effort, in hopes of reopening both parks sometime early next year.

How high did the water go here? I mean this is totally --

LUCHSINGER: Probably here.

SAMBOLIN: Before Sandy hit I visited the statue of liberty for my first time. I returned yesterday, very different. As we arrived on Liberty Island the emergency crews filing in and not tourists. One month after Sandy devastated the area, there is still plenty of work to do.

Now that's the story you would say, right?

LUCHSINGER: Yes, pretty much.

SAMBOLIN: One of the main docks to Liberty Island is now floating.

LUCHSINGER: This island is determined by how we can get people off. So if we lose this dock we lose one boatload, which means I have to reduce the number of people that come to visit.

SAMBOLIN: The effects of Sandy aren't just structural. Concession workers and ferry employees were laid off this week, due to the extended closure much both islands.

So did everybody lose their jobs?

LUCHSINGER: No. No. The concessionaires, I understand, have laid off their folks for the time being. But our folks, we just sent to other parks.

SAMBOLIN: David Lochsinger is a superintendent of the statue of liberty. He can't help but take his work home with him. He actually lives here.

How long did you live here?

LUCHSINGER: Three-and-a-half years.

SAMBOLIN: Just you and your wife?

LUCHSINGER: Yes.

SAMBOLIN: And did you lose everything in your home?

LUCHSINGER: We lost most everything.

SAMBOLIN: The offices next door, a stark reminder of Sandy's toll. When you look around, you compare this to your home and what you saw, how does it compare?

LUCHSINGER: It's not even close. Because we are on the far corner there, we sustained so much more damage. To me, to have a job that you love, to have a job that you can come to and be so excited about every day, an honor I couldn't begin to describe.

SAMBOLIN: But the Statue of Liberty remains an icon of hope and promise of better days ahead.

LUCHSINGER: As sad as it is to see it in the state it's in right now, I know it's going to be better.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: It is sad looking at those pictures.

SAMBOLIN: It is say, but there's some really good news, also, that I want to share with everybody. They lost a lot of the infrastructure, particularly because it's all underground. So there's no lights there, there's no water, and there's no heat.

But, they're looking at it as an opportunity that when they build, moving forward, everything will be sustainable. That's the good news. They're very, very forward thinking. And the other bit of good news that I thought was really great, when lady liberty got sandblasted. When you go back and take a look at her, if you look at her belly, it's the original green color. Because of those winds, they actually cleaned her off, so it's part of her face and all of her belly. So you'll see a difference there.

And, you know, the volunteer effort that has gone into this. People have just huddled together to make sure that she still shines. So the beacon still shines, because of the volunteer effort to make sure that that would not stop. I think about three days it went without shining. But that effort, you know -- it's sweet, sweet ending to that.

BERMAN: Zoraida Sambolin with that exclusive first look of anyone in the media. Thanks so much.

All right, 14 minutes after the hour, and literally laughing in the White House negotiator's face. So is there any hope of a compromise over the fiscal cliff? We're talking to the newly re-elected minority whip Steny Hoyer coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Its 17 minutes past the hour here on a Friday. Well, the White House brought its plan to avoid the fiscal cliff to congressional leaders, and Republicans, laughed in their faces, literally in the case of Mitch McConnell. BERMAN: The plan calls for $1.6 trillion in new tax revenues, $400 billion in cuts to Medicare and other entitlements, $50 billion for a new stimulus, and, Republicans really didn't like this one, Congress would have to give up control over raising the debt limit.

We want to bring in now the recently re-elected house minority whip Maryland Congressman Steny Hoyer, Democrat from Maryland. Nice to see you this morning. Congratulations on the re-election.

REP. STENY HOYER, (D) MARYLAND: Good morning, and thank you.

BERMAN: So earlier this week we had Tom Cole, a Republican, offer a compromise on the position here. You had many Republicans, several coming forward and saying there is a way out here, we are willing to give a little bit on taxes. You had Wall Street optimistic that there was an aura of compromise here. And then this is the plan that the White House puts forward, in some ways, moving the ball even further away from what the Republicans were asking for here. Is this going to get the compromise?

HOYER: Look, first of all, I want to understand that everybody believes we ought not to go off the cliff. Sequester is not a good idea. And if we went off the cliff it would have substantial adverse effects on the economy. Nobody wants to go over the cliff, including, in my opinion, John Boehner.

However, we ought not to hold hostage middle-class tax cuts, and that's what you're talking about, Tom Cole, that wasn't a question of compromise, it was simply to say, look we all agree that middle-class tax rates ought not to get a tax increase on January 1st. Not good for them. Not good for the economy. We'll pass that. The Senate's passed a bipartisan Bill that called for that. Tom Cole, the former chairman of the Republican campaign committee in the House of Representatives said just earlier this week we'll all pass that. I agree with him.

Secondly, the Republicans have agreed that we need to have some sort of balance, more and more Republicans are saying we need to have revenues. You cannot do it simply with cutting spending. Thirdly, I don't think that anybody wants to hurt the vulnerable in America.

BERMAN: No, I think -- but the question, the question here is, is on the issue of taxes for instance. The president proposed tax cuts -- I'm sorry tax increases that went beyond what they discussed before, raising the rate which would amount to $960 billion, then an additional $600 billion in tax increases that would go on the two percent. On the issues of spending cuts, $400 billion in Medicare and other entitlement savings, but unspecified in next year, not the specifics and not the amounts the Republicans were looking for. Again, $50 new billion in stimulus spending. Again, where is the compromise here?

HOYER: Well, first of all, the compromise, we have already cut $1.7 trillion of spending. That seems to be forgotten. We cut it in the budget control act.

BERMAN: That's done. What's gone, done, finished. Where's the future?

HOYER: Look, that's not right. You've done it. You pocket it. Now you want something more. The administration is saying, look, this is what we have done. This is what we've agreed to. We had an election. We had an election and the president said we needed more revenues, and we needed more revenues from those most able to pay. He won the election. The American people expanded the majority in the Senate and expanded the numbers of members we have.

We had an election. There were two very distinct points of view put forward to the American public. That is that we need more revenues, the wealthier need to make a greater contribution, and the other side said no, that's not the case. Obviously the American public made a judgment.

BALDWIN: Congressman Hoyer, let me -- let me --

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: I think Americans are smart. I think they realize what's happening.

HOYER: They are smart.

BALDWIN: They realize what's happening in front of the cameras and they realize oftentimes there's another story right behind closed doors. And I saw this quote this morning that jumped out at me, a fellow Democrat from New Jersey, Congressman Rob Andrews. This is what he told politico, quote, "There is the public choreography, and then there is the real choreography. To reach a deal it has to look like there was a lot of fighting before the deal was reached." I mean, sir, Americans know what you're doing. This is one of the reasons why Americans hate politics, right? What's your message to America?

HOYER: Americans hate politics because we have pretense. You're right on that. The pretense is that somehow you can magically do this. Speaker Boehner said the other day that he thinks things have a cost. They do have a cost. But Speaker Boehner voted to cut taxes deeply, revenues, but didn't cut spending.

BALDWIN: But all of this back and forth, one side versus the other, why can't we put the pretense away and just hit it and quit it and you can go on vacation?

HOYER: You betcha. We're prepared to do that. The president's prepared to do that.

Now, has the president offered a plan? He has. That's what they said they wanted. Let's see their plan. Let's see if it adds up. Bill Clinton made it very clear the arithmetic they're using doesn't add up. They know that we're not going to do certain things. We know they're not going to do certain things. But you cannot get there without a balanced plan. We understand that. You need cuts in spending. You need to deal with entitlements, and you also need revenues. Let's be real. I don't think, frankly, Mr. Boehner, and what he said, absolutely no increase in rates. You want to do it by cutting preference items. But he hasn't come up with his list of preference items. The reason he hasn't come up with his list of preference items is because he knows he can't get the votes to do it, and, frankly, he doesn't politically want to propose it. Let's see --

BALDWIN: Perhaps this is the starting point. We're here. We'll get there.

BERMAN: Congressman Hoyer thank you for joining us.

BALDWIN: Thank you, sir.

BERMAN: Let's be real.

BALDWIN: Thanks, congressman. Still ahead this morning here on STARTING POINT 23 minutes past the hour. Bonuses for shutting down Hostess, why executives are raking in the money, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Christine Romans minding your business. U.S. stock futures, they're up slightly this morning, but we've got a lot of worries about the fiscal cliff, which is more like a fiscal tiff in Washington right now. Markets finished up a bit yesterday but they had come of the day's highs because of comments from House Speaker John Boehner about those fiscal cliff negotiations. I think he said you guys got to get serious. He's pretty serious about his criticism of the White House.

Bonuses for executives shutting down Hostess. That's right. A U.S. bankruptcy judge approved $1.75 million in incentive bonuses yesterday for 19 Hostess bosses, as they unwind the company. The maker of beloved American staples like Twinkies, Wonder Bread, Ding Dongs, Ho- Hos, closed its doors earlier this month after its bakers union went on strike over reduced pay and benefits, and you'll recall the company went to a judge and said we're going to shut down. So they are. Executives will get bonuses as they finish the job of closing down the company.

BALDWIN: A long time in the making, right?

ROMANS: It could be they survived the great depression but couldn't survive the great recession and a couple attempts at bankruptcy, and that's it. So we'll see. Maybe the brands will exist if another company hires them.

BERMAN: Ahead on STARTING POINT not a good sign when your big negotiator for the fiscal cliff literally gets laughed at. What's the next move for the Obama administration? We're going to talk to Harvard economics professor Ken Rogoff.

BERMAN: We know the identity of at least one of the two big Powerball jackpot winners. We'll take you to Mark Hill's hometown of Dearborn, Missouri, coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)