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Fiscal Cliff Finger-Pointing; Interview with Jon Huntsman; Cop's Act Of Kindness Goes Viral; Freight Train Derails in New Jersey

Aired November 30, 2012 - 08:00   ET



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

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman. Soledad is off this week.

Our STARTING POINT: laugh out loud.

A top Republican literally chuckles at the White House offer on the fiscal cliff. Where do we go from here?

BALDWIN: And he's the man in the middle, Ambassador Jon Huntsman. What he has to say about his party post-election and why he's defending Susan Rice on Benghazi when so many other Republicans are piling it on?

BERMAN: And good deed gone viral. Meet the hero cop who bought boots for a homeless man on a cold New York City night.

BALDWIN: It is Friday, November 30th. STARTING POINT begins right now.


BALDWIN: Our STARTING POINT this morning, no tangible progress here in the fiscal cliff talks. The tone, it is turning nasty now, 32 days until the tax rates soar, spending gets slashed and Congress, guess what? They break for the holidays in two weeks.

BERMAN: And this is where things stand right now. The president unveiling a plan that calls for $1.6 trillion in tax hikes, hikes, and $50 billion in new -- that's right -- new infrastructure spending. He will use the manufacturing plant in Pennsylvania as a backdrop today to try to sell this plan.

Republicans, they sure aren't buying it yet. They want to hear about spending cuts. House Speaker John Boehner tells the president to get serious.

Athena Jones is live from Washington.

So, what now, Athena?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we'll have to wait and see. You know, we've certainly heard this tough talk in the last couple of days, very, very different from the tone we heard immediately after the election when congressional leaders met with the president at the White House.

You know, the big hang up remains on one issue of tax revenues. They can't decide -- Republicans and Democrats can't agree on how to go about raising tax revenues.

Should they end the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans? Should they cap some deductions, close loopholes? Should they raise the capital gains taxes and dividends, raise the taxes on those? Or some combination of the above?

Right now, they can't even seem to agree on the amount of revenue that should be raised. That $1.6 trillion figure is something that the Republicans say is much bigger than had been being discussed previously.

I can also say that Republicans feel like there's just been way too much emphasis on the whole tax issue. They want to see more talk about spending cuts.

The White House has on the table a plan that would have $400 billion in unspecified cuts to programs like Medicare and others. But Republicans say that's just not enough. They want to see them getting serious.

So, this is where we stand right now with just a month to go and, of course, that holiday break still thrown in there. You know, it's not unusual to see some posturing and tough talk and see a deal seem to break down before it gets all put back together again. But certainly, right now, some anxious times.

BERMAN: Right, these anxious times continuing perhaps all month.

Athena Jones in Washington, thanks very much.

JONES: Thanks.

BERMAN: We certainly have a very full table here. Let me introduce our panel for you this morning. It's a special panel at that.

He went away. He is back. He is Russell Simmons, author of "Super Rich," publisher of "Global Grind" and president of Argyle Culture. Good morning again to you.

And Abby Huntsman, we know her now as the host of "HuffPost Live". Good to see you back at the table.

And Mr. Ryan Lizza, our -- one of our favorites, Washington correspondent, "New Yorker."

And one of our panelists decided to bring her dad to work this morning. I don't know if this has ever been done before. Abby's dad, Ambassador Jon Huntsman, is with us this morning. A pleasure.

JON HUNTSMAN (R), FRM. U.S. AMBASSADOR TO CHINA: A definite conflict of interest.


J. HUNTSMAN: I had no choice.

BALDWIN: So, welcome and good morning to all of you here.

Let's just begin with this here, that the Supreme Court may decide as early as today if it will tackle same-sex marriage. Oh, forgive me.

BERMAN: We're going to get to that in a second.

Let's start with talking about what's going on in Washington right now, the fiscal cliff discussion, of course.


BERMAN: We want to talk about the gridlock, because it does look like a gridlock.

And you said this week, Ambassador, you said of your party, "Compromise has got to be seen as more than a treasonous thing."

We're watching again the gridlock, we're watching both sides. They're really staking out their ground there, without meeting much in the middle here. You know, is this getting ugly?

J. HUNTSMAN: Well, it always does right before you have a breakthrough. I'm an optimist. I think we're going to have a breakthrough because I think the stakes are so high in this case when you look at the numbers and potential impact in the marketplace and the prospects for a downgrade by Moody's. You can imagine what that would do for everyone's savings and reverberations to the international economy when you're 25 percent of the world's GDP still.

And I'm guessing most members of Congress are going to have a moment of clarity over the next few weeks. It doesn't look like it now, but I'm guessing that's going to happen. And we're going to find some sort of solution.

But it would be incomplete -- let me tell you this -- if we didn't figure some way forward on tax reform. We have a huge opportunity to achieve greater economic freedom in this country -- phasing out loopholes, getting those deductions out of this completely compromised tax code. That would be a complete outcome.

And if we got, you know, through this exercise, and kind of left the tax code as it was, we're doing ourselves big disservice because we're not investing in our future and preparing for international competitiveness going forward.

BALDWIN: But, Ambassador, do you understand why so many Americans are just frustrated with politics? But you sort of see this public dance, right? This sort of back and forth and they're fighting. I don't know if it's faux fighting.

You know, behind the scenes -- I mean, you smile -- but behind the scenes perhaps real clarity, to use your word, will eventually be reached. Why do we have to go through the dance? Why can't they just make the deal?

J. HUNTSMAN: Well, you're bringing it into our living rooms. I just came back not long ago from a country, second largest economy in the world, China, where they just had their 18th party congress. Guess what? Nothing was brought into the living rooms. They just sort of walked out and here is your new leadership team and here's your kind of new five-year plan.

They don't do it our way. We don't do it their way. I look at both and I say I like this open, chaotic, deliberative process.

It's ugly, and it's messy. And it looks like we're on the precipice of disaster. But, you know what? All voices are heard. That's good.

BERMAN: You know, speaking of chaos, you did an interview with "Huff Post" about the Republican primary process. And you had a, quote in that article which jumped out at a lot of people there, talking about your fellow candidates who are on stage with you for a lot of the debates.

You said this. You said, "Some do it professionally. Some were entertainers. I looked down the debate stage and half of them were probably on FOX contracts at one point in their career.

You do that. You write some books, you go out and you sell some more. You get a radio gig or TV gig out of it or something, and it's like, you say to yourself, the barriers to entry in this game are pretty damn low."

J. HUNTSMAN: I might have used another word there.

BERMAN: Can you explain that to us?

J. HUNTSMAN: Yes, I'm not demeaning or begrudging anybody, because I throw myself into that same group. What I'm saying is you stand on that debate stage and look out at the cameras that are bringing, you know -- taking the debate out to millions of watchers. We're a country of 320 million people.

Great innovators, creators, leaders of higher education, great moms and dads and nobody is willing to step in the arena these days. And part of what I was trying to say was, you know, I circulate and see wonderful human beings everywhere I go in this country. And no one anymore is willing to step in the arena.

It's left to those who kind of do it, you know, in part because that's -- you know, a way to make money perhaps. You know, little bit of entertainment value. There may not be anything else to do.

And where are the people who really bring something to the table that out to be stepping into the arena and running for office? They just do it anymore.

A. HUNTSMAN: You mean like some ideas?


RYAN LIZZA, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORKER": How would you change the process -- having gone through it, how would you change the process so that the party could nominate the most electable person?

J. HUNTSMAN: Well, I think we have some structural issues. Again, the deliberation about the Republican Party we're having is a very healthy thing. If we don't wind up at the end of the exercise with a mission statement that is one sentence long, then we're toast. And that one statement ought to be balance the budgets and get out of people's lives. And you ought to build the party around that because we have strong libertarian roots that way go back to the early days of the Republican Party.

BALDWIN: I was talking to Senator Rand Paul this week on my show and he said to me that he's worried that the party is shrinking and he is worried about becoming a dinosaur. Are you worried about becoming a dinosaur?

J. HUNTSMAN: Well, if we stick to the mantra that says strong individual liberty, and economic freedom, and a right sized government, that's always going to be right for the American people based on our constitutional government. But we kind of drift in areas where we take on special -- you know, fringe issues and it gets us stuck in these alleyways of life that take our focus away from what is really important for the American people. And that is individual freedom and that is getting the budgets balanced so people can get on with their lives.

A. HUNTSMAN: It is bring your daddy to work day. I just want to make sure -- bring daddy to work day, of course. We talk so much about the Middle East endlessly, it seems, as we should. There's so much going on there.

But as it relates to foreign policy, what would you say is our greatest challenge to move forward that no one is talking about?

J. HUNTSMAN: Well, so what did the two most important people in this country sit down and talk about yesterday at lunch? When everything else is done and the election is wrapped up, it isn't about social issues. It isn't about the fringe issues. They sat down together and they talked about America's leadership in the world.

So, at the end of the day, that's what matters most to Republicans and to Democrats. How do you get to where we need to be?

It's going to be about economics. It's going to be about education. It's going to be about rounding out tax policies that serve our free market economy. And we're not there yet.

But it was interesting when I read, you know, the news coming out of yesterday's lunch. You know, at the end of the day, what is it we care most about? Republicans, Democrats, they sit down and break bread.

RUSSELL SIMMONS, AUTHOR, "SUPER RICH": I'm going to jump in.

There are two things. First, Ambassador, this idea that the corporations control our government destroys our democracy.

J. HUNTSMAN: And that's something I think Republicans have to -- I mean, the progressive Congress really likes this idea of getting money separate from politics. Special interests and corporations have too much control and disempower everybody in the middle class, in fact, all Americans. There's a huge disservice done by this investment in buying politicians. That legal bribery should stop.

But, secondly, I want to speak to you about what you said about leadership around the world. You know, the Palestinians getting this U.N. win, I think it's important that we take leadership there.

I mean, there is a Saudi Arabian peace plan that's 10 years old that most people -- I spoke to the imams and the rabbis in Israel just came back, and the chief imam or the grand mufti and chief rabbi both think that's a great place to start.

If the religious leaders think it's OK, why can't leadership go to work and create some kind of a shift? I mean, it's time now for America to take leadership in that area, you know, whether it's Susan Rice or you, whoever becomes the secretary -- someone has to go --

SIMMONS: Did I say that?


SIMMONS: I'm sorry. I didn't mean to say that.

BALDWIN: Thank you, Russell Simmons.

J. HUNTSMAN: That's a funny conversation. But the point is very good, but it's somewhat analogous to the fiscal cliff.

The solutions are staring us right in the face. The solutions are on the table for Congress. Now it's a people's game. It's the politics that stand in the way.

And getting a two-state solution, which we need, that's going to, I think, address a lot of the concern in the Middle East.

SIMMONS: The Saudi peace plan is supported by many Arab countries. To have that plan -- and it's one that's acceptable to both parties, at least both religious leaders, it's what I think -- it's a place to start. And without dialogue, they'll never solve that problem.


BERMAN: We want to get you on the record on a couple of things quickly here.

BALDWIN: Susan Rice. BERMAN: Susan Rice, you said you have not been happy with the Republicans on Capitol Hill for how they've treated Susan Rice. Explain.

J. HUNTSMAN: Well, to be honest, I didn't say anything about Susan Rice. What I'm saying about the Benghazi incident is let's lower the politics. Let's let the experts collect the information. You had a consulate in Benghazi relatively new, stood up probably a little over a year before the incident.

You had another annex down the road run by another agency. You had differing views, apparently, on security. They were just kind of getting the facility stood up. That takes some real coordination.

And sometimes, there are attacks you just can't do anything about -- when you start lobbing mortars, for example, into a facility.

So, let some experts collect the information, and then call up the secretary of state, call up the director of the CIA, get together with the relevant congressional oversight committee and say what happened? And how do we fix it? And let's make sure we can go forward better and stronger as a country and not lose diplomats like we did in a very good one in Ambassador --


BERMAN: Sir, we can't let what Russell Simmons said hang out there. If for some reason you did get another phone call -- you have gotten one before from the president of the United States, saying he would like you again to serve in some capacity in the administration, say, secretary of state --

BALDWIN: Would you do it?

J. HUNTSMAN: I don't play the hypothetical game. We've moved on. We're doing the things in private life.

My history has always spoken to putting my country first. And if I didn't, my two sons at the U.S. Naval Academy would never forgive me.


HUNTSMAN: It's -- the president will choose who he wan wants. And it does -- it serves no purpose playing the speculation game.

A. HUNTSMAN: That's interesting game. Who would you recommend for that sort of position? I mean --

LIZZA: If you were Obama, who would you pick?

BALDWIN: Final question.

LIZZA: You know all those folks.


J. HUNTSMAN: It does no good to play the name game.

LIZZA: You can dodge my question but not Abby's.

J. HUNTSMAN: Let's say this about the future. The future isn't Afghanistan. It isn't Iraq. It's how well-prepared we are to meet the 21st century challenges of competitiveness.

And that's going to be economics. That's going to be about education. It's going to play out over the Pacific Ocean. Why was it that the president and Governor Romney sat at lunch and talked about America's global leadership?


BERMAN: Ambassador Huntsman, you're welcome to stay with us the whole show. We would love to have the father and daughter team around.

J. HUNTSMAN: I can't compete with Abby. I can't compete with Marianne. I can't compete with Marianne, Libby, all of my daughters. I'm not anywhere close to their league. So, I wouldn't even try.

BERMAN: It's great to see you this morning. Thanks for having here with us.

J. HUNTSMAN: It's a pleasure. Thank you very much.

BALDWIN: We're going to hang on to your daughter the rest of the hour if that's OK with you.


BERMAN: Fifteen minutes after the hour --



BALDWIN: A random act of kindness that quickly went viral, thanks to one single photo. We will have the officer, the police officer who brought boots for a homeless man on a freezing cold night.


BERMAN: It was a random act of kindness that really touched the entire nation when Officer Larry Deprimo bought this shoeless, homeless man a pair of $75 boots. You know, he didn't think it was a big deal at the time.

BALDWIN: But when the NYPD posted this single photograph online, it got more than 30,000 comments. Let me read you some. Quote, "How wonderful. An officer and a gentleman." Another one, "You made your mother proud, young man." And quote, "The officer deserves a medal."

He is Officer Larry Deprimo, joins us here at the table. Good morning.


BALDWIN: We have all been talking about this story ever since it was really in the paper yesterday. Now, it has covers of, what, "The Daily News" and the "Post" this morning. "Cop bought homeless guy shoes. Heart and sole." Why did you do it? I mean, there are many, many, you know, homeless people on the streets of New York. Many cold nights. Why this man?

DEPRIMO: The biggest two things that night was, 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.

BALDWIN: 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. He was a gentleman when I had spoken to him. And I knew I had to help him.

BERMAN: Have you ever done this before?

DEPRIMO: I mean, as a police officer, you do things like this all the time. And I think that's what a lot of people haven't really noticed but are starting to notice, which is great. But nothing that's ever gotten this much attention.

LIZZA: As a police officer in New York, how are you trained to deal with the homeless population? How are you trained to deal with that problem? You, guys, are on the street. You see it all the time.

DEPRIMO: Well, it depends where you are. Obviously, there's -- there may be homeless issues in certain areas. But we have a lot of procedures. Unfortunately, if they don't want to be helped, there's nothing we can do, unless, we feel that it's severe to their health. And then we have to step in. We can call the homeless outreach program and get them off the streets and get them to a safer area.


BALDWIN: Let me jump in for a second, because we actually have someone special on the phone, who's Jennifer Foster, who's the woman who actually took the photograph.

Jennifer, are you with us? Good morning.

JENNIFER FOSTER, TOOK PHOTO OF OFFICER & HOMELESS MAN (via telephone): I am. Good morning.

BALDWIN: So, you're the one. You were just a tourist, you're from Arizona. You were in the city in Times Square. Why'd you pull out your camera and do this?

FOSTER: Well, it was actually on my cell phone. And I only had it with me because I was walking toward this gentleman that Officer Deprimo was helping. And I didn't realize that he was going to also assist him. And I was about to hand him some money, because he had been asking for change.

BALDWIN: And you did this not just because you were, you know -- you wanted to take this photograph, but you have a back story of a father in law enforcement who did something similar?

FOSTER: I did. I remember being, you know, 8 or 10 years old and watching my dad go into a donut shop, walk back out, and bend down in exactly the same way that Mr. Deprimo did and hand this gentleman breakfast, shook his hand, and walk away. In the same way, as Larry wanted nothing of it, no attention, no anything.

And I know that these things do happen all over the country with law enforcement all of the time, but I still recognize that it's remarkable and thought if nothing else I needed Officer Deprimo's supervisor to know that he had done this thing.

A. HUNTSMAN: Larry, you can actually see the blisters on his feet in that photo. Were you surprised at just how viral the photo went and the impact that the message that it sent to the rest of the country?

DEPRIMO: Absolutely. When it first came out, I had no idea. One of my friends sent a picture -- texted me. I didn't expect it. You know, I didn't think anybody was around at the time. So I asked him what had happened, how did you get this picture? And he said it's on the Internet. It blew up. To see some of the comments people are making is just touching. You know, I thank everybody for it.

BERMAN: What was the man's reaction when you gave him the boots?

DEPRIMO: He was extremely thankful. He had a smile from ear to ear, which is something 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 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.

LIZZA: Does anyone know where he is?

DEPRIMO: A few people have tried to find him, and I hope we do. I'd like to speak to him. But unfortunately, I haven't seen him since. So I'd like to see him.

SIMMONS: The boots cost $75. I heard you say that.


DEPRIMO: The boots were $100 originally, but you don't think about the money. You know, as I said, you could see the gentleman's feet in the picture. And just as another human being, it's just, you know, --

BERMAN: You carry the receipt with you now?

DEPRIMO: I do when it's in my bulletproof vest.

BERMAN: And why is that? DEPRIMO: Keep it on me to basically just remind me that, you know, some people have it worse. And if you're having a tough day, you know, you look at something like this and you have a great reminder that, you know, maybe things aren't so bad.

A. HUNTSMAN: I think we all have that reminder after seeing this photo.

BERMAN: You are an outstanding --


BALDWIN: Jennifer, thank you for sharing your photo, too, by the way. Thanks for calling in. It's amazing. Just absolutely amazing.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, fortune and glory, one of the winners of the record Powerball jackpot is out. And the other may not be a mystery so much anymore. Thanks to some surveillance tape.


BERMAN: All right, guys. This just in to CNN. You're looking at live pictures from Paulsboro, New Jersey, where emergency crews are on the scene of a freight train derailment at the marine terminal. This is coming to us from CNN affiliate, KYW and WPDI. A hazardous materials crews material is on the scene.

What they're looking at right now is for a possible propane leak. U.S. Coast Guard has also been notified, because they're worried about is that the chemical might be leaking into the nearby Delaware river. Number of people in the area have been evacuated. We have no idea on the number yet and no reports that anyone is hurt. We will have more developments on this as they come up.

BALDWIN: Keep an eye on that. Meantime, let's go to Christine Romans for today's business news. Good morning.


U.S. stock futures up slightly this morning, but you know, we're still worried about the fiscal cliff. So, this is, you know, this is touch and go here. Markets finished up a little bit yesterday, but they came of the day's highs after downbeat comments from House speaker, John Boehner, on ongoing fiscal cliff negotiations that are more of a tiff than a solution at this point.

Mortgage rates out yesterday. New mortgage rate numbers for you still near historic lows, 3.32 percent. Everyone is shaking their head on the table. Thirty-year fix, 3.32 percent, 2.64 for a 15-year fixed. Now, interestingly is the cherished mortgage interest deduction on the table in the fiscal cliff budget talks? The real estate industry is fighting hard to make sure that deduction does not go away.

They claim getting rid of it for any income level would result in a drop in home prices just when the housing market is starting to pick- up. The president and Congress need to find a way to raise new revenue to put the country (INAUDIBLE) deficit reduction. Much of that will come from closing loopholes, deductions, raising taxes, cutting spending.

Hey, look at this, according to the most recent IRS data, 41 million people claim the deduction on a 2010 taxes. Who benefits the most? Households earning more than $250,000 a year, the tax average $5,500, for those making less than 40 grand, it was only a $91 benefit. So, what will happen to America's favorite tax break? Still big unknown in these fiscal talks.

BERMAN: You have to believe that it will not last 14 months the way it is.

ROMANS: You know, I'm telling you right now, if you're on the coast or in Chicago, it is high, you know, home priced areas, people are very, very worried that that's going to go away. But when you look at the numbers, it is --

LIZZA: All this talk about getting rid of some of these popular deductions. I mean --

ROMANS: It's going to be hard.

BERMAN: Lizza is checking his mortgage right now.


Ahead on STARTING POINT, a guest gets the hook after bashing Fox News during an interview. It's opening up a whole new debate over what's fair in game and when.

BALDWIN: Our media watchers, Howard Kurtz and Lauren Ashburn, they weigh in next.