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Supreme Court Defers Same-Sex Marriage Cases; West Coast to Get Fourth Major Storm This Week; Kate Middleton, Pregnant; 29 Days Till Fiscal Cliff; Syria's Chemical Weapons; Egyptian Court Judges Barred from Courthouse

Aired December 3, 2012 - 11:00   ET



Hi, everyone. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. It's 11:00 on the East Coast; 8:00 in the West Coast. And when it to same-sex marriage, there's almost no chance for the Supreme Court with forever hold its peace. No fewer than ten cases of state and federal benefits and government authority have made their way all the way up to the high court's doorstop. But so far, not one has hit the docket. The key words here, "so far."

We know that the justices debated among themselves on Friday whether and how to weigh in on what some consider the civil rights showdown of the early 21st century.

They could have announced this morning whether they'd chosen or rejected any or all of the marriage equality appeals, but instead they stayed silent and the waiting game continues.

And my colleague Joe Johns joins me from Washington to tell us what this all means. First off, is there anything, Joe, that we should read into this morning's silence coupled with Friday's silence on this issue?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Honestly, nothing at all. I mean, they could still decide later in the week, Ashleigh, quite frankly. They could decide next week.

This is the thing about the court. They really don't send a lot of signals, a lot of messages when they're going to do something and we have been telling people all along that, you know, there's potential for this to come later on.

They can still go in March with this and we could still get a decision around June. So, don't read anything in to it.

That said, you know the broad legal question the Supreme Court could consider of equal protection. Basically, do same-sex couples deserve the same rights and benefits as al other Americans?

We don't know if the court wants to hear such a case with such a broad scope. It could be a much narrower case about the Defensive of Marriage Act. It could be limited to considering whether couples in states where same-sex is legal and eligible for things like tax breaks, surviving spouse death benefits, a big financial impact to be sure, but not a sweeping decision.

The other parameter, of course, Proposition 8, That's a specific league question. Can a referendum abolish same-sex marriage after courts have already ruled that it's legal.

So, a lot for them potentially to consider, but the timetable totally up to them, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: And it's very complex for people who don't follow courts on a regular basis to try to sort of sort all of this out and I mentioned right off the top that there are no fewer than 10 cases pertaining to this that the justices could take up.

JOHNS: Right.

BANFIELD: But, effectively, when you talk about these two areas, one of them, as some court-watchers say, is dipping your toe in with perhaps the Defensive of Marriage Act. That's one way that the Supreme Court could start the process of getting into this cultural debate.

The other one is Prop 8 and they have two ways that they could go effectively with Prop 8. Take up the case or don't cake up the case.

What happens if they just don't take up the case?

JOHNS: Well, then same-sex marriage essentially becomes law there in the state of California and -- because the issue, of course, was always about the referendum.

But, look, most court-watchers would say the Defense of Marriage Act is the most likely of all the challenges to be taken up. The thinking is that the justices want to weigh in on a question dealing with what role the federal government can play when it comes to the issue of marriage because -- and we can't say this enough -- throughout history, marriage has been regulated by the states, so, you know, an important thing to consider there.

BANFIELD: And just quickly, also, Joe, when it comes to the Defense of Marriage Act, it is important for people to know if the court decides to adjudicate on the Defense of Marriage Act, it does not mean that that's the law of the land, that people can start getting married any which way they want to. Correct?

JOHNS: No. It just means that they're taking it up. They still have a decision that's down the road. There's a variety of different ways they could decide on DOMA.

You know, they don't have to decide on equal protection grounds. They can decide just on the narrow question of benefits or certain benefits or certain tax breaks that married people who happen to be same-sex should get or shouldn't get.

So, there's a whole range of ways they could consider this. It doesn't mean they're just going to go in and determine that a law against same-sex marriage is illegal discrimination. There are a lot of other things they can do with it.

BANFIELD: Benefits are one thing. Recognition and allowance of gay marriage in all 50 states is another.

Here's the other thing. It is real hard to get breaking material and information out of the Supreme Court before they're ready to give it, but on occasion, good connections with good clerks yields something and, yet, it's been a lock-up until now in terms of just what they might do with Prop 8 and with DOMA.

JOHNS: Yeah. That's true. But you have to remember, on these big, sweeping social issues that the court has decided throughout history -- desegregation of public schools comes to mind, Brown Versus the Board of Education -- that sat on people's desks for a really long time and there were a bunch of different cases that all sort of folded in to it.

Loving Versus Virginia, that was interracial marriage. That was another case that sat around a long time because it seemed as though the Supreme Court, a differently configured Supreme Court, actually wanted to wait and let the country lead.

And when you look right now, even some people who have been fighting for same-sex marriage for years say the math and the map don't make the Supreme Court taking this up right now a certainty.

BANFIELD: Your law professors are so thrilled with you right now, Joe Johns, that you could just spout that off and I'm impressed.

JOHNS: Oh, yeah.

BANFIELD: Joe Johns, thank you very much for that. We'll see you probably Friday.

And for the record, folks, nine states plus D.C. have legalized same- sex marriage to date. And exit polls of last month's elections show that a slight majority of voters think that gay marriage should be legal in their states.

Moving on now. Rain, wind and snow are hammering the West Coast. Three separate storms in just one week have soaked Oregon and Washington and Northern California.

By the way, Northern California has been hammered the worst and guess what? A fourth storm is on the way. A lot of areas already dealing with really bad flooding and they thought this was the worst of it.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This thing just went up fast is what's real sad. The fire department was out here and I got a lot of stuff, you know, away from the house so it didn't float down the road and stuff, but this is the worst.


BANFIELD: Meteorologist Chad Myers joins us now at the Weather Center in Atlanta.

Round four ...


BANFIELD: This seems just cruel.

MYERS: And it gets worse. There will be six more rounds in the next 16 days.

I can't stress how much rain that's going to -- once you get rain on the ground like we have now, it doesn't just evaporate and run off. Obviously, it runs off, but it doesn't just go away, so now we're adding to injury.

We have 20 inches in some spots on the ground in the past 3 storms. We talked about this Wednesday, last week.

So, I said this is going to be the worst round of storms that I have seen in Northern California, Washington and Oregon in years and it's still coming in.

The next one we're seeing for tomorrow is actually a very minor storm compared to what's still coming. Minor storms because the moisture surge still comes in one storm after the next.

So, here's today into tomorrow. It rains Washington, Oregon, the Cascades all the way down to Northern California and that's the issue, more snow for Northern California, more Sierra.

Great news there for skiers, but not when you get four feet at a time and then you have avalanche issues. This is another big event, one storm after another still coming. Even though we've had three, there are five to six more on the way, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: So, I have a lot of friends who have become weather men and women in California and they say it's the easiest job because they don't have to do anything. So, this just seems completely out of the ordinary.

MYERS: Have you seen the pictures from Napa and up there in the Sonoma Valley? The rain just going everywhere, water washing up.

We have valleys, grapes under water. It has been a tremendous amount of rain. Here's Vallejo. You're just seeing the water now getting down into the lower elevations and now it isn't going to stop.

Every extra inch we get will be another flood and we're going to get five to six more inches just in the next 120 hours, which is 5 days, and then more storms after that.

BANFIELD: All right. Chad, keep an eye on it for us, if you will. Thanks so much. MYERS: You're welcome.

BANFIELD: Appreciate it.

Back in a moment.


BANFIELD: All right, this is the kind of breaking news we love to bring to you.

Everybody knows you never ask a woman if she's pregnant unless you really know that's pregnant and look at what's below the screen there. It's official. Kate Middleton is pregnant.

So, the Duchess of Cambridge has put out the announcement. In fact, the palace put out the announcement saying that we're not going to tell you what the due date is, but they're telling us that she has been admitted to Central London Hospital. Apparently, she has acute morning sickness.

The palace expects that she will be in the hospital for a few days, so that's not great news, but I'm sure that many will be thrilled for the confirmation because everyone's been a bit abuzz for the last few months.

She chose a glass of water for a toast in September instead of a glass of wine. Some have speculated that, while she looked thin in so many of the photographs prior to and during the wedding, that she didn't look quite as thin in the last couple of months, so there you go.

Speculation is finished and you can officially now ask the Duchess of Cambridge if she's pregnant. Although, I don't think you're supposed to ask the Royals questions like that.

Let's bring you back to this side of the pond. There's less than a month left until we hit the fiscal cliff.

I know you probably hate hearing about it, but it's coming and 29 days away now. This weekend both sides were counting how many ways they disagreed.


TIMOTHY GEITHNER, TREASURY SECRETARY: And we proposed a balanced mix of other change on the tax side and the spending side to go beyond that. And look at it together. It's roughly 2-to-1, spending cuts versus tax increases.

Now, we have been very detailed about what we can do on the spending side. We proposed $600 billion of cuts in health care programs, other mandatory programs over 10 years.

Now, Republicans are -- we don't expect them to like all those proposals, but all we can do is lay out what we believe and then ask them to come back to us and tell us what they would prefer to do. REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: I would say we're nowhere. Period. We're nowhere.

We've put a serious offer on the table by putting revenues up there to try to get this question resolved, but the White House has responded with virtually nothing.


BANFIELD: So, the speaker actually went on to say that the Republicans are flabbergasted over that initial offer from the Democrats.

So, is it just about the taxes for the wealthy versus the spending cuts? One GOP leader has another take.


SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I think we're going over the cliff. It's pretty clear to me they've made a political calculation.


BANFIELD: Political calculation. That's South Carolina's Lindsey Graham and joining me now is CNN's White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar.

There are people talking about what that political calculation means and even that term itself is becoming political. So, spell it out, if you would please, Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, there is a political calculation that is going on over here at the White House, Ashleigh, and that's that the White House and congressional Democrats feel that they have more of the leverage here and they really -- they do have more of the leverage.

They feel like when you look at polls that show increasing taxes on the wealthy is popular, that if the country were to go over the fiscal cliff, they would be more effective in blaming it on Republicans than vice versa.

They feel like Republicans know that and they feel like they can kind of paint Republicans into this corner on income tax rates, but as you know, as of right now, December 3rd, and we still have obviously a few weeks here before the fiscal cliff hits, as of right now, neither side is budging and Republicans are saying that they're not going to budge on those income tax rates, but the White House is really drawing a line over this, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: What do we know about plans for this week? I mean, apart from everybody spouting off hot air on talk shows, do they have any -- I'm sorry to be so crass, but I'm getting a little annoyed by all the talk at us ..


BANFIELD: ... instead of with each other. Do they have any meetings planned?

KEILAR: Yeah, I'm not saying it's not an annoying process. I think, as we've looked at other deals, you can say that and I bet a lot of Americans feel exactly that way.

There's no official meetings right now between the White House and congressional leaders. Of course, there are meetings going on behind the scenes. There are contacts between the White House and congressional Republicans, but as of now, there's nothing official.

President Obama is taking this sort of outside strategy where, as we saw him last week, he goes outside of Washington. He'll be giving remarks to the Business Roundtable this week. He'll be meeting with business leaders tomorrow, other stakeholders this week and he's trying to kind of put some pressure on Congress and learn from a mistake that he made, you might say, during say the debt ceiling negotiations where you saw these meetings with congressional leaders, but there really wasn't a whole lot of payoff and it didn't make the president look particularly effective.

Of course, one of the issues that needs to be resolved is how to tackle entitlement reform. This is something where you have both the White House and the Republicans saying, you know what, you guys need to put some meat on the bones and they're just kind of going back and forth, as you mentioned, Ashleigh.

Listen to what Republican Senator Bob Corker said about how he thinks this'll play out.


SENATOR BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: I think the really the discussions around the fiscal cliff haven't even begun to be serious yet and the reason they haven't is we have really not begun to talk about real entitlement reforms.

And the only way you're going to have a true avoidance where you have a solution is to mix an appropriate amount of revenues with true entitlement reform.

And until the debate moves to that point, there's really no serious debate taking place.

And I think, by the way, I think that over the course of this next week, that is where you're going to see the debate move to.


KEILAR: And so, there's no official proposal, Ashleigh, on entitlement reform at this moment, but I will tell you that Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, was interviewed last week and he talked about some ideas that might get Republicans interested in revenue, in raising taxes if they were on the table. He mentioned higher Medicare premiums for the wealthy, increasing the Medicare eligibility age and slowing down the cost of living increase for Social Security.

So, no formal proposal, but those are some specifics that he, at least, floated.

BANFIELD: Yeah, a message to both sides -- this may not be the time to find your spine and dig in. Especially, where's the Christmas spirit? For heaven's sake, Brianna.

Brianna Keilar reporting for us live at the White House. Thank you.

And for more details about what is in the opposing plans because really that's what it's is all about and what this is going to mean for us because, really, we're the ones who have to pay, be sure to check out


BANFIELD: To Syria now and heightened concerns of that country's chemical weapons. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Prague today and she issued this warning.


HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We have made our views very clear. This is a red line for the United States.

I'm not going to telegraph in any specifics what we would do in the event of credible evidence that the Assad regime has resorted to using chemical weapons against their own people, but suffice it to say we are certainly planning to take action if that eventuality were to occur.


BANFIELD: In response to that comment, Syria's foreign ministry issued a statement on Syrian TV saying that they would not use chemical weapons against Syrian people.

CNN's Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr live in New York with us. It's good to see you.


BANFIELD: So, how much faith can we put in the Syrian government spokesperson and suggesting that the people of Syria are safe from chemical weapons when we see what's going on every single day.

Apparently, they're safe from chemical weapons, but not from air raids.

STARR: Well, there is a new wrinkle here. In the last couple of days U.S. intelligence has got information that the Syrian regime is moving its chemical weapons around, that basically, it looks like what they're trying to do maybe is combine the actual chemical agents with the missiles, the rockets, the artillery shells.

The worry the U.S. has right now is this latest movement signals they are preparing to put their weapons in a position to attack.

Whether they'll go ahead with it remains to be seen. Why would they even be doing it right now?

BANFIELD: So, this is not the same story. I think a lot of Americans are familiar with hearing about Saddam Hussein's weapons.

STARR: Yeah, this is different.

BANFIELD: It is not the same. They are sophisticated. They've got surface-to-surface. They have viable weaponry in this country.

STARR: They have a huge stockpile. They have viable weaponry. It is widely dispersed across the country.

There is the threat, as Secretary Clinton said of U.S. military or action by other militaries in the region, but what would they really do about it?

All of this stuff is mixed in with civilian populations. You can't strike from the air and, you know, kill a bunch of civilians.

It becomes a very difficult problem. You can say red line, but what do you do about it?

BANFIELD: Well, and that's the other thing. To say red line, what does that mean?

If we haven't been willing to do anything about the carnage that we have been witnessing for more than 18 months, how on earth could this change the formula?

STARR: Right. Because there you are. If you had, God forbid, a chemical weapons attack, you've got three -- four countries. You know, you've got several, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Jordan to the south.


STARR: Israel. All of these countries, if there's a chemical weapons dispersal into the atmosphere, it drifts across international borders.

Does anybody really think the Israelis are just going to let that happen? So, you've got a very difficult problem.

BANFIELD: So, Barbara, what if the opposition gets in control of some of these batteries?

STARR: The question right now, is this latest action directed from the Assad regime or could it be rogue elements? What if the opposition, what if the rebels get their hands on this stuff?

BANFIELD: They already got a battery. They already got a ... STARR: Well, you know, the -- up until now, the actual chemical stockpiles are said -- said -- to be secure by the most elite forces of the Syrian regime. They're not letting them out of their sight.

But now we have this latest movement and everybody's trying to figure out what it really means.

BANFIELD: Oh, dear God. All right, Barbara Starr, thank you for that. I guess, thank you for that.

It's good to see you in person.

STARR: Nice to see you.

BANFIELD: I want to move on to Egypt now. Let's move southward.

It's not great there either. The actions by that country's highest court are now on hold indefinitely. The judges were blocked from entering the court building in Cairo yesterday by supporters of President Mohamed Morsi.

Now, they say they won't come back to work until they don't fear for their lives. The court was expected the rule on the legitimacy of the group that just finished drawing up the new constitution.

A separate group of judges, the Supreme Judicial Council has agreed to delegate judges to watch over the constitutional referendum. That vote is scheduled for December 15th. Stay tuned to that.

BANFIELD: In Britain, a big thank you from a young schoolgirl to many of her supporters all around the world, including here in the U.S.

You'll probably remember the story of 14-year-old Malala Yousufzai. She was shot in the head by the Taliban while she was on her school bus. It was as punishment for advocating education for girls in Pakistan.

At last night's "CNN Heroes" celebration, our Anderson Cooper read a statement from Malala and in it she says, quote, "Thank you so much for the outpouring of love and support. I thank the people that supported me without distinguishing religion and color."

Malala is still recovering at a hospital in Birmingham, England.


BANFIELD: So. from the "oh, boy, I think we already knew this one" file or maybe we didn't, Katherine, the Duchess of Cambridge is officially pregnant.

I know if you read all those magazines on the news stands that you have seen the first baby-bump photos, et cetera, and you've seen all the speculation over whether the duchess was actually with child and now the palace is making it official and saying, yes, in only a way that the palace can, which is only a way that Richard Quest can report. So, time for a little Q&A, which would be Quest and Ashleigh. Richard Quest, joining me now live from London.

So, Richard, tell us the news, darling.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Well, you really are a miserable person, aren't you? Only you -- only you could pour water -- on what is a good --

BANFIELD: I'm thrilled.

QUEST: Yeah, yeah, yeah. You're -- let me read you a few of the statements that came out from St. James Palace a short while ago.