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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Storms and Flooding Hit Northern California; Fiscal Cliff Negotiations Possibly Stalled; Interview with Senator Richard Blumenthal; NFL Player Commits Suicide in Front of Coach; Syrian Government Warned by U.S. not to use Chemical Weapons in Civil War

Aired December 3, 2012 - 07:00   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome, everybody. Our "Starting Point" this morning: a flood of trouble in the west. Widespread destruction as storms pound already soggy parts of Northern California.

Plus, the fiscal split in Washington, D.C. The Obama administration drawing a line in the sand over tax hikes. The two sides seem further apart than ever with less than a month to go.

And born in the USA: neighbors outraged over a home they say serves as a maternity center set up so Chinese mothers can give birth to anchor babies. And it's all perfectly legal.

Packed two hours ahead. We'll have Joe Linta. He's an agent for the Kansas City chief's linebacker, Jovan Belcher. Remember, he tragically took his own life after shooting his girlfriend over the weekend.

Connecticut Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal will be joining us in just a few minutes. We'll have Republican Congressman from Florida, Connie Mack, and California Republican, Mary Bono Mack, joining us as well. And former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez is with us. Former New York Giants running back, Tiki Barber, is with us, as well.

It's Monday, December 3rd, and STARTING POINT begins right now.

Good morning. Welcome, everybody. Our "Starting Point" this morning is those Pacific storms in Northern California. Third one in five days from San Francisco to Sacramento and Sonoma. Floodwaters and fierce winds have been knocking out power to thousands of people. Some people who lived in the areas for decades say they have never seen anything like this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thing just went up fast. We've had previously where it's gotten up real high but hasn't gotten this bad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you live right here in the park?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right here?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, right there. I got my mom out. I took her down to a friend's house down the street because you never know if water like this what it's going to do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People are evacuating out of the cars, and as you see, you can't get out. I had to march up the hill and walk down the side hill to get in here. So it's really, really very bad.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Rob Marciano is tracking the storms from the CNN weather center in Atlanta. How is it looking in the near future, rob?

ROB MARCIANO, METEOROLOGIST: Well, a bit of a break today, Soledad. More rain coming tomorrow. You saw the folks dealing with the rain about fall, cars driving through it, the rivers rushing. But we have infrastructure damage, as well. Some video out of Oakland in and around this area, Lafayette there, this home damage, a number of them, you get near the hillside, and that brings down debris and boulders and mud, and that does damage not only to homes, but on the other side of roadways, we've got damage from a number of primary and secondary roads in and around this bay area. A tremendous amount of rainfall that has just undermined those structures, so you've got issues with that, as well.

Of course people driving through these flooded streets. You've got a need for rescues. The fire departments and their swift water rescue teams were out in full force over the weekend rescuing people. This is in a number of other people had to be rescued across parts of northern California and even into Oregon as well. Napa Valley, tremendous rainfall there, the Napa River up and over its flood banks. The Sacramento River also in flood stage.

In some cases we've seen almost a foot and a half of rainfall in this five-day period. It's raining right now in Seattle to Portland, not raining right now in Sacramento and San Francisco. But that will likely change as we get through tomorrow, at least tonight into tomorrow.

Yesterday, it was pretty strong and you saw the damage from that, our next system about to come in. It will start in the Pacific Northwest tonight and tomorrow morning and eventually drift down to the south. Shouldn't be as strong as far as wind and rain like what we saw the past three.

Also big issue with fog this morning across the great lakes, down across the southeast, very, very warm from across the eastern sector of the U.S., and with that comes a little bit of fog.

O'BRIEN: That's so unusual for California, isn't it? I spent a lot of times reporting there. To have major flooding in that area like that to that degree. All right, Rob, thank you for the update, appreciate it.

MARCIANO: You bet. O'BRIEN: Congress heads back to work this morning as the clock is ticking down toward the impending fiscal cliff. Talks, though, seem to be at a stalemate yesterday with just 29 days until tax hikes and deep spending cuts kick in. Both Republicans and the Democrats were running to the airwaves to try to explain their positions. Here's what they said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What we're not going to do is extend those tax cuts with the wealthiest Americans. Those cost a trillion dollars over 10 years, and there's no possibility that we're going to find a way to get our fiscal house in order without those tax rates going back up.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R) HOUSE SPEAKER: Nobody wants to go over the cliff. That's why the day after the election I tried to speed this process up by making the concession to put revenues on the table. It's unfortunate that the White House has spent three weeks doing basically nothing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: The administration has presented a plan that 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 Congress would have to give up control over raising the debt limit. Republicans have indicated that they want to raise revenue by lowering tax deductions, haven't given any specifics yet. Brings us right to White House correspondent Brianna Keilar. Good morning, Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Soledad. Yes, things are at an impasse here. I will tell you the White House after not being very happy with the pace of negotiations the week before last sent Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner up to the hill to outline this proposal.

There's a lot we already knew about that president Obama had already taken a public position on. The White House is now saying to Republicans as well, we want you to put the meat on the bones when it comes to the entitlement reform portion of this deficit reduction plan. That's politically very tricky, as you know, because a lot of times dealing with entitlements will be construed as cuts to Medicare and that's often not very popular. So, as you can imagine that deal that you just outlined, not received very well by Republicans on the Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. 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. This offer doesn't remotely deal with entitlement reform in a way to save Medicare and Medicaid, and Social Security from imminent bankruptcy. The president's plan when it comes to entitlement reform is just quite frankly a joke, so I don't think they're serious about finding a deal. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: So not really good language you're hearing Soledad. House Speaker John Boehner said he found the proposal flabbergasting. He said it's not serious. But you definitely have the White House here and Democrats feeling that they have some leverage. They look at polls that show Americans are more prepared to blame Republicans because of the impasse and also the fact that the consequences of the fiscal cliff, these spending cuts and these tax -- pardon me the spending cuts and the tax increases that kick in here at the end of the year, the consequences are very dire, and following the election the White House and Democrats think that they can really push Republicans into a corner here.

O'BRIEN: Brianna Keilar for us. Thank you, Brianna.

Just ahead we're going to be talking with Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal will join us to talk a little bit about the Democrats' responsibility about this impending fiscal cliff.

Another story we're following, friends and family of Kansas City Chiefs Jovan Belcher looking for answers this morning after he killed his girlfriend and then took his own life. His team took to the field just a day after the tragedy. It was I guess kind of a somber victory. They beat the Carolina Panthers 27-21. It was just their second game of the season. Saturday morning Belcher shot his 22-year- old girlfriend Kasandra Perkins, and then turned the gun on himself outside the Chief's practice facility right in front of the general manager and the coaches. He and Perkins leave behind a three-month- old daughter.

Casey Wian has been talking to Chiefs players and coaches, all of them trying to figure out what was wrong. Let's talk a little bit first about Coach Crennel who saw Belcher kill himself. What did he say that Belcher said to him?

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well he hasn't said what Belcher said to him specifically, but what police have said is that Belcher expressed this thankfulness to Coach Crennel and members of the Chiefs organization from giving him a chance to play in the NFL. He was a player from a very small College, University of Maine. He worked really hard to get where he was.

There was another member of Chiefs staff who saw that he had a gun and called 911. The Chiefs staff members who confronted Belcher in the parking lot said they never felt like they were in any danger, at least that's according to police. But then he shot himself right in front of them, Soledad. The police now know exactly what happened. What they're trying to figure out in this investigation is obviously why it happened.

O'BRIEN: Yes, I mean 25 years old. He'd been really just sort of a, an underdog in a lot of ways and he'd been so successful in that. There have been six current or former NFL players that have committed suicide in the past two years, which is an unprecedented number. What are they looking into as to the whys behind all those? WIAN: Well, there has been some speculation about the role that perhaps traumatic head injuries, concussions may have played in this. There's no concrete evidence of that at all. But because the NFL has been struggling with the issues of concussions for a while that is something that I'm sure they're going to be looking into.

Also this tragic issue of suicides among current and former players was definitely on the mind of Chiefs players. We spoke through one who's been through this before.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've been through this situation earlier in the year, in Tennessee with O.J. Murdoch, when I was with Cincinnati, so I'm kind of used to this now. Won't say used to it but I been in the situation before. So just continue to try to pray for the families that lost loved ones, and continue to go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need to talk to each other more as men, not as football players I mean in life, because generally men don't really show their feelings. You know, they don't talk about what's going on. They don't cry. They don't show emotion. I mean, to, to have an act go on like this yesterday, it's one of those things, could have been avoided. As a teammate you know we have to do more about not getting in people's business but, I mean just, just you know, making sure that you know the teammate's OK.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Soledad you mentioned earlier that it was a somber victory for the Chiefs yesterday. It was somber and quiet throughout the whole game. It was the quietest crowd I've ever heard at an NFL stadium and that locker room was really surreal. There wasn't much celebration going on at all even though this is the Chief's second victory of the season.

O'BRIEN: What a terrible tragedy. Casey Wian for us. I mean he was 25 years old. His girlfriend was 22 years old. That's just a horrible story. Casey Wian reporting for us, thanks, Casey.

Coming up in our next hour we're going to talk to Jovan Belcher's agent Joe Linta. He's been his agent since 2009. He also represents the Kansas City coach who witnessed the suicide. We'll get his take right at 8:00 this morning.

First though want to get a look at some of the other stories making news, and Alina has got that. Hey, Alina.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Soledad. Good morning, everybody.

A member of the U.S. Coast Guard is dead after a suspicious boat rammed his inflatable boat during a pursuit off the coast of southern California. Affiliate KABC says the suspicious boat was used to smuggle drugs. Chief petty officer Terrell Horn was one of two coast guard members thrown off on impact. He suffered a traumatic head injury. The other coast guardsman was treated at a local hospital. The Coast Guard says the suspicious vessel was intercepted and the two people were detained.

An evacuation order remains in effect this morning in Glennline, Louisiana, as authorities rush to secure more than 6 million pounds of gun powder. The M-6 powder was found that Camp Minden. Operation is under way to move the powder into authorized facilities on the same safe. Workers have safely stored more than 1 million pounds. That's enough to fill 27 18-wheelers.

Soledad, grab all three of your mobile devices. The Pope is on Twitter starting December 12th. Pope Benedict will begin tweeting using the handle @pontifex, that's p-o-n-t-i-f-e-x. He already has 6,700 followers. Vatican officials say the Pope will be composing the tweets himself.

O'BRIEN: How can he have 6,700 followers?

CHO: Well, he's on you know. The Vatican by the way launched a twitter news feed 17 months ago, kicked it off with a tweet from Pope Benedict.

President Obama recognized entertainers at the Kennedy Center honors last night. This year's honorees include Oscar winner Dustin Hoffman, late night host David Letterman, blues guitarist Buddy Guy, and the legendary rock band Led Zeppelin. Listen to this -- during a reception for the event Mitt Romney supporter Kid Rock ran into the president. Rock says the run-in wasn't awkward, not at all. In fact he says they were able to laugh off any past rivalries.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KID ROCK, SINGER/SONGWRITER: I saw the president tonight. He said I'm still here. He said no hard feelings. And he remembered meeting my son when I played his inauguration, which was very special.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHO: At the Kumbayah moment, Kid Rock also ran into look at that our own Wolf Blitzer right before the ceremony.

O'BRIEN: Cut and paste that photo.

CHO: Wolf tweeted that picture. As I like to say, my invitation must have blown off my desk.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Alina, thank you.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, the fiery danger that's forced Ford to now recall two of its best-selling models. We'll update you on that.

And the race against time to stop America from plunging off the fiscal cliff. The Obama administration said to lead the top Republican in the house flabbergasted. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHO: It's 16 minutes after the hour, welcome back to STARTING POINT. Minding your Business now, Ford is issuing recalls for two of its newest and biggest selling models, the 2013 Escape crossover and the 2013 Fusion sedan. The problem is at the engines can overheat and catch on fire. The recall affects nearly 90,000 vehicles.

Market check now, U.S. stock futures are up after some positive data overnight on China's manufacturing sector. Investors will be watching those fiscal cliff negotiations in Washington today. Plus, we will get reports on U.S. auto sales, manufacturing and construction spending.

Big news this week, of course, the November jobs report for the government That will come out on Friday. Soledad, back to you.

O'BRIEN: Alina, thank you.

Back to the story that's going to affect all of our wallets, our retirement, our benefits, the economy. If, in fact, we do go over the fiscal cliff, taxes will go up, major spending cuts will kick in. This weekend Republican South Carolina Congressman -- Senator Graham said he thinks that we're going to go off the fiscal cliff in fact. And he said this, "I think we're going to go over the cliff. It's pretty clear to me that they made a political calculation. This offer doesn't remotely deal with entitlement reform in a way to save Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security from imminent bankruptcy."

Senator Richard Blumenthal is a Democrat from the state of Connecticut. He joins us this morning. It's nice to see you sir. Thank you for being with us.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL, (D) CONNECTICUT: Good to see you, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: You heard Lindsey Graham saying he thinks we're going off the cliff. You think that's true?

BLUMENTHAL: I respectfully disagree. I'm really encouraged that we can avoid this fiscal cliff for a number of reasons. First of all, there is a growing group of Republicans who say we really need to raise revenue, not just talk about raising revenue, but actually increase taxes on the wealthiest two percent. And they're willing to consider those kinds of taxes that the president proposed so that middle-class Americans, the 98 percent, will not see any tax increases.

And second I'm encouraged because some of the business leaders, in fact a growing number of businesses, moderate and constructively, are proposing that the president's plan make sense.

But the major development that really has to happen is for the Republicans to come forward with some of their specifics, and specific terms and proposals, if they say they want to avoid these tax increases, they need to be more specific and how to do it. O'BRIEN: You keep using the word "encourage," and I'll read you some other words that have come from Lindsey Graham. He said "It's a joke. It's not serious." And it, you know, you might be encouraged, but Treasury Secretary Geithner did not seem all that encouraged. He seemed like he had to spend his entire weekend on television sort of selling his side of it.

There are Republicans who would say, listen, what the Democrats have proposed offered us absolutely nothing, and as time ticks away we're starting already late in the game to be sort of a still at point zero.

BLUMENTHAL: The president's put a great deal on the table. First of all, 1.6 trillion in tax increases that hit only the wealthiest two percent, in other words households earning more than $250,000 would see their taxes increase, but the 98 percent of middle-class Americans would see no tax increase.

O'BRIEN: But it's entitlements as you know. It's the entitlements that have the Republicans upset. So when you look at the changes to entitlements, Republicans would say, there's really not much that's been put reasonably on the table that's a real shift from what was already being negotiate back in 2011.

BLUMENTHAL: Well, there are $400 billion to $600 billion in health care savings, predominantly through Medicare, that could be achieved through a number of measures. And I think very encouragingly, again I use the word "encouragingly," there are increasing realizations that we can do it with higher quality medical care by cutting the cost on the states, hospital acquired infections, premature discharges, and also some of the measures that can cut the cost of Medicaid spending, which is very important to the states, as well.

So there is going to be a give and take here. There has to be, to use the magic word, compromise. And I'm hoping that some of the rhetoric here may be a guise for the real negotiations that are going to be occurring behind the scenes. And there have to be negotiations. You know, in any sort of compromise in any serious negotiations, there has to be a give and take and I'm hoping that there will be in the coming weeks.

O'BRIEN: Senator Richard Blumenthal is a Democrat from Connecticut joining us this morning. Nice to see you, sir. Thank you for your time.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, the U.S. has a stern warning for Syria. Why there's worry in Washington, D.C. about chemical weapons there. Our STARTING POINT team is heading in to talk about that and much more. You're watching STARTING POINT, and we're back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Stern warnings to Syria this morning from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She said that any move by the Assad regime to use chemical weapons against rebels would be considered crossing a red line by the United States. It would prompt action by the U.S. One official told CNN that there had been, quote, "worrying signs of activity in Syria over the last few days."

I want to get to our panel this morning talk a little bit about that. Barbara Starr is CNN's Pentagon correspondent. W. Kamau Bell is a comedian who's also the host of "Totally Biased" on FX, and U.S. Congresswoman Nan Hayworth is with us as well. Barbara, what are the worrying signs?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: What our sources are telling us, Soledad, in the last couple of days there have been new intelligence that the Syrians are now moving their chemical weapons around in a very different way. Not just consolidating for security purposes, but potentially moving them in a way that indicates they might be getting ready to use them. What do we mean by that? Likelihood is what they're doing is moving some of the chemical material closer or to the artillery shells, the missiles, the rockets --

O'BRIEN: To use them separately. You move the chemicals to the actual weapons, it's an indication you might be bringing them together.

STARR: Why else would you be doing that? And it is a massive concern right now.

O'BRIEN: That has to be a major concern obviously in Congress watching all of this, that red line Hillary Clinton was talking about.

REP. NAN HAYWORTH, ( R) NEW YORK: Well, absolutely. And we have obviously our major ally in the Middle East, Israel, is very vulnerable to this in Syria. They have a massive reservoir just off the Golan Heights that you know, if they damage that, that has direct consequences on military actions.

SARR: You look at Israel, Turkey to the north, Jordan to the south, Iraq. That's the question, why is he doing this?

O'BRIEN: Thank you, appreciate that.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, the elusive Mr. McAfee, the police have been looking for the anti-virus software mogul after a murder in Belize. CNN managed to catch up with him and sit down for an interview, but how they got there was so strange. That's straight ahead.

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