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Syria's Chemical Weapons; No Progress on Fiscal Cliff

Aired December 4, 2012 - 15:00   ET


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: And we continue on, hour two. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me.

The question we are asking is this. Is Bashar al-Assad bluffing as fears grow that his regime will unleash these chemical weapons in his country of Syria? We're digging on what the sarin gas would do and where it's coming from.

But, first, there is a little bit of everything going on in Washington, D.C., right now. You have your holiday parties, couple of press conferences, maybe even a little political posturing. One thing not happening is formal face-to-face serious talks on the looming fiscal cliff.

But, hey, there is still 28 days until a huge package of tax hikes and spending cuts kicks in.

Our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash is on the Hill for us today.

Dana, I know you're reporting there are no formal talks going on, but is there something, anything going on behind the scenes?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, let me just read you an e-mail I got from a good Republican source, who said, "No conversations today, no e-mails, tweets or carrier pigeons."

That pretty much answers that question. No. Generally what happens with this kind of high-stakes negotiating is you definitely have the public bluster and posturing going on, but that behind the scenes you have conversations that happen, that tries to sort of really feel the other side out, and try to get a sense of where a compromise could happen.

I'm told not just by Republican sources, but also Democratic sources that simply is not happening today, despite Jay Carney insisting there are conversations going on. He said that at the White House today. Why is that, Brooke? I can tell you that just by talking to Democrats in particular, they really feel that they have the upper hand and the ability to run out the clock because they think it is a political win- win.

If they stick to their guns on that big divide, which is raising taxes on the wealthy, then they win, because Republicans, they believe, will get blamed if we go over the cliff. Or Republicans will cave at the end of the day and they will agree to raise taxes on them. So, Democrats, again, believe that they are in a winning political position and that's why I think at this point they don't feel the pressure to engage back with the Republicans as much as Republicans feel to get talks going with Democrats.

BALDWIN: Yes. The president responding to some of this in a Bloomberg TV interview today, basically saying, look, we staked out our position and now we're waiting for a little something perhaps in between.

I don't know. As far as House Republicans go, they have offered up, you broke it yesterday, this $800 billion in new revenue in their proposal. I know some conservatives are angry. We just had hard-line Republican Congressman Price from Georgia, and he said he doesn't support the Boehner proposal. Who is speaking out on this?

BASH: Very interesting. You're right. As much as the White House dismisses this new Republican counteroffer, the one we reported yesterday, there are a lot of conservatives who are quite upset with the idea of Republicans putting on paper the idea of raising $800 billion in taxes.

One of those conservatives is senator Jim DeMint. Listen to what he said.


SEN. JIM DEMINT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Republicans should not be conceding that the federal government needs more money, negotiating with ourselves, and treating the president's proposal like it's serious.

This is not a time to negotiate with ourselves. We need to invite the president to work with us. His proposal was so outlandish, I don't think we should go back to the table until he puts something there that we can work with.


BASH: Now, Brooke, House Republican leaders are -- particularly those in Speaker Boehner's office are saying, see, this is proof that they have moved away from the traditional Republican position, moving towards the White House. So the White House should take that into consideration.

But there definitely is an important undercurrent we should explore here, which is the fact that, at the end of the day, if there is a deal, I talked to some Republicans who say that the speaker really has to be careful to get the majority of a majority of his Republican conference in order to make sure that he...

BALDWIN: A majority of majority.


BASH: Majority of a majority, which might be hard to do, because -- to make sure that he still has leadership leverage with his fellow Republicans going forward in dealing with the president in the future.

BALDWIN: Dana Bash, thanks for covering this for us. We appreciate it.

BASH: Thank you.

BALDWIN: How Washington, you know, eventually deals with this fiscal cliff, of course, that's the great unknown. But it is making a lot of business leaders very, very nervous.

And Christine Romans, she spoke with one CEO who says leaders in Washington, they're focused on the wrong issue.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I asked the outspoken CEO of FedEx how companies plan ahead when Washington is so dysfunctional.

FRED SMITH, CEO, FEDEX: Well, I think most of the CEOs look at the situation in Washington with complete amazement and dismay, to be frank about it. The problem is the ideological pinnings on both sides of this argument are so difficult to bridge that it's going to be hard for them to get a deal.

ROMANS: This is a time when companies should be planning for next year, spending money, buying equipment, building factories, hiring workers. Instead, they have no idea what tax rates will be and whether Congress will spark a new recession.

And companies are already pulling back. You can see that in the third-quarter GDP report. Companies' spending on software and equipment fell almost 3 percent in the quarter. We haven't seen that since the recession. I asked Fred Smith if he would accept higher taxes on the top 2 percent of earners to get a deal done and avoid going over this cliff.

SMITH: There is a lot of mythology in Washington such as it's small business that creates all of the jobs in the United States. And if you raise the rates on the top 2 percent, you will kill jobs.

The reality is the vast majority of jobs in the United States are produced by capital investment in equipment and software that is not done by small business. It is done by big business and the so-called gazelles, the emerging companies like the new fracking oil and gas operations.

It is capital investment in equipment and software that is the solution to our economic problems, not the marginal tax rates of individuals.

ROMANS: So we're fighting about the wrong thing.

SMITH: That's my view.

ROMANS: They're fighting about the wrong things, he says. The only thing bigger than the budget deficit is the trust deficit in Washington.

Christine Romans, CNN, New York.


BALDWIN: Developing now, NATO allies say they have grave concerns that Syria's government could be preparing to do precisely what so many have been fearing, unleash the chemical weaponry on its own people.

President Obama issuing a stern warning after intelligence reports suggest that President Bashar al-Assad's regime is mixing these chemicals to make the deadly, deadly gas called sarin.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, I want to make it absolutely clear to Assad and those under his command, the world is watching. The use of chemical weapons is and would be totally unacceptable. And if you make the tragic mistake of using these weapons, there will be consequences and you will be held accountable.


BALDWIN: Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair echoing the concerns earlier today on CNN.


TONY BLAIR, FORMER BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: There are a lot of people dying. Now the death toll probably would be around 40,000 since this began, so it's a large number of people. But if there was any sense at all that Assad was going to use chemical weapons or did use chemical weapons against his own people, I would expect a very tough response that would be military.


BALDWIN: CNN's Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is live for me now.

What I'm not hearing from the president or either from Secretary Clinton or Tony Blair is, you know, they talk about the if. What then, any possible scenarios, possible action? I'm not hearing concrete scenarios. Are you?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you're not, Brooke, and I think for a very good reason. They want to stop this before it gets to that.

Nobody wants to have to strike at Syrian chemical weapons plants. If you think about it logically, it is a very tough target. You have to know exactly where it is. You have to strike that hard enough to virtually incinerate all the chemical or biological material there before it escapes into the atmosphere. If those chemical weapons started to go on the move, in artillery shells or bombs, could you chase them all down? And, of course, in Syria, much of this material is located or co-located in neighborhoods and towns with civilian populations.

So you're putting civilian populations at risk. I think that's why you're hearing the very tough language from Washington to NATO headquarters. Everybody wants this stopped before it even happens, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Talking to Bob Baer just last hour, former CIA, and he said just a drop of sarin is deadly.

I want to ask you about Syria's neighbor Turkey. We know NATO has approved Turkey's request for these Patriot interceptor missiles to defend its own borders from further spillover of violence from Syria. Russia, you know, one of Assad's last remaining allies, is now warning that could make the situation worse. What do you make of that?

STARR: Well, you know, Russia is somebody that the U.S. wants to diplomatically rely on right now to convince Assad again on the chemical warfare question, get the Russians to tell him, absolutely not, do not do this.

On the question of the Turkish border, you know, none of this is really a very clean situation, who's on one side, who's on the other side in terms of the Russians. The Russians are concerned about putting Patriot missiles there because that's Patriot missiles in NATO, not all that far from their territory. Turkey is saying it's strictly for their self-defense.

Just a few days ago, the Syrians in that border region with Turkey launched a number of missiles with a range of about 60 miles. That's the kind of thing on that northern Syrian border that has the Turks and NATO so worried and they want the Russians on board to tell the Syrians not to do any of this -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Barbara Starr, thank you.


BALDWIN: A young girl suffering from cancer disappears after she and her mother leave the hospital, and now a police search and concerns about her health. I'm Brooke Baldwin. The news is now.

(voice-over): The man in charge of FOX News apparently sent a message to David Petraeus about a run for president. But the advice didn't stop there.

Plus, a warning for all Americans, get ready. This flu season is going to be awful. And the strain going around is troubling.

And I will speak live with one Democrat who says America should go over the fiscal cliff. He tells me why.


BALDWIN: Why would a mother sneak her daughter out of the hospital, take her from vital leukemia treatments and then just, poof, disappear? No one seems to know the why yet.

But this girl, she is identified only as Emily, she is seen right here, you see -- she's on the right side of your screen, walking along, with her mother. This is surveillance video as they were leaving Phoenix Children's Hospital recently. The woman allegedly just removed the girl's I.V., changed her clothes, walked her right out of the hospital door.

She disappeared six days ago, just one day shy of being released from the hospital. And doctors fear that this catheter, this I.V. in the girl's heart could cause an infection and possibly endanger her life.

Joining me here is Dr. Amelia Langston. She's medical director for the Emory Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplant Center, and attorney Joey Jackson.

So welcome to both of you.


BALDWIN: What a story this is.

First, to you, Doctor, when I first hear about a heart catheter or it is an I.V., that, from just the limited knowledge I know of this, it is an open wound in a sense, is it not?

DR. AMELIA LANGSTON, EMORY BONE MARROW AND STEM CELL TRANSPLANT CENTER: Well, Brooke, typically, what we have to do, when we're treating a patient with leukemia, is we place a sort of A semi- permanent I.V. line so that we can administer chemotherapy, administer antibiotics and blood products and Also draw blood without having to stick the person multiple times per day.


BALDWIN: So, if you're not in the hospital and you have this I.V. in you, is this something you can easily remove on your own?

LANGSTON: No. No. It really needs to be managed by a trained professional.


And if not managed by a trained professional, then what?

LANGSTON: It can certainly lead to bloodstream infections that can very rapidly cause very serious problems, particularly in somebody whose immune system is severely suppressed by chemotherapy.

BALDWIN: If -- when you look at the big picture for her, because she has this, in her heart -- she has recently -- you can see in the surveillance video -- she had an arm amputated recently, undergoing chemotherapy, I don't -- can you put a timeline on how many days she would have before this gets -- before it gets really dire for her?

LANGSTON: I don't think we can put a timeline on it. But certainly any time that we're treating a patient for this type of disorder we want to have them under very close medical surveillance, whether it's in the hospital or out of the hospital. That -- patients like this are typically seen every few days to make sure that there aren't signs or symptoms of infection.

BALDWIN: Joey Jackson, if and when this mother is found, she's in trouble.

JACKSON: Yes, she really could be. Brooke, ultimately patients do have rights and one of those rights is to refuse medical treatment. But here, the problem is, is, you're endangering a child. And that's problematic, particularly when the result could be -- I don't even want to say what the result could be. We know what the result could be here, Brooke.

But when you endanger someone like this, the authorities don't take too kindly to it, and, as a result, she can get into real -- really serious trouble.

BALDWIN: So, it wouldn't really matter. And this is a hypothetical, but if -- later if the mother comes forward and says, my daughter wanted to leave, my daughter wanted to leave, that doesn't matter because she's 11?

JACKSON: Well, what happens is -- of course, what happens is the parent takes responsibility because of the age of consent. An 11- year-old certainly is not in a position to decide whether or not she's well enough to leave. So the parent would make that medical decision.

In this particular case, it is the wrong medical decision to make. I'm sure the authorities don't want to criminalize this. They just want to get her back so they can provide the adequate care, remove the catheter. But it could come to that.

BALDWIN: Dr. Langston, how long have you been a doctor?

LANGSTON: Over 20 years.

BALDWIN: Have you ever in your 20 years heard of someone doing this?

LANGSTON: Not with a child.

BALDWIN: Not with a child. Not with a child. Bottom line, what could happen to this mother?

JACKSON: The bottom line is that, listen, you know, bring the child back, find her. There is some issues with it, she may be in Mexico. That's the other issue here, and I think she could be in serious trouble, Brooke, as a result of endangering the welfare of this child. I just hope the end result is a positive one that doesn't result in charges, results in the saved life and a girl who ultimately is happy, healthy and a family united.

BALDWIN: We all agree with him. We agree. Dr. Amelia Langston from Emory and Joey Jackson, thank you so much.

JACKSON: Pleasure, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Hopefully, hopefully, this will have a happy ending.

Former -- or excuse me -- FBI agents, they foiled this terror plot, two brothers in Florida accused of trying to unleash a weapon of mass destruction, their alleged conspiracy and the arrest next.


BALDWIN: An alleged plot to use a weapon of mass destruction foiled. These two brothers originally from Pakistan, they both have been indicted on charges they planned to use explosives and provide materials to terrorists.

The brothers who are U.S. citizens were arrested by FBI agents in Fort Lauderdale. The Justice Department is not giving specifics on this alleged plot. But investigators say they are trying to figure out if the brothers were acting alone or following instructions from a terrorist group overseas.

Two of the nation's busiest ports shut down as a crippling labor strike drags on -- retailers say it is costing the nation's economy a billion dollars a day. Let me say that again, a billion dollars a day, but this could cost you too for the holidays and beyond -- a live update on the negotiations here and what's at stake next.


BALDWIN: In Southern California, the eight-day-old strike at two huge ports, in Los Angeles and nearby Long Beach, hits a new snag. Dock workers are refusing to cross a picket line set up by port clerical workers. Keep in mind this is a busy time of year. Holiday shipping happens right now.

Just a couple of hours ago, the mayor of Los Angeles, he stepped out in front of the cameras with this announcement. Here he was.


ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA (D), MAYOR OF LOS ANGELES: We have met all night. We have worked across the table with a number of proposals. It is still clear to me that we're some bit apart, although progress has been made. But what I'm here to announce is that both parties have agreed to federal mediation and to a federal mediator.


BALDWIN: Miguel Marquez is live for us at Long Beach.

You hear Mayor Villaraigosa saying progress is made, but clearly not enough. What's next? MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is not the progress they wanted.

We talked to folk all morning and they said a deal is going to be done, a deal is going to be announced and then he came out and said no deal, a federal mediator. At 8:00 local time, that federal mediator will come in from D.C. He has a number two mediator coming in from Minneapolis at the same time.

I have just seen the negotiators for the companies coming back from a short lunch break, and they're going back in, and the mayor will come back here this evening as well when the mediators get here. They want this thing to get done. But what they're hung up on is language regarding outsourcing. One of the labor officials tells me that two days ago they were miles apart. Now they're about a yard apart.

The companies have agreed in principle to put some language into the contract about not moving jobs out of this area. Now they're haggling over those details. It is literally coming down to words within a single paragraph or two over how they define outsourcing jobs. Some of these jobs here in the last three years, they say, 50 jobs have left this port, they have gone to Houston, they have gone to Denver. They don't even want the jobs outsourced to other states much less to other countries.

So what these -- what these workers want is going to be tough for these companies to agree to because companies don't want to be bound obviously by what they can do with their workers -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: The federal mediator has a big, big job to do. We will follow up with you certainly tomorrow and see if any progress will be made. Miguel Marquez, thank you for us, in Long Beach.

Staying in California, heading north to Northern California, also Oregon, Washington state, getting soaked again by the fourth storm just since Wednesday. This dangerous weather made for pretty a scary situation for an Oregon couple. Look at this. See this car? Looks like half a car now narrowly escaped being crushed by a tree.


CHRIS NATELBORG, TREE FELL ON HIS CAR: It is a miracle. It is hard to believe still that we were in there. That's our car, or was.


BALDWIN: Wow. Some places have seen nearly two feet of rain in just this past week.

Dan Simon is in Lafayette, California, just northeast of Oakland, where there is this huge, huge sinkhole.

In fact, I'm guessing you're standing somewhere near it, Dan. Show me what it is and how they're going to fix it.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, hey, Brooke, we're standing in the middle of this enormous sinkhole.

This is in Lafayette, California, about 20 miles east of San Francisco. You can see some of the crews here clearing away the debris. Let me explain to you how this happened. There is actually a creek that runs underneath this, or at least it did. And it basically got clogged and it tore away all the dirt, all the mud, and with it, it brought down the street.

You can see the entire street basically caved in, no traffic going on either side. This is a major inconvenience for the people who live in this neighborhood. You can see one of the things that crews had to do is they had to set up a temporary sewer line, also a temporary water line. This is one of the lines here. They kind of went to extraordinary lengths to make sure that the people in this neighborhood aren't affected in terms of their basic services.

Now, this was one of the storms that came by just a couple of days ago, and, of course, more rain is in the forecast. So, this is really the last thing that people need in this area and throughout the Bay Area as well, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Dan, thank you.

How about this? You been putting off getting the flu shot. I want you to take a look at this with me. The CDC is issuing a flu warning. The flu season is off to its earliest start in a decade and it could be a bad one. Take a look at this map. Four states, Alaska, Mississippi, South Carolina, and New York all reporting widespread flu cases.

And another map for you. This is higher than normal records of flu coming in from Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas. And the last time the flu season started this early, it was back in the winter of '03-'04.

The flu then killed more than 48,000 people that year.