Return to Transcripts main page


Obama Speaks to CEOs; Obama Stands Firm on Fiscal Plan; The Speaker's Two-Front War; Typhoon Damage in the Philippines; Being Black in America

Aired December 5, 2012 - 11:00   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, ANCHOR, "CNN NEWSROOM": Unfortunately, in Washington they are not talking to each other about it.

Right now, President Obama is meeting with the Washington Business Roundtable. That's just minutes after Speaker Boehner met with rank- and-file GOP lawmakers and former Speaker Pelosi met with House Democrats.

So, they are all in each other's corners speaking amongst each other, but all eyes are on the fiscal cliff.

And, as we get set for what all of them have to say, let's scoot over to the president. He's emerging from that meeting with the Washington business leaders. Let's see what he has to say.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... at the Business Roundtable. Jim, thanks for your leadership.

You know, originally, my team had prepared some remarks. They always get nervous when I'm out there on my own, never know what I might say.

But given the dialogue that we had the last time, I thought it was useful for me to abbreviate my remarks, speak off the cuff at the top and then spend most of the time just having a conversation.

But let me begin by saying that all of you in this room are not just business leaders, not just CEOs of your companies, but you're also economic leaders and thought leaders in this country and I recognize that all of you have an enormous investment not only in your own companies, but in the well-being of America.

There are a lot of patriots in this room and people who care deeply about not only your bottom lines, but also the future of this country. You've shown that over the last four years. We've gone through as difficult of an economic period as we've seen in most of our lifetimes and we've emerged not yet where we need to be, but we've certainly made progress.

And the reason we've made progress, in part, has been because of the outstanding management and productivity gains and efficiencies and competitiveness that you've been able to achieve in each and every one of your companies.

And I've said this to some of the small groups. Let me repeat it to the large group. I am passionately rooting for your success because if the companies in this room are doing well, then small businesses and medium-sized businesses up and down the chain are doing well. If the companies in this room are doing well, then folks get jobs, consumers get confidence and we're going to be able to compete around the world.

Now, the good news is that despite the extraordinary challenges that we've seen over the last four years, there is progress in some key sectors of our economy. We've seen housing finally begin to bounce back for the first time and that obviously has an enormous ripple effect throughout the economy.

Consumer confidence is as high as it's been. Many of you, over the last two or three years, have experienced record profits or near record profits and have a lot of money where you're prepared to invest in plants and equipment and hire folks.

Obviously, globally, the economy is still soft. Europe is going to be in the doldrums for quite some time, Asia is not charging forward and some of the emerging markets are not charging forward as quickly as they were maybe a few years ago.

But I think what all of you recognize and many of you have told me is that everybody is looking to America because they understand that, if we're able to put forward a long-term agenda for growth and prosperity that's broad-based here in the United States, that confidence will not just increase here in the United States, it will increase globally and we can get the kind of virtuous cycle that I think all of us have been waiting for and want to see.

What's holding us back right now, ironically, is a lot of stuff that's going on in this town and I know that many of you have come down here to try to see, is there a way that we can break through the logjam and go ahead and get things done. And I'm here to tell you that nobody wants to get this done more than me.

I know that you've gotten a lot of briefings, but let me just try to describe where the situation is right now with respect to our fiscal situation, both what the opportunities are but what also the challenges are.

I campaigned over the last year on the idea that we need to make sure that this economy is growing and that we're providing ladders of opportunity ...


BANFIELD: All right. That's unfortunate. We're just getting to the meat of what he had to say.

But let me just do some quick summary for you. This meeting that he was having with the Washington Business Roundtable -- and I'm sorry I sound so sick. I'm like everybody else with a bug. This is critical because what the criticism of the president has been up until now is that instead of meeting with Republican lawmakers on a regular basis, he is meeting with everyone else and then sending those everyone-elses out to market his plan or put pressure on Republican lawmakers to pass his version of what he sees as the solution to the fiscal cliff.

So, there is the cliff and there is the chasm and the chasm is that gaping divide between the debt-cutting blueprints of the president and of the speaker, John Boehner.

So, Mr. Obama, as you know, is standing very firm on the $1.6 trillion in tax hikes, most of them aimed at the top income-earners across this country. He is offering $400 billion in cuts from the so-called entitlements, but he also wants to spend $50 billion on infrastructure.

Mr. Boehner, on the other hand, as we scoot to the right, is offering half -- half of what the president's number is on those taxes and not in what you'd say increases, more like closing of loopholes. He also wants much deeper cuts in entitlements and beyond.

So, we're watching both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue this hour. We've got Dan Lothian who is standing pat at the White House to figure out just exactly what the movements are every day there. Dana Bash watching everything on Capitol Hill.

Dan, let me start with you since we were just hearing from the president and we were so unceremoniously cut off by a nasty satellite.

Let me talk about these business people and what exactly they can bring to the table because it seems as though he's soliciting them for advice.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He is, but at the same time, I mean, you brought up a good point, that the president really has been doing a lot of the pressure as opposed to sitting down face- to-face with lawmakers up on the Hill. He's using outside groups to put pressure on lawmakers.

So, he's had middle-class Americans here at the White House. He's had small business-owners and big-time CEOs at the White House and now he's reaching out to the Business Roundtable, many movers and shakers in the business community to make the case as a White House official that if -- without this fiscal cliff situation being resolved, it doesn't give the certainty that not only businesses need to start making investments, to hiring more people, but also middle-class Americans can't get that comfort that they need to know that their taxes won't go up at the end of the year.

And, so. that's sort of the message that the president is bringing to these business leaders today, but in addition to that, trying to put pressure on them to support his approach, which is those upper-income Americans need to pay more, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: OK, so, here is another really critical movement and I don't know how critical it is being seen, but to me is sounded like some movement.

The president in that Bloomberg interview, which was the first interview since the election, it seemed as though he was perhaps he was prepared perhaps to make an overture on this insistence of taxing the top 2 percent income-earners across the board. And that budge seemed to come in the way of permanence.

Did I hear wrong or read wrong? Is he maybe willing to consider this kind of a demand a temporary demand?

LOTHIAN: Yes, I mean, it does seem like there's a little bit of wiggle room there from the president and he was asked -- his White House spokesman, Jay Carney. was asked about this and he didn't really want to get nailed down. The answer that you get from Jay Carney is he doesn't want to negotiate these kinds of things in public.

But it does appear that the president created a little bit of wiggle room. The big issue, though, is what's really going on behind the scenes. I mean, are they negotiating? Are there some phone calls or e-mails going back and forth, something that's happening behind the scenes that we're not seeing behind the cameras?

And I just heard from a GOP aide who told me that nothing has changed from yesterday. There's still no phone calls, no e-mails, no communication ongoing behind the scenes, even though the White House says that the conversations continue.

It's very difficult to see how this ball will get moved down the field if they're not talking.

BANFIELD: OK. And can I just maybe illustrate more about that comment you just made? Was the quote actually, "No conversations today, no e-mail tweets or carrier pigeons?"

LOTHIAN: That's right. I know. It's very interesting because I think that's the disturbing part of f this, that a lot of time there's a lot of posturing that takes place in front of the cameras. We've seen this happen over the last three years.

But when that is happening in front of the cameras, you always hear behind the scenes there's a lot of back and forth and negotiations are ongoing and we're hearing that nothing at this point.

So, I think that's a little disturbing. The next few hours will be critical.

BANFIELD: Dan Lothian for us live at the White House. Thank you, sir.

I want to go to Dana Bash who is standing by at Capitol Hill. So, the speaker, obviously, has the same problems that I would assume the president has. They each have those in their party who are at the opposite ends of the spectrum, some who are very much dug in, others who would like to give a little and actually get a deal perhaps.

Is the speaker facing that two-front war and is he figuring out ways to perhaps not face two fronts in his own party?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The speaker always faces a two-front war. It's part of the fascinating dynamic and difficult dynamic for any leader, but particularly this particular speaker in this particular conference which was elected to be a fiscally conservative and to try to reduce the deficit. So, yes, it's very difficult.

However, he just spoke to his conference this morning. Myself and other members of our team were standing outside and talked to dozens of members and it does seem as though, internally, he didn't get an earful.

Certainly, we're hearing from conservatives outside that they are very upset that the counteroffer that the Republican leadership put forward includes $800 billion in new tax revenue, but behind the scenes, he really has been able to hold his conference together and they are staying unified behind him in going forward with the process and he was asked -- the speaker was asked why that is.

Here's what he said.


REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: Our members understand the seriousness of the situation that our country faces -- trillion dollar deficits for as far as the eye can see; $16 trillion worth of debt already on the books; every man, woman, and child owing the federal government over $50,000 and that number is increasing every single year.

And I think as a result our members understand that we've got to solve the problem and we will.


BASH: So, Ashleigh, the bottom line is it really seems obvious, especially after talking to members coming out of that meeting, that the speaker and other members of the leadership have been able to, at least so far, successfully turn the rank-and-file's ire against the president and not him.

In fact, we got some remarks that he gave privately from our Deirdre Walsh. She obtained them and he said to his conference, "The American people re-elected him, meaning the president, and they re-elected us. That's not a mandate to raise taxes. It's a mandate to work together."

BANFIELD: Mandate to work together which means they may not go on their break which is expected in about 10 days.

I think you heard the speaker tell you, as well, that he's going to stick around, right? He's going to -- just quickly, Dana, he's going to stay regardless of whether they go on break, right?

BASH: Right. And the question was really about the fact that the House of Representatives is going to finish their work this week in, I don't know, maybe about 45 minutes and it's only Wednesday.


BASH: They're going to go home. They're not going to be in session Thursday. They're not going to be in session Friday.

So, what I asked the speaker is whether or not those are really good optics for the House just to kind of leave town while the fiscal cliff is so close in front of us and that was the answer, that he will be in town.

He will be ready, willing and able to talk to the president at any time. So that was really the issue.

The House Republican leadership, I tell you, they say that they simply don't have any legislation to put on the floor right now. That's why they're sending members home and they hope that they can try to play the outside game that the president's playing by talking to their constituents, getting some support back home for the message that Republicans admit that they have really not done a great job on.

The Democrats are winning the message war, why is why hold the wealthiest Americans -- middle-class Americans hostage for wealthiest Americans' taxes.

BANFIELD: Well, happy holidays to them. All right, Dana Bash, thank you.

And we do expect to hear soon from some Senate Democrats as well. They are scheduled to hold a live news conference. You'll hear it right here, first.


BANFIELD: By now, you probably know that the West Coast has been really taking it on the chin with the storms, absolutely saturated from a full week of heavy rain, not just rain, a real deluge.

They may be catching a little bit of a break today, but they shouldn't get too excited. Folks, I'm sorry to tell you, it's not going to last long. By Saturday, you're going to get another round of storms. That would be round five by Chad Myers count. Landslides now becoming a serious problem.

Chad Myers now joining me live in Atlanta and the reason we're talking land slides as well is because fires past are causing problems present.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You bet. One-point-six million acres in Idaho burned, mostly in the hills. One-point-two million acres burned around Washington and Oregon. Eight-hundred-thousand acres burned in California, this year alone.

When the trees and brush burn off, there's no roots, the roots die and all of the sudden there's nothing holding the dirt back from becoming mud when we get rain like we've had and mudslides. 2012/13 winter may be known as the "Year of the Mudslide." We'll have to see. There's a lot of danger out there. If you have a burn scar above your home, you need to always pay attention when the rain comes in like it has.

Today is a day for a break. Today is a day to maybe to clean some of this stuff up. There was that mudslide, we showed you the picture, don't need to show you again, but there's more rain on the way because we have days, about 16 days, in the forecast here.

One storm slamming into British Columbia, then another coming into Western Washington and Oregon. So far, Southern California is dry. This is not that El Nino-type of big, bad weather for Southern Cal yet, but there's so much moisture and so many storms out here I am very concerned.

Like you were talking about, the mudslides and landslides in the West, big time. When that mud just starts to just ooze, all of a sudden, there is nothing to stop it because the roots are gone.

BANFIELD: Yeah, roots are gone.

Now, what about just the temperatures? I mean, a lot of people are saying, boy, it's been warm this December. Does that play into this, as well?

MYERS: It does play into it because that's how the moisture has been pushed into here with a big ridge in the west and then it'll be dropping down now.

I just want you to know, if you want to do shopping in the nice weather, you need to do it soon because cold air is coming and this is what retailers want. They want some warm, so you go out and shop. Then they want cold so you start thinking about the hats and the boots and the mittens and the coats, so you can buy that for presents, as well.

BANFIELD: That's awful.

MYERS: And for you, maybe a ski suit.

BANFIELD: Yeah, that's one of the silver linings for the ski industry that has really suffered at time, as well, with really bad seasons. So, we'll look for the silver lining anywhere that we can find it.

Chad, thank you. Appreciate that.

I do have another weather story I want to bring to your attention because you've probably heard of a typhoon. I don't know if you're ever heard of a super typhoon.

There are at least 270 people dead right now after one of these super typhoons went ripping across the Philippines. You know, whole buildings were taken down and washed away. Houses gone, just flattened.

Look at it. Just looks like twigs and sticks. Mudslides a problem there, as well. Violent flash flooding and I mean violent. The death toll is not standing where it is either. It's supposed to go up a lot. A lot of people are still missing and there is absolute chaos.

CNN's Liz Neisloss reports.


LIZ NEISLOSS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Typhoon Bopha slammed into the Philippines southernmost province of Mindanao with fierce winds, ripping up trees and destroying houses.

Corrugated iron roofs torn from homes and thrown through the air as one relief official said. like flying machetes. There was also heavy rain and high water.

In Davao region, three times the amount of rain the area would normally receive in the entire month of December in only three hours.

Many of the deaths are being attributed to flash floods and drowning.

A powerful typhoon in December of last year killed more than 1,200 people. Officials say they learned a painful lesson from that storm and it may have saved lives this time around.

LIZA MAZAO, MINDANAO DISASTER MANAGEMENT OFFICIAL: In terms of the intensity, we're expecting the worst because it's a super typhoon, but we're more prepared this time. More prepared and we did preemptive evacuation and early warning this time, unlike last year.

NEISLOSS: The storm had been building over days and Philippines' officials took action, initially evacuating more than 60,000 to shelters and those numbers have since grown.

Families huddled together, not much space though there is food and, for some, needed sleep.

Not all heeded the call to evacuate. This woman's mother died in the storm.

We didn't think the winds would get that strong. The floods were rushing towards us. We didn't imagine it would turn out that way so we didn't come here to evacuate, she says.

NEISLOSS: Over the next few days, relief workers will be searching remote areas for survivors, more death and damage likely to emerge.

Some here are slowly returning to their homes to clear the mud and the water. Others will have to wait in shelters for aid and for rebuilding. Still, fortunate to have survived the super typhoon.

Liz Neisloss, CNN, Mindanao, Philippines.



BANFIELD: So, here's an interesting question. What are you? I know it's a bit weird, but you get questions like this all the time. Are you black? Are you white? Are you Asian? Are you Latino? Or are you that mystery, other category?

A lot of people find this a tricky question. It is not simple and they are forced to deal with it every time they meet somebody new or fill out one of these forms and, so, it leaves them questioning, oftentimes, does this even need to be asked and should I even answer it?

Soledad O'Brien has a great explanation.


NAYO JONES, PHILADELPHIA YOUTH POETRY MOVEMENT: If I had like a word to describe me, it would most likely be quirky.

I'm in a band. We do like progressive-alternative rock kind of.

At first, when people meet me, they don't really know what I am. People will ask me, like, what are you?

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Seventeen-year-old Nayo Jones is a singer, a talented poet, a high school senior, but that's not what people want to know.

JONES: Recently after I had one of those experiences, I just started like writing things. And then I was like, you know, Becca (ph) deals with the same things. Let's just make this a group piece.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is it that you want to do?

JONES: I don't know. Just pick a book and pick a poem.

O'BRIEN: Becca Codeel (ph) is Nayo's best friend. They do spoken- word poetry together.

JONES: It starts off and it's like, girl, you are so pretty. What are you? A quintessential question for a tan-skinned girl with soft, kinky curls and a frizz that doesn't seem to quit because answering, "Human," simply isn't enough for them. They can't handle my racially ambiguous figure.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They itch to know just what I am. It helps them sleep at night if they can just pin down the reason for beige, gold, khaki, burnt potato bread skin.

O'BRIEN: The young women are being asked to categorize themselves racially ...


O'BRIEN: .... in a country that has historically put most people into one of two boxes, black or white. Can you decide if you're black or white?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think anybody else gets to pick for me. When it comes down to it, it's what I say about myself that is the most important.


BANFIELD: So who is black in America? Is being black determined by the color of your skin, by your family, by what society says, or by something entirely different?

CNN's Soledad O'Brien who is the expert on this is going to examine these questions about skin color and discrimination and race and it's in this awesome documentary, "Who Is Black in America?" premiering on Sunday, December 9th, 8:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. Eastern right here, only on CNN.