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THE SITUATION ROOM

Hillary for President?; Fiscal Cliff Stalemate

Aired December 5, 2012 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Plus, is the Syrian strongman, Bashar al-Assad, planning his escape?

And new encouragement for Democrats who want Hillary Clinton to run for president in 2016.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

But we begin this hour with the fiscal cliff. It's only a phone call, but it's the most notable movement we have seen lately in the standoff over that so-called fiscal cliff, those automatic spending cuts and tax hikes that take effect in only 27 days.

Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is standing by, but let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, first.

Jessica, tell us what you're learning.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.

I have learned that, late today, President Obama and Speaker Boehner spoke by phone about the fiscal cliff negotiations, but there is no progress. They still have a standoff on this fundamental question over rates. The president still wants to raise rates on the top 2 percent of Americans. The speaker is not moving on that position. The GOP opposes that and they are not budging.

This comes on the same day that Secretary Geithner made it clear in language they have not used before just how far they're willing to go in the administration to stand by those terms. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Is the administration prepared today go over the fiscal cliff?

TIMOTHY GEITHNER, U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY: Oh, absolutely. Again, there is no prospects for an agreement that doesn't involve those rates going up on the top 2 percent of the wealthiest Americans. Remember, it's only 2 percent. And remember all those Americans too get a tax cut under that framework on the first $250,000 of their income. So, in some sense, it's a tax cut for all Americans.

(END VIDEO CLIP) YELLIN: So, Wolf, it's a step forward in that the two sides are talking, but in essence, where we stand right now, it's still stalemate.

BLITZER: Any indications that their top aides, the vice president, the secretary of the treasury, the White House chief of staff, others are actually talking with top people up on Capitol Hill, they're meeting face to face and they're going through these items line by line?

YELLIN: No, Wolf, my understanding is that the White House is not going to start negotiating the details until they hear either more specifics from Republicans on the rest of their plans or Republicans say that they will negotiate on those rates, that they will agree on the top 2 percent -- on raising rates for the top 2 percent.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: And the president, based on what you're hearing, Jessica, did not hear that in his phone conversation we just learned about with John Boehner?

YELLIN: Yes, that's correct. There has been no change in the Republican position in that phone call.

BLITZER: Jessica Yellin is at the White House. Thank you.

All day long, the president and the speaker, they have been trying to pressure one another to make the next move.

Let's go over to Kate Bolduan. She's got more on this developing story.

What else is going on?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: A lot of public pressure for the other side to make the next move.

Since there has been no actual progress that we know of toward a deal between the White House and the Republicans, members of Congress packed their bags and went home today.

Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is picking up that part of the story for us.

Dana, as always, a lot of moving parts, but a pretty short workweek for members of Congress.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

I will tell you on that phone call that the president and John Boehner had late this afternoon, it was the first time they have spoken in a week, but I'm told John Boehner definitely didn't get what he was looking for all day from the president, and that is a counteroffer.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): Lawmakers streaming out of the Capitol Hill, racing to their cars to get to the airport and go home. It's a scene you usually see on a Thursday afternoon or Friday morning, not Wednesday at noon.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Good morning.

BASH: House Republican leaders told members they're free to leave, because they have nothing to vote on.

(on camera): I understand that you all are saying that there's just no legislation to put on the floor. But when it comes to just pure optics of the House leaving with the fiscal cliff right in front of us...

BOEHNER: I will be here and I will be available at any moment to sit down with the president to get serious about solving this problem.

BASH (voice-over): In fact, sending lawmakers home is a way for House Republicans to illustrate their current message. Your move, Mr. President.

BOEHNER: We need a response from the White House. We can't sit here and negotiate with ourselves.

BASH: House Speaker John Boehner made a point of expressing dismay that the president still hasn't responded two days after the Republicans sent him a fiscal cliff counteroffer.

BOEHNER: If the president doesn't agree with our proposal and our outline, I think he's got an obligation to send one to the Congress and a plan that can pass both chambers of Congress.

BASH: By trying to keep GOP frustration focused on the president, Boehner appears to be keeping conservative lawmakers off his own back for now.

(on camera): What's mood inside the conference?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very united, very supportive with the speaker.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're united.

BASH (voice-over): Multiple sources tell CNN in a private meeting with House Republicans, Boehner got no blowback for proposing $800 billion in tax revenue, despite a very real backlash from conservative groups outside Congress.

(on camera): Any complaints about this new revenue in the counterproposal?

REP. JOHN MICA (R), FLORIDA: I didn't hear anything.

REP. CHARLES BOUSTANY JR. (R), LOUISIANA: The speaker has full support of the conference to move forward and to get something done for the American people.

BASH (voice-over): So far, rank and time Republicans are allowing Boehner to play out this carefully choreographed high-stakes showdown, trying to look reasonable while the president is intransigent, especially since Republicans privately admit they have been losing the message war to the White House on protecting the wealthy.

BOEHNER: The revenues we're putting on the table are going to come from, guess who, the rich. There are ways to limit deductions, close loopholes and have the same people pay more of their money to the federal government without raising tax rates, which we believe will harm our economy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: But, Wolf, a prominent Senate Republican, a conservative, is breaking ranks today, telling MSNBC -- this is Tom Coburn of Oklahoma telling MSNBC that he actually believes at this point maybe it's a good thing to give in to the president on the idea of raising tax rates for the wealthy, as long as it's coupled with spending cuts and with entitlement reform.

The reason, we're told, is because he thinks that's probably the best way for Republicans to get what they ultimately want, which is a major overhaul of the tax system. That is something that Tom Coburn, he might be a little bit of outlier, because he was one of the first people to say it's OK to raise revenue.

However, I just spent some time talking to Senate Republicans down in the Capitol. Most said they don't agree with him. But I did find one, Susan Collins, who said check with my office. And I did, Wolf. And it turns out that she just told a local reporter back in Maine, this is Republican Susan Collins of Maine, that she actually thinks that the idea of just passing tax cut extensions for the middle class, letting those for the wealthy expire, might be the way to go at this point.

But she says that there should be a carve-out for small businesses to make sure they don't get hit. Her colleague from Maine, Olympia Snowe, told me she would be OK with something similar. So we might be seeing some movement here. It's baby steps, to say the least, but certainly some movement among Senate Republicans.

BLITZER: Senate Republicans obviously very different, as we all know, from House Republicans. The key problem as far as the debate with the White House is concerned, as you know, Dana, is House Republicans. I don't think the Senate Republicans will be a big problem.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Here is what the president said today though on the sensitive issue of making sure this debate doesn't come back in February or March over raising the debt ceiling. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If Congress in any way suggests that they're going to tie negotiations to debt ceiling votes, and take us to the brink of default once again as part of a budget negotiation, which, by the way, we have never done in our history, until we did it last year, I will not play that game, because we have got to break that habit before it starts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Dana, what's the reaction on the Hill? Because a lot of Republicans want to play that game. They want to hold the leverage, if you will, on raising the debt ceiling. They don't want to give that card.

BASH: You're exactly right.

The bottom line is when Timothy Geithner brought this proposal to the Hill last week, and we reported that Republican leaders laughed, the main reason we're told they laughed was because of the fact that the president inserted in here the idea of him having so much more power with regard to deciding to raise the debt ceiling, almost absolute power in a practical sense.

That is definitely not sitting well with Republicans because they believe that's actually a fight where they can win. Here, they understand that the president has the leverage. It's very hard for them to argue against raising taxes for the wealthy. When it comes to the debt ceiling fight, Republicans feel like they have more of a leverage because it's hard for Democrats to argue against cutting spending. So that's why Republicans really don't want to give that up to the president right now.

BLITZER: Yes. They will obviously have to play that game even though the president says he's not going to play that game. We will see what happens. Thanks very much for that, Dana.

The crisis in Egypt right now reaching a brand-new dangerous level, as the protests threatening the president, Mohammed Morsi, they grow bigger and now they're deadly.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Egyptian officials are pleading for calm on this, the most violent and chaotic night yet in a new wave of unrest.

In recent hours, we have seen deadly clashes in the streets, defections from President Mohammed Morsi's inner circle, and an attack by masked men on his party's headquarters. It is looking more and more like the coming winter could be a new Arab spring or disaster unfolding on the streets of Cairo.

CNN's Reza Sayah is joining us now live from Cairo.

Reza, you were down near the presidential palace when things turned particularly violent today. What was it like? REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Just a nasty, nasty night, Wolf.

I think a lot of people were anxious to see if this conflict would cool down. If tonight is any indication, it's not. In fact, it looks like it's heating up. A few hours ago, a spokesperson for the Muslim Brotherhood issued a statement calling on everyone to go home, to withdraw from the presidential palace in an effort to establish peace and calm.

Some people have gone home. Others have not. It's a little after 1:00 a.m., Cairo time. We're still seeing clashes in the side streets in what has been an incredibly intense standoff between supporters of the president and opponents of the president. They have gathered in front of the presidential palace, starting earlier this afternoon.

At one point, there was literally a stare-down on the road in front of the palace. On one side, you had supporters of Mr. Morsi, on the other side, the opponents. And you just knew that all it took was an instigator, someone to throw a rock, debris, and for things to get violent, and that's exactly what happened, at one point, debris flying all over the place, rocks, Molotov cocktails.

In came the police. They managed to calmed some locations, but there were simply too many people to control, more than 200 people injured in these clashes. We have conflicting reports of two people killed. The health minister telling us two people have died, state media saying there were no fatalities, but again more than 200 people injured, scores of people arrested.

Both sides appeared defiant, and when you talked to them, you looked at them, you could tell there was deep-seated mistrust and anger on both sides. And you just wonder where things are headed here in Egypt -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The president, Reza, President Morsi, he is feeling the backlash in his inner circle. Some of his advisers now have actually resigned. This is a big deal.

SAYAH: It is.

Three advisers resigned today, but most of his inner circle is intact, and he still has a lot of support. The vice president came out today. The president's spokesperson came out today, and they gave no indication that they will back down from their position that on December 15 they will have a nationwide referendum on this constitution.

The spokesperson said maybe after this constitution is voted on, they may amend some of these articles, but no indication that they're not going to have that vote. In the meantime, these opposition factions not backing down either. They either want president gone, or they want him to annul the constitution and start all over again.

BLITZER: Reza Sayah reporting for us from Cairo, a tense situation unfolding. The United States certainly has a vested interest in what's happening in Egypt. We're hearing so far a measured response from the Obama administration.

BOLDUAN: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the unrest shows the need for urgent talks between President Morsi and his opponents.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We have been watching very closely this process as it is unfolding in Cairo with concern.

We have expressed that repeatedly over the last weeks, because almost two years ago, the Egyptian people took to the streets because they wanted real democratic change. And they, therefore, not the Americans, not anyone else, but the Egyptian people deserve a constitution that protects the rights of all Egyptians.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Future U.S. aid to Egypt could depend on how the situation in Egypt plays out and whether President Morsi chooses democracy or dictatorship.

BLITZER: I asked President Morsi's top foreign affairs adviser, Essam Al Haddad, about that and more, especially his talks with top U.S. officials.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: You met with Tom Donilon, the president's national security adviser. You met with high officials at the State Department.

The U.S. still provides Egypt with a lot of economic and military assistance, about $1.3 billion a year in military aid, hundreds of millions of dollars in economic aid. Did they race that issue with you? Because there is some concern, as you know, in Congress that if President Morsi continues to move in this direction, that U.S. assistance to Egypt could be in trouble.

ESSAM AL HADDAD, FOREIGN AFFAIRS ADVISER TO EGYPTIAN PRESIDENT: Well, I think U.S. assistance to Egypt is important for the United States more than it is important for Egypt as well.

It's mutual interest and mutual benefit. And the relationship between Egypt and the United States is depending on the relationship between two states, two peoples, and two common objectives in certain parts of the world. So, we have to build this relationship on mutual understand and mutual benefit.

BLITZER: Why is it more important to the United States than to Egypt? Because Egypt is the beneficiary of all of this money.

AL HADDAD: Thank you. It's a good question.

Because stability in this region, peace in this region, prosperity of this region will really save a lot of money for the United States.

BLITZER: So you're afraid if the U.S. were to suspend that economic and military assistance, what would happen?

AL HADDAD: Well, it's not an issue of afraid or not. It's the issue of building a relationship on mutual interests and mutual benefits.

And this is important for both countries, because we can build together a better future and a better world. Egypt has a pivotal role in the region with its role with the Arab world, with its role with the Islamic world, with its role with Africa, with its being across the roads of all countries.

So it is important that Egypt will be stable and will be prosperous, and will be peaceful, and will be democratic as well.

BLITZER: Very important.

AL HADDAD: And we will be working and we are working very hard and this president are working very hard for this objective.

BLITZER: Will Egypt continue to honor its peace treaty with Israel?

AL HADDAD: We have stated this several times before, and we have implemented it. And we have worked to maintain the cease-fire in Gaza only two weeks ago.

BLITZER: Are you meeting with Israeli officials?

AL HADDAD: The Israeli channel with the appropriate counterpart in the Egyptian administration is going on.

BLITZER: And so what about you personally? Do you meet with Israelis?

AL HADDAD: No, I did not meet with Israelis.

BLITZER: Will you meet with Israelis? Is that OK with you?

AL HADDAD: Well, this is something we cannot decide now. It is something that we will decide when there is a necessity for that.

BLITZER: Because the Egyptian ambassador in Tel Aviv was recalled. Has he been sent back yet?

AL HADDAD: No, not yet, because there are still several steps that have be taken until we reverse this decision back.

BLITZER: Is that agreement, the cease-fire agreement that you helped negotiate between Israel and Hamas, is that working? AL HADDAD: It is working with some sort of skirmishes here and there, but we hope that we will be able to build the lasting one.

BLITZER: Will Egypt take steps in Sinai to prevent Iranian weapons being smuggled into Gaza?

AL HADDAD: I'm not accepting this as a fact, because we know there are smuggling, but there are smuggling from certain other areas as well.

BLITZER: But they come into Gaza from Sinai, right?

AL HADDAD: Sinai is an Egyptian issue. And Sinai is sovereignty of Egypt. And we do whatever we can in order to protect Sinai and to develop Sinai to make Sinai a safer place for Egypt. This is our responsibility.

BLITZER: Do you still want those American and other multinational troops who are in Sinai to remain in Sinai?

AL HADDAD: They're doing a job which is important, actually, and we have no objection to this job for the time being.

BLITZER: Do you want more American troops to help you in Sinai?

AL HADDAD: We don't want any troops to be there in Egypt. We want any Egyptians to be able to do whatever is needed for the sake and Egypt and for the prosperity of Egypt.

BLITZER: But there are about 700 troops in Sinai. They have been there for decades.

AL HADDAD: They're doing a job there for the United Nations, for a force which is doing a job for the peace treaty.

BLITZER: And you want them to stay there?

AL HADDAD: They're doing this job and they're carrying it on. It's part of the treaty.

BLITZER: The bottom line right now, and I want get back to this whole issue of Sharia law -- the bottom line on Sharia law in Egypt is?

AL HADDAD: Sharia law is something any Muslim would accept. The difference will be how to implement. And Sharia law is identifying the basic values which has created the 25th revolution from our perspective. Different perspectives have different answers, but all agree on dignity, freedom, and justice as basic values.

BLITZER: Will women have the same rights if this is enacted as they do now?

AL HADDAD: They do have the same rights.

BLITZER: They will have the same rights down the road? AL HADDAD: And I will say they will have even greater rights, even greater than some parts in the Western world, where women are paid less than men.

If a woman is doing the same job as a man, she has to be paid equally. Equal rights is stated very clearly in the constitution. And women's rights are stated very specifically in the constitution.

BLITZER: Dr. Al Haddad, we're all counting on you. We're counting on the new leadership in Egypt to do this, because you're absolutely right. The entire region is at stake right now. And Egypt's leadership, if it moves in the wrong direction, that could be a disaster for that entire part of North Africa and the Middle East.

AL HADDAD: Let's hope that we will carry on with the democratic transition, and we're determined to build a new Egypt which we hope will be a model for this part of the world.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BOLDUAN: Still ahead, security being is stepped up around Britain's duchess of Cambridge after an incident at the hospital.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: To hear the Treasury secretary tell it, President Obama is prepared to let the country go over the fiscal cliff, if necessary.

We're going to talk about Tim Geithner's latest remarks, what it means.

That's ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Finally, President Obama and house speaker John Boehner, they broke their silence today. They actually spoke on the phone.

BOLDUAN: Not much came of it, though, but we're also told they aren't any closer to a compromise to avoid the fiscal cliff. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner says the administration is ready to go off the cliff if it comes to that.

So let's talk about more about the fiscal cliff and the politics involved with CNN political contributor and Democratic strategist Paul Begala, as well as Doug Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum.

Hello, gentleman.

Paul, first you. So we have the treasury secretary saying today that they're absolutely prepared to go over the cliff if it comes to that, if the Republicans don't give on raising tax rates on the wealthiest Americans. Isn't that a pretty politically risky game to be playing here? Is this a negotiating tactic?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. Frankly, I think it's real. I know it's real. The president campaigned. The sticking point is the race. The president campaigned saying upper income Americans should pay the same rate we paid under President Clinton when -- which, of course, was straight-up communism. America was a Marxist paradise under Clinton. There was no free enterprise.

But the president says he's going to veto it, and he means it. And I'm quite sure he does. I've not talked to the president, but I've talked to people he's talked to directly about this, on the Hill. And he has said to them, "I'm not going to budge, period," and the Republicans will, you watch. They will. It may be after we go off the cliff. I hope not. I think it would be terrible.

BOLDUAN: Doesn't it come back to bite the president?

BEGALA: It may well. I think not if you look at the polling today, but these things are dynamic. He's going to do it. And so the Republicans are going to have to move on it.

By the way, it's a position he's asking Republicans to take that the country voted for and the country supports. He's not asking them to do something unpopular. He's asking them to do something that the country wants.

BLITZER: Newt Gingrich says that the country may be better off going over the fiscal cliff, rather than accepting what the president wants.

DOUG HOLTZ-EAKIN, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN ACTION FORUM: I think going over the fiscal cliff is an unmitigated disaster. I mean, this is a recipe for a sharp recession. We're going to see markets plummet. We're going to see confidence plummet. We saw that, in the debt ceiling debate. Taxes would go up. Spending would get cut. It is a very perverse thing for a president to want to start both of his terms in a deep recession. So I can't believe...

BLITZER: How do you avoid it, knowing where the president stands?

HOLTZ-EAKIN: I think what the president has said is "I want a balanced plan," and Republicans have said, yes, "If you show us a balanced plan, we can -- we can compromise and make a deal and put out plans to do that." And we haven't seen it from the president.

So I would encourage him to get serious on the spending side. We know where he is on taxes -- not a mystery -- but no one has any idea where he is on fixing the entitlements, where he is on getting the plane into balance and, thus, having a concrete plan over which people can actually negotiate.

BLITZER: I'll get in, but if he does that, will the Republicans allow the upper income, those families making more than $250,000 a year, to go up from 35 to 39.6 percent marginal tax rate? HOLTZ-EAKIN: You can't really answer that until you see what's on the other side. I mean, this has always been fundamentally we need entitlement reforms. We need tax reforms. We know that. But you can't talk about one in the isolation from the other. And that's what we need to do.

BOLDUAN: Did anyone agree to that, though? I mean, they stake their entire majority, really, on not raising taxes. And they're digging in.

HOLTZ-EAKIN: They have already put out plans which raise taxes on rich people. Speaker Boehner was very clear about saying that. And so now the question is, is that enough to satisfy the president? And you can't ask Republicans will you vote for this in the abstract...

BLITZER: The Republicans, they moved $800 billion in -- in additional tax revenue by capping loopholes, for example, or capping reductions.

BEGALA: The number is, first off, it's way too little. The Simpson Bowles commission I think had 2.8 trillion in taxes. And the speaker's proposing 800 billion. So he's way, way below where Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles and other people who look at this are.

But it's not even just the 800. You can't -- many people think you probably can't get that from capping deductions unless you really start eating into the middle class or you really start hammering churches, and charities, and universities. And you know, I think most Americans certainly aren't going to stand for that.

But Republicans have to raise rates on the wealthiest 2 percent. Then we can get past the fiscal cliff and have a yearlong discussion on tax reform, which we need, and spending cuts, which we need, but we can do all that, but we've got to get past the cliff. And the way to get past the cliff is to get the Republicans to say, "We'll raise the rates on the very rich."

HOLTZ-EAKIN: If you want to get past the cliff, what you should do as a matter of just practical economics is avoid any tax increases. We've already got tax increases from the Affordable Care Act that are going to happen no matter what. Avoid sharp spending cuts, and then have a discussion in the spring. It's only been a political agenda that brought the "raise higher taxes" into the wind-up. That was always something we could have done in the spring, and the question is whether the president's political agenda will trump economic common sense and cause a recession. That's it.

BOLDUAN: Just real quick, I want to ask you about the politics of it, though. When you take a step back, exit polls from the -- from the November election show that 47 percent of Americans supported raising taxes on wealthier Americans.

A new poll out just yesterday, "Washington Post"/Pew Research Center poll, showed that 53 percent of Americans would blame Republicans in Congress, not the president, if we went over the fiscal cliff. Republicans have got a problem there in terms of messaging and a PR problem.

HOLTZ-EAKIN: They're perfectly cognizant of the polls. They understand the situation. Again, you've heard the speaker say today, "We are prepared to get more revenue from the rich." They made a tremendous move in the compromise proposal they put out; got no response from the White House, and essentially today, a courtesy call.

You know, they understand that the American people have asked for this, but they also know the American people have asked for some leadership. The president was elected to lead. He's not doing it. They've asked for compromise. They want Washington to function. The president is uncompromising in his position. So there's a lot more left to be done on the other side, as well.

BLITZER: Twenty-three days...

BOLDUAN: They love a deadline.

BLITZER: They may get ready to give up their Christmas vacation. Just work, work, work between now and December 31.

But as you know, the stakes for so many Americans, all Americans, are enormous. Right now, they've got to get this done, one way or another.

BOLDUAN: They'll be right up to the end.

BLITZER: As it usually is. Thank you both.

BEGALA: We'll have New Year's Eve here in THE SITUATION ROOM?

BLITZER: You know what? You bet.

BOLDUAN: I'll bring the champagne.

BLITZER: We have some eye-opening new poll numbers coming into THE SITUATION ROOM about -- guess what? -- Hillary Clinton's presidential chances in 2016 if -- if -- she decides to run.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: As of today, we're 1,433 days away from the next presidential election.

BOLDUAN: For poll -- for pollsters and politicians, and clearly THE SITUATION ROOM, that isn't too soon to be thinking and looking ahead. CNN national political correspondent Jim Acosta is here with some of the new numbers that are getting a lot of attention.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And we're counting down those days. That's not that many days.

BOLDUAN: Mark that calendar.

ACOSTA: That's right. And another sign that Potomac theater has no cure, Washington is already buzzing with talk of 2016, just as voters are trying to put the last election behind them. And while some potential candidates are doing little to hide their intentions, one big political star is playing hide and seek.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): It could be hers for the taking. At least that's what a new ABC News/"Washington Post" poll finds: a healthy 57 percent of Americans would support a Hillary Clinton candidacy in 2016. And while men are somewhat lukewarm about the prospect, women are fired up, with 66 percent saying, "Run, Hillary, run." Despite her many denials that she's "in it to win it"...

HILLARY CLINTON, OUTGOING SECRETARY OF STATE: Look, I'm flattered. I am honored. That is not in the future for me.

ACOSTA: ... supporters are still showering the secretary of state with praise, as he found last weekend at a conference on U.S.- Israeli issues.

CLINTON: Hi, everybody, welcome to the State Department.

ACOSTA: That included this tribute video.

CLINTON: I prepared some remarks for tonight, but then I thought maybe we could just watch that video a few more times...

ACOSTA: Until Clinton decides her future, it's widely believed she freezes a potential Democratic field that could include Vice President Joe Biden. Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen has her own prediction.

HILARY ROSEN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think she's going to run for president. But we are wasting our time speculating about it, in the sense that she marches to her own drummer. She's not going to be rushed.

ACOSTA (on camera): Have you talked to her at all about this, or she's talked about this with political advisors about this?

ROSEN: Well, I have talked to her about it, and I've been shut down.

ACOSTA (voice-over): But Clinton would have company.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), FORMER VICE-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know any good diners in New Hampshire or Iowa?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: I will not stand by and watch the people of South Carolina ignored.

ACOSTA: All kidding aside, former GOP vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan and Florida Senator Marco Rubio already appear to be hitting on themes that seem to distance themselves from Mitt Romney's toxic comments on people who receive government assistance.

RYAN: Both parties tend to divide Americans into "our voters" and "their voters." Let's be really clear: Republicans must steer far clear of that trap.

RUBIO: I'm still convinced that the overwhelming majority of our people, they just want what my parents had -- a chance.

ACOSTA: Republican strategists say their candidacies could help set the GOP reset button and give Hillary Clinton a serious challenge.

(on camera) Does she scare Republicans?

ANA NAVARRO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST/CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I think she energizes Republicans. What we're seeing right now are some very positive numbers for Hillary Clinton now. Let's remember, she's been out of the political fray for four years. When she becomes a politician again, if she goes into the political fray, into that ring, the gloves are off, and the bell is ringing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Unlike her last grueling run in 2008, which went all the way through the Democratic primary and caucus process, Hillary Clinton would likely see her party rally around her in 2016, giving her that easy ride to the nomination that many people here in Washington thought she would have four years ago, but obviously, there was a senator named Barack Obama who had other ideas.

BLITZER: You have the memento.

ACOSTA: That's right. This...

BLITZER: Is that the tag line she has over there.

ACOSTA: It says, "Ready for change, ready to lead."

Remember that? Remember "Ready on day one"?

BOLDUAN: Yes.

ACOSTA: This is a media credential press pass that we have from the Hillary Clinton campaign. Obviously, a lot of political reporters still have these lying around. We can just strap them back on for the next go around.

BLITZER: Yes, you're ready to go. Get ready, I think she's going to win.

BOLDUAN: Jim needs a break before then. Jim Acosta.

ACOSTA: Small one.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

Still ahead, Syrian strong man Bashar al-Assad may be looking for a way out. Will another country grant him asylum? We'll tell you what we learned, ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: The secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, is warning today that Syria's Bashar al Assad may be getting more desperate, and that conventional attacks by his regime may give way to chemical attacks.

The U.S., meanwhile, is taking a new step to try to boost Syrian rebels opposing the Bashar al-Assad regime by isolating extremist groups in the country. The State Department is now planning to designate one radical Islamic group, the Al-Misra (ph) Front, as a foreign terrorist organization.

BOLDUAN: And, Wolf, as Bashar al-Assad grows more desperate, might he flee to another country? There's definitely a question out there, and there's quite a lot of speculation about that right now. Our Brian Todd has been looking into that.

So Brian, what are you finding out?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, Wolf, there's little doubt that Bashar al-Assad's regime is in trouble now. He is losing ground on the battlefield. He's isolated, has few friends left in the world. We've now gotten reports that Assad may be casting a net among those friends for a way out.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): His army is on the ropes, fighting for its life around Damascus and Aleppo. He may be in the process of making chemical weapons. Right now, everything about Syrian President Bashar al-Assad smacks of desperation. Now the U.S. State Department is looking into reports that he's looking into the possibility of seeking asylum for himself, his family and their inner circle in Latin America.

MARK TONER, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: We do understand that some countries, both in the region and elsewhere, have offered to host Assad and his family, should he choose to leave Syria.

TODD: Syria's deputy foreign minister was recently in Venezuela, delivering a message from Bashar al-Assad.

(on camera) The minister was also, according to Israel's newspaper "Haratz," in Cuba and in Ecuador, bringing classified letters from Assad to leaders there.

We could not get response from Syrian representatives in the U.S. or from officials of any of those Latin American governments.

(voice-over) Multiple sources in the U.S., Europe and the Arab world tell CNN there's no indication Assad is ready to leave Syria.

(on camera) Is he the kind of person that would take asylum? Or will he go down fighting, do you think?

ANDREW TABLER, WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY: I think that there's a real chance that he'll huddle along with his sect. The question is whether his sect will want him to huddle with them or not. He's been a failure as a president. He's a very erratic personality.

TODD: Analyst Andrew Tabler has met Bashar al-Assad several times, has worked with Assad's wife, Asma. The sect he's talking about are the Alawites, an offshoot of Shia Islam, a small minority in Syria that Assad's family is part of, which dominates Syrian politics.

If Assad does leave, could he be investigated, eventually captured on war crimes charges?

SCOTT NORTON, INTERNATIONAL LAW ATTORNEY: Ecuador, Venezuela, Cuba, are countries where he could feel safe for the time being, but he has to be concerned about a shift in the winds in any of those governments, as well. And certainly, no one expects the regimes in those three states to continue indefinitely.

TODD: Right now, those nations' leaders are more sympathetic to Assad. But there's another ally even closer.

(on camera) Couldn't he just go to Iran? Isn't that a more feasible location for him.

TABLER: It's easier for him to go to Iran. It's a shorter flight, but in the end, the Islamist Republic is the place where President Assad and his family are going to be safe.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Tabler says if Assad goes anywhere but Iran, there's a better chance of an assassin getting to him and exacting revenge for everything the Assad family has carried out in Syria. Not just over the past two years of this uprising, but over the past 40 years covering the rule of his father. Kate and Wolf, we all remember the rule of Hafez al-Assad, who was very brutal.

BOLDUAN: And what about Assad's wife and his children? Any indication that he has sent them away or that he wants to or would?

TODD: That's the big question right now. It's not really clear. Even Andrew Tabler, who knows the Assad family, says he's not sure if she's going to, as they say, go down to the bunker with him, with their three children or if she'll be moved out. And it's worth noting she has dual Syrian and British citizenship. She could easily move into and out of London and live there, at least temporarily. That's a possibility.

BLITZER: Remember that fashion spread in "Vogue" magazine. She was featured at that time in "Vogue" magazine.

TODD: Yes. Right. Didn't do well.

BLITZER: Just before this civil war in Syria started. Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Brian, thank you. BLITZER: We keep hearing about Republicans, in effect, jumping ship, saying it's time to go along with President Obama in raising tax rates on the rich to avoid the fiscal cliff. Erin Burnett's been looking into that. She's going in depth on that later tonight.

What have you found out, Erin?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, you know, it seems more and more likely that we're going to end up in a situation where we get a pretty awful deal if we get a deal. There's not going to be some sort of a grand bargain, which of course, is a big failure for all of us. But are there going to be Republicans who are willing to make some serious compromises and go against their party?

Tom McClintock's going to be our guest. Republican, member of the Tea Party, member of the budget committee. We're going put the hard questions to him tonight.

Plus, Wolf, you remember Amy Copeland, the young woman who went on the bungee jump and she got the stitches and had to go back to the hospital and ended up with a 1 percent chance of survival because of the flesh-eating bacteria?

BLITZER: What happened?

BURNETT: Well, she -- she survived, and she is our special guest tonight. She was honored with a woman of the year award, and her -- her story is pretty incredible. She talks about what she still struggles to do, whether there are still dark moments in the middle of the night where she feels life isn't fair. And she is just truly an inspirational and incredible woman. And that is going to be also coming up this hour.

BLITZER: I'll look forward to that. I look forward to the whole show at the top of the hour. Erin, thanks very much.

BOLDUAN: Still ahead, robbing a bank is bad enough, but what the suspect did next gives new meaning to the phrase self-incrimination.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: Some beautiful new pictures of the Earth at night. NASA unveiled these images today. The lights indicate the most populated parts of the world. They're just really beautiful. Just like at that one, Wolf. It's really beautiful.

BLITZER: I love these nighttime pictures of earth.

BOLDUAN: NASA provides some pretty cool stuff.

BLITZER: A lot more lights on the East Coast than the West Coast right now.

BOLDUAN: It's densely populated and darker there.

BLITZER: Is that what? BOLDUAN: I don't know. I'm making this up.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Meanwhile, authorities in Nebraska didn't have much trouble tracking down an alleged bank robber and, thanks to the suspect, prosecutors shouldn't have a hard time making their case.

Jeanne Moos shows us why.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Note to accused bank robbers. Doesn't help your case to post yourself on YouTube waving around cash and holding a sign saying, "I robbed a bank" while the band Green Day blares appropriate lyrics.

And you might want to reconsider titling your video "Chick Bank Robber."

Nineteen-year-old Hannah Sabata was arrested one day after the Cornerstone Bank in Waco, Nebraska was robbed. According to Sheriff Dale Radcliffe, who had to keep a grip on her as Sabata jerked away...

SHERIFF DALE RADCLIFFE, WACO, NEBRASKA: No gun was ever shown inside the bank. She just said that she had a gun with her. The note said she had a gun.

MOOS: The suspect seems to like writing notes. Like the one that said, "Then I stole a car." And indeed, a stolen car was used in the bank heist.

(on camera) We're not exactly sure why, but all of the signs in the video are backwards. Not to worry, she helpfully supplied subtitles.

(voice-over) So why you need a mirror to read "Then I robbed a bank," there is the subtitle in case you don't happen to have a mirror handy.

And she wrote not only that she stole a Pontiac, but that it was a shiny one.

She dangled the keys as Green Day played on.

(GREEN DAY: "Down with the moral majority")

MOOS: She displayed the green, even supplying an exact count, $6,256, money the sheriff says was recovered from her home, along with the sunglasses and backpack police say she wore on the bank's surveillance photo.

Her defense attorney wouldn't comment. Sabata wrote, "I told my mom today was the best day of my life. She just thinks I met a new boy." Instead, she met these boys.

HANNAH SABATA, ARRESTED FOR BANK ROBBERY: They didn't read me my Miranda rights.

MOOS: What led to Sabata's arrest wasn't the YouTube video but rather tips from people like her ex-husband, who recognized her in the bank photo.

In her video, Sabata brandishes a pipe she says is full of weed and complains that "the government stole my baby," and she makes a cradling gesture. Records confirm she did lose custody of a child.

The sheriff says she wore the same outfit in the bank, at her arrest, and in her YouTube video, and YouTube is now evidence that could send her down the tubes.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BOLDUAN: I mean...

BLITZER: A lot of stupid convicts out there, a lot of stupid bank robbers. That you know -- what was she thinking?

BOLDUAN: Clearly not thinking enough.

BLITZER: Yes. Don't do that. Don't rob banks.

BOLDUAN: There you go.

BLITZER: Bad. Very bad.

BOLDUAN: You can take that to the bank.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for watching and follow us on Twitter, @WolfBlitzer, @KateBolduan.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.