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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Man Pushed in Front of New York City Subway Train; Fiscal Cliff Negotiations Continue; Interview with Stephanie Cutter; Newark Mayor Cory Booker Attempts to Live on Food Stamps

Aired December 5, 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, no plan in sight. Republicans lashing out at Speaker Boehner over his deficit reduction plan as President Obama stiffens his resolve over raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans. Are lawmakers really going to let us go over the cliff?

And a gruesome photo sparking outrage. Should "The New York Post" have put up this picture of a man just moments before he was crushed to death by a subway train? It was on the cover. This morning, we're hearing from the photographer who snapped that picture.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: U.S. oil production near a 15-year high. And you're hearing this new buzzword. Is the U.S. becoming the new Saudi America?

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START": And new details in the murder/suicide involving Kansas City chiefs player, Jovan Belcher. What the 911 tapes reveal about the final moments of his slain girlfriend?

O'BRIEN: A lot to talk about this morning over our next two hours. We're going to be talking with Stephanie Cutter. She's the former deputy campaign manager of President Obama's re-election campaign. Howard Kurtz is the host of CNN'S "RELIABLE SOURCES". Lauren Ashburn from the "Daily Beast." They'll be talking with us as well.

Republican from Texas, Congressman Jeb Hensarling, is with us, Randy Weingarten, who's the President of the American Federation of Teachers, all our guests this morning.

It's Wednesday, December 5th, and STARTING POING begins right now.

Our STARTING POINT this morning, President Obama putting his foot down. He says no tax hikes for the wealthy, no deal. America hits that fiscal cliff in 27 days and that means tax hikes and deep spending cuts if the Democrats and the Republicans can't come together in some kind of a deal. And with just 10 days remaining until Congress is scheduled to go home for the holidays, the clock ticking. Here's what he told Bloomberg news. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to have to see the rates on the top two percent go up and we're not going to be able it to get a deal without it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: We start this morning with White House correspondent Dan Lothian, he's in Washington, D.C. OK. So who's got the ball in their court at this point then, Dan?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, I think the house GOP, they have presented their counteroffer which White House spokesman jay carney is referring to as, quote, "magic beans and fairy dust." We expect that house Republicans will keep putting pressure on the White House to engage, push for more details on what the White House will accept when it comes to additional entitlement cuts.

But I think what's unclear is what kind of negotiating is going on behind the scenes. The White House saying that conversations continue, but House GOP aides telling me that there are no conversations as of late yesterday, no emails being exchanged, no phone calls. So it's unclear how they can move the ball forward if there are no real conversations taking place.

There's also another problem for Republicans. They're not on the same page. You have that proposal put forward by speaker John Boehner that calls for $800 billion in new tax revenue, but some conservatives think that Republicans are giving up too much. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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.

REP. TOM COLE, (R) OKLAHOMA: Look, I support the Speaker and we're actually not very far apart on anything. You know at the end of the day, he has to negotiate a deal. If there is an area we do agree with the President on, that is 98 percent of the American people getting about 80 percent of this tax cut shouldn't have their taxes raised. My suggestion was let's take the one area we agree and take it off the table.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LOTHIAN: Now later this morning, president Obama will be speaking and taking questions at the business round table meeting, a White House official saying that the President will make the case that middle- class Americans need certainty that their taxes will not go up at the end of the year. He will also make the case that this fiscal cliff will have a negative impact on the overall economy and he will push these business leaders to support his approach. Soledad?

O'BRIEN: Dan Lothian, in Washington, D.C., for us, thank you, Dan, appreciate it.

In just a few minutes we'll be chatting with Stephanie Cutter, the woman who helped manage president Obama's re-election campaign. We'll talk more about the fiscal cliff.

First, though, a look at other stories that are making news today. Zoraida has that for us. Good morning, Z.

SAMBOLIN: Good morning to you. The death toll in the Philippines is rising this morning. Typhoon Bopha moving toward beach resorts in the northern part of the country and right now it is packing winds over 90 miles an hour. That storm has already caused massive flooding and landslides in the southern Philippines. Dozens of buildings have been destroyed and the death toll stands at 133 with hundreds more still missing.

Meantime in rain-soaked Seattle there are concerns about more mudslides. Meteorologist Karen Maginnis joins us live from Atlanta with the latest. They cannot get a break.

KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: They really can't, and for some folks, this is not coming as good news because it looks like that pineapple express, that moisture coming from deep within the pacific, that's going to be shut off, but we've still got the moisture coming in from the Gulf of Alaska, and that's going to lower the snow levels across the cascades and the Olympics down to around 2,000 feet or so. It has been hovering around 3,000 or 4,000 feet. We've got additional snowfall here but also the rain moves in.

Take a look at video that we have from our CNN affiliate, KOMO, and a house has been steadily sliding down a hill. This is in the vicinity of Everett, Washington. And they say that this has been going on for quite some time. So every time it rains, not just this one house, but a number of homes in this particular neighborhood, they say every time it rains it just kind of undermines the footings on the homes there and they tend to slip down even more. We've seen this over the past month or so. So Zoraida, they are not looking forward to the additional rainfall and the much colder air that is in store. They saw some wind gusts, by the way, with these storms up to 150 miles an hour.

SAMBOLIN: Wow. Karen Maginnis live for us in Atlanta, thank you very much for that.

Emotional 911 calls in the alleged murder-suicide involving Kansas City Chiefs player Jovan Belcher. The mother of the Chiefs' player is heard pleading with dispatchers and her son's girlfriend Kasandra Perkins, who had just been shot. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She is still breathing but barely. Please hurry. I don't know how many times he shot her. They were arguing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. So she's been shot?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right now is she awake?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Kassandra stay with me. The ambulance is on the way. Do you hear me? Kassandra! Stay with me!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Oh, my goodness. That's difficult to listen to. Police say after shooting his girlfriend, Belcher drove to arrowhead stadium where he killed himself at the chiefs' practice facility after thanking his coach and general manager for all they had done for him.

And two rising Republican stars are trying to rebrand themselves and their party. Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin appearing together last night at the Jack Kemp foundation awards dinner Washington. Listen to Mitt Romney's former running mate softening the rhetoric.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN, (R) WISCONSIN: Both parties tend to divide Americans into our voters and their voters. Let's be really clear. Republicans must steer far clear of that track. We must speaks to the aspirations and the anxieties of every American.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Senator Rubio weighing in on the fiscal cliff debate and the idea of raising tax rates for the wealthy saying we need to make poor people richer, not rich people poorer. Soledad.

O'BRIEN: That's the kind of thinking that will get you votes, right? All right. Thanks, Zoraida.

New York City police could be close to charging a suspect in that fatal subway push. They say a man is now being questioned and has implicated himself in this case. A front page "New York Post" photo has become the source of a lot of controversy. It shows the victim desperately trying to climb up from the tracks as the train approaches. This morning we're hearing that the photographer has said some things in his own defense. CNN's Mary Snow has more on this report.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Take your -- over there.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Why exactly these men were fighting is unclear. But moments after this video obtained by the New York police was record 58-year-old Ki-suck Han, whose face is obscured, was pushed on to the tracks, police say, by the man yelling at him. A subway barreling through the station killed Han with horrified onlookers unable to save him.

NIGEL GRANT, MTA WORKER: I know they kept arguing with each other. I see people trying to flag the train down before the train gets to him.

SNOW: The fight happened around 12:30 in the afternoon on this platform that's only about 10 feet wide. A doctor who was on the platform says that the victim was trying to protect people that he didn't know, and she says that many people tried to help him by alerting subway personnel. The victim was struck, and she says she performed three to four minutes of chest compressions on him, but it was too late.

One eyewitness describes the train coming to an abrupt stop three quarters into the station.

PATRICK GOMEZ, WITNESS: People were just standing in fear and shock not knowing what's really going on. Some people started running out of the platform, you know, other people just stood there and really didn't know what was going on.

SNOW: The suspect meantime was able to slip out of the station into Times Square, and police canvassed the area with his image placed on wanted posters in the streets.

But it was another image in the cruel killing that has sparked an uproar. This is one of several photographs published by "The New York Post" of Han facing the train seconds before his death. The "Post" quotes the photographer saying he tried to warn the train operator by running towards him firing off his camera flash. But online there were public comments of disgust. "Wow. Enough time to take a few pictures. Why didn't the person help? What an age we live in when getting the picture is more important. I am appalled."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SNOW: Now we did reach out to the "Post" and photographer and both declined our requests for comment. Should point out this is the cover of "The New York Post" today saying my snap decision and the photographer talks about had is decision because there's been so much criticism. He's claiming he was too far away to be of any help.

O'BRIEN: Well, in addition to sort of his story, and he says he couldn't get there in time and he was trying to warn anyway, the post made the decision to run the photo. The caption that said "doomed" which was just honestly -- tweeting about this yesterday.

SNOW: The man is about to die is what it said.

O'BRIEN: Brutal. And then, of course, afterwards, when he was struck by the train, people continued to snap pictures.

SNOW: I can't tell you, there was so much disgust expressed yesterday watching -- just seeing that photo of that helpless man and people questioning why didn't anybody try to help him? And it really just struck such a nerve.

O'BRIEN: Does anybody know how much time was between when we see him with no train in the background and he's on the tracks, because there's a shot of him sitting -- sort of in that well of the tracks and between -- when the train actually came? Is it 15 seconds? Is it three minutes? I know there's a window when the trains come through.

SNOW: We don't know how long he was there. And, you know, there was one doctor, I mentioned, who was on the platform and she said in a statement that she said that many people tried to help, they tried to warn the subway personnel. But we don't know how long that was.

O'BRIEN: Mary Snow --

SAMBOLIN: That photographer actually in the "New York post" says that it was 22 seconds from his perspective. I don't know if that's something he kept through his shutter he was able to tell the amount of time he says it was 22 seconds, no way he could run that quickly and assist.

O'BRIEN: Mary Snow, amazing piece. Thank you for that report.

In about 30 minutes we'll be talking to media critic Howard Kurtz, the host of "CNN's Reliable Sources," and Lauren Ashburn from "The Daily Beast" to talk about the responsibilities and who advocated what in this case.

Up next on STARTING POINT, the President says he will not accept a deal on the fiscal cliff if it doesn't include raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans. Is there wiggle room for compromise? We're going to check in with his former deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter will join up next. And U.S. oil production at its highest level in almost two decades. People on Wall Street say we could be a new Saudi Arabia. We'll chat with Christine Romans about that coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. I'm Christine Romans. Minding your Business this morning, U.S. oil production reaching its highest level in nearly 15 years. This is according to a new report from the Energy Information Administration. Daily production, daily output, averaged almost 6.5 million barrels per day in September, the highest level of oil output in the U.S. since 1998. EIA says the increase is mostly due to the extraction process known as fracking, new technology to get oil in every nook and cranny. Some have coined a phrase "Saudi America" for America's projected energy boom over the next decade. A report from last month from the international energy watchdog says the U.S. could unseat Saudi Arabia as the world's top oil producer by the year 2020.

Quick market check this morning, U.S. stock futures are up. Fiscal cliff uncertainty, though, could continue to weigh on stocks until it's resolved. We're getting a lot of economic news this week with the jobs report on Friday. So I expect to see hurricane Sandy was at play in there.

O'BRIEN: Figuring into that report, looking forward to that. Christine, thank you.

First it was Republicans throwing the President's fiscal cliff plan right back at him. Now it's the President's turn. He rejected an offer that included no raise in tax rates for the top 2 percent of Americans, seemed to indicate a little wiggle room on his insistence the taxes go up for the wealthy from 35 percent to 39.6 percent. Here's what he told Bloomberg TV.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do they have to go up to 39.6 percent now?

OBAMA: Let me sort of describe the process here for you, Juliana. Let's let those go up and then let's set up a process with a time certain at the end of 2013 or the fall of 2013 where we work on tax reform, look at what loopholes and deductions both Democrats and Republicans are willing to close, and it's possible that we may be able to lower rates by broadening the base at that point.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: I want to get to Stephanie Cutter former deputy campaign manager for Obama 2012. Stephanie, nice to have you with us this morning. Appreciate your time as always. You're the --

STEPHANIE CUTTER, FORMER DEPUTY MANAGER, OBAMA REELECTION CAMPAIGN: Thanks for having me.

O'BRIEN: That was your old job, the former campaign manager. It feels like the campaign is not over. The President has been on the road selling, you know, campaigning on this topic. On Monday he didn't have any meetings about the fiscal cliff. On Tuesday he was talking to the governors of six states. Today, Wednesday, he'll be addressing the business roundtable. There are some folks who have said why is he having all these meetings and not just sitting down with John Boehner. The two need to get in a room and work this out. Why not that?

CUTTER: Well, there are plenty of conversations going on, but Soledad, we've been in this place before. Unless Republicans are willing to come to the table wait real proposal, which is not what they came to the table with this week, then those discussions aren't going to bear a lot of fruit.

O'BRIEN: So let me stop you there --

CUTTER: The American people are watching this debate.

O'BRIEN: And we are. All of us are watching this debate. What do you mean by real proposal? We know the Republicans said that they laughed the President's version 1.0 out of the room, then they came forward with the proposal. What's not real about their proposal?

CUTTER: Well, the President's 1.0 proposal was actually what we discussed for more than a year and a half on the campaign trail, $4 trillion of balanced deficit reduction. What is not a real proposal what is John Boehner sent to the White House which actually lowered rates for those at the top but asked the middle class to bear the entire burden of deficit reduction. That's not what the American people voted for.

I mean, if you look at even CNN's exit polls all over this country, upwards of 60, 65 percent of people voted for balanced deficit reduction, which means asking those at the top to pay their fair share. More people voted for that, the idea of that, then they actually voted for the President. So we need to look to the American people and look what they want on how to reduce the deficit. We have to do it in a balanced way and fair way.

O'BRIEN: But if you look at polling, and I know you don't always just go on polling, right, but polling is also -- you ask people what should be cut, 79 percent say don't cut Medicare at all and I think that lots of things, Democrats and Republicans have said, that is on the table too. So you don't always necessarily follow the polls. When you listen to the President who was on Bloomberg yesterday, here's what he said about meeting with Speaker Boehner. Let's play that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Speaker Boehner was here at the White House last night for a Christmas party. The two of you didn't even speak. What's it going to take to get the two of you in a room to hash this out?

OBAMA: Well, Speaker Boehner and I speak frequently and, you know, I think the issue --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When will the two of you sit down in a room?

OBAMA: You know, I don't think that the issue right now has do with sitting in a room.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: So, essentially, Stephanie, is the scenario this -- the tax cuts will expire so the tax cuts -- the taxes are going to go up on everybody, right? The fiscal cliff, you go over the cliff, the taxes go up for every single person. Is the plan then if you do a deal for taxes on the middle class, then de facto the taxes go up on the wealthy and sort of have a win/win for the Democrats? Is that the scenario we're looking at now?

CUTTER: Well, the scenario is that we still have time to put a deal together. The President has a detailed proposal on the table. Republicans need to decide where they want to move. John Boehner needs to decide how he will get his own caucus together. They're becoming increasingly isolated in their position. Hopefully we can have a deal which protects the middle class.

There is a piece of legislation sitting in the house today that would prevent taxes from going up on 98 percent of the American people, 97 percent of small businesses. They should go ahead and move that. And then we can have a broader discussion of how we achieve larger deficit reduction and avoid the fiscal cliff.

But there's plenty of room and plenty of time for compromise. The President's position is clear. We're not going to do anything that hurts the middle class. We are going to protect those tax cuts for the middle class. And for deficit reduction, it needs to be fair and it needs to be balanced. Everybody needs to pay their share so we can invest in the things we need to grow. O'BRIEN: I'm not sure about the plenty of time -- 27 days.

CUTTER: Right. We are -- out of time. Every day that goes by.

O'BRIEN: Stephanie Cutter this morning --

CUTTER: Every day that goes by, you can see more and more support for that balanced position. I think you'll hear it today when the President meets with the business roundtable.

O'BRIEN: All right, we'll see about that. Stephanie Cutter, nice to have you as always. We appreciate your time.

CUTTER: Thanks for having me.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead on STARTING POINT, for the first time in years Newarks's mayor counting his pennies when it comes to the grocery list. Cory Booker talks about the challenges of using food stamps in a video that's coming up next. And our STARTING POINT team is coming in to talk about that and much more. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back. Let's introduce your team this morning. Will Cain is with us, CNN contributor, columnist for TheBlaze.com. McKay Coppins is back, a reporter for buzzfeed.com. Nice to have you both with us.

Roughing it, though, the Newark Mayor Cory Booker, talking about this blogging about his week-long food stamp challenge, living on the groceries he can buy for roughly $30 a week. Here is a photo he tweeted, 17 cans of beans, seven yams, two bags of frozen vegetables, two apples. That is what he can eat because that's what he can afford under the food stamp program. I think it's really interesting to follow limb on this.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Cory is a fascinating guy. I like him. One conversation developing out of this I don't think is quite right, Soledad. You're not supposed to be able to live on subsidies. Not supposed to be able to live on food stamps. It's a supplement. It's not designed to be your sole source of food and income. I think some will take the wrong message.

O'BRIEN: I think for a grown man of his size to have to spend $30 and that's what you get in living in Newark, New Jersey, in an urban environment where the food is not particularly cheap is tough. You're right, they're not paying for every meal and every calorie he's ingesting, but that's not much food.

MCKAY COPPINS, REPORTER, BUZZFEED.COM: What's part of that discussion a twitter conversation where somebody said the state shouldn't be responsible for nutrition, right? And because part of the problem here is that people who are food stamps don't have access to really healthy food. You see Cory Booker made his, you know, best attempt at getting healthy food, frozen vegetables, canned beans, and things like that. That is part of the problem with nutrition and poverty stricken areas.

O'BRIEN: And that amount. We have to take a short break.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Still ahead --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: You do. I'm going to check you.

Still ahead on STARTING POINT, "The New York Post" and its photographer taking heat over the cover photo of a man taking minutes before his horrifying death when he was crushed by the subway train. Did the paper cross the line in publishing that picture? We'll talk about that coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)