Return to Transcripts main page


Middle-Class Family Hosts Pres. Obama; U.S. Weighs Threat of Chemical Weapons; NFL Commissioner Tackles Football's Culture; Getting High Legally; Cashing in on Legal Pot; Pregnant Duchess Goes Home

Aired December 6, 2012 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You're in the SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, growing reports the Syrian regime may be preparing to use chemical weapons on its own people. But how can the United States know for sure what's really happening with them?

Also, CNN talks to the family who sat down with President Obama today in their very own living room.

And we caught up with Prince Charles. What he's now saying for the first time about the prospect of being a grandfather.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: President Obama steps out of the White House and into the home of a family much like those many middle class families all across the United States. It's all part of an effort to win over support for his plan in the face of fierce deadlock with the Republicans over the looming fiscal cliff.

Our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian, caught up with the family just after the president left. Dan is joining us now with the latest. How did it go, Dan?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the White House believes that it went well. We've seen the president use this strategy before when he's locked in battle with Republicans. He takes his message on the road.

White House spokesman, Jay Carney, saying that there are no announcements about face-to-face meetings or phone calls. Though for now, this is how we see the president negotiating.


LOTHIAN (voice-over): It's a negotiating tactic that President Obama always keeps in his tool kit, head to a backyard or living room, sit down with families who say his approach offers economic relief and send a loud message to Congress with a personal touch. BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATE: For them to be burdened unnecessarily because Democrats and Republicans aren't coming together to solve this problem gives you a sense of the costs involved in very personal terms.

LOTHIAN: This time, the scene played out in Falls Church, Virginia, at the home of high school teacher, Tiffany Santana, and her husband, Richard, who works at a local Toyota dealership. Also at the table, Tiffany's parents who live with them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It ain't every day that your president comes into your home.

LOTHIAN: This family's political tattoo is still staked in the front yard.


LOTHIAN: CNN sat down with the Santanas after the presidential motorcade road away down James Street just nine miles from the White House. Because their parents are also middle income wage earners, the entire household would see a $4,000 tax increase if an agreement isn't reached.

SANTANA: I think the president has a mandate from the people. I think that most of the people don't mind the president's plan. They support it. So, I feel like it's really a matter of Congress backing what the people's mandate was.

LOTHIAN: A deal appears much further than the distance between this home and Capitol Hill, because the president won't budge on extending tax cuts for the very wealthy, leading Republicans to charge he isn't interested in compromising.

MITCH MCCONNELL, (R) SENATE MINORITY LEADER: What the president's really interested in as we learned just yesterday is getting as much taxpayer money as he can, first, by raising taxes on small business that he believes are making too much money, and then, on everybody else.

LOTHIAN: But the president says the so-called fiscal cliff is a solvable problem. Critical as the holidays approach and businesses make investment and hiring decisions for next year. While polls show many Americans are pessimistic, there's optimism in this home.

SANTANA: I got a sense that he's confident that what's best for the American people will happen.


LOTHIAN: You agree?





LOTHIAN (on-camera): But for now, the GOP is resisting any tax increases even on those upper income Americans. House Republicans, of course, have made that counteroffer with $800 billion in new revenue and an overhaul of the tax code. Wolf, they feel as if they have moved the ball, but they don't believe that the president is interested in avoiding the fiscal cliff.

BLITZER: These negotiations, Dan, they usually go until the bitter, bitter end. A lot of folks are assuming that before that end, there will be a deal. Give us a flavor of the mood over there at the white house.

LOTHIAN Well, you know, I think they're preparing for this fiscal cliff scenario to play out, Wolf. But as you point out, when we look back over the last three years, we've had these kinds of negotiations, it at times appears very optimistic that things will get done, then both sides very far apart, but in the final hours, they get a deal done.

That's the hope that despite the rhetoric what you're hearing now that this deal will happen before the end of the year.

BLITZER: All right. We can only hope that there will be a compromise, this fiscal cliff will be avoided. Dan Lothian, thank you.

Not everyone seems to think it would be such a bad idea to actually go over the fiscal cliff. Just one day after the treasury secretary said the White House is absolutely prepared to do just that under certain circumstances, a leading economist is echoing those sentiments.


MARK ZANDI, CHIEF ECONOMIST, MOODY'S ANALYTICS: I would not come up with a deal, unless, it's a really good deal before the end of the year. I would take it into next year if that means you're going to get a better deal.


BLITZER: Let's bring in our senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash. Dana, Democrats are saying this is well either raise tax rates for the wealthy or they are prepared to go over the cliff. There must be a lot of fear up there about all of this. What are you hearing in the halls of Congress?

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT senior Congressional correspondent: There's a lot of fear. There's no question on both sides of the aisle. And, you know, even top Republicans disagree with that. Even Republicans who don't want to give on that big issue that Dan talked about tax rates for the wealthy. Jon Kyle who's a number two Republican in the Senate, I spoke with him in the hallway this week who said he actually thinks that any deal would be better than going over the cliff. And the reason is because there are so many problems, real life, real world problems that are going off the cliff would cause for Americans beyond the issues that are making headlines.

And I just want to show you some of what we're talking about. First of all, the payroll tax. If we go over the cliff, it will go up from 4.2 percent to 6.2 percent. That's a big jump for most Americans in taxes, especially for small businesses who if they file a self-employment tax would see their taxes go up four percent.

Then the AMT. This effectively what has happened now is middle class families are treated like the wealthy. The AMT was implemented to try to make sure that the wealthy pay their fair share, but it has to be fixed every year for Congress to make sure that the middle class don't get hit. It's not fixed -- it's not going to be fixed if we go over the cliff.

Next, Medicare doc fix. This is another thing that we don't really hear much about, but doctors would get less money from the government to pay for Medicare patients that they have. And many doctors say if that happens, they're going to have to drop Medicare patients. So, that would be very bad news there.

And the last thing again not many people are talking about is an estate tax increase. Right now, there's an exemption for taxes on estates $5 million and below. That would go down if we go off the cliff to $1 million. And the rate would go up 35 percent to 55 percent. So, these are all very, very real world problems that will cost Americans a lot of money out of their wallets if we go off the cliff beyond the big ticket items which are the spending cuts and those tax rates.

BLITZER: Yes. A lot of consequences if we go over the cliff. What are you hearing, Dana, if anything about actual negotiations, talks being resumed.

BASH: We are told by a Republican source that talks have resumed between at least on a staff level between the speaker's office and the White House. Wolf, the fact that this is news that talks are happening at a staff level is really telling as to where we are right now in this process because there has been nothing -- we're told nothing that happened this entire week until the president and the speaker spoke yesterday.

So, you know, let's just keep our fingers crossed that they keep talking. Whether or not they're going to get anywhere, it's another issue.

BLITZER: That's a good point. Dana, thank you. We have much more on this story coming up later.

Also, major developments in Syria. A Syrian city dating back all the way to biblical times now stands in ruins. Our own Arwa Damon, as I've been pointing out, she is risking her life with exclusive reports from inside Syria. We'll be speaking with her momentarily.

Also, the NFL commissioner now speaking out for the first time about the horrific murder-suicide involving linebacker, Javon Belcher, and his girlfriend.


BLITZER: Secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, is spearheading a tough new diplomatic push to reign-in the embattled Syrian president, Bashar al Assad, meeting with the Russian foreign minister and the U.N. ambassador to Syria amid growing concerns the Syrian regime is on the verge of using chemical weapons.

And a new NBC report saying those weapons are actually being loaded into bombs. It's a move the defense secretary, Leon Panetta, is reiterating would be a red line for the United States. And it's a moment Senator John McCain now claims may be the last warning Washington gets. CNN's senior international correspondent, Arwa Damon, is inside Syria right now where the fighting rages on.


ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Aleppo's old city has not seen such devastation since occupied by the Mongol invaders eight centuries ago.

(on-camera) This mosque for example dates back to 1315. This is Syria's rich cultural heritage. And now, everywhere we look, it's been scarred by war.

(voice-over) Once bustling winding streets now a maze of ever- shifting front lines. Overhead, the thundering of fighter jet. A small han (ph) lodging for caravans down the ages lies in ruins. For more than three millennia, Aleppo has been a crossroads for traders. We hurried through the courtyard of a traditional home.

Sheets are strung across streets to block snipers' line of sight. Those who dare venture quickly across. A unit of fighters records people's names and license plates. Only those who have shops here are allowed through. Abu Bashir (ph) says they're trying to clamp down on robberies. He shows us the list.

The highlighted names have cleared out all their possessions. In one market, a shop recently hit by army fire still smolders. A man who doesn't want to appear on camera rushes to clear his wears. The stench of filth and cordite has replaced the once intoxicating smells of spices that wafted through these streets.

Down one narrow street, we run into Haled (ph), carrying an infrared camera he's about to install. There are government snipers, so we've started putting up cameras to observe and target them, he tells us. A former electrician, Haled (ph) has so far managed to put up four and string together a jumble of power cables.

As we move toward the front line, he picks up a mortar and points out the rebel's former firing position. Now, they've moved it up a block. Step this way, there is a sniper he warns. This is the rebels' so-called field operation center, a flat screen TV and a medieval setting.

(on-camera) The camera that Haled (ph) wants to set up is going to be in front of the building that we can just see from here. And right in front of it is a makeshift slingshot. And that is how they're firing the mortars.

(voice-over) An ancient weapon deployed in a very modern war. In a narrow alleyway, (INAUDIBLE) makes the call to prayer. There is no power to amplify his appeal. And his voice echoes off the walls punctuated by the ricochet of bullets. The heart of old Aleppo now the historic battleground for the very uncertain future of Syria.


BLITZER: And Arwa's joining us now once again from Aleppo. Amazing, amazing reporting, Arwa. As you know, the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, is holding urgent international talks to deal with this crisis in Syria right now, especially the fear of chemical weapons being used.

The rebels you're talking to, Arwa, do they have any hope for a diplomatic solution or do they think the military route is the only way this is going to be resolved?

DAMON (on-camera): They are completely and utterly convinced, Wolf, that this is only going to be resolved militarily. That is a conviction that many of them have had for quite some time now saying that they had no choice but to pick up weapons because of the position and the artillery and the gunfight that the Assad regime was using against them.

It's also important to note that many of the activists, the rebel fighters that we have been speaking to, have been bringing up the issue of the U.S. designating the front (ph) a terrorist organization. And they have found this to be absolutely infuriating.

Even amongst those mainstream fighters, the mainstream activists, those who do want to see a democratic state, they are finding this type of a designation to be completely counterproductive. And they are growing increasingly frustrated with America's policy or lack of a policy when it comes to how it has been dealing with the Syrian opposition.

Many people fail to understand why it is that America is taking the position that it has been taking up until now when it comes to handling Syria, when it comes to how it is choosing to deal with the Syrian opposition. And now, most recently, when it comes to this designation of the (INAUDIBLE) as being a terrorist organization, they are really finding it to be completely counterproductive, Wolf.

BLITZER: Arwa Damon on the scene for us. As I say to you every day, Arwa, please be careful. Thanks so much.

It's legal to own marijuana in Washington State, but where to get it is another matter. Up later, producing, processing, and selling pot, could a new industry be ripe for the picking? Stay with us. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Espionage in the high seas (ph) Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. Lisa, what's going on with espionage the high seas?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, former U.S. sailor has been arrested and charge with trying to hand over submarine secrets. according to the indictment, Robert Patrick Hoffman II (ph) of Virginia attempted to give classified information to people he thought who are representatives of the Russian government. they were actually undercover FBI agents if convicted Hoffman to be sentenced to life in prison.

And at least 418 people in the Philippines are dead in the wake of a powerful typhoon. Officials say hundreds more are missing and a quarter of a million people are now homeless. Relief workers say survivors are in desperate need of water, food, and shelter. The storm hit a southern island of the Philippines were typhoons are not expected.

And at least four people are dead and seven others missing after two ships collided off the coast of the Netherland. Rescuers have called off the search for missing crew members and housing (ph) ships are being asked to be on the look out. Officials say a container vessel collided with the car carrier in the North Sea. The nationality of the crew is not yet known.

And John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, they are back together again. Yes, 34 years after "Grease," the two are dropping an original single from their holiday album "This Christmas." It's called, I think you might like it.




SYLVESTER: I kind of like that. Yes. Looks a little familiar there, doesn't it? Just a bit. Yes. Some of these moves look familiar. That's because the song was penned by the same person who wrote "You're The One That I Want" from "Grease." And proceeds are going to be going to charity. So, I think that's going to be a hit.

BLITZER: A cute little Ford Thunderbird. Did you like that convertible?

SYLVESTER: Yes. You know, I think I'm pretty sure it's been a while since I've seen the movie, but I'm pretty sure they have that at the very end, you know, when they're all dressed in black.

BLITZER: Since I was a little boy, I always wanted a little Thunderbird like that. Never got one.

SYLVESTER: Something for the holidays, perhaps.

BLITZER: Maybe it's still not too late.

SYLVESTER: That's right.

BLITZER: They've inspired me. Thank you.

We've been telling you about the growing fears that Syria may be on the verge of using chemical weapons. Up next, our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta with a closer look at what deadly sarin gas is capable of doing to the human body.


BLITZER: Syrian government forces already started combining chemicals that could be used to make deadly sarin gas for weapons. Our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, taking a closer look at what the deadly gas can do to the human body once it hits.

Sanjay, describe what is going to happen. We hope it doesn't happen, but if the Syrian regime were to use sarin gas against its own people, what would happen?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know what, this is a substance that started as a pesticide and now can be a weaponized chemical. I should just point out that it's colorless, it's tasteless, it's odorless, and that's important because it can be very hard to know that it's actually there, that it's present.

What typically happens, it affects specific areas of the brain, specific chemicals in the brain, Wolf. And what a person will experience, typically, if they've been exposed to this -- it depends the dose of how much they've been exposed to, but typically, they'll start to feel some tunnel vision. Their pupils become very constricted.

They'll start to sweat. They may develop a lot of congestion in their nose and that area. But ultimately what happens is, think of it like this, the on switch for various muscles in your body is sort of stuck in the on position. Ultimately, somebody may start to have convulsions. And ultimately, the problem and what can cause death is if they develop respiratory depression, the diaphragm sort of seizes.

It's tough to talk about, Wolf. And again, it's somewhat dose dependent and exactly what progression or how significant what I just described will be. But, that's sort of the biggest concern.

BLITZER: So, what does someone do if they've been exposed to the sarin gas?

GUPTA: Well, you know, if you have the option, which a lot of people don't, obviously, in this situation, you try to get medical attention as quickly as possible because there's a couple of different antidotes which I'll talk about. But you know, in most situations, you got to keep in mind a couple of things, first of all, just by touching it, by ingesting it, by inhaling it, any of those ways, you can become effected by sarin gas.

So, just simply touching it again. So, what people have to remember is if they've been in an area where sarin has been released, they've got to get out of that area, but they also got to probably remove their clothes. Those clothes can a conduit for the sarin gas. Sarin gas is heavy. So, it tends to stick closer to the ground. So getting up to higher elevation, that sort of thing can help.

I mean, this may sound a bit simplistic, but that's exactly what people are told to do if there's a concern about sarin gas. There are a couple medications which can help if given quickly after an exposure to sarin gas. You can see the list there. Atropine and then (INAUDIBLE) and then valium are all medications which do a couple of things.

They help those symptoms, but also, they can help sort of unstuck that on switch that I was talking about, Wolf. You know, that on switch is in the stuck on position. It can help fix that. But again, that has to be given very quickly. And a lot of people simply don't have that option, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. You and I remember, Sanjay, we were both in Kuwait on the eve of the war. It's almost 10 years, March 2003 in Kuwait when the U.S. forces moved into Iraq. We had Atropine. We were taught how to use it, at least, I was taught how to use it to just take a shot and stick it in my thigh, if you will.

But you had to do it within seconds. We were afraid at the time that the Iraqis had weapons of mass destruction, that they had chemical weapons that they were going to use. So, we had the gas mask. We were ready to go. You remember those days?

GUPTA: Oh, very well, Wolf. And those we wore -- we wore the bio suits as well. And it was hot and the gas masks. But the atropine, you're absolutely right. I mean, taking it -- you know, if you haven't been exposed can certainly make you feel not well. But that was the thing. If there was a suspicion, you would go ahead and take the antidote and then you'd have another -- remember in that kit that we got, Wolf, there were a few doses because you're supposed to take it every five to 20 minutes depending on how you're doing. And again, in a situation like that it's one of the few things that might be able to help somebody.

BLITZER: I remember those days well. I'm glad it's 10 years ago.

Sanjay, thanks very much for that report.

Even the possibility that Syria's regime may use chemical weapons certainly chilling. Republican Senator John McCain says if the reports about Syria are true, time may be running out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: This may be the last warning we get. Time for talking about what to do may now be coming to a close. And we may instead be left with an awful and very difficult decision.


BLITZER: Joining us now our CNN contributor, the retired U.S. army general, Spider Marks. Also joining us our CNN national security contributor Fran Townsend, a member of the External Advisory Committees to the CIA and the Department of Homeland Security.

General Marks, let me start with you. What are the military options at this stage right now? Realistically, what could the U.S., NATO, the international community militarily do if there is an indication that the Syrian military is about to use chemical weapons against its own people.

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Wolf, that's the key point is, in advance of its use, what can the U.S. do? And it's clearly having a very robust, very broad intelligence collection apparatus that takes into account all means of collection, technical as well as human intelligence. There are known sites where the chemical weapons are stockpiled, where the production sites are. And then there has to be an act to marry those up with the distribution or delivery means. And those --


BLITZER: A missile.

MARKS: A missile, artillery shell, put into a bomb that's then uploaded under the wings of an aircraft. All of those are indicators of what might occur. So intelligence has to be very, very robust in order to go after that. Then, if it is such that we see that happening in a tactical sense, in other words, there's not much time to respond, we have to have an ability to go after those weapons systems before they --

BLITZER: How do you do that without those poison gases or whatever?

MARKS: You don't.

BLITZER: Hurting a lot of innocent people in the neighborhood?

MARKS: Chemical weapons are by definition area denial weapon systems. They aren't precise. They're ecumenical. Everybody gets effected badly.

BLITZER: What do you make of all of this, Fran? Right now from the White House perspective they see these indications, maybe these weapons are being -- you know, getting ready for use. What do you do in a situation like that? I assume the president goes in in his own situation room and meets with his top people.

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: That's exactly right, Wolf. And those meetings begin with an intelligence briefing much as General Marks just described. And just like the president, we heard afterwards, the president did when he was going through considering the bin Laden raid, he asks the intelligence community some hard questions about, what are your gaps? What is it that you don't know that we ought to want to know?

How confident are you in the intelligence including the tactical intelligence that you're giving me? Because there's always gaps, Wolf. How do we know what we know? In other words, what is your confidence in the sourcing of it? Are they U.S.-controlled sources? Is it signals intelligence and technical means?

If it's human intelligence, are they U.S. sources or are they controlled by another foreign service in the region? So there's a whole series of questions the president will be asking to decide what his degree of confidence is that they really are getting ready to use these weapons.

BLITZER: Cause you know there's a lot of Syrians, a lot of others who are sort of blaming the U.S. and the international community for sitting on the sidelines for so long that it in effect created this moment where the Syrian regime might wind up using chemical weapons.

TOWNSEND: I think that's right, Wolf. Look, we've made this harder by the fact that we've waited so long to intervene. Because as you point out, now taking a military action, whether it's an airstrike when these weapons may be mated or ready to be mated is very dangerous.

What you're trying -- what you're looking at now is how can you get into the decision cycle from the time somebody like Assad gives the order to the guy who's got to actually pull the trigger or launch that artillery shell or missile, you want -- you have to interrupt that cycle or get to the guy before he pushes the button. That's very difficult. And that's really real-time tactical intelligence that's perishable and hard to come by and even harder to act on in that decision cycle.

BLITZER: General Marks, you were involved in the search for weapons of mass destructions in Iraq which stockpiles never really materialized. But afterwards there was a sense that Saddam Hussein wanted the world to think he had WMD and he was happy that people thought that.

Here's the question. How do we know that Bashar al-Assad isn't doing the same thing right now? How do we know that the intelligence that the U.S., the international community is getting is really accurate that there are WMD stockpiles, weapons of mass destruction, sarin gas, mustard gas, in Syrian?

MARKS: Wolf, the key thing right now is that if Assad is putting up a front, we're not going to know that unless we have good solid human intelligence on the ground. And that begins with interrogations of the key personnel that are involved, the -- the scientists, the research and development community, the military leaders, the commanders, that as Fran indicated would give the directives to pull the triggers.

Those guys have to be rounded up. And you have to conduct interrogations. That's very tough. That's kind of basic intelligence work. And it doesn't start until you get on the ground and you start interrogating those guys.

BLITZER: But there's always concern. I remember there was a guy named "Curve Ball" who was providing the U.S. information supposedly about Saddam Hussein's WMD.

MARKS: That's one source.

BLITZER: Yes. He was -- but he was an important one. People believed him.

MARKS: It was one source. And it became much clearer when we were -- when these great Americans who were on the ground in Iraq and through sources and through proxies were able to start to round up the top 55 and conduct these very basic interrogations. The picture became clearer. That's a step that has to take place.

BLITZER: General Marks, thanks very much. Fran, thanks to you as well.

The story unfortunately not going away.

Other news we're following including domestic tragedy bringing some sweeping NFL issues to a head. The NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's response to the murder-suicide involving a promising young player. That's next.

"TIME" magazine asks the question, can the enforcer save football?


BLITZER: Jovan Belcher has been laid to rest. The Kansas City linebacker's funeral was held yesterday. Today another funeral in Texas, this one for his girlfriend. It's been five days since Belcher shot her to death then fatally shot himself before the eyes of team officials.

This is a huge tragedy in its own right but the murder-suicide has also triggered a larger discussion and spring-boarded the NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to the cover of "TIME" magazine.

Joining us now from New York is "TIME"'s managing editor Rick Stengel.

Rick, I'm going to read a little quote from the interview you guys did with Roger Goodell. He says, "This is not a football tragedy, it's a human tragedy that impacts families, loved ones and an innocent child left behind."

I mean, what's the bottom line here? Does that mean he's not taking any responsibility for what happened? RICK ENGEL, MANAGING EDITOR, TIME: Well, Wolf, it's a tough question. I mean, it was a human issue. It's in all likelihood unrelated to anything having to do with football. I think it was a difficult decision for him. In the story Roger talks about he looked at all the different angles, he sent grief counselors down there, he spoke to the coaches, he spoke to the owners. And he made the decision that in fact the most healing process was to allow the game to go on, allow the players to play. The players did in fact win the game. And it seems to me that that was the right decision.

BLITZER: Because, as you know, some of the critics of the NFL right now they say there is a culture of guns for a lot of these NFL players.

Listen to Bob Costas, the sportscaster.


BOB COSTAS, NBC SPORTS BROADCASTER: If we're looking for perspective on this, we're going to have to have a serious discussion within sports, an ongoing discussion, not five minutes of faux tears about it, but a serious discussion about domestic violence, about the culture of the game itself, about the easy access to guns, about steroids, drugs and alcohol.


BLITZER: I guess he's making the point that so many of these NFL players or other sports athletes who make a lot of money very quickly, they go out there and they buy guns right away.

ENGEL: You know what, I have -- I have no idea about how prevalent that is or not. I don't know what any statistics about the percentage of gun ownership among NFL players or any professional athletes. I mean, you could be confusing the issues here. You know, Belcher's death, I believe, is the fourth death of an NFL player this year through some violent means.

It's a violent sport. I mean, one of the things that Goodell says in the piece is that it's a brutal sport. It's a sport about violence. When people are banging their heads together, there are going to be head injuries. I mean, the question is not to get rid of football but how to make it safer, how to make it more palatable and how to keep the game going.

BLITZER: It's a strong interview. And I guess the NFL, they're studying it very closely to see what if any lessons they learn, they need to learn from this tragedy that happened in Kansas City.

Quickly on Paul Ryan. You guys have another separate interview with the former Republican vice presidential nominee. And among other things you quote him as saying this, you say, "I've decided not to decide," when you ask if there's a future for him in 2016 as a Republican candidate. "You can't hold on forever doing that. But I've decided to focus on my family and my job."

It sounds like he's keeping the door pretty open. But what was your impression?

ENGEL: Well, that would be my impression as well, Wolf. I mean, he -- you know, by his selection for the vice presidential ticket it catapulted him to the front of the line in the Republican Party. He's an attractive, young, interesting fellow. You know, why wouldn't he want to keep the door open?

BLITZER: An excellent cover story as usual. Good stuff on Paul Ryan.

Rick Stengel from our sister publication "TIME" magazine. He joins us every week at this time.

Thanks very much, Rick.

ENGEL: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Take a look at this. We've got live pictures coming in from near the White House over there. They're getting ready to light the -- the White House Christmas tree. We should call it. There's Kenny "Baby Face" Edmonds. He's starting the program. We're going to go there live in just a moment to see what's going on.

We'll take a break but let's listen for a moment before we do.



BLITZER: This time yesterday smoking a joint on the streets could get you arrested. Not anymore, at least if you're in Washington state. It's the first state in the nation to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

CNN's Miguel Marquez is joining us from Seattle right now.

Still some roadblocks on the road to full legalization, I suspect. But what's the latest?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, some roadblocks indeed. You can have pot right now, but you can't go out and buy. You still have to go to the black market. But in a year's time if everything goes the way it's supposed to, Washington state will be a haven for pot.


MARQUEZ (voice-over): In the war on drugs, the government surrenders to marijuana users here in Washington state. Up to an ounce now legal for anyone over 21.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got that weed growing. We ain't worried about no police. We're out here living like Tupac, baby. All eyes on the city because we got it going on, baby. MARQUEZ (on camera): This is the moment when marijuana became legal to possess at least under one ounce here in Washington state. Several dozen people, perhaps 100 people have showed up here at the Space Needle to smoke up and celebrate. Including this guy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A celebration. America, freedom.

RICK STEVES, TV TRAVEL: Friends, Romans, countrymen.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Rick Steves of TV travel fame co-sponsored the pot initiative here. He says this is about decriminalizing marijuana and freeing up government to focus on more important things.

STEVES: I think we're going to see a lot less prison congestion. I think we're going to see hundreds of millions of dollars raised a year in tax revenue that's going to be earmarked for drug education and health programs.

MARQUEZ: Jamen Shively, formerly a senior executive at Microsoft now the head of a proposed pot empire.

JAMEN SHIVELY, DIEGE PELLICER MARIJUANA SHOP: What we're doing, Miguel, is we're creating the category of premium marijuana, something that does not exist until right now.

MARQUEZ: He envisions as many as two dozen shops in Washington and eventually Colorado.

(On camera): What are you more passionate about, marijuana or computers, technology?

SHIVELY: At the moment marijuana.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): The state here still has to license growers, processors and sellers of marijuana products. That could take a year or more. The Justice Department has only said it's reviewing legalization laws and has reminded states, in the U.S. government's eyes, pot is illegal.

JAMES DEA, PRO-LEGALIZATION: The federal government could just come in and just end this. But I'm hoping it doesn't. I hope, Obama, if you're listening right now, I hope, you know, you have some compassion for everybody out here.

MARQUEZ: Recognition, even on this day, their new right fragile and uncertain.


MARQUEZ: Now it may get a little more certain in the days to come. Colorado before January 5th is supposed to approve and the governor is going to sign off on their initiative legalizing marijuana there as well. They're slightly different but mainly the same in the way they treat it, and most proponents feel that once two states do it, the cat is out of bag, and you're going to see many states rushing into the marijuana game -- Wolf. BLITZER: Miguel Marquez, thanks very much.

Let's go right over near the White House. The president and the first family, they're getting ready to light the White House Christmas tree. Let's listen in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Happy holidays to you, Mr. President.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's time.

OBAMA: I think it's time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the big button.

OBAMA: So --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's count it down, everyone.

OBAMA: I hope everybody is ready. We've got to do the countdown. Starting with five. Five. Four. Three. Two. One.


Merry Christmas, everybody.

BLITZER: A nice moment every year. First inaugurated by President Calvin Coolidge, who started the tradition by lighting a 48- foot fir decorated with 2500 electric bulbs back in 1923. They've been doing it on the Ellipse ever since just south of the White House. This year a giant blue spruce, a blue spruce Christmas tree. And folks love it already.

We'll continue to watch a little bit, get back there. But there's other news we're following, including over in Britain.

Prince Charles is showing off his sense of humor. He's speaking out to CNN for the very first time about his new grandchild that's on the way.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Your Royal Highness, what's your reaction to the news about the duke and duchess of Cambridge?

CHARLES, PRINCE OF WALES: How do you know I'm not a radio station?



BLITZER: Take a look at this. That's Ledisi over at the White House. She's just wrapping up. Let's listen in.


LEDISI, SINGER: Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, the WPAS Men and Women of the Gospel Choir.


BLITZER: All right. That is a beautiful, beautiful Christmas carol, lots of Christmas carols going on over there. You're looking at live pictures of the Ellipse. That's where the White House Christmas tree. You just saw the president and the first family. They just lit that Christmas tree once again.

It's a giant blue spruce. A giant blue spruce. And it was transplanted in October right over there on the Ellipse, south of the White House. This is a wonderful, wonderful ceremony that goes on every single year over at the White House. Love to see it.

Three days in the hospital seems to have agreed with Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge. The new mother-to-be was released today after wrestling with one of the hazards of early pregnancy, morning sickness.

Here's CNN's Matthew Chance.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Duchess left this hospital in central London, where she's been treated for acute morning sickness. Escorted by her husband Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, clutching a bouquet of roses with a big smile on her face. It's been a very difficult few days for her.

A royal statement says she's now resting at home in Kensington Palace and that the Duke and Duchess thanked the staff of the hospital for the care and attention that they gave.

Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, has also commented for the first time saying that he's excited at the prospect of becoming a royal grand dad.


CHANCE: Your royal highness, what's your reaction to the news about the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge?

PRINCE CHARLES: How do you know I'm not a radio station? No, I'm thrilled. It's good to be a grandfather at my age. So it's splendid. And I'm very glad my daughter-in-law is getting better. Thank goodness.


CHANCE: Well, as Prince Charles was referring to there, there has been controversy over the privacy of the duchess at the hospital. One that emerged, an Australian radio show made a prank call impersonating Prince Charles and the Queen and managed to get personal information about the duchess' condition from the nurse on the ward. The station has since apologized saying it was all meant as a lighthearted thing. But the hospital of course has been forced now to seriously review its telephone security procedures in order to protect other high-profile patients like the royals in the future.

Matthew Chance, CNN, London.

BLITZER: Happening now, a warning of imminent use of weapons of mass destruction in Syria. A chilling look at what a chemical attack would look like. Stand by.