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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

Fiscal Cliff's Magic Number; Jobless Rate Drops To 7.7 Percent; U.S. Updates Strike Plans In Syria; Amazon Takes Aim At B&M Retailers

Aired December 7, 2012 - 19:00   ET

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


TOM FOREMAN, CNN ANCHOR: OUTFRONT next, John Boehner says the president is slow walking to the edge of the fiscal cliff. But the House speaker did give us one flash of hope if you listen to his words very carefully.

The U.S. is updating its military plans against Syria as new intelligence shows Assad's regime is loading sarin gas into bombs.

And President Obama's pot problem. Let's go OUTFRONT.

I'm Tom Foreman in for Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT tonight, the magic number after a whole week of harsh words here in Washington and threats to, did House Speaker John Boehner hint ever so slightly at a compromise today that could finally edge us away from the dreaded fiscal cliff?

It comes down to tax rates. This is a huge sticking point in the stalled negotiations between the president and Mr. Boehner. Obama says the top rate on household income above $250,000 should rise from 35 percent to 39.6 percent.

Boehner wants the rate to stay at 35 percent or even lower, but what about meeting in the middle, around 37 percent? Listen carefully to the speaker when he was asked today whether that rate could be the answer to this impasse.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: There are a lot of things that are possible, but to put the revenue the president seeks on the table. But none of it's going to be possible if the president insists on his position, insists on my way or the highway.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: You hear what he said there. A lot of things are possible. That may not sound like much where you're from, but here in Washington, it sounds suspiciously like code for, we're making progress. More evidence Boehner's Democratic counterpart House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi also seems to be softening her language as we head into the weekend. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REPRESENTATIVE NANCY PELOSI (R), MINORITY LEADER: What we want to do is protect the middle class. So it's not about the rate. It's about the money.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: So is 37 the magic number in this fiscal cliff debate? OUTFRONT tonight, two men who know taxes very well, Douglas Holtz- Eakin, the president of the "American Action Forum" and Robert Reich, professor of Public Policy at the University of California and Berkeley, and former U.S. labor secretary under President Bill Clinton.

Let me ask you quickly first, gentlemen. Douglas, does this sound like code for a deal in the works?

DOUG HOLTZ-EAKIN, PRESIDENT, "AMERICAN ACTION FORUM": It certainly is good news that they aren't taking things off the table. I would be premature if I was celebrating a deal. There's a long way to go, but it's important that they reach an agreement.

The fiscal cliff is a very real danger to the United States economy. It's a recipe for a recession. And I certainly would not like to see the rhetoric that we saw from the Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner who said he's prepared to go over the fiscal cliff. That is not a good way to talk about what's going on right now.

FOREMAN: Mr. Reich, let me ask you the same thing. Do you think there's code suggesting they are working towards something? Because, Doug, as you point out, the language was really harsh during this week. But all of a sudden, here we are Friday evening and people are saying these kinds of soft things that say maybe compromise. What do you think, Robert?

ROBERT REICH, PROFESSOR OF PUBLIC POLICY, UC BERKELEY: Well, I think Doug is right. It's too early to break out the champagne, but undoubtedly, the rhetoric is softening as we get closer and closer to the Christmas holidays. These people want to go home. They want to have a holiday.

They know that they cannot go home to their constituents and say essentially, I couldn't get anywhere. We're going to go over the fiscal cliff together.

And that's particularly true and particularly difficult for Republicans because the way the polls are showing, the public's anger with this process, the Republicans are going to get most of that anger.

And they are the same polls that in fact, the GOP is listening to and watching and Boehner is very, very much aware of them. So I think that 37 percent may be the way things come out.

FOREMAN: Well, let's talk about those polls for a minute. Quinnipiac had a poll out that showed the president's job approval rating at 53 percent. That's not really giant or amazing, but, considering where he's been, not too long ago, that is pretty good.

Robert, is this the kind of compromise that could give everyone some cover here? The president can say, yes, I got higher taxes on the wealthy. The Republicans can say, yes, we gave in, but not much.

REICH: Yes, it could. I think -- if it is 37 percent, a lot of Democrats will grumble, wait a minute. We thought that the Bush tax cuts would expire. What was so bad about the 39.6 percent highest rate under Bill Clinton?

The economy was pretty good under Bill Clinton and that grumbling from Democrats, I think, will be helpful to, ironically, Republicans because a lot of Republicans on the right are going to be saying to Boehner, we had pledged to Grover Norquist.

No tax increase at all and here you are, agreeing to what is effectively, a tax increase. And I think that both sides are going to have to give a little bit of something and that 37 percent may be the golden median.

FOREMAN: Doug, let's talk about the unemployment report that came out today because it came out and it showed 7.7 percent unemployment. You know, I know a lot of Democrats want to say, it's dropping, but it seems to me for months and months and months, the unemployment numbers have just remained awful.

They move a little up and down, but they're just a mess, 12 million people unemployed. It seems to me that that could cut either way. Republicans could still lean on that and say, you may be winning the pr war on this thing right now. But don't forget, you've got a big problem out there that you'll need our help on.

EAKIN: I think there are three important things going on. The employment report was not strong. Despite the top line number going down to 7.7 percent. The reason it fell is that another 350,000 people gave up looking entirely and left the labor force.

That's not a good news story. On exactly the same day, we saw consumer confidence plummet. For months now, the households have been the good news part of the economy. Business confidence is low. It's actually had negative investment. We're worried about them stopping hiring.

For households to get this nervous in December is a bad sign and that leads you back to the negotiations over the fiscal cliff, and I think this raises the pressure to get a deal done. That's important.

And the part of the deal that is actually not being talked about, but which will be central, is the spending side, the sequester is a very bad policy. Both sides agree it needs to go away.

So they have to figure out how and the tax side has to be matched by entitlement reforms and you can pick 37 if you have the right entitlement reforms, but only 36 if you have less and you could get 38 if you have more. So there's a lot of work left to be done. FOREMAN: Let's talk about that, Robert, on the spending side. Do you think that there's any way the Democrats get out of this over the next 18 or 24 months without really addressing spending and probably annoying a lot of their base in the process?

REICH: Well, the president has already put a lot of spending cuts on the table. Let me partially agree with Doug. The employment report today was, although it looked pretty encouraging if you look at the numbers underneath the numbers it was not all that encouraging.

The labor force participation rate, the percentage of people who are in the labor force who are actually in jobs is actually still very, very low. And I'm very worried about it, but by -- but that worry leads to a very different conclusion from Doug's conclusion.

I worry that we are going to do too much deficit reduction, too much spending cuts. When the private sector, when businesses and consumers are not spending, what we need is for government to be the spender of last resort.

We don't want to go into major spending cuts. That's the austerity trap that Europe has found itself in and it would be crazy for us to go in that direction.

FOREMAN: OK, before we go, Robert, very quickly, yes or no. Do we have a deal by the end of the year?

REICH: Yes.

FOREMAN: And what about you, Doug?

EAKIN: Marginally, yes. I'd say at 60/40 in favor of a deal, but they've got to get moving.

FOREMAN: We'll have to see if it's another real deal or another kick of the can down the road or some other interim thing. Thanks, Doug. Thanks, Robert. We appreciate you being here.

OUTFRONT next, the U.S. military draws up new plans for a potential strike against Syria as we learn more about that country's stockpile of chemical weapons.

Plus -- the U.S. Supreme Court agrees to take on the issue of gay marriage and is that a signal, is that a signal that for Republicans, it may be time to reconsider its view on this?

And a nurse duped by a frank call sinking information about the Duchess of Cambridge is found dead. All of that coming up. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FOREMAN: Our second story OUTFRONT, a possible tipping point in Syria with war or something a lot like it in the balance. CNN has learned that the U.S. military's updating its options daily for a potential strike against Syria. This in response to intelligence that shows the Assad regime has filled bombs with deadly chemical weapons. Syria has one of the most sophisticated stockpiles of chemical weapons in the region, including mustard gas, sarin and intelligence agents think VX nerve agent.

President Obama has said the movement or use of chemical weapons by Syria could lead to U.S. intervention. OUTFRONT tonight, national security contributor Fran Townsend who is on the CIA and Homeland Security External Advisory Board and Noah Shachtman, a contributing editor for "Wired."

Noah, let me start with you. What do we think is going on over there right now? At what point are they in this process?

NOAH SHACHTMAN, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, "WIRED": So the Assad regime has hundreds of metric tons of the building blocks of sarin, basically two big building blocks. There's isoproponol, which is rubbing alcohol and there's phosphorous compounds.

Those are kept separately in order to keep things safe. But the Assad regime in small, limited quantities appears to have combined those two chemicals to make deadly sarin nerve agent and has loaded them on to aerial bombs.

FOREMAN: If that is true, Fran, it's a very provocative thing, is it provocative enough that the U.S. now has to consider action?

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you know, the administration has not made it clear. What the president has said is that the use of such weapons would be a red line for the United States and her allies.

But it's not clear, short of use, is this preparation is the mixing of the precursor chemicals enough. As Noah can tell you this is a very unstable substance, sarin gas.

Once it's mixed it can be very corrosive. It's not clear you know, there could be an inadvertent release because of the volatility of these chemicals.

FOREMAN: Yes, I know this one seems that even people who work with them often end up dying simply by trying to work with this sort of thing. But here's the other thing, Noah. The delivery systems for these are many and varied.

These can be fired in artillery shells, dropped from airplanes, fired on missiles. It seems like once the weapon is ready, there are an awful lot of ways it could reach the point Fran just made reference to that the White House made reference to, of it being used and fast.

SHACHTMAN: Yes, and actually, an even worse possibility might be it not used fast. That it might sit around and one of the more extremist groups that are part of the rebel coalition might get their hands on this stuff. So --

FOREMAN: That is -- you bring up a very good point there, Noah. That's one of the concerns, Fran, that's been around for a long time, that in unstable region if you have problems out there, this is exactly what could happen.

TOWNSEND: That's right, Tom. Look, everybody has been talking about hoping to see the fall of the Assad regime. The problem is once Assad goes you don't know who is going to be in control of these weapons. Will it be the remaining Assad, pro-Assad military? Will be it the rebel and opposition groups? Do they have the capability?

And absolutely worse is the extremist elements. We've seen growing presence of al Qaeda and other extremist-related groups inside Syria, including al Qaeda from Iraq. So there are many very frightening possibilities, which is why I think our Barbara Starr has been talking about.

The U.S. military has -- is relooking at their plans for securing the chemical weapon sites of which we understand there are in the neighborhood of four dozen.

FOREMAN: Yes, and, Noah, how much do you think there is confidence that we know what really is going on, and how widespread this stuff is, because you're right. In the chaos of a cataclysm over there if, in fact, it finally comes down the final battle it seems to me we could have a very similar circumstance to what we had in Iraq and Afghanistan, where we just don't know where things went.

SHACHTMAN: Yes, I think there's a fair degree of confidence right now about where this precursor mixing activity happens. But if things get really chaotic, I think all bets are off. The U.S. military has floated a number of estimates for how many people it would take to secure these sites.

Let's say they're overestimating by a factor of ten. They say 75,000. Let's say they're exaggerating and only 7,500 people. That's still a tremendous amount of people to secure dozens and dozens of sites.

FOREMAN: One last question for you, Fran. Clearly in this country there's a lot of war fatigue and an awful lot of people, Democratic and Republican are very hesitant about U.S. sticking their foot into something else unless it's really dire. Do you think that's what it's going to take for the U.S. to get involved over there, something that is really profound?

TOWNSEND: Yes, I do. But I think there should be no mistake. The one thing the entire world and international community agree on is the use of a chemical such as sarin gas is dire.

I think that's why you see the secretary of state traveling to the region next week to try and build a coalition and agreement around the seriousness of the current threat there.

FOREMAN: All right, Fran, Noah, thanks so much for being here with us tonight. We'll keep an eye on that situation and keep you updated as it moves on. Just ahead, every year around this time, stores hire thousands of seasonal workers. But that holiday trend, honestly, could end fairly soon, largely because of one company.

Plus, President Obama has a pot problem, but will he do anything about it? Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FOREMAN: Our third story "OUTFRONT," somewhat better than expected job numbers today brought a lot of cheer for the markets and some good news just in time for the holidays. One-third of the jobs created last month, by the way, were in retail, but here's the rub.

There is a monster company that is threatening to devour a massive number of traditional retail jobs.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN (voice-over): America's Holiday Mall mania is as traditional as tinsel. Consumers spending more than $500 billion this year will fuel more than 500,000 seasonal jobs.

But the real frenzy is at home where online shopping is exploding under the relentless hand of one company -- amazon.com.

(on camera): What is Amazon up to?

BARNEY JOPSON, REPORTER, "FINANCIAL TIMES": Well, their ambition, it seems is to take over the systems of consumption.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Barney Jopson, reporter for the "Financial Times" has just written a book about Amazon's extraordinary rise.

JOPSON: Amazon sales have been growing at about 20 percent or 30 percent a year. And this is phenomenal if you consider that the rest of the retail sector is growing, at best, at 5 percent a year.

There is competition, but Amazon is really the 800-pound gorilla. It's got a big head start on everyone else and size generates some momentum of its own.

FOREMAN: How much momentum? So much that Amazon had a hand in more than 20 percent of all online sales for 2011, according to Forester Research. So much that economic analysts say traditional brick and mortar stores like Wal-Mart, radio shack and Barnes & Noble are scrambling to hold on to customers.

JOPSON: Here in the U.S., we've seen Circuit City, the electronics store, borders, the bookstore go out of business largely because of competition with Amazon.

FOREMAN: Based in Seattle, Amazon was started in the mid'90s to sell books online and for years made no profit. But it soon became clear that founder Jeff Bezos and his notoriously secret company had bigger plans. They started expanding in the late 1990s into videos, music, games, electronics, kitchenware, clothing, shoes, jewelry, business services, and information storage.

Amazon turned the corner to profitability in 2002 and today, Amazon is a $100 billion global company. And though Bezos declined our request for an interview, he recently told "Fortune" magazine's Andy Serwer --

JEFF BEZOS, CEO, AMAZON.COM: Our goal is to be the most customer obsessed company. We'd like to find, is there somebody out there doing some element of what we better than we do it and if so, how do we improve?

JOPSON: Consider this online shopping is still only 10 percent of total retail.

FOREMAN: Meaning Amazon in all likelihood is just getting started.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: Ben Stein told me recently he has never seen a company dominate a market quite the way Amazon is right now. This is a huge, huge story this holiday season. The big question, of course, is, what's going to happen to all the jobs that go in the traditional brick and mortar stores?

We don't really know. Will they go away? Will there be more of them? Find out more of those answers this weekend as we take an even deeper look into this extraordinary rise of Amazon on "In Focus."

And a lot of other stories, too. It's on Saturday at 2:30 Eastern and Sunday at 4:30. Join me. Make sure you don't miss it.

OUTFRONT next, the Supreme Court will tackle the controversial issue of same-sex marriage. So is it time for the GOP to change its stance on the issue?

Plus -- who is Black in America? It's the title of a new eye- opening documentary from Soledad O'Brien. She joins us with a preview and explains how that question can be very tricky.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FOREMAN: Welcome back to the second half of OUTFRONT. We start the second half with stories we care about, where we focus on our own reporting from the front lines out there.

In Egypt today, protesters stormed the presidential palace in Cairo enraged by President Mohamed Morsi's power grab. Thousands broke through a barrier before throwing rocks and bottles at Morsi's home.

The protesters also spray painted graffiti on the palace walls. Morsi's sparked new outrage yesterday after he refused to back off his controversial plan to expand his presidential powers, which give him immunity from judicial oversight.

A small victory for John Mcafee today after he took his fight to stay in Guatemala to the country's highest court. McAfee's attorney tells our Martin Savidge a judge granted a stay today that allows McAfee to remain in the country until his immigration case can be heard in court.

His attorney says that could take a month or more. The software pioneer has been fighting deportation to Belize where he is wanted for questioning in the shooting death of his neighbor there.

George Zimmerman's lawyers filed several new motions today. Among them, his legal team wants Zimmerman's GPS monitoring removed. Zimmerman who is charged with the murder of Trayvon Martin has been electronically monitored since April.

His attorneys also requested the state to hand over documents related to the case, such as an interview with Martin's girlfriend who is on the phone with the teenager right before he was killed. Zimmerman has claimed he acted in self-defense. The motions will be heard during a hearing set for Tuesday.

An independent review of the deadly September 11th attack in Libya is set to be released. In a letter to colleagues on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today, Senator John Kerry indicated the report will be done soon. The letter also says Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will testify before the committee, before the end of the year about the report's findings. However, we're told a date has not yet been set for that. During the assault, four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens died when a group of terrorists attacked the U.S. mission in Libya.

It has been 491 days since the U.S. lost its top credit rating. What are we doing get it back?

President Obama asked Congress for $60 billion for states affected by superstorm Sandy. The request comes at a time when lawmakers are arguing how every dollar is spent.

Our fourth story OUTFRONT: an historic announcement.

The Supreme Court decided today it will hear two constitutional challenges to same-sex marriage laws. If the court were to follow public opinion, the decision could come down in favor of gay and lesbian couples. Recent polling shows 53 percent of Americans think same-sex marriage should be legal, 46 percent say illegal. And on Election Day, voters in three states approved same-sex marriage.

OUTFRONT tonight "BuzzFeed" political reporter McKay Coppins, Tim Carney, senior political columnist for "The Washington Examiner", and Maria Cardona, CNN contributor and Democratic strategist.

So, this is kind of big news in all of this, right, Tim? You saw the polls. Now, the Supreme Court will get involved in this. Should this signal something to the Republican Party? Should they be saying, look, it's reached this level, we need to rethink our position on this?

TIM CARNEY, THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Polls are one thing. There's also the fact most states don't have gay marriage yet and most of those that do, it was not put in by the will of the people. I'm a Marylander. We did -- our state did vote for gay marriage. But most of them had to do with judges ruling.

So, if the Supreme Court goes ahead and does for gay marriage what it did for abortion and Roe v. Wade and said, no, this is not in the hands of the people. We're going to say there is gay marriage, then that would do I think do a lot to fire up the Republican base and could turn this issue on its head and it could become a big winner for Republicans because they'd feel disenfranchised.

FOREMAN: What about the flip side? What if the Republican goes that way, their base doesn't get fired up. Democrats have sort of relied on some says on saying to some voters, that other party is not with you. If the Republican got with them, then does that take this off the table for Democrats?

MARIA CARDONA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I actually think it takes it off the table and that's good news for Americans in general. I mean, I think this issue is a little bit broader than politics. And I know that's weird to say here in Washington.

But what I think the problem with the stance that the Republican Party has taken right now is that it's on the wrong side of history. And we have seen throughout history that when there's a group of people that want to deny another group of people less rights and less privileges that other Americans enjoy, you know, whether that's being on the wrong side of slavery, being on the wrong side of civil rights movement, being on the wrong side of giving women the right to vote, being on the wrong side of interracial marriage.

At the end of the day, America is moving towards giving gay and lesbians, gay and lesbian Americans the same rights to marry that all Americans enjoy. And that is where the country is heading. That is a bow that cannot be untied no matter what the Republican Party does.

FOREMAN: McKay it looks like the Mormon Church might also be moving at this point. They've got this new Web site out, sort of explaining a little more in detail their view on gay marriage and really urging a tremendous amount of tolerance, I think. What are your thoughts on that?

MCKAY COPPINS, BUZZFEED: Yes, this new Web site is Mormonsandgays.org. And it represents a pretty significant effort to reach out to gay Mormons in particular, and the broader gay community. You remember in 2008, the Mormon Church urged its members to get heavily involved in passing Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in California.

And ever since then, the relationship between gays and Mormons have been very strained. The church has seen itself really be -- come under attack by gay rights advocates. And ever since then, the church has tried to make efforts to kind of extend an olive branch. The most significant news here, with this new Web site is that it included a statement where for the first time in kind of the most clear it's ever been, the church acknowledges that sexuality is not a choice. It says that gay people do not choose to be gay. And that's significant.

Now, the church is not changing its position in terms of what it calls a gay lifestyle.

(CROSSTALK)

FOREMAN: I'm going to bring that up because there's a -- yes, let me bring that up, because there's a statement that's on that site that also says the experience of same-sex attraction is a complex reality for many people. The attraction itself is not a sin, but acting on it is.

Tim, when you see something like that --

COPPINS: Right.

FOREMAN: -- it seems -- it seems to me, there's a little bit of threading the needle here in they are saying in effect, we want to -- you know, it's like many evangelicals will say, hate the sin, love the sinner.

CARNEY: Well, it's Catholic teaching that everybody -- and I'm a Catholic and I know that everybody is a -- is created in the image of God. And one of the problems of the anti-gay marriage movement is that some of it has been based in bigotry and hating gay people or hating people for their attractions. I know the Catholic teaching and much of the Christian teaching is saying, this isn't about who you are or what your proclivities are. It has to do with certain behaviors.

And I think that that would be an advance if we -- if we spoke about it more on that front instead of people talking about identity because then that is what draws it into bigotry.

FOREMAN: Maria, let me ask you a quick question here. What if the Supreme Court comes back and says, no, we're not going to uphold this idea of gay marriage laws being -- or any law against them being wrong or that gay marriage laws are necessarily right. This is a political question.

Since the Supreme Court sided with health care, many people at times said, it's going to be very hard for Democrats to then criticize the court if it comes out on a social issue like this against Democratic interest.

What do you think?

CARDONA: I don't think it would be hard for Democrats to criticize it because, again, I do think that this has more to do than just Democratic interests. This --

(CROSSTALK) FOREMAN: I'm talking -- let me change the question. Not about -- let me change the question. Not about criticizing the decision itself.

CARDONA: OK.

FOREMAN: But criticizing the court. That it would have to say -- the notion being the Democrats might have to say, we recognize the court in its wisdom. We respect the court. We just disagree, which is a fine point because sometimes people don't do that.

CARDONA: Sure. I think there's a fine line there.

But I think that Democrats and rights activists can be very clear if the Supreme Court comes down on the side of not giving gays and lesbians the same rights at other Americans have to marry, that they would be wrong because they would be wrong. They would be on the wrong side of history.

CARNEY: There's different questions here. The question isn't, will the Supreme Court rule for gay marriage or against? It will be, will the Supreme Court take it out of the hands of the people? In other words in California, the people voted and said they opposed it.

So, we've got kind of three different things. Will they say you can't have gay marriage? or will they say it's up to the states? Or will they say you must have gay marriage?

FOREMAN: McKay --

CARDONA: They could also say that they don't even -- that all of these other groups don't even have standing to bring this to the court. And not even deal with --

(CROSSTALK)

FOREMAN: Let me have you jump in here, McKay, if you would, because President Obama himself has suggested at times in the past that he thinks this is sort of up to the states. It seems like, in a lot of ways, he doesn't really believe that, but he's suggested that.

Again, yes, there's an evolution, as Maria suggests. It's happening in this country. But evolution takes time.

And the notion that people may say six months from now it will all be settled, I'm not so convinced of that. Are you?

COPPINS: No, yes, you're absolutely right. This is going to take probably generations for it to get settled. And also remember that President Obama in 2008 when he still opposed same-sex marriage cited religious reasons as part of the reason.

And I've never heard President Obama fully explain his religious rational and the evolution he went through in those terms. But I think that churches like the Mormon Church, the Catholic Church, other churches, are going to play a big role here in helping, you know, the country come to reconciliation as far as, you know, what they think about this issue.

FOREMAN: Yes.

COPPINS: So that's an important thing to watch. Not just the court battles.

FOREMAN: And they also maybe a governor on the engine that keeps it going forward but at a very slow pace.

Tim, Maria, McKay, thanks for being here. Appreciate it.

CARDONA: Thanks so much, Tom.

FOREMAN: Recent celebrations over legalized marijuana in Washington and Colorado may prove to be short lived. The Obama administration is signaling it may step in and actively enforce federal drug laws which still outlaw smoking marijuana. And that could create a very tricky political balancing act for President Obama himself.

John Avlon is OUTFRONT on this story right now.

This really is a tightrope for the president, isn't it, John?

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It really is, Tom. It's fascinating. A brand new Quinnipiac poll illustrates what a tough situation this is.

For the first time, a narrow majority of Americans, 51 percent, support legalizing marijuana. But here's where it gets politically interesting. When you break it down by party ID, 58 percent of Democrats and independents support legalizing marijuana, clear majority. Only 31 percent of Republicans do, however.

So it's a fascinating shift where liberals and independents are saying, look, states rights at least on this issue, more individual liberty. And Republicans are being more traditionalists about their attitudes.

Final point, this poll makes very clear, it's a generational shift. Just a second ago, you were talking about the evolution of this issue of same-sex marriage. Same thing with marijuana legalization, clear majorities of Americans under age 44 supporting legalization, only 35 percent, however, of senior citizens supporting marijuana legalization.

So, a generational trend that is fueling this debate.

FOREMAN: Let me ask you a practical question. Here's a statement from the U.S. attorney in Seattle. He put this out Wednesday, the day before the law took effect in Washington state.

He said, "Regardless of any changes in state law, including the change that will go into effect on December 6th in Washington state, growing, selling or possessing any amount of marijuana remains illegal under federal law." That's what the U.S. attorney in Seattle said. How are they going to enforce this? Because, you know, like the Seattle police basically saying, we're not going to get involved with that, or at least hinting they won't. How would the feds do anything about this?

AVLON: Tom, this is a huge conflict on the horizon. The Justice Department reasserting that federal law supersedes state law and the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 is still in effect. That lists marijuana as a Schedule 1 narcotic, along with heroin, cocaine and LSD.

So, they are saying Congress decided this in 1970. It's out of our hands. We, the Obama administration, the Justice Department, have an obligation to enforce the law as it stands, and that, right now is in direct conflict with two states, Washington and Colorado.

Let alone with the states that have medical marijuana in place which is over 18, because one of the criteria for being a schedule 1 narcotic that there's no medical use demonstrated. So, that is a fascinating conflict between the feds and states rights, people voting in these states increasingly to legalize at least medical marijuana.

FOREMAN: And is there any sort of spillover effect that you can see here on to other laws like immigration issues or gay marriage or anything else like that because I would think that the White House would not want to be seen as picking and choosing where it decides the federal government is supposed to be in charge.

FRUM: You are right. But again, we're seeing a generational shift on many, very contentious culture war issues. In the last segment, same-sex marriage, a generational shift being fought on a state by state level. The marijuana legalization, that same generational shift.

So, it's up to the federal government to reconcile and the president, for example, on same-sex marriage, supports states rights. Here, too, there's a contradiction.

It's one of the things that to reconcile this that maybe the courts can do or maybe Congress can do is to actually address the fact that Schedule 1 narcotics do -- in this case, may have medical use. At least 18 states have done so. And members of Congress like Jared Polis from Colorado, we called him OUTFRONT on this issue, pushing, saying that the Justice Department really has an obligation to say enforcement against individuals in these states will not be a number one priority.

So there's so many contradictions. It's one of the reasons this is a fascinating, still evolving issue, fundamental contradiction between states rights and the federal government with President Obama at the helm.

FOREMAN: John Avlon, always good to see you on a Friday night, going into the weekend. Thanks for being here.

Still to come, the United States military prepares to potentially shoot down a rocket that North Korea plans to launch any day now.

Plus, she was the victim of a prank call to the hospital caring for the duchess of Cambridge. Now that nurse has been found dead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FOREMAN: We're back with tonight's "Outer Circle," where we reach out to our sources from all over the world for some updates on stories.

To Seoul, where the U.S. Navy is getting destroyers in position to react to an expected missile launch by North Korea this month. Paula Hancocks is following this story. I asked her what more we know about North Korea's plans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Tom, as North Korea prepares to launch its second rocket this year, as early as Monday, the U.S. is making preparations of its own. The Navy is moving two guided missile destroyers to the region, although they're not saying exactly where.

Now, Pyongyang says they are trying to send a working satellite into orbit. But the U.S. and other countries simply don't believe that. They believe that this is a cover for testing the long-range missile technology, which is banned by the United Nations.

One senior government official here in Seoul tells me that a motivation behind this rocket launch may also be domestic instability. The source says that Kim Jong-un's rule may not be as secure as previously thought. And this kind of rocket launch could deflect any attention from that -- Tom.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: As you may recall, the last launch there did not go very well at all.

Next to Gaza City, where after 45 years in exile, one of the founders of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, made a historic return today. The pomp and circumstance surrounding his visit underscored the organization's powerful influence among Palestinians.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen was there. I asked him about the reaction in Gaza.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Tom, Khaled Meshaal received a triumphant welcome when he entered Gaza. Tens of thousands of Hamas fighters lined the streets wearing ski masks and combat fatigues and, of course, flashing their weapons, including AK- 47s and rocket-propelled grenades.

Now, of course, the official reason why Meshaal is here after never having been in Gaza before is the 25th anniversary of the founding of Hamas which, of course, the United States considers to be a terrorist organization. One thing you hear on every street corner is that Hamas is saying that they are declaring victory against Israel after the armed conflict that happened here about two years ago.

Now, many here in Gaza hail Meshaal as an important figure. But, of course, there are many others in the U.S. and in Israel as well who say that this man is a very dangerous terrorist to -- who until this day does not acknowledge Israel's right to exist -- Tom.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: Thank you very much, Fred.

Now, let's check in with Anderson Cooper for a look at what's ahead on "360."

Hey, Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, Tom. We're keeping them honest tonight.

Staying on a story that, frankly, just doesn't make sense. Why the Senate would vote down a U.N. treaty to support universal rights for the disabled. But they did, 38 senators voted no. And some of the so-called facts about the treaty are simply fabrications.

Ahead on the program, a pretty spirited discussion. I interview one of the senators who voted no, Senator Mike Lee. I confront him about those facts.

We'll also speak with former U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, a Republican, who has a disabled child and still holds out hope the treaty will pass.

Plus, a legal battle to tell you about tonight over 21-month-old child named Talia (ph). Her mother gave her up for adoption without the father's knowledge or permission while he was away from home serving in the military. Now, he wants Talia back. The child's fate hinges on a judge's decision. We'll tell you how the why you how the judge ruled and speak with Talia's dad.

Those stories and landmark cases making it to the nation's highest court. The Supreme Court will decide the issue of same sex marriage. All that and the "Ridiculist" ahead on the program -- Tom.

FOREMAN: Good show, Anderson. Thanks so much. "A.C. 360" coming up in just about 10 minutes. Don't miss it.

Our fifth story OUTFRONT: tragedy in London.

A nurse at the hospital that treated the duchess of Cambridge earlier this week is dead after an apparent suicide. This comes just three days after the nurse was duped by a prank call by two Australian radio hosts who claimed to be Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles. The nurse, identified as Jacintha Saldanha took the hoax call and transferred it through to Catherine's ward.

CNN's Max Foster is in London tonight with the latest.

Hey, Max. What's going on here? What do we know more about this nurse at this point?

MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, very little apart from very, very good words spoken about her from pretty much everyone. She was a very, very good nurse.

She was the mother of two children. She had a husband. They luckily weren't in London at the time of this death.

But to give you a sense of how people feel and how well regarded she was, this is her boss speaking earlier on.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can confirm that Jacintha was recently the victim of a hoax call to the hospital. The hospital had been supporting her through this very difficult time. Jacintha was a first class nurse who cared diligently for hundreds of patients during her time with us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: This is such a strange --

(CROSSTALK)

FOSTER: -- well-regarded, Tom, and we spoke to her --

FOREMAN: You know, I was just going to say, this is such a strange and sad story here, Max, and she clearly was well-regarded. What about the royal family? Are they saying anything?

FOSTER: Well, they were quick to respond. They put out a statement expressing their sadness and how everyone here at the hospital greats when Kate was in hospital. Then they added another line because there were lots of rumors swirling around the story.

They said, "At no point did the palace complain to the hospital about the incident. On the contrary, we offered our full and heartfelt support to the nurses involved and hospital staff at all times."

So they never complained about this, despite it being a big invasion of privacy, personal patient's confidential information was given out by the nurse as a result of this call being put through. They say they never complained. So it's a complete tragedy.

FOREMAN: Yes, and these radio hosts I understand have been pulled off the air. What's the radio station saying about them at this point?

FOSTER: Well, the radio station is saying they pulled themselves off air. They certainly can be under some degree of attack. The Australian media now reporting negatively, having initially made it out to be all a joke and also social media really attacking. If you have a look at their Facebook page, extraordinary things being said.

The typical sort of thing we're hearing is "blood on their hands", so they are really getting the brunt of the emotion linked to this story.

FOREMAN: This is such a strange and sad story. Max, thanks for keeping us up to date on it.

And OUTFRONT next, what it means to be black in America.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FOREMAN: We all know the topic of race in America can be a thorny issue but it's one that our Soledad O'Brien continues to explore. Her new documentary is called "Who is Black in America" and it takes a provocative look at the issue of color.

Soledad talks to 17-year-old Nayo Jones. She was raised by her white father and teased about her light skin color by her black classmates.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NAYO JONES, AGE 17: They always called me white girl. I was never ashamed of myself until they taught me to be ashamed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: Soledad O'Brien is OUTFRONT tonight with more on her documentary which airs right here on CNN this Sunday at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time. You don't want to miss it.

Soledad, this is something I've been aware of for a long, long time. People in the black community told me for many, many years that within the community, there's a struggle over who's black, who's too black, who is not black enough.

How does a child like Nayo deal with this?

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And it happens outside the community as well. Many people outside the community like to weigh in and say you don't look that way to me. Nayo, because she's mixed race, is trying to figure out her identity.

You heard her reciting a poem. She's a slam poet. And she feels very confused about her identity.

Her dad's white, she says I don't know how to be black. I don't know what it means to be black because everybody around me is white.

Meanwhile, her best friend Becca (ph) is a brown girl whose parents are from Africa but they are from Egypt. And so people tell her well, you know, you're not really black, you're African but not really African-American.

So, both of these girls are grappling with what it means to be brown skinned and who is really black in America today.

FOREMAN: This is a personal topic for you. It's part of your interest in all this.

At what point did you realize, not to be indiscreet here, that your color changed the way people perceived you?

O'BRIEN: Early on. I grew up in an all white neighborhood in Long Island, and so people made it very clear that our family didn't quite fit in. I have a similar background to Nayo's. My mom is black, my dad is white.

But my parents were very direct about our identity, for my five brothers and sisters and me. We're black. My mother is Cuban, so we're Latino. For us it's a very different situation than I think for a lot of young people today. Growing number of young people are mixed race and they're trying to work out their identity and it's really tough for some of them.

FOREMAN: Yes. And I know from the Census Department that actually, the group of mixed race people is the fastest growing group out in this country right now in terms of percentage. Your show hasn't even debuted yet, but it's already causing a big stir out on Twitter out there. Tell us about that.

O'BRIEN: Oh, yes. Well, you know, it's Twitter, which means that everybody weighs in and we're hearing a lot of really interesting stories about people's own take, whether they're white or black or mixed or whatever. And then, we also have people who are incredibly hostile who want to weigh in if we should be doing this at all.

And as, you know, I like to hop back in and fight with them right back. That's the way it works on Twitter.

FOREMAN: All right, Soledad. Don't miss her show this weekend. It's fascinating.

Thanks for watching us tonight.

"ANDERSON COOPER 360" starts right now.