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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Obama and Boehner Talking; Singer Jenni Rivera Dies; SEAL Team Six Member Killed

Aired December 10, 2012 - 05:00   ET

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


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Look who's talking. President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner get together a little more than three weeks before we hit the fiscal cliff.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Gone too soon. A Mexican-American singing superstar killed as a small plane plunges into a mountain range.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MEL GREIG, DJ, AUSTRALIAN RADIO STATION 2DAYFM: Just devastated for them. I'm really feeling for them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Raw and emotional. Two radio hosts talk about the family of the nurse who took her own life after getting duped by their prank call.

Good morning to you. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin. Welcome back, Mr. Berman.

BERMAN: It is great to be here. I was on vacation for a week. Now I'm back.

I'm John Berman. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East. And yes, I am feeling that after vacation right now.

But this, they are talking for the first time in over three weeks. President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner looked each other in the eye and actually had a conversation. Now, that's a really big deal when it comes to the fiscal cliff crisis. Because in just 22 days, Americans face severe tax hikes and spending cuts unless these two leaders can find a way to compromise.

Now, neither side would discuss specifics about their conversation. But after yesterday's White House meeting, a spokesman for the President said, quote, "The lines of communication remain open." Now that may be music to the ears of former White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles, one half of the Bowles-Simpson deficit reduction duo.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERSKINE BOWLES, FMR. WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: But, you know, they started a tango now. You know, any time you got two guys in there tangoing, you've got a chance to get it done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: White House correspondent Brianna Keilar is live now from Washington. And, Brianna, we don't have a lot of details about what went on in that meeting. But maybe if they're both not talking, that may be a good thing.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. In fact, we have almost absolutely no details. The things that really interesting, though, to observers here is the statement that came out from the White House and from the speaker's office. They're the same statement verbatim. So, there's coordination here. They're not leaking details.

And that's something that you may see as possibly a good thing. It's certainly not a bad thing. It means they're coordinating and they're trying to negotiate or speak with good faith here.

So this is, as you mentioned, the first time that the two have met in the last 23 days. This is actually the first time that John Boehner and President Obama have met one-on-one since Election Day -- just to give you a sense. Again, to stress no word on progress that they're really getting anywhere here. The official line right now, they're still very far apart.

House Republicans don't want to cave on the White House's demand, the tax income raise, the income tax rates for the wealthiest Americans increase. But there does appear to be some movement among some Republicans on talking about just maybe caving on that demand, but not increasing the rates as much as the White House wants.

Listen to Republican Senator Bob Corker.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: There is a growing group of folks that are looking at this and realizing that we don't have a lot of cards as it relates to the tax issue before year end. A lot of people are putting forth a theory and I actually think it has merit where you go in and give the President the 2 percent increase that he's talking about, the rate increase on the top 2 percent and, all of a sudden, the shift goes back to entitlements.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: So Senator Corker, John, is part of a growing number of Republicans who are saying that. Let's cave on income tax rates. Maybe not go all the way up to where the White House and Senate Democrats want. But let's give some on this so that we can talk about entitlement reform, reforming Medicare, reforming Social Security.

And this came on the heels of some developments on Friday. Remember House Speaker John Boehner came out and said I have no progress. This isn't a progress report because I have no progress to report. But then you also saw maybe the White House signaling that they're negotiable on just how much the rates go up because Senator Joe Biden indicated that as well.

BERMAN: And maybe with that meeting between the Speaker and President, maybe with that statement from Senator Corker, maybe some movement this weekend which would be a good sign with just over three weeks left to go.

Brianna Keilar in Washington -- thanks very much.

SAMBOLIN: It is four minutes past the hour. Authorities in Mexico have found the wreckage of a small plane that they believe was carrying popular Mexican-American carrying banda singer Jenni Rivera and six others. Rivera's brother says the family was told that there were no survivors. The plane took off early Sunday morning from Monterrey, Mexico, with Rivera and six others onboard. They were heading to an airport near Mexico City.

The wreckage was spotted in the mountainous northern state of Nuevo Leon.

Rafael Romo is with more on the life of the singer Jenni Rivera. What can you tell us?

RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SENIOR LATIN AMERICAN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Zoraida, good morning.

She sold 50 million records, won two Billboard Music Awards and was a star of her reality show and served as a judge on a popular talent show in Mexico, hard-working until the end. She performed the last concert Saturday night in Monterrey, Mexico, only hours before dying in a plane crash on her way to yet another commitment.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROMO (voice-over): They call her diva. And for anyone who ever saw her on stage, it was easy to see why. She sang heart-wrenching ballad that spoke to the common woman, especially Mexican-Americans.

JENNI RIVERA, BANDA SINGER (through translator): Every song, every lyric I'm thinking of them and how I can relate to them.

ROMO: Jenni Rivera was born in Long Beach, California to Mexican parents, their story, that of many Mexican immigrants of humble origins. In an interview in CNN in Espanol in 2010, she spoke about how she sold music records at a Los Angeles flea market and how the family collected cans for the meager income they could bring in selling the metal.

RIVERA: It is very flattering when they tell me I'm a great artist, a great entertainer. But when I'm on stage, I can entertain the audience. I can get in the recording studio and come up with a great production. But before all that, I was a businesswoman. I'm primarily business-minded.

ROMO: In recent years, Jenni Rivera started several of her own companies, including Jenni Rivera Enterprises which produced and marketed her music, a fragrance brand, a jeans factory and a TV production company.

She was famous for her electrifying performances on stage but her image was also battered by scandal. A mother of five, she married three times but their relationships were rocky and caused her much anguish and embarrassment.

RIVERA: Staying defeated, crying and suffering was not an option. I had to get back on my feet, dust myself off and press on. That's what I want to teach my daughters.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMO: During her last interview Saturday night, Jenni Rivera told Mexican media that she need time to get emotionally well. Asked about her Christmas plans, she said I want to be with my family but only God knows what's going to happen -- a big loss, indeed.

Back to you.

SAMBOLIN: Rafael, do we know anything about why that plane went down? Was it a helicopter that she was on?

ROMO: It was a Learjet. We don't know exactly why. But what I can tell you is at the time of the crash, it was cloudy in the area. It was in the mountains, remote area in the state of Nuevo Leon, Mexico. But we don't know yet that there was some sort of malfunction with the aircraft or if it was human error, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: OK. Rafael Romo, much beloved -- thank you so much for bringing us that story. We appreciate it.

BERMAN: Sad, sad story.

The radio show that pulled a prank on the hospital where Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, was a patient has been shut down after a nurse committed suicide. The deejays are also talking, saying they came up with the idea as a team and expected to be hung up on. They're also saying that they are stunned by the nurse's death.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GREIG: Unfortunately, I remember that moment very well because I haven't stopped thinking about it since it happened.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When you found out she was of two children --

GREIG: Very sorry and saddened for the family. I can't imagine what they're going through.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And what about you, Michael?

MICHAEL CHRISTIAN, DJ, AUSTRALIAN RADIO STATION 2DAYFM: Gutted. You know, shattered. Heartbroken.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN: Jacintha Saldanha, the nurse who transferred their call to the ward Tuesday was found dead on Friday. Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are said to be deeply saddened about Saldanha's death.

SAMBOLIN: Some right-to-work opponents are expected to converge on Michigan's capitol today. But the protest is expected to swell to thousands tomorrow when the state House and Senate will try to hammer out a final version which will make Michigan the 24th right-to-work state.

Supporters say the legislation will spark economic growth and encourage fairness. Opponents say it will lower wages and benefits and hurt the middle class and that strong unions built Michigan's middle class.

BERMAN: So FedEx is bracing for the busiest day ever, ever. The company is expecting to handle 19 million packages today. That's 200 packages per second. And the reason they say is Internet sales are booming and that is increasing volume by 10 percent over last year.

SAMBOLIN: I just ordered a ton last night. So I'll be part of --

BERMAN: You're single-handedly responsible --

SAMBOLIN: Well, I don't know about singlehandedly, but I'll be part of that. Get it on time. That's all I say.

So, the daring rescue of an American held in Afghanistan comes at a very steep price. We're going to go live to the Pentagon for more on the top secret mission. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: An elite team of U.S. Special Forces goes on a daring rescue mission to free an American doctor abducted in Afghanistan. But during the mission, they've lost one of their own, a member of the SEAL Team Six.

Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is following all the developments this morning. And, Barbara, what's the latest?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, good morning.

We expect perhaps as soon as later today to learn the name of the Navy SEAL who died in this hostage rescue attempt. Dr. Dilip Joseph of the nonprofit medical agency that was working in Afghanistan kidnapped by the Taliban, he was rescued. But, of course, this Navy SEAL died in that attempt.

What we now know is that this man was a member of Seal Team Six, actually known inside the military as the special warfare development group -- the same elite team that went on the Osama bin Laden raid. We don't know yet if this fallen SEAL was part of the bin Laden mission.

The President even putting out a statement about this late yesterday saying, quote, "He gave his life for his fellow Americans, and he and his teammates remind us once more of the selfless service that allows our nation to stay strong, safe, and free." And, of course, it's a good moment to pause, isn't it, and remember all of those who serve and the fallen.

The U.S. military this year so far, John, has lost 305 in Afghanistan -- John.

BERMAN: So important to remember, Barbara. But, as you said, the doctor and the mission was successful. The doctor was rescued?

STARR: Yes, he was, taken to a U.S. military hospital where he's recovering. I think we can expect him to be on his way home to see his family very shortly.

You know, I just wand to add, the U.S. military has specially trained hostage rescue teams that are Special Forces. It's some of the most dangerous business that the U.S. military can do. But by all accounts, the Navy SEAL was killed by small arms fire which suggests, and we don't know the details yet, that certainly suggest that's there was quite a fire fight during this mission, John.

BERMAN: All right. Barbara Starr from the Pentagon, thanks very much.

STARR: Sure.

BERMAN: It is 14 minutes past the hour.

Let's get you up-to-date. Here's Christine Romans with this morning's top stories.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: And good Monday morning to both of you today.

President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner finally meeting face- to-face over the fiscal cliff. They sat down at the White House yesterday. Neither side is discussing details. Both agree the lines of communication remain open. Massive tax hikes and spending cuts take hold in 22 days if the two leaders can't work out a deal.

A busy day Sunday at Seattle City Hall, where 133 same-sex couples tied the knot. Sarah and Emily Cofer were among the first couples to get married at 12:04 a.m. The same-sex couples married Sunday in Seattle were among the first to pick up their marriage licenses last Thursday. The state required a three-day waiting period before ceremonies.

European Union leaders are in Oslo, Norway, to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

In announcing the award, the Nobel Committee credited the E.U. with helping turn military rivals into political and economic partners. Hundreds of protesters have been braving Oslo's snow. Protesters say the prize meant to honor contributions to disarmament and that E.U. member states account for a third of global arms exports -- John and Zoraida.

BERMAN: All right. Thanks, Christine.

It is now 15 minutes after the hour. Time for "Early Read," your local news making national headlines.

And a big medical story in the "Philadelphia Enquirer." It's in a lot of papers this morning. Very promising progress in the fight against leukemia. This is happening in the University of Pennsylvania where doctors are using gene therapy to eradicate certain types of blood cancer. It's done using the patient's immune system T-cells to personalize their treatment.

In the first 10 cases of terminal ill patients, seven of them are now free of the disease. The findings are already being presented by Penn's research team.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, it's great.

BERMAN: You know what's fascinating, they use disabled HIV virus to help deliver these cells into the system. It's amazing technology showing incredible promise.

SAMBOLIN: Wow, that will be quite a breakthrough. That would be fantastic.

Sixteen minutes past the hour. The state of Florida is considering a way to change plans the way college students are charged tuition in that particular state. That comes from "The Orlando Sentinel".

Governor Rick Scott wants to charge each student according to their major. Christine Romans is going to love this. Since engineers, scientists and technology experts are in demand, students with those majors would pay less than students majoring in disciplines like history, philosophy, or even English. I don't know how I feel about that.

The idea is to steer kids towards fields where there is the most need. And Florida lawmakers will take up the idea during their next legislative session.

I think it's good news, right?

BERMAN: Well, it's innovative.

SAMBOLIN: Yes.

BERMAN: The question is, for humanities majors like me, is it fair to pay more to study that kind of stuff? But, you know, you have to --

SAMBOLIN: Yes, I'm sure they'll debate. I'm sure they'll debate this.

All right. For an extended look at our top stories, head to our blog, CNN.com/EarlyStart.

BERMAN: All right. So if the FAA's ban on smartphones in the air have you frustrated, you have an ally in Washington.

SAMBOLIN: Yes.

BERMAN: Surprisingly frank comments from the head of the FCC -- just back from vacation -- comments from the FCC coming up.

SAMBOLIN: And you can't go back. No more vacation.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: We're minding your business this morning. U.S. stock futures are down after closing mixed on Friday.

SAMBOLIN: Christine Romans is here.

European markets are down, too, this morning. But it's not just about concerns about the fiscal cliff here in the United States.

ROMANS: Yes, although we still have those concerns. Let's focus on Europe, first, because you've got the European stock averages down. The E.U. markets are down because the Italian prime minister announced over the weekend that he will resign early -- earlier than had been expected. And also, we've got new economic data that showed Japan, the world's third largest economy, has slipped into a technical recession. They looked at their numbers. They revised some of the data.

It shows that Japan is technically in a recession. So, you've got more uncertainty in Italy, one of those important PIGS -- Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain -- countries. And also you've got this concern happening in Japan.

We have this week, Ben Bernanke and the Fed will meet at a two-day Fed meeting. A lot of people are hoping to hear from the Federal Reserve chief that there will be some kind of on going stimulus in the form of, you know, bond buybacks or something. So, we'll be looking to see what he has to say about the economy. This is another big uncertainty in the markets for the week.

And, you know, this comes after consumer spending showing as "The Wall Street Journal" said this morning on a big headliner on the front, consumer spending, consumer confidence wobbling. This is Europe concerns. But we're seeing that consumer heading into the end of the year is starting to get a little more nervous, you guys about where we're headed here.

Now fiscal cliffs and payroll, fiscal cliff has a lot to do with this. The American Payroll Association, this is the trade group for all of the small business who are doing payrolls, you know, paying you. They say the fiscal cliff really isn't January 1st. Their fiscal cliff is December 14th. That's the time they need to have the software changed to make sure the tax changes go into the paycheck.

BERMAN: That's not going to happen by the 14th.

ROMANS: It's not going to happen by the 14th. So, that's another why small businesses are concerned.

The American Payroll Association, let me tell you what they say. A "delay in legislation beyond December 14th doesn't give all businesses enough time to update their payroll systems for early January paychecks."

And they go on. It's even worse. The two worst case scenarios according to the payroll folks, Congress comes to an agreement after January 1 and applies new rules retroactively. The software can't handle it.

Or last minute agreement keeps rates as they are for a few months. This would even confuse the payroll software programs because some only calculate a year at a time. So pulling their hair out is what's going on.

SAMBOLIN: So weird to me, because at the end of the day, we've been talking about the fiscal cliff for a long time. You think they would have been working on this.

ROMANS: They had been.

SAMBOLIN: They can't get it together.

ROMANS: Look, think if you were a small business. You have 10 employees, right? You're just trying to weather, you know, demand that's down. You're trying to implement health care reform. You're trying to do al these other things and waiting for Congress to fix the fiscal cliff and it hasn't quite happened yet.

I mean what do you -- what do you do? I mean, I don't even know what some of these folks can do.

SAMBOLIN: Can we switch gears?

ROMANS: Yes, let me tell you about the FCC?

SAMBOLIN: Sure.

ROMANS: Do you want to talk on your phone on the plane?

SAMBOLIN: Oh, yes, I do.

ROMANS: I'm not sure I want everybody else to talk on the plane.

SAMBOLIN: Just put on those head phones.

ROMANS: The top person at the FCC, the FCC chairman, said on Friday that the FAA's policy on in-flight electronics bans is in question. 20 years of research doesn't show any kind of messing up with the planes and navigation of the systems. Why is it even in place? I think we're moving down this road.

BERMAN: So no more cheating? No more people sitting with their BlackBerrys. SAMBOLIN: I know, you feel so bad, right? You got to make that last minute phone call, and they have turned everything off. I think it's a great idea. Charter planes allowed only, because it doesn't interfere.

BERMAN: Must be nice to fly on charter.

SAMBOLIN: I know this because I know someone who flies charter.

I have another question for you. I said you would like this. This is in Florida. The discounted tuition for majors in engineering, science, health care and technology. How do you feel about that? Good thing/bad thing?

ROMANS: I think it's a good thing. Look, way back in the beginning of federal student loans, the federal student loans were for math and science. There were for areas of economy the government after the World War II was eager to get filled. And there are a lot of people who talk about using, you know, incentives like lower tuition or federally backed student loans for areas in the economy that we need to be focusing on. Otherwise, you know, there are kids who are not all stem majors, right? So that's a problem, too.

SAMBOLIN: There's the problem, yes.

BERMAN: The argument for the humanities is often that learning how to learn, learning skills in the humanities sometimes sets you up for any number of things including, perhaps, working in the stem fields.

ROMANS: You're right. Absolutely, the highest paid humanities majors are technical writers for stem fields, you know? So, you look at the difference between a liberal arts major and a stem major, the lifetime earning is different. I think it's $3.5 million. I'm going to find out for you.

SAMBOLIN: Great.

ROMANS: There's a huge price tag difference if you stick around for another 25 minutes I'll tell you.

SAMBOLIN: OK, we appreciate that. Thanks, Christine.

BERMAN: Just one of the reasons to stick around for at least 25 minutes.

ROMANS: Says the liberal arts major on this table.

BERMAN: That's right.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Twenty-six minutes past the hour. What happens in Vegas did not stay there. Coming up, Mitt Romney's face-to-face encounter with boxer Manny Pacquiao before the knockout blow. Did you see his face at the moment of the knockout? It is remarkable.

And if you're leaving the house right now, you can watch us any time on your desktop or your mobile phone. Just go to CNN.com/TV. The whole two front rows, their faces we're going to see.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)